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Archive for the Laura Porter on London Category

A Royal Arrival


As there isn’t long before the Duchess of Cambridge’s baby arrives the Museum of London has put together a small display of royal baby clothes and memorabilia from their collection.

A Royal Arrival runs until October 2013 and celebrates royal births of the past as well as the special addition this year. Whether a boy or a girl, William & Kate’s child will be third in line to the throne and therefore very likely to go on to rule the UK and Commonwealth realms.


Royal baby shoes in order or date  © Museum of London

Royal baby shoes in order of date (1841-69)
© Museum of London


Hopefully something from the latest royal baby will reach the Museum of London’s collection which includes objects belonging to the infant Charles I, George III and Edward VII coming out on display for the summer. Many of the items have not been on public display before and this small exhibition actually covers 400 years of UK history.


P Wales book - Prince Albert Edward (Edward VII) c. 1841  © Museum of London

P Wales boot – Prince Albert Edward (Edward VII) c. 1841
© Museum of London


Timothy Long, the museum’s Fashion & Textile Curator, is also the exhibition curator and has brought together garments worn by the new baby’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandmother, Queen Victoria, reminding us this is family history as well as royal history.


Linen vest - George Wiliam Frederick (George III) c/ 1738  © Museum of London

Linen vest – George William Frederick (George III) c. 1738
© Museum of London


Objects on show include a delicately embroidered skullcap worn by an infant Charles I (then Prince Charles Stuart) who is the new royal baby’s Great x 13 uncle. Other pieces include a tiny linen vest embroidered with a crown and a small lace mitten belonging to George III. A nursing apron for discreet breastfeeding belonging to Queen Victoria is included as are shoes worn by her many children. A dress blazoned with the three feather insignia belonging to her eldest son, Prince Albert Edward (later Edward VII) is delicate and worth seeing. Also worth seeing is the family tree along the wall so you can work out how the royals from our history are related to the royals of today.


Close up of Prince of Wales Feathers on robe worn by Prince Albert Edward (Edward VII) c. 1841  © Museum of London

Close up of Prince of Wales Feathers on robe worn by Prince Albert Edward (Edward VII) c. 1841
© Museum of London


It’s always free to visit the Museum the London and A Royal Arrival is on from 28 June to October 2013. The display can be found at the entrance to the galleries on the ground floor.


Want to find a hotel near the Museum of London?



Sculpture In The City


For the next 12 months there are artworks by world-famous artists on the streets of the City of London for Sculpture in the City. It is a free outdoor exhibition and you can see all eight pieces in under an hour so it’s a fun reason to explore this area of London.


I’d recommend starting from Liverpool Street Station and this is the first artwork you’ll find:


Love (Artist: Robert Indiana)

Love (Artist: Robert Indiana)


These city workers don’t seem to have noticed the famous artwork right behind them. I wonder what they’re looking at. Anyway, here’s another photo of Love by Robert Indiana:


Love (Artist: Robert Indiana)

Love (Artist: Robert Indiana)


Really great, isn’t it? When you’ve enjoyed this first one cross over at the lights and turn right and then turn left just before Bishopsgate Tower (a building site) for a cut through to the Gherkin. Before you reach 30 St Mary Axe (the address and the ‘proper’ name for the Gherkin) you’ll find three more of the artworks. The first took some detective work and I think we can safely say this is the strangest bench in London:


Bench/Mar Street, E8 (Artist: Keith Coventry)

Bench/Mare Street, E8 (Artist: Keith Coventry)


But surely the actual seat is missing? Has an artwork been stolen? Not in this CCTV covered district, this is how the artwork is supposed to look. Yeah, I’m not sure about this one either. Here’s another picture of ‘Bench’ that you can’t sit on:


Bench/Mar Street, E8 (Artist: Keith Coventry)

Bench/Mare Street, E8 (Artist: Keith Coventry)


Turn around and you’ll see a sculpture that has the best name of the lot: More Really Shiny Things That Don’t Really Mean Anything.


More Really Shiny Things That Don't Really Mean Anything (Artist: Ryan Gander)

More Really Shiny Things That Don’t Really Mean Anything (Artist: Ryan Gander)


And here’s a close up of those unimportant shiny things:


More Really Shiny Things That Don't Really Mean Anything (Artist: Ryan Gander)

More Really Shiny Things That Don’t Really Mean Anything (Artist: Ryan Gander)


I mentioned there are three artworks in this area but where is the other? I was glad I looked on the official website before heading out as I knew to look up but I didn’t know it was going to be that high!


Twenty-Four Hour Flag (Artist: Richard Wentworth)

Twenty-Four Hour Flag (Artist: Richard Wentworth)


So what is it up there that’s attached to the building? Here’s a close-up:


Twenty-Four Hour Flag (Artist: Richard Wentworth)

Twenty-Four Hour Flag (Artist: Richard Wentworth)


Yes, they are kitchen chairs. Artists, eh?


Now walk over to the Gherkin and you won’t fail to miss the huge corten steel dinosaurs which were the first large scale outdoor sculpture project created by brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman in 2007.


The Good, The Bag, The Ugly (Artists: Jake and Dinos Chapman)

The Good, The Bag, The Ugly (Artists: Jake and Dinos Chapman)


There are three dinosaurs (there’s one behind the seven metre high T-Rex) but I liked this angle to photograph.


Look across to the Lloyd’s Building and you’ll pass two more artworks before you reach there. The first is by Antony Gormley and involves two of his famous people sculptures, leaning outwards.


Parallel Field (Artist: Antony Gormley)

Parallel Field (Artist: Antony Gormley)


I thought it might be good to highlight the sculptures in that busy photograph. I waited ages to be able to see them both as I was there on a weekday lunchtime which is a busy time for city workers.


The other artwork here is String Quintet:


String Quartet (Artist: Shira Zeh Houshiary)

String Quartet (Artist: Shira Zeh Houshiary)


In all the madness of the previous artworks this one stood out the least to me. Maybe it would be good to see again when it’s leaving interesting shadows.


The last artwork is just past the Lloyd’s Building and is another by Robert Indiana.


One Through Zero (Artist: Robert Indiana)

One Through Zero (Artist: Robert Indiana)


I do think his large bright style works well as outdoor artwork in the City. These pieces were only installed last week but it was good to see they are being cared for. Yeah, number three is my favourite number too.


One Through Zero (Artist: Robert Indiana)

One Through Zero (Artist: Robert Indiana)


Sculpture in the City is well worth an hour of anyone’s time. You can find out more at cityoflondon.gov.uk/sculptureinthecity.


If you visit soon you can also catch the City of London Festival which has over 100 free events this summer including this kind of thing:


City of London Festival - Trees for Cities

City of London Festival – Trees for Cities


Yes, they were painting the trees ultramarine blue outside St Paul’s Cathedral! It was for Trees for Cities (more info).


If you’d like to spend more time in the City there are plenty of great hotels in the City of London and it’s really quiet in the evenings and at the weekends.



See the Guards Before They Go to Buckingham Palace


I do enjoy watching the ceremonial duties of the Foot Guards of the Queen’s Guard who protect the Queen and royal palaces. The Queen’s Guards are all part of the Household Division who have guarded the Sovereign and the Royal Palaces since 1660. These are no tin soldiers as all are serving members of the armed forces.


Wellington Barracks  © Laura Porter

Wellington Barracks
© Laura Porter


Wellington Barracks  © Laura Porter

Inspection at Wellington Barracks
© Laura Porter


Got to be Early


You need to get in position early to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace as although the ceremony starts at 11.30am (daily in the summer and alternate days in the winter) you won’t see much if you arrive then as the crowds are impressive as this is great free entertainment.


Looks like one of the Inspectors had his family visiting at Wellington Barracks  © Laura Porter

Looks like one of the Inspectors had his family visiting at Wellington Barracks
© Laura Porter


Wellington Barracks  © Laura Porter

Wellington Barracks
© Laura Porter



Not Just Buckingham Palace


There are other locations where you can see the Guards including Friary Court at St James Palace for an 11am inspection as they come off duty. The ‘Old Guard’ marches down The Mall to Buckingham Palace to join up with the other Guards there who are also getting ready to finish their shift.


Wellington Barracks  © Laura Porter

Wellington Barracks
© Laura Porter


Wellington Barracks


Over at Wellington Barracks on the other side of St James’s Park is where the ‘New Guard’ is getting ready and that’s where I recommend going to watch. (It’s where all of these photos were taken.) Arrive around 11am and you’ll see the Guards already out and being inspected. These Guards start their day around 4am when they are on ceremonial duty as they have to polish and brush their uniform to perfection.


Wellington Barracks  © Laura Porter

Wellington Barracks
© Laura Porter


Wellington Barracks  © Laura Porter

Wellington Barracks
© Laura Porter



From about 11.10am the military band at Wellington Barracks plays music while the Guards wait for the New Guard’s Regimental Colour to arrive. This is essentially a large flag.


Wellington Barracks  © Laura Porter

Wellington Barracks
© Laura Porter


Unrestricted View


They all march out from Wellington Barracks, along Birdcage Walk, around 11.30am to go to Buckingham Palace and you’ll then notice the huge crowds that will have amassed while you get to see this part of the ceremony with an unrestricted view. I’d definitely recommend going to Wellington Barracks if you would like to see the Guards for longer as you get around 30 minutes watching them here during their preparations.


Wellington Barracks  © Laura Porter

Wellington Barracks
© Laura Porter


A whole host of ceremonial details take place at Buckingham Palace while the New Guard takes over the role of protectors. When the Old Guard are ready to leave they march back to Wellington Barracks around 12.05pm. If you’ve not managed to see much of the Changing of the Guard ceremony this is another opportunity to get some great photos as they march back in quick time.


The Guards leaving Wellington Barracks  © Laura Porter

The Guards leaving Wellington Barracks
© Laura Porter


There are many great hotels near St James’s Park. I stayed at St Ermin’s Hotel recently and am happy to recommend it.

More pages:

Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace

About Buckingham Palace and where to stay


Kew IncrEdibles Summer Festival

Sam Bompass  © Laura Porter

Sam Bompass
© Laura Porter

This summer Kew Gardens is welcoming anyone who likes eating. Oh, that would be everyone! As the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew has many weird and exotic edible plants and is inviting visitors to experience first-hand a selection of the 12,000 species we can feast on. Hopefully you’ll come away wanting to try something new for dinner as there are many more edible plants available than most of us ever try.


© Laura Porter

© Laura Porter


But this isn’t just about growing plants and eating. Oh no, Kew have laid on lots of fun for this summer festival including boating on the Palm House Pond. This would be lovely in itself as boating hasn’t been available here since 1755 but to add to the fun the water has been dyed blue. The fish and birds which use the pond are not at all bothered by the new blue-ness and it looks a lot more appealing than usual. The idea of the boating lake comes from Bompas & Parr who are known as Architectural Foodsmiths. The pond is now the ‘Tutti Frutti Boating Lake’ and you can row over to Pineapple Island and through Banana Grotto. It’s bright and good fun and worth trying.


©  RBG Kew

© RBG Kew


Tutti Frutti Boating Lake – open daily until Sunday 1 September 2013. Opens 10am (last boat ride 1 hour before closing), tickets available from kiosk by the pond). £4.50 Adults, £2.50 Kids.


Rose Garden Tea Party

©  RBG Kew

© RBG Kew

If you can drag yourself away from the fun on the pond, head into the Palm House to find 60 tropical edible plants, then go behind the Palm House to the Rose Garden Tea Party. This long wooden dining table has edible plants growing out of teapots, tureens and platters. Everyone is welcome to sit down and read the hand-painted Staffordshire crockery which has plant illustrations from Kew’s archives and plants associated with a traditional English afternoon tea.


© Laura Porter

© Laura Porter


Next to the Palm House is the Waterlilly House where 30 species of chillies can be seen alongside tropical edibles with lots of recipe ideas too.


Global Kitchen Garden


On the Great Lawn in front of Kew Palace is the Global Kitchen Garden with two semi-circular raised beds dedicated to herbs and five outer beds representing different regions of the world including South America, West Asia and Europe. This is where you can discover where your favourite foods come from and see how well they can grow in the UK. I liked the Picnic Garden near here which has hops growing up through the middle of the table and covering a parasol frame to provide shade later in the summer.


© Laura Porter

© Laura Porter


I really enjoyed seeing Kew IncrEdibles at the start of the festival and hope to return during the summer, especially as I didn’t get to play at the Bouncy Carrot Patch. There are giant inflatable carrot tops outside the south end of The Princess of Wales Conservatory which you may have to wrestle the kids off so you can have a go too.


©  RBG Kew

© RBG Kew


Kew IncrEdibles is on from 25 May 2013 to 3 November 2013. Find out more from the official website: www.kew.orgFind a hotel new Kew Gardens.



The Cheapside Hoard at the Museum of London

Emerald, diamond & enamel Salamander brooch  © Museum of London

Emerald, diamond & enamel Salamander brooch
© Museum of London

No-one knows why a hoard of jewels, gold and treasure was left buried under the floorboards in a cellar on Cheapside, near St Paul’s Cathedral, but the collection is coming back together to go on public display at the Museum of London later this year. There are around 500 pieces and most haven’t been seen for nearly 100 years.


Back in 1912, when navvies doing building work in the City dug down and found the treasure they took it to ‘Stoney Jack’ who was a Guildhall employee who offered the men a cash incentive to bring in anything of significance. Lord Harcourt, a founding member of the Museum of London, instructed him to buy it all from the navvies and they were said to have gone on a drinking binge for the next few months.


Sardonyx cameo of Ptolemaic queen, possibly Cleopatrta, 1st century AD  © Museum of London

Sardonyx cameo of Ptolemaic queen, possibly Cleopatrta, 1st century AD
© Museum of London

While no individual has made a claim on the collection there were disputes from museums in London over who should keep it. The British Museum bought five pieces and has had others on loan; the V&A felt they should have more as they display the nation’s best design but only received one piece and the Guildhall Museum got the lion share. This became the London Museum and then the now Museum of London which has displayed a small selection of the Hoard for some time.


There was a large public exhibition of the Cheapside Hoard in 1914 which was hugely popular but this year will be the first time the whole of the treasure will be back together and on display. I say the whole of the treasure but, of course, as the hoard was not found by accredited archaeologists it does seem inconceivable that there aren’t more pieces out there.



Why Cheapside?


Cheapside was once the major shopping street in London (cheap actually meant market). What was sold here is quite clear with side roads called Bread Street, Milk Street, etc.  There were goldsmiths on the street too so it’s actually little surprise the hoard was found here. But there had been building work on the street a few times so it’s slightly odd it took so long to find the treasure. Where the Hoard was found is now a shopping location again as it is One New Change.


Carnelian intaglio with Stafford heraldic badge  © Museum of London

Carnelian intaglio with Stafford heraldic badge
© Museum of London



The Museum of London have been researching the Hoard for some time and have been able to narrow down when it was buried. This intaglio has the heraldic badge of William Stafford who was the first and only Viscount Stafford (1612-1680). This, along with recent excavations at the site of discovery that shows clear evidence of damage caused by the Great Fire of London, means we now know the Hoard was buried between 1640 and 1666.


If it had been buried for safe-keeping during the Great Fire of London – as Samuel Pepys did with his Parmesan – then someone would have come back for it as while the fire raged for days there was only one reported death.


What is more likely is that it was a goldsmith who hid the treasure for safekeeping before going to fight during the English Civil War and did not live to return. But we still don’t know for sure who buried the Hoard and why no-one has claimed it.


Gild brass verge watch - the Hoard's only signed piece, c.1600  © Museum of London

Gild brass verge watch – the Hoard’s only signed piece, c.1600
© Museum of London

The Elizabethan and Early Stuart jewellery is full of unique pieces and many un-set gemstones. Only one piece bears the signature of the maker: G Ferlite (see left). All of the jewellery is set in stone and some dates back much further.



Much of the collection would have been made for and worn by merchants rather than aristocracy as merchants were the wealthiest at that time. Bling is nothing new and merchants were brooches on their clothes, in their hair, on bags, etc. and chains were looped and looped to cover the front of clothing.



Some of the objects are still a mystery but could well be bejewelled fan handles or holders for feather decorations to hang from a belt. But as these have never been seen anywhere else before there is nothing to compare.


Conservation of gold & enamel pendant set with two sapphires & an irregular polished spinel  © Museum of London

Conservation of gold & enamel pendant set with two sapphires & an irregular polished spinel
© Museum of London



As gemstones and gold have such longevity only the pearls have deteriorated.


Conservators told us that the enamelling is the most unstable as it is coming away from the gold but conservation practices have changed so much over the years and they are doing little to repair the items. In 1912 the pieces were washed in buckets to remove the loose soil but there are no longer such harsh cleaning techniques. Some still have dirt left on them.


The “incompleteness” is helpful to see the foils behind the gems and the setting materials.


The Hoard has some duplicate objects and this has helped researchers to picture what a completed/whole item would look like.


Columbian emerald watch   © Museum of London

Columbian emerald watch
© Museum of London

The Exhibition


The exhibition is sponsored by Fabergé and their parent company, Gemfields, whose spokesperson told us this is “The most significant collection of pieces we’ve seen in our lives.”


There will be a focus on the people involved with these treasures and not just the jewels themselves. The human stories uncovered include pirates and smugglers as well as gem miners and jewellers. There will be a recreation of a goldsmith’s workshop using a 1576 engraving for guidance.


When asked about the value of the Cheapside Hoard, Hazel Forsyth of the Museum of London replied, “Priceless”.


The exhibition will be running over Christmas 2013 and your Christmas shopping will be made much easier as replica jewellery is being being produced in collaboration with QVC.


The Cheapside Hoard: London’s Lost Jewels, Museum of London,
11 October 2013 – 27 April 2014.


Want to find a hotel near the Museum of London?



Literary London Locations

London has a long history of attracting world renowned writers. Many based their stories on the streets they knew best leaving us with plenty of literary locations in the city.


46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury  © Myrabella

46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury
© Myrabella



Bloomsbury has a long association with writers and artists, especially because of the Bloomsbury Group started in the early 1900s. Virginia Woolf and her sister, Vanessa, formed the group at their home at 46 Gordon Square. These friends shared ideas including liberal political views despite all coming from an upper-middle class background.


The area has had many other famous residents including George Bernard Shaw, Karl Marx and Ghandi. The strong literary connection remain today because of the British Library to the north on Euston Road and the Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street.


The Study at Charles Dickens Museum  © Laura Porter

The Study at Charles Dickens Museum
© Laura Porter


While Dickens lived in many locations across London this is the only surviving building. It was where he set up a family home in 1837 with his wife, Catherine, his first child – a son named Charley, plus his brother Fred and his sister-in-law Mary Hogarth. The building recently had a lot of renovations and is still a historic house worth visiting.


Carlyle’s House in Chelsea is a National Trust property and a chance to visit another celebrity writer’s home. Charles Darwin described Thomas Carlyle as, “The most worth listening to of any man I know.” A prolific writer, Carlyle’s ‘The French Revolution: A History’ published in three volumes in 1837 is his most well-known work and it influenced Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities.


Dr Johnson's House  © kim traynor via geograph

Dr Johnson’s House
© kim traynor via geograph


Dr Johnson’s House in the City is where Samuel Johnson compiled and wrote the first ever English Dictionary. Although Johnson lived in 18 locations across London this is the only surviving building. He lived and worked here from 1748 to 1759. Look out for the statue of Hodge, Johnson’s beloved cat, opposite the house and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a popular historic pub a short walk away on Fleet Street that was frequented by Johnson.  And yes, this is the same Samuel Johnson who said:


“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”


Keats House in Hampstead is where the romantic poet John Keats lived in 1818. He fell in love with the girl next door and became engaged to Fanny Brawne but sadly ill health meant he died in 1820. He had tuberculosis and was advised to move to a warmer climate but died in Italy before they could wed. This is said to be the house where he wrote “Ode to a Nightingale” under a plum tree in the garden.



Shakespeare's Globe Theatre  © (WT-en) P.K.Niyogi

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
© (WT-en) P.K.Niyogi


No look at London’s writers could miss William Shakespeare and the obvious place for fans to go is the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre where you can visit a reconstructed Elizabethan playhouse. There’s a permanent exhibition about the great bard and the theatre which you can visit all year round, and performances take place in the open-air theatre throughout the summer months. Just around the corner you can see the site of the original location of the Globe, and do visit Southwark Cathedral too where Shakespeare worshipped.


Sherlock Holmes Museum  © Sherlock Holmes Museum

Sherlock Holmes Museum
© Sherlock Holmes Museum


For probably the most popular location about a fictional character, the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221B Baker Street is laid out as if the detective and his sidekick, Dr Watson, actually lived there.


Another popular fictional character is Sweeney Todd and sites around Fleet Street claim to be Sweeney Todd’s Barber Shop (at 186 Fleet Street, next to St. Dunstan’s church) and Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop (Bell Yard) and are supposedly connected by an underground passage.


Courthouse DoubleTree Hotel  © Mark Hilary

Courthouse DoubleTree Hotel
© Mark Hilary


Oscar Wilde, as you would expect, has lots of London locations associated with him but the first one I always think of is The Courthouse DoubleTree by Hilton – Regent Street. The building was previously the Great Marlborough Street Magistrates Court and there are still preserved prison cells in the hotel bar. When this was a courthouse it was where the Queensbury scandal was heard as Wilde prosecuted the Marquess of Queensberry for libel in a case that led to his own arrest and conviction of ‘gross indecency’ with other men.


Oscar Wilde portrait by Napoleon Sarony

Oscar Wilde portrait by Napoleon Sarony


A London hotel that was a favourite of Oscar Wilde was The Cadogan Hotel in Knightsbridge where he often went for dinner or drinks. He was also a frequent visitor to Room 118 and this was where his infamous arrest took place, immortalised in a John Betjeman poem.



Jane Austen lived in London and used many locations in her books and Londonist compiled a map of these a few years ago. I recently wrote about blue plaques near The Beaufort Hotel and also included the location where she lived with her brother in 1814.



And if you’d like to own a unique artwork the Literary London Art Map is a typographical delight of fictional character’s names from London’s past and present.




Laura Porter writes the About.com London Travel site and is also a VisitBritain Super Blogger. She’s @AboutLondon on twitter and fits in further freelance writing while sustaining an afternoon tea addiction to rival the Queen’s.






Christmas Markets in London

It may seem early to be thinking about Christmas but as shopping is one of the most popular pastimes in London it could well be time to find out about the shopping opportunities at Christmas Markets.


Southbank Christmas Market  © renaissancechambara

Southbank Christmas Market
© renaissancechambara


Continental Christmas Markets have attracted visitors for a long time but you no longer need to travel to Europe as London too realises how much fun these can be and we have a ‘Cologne Market’ on the Southbank, by the London Eye and Southbank Centre, each winter. It opens in mid-November and runs up to Christmas Eve, with lines of wooden chalets selling wooden toys, handmade gifts and lots of traditional sweets. With the carousel there all year round this makes a really festive location for evening shopping when it’s all lit up.


Foodies are well-catered for at Southbank Centre with the Real Food Market held every weekend (Friday to Sunday) on the Southbank Centre Square, behind the Royal Festival Hall. At Christmas the Real Food Christmas Market includes all you’ll need for the perfect Christmas dinner plus gift foods too.


London Chocolate Festival

London Chocolate Festival


The Chocolate Festival is also on in December at Southbank Square where you can meet chocolatiers and try lots of samples, as well as buying more gifts.


As the festive season is a lot about eating, Taste of Christmas is another good choice. It runs for 3 days at ExCel London with chef demonstrations and many of London’s top restaurant offer seasonal dishes to try. After eating, there’s a boutique market where you can meet producers and choose some unique gifts.


Spirit of Christmas Fair

Spirit of Christmas Fair


Other indoor Christmas fairs worth noting include the Spirit of Christmas Fair at Olympia in early November which is in association with House & Garden. There are workshops, a popular food hall, as well as the Luxury Travel Fair on at the same time.


The Country Living Magazine Christmas Fair is also in early November and is held at the Business Design Centre in Islington. There’s a focus on British exhibitors so you’ll find excellent craft ideas for special decorations as well as gifts. I also like the children’s clothing and toys here as they are always so unusual and well-chosen.


Smaller annual Christmas fairs include Boutique de Noel and the British Red Cross Christmas Fair. Both take place in November and both are at Kensington Town Hall with a preview night then a day of shopping.


Hyde Park Winter Wonderland  © McKay Savage

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
© McKay Savage


The biggest outdoor Christmas event in London is Winter Wonderland which opens in Hyde Park in late November and stays until early January. There’s a Bavarian Village where you can get bratwurst and mulled wine to keep you going while shopping at the Yuletide Market. Bring plenty of money to shop as there are over 100 stalls (but keep it tucked away safely until needed as it attracts big crowds every day). This is a real destination so there’s also a giant observation wheel (a bit like the London Eye), a huge ice rink and 2012 brought an ice sculpture display too. Zippos Circus add to the entertainment with a family show in the daytime and a more adult show in the evening.


Many of London’s markets have special fairs and shopping events for the festive season and Columbia Road shopping evenings are recommended. The street is lined with wonderful unique stores which all stay open, along with a street market, on Wednesdays in December.


With all these options you can avoid Oxford Street which reaches fever pitch on Saturdays each December and can actually enjoy the Christmas shopping experience too.



Laura Porter writes the About.com London Travel site and is also a VisitBritain Super Blogger. She’s @AboutLondon on twitter and fits in further freelance writing while sustaining an afternoon tea addiction to rival the Queen’s.


Hotel Xenia

This is the newest opening in South Kensington, an area popular with visitors to London. It’s a contemporary design-led boutique hotel and only opened last week yet I’ve already been for a look around.


Xenia Hotel London


Xenia is on Cromwell Road and about ten minutes walk away from the famous South Kensington Museums (Natural History Museum, Science Museum and the V&A). The Victorian building was previously the run-down Majestic Hotel but it closed in 2012 for an extensive transformation under new ownership.


The Greek word for generosity and courtesy shown to those who are far from home is Xenia making this an excellent name for a new hotel. Staff are both welcoming and professional and the hotel has joined the Great Hotels of the World group. There are six other GHOTW properties in London including The Landmark London and St James’s Hotel so they are in impressive company from the start.


Xenia Hotel London


As the first space you experience on your arrival at Hotel Xenia, the Lobby sets the tone with Tom Kirk chandeliers complimenting the high Georgian ceiling.


Guest Rooms

Xenia is five floors high and has 99 guest rooms with prices from £160 up to £600 for a suite (excluding VAT). The rooms feel very calm and tranquil; even the rooms that face the busy main road are well soundproofed yet you can watch London life below. The Cole & Son wall coverings complement the muted metallic tones and while you know you are in a historic building the contemporary interiors are right up to date. Guest rooms have ivory deep pile carpets and the signature Hotel Xenia details include hand-woven cashmere blankets on all the beds. Technology is in every room with a Samsung tablet loaded with a guest directory and hotel information – you can even order room service by clicking on the photos in the menu. All rooms have large flat screen TVs, Bluetooth compatible wireless speakers and there’s free wifi for all guests.


Xenia Hotel London


The room levels move from Classic (small but beautiful) to Executive, Deluxe and Suite whose guests are offered access to the Lounge serving complimentary light refreshments between 5pm and 7pm daily. A nice extra so it may well be worth upgrading your booking.


I would have liked to see more storage space, particularly room for a suitcase under the bed would have been appreciated, but the hotel had a secret to win me over: a rooftop bar just for guest use! This was still being finished when I visited but oh wow, the views will be magnificent making this a fabulous place for an evening cocktail.


The Lounge at Hotel Xenia

The Lounge at Hotel Xenia


Speaking of cocktails, the hotel’s Living Wall bar on the ground floor is the place for meeting friends in the evening and even has its own herb garden terrace which will appeal to cigar smokers as the hotel will soon have its own cigar selection available.



The hotel’s Italian restaurant has an interesting food concept: Art Joins Nutrition. This means there is a focus on healthy eating principles, choosing and portioning ingredients carefully whilst cooking them in such a way that they maintain their intensity of flavour and nutrients. Not only will it all taste good but the natural properties of the ingredients should help prevent illness and promote anti-ageing. A balanced three courses will come in under 800 calories but there will still be classic Italian dishes we know and love such as ravioli, risotto and tiramisu. This conservatory restaurant has an outdoor terrace for al fresco dining, plus a private dining room too.


The idea was developed by Italian nutritionist, chef and university lecturer Chiara Manzi whose book will soon be published in English. Xenia’s chef Pasquale D’Ambrosio follows Manzi’s principles and has worked in Rome, Paris, Tokyo, New York and Istanbul. While not yet a well known name in the UK he is a celebrity chef in Italy and has appeared on an array of Italian cookery shows.


It sounds like a really interesting idea but no menus were available when I visited last week. I’m looking forward to seeing the reviews soon and maybe trying a meal there myself too.


Xenia Hotel London


Multi-Function Room

Below the restaurant, there’s another hidden gem. A great space that will be used for wine tasting – the cellar is being stocked this month – and can be hired for events. It also has a huge 3D screen so will make an excellent private cinema. I spotted a blue plaque on a building opposite the hotel marking where Alfred Hitchcock lived so hopefully we’ll see some Hitchcock film nights here soon.


Xenia Hotel


Address: Hotel Xenia London, 160 Cromwell Road, London SW5 0TL

Tel: 020 7442 4242

Check rates for Hotel Xenia on london-hotels.co.uk.



Laura Porter writes the About.com London Travel site and is also a VisitBritain Super Blogger. She’s @AboutLondon on twitter and fits in further freelance writing while sustaining an afternoon tea addiction to rival the Queen’s.

Marchmont Street Tokens

Why does a street in Bloomsbury have metal ‘tokens’ embedded into the pavement? Many people walk along this side street and don’t notice these unobtrusive decorations but they were placed there as a permanent public art installation in 2010 called “Tokens” by John Aldus. There are twenty artworks to see and they are replicas of tokens held at the nearby Foundling Museum.




The Foundling Museum tells the story of the Foundling Hospital which cared for abandoned children in this area from 1739 to the 1920s. The hospital was set up by Thomas Coram who was a pioneer in child welfare, along with William Hogarth – the artist, and George Frederic Handel – the composer. Each left a lasting legacy as Hogarth convinced well known artists of the day to donate paintings to the Hospital and wealthy people would then pay to see them thus creating the first art gallery in London. Handel gave annual performances of The Messiah at the Hospital which brought an income and his Will and scores of his work are on display at the Museum. Coram is a children’s charity that took its name from Thomas Coram to remember all he did to support vulnerable children. There is also the fun free playground in central London, Coram’s Fields.



Anyway, back to those tokens. Why tokens? It can be hard today to imagine the desperation mothers felt at not being able to care for their children. There was no social welfare and there were three major wars in the 1700s so mothers were often left alone and unable to support their family. Before the Foundling Hospital opened babies were often abandoned and the streets of London had piles of dead babies. It sounds sickening now but it was a sign of the times. There was literally nowhere for the mothers to turn to before the Foundling Hospital so it played an important role in saving lives.


As there were so many children who needed care not all could be accepted at the Hospital and there was a ‘pick a ball from a bag’ system to see if you could join the queue that day. If you got the right colour you stayed that day, otherwise you had to try again and hope your child didn’t die before you could return.


inamoreThere were then further strict admittance rules as the child had to be under 12 months old, illegitimate, the mother’s first child and from a mother of good character. These rules could be ‘bent’ in some circumstances and there’s an exhibition at the Foundling Museum at the moment (Fate, Hope & Charity) which includes a heart-wrenching hand-written letter from a mother held at Newgate jail in 1757. In the letter Margaret Larney describes herself as “the unfortunate women that lies under sentens of Death”. Two of her children had already died in the jail with her but she gave birth to a son at the jail who was accepted at the Foundling Hospital along with another brother. She was later executed.


Anyway, why are those tokens along the pavement? Each child that was accepted at the Foundling Hospital was given a new name but the parent, usually the mother, would leave a token to be kept to help identify their child if they were ever in a position to return and collect them. The tokens were never given to the children and were kept wrapped in a piece of paper with the admittance information and filed by date order.


The tokens were small trinkets such as buttons which might show that the father was in the army or small pieces of fabric that could be matched up with the rest of the pattern if the child was ever collected. Thimbles might express the mother’s love even more strongly as dressmaking might be her livelihood and she would be reducing her ability to work by leaving something so valuable with her abandoned child. Coins with added notches to personalise them were sometimes used as tokens and some tokens were designed and engraved specially with as many clues to the identity of the parents as could be included in such a small item.




Marchmont Street is named after the 2nd Earl of Marchmont (1675-1740), one of the founding governors of the Foundling Hospital. The metal representations embedded into the walkway show symbols of hope from eighteenth century women; they show love and the strong desire to give their child a better life than they could offer them. So what seems like very little today actually signify a lot of social history and a very emotional story.


How to Find Them

The nearest tube station is Russell Square. Cross over the zebra crossing right outside the tube station and Marchmont Street is straight ahead (just to the right of Tesco). The tokens are on the right-hand side as you walk up the street.


On Marchmont Street, just after the tokens, is Alara, a great Healthfood shop with an excellent fresh salad take-away. The Brunswick Centre is popular for shopping and the Foundling Museum and Coram’s Fields are the other side of the Brunswick Centre.

All images © Laura Porter.

Laura Porter writes the About.com London Travel site and is also a VisitBritain Super Blogger. She fits in further freelance writing while sustaining an afternoon tea addiction to rival the Queen’s. Laura is @AboutLondon on twitter and @AboutLondon Laura on Facebook. You can find out more about her at about.me/LauraPorter.

Artists in their Studios – New Photographic Exhibition

No two artists’ studios look the same. Some need everything to be tidy and in order and others thrive with chaos. Some work in cramped conditions and others need a lot of space both to produce their artworks and to be creative. A fascinating photographic exhibition opens at Leighton House Museum this week of ‘Studio Sittings’ of famous Royal Academicians featuring Victorian artists and many household names still working today.

Lord Leighton  © National Portrait Gallery, London

Lord Leighton
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Clearly Lord Leighton had to be included as the exhibition is staged where he used to live and work. Leighton House was commissioned by Lord Leighton in 1859 and has a large studio upstairs where he produced such stunning artworks as Flaming June, one of my all-time favourite paintings (the original is at the Ponce Museum of Art in Puerto Rico). The Arab Hall with its golden dome, intricate mosaics and walls lined with beautiful Islamic tiles is not what you would expect to find but it was part of his ‘Palace of Art’ and an added attraction when he opened up his home to the public while still living here.

GF Watts  © Watts Gallery Archive

GF Watts
© Watts Gallery Archive

Artists were celebrities in Victorian times, as they also are today, so it’s interesting how they have chosen to pose and be remembered.

Kenneth Armitage  © Anne Purkiss

Kenneth Armitage
© Anne Purkiss

Anne Purkiss has been photographing some of the most celebrated Royal Academicians for the last 25 years. This is the first time the collection has been displayed together and the images offer a wonderful insight into the way these artists work.

Grayson Perry  © Anne Purkiss

Grayson Perry
© Anne Purkiss

Some of the artists I most admire are included such as Grayson Perry. For years I believed he was a fool in a dress but look beyond the clothing as he is an incredibly talented artist.

Daivd Nash  © Anne Purkiss

David Nash
© Anne Purkiss

I met David Nash when he had his exhibition at Kew Gardens in 2012-13. His artwork is produced from whole trees although he never cuts down a living tree so he also has incredible patience to wait for his material.

Antony Gormley  © Anne Purkiss

Antony Gormley
© Anne Purkiss

The photographer who we have to thanks for these wonderful images is Anne Purkiss, a German born artist who has worked in London since the 1980s, first for Associated Press and then as a freelance photographer.

Christopher Le Brun  © Anne Purkiss

Christopher Le Brun
© Anne Purkiss

Studio Sittings: 15 March to 12 May 2013

Address: Leighton House Museum, 12 Holland Park Road, Kensington, London W14 8LZ

Web: www.leightonhouse.co.uk

© Laura Porter

© Laura Porter

It’s a lovely exhibition and well worth seeing. And, of course, you can visit the rest of Leighton House Museum while there and admire the home and work space of a Victorian artist. Do visit the garden too as it is one of my favourite Tranquil Places in London.



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