The neogothic Palace of Westminster, from the Victoria Tower corner, with the bell tower popularly known as 'Big Ben' in the distance.

A stroll around Westminster, London – Part 1

In Cities, Days Out, London, Mini Breaks, Our Journeys, Trip-Types, UK Travel by Janis12 Comments

Stylish architecture, history and intrigue

You may have spotted from some of our previous London posts, that we like to discover our intriguing capital city one district at a time.
I love researching all the little truths and trivia about a location. If you’ve never visited Smithfield in the City of London, you’ll be amazed at the murky past in this district.

The neogothic Palace of Westminster, from the Victoria Tower corner, with the bell tower popularly known as 'Big Ben' in the distance.

Palace of Westminster

In Westminster, I more or less kept away from the grisly tales. Although I’m sure, there must be some skeletons hidden in the Houses of Parliament cupboards somewhere.

However, just as a snippet of history, the Old Palace Yard next to the Palace of Westminster was once used for executions. Standing here now is the statue of Richard the Lionheart, though in darker days it is where Guy Fawkes and his conspirators were hanged in 1606. Then in the same yard in 1618, Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded.

Quick Links

While writing this post, it soon dawned on me that there will need to be a ‘part II’. There are so many fascinating things to discover in this region, one article was not enough.

If only Westminster’s streets could talk

It’s a shame that Elizabeth Tower (aka Big Ben) was under scaffolding. Still, thankfully, this wasn’t our first visit to Westminster.

Big Ben, the bell itself was actually made in a foundry in Whitechapel, which we’d passed only 2 days earlier, during our visit to Spitalfields in East London.

The Palace of Westminster, from Victoria Tower Gardens, with a Union Flag flying over the Victoria Tower.

Palace of Westminster, from Victoria Tower Gardens

All around the magnificent Palace of Westminster, there is so much history. Just next to the Houses of Parliament along the banks of the River Thames is Victoria Tower Gardens.

Within these pleasant gardens is the statue to the remarkable suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst.

Also here is the Buxton Memorial Fountain erected in 1866, to commemorate the emancipation of slavery.

The bronze statue on a stone plinth to Emmeline Pankhurst, the suffragette, on the edge of Victoria Tower Gardens next to the Palace of Westminster.

Emmeline Pankhurst statue

The Buxton Memorial Fountain, a communal water fountain covered by a decorative neogothic spire, set in Victoria Tower Gardens, next to the Palace of Westminster.

Buxton Memorial Fountain

Just opposite the gardens is the Jewel Tower.

This 14th-century tower was built around 1365 to house the personal treasure of Kind Edward III.

It is now open to the public and managed by English Heritage.

It is one of two medieval buildings that survived the fire in Westminster Palace in 1834.

The Jewel Tower in Westminster.  This is the only surviving element of the original Palace of Westminster.

Jewel Tower

Did you know?

That the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey including Saint Margaret’s Church, are included on the UNESCO World Heritage list. These beautiful buildings were inscribed in 1987.

Kings and Queens were crowned

Wandering through Parliament Square Garden, one after the other their striking statutes lining the walkways. Each one with an important tale to share that so often changed the path of history. A few to mention are Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Millicent Garrett Fawcett and Sir Winston Churchill.

The bronze statue of Sir Winston Churchill in his later years wearing a heavy overcoat and using a walking stick, with the towers of Westminster Abbey in the background.

Sir Winston Churchill

A statue to Millicent Garrett Fawcett in Parliament Square Garden in central Westminster.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett statue

Then standing so striking and one of the most important religious buildings in the United Kingdom is Westminster Abbey. Ever since William the Conqueror was crowned here on Christmas Day in 1066, every British monarch (bar one or two) has had their coronation here.
Many Royal weddings have taken place in this magnificent building since it was first founded in 960, over a thousand years ago. The most recent of these was for Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011.

The facade of Westminster Abbey dominated by it's two white towers and large stained glass window.

Westminster Abbey

Looking across the lawn of Dean’s Yard with Westminster Abbey in the background.

Dean’s Yard with Westminster Abbey in the background

Just nearby the entrance to Westminster Abbey and so often missed by tourists is Deans Yard. Just stroll through the archway leading off The Sanctuary, and you’ll discover a peaceful Green, which is commonly used by the local Westminster School.

Want to discover more than about London?

We have a little book on our shelves that we sometimes delve into when we're about to hit an area of London.

Packed full of historical facts, and broken down into the different regions of London, it's a great resource to help you see what's hidden in plain sight.

Available in Kindle & Hardback editions, it's an excellent addition to anyone's collection who loves London.

Around Smith Square

Smith Square and its surrounding roads is an attractive part of Westminster. What strikes you immediately when you stroll to the centre is St. John’s, Smith’s Square. An imposing Baroque church that has now been converted into a concert hall.

The former church of St. John’s in Smith’s Square build in an English Baroque style that has now repurposed as a concert hall in Westminster.

St. John’s, Smith’s Square concert hall

However, then meandering off along the side streets of Lord North Street and Cowley Street, there are some beautifully kept Georgian homes.
Over the years these few streets have become a bit of a political heartland, with Harold Wilson formerly living at no. 5. However, the architecture and history along here are fascinating.

A view along Lord North Street featuring Georgian homes and the traditional cast iron period streetlamps.

Georgian homes along Lord North Street

The front of number 5 Lord North Street, in Westminster, that was once home to British Prime Minister Harold Wilson.  A traditional black wooden door with a polished brass lion's head door knocker with a painted white surround.

No. 5 Lord North St, former home of Harold Wilson

Old streets signs dating from 1722 and 1726, and you can also still see the painted sign on the wall from 1940 outside no. 8. This is informing you where the public air raid shelters are.

The front of number eight Lord North Street, in Westminster, with a Painted ‘Public Shelters’ sign from the second world war.

Painted ‘Public Shelters’ sign, no.8 Lord North Street

The stencilled sign on brickwork indicating the prence of an underground public air raid shelter in Westminster.

Painted ‘Public Shelters’ sign, from 1940

The corner of Smith Square, showing the original street sign from 1726, in addition to a more modern one.

Smith Square street sign from 1726

Have you seen?

If you enjoy finding out a little more about London districts, take a look at the articles we created for Spitalfields, Camden Market, Clerkenwell, St James’s, Temple and Greenwich.

Nearby in Victoria

If Big Ben is under scaffolding, then head up to its little brother near Victoria Station.

‘Little Ben’ with the beautiful Victoria Palace Theatre beyond, is a cast iron miniature clock tower, which was erected in 1892.

It has been given a little TLC over the years and was reinstated in February 2016 after it was removed for 4 years.

The black and gold cast-iron clock tower known as 'Little Ben' in front of the Victoria Palace Theatre in London's Victoria.

'Little Ben' clock tower in Victoria

Just along Victoria Street is the incredible red and white striped Westminster Cathedral. The cathedral was constructed between 1895 and 1903. So, reasonably recent in terms of other buildings around this neighbourhood.
The red brick and white stone of neo-byzantine styled Westminster Cathedral from Cathedral Plaza

Westminster Cathedral

The gate to the Cathedral Choir School, with the bell tower of Westminster Cathedral in the background.

Westminster Cathedral choir school

The nave is said to be the widest in England and is 59 feet (18 metres) and 230 feet (70 metres) long. We visited whilst a service was in progress, so interior photography was forbidden.

A helpful guide

If you've yet to discover London and its ancient history, then let's start planning. I find these DK Eyewitness Travel Guides invaluable. They're extremely informative, easy to follow, and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more of those fascinating sites.

You can now grab a recently revised copy of this guidebook, so you won't miss a thing.

Other architecture and notable buildings

While strolling around this historical district of London we came across so many eye-catching buildings, Gary just couldn’t stop taking photos.
Some of them were people’s residence, some were noteworthy buildings and others just so synonymous for a specific architectural era of the time.

A series of six-storey social housing tower blocks in Westminster featuring an unusual checkerboard facade.

Apartments along Page Street

A courtyard between two apartment blocks with ornate, cast-iron, streetlamps in Regency Street, Westminster

Regency Street Dwellings

The Millbank tower is shooting out of the Millbank complex on the banks of the River Thames in Westminster.

Millbank Tower, Westminster

An art deco styled tower block, Marsham Court in Westminster.  Familiar red brick & cream stone that is mirrored in other buildings in the area.

Marsham Court in Marsham Street

A little something different

As always, we are often on the hunt for filming locations, and on this visit to London, we sought out the Regency Café. Built-in the beautiful Art Deco style and still has many of its original features this café first flung open its doors in 1946.
You may recognise it from the movies Layer Cake, Rocketman, Pride and Brighton Rock.

The art deco styled Regency Café on Page Street, Westminster.  This no-frills café has featured in a movie or two.

Regency Café

And it wouldn’t be the same if I wasn’t searching out the infamous Blue Plaques around these London streets.

Here are just a couple of the few we found. One was along Cowley St., for the actor and director Sir John Gielgud.

The other along Barton St. for T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia).

A blue plaque on a house in Cowley Street, Westminster, to the legendary British actor Sir John Gielgud.

Sir John Gielgud Blue Plaque

A blue plaque on number 14 Cowley Street, Westminster, once home to T.E. Lawrence  who is probably better know as Lawrence of Arabia.

T.E. Lawrence blue plaque (aka Lawrence of Arabia)

Places to visit

There are plenty of places to visit while you’re around Westminster and quite often there is a charge.

However, if you love art, then head to Tate Britain.

This fascinating gallery, along Millbank on the banks of the River Thames, is free of charge.

You are looking up to the neo-Classico portico of the Tate Britain gallery on the banks of the River Thames.

Tate Britain

Alternatively, if you wish to visit Westminster Abbey, Churchill War Rooms and many other sites in London, then grab this Explorer Pass for discounts on these attractions.

It’s good to talk!

Please share with us the fascinating districts of London you have found and drop us a comment below. We always love to visit more.

* This post may contain links to affiliated sites where we earn a small commission at no additional charge to you.

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  1. I really enjoyed this post! My husband and I are exactly the same, we love to dig deep into London, one district at a time. I know Westminster quite well, but you have introduced me to parts I didnt know much about, so thank you for that! I love that statue of Sir Winston, it captures him perfectly. Really enjoyed this post xx #farawayfiles

    1. Author

      Thanks very much Kerry. It is fascinating strolling around London, day in day out you wander past places and don’t give them a second look. Then suddenly something makes you stop and you see it so differently.

  2. I visited the Churchill War Rooms last year and they were excellent. We walked around Westminster a little bit but it was a cold snowy day. Obviously I need to go back! #FarawayFiles

    1. Author

      We never made it to the Churchill War Rooms although it is certainly somewhere I’d love to visit. Every time we head to London our list seems to get longer not shorter, nit that I’m complaining.

  3. Thank you for sharing your tour of Westminster. I love learning about London’s boundless history, and the fact there is a Little Ben too. We recently did a family tour of the Houses of Parliament, which I was very impressed to find was free for kids. #FarawayFiles

    1. Author

      It’s always a pleasure having a little more time in a location so that you can dig a little deeper around the side streets. Visiting the Houses of Parliament sounds great, my parents did that a couple of years ago and said it was really interesting.

  4. Discovering London one district at a time is a great way of getting to know London. Deans Yard is a lovely little spot and a lovely place to escape to when the people and the traffic all get a bit too much! #farawayfiles

    1. Author

      Yes, you are right about Dean’s Yard, considering that it is right next to Westminster Abbey it is often quiet. Victoria Tower Gardens along by the river was really pleasant too.

  5. Ahhh! A part of London that I’ve been to! We wandered from Big Ben to the Victoria Palace Theater to see Hamilton this past September. It was amazing! The Albert pub on Victoria street was definitely worthy of a pint or a Pimm’s, all festooned in flower boxes when we were there. I’m smitten with the font on the Regency Cafe. Lovely photos and fascinating history. Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles. Cheers from Copenhagen.`

    1. Author

      We’ll keep a lookout for The Albert pub for next time, any excuse for a stop. The Regency Cafe was really nostalgic, it was so busy though. Yes, there is some fascinating history around Westminster.

    1. Author

      Yes it is fascinating, your mind just wanders to how this district was like in the past. There are some weird and wonderful street names in the financial city of London too.

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