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.
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.
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.
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.
Emmeline Pankhurst statue
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.
Did you know?
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.
Sir Winston Churchill
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.
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've 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.
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.
Georgian homes along Lord North Street
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.
Painted ‘Public Shelters’ sign, no.8 Lord North Street
Painted ‘Public Shelters’ sign, from 1940
Smith Square street sign from 1726
Have you seen?
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.
'Little Ben' clock tower in Victoria
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.
Apartments along Page Street
Regency Street Dwellings
Millbank Tower, Westminster
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.
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).
Sir John Gielgud Blue Plaque
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.
It’s good to talk!
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Inspired to visit the historic streets of Westminster?
Then grab your overnight bag and let’s start planning.
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