Our friends from Unarchived give us another amazing lowdown on London sans the glamor and fashion, modern London is known for! The historical London, we found is equally fascinating!!
When you think about historical cities around the world, we’re sure London would feature near the top of your list. From its most famous sights including the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, to the lesser known historical places, like ancient Roman ruins and Shakespearean theaters, which are equally fascinating. Join us as we share with you the 10 best historical spots in London that are an absolute must when you are here next time!
Today Soho is a prime location for shopping, parties and trips to the theater - but the Soho scene hasn’t always been this colorful. Back in the 17th Century, the city was gripped by the Great Plague and a mass grave was created under what is today known as Carnaby Street. Keep a look out when you’re traveling on the underground, as the tube noticeably takes a sharp turn to avoid it on the Northern Line!
More recently Soho has been a pioneer, with one of its most famous claims being that it is the birthplace of TV. The first public demonstration of a fully working television took place in Soho during the 1920s, after a passionate John Logie Baird worked for over a decade to produce the first working TV. Fast forwarding into the 1960s, you’ve probably heard of the Swinging 60s but did you know this blossomed near Soho in Carnaby Street? This was a time when the area was a hub for young people socializing and exchanging fashion ideas. It was also associated with The Beatles and Mod culture. Stop by Soho on your travels to London if you want to see the former homes of some famous residents including Karl Marx, Mary Seacole and the painter Cannaletto.
Greenwich can be reached by river on the Thames Clipper and is steeped in nautical history. It’s hard to miss the mighty Cutty Sark ship, which is today docked on land and is accessible by the public for a small fee. The Cutty Sark was designed back in the 19th Century to bring tea back from China as fast as possible. Unfortunately it was never confirmed to be the fastest, and the journey would take a total of 4 months each way. Also to be found in Greenwich is the Old Royal Naval College, which was formerly Greenwich Palace, the birthplace of the notorious Tudor monarch Henry VIII. Last but not least, we recommend you keep an eye out for the giant ship in a bottle. This is a tribute to Lord Nelson, who was shot in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1806. His funeral procession set sail from Greenwich, carried on the Royal Barge it’s said there were more attendees than the funerals of both Queen Victoria and Princess Diana.
3. Crystal Palace
Crystal Palace has a wonderful village feel to it and can be found in the suburbs of South East London. This transition town gets its name from the former glass and iron structure that once stood here and resembled a crystal palace. With Crystal Palace being built in Sydenham in 1854, this epic building was an exhibition space, showcasing art and technology from across the globe. Queen Victoria herself opened its doors and it stood for over 80 years until in 1936 it burned down in a raging fire. This great Victorian attraction, meant visitors from across the country came to visit. Grand hotels and pubs were built to accommodate them, most notably Queen’s Hotel and the White Hart Pub, both of which can still be seen in the area today. Being one of London’s highest points, the area was affected badly during WWII when Hitler unleashed the deadly V1 bomb. Head to Crystal Palace today, for stunning views of the city, as well as the last remains of the palace itself.
Southwark is another area of London brimming with history. From Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre to Borough Market with endless tasty treats, you get a real variety of historical delights where we overlook the River Thames. Our favourite piece of hidden history in Winchester Palace, just a few minutes walk from Borough Market. This Medieval palace has long since vanished, except for one large wall, which once would have been the great hall. This was home to the Bishop of Winchester, at the time the second most powerful man in the county, following the King. This was a demonstration of the advance architecture the Normans were capable of and the grounds of the palace even contained two of the oldest known prisons, which got the nickname The Clink. Get a beautiful view of the river and the glass skyscrapers, as you approach the Tudor ship the Golden Hinde II. Whilst the ship docked at Southwark is a reconstruction, the original Golden Hinde was used by Sir Francis Drake to become the first person to circumnavigate the world.
5. Notting Hill
Today it’s most famous as being home to the largest carnival in Europe, but Notting Hill wasn’t always so metropolitan. The brainchild of James Weller Ladbroke, he set out to create a housing estate that would rival that on Regents Street. Unfortunately he ran out of money initially and had to let a large portion of the land to an entrepreneur who wanted to create London’s only inner city race course, that would be known as Kensington Hippodrome. Eventually James’ dreams were realized and he was able to go on to complete the crescent shaped roads, lined with houses called the Ladbroke Estate. Notting Hill since the 1960s has been well known for its musical influence, with bands such as The Clash and Pink Floyd coming out of the area. Counter Culture emerged in the 1970s, based on the hippie subculture, which created its own local economy with clubs, magazine, bands and clothing all based on this new trend. If you’re ever in London for August, you have to got to Notting Hill Carnival! Originally created to bring together different communities, carnival took on a strong Caribbean element, thanks to the large population settling from Jamaica, Trinidad and other islands.
The great (and very long) Caledonian Road, runs through the heart of Holloway. This part of North London is home to Arsenal football club and has also been home to some other famous figures too. Literary great and writer of 1984 George Orwell moved to Holloway in 1944 during WWII, after a V1 bomb had hit his flat nearby. Holloway is also home to some other great heroes from history. Holloway Prison by 1903 had become a women’s only prison and was once the temporary residents for a number of Suffragettes, including leading figures, the Pankhursts. They were trying to win women the right to vote, but women protesting could expect to be arrested. One of the ways the Suffragettes continued their protest inside was by going on hunger strike. The final act of bravery we’re highlighting in Holloway took place in 1970, when the first gay rights demonstration was held in Highbury Crescent. This protest aimed to educate people and stop discrimination against the gay community and saw 150 men hold a torch lit rally in the area.
Shoreditch is frequently associated with Hipsters and is often seen as a centre for young people today interested in art and technology, but Shoreditch and the surrounding areas of Spitalfields and Brick Lane have a history long before the arrival of Silicon Roundabout. Shoreditch sits beside one of the ancient gateways into the Roman city of Londinium, the former Bishops Gate. This means that long has the area seen travellers entering and leaving the city, settling here. Huguenots were the first large scale settlers, arriving from France in the 17th Century, they went on to establish silk weaving factories and Spitalfields Market became a place to buy luxurious silk clothing. After that there were Jewish people from Eastern Europe settling and more recently Bangladeshi people. All have left a cultural influence in the area, from Jewish bagel shops to Bangladeshi curry houses, Shoreditch has it all. We recommend visiting Brick Lane to see an interesting meeting of these three cultures.
Brixton lies in the South of London and will take you just over 15 minutes to arrive here by tube on the Victoria Line from St Pancras International. Coming out of the station, you can cross the road and see a mural commemorating Brixton’s most famous local, David Bowie. In the wake of his death - earlier this year - fans flocked to the site to leave tributes to one of the great musical icons. Electric Avenue isn’t just the name ofcatchy song by Eddy Grant, but it’s also the UK’s first shopping street to be lit with electricity. Built in 1888, with its large department stores, Brixton could rival Oxford Street for its fashionable shops. The avenue was covered by a large glass canopy and had lot’s of fairy lights surrounding its exterior. It’s thought this is where the tradition for large scale switching-on of Christmas lights in shopping districts began. If you have a spare moment in this vibrant part of town, pay a visit to Brixton Windmill, a traditional mill from the 19th Century which would have been used to produce flour for the local area. At one point, this would have been the largest building in the area and has been fully restored for visits.
If you had arrived in Merton over 900 years ago the view would have looked very different to that of which you see today, which is dominated by a multi-story shopping center. The first major difference you would spot is the absence of a church building known as Merton Priory, which was as large as Westminster Abbey found in central London which is today used for coronation of the new monarch. Built in the Middle Ages this was a place where religious men could study and is known for educating England’s only Pope Adrian IV. When Henry VIII overhauled the country’s religious traditions, he demolished many of the existing religious buildings, which meant that Merton Priory along with countless others was destroyed. If you walk for less than 5 minutes you will come across the tranquil River Wandle. This was once the heart of industry in the area, with businesses using the water to power their new technology in the Industrial Revolution. In particular the River Wandle was used in the textile industry, with big names in print and design like Liberty’s of London and William Morris setting up shop alongside the river. Head to Abbey Mills Merton Saturday or Sunday to see the last working water mill in the country.
Kingston offers a quieter side to London’s busy paced central lifestyle, falling on its borders in South West London. If Medieval history is what you’re looking for then you won’t be disappointed, as Kingston has strong ties to the Saxon royalty of the 5th Century. Make your way towards the local Guildhall, where outside you will spot the ancient Coronation Stone. Rumour has it that nearby stood a site where several Saxon kings were crowned and the Coronation Stone is the only thing that remains and is said to be over a thousand years old. The Game of Thrones series has many storylines in common with real life Saxon tales. From getting stabbed in the back by your allies, to a battle for the throne by five kings, Kingston was at the centre of it all. The River Thames was vital to early inhabitants of the capital who relied on it for water and trade purposes. Trips are available up-river towards Hampton Court Palace, which was the main home for Henry VIII and his six wives. We definitely recommend a visit to this old royal residence, it’s maze alone is worth the trip!
We hope this has inspired your visit to some of London’s best historical spots. Whilst there is a lot of history on offer in the city, sometimes it’s the lesser known places that really capture our imagination and bring the past to life. To learn more about the history of local places across London, visit the Unarchived website where they make it easier for travellers to access history on the go.