I can’t believe I haven’t chosen this brand as my brand of the month yet, as they’ve been around for a while and I own several of their pieces. The brand is:
YOU MAKE ME DESIGN
You Make Me Design is run by Emily, who is inspired by all things cute, vintage and kitsch. She makes all her pieces in her North East coastal studio (another reason to love this brand, as I am also from the North East!).
My absolute favourite item from this brand is my Scared Pumpkin Brooch, now available once again for a limited time for Halloween.
The Geffrye Museum in Hoxton may be closed for refurbishment, but the tours of the restored almshouse are still going ahead. Previously, you had to turn up on the day and hope for the best, but now it’s possible to book in advance for some Tuesday and Wednesday tours. I took the day off work and signed up.
The almshouses were founded by Sir Robert Geffrye, chair of the Ironmongers’ Company. Most of the almshouses have now been converted into the museum, but one still remains, and has been restored to how it might have looked in the past.
On the ground floor, one room looks as it might have done in the eighteenth century, home to a poor pensioner who may have fallen on hard times. The fireplace is large and functional, as the inhabitant would have had to cook their own meals here. They also had to furnish their own room. The chairs here are very low because when their feet rotted – as they would often do in poorer houses – they were cut off and the rest of the chair preserved. Candles were usually made of tallow – the cheapest substance available – and were kept locked in an iron container so they were not eaten by mice. Pensioners got a pension that was roughly equivalent to £8,000 per annum, but they were subject to various rules and regulations, such as a 7pm curfew (9pm in summer), compulsory attendance at church or chapel, and a ban on swearing, fornication, adultery and other undesirable behaviours.
Upstairs, another room is set out as it might have looked during the late nineteenth century. By this time, some of the rules and regulations had been relaxed, and pensioners enjoyed a larger allowance – equivalent to approx £16,000 per annum. However, the owners of the almshouses looked for a “better class” of inhabitants, who had to prove they could supplement their pensions with a small income. Many inhabitants at this time were retired governesses, respectable spinsters with not much money who had no home of their own, having spent their lives in other peoples’.
These inhabitants did not have to cook their own food – and many did not know how to, anyway. Therefore, the fireplace here is much more decorative. Light was provided by oil lamps, though the flickering nature of the ‘fish-tail’ lamps meant that many people still preferred to read by candlelight. There are many more objects in this room than the other, a testament to the industrial revolution which ensured mass-produced furniture and decorative items were available at lower cost. The room is also filled with photographs, popular with Victorians, and with souvenirs of holidays, such as a booklet about Scarborough.
Adjacent to the two almshouse rooms are two small exhibition spaces, looking at the history of the almshouses. In the basement there is an indoor toilet, installed during the nineteenth century, and a laundry room, though many of the Victorian inhabitants would have sent their laundry out.
The almshouse tour is only £5 (plus booking fee if pre-booked via Eventbrite) and is run by knowledgeable volunteers. While the main Geffrye Museum is closed, it’s well worth checking out.
One of the places I was most excited about visiting during Open House London was Wandsworth Prison Museum, as it is so rarely open. This tiny, free museum in a small garage near the museum entrance is crammed with relics and artefacts relating to the history of Wandsworth Prison.
These include: examples of prison officer uniforms, an ‘escape board’ listing the names of inmates thought to be an escape risk, a selection of truncheons and handcuffs, and documents relating to the prison’s history. There is a photograph of ten-year-old Robert Davey, sentenced to three months in prison in 1874 for stealing rabbits, and and an Illustrated London News article about Kate Webster, the only woman to be executed at the prison: she was hanged in 1879 for killing her elderly employer, Julia Thomas. There is an original Victorian prison door, which was only replaced in the last few years. The hangman’s noose on display is actually a film prop, but the black cap which was worn by the judge pronouncing sentence of death is the real thing.
I had also been able to sign up for an architectural tour of the prison, which was a strange experience. The prison was built in 1851 as the Surrey House of Correction, laid out in a panopticon style, with wings radiating out from a central chamber. At the time it was built it was hailed as the prime example of a modern prison, designed to accommodate the increasing numbers of prisoners that the smaller London jails could not cope with. It originally held both male and female prisoners, though now it is a male-only prison. We passed the former location of the condemned cells and the gallows, a sobering experience, and also paid a visit to the prison’s medical centre, where Oscar Wilde, one of the prison’s most famous residents, spent some time. Other notorious prisoners over the years have included John Haigh, Ronnie Kray, Derek Bentley and escapee Ronnie Biggs.
The tour was unusual and worthwhile; the museum is fascinating and well worth a visit.
As part of the Open House London weekend I visited Lancaster House, a private palace now managed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For many years known as Stafford House, it was the London home of the Dukes of Sutherland between 1830 and 1911, before the lease was bought by Lord Leverhulme. As a Lancastrian, he gave it its present name, and presented it to the nation: first as a home for the London Museum, then as a centre for Government hospitality.
The House began as York House, home of the Duke of York, brother of George IV. It was begun by architect Benjamin Dean Wyatt, but the Duke soon died and the lease was sold to the second Marquess of Stafford. The Marquess himself, then the Duke of Sutherland, died only a few years later, and the second Duke decided to expand the house to accommodate his growing family. He employed architect Sir Robert Smirke, but Wyatt was still involved with the decoration of the state rooms, leading to a somewhat awkward situation. The decoration was eventually completed by Charles Barry.
During the nineteenth century Stafford House was a centre of political life, playing the same role to the Whigs as Apsley House (residence of the Duke of Wellington) did to the Tories. The second Duchess, Harriet, was a friend of Queen Victoria and her Mistress of the Robes. Several famous people stayed in the house, notably Garibaldi in 1864, and Chopin in 1848. Nowadays, the house is often let out for filming; it makes a good stand-in for Buckingham Palace, as in Downton Abbey and The King’s Speech.
I spent some time in the grand entrance hall before the tour began. We were taken around the house, beginning upstairs and later heading to the downstairs rooms. The rooms are ornately decorated and very grand, an appropriate setting for the national and international political meetings that often take place here. Downstairs, I was particularly excited by the library and its built-in bookshelves.
Touring Lancaster House was a fascinating experience, and I’m glad I got the chance to do so.
I’ve been meaning to visit Orleans House Gallery for some time, and the annual Heritage Open Days event provided the perfect opportunity. The Gallery is situated beside the river at Twickenham, south-west London, in beautiful grounds.
The Gallery is home to temporary exhibitions in both the main building and the stables. The current exhibition in the main gallery is Collection Curiosities, featuring intriguing pieces from the Richmond Borough Art Collection, and it contains many fascinating works including a picture of the ‘Hammersmith Ghost’ and a necklace of human bones. In the Stables Gallery, the current exhibition explores the work of local artist Roger Hutchins, whose varied output is well worth a look and features many local landmarks.
Upstairs, a study room hosts small permanent exhibitions on the French connection to Orleans House, the explorer Richard Burton (who grew up in the vicinity), and the local area. There are also several paintings on the wall with a local connection or theme, and visitors are invited to comment on them by writing on a luggage tag and sticking it alongside the picture. I really liked this interactive aspect and some of the comments were really amusing.
Because of the Heritage Open Day I was able to take part in a tour of the Gallery, learning about its history along the way. James Johnston, joint Secretary of State for Scotland, commissioned architect John James to build a house in 1710. Ten years later, the Baroque Octagon Room was constructed, designed by the Scottish architect James Gibbs. Both George I and George II visited, and Queen Caroline (wife of George II) and her children dined here in 1729. A dinner menu from this time is still in existence. Louis Philippe, Duc d’Orleans, lived here in exile from 1815-1817, and gave the house the name by which it is now known. He became King of France in 1830, revisiting in 1844 accompanied by Queen Victoria. Louis’s son, Henri, Duc d’Aumale, lived here for nearly two decades from 1852, building a gallery and library next to the house.
The Octagon Room has recently been restored, and along with part of the adjoining building is the only remaining part of the original structure, which was demolished in the early twentieth century. The rest of the site was saved by wealthy local Nellie Ionides, who sounds quite a character – she liked poodles and champagne, and combined her two interests by naming her pet poodles after brands of champagne. In the garden, it is possible to see markers showing where rooms of the house would originally have been located, and there is a model of the site inside.
Nowadays, Orleans House is a successful small gallery running numerous exhibitions and events, and is well worth a visit.
Somehow I ended up visiting several places of worship during Heritage Open Days. It made me realise what a variety of history and culture is contained in them.
I started with a visit to St George’s German Lutheran Church in east London on the first Saturday. This church was built in 1762 for the influx of German immigrants during that time. It’s a beautiful, austere church, and there were information boards explaining the history.
The following week I visited St Margaret Lothbury, which is found in the City. This church was built by Christopher Wren and boasts one of only two screens in the City of London made by English woodworkers.
Next I headed down to Greenwich, to St Alfege’s Church. I’ve been here before to attend concerts, and in fact I got there just in time to enjoy an opera recital before my tour of the crypt – my reason for visiting.
There has been a church on this site for over a thousand years, and the current building by Nicholas Hawksmoor dates from 1718. The crypt was built beneath to store bodies. The floor is higher than it used to be because there are bodies beneath the floor, and other coffins are stored in the bricked-in parts of the crypt.
The most famous of these is probably General Wolfe, mentioned in Hamilton by Aaron Burr as the general who “took a bullet in the neck in Quebec”. During World War II, the crypt was used as an air raid shelter for Greenwich locals.
The London Fo Guang Shan Temple is not far from Oxford Street. It was established in 1992 and is also known as the International Buddhist Progress Society. It is one of two British branches of the Fo Guang Shan Monastery, Taiwan.
The temple is located in a former parish school and Church House of 1868–70 designed by William Butterfield, which is grade II* listed. I got to watch (and sample) a vegetarian cooking demonstration, and then got a tour of the building, including the spaces for meditation and prayer.
My final visit was to St Giles-in-the-Fields, also known as the Poets Church. Here there was a short theatrical performance, based on the life of Alicia, Duchess of Dudley. Distraught when her husband left her for a younger woman, she resolved to dedicate her life to good works and the education of her five daughters, one of whom is buried in the church. In real life, the Duchess was largely responsible for the rebuilding of the church.
Headstone Manor & Museum is the local history museum for the London Borough of Harrow in northwest London. It was built in around 1310, and was once home to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The house is surrounded by a filled moat, the oldest in Middlesex.
After Henry VIII became the head of the Church of England, he took control of the Manor and surrounding lands, eventually selling it to a court favourite. It remained in private ownership, undergoing dramatic changes, extensions and restorations, until it fell into disrepair and was bought by Hendon Rural District Council in 1925. The site was opened as Harrow Museum in 1986, and a restoration programme began in 2004.
The Manor is Grade I listed, and is full of information on the history of Harrow: it has records dating to the year 825.
The tour started by the visitor centre, which was built in 2017. We headed into the “Small Barn”, which has a display of rural life in the life of Headstone Manor. We were shown the “Great Barn” (often used for special events) and the 18th-century Granary (moved from a site in Pinner in 1991), before heading into the Manor itself.
Being taken around the house by a guide meant that we had various interesting things pointed out to us, including the joins where extra bits of the house had been added on, graffiti on the outside walls, and uncovered bits of wallpaper. The Great Hall originally extended out into the garden, but most of it was destroyed in a fire. The house also has various displays of historical information and objects, focusing on such varied subjects as the construction of the Metropolitan Railway into Harrow, and cookery book writer Isabella Beeton.
After the tour, I was able to take some time to wander around the house at my own pace. It is a fascinating place to visit and free to enter, so well worth the trouble.
As part of the annual Heritage Open Days, I headed to the House Mill, somewhere I’ve been meaning to visit for a while. The Mill has a rich history and I was able to enjoy a fascinating guided tour.
The House Mill is an important but little-known Grade I listed building on the River Lea in Bromley-by-Bow, part of the Three Mills complex. The original tidal mills here date back to the Domesday book of 1086, and the present structure of the House Mill was built in 1776 by Daniel Bisson (after a fire in 1802 it was quickly rebuilt). It is the world’s largest tidal mill, with four water wheels, and was used to mill grain for gin distilleries.
In 1989 work began to restore the House Mill site, which included the rebuilding of the Miller’s House, which had been demolished in the late 1950s after wartime damage. The façade of the house was rebuilt to the 1763 design, and used original eighteenth-century bricks.
I turned up in plenty of time for my tour, and we were taken into the mill by our guide. The building which is now the entrance area and cafe originally used to be the house, which is why there are fireplaces on this side, but not in the mill itself. It was very important not to risk fire with so much grain and wood around, and in fact there was actually a fire in 1802.
We started at the top of the building, where bags of grain were winched up to begin their journey. The natural pressure of the grain pushed it down chutes to the next floor down, where it was ground down. Eighteenth-century machinery sits alongside nineteenth-century examples so it’s possible to see the difference in process.
At the bottom of the building, we saw the original wheels used in the tidal mill, sadly falling into ruin now. The mill, as well as all other mills on this site, worked when the tide went out, so that they would all share in its power. Here it’s also possible to see the doors through which carts would drop off their sacks of grain, and the ropes that would take them up to the top of the building.
The people who work at the House Mill are trying to raise money to restore the mill, starting with the wheels. If you happen to have a spare £500,000, do send it their way!
Address: The Miller’s House, Three Mill Lane, London, E3 3DU
As the title suggests, my mam came down to London for the weekend and we did a few exciting things. Well, they were all exciting for me. A couple of them weren’t too exciting for my mam. Sorry, Mam.
So the first place we went was Cahoots, the 1940s London Underground-themed bar near Carnaby Street. This was fun and we got some cool cocktails.
The next day we popped into the National Gallery first – we haven’t been there for ages. I was surprised at how badly it was all signposted compared to, say, the V&A, but there was some interesting stuff. We also had a wander around St Martin-in-the-Fields.
We also went down to the Bomber Command Memorial, near Green Park, before going for tea at Enzo’s Kitchen – where we went because we are both Inspector Montalbano fans and I was able to get MONTALBANO’S ACTUAL FAVE PASTA. Yum. Sardine pasta, and the nicest bread I have ever had.
The next day I dragged Mam to a sonnet event at the Globe – I loved it but I’m not sure she was too keen! Next time she comes down I promise not to take her to things she feels dubious about…