Places you didn’t know existed

Think you know London like the back of your hand? We bet there are still a few places you’re unaware of. Read on to see how many you can tick off.


A castle in Mayfair

You might not know about Berkeley Castle simply because it’s practically impossible to spot. From Berkeley Square head north up Davies Street, keeping your eye out for a little alley called Mount Row. You’ll be able to spy the gothic entrance from here, but sadly nothing more. The design of the five bedroom property emulates that of a medieval hunting lodge, complete with stone walls and Tudor panelling, despite being built in the 1930s. Its privacy has made it very popular with celebs, as Cher, Paula Yates and Michael Hutchence have all stayed here at one time or another (Hutchence even kicked a door in during a fit of rage, and the bugger still won’t close properly). Once owned by PR honcho - and great-grandson of Sigmund - Matthew Freud, he sold it in 2009 for a very cool £4.3 million, and that’s despite the faulty door.

Kew Garden’s little sister

The Isabella Plantation is a stunning ornamental garden with blooms all year round, and will save you the hefty ticket price of Kew Gardens. It may be smaller but it boasts a large array of exotic plants, including Japanese irises in summer and winter-flowering heathers. There are plenty of birds, squirrels and rabbits but unlike the rest of Richmond Park deer are not allowed to enter in case they harm the park’s flora. You’ll find the Isabella Plantation in the south west corner of Richmond Park, via the Robin Hood or Kingston gates.

A Finnish sauna

The Finnish Church in Rotherhithe is not just a place of worship, it’s also a community centre with a traditional wooden sauna and a shop selling Scandinavian food. To use the sauna you can either book a communal visit (when there will be other people there, although there are separate sessions for men and women) or book a private session. In Finland a typical sauna session would end with jumping into an icy lake – great for the skin - but it’s probably best not to do this in the docklands.
\n\nAn art gallery in a subway

What used to be a kiosk in the Edgware Road subway is now a fully-fledged, albeit minuscule art gallery. Artist Robert Gordon McHarg III conceived the Subway Gallery in 2006, and exhibitions mostly revolve around rock ‘n’ roll and pop culture. Artists on show tend to be up and coming rather than established ones, and McHarg proudly bills the Subway an “outsider artist-run gallery”.

A place where science is sexy

The Dana Centre is adults-only, but before you get any funny ideas we should clarify that the venue is devoted to contemporary science. Here you can take part in thought-provoking debates, hear stand-up comedians demystify science in humorous fashion, watch catwalk shows and even spend an evening exercising your espionage skills by attempting to decipher codes. Most events are free, and drinks and food are served in the café/bar, but if you can’t be bothered to attend in person you can usually join in the fun via their webcasts.

The former home of L. Ron Hubbard

The founder of Scientology, the (delete as appropriate: frightening/deranged/kooky) cult so beloved of Hollywood, wrote some of his most important works in London. He lived at Fitzroy House, 37 Fitzroy Street for many years, and the building today is pretty much a museum devoted to the author, with exhibits including original manuscripts and personal items, like his typewriter. If you want to find out more about his childhood, his success as a science fiction writer and his humanitarian work, this is a good place to start.
\n\nA walkway under the Thames

There are in fact two foot tunnels that run under the Thames: the Woolwich and Greenwich Foot Tunnels. Both were constructed in the early 20th century to provide a pedestrian alternative for dock workers who were often delayed by the ferry. The Greenwich Foot Tunnel takes you from the Cutty Sark Gardens in Greenwich to Island Gardens on other side of the river, a few minutes’ walk from Mudchute Park. The Woolwich Tunnel, running between Woolwich Docks to North Woolwich, is used a bit less, as there are fewer attractions for visitors in the vicinity. Both tunnels are open 24 hours.

A streetlamp powered by excrement

A gas lamp that produces light thanks to being powered by a sewer? Seems, erm, lovely. But as foul as it sounds it’s actually a pretty ingenious idea. The Webb Patent Sewer Gas Lamp was invented in the 1800s, when London hygiene was not having its best moment. The fumes resulting from human waste in the sewers were not only unpleasant in terms of smell, but potentially hazardous as they produced large amounts of methane gas. Sewer gas destruction lamps, as they were called, removed the gas while providing light in a cost-effective manner. There is one left in London, behind the Savoy Hotel on Carting Lane (and yes, many have renamed the road “Farting Lane” over the years), however a road accident damaged the original, and the remaining lamp is a fully-functional sewer-powered replica.

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