The year was 1978. In London Glam Rockers were on the wane but the equally flamboyant New Romantics were beginning to spread their langourous style onto the fashion scene. Design was everything – the more ecclectic, individual and luxurious the better.
Onto this stage stepped Anouska Hempel, socialite, former Bond girl, Hammer House of Horror and Dr. Who actress now turned designer and hotelier. Her first hotel venture, Blakes Hotel on Roland Gardens in South Kensington, reflected the exotic extravagance of the period.
Each room was individually designed with doubles and signature suites expressing the kinds of elegant fantasies that instantly appealed to the rich and famous.
Though some hoteliers in New York would like to take credit for the invention of the boutique hotel in the 1980s, Blakes was undoubtedly the first luxury boutique hotel in the world. Movie stars, rock legends and super models flocked to its theatrical rooms with their – gypsy flamboyance, sexy red velvets, Victorian stripes, Asian and colonial styles, beds draped in embroidered hangings or floating in airy netting.(Check out the gallery)
Blakes is 40 years old in 2018, still going strong and still attracting the rich and famous – who treasure its exclusive privacy. It’s an ambiance you can share – at a bargain basement price – if you’re quick.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the hotel is offering 40 rooms for only £40 during the month of January. The rooms, from the hotel’s selection of Parisian doubles, would normally go for £295 a night. It’s first come, first serve and it’s just one room per person – if you are lucky enough to land one.
The rooms go on sale on Monday, January 8 at 9 a.m. They will be bookable between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. during January for as long as they last. To be in with a chance, telephone +44 (0)20 7370 6701 or email firstname.lastname@example.org A little bird tells me you’ll have a better chance of getting a room if you phone.
I’ve only just discovered the Jewellery Rooms at the Victoria and Albert Museum and I cannot wait to head back there to explore them at leisure.
The galleries, rooms 91-93, showcase items from the museum’s permanent collection ranging from precious metals to plastic, raffia and rubber and spanning millennia – from prehistory right up to yesterday.
As soon as you enter the first, darkened room, a large, beautifully worked embossed gold collar, alone in its glass case, casts a warm glow across the entrance to the gallery. Is it from ancient Egypt? A piece from Agammemnon’s treasury? No, this stunning Bronze Age object, made between 800 and 700 BC, is the Shannongrove Gorget, found in an Irish bog in Co. Limerick.
If it’s bling you’re after, there’s plenty of that to see. But what really makes these objects so fascinating is the craftsmanship and creative imagination, as well as some of the poignant stories, behind them.
There’s a Fabergé letter opener given by the doomed Tsarina Alexandra to her former English governess and lifelong correspondent, Margaret Jackson, for Christmas. The clear slice of rock crystal, simply adorned with gold and enamel was given to the museum along with a note of Christmas wishes to Miss Jackson dated 1900. The Tsarina, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, was later among the members of the Russian imperial court shot, bayoneted and clubbed to death by the Bolsheviks in 1918.
Another object, the steinkabinett – an 18th century box by Johann Christian Neuber, the court goldsmith at Dresden – is a kind of pocket natural science museum with 77 stone samples, identified on a paper map kept inside it. The “pearls” are particularly clever. They aren’t pearls at all but flat pieces of rock crystal, the underside carved into domes and then silvered.
Did you know that all bees hum in the key of C? Or that bees, which are vegetarian, evolved from carnivorous wasps during the same era that dinosaurs walked the earth?
These are among the fascinating facts you can pick up in London when you visit The Hive. It’s a marvelous combination of 17-metre-high sculpture (designed by Wolfgang Buttress), engineering and science project. And it will be the anchor of Kew Gardens’ focus on bees until November 2017. Inspired by research into the life of bees, it’s surrounded by a wildflower meadow still active with bees in early September.
Discover the Secret Life of Bees
Bee activity, inside a real beehive located elsewhere at Kew, triggers the lights and sounds you experience inside. They call it an “immersive sound and visual experience”.
The promise is “Step inside and discover the secret life of bees”. I don’t know about that, but you can certainly hear The Hive humming away in the key of C long before you see it.
And you can listen in on bee conversations. Clever devices, embedded in columns allow you to hear all the different calls bees make to each other. Insert a thin wooden stick into a slot on the column and put the other end between your teeth to hear the bees through your bones. Apparently that is how bees communicate with each other. And I thought it was all about the wiggle dance they do in the air. They bark and croon and howl too. Who knew?
If you haven’t been to Kew in a while, right now is a great time to go. After our warm/cold/wet/dry summer, the flowers are looking wonderful. There’s a good assortment of live plants in peak condition to buy and several new pretty places to settle in for a cup of tea.
Spend a morning or an afternoon discovering the London Blue Plaques of Chelsea. For more than 150 years, London’s blue plaques, on buildings scattered around the city, mark the homes and achievements of the famous and infamous of the past.
It’s a kind of massive “George Washington slept here” scheme, except you won’t find George Washington anywhere; though you might find Benjamin Franklin. Hundreds of others – writers, artists, performers, musicians, composers, teachers, politicians, inventors, explorers, philosophers, engineers, heroes and heroines are commemorated all over the city.
The Oldest Blue Plaques in Britain
London has the oldest blue plaque scheme in Britain. The plaques surprise and educate passersby who come upon the discreet reminders of people from all over the world who lived and worked in London. I was inspired to find out more about the blue plaques by the plaque to an unknown (to me anyway) poet on a house across the street from my flat.
Today there are about 900 blue plaques in the London scheme administered by English Heritage. The first was put up in 1866 honoring Lord Byron. The oldest still existing commemorates a short stay by an exiled French king, Charles X.
Up to 20 plaques a year can be added. In 2017, six will go up to honor Francis Bacon, Charlie Chaplin, Sir John Gielgud, Rudolph Nureyev, early 20th century working women’s champion Mary Macarthur and volunteering pioneer Stella Lady Reading.
About This London Blue Plaque Chelsea Walk
This walk will take you through Chelsea, north and south of the King’s Road. About two miles long, beginning and ending near King’s Road bus stops, the walk is flat and should take you less than two hours walking at a snail’s pace.
To start, take the 11, 19 or 22 bus from Sloane Square Underground Station, up the King’s Road to Carlyle Square. It’s then a five minute stroll to Mallord Street where the walk begins.
From Winnie the Pooh to Count Dracula
1.13 Mallord Street in Chelsea is the house where both Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh were born. A.A. Milne moved there with his wife in 1919. His son, named Christopher Robin though called “Billy”, was born here and while living in the house, Milne wrote When We Were Very Young, Winnie the Pooh, Now We Are Six, and The House at Pooh Corner. Christopher Robin’s toys became Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, and Tigger. Few people realize that Winnie the Pooh himself was inspired by a real bear named Winnie after the city of Winnipeg in Canada. Canadian Army vet, Harry Colebourn brought the bear to London. Eventually, when he could no longer keep it on military expeditions, it ended up in the London Zoo. There, he was a favorite of the real Christopher Robin who changed the name of his toy bear from Edward to Winnie. Colebourn’s great-granddaughter, Lindsay Mattick has written a children’s book about it, Finding Winnie.
To see the houses featured in this blog, click on the matching numbers on the map below.
2. Cross Mallord Street and turn left. At number 28 you’ll find the home and studio built for Welsh Painter Augustus John, brother of artist Gwen John. The house was finished in 1914 and he lived there with his second (common law) wife and their children. John painted some of the most recognizable portraits of literary and artistic celebrities between the wars – notably Lawrence of Arabia, Dylan Thomas and several portraits of W.B. Yeats. He was also a notorious libertine with parties at the house said to end in orgies. He had at least 10 children by five different women. Eventually John tired of this house, calling it a “damned Dutch shanty”, and sold it to British entertainer Gracie Fields. Continue left down Mallord Street, turning left onto The Vale and left again onto The King’s Road. Across the street, you’ll find Paulton’s Square. Turn right into the square.
3. Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, usually associated with Dublin or Paris, underwent several months of psychoanalysis in London in 1934. A friend found him lodgings with a married couple at 48 Paulton’s Square. He was a regular at two local pubs, the Six Bells and The World’s End. While here, he published a collection of short stories, More Pricks than Kicks.
Just in case you think you might like to drink where Beckett drank, you are probably about 40 years too late. The Six Bells, at 197 Kings Road, went through several incarnations before becoming The Ivy Chelsea Garden – which bears no resemblance to any pub Beckett might frequented – though you might pick up his vibe in the beer garden if you can get in to this very popular, Made in Chelsea kind of place. The World’s End Pub, which was a real traditional boozer from the days of Charles II to about 10 years ago, is now an upmarket restaurant with a pretend 1930s ambiance. It’s now called the World’s End Market.
Continue to the end of Paultons Square, walking toward the Thames. At the bottom of the square, turn right, then left into Danvers Street.
4.Sir Alexander Fleming was living at 20a Danvers Street, a modest basement flat in a large house, when he made his breakthrough and changed the whole direction of modern medicine with the discovery of penicillin. From his first discovery in 1922, through refinements and clinical trials to his Nobel Prize in 1945 and until his death in 1955, he lived in this flat. In later years, he also had a country house in Suffolk.
Now, continue to the end of Danvers Street to Cheyne Walk, beside the Thames. Turn right and continue in that direction. Cross at the set of lights at Beaufort Street – Battersea Bridge is on your left. Just past this intersection, you’ll see large cast iron gates, with a garden and a big yellow house beyond.
5 and 6.You’ll need X-ray vision to see the plaque that is alleged to be at 98 Cheyne Walk. It’s behind a high brick wall. But just so you know, this was the home of Sir Marc Isambard Brunelwho built the first tunnel under the Thames, the world’s first underwater tunnel through soft ground. He started it in 1825 and it wasn’t finished until 1843. While living here, he also worked on the education of his young son, who became the much more illustrious 19th century engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel– designer of the Great Western Railway, the Clifton Suspension Bridge over the Avon Gorge at Bristol and the giant screw propeller, sail-assisted steamship, the SS Great Britain which you can still visit in Bristol. The lovely yellow house next door at 96 Cheyne Walk belonged toJames Abbott McNeill Whistler and his mother – you’ve no doubt seen her in his painting, Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1, usually known as Whistler’s Mother.
Bring along a pair of binoculars if you really want to see this plaque. It’s not blue and it’s at least 50 feet from the street, set back behind gates. Judging from the yellow house, you might think Whistler was probably pretty affluent when he lived there. But actually the house is just one quarter of a larger house built in 1674 by the Earl of Lindsey on land that was once Sir Thomas More’s garden. It was divided into four units about 100 years later and among the other rental tenants of this large villa were the Brunels mentioned above.
Now turn and retrace your steps past Danvers Street. Continue along Cheyne Walk, looking out for the statue of Sir Thomas More, at the site of his house, in a small park beside Chelsea Old Church on your left. At Oakley Street, opposite the Albert Bridge, turn left.
7.87 Oakley Street was the home of Jane Francesca Agnes Lady Wilde, Oscar Wilde’s mother. A larger than life character in her own right, she came to London from Dublin after the death of her husband, Sir William Wilde. As a poet and essayist in Dublin, she wrote under the pseudonym “Speranza” and supported the cause of an armed Irish rebellion against Britain – which got her in no end of trouble. In London, she continued writing for fashionable magazines and eked out a slim livelihood. But she died penniless in 1896 while her son Oscar was imprisoned in Reading Gaol. Oscar paid for her funeral but there was no money for a headstone until the Oscar Wilde Society erected one more than 100 years later.
Cross the street and head back toward the river to number 56.
8. Doomed antarctic explorer, Robert Falcon Scott left for his last polar expedition from 56 Oakley Street and never returned. Scott identified the polar plateau, on which the South Pole is located, on a previous expedition, the Discovery expedition. But it was the second expedition, The Terra Nova Expedition, between 1910 and 1913, when all were lost. He moved to this house in 1905, on the return from his first expedition, and he wrote his famous account of that journey, The Voyage of the Discovery, while living here. In the late 20th century, his reputation took something of a blow with some historians saying his incompetence and lack of preparation led to his death and that of his entire team. But recent discoveries about the weather have restored his reputation as a doomed hero. Continue down to the river and turn left on Cheyne Walk.
9. 16 Cheyne Walk was the home of Dante Gabriel Rosetti, painter, poet and one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement. He moved here after the death of his young wife and model in 1862. Some of his finest paintings, including
Beata Beatrix, were done here and he published his collected works of poetry while living in this house. The decadent poet and sometime hysteric Algernon Charles Swinburne rented a room from him for about a year.
10.The entire facade, including the blue plaque at 4 Cheyne Walk was covered with scaffolding for refurbishments when we visited. But we’ve been reliably told that this with the brief, last home of Mary Ann Evans, known to most of us as the 19th century novelist George Eliot.She moved in with her new husband (20 years her junior – good for her) on December 3, 1880. Shortly after, she caught a sore throat and by December 22, she was dead.
Now, bear slightly left into Royal Hospital Road, turning right at the corner of Tite Street.
Next, continue right, past Mark Twain’s house, to Ralston Street. Turn left on Ralston Street, then right on St Leonard’s Terrace.
13.How fitting that number 13 on this Chelsea Blue Plaque walk was the birthplace of one of the most terrifying creatures in literature. Dublin writer Bram Stoker was living in a pretty Chelsea cottage at 18 St Leonard’s Terrace when he wrote his classic gothic horror novel Dracula. Stoker had come to London to manage the Lyceum Theater for actor manager Henry Irving.
Now that you’ve completed the walk, it’s time for some refreshment and what would be more fitting than to have lunch or a snack at another listed building with a blue plaque. Just beyond Stoker’s house, turn left on Royal Avenue and continue to the King’s Road. Then cross the King’s Road and turn left again. Look for an arched entryway, protected by two bronze birds of prey.
14.152 Kings Road, The Pheasantry, was the studio of ballet dancer and teacher Princess Seraphine Astafieva. The Russian princess, daughter of Prince Alexander Astafiev, came to England as a dancer with Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe in 1910. She retired from the stage to teach and in 1916 established her school, the Anglo-Russian Ballet, here. Most of the leading lights of early 20th century ballet visited her or took classes here, among them Margot Fonteyne; Alicia Markova, one of the founders of the Festival Ballet which became the English National Ballet; Anna Pavlova and Marie Rambert, founder of the Ballet Rambert. And in case you are wondering about the lunch or snack I mentioned earlier, these days The Pheasantry is also a Pizza Express.
English Heritage who now administer the scheme, publish the Guide to London’s Blue Plaques. It lists 800 blue plaque locations, all over the city that can form the basis of many an enjoyable London walk. It’s availableonline from English Heritageor from Amazon.
I had enjoyed a small personal victory and wanted to treat myself to a very nice lunch. The Marylebone area – particularly between Marylebone High Street and Baker Street is full of nice little places.
But somehow as I walked through the side streets towards Baker Street Tube, my ultimate destination, nothing really struck my fancy.
Then I arrived at what appeared to be a garden terrace. An attendent manned the entrance. He was wearing a suit and tie and he was beautiful. There was no sign as far as I could see.
“Is this a restaurant?” I asked him.
“What kind of food do you serve?”
“Where is the entrance?” I still didn’t see any sign, any obvious way in or any menu posted discretely on an outside wall,as required by law in London
“Right this way,” he said, and ushered me into the garden. I still didn’t know where I was.
Eventually, a hostess offered to find me a seat inside (the garden was nearly full except for the bits of it that would soon be rained on). She was tall, slim and dressed in a fabulous two piece number in a dark leafy green. She was beautiful.
Inside, the restaurant was packed and buzzing. Another hostess, in a similarly designerish outfit, all in blue (also beautiful) offered me a seat at the bar. I hate sitting on bar stools but eventually she found me a seat at a sort of banquette with high single tables, facing the bar. The bartender and wine steward were beautifully dressed and beautiful (as you can see in the picture above).
It was only when someone finally handed me a menu, that I realized I had randomly stumbled into the Chiltern Firehouse, once one of London’s hottest celebrity haunts. The restaurant, with its kitchen “curated” by Michelin-starred chef Nuno Mendes, has cooled down some since the virtual hysteria of its opening months in 2014. But, people still wait weeks to book this place, and there I was settling in, by accident, after a Wednesday afternoon stroll.
All around me, beautiful people were tucking into gorgeous looking food. Nips, tucks and tans as far as the eye could see. And when my food finally arrived, it was absolutely beautiful to look at too.
Did I mention that everyone – and everything – is beautiful at the Chiltern Firehouse.
I ate a salad of heritage tomatoes with strawberries, a slice of sourdough bread, an omelet of crabmeat and lobster (pictured here) that was the strangest looking omelet with the oddest texture that I’ve ever eaten. It was delicious and I am very curious to know how it was made but I hope I’m not offending the chef when I say it did not satisfy my desire for a nice, tender, eggy omelet. It was something else entirely.
Oh, and I did treat myself to a glass of Ruinart NV champagne – well I did say I was celebrating.
And with a black coffee to finish, and the 15% tip, the price of my special lunch of omelet, salad and champagne came to an eye-watering £79.93.
Was it worth it? Well, it was a very nice lunch but I think if you have to ask about value for money, this probably isn’t your kind of place. I’m not actually sure when it will next be mine.
The Nitty Gritty
The restaurant and attached boutique hotel are owned by André Balasz who also owns the legendary Chateau Marmont in Hollywood, The Mercer in New York’s Soho, the Sunset Beach on Shelter Island and Standard hotels around America.
Applications for the ballot are being taken by the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) now – and until December 15 – from members of the public in Britain. If you are an overseas tennis fan and want to enter the ballot, you’ll have to do it online. Instructions for overseas visitors will be published on the AELTC website on 1 November.
To find out more about how to apply for a chance at Wimbledon tickets through the public ballot as well as other ways to land a seat at the world’s top Grand Slam tennis tournament, click here for full details.
When it comes to visiting historic houses, it’s rare to find an empty one as interesting as one that’s full of antique treasures. Strawberry Hill is an exception.
This mini-castle in Twickenham, one of London’s western suburbs, is a true jewel box of a house — but its collections were sold off in the 19th century and it’s completely empty.
It hardly matters.
Horace Walpole, an 18th century dandy, Member of Parliament, collector, world traveler and writer (his novel The Castle of Otrantowas the world’s first Gothic novel) was enamored of Medieval Gothic. So much so that he kickstarted the fashion for neo-Gothic architecture decades before it really took off.
His house, built to show off those now vanished collections, was the first in the style and one of the only examples of it in domestic architecture, inside and out. And Strawberry Hill’s very emptiness adds to the Gothic romance, the ghostly whispers that follow when you walk from room to room, armed with the guidebook Walpole wrote himself. Gilt ceilings, gothic windows, stained glass, mirrors and the most amazing fireplaces and chimney pieces are everywhere you look.
And it’s just a Tube and bus ride from Central London. Check out the pictures below, then click here for more pictures and to find out more about English eccentric Horace Walpole and how to visit his fantasy house, Strawberry Hill.
All the rooms at Strawberry Hill have gilt details but the Long Gallery, with it’s elaborate ceiling, has more gold than any other room in the house. It was inspired by a chapel ceiling at Westminster Abbey.