12 Little-Known Historic Places in London
From the Romans to present time, London’s history is mind-blowing. We’ve picked out 12 of the most curious (and lesser known) spots to visit in town.
If you love London, you’ve probably spent a lot of time reading about it and wandering its beautiful streets. However, no matter how hard you try, there’s always a new place or story to discover in this vibrant city. Even locals, who pass these places on a daily basis, are unaware of the stories embedded within each site.
Be ready to be surprised and don’t forget to visit these places, otherwise they become less important!
1. The First Red Telephone Box
The red telephone box was the result of a competition in 1924 to design a kiosk that was won by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott — the rest is history. Now a national icon, these kiosks can be found everywhere in London. However, the first vermillion-red telephone box in the whole world (and its wooden prototype) can be found at The Royal Academy of Arts. Dial H for history!
2. Missing Down Street Tube Station
Who would have guessed that behind the beautiful red glazed terracotta façade so much history was hidden? During the Second World War this station was used as a bunker by prime minister Winston Churchill and his War Cabinet. The station building survives today and part of it is now converted to a retail outlet. However, it’s been closed since 1932 as the station was little used due to its proximity to other stations.
Location: Down Street, Mayfair, London W1J 7AS, UK
3. The Last Surviving Operating Theatre
Until 1847, surgeons didn’t use anaesthetics meaning they could perform an amputation in a minute or less (ouch!). As you can imagine, learning to operate was quite unique back in the day and the layout in the operating room was like that of a theatre, hence the name. Dating back to 1822, this is the oldest surviving operating theatre in the UK.
Location: 9a St Thomas St, London SE1 9RY, UK
4. St George’s Church Most Important Funeral
This remarkable church is not only important because it’s one of the six churches built by Nicholas Hawksmoor but also because it held a meaningful funeral in the past. The crowded farewell of Emily Davison, the brave suffragette who died when she was hit by the King’s horse during the 1913 Derby, took place here that same year. If you haven’t watched Suffragette, we highly recommend it.
Location: Bloomsbury Way, London WC1A 2SA, UK
5. Apple Store Regent Street Building
Arguably, the best Apple store in the world was also the first to open in Europe in November 2004. Originally built in 1898, the building was the studio of Victorian mosaicist Antonio Salviati of Venice, who is mainly known for the exquisite mosaics at St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Next time you visit, check the facade which contains some very prominent spandrel mosaics produced by the firm at the time to advertise their shop that occupied the premises.
6. The Original Globe Theatre
Almost everyone gets disappointed to find out the present Globe theatre wasn’t built in the 16th century nor it’s located on the original site. Some even chuckle when they realize they’ve paid £16 for a tour of it. Well, don’t be disappointed because we’ll share with you the original site in which a little mark states where it used to be.
Location: Park St, London SE1, UK
7. The Hidden Roman Baths
In 1878 Walter Thornbury wrote about the bath as “one of the oldest structures in London, one of its few real and genuine remains which date from the era of the Roman occupation of England, and possibly even as far back as the reigns of Titus or Vespasian, if not of Julius Cæsar himself.” But even if they are not Roman, the fact that so many people have passionately wanted them to be is now as real a part of their history as their actual origins. Beware it is exceptionally hard to find. To reach the bath you need to go halfway along Surrey Street (the bath is round the back of number 33), keeping your eyes peeled for an old National Trust sign above a gated archway.
Location: 5 Strand Ln, London WC2R 1AP, UK
8. The Oldest 5-star Hotel
Brown’s Hotel was founded in 1837, by James and Sarah Brown and it’s the oldest hotel in London. Celebrated Victorian writers such as Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle were regular visitors. However, it’s most famous host was Alexander Graham Bell (who made the first phone call in Europe from the hotel).
9. One Of Only Two Buildings From The Medieval Palace of Westminster To Survive The Fire Of 1834
Built around 1365 to house Edward III’s treasures and was known as the ‘King’s Privy Wardrobe’. The tower, a three-storey, crenellated stone building, occupied a secluded part of the palace and was protected by a moat linked to the River Thames. Although it’s no longer used, it can be visited. Oh and the spiral staircase to the second floor is original.
Location: Abingdon St, Westminster SW1P 3JX, UK
10. Yugoslavian London
You might have heard of Claridge’s hotel for its wonderful (and expensive) afternoon tea or its beautiful Christmas tree. However, we prefer a much more thrilling story about this luxuty hotel. During the Second World War it was the base of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia’s forces in exile and home of Peter II of Yugoslavia. He and his wife spent much of the Second World War in exile at Claridge’s, and suite 212 was supposedly ceded by the United Kingdom to Yugoslavia for a single day (17 July 1945) to allow their heir, Crown Prince Alexander, to be born on Yugoslav soil. The prince and his family are regular return guests.
Location: Brook St, Mayfair, London W1K 4HR, UK
11. Fire of London: Start and Ending Points
Everyone knows about the dramatic 1666 Great Fire of London which supposedly started on Pudding Lane on the King’s bakery. What many people do not know is that it finished on Pye Lane (meaning Pie Lane) and people strongly believed that the fire was a punishment from God for gluttony (Pudding /Pie Lanes). Hilariously, the monument on former Pye Lane has a small inscription below it: “This Boy is in Memmory Put up for the late FIRE of LONDON Occasion’d by the Sin of Gluttony.”
Location: Giltspur St, London EC1A 9DD, UK
12. The Oldest Structure in London
You may have passed it a thousand times, an original Egyptian obelisk. It was made in Egypt for the Pharaoh Thotmes III in 1460 BC, making it almost 3,500 years old. It is known as Cleopatra’s Needle as it was brought to London from Alexandria, the royal city of Cleopatra. Next time you visit, give it the admiration it deserves!
Location: Victoria Embankment, London WC2N 6, UK
Find these and other amazing locations on Architectour’s guide to London. Waiting list now open!