Eastern Europe: Pt 2 – City of Krakow Part 1

Having left Newcastle Airport a few hours prior, we touched down in the small village of Balice, home to Krakow International Airport. A short journey by taxi took us into the city centre, and we immediately set out to explore…


Status: Krakow County, Lesser Poland Voivodeship, Village, Poland

Date: 01 – 05/06/2015

Travel: Jet2 (Newcastle – Krakow), Taxi, Horse Drawn Carriage, Mini Bus etc

Eating & Sleeping: Sphinx Restaurant, Dominium Pizzeria, Pijalnia Czekolady E.Wedel

Attractions: Krakow Market Square, Tram System, Krakow Castle, City Hall Clock Tower, Fire Breathing Dragon, Juliusz Slowacki Theatre, City Walls, Cloth Hall, The Barbican, Wawel Cathedral, Florianska Gate, St Mary’s Basilica, Plac Szczepanski, Hejnal Mariacki, Krakow Arts Palace etc

Happily our hotel was literally only about 5 minutes walk from the historic centre of Krakow, and it’s absolutely stunning Market Square, which showcases some of the cities most famous landmarks. The square was laid out in 1257 after a Mongol Invasion 15 years earlier had destroyed the rest of the city. At this time Krakow was the capital of Poland, and it was designed/built to match such a grand status.

The square holds the distinction of being the largest medieval square in Europe, with the dimensions of roughly 200 m by 200 m. Comparing this to other notable areas such as Trafalgar Square in Westminster which is only 110 m by 110 m then you may get an idea of its scale.

At the centre of this historical gem sits the Cloth Hall, completed around the end of the 15th century as a meeting place for traders from all over Europe, who exchanged exotic goods such as Leather and Silk. 1 of the key exports of Krakow itself was Salt, thanks to the Wieliczka Salt Mine 9 miles outside of the city, which opened in the 13th century, with tonnes of salt being excavated every year until its eventual closure 700 years later in 2007. It is now a popular tourist destination, and tours are available from Krakow.

The Cloth Hall meanwhile underwent a full restoration in the 1870’s, to designs by Polish Architect Tomasz Prylinski (1847 – 1895). It remains open today, with various stalls selling souvenirs and local goods in over 50 stalls on the ground floor. Above them sits the Sukiennice Museum, a large Art Gallery featuring pieces dating back centuries.

Krakow 3

Just outside the Cloth Hall, at the Northeastern end of the square, is a large fountain, which is a popular place for residents and tourists alike to sit and enjoy the hustle and bustle of the city. Underneath the central pyramid lies the “Rynek Underground Museum”, which showcases information about the city, and the artefacts found during an excavation of the square in the late 2000’s.

The pyramid also acts as a window, as from below you can look up into the square, and from above you can see visitors to the Museum following the exhibit trails.

In the 1st picture you may have noticed a large tower rising up behind the Cloth Hall at the other side of the square. It is the only surviving remnant of Krakow’s Town Hall, originally constructed around the end of the 13th century, which had housed the offices of the local administration for over 500 years.

It’s history was sadly cut short in 1820, when the square was reconstructed. The idea was to make it a more open space, and 1 of the buildings taking up a large portion of the square was unfortunately the Town Hall. It was soon demolished, but thanks to the protests of various members of the public, the Tower was saved.

The Tower itself is open to the public, standing a majestic 230 ft tall. There are 2 viewing galleries, 1 near the top of the building which also showcases the clock mechanism (the original was installed in 1524), and 1 further down where you can gaze out of the open windows at the many sites of the city. 1 of the best views from the Tower is over towards the Castle, particularly from the upper gallery.

If you look closely at the Tower should you ever visit, you will be able to see that the Tower is actually leaning slightly, up to 55 cm. This is the result of a major storm that hit the city in 1703, with wind speeds so high that it pushed the Tower to 1 side.

Krakow as a city is home to numerous fantastic Churches and Cathedrals, 1 fine example of which can also be found in the square, close to the fountain I showed you earlier. It began life as the local Parish Church around 1221, however due to various invasions and rebuilds the physical structure of the building changed over the following centuries.

The (almost) twin towers of St Mary’s Basilica have dominated the skyline here since it was finally rebuilt by Casimir III (1310 – 1370, King of Poland from 1333 – 1370) during the 1350s and 60s. Upon completion, the iconic towers were in fact the same height, however during the 15th century the Northern Tower (to the left) was heightened to act as a watch tower across the city. In 1666 a large metal crown was added to the spire atop the tower, around half way up, which you can still see today if you look closely at the pictures.

Just across from the Cathedral sits the Adam Mickiewicz Monument, dedicated to Adam Mickiewicz (1798 – 1855, Polish Poet) who could be described as the Robert Burns of Poland with regards to his popularity and legacy. The original Monument had been built in 1898 by Teodor Rygier (1841 – 1913, Polish Sculptor), however it was later destroyed by the Nazi’s during their occupation of the city. Many of the original statues were later recovered, and the Monument was rebuilt during the 1950’s. Mickiewicz himself is buried in the crypt of Wawel Cathedral (see below).

Indeed the view from the top allows you to see far beyond the city itself, to the surrounding hills as you can see above.

In the 2nd/3rd pictures you can just see a tall high rise building in the background, which is actually Krakow’s tallest building at 302 ft, despite it never having been completed since construction began in 1975. A combination of economics and politics saw building work halted in 1981, leaving it as a mere skeleton of a building, leading to its nickname by the locals as “Szkieletor” or Skeletor. It was originally intended to be the home of the “Naczelna Organizacja Techniczna (NOT)”, the Polish Federation of Engineering, however those plans have been put on hold indefinitely and as of 2015 the Skeletor is still in limbo, with an uncertain future.

Also in the 3rd picture, at the far right is another high rise, albeit a much more modern 1, which appears to be tinted blue. This is the Cracovia Business Center, and at 344 ft it is the tallest structure in the city, however if the antennas on the roof are discounted it is shorter than the Skeletor. It does however qualify as the tallest completed building in the city.

The final picture shows a view of Krakow’s incredible Castle complex, complete with its own Cathedral, all sat atop Wawel Hill next to the Vistula River, but more on them as we explore the area later on in our trip.

The taller of the 2 towers is also associated with a famous tradition here in Krakow, which occurs every hour throughout the day. It is known as the “Hejnal Mariacki” in Poland, which translates as the Dawn Call.

Whilst the origins of the tradition are unknown, it was a common feature across European Cities to represent the opening of the city gates at the start of the day, and their subsequent closure at the end. The Hejnal Mariacki plays a short tune in 4 different directions from the tower, which line up with the locations of the 4 main historic gates into the city, although not all of them still exist today. The call was also used as a warning signal, as mentioned earlier the tower was used as a lookout post.

Today the tune has become an hourly tradition, as opposed to the original call played only twice a day. During World War II and the German occupation the call was banned, but soon reinstated after the War.

Krakow 6

The other major building in the main square may not be on quite as grand a scale as the others, however it is no less important. At the South East corner of the square, forming a triangle with the Cloth Hall/Cathedral lies the small Church of St Wojciech, built in the 11th century. The dates for its construction makes it 1 of the oldest stone Churches in the entire country, and takes its name from St Wojciech (956 – 997, or St Adalbert in English), who was also once the Bishop of Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic.

Despite it’s history, the building has been forced to adapt to changing times, particularly changing architectural tastes which saw it remodelled at the start of the 17th century, to make it fit into the Baroque style, which also saw the addition of the Dome. Before 100 years had elapsed, it would also have to be raised by a few metres when the pavement across the square rose around 2 metres, nearly 1.5 times the height of the average male in Poland, which is currently around 1.785 Metres.

Outside various landmarks in the square (and around the rest of the city) are these stunning metal models. In the 1st picture you can see the model of the Cloth Hall (complete with a Gemma to give you a sense of scale!), alongside those of the Cathedral and the Town Hall, which depicts it as it would have appeared before the demolition of the rest of the building, which shows what a mammoth construction it would have been.

Heading North away from the square/Cathedral is “Florianska Street” which leads up to the Florianska (St Florian’s) Gate, seen in the 1st picture which I took from the top of the Cathedral Tower.

It dates back to the end of the 13th century, after much of the city was destroyed during an attack in 1241. New defences were planned for the reconstructed city, including 8 large gates around the old town, of which this is the only survivor. Dotted at regular intervals between the 8 gates were 47 towers, constructed over the following few centuries.

The grand walls around the city still existed as late as the 19th century, when they were sadly demolished, leaving just the Florianska Gate and 3 of the towers remaining (1 is shown in the 2nd picture, connected to Florianska). The rest of the area covered by the wall was turned into a large park which forms a ring around the old town.

Also a part of the original Walls is a large circular structure called the “Barbican”, seen in the 3rd picture. It lies just past the Florianska Gate, although it was constructed much later, around 1498. The main building was encircled by a moat, and it was connected into the rest of the walls via Florianska. Another metal model can be found outside Florianska, which shows both the Gate, and the Barbican together in relation to each other.

All over the old town of Krakow, there are architectural/historical gems dotted around, including the stunning Slowacki Theatre, shown above. It is named after Juliusz Slowacki (1809 – 1849, Polish Poet and 1 of Poland’s most famous Poets alongside Adam Mickiewicz), and was designed by Jan Zawiejski (1854 – 1922, Polish Architect) at the end of the 19th century. It would open for business in 1893, just 1 year after the previous building on the site, an old Church converted into housing, was demolished. The name Slowacki wouldn’t be added until 1909 as the territory that made up the country was still occupied by the Empires of the Russians, Prussia and Austria, prior to their destruction in WWI which paved the way for Polish reunification.

Krakow 17

Located in close proximity to the Slowacki Theatre is the gorgeous Church of the Holy Cross, which dates back to the 14th century when it was constructed as part of a much larger series of buildings which included a Hospital. The whole lot was run as a monastery, which eventually wound down and the Church became the new Parish Church of this area of Krakow.

The building was very badly damaged in a fire around 1528, ripping through the entire complex, the Church, the Hospital and all of the other buildings, although repair work was completed within a decade. As an architectural gem it doesn’t exactly stand out at 1st glance, however there is much more here than meets the eye, with some incredible detailing inside, and a wealth of history. This apparently includes a large pillar at the centre of the building designed to look like a palm tree, with the supporting arches across the ceiling spreading out from it like branches!

It is just 1 of various Churches throughout the city that we visited, but more on those later!

The final stop in the 1st part of our tour of Krakow is another public square, known as the “Plac Szczepanski”, just off the Northwesterly corner of the main Market Square. The square was only rejuvenated into its modern form in 2009, replacing what had been a large car park/eyesore in the centre of the city since the mid 20th century. Despite this, it’s history is no less as interesting as the rest of the city, as for centuries an ancient Jesuit Church was located here, until it was demolished in the 19th century. What many visitors don’t realise is that the Church also included a graveyard, and whilst the gravestones were removed, the bodies of hundreds of locals lie just below the pavement… Spooky!

It’s standout feature is the “Palace Sztuki”, which translates as the “Palace of Arts”, erected in 1901 as the home of the Society of Fine Arts Friends, to celebrate the achievements of Artists from the city throughout history, as well as immortalise their work through exhibitions held throughout the year. Various busts are located around the exterior of the building, portraying various well known artists from that era, although arguably it’s most famous depiction is of Jan Matejko (1838 – 1893, Polish Painter from Krakow, who also contributed to St Mary’s Basilica). He overlooks the large fountain outside the Palace, a new feature that was added during the revamp in 2009. As you can see in the comparison between pictures taken during the day, and the evening, it is most spectacular during night hours, with the colours of the lights beneath the jets of water changing constantly. Plac Szczepanski really is 1 of the newest major areas of the city that any visitor should explore, and it’s a great place to sit and relax without the hustle and bustle of the main square.

Of course everywhere we have been so far is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Krakow, as in Part 2 we shall be visiting the incredible Castle Complex, the banks of the River and much, much more…

Eastern Europe: Pt 1 – Woolsington (Newcastle Airport)

Our next big adventure would take us from Newcastle to the Polish city of Krakow, over 1300 miles away in Eastern Europe. So in the early hours of the 01st June, we left for Woolsington, a small village home to Newcastle’s International Airport…


Status: City of Newcastle District, Tyne & Wear (historically Northumberland), Village, England

Date: 01/06/2015

Travel: Car, Jet2 (Newcastle – Krakow)

Eating & Sleeping: Airport Bars

Attractions: Newcastle International Airport etc

Wool 1

By 4am we had arrived at the Airport, which looks very different now to when it originally opened in 1935, as Woolsington Aerodrome. The very 1st service to ever call here didn’t start/finish at Newcastle, it was a through service from Croydon in South London to the Scottish City of Perth, via Newcastle.

Like many civilian airfields, Woolsington was taken over by the RAF during WWII, thanks to its convenient location on the edge of the North Sea. It wouldn’t be until 1946 that the RAF would vacate the premises, and over the following decades the number of local flights would only increase, particularly to the British Islands around Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isles of Man/Wight.

1952 saw the 1st International flights, which included the Irish Capital Dublin, which had been part of the UK until the 1920’s. Expansion continued, with a full Airport Terminal opening in 1967 and Harold Wilson (1916 – 1995, British Prime Minister twice, 1964 – 1970 & 1974 – 1976) present to officially open it. The Airport would soon be serving destinations such as The Netherlands, Germany, and a large portion of mainland Europe, with so many passengers coming through (2 million by 1993) that the Terminal was upgraded and expanded to cope. In 2014 flights started to Newark Liberty Airport in New York City, and the Airport now serves at least 3 continents (Europe, North America & Asia/The Middle East).

Wool 2

Airport Terminals always offer some great views over the runway, made all the more impressive as this was just an hour after sunrise. Various aircraft were awaiting their turn to jet off somewhere exotic, and we were relaxing with a nice hot, unhealthy snack!

In the distance you can see the distinctive Air Traffic Control Tower, officially known as the Emirates Tower after Emirates Airline who have flown from Newcastle to Dubai in the UAE since 2007. Standing almost 150 ft tall, the Tower is twice the height of local landmark the “Angel of the North”, a large Iron sculpture created by Anthony Gormley in Gateshead, the town adjacent to Newcastle itself.

Various companies are based in Newcastle, or operate flights from here as a regional hub. These include Jet2, 1 of various budget airlines founded in the last 2 decades, who offer low cost flights around Europe, and as we found out, to Krakow in Poland!

Aside from budget airlines, the national carriers of multiple countries, from British Airways Flights to London Heathrow, to Air France/Aer Lingus to Paris/Dublin respectively, can also be seen in the skies around Woolsington.

Wool 3

By 7am, we were in the skies above Northumberland, enjoying some stunning views of the local countryside, and the Northumbrian/Tyneside coastline. The passenger next to the window on my row was kind enough to take this picture for me as we ascended, looking out across the city of Newcastle, with the River Tyne snaking its way towards the North Sea through it’s centre.

Newcastle is on the left of the River, with the aforementioned town of Gateshead on the right. If you look closely just past the 1st bend in the river you can just make out a few of the 7 different bridges which cross the Tyne here, which have made Newcastle so famous. You can find out more in my other posts about Newcastle here, Gateshead here, and the Angel of the North here.

We settled back to enjoy the flight, and 2.5 hours later we would be landing in the Polish City of Krakow…

London: Pt 25 – The London Monopoly Board

So this is it, the last stop on our 25 part London adventure, possibly our most epic trip so far. 1 of the most popular games, played throughout the world, is Monopoly, originally created in the USA in 1903 showcasing areas in Atlantic City. Perhaps its more famous edition came out in 1936, based around London. During the course of our trip we came across many areas, stations or streets featured on the London version. Anyway, off we go! (All squares are presented in the order they appear when following the board Clockwise from Go).

Old Kent Road/Whitechapel Road

Sadly these were 2 of the very few squares on the board we never made it to in London, with Old Kent Road lying in Southwark away from the main tourist spots, and Whitechapel Road running from Tower Hamlets into the City of London close to Fenchurch Street Railway Station.

Whitechapel is of course famous as the location of the notorious Jack the Ripper murders committed in 1888 by a still unknown assailant.

The Angel Islington, Euston Road & Pentonville Road

The square called “The Angel, Islington” is the only space on the board that is named after an actual building, not a street/area. You can see it in the 1st picture, in the form of the large terracotta building on the corner. The name originated with a pub called the “Angel Inn” built in the 16th century, and has been carried on through various incarnations of the structure up to 1903 when the current version opened as a Pub. It is now owned by the Co-Operative Bank, and lies just outside the similarly named “Angel” tube station on the London Underground in the Borough of Islington.

The Angel also sits at the intersection of the A1 (major route between London & Edinburgh) and Pentonville Road, the next stop on the board. If you follow Pentonville Road West for around a mile, you will meet up with “Euston Road” which runs past the famous Clock Tower/Exterior of London St Pancras International station, terminus of the Midland Main Line towards Sheffield, and Eurostar Services to France & Belgium.

Its next stop is then London Euston, terminus of the West Coast Main Line from London – Edinburgh/Glasgow. The line is used by Virgin’s famous Pendolino Tilting Trains, which you can see at 1 of the platforms in the picture above.

Pall Mall, Whitehall & Northumberland Avenue

Our next set of areas lie in central Westminster, starting with Pall Mall. Sadly we didn’t see the road itself, but came very close as it runs directly parallel with the Mall (between Buckingham Palace – Trafalgar Square via Admiralty Arch). Pall Mall begins at St James Palace, heading East to meet the A4 (Haymarket), which had you followed it North would take you to Piccadilly Circus. Pall Mall East starts at the far side of the A4 and runs in an arc around the far side of the Canadian High Commission, and into Trafalgar Square next to the Western fountain, shown above.

The next pink stop on the board is “Whitehall”, 1 of the most important streets in the United Kingdom. It runs South from Trafalgar Square, past many Government departments, including:

  • The War Office
  • Horse Guards Parade
  • Downing Street
  • The Cenotaph
  • Churchill’s War Rooms

It then arrives into Parliament Square by the Palace of Westminster, home to statues of various famous Britons including Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965, Prime Minister during World War II). The picture above shows Whitehall passing the Cenotaph, erected in 1920 to the designs of Edward Lutyens (1869 – 1944, London Architect) after World War I to commemorate the fallen British Soldiers.

Thanks to the various Government offices on Whitehall, the term Whitehall is synonymous with the British Government, similar to Westminster.

Next up is another road which terminates at Trafalgar Square, called Northumberland Avenue. Whilst it lacks as many buildings of note as its predecessor, Whitehall, it is still a major road connecting Trafalgar with Embankment down by the Thames, close to Embankment Tube Station.

You can see Northumberland Avenue in the centre of the picture, as the road coming into the square from the left, whilst going off towards Big Ben in the distance is Whitehall, affording another great view of this famous road.

Bow Street, Marlborough Street & Vine Street

Bow Street is a small road running through the area around Covent Garden, originally laid out in the 1630’s, and the former home of Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658, English Leader). We came very close to finding it, however our travels never quite took us as far as the actual street.

We had much better luck however with Marlborough Street, which leaves Regent Street heading East, past the “Premises of Messrs Liberty & Company Limited”. It’s stunning design suggests great age, however it is a mock Tudor style structure completed in 1924, using the timbers from the HMS Hindustan and Impregnable, former ships of the Royal Navy. It was the purpose built home of the Liberty Department Store, and the reason we were drawn to visit this particular road as we were passing along Regent Street.

Our next stop was towards Vine Street, however the street itself is a very short offshoot of Swallow Street, itself an offshoot from Piccadilly. We did come very close however, as it is located just outside Piccadilly Circus, which contains the famous advertising billboard from 1908. It was once part of many located around the square, but today remains the sole survivor.

Strand, Fleet Street & Trafalgar Square

Moving further East, we arrived on the Strand, a street which straddles the border from the City of London into the City of Westminster. It begins outside the Royal Courts of Justice in Westminster (opened in 1882), with the border between the 2 cities running down the centre of the road, with the City of London located on the right of the picture.

It then continues West towards St Clement Danes/Saint Mary-le-Strand Churches, past Somerset House and then into Trafalgar Square, which has to be the area with the most Monopoly Squares linking to it, with at least 3 roads and Trafalgar itself being listed.

Throughout history the Strand has been home to various notable residences:

1) Essex House, home to the Earl of Leicester from 1575 until 1679.

2) Somerset House, originally built for the Duke of Somerset in the 16th century, later rebuilt in the 18th as a Government building.

3) The Savoy, a grand palace eventually replaced by the world renowned Savoy Hotel in 1889.

Continuing into the City of London itself, you will no doubt come across Fleet Street, which merges with the Strand at the Temple Bar Monument outside the Royal Courts of Justice at its Western End. In the East, a road called Ludgate Hill begins near St Pauls Cathedral and heads West to a large junction, on the far side of which it becomes Fleet Street.

The Street is named after the River Fleet, a major river beneath the Capitals streets that once flowed between the busy hustle and bustle of the metropolitan area. It was partly canalised in 1680, but this proved unpopular, and sections of the canal were eventually covered over to create new areas in London. It was finally completely hidden by the 1870s, but it does still exist.

Fleet Street is of course also famous at the home of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street who would kill his clients, and allow them to be made into pies by his neighbour Mrs Lovett. The character 1st appeared in 1846, and remains a popular antagonist for films and plays today.

And here we are again at Trafalgar Square, with various routes available to bring you here. You could have used East Pall Mall, Whitehall, The Strand, The Mall or the A4, but none the less they will all afford you the opportunity to gaze up at Nelson’s Column, located in the centre of the square.

Completed in 1843, the 169 ft Column stands as a monument to Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758 – 1805) the British Naval Commander killed in the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The battle ended in a decisive defeat for the French Fleet, and remains 1 of Britain’s proudest moments. The bottom of the Column is flanked by 4 enormous Bronze Lions, a later addition in 1867.

Elsewhere in the square you will find the National Gallery, completed in 1838, although the Museum itself dates back to 1824. 1 of the most highly regarded Museums in the World, it features an impressive collection of thousands of pieces of artwork which date back centuries.

Leicester Square, Coventry Street & Piccadilly

Heading further West from Trafalgar Square into the outer regions of the City of Westminster, we arrived at Leicester Square, famous as the home of various cinemas/theatres in the heart of Londons East End. At its centre stands a statue of William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616, English Writer), arguably the most famous contributor to Theatre in English history.

Linking Leicester Square with the nearby Piccadilly Circus is Coventry Street, which leaves Leicester Square heading West, past the “Swiss Canton Tree” shown above, erected in 1991. It celebrates the 700th anniversary of the creation of the Swiss Federation, formed of 26 individual Cantons, the coat of arms of which are featured on the memorial. It also celebrates a historic friendship between the British and the Swiss, as stated on the board attached to the monument.

If you follow Coventry Street far enough, you will end up back in Piccadilly Circus, where another major Westminster road called simply “Piccadilly” which runs close to Vine Street has its Eastern Terminus.

There are various famous buildings in Piccadilly Circus, including the Statue of Eros atop the Shaftesbury Memorial, shown above. Erected in the 1890’s, it paid homage to Lord Shaftesbury (1801 – 1885, English Politician), and stands directly above Piccadilly Circus tube station. Lord Shaftesbury was known for his charitable contribution, hence the presence of Eros, the Angel of Christian Charity.

Regent Street, Oxford Street & Bond Street

Staying in Westminster, the next set of places cover the 3 green squares on the board, starting with Regent Street. It was from this street that we spotted Marlborough Street and its fine mock Tudor style buildings, as we walked past towards Hamleys, the oldest Toy Shop in the World, originally founded here in London in 1760. It now has numerous branches around the country, and we have seen its stores in Manchester and Glasgow.

In the North, Regent Street starts at Oxford Street near Oxford Circus Tube Station, and in the South it terminates in Piccadilly Circus after it has passed Hamleys.

The aforementioned Oxford Street is perhaps the more famous of the 2, thanks to its status as the busiest shopping street in the whole of Europe. Around 300 shops cater for millions of shoppers every year, including the notable Selfridges Store, shown above. Selfridges was founded by Harry Gordon Selfridge (1858 – 1947, British Retailer) in 1909 as a large department store in London, and is currently the 2nd largest shop in the entire UK after only Harrods (also in London), with branches across the country. In Birmingham the Selfridges store is an iconic landmark thanks to its modern exterior covered in large roundels, which you can see in my Birmingham post here.

Oxford Street begins at Marble Arch, running for 1.5 miles through the junction with Regent Street to its Terminus, at New Oxford Street, which in turn merges with High Holborn.

Bond Street is the final green square, and although we did walk past it, it didn’t occur to me at the time to take a picture. It runs between Oxford Street in the North, down towards Piccadilly in the South, coming out close to Green Park tube station, just across the road from the Ritz Hotel.

Bond Street is notable as being the most expensive street in Europe to own retail, and indeed on the Monopoly Board the Green squares are the 2nd most expensive properties to own, after only our final set of streets, shown below.

Park Lane & Mayfair

Meeting up with Marble Arch on the edge of Hyde Park is Park Lane, which forms the Eastern boundary of the park itself. The Southern part of the road is home to the “Dorchester Hotel”, which opened for business in 1931, and remains 1 of London’s most expensive hotels.

To the North as you approach Marble Arch you will see the “Animals in War Memorial”, which pays tribute to all of the animals who helped the British Armed Forces in conflicts throughout history. Designed by David Backhouse in the early 2000’s, it was completed in 2004, and features large bronze statues of a Mule, a Horse and a Dog.

Our final square is Mayfair, which refers to an area of London which is 1 of the most expensive areas as a whole in the capital. It is home to many 5 Star hotels, as well as numerous Embassies, with the most famous being the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square.

Most of Grosvenor Square has lovely Georgian Architecture, aside from the Embassy itself as it happens, which is a more modern, plain affair. In the centre of the square stands a statue of former US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 – 1945) who helped the allies during WWII prior to American involvement, and then helped defeat Nazi Germany. Statues of former Presidents, Ronald Reagan (1911 –  2004) and Dwight David Eisenhower (1890 – 1969) can also be found outside the Embassy, along with all 50 state flags. The Embassy does have plans to move, however the new building isn’t expected to be complete until 2017.

The name for the overall area “Mayfair” comes from “May Fair”, a real fair that was held over 2 weeks between 1668 – 1764. Mayfair also covers the area around the Dorchester, and runs as far as boundaries at Oxford Street, Regent Street and Piccadilly. The Monopoly Board reflects it being an expensive area, as it is the single most expensive property you can buy on the board.

Kings Cross, Marylebone, Fenchurch Street & Liverpool Street Stations

Aside from the normal coloured squares, you can also buy 4 train stations in Monopoly, which for the London edition use real life stations located around the city. The 1st after you pass go is London Kings Cross, shown above, located in Camden. The station is located on Euston Road next to St Pancras International, and originally opened in 1852 as part of the Great Northern Railway between London & York. This was later extended and incorporated into the East Coast Main Line from London all the way to Edinburgh, and it remains the Southern terminus of 1 of the UK’s busiest routes.

The station is also heavily featured in the Harry Potter Novels/Films, as it is the location where witches and wizards heading for Hogwarts come to board their train. By running at a column between Platforms 9 and 10 they gain access to Platform 9 3/4, and a trolley half sticking out of the wall has been set up in the station for tourists to get their pictures with.

The 2nd station is Marylebone, in Westminster, which we unfortunately missed although it turns out we did come with 0.3 miles of it when we visited nearby Baker Street, home to the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.

Marylebone opened in 1899, as part of the original Great Central Main Line towards Sheffield/Manchester. This ran broadly the same route as the Midland Main Line, and was eventually closed as part of the Beeching Cuts. Marylebone is now used as the Southern terminus of the Chiltern Main Line up towards Birmingham via Oxfordshire/Warwickshire.

We also missed Fenchurch Street Station, although interestingly we were again only 0.3 miles away from it when we visited the Tower of London, and 0.2 miles when we made it to All Hallows Church nearby.

The Station opened in 1841, becoming the very 1st railway station within the City of London (later joined by Cannon Street, and Liverpool Street) as part of the London & Blackwall Railway. This ran services between Fenchurch and Blackwall which was part of the London Docklands. A new station building was completed in 1854 to designs by George Berkley (Died 1893, English Engineer) and soon played host to other services around London. The London & Blackwall route would close in 1926, however today it remains an important London station, with services run by C2C into the neighbouring county of Essex.

The final station is London Liverpool Street, also located within the City of London. It was this station that we used on our 2nd day in London to get towards Chelmsford/Colchester in Essex, and as we pulled out I took the photo shown above, looking back at the City. You can see the financial district of the City of London, including such buildings as the Gherkin, as well as the newly completed Shard in Southwark on the far side of the river.

Liverpool Street opened in 1874, becoming at least the 3rd station in the City of London, after Cannon Street in 1866. Services from the station mainly run along England’s East Coast, towards Essex, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, as well as Stansted & Southend Airports.

Our London adventure is finally at an end, so if you ever get to visit the Capital, see how many of the famous Monopoly squares you can find, it’s a great way to see the city!

London: Pt 24 – The Docklands Light Railway

Up until the late 1980’s, the London Underground was the only large scale railway system (aside from the old trams which stopped running in 1952 etc) to serve the British Capital, London. The only limitation with the system was that it didn’t serve the old Docklands, which today are 1 of Londons thriving commercial hearts, now linked up by the DLR, which 1st opened in 1987…

Docklands Light Railway 

Founded – July 30th 1987

Stations – 45 (as of 2015)

Lines – 7 (as of 2015)

Track Length – 21 miles (as of 2015)

Claims to Fame – Completely Automated

An Early History:

The London Underground itself has seen various extensions over its lifetime, with the Victoria Line being opened in 1968, and the Jubilee Line in 1979. London was expanding rapidly however, and after Greater London was created in 1965 there were various areas now within London that weren’t served by the tube, noticeably a lot of South London, and the old Docklands. The original idea was to extend the Jubilee Line towards the Docklands, through Lewisham and other areas. Whilst an extension would indeed bring the line to the docks, it only has 1 station, at Canary Wharf. The intended route around the Docks was abandoned on cost grounds, and a new system decided upon. It would follow existing unused railways/viaducts around the docks, complemented by a number of new concrete bridges to fill in any gaps in the route.


The 1st route to open was between “Island Gardens” at the edge of what became Canary Wharf on the Isle of Dogs, and Tower Gateway (serving the Tower of London)/Stratford in the Borough of Newham. As the area around the Docks expanded, and the financial district at Canary Wharf was built (still expanding today) more capacity was required, so the DLR saw it’s 1st extension in the early 1990’s.


1991 saw the arrival of a new branch line to Bank (pictured above), in the City of London which was already served by the Central, Waterloo & City and Northern Lines of the London Underground, allowing passengers to interchange between the 2. A passenger walkway also existed between the station at Tower Gateway, and the nearby Underground Station at Tower Hill (Circle & District Lines).

The stations in the centre of what became Canary Wharf already existed, as they lay between Island Gardens and Tower Hill on the original line, being:

West India Quay, Canary Wharf, Heron Quays, South Quay, Cross Harbour, Mudchute


Canary Wharf became the largest, and as the office complex grew, so did the station, from being a simple through station to a multi line 1, with an interchange to the Jubilee Line station. West India and Heron stations were also only a few minutes walk from Canary Wharf, so they all effectively served the same area. Connecting Canary Wharf station into the tower complex was a large shopping centre below ground, still open today. It was followed by a further expansion, to Beckton, shown on the map at the start of this post in the top right hand corner, in 1994 via areas such as Canning Town where you can interchange for the Jubilee Line.

Design Work:

The DLR is styled in the same way as the London Underground, with regards to the map and symbols. Instead of a Red Roundel it has a Turquoise 1, with the familiar Blue Bar in the centre stating the station name. Whilst there are maps specific for the DLR available, as shown at the top of this post, it is mainly featured on 1 large map which includes the DLR, Underground and Overground networks. Like the Underground, the map isn’t purely geographical, more depicting the general location of stations to clearly show interchanges etc.

On the Underground map the DLR appears as Turquoise Lines, alongside the Underground Lines and the Orange Overground routes, as shown above. They mainly serve the East/South East of London, whereas the Tube is largely focused North of the Thames, and across West London.

Later Expansions:

Since the Beckton line opened in 1994, there have been numerous other additions to the network, starting with that to Lewisham in 1999, which was effectively an extension from Island Gardens through the maritime town of Greenwich to Lewisham in the East.

It was followed in 2005 by a new line to London City Airport, diverting from the normal lines at Canning Town towards City Airport via the old Royal Docks. This was later extended again in 2009 to it’s final stop at Woolwich Arsenal where commuters can interchange with National Rail services towards Kent.

The final extension to date was opened in 2011, and runs from Canning Town to Stratford, and Stratford International to serve the Olympic Park, completed in 2012 for the London Summer Olympics. You may remember I mentioned earlier that 1 of the 2 original lines to open on the DLR served Stratford? Well that line still exists, with the new Stratford line running from Canning Town to Stratford via West Ham, whereas the original line lies further to the West.

Travel Zones:

London is covered by 9 Travel Zones, which dictate how much you would pay in fares to travel across them. Zone 1 covers the city centre, around Westminster/City of London/Southwark/Lambeth, with 2 – 6 then radiating out concentrically from there. Zones 7, 8 and 9 cover areas in neighbouring counties that the Tube uses, and a special fare zone covers Watford Junction in Hertfordshire for interchanges.

The Tube is the main user of the fare zones, however the DLR is also within them, operating across Zones 1 – 4. The Overground also runs through the various Zones, so there is 1 large fare system which allows you to purchase tickets for the Zones rather than individual forms of transport.

This means if you purchase a ticket for 7 days across Zones 1 – 7 you can use DLR/Underground/Overground as much as you like without paying extra, so at Bank you can leave the Underground and board a DLR train with no extra costs. This makes travelling around London so much easier and the different systems are almost 1 large 1 for travel purposes.

Rolling Stock:

Unlike the Underground which uses obviously different rolling stock across the different lines due to the varying sizes of tunnel, the DLR uses a small standard set of stock very similar in design.

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The original stock were called P86/P89 stock, and were already being used in Germany effectively as a tram system. They were only suitable for above ground lines, and had to be replaced when extensions opened which had to utilise underground sections, such as the line into Bank, and the line South of Island Gardens.

The new stock, brought in during the 1990’s was B90/B92, built by Bombardier and stored at the depot at Beckton. They consisted of 3 cars, all of which are interchangeable. These were in turn replaced during the late 2000’s with B07 units, an example of which is shown in the picture above, although a smaller number of B90/B92 are still used, alongside a variation known as B2K from 2001.

Former Stations:

Despite the networks relatively short history compared to the Underground, there are a number of stations that no longer exist, including:

1) Tower Gateway, the original station was demolished and rebuilt to accommodate an increase in passengers, allowing users to embark at 1 side of the train, and disembark at the other simultaneously using 2 platforms.

2) Island Gardens, the original station was built close to what had been the Millwall Extension Railway, where North Greenwich station once stood. It was later demolished when the line was extended further to Lewisham, and a new station built in a better position for the new line.

The Future:

Various routes have been examined for future extensions to the DLR Network, including 1 to extend the Bank branch in the City of London through to Westminster at Charing Cross Station, allowing better access into the heart of London.  This isn’t the only idea to try and connect up major areas of central London with the DLR, as another line through to the major stations of Euston and St Pancras International. This would allow direct access to the West Coast, Midland and East Coast Main Lines from areas such as Greenwich without changing to the tube, along with Eurostar services to France & Belgium.

As of 2015 there are no new extensions currently under construction, however it is very likely that at some point in the future (probably within the next 5 years) that new lines will appear, particularly as new housing is built around South/East London.

We found that the DLR was the perfect counterpart to the tube to access areas that have no stations on the latter’s routes. We used the line to access Greenwich, areas around Canary Wharf etc, and there are many others areas such as Lewisham and Stratford that benefit from the DLR’s routes. You can also get direct transport to London City Airport, 1 of London’s 6 major airports. So join us next time for my final London post, examining a cult classic…

London: Pt 23 – The London Underground

Deep beneath London’s streets, a network of trains carry commuters, locals and tourists alike over hundreds of stations all around the capital, from Canary Wharf to Baker Street, Wembley to Westminster…

London Underground

Founded – January 10th, 1863

Stations – 270 (as of 2015)

Lines – 11 (as of 2015)

Track Length – 250 Miles (as of 2015)

Claims to Fame – Oldest Underground Railway in the World

An Early History:

The London Underground is a mammoth construction, which wasn’t originally conceived as a dedicated metro system for London. It was born out of different competing companies constructing underground railway lines through the capital, and the 1st to open was the Metropolitan Railway (MR) on January 10th, 1863. They ran direct trains from London Paddington to Farringdon Street in Islington. The area is notable as the previous location of the River Fleet, buried beneath the Farringdon over a 20 year period of construction. It would be followed just 5 years later by the new Metropolitan District Railway (MDR), which ran from Westminster to South Kensington, which was actually an extension of the MR, which became the start of a large loop around London City Centre, later completed in 1884. These lines of course retained their original name when they were later incorporated into the Tube.

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Over the following decades numerous other lines and companies appeared, with the East London Railway (ELR) buying out Brunel’s famous pedestrian Thames Tunnel, opened in 1843. It was converted to take trains, becoming part of the ELR. It is 1 of the original areas of the tube that was eventually transferred to the London Overground Network in 2007, but it remains an important part of the Tubes history.  The first dedicated tunnel to be built specifically to carry a railway didn’t open until 1880, running between the Tower of London to Bermondsey.

By 1907, a large portion of the other familiar lines across London had been opened:

1) 1890: City & South London Railway (CSLR) opens between King William Street and Stockwell. Now the Bank Branch of the Northern Line.

2) 1900: Central London Railway (CLR) begins services from Shepherd’s Bush all the the way to Bank in the City of London. Now incorporated into the Central Line.

3) 1906: Baker Street & Waterloo Railway (BSWR) opens from Baker Street to Kennington Road. This later forms a large portion of the Bakerloo Line, the name taken from merging Baker Street and Waterloo.

4) 1906: Greater Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway (GNPBR) closely followed the Bakerloo Lines, from Hammersmith to Finsbury Park, now part of the Piccadilly Line.

5) 1907: Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway (CCEHR) opens between London Charing Cross and Highgate, constituting most of the Charing Cross branch of the Northern Line alongside the Bank Branch.

Design Work:

Eventually all of these separate lines would be incorporated together by a new company called the Underground Electric Railway Company of London, who gradually brought all the lines except the Metropolitan Railway into 1 large system. It wouldn’t be until 1908 however that the name Underground 1st appeared, characterised by the now world famous Roundel, with some examples shown above.

The Undergrounds 1st map appeared in 1908, laid out geographically on a map of London, with different colours representing the different lines. The instantly recognisable map we all know and love today wasn’t introduced until 1931, when Harry Beck (1902 – 1974, English Draughtsman) came up with his 1st designs. The map was unlike any previous attempts, as, whilst it was geographically accurate in that it portrayed the Thames in the centre with the correct stations either side of it, it was more of a schematic allowing users to easily see where to interchange. Some of the original colours have changed over the years, as the Central Line was originally orange, whereas today it is Red.

The Network Expands:

When Harry Beck created his 1st map, there were some notable omissions, in the form of the Victoria and Jubilee Lines. These only arrived much later, with Queen Elizabeth II opening the 1st part of the Victoria Line in 1969. It was eventually extended all the way to Brixton in 1971.

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The Jubilee Line is the most modern line, with the 1st sections opening in 1979. In the South it began at Charing Cross, running up via Green Park towards Baker Street where it annexed the Bakerloo branch from Bakerstreet to Stanmore in the North via Wembley Park (shown above). In 1999 an extension saw the line diverted at Green Park, underneath the Thames via Westminster, and then along the South side of the River, East to Canada Water. It would then run underneath the Thames to Canary Wharf, and round to Stratford, the new Southern Terminus. The extension meant that the Jubilee Lines at Charing Cross were now redundant, forcing them to close, although they have been used occasionally as sets for various movies.

The London Overground was added to the Tube Map after it was opened in 2007, taking various unused sections of track, along with some local lines to create a new route to supplement the Tube. Likewise, the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) which is another extra metro system based around the Quays at Canary Wharf is also on the map, as the 3 railways are used in conjunction with each other.

Over the years London Heathrow Airport has also been expanding, and is now home to 5 different Tube stations, at Terminals 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. The Piccadilly Line was extended to serve the airport, with the main portion of the line reaching Terminals 1 -3 and 5, with a run round loop allowing access to Terminal 4 from there.

Travel Zones:

London itself is split into 9 different travel zones, which radiate out in circles from the centre. Zone 1 covers the main attractions from the Tower of London, the City of London and the City of Westminster, through Southwark/Lambeth etc. Zone 2 spreads out further, towards Shepherd’s Bush, and the zones continue to expand concentrically towards Watford. Some Underground lines actually run out of Greater London into surrounding counties, so these areas are included as part of the travel zones. A special zone also covers Watford Junction in Hertfordshire, which is shown in the top left hand corner of the Tube Map, and simply says “Special Fares Apply”, as it lies outside of Zone 9. Zones 7 – 9 aren’t concentric and cover just a small area, those in Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire etc.

Today you can get an Oyster Travel Card, so basically you could choose for example 7 days worth of travel in Zones 1 – 7, and this would entitle you to access on all London Buses, Overground, Tube and DLR services running within these zones for that length of time. This came in particularly handy for our trip, as we could swap from the Tube to the DLR at Bank in the City to get towards the Quays/Greenwich without having to pay extra. It also let us take London Overground trains towards Croydon, Kingston and Richmond, again with no extra charge on top of the original ticket we bought at the start of the week.

Rolling Stock:

Incredibly, most of the lines on the Tube use different sizes/types of rolling stock.

Underground 1

I took this picture of a train pulling into Charing Cross station in the City of Westminster during our trip. There are 2 lines going through Charing Cross, the Northern/Bakerloo Lines, and these particular trains all run on the Northern Line, and are known as “1995 Stock”. Despite the name suggesting they began use in 1995, they were actually brought in in 1998, and consist of 6 car sets, of which there are a total of 106.

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Across the rest of the network however, a variety of different sized trains are used. The deeper lines (E.G. Bakerloo, Jubilee, Northern, Victoria etc) use smaller trains, that most average sized people would be the same height as on the platform. In contrast, the sub-surface lines (E.G. Circle, Metropolitan, District etc) located much higher up just below the surface, use larger trains more similar to mainline trains.

I took the above picture at Marble Arch station on the Central Line, another of the deep level lines. You can see how small the trains are compared with the commuters.

Of course the original trains to run on the lines that would eventually become the Tube were steam powered, on the Metropolitan Railway. This was a problem however with the lack of ventilation in the tunnels, causing a large amount of smoke inhalation. The 1st type of Electric Locomotive was used in 1890 on the City & South London Railway, with other railways following by the end of the 1900’s.

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Most stock on the Underground is currently being replaced, with a new train known as “S-Stock”, pictured here arriving at London Paddington on the Circle Line. Rather than the old doors and gangway which used to connect the individual coaches, they are more like bendy buses, allowing the customer to easily pass from carriage to carriage. They are stunning, modern creations yet they still retain the familiar feel of the Tube.

Former Stations:

As I mentioned before, the extension to the Jubilee Line from Green Park to Stratford, bypassing Charing Cross made the latter redundant, with the Jubilee Platforms no longer in service. These old stations still exist, with almost 80 different stations closing for various reasons, with some lines having been diverted.

There is a great website which details all the stations that still exist, and where you can find them. Sadly they aren’t open to the public, but if you look closely at just the right moment as you pass through various sections of the line, you can catch a glimpse of a long forgotten set of platforms… Find out more on the “Abandoned Stations” site here.

The Future:

There are various ideas for extensions to the Tube network, with proposals to extend the Jubilee Line to cover more of the Docklands being regularly talked about. 1 idea that is very likely to reach the construction stage is an extension of the Northern Line, with a branch line coming off at Kennington, and running through a new station called Nine Elms, and terminating in a 2nd new station, Battersea. This would fit in with the redevelopment of the former Battersea Power Station, currently being converted into residential use as the centrepiece of a larger redevelopment scheme.

The Tube is the easiest way to see London, and it’s also a big part of the city’s heritage, which is just as famous as the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Palace of Westminster and many more…

London: Pt 22 – Colchester, Essex

Moving on from England’s newest City, Chelmsford, we arrived in Colchester, the oldest recorded town in Britain…


Status: Colchester District, Essex, Town, England

Date: 31/03/2015

Travel: Greater Anglia (London Liverpool Street – Chelmsford), Greater Anglia (Chelmsford – Colchester)

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Colchester Town Hall, Colchester Castle,  Jumbo Water Tower, Colchester Post Office, Roman Wall Remains, Essex & Suffolk Fire Office, St Peters Church, River Colne, Natural History Museum, War Memorial, Castle Park, Albert Hall, Red Lion Hotel etc

Colchester is 1 of England’s great historic towns, and as we left the train station to head towards the town centre, we pretty quickly came across some beautiful old buildings, which are recognised as such by being on the British Listed Buildings register.

The 1st set are located on North Station Road, and formed of a number of 2 storey, 18th Century brick buildings, officially known as Numbers 30 & 32. They are currently inhabited by a number of shops, helping to preserve these quaint little buildings.

Moving on, to the junction between Victoria Chase and North Station Road, we came across the “Victoria Inn”, even older than Numbers 30 & 32, dating back to the 17th Century. Originally built as a private house, it would later be converted into an Inn/Public House during the 19th Century, which it remains today, having been revitalised in 2010 by a friendly couple from Yorkshire.

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We kept following North Station Road to the road crossing over the River Colne, which begins North West of Colchester, before flowing through the town, around the Northern edge of Castle Park, and out into the English Channel between the town of Brightlingsea, and Mersea Island. To cross the river, the road used “North Bridge”, originally built in 1863 by the then Mayor R R Dunn. 1 of his successors, Henry H Elves, would later oversee the widening of the bridge in 1903, to allow it to carry 2 lanes of traffic.

Lining the edge of the river on the North bank, (pictured from the South) are the stunning “Riverside Cottages”, a series of incredible 17th Century tudoresque cottages, and just another part of a series of incredible buildings we would see throughout the town.

The town centre itself is actually atop a reasonably steep hill, which you can access by using the main road called, unsurprisingly, “North Hill”. As we headed South up the hill, on our left we came across the “Marquis of Granby Inn”, another historic inn, although it’s at least 100 years older than the Victoria Inn, dated to around 1520. The name of the Inn may refer to the title “Marquess of Granby” which, along with the title “Duke of Rutland” was granted to the Earl of Rutland by Queen Anne (1665 – 1714) in the early 18th century.

On the other side of the road, slightly further up the hill, we were treated to even more historic buildings, although 1 in particular stood out, thanks to its distinctive colour. This brightly coloured abode is made up of Numbers 45 & 46 North Hill, and is also a 16th Century building like the Marquis of Granby. The whole row, which goes as far as Number 49 fall into a similar category, and as we approached the very centre of the town, the number of these fine buildings would only increase.

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Close to the summit, with a commanding view back down towards the river, is the Church of St Peter, which has existed on this site for almost 1000 years, as it is 1 of the few Churches to be mentioned in the Domesday Book.

The book was created in 1086 under the orders of William the Conqueror (1028 – 1087), who had invaded in 1066, defeating Harold Godwinson (1022 – 1066) at the Battle of Hastings that same year. It was basically an inventory of his new kingdom, covering the whole of England, as well as parts of neighbouring Wales, and was primarily used as a tax record, by finding out who owned what across the country. Settlements like towns and cities were referred to, as well as places like Churches, giving a minimum date for the existence of various places and structures.

So the Church, or 1 of its older incarnations at least, was in existence by at least 1086,  however the existing building has been primarily dated back to the 15th Century, however due to an earthquake in 1692, parts of it had to be rebuilt. The iconic tower, which has 1 of the more unusual Church clocks that we have seen, was a later addition, in 1758.

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Just across the road lies another Inn, which originally opened as the “Waggon & Horses” in the 19th century, mimicking the other Tudor/Elizabethan buildings we had already seen in the town. It’s appearance today is far from that of 200 years ago, as the exterior was originally flat aside from 1 protruding room above the main entrance. The extruded front windows on the ground floor were also in line with the entrance, rather than as they appear now.

Whilst aesthetic changes on buildings occur quite frequently, the structural changes are thought to have occurred during World War II, as Colchester was bombed during the 1940’s. It was in the years following this date that the present configuration of the building occurred, and it has now been converted into a mock Irish Pub, called “Pat Molloy’s”. Thanks to the “pubshistory.com” website for the information about the pub, and if you look at their page on the building here you can see some of the historic photos which show such a great difference in styles across the centuries.

To the left of Pat Molloy’s is the charming town Post Office, housed in a Mock Tudor building constructed in 1936 to designs by the Prudential Assurance Co. Ltd. It is in a prominent position in the centre of town, and it lies directly opposite “High Street” which leaves North Hill here, and runs past important buildings such as the Victorian Town Hall, on it’s way towards the Castle.

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Entering “High Street”, we got a great view up Colchester’s main thoroughfare, with the Clock Tower of the Town Hall visible in the distance, but more on that in a moment. Many of the town’s main shops are located here, along with 2 local shopping centres.

On the left however is another important part of the town’s heritage, in the form of the long cream building with columns lining the external facade. It is identified by large white letters below the Clock at the top of the building, which read “Essex & Suffolk Fire Office”. Whilst it would be the eventual home of the Fire Service for Essex and the neighbouring county of Suffolk located directly to the North, it was originally built in 1820 as the town’s Corn Exchange, where local goods could be bought and sold. The actual Fire Office itself had been formed 20 years earlier, in 1802. It would be superseded in 1948 by the Essex County Fire & Rescue Service, along with its separate counterpart in Suffolk.

Designed by David Laing (1774 – 1856, Architect from London), it was built with only 2 storeys, meaning that the 3rd storey, along with the Clock, were later additions. At either end of the building on the top floor are 2 shields, the 1 on the left (out of shot) features the Coat of Arms of Essex, made up of a red backround with 3 Saxon Knives, whilst the 1 on the right features the Coat of Arms of Colchester. The Arms feature 3 crowns spaced out around crossed pieces of wood.

The building now houses a variety of shops, and backs onto St Peter’s Church located directly behind it.

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Directly to the right is a smaller building called the “Albert Hall”. It was built in 1845 by John Raphael Rodrigues Brandon (1817 – 1877, London Architect) as a new Corn Exchange, replacing what would become the Fire Office, which presumably indicates it may well have been around this time that the Fire Office itself moved in.

The new Exchange would remain in use until 1925, as after that it was used for a variety of functions, from Art Gallery to Theatre. In 1972 a brand new theatre, called the “Mercury Theatre” opened in Colchester, not far behind the Post Office Building, freeing up Albert Hall for commercial use.

At 1st glance, had I not found out it replaced the original Corn Exchange, I would have assumed it was an old bank building, so it’s fitting that the Co-Operative Bank currently inhabit it. You can still see the name “Albert Hall Building” painted above the main entrance, with Colchester’s coat of arms right at the top above the business’s name.

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Dominating both the High Street and the town’s skyline, is the majestic Victorian Town Hall, shown above. The Victorians brought with them a revolution in architecture in the UK, with stunning municipal buildings popping up everywhere from Manchester to Sheffield etc.

Designed by John Belcher (1841 – 1913, London Architect), the building was completed in 1898, just 3 years before Queen Victoria’s death heralded the end of the celebrated Victorian Era in 1901. The building is jointly constructed out of red brick and Portland Stone, quarried on the Isle of Portland in Dorset, complete with the 162 ft Victoria Tower at the East End, a statue of St Helena (250 – 330, Wife of Emperor Constantius Chlorus) atop its dome.

The Town Hall is 1 of 2 fantastic towers that mark the skyline of Colchester, and you can see the other in the background, however I shall explain all later on, as there are certain places in Colchester that offer a truly incredible view of the 2 competing against each other!

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Between the Town Hall and Colchester Castle there are a number of other interesting buildings you can feast your eyes on, including the “Red Lion Hotel”, originally a large house built around 1465. The hall from the house still exists, having been incorporated as the Dining Room when the house was expanded and revamped at the start of the 16th century into an Inn.

It is another fine example of Elizabethan architecture in the town, and had we been intending to stay overnight then this would have been the ideal place (architecturally and geographically) to get a good nights kip!

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From a historical point of view, Colchester Castle is the most significant building in the town. Built by William the Conqueror just 10 years after his invasion of England in 1066, this fantastic Castle is larger than the White Tower of the Tower of London (it’s original Norman Keep) and is the largest Norman Keep surviving in Europe today.

It’s remarkable condition can be attributed to the comparative lack of conflicts that it saw action in (compared to other regions of Britain such as North Wales, the English/Scottish Borderlands and the English South Coast) as well as the fine designs employed by the Bishop of Rochester, Gundulf (relative of Gandalf from Lord of the Rings???) after William ordered its construction.

The few major battles the Castle was involved in include its capture by King John (1166 – 1216) in 1215, during a war that resulted from the Kings refusal to follow the Magna Carta, signed in June of that year to limit the power of the King over his subjects. The war was known as the “1st Barons War”, as it was the Barons of England who had originally agreed Magna Carta with John, and were being supported in the war effort by the French King Louis VIII (1187 – 1226), however peace was eventually declared and Louis was kicked out of England, back to France.

It would eventually pass into the hands of Sarah Gray, the wife of Charles Gray (1696 – 1782, MP for Colchester) in the 18th century. Under Grays ownership the Castle was greatly restored (after an attempt to destroy it for profit in the mid 17th century) and the grand park which now accompanies it was 1st created as part of his private estate. It is now held by the town itself, with both the Castle (as a Museum) and the Park open to the public. The Park stretches all the way back to the River Colne which we traversed earlier, and includes various items of interest from an Old Roman Wall, to the Boating Lake.

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Opposite the main gates which lead into the park, sits the towns War Memorial, designed/built by Henry Charles Fehr (1867 – 1940, Architect of Swiss Ancestry) and completed in 1923, a few years after the end of World War I which spurred its creation. A bronze statue of Victory (Roman Goddess of Victory) stands atop the structure, gazing towards the Former Church of All Saints on the other side of the road.

I say Former, as the Church became the “National History Museum” in 1958, after it was converted following a significant fall in the Church going population of the Town Centre. The Church itself complements the Castle well, with the oldest sections of the building also being Norman. Later additions include the Chancel/Tower, added by the mid 16th century.

Castle Park offers numerous opportunities to get some pleasant views of the town, particularly as you reach the bottom of the hill towards the river, but also from outside the Castle itself, as you can see in the 2 pictures above. I took them looking across a small pond with the Clock Tower of the Town Hall in the distance, with the various flora and fauna of the park visible in the foreground.

The Union Jack flies proudly from the top of Colchester Castle, and its times like these that the true plethora and glory of British history is exemplified. So much has happened over just the last 2000 years, with 1st the Romans, then the Normans arriving in Britain. English/Scottish/Welsh Kings & Queens have come and gone, great battles have been fought, yet we are still here, with more history than most other nations on Earth!

The Park is classified in 2 sections, the Upper Park, and the Lower Park. I am unsure exactly where the boundary between the 2 lies, but it is either at the bottom of the hill, or the other side of the River Colne.

Turning to look back as we took a pleasant wander through the park in the general direction of the train station, we could see the Castle rising high above us, a sight that must have sparked fear in the hearts of those sent to capture it. As noted earlier, the park was once the private estate of local MP Charles Gray after the Castle was purchased for his wife. I imagine the park has since been enlarged, but it covers a staggering amount of land.

To the North West of the Castle is a small boating lake, a common feature in large parks in England, and almost certainly a Victorian addition.

We soon came across a part of, as the sign says “Ancient Roman Wall”. This is part of the original Roman Town of Camulodunum, in the Britannia Region of Roman Britain. It was later destroyed by Boudica in AD 61, although the town, along with its walls was later rebuilt by AD 80, which is presumably when these walls date to.

Other Roman finds have been located beneath Colchester, with a Roman Temple underneath the Castle, and a Chariot Race Track (known as a Circus in Roman Times) beneath the Garrison.

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Our last major stop in the park was the River, which we had crossed earlier on the way into the town centre via the North Bridge. Even though it is only a few yards further downstream at this point, the view along the river is markedly different, with the historic Tudor/Elizabethan buildings nowhere in sight, and grand trees giving a peaceful environment for a stroll.

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Our last view of the town of Colchester came as we walked up a road called “Sportsway”, which borders the “Colchester & East Essex Cricket Club”, with their ground shown above.

Behind the pitch, dominating the sky, is the Clock Tower of the Town Hall on the left, and it’s imposing rival, the “Jumbo Water Tower”. Like the Town Hall, it is also a Victorian creation, completed in 1883. With over 1 Million bricks and 800 tons of Cement, the structure was a mammoth project, and dwarfed any other buildings in its vicinity, which led to it’s nickname. John Irvine would see that even the Church Tower of St Mary-at-the-Walls Church where he was Reverend wasn’t a match for this new giant, and coined the name Jumbo in reference to it. It remains a popular local landmark, with a viewing gallery at the top offering some fine views over the town and local countryside.

Colchester is a beautiful town, and 1 of those places that we fully intend to return to 1 day. It has centuries of history, visible around every corner, and whilst the Victorian aspects of the town are the most notable as you enter, there is so much more to explore, from Norman Castles/Churches, to Tudor/Elizabethan Houses, Cottages, Inns and Hotels.

Colchester is located 70 miles out of Central London, and is accessible via a number of routes, which include the A12 from the M25 (Orbital Motorway around London) through Essex via Chelmsford, or local rail links from London to Norfolk/Norwich via Essex. Nearby airports include London Stansted (31 Miles) and London Southend (40 Miles) which offer a variety of International/Internal flights. Also of note is the port of Harwich 20 Miles East of Colchester, which has ferry connections to the Netherlands and mainland Europe.

So that was our last excursion as part of our London adventure, which covered 20 Cities/Towns/Districts across 5 Historic Counties, and numerous more by train. But that’s not quite it, as we take a look at the London Underground in my next post…

London: Pt 21 – Chelmsford, Essex

Leaving London for the 2nd time on a trip out to the “Home Counties” of England, we arrived in Chelmsford, the newest City of England, in Essex for a brief stopover on our way towards Colchester…


Status: City of Chelmsford District, Essex, City, England

Date: 31/03/2015

Travel: Greater Anglia (London Liverpool Street – Chelmsford), Greater Anglia (Chelmsford – Colchester)

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Chelmsford Cathedral, Shire Hall, Council Offices, County Hall Blocks C & D, Central Baptist Church, Local Architecture, Central Park, Sir Nicholas Statue etc

Leaving the train station, we arrived at a double roundabout where 2 important roads meet, which are Duke Street (East & West) and Victoria Road (North & South). Gazing along Victoria Road South, we picked out a few landmarks amongst the various buildings, starting with that shown on the 1st picture, which I assume at some point in it’s life was owned and run by a Bank, judging by its architecture.

Right at the top of the building in the crescent shaped roof adjournment, there appears to be a coat of arms cut in stone, which looks like it is showing 3 crowns above each other. The coat of arms of Chelmsford features 4 white wavy lines interspliced with 3 similar blue lines, very different to that portrayed on the building, so I am unsure exactly what it represents.

Looking past the possible Bank building, you can see the tall rectangular tower of the Central Baptist Church, representing the Baptist portion of the Church going population of Chelmsford. Thanks to a kind email from the Church themselves after I enquired for some more details about it, I can tell you the following:

“The Church first began in 1905, meeting in temporary premises.  The building on Victoria Road South was designed by the architect William Haynes, from Frinton-on-Sea and opened in 1909. Between May 1999 and April 2001 the Church building was remodelled internally to its current design.”

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Chelmsford seems to have a lovely variety when it comes to architectural heritage, as you can see on the picture above. It depicts a large brick building that reminds me of Georgian designs, on the corner of Duke Street and Victoria Road. Just to the right you can see Victoria Road South and the Baptist Church in the background.

This particular building isn’t Listed, so I don’t have any more information I can give you about it, however it doesn’t appear to be in a modern style, so I would estimate it was built sometime in the 19th century. For some reason I rather like it, it stands out, and reminds me of old black and white pictures from the start of the 20th century, of corner shops etc.

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Continuing up Duke Street, heading East towards the city centre, we came across what are known as Blocks C & D, County Hall, which is actually 1 large building constructed in 2 halves.

The red brick section (D) to the right is the older of the 2, dating back to 1909, and the letters “ECC” are emblazoned on the outside next to the main entrance, standing for Essex County Council. To the left is the Portland Stone clad C, designed by J. Stuart. Construct began in 1929, and surprisingly was only completed in 1939, suggesting funding problems delayed its construction, as it’s a reasonably small structure to build.

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Block C fills up most of the block, as it continues down Threadneedle Street (shown above on the left) where it meets up with the newer additions to County Hall, Blocks A, B and E, modern concrete structures. Together the 5 blocks create 1 large complex, and houses Essex County Council, jurisdiction of which excludes the Unitary Authorities of Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock, and areas of the historic county which joined London in 1965.

Chelmsford has been the county town of Essex since 1218, hence the location of County Hall here. Chelmsford City Council is also located in the City, however in a separate building, on the area of Duke Street on the far side of the train station to that which we used to access the city centre.

Opposite County Hall, behind a row of small buildings, you will find Chelmsford Cathedral, a beautiful little building, separated from the hustle and bustle of the city, in a calm little Churchyard, with it’s distinctive spire visible from the railway line.

The building is dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, St Peter & St Cedd, and like many Cathedrals it began life as a local Parish Church, sometime around Norman Times. Again like other Churches the fabric of the building isn’t original, and dates back to the 15th & 16th Centuries when the original building was rebuilt in its present form, with the oldest section being the Tower.

If you look closely at the building, the main Nave in the centre of the building is a different style to the rest of the building. This is because the original version collapsed in 1800, necessitating a rebuild by John Johnson (1732 – 1814, English Architect). The Church would later become a Cathedral in 1914, upon the creation of the new Diocese of Chelmsford, which covers Essex and a large part of North London.

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Leaving the pleasant surroundings of the Cathedral, we returned to Duke Street, and continued East to the very centre of the city, home to some of its most notable buildings, as shown above, starting with the HSBC building on the right, shown in more detail below.

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This charming early 20th century building was originally constructed for the National Provincial Bank, founded in 1833. It would trade as a standalone company until 1970 when it merged with NatWest (National Westminster Bank) so the name no longer appears on Britain’s high streets.

The building later passed into the hands of the Midland Bank, founded in Birmingham in 1836, which would also later be part of a merger, and is currently part of HSBC Bank, hence the name on the building. The Bank sits at the South end of Tindal Square, which also includes a large statue situated towards the road, of Sir Nicholas Conyngham Tindal (1776 – 1846, English Lawyer from Chelmsford, and MP for Wigtown Burghs/Harwich in Scotland) who was responsible for a number of notable occasions with respect to the law, including:

1) In 1820 he defended Queen Caroline of Brunswick (1768 – 1821, wife of the then King George IV from 1820 until her death the following year) during a trial in which she was accused of adultery. The charges were dropped and she was acquitted.

2) He saw the 1st use of “Not Guilty By Reason Of Insanity” during a trial, which is now recognised as a legal defence all over the world.

The area his statue stands in, Tindal Square, was of course named after him, and recognises the various contributions he made to the field of law.

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I spoke before of John Johnson, who saw the creation of the new Nave of Chelmsford Cathedral after the former collapsed in 1800. He was also responsible for 1 of Chelmsford’s most famous buildings, the immaculate Shire Hall, which sits opposite the Bank/Statue of Sir Nicholas.

The Hall was effectively the original County Hall here in Chelmsford, as when it opened in 1791 various Civic Meetings were held here, which included the County Council. The building replaced its predecessor, which had been outgrown by the services required to run the county, and Johnson was selected to provide the new design, which required a number of houses on the site to be demolished before it could be built. Faced with stunning Portland Stone like the present County Hall, it was also used as a Corn Exchange, which featured on the lower floors, although the main doors/windows were too small and didn’t allow sufficient light for traders, and they would eventually get their own purpose built building elsewhere in the city.

I presume the Shire Hall remained in use until the 1st section of the large complex that is now County Hall opened in 1909. Today the Shire Hall is currently empty, although the County Council has opened up the floor to traders to move into the building, to help preserve it for the future, and keep it a working Hall.

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At the end of the day, after visiting Colchester as well, we had to get the train back to London, which also passed back through Chelmsford. On the way, we noticed a large park South of the city centre which the railway line runs close to, and I took this shot looking at the lake.

The park is called simply “Central Park”, which opened in 1894. It’s a pleasant, public open space, with fountains in the lake and it’s only half a mile away from County Hall by foot.

So that’s Chelmsford, famous as England’s newest Jubilee City, having been granted City Status in honour of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, winning a competition in which various towns all over England submitted applications to become a city. Perth in Scotland, and St Asaph in Wales were also granted City Status, bringing the UK total to 69.

Chelmsford is an interesting city, with some stunning buildings, and a great location just half an hour out of London by train, with various services calling here, including those that run directly from London to Norwich in Norfolk, via Essex, as well as Colchester, the oldest recorded town in England, which would be our next stop. Chelmsford is also just half an hour away from London Stansted Airport, providing flights to a variety of destinations both within the UK and abroad. The UK’s largest airport, London Heathrow, lies to the South, just over an hour away using the M25, serving most destinations globally.

We moved on, towards Colchester, the famous Roman Town…