London Advent Calendar
Forget a traditional cardboard Christmas countdown, this London Advent Calendar has gone physical.
These are my favourite London doors with fascinating stories behind them…
Door No.25 – Westminster Abbey
It was here, on Christmas Day 1066 that William the Conqueror had his Coronation Ceremony, crowning him King of England.
(Well, not here exactly but in the earlier Westminster Abbey that stood on this site.)
The current abbey dates from around the 1240s and has continued to be the site of coronation for every crowned King or Queen of England ever since.
Thank you for following along with me on this journey through London’s best doors, I hope you’ve enjoyed it.
And a very Merry Christmas to you!
Door No.24 – 46 Berkeley Square, Mayfair
Since it’s refurbishment (costing a whopping £55m) Annabel’s hasn’t exactly sat quietly on Berkely Square.
Becoming known for it’s fabulously over the top themed decorations, it doesn’t disappoint for Christmas.
The original Annabel’s (two doors down at 44 Berkeley Square) opened in 1963 by Mark Birley who named it after his wife, Lady Annabel Vane Tempest-Stewart. The basement club became a notorious gambling den and was funded by 500 of Birley’s friends, each of whom agreed to give £5 a year to be life members. A Bargain!
A known haunt for celebs and rock stars, but even the super famous have to adhere to the strict dress code. The Beatles were famously turned away at the door for not being smart enough. Rumour had it they weren’t wearing ties, but Birley said it was actually because none of them were wearing shoes!
Door No.23 – Cannon Lane, Hampstead
It looks like a cute little door into another world, but this 18thC Hampstead portal is a little more sinister.
Built into the garden wall of Cannon Hall in 1730, this was where local magistrates locked up prisoners in a dark cell until they decided what to do with them.
This London-wide system fell out of use from 1829 when the Metropolitan Police was founded. In Hampstead they began to use a nearby Watch House in Holly Walk but this door and wall are protected for this historic importance.
Door No.22 – 3 St James’s Street
Established in 1698 by a woman known as ‘the Widow Bourne’, No.3 St James Street started life as a coffee shop, selling exotic spices, tea and coffee.
With over 300 years of history it’s had many famous face through the doors including Lord Byron. They’ve also provided wine for the royal family since the 1760s, still holding two Royal warrants today.
Door No.21 – 7 Lothbury
This odd – but beautiful – little building can be found behind the Bank of England at 7 Lothbury.
It was built 1866 by George Somers Clarke for the General Credit and Discount Company and then later occupied by the Overseas Bankers Club. It’s covered in fabulous Venetian Gothic details and the door in particular is like an Italian church entrance. But even weirder, it’s migrated…
The entrance, which now faces onto Lothbury was moved from the side on Tokenhouse Yard between 1892 and 1919!
Door No.20 – 20 Portman Square
At number 20 Portman Square stands Home House. There’s good reason for the peculiar name as it was commissioned by Elizabeth, Countess of Home.
Known as the ‘Queen of Hell’ she was by all accounts a tricky personality, twice widowed and promptly abandoned by her new husband the 8th Earl of Home.
After sacking the first architect, James Wyatt, she appointed Robert adam who finished the project in the NeoClassical style of the day. Today it’s a Private Members Club having been saved from ruin in 1996 by Berkley Adam Ltd. Because of this, the only time you can visit is usually Open House Weekend.
Door No.19 – 48 Doughty Street
Door 19 was occupied by one of the most famous literary figures of all time. 48 Doughty Street was Charles Dickens’ home at the beginning of his rise to fame from 1837-9 and was where he wrote some of his most famous works including Oliver Twist.
In a happy coincidence it was on 19th December 1843 that Charles Dickens first published A Christmas Carol.
Thankfully you can actually have a snoop around, soaking up the Victorian atmosphere because it’s home to the Charles Dickens Museum! Find out more about visiting here.
Door No.18 – 18 Folgate Street
This Spitalfields house should be on every London quirky to-do list, it’s better known as Dennis Severs’ House.
To say the American Severs was an anglophile is a bit of an understatement. He came to the London in 1979 and like many artist/bohemian before him, was drawn to the East End.
This house which he lived in has since become his ’still life drama’, half museum exhibit and half theatrical immersion it’s one of the city’s most bizarre and dramatic experiences to wander in silence through its reconstructed rooms. Find out more in my full post here.
Door No.17 – Florence’s Baptistry Doors
Originally built 1425-52 and designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti, these electrotype copies can be found in the V&A Cast Courts.
Made for the Baptistry of Florence Cathedral, each depicts 5 scenes from the Old Testament. Ghiberti – with a mix of high and low relief sculpture – created realistic depth and movement, breathing new life into familiar scenes.
In 1867 the doors were cast and the museum paid £60 for an electrotype cast, helping the doors reach a greater audience in London.
On a Christmassy theme, I can’t help but mention that the V&A has a link with one of our favourite Christmas traditions; sending Christmas Cards!
Founding Director of the V&A (and key in reforming the British postal service) Henry Cole’s diary entry on 17 December 1843 records the first Christmas Card.
He commissioned his friend, artist John Callcott Horsley, to illustrate three generations of the Cole family raising a toast. He printed 1,000 copies which sold for a shilling each.
Door No.16 – Whitechapel Bell Foundry
The Guinness World Records names it Britain’s oldest manufacturing company, with a traceable history back to Robert Chamberlain of Aldgate a master founder in 1420. The foundry at the sign of three bells was established in 1570 by Robert Mot and moved to this spot in 1738.
Sadly it’s no longer a working foundry. In 2016 the owners sold the site and it will become flats. In a small glimmer of hope, the frontage has at least received Grade II* listed statues and so will remain a nod to its history. More info and photos here.
Door No.15 – Selfridges Lifts
These jazzy doors can’t be found on the street, but inside The Museum of London.
They’re the doors of Selfridge’s lift from 1928, the most glamorous London department store in the 1920s under the helm of Harry Gordon Selfridge. The lifts were operated by glamorous, uniformed women and then after the WWII by war veterans, Mr Selfridge always being a man who could spin a good PR story.
They’ve been at the museum since the 1970s because escalators proved more popular.
Door No.14 – 32 Cornhill
Bank is pretty busy, especially 9-5, so it doesn’t surprise me that these doors hardly get a look-in. The wooden doors themselves are not particularly historic, only dating from the late 1930s. However, they’re (literally) covered in history, with each of the 8 panels telling a part of Cornhill’s past.
So from book deals to penitent Duchesses, there are stories to be told. Read more from my previous blog here.
Door No.13 – 1 Graces Alley
Anyone who’s wandered down Shadwell’s Graces Alley knows the thrill of seeing this peeling red door.
It’s the entrance to Wilton’s Music Hall, a uniquely surviving theatrical space in London, founded in the 1860s by John Wilton.
John Wilton purchased the venue in the 1850s, transforming it into his “Magnificent New Music Hall” hosting variety performances. After suffering a fire in 1878 it was rebuilt in the same style as the 1859 original but this only lasted until 1881 when it closed its doors. The suggestion was that it didn’t conform to new fire regulations. Today it’s a magical space and is open to the public for performances and events.
Door No.12 – The Oldest in Britain
Along the atmospheric cloisters of Westminster Abbey, you’ll find a shadowy door next to the Chapter House. Next to it is a helpful sign indicating that it’s Britain’s oldest door!
The story attached to the door is that back in 1303 there was a robbery in the Abbey’s treasury. On learning – shock horror – it was an inside job by the monks, Edward III flayed the guilty men and used their skin to cover the door. As you do. Recently the door underwent dendrochronological (tree age dating) tests and they proved the door dated to 1043. Even more surprisingly they also found traces of skin.
You’ll probably be relieved to know it wasn’t human skin, just plain old animal hide. There’s further good news for English Heritage members who can show their cards at the Dean’s Yard entrance and get into the Chapter House for free, with no need to pay the Abbey entrance fees! More info here.
Door No.11 – 11 (and a half) Fournier Street
The surviving 18th century streets in Spitalfields are a delight to wander through. But one door that always catches the eye of passersby is this one.
Both were home to 17th century French Huguenots, who arrived in Spitalfields fleeing religious persecution. They mostly galvanised the area’s silk weaving trade before dispersing throughout London over the centuries but number Eleven and a Half still has an creative connection.
It’s home to an art dealership (called Eleven and a Half) who specialise in artists from West Cornwall.
Door No.10 – 10 Adam Street
No. Its not that famous London no.10, it’s a darn fake!
This is not the black 18th century door of 10.10 Adam Street just off the Strand, designed by the architect Robert Adam as part of a number of neoclassical terraced houses known as ‘Adelphi’ from 1768-92.
Today the building (known as Adam House) is serviced offices so you too could rent a workspace (for as little as £29 per day) and each morning pretend you’re off to see the Prime Minister…
Door No.9 – Farm House, Mayfair
Not as old as it looks. Farm House is a reminder of when Mayfair was a rural haven, a suburb, away from the noise and clamour of the city.
Built in a Tudor style, sadly this isn’t authentic 16th century. It actually dates from the 1920s and was built by a Mrs M Strakosh who took every care to have authentic wooden styling. The door features heads of the 12 Christian Apostles. So it’s worth taking a second glance when you walk past!
Door No.8 – Brendon Street, Edgware Road
Today’s door is more about looking up then peering behind. These charming little figures can be found near Edgware Road (and all over London) and they’re made of a special invention called Coade stone.
What’s that? I hear you say, well it was a clever artificial stone create by Eleanor Coade in the 1770s, allowing home owners to add quirky details to their homes. For more info about Coade Stone, my post all about it is here.
Door No.7 – 7 Meard Street, Soho
It’s probably fitting that this door looks little shabby with a bin bag outside. It was once home to Sebastian Horsely, the self-styled ‘dandy’ and wannabe radical artist.
Known for his dysfunctional family, addictions to drugs and alcohol as well as his candid accounts of Sex in his autobiography; “Dandy in the Underworld”. The sign on the door is a replica of the tongue-in-cheek original he placed there while living at No.7; “This is not a brothel, there are no prostitutes at this address”. Sadly, but not surprisingly, Horsley died of a drug overdose in 2010.
Door No.6 – 6 St James’s Street
Originally a coffeeshop (established 1686), no.6 St James’s Street became Lock & Co Hatters in 1765, the oldest hat shop in the world.
Famous for inventing what became known as the bowler hat, Lock & Co have served royalty and many an historic celeb, including creating Nelson’s iconic bicorne hat. You can see this and many other historic treats inside this wonderfully old and wonky door!
Door No.5 – Holborn Hall
You may scratch your head reading the phrase above this High Holborn door. After all, the Metropolitan Borough of Holborn no longer exists, it was amalgamated into Camden with Hampstead and St Pancras in 1965.
The Town Hall and Public Library opened in 1908, but today it’s simply office space. Thankfully it received Grade II listing in the 1970s and so these little details (as well as the high-ceilinged, wood-panelled interiors) serve as a reminder.
Door No.4 – Strand Station
This door might not be the prettiest, and you’ll hardly ever see it opening, but that doesn’t stop it being noteworthy.
It belongs to Aldwych ghost station (renamed from Strand in 1915 after opening 8 years previously). It was never a successful station in terms of footfall but it’s since found fame as a filming location for blockbusters, music videos and TV. Also you can take tours inside, so if you fancied a look around, have a peek here.
Door No.3 – Westminster Bridewell
There’s a lot going on in the heart of Westminster, so it’s very easy to miss this odd doorway with railings either side.
But if you were to come here in the 17th century, this street – now named ironically Little Sanctuary – would’ve housed Westminster Bridewell, a prison and workhouse. In 1834 the prison was demolished and resurrected on the site of Westminster Cathedral today, but not all of it.
Since 1969 it has been incorporated into the back of what’s now The Supreme Court. But it stands away from the wall, purely a reminder of the past, a door to nowhere!
Door No.2 – Elms & Lester, St Giles
At first thought, you might assume this was the giraffe den at London Zoo.
This peculiarly thin door in St Giles is part of Elms Lesters Painting Rooms. Established in 1904 with a bespoke tall door enabling them to manoeuvre their large painted backdrops out of the studio and to various West End theatres. Still going strong today, they’re an independent, family run gallery which has managed to list the building, meaning we can enjoy it for years to come!
Door No.1 – Ede & Ravenscroft, Mayfair
Founded back in 1689 when they made the coronation robes for King William III and Queen Mary II, today they’re most famous for judge’s horse hair wigs.
They continue to be in the Royal good books as you can see 3 Royal Warrants on the left hand side, the official stamp of approval from HM Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Price of Wales. Not bad!
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