Secret London – hidden gems in the city
Secret London takes many forms, from mysterious buildings to quiet green spaces. Follow our guide to find nine of the city’s best hidden gems. Plus remember to check out our fare offers to see how you could save on your train journey to London, from Online Advance to Kids for £2.
Dennis Severs’ House
One of the most enigmatic alternative London days out lies behind the firmly-closed doors of 18, Folgate Street, just minutes from Liverpool Street station.
When American Dennis Severs bought a town house in then run-down Spitalfields he invented a family of Huguenot silk merchants that might have lived there and proceeded to decorate it for them, using the antique markets and junk stalls of 1960s and 70s East London.
Today the house is a cryptic, secretive game played between house and visitor, to be wandered round in silence whilst breathing in the sights, sounds, smells and feel of 18th Century London. There’s a new “Dennis Severs’ Tour” also available, based on the tours given by the man himself in the 1980s.
The house is open from Thursday to Sunday. It’s recommended to book in advance via their website, with walk ins subject to availability.
Dennis Severs’ House, 18, Folgate Street, E1 6BX
The Hawksmoor Pyramid, St Annes, Limehouse
St Annes church is an 8 minute walk from Limehouse station.
All kinds of myths and legends surround London, some of which are relatively recent. The mysterious pyramid standing quietly in the graveyard of St Anne’s Church in Limehouse generates all manner of internet rumours, mainly surrounding the church’s architect, Sir Nicholas Hawksmoor.
Who is buried there? What does it symbolise? How did it get there? The truth is revealed in the original drawings – it’s a piece of ornamentation that should have gone on the roof but got left behind – but the effect is so striking and the church so lovely it’s worth the short walk from Limehouse station to see it anyway.
St Anne’s Church, 5 Newell Street London E14 7HP
Hoxton Hall is a 20 minute bus journey from Fenchurch Street station.
At 101 years old, Hoxton Music Hall is both secret and surprising. Unknown even to some locals this intimate, dainty theatre is once again in wonderful condition.
In its heyday its tiny gallery and even tinier stage saw jugglers, trapeze acts and performing dogs before becoming a Quaker mission, and having some very dark days at the end of the last century. But local regeneration has seen this wonderful hidden gem lovingly restored and it now hosts a wide range of exciting events, concerts and plays. Click here to see what’s on. Hoxton Hall recommends booking events online where possible to avoid disappointment.
Hoxton Hall, 130 Hoxton St, London N1 6SH
Spitalfields Charnel House
As you walk into the trendy new entrance way to Old Spitalfields Market, look beneath your feet. Little glass slots allow a glimpse into the murky remains of a medieval charnel house. Old Spitalfields Market is a 12 minute walk from Fenchurch Street station.
St Mary Spital church’s crypt was used for 200 years as a repository for bones before becoming lost, seemingly forever. When the new development began, archaeologists had twelve months to excavate the remains of over 8,600 bodies and they’re still working on the findings. As part of an agreement with the developers, panels in the pavement create a window into a very murky underworld…
Spitalfields Charnel House, Outside 1, Bishops Square, London E1 6AD
The Masonic Temple, Former Great Eastern Hotel, Liverpool Street Station
The extraordinary Great Eastern Hotel inside Liverpool Street station was one of the great buildings of the steam age. Built to last in red brick and British pride, it epitomised Victorian London at its peak. But few knew of another secret deep within its very walls.
It was only recently builders discovered an astonishing Masonic temple built of twelve types of Italian marble, complete with wood panelling, gilded ceiling and gigantic mahogany throne.
It’s now part of the Andaz Hotel and used for functions, but is open on appointment and has in the past been accessible as part of London’s Open House Festival. This normally falls in September, so keep your eyes peeled!
Andaz Hotel, 40 Liverpool Street, London, EC2M 7QN
Wapping Old Stairs
For 400 years pirates were hanged at Execution Dock on the foreshore at Wapping, their bodies left to dangle through three high tides before the ‘best examples’, such as Captain Kidd, were tarred and gibbeted as a little aide-memoire to other would be buccaneers.
No one knows exactly where the gallows were, but a walk from Fenchurch Street station to Wapping Old Stairs will lead you down to the waters. Then take your pick of riverside pubs – The Prospect of Whitby, the Captain Kidd and the Town of Ramsgate to ponder the fates of the corsairs of Old London Town.
Wapping Old Stairs, down an alley next to the Town of Ramsgate Pub, 62 Wapping High Street, London, E1W 2PN
The secret behind this beautiful, thin line of green linking Hackney Wick and Beckton Park is not what it is – an almost flat walkway for ramblers – but what is inside it.
Under your feet lies the Northern Outfall from London’s Victorian sewer system, carrying effluent from the city through to the magnificent Abbey Mills pumping station at West Ham.
It’s been a walker’s paradise for years, but languished under the unpleasant name of Sewerbank. Now it’s the Greenway, part of the Capital Ring Walk and suddenly much more popular.
The Greenway – linking many parts of East London
The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret
This lesser-known London museum is a stone’s throw from London Bridge, around a 20 minute walk from Fenchurch Street Station.
Climb up a narrow 52-step staircase to reach this 19th century surgical theatre in the attic of a church. You’ll get an insight into the days of surgery before anaesthetic, with a look at some of the tools used and some gruesome medical specimens.
You can even get discounted entry for two with our 2FOR1 offer when you travel by train. The museum is open from Thursday to Sunday.
The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret, St Thomas’ Church, 9A St Thomas’ Street, London, SE1 9RY
Saint Dunstan in the East
This church garden is an oasis of green in the concrete jungle of the City of London, conveniently located a 7 minute walk from Fenchurch Street Station.
The garden features the ruins of an 11th century church which was damaged in the Blitz of World War 2 and never rebuilt. Plants now grow all over the walls of the old church, giving the garden an atmospheric beauty. There are benches to enjoy a packed lunch or simply to grab a moment of peace in the busy city.
Saint Dunstan in the East, Saint Dunstan’s Hill, London, EC3R 5DD