London is a city of historic and character-definining landmarks that make in into all the guidebooks, including icons of the past such as Big Ben, Tower Bridge and Westmister Abbey and modern-day highlights, including the London Eye and The Shard. But there is also a host of hidden treasures, the oft overlook gems that are also gatekeepers of history and culture. Here a some of the hidden gems that will captivate, whether your a local or a wide-eyed traveller.
Wilton’s Music Hall - Graces Alley
Wilton’s is the last surviving and oldest Music Hall. It’s crumbling and falling to bits, but still wonderful and an incredible piece of history. It was built in 1725, and even now still puts on shows and concerts. You have to see it during a performance – you can’t just wander around it these days.
You can, however, catch guided tours of the place which are run by a small team dedicated to stabilizing and restoring this architectural wonder. Wilton’s is to be found in 1 Grace’s Alley, E1, and you can find out a bit more about the place, including some of its more recent history as a bomb shelter and a rag warehouse here.
It’s a wee bit out of London, this one, but still completely accessible. Chislehurst is 30 minutes on the train from London Bridge Station and then the caves are a very short walk further. You must get a guided tour around these caves, but you’ll need one, because during the 45 minute tour you’ll hear all about the history of the caves, from the Romans onwards. Most recently, the caves played an important part in providing shelter for people through the Blitz during WW2.
The tours leave every hour on the hour from 10am until 4pm from Wednesday to Sunday, and you don’t need to book which is a plus. Dead low price, too: £5 for adults and £3 for children or those lucky folk who merit a discount for one reason or another. Details and directions here.
Hunterian Museum - 35-43 Lincoln's Inn Fields
This one is making the “historic” list because it’s literally full of historic curiosities, rather than actually being one itself. The Hunterian Museum is free, like most of the museums in London, and you’ll find it inside the Royal College of Surgeons, which says quite a lot about the sort of place it is. Here you’ll find surprising object, random objects and outright gory objects. And by that, we’re talking frankly terrifying-looking medical instruments used to do all sorts of things you don’t want to know about, anatomical tables from the 17th Century and far too many pickled internal organs for comfort.
Oh, and Churchill’s dentures. This is a place to take kids that aren’t prone to nightmares (they’ll either love it or hate it), and not somewhere to visit just after you’ve had your lunch.
Dennis Severs’ House - 18 Folgate Street
God bless the Americans, who seem even more fascinated by Britain’s history than the British. One such fanatic is Dennis Severs, who came to London in 1979, bought one of the many Georgian-built houses in the city – and promptly set about making it into one of the most realistic recreations of a historical household. 18 Folgate Street, in Tower Hamlets, is completely normal on the outside and a historian’s dream on the inside. It is completely decked out in Georgian style, entirely candlelit, and set up so as to make you feel as though you are living the history.
There are unmade beds, half-eaten food, aromas wafting about that you don’t even find on the Tube. It’s very impressive and one of the most evocative historical experiences in the city. It costs a rather eccentric £12 on a Monday evening, £8 on a Sunday afternoon and £5 on a Monday lunchtime to go around; you can check out more details on their website. Maybe the comforts of such historical life don't match with your comfortable London hotel, but this house will surely make an impression.