#1 Following the History
People preparing for a London trip have probably written ‘visit a museum’ on their ‘must-do list’. Especially if you are a tourist who loves history and tradition, then the sheer amount of massive London museums (and most museums have free admission!) will have you looking forward to visiting London very much.
However, when you finally get to visit London, it is not only difficult to get to so many museums within a limited amount of time, but you also start to feel that every piece looks the same after making the pilgrimage from museum to museum.
But don’t get disappointed yet! Here’s a place that will bring you back to life when you’ve become a creature of habit. If you call the collections inside museums ‘preserved history,’ then this is the place where you can come face to face with the history of the lively London people, continuing right up to the present day.
It’s as big as any museum and has endless goods and stories. It’s a place where you can even touch history and hold it in your hand! If you’re curious, then together with PATH, let’s head into London’s ‘markets’ where history is alive and breathing.
The Course Recommended by PATH
- Greenwich Market – Fan Museum – Greenwich Park – Royal Observatory
- Old Spitalfields Market – Whitechapel Bell Foundry
- Covent Garden Market – Drury Lane Theatre
Opening Times: Tues ~ Sun 10 am – 5:30 pm
Tube: Cutty Sark Station (DLR) Website: http://www.greenwichmarketlondon.com
In the 18th century, when markets started entering the lives of London citizens, Greenwich Market was built near the Old Royal Marine University, and later it acquired its modern form following a riverside maintenance project. In the old days, the market mainly sold meat, vegetables, fruits, and other groceries, as well as chinaware imported from China.
Currently, Greenwich Market consists of small shops that sell antiques and handicrafts. It also has many cute decorations and handmade products, which makes it the perfect place to choose souvenirs or presents. Antique shops usually open on Wednesdays ~ Sundays, so don’t forget this when shopping.
Nibbling on treats, which cannot be missed while looking around the market, is a fun part of the Greenwich Market. Since the market is full of different snacks, and these are more than enough to make up a meal, try buying several things and taking them to eat beside the Thames River or in a nearby park.
Greenwich Market Surrounding Area
Afternoon Tea in the Fan Museum
The Fan Museum, which is not too far away from the market, exhibits various styles of fans that were made from the 11th century onwards. Combining Western with Eastern tradition, the designs of the various fans can make us feel, albeit if only a little, the lives of ‘ladies’ in the elegant olden days.
This museum has another interesting part that is as interesting as its displays. This is ‘The Orangery,’ where tourists can experience the U.K.’s ‘Afternoon Tea’ culture. Although the café is not big, you can enjoy afternoon tea in a warm café where you can look out at a garden, partaking in some black tea or coffee and some delicious scones with jam and cream, or freshly baked cake – all for only 7 pounds per person. The Orangery’s low-priced, excellent tasting afternoon tea was selected as the ‘Afternoon Tea of High Dignity’ by the ‘Daily Telegraph’ in 2012.
However, if you were to look for a fault, it would be that you can’t just enter the café any time you want. First, only people with Fan Museum entrance tickets can take a seat inside the café, and only on Tuesdays and Sundays at certain times (1:45 pm, 2:15 pm, 3:15 pm and 3:45 pm), although sometimes the café is also open on Fridays and Saturdays (12:30 pm and 4:30 pm). People are not allowed to enter the café other than these times and there is also a 75 minute time slot allocated to each table.
You must make a reservation in advance if you would like to partake in afternoon tea. Reservations cannot be made on Fridays and Saturdays because then it is a ‘first come, first serve basis’, and there may also not be any teas happening due to a venue rental, so you should make an inquiry before you visit. You can make a reservation or inquire via email (email@example.com) on weekdays.
Greenwich Park & Royal Observatory
If you walk eastward a little bit away from the market, you will see old buildings and a wide meadow. This is the start of Greenwich Park. Greenwich Park, where Henry VIII used to hunt deer a long time ago, has been turned into a rest area for local residents. Since London has more cloudy days than sunny days, Greenwich residents often bring a mat and snacks here on a sunny day and enjoy the gift of warm nature.
The famous Royal Observatory is located in the centre, where you can climb up the top of the hill. According to the astronomer, John Flamsteed, in the 17th century when the ‘Age of Exploration’ was in full swing, Charles II built the observatory in 1675. Research about the sun, moon, and the planets was conducted in the observatory, and British navigation skills were developed based on this.
It was very important to know your current location when at sea. However, the ‘meridian,’ which became the standard of longitude to show a location on the earth, can change somewhat depending on the observing point. Therefore, European countries, including Britain, that aimed for maritime supremacy used their own meridian at that time. As much confusion arose due to the different standards among the countries, the necessity of a ‘prime meridian’ came to the fore, and the meridian that passes through Britain’s Greenwich Royal Observatory was selected as the standard at the Washington International Meridian Conference in 1884. This was an historical moment, as the longitude of every place in the world was determined using this place as the basis.
When the prime meridian was decided upon, the Greenwich Royal Observatory became the standard time. That is, the standard time was set so that when it is midnight in London, it is 9am in Korea, and it is 7 pm in the evening on the east coast of the US. This is ‘Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)’.
In the 1930s, the observatory headquarters were relocated to Cambridge due to severe smog, but the name ‘Royal Observatory’ was kept because it is such a historical place. The observatory building is used as a museum, and people can see the actual prime meridian beside the building. On your way down the hill, you can enjoy watching the beautiful scenery created by the old buildings of Greenwich Park and the tall buildings of Canary Wharf reflecting across the Thames River. It is a perfect place to take pictures in order to remember Greenwich in the future.
Old Spitalfields Market
Monday – Wednesday: 10 am – 5 pm (most stores)
Thursday: 9 am – 5 pm (antique and vintage marketplace)
Fri: 10 am – 4 pm (fashion, artwork marketplace)
Saturday: 11 am – 5 pm (themed market)
Sun: 9 am – 5 pm (most stores)
Tube: Liverpool Street Station (Central, Circle, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan Lines)
Spitalfields, an area which had hospitals and monasteries around the 13th century, turned into a ‘multicultural’ area where people of various backgrounds such as Jews, Huguenots (Christians from France), Irish immigrants, African immigrants, etc. lived together as the city grew in the 16th century. As people gathered in the town, merchants opened shops there, and Spitalfields Market became very famous as a farmer’s market.
However, this situation changed in the 20th century. The city kept growing and the population increased, so the area around the market always suffered from traffic jams, and it became very inconvenient for trucks full of agricultural products to come and go. As a result, the farmer’s market moved its location to an eastern suburb of London in 1991.
Through planning and remodeling over 18 years, Old Spitalfields Market was successfully refurbished in 2005 and won the hearts of both local residents and the tourists. It was selected as the ‘Best Private Market’ by the U.K. Market Association in 2011.
There are many shops that sell old antiques and collections in Old Spitalfields Market, but it always feels new every day. In particular, genuine markets are on display from Thursday to Sunday; the antique and 2nd-hand markets are held on Thursdays; and the clothes and artwork markets are open on Fridays. A record market is open on the first and third Friday of every month, so you can find albums of various genres and LPs that are hard to get. A ‘themed market’ is held on Saturdays, and mainly has display stands that sell vintage goods. Visit the market on Sunday if you want to find a little bit of all of these things being sold at one time.
Near Old Spitalfields Market
Whitechapel Bell Foundry
As you can tell from its name, Whitechapel Bell Foundry is a factory that produces bells. It makes all kinds of bells, from small hand bells to huge bells that go inside churches or towers, as well as other related parts.
There are two main reasons why this is a famous place. The first reason is that it has been operating since 1570 until today, and is registered on the Guinness Book of Records as the ‘oldest manufacturing factory in the U.K.’ Although its owners have changed 6 times so far, it is certainly a place that has ‘focused on one thing only’ as it has made bells for over 400 years. The second reason is that the bells they have made are deeply connected to historical buildings or particular events. Famous bells among them are: ‘Big Ben’ in London, The Clock Bell in St. Paul’s, the ‘Liberty Bell’ that was used to declare American Independence, the bell in the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal, and the Olympic Bell that appeared in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012.
Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which boasts a long history and tradition, will let you take a look at the items displayed in the entrance for free if you visit the foundry during its opening times (9 am – 6 pm) on weekdays. There is also a reservation tour, in which you can look around the entire foundry and listen to explanations, but the annual tour schedule is limited and is so popular that you have to wait almost a year. Patient travellers may read the reservation guide on the official website (http://www.whitechapelbellfoundry.co.uk/foundry.htm#tours) and send an inquiry email for a reservation (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Covent Garden Markets
Opening times: Monday – Saturday 10 am – 7 pm, Sun 11 am – 4 pm
Tube: Leicester Square Station (Northern, Piccadilly Line)
The markets in Covent Garden began in 1654, but the Earl of Bedford was granted private ownership of the farmer’s market from Charles II in 1670, and his descendants inherited the same right, generation after generation. As London’s traffic developed greatly in the 19th century, Covent Garden Market prospered as well, and in 1830, the 6th Earl of Bedford hired an architect, Charles Fowler, to construct new-classical style buildings in the centre of Covent Garden.
Covent Garden Market boasted a huge size, and was called the ‘Food Storage of Britain,’ but the farmer’s market was relocated due to severe traffic jams and the building was turned into an indoor shopping centre in 1980. This is today’s Apple Market, which has cafés, pubs, handicraft shops, and so on.
There are other markets, besides the Apple Market, inside Covent Garden. In Jubilee Market, the antique marketplace opens on Mondays; and shops selling daily necessities, clothes, food, and souvenirs are open from Tuesdays to Fridays. An artwork and handicraft marketplace opens on the weekend, where you can find a huge range of products sold by over 200 merchants. East Colonnade Market, which opens every day, is a small and cute market for handmade items.
If you walk around the markets inside Covent Garden, you will be able to easily find entertaining artists giving various performances on the streets. You will be able to watch their performances, which are Covent Garden’s speciality, every day of the year – except on Christmas Day. So don’t miss out on this!
Covent Garden Market Surrounding Area
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
Drury Lane Theatre, which is located near to Covent Garden Market and is one of the oldest theatres in London, has more than 350 years of history and stories, like its dramatic performances.
The Drury Lane Theatre building, which was built in 1663 with the permission of Charles II, was destroyed in a fire a little while later. The theater was rebuilt and was maintained for 117 years, and a new building was erected in the same place to expand the facility. However, the building was burned again 15 years later, and the building that currently remains today was built for the fourth time in 1812. Its manager has changed frequently, and the theatre is currently run by the company of the world-class musical composer, Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber.
Also, Drury Lane Theatre is where the UK’s national anthem ‘God Save The Queen’ was first played in front of a public audience, and where the system of ripping a ticket in half began, for the theatre and patron to each have a ticket piece to keep.
Drury Lane Theatre usually showed plays, but in the 20th century it became famous for Ivor Novello’s romantic operettas and Rogers and Hammerstein’s shows. After that, the theatre mainly presented musical performances; for example ‘The King and I’, ‘My Fair Lady’, ‘42nd Street’, and ‘Miss Saigon,’ which are all well-known to us, were performed in this theatre for long seasons and were very successful.
Currently (as of May 2015), the musical ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ is being performed, and various other concerts and performances are being played as well. If you do not have any particular plans before going in to watch a performance, make sure to try one of their ‘theatre tours’ to really get to know the theatre inside out. Through the one-hour-tour, you will be able to listen to the history of Drury Lane Theatre and the stories of the actors who have performed in the theatre. The tour can be booked in the box office inside the theatre, except on Sundays.
This is a place where you can find old items and memories in a building that was built long ago! If you look around London’s historic markets, you will be able to feel how headstrong British people are, as if they are almost obsessed with old things.
But there is no future without the past. It may feel outdated and stuffy, but admitting the value of old things and cherishing them should be highly respected.
Like the people of London, who willingly choose the comfort of goods covered in other’s fingerprints, yet live in a world that ceaselessly churns out new items, why don’t we also perhaps take the time to wander a bit slower, just as if we are in the market?
1. Greenwich Market
Address: 5b Greenwich Market, London SE10 9HZ
2. Fan Museum
Address: 12 Crooms Hill, London SE10 8ER
3. Greenwich Park + Greenwich Observatory
Address: Blackheath Avenue, London SE10 8XJ
4. Old Spitalfields Market
Address: 16 Horner Square, Spitalfields, London E1 6EW
5. Whitechapel Bell Foundry
Address: 32-34 Whitechapel Road, London E1 1DY
6. Covent Garden Market
Address: 41, The Market, Covent Garden, London WC2E 8RF
7. Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
Address: Catherine Street, London WC2B 5JF