Penny Green’s London – locations from the books

Reading Room, The British Museum, Bloomsbury

Penny, like many journalists at the time, carries out her research in the reading room. It’s located in the British Museum which was founded in the eighteenth century, the current building was constructed in 1854. The iconic circular reading room was part of the British Library within the museum and was in use for 140 years: from 1857 until 1997. During that time it was also used a filming location and has been referenced in many works of fiction.

When the British Library moved to a new location in 1997, the reading room was restored and subsequently used for exhibition space but it has been closed since 2014. It’s been recently announced that it will reopen and display some of the museum’s permanent collections, but it’s not clear when that will be.

Features in: the whole Penny Green series.

Can you visit it? You can admire it from the outside when you visit the British Museum.

The Museum Tavern, Bloomsbury

Opposite The British Museum is the Museum Tavern where Penny and James enjoy a drink together from time to time. It’s a well-preserved Victorian pub and much of the current pub (including its name) dates back to 1855. A pub was first built on this site in the eighteenth century Celebrity drinkers here are said to have included Arthur Conan Doyle and Karl Marx.

Features in: the whole Penny Green series.

Can you visit it? Yes, go and have a drink there.

Russell Square, Bloomsbury

This square was laid out in 1804 and takes its name from the surname of the Earls and Dukes of Bedford who developed the area. Many of the original inhabitants were wealthy men in the legal profession.

These days Russell Square is a popular green space in central London with a cafe, fountain and one of London’s green cabman shelters which were built across the city between 1875 and 1914.

Features in: The Inventor.

Can you visit it? Yes.

Midland Grand Hotel, King’s Cross

This breathtakingly beautiful gothic building opened as the luxury Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras station in the 1870s. However, when the twentieth century arrived it began to fall out of favour with guests as the rooms had no bathrooms. The hotel fell derelict in the 1980s and sat empty for many years until a redevelopment and a reopening in 2011. It’s now the upmarket St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel.

Features in: Limelight.

Can you visit it? Yes.

Euston Station

This once impressive railway station opened in 1837. It was notable for its beautiful, classically styled Great Hall in which a statue of George Stephenson – who the Victorians called ‘Father of Railways’ – once stood. At the entrance to the station stood Euston Arch which was a large, impressive structure built of sandstone.

The station was demolished and redeveloped in the 1960s to the upset of many. The broken up pieces of Euston Arch were used to line the bottom of a canal in East London. A number of the pieces were raised from the canal in 2009 and plans are being discussed to have the arch rebuilt as part of an upgrade of Euston station in 2026.

Features in: The Inventor, The Bermondsey Poisoner.

Can you visit it? The original buildings have all gone, but the statue of George Stephenson and the gates from Euston Arch are on display at the National Railway Museum in York in the north of England.

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, Covent Garden

The Theatre Royal goes back a long way. The first theatre was built on this site in the 1660s, the current building is the fourth version and opened over 200 years ago in 1812. The ghosts of Charles Macklin and Joey Grimaldi – which worry Penny during her visits – are said to haunt the theatre. The Victorians loved their ghost stories as you know!

Features in: Limelight.

Can you visit it? Yes.

Fleet Street

Publishing began in Fleet Street in the 1500s and by the twentieth century the street was the hub of the British press. By the 1980s the newspaper industry was outgrowing the old, cramped offices on Fleet Street and most publications began leaving for larger, more modern premises. The last journalists left in 2016 when the Sunday Post closed its office.

Fleet Street’s church, St Brides, retains its strong association with journalism. The journalists may have gone but the pubs and bars they once frequented are still popular with workers and tourists.

Features in: the whole Penny Green series.

Can you visit it? Yes.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Fleet Street

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub was a favourite with Fleet Street journalists for many years. The pub is still popular and retains its seventeenth century charm and cellars which date from the thirteenth century. The gloomy, warren-like pub has counted literary figures such as Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle and Alfred Tennyson among its regulars. Many pubs in London like to claim Dickens was a regular – but in the case of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese I’m inclined to believe it.

Features in: The Rookery.

Can you visit it? Yes, go and have a beer there.

Twinings tea shop, The Strand

This shop has been in its current location for over three hundred years. Thomas Twining was a tea merchant who began serving tea in his coffee shop at the beginning of the 18th century. Twinings tea is a brand which is still going strong today and has held a Royal Warrant since the company began supplying Queen Victoria with tea in 1837 – it has supplied every monarch since. Jane Austen apparently wrote in her diary that her mother sent her to London to buy Twinings tea. Twinings is London’s longest standing ratepayer with the company having occupied the same site on The Strand since 1706.

Features in: An Unwelcome Guest.

Can you visit it? Yes, go and have a cup of tea there.

St Bartholomew’s Hospital, West Smithfield

This hospital remains on the site it was founded on in the twelfth century and some of the current buildings date back to the eighteenth century. Bart’s has a long-held reputation for teaching and research, buildings for the medical school were constructed in the nineteenth century and among these was the pathology museum.

These days the pathology museum at Bart’s is now professionally curated and open to the public.

Features in: The Inventor.

Can you visit it? Yes, check the museum opening times before you turn up.

St Giles

St Giles Rookery occupied an area of London which is now part of modern day Holborn, Covent Garden and the theatre district in London’s West End. It was already becoming an overcrowded poverty stricken area in the seventeenth century and by the first half of the nineteenth century it was one of the worst slums in Britain. William Hogarth immortalised the area’s lawlessness and depravity in a series of etchings, one of the best known being Gin Lane.

By the late nineteenth century Victorian social reform and philanthropy had gained strong momentum and attempts were made to clear and rebuild London’s slums. Areas such as St Giles attracted many from the middle-classes who either wished to help the inhabitants or tour the poverty stricken streets out of curiosity.

Evangelical missionaries began establishing themselves in slum districts from the 1830s onwards and by the end of the nineteenth century there were hundreds of missionaries helping slum dwellers with practical needs as well as spiritual.

The church of St Giles-in-the-Fields was rebuilt in the eighteenth century and still stands today. Seven Dials has retained its layout and character despite some redevelopment, and Neal Street is a popular shopping street in the Covent Garden area. Neal’s Yard, famous for the organic beauty company which uses its name, provides a good idea of how the narrow crooked streets would have once looked. Although these days the buildings are brightly coloured and house trendy eateries and boutiques.

Features in: The Rookery

Can you visit it? Some of the streets remain but the area has changed significantly.

Bow Street Police Station and Magistrate’s Court

The magistrate’s court was established in 1740 in what was then a crime-ridden area. It became home to London’s first police force, the Bow Street Runners in 1749. In the 1830s the new Metropolitan Police Service built a station on the site and a new magistrate’s court opened in 1881. Famous and varied defendants here included Oscar Wilde, the Kray Twins, Dr Crippen, Bertand Russell, General Pinochet and Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst.

The court closed in 2006 and the building still stands opposite Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House. At the time of writing, the building is reportedly being redeveloped into a hotel and police museum by a Qatari investment firm.

Features in: The Rookery, An Unwelcome Guest.

Can you visit it? Yes, you can view it from the street.

Hammam Turkish Baths, Jermyn Street

A visit to the baths was not only a popular pastime for Victorians but a necessity for a time when only the extremely wealthy had plumbing in their homes. Turkish baths were inspired by those found in Turkey, Greece and Spain and the London versions boasted magnificent themed interiors.

The Hammam Turkish Baths opened in 1862 and were said, for a time, to be the finest in Europe. The popularity of these facilities declined in the twentieth century as bathrooms were installed in homes and the Hammam was completely destroyed by a bomb landing on Jermyn Street during the Second World War.

Features in: The Bermondsey Poisoner.

Can you visit it? No.

Burlington Arcade, Piccadilly

This upmarket street opened in 1819 and was a precursor to modern day shopping malls. It was given its own private police force which still looks after the arcade today: the Burlington Beadles. Singing and whistling is banned in the arcade: rules which were established when pickpockets frequented the place and brothels were to be found in its upper chambers.

Apparently in the mid-nineteenth century Madam Parsons ran a bonnet shop in the arcade which was a front for a brothel in nearby Regent Street. Madam Parsons facilitated liaisons between gentlemen and the ladies and it was only after her death that Madam Parsons was discovered to have been a man.

Features in: The Inventor.

Can you visit it? Yes.

St James’s Square

This square has been an exclusive location in London for most of its history. Laid out in the seventeenth century, the square has been home to three prime ministers, Nancy Astor, Ada Lovelace (pioneering mathematician and Lord Byron’s daughter) and General Eisenhower’s UK HQ in the Second World War.

These days the formerly fashionable townhouses are occupied by corporations, including BP and Rolex, a few private members clubs and the London Library. You can rent an apartment in St James’s Square if you can afford £5,000+ a week in rent!

Features in: Curse of the Poppy.

Can you visit it? Yes.

East India Club, St James’s Square

This gentleman’s club was founded in 1849 principally for men who were connected with the East India Company. It still occupies the same building in St James’s Square today, having merged with other clubs over the years. Membership is by nomination and election and open to men only.

Features in: The Inventor

Can you visit it? You can view it from the street. Members only if you want to go inside.

Scotland Yard, Whitehall

The original headquarters of London’s Metropolitan Police occupied a house in Whitehall after the founding of the force in 1829. The house backed onto a street called Great Scotland Yard which the headquarters took its name from.

As the force grew, it occupied neighbouring buildings and then moved to a new building close by in 1890. Scotland Yard moved to a building in Victoria in the 1960s and then relocated to Westminster – not too far from its original location – in 2016.

Features in: the whole Penny Green series.

Can you visit it? No, not the original Scotland Yard buildings.

India Office, Whitehall

The India Office was located in what are now the Foreign Office buildings in Whitehall. Noted for their architecture and spectacular interior, these government buildings were built in the 1860s and still house the Foreign Office today.

Features in: Curse of the Poppy.

Can you visit it? You can view it from the street and can go inside once a year in September when the Foreign Office opens its doors for Open House Weekend.

The Royal Aquarium, Westminster

This entertainment venue was built in 1876. The aquarium itself never took off – the water tanks ran into problems and it was a standing joke that the aquarium never contained any fish. In a bid to attract visitors the aquarium put on dangerous acts such as Zazel the human cannonball (a fourteen year old girl) and the tightrope walker, The Great Farini.

After a while the Royal Aquarium developed a seedy reputation and ladies of ‘elastic virtue’ were said to frequent the place. It closed in 1902, its theatre – managed by the actress Lillie Langtry – lasted until 1907.

Features in: An Unwelcome Guest.

Can you visit it? No, the building has been demolished.

Hyde Park

King Henry VIII established this as a hunting park for himself in the sixteenth century, it was later opened to the public in 1637. The Serpentine lake was created by damming a river in the eighteenth century and the Great Exhibition was famously hosted here in the Crystal Palace in 1851. Hyde Park has been a popular place for walking, boating and riding for centuries and these days hosts big summer concerts too.

Features in: throughout the series.

Can you visit it? Yes.

Hyde Park Gate

These are two streets situated close to the Royal Albert Hall and Hyde Park. The area has long been associated with the wealthy and that’s still the case today. The young Virginia Woolf lived at number twenty-two Hyde Park Gate and Winston Churchill spent some of his later years at number twenty-eight, he passed away there at the age of ninety.

Features in: The Maid’s Secret.

Can you visit it? Yes.

Kensington Court, Kensington

This 1880s development was the first domestic building in Britain to be supplied with electricity. The generator room – the Electric Lighting Station – still stands and is listed for its importance. It’s now used for office space.

Features in: The Inventor.

Can you visit it? You can view it from the street.

Natural History Museum, South Kensington

The museum’s early collections were once part of the British Museum. In the 1870s work began on this magnificent building in South Kensington to house the British Museum’s natural history collections. The Natural History Museum finally became independent from the British Museum in the 1960s and was the fourth most visited attraction in London in 2017.

Features in: Limelight.

Can you visit it? Yes.

City of London

City of London police headquarters, Old Jewry

This police station served as the headquarters of the City of London Police from 1863 until 2001. The building is now used for office space but it’s popular with Jack the Ripper tours because officers in this building investigated the murder of Jack the Ripper’s fourth victim, Catherine Eddowes, in 1888.

Features in: The Inventor, Curse of the Poppy.

Can you visit it? You can view it from the street.

Milton Street

Penny Green lives in Milton Street in Cripplegate which was one of the areas worst hit by bombing during the Blitz in the Second World War and only a few original streets remain.

Milton Street was known as Grub Street in the eighteenth century and famous as a home to impoverished writers at the time. The street had a long association with writers and was home to Anthony Trollope among many others.

A small stretch of Milton Street remains but the 1960s Barbican development has been built over the bombed remains.

Features in: throughout the series

Can you visit it these days? Only the top end of the street, most of it has been demolished.

Change Alley

Change Alley, sometimes known as Exchange Alley, is a narrow street in the heart of the City of London. In the seventeenth century it was home to Jonathan’s Coffee House where the prices of stocks and commodities were first published – a forerunner of the stock exchange.

Features in: Curse of the Poppy.

Can you visit it? Yes.

Tower Subway

This subway was the main route for crossing the Thames by the Tower of London before Tower Bridge opened in 1894. The subway is a narrow iron tube which opened in 1870 and originally had a small rail carriage for people to travel on.

This early subway train failed to make money so the tunnel became a foot tunnel and was apparently a damp, echoey claustrophobic walk with a halfpenny toll.

It was used little once Tower Bridge opened and it closed in 1898 – but it’s still there! It’s now used for water mains.

Features in: The Bermondsey Poisoner.

Can you visit it? Close to the Tower of London, you can see a little round, brick building which once served as the entrance.

South London

Astley’s Amphitheatre, Lambeth

Astley’s Amphitheatre opened in the 1770s and was built by Philip Astley who is considered to be the father of the modern circus. The amphitheatre has frequently featured fiction and was rebuilt a number of times before finally being demolished in the 1890s. It was located close to the southern end of Westminster Bridge, part of today’s St Thomas’s Hospital now stands over it.

Features in: Limelight

Can you visit it? No, demolished.

London Necropolis Railway, Cemetery Station, Waterloo

The London Necropolis Railway ran funeral trains from Cemetery Station, just behind Waterloo Station, down to Brookwood Cemetery thirty miles away in Surrey. The cemetery was built by the London Necropolis Company in the 1850s when the capital was running out of space to bury its dead. At the time of its opening, Brookwood was the largest cemetery in the world.

The mourners travelled in the passenger carriages and the coffins were carried in a separate windowless carriage. Cemetery Station was moved to a new building when Waterloo Station was expanded in 1902, the railway ceased operation after its London station was bombed in the Second World War.

Features in: The Rookery.

Can you visit it? No, the original station has been demolished. You can visit Brookwood Cemetery and a commemorative piece of railway track remains there.

The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, Lambeth

This pub was built in the 1860s and is now a famous gay venue. Many of the buildings which neighboured the pub have since gone but the Tavern is set to remain there for a long time yet having been made a Grade II listed building in 2015 in recognition of its importance to the LGBT community and history.

Features in: The Maid’s Secret, The Bermondsey Poisoner

Can you visit it? Yes, go and have a drink there.

St Thomas’s Hospital, Lambeth

Founded in 1215, the hospital moved to its riverside site opposite the Houses of Parliament in 1871. The buildings have been redeveloped significantly since then. After her experiences in the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale established her Nightingale School of Training for nurses at the hospital in the 1860s.

Features in: Limelight.

Can you visit it? A few nineteenth century buildings remain and can be viewed from the street. The Florence Nightingale Museum is open to the public.

Royal Doulton Pottery, Lambeth

This large pottery was established on London’s south bank in the early nineteenth century and became a major employer in the area. Some of the buildings, including the showroom, had a beautiful, ornamental style designed to reflect the products the factory made.

The factory was targeted by bombs in the Second World War and was demolished in the 1950s. A small part of the pottery complex still stands, including Southbank House – its exterior gives you an idea of how beautiful some of these buildings were.

Features in: The Bermondsey Poisoner.

Can you visit it? You can view the remaining buildings from the street.

Gonsalva Road, Battersea

This was a row of terraced homes which housed workers for south London’s industry and railways. My interest in the street arose from the discovery that my great grandmother and her family lived there for many years. The area suffered bomb damage during the Second World War and was cleared for redevelopment in the 1950s and 60s. It’s now home to the Westbury Estate and would be unrecognisable to my ancestors.

Features in: The Maid’s Secret

Can you visit it? No.

St Mary Magdalen Church, Bermondsey

This ancient church has a striking appearance, both inside and out. A church has been on this site since the thirteenth century and the current building dates from the 1600s.

Features in: The Bermondsey Poisoner.

Can you visit it? Yes.

The Crystal Palace, Sydenham

This was built for Britain’s Great Exhibition in 1851, the first international exhibition of manufactured products. The enormous glasshouse was constructed in Hyde Park and 14,000 exhibitors were contained within its 990,000 square feet of space. The building was three times the size of St Paul’s Cathedral.

After the Great Exhibition, the Crystal Palace was painstakingly dismantled and reassembled eight miles away at a park in Sydenham, south London. It reopened again in 1854 and was used for various events, festivals and exhibitions over the years. The park was attractively landscaped and its lake was home to the famous concrete Crystal Palace dinosaurs.

Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire in 1936, an event witnessed by my Grandfather from five miles away on Clapham Common. Even at that distance he said the light from the fire was bright enough to read a newspaper by.

Some of the landscaped grounds of Crystal Palace remain: including the grassed-over Italian-style terraces, steps and a few statues. These days the park is famously home to the Crystal Palace football team’s ground and the area itself is now called Crystal Palace. The 160 year old concrete dinosaurs are still there and the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs charity lovingly keeps an eye on them. Talk rumbles on of plans to rebuild the Crystal Palace but nothing has been confirmed.

Features in: The Inventor.

Can you visit it? You can visit the park, nothing of the palace remains. The dinosaurs are still there!

West Norwood Cemetery

This is one of London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries which the Victorians built in the 1830s – 1840s when many of the church burial grounds were filled to capacity. There was a brief Victorian fashion for being laid to rest in catacombs: gothic, crypt-like structures where the coffins rest on shelves. The coffins had to be lead-lined to prevent any leaking of ‘contaminants’.

Features in: An Unwelcome Guest.

Can you visit it? Yes, try the guided tour around the catacombs!

Chislehurst Caves, Chislehurst

The caves are actually mines which were first excavated in the thirteenth century to mine chalk and flint. Mining finally ended in the 1830s and left a network of tunnels beneath suburban south-east London covering 22 miles.

The caves were used to store ammunition during the First World War and became an underground city during the Second World War when thousands of families slept there to escape the bombs. During this time the caves accommodated 15,000 people and had a cinema, three canteens, a barber, a hospital and a chapel.

Other unlikely uses over the years included mushroom cultivation in the 1930s and an underground music venue in the 1960s hosting famous artists such as The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie and Pink Floyd.

Features in: The Bermondsey Poisoner.

Can you visit it? Yes, the caves are now open as a tourist attraction.

East London

Commerical Street police station

The police station on Commercial Street was once part of Whitechapel H Division. It was this division which investigated four of the five canonical Jack the Ripper murders in 1888 (the other one being in the City of London). The investigating officers were based at Commercial Street police station. The building still stands today and had an extra storey added to it in the early 1900s. A police station no more, it’s now residential and is called Burhan Uddin House.

Features in: Curse of the Poppy.

Can you visit it? You can view it from the street.

West India Docks, Isle of Dogs

This part of London once expansive docklands is now a backdrop for the Canary Wharf business district. In the latter part of the twentieth century, much of London’s docklands were redeveloped into offices and expensive apartments. Some older buildings and features of the area’s past remain on the Isle of Dogs so it’s an interesting place to visit and spot them.

Features in: An Welcome Guest.

Can you visit it? Yes.

North London

Highgate Cemetery, Highgate

This cemetery was laid out in the 1830s at a time when London was running low on space to bury its dead. It’s famous for its funerary architecture and the tombs of well-known people such as Karl Marx, George Eliot and Douglas Adams. Neglected after the Second World War, much of the cemetery is now overgrown and it’s a fascinating, atmospheric place with a host of ghost stories attached to it. Such is the interest in the cemetery that guided tours are run each day.

Features in: Limelight.

Can you visit it? Yes, but you’ll need to book a guided tour to see the most interesting bits.

Parliament Hill, Hampstead

Part of Hampstead Heath, this hill has long been famous for its views over London.

Features in: Limelight, The Bermondsey Poisoner.

Can you visit it? Yes.