The United Kingdom used to have the largest navy in the world and it still packs a major punch today. One ship from the glory days is the HMS Belfast, docked on London’s South Bank near London Bridge. This World War Two light cruiser also saw service in Korea and is now open to the public under the auspices of the Imperial War Museum, one of the best war museums anywhere.
Clambering up and down the nine decks and into turrets and engine rooms is lots of fun, and the video displays and signs tell you all about the history of the ship and life on board. One interactive display, the Gun Turret Experience, puts you in the middle of a WWII battle. In the Operations Room you can control an entire fleet at sea.
If you go in the winter, visit in the afternoon and catch the early sunset over the Thames, its bridges, and both its busy banks. Watching nightfall from the prow of this historic ship is a memorable experience.
The HMS Belfast is undergoing remodeling and will be even better when it reopens on May 18.
Check out more London attractions most tourists miss in our Overlooked London series!
Top photo, courtesy Steve Parker, shows the HMS Belfast as it appears today. The bottom photo, courtesy the Imperial War Museum, shows the ship bombarding the coast of Normandy in support of the D-Day invasion.
London is a city full of historic churches. Some can be a bit hard to find and get missed by the casual visitor. One of these is Saint Bartholomew the Great in West Smithfield.
Built by a courtier of King Henry I, it has been open for worship since 1143 and was the center of a large complex of church buildings before the Dissolution of Henry VIII took away most of its lands and two-thirds of the church itself.
What remains, however, is grandiose. After passing through the narrow gate shown here, you enter a church with high Gothic vaulting, a semicircular aisle going around the nave, and numerous old graves.
A brown marble tomb shows the busts of Percival and Agnes Smallpace (died 1558 and 1588), complete with frilled collars and period costume along with the inscription, “Behowlde youre selves by us sutche once were we as you and you in tyme shalbe even duste as we are now.”
Food for thought.
“Overlooked London” is a new, occasional series on lesser-known but still cool sights of London. Stay tuned!
[Both photos courtesy Christine McIntosh]
The famous tea clipper Cutty Sark will be once again open to the public this Thursday after years of restoration work to repair damage from a fire in 2007. The Queen will perform an official reopening ceremony on Wednesday.
Located in Greenwich, London, this beautiful ship has been a longtime favorite of Londoners. It went on its maiden voyage in 1870 and is the last surviving tea clipper in existence, a reminder of a time when sailing ships brought loads of tea to London from China. Steam-powered boats passing through the Suez Canal soon took over that route, though, and the Cutty Sark was transferred to the Australian wool route. It broke the speed record for that run and became one of the most famous ships on the high seas.
But as steam ships became increasingly common, the Cutty Sark became more and more outdated, being relegated to lesser runs for poorer shipping companies. The ship was saved from a sad end when it was bought by an admirer in 1922 and lovingly restored to its former glory. It opened to the public in 1957.
A fire broke out in 2007 while it was being refurbished. Its decks were burnt through but since much of the ship’s fittings and contents had been moved away while work was being done, these were saved. Now after a long restoration, you can stand on the deck of this remarkable vessel again and learn about daily life aboard her with a guided tour. The BBC has an interesting slideshow of the restoration work here.
[Photo courtesy Visit Greenwich]
Welcome to “Overlooked London,” the first in an occasional series on the lesser-known sights of one of the world’s greatest cities!
Anyone who loves theater will love London. From glitzy musicals to serious drama or weird experiments, London’s theater scene has it all. One place that has become a shrine of sorts for alternative theatergoers is The Bookshop Theatre. By day it’s the Calder Bookshop, stocking fiction, philosophy and plays. At night, the stacks are cleared away and it hosts plays, movies, lectures and other events.
The space is tiny. When I attended a play by Samuel Beckett, the 25 or so people in the audience filled the back room. The actors were so close I could have touched them. It was like being part of the performance.
The theater was founded by John Calder, who has been at the forefront of London’s theater and independent publishing scene for decades. Through his publishing company he helped popularize Samuel Beckett, Henry Miller, William S. Burroughs and many other leading figures in the literary and theater world. On more than one occasion he had to fight for the right to publish controversial authors – fights he always won.
His theater reflects that scrappy, independent outlook by hosting experimental plays, lectures about avant-garde literature and, to commemorate the anniversary of the Falklands War, a documentary on British Imperialism.
The Bookshop Theatre is located at 51 The Cut, near the more famous theaters of The Old Vic and The New Vic. It’s served by Waterloo and Southwark Tube stations and there are plenty of dining opportunities nearby. So if you like your theater experience a little more intimate, check out their website and see what’s on.
A London Tube station that hasn’t been used for more than half a century may become the city’s newest attraction, the BBC reports.
Brompton Road station on the Piccadilly Line closed in 1934 because it was underused. During World War II, it served as the headquarters of the Royal Artillery’s anti-aircraft operations. The station has changed little since then, with much of the wartime equipment and signage still there. There’s even a vintage map of London still hanging on the wall.
Now The Old London Underground Company is going through the process of renting the site, which is still owned by the Ministry of Defense. It plans to preserve part of it for its historical importance while adding a restaurant to the roof and climbing walls to the drop shafts.
So-called “ghost stations” are objects of fascination for some Londoners. There are more than 20 of them and you can occasionally catch a glimpse of one if you look at the right moment on the right line. One good online guide is the appropriately named London’s Abandoned Tube Stations website. Their Brompton Road section has some cool photos and there’s also a spooky virtual tour courtesy Zodiac Blue here.
While the deal hasn’t been finalized, the company has announced its intention to develop more ghost stations.
[Photo courtesy Nick Cooper]