Sunday, August 4, 2013

Just a Bit More Britain.....

Just a Bit More Britain....
Okay, I heard you!  From the comments and emails I’ve received over the past week, it’s apparent that I’m not the only Anglophile out there.  It also seems that many of you are in the process of planning your own trips to London this year which makes me so happy.  You will have a wonderful time, I assure you.  So here’s just a bit more Britain.. focusing on London.  Enjoy!

1.  Tea
The best cup of tea I’ve ever had in my life was not at the Ritz.  Nor the Savoy.  Nor even at my beloved Draycott Hotel.  No, it was enjoyed not long after the photograph at the top of this post was snapped, in a tiny little cafe on the edge of Lake Buttermere in Cumbria.  The cold weather that September afternoon was punctuated by a wind strong enough to blow my hat right off, which it did.  I chased it a good way, catching hold of the brim just before it flew across the lake.  We were chilled to the bone after our hike and the cozy little cafe handed us the most deliciously hot, deliciously bracing, cup of strong, sweet tea ever concocted.  We sat there in utter bliss, watching gold autumn leaves rain down outside the steamy windows.
Tea in Britain is just different than tea here in the States.  I don’t know why, but it is.  I bring back handfuls of the stuff whenever I can, but it’s never quite the same.  I mean, let’s face it, America is just more of a coffee country.  Generally speaking, we tend to have coffee shops, not tea shops. Personally, I think we cannot duplicate the settings accurately.  And for me, getting the setting right, is half the job.  
For my money, one of the best places for tea has got to be at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  That’s a photograph of it above.  See what I mean?  Whenever I open the heavy glass doors at the back of the museum to walk across the windy courtyard and enter these grand rooms, I feel as though I’ve left one world and been welcomed into quite another.  Each of the three rooms is unique, atmospheric, and as jaw-droppingly gorgeous as one would expect in a museum devoted to the best and most beautiful of design.  I love the old wood-paneled tea room at the National Gallery and the little outdoor cafe in St. James Park is an idyllic setting for a hot cup of tea on a chilly afternoon,
 but this one at the V and A is hands down my favourite.
See more HERE

2.  Pollock’s Toy Shoppe
Strolling up Regent Street you start to see the crowds and hear the chatter before you even approach Hamleys Toy Store.  A fixture in London, Hamleys has every kind of stuffed creature and current craze imaginable inside its multi-story shop.  It is a mecca for tourists of every shape and size, old and young alike.  Tours truly has braved the crowds there herself to purchase several Paddington Bears for children back home.  However, if you happen to be holding the hand of a child who possesses a more singular nature, or perhaps are one of those types yourself... then you must keep walking and wind your way through streets and alleys till you reach Covent Garden.  Keep looking till you find Pollock’s Toy Shop.  Benjamin Pollock started this shop over a century and a half ago, specializing in magical little toy theatres. These tiny creations are still prominently featured at Pollock’s - circuses and shadow boxes,  Punch and Judys and Cinderellas. Pollock’s is teeny tiny shop chocked full of imagination made manifest, of which Robert Louis Stevenson himself once wrote, “If you love art, folly or the bright eyes of children, speed to Pollock's”.
I certainly agree.  
See more HERE

3.  Bea’s of Bloomsbury
On my last trip to London a good friend whisked me away one afternoon for a visit to Bea’s of Bloomsbury.  Not knowing quite what to expect, but trusting her judgement completely, I followed along obediently and soon found myself standing in front of a little jewel box of a sweet shop.  Tantalizing cakes of all shapes and colours sat in the window, each one seeming to call out to me like the cakes Alice found when she tumbled into Wonderland.  “Me!  Eat Me!”, they cried.  I soon found that the inside of Bea’s was even more delightful that its windows promised, and even more fatal to one’s willpower.  More cakes!  Cupcakes, shortbread, scones.... chocolate, vanilla, strawberry...filling glass cases and tiered stands everywhere I looked.  Tiny little chairs and tiny little tables.  Smiling waiters scurrying to and fro.  It looked for all the world like some enchanted place the sort of which Mary Poppins would frequent on her Thursdays off.  
Highly recommended!
See more HERE.

4.  Persephone Books
Having heard of this bookshop for awhile now, I knew it would probably be wonderful.  But believe me, I wasn’t prepared for what I was to find as I made my way down a quiet Lamb’s Conduit Street on cool Saturday afternoon in May.  The hubbub of Oxford and High Holborn muffled into silence as I walked, gazing up at old storefronts and into vintage windows, looking for Persephone Books.  And soon, there it was on the left.  In a building dating from 1701, with handmade bunting swagged in its windows and all manner of vintage accouterments arranged on the deep, wide sills.  Persephone Books.  If the charm of the inside even came close to that of the outside, I was in for a treat to be sure.  Well dear reader, Persephone Books surpassed any expectations I had.  A small room to be sure, with grey covered books on lined in shelves and stacked on tables, some already gift wrapped in a bright paper the colour of California bougainvillea.  Vases of garden flowers.  Vintage floral fabrics and handsewn cushions.  A large wooden table sat in the center of the room, old and full of books and flowers, notecards and bookmarks.  
I am not in possession of a vocabulary rich enough to properly convey the delight a lover of books experiences in Persephone.  The basics are this:  they specialize in the publication of forgotten women authors.  They publish those works in the most enticing dove grey covers, the endpapers of which are aswirl with prints from the 30’s and 40’s, making the experience of reading these wonderful books delightful on every level.  You will want every book you see, trust me on this. An added treat?  They tuck a bookmark to match in each book purchased.  If you cannot book a ticket immediately, then go, posthaste, to their website and browse around.  And for goodness sakes, order a catalog.  Better than a blue one from Tiffany’s.  Truly.
See more HERE

5.  Liberty
When I was little my Mother and I would occasionally journey downtown to the large department stores of old -  gilded palaces where escalators smoothly ascended and descended beneath crystal chandeliers the size of Volkswagen Beetles and lilting strains of Bach and Mozart drifted through the perfumed air.  To shop in these places was no mere errand run to the mall.  We dressed up to go there and always made time for chocolate sundaes in the very feminine cafes where little round tables were draped in starched white linen and I could entertain myself endlessly by eavesdropping on the floral-hatted ladies perched like fine-feathered birds here and there around me.  If we chanced to make a purchase, we were treated like royalty, our packages boxed and wrapped with care. Needless to say, my memories of Christmas shopping in these places are colourful, fanciful, and dear. Sadly, those magnificent stores no longer exist in my fair city, having been replaced decades ago by the ubiquitous, and rather raucous, shopping malls, places where the dress codes of old have evaporated and chocolate sundaes are no more. 
 However, when I am fortunate enough to be in London, I always make time for an afternoon in Liberty, both to relive the grand experience shopping once was and to take in all that is creative, unique and gorgeous in the modern day.

The building itself is glorious and would easily make my list were it empty as a broken egg.  But add to its historical beauty floors artfully arrayed with tempting wares and it becomes more than just a store.  It becomes an event, and one not to be missed.  Flowers are massed at every entrance, and yes, I’ve been known to bring some back for my hotel room.  Every floor in the old Tudor building holds treasures; I always find it a near impossibility to extricate myself from both the scarf department and the haberdashery.  I can never seem to leave without dozens of buttons.  The cafe is charming; the perfect place for tea.  Come to think of it... I would bet they could concoct a chocolate sundae if I ask nicely.  Maybe next time.
See more HERE.

6. Dennis Severs’ House
If, perhaps in daydream, or those last fleeting seconds before sleep, you have ever had a momentary flirtation with the idea of time travel, then you owe it to yourself to visit the Dennis Severs’ House in Spitalfields.   Those in the know queue up in the cobblestone street outside its mysterious front door every Sunday and Monday during the brief period of time the house allows visitors, waiting for it to slowly open, waiting to be invited inside.  Not an attraction, so much more than a museum, the hour you spend here will be the closest you will ever get to time travel this side of the veil.  It is a piece of incredible theatre in which every detail, however infinitesimal, is perfection.  Candlelight flickers, freshly baked scones cool on the sideboard, a half-finished cup of tea sits, still warm, beside a tapestry chair.  You hear the clip clop of horse’s hooves as invisible carriages roll past outside the shuttered windows.  A child’s giggle is heard from the next room. When the front door opens to release you back into the world, you hardly know what century you are returning to.  Have you stepped from a painting?  Have you gone back in time?  Who can say? 
There is a tiny handwritten sign tossed casually on a side table in the Dennis Severs’ House which reads, “You either see it, or you don’t.”
Well, I see it.  
And I think you might also.
Find out more HERE.

7. Ben Pentreath Ltd
A few months ago I was browsing around Pinterest on a Saturday morning.  I kept coming across the most gorgeous images, all attributed to a chap named Ben Pentreath.  After a bit of investigation, I found the fellow had a witty, stunningly beautiful blog which I immediately bookmarked.  Mr. Pentreath is a designer, architect and shop owner whose taste makes my heart sing.  His posts are frequently about his country home in Dorset and are accompanied by the most beautiful photographs.  I am dying to see inside his shop.  It’s in Bloomsbury, quite near Persephone Books.  
No, I’ve not been there yet.  But I’m going!  That’s the marvelous thing about London; there’s always something new to see or do.  One is never done with London.
In the meantime, I’m whetting my appetite for Ben Pentreath Ltd. by reading both his lovely blog and his new book on English design.  Swoon-worthy!
Find the blog HERE.
And the book, HERE.


  1. You did it again. Now we are going to bug you to death until you entertain us once again with sights and sounds of London and the UK. I just discovered Ben Pentreath's book. It is impossible to put down.
    Next time try The Orangery in Kensington Park for tea. It's just behind the Palace. Thank you for perking up my day.
    Rose in Dayton

  2. I can hardly wait to visit England! Thank you for the tour and the great tips on wonderful places to see.

  3. Ooooh, they all sound wonderful and I want to go! While reading your post I experienced the strangest synchronicity. I was just reading your words about Ben Pentreath's shop and his book when my email alert pops up at the bottom right corner of the page, and the chime rings. My email program briefly previews the sender and subject so I can see it when I'm on a different screen. It was a message from Amazon and the subject was Ben Pentreath's book English Decoration. Well, obviously the Universe is sending me a message and I must get that book! And yes, I have visited his blog on occasion.

  4. Yay for the encore! I've been to Persephone's and Liberty's but want to visit the rest after this post. I adore that opening shot of you - it's like you stepped into a painting. I miss England.

  5. Lovely second post about delightful English places to visit, thank you Pamela. I also visited the blog you recommend, very interesting and great pics.

  6. oh! Swooning!! Toy Theatres of the World!!!!Shopping at Liberty!!Tea!! Mystery!!!Help me!! and many many thanks, Pamela!

  7. Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you! I loved every one of your references! Can't wait for my next trip to London --- whenever that may be. Meanwhile, it's lovely to live vicariously reading about new places to visit.


  8. I just checked Ben Pentreath's book out of the library, Pamela, and have been throughly engrossed in each word, each page, each picture. I did not know about Mr. Pentreath, his book, his shop until now, and I'm filled with delight that I stumbled upon him first, at the library, then here on your post. Life is grand. So is this post.

  9. Thank you for this lovely post Pamela. I love London but I no longer go there - we live in the far North - it takes almost four hours on the train to get into central London and then I don't walk well. I have to rely on memories of oast visits - so it is lovely to see these photographs - Liberty's was always a favourite. I can order things on line, but it is not the same as just browsing is it?

  10. What perfect suggestions!
    You really do capture the BEST of Britain.
    The only one I wasn't familiar with is Ben Penreath who I will research immediately!
    A beautiful post!

  11. I would be thrilled to get to see in person any of those tea shops and places of beauty

    I use to dream of visiting London and always wanted to go out in the country side not just stay in town

    thanks for words of advice

  12. you never EVER disappoint.
    thank dear girl. thank you!
    especially loved dennis severs and ben's sites.

  13. It's been too long since I've been to London, must remedy that next year. The V&A is one of my absolute, tea and museum are all wonderful. I want to rent a car and drive to the Lake District, between you and Susan Branch, there are lots of suggestions. Thank you.

  14. Thank you so much for mentioning Dennis Severs' house; that sounds like my cup of tea entirely. I visited the website but didn't get a sense of how structured a "tour" is. Is it a big group of people being sort of herded through, or is it there a time limit for your visit, or ?? Even in "ordinary" museums and the like, I am always the person who lingers behind to experience things quietly on my own. Would love to hear more about the way the tour works :)

  15. It's lovely to read about London. I lived there for 20 years, and you are right - there is ALWAYS more to see and do. It never disappoints. Thanks for the link to Ben Pentreath Ltd.

  16. PS I used to work in Liberty's sometimes during the holidays when I was a student at London University - it was always fun!


    couldn't help but share!

  18. I am going to Bloomsbury if I ever get back. Wonderful post. You are terrific to show all these great spots..

  19. Pamela... you are really making me plan my days better in London.. When I am there I am going to make much more of them... Thank you for the inspiration... xv

  20. Wonderful! I've just come back from London and now I want to go again! I did go to the tearooms at the V&A. Excellent lunch, but too hot for tea. I also visited Liberty - the most amazing store. I so wish we had better researched Dennis Sever's house so we could have gotten there on the Sunday or Monday. And I SO wish I had read this post before going to London so I could have gone to Persephone Books! I've just looked at the website, and yes, I want everything in the store. Next time. Have you ever been to Blackfriar's Pub? That's always been on my list, but I haven't gotten there yet.

  21. This was a gorgeous post and filled me up with the loveliest images and memories of England. Thank you!

  22. hello pamela

    what joy these posts are. and some new spots for me to explore when i return for the month of october. cannot wait

  23. I love Ben Pentreath's blog and book. On my trip to London in the fall, I will definitely visit his shop. All of these suggestions are going in my travel file! Thanks for another great post for all of us Anglophiles!

  24. Loving this Britain series! I hadn't heard of that bookstore before, will definitely add it to the must-see list.

  25. What a wonderful post! I really enjoyed the tour and so wish I could visit every one of those places in person. Thank you for sharing!

  26. Pamela, you have posted about some of my old favorites and some wonderful places I have yet to explore! I love it all! Thank you for sharing your beautiful memories!

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