A Love Letter to London

E’s love letter to the Big Smoke. Dear London…

E moved to London at the age of 20 and has lived there, or thereabouts, ever since. L is a Londoner, born and bred; she’s a Lambeth girl. Although both E and L have now moved to the countryside outside of London, the city continues to be a huge part of The de-la-Haye Girls’ lives. Hands down, it’s their favourite city, comprising many of their most beloved haunts. They are missing the Big Smoke and as Valentine’s Day is almost with us, E has penned a love letter to the city.

E and her mother explore a very wet Barbican complex in 1987. Can you spot them?

Dear London,

in the past 12 months, I have been into “town” (central London) once, on a gloriously sunny Monday morning in September, for a breakfast meeting with clients at the Four Seasons in Trinity Square, in that golden period in the late summer and autumn of 2020, when travel and socially-distanced meetings were permitted. I gave myself plenty of time, took the train to London Bridge station and walked across Tower Bridge to my meeting. I even had time for a lap of Tower Hill and Trinity Square Gardens before the meeting. This is the longest period I have been away from central London – from you – since 1987 and I miss you.

A rare London treat: Tower Bridge lifted. After waiting years to see this, E witnessed it twice in two days in 2016.

Chelsea to Westminster, the West End and the area around Fleet Street along to Monument and St Katharine Docks are those bits of you I know best, North of the river; South Bank, Brixton and Herne Hill, the spread around Borough Market and, of course, my beloved Dulwich (we never forget our first love) are your areas I’m most familiar with South of the river. Flat rentals, house-shares, work locations and favourite shops and pubs have given me a good working knowledge of your bustling centre. I’ve always enjoyed exploring you on foot, knackering though that is. Over the years, I’ve done walking tours, self-guided tours, those brilliant Sunday morning wanders in the City when it is deserted, the “hidden London” and “secret London” walks and, of course, the obligatory gangster tour, traipsing in the footsteps of Ronnie and Reggie, stopping for a pint in The Blind Beggar. I’ve enjoyed them all, unearthing gems and discovering secrets of the city that millions before me have also discovered – exclusivity hasn’t seemed to be important.

The Shard, Guy’s Hospital and the warren of Southwark streets around Borough Market in the foreground.

You contain thousands of streets. My two favourite weren’t discovered on walking tours, but were happened upon because they were on the route between my place of work and Victoria station, the terminus for my daily train journeys. Maunsel Street, in SW1, which runs from Horseferry Road towards Vauxhall Bridge Road, is only short, but so pretty. It comprises terraces of fine brick houses on either side of the road, the vast majority of which are still in residential use. There are no front gardens – front doors open straight from the pavement – and they have basements, the lightwells for which are guarded at street level by iron railings. I love walking along Maunsel Street in early autumn evenings, when residents are home from work, their lights on, but curtains not yet drawn. The glimpses of mirrors, paintings, architraves, bookcases and even the occasional marble bust on a plinth are moments to treasure after a long day at work. Occasionally I have passed a house just as a front door has opened and enjoyed a momentary look at an entrance hall or, most prized, looking down to basement level – the majority of which seem to have been converted to kitchens – catching the briefest view of a family preparing dinner. The flagstone paving of Maunsel Street is pitted and shiny and reflects the light from the houses beautifully, especially when it has been raining. The added pleasure of a wander along Maunsel Street is that it is just a few extra steps to the Regency Cafe at the top of Page Street and everyone knows this is the best greasy spoon caff in SW1. I read a report that suggested it may not open again after lockdown but I sincerely hope this proves untrue.

Jermyn Street runs parallel with Piccadilly, between the bottom end of Regent Street and St James’s Street. I walked Jermyn Street, on my daily work commute, for the best part of three years in the late 1990s and I adore it. At that time Jermyn Street was full of traditional shops and boutiques selling gentlemen’s clothing, apparel and accessories. I purchased my first leather Filofax in the Dunhill shop on the corner of Duke Street and Jermyn Street. It has a bottle-green leather cover with gold-coloured metal rings and clasp. I thought it was so swanky.

The Colonnade in St James’s

I have always considered Jermyn Street as quintessentially London. When I was travelling along it each day, gentlemen’s shirtmakers Turnbull and Asser, Hawes and Curtis, Hilditch & Key, Charles Tyrwhitt, T M Lewin and, of course, Thomas Pink were all found there, and many still are. Exquisite gentlemen’s boots and shoes could be spied in the windows of John Lobb and Foster and Sons; luxury gentlemen’s shaving brushes and accoutrements in the window of Geo F Trumper and displays of the finest cigars could be glimpsed in the always-dimly-lit interior of Davidoff. A quick right turn out of Jermyn Street, up to the covered walkway of the Ritz and a dash across the entrance of the park would see me safely, and relatively drily, into Green Park tube station on drizzly days, for the short hop down to Victoria.

The shop I adore most on Jermyn Street is not exclusive to a gentleman’s needs but is aimed at a wider, though no less exclusive, audience: Floris, the most beautifully fronted shop in the street. Scents of its perfumes escape each time its door opens. The window is topped by its timeless blue and gold sign above which sits Her Majesty’s Royal Warrant. I cannot pass Floris’ window without pausing to enjoy the display: alluring glass perfume bottles often presented amid red and gold backdrops and beautifully framed by the distinctive eight-paned window. The tiniest purchase from Floris was a very BIG treat all those years ago, and one I could afford only rarely.

Although not on Jermyn Street, but straddling the whole block between it and Piccadilly along Duke Street, I could not write about this little area of you without mentioning Fortum and Mason. What I particularly love about this corner of fabulous, decadent F&M is that it contains a door into the tearoom. While not exactly a secret entrance, I have always loved this more low key entrance to tea salon and have happy memories of several afternoons drinking tea and nibbling sandwiches on this corner of St James’s.

A teenage Lily and her brother at the memorial to the Crimean War, Waterloo Place. A quick walk down to Jermyn Street and tea at F&M followed shortly after this photo was taken.

Others of your streets and routes that I love and am missing so much include Birdcage Walk and the route through St James’s Park that takes in the bridge over the lake, the riverside walk from the London Eye to Shakespeare’s Globe across the Millennium Bridge to St Paul’s, all the roads that make up Seven Dials, and the criss-cross of streets of grand white stucco houses that sit between Warwick Gardens and Sutherland Street in leafy Pimlico.

London Town, I will return to you, just as soon as lockdown lifts, to continue this love affair and to take tea once more at Fortum and Mason. That’s a promise. ~ E

Have you been missing a favourite city? Which one, and what is it you’ve been missing?