SimpsonExplore your city with visits to places of interest in or near London. We'll walk a bit as well, and learn about the history, architecture, topography and people that make London the fascinating place it is.

Group Coordinator: Liz Simpson (click to contact)

At least one visit a month, on different days and times, to avoid always clashing with the same iU3A groups.

Visits cover all of Greater London including visits to historic houses, museums, galleries and churches.

Members are advised of forthcoming visits by email and sign up (by responding to the email) for each visit in advance on a first come, first served basis. Individual visits may be limited to 10-20 members depending on the destination. To keep things simple (!) for me, I'll open booking for each visit about a month before the date and if numbers are limited I'll let you know.

Please note that many visits require payment of entrance charges. Some events are free, but many require a payment for an entry fee or guided tour. When an event is 'pay on the day' please have the correct money with you, in an envelope with your name on it as this is the best way of checking who has paid and who has not! If I ask for payment in advance it should be by cheque made payable to ‘Islington U3A’ and sent to me, or by electronic payment direct to iU3A’s account. Email me if you need more information. If the visit is ticketed, I will ask for a stamped, addressed envelope from you so I can send you your ticket/s.

Events from October 2019 to March 2020
Here is a pdf with our full programme of visits until March 2020. Wait for my emails to advise when booking is open so that everyone gets the same chance of a place.

Other Places Worth a Visit
At Keats House a programme of events is beginning to mark Keats’ moving into the house and culminating with the 200th anniversary of his death in 1821. You’ll find links to the Keats House info here.

The ‘Gentle Author’s’ blog on Spitalfields Life is fairly well-known as a great source of ideas of places to ‘explore’ but I’ve also found another blog ‘A London Inheritance’ recently and I’d recommend that one too. It’s not a daily posting, but has some great pieces to read. Just google it and you should find where to sign up — I did!

There’s a Son et Lumière performance at St Paul’s Cathedral on 24 – 27 October: a collaboration between Historic England, The Poetry Society and Double Take Projections to commemorate the story of the St Paul’s Watch, volunteers whose vigilance  saved St Paul’s Cathedral during the Blitz. You can read more here.

If you want to go back to the Garden Museum in Lambeth  (details here) — and combine it with early Christmas shopping — there’s a craft fair coming up on Sunday 17 November, 10.30am-5.00pm. Tickets are £6 on the door (£5 in advance). I went last year to shop — and enjoyed a tasty breakfast in their café too!

Recent Visits
September — ‘Exploring London’ have two visits to the ICE Sept 2019headquarters of the Institution of Civil Engineers scheduled for the autumn: the first group visited on 24 September. Prompted by ICE’s exhibition in the Library, ‘Water: from source to tap’ Explorers braved the monsoon conditions to visit One Great George Street, behind Parliament Square. ICE moved to their new HQ in 1913, having originally occupied 24-26 Great George Street. Their new building was an early example of steel-frame technology and has an extremely impressive interior. As well as the main entrance hall, foyer and staircases and the Library, the Great Hall with its floor to ceiling windows and commemorative ceiling painting, and the Telford Room lecture theatre were open to us.  Reminders of civil engineers of the past are evident everywhere; each room is named after an engineer and imposing portraits look down on visitors. There’s also a pleasant café downstairs!

The exhibition itself combined static and interactive displays, videos and plenty of Lego … our group photo was taken by the ICE archivist and includes the ‘Fatberg Monster’ in the background! Three films were being shown on a loop, including a history of the civil engineering profession and its role in the future, introduced by Dan Cruikshank, so there’s plenty to see and do; another London building worth ‘Exploring’ — read Rachel’s blog here for more information.

September —
the Museum of London Docklands Docklands — from the train Sept 2019for what is proving to be an annual visit. This year’s special exhibition there allowed us to ‘explore’ London’s hidden rivers and waterways and Maggie B’s report (here) gives an idea of the range of the displays. Sue L’s photos have been chosen to illustrate the report including the statutory refreshments break! This additional photo on the webpage (taken by Sue from the DLR) gives a great impression of what visitors to Canary Wharf and the surrounding area can expect to see now. Fellow-Explorer Rachel wrote an informative blog on the exhibition too, with plenty of additional illustrations — read it here.

July: Smithfield
— Two groups ofSmithfield July 2019 ‘London Explorers’ headed to Smithfield on 9 and 17 July to enjoy a stroll around the area led by our knowledgeable and entertaining City of London Guide Jill Finch. There were stories to enjoy at each stop we made. The circular route from Barbican Station included Charterhouse Square — some of us had been on a Brother’s Tour of Charterhouse previously and were reminded about the evening garden openings in the summer; Smithfield Markets — where we could view the area under development for the new Museum of London; Cloth Fair with its well-preserved architecture — our photo shows the group listening to Jill near the house where John Betjeman lived; St Bartholomew’s Hospital and the two churches, St Bartholomew the Great and St Bartholomew the Less. Jill took us into St Bartholomew the Less in the precincts of the hospital, and into the small volunteer-run hospital museum there. The displays include a short film on the foundation of the hospital by the monk Rahere and from inside the museum we got a great view of the large paintings by William Hogarth on the staircase up to the hospital’s Great Hall.

An excellent finish to the summer — we’ll be back ‘exploring’ in September!

June: Rochester Exploring London’s annual Rochester June 2019‘day out’ was on Friday 28 June and we ‘explored’ Rochester. Our group photo taken at the station shows most of us, ready to start our introductory guided walk led by Rob Smith (who has taken our group on several walks in past years). You can see a reflection of the Cathedral in the window! At the end of the walk we all met up together at the Cathedral and then we had plenty of free time in the afternoon to return to some of the places we had passed on our walk. It was a revelatory day, even for people who had been to Rochester before — for a small city, it’s packed with interesting buildings and museums, not to mention bookshops — and several Explorers have already made plans to return. Perhaps the only disappointment was that the river trip on the Medway had been cancelled by the company running the boat and so we couldn’t add that to the day’s events. The report on the day is a group effort by the Explorers listed, and the photos were contributed by Pat C, Pauline F and Sue L. Explorer Rachel S has written a blog on one of Rochester’s gems, Restoration House (see her blog) as well, and there may be more to come … This was the group's annual visit to somewhere further afield. Read a group report here and Rachel's blog here.

Early June was a busy time for Explorers … three eCrossness Pumping Station June 2019vents in less than a week! On Sunday 2 June, Crossness Pumping Station was open to the public, and a group of Explorers enjoyed the sunny day, learnt all about the Victorian Pumping Station and experienced the famous engine ‘Prince Albert’ in steam. Pauline F’s illustrated report here gives a great impression of the day’s visit. It’s best to choose a Family Open Day to visit Crossness, as a shuttle bus service is laid on to and from Abbey Wood station, making  travel much more convenient.

On 4 June, because our walk in April was so popular, and over-subscribed, we repeated our walk around the King’s Cross development. Led by a guide from the Visitor Centre, the group set off to see the repurposed industrial buildings, new apartment blocks and other amenities …and unfortunately it rained again, just like April!  There’s a report on this event in April.

The final early June visit on the 6th took group pic June 6 2019Explorers back to the Postal Museum — our photo could be called ‘Waiting for the Train’ as everyone opted to combine a visit to the Museum with a trip on ‘Mail Rail’, the underground rail system which delivered mail to major sorting offices around London before it was replaced by surface transport and mothballed until it reopened a couple of years ago as a visitor attraction.

— Explorers revisited the ‘Swinging Sixties’ Fashion and Textile Museum May 2019by heading off to the Fashion and Textile Museum on Bermondsey Street to see the current exhibition there — running to 2 June. The small venue meant we were booked in as two groups, in the morning and then in the afternoon. Both groups had the chance to explore the neighbouring area too — like much of London it’s changing beyond recognition, with cafés, art galleries and design consultancies replacing the historic trades of leather-working and tanning reflected in the street names such as Tanner Street, Morocco Buildings and Leather Market. Gill L’s report here is illustrated with photos by Sue l and Liz S.

April — King's Cross: On a damp day in late April,King's Cross Apr 2019 London Explorers returned to King’s Cross for the third time since the group was set up — and each time there have been different places on the site to see. Architect-designed, high-end shops and wine bars have now overtaken the limited social housing, swimming pond and container garden we had seen before and, coincidentally on the week of our visit, the changes prompted a letter to The Standard from an ex-resident of King’s Cross, regretting these trends. This visit is being repeated in June as so many Explorers wanted to walk around King’s Cross. This photo from Jo P shows the group ready to set off from the Visitor Centre; the report by Linda M here also includes more photos by Pauline F inside the Centre and during the walk.

AprilWestminster Abbey: 8 April saw a group of rather damp ‘Explorers’ joining the queues lining up outside Westminster Abbey as it opened at 9.30am to admit the first visitors of the day. What a contrast between the groups shuffling along the guided route and the airy spaces of the newly opened Queen’s Jubilee Gallery in the Triforium! Our report has been compiled to give three different views of the visit here, and Rachel’s blog here is enhanced by images courtesy of Westminster Abbey so it’s possible to get some idea of our impressions. Photography by visitors is not permitted in the Abbey — but there are one or two attractive postcards on sale in the shop!

March — Two Temple Place: At the end of2 Temple Place March 2019 March, 'Explorers' made their annual visit to Two Temple Place where the 2019 exhibition was 'Ruskin: the Power of Seeing', part of this year's celebration of the bicentenary of John Ruskin's birth. Two Temple Place exhibitions are proving increasingly popular each year, and we had to make a group booking to be guaranteed access. Although it was busy inside it wasn't so crowded that the group were unable to appreciate the exhibition and explore the impressive building. Pauline F's report here gives a flavour of both, and includes photographs she took and some by Joy D too.

March — Hand & Lock Embroidery Studios: In mid-March, Hand & Lock Mar 2019two small groups of ‘London Explorers’ had the opportunity to visit the fascinating premises of Hand & Lock on Margaret Street, just north of Oxford Street, thanks to Clara C who set up the visits for us. This company specialises in the type of high-end embroidery we recognise from couture shows and diplomatic and military uniforms and much of the hand and hand-guided machine work is still carried out in the London workrooms. Our photo (by Julia) shows our second small group clustered around an embroidery frame in one of the work-rooms as Robert, our guide, demonstrated hand-stitching techniques for us. The company Hand & Lock had its beginnings in 1767, when Huguenot refugee M. Hand set up a workroom making gold ‘lace’ or ‘braid’. Now it is one of the few reminders of the garment trade which flourished in the streets north and east of Oxford Street. Its shop is a source of embroidery requisites and it runs courses for experienced and amateur embroiderers too — and its annual Prize for Embroidery encourages international designers and practitioners. Explorer Rachel’s blog is here and it gives full details of the first group’s visit and much more information about the company.  See also www.handembroidery.com.

A small group of ‘Explorers’ discovered the new HQ for the Institute of Physics on Caledonian Road in the afternoon of March 5, and were given a tour of the building by the Head of London Outreach, Louise Swan, before sitting down to watch the video installation Time Tries All Things by Grace Weir.

The IOP’s new £30m purpose-built HQ was opened in autumn 2018 and for the first time gave the Institute spaces which are accessible by general visitors, in line with its emphasis on developing outreach programmes of public benefit, as well as serving its members. Visitors are welcome between 9.00am and 7.00pm every week-day; in the reception foyer you will find a cloud chamber which demonstrates cosmic rays naturally occurring in the atmosphere, and a huge interactive video screen where visitors can explore science topics. Smaller rooms will be offered to physics-based start-ups, while larger rooms can be booked by community groups. The IOP’s engagement with local schools and colleges is already impressive — Gillespie Road Primary School’s art works are on display in the foyer and ‘A’ level students of City and Islington College are co-operating in a European-wide project! Downstairs the gallery space currently shows Grace Weir’s ‘dual screen video installation … a poetic meditation on the conceptions of time’ while — in another initiative which blurs the boundaries between art and science —  the Institute has co-operated with the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment in a concert series Bach, the universe and everything. The IOP’s website is www.iop.org and is well-worth ‘exploring’!

Over two visits on 12 and 21 February to the Salters' Hall, nSalters Hall Feb 2019early 60 ‘Explorers’ were able to tour the modern hall of The Salters’ Company, located just off London Wall on the edge of the Barbican. The recently refurbished building, originally designed by Sir Basil Spence, with David Hicks working on the interiors and garden, is a fine setting for the Worshipful Company of Salters, ninth in precedence in the ‘Great Twelve’ of City Livery Companies. The newly planted open spaces around St Alphage’s ruined tower make this a very attractive part of London now.
Click here for Rachel’s blog of her visit and here for Brenda’s report — both were in the group on 12 February who were photographed in front of the Hall’s gates.

Our main January visit was a tour of the Grade 2* listed Old Vic Jan 2019Old Vic Theatre on Saturday 12 January. Twenty members were able to tour front of house and backstage — and as Rachel's detailed report shows (here) — learn so much about the building's history and its place in the development of the national ballet, opera and theatre companies from Ned, the guide. The photo (taken by Julia) shows Ned and our group in the 'Gods'.

The December visit, with a festive touch, was Dennis Severs House Dec 2018to the Dennis Severs House on Folgate Street in Spitalfields while it is decorated for Christmas — a popular choice with many Explorers, some of whom had been hoping to visit for years. Our party were let into the house in groups of 10 — here’s the last group waiting patiently outside in the cold! Read Judith's report here.

November was a busy month for Explorers: on the 20th, 23 Explorers, in two groups, visited the Victorian premises of the Kirkaldy Testing Museum on Southwark Street just behind the Tate Modern. Run entirely by volunteers, it’s a venue well-worth visiting on its open days. See www.testingmuseum.org.uk, and read Jill’s report here.

On November 5th we visited Goldsmith's Hall. Report by Norman Willson with photos by Gilbert Vieri here and you can also see Rachel's blog here.

For a summary of visits (January 2016 to October 2016) click here.
For details of our visits in iU3A year 2017/2018 look here.
For details of our visits in iU3A year 2016/2017 have a look here.
Or if you are interested in reading about our even earlier visits in 2015 then have a look at our archive here.

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