Fifty of Britain’s best-kept secrets


His book is but the latest in a recent glut of titles that promise to reveal
hidden, lost, undiscovered, neglected or otherwise adjectivally appended
versions of Britain. They aim to do for the national narrative what
unauthorised biographies do for the individual – present a picture that goes
beyond the official and mainstream, as found in our royal castles and
palaces, stately homes, great cathedrals and so on.

So extensive is this genre of guidebook that one might feel there can be
hardly anything marginal or quirky left to pull out of the hat. But one
would be wrong. Britain is a ragbag of cultural heritage so commodious as to
be bottomless, as I have discovered in the course of my own travels and
research.

Below I choose 10 entries from Hidden Treasures of England, and follow them up
with my own choice of 40 examples of the instructive, the exquisite and the
downright weird, venturing into Wales and Scotland as well as England. Some
you can visit, some you can stay or drink in, and some you can only gaze at.
But all will make you stop, think and feel.

10 hidden treasures

1 Forgotten William Blake masterpiece
Found on top of a cupboard in 1949, The Circle of the Life of Man is an
allegory along familiar Blakean themes of earth and heaven.
Arlington Court, near Barnstaple, Devon (
– search for “Arlington Court”)

2 ‘Dartmoor’ by Edward Burra
Better known for his paintings of New York night life, Burra produced this
luminous moorland vision in 1975.
Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter ()

3 Engraved church windows
A set of eight windows by Laurence Whistler depicting both nostalgic English
landscapes and more symbolic, mystical scenes. Church of St Nicholas,
Moreton, nr Dorchester, Dorset

4 Britain’s first bungalow estate
Built near Margate by John Pollard Seddon, who imported the idea of one-storey
living from India, in the 1880s.
Tower Bungalows, Birchington-on-Sea, Kent

5 12th-century murals
In this South Downs church are beautifully faded frescoes dated by Pevsner to
c1140.
Church of John the Baptist, Clayton, West Sussex

6 Roman villa
Dating from the 2nd century AD, this rich man’s farmhouse is one of the key
sites of Roman Britain.
Lullingstone, north of Sevenoaks, Kent

7 13th-century manor house
A rare survival, Old Soar Manor retains its “solar” room, chapel and
staircase.
Plaxtol, east of Sevenoaks, Kent ()

8 Vast ruined abbey
Before the Lincolnshire Fens were reclaimed, Crowland Abbey presided over a
watery world of islands, marsh and sea.
Crowland, south of Spalding ()

9 Victorian theatre
A rococo riot, apt setting for regular performances by Prof Chucklebutty, aka
Ken Dodd.
Grand Theatre, Blackpool ()

10 Fragment of Roman road
A remarkable half-mile at Blackstone Edge in the Pennines.
Off the A58 above Littleborough

40 neglected gems

11 Bob Dylan was here
One of his favourite photographs of himself – used to promote the Scorsese
film No Direction Home – was taken at a now derelict ferry terminal in 1966.
Aust, Gloucestershire, south of Severn road bridge

12 18th-century theme park
Laid out along the west bank of the River Wye to provide viewing points in
keeping with Picturesque principles.
Piercefield Park, alongside A466 in Monmouthshire ()

13 Moorland ruin
High on boulder-strewn moors, this derelict hovel was visited by the artist
Mark Rothko and, some say, the occultist Aleister Crowley.
Zennor Carn, south of Zennor village, west Cornwall

14 Ancient wooden carving
Part pagan, part early Christian, the Zennor Mermaid is carved on the end of a
pew.
Church of St Senara, Zennor, west Cornwall

15 Plague graveyard
Belonging to the church where Samuel Pepys is buried – and where he saw his
wife’s dancing teacher, called Pemberton, leer at her during a sermon.
St Olave’s, Hart St, London EC3

16 Medieval stained glass
A delicate late 15th century window showing St George on horseback slaying the
dragon.
St George’s, Kelmscott, Oxfordshire

17 Patagonia here we come
The chapel where, in 1856, the idea of setting up a Welsh community in South
America was first aired.
Engedi Chapel, New Street, Caernarfon

18 Drowned village
A small whitewashed church is all that remains of the village of Wythburn,
which was drowned a century ago to make way for Thirlmere reservoir.
Wythburn church, to the east of the A591 at Thirlmere, Cumbria

19 Peaceful lakeside church
One of the most tranquil settings, on the shore of Loch Achray, of any church
in Britain.
Trossachs church, A821 at Brig o’ Turk.

20 Britain’s tallest church
Or one of them, anyway. St Bart’s in Brighton was vilified when it was built
in the late 19th century as a “cheese warehouse” and a “brick
parallelogram”. Judge for yourself.
St Bartholomew’s, Ann St, Brighton ()

21 Turner’s chair
The chair in which JMW Turner sat to paint the River Thames through the vestry
window is still collecting dust in this lovely riverside church.
St Mary’s, Battersea Church Road, London SW11

22 Inspirational headstones
Beatrix Potter lived round the corner from Brompton Cemetery, where the graves
commemorate plenty of MacGregors, a Jeremiah Fisher and a family called
Nutkins.
Brompton Cemetery, Fulham Road, London SW10 ()

23 Lakeland cottage
One of the most mysterious and beautiful of all the Lake District’s
traditional cottages, once lived in by the opium-eater Thomas De Quincey.
Privately owned.
The Nab, Rydal Water, Cumbria

24 Beatles pub
The lads drank here after gigs in the Cavern, when Pete Best was still the
drummer. A photograph of them hangs on the wall, as does some of the 1960s
wallpaper.
The Grapes, Mathew St, Liverpool

25 Timewarp hotel
This Snowdonia hotel is marooned in the 1950s – no room keys, televisions or
telephones; and a gong summons guests to breakfast and dinner. Charming.
Pen-y-Gwryrd Hotel, Gwynedd (01286 870 211, )

26 Timeless tearoom
This rare wooden 1930s cafe featured in the 1959 remake of The 39 Steps with
Kenneth More.
Brig o’ Turk Tea Room, off A821 in the Trossachs

27 Classic ice cream parlour
The Harbour Bar in Scarborough is a fabulously kitsch Formica and neon
confection from the 1940s.
The Harbour Bar, Sandside, Scarborough

28 The Savoy of caffs
This is not my description but that of Edwin Heathcote in his excellent book
London Caffs. Pellicci’s in the East End is a riot of art deco peopled by
geezers, codgers and arty types.
E Pellicci, 332 Bethnal Green Road, London E2

29 Hidden history
Alongside the A1(M) near Peterborough, a memorial marks the former existence
of a camp for French prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars: 1,770 died.
Norman Cross Memorial, near Jn 16 of A1(M)

30 Sentry-style AA box
There are just 21 left of the thousand or so boxes in classic postwar
black-and-gold livery once located at remote roadside spots.
A good example is at Dunmail Raise, north of Grasmere on the A591, Cumbria ()

31 Hillside memorial
The Edward Thomas Stone, near Petersfield in Hampshire, commemorates the
country and war poet and commands glorious views of the South Downs.
On Shoulder of Mutton Hill above the village of Steep

32 Skeleton of a quagga
Now extinct, it was like a zebra. This extremely rare skeleton resides in a
fantastical basement boneyard which is part of London University but open to
the public.
Grant Museum of Zoology, Darwin Building, Gower St, London WC1 ()

33 World’s oldest shirt
Just one among thousands of household items from Ancient Egypt.
Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London, Malet Place,
London WC1 ()

34 Churchill’s Masonic apron
Plus masonic toast rack, beautiful art deco interiors and the rather sinister
Grand Officers’ Robing Room.
Museum of Freemasonry, 60 Great Queen St, London WC2 ()

35 Early operating theatre
Beautiful example of an auditorium – in this case in the roof space of a
church – where students watched surgeons performing. Gruesome and compelling.
The Old Operating Theatre, 9a St Thomas St, London SE1 ()

36 House stuck in the 1890s
A unique example of a Victorian townhouse, the former home of the cartoonist
Edward Linley Sambourne, with almost all furniture and fittings untouched
since the late 1890s.
Linley Sambourne House, 18 Stafford Terrace, London W8 ()

37 Pub stuck in the 1960s
“The pub where time was never called” – when the Valiant Soldier closed nearly
half a century ago, everything was left as it was, down to the money in the
till.
The Valiant Soldier, 79 Fore Street, Buckfastleigh, Devon ()

38 Pub with Roman bath
When the foundations of this pub in York were excavated in the 1980s they were
discovered to contain a caldarium, part of a Roman legionary bathhouse.
The Roman Bath Inn, St Samson’s Square, York

39 Unfinished masterpiece
A Victorian mansion deep in a Cotswold valley that was never completed. The
workmen’s tools are still there.
Woodchester Mansion is near Nympsfield, Glos ()

40 Beach sculpture
Maggi Hambling’s Scallop celebrates the composer Benjamin Britten and is
inscribed with these lines from Peter Grimes: “I hear those voices that will
not be drowned”.
‘Scallop’ is on Aldeburgh beach, Suffolk

41 Heaven and hell
Burghley House is our greatest Elizabethan house and its highlights are the
room and the staircase that depict, respectively, heaven and hell, painted
by Antonio Verrio.
Burghley House, Stamford, Lincs ()

42 Lake with a name
Rudyard Kipling was named after a lake that was once a tourist honeypot where
the tightrope walker Blondin performed. Rudyard Lake is near Leek, Staffs ()

43 Heroes’ corner
A memorial garden celebrates acts of heroism and selflessness by ordinary
people.
Postman’s Park is near King Edward St, London EC1

44 Living in the future
This block of flats designed by Wells Coates in the 1930s, and including
Agatha Christie among its residents, revolutionised city living. Privately
owned.
The Isokon building, Lawn Road, London NW3

45 Mystical village
A tiny Welsh village contains an ancient tumulus, a holy well, three standing
stones and a pre-Norman preaching cross – with many treasures believed to be
yet undiscovered.
Trellech is in Monmouthshire

46 Glass sculpture
A stunning work, occupying eight storeys, by Thomas Heatherwick hangs in the
Wellcome Trust HQ.
‘Bleigiessen’ is at 215 Euston Rd, London NW1 ()

47 Victor Pasmore mural
A gorgeous work by the Abstract artist and architect decorates a council
building in Newcastle. It is so neglected that posters are plastered on it.
Civic centre, Newcastle upon Tyne

48 Grave of William Bligh
Bligh, of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, is buried in the graveyard of St Mary at
Lambeth church, now the Museum of Garden History. Apparently his remains are
skeletal but his long grey hair is intact.
Lambeth Palace Rd, London SE1 ()

49 Dead genius
The clothed body of the radical philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who died in 1832,
sits in a wooden cabinet in the main building of University College, London.
The head is wax.
UCL, Gower St, London WC1

50 More dead geniuses
A bijou boneyard is the sole remaining example of London’s medieval burial
grounds. Blake, Daniel Defoe and John Bunyan all reside here.
Bunhill Fields, off City Rd, London

  • Hidden Treasures of England by Michael McNay is published by Random House at £25.
  • www.nigel-richardson.com

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