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  • Fiona

London Times - Family, Friends, a Thames-side Pub and a Posh Hotel

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

Millbank and "Poms"

We had a fine start to our second day in London - as we were staying in Kennington we walked across Vauxhall Bridge and into our old neighourhood of Pimlico. As we crossed the bridge, we could see the building on Millbank where our old flat was and it was looking rather fine in the weak wintry sunshine.

Millbank is in the City of Westminster and we loved living there as it is so central and has an amazing history. The name Millbank comes from the fact that it was originally the site of a mill house belonging to nearby Westminster Abbey. Currently, it is an art precinct where the Chelsea College of Art and Design and the Tate Britain (opened on 21 July 1897 as the National Gallery of British Art) are located. The Tate gallery is on the site of the former Millbank Prison and that is one reason why the history is so interesting...

The story of the Millbank Prison begins in 1816 when it was built as the National Penitentiary. Unfortunately, the site it was built on was marshy and therefore the land was damp and disease ridden, and the building was such a bad design that it was easy to get lost in its labyrinth of corridors. Apparently even the warders would get lost!

In view of these problems, a decision was eventually made to build a new "model prison" at Pentonville. This new prison opened in 1842 and took over Millbank's role as the National Penitentiary.

By an Act of Parliament, Millbank was downgraded in 1843 and from that year was used only as a prison where criminals could be housed for no longer than three months, while they waited for their transportation to Australia.

Millbank Prison was finally closed in 1890 and was demolished not long after. The bricks from the prison were used to build a housing estate just behind the Tate Britain. Otherwise, all that remains of it today, is one bollard (right opposite our former apartment) where the prison boats used to moor while they were loaded with prisoners to take them to the transport ships out at sea and across to the other side of the world.

And from that comes another little story, which I rather like, about the prisoners deported to Australia and the etymology of the word POM...

Millbank Prison, which was basically a holding centre for prisoners waiting to be transported to Australia. On the back of their standard issue prison jackets were the initials P.O.M. which was “Prisoners of Millbank”, and when they ended up in Australia, the Australians waiting at the other end would say “here’s another POM”.

And so the term "Poms" comes from this "Prisoners of Millbank" (I've also heard the altermnatives of Prisoners of Mother England and Prisoners of her Majesty)

Sceptics think that this explanation is too modern-sounding and too contrived and give more credence to another common explanation of “pom” as being a contraction of “pomegranate” a piece of rhyming slang (rather like the famous Cockney system) – Pome-granate – Immi-grant

The Gun

The Gun is an old English riverside pub with lots of history - there has been a public house on this site for over 250 years. The Gun is located in London's Docklands, the area of the old dockside iron foundries that produced the guns for the royal naval fleets and took its name from the cannon which was fired to celebrate the opening of the West India Import Docks in 1802.

We met up there with the lovely Lucy, a former colleague of Alan's at New Zealand House, for lunch and as it was one of her locals she told us a bit about the history of the place...

Lord Horatio Nelson lived close to this pub and often visited the docks to inspect the guns until his death at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar. He was a frequent customer and would regularly meet up with his mistress in an upstairs room here.

The gun also has an association with smugglers landing contraband on this site and distributing it via a hidden tunnel. Apparently there is still a spy-hole in the secret circular staircase to watch out for "the revenue men".

As we sat in the sheltered part of the back veranda, under the heaters we looked across the cold dark waters of the Thames to the very modern O2 arena and the High Rises behind it in the Port of London area and tried to imagine what it would have been like to be a smuggler back in the day.

Delicious Brunch and the best Sourdough Bread!

We walked to the Spa Terminus Saturday market in search of the best sourdough bread at the Little Bread Pedlar, to take to brunch with our nieces Andrea and Claire, Andrea's husband Simon and their gorgeous wee boy - Gabriel. Andrea and Claire had whipped a delicious Shashuka that the bread accompanied - Simon did a sterling job on table setting and Gabriel was the model baby. It was so wonderful to see them so settled in their lovely new home!

A little bit of history about the market...

Located near Bermondsey inside railway arches dating back to the 1800s, The Spa Terminus market is where you’ll find locals buying their organic vegetables, orchard fruits, artisan cheeses, biodynamic wines and Monmouth coffee beans. While it is only open to the public on Saturdays from 8.30 to 2.30, many of the food and drink businesses make or stock products here which they sell to trade suppliers during the week. You can see from the queue that it is a popular wee market!


1. A view from the Vauxhall Bridge of the building where our flat was on Millbank

2. View from where we had lunch at The Gun, across the Thames to the O2 arena

3 - 5 The Gun - and with Lucy

6 - 7 Spa Terminus Market and The Little Bread Peddlar

8 With Andrea, Claire, Simon and Gabriel

Afternoon Tea and a fabulous night at the Vintry and Mercer

We joined our daughter, Olivia and her boyfriend Aaron at the Roof Terrace restaurant at Vintry and Mercer for afternoon tea. The Roof Terrace restaurant takes in the London skyline with a view that manages to capture a few iconic landmarks including St Paul’s Cathedral and The Shard. Unfortunately it was raining and misty and so the doors were closed and we didn't

get to go outside and see the view.


1. With Aaron and Olivia

2,6 Our afternoon tea stand

3-5 Our beautiful Olivia

7-9. Views of St Pauls at night and in the rain

Vintry and Mercer is a beautiful Luxury hotel located on Garlick Hill, set among the winding lanes of the ancient City of London district.

If you're wondering about the name, it refers to the two commercial wards on the hotel's doorstep: Vintry, where fine wines would arrive from France, and Mercer, where merchants used to trade in fine silks, damasks and linens.

As well as afternoon tea we also experienced a rather indulgent last night in London as house guests at the Vintry and Mercer. Our room, as in all the rooms there according to Olivia who is the Sales and Events Executive at the Hotel, had beautiful finishes like velvet headboards, leather door handles and hand-stitched palm wallpaper as well as historic navigation maps and photographs on the walls. The colours in the rooms reference some of the most prized commodities that arrived in the city back in the day including wine, honey and saffron.

Apparently the colours of the fabrics in the rooms (saffron, honey, garlic and wine) were all chosen because they have a namesake street nearby. Our room was decorated in beautiful deep merlot tones which, rather appropriately, seemed to have referenced the wine!


1. Arriving (wasn't our car - we came on the tube 😂)

2,6,8,9. Our Studio Suite

3,4. Reception

5. Igloos for winter on the roof terrace!

11 - 16. Breakfast in the Vintry Izakaya restaurant on the ground floor

17,18 Bubbles to welcome us

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