Sunday, May 22, 2016

London Landmarks

There are many interesting buildings in London but these are my favourites:

The Old Courthouse
At the top of my list is the Old Courthouse (officially the Middlesex County Building), the oldest, most historic building in Middlesex County. The building has of course changed a great deal since being completed about 1831. The jail was added in 1844 and major additions were added to the main building in 1878 and 1911. Despite the various additions and renovations, no other building in London - or the county, for that matter - has so much history. Prisoners were kept in the basement "dungeon" before the jail was built, there were numerous hangings, and the famous Donnelly trial took place in what's now the council chamber. London's "castle," based on Malahide Castle near Dublin, is the historic heart of London-Middlesex.

Aeolian Hall
Built in 1883-84, the building at Dundas and Rectory began life as London East Town Hall. The following year, 1885, London East was annexed by the City of London, making the building redundant. An excellent example of adaptive reuse, it has served many purposes over the years including a grocery store, cigar factory, pool room, the City Welfare Department, and London's first branch library. It is now refurbished as a concert hall, providing excellent acoustics - and a great deal more atmosphere for concert goers than Centennial Hall.

Eldon House
London's oldest surviving house was built in 1834 by John Harris, treasurer of the London District. For many years Eldon House was the centre of London Society with young officers from the garrison courting the five Harris daughters and Col. Thomas Talbot dropping in from time to time. Three descendants of Harris - George, Robin and Lucy - donated the house, its contents and grounds to the City of London in 1960 to be used as a museum. It's still a great place to tour or attend a lecture about local history. Be sure to go one of their occasional Behind the Ropes Tours in which visitors get to see parts of the house not usually open to the public, including the rather creepy basement which may have belonged to an even earlier house.

Fugitive Slave Chapel
Unlike some other buildings on my list, this one's not (yet) beautiful. The African Methodist Episcopal Church, or "Fugitive Slave Chapel," was built by London's fugitive slave community about 1848. Besides being a church, it was a centre of abolitionist activities, and John Brown may have addressed a meeting here to solicit support for the movement that led to the raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859. Eventually, the congregation built a new church at 430 Grey Street and old building became a home. After it was threatened by demolition, the folks in the Fugitive Slave Chapel Preservation Project moved the building to its present site beside its daughter church on Grey Street where restoration will hopefully be under way. 

St. Paul’s Cathedral
The first frame St. Paul's opened in 1834 but was destroyed in a fire ten years later. The new building, now London’s oldest church, opened for worship in 1846. Toronto architect William Thomas, who also designed Brock's Monument at Queenston, created the new structure in the Gothic Revival style with a large tower at the west end and lots of pinnacles. A great many of us enjoy the gargoyles and other faces. Inside,  visitors can find beautiful stained glass windows, including two signed by Tiffany. And when there's no service or concert taking place, the atmosphere is that of an old English country church - peaceful and timeless.

Dominion Public Building
A completely different world right across from St. Paul's. London's tallest building when it was erected in 1936, the Dominion Public Building was built during the Depression to help provide employment for London workers. It's still one of the finest examples of Art Deco architecture found in Canada.  (In case you're wondering, One London Place, finished 1992, is now London's tallest tower.)

Normal School
The imposing High Victorian building on Elmwood Avenue in Wortley Village was completed in 1900 as a normal school or teacher's college, the third such institution in Ontario. Dominating the structure is a fabulous open bell tower with arches. Currently being renovated to become the YMCA Youth Centre of Excellence, the building promises to be an educational centre for many years to come.

Wright Lithographing
The company called Wright Lithographing was established in 1905 by John and George wright, originally on the east side of Wellington north of York. John, an engraver, and George, a lithographer, printed such diverse items as milk tickets, cigar bands, and limited edition lithograph prints. The building that today bears their name was built as a creamery but was purchased by London Life in 1906 to become the insurance company's new head office. It was London Life that added the third floor. Wright purchased the building in 1927 when London Life built its current headquarters. Interesting details on the building include this classical porch, unfortunately beginning to crumble. 

Ridout Street Restoration
I'm cheating here, because this is more than one building. At far left there's the two-storey white brick constructed to house a branch of the Bank of Upper Canada in 1836. It's said to be London's second brick building, the first being the Old Courthouse. Then there's the three-storey white brick terrace built in 1847, which, in its early years, also housed banks such as the Gore Bank. The carriageway is now enclosed by a door. The buildings look firm and solid, as banks should be. Next is Dr. Alexander Anderson's "Walmington House" which he used as an office and residence. Altogether, this row gives us an idea of what an Upper Canadian streetscape would have looked like. Except, of course, for the Farhi signs.

Covent Garden
I add this in case people think I never like new buildings. Not so. I like stylish modern buildings that fit nicely into their location and are an improvement over whatever was demolished to build them. Since the earlier Covent Garden was looking rather tired, the new one, which opened in 1999, was sorely needed. Not only is it reminiscent of the building Paul Peel painted in 1883, but the space out front is suggestive of the open-air market founded in 1835. This is still one of downtown London's most appealing attractions.


  1. I cherish the enormous wheel at a carnival, so I think the London Eye is a phenomenal method for getting a superior perspective of the city. At best you can see for miles and miles – at the top, the entire of London is laid out for you, similar to a session of Monopoly. A companion procured a private container for her birthday, so we were up there with the greater part of our mates, oohing and ahhing. It was phenomenal!

    1. Actually, we are London, Ontario, Canada and we do not have a "London Eye," nor are we featured on a Monopoly Board. It's an interesting idea, though; if London, Ontario was to be a Monopoly game, I wonder where our most expensive and least expensive properties would be located?

  2. You mentioned the Aeolian Hall having many uses in its past such as a cigar factory. That cigar factory belonged to my maternal grandfather, George E. Patrick.

    My great-aunt, Hulda May Culbert attended Normal School the year after it opened.

    And my paternal grandparents, Myron & Effie Culbert had a stall at Covent Garden. They made the trip once a week by horse and buggy from Lucan.

    Thanks for keeping London's history alive on your blog.