This was the first order of business when we found out we were moving to London. Where should we live? We wanted to live in the central part of London since we didn't plan on having a car. But beyond that, we didn't know the neighborhoods well enough to decide without looking all over the city first.
The Hunt for a Flat
Tara practically commuted between Chicago and London for a few months, so she did a lot of the looking. However, Seth did come with on one trip so that we could look together. We looked in Islington, Camden, The Docklands, Fulham, Earl's Court and Chelsea. Finding South Kensington was actually pure luck. We were riding on the tube when it stopped and the announcement said "we will be standing here until further notice". We decided not to sit and wait, but instead to go get dinner. We found a nice Italian restaurant called Bella Pasta and sat outside for a meal. All through dinner, we watched people pull up to the video rental place next store. It was fun seeing all the Mercedes, BMWs, Porsches, and other expensive cars pull up, illegally park and rent a movie. The street had a lot of foot traffic and just generally seemed nice. After dinner, we walked around and took down the phone numbers of flats for rent. After choosing South Kensington as the neighborhood we wanted to live in, it wasn't long until we settled on a place.
Tara actually picked it out on Saturday, October 14. I was working in Zurich the following week, but decided to spend one night in London looking for housing. After checking into the Heathrow Holiday Inn, I picked up the Friday night Evening Standard and read it on the tube into London. There was a place in SW7 in our price range. I called the number from a phone book outside Glouster Road station and (shock!) I could walk over and see it right away. (very contrary to the problems I'd had getting in to see other places). The white, pillared building looked very promising from the outside and the inside was also all new and still in the process of being remodeled. After a climb to the 4th floor (i.e.. 5th if you're from America) - after which I could barely breathe - I was very happy to see a totally remodeled, high-ceilinged, very bright 2 bedroom flat. It wasn't even finished yet. There was no closet yet in the bedroom and the carpeting and tile was only 1/2 done. I agreed to take it without Seth ever seeing it since it was way above and beyond anything we'd seen previously.
Losers included: the mews house where Seth's shoulder's touched both walls in the hallway; the tiny triangular, red place by Glouster Road; the bigger place right on the Cromwell Road by Glouster Road with mirrored bedroom; the newer, but smaller, places in Carnary Warf; the downstairs, basement place near Angel.
Even though the search was tough, we're really glad we've ended up where we are. We enjoy our neighborhood and love our flat. Our address is 8 Cromwell Place SW7 2JN. We live in an "open-plan" 2 bedroom flat on the 5th floor. An open-plan means that our kitchen, dining room and living room are all in the same big room! It's actually very nice to have one main room. That way we're never far from each other. :^)
The one bad thing about our building is that it doesn't have a lift! So, everyday, we have to walk up and down 5 flights of stairs. Believe me, it really discourages you from forgetting anything! And, if you do forget something, we often don't go back for it!
Since Tara had been practically commuting between Chicago and London, it made sense for her to move into the flat as soon as possible. So, I agreed to take it on Saturday, October 14th, then flew to Zurich on Sunday to teach for three days. When I returned, there was a lease all typed up for me to take to the Bank's lawyers. After a few changes and an agreement by the landlord to buy a microwave, mirror, futon and washer/dryer, I put a deposit of 900 GBP down and signed the lease on Monday, October 23rd. It was nice to have where we were going to live settled.
Seth and I flew back together to move in. We left Chicago Saturday, November 4 and landed Sunday morning, November 5. We couldn't move in on the 5th since it was a Sunday, so we spent one night in a nearby Holiday Inn and moved in Monday morning, November 6th. The Sunday night was fun since we walked around the neighborhood looking for fireworks since it was Guy Fakes night. We found some - at the Imperial College. Not exactly like what you'd find in America: students on top of their dorm roof shooting off some major fireworks. We had to step back and shelter under the balcony on the student health center since we kept getting chunks of black fireworks falling on us.
Even though we moved in together on November 6th, we weren't both here to stay yet. Seth had to return to Chicago on November xx - whereas Tara stayed until November 18th.
We both came back together one month later. We left Chicago on Monday,
December 18th and flew one-way to London landing on December 19th. Our
stuff, meanwhile, was partly on a plane, but mostly on a ship. Therefore,
our belongings didn't really arrive until nearly a month later on January
Our Building's History
Tara spent a day in the library researching our building. The land our building sits on is listed in the record books as early as 1630. For many generations, the land was mostly agricultural and was inherited by family members and God children. Before the great exhibition in 1851, the land contained only one house, Grove House, and two public houses. One of the public houses, The Hoop & Toy, is still a pub today.
In 1851, the Great Exhibition created an interest in the land South of Kensington Gardens. The government was interested in a plot of land owned by Henry Brown Alexander. The plan was to build barracks for local troops. However, over the next six years, a price could not be agreed upon.
The land was finally leased on March 25, 1857 to a developer, Charles James Freake. The 99 year lease provided for the construction of a new North - South Road and the building of rows of terraced houses along this new road and the existing East - West Road. Forty eight houses were originally planned to be built. The houses along the major East - West Road were to be grand houses with double-windowed fronts. The houses along the new road were to be plainer.
Construction began in June of 1857. Ten houses were to be built each year. The house we live in was first leased to a family on May 16, 1861. The survey describes the premises as a basement, four square stories and an attic above. The first family to live in our building used the entire house. Their were fourteen people: A judge and his wife, their six children and their six servants. Early censuses give details on the family: The judge, Henry Lopes, was 39 in 1861. He was originally from Devon and was employed as one of her majesty's judges. His wife, Lucy, was 32 in 1861. By 1871 they had six children: Susan, 12; Lucy, 10; Maud, 7; Henry, 5; Francis, 2; B. Susan, 1. They were also living with six servants: a butler, three nurses, a cook and a kitchen maid. The female servants would sleep in the attic while the male servants would sleep in the basement. The Lopes family is shown in the census books until 1889.
The building then saw a number of single family occupants until 1950. In 1950, the building was separated into flats which were rented by businesses. The history of an architectural firm being in the building dates from 1950. The current owner had just leased the building in 1995 when Tara came looking for an apartment. The very top attic had been newly converted into a flat and was advertised in the Evening Standard. It was very lucky that Tara found it!!