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The tours to see London's abandoned and unused tube stations and other underground areas fully book well in advance. I booked a ticket to Clapham South last spring, and the time finally came for me to go on the tour last week. Clapham South is the site of bunkers and air raid shelters that we constructed for World War II during the Blitz when the German planes were bombing London. A few of these shelters were constructed along the northern line and central line, but many were never completed. Clapham South was built to house 8,000 people (although they wished it to be more at the time). It was built to stand against a direct hit from a 500lb bomb. London Transport Museum have a lease to turn these tunnels into a visitor attraction.

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There are two entrances to the air raid shelters. One entrance to the air raid shelter is in the common park area on the other side of the entrance to present day's Clapham South underground station (between Clapham South and Clapham Common stations). The round concrete and brick wall is immediately visible. The other one is covered in white tiles and located in a parade of shops, and this is the entrance that we used in the tour. 

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After climbing down 180 stairs, we were led to an area where the history of the tunnels was discussed and saw the original signs that detailed the names of the tunnels and locations of medical, post, and canteen facilities. The tunnels for the shelter are directly underneath the northern line train tunnels. (They intended to use these for faster train service after the war, but this never happened.) Each stretch of tunnel had a name of a famous colonel or other militiary mastermind. The names were in alphabetical order so that people could easily find their way around. Each parallel tunnel also had a colour (red or blue).

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The first room we stopped off to see was the medical room. This still had the tap and tiling for the sink, but the sink was missing.

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We were then shown the first stretch of tunnel, which is left virtually empty. The tunnels were dug by hand. The rings in the tunnels here are made of re-inforced concrete because metal was scarace during the war.

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Between some of the tunnels (which run parallel) was a small area with a table, and it was known as the recreation area.

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The tour then went on to another tunnel area filled with beds. The beds are the original ones on the right-hand side of the below image. On the left, the beds were arranged to fold up and placed length-ways down the tunnel.

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People who needed a bed for the night were given a tunnel name and bed number. They had to bring their own bedding. The numbers of the beds can be seen on the frames. Life in the shelters was apparently not too bad because the beds had springs, and loudspeakers in the tunnels meant that music could be played during the day. However, life was regimented and people had to be awake by 7:00am.

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After World War II, the shelters were used for awhile by those who lost their homes and also for youth groups to stay in as well as for accommodation for 1951 Festival of Britain, which was held on South Bank. Some of the grafitti can be seen from those staying. The tunnels were also used by immigrants from Jamaica as accommodation; these immigrants were shipped over to help rebuilding after the war, and this explains why this area of London has a large Afro-Caribbean community. Today, the shelters store archives. Up the road at Clapham Common, the tunnels for the shelters are used to grow salad.

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We walked down more tunnels of rows of beds and shelving created to store archives.

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One of the tunnels had the canteen at the beginning of it. The canteen has been removed, but its location can be seen as well as a fuse board that reads "Buffet Fuse" on it.

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We also were shown the men's toilets, which is just an empty room. We could see where the stalls and urinals were. We were also told how the sewage was pumped out as these tunnels are well below sewage lines. Air would be used blast the sewage up.

In between the tunnels, we were also told were a set of stairs that would go to the northern line platforms. These were used by workers who stayed in the tunnels during the war.

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The last room we saw was the control room, which contained some old phones.

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Have you toured Clapham South shelters?

Lush currently have new products in store for their Mother's Day and Easter ranges. Some of these are new products, and some of them are old favourites. Sadly, I no longer have a Lush store near me, but I popped into one a couple of weeks ago to buy some items and to see what was on offer. In no particular order, my discoveries are below.

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Mum: This is a bath bomb in pastel pink and green with the word 'Mum' on it. It is created with Lemon, orange, and rose.

Baa Bar: This is a bubble bar with lavender, rose, and ylang ylang to offer a soothing bath. It is in the shape of a cute sheep.

Elsie the Giraffe (You're Having a Bath): This reusable bath bubble bar creates bubbles when placed under running water. It has a citrus scent.

Your Mother Should Know: This bath bomb is bright blue, yellow and pink with a floral design. It has a floral scent.

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Golden Egg: This bath bomb melt features a shimmery gold egg, and it's been an Easter product for a couple of years now. 

Which Came First: This bath bomb is a pink and yellow egg with a surprise inside. It has refreshing citrus tones. This is similar to their previous Easter egg products, but the eggs have a different design and colours this year.

Bunch of Carrots: These reusable bubble bar carrots are bright orange, pink, and purple, and they come in a bunch. This Easter product has been on sale for at least three years now; the first year that I encountered them, they were orange only. The last couple of years, they have introduced more colours.

Chick 'n' Mix: This bath bomb comes in three separate parts. The 'egg' shell breaks in two to reveal a bath bomb chick in the middle. This is a new product.

Chocolate Easter Egg: This soap is shaped like a giant Easter egg, painted yellow and green and pink. It has a sweet chocolate scent.

Love You Lots: This soap was launched earlier in the year for Valentine's Day, and it smells like roses.

Ice cream company Milk Train is creating very Instagram-able ice cream creations. The company opened up at the beginning of August in Covent Garden last year, and it is still proving a hit with Londoners who queued early last Sunday in order to get a taste. Milk Train offer three flavours a day; vanilla and matcha are always on offer, and there is a special flavour daily. On the day, it was blueberry. I opted for the matcha because I do like green tea, but I also wanted a pretty photograph.

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The ice cream is soft serve, and it can come in a cone or a cup. Adding the fluffy cotton candy (candy floss) cloud costs extra (1 pound), and additional toppings can be added for 50 pence each. Additional toppings included Oreo crumbs, popcorn, sprinkles, strawberry crunch, salted caramel chips, mixed nuts, puffed rice, red bean, flake, and Hello Panda biscuits. I choose raindrops, Hello Panda biscuits, and rainbow sprinkles.

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I watched the ice cream being made. For those who opted for the cotton candy around the cone, the cone itself was put into the cotton candy (candy floss) machine to create the cloud.

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The venue was very busy and a queue formed with many people coming to see the creations and get photographs of them. I must say that the creations do look really photograph-able. When I have to review the taste, the ice cream creations do not taste as good as they look; however, I don't think cotton candy (candy floss) and ice cream go together well anyway.

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Milk Train is located on Bedford Street in Covent Garden (London). They are closed on Mondays but open from 13:00 every day of the week. They are open until 21:00 until Thursday and then open until 22:00 on Friday and Saturday. Sunday's hours are shorter, and they shut at 20:00. This is a place to go for the photographs and selfies and if you like to keep your Instagram account beautiful.

After our tour of Down Street tube station, we had the second part of our visit to The Athenaeum Hotel for afternoon tea. We met up at the hotel before our tour of Down Street station and were told the history here and had biscuits and tea before being given the tour. An additional trip needed to be made to enjoy the second part of the tour, which was afternoon tea at the hotel. I thought that we'd be having both at once on the day, but it did not end up this way. Afternoon tea is served at Galvin at The Athenaeum, and Galvin have a couple of other restaurants in London. 

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The front and side of the hotel is impresive as it is covered in green plants.

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Inside the hotel is the tea room, located at the front along Picadilly Street with views toward the park.

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We were served a selection of sandwiches and scones with lemon curd, rhubarb jam, and clotted cream. I had darjeeling tea, and the bloke had a jasmine tea. 

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The top plate consisted of the pastries, and they had to inform us of what each was as they were not included on the menu. I'm not sure if this is 100% correct, but the macaroon was an orange macaroon. There was also a pear tart with a dollup of cream on top. 

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The green item above is a pistachio lightly-filled pastry.

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There was a vanilla slice with flaky crust and a rhubarb tart.

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Here comes the difficult bit. I am always honest in my reviews, and they are not sponsored. In my honest opinion, I must say that this was my worst afternoon tea experience to date. And this is a shame, because the Galvin brand is considered to be a strong brand with great food, and the hotel is located in Mayfair with the other expensive hotels. The food was actually not too bad, but where we were let down was the service.

The service was a let-down from the moment we entered the door; we were not welcomed. Also, bear in mind that I had spoken to them over the phone the previous day and stated dietary requirements as well as asked other questions and was given the wrong information; I asked about our voucher and they said I needed to show it and not print it and they wanted me to print it. When we did receive the food, we were not checked back on. I ran out of tea and waited for over twenty minutes before having to call the waitress over and ask for more. She then left and another twenty minutes passed; I still did not receive the tea. I had to go up to the desk and ask after it and waited for another ten minutes before it arrived. Needless to say, I had the tip removed and walked out.

I would not recommend The Galvin for afternoon tea. There are much better venues in London with much better service and food.  

Great Spitalfields Pancake Day Race 2017

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Today is Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day), which marks a special day with religious roots that takes place 47 days before Easter where flour, milk, sugar, and fatty foods were used up before fasting began. It used to be a day of holiday in England, and many villages held races. Pancake Day is also the day of the annual Great Spitalfields Pancake Race, held on Dray's Walk and located off Brick Lane; it is in its 23rd year this year. I've watched the Great Spitalfields Pancake Race before as it takes place outside the office. I always find it good fun during my lunch hour.

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The Great Spitalfields Pancake Race is organised by London Air Ambulance with charity collections taking place during the event. Anyone can sign up to take part in the race or simply turn up on the day with their team and a frying pan. Usually, about ten teams take place in the event, and the first prize is an engraved frying pan. There are also prizes for second and third place and additional prizes for best costume and nicest team.

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The crowds gather to watch the start of the race, but I found the crowd dwindled and was not quite as large as in previous years. Many people stayed to watch the first laps but left and did not stay for the semi-finals or finals. This year, all three "clowns" were in attendance in order to gather support, but they did not engage the crowd as much this time as in the past.

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The major difference that I noticed this year when compared to previous years was that many people with cameras, video cameras, and mobile phones were attending the event. I found the cameras to be a problem this year as it affected the mood when compared to previous years. They engaged the "clowns" in interviews, which prevented the rapport with the crowd. Also, a couple of the camera men were very rude and kept barging/shoving in front of people (such as myself, who was early to grab a spot and stick to it). They also kept running into the areas where the runners were. Idiots. You'll see one of them who kept popping up in some of the shots and prevented me from getting some of the best shots in the semi-final, when the race was in a serious mode. I've always loved photography, but I don't want to ruin the fun for anyone else, so I stay in one place and make sure that I am early to grab a good spot so I do not cause others to suffer.

And, having a camera does not give you an entitlement to run around and be a jerk, when I alerted to you that you in my way, in the way of the runners, and completley blocking the view of a shorter lady who was standing next to me. Your comment "we're photographers; that is what we do" makes you sound like a wanker. 

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This year, the costumes included a group dressed up as the Minions (which won 'best costume'), a group dressed up as Pancake-flipping kittens (third place), a group dressed up as animals/birds (best-behaved), additional charities, a group dressed as PacMan, and a group with members dressed up as Darth Vader and Batman. The winning team was "There's No I in Pancake", which had members dressed as Darth Vader and Batman.

Past Spitalfields Great Pancake Day Races are listed:

Great Spitalfields Pancake Day Race 2015
Great Spitalfields Pancake Day Race 2014
Great Spitalfields Pancake Day Race 2013

Exploring Down Street Abandoned Tube Station

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A couple of weeks ago, I went to explore the disused Down Street tube station in Mayfair. Down Street is on a side road between Green Park and Hyde Park Corner, and the Piccadilly Line served this station. The station was not open for very long. It was opened in 1907 and shut its doors in 1932 due to lack of use. Its placement here was controversial because many people that lived in the area did not use public transport. Although it was closed in 1932, it had a new lease of life in 1939 as a secret headquarters for the railway board executivies during World War II. It is often referred to as "Churchill's Secret Bunker". The staff at TFL (Transport for London) are continuously researching and discovering how the station was used during the war times, but most of the government secrets are off limits currently and won't be accessibly by the public until 2040.

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The tube station is easy to notice because of its glossy tiles that identify it; in Down Street's case, the tiles are dark red. The large arched windows and wide doorways also identify it as a tube station, although one of the doorways has been bricked over while the other is home to a small shop.

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Upon arriving on the train/platform level, we were told about the station's use during World War II. The first bit of tunnel was sectioned off and became the area for typists. The walls were painted a mustard yellow colour, and we could see where the floor was levelled and the partition wall was added on one side. The side with the partition wall formed a room with an aisle down one side. The aisle was just large enough for a tea trolley (or a person to walk single-file). On this wall, there are directions to the Enquries and Committee Room, and there's "Way Out" signs in the same style on other walls. Before the room was a gas seal-off door, and there were several of these throughout the station. The rooms were all purpose-made, and the public was not aware of the secret bunker here.

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We were also shown the glow-in-the-dark strips along the lower part of the tunnel walls, which enable visitors to find their way in case the electricity is off.

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The next tunnel was also divided into rooms: offices and the committee room. One of the rooms here was where Churchill stayed during bombing raids. Throughout our tour, we were shown photographs on the wall of people inside these rooms, and we could identify where walls, lights, and clocks had been attached. In the photograph above, the placement of the table in the photograph is outlined on the floor. The aisleway would have been to the left, and the flooring also demonstrates how the rooms were broken up.

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Off of the meeting room, we were shown the toilets and bath facilities, which were located through a door that went up a staircase. These separate rooms were divided up with the facilities. Apparently the women had to kick up a fuss to have separate facilities. The furnishings were also top of the range. The next few photographs shows some of these rooms and what remains.

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Further down the hallway, we came to the section where we could see the tube train passing between Green Park and Hyde Park Corner on the Piccadilly Line. There were sections throughout the remainder of the tour where we could see the trains, separated by just a thin wall. We continued until we branched off into a separate tunnel where the exchange and switch board are located. These were located in two separate rooms. 

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The switch board has fine wooden panel, which we could see by shining a light to it.

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Opposite the switchboard is old-style tiling forming a very Art-Deco "Way Out" sign.

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We arrived at further rooms that were used by the executives. Some of these included the original lighting. Many of these rooms were painted grey over the mustard yellow. Someone suggested they may have been painted for preparations on tube evacuation teams or filming a submarine movie.

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A map of the layout of the rooms is also present.

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We were shown the executive rooms and the bedrooms, and we could see which rooms were fancier because they had wallpaper. After this, we were shown the kitchen and dining area.

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The new development and research suggests that the last part of the tour is exciting because it's the area at the back (by the air flow) that Churchill had asked to be purposed into his area. Rooms were created here with a toilet near the top of the step and a room on the left. The room had a phone line that went direct to the USA. They're not exactly sure who used these rooms, but it is clear that they are used by VIPs. A picture of the room is below, but there's actually another similar bricked-up wall a few steps down the tunnel. It's completely bricked up, but it probably has some significance. 

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On the other side of this area, we saw more yellow paint, and this is covering the original signage. "To The Trains" can be seen beneath the layer of paint.

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Also, the original signage showing the platform directions can also be seen here. Finsbury Park points to the left, and Hammersmith points to the right. Unfortunately, someone ruined the wall and lettering when they installed some ladders and pipework over the top of it.

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Next, we saw the lift shaft. My photographs did not come out because there was not enough room to see, and the lighting was not bright enough. On the other side of the lift shaft was the tile manufacturer name Simpson & Sons, who created the tiles. This is a rare find.

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Out of the lifts, the commuters would have been directed to the trains via this "To the Trains" sign.

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On street level, we received a booklet with more information about Down Street station.

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I would love to know more about this station and the history of it as it seems that there's still so much more to know that cannot become the public domain until 100 years are up. Unfortunately, by that time, the people who did work in the tunnels would no longer be able to talk about them.

For readers who have enjoyed this post, I have also visited additional disused and abandoned underground stations in London. I also have a couple of more trips to visit other ones coming up, so be sure to keep following me. Below are previous posts:

Paddock World War 2 Bunker
Aldwych Station
Euston Station Tunnels

Old Newspaper Archive

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I love looking at old newspapers, magazines, and advertisements. They display aspects of life of days gone by, from illustrated images to old-style fonts, the stories published and how these stories were written, and letters/poetry/short stories from readers. In today's world, the newspaper is not as popular and more and more people seem to be accessing news from the Internet on their computer or on their mobile phone. (I commute by train and underground to work, and although we have the option to obtain free publications in the morning and the evening, I still notice many who simply use their mobile phone or browse a news website during their lunch break.)

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I have come across copies of old publications on newspapers on Google's website, and an archive of these newspapers is here: http://news.google.com/newspapers

Although an extensive list, I would love to see more newspapers added to Google's archives.

The bloke and I visited The Royal Mint Experience yesterday and got to see and press our own one pound coin with the new design that will be circulated later in the year. The Royal Mint Experience only opened in May last year, so it's not even been open for tours for a year. I've previously done a tour of the US Mint in Colorado; there's also one in Philadelphia, PA. The experience is located at the site of the factory where all coins are made for UK circulation and for other countries. This post is about my experience.

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We arrived for the first tour of the day and had a wander around the factory, which is located near Cardiff in Wales. The building looks new and has coin-coloured panels (gold/silver/copper) along the front. At the front is one of the Shaun the Sheep charity statues that The Royal Mint made; the Gromit that they made is inside the building.

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Also inside the building is a classic MINI car covered with coins. 

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We had a few minutes to wander around the shop before the tour began. We were then ushered into a room with a short introduction video before being taken to the factory building to be shown some equipment and demonstrated how coins are made using the various bits of machinery. We were not allowed to take photographs here or anywhere inside the factory; we were allowed to take photographs at the museum in the original building later. 

The coins are made of mixed metals, and we were shown how they were given their 'edge' to prevent them from sticking together. We were then shown how the coins were struck with the designs using the moulds. The machines pressing them work very quickly and press using two tonnes of weight. After the discussion, we could watch some of the workers making/inspecting the coins. We could see coins fall out of the machinery into large boxes. We had to look at this from a distance. 

After looking through a couple of these windows, we went into another room where a pressing machine was waiting for us. The workers were controlling this, and we paid to press our own new pound coin. The new pound coins are going to be circulated later in the year, and they have several sides and two-tone colour. The problem was that the old pound coin was easy to copy, and many of them are fake. Workers had the blanks (unpressed coins) and put them into the machine one-by-one while we pressed a button for the machine to press two tonnes of weight onto the coin. The new pound coins have to be pressed twice. 

The different colour of material 'locks' in together due to the rim created along the edging of the coins, so they are two separate pieces. This is how the two-pound coin is made as well.

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After we struck the coin, we were ushered back into the original building where the tour resumed. This was the museum area, and it is self-guided. Photographs can be taken here. I have highlighted some of these bits below.

The first coint to be pressed at The Royal Mint (in the Tower of London) was the "Alfred the Great Silver Penny" (1). It was pressed at the time during Viking invasions. Isaac Newton was a warden at The Royal Mint for a few years, and he used science to make coins harder to be counterfeited. His name popped up in The Royal Mint Experience a few times, and we saw a medal produced with his likeness (2). The last coin to be pressed at The Royal Mint at Tower Hill before the factory moved to Wales was an image of the Tower Hill location (3), and it is on display. In 1934, Queen Mary had a tour of The Royal Mint when it was at Tower Hill, and she brought Elizabeth (now Queen) and her sister along. Their signatures are on display in the museum (4).

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1) Alred the Great silver penny; 2) Isaac Newton medal; 3) the last coin to be struck at The Royal Mint at Tower Hill; 4) The Royal Mint visitor book signed by Queen Mary and daughters Elizabeth and Margaret Rose

In 1968, The Royal Mint moved to Llantrisant in Wales. The production of coins had outgrown London, so it was moved to Wales due to support by a Welsh Member of Parliament. The new factory was created because of the introduction of the currency system that is now in use (instead of the old decimal system). On its opening day, Queen Elizabeth pressed the first coin (5). A lot of marketing went into getting people familiar with the new currency system (6 and 8). This year, we have a new design for the pound coin, and the design was inspired by 12-year old student David Pearce. A model of it is on display (7). 

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5) Queen Elizabeth pressed the first coin at Llantrisant; 6 and 8) Marketing to help with the new currency system; 7) The new one pound coin design

The Royal Mint also creates coins for other countries in the world, and we saw several of these on display. We also saw a coin that has been at the ocean for many years, sunk with a hoard of gold coins and recovered eventually. We also saw the moulds for the presses and learned about the oldest quality assurance in the history of the world: the gold and coin quality. This is conducted every year by the Goldsmith livery company. Samples of coins from all of the batches are kept for this process each year.

In addition to the coins, The Royal Mint Experience museum had a display dedicated to different medals, such as war and sporting medals. They made the medals for the Olympic Games in 2012.

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2012 Olympic Medal

After the experience, we went across the road where there is a pub/hotel that were having a carvery. We were really impressed with the food, and the carvery was very popular with local people too.

Have you been to The Royal Mint Experience yet or seen the new one pound coin? You can still visit and press your own coin. (Note that I booked the experience myself, so this is not endorsed by The Royal Mint.)

A new store dedicated to the famous toy brick, Lego, has opened in Leicester Square at the end of November last year. The shop was in the process of being constructed for at least the last couple of years. The lines/queues to enter the store were very long as it was busy, but I had a look at the new store a couple of weeks ago when I took a day off during the week. The Leicester Square Lego store is the largest Lego store and features several large-scale Lego models. In addition to these, it includes a Mosaic Maker that turns your image into Lego and includes printed instructions and the bricks to re-create it. The full-sized Lego models include Big Ben, telephone boxes, post boxes, map of London, a tube map, and a London tube. The tube is the largest structure in the shop and took over 637,903 bricks. Inside the tube carriage, visitors can sit next to other famous London-based celebrities, such as Sherlock Holmes, Shakespeare, and a Royal Guard.

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The Lego store opens just in time for the holidays, which is just right around the corner from Covent Garden. Covent Garden often puts a display of Lego on during the season, and it was a little late this year. Last year, a steam train was the focus. Previous years of Christmas-themed sculptures built using Lego in Covent Garden included Santa and his reindeer, a large snowglobe filled with London monuments made from Lego that visitors could walk through and a large Lego advent calendar which was opened daily to reveal a new surprise.  

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The Lego store in Leicester Square is open daily from 10:00am to 10:00pm, except on Sundays when it is open from 12:00pm to 6:00pm. It is located in the same area as a lot of similar shops dedicated to tourism trade, including the M&M store and the Nickelodeon shop. 

"Hunto Says Get Kissed Here" Mural

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Hunto is a street artist from Italy who is no stranger to London. I originally covered the artist's work here, but another recent mural that he completed last year was just off Brick Lane. Toward the end of last year, Hunto created a new mural on Great Eastern Street in Shoreditch. The piece is titled "Hunto Says Get Kissed Here..." and the other side of the mural, which is painted on scaffolding, has two figures facing each other on it.

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Another mural on the second piece of scaffolding shows another face.

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