At weekends I meet a good friend for drinks at our member’s club in Shaftesbury Avenue. He always asks where I’ve been during the week. When I tell him, his response is always, “Where is that?” or “I’ve never been there.” The reaction never varies, and I believe him. His world revolves around the home, the office, a spot of lunch on Saturdays and drinks at the club. I’d go as far as to say my friend isn’t alone. Most Londoners, even those living in Central London, don’t know the city very well.
Before Instagram and the rapid growth of blogs, there were numerous ‘secret’ places in London. Today, a popular London Instagrammer posts a new London discovery and then hordes of others follow in his/her footsteps to take and post the same place. The practice doesn’t seem original, but it happens.
One good example is Peggy Porschen Cakes in Ebury Street around Victoria Station in Belgravia. The cake shop is a hop, skip and a jump from where I live. When the shop opened in 2010, it was popular with the residents in the area and Londoners “in the know.” When Instagrammers discovered Peggy Porschen’s and posted photos of the stunning store exterior, the secret was no longer a secret. London bloggers are no different as one after another writes a post about the cute bake shop on the corner. Now everyone in London knows. I can only imagine how much business increased since the rise of the popular social media platform. Any good marketer will tell you word of mouth is the best form of advertising. The cake shop struck gold.
Screenshot of photos of Peggy Porschen Cakes :
Out of curiosity I popped over to Pinterest and searched ‘Secret Places in London.” If you’re unfamiliar with Pinterest, their search page is one that scrolls endlessly toward the bottom, except you never reach the bottom. The page keeps on going all the while proposing ‘pins’ of secret places in London from a vast array of people or bloggers. Everyone it seems is an expert of London places about which you need to know, but no one else knows. A popular buzz term these days is ‘hack,’ which isn’t a congenial sounding word, but everyone seems to use it.
ST DUNSTAN’S IN THE EAST
These are the titles of the ‘Secret Places in London’ according to a myriad of experts : “7 Secret Places in London – You Have To Discover Them” “15 Secret Places to Discover in London” “10 Secret Places In London” “21 Amazing Secret Places To Find In London” “15 of the Best London Hidden Gems” “10 Quirky, Hidden and Secret Spots in London You’ll Love” “15 Secret Spots You Have To See In London” “10 Secret and Free Spots to Discover in London” “Six Secrets in London”
There are more listings but I only chose nine. For each, I clicked the link and I’m not surprised to find St Dunstan In The East on every secret place in London list except for one. Most of the bloggers place the bombed out church turned into a garden as their number one secret place. Even the ever popular Londonist site recently suggested you to “Discover This Secret Garden in a Bombed Out Church.” It’s a true hidden gem, you know.
My photo of St Dunstan In The East
So, I have to ask – is St Dunstan In The East a secret anymore? Or, the noses of Soho? Postman’s Park? The smallest police station in London? Each ‘secret place’ shows up on everyone’s list. Is there any place in London that is a secret anymore or is everyone simply copying one another? The latter makes no difference to me, though the repetition does make me wonder.
Perhaps when Instagram loses favour, and it will one day, will London’s secrets return? The same question can be asked when the wave of London blogs recedes and the notion that influencers promote better fades away.
All that said, not everyone uses social media or read blogs to discover London. If you’re like my friend I meet each week, you’re in this category. There are still secrets in London. If you’re like me, you discover something new in London every day you walk around the city. In fact, I found St Dunstan in the East simply be meandering from Tower Hill to Monument over ten years ago. No one told me the bombed out church garden was there; I simply found it and it instantly became my favourite secret place in London. The difference is – I didn’t share it with anyone online. And, St Dunstan in the East is more than a secret, it’s special.