I've mentioned chewing gum artist Ben Wilson on a number of occasions over the last few years. For the uninitiated, Mr. Wilson paints tiny pictures on pieces of chewing gum that people have spat on the floor. He's been making masticated art on London's streets for over a decade, but if you walk over the Millennium Bridge, and look down, you'll be sure to see his handy-work adorning what Londoner's call 'the wobbly bridge'.
On today's east London walk, which has been previously described as a street art walk with a few other bits about London thrown in, we soon discovered that in the last week or so, Ben Wilson, (the chewing gum man) has been on what Gary (one of the walkers) described as a 'chewing gum painting bender'. I'm sure there are more recent additions, but these are the ones that we spotted today around Old street, Shoreditch and Rivington Street.
Five years ago I wrote about the rather testosterone heavy collection of statues in Parliament Square which includes such luminaries as Winston Churchill, David Lloyd-George and Nelson Mandela. Since then, there has been the addition of Mahatma Gandhi in 2015, and a couple of weeks ago was the unveiling of the square’s latest bronze resident, which I wanted to mention.
This year (2018) marks the 100th anniversary of ‘The Representation of the People Act 1918’ which was passed by the then coalition government to reform the electoral system in Great Britain and Ireland. Prior to 1918, only adult men who owned property had been eligible to vote. These new laws gave universal suffrage to all men in the UK over the age of 21, and crucially, for the first time, women …albeit with a number of caveats. The right to vote was only granted to women over the age of 30 who were registered property owners with a value over £5, or married to someone who was. About 8.4 million women who had previously had no political voice, now had the right to vote. It would be another 10 years before women had equal suffrage to men, but none-the-less, the Act of 1918 was a huge step forward in the march for women’s rights and was the result of decades of campaigning.
Some of the women instrumental in pushing the cause, such as Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Sylvia and Christabel used high profile direct action to grab attention and highlight inequality. Emily Davison, died in 1913 from injuries sustained after she threw herself beneath King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby and Mary Richardson slashed a painting at the National Gallery. Many women were imprisoned or went on hunger strikes for their cause.
One woman, who was a leading figure in the women’s suffrage movement, shunning militant and provocative tactics for moderation and debate was Millicent Fawcett, and she was honoured recently with a statue in Parliament Square. Not only is it the first statue of a woman to be placed on this prominent site outside the Houses of Parliament, but the first to be made by a woman; Turner Prize winning artist Gillian Wearing.
Fawcett spent a staggering six decades of her life fighting for equal rights, and is depicted carrying a banner which reads “Courage calls to courage everywhere”, a line from a speech she gave following the death of Emily Davison. The plinth on which the 8ft 4inch statue of Fawcett stands, bears the faces of 59 others who also fought tirelessly for women’s right to vote.
It seems almost fitting that Millicent Fawcett died in 1929 at the age of 82, a year after women were granted the vote on equal terms to men; the cause she had spent her entire adult life fighting for.
Last week, the latest artwork to be installed on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth was unveiled. It is called ‘The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist’ by Michael Rakowitz and is made from 10,500 empty Iraqi date syrup cans. The sculpture recreates ‘Lamassu’; a winged deity which stood guarding a gate near modern day Mosul from c700BC until 2015 when it was destroyed by Isis. It is just one of 7,000 such objects either destroyed or stolen from Iraqi museums or archaeological sites since 2003. For over a decade, Rakowitz has been attempting to recreate these objects as part of an ongoing project.
London has a plethora of statues of what I tend to just call ‘Dead White Men’ and when Trafalgar Square was originally developed in the first years of the 1840s, four such statues were planned. Charles Napier, Henry Havelock and King George IV can still be seen today, but the final statue of King William IV was never installed due to insufficient funds. Designed by Sir Charles Barry (Houses of Parliament), they got as far as constructing the plinth before calling it quits. I imagine it was always anticipated that the requisite money would be found, but 150 years later and London was still no nearer to getting its statue on what had become known as the ‘fourth plinth’.
In the mid 1990s, Prue Leith, then Chair of the Royal Society of Arts suggested something should be done about Trafalgar Square’s lonely plinth, and five years later, artist Mark Wallinger’s sculpture ‘Ecce Homo’ became the first artwork to find a temporary home there, gazing down on the tourists and pigeons.
Since 2005, the fourth plinth has become an official commission, a stage for rolling artworks which Londoners get to vote for. In recent years, many of the artworks have sought to reflect their immediate environment or the history of the square. Hans Haacke’s ‘Gift Horse’ (2015) brought together the National Gallery through English painter George Stubbs, alluding to the equestrian statue that should have adorned the plinth originally, whilst quite literally being tied to the London Stock Exchange through a ticker tape ribbon. Elmgreen & Dragset’s ‘Powerless Structures, Fig.101’ depicting a boy on a rocking horse turning away from the other statues; quite possibly suggesting we should look towards the future rather than constantly back at the past (which we do) began its shift in 2010. Yinka Shonibare’s ‘Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle’ (2010) was obviously a direct nod towards Horatio Nelson who stands high over Trafalgar Square. The sails of Shonibare’s replica ship, the HMS Victory were made from patterned textiles typical of African dress, hinting towards the legacy of British colonialism and the expansion of the British Empire made possible by Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar.
There’s been a couple of slightly more irreverent sculptures such as last years ‘Really Good’ by David Shrigley which I was a fan of, but I like the fact that Rakowitz’s current offering is casting the net wider and tackling the wholesale loss and destruction of historical and cultural artefacts on a vast scale; a catastrophe made possible after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, in which our own government was complicit. At a time when people seem to be looking inwards and isolationism and nationalism are rampant, I’m pleased that Michael Rakowitz has been given a prominent stage for the next couple of years to hopefully encourage us to look up, widen our horizons and give people the opportunity to reflect on just one small repercussion of what is termed the ‘fog of war’.
I look forward to discussing it with people in the future and see what visitors to London make of Trafalgar Square’s latest adornment.
Set inside the original canal side warehouses that housed it, The Ragged School Museum in East London is a tranche of Victorian life, offering an insight in to what the school day offered for the poor children of the east end.
The Ragged school, and others like it were the work of a man whose name will be familiar to most of us; Thomas Barnardo.
Barnardo arrived in London from his native Dublin in 1866 to train as a doctor, with the aim of travelling to China as a missionary. Rather like Thomas Coram and his Foundling Hospital just over a hundred years earlier, Barnardo was appalled with the poverty, disease and overcrowding endured by many in east end slums, not to mention the non existent educational opportunities for children.
Before he’d finished his training, Barnardo realised that instead of travelling overseas, the plight of those much closer to home deserved his attention and set about setting up his first ‘Ragged School’ in 1867. The term ‘ragged’ referred to the appearance of the children that attended.
In 1877, Barnardo opened the Copperfield Road Free School (where the museum resides today), providing just under 400 children a day with free schooling and food, and 2,500 children for Sunday school each week.
The building was saved from demolition in the 1980s and turned in to a museum complete with Victorian classroom, a domestic kitchen and exhibition space giving a wider context to east London life throughout the ages.
Some 16,000 school children still pass through the Ragged School’s doors each year to learn what life was like for their Victorian counterparts 140 years ago.
The Ragged School Museum is open every Wednesday and Thursday between 10am - 5pm and between 2pm – 5pm on the first Sunday of each month. It is free to visit, but donations are obviously welcome.
German born composer, George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759) and American guitarist and all round rock legend, Jimi Hendrix (1942 – 1970) were next door neighbours in London …albeit 200 years apart.
The two musical greats lived at 23 and 25 Brook Street respectively; two Georgian Mayfair houses, which when Handel moved in to No. 25 in 1723 at the age of 38, was brand spanking new. Hendrix and girlfriend Kathy Etchingham occupied a bedroom and had the use of a kitchen at No. 23 Brook Street, between July 1968 and March 1969.
Hendrix’s bedroom has recently been restored from photo shoots that took place in the room and input from Etchingham herself. It can now be visited as a companion piece to Handel’s house next door, where the composer lived and worked.
I decided to visit Handel’s house first, a typical 5 floor Georgian town house. There weren’t many visitors so was able to bend the ear of the incredibly helpful attendant who enthusiastically showed me how Handel’s staircase was widened to allow for his harpsichord to be carried up and down. Hendrix’s staircase however remained unaltered.
I began in Handel’s composition room. He was a pretty speedy composer, and could knock off an entire opera in 40 days, then start another straight afterwards, His Oratorio, ‘Messiah’ was written in just 24 days.
I then headed to the exhibition space (next door) which puts Handel’s life in to a bit of context and explains a bit about the London that Handel would have known and the places he regularly visited. Incidentally, he was very much involved with Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital, another small London museum, well worth a visit. The house on Brook Street was of course close to the theatres around Covent Garden, the developing area of Soho and the Royal family at St James’s Palace. Just like today, Handel had a plethora of coffee houses on his doorstep …and gin palaces.
Handel basically turned his dining room in to a music room and rehearsal space, which the museum use for the same purpose today giving recitals, open rehearsals and even have a current composer in residence.
It is thought that Handel died in his bedroom. The attendant there explained that the bed was short, not because Handel was particularly diminutive, but because people apparently slept sitting up, as it was believed to aid digestion.
I was a massive Hendrix fan when I was a kid and it was obvious from visiting the museum that there are far more fervent Hendrix fans than myself.
The bedroom itself is just that, a room. It is festooned with paraphernalia from the swinging sixties, and the only original item from when Hendrix and Etchingham lived there, is an oval mirror. Still, it’s a faithful recreation and really captures the feel of how it would have been, even if not …the smell.
The room next door is a small museum which as you’d expect charts Hendrix’s journey from a U.S Army paratrooper to session musician for Little Richard (amongst others), a move to London, the formation of the Jimi Hendrix Experience to become what the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame describe as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music” …all within a decade.
Hendrix died in September 1970 (not at this flat) at the age of 27.
Handel and Hendrix in London is a must for music lovers and especially for Jimi Hendrix aficionados visiting London. I couldn’t help but wonder what Jimi would have thought about a flat he rented for a short period in London becoming a shrine to himself, but I think it’s great that both these two very different musicians have not only been able to bridge the gap between their two very different genres, but also the centuries. London, for me, is a city where 2000 years of history constantly rub shoulders, which Handel & Hendrix in London opitimises.
It is fitting also that upon learning that Handel had lived next door, Hendrix went with Kathy Etchingham to the One Stop Record Shop on South Moulton Street and bought Handel’s ‘Messiah’ and ‘Water Music’ on vinyl.
You can find Handel & Hendrix in London at 25 Brook Street, Mayfair, W1K 4HB. It is open Monday to Saturday (11am – 6pm). Last admission 5pm.
As we move in to 2018 and I look forward to seeing who I might meet on walking tours around London this year, I thought I'd just mention a few walks I did and people I met (along with a few familiar faces) towards the end of last year.
Top left is Steve, one of his mates and their 'better halves'. I've done a few walks with Steve and his chums over the years, which has usually involved a number of pub stops. This particular walk was a little more sedate, around the area of Whitehall where they were staying. Top right is Debbie and Ken, visiting from Canada. They are standing beside the Canada Memorial in Green Park, made by Quebec artist Pierre Granche. It commemorates the one million Canadian soldiers who fought alongside the British in both World Wars. The narrow walkway, which divides the memorial points towards the port of Halifax in Nova Scotia, where many of those Canadians began their journey to Europe. The sloping face of the memorial, which trickles with water is embedded with bronze maple leaves. Bottom left is Meredith and Robert outside Liverpool Street station where I dropped them off after a walk around the areas of Spitalfields, Brick Lane and Shoreditch in east London. Bottom right is another group checking out the street art and fascinating history of the same area.
I did a couple of walks with Luke & Lydia (top left). On this photo they area standing by The Monument, built in the 1670s to commemorate the Great Fire of London, 1666. Top right is Jeff & co. standing in St James's Park during our walk around Westminster. Bottom left is Allison and family standing in front of a work by street artist Shok-1. Bottom right is Stephen & Cath standing in the delightful Old Street Underground Station where I dropped them off after our east London wander.
Top left is Ashleigh and her parents in the courtyard of Somerset House on Strand, which over the Christmas period is transformed in to an ice skating rink. Top right is Timothy & Jaime outside Buckingham Palace during our tour of Westminster sights. Bottom left is Olly and family, plus Jim from Texas with the iconic dome of St Paul's cathedral behind them. They requested a 'Fire of London' tour so we began at Pudding Lane where the fire broke out and roughly followed its path of destruction, finishing at St Paul's cathedral. Bottom right is Debi and a whole bunch of students from Buffalo and Singapore on Columbia Road for the Sunday flower market. I think it was the fourth year in a row I've done a walk with Debi and her students.
If you're visiting London in 2018 and would like to do a private walking tour with me, please get in touch. I'd be happy to show you around.
Lock & Co is the oldest hatters in the world. They’ve been based in the St James’s area of Westminster since 1676 and not surprisingly for a shop that is is over 340 years old, have had an eclectic array of customers.
In the early 1800s Lock & Co made Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson’s signature ‘bicorne’ hats and in September 1805, before sailing for Spain, Nelson settled his bill. This was fortunate for Lock & Co, because after the battle of Trafalgar, Nelson no longer required any hats and was in no position to settle any outstanding debts.
In 1849, the St James’s Street hatters made a small round hat for nobleman Edward Coke’s (pronounced ‘Cook’) gamekeepers, which although officially called ‘the Coke’ became better known as ‘the Bowler’.
In more recent history Lock & Co received Royal Warrants, currently providing hats for both HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and HRH The Prince of Wales. Since the 1990s they have had a ladies floor and provided many of the hats and fascinators seen at the Royal Wedding in 2011. As another Royal Wedding (Harry & Megan) was announced today (to take place in Spring 2018), Lock & Co will no doubt find their services in demand once again.
Lock and Co are also quite understandably proud of the fact that they once received a postcard, simply addressed to ‘the best hat shop in London’.
If you enter Lock & Co, you’ll discover in their back room, framed on the walls, little templates of some very famous heads. In 1852, a machine called a ‘conformateur’ was invented in Paris, which although resembling a torture device, actually accurately measures a person’s head. The contraption is placed on a customer’s head, and a series of pins mark the contours of the head, creating a miniature template 1/6 of the actual size. It is mostly used for hard hats and people wishing to resize an existing hat, as the template can then be placed in to an adjustable block and by moving the pins, be used to reverse the process and recreate the circumference of the customer’s head. If the hard hat is heated, and the block placed inside the rim, it will them mould itself to the exact shape of the head. To get a better idea, watch this video showing how the ‘conformateur’ works’.
What you can see framed here, are these little 1/6 sized head templates, all signed by the customer. Below are just a few examples.
This photo includes Henry Winkler, Michael Palin, Kenneth Branagh and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery.
Here we have Charles Chaplin, Donald Sinden, Freddie Fox and Hugh Bonneville.
And finally, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Nicolas Cage, Jackie Onassis, Lord Lucan, Cecil Beaton and David Walliams.
In short, if you've ever wondered what shape head some celebrity, politician or Royal had or has, then pop along to Lock & Co and you might find out.
As you wander around London, you’ll notice that a white coloured stone is prevalent. It’s called Portland Stone. After the Great Fire of 1666, and realising that building things out of wood wasn’t such a hot idea (pun intended), Christopher Wren used 6 million tonnes of the stuff whilst rebuilding the City. He rebuilt 51 of the 87 churches that burned, with the mighty St Paul’s cathedral being the most famous; a good example of Wren’s use of Portland Stone, which is a particular favourite amongst architects apparently due to its versatility. More recent examples include BBC Broadcasting House, Green Park Underground station, the CitizenM Hotel and the British Museum.
Portland Stone comes, not surprisingly from Portland on the south coast of England, in Dorset, known as the Jurassic Coast due to the amount of fossils found there from the ‘Jurassic Age’ which occurred 199.6million – 145.5 million years ago. A unique feature therefore of Portland Stone is the sheer number of fossils found within it. I’ve heard it said that occasionally as the buildings weather, fossils appear. Whether this is true or not I have no idea. What is certain though, is that I’ve noticed in recent years that a particular type of Portland limestone called ‘Bowers Roach’ is being used on facades and cladding, with the very visible fossils utilised as a decorative feature; a very effective one at that. I love that fact that people walk around London every day passing 150 million year-old fossils, and they have no idea.
As an example, the below photo is of a bench I often sit on to have my lunch on Saturdays. As you can see, it’s positively festooned with fossils.
The photo at the top shows fossils on the New London Stock Exchange building, Paternoster Square. I’m not an aficionado on fossils (as with anything), but the very prominent cone shaped fossils, known as the ‘Portland Screw’ are officially Gastropods ( Aptyxiella Portlandila). Looks like it might have numerous Bivalves (Liostrea Expansa) too, otherwise known as Oysters.
If you fancy yourself as an urban geologist, whilst you’re out and about fossil hunting in London, keep your eyes open for Pecten (Camptonectes Lamellosus) or Scallop Shells, Mussels (Mytilus Suprajurensis) or Ammonites (Titanites Anguiformes) to name but a few. If you happen to be passing through Euston Station, check out their funky benches, which as the Londonist pointed out, must surely be the oldest benches in London.
If you’d like to find out a bit more about Portland Stone, then have a look at Albion Stone’s website, one of the main providers of Portland Stone, including the examples given above.
I haven't written about any of my private walks since March, so thought I'd mention a handful from each of the last three months. Just to re-iterate ... on weekends I often do regular 'pay what you want' group walks, and for the rest of the time I offer private tours around London, for individuals, couples, families, friends and work events. They're all a bit different and depends on what those specific people would like to get out of the walk. If you're visiting London and thinking about taking a private tour, then the photos below might give you a bit of an idea of the sorts of things I do, and you'll know whether I'm the guide for you ... or not as the case may be.
Each year I do a walk with a bunch of students (and their professor) from a University in Buffalo (New York). We often explore around East London and stop off at Columbia Road Flower Market (top left). The Clinton family (top right) did what I call a 'London Extravaganza Tour' which basically means we spent the whole day together (up to 8 hours) and made sure they saw all the sights and loads of other stuff en route. They're standing outside St Paul's cathedral. Another annual excursion I do is for a group of ladies (bottom left) from the States who come to Europe to run the Paris Marathon. A couple of days later they get the Eurostar to King's Cross (where I meet them) and then give them a half day introduction to London, around Westminster. Bottom right is Erin & Frank from New York on the Millennium Bridge looking wistfully away in to the distance. Their walk included Borough and Bankside, just south of the Thames. It's an interesting area that includes the Tate Modern, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, Southwark cathedral, Borough Market and the historic George Inn ... amongst others.
Above left is Lindsey and her parents standing in front of a large section of Roman wall (near to the Tower of London) which dates back to AD200. Centre is John and Kim who did two half day walks with me. They're standing in Trafalgar Square, with the National Gallery behind them. Pictured right, is Todd and co. from Canada who although happy to see some sights and learn about London, really wanted to sit in some pubs and have a few pints ... as you can see.
I've done a few walks with Lynne and her colleagues. On this one, we explored around Soho, Piccadilly and St James's. They're hanging out (above left) in Soho Square. Centre is Ed and co. having had a nice lunch on the terrace outside Gordon's Wine Bar near Embankment. Right is Margarita and her family from the Philippines, with the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields behind them.
Meg & Mike were on their honeymoon. I met them in their Piccadilly hotel and after showing them around Westminster, left them to enjoy some Prosecco in Victoria Embankment Gardens. Melody and family (top right) can be seen standing outside the old Tudor gate of St James's Palace, built for Henry VIII in 1536. Peter, who had been on one of my weekend walks ages ago contacted me about doing a pub crawl with some of his colleagues. I met them at Temple Station and we basically popped in and out of pubs around Fleet Street. I took their photo in The Old Bell Tavern, by St Bride's Church. Bottom right was a Hen Doo I did around Soho and involved a stop off at a cocktail bar. All the ladies present were mostly very well behaved, for which I was very grateful.
For the last few years I've done walks for an organisation based on Gray's Inn Road. This particular walk took in Lincoln's Inn, Strand and finished up on the Southbank. You can see them (top left) in the courtyard of Somerset House. Top right is Phil and his assorted family members outside Westminster Abbey as part of a half day tour around the sights of Westminster, which includes Buckingham Palace, Big Ben & Houses of Parliament, Horse Guards, Downing Street and loads more. Bottom left is Cynthia and friends by Temple Bar, the only surviving City gate (albeit in a different place from where it started). Bottom right is Nancy and her family having a well earned lunch after a morning together spent giving the kids a bit of a London introduction.
So there you have it. If you're visiting London and looking for a private tour guide to show you around, please do get in touch.
Since I began Bowl Of Chalk London walking tours five and a half years ago I have continued to offer three set walks each weekend which operate on a 'pay what you want' basis. Each walk generally lasts about 2.5 / 3 hours. They are as follows:
Saturday morning - Trafalgar Square to St Paul's cathedral.
This walk begins in the tourist hot spot of Trafalgar Square, taking in the square itself, Nelson's Column and the National Gallery building. Although we don't venture around the 'sights' of Westminster, Big Ben is visible at the bottom of Whitehall. After visiting the statue of Charles I next to the official centre of London, we have of late, passed Benjamin Franklin's House, threaded our way through Victoria Embankment Gardens and up in to the bustling Covent Garden and St Paul's, the Actors' church. From here we make our way around Aldwych, passing the church of St Clement Danes and the Royal Courts of Justice, in to the City of London via Fleet Street. We usually veer off through the maze of alleyways that brings us to Dr Johnson's House, the famous statue of his beloved cat, Hodge and past the famous Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub. Back on Fleet Street, we pass the church of St Bride's, and up towards St Paul's cathedral.
Saturday Afternoon - St Paul's to Monument (via Bankside & Borough)
This walk begins by St Paul's cathedral, through the churchyard and on to the Millennium Bridge, taking us over the River Thames towards the Tate Modern on the south side. Here we pass by Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, the site of the original Elizabethan Theatre which opened on Bankside in 1599, and along to the usually heaving Borough Market. We usually pop in to the 17th century George Inn on Borough High Street before heading up on to London Bridge, which offers a great view of the iconic Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and the H.M.S Belfast before finishing at the Monument, commemorating the Great Fire of London, 1666.
Sunday - East London
The Sunday walk is very street art heavy, but does include historical elements. We often begin near Old Street, including Bunhill Fields Cemetery, where the likes of Daniel Defoe, William Blake and John Bunyan are buried. We pass the Wesleyan Chapel on City Road before heading in towards Shoreditch, which although is now a plethora of cafes, boutique shops and clubs, was in the 19th century, the centre of London's furniture trade. We usually stop off at Arnold Circus, the UK's first ever council estate, then bypassing the incredibly busy Brick Lane make our way towards Spitalfields with its fascinating Huguenot, Jewish and Bangladeshi heritage. Obviously the street art changes pretty regularly, but I tend (as with all my tours) to talk about things that interest me, and street art is no different. I'll undoubtedly point out and talk about Banksy, Ben Wilson (the chewing gum man), Christiaan Nagel, Bambi, Roa, Jimmy C and Thierry Noir ... amongst others.
If you're in London one weekend and think that one of these walks might appeal (or fit in with your schedule) then please send me a message via the contact form. You won't actually know where we're meeting until I send you all the details confirming the walk and how many places you'd like to book. I do this so I can keep an eye on numbers. Please don't try just turning up. You'll see from the photos that it could be just you, two people, four, eight or more. Unless someone books loads of people at once, it probably won't be that big a group.
Please check the dates on the website homepage to make sure the walk you'd like to join is running, as although it is pretty continuous, there are occasional changes.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.