May is almost upon us, so I thought I'd share with you a few of the Private weekday walks I've done for people in April, all very different, but equally enjoyable.
East London walk
First up is father and son duo, Paul and Sam who came on an exploration of east London. Paul was pretty familiar with London (they live near Basingstoke), so wanted to see an area he hadn't visited. It's true, Shoreditch, Hoxton, Spitalfields and Old Street isn't necessarily on every tourists 'must see' list of things to do on their visit to London, but it's brimming with history, fascinating characters and a healthy dose of street art which for me is now as much a part of the fabric of the area as anything else. Here they are standing in front of street artist Eine's 'Scary' bridge on Rivington Street.
All Day London Extravaganza
I met Lindsay and her mum at their hotel in St James's, Piccadilly and we set off through the sleet and the snow for what I call an 'all day extravaganza'. I started by introducing them to the area around their hotel which is full of shops that have for centuries provided all sorts of goods to the Royal family, including Fortum and Mason, Lock & Co, Paxton & Whitfield and Floris to name but a few, then passed by Buckingham Palace on a way to Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. During the day, and despite the weather they saw loads of London, and we even took the underground, popping out by the Tower of London and worked our way back through the City to finish at St Paul's cathedral. Here they are outside the Houses of Parliament.
City of London - Churches
One rather wet Friday morning I did a special City of London churches walk for Peter and his family. As the City and its churches were rebuilt after the 'great' fire of 1666, it made sense to me to start at Monument, where the fire began. The first church to burn down, St Margaret on Fish Street Hill is now where the Monument stands, so the first church we visited was St Magnus Martyr and I think in one morning, we managed to visit or pass by ten churches, which wasn't bad for one morning, including All Hallows by the Tower, Samuel Pepys church, St Olave's and St Stephen Walbrook. Here they are standing in the ruins of St Dunstan in the east.
The City, Bankside & Southwark
On a slightly more clement day, I met a group which included a tiny three month old baby and a dog called Hendricks by St Paul's cathedral, starting at Temple Bar gate and took them over to Bankside, home of Elizabethan theatre, where the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre currently stands and explored the area just south of London Bridge. Here they all are outside Borough Market.
East London - Evening post-work wander
Last Friday, Andrew who had come on one of my Saturday morning walks had asked if I'd do a walk around east London for him and his colleagues. We obviously made sure there was a pub stop and I deposited them back at Spitalfields in time for dinner. Here they are standing in front of Australian street artist Jimmy C's portrait of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, which arrived in good time for last years Olympics.
If you are interested in booking a 'Private Walk' around London, whether it be just for you, your family or with colleagues, then please let me know via the Contact Form and we'll see what we can do.
The City of London, the area in the heart of London, known as the 'square mile' has about 200 gardens, churchyards and open spaces for you to enjoy, and on a day like today (it's actually sunny) they make great little quiet enclaves away from the hustle and bustle of City life. St Mary Aldermanbury garden is one such miniature haven you might like to visit, just a short walk down Wood Lane from St Peter Cheap and just a few seconds from the Clockmakers' Museum.
Both the name, and the layout of the garden still evoke the church that once stood on the site. It was burned during the Great Fire of 1666, rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, and again succumbed to bombing during the Blitz in 1940, leaving only the outer walls remaining. It languished in this state of disrepair until 1966, when it was taken down brick by brick and re-erected in a place called Fulton. If you haven't heard of Fulton, then you might be surprised to learn, that it's actually in Missouri, USA. the church is still there today, and stands as a memorial to Winston Churchill's 'Iron Curtain' speech he made at the college there, Westminster College, in 1946.
Back to London, and you may also be forgiven for wondering why a bust of William Shakespeare presides over the garden, so far from his regular stomping grounds of Bankside or Shoreditch, but it serves as a memorial to the two actors, Henry Condell and John Heminge (there are various spellings of his surname), who after Shakespeare's death in 1616 were instrumental in collating and printing what became the first folio of Shakespeare's works. Both men lived in the parish and were buried at the church.
So, if you're in the vicinity today, what a pleasant place to sit and have your lunch whilst contemplating your strange connection with the USA and a playwright who celebrated his 449th birthday yesterday.
When I read the proposed route for Margaret Thatcher's funeral procession the other week, I wasn't sure whether I should feel honoured or slightly miffed, that they'd blatantly used my Saturday morning walk as its basis, heading from Westminster, down the Strand and along Fleet Street to St Paul's. We pass by the church of St Clement Danes along the way, as did Maggie, who was transferred there from the hearse on to the gun carriage before continuing the journey. Here are Saturday mornings group standing on the Strand, just outside Twinings Tea shop, with the church behind them and the Royal Courts of Justice to the right.
St Clement Danes was very badly damaged during the Blitz in WWII and rebuilt courtesy of the Royal Air Force, who made the church their spiritual home. Members of the RAF still have funeral services and memorials there to this day, and is why it's sometimes referred to as the RAF church. Incidentally, it was a truly international group on Saturday morning, hailing from Finland, India, Portugal, Russia, Holland, I think Kuwait too and a solitary English person just for good measure.
For the afternoon walk beginning at St Paul's, I was joined by the Harris family. Aside from an interest in photographing helicopters, Russell (the dad) was keen to see the replica of Francis Drake's Tudor ship, the Golden Hinde which you'll find down in Borough in the shadow of Southwark Cathedral.
Incidentally, Ant (second from the left) has recently helped set up a great social enterprise through the charity Depaul UK called the Depaul Box Co. It's a simple, but excellent concept, whereby, if you are moving house and need boxes, which let's face it, you probably will, then you can buy them from the Depaul Box Co and all the profits go towards their homeless charity, helping young people who are homeless, vulnerable and disadvantaged.
Sunday saw the arrival of a bumper group (that's what a bit of sun does) mostly all actually living in London, but with a strong Irish contingent and a couple visiting from Australia. I was talking to them about an Italian guy called Vincenzo Lunardi who made the first hydrogen balloon flight in 1784, from the Artillery ground in Old Street and Alison (from Australia) informed me that one of her ancestors, called Robert Cocking and an early developer of the parachute, holds the dubious distinction of being the first ever person to be killed in a parachuting accident, which happened in 1837.
That's them just before descending on an already busy Columbia Road flower market. Anyway ... thanks very much to everyone who came on walks this weekend.
Most broken toes - Jenny
Most smartly dressed - Pedro
Least likely to have changed from the night before - Anna
Best moustache - No winners
Tallest - Marijn & Anna (joint winners)
Repeat Bowl Of Chalkers - Jennifer and Ant
Tomorrow morning, Margaret Thatcher will make her final journey from Westminster, down the Strand and along Fleet Street to St Paul's cathedral, where her funeral service will take place; no doubt amidst much media coverage and discussion, whereby the differing opinions surrounding her life and death which have evidently divided the nation, will be broadcast, repeated and written about in equal measure. I have no interest in adding to this, but thought I'd take the opportunity to mention another building of worship, aside from St Paul's, that played a part in Baroness Thatcher's life, albeit it, in very different circumstances.
If you head from St Paul's cathedral, out past Moorgate and up the City Road towards Old Street, you will pass by a Methodist Chapel, called Wesley's Chapel, and it was here, in 1951 that Margaret Thatcher, then aged 26, married the millionaire divorcee, Denis Thatcher. It was also, where her two children, Mark and Carol Thatcher were Christened and the Communion rail that surrounds the altar was given to the chapel by Thatcher herself.
Perhaps Margaret Thatcher's association with Methodism is unimportant, but what strikes me as being slightly more pertinent is perhaps the effect of watching her father, Alf Roberts, who when Margaret was a young girl, was a famed preacher in the Lincolnshire Methodist circuit. When Margaret went to Oxford University, she joined the Wesley Memorial Chapel there and became a lay preacher, later using her skills for rhetoric and public speaking on a political platform rather than religious.
We pass by the building on my Sunday east London walk, and aside from its minor relevance to the events taking place tomorrow, is an interesting building and place to visit in its own right.
John Wesley (1703-1791), whose statue stands in the courtyard is considered (along with his brother Charles) as being the founder of Methodism. The first Methodist chapel operated out of an old cannon foundry just behind the present site, and the current building, completed in 1778 by George Dance the Younger under the instructions of Wesley, was what the preacher described as 'perfectly neat, but not fine'. Aside from visiting the chapel itself, which has undergone numerous alterations over the years, there is a museum down in the crypt (currently closed for refurbishment until the end of May) which tells the history of Methodism from Wesley until the present day, and you can also visit John Wesley's house, on the right of the courtyard as you enter, a fine example of a Georgian town house.
Wesley was what was known as a circuit preacher, so he would spend most of the year riding around the country on horse back, preaching to various different communities dotted around the country. He would only stay here over the winter months, but the house was also occupied by numerous other preachers and servants. If you're interested in London curiosities, then amongst other things, you might like the chair that Wesley had made especially, which replicated the sensation of being on a horse, to ensure the muscles in his legs, important for horse riding, didn't dwindle.
If you do visit Wesley's Chapel and even if, whilst you're there, you don't need the toilet, I'd recommend visiting the gentlemen's toilets (even if you're a lady) as they are original Thomas Crapper's, still in perfect working order after being first installed in the late 19th century. Crapper's name might be familiar to you, as he is often attributed with inventing the flushing toilet. In actual fact, he was a plumber, who gained his first Royal Warrant in the 1880's and facilitated the whole process rather than inventing it, as is often said. I particularly like the hand pulls, which come complete with the simple instructions 'pull and let go'.
I began this ostensibly, to mention a clock at the well known department store on Piccadilly, called Fortnum and Mason, which I dare say you've heard of, or if not, the name might certainly ring a bell. It's not the grand clock which adorns the outside facade, added in 1964, with little statues of Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason that come out every hour to see what's going on, but a rather grand musical clock that sits close to the lifts inside, in the midst of the quite amazing confectionery section on the ground floor. It looks rather like this.
I then decided it might be a good opportunity to mention Fortnum and Mason in a bit more detail, so basically, until recently, there was a sign next to the above clock saying that if you wanted to hear it play its tune, you had to ask a member of staff to start it for you, but now, there is a slot in which you can place a 50 pence piece, and you can hear the clock for yourself. I was only reminded about it because last week I took some people to Fortnum and Mason on a walk, and evidently, someone had done just that, so I heard it for the first time. The clock incidentally was made in Leipzig, Germany in 1898.
So, Fortnum and Mason, as you might have guessed, was started by two people; Hugh Mason and William Fortnum. Mason ran a small shop in nearby St James's and had a spare room at his house which became occupied by William Fortnum, who happened to be Queen Anne's footman. A perk of the job was that as the Queen insisted on only having brand new candles each evening, Fortnum was allowed to keep the old ones, which he of course sold on for profit. Fortnum and Mason then started their own joint business on the back of the candle selling enterprise and opened their own shop in 1707. This also explains why you see numerous candle related motifs around the shop.
The history of the shop is so rich and so varied with close ties to various Monarchs and periods of history, that I won't mention everything, but by the mid 1700's their close links with the British East India Company ensured they could get their hands on all those exotic spices and of course teas infiltrating from India, making them (in their own words) a 'unique emporium for goods sold precisely nowhere else'.
During the Napoleonic wars in the early 1800's Fortnum and Mason goods helped feed the troops and by the middle of that century were pioneers of the trend for ready to eat luxury foods and apparently invented the scotch egg. In 1855 Queen Victoria had a huge consignment of beef tea sent to Miss Florence Nightingale, embroiled in the Crimea War and ships for the Crimea were so laden with Fortnum and Mason goods that officers begged them to remove their labels to stop the inevitable pilfering.
In 1886 a young American entrepreneur called Henry Heinz turned up with five cases of his tinned food and Fortnum and Mason became the first shop in the UK to sell Heinz Baked Beans ... a luxury at the time.
Many pioneering expeditions have been achieved on the back of Fortnum and Mason, although could have quite easily been their undoing. The 1922 Everest expedition kicked off with 60 tins of quail in foie gras and 4 dozen bottles of champagne, and probably for the best, Tensing Norgay was horrified for the 1933 attempt to discover that most of their Fortnum and Mason provision had been kept by customs officials.
The shop continued through the obvious difficulties presented during the 20th century and in the 1920's added new departments to include ladies' fashions, children's clothes, kitchenware and perfumes. They're still there today, and not surprisingly have held numerous Royal Warrants dating back 150 years, so if you head down to Piccadilly, why not pop in, and if you have a spare 50 pence, you can listen to the musical clock just by the confectionery section ... amongst other things.
It took just over three months, but this weekend, the sun (actually) came out for pretty much the first time this year. Having said that, it was still pretty cold on Saturday morning when I met Stefanie and Lea from Germany for the walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's, but was still nice to feel a few rays of sunshine. Here they are standing next to one of the old Routemaster buses.
I think I've mentioned the Routemasters before, so just in case you don't know, they're the old iconic 'hop on, hop off' buses that have been ferrying people around London for over 50 years. Only parts of two routes, the No.9 and the No.15 still operate Routemaster buses, having been phased out a few years back. Something which Stefanie mentioned, and is quite true, is that if you pick up the No.15 near Trafalgar Square, it takes you down Fleet Street, passed St Paul's cathedral, and finishes up by the Tower of London, so doubles up as a bit of a sight-seeing bus too.
Although they perhaps regretted it by the end of the day (due to the cold, and perhaps hanging around with me for too long), Stefanie and Lea stayed for the afternoon walk and were joined by Carys, Philip and Julie, who all came from London, from the confusingly named Southgate in north London. Here they are outside a sun-kissed St Paul's cathedral.
We headed over to Bankside, the area on the opposite side of the Thames from St Paul's cathedral; home to the Tate Modern art gallery, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and much more besides. The Tate Modern was originally a power station called Bankside Power Station and was completed in 1963. The large imposing chimney is 325ft (99m) tall and was designed to deliberately be shorter than St Paul's cathedral on the opposite bank, which was very thoughtful. Anyway, Philip and Julie told us that they had their first ever date back in the 1980's at a disco that was taking place in the old Power Station, before it was converted in to the art gallery. I love hearing little stories like that.
On Sunday, I met Doyle and Gary from America for the east end walk, and again, it was a wonderful clement day, which meant that Columbia Road flower market was in full swing by the time we got there. Here they are on Brick Lane, which on Sundays is utterly transformed from the rest of the week, full of markets and people. They're standing outside the Jamme Masjid Mosque, which I have written about previously and completely encapsulates the immigrant history of the area in one fell swoop.
So thanks to all who came on a walk with me this weekend.
Most hardy 'double whammy' Germans - Stefanie & Lea
Most American - Gary & Doyle
Best moustache - No winners
Most camera knowledge - Julie
Most likely to be good at Scrabble - Philip
Unofficial, official clown - Carys
A few weeks ago I was doing my regular Sunday east end walk and was chatting with one of the walkers about life, careers and wot not, as we often do. He told me that he fancied a bit of a career change and was going to start by volunteering for the Samaritans. As people in the UK will certainly know, the Samaritans is a UK based charity and telephone helpline for people feeling suicidal, offering the opportunity to talk to someone about their feelings and concerns with the aim of obviously stopping them from committing suicide. The Samaritans have something like 20,665 volunteers and receive a call every 6 seconds. I asked this particular guy on my walk whether he'd ever heard of the church of St Stephen Walbrook and a man called Chad Varah. He hadn't, so for this reason I'll mention it here as both are the reason why the Samaritans exist; what Chad Varah called the '999 for the suicidal'.
St Stephen Walbrook is a Wren church that you can find in the City of London next to Mansion House and Bank station, close to what was once one of London's (now lost) rivers, the Walbrook, but is currently slap bang next to a massive building site. In 1953, a guy called Chad Varah became vicar of St Stephen's. He'd been working in and around London for sometime and had been wanting to offer a service for people in distress or who were contemplating suicide, but he hadn't found the time or right opportunity. This desire had been born many years earlier, when in 1935 and an assistant curate up in Lincoln, Varah had attended the funeral of a 14 year old girl who was buried in unconsecrated ground because she had taken her own life. The reason, Varah discovered, was because she had started to menstruate and not understanding what was happening to her or with anyone she felt she could talk to about it, thought she had a disease. This event set the wheels in motion that would not only effect the rest of Varah's life, but the lives of many others.
It is important to remember, that even at the time Varah became vicar at St Stephen's, suicide was still illegal, and therefore the opportunity to even discuss it was difficult. Armed only with a telephone, an office and his ability to listen, Varah set up his phone line, the number was MAN 9000 (for Mansion House) and on the 2nd November 1953 received his first call. Using his links with journalists (he also wrote and illustrated for children's comics) Varah was able to garner a significant amount of publicity for his new endeavour. In fact, just a month later, it was the Daily Mirror that coined the phrase that became the name that is still used today; 'Telephone Good Samaritans'.
The publicity meant a huge surge in demand, and very quickly, Varah was unable to cope on his own. Fortunately, the same publicity also attracted people wishing to volunteer. Varah discovered that often, those who came to see him for 'face to face' meetings, had no wish to see him because they had poured out all their problems on the volunteers that he had initially only asked to provide tea and coffee and sit with the person whilst waiting for their appointment.
The following year, Varah handed over the running of the Samaritans to the volunteers, but remained an integral part of the organisation as over the following decades it continued to grow and grow. Chad Varah died in 2007, just a few days shy of his 96th birthday, but had unfortunately parted company with the Samaritans in 2004 stating that the organisation no longer adhered to his original principles as an emergency service for the suicidal or equally desperate.
St Stephen Walbrook is a beautiful church in its own right and has a 63-foot high dome, which with its central lantern creates a wonderful light, meaning that the church is much more light and airy than you might expect. The dome is also based on Wren's original design for St Paul's cathedral and the layout of the church now focuses the attention on a massive stone altar created by sculptor Henry Moore. Of course, you will also find in one of the corners, a telephone; the original one used by Chad Varah when he began the Samaritans back in 1953.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.