My weekend of guided walks around London got off to start by checking out German artist, Katharina Fritsch's big blue cock in Trafalgar Square. Unveiled just two days earlier on the permanently redundant but most in the news, fourth plinth, Fritsch's sculpture has not surprisingly been effortlessly filling column inches with double entendres ever since. Without meaning to add to this, I have to say, that it was much bigger than I expected. I think it's good, that despite all our previous attempts to look back at how amazing we are, the battles we have won and the war heroes who made it possible, we still have a bit of a sense of humour, a bit of perspective and that now, we don't perhaps take ourselves quite so seriously. The previous sculpture of a boy on a rocking horse seemed to be another example of this and the current offering is certainly continuing the tradition.
The group of 14 hailed from Dubai, South Africa, New Zealand and the Peak District amongst other places. Mandy was back for her third walk with me and the rest were all first timers. Here they all are in Covent Garden on our way to St Paul's cathedral.
In the afternoon I was delighted that Zayn and Alan were able to come on another walk, a year and a bit after their first one. We had a leisurely meander from St Paul's cathedral over to Bankside, then back across London Bridge to finish at Monument. Here they are standing in front of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, the faithful recreation of an Elizabethan theatre. Its very existence is owed to Sam Wanamaker who unfortunately died shortly before he saw over two decades work come to fruition. I think I've mentioned this before, but even so, I'll mention it again ... in January 2014, the Globe will be opening the only indoor, candle-lit theatre in London, a recreation of a Jacobean theatre. Aside from being an exciting prospect and one which will allow them to perform plays all the year round, it will also mean that the only thatched roof in London, and the only candle-lit theatre will be right next to each other.
On Sunday, seven people joined me for a wander around east London. Martin from Philadelphia, who to all intents and purposes sounded completely American, had, it turned out, actually spent the first eight years of his life in Dalston, just up the road. Katherine was the only fully fledged Londoner in that respect whilst Jennie & Rees were down from Manchester for the weekend. Tobias and Kirsten from Germany have been living in the UK for about 14 years so were quite well versed in all things Londony. Here they all are just by Hoxton Square, with one of street artist Stik's instantly recognisable murals behind them.
Special Award for completing the 'BOC Trilogy' - Mandy
First person to come on two walks & have a completely different name each time - Zayn
Most likely to want to stand in the shade - Sonia, Vijyant & Ananya
Quietest - Josh
Best multi-tasker - Quentin
When visiting London for the first time, it can be a bit tricky knowing what to do, where to go and what to see. However, I imagine that for the vast majority of these people ... if not all, seeing 'Big Ben' is very probably incredibly near to the top of their 'must do' list. It's situated in Westminster and I've discovered recently, that many people (upon seeing Big Ben) are surprised that it's actually attached to another building. The many replica Big Ben's that line the shelves of the mildly rubbish souvenir shops in central London, very much give the false impression that it is a stand alone clock tower.
The second surprise that first time visitors get, is to learn that 'Big Ben' is not in fact the name given to either clock, or the tower (it was renamed last year, the Elizabeth Tower) but the massive hour bell inside. As with most things in London its very existence and indeed the nickname which is known throughout the world comes with a story, a bit of controversy and also a sprinkling of uncertainty.
To rewind the clock (pun intended) a few years, the medieval Palace of Westminster or the Houses of Parliament as it is known was burned down in 1834 (that's another story). The epic rebuilding was undertaken by a guy called Charles Barry and in 1844, it was decided that it might be nice if a rather grand tower and clock were to be added to one end. To make life even more difficult it was also decided that the first stroke of the hour bell should register the time, correct to within 1 second per day and telegraph its performance twice a day to be recorded at the Greenwich Observatory. For this reason, clock makers were understandably reluctant to get involved and it was 10 years before a certain Edmund Becket Denison finally had his design completed.
The bell or bells, were an entirely separate problem and Barry had specified that only a 14 ton hour bell would suffice. No one in Britain had ever cast a bell that large, but Denison (not known for his bell making skills) refused to be outdone and insisted on not only his own design for the great bell, but the recipe for the bell metal. Like the initial contract to design and make the clock, bell founders were not chomping at the bit to bid for the contract. Eventually it was made by John Warner & Sons at Stockton-on-Tees and not only did the bell end up being a whopping 16 tons, but it cracked upon being tested. The task of casting the bell, then fell upon the shoulders of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry and its master bellfounder, George Mears.
It took two weeks to break up the old bell, three furnaces to melt it down and once the mould had been filled with molten metal, took twenty days for it to solidify and cool. Transporting the bell (just shy of 14 tons) to Westminster was a major event. Traffic was stopped and sixteen horses dragged it through the streets which had been decorated and were lined with cheering crowds. It rang for the first time on the 31st May 1859 and it is at this point that the name 'Big Ben' first seeped in to public consciousness. It is said that as Parliament were trying to settle on a suitable name for the bell, Benjamin Hall, a large man, who was affectionately known as 'Big Ben' gave a rather long speech on the subject. At the end, someone shouted out "Why not call it Big Ben and have done with it?". It would appear, the name stuck.
Two months later 'Big Ben' cracked. The cause, is thought to be because Denison had used a hammer more than twice the weight specified by the more qualified George Mears. The bell was out of service for the next three years, a lighter hammer was fitted and the bell turned to present an undamaged section to the hammer, which still gives it the same (apparently) distinctive sound that we can hear today. Denison refused to accept responsibility for the mistake and blamed Mears. The whole saga ended in court ... twice and Denison lost on both occasions.
However, the very famous nickname given to the bell is often disputed. Just the other day, a friend of mine said "So ... Big Ben ... who do you think it's named after?". He believes it was named after the Victorian bare knuckle boxer Ben Caunt, who as a rather large specimen and heavyweight champion, was known as 'Big Ben'.
Don't forget, you can still visit the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, where they offer tours and an insight in to their unique 500 year history.
I know we're already half way through July, but I thought I'd just post a little thing about some of the 'private walks' I did in June. Just in case you're wondering, I do my regular 'pay what you want' walks around London most weekends, but during the week I also do private tours for groups, families, couples, birthdays, work outings and that kind of thing. They're pretty much tailor made to each individual group, so I might meet them at their hotel, or at a station or somewhere-else and we explore London, based on what they want to see or their interests and stuff like that.
It would seem that in June, we spent a bit of time hanging around with the Queen's Guard at St James's Palace and Horse Guards. They're quite easy to hang around with as they tend to stand really, really still. The last photo is of Lisa and her family outside Buckingham Palace. Although you can't see any guards, there was actually hundreds of them passing by on horse back, as we stumbled in to the midst of the dress rehearsal for 'Trooping The Colour', the week before The Queen's official birthday. Since the restoration of King Charles II in 1660, these guys and now girls have been responsible for guarding the Royal palaces.
We did do other things aside from taking photos with guards. I did a couple of walks around east London, which inevitably involves a bit of street art. Shyam was over on business from Canada and staying near Liverpool Street so wanted to explore around that area. You can see him next to Richard Rogers Lloyd's building which was finished in 1986 and was said to look like someone had dropped an oil rig in to the City of London. Despite the modern appearance of the building, the company themselves have a colourful 325 year history which can be traced back to a 17th century coffee house ... called Edward Lloyd's. Nazatul and her family are pictured in Trafalgar Square with Nelson's Column behind them.
The photos below show Penny Bond and her crew from Canada in St James's park and John and Susan on London Bridge. Kim and Ciera are standing by some 17th century waterman's steps, which now stand quite far from the Thames, but once was a gateway from the river to a mansion called York House, which belonged to George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham, who had the steps built ... hence the nearby Villiers Street. Mehul and Neha from the States are relaxing in one of Westminster Abbey's cloisters.
So, as you can see ... we managed to explore quite a bit of London.
I think that this weekend was pretty much the first consistently sunny weekend of walks I've had all year. If not ... then it certainly seems that way. So, for this reason, it was particularly nice to see Guglielmo and Zuzana again, who came on a walk at the beginning of the year, when the weather was rather different ... like this in fact:
This Saturday, they were joined by Anna Maria from Italy, Emre from Turkey, Sonal from Mumbai and Amanda from ... Leatherhead. Here they are next to the statue of Samuel Johnson's cat Hodge, which always provides a good spot for a photo.
By-the-way ... contrary to how the photo looks, Guglielmo is not a member of the SAS, but is sporting some rather funky sunglasses he found along the way.
In the afternoon, Emre did the afternoon walk as well and was joined by Ginni from the States, who had just arrived in London after spending a few days in the Cotswolds. Here they are on London Bridge, often confused with the more iconic Tower Bridge behind it. Funnily enough, the river Thames actually starts in the Cotswolds.
Sundays east London walk saw another 'repeat offender' as I call them, who was Caroline, back for her third walk with me and second jaunt around Old Street, Shoreditch, Hoxton and Spitalfields. Thinking about it, there was another member of the group who was doing their second walk with me, and that was Hendricks ... the dog. Weirdly, his owner Sarah ... had never been before. See if you can work that one out? Anyway ... unfortunately, Hendricks had a scheduled veterinary appointment (due to having a seed stuck down his ear) so had to leave early. Despite this, the rest of us, a group made up of Australians and Brazilians, carried on. Here they are in Bunhill Fields cemetery.
Most ridiculous sunglasses - Guglielmo
Most Brazilian - Rodrigo & Patricia
Most unsuitable coat - Hendricks
Veteran Bowl Of Chalker - Caroline
A special award for putting up with me for an entire day - Emre
There's an area just south of Fleet Street known as Temple and comprises of two Inns of Court; Inner Temple and Middle Temple. During the week, the gates which lead down to the 12th century Temple Church and the maze of alleys buzzing with lawyers are open and you can just nip down and loose yourself amongst the streets and lanes. On weekends, as everyone has gone home, it's a bit trickier, but on Saturday morning, I was just mentioning this fact and a guy who happened to be passing said 'I have a key' and let us in ... which was nice of him. So, below is a photo of the group standing outside the round chapel to Temple Church.
On Saturday afternoons walk from St Paul's cathedral to Monument, we pass through Borough Market, which although now a busy food market (on Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays), has had its ups and downs in its 1000 year history. Paul and Elaine who joined us, actually used to live in the area 20 or so years ago when the market was on a down turn, and the area was used reasonably frequently for film locations. The buildings behind them were used the 'hideout' for two of the gangs in Guy Ritchie's 'Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels'.
On Sunday I squeezed in two walks. The first with Mehul & Neha from the States. They were staying by Leicester Square in London's West End, so we spent a few hours wandering around Westminster, which has a plethora of sights, all within walking distance. I haven't been around that area on a Sunday for ages, and although Westminster Abbey is closed to 'visitors' for services on Sundays, we were able to pop in and see the beautiful cloisters and the quite incredible 13th century Chapter House. Here they are next to one of the cloisters.
In the afternoon, I met Josh, Janet, Robin, Oci and Alexis to explore a quite different area, around Spitalfields and Shoreditch in east London. It gets pretty busy on Sundays with the various markets going on, and we also discovered that the local residents from Arnold Circus, England's first council estate were having a bit of a get together. Here they are on the steps leading up to the centre of Arnold Circus.
Most Brazilian - Daniel
Best hats - Josh & Robin
Most German - Anne
Best footballing injury - Brian
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.