Last Saturday it rained pretty much for the entire day. This obviously put a few people off coming on a guided walk around London, but there were still a minor handful of hardy souls not to be out done by a few drops of incessant rain. In the morning it was Nigel and Supro from Cheshire and Mubai respectively. Here they standing in Paternoster Square which you can reach by walking through the Temple Bar gateway from St Paul's cathedral. The whole area was redeveloped a few years ago, and the centre piece is a tallish monument. I wanted to take their photo with the monument in the background, because I have seen many people do the same thing. The funny thing about it, is that it is apparently not a monument to anything ... but a glorified air vent, made to be in keeping with the rest of the area.
In the afternoon, Jacqui came along for her third walk with me, thus completing 'The Trilogy'. She was joined by Francoise visiting from France, and off we splashed through the puddles to explore Bankside and Borough. Here they are down on Bankside, just a short walk from the site of the original Globe Theatre and the Clink Prison (now a cheesy museum/experience). I do believe the street was called 'Dead Man's Walk' in Shakespeare's day.
For Sundays east London walk, it was a super group, a mega group, a veritable gaggle of people, largely bolstered by quite a number of students from Israel. The students are over here doing internships for a month or so, and actually, I did a similar walk with last year's lot. This year they were joined by their organiser Judy, who along with her husband Brian, had come to see what it was all about. I was delighted to see Shane and Penny again, who came on one of the Saturday walks a year ago, and then some newbies, Yvonne, Andy, Ann and Mike. Here are the whole bally lot of them in Hoxton Square.
Also, it didn't rain once on Sunday. Hurrah.
Most French - Francoise
Special award for completing the Bowl Of Chalk Trilogy - Jacqui
Most likely to know a thing or two about windows - Andy & Mike
Most like to know a thing or two about bikes - Shane
Most Israeli people ever in one group - Sunday
If you fancy escaping central London for a day, and heading somewhere a bit more leafy, then I can heartily recommend Richmond in west London. You can even take a boat all the way there if you like, and if you do venture out that way, then I can also recommend taking a wander down the Thames and stopping off at Ham House, a magnificent 17th Century mansion and National Trust property.
Ham House was built in 1610, but was leased to a courtier called William Murray by Charles I, as a gift in 1626. What did Murray do to receive such a splendid gift? Well, he’d probably earned it, as William Murray had the misfortune (or fortune, depending on how you look at it) of being the young Charles’s ‘whipping boy’. A whipping boy, in case you are unfamiliar with the term, was a young boy who was chosen to be schooled alongside a Prince (in this case Charles) and receive any punishment, meant for the future King, each time he misbehaved. It all seems a little unfair, but that’s how things were.
The two men became life long friends, and Murray set about renovating and decorating his new abode. Unfortunately, his enjoyment of his rather grand home was reasonably short lived, as Civil War broke out resulting in King Charles I having his head chopped off. No doubt Murray was thankful that Oliver Cromwell did not apply the ‘whipping boy’ protocol to the execution, but as a devout Royalist, found it necessary to leave the country. Murray’s daughter Elizabeth managed to keep the house away from Republican hands and no doubt breathed a huge sigh of relief in 1660 when Charles II was restored to the throne and all was well again with the wealthier echelons of English society. Her father unfortunately, did not live to see the restoration. However, Elizabeth wasted no time in returning Ham House to a place of entertainment and extravagance for all who moved in Whitehall circles and was rewarded by the restored King for her support during his exile with a rather handsome annual pension. Her first husband, Sir Lionel Tollemache died and Elizabeth married again, this time the Duke of Lauderdale, John Maitland.
Together, they transformed Ham House in to one of the finest Stuart houses in England and after Elizabeth’s death, the house was passed down through the children from her first marriage until it was passed to the National Trust in 1948.
That is a rather brief, whirlwind-esque appraisal of Ham House’s history, but if you have even the slightest interest in Stuart England, then it’ll give you a brilliant insight in to the life and times of 17th century courtiers.
The house itself is stunning. From the moment you step in to the aptly named Great Hall you really feel like you’ve rewound the clock 400 years. The equally aptly named Great Staircase, is just that and from then on you can loose yourself amongst the ornately decorated rooms, the furniture and textiles, wander down the Long Gallery and myriad of other assorted rooms and stroll around the gardens. The original walled kitchen garden still provides all the produce served up in the café.
The other thing I like about Ham House, is that you get a real sense of the ‘upstairs, downstairs’ life of the place, and can scour the kitchen and pantry and find out what life was like for those who served and worked behind the scenes to keep the whole place going. Whilst ‘upstairs’ you are guided through the secret passage ways, doors and staircases that pass discreetly between walls so that servants could move around the house completely unseen, popping out to collect plates or refill glasses with minimum interruption … as if they were ghosts.
Talking of ghosts, Ham House is also reputed to be haunted, by non other than Elizabeth herself and perhaps not too surprising for a Stuart mansion, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
So, if you’re in Richmond, why not pay Ham House a visit.
I wrote a while ago about the fact that an estimated 2.5 million people visit the Tower of London each year, but very few of those pop in to the fascinating church of All Hallows by the Tower situated (as the name suggests) right by the Tower. Last week I began a walk at St Katharine Docks, an area just a hop and a skip east of the Tower, but very probably as equally neglected by those checking out the Crown Jewels or the place where Anne Boleyn got her head chopped off.
St Katharine Docks doesn't offer quite the same majestic abundance of history as its more illustrious neighbour, but it is certainly a quiet little enclave and a calming haven away from the hustle and bustle of the Tower, that is definitely worth checking out.
St Katharine Docks was opened in 1828, after Parliament decided that some extra provision was needed to cope with the escalating growth of trade pouring in to London from the Thames. As such, it became the closest docks to the City of London and was designed and built by the engineer Thomas Telford and architect Philip Hardwick.
The whole area takes it name from a 12th century hospital and also a church which stood on the site and St Katharine is first recorded as being used to describe this particular docklands area during the Elizabethan period. By the 19th century when plans were afoot to build St Katharine Docks, the area was a slum. However, this was not going to inhibit the creation of a much needed resource and 1,250 houses were torn down and their inhabitants turfed out without compensation. Completion of the dock was remarkably quick. The author and London historian George Walter Thornbury noted in his book 'Old and New London: a Narrative of its History, its People and its Places' (first published in 1872) that it was "a Herculean bit of work, performed with a speed and a vigour unusual even to English enterprise".
This small but perfectly formed dock proved to be a great success. The vast warehouses which had been deliberately built right up against the water so that goods could be hauled straight from the boats and thus avoiding the attentions of thieves, took in cargoes such as sugar, rum, tea, wool, spices, perfumes, ivory, marble wine and brandy from all over the world. It is said that during the Victorian period you could expect to see the place crawling with turtles, as turtle soup was at this time, a bit of a delicacy.
As ships evolved from sails to steam, the docks struggled to cope with the larger vessels and larger cargoes. The fact that there was a lack of railway access and bomb devastation during the Blitz all conspired against this once busy docklands area and it limped on until closing for good in 1969.
Today, St Katharine Docks is still under the watchful eye of Tower Bridge, and retains many of its original features and warehouses, but has been turned in to a playground for those who have yachts. It is surrounded by a host of chain restaurants and often during the week is festooned with pop up food stalls serving lunches to those who work in the vicinity. Never-the-less, it's a lovely area to have a wander and on a pleasant day, you can pretend you're on the French Riviera, if you so wish.
August is upon us and my first walk of the month was with the Weinstein family from Israel. Here they are outside the church of St Dunstan in the West on Fleet Street, not to be confused with St Dunstan in the East, which has become, with a little help from bombing during the Blitz, a walled garden. In case you are in any doubt of the proximity of the church to Fleet Street (two words that were for decades a byword for the newspaper industry), the wall adjoining the churchyard is emblazoned with old newspaper titles. The statue behind them is of Elizabeth I, which I mentioned a bit ago in a post about London statues and their stories.
In the afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting Gurudhan and Jennie from the States. I had the feeling they might be nice, as it had been suggested they come on a walk with me by their friend Dylan (also very nice) who had joined the east London walk earlier in the year and taken a few photos along the way. As they were the only two that had booked, we ended up doing a completely different impromptu walk that began at St Katharine Docks near to the Tower of London, then worked our way through the City of London to St Paul's ... and back again. Here they are standing by Tower Bridge, having just passed through Dead Man's Hole.
The walk can't have gone too badly, as they decided to come back for the Sunday east London walk, joining a group of eight people ... sorry nine people if you include five month old Arya. Here they all are standing on Curtain Road, which featured on a piece I posted ages ago, with 'then and now' photos of Shoreditch. The 'then' photo of Curtain Road was taken in 1900, when it was the hub of London's furniture trade.
Youngest - Arya
Tallest - Petra
Best laces (on footware) - Anja
Best Moustache - No winners
Best beard - Gurudhan
There seems to be an infinite number of books about London, which is only fitting for a city that is a bottomless pit of intrigue, history and possibilities. On my regular wanders around the city I have realised that I often talk about books that I have read and equally regularly, people make a note of the title or the author to look up when they get home. Sometimes people ask me for recommendations of books they should read, and as I have an ever burgeoning shelf of London based books, it suddenly occurred to me today, that I would write about them, whenever the mood takes me. I have decided to start with the most recent book I have read, and you never know, if the fad persists, then they will probably end up cataloged to the right of this page, under the title 'London Books'. These are not intended to be reviews, but merely bringing books that I have enjoyed to the attention of others.
So, the first book I shall mention is called 'NECROPOLIS - London and its dead' by Catharine Arnold. It is the first book by Catharine Arnold that I have read, but with other books relating to London and its crime and punishment, its vices and its mad, it'd be a safe bet to say that she is very probably drawn to the darker side of London's history ... of which there is a great deal.
As is illustrated each time a significant building project is undertaken, like the current Walbrook Discovery Programme in the City of London, the capital is built on layer upon layer of history going back 2000 years or more. 'NECROPOLIS - London and its dead' works in much the same way, but as the title suggests, concentrates solely on how the inhabitants of London have dealt with death and their dead. If you imagine the book as an archeological site, we start from the bottom with pagan burials, the Romans and plague epidemics and work our way up, through to the out of town Victorian cemeteries, body snatchers and what could almost be described as a fashion for mourning with Queen Victoria, who the author describes as 'the presiding genius of mourning' leading the way quite emphatically. This period, with the rise of the undertaker and etiquette surrounding funerals as a business is probably the most fleshed out section (no pun intended), and it's perhaps not surprising seeing that in her introduction, the author says that the idea for the book began by a plan to write solely about Highgate Cemetery. We continue burrowing upwards, contemplating the impact of the First World War and the annihilation of an entire generation of young men, not to mention the subsequent outbreak of Spanish Flu (of which I knew nothing) which killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. The Second World War obviously plays a significant role in the book and as we near the surface, we gather momentum, ending with the outpouring of grief that resulted in the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. One of the things you realise by reading the book is how even death (much like the deceased own lives), has been segregated and governed over the years, either by faith or social class, wealth and poverty. Like a full stop to end the whole journey, Catherine Arnold uses the London bombings of 2005 as a way of illustrating how present day London is a multi-cultural city, reflected in the deaths of the fifty-two known victims who belonged to all manner of faiths, and as she says as a final note ... 'there are many different ways to say goodbye'.
I have given a very brief and somewhat unsatisfactory encapsulation of this book, but in a nutshell ... if you have no interest in London and its dead, then I don't imagine you'll read this book. If however, you like wandering through London's cemeteries, or have even a mild fascination in London and its hidden plague pits or the numerous diseases that Londoners have had to contend with over the centuries, or read stories in newspapers about guys doing building work and finding hundreds of bodies and it sparks your intrigue, then you might like it.
I did a walk the other day, just after I'd finished reading 'NECROPOLIS - London and its dead'. One of the people who came, had been on a walk with me two weeks earlier (before I started reading the book). Funnily enough, she mentioned that her second walk with me was somewhat darker and more macabre in terms of what I talked about. Funny that. Also, by some weird coincidence, just after I'd finished reading the chapter about Victorian undertakers, a man from Thailand contacted me because he was researching an ancestor who had run an undertakers in Hoxton Square in the 1850's and was wondering if I could tell him what was on the site of the building now. He seemed to have done quite a bit of research, so I suggested he might like to read Catharine Arnold's book.
One last thing whilst I'm on the subject ... here's a thing I wrote ages ago about what happens if you go through the secret door in St Bride's crypt.
We've had unusually clement weather over the last few weeks. So much so, that I was forced to purchase a pair of 'emergency shorts'. However, it makes such a difference when the sun shines and I've really enjoyed showing people around London, knowing that the chances of getting rained on have been very slim indeed.
The month was kick started in to action with a work day out, organised by Libby who had been on one of my 'weekend walks' at the beginning of the year. Larissa, Josh and Spencer from the States did a brief sojourn around east London whilst Toni, Patsy, Paul and Lance from Canada did a walk that began in Westminster (you can see them outside Buckingham Palace) and ended by the church of St Mary Le Bow ... the 'Bow bells' in the City of London. These are the famous bells that if you are born within the sound of them are considered to be a Cockney ... a true Londoner. The reason we visited was because although living abroad at the time, Toni's parents travelled back to London, just so that their daughter (Toni) would be born a Cockney. She had never visited. On the last photo, you can see Jesse and Ariel standing on the steps of the Royal Exchange by Bank station. We did an epic ten and a half hour trip around London that began in Marble Arch, ended in Covent Garden and included a visit to the Tower of London.
Mary and her daughter Mary Beth wanted to explore east London, and as Mary Beth was a bit of a music enthusiast, we stopped off at Rough Trade Records along the way. Margo came on two walks. The first through the City of London, starting on Tower Hill, and the second exploring around Southwark and Borough. You can see Margo, Steve, Jerry and Judy sitting in a pub in Borough Market. The last photo is of Lisa and her family from Chicago standing on Horse Guards Parade just by St James's park.
I also spent two days with the Whelan family from Louisiana, which involved a trip to Westminster Abbey, a tour of the Houses of Parliament, a sedate spin on the London Eye and a visit to St Paul's cathedral ... amongst many other things.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.