On Saturday morning I had the pleasure of meeting Victor and Arancha from Spain. It turned out that after a few cancellations, it was just the two of them for the walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's cathedral. It was Victor's first ever visit to London so in a way was quite nice they got to have their own private tour. Here they are outside Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, having just passed by Dr Johnson's House.
In the afternoon, Viv, Sue and Karen came along for the St Paul's to Monument walk. I've mentioned a guy called Ben Wilson before, who paints on to discarded pieces of chewing gum and we found him on the Millennium Bridge, where he is currently painting a series of tiny previously masticated pictures. Funnily enough, I had spoken to him the previous day and he said that he has about 60 miniature works of art on the bridge at the moment. Here he is at work, and also a view of St Paul's cathedral with people walking across the bridge, painted on to a bit of squished chewing gum.
Having crossed the river, we then made our way along Bankside to Borough Market, where I took the below photo of Saturday afternoon's walkers.
For Sunday's east London walk there was a rather larger contingent, bolstered by a group of friends from Coventry, Flora and Andras from Hungary, Samantha from New York, and Erin and Susan from Australia. It was in fact, Erin's third walk with me, so she is a veritable Bowl Of Chalk veteran. Here they all are in Shoreditch, standing in front of street artist Eine's 'Scary' bridge on Rivington Street.
Most Spanish - Victor & Arancha
Best moustache - No winners
Smallest - Samantha
Most Londony - Viv & Sue
Most flowery name - Flora
There are arguably three people with a London connection, that have had the most significant impact on the English language and literature, and I have discovered (through doing my London walks) that often (but not always) people have certainly heard of two of them. The mention of William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens are universally met with nods of agreement and understanding, but the name Samuel Johnson, an 18th century writer, poet, essayist and lexicographer (amongst other things) is often met with blank looks.
Most Saturday mornings, we wander past a museum called Dr Johnson's House, that can be found by exploring the alleys off Fleet Street and it was here in 1755 that Samuel Johnson (and a small number of assistants) completed a monumental task; they had compiled the first ever definitive English dictionary.
I recently finished reading a book by Henry Hitchings called 'Dr Johnson's Dictionary - The extraordinary Story of the Book that Defined the World' and it dawned on me that although I frequently mention Samuel Johnson and of course the museum that bears his name, I'd never actually written anything about it here. So ... I'm rectifying that.
As with many of these posts; the man himself, his life, his achievement and the manner in which it occurred is far too rich, colourful and complicated to do justice here, so I shall be reasonably brief and instead, use these words to direct you towards the museum, and perhaps spark your own interest in finding out more about Johnson, the dictionary and perhaps even lead you to paying a visit to Dr Johnson's House.
Johnson was born in Lichfield in 1709 and arrived in London in 1737, finding work as a writer and editor of numerous magazines. He is known to have lived in 17 different places in London, and moved to Gough Square upon being commissioned to undertake the dictionary assignment; a task he thought would take three years, but actually took nine. I had always thought this to be a significant chunk of time, until I discovered that the French equivalent took fifty five years ... it had been compiled by committee.
I think it was felt that there was a need for such a book, not only to cement and solidify unruly spellings and grammar, but to almost package the English language as a commodity that could spread across the world and anchor this rather small country of ours and its place within the far larger picture. In a way, it was a precursor to imperialism and a way of laying the foundations for what was to become the British Empire.
Dr Johnson's House on Gough Square is an independently run museum, dedicated to Johnson and his remarkable dictionary, which was gradually pieced together in the attic of the very house the museum now occupies. The house itself is the only surviving building from the original Gough Square, built at the end of the 17th century. Johnson moved out in 1759 and the building had various uses and tenants including a hotel and a printers workshop and studios. By the early 20th century the house was in quite a sorry state and during the Blitz became a social club for the Auxillary Firemen. Despite considerable bomb damage in the area and 17 Gough Square itself, being hit ... it has survived.
The house today is open to the public with lots of Johnson related material, a research library and boasting many of the building's original features. Aside from the permanent collections which include prints and drawings from a number of Johnson's contemporaries, they organise events and exhibitions. On Wednesday 27th November, they will be having an evening of readings from contemporary authors including Man Booker Prize Winner Julian Barnes, in the garret room where the dictionary was compiled.
So, if you do pay Dr Johnson's House a visit, make sure you see the famous statue of the great man's cat Hodge, 'A very fine cat indeed', and if you want to immerse yourself fully in the whole experience, pop in to Johnson's local pub, Ye Old Cheshire Cheese, which is just around the corner and was rebuilt the year after the Great Fire of London in 1667.
Dr Johnson's House - 17 Gough Square, London, EC4A 3DE
We were a day late for Sir Paul McCartney's impromptu-ish gig in Covent Garden, but there were still the usual street performers, musicians and general hub-bub as we passed through on our way from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's cathedral. There were 8 in the group, including Jane and Peter who'd previously joined my Sunday walk, and also Jean and Andy who were using one of the Bowl Of Chalk Christmas vouchers from last year. Here they all are standing on the Strand outside the Royal Courts of Justice, with Temple Bar just behind them.
Temple Bar of course, used to be one of the City gates and can now be found next to St Paul's cathedral.
In the afternoon there were a few more people who were back for their second walk with me. Cordula and CJ brought with them Klaus and Ute over from Germany, and Archie, who had also done the Sunday walk previously brought along Phoebe from the States. They were all joined by Dean and Maria, and here they are standing on the Millennium Bridge in the Shadows of the Tate Modern, with the dome of St Paul's cathedral in the distance behind them.
Now ... as we were nearing the end of the walk, we passed over London Bridge and I mentioned the fact that the second London Bridge (we're on the third) was bought by an American called Robert P. McCullough, who had it shipped back home and rebuilt over Lake Havasu in Arizona. This fact usually ignites the question as to whether Mr McCullough thought he was buying Tower Bridge and in fact bought the wrong bridge, something that Londoner's would like to think is true. Saturday was no exception and a short while later, we finished the walk and after everyone except Phoebe and Archie had left, Phoebe said she had something to tell me, which was, that Robert P. McCullough was her Great Uncle.
On Sunday, there were just three people to join me on the wander around east London; Nancy from L.A and Niki and Gabriella, originally from Arkansas. Here they are standing in front of one of the few remaining and still visible Banksy's in east London, which is nestling inside the beer garden of Cargo. The artist himself has been in the news a great deal recently, due to his self imposed 'residency' on the streets of New York.
Best hat - Klaus
A BIG joint award for coming on their 2nd walk - Jane, Peter, Cordula, CJ & Archie
Most likely to have a Great Uncle who bought London Bridge - Phoebe
Best moustache - No Winners
Most camouflaged bag - Nancy
Most likely to take photographs - Dan
Despite the rather unpleasant weather that was forecast for this weekend, we were spared on Saturday and it turned out to be a reasonably nice day, as days go. I began the weekend with a group of 6, for the walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's cathedral. We soon came across a gathering of people around the statue of Edith Cavell, which is opposite the entrance to the National Portrait Gallery, next to Charing Cross Road.
It soon became evident why they were there. If you haven't heard of Edith Cavell before, I shall briefly explain. She was a British nurse, who, during WWI, cared for, treated and saved the lives of soldiers from all sides, without distinction. She is quoted as saying "I realise that patriotism isn't enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone". On October 12th 1915 she was executed by a German firing squad for assisting 200 Allied soldiers to escape from German occupied Belgium. So, as you can see, it was the anniversary of her death. In case you're interested, the statue was made by George Frampton and I discovered a short British Pathé film of it being hoisted in to place in 1920.
The group consisted of Vishal & Afroza from Australia, Adam & Veronica from the States and Bernie & Liz from Ireland. Here they are at the end of the walk outside St Paul's cathedral.
The afternoon walk was slightly different from every other walk I've done, mainly on account of the fact that we didn't do a walk as such. It was the first EVER Bowl Of Chalk 'Treasure Hunt'. It was for the birthday of Richard, and after meeting at Liverpool Street station, the intrepid explorers split in to three teams and set off, following clues around Spitalfields, Bricklane, Shoreditch and Hoxton and ended in a pub in Old Street. Here they all are, prior to setting off.
On Sunday, it rained pretty much non stop all day, but amazingly it didn't put off Vishal & Afroza (who'd been on the morning walk the previous day) and Meagan from the States. Here they are on Whitby Street in east London.
Double Whammy-ers - Vishal & Afroza
Birthday Boy - Richard (Del)
Best hat - Meagan
Youngest - Lucian
Treasure Hunt Winners - 'Stella Street'
I've visited the Barbican Centre many times and and got lost wandering the surrounding residential housing estates, but until last week I'd never set foot inside one of the City of London's few remaining medieval churches, which stands like a little island in the midst of a vast sea of brutalist architecture; St Giles' Cripplegate.
Officially, the church should be known as St Giles 'without' Cripplegate, as it originally stood just outside the city walls (churches inside the wall, being known as 'within') and one of the original six Roman gates, Cripplegate, which gave access out to the village of Islington and surrounding countryside. (The seventh gate, Moorgate was a 15th century addition). The name Cripplegate is sometimes said to refer to the cripples who used to gather outside the gate for alms, but is more unanimously understood to derive from the Anglo-Saxon word 'crepel', meaning a covered way or underground passage, which lead from the gate to the Barbican, a fortified watch tower built in to the city wall. The name Barbican is of course used for the area today.
A church has stood on the site for a thousand years, but not without incident. It survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, but was badly damaged in a fire in 1897. The biggest change occurred during the Blitz in World War II when the entire ward of Cripplegate was utterly destroyed. The church suffered a direct hit in the summer of 1940 and was then gutted by incendiary bombs at the end of that year, leaving a shell consisting of the outside walls, tower and some structural supports inside.
The church has some famous connections. John Milton, who wrote (or dictated) 'Paradise Lost' nearby, was buried in the church. Daniel Defoe, probably most famous for writing 'Robinson Crusoe' was born nearby. Oliver Cromwell was married in the church in 1620 and John Bunyan is said to have visited occasionally. You will find references and monuments to them all, and many others inside the church.
The most arresting thing for me upon visiting, was a small display of photographs, showing the area after the bombing of World War II. I think it's easy to forget just how much of London was turned to rubble, and if you imagine that the current Barbican Estate and the arts centre cover a 40 acre site, it was all a largely residential area that was eradicated by German bombs. The Barbican Estate (built between 1965 - 1976), currently houses about 4,000 residents, but after WWII it was apparently just 48. Now, as I have mentioned, the church stands in the middle of high rise buildings, walkways, schools and a world famous arts centre, but in the photos below, St Giles is as much of an island, but standing in the middle of a huge, bombed out wasteland.
When you step out of the church today, you are greeted by a quite different view from the one the people above would have experienced.
Aside from my regular weekend 'pay what you want' walks around London, I also do 'private walks' during the week, which take in many different areas of London, based upon what people would like to see, or their interests. Here are some of the people I showed around London in September.
So, beginning with the top left photo, we have Tom and Jill, who were over from Australia to visit Angela. They're standing next to the memorial to Admiral Arthur Phillip on Watling Street in the City of London. He's not someone particularly familiar with Londoners, although he was born in 1738 on nearby Bread Street, but is (I imagine) familiar with all Australian's as he became the first Governor of New South Wales, and founded the settlement, which is known today as Sydney. The top right photo shows Nicole, Syd and Jill enjoying coffee and cakes in the Vintage Emporium, just of Brick Lane in east London. The bottom left photo is of Chris and Ryan on a rainy day, having just had a pint in a pub in Westminster. Bottom right was a belated birthday walk for Andrew, organised by his friend John.
Above we have (starting from the left), the Black family from the States standing next to the statue of Abraham Lincoln just by Parliament Square. In the centre, Alvin, Karen and Michael from the Philippines in Trafalgar Square and on the right, Vince and Lara in front of the Jewel Tower just opposite the Houses of Parliament. The Jewel Tower is one of only two surviving parts from the medieval palace of Westminster that burned down in 1834. Built around 1365, it was known as the 'King's Privy Wardrobe' and effectively was a massive safe, as it originally housed King Edward III's bling.
Finally, we have Deborah and co. from the States just outside Westminster Abbey, Angela & Lin from Canada standing in the rather lovely Whitehall Gardens and on the right, Tom, Teresa and Melissa from Texas overlooking the Thames.
If you're planning a trip to London and fancy doing a 'private walk' around London, let me know, as I'd love to show you around.
You don't really expect to find a Tudor mansion nestling amongst the suburbs and council estates of Tottenham, but there is one, and it's called the Bruce Castle Museum. There has been a house on the site since medieval times and in 1514, it became the property of William Compton, who held the position of 'groom of the bed chamber' to Henry VIII. This meant he had the dubious honour of assisting the King with going to the toilet, amongst other things.
Much of the house was rebuilt in the 17th century, but a curious Tudor hangover still survives to this day, a round tower situated just to the left of the main house as you enter. The exact use for the tower is not known, but one of theories is that it was a 'hawks mews' a place to rear birds for hunting and was made using local clay, at a time when the whole surrounding area would have been open space, something that is hard to imagine when you visit today.
In 1626 the house was owned by Hugh Hare, 1st Lord Coleraine, a man who suffered an unfortunate death in 1667 by choking on a turkey bone. His son, Henry Hare took over the building with his wife Constantia Lucy, whose death at the mansion is shrouded in mystery and is said to haunt Bruce Castle to this day. It was Henry Hare, who in the 1680's was responsible for the drastic re-modelling of the house, much of which survives to this day.
In 1827, Bruce Castle was bought by the Hill family who turned it in to a progressive private boarding school, adding an extra wing to house the school. Unusually for the time, Rowland Hill and his brother Arthur (who were joint headmasters) did not approve of corporal punishment to discipline their students. Rowland Hill is now remembered, not for his school, but for inventing the Penny Black postage stamp and the postal system which occurred later, when he left to join the Post Office.
The school closed in 1891 and was sold to Tottenham Urban District Council. The grounds became the first public park in the area, and the building, Tottenham's first public museum, which opened in 1906.
Bruce Castle is now a Grade I listed building and houses a small local history museum, the London Borough of Haringey archives, permanent and temporary exhibitions and a small cafe. It perhaps doesn't boast the splendour of a National Trust property, but never-the-less is a wonderful historical gem that has somehow survived through so much change and development in the area, and is also free to look around. If you do visit, you might like to nip across to All Hallow's church behind Bruce Castle. It was first founded in 1150 and the earliest parts of the current church date from the early 14th century.
Bruce Castle Museum is open Wed - Sun (1pm - 5pm), Lordship Lane, London, N17 8NU.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.