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.
There were healthy turnouts for all three walks this weekend, starting with Saturday mornings regular wander from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's cathedral. Here are the group in Covent Garden with another St Paul's behind them, otherwise known as the 'Actor's Church'.
Yury, who joined the morning walk was obviously at a bit of a loose end, as he returned in the afternoon to complete a rather mega group, which included Jinglei who was also doing her second walk with me. I took a photo of them just before our brief stop off at Borough Market. Yury obviously likes being on the left hand side of photos.
We kicked off June with an international group (not that they all aren't) hailing from the States, Canada, Germany, India, Italy and exotic Canterbury. Sunday is the east London walk that begins in Old Street, taking in the areas of Shoreditch and Spitalfields. Usually we stop off at Columbia Road Flower market. Look ... the sun was even out.
Most snazzy coat - Syvlie
Best moustache - No winners
Most prolific photographer - Deborah
Special award for being International jet-setters - Corina & Jeff
Last weekend, clement(ish) weather prevailed and there was a reasonably robust turn out for all three walks. James actually booked the Saturday morning walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's cathedral at about 12:15am that morning (or the night before). I received the email whilst driving with my friend Dave in a van back to London from Newbury having seen our friend Adam in Arthur Miller's play 'All My Sons' at the Watermill Theatre, which is very good as it happens and on until the end of the month, should you wish to see it. Anyway ... James directed his mum Rona and two aunts to find me on Saturday morning, although it turned out they had no idea what we were going to do. Luckily for everyone involved, the idea of a walk, guided by myself didn't seem to strike them as too offensive an idea. Either that or they were very polite. James turned up too and they were joined by Renata and Tufan. Here they are in Covent Garden, shortly after passing St Paul's church, sometimes known as the actor's church.
On Saturday afternoon, a group of ten joined me for the walk from St Paul's cathedral over to Bankside. Ever since I started pointing out the plethora of bits of tiny masticated street art on the Millennium Bridge; miniature canvases painted by Ben Wilson (the chewing gum man), the walk has started taking much longer. If you are mildly intrigued, then you can watch a short film about Ben Wilson painting chewing gum on the Millennium Bridge if you like. Here are the group on the south side of Norman Foster's 'wobbly bridge'. As you can see, Johanna there at the front is having a whale of the time, whilst John was keen to show his best side.
Sunday was another pretty big group, which included one of my sisters, Sarah, on her first ever walk ... with me, in an official guided type capacity. I would say they were a pretty international bunch, with a smattering of English and Northern Irish, peppered with Russian, Mexican, German and Australian. Quite often as we wander around east London on Sunday mornings, we stop off at Columbia Road Flower Market, and I've realised that I often take the group photo here before everyone heads off to have a mooch around. This is probably in case they don't come back. On Sunday, they did, and we headed down to Spitalfields where we finished the walk. I recently watched a fascinating programme online about the restoration of the incredible Georgian houses in Spitalfields, which happened in the 1980s, and also one by Dan Cruickshank about the rather eccentric Dennis Severs and his house at 18 Folgate Street, entitled 'The House That Wouldn't Die'.
Tallest - Sam
Best moustache - No winners
Best trainers - Alfonso
Highest visibility jacket - James
Most sisters on one walk - Rona, Alison & Sheila
If you find yourself in Covent Garden, which let's face it, is quite likely if you visit London ... then to the west side of the piazza is the grand entrance to a church. The church is St Paul's and upon closer inspection, you'll discover that there is no discernible way in. The rather large door, set back behind the portico is completely blocked up. The area, instead serves as a daily haunt for circus and street performers.
To understand why, involves unraveling numerous historical threads, right back to when the land was a walled garden, belonging to a Convent in which vegetables were grown for Westminster Abbey. Convent Garden, over time became Covent Garden. When Henry VIII took away land belonging to the church in the 1530's it was given to one of his advisors, John Russell, the Duke of Bedford. Almost 100 years later, the 4th Duke of Bedford decided to use the land to develop an area where the wealthy of London could reside. He enlisted the help of Inigo Jones, who fashioned an Italian style piazza (a complete anomaly in those days) to the west of which would be the church. Not wanting to waste too much money on the church, the Duke of Bedford is said to have asked Inigo Jones to provide something "not much better than a barn", to which the architect replied "Then you shall have the finest barn in England". However, tradition dictates that the Altar be placed at the east end of church, but Inigo went against convention, placing his front door there instead. The church was finally consecrated in 1638 (the first new Anglican church built in London for 100 years), but at the request of the Bishop of London, the door was blocked up, the Altar placed in its rightful place, and to this day, the back door, is the front door.
Access to St Paul's now is through a rather tranquil garden on the other side of the church, far removed from the hustle and bustle of the piazza. At night (and even during the day sometimes) you'll be greeted by an array of twinkling gas lamps, leading you up in to the church. The garden of course, was once a burial ground and in fact, during the fatal year of 1665 when 60,000 Londoners are thought to have died from the plague, the first casualty of that epidemic, was buried there. With that cheery thought you'll enter in to a church, often (and perhaps more frequently than it's actual name) referred to as 'The Actors' Church'. The building is of course slap bang in the middle of the West End or theatre land (as it is often known) and has for centuries been affiliated with actors and those working in the profession. As I have mentioned before, many churches, like St Clement Danes, (further down the Strand towards Fleet Street) have associations with particular groups of people.
The inside of St Paul's was badly damaged by a fire in 1795, but rebuilt to Jones' designs and as you wander around will undoubtedly spot numerous plaques and memorials to actors, playwrights, designers and the like who spent much of their careers entertaining either on the stage or screen. There are many, like Sir Charles Chaplin (above) who will be familiar, and many who will not, but are never-the-less remembered here inside The Actors' Church. At the front left of the church, you can see a model of a theatre, made in the 1920's and used by members of the Actors' Church Union (ACU) to illustrate talks promoting the workplace of actors and theatre staff. The talks were in effect a fundraising effort, to drum up support for a hostel the ACU ran for the children of actors away on tour.
One of the many things I like about London is the fact that you can pretty much always guarantee that there is a reason why streets, pubs and areas have their name. You've just discovered how 'Covent Garden' got its name, but this short post will also shed some light on why you approach the church via 'Inigo Place' and you have 'Bedford Street', 'Bedford Place', 'Bedford Court' and of course 'Russell Street' all in the vicinity. If you stand under the church portico and look out across the piazza, in front of you is the Punch & Judy pub. On the 9th May 1662, diarist Samuel Pepys noted that he saw on the same spot the first performance of an Italian puppet show, now known as 'Punch & Judy'. Also, if there are any fans of the musical 'My Fair Lady' out there, it derived from a play by George Bernard Shaw called 'Pygmalion', the opening of which is set under the very same portico.
St Paul's, the Actors' Church in Covent Garden is of course open for prayer, reflection and services, but they also host a massive amount of events, concerts and theatrical productions throughout the year.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.