I've mentioned chewing gum artist Ben Wilson on a number of occasions over the last few years. For the uninitiated, Mr. Wilson paints tiny pictures on pieces of chewing gum that people have spat on the floor. He's been making masticated art on London's streets for over a decade, but if you walk over the Millennium Bridge, and look down, you'll be sure to see his handy-work adorning what Londoner's call 'the wobbly bridge'.
On today's east London walk, which has been previously described as a street art walk with a few other bits about London thrown in, we soon discovered that in the last week or so, Ben Wilson, (the chewing gum man) has been on what Gary (one of the walkers) described as a 'chewing gum painting bender'. I'm sure there are more recent additions, but these are the ones that we spotted today around Old street, Shoreditch and Rivington Street.
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.
A few years ago I was standing outside St Paul's cathedral, just next to the statue of Queen Anne. We were coming to the end of my regular Saturday morning walk, and I was busy boring everyone to death with stuff about Christopher Wren, the architect who built it and whatever bits of scintillating information happened to spew forth from my mouth. I looked down and noticed that exactly where I was standing was a bit of chewing gum painted by a guy called Ben Wilson (who I've actually mentioned previously). It looked very much like this:
This particular bit of painted chewing gum has since been stolen (that's right ... stolen), but the artist, Ben Wilson spends a great deal of time painting tiny miniature landscapes (amongst other things) on bits of chewing gum around the capital. There's nothing to give you any idea about scale, so you'll have to take my word for it, that it was approximately the size of a ten pence piece. When I pointed it out to the group I was with, it was very obviously the most interesting thing I'd mentioned in about 3 hours, so ever since, like to include bits of Ben's chewing gum art ... if I find them on my walks. He's been doing it for over ten years, so they now run in to their thousands. Above is a picture of the area where I was standing at the time I saw this particular art work ... it depicts the front of St Paul's cathedral with a black cab driving across the front.
The cathedral seems to be a particular favourite subject of Ben Wilson, and you'll find it rendered perfectly in bits of masticated and well trodden gum on the Millennium Bridge, the pedestrian bridge that joins St Paul's to the Tate Modern ... if you care to look. The Millennium Bridge seems to have become a bit of a pet project for him, and apparently there are now over 400 painted bits of gum on it. You might even encounter Ben himself lying there painting one. I found a nice piece recently which includes the bridge itself with the dome of St Paul's in the background, which is below, plus a few more I found in Old Street and just generally around.
On Saturday morning for the regular guided walk I do from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's cathedral, the group of four were all on their second walk with me. Janet & Mitch from Toronto had done their first walk a year ago, whilst Nick & Selina from Australia had come for the first time, just last weekend. Here they are in Trafalgar Square next to what was once the smallest prison in the UK; a tiny lock up (or drunk tank) secreted within a pillar on the south east corner of the square.
Nick & Selina carried on for the afternoon walk that takes in Bankside & Borough on the south side of the river, thus joining the illustrious group of people that have completed 'The Trilogy' (all 3 weekend walks). Here they are on the Millennium Bridge talking to Ben Wilson (The Chewing Gum Guy) painting a bit of chewing gum on the bridge, and then later towards the end of our day together on London Bridge, with Tower Bridge just visible in the background.
For Sunday's east London walk, the small but perfectly formed group hailed from Norway, Italy, Gloucestershire and even Camberwell in south London. Here they all are at the end of the walk (complete with flowers from Columbia Road flower market) outside one of the Georgian houses on on Wilkes Street in Spitalfields.
Yellowest footware - Viviana
Completing 'The Trilogy' - Nick & Selina
Best moustache - No winners
Most likely to be able to tell a guy's age from his ear hair - Lucy
Keenest answerer of questions - Kat
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
The funny thing about doing my regular weekend guided walks in London is that there's no knowing how much interest there'll be. Last weekend was a great example of this, as on Saturday morning I only had one person booked, but she decided not to come, as it was just her. On Saturday afternoon there were nine people, and on Sunday morning for the east London walk, there were seventeen, which I think was the biggest group of the year so far.
So, here are the Saturday afternoon group at Borough Market, which on Saturdays gets pretty busy with people descending on the 1000 year old food market, which began life on the old London Bridge and has occupied its current site since 1755.
The group on Sunday morning was a truly international affair, including people from Germany, New York, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Italy, South Africa, Boston and even the Lake District and Lichfield. Here they all are on Rivington Street in Shoreditch, which is festooned with artwork by street artists such as Ben Wilson, Banksy, Eine and Christiaan Nagel to name but a few.
However, there's far more to Shoreditch than just street art ... including Elizabethan theatre, Victorian power stations, Columbia Road flower market and of course the intriguing area of Spitalfields.
Talking of Spitalfields ... as I was ... I never actually did my weekend roundup from the previous week. The Sunday walk included Richard whose ancestors had all worked in Spitalfields market from the 1700's right up to his father, just a generation ago. He was able to add some fascinating insights to the walk.
The previous day, Saturday 15th Feb, I was joined by Annie & Peter who were back from Lancashire for their third walk with me, so was lovely to see them again. They were joined by Molly and Paul and I took the below photo just near Covent Garden. If you look closely at the street sign behind them, you might spot the work of French street artist Clet Abraham.
Special Award for completing 'The Trilogy' - Annie & Peter
Surname most likely to make you think of a device that generates an intense beam of monochromatic light by stimulated emission of photons from excited atoms or molecules - Laser (Jasmin)
Tallest - Rob
Best moustache - No winners
Song title for a name - Joeleen
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
Only two walks this weekend, as the people on Saturday morning failed to turn up. Instead, I visited the church of St Clement Danes on the Strand (amongst other things), which I shall undoubtedly write a brief doodah about at some point. So ... in the afternoon, I met Annie, Pete(r) and Jane who were spending a weekend in London, on a minor sojourn down from the north of England ... Lancashire I think.
They were reasonably familiar with London (Annie in fact knew loads of stuff), and had visited Borough Market before, so we just stopped off at the 'German Deli' so that Jane (who is half German) could stock up on some German-esque provisions.
On Sunday, we mixed things up a bit by not only starting at a different time, but in a completely different location. Saturday's walk can't have been too hideous, as Annie, Pete(r) and Jane all returned for a wander around east London, and joined a mighty group of seventeen people. Yes ... seventeen. It was a pretty international group consisting of people from France, Israel, Switzerland, Norway, Scotland, Northern Ireland and even Hackney.
Here they all are just near Shoreditch Station. You can see to the right of the picture, a small section of disused railway line. The current station opened as part of the Overground Line just a couple of years ago, but the original station (which that railway line belonged to), also called Shoreditch Station, opened in 1840, but the name changed to Bishopsgate Station a few years later, to encourage commuters working in the City to use the line. Bishopsgate of course, is the main road that slices straight through the financial centre of the City, down to London Bridge. Interestingly, to the left of the picture, you can see the Broadgate Tower, which was built right on the cusp of the City boundary. It's quite astonishing the stark contrast between the City on one side, with its tall, grand, modern architecture and buildings that ooze wealth ... and the distinct lack of any high rise buildings in Hackney, to the right.
Anyway ... a short while later, we came across a couple of reasonably new pieces of street art by Ben Wilson (I found one of them on a walk last week). I've mentioned Ben Wilson before, as he uses bits of discarded chewing gum as his canvas, quite often painting miniature scenes depicting the view from where the chewing gum was ... discarded. In this case, the chewing gum on the left shows a small street, just off Rivington Street and the back of Shoreditch Town Hall, whilst the one on the right is of the Artwords Bookshop, and people passing in front of it, just a bit further down.
That's pretty much it for this weekend.
The Double Whammy Award for doing two walks in one weekend on consecutive days - Annie, Pete(r) & Jane
Most French - Isabella & Marc
Best moustache - No winners
Best hat - Fiona
Name I couldn't pronounce - Asne (pronounced Ozna)
It snowed for most of the walk on Saturday morning, so as you can imagine, was pretty cold. Still, five people ventured out with me for the walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's, including Keith (from Canada) who came on the east London walk a year ago. He was joined by Natasha and Cerys and also Thomas and Charlyne from France.
They're standing in a little courtyard just off Carter Lane called Wardrobe Place. As you might be able to see from the plaque behind them, it was the site of something called the King's Wardrobe which was destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666. The Wardrobe, originally housed within the Tower of London was where (as the name might suggest) King's kept their clothes, and also armour and treasure. It was moved in 1311 by Edward II to Lombard Street, then later to the site where the group are standing, by Edward III. It's currently a quiet little space populated by a few trees, offices, a hotel and enclosed largely by 18th century houses. If you have ever read any of Samuel Pepys' diary, the name might sound familiar, as 'The Wardrobe' was the generic name given to the surrounding area and one he mentioned quite frequently.
As I mentioned, Keith came on the east London walk previously. One of the first things he said when he met me on Saturday morning was 'I don't suppose we'll see quite so much street art today'. He was quite correct in this assumption, but at the end of the walk, as we were standing outside St Paul's cathedral, I noticed two pieces of painted chewing gum on the floor, that unless I'm mistaken, look suspiciously like the work of Ben Wilson (who I've mentioned before). He's a prolific street artist, who (if you hadn't already guessed) uses pieces of discarded chewing gum as his canvas. The ones we saw outside St Paul's cathedral looked like this:
Sunday was a nice compact group of Vix, Matt, Mary and Helen for the wander around the east end. Here they are at Columbia Road Flower Market, where I seem to quite often take group photos.
After the walk (again, bitterly cold) I noticed that Eine has re-painted his two well known pieces on Ebor Street. In fact, they were so well known, I'd wager that people just call it the 'Anti & Pro' street (I know I do), as it was emblazoned with the words ANTI and PRO. It now looks like this:
He kept one of the 'PRO's' which were on the Tea Building, so it now says PRO TAGONISTS.
Most French - Thomas & Charlyne
Most Canadian - Keith
Most Welsh - Cerys
Best moustache - No Winners
Most likely to have eaten Kendal Mint Cake - Helen
Libby, who came on the first 'My neck of the Woods' Sunday east end walk of 2013, sent me a few photos she took along the way, so I thought I'd share them here. This was the whole group at the end of the walk, by Nicholas Hawksmoor's Christchurch in Spitalfields.
So, the first one, is a rare photo of ... me, perusing one of street artist Ben Wilson's tiny bits of chewing gum art, which as it might suggest, are tiny paintings on bits of chewing gum, stuck to the pavement.
This next one was taken in Bunhill Fields Cemetery, with the buildings of the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) in the background. Despite being right on the cusp of the City, there's 6 acres of open space behind there, which once (as you might have guessed) was an artillery ground back when people were still using bows and arrows, but is now more commonly used as a cricket pitch. The HAC also have the distinction of being the oldest Regiment in the British Army.
The photo below shows an old bank, which a few years ago was a bar / gig venue / art space and much more, partly set up by Bill Drummond of KLF fame, called The Foundry. It's since been closed down and is awaiting development ... no doubt in to a swanky hotel. You can see work by street artists Cityzen Kane, Roa, Eine and Phlegm.
The next photo I really like, and if I had my arty farty hat on might feel inclined to say that it's a wonderful juxtaposition between the block of flats in the background and Sweet Toof and co's sideways clown in the foreground.
Onwards to Columbia Road Flower Market, where of course you are guaranteed to find another strange juxtaposition, which is rather burly Essex blokes shouting about how cheap their pansies are.
And ... if you look carefully, delicate little paper cut outs and their respective shadows painted on to the pavement, the work of Mexican artist Pablo Delgado.
Although pretty newish, that particular one is already quite weathered. It originally depicted a lamp post, from which the light is falling.
So, last but not least, Lucy and Jamie who accompanied Libby on the walk and although Jamie started empty handed, acquired a small olive tree along the way ... as you do.
So thanks very much to Libby for sending her photos. It's always great to see what people have snapped along the way.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.