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.
My posts of late seem to have become rather church-centric. It's perhaps not that surprising, considering the sheer number of fascinating churches in London, so today, by way of a refreshing change in form, I shall mention a mosque. I noticed on my east end walk last Sunday, that I have started using the word 'anomaly' quite a lot to describe things when I'm talking to groups. Mainly because London is positively brimming with anomalies, so aside from purely liking the sound of the word, it also regularly encapsulates exactly what I'm trying to explain. This mosque I'm about to tell you about, fits incredibly snugly in to the 'anomaly' category. It's called the Brick Lane Jamme Masjid, and you'll find it on the corner of Brick Lane and Fournier Street, right in the heart of Spitalfields.
As you can see, I managed to pick the one clement day we've had so far this year to take the photos. So, if you're familiar with the east end, you'll perhaps know that historically, Spitalfields has a long association with various immigrant populations that have settled in London, spanning centuries. The building which houses the Jamme Masjid is a Grade II listed English Heritage site and has catered for the religious needs of pretty much every wave of immigrants that have passed through the area, currently serving the largest concentration of Bangladeshi Muslims in the country.
The buildings first incarnation was way back in 1743 as a Protestant Chapel, when it was known as the 'Neuve Eglise' (New Church) for the Huguenot's who began arriving in the late 1600's, to escape persecution in France. In 1809 it became an Evangelical chapel promoting Christianity amongst the Jews, which evidently had limited success, as ten years later it became a Methodist Chapel. Then, in the last couple of years of the 19th century it became a Synagogue and remained so until the Jewish population of Spitalfields, many of whom had arrived from eastern Europe, began migrating to north London after the Second World War. This coincided with an influx of predominantly Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh and east India and the building which had closed, re-opened as a mosque at the end of the 1970s.
For this reason, and rather unusually for a mosque in the UK, the Jamme Masjid has a Latin inscription written above a sundial which adorns the south facing wall on Fournier Street. It reads 'Umbra Sumus' (We Are Shadows) which in itself, considering the populations that have lived in the area, and particularly with the wealth of the City of London literally eating away at the much poorer borough of Tower Hamlets (I'm thinking of Norman Foster's intrusive office building that in its construction, recently demolished half of the old Victorian Spitalfields Market) is quite poignant.
As well as being a place of worship, the mosque promotes educational activities for local Muslim youngsters, and has four classrooms used by the Evening School for teaching children to study the Quran and Islamic studies. The many Muslims who worship here also seem to be proud of their mosque's unique history and work hard with English Heritage to maintain the building's historical elements, whilst ensuring it meets 21st century technological standards and their own religious and educational needs.
Now hopefully, you can see now why I might use the word 'anomaly' to describe this particular building. It also pretty much single-handedly manages to encapsulate the rich immigrant history of the area in one fell swoop.
This weekend, the groups were small, but each one a minor delight to wander around and chat about London with.
On Saturday afternoon, I met Ben and Jess for the St Paul's to the Monument walk and almost forgot to take a photo of them, which would have been a double shame, seeing as I've just had my camera fixed after it broke on a walk a couple of weeks ago. Here they standing by the Monument, which is, as I have undoubtedly mentioned before, a Monument to the Great Fire of London, a rather horrific fire which burned down most of the medieval City of London in 1666.
I admit, that in the photo, it just looks like Ben and Jess are standing in the middle of a building site, which unfortunately, at the moment is kind of true. As with much of the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire, the Monument is largely the work of Christopher Wren. It stands 202 feet tall, the distance from the bakery on Pudding Lane where the fire began. Daniel Defoe described the top of the structure as having a "handsome gilt flame like that of a candle." It also happens to be the tallest isolated stone column in the world, and as such, for the small fee of £3, you can climb the 311 steps to a public viewing gallery, and enjoy a rather splendid view of London.
There was no snow this Sunday for the My neck of the Woods east end walk, and I was joined by Mandy, Richey and Dylan. Mandy, who was on her second Bowl Of Chalk walk, writes a blog called 'emm in London' which is well worth a read anyway, but last year, she wrote a rather nice and detailed account of the Saturday afternoon walk she did with me entitled '9 Things I learned on a Bowl Of Chalk'.
Here they are standing in front of one of street artist Stik's large scale stick figures. You'll find this particular one on Great Eastern Street. Mandy is quite a fan of the various street artists whose work you find daubed around the walls and buildings of east London, and if memory serves me correctly, Stik is her fourth favourite. Might be wrong about that though.
Shortly after this, Dylan spotted a quite incredible bike, locked to a lamp post, which was so big (the bike, not the lamp post) that at first I didn't even notice it was a bike. I'm now quite intrigued to see the person who owns it, riding it around London.
Anyway, at the end of the walk, Richey suggested going for a curry at one of his favourite curry houses on Brick Lane ... so we did.
Most surprised - Jess
Best moustache - No winners
Best beard - Richey
Most American - Dylan
Most amount of flat caps on one walk - Sunday
Veteran Bowl Of Chalker - Mandy
Most 'Avid' - Ben
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.