London Bridge Alcoves
London Bridge was originally completed in 1209, a huge structure spanning the Thames with 19 arches and festooned with buildings and houses. In the early 1800s, the houses were removed and replaced with 14 niches or alcoves until the whole thing was eventually replaced in 1831 by a new bridge designed by John Rennie. Four of those niches have survived; one on the Courtlands Estate (Richmond), another secreted in Guy’s Hospital, just south of London Bridge and the remaining two can be found occupying sites to the east of Victoria Park in East London (pictured).
These niches were familiar to Charles Dickens when he was a boy, as he would have undoubtedly crossed the bridge to visit his father, incarcerated in the Marshalsea Prison, just to the south. His novel, David Copperfield is regarded as perhaps his most autobiographical, based on his experiences of this time. In fact, the title character, David Copperfield, can be found “lounging … in one of the stone recesses, watching people going by”.
Duke of Wellington’s Horse Block
One of our favourite things, here in England, is to go on about beating the French at battles. Second only to that is then remembering and celebrating those men responsible for winning those battles. Topping that exclusive list is Arthur Wellesley, perhaps better known as the Duke of Wellington, or ‘the Iron Duke’, responsible for defeating Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. Anyway, aside from the expected statues in his honour or streets, buildings, railway stations, bridges all eulogising his wartime efforts, on the aptly named Waterloo Place in Westminster is a smaller, altogether less significant reminder of the man who made Wellington Boots so popular. On either side of the wide street, outside the rather grand looking Athenaeum Club are two sets of stone steps, each bearing a plaque telling us it was ‘erected by the desire of the Duke of Wellington, 1830’. They are horse blocks and quite simply were put there to make it easier for the Iron Duke to get on and off his horse when visiting his favourite club.
In many places, the River Thames used to be far wider than it is now. The gate (pictured) once stood on the banks of the river, but now occupies the north end of Victoria Embankment Gardens, some 450ft from the river. It’s called the York Watergate, a window back in to the early 17th Century when in 1623 George Villiers (1st Duke of Buckingham) bought a large mansion (York House) which had been built in the mid 16th century after the King, Henry VIII had granted land here to the Bishop of York. Villiers set about having a snazzy Watergate built (finished in 1626) giving both him and his visitors access to the river, which of course at that time was a super highway. The land was sold off and developed in the late 17th century, and again in the mid 19th century, meaning that this structure (along with some paintings of it in situ) is the only reminder of a time when the Thames used to creep right up to the steps inside the gate and the land surrounding it, dominated by rather fine mansions.
Philpot Lane mice
On the corner of Eastcheap and Philpot Lane in the City of London is a building, the ground floor of which, is occupied by one of the many generic epidemic coffee shops in London. On the side of the building is a curious little relief sculpture of two mice nibbling on a piece of cheese. It’s minutia like this that are the stuff of urban legend, spawning all sorts of stories as to what they represent and how they came about. The most ubiquitous of these relating to two builders employed in the construction of the building (it was finished in 1862) and that an argument had begun, when one man accused the other of stealing his lunch (which of course included cheese). A fight ensued, resulting in the death of one of the workers, plunging to his death from the building, whereupon it was later discovered that the cheese eating culprits were in fact mice. Whether the mice were added as a memorial or are actually simply a builders mark, might never be known. Either way, they remain one of London’s many curiosities which people pass every day without noticing.
Last Monday (Easter Monday Bank holiday) I didn’t have walk booked in, so just by way of a change, decided to go on a walk; the difference being that I wasn’t planning on saying anything to anyone apart from myself. It was also threatening to be the most clement day of the year. Quite remarkably I’d never been to the Thames Barrier (central London’s flood defence), so struck upon the idea of walking from Tower Bridge to the Thames Barrier along the river Thames; a walk of about 11 miles.
I parked my bike by the Tower of London and headed down past St Katharine Docks, up the stairs by Dead Man’s Hole and across Tower Bridge to the south side of the Thames. The old riverside warehouses, wharfs and docks of Shad Thames have been turned in to flats, apartments, shops and restaurants, but as you wander through you can still very much imagine the area as it was when Charles Dickens described it as “the filthiest, strangest and most extraordinary of the many localities that are hidden in London”. Because the tide was out, the river bed at St Saviour’s Dock was a field of silty mud, much as it was when Bill Sykes fell in to it an died in this very place, in Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’. St Saviour’s Dock marks the place where the River Neckinger (a subterranean river) meets the Thames, dividing the surrounding areas in to Shad Thames and Jacob’s Island. The name ‘Neckinger’ apparently derives from “Devil’s Neckinger” or “Neckerchief”, a reference to the noose used to hang the pirates at the mouth of the dock, an area notorious in the 18th century for moored vessels being attacked and robbed.
Continuing towards Rotherhithe I came across a tableau of bronze statues; an elder gentleman seated on a bench, a woman resting on a spade to his left, their gaze drawn towards a young girl leaning on the riverside wall on which perches a bronze cat. The ensemble is called ‘Dr Salter’s Daydream’ and references Dr Alfred Salter and his wife Ada who towards the end of the Victorian period dedicated their lives to caring for London’s poor through social work or in the case of Dr Salter (an early pioneer of the NHS), free medical care for the poor of Bermondsey. It would seem that their tireless dedication to their chosen cause ultimately cost them their only child Joyce, who died in 1910 of Scarlet Fever.
After passing through narrow walkways that combine modern housing with converted warehouses I found myself in what felt rather like a rural country churchyard. It is in fact what could be called ‘historic Rotherhithe’, dominated by St Mary’s Church. There are a number of beautiful, if not slightly dilapidated Georgian buildings surrounding the church, some of which are obviously being restored. A little café nestled inside the old Watch Tower, it’s customers basking in the sun in the adjoining park. My guess is that the main draw to this particular enclave on the river is The Mayflower, a sure fire hit of a pub with Londoners and tourists a like (assuming they can find it). In 1620 a group of Protestants (known as the Pilgrim Fathers) set sail from Rotherhithe to Plymouth to pick up more passengers before embarking on a journey to the New World. The original mid 16th century pub, which the crew and passengers of The Mayflower would have known had variously been called ‘The Shippe’ and ‘The Spread Eagle’. The name of the famous ship passed to the pub in 1957 after it had been restored following a direct hit from a doodlebug in World War II. I’d never actually been in to The Mayflower, so took the liberty of stopping for a quick drink. I can imagine that American tourists (especially those with ancestors who were aboard the original ship) start salivating upon entering the cramped and atmospheric boozer positively festooned with all sorts of paraphernalia. They even sell American stamps.
After leaving the pub, I immediately found myself outside The Brunel Museum, marking the southern side of the Thames Tunnel. The Brunel’s are quite a famous family, you could perhaps say, an engineering dynasty. Opened in 1843, the Thames Tunnel was the first tunnel to be built underneath a river anywhere in the world. On its first public day of opening, it is said that 50,000 people each paid a penny to walk beneath the river. Three months later, half the population of London had descended the steps to marvel at what was being described as ‘the 8th wonder of the world’. The museum itself with its prominent chimney resides in the Engine House, built by Sir Marc Brunel to house the engines that drove the pumps that in turn kept the Thames Tunnel dry. As well as a permanent exhibition about the construction of the tunnel, there is, as you would expect, much information about Marc Brunel and his son, the extravagantly named, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The Brunel Museum hosts regular concerts, gigs, events, guided walks and trips down in to the tunnel, so keep an eye on their website to see what’s occurring.
Continuing eastwards, the imposing financial structures sprouting out of Canary Wharf dominate the skyline. The site was a hugely important dockland area that was basically obliterated during World War II. If you do happen to find yourself in that area, then you should definitely pop in to the Docklands Museum, which as part of the Museum of London will give you a fascinating insight in to the area before it became a purpose built finance district. Canary Wharf is situated on the north end of an area known as the Isle Of Dogs and due to the huge curve of the river at this point, the imposing array of financial buildings seemed to follow me for most of the remainder of the day, like the eyes of portrait painting following you across a room.
I passed the Surrey Docks farm, one of London’s numerous city farms, built on the site of an 18th century shipyard. Outside in a display case they had a great collection of porcelain and ceramics found on the Thames foreshore next to the farm. This stretch of the river is littered with the occasional remnants of an industrial and shipping past, as well as the odd canon towards Deptford on the site of the old Tudor docks where Sir Francis Drake was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I for circumnavigating the world and stealing lots of loot from the Spanish. I also noticed references to the 17th century diarist and Naval administrator Samuel Pepys and fellow diarist and enthusiastic gardener John Evelyn, remembered in Pepys Park and Evelyn Street.
At this point I had to go off piste through the council blocks of Deptford and what the writer Russell Hoban would have described as ‘low budget drinking clubs’ as a vast swathe of riverside land is being developed or at least turned in to a building site. Before I knew it, I was approaching the throngs of bank holidayers swarming like seagulls around the base of the Cutty Sark. The transition from Deptford to Greenwich was really quite startling, as if someone had flung back a curtain and pushed me in to the midst of what my mother might call ‘Paddy’s Market’, full of ice creams, tourists and Morris Dancers.
Here, I shall end 'Part 1' of this minor stroll along the Thames from Tower Bridge to the Thames Barrier, and resume again, beginning in Greenwich in 'Part 2'.
Over fourteen years ago, when I first arrived in London, I was wandering around exploring (as I still do), and found myself on a strange private road with a church that had an intriguing name. The church was called St Etheldreda's and although I had no idea where in London I was or anything about the church, found myself entering, walking along the small corridor and up the stone steps to the chapel. As I was about to enter, a wedding had evidently just finished and I had to make myself scarce as the newly married couple burst out of the chapel, pursued by a photographer and the congregation.
I've since been back on numerous occasions as like many places in London its intriguing-ness goes further than the name and reveals much about the area, a relic from a by-gone era and a story that begins 700 years ago.
The chapel of St Etheldreda's is the only surviving fragment of the medieval London palace of the Bishops of Ely, which originally encompassed vast grounds. It is apparently the oldest Catholic church in England (although of course hasn't always been Catholic) and one of only two buildings in London, remaining from the reign of Edward I. In fact, a strange London quirk, is that when you walk down Ely Place where the chapel can be found, and the tiny alley leading off that houses Ye Olde Mitre Tavern, you will officially be in Cambridge ... even today.
The first license to build a place of worship dedicated to St Etheldreda was granted back in the 13th Century to John le Francis (Bishop of Ely), and in keeping with church building of the day still featured one chapel built upon another. The palace also included a great hall, evidently a popular place for feasting, as in 1531, Henry VIII and his soon to be 'not' wife Catherine of Aragon attended a feast there that lasted for five days. It was the termination of this particular couple's marriage that had such a devastating effect on the Catholic church and their land, not just in London, but all over the country. The final nail in the coffin was dealt by Elizabeth I when she forced the land (or a great deal of it) to be handed over to a courtier she had the hots for. His name was Sir Christopher Hatton, and you'll notice the name still lingers on today in nearby Hatton Garden, London's jewellery quarter.
In the 17th Century, for a while at least, the chapel was presided over by an Anglican Bishop of Ely named Matthew Wren, perhaps now most famous for getting his nephew Christopher his first ever building commission. Christopher Wren could now easily be regarded as 'the daddy' of modern London, having spent a great deal of his life rebuilding it after the Great Fire of 1666 ... a fire which spared St Etheldreda's.
The upper chapel, although small is perhaps surprisingly more spacious than you might have guessed from outside and is dominated by an abundance of quite remarkable stained glass. The west window (above), created in 1964 is said to be the largest stained glass window in London, covering an area of over 500 square feet. The east window was installed in 1952 to replace the Victorian version destroyed in WWII. During the Victorian period incidentally, which is when the chapel reverted back to its Catholic roots, the surrounding area was a slum, and in fact Bleeding Heart Yard which you can reach by stepping through a secreted door at the far end of Ely Place is mentioned in Charles Dickens' 'Little Dorrit'.
If you do pay a visit, see if you can have a look at the crypt or undercroft, as although it's not known for certain, is thought to date back to the 6th Century. The lower part has rugged 8-feet thick walls, topped by huge darkened timbers, a simple altar, frescoes and a model of how the whole palace would have looked originally. It's perhaps not surprising that local residents took refuge in St Etheldreda's crypt during the bombing raids of WWII. Today however, it's used more frequently for wedding receptions.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is a pub in London that people often ask me about, and in fact, we regularly pass by on the Saturday morning walk. It would appear to be one of those old or historic drinking holes that has managed to wedge itself in to the public consciousness, as it is a name familiar with many visitors, either through guide books or a friend of a friend who suggested they should visit. In my opinion, there are many good reasons for this, and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese's reputation as a place to literally soak in history is well justified.
You can approach 'The Cheese' from a couple of directions, but if you are walking down Fleet Street, you turn off in to Wine Office Court, a narrow alleyway that gets its name from the wine licences that were once granted in a nearby building. Next to the well worn front doorstep to the pub is a sign listing all the monarchs that have reigned since the pub was rebuilt in 1667 (yes, it's the 'new' pub), having burned down during the Great Fire of London the previous year. There's actually been a guest house on the site since 1538, and prior to that it is thought to have been a guest house for the Carmelite monks who in the 13th century occupied much of the area. If you have a look around the surrounding streets, you'll discover, there's a nearby Carmelite Street and also a Whitefriars Street and a small part of the old monastery is hidden, but visible beneath a much newer building on the other side of Fleet Street.
Stepping inside the pub, you'll be plunged in to near darkness, but once your eyes grow accustomed to the light (or lack of it), you'll notice the floor is covered in sawdust. To your left is the old chop room, and to your right, you can enter in to an atmospheric, wood paneled room, that was once the domain of 'gentlemen' only, but is now a cosy bar, complete with a fire place, above which is a painting of a former waiter William Simpson, who began working at 'The Cheese' in 1829. The painting gets passed down through successive landlords and in the photos below, you can see him on the right of each picture gazing down on customers in 1919, and still there today in the same place.
Being careful not to bang your head, you can venture down another couple of floors in to the old cellars, where there is another bar, and depending on how busy the pub gets, they can open up further rooms at the back, and have another couple of floors above which are used mostly for private functions. Perhaps not surprisingly, due to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese's proximity to Fleet Street, the pub has a long line of literary connections, including Samuel Johnson, who compiled his dictionary in the mid 18th century just around the corner in Gough Square (now Dr Johnson's House), Oliver Goldsmith, who lived opposite at No. 6 Wine Office Court, Mark Twain, E.M Forster, Alexander Pope and George Bernard Shaw. Perhaps the most often asserted literary connection is that in Charles Dickens' novel 'A Tale Of Two Cities', Sydney Carton leads Charles Darnay along Fleet Street and 'up a covered way, in to a tavern' and invites him to dine. Although not mentioned by name, it is thought that the scene takes place in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.
The pub is now run by the Sam Smiths brewery and the food they do is what I call 'no nonsense bog standard pub grub', so don't expect too much. It does the trick and to be honest, you'll find that most people go there for the atmosphere, as it's perhaps the nearest you'll get to feeling like you've gone back in time to the 18th century or 19th century if you'd prefer that. Like I suspect many people, the little bar on the right as you go in, is my favourite and as you sit there you can almost sense all the people who have sat, just like you for the last three hundred odd years. It's a great place to while away a few hours on a cold, wintery evening, much like the ones we have now, and much like the ones they had back then.
If you are visiting London, then it's entirely possible (perhaps even inevitable) that you will visit Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and the rather iconic Big Ben, all of which reside in an area called Westminster. Once you have done this, and if you have a bit of spare time, I can highly recommend exploring the streets just west of Parliament.
Moving away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist hot spot of Parliament Square and the centre of government, in just a couple of minutes you'll find yourself in a startlingly quiet enclave of beautiful early 18th century streets. For me, the icing on the cake is Smith Square, developed in the 1720's and dominated by the former church of St John the Evangelist which seems to be bursting out of the meagre space it has been allocated.
Built by architect Thomas Archer between 1713-1728, St John's is today regarded as one of the finest examples of English Baroque architecture going. The building served as a parish church for about 230 years and since the 1960's, St John's has been a concert hall, which still plays host to a plethora of internationally renowned musicians, singers and orchestras all year round.
The building has the rather unusual nickname of 'Queen Anne's footstool', and legend has it that when Archer asked the ailing Queen Anne (she died in 1714) how she would like the new church to look, he caught her in a petulant mood. In response to his question, she kicked over her footstool, pointed at it and said "Like that!". St John's does indeed have four towers (or sticky-uppy bits, as I like to call them) pointing upwards from each corner, giving the building the appearance of an upturned footstool.
Charles Dickens described the church in his novel 'Our Mutual Friend' as "appearing to be some petrified monster, frightful and gigantic on its back with its legs in the air." I'm not sure I'd go that far, but it is certainly striking and domineering.
The church itself has not had an easy ride of it over the years. In 1742 the interior was damaged by fire and thirty one years later it was struck by lighting. In 1815 the towers and roof had to be stabilised, and then in 1941 it was hit and gutted by an incendiary bomb during the Blitz and remained open to the elements for the next twenty years until it got the love and care it deserved to bring it to its current incarnation. Talking of the Blitz (as I was) if you wander down Lord North Street (picture above) see if you can spot the old WWII public shelter signs still visible on the walls, which during the 1940's directed local residents to underground shelters.
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) is one of what I regularly refer to as the 'Big Three' where all things literary are concerned in England, taking in to consideration a prolific output, and also the effect he has had on the English language, whilst solidifying a firm presence in the public consciousness. The other two are William Shakespeare (obviously) and Samuel Johnson, compiler of the first definitive English dictionary, who also bestowed us with the words 'When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life ...' which I either hear or read about on an almost daily basis.
Anyway, back to Charles Dickens. He is a well known London personality and the Victorian era in which he predominantly lived oozes from the pages of his books, as well as highlighting many of the social hardships that people faced at the time. You can go on Dickens themed walks and visit the places that featured in his novels, or where he worked, or indeed lived. Aside from such places, there are also streets, cafes, pubs and buildings that pay homage to either the man himself, his books or the fictional characters he created. Below is a selection of them I have spotted (not including the Charles Dickens Museum on Doughty Street). If you know of any others (and I'm sure there are), feel free to let me know.
Micawber Street in Hackney - The character of Wilkins Micawber from 'David Copperfield' is generally thought to be based upon Charles Dickens' father John Dickens, who like Micawber, was incarcerated in a debtors' prison.
Manette Street in Soho - Dr Alexandre Manette features in 'A Tale of Two Cities', but if you've ever visited Foyles Bookshop, it's right on the corner of Manette Street and Charing Cross road, so the chances are you'd have passed down it.
Betsey Trotwood on Farringdon Road - Another character from Dickens' 1850 novel 'David Copperfield'. This little pub and tiny, tiny gig venue below (which I've played at many times) is named after David Copperfield's great-aunt.
Charles Dickens Coffee House in Covent Garden - We popped in here for a coffee on a walk a few weeks ago, but I'll forgive the proprietors for jumping on the Charles Dickens bandwagon, because it was in this building that Dickens actually had an office, producing the literary magazine 'All The Year Round' in which he first serialised a number of his novels.
The Dickens Inn at St Katharine Docks - Not one of the many pubs which claim Dickens' patronage as it didn't exist then and is a converted warehouse. It was however, opened by his grandson, Cedric Charles Dickens in 1976.
Pickwick House on Ebenezer Street - A double whammy, a veritable Dickens mash up of two novels; 'The Pickwick Papers' and 'A Christmas Carol'. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (or The Pickwick Papers) was Dickens first novel, but quite contentious. He was still writing under his pseudonym Boz, and the book wasn't his idea, but he developed it and made it his own. Originally conceived as illustrations with a bit of explanatory text, Robert Seymour, the originator and illustrator committed suicide after two installments.
Ebenezer Scrooge from 'A Christmas Carol' (1843) has seeped in to the English language as a way of describing someone who is miserly. You'd call them a 'Scrooge' not an 'Ebenezer', just in case you didn't know.
Little Dorritt cafe in Borough - Little Dorritt was another of Dickens' serialised novels (1855-1857) and was published in 19 monthly installments, with a couple of illustrations in each by Phiz (Halbot Knight Browne) who took over from the deceased Robert Seymour for The Pickwick Papers and became a long term collaborator with Dickens.
Pumblechooks Cafe, London E1 - I think these guys took inspiration from the nearby Dickens Inn, as the same guy who owns Pumblechooks also used to run a bar called Chuzzlewits. He may still do, but I couldn't find it. Mr Pumblechook features in 'Great Expectations' and is Joe Gargery's uncle.
And here is Charles Dickens himself, wonderfully rendered on to a door in Wilkes Street (Spitalfields) by the street artist Paul DON Smith.
So, again, if you know of any other Charles Dickens related cafes, streets, pubs or whatever in London that utilise his novels, characters or the author's own name, let me know.
On my Saturday morning walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's, I've often mentioned the Hawks employed by Westminster Council to deter the pesky pigeons, which until a few years ago numbered in their thousands ... probably tens of thousands, mainly on the square itself. I'd never seen this particular form of pest control in action, then, on my way to meet Dan, Liz and Josh who came on Saturday morning's walk, I bumped in to 'Chengeta' and his handler. They looked very much like this:
Quite an impressive specimen, I think you'll agree, and the Hawk looked pretty cool too. The handler told me that he was from Zimbabwe, and in the Shona language of Zimbabwe, Chengeta means 'to take care of', so basically Chengeta the Hawk is taking care of the pigeons in Trafalgar Square. He said I could also call him Harry if I wanted (which I figured the other handlers probably do), and although Harry the Hawk has a nice ring to it, I quite like Chengeta.
The walk on Saturday basically involved lounging around drinking coffee or sitting in a pub, punctuated by a brief stroll through Covent Garden and Fleet Street. Here are the group in the Charles Dickens Coffee House, situated on the ground floor of a building in which Dickens himself had an office and produced a literary magazine entitled 'All The Year Round'.
'All The Year Round' was founded and edited by Dickens and published between 1859 - 1895, and as well as being a platform for many other writers, Dickens used it to serialise his own novels including 'A Tale of Two Cities' and 'Great Expectations'. Also, thanks to Dan for the coffee and chocolatey treats.
Sunday's 'My neck of the woods' east end walk saw the return of Maria and Emma who came on a Saturday afternoon walk in April last year. They were accompanied by Rosalia, Steve and Conor, and also John, Ryan and Anna all joining a walk for the first time. Here they are outside one of street artist Eine's shop shutters.
Shortly after we'd stopped off at Columbia Road Flower Market, I noticed a piece by French street artist C215. His real name is Christian Guémy and works primarily using stencils, similar to Banksy and a host of other artists. The 'C' stands for Christian, and the 215 part of his name was apparently the number of the hotel room he was staying in when he decided that painting portraits of beggars, refugees, orphans and animals on streets all over the world, was to become his vocation.
Funnily enough, ages ago, I took the below photo of another of C215's cats, which was on the side of a bin just behind Leonard Street. I noticed not long ago that the bin has since disappeared. The work of a collector perhaps?
Most appropriate shoes (for a change) - Maria
Most likely to have played a gig in every venue in Shoreditch - John
Tallest - Ryan
Best moustache - No winners
Most beardy - Josh
Most rural - Dan & Liz
Most New Zealand-ish - Anna
If you've ever been down (or up) Clerkenwell Road, you would have passed a big gate way just up the hill from Farringdon Road, and if you'd spied it, would have probably thought 'Jeepers ... that looks like it's straight out of a film set ... of a period film of some sort ... like a film that's set ages ago, maybe one that Cate Blanchett's in.' You would be quite correct in this assumption, because it's been there since 1504 and for me is just the tip of the iceberg. The metaphorical iceberg is formed of the rich history of the area that has so many stories, so many facets and such a wide reach spanning centuries, that to write about it here would do it an injustice. Instead, I shall furnish you with a few bits of information and leave it up to you whether you visit or not. Oh yes, the gate is called St John's Gate and looks like this.
So, in an unsatisfactory nutshell ... up until the point when Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church and began taking away land that belonged to them (often referred to as the Dissolution of the monasteries) much of London (and the rest of the country for that matter) was dotted with huge swathes of land that belonged to various monastic orders. The area around Clerkenwell belonged to the Order of St John, the Hospitallers, whose origins date back to the late 11th century in a role caring for pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem. The gate I just mentioned was a later addition, which lead in to a Priory that included a couple of large halls, dormitories, buttery, refectory, counting house, kitchen, stables, orchards, gardens, fish ponds and unusually for a monastic precinct, an armoury (those pilgrimages often got violent). After the Dissolution, I think Henry VIII used the Priory as a store house before giving it to his daughter Mary, who used it as a private palace.
The Order of St John, the Knights Hospitallers, had an unexpected renaissance in the 19th century, when it became apparent that there was little or no provision for the aid of injured people in civilian life, particularly those succumbing to fatal injuries in the work place, at public events or indeed at home. For this reason, in 1877, the St John Ambulance Association was founded, continuing the same ethos that the original order begun, all those centuries earlier. As you know, St John Ambulance still very much exists today, continuing to carry out what the Victorian's called rather aptly 'Ambulance Crusades'.
You can uncover this fascinating history over two sites. St John's Gate houses a museum (free to enter, and free to exit) detailing all of this stuff, and if you cross over the road you will find hiding beneath the facade of a reasonably modern building, the 12th century Priory crypt, one of London's few remaining Norman structures along with another small museum, garden and church, which was rebuilt after being completely destroyed in WWII.
Also, just as an aside, William Hogarth (well known pictorial chronicler of debauched 18th century London) lived for 5 years in the east tower of St John's Gate, as his father ran a coffee shop there. Samuel Johnson wrote parliamentary reports there long before anyone approached him with the idea of compiling a dictionary, Charles Dickens visited the Jerusalem Tavern which popped up there in 1760 (of course he did) and the west tower currently houses one of the few remaining Tudor spiral staircases in England (although you can only see this if you join one of their tours at 11am or 2.30pm on Tuesdays, Fridays or Saturdays). Also, if that's not enough name dropping, in the 16th century, the Priory housed the office of the Master of Revels (which sounds like a pretty cool job) responsible for licensing and organising all court entertainments and plays, and 30 of William Shakespeare's plays were licensed there.
The museum is open from Monday to Saturday (10am - 5pm), so if you're in the area or work nearby then why not pop in.
After a brief Christmas break, it was great to get back in to the metaphorical saddle and kick off the new year with a Sunday walk around the east end with a nice healthy sized group of nine. Simon and Sue had come along after a recommendation from someone who came on two walks last year, Fiona and her family were visiting London for the weekend and 'found me' just that morning after utilising the interweb powers of her new iPhone and Libby and her two friends Lucy and Jamie, had made a New Year's resolution to discover London a bit more in 2013.
Here they all are outside Nicholas Hawksmoor's Christchurch in Spitalfields, and as you can probably tell, we stopped off at Columbia Road flower market on the way. Jamie didn't carry that olive tree for the entire walk.
Just before Christmas, I did a couple of private walks. The first was for Pauline, Anthony, Charlotte and John Harvey who were visiting London on a pre-Christmas trip. They were staying on Seething Lane, which if anyone interested in 17th Century London will know was home to Samuel Pepys, well know diarist, gossip and (wanna be) ladies man.
Here they are standing in the beautiful Leadenhall Market, a late Victorian structure, built by Horace Jones and is a little bit like stepping back in time to an old 19th Century street ... which is probably why it's been used as a back drop to numerous period films.
The final walk of 2012 was an all day extravaganza with a family from the USA that took in Victoria, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square and we finished at St Katherine Docks next to the Tower of London. We even took a ride on one of the old route master buses via Fleet Street and St Paul's cathedral, as one of the boys was keen to sit on the top deck of an old bus.
If you're visiting the Tower, it's well worth wandering through Dead Man's Hole (if you dare) and taking a look at the dock as it's a bit of an oasis that you wouldn't necessarily expect to find there. You'll also find the Dickens Inn (where I took the below photo) one of the few pubs in London that Charles Dickens didn't supposedly drink, although it was formally opened in 1976 by one of the author's great grandsons, Cedric Charles Dickens.
Most interested in Louis Vuitton - John Harvey
Members of one family with names beginning with 'R' - Roy, Riannon & Rowan
Best moustache - No winners
Most helpful when official BOC photographer's camera broke - Simon
I didn't take a photo on Sundays walk, so have included a walk I did on Friday (it was almost the weekend) with Paul, Sujata, Alan & Carol. It was a relaxed affair, that involved a wander through Covent Garden, hot chocolates & coffees at the Fleet River Bakery, who I should also point out stock Frank Water (if you don't know what that is ... check the link), a meander through Lincoln's Inn Fields (the largest public square in London) and a mooch around Fleet Street, St Bride's and more, finishing at St Paul's. Here they are outside The Old Curiosity Shop, immortalised by Charles Dickens in the book of the same name. They've handily written it on the side of the building, just incase you hadn't realised. I should point out that it's currently a shoe shop ... nothing particularly curious about it, unless of course, you find shoes, strangely curious.
On Saturday morning I was joined by a heady mix of people with varying degrees of London knowledge. Martin having done his own London tours topped the scales and Anne who is over for a short period from France was just getting to know her way around. Throw in to the mix some born and bred Londoners like Jacqui (who was back for her second Bowl Of Chalk walk) Donna and Tariq and add a sprinkling of Camilla, Kate and Clare (over from Switzerland) and you've got a group on your hands.
We caught Hodge (Samuel Johnson's cat) having a crafty fag. Naughty Hodge.
For the rest of the weekend, it was just me and Tariq, as everyone-else bailed out. In the afternoon, we went from St Paul's to Monument via Borough and were discussing the Old Operating Theatre, which Tariq had never been to, but said was on his 'To Do' list. As we passed by, there was a sign outside saying that on Saturday it was 'Free' to enter (it's the 50th anniversary of the museum's foundation). What luck. Obviously we went in. It's an incredibly unusual museum, and is the oldest pre-anaesthetic operating theatre in Europe, generally used for swift amputations after the patient had been plied with alcohol.
So, many thanks to everyone who came this weekend, and Tariq, for putting up with me for three walks.
Most French - Anne
Most half French - Tariq
Most Londony knowledge - Martin
Best moustache - Tariq
Most tattoos - Tariq
Biggest West Ham fan - Jacqui
Most naturally rural - Alan & Carol
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.