The other evening, I was driving around Sydenham in south east London, and took a wrong turning. I pulled in to an access point which opened in to what looked like a small estate of modest 1970s housing so I could reverse out. In front of me, quite incongruously was what looked like a large stone monument, so obviously I got out for a closer look.
It turned out to be the spire of a long gone church that once stood in the City of London and had been built by none other than Christopher Wren.
Sir Christopher Wren is a name that pops up regularly on my walks. During the Great Fire of London in 1666, 87 churches were destroyed within the City of London, a small area, known today as ‘the square mile’. Wren, professor of astronomy at Oxford university at the time was responsible for overseeing the rebuilding of 51 of these churches; his most famous being St Paul’s cathedral, where he is also buried. Another famous spire of his is that of St Bride's church, said to have inspired the modern day wedding cake, which we pass on my regular Saturday morning 'pay what you want' London walking tour.
A few of these churches were demolished during the Victorian period, and most of the remainder were destroyed during the bombing of WW2, although a large number were restored. So how did the spire of one of Wren’s City churches end up in the middle of a housing estate in Sydenham?
The spire once belonged to a church called St Antholin’s which was completed in 1682 and stood on Budge Row, a street that no longer exists, just off Watling Street. It’s where the current New Change shopping centre now stands, literally a stone’s throw from St Paul’s cathedral. The spire was apparently damaged in 1829 and bought for £5 by a guy called Robert Harrild who had made his fortune by inventing a new bit of machinery used in the Fleet Street printing presses. He had the spire transported to his manor house, Round Hill House, in Sydenham and re-erected in his garden.
St Antholin’s church was demolished in 1875, and in the 1930s, Robert Harrild’s house became a social club, until it too was demolished in the 1960s. A housing estate was built on the site, but somehow Wren’s spire seems to have stayed where it was. Up until three years ago the spire was in a pretty dilapidated state, but has been restored by the Heritage of London Trust and the L&Q Housing Association.
Over the last few years I’ve been joined on a couple of walks by Naomi Clifford, a writer of history books specialising in telling the forgotten stories of women in history.
After our most recent wander around London Naomi presented me with one of her recent books; Women and the Gallows (1797 – 1837) which delves in to the stories of 131-female “unfortunate wretches” hanged in England and Wales. Naomi has also published ‘The disappearance of Maria Glenn’ and most recently ‘The Murder of Mary Ashford’ and is already beavering away on a new book about an auxiliary ambulance driver in London during WW2 called June Spencer.
As if she hasn’t got enough to do, Naomi and producer Lena Augustinson have launched a podcast series called ‘The Door’, which through conversations with historians, writers and the like and keeping with the theme of Naomi’s books, aims to further unlock little-told stories of women in history.
The episodes (all of which are under 30 minutes long) thus far include topics such as discussing Maria Branwell (mother of the Bronte sisters) and A Stitch in Time: Women, Needlework and Art.
The City of London recently hosted a temporary outdoor exhibition about forgotten businesswomen of 18th century Cheapside in the City of London. Naomi invited me along to look at the exhibition with her and talk a little bit about the development of the City, its Guild system and endeavour to put in to context the environment and world in which these women operated. So, on a rather wet and windy Friday afternoon in October, we did just that, the fruits of which can be heard under the title ‘Businesswomen of 18th century London’. If you do listen, perhaps ignore the fact that I was evidently having a competition to see how many times I could say the word ‘basically’.
The exhibition is no longer in situ but can still be viewed Online.
If you enjoy the content of Naomi and Lena’s podcast series, please do subscribe so as not to miss their future offerings.
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.
Postman’s Park in the City of London is one of those ‘hidden gems’ that I thought everyone knew about. For this reason, I’ve never written about it, but the other week I did a walk with some people who worked a stone’s throw away. Their office overlooked the park, and after I met them in the foyer, just next to the Museum of London, our first stop was Postman’s Park. I thought they wouldn’t find it particularly interesting, but was quite astonished to discover they knew nothing about it, or at least not its incredibly intriguing memorial.
If you approach from Aldersgate (as we did) the name of which comes from one of the City’s ancient gates, you will ascend a small number of rather lopsided steps. To your left, on the street is a ‘street antique’, an old Police Box. Although these emergency telephone boxes were added to the streets of Glasgow as early as 1891, they weren’t adopted by the Metropolitan Police until the late 1920s. Predating two-way radios, Police Boxes effectively acted like a giant pager, the light on the top flashing to alert a nearby Police Officer that they needed to phone their local station. A larger version of the Police Box is now synonymous with Dr Who, and for fans of the long running BBC show, there’s still one standing outside Earl’s Court Station. If you happen to find that particular 'Tardis' on Google Maps, you’ll discover that by clicking on one of the arrows pointing towards it, Google have added quite a fun feature.
Postman’s Park was amalgamated from two church grounds, St Botolph’s Aldersgate, which you’ll see to your right, and Christchurch Greyfriars, which stands as a bombed out wreck close by. An act of Parliament in the mid 19th century resulted in what were considered out of town cemeteries being built beyond the confines of the city, where living cheek by jowl with so many dead people had become beyond hideous. Perhaps the most famous and visited of these burial grounds, is Highgate Cemetery. Incidentally, although set around a Parisian cemetery in 1785, Andrew Miller’s novel ‘Pure’ evokes the situation (which was very similar here in London in the 19th century) beautifully, should you wish to read it. Many of those buried were brought in to an ossuary beneath the church, as I discovered when visiting St Bride’s on Fleet Street a few years ago, and the burial grounds turned in to gardens. Because people had been buried on top of each other, covered with thin layers soil and lime (thus raising the ground level), it is said that it is for this reason, when entering churchyards, you are often required to walk up steps. Postman’s Park does quite clearly stand a good few feet above street level. You’ll notice the headstones stacked like cards against the surrounding walls.
In 1887, to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, a painter and sculptor of the time, George Frederic Watts (he apparently shared the same birthday as composer George Frederic Handel – hence the name) suggested creating a memorial to ‘Heroic Self Sacrifice’, which is to say, ordinary people who died saving other people, who would have otherwise died, had they not been saved (if that makes sense). I think Watts’ idea was to have a big bronze statue embodying the sentiment. It was not accepted.
However, it would seem that the artist’s suggestion struck a chord with the Vicar of St. Botolph’s Aldersgate church, as over a decade later, he offered the church’s garden as a site to realise Watt’s idea.
Unveiled in 1900, the memorial had taken on an altogether different and more sympathetic angle, initially displaying 4 painted tiles, simply detailing the name of the deceased, the date and place their heroic deed occurred and a brief description of the events that took place. Watts died in 1904 and in that time, a further 9 tiles were added, followed by a further 35, overseen by his wife Mary. Interest and enthusiasm for the project gradually waned and the memorial, which looks like an elongated bus shelter (or loggia) became a forgotten enclave of the garden, given Grade II listed status in 1972.
Flash-forward to the late 1990s and playwright Patrick Marber, writes a play called ‘Closer’ which is premiered at the National Theatre. The play is then later made in to a film of the same name starring Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Jude Law and Clive Owen. Key scenes and also the main plot twist centre around Postman’s Park, and in case you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil it for you, but Portman’s character is called Alice Ayres, one of those remembered in Watts’ poignant memorial. She died on 24th April 1885, saving 3 children from a burning house in Borough.
Renewed interest in Postman’s Park, thanks in no small way to Marber’s play, might go some way to explaining why after a 78 year hiatus, a new tile was added, bearing the name of Leigh Pitt, who saved a boy from drowning in 2007, but was unfortunately unable to save himself.
It perhaps goes without saying that it is the human stories behind the facts that make history so interesting and bring it to life. Watts’ memorial to ‘Heroic Self Sacrifice’ epitomises this, and as you shuffle along absorbing the information presented, you will undoubtedly find yourself wondering who these people were, what they were like, envisaging the scene in which they died and the families they left behind. Someone called Dr John Price was evidently so affected by the memorial, that he spent a great deal of time unravelling the stories behind each of the people immortalised on the beautifully rendered tiles. He has published his findings in a book entitled ‘Heroes of Postman’s Park’, so should you wish to learn more about each of the names in Postman’s Park, you can. There’s also an accompanying mobile app, which is free to download and has been primarily designed to use whilst at the memorial, feeding you all those other details and insights you might crave.
I met some lovely people last weekend on my regular guided walks around London and despite the mildly dismal weather, managed to do all three walks.
On Saturday morning Hilppa and Kari from Finland came along on the walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's. Here they are on Fleet Street outside the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West with its rather magnificent clock which dates back to 1671 and aside from having two giant figures (possibly Gog and Magog) who strike the hours and quarters with their clubs, also features in the courtyard, a statue of Elizabeth I carved in 1586, during the famous Queen's own life time.
In the afternoon, Dave and Christina, who came on one of my very first walks just over two years ago, returned to complete 'The Trilogy' and brought with them, Dave's parents, visiting for the weekend from Manchester. They were joined by Kristine, Mette and Trine from Denmark and off we went, leaving the City of London and headed over to Bankside on the south side of the Thames. Here they are just outside Shakespeare's Globe Theatre with the ever changing City skyline behind them. Dave's mum was particularly intrigued by Rafael Vinoly's building, 20 Fenchurch Street which previously garnered the nick name the 'walkie talkie' due to its rather top heavy appearance, and in the summer having gained headlines for scorching other buildings (and a car) got a new name ... the 'walkie scorchie'.
Not long after the photo was taken, the sky turned black and we got caught in a thunder storm, so were forced to take refuge from the torrential rain in The George Inn on Borough High Street. Still, there are far worse pubs to have to have a drink in.
I think that on Sunday it rained pretty much non stop for the entire walk. I was impressed that almost all of those who had booked actually turned up (as it was already raining before we started), but not only that, they stuck out the entire thing ... until the bitter rain drenched end. Aside from being a hardy bunch, they were also great fun to show around Shoreditch. Here they are just before exploring a rather quieter than usual Columbia Road Flower Market.
Special award for completing 'The Trilogy' - Dave and Christina
Wettest Walk - Sunday
Most (literally) amusing name - Joke (although she undoubtedly doesn't find it remotely funny)
Best moustache - No winners
Best unveiling of a high vis jacket - Ian
Best unpleasant weather endurance skills - Joke, Bruno, Angie, David, Fiona & Paul
May is almost upon us, so I thought I'd share with you a few of the Private weekday walks I've done for people in April, all very different, but equally enjoyable.
East London walk
First up is father and son duo, Paul and Sam who came on an exploration of east London. Paul was pretty familiar with London (they live near Basingstoke), so wanted to see an area he hadn't visited. It's true, Shoreditch, Hoxton, Spitalfields and Old Street isn't necessarily on every tourists 'must see' list of things to do on their visit to London, but it's brimming with history, fascinating characters and a healthy dose of street art which for me is now as much a part of the fabric of the area as anything else. Here they are standing in front of street artist Eine's 'Scary' bridge on Rivington Street.
All Day London Extravaganza
I met Lindsay and her mum at their hotel in St James's, Piccadilly and we set off through the sleet and the snow for what I call an 'all day extravaganza'. I started by introducing them to the area around their hotel which is full of shops that have for centuries provided all sorts of goods to the Royal family, including Fortum and Mason, Lock & Co, Paxton & Whitfield and Floris to name but a few, then passed by Buckingham Palace on a way to Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. During the day, and despite the weather they saw loads of London, and we even took the underground, popping out by the Tower of London and worked our way back through the City to finish at St Paul's cathedral. Here they are outside the Houses of Parliament.
City of London - Churches
One rather wet Friday morning I did a special City of London churches walk for Peter and his family. As the City and its churches were rebuilt after the 'great' fire of 1666, it made sense to me to start at Monument, where the fire began. The first church to burn down, St Margaret on Fish Street Hill is now where the Monument stands, so the first church we visited was St Magnus Martyr and I think in one morning, we managed to visit or pass by ten churches, which wasn't bad for one morning, including All Hallows by the Tower, Samuel Pepys church, St Olave's and St Stephen Walbrook. Here they are standing in the ruins of St Dunstan in the east.
The City, Bankside & Southwark
On a slightly more clement day, I met a group which included a tiny three month old baby and a dog called Hendricks by St Paul's cathedral, starting at Temple Bar gate and took them over to Bankside, home of Elizabethan theatre, where the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre currently stands and explored the area just south of London Bridge. Here they all are outside Borough Market.
East London - Evening post-work wander
Last Friday, Andrew who had come on one of my Saturday morning walks had asked if I'd do a walk around east London for him and his colleagues. We obviously made sure there was a pub stop and I deposited them back at Spitalfields in time for dinner. Here they are standing in front of Australian street artist Jimmy C's portrait of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, which arrived in good time for last years Olympics.
If you are interested in booking a 'Private Walk' around London, whether it be just for you, your family or with colleagues, then please let me know via the Contact Form and we'll see what we can do.
The City of London, the area in the heart of London, known as the 'square mile' has about 200 gardens, churchyards and open spaces for you to enjoy, and on a day like today (it's actually sunny) they make great little quiet enclaves away from the hustle and bustle of City life. St Mary Aldermanbury garden is one such miniature haven you might like to visit, just a short walk down Wood Lane from St Peter Cheap and just a few seconds from the Clockmakers' Museum.
Both the name, and the layout of the garden still evoke the church that once stood on the site. It was burned during the Great Fire of 1666, rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, and again succumbed to bombing during the Blitz in 1940, leaving only the outer walls remaining. It languished in this state of disrepair until 1966, when it was taken down brick by brick and re-erected in a place called Fulton. If you haven't heard of Fulton, then you might be surprised to learn, that it's actually in Missouri, USA. the church is still there today, and stands as a memorial to Winston Churchill's 'Iron Curtain' speech he made at the college there, Westminster College, in 1946.
Back to London, and you may also be forgiven for wondering why a bust of William Shakespeare presides over the garden, so far from his regular stomping grounds of Bankside or Shoreditch, but it serves as a memorial to the two actors, Henry Condell and John Heminge (there are various spellings of his surname), who after Shakespeare's death in 1616 were instrumental in collating and printing what became the first folio of Shakespeare's works. Both men lived in the parish and were buried at the church.
So, if you're in the vicinity today, what a pleasant place to sit and have your lunch whilst contemplating your strange connection with the USA and a playwright who celebrated his 449th birthday yesterday.
Even after the briefest of strolls around the area known as The City of London (or London in general) you'll very probably be struck (pun intended) by the number of public clocks, adorning buildings or hanging off churches. Quite often they're rather grand, ornate, pretty big and in many cases have their own unique history and back story.
Going back to the 16th century, clockmakers' tended to be members of the Blacksmiths' Company, as they worked with ferrous metals and utilised many of the metal work skills that were required as part of their own trade. With the growth of domestic clocks, requirements changed and as different and quite specific skills were essential to domestic clock and watchmaking the two groups separated and domestic clockmakers developed their own identity and market. Inevitably, resentment grew between clockmakers within the City and those from outside plying the same trade who threatened their monopoly. After many years of lobbying, they managed in 1631 to obtain from King Charles I a Royal Charter, recognising them as 'The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers' and thus protecting 'the Art or Mystery of Clockmaking of the City of London.'
Although the Clockmakers' Library was founded in 1813, the current museum is housed inside a modern annexe at Guildhall.
The original library of ancient manuscripts belonging to the Company gradually grew to include books, horological portraits and of course many examples of time pieces throughout the ages. It's all housed within one room, but never-the-less is chock full of information pertaining to the Company's formation and history, numerous 'celebrity' clockmakers and a collection which includes 600 English and European watches, 30 clocks and 15 examples of marine timekeepers, instrumental in the development of the science of navigation. In fact, you'll find yourself surrounded by the oldest specific collection of clocks and watches in the world, the earliest dating from c.1600, up until c.1850.
The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers' motto is 'Time is the commander of all things', so I'd suggest that if you find yourself in the area, you could pop in and see their museum for yourself ... but only if you have time of course. If not, then maybe you should make time.
The Clockmakers' Museum is situated in Guildhall Library -Aldermanbury, London, EC2V 7HH and is open Monday to Saturday (9:30am - 4:45pm). It's FREE to visit.
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
The City of London is not renowned for its abundance of trees, but right in the heart of the City, just a stones throw from St Paul's cathedral on the corner of Cheapside and Wood Street is a reasonably resplendent Plane tree, threatening to usurp the row of tiny shops beneath it.
It feels almost like the tiny little square was made specifically for the tree, but in fact, it was previously the site of a medieval church, St Peter Cheap, which was one of the 87 churches that burnt down during the Great Fire of London, 1666. However, it was also not one of the 51 rebuilt after the fire by Christopher Wren. Cheapside incidentally, is a medieval word for market, hence why a number of the streets leading off it, relate to produce that would have been bought and sold in the area; Bread Street, Milk Street and Poultry ... for instance.
The area where the Plane tree stands, was instead preserved as a tiny grave yard and public space and that very same tree features in a poem by William Wordsworth, called 'The Reverie of Poor Susan', inspired (allegedly) after hearing a thrush singing in its branches. If you happen to pass by, the verse in question has been handily painted on to a board for your perusal.
Funnily enough (and this has nothing to do with anything) I worked in a telephone call centre years ago with a thoroughly nice chap called John Wordsworth, a budding actor and descendant of the poet himself. If you happen to read this John, I hope you're well.
On the corner of the little row of houses I mentioned, you can perhaps see in the photo above, there is currently a shop that sells greetings cards and party masks of celebrities and Royals, but if you look carefully at the back wall, you'll find a little stone tablet, with the date 1687, which was the year the shops were built.
There are over 200 little parks, squares and churchyards within the City of London, otherwise known as the 'Square Mile'. St Peter Cheap is particularly small; just a few benches clustered around a paved area, three weathered headstones and a few trees, but all of these spaces have a story to tell and are oozing history. In fact, the railings of St Peter Cheap are the same ones they put there in the early 1700's.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.