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
It seems that not a day goes by when I don't hear or read about something in London, be it a bar, restaurant, museum, building, house ... or whatever, heralded as one of 'London's hidden gems'. It is true, there are many of them, and it's just one of the long list of things I love about this city. One place however, which must surely have an incredibly valid claim for actually being such a place (and near the top of the 'hidden gem' charts), is the Charterhouse in Smithfield, or to refer to it by its official name ... Sutton's Hospital in Charterhouse.
To say that the experience of walking through Charterhouse is 'magical' would be an understatement, as testified by the amount of film producers that have used its buildings, courtyards and rooms as film sets. Although, you can join occasional tours, Charterhouse is not commonly open to the public. In essence, it is a retirement home and 'the brothers' who live there ... actually do live there, enjoying the peace and tranquility of a life that seems almost protected from the outside world.
The current buildings (many of which are ancient) occupy the site of a former Carthusian Monastery, first established in 1371. The order was founded by Saint Bruno in the 11th century, who had his first hermitage in the valley of the Chartreuse Mountains in the French Alps, which is where the word 'Charterhouse' is derived.
Until the 1530's, vast tracts of land belonged to religious orders (just a short walk away, you can still pass through St John's Gate, once part of the area belonging to the Knights Hospitallers). All this came to an end when Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church, but the Carthusians refused to conform to the King's 'Act of Supremacy' and many of them were executed at Tyburn (now Marble Arch) as a result. The Monastery buildings were turned in to a fine Tudor mansion, passing through various owners during the remaining years of Henry VIII, throughout the reign of Elizabeth I (who visited Charterhouse on a number of occasions) and through to the early 17th century when James I became King. It was during this time, in 1611 in fact, when the current story of Charterhouse begins. It was bought by a self made man, an incredibly wealthy and not to mention generous and philanthropic individual called Thomas Sutton.
Sutton set up a Charitable Foundation to educate boys and to care for elderly men, known as 'brothers'. The school, Charterhouse, still exists today, but moved to Godalming in Surrey in 1872, whilst the 'brothers' (and I think there are currently about 45 of them) still reside in the buildings you can see pictured. There was perhaps not surprisingly, considerable bomb damage during WWII (the 40 acre site, obliterated at the same time and now houses the Barbican Centre is just a few minutes walk away), but was faithfully restored and has seen new buildings added as recently as 2001. The tour I went on, began in the chapel, which was largely saved during the Blitz, due to the huge oak door (fortunately closed at the time) which absorbed a substantial amount of bomb impact. You can see on the photo below (left) that the door still hangs there today as a reminder, albeit about half the size.
As I mentioned, the Charterhouse still houses 'the Brothers', and two of them showed us around on the tour I joined, and it really did feel like we were being let in on a secret, a true hidden London gem, as we saw the Great Hall where they eat together each day (and have done for over 400 years), the only surviving part of the old 14th century Norfolk Cloister where the monks had their cells, courtyards, corridors and of course sprinkling the whole thing with the site's incredibly rich and intriguing history.
As far as I know, tours take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and every other Saturday and cost £10. If you are able to join one, I can highly recommend it. It seems as well, that plans are afoot to open a more permanent museum in a few years time, which is great news.
I've spent a fair bit of time recently showing people around Westminster, which is obviously a hot spot for tourists, as Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament (or the Palace of Westminster) are right next to each other. The latter also includes the iconic 'Big Ben' which everyone is familiar with. As I have mentioned before, 'Big Ben' is actually the name given to the bell inside the clock tower. I shall write a separate post about 'Big Ben', but thought that for now, I'd mention the company that made it, back in 1858. They're called the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.
In case you're unfamiliar with London's geographical layout, Whitechapel is an area in east London, generally most associated with being the location of the infamous Jack The Ripper murders which took place in 1888. As you can see from the above photo, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry have been making bells for quite a long time, since 1570 during the reign of Elizabeth I (and maybe actually even longer). In fact, they've been making making all sorts of bells for so long, that they've made it in to the Guinness Book of Records, listed as the oldest manufacturing company in Britain.
The company are still making bells of all sizes and inhabit a Grade II listed, 17th century building on a busy east London road, surrounded by much more modern neighbours. 'Big Ben' is probably the most famous bell they ever made and was also the largest one they've ever cast, weighing in at a whopping 13.5 tonnes. Back in 1752 they also made the Liberty Bell, which is in Philadelphia, itself pretty iconic and a symbol of American independence. Both, you might note are famously cracked. Obviously, not the fault of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.
It hasn't always been plain sailing over their 444 year history and by the 1930's there seems to have been a bit of a bell slump. However, the Second World War had the strange effect of galvanising the company's fortunes. During the war, they temporarily stopped their fascination with bells and were charged with the task of casting parts for submarines, then due to the immense devastation heaped upon the country's churches during the Blitz, they were called upon to replace the bells that had been lost. The demand was so huge, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry had a three year waiting list.
More recently, the company made the bells rung during the Queen's Jubilee river pageant and of course the giant bell that featured in last years Olympic Opening Ceremony. They no longer have the capacity for casting such a large bell, and that particular one, inscribed with a quote from William Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' and reads "Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises" was cast in Holland, to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry's specifications.
The good news, is that if you so desire, you can visit them. Monday to Friday you can mooch around their small museum and on a couple of weekends each month, they provide tours of the workshops and the foundry. The details for these are on their website. If you visit, you can't fail to notice that the entrance door is flanked by a cross section template of 'Big Ben', so it'll give you a good idea, just how big it really is.
Each Friday, or at least, most Fridays, I do a Friday quiz over on the Bowl Of Chalk Facebook Page. Last Friday's question related to the statue below, of John Wilkes, which would appear to be the only statue in London that has a squint, because not surprisingly, John Wilkes did have a prominent squint.
It got me thinking, that I've discovered that many of London's statues which people wander past every day have interesting, strange or mildly absurd stories attached to them, so thought I'd share a few of my favourites with you here ... in no particular order.
This statue of Elizabeth I nestles up in the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West on Fleet Street, and made in 1586 during the Queen's own life time, originally stood on the old Ludgate, but was saved during the Fire of London, and later placed in its current position. (It's currently hiding beneath scaffolding, and won't be seen again until the autumn). The statue however, in 1929 received its own income, when Dame Millicent Fawcett, an English Suffragist and early feminist left £700 to the statue in her will.
It is said that when this statue of George Washington (which stands to the north of Trafalgar Square, outside the National Gallery) was given to us as a gift in the 1920's by the people of Virginia, they sent with it, a load of American soil to be placed underneath, as Washington had stated that he never wanted to set foot in England.
This statue of Queen Anne stands very prominently outside the main entrance to St Paul's cathedral. It's not the original, made in the 1700's by Francis Bird, but a Victorian copy made by sculptor Richard Claude Belt. According to author Tom Quinn, Belt was forced to make the statue from prison after he was imprisoned for fraud having already been commissioned to make the statue. It could be entirely possible as Belt did spend 12 months behind bars at about the same time.
This statue of Charles I just south of Trafalgar Square is the oldest bronze equestrian statue in Britain, made during Charles' life time. After the unfortunate Monarch had his head chopped off in 1649, a metalsmith called John Rivet was ordered to melt down the statue and turn it in to trinkets, which people could buy as macabre souvenirs of the execution. However, Mr Rivet evidently melted down something else, realising perhaps that fortunes might change, and kept the statue hidden until Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 and bought it back. Incidentally, you can see Nelson's Column in the background, which comes furnished with its own fascinating stories.
Prince Frederick, Duke of York
This 137 ft statue overlooks St James's Park and the Mall. Frederick was the second eldest son of King George III and when he died, every member of entire British army forewent a days pay to help raise the funds for the statue. Depending on which sources you read, they either did this gladly, or were forced to, as no one was willing to fork out the £21,000 needed to build it. Either way, when it was eventually finished in 1834 it was joked that the statue was so high up, so the Duke could escape his creditors. He died, £2 million in debt.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.