If you find yourself in Covent Garden, which let's face it, is quite likely if you visit London ... then to the west side of the piazza is the grand entrance to a church. The church is St Paul's and upon closer inspection, you'll discover that there is no discernible way in. The rather large door, set back behind the portico is completely blocked up. The area, instead serves as a daily haunt for circus and street performers.
To understand why, involves unraveling numerous historical threads, right back to when the land was a walled garden, belonging to a Convent in which vegetables were grown for Westminster Abbey. Convent Garden, over time became Covent Garden. When Henry VIII took away land belonging to the church in the 1530's it was given to one of his advisors, John Russell, the Duke of Bedford. Almost 100 years later, the 4th Duke of Bedford decided to use the land to develop an area where the wealthy of London could reside. He enlisted the help of Inigo Jones, who fashioned an Italian style piazza (a complete anomaly in those days) to the west of which would be the church. Not wanting to waste too much money on the church, the Duke of Bedford is said to have asked Inigo Jones to provide something "not much better than a barn", to which the architect replied "Then you shall have the finest barn in England". However, tradition dictates that the Altar be placed at the east end of church, but Inigo went against convention, placing his front door there instead. The church was finally consecrated in 1638 (the first new Anglican church built in London for 100 years), but at the request of the Bishop of London, the door was blocked up, the Altar placed in its rightful place, and to this day, the back door, is the front door.
Access to St Paul's now is through a rather tranquil garden on the other side of the church, far removed from the hustle and bustle of the piazza. At night (and even during the day sometimes) you'll be greeted by an array of twinkling gas lamps, leading you up in to the church. The garden of course, was once a burial ground and in fact, during the fatal year of 1665 when 60,000 Londoners are thought to have died from the plague, the first casualty of that epidemic, was buried there. With that cheery thought you'll enter in to a church, often (and perhaps more frequently than it's actual name) referred to as 'The Actors' Church'. The building is of course slap bang in the middle of the West End or theatre land (as it is often known) and has for centuries been affiliated with actors and those working in the profession. As I have mentioned before, many churches, like St Clement Danes, (further down the Strand towards Fleet Street) have associations with particular groups of people.
The inside of St Paul's was badly damaged by a fire in 1795, but rebuilt to Jones' designs and as you wander around will undoubtedly spot numerous plaques and memorials to actors, playwrights, designers and the like who spent much of their careers entertaining either on the stage or screen. There are many, like Sir Charles Chaplin (above) who will be familiar, and many who will not, but are never-the-less remembered here inside The Actors' Church. At the front left of the church, you can see a model of a theatre, made in the 1920's and used by members of the Actors' Church Union (ACU) to illustrate talks promoting the workplace of actors and theatre staff. The talks were in effect a fundraising effort, to drum up support for a hostel the ACU ran for the children of actors away on tour.
One of the many things I like about London is the fact that you can pretty much always guarantee that there is a reason why streets, pubs and areas have their name. You've just discovered how 'Covent Garden' got its name, but this short post will also shed some light on why you approach the church via 'Inigo Place' and you have 'Bedford Street', 'Bedford Place', 'Bedford Court' and of course 'Russell Street' all in the vicinity. If you stand under the church portico and look out across the piazza, in front of you is the Punch & Judy pub. On the 9th May 1662, diarist Samuel Pepys noted that he saw on the same spot the first performance of an Italian puppet show, now known as 'Punch & Judy'. Also, if there are any fans of the musical 'My Fair Lady' out there, it derived from a play by George Bernard Shaw called 'Pygmalion', the opening of which is set under the very same portico.
St Paul's, the Actors' Church in Covent Garden is of course open for prayer, reflection and services, but they also host a massive amount of events, concerts and theatrical productions throughout the year.
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.
If you're walking along Eastcheap, which connects Tower Hill to the Monument and the north end of London Bridge, and turn off towards the Thames down a narrow cobbled street called Idol Lane, you'll come across a church called St Dunstan-in-the-East.
There are no shortage of churches in the City of London, which you can visit, although considerably less than there once were, thanks to the Great Fire and the devastation caused by WWII bombing. Upon entering St Dunstan-in-the-East (There's also a St Dunstan on Fleet Street) the one thing that you can't fail to notice is that despite the church-like appearance as you approach down Idol Lane (see above photo), the church has ceased to exist. You will find yourself standing in a lovely, quiet walled garden.
The original church, which had stood since about 1100 was badly damaged during the Great Fire of 1666, and although generally classed as one of the many churches built by Christopher Wren in the aftermath of the fire, St Dunstan-in-the-East was actually mainly repaired and patched back together between 1668-71. It was then given a major refurbishment in the 19th century and then flattened during the Blitz in 1941. All that survived were a few of the walls and the distinctive steeple with its four smaller spires perched on each corner and the flying buttresses arcing up to support the main spire.
Suffice to say, the church was not rebuilt and it wasn't until 1971 that it was opened as a public garden.
In 1668, as Samuel Pepys (who I seem to manage to mention in just about every post) was wending his way through the post fire ruins of the church, he encountered what he describes as two ruffians armed with clubs, and had to make a hasty escape back to his home on Seething Lane. I sincerely hope you don't encounter something similar, and I'm sure you won't. I've visited many times, and during the week at lunchtimes, the walled enclosure, open to the elements provides a nice secluded haven for 'in the know' City workers to have their lunch. Quite often, I've seen young newly weds having their wedding photos taken amongst the flowers and trees, some of which are quite unusual, including 'Winter's Bark', once eaten to prevent scurvy.
Last week, I was poddling about on my bike (as I do) and I noticed two rather lost looking women, consulting a map near Old Street. It turned out they were trying to find The Geffrye Museum (museum of the home), so I was able to point them in the right direction, which as it happened was reasonably fortuitous, as they were about to go the wrong way. So, for this reason, I thought I'd write a brief post about the museum. If you have a spare hour or so, have an interest in how our ancestors lived or are researching old interiors or furniture, then it's well worth a visit. It's also free (donations obviously welcome).
We've popped in there a few times on my Sunday east London walk, and suffice to say, approaching The Geffrye Museum through the council blocks of Hoxton, traversing the busy Kingsland Road brimming with Vietnamese restaurants, then stepping through the museum gate, first time visitors are usually quite astounded to find themselves plunged in to the garden of a long row of lovely 18th century almshouses. It seems like you've unwittingly stepped in to another time and place.
The main part of the building (which you can see above), dates back to 1714 and was formerly almshouses of the Ironmongers' company, left by a guy called Sir Robert Geffrye, who was himself Lord Mayor of London in 1685. After the Ironmongers' pensioners moved to greener pastures at the beginning of the 20th century due to the encroachment of the Victorian east end and all that entailed, the building became a museum.
Upon entering The Geffrye Museum, you will be taken on a journey through the living rooms of the English middle classes, or what I believe Samuel Pepys referred to as 'the middling sort', from 1600 to the present day. The long row of almshouses have effectively been turned in to a time machine, giving you a glimpse of furniture, style, fashion and taste throughout the ages. If you happen to visit in the run up to Christmas, you'll also be treated to the added bonus of seeing how houses were decorated during the festive season and the types of food that would typically have been eaten. Aside from being able to gawp at the rooms, you're provided with bits of historical context that help set the tone and allow you to understand a bit more about the people who lived in such rooms and what life was like for them.
The more recent annexe makes room for 20th century inclusions, and if you get a bit peckish, there's a cafe. During the summer months, you can also visit the gardens and walled herb garden. The museum also have loads of special events, do lots of educational work with kids and for a very small fee you can join a tour (Saturdays, Tuesdays & Wednesdays) of one of the restored almshouses and see how it would have been for the pensioners living there in the 18th and 19th centuries.
My only minor qualm, is that having walked through the museum, you then have to scuttle back through the oncoming visitors along the narrow walkway to get out. However, it's not really that important and anyway, it would seem that changes are afoot. In their quest to fulfill their vision of becoming the 'Museum of the Home', The Geffrye Museum are embarking on an ambitious £18.9m development programme, turning the already excellent museum in to an even better one, which includes another door right next to Hoxton Overground Station which is directly behind. So remember that too ... if you're going there via the overground, Hoxton station couldn't be any nearer if it tried.
The Geffrye Museum, Kingsland Road, E2 8EA - Tue-Sat (10am-5pm), Sun (12-5pm)
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
Each year, the Tower of London apparently has something in the region of over 2.5million visitors. Most of these people will have either passed or certainly seen a church perched next to Tower Hill, quite literally a stones throw away from the Tower, one of London's most popular tourist attractions. I'd be quite intrigued to know how many of them also visit the much over looked church whose name actually acknowledges its more famous and popular neighbour. It's called All Hallows-by-the-Tower, but funnily enough pre-dates the already ancient Tower of London by about 400 years and comes with the tag line 'oldest church in the City of London.'
Founded in 675, it was originally called All Hallows Barking, as it was built by the Abbey of Barking who owned a small plot of land on the most eastern edge of the City. In the intervening years, All Hallows has undergone many changes, and seen so much of London's history and its characters come and go. It survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, and Samuel Pepys who lived nearby climbed the spire to view the destruction 'and there saw the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw' but finally succumbed to German bombs in 1940. Like many churches, it was rebuilt, but the damage caused, opened an intriguing window in to the church's past, revealing a 7th century Saxon arch and what is now considered to be one of the most perfectly preserved Roman pavements in the City, which belonged to a domestic house in the 2nd century.
All Hallows is a veritable Aladdin's cave of London throughout the ages, with pretty much every century of the city's existence represented in one form or another, not to mention forming the backdrop to a 'who's who' of famous personalities. I've already mentioned Pepys, but visitors from the USA might be interested to know that John Quincy-Adams (6th President of the United States of America) was married there and William Penn, who founded Pennsylvania was baptised there.
Aside from a great crypt museum where you'll discover the Roman pavement, a model of Roman London (made in 1928) and numerous pieces of Roman and Saxon pottery and curios, the church itself is littered with fascinating artifacts. Due to its close links with the Port of London Authority there's loads of models of ships and coats of arms of shipping companies. The screen to the Mariners Chapel has a crucifix made with wood from the Cutty Sark and the ivory figure is said to have come from the flagship of the Spanish Armada. There are 17 memorial brasses on the floor, the earliest dating from the 14th century and a quite incredible font cover, carved in 1682 by Grinling Gibbons, Christopher Wren's 'go to' man where wood carving was concerned.
All in all, you could make numerous visits to this church and still not see all there is to see or absorb in full its amazing history. What I've mentioned here is just scratching the surface, but one thing remains, and for me, it is encapsulated by the huge Visscher panorama of London (made in 1616) that greets you as you walk through the main door. The church itself features on the print, and although on the photo below you can clearly see what is now Southwark Cathedral in the foreground and the old London Bridge, All Hallows is actually hidden behind the door, much like the church itself is hidden in the shadow of its more famous neighbour.
You'll find All Hallows-by-the-Tower on Byward Street, EC3R 5BJ, but basically, if you head towards the Tower, you'll find it. I'll leave you with a few other photos to whet your appetite.
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
Six people braved the cold December air to join me on my regular Saturday morning wander from Trafalgar Square to St. Paul's. Seeing as there were two Italians in the group (Annalisa & Miro) it seemed only right that I take a picture of them in Covent Garden, where the 17th Century diarist and ladies man Samuel Pepys watched the Italian puppeteer Pietro Gimonde perform what is now regarded as the first recorded performance of 'Punch and Judy'. It was the 9th May 1662 and every year, on or around this date, Punch and Judy puppeteers descend on Covent Carden in what has become the unofficial, official birthday of Mr Punch. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is a pub (hiding behind the Christmas tree in the photo) called the Punch and Judy.
So, here are the group, also including Helen, Gemma, Kirsty and another Helen. There was a double Italian-ness about it really, as the piazza, originally designed by Inigo Jones in the 1630's, was based apparently on a similar one he had seen in Livorno in northern Italy.
There was nothing particularly Italian about the afternoon walk, but I was joined by Lorrie from New York, who had come on the very kind recommendation of a friend of hers Mary (also from America) who had been on a walk with me back in the summer. Thanks Mary. Here is Lorrie outside The George Inn, just off Borough High Street. It was pretty dark by this point, but fortunately my photographer (who comes on most of the walks) had remembered to bring his studio style lights with him.
We managed to fit in quite a few bits n bobs including stopping off at the Rose Theatre (the first Elizabethan theatre on Bankside), the remains of which were uncovered in the 1980's and largely responsible for shaping the current Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Whilst there, we watched a fascinating video narrated by none other than Gandalf (Sir Ian Mckellen) who I discovered today, co-owns The Grapes pub in Limehouse, which is well worth a visit anyway if you happen to be in the area.
Most Physiotherapists in one group ... ever - Saturday morning
Most Italian - Annalisa & Miro (obviously)
Most last minute booking straight off the plane from the States - Lorrie
Weekend Roundup - 12th/13th May '12
Last weekends London walks got off to a flyer on Saturday morning with a great group who were a mixture of people who had been on previous walks (Nathalie, Tamsin and Rowan), some Americans, Andrew and Sharon (who was visiting London for the first time ever), another, Mary, who had arrived from Boston that morning and hadn't even been to sleep yet (pretty hardcore), some Londoners, two of whom (Elly and Alan) live in Soho so literally just had to step out of the front door to begin the walk, Amy who seemed to have worked at some point in most of the areas we walked through and Luana and Manuela from Brazil.
Covent Garden was overflowing with 'Punch & Judy' performers as it was the annual Maye Fayre and Puppet Festival. I think the main reason being that on the 9th May 1662 a guy called Samuel Pepys recorded in his now rather famous diary that he'd seen his first performance of the show there, so it's regarded as Mr Punch's birthday and a celebration is held as near as possible to that date each year. If you've ever visited, you'll perhaps have noted that there's a pub, also called the Punch & Judy overlooking what was originally intended as the grand entrance to St Paul's church on the west side of Covent Garden piazza.
Here's the group a bit later on standing outside the entrance to the Royal Courts of Justice. If you're wondering why Elly is holding up a pair of pants and Manuela is actually wearing a rather fetching pair of orange undies over her jeans then it's because we encountered an open top bus laden with scantily clad blokes, showering the unsuspecting public with pants. As you do.
Sunday - My neck of the woods
On Sunday for the east end walk, I was joined by a massive group that was also massively international. Out of the seventeen people who came along, only two were English and the rest arrived via France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Holland and the USA.
It was a glorious day for exploring the east end, with Columbia Road flower market in full swing and loads of other fragments of history and bits of street art to uncover along the way.
So, here are the group who I will endeavour to name. Apologies if I've spelt anyones name incorrectly. From left to right - Tim, Ana, Lisa, Eva, Michela, Olga, Sabrina, Esther, Alexandra, Sheila, Bruce, Miguel, Carolin, Kate, John, Marie and Ruth.
Following on from this walk, I also did a special birthday walk for Charlie and her friends, but completely forgot to take a photo. However, thanks incredibly to everyone who came along for walks.
The BOC Trilogy of walks Award - Tamsin and Rowan
Most Eastern european named Portuguese person - Olga
Best moustache - No winners
Highest jumper in a photo - Tim (see above)
Best translator - Alexandra
Most jet lagged - Mary
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.