I've mentioned chewing gum artist Ben Wilson on a number of occasions over the last few years. For the uninitiated, Mr. Wilson paints tiny pictures on pieces of chewing gum that people have spat on the floor. He's been making masticated art on London's streets for over a decade, but if you walk over the Millennium Bridge, and look down, you'll be sure to see his handy-work adorning what Londoner's call 'the wobbly bridge'.
On today's east London walk, which has been previously described as a street art walk with a few other bits about London thrown in, we soon discovered that in the last week or so, Ben Wilson, (the chewing gum man) has been on what Gary (one of the walkers) described as a 'chewing gum painting bender'. I'm sure there are more recent additions, but these are the ones that we spotted today around Old street, Shoreditch and Rivington Street.
There's a festival on in London at the moment, encouraging Londoners to explore their own city. It's called Find Your London, and began last Friday (18th March) and runs up until the end of the Easter weekend (28th March), offering a host of activities, talks, walks, cycle trails and treasure hunts to get people out of the house and explore the capital.
My own London walking tours are part of Find Your London, so last weekend I welcomed a plethora of people who already live in London, and those visiting to join me on my regular London wanders. Here are the Saturday morning group on the walk that took us from Trafalgar Square, through Covent Garden to Fleet Street, finishing at St Paul's cathedral.
When I began my London walks I just offered the three 'pay what you want' weekend walks and for the first year, it was pretty much solely Londoners who came, beginning with three people who saw a poster I'd stuck up in a bike shop in Old Street. The idea of offering walks to people who already lived in London was met with a certain amount of scepticism, as those who live and work here often don't consider the city to hold any secrets, to provide them with anything of interest or be worth exploring at all. How wrong they are. The perception is that if you live somewhere, then you know it. It's your city. If those same people were to take a weekend break to say Prague, they'd probably choose to go on a guided walk, perhaps with the wonderful team at The Naked Tour Guide. They'd very possibly know more about Prague in two hours than they do their own city.
Many Londoners tend to map their city by the London Underground; a series of connected dots on a map, often without knowing what is above them or what it looks like. They go to their nearest Underground station, disappear underground for half an hour, pop out by their office and have no idea what is in between. I was doing a walk once, and we were standing by The Monument, Christopher Wren's monument to the Great Fire of London, marking where the fire began in 1666. It was erected in the 1670s, about 186 years before the first Underground line was dug. Not surprisingly, the underground station next to it is called ... Monument. A Londoner in the group said "What a coincidence ... there's a big Monument by Monument Station". Last year TFL produced a new London Underground map, marked with walking times between stations as a for a number of them, it's actually quicker to walk than take the tube. I've had many people on walks amazed that we were able to walk to point A to point B in a matter of minutes, a journey which they'd previously only completed (in a much longer time) by tube.
As well as British people, the groups last weekend included many people from France, Brazil, Spain, Russia, Bulgaria, Germany and a number of other countries. They weren't all on holiday, but people living and working in London, and using the walks as a way of discovering new places and learning about their adopted city's history. There are six days of the Find Your London Festival left, and you can browse the activities on their website either by date, type of activity or simply what kind of mood you're in; active, curious, playful, relaxed or inspired. My own walks are fully booked for the coming weekend, but I do them every weekend; two central London walks on Saturdays and a walk around east London (which includes a great deal of street art) on Sundays. If you're reading this, have missed the walks this coming weekend, but would like to join one of the weekend 'pay what you want' walks in the future, then you'd be most welcome. The current dates are are listed on the homepage of this website. This was the group last Sunday as we passed through Arnold Circus in Shoreditch.
So ... why not get out, get exploring and ... Find Your London.
We had a nice couple of walks this weekend, with a healthy number of Londoners out to explore their own city, alongside visitors from further afield. Saturday morning kicked off with a group of 11 hailing from Australia, the States, Holland and Finsbury Park amongst other places. Here they all are in Trafalgar Square, one of the first stops on the walk, after which we weaved through Covent Garden and Fleet Street en route to St Paul's cathedral.
The man on the left with the rather pink pushchair (and baby) was not actually on our walk, but men with pink pushchairs are of course very welcome.
On Sunday, Rob & Els, who had been on the Saturday walk returned to explore east London and were joined by fellow Dutch visitors Anna, Chantal and Jane (or Jannika) who was also celebrating her birthday. The group was further bolstered by Tracy, Troy and Nick and completed by my old friend Steve and his lady friend Amalia who was also celebrating her birthday (although hers had officially been on Friday). So, all in all it was a pretty birthday-tastic walk.
Here they all are standing next to Syd's Coffee Stall on the corner of Calvert Avenue and Shoreditch High Street. It has been there since 1919 when Sydney Tothill returned from the trenches of the First World War and used his invalidity pension to construct a small tea and coffee stand, which is still run today by his grand daughter Jane.
Tallest - Rob
Best ear warmers - Gabbi and Laura
Best Moustache - Ryan
Name most likely to make you think of the Trojan war - Troy
Most Dutch group - Sunday
Only two walks this weekend, as the people on Saturday morning failed to turn up. Instead, I visited the church of St Clement Danes on the Strand (amongst other things), which I shall undoubtedly write a brief doodah about at some point. So ... in the afternoon, I met Annie, Pete(r) and Jane who were spending a weekend in London, on a minor sojourn down from the north of England ... Lancashire I think.
They were reasonably familiar with London (Annie in fact knew loads of stuff), and had visited Borough Market before, so we just stopped off at the 'German Deli' so that Jane (who is half German) could stock up on some German-esque provisions.
On Sunday, we mixed things up a bit by not only starting at a different time, but in a completely different location. Saturday's walk can't have been too hideous, as Annie, Pete(r) and Jane all returned for a wander around east London, and joined a mighty group of seventeen people. Yes ... seventeen. It was a pretty international group consisting of people from France, Israel, Switzerland, Norway, Scotland, Northern Ireland and even Hackney.
Here they all are just near Shoreditch Station. You can see to the right of the picture, a small section of disused railway line. The current station opened as part of the Overground Line just a couple of years ago, but the original station (which that railway line belonged to), also called Shoreditch Station, opened in 1840, but the name changed to Bishopsgate Station a few years later, to encourage commuters working in the City to use the line. Bishopsgate of course, is the main road that slices straight through the financial centre of the City, down to London Bridge. Interestingly, to the left of the picture, you can see the Broadgate Tower, which was built right on the cusp of the City boundary. It's quite astonishing the stark contrast between the City on one side, with its tall, grand, modern architecture and buildings that ooze wealth ... and the distinct lack of any high rise buildings in Hackney, to the right.
Anyway ... a short while later, we came across a couple of reasonably new pieces of street art by Ben Wilson (I found one of them on a walk last week). I've mentioned Ben Wilson before, as he uses bits of discarded chewing gum as his canvas, quite often painting miniature scenes depicting the view from where the chewing gum was ... discarded. In this case, the chewing gum on the left shows a small street, just off Rivington Street and the back of Shoreditch Town Hall, whilst the one on the right is of the Artwords Bookshop, and people passing in front of it, just a bit further down.
That's pretty much it for this weekend.
The Double Whammy Award for doing two walks in one weekend on consecutive days - Annie, Pete(r) & Jane
Most French - Isabella & Marc
Best moustache - No winners
Best hat - Fiona
Name I couldn't pronounce - Asne (pronounced Ozna)
Dylan, who came along on the east London guided walk I did last Sunday sent me some great photos he took. I won't spoil them by writing comments and bits of blurb under each one, so basically they were taken around Old Street, Hoxton, Shoreditch and Spitalfields.
My neck of the woods - then & now
I know you can get apps that do this sort of thing, but I thought it might be fun to show a few pictures of the Shoreditch and Hoxton area, which are covered in the 'My neck of the woods' walk, as they were 'then' and as the same place looks 'now' in 2011. Quite simple really. If you know the area, it might be quite interesting. Then again, it might not.
This is Shoreditch Town Hall, originally built in 1865.
This is the north end of Hoxton Square in 1921. The square was originally developed in the 1680's. St Monica's Catholic Church on the left is still there ... as you can see.
Just up the road is Hoxton Street, which was home to the Britannia Theatre, built in 1841 and could seat 3000 people. It was frequented by Charles Dickens (amongst many others), but unfortunately WWII got the better of it. The photo below was taken in about 1936, by which time it was being used as a cinema. It's now a block of flats opposite the Macbeth pub.
Curtain Road was once home to The Theatre, which was where William Shakespeare strutted his stuff before his troupe 'The Lord Chamberlain's Men' dismantled the theatre, took it across on the Thames, re-erected on Bankside and called it The Globe. This is Curtain Road in about 1900.
Pitfield Street is named after Charles Pitfield, who bought a large moated mansion house nearby in 1648. It runs down the side of Hoxton Square and runs from Old Street pretty much up to the Regent's Canal and also joins up with New North Road. The photo below was taken in about 1905 and shows the library and what used to be the baths to the left. The baths were demolished after the war, and the library now houses the Courtyard Theatre.
Archive photos courtesy of L.B Hackney's Archive Department.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.