As you wander around London, you’ll notice that a white coloured stone is prevalent. It’s called Portland Stone. After the Great Fire of 1666, and realising that building things out of wood wasn’t such a hot idea (pun intended), Christopher Wren used 6 million tonnes of the stuff whilst rebuilding the City. He rebuilt 51 of the 87 churches that burned, with the mighty St Paul’s cathedral being the most famous; a good example of Wren’s use of Portland Stone, which is a particular favourite amongst architects apparently due to its versatility. More recent examples include BBC Broadcasting House, Green Park Underground station, the CitizenM Hotel and the British Museum.
Portland Stone comes, not surprisingly from Portland on the south coast of England, in Dorset, known as the Jurassic Coast due to the amount of fossils found there from the ‘Jurassic Age’ which occurred 199.6million – 145.5 million years ago. A unique feature therefore of Portland Stone is the sheer number of fossils found within it. I’ve heard it said that occasionally as the buildings weather, fossils appear. Whether this is true or not I have no idea. What is certain though, is that I’ve noticed in recent years that a particular type of Portland limestone called ‘Bowers Roach’ is being used on facades and cladding, with the very visible fossils utilised as a decorative feature; a very effective one at that. I love that fact that people walk around London every day passing 150 million year-old fossils, and they have no idea.
As an example, the below photo is of a bench I often sit on to have my lunch on Saturdays. As you can see, it’s positively festooned with fossils.
The photo at the top shows fossils on the New London Stock Exchange building, Paternoster Square. I’m not an aficionado on fossils (as with anything), but the very prominent cone shaped fossils, known as the ‘Portland Screw’ are officially Gastropods ( Aptyxiella Portlandila). Looks like it might have numerous Bivalves (Liostrea Expansa) too, otherwise known as Oysters.
If you fancy yourself as an urban geologist, whilst you’re out and about fossil hunting in London, keep your eyes open for Pecten (Camptonectes Lamellosus) or Scallop Shells, Mussels (Mytilus Suprajurensis) or Ammonites (Titanites Anguiformes) to name but a few. If you happen to be passing through Euston Station, check out their funky benches, which as the Londonist pointed out, must surely be the oldest benches in London.
If you’d like to find out a bit more about Portland Stone, then have a look at Albion Stone’s website, one of the main providers of Portland Stone, including the examples given above.
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.
Most weekends I do three regular 'pay what you want' walks around London; two in central London on Saturdays and an East London walk on Sundays. Over recent months I've been a bit lapse at writing up these walks, but every now and again I get people who are returning for a second walk, or even their third ... for ...'The Trilogy'.
Last Sunday Geoff and Desne who first joined me for a walk last year, returned to complete 'The Trilogy'. They brought it to my attention that friends of theirs who have also been on my walks, got mentioned on the website and had their picture included. They seemed a little despondent that for no particular reason, I had never included either of their previous walks in this manner. So, to make amends, here is Geoff and Desne on the Sunday East London walk. They were joined by a nice young chap from New Zealand called Brendan and I took their photo on Rivington Street, with one of street artist Stik's stick figures behind them.
At the beginning of the year I did a few walks with a lovely couple from Australia, Berni & Louise. They also came on the first Saturday morning walk of 2016 from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's and were joined by Angelina & Michael from Germany. You can see them below standing in Wardrobe Place in the City of London. To their right, standing by the main front door to St Paul's cathedral is Brigid, who was the only person on that particular walk.
For the last few years I've done a walk with a group of American and Singaporean students. They came along for a wander around the east end one Sunday. I took their photo in Corbett Place, part of the Old Truman Brewery building, which is festooned with street art, including work by Invader, Shepard Fairey, Ronzo and D*Face to name just a few.
I mentioned earlier, Geoff & Desne completing 'The Trilogy'. Often this momentous occasion is achieved over a number of months or usually years. However, every now and again a real keeno emerges from nowhere, intent on doing all three walks in a single weekend; an ordeal ... sorry ... pleasurable activity that involves listening to me warbling on for about 9 or more hours, whilst doing a fair bit of walking, very possibly in not particularly great weather. On the second weekend in January, Susi from Germany rose to the challenge and did all three walks in a single weekend. Below, you can see her on her second walk, with Linda, David and Andrew who were visiting from the States. We were down on Bankside, next to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and you can see the magnificent dome of St Paul's cathedral behind them.
The following day, Susi returned to take on the final leg of 'The Trilogy' around East London. She was joined by Jane & Dan. Jane is a London based life coach, so if you're at a career cross roads or think a life coach might be useful, then maybe Jane's a good person to get in contact with. I wasn't going to include their photo because I was trying to be a bit arty farty by taking their picture under a railway arch, with the sun behind them. All it achieved was that you can't see Susi, Jane or Dan, but it looks like Dan is wearing a pair of stick on glowing ears. He actually had perfectly fine ears, what could be called 'normal' ears. I just wanted to make that clear.
I've included the next photo below because it includes Tim & Sarah, also completing 'The Trilogy' as well as Sue and Anne (aka Petal) back for their second walk and Lucy who had also been on a few walks with me, as I'd done some walks with the charity she works for. It was all go. They were joined by a lovely bunch of friends having a bit of a reunion, as well as Tim, a hardcore Aldershot Football team fan. Here they are clustering around the area that was the original site for the world famous Globe Theatre, which opened in Bankside in 1599.
So there we have it, a few of the first weekend walks I've done in 2016.
Special Award to Geoff & Desne for no particular reason - Geoff & Desne
Recipients of the much coveted 'Trilogy' Award - Geoff & Desne, Tim & Sarah and also Susi
Last week marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War and you'll find that some of London's most iconic landmarks, as well as museums, churches and organisations are all remembering 'The Glorious Dead' as is inscribed on the Cenotaph in Whitehall.
If you visit the Tower of London in the next couple of months you can watch volunteers placing red ceramic poppies in to the dry moat that surrounds the historic building. In case you're unaware, the poppy was one of the only plants to grow on the battlefields of northern France and Flanders after the ground had been ravaged by conflict. In those fields, unimaginable numbers of soldiers lay buried beneath where the poppies grew after the war had ended, and are still found by farmers to this day. The red poppy has become a memorial symbol to the fallen. The incredibly powerful and poignant installation at the Tower of London is called 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red', created by ceramic artist Paul Cumming and stage designer Tom Piper.
I took some photos last week of the work in progress, but by the time the whole piece is finished in November, 888,246 poppies will have been added; each one representing a British or Colonial soldier who died during the First World War. It will be quite a sight. Each ceramic poppy can be purchased for £25, the proceeds of which will be spread amongst the six service charities.
St Paul's cathedral, another of London's famous landmarks has chosen to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War in a very different way. On display, in the cathedral until 2018, mirroring the duration of the Great War, is an altar frontal. Many of the men who returned from the battlefields, did so with terrible wounds and afflictions; scarred by the experiences in the trenches. One of the many forms of rehabilitation was embroidery, as it involved a steady hand and concentration which men suffering from 'shell shock' invariably lacked. 138 men from the UK, Australia, South Africa and Canada who were recovering in a number of different hospitals all contributed small sections of embroidery to form what became the St Paul's cathedral altar frontal. 'Lest We Forget', the title given to the display can be seen at the cathedral over the next four years, and on the St Paul's cathedral website, you can find information about each of the remarkable men that contributed.
Also, having been closed for most of the year, the Imperial War Museum in south London has just reopened along with their new First World War galleries, telling the story of the war through the lives of those that experienced it, both on the front line and at home, so if you are visiting and have an interest in this particular period of history, you should perhaps add it to your itinerary.
I actually have two weekends worth of walks to roundup, so I shall begin with the previous weekend (11th & 12th January) which began with a mighty group, comprising of the extended family of the Robertson's who were celebrating a 70th birthday. Here they are outside St Paul's cathedral at the end of the walk.
In the afternoon, the group was rather smaller and I took Lindsay, Brian and Clementine over the Millennium Bridge to Bankside, where I took the below photo. St Paul's cathedral can be seen behind them.
On Sunday 12th January, Marcus & Karen returned for their second walk with me, and were joined by Mel, Jonathan, Pete and Alec. We began (as we often do on Sundays) in Old Street, exploring around Shoreditch and Hoxton, before finishing by Spitalfields. Here they are outside Hawksmoor's Christchurch on Fournier Street.
So, catching up with the weekend just gone (18th & 19th January) on Saturday morning I met Imogen and Celyn who have only just recently moved to London, so wanted to discover a bit more about this city they now call home. They were joined by Karen, Jacques and Pablo who is over for a month from Spain. They were a lovely group, and I took the photo of them below on Carter Lane, just outside the YHA hostel by St Paul's cathedral, which provides cheap accommodation, right in the heart of the City of London. The best thing about this particular building is that it looks incredibly grandiose from the outside, albeit in a slightly dilapidated, endearing way. It was originally built to house the choir boys who sang at the cathedral.
The walk around east London took place rather later than usual, which is why, when I took the photo of the group on Folgate Street at the end of the walk, it was already a bit dark. They're standing outside the rather incredible Dennis Sever's House, which if you visit, takes you on a 200 year journey through the lives and home of the fictitious Huguenot weavers of the Jervis family.
Most family members on one walk - Robertson family
Most French - Clemetine
Best moustache - No winners
Most appropriate surname - Walker (Imogen)
Pinkest coat - Jan, the birthday girl.
It was a reasonably quiet weekend as walks go, but none-the-less, still very enjoyable. On Saturday morning I did the walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's with Margriet, from Holland. Aside from stopping for a drink in Covent Garden, we popped by the 12th century Temple church en route to St Paul's, which if you've ever seen the film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, is where Tom Hanks comes when he arrives in London.
There are lots of other things I could have said about it other than mentioning Tom Hanks, but there you go. I've mentioned it before, but think I'll write a brief post about it soonish. Here's Margriet at the end of the walk outside St Paul's cathedral.
On Sunday, Triona and Martin who were over from Ireland came for a wander around the east end. Here they are standing in front of street artist Stik's piece on Princelet Street, just off Brick Lane.
Most Dutch - Margriet
Best moustache - No winners
Most Irish - Triona & Martin
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
Jeepers. So it was a really lovely weekend of walks and met some great people and experienced very different types of weather. Saturday was one of those really nice cold, but crisp autumnal days and in the morning I met Kat and Nancy for the walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's.
Here they both are outside the Royal Courts of Justice, which was unusually busy for a Saturday ('cause it was open) due to the London Open House Weekend which happens once a year and if you've never got involved, then you perhaps should next year, because it's great. Lots of buildings all over London, from the flat Jimi Hendrix died in to the Gherkin are open to the public for one weekend only.
We also sampled some tea at Twinings tea shop before winding our way through Fleet Street to finish at St Paul's. I'll also quickly mention that Nancy has her own mobile hairdressing business and zips around London on bike visiting people at home to cut their hair, so if you fancy having your hair coiffeured in the comfort of your own home, then get in touch with her.
Kat is one of a select group of people to do both Saturday walks on one day, so after a spot of lunch, returned for the afternoon walk from St Paul's to Monument, where she was joined by Rachel, Hannah, Claire and also Liron (who had done the east end walk previously) and David, both from Israel.
Rachel is busy, trying to uncover things to do, see, eat and experience in London for Londoners ... and anyone else for that matter, which she compiles in to a radio podcast for Shoreditch Radio and just last week unleashed a brand spanking new website called 'i love London town' ... which you should also check out. Anyway ... we had a wander around Borough and Southwark, before heading back over London Bridge to finish at the Monument.
Sunday was an entirely different weather kind of day and Sabine and Dario, from Germany, braved what began as a steady influx of greyness and rain to become mildly torrential during their exploration of the east end. We popped to the Geffrye Museum en-route, which is a great little place built in 1714 and now is a museum dedicated to the history of how people lived in London from 1600 to the present day.
Because of the Open House weekend, I took the liberty of taking them to the wonderful Hoxton Hall, built in 1863 and one of only two surviving Victorian music halls in London. It was originally called McDonald's Music Hall and strangely was forced to close down after less than ten years due to complaints about the noise.
Keenest double whammy Saturday walker - Kat
Best moustache - No winners
Most likely to be unobtrusively recording - Rachel
Most Israeli - Liron and David
Most German - Dario & Sabine
The sun actually made an appearance this weekend and Saturday was a scorcher. In the morning I was met by Gordon and Vivian from Manchester, Lis from Denmark and Michelle from Australia.
We made our way from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's and even managed to stop off for a drink in a 17th Century pub on the way. Here they are outside St Paul's cathedral at the end of the walk.
It looked like it was going to be another sunny day on Sunday for the east end walk, and was, except for a freak 45 minute deluge complete with thunder. However, Sanjeev, Josephine, Ant and Anna carried on regardless and by the end, we had all dried off again. They were a lovely group, and although Anna (from Greece) was the only non Londoner, she was strangely the only one to have previously visited Columbia Road flower market. Here they are just outside a pub called the Birdcage on our way from the market.
Incidentally, the fashion for keeping caged birds, which at one time could also be purchased from the market, was brought over by the Huguenots in the 17th Century.
Thanks to everyone who came on walks this weekend.
Best Tattoos - Michelle
Most Danish - Lis
Most involved in the Olympics - Anna
Best Moustache - No Winners
Best prepared with sun cream - Michelle and Anna
Best knowledge of good curry restaurants - Sanjeev and Josephine
The other week, I was asked to do a three day London walking extravaganza. Sheree and Cortney were visiting London for the first time, over from Wisconsin before heading off on a cruise, and wanted to pack in as much as possible in to their three days.
We spent the first day around Westminster, and aside from passing by Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, 'Big Ben', Downing Street, Horse Guards Parade. Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly, St James's Palace and much more, they also spent some time in both Westminster Abbey and The Churchill War Rooms.
The second day began at the Tower of London (which they visited), and of course Tower Bridge, which is currently adorned with the Olympic Rings.
Then, after a minor detour through the City, including Leadenhall Market, the old Royal Exchange and the Bank of England we headed over London Bridge to Borough, taking in the 17th Century George Inn, Borough Market, Southwark Cathedral and of course Shakespeare's Globe Theatre before heading over to St Paul's cathedral.
After Sheree and Cortney had finished having a look around St Paul's we headed through Fleet Street taking in lots of places including Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Dr Johnson's House and Twinings Tea Shop, before finishing off at Covent Garden.
The final day was split between east and west London. It was pouring with rain in the morning. East London was grey and miserable, so I don't think it ingratiated itself with my two London explorers, but we did manage to pop to Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station, a constant source of delight for Harry Potter fans from all over the world.
In the afternoon, we headed west and Sheree and Cortney had a look around the recently refurbished Kensington Palace, where Queen Victoria was born and Princess Diana lived.
I think I'm still a bit undecided as to my thoughts on it, but it's certainly a different way to impart information in a museum setting, with the emphasis less on information boards and artifacts behind glass and more on exploration and uncovering information through emotion led stimulus, activities and participation.
Anyway, by this time I think we were all pretty knackered after three days exploring London, so on the way back to Victoria, where Sheree and Cortney were staying, we passed by the Royal Albert Hall and had a quick stop off at Harrods.
That's them pretending to be interested in the Albert memorial. We did a lot of walking over the three days and saw absolutely loads of stuff, and I should also add that Sheree and Cortney had both bought The London Pass before coming to the UK, so all the museums, cathedrals, palaces and wot not they visited had already been paid for, they didn't have to queue for a ticket and it also included all public transport travel for the three days.
Thanks to them both for putting up with me for three whole days.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.