German born composer, George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759) and American guitarist and all round rock legend, Jimi Hendrix (1942 – 1970) were next door neighbours in London …albeit 200 years apart.
The two musical greats lived at 23 and 25 Brook Street respectively; two Georgian Mayfair houses, which when Handel moved in to No. 25 in 1723 at the age of 38, was brand spanking new. Hendrix and girlfriend Kathy Etchingham occupied a bedroom and had the use of a kitchen at No. 23 Brook Street, between July 1968 and March 1969.
Hendrix’s bedroom has recently been restored from photo shoots that took place in the room and input from Etchingham herself. It can now be visited as a companion piece to Handel’s house next door, where the composer lived and worked.
I decided to visit Handel’s house first, a typical 5 floor Georgian town house. There weren’t many visitors so was able to bend the ear of the incredibly helpful attendant who enthusiastically showed me how Handel’s staircase was widened to allow for his harpsichord to be carried up and down. Hendrix’s staircase however remained unaltered.
I began in Handel’s composition room. He was a pretty speedy composer, and could knock off an entire opera in 40 days, then start another straight afterwards, His Oratorio, ‘Messiah’ was written in just 24 days.
I then headed to the exhibition space (next door) which puts Handel’s life in to a bit of context and explains a bit about the London that Handel would have known and the places he regularly visited. Incidentally, he was very much involved with Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital, another small London museum, well worth a visit. The house on Brook Street was of course close to the theatres around Covent Garden, the developing area of Soho and the Royal family at St James’s Palace. Just like today, Handel had a plethora of coffee houses on his doorstep …and gin palaces.
Handel basically turned his dining room in to a music room and rehearsal space, which the museum use for the same purpose today giving recitals, open rehearsals and even have a current composer in residence.
It is thought that Handel died in his bedroom. The attendant there explained that the bed was short, not because Handel was particularly diminutive, but because people apparently slept sitting up, as it was believed to aid digestion.
I was a massive Hendrix fan when I was a kid and it was obvious from visiting the museum that there are far more fervent Hendrix fans than myself.
The bedroom itself is just that, a room. It is festooned with paraphernalia from the swinging sixties, and the only original item from when Hendrix and Etchingham lived there, is an oval mirror. Still, it’s a faithful recreation and really captures the feel of how it would have been, even if not …the smell.
The room next door is a small museum which as you’d expect charts Hendrix’s journey from a U.S Army paratrooper to session musician for Little Richard (amongst others), a move to London, the formation of the Jimi Hendrix Experience to become what the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame describe as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music” …all within a decade.
Hendrix died in September 1970 (not at this flat) at the age of 27.
Handel and Hendrix in London is a must for music lovers and especially for Jimi Hendrix aficionados visiting London. I couldn’t help but wonder what Jimi would have thought about a flat he rented for a short period in London becoming a shrine to himself, but I think it’s great that both these two very different musicians have not only been able to bridge the gap between their two very different genres, but also the centuries. London, for me, is a city where 2000 years of history constantly rub shoulders, which Handel & Hendrix in London opitimises.
It is fitting also that upon learning that Handel had lived next door, Hendrix went with Kathy Etchingham to the One Stop Record Shop on South Moulton Street and bought Handel’s ‘Messiah’ and ‘Water Music’ on vinyl.
You can find Handel & Hendrix in London at 25 Brook Street, Mayfair, W1K 4HB. It is open Monday to Saturday (11am – 6pm). Last admission 5pm.
As we move in to 2018 and I look forward to seeing who I might meet on walking tours around London this year, I thought I'd just mention a few walks I did and people I met (along with a few familiar faces) towards the end of last year.
Top left is Steve, one of his mates and their 'better halves'. I've done a few walks with Steve and his chums over the years, which has usually involved a number of pub stops. This particular walk was a little more sedate, around the area of Whitehall where they were staying. Top right is Debbie and Ken, visiting from Canada. They are standing beside the Canada Memorial in Green Park, made by Quebec artist Pierre Granche. It commemorates the one million Canadian soldiers who fought alongside the British in both World Wars. The narrow walkway, which divides the memorial points towards the port of Halifax in Nova Scotia, where many of those Canadians began their journey to Europe. The sloping face of the memorial, which trickles with water is embedded with bronze maple leaves. Bottom left is Meredith and Robert outside Liverpool Street station where I dropped them off after a walk around the areas of Spitalfields, Brick Lane and Shoreditch in east London. Bottom right is another group checking out the street art and fascinating history of the same area.
I did a couple of walks with Luke & Lydia (top left). On this photo they area standing by The Monument, built in the 1670s to commemorate the Great Fire of London, 1666. Top right is Jeff & co. standing in St James's Park during our walk around Westminster. Bottom left is Allison and family standing in front of a work by street artist Shok-1. Bottom right is Stephen & Cath standing in the delightful Old Street Underground Station where I dropped them off after our east London wander.
Top left is Ashleigh and her parents in the courtyard of Somerset House on Strand, which over the Christmas period is transformed in to an ice skating rink. Top right is Timothy & Jaime outside Buckingham Palace during our tour of Westminster sights. Bottom left is Olly and family, plus Jim from Texas with the iconic dome of St Paul's cathedral behind them. They requested a 'Fire of London' tour so we began at Pudding Lane where the fire broke out and roughly followed its path of destruction, finishing at St Paul's cathedral. Bottom right is Debi and a whole bunch of students from Buffalo and Singapore on Columbia Road for the Sunday flower market. I think it was the fourth year in a row I've done a walk with Debi and her students.
If you're visiting London in 2018 and would like to do a private walking tour with me, please get in touch. I'd be happy to show you around.
Lock & Co is the oldest hatters in the world. They’ve been based in the St James’s area of Westminster since 1676 and not surprisingly for a shop that is is over 340 years old, have had an eclectic array of customers.
In the early 1800s Lock & Co made Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson’s signature ‘bicorne’ hats and in September 1805, before sailing for Spain, Nelson settled his bill. This was fortunate for Lock & Co, because after the battle of Trafalgar, Nelson no longer required any hats and was in no position to settle any outstanding debts.
In 1849, the St James’s Street hatters made a small round hat for nobleman Edward Coke’s (pronounced ‘Cook’) gamekeepers, which although officially called ‘the Coke’ became better known as ‘the Bowler’.
In more recent history Lock & Co received Royal Warrants, currently providing hats for both HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and HRH The Prince of Wales. Since the 1990s they have had a ladies floor and provided many of the hats and fascinators seen at the Royal Wedding in 2011. As another Royal Wedding (Harry & Megan) was announced today (to take place in Spring 2018), Lock & Co will no doubt find their services in demand once again.
Lock and Co are also quite understandably proud of the fact that they once received a postcard, simply addressed to ‘the best hat shop in London’.
If you enter Lock & Co, you’ll discover in their back room, framed on the walls, little templates of some very famous heads. In 1852, a machine called a ‘conformateur’ was invented in Paris, which although resembling a torture device, actually accurately measures a person’s head. The contraption is placed on a customer’s head, and a series of pins mark the contours of the head, creating a miniature template 1/6 of the actual size. It is mostly used for hard hats and people wishing to resize an existing hat, as the template can then be placed in to an adjustable block and by moving the pins, be used to reverse the process and recreate the circumference of the customer’s head. If the hard hat is heated, and the block placed inside the rim, it will them mould itself to the exact shape of the head. To get a better idea, watch this video showing how the ‘conformateur’ works’.
What you can see framed here, are these little 1/6 sized head templates, all signed by the customer. Below are just a few examples.
This photo includes Henry Winkler, Michael Palin, Kenneth Branagh and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery.
Here we have Charles Chaplin, Donald Sinden, Freddie Fox and Hugh Bonneville.
And finally, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Nicolas Cage, Jackie Onassis, Lord Lucan, Cecil Beaton and David Walliams.
In short, if you've ever wondered what shape head some celebrity, politician or Royal had or has, then pop along to Lock & Co and you might find out.
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.
I haven't written about any of my private walks since March, so thought I'd mention a handful from each of the last three months. Just to re-iterate ... on weekends I often do regular 'pay what you want' group walks, and for the rest of the time I offer private tours around London, for individuals, couples, families, friends and work events. They're all a bit different and depends on what those specific people would like to get out of the walk. If you're visiting London and thinking about taking a private tour, then the photos below might give you a bit of an idea of the sorts of things I do, and you'll know whether I'm the guide for you ... or not as the case may be.
Each year I do a walk with a bunch of students (and their professor) from a University in Buffalo (New York). We often explore around East London and stop off at Columbia Road Flower Market (top left). The Clinton family (top right) did what I call a 'London Extravaganza Tour' which basically means we spent the whole day together (up to 8 hours) and made sure they saw all the sights and loads of other stuff en route. They're standing outside St Paul's cathedral. Another annual excursion I do is for a group of ladies (bottom left) from the States who come to Europe to run the Paris Marathon. A couple of days later they get the Eurostar to King's Cross (where I meet them) and then give them a half day introduction to London, around Westminster. Bottom right is Erin & Frank from New York on the Millennium Bridge looking wistfully away in to the distance. Their walk included Borough and Bankside, just south of the Thames. It's an interesting area that includes the Tate Modern, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, Southwark cathedral, Borough Market and the historic George Inn ... amongst others.
Above left is Lindsey and her parents standing in front of a large section of Roman wall (near to the Tower of London) which dates back to AD200. Centre is John and Kim who did two half day walks with me. They're standing in Trafalgar Square, with the National Gallery behind them. Pictured right, is Todd and co. from Canada who although happy to see some sights and learn about London, really wanted to sit in some pubs and have a few pints ... as you can see.
I've done a few walks with Lynne and her colleagues. On this one, we explored around Soho, Piccadilly and St James's. They're hanging out (above left) in Soho Square. Centre is Ed and co. having had a nice lunch on the terrace outside Gordon's Wine Bar near Embankment. Right is Margarita and her family from the Philippines, with the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields behind them.
Meg & Mike were on their honeymoon. I met them in their Piccadilly hotel and after showing them around Westminster, left them to enjoy some Prosecco in Victoria Embankment Gardens. Melody and family (top right) can be seen standing outside the old Tudor gate of St James's Palace, built for Henry VIII in 1536. Peter, who had been on one of my weekend walks ages ago contacted me about doing a pub crawl with some of his colleagues. I met them at Temple Station and we basically popped in and out of pubs around Fleet Street. I took their photo in The Old Bell Tavern, by St Bride's Church. Bottom right was a Hen Doo I did around Soho and involved a stop off at a cocktail bar. All the ladies present were mostly very well behaved, for which I was very grateful.
For the last few years I've done walks for an organisation based on Gray's Inn Road. This particular walk took in Lincoln's Inn, Strand and finished up on the Southbank. You can see them (top left) in the courtyard of Somerset House. Top right is Phil and his assorted family members outside Westminster Abbey as part of a half day tour around the sights of Westminster, which includes Buckingham Palace, Big Ben & Houses of Parliament, Horse Guards, Downing Street and loads more. Bottom left is Cynthia and friends by Temple Bar, the only surviving City gate (albeit in a different place from where it started). Bottom right is Nancy and her family having a well earned lunch after a morning together spent giving the kids a bit of a London introduction.
So there you have it. If you're visiting London and looking for a private tour guide to show you around, please do get in touch.
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.
March was a busy month for my 'private walking tours' around London. Here are some of the people I met and some of the things we got up to. Top left - I spent the day with Hiroko and Dia. Here they are outside St Paul's cathedral. Top right - Another full day, this time with Marge & Kim, beginning in Covent Garden and exploring Fleet Street in to the City of London before heading over to Bankside & Borough to the south of the river in the afternoon. Bottom left - The first of two walks with Emily and her family around Westminster. Bottom right - Cyrena and family at the end of our walk which began in Trafalgar Square.
Top left - Emily and family again, this time by the Tower of London, with Tower Bridge behind them. Top right - Catriona & co. in Borough Market by Southwark cathedral. Bottom left - Kim and her daughters taking a well earned rest on our walk around Shoreditch, Spitalfields and Hoxton in East London. Bottom right - Alixandra & friends in Parliament Square in front of the iconic Big Ben.
Top left - Louise and family on a special 70th birthday walk (with the dome of St Paul's cathedral behind them). Top right - Jody & Elaine in Trafalgar Square during our walk around the sights of Westminster. Bottom left - Linda and Dana by a blossom tree in St James's Park. Bottom right - Kate & family by St Paul's cathedral on our all day extravaganza to see all the sights and loads of other stuff.
Above left - Friends Marina & Jackie and their daughters in Golden Square, Soho at the end of the first of two walks we did together. Above right - Matt & Lindsey on Bankside outside Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.
I'm currently taking bookings for private London walking tours throughout the summer, so if you think you might like me to show you around whilst you're visiting, please get in touch.
Westminster Abbey has been the coronation church since 1066, but before William the Conqueror was declared King in what was then a newish abbey and power and prestige moved from Winchester to London, where did some of his predecessors get crowned? The clue is in the name, and the answer can be found about 10 miles south west of central London in Kingston-upon-Thames.
I went to Kingston (as it is usually known) a couple of weeks ago to watch a friend of mine in a play at the Rose Theatre, and had passed through a couple of years ago on my Thames Walk. On that occasion I had visited the church of All Saints, which had a large sign outside declaring it was ‘Where England Began’, a bold claim, but perfectly justified.
Edward the Elder (son of Alfred the Great) was crowned in Kingston in AD 900. The country at that point was still separate Kingdoms (the main four being East Anglia, Mercia, Northumbria and Wessex) with some of the country still under Danish rule, which is why Edward called himself “Anglorum Saxonum Rex”, the King of the Anglo-Saxons. Twenty-five years later, Edward’s son Athelstan was also crowned in Kingston and as the first King to reign over all the previously separate kingdoms, he is the first king that could be properly described as a King of England. Between AD 900 and AD 979, seven kings are thought to have been crowned in Kingston.
Outside the Guildhall in Kingston is the very stone, on which over 1000 years ago those kings sat for the early coronation ceremonies, laying the foundations for the same ceremony that saw the Queen crowned in 1953. This ancient stone was moved to its current position in 1935, having spent a great deal of its existence being rather unceremoniously used as a mounting block for horsemen in the nearby Market Place. The names of each of the seven kings are inscribed around the base of the stone with a single coin from each of their reigns, set in to the plinth.
On a slightly different note, the coronation stone stands next to a small river, the Hogsmill, which a short distance away flows in to the Thames. A small bridge, called Clattern Bridge, takes traffic over the river to and from Kingston town centre. It is actually the oldest surviving bridge in London. The name is thought to derive from the descriptive sound of horses clattering over the bridge, with the earliest known reference to it, ‘clateryngbrugge’ dating back to 1293, although numerous sources claim its origins are late 12th century. The bridge has not surprisingly received much needed amendments in more recent centuries, but with its three flint arches, is a wonderful example of a medieval multi-span bridge.
If you’d like to visit Kingston-upon-Thames from central London, trains run frequently from Waterloo Station.
A number of years ago I wrote a post about Tower Bridge, and more specifically Dead Man's Hole which can be found secreted on the north side of the bridge by the Tower of London. Dead Man's Hole is in fact a mortuary (no longer operational), once used to temporarily house corpses retrieved from the murky clutches of the River Thames.
Galvanised by the video I recently posted of my Thames River walk, I set out on my bike one night last week and did a spot of filming on Tower Bridge. The next day I hastily edited the footage in to a video to accompany a song I wrote and recorded years ago, which has a suitably macabre subject matter about someone committing murder on a bridge; the victim's body left to the embrace of the river.
You can perhaps therefore see why I chose Tower Bridge to film. The song is called 'The Bridge Last Night' and was recorded by my friend William Reid and includes the talents of other friends; Joantoni Segui Morro (Satellites) on drums, John Parker (Nizlopi, Ed Sheeran) on double bass and Matt Park (Mystery Jets, Helsinki) on electric guitar.
The River Thames doesn't just flow through London, but as the longest river in England, begins in a field in Gloucestershire and winds for 215 miles through 9 counties until it reaches the North Sea.
In 2015 I walked its entire length, beginning at Southend-on-Sea where the river ends, tracing it right back through the Essex Estuary in to London, down to Reading, up to Oxford, then along in to the Cotswolds. The whole adventure took about 3 weeks, but I condensed it down in to a headache inducing 5 minute video entitled 'From the Sea to the Source - Walking the River Thames'.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.