Saturday afternoon saw the biggest group of the year turn out for the walk from St Paul's to the Monument, which despite the constant threat of rain, was quite impressive. By some standards it would be a piddly showing for a guided walk in London, but by my standards it was positively humungous. So, the 14 of us (including me) set off to explore the area around St Paul's, Bankside, had a brief stop off at Borough Market, Southwark and then back over London Bridge to the finish ... or the end.
Here are the group standing on a mildly nondescript street on Bankside.
The building to the left of them is Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, who are currently in the process of building a replica indoor, candlelit Jacobean theatre, much like the one that Shakespeare and his merry band of players built on the opposite side of the river in the old Blackfriars monastery so they could perform all year round. It was also where Shakespeare actually bought a property in the final few years of life. The deed, which bears one of only a handful (a six fingered hand) of Shakespeare's signatures is currently on display at an exhibition entitled 'Shakespeare and London' at the London Metropolitan Archives. I've literally just got back from seeing it, so can tell you that the exhibition also includes a great deal about the area of London where the group (pictured above) are standing and Sam Wanamaker's quite incredible efforts to get the recreated Globe Theatre built. It took over 20 years, but unfortunately, Sam died before he saw it finished.
On Sunday morning I was joined by a group of 6 people to have a look around east London. Alexa was on her third walk with me and brought her parents Caroline and Henry along for the ride. Jeff was visiting from the States and Tommaso and Manuele were both from Italy. Here they are in Hoxton Square, before making our way to Columbia Road flower market.
So, thanks very much for everyone who came on walks this weekend, and to Siti and Maria for bringing a whole bunch of their colleagues out on a Saturday afternoon.
Most international group of friends - Eleni, Vladamir & Stefan
Most likely to cause trouble ... but didn't - Carol
Most Liverpudlian - Ivan
Most 'look-a-likes' in one group - Jeff (Robin Gibb) and Tommaso (an Italian Chris O'Dowd)
Most sensible footwear considering her niece won the 'most unsuitable footwear award' over a year ago - Maria
And a special award to Caroline (and Henry of course) as I'm delighted they were both able to join us for a wander around London.
There are just two walks to roundup up after this weekend due to a rather wet Saturday afternoon, a couple of people who evidently left their hotel without waterproofs and a guy who just didn't turn up.
On Saturday morning, the weather was fine though. Laurie and Ben were down in London to see Bruce Springsteen play at Wembley that evening so I can try and kid myself that I was a sort of warm up act for Bruce Springsteen. I get quite a few people who are over in London for a few months or a year working and have that healthy appetite for exploring the city, which people who have been here for longer, or are from England often don't. Anyway ... Ali was one such person, over from the States and brought along Jared, her brother who was visiting.
Here they are standing in front of Dr Johnson's House, the 300 year old townhouse, where the first definitive English dictionary was compiled.
It was the Queen's Official birthday on Saturday, so Trooping the Colour had been taking place that morning down in Westminster and a short while after the above photo was taken, we saw the 'fly past' where by a number of planes ranging from a WWII bomber, helicopters, to fighter jets and the Red Arrows flew across London and over Buckingham Palace. Jared felt it was a little excessive for one persons birthday, but then again, maybe it's a bit excessive to have two birthdays in the first place.
For Sundays east London walk, there was a rather splendid group, which included Elodie over from Germany who was back for the second time, Barbara and Andrew visiting from Scotland and a number of others who had read about my walks in the Guardian article last week about 'pay what you want' tours.
Here they are standing in the middle of Arnold Circus, England's first Council estate, built at the end of the Victorian era.
Veteran walker - Elodie
Most American - Ali & Jared
Most likely to have an in depth knowledge about the price of sugar - Archie
Most likely to respond positively to the question 'Are you a clown?' - Sandra & Elodie
Most Scottish - Barbara & Andrew
Most medical knowledge - Laurie & Ben
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.
Seeing as we've just passed seamlessly in to the month of June, I though I'd take the liberty of mentioning a few walks I did in the month of May.
This is Mercedes & Cindy who were on a brief stop over in London, so I met them at Victoria station, fresh off the Gatwick Express. Although the area of Victoria itself is currently under quite a lot of construction and perhaps not the most attractive of places to begin a tour, it's actually conveniently located for getting to Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and places like that. The photo was taken on Horse Guards Parade in Westminster, and if you look closely, you'll see in the background, a pair of young newlyweds. Aaaah ... how romantic.
I spent pretty much the whole day with the Cassanda family, who were visiting from the States, so in the morning managed to cover Westminster, then after a spot of lunch near Covent Garden, went to see the Tower of London, a host of other places and finished at St Paul's cathedral. Here they are standing in front of the iconic clock tower, known as Big Ben ... which is (as I'm sure you know) the name of the massive bell inside.
Here's Erin, who came on one of my regular Saturday walks. It was in fact her second walk with me after already doing the east London one a few months ago. She's standing outside a pub just off Borough High street, south of the river Thames called the King's Arms. I had just mentioned to her, that the huge coat of arms that adorns the front of the pub, was actually saved from a stone gateway on the south end of the old London bridge and had been added in the early 1700's, then removed when the area south of the bridge was redeveloped for access reasons later in the century.
Greg and Nancy joined me on a Sunday walk around the east end of London. Here they are standing on Princelet Street, which forms part of an area known as Spitalfields. Historically, the area has welcomed successive waves of immigrants over the centuries, and the current nearby Brick Lane Mosque is a fascinating English Heritage building that effortlessly encapsulates pretty much its entire migrant history. Just behind them is another interesting building, rarely open to the public and known as 19 Princelet Street. I think the hope is that one day, it can open permanently as a centre of immigration, telling the stories of the many people from around the globe that have lived in the area. As you might be able to tell from the photo, we popped to Columbia Road Flower Market on the way.
Next up is Jill and Jenna from Ohio. I met them at their hotel by Lancaster Gate just next to the Italian Gardens, then wandered through Hyde Park to Buckingham Palace. Here they are outside the magnificent Westminster Abbey, which was just one stop on a tour that finished up on the other side of London at the Tower of London.
Last but not least, here's one of my Sunday groups standing outside Shoreditch Town Hall. We spent the morning wandering around the areas of Old Street, Shoreditch, Hoxton and Spitalfields.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.