July was also a busy month for my Private guided tours around London and here's my roundup up of some of the walks I did, the people I met and the places we visited. Top left is Pam and her extended family in Trafalgar Square. I met them at their hotel, The Royal Horseguards and we spent a few hours exploring the Westminster area. Next up is Ted and his son outside Liverpool Street station in the City of London where I left them after a wander around Spitalfields and Shoreditch. Bottom left is Dave & Chrissy who came on one of my first ever group walks nearly four years ago. It was Chrissy's birthday and I met them by the Tower of London and we pretty much meandered around the City of London, ending near St Paul's cathedral. They're standing next to one of the old Police Telephone Boxes that although not in use have been left as sort of street antiques around the city. Bottom right is Elizabeth & co. outside St Paul's cathedral after doing a bit of an all day 'London Extravaganza' tour taking in all the major sights, plus loads of other stuff en route.
Above left is Lindsay & Gordon at the Haymarket Hotel where they were staying, and where I dropped them back at the end of our wander around Westminster. Top right Dave (who bore an uncanny resemblance to John Major) and his entourage during our full day seeing London's highlights. Bottom left is Jim & Scott with St Paul's cathedral behind them. Due to a tube strike I had to do a different walk than planned with Ryan and his daughter, and as they were staying in east London, met them there and explored the surrounding area. I took their photo in Old Spitalfields Market.
Above left is Rae and her group with Big Ben & the Houses of Parliament behind them. Top right is Sammy & Ellen as we wandered through Soho on a walk that began in Knightsbridge. I did a walk for two families travelling together from the States (bottom left) around Shoreditch, and took their photo on Great Eastern street. Bottom right is Jennifer and her family in St James's Park in Westminster.
The four photos above show Brad and his kids who had just arrived in London, standing outside St James's Palace. On a rather wet, dreary day I met Pat and his family in Covent Garden and they braved the rain to explore Westminster. I took their photo standing on The Mall with Buckingham Palace behind them. Bottom left is another two families travelling together, this time, on Whitehall. For the last three years, each summer I've done a walk for people who work for CAFOD. They're standing by the statue of Charles I, just to the south of Trafalgar Square. We were lucky enough to be taken in to the church of St James's Piccadilly, shown around and told about what they get up to by the Revd Lindsay Meader.
In this last set, we have Eric & Donna on College Green next to the Victoria Tower to the west of the Houses of Parliament. Staying in the same area, but to the opposite tower, the Elizabeth Tower (aka Big Ben) we have Stephanie and her family. The last two pictures are both in Shoreditch where any kind of walk is inevitably accompanied by street art. We have Allegra and her parents and Dean and Lucy.
I'll be continuing to do weekday walks throughout the rest of the year, so if you're visiting London and would like me to show you around, please get in touch.
At the end of this week I will be embarking on the final stretch of a Thames Walk. I have already walked from the sea to Putney, and on Friday I will walk from Putney to the source in the Cotswolds, a distance of about 170 or so miles. This particular endeavour has come about from a mildly obsessive, geeky interest in the River Thames, a river, which was called “liquid history” by the 19th / 20th century politician John Burns. His wonderfully astute turn of phrase effortlessly captures the tidal nature of the dark river and the simple fact that each and every day, with the changing tides, its waters offer up gifts from the past. Like a cat bringing in from the garden, a dead mouse or a frog for the pleasure (or displeasure) of its owners, the River Thames, leaves strewn about its banks and beaches, glimpses of our own history for us to find, or not, as the case may be.
It was through my own interest in this remarkable open archaeological site that curls like a giant ribbon through London that I came across a lady called Nicola White, a mudlark (amongst other things) who enjoys nothing more than walking her dog through the quieter reaches of the Thames estuary and picking up these treasures as she goes. Some of her finds she turns in to pieces of art, others items she keeps and in 2011 she found a message in a bottle, which for her marked the beginning of a new journey.
Since that first message, Nicola, has over the last few years, found over 30 messages and it was these I found particularly interesting. Some are from children just intrigued to see if anyone finds their message, some are cries for help, or desperation with the world. Others are from lovers declaring their undying love for each other, whilst many are quite enigmatic or simply pearls of wisdom the writers wished to share. Nicola has managed to track down many of those people who left the message and when I discovered that she was presenting a large number of them at a temporary exhibition in Greenwich, I knew I had to go and see them and meet her.
Nicola has mounted about 33 of her ‘words from the water’ on one wall of the gallery, which will take you through a whole gambit of emotions. Some are sad, some poignant, others obtuse and some will bring a smile to your face. One of my favourites was from a boy called Jack from Kent, who simply wrote on his message “I wish I could be a dino thunder power ranger the red ranger”. Through Twitter, Nicola managed to track Jack down and cordially sent him the requested Power Ranger costume, and in turn Jack (or Jack’s parents) sent Nicola a couple of photos of Jack proudly wearing his new Power Ranger outfit. Brilliant.
Filling the rest of the compact ‘Made in Greenwich’ gallery are an amazing array of curiosities that Nicola has found, mostly courtesy of the Thames. She has a great collection of clay pipes from throughout the centuries, buckles, children’s toys, bottle stops, coins, trinkets, religious offerings, ceramics, watches, bullets and in fact a whole cabinet dedicated to war paraphernalia. In one glass case was a 17th century jaw-bone, complete with a few teeth. I asked her how she knew it was from the 17th century. It turns out that she found the entire skeleton, so obviously called the police and it was taken away for examination. The forensic report concluded that the skeleton belonged to a 24 year old man who died in the mid 17th century, and she was permitted to keep a bit. She also told me that she found a hand grenade with the pin still in it, which was swiftly whisked away by the Police and detonated in a controlled environment.
The thing that really struck me about seeing both the ‘words from the water’, Nicola’s collection of stuff and meeting her in person, is that although she’s not a historian, but has provided a few bits of contextual information, the objects are there purely because Nicola wishes to share them. Her interest in them and her passion for the river, is much the same as mine, which is rather than these finds being displayed in a dry historical setting, the thing that really draws you in, are the untold stories behind each and every object, the human element, the questions that remain unanswered. Who did this bracelet belong to? How did this man die here? How did this Victorian child feel when they dropped their beloved toy in the river? Who was the woman that this declaration of love was made to? As Nicola said of a coin she found that dates back to the late 17th century, it’s incredible to think that the last person to touch that coin before she did was the person who dropped it 300 or so years ago. You can’t help but wonder who that person was, what their life entailed and so on.
So, all in all, if you find yourself in Greenwich (or even go especially) anytime between now and 12th August, Nicola’s fascinating exhibition and her mudlarking finds, plus some of her art are all there for you to marvel at, inside the ‘Made In Greenwich’ Gallery (324 Creek Rd, SE10 9SW) each day from 11am. It’s small, it’s compact and it’s free, but Nicola has managed in the space of a few years to collect a quite astounding array of trinkets, oddities and mysteries from the banks of the river that offer you a unique glimpse in to our own very human history and connection with the river from the present day, all the way back to the medieval period … and beyond. Well worth a visit.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.