I'll undoubtedly regret this, but I've set myself the challenge of posting a fun London fact every day for the whole of 2023. That's 365 facts! (I know you knew that).
I'm posting them over on Twitter and Instagram each day, then every week I'll do a round up here. So here are my fun London facts for the first week.
On the 23rd October 1843, the 14 stonemasons who built Nelson’s Column had a dinner party at the top before the statue of Horatio Nelson was hoisted up.
When Sam Wanamaker was raising funds for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in the 1990s, he was reliant on private donations, with each individual or organisation rewarded with their name engraved on a paving stone around the theatre. John Cleese phoned up and said “If you spell Michael Palin’s name wrong, I’ll give you double.” And so it is, that next to John Cleese is the larger paving stone of 'Michael Pallin'.
William Fortnum was a footman for Queen Anne in the early 18th century. One of his jobs was to replenish the palace candles each evening, but the Queen apparently insisted on new candles each day. William sold on the used candles, making a tidy profit which he used to set up his grocery shop with Hugh Fortnum in 1707. This is why candles are a motif in Fortnum & Mason today.
Elizabethan playwright Ben Jonson (1572 – 1637) is the only person in Westminster Abbey buried standing up. The reason? By the end of his life he’d spunked most of his money, so before he died, negotiated a deal to be buried standing up. It took up less space and was therefore much cheaper. Clever chap.
The famous bronze lions at the base of Nelson’s Column are anatomically incorrect. Lions can’t actually sit with their back legs like this. Edwin Landseer who made them was a Victorian water-colour painter and had never made a sculpture in his life. He based the back of them on his own dogs.
Rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix and German born composer George Frideric Handel were nextdoor neighbours …albeit 200 years apart. Handel moved to Brook Street, Mayfair in 1723 and spent 40-years living there. In 1970, Hendrix moved in with his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham to the top floor room at 23 Brook Street. When Hendrix learned of his famous old neighbour he went out and bought ‘Music for the Royal Fireworks’ and ‘Messiah’ which incidentally Handel wrote next door.
The two buildings have been transformed in to the rather brilliant Handel & Hendrix in London museum. It’s currently closed for refurbishment, re-opening in May 2023. Well worth a visit.
Built by Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke, The Monument is a monument to the Great Fire of London in 1666. Completed in 1677 it stands 202ft tall because if it were to fall eastwards (which it hasn’t yet) the top of it would touch the spot where the fire started in Thomas Farrinor’s bakery on Pudding Lane, 202 feet away.
If you are under the impression, that I only do my regular 'pay what you want' weekend walks around London, then I should perhaps correct that assumption. During the week I also do what I call 'Private Walks' which can pretty much take any shape or form. I often split them up in to either half day or full days walks for which I suggest a fee, although at the end of the day, I just like showing people around London so even if you just have a spare hour and a half then we can usually sort something out.
The 'Private Walks' could be for families, couples or people traveling on their own. I can accommodate work outings, birthdays and holiday makers, first time visitors to London looking to get acquainted with the city and see the 'sights' or people already familiar with the metropolis who are perhaps keen to explore an area they don't know too well. Here are some of these tailor made walks around London that I did in January.
First up we have the Dingeman's who were visiting from Holland. We did a walk around Westminster, and you can see them standing outside the iconic 'Big Ben' and Houses of Parliament. On the right is Beth, Paula and Matt who were visiting from Canada. We predominantly did a tour of Borough and Bankside and I took the photo of them inside the rather splendid Southwark cathedral.
Pall from Iceland contacted me about doing a walk around east London, soaking in its mixture of migrant history and street art, a by product of the areas more recent trendification (which I don't think is a word) and subsequent gentrification. This in itself is something that has been in the UK press recently as this change; the influx of media types, coffee shops, bars, restaurants, clubs and hipsters is to apparently be echoed in the long running and popular television soap opera 'Eastenders', bringing it in to the 21st century. I took the photo of Pall and his family in front of one of street artist Jimmy C's portraits.
During the month I also did two birthday walks. The first was in central London for the extended Robertson clan who ranged in age from I think about 15 months to 70. I dropped them off at St Paul's cathedral, where they had a table booked nearby for the birthday lunch. The second was for Helen and friends celebrating her 40th birthday. They were staying near Aldgate in east London, so I met them down there and explored around the fascinating area of Spitalfields, Shoreditch and Hoxton.
The other week I did an all day extravaganza tour of London with Yong Hao who was visiting from Singapore. I met him in Green Park and we spent the morning around Westminster, which included some of the main London 'sights' like Buckingham Palace, St James's Palace, Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square. We then took the Underground to the Tower of London and worked our way back through the City to St Paul's and beyond, through Fleet Street and Lincoln's Inn. We found time to pop in to see the Roman Amphitheatre situated beneath Guildhall Art Gallery and a trip up to the top of the Monument which gives great views across London ... where I took his photo.
Finally, two quite different walks. The first with the rather excellent Ellen and Sandy from Canada, who had lived in London in the 1970's and explored around east London with me. they're standing in front of one of French street artist Clet Abraham's altered street signs (the no entry sign actually says 'freedom'). And ... last but not least, we have Christine and her son, over for a couple of weeks from the States in the lovely Whitehall Gardens, just next to the Thames in Westminster.
So ... if you're in London and would like me to show you around, then please get in touch. There's a lot to see in London, a lot to explore and hopefully you'll have fun along the way too.
Last week I showed a young guy from Singapore around London. We spent the whole day together and in the afternoon, found ourselves by The Monument, just north of London Bridge. It'd been years since I'd traipsed up the 311 steps to the viewing platform, 160 feet (48.7 metres) above ground. Yong Hao, who I was with was incredibly keen to go up, so we paid our £3 (he very kindly paid for me) and began our ascent. It dawned on me, that I'd never written specifically about The Monument, so am rectifying that now.
Monuments in general are usually erected to commemorate specific events, so they naturally form part of a much larger picture than just the stone that was used to make it, or the architects whose vision it was. The Monument I suppose is reasonably intriguing in this respect as its very being manages to encapsulate the essence of modern London, and is completely entwined with so many facets of the City's history and the people responsible for both its destruction and its rebuilding. For starters, it's simply called 'The Monument' ... which would indicate that any other monument anywhere must surely pale in to insignificance. As people who have been on my walks can testify, I can talk about the Great Fire of London for hours. I don't though, because that would be incredibly tedious, but suffice to say it is a fascinating, remarkable and catastrophic period of London's history. As ever, to do it justice here would be entirely inadequate (which is why there are entire books on the subject) so I shall give you a light dusting, a sprinkling of information about The Monument, which if you didn't already know, commemorates, the Great Fire of London, which in the 17th century, burned and destroyed the vast majority of the medieval (and largely wooden) City of London.
The Great Fire of London began in a baker's house on Pudding Lane belonging to a guy called Thomas Farriner (or Farynor). It began in the early hours of the 2nd September 1666 and as you can imagine, got pretty out of hand. So much, so than in about four days it had burned down approximately 14,000 homes, 87 churches and about 100,000 people were forced to flee the City. That is an incredibly abridged version of events that makes no mention of the political climate, the wind, the preceding hot summer, the plague year of 1665, the inept Mayor Thomas Bludworth or the fact that instead of trying to put out the fire, many Londoner's ran around in mobs murdering foreigners. The wooden City was turned to ash, and from those ashes a new City was built, this time out of stone and brick (a good idea) largely by Christopher Wren (Surveyor General to King Charles II) and his right hand man, Robert Hooke. If you haven't heard of Hooke, then the name Wren might be familiar, as he rebuilt 51 of the City churches, including St Paul's cathedral ... which had also succumbed to the fire.
One of the churches that was not rebuilt was called St Margaret on Fish Street Hill, but on the site where it had stood, it was decided to build a monument to commemorate the fire and celebrate the rebuilding of the City. It was finished by Wren and Hooke in 1677, and is the same one, myself and Yong Hao climbed just last week. At a total of 202ft (61 metres) tall, The Monument is the largest free standing stone column in the world, and the idea apparently is that if it were to fall to the east (which hopefully it won't) the top would reach the spot where the fire began. If you're not claustrophobic, scared of heights or unable to climb all those steps, then the viewing platform (for a very small fee) gives you really great 360 degree views across London.
The pictures above from left to right show the Thames and Tower Bridge (unfortunately the Tower itself has recently disappeared behind a new building development), the Shard just south of the river, the view to the west, which includes the dome of St Paul's cathedral, and in the distance, the BT Tower (originally Post Office Tower), the first building in London to be taller than St Paul's. Finally, the view north is dominated by a cluster of the City's newer additions, which continue to develop.
As you're either going up or coming down the staircase, keep an eye out for bits of graffiti, which are still carved in the walls. The one on the photo below was evidently etched in to the wall in 1770, just 20 years after the picture you can see at the top of the page was made. I should mention that when you reach the bottom, you are handed a certificate to verify that you have indeed just ascended and descended all 311 steps, and the drawing forms the front and is reproduced courtesy of Guildhall Library.
On final point I will mention is that when you exit, turn to your left, have a look at the inscription on the north facing part of the base. There is a latin inscription, which details the rebuilding of the City after the fire. If like me you can't read latin, then don't worry because all of the inscriptions have an English translation. At the bottom you'll discover that in 1830 a line was deleted. It said "But Popish frenzy which wrought such horrors is not yet quenched" which in my own layman's terms can be read as "The Catholic's did this and we still haven't sorted them out".
On this note, I'll end my very brief post about The Monument and the Fire of London by mentioning that today we are generally told that the Great Fire of 1666 was an accident, but at the time (and for a long time after) it was anything but ... it was considered to be a terrorist attack. Very often, history has a habit of teaching us that in the grand scheme of things ... very little has changed.
This weekend, the groups were small, but each one a minor delight to wander around and chat about London with.
On Saturday afternoon, I met Ben and Jess for the St Paul's to the Monument walk and almost forgot to take a photo of them, which would have been a double shame, seeing as I've just had my camera fixed after it broke on a walk a couple of weeks ago. Here they standing by the Monument, which is, as I have undoubtedly mentioned before, a Monument to the Great Fire of London, a rather horrific fire which burned down most of the medieval City of London in 1666.
I admit, that in the photo, it just looks like Ben and Jess are standing in the middle of a building site, which unfortunately, at the moment is kind of true. As with much of the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire, the Monument is largely the work of Christopher Wren. It stands 202 feet tall, the distance from the bakery on Pudding Lane where the fire began. Daniel Defoe described the top of the structure as having a "handsome gilt flame like that of a candle." It also happens to be the tallest isolated stone column in the world, and as such, for the small fee of £3, you can climb the 311 steps to a public viewing gallery, and enjoy a rather splendid view of London.
There was no snow this Sunday for the My neck of the Woods east end walk, and I was joined by Mandy, Richey and Dylan. Mandy, who was on her second Bowl Of Chalk walk, writes a blog called 'emm in London' which is well worth a read anyway, but last year, she wrote a rather nice and detailed account of the Saturday afternoon walk she did with me entitled '9 Things I learned on a Bowl Of Chalk'.
Here they are standing in front of one of street artist Stik's large scale stick figures. You'll find this particular one on Great Eastern Street. Mandy is quite a fan of the various street artists whose work you find daubed around the walls and buildings of east London, and if memory serves me correctly, Stik is her fourth favourite. Might be wrong about that though.
Shortly after this, Dylan spotted a quite incredible bike, locked to a lamp post, which was so big (the bike, not the lamp post) that at first I didn't even notice it was a bike. I'm now quite intrigued to see the person who owns it, riding it around London.
Anyway, at the end of the walk, Richey suggested going for a curry at one of his favourite curry houses on Brick Lane ... so we did.
Most surprised - Jess
Best moustache - No winners
Best beard - Richey
Most American - Dylan
Most amount of flat caps on one walk - Sunday
Veteran Bowl Of Chalker - Mandy
Most 'Avid' - Ben
All three London walks took place this weekend, albeit with varying amounts of people, beginning with just one person, Luciana from Argentina, who came on the Trafalgar Square to St Paul's walk on Saturday morning. Here she is outside Twinings Tea Shop, where we stopped for a cuppa.
Twinings have been operating from the same premises on the Strand since 1706, when Thomas Twining opened Britain's first tea room. Twinings also hold the distinction of holding a Royal Warrant (which you can see just above the door), which basically means they provide tea for HRH Queen Elizabeth II, and also lay claim to having the world's oldest continually used logo.
Next up was the St Paul's to the Monument walk and I was joined by two young French men, Anthony and Mickael spending a year over here to improve their English. It seems to have worked, as their English was 'Superbon, fantastique et tres, tres, tres bien'. Here they are (and me actually for once) standing beneath the Monument, a monument (not surprisingly) to the Great Fire of London. If you come on one of my walks, I'll probably talk about this particular fire quite a bit. It happened in 1666 and in just four days burnt down most of the City of London. The idea is that the Monument stands 202 feet tall, exactly 202 feet to the west of what at the time of the fire was a bakery on the now infamous Pudding Lane, where the fire started.
Today was the east London 'my neck of the woods' walk and I was joined by Maddi and Kim from Australia, Mike, Susan, Kahlee and John from the USA and Brynn from Stoke. The Sunday walk is a mixture of history and street art, and right at the beginning, noticed that Street artist Eine's CHANGE mural on Old Street is in the process of being ... well ... changed. I haven't been able to confirm it, but it looks like Eine himself is doing it. It seems to be half finished and still masking tape all over it. It currently looks like this ...
Here are the group standing outside the Foxtons Estate Agents on Curtain Road. You may wonder why I chose to take a photo of them there, but back in 1577 a building was built on that very site, and was the first in London to be devoted to the performance of plays. It was called The Theatre and was run by a group called the Lord Chamberlain's Men. They moved The Theatre in 1598 over the Thames to Bankside and re-opened it the following year re-naming it 'The Globe'. The Lord Chamberlain's Men employed a young man who arrived in Shoreditch from Straford-Upon-Avon as an actor and playwright. You might have heard of him. He was called William Shakespeare.
So, there we have it. Another weekend of walks. Thanks as ever to everyone who came and made it so enjoyable.
Most Australian - Maddi & Kim
Best Moustache - Mike
The only English person all weekend - Brynn
Looking after English peoples kids award - Luciana, Anthony & Mickael
Most American - Everyone else (inc. Mike)
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.