Fun London Facts - Week #3
When Horatio Nelson was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 he was brought back to London to be given a massive send off. Normally, if sailors died at sea they were thrown over board. You didn’t carry dead people around on ships. For Nelson they made an exception and stuck him in a barrel of brandy, pickling him for the journey. Legend has it, that the crew that returned on his ship, the HMS Victory drank the brandy from the barrel whilst Nelson was in it.
The Burlington Arcade is the longest covered shopping Street in the UK. It runs alongside Burlington House, originally built as a 17th country manor. When 19th early century resident Lord George Cavendish got annoyed with his neighbours throwing stuff over the wall in to his garden, he arranged for the whole street to be covered, opening it in 1819 as a super duper luxury shopping precinct, which it remains to this day.
55% of the London underground is over ground.
In 1875 these green huts started popping up. They’re called Cabmen’s Shelters and provided the drivers of horse drawn Hackney Carriages somewhere to shelter from the wind, rain and cold. A stove inside meant they could keep warm and cook food and the bar around the edge was for tying horses two. Two decades later there were sixty-one in London, but today only thirteen survive and have been given listed building status. Some provide snacks to the public, whilst the others, cab drivers still sit in them.
Strand runs from Trafalgar Square to Fleet Street. A lot of Londoners call it ‘The Strand’, but there is no prefix. The word ‘strand’ in most northern European languages means beach, and Strand runs parallel to the Thames, which until the 1860s came much closer. It literally means the beach or bank of the Thames.
Construction on Tower Bridge began in 1887 and was completed in 1894. The now incredibly iconic design was chosen by way of competition, with the lucky winner being an architect called Horace Jones who also designed a number of London’s Victorian markets. It seems not much luck was involved as Jones was also one of the competition judges. He chose his own design.
New Zealand House was completed in 1963. It was the first tower block to be built in central London after WW2 and was in fact built on the site of the Carlton Hotel which was bombed during the war. This modernist high rise was a highly contentious building at the time and towering over its neighbours should have given those that worked in New Zealand House amazing views across London from their desks, but unfortunately not. For nearly 50 years they’ve had to close the blinds every day. I believe the building was loosing too much heat through the myriad of glass, known as ‘thermal flow’, and ordering the blinds to be closed, although drastic, solved this problem. Just one of the many building projects in London gone wrong.
Fun London Facts - Week #2
The word Trafalgar, as in Trafalgar Square is actually of Arabic origin. The Battle of Trafalgar took place in 1805 off the south coast of Spain near Cabo de Trafalgar (Cape Trafalgar) which was itself taken from the Arabic ‘Taraf-al-ghar’ which has a number of possible meanings, one being rocky outcrop.
The Heron Tower on Bishopsgate has in its lobby the largest privately owned aquarium in the UK. The aquarium holds 70,000 litres of water and over 60 species of fish.
Houndsditch is a street in the City of London and is so called because (according to Elizabethan historian John Stow at least) it was once a ditch that ran along the outside of the old city wall and Londoners literally used to throw dead dogs over the wall in to the ditch. Houndsditch.
St Paul’s cathedral completed in 1711 is 365ft tall. Architect Christopher Wren who designed it was at the time professor of Astronomy at Oxford University and it represents each day of the year. He liked doing stuff like that.
If it’s sunny, at certain times of day, the shadows cast by Westminster Bridge create penises on the pavement.
There have been pelicans in St James’s Park since 1664 after they were given as a gift to King Charles II from the Russian ambassador. By the 1980s the pelicans had stopped breeding and there was only one left so someone in the UK government wrote to the Russians asking for some more. They duly sent some over and were installed in the park but stories were soon circling that these new pelicans were eating the other birds in the park. The stories were dismissed on account of the fact that pelicans don’t eat other birds, then someone filmed a pelican eating an entire pigeon. It became headline news that those pesky Russians had deliberately sent over killer pelicans to ruin our park.
Egyptologist and archaeologist Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (born 1853) was a Hampstead resident. In 1933 he moved with his wife to Jerusalem where he died in 1942. For some reason Petrie had made provision for his head to be returned to the Royal College of Surgeons in London, but as there was a war on, it wasn’t top of anyone’s ‘to do’ list. Eventually, Petrie’s head made it back but at some point the label fell off and it spent many years languishing on a shelf in the Royal College of Surgeons with no one knowing who’s head it was.
Happily, Petrie’s head has now been identified.
Fun London Facts - Week #1
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.
Exploring the Mews of Brockley
I meet many visitors to London who have never encountered the word ‘mews’ before, or indeed British people who, although familiar with the term in the lexicon alongside road, street or lane, don’t actually know what it means.
The word ‘mews’ originates from the French ‘muer’ (to moult) and refers to the confinement of hawks, often in a tower whilst they gained their adult plumage. Bruce Castle in Haringey has a tower that is thought was used for this exact purpose.
Mews became widely used to describe the confinement of animals in general and by the 16th century often described an area boasting a number of stables. The area we now call Trafalgar Square was, during the reign of Henry VIII, known as the King’s Mews and the name lingered on until the mid 19th century when the stables were relocated to Buckingham Palace. Although built 300 years after the King's Mews, the National Gallery stands on the site but incorporates architectural features from Henry VIII’s stables; the hollow pepperpots which would have acted as air vents to let the horse manure smell drift out of the roof.
Many of the more affluent areas of London such as Kensington, Chelsea and Mayfair have large houses built in the 18th and 19th centuries. The house entrances face the thoroughfare whilst threading along the back is the mews; a service street where the stables were located. Aside from housing horses and carriages, these mews also provided accommodation for stable boys, would be where tradesmen could enter, and deliveries were dropped off. In their day, these tiny streets would have been a hive of activity and pungent smells. Today these mews streets are much sought after and the stables have been converted into houses, allowing the residents to enjoy the relative peace and quiet of a street that has little or no traffic in an otherwise busy area.
In Brockley, south-east London there is a conservation area of Victorian housing which was developed as a suburb for the wealthy middle classes. South London already benefitted from a comprehensive rail network (one of the reasons that when the first Underground Line opened in 1863, and the others followed, they steered clear of south London). Residents in Brockley had easy access to central London (Brockley Station opened in 1871), and if needed would have hired a coach and horses, rather than have their own. For this reason, the mews in Brockley remained largely undeveloped, unlike other areas of London, and instead traverse the main roads like little country tracks. The stables which still do exist are therefore a rarity and add significant historic value to the area.
Over the last few months with lockdown measures in place and restrictions on travel and movement, Brockley’s mews have become little havens that children can explore, play games, pick blackberries or discover the latest street art on garage doors. On Breakspears Mews there is a community garden and Wickham Mews particularly, with mature trees, shrubs and overgrown hedges really makes you feel like you’re a long way from the traffic on Lewisham Way and almost transported to another time and place. That’s not to say you won’t encounter a number of abandoned vehicles or household objects left to be reclaimed by nature, but if you look carefully you can see the names of long forgotten businesses painted on to peeling timber and you might even come across the Royal Coat of Arms from one of the original gates to the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Where is it?
Trafalgar Square is about as close to the centre of London as you can get and is where a number of the Monopoly board properties converge; Strand (red) to the east, Whitehall and Northumberland Avenue (pink) to the south, Pall Mall (pink) to the west and Leicester Square (yellow) to the north.
What’s the story?
One of our favourite pass times in this country seems to be going on about beating the French in battles. Trafalgar Square is no exception. It was opened as a public square in the 1840s and named after a naval battle we won against a joint French and Spanish fleet off the south-west coast of Spain (near Cape Trafalgar) in 1805. Prior to that, the area had been known as ‘King’s Mews’, housing the Royal stables which were moved to their current site within the grounds of Buckingham Palace.
The name ‘Trafalgar’ is actually of Arabic origin, originally being ‘Taraf - al - Ghar’ meaning ‘extremity’ or ‘edge’, in reference to the Cape Trafalgar’s coastal position.
How do I get there?
One of the exits of Charing Cross Underground Station pops out in Trafalgar Square itself. Failing that, Embankment and Leicester Square Underground stations are just a few minutes away.
What’s it like now?
Trafalgar Square is a sort of magnet in London, effortlessly pulling tourists towards it, largely because it is in the midst of a host of sights and places popular with visitors, but also because it’s Trafalgar Square …and heading to Trafalgar Square is just what you do.
The road running along the north side of the square in front of the National Gallery was pedestrianised just under 20-years ago, and has become a place for human statues in Yoda costumes, street performers, buskers, pick pockets and what author Russell Hoban would describe as ‘the low budget drinking club' to hang out.
It’s the kind of place you might want to pass through rather than linger and have a picnic. However, if you get there early in the morning before it gets busy it can be quite tranquil.
Trafalgar Square has been a place for political demonstrations and gatherings since it opened and today is no different, often hosting celebrations of the different faiths and cultures that make London such a cosmopolitan city.
Where would I stay?
You have plenty of options. Aside from the hotels I included in the Whitehall and Northumberland Avenue post, I’ve picked people up to do tours from the Haymarket Hotel, which is a minutes walk from Trafalgar Square on Suffolk Place. I’ve been to the St Martin’s Lane Hotel on the lane of the same name and as mentioned before, the Amba Hotel over Charing Cross station is a popular choice. There seems to be a plethora of private apartments that can be rented in the area too.
What’s of interest?
Out of all the properties on the Monopoly board, Trafalgar Square is the most compact, but there are many interesting things all within a couple of hundred yards.
Opened in 1838, the National Gallery began life in the 1820s in a house on Pall Mall with 38 paintings that had belonged to a banker called John Julius Angerstein. Today the collection comprises just under 3,000 paintings, including works by Hans Holbein, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian and Turner …to name but a few. One of my personal favourites is ‘Supper at Emmaus’ by Caravaggio.
In 1991, the Sainsbury Wing opened on the north-west corner of the square and houses much of the renaissance works in the collection.
National Portrait Gallery
With its entrance just around the corner from the National Gallery on Charing Cross Road, when it opened in 1856, the National Portrait Gallery was the first gallery dedicated to portraits in the world. The galleries are all arranged chronologically, displaying portraits of historically significant or famous British people and includes the ‘Chandos Portrait’ of William Shakespeare.
The collection also comprises a large amount of photographs and each year hosts the BP Portrait Award in which anyone of the age of 18 can submit a portrait for consideration. About 50 or 60 portraits are chosen for the exhibition and is always a treat.
As the name of this church would suggest, this area was once quite rural. There’s been a church on the site since the 13th century and the current one, which presides over the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square was completed in 1726 to the design of architect James Gibbs. St Martin-in-the-Fields hosts regular free lunchtime concerts, has a café in the crypt and a brass rubbing centre and exhibition space. They also run a homeless shelter next door. Fans of Harry Potter might be intrigued to learn that J.K Rowling worked for Amnesty International in offices beneath the church in the early 1990s, when she was working on the Harry Potter series.
Being in Trafalgar Square, you’re never going to be far from a theatre, but just a few steps up St Martin’s Lane you’ll find the London Coliseum which was opened in 1904 by theatre impresario Oswald Stoll. The story goes that Stoll meant it to be named after the Colosseum in Rome, but spelt it incorrectly which he later maintained he’d done on purpose. Then again you probably would, wouldn’t you? Today’s it home to the ENO, the English National Opera.
Dominating the south end of Trafalgar Square is the imposing Nelson’s Column, which stands just under 170ft tall and is topped off by a statue of Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar. The column was completed in 1843 and apparently is the same height as the mast of Nelson’s ship, the HMS Victory.
The four bronze lions around the base are equally famous and were added some 25 years later and created by Edwin Landseer who interestingly was a water colourist and had never made a sculpture in his life. Supposedly, Queen Victoria had a couple of dead lions sent to his studio to use as models, but he chose to base the hind legs and back end of each lion on his own dogs, which is why it’s physically impossible for an actual to lion to sit as Landseer’s lions do in Trafalgar Square.
The Fourth Plinth
There are a number of ‘dead white men’ statues in the square including King George IV on the north-east corner. However, funds ran out before the final statue of King William IV could be added on the north-west corner and for the next 150 years or so it remained empty. Since the early 2000s the plinth has become a place for temporary artworks including sculptures by Antony Gormley, Yinka Shonibare and more recently Michael Rakowitz’s ‘The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist’. There are some who believe the spot is being reserved for a statue of The Queen after she pops her clogs, and after recent events, calls have been made for it to be a place to honour victims of the slave trade.
American visitors might be interested to see a statue of George Washington on a patch of grass outside the National Gallery, next to Charing Cross Road. It was a gift from the people of Virginia in the 1920s and legend would have you believe that because Washington said he never wanted to set foot on English soil, American soil was shipped over with the statue and laid down beneath.
On a little roundabout just to the south of Trafalgar Square is a statue of King Charles I who has the distinction of being the only Monarch we’ve ever executed. He had his head chopped off on the 30th January 1649 at Banqueting House (visible down Whitehall from the statue). The statue had actually been made during Charles I’s lifetime and a guy called John Rivett had been asked to melt it down and turn it in to souvenirs that people could buy at the execution. However, it turns out that John Rivett was a Royalist (which he neglected to mention), melted down something else and hid the statue. Then when Charles II returned in 1660, Rivett sold it back to him.
Just opposite the entrance to the National Portrait Gallery is a statue of a nurse called Edith Cavell who during WWI was executed by a German firing squad after being accused of espionage. Although she had been helping to evacuate British soldiers from occupied Belgium, as a nurse she tended to soldiers from all sides without discrimination and the base of the statue is inscribed with her quote “I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone”.
Other points of interest
The Centre of London
On the roundabout, just behind the statue of Charles I is a plaque on the floor which basically marks the centre of London and mentions also that ‘Mileages from London are measured from this point’.
The spot marks where the final cross was erected in 1290 on the behest of Edward I after his wife Eleanor died and was brought from Lincoln to Westminster. There were 12 crosses altogether and marked the processional route to London (A 19th century replica stands outside Charing Cross railway station), but the central-ness of the spot really boils down to it being a central meeting point between the City of Westminster and the City of London when there was little else in between. Since 1865 cab drivers have been required to learn ‘the knowledge’, which are streets, monuments, hotels and places of interest, from memory. Today that amounts to about 24,000 streets and 320 routes within a 6-mile radius of that exact plaque.
Britain’s smallest Police station
On the south-east corner of Trafalgar Square is a pillar which many people pass without a second glance. It was in fact added in the 1920s as a lock-up for drunk and disorderly people. (A drunk tank). Today it seems to be used to house odds and ends like brushes and bags of grit.
The crossing lights
When you cross the roads around Trafalgar Square, pay particular attention to the crossing lights. They must surely be the most politically correct crossing lights in the world. A few years ago, the ubiquitous ‘green man’ was changed to celebrate the Pride Festival to two men or two women holdings hands, and even a couple bearing the transgender sign. It seems no one got around to changing them back and last year, Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan decided they should stay forever.
A distinct lack of pigeons
If I meet people on walks who haven’t been to London for 20 or 30 years, and are in Trafalgar Square, they always say “Where have the pigeons gone?”. Trafalgar Square was famous for having a population of about 30,000 pigeons and people would buy bird seed from vendors to feed them. It cost Westminster Council a fortune in cleaning away bird poo, plus the fact that it damages stone work and statues. About 20-years ago, the pigeon food sellers were banned and now every morning someone turns up with a Harrier Hawk or two and flies them around to scare the pigeons away. It works.
Last week, the latest artwork to be installed on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth was unveiled. It is called ‘The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist’ by Michael Rakowitz and is made from 10,500 empty Iraqi date syrup cans. The sculpture recreates ‘Lamassu’; a winged deity which stood guarding a gate near modern day Mosul from c700BC until 2015 when it was destroyed by Isis. It is just one of 7,000 such objects either destroyed or stolen from Iraqi museums or archaeological sites since 2003. For over a decade, Rakowitz has been attempting to recreate these objects as part of an ongoing project.
London has a plethora of statues of what I tend to just call ‘Dead White Men’ and when Trafalgar Square was originally developed in the first years of the 1840s, four such statues were planned. Charles Napier, Henry Havelock and King George IV can still be seen today, but the final statue of King William IV was never installed due to insufficient funds. Designed by Sir Charles Barry (Houses of Parliament), they got as far as constructing the plinth before calling it quits. I imagine it was always anticipated that the requisite money would be found, but 150 years later and London was still no nearer to getting its statue on what had become known as the ‘fourth plinth’.
In the mid 1990s, Prue Leith, then Chair of the Royal Society of Arts suggested something should be done about Trafalgar Square’s lonely plinth, and five years later, artist Mark Wallinger’s sculpture ‘Ecce Homo’ became the first artwork to find a temporary home there, gazing down on the tourists and pigeons.
Since 2005, the fourth plinth has become an official commission, a stage for rolling artworks which Londoners get to vote for. In recent years, many of the artworks have sought to reflect their immediate environment or the history of the square. Hans Haacke’s ‘Gift Horse’ (2015) brought together the National Gallery through English painter George Stubbs, alluding to the equestrian statue that should have adorned the plinth originally, whilst quite literally being tied to the London Stock Exchange through a ticker tape ribbon. Elmgreen & Dragset’s ‘Powerless Structures, Fig.101’ depicting a boy on a rocking horse turning away from the other statues; quite possibly suggesting we should look towards the future rather than constantly back at the past (which we do) began its shift in 2010. Yinka Shonibare’s ‘Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle’ (2010) was obviously a direct nod towards Horatio Nelson who stands high over Trafalgar Square. The sails of Shonibare’s replica ship, the HMS Victory were made from patterned textiles typical of African dress, hinting towards the legacy of British colonialism and the expansion of the British Empire made possible by Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar.
There’s been a couple of slightly more irreverent sculptures such as last years ‘Really Good’ by David Shrigley which I was a fan of, but I like the fact that Rakowitz’s current offering is casting the net wider and tackling the wholesale loss and destruction of historical and cultural artefacts on a vast scale; a catastrophe made possible after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, in which our own government was complicit. At a time when people seem to be looking inwards and isolationism and nationalism are rampant, I’m pleased that Michael Rakowitz has been given a prominent stage for the next couple of years to hopefully encourage us to look up, widen our horizons and give people the opportunity to reflect on just one small repercussion of what is termed the ‘fog of war’.
I look forward to discussing it with people in the future and see what visitors to London make of Trafalgar Square’s latest adornment.
Since 2005, the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square has had a revolving exhibition of art works. This has been possible for the very simple fact that when the square was being developed in the 1840s, they ran out of money and never got around to putting the proposed statue of William IV on it. Over the last couple of years we've seen a golden boy on a rocking horse and a big blue cock come and go, and last week the newest addition to Trafalgar Square was unveiled by Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. It's called 'Gift Horse' and has been produced by a German Sculptor called Hans Haacke.
A shortlist of 6 contenders is usually drawn up and I guess all the artists are looking to either comment on the space their work will inhabit for 18 months, or make a bold statement of some sort. Back in 2010 Yinka Shonibare put a massive ship in a bottle up there. The ship was of course Horatio Nelson's ship, the HMS Victory and with Nelson himself being the most prominent resident of the square and the fact that the square itself is named after the battle in which he died on board that ship in 1805, it seemed to tick quite a few boxes. Last years 'Hahn / Cock' by Katharina Fritsch seems to have been chosen purely on account of the fact that as the French national emblem it seemed to be rubbing French noses in it ... again. Annoying the French is of course a national pastime. I think Katharina herself suggested it was a comment on the rather phallic centre piece of Trafalgar Square, Nelson's Column. You can see both pictured below.
In 'Gift Horse', Hans Haacke gave himself the best possible chance by throwing everything but the kitchen sink at it. The sculpture itself is apparently based on an etching of a horse by George Stubbs which can be found in the National Gallery about 20 yards away from the plinth. Although, a skeleton, it is still officially a horse, so gives a nod back to the original design of the square and the equestrian statue that never was. Tied around the front leg of the horse is a ribbon on which, if you look closely, is a ticker of the London Stock Exchange, which means very little to me. However, apparently when the whole ensemble is considered as one, it shows the correlation between 'power, money and history'. You could of course add to that list ... art. So there, you have it. I guess, at the end of the day, if some people don't like it, which is inevitable, it's not going to be around for ever. I'm not meaning to belittle 'Gift Horse' so soon after its arrival, but I have to say, that I'm very much looking forward to 2016 and the proposed sculpture 'Really Good' by excellently irreverent artist David Shrigley.
Finally, I took the group photo of Colleen, Matt, Louise and Michael who joined me for my regular Saturday morning walk yesterday with Trafalgar Square's newest edition behind them.
Private Walks - May 2014
I'm a little bit late rounding up some of the private walks did in May, which are, just to remind you, walks that I do (usually during the week) for couples, families, groups and wot not. They're all tailor made walks, taking people around places they have told me they'd like to visit, things they'd like to see or hear about. Depending on where people are staying I often go and pick them up from their hotel, or we sort out a meeting point. So, to give you an idea, here are a few I did in May.
So ... starting with the top left. Bernadette & David came on one of my regular weekend walks ages ago, and asked me to do one for just them and their friends. They requested a walk around east London, as it wasn't an area they were too familiar with although one of them had worked there years ago, so was able to offer some of his own unique insights. They're sitting in Arnold Circus by-the-way, which was the first Council Estate in the UK, built in the 1890s. Next up, we have Jeff and his family visiting from the States outside St Paul's cathedral. Bottom left was one of the quickest walks ever. Chris, Craig, Alexis and Bailey were on a stop over at Heathrow airport. It was going to be short anyway, but then they were delayed, so I think after I met them in Westminster, we had about an hour and a half to whizz round all the sights in that area. They even managed to fit in a pint in a pub before getting back on the tube ... which had been one of the criteria. Lastly, we have Kelly and Jacqui visiting London from New Zealand before heading off around the UK on motorbikes. They're standing in Trafalgar Square with the National Gallery behind them.
On this lot of photos you can see Tess in the Dean's Yard at Westminster School. She was visiting from Canada, so when she told me that her grandfather had been in the RAF during WWII, we made a detour to visit the church of St Clement Danes, otherwise known as the RAF church. Standing on Hungerford Bridge with the City of London behind them is a lovely group of ladies who were visiting from Sweden. Outside Westminster Abbey we have the Troy family from the States, and last but not least Robin and Denis standing by the original site of the Globe Theatre, down on Bankside.
June is completely booked up now for private walks, but if you're interested in having a wander around London in July or August, do get in touch and we'll see if we can sort something out.
Weekend Roundup - 16th/17th Nov '13
We had a nice couple of walks this weekend, with a healthy number of Londoners out to explore their own city, alongside visitors from further afield. Saturday morning kicked off with a group of 11 hailing from Australia, the States, Holland and Finsbury Park amongst other places. Here they all are in Trafalgar Square, one of the first stops on the walk, after which we weaved through Covent Garden and Fleet Street en route to St Paul's cathedral.
The man on the left with the rather pink pushchair (and baby) was not actually on our walk, but men with pink pushchairs are of course very welcome.
On Sunday, Rob & Els, who had been on the Saturday walk returned to explore east London and were joined by fellow Dutch visitors Anna, Chantal and Jane (or Jannika) who was also celebrating her birthday. The group was further bolstered by Tracy, Troy and Nick and completed by my old friend Steve and his lady friend Amalia who was also celebrating her birthday (although hers had officially been on Friday). So, all in all it was a pretty birthday-tastic walk.
Here they all are standing next to Syd's Coffee Stall on the corner of Calvert Avenue and Shoreditch High Street. It has been there since 1919 when Sydney Tothill returned from the trenches of the First World War and used his invalidity pension to construct a small tea and coffee stand, which is still run today by his grand daughter Jane.
Tallest - Rob
Best ear warmers - Gabbi and Laura
Best Moustache - Ryan
Name most likely to make you think of the Trojan war - Troy
Most Dutch group - Sunday
My weekend of guided walks around London got off to start by checking out German artist, Katharina Fritsch's big blue cock in Trafalgar Square. Unveiled just two days earlier on the permanently redundant but most in the news, fourth plinth, Fritsch's sculpture has not surprisingly been effortlessly filling column inches with double entendres ever since. Without meaning to add to this, I have to say, that it was much bigger than I expected. I think it's good, that despite all our previous attempts to look back at how amazing we are, the battles we have won and the war heroes who made it possible, we still have a bit of a sense of humour, a bit of perspective and that now, we don't perhaps take ourselves quite so seriously. The previous sculpture of a boy on a rocking horse seemed to be another example of this and the current offering is certainly continuing the tradition.
The group of 14 hailed from Dubai, South Africa, New Zealand and the Peak District amongst other places. Mandy was back for her third walk with me and the rest were all first timers. Here they all are in Covent Garden on our way to St Paul's cathedral.
In the afternoon I was delighted that Zayn and Alan were able to come on another walk, a year and a bit after their first one. We had a leisurely meander from St Paul's cathedral over to Bankside, then back across London Bridge to finish at Monument. Here they are standing in front of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, the faithful recreation of an Elizabethan theatre. Its very existence is owed to Sam Wanamaker who unfortunately died shortly before he saw over two decades work come to fruition. I think I've mentioned this before, but even so, I'll mention it again ... in January 2014, the Globe will be opening the only indoor, candle-lit theatre in London, a recreation of a Jacobean theatre. Aside from being an exciting prospect and one which will allow them to perform plays all the year round, it will also mean that the only thatched roof in London, and the only candle-lit theatre will be right next to each other.
On Sunday, seven people joined me for a wander around east London. Martin from Philadelphia, who to all intents and purposes sounded completely American, had, it turned out, actually spent the first eight years of his life in Dalston, just up the road. Katherine was the only fully fledged Londoner in that respect whilst Jennie & Rees were down from Manchester for the weekend. Tobias and Kirsten from Germany have been living in the UK for about 14 years so were quite well versed in all things Londony. Here they all are just by Hoxton Square, with one of street artist Stik's instantly recognisable murals behind them.
Special Award for completing the 'BOC Trilogy' - Mandy
First person to come on two walks & have a completely different name each time - Zayn
Most likely to want to stand in the shade - Sonia, Vijyant & Ananya
Quietest - Josh
Best multi-tasker - Quentin
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.