Well, this week started in spectacular style with an event at the Queen’s Gallery, then I got soaked in the middle of the week, and it ended with a talk on the Great Fire of London.
What a great way to start my week – in the fabulous surroundings of the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace, on an ALVA (Association of Leading Visitor Attractions) workshop on theatre, performance and contemporary art in attractions.
I was attending on behalf of The View from The Shard and the room was filled with people from all sorts of visitor attractions; museums, galleries, heritage sites, gardens. Even representatives from London Zoo were there.
As this was my first ALVA event, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the speakers were just inspiring. Historic Royal Palaces kicked off talking about their costumed performances for children and also gave an overview of the phenomenon that was ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Reds’ (more commonly known as the poppies) at the Tower of London.
Other speakers talked about collaborations for modern art installations, making the most of the landscape, the cultural legacy of the Olympic Park and theatrical productions, but the highlight of the day for me was Helen Marriage, Chief Executive of Artichoke. And if you’ve never heard of Artichoke, well I only have to say that they were the organisation behind Lumiere London in January this year, and that amazing spectacle will immediately spring to mind.
Helen talked through how the Lumiere London project came about and the challenges involved, not least raising the funding as the project started with no budget. Other challenges came from Transport for London who originally told her that they couldn’t close Oxford Circus for the event. When asked why – because of the commuters. When she said, well we’ll do it after the commuters have gone home, they said no because of the shoppers. She responded with well what if we do it after the shops close, they said no because of people enjoying the nightlife. Finally it all came down to the buses. When asked if they could divert the buses, they said no. That woman must be like a dog with a bone, because she got them to close Oxford Circus for the event – which was just as well because people were lying down in the road taking photographs of the display above them (good job they stopped those buses!)
Today it rained. And I got wet. More than once, as that ancient law known as ‘Sod’s’ ensured that I had two walks on a day that was full of showers.
My morning walk, Bawdy Bankside, wasn’t too bad as the showers were more drizzle than proper rain, but it was damp and cold as my group took in the 16th century entertainments on offer on the riverside. We started with the original theatres, The Rose and The Globe, before hearing about American film director and actor, Sam Wanamaker’s, mission to rebuild the Globe as it had been in Shakespeare’s day.
Moving on, we covered the bear baiting that once took place here and, of course, the inns and taverns in the area, The Clink Prison and the Winchester Geese who plied their trade in the brothels and stews.
My group were regulars who normally do country walks, but come into London a couple of times a year for a walk with me, which meant they were dressed for the weather. Good job they were regulars though, as the entire walk ended up revolving around wee – from the urine that people used to sell to the tanners in the area for them to use to soften their leather, to the human and animal urine that Shakespeare’s father would have used in his trade as a glover (again to soften the leather or animal skins). What with all the talk of wee, the sound of the river rushing by and the constant rain, we were all desperate for the toilet by the time we reached Southwark Cathedral, so dived inside to use their facilities and warm up with soup and coffees in their café.
Having dried out, I got absolutely drenched with the corporate group I took on a ‘City Heroes and Villains’ walk this evening. It was drizzling, yet again, but as we left their offices to start the walk, the heavens opened and we got caught in a torrential downpour. Got hand it to them, those bankers are hardy types, as they stuck with me as we galloped through some of the City’s best known and also unheard of heroes and villains. The 1910 Houndsditch Murders where three policemen lost their lives, the destruction caused by the Great Fire of London, the bombing of the Blitz, and London’s first coffee shop (must be a hero to most people these days – who can survive without coffee?).
Along the way we discovered the Boudican revolt against the Romans, the true story of Dick Whittington, Lloyd’s of London (whose reputation was built on settling large claims fast, such as the sinking in 1799 of HMS Lutine and the unsinkable Titanic in 1912), Charles Dickens pricking the nation’s social conscience with his novels, and Thomas Gresham, who aptly built the Royal Exchange in 1571 so traders could meet under cover. Now there’s a man who recognised the problem of London weather!
We finished with one of my favourites, James Greathead, who invented a deep tunnel shield that enabled the City and South London Railway to be built between Stockwell and King William Street in 1890. It was left to each individual to decide if the man who enabled the forerunner of the Northern Line was a hero or a villain??
Cold and very wet, everyone stayed cheerful to the end, but I got some strange looks as I dripped all the way home on, yep, the Northern Line!
I finished my week dry and warm as I delivered a talk on the Great Fire of London to my local Arthritis Care association, who provide a regular programme for (mainly elderly) people suffering from this debilitating condition – many of them hardly leave home.
I’d spoken at one of their monthly gatherings last year (on the Great Stink) and they’d kindly asked me back again. It’s a bit of a challenge, as they have no projection equipment and you have to be flexible as you can’t start until all the ambulances have delivered people safely to the venue. However, they are a lovely group and are very interested and appreciative. Oh, and I also had to deal with the friendly heckling from one old boy (he’s 90) who always sits at the back and can’t hear very well – there’s always one!
My talk finished with a few questions over a cup of tea and a biscuit, before I headed home in, yes you’ve guessed it, yet another shower!
This week started with an urgent request for a tour that I haven’t done in 7 years, and finished with a Shakespeare cruise.
I got an email this afternoon asking if I was free on Thursday morning to conduct a tour of the City of London’s Guildhall for a private group and, as luck would have it, I was free. The tour needed to cover the Great Hall, Old Library and the crypt. So having accepted the job, I dusted off my notes on the Great Hall as I haven’t looked at them since 2009 when it was the venue for the practical exam to qualify as a City of London Guide.
It’s amazing how it all came flooding back. Details on the statues and monuments, the state trials held there in the 16th century, the livery company shields and banners, the legend of Gog and Magog – even the privileged regiments (who are allowed to parade through the City with drums beating, bayonets fixed and colours flying!)
Having been briefed by the City of London Remembrancer’s Office that the tour was part of a day of activities for a senior member of the London Fire Brigade for his retirement and that they particularly wanted the tour to include connections to the Great Fire of London, I brushed up on that too. So approached Thursday feeling fully prepared, even though the tour was at short notice.
Thursday morning dawned and I arrived armed to the teeth with Guildhall connections to the Great Fire of London and the Blitz, having identified the shield for the Firefighters’ livery company, and found all images connected to fires in the stained glass windows. So there I was waiting for a group of firemen to arrive, only to find that they weren’t firemen at all! Unbeknown to myself or the client that booked me, the tour had been donated by the retiring senior firefighter as a charity auction prize, and the group were the people who’d bid for it. No wonder they’d looked confused when I’d introduced myself and joked that they probably knew more about the Great Fire of London than I did!
Still the tour went well and the group enjoyed hearing about the banquets that took place in the Great Hall over the centuries, how Sir Winston Churchill received the honorary freedom of the City in 1943 amid the ruins of the bombed out hall, and the trial of Anne Askew who is the only woman on record to have been tortured at the Tower (she was burnt at the stake for heresy).
We also took in the Old Library, where the Guildhall library was housed between 1873 and 1974, with its wonderful stained glass window containing famous figures connected with books and printing; William Caxton and the first printing press in (top middle), Richard Whittington who founded the original medieval library (bottom far left), and the marvellously named Wynkyn de Worde (top left) who was a pupil of Caxton’s and went on to set up his own printing press in Fleet Street.
We finished the tour in the medieval crypt, with its modern stained glass windows installed as part of restoration projects in the 1960s and 1970s. The group were lovely and even appreciated all the stories of fire and destruction that I included. They also looked suitably impressed when I pointed out the Firefighters’ shield and explained its symbolism – well, it would have been a shame not to mention it, especially as I’d gone to the trouble of locating the 103rd livery company high up near the ceiling.
After the tour, I headed over to Canary Wharf for a meeting at the Museum of London Docklands, and whilst there took the opportunity to visit their newly opened No. 1 Warehouse Gallery.
The Docklands museum is located within a Grade 1 listed sugar warehouse, built in 1802 as No 1 warehouse when the area was a thriving dock bringing goods into London, and the new gallery tells its story.
It conjures up a great picture of what working at the docks, and in the warehouse, was like, and features a wide variety of objects including iron-beam scales which weighed heavy goods, a bronze call-on bell rung to signal the practice of calling on (or choosing) the men who work that day, various working tools, and my favourite, the Helmsman carving.
On a beautifully sunny afternoon, I boarded the Pride of London for another of the Museum of London’s Thames tours. This time the tour was on William Shakespeare, and thankfully our helmsman was more alive than the one I encountered on Thursday.
Alongside Julian Bowsher, senior archaeologist at Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), I provided the commentary for the tour.
Julian talked about the 16th century playhouses, the archaeology of theatres such as the Globe, the Rose and the Curtain, and Shakespeare’s London, while I talked about Shakespeare’s life, London landmarks connected to his plays, and Shakespeare’s legacy as a wordsmith. I just love that Shakespeare left us with many phrases that are still in ordinary use today, such as ‘with bated breath’ (Hamlet) and ‘Greek to me’ (Julius Caesar), and also that virtually everyone can quote Shakespeare. I mean who isn’t familiar with some of his most famous lines; “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers” (Henry V), “Et tu Brute?” (Julius Caesar), “Alas poor Yorick” (Hamlet), “Romeo! Romeo! Where for art thou Romeo?” (Romeo and Juliet). I’m quite sure everyone has their own favourite Shakespeare quote…and yes, on the tour I did quote ‘Carry on Cleo’ with “Infamy, infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!”
The only slightly hairy moment of the tour came when Julian was so busy talking about the Blackfriars playhouse, that he almost missed The Globe Theatre on the other side of the river until I prompted him – phew!
So until next week – “Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow” (Romeo and Juliet).
Easter week brought the tour from hell, Where’s Wally and a ride on the Bluebell Railway.
Most tours go well, but now and again it doesn’t matter what you do but you’ll get the tour from hell. It all started so well as we headed out of Victoria Coach Station with a coach load of tourists on a day trip to Windsor, Stonehenge, Lacock and Bath.
First stop was Windsor Castle, where I found that an elderly gentleman on the tour couldn’t walk very quickly so needed extra time and help to get into the castle. Fortunately, as an extra guide learning the logistics of this particular tour, I was able to stay at the back of the group as we walked from the coach park to the castle and help him, while the main guide went ahead with the group. Just as well, because he took twice as long as everyone else to walk the short distance. As I helped him we chatted and he told me that he was over from Florida for a ceremony at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford honouring him for his service in World War II. He’d been based in England as a 17 year old when he was an aircraft gunner on bombers. He wasn’t doing badly for 90 years old and made me laugh when he asked if the Queen was home (she was actually – the Royal Standard was flying), as he’d last seen her in 1944!
Having given the group free time to explore the castle, the other guide and I went for a cup of tea before heading back to the coach park. We knew we were in trouble as our leaving time came and went, and we were still missing three passengers – yep, the 90 year old and his companion were among them. However, they weren’t the last to get back to the coach as one man had left his elderly mother on her own in the castle and seemed surprised that she hadn’t found her own way back, even though he told me she got confused sometimes!
Having located the poor woman, we left Windsor late and drove down to Stonehenge. Warning all the passengers, not once but seven times, about the time we had to leave Stonehenge to make our lunch stop and that we couldn’t wait if any of them were late, guess what? Yep, some were late back again! Including the elderly woman, whose son and granddaughters had left her on her own again, despite me suggesting they stick together so they didn’t lose her. Just as we were thinking of leaving, she turned up, but 15 minutes after our leaving time, the decision was taken to go without two other passengers who were just nowhere in sight. It might sound harsh, but with another 70 passengers on board the double-decker coach you can’t wait forever, as it’s not fair on the rest of the group. When the two women turned up some 30 minutes later, the tour operator managed to get them a lift back to London with another coach.
Next up was the beautiful National Trust village of Lacock, but on the way we passed some military manoeuvres on Salisbury Plain and were treated to the sight of a tank crossing the main road – just caught the tail end of it with my camera (you try juggling a microphone and a camera at the same time!).
It’s no surprise that Lacock is incredibly popular as a film location as you feel like you’re stepping into a bygone era.
Cobbled streets, no television aerials or satellite dishes and streets looking as they did back in the 18th and 19th centuries. All the residents have to do is park their cars elsewhere and filming can commence. The BBC’s 2005 production of Pride and Prejudice was filmed here, as was Cranford, and the cloisters of the 13th century Lacock Abbey featured as part of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films.
We had a late lunch in the medieval George Inn, with its open fireplace where in days gone by a dog wheel was used to turn the meat. Bred especially to run on a wheel that turned meat so it would cook evenly, small dogs known as Turnspits were placed inside the wheel and ran to turn the spit (bit like a hamster on a wheel). Turnspits were also known as Cooking Dogs, or Vernepator Cur, Latin for “the dog that turns the wheel.” Rest assured they no longer use the dog wheel at The George to cook meat over the open fire and Turnspits are now an extinct breed.
From there, it was on to our last stop of the day, the Regency city of Bath, where the group had free time to explore the city, visit the Roman Baths or have a Bath Bun at Sally Lunn’s. The 90 year old World War II veteran was holding up well, but the man with the elderly mother wanted to leave her on the coach while they looked around Bath, and was surprised that we wouldn’t let him do that – we’re tour guides for heaven’s sake, not carers! So he got her off the coach and left her in a tearoom while he went off to explore.
Everyone was back at the coach on time as we left Bath (think they were all scared we might leave them behind) and we headed back to London, having stressed before they got back on board that it was a straight run back with no stops.
Just 20 minutes into the 2 hour journey a passenger tapped me on the shoulder as he was desperate for the toilet (not surprised as he’d obviously been to the pub in Bath). We couldn’t stop where we were, so he had to cross his legs for 25 minutes until we reached the services on the M4. I’ve not seen anyone run so fast for the toilet in ages, closely followed by half the coach who also decided they needed a toilet break.
The rest of the journey back was thankfully uneventful – aside from the very green-looking lady who’d had to be moved to the front of the coach and spent the return journey sitting next to me clutching a carrier bag and constantly asking how much longer we would be!
I was back in The View from The Shard today for a meeting, and to have a go at playing ‘Where’s Wally?’
Until 10th April you can grab an activity sheet and hunt for Wally and his friends Wenda, Woof, Wizard Whitebeard and Odlaw. I know it’s aimed at kids, but it’s fun. Some of the items and people to spot are in the Shard and others are on buildings you can spot from the top of The View.
No spoilers, but Odlaw was pretty easy to find, and I also spotted Wally early on. The rest were harder, although I suspect kids will have no trouble as they can usually work out anything that adults can’t. Me, well I struggled, so roped in some help – take a tip from me, the team at the Champagne bar know where they all are!
Today was a day off, and I took my mum down to the Bluebell Railway in Sussex for lunch on a Pullman Steam Train as a birthday treat.
I love a steam train – all that puff and luxury is the only way to travel and, luckily for us, it was the nicest day of the Easter bank holiday weekend.
Boarding Carriage Christine, we settled into our comfortable seats and watched the countryside rolling by as we puffed and tooted our way from Sheffield Park Station to East Grinstead and back again while enjoying a silver service 3-course lunch.
Originally known as Car 64, the carriage was built in 1928 as a 2nd Class restaurant car for the London-Harwich boat trains. She was then used on various railways before finishing her railway career on the Bournemouth Belle in 1967. Next used for promotional events as part of the Bulmer’s Cider Train, where she was renamed “Christine”, she was sold to the Venice-Simplon Orient Express who put Christine up for sale and she was finally bought by the Bluebell. She now runs as part of their Golden Arrow Pullman Dining Train, and is a wonderful experience – another bygone age.
The rest of the bank holiday weekend was, of course, a washout as Storm Katie hit, but down at the Bluebell Railway, everything was just lovely.
In case you’re wondering, lunch was delicious; asparagus wrapped in bacon, roast lamb and chocolate profiteroles. Just a great way to spend a spring day, chugging along in the spring sunshine, passing old signal boxes and picture-postcard stations with the puff of the steam engine and the toot of the whistle ringing in our ears.
The season’s hotting up, even if the weather is not, with two walks, the Education Show and a tour of the Cotswolds this week.
After a few weeks of research and route planning, I finally delivered my walk in Shoreditch this evening for a corporate group made up of British and Americans. We started in Finsbury Square with the Victorian water fountain erected to the memory of Martha Smith by her two sons, Thomas and Walter. Now I’m sure that Mrs Smith was a wonderful mum and worthy of such a tribute, but who’s ever heard of her? I had however heard of her son Tom – who invented the Christmas cracker in 1846 and whose work premises were based in Finsbury Square until the 1950s.
On what was a chilly night, we zipped through the Honourable Artillery Company, Bunhill Cemetery and Wesley’s Chapel on City Road, before diving into the side streets of Shoreditch to discover street art, old warehouses, and not one but two Shakespearian theatres – the Curtain Theatre and the unimaginatively named The Theatre. Then again, maybe ‘The Theatre’ was imaginative in the 1570s!
I even managed to include the latest piece of street art – a take on the Oscar race row. Located on the corner of Great Eastern Street and Curtain Road, it’s a great example of the culture and purpose of street art; topical, eye-catching, often controversial and timely.
I was feeling rather proud of my skills as a guide in managing to find and include such a piece, until the group’s attention was caught by something and all the Americans whipped out their mobiles and started filming. Turning to see what caused such excitement, I was a little disappointed to find that the highlight of their evening was not my inspiring commentary nor my choice of interesting landmarks, but a traffic warden loading a clamped car onto a tow truck to take it to the pound!
This morning I took my Bromley Ladies (a regular group that I take on walks a few times a year) on my ‘That’s A WRAP’ tour of film locations in the City of London.
Starting at St Paul’s Cathedral, we covered David Lean’s 1946 Great Expectations, Mary Poppins (spoiler alert – ‘Feed The Birds’ was actually filmed on a set at Walt Disney studios) and the cybermen from Dr Who. Then caught up with Rumpole at the Old Bailey and The Jokers (1967, starring Oliver Reed and Michael Crawford as two brothers who steal the crown jewels), before reminiscing over Four Weddings and a Funeral at St Bartholomew the Great church. The Queen, Evita and The Da Vinci Code saw us at Goldsmiths’ Hall, and then we took in The Lavender Hill Mob and Dick van Dyke’s atrocious cockney accent (Mary Poppins again) at St Mary le Bow church on Cheapside.
After reliving our movie memories, we finished off by re-enacting the final scene of Bridget Jones’ Diary at the Royal Exchange. We got some very strange looks as we all pretended to be Bridget racing through the snow in woolly jumper and stripy underpants (not literally, you understand) searching for Mr Darcy and finally meeting him by the water fountain for the inevitable happy ending!
Early start today, as I was off to the Education Show at the NEC in Birmingham to help man The View From The Shard’s stand as I have been instrumental in the development of their learning resources for school visits.
As the train pulled out of Euston, I felt like I was on a school trip with my drink and snacks laid out on the table in front of me, but when I arrived at the NEC I started to wonder if I was in the right place as everyone else was dressed as comic book characters? Turns out that Marvel Comic Con was on in the next door hall – if only I’d had my Wonder Woman outfit with me I could have gone to that instead!
The Education Show was probably not quite as much fun as Comic Con, but we did enjoy ourselves and met lots of lovely teachers and school administrators interested in bringing their school groups up The Shard and learning about London from the top. The stand opposite obligingly let us use one of their colourful lockers to secure our personal belongings in throughout the day – didn’t even have lockers when I was at school, you just left stuff in your desk and lugged the rest round with you all day as you moved from classroom to classroom.
The tools and resources available for schools is also quite amazing and has clearly improved a lot since I left school, as we certainly didn’t have all the electronic and computer tools. I also don’t recall the book fairy reading to us – just loved her ‘open book’ wings!
Another early start, this time from Victoria Coach Station, as I took a group to the Cotswolds for the day.
First stop was the beautiful village of Burford, with its lovely sloping main street and 15th century church of St John the Baptist, where a stark plaque commemorates three Levellers from the New Model Army who were shot on the orders of Oliver Cromwell in 1649.
Next we headed to the quaint village of Bibury, which William Morris described as “the most beautiful village in the Cotswolds”. It certainly is picturesque with the River Coln running through it and the 16th century cottages in Arlington Row.
Lunch was at The Swan, a former coaching inn, where I enjoyed grilled whole trout from Bibury Trout farm next door, before we carried on to the ‘Little Venice of The Cotswolds’, Bourton-on-the-Water.
By this time, the sun was starting to make an appearance and Bourton with its tearooms was doing a roaring trade as we strolled along the River Windrush. Some of my group took time to visit the motor museum, the model railway exhibition and the model village, all of which are worth a visit.
Our tour of the Cotswolds finished in the market town of Stow-on-the-Wold, where at the height of the wool industry 20,000 sheep would exchange hands at the annual fair. Stow is also the scene of a major battle in 1646 at the height of the English Civil War – a pet subject of mine. So I took advantage of the free time my group were enjoying browsing the antique shops and treating themselves to a cream tea, to visit the parish church of St Edward where there is a memorial to those who died in the battle.
A Parliamentarian victory, this was the last battle of the first English Civil War and saw the destruction of the Royalist army with about 200 Royalist soldiers killed and 1,700 taken prisoner. Local legend has it that the slaughter was so bad that blood flowed like a river down Digbeth Street, as the Royalist commander, Sir Jacob Astley, sat on the steps of the market cross at his surrender.
Needing some sustenance before the journey back to London, I finished the day by treating myself to a nice cup of tea and a lardy cake (made to a secret recipe) in Huffkins (www.huffkins.com), a family bakery that was founded back in 1890 and occupies a rather wonky Grade II listed building made of Cotswold stone.
Nothing wonky about my lardy cake though , which was rather delicious – it’s well worth a visit to the Cotswolds just to visit Huffkins, let alone the quintessentially English villages!
A mixed week of lectures, meetings, scouting walks (again) and hidden gems.
Worked at home today catching up on paperwork and then went off this evening to the City for the City of London Guide Lecturers Association’s annual Melluish lecture, which this year was given by Museum of London Director, Sharon Ament and, this being an anniversary year, was on the Great Fire of London.
The lecture was held in the beautiful church of St Lawrence Jewry, the official church of the Lord Mayor of London and the City of London Corporation, and we were warmly welcomed by the vicar, Canon David Parrott. Appropriately, St Lawrence Jewry was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren following the 1666 Fire. There has been a church on the site since the 12th century, and Wren’s church was restored in the 1950s, having been badly damaged in the Blitz of 1940.
Sharon presented an interesting lecture that, not only told the basic story of the Great Fire, but also looked at it from the perspective of modern day crisis management. It was a different angle to take, but one that got a room full of City guides, who all know about the Great Fire, thinking about what in Sharon’s words would be called ‘a major incident’ today.
The Lord Mayor of the time, Sir Thomas Bludworth, came in for a bit of criticism regarding his lack of action but, in fairness to him, if he had started pulling down houses to create fire breaks without agreement from a higher authority, i.e. the King, then he could have been sued – see, and we thought litigation was a modern disease! You do have to feel a little sorry for the man as his year in office saw both the Great Plague and the Great Fire devastate London and, in his own words, he had “the severest year any man had”.
Sharon summed up why the Great Fire was so disastrous in three key points, aside from the baker not putting his ovens out properly. Firstly, complacency – fires were a regular occurrence back then and there was no reason at the start to think this fire was any different. Second, poor leadership – no one took control initially and it took time to mobilise troops and co-ordinate the fire-fighting efforts. And lastly, a lack of equipment – fire hooks, leather buckets and squirts were supposed to be kept in every parish church for use against fire, but this was not always the case.
The Museum of London has a new exhibition due to open in July for the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire, and ‘Fire! Fire!’ is sure to be this year’s hot ticket!
Travelled over to Chiswick today for a meeting with a tour operator about some coach tours later in the summer. It took me back a good few years, as I used to work at Barclays Bank in Chiswick High Road in the late 1980s. The branch itself was completely unrecognisable, all shiny glass and automated tills, but the pub next door, aside from a refurbishment, hadn’t really changed at all. The Packhorse and Talbot was always a favourite haunt after work on a Friday evening when we’d all troop straight next door for a drink.
However, outside the Barclays I found a gem that certainly wasn’t there back in my day – a statue of Trump! No, not the US politician and billionaire Donald, but a pug called Trump, along with his more famous master William Hogarth. The 18th century artist, and his pet dog, lived locally and you can visit Hogarth’s country retreat, but sadly I didn’t have time today so it’s one to stick on my list for another time.
Spent the morning doing a final recce of my Shoreditch walk that I’m leading on Monday evening. It takes a long time to get a walk right – contrary to popular belief guides don’t just turn up and talk about anything (not professionals anyway), and I have my own method for creating a walk.
First I come up with an area or theme (this might be dictated by the client), then I research the area and potential topics and work out a rough route on a map before going out to walk the potential route. Then more research, finalise the stops, walk the route again, and again, and then walk it forwards and backwards making any final changes. The backwards bit I find is very important, as you will often spot something that you just don’t see while walking in one direction only.
Looking up at the tops of buildings and down at the ground also occasionally reveals an overlooked gem, which is how I found the advert about cows and fish on a paving stone in Shoreditch High Street. They sell hand-crafted shoes in a shop in Leicester (I googled them), but I have absolutely no idea what their connection with Shoreditch, or fish, is!
Another gem, although thankfully easier to spot, was St Leonard’s Parish Church. The burial place of Richard Burbage, Shakespearian actor and the star of many of his plays, he was the first actor to play Hamlet, Romeo and dastardly Richard III. The church also has a lovely cottage garden complete with a wishing well and Shakespearian quotes. Not really what you expect to find at the top of Shoreditch High Street in amongst all the trendy bars and shops, but a pleasant oasis away from the noise of the traffic.
Today was my first tour of the year at the National Trust’s Morden Hall Park – another oasis in London. I’ve been volunteering as a tour guide at what is effectively my local park for the past 5 years, and the history tours run every Sunday between March and October.
Morden Hall Park was a family estate that was left to the National Trust in 1941 when the last private owner, Gilliat Edward Hatfeild died – and no I haven’t spelt Hatfeild wrong, and no the family are not connected to Hatfield House (note the different spelling). Unlike most National Trust properties the park is free to enter as Hatfeild’s bequest stated the park should be run by the National Trust for the local people ‘provide a fee not be charged nor the gates locked’.
The park has a long history. First mentioned in the Domesday Book, the land was originally owned by Westminster Abbey before reverting to the Crown at the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s. Bought by two merchants in the mid 1500s, it was then sold to the Garth family who owned it for about 300 years before selling the estate to the Hatfeilds. The Hatfeilds were tobacco merchants and it was the snuff mills in the park, still there today but no longer operational, that brought them to the area.
The hall itself has never been open to the public (no original furniture and no money to bring it back to life as a stately home) and, like many of the cottages on the estate, it is rented out to bring in much needed income to support the park and its activities. However, there are many interesting features that make for a great walk round the park; the aforementioned snuff mills, Mr Hatfeild’s rose garden, and the Victorian stableyard to name a few. Plus the River Wandle runs through the park and the wetlands area attracts lots of birds and wildlife.
Today I was particularly fortunate to catch one of the herons posing in the sunshine on top of the eastern snuff mill – looks like he’s waiting to catch a fish, or maybe he’s just hiding from Trump?!
This week was full of murals, more toilets, and topped off with a splendid serving of afternoon tea.
Got a little side-tracked today while I was scouting a walk. Having mapped it out on paper and undertaken some initial research for the walk I’m leading in a few weeks’ time, my intention was to walk the route and finalise the stops I planned to make along the way. Just after setting off up City Road I took in Bunhill Fields, the non-conformist burial ground that houses the graves of John Bunyan (author of Pilgrim’s Progress), Daniel Defoe (famous for writing Robinson Crusoe), and poet and painter, William Blake.
But in amongst the famous are the not so famous; ordinary people who practised forms of religion that meant they could not be buried in consecrated ground, and some of the graves have interesting tales to tell. Especially, Dame Mary Page. The epitaph on her tomb dating from 1728 speaks volumes (or should that be gallons). Dame Mary, the wife of wealthy merchant, died aged 56 but was clearly a stoic woman who suffered greatly as ‘In 67 months she was tapped 66 times … 240 gallons of water drawn without ever repining at her case or ever fearing the operation.’
The now disused cemetery is frequented by many City workers as a place to sit and eat their lunch, and most respect the peace of the graveyard. Apart from a builder who, as I was photographing John Bunyan’s tomb, was relieving himself onto nearby graves! Incensed I ranted at him about the desecration of graves and how would he like it if someone wee’d on his relatives. Think the whole graveyard heard me – as a guide I can definitely project my voice and went into serious ‘outraged’ mode!
After that encounter, I popped into Wesley’s Chapel (www.wesleyschapel.org.uk) opposite for a little calm and, never having been there before, stumbled across an absolute gem.
Built in 1777-78 by John Wesley as the home of Methodism, and designed by the architect, George Dance the Younger, the chapel is full of light with a beautiful gallery running around the interior and just exudes calm. Free to enter, with an interesting museum in the basement, I also took a free guided tour of John Wesley’s house next door and learnt a lot about Wesley himself and the foundations of Methodism.
The man was amazing. He travelled the country on horseback covering somewhere in the region of 250,000 miles during his lifetime and preaching two to three times a day. When at home, he arose every morning at 4.00am to pray in the small prayer room off his bedroom – the rest of the household had a lie in and used to get up at 5.00am!
Now the house is lovely, the chapel beautiful, but best of all though are the toilets! The Gents to be exact (knock before you enter), which still have the original Victorian marble urinals, mahogany cubicles, and Thomas Crapper toilets. I love a good toilet, and Crapper’s are the best (never was a man more aptly named). Contrary to popular belief, he did not invent the flushing toilet. However, he did perfect it and became the leading toilet manufacturer of the day under the slogan ‘a certain flush with every pull!’
The Ladies loos are nowhere near as glamorous.
Wonderfully, Thomas Crapper’s are still around. Today, they have a great website where you can purchase all sorts of Crapper products online (www.thomas-crapper.com), so you can still buy Thomas Crapper toilets, washbasins and who doesn’t need their loo roll?!
This afternoon I took a train to the wilds of Dunstable to give a talk to their U3A History Group on the Great Fire of London. My ‘Follow the Fire’ talk and walk are proving very popular this year, as we commemorate 350 years of the Great Fire in September, and I already have a number of bookings with it hotting up in September – literally!
U3A groups are always a lovely audience, and this group was no exception as we took a virtual walk through the flames of 1666. From the baker’s house in Pudding Lane, we followed the fire as it devastated the City of London destroying everything in its wake – 13,000 houses, 51 livery company halls and 87 churches gone, including the great medieval cathedral of St Paul’s .
Just as I was dramatically talking about the lead roof of St Paul’s Cathedral melting, and flowing down the street like lava from a volcano, I heard…..a snore! As I carried on talking, studiously ignoring the snores coming from the front row, I could see someone out of the corner of my eye nudging the person next to them. Phew – it stopped. Only to start again, as I launched into the blame game that followed the fire (was it the Dutch, the French, the Catholics???). Now I like to think that my talks are quite interesting and entertaining and, in my defence, it was quite warm in the room, but occasionally people do nod off. The nudging started again as I raised my voice over the snores that were now reverberating around the room. People started to giggle, others were turning their heads to find the culprit and I was carrying on regardless with the execution of Robert Hubert, who had confessed to starting the fire (he hadn’t, but he was a convenient scapegoat).
The snores finally ceased, I finished my talk to questions and applause, and the person who had nodded off came up to me afterwards to say how much they’d enjoyed the talk!
Never really thought my voice was that soporific, but I am available for insomniacs and to get babies off to sleep!
Determined to complete my recce of the walk I’d started on Monday, I set off round Shoreditch in the icy drizzle and wind, and discovered more gems – murals to be exact. Shoreditch is very much an area for street art and you see it everywhere.
It’s hard to miss the colourful murals by David Shillinglaw on the walls of Zetland House, which was originally a print works for the Bank of England.
The Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) hoardings on Curtain Road are easy to spot too. This is where Shakespeare performed in the 1577 Curtain Theatre, and where Romeo and Juliet was first performed. The remains of the theatre have been excavated by MOLA, before a new build goes up, and the website of the Horse and Groom pub next door reveals that the theatre was discovered under their Female toilets. They even have their own Romeo and Juliet mural on their pub wall!
Then on the side of a car park, just as I was seriously feeling the chill and planning to head home to warm up, I found Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Love Star Wars, so the sight of the Force battling the Dark Side in tiles for all eternity cheered me up, but the rain was getting worse so I took a quick phot and headed to the tube – hope Luke won!
Today I finally managed to use the gift voucher I’d been given when I left the Museum of London (thank you to the host team) at the end of last year to become a fully self-employed guide, and headed to The Wolseley on Piccadilly for a spot of afternoon tea.
The old WolseIey car showroom from 1921 is now a luxurious restaurant, so afternoon tea was taken in the sumptuous surroundings of Eastern lacquerwork, marble flooring and impeccable service.
The Wolseley Car Company went bust in 1926 and the building then became an incredibly luxurious branch of Barclays Bank. Weirdly, I had spent time there in the 1990s when I worked for Barclays and had installed their new automated tills on the counter that was where the serving counters are today.
Tea was very genteel. Served in a beautiful silver teapot, with a silver tea strainer. The cake stand was filled with finger sandwiches (no crusts), warm fruit scones and dainty cakes and pastries. Absolutely delicious and it felt like I was back in the glamorous 1920s.
There’s something very decadent about taking afternoon tea, but John Wesley would probably not agree with me, as he hated tea and thought the drink ‘an abomination’!
This week I spent five days at The View From The Shard. Now, I haven’t worked five days on the trot since the end of the high tourist season in October – it felt like I had a proper job!
I started my week delivering landmark training for their new photographic team, Magic Memories, who are specialists in tourism photography.
Their strapline is ‘We Make People Smile’, and they certainly made me smile as the two managers, who were with the group of photographic hosts on their training, attempted to outdo each other in naming key landmarks. It was like having two naughty schoolboys on a school trip as first one then the other competed saying “I know that one” and “Ooh, let me try naming it”.
Like many visitor attractions, you have a photograph taken when you first enter The View From The Shard. However, the photographic hosts also roam the observation floors on Levels 69 and 72 taking in-situ photos with the view in the background. Many guests like to have a photo taken in front of a favourite landmark or iconic building, so as part of the training we not only discussed which landmark was which and which are the most popular (basically the big sexy ones like St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London), but also how to frame a shot from 244 metres (800 feet) up in the sky.
Of course the ‘spire’ is a key feature of The Shard, rising from Level 72 (the highest floor the public can go on) to the very top of the building at Level 95 (309.6 metres or 1,016 feet above the ground). It’s quite spectacular having a photo with the spire as a backdrop, especially when it’s lit up at night. So we finished the training crouching down pretending to take photos of the spire, much to the amusement of other guests enjoying the view. Of course, you can get an even better shot if the photographic host lays on the floor of Level 72 and shoots up towards Level 95 right at the very top – weirdly, the team didn’t seem too keen on that idea!
Tuesday – Friday
Following the classroom-based training a few weeks ago, the rest of the week was spent with my colleague Bruce assessing the practical skills of the guest ambassadors in delivering their tours before they are let loose on the public. 18 trainees meant hearing 18 tours, all covering virtually the same view. Now you would think that over the course of the week I would get fed up hearing about the view, the various landmarks, the story of the Shard and the building itself. But not at all, because each trainee put their own personality into their tour and the view of London changed constantly. Well, not the actual buildings obviously, but how they look and which ones you can see depending on the weather.
As a professional guide I recognise all the landmarks, I generally know a fair bit about them and I also know quite a lot about The Shard, but I was pleasantly surprised by the trainees’ depth of knowledge and turn of phrase. Some approached the tour as a key highlights tour, others focused on London’s history, one gave us an architectural tour, and another took us on a tour of film locations that can be seen from the top. He even likened the view to Mary Poppins flying over the church steeples and the chimney pots!
Along the way, I discovered that the lift speed is the same as a male kangaroo at full hop, the window cleaners are the ‘daredevils’ of The Shard, and the Tower of London houses ‘the Queen’s bling’. My quote of the week though was being told that when Renzo Piano designed the building, he (apparently) wanted something ‘classy and glassy’.
It was fun listening to the different interpretations, but not so much fun going through the airport style security all those times. On the plus side, I’m now on first name terms with the security guys, know that the metal plates in my arm (broke it badly a few years ago) set off their scanners and can disrobe in under 5 seconds (that’s coat, bag, empty pockets etc., but you do get to keep your shoes on!). By the end of the week, I had it down to a fine art and could scoot through pretty quickly divesting myself of my bits and bobs.
But the worst part of the week had to be trekking up and down the stairs. You don’t have to walk up to the top on Level 72 as guests get whisked up via two speedy lifts. But I was based in the offices on Level 3 for the week and the easiest way to get to the attraction entrance is via the internal staircase. As I trudged up and down between tours, I noticed the signs telling me how many calories I burned by taking the stairs (3.99 per floor). So how many calories did I burn walking between Level 1 and Level 3 all week? A measly 287.28 calories! Which doesn’t sound a lot – until I worked out that the number of times I’d gone up and down was the equivalent to climbing all the way up to Level 72!
It was only on Friday that I discovered that out of the 40+ lifts within the building, there is only 1 that goes all the way from the bottom to the top. Some of the guest ambassadors refer to it as ‘the Queen’s lift’. Don’t know about the Queen, but might have been easier if I could have used it!
This week saw me back in Bankside, on the Thames and discovering a surprising find in St John’s Wood.
All wrapped up and thermals donned for this evening’s ‘Bawdy Bankside’ walk for students at the new London campus of the University of West Scotland (www.uws.ac.uk/london). I was rather relieved when we met at their campus in Borough to find that everyone was sensibly dressed for the weather, especially as the students weren’t the hardy Scots I expected but overseas students from China.
The cold English weather had put some of the students off, but those who did brave the cold were enthusiastic about the walk and London, and bombarded me with questions throughout the tour.
Explaining the British way of life, our customs, and our language is one of the joys of being a tour guide. Cultural differences are always interesting, but have you ever tried to explain what a scone is to someone Chinese? It’s not easy. I mean who other than the British really understands why we smother a small fruit cake in jam and clotted cream? And I didn’t even bother to explain the jam then cream or cream then jam thing! I mean, who understands that anyway?
One of the students and I developed a rapport as it turned out we had both climbed Mount Tai, one of the holiest mountains in China (way back in 1996 for me), and we compared notes about the number of steps to the top (7,200), how long it took us (about 5 hours) and how cold it was on the top – much colder than Bankside in February!
This evening’s walk took us past St George the Martyr church with its chalk message board on the north side, which (surprisingly) had no rude messages – at least, I don’t think the Chinese writing is rude?!. Both there and at the site of the old Marshalsea Prison next door, we talked about Charles Dickens and the story of Little Dorritt. Then we moved on to the Crossbones Graveyard (see Diary of a Guide…Prostitutes and Pleasure Gardens), before heading to the original site of the Globe Theatre, the Rose Theatre, and then the current Globe.
Now it’s rare to find someone who hasn’t heard of William Shakespeare, but the students hadn’t, so a long conversation ensued explaining who he was and why he is so important in this country (he is the only writer that is always included on the school national curriculum). We tend to forget that our most famous playwright may not be known around the world, even if Macbeth is currently visiting every country across the globe as part of Shakespeare 400.
After all that culture, it went a bit downhill as I then had to explain that the Winchester Geese were prostitutes. Then I had to explain what a goose was, and then what a prostitute was – I really need to learn Mandarin, it would be so much easier! However, it was Einstein who said: “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself”, and the same principle applies to visitors from overseas. It was a timely reminder of the guide’s golden rule to never assume that people know what or who you’re talking about.
On the way back from a meeting in St John’s Wood with a tour operator about a future job, I took a good look at the underground station and discovered the most wonderful tiles down on the platforms. Designed by Harold Stabler in the 1930s for the London Passenger Transport Board (as the underground was then called), the series of 18 tiles were commissioned by Vice-Chairman Frank Pick and made by Carter and Co (now Poole Pottery).
St John’s Wood is one of only a few stations that still feature the original earthenware London themed tiles. You should still be able to find others at Swiss Cottage, Aldgate East and Bethnal Green, so do seek them out whenever you are passing through.
The cold, grey, wet afternoon was the perfect weather for the Museum of London’s ‘Tour the Thames: Crime, Death and Myths’, where I spent the afternoon on the Pride of London pleasure cruiser talking to 125 guests about death and crimes connected with the river.
Scott Wood, author of ‘London Urban Legends’, was my co-speaker and he regaled the audience with tales of ghosts, sewer pigs and Queen Rat! Me, well I covered the cholera deaths, robberies, murders, and executions!
My favourites included the De Beers diamond heist at the O2 in 2000 (back when it was still called the Millennium Dome) which was foiled by the Met Police’s Flying Squad, and really did look like an episode of The Sweeney. As the robbers smashed their way into the glass display cases, ‘visitors’ to the exhibition and ‘cleaners’ pulled guns out of prams and rubbish bins to surround and arrested them. The robbers had planned to get away by speedboat, but that too was cornered in the Thames and the driver arrested. What the robbers didn’t know was that, if they had managed to get away with the largest haul in British history, they would have only had fake diamonds in their hands – the real ones having been replaced with copies when the police knew the heist was planned.
At the Tower of London, the execution of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, has to be one of the grisliest. This lady, at the age of 70 in 1541, was not going down easily. She refused to put her head on the block and was chased round the execution site with the axeman hacking away at her.
Bridge murders also featured. That of Georgi Markov, at Waterloo Bridge in 1978 (stabbed in his leg with an umbrella containing ricin poisoning while waiting at a bus stop), and Roberto Calvi, found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge in 1982. God’s Banker (he had close links with the Vatican) was found dead with stones in his pockets weighing him down and about £15,000 in various currencies. Real life is often more like Hollywood than, well, Hollywood!
But my personal favourite has to be the murder of Prince Ali Kamel Fahmy at the Savoy Hotel in 1923. Shot in his suite by his own wife, her defence lawyer painted a picture of an abusive marriage with a husband of dubious sexual persuasions, and then played the race card warning against evil foreigners preying on western women. So dramatic was the self defence argument that the jury only took an hour to find Princess Fahmy (Marguerite Laurient) not guilty. Perhaps the jury may not have been so quick to acquit Marguerite if her murky reputation hadn’t been covered up along with her affair with the Prince of Wales (future Edward VIII)!
The weather and subject matter may have been gloomy, but it was cosy and warm as we cruised from Westminster to the O2 along a rather choppy Thames (good job I have my sea legs) in the capable hands of the captain and crew of the Pride of London (www.cruiselondon.co.uk/pride-of-london).
The Museum of London’s next Thames tour (www.museumoflondon.org.uk) is Shakespeare themed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of his death in April. I can’t speak for the crew of the Pride of London, but as Stephano says in The Tempest: “The master, the swabber, the boatswain, and I, The gunner, and his mate, Lov’d Mall, Meg, and Marian, and Margery, But none of us car’d for Kate;” Seeing London from the Thames is a wonderful way to see it – unless perhaps your name is Kate??
In what was a very chilly week, somehow I ended up in two of the coldest places to guide; the Tower of London and Stonehenge, but warmed up beforehand with a spot of tea.
I’ll often partake of that quintessentially British tradition, afternoon tea – all in the name of research you understand, as overseas tourists often wish to ‘take tea’, and I think it’s good to be familiar with something you are going to recommend. So it was off to St James’s Hotel and Club to sample their ‘It’s All In The Game’ afternoon tea with a friend and guiding colleague.
Now I love afternoon tea – it’s civilised, it’s quirky, and it has tea, scones and cake. And this one also has board games – what’s not to love?!
Before the tea arrived, we got to play a game (or more than one if you wish) from a selection that included Ludo, Backgammon, Chess, Monopoly and Scrabble. We opted for Snakes and Ladders, on the basis that some of the games would take too long and others would be far too competitive.
I haven’t played Snakes and Ladders in years, and regressed back to my childhood picking my favourite colour counter, getting very excited when I landed on a ladder and then very disappointed when I had to slide back down a snake! I lost by the way, as my friend landed on a ladder that took her straight to the winning square.
The afternoon tea didn’t disappoint either. The scones were lovely, but the cakes were amazing.
Dainty and delicious little cakes shaped like board game pieces; chocolate Monopoly top hat, coconut shortbread domino, chocolate and cherry snakes and ladders, lemon sponge scrabble, raspberry and white chocolate dice, and (my personal favourite) a shortbread chessboard with dulce chocolate chess piece.
The evening found me delivering a lecture to the Friends of the Museum of London on Lord Mayors and Livery Companies, using objects in the Museum’s collection to illustrate the talk. From the first mayor of London, Henry Fitzailwyn, in 1189 to the current Lord Mayor, Lord Mountevans, via the Worshipful Companies of Mercers, Brewers, and Tax Advisors, among others. It’s lovely to be able to talk about museum objects and entice the Friends to revisit and look at the collection in a new light.
After all, who would look at the portrait of Lord Mayor William Hewett (check it out in the Medieval Gallery at the Museum of London) and think that this rather austere looking citizen promised his daughter’s hand in marriage to his apprentice?
As a child, Anne Hewett fell from a window in their house on London Bridge into the teeming waters below and Edward Osbourne jumped in to save her. When years later rich and noble gentlemen came a calling, Lord Mayor Hewett reportedly said: “Osbourne saved her, so Osbourne can have her!”
I’d promised to spend the day with Laura, a trainee Blue Badge guide who is about to take her final exams and who, like all of us after 2 years hard slog, was starting to feel like she couldn’t do this. I remember the feeling well – you’ve studied hard, learnt more than you thought possible about a huge number of topics (royalty, art, history, agriculture, architecture, cathedrals – the list is endless), honed your skills, walked London’s streets, and now you have to sit a written paper, pass a coach panoramic exam, and qualify to guide in Westminster Abbey, the British Museum, the Tower of London and St Paul’s Cathedral. Six exams in two weeks – it’s tough.
When I was training as a guide others freely gave me their time and knowledge and I feel it’s only right to pass it on – but did it have to be at the Tower? In February? On what felt like the coldest day of the year??
I froze (even with my thermals on) while Laura delivered her commentaries on the Bloody Tower, Traitors Gate, Execution Site and Jewel House, and was then very relieved when she admitted that she needed help with the armour in the White Tower. Hurrah – indoors, in the warm!
Henry VIII’s horse armour reminds you that he was an athletic hunk in his youth, and in love with Katherine of Aragon. He really was a knight in shining armour on a white charger!
The garniture (a mix and match set of armour for use in different tournament events; joust and foot combat) on the other hand is Henry older and fatter. But it’s tricky to guide as, not only do you have to talk about Henry VIII (that’s the easy part), you also have to explain how the armour was made, including the difference between engraving and etching in the decoration. And you have to mention the codpiece! Without giggling!
Well, if I thought the Tower of London was cold, Stonehenge is even colder on a miserable February day.
Although I am qualified to guide at Stonehenge, I have never been back since I completed the Blue Badge course. Not for any other reason than I’ve never been offered a job there. So a fellow Blue Badge who guides there a lot (she’d been there twice this week already) took me down to give me a refresher ready for the start of the main season.
Located on Salisbury Plain, Stonehenge is right next to a large military base and the sound of gunshot often disconcerts visitors – they tend to get even more worried when they see the ‘Tanks Crossing’ signs!
Now like many people, I’ve always just considered Stonehenge to be a bunch of really big old stones in a field. Sacrilege I know, and yes I know it’s 4,500 years old, an amazing feat of prehistoric engineering and a World Heritage Site. But they’re stones – big ones – in a field – and it was very, very cold!
However, after a visit with Lucy, I finally got it, and it is truly amazing. The thought of prehistoric man transporting the Sarsen stones each weighing up to 30 tons across the landscape from Marlborough and, in the case of the Bluestones (3-7 tons each) across mountains, valleys and rivers from Wales, and then levering them into upright positions with lintels on top creating a perfectly horizontal stone circle suspended 6m in the air is just unbelievable.
Archaeological evidence means we know when Stonehenge was built and how it was built, but not why it was built. Theories abound; it’s a place of ancient worship, a centre of healing, an astronomical computer, a ceremonial site, a druid temple (the druids came along much later by the way), and even an alien site – very Stargate SG1!
And if you’ve never been, then you should go – but did I mention it’s cold?
Work-wise, it’s been a bit of a quiet week. January and February tend to be the quietest months for tour guides, with ‘the season’ picking up around Easter. However, what the quiet period does do is give you time to catch up on exhibitions, update your knowledge and seek new business. So this week was all about meetings and ink!
Tuesday saw me back at The View From The Shard, and sometimes I really do feel like I live there. Not that I’m complaining, as the view from the top is different every time I see it. No the landmarks don’t change, but the weather does and that changes the view. These days I am there so often that they’ve now given me my own name badge and pass to get in!
Today I was accompanying a small group of Blue Badge guiding colleagues on a familiarisation visit, so that they could meet the Travel Trade Team and become familiar with the logistics of guiding inside Western Europe’s tallest building. It was a beautifully sunny day, the view was wonderfully clear and we had a lot of fun ‘landmark spotting’ from the observation floor on Level 72. And trying to outdo each other with stories and facts about each one!
Following a meeting on Bankside (fingers crossed for more about that in a few weeks if an exciting initiative comes off), I strolled along the South Bank to Westminster on my way to another meeting and happened upon what was HMS President’s last day moored on the Thames.
Built in 1918 as the Flower-Class sloop HMS Saxifrage (saxifrage is also known as the flower London Pride), she was an anti-submarine ship and spent the last days of World War I hunting U-boats. Her name was changed to President when she took up a permanent mooring on the Embankment in 1922 as a reserve ship. Now in private hands, and used as an event venue since 1982, HMS President was repainted in 2014 by Tobias Rehberger to commemorate her World War I service.
On Friday morning she was due to sail down the Thames and then the River Medway to Chatham, in order to clear the way for works on the new Thames Tideway Tunnel (or Super Sewer). During her time away, HMS President will undergo a refurbishment, and it is hoped that she will return to a new mooring on the Thames.
I was lucky to catch the old girl on her last day, although she did look slightly odd with her wheelhouse and funnel removed so she could fit under the bridges on her journey downstream.
HMS President’s dazzle camouflage was used to confuse enemy ships in the First World War, and her current ‘inking’ is similar to a full skin tattoo, which is what I encountered on Friday.
Now whether you like tattoos, hate tattoos or are thinking of getting a tattoo, this is worth seeing. The exhibition covers the history of tattooing in London and also features contemporary London tattooists and life in tattoo parlours today.
As the proud owner of ink (got a tattoo for my 30th birthday), I had never really thought of tattoos as art nor tattooists as artists or craftsmen. But the exhibition showcases the skill and workmanship that goes into each design, and the Museum has commissioned some fabulous new designs by the tattooists featured in the exhibition.
As a City of London Guide, I particularly like Mo Coppoletta’s reworking of the City of London coat of arms
And, as a Londoner, I enjoyed deciphering the Cockney Rhyming Slang design by Lal Hardy.
It certainly beats my doodling when I’m in all those meetings!