London Walking Tours    with Joanna Moncrieff

London Quiz – Part 2

Being in the winning team for the Londonist Quiz a few months ago I was excited when I read about a London quiz for London experts on the Londonist forum.

Unfortunately the response from Visit London to my enquiring email was that the team quota had been filled and there was no room for a guiding team.  However Londonist were lacking a team member so I filled the space.

The venue was upstairs at the Shepherd Tavern one of my favourite pubs in Mayfair.  The drinks were flowing and Visit London were paying.  The teams consisted of cabbies, the Big Bus Company, Londonist and loads and loads of London bloggers.  It was quite a bizarre experience to meet the people behind the blogs I’m signed up to.  Ian Visits was there as was Faded London, Jane’s London, Caroline’s Miscellany and Tom Tired of London.

The questions ranged from fiendishly difficult to extremely easy.  I had tried to do “revision” ie studying some of my books including statues, blue plaques and churches, but this didn’t really help. 

Londonist came a respectable third although there were only 4 points between us and the winners (the cabbies).  Next year there will definitely be a hand-picked guiding team and we will win!

Practice Makes Perfect

Today I took part in the first of a series of walk shops aimed at those of us qualified guides who are looking to get away from our comfort zone areas (mine being St James’s and Mayfair) and explore new areas with a view to putting together walks there too.

Thankfully the rain had stopped by 11am when we met at the Charles I statue at Charing Cross for our walk around Whitehall.  I was dressed (as is usual for me for winter walks) in thermals.  I was too hot.  Better to be too hot than too cold though.  I was down to do 2 stops and whilst the adrenalin would be pumping when I would be talking I would be standing around the rest of the time.

One of my stops was Horse Guards and as we walked through the arch that only the Queen is allowed to drive through we were confronted by a gale.  During my spiel my hair was I think keeping everyone amused as it was flying in all directions.  Mental note to always carry a hair tie for similar situations.  I was quite pleased with my talk as had found out several obscure/interesting facts including that the beach volleyball competition will be held at Horse Guards during the Olympics and that one of the statues on Horse Guards Parade – the first Viscount Wolseley – was the model for Gilbert and Sullivan’s character the Modern Major General in Pirates of Penzance.  I’m always looking for the obscure rather than the dry history.  Not that I know the words but I’ve had that tune in my head all day! 

It was an interesting walk as although I knew most of the guides from guiding meetings I hadn’t seen them all in action.  One of the most surprising was M who astounded me by quoting a Scottish poem in a convincing Scottish accent in the middle of his talk about Derby Gate.  He was fantastic.  He told me later that he had a Scottish English teacher at school and all the poems he learned when he was a child had stuck in his head.  C who incidentally lives around the corner from me stopped opposite Downing Street and rather than talk about the human inhabitants talked about the various cats that had been in residence there.  It was really different and funny.

Needless to say we retired to the pub afterwards The Old Shades  where incidentally there is a BookCrossing zone (another of my interests) but I managed to resist the temptation to leave with any as have some walk planning to do.

Back on my feet

Having been more or less house bound/desk bound for the last month or so my toes are now well on the way to recovery and I’m back out there trawling the streets of Westminster for future walks.

Tonight, in preparation for a practice walk in a couple of weeks’ time I walked up and down Whitehall looking for two memorials which I eventually found in a side street.  I should have thought to check exactly where they were before my expedition which erroneously involved the whole length of Whitehall rather than the first third.  I should also have gone to the library after the exploration rather than before as emerged from the library with possibly 4 of the heaviest books they had.

One of the books I borrowed was “One on Every Corner” which is a book about the history of some Westminster pubs.  I can see this will be very useful for the historical pub tours and food and drink themed walks that I’m currently working on.

Tomorrow night I’m planning on walking around Belgravia to see how the pubs on my tour can form a logical walk and end nearish to the tube.  From looking at the map this seems rather impossible as 1 of them is hidden down a mews quite a distance from the tube and the 2 that are near the tube are in a bit of a maze.  I would also like to mention the Plumber’s Arms (mentioning the Lord Lucan connection) in my walk but this one is completely out on a limb to the other 3 pubs.  Am hopeful it will become clearer on the street tomorrow.  I may need some help testing out these walks/pubs.  No doubt I have some friends who would be interested in helping me!

Que sera sera

Not even a week after getting my badge I am already out of action with a broken toe. I tripped over the hem of my pyjama trousers which made me lose my balance and I slammed my toes against the door jamb. I think I woke my neighbours up with my exclamations of pain.
However it was the nausea, blue lips and faintness that were worrying me more than the actual pain of the toe which wasn’t in fact that great (until I tried to walk). NHS Direct said they would call me back in 1.5 hours. This was about 12.30am. Being far too late to call any family or friends I decided after only half an hour of waiting (rather like the girls recently trapped in the storm drain ) to update my Facebook status just really wanting to talk to someone. Everything seems much worse when you’re on your own. My brother had just returned from a local jazz jam saw my message and got in contact. It was good to speak to someone.
I decided to take myself off to A&E but rather stupidly the only reading matter I took with me were the notes for my walk planned for Wednesday 21st. However walking from the flat to the taxi I soon realised I wouldn’t be walking anywhere anytime soon. 3.5 hours on and off in the waiting room is a long time when there’s nothing to read and nothing to eat – I was inexplicably starving for most of the time.
My toe is strapped up and I am in effect trapped in my flat. Walking to the other end of the flat is hard enough so commuting up to London let alone leading a walk is out of the question for the moment.
There’s no point dwelling on what happened. I’m being positive and using this extra time at home to write my long overdue articles for the Londonist and to work on my next walk – a food and drink themed walk around Mayfair. Que sera sera as they say.

My first Westminster Walk

Organising my first walk as a qualified guide on the evening after the badge ceremony was possibly not one of my better ideas.  I should know by now that where wine is available my common sense disappears.  However although I had suffered during the day from my over indulgence the night before once I was into my stride in the walk the adrenalin kicked in and my hangover disappeared.

This walk around St James’s/Gentleman’s London had originally been put together by me over the 2008 Christmas holidays and practiced on some friends in January.  However standing at the top of Queen’s Walk by the Ritz Hotel with my new badge on my lapel I felt very important and excited.

After a slightly nervous start I relaxed and began to enjoy myself which I hope came over to my group of 11 former work colleagues and friends.

I realised however that just by walking the route by myself and adding on the minutes taken at each stop is no indication of the actual length of a walk.  Real people as opposed to guiding colleagues dawdle and stop to look in shop windows.  My walk overran by 20 minutes.

I also discovered that at this time of the year even a week makes all the difference in how dark it is.  My second stop was at the back of Spencer House in Queen’s Walk.  A week after doing a practice walk at the same time of the evening it was far too dark.  I could barely see the group. 

As I have quite an encyclopaedic knowledge of pubs that I want to share the plan was to include a 30 minute pub stop half way round at the Chequers.  I have been told by already qualified guides that this would undoubtedly cause problems and once I had people in a pub I would have trouble getting them out.  On this occasion at the time stipulated everyone bar one person was waiting outside ready to begin again.  However on a freezing cold or rainy evening it may not be quite so easy.

Whilst in the pub I became aware again that I had my badge on and found it quite a talking point.  In fact I managed to get business cards from several local businessmen interested in walks in the area.

I finished the walk in Pickering Place talking about Berry Brothers which I thought was a good link to the Red Lion in Crown Passage whose house wine is by the aforementioned shop and where we would finish the walk. On this occasion only 2 people joined me but I hope more people will in the future as it is one of my favourite pubs in London.

Ceremony at City Hall

Arriving on the 18th floor of Westminster City Hall in Victoria Street I was rather nervous. I was about to get my guiding badge from the Lord Mayor of Westminster, Duncan Sandys, great grandson of Winston Churchill and at age 35 the youngest person ever to hold this office.

However on being invited into the Mayor’s Parlour we were greeted by our guiding colleagues offering us wine. What a relief. It was a very informal affair and we mingled and chatted and drank wine with our fellow graduates for some time before the formal part of the evening by which time I had had 2 glasses of wine and my nerves had gone.

We were called forward individually and presented with the badge and a certificate. The badge is quite substantial and heavy. I was so pleased and excited to finally receive it.

After the ceremony we had the chance to look around the Plate Room in City Hall. I had expected this would be rather boring as the name didn’t really sell itself; however it was fascinating. A former Lord Mayor and the President of the City of Westminster Guide Lecturers’ Association Robert Davis was very enthusiastic and regaled us with the history and stories connected with the contents of that small strongroom that had been collected over the centuries. I came away wanting to know more.

The most fascinating story was regarding a tobacco box that had been given to the Society of Past Overseers as a gift in 1713 and inscribed with the name of the donor followed a few years later with the inscription commemorating an important historical event. Almost every year an event has been added although of course new receptacles were created. At first there were bigger and bigger boxes to fit inside each other rather like Russian dolls culminating in an enormous pedestal which was in the centre of the room. When that was full there followed a series of plates and other receptacles. 2013 is the 300th anniversary of this tradition and the Society is planning starting again from the very beginning with a new small tobacco box.

The Civic Plate Room isn’t normally open to the public but this year for the first time it was accessible as part of Open House weekend. Hopefully it will be open again next year so I can return for another look.

I was reluctant to leave City Hall with its fantastic views and wanted more time to look at the many historical paintings on the walls but the time came when we had to leave so we reconvened around the corner in the Adam and Eve.

A Perfect Weekend

If only every weekend was like the weekend just gone. London seemed to be on a high and I certainly was having found out on Saturday morning that I had qualified as a City of Westminster Walking Tour Guide.

19 and 20 September this year were the dates for Open House Weekend when 700 buildings across the capital are open for free access to the public.

Over the weekend I learned so much, saw some fantastic architecture and amazing interiors and met many interesting and friendly people.

I spent Saturday afternoon volunteering as a steward at Marlborough House in Pall Mall. It was very hot in there (and I was dressed for winter – it was cold when I left home in the morning) but I had a wonderful time. I had some interesting conversations, I people-watched and I enjoyed the interior of a fantastic historical building. It is certainly worth putting on your list to visit next year even just to sit in the enormous garden normally hidden and private.

Every building I went to I got chatting with people. I’ve been invited to bring a group back for a tour to the Royal Society in Carlton House Terrace, I’ve had tea at the RSA (incidentally open to the public for a wedding fair on 11 October when you will have another chance to tour the house), I’ve sat on the steps of the Lansdowne Club waiting for a tour telling a couple all about Harry Gordon Selfridge and his escapades after his wife died and I even bumped into one of our examiners and had a friendly chat with her. It might have been different had I failed though!

Sunday evening there was a party for volunteers at the German Gymnasium next to St Pancras station. This was an amazing space and I still have to read up about its history. At the party I bumped into the Chairman of the guiding association I am about to join and 2 people I have met before through other clubs. By the end of the weekend I had several email addresses of people interested in coming on my walks.

Am off to Yorkshire tomorrow morning and hope this weekend will be equally as rewarding.

Walthamstow Wanderings

Not one to sit around twiddling my thumbs after my guiding exam was over yesterday I felt at a loose end. As readers of my blog will realise my life has been taken over by revision and practising for the exam rather too much lately hence no blogging for far too long.

I sat in Green Park in the sun for a while wondering what to do and then decided to join my friend, C, who was going on the E17 Art Trail . In retrospect probably not the best idea after traipsing the streets of Mayfair in sandals not really suited to long walks but I survived and it was only around about 6pm when we finished up in the Rose and Crown that I suddenly felt completely exhuasted.

I have lived in the E4/E17 area all my life but discovered parts of Walthamstow yesterday I never knew existed.

This is the 5th year for the Art Trail and there are 150 exhibitions, walks, talks and cycle rides at 90 different venues. Many of the exhibitions are in private homes. Everyone we met yesterday was really friendly, enthusiastic and welcoming. The art we saw was diverse no two venues having similar styles. The Art Trail runs until next Sunday 13 September.

My first surprise was a lovely green space – Stoneydown Park – just off Blackhorse Road where I met my friends C and V. Being a bit mentally exhausted from my exam it never occurred to me to take photos of our tour.

Our next surprise was no. 10 on the Art Trail entitled “Tales from the Forest” . The address was “The Secret Garden”, Flat 3, etc etc. The flat was in a nondescript block just behind Walthamstow Market. At the top of the stairs we emerged onto a roof terrace which was amazingly quiet being so close to the market. Katja Rosenberg’s prints and postcards and fairytales written by local schoolchildren were all around for us to browse. She welcomed us with a magic potion (wine or orange juice) and encouraged us to spend as much time as we wanted browsing or reading. It was a great place to start the trail. Katja’s work will next be on view at Wonderland at the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green from 26 September.

My other favourite venue was no 13 on the list “Teenage Pics” in the Outset Centre, (access via Frederick Street, E17) which I had never heard of and was surprised to find that my train passes within feet of it every day. This was an exhibition of deckchairs that had been reclaimed from old park buildings and given a new lease of life by local young artists. The painting was done directly onto the canvas and there were some striking designs. This exhibition is open Monday to Friday this week 10 to 5 and until 9pm on Tuesday.

Our last surprise of the day was a sample shop somewhere near to the Alpha Business Centre where we had seen no. 12 on the list “We have a Product Malfunction” which unfortunately I just didn’t get. However we found this great shop selling samples from the Spanish clothes shop Almatrichi and I bought a gorgeous top in that green colour that you only seem to be able to buy in Spain for only £5.

Our penultimate stop was in Celsius in Hoe Street which included some collages by former Grange Hill actor Terry Sue Pat who played Benny back in the late 1970s/early 1980s and now lives locally. Our final stop was the Rose & Crown which has its own exhibitions as part of the Trail but I was just too exhausted to do anything more than sit down and have a drink.

A Busy Week

I had so many plans for my blog this week. However I have basically been out too much enjoying London with no spare time to write my blog. It’s unlikely I will catch up with myself so here’s a summary with some of my blurry photos as have now figured out how to download from phone to PC although the actual editing of the photos (ie turning them the right way round and putting them at different locations in blog) is still beyond me. I can turn them round but for some reason I am unable to save them.

Friday – Sunday – a weekend trip to Oxfordshire to visit friends who live in a lovely village called Bampton near Oxford for the princely sum of £8 return on the train. Bampton is known for having 3 Morris dancing teams and my friends told me that over the May bank holiday (maybe next year!) the village is taken over by Morris dancers as they dance their way around the village. All the big house owners are legally bound to open their grounds so it’s a good opportunity for the locals to see behind the scenes. We spent the weekend cycling although my fitness was sorely lacking and eating which I am quite good at.

Tuesday – a pub crawl with my American friend D to those 2 fantastic Belgravia pubs The Star Tavern (photo with all the hanging baskets) and The Grenadier (see my previous entry).

Wednesday – a guided tour around Charterhouse in Clerkenwell (the other photo) – absolutely fascinating and unknown to many of the people I work with in Farringdon probably less than half a mile away. This was followed by a practice walk in Mayfair for exam re-sit after which I was fit for nothing.

Thursday evening – was meant to be a walk down the Strand with Londonist and Chris Roberts to promote the latest edition of the Penny Dreadful for the 21st Century One Eyed Grey but the torrential rain thwarted us and we only made it a couple of hundred yards to the Lyceum Tavern which I had never realised was a cheap Sam Smiths pub and we stayed there for the duration of the evening. Good to meet some of the Londonist staff and see Chris again although a shame not to do the walk.

Friday – a night in but length of evening scuppered by the National Express rail strike.

Saturday – a VaughanTown meetup where I enthused about my 4 visits to VaughanTown (where you talk (not teach) English to Spaniards with a good standard of English for 6 days and stay in a luxury hotel with all meals included in remote parts of Spain and meet fantastic people and generally have a good time – mention my name if you book!).

Today – I hosted a Spice tour around the BBC at Portland Place followed by lunch at Strada.

Think I need a rest!

Cemetery Tour no. 2

Following on from my visit to Kensal Green Cemetery in February I went on a tour of the City of London Cemetery in Manor Park yesterday. I had stopped at the lovely café by the gatehouse as part of a Ramblers walk last year but had no idea of the extent of the burial grounds. The Cemetery covers over 200 acres and is the biggest in the country. The memorial gardens within the cemetery are some 34 acres alone. The whole of Highgate Cemetery is only 37 acres.

David our guide was extremely knowledgeable about the Cemetery having worked there so we got to hear about the practicalities of burials and memorials as well as the history and stories connected with the graves.

The Cemetery came into being in the mid 19th Century because the churchyards in the City of London were becoming overcrowded. David told us for example that St Andrew Holborn had so many dead in its graveyard that the ground was 15 feet higher than the street level and there was a danger of bodies overflowing onto the street. Some 12000 bodies were transferred from St Andrew to a new burial plot in this Cemetery and in recent years when they cleared the crypt another 3000 bodies followed. They had massively underestimated the amount of bodies in the crypt thinking there were only 700 or 800. Looking at the church’s website the crypt is now available for venue hire which doesn’t seem right given its past history.

Many of the other City churches cleared their graveyards when this Cemetery was created and the bodies were reinterred here. One memorial to St Helens Bishopsgate is said to include the body of Robert Hooke scientist and architect (amongst other things) who I had to confess I had not heard of before.

One of the most striking memorials we saw was that of Gladys Spencer a local music and dance teacher. Hers is the only memorial that includes a statue of a piano. According to David who has seen a picture of Gladys the representation of her is rather more attractive than she was in real life. She died aged only 34 in 1931. (Apologies I haven’t yet worked out how to save photos after rotating them!)

The tour was full of fascinating information and I could probably go on for another few paragraphs. However if you get a chance to visit and go on a tour I would definitely recommend it. The nearest station is Manor Park which is only 12 minutes away from Liverpool Street. As mentioned before there’s a great café with an outdoor seating area which is lovely on a sunny day.