In the past 6 years since qualifying as a City of Westminster Guide I have put together and led many walks plus made some great friends and connections, heard some fascinating speakers at the Westminster Guides’ monthly meetings and been on some great visits. I have also been heavily involved in the Westminster Guides’ committee only recently relinquishing my duties.
Since qualifying as a Westminster Guide I have become more interested in the history of wherever I go and I imagine this is true of other guides. There is still so much of London to explore! About a year ago I joined Footprints of London and have been amazed by the diversity of the walks on offer – walks alongside hidden rivers such as the Moselle (in Haringey) or walks following the Charles Booth Poverty Maps for example.
As with many of my Westminster Guiding colleagues my clients are mostly Londoners or people who have visited London many times before and want to discover places away from the usual tourist sites. With this in mind last summer I applied for the Clerkenwell and Islington guiding course. The course finished in May this year and I have just qualified – a pass with distinction no less! I will receive my badge from the Mayor of Islington this coming Thursday alongside my course colleagues – we all passed.
The course runs over an academic year from September to the following May and involves a lot of hard work and study but at the same time it is very rewarding to learn about the history of areas such as Pentonville, Barnsbury, Canonbury and Highbury. Practice “walk shops” take place on alternate Saturdays where each student tells the rest of the group about the particular place (or places) they have been asked to research. Everyone then circulates their notes so you then have a ready-made walk or the basis for a walk.
My Westminster walks are generally food and drink themed but so many different opportunities present themselves in Clerkenwell and Islington. My project walk for the course was themed on liquid refreshment around Clerkenwell (water, gin and beer) but the former pleasure gardens and entertainment venues of Islington, the interesting mix of architecture, the medical health of the area and even the sporting venues give lots of scope for different walks.
I’m not a football fan but for our practice walk around Highbury several of us had to put together a stop on Arsenal’s old and new stadiums from the vantage point at the top of the hill where you can see both. I discovered a fascinating history – mostly dictated to me by a fellow Westminster Guide who is an Arsenal fan – in fact he gave me far too much information! I had planned to talk about the history of the club, for example their move from south of the Thames to north, the basis and history of the animosity between Arsenal and Tottenham, how the tube station ended up being renamed and the catalyst for the move to the Emirates stadium; in fact I wouldn’t have mentioned football once. Unfortunately however the stop was given to someone else!
Whilst researching Moorfields Eye Hospital in the St Luke’s area I became rather obsessed with the name of the street – Peerless Street – and the fact that it commemorates the Peerless Pool which had formerly been the Perilous Pond!
I could go on about the fascinating history and places I discovered whilst studying on this course but instead will just post a couple of photos to tempt you.
As mentioned above the course was quite hard work but as I had already been guiding for 6 years I didn’t have to worry so much about guiding techniques although of course it was good to have some refresher training to get rid of bad habits I had acquired!
Apart from the project mentioned above students also have to take two practical guiding exams – one in St John’s Gate and one on the streets of Islington – plus a written exam under university exam conditions.
St John’s Gate which was the venue for our internal exam had been on my “to visit” list for years – I had never quite found the time to fit it in. However having now studied the place in depth and visited on numerous occasions I would say don’t delay and visit it whenever you are able. Guided tours generally take place on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays but during July, August and September tours are additionally taking place on Sundays. Hopefully I will soon be on the tour rota myself. Details of tours can be found on their website.
The Clerkenwell and Islington guiding course takes place at the University of Westminster at their campus opposite Madame Tussaud’s and whilst you’re a student there you can use their amazing library which is open 24 hours a day! Admittedly as the university is in Westminster the Westminster selection was slightly better than the Islington offering but they have reference books such as Pinks’ History of Clerkenwell which is prohibitively expensive to buy as it is now out of print. If however you are looking to buy secondhand books I would recommend contacting Hawk Norton who is selling his personal collection of London history books. I bought a rather “distressed” copy of Pinks (it was in two physical halves) for a fraction of the usual cost. Londonist recently featured an article about Hawk’s collection and it is worth emailing him to get an up-to-date catalogue before you make an appointment to visit. On my one visit there (so far) I bought as many books as I could carry and spent £100!
Clerkenwell and Islington certainly has so much to offer in terms of potential for walks off the beaten track and I am so looking forward to sharing what I have learned with my clients.
I hope I have whetted your appetite and you now want to apply for this course. On qualifying you will be awarded a Diploma of Special Study in Tour Guiding (Clerkenwell and Islington) and once you have joined the Clerkenwell and Islington Guiding Association you will receive the aforementioned badge and will be covered by public liability insurance.
The question now is will I do another course? If I do it is likely to be the newish Camden course but I don’t believe in doing two in a row and will leave it a couple of years so I have had time to consolidate what I have learned and start guiding in Clerkenwell and Islington.
Update December 2016: Apply now to join the Clerkenwell & Islington Guiding course at the University of Westminster. The new course starts in January 2017. More details and how to apply can be found here
The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is a qualified City of Westminster and
Clerkenwell and Islington Tour Guide.
Details of all her walks are listed here
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Yesterday whilst in Victoria for an optician’s appointment I decided on the spur of the moment to go up the tower inside Westminster Cathedral. Why have I never done this before! There is a fabulous view from the top (well not quite the top) where you can see the amazing unsupported domes of the Cathedral on one of the 4 views but there is so much more to see too.
There is also no effort involved as a lift takes you all the way. It’s not free but the cost is worth it – £6 / £3 for concessions. You are likely to be the only people up there and can stay as long as you wish (within the opening times) – you just press a button and a member of staff brings the lift to collect you.
If you are interested in hearing about the fascinating history of the Cathedral and its immediate surroundings, myself and 3 other City of Westminster Guides will be leading a series of lunchtime walks every Tuesday in May.
Walks start this coming Tuesday 5th May at 1.10pm from the piazza outside the Cathedral on Victoria Street. Reserve your place and pay on the day. More details can be found here. I will be involved in the walks in the second half of the month.
|Myself, Rhona, Stephen & Jen who will be leading the walks|
The interior of the Cathedral is of course well worth visiting too – it is stunning and always evolving (it isn’t finished). Entrance to the Cathedral (apart from the Tower) is free although donations are appreciated. http://westminstercathedral.org.uk/index.php
I always include a reference to composer and actor Ivor Novello on my Chingford walk – from a fact gleaned from Chingford Past by Barbara Ray. Novello was stationed at Chingford Aerodrome (now under a reservoir) and sometimes played the piano at the King’s Head pub. However I had never managed to find out any more.
Then last week I discovered this book in the local library:
The book contains a wealth of information about life at the Aerodrome and in Chingford generally gleaned from the fortnightly station magazine The Chingflier. It was produced by the Chingford Historical Society and according to their website can be purchased or probably ordered by the Chingford Bookshop in Station Road and no doubt also by V & A Books in Highams Park where I have bought other local history books.
Chingford Aerodrome officially opened in May 1915 and was used by the Royal Naval Air Service to train pilots. The RNAS were the air arm of the Royal Navy. The RAF wasn’t formed until April 1918 when the RNAS merged with the Royal Flying Corps – the air arm of the army.
RNAS Chingford was run like a ship, with a No 1 (First Lieutenant) assisting the CO, and a ‘ship’s company’, time was measured in ‘bells’ and the dining room was the ‘mess deck’.
The aerodrome really wasn’t in an ideal place with the King George V reservoir right next to it and in the midst of streams and swamps; in fact a boat was always on hand to fish pilots (or bodies) out of the reservoir. Ben Travers (flight instructor and later famous for his Aldwych farces) described the airfield as “a strip of fogbound and soggy meadowland at Ponders End between a reservoir and a sewage farm”.
This poem which appeared in one edition of The Chingflier rather sums it up:
“Surrounded by water, that’s caused by a flood,
With your throat full of fog and knee-deep in mud,
And with icy cold winds that just freeze your blood.
Tormented by flies and mosquitoes that bite.
With work from the dawn until quite late at night,
And each day, you try to wash cap covers white.
Thick fog before breakfast,
Then out comes the sun.
With snow at ten-thirty,
And rain before one,
And thunder and wind ‘ere the day’s work is done.
That’s now (March).”
One of Ben Travers’ pupils was 22 year old sub-lieutenant David Ivor Davies better known today as Ivor Novello. By the time Novello arrived in Chingford he had already written Keep the Home Fires Burning. Travers reported to The Chingflier that Novello sang whilst flying but after a few nerve-racking experiences it was decided that Ivor should remain on the ground and unfortunately he didn’t qualify as a pilot!
The aerodrome closed in 1919 and reverted to pasture and then in 1951 the site disappeared for ever under the William Girling Reservoir – named after the chairman of the Metropolitan Water Board.
So having discovered this book about the aerodrome and their monthly magazines I have solved the mystery and found some more fascinating history to include in my Chingford walk.
There is another Chingford story connected to the reservoir that I have still to solve. Barbara Ray reports in Chingford Past that when they were excavating for the Girling Reservoir a Bronze Age coffin was unearthed. It was hollowed out from a tree trunk, still contained human bones plus bronze axe-heads and other items. This was 1939 and war was imminent so the find was handed over to the London Museum then based at Lancaster House. The book then states that Lancaster House was bombed and the Bronze Age coffin lost for ever. However I am still looking for further information in relation to this so any help gratefully received!
If you would like to find out more about Chingford’s fascinating history I have put together a guided tour around North Chingford which covers much more than what I mention above. More details are here.
This year’s English Tourism Week (14 to 22 March 2015) has a food and drink theme so is right up my street!
Coffee Houses and Clubs – a food and drink themed evening tour of St James’s
Wednesday 18th March
6.30pm to 8.15pm
£10 / £7.50
Famous for its gentlemen’s clubs which were originally coffee and chocolate houses St James’s also houses one of the oldest and most expensive restaurants in town and Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchant not to mention the Queen’s grocery store and a 200 year old cheese shop. You will hear about the Jamie Oliver of the 19th Century, the cook that inspired the TV series the Duchess of Duke Street and the man who invented the sandwich.
Where in London are these gates?
My plan to update my annual Top 10 of Free Carol Concerts has been thwarted by the amount of studying I’m doing for the Clerkenwell & Islington Guiding course. However rather than waste the research I have done so far, here it is!
1. Trafalgar Square
The world famous tree will be lit on Thursday 4th December at 6pm and then from Monday 8th to Tuesday 23rd December there will be carol singing around the tree by a different group each night – 4pm-8pm on weekdays and 2pm-6pm on weekends. More details can be found here.
2. St Bartholomew the Great
This year I finally made it into St Bartholomew The Great – in fact I went inside twice. My first visit was to see Murder in the Cathedral by the amazing Little Spaniel Theatre Company and I see they are returning with that production in October 2015.
My second visit was as part of a London Historians tour which started with an early morning tour of Smithfield Market followed by breakfast and then followed by tours at St Bartholomew the Less, the Hogarth mural at Barts Hospital and then a tour of St Bartholomew the Great. I then had a third visit although this time was only outside in the churchyard where I had to speak for 4 minutes about the history of the church as part of my training to become a Clerkenwell and Islington Guide.
On my first visit I was absolutely taken aback by the interior of the church and will say that it is worth every penny of the £4 entrance fee. The Cloister Cafe is worth visiting too.
There are a number of carol services listed here including those for nearby solicitors and livery companies. The one that jumps out at me is a service of 9 lessons and carols including German music on Tuesday 23rd December at 6pm – scroll down on this link for details. I am hoping to get along to this one.
My previous years’ lists can be found by clicking on these links – 2013, 2012 and 2011 which could be of use as no doubt these venues will be offering something similar this year.
In my other job as a legal secretary I have spent a considerable part of 2014 working for a firm situated close to Borough Market. There is an enormous amount of things to do in the vicinity and I have probably only scratched the surface so please add your favourites to the comments at the bottom.
Places to sit outside by the river
The area immediately around Borough Market and the Golden Hinde is extremely busy and I would normally avoid this area. There are plenty of other places to sit. However the area between Minerva House (the building you need to walk around to follow the Thames Path from the Golden Hind to Borough Market) and the Glaziers Hall is usually surprisingly quiet. (Not yesterday when I took this photo though – probably because of the bus!)
It could be that you can’t actually see it from Borough Market or Southwark Cathedral Gardens so everyone just crams into the church gardens. The quote on the river wall from Raleigh says it all really – “There are two things scarce matched in the Universe – the sun in heaven and the Thames on earth”.
Follow the river east a bit, underneath London Bridge and you get to the More London Estate. There are plenty of places to sit next to The Scoop (between Hay’s Galleria and Tower Bridge) and there is Potters Field Park too just beyond this. There is usually some form of exhibition on in the area too plus amazing views of Tower Bridge. This photo was taken one lunchtime after a very misty morning.
Places to sit outside away from the river
If you carry on down Maiden Lane you will come to Gatehouse Square where you will find this unusual sculpture rather hidden within residential dwellings. There are steps nearby which lead to Southwark Bridge.
If you were to walk down Red Cross Way from Park Street, negotiating the crossing of Southwark Street (this is the worst bit), past the Cross Bones Graveyard (on your left) and Boot and Flogger wine bar (on your right), then cross Union Street you will then come across a school and the lovely Red Cross Gardens opposite. These are definitely worth seeking out and there is an unexpected and impressive view of the Shard from the gardens. (NB: as far as I know people don’t actually swim in the pond; there was a photo shoot going on on that particular lunchtime!)
If you cross Red Cross Way and then walk down the alleyway to the right of the school – Little Dorrit Court you will pass another area to sit which is always quite busy and quite noisy as there is a children’s playground within – Little Dorrit Park. When you emerge from the other end of the alleyway you are on Borough High Street.
Practically opposite Borough station at the junction with Borough High Street and Marshalsea Road is St George the Martyr Church.
Every Monday lunchtime it is worth visiting St George the Martyr because the crypt downstairs is home to the amazing Dragon Cafe. It’s very much a space for the community and as well as very reasonably priced food there are regular weekly events such as free 15 minute massages, writing groups, exhibitions, singing, dancing, gardening etc. You do need to sign up on your first visit but there is no charge. An example of a weekly programme is here.
Next to the church are the church grounds surrounded with what is left of the wall that surrounded Marshalsea Prison – the debtors’ prison where Dickens and his family were incarcerated.
Another place to sit is within King’s College Guy’s Campus. There is a farmers’ market here every Tuesday from 9am until 2pm. There is also a museum – the Gordon Museum of Pathology – but it is rarely open to the public.
Places to Eat/Buy Food
If you avoid the busy period and particularly the stalls around Southwark Cathedral there are some gems to be found and I am sure there are many more I haven’t yet discovered.
First of all a quite well known place – The Ginger Pig. The name of this butchers comes from the copper coloured Tamworth pig that they rear themselves on their Yorkshire farm. They started off with a stall in Borough Market but now have a number of shops in London including one in Moxon Street, Marylebone which features on my foodie/hidden pubs of Marylebone walk. The Borough Market stall/shop has a wide range of meat and sausages but also sells their famous sausage roll which is absolutely enormous but there is much more sausage meat than there is pastry and it is absolutely delicious.
Quite close to the Ginger Pig can be found the Brindisa shop – this is separate to the restaurant which is on the corner of Borough High Street. Next to the shop they grill chorizo rolls to order – which are delicious. Here’s a review of this sandwich!
Three Crown Square is the part of the Market that is purely for ingredients so you don’t get caught up in long queues for hot food. This useful map makes it easier to locate stalls. A couple of my favourites are:
Wildes Cheese – they are known as the urban cheese maker. The cheese is made in a micro dairy in Tottenham from milk from Sussex cows. Last week I bought some of their St Bruce (which I now see is also known as The Drunk as one of the ingredients is Redemption Brewery’s Hopspur). This cheese is particularly recommended for cheese on toast and I have to say that it worked very well and was delicious. Wildes Cheese are at Borough Market a couple of times a week but you can also find them at Richmond Market and quite a few shops around town including several in Walthamstow near me. A list of their stockists can be found here.
Not too far away from Wildes Cheese stall can be found De Calabria’s stall. They sell jars of Sunratomato which is a delicious combination of sundried tomatoes, herbs, chilli and olive oil. I have become quite addicted to it and use it in salad dressings, pasta sauces plus even just on a bit of toast or French bread!
Little Dorrit Cafe, 11 Park Street
I have already mentioned Little Dorrit Park and Little Dorrit Court but here in Park Street there is also a cafe named after the unfortunate fictional character. Despite its proximity to Borough Market this cafe is surprisingly good value. This baked potato was so big I had to take some of it home with me!
Papaya, 109 Borough High Street
Shrigleys, 125 Borough High Street
Moroccan food. Very tasty and reasonably priced. The Moroccan chicken salad is especially good. There is always a long queue.
Luncheonette, 47-49 Borough High Street
I only spotted this place after reading the first chapter of Shakespeare’s Local about The George Inn. It is a very cheap sandwich/pasta bar and there is usually a queue outside.
Quite unlike me I barely know any of the pubs around here. There is of course the famous George but unless you visit mid afternoon it is usually very busy. Click on the 4th photo along on this link from Londonist to see my impossible to eat sandwich!
I have heard good things about The Wheatsheaf but have yet to visit. More a bar than a pub but serving beer and ciders from the Utobeer Borough Market stall The Rake in Winchester Walk is definitely worth visiting. It is very small though.
A bit further afield and a few minutes’ walk from St George The Martyr church there is a great traditional pub – the Royal Oak – I was there when the photos on the link were taken but thankfully I’m not in any of them!
Lastly I recently stumbled across The Wine Pantry in Stoney Street. This is an amazing place. They only sell English wine and British produce. I didn’t have much time to browse – I will return but notice their amazing selection of gin – 3 shelves full including my favourite Bathtub Gin, Look at all the different type of tonics in the picture too. Apparently lemongrass tonic goes well with Bathtub Gin. I can’t wait to try it.
Not only is it a shop but there is a small wine bar within where they are happy if you bring in your lunch from Borough Market and enjoy it there with a glass of wine. I’m looking forward to returning soon.
*Updated 12.02.15. See Tom Tired of London’s blog post here on a series of free lunchtime concerts from January to March 2015 at Guy’s Hospital Chapel (and St Thomas’s Hospital too).
Something a bit different
Cross Bones Graveyard - this is worth seeking out in Redcross Way. It’s an unconsecrated graveyard to prostitutes known as the Winchester Geese who worked under the control of the Bishop of Winchester. The graveyard was uncovered with the building of the extension of the Jubilee line in the 1990s. At that time 148 skeletons were removed. Much more about the graveyard and the memorial gates can be found here.
Folk music at the Golden Hinde
Technically I shouldn’t include this as it’s not a lunchtime event but on the first Friday night of the month the Golden Hinde is host to the Tiller Flat Folk Club. Entrance is the bargain price of £5 (although it was £3 when I visited in May – the same night as Tom) but you do need to book in advance. I have been once and it was a great night.
Lastly I really should mention the excellent SE1 website – www.london-se1.co.uk which is really worth checking out and signing up for their weekly newsletter full of local events.
As you can probably tell from the photos taken in the summer I have been writing this post for quite a long time. There is so much to do in the area I fear I shall never finish this post so am going to post it as is. I look forward to hearing in the comments about places I’ve missed especially pubs!
This is the 5th in an occasional series of lunchtime wanderings. I have previously written about Chancery Lane, Fleet Street, Marylebone and Westminster. NB: some of the older posts contain premises that are unfortunately no longer in business.
Dare I say it but it is that time of year that people are starting to think about what to do for their work Christmas party.
The walk starts in a cosy Sam Smiths pub in Marylebone (with a fire) then meanders through the back streets of the West End (where the best lights can be found), through Mayfair and into Soho. The walk includes hidden passages, posh shops (usually with the best decorations) and lots of historical snippets along the way. As with most of my walks there is a food/drink theme plus Christmas traditions and decorations throughout. The walk finishes in Soho close to Piccadilly Circus tube in a freehouse that serves hot toddies and also does very good food.
|Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/denis57/sets/72157628338866113/|
St James’s is one of London’s most exclusive areas and is particularly pretty at Christmas with decorations along Jermyn Street and in the various arcades. It is also gaslit which makes for a very atmospheric walk. Famous for its gentlemen’s clubs which were originally coffee and chocolate houses St James’s also houses one of the oldest and most expensive restaurants in town and Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchant not to mention the Queen’s grocery store and a 200 year old cheese shop. We will hear about the Jamie Oliver of the 19th Century, the cook that inspired the TV series the Duchess of Duke Street and the man who invented the sandwich.