London Walking Tours    with Joanna Moncrieff

The Edinburgh connection

I am currently helping a friend (Ray Coggin) with proof reading and editing of a diary which follows the life of his wife’s grandfather who was a medical officer during the First World War. Whilst doing this it has gradually dawned on me that my own maternal grandfather had a similar life and the two may  have known each other in Edinburgh.

If you follow the blog Whiz-Bangs, Krumps and Coalboxes you will discover that Dr D C M Page grew up in Alva Street Edinburgh. My  maternal grandfather was born in a house in Belhaven Terrace just two miles from Alva Street. They were born 2 years apart – Douglas Charles Murray Page in 1894 and my grandfather, Henry Fotheringham Ferguson in 1892.

They were both doctors and both served as medical officers during the First World War, Douglas Page being sent to Northern France with the 130th (St. John) Field Ambulance and my grandfather serving in India with the Cameron Highlanders. That is all, so far, that I know about my grandfather’s time during the War but I am now on a mission to find out more.

A starting point is a website that was created by my late aunt’s husband’s family – the Grosers ( which lists birth, death and marriage details for several generations before my grandfather.

From looking at his marriage certificate I have discovered he was a Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps and lived at the time of his marriage (June 1919) at 9 Windsor Street, Edinburgh which is today a reasonably priced hotel. I may have to visit!

I am now on a quest to see if there is a connection between Dr D C M Page and my grandfather. Even if I don’t find one this is definitely the push I needed to start researching my family tree.

There is also of course the Moncrieff family tree to investigate which my paternal grandmother worked on a long time before the Internet was invented. It is so much easier now so I really have no excuse.

The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is both a City of Westminster and  Clerkenwell and Islington Tour Guide. 

Details of all her walks are listed here  


Open House at the Romanian Cultural Institute

If you are a regular reader you might know that one of the first walks I did when I qualified as a City of Westminster Guide back in 2009 was a walk around Belgravia. One of the stops on this walk is next to the statue of Sir Robert Grosvenor, First Marquess of Westminster who is responsible for developing Belgravia. The statue stands on the edge of Belgrave Square.  He is shown with one foot on a milestone indicating 197 miles to Chester where the family seat can still be found; the names of some of their land ownings in Cheshire giving rise to the naming of Belgravia and the streets within. The statue also depicts the now extinct talbot dog.

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To one side of the statue at no.1 Belgrave Square can be found the Romanian Cultural Institute which does what you would expect ie it promotes Romanian culture.

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Last Sunday as part of Open House weekend I volunteered to act as a steward on the morning of the Sunday. In fact I had picked the perfect time; Sunday morning being fairly quiet and the visitor numbers only picking up towards lunchtime. I spent the first part of my time on the door alongside Alexandra one of their staff members welcoming people to the building and telling them what there was to see.

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Me volunteering

The second half of my volunteering took place upstairs in the concert room. I knew there was going to be a pianist playing Chopin between 12 and 2pm but I had no idea how good he would be. Romanian pianist Cristian Sandrin was outstanding. Although people wandered in and out as he played, the music was spellbinding and I felt very privileged to be there. I have since found out that a fellow guide was also a visitor and he told me that stumbling upon this musical interlude was the highlight of his weekend.

Watch this YouTube clip to see just how good Cristian was. The video is from the 17th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition earlier this year. Fast forward to 34 seconds for the introduction in English.

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This was very much an unexpected bonus. The sound of the piano being played expertly gave a whole new atmosphere to the house.

I am hoping that those who attended over the Open House weekend signed up to go on the RCI’s mailing list as recitals and other cultural events regularly take place here and all are free. There is a sign-up page on the Home page of their website

I am already booked on one – this coming Thursday 1st October when the Schubert Ensemble will perform works by three composers (Gabriel Fauré, Robert Schumann and the famous Romanian composer George Enescu).   The concert is free and places can be booked here. Future events also taking place at 1 Belgrave Square can be found here. I should add too that the staff there are very friendly and welcoming.

It’s not all classical music though as coming up in October is a festival of alternative Romanian music at The Garage close to Highbury & Islington tube.

If you would like to discover more about the Romanian Cultural Institute and their events you can find that out here and if I have tempted you to discover more about Belgravia you can find out about my tour here.

The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is both a City of Westminster and  Clerkenwell and Islington Tour Guide. 

Details of all her walks are listed here  

To sign up to Joanna’s mailing list click here

Follow on Twitter @wwalks

or like on Facebook

Free Walks! Local London Guiding Day 10.10.2015

Saturday 10th October 2015 

(Scroll down for more details – without the need for a magnifying glass!)

Local London Guiding Day

Local London Guiding Day

Save the date – Saturday 10th October is this year’s Local London Guiding Day. This year there is a bit of a challenge to do all the walks in one day as for the first time five local guiding associations – City of London, Westminster,Clerkenwell & IslingtonGreenwich and now Camden have got together to offer a day of free walks on a specific theme.

This year’s theme is Women Through Time. Each guiding association has created an hour long walk in their respective area which they will repeat throughout the day from 10am until 4pm. No booking is required – just turn up!

Walks depart from each location on the hour every hour between 10am and 4pm.

You will need very good eyesight to read the flyer above, so details of each of the walks are as follows:

City of London Guides – City of Stone: Women of Substance
Standing up for their beliefs and challenging the norms, these women shattered the glass ceilings of their time by being vocal, pragmatic and determined to evoke change.

Meet: Bank station, exit 3, Royal Exchange

Clerkenwell and Islington Guides – Islington Women: the lives, the loves, the legacy
Islington has always been a radical and diverse area, and this is reflected in the variety of women associated with it. Through education, art, politics and entertainment these women’s stories come alive.

Meet: Angel station

Greenwich Tour Guides – Greenwich Women: ahead of their time

In the masculine world of maritime Greenwich, celebrate some of the iconic and inspirational women that have stood the test of time. Meet queens, courtesans, entrepreneurs, a witch and a pirate amid the splendour of Royal Greenwich riverside and park.

Meet: Cutty Sark DLR station

Westminster Guides – Inspiring, Intriguing & Influential

Royal, respectable or raffish; popular, political or powerful – women have influenced Westminster and the world. Join us as we meet some fascinating females.

Meet: Green Park station (Green Park exit) in the park by the drinking fountain

Camden Guides – Brains, beauty and bravery: Bloomsbury’s Women
Discover stories of the women behind medical innovations, shocking scandals and remarkable feats. They moved in Bloomsbury’s ‘circles, squares and triangles’ and suffered tragic loss, yet prevailed.

Meet: Warren Street station

The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is both a City of Westminster and  Clerkenwell and Islington Tour Guide. 

Details of all her walks are listed here  

To sign up to Joanna’s mailing list click here

Follow on Twitter @wwalks

or like on Facebook


Tranquil Tottenham

Having lived for most of my life in the Chingford and Walthamstow areas I know this locality pretty well and now have a fairly good knowledge of the West End, the City and Clerkenwell & Islington. However it is the bit in between my local area and the centre of London that I am less familiar with.

There must be many people like me who want to discover London off the beaten track and various Footprints guiding colleagues have taken this on board and are offering walks as diverse as The Industrial History of Dagenham Dock with Rob, a Walk through Canning Town with Sue and Jen Pedler’s Moselle Mosey. I myself lead walks in both Chingford and Walthamstow.

It was Jen’s aforementioned Moselle Mosey that I did yesterday. Until the Footprints River Festival earlier this year when Jen launched this walk I had never heard of this London river and I do wonder how many of the residents of the various roads named after this river ie Moselle Place N17, Moselle Street N17 and Moselle Avenue N22 (amongst others), know the history behind these street names.  Our walk from the source of the river in Queens Wood Highgate to where it flows into the Lea near Tottenham Hale passed through a fascinating cross-section of London where we searched for references to or views of the river.

The walk was full of interest and surprises – for me the biggest surprise was discovering a side to Tottenham I had no idea existed.

The first surprise was the church. All Hallows Tottenham and its picturesque churchyard. There has been a church on this site since the 12th century. More details about the history of the church can be found here but look at my pictures of the amazing decoration on each side of the door.

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From the churchyard we then came upon Tottenham Cemetery which had much of interest. First of all there was a tunnel that linked the two sides of the cemetery – the original path to the church predated the cemetery so a tunnel was built under it. Unfortunately the photo is somewhat spoiled by a man who appeared to be changing his clothes!

Tottenham Cemetery tunnel

Several of us were waylaid by a number of interesting memorials. I myself spotted a  reference to a “Moncreiff” (on the Chapman grave) and although spelled slightly differently I still had to take a picture. The middle picture is of someone with an unfortunate surname – Nutter – and the one on the right was just because I liked the horse.

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The next surprise was the river – the River Moselle runs through the cemetery. Is this unique? Does anyone know of any other cemetery in the country that has a river running through it?

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A few minutes later and still within the cemetery we came across a lake which apart from the rather bizarre sign and the rather aggressive geese (not photographed) was quite tranquil.

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Tottenham Cemetery and All Hallows Church were just a small part of this fascinating walk.  I never thought I would say it but I now want to return to Tottenham to explore the cemetery in more detail, visit the church and also call in at the Bruce Castle Museum which is close to the cemetery and which coincidentally has just been reviewed by the Ladies Who Bus.

Update May 2016 – Jen is again leading the Moselle Mosey on Sunday 29th May 2016. More details and how to book are 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  

To sign up to Joanna’s mailing list click here

Follow on Twitter @wwalks

or like on Facebook

Discovering Clerkenwell and Islington via its Guiding Course

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!

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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.

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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  

To sign up to Joanna’s mailing list click here

Follow on Twitter @wwalks

or like on Facebook

View from the Top – Westminster Cathedral’s Bell Tower

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.

Lunchtime walks

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.

The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is a qualified City of Westminster Tour Guide who specialises in food and drink themed walks in the West End of London. 
Details of all her walks are listed here  
To sign up to Joanna’s mailing list click here
Follow on Twitter @wwalks
or like on Facebook

Ivor Novello in Chingford

I always include a reference to composer and actor Ivor Novello on my Royals, Rogues and Retreats Chingford walk – from a fact gleaned from Chingford Past by Barbara Ray. Novello was stationed at Chingford Aerodrome (now under the William Girling 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.
That’s Winter.

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.
That’s Summer.

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.

* Update:  I now have my own copy bought from Jo’s Books, Station Road, Chingford


The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is a qualified City of Westminster Tour Guide who specialises in food and drink themed walks in the West End of London. 
Details of all her walks are listed here  
To sign up to Joanna’s mailing list click here
Follow on Twitter @wwalks
or like on Facebook

English Tourism Week walk

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

Book here

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. 

Meeting point: exit Green Park tube via the step-free slope into the Park and meet me by the drinking fountain. The walk finishes at a rare local-feel pub tucked away in a passage close to St James’s Palace (10 minutes’ walk from Green Park tube).

Competition – Win 2 x walk places

Where in London are these gates?

First person to respond by 6pm on Wednesday 11th March with the correct answer wins two places on one of my upcoming public walks. All my upcoming public walks are listed here and more are added all the time.
Respond by tweet, Facebook or in the comments below.
Clue: the location is approximately 4 miles from Charing Cross.
The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is a qualified City of Westminster Tour Guide who specialises in food and drink themed walks in the West End of London. 
Details of all her walks are listed here  
To sign up to Joanna’s mailing list click here
Follow on Twitter @wwalks
or like on Facebook

The Tudor Trail – Guest post by Ray Coggin of London and UK Taxi Tours

This Wednesday 21st January sees the launch of the BBC’s new mini series Wolf Hall. The story by double Booker prizewinner Hilary Mantel is set in the period 1500 to 1535 and covers the reigns of both Henry VII and his second son Henry VIII. The story also features Henry’s most able and trusted minister Thomas Cromwell.

Putney born Cromwell was notable for his achievements, all the more remarkable for his humble origins. He was the son of Walter Cromwell a blacksmith, cum brewer, cum sheep farmer and innkeeper. Walter Cromwell was an irrepressible character whom as as well as a multi-faceted entrepreneur was also something of a small time rogue. He was constantly in front of the local authorities for transgressing boundaries on Wimbledon Common. He was fined sixpence no less than forty eight times for allowing his animals to graze on Wimbledon Common.

Thomas Cromwell was resented by many in Henry VIII’s court. Never before had such a lowborn commoner achieved such high office. Previous historians and filmmakers have depicted Cromwell as a despicable tyrant, brushing aside competitors in his ruthless drive for power. However, recent studies of the man, who left little in the way of autobiographical evidence, show him to be a diligent, hard working, high achiever who fully deserved his elevation as the most powerful man in the realm, second only to the king himself. Eventually becoming Earl of Essex before his fall in 1540.

Also depicted in the story is the equally remarkable Sir Ralph Sadleir, known as Rafe. At the age of seven years, fate decided to place the young Rafe within the wardship of the up and coming Thomas Cromwell. It was not unusual in those days to try and get your son if possible into the wardship of someone like a young lawyer or similar to try and give the boy a good start in life. Such was the destiny of young Rafe. He soon applied himself and fitted nicely into the Cromwell household. By the time he was twelve he was said to be an accomplished horseman, He spoke French and German and by the time he was fourteen had added Latin and Greek. Introduced into Henry’s court at about eleven years old, he impressed the king with his abilities, not least his horsemanship and soon accompanied His Majesty on his hunting trips. He quickly established himself at court and before the age of thirty had become successful and wealthy in his own right. He had learned the art of diplomacy from his foster father Cromwell, a man who had mastered the art of staying on the good side of a very whimsical monarch.

One of Sadleir’s early tasks was to be sent to Scotland to negotiate a marriage treaty between the infant Mary Queen of Scots and Henry’s son by Queen Jane Seymour, Prince Edward. A task he was unable to deliver despite four attempts at varying stages.

Despite that potentially serious setback Rafe went on to maintain a long and successful diplomatic career. His other offices also brought him a healthy income and after surviving four monarchs, he died in his adopted village of Standon, Hertfordshire in 1587 aged eighty years. His impressive tomb remains in the village church today, a grand tomb befitting a man who was said to have died the richest commoner in the land.

Wolf Hall begins on January 21stat 9pm on BBC2.

London and UK Taxi Tours offer two Tudor themed tours – one westwards that includes a private tour of Hampton Court Palace and the other towards Hertfordshire that follows the life of the aforementioned courtier Sir Ralph Sadleir. Details of both tours can be found here.