Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Shop-'til-You-Drop-Dead-Gorgeous

Digging is the name of the game this Sunday 3rd January: digging around in London’s unsavoury past on the NEW London Walk The Hidden West End – Gin City, Seven Deadly Dials, the Slum of Slums.

When the walk is over, before you move on to join one of the Sunday Evening London Walks, you could do your own digging – around some of the best kept retail secret in London. Hidden in plain sight in WC2, the unique boutiques tucked between Covent Garden and Oxford Street are, in their own way, every bit as exotic and unforgettable as the tales to be found on the Hidden West End walk itself

Here are just a few pictured below:















The Hidden West End – Gin City, Seven Deadly Dials, the Slum of Slums makes its debut on 3rd January at 2.30p.m. Meeting point is Tottenham Court Road Station (Exit 3)

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Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Plaque of the Week No.15

And Now for Something Completely Different…

Commemorating: Monty Python
Street: Neal’s Yard
Postcode: WC2
Borough: Camden

It had to happen sometime: a plaque to someone who didn’t really exist. At least not as the "individual" who “lived here” – as per the plaque's claim. What the plaque does commemorate is the team behind the legendary TV comedy (and subsequent movies, stage shows and recordings) known as Monty Python’s Flying Circus – who recorded and edited their work in the studio that stood on this site in the 70s and 80s.

The vast majority of London plaques are dedicated to subjects no longer with us – we can only speculate that this rule is circumvented by the fact that founder-member Graham Chapman has gone the way of the famous Norwegian Blue parrot (see "The Parrot Sketch”). But then again, when did The Pythons ever obey rules?

This month sees the 40th anniversary of the first BBC TV broadcast of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

You can see the plaque on the NEW London Walk entitled The Hidden West End – Gin City, the Seven Deadly Dials, the Slum of Slums – a walk that features more grotesque events and unusual characters than could people even 10 Terry Gilliam movies. The walk makes its debut on Sunday 3rd January at 2.30p.m. Meet at Tottenham Court Road Station (Exit 3).

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Monday, 28 December 2009

THE Westminster Abbey Walk

David wishes you all an Abbey New Year (ouch).

[Right, that’s enough with the rotten puns: you’re fired. Regards, David.]


'What I love about London Walks is the degree of granularity that you get.’

Thus spake a very satisfied (American) London Walker a while back. Couldn't have put it better ourselves.

So how about an example or two of that ‘degree of granularity’ from our Abbey Tour. And, look, I'm not saying that you'll hear these exact words - or observations even - from every London Walks guide. They're offered up here as representative examples of the kind of thing we do.

Okay, that's enough preliminaries - let's get stuck in.

Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

But what dust!

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, for example. The tomb is, well, dusted with a composite of soils from the six great World War I battlefields in Flanders and France: The Somme, Ypres, Arras, etc. It's a precise reversal of the terms of Rupert Brook's great World War I poem, ‘if I should die, think only this of me, that there's some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.’ A precise reversal because by virtue of that French and Flanders soil, that spot in the Abbey is a corner of England that is forever ‘a foreign field’.

And yet… And, yes, here comes one of those London Walks ‘connections’: the Abbey, that monument to the Norman strain (as the most English of novelists put it), is the most French of our cathedrals.

And while we're at it, let's throw in a few wreathes. When Elizabeth Bowes Lyon married the future George VI in the Abbey she laid her bouquet at the tomb in tribute to her brother Fergus, who was killed at the Battle of Loos. Precedent and instant tradition all rolled up into one. Because since then every royal bride repeats that gesture. Indeed, at the end of her life the Queen Mother, who had of course been that young bride, Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, in 1923, requested that her funeral wreath be laid there. Her request was of course fulfilled. Her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, laid the wreath the day after the funeral. And the counterpoint? In 1933 the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg laid a wreath with a swastika on the tomb. Throw in. Throw on. Throw up. Throw out. In short, a British war veteran called time on the Rosenberg manoeuvre - he threw the thing in the Thames.

And for some more dust, for another foreign field - and it really doesn't come any more wondrous than this - legend has it that the tomb of Edward the Confessor rests on earth brought from the Holy Land!

Nearby, the tomb of Eleanor of Castile, Edward I's much loved Queen. It's surmounted with a wonderful effigy of the good lady. Look closely at the pillows her crowned head rests on. Can you see the decorative motif all over them? (For that matter, they're also all over the tomb slab the effigy rests on.) Got them in your purview? Yes, they're castles and lions. Naturally. Because she was the daughter of Ferdinand, the King of Castile (castle) and Leon (lion). What's in name? Well you might ask. Especially in this instance. Because her Castilian name was Leonor. Which anglicized to Alianor and ultimately to Eleanor. Leonor of Leon - it's almost cue the MGM lion!

Castles and lions. As our novelist put it, ‘in no other cathedral is one so conscious of the dead and of the families of the dead; one might be standing at a rehearsal for the resurrection.’

Standing at that rehearsal, standing before those tombs - Eleanor's for example - a great guide can nudge the thing along. Look at Eleanor's pretty tresses. Edward will have stroked them many a time. The 15 - or it may have been 17 - children she bore him bear more than ample witness to that. As does her accompanying him on all of his military campaigns - even his crusade-lite. Lite because his ‘force’ was only about 1,000-strong. C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre. A 1,000 trying to do what 100,000 hadn't been able to do. It almost cost him his life. An ‘envoy’ from the emir of Jaffa knifed him in the arm. The knife was tipped with poison. The wound became gangrenous, the arm swelled up hideously. One version has it that Eleanor sucked the poison from the wound. The other maintains that a surgeon cut away all the rotting and surrounding flesh but that Eleanor had to be dragged away from what must have been a horrific surgical procedure. She wanted to stand by her man.


And to fade out? Maybe this bit of ‘granularity’. For more than 300 years wax candles burned round her tomb without dimming. Those flames must have seemed, well, eternal.




POST UPDATED 4/3/16


A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at www.walks.com.









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Sunday, 27 December 2009

The Great London Walks Virtual Monopoly Game Roll #7: Sherlock Holmes Special!

(This turn ALSO features Part Six of Eight in our London of Sherlock Holmes series.)

This occasional LW Blog series is a virtual tour of the London Monopoly board in which we give you a “Did you know?” London fact with which to amaze your fellow kitchen table capitalists next time you are playing the classic Hasbro board game… And this turn ALSO ties in with our series The London of Sherlock Holmes!

Rolling the dice we throw a… two and a one: 3!

From the “Oxford Street” square (see last roll), this roll takes us to… Liverpool Street Station.

One of four stations, situated in the middle of the “eastern” stretch of the grid and worth £200 on a traditional English game board, Liverpool Street Station is the busiest station on the Monopoly board with 123 million passengers passing through per year. Our picture (below) shows summer holiday makers at Liverpool Street Sttion in 1907.


In the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Dancing Man, Hilton Cubitt arrives at this station from North Walsham in Norfolk. Watson ends up here on something of a wild goose chase in The Adventure of the Retired Colourman.

The Sherlock Holmes Walk goes every Friday at 2.00p.m.

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Thursday, 24 December 2009

The London Walks Reading List No.12: A Christmas Carol



A Christmas Carol
By Charles Dickens


Earlier this year London Walkers and London Walks Blog followers had their say – and decided in our poll that A Christmas Carol is the greatest of all Charles Dickens works.

And so it is with this excerpt that we bring you our final London Walks Reading List of 2009 (more to follow in 2010!) and wish you all a Merry Christmas


“At length the hour of shutting up the counting-house arrived. With an ill-will Scrooge dismounted from his stool, and tacitly admitted the fact to the expectant clerk in the tank, who instantly snuffed his candle out, and put on his hat.

'You'll want all day to-morrow, I suppose?' said Scrooge.

'If quite convenient, sir.'

'It's not convenient,' said Scrooge, 'and it's not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you'd think yourself ill used, I'll be bound?'

The clerk smiled faintly.

'And yet,' said Scrooge, 'you don't think me ill used when I pay a day's wages for no work.'

The clerk observed that it was only once a year.

'A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!' said Scrooge, buttoning his greatcoat to the chin. 'But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning.'

The clerk promised that he would; and Scrooge walked out with a growl. The office was closed in a twinkling, and the clerk, with the long ends of his white comforter dangling below his waist (for he boasted no greatcoat), went down a slide on Cornhill, at the end of a lane of boys, twenty times, in honour of its being Christmas Eve, and then ran home to Camden Town as hard as he could pelt, to play at blind man's-buff.”


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