Streets Ahead

The collected Streets Ahead columns as written by London Walks Pen David Tucker…


Christmas lights time. So why not shine some light on the question we field every day. Especially from newbies.

“What will we see on the walk?”

You got two hours?

Two hours because that’s about how long it would take to answer that question.

It’d take that long because “what you see” isn’t what you’d see by yourself. Even if you were walking along the same street and looking at the same objects. The reason for that of course is what the guide brings to the party. The guide’s input “informs” what you see; And yes, let’s assay that word “inform”. It’s a two element job: “in” and “form”. Put ‘em together and you’ve got form from within. In short, it’s not just a question of pointing something out – it’s illuminating it, shaping it, lighting it up from within.

The information’s terrific.

And so’s the route. The route’s part of the spun gold of a great walking tour – it’s also what you’re getting, what you’re paying for. It’s the filament the beads get strung on.

And there’s one other “control” the guide’s working in this regard: vantage point. Which turn you take to get into an alley, the side of the street you’re on ¬– those things matter. Get it wrong by a few yards and what you’re looking at is a ho hum. Get those few yards right and it’s sharp intake of breath time – as in, “Wow! Look at that!!

The other thing to stress is a London Walks isn’t just big ticket items seen from the best possible vantage point and illuminated by stunning “Wow, that’s interesting – never knew that” colour gels of information.

It’s also tiny little details that you’d never see – never find – off your own bat.

“What will we see on the walk?”

Here’s part of a two-minute sequence (so less than one percent of the whole) of my (David’s) Along the Thames Pub Walk.

There’s the big ticket item above.

And then – delightful change of register – there’s this.

And this.

And this.

All three of the itty bitties are high up on buildings on a tiny little alleyway that we go down right after the walk starts. Can you see the leopards on the first one? It’s a “hallmark”. Indeed, it’s the oldest hallmark in England. Got started in 1300. It’s the hallmark of the Goldsmiths, the time-honoured London guild. It’s presence high up on the building in question – you have to know exactly where to look to see it – indicates that the Goldsmiths own the land on which the building stands.

And the lads with, respectively, the compass and the pen and paper? They’re over the way from the Goldsmiths-badged building. Their building’s 1871 – Victorian Gothic. It was built for a stationer, John Nichol. Thus the “look” of the medallions – the lads are holding emblems of their trade. (There’s actually a third medallion, but two’s enough for us to be getting on with.)

And how satisfying is this?, You’ve just seen three fascinating little details – and had them illuminated – that Londoners who walk down that little alleyway five days a week will be completely clueless about. Will never have spotted – let alone understood.

And that’s just part of the tapas that gets served up on one tiny little stretch of that walk. And it’s not even the whole story about those particulars. The curious, fascinating history of the word “stationer” is another colour gel of information that gets switched on in the “live performance”.