Monday, 19 January 2015

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 21st at 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.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Westminster - a handy loo guide

In the course of researching for walks since I qualified as a Westminster Guide in 2009 I have managed to discover a number of good loos.  The previously free loos provided by the Council including the rather nasty ones at Green Park tube now carry a 50p entrance fee so I thought the time had come to share my list.  It is very much still a work in progress so if you can recommend any other handy stops please comment below. In most cases I am of course only talking about the ladies’ toilets.
Mayfair – Whilst studying for my Westminster Guiding exam in Mayfair I discovered that there is a very good cafe within Sothebys in New Bond Street that now sells a very reasonably priced afternoon tea - less than £20.  There are also some very good loos. On entering Sotheby's turn immediately back on yourself, walk down the stairs and you will find the ladies' loos.  
The Royal Institution, Albemarle Street. Not only does this building have some very good loos but they have a cafe and bar which are vastly underused and empty even on a Friday evening; in fact some of the CWGLA sub committees meet there as it's so quiet despite the fact that they have a half price happy hour every weekday evening! (I hope I don't get told off by my fellow committee members for advertising this place.) For both ladies and gents walk past the giant £20 note depicting Michael Faraday just off the entrance hall. 
Nearby on Piccadilly the Royal Academy is another good stopping place.
Department stores are always good for loos but there can sometimes be a bit of a trek to find them. Fortnum and Mason's loos are pretty easily accessible and are my regular stop prior to leading my St James's walk.  Enter the shop from the side entrance in Duke Street St James's, walk up one flight of stairs, past all the hampers and tucked away on the left you will find a couple of ladies' toilets.
Liberty is another shop I regularly use. I can't remember the exact loo location but it's not too far!
Hotels are also a good bet; just walk in confidently as if you belong there and you shouldn't have a problem.  On one occasion what I thought was a hotel on Millbank, I discovered on my way to the loo that it was in fact the BBC!
Trafalgar Square area – you are spoilt for choice here!  You have both the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery of course. Then there are the loos in the crypt of St Martin in the Fields and if you're in a real rush the ladies' toilets in the Chandos pub are accessible without even going into the pub via the entrance in St Martin's Lane that leads you straight upstairs.
For a decadent toilet stop the Hippodrome Casino is worth visiting and you can have a nose around too.  Anyone can just wander in. On your way to the loos on the first floor have look at the amazing floor covered in pennies. This Londonist article has an interesting observation on the view from the gents!
There are more than a few gaps in my loo knowledge, especially in the immediate vicinity around the Palace of Westminster (apart from the Methodist Central Hall). Does anyone have any recommendations for this area or elsewhere?  Post in the comments below if you do.
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

Wednesday, 14 January 2015


If you have come to this blog looking for details of Joanna's walks they can now be found on my new website

Details of all my upcoming public walks can be found on the Eventbrite link on the Home page and privately booked group tours ie on a date and time to suit can be found here.

If you are looking for a bespoke walk details can be found here

I will continue to write occasional blog posts but details in relation to my walks will now be listed on 

Hope to see you on a walk soon!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Free Carol Concerts - A Short List

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.

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

(New website coming soon!)

Thursday, 13 November 2014

A lunchtime wander: London Bridge

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

There is quite a selection of places to sit away from the river although some are rather tucked away. Minutes from Borough Market can be found a lovely quiet  garden. It’s at the junction of Maiden Lane and Park Street SE1. This doesn’t appear to have a name and the park is missing from the map. It’s not so much a garden (ie there is no grass) but it is a lovely shady area with benches and trees where boules is occasionally played. It is literally a hop, skip and a jump away from Borough Market – less than 5 minutes’ walk along Park Street and is just past the junction with Red Cross Way but seems to be largely unknown by many that work in the area.  

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.

Red Cross Gardens

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

Borough Market
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!

Not all food within and around Borough Market is expensive. Take Maria's Market Cafe for instance. The cafe has been going (in various forms) since 1961. They are famous for their bubble & squeak.

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

Thai cafe on Borough High Street. Reasonably priced and very quick. They also have branches in Soho and Mayfair.

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.

Pubs and Bars

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.

Free recitals

There is a weekly free organ recital on Mondays at 1pm at Southwark Cathedral and on the third Thursday of every month there's a free recital at St George The Martyr.


The Old Operating Theatre Museum in St Thomas Street is really worth the climb up the spiral staircase. Entrance is £6.50 but it's half price if you have a National Trust membership card!

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  - 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.

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

(New website coming soon!)