Monday, 27 July 2015

Discovering Clerkenwell & 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!


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 C&I 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.

Applications for the Clerkenwell and Islington course are open until the end of August and can be made via the following link http://www.westminster.ac.uk/courses/professional-and-short/tourism-and-events/diploma-tour-guiding-clerkenwell-and-islington-tour-guiding

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
From August 2015 all blog posts will appear here




Wednesday, 29 April 2015

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. http://westminstercathedral.org.uk/index.php

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

Friday, 3 April 2015

Ivor Novello in Chingford

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.
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.

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

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

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).





Monday, 16 February 2015

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