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

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.