Monday, 26 May 2014

Soho Summer Strolls

When I started working as a tour guide I tended to avoid Soho with its narrow streets and busy pavements. However over the past 18 months or so I have developed a couple of foodie themed walks and now love guiding in the area. It is busy - especially on a Saturday afternoon - but some streets are quieter than others and Soho has such a fascinating history that it is now one of my favourite places in Central London.

Last weekend I led a new walk for Walk London* entitled The Real West End which was in the vicinity of the Jubilee Walkway and included parts of Covent Garden and Soho.  Taking up to 50 people on a walk where previously I had only led half that number (and in a less busy part of town) initially filled me with trepidation.

However I purchased an amplifier (a bargain at £5) and planned the walk so we only stopped at places where there was enough room for us and  passers by without anyone having to step in the road.  It meant a bit of forward guiding eg talking about the House of St Barnabas before we arrived there - but there were also places where we were able to stand with a big group opposite the building in question and everyone could hear me too.

Over the course of the weekend I led the walk 3 times and from the applause at the end together with some tips plus two 5 star reviews on Trip Advisor it was a great success. 

There were a couple of challenges to overcome on the walk - Seven Dials was busier than normal with a shopping day and people picnicking in the middle of what is normally the road, meeting another tour group halfway along Goodwins Court (a very narrow passageway that links St Martin's Lane with Bedfordbury - see picture below), and a disinterested elderly man on the 3rd (and hottest) walk of the weekend who in retrospect I now wonder if he had signed up for the walk by mistake and was really one of the film extras that we encountered at the beginning of the walk - the co-ordinators there were similarly dressed to us.

Goodwins Court WC2. Photo by Jenny Pedler
After the success of last weekend's walks my Foodie History Tour of Soho this coming Saturday for up to 15 people (especially finishing at Imli Street with some Indian-inspired cocktail samples) should be a doddle!

* Walk London organise free walks 3 times a year - Spring into Summer (just finished), Autumn Ambles (27 & 28 September 2014) and Winter Wanders (usually January).  Bookmark their website to be kept informed of walks coming up.

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. 
Details of all her walks are listed here.  
Both the foodie walk mentioned above and the Soho pub-themed walk can be booked for private groups
To sign up to Joanna's mailing list click here
Follow on Twitter @wwalks
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Monday, 12 May 2014

New pub discoveries

There has been an unexcusable gap in my blog postings recently mostly because I am doing too much. I am still looking for the perfect work/life balance - a part-time job rather than ongoing temping (which I have too much of) so I can have more time for guiding and for relaxing too!

On Saturday night (after leading a walk in St James's) I managed to fit in the last 3 pubs of Part Z of Londonist's 2 year alphabetical pub crawl. Out of 26 crawls I managed 10 although unfortunately I was not always able to complete the whole evening.

It was good to finish Part Z in a pub I had never previously visited.  Yards from Borough High Street and St George The Martyr Church (which I have been to) I never knew this pub existed. The Royal Oak, Tabard Street reminded me somewhat (I can't quite explain why!) of another pub near Waterloo East. After several pints I couldn't remember the name of the pub nor the street but my description of "Coronation Street style houses" was enough for one of the London/pub aficionados with me to instantly guess correctly. The street is Roupell Street - see the photo below. The pub there is the King's Arms.
Roupell Street, SE1. Photo by Banalities via Creative Commons

The King's Arms, Roupell Street, SE1. Photo by Ewan Munro via Creative Commons
The similarity is possibly because they are both on a corner but I need to re-visit both to double-check.

The Royal Oak has a really local feel to it. Look at the net curtains in the windows.

Photo by Ewan Munro (who was on this same pub crawl but earlier in the day) via Creative Commons
The Royal Oak is one of only two pubs in London (the other being in Wandsworth) that is run by Harveys the Sussex brewers. 

I know a lot of great pubs in Central London but it's great to find that there are more to discover. This is the second good one to be added to my repertoire in recent months having been introduced to the Cleveland Arms near Paddington Station via the London Travel Planner.

Looking at Londonist's list of their favourite pubs in Borough and Bankside I see there are 3 more I don't know in that area. I may have to spend some of my temping lunchtimes (I am currently temping close to Borough Market) visiting a few more (drinking shandy of course)!

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. 
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, 14 March 2014

A Soho singalong

On Tuesday night this week, rather by accident, I did something I've never done before - I took part in a singalong around the old Joanna.

I arrived at the Coach & Horses, Greek Street just as the pianist was starting. She rattled off a few well known tunes - My Old Man, Roll out the Barrel etc but at 7.30pm most people in the pub ignored her.

Photo courtesy of https://twitter.com/London_Nut
Only an hour later it was a different story.  Although it turned into a bit of a karaoke session at one point - with groups of work colleagues singing along to tunes from the Jungle Book and Oliver (words provided) - after a short break she was back on the traditional songs.  Soon loads of people were singing along (including me); not needing words to the famous Londony songs. I can't sing that well so really hope she was attracted to our table by the much better voices of @London_nut and his girlfriend A.

We were amazed to discover that Lili Davies - or to give her her stage name, Magic Betty, was from Romania!  She said she had learned all the songs from scratch. I must admit I initially felt a bit cheated. I wanted her to be London born and bred.  However she is very entertaining and I will definitely return.

The Coach and Horses has singalongs around the piano every Tuesday and Saturday at 7.30pm. I expect Saturday evenings will be a different crowd entirely. There are a number of different performers; Magic Betty will next be performing there on Saturday 22nd March.

There are lots of other good reasons to visit the pub. They only serve vegetarian food, upstairs there is a "secret" tea room and they sell at least 5 varieties of pickled egg! (I have to confess I have never eaten a pickled egg - maybe I should try one here.)  Any recommendations for a particular flavour?

The pub has got a fascinating history too and if you want to discover that why not book on my Soho Sunday Pub Themed Stroll - a new public date coming very soon.

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. 
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, 10 March 2014

New competition - Win 2 places on one of my walks!

Where in London can you find this sculpture?

I posted this picture on Twitter at lunchtime today with that very question.  I've had a couple of re-tweets but no correct answers so wonder if I should give you a clue.

Clue - I found this sculpture on one of the tube strike days when walking between London Bridge and Westminster Bridge on the south side of the river.

Does that help?

First person to respond with the correct answer - either on Twitter, Facebook or in the comments below will win 2 places on one of my walks. I am planning to add some walks into my calendar very soon so watch this space!


Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Sculptures, Scones & Shh - some of my London discoveries

It's only since qualifying as a tour guide in 2009 that I have realised just how much there is to see and do in London, and how much of it is free.  In the past few years I have discovered Londonist, Ian VisitsTom Tired of London, Tired of Life, and many other London blogs all with ideas of unusual things to do in the capital and of course London Historians which has introduced me to many other London obsessives and I would thoroughly recommend joining.* 

As fast as I discover places I have new ones to add to the list. It's great! These are some of my best finds over the last few years.

Cafes in unexpected places

Whilst studying for my guiding exam in Mayfair one of my first unusual discoveries was that Sotheby's in New Bond Street has a cafe with a very reasonably priced small cream tea.

Their "small tea" consists of a toasted tea cake, a portion of scones with cream and jam and a pot of tea; all for £9.10. With the addition of mini bagels the cost is just over £14 and even with a glass of Champagne you are left with change from £25. It's not the grand affair that you would get at some of the Mayfair hotels - and not as much food - but taking afternoon tea at a hotel with a glass of Champagne you would be looking at least double that!  Sotheby's cafe is only open Monday to Friday - 9.30am-5pm and you do need to book.  Whilst there have a wander around their galleries to see what is coming up for auction.


Also discovered on my exam walk is the cafe within Dover Street Market.  This isn't a market in the usual sense of the word but a very expensive clothes shop selling designer brands. I have to admit when I first visited the shop I found the shop assistants rather scary but now I just head to the lift to make my way to the top floor where the cafe is situated.

The Rose Bakery is the London outpost of a British cafe which opened in Paris in 2002.  It was founded by Rose Carrarini who is sister-in-law to Rei Kawakubo founder of Comme des Garçons the principal designer within Dover Street Market which is probably how the cafe has ended up in this location. Tokyo and Seoul now have Rose Bakeries of their own too.

The cafe is light and airy with a small outside terrace. The food is good too and comprises salads, sandwiches, soups and cakes. It's open every day but it's best to check the opening times first.  I am quite surprised to find that it now has its own page on the DSM website as previously there has been barely anything online; it really is a word of mouth type of place.

Hidden sculptures

I thought I knew Mayfair pretty well having studied there for my guiding exam, based my course project on it and been guiding through it since qualifying.  So I was very surprised last year (when taking a short-cut) to discover a set of 3 sculptures commemorating the famous photographer Terence Donovan close to his old studio. These 3 sculptures - depicting the photographer, the model (Twiggy) and a shopper who has stumbled across the "photo shoot" - really are in deepest Mayfair.



The sculptures are by Neal French and can be found in Bourdon Place which is parallel with Grosvenor Hill and Grosvenor Street.  Incidentally Brown's Hotel in Albemarle Street nearby have named their bar after him - Donovan's - where they display some of his photographs; the more risqué photos can be found in the "Naughty Corner"! (See my blog post here about Browns' Bloody Mary.)

Both my Belgravia and St James's walks also include hidden sculptures - some of these are so tucked away I sometimes wonder if the only people to see them are those on my walks!
Just around the corner from the Mayfair sculptures can be found another favourite place - Hedonism Wines - an amazing shop, really worth visiting. 

My favourite small house museum

The next place I am going to share in this post isn't in Mayfair; in fact it's not even in Westminster but in Hammersmith.

Some time ago I signed up to receive email newsletters from London Shh, Small Historic Houses which keep me updated about museums such as the Handel House Museum, the Benjamin Franklin Museum and, a new one on me 7 Hammersmith Terrace, home to Emery Walker. I am ashamed to say that not only had I not heard of the museum but I had no knowledge of typographer and printer Emery Walker either.  When I discovered that 7 Hammersmith Terrace is the last Arts and Craft interior left in Britain and that it is practically untouched I had to visit. I took the opportunity in May 2012 to arrange a visit for the Westminster Guides and I have to say we were all practically blown away by the interior.

Emery Walker was a friend and colleague to William Morris and because of this the house contains many Morris originals - wallpaper, wall hangings even William Morris lino. The architect Philip Webb was also a friend and left his possessions to Walker and these are also to be found throughout the house. There is so much more than this though - it is like a time capsule. The house has remained virtually unaltered because Walker left the house to his daughter who in turn left it to her companion who then formed a trust to preserve it for the future. More details about the house can be found on the excellent Londonphile blog.

I have been to many historic houses over the years and am sometimes dismayed that the houses are bare and lacking in possessions; I have now been completely spoiled with this one and would thoroughly recommend a visit. Each tour is limited to 8 people so you do need to book in advance.  They are currently looking for volunteers to help out this summer so if you live in the area maybe you could help.

A walk along the Thames afterwards with lunch at the Dove is a great way to complete your visit to Hammersmith.

A hidden church

Lastly, this unusual shaped church is a recent find and I hope to include it in a mainly pub-themed walk around Fitzrovia soon.


This is only a small selection of places I have discovered in the past 5 years or so and I'm continuing to discover more many of which will end up on one of my walks. All my walks include hidden tea shops, pubs and anything else I may have discovered along the way together with of course the historical narrative.

Further afield

This post is just about London but there's so much more to discover in the rest of the country. I've just nominated a couple of my hidden London favourites on this map but you may want to look at what else has been suggested around the country or even add some yourself.

*London Historians hold a monthly pub meet for members and non-members alike. It's held upstairs at the Windsor Castle pub, Francis Street SW1 from 6.30pm usually until closing time on the first Wednesday of every month - next one is Wednesday 5th February. There's no obligation to join if you go along and it's just a social so turn up any time. Maybe see you there!

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. 
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