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
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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.

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