There's still time to join my SPITALFIELDS walk on Tuesday, 21st June. It will coincide with the last day of the Immigrants of Spitalfields Festival and after the walk you will have an opportunity to visit some places that are not normally open to the public. Meet me at Liverpool Street Station by the ticket barrier of Platform 11 at 11.00 am. Great value for just £6. Please txt or call me if you intend to come along.
The question often asked when invited to speak at clubs and societies is..."which subject would you recommend?" That is almost impossible to answer because London offers such a rich source of stories that almost any subject can be fascinating and keep the audience engaged.
These talks are often 'moveable feasts'. All the time there is more to learn and see about London and I am constantly finding new information and stories - some intriguing others a bit hard to believe - which have to verified and authenticated. The Internet is a great source of knowledge but it can also be overwhelming. Google 'Jack the Ripper' and there are enough sites to go through that it may take several hours to read just a few of them.
I do have to admit that one of my talks which is still popular - THE FLOW OF HISTORY - has a special meaning. It was the first I created over 10 years ago and although it has changed gradually over the years as new pictures and narrative has been added, it is still essentially about the River Thames and the impact it has made to London's growth and development over the last 2,000 years.
And taking the words of the well-known song about the River Thames and adjusting it slightly, I could say that LONDON FOOTSTEPS keeps rolling along! It's a subject that will never bore me and, I hope, never send my audiences to sleep.
They are the hidden gems that provide the clues to so much of London's rich history. Blue Plaques provide tantalising information of people, places and events that have contributed so much to the development of the City. For those on a LONDON FOOTSTEPS walk they offer an invitation to explore the stories behind them.
It was the MP William Ewart who, in 1863, first proposed what were known then as 'memorial tablets'. The idea was popular and by 1866 it was adopted by the Royal Society of Arts. Today we have plaques of various colours all over England, all shapes and sizes. But the iconic Blue Plaque is the daddy of them all.
Look out for BEHIND THE BLUE PLAQUES which will be included in the next programme of walks.
It will never be known how many died in the Great Plague of 1665. Some say it was less than 80,000; others put the figure at above 120,000. Yet a year later, the Great Fire of London which completely devastated the City only claimed the lives of around 20 people, an astonishingly low number.
These two tragic events defined London's history well into the 18th century. From death and ashes rose a new city which dominated and influenced Europe and eventually the rest of the World.
Today, with modern development and especially Crossrail, the City is giving up the secrets that have been buried deep in the London clay for 350 years.
The Plague pits contained thousand of victims and books and documents currently on show at the exhibition in Guildhall Library reveals more information about this terrible period of our history.
When, in 1839, Britain’s much admired soldier-statesman, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, began to correspond with the richest woman in the land, Angela Burdett-Coutts, a unique friendship developed which was to impact on the lives of so many people throughout the 19th century. Their personal and trusting relationship is revealed in over 800 letters which they exchanged during a period when Britain’s world-wide power and Imperial dominance concealed much of the poverty and hardship created by the industrial revolution.
She funded housing projects, supported educational schemes, created playgrounds for children, provided money for soup kitchens, gave shelter to homeless women and those forced into prostitution and even supported the efforts of the persecuted aboriginal people of Australia and Borneo. The work of Angela Burdett-Coutts was a topic of conversation in the drawing-rooms of the rich and recognised by parliamentarians and authorities who, for too long, had preferred to believe the poor, working-classes had only themselves to blame for such misery.
In 1833, Angela Burdett-Coutts proposed marriage to the 78 year-old Duke. He turned down the request in a gracious and sensitive letter urging her to seek a lifelong partner who was younger and shared her beliefs and would have the energy to continue working and supporting the poor and under-privileged people of London.
It is fitting that Wellington’s statue, made from the French bronze cannons captured from the battlefield, stands in front of the of the Royal Exchange flanked by the Bank of England and looking across at the Mansion House. The City flourished after Wellington’s triumph and heralded a century when Britain became the most powerful and influential country on earth with an Empire embracing 25 percent of the world’s population. But the pain and misery of less fortunate human beings was Angela Burdett-Coutts lifelong concern.
She eventually married at 67 – to her American secretary and friend William Bartlett who was almost 50 years her junior. In 1871 she was made a Baroness and six years later was the first woman to be presented with the Freedom of the City of London at the Guildhall. Her memorials are the many charities which were established in her lifetime. The tall sundial that was erected in the churchyard of St. Pancras Old Church close to what was once a notorious slum is a contrast to the Wellington statue at Bank Station. He died in 1852 aged 83. She died 54 years later aged 92 and the barony became extinct on her death. Their 13 years of shared correspondence are a remarkable insight into Victorian Britain.
If the sun is shining and you have a Sainsbury sandwich in one hand and Costa coffee in the other, trying to find somewhere to enjoy a quiet bite outside isn't always easy.
City churchyards are favourite places to relax at lunchtime when the weather permits although finding a spare seat is a problem with an increasing number of tourists sharing the narrow streets with the working population.
At this time of the year, churchyards in the City of London are looking their best. They provide a welcome contrast to the concrete, steel and glass buildings that dominate the main streets and narrow pedestrian-only areas. In the shadow of the high-rise buildings, the gardeners are busy making sure the these pocket-size green spaces don't get neglected.
The churchyard at the St. Olave's in Hart Street has recently had a 'green' makeover - new plants, wooden benches, a variety of shrubs, paths re-laid. Samuel Pepys is buried here and he surely would have approved that this tiny space has received so much care and attention. So too would Octavia Hill who saw the potential in the overgrown churchyards in the late 19th century and realised how welcoming they could be in a city which was overcrowded, unhealthy and desperately short of places where people trapped by poverty and slum living might be able to spend a few hours feeling a little closer to nature.
Today the City of London coat-of-arms appears on information boards far out in the suburbs. Epping Forest, Hainault Forest, Hampstead Heath, Burnham Beeches, West Ham Park and many other parks, woodlands and open spaces are now protected and expertly managed. But nature thrives as much in the concrete city itself as it does in the broad acres beyond the Square Mile. The spirit and passion of Octavia Hill, one of the founders of the National Trust, is still very much alive. Her vision and today's efforts of the men in green who tend the gardens and parks often go unnoticed but London would be a poorer place without them.
You may know it as the Walkie-Talkie, a 35-storey office block designed by Rafael Vinoly, the 70-year-old Uruguayan architect who has created one of the most-talked about modern buildings in the City. Its unique shape is either loved or loathed depending on your views about the way London's skyline is changing.
There are, however, many who will praise the Sky Garden on the very top, an imaginative, exciting multi-level viewing platform with an exotic, tropical garden, a coffee and cocktail bar, a fish restaurant and 360 degree views of the capital below. As you step out of the lift there you are admiring an multi-level viewing area inside and spectacular views across London which certainly have the wow factor. .
Unlike its taller rival across the river, the Shard, a visit to the Sky Garden on top of 20, Fenchurch Street, Walkie Talkie's official address, is free although you have to book ahead by selecting a day and time slot on-line. The man from Montevideo will surely win more international acclaim for this extraordinary vision of 21st century architecture
Some areas on the fringes of the City of London provide rich pickings for those who like to discover the history of a place that can easily be overlooked. There are plenty of gems to find in the South Hackney Conservation area which is why the recent LONDON FOOTSTEPS walk proved so popular and rewarding.
It was also a chance to see how London is constantly growing and spreading beyond the traditional City limits. New office blocks, pedestrianized streets, restaurants and bars are catering for the media and technology industries which now populate the area. The warehouses and furniture workshops have been converted into modern, adaptable premises.
It was Charles Booth in his Life and Labour of the London Poor who wrote that "The character of the whole locality is working-class. Poverty is everywhere with a considerable mixture of the very poor and vicious". He was not alone in condemning the way people were forced to live in such appalling and unhealthy conditions.
That was just over 100 years ago when the music halls of Hoxton were playing to full houses; when the newly-created London County Council was clearing away the Old Nichol slum to make space for the model homes of the new Boundary Estate. And let's not forget that in Tudor times Shakespeare was beginning to make a name for himself in the theatres of Curtain Road. Later came Robert Aske, the successful City merchant who rose from a draper's assistant to become Master of the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers and used his wealth to start the Haberdashers' Aske's School in Hoxton.
History and progress deserve equal recognition in places like Hoxton and Shoreditch. Maybe we should look more closely at these areas on the fringes of the City and appreciate why the past has made such a vital contribution to London's reputation and prosperity.