My Walking Tours Around London

One thing that I really enjoy doing is taking walking tours.  I took one in Prague and another here in Chelsea, the neighborhood I am living in here in London.  Recently, I purchased a book that has various walking tours throughout London and on a “free day” or a day that is too nice to be inside, say a museum, I grab my book and go.

Last Sunday, I did a walking tour just Oxford Street, one of the major shopping streets in London.  It wasn’t the best but it took me through an area that I hadn’t explored, so that was a good thing.

To start the tour, I walked to the other side of Hyde Park to get to Marble Arch.  On my way, I came across this monument to the people who lost their lives in the terrorist bombings in London on July 7, 2005.

It happened during rush hour on a Thursday morning and was initiated by a four Islamic suicide bombers.  Three detonated their bombs on subway trains and one on a bus.  52 innocent people were killed, the four attackers and 700 people were injured.  It happened at 8:50 in the morning.  This post shows that this person lost his/her life at the Aldgate Underground at 8:50. Seeing this monument gives one a moment to pause and reflect.

Further along my walk in Hyde Park, I came upon Speaker’s Corner. I thought that I might be too late to see the happenings here, but there still a few hardy souls standing on their “soap box”.  Speaker’s Corner.  Since the Parks Regulation Act of 1872, people have been allowed to speak and debate on any subject, as long as police consider the speech to be allowed by the law.  The police are fairly lenient and from what I have read, only shut a speaker down when there is profanity or a complaint.  I didn’t spend much time listening to the man in my picture as he was talking about Christianity and his God being the only God, not Allah or another.  I didn’t want to listen to that.  As you can see, there were people listening and yelling their views to him.

Things get started on Sunday morning around 9:30 and there can be more than one speaker at a time.  I was there in the early afternoon, so I think that most had said their piece for the day and moved on.  When I went by, there were about four people.  This man had the largest crowd.  In this picture, you can see that this man had made a visual to explain his belief on the fall of mankind.  I visited Speaker’s Corner years ago and it can be a very lively place!!

Near Speaker’s Corner, across the street is Marble Arch.  It is quite an impressive structure and the beginning of my walk.  It was designed in 1827 by John Nash, the architect responsible for the layout of England of King George IV.  It used to stand in front of Buckingham Palace but was moved to this location in 1850, due to the addition of the east wing on Buckingham Palace.  The overall history of this area is fairly gruesome.  From the 14th to the 18th century, this area was known as Tyburn Road and the place where public executions were held.

An interesting piece of trivia.  About a mile down Bayswater Rd, which runs in front of the arch is The Swan Pub.  This pub was built in the early 1600s and it is said that the prisoners were brought here for one final drink before heading to their execution.  Hence, the saying “one for the road” and the saying “on the wagon” meaning that the prisoner was on the wagon heading to gallows and wouldn’t be able to drink anymore.   I had lunch one day at The Swan.  It was fun to be eat in a place with such a rich history!

Not far from Marble Arch is one of my favorite statues in London. It is of a horse’s head.  It was made by sculpture Nic Fiddian Green who is known the world over for his horse sculptures.  He gets his inspiration from his own horse, George, a chestnut hunter.  This horse statue was placed near Marble Arch on June 18, 2009.

There rest of the walk took me through the Mayfair area and Marylebone area of London.  Many of the stops were pointing out various buildings in which a murder had a happened, a former author had lived or currently has a ghost as a resident.  It took me through a couple of “mews” which are a row of houses or apartments which have been converted from stables.  There are many mews throughout out London.  David and I both love these areas when we walk by them and often wish that we could find a rental in one of them.

The final building on my walking tour is one worth mentioning.  It is located on Cato Street and my guidebook said that it has hardly changed since February 23, 1820.  The history of this building is there were about 20 young men who were discontent with the political government.  They were plotting to kill the entire British Cabinet, who were going to be dining in nearby Grosvenor Square later that evening.  Unbeknown to the gang, who was headed up by Arthur Thistlewood, they had been infiltrated by a police spy.  The group was arrested by police officers and four days later, Thistlewood and four others were executed at Newgate Prison.  The blue plaque on the building commemorates this event.  You can find these blue plaques on buildings throughout London.  They acknowledge an event or famous person who had resided in it.  One building, not far from my little apartment, notes that the Irish author Bram Stoker lived there. He was the author of Dracula. I saw the plaque on Halloween day!

The next walk that I did was around Westminster Abbey and the Parliament Building.  It was a brilliant day with tons of sunshine and clear blue skies.  A great day to be out and about in London!

The British Parliament building is done in the neo-gothic style.  It is built on the site of the royal palace that was the main resident of the kings of England from the middle of the 11th century until 1512.  It was destroyed by fire.  After it was rebuilt, Parliament used the building.  However, in 1834, their was another great fire which destroyed a great deal of the building.  However, some of it was salvaged and over the next 30 years, the current building was built around the salvaged building.  I think it is like a crown for the Thames River.  Of course, you recognize “Big Ben” to the right of the building. Actually, Big Ben is the name of the 13-ton bell inside the tower and not the tower itself.   No one is exactly certain if it is named after Sir Benjamin Hall who was the Commissioner of Works when the bell was hung in 1859 or after a popular prize-fighter from that time, Ben Caunt.

This building was built in 1365 to house the jewels and wardrobe for King Edward III.  Today, it is open and you can see the ribbed vault.  It wasn’t open when I was there, so didn’t get to see the vault. In my picture, you can see the remains of the protective moat.  Notice also, the towers of Westminster Abbey in the background.

Another point of interest on this walk was the “air raid shelter signs” painted on the side of buildings in a residential area.  These were from World War II.   At the end of this row of houses was another plaque noting that W T Stead lived there from 1904 to 1912.  He was the father of modern tabloid journalism but what caught my attention about him was that he wrote two works of fiction.  How the Mail Steamer went Down in the Mid Atlantic was written in 1886 and in it he wrote a footnote to the story, “This is exactly what might take plae if the liners are sent to sea short of boats”.  I believe he meant lifeboats.  In his other book, From the Old World to the New, he wrote in 1892 of a ship, the Majestic, that collided with an iceberg.  What is so strange or amazing is that Stead died on the Titanic….isn’t that eerie?

The walk took me through a courtyard of Westminster School which was founded in 1179 by the Benedictine monks of Westminster Abbey.  They were ordered by Pope Alexander III to provide a charity school.  One famous student was Christopher Wren, (1632-1723) a renowned British architect in all of history.

I walked around Westminster Abbey which was established in 1065 by Edward the Confessor.  King Henry III began building the current building in the 13th century and over the next three decades the building process continued.  I was going to go inside until I saw that I had to pay $25 for a ticket.  I have been inside several times over my visits to London and just couldn’t justify spending that amount to see it again.  I am a little disappointed that they feel the need to charge such a steep ticket price.  I mean, after all, it is a church….yes, a very historical church but still a church!  I am planning to attend one of the services rather than pay $25.  I think that it will be more memorable than just walking around in a tour.

Last Sunday was Remembrance Day and they still had the crosses and poppies displayed in memory of those who served in the wars….especially World War II.  People could donate to get a cross and put a message on it.  The one that brought me to tears said “to my dad, you are my hero, love the daughter you never got to know”.  He had died in 1944.  It was a very sobering time spent walking around the yard full of crosses.

I put a cross in the Royal Air Force Section.  My family had a friend, Aunt Nora, whose son, Frederick, who was an American, joined the Royal Air Force.  He was shot down and is buried in Glasgow, Scotland.  35 years ago, I went to Glasgow, found his grave and placed flowers on it for Aunt Nora, who had never been able to do it.  Aunt Nora died years ago but I felt it was necessary to acknowledge this brave young man’s sacrifice.  My message was “thank you for your sacrifice, you didn’t die in vain, I am living in a free country because of you”.

The walking tour took me past the Treasury building where Churchill War rooms are that Winston Churchill and Britain’s top politicians directed World War II.  Today the rooms are a museum, opened to the public.  Continuing past the Treasury building, you pass the infamous address of 10 Downing Street, which for safety reasons, is barricaded.  It is the home of Britain’s Prime Minister.

Past Downing Street is the Horse Guards Arch.  This is the home of the Household Calvary Mounted Regiment.  For over 300 years, these mounted soldiers have stood guard at the original gateway to the Royal Palace.  They are very impressive.  At 4:00 each day, there is a “4:00 o’clock parade” where the officer does an inspection.  I was there to see that!

The final building, The Banquet Hall, was across the Whitehall Street from Horse Guard Arch.  There is only a small part of the original Whitehall Palace which was destroyed, in yet, another fire in 1698.  The part that did survive has a beautiful ceiling painted by Peter Paul Ruben in 1635.  He was commissioned by King Charles I for a painting praising aspects of the King’s reign.  It is ironic and sad that on January 30, 1649 King Charles stepped through the window of the same banquet hall onto a balcony constructed for him to be beheaded.  He was beheaded due to a civil war between the Parliamentarians and the Royalist, of which Charles supported.  In the end, the Parliamentarians won and they beheaded the king.

By this time, it was dark and time to head home.  My walk took me past Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Memorial Statue.  In my wildest dreams, I never thought that a walk home would take me past a palace, let alone, Buckingham Palace!  All is good!

Victoria Memorial for Queen Victoria

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