diamond geezer

 Sunday, October 12, 2014

Once a year four of London's tourist guide associations join together to present Local London Guiding Day. Each offers a free taster walking tour, hourly from ten til four, and anyone in the know can tag along. This year's theme was the Georgians, so each guiding association had to throw together a 45 minute itinerary visiting whatever local sights they thought fit, some more successfully than others. And if you went on all four walks and got your programme stamped you could enter a draw to win another free walk, a proper one given that they normally cost. I ticked off the lot and had a most interesting day, discovering several things (and even the odd location) of which I'd not previously been aware. Here's what you missed. And, next year?

Westminster Guides: Through a Fanlight Darkly
Departing: Charing Cross station
There's a peculiar part of town between the Strand and the Thames, a thin strip of streets not usually visited, much of which has a Georgian tinge. There's Benjamin Franklin House, for example, where the great American spent 15 years of his life before dashing back across the pond to fight for independence. That's fun, if you've ever been inside, but we spent most of our time further along the embankment behind the watergate. Several grand mansions once lined the river here, all lost, including York House, Northumberland House and Durham House. On the site of the latter, in the mid 18th century, the Adam Brothers erected the Adelphi Buildings. These neoclassical terraced houses were supposed to make their fortune, but the rich and famous were slow to move in, and in the 1930s the block was knocked down and replaced by the Art Deco Adelphi we see today. Several original Adam terraces survive round about, however, some beautifully decorated with stucco, others rather more plain. And one of the Adelphi's riverside vaults remains, now a secret cabbies' cut-through to embankment level, and a tale to be told some other day.
Thing I didn't know before: When George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham sold York House, he insisted that the streets laid out on the site bore his name. They were therefore called George Court, Villiers Street, Duke Street, Buckingham Street... and Of Alley.
The best of the four tours for... a) smiling chirpiness b) taking the backstreets c) uncommon architecture
What the guides usually do: three walks weekly, one on Wednesday and two on Saturdays, £8

Greenwich Tour Guides: Inheritance, Indulgence and Infighting
Departing: Cutty Sark DLR
Of all the four walks, this one hit the Georgian nail on the head the best. And that's because, perhaps surprisingly, central Greenwich boasts several direct hits from the Four Georges themselves. "That's where George I first held his first reception on arriving in the country," said our guide pointing at the Queen's House in Greenwich Park. Inside the National Maritime Museum we saw Prince Frederick's gilded barge, built for George II's unloved son and heir (whose parents were both secretly pleased when he died young from a cricket ball injury). In the Old Royal Naval College, where The Madness of King George was filmed, we saw one of London's only statues to his father George II, alas disfigured by paint removal after a student prank. And at the back of the Painted Hall we saw an ingratiating tableau to the Hanoverian monarchs and had its deeper symbolism explained. All this and some general Georgian stuff elsewhere, Greenwich having more than its fair share of four-storey terraces to admire, splendid.
Thing I didn't know before: Stable Yard by the Greenwich Theatre, until recently the Spread Eagle pub, used to be a 17th century coaching inn.
The best of the four tours for... a) professionalism b) Georgian relevance c) crossing the road properly
What the guides usually do: daily walks at 12.15 and 2.15pm, £8

City of London Guides: Georgian Life in the City
Departing: Bank station
You'd think the City was rammed with Georgian treasures, but instead a lot is post-Fire Stuart, and a lot lot more is postwar redevelopment. Our guides therefore had their work cut out to find a circuit round Bank station that ticked all the right boxes. They sort-of succeeded. The Bank of England's curtain wall dates from the right period, as does the Mansion House, built in Palladian style on the site of a herb market. St Mary Woolnoth is about as early Georgian as you can get, Hawksmoor's only City church, with a most unusual columned facade topped off by twin turrets. And the Rothschilds' HQ on St Swithin's Lane may be as modern as they come, but the family rose to prominence during the relevant period so were duly included. Other than these highlights, this was more a tour round back alleys with a few supporting historical characters mentioned, plus a 1799 water pump thrown in for good measure. There was also competition from a City wedding emptying onto the steps of the Royal Exchange, although its attendees were easily distinguished from would-be walkers by their choice of non-sensible footwear.
Thing I didn't know before: The ticket hall at Bank station is located, near enough, in the former crypt of St Mary Woolnoth church.
The best of the four tours for... a) detailed historical information b) bustle c) brevity
What the guides usually do: numerous daily tours, at least two each day, £7 or £8.

Clerkenwell & Islington Guides: Bad, Sad,... and Mad!
Departing: Angel station
A slight problem emerges when trying to discuss the Islington area during Georgian times - it was mostly fields. Nevertheless Saturday's tour managed to connect various locations that did at least exist at the time. One of these was the Regent's Canal, which tunnelled in during George III's reign, and another was the New River, which had already been around for over 100 years. We stood by the former and in the latter, now a public park, as well as following the ex-waterway to its final stop. I'd been to New River Head before, obviously, but for most of the rest of the tour party it was an eye-opening find. Meryl Streep's been filming in nearby Myddleton Square, apparently, for a Suffragettes film due for release early next year. As for Sadler's Wells, even that's originally too old to be Georgian. Indeed the theatre had already descended to a "a nursery of debauchery" by the time George I came to the throne, so its ascent to a modern venue of high culture is somewhat surprising. Meanwhile Pentonville Road was a genuine 18th century intervention, part of possibly the world's first bypass, built to keep market-bound livestock out of central London.
Thing I didn't know before: One of Islington's two remaining wells can be found just off the foyer inside Sadler's Wells Theatre - just ask to see it.
The best of the four tours for... a) local insight b) friendly banter c) number of attendees
What the guides usually do: Supposedly a weekly walk every Saturday, although the website suggests fewer more irregular outings.

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