Guide Isobel stars in our March Newsletter. As we put it, she guides “the dark side of the moon” – South London. Well, dark side of the moon to those of us who live north of the Thames.
Her South London “specials” only come up as public walks very occasionally. So we thought we’d set out here a convenient list of all those wonderful explorations she makes into “terra incognita”, in case anybody fancies doing one or more of them as a private walk. Fancies seeing “the dark side of the moon.”
So here’s Isobel’s South London repertory. And then beneath the dotted line, some of her “this side of the Thames” specials. She also of course does a lot of our mainstay tours: Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s, Old Westminster, etc.
Anyway, if you’d like to book one or more of the Isobel specials – or for that matter, book a walk with the guide whose walks are sought out by American visitors to London “before planning anything else for our journeys to London because we know that wherever she is guiding a walk, she will keep us rapt” – simply get in touch with us at 020 7624 3978. Or email us at [email protected]
ISOBEL’S SOUTH LONDON SPECIALS
Viva Vauxhall!: Vauxhall is so much more than a transport hub and multi-lane pedestrian nightmare. Think Lily Savage, pleasure gardens, James Bond, community spirit, hymns ancient and modern. Throw in a garden designed with the help of Dan Pearson, mosaics hidden in railway arches, alpacas, and cake, yes lots of cake. Or Welsh rarebit and real tea served in cosy-covered teapots. Yum!
Denmark Hill and Camberwell: Called ‘the Belgravia of South London’ by The Builder magazine, Denmark Hill, once home to John Ruskin, is close to central London and manages to retain a whiff of the countryside away from busily commercial Camberwell Green. Most of this walk is behind the scenes, The Denmark Hill and Camberwell you might have suspected existed, but had not yet explored. More than one person has consulted the estate agents after finishing this walk. There are pubs galore, including one celebrated for its Sunday lunch, so afterwards why not make a meal of it.
Fair Maids, Feminists and Philanthropists: I love this walk. Originally entitled Unsung Women, I created it several years ago for Southwark Council to celebrate International Women’s Day. It’s much too good to keep to a once a year slot. It is set in North Southwark, going from Blackfriars Bridge Road to Borough via Bankside. You’ll have heard of some of the women I imagine, but others, no less remarkable, such as Janet Johnson whose pioneering work with children is still having an impact half a century after her death, seem to have slipped through the cracks of history. Come along to learn about and celebrate them. We’ll be near a Gordon Ramsey gaff, but as he is not the right gender for this walk, he won’t get more than a mention. Let’s hear it for the girls!
The Kennington Walk, aka Princes and Paupers: This walk around lovely Kennington that takes in a rare spirit door, Rural Economy, Charlie Chaplin and the worst disaster of the Blitz in Lambeth. There’s an Indian restaurant that is patronised by MPs of all parties, and it finishes conveniently close to a friendly pub that serves food. We get to spend time in a park, walk through a Farmers’ Market, find out where Pierce Brosnan started his acting career, and shiver to tales of public executions. What more could you want?
Walworth, Old and New: I’m on home turf here. This is the Walworth Walk. Distinct from the Lambeth one. More fun I’d say, but I could be biased. @ThisisWalworth tweeted “just when u think u know all there is to know about #walworth #se17, along comes @GuidedbyIsobel”. Bring your cash to enjoy the artists’ Open Studios for the public walks. Terence Conran raves about it, and Keith Richards came here for a bespoke guitar. In summer the public walk ties in with Open Gardens Weekend, so why not make day of it and enjoy our green spaces on the edge of the city.
Walworth’s Hidden Horticultural History: SE17 is probably not the first place most people think of for fruit trees, tulips and celebrated horticulturists of the past. For many years now much of the area has been hidden under buildings and tarmac. But Walworth is fighting back, reclaiming it’s heritage as community gardens spring up and Walworth goes green once more.
Terra Incognita aka Walking the Elephant: One of the most unloved places in London, the Elephant and Castle deserves more than a shuddered glance from from the inside of a car or bus. This is your chance to see why the area inspires such loyalty, and affection in its populace. Away from the notoriously busy junctions, the Elephant walks to a different rhythm. Georgian terraces, a nightclub that is a global phenomenom, the Cinema Museum, and great coffee courtesy of the Latin American community will remind you what Sunday mornings are all about.
Eltham Palace: the forgotten royal residence and Art Deco home. A stone’s throw from central London Eltham Palace is a hidden gem. Once the site of a residence belonging to Odo, Bishop of Durham, it passed into royal possession around 1300, and still belongs to the Crown. In the 1930s, Stephen and Virginia Courtauld commissioned architects Seeley and Paget to create a modern home where they entertained on a grand scale. This tour is most suitable for small groups and can be tailored to meet your time requirements.
Slavery and the City: Architecture, abolition and legacies of the slave trade: The British Empire was built on slavery, on exploitation and cruelty. London has done a pretty good job of disassociating itself from the triangular trade, but it had the monopoly for some time. This walk looks at some of the architects of this terrible trade, and abolitionists who worked for its demise, as well as the legacies of the slave trade we live with today.
C the City: This is a fun walk. If it begins with C you might see it on this walk and hear the stories about why it is here; cheese, camels, Churchill, cranes…See if you can spot them before I say them. And bring a camera if you have one. We had a lot of fun, and quite a bit of competitiveness, with this one earlier in the year. At the start and end of the walk there are also opportunities to ‘see’ the City from higher up.
It’s a cracker!
The London Wall Walk: A City walk where make our way from east to west, keeping inside the boundaries of the old City walls, built around 200 AD as a sign of the settlement’s prosperity. That’s a lot of history and this walk is like taking a cross-section of time; glimpses of the layers, including blackened earth left by Boudicca, from the Romans onwards. Think of the City is time capsule. Although much has changed, the echoes of past people and events can be heard if you know how to listen.
Roaming Down By the River: This City walk, aka Fish ‘n’ Ships, is one of my favourites, and the first one London Walks accepted from me for their repertory slot. So the river is the Thames, the reason why London is here, and an important port since Roman times. I can’t promise any fishing, but you may see cormorants diving for their dinners. We weave east from our starting point, taking in churches and pubs, finding quiet corners in this commercial Square Mile, enjoying the historical and the contemporary City.
Saints Sinners Sisters: This walk delivers, and after 2018, and our celebrations of the hundredth anniversary of women in the UK getting the vote, it’s a chance to check out some of the women who got us there. It’s not all about suffragettes though; there’s a women preacher, a candidate for Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, and a seventh-century saint.
Vote#100 New Dawn: As we celebrated over 100 years since the first Representation of the People Act in 1918, this walk was created to commemorate those women who literally risked everything so that women could vote. Suffragists and Suffragettes, their supporters, their opponents, their legacy.
William Blake in London: He saw angels at Peckham Rye, wore a red cap to show his support of French revolutionaries. William Blake is recognised as one of the great artistic polymaths, not just one of the finest poets in the English language, but also one of Britain’s most revolutionary visual artists. Largely unrecognised in his lifetime, his work has influenced many who came after him – Pre-Raphaelite and Surrealist painters, poets such as Yeats, Ginsberg Neruda and songwriters from Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan to Jagger and Richards, Motorhead and Billy Bragg.
Crime and Punishment In the City: Crime in its various forms is common wherever there are people. The City is no different Whether it’s fraud, robbery, assault or any other crime you care to name, there are always victims and perpetrators. Most of the crime featured in this walk is historic in nature, and some of those crimes would be considered perfectly acceptable conduct toady. Fortunately capital punishment is a thing of the past, so gruesome though some of the details of executions are gruesome, they are firmly in the past. As that nice Nick Ross used to say at the end of BBC’s Crimewatch, don’t have nightmares.