London Walks connecting.
This… is London.
Story time. History time.
We’ve all got a battle on hands over the next few days. I’m talking about the Christmas shopping battle.
Here’s the pep talk. Here’s what we have to do to win this battle.
1. The attitude has to be: if
you’re going to do it, do it properly.
2. There are three watch-words: efficiency, efficiency, efficiency. Be efficient. That means getting your timing right. Means getting some good R & R in the right place and availing yourself of it as and when it’s needed. And it will be.
Ok, let me translate that. You’re going to lose the battle if you let your Christmas shopping turn into a melee.
You’re going to need some R & R. A breather now and then.
And what do you know, the right walking tour fills that bill perfectly. And it’ll also help you with that first objective: if you’re going to do it, do it properly.
By right walking tour I mean one that’s a perfect fit – timing-wise, location-wise – with your Christmas shopping objectives.
I guess you could say you win the battle if you get great gifts – unusual gifts, memorable gifts, thoughtful gifts – that are an absolute delight to the great friend or family member for whom you’re buying the gift. And do it with ease, with aplomb – do it in a way that makes it a rich and satisfying experience for you, the Christmas shopper.
To which end, I’ve singled out four or five London Walks that are perfectly aligned for some of your Christmas shopping needs. Going on the walk is your R and R. It’ll stimulate you, give you a break, recharge your batteries. And when the walk’s over, you can swoop, because you’re right there. No desperate running around, no battling Oxford Street mobs for run-of-the-mill gifts. You’ve cracked it. Got both sides of the equation right. The efficiency, efficiency, efficiency side. And the if you’re going to do it, do it properly side. Ok, let’s get stuck in.
Here they are, six great Christmas shopping walks.
Numero Uno, the Kensington Walk. Goes every Saturday and quite a few Thursdays. Now High Street Kensington is of course, after Oxford Street, the most important shopping street in London. But High Street Kensington shopping is not what I have in mind. No, I’ve got my eye on three class acts that are under the radar of most people who go to Kensington to do their Christmas shopping.
First one’s an art gallery. Gallery 19. It’s at 19 Kensington Court Place. It’s not far from High Street Kensington but it’s a world apart. It’s at the far end of Thackeray Street, which leads out of the southeastern corner of Kensington Square. It’s run by an Australian, Gordon French. And his Italian wife Sandra. And their English-Italian-Australian daughter Alex. Gordon was the art director for Murdoch’s Sky Television. Got fed up with it, told Murdoch, ‘I’m resigning, I’m going to open an art gallery in Kensington.’ Murdoch said, ‘Gordon, you’ve never run an art gallery. You’ll be bust in a year. I’ll keep your job open for a year because you’ll be back.’ Gordon says, with a twinkle in his eye, ‘that was 25 years ago.’ But here’s the thing about Gallery 19. A lot of these little private art galleries in places like Mayfair and St James’, they seem to have this instinctive ability – or need – to make you feel this high when you go in there. Here I’m holding my index finger and thumb about two inches apart. Gordon’s not like that. He’s a friendly, welcoming, approachable Ozzie. And he’s a very fine artist in his own right. He does wonderful house portraits. Ask him to show you his limited edition print of the four sides of Kensington Square. It’s breathtaking. His main stock in trade is architectural views of Kensington, London and country houses in Italy. But he also does books, photographs, maps. It’s my favourite private art gallery in London. It’s a joy to go in there, mosey around, pass the time of day with Gordon, keep a beady out for the next addition he’s going to supply to a bit of our wall space.
Gallery 19’s just off the south side of the High Street. Just off the north side – on the delightful Kensington Church Walk – is the tiny menswear shop, Hornets. It’s run by a Brazilian model named Orlando and an English actor named Bill. What a team they are. With his background, his eye, Orlando knows what’s right, what looks good for any given feller. And Bill’s had 30 years’ experience building up contacts and acquiring the best high-quality second hand menswear. Socially, Bill is extremely well-connected. And the lowdown on the shop is that occasionally the artistocracy in Kensington want to free up some space in their closets. With his connections Bill gets the stuff for a song. I think it’s often given to him. It’s always the best very best Savile Row and Jermyn Street menswear. Gets cleaned up and goes on sale for about ten percent of what you’d pay for the same garment new in Savile Row. So before you go to Savile Row and do an impossible amount of damage to the credit card, it makes just a ton of sense to go to tiny little Hornets on Kensington Church Walk and see if Bill and Orlando can get you sorted. They’re wonderful people. Cups of tea get brewed. Tins of biscuits appear. It’s a completely different experience from the anonymity and impersonality and couldn’t care less attitude of bored shop assistants in the big stores on the High Street. Special place, Hornets. Now I realise, for a Christmas gift, the question of fit might be a problem. But Bill and Orlando also sell really special cuff links, stunning waistcoats, etc. And in any case, if something doesn’t fit, well, return and exchange is no problem.
My third Kensington reccy is Japan House. And, yes, it is on the High Street. It’s a cultural centre more than a shop. But they do have a few wares. And every single piece they’ve got is a winner. Eye-wateringly, satisfyingly, reassuringly expensive but so beautiful. Basically, Japan House’s track record is five years of bringing the best of Japan to London. Specifically, to High Street Kensington. Mary’s just had a birthday. Her birthday gift – a stunning, brilliantly red evening scarf – was a Japan House find. It’s a piece. Something out of a world away from western scarves. It’ll be the only one in London – and more to the point, draws the eye like no other scarf in town. She’s thrilled with it.
A second London Walk that dovetails perfectly with the main key that’s playing in all our heads at this time of year – the Christmas shopping key – is our Village in Piccadilly Walk. Goes every Monday afternoon. It actually takes you into a couple of shops. For example, Floris, the perfumers on Jermyn Street. Been in the hands of the same family since 1730. We take our walkers in there and they sample. It’s such fun. For the rest of the walk we see them periodically lifting their wrist to their nose for a refreshing whiff. Time to pleasure the olfactory nerve again. Or Charbonnel et Walker in The Royal Arcade. Where our walkers get to sample what’s always billed as the late, lamented, much-love Queen’s favourite chocolates. And of course with chocolates and perfumes you don’t have to do a fitting.
It’s interesting isn’t it, the way having a story can set a gift apart. “I hope you’ll like these chocolates – if you do, you’re in good company – they were Queen Elizabeth’s all-time favourites.’
And a third London Walk possibility is the Friday afternoon Old Palace Quarter Walk. It’s in the same general area – St James’s – as the Village in Piccadilly Walk. It’s vintage London, that area. London at its best. And any number of wonderful shops. It’s predominantly but not entirely the world of the upper-class English male. There’s Berry Brothers and Rudd, the classy old wine dealer. Established in 1698. How do you go wrong with the gift of a bottle of wine bought from Britain’s oldest wine and spirits merchant. 325 years of getting to know their grape and grain. You charge your glass with something from Berry Brothers you’re also charging it with legacy and history and tradition. What’s not to like.
Or Paxton and Whitfield, the wonderful old cheesemongers on Jermyn Street. You go in there after your visit to Floris, well, it’s multiple orgasm time for your olfactory nerve.
And how about this for a really unusual – very special gift: a cheese-tasting course at Paxton & Whitfield’s Cheese Academy.
Again, the pedigree can’t be faulted. You don’t need to take it from me. Let’s hear it from one Winston Churchill:
“A gentleman buys his hats at Locks, his shoes at Lobbs, his shirts at Harvie and Hudson, his suits at Huntsman and his cheese at Paxton & Whitfield.”
All of them, needless to say, St. James’s establishments. Or in our nomenclature, cornerstones of London’s Old Palace Quarter.
A fourth possibility…there are beautiful, very special gifts to be had from the shops in London’s art galleries. No surprise of course that thesir merchandise is visually appealing. Walk-wise that means the V & A on Friday morning, the National Gallery on Friday afternoon and Rick Jones’s Tate Modern Highlights tour on Wednesday afternoon.
But always, there’s much to be said for drinking upstream from the herd. So, for example, yesterday I went to the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury. Their shop is tiny. Room for maybe two customers at a time. But everything in it is thought through. And so appealing. For example, perfect for a Bloomsbury bibliophile, a beautiful scarf the decoration of which is an old old map of Bloomsbury. Love the accompanying, signed tag. Signed by the designer, Lisa Angel. It reads: “you’re a whole lot of lovely.” You almost don’t want that tag and its scarf to go their separate ways. The walk the Foundling Museum dovetails with is our Tuesday afternoon Bohemian Bloomsbury outing.
And now let’s hear from Claire, about one of the joys of her Friday morning Soho Saunters Walk.
Claire’s not talking Christmas presents, she’s talking festive food. Claire wants you to know about Camisa and Son at 61 Old Compton Street. Started by two brothers in 1929. It’s where Claire purchases all of her Italian groceries.
Her recommendation: Cotechino con Lenticchie or in plain English: Pork Sausage with Lentils.
Any why do you buy it. Because it’s one of the most important culinary dishes to have for New Year’s Eve before midnight. Claire says, ‘a portion of Cotechino con Lenticchie will bring you Good Fortune and pots of money in the coming year.’ Va bene. What’s not to like.
And that brings us to our Russian guide, Margarita. Margarita guides our walk called London 1902 – 1916: Seedbed of the Russian Revolution.
Margarita says there’s a simple old Russian saying: Book makes the best gift. An old Russian saying that certainly gets my vote. Anyway, Margarita says there are two absolutely terrific book stores that figure on her walk’s route. One is Gays the Word, the oldest LGBTQ bookshop in the UK. Not just the oldest but the most iconic independent bookstore in this country. And for a top-up, Judd Books. Margarita says it features lots of art and design and second-hand books from academics. Says it’s excellent for an affordable book gift for art lovers or intellectuals.
Now speaking of iconic, if you’re going on a walk that starts from Tottenham Court Road Tube Stop – the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour for example or Adam’s Rock ’n’ Roll London Walk – get there 40 minutes early and venture the 100 yards or so along New Oxford Street to the world-famous James Smith & Sons, Victorian perfection in the heart of London. They’re at 53 New Oxford Street. To step across their threshold is to be mainlined back to 1840. Their wares: handmade walking sticks and umbrellas. And other fashion accessories.
Finally, one for the road. Or, if you prefer, for the street. Refining it still further, one street. One very special London Street.
Lambs Conduit Street. It usually figures on that Tuesday afternoon Boehemian, Literary Bloomsbury Walk. You don’t go to Lambs Conduit Street for a shop. You go there for its shops. Independents, all of them. Not a chain to be seen. It’s like walking along the high street of a well-appointed old English town. It boasts the best Christmas window display in London. In, of all places, the front window of the old 19th century undertakers.
Or the outlet for London’s last independent umbrella manufacturer. The shop’s called – wait for it – London Undercover. Inscribed in a little lane that runs off Lambs Conduit Street, Good Things Lie Ahead.
There’s the shop called Aesop. The stylish, discrete letting on their shop window reads: Amplifying Affection – Gifts that serenade the skin and spirit. Next to it, La Fromagerie.
It’s full of bits of charm, like beaded bubbles winking at the brim.
Got a friend who’s got a royal family obsession, maybe go into Dawson’s the florist. Order a bouquet made up of red roses, lilies, camellias and carnations. The queen’s favourite flowers.
You see, that’s what I mean by doing it properly. It’s not just a bouquet of flowers. It’s a bouquet of flowers that’s got a story, that makes a connection. That shows ever so much thoughtfulness.
Happy Christmas from all of us at London Walks, to all of you, you good London Walks folk. Here’s to good Christmas shopping. In tandem, perhaps, with some good London walking.
You’ve been listening to This… is London, the London Walks podcast. Emanating from www.walks.com –
home of London Walks,
walking tour company.
London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size
walking tour company.
And as long as we’re at it,
London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.
And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative.
That’s the key to everything.
It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.
It’s not rocket science:
you get what you pay for.
And just as surely,
you also get what you don’t pay for.
Back in 1968 when we got started
we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question:
Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world?
You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world
you do whatever you have to do
to attract and keep
the best guides in London –
you want them guiding for you,
not for somebody else.
the way we’re structured –
a guides’ cooperative –
is the key to the whole thing.
It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following,
a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.
It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely – to front our walks with accomplished, in many cases
By way of example, Stewart Purvis, the former Editor
(and subsequently CEO) of Independent Television News.
And Lisa Honan, who had a distinguished career as a diplomat (Lisa was the Governor of St Helena, the island where Napoleon breathed his last and, some say, had his penis amputated –
Napoleon didn’t feel a thing – if thing’s the mot juste – he was dead.)
Stewart and Lisa –
both of them CBEs –
are just a couple of our headline acts.
Or take our Ripper Walk. It’s the creation of the world’s leading expert on Jack the Ripper, Donald Rumbelow, the author of the definitive book on the subject. Britain’s most distinguished crime historian, Donald is, in the words of The Jack the Ripper A to Z,“internationally recognised as the leading authority on Jack the Ripper.” Donald’s emeritus now but he’s still the guiding light on our Ripper Walk. He curates the walk. He trains up and mentors our Ripper Walk guides. Fields any and all questions they throw at him.
The London Walks All-Star team of guides includes a former London Mayor. It includes the former Chief Music Critic for the Evening Standard. It includes the Chair of the Association of Professional Tour Guides. And the former chair of the Guild of Guides.
It includes barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, archaeologists, historians,
criminal defence lawyers,
Royal Shakespeare Company actors,
a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won the big one, the Guide of the Year Award)…
well, you get the idea.
As that travel writer famously put it, “if this were a golf tournament,
every name on the Leader Board would be a London Walks guide.”
And as we put it: London Walks Guides make the new familiar
and the familiar new.
And on that agreeable note…
come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks.
And that’s by way of saying, Good walking and Good Londoning
one and all. See ya next time.