London Walks connecting.
This… is London.
Story time. History time.
The King of London Clocks. That’s Big Ben of course. But it’s not the most beautiful. Not by a long chalk. The most beautiful clock in London – by a long chalk – is the Liberty’s Clock. The next time you’re up that way – Regent Street or Oxford Circus or Carnaby Street – make sure you see it. It’s on the side of Liberty’s that fronts onto Kingley Street. And when you finally quell the waves of aesthetic pleasure that are going to wash over you when you take a good look at the most beautiful clock in London, drop your eyes ever so slightly at look at legend – the inscription – that runs along underneath it. It reads: ‘No minute gone comes ever back again take heed and see ye nothing do in vain.’ Might well be the best of advice that’ll ever come your way.
Anyway, because our Mayfair walk often ends not very far from Liberty’s – on Brook Street or even all the way along to Hanover Square – I’ve been ruminating about those words of wisdom in relation to the end of that walk. Where do you go when the walk ends. Some people of course have everything tightly scheduled. They’re dashing because they’re off to meet a friend or have a train to catch or a dentist’s appointment. Or whatever. But what about people who don’t have an appointment – or who have a couple of free hours? People who are at a loose end. If you’re one of those walkers, well, how about paying heed to what the Liberty clock is whispering in your ear: ‘no minute gone comes ever back again…see ye nothing do in vain.’ In short, those minutes that are on Death Row – those minutes whose time has nearly come – they’re looking at you with pleading eyes, pleading eyes that say I’m not worthless, don’t carelessly, mindlessly chuck me away; give me a proper send-off. That time after the Mayfair walk and before the next big then you’ve got planned – that doesn’t have to be empty calories time. Doesn’t have to be squandered time. Play your cards right – or play the neighbourhood right – that in-between time can be richly rewarding time.
Let me run some ideas by you. The one that everyone knows of course is the Handel and Hendrix Museum. It’s right there, 25 Brook Street, very near where the walk ends. But that’s just the achingly obvious possibility. You could push straight on to Hanover Square. Bit of this time of the year magic going on there now. People are ice skating in Hanover Square. It’s all very Christmassy. Christmas trees and lights and a place right in the middle of the square – they’ve done it as a ring of ice
– where you can sit down and have a drink. Lots of good vantage points. There’s a bridge so you can go up above and look down on the skaters. And this year’s the debut for ice skating in historic old Hanover Square. You fancy some blade work yourself, it’s £12.50 for 45 minutes. And one of your pounds will go to a really good cause – the Great Ormond Street Hospital for sick Children.
And the ice skating’s just the icing on the Hanover Square cake. Lots to take in at Hanover Square. Lots of history – the square’s over 300 years old. Indeed, it’s the grandpappy of them all. The very first Mayfair Square. It’s got an old cabstand – it’s on the northeastern rim of the square. Architecturally, it’s a treat. Make sure you see the handsome old house – it’s on the west side of the square – that today is the home of JCA – the London Fashion Academy. The acronym stands for Jimmy Choo Academy. Jimmy Choo is the internationally renowned Malaysia couture designer. Best known for shoes – his father was a shoemaker, taught Jimmy how to do it – but brand-wise, apparel-wise he’s stepped further afield. Ready-to-wear, accessories, etc. etc. His couture and and his academy in that building – as marriages go that’s catwalk perfection.
What else? Well, be sure to see the William Pitt statue on the south side of the square.
When it went up – in 1831 – it was regarded as the finest statue in London.
You probably haven’t heard of the sculptor, Francis Chantrey, but you’ve seen his work. He did the Duke of Wellington statue at Bank Junction and the George IV statue in Trafalgar Square. There was a pitched battle fought over the William Pitt statue in Hanover Square. The morning after it was erected anti-Reform bill agitators tried to pull it down. They were seen off.
The history is murky. Pitt had already been dead 25 years when the statue was erected. But he was seen as a Reforming prime minister. He’d guided the first Reform bill through parliament nearly half a century previously. And he got the income tax ball rolling. So I suppose die-hards who didn’t like the direction the country was going in – all downhill ever since Pitt got his hands on the levers of power – were acting on Orwell’s principle that he who controls the past controls the future and who controls the present controls the past.
Anyway, it adds a bit of piquancy to one’s appreciation of the statue.
For me, though, the not-to-be-missed feature is the alleyway that connects Hanover Square with Bond Street.
The thing is, it’s a new alleyway. And is it ever posh. When I went through there I couldn’t help but think a couple of hundred years ago alleyways in London were called rookeries and they were terrible slums. Well, this new alleyway – it’s called Medici Courtyard – is way out at the other end of that spectrum. One of its big draws is a restaurant called The Maine. Eye-wateringly expensive. Most of the starters are well north of £20. And that’s just for starters. And there’s a caviar bar. And, well, you get the idea. The whole scene is big bucks to the tips of its fingers. But talk about well-appointed. Handsome is as luxury does in Medici Courtyard. It’s well worth taking a stroll along there. And finally, this almost goes without saying, the whole area is private art gallery heaven. That’s private as opposed to, say, the National Gallery or the Tate Galleries, but you can of course go inside and look at the paintings and sculptures. That’s time well spent. On those walls are some of the most beautiful man-made and woman-made works in the world.
On Bond Street try the Galleries Bartoux. Inter alia lots of thrilling stuff are several sculptures by Bruno Catalano. His life story informs his work. He was born in Morocco to a Sicilian family and raised in France. He’s been all over. His sculptures all have missing body parts. Which, he says, is a visual depiction of the disruption caused by migration. Or more simply, he’s left part of himself in every land he’s been in. But they’re well worth seeing.
As are the wares next door, the Eden Gallery. And of course you’ve got Bonham’s, London’s third most important art auction house (after Christies and Sotheby’s). Their entrance is a long hall that has to be the greenest patch of indoor Mayfair going. It’s like walking through a rainforest.
Strongly recommended, all three of them.
My special recommendation, though, goes to the new exhibition in the gallery called Unit London. It’s directly over the way from the William Pitt statue. The artist is Miguel Angel Payano. He’s an Afro-Caribbean American artist who’s spent many years in China. And all those different lands, different cultures, different histories, different peoples, different languages get woven into his works, which are an amalgamation of painting, collage and relief sculpture. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’d hazard a guess – more than a guess – make a hefty wager that what’s on display at the Unit London Gallery right now is the most surreal, the most imaginative, the most knock-your-socks-off art in London this autumn.
And after all that, having done nothing in vain, having given those minutes whose hour had come round a proper send-off, howzabout a sitdown and some nosh and a drink. Cross Regent’s Street, walk past Liberty’s – be sure you see the clock – turn right into Carnaby Street and there on your left is a handsome old pub called The Clachan. Its history goes back to the 1700s. The present building is late Victorian. The name – The Clachan – is a Gaelic word meaning “meeting place.” Try the upstairs room. It’s really handsome, ever so comfortable. Your every expectation is that a Carnaby Street pub is going to be hopelessly tacky. The Clachan is anything but. It’s a handsome old country pub that stopped by London a couple of hundred years ago. And stayed. And refused to alter its way. Once a country pub always a country pub.
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.