Thursday, 31 May 2012

Streets Ahead

Streets Ahead is the occasional column from London Walks' Pen David Tucker

"Will I see a ghost?"

"What will we see?"

Ah, the double barrelled ghost walk question.

Short answer to the first question: some people have. And their cameras have seen even more. We're regularly sent photographs that clearly depict "presences" that the photographer swears "was not there when I pointed the camera in that direction".

The second question is the more interesting one. And when we answer it we never give a shopping list of "sights (or sites) that you'll see."

Don't give a shopping list because it makes no allowance whatsoever for the guide, for the guide's working his or her magic.

The guide is the demiurge. (Gonna do a post one of these days on that very matter - just how apt that word is in this context.) The demiurge. The artificer. The guide "creates" the London that you see. A hapless, clueless tourist - or indeed a Londoner in that state - can be standing fifteen feet away from a London Walker and looking at exactly the same thing the walker is looking at. But the hc tourist (or Londoner) won't be able to "see" what the London Walker "sees".

The difference, of course, is the guide. The guide is the demiurge, the artificer of what the walker sees.

Usually of course it's a matter of the guide directing the eye and the mind's eye. Fine-tuning the gaze - telling you exactly where to look and what to look for. And blossoming the mind's eye with the story that "informs"* what you're looking at.

But you know something, sometimes it's just a simple matter of position. Something very special will be visible from one side of a street but you can't see it at all if you're a mere fifteen feet away - on the other side of the street.

Knowing where to take you - and where to stand. It's often a very finely judged matter. And it makes all the difference.

A case in point? Well, we get this view on one of our ghost walks. (Pretty easy to make do with this if you don't happen to see a ghost "on the night".)

"From the mid-Victorian suspension bridge two great views can be seen: on one side Buckingham Palace on an elevation; on the other the Horse Guards, the War Office and Whitehall Court, rising in a distant mass and conveying an impression, not anticipated by any architect, of some fabulous Eastern city."


*It's worth taking the full measure of that word "informs" - "forms from within". 


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Diamond Jubilee, Kensington Style

Sixty years ago, Queen Elizabeth II took the throne.

Sixty years ago, this is how Kensington advertised its ample charms…

Stands Kensington where it did? Join us on Thursdays and Saturdays to find out.


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Wednesday, 30 May 2012

It's A London Thing No.74: Warren Street Station

It’s a London Thing is our Wednesday series in which we turn the spotlight on a unique aspect of London – perhaps a curious shop, sometimes an eccentric restaurant, a hidden place, book or oddity. The subject matter will be different every week. The running theme, however, will remain constant: you have to come to London to enjoy it. It’s A London Thing.

It’s a London Thing has dallied on the Underground on many an occasion – the sights, the smells, the sounds, the ambience, the history.

And we’re heading down the escalator again this week, to celebrate the charms of an unsung stop on the Northern and Victoria lines.

Warren Street. Could be the pen name of a crime fiction writer. Or a minor celeb who hasn’t worked since he played the baddie in EastEnders twelve years ago.

We’ll be frank. There’s not much there, above ground that is. Nearby Fizrovia is fascinating, of course. But, with with apologies to French’s bookshop, and the second hand camera place and the, er… well that’s pretty much it for the immediate vicinity of the station itself.

Which makes it, for my money, a Londoner’s station. If you see someone getting off here, then the chances are they know something you don’t. Or they are soon going to know something you don’t, given the close proximity of University College.

Just down the line at Tottenham Court Road, passengers leave the train with all the eager haste of pre-pubescent girls mobbing a boy band.

At Euston Station, which comes just before Warren Street, the crowds swarm aboard the tube train like adults taking flight having just heard that boy band sing.

Not so Warren Street. Londoners dribble off the train here in comparatively small numbers. Many of them will be changing trains, heading for Oxford Circus (70 million passengers in 2010) or Waterloo (81.5 million). Compare that with around 14 million for Warren Street.

Silent. Warren Street station

A Cinderella station? No, I don't think that's quite right…

If you wanted a "type" for Warren Street, he's more PBM. Proper Boyfriend Material. Warren Street isn’t flash, it’s steady and reliable and won’t let you down. It will wait until you’ve had your fun with that flash Harry Leicester Square, and danced a three-lined tango with Victoria. Dependable ol' Warren Street.

Two lines run through Warren Street, the quiet man of Zone 1.

The Victoria line dates from 1968, and its Warren Street platforms feature a maze or labyrinth motif… geddit? Orange in colour, it is Warren Street’s one concession to the Swinging Sixties

The Northern Line platforms date from the early 20th century and have delicious, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it detailing with an Edwardian flavour; the curly, reassuring Way Out signs on the tiles; the station’s former name, Euston Road, can be seen on the Northern Line platform. 

Best of all, the darker tiles on the Northern Line platform, inlaid against the dominant creamy hued background. As the train speeds through, these dark tiles seem to be black in colour. On close inspection, however, they are the deepest blue, rich, midnight blue. It is a lovely detail and very Warren Street: subtle. Waiting patiently to be discovered. Not making a fuss. Photographs can't do the colour justice. Get up close and have a look next time.

Warren Street Station. It’s a London Thing.


A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at

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Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Our NEW Facebook Page… Please Give Us A "Like"!

Click the pic to sign up or hit the icon at the bottom of this post…


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If You Do One OTHER Thing In London This Week…

Our weekly slot in which we point you in the direction of other great happenings and events in our great city. A new exhibition, a gig, a museum, a pop-up-shop – the best of London within a few minutes of a London Walks walking tour.

Patriotic times indeed. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. At such times, we are sent scrabbling for a definition of Britishness in the ongoing post-Imperial era. Ongoing into eternity.

This quest takes many forms. Pop musicians pose for pictures at dog racing tracks. Politicians spout guff, mis-quoting George Orwell. Journalists polish up the platitudes they wheeled out for the Golden Jubilee ten years ago. Celebrity TV presenters get commissioned to make sound-bitey docos, the butterfly narratives of which flit from HM Queen to The Beatles in the blink of an eye, in the hope that we’ll all forget about King Edward VIII and the Sex Pistols altogether.

But for this writer, the spirit of Britishness can be found in the short BBC broadcast of the shipping forecast.

The shipping forecast – compiled by the Met Office and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 – is a weather forecast for the seas around the British Isles.

It’s a few minutes of perfect Britishness.

Our conversational predilection for chit-chat about precipitation (or sudden lack thereof) and our geographical predicament are united in a pristine and brief broadcast over the airwaves a great British institution. It’s delivered in a plummy British accent. We listen obediently, not really sure what’s going on…

“Southwest, German Bight, Humber, Thames. West or southwest becoming variable, 4. Occasionally very poor.”

What can it mean? Most of us know not, but the reassuringly clear BBC delivery lulls and calms us, allowing us to remember our famous sense of moderation and decency and stiff upper-lippery as the waves batter our coast.

The delivery is in such a deliberate and clear manner for those – in peril on the sea? – who need to write down the information. That’s write down. With a pencil and paper. The old fashioned way. And there’s nothing more British than being old fashioned. We are an island, after all, and we often react slowly to change – all of which is encapsulated in The Shipping Forecast.

If you do one other thing in London this week running up to the Jubilee celebrations, listen to The Shipping Forecast on BBC Radio 4. You can do so HERE.

God Save The Queen!


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The London Reading List No.48: The Glory Game

Tuesday is great London books day on The Daily Constitutional. Give us your own recommendations at the usual email address

The Glory Game (1972)

By Hunter Davies
(Mainstream Publishing)

It seems like an age ago now, but there was once a time when football (by which me mean soccer) was a topic of conversation reserved only for those in-the-know. A codified world, largely working class, almost totally masculine.

Then came Nick Hornby’s book Fever Pitch.

Hornby’s eloquent memoir of the trials and tribulations of life as an Arsenal supporter crossed over into the literary mainstream, garnered great reviews outside the sports pages. And deservedly so. It is a great book, by a great writer.

But then the deluge.

In the wake of Fever Pitch, football too entered the middle class mainstream. Before long, every celeb, every telly actor, every politician was shoehorning references to “footie” into their public utterances.

If you’d like to know what the world was like before such working class heroes as Tony Blair (ahem) and David Cameron (ahem-ahem) were spouting off about their love for Newcastle United and Aston Villa (!) then The Glory Game is the place to begin.

In the two decades before Fever Pitch, Hunter Davies’s warts-and-all portrait of life behind the scenes at North London’s Tottenham Hotspur Football Club was the only book on football. The only one. Sure there were “memoirs” of retired pros, formulaic, ghostwritten affairs intended as Christmas stocking fillers. But nothing insightful, nothing that the clubs didn’t want us to know.

Davies’s book changed all that.

Published in 1972, Davies had enjoyed unprecedented access to the club to research The Glory Game. This access included the dressing room, the training ground and even the players’ homes. Davies witnessed rivalries and conflicts first hand. Everything ended up in the book.

“His accuracy,” wrote former Arsenal and Scotland goalkeeper Bob Wilson, “is sufficiently uncanny to be embarrassing.”

If Davies’s book was such a revolution, one might ask, then why didn’t it start its own avalanche of copycats? The answer is simple. His portrait of life behind the scenes at a major football club was deemed by everyone inside the game to be so explosive that no writer was ever allowed such unfettered access to a club again. In today’s climate, with every club running a well-oiled publicity machine, it is unlikely that such access will ever be granted.

The Glory Game, therefore, stands alone as a fly-on-the-wall account of the internal politics of football. And it remains a classic 40 years on.


A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at

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Monday, 28 May 2012

In and Around London... Flags

Monday is mute on the London Walks Blog (well, almost mute) – because Monday is the day when we post five images captured in and around London by London Walks Guides, London Walkers and Facebook friends. Collated on a theme or an area, if you've got some great shots of our capital and want to join in send your pictures to the usual address.

There seem to be quite a few Union Flags about the place. Wonder why

Domestic at Waterloo

Commercial at Bayswater

Theatrical in The Strand

Retro in Soho

Seditious in Covent Garden? Or Ill-Conceived?


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