January 2015, I had left Bangalore, India to join Kingston University in London. As a part of welcoming the new students, the University arranged a Walking Tour through Central London.
I decided to go on the Tour since this was my first time in London. I thought I would be seeing the usual sites that London is famous for: Big Ben, The London Eye etc. but what I didn’t know was that I was in for a surprise.
So I left from my hotel, The Antoinette in Kingston took a bus from Surbiton Station to Clapham Juntion. From Clapham, I took the train to Waterloo station.
After arriving, I step out of the station and went a little towards the Eye to admire the view and to get the first photo of the Eye and Place of Westminister, as both were walking distance from the station.
The Walking Tour was to begin by St. Paul’s Cathedral, which could be seen from the riverside, but it was far from where we were. I didn’t know how to get there so I decided to walk. It was better to get in the surroundings and the weather was good.
So I crossed the Thames by The Jubilee Bridges and walked along the river. The road was shaded by trees and the weather was pleasant so I felt good about walking to St. Paul’s. I passed by a few statues, a war memorial etc. but I had to get to St. Paul’s and so I stopped to ask for directions from a passerby. He said to just “turn right (away from the Thames), go uphill and reach Fleet Street at the end of the alley, turn right again and it’s in front of you”.
At St. Paul’s Cathedral
So I did just that. By that time it started raining, typical London weather. I reached St. Paul’s and joined up with the rest of the people who were coming on the tour with me. We all were getting the Guided Tour by a man, Mr. A, who had a wealth of information he was going to share with us.
St. Paul’s is beautiful. The big dome can be seen from faraway and is one of the signatures if the London Skyline. The thing that came to my mind when I came to St. Paul’s Cathedral was a scene from a movie from 1964, “Mary Poppins”, where the Bird Lady sings “Feed the birds, Tuppence a bag”.
Mr. A started the tour by telling us a bit about St. Paul’s. He said that a Cathedral is the highest level of the church order as only Cardinals reside here. In 1666, when The Great Fire broke out, the Cathedral was nearly destroyed. Sir Christopher Wren rebuilt it, along with the rest of the City of London.
After this history lesson, we all walked around and behind the Cathedral, and crossed the street. We could see the Millennium Bridge from there. Mr. A told the group that when it was inaugurated in 2002, it wasn’t steady. Upon closer examination, it seemed the foundation wasn’t strong enough, which was then reinforced by adding beams. Now, it can hold thousands of people at once.
Down the street, there was a mall, where the terrace was open to the public. We went up and saw the most amazing 360 degree view of the City of London. Here, we were told that The City of London starts from Waterloo Bridge and on the other side, is the City of Westminister, which the Palace of Westminister, Big Ben, The Eye, Westminster Abbey, all of which could be seen in the distance. On this Terrace, we could see as far as we can imagine, spectacular aerial views. We spent a while up there, taking all sorts of pictures in every angle and panoramic shots. This was next to St. Paul’s and we could see people walking along the dome, as we were along the same height of the dome.
After the spectacular 360 view, we all walked along the old fashioned streets surrounded by old style pubs and shops, some of which have modern additions to the architecture. Even modern buildings could be seen.
Further Down the Road…
We came up to the church of St. Mary Le-Bow. This wasn’t like the Cathedral, it was just a simple church but quite a big one with a really high Bell Tower. And on top of the bell tower was a golden dragon.
Next, we walked up to the Swiss Bank, one of the biggest international banks in the world, which deals with international currencies and the stock exchange. Next to it was an art gallery, The Guildhall Art Gallery. The gallery and the bank were part of the same compound, seeming like a very rich family had lived here, a very long time ago. There was a big black line (outlined by black bricks) going around the compound. Mr. A told us that this was an outline for a supposed colosseum, remnant of a roman amphitheater, which was excavated.
After this, we all walked down some nice back roads and came up to the Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London. From our angle at the street, we could see a huge chandelier and fancy drapes and bit of walls. We assumed the room was either a Study or a Dining Hall. Every year, a new Lord Mayor is elected and he, along with his family live here till the term ends.
Across from the Mansion House, is the London Stock Exchange, also known as the Royal Exchange, founded by Thomas Gresham. It was initially named after him, as his family handled the stock exchange for a few generations. Now it is with the Bank of England, the oldest bank in the country, which is next to it. Mr. A told us a very interesting story about the Bank: The Bank houses gold bullions, even today. The Bank Presidents thought that no one will be able to break into the Bank. But a sewer worker proved them wrong by finding a way through the sewers. The sewer worker left a note to the Bank Presidents on the front door, telling them to meet him in the bullion room at night. The Presidents thought it was a big joke but decided to indulge him. So they were in the bullion room in the night and he entered through the way he found. The Presidents were so shocked at how this was possible but they were moved by his honesty and rewarded him.
In front of the Bank was a war memorial dedicated to the fallen soldiers of World War 1. At the back, there was a clock tower which has a golden grasshopper on the top. Below the clock face was a statue of Thomas Gresham.
Interesting Old Taverns
Next, we walked through some old back streets and some alleys. On the way, we passed by many old fashioned taverns and restaurants, one of which was The Simpsons, an old restaurant dating back to the Middle Ages, which is open only for lunch. The interesting thing about this restaurant is that there is a ghost waiter (who takes orders and never brings the food).
Another tavern that we passed was The Jamaica Wine House, which is famous for wines and coffees. It is probably one of the very first coffee houses in the country, it was built during a time that people hated coffee and thought it was too expensive.
A Harry Potter Charm…
Next we came to Leadenhall Market. Here, you can buy all sorts of meat. Some other stores are also here.
The best part here is that This place was in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, where Harry and Hagrid walk in while going to The Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley. We even saw the door that was the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron in the movie (It was black in the movie, now it is blue with a glass window).
After this, we walked down the Business District, which had a lot of modern building, up to the bakery that started The Great Fire in 1666. A plaque was there which told the story, that baker had left his oven on, which started the fire. Mr. A also said that the baker and his family escaped the fire and even the number of casualties of the entire fire was not so much.
Near this bakery was the Memorial for the lives lost in that fire. On top, was a golden statue of the fire.
With this, the Walking Tour ended. All those who were on this tour, including me, learnt a lot of facts and information, some of it unexpected but very enjoyable all the same.