(An introduction – by Heather)
I love London. So does my husband Bob, if not more so. I have lived in West London for over 25 years (and elsewhere in London for a few years before that). When our boys were little we certainly took them up to the various museums now and again, but for years we largely stayed very suburban and hardly took advantage of our proximity to this amazing, historic capital city. Neither Bob nor I commuted into London for work – once I left Hammersmith Council, I wasn’t even travelling that far east; and for years Bob was travelling out, to Sunbury then Reading.
I’m not sure when or how Bob rediscovered his love for the City – perhaps he never lost it, but simply let it hibernate for a while. Back in his bachelor days he had LOVED living in a studio flat in Russell Square, with everything in easy walking distance. He would often annoy me by speaking wistfully about ‘those days’, wishing there was some way of living once more in such a central urban location. I have never shared that hankering – happy to visit, but happier still to return home, a mere hour or less by tube ride, to our green suburb in the West.
But now our relationship with London has taken on a new dimension. Bob became intrigued by the Great Fire of London of 1666, and in particular the question of what survived it – both within the area of the conflagration and just beyond it, but still within (or just outside) the ‘square mile’ – the City of London itself.
London has such a long history, but when you walk around it today, you seen mainly modern buildings. Even the wonderful city churches – and St Paul’s Cathedral – mostly date from the rebuilding phase directly after the Great Fire, as orchestrated by Sir Christopher Wren. These are of course wonderful and beautiful OLD buildings – and deserve our attention – but where (if at all) is the city from before the Great Fire – is there anything left to be seen? The time of Shakespeare, the time of Chaucer, the time of the Romans – all these earlier Londons are seemingly lost to us. But, as Bob discovered, if you know where to look, the Lost City of London can still be glimpsed. Some hints remain only as street names or parish markers, but there are also walls, ruins, actual surviving buildings…..if you know where to look.
And what started as curiosity became fascination, and then fascination turned into full-scale research. In due course that research found an outlet in the form of a fully-fledged book, published in October 2012 by Amberley Publications. Despite his many previous publications in a different academic field, this was the publication that Bob was most excited about, the book of which he is most proud. Seeing it for sale on the shelves of various branches of Waterstones (and in the window of our local Pitshanger Bookshop!) was a real thrill.
But that’s not the end of the story! The book seems to have been selling well (and it’s still available, both via local bookshops and online), but Bob is also keen to share his enthusiasm for – and knowledge of – ‘Lost London’ by showing people where to find it – in person. He therefore designed a range of Guided Walks and conducts these on days//times to suit those making the booking. (Edit: he originally designed six, but has subsequently added several additional themed specials).
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I know you will suspect me of wifely bias, but in recommending Bob’s Guided Walks, let me simply outline the three things I particularly like about what he’s offering –
1. He restricts the size of each group to ensure a more personal and interactive experience (6 to 8 people max) – but without charging more per head than the companies that operate with groups of 15 to 40 per walk!
2, He provides additional hand-around laminated illustrations at various stopping points (inspired by a similar use of illustrations by the excellent London in World War II specialists Blitzwalkers.co.uk )
3. He has a friendly, genial style and imparts his extensive knowledge in an engaging way.
So, there you go. It’s an exciting time of new directions for us. New pathways, new adventures, new enjoyments. I hope that some of you reading this will feel inspired to join in – it’s such a fascinating City to discover on foot….especially with a good guide to show you the way!
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