Guided London Walks

HLSI Library

HLSI Library

London Walks

Our walks this year will be led by Anthony Davis, a qualified guide and an expert on the literature and history of London. The first term will be ‘Almost all about books’, including a bibliophile’s tour of St James’s, another around the area of Westminster that Dickens called ‘Devil’s Acre’ and an exploration of Bloomsbury with a difference. The second term will be ‘Mostly Mansions’, looking at the big houses of Hampstead, Mayfair and elsewhere. And in Summer, we will visit areas where social change has influenced architecture, like Somers Town and St Giles’s.

 Tutor:                    Anthony Davis

Time:                    Mondays 2pm – 4pm

Dates:                   Oct 2 – Dec 11 (half term Oct 23) 

                               Jan 8 – March 19 (half term Feb 12)

                                April 23 – June 11 (half term May 28)

Venue:                 various

Fees:                     HLSI members £95 for a 10-week term

                               £68 for 7-week summer term

                              Non-members £120 for a 10-week term

                              £86 for 7-week summer term

Week by week outline

Note:  This is a draft programme and changes may be made, for example if walks are unsuitable for any reason.  I also sometimes alter the route because of traffic, inconvenient works or because I find something even better to look at.  The remaining weeks for each term will be finalised nearer the time to suit the group’s interests.

 Term 1 – All About Books

A series of walks around different areas of London, focusing on writers, publishers, booksellers and printers.

Week 1 will be an introduction to the theme and the areas we will visit.  Three areas will be explored over two weeks each, followed by an indoor visit (when the weather is coldest).  [Note, the timing of this meeting will be arranged closer to the time]

Weeks 2 and 3:  Literary St James’s –  walking around literary locations in St James’s including the place where Samuel Pepys set his wig on fire, the only London square designed by a poet and the premises of the first sexologist.

Weeks 4 and 5:  From the Devil’s Acre to St Peter’s Gates –  exploring the area between St James’s Park and Westminster Abbey, visiting two of London’s most beautiful Georgian streets and one of its worst Victorian slums memorably described by Charles Dickens.  Look Queen Anne in the eye and peep through JS Mill’s windows.

Weeks 6 and 7:  Books in Bloomsbury – not just the Bloomsbury group but printing and publishing too, plus the libraries of a judge who allegedly fell asleep in trials, a man who thought Shakespeare’s plays were written by Bacon, and a C17 divine who cast out a demon.

Week 8:  Indoor visit.  A visit to the Society of Antiquaries in Piccadilly, of which I am a Fellow and Trustee.  There is an extraordinary collection of C16 paintings, important antiquarian material and a remarkable library – I can arrange for a special display for our members.  The premises are not normally open to the public.  An additional contribution to the Society would be involved (about £10 per head).  

 Term 2 – Mostly Mansions

This term we will focus on the way of life of the wealthy in London, their servants and the shops they used and still use. 

Week 1 will be the introductory session, followed by another indoors tour while the weather is cold, in Week 2 (location to be discussed – perhaps the National Portrait Gallery, looking at the faces of some of the people whose houses we will see later in the term).     

Weeks 3 and 4:  Munificent Mayfair – two walks round London’s most affluent area, the playground of the rich and famous since it was built in the early C18.  Some magnificent mansions remainbut not everything is so respectable.  The facades of the houses, clubs and luxury shops conceal stories of murders, illegitimacy and kidnapping.

Week 5:  Hampstead Mansions from the 1890 to the present day – a walk on the West Side of Hampstead, admiring the architecture of the mansions built over the last 125 years by some of Britain’s most famous architects from Philip Webb to John McAsland with tales of some of the celebrated and infamous inhabitants.

Week 6:  Love in Marylebone – romance and love affairs of musicians, poets and politicians in London’s most elegant quarter.  From Barenboim to the Beatles and from the two mistresses of Wilkie Collins to the respectability of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, there is more than meets the eye.

The last two weeks will be discussed with the group closer to the time and modified to suit everyone’s interests.  The following are suggested:

Week 7Regent’s Park – a springtime walk around some of the hidden corners of Regent’s Park, with an introduction to its development and John Nash’s original vision as a playground for the wealthy.

Week 8:  Robert Adam in Fitzrovia.  The Adam brothers built houses for the wealthy, but hoped to make serious money with property developments in central London.  We will tour some of their developments in Fitzrovia, the area around Fitzroy Square, and also look at some of the other aspects of this area which has had more than the usual ups and downs of central London neighbourhoods. 

Term 3 – Social Change

This term will explore some areas of London developed with a view to engineering social change or which reflect interesting social developments. 

Week 1’s introduction, will be followed by Week 2:  Round the Rookery.  The area around St Giles’s church was one of London’s most notorious slums, illustrated by Hogarth in his print ‘Gin Lane’. We will hear how it started as a lepers’ home, and discover the connections with Monty Python, Lord Byron and the Rolling Stones.  And why are there Seven Dials?

Week 3:  Modern King’s Cross.  A walk around the new developments at Kings Cross.  This is a remarkable transformation through co-operation between planners, developers and architects.  Exciting contemporary architecture incorporates two busy stations, relics of Victorian railways and canals, and even a nature reserve.  We will also visit Old St Pancras churchyard, itself transformed by the railways.

Week 4:  Raymond and Henrietta.  A tour of the magnificent Arts and Crafts architecture of Hampstead Garden Suburb, the visionary housing development by Dame Henrietta Barnett and her chief architect, Sir Raymond Unwin.  We will see the monumental architecture of the Central Square, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the artisans’ quarter and the quiet charm of Baillie Scott’s Waterlow Court built for unmarried professional ladies in 1909.

Week 5: Somers Town.  This little-known area around King’s Cross is full of unexpected surprises.  There is a pub which was run by a priest, some of London’s most elaborate social housing and two of London’s most impressive modern buildings, the British Library and the Crick Institute.

 [The remaining weeks for term 3 will be finalised nearer the time to suit the group’s interests.   Possibilities include tours in Kentish Town and Kilburn, with an indoor visit to the Foundling Museum].