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

8 January

National Portrait Gallery, ground floor, at the foot of the escalators near the ticket counters.
Putting a Face to a Name A tour in the National Portrait Gallery, looking at some of the people whose homes or memorials we pass on our walks. Highlights will include the cartoon for Henry VIII’s lost mural at Whitehall Palace; Stuart monarchs; Reynolds’s outstanding portraits of Robert Adam and Horace Walpole; Florence Nightingale and plenty of Victorian whiskers. The portraits on display change regularly so there will undoubtedly be some surprises too.

15 January

By the entrance to Portcullis House, on the Victoria Embankment opposite Westminster pier. (Close to Westminster tube – take the exit for the Pier).

Thames-side Opulence A walk by the River Thames, to see the remains of palaces and luxury homes occupied by Kings, Archbishops and millionaires. Admire Queen Mary’s steps and Cardinal Wolsey’s gateway, peer into a Georgian bathroom, boggle at a camel and Victorian erotica, finishing at the extravagant Astor mansion in Temple Place.

22 January At the Guildhall Museum

The Guildhall Museum This tour will be led by Ian Swankie, a qualified City of London, Westminster and Tate guide, while I am on holiday. The City of London has been commissioning and acquiring art for nearly 350 years and now owns a vast and eclectic collection. As we tour the gallery we will look at paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries as well as the sparkling Victorian collection and 20th century works. Since the 1940s the gallery has concentrated on collecting works about London and they have a diverse and interesting range of London depictions. We will conclude in the Roman amphitheatre which was a surprise discovery in 1988.

29 January

Green Park station, south side, by the statue of Diana the Huntress in the park.

Mayfair Mansions – part 1 This tour of the southern half of Mayfair will start in Green Park with two Dianas, plus a little history about the way the park, and then Mayfair, developed. We then walk up through the site of the original May fair to Berkeley Square with its historic buildings and beautiful plane trees, seeing an important Royal birthplace and some of the places where the wealthy spend and spent their money.

5 February

Stratford Place (opposite Bond Street tube station, on the north side of Oxford Street).

More Mayfair Mansions In this walk we listen (literally) to an underground river and the story of the 12 year old girl whose marriage initiated Mayfair’s development. We see two very different churches, pass the site of a workhouse, hear about phone tapping by Winston Churchill and pass some very special shops and the kitchen of a culinary mouse.

12 February


19 February

Opposite Bond Street tube station on Oxford Street in between the Disney Store and Debenhams (the pedestrianised end of Marylebone Lane).

Love in Marylebone Marylebone is not as respectable as it looks. This is a walk around the buildings associated with famous love affairs in and near Wimpole Street. A flower girl, a call girl, a cellist, poets, politicians and many others have been associated with Marylebone over the years, often causing scandal and sometimes even disgrace. We also have an opportunity to enjoy the superb and varied town house architecture of this elegant area, one of my favourites in London.

26 February

Outside Kensal Green station 

From the Dead of Kensal Green to the Lives of Little Venice

Burying people outside churchyards? Unheard of! Kensal Green in 1833 started a new way of dealing with the dead – the first garden cemetery. Visit the cemetery’s early graves of the quack, the showman and (thank goodness) the prince. Alongside is the Grand Union Canal, which once conveyed funeral corteges. We will walk its towpath past Soapsuds Island and Erno Goldfinger’s brutalist masterpiece to finish by enjoying the majestic setting and rich history of Little Venice.   This walk is led by Charlie Forman who is a guide specialising in canal walks. The walk finishes at Warwick Avenue station.

5 March

Same place as on 19 February

Adams and Eaves – 18c architecture in Marylebone This walk focuses on the early development and outstanding architecture of Marylebone, using some brilliant recent historical work on Robert Adam and his brothers. But we don’t just hear about their work – there are also some outstanding buildings by architects James Gibbs and John Nash and plenty of anecdotes about all of them, their eccentric clients, and distinguished followers.

12 March


The Story of Regent’s Park A walk led by Susie Fairfax-Davies (of telling the story of the development of Regent’s Park over the last 500 years, featuring Henry VIII, Oliver Cromwell, Charles I and George IV who all played their parts, and the park’s own role in WW2. Find out which Royal Societies were based here (some will surprise you) and hear about films, books and authors featuring the park.

19 March


Walking with Women Meet some of the women who helped shape the world we live in. Some are famous, some are infamous and some you may not have heard of before. All have extraordinary stories to tell. Follow in the footsteps of the women of Westminster, one hundred years after women won the right to vote. This week’s walk is led by Jonathan Grun, a City of Westminster guide.

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].