On the hunt for Black Marys Hole

Not every expedition I make, finds what I’m looking for. Sometimes it is all but impossible because for intents and purposes, what I’m looking for no longer exists on the surface. Unlike my last post on Clerkenwell, I knew I was doomed to fail on another trip to find Black Marys Hole.

However I wanted to visit as I had long enjoyed reading accounts of such a salubrious place in days of yore.

Black Mary’s Hole lay on the bank of the Fleet River, perhaps a mile from Clerkenwell. It was also called Black Mary’s Well, which is what the ‘hole’ contained, and Black Mary’s Field was adjacent. The well was popular – its iron-impregnated waters supposedly cured sore eyes – and it was covered and made into a conduit in 1687 and is marked as such, near the Pantheon Turnpike Gate, on Rocque’s map of London (l746-8). A hamlet developed around it, ‘a tiny alienated settlement on the banks of the upper Fleet’, as a latter-day commentator put it.

Black Marys Hole

Black Marys Hole is likely named after a lady who had a black cow who would have at one time drank from the spring there. Mary was quite a character and was rumoured to sell milk from her cow in a watered down form, similar to how some drug dealers like to add all sorts of stuff to their illegal narcotics.

As you can see from the old map, it was in a rural area back then but likely due to Mary herself, it began attracting trouble-makers and there are several accounts of wrong-doings and even murder for the slightest provocation.

It had a pub, The Fox at Bay, which appears to have been a hangout for local villains and the pub name probably refers to its criminal origins. The Hole appears regularly in Old Bailey records, a site for highway robbery. Thus the case of Richard Tobin, indicted in 1739 ‘for assaulting Michael Crosby , in a certain Field and open Place, near the King’s Highway:

As I was coming last Sunday Night from Black Mary’s Hole, the Prisoner overtook us in the first Field we pass’d over, and turning upon me he gave me a Jolt. I asked him, What he wanted? And he ask’d me, What I wanted? I told him, I wanted nothing but Civility; upon that he held up this Iron Bar to me, and said, – d—mn you, you Dog, deliver your Money this Moment, or else I will kill you: I put my Hand in my Pocket to give him my Money; but I was the longer in delivering it, because I was thrusting my Watch into my Breeches, when I had done that, I deliver’d him all my Money, which was 9 s. and 4 d. then he snatch’d off my Hat and Wig; but the Wig falling, and he stooping to take it up, I fell upon him, and beat him, and got the better of him. While I had him upon the Ground, I held him down with one Hand, and with the other I unty’d his Garter, and bound him.

Intriguingly Black Marys Hole also was one of the first recorded area for gay men to meet each other. In 1705 the salacious ‘newspaper’ The Wandering Spy, mentioned ‘that Sink and Sodom of the Town, the famous Black Mary’s Hole’. In 1731, one David Hall was tried as a ‘molly’ for stripping, robbing and then kissing John Hart, who had been ‘much in Liquor’ at the time.

As you can see in the modern map, Black Marys Hole is now well and truly swallowed up by inner London but you can see the location of it in comparison to the original map in what is now Cubitt Street,

When poor old Black Mary had reached old age in about 1687, Walter Baynes Esq. of the Inner Temple, enclosed the well into a Conduit and left a fund for keeping the same in perpetual repair. The stone with the inscription was carried away during the night about ten years ago. The water (which formerly fed two ponds on the other side of the road) falls into the old Bagnigge river.”

By the Georgian times things were looking bleak for the well, between developers and local rogues, all evidence for it vanished and tit became a cesspool for new houses and it might have been forever forgotten but in 1826 a footpath in the street collapsed and the waters re-appeared. It was enclosed more thoroughly this time and the water pump was quickly stolen and post WW2 development means there is no visible sign of it at all as it lies in old Council housing.

I did look up and down very thoroughly and by chance met one of the oldest residents in this part of London who lived on the street and he was very surprised at my mentioning it as he hadn’t thought about it for decades but he did confirm that it was apparently on the other side of the street from his house which was where I was looking.

Black Marys Hole is likely deep underground under the houses on the left.

I did however found evidence of another very nearby well which also had its existence thanks to the high water table from the River Fleet. Bagnigge Wells were once used for healing and house whose garden they were in once belonged to Nell Gwyn, the famous actress and mistress of King Charles II.

Marking the spot of Bagnigge Wells

So it wasn’t a total waste of time and at least I fared better than poor Richard Tobin.

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A look inside an Anchorite Squint

Whilst I was poking around a church recently I came across one of these (see photo below). It is an Anchorite Squint.

Pious and and Holy people from faiths around the world have long sought solitude to get closer to God. usually this would take the form of living on top of a mountain or creating a little hermitage on an island or deep in the desert. What about those who lived in a city or were unable to travel for more mundane earthly reasons? In that case in medieval Britain at least you could become an Anchorite or Anchoress.

An Anchorite Squint in St Johns Church, Newcastle Upon Tyne

The anchorite’s was one of the most extreme of the religious lives of the Middle Ages: it inspired awe in contemporaries, and has held a morbid fascination for modern observers. It was a life of strict and irreversible enclosure, entered into in an elaborate ceremony during which the last rites were administered, and at the conclusion of which the door to the reclusory would be walled up. An anchorite who left their enclosure could be forcibly returned by the authorities, and faced damnation in the hereafter.

And yet, it was a life that continued to attract vocations, and that the rest of society was happy to endorse, throughout the Middle Ages. In England, the earliest examples are recorded from the 11th century. It seems to have been at the height of its popularity in the 13th, for which we can identify some 200 individuals. There is no sign of decline in the 16th century, and anchorites can be found among the religious who were turned out of their houses at the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The anchoritic life was embraced by both men and women. The men were almost always priests, but it seems to have been unusual for anchorites of either sex to have been a professed religious (monk, friar or nun) before enclosure. Women outnumbered men throughout the period — perhaps because of medieval prejudices concerning women (whose unruly bodies needed to be kept under strict control), or perhaps simply because the range of religious vocations open to women was more limited than that available to men.

A Bishop blesses an Anchoress

The cell or reclusory was most often sited adjoining the parish church. A narrow window or “squint” looked into the church, and afforded the anchorite a view of the altar. A second window opened on the outside world (often into a parlour) and allowed the anchorite to converse with visitors. Some “cells” had several rooms; some had gardens attached to them.

The solitary life of the anchorite could not be lived entirely alone. A servant was required to bring food and remove waste, and to attend to visitors. Aelred of Rievaulx, who wrote an influential “Rule” for anchorites (addressed to his sister), advised having two: an older woman, for her sober influence, and a younger, to do the fetching and carrying. Julian of Norwich had maidservants (at different times) named Sara and Alice. Material support had to be in place before the authorities would sanction enclosure: anchorites had, therefore, to be of independent means. They were also the recipients of alms and grants from all levels of society, from the king down to their fellow parishioners.

In the medieval world, those who chose to live a solitary life were greatly respected. Anchorites lived a solitary life in a cell attached to a church where they stayed living a life of prayer with the Eucharist as their focus.

Although solitaries, they were often searched out for their wisdom and counsel such as Julian of Norwich, perhaps the most famous English Anchorite. Hermits were also solitaries, but not fixed to a particular place and many wandered the country offering their prayers and counsel.

The oldest surviving book in English written by an Anchoress. St Julian was a leading Christian mystic.

With the Eucharist as their focus, the anchorite would require a squint that allowed them to receive the Eucharist and have a good view of the Mass as it progressed, but at the same time remain unseen by the congregation. Many anchorite cells or reclosoriums were connected to the church in such a way that the squint was placed in the apse, which guaranteed a good view of the altar while leaving the anchorite unable to be seen by the congregation. The squint would also have allowed for food and other items to be handed in, and also for counselling or praying with the people who sought them out so was a slightly deeper and larger opening than the other forms of squint.

When the anchorite first entered their cell a form of funeral was held with psalms from the Office of the Dead sung, the doorway was sealed up and the Anchorite remained there for the rest of their life. So for the anchorite, the squint was life-sustaining: nourished spiritually by observing and receiving the Eucharist, and dispensing wisdom; nourished bodily by food and the reception of other physical requirements such as, for example, pens and paper if they chose to write down their thoughts.

I always find such piety and devotion fascinating though speaking for myself, I can’t help but think a life-time of physically helping those in need might be of more practical use but then devoting your life to God in this way would back then be undoubtedly thought to be a Higher Good.

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The Wildlife Table of Love in Paternoster Square

One of the perennial joys of London is wondering around and seeing works of art in public spaces. Sometimes they literally appear overnight as was the case when I went into Paternoster Square under the shadow of St Pauls.

Almost centre stage, for it is a large square with permanent artworks and memorials all ready, was a beautiful sculpture entitled The Wildlife Table of Love and the work of my two favourite sculptors, Gillie and Marc.

I absolutely love their Rabbitwoman and Dogman sculptures that crop up in the most unexpected places in London.

I was there before 9am on a quiet morning and so pretty much had the new art to myself which is handy as there are two seats to sit and be part of the social activity of sharing a meal with animals, in my case a Soya hot-chocolate from Costa and right opposite Rabbitwoman herself.

Dining with Rabbitwoman

One of the most intimate experiences we share as humans is also the simplest, sitting down together and sharing a meal. It’s a time where we can nourish, support, and enjoy time with each other, a time that is cherished by many families all around the world.

But not everyone gets to share this same level of love and support. The world is currently experiencing the 6th mass extinction. More and more beautiful creatures are being pushed towards the threat of extinction and the reasons can always be linked back to us, humans. We have moulded the earth to suit our needs, indifferent to the effects on the other living creatures who share our planet.

This public sculpture experience is an invitation to join the best banquet in the world. Expertly crafted in bronze, the table is set and the animals are already tucking in, all that is left is for the public to take their seats.

Rabbitwoman and Dogman, the internationally beloved hybrid characters who have travelled the world spreading messages of love, acceptance, and adventure, play host to the party. They sit at a huge banquet table, six metres long, adorned with some of the most delectable foods imaginable. Their guests; ten of the world’s most endangered animals. Rabbitwoman and Dogman have opened their table to the animals as a symbol of love and support, welcoming them into their family and promising to protect them in every way they can.

The Animals
The ten endangered animals include; a hippo, Masai giraffe, African elephant, Bengal tiger, koala, chimpanzee, Grevy’s zebra, Northern white rhino, lion, and mountain gorilla. They have each been invited to the table as representatives of some of the best-known species in the world. And yet they all are dangerously close to the same threat, extinction.

Hippo: One of the most recognizable animals, this blubbery giant has charmed the world, even though it’s considered to be one of the most dangerous! They are at major risk from poaching, with a 2006 study showing a 20% reduction in their populations over the past decade. They are killed for their meat as well as the ivory from their tusks. 

This isn’t the first time I’ve eaten with Boris Johnson

Masai giraffe: The tallest living animal in the world, the giraffe tower over the savannas of Africa. It’s good that they do because a group of giraffes is aptly named a tower! As a whole, the giraffe is listed as vulnerable but the Masai and reticulated species are endangered. The Masai populations have been estimated to have declined by 52% in the past few decades, mainly due to habitat loss and poaching.

African elephant: The African elephant is the largest land animal in the world and wanders across 37 countries in Africa. They are a keystone species meaning they are crucial for their environment. They use their tusks to dig up dry riverbeds in the dry season, digging down to the water hidden underneath and creating water holes for others.


Bengal tiger: The tiger is the largest member of the feline family with a great roar that can be heard as far as two miles away. The Bengal tiger may be the most iconic out of all 5 remaining species and is even considered a charismatic megafauna, a large animal with such symbolic value and appeal that they are often used to gain popular support.

Koala: Koalas are the beloved icon of Australian wildlife, the adorable little marsupial with sleepy eyes and gigantic fluffy ears. They can be seen high in the embrace of eucalyptus trees, munching away on their favourite leaves for the vast majority of their day.

Chimpanzee: The chimpanzee is our closest living relative, sharing about 99% of our DNA. It’s even thought that we have a common ancestor who lived sometime between 7-13 million years ago!



Grevy’s zebra: With stripes as unique as our fingerprints, the zebra is an iconic member of African wildlife. Grevy’s zebra is the largest and most endangered and is more closely related to the wild ass than the horse, the more common plains zebras’ cousins.

Northern white rhino: There are two species of white rhino, the northern and southern. The southern rhino was thought to be extinct until the late 19th century when a small population was discovered in South Africa.

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Thomas Becket Play and Pageant 2022

Whilst I was giving a Roman Tour on Saturday, my guests and I happened across a mini rehearsal fora special event coming up later this week in the Guildhall Yard. Two very large figures were inthe process of being taken apart. At first I thought it might be Gog and Magog but I quickly worked out these were different and relating to one of London’s most famous sons, Saint Thomas Becket who was born only a few minutes walk from this very spot.

In fact had stumbled across a rehearsal of the Becket Pageant for London which will take place in historic Guildhall Yard, off Gresham Street, London EC2V 5AE on Friday 17th and Saturday 18th June 2022.

Amongst other things will be:

Livery Crafts Fair: open from 11am to 4pm. Entry free
“London’s Turbulent Son”: performances 12 noon-2 pm and 4 pm-6 pm each day. Tickets now on sale below. A limited number of premium covered seats available
Suitable for a family audience
Audiences are welcome to add a touch of Tudor dress

After a 500 year wait, the return of a Thomas Becket Pageant to the City of London looks a lot of fun and is yet another way the City of London is harking back to its ancient roots.

The centrepiece of the whole event is the exclusive performance of a brand new show!

 ‘London’s Turbulent Son’ is a thrilling modern musical interpretation of  the dramatic life of former Patron Saint of London, Thomas Becket, inspired by an historic guild Pageant of 1519. Charting Thomas’s story from the mythical meeting of his parents in the Middle East and early life on London’s Cheapside, to his meteoric rise  to King’s right hand man, we follow his struggle between ambition, friendship and conscience to its tragic climax  in the most shocking murder of the Middle Ages.  

‘London’s Turbulent Son’ is performed with great energy and heart by a talented professional cast and live band, members of the City of London community and local schools. Suitable for a family audience. Audience are welcome to add a touch of Tudor dress. 

If you are local and have never really been in the wonderful old Roman heart of London then this is a great opportunity to wonder into the maze of lanes and alleys between St Pauls and the Tower of London and you can pre-purchase tickets by clicking on the link below.

Tickets

The Becket Pageant of 2022 will take its inspiration from an historic Becket Pageant which was performed in 1519, four hundred years after Thomas Becket’s birth on Cheapside, while he was still Patron Saint of London.

From the extensive work done by scholars including Professor Anne Lancashire, we know that this would have been a processional entertainment moving through the principal streets of the City, with large numbers of porters bearing wood and canvas boards above the crowds which supported a number of ‘tableaux vivants’ (moving narrative pictures or dumbshows) performed by guildsmen, child actors and a small number of professional actors on horseback. The procession continued well into the night with torches lighting the way.

The Pageant route began and ended in the St Paul’s area, ran east along Cheapside and Cornhill to Aldgate, then looped back along Fenchurch St. to Gracechurch St., up Gracechurch St. to Cornhill, and back west along Cornhill and Cheapside which are all streets you can visit today.

Although there would have been no text as such, apart from the occasional descriptive banner, the subject matter of the life of St Thomas would have needed no introduction to the devout Catholic audiences of the early 16th century (rather as the nativity processions of today need no explanation to religious Catholics on mainland Europe).

The pageant would run on the annual Midsummer Watch.Parade which traditionally took place over the two public ‘holy days’ of the Feasts of St John the Baptist (24th June) and Sts Peter and Paul the Apostles (29th June). These London Watch parades, recorded from the late 13th century onwards, were originally devised in part as a marching display of armed force for keeping order in the City, in part as a form of military muster (in which the Crown required freemen to provide arms for use in military defence). 

By the late fourteenth century, however, there are records of the Watches incorporating decorative display. For example, in 1477 the King commanded the City to put on the ‘greater watch’ on the eve of St Peter and St Paul due to the presence of the ambassadors of France and Scotland, for which twenty-six companies provided a total of five hundred and ten men for the Watch; the Drapers, who had a mayor in office, are recorded as paying for a morris dance and portable pageant involving gold and silver paper and ‘the nine worthies’ which required fourteen men to carry it.

By the time of the Becket pageant of 1519 (staged by Skinners’ Lord Mayor Thomas Mirfyn), the Midsummer Watch parade had grown into an annual spectacle and street entertainment on an immense scale, best known today from the affectionate account (below) written in 1598 by the historian John Stow recalling the event from his (pre-Reformation) boyhood. 

‘On the vigil of St. John the Baptist, and on St. Peter and Paul the apostles, every man’s door being shadowed with green birch, long fennel, St. John’s wort, orpin, white lilies, and such like, garnished upon with garlands of beautiful flowers, had also lamps of glass, with oil burning in them all the night; some hung out branches of iron curiously wrought, containing hundreds of lamps alight at once, which made a goodly show, namely in New Fish street, Thames street, etc. Then had ye besides the standing watches all in bright harness, in every ward and street of this city and suburbs, a marching watch, that passed through the principal streets thereof, to wit, from the little conduit by Paule’s gate to West Cheape, by the stocks through Cornhill, by Leaden hall to Aldgate, then back down Fenchurch street, by Grasse church, about Grasse church conduit, and up Grasse church street into Cornhill, and through it into West Cheape again. The whole way for this marching watch extendeth to three thousand two hundred tailor’s yards of assize; for the furniture whereof with lights, there were appointed seven hundred cressets, five hundred of them being found by the companies, the other two hundred by the chamber of London. Besides the which lights every constable in London, in number more than two hundred and forty, had his cresset: the charge of every cresset was in light two shillings and four pence, and every cresset had two men, one to bear or hold it, another to bear a bag with light, and to serve it, so that the poor men pertaining to the cressets, taking wages, besides that every one had a straw hat, with a badge painted, and his breakfast in the mornings amounted in number to almost two thousand. The marching watch contained in number about two thousand men, part of them being old soldiers of skill, to be captains, lieutenants, serjeants, corporals, etc., wiflers, drummers, and fifes, standard and ensign bearers, sword players, trumpeters on horseback, demilances on great horses, gunners with hand guns, or half hakes, archers in coats of white fustian, signed on the breast and back with the arms of the city, their bows bent in their hands, with sheaves of arrows by their sides, pike-men in bright corslets, burganets, etc., halberds, the like bill-men in almaine rivets, and apernes of mail in great number; there were also divers pageants, morris dancers, constables, the one-half, which was one hundred and twenty, on St. John’s eve, the other half on St. Peter’s eve, in bright harness, some overgilt, and every one a jornet of scarlet thereupon, and a chain of gold, his henchman following him, his minstrels before him, and his cresset light passing by him, the waits of the city, the mayor’s officers for his guard before him, all in a livery of worsted, or say jackets party-coloured, the mayor himself well mounted on horseback, the swordbearer before him in fair armour well mounted also, the mayor’s footmen, and the like torch bearers about him, henchmen twain upon great stirring horses, following him. The sheriffs’ watches came one after the other in like order, but not so large in number as the mayor’s; for where the mayor had besides his giant three pageants, each of the sheriffs had besides their giants but two pageants, each their morris dance, and one henchman, their officers in jackets of worsted or say, party-coloured, differing from the mayor’s, and each from other, but having harnessed men a great many…etc.’

John Stow – 1598

With the weather set to be perfect, perhaps even hot, what better way to spend an afternoon under the shadow of one of the worlds great halls and incidentally on the very spot Romans would come for their entertainment 2,000 years ago!

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Putting the well into Clerkenwell

I always like finding what’s beneath the surface in London, whether it is getting locked in with Roman ruins, snooping around for an ancient friary Finding the ruins of Whitefriars beneath the streets of London, getting up close and personal with the underground tomb of General Wolfe… it happens surprisingly often.

One of the places I’ve wanted to see close-up for 7 or 8 years is the original well in Clerkenwell, a district of London which I visit on one of my pub tour.

If you peer through the windows and the sun isn’t shining and causing a reflection, you can just about see an old well beneath the ground level. London has lots of wells though many have been lost over 2,000 years and others have been built over or indeed around Aldgate Priory – the medieval ruins inside a 21st century office block. There are still some around if you know well to look Coronavirus Diary 75 – Finding a Holy and Magical Well in St Albans.

My tourists are often either delighted or bemused when they peer through the windows above and many a local has walked with me and been completely unaware of the well enclosed by the modern building.

At one time tt may have been a “holy well” or at least a secret well where miracle plays were performed by the parish clerks. Back in the 12th Century it was part of St Mary’s nunnery, a 12th century house of Benedictine nuns and, later of Franciscan nuns, which stood beside the well; the sisters making good use of the water. Adjoining the nunnery was St Johns Priory, the headquarters of the medieval Knights Hospitallers.

Over the centuries, the well fell into disuse and become full of debris, the buildings above and around it were largely rebuilt from time to time and the nearby River Fleet from which both this and several nearby wells likely sourced waters, was covered over.

A well has been recorded here since 1174 though it is likely in some form or other, it was used used considerably earlier.

It was re-discovered back in 1924 when works were being done on Farringdon Lane outside.

Workmen uncover the built over well a century ago.

Sadly the well is locked up generally speaking and having walked by it a hundred times, it has never been open until a week or so ago when I was testing out the new Elizabeth Line for the first time and as I was weaving a way through the alleys as I often do, happened to find someone who let me inside.

There is quite a bit of tudor brickwork around the well which lies a metre or three (6-10 feet) below the ground level. Most fantastically of all however is there is still fresh water to be found.

Sadly I wasn’t allowed to actually clamber over the well itself due to concerns that either it or myself might be damaged in someway but nevertheless it was nice to be able to get so close to the well which gave this old part of London a name, Clerkenwell… the well of the Clerks or clerics.

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London Decorated for the Platinum Jubilee

Working every day in the streets of London can have its challenges. What is merely a news item on protestors, sporting events, strikes or terrorists that other people watch from afar is for me, real-life. Protests for good or bad reasons make it hard for me to do my job. Marathons are all well and good if you’re a participant or fan but trying to cross the road as 40,000 runners stream past can be a bit of a pain.

The upside of all this is that when there is good news or some incredible event happening, you get to see the build-up, live the moment and watch things get back to normal, almost as if they never happened the day after.

Such has been the case with the Platinum Jubilee which has seen London do what it does best, put on a show. For weeks flags have been erected, flowers have been arranged, window displays set up and for people like myself, increasing areas of Westminster have been closed off in preparations for the big event.

Of course there have been parties and events all over Britain and across the world; I particularly liked watching the beacons being lit on Friday night. But here are some photos that give an indication what a happy old place London is at the moment.

Writing this on Sunday morning however, my favourite bit so far was when Saturdays concert opened with Paddington Bear meeting the Queen for Tea as the band Queen were about to kick things off outside.

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Celebrating The Platinum Jubilee

There aren’t many things in life longer in the making than the opening of the Elizabeth Line but one of them is the Platinum Jubilee which marks the 70th year of service Her Majesty The Queen has given to the people of the United Kingdom, the Realms and the Commonwealth, the longest in history.

To celebrate this unprecedented anniversary, events and initiatives will take place throughout the year, culminating in a four day UK bank holiday this coming weekend from Thursday 2nd to Sunday 5th June. 

The four days of celebrations will include public events and community activities, as well as national moments of reflection on The Queen’s 70 years of service as well as events as far apart as New Zealand, India and North America.

Thursday 2nd June

Trooping the Colour: The Queen’s Birthday Parade will be held on Thursday 2nd June 2022 starting at 11am. The colour will be trooped by the 1st Battalion, Irish Guards, and more than 1200 officers and soldiers from the Household Division will put on a display of military pageantry on Horse Guards Parade, together with hundreds of Army musicians and around 240 horses. This annual event has now marked the official birthday of the British Sovereign for over 260 years.

During the Queen’s birthday parade A Royal Gun Salute will be fired. There are several good viewing areas to see much of the spectacle aside from those go ticketed points which long ago sold out.

The centre of the Platinum Jubilee Celebrations

There will be an impressive Flypast to coincide with the Royal Family’s balcony appearance which of course is centred on Buckingham Palace. As with much of the celebrations, it will be broadcast on the BBC but many people in the South East of England will be able to see elements of the huge Flypast either to or from Buckingham Palace.

A map showing where the Jubilee Flypast will assemble around The Wash before heading for London and flying out westwards.

Platinum Jubilee Beacons: The United Kingdom’s long tradition of celebrating Royal Jubilees, Weddings and Coronations with the lighting of beacons will continue for the Platinum Jubilee. 

A beacon chain, once used as a tool for communication, has now become a symbol of unity across towns, borders, countries and continents and is often the central point of focus for any outdoor gathering or celebration. In 1897, beacons were lit to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. In 1977, 2002 and 2012, beacons commemorated the Silver, Golden and Diamond Jubilees of The Queen, and in 2016 Her Majesty’s 90th birthday. Over 1,500 beacons will be lit throughout the United Kingdom, Channel Islands, Isle of Man and UK Overseas Territories.

The Principal beacon, involving The Tree of Trees (a 21m high ‘tree’ constructed of 350 smaller trees), will be lit in a special ceremony at Buckingham Palace at 9pm. 

There are three kinds of beacon events:

  • Community Beacons – thousands of beacons will be lit by communities, charities and different groups throughout the regions of the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man and UK Overseas Territories.
  • Commonwealth Beacons – beacons will be lit in all capital cities of the Commonwealth – 54 in total.
  • Principal Beacon – to be lit on the 2nd June in a special ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

Friday 3rd June

Service of Thanksgiving: A Service of Thanksgiving for The Queen’s reign will be held at St Paul’s Cathedral. Great Paul, the largest church bell in the country, will be rung for the Service. It was made in 1882, but fell silent in the 1970s due to a broken mechanism. It was restored in 2021 and has been rung on 8 occasions since, but this is the 1st royal occasion it will be rung. 

Saturday 4th June

The Derby at Epsom Downs: Her Majesty The Queen, accompanied by Members of the Royal Family, will attend the Derby at Epsom Downs.

Platinum Party at the Palace: Hosts Kirsty Young and Roman Kemp will lead live coverage of the Platinum Party at the Palace and air live on BBC One, BBC iPlayer and across the BBC network. The celebration will see famous faces from the world of entertainment brought together to perform for a night of musical tributes to celebrate the Jubilee. 22,000 people will attend the event including 10,000 allocated in a public ballot and 5,000 tickets for key workers.

Sunday 5th June

The Big Jubilee Lunch: 

Over 60k people have registered to host Big Jubilee Lunches on the Platinum celebration weekend, with events ranging from world record attempts for the longest street party to back garden BBQ’s and everything in between. Over ten million people across the UK are expected to be joining the celebrations to share friendship, food and fun at Big Jubilee Lunches as part of this nationwide act of community friendship. People across the world are also joining in with over 600 international Big Jubilee Lunches being planned throughout the Commonwealth and beyond – from Canada to Brazil, New Zealand to Japan and South Africa to Switzerland. 

The Platinum Jubilee Pageant: The Gold State Carriage, led by The Sovereign’s Escort, will lead the Platinum Jubilee Pageant, embracing the latest in digital technology to evoke the excitement and majesty of her journey to be crowned 70 years ago though it is not thought The Queen will travel in the carriage.

The Pageant will serve as an opportunity to gather and pay tribute to Her Majesty. It will culminate with the singing of the National Anthem, ‘God Save the Queen’ and a gospel choir to the sounds of the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines. 

The Pageant will bring to life iconic moments from The Queen’s reign as well as showcasing our changing society over the past 70 years. 

10,000 people are involved, including the military, over 6,000 volunteers, performers, key workers and 2,500 members of the general public and there will be links with communities across the islands.

I hope everyone enjoys it whether in person, at a local event round the U.K. or on the television around the world… or like myself from the middle of it all if you happening to be working on a tour!

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A bit of historic detective work on a young Victorian hero – Solomon Galaman

The book I have been working on recently is one of those labours of love that I sometimes do if only for myself that quite often seem to catch the imagination of others. Researching places relating to the heroes of Postman’s Park near St Paul Cathedralcan be a time consuming process in more ways than one.

Not everyone memorialised died in a site that is specifically recorded and so much has changed over in some cases nearly 150 years. Street names have changed and between Nazis, slum clearances, post war and Millennial re-development and just a century or more of life can make tracking things down a bit tricky even before I can visit them. Some are distinctly harder to track down than others.

One of the plaques at Postman’s Park that always stands out to me is a young Jewish boy named Solomon. He died having saved his brother who slipped on a cobblestoned street in Spitalfields, the exact spot is mentioned in old reports so to satisfy my professional curiosity and to form some sort of personal connection, I decided to track down his home.

After working out that the street he lived on had changed name, I thought my luck was in but progress had made things even more complicated. Though most of the street remains somewhat unchanged, his home is no longer there. Instead there was a small park on one corner and a block of flats across the road.

Being 10 feet apart might not make much difference in the big scheme of things but always want my books and tours to be authentic and I erred between one location and another as to where his home might have been.

Incredibly I know the street in question very well indeed as its on my Historic Pub tour and it felt strange to have been looking at the memorial for Solomon for 8 or 8 years whilst also walking along his street not too far away and never realising it.

Then like an idiot this morning, I noticed something about the old map I often use.. One of the buildings nearby has P.H. on it or Public House / Pub.

St John’s Gardens has clearly expanded over the last century or two.

I knew there were two or three buildings opposite that were original and Google Street-view shows what I believe looks like a convincing pub front and old fixtures up high for a pub sign. So I managed to count the number of houses over the road on the old map to see they correspond with the number to the side street “north” of the pub.

The former pub and on the right in the distance, the red-bricked block of flats that could also be a possible location for the home of Solomon.

Knowing the last existing terrace house on the row is #32 and Solomon was at #35, I can prove that he lived on the tiny end of terrace house that is where the tree now is.

These old houses used to go right along the street and precisely match the one my young Victorian hero would have lived in.

One day I am sure I will find out whether his house was bombed our just pulled down to improve the garden, perhaps as it was derelict or beyond repair but for now I know where little Solomon left home that day in 1901 and I feel I can write what I want to on him with a bit more authority.

I like it when I can peel off the layers of time and make a connection between then and now. It’s one of the things that make my tours in London with Ye Olde England Tours the most authentic there is… as mentioned by the worlds #1 travel website.

I shall think of Solomon every time I walk by that large tree on the photo above where he once would have lived.

You can visit Postman’s Park on my Secret Gardens of the City of London Walking Tour or indeed read more about it in my book Secret Gardens of the City of London

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Top Gun Maverick – Review

I don’t know if like me you’re old enough to remember Top Gun. It was one of a giant wave of 80’s macho films mostly standing out from its crowd by ditching muscles and machine guns for an iconic 80’s soundtrack, fantastic cinematography and a relatively new and up and coming actor by the name of Tom Cruise.

Anyone who was alive back then and saw it or was even aware of it, can’t forget the impact it made even if in truth it was less a film and more a connected bunch of shots of sunrises, motorbikes, sunrises, sunsets and aerial action sequences.

As it happened I always preferred the much less remember Firefox which a few years earlier starred Clint Eastwood as he went undercover to steal a cutting edge Soviet era fighter plane but maybe that is just me.

These days there aren’t many true film stars left and there aren’t many big budget action films either if like me you can’t stand comic book movies which have long since subsumed the cinema. I’m not much of a fan of Tom Cruise the person, that’s ok he doesn’t need my approval. I saw him at the film premier in Leicester Square last week and actually met twice many years ago when he used to live just a street or two away. Once was during his then infamous visit to the Bushey Heath branch of Blockbusters Video who declined him renting our a video because he didn’t have two forms of ID to open an account… even though it was said to be his own film he was renting out and it was clear who he way. I always found that funny as I never needed to bring my card and I was countless millions less wealthy than he was.

Nevertheless, he has done ok for himself and is one of the few undeniable film stars; you know exactly what to expect if you go and watch him. A slick, hardworking film with a bit of fizz albeit within the confines of a formulaic genre.

In such a depressing world today where children are shot in foreign schools, murderous dictators fight wars and in my book, every single democratic leader I know is corrupt, inept, criminal or showing leanings towards despotism, I felt today was the day that I needed to get away from it all and if that’s the case then Top Gun Maverick fits the bill.

36 years ago Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell was an arrogant daredevil and star pupil at the elite US Navy fighter pilot school Top Gun, and a magnet for ladies and disaster.

Although everything else in the world has changed, Maverick is pretty much the same; living alone but still in the service, and still flying very fast airplanes for a living. He’s been testing a new prototype Mach 10 stealth fighter, and just as the programme is about to be shut down, Pete breaks all existing speed records in the thing, before crashing it. He survives, and is just about to be drummed out of the Navy when an old friend comes to the rescue.

His erstwhile rival Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky (Val Kilmer) is now a two-star Admiral, and on his orders Maverick is posted to North Island, San Diego, home of his old flight school, Top Gun.

“I can’t teach!” Pete bleats in protest, and his new commanding officer Vice Admiral Beau ‘Cyclone’ Simpson (Jon Hamm) is much of the same opinion. He reckons Maverick’s a loose cannon and wants rid of him, but there’s a job to be done.

It seems the Iranians have begun to enrich weapons-grade uranium at an underground site surrounded by high and heavily fortified mountains. The only way to take it out is with bouncing bombs… no wait thats The Dambusters, it’s actually to fly in at low level thereby avoiding banked missiles, and enemy fighter planes.

It seems a job tailor-made for Maverick, and one he expects to fly himself. Instead, he must stay on the ground, and instruct a group of cocky star Top Gun graduates in the fine details of what smells suspiciously like a suicide mission. And there’s one more problem: among those young pilots is one Lieutenant Bradley ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw (Miles Teller), son of Maverick’s best friend and wingman ‘Goose’ Bradshaw, who was killed during a training exercise.

Maverick has always blamed himself for Goose’s death, and so it seems does his son as well as something else rather major that crops up during the film. As the group prepares for its seemingly impossible mission, tensions flare.

I went to the cinema with a similar mindset to when I went to watch No Time To Die – James Bond Movie Review but unlike that film, this one very much has a positive buzz. It’s much less nationalistic and bombastic than the original Top Gun and actually has quite a few laughs, subtly and as expected spectacular flight scenes.

There are even a few moving moments such as when Val Kilmer from the original cast, shares a brief scene with Cruise that manages to be genuinely touching and a poignant reflection on the passage of time.

It’s been said to be the best action film for decades and I can see where they are coming from. It’s far superior to the original film and embraces all of the 80’s touches some of us remembering a time when most of our worries were doing our Geography homework and not getting your head flushed down the toilet….Bushey Meads was a horrendous school for almost everyone in attendance!

The clutch of next generation pilots are suitably cocky with their witty nicknames, there is a light touch romantic figure for Maverick and there are plenty of gorgeous shots of planes, aircraft carriers and motorbikes along with the famous Top Gun bongs and musical numbers including of course this…

I loved every moment, it’s a sequel I had no idea I needed to be made but I’m glad they did.

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The day London has been waiting for – The opening of the new Crossrail / Elizabeth Line

Tomorrow is the day almost everyone in London has been waiting for. At 6.30am on Tuesday 24th May the first ultra sleek trains will set off from Paddington in the west and Abbey Wood in the east and the much anticipated Crossrail line will at last be more or less fully open for business.

Having all ready poked around the odd Crossrail Station, I can say there is no comparison between the most of the old 20th and 19th century stations and these gleaming new palaces of public transport. Crossrail or the Elizabeth Line as it will be known stretches under over 60 miles (100km) of London along the East-West axis and includes 26 miles of new tunnels deep beneath the Thames and skyscrapers.

The Elizabeth Line will transform travel across London with speedy links to the City, Canary Wharf and Heathrow.

Crossrail will end up costing about £19 billion and is opening up 4 years late but is thought to be the most transformational improvement in London life for many decades, even for those who never use it.

The reasons for the delay were not the much vaunted engineering challenges of building epic tunnels and underground stations that could swallow The Shard whole, that bit all went to plan. What proved infinitely trickier was the creation of the most complex and digitally advanced railway system on Earth which has been more complicated than anyone could have imagined. The good news is though that the hard work all been done and London is going to be opened up as never before.

The entrance to the Elizabeth Line at Farringdon as it was over a year ago.

So what is Crossrail? Why was it built? And what will it be like to use? The line stitches together existing railways from the east and west — so that trains from Reading and Heathrow, which now have to halt at Paddington — can glide to stops in the West End and City before heading east on two routes, one past Stratford to Shenfield, and the other through Canary Wharf and under the Thames to Abbey Wood, with bus and rail links fanning out across south-east London. Fares will be the same as on the Tube.

Crossrail itself isn’t a new idea. There were proposals in the 19th century and another official report gave its approval in 1974. Margaret Thatcher have her own approval to a similar scheme in the 1980’s and it is said that she decided on an East-West route rather than a North-South route because no-one that she knew in Chelsea would ever want go to Hackney!

Work finally got underway on the current scheme in 2008 and 3 London Mayor and 4 Prime Ministers later, it is complete, almost. From tomorrow 12 services will run each hour in each direction through the main tunnels from Paddington to Abbey Wood, although they won’t stop at Bond Street until it’s finished in the autumn which is annoying to me as it is the station I’d most frequently hop onto it at!. That’s when the branch out past Whitechapel to Stratford and Shenfield should open as well. This is the moment that through trains will also start running west from Paddington to Reading and Heathrow, too, with the final timetable in place by this time next year with 22 trains per hour. 

The fact that the stations are cavernous & beautiful with the the trains being quiet is not the main point of the system which is of course to make our lives easier and London richer, culturally, physically and financially. Among the winners are places like Thamesmead, in south-east London, not on the Tube map but now just a hop from Abbey Wood station. 

If you don’t live in London, it’s hard to describe just how massive it is even on ever moving London Underground. I myself take 60-80 minutes each way to get to Central London which is still an hour less each way compared to when I lived just 4 miles further out. For many Crossrail will be transformative and will join up places which now seem far apart. Canary Wharf to Paddington in 17 minutes. Bond Street to Woolwich in 23. Places like Abbey Wood will become among the best-connected in London — and still with just about affordable prices. Ealing Broadway out in West London and a long drag on the tube will have almost instantaneous access into the City and West End. 

But even if you don’t live on the new service, you can still gain. By taking the strain off the Tube it will make many other journeys bearable. The Central and Jubilee lines will gain the most. Commuters at Waterloo, for instance trying to get to Canary Wharf on the Jubilee, should no longer have to wait for a train with enough space to pull in: lots of Jubilee line passengers are expected to switch to Crossrail at Bond Street. In the future, when the HS2 line to Birmingham opens, there will be a quick interchange at Old Oak Common station in the west. No more standing on the platform 4 or 5 deep with only the front row having half a chance of squeezing onto a tube train although before Covid19 I did hear that when asked how long it would take before Crossrail was full to capacity would be in just a handful of days.

There are new entrances at old familiar stations such as on Dean Street, in Soho, for instance, for Tottenham Court Road station. Trains are 200m long so we’ll need to make sure we get off at the right end. At Liverpool Street for instance exits will also take you to Moorgate — a Tube ride away on old lines but now both part of one station. There are lifts everywhere including some which glide sideways alongside escalators, so elegant there will probably be queues to ride them. 

And this isn’t even the only big boost the network is getting this month. At Bank, not on Crossrail, the Northern line has been moved to a new platform to create room for massive new passageways, escalators and lifts, making the station 40 per cent bigger which opened successfully a day early last week. This summer, the Overground extension to Barking Riverside will open too. 

This temporarily allows Londoners to draw their breath after over a decade of disruption. For instance, I’ve been doing Jack The Ripper walks since 2013 and have never been able to properly take people to one of the locations and for 7 or 8 years couldn’t get within 200 yards/metres.

Covid and financial issues mean the next batch of mega projects are being delayed such as as Crossrail 2, planned to run diagonally from north-east to south-west London, and the Bakerloo line extension.

Initially, services will run every five minutes between 6.30am and 11pm. The frequency should rise to as high as 22 trains per hour (through the core at peak times) in the autumn. A full timetable will not be in place until May 2023.

One of the most striking aspects of the Elizabeth Line is how gloriously silent it is. No longer the fruitless attempts at conversation over the blood-curdling screech of the Central Line as it pulls into its stop or the defining screech on the Jubilee Line approaching Baker Street; Elizabeth Line trains make so little noise you can realistically have a quick nap on your morning commute.

While trains on other lines seem to heave themselves noisily to the next station, the Elizabeth Line positively glides. This is possible, TfL says, due to the work of new rail milling and purpose engineering trains which will carry out maintenance work on the tracks while London sleeps. These will eliminate sparks, fire and dust created by rail grinding trains and leave behind a smoother surface – in turn reducing unnecessary noise on your journey.

Carriages on the Elizabeth Line are airy and spacious, with each nine-coach train providing space for around 1,500 customers. At around 200 metres in length, they are over one and a half times longer than the longest tube train.

And this sense of personal space does not just apply to the Elizabeth Line’s trains – its stations are cavernous, sleek, and accessible. TfL’s chief operating officer Andy Lord says that Paddington station is so large you can fit The Shard – London’s tallest building – inside. Its 260-metre-long platforms are double the average length of a tube station platform and feel big enough to handle even the most intense Monday evening rush hour.

Another impressive feature of Crossrail’s stations is the abundance of artwork– making it feel distinctly London. Spencer Finch’s ‘A Cloud Index’ – a spectacular, 120-metre-long roof canopy depicting 32 different types of clouds – gazes down at commuters as they descend the escalators at Paddington whilst the use of old bricks remind us of its important heritage.

Artworks at other stations showcase the diversity of London. At Whitechapel, Chantal Joffe’s series of two-metre collages depict a multigeneration, multicultural spectrum of east Londoners going about their daily lives whilst the station roof is covered in grass and shrubbery.

The integration of art into the passenger experience brightens even the most miserable Monday morning commute and – along with the Poems on the Underground series – continues TfL’s tradition of transforming travel in London into a cultural experience. Travelling on the Elizabeth Line to Whitechapel for just £2.50 might feel like you’re taking the p!ss at just £2.50 for such an experience.

The colour scheme is also impressive, with the ‘Crossrail purple’ livery on the seats blending smoothly with the train’s white and lilac exterior. Whilst most will be happy, personally it’s a bit of a shame that all the trains deep underground will have wifi and phone network coverage.

Vast and much-needed improvements have also been made for disabled people, with dedicated spaces for wheelchairs in each carriage and step-free access in every station. This will also come as a relief for anyone who has attempted to climb the 193 stairs at Covent Garden after a night out.

All in all, Londoners tapping into Elizabeth Line stations on 24th May can expect to be blown away with the latest edition to the 159 year old network.

London has about a dozen railway terminuses handling trains from all over Britain, but only two lines make a complete north-south crossing and until now there has been no east-west line.

All the new stations in the city centre are 10 storeys deep and London’s tallest building, the 310-metre Shard, could have lain on its side in the empty Paddington cavern after it was hollowed out, said Crossrail chief executive Mark Wild.

The platforms are 250 metres long and one station, Liverpool Street, is so large that it effectively merges with nearby Moorgate — an idea “shamelessly stolen” from a Paris rail network that insiders regard as a model, Mr Wild said.

Another unusual element is a diagonal lift at Liverpool Street, timed to move at the same speed as adjacent escalators and built because it proved too difficult to construct a vertical lift shaft.

The excavations required at Liverpool Street were so extensive that 3,000 skeletons were unearthed at the site, including the remains of City of London parishioners who died in the medieval Black Death.

“I think people will be blown away when they see the scale of these stations, the length of the platforms,” said Mr Byford, who took over as boss of Transport for London in 2020 and made finishing the Elizabeth line a priority.

While pedants argue over whether Crossrail is a new London Tube line or part of the National Rail network, Mr Wild believes it is “a bit of both”, combining rapid urban transit with the comforts of a longer-distance train.

The fleet of air-conditioned trains known as Class 345s were built especially for Crossrail and are intended to run for decades.

But designers also dropped in nods to London’s heritage, with brickwork in the Paddington ticket hall evoking the station’s Victorian design and a ceiling at Liverpool Street meant to depict the pinstripe suits of City bankers.

On Wednesday 17th May, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II made a rare appearance to officially open London’s newest train line in the same place that the Tube was born in 1863, when a stretch from Paddington to Farringdon became the world’s first underground railway.

The Queen opens the new lined named in her honour.

Meanwhile, at Liverpool Street, the curving tunnels stand ready with posters advertising the reduced journey times, while signs to the Elizabeth line are on proud display after premature ones were sheepishly covered up in 2018.

“This is absolutely spectacular, what we’re about to unveil to Londoners, to the UK and also to the world,” said Mr Byford, who compared the new line to Japan’s famously punctual bullet trains. “This is our pride and joy.”

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