Rebuilding Battersea from the ground up.

A little bit of a different post today as I’m supremely busy as will become clear in the coming days!

Last week I was in the unusual situation of visiting Battersea and the neighbouring Nine Elms neighbourhood. It isn’t very high in the tourist route and there aren’t many hotels there either.

All of this is about to change though with the creation of London’s newest neighbourhood, though largely a rebranding and also the most humongous building programme imaginable. It is often said that their is more construction in London than the whole of Europe combined. If that is the case then there must surely be more construction in Battersea Nine Elms than many countries.

You can see some scale in the map below with half the District demolished and perhaps a little unkindly, much of the other half looking like it will be… or should be. Or at least it is easy to see what areas are likely to be next razed to the ground.

Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 14.14.22.png

Battersea has traditionally been a very working class and in parts deprived neighbourhood. However London is forever booming and regenerating and reinventing itself and post WW2 decline is being wiped away in a truly incredible fashion.

The new embassy of the United States

The new embassy of the United States

The engine behind all this is the remodelling of the long derelict Battersea Coal Powerstation into the centrepiece for a huge area of luxury residential housing, surely following the tried and trusted British style of of reusing everything and giving it new purpose. Would anywhere else keep an old power station and turn it into an iconic housing area?

The photo above is just of a very small area of a much bigger project and which includes a new extension to the London Underground.

The Northern Line Extrnsion

The Northern Line Extension

Some remnants of old Battersea remain such as the beautiful old park and in the southwest some grand old housing. Also the famous Battersea Dogs and Cats home which has long since cared and rehoused stray pets and animals in London.

What was once an unfashionable though very central part of London is now seeing some serious gentrification.

Or would you pay over 3 million pounds / 5 million dollars for a little terrace house which in a rundown part of Liverpool might cost just £5,000.

It doesn’t really matter what you or I think is good value for money and I’m sure the next time I visit Battersea it will be fascinating to discover a ‘new’ part of London with yet more breathtaking architecture and that unique fusion between old and new.

Below is a map of some of the current construction projects in Battersea and Nine Elma.

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Photos of Edinburgh

This week I’ve been away from my usual haunts in London and leading a 10 day tour around Scotland.

Naturally the place to start of at is the beautiful city of Edinburgh.

Like many other great cities, Edinburgh takes great pride in remembering those who made great impacts on the world or who contributed positively to local culture and if you like statues then this a city for you.

Not my favourite statue in particular but I think the Duke of Wellington would like the dramatic silhouette of his memorial.

Not my favourite statue in particular but I think the Duke of Wellington would like the dramatic silhouette of his memorial.

One of the countless narrow alleys or Closes that run off from the Royal Mile

Don’t forget to the this great post on William ‘I am the army’ Brydon.

One of the countless narrow alleys or Closes that run off from the Royal Mile

The castle is built on top of an extinct volcano

The castle is built on top of an extinct volcano

If you’re visiting Edinburgh and fancy a walking tour of this beautiful city or a day trip to Stirling or an Outlander themed day then be sure to let us know!

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Trooping The Colour

This saturday sees the annual national event known as Trooping The Colour and is the centrepiece for the official birthday celebrations of The Queen and will see The Mall, royal parks and Horseguards Parade backed with Union Jack waving crowds hoping to catch a glimpse of the Queen and members of the Royal Family,

The Queen actually has two birthdays, her actual birthday is April 21 1926; this year she turned 92. She usually celebrates her real birthday in private with her family. While the fanfare is mostly saved for her official birthday in the summer, every year on April 21 there are several gun salutes in London at midday.

However her birthday is officially celebrated in June every year. This celebration, referred to as the Trooping the Colour, is a moveable feast – in 2018 it is celebrated on the 9th June.

Crowds assemble outside Buckingham Palace

Crowds assemble outside Buckingham Palace

What is the history behind ‘Trooping the Colour’?

Acting as the personal bodyguards of the Queen, the Guards are one of the oldest regiments of the British Army. They have been a constant fixture of the monarchy since the English Civil War ended in 1660.

‘Colours’ were the regimental flags of the British Army which displayed the uniform colours and insignia of different units. In the old days of rather illiterate soldiers and battlefields with tens or even hundreds of thousands the ‘Colours’ were designed to help troops quickly identify their unit on the battlefield and avoid confusion.

In order for troops to be familiar with their regiment’s Colours, it was necessary to display them regularly. So, young officers would march in between the ranks of troops stood in lines holding the Colours high.

This is where the word ‘trooping’ comes from.The Colour of the troops refers to the historical colour-coding of British regiments worn on their uniforms and represented in each regiment’s flag.

Why does the Queen have two birthdays?

To me this actually has a great modern parallel.  Many of us will be familiar with the inauguration ceremonies of US Presidents. At the inauguration of President Donald Trump people were quick to make assumptions on the popularity of future and past president based on the size of the crowds assembled on the streets of Washington DC.

Appearing popular or indeed not popular is not a new problem and President Trump would no doubt would have sympathised with King George II.

Although the trooping of the colours was first performed for military purposes under King Charles II in the 1600s, the parade became an official part of the British calendar a century later.

It is a tradition that was started by George II in 1748 and it owes its origins to the ageless problem of the British weather.

George was born in November and felt the weather would be too cold at that time of year for a birthday parade. King George decided to combine his birthday celebration with an annual military parade.

It is a tradition that has continued to this day. All British sovereigns are given the option of having an ‘official’ birthday and, because the Queen’s real birthday is on April 21, she chose to to hold her celebration in June each year.

When she first ascended the throne, the Queen chose to hold her Official Birthday on the second Thursday of June; this was the day her father, King George VI, chose to celebrate his official birthday.

However in 1959 the Queen decided her official birthday should be held two days later, on the second Saturday of June, instead – and it has been ever since.


What happens during Trooping the Colour?

Otherwise known as The Queen’s Birthday Parade, the Queen inspects soldiers from the Household Division; it takes place on Horse Guards Parade behind Whitehall.


The assembled ranks of the Household Cavalry

The colourful display of pageantry features 1400 officers and men on parade, 200 horses and 400 musicians from 10 bands. The Queen always attends and takes the salute.

According to the Household Division, 113 words of command are given by the Officer in Command of the parade.

Each year a different regiment’s colours are trooped; in 2018 it will be the Colour of the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards.

It begins when the Queen leaves Buckingham Palace in a carriage, accompanied by a Sovereign’s escort from the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment at 10am.

She used to arrive riding side-saddle on a horse, wearing the uniform of the regiment begin trooped; however since 1987 she has arrived by carriage.

She arrives at Horse Guards Parade to take the Royal salute from the officers and men on parade at 11am and then carries out an inspection of the troops wearing the ceremonial uniform of red tunics and bearskin hats.

The Regimental Colour (flag) being trooped is then carried down the ranks following music by the bands.

Once the soldiers have marched past the Queen, she returns to Buckingham Palace for a second salute.

There, she is joined by members of the Royal Family on the balcony of the palace. Following this, a 41-gun salute is conducted in Green Park.

The Queen has taken the salute at every parade since her accession to the throne 62 years ago, except in 1955 when there was a national rail strike.

The parade is televised live by the BBC from 10am.  Whilst tickets for the main event were allocated in February, it is still possible to see the Royal Procession on The Mall.

The public can also admire the spectacle during the two rehearsals. The first, known as The Major General’s Review, will take place two weeks before Trooping The Colour and then The Colonel’s Review which takes place on the Saturday preceding the big day with . both being visible from The Mall and the fringes of St James’s Park.

Whilst giving a Walking Tour of London, my tourists and I happened

If you or a friend are coming to London, be sure to check out all Ye Olde England Tours

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A Death Warrant from King Henry VIII

The little tat that King Henry VIII is one of the most famous arguments in history, it not only pitted one of the most powerful men of all time the representative of God on Earth, or the Pope but it also led to the creation of a major world religion in the shape of Anglican Christianity.


King Henry VIII

It’s arguable whether King Henry VIII really planned to split from Rome at all, let alone as decisively as ended up being the case but there was no doubting the vigour with which he and his men carried out the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530’s which was largely somewhat of an excuse for the King to get his hands on the vast treasures of the Church.

It was during this time that King Henry VIII became outraged when he learned that in 1536 priests had stopped his men from closing down Norton Priory in Runcorn, Cheshire.

The king demanded that the abbot be hanged, disembowelled and then chopped into four pieces or Hung Drawn And Quartered with his body parts displayed ‘around the country’ in a warrant written under dictation from King Henry to a secretary.

It is not hard to imagine his outrage when he hears the news, perhaps throwing a royal goblet at the unfortunate messenger who gives him the bad news before he would calm himself somewhat to decide upon the most effective response to the news of events at Norton Priory.

Although ministers like Wolsey and Cromwell (a good case could be made for Cromwell being the first Prime Minister if not in name then in deed.) were famous for doing most of the bureaucratic moving and shaking on Henry’s behalf, the king was educated and intelligent enough to know when and how to bend the system to his will when necessary.

The closure of the monasteries was a time of significant political and religious upheaval, and London struggled to keep pace with regional developments.

By the 1530s monasteries were seen as corrupt and out of touch with the common people of England and Wales.  It was also a time of increasing tensions between the Pope in Rome and King Henry VIII.

In 1531 Henry detached England, Wales and Ireland from the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. His next step was to disband the monasteries.  He did this partly to reform the church but also to strip the monasteries of their huge wealth.




A Royal Death Warrant

The text of the Death Warrant can be seen below:


By the king

Trusty and well-beloved we greet you well / And have as well seen the Letters written from you Sir Piers of Dutton / to our right trusty and well-beloved Counsellor Sir Thomas Audley, knight, [and] our Chancellor of England, declaring the traitorous demeanour of the late Abbot and canons of the Monastery of Norton / used at the being there of our Commissioners for the suppression thereof / and your wisdom, policy, and good endeavours used for the apprehension of the same / for the which we give unto you our right hearty thanks, and shall undoubtedly consider your faithful service therein, to your singular rejoice and comfort hereafter / As other Letters written from you Sir William Brereton to our right trusty and well-beloved councillor, the Lord Cromwell, keeper of our Privy Seal , touching the same matter / For your good endeavours also, wherein we give unto you our right hearty thanks / For answer whereunto, you shall understand / that for as much as it appeareth that the said Late Abbot and canons have most traitotraitorously used themselves against us / and our realm / and moved insurrection against the common quiet of the same / Our pleasure and commandment is ^ that if this shall appear to ?? you ^ ??????esse? ^ [to be?] true that then ^ you shall immediately upon the sight hereof without any manner of ^ of further circust[ııı??ıs?] of law or^ delay cause them to be ^ ???d indicted and straight thereupon arraigned and so without further traet put all to execution hanged as most arrant traitors / ^ in such sundry places as ye shall think requisite ^ setting up their heads and quarters round abo[ut the] country for the terrible example of all others hereafter / And herein fail you not to travail with such dexterity as this matter may be finished with all possible diligence. [‘Given under our signet at our Castle of Windsor the xxth of October the xxviiith year of our reign, anno 1536′]

[‘To our trusty and well-beloved servant Sir Pearse Dutton and Sir William Brearton, Knights, and to every of them]

It is not known why King Henry changed his mind and crossed out the line relating to the Abbot being Hung Drawn and Quartered.  Local magnates, like Lord Brereton and others with access to the King’s ear, may have helped to persuade Henry to order a relatively more benevolent punishment.  However this would be of marginal comfort to the condemned Abbot.

The draft correspondence is one of a number of surviving letters that passed between Henry, Thomas Cromwell – his chief advisor during the period of the dissolution – and lords such as Piers Dutton in the North West.

Although it was popularly held that the abbot of Norton was executed, the historical records suggest that William Brereton cancelled the order, in light of the rebellions being quelled throughout the North, particularly the Pilgrimage of Grace in Yorkshire. Letters between Thomas Audley and Thomas Cromwell, and William Brereton to Cromwell suggest that the abbot was released in 1537.



A model of how Norton Priory once looked like


Despite the change of fortune for the Abbot, Norton Priory itself was not so fortunate  and it was ruined, the remains of which can be seen below.


If you want to read about an earlier English king and his run-in with the Church then why not read my post on the infamous martyrdom of Thomas Beckett.    You can also see some of my photos from a visit to the ruin Binham Abbey  or if you want to, you can visit an Abbey with me such as Lacock Abbey  which has featured in Harry Potter, Wolf Hall and various other shows with Downton Abbey one of many productions in the adjoining village.  Alternatively the beautiful Abbey Cathedral of St Albans which was partially destroyed by King Henry VIII.







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The largest glasshouse in the world re-opens at Kew

Founded in 1840, The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew is one of the most extensive and important botanical gardens in the world, housing the “largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections” around the globe.

It’s quite frankly one of the most incredible gardens in the world, a stunning sanctuary less than 30 minutes from central London, Kew Gardens includes more than 30,000 different plants in its living collection, over 7 million preserved specimens and over 750,000 volumes and illustrations in its library. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s also one of London’s most popular attractions with its legendary gardens.


One of the walks in Kew at springtime.

One of the top attactions however has been closed for restoration for several years, the Temperate House.  Saturday 5th May 2018 saw the world’s largest Victorian glasshouse re-open after a wait.

For the first time in its history, the Grade I-listed structure was “stripped back to bare metal” and modernised. More than 5,280 litres (1,160 gallons) of paint was used, enough to cover four football pitches, and 15,000 panes of glass replaced.

Palm House pond

The Palmhouse at Kew

The vast greenhouse is now home to a geographically arranged collection of 10,000 plants from of temperate climates around the world – areas sometimes described as “the Goldilocks zone” of the planet, where plants are safe from frost.

These include some of the rarest and most threatened specimens, for which the botanic garden is a final refuge.

Among the 1,500 different species of temperate plants is the extremely rare South African cycad Encephalartos woodii, a plant that has disappeared from the wild and is now found exclusively in botanic gardens and private collections.

Encephalartos woodii in Kew before the renovation of the Temperate House

Encephalartos woodii in Kew before the renovation of the Temperate House

This tree has been dubbed “the loneliest plant in the world” because only male plants remain – each a clone of the specimen at Kew, which was collected in the middle of the 19th Century. Some plants contain both male and female parts, but this species requires a female to produce seeds.


The worlds greatest Glasshouse at Kew, the restored Temperate House


Plant-hunters are still searching for a female cycad so Encephalartos woodii can be bred. This higlights the role that Kew plays in being an insurance policy for the population of every one of the world’s most endangered plants.

Inside the glass house

Inside a massive the Palm Glasshouse at Kew

Some species of  plants are down to a few individuals in the wild and this renders them prone to extinction in a wildfire or perhaps an earthquake and once they are gone, they have vanished forever with untold consequences for everyone and everything else.


Summertime at Kew

  • The restoration cost £41m
  • 69,000 individual elements have been removed from building and cleaned, repaired or replaced
  • 15,000 panes of glass have been replaced
  • 116 urns, which had to be carefully lifted by crane off the building, have been restored
  • 180km (110 miles) of scaffolding was used, equivalent to the length of the M25
  • 5,280 litres of paint was used, enough to cover four football pitches;
  • 400 staff members and contractors worked in phases on the project, taking 1,731 days to complete it


As well as the massive glasshouses and endless gardens, Kew even have a treetop walk which you can see in the video below.

For more information and to buy tickets why not visit the official Kew Gardens website and if  you want to see one of my most popular posts on trees then check out The Man Who P,anted Trees

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My ride in the last ever petrol London Black Taxi

In my role as a tour guide, I get to explore every hidden corner of London, though after nearly 5 years I sometimes feel like I am still just learning the ropes.  Every day, every neaighbourhood reveals new secrets, new shortcuts, new quirky bits of history and new ways of getting from A to B.

Last week I had the pleasure of taking out two lovely tourists from the American state of Florida.  There were a few mobility issues and so we did what I do comparatively infrequently, hail a black taxi or Hackney Carriage as they are known in the trade.

‘Hackney’ is derived from the village name Hackney (now part of London). Hackney supplied horses from its surrounding meadows. The word was once thought to be an anglicized derivative of French haquenée — a horse of medium size recommended for lady riders.

Hackney in the old days must have quite a repuration as the place-name, through its fame for its horses and horse-drawn carriages, is also the root of the Spanish word jaca, a term used for a small breed of horse and the Sardinian achetta horse.

The first documented hackney coach—the name later extended to the newer and smaller carriages—operated in London in 1621.

It’s easy to think that governments of days gone by were largely tyrannical but despite the relative lack of checks and balances of a modern democracy, to a greater or lesser degree many did actually try to govern equitably for the standards of the day.  It is hard to believe that during the mid 16th century there was a such a demand for hackney carriages that in order to put in certain safeguards, “An Ordinance for the Regulation of Hackney-Coachmen in London and the places adjacent” was approved by Parliament in 1654.  It was to remedy what it described as the “many Inconveniences [that] do daily arise by reason of the late increase and great irregularity of Hackney Coaches and Hackney Coachmen in London, Westminster and the places thereabouts”.

The first hackney-carriage licences date from a 1662 Act of Parliament establishing the Commissioners of Scotland Yard to regulate them. Licences applied literally to horse-drawn carriages, later modernised as hansom cabs (1834), that operated as vehicles for hire. The 1662 act limited the licences to 400; when it expired in 1679, extra licences were created until a 1694 act imposed a limit of 700, which was increased by later acts and abolished in 1832.

Electric hackney carriages appeared before the introduction of the internal combustion engine to vehicles for hire in 1901. In fact there was even London Electrical Cab Company: the cabs were informally called Berseys after the manager who designed them, Walter C. Bersey. Another nickname was Hummingbirds from the sound that they made. In August 1897 25 were introduced, and by 1898 there were 50 more. During the 20th century, cars generally replaced horse-drawn models, and the last horse-drawn hackney carriage ceased service in London in 1947.

London Taxi drivers are probably the most qualified drivers in the world and take their craft very serious.  To become a licenced driver one needs to take The Knowledge.  It was initiated in 1865, and has changed little since. It is claimed that the training involved ensures that London taxi drivers are experts on London, and have an intimate knowledge of the city and are the safest form of transport.

The London taxicab driver is required to be able to decide routes immediately in response to a passenger’s request or traffic conditions, rather than stopping to look at a map, relying on satellite navigation or asking a controller by radio. Consequently, the “Knowledge of London” is the in-depth study of a number of pre-set London street routes and all places of interest

It is the world’s most demanding training course for taxicab drivers and applicants will usually need to pass at least twelve ‘appearances’ (periodical one-on-one oral examinations undertaken throughout the qualification process), with the whole process usually averaging 34 months, to pass.

Even within 6 miles of Charing Cross, taxi drivers are tested on 25,000 streets but also details and locations of squares, clubs, hospitals, hotels, theatres, embassies, government and public buildings, railway stations, police stations, courts, diplomatic buildings, important places of worship, cemeteries, crematoria, parks and open spaces, sports and leisure centres, places of learning, restaurants and historic buildings.

The Knowledge includes details such as the order of theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue, and the names and order of the side streets and traffic signals passed on a route.   With such great skills, it is no wonder one often sees those memorising the countless streets to be driving around London on mopeds in order to get the knowledge. It also explains the pride taxi drivers have in their profession that makes them stand apart from cities with low standards of drivers or the dreaded Uber.  In London, Uber drivers generally stand out as being amongst the worst drivers on the roads.

These days the black taxi are one of the icons of London along with red double decker buses, red telephone and post boxes and the catchphrase ‘Mind the gap’.  As part of the move towards more environmentally sustainable transport, London Transport has been moving away from fossil fuels and today even the famous red buses are increasingly powered by electricity.



No. 300…. the final petrol taxi from the final production run of 300 vehicles.


Whilst out with my two charming Floridian friends in our black taxi cab, we got talking to the very friendly driver, Danny.  Danny informed us that as it happens we were travelling in a little bit of history, the last ever produced London Black Taxi that is powered by the internal combustion engine.  Perhaps in 50 or 60 years it might one day be in the London Transport museum.



During our ride from The George Inn to the Tower of London, Danny told us he wasn’t just a driver but also one of those tests people on The Knowledge so we had a real expert.   He was also nice enough to give me a free tin of Diet Coke which was much appreciated in the very warm and sunny weather.

Danny was definitely amongst the friendliest taxi drivers I’ve met in the last 4 or 5 years and as he said he would be following my blog I hope he sees this post and maybe gets in touch!



The very cool Danny with his historic black taxi


And if the car wasn’t cool enough all ready, then check out the grill on the front of the car.  Can you make out the Union Flag in the metal work?

Hope to see you again one day soon Danny and thanks for helping to make it such a memorable day for my two wonderful tourists.



London Pride – Flying the flag!


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2,000 years on Bath Abbey is set to use the famous hot water that the Romans did!

Long before the Romans, it was the ancient Celts who lived across the British Isles who first noticed the hot waters spewing forth from deep beneath the the surface of the Earth,  In fact, they used to pray there.  When the Romans arrived, they built a complex of baths and steam rooms to harness the power of the sacred springs.  They would bathe here, use the hot and healing waters rich in minerals to treat medical ailments, worship here and conduct business deals.

Modern day tourists still flock to the famous Baths and though the water still is rich in minerals and literally scorching hot, health and safety regulations and issues related to mass-tourism mean our contact with the waters is nothing more than a swig of the waters at the end of the tourist route which as one little boy told me two years ago, rather tastes of smelly socks.

Now 21st century engineers are to use the water from the same hot springs beneath the city of Bath to heat its medieval abbey.  Builders will shortly begin work on an underfloor heating system using the waters from the springs which supply the historic Roman baths.

Roman Drains

Part of the Roman drain that carries excess hot water under the streets of Bath.

As part of the £19.3 million project heat exchangers will be installed in the Great Roman Drain running beneath the city’s streets – through which 250,000 gallons of hot water flow from the Sacred Spring beneath the baths to the River Avon each day – to capture the heat and direct it to the abbey.

The scheme, being funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, envisages 1.5 megawatts of continuous energy being produced, enough to heat the church and surrounding buildings, as well as the Romans Baths and Pump Room complex itself.

Charles Curnock, director of Bath Abbey’s Footprints project, said on Wednesday: “This has really captured the public’s imagination – it’s an innovative project potentially using Bath’s famous hot springs to harness natural energy in order to heat two of Bath’s famous landmarks.”

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey early on a monday morning with the exterior to the Roman Baths just to left of the photo.

The new system would allow the abbey to replace the creaking Victorian pipes and gas fired heating system currently keeping worshipers and visitors warm.

During building work archaeologists will be on hand to ensure any artifacts that are uncovered are recorded and preserved.

The project got the go-ahead after Bath and North East Somerset Council granted the abbey authorities a lease of rights to use four hot springs, which bubble up through fissures in the limestone on which the city is built.

The water falls as rain on the nearby Mendip Hills before percolating down through limestone aquifers to a depth of between 8,900 and 14,100 ft (2,700 and 4,300 metres). Here geothermal energy raises the water temperature to between 156.2 and 204.8 °F (69 and 96 °C), before it rises under pressure to the surface.

cross section

Cross-section of the Mendip Hills and the route of the water to Bath. (Andrews et al., 1982)

Mr Curnock said: “This is a truly exciting and inventive way of tapping into Bath’s most famous resource to create sustainable energy. As far as we know, it has never been done before on this scale.”

Although the waters of the original Roman baths are out of bounds to the public a series of more recently drilled boreholes direct some of the water to the newly built Thermae Bath Spa and the refurbished Cross Bath.

What could be better than the two most iconic attractions to be heated by the famous thermal waters to which the city owes its existence?


The Roman Baths and Bath Abbey

The Roman Baths and Bath Abbey

If you fancy feeling some geothermal energy for yourself in very historic surroundings, why not come on a tour with me at Ye Olde England Tours and visit Bath and Stonehenge in a day trip from London!



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