The Thameside Lions that guard against flooding

There is always something to look out for in London, even in the most unlikely places.  One might not know that you’re seeing but there are points of interest all over the place.

Should you happen to to be near the Victoria Embankment and peer over the wall without falling into the river below then you might see a number of bronze cast lions heads.


When the lions drink, London will sink!

The mouth of each lion holds a mooring ring, for use by anyone in an emergency needing to tie up a small vessel. There is very little evidence that the rings have ever been used. It is said that if the lions drink the water from the Thames, London will flood.

They were originally sculpted by Timothy Butler as part of the scheme by Sir Joseph Bazalgette to create a new Victorian sewage system around 1868-70 as a permanent solution to the Great Stink.   In fact many of the sewers are on the reclaimed land from the Thames which was narrowed.  As well as the roads and attractive riverside parks that you can find here, underneath the ground in addition to the sewers are the Circle and District Underground lines which were built at a similar time.


Getting back to the lions, there is of course a playful rhyme that helps us to remember the meaning of the lions,  “When the lions drink, London will sink. When it’s up to their manes, we’ll go down the drains.

The lions also hold mooring rings in their mouths for small boats to tie up alongside the embankment.


It’s relatively rare that the Lions do end up drinking but they are getting to drink more as  the years go by and it should be remembered that London is at sea-level and would likely have been more seriously flooded in recent decades if not for the engineering marvel of the Thames Flood Barriers just east of Greenwich.

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Smithfield Market on the moo-ve after 900 years

One of my favourite less-visited parts of London is the area known as Smithfield.  Like many an ancient city in the Middle-East, India or elsewhere, London had and to an extent still has, districts that would specialise in certain produces such as gold, silver, fruit or meat.   Smithfield has been a meat market for more than 800 years and is one of the largest too.

Sadly, just as with the main fruit and vegetables and fish markets which moved a few decades ago, it seems that Smithfield Market is about to relocate out of its historic city centre location to an area further east.   Partly to allow expansion and modernisation and partly no doubt as the existing site is so incredibly valuable sitting as it does on the boundaries of the old Roman City of London as well as it being somewhat anachronistic to have the centre of the city meat trade in amongst financial and technological institutions.

In 1123, the area near Aldersgate was granted by King Henry I for the foundation of St Bartholomew’s Priory at the request of Prior Rahere, in thanks for his being nursed back to good health. The Priory exercised its right to enclose land between Aldersgate (to the east), Long Lane (to the north) and modern-day Newgate Street (to the south), erecting its main western gate which opened onto Smithfield, and a postern on Long Lane. The Priory thereafter held the manorial rights to hold weekly fairs, which initially took place in its outer court on the site of present-day Cloth Fair, leading to “Fair Gate”.

An additional annual celebration, the Bartholomew Fair, was established in 1133 by the Augustinian friars. Over time, this became one of London’s pre-eminent summer fairs, opening each year on 24 August. A trading event for cloth and other goods as well as being a pleasure forum, the four-day festival drew crowds from all strata of English society.

Royal 18 E I f.165v

The culmination of the Peasants Revolt took place at Smithfields

Originally known as Smoothfield, Smithfield was once a large open space just outside the city boundaries. It was used in the 12th century as a recreational area for jousts and tournaments.

Though it is fashionable to think for people in times part to me simple, the people of London made some sensible decisions with city planning.  One of the oldest hospitals was established here and at the other end of the scale, from the early 13th century Smithfield was used as a place of execution for criminals. Notably, Scottish leader Sir William Wallace was executed there in 1305.    No-one wanted executions right on their doorstep and by having them here, it was out of the way from the main city and the bodies could be easily disposed of or left for animals such as wolves to take them away.

Smithfield in the Middle Ages was a broad grassy area known as Smooth Field, located beyond London Wall stretching to the eastern bank of the River Fleet. Given its ease of access to grazing and water, Smithfield established itself as London’s livestock market, remaining so for almost 1,000 years. Many local street names are so-called due to the meat trade such as “Cow Cross Street” and “Cock Lane” and until the Victorian re-development of the area there were many more such as  “Chick Lane”, “Duck Lane”, “Cow Lane”, “Pheasant Court”, “Goose Alley”.


Smithfields as it was around 1561AD

In 1348, Walter de Manny rented 13-acre (0.05 km2) of land at Spital Croft, north of Long Lane, from the Master and Brethren of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, for a graveyard and plague pit for victims of the Black Death. A chapel and hermitage were constructed, renamed New Church Haw; but in 1371, this land was granted for the foundation of the Charterhouse, originally a Carthusian monastery.

From its inception, the Priory of St Bartholomew treated the sick. After the Reformation it was left with neither income nor monastic occupants but, following a petition by the City Corporation, Henry VIII refounded it in December 1546, as the “House of the Poore in West Smithfield in the suburbs of the City of London of Henry VIII’s Foundation”. Letters Patent were presented to the City, granting property and income to the new foundation the following month. King Henry VIII’s sergeant-surgeon, Thomas Vicary, was appointed as the hospital’s first superintendent. The King Henry VIII Gate, which opens onto West Smithfield, was completed in 1702 and remains the hospital’s main entrance.

The Priory’s principal church, St Bartholomew-the-Great, was reconfigured after the dissolution of the monasteries, losing the western third of its nave. Reformed as an Anglican parish church, its parish boundaries were limited to the site of the ancient priory and a small tract of land between the church and Long Lane. The parish of St Bartholomew the Great was designated as a Liberty, responsible for the upkeep and security of its fabric and the land within its boundaries. With the advent of street lighting, mains water, and sewerage during the Victorian era, maintenance of such an ancient parish with so few parishioners became increasingly uneconomical after the Industrial Revolution.

In 1910, it agreed to be incorporated by the Corporation of London which guaranteed financial support and security. Great St Barts’ present parish boundary includes just 10 feet (3.048 m) of Smithfield — possibly delineating a former right of way.

Smithfield and its Market, situated mostly in the parish of St Sepulchre, was founded in 1137, and was endowed by Prior Rahere, who also founded St Barts. The ancient parish of St Sepulchre extended north to Turnmill Street, to St Paul’s Cathedral and Ludgate Hill in the south, and along the east bank of the Fleet (now the route of Farringdon Street). St Sepulchre’s Tower contains the twelve “bells of Old Bailey”, referred to in the nursery rhyme “Oranges and Lemons”. Traditionally, the Great Bell was rung to announce the execution of a prisoner at Newgate.   The Old Bailey of course being one of the oldest courts in the world and again cleverly placed on the old city walls.


Victorian Smithfield Market.


Despite all of this history, at its heart, Smithfield has always been about the meat trade.  At times, the meat-trade and the execution business could happily though illegally help each other out when those tasked with disposing of the bodies would find eager purchasers in the meat-trade who having cut up and skinned the bodies would them be able to disguise the human flesh in those famous London meat pies to the impoverished masses who wouldn’t ask too many questions, if they even noticed at all, as to what was in their beef, lamb, pork or chicken pies.

In Victorian times, divorce was an expensive and shameful procedure and to avoid expense, men would bring their unwanted wives to Smithfield and swap them with other men which is why in Britain we sometimes use the term ‘meat-market’ when teenagers go to discos and clubs hoping to find a girlfriend.

Visit Smithfield in the day-time as I do and it is hard to imagine anything much going on but Smithfield is primarily a nocturnal market with hotels and restaurants buy vast quantities of meat.  Unlike 1,000 years ago when animals arrived on foot or 150 years ago when they came by train, these day the animals arrive as carcasses.

One thing that hasn’t changed however is the unusual tradition

Soon to be married male ‘bumarees’ (that’s Smithfield porters) are likely to suffer the ignominious tradition of being stripped to their birthday suit, then carried into a stock trolley, stripped naked, pelted with eggs, flour, offal and any other rotten matter the others can get their hands on. The poor newbie is then left in the trolley for a while to be gawped at by the general public. Welcome to Smithfield Market, hope you like the job!

A number of my tours with Ye Olde England Tours visit Smithfield including Sherlock, Great Crimes and Punishment, the Pub Crawl and the London Extended History Tour.

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Less than 1% of the population own 50% of England…. how do I compare?

There can be few such good decisions by individuals in history as to have been a Norman baron in the mid 11th Century than pledging allegiance to William The Conqueror in return for land in the British Isles.

It’s quite incredible that 1,000 years later one way or the other, an overwhelming number of their descendants remain in control of an incredible amount of wealth, properties and positions of influence from the Royal Family downwards to seemingly almost normal figures in politics, showbiz and popular culture.

This legacy is perhaps most obvious of all when it comes to land and property ownership.  After the devastating Battle of Hastings, William The Conqueror occupied these lands with just 8,000 men and in a way, they are still occupying us today.


Gloating about illegal foreign occupation?  The Grosvenor family came to England with William the Conquerer and have long owned much of the most expensive areas of London. This is one panel to a grand statue in Belgrave Square which doesn’t even deny their ill-gotten gains.

Half of England is owned by less than 1% of its population, according to new research.  The findings, described as “astonishingly unequal”, suggest that about 25,000 landowners – typically members of the aristocracy and corporations – have control of half of the country.

The figures show that if the land were distributed evenly across England’s population, each person would have just over half an acre – an area roughly half the size of Parliament Square in central London.


Given that, I thought I would see how I compare with my ‘fair share’ of land ownership and so using the same scale, I have cut and pasted my property over half of Parliament Square.  It should be noted that due to the disparages of scale between Parliament Square and my house, I’m not quite able to fit all of Parliament Square and due to the vagaries of Google Maps, my house and garden is at a rather inconvenient angle.

parliament and house

So there we have it, 28 of my area of England doesn’t even fill half of Parliament Square.  If we were going purely on fairness, I’d calculate that I have 35-40 times less land than in a perfect world, I would be entitled too.  Being very well aware that there are at least a few million people who either own nothing at all or even small flats (apartments), I still find it hard to think it isn’t entirely fair.

How the might have fallen, given I am descended from the brother of Anglo-Saxon King Harold of 1066 fame.  So if I am anything to go by, given that Anglo-Saxons don’t own much of our country, just who does?


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Jon Trickett, Labour MP and shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, hailed the significance of the findings and called for a full debate on the issue, adding: “The dramatic concentration of land ownership is an inescapable reminder that ours is a country for the few and not the many.

“It’s simply not right that aristocrats, whose families have owned the same areas of land for centuries, and large corporations exercise more influence over local neighbourhoods – in both urban and rural areas – than the people who live there.

“Land is a source of wealth, it impacts on house prices, it is a source of food and it can provide enjoyment for millions of people.”

Guy Shrubsole, author of the book ‘Who Owns England?‘ in which the figures are revealed, Who Owns England?, argues that the findings show a picture that has not changed for centuries. “Most people remain unaware of quite how much land is owned by so few,” he writes, adding: “A few thousand dukes, baronets and country squires own far more land than all of middle England put together.”

“Land ownership in England is astonishingly unequal, heavily concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite.  The aristocracy and gentry still own around 30% of England”. This may even be an underestimate, as the owners of 17% of England and Wales remain undeclared at the Land Registry. The most likely owners of this undeclared land are aristocrats, as many of their estates have remained in their families for centuries.

As these estates have not been sold on the open market, their ownership does not need to be recorded at the Land Registry, the public body responsible for keeping a database of land and property in England and Wales.

Shrubsole estimates that 18% of England is owned by corporations, some of them based overseas or in offshore jurisdictions. He has based this calculation on a spreadsheet of land owned by all UK-registered companies that has been released by the Land Registry. From this spreadsheet, he has listed the top 100 landowning companies.

The list is headed by a large water company, United Utilities, which said that much of its land consisted of areas immediately surrounding its reservoirs.

Prominent on the list are the Boughton estate in Northamptonshire, belonging to the Duke of Buccleuch, the Woburn estate, which is owned by the Duke of Bedford, and the Badminton estate in Gloucestershire, owned by the Duke and Duchess of Beaufort. Several large grouse moor estates also figure prominently.

Shrubsole, who works as a campaigner for the environmental charity Friends of the Earth, estimates that “a handful of newly moneyed industrialists, oligarchs and City bankers” own around 17% of England.

The public sector – central and local government, and universities – appears to be the most open about its landholdings, according to Shrubsole, partly in order to advertise land it has wanted to sell off in recent years. He concludes that the public sector owns 8% of England.

Shrubsole writes that the bulk of the population owns very little land or none at all. Those who own homes in England, in total, own only 5% of the country.


He calculates that the land under the ownership of the royal family amounts to 1.4% of England. This includes the Crown Estate, the Queen’s personal estate at Sandringham, Norfolk, and the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster, which provide income to members of the family.

Conservation charities, such as the National Trust and the Woodland Trust, collectively own 2% of England, while the church accounts for 0.5%.

A small number of ultra-wealthy individuals have traditionally owned vast swaths of land in Scotland.  A recent major review conducted by the Scottish Land Commission, a government quango, found that big landowners behaved like monopolies across large areas of rural Scotland and had too much power over land use, economic investment and local communities. Radical reforms on land-ownership was concluded.

Carys Roberts, chief economist of the left-of-centre thinktank the Institute for Public Policy Research, said she was “shocked but not surprised” by Shrubsole’s findings on the concentration of land ownership. She said that the concentration of land in a few hands was a big reason why wealth as a whole was so unequal in the country, as those without land were prevented from generating more income.

She added: “We have this idea that the class structures have changed so that the aristocracy is not as important as it used to be. What this demonstrates is the continuing importance of the aristocracy in terms of wealth and power in our society.”

She said one effect of the sale of public land was that the public lost democratic control of that land and it could not then be used, for example, for housing or environmental improvements. “You can’t make the best social use of it,” she added.

Despite the land inequalities, the UK has the third highest number of millionaires in the world despite the relatively small population.  This figure might seem incongruous with the main body of this blog post but when you consider that a 1 bedroom flat in London can easily cost over £10 million, it is easy to see how being a millionaire might not get you very much at all at least in terms of personal space.

Of course, the vast majority of people however aren’t millionaires.   If you’d like to read more then check out the interesting website Who Owns England?      Despite my pathetic level of ownership of Parliament Square, I pay more taxes than Starbucks…. find out how with

If you’d like to see just a few of my posts of Anglo-Saxon England then feast below!

Anglo Saxon Treasures    The Epic of Beowulf      Æthelflaed – Lady of the Mercians

The Terrible Tale of Ælfheah – Archbishop of Canterbury


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The Extinction Rebellion Protests in London

The environment is something I’ve always taken a keen issue in since when as a young boy I gave all my meagre savings to help seals in the North Sea.  I’ve written a few posts here and there on the subject and even had a few cover stories published in specialist publications.

The death of the Aral Sea

London – The first National Park City in the World

How Technology Can Help Solve The Water Crisis In Africa

The first of several cover and lead stories of 2014.

The first of several cover and lead stories of 2014.

When I am touring the political parts of London, I always take the time to introduce people to the primary points of protest, the people who were protesting and what they were protesting, whether universal suffrage, the Magna Carta, Nelson Mandela and the ANC, the story of Gandhi in London, Brexit and many more.

Recently London has made the news again as the protest capital of the world and this for the Extinction Rebellion environmental protests.  I must say,  hardly a day goes by when there hasn’t been protests going on.  Brexit of course has been happening for a few years but the last week or so has seen many of the key junctions and bridges in London to be peacefully occupied by environmental protestors who want not just further change in Britain but to inspire the world to follow suit as has so often happened from the events in and around Westminster.

I thought I would share just a few photos of the last week.


The photos above and below have protestors who have scaled some trees in Parliament Square and laying in hammocks above some of the great figures of democracy.  Nelson Mandela on the left, Sir Robert Peel on the point who founded the first professional police.  Just out of shot on the right is Gandhi and behind the double decker bus in Abraham Lincoln.


The following images are from the junction of Westminster Bridge, Whitehall and Parliament Square.  It was a nice change being able to walk around the streets like this.


Parliament Square like several other places were peacefully occupied for a week before everything re-opened.   I think there is something uniquely British about people being able to peacefully protest for days on end, blocking or key roads and right infront of Parliament with the police by and large happy to let things be as opposed to the much more aggressive actions of the police and governments around the world with even in France the police taking aggressive action and spraying chemicals in the faces of protestors.   Sadly it is countries that are the least abiding of the right to protest such as China and Russia where the pollution levels are amongst the worst in the world.


I wonder what all the big figures would make of people defending and asserting their rights, campaigning for dramatic changes to be made in the very places where it has been done for a millennia or two.

I took the video above yesterday (April 23rd 2019) as more protestors from Extinction Rebellion moved from Marble Arch to Parliament Square.  How apt I caught this at Constitution Hill, right next to Buckingham Palace on St George’s Day.

My tourists really love the fact that they don’t just see the famous sights but that I take them to see real London.  Some of them cheering on protests that would never be allowed to take place in their own homelands and thus doing just a little bit more at further the causes of freedom, democracy and peaceful protest that we are so lucky to be able to enjoy.

Just a decade or so ago it was the politicians here that spear-headed debt cancellation across the developing world and many of the elements that were eventually signed off in the Paris Climate Accords, who knows if once again real change will spread across the world inspired by the events in Parliament Square.

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Supporting BBC Comic Relief with a very special Sherlock tour

Today is Easter Monday and though I’m working as I have done every day so far this year, it seems like an apt time to make this post considering the time of year.

One of the nice things I like about running my own company is that I can do lots of things to help people in a wide variety of ways.

A few weeks ago I was approached by the offices of Richard Curtis.  The first thing that came into my head was that I had unintentionally infringed on some copyright on my new Romcom Tour as like most people, I’m a fan of Richard Curtis though in my case particularly his long running 1980’s comedy BlackAdder.

As it happened however I wasn’t in any trouble and precisely the opposite, I was being approached to help organise and run a special Sherlock Tour for BBC Comic Relief for 2 lucky prize winners from the USA and one of the stars of the Sherlock TV show.

It was rather unexpected but one of those things that often seems to happen to me, it being just a few weeks earlier when I was approached to film a piece for an international news show on Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill due to my Churchill Walk and War Rooms Tour.


Filming on a nippy late February Day.

I immediately decided not to charge anything for the tour as once or twice a year I donate tours to charity fund-raising events and I knew if I were to charge anything then it would only take away money from those in need both in the U.K. and Africa.

The lucky prize winners had entered a competition where they would win breakfast with Benedict Cumberbatch and several other actors at Speedy’s, one of the key locations in the television show and then have a special tour which is where I came was to come in.

The hardest bit was to be the section of the tour at 221B Baker Street, the iconic museum house in the home of the Victorian sleuth. They are always bursting with tourists and very busy and understandably it is hard to get special allowances made.  The official organisers had been trying for a while to get somewhere with them as taking a Sherlock actor and prize winners into Sherlocks actual house would be a bit of a logistical nightmare with hundreds of albeit very friendly fans around.

To the astonishment of all, one very nice and friendly email from moi and we had the keys to the house and we were given permission to miss out on the entrance line that could at times be anything from 10 minutes to well over an hour long.

It was a little bit of a nervous morning beforehand as everything was on a time-table which understandably slipped as events unfolded as the breakfast was going so well but around 11am in the morning a big black car pulled up at 221B Baker Street.

Out jumped the two prize winners I expected but then not one but two actors from the show.  All went very much to plan and Paul from the museum was kind enough to give a splendid introduction for the first room of the house.  From then on we had the house pretty much to ourselves.

Being a Sherlock fan myself, it was quite a thrill and both the actors were very friendly and into it.  We had quite a laugh as we looked at photos on the wall of Victorian criminals, one of whom looks rather like Arnold Swarzenegger or John Malkovich only with longer hair and a smarter fashion sense.  At one point we all posed for photos and the actors took a selfie and they laughed when I said it was harder to take a selfie with a gas lamp for lighting!  I finally got to play with the Victorian police truncheon, handcuffs and other things.

It was a little surreal giving a Sherlock tour in the Sherlock museum house to actors who play roles in the official television show.  I remember watching Una Stubbs when I was about 3 years old in the 1970’s even with my Grandparents and not only did she want to know everything about everything but she had enjoyed her time at Speedy’s so much that she had gate-crashed the tour too.

Louise Brealey was so lovely and we joked all the way round, she is a very nice and friendly lady and I’m a fan of many of her shows, I should say all of her shows!

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Una Stubbs as Mrs Hudson on the left, Louise Brealey as Molly on the right and myself.

We were in 221B Baker Street for about 40 minutes as there was a time-table to stick too and I didn’t want to bore the actors whilst I was also aware there were several dozen visitors exploring the house room by room as we moved ever on upwards.

I was as professional as possible but very glad to have a few photos taken, including this one above and every thing filmed and photographed as we went round which was interesting.

Afterwards some of us went off to Bloomsbury where I did a small section of my Sherlock locations tour.   The prize winners were lovely people and enjoyed every moment, I don’t think they could believe their luck and the two ladies from the studios were wonderful too.

Afterwards I went to see my friend Chris, the owner of Speedy’s and had a much deserved cold drink as I waited to meet a friend from Germany who I’d met 2 years earlier when she had booked my Sherlock tour.

To think when I started the Sherlock Tour, I didn’t think anyone would really want to do it at all.  Like many if not most of my tours, my tours through Ye Olde England Tours were and still are quite unique, although since the profligacy of the internet, you do get quite a few pale-imitations trying their luck.  However being chosen to give such a special Sherlock tour by Richard Curtis, the BBC and Comic Relief for such a good cause and with he wonderful actors then that probably makes me almost as official as anyone can get.

Hopefully I played a small part in raising what I’ve heard is a huge amount of money and  I had a great day myself and I thank Louise, Una and everyone else for that and for the team at 221B Baker Street.

You can see a little bit of the filming locations of Sherlock and how they are where they are in my video below.

If you want to go on the first and best Sherlock Walking Tour of London based around the BBC Sherlock show but also some of the old and new movies and places relating to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle then do let me know!

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Ayuba Suleiman Diallo – The remarkable story of an African slave.

The story of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo is one of the most interesting and incredible verified accounts of an African slave during the 18th Century,  Whilst it is incredible, it also illustrates well the complexities of the slave trade and some of the injustices perpetuated upon slaves.

Diallo came from a prominent Fulbe family of Muslim religious leaders in western Africa. His grandfather had founded the town of Bundu, and he grew up with Samba Geladio Diegui the heir or kamalenku to the Kingdom of Futa-Toro.

In 1730, Ayuba became a victim of the ever-growing slave exploitation of the Senegambia region. Ayuba and his interpreter Loumein Yoas (also known as “Lamine Jay,” “Lahamin Joy,” “Lahmin Jay,” “Lamine Ndiaye,” and “Loumein Ybai”) were near the Gambia River to trade slaves and paper. While visiting some friends on their return trip, Ayuba and Yoas were captured by invading Mandingoes (successors to the mighty Mali Empire).

The invaders shaved their heads to make them appear as war captives, and there by the customs of the time in the region,  legitimately enslavable, as opposed to their actual condition of people captured in a kidnapping raid for the specific purpose of selling slaves for financial profit.

The two men were sold to figures associated with the Royal African Company who were a British mercantile firm that had originally set up to trade in gold but had subsequently branches out into slavery in what today is Ghana.

Somehow Ayuba managed to convince the English Captain Pike of his high social status, and explained that his father was capable of paying ransom.  Captain Pike granted Ayuba leave to find someone to send word to Ayuba’s family.  Sadly the messenger did not return in time and at the behest of Captain Henry Hunt, Pike’s superior, Ayuba and Loumein were sent across the Atlantic to Annapolis, Maryland, where he was delivered to Vachell Denton.

Ayuba was soon purchased by Mr. Tolsey of Kent Island, Maryland and put to work in the tobacco fields; however, after being found unsuitable for such work, he was placed in charge of the cattle. While in captivity, Ayuba used to go into the woods to pray. and this led to an incident that was to again change his life.

After being humiliated by a child while praying, Ayuba ran away and was captured and imprisoned at the Kent County Courthouse. It was there that he was discovered by a lawyer, Rev. Thomas Bluett of the Anglican Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, traveling through on business.

The lawyer was impressed by Ayuba’s ability to write in Arabic.  One of his original letters is below.


‘There is no good in the country of the Christians for a Muslim’, states Ayuba Suleiman Diallo in this letter in Arabic, which he probably wrote while enslaved in Maryland after his capture on the coast of Senegal in 1731. Announcing to ‘all the Muslims of Bondu’ that he is alive, he appeals to the rulers of the country and his family to ensure that his two wives do not remarry.

Reverend Bluett wrote about the events thus:

When another African who spoke Wolof, a language of a neighboring African ethnic group, was able to translate for him, it was then discovered that he had aristocratic blood. Encouraged by the circumstances, Mr. Tolsey allowed Ayuba to write a letter in Arabic to Africa to send to his father. Eventually, the letter reached the office of James Oglethorpe, Director of the Royal African Company. After having the letter authenticated by John Gagnier, the Laudian Chair of Arabic at Oxford, Oglethorpe purchased Ayuba for £45.

According to his own account, Oglethorpe was moved with sentiment upon hearing the suffering Ayuba had endured. Oglethorpe purchased Ayuba and sent him to the London office of the Royal African Company in 1733 London with the Rev. Bluett and during his voyage learned English.

For whatever reasons, no-one had informed the Royal African Company of what should be done with Ayuba upon his arrival and remarkably it was left to one of those involved in his enslavement , Captain Henry Hunt, to  arrange for lodgings in the country for him.

Ayuba heard rumours that Hunt was planning to sell him to traders who claimed they would deliver him home. Ayuba, fearing yet more trickery, contacted Bluett and other men whom he had met en route to London. Bluett arranged for Ayuba’s stay in Cheshunt in Hertfordshire.

The RAC, following Oglethorpe’s orders, made in part through persistent requests from interested men in London, subsequently paid all the expenses and purchase price of the bond for Ayuba. Ayuba beseeched Bluett once again, explaining that none of this secured he would not be enslaved once again. According to Bluett, all the honorable men involved had promised they would not sell Ayuba into slavery, so, though supposedly Ayuba was not under any threat, Bluett and other sympathizers paid “fifty-nine pounds, six shillings, and eleven pence half-penny” simply to ease Ayuba’s anxiety.

Respectable gentleman who knew  Ayuba collected money for his “freedom in form,” an official document seal made and sealed by the RAC.

Bluett explained, “Job’s Mind being now perfectly easy,” he could fraternise with London’s elite, obtaining many gifts and new friendships, while also being of service to Hans Sloane through his newly acquired ability to translate Arabic into English. His service to Hans Sloane included organising the collection of Arabic Manuscripts at the British Museum. Ayuba was in the company of many other prominent people, including the Royal family and John Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu and his wife Mary, the Duchess of Montagu, which lead him to being inducted into the Gentleman’s Society of Spalding.

In July 1734, Ayuba freely returned to Gambia and later returned to his homeland. Sadly by now his father had died, and one of his wives, presuming that Ayuba had perished, had remarried. His homeland was ravaged by war, but being a prosperous individual, he was able to regain his old lifestyle. His memoirs were published by Bluett in English and French.

Despite the incredible turn around in fortunes, Ayuba was an extremely rare good news story in the slave trade of that time. Due to his intelligence, education and the good fortune of coming across men with relatively good morals, he was able to legally escape the hardships of slavery and return home to Africa.

That wasn’t quite the end of the story though as Ayuba, however, faced later hardships. In June 1736, he was imprisoned by the French, perhaps due to his relationships with prominent figures in the U.K. He was held for a year by the French when finally his release was secured. His death was recorded in the minutes of the Spalding Gentleman’s Society in 1773.

For many years Ayuba Suleiman Diallo was best known for his striking portrait which was painted in 1733.  For centuries the original was missing and presumed lost with the work of art only known through copies, however, happily the original painting came to light at the beginning of this century.


The portrait of Diallo by William Hoare of Bath was painted in 1733

For two posts on very contrasting figures you might like to read one of my posts on prominent early Black Britons then you might like to read my 2016 post on Mary Seacole – The Greatest Black Briton or about the fascinating story of the first Black man in the British Army.


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Walking Londons Canals at Camden Lock

For our next stage of walking the canals of London we leave behind the picturesque Primrose Hill and Regents Park and continue east towards the a part of London that couldn’t be more different, Camden Lock Market.

As we get underway though take a look at the photo below.  Does it look a little strange to you with a wide expanse of water that is blocked off to the right of the Chinese restaurant?  It is rather like the junction at Little Venice only without a second canal.  Well at one time there was another canal….


As you can see from the maps below, a canal veered south east towards Euston Station but was filled in duding the 20th century as train travel well and truly superseded canal transport.  I only found this out a year or two ago when looking at the modern day map (below right) you can trace a green corridor of gardens and allotments leading right into the heart of this extremely busy corner of London.

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Leaving behind an interesting quirk of canal history we continue through some of the fancy neighbourhoods in this part of the city in total tranquility and only reminded that we are in London by the occasional event such as the passing of a London bus on an overhead bridge.



As bizarre as it sounds the bridge above is the thing I most wanted to see.  I have travelled by train over this bridge for the last 38 years or so and always looked down at the canal on the left side and wondered what it would be like to go underneath.   Far from the most picturesque part of the walk but an important one for me as two great Victorian transport networks meet.




Canoeing, kayaking and canal boating are core to our work and they strive to tackle disadvantage, challenge exclusion and support the more vulnerable members of our community through all that we do. Our raft of adventurous recreation, outdoor education and training initiatives improve health and wellbeing, nurture life and social skills and bring people together through active participation – regardless of their ability or personal circumstances.

Their work focuses on children, young people and SEND (special educational needs and disability) groups of all ages, both from our local borough of Camden and more widely across London. We also partner with mainstream and specialist schools, Pupil Referral Units, frontline and voluntary support services to deliver projects that link with the curriculum, help address challenging behaviours or improve people’s longer-term life chances.

Over the past 50 years we have transformed our stretch of the canal from an underutilised resource to a vibrant hub of opportunity and activity. Built in 1977 and designed by famous architects, Seiferts, The Pirate Castle is renowned as being the first defensive castle built in Britain since the sixteenth century. It is also a proud symbol of community dedication and ambition.

Extended and re-modelled in 2008 with Lottery and local government funding and newly-refurbished for 2017, their fully-accessible and characterful venue provides a mixture of community space, meeting rooms, a roof terrace nestled between the ramparts and dedicated changing and ‘wet’ areas for kayaking and canoeing sessions. We also have a wheelchair-friendly bankside for easy access to the canal and our boats, which include a purpose-built, wheelchair accessible canal boat – opening up the waterway for all to enjoy.

From the distant passing trains I’ve always thought the Pirate Castle to look a little strange but on getting close up, it really does look like an actual castle, albeit one made of brick rather than stone.


We’re now close to the heart of once industrial Camden.  These days the district is most famous for it’s incredible Camden Markets but 200 years ago it was full of industry and trade as the canals brought in goods and materials from all over northern England to London.   In fact the Stables Market was something like a motorway rest or service station for the horses that would have towed the boats so far into London and were now free to rest and be fed-up before taking a boat out to the country.

The photo above gives an idea of how canals then were as cleverly used then as roads or air travel is today.  A private canal goes under a 5 or 6 storey industrial building allowing for then easy movements of both raw materials and finished goods, saving lots of time and money in the process.

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Photo from the Ice Wharf showing the canal going under the old building.



This beautiful old bridge over Regents Canal leads to the old Ice Wharf with a trendy pub now sporting the same name.  Right next to the old tree was a deep brick lines well which was full of ice, sometimes brought in from Norway.


We’ve come all this way without encountering any locks but these are the ones that give Camden Lock its name.  The locks are only needed for canals when going up or down hills so with London being generally flat and the canal engineers deliberately picking the flattest possible route even then, they are few and far between here but out in the country you can get several all in a line going up a hill.

If you want to see a video of a boat going through a lock then check out my video below which is taken from and old post of a walk a long my own section of the Grand Union canal just on the edge of the countryside.

We finish this section of the walk with one of the intriguing entrances to Camden Market.    If you’re a bit tempted to come and explore Londons canals with me then do take a gander at London Canals Walking Tour.


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