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The London Blitz

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

In the early part of the Second World War as England faced the very real prospect of a full scale German invasion.

However, this invasion was effectively canceled by Hitler in September 1940.

Although the invasion had been called off, the bombing of London continued and if you take one of the many London walks routes that follows the trail of destruction caused by the bombing you get some idea of the sheer task that faced Londoners as they attempted to fend off these attacks.

From 18 September 1940 the Luftwaffe tried to reduce losses by only mounting night raids, and these continued without break until November, by which time London had been bombed continuously for fifty-two days.

Poor weather in late November and early December brought a brief respite, and as Christmas came and went it seemed that the Luftwaffe was on holiday. It was an illusion.

It is time to turn to the scene on the ground in England. Preparations for the defence of Britain against air attack were put in hand after the Munich conference of 1938.

Trenches were dug in public parks in London, gas masks issued to the entire population, air raid drills organized. The actual planning of Civil Defence was delegated to the different County authorities, some of which did much, others virtually nothing.

A reason for the lack of activity on the part of many County Councils was the anticipated results of civilian bombardment. The Government, heavily influenced by the works of such theorists as the French Air General Douhet, believed that the effects of civilian bombing would be cataclysmic and that preparations to protect civilians would be useless: the only thing to do was to prepare for mass burials, injuries, etc., and contemplate how best order could be maintained in the breakdown of local civilian government that would surely follow city bombing.

A clear idea of the popular image of civilian bombing can be drawn from the 1938 Alexander Korda production of H G Wells’s The Shape of Things To Come. The Home Office, believing that there would be 20,000 civilian dead within the first week of the bombing of London, was largely concerned with the ordering of cardboard coffins, and very few purpose-built bomb shelters were constructed before the Blitz actually began.

However, the County government of London was a different matter. London County Council (LCC) was under the control of the Labour Party led by Herbert Morrison (later Lord Morrison of Lambeth). The LCC was politically at odds with the government, strongly anti-fascist and not at all convinced by Prime Minister Chamberlain’s assurances of ‘peace in our time’.

The LCC consulted with veterans of the British Battalion of the International Brigade, which had fought in the Spanish Civil War. These veterans, led by Tom Wintringham, had experienced the bombing of Madrid by the Italian and German bombers of Mussolini and Hitler, and so had some idea of the likely outcome of such attacks and what could be done to minimize casualties.

They advised Morrison that the decisive matter was the reorganization of the Fire Brigade and its expansion to deal with the task ahead.

Morrison heeded this advice. Twenty-eight thousand men and women were recruited to the Auxiliary Fire Brigade and given a brief training course, after which they returned to their regular occupations to await the emergency.

The LCC ordered several thousand trailer fire pumps and began the construction of 300 sub-fire stations (the peacetime strength of the LCC Fire Brigade was approximately 4,000 firefighters based on 30 fire stations).

The LCC also ordered the manufacture of shelters which could be constructed within the home; steel frames into which three or four people could huddle and so, hopefully, survive the collapse of the building above them. These shelters were known as ‘Morrison Shelters’ and were later to be superseded by the government issue ‘Anderson Shelter’ which could be constructed in a back garden.

Plans were also commenced to recruit Air Raid Wardens and Heavy Rescue Squads (to dig people out of the ruins); church, school and other halls were marked down for use as local information centres, temporary accommodation for those made homeless by the bombing, etc. Companies were instructed to designate certain employees as fire- watchers and first line fire fighters for their premises.

The net result of these and other plans was that London was, if not fully equipped to deal with the onslaught, better prepared than most of the rest of the country.

The Fire Brigade was reorganized throughout the entire London region (which was more extensive than the London County area), with Sir Aylmer Firebrace appointed as Regional Fire Officer commanding sixty-six Fire Brigades from his underground control room at London Fire Brigade headquarters in Lambeth.

Our story of the London Blitz will cotinue in tomorrows blog. But for now why not peruse our previous blogs or just read through the rest of the site for a choice of the exciting and fascinating London walks that we offer.

A New Look At London

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

There are many ways to see the sights of London. Coach and bus tours are extremely popular and get you round the siihts, such as Big Ben and The Tower of London. But with coach tours you’re stuck behind glass and at the mercy of the itinerary set by the tour company itself.

Likewise, you can join one of the many guided London walks that take in the well known as well as the more hidden aspects of London.

Whereas this is a far more preferrable way to see London you’re still at the mercy of the guide and the itinerary set by the walkining tour company. In addition with guided London walks you often find yourself crammed on to a tour with 20, 30 or even 50 other people. As with a coach tour you might see something that attracts your attention or tweaks your interest and want to stop and look at it. But if it’s not on the intinerary then you have no choice but to carry on with the tour and make a mental note to, hopefully, come back and take a closer look at it the next time you’re in London.

The best way to see London is to do it under your own steam and in your own time. With our free Harry Potter London Tour you can do just that. You choose when to do the tour (so you don’t have to be at a sesignated start point for a specific time), you set the pace and spend as much or as little time as you like at a particular site.

But, becasue the walk included step by step directions you are never truly on your own.  Thousands of people have now discovered this great tour and many of them have written to say how much they enjoyed it and how easy it was to follow.

So why not become one of the free-spirits who venture out on their own (or at least as a family) and see London at your own pace and when you want to see it? Head on over to our Harry Potter London Tour.

Westminster Abbey – Mary Queen of Scots – A Brief Biography

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

In 2012 we will be launching a series of exciting and new London walks, one of which will take you inside Westminster Abbey.However, since it has always been our police to present you with as much information as possible, prior to you joining us for a London Walking Tour, we are currently previewing these tours here on the website.

Today we will look at the tomb of one of the most intriguing and, ultimately, tragic figures in our history – Mary Queen of Scots, whose tomb is located in a tiny chapel in Westminster Abbey.

Mary, Queen of Scots, was born in 1542 and was the only surviving legitimate child of King James V of Scotland. Six days after her birth James died and Mary became Queen of Scotland. In 1556 she married Francis, Dauphin of France and, when he died in 1560, she returned to Scotland. Four years later she married her cousin Lord Darnley and when he was, apparently, murdered she married the 4th Earl of Bothwell who, it was widely believed, had been responsible for Darnley’s murder. Following an uprising by the Scottish nobles, Mary was imprisoned but escaped and, after an unsuccessful attempt to retake the throne of Scotland in 1568, Mary fled to England and threw herself upon the mercy of her English cousin, Queen Elizabeth 1st.

Mary’s arrival in England threw the English court into turmoil. Mary was next in line to the English throne after Elizabeth 1st. But since Elizabeth’s mother was Anne Boleyn and, in the eyes of the Catholic church, since Elizabeth’s father, Henry V111, had not been legally separated from his first wife Catherine of Aragon, to many throughout Europe – not to mention to a large number of English Catholics as well – Elizabeth was illegitimate and Mary was the rightful Queen of England.

Mary was therefore arrested and, for the next 19 years, she was kept prisoner at a succession of castles and houses throughout England where she became a magnet for a plethora of plots aimed at replacing Elizabeth with her cousin Mary on the throne of England.

In 1586 the fanatical Catholic nobleman, Sir Anthony Babbington, developed an ingenious way of communicating with Mary by secreting messages in the bungholes of the Queen’s beer caskets.  He was therefore able to inform her of a plan to ‘despatch the usurper’ Elizabeth and, with the aid of a Spanish invasion, place Mary onto the throne of England. Mary wrote back apparently giving her consent to the assassination.

What neither she nor Babbington knew was  Elizabeth’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham’s agents, were intercepting the beer barrels and therefore, knew all about the plot. Babbington was duly arrested and executed, Mary was charged with treason and put on trail in the Great Hall at Fotheringay Castle before a panel of 40 noblemen that included Sir John Puckering and which was presided over by Sir Thomas Bromley.

Found guilty, she was beheaded in the Great Hall at Fotheringay Castle  0n 8th February 1587.

Her body was interred at Peterborough Cathedral, about 70 miles to the north-east of London. Then, in 1604, Mary’s son, King James V1 of Scotland, was crowned King James 1st of England and he had his mother’s remains exhumed and reburied in Westminster Abbey where she now lies in a chapel almost opposite the chapel where Elizabeth 1st lies. And the most intriguing things about these two Royal ladies, whose names are so indelibly linked in the pages of history, is that they never actually met each other.

On our, soon to be launched, London walking tour of Westminster Abbey you will be able to hear the tale of Mary, Queen of Scots and many more tales of those who lie buried in Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey – St Paul’s Chapel

Saturday, November 5th, 2011

Located in a side aisle of Westminster Abbey there  is a delightful little chapel dedicated to St Paul. Stepping inside it, one of the first things to catch your eye is the dazzling array of colours with which the chapel’s monuments are imbued. Indeed, in this little chapel you get a real sense of what the Abbey would have looked like in the Middle Ages when its walls and ceilings would have been decorated in similar dazzling style.

To the right as you enter the chapel is the tomb of Sir Lewis de Robesart, which is adorned with a selection of stunning shields.

Robesart was a great soldier knight of the early 1400′s who held the position of Standard Bearer to King Henry V.  The Standard Bearer’s job was to hold the Royal Standard (or Royal flag) in battle and Robesart fought alongside Henry V in several campaigns in the hundred year war with Francis. Most memorably he was at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 when the English army inflicted a crushing defeat upon the French forces.

At the centre of the chapel is the railed tomb of Giles, Lord Daubeney and his wife Elizabeth. Th reclining e effigies that surmount the tomb show Daubeney with his head resting on a helmet. he wears a very realistic looking suit of armour, whilst an, equally realistic looking, sheathed-sword hangs by his side. His feet rest upon a lion. His wife’s head reclines on a cushion, whilst her feet rest upon a dog and a wolf respectively.

Daubeney  fought alongside Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 at which the then reigning monarch, Richard 111, was killed. Henry then became King of England and was the father of a new Royal dynasty – the Tudors. Daubeney was appointed Lord Chamberlain one of the most important posts in the Royal household and is said to have dressed Henry on the day of his coronation.

Henry V11′s son was Henry V111, his granddaughter was Elizabeth 1st and his great granddaughter was Mary, Queen of Scots.

To the left of the door as you enter St Paul’s Chapel you will find a tomb that is surmounted by a silver hand holding a silver arrow. This is the tomb of Sir John Puckering, Speaker of the House of Commons in 1586 and a member of the Parliament that decided the fate of Mary, Queen of Scots. On the opposite side of the chapel as you enter is the tomb of Sir Thomas Bromely, a Lord Chancellor in the reign of Elizabeth 1st, and the man who presided over the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots that took place in Fotheringay Castle in 1586.

In tomorrows blog we will take a look at Mary, Queen of Scots and provide a little biographical detail about this intriguing and ultimately tragic historical figure.

Our London walks will feature a visit to Westminster Abbey from 2012 and you will be able to read much more about this magnificent London landmark in the lead up to the launch of these brand new London Walking Tours.

Westminster Abbey – The Coronation Chair

Friday, November 4th, 2011

Our London walks will soon be featuring tours inside Westminster Abbey, the Coronation Church, built originally by King Edward the Confessor and later rebuilt by King Henry 111, the builder King.

Encased behind a glass screen in the St George’s Chapel of Westminster Abbey -  just before you exit -  is the coronation chair, which is probably the oldest piece of furniture in Britain to still be used for its original purpose. The chair itself is currently undergoing a restoration paid for by in part by the Abbey who will be contributing £50,000 towards the project, and a grant of £150,000 awarded by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

The Coronation Chair, which is also known as King Edward’s Chair, was first used at the Coronation of King Edward 11 in 1308, and since then it has been used for the coronation of all but three of our Kings and Queens. However, its origins go back to the reign of Edward 1st, one of this country’s great warrior king’s who reigned from 1272 to 1307. Edward 1st is buried in Westminster Abbey and his tomb boasts the inscription “Hammer of the Scots.”  During his reign Edward was determined to bring the Crown of Scotland under English control and, to that end, he fought a long and constant battle to subjugate the Scots.  In 1296  Edward managed to take possession of the Scottish Crown’s regalia. To show his superiority he broke the Great Seal of the King’s of  Scotland, observing as he did so “a man does good business when he rids himself of a turd.” He also captured and brought to England the Scottish Stone of Destiny, also known as the Stone of Scone, over which Scotland’s Kings had been crowned for many centuries.

To accommodate the Stone of Scone he commissioned the Coronation chair in the early 1300′s and decreed from henceforth English Monarch’s would be crowned in the chair sitting over the sacred Scottish coronation artifact. Symbolically, this would mean  that when an English Sovereign was crowned over the stone they would, in the eyes of God and all things sacred, become Sovereigns of Scotland as well.

Once the chair was complete, Walter, the Court Painter, was commissioned to decorate it with gilding and images of birds, foliage and the image of a King all painted in vivid and dazzling colours. Vague traces of this original paintwork can still be seen on the chair.

However, over succeeding centuries, the chair was subjected to an awful lot of misuse when not being occupied by a new monarch’s posterior.

Cloth was often nailed onto it at various coronations and, in the process, the woodwork was damaged time and again. Looking at the body of the chair, you can make out initials, fates and other graffiti that have been carved into it. Much of this defacing was done when the chair was stored in a side room at the Abbey and the schoolboys from the neighbouring  Westminster School decided it would be a wizard wheeze to carve their names onto it. One visible inscription reads ‘P Abbott slept in this chair 5,6 July 1800′.

The chair was further damaged when it was taken away to be “restored” for Queen Victoria to sit in it on the occasion of her Golden Jubilee in 1887.  When it was unveiled people were horrified to find that it had been coated with a thick, dark covering of varnish. Even Parliament demanded to know why this had been done to it.  Even more damage was done to the chair when the varnish was eventually stripped off.

In 1914 a militant wing of the suffragette movement succeeded in hanging a bomb packed into a hand bag on one of the pinnacles of the chair. Although the bomb went off, the damage wasn’t significant.

On Christmas Day 1950 a group of Scottish nationalist students succeeded in stealing the Stone of Scone from under the chair and managed to smuggle it back to Scotland. It was eventually recovered and returned to the base of the Coronation Chair where it remained until 1996 when John Major’s Conservative Government agreed to its being  officially returned to Scotland where it now resides at Edinburgh Castle, although it will be brought back to the Abbey and re-installed for all future Coronations.

As for the Coronation Chair itself, it has only ever left the Abbey on three occasions. In 1657 it was moved to Westminster Hall for the investiture of Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector. In the 1880′s it was removed for the aforementioned restoration for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. And, during the Second World War in the 1940′s it was moved to Gloucester Cathedral for safe keeping.

But now it sits in St George’s Chapel where it is being lovingly restored and let’s hope that the finished article will be more pleasing to the eye and cause less uproar than that which greeted the previous restoration during the reign of Queen Victoria.

Our Westminster Abbey London walk will be launching in 2012.

Jack the Ripper and Dickens Walks of London

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Our Jack the Ripper intro has really proved popular on our Youtube Channel. Indeed, we have now clocked up over 60,000 views for our introduction to the case, over 30,000 more views than any other London walks similar video. In addition the Jack the Ripper Documentary that features four of our guides has just been repeated on Channel Five. The fact that our Jack the Ripper Tour guides have appeared in more recent documentaries than those of any other London walks organisations is your guarantee that, with our walks, you are getting the experts – the guides who are internationally recognised as the leading experts on the world’s most famous murder mystery. Indeed just a quick watch of our introduction gives you the chance to see your guides in action and enables you to see why these guides are considered the finest Jack the Ripper Tour guides in London.

Meanwhile, on another matter, next year is the bi-centenary of the birth of Charles Dickens and to celebrate we’re going to be offering a new series of Dickens Walks of London. These walks will be guided by leading Dickens London expert Richard Jones, author of the book Walking Dickensian London. In addition we will be adding a series of FREE Dickens Walks that you will be able to print of and do yourself. T
Apologies to all who missed out on our 2011 Halloween Ghost Walks, but these are so popular that they sell out months in advance and this year’s tour filled up in mid-September. Richard will still be conducting his weekly haunted London Tours.

Sherlock Holmes Walks In London

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

THE MAN WHO MURDERED SHERLOCK HOLMES
An Exclusive Preview From our new film that you will soon be able to buy on our London Walking Tours.

Well the winter has well and truly gone, and the sun is shining. Mark Ubsdell and Richard Jones took a break from conducting our various London walks and  have been working on the new Sherlock Holmes documentary throughout the winter and we’re pleased to announce that the trailer for it is now live. Much time was spent walking the streets of London and Edinburgh throughout what just happened to be the coldest winter for thirty years. But, thanks largely to Marks hard work and dedication, our next drama documentary “The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes” is almost ready and you will soon be able see it on our various Sherlock Holmes London walks.

The drama-documentary really is a stylish piece that features interviews with some of the world’s leading Sherlockian academics. There are some fantastic dramatic reconstructions, a specially composed soundtrack and in between Richard introduces you to the streets of London and Edinburgh and the various locations that featured in the life of Conan Doyle and the world of Sherlock Holmes.

So take a look at the preview trailer. We hope you enjoy it.

The Harry Potter London Walking Tour – An Update

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

With the snow falling all around London prts of the City are looking truly and wonderfully magical.  Which makes a nice link to this week’s big news about our Harry Potter London Tour. It’s about to be updated.

With the release of the new film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One drawing fans into the cinemas we’re in the process of updating the free Harry Potter London walk to include locations featured in the new blockbuster.

Admittedly, London doesn’t feature extensively in the latest movie (the inside of a tent gets a bigger part!) but there are several locations.

Most notably Scotland Place again features as the entrance to the Ministry of Magic and the big brown doors at its junction with Great Scotland Yard feature in the scene when Harry, Ron and Hermione drag the employees of the Ministry of Magic in through the door to be transformed into them courtesy of a slurp of polyjuice.

Whether it is worth while heading over to Shaftesbury Avenue because Harry, Ron and Hermione walk along it prior to going into the cafe where they have a memorable encounter with two Death Eaters is debatable, albeit it does make it possible to include a pleasant stroll along Haymarket, so it might yet make it into the walk.

So if you would like a copy of the new Harry Potter London Tour, the wait until Monday and send an email to

harry-potter-pdf@discovery-walks.com

and then, as if by Magic, the PDF will land in your inbox within a few minutes.

Incidentally the free Harry Potter London walk has now reached 30,000 downloads and has even been featured in USA Today. It will soon be joined by several new free London walks that will include a pub walk and a Dickens walk. Like the harry Potter tour these new walks will be fully guided walks and will feature quizzes to keep you on your toes as you make your way around the route.

Since we launched the free Harry Potter Tour two years ago many people have commented on how enjoyable the quiz and treasure hunt elements of the tour are, so the new walks will. hopefully prove equally popular.

Wow It’s Cold!!

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

London is currently gripped by an icy blast of wintry weather. But, our Jack the Ripper London walks are still going ahead and still going strong.

A few of our clients, particularly those traveling from places like West Yorkshire, Scotland and, last night, Surrey, have not been able to get in to London to take the Jack the Ripper Walk and, in these cases we’ve either moved them to another night or given a full refund on the booking.

Yesterday I took a walk around Westminster getting ready for one of the new free London walks. I’ve never seen so many police. I had to get down Cowley Street, where the Liberal Democrat headquarters are, but the police had it cordoned off at both ends, so obviously they were expecting a few students to try and disrupt the Liberal Democrats. As it happens the students needn’t have bothered as Vince Cable did a perfectly good job for them!

We had a group of students booked for their own private Jack the Ripper walk on Monday night. As it happens they were coming down from Manchester but, since they were coming by coach they persevered and got to the start of the tour only fifteen minutes late.

But the big story on our London walks this week has to be the weather. There’s not been a great deal of snow in central London so the walks themselves haven’t been too affected. The temperatures are plummeting at night (actually they’ve not been much better during the day), but by wrapping up warm and by setting a brisk pace, we are managing to keep nice and snug and warm.

So the message is the walks are going ahead as promised, but we are advising our clients to wrap up nice and warm and that way they will enjoy a great evening exploring the streets where the infamous 1888 murders occurred in the company of London’s premier Jack the Ripper Walking Tour guides.

London Ghost Walks – We’re the Wannados Not The Wannabes

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

With Halloween rapidly approaching it’s nice to see the usual sinister comments about knock-offs, wannabees and amateurs being hurled around by some of the  London Walking Tour Guides.

We’ve never gone in for that sort of questionable behaviour. We don’t do personal insults. We don’t do rants. We prefer to act like grown-ups. We just do great tours that people love. After all if you have to market your tours by hurling unfounded insults at your competitors it says more about the quality of your tours than about your competitors.  Our clients have come to expect a certain level of service from us and our mission is not insult but to entertain. And boy have we got some great things going on at the Original London Ghost Walk.

Richard’s latest book, Haunted Britain has now hit the shops and has been extremely well received. And, though we say so ourselves, it really does look great. The forward was written by Tom Baker, who has kindly posted it on the newsletter page of his website.

This is Richard’s sixteenth book on the paranormal and no other London Walking Tour Guide can offer you the same level of expertise. That’s why Richard’s acclaimed Halloween Ghost Walk has been sold out since mid September. It’s a fun-filled, chilling night of pure (ish) entertainment that unfolds against the backcloth of one of the most haunted City’s in the world.

Richard’s new documentary, The man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes, has won the approval of the world’s most notable Sherlock Holmes Societies, whilst Richard and several of the London Discovery Walks Jack the Ripper guides have been featured in the exciting new Jack the Ripper documentary that will be airing in December this year.

Richard has also achieved several entries in the the latest edition of that bible of Ripper studies, The Complete Jack the Ripper A To Z, one of which hails him as “one of London’s leading Walking Tour guides” .. how’s that for international recognition?

So, as Richard approached his 30th year of offering quality guided walks in London you can see why it is that he is most certainly the guide you wanna be with.