Mark Rowland’s City of London Tour


The actual name of the walk is called,

“Wren, Romans and Liverymen: A brief history of the City of London.”

A brief history it may have been, but Mark managed to pack a great deal in, making it not only a very interesting walk, but teaching me a lot in the process.

This was my first walk with Mark, and, as with all tour guides, you never really know what to expect until you meet them. I needn’t have worried though, Mark’s enthusiasm shone through, making this one of the best walks I’ve ever been on.

What amazed me most (to be fair, this doesn’t just apply to Mark, but most London tour guides) is the depth of knowledge that he had, all stored in his head. I know he studied hard to learn all of this information, but even so. He carried a binder only to show us artists’ impressions of the way the City might have looked, or photographs of the way things were.  In a few hours, there was limited time for Mark to tell us what he knew, but he had a really good go at it.

We were a fairly small group so people felt free to ask a lot of questions (sometimes I think we all feel a bit constrained in a larger group) which Mark answered without any hesitation.

The walk around the City was very comprehensive and covered the founding of the City through to the plague of 1665 to the Great Fire of London right up to the present day. If you know the City even slightly, I’m sure that there must be things that you wonder about? That’s certainly the case with me. For example, why is Lombard Street so called? I know the answer now, and I also know why we used to have Lsd (not the drug, but pounds, shillings and pence) – libri, soldi and denarii.

Our tour started just outside Tower Hill underground station, in full view of the Tower of London; from there we walked a short way to see some of the remains of the old Roman City Wall. (I now know how to tell whether a wall is Roman!)

Part of the remaining Roman London Wall
Part of the remaining Roman London Wall

We then paused outside St Olav’s Church in Hart Street, where 300 plague victims were buried, including the woman who is alleged to have brought the plague to the City. Both Samuel Pepys and his wife are buried here. The depictions above the gate to the churchyard are a bit grisly, which may have been why Charles Dickens nicknamed it “St Ghastly Grim!” This was a church that Pepys liked to use when he was alive; working in the Admiralty, so fitting that he is buried here.



Of course, we made our way along Lombard Street but you have to go on the tour to find out why it is called that.

The photo below shows a quick stop in our tour – I thought this was a beautiful building that was once someone’s great home. Turns out it was originally a vinegar warehouse…


From there onto Pudding Lane, where the Great Fire of London started. The Monument to the fire stands near to the bottom of Fish Street Hill, which was once a main thoroughfare into the City, and which was the site of fish market way back in the time of Henry III. If you were to look at a map of where we’d travelled at this point, we were still very close to the start, and yet it seemed as though we had walked miles, but in a good way.

Then onto the Jamaica Wine House in St Michael’s Alley, Cornhill. The plaque on the side of the pub says,

“Here stood the first London Coffee house at the sign of the Pasqua Rosee’s Head 1652.”


The coffee shop as it is now
The coffee shop as it is now

Pasqua worked for Daniel Edwards who was a trader in Turkish goods, including coffee, and he helped Pasqua set up the coffee house. It was sometimes known as the Turk’s Head. I wrote about coffee houses a few months ago – see my blog:

Different coffee houses grew to specialise in different discussion areas, unsurprisingly, I suppose, when you consider how you get a different type of clientele in different pubs, bars, etc.

What surprised me was to see how close together the buildings were around here, and, notwithstanding that they had been modernised, you could see how the Great Fire spread so quickly. The photographs below give a bit of indication but really don’t show the full closeness.


Keeping in the food and drink theme, we went to what is said to be the oldest restaurant in town, Simpson’s Tavern in Ball Court. The tavern was established on this site in 1757, but ladies weren’t admitted until 1916! No going out for a romantic dinner back in those days then? I had a look at the menu, and this is somewhere that I’d definitely like to go.

We visited several other stops before we found ourselves outside St Alban’s in Wood Street. This church was medieval but had been rebuilt and was then destroyed in the Great Fire of London and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, completed in 1685. Unfortunately, the Blitz caused serious damage to the church, and the remains of the church, minus the tower, were demolished in 1965. All that remains is the tower, which is now a private dwelling designated a Grade II listed building.

Then onto another stop by a different part of the Roman Wall, at the edge of where the Roman Fort would have been. Part of the wall is underground and guided tours are available from time to time courtesy of the Museum of London.

Our tour ended at an extra stop at Number One, New Change, where Mark took us up to the roof terrace, with its fabulous views of St Paul’s Cathedral and across London.

Taken from the top on One New Change
Taken from the top on One New Change

If you only do a short visit to London, really try to do this walk, it was absolutely fascinating and informative and I’ve only briefly touched on it here. There was far more to it than what I’ve described.  I will be doing more walks with Mark soon, so hope to see you on one of them.

You can find out more about Mark’s walks at or

© Susan Shirley 2015

Coral Reefs


A couple of friends and I visited the Natural History Museum on Sunday, we went to see the Coral Reefs exhibition. Without a doubt, this was one of the most beautiful and interesting exhibitions I have ever visited. Beautiful, but quite frightening too, in many ways. I knew that coral reefs were endangered but didn’t really know why.

I also didn’t know until Sunday that the coral reef is one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet, providing a home to at least 25% of marine species. The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure on the planet, and the coral triangle in South-East Asia has the highest diversity of marine life in the world! Corals are of immense use to humans in a number of ways – for example, they absorb the impact from waves hitting the shoreline; they can take in up to 97% of their energy, serving to protect both the coastline and the people living there. It really is worth our while to look after them.

Coral reefs are made up of thin layers of calcium carbonate which is secreted over animals known as coral polyps, which are quite simple organisms. They seem to form these layers in tiny hexagonal shapes, something that appears quite a lot in nature as it’s strong. Not only are they invertebrates, they don’t have any bone structure at all, nor any of the complexities that are associated with so-called higher organisms.


There are two kinds of corals – hard and soft. The hard corals have a rigid exoskeleton, the soft ones don’t, and these are the ones that we see swaying with the ocean currents. Both forms are sessile, ie, they do not move about, and tend to have tentacles that they use to catch prey. Every gap between different parts of the coral is inhabited, which serves to make a more stable structure. They may be considered lower life forms, in evolutionary terms, but they have complex relationships with the other creatures that exist around them, forming symbiotic associations with algae – algae produce food and carbon by photosynthesis and the coral provide protection. It’s these algae – zooxanthellae – that give the beautiful colours to the reefs.

As well as the algae, there are many other creatures that live in the reefs: oysters, clams, shrimps, crabs, sea worms, star fish, sea urchins, jelly fish, sea anemones and turtles, to name a few. There are fish known as Gardener Species such as Parrot Fish play a part in keeping the reefs clean and tidy, and Clown Fish (as in Finding Nemo) forms a symbiotic association with sea anemones – both protect each other from their specific parasites, the sea anemone provides food for the Clown Fish and the Clown Fish helps the sea anemone with its parasites. Far too many different fish and organisms to mention here.


Many species of coral reproduce during mass spawning events, when the adults release thousands of eggs and sperm pretty much simultaneously on just one day of the year. The sperm are guided by moonlight and once they have fertilised an egg, they attach to a suitable place on the reef and start to build their limestone skeleton. Who said romance was dead?

Like most ecosystems that are left to their own devices, corals are very resilient to natural events such as hurricanes and the like, and can recover pretty quickly. Many coral reefs are in trouble though, largely through man’s interventions or, some would say, interference. Corals are intolerant of wide ranges in water temperature, salinity or pH of the water. Any change outside of a narrow range can stop growth, for example, too much sunlight will cause the coral to expel the algae (coral bleaching), and if the coral can’t find more food, within a few weeks it will starve. This is when we are left with the barren, skeletal type structures with no fish or other organisms swimming nearby. Conversely, too little light prevents growth. More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is causing ocean acidification which slows down limestone secretion.

Industrial run-off, human sewage and other toxic waste, be they from pesticides or other sources can increase the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous in the water, which can in turn affect the natural balance of organisms living in the reefs, or even just poison them. Removal of trees near to the water’s edge can increase the amount of sunlight reaching the reefs. Land clearance can cause soil erosion which can then bury corals.


Fortunately, all is not yet lost. A number of countries with coral reefs nearby are taking proactive steps to protect the reefs, eg the United States has a Coral Reef Task Force and there are coral reef initiatives such as the Coral Triangle Initiative. These are all aimed at addressing the threats to coral reefs, and if we work together, we can give them a chance to repair themselves and/or grow again.

If you are interested in learning more about protecting coral reefs, check out
© Susan Shirley 2015

Workers’ Lunch at The Criterion

The Beautiful Boys (Dave, Paul and Stephen) and I went for lunch at The Criterion in Piccadilly Circus yesterday. Paul and I went there for lunch a few years back, so we were confident of a good meal, but this was one of those “deals” that you get with Amazon Local.  I’m not quite sure who named this series of lunches the “Workers’ Lunches” but it’s because we four are the only ones left of our cohort working for the same employer.  We go out every few months, and if we can get a deal, we do.

If you’ve never been to The Criterion, you need to go. It has the most amazing mosaic ceiling, very high, very elaborate, very beautiful.  It was built by Thomas Verity in the Neo-Byzantine style, and it opened in 1873.  It is a Grade II listed building.


I feel that in some of the restaurants that we’ve been to for these deals, we don’t always get quite the same treatment because we have a deal.  This was most definitely not the case at the Criterion.  The service throughout was very attentive, empty glasses and dishes were cleared quickly.  It’s always a bit of a pet hate of mine when empty plates and left on the table, so that earned them many house points with me.

We started with a Bellini…  Just the way to start a meal, in my opinion.   There were, I think, five or six choices for the starter, four for the main course and four desserts.  The point of this deal was that the wine was selected for us depending on which dish we chose.  I went for the smoked salmon to start, Stephen went for the ham terrine, I think that Paul had the smoked salmon too, Dave chose the soup.  The salmon was served with soda bread, but The Criterion had gluten free bread in stock for me.  (Not just for me, obviously.)  Trust me when I say that I’ve been to restaurants before (admittedly a few years ago) when they had to go out and buy some, and more recently, I’ve been to restaurants where they couldn’t cater for me at all, so this was another plus point for me.

I selected chicken for my main course, but wasn’t sure whether that would contain wheat – our waitress immediately offered to check with the chef for me, and luckily it was suitable.  And delicious.

Normally, I would have stopped after the main course, but as dessert was included in the price, I went for the peanut and chocolate mousse with honeycomb.  It was divine; moreover, we were all extremely impressed with the choices of wines, even the dessert wines were not so cloyingly sweet that they were unpleasant to drink.  In fact, the one I had with my dessert was bordering on a fortified wine and rather pleasant.

My dessert
My dessert

We were served complimentary petit fours with our coffee, which the boys said were delightful.  I just couldn’t fit anything else in at that point.   We’d paid for the meal when we purchased the deal, but thought we had to pay service at the restaurant.  We did, but only on the teas and coffees, so we ended up only paying £5 per head on the day!  Very impressive.

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Paul’s dessert


Dave's dessert
Dave’s dessert

The Criterion was built for wine merchants Spiers and Pond, who held a competition for its design and build.  It took two years to complete and cost over £80,000 (which would be over £8 million at today’s prices).  It was built with five floors – the ground floor dining room, more dining rooms on the first and second floors, a ballroom on the third floor and a theatre in the basement.  The restaurant opened on 17 November 1873.

The restaurant was home to the Royal College of Science’s First Annual Dinner, when the chairman was none other than H G Wells.  Filming for scenes of “Batman, the Dark Knight” took place here, as were scenes from Downton Abbey.  Many other famous people have taken afternoon tea or dined here, including Christabel Pankhurst, one of the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement.

From the The Criterion, we went for a quick drink in the Queen’s Head, which is an old pub, famous for dog fights a hundred odd years ago.  And from there to the Bar Americain in ZL. The Bar Americain is downstairs and is a lovely little bar, even if it did charge £9.80 for a glass of Sancerre!

We had a great afternoon and evening, and even saw some ex-colleagues in the bar.  Looking forward to the next one, boys.
© Susan Shirley 2015



Belly Dancing

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I love all kinds of dancing – ballet, ballroom, street, etc but the two types of dance that fascinate me most are belly dancing and tap dancing. Belly dancing because the dancers look so graceful, even when they are moving quite fast, and they can do things with their muscles that I think are amazing and I want to do. Tap dancing, I suppose because of watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in those old films, and it just looks amazing to watch a troop literally tapping in time.

I haven’t tried tap dancing yet, but I went to my first belly dancing class last week. It was great fun and I really enjoyed it, even though I wasn’t very good at it.

Our teacher, Sadiyya, was great. She has a fantastic sense of humour and was really helpful to all of us ladies. Only a few of the ladies had done it before, and most of us had two left hips as well as two left feet! Sadiyya explained that muscles on one side of the body can be stronger than on the other, depending on how we stand or habitually move. Makes sense. She came round to each of us in turn to help us with out techniques and explained that it would probably take a few months before we started to become proficient in the moves.  Sadiyya also told us that we needed to start working on strengthening some muscles to make it easier for us to perfect our technique.

Go girl!

Regular readers will know that I like to research my subjects as well as writing how I feel about something, so I was surprised to find so little information about the history of belly dancing on the internet.

It seems that it started its life in the Middle East – Egypt and Turkey appear to be the countries in which it is most prolific. It was one of those things that women and girls did between themselves, when there were no men present. At least, when the women danced at their weddings, there would be no men present. Maybe that’s why, when I was researching this, the first article I found was “Why I can’t stand white belly dancers” by Randa Jarrar.


Ms Jarrar believes that white women who belly dance are continuing a long tradition of appropriation. I didn’t go to the class for anything like that, although there were actually only a few white women in the class, I went because it seemed like fun and besides, I really want to learn to do that thing with my head. If you’ve every seen Eastern dancing you’ll know what I mean. Anyway, apologies to Ms Jarrar and anyone else who is offended, but it won’t stop me going back. I don’t intend to perform in public; I just want a way to help keep fit where I can enjoy myself and have a bit of fun.


Traditionally, the dance is either a social dance or a performance art. The social dance is performed by men and women, as well as children, at celebratory events, and the dancers tend to wear their ordinary clothes. The performance art is less of social, folk type dance and may introduce other less traditional elements to it. Unsurprisingly, performers are not considered respectable in the Middle East. I don’t mean that disrespectfully either, but Islam is the main religion in these countries and is strict in its rules about women interacting with men outside of their family, let alone displaying flesh in public. Not dissimilar to Christianity a few hundred years ago. Those are the rules and I accept them for what they are.


Belly dancing in Egypt is distinct from belly dancing in Turkey. Egyptian dancers who performed in public were traditionally known as Ghawazi, from the Nawar people. Egyptian belly dance (called Raqs) is believed to have been a way to entertain the kings. Turkish belly dancing is known as Oryantal Dans or just Oryantal, and tends to be more gymnastic and energetic than Egyptian. These dancers usually use finger cymbals or zils. It’s considered poor show in Turkey if a dancer can’t use the zils as well.

More from Sadiyya's dance class
More from Sadiyya’s dance class

I’m not sure whether Sadiyya’s dance is Egyptian or Turkish and I’m not sure that it really matters. You can’t do this dancing well without a lot of muscle control.  All I know is that she is a great teacher and that t was fun. Her class is at the Soho Gym; see her face book page for more info.

©  Susan Shirley 2015



Literary Soho

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I had booked my ticket for the Footprints of London Literary London tour, hosted by Alan Fortune, some time ago. At the time I hadn’t realised that 26 April was the same day as the London Marathon. Of course, I realised as soon as I got on the train. Not that it particularly mattered because the tour didn’t get close to the Marathon route.

Alan said, “If you are going to do a tour around Soho, a Sunday morning really is the best time to do it.” He was right, the rest of the week it is just heaving with people doing what people do, and certainly not wanting a group on a tour getting in their way. I have never seen Soho so quiet around before, but it was great for a walking tour.

We met at Piccadilly Circus underground station and made our way round to Archer Street. Alan stopped opposite a bar called Be at One which used to be a pub called the King’s Arms. It was here that two young Germans named Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels used to discuss their political ideas back the 1800s. Together, they jointly wrote The Communist Manifesto, as well as writing other books independently of each other.

From here we went to Great Pulteney Street, to the house of John William Polidori. Polidori lived between 1795 and 1821 and was Lord Byron’s physician as well as being a writer. He was a bit of a smarty pants, because he graduated from the University of Edinburgh as a doctor at the age of 19!

On the way to our next main stop, we passed a pub called the John Snow, named after the physician who discovered the cause of cholera – drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food.

Then onto Marshall Street, where William Blake, poet and artist, was born. There is a huge block of flats there now. Alan told us a lot about Blake’s life, but you have to go on the tour to get all the details, there’s too much to tell for this blog.


Our next stop was D’Arblay Street, named after Frances (Fanny) D’Arblay nee Burney. Fanny seems to me to have been one of those interesting women from history. Fanny kept a journal in which she recorded events about London society and which she published. She went on to write several novels, and is reputed to have been an influence in the way that Jane Austen wrote. Fanny worked for George III and Queen Charlotte for five years as second keeper of the robes, although these were not particularly happy years for her. She married at age 41. The actual street was renamed in 1909 in commemoration of Fanny’s life.

Then we went to Dean Street, to see where Karl Marx had lived at one time, and then the Dog and Duck at the junction of Bateman Street and Frith Street, the haunt of a number of artistic people over the years, including George Orwell. Along Frith Street to Hazlitt’s which was built in 1718, and named after writer William Hazlitt who died there.

We went from here around Soho Square onto Greek Street, pausing to look at St Barnabas House which is a Grade I listed Georgian building. Since 1862, it has been a charity to help the homeless.

Further along Greek Street is the Pillars of Hercules public house. This pub was originally built in 1733, and was featured in Charles Dickens’ book A Tale of Two Cities, then onto Old Compton Street to pass the location where Richard Wagner composed The Flying Dutchman. Back to Dean Street for the French House and all the history that went with that and then onto St Anne’s Church, a church of which Sir Christopher Wren was co-architect. The ashes of Dorothy L Sayers, of Lord Peter Wimsey fame, are buried here.


We ended the tour in Gerrard Street which housed the site of the Turk’s Head Tavern where Dr Johnson and Joshua Reynolds attended The Literary Club, and opposite, the site of one of the homes of poet and playwright John Dryden.

This was a lovely tour, very informative, and Alan was a joy to have as a tour guide. I knew that London had a lot of history, but this told me more than I knew before and I hope I’ve given you a flavour for what you can expect, although no review can ever match the experience, you need to “walk the walk.” I wholeheartedly commend this one to you.

© Susan Shirley 2015