Dark and Hidden London



Footprints of London has done it again! My friend Sheena and I went on the Dark and Hidden London walk, hosted by Paul Surma, on Saturday and had an interesting, informative and thoroughly enjoyable time.

If you take a look at Paul’s profile on the Footprints website, you will see that he has a liking for little alleyways and the history attached to them, and that was pretty much the point of this walk.  I know how expensive it is to become a City of London Tour Guide (which Paul is) and I never cease to marvel at how much these guys know about the City – and other parts of London.  A hard course to study, I think.  Back to the tour.


We started at the Information Centre, near to St Paul’s Cathedral. I had assumed that it was just for convenience, but no, there was a purpose to that being the starting point which was soon to become obvious.  I’m intentionally not putting the reason in here though, some it has to be left for you to find for yourselves.

Paul explained to us that the City of London (Londinium, as the Romans called it) was the old Roman city, and that in their day, the streets were based on a grid system, much like that followed in other major cities of the world nowadays.  The Romans left England in around 410 AD so Londinium was left to its own devices. It wasn’t the weather that drove the Romans away, well, probably not; it was purely and simply that Rome itself was under attack and it was too expensive to keep an army in England. Austerity was alive and kicking in Roman times too, it seems.

Leaving Roman London to its own devices meant leaving it all to nature and anyone with a garden will know exactly what that means; if there was anyone left living there, which would have been only a few, they didn’t have the skills to maintain the Roman infrastructure. I’m not spoiling the tour by saying this, it’s a matter of record.

When the Saxons invaded in around 450AD they stayed well away from the Roman city and settled further west in what is now called Aldwych (taken from an old Saxon word Ealdwic, which meant old trading town or old market place). It wasn’t until around 900AD that the Saxons moved back to Londinium, which, by this time, was dishevelled and overgrown. So much for the Roman legacy. What did the Romans do for us? A story for another time.


The tour moved on. We came to Bow Churchyard, named after the church that stands in Cheapside, St Mary-le-Bow, the one of Cockney fame. (To be a true Cockney, you have to be born within the sound of Bow bells, and it is this Bow church, not the one in Bow E3. Back in the day, before cars and aircraft, you’d have heard the bells about five miles away, but not now. I wonder whether any true Cockneys are born nowadays?)


Cheapside is so named because it used to be a market, cheap being the Old English name for market. The street was much wider years ago; wide enough for jousting tournaments, gallows and other fun features. (Back in the day, it was a tourist attraction to watch a hanging and the like, and with some of the videos available on YouTube these days, I am not convinced that much has changed.)

A church has stood on the site of the church at St Mary-le-Bow before the Norman Conquest, but, like so many other buildings, it was destroyed in the Great Fire in and was subsequently rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren. The one that was rebuilt wasn’t the first church on this site to be destroyed though, there was one in 1091 which was destroyed by the London Tornado.  That was reckoned to be a pretty fierce tornado, with speeds up to 250 mph, it’s estimated.

It was an important church for many reasons, not the least being that the bells were used to sound the curfew when it was a walled city – if you didn’t get inside the city gates PDQ, you’d be spending the night in the country, which wasn’t nice back then. I wonder whether that is where all the stuff about Londoners getting a nose bleed if they go too far from home or the wrong side of the river comes from. (I can assure anyone who is not from London that this doesn’t happen.  I even travel around London quite safely without my passport.)  St Mary’s was considered to be the second most important church in the City (St Paul’s being the first) and so it was one of the first to be rebuilt after the Fire.

Our tour moved on to somewhere I’ve been before but I couldn’t remember the name of the place – the premises in question is now Williamsons’ Tavern in Bow Lane, but it used to be the residence of the Lord Mayor of London. The original building was built back in 1189 when the office of Lord Mayor was established, although the Lord Mayor has now moved to the Mansion House. I must actually go in this pub for a drink one day, just to get an idea of what it would have been like. (It’s been closed whenever I’ve gone since I’ve known of its existence.)

From here we made our way to a road called Watling Street. I always get very excited when I come here because I remember learning about the Roman Roads and Watling Street when I was at school. Sadly, this is not that Watling Street, although it is a Roman Road. Nonetheless, it does have some historical significance, it leads directly to St Paul’s, and there is a pub here called Ye Olde Watling, which dates back to just after the Great Fire.  Wren had a huge workforce setting about rebuilding London and he realised that they would need somewhere to go and let off steam and have a bit of relaxation, so he had this pub built, reputedly from old ships’ timbers.  It is also said that Wren used the rooms upstairs as his drawing office.


Further along Watling Street, in the opposite direction to St Paul’s, is a bronze statue check of a cordwainer. Paul explained that this street was once known as Cordwainer Street because that was the street in which most of the cordwainers were based. It was like that back in the old days – Bread Street = bakers, Silk Street = silk makers, and so on. The term “cordwainer” comes from Cordoba in Spain, and these were the people who made leather shoes. The cordwainers made it big in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, I suppose they must have been the Jimmy Choo of the day.


Another interesting thing that Paul told us (which I think I had known but forgotten) was that the well-to-do used to wear things called “pattens” over their shoes. The streets were pretty rough to walk in those days, no nice paving stones or tarmac on the road, and there was a lot of… well… to put it politely, the streets were used as drains, and I’m leaving the rest to your imagination. So pattens were early platforms and covers to protect the shoes and to ensure that the ladies’ lovely dresses didn’t drag in the dirt.

Onwards to St Pancras’ Church Gardens, which would have been the site of St Pancras Church. It could only have been a little church and was one of 86 destroyed in the Fire. (There were originally about 110  churches and only about 50 were rebuilt.) This was one of those that wasn’t rebuilt but the churchyard continued to be used as a burial ground until 1853.  It’s a lovely little churchyard, off the beaten track, with beautfully carved wooden seats.  These benches are a fairly new addition to the gardens, designed by students from the City and Guilds London Art School.


Then onto St Stephen’s Walbrook, near to Mansion House. This is the last of the three churches that Wren built with domes – it rather seems that he was practising before building St Paul’s, and he got it right with this one. The original church on this site was another that was destroyed by the Fire.

From here to Change Alley, where Garraways Coffee House stood; it was rebuilt in 1874, another Fire casualty, but this was where tea was traded. There was a blue plaque on another building, the site of the King’s Arms Tavern, where the first meeting of the Marine Society was held on 25 June 1756. Marine society

Then we made our way to St Michael’s Alley and the Jamaica Wine House. I wrote a little about this in my post of 29 May, about Mark Rowland’s Walk in the City:



Although what I hadn’t realised previously that as well as trading sugar, and the like from the West Indies, as they would have been called back then, they also traded slaves. Naïve of me not to realise, I suppose.

Moving swiftly on after that charming note, to Leadenhall Market. I love Leadenhall, partly because all of the shops have their signages in the same design, as in the photograph below. So no matter what their trade mark and logo is, they don’t use them in Leadenhall.


Leadenhall Market used to be the cheese and poultry market, but is now a shopping area.

Paul told us the tale of Old Tom, a goose who had been taken to market to be slaughtered but escaped and then went on to become a local celebrity. Apparently, back in the day, around 34,000 geese would have been slaughtered over a two day period! That’s a lot of Christmas dinners!

Then along to Rood Lane, and the church of St Margaret’s Patten; you can guess what that’s about. This is one of the churches that has an exhibition in it, so somewhere I need to return to. Paul took us onto Plantation Lane something here where there are

The tour ended at All Hallows by the Tower, which is one of the oldest churches in London, dating back to the 10th century. It survived the Great Fire (Pepys stood in its tower watching the fire’s progress) but not the Blitz. It was badly damaged but has been rebuilt since. This is another church with an exhibition in the basement. I can see I’m going to have to have a day of visiting churches soon.

From here, Sheena and I made our way back down to Liverpool Street, to pick up some Prosecco in the Tesco there, and then wandered along to Brick Lane, to go to our favourite Aladin restaurant.

It was a good tour and a good meal. Paul was personable and knowledgeable and answered all the questions easily. I thought it was really nice that he thanked us all too, at the end of the walk.

© Susan Shirley 2015

Solar Panels


The Shirley household had solar panels fitted recently. I’ve wanted them for years, it must be the ecologist in me (I studied ecology as part of my bachelors degree in biology) but they weren’t affordable when we first moved in and we didn’t meet the criteria for a grant, so nothing happened. I have long been concerned about the rising cost of energy prices, anecdotally at least, there is much discussion about how much they will rise over the next 20 years or so. I, for one, have no desire to spend my month’s salary on my heating bills.


Time passed and then in May, out of the blue (before I got my call blocker handsets) I received a call from a company that fits solar panels. It was one of those serendipitous occasions because, even before the call blocking handsets, I didn’t often answer the landline if I didn’t recognise the number. Not many people have the landline number; I have toyed with getting rid of it a number of times over the years, but have never quite made the move. Back to the solar panels.

The salesman came to the house, and a very nice chap he was, but, on the original quote, it didn’t work out to be cost effective to have the panels fitted. To say I was upset was an understatement, but the plan is to move from here in a few years and it just wasn’t affordable for solar panels to be fitted for someone else to get all the benefit. That was that, I thought. Of course, the benefit was that I now had a greater insight into them and how they worked.


Naturally, there is an environmental cost to actually producing solar panels, and it’s another thing that I am concerned about. (Is it really “green” to recycle glass? It certainly wasn’t something like 40 years ago, because of the energy costs involved.) However, solar energy doesn’t produce any green house gases, so I think, in the long run, they are more environmentally friendly. Take a look at the Montalto di Castro Solar Park in Italy… It prevents 20,000 tonnes of carbon emissions per year. Of course, it’s much bigger than my little roof effort, and they can change the orientation of their panels for maximum advantage. We can’t do that yet with roof panels, but who knows what the future will bring?

And then there are the ongoing costs. The panels are guaranteed for, I think, 20 years. (I didn’t go for cheap ones, of course, but then I never do cheap.) If you buy decent ones, the ongoing maintenance should be minimal.

Although the technology has moved on leaps and bounds, in the UK, a south facing roof is always going to be best for sunlight capture. And my roof just happens to be south facing. One degree off of due south, to be precise. I suppose I could have gone for broke and had them fitted on the north side too, but I’m not sure that the extra cost would have been worth it.

I knew, after the salesman had been round, that I would start producing my own energy during the daylight hours, and that on a sunny day, it would produce most energy. I also knew that I would link into what is called a “feed in tariff,” but it was all a bit theoretical until fitting. To be honest, with cost of the loan, I am not expecting to actually make money for a couple of years, longer if I take into account the cost of the loan and don’t pay it off early.


What I hadn’t realised, until the day of fitting, that the old analogue meter would run backwards whilst my panels were producing energy! I can’t tell you how exciting this was for me (yes, yes, I know, I’m an anorak). The only times before I’ve known about electricity meters running backwards is when someone is doing something hooky. I believe the technical term is abstraction of electricity, and it comes under the Theft Act, so seeing it going backward legally was, well, quite frankly, mesmerising. Yes, I did stand and watch it go round, and watch the red light flash on the solar unit.


It’s too soon for me to say how much money will be saved on electricity bills, nor on the gas bills during the winter – that depends on being able to buy an energy saving electric heater. As the sparks told me, if I use too much when it’s producing energy, it will stop all the benefits and electricity is more expensive than gas. Still, to be producing energy when I have the ‘fridge, ‘fridge freezer, a few things on charge, and the washing machine going, that’s ok with me. Watch this space for further updates.

If you are interested in finding out more about solar energy, take a look here:




(I am quite shameless in telling you that if I recommend you, I get a payment, so please come to me first.)

© Susan Shirley 2015

Bloggers’ Night Out



I met up with Gianni of acrossthehogsback.wordpress.com fame last week fo a bloggers’ night out.  We writers need encouragement from one another from time to time and we haven’t seen each other in a while.

In case you haven’t yet realised it, we are both great foodies, although we committed the cardinal sin of blogging…. We didn’t photograph our food!

It was somewhat embarrassing for me when we met because the restaurant I had raved about, and which the internet still showed as being there a few days earlier had gone! What to do now? A quick foray into the depths of the internet wasn’t helping so we started walking and fell upon Cicchetti in Wellington Street. We checked out the menu and decided to venture in.

I’m pretty sure that this restaurant is located on the site of what used to be PJ’s Grill (I loved that place!). It was quite dimly lit, low lighting and candles on the table, with lots of Italian marble about the place. I struggled to read the menu, unfortunately, the language barrier hit when I asked if they had it in braille… Our waiter was Italian and probably new to London.  His English is still better than my Italian though.

Our waiter explained (well, maybe the language barrier hit again because neither of us really understood at this point) that the dishes were medium sized and meant for sharing. I didn’t catch the Italian word. but I say again, “Joey doesn’t share food!” And neither do I! And, comfortingly for me, nor does Gianni.

So we ordered what we thought were main courses, having decided to forego starters, and were a trifle confused when our waiter said that we shouldn’t expect both dishes to come up at the same time. Confusion notwithstanding, my risotto arrived first. I had chosen risotto with scallop green peas. It was absolutely delicious, but I was a little disappointed at the size, still not being quite with the programme. The risotto itself was soft and creamy, with the pea flavour in every mouthful, and one large scallop sitting atop it.  Divine.  Luckily, Gianni’s dish arrived within seconds of mine and the penny finally dropped.  All the dishes were meant for sharing. Gianni had chosen one of the specials, a black pasta with tomatoes, I don’t remember the other ingredients, but it looked fab, and she enjoyed it. We both agreed that this wasn’t going to satisfy two hungry bloggers though.

We finished our first dishes and asked for the menu again. This time, Gianni went for the Queen scallops and another pasta dish and I chose the baked aubergine with mozzarella and rocket. The mozzarella was the soft, fluffy kind, and I was absolutely full to the gunnels by the time I’d finished. Maybe that would have been a dish better for sharing…

When we finished our wine and food, we had liqueurs… It would have been rude not to. Limoncello for Gianni and Ricard for me. I haven’t had one of those in many years and it was so refreshing.

What neither of us realised was that “cicchetti” is a Venetian style food, which are small dishes that may be shared, or maybe just for when you want a snack. The restaurant is part of the Signor Sassi group of restaurants, The San Carlo Group, but I think it lived up to the reputation, especially once we realised what was required.

The restaurant also does breakfasts (and I’m pleased to say there is a proper breakfast included in this, not quite a typical full English, but it looks as though it would pass muster) and afternoon teas.

Obviously, there was a lot of chatting going on as we were dining, and Gianni and I have been working out some other places to visit… And to write about. I think I can safely speak for Gianni as well when I say that it is our duty to visit as many fabulous places as possible! Watch this space.

© Susan Shirley 2015


Rex and Mariano




My friend V suggested this place for our next meet, she said she’d been walking past it on the way to work and liked the look of it, so we ought to give it a try. It’s a fish restaurant, which is always a hit with me, so, I booked a table for 6.30pm last Friday (yes, I know that’s an early dinner, but haven’t you ever listened to the words in “That’s why the Lady is a Tramp?” Bring it on Frankie.)

The outside of the restaurant is lovely. Glass fronted with olive trees in pots. Inside, we were greeted by three young ladies, very smiley and friendly, who confirmed our booking and took us to our table. This is where the fun began.


Our waitress, Ally, came over with an iPad, and then explained how it all worked. Not the iPad per se, I’m using one to type this on, but how it worked in the restaurant. Basically, the idea is that it is a restaurant for sharing (no, no, no, that is so wrong! I don’t want to share my food with anyone. Joey doesn’t share food! I explained this to Ally, who, thankfully, understood.) If you wanted dishes brought up together, call her, and don’t use the iPad. The iPad is not as intuitive as a human. Back to the point, there are lots of dishes that, if you were so inclined, you could share with someone. I did say to V it would be great if you were with a man, like the couple at the table next to us, they seemed to enjoy the sharing thing, and I do concede that there are some foods I will share, but as a rule of thumb, keep your hands off my food.

In the whole spirit of the restaurant, we opted for tuna stuffed olives and salmon carpaccio to start. I may have mentioned before that I don’t eat wheat… Well, the olives arrived hot and lightly battered. The peeling off of the batter was worth it, they were delicious, and I would definitely have them again. The salmon carpaccio was exactly as it should have been, and garnished with a lightly scented baby basil. There was a bit of tomato in there too. I was in seventh heaven.

Because of the iPad system, we didn’t order our main course until we’d finished the starter, although we’d both made up our minds…. Well, almost, I changed my mind at the last minute. Ally told us that if we ordered on the iPad, our food might not come up together, so best to order through her if we were not sharing.

V opted for the Fritto Misto, a selection of different seafoods, again, lightly battered. She said it was absolutely delicious, the batter wasn’t too much. I had clams in white wine with parsley and chill. They got the seasoning just right, in my opinion, although I love a chilli, clams have way too delicate a flavour to have too much of a good thing.


We shared a portion of divine asparagus and we both had chips. Yes, I did say we both had chips. And I had mayonnaise too, so health police, shoot me. It doesn’t happen often.


To top it all off, we had a bottle of Muscadet. The whole meal was lovely, the service was great, apart from not realising that my olives would be battered, there was nothing I didn’t like. And that is not, in any way, a complaint. Our table was booked for two hours, although I guess we could have stayed in the bar for another bottle of wine.

The restaurant is an alliance between Rex Goldsmith, known on Twitter as The Chelsea Fishmonger, which just happens to be the name of his fishmonger’s shop, and Sicilian chef Mariano li Vigni. It’s fairly new, it opened in November 2014. They’ve run restaurants together before (the Burger and Lobster chain for one) so I guess they know how each other works by now.

The restaurant itself is open plan, as in the tables are all at the front of the restaurant, there is a bar area at the end furthest from the entrance, and then there is a fresh fish counter behind the tables. The kitchen area lays behind that, and is almost open to the public. When I say almost, the upper part is but there are kitchen appliances in the way. It was very light and airy, in the style of having all the aluminium ducting on show. Although that’s not really my style, somehow it worked in here. I can imagine it getting quite noisy, which I don’t like, but that wasn’t a problem on this visit.


One of the quirky things about the restaurant is that they don’t bring finger bowls, but they do have a couple of big sinks for people to wash their hands. I’m quite fussy about this – I wash my hands when I arrive back in my house and before eating, just like mother taught me. (I wash them on quite a lot of other occasions too.) My usual habit is to use hand sanitiser when I arrive in a restaurant, and then again after I’ve been to the ladies… You just never know what other peoples’ habits are. As I was doing this, Ali pointed out the huge sink (I’m going to call it a large Butler’s sink, I’m not sure whether that is correct) close to our table. There was another circular sink near to the entrance. I thought that was quite a nice touch.

We really enjoyed the food here, and I intend to try to work my way through the card so I will be going back again and again.

© Susan Shirley 2015