Covid-19 made me explore tour guiding in new and inventive ways. In March, I qualified as a London Blue Badge tour guide, but a global pandemic meant I couldn’t actually go out and guide, but fortunately now we have a Blue Badger who can! 🦡
Millie has kindly stepped in to show you London while I’m stuck at home. I’m hoping to post these every couple of weeks so you can find them here, or follow me on Instagram at 👉 @ramblinglondontours and hop on every Friday for the next instalment!
Churchill War Rooms
Today Millie is showing us around the Churchill War Rooms, just off Whitehall in Westminster, London’s political centre! 🏙
The War Rooms are also part of the Imperial War Museums group.
In 1936, with war threatening, it was already decided that an alternative location for the War Cabinet was required in case of emergency. By 1938, a temporary government centre was ready and it was in August the following year that the War Rooms became fully operational.
Apparently when Prime Minister Winston Churchill first entered the complex, he declared, “This is a room from which I will direct the war.”
For the poor staff who were trapped underground for such long periods of time, they had to stand under sun lamps for their daily dose of “sunlight” ☀️ and for reminders of the outside world, weather indicator boards were used to keep them up-to-date about the weather above ground. Apart from the term “windy”, which was used to indicate heavy air raids. I don’t know what they used when it was actually windy! 🌬
London has received so many new skyscrapers in recent years! 🏙 In 2003, when the Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe) was completed, it dominated the city skyline. Now, it’s often quite hard to spot it in the urban jungle! Can you see it peeking out in the first image?
In London, we like to give our skyscrapers funny names. Some are nicknames like the Gherkin and the Walkie Talkie (20 Fenchurch Street), but it’s become such a trend that some are the official names, like the Scalpel!
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Millie took a few weeks off, but today she’s back and she’s at St. Paul’s Cathedral!
While the current cathedral only goes back to the early 18th century, the religious history of the site goes back much much further. The first church was built on the site in 604AD.There have been several versions since then, including the magnificent Old St. Paul’s (the version before our current cathedral) featured in the second square. It was started under William the Conqueror in 1087 (although it took about 200 years to finish!).
Incredibly it was actually longer and its transepts wider than the current St. Paul’s! Furthermore, until the church spire was destroyed by lightning in 1561, it was also the tallest church in Christendom
Is there anywhere you’d like to see Millie give a tour?
Westminster Abbey is one of the most recognisable sites in London and it’s been at the heart of the country’s history since the 1st century!
👑 It’s the “Coronation Church” where every monarch who has had a coronation has been crowned since 1066.
⛪️ It’s a religious institution which has seen over 1,000 years of worship.
💍 It has witnessed huge royal events, such as the wedding of Katherine Middleton and Prince William in 2011.
⚰️ And it’s the final resting place for over 3,300 of the most important figures in British history, plus a place of remembrance for many, many more.
The most famous burial site in the Abbey is probably Poets’ Corner, where you can see the graves of Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, and Charles Dickens, amongst others.
A quick trip into the The British Museum with Millie today, looking at the fabulously decorated and wonderfully charismatic Lewis Chessmen! ♟
They were created at around the end of the 12th, beginning of the 13th century so they are in wonderful condition for being about 800 years old!
They were discovered on the Isle of Lewis, just off Scotland 🏴 but it’s believed they were produced in Norway 🇳🇴, so evidence of a vast and very old trading network.
You may recognise them from the first Harry Potter film, The Philosopher’s Stone, when replicas were used in the Christmas chess match between Harry and Ron in the Great Hall!
London has a lot of bridges, as many as 35 depending on where you’re counting the boundaries from! Today, Millie is sharing the story of arguably London’s most interesting bridge: London Bridge! 🌉
Often mistaken for Tower Bridge just next door, it has a fascinating history in its own right!
(Even on Google, if you search London Bridge, you’re hard-pressed to find a picture of the real one as opposed to Tower Bridge!)
The current London Bridge (opened 1973) has been the general site of a bridge across the Thames for the last 2,000 years! Right back to around 43AD when London was the Roman Londinium. The bridge then would have been made of wood.
Imperial War Museum
Today Millie has been at the The Imperial War Museum in Lambeth, teaching her group about the rationing which took place when certain food and materials were in short supply.
Interestingly, rationing extended long after the war ended in 1945. It was only in 1954 that rationing was finally, officially over in Britain, when restrictions on the sale of meat ended 🍗
City of London Dragons
Welcome back to London With Millie, and here she is with the legendary dragons who protect the City of London! Where in London have you seen them on their pedestals? 🐲 Hopefully they were a slightly better behaved than this one!
This time she’s taking us to The Monument near London Bridge, which commemorates the Great Fire of London in 1666. Thanks Millie 👏
It began in the early hours of 2nd September 1666, in the bakery of Thomas Farynor, the King’s baker.
Contrary to popular belief (and what we all learnt at school!), the bakery wasn’t quite on Pudding Lane, but in the middle of what is now known as Monument Street (then Fish Yard), just off Pudding Lane.
The Great Fire ravaged the City of London. The worst of it lasted a few days but parts of London were recorded burning for months! The fire destroyed four-fifths of the City of London, more than 13,000 houses and 87 churches. The devastating effect of the fire was said to have cost £10 million at a time when London’s annual income was only £12,000.
In 1676, as London was rebuilding itself, The Monument was commissioned to commemorate the awful event. At 62m, apparently it is the tallest free-standing Stone column in the world!
The Tower of London
Here we are at the Tower of London! It’s a castle in the heart of a city! As Millie demonstrates so wonderfully for us, it’s had many different jobs over the centuries and has stood strong and proud in London for the last 950 odd years.
It was in the 1070s that the central keep, the White Tower (the building with the four turrets and curved domes), was built by William the Conqueror. We have to imagine that, once upon a time, this structure would have soared above the small wooden houses of London! And that’s exactly what William the Conqueror intended. He was the new, and foreign, King who had won his right to the throne at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, so to solidify his position he went on a castle-building spree across the country at vital defensive points.
It is still a working palace and, as you can see in the final two images, it is still diligently protected by the Yeoman Warders, who defend the Tower and the Crown Jewels inside!
As Blue Badge guides (like Millie!), we have the privilege to guide inside the Tower of London which is an absolute honour.