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