Exploring the secrets of the city with Fun London Tours

Matt Gedge Fun London Tours showing us around the captial

Matt from Fun London Tours

With thousands of people choosing to visit the UK each year to explore the history of such a small nation it is understandable that when people descend upon the city of London they flock to the historical attractions.  Visiting Buckingham Palace, retracing the footsteps of Kings and Queens from bygone years, sauntering around Westminster Abbey taking in the famous gravestones and wonderful architecture and taking a walk around the Tower of London, without being locked up for treason, are all must-sees sights — but what about the lesser known places?  London has much more to offer, you just need to know where to look.

A great resource, for anyone willing to spend a couple of hours with someone knowledgeable, is Matt Gedge of Fun London Tours.  Even on overcast days filled with drizzle Matt will entertain you with stories about locations you have probably walked pass hundreds of times without even considering the historical significance.

What Tour should you take?

We joined him recently on his Secret London Tour, which is popular with both tourists and Londoners alike, to see what we had missed on our numerous visits into the capital over the years.

Blue Cockerel or Trafalgar Square, London, UK, city

Starting in Trafalgar Square, under the rather unusual bright Persian blue cockerel statue, we met up with Matt and our group, expecting to learn more about London whilst taking in both the quirky sights and the grandeur of the city.

When visitors flock to Trafalgar Square it is often to see the hordes of pigeons grappling for scraps or the large lions protecting the fountain.  I am convinced however, that few who visit know that it also home to, what was at one time, the world’s smallest police station.

The Smallest police station. Trafalgar Square, London, UK

The World’s Smallest Police Station

Immovable on the corner of the Square, standing guard to both the sights inside and overseeing the buzzing traffic outside, this one-man post was converted during World War II for the purpose of providing a guard station for police officers.  Definitely not as comfortable as police stations today; you would have difficulty doing paperwork whilst boiling the kettle but at a time of need this was an ideal location.

At this point, Matt also shared with us a few peculiar facts about Trafalgar Square that you may or may not know.

Did you know that it is illegal to climb on the lions surrounding the fountain, although, even as he said it, there was a large crowd taking selfies with the creatures, perching precariously high up on their manes or standing on their backs, highlighting that this law is clearly a struggle to reinforce.

It is also illegal to fly a kite in the Square, do your washing (why would you?) or use a canoe (not sure how you would achieve this?).

Heading up towards Leicester Square we then stumble upon the site of the former Sublime Society of Beefsteaks, now known simply as the Beefsteak Club. A gentleman’s club that would prefer to remain anonymous and the doors of which stay firmly closed to the masses.  Set up in 1735, many famous men would have wandered through the door wearing a blue blazer with brass buttons to spend an evening drinking copious amounts of alcohol and discussing politics and literature over a steak dinner.  Some of its most famous residents included the poet Samuel Johnson and writer Bram Stoker.  It is believed that it was here in 1890 that a Romanian spoke about Vlad the Impaler; the same Vlad that later became a loose inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Today’s famous inhabitants include Stephen Fry.

The Sublime Society of Beefsteaks in London, UK

The unknown meeting place of the society

 

I guarantee this is an unimposing building that you would wander by, assuming it was a window to someone’s apartment; you would not consider it to be a meeting place for some of the world’s most influential men.

Cecil Court, London home to rare and first edition books, maps, and coins.  Famous residents include T.s Eillot and Mozart

Cecil Court, London

Following in the footsteps of T.S. Elliot and Mozart we then wandered through Cecil Court, home to first edition and rare collection books since the 1700’s.  For all Harry Potter fans, this street is also believed to be the inspiration behind Diagon Alley, and wandering down you can see why – it does have an enchanted feel about it.

Goodwins court, London, inspiration for J,K. rowling

Entrance to Goodwins Court

The Harry Potter theme continues as we stroll down Goodwins Court which, unless on a tour, you would never know existed.  It features on no map and looks more like an alleyway leading to someone’s back garden.   With eccentric well-polished door knockers, old gas lamps and charming bay windows, J.K. Rowling sent her set designers down this delightful little street to help spark creative thoughts.

Goodwins Court, London

Old oil lamp of Goodwins court, London

door Knocker of London inspired J.K. Rowling

door Knocker of London inspired J.K. Rowling

This part of the tour is not only for literature buffs though, history is still a predominate theme of the tour, and this alleyway is no exception.  At the entrance way, high up on the wall, is a gold and dark red plaque, also known as a fire mark.  These were placed on buildings after the Great Fire of 1666 to indicate that it had been insured against any further fire damage.  There was just one problem – it would take nearly 15 years before any fire service would be set up to control such events.

fire Plaque  of london 1666

Fire Plaque

Fire plaque on the buildings of London

As the skies begin to grey, we headed further round into Theatre Land to hear about the ghost of William Terriss at the Adelphi Theatre and the famed Black Cat at the Savoy hotel.  Wander behind the Savoy, down Carting Lane, and you will stumble across the only gas lamp remaining in London that is still partly run on sewage – what a lovely thought!

William terriss plaque in london by the theatre door

The front of the Savoy hotel in London

The Savoy Hotel

The Black cat of the Savoy hotel, London in the greenery

Even the greenery out front honours the Savoy Cat

Sewage powered lamp in London by the Savoy hotel

Sewage powered lamp

Plaque beside the gas sewage lamp in London down Carting Lane by the Savoy

Whilst sewage seems to be beneficial for this particular light source, back in 1858 it was becoming a menace on the city.  Years later, this year would become known as the year of the ‘great stink’, and where we now wander would have at one time been part of the river itself, except, back then, the unsavoury smells and unclean water would have been unbearable.  To protect the city drastic measures were taken, with Joseph Bazalgette, an engineer, pumping the waste out, relieving the city of further cholera outbreaks and cleansing its waterways.  As we stroll back along the river, we stop at the York Water Gate which marks the edge of the River Thames during this time, highlighting that the Thames was, at one time, significantly wider than it is today.

York Water Gate in London by the Thames

York Water Gate

Further into the tour and we pass by Benjamin’s Franklin’s home, hearing about his naked air baths and the 2000 bone fragments that were found here after his death; we wander down Craven Passage towards the Sherlock Holmes pub and then pass under the Admiralty Arches in search of the Duke of Wellington’s nose.

Benjamin Franklin's home in London

Benjamin Franklin’s Home

Sherlock Holmes Pub in London

Admiralty Gates of London

Admiralty Arch

As a history and literature geek, I love finding out more about my own city.  Any guide book you read will be filled with interesting facts about the capital city but few will provide an in-depth knowledge of the streets.  Having spent years working in the city I believed I knew more than the average visitor about this wonderful place however, Matt shared new stories with us whilst we sauntered around side streets that I never knew existed.

When visiting London, yes, take time to explore the many attractions – we would have to question if you never visited the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben or London Bridge but we would also urge you to spend an afternoon exploring with Matt.  You will walk away knowing more about this fascinating city and will walk streets that you could never find on your own.

So, who is Matt?

I’m Matt, a full time London Tour guide. I’m fascinated by this great city, its enormous history filled with extraordinary stories. Five years ago I decided to take the plunge, leave an office job and talk about the streets of London for a living, and after plenty of hard work, enthusiasm and a bit of luck I now am a fully independent qualified guide.
Every day is different. I constantly witness changes to London’s landscape and learn not only from the rather excessive number of books and lectures at my fingertips, but also from the huge variety of people who enjoy my walks.
Next year I will be introducing several more unique and unusual tours, hoping to capture the wonder and excitement I feel on this journey through the past and present of our capital city!

If you want to go beyond the guide book Matt has several tours, across the course of a week, that may be suitable for you.  Check out the Fun London Tours website for more details.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Matt for inviting us to join him on his Secret London Tour.  All views are our own and we would wholeheartedly recommend Fun London Tours.

 

 

25 Comments

  • Glad you found it useful. Matt offers many different tours and so I am sure that there is something for everyone.

  • I was in London over the summer. I did a city tour via the hop on and hop off, then a coach tour to Bath and surrounding areas. I should have found a walking tour. I will definitely do it the next time.

  • I love visiting London and even though I am from UK, I find myself thinking frequently why I haven’t explore this capital more than I have. There is so much to see and do in this city and taking a fun tour like this is definitely a great way to find some hidden gems down those passages you may normally never think about going down.

    • I think we are often guilty of spending more time exploring other cities than focusing on our own. Each street that Matt took us down I learnt something new from. We wandered down one street and found a very busy wine bar – after working and travelling to the city for over 15 years I never even knew that it existed although it was just tucked away behind the Strand.

  • I love walking tours that give you more context to the history of the city you’re visiting. It’s such a great way to see the city in a different light and to appreciate the little nuances you would have missed otherwise.

  • Sandra, glad we could help. I sometimes feel that taking a tour is one of the best ways to find out more about the place you are visiting. I love just wandering around and noticing things for myself, but sometimes, by doing this, we miss out on so much.

  • NJ Magas says:

    This is a lovely tour for me as a person who doesn’t care to be around a lot of people. Of course, not caring to be around a lot of people would probably preclude the tour as well, but still, these are some nice sights to see and visit. Thanks! 🙂

  • kami says:

    For some reason I’m not a big fan of London but maybe I’ve just seen wrong places… I’m planning to go there next year and give the city a proper chance to maybe taking this tour would be a chance for me to change my opinion about London 🙂 ? I will definitely consider it when going there! Thanks!

    • I am always intrigued by cities and the love/hate type relationship they expose. I am a London girl so I feel that I should support my home city but I agree that there are other cities that have a stronger appeal. I would definitely recommend taking one of Matt’s tours – we saw part of the city we had never experienced before.

  • Alli says:

    This looks like so much fun! When I was in London last the airline lost my luggage so all my sight seeing time was spent trying to track that down. When I go back I’d love to do something like this and see all of the sights like this I missed out on 🙂

    • I do hate it when time is taken up by other things like lost luggage. I had my phone stolen whilst in Madrid and all I could think about was how much time I was wasting sitting in a police station waiting to make out a report that would satisfy my insurance company. I hope that you get to visit London again soon as there really is so much to see.

  • Laura says:

    What a great way to see the city and get a real insight. I love London and I am going to be sure to look into doing a tour like them when I visit next time

    Laura x

  • Great blog. I will pass the info on to my wife who will be visiting next summer. –Curt

  • This seems like the perfect tour! I love walking tours like these, where you get to see and learn some off-the-beaten tracks of a city. A great way to see strange things that you will not know about otherwise. Matt seems like the perfect guide with his enthusiasm and knowledge!

  • Meg Jerrard says:

    This sounds like a truly great tour, and I’m a big fan of joining walking tours no matter how many times I go back to London – each time I always learn something new! I do remember my last walking tour also started in Trafalgar square with those pidgeons lol we learned so many interesting facts, like apparently the city of London came up with a brilliant plan to get rid of them, and because killing them would create too many bodies to dispose of, they actually put contraception in the pigeon food! Who knew!

    Love tours like this simply for finding out those quirky facts! Will definitely check up this tour on our next trip there – thanks!

    • That is a fact I never knew – not sure how well it is working either (although I don’t notice pigeons taking over the Square anymore). It is those facts that make a tour unique and interesting – the sort of information you would never find in a guide book! 🙂

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