Classic Sights and Hidden Histories

    London sights walking tour voicemap steven resized
    Cewupuft
    08 Dec 2016
    Clock 80min      Length2mi
    Rating
    2 ratings
    Share

    Tourdescription About the audio tour

    You may be familiar to the most famous sights of London, but are you familiar with the history, stories and characters behind them? This tour takes in all of London's most iconic spots, ideal for plenty of photo ops, but allows you to learn the hidden histories behind famous buildings...

    Travel back over 500 years to meet Queen Victoria, King James I, King Henry VIII (and all his wives!) plus Winston Churchill, Admiral Horatio Nelson (the chap on the column), the namesake of Big Ben and his less well-known companion, plus the real story behind the man who could have destroyed Parliament, Guy Fawkes.

    Throughout, you'll be rewarded with plenty of facts and trivia that are guaranteed to shed new light on parts of London you think you know... or do you?

    This is a step-free route suitable for wheelchair users.

    Majorlandmarks Major Landmarks

    Buckingham Palace, St James's Palace, Horseguards, Admiralty Citadel, Cabinet War Rooms, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, The Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, The London Eye, St Paul's Cathedral, Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square.

    Startingpoint Directions to starting point

    We'll start outside the South Side exit of Green Park underground station on Piccadilly.

    Take the 'Green Park' or 'Piccadilly (South Side)' exits from Green Park station, on the Jubilee, Piccadilly or Victoria lines.

    Tips Tips

    Places to stop along the way:

    There are plenty of stops at the start and end, for food, coffee or a bathroom break, but the main section of the tour passes through a less well serviced part of Central London.

    Best time to walk:

    The quieter morning hours are a good time to do this walk, before the workers' lunch and the tourism rush. Start around 10am, in time to finish for an early lunch!

    Precautions:

    It's a very safe route through a popular part of town. Please look both ways when crossing the busy Central London roads, including when crossing at a "green man", as London cyclists don't always stop for them!

    Classic Sights and Hidden Histories

    Cewupuft
    08 Dec 2016
    Clock 80min      Length2mi
    Rating
    2 ratings
    Share

    Green Park Underground Station

    Green Park Underground Station
    Classic Sights and Hidden Histories

    Hello, and welcome to this tour of London's most famous sights. You should be standing next to Green Park Underground Station, in front of some ornamented gates to a park.

    Today, you'll get to know the true stories behind some of London’s most iconic buildings, as well as the people who built them and use them.
    I'm sure you've seen many of them before, but you may not be familiar with their hidden histories.

    As a lifelong Londoner, born and bred, I’m excited to share stories about the city I grew up in, one that has a history stretching back many thousands of years. We’re going to look at a trio of palaces, examine squares, towers and bunkers and hear stories of unlucky-in-love royalty, wartime leaders and tragic heroism.

    Our route takes us through the very centre of London, almost literally, so we will be crossing busy roads. Please be careful and look both ways, for cars and cyclists.

    Let's get started. Walk through the gates to the park that are next to the Ritz Hotel. Then continue down the straight path ahead of you.

    I'll tell you how this will work as you move. You can put your phone away and just listen to my directions. It's not necessary to look at the map unless you're really stuck. Silence now and then is normal, just keep going in the same direction.

    Through Green Park

    Through Green Park
    Classic Sights and Hidden Histories

    Great. Turn right here, onto the small "roundabout".

    Then turn left to take the path that leads diagonally across the park, more or less in the same direction as we were just walking. Enjoy it, as the sounds of the busy road fall away behind you, it should make it easier to imagine what this park would have been like hundreds of years ago...

    [2 SECOND PAUSE]

    I'm sure you've heard of King Henry VIII? He was the first of a succession of monarchs, who took this piece of former marshland and improved, refined and landscaped it over 300 years. Then, as it is now, it became a grand, romantic public park in the bustling heart of the city. At the centre of the park now lies Buckingham Palace, the home to our current queen, Elizabeth II. It boasts the largest private garden in London, with lakes, tennis courts and a helipad.

    This park was established as one of London's eight Royal Parks in the 1500s, but a few years later it could have headed in a number of different directions. If King James I had had his way when he came to the throne in 1603, this could have been the location of an industrial site instead of a handsome palace. He wanted to grow mulberry bushes here for silk production.

    Now we remember King James for laying the foundations of the English Civil War that came in 1642, but luckily, he was also a rather poor gardener! He planted the wrong kind of mulberry bushes, which never took root and happily halted his planned silk industry from taking off.

    Keep heading straight on this path. I'll be back in a minute or so, when we're closer to Buckingham Palace.

    Buckingham House

    Buckingham House
    Classic Sights and Hidden Histories

    Continue walking straight on this path through the peaceful Green Park, keeping left when the path splits up ahead. We're getting closer to our first of three palaces.

    Shortly we will be arriving at Buckingham Palace, home to Queen Elizabeth II and official residence of five kings and queens before her.

    There is a varied history of previous houses on the site, starting with the privately built Buckingham House in the early 1600s. After changing hands between lords and noblemen for around 150 years, the first British ruler to live in this house was King George III and his queen Charlotte in the mid-1700s. George had bought Buckingham House as a private country retreat for his queen. She was a frequent resident, so it soon became known as The Queen’s House.

    It was expanded and extended into a palace by the 1820s. Again, the palace was saved from a vastly different purpose in the early 1830s when the nearby Houses of Parliament burned down. Buckingham Palace is actually quite small compared to most Royal European palaces, so it was considered as a replacement location for the country’s government to meet. Luckily it was saved from this fate, just in time for its most famous and perhaps most important resident.

    More about that in a bit. Let's continue straight on for now.

    Turn left here

    Pay wave

    Turn left here, following the path that will curve around to the right. Keep the low stone fence on your right-hand side. We're on our way to one of the best views on the Buckingham Palace, in all its splendour.

    Buckingham Palace

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    Now stop for a moment, where the roads intersect, and look right, at Buckingham Palace. Can you see the statue of a lady sitting facing us in the centre of the road? That's Queen Victoria, who ruled for 64 years.

    [2 SECOND PAUSE]

    When you're ready to move on, turn away from the palace and walk along the road, leaving it behind you. I'll tell you more as you walk.

    [2 SECOND PAUSE]

    Queen Victoria was the first ruler to call this her official residence in 1837. She oversaw huge changes to the "tiny" palace, including new wings and ballrooms, as well as the installation of gas lights, and then electricity in 1887.

    Another of London’s most famous landmarks, the Marble Arch, used to stand in front of Buckingham Palace. This arch was modelled on ancient Roman arches and was the palace’s ceremonial entrance. It is said that the architects didn't adjust the measurements for modern-day vehicles, and the Queen's state coach didn't fit. So the arch was moved to its current location in 1851. Shortly after, Victoria’s beloved husband Albert died, in 1861. Grief led her to move out of the palace and leave it abandoned for most of the rest of her reign.

    Victoria passed away in 1901, and the palace remained largely unchanged throughout the 20th Century. Its current, large forecourt was added in 1911, and extensive building work took place after the Second World War. Nine Nazi bombs landed on the palace during World War Two. Luckily only one person died, a policeman on guard at the time. The Royal Family remained in residence throughout the war, but survived.

    The public don’t have the chance to appreciate most of the palace’s 775 rooms. You can access the palace’s staterooms, which were opened to guests in 1993. The whole palace is served by 800 members of staff, including some with very specific jobs. There are two full-time horologists, which are clock experts to you and I. They service the world’s largest collection of working clocks: a staggering 1000 that need to be serviced regularly and wound daily!

    Keep walking straight.

    We're approaching a smaller, older palace that hides a strange history and houses some disturbing stories. It's where England’s rulers would have lived before Victoria’s reign.

    Turn left to St James Palace

    Pay wave

    Take a left turn here and keep walking, staying on the left-hand side. We're approaching St James’s Palace.

    It's one of the oldest palaces in London, and the official residence of the sovereign, even though no monarch has lived here for two centuries.

    St James’s Palace has stood on this site since the early 1500s, and is shunned for the homely warmth of Buckingham Palace. It takes its name from the unlikeliest of places: a leper colony that used to be on this site. This closed only four years before the palace was built in its place.

    To distinguish itself from its former use, the palace was built with fake turrets and a huge number of chimneys. In fact, there are more chimneys than rooms, simply because it was a way to fool people into thinking your palace had more rooms than it really did!

    Continue straight. I'll be back when you get to the palace.

    St James's Palace

    Pay wave

    This is St James Palace on your left! Stop and have a good look at it.

    If I were to tell you that King Henry VIII was the king who built this palace, way back in 1536, what could you tell me about him? Even today, all English school children are taught the rhyme ‘divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived’ to sum up the fate of Henry and his six wives.

    Henry VIII was a king famous for these wives and their eventual fates.
    So how did a king, the ruler of a nation, have time to find, marry and move on from six wives?

    I'll tell you the story of this unlucky-in-love monarch, when you're back at the Mall, the road you were walking on before we turned off to see the palace.

    When you're ready, start making your way back up the road. This time, though, walk on the other side of the street. We're going to turn left when we reach the road ahead.

    King Henry VIII

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    Now turn left and keep heading straight on the Mall.

    King Henry VIII was born 1491 and started life as a handsome, athletic young man. Remarkably, he stayed faithful to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, for 24 years, although he ended up get married six times afterwards.

    But Henry was desperate for a male heir, and looked for any reason to divorce Catherine. In almost a quarter of a century, Catherine had given Henry only one son and he was a sickly young man, not the strongest model for an inspirational leader.

    It didn’t seem to bother Henry that, before him, Catherine had been married to his brother Arthur. But now, he decided that her previous marriage made her current one unholy in the eyes of Catholic Biblical law.

    He begged the pope for a divorce and, when refused, did what any of us would do… he started his own church! Henry was now free to grant his own divorce, and his wandering eye had already been caught by his wife’s first lady in waiting, Frenchwoman Anne Boleyn.

    They were married for three years, and started off well. Anne was intelligent, political and confident; these were traits Henry sought in a mistress but not in a wife. Anne gave Henry a daughter but miscarried a number of times, probably brought on by stress as her relationship with Henry broke down.

    She was accused of adultery and treason, and then beheaded and buried in an unmarked grave. Just one day later, Henry was betrothed to Jane Seymour, another lady of his court. She fell pregnant within a year and gave birth to the son Henry was desperate for. Sadly, Jane Seymour died two weeks later, leaving Henry destitute. He wore black and publicly mourned for three years, sinking into a depression, gaining weight and developing both diabetes and gout.

    Keep heading straight . I'll catch up with you a little further ahead to tell you more.

    More about King Henry

    Pay wave

    Continue straight down the wide, tree-lined road.

    There was pressure on Henry to marry again, but when looking for Wife No. 4, Henry decided on a different approach.

    In a move that was something like Tudor internet dating, he sent portrait painters across Europe. They were tasked to gather images of the most beautiful and eligible women from a wide range of Royal Courts, for Henry to choose from.

    He liked what he saw in the portrait of German Anne of Cleves, and summoned her to England. But much like real internet dating, Henry was disappointed to see that Anne didn’t look much like her picture when she arrived.

    Despite his misgivings, he went through with the marriage. But unsurprisingly it didn’t last. Six months later, their union was annulled and a few days after that, Henry took Wife No. 5, Catherine Howard.

    She was just 16 when she married Henry, then aged 51. Soon enough, rumours of her youthful infidelity began to swirl around her and she was stripped of her title of Queen and executed after two years of marriage, aged just 18. The following year, Henry married his sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr. They were married for four years until his death in 1547, and she outlived him by just a year when she fell pregnant by her new husband and died in childbirth.

    Keep walking straight.

    Into Horse Guards Parade

    Pay wave

    Now we've heard the heartbreaking true story of Henry VIII, let's change our course. Can you see the statue to your right, on the other side of the road? It's of a man and winged horse. We're going to turn right into the road just after that, called Horse Guards Parade. So carefully cross the street and make your way there.

    [2 SECOND PAUSE]

    It's hard to believe that all this drama took place in the building we just saw, which today is used as office space. The chapel at St. James Palace wasn't actually Henry's final resting place, after he finally passed away in 1547.

    So where is Henry himself buried? He is buried next to his fourth wife Jane Seymour in Windsor Castle, around 25 miles west of London. Unsurprisingly, she was the only one who gave him a healthy male heir.

    Keep heading down Horse Guards Parade.

    The Admiralty Citadel

    Pay wave

    Keep walking and look to your left, at the ivy-covered building. It was instrumental in Britain's efforts during World War Two. This is the Admiralty Citadel, a building with walls 20 feet thick and 30 feet deep. It was designed to be the last holdout should the Nazis have invaded in the early 1940s.

    Continue walking straight. You'll hear more about the man famed for taking the country to victory, Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

    Down Horse Guards Parade

    Pay wave

    As you follow the road, look ahead and to the left. That huge square is a parade ground known as Horseguards Parade. Did you know that, until 1997, it was used as a car park!? Perhaps this is less odd than its historic role as the home of England’s mighty Admiralty. That’s right, our Naval Command used to be based here, despite being over 40 miles from the sea!

    Today, Portsmouth is the much more sensible location for our navy’s command post. One of the illustrious historical figures to use these buildings as offices was the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley. He was the man responsible for beating Napoleon’s formidable French Armies. His office and desk of the early 1800s are still used by the current commander-in-chief of London’s army regiments.

    Keep heading straight.

    Churchhill's Drinking Habits

    Pay wave

    Continue straight ahead. We're getting closer to Cabinet War Rooms, where Winston Churchill worked to bring the Allies to victory in WW2. Let me tell you about his other famed achievement... his drinking habits.

    Churchill was renowned for his sharp wit, but he also had a penchant for drinking alcohol. At around 9.30am, he'd start his day with a "mouthwash" – which is a whisky and soda to you and I. He topped it up with more whisky throughout the morning. Lunch was washed down with a pint, not of beer, but Pol Roger champagne. Churchill liked it so much, he drank no other kind from 1908 onwards!

    A sherry would then be followed by an afternoon nap, then more whisky and soda to see off the day, followed by another sherry to welcome the night. Dinner, of course, included another pint of champagne, and as midnight approached, port or brandy would keep him going until the small hours of the morning.

    So if it's true that "an army marches on its stomach", then Churchill coordinated his on a liquid lunch. But we can't dispute he did a great job! And he lived until the ripe old ago of 90, passing away in 1965 to a state funeral that was the largest in the world at that time. It had been 12 years in the planning!

    Keep heading straight.

    10 Downing Street

    Pay wave

    Carry on following the road as it winds around the park on your right.

    From here we can see the rear of England’s current seat of power, the home of the Prime Minister, 10 Downing Street. It's in the buildings ahead of you, on your left. Don't worry, we'll pass close to it's more famous front entrance later!

    With over 100 rooms, the estimated value of 10 Downing Street is over £6 million. That sounds impressive until you realise David Beckham's eight bedroom London home has a price tag of £25 million!

    Downing Street itself is named after a royal spy, Sir George Downing. He spent much of his life spying against King Charles I in the early 1600s. But he switched sides after anti-royal forces were beaten in the English Civil War and the monarchy was restored.

    After he helped hunt down his former spy comrades, Downing was rewarded with the piece of land that is now Downing Street. It wasn’t until the late 1700s that the three houses were united into one, under the address ‘Number 10 Downing Street’. Since then, 52 men and only two women have passed through the doors as Prime Ministers. Seven of them died while living there.

    Continue straight.

    Cabinet War Rooms and continue straight

    Pay wave

    On your left are the famous Cabinet War Rooms, with their subtle entrance just to the right of the grand steps. Winston Churchill worked here throughout WW2. Yet before this, his own military career wasn't a resounding success...

    Churchill was a member of the British Army. He resigned in 1900 at the age of 26, and was promptly voted in as a local MP. In 1915, he devised the disastrous WWI campaign at Gallipolli. The unsuccessful invasion resulted in the deaths of almost 200,000 men, and failed to capture the Turkish peninsula that would have allowed the Allies to control the major sea routes in the area.

    Nonetheless, Churchill was the man we needed, as the world was gripped by war for the second time. A range of daring political and tactical efforts to bring the Allies to victory assured his place in history.

    From the D-Day landings to the value of Home Front morale, Winston Churchill was and is the figurehead for England’s steadfast role against the conflict that engulfed the world.

    Keep heading straight.

    Big Ben

    Pay wave

    Now turn left here, crossing the road.

    [3 SECOND PAUSE]

    As you walk straight between the stone buildings, you'll see Big Ben ahead of you. It’s a sight I'm sure you’re all familiar with; it has stood proudly on this spot since 1858. But did you know that the tower itself is not actually named Big Ben?

    For most of its life it had the very functional, very Victorian name of ‘Clock Tower’. And then, in commemoration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, it was renamed ‘Elizabeth Tower’.

    So how then did this clock tower come to be known as Big Ben? The name actually refers to the bell inside the clock tower. The bell is 2.3 metres high and weighs 13.5 tonnes. It took two weeks to cool when it was originally cast at London’s famous Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

    Big Ben was actually the second bell made for the top of the tower. The first needed to be replaced when it cracked beyond repair before it even reached its final destination. Both bells were named after the formidable MP who oversaw the tower’s construction, Benjamin Hall. The official name is of course very Victorian too: "Great Bell"

    The second bell took 18 hours to hoist up to the top of the tower. But when it was struck with a hammer twice as heavy as the recommended weight, it cracked too. After going to all that effort, though, Big Ben was left in place, crack and all, which forever changed the sound that we still hear hourly today. It’s so loud that, if you’re standing next to it when it chimes, every part of your body will vibrate.

    Continue straight.

    Parliament Square / Westminster Station (Stop Q)

    Pay wave

    Take the pedestrian crossing to head right, towards Westminster Abbey, the building with the tall tower. Stay on the right-hand side of the road.

    Very occasionally, Big Ben takes a break from ringing when it needs a little maintenance. This rarely happens, because the tower’s clock is one of the most accurate pendulum clocks ever built.

    It uses a technology that was invented especially for it. The clock can be adjusted by adding or taking away from a small stack of pennies that sits on top of the pendulum. Each penny adjusts the clock by 0.4 seconds per day. Unbelievably, the clock has only ever had one major fault in its life, in 1976.

    Big Ben's tower was designed by an architect called Augustus Pugin; it's almost 100 metres high and there are 334 steps to the top. The project was a challenging and important one, a chance to rebuild London’s iconic parliamentary buildings. This was perhaps too much to bear for Pugin. It was his last job before he went mad and died.

    Continue straight.

    Westminster Abbey

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    Now cross over the road to your left, to the grassy square and the statue of Nelson Mandela. I'll meet you there.

    Look at Westminster Abbey

    Pay wave

    Now stop here, and have a look at Westminster Abbey, across the road to your right.

    [1,5 SECOND PAUSE]

    This is where all the kings and queens of this country have been crowned, from William the Conqueror in 1066, to our current Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. A large number of monarchs are also buried here, so it's where their reign begins and ends.

    Although it's not technically wrong to call it Westminster Abbey, it’s also not completely ‘proper’ either. The real name of the building is the Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster. This mouthful of a name is often shortened to Westminster Abbey. The Abbey used to be part of the Palace of Westminster that stood here until it burned down in 1834.

    Imagine how different this part of London was when the Abbey was first built. It was known then as Thorney Island, for reasons that will soon become obvious, and it was a small marshy area of land. The Abbey was surrounded by a river running roughly where the roads are today, creating a moat all the way around.

    The building functioned as a monastery, designed and built on this site. It provided a sanctuary separate from the worldly temptations of seedy London.

    Brambles and thorns that only grow in marshland covered the area. And so, no-one ventured out across the water, leaving the monks to live in the peace that they wanted. It wasn’t until much later that the monks spoiled their own paradise by taming the thorns and making it a beautiful place to live!

    The Abbey apparently has the oldest door in the world inside, and is a prestigious burial site in the UK – most of England’s kings and queens have been buried here, along with Charles Dickens, Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton and Rudyard Kipling.

    Some people went to amazing lengths to get a plot here – including the poet and playwright Ben Jonson. He couldn’t afford the 6ft by 2ft area needed for a coffin, so he bought a 2ft by 2ft square and was buried standing up. Nowadays, space is so precious that you have to be cremated before you're buried here. The last person laid to rest in the abbey was legendary actor Sir Laurence Olivier. And if you remember Henry VIII and his six wives from earlier, his fourth wife Anne of Cleves was buried here too.

    Let's start walking again. With Westminster Abbey on your right, walk straight alongside the square. We're heading towards the Houses of Parliament.

    Cross the road and turn right

    Pay wave

    Now cross the road in front of you over the pedestrian crossings. When you get to the other side, turn right and keep walking.

    [3 SECOND PAUSE]

    We're heading to the last of the three palaces we’ll see today, Westminster Palace. It's home to the House of Commons and the House of Lords, our country’s Parliament.

    The oldest part of the building is Westminster Hall; it dates from 1097.
    The rest is built on a pit where over 10,000 bodies were buried after the bubonic plague. It swept through London in 1665, killing a quarter of the city's population.

    But the Houses of Parliament are perhaps most famous for the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. In November of that year, a group of Catholics led by John Grant plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament. They wanted to kill King James I and his Protestant Government. They would then abduct the King’s daughter and force her to rule as a Catholic.

    Keep walking straight towards the Houses of Parliament.

    Houses of Parliament

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    Now stop for a moment to have a good look at the Houses of Parliament on your left.

    [2 SECOND PAUSE]

    The build-up of the plot to blow up Parliament began with Queen Elizabeth I, who came to the throne in 1558. She ran Protestant England, and effectively made Catholicism illegal. If you didn’t go to church and take the oath of Supremacy to the Queen, you were charged with treason. It forced people to recognise the monarch, and not the pope, as the head of the church.

    [2 SECOND PAUSE]

    Now head back in the direction you came from, all the way to the fourway junction just past Big Ben. I'll tell you more as you walk.

    [2 SECOND PAUSE]

    When Elizabeth died in 1603, the Catholics thought her successor James would be more tolerant to their plight; but they were wrong. Instead, he started banishing Catholic priests abroad if they didn’t take the oath.

    So John Grant hatched a plot to kill the king. After renting a cellar room below the House of Lords, they smuggled in one barrel of gunpowder each month for 36 months. The plotters' ignition expert was supposed to stay behind and light the fuse, while the others fled. This man was, of course, Guy Fawkes.

    What poor Guy Fawkes didn’t know was that one of the plotters had written a letter to a relative who happened to be an MP. He warned them not to attend parliament on November 5th. The king was suspicious of this anonymous letter, and ordered that parliament’s cellars be checked regularly.

    Guy Fawkes was discovered equipped with matches in a room filled with gunpowder. Had it not been for this last minute check on the cellars by guards, the barrels would have been ignited, and anyone within 100m of the blast would've been killed instantly.

    The king was so relieved to have survived, he declared that every November 5th should be celebrated with a large bonfire. And atop that fire should sit the head of the Catholic church, the pope. Later the pope was replaced with a dummy of Guy Fawkes and the fireworks were added. This is Bonfire Night as we know it now.

    Keep walking to the four-way junction just past Big Ben.

    The London Eye

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    Turn right here. We're on our way to Westminster Bridge, where we'll enjoy the view up the River Thames and two more of London's famous landmarks.

    The newest of these is the London Eye. At 135 metres high, it’s the biggest Ferris wheel in Europe. Its size is certainly impressive – even more so when you learn about the design and construction process behind it.

    Every component of the wheel had to be designed and built from scratch and floated up the Thames on barges, assembled flat on piled platforms in the river. This wasn't as easy as it sounds – some of the pieces were so huge, they could only fit under the bridges at low tide. So everything had to be planned perfectly.

    Once complete, the wheel was raised up by huge cranes normally used by oil rigs in the North Sea. It took almost 48 hours of painstaking lifting, and was only completed on the second attempt after some support cables came loose on the first!

    Despite the rocky start, it's been hugely successful. It carries 15,000 passengers a day and has won more than 75 awards for its contributions to tourism and architecture. Even though it was only meant to be here for five years, it'll now be here until at least 2031.

    Carry on straight, to the river.

    Cross Westminster Bridge

    Pay wave

    Now cross over the road to your left. When you get to the other side, head over to the railing of Westminster Bridge to look out over the river.

    St Pauls

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    Stop here, and look over the water.

    [2 SECOND PAUSE]

    You might be able to spot a dome far in the distance, on the left of the river. It's one of the most famous old buildings on London’s skyline, St Paul’s Cathedral. It's been there for over 300 years.

    It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and was just one of the 52 churches he built after the Great Fire of London in 1666. The cathedral took over 30 years to complete. There has been a place of worship in one form or another on this site for almost 1500 years! The current St Paul’s has famously survived the Nazi Luftwaffe’s onslaught from 1940 onwards.

    After surviving two direct hits, a time-delayed bomb landed on the Cathedral in 1941. It was removed by two bomb disposal experts, and when it was safely detonated later, it left a crater 100 feet wide. This close-call could have destroyed the cathedral.

    [1,5 SECOND PAUSE]

    Let's head back the way we came now, on this side of the road. You'll walk past Westminster Tube Station, and a rather lovely pub called St Stephens Tavern. I'll be back when you reach the next corner.

    Turn right on Parliament Street

    Pay wave

    Turn right now, and keep walking.

    As you walk, you might spot the entrance to Downing Street. It's the very well guarded one! It'll be on your left in a minute or so.

    [1,5 SECOND PAUSE]

    We're on our way to Trafalgar Square. You'll see it coming up in the distance as Nelson's Column becomes more visible... Don't worry if you can't see it yet; it's a few minutes' walk.

    Trafalgar Square was built in 1844, on an area that used to contain the Kings Stables. It marked the eastern edge of the Royal Park that stretches all the way from Green Park, where we started. It's now a large public square filled with statues, memories, and galleries, and it's surrounded by the high commissions of a range of nations. They are overlooked by a statue of British naval hero, Admiral Horatio Nelson, standing atop his column. It's this man, and the astonishing victory in the Battle of Trafalgar, that the square is named after.

    When this battle took place in 1805, England and France had been locked in a war for control of Europe’s waters for two years. News reached the Royal Navy’s ears of French plans to invade, along with a strong Spanish fleet. Nelson promptly set sail for the Atlantic waters off Spain’s coast. His 27 ships soon arrived at the Cape of Trafalgar, sailing into sight of the Franco-Spanish navy at 6am. They found 33 ships waiting for them. But Nelson was far from daunted, and successfully made use of one of the most audacious naval battle plans ever conceived.

    Back then, it was the norm for gunships to line up alongside each other and just blast away, until one fleet was destroyed or the other chose to limp away.

    This tactic often gave rise to inconclusive victory, but Nelson was after a crushing blow. He decided to sail his fleet in two columns, aiming directly at the French and Spanish fleets in order to divide, weaken and defeat them.

    As noon approached, and the battle started, Nelson’s tactic paid off massively. Before the sun set that day, 22 of his enemy’s 33 ships were sunk. The British Navy hadn’t lost a single vessel. Nelson’s lead ship, HMS Victory, managed to directly engage the lead French ship, the Redoubtable. At that time, The French ship was the largest ever built. Despite being the biggest and most armed ship of the fleet, she was bested by the Victory, and sank in the storm that followed the battle. But not before she took one key life - that of Nelson himself.

    Continue walking up the road. I'll tell you how he died when you arrive at Trafalgar Square, in a few minutes time. Just keep heading for the column.

    Cross the street left then straight over, continuing towards Trafalgar Square

    Pay wave

    Can you see the statue of Charles I on his horse, in the middle of the roundabout? That's where you need to go.

    So carefully cross the road to get there. I'll meet you at the statue.

    Charles I Statue

    Pay wave

    Stop here. This statue is commonly said to be the very centre of London!

    From here you have a good view of Nelson stood atop his column. As the Battle of Trafalgar raged, a sniper on the lead French ship took aim at him from high in the crows nest, as Nelson stood on the Victory’s deck giving orders. The sniper fired one shot, which severed Nelson’s spine and lodged in his shoulder.

    He was carried below the decks, but as the British emerged victorious, Nelson died at 4.30 that afternoon. His body was transported home to a hero’s welcome, and on his final journey to be buried in St Paul’s Cathedral, he was escorted by 10,000 soldiers.

    This 18ft tall statue of Nelson has stood atop this column since 1854, looking towards the Houses of Parliament where we just came from. It took fifteen years to construct. And that seems a fittingly grand and heroic way to end this tour of the hidden history of London's most famous sights. I hope you've learned something you didn't already know. Obviously there's far more to learn about all of the people we've touched on today. I'd encourage you to read more about any you can!

    If you'd like to continue your London adventure, Charing Cross Station is just across the road, to the right of Nelson on his column.

    I'll bid you goodbye for now. Enjoy!

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