Light The Lights: How Culture Defines London

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    19 Jul 2016
    Clock 90min      Length3mi
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    6 ratings
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    Tourdescription About the audio tour

    Take the lead in a tour of London's historical cultural influences through time with the helping hand of me, blogger Shaun Nolan!

    "Light the Lights" takes you on a tour from the Embankment, up Charing Cross Road, into Covent Garden, along the Strand and back to Leicester Square. As you walk, I'll tell you everything you need to know about the history of the beautiful buildings you see and the amazing people who have walked the same pavements as you.

    London is a city that has forever been shaped by the culture that has influenced it, from literature, to theatre, to architecture. Famous creatives like Charles Dickens and Henry Irving have spent a lot of their lives in the city, being influenced by the environment and atmosphere. The vibrancy of the City we all know and love is a testament to that.

    And it's not just a writer's playground - modern designers, intelligent innovators and important names have also helped to shape the city. The London Underground - the first underground train system in the world - is one of the city's biggest landmarks, and memorable names like World War One nurse Edith Cavell are celebrated in the West End.

    So come along with me, Shaun Nolan, as we look at the history and influence of culture, design and society on The Big Smoke. If you're a fan of the theatre, a historical enthusiast or just a supporter of London itself, this tour is right up your street.

    Majorlandmarks Major Landmarks

    Seven Dials, Royal Opera House, Somerset House

    Startingpoint Directions to starting point

    This walk starts next to the black telephone box on Villiers Street outside Victoria Embankment Gardens, a stone's throw away from the Embankment Underground Station.

    From Embankment underground station: after exiting the turnstiles, turn left and out onto Villiers Street. You should be able to see the black telephone box to your right in the distance when you reach the station's exit.

    From Charing Cross station: exit the train station so you're stood with your back to the station and hotel. You're going to want to head down the street directly to your right, called Villiers Street. At the bottom of the street, you'll see the black telephone box outside Victoria Embankment Gardens on your left hand side.

    Tips Tips

    Places to stop along the way:

    Shopping: Charing Cross Road houses many different second hand bookshops and boutiques. The Seven Dials and Covent Garden host a wide variety of different shops, cafés and boutiques, mainly specialising in beauty supplies and fashion. If you're looking for more commercial shops, they can be found on the Strand.

    Drinking: We pass several different drinking places that are recommended on the walking tour itself. Traditional pubs like The Chandos and The Nell Gwynne are available if you're looking for something alcoholic, as well as Gordon's Wine Bar (the oldest wine bar in London). If you're looking for something a bit warmer, the Charles Dickens Coffee House and coffee shops in Somerset House are perfect spots.

    Eating: The Ivy restaurant is on this tour if you fancy brushing shoulders with people in the entertainment industry, as well as famous restaurants like Rules and Tuttons in the Covent Garden area.

    Other culture: See if there are any exhibitions available at Somerset House when you take a visit (www.somersethouse.org.uk), or stop to watch some street performers in Covent Garden when you walk through.

    Best time to walk:

    I recommended taking the walk at around 11am to see its full potential. We walk past a lot of West End theatres on the tour, so it's probably best to avoid matinee and evening performance times (2:30pm on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturday or 7:30pm every evening). However, this tour can be taken at any time during the day.

    Precautions:

    We do walk through a lot of populated areas, so make sure your bags are closed and you're aware of your surroundings. We also cross over a lot of busy roads on the walking tour, so please be safe when doing so and cross at the signposted crossing points.

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    190172 155526061175472 1221978 n

    Absolutely amazing, I enjoyed myself immensely on this tour! It had some overlap with the tour voiced by Ian McKellen, but don't let that put you off, it still has a lot more to offer.

    Posted by Sietske van Vugt , 6 months ago

    Light The Lights: How Culture Defines London

    Blog image
    19 Jul 2016
    Clock 90min      Length3mi
    Rating
    6 ratings
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    The Black Phonebox

    The Black Phonebox
    Light The Lights: How Culture Defines London

    Hi – my name is Shaun Nolan. Welcome to my walking tour 'Light the Lights: How Culture Defines London'.

    [MUSIC 'THEME TUNE' UNDERSCORES]

    Throughout this walking tour, I'll be showing you a variety of different things that make London one of the best cities on Earth, from theatre, to architecture, and even toilets. You can keep your phone in your pocket throughout this walking tour – the technology and myself have the rest of it covered. I'll make sure to direct you around the city in the safest way possible, while VoiceMap will use your location to move the story along automatically. Keep your eyes open, and don't worry about the odd moments of silence – just keep walking straight ahead until I tell you otherwise. Now, let's get started with our tour!

    [TELEPHONE RINGING]

    You should be standing with your back to the black telephone box, just outside Victoria Embankment Gardens, with the Embankment tube station on your left. When telephone boxes were first introduced in London, British Telecommunications – or BT – owned all of them and painted them all red to match the Royal Mail postboxes and the London buses among other things. During the 1980s, rival phone company New World Payphones bought a selection of phone boxes in Westminster and painted them black to put their own trademark on them. As time has progressed, these telephone boxes have become less and less convenient because everyone carries a mobile phone, but they'll forever be a part of the London landscape.

    Turn right now and start walking, heading away from the station. Stick to the right hand side of the road.

    [SOUND OF PEOPLE WALKING AND MOVING UNDERSCORES]

    Have a look at the ground on your right, just outside the entrance to the Gardens. Can you see the big metal circle? This is called a Urilift. [UNDERSCORE FADES] If you stand on top of it, you'll be stood on top of an underground urinal which rises from the ground at night to become a public urinal for men. [TOILET FLUSH SOUND EFFECT] It's weird, I have to agree.

    Keep walking straight.

    Gordon's Wine Bar

    Gordon's Wine Bar
    Light The Lights: How Culture Defines London

    As you walk, have a look at the bar on the corner to your right. That's Gordon's Wine Bar – the oldest wine bar in London.

    Gordon's was established in 1890 and has a candlelit bar with vaulted cellars and original Dickensian-style decor. It'll be a fantastic place to come back to for a drink at the end of the tour!

    This street also used to house the Players' Theatre. In late 1953, writer and musician Sandy Wilson created a musical called 'The Boy Friend', which started performances here before transferring to Wyndham's Theatre in the West End. We'll talk more about that show later, so be sure to keep it in the back of your mind.

    Continue walking up the street.

    The Green Bridge

    The Green Bridge
    Light The Lights: How Culture Defines London

    Look up above the street at the green bridge as you keep walking. Doesn't it look fascinating, almost as though it has lots of dark stories to tell? This beautiful bridge is a lot less interesting than it looks, though; it is in fact just a skyway from one part of the Charing Cross Hotel to another, but it's a beautiful sight nonetheless.

    Keep walking straight. I'll meet you at the sign that says 'UNDERGROUND', just ahead.

    London Underground

    Pay wave

    Stop here, at the steps going down into the ground.

    The next step of our tour is going to take us underground, so listen carefully to my directions now: you're going to start by heading down the stairs in front of you and turning left into the tube station at the bottom. When you're in the station, follow the walkway around to your right and up the slope. Trust me: you won't get lost as long as you don't head through the barriers into the actual train station. Now off you go! Into the belly of the earth.

    [TRAINS SCREECHING AND PEOPLE COMMUTING NOISE UNDERSCORES]

    London's Underground is one of its biggest icons in itself, having been active for over 150 years. The Metropolitan Railway was built here in 1863, and became the first Underground train line in the world. It now spans 11 lines, and 1.3 billion people rode the tube in 2015.

    Walking up the slope, you can't miss the avenue of shops. My personal favourite is the costume shop on the right hand side. For as long as I can remember, this shop has stood here and baffled me – if you can think why this costume shop is in an Underground tube station, do let me know.

    When you reach the end of the slope, remember to take the exit to the left, with the sign reading "Exit 7 – Trafalgar Square – St Martin's In The Fields". Head up the stairs and I'll meet you at the top.

    Approaching St. Martin's In The Fields

    Pay wave

    Good work! Now walk straight into the open square in front of you, just to the right of the church.

    The East Window

    Pay wave

    Before we go much further, stop and have a look at the old stone building on your left. Take note of the large central window facing the street, with its strange, warped pattern. Now continue straight down this narrow square.

    This is St. Martin's In The Fields, one of London's most famous Anglican churches. The distorted window was designed by architect Shirazeh Houshiary, in collaboration with Pip Horne, and was installed in 2008. It was designed to look like a cross being reflected in murky water as a nod to the church's changing views on sexuality and has stood there ever since. Houshiary and Horne also designed the altar that stands behind the window inside the church, which is now most commonly used for classical music performances.

    Keep walking to the end of the square.

    To the Edith Cavell Memorial

    Pay wave

    You're going to want to turn right at this corner. Do you see the statue in the middle of the pavement with a tall woman looking in your direction? That's the Edith Cavell memorial. Make your way over to it and I'll meet you there.

    Edith Cavell Memorial

    Pay wave

    Stop here, in front of the memorial, as though you're stood face to face with the woman on the plinth.

    This woman is Edith Cavell, a British nurse from Norfolk. Cavell was a matron at Berkendael Medical Institute in Brussels when the First World War broke out. She nursed soldiers from both sides of the war without a word of complaint, and assisted some 200 Allied soldiers in escaping from German-occupied Belgium. She was arrested in August 1915 and was found guilty of treason. Ultimately, she was shot by a German firing line on October 12th, 1915. At the bottom of her statue, a quote reads "Patriotism is not enough – I must have no hatred or – bitterness for anyone". Cavell spoke these words to Reverend Stirling Gahan, an Anglican chaplain who gave her Holy Communion on the night of her execution.

    Now look up and over her shoulder, just to the right. Can you see the sphere spinning in the sky, which reads 'COLISEUM'? This is the top of the spire at the London Coliseum, currently owned by the English National Opera. It's the largest theatre in London with almost 2400 seats and at the time of construction, it was the only theatre in Europe to have public elevators.

    Walk straight past Edith Cavell now. Do you see the zebra crossing in front of you? Carefully cross over that now. I'll meet you on the other side.

    Heading onto Charing Cross Road

    Pay wave

    Nicely done! Now turn left, and follow the pavement as it curves to the right.

    [3 SECOND PAUSE]

    The grand old stone building on your left is the National Portrait Gallery, situated just behind the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.

    Keep following the road for now. I'll meet you a little further ahead.

    Henry Irving and the Garrick

    Pay wave

    As you walk, take a quick look across the road to your left. Can you see the statue of a historical looking male figure, next to the National Portrait Gallery?

    That's Henry Irving, who spent his life fighting to make acting a respected business. You'll hear a lot about Irving's story on this tour, but this statue commemorates him as being the first actor in history to be knighted by the Monarchy. After dedicating his life to making people respect acting as an art form, Irving succeeded, and his legacy is remembered here every day.

    You might have noticed that he is in the good company of many London theatres. You have just walked under the marquee of the Garrick Theatre a few moments ago. It's the second theatre with this name in London, named after actor David Garrick. The one you've just passed is most famous for housing some of London's best plays through time. These include the acclaimed National Theatre production of An Inspector Calls in 1995, and Laurence Olivier's performance in Born Yesterday way back in 1947.

    Keep following the road.

    To Wyndham's Theatre

    Pay wave

    Keep walking. We're on our way to my favourite theatre in the West End: Wyndham's Theatre.

    It was opened by Charles Wyndham in 1899, and the first play performed there was – funnily enough – a play by T. W. Robertson called 'David Garrick'.

    Carry on going straight down the road. I'll point out the theatre when we get there.

    Wyndham's Theatre

    Pay wave

    Here it is, on your right. Stop for a moment and look at the magnificent stone architecture of the building, with its elaborately crafted facade.

    It was designed by W. G. R. Sprague in 1898, when Wyndham finally decided that he wanted to make his dream of owning his own theatre a reality. Sprague had already built the Royal Olympic Theatre, which was later demolished to make way for the Aldwych Theatre, also designed by him. So he seemed like the right man for the job. It would later prove to be true. His design on Wyndham's Theatre is loved so much that the facade has even been replicated in full-scale, at the London-themed entrance to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida!

    Now, do you remember me mentioning the musical called 'The Boy Friend' earlier on? After playing in Charing Cross, the show came here and played over 2000 performances. It then headed to New York in 1954, becoming the first show in history to transfer from the West End to Broadway. The Broadway production also starred a total newcomer who goes by the name of Julie Andrews...

    Now continue walking straight up the road. I'll catch up with you in a moment.

    Turn onto Cranbourn Street

    Pay wave

    Cross the road ahead via the pedestrian crossing, and then immediately turn right and head down the one way street.

    Literature in London

    Pay wave

    Keep walking straight.

    Fantastic writers have also helped shape our City. Beatrix Potter, Mary Shelley, George Orwell, Virgina Woolf and even Charles Dickens are all famous residents of the City who made history with their literary work. Frances Spalding, a curator at the National Portait Gallery, once said this about Virgina Woolf's time in London: "What stimulated Woolf was her proximity to the city's constantly changing panorama. Woolf responded to the city at many levels, and she noticed that it seemed to effect a dissolution of the self, a sense that the boundaries between herself and the environment had been erased."

    Carry on following the road.

    Agatha Christie Memorial

    Pay wave

    Slow down, and look for a black statue of a book with a bust of a woman in it. It's in the middle of this open space on the corner. Head towards it and stop for a moment, standing on its left hand side, as though you are looking over the woman's left shoulder.

    [2 SECOND PAUSE]

    This statue commemorates the landmark crime novel author Agatha Christie. The memorial was erected in 2012 to celebrate both the Diamond Anniversary of her play The Mousetrap running in the West End, and the play's 25,000th performance. In fact, Christie's play The Mousetrap is the longest running play in history and has been running constantly in the West End since 1952. We'll be visiting the play's home later on in the tour.

    Christie's famous characters, like Miss Marple and Poirot, have also been made timeless with television show adaptations. Many of her novels have been immortalized on the silver screen, too, including classics like "Murder on the Orient Express", "And Then There Were None" and "Death on the Nile". Most of Christie's work has been adapted into films, television shows, video games, comic books or radio plays, and it's impossible to imagine what the world of crime novels would look like today without her putting them on the map.

    Okay, let's move on. Face the same direction as the bust is looking, and turn slightly to your left. Can you see the zebra crossing? Safely cross the the road onto the next corner. I'll meet you there.

    To the Arts Theatre

    Pay wave

    You made it! Now turn left, and walk down the street.

    Arts Theatre

    Pay wave

    Carry on straight.

    This old brick building on your right is the Arts Theatre, one of the smallest theatres in London. If you look in the window, you might be wondering why it looks like a tea room... that's because the theatre is completely underground. This way, you can head to the theatre, grab a cuppa and then go downstairs to watch a show afterwards – brilliant!

    Keep walking to the end of the road.

    Shops on Charing Cross Road

    Pay wave

    Now turn right and keep walking.

    You're back on Charing Cross Road, which is famous for housing The Leaky Cauldron in the Harry Potter book series and for being the home of some of the most popular and well-known second hand book shops in the world. In fact, the second hand book shops on this part of the street are so famous that they were almost taxed as much as commercial shops back in 2001.

    Most of the shops here are owned by the housing association. They decided to rise the price of the shops' rent in 2001, because they had started to make a lot more business. The shops rejected this rise in rent, though. It would mean that they wouldn't be able to afford the already expensive running costs, and they felt as though their shops were vital for the character of Charing Cross Road. The bookshops received an overwhelming amount of public support in their legal battle, and despite a few closed-up-shop casualities along the way, they managed to retain the lower rent fee.

    The top of the street also used to house the London Astoria Theatre, one of London's most vibrant and modern music venues. The music hall was also massive in the LGBT scene, but it was sadly closed in 2009 to make way for Crossrail development. In 2012, Nimax Theatres bought the land and supposedly intend to build a new West End theatre there when Crossrail development is complete.

    Carry on following the road.

    Crossing the Road

    Pay wave

    Walk into this small open space on the corner. We're going to cross the road via the pedestrian crossing at the traffic lights in front of you. So safely cross the road now, and I'll meet you on the other side.

    Cambridge Circus

    Pay wave

    Great! Now stop here, and turn so that the pedestrian crossing is on your left. Look at the old brick building across the road in front of you, with the small domed towers on either side and a statue right at the top. [small pause in audio] Have you found it yet? That's the Palace Theatre, which I'll tell you about it a moment.

    There's a lot to talk about here. You are currently stood in the heart of Cambridge Circus, a square of theatres, shops and restaurants intersected by two of London's busiest roads: Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue. Let's dissect the view from your left to your right.

    If you look to the left of the Palace Theatre, you'll be looking down Shaftesbury Avenue. This street is home to a lot of London's West End theatres: the Apollo Theatre, Lyric Theatre, Queen's Theatre and Piccadilly Theatre are all down there, as well as the Curzon cinema and Chinatown. The road also used to be the home of the original Shaftesbury Theatre, before it was demolished by bombs during the Blitz – the site is now home to a fire station.

    Now look at the Palace Theatre. This is the original West End home of the World's longest running musical, Les Miserables. The theatre was also the first home of The Sound of Music in 1961, Jesus Christ Superstar in 1972 and most recently of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child from 2016.

    Just to the right, down the very narrow Moor Street, is the Prince Edward Theatre, which was the original home to West End classics like Evita, Mamma Mia and Chess.

    Okay, let's get going again. Turn back towards the crossing we just walked over. We're going to head down the narrow road on the other side, just to the left of the old 5-storey brick and stone building. So cross over the pedestrian crossing and head down the small lane now. I'll meet you a little way down it.

    West Street

    Pay wave

    You're on the right track! Cross over to the left-hand side of the road and keep walking.

    This is West Street, one of the most sophisticated streets in Theatreland. It's home to the Ambassadors Theatre, St. Martin's Theatre and The Ivy pub, and is a regular hotspot for lots of entertainment greats. The Ivy wasn't always destined for greatness, though. It originally opened as an Italian cafe. The owner became increasingly worried that nearby building works would deter customers. Rumour has it that actress Alice Delysia overheard him and said: "Don't worry – we will always come and see you. 'We will cling together like the ivy'", quoting a famous song from the time and giving the pub its name.

    Continue straight.

    St. Martin's Theatre

    Pay wave

    Stop here, and turn to face the small lane on your left. Now look at the two theatres on either side of you. On your left is the Ambassadors and on your right is St. Martin's – two of the smallest official West End theatres. As you can see, St. Martin's Theatre is the home of Agatha Christie's long-running play The Mousetrap, which I mentioned earlier. If you're really interested, take a moment to step back a bit, and look at the massive neon sign on the front of the building, celebrating the play's success.

    The Mousetrap hasn't always played at St. Martin's Theatre though. It transferred here in 1974 from a very long way away... The Ambassadors Theatre, right next door. The show wanted more seats in the auditorium and as St. Martin's is 100 seats larger, it seemed like an appropriate place to move to.

    When you're ready to move on, walk down the narrow lane going in between the two theatres. I'll meet you at the street on the other side.

    The Slums

    Pay wave

    Cross the road in front of you, and continue down the narrow lane on the other side.

    The rest of Tower Court is home to the back of some of the pubs and brewers on Monmouth Street, which you'll see in a moment. During the 1700s, this part of London became one of the poorest, and with Covent Garden nearby, pubs, brothels and slums began to populate these backstreets.

    Keep walking straight.

    Right to Seven Dials

    Pay wave

    Turn right here at the fork in the road in front of you, signposted by the black door in the middle.

    Monmouth Street

    Pay wave

    Turn left here, and keep walking. You're now on Monmouth Street, which is a part of London's infamous Seven Dials, a small junction where seven streets meet.

    Can you see the statue in the middle of the roundabout ahead? That's where we're heading next, so make your way over to it, watching out for taxis and cars.

    The Seven Dials

    Pay wave

    Stop here. If you need a break, this is a great place to sit for a while.

    You are now in the heart of the Seven Dials. In fact, you're currently on the monument with the actual Seven Dials that intersect these streets... or are you?

    Look up at the top of the monument, at the sun dials. Notice anything weird? There are only six dials. When Thomas Neal bought the land we're stood upon right now, in the early 1690s, he realised that rent was charged by how many shop fronts you had. To maximise how much money he could take in, he designed a space that would fit six small streets that were joined together by a monument in the centre. Work began, but just as the work came to the half way point, he realised that he could actually build a seventh road. Despite the monument having already been constructed, he argued that the physical monument itself, that the sun dials are attached to, represented the seventh street.

    The original monument was brought down in 1773. It was long believed that it was destroyed by an angry mob, but it was in fact removed to stop the place from becoming a tourist attraction. The original monument now stands in Weybridge, as a memorial to Princess Frederica Charlotte of Prussia, while this replica was erected in 1989.

    Now let me show where to go next. If you're facing the road we came from, look two roads to the left. Can you see the monolithic stone building with arched doorways on the ground floor? That's the Cambridge Theatre. Cross to that corner, and then walk down the street running down the left hand side of the theatre. Make sure you're careful when crossing back over the roundabout to the pavement.

    Thomas Neale

    Pay wave

    Continue straight, staying on the right-hand side of the road.

    Neale truly thought that these shops would bring the well-off people who shopped around Covent Garden into his part of town – as you can see, his name is even on the side of the shopping centre to your left! Unfortunately, it didn't work. At one point, all the corners of these streets were occupied by pubs and the small roads were filled with the poorest people in London. Charles Dickens even described the Seven Dials in his collection "Sketches for Boz":

    "The stranger who finds himself in the Dials for the first time...at the entrance of Seven obscure passages, uncertain which to take, will see enough around him to keep his curiosity awake for no inconsiderable time..."

    This area remained one of the poorest of the City until just before the Second World War.

    Thomas Neale's work continued beyond his life though: he also created the North American Postal Service as well as being an MP for over thirty years.

    Keep walking straight.

    Turning onto Neal Street

    Pay wave

    Turn right here, and walk across this small square. Then cross the road ahead and make your way down the narrow cobbled alleyway, keeping the tall brick building with the protruding extension on your left.

    Culture in Covent Garden

    Pay wave

    Continue straight.

    This is Covent Garden, an area famous for its fashion boutiques and quirky clothing shops. It's also home to 13 theatres, including the Donmar Warehouse and the Duchess Theatre, and over 60 pubs and bars. Most of the London street performers are here too, and Covent Garden is known as being the original home of the Punch and Judy Show. Samuel Pepys wrote that in his famous diary, back in 1662. To become a street performer, you audition for the company CapCo and – if successful – you're given a slot. Street performers do their thing every single day of the year through most daylight hours, apart from Christmas Day, and shows are typically about half an hour long.

    Keep following the lane.

    Crossing over Long Acre

    Pay wave

    Can you see the road that continues straight ahead, offset slightly to the right of the one you're on now? That's where we're going next, so cross the road ahead and keep heading straight, keeping the Covent Garden Underground station on your right. If it's a bit busy here, there's a zebra crossing just to your right.

    Heading into Covent Garden

    Pay wave

    That's it! Just continue straight.

    In the 7th century, Covent Garden was a massive field used for trade in Anglo-Saxon London. The land was abandoned in the 9th century and wasn't used again until 1201, when it was walled off by Westminster Abbey to be used as orchards. The Earl of Bedford commissioned Inigo Jones to build an Italianate arcade in 1552, which we'll see in a moment, with homes for the wealthy around the edge, and St Paul's Church nearby. The square became the back garden to the church, then being known as "Convent Garden". As time progressed, cockney accents got stronger and the first "n" in the name was dropped, making it "Covent Garden" as we know it today.

    The area falls within the London boroughs of both Westminster and Camden and its tube station has been served by the Piccadilly line since 1907. In fact, the distance between Covent Garden station and the next southbound stop is the shortest distance between two tube stations in the whole of London.

    Keep walking.

    Covent Garden: The Brothel

    Pay wave

    Now turn left, and walk under the canopy in front of the shops. Follow the covered path all the way around the square.

    By 1654, a small fruit and veg market had set up shop in Covent Garden, but the place started to fall into poverty. Brothels started opening up around this area and the young women who sold fruit, known as "orange sellers", were some of the most famous prostitutes in town. In fact, you are currently walking on the land which was once occupied by the most frequented brothel in London. At one point, a catalogue of all the prostitutes in the area was drawn up for men to choose from with ease. Parliament got word of this and the brothel was closed to make way for Charles Fowler's columned neoclassical building, in the centre of the square to your right. This way, more civilised markets could be maintained, and business was given an opportunity to grow.

    Carry on following the canopied area. I'll meet you when you emerge from the cover.

    Heading to Bow Street

    Pay wave

    As you emerge from the canopy, take a look at the restaurant in front of you, called "Tuttons". That's one of the oldest restaurant in London.

    Now turn left, and keep walking, making sure you stick to the left hand side of the road.

    Left onto Bow Street

    Pay wave

    Stop here for a moment and look up, to the corner of the building on your left. Can you see a ballerina spinning inside of a sphere on the side of the wall overhead? This is an art installation, commissioned by the Royal Ballet for the Royal Opera House.

    [2 SECOND PAUSE]

    Turn left now, and keep walking, staying on the left-hand side of the road.

    The Royal Opera House

    Pay wave

    Keep walking. We're on our way to The Royal Opera House, but this isn't the first incarnation of the theatre to stand on this land...

    In 1728, an actor-director called John Rich commissioned The Beggar's Opera to be written by John Gay. The play's success generated enough money for him to build the Theatre Royal, and its first hundred years of existence saw plays taking to its stage. At the time, the theatre was simply known as "Covent Garden", and was one of only two theatres that Charles II allowed to perform drama in London. A huge fire plagued the building in September 1808 though, destroying a lot of Rich's hard work from his career.

    Carry on going. We're almost at the Opera House.

    At the Royal Opera House

    Pay wave

    Here it is, on your left. Stop for a moment, and take in its magnificent columned facade and ornate carvings.

    The second Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, was built between December 1808 and September 1809. To make money, actor-manager John Philip Kemble decided to rise the prices in tickets. But audience members heckled performances for two months in The Old Price Riots, and Kemble was eventually convinced to lower the prices again. On March 5th 1856, the theatre was once again destroyed by fire.

    The majority of the theatre that you see before you now was constructed shortly after, with heavy renovation work happening in the 1990s.

    When you're ready to move on, just carry on walking in the same direction as before, sticking to the left-hand side of the road.

    Right towards Broad Court

    Pay wave

    Now turn right and cross the road over the zebra crossing. Then walk straight down the pedestrian lane. Can you see the ballerina statue underneath the tree in the middle of the lane? I'll meet you there.

    Magistrates Court

    Pay wave

    Now stop here. Before you sit down for a moment's rest, let me show you something.

    Turn around and look down the narrow road running down the right-hand side of the Royal Opera House. See if you can spot the short bridge going between the two buildings, above street level. Do you see it? It looks like a strand of DNA.

    This is The Bridge of Aspiration, linking the Royal Ballet School on the right to the Royal Opera House on the left. The name was chosen to describe the aspiration that young students of the ballet school feel when crossing the bridge to perform their shows at the Opera House. They hope to walk across the bridge again in the future as a professional ballerina.

    You can sit down next to the statue now, while I talk about the Magistrates Court. If you're still facing the Opera House, it's the large stone building on your left.

    This is Bow Street Magistrates Court, arguably the most famous court house in London during its 266 years of service. This building saw many famous cases coming through its doors, but it's most famous for being the home of the original London police force. The Bow Street Runners were a group of six men formed in 1749 by magistrate Henry Fielding, who were hired to fight crime in the city. Before this time, crime was simply fought by men who offered to do the sleuthing at a undisclosed fee: they were known as "thief-takers".

    The group was disbanded in 1839. But ten years before that, the Metropolitan Police Service that we know and love was set up on these grounds, with their offices in the building on your left. The building work began in 1878 and wasn't finished until 1881. The engraving at the top of the corner which states "1879" is actually incorrect – the construction work took longer than originally anticipated.

    When you're ready to move on, turn away from the street and walk down the pedestrian lane.

    Oscar Wilde

    Pay wave

    Turn right here, going through the bollards to walk down this side lane.

    Many famous people were tried at Bow Street Magistrates Court, but no case is quite as historically famous as the one involving Oscar Wilde. The writer was tried and prosecuted for being homosexual at this very courthouse in 1895. After a lengthy hearing, Wilde was sent to prison in May 1895 and wasn't released for a further two years. Immediately upon his release, Wilde was exiled to France; he would never return to the UK or Ireland ever again.

    When he was convicted his name was removed from all West End and Broadway marquees and posters, meaning that plays like "The Importance of Being Earnest" suddenly had no author to its name.

    Continue down the lane.

    Fortune Theatre

    Pay wave

    Continue straight.

    Up ahead we'll pass the Fortune Theatre, the smallest of the West End's commercial houses. The Fortune has been home to the long-running thriller play, "The Woman In Black", which is based on the famous novel by Susan Hill. It has been performed there since 1989. Interestingly, for a week in September 2008, the play was performed in Japanese to commemorate the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the UK and Japan.

    Keep walking to the end of the lane.

    Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

    Pay wave

    This is the Fortune Theatre, on your right. But you've already heard about it, so let's keep moving. Cross the road in front of you, and then turn right and walk under the covered section.

    [3 SECOND PAUSE]

    The marquee that you're walking under belongs to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, the other theatre in which Charles II allowed drama performances. You might spot a coat of arms on your left that commemorates this. Nowadays, composer and all-round theatre royalty Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber and his company own the theatre. It has been home to many West End classics, like "Miss Saigon", "A Chorus Line" and "The Producers".

    Continue straight.

    Catherine Street

    Pay wave

    Now turn left, and carry on going, walking past the entrance of the theatre.

    You may be wondering why it's called Theatre Royal, Drury Lane if the entrance is actually here, on Catherine Street. As a matter of fact, the entrance did used to be on Drury Lane, the street behind this one, but a huge fire destroyed the theatre in the 1790s. When it was reconstructed a few years later, it was decided that it should be turned around.

    A little further down this street is the Duchess Theatre, as well as the Novello, but we won't be passing them. The Duchess is one of the smallest theatres in the West End.

    Carry on walking to the end of the block.

    Right onto Travistock Street

    Pay wave

    Turn right here, and carefully cross the road. When you reach the other side, walk straight down the one-way street.

    Continue Down Tavistock Street

    Pay wave

    You're on the right track. Just keep heading down the street, staying on the left-hand side.

    Charles Dickens

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    On this corner, there's a coffee shop. Walk around the corner to your left, and stop for a moment.

    [2 SECOND PAUSE]

    This is the Charles Dickens Coffee House, a coffee shop that Dickens frequented during his time in this part of London. Look up to the second floor, just to the right of the first window. Can you see the blue plaque on the side of the building? That plaque states that Dickens once lived here, right above the coffee house in fact, for the last eleven years of his life. It was here that Dickens started work on his final masterpiece "The Mystery of Edwin Drood". He died before finishing that book, so his intentions for the end of the story are completely unknown. It was also in this flat that Dickens suffered the fatal stroke that took his life from him, as well as taking his knowledge and stories from the rest of the world.

    Have a look through the coffee shop's window, if you like, or stop to get some fuel from inside. When you're ready to move on, turn so that the coffee shop is on your left and walk straight down the road. Make sure you stick to the left-hand side. The tour will resume automatically when you get to the next junction.

    Lyceum Theatre

    Pay wave

    Now stop here, on the corner, and look diagonally across the road. On the opposite corner is the Lyceum Theatre with its arched doorways and windows. The Lyceum is home to Disney's "The Lion King". I can say that with confidence on this walking tour, because no matter when you're listening it's very likely that the show will still be running here. The franchise is one of the highest grossing on the planet, and the show is the highest grossing musical in both New York and London.

    Look at the impressive architecture. Do you remember Henry Irving, who I told you about earlier? He was the man with the statue next to the National Portrait Gallery. When this theatre first opened, he was the manager of this very theatre. In fact, his business manager was pretty well known as, well... a man who would eventually become the young Irish writer Bram Stoker, author of the original Dracula story. In fact, Stoker based his famous character Count Dracula on Henry Irving himself, drawing on his sweeping gestures and big presence.

    All right, now follow the road straight ahead, towards the traffic lights in the distance, staying on the left hand side.

    At the same time, Irving performed in many different plays here, alongside his frequent acting partner Ellen Terry, and after Stoker had written his novel, he intended for Irving to star in the stage adaptation of the story. Irving never agreed to do it, but the play was produced at the Lyceum anyway, for one night only, just before the book's publication.

    Keep walking to the end of the road.

    CellarDoor

    Pay wave

    Now look in front of you for a glass structure in the middle of the pavement, surrounding a staircase descending into the ground. Stop when you reach it.

    This is a public-toilet-turned-bar called CellarDoor. It was such an old toilet that men like Oscar Wilde and John Gielgud frequented it during its time. Despite the fact that it's now a bar, the toilets inside are still pretty nifty. The doors are completely clear until you go inside. Then when you lock the door, the glass frosts over on the outside, but still appears clear from the inside... A weird experience I'm sure.

    If you need a restroom break, this is the perfect opportunity. When you're ready, cross the busy road ahead at the pedestrian crossing, just behind CellarDoor. I'll meet you on the other side of the road.

    Strand

    Pay wave

    Now turn left and walk straight down the street. I have a spooky story about the Lyceum to share with you...

    One couple who visited the theatre in the 1880s were greeted with an extra surprise. The couple were peering around the building when they saw the severed head of a man, leering up at them from a lady's lap in the stalls below them. They tried to investigate, but by the time the show had ended, the lady had mysteriously vanished...

    Years later, the husband was on holiday in Yorkshire and visited a grand house. At the house, he saw a portrait of a man with the same face as the severed head. When he asked the owner of the house about the man, he was told that it was a distant ancestor who had been beheaded for treason on the site of the Lyceum – and he'd been haunting the theatre ever since...

    Keep walking straight.

    King's College, London

    Pay wave

    Through the arches on your right is Somerset House. Don't go through the entrance just yet, but remember where it is. We'll be going in there in a moment. For now, keep walking straight while I tell you about King's College London, one of the city's most famous universities. It's in next few buildings after the large stone Somerset House.

    The university was founded by King George the Fourth and the Duke of Wellington in 1829. It has seen countless famous academics pass through its doors, as you can see by the pictures on the windows on your right. Michael Morpurgo, Virginia Woolf, Desmond Tutu, Rosalind Franklin, Florence Nightingale and many more studied here, with Nightingale having the school of Nursing and Midwifery named after her in 1998. King's College ranks as one of the top 20 universities on the planet. It's also the largest graduate center for students who study medicine and bio-medicine in the whole of Europe. The alumni of the school include 12 Nobel laureates, 16 members of the House of Lords, two Oscar winners, two Grammy winners and an Emmy winner.

    Continue straight.

    Abandoned Stations

    Pay wave

    Some old buildings in London don't last though. Do you see this building that juts out into the pavement a little? Take a moment to have a look at its front entrance.

    This is the original Strand station. As you can see, it's now completely abandoned, but the facade is still fully intact. Once you've had a look, you can turn around and make your way back to the Somerset House entrance I pointed out earlier. When you get there, turn left and walk through the archway into the courtyard.

    Strand station opened in 1907, as the terminus from a short branch of the Piccadilly line that ran out from Holborn. During the Second World War, the tunnels in the station were used to protect valuable artwork from London art galleries, so that they wouldn't be damaged in the bombings. The shuttle service only served a very limited amount of customers, and from 1962 it only ran during odd daylight hours. The station was considered for closure several times. But in 1992 the station's lifts broke and the cost to fix them became too high, and they decided it was time to close its doors for good. I'll be back when you're inside the courtyard.

    Keep heading back to the Somerset House entrance. I'll meet you in the courtyard on the other side.

    Somerset House

    Pay wave

    Welcome to Somerset House. Walk around the statue in front of you, into the square ahead.

    This is one of my favourite spots in the whole of London. The venue is a cultural hub, home to art exhibitions, architecture and many other things. Before that though, Somerset House was simply home to the British Tax Service... and this was right up until 2009!

    I'll meet you in the square ahead.

    Architecture at Somerset House

    Pay wave

    Now walk straight across the square, and leave through the exit beneath the columned balcony on the other side.

    Every March and September, London Fashion Week takes place right here in this courtyard. I remember coming here at 13 to a street style spot – I've never seen so much culture in one space.

    Have a look at the building around you as you walk. You may be wondering why some sides have dirtier bricks than others. The stone used to build Somerset House is taken from the Island of Portland in South England. This stone self-cleans, so bricks that are in direct line of the rain manage to keep cleaner than the others.

    Continue straight until you've left the square.

    On the Terrace

    Pay wave

    You're now on the terrace of Somerset House. Turn right here, and walk to the end of the terrace.

    As you walk, look at the tented bar on your left, and imagine what this place looks like on a busy Friday night after work in summer – it's an awesome atmosphere.

    This open area is a part of London that, from what I recall, might have the only free seating deck in the whole of Westminster. The seats behind you offer completely free seating for whatever the occasion, so bear that in mind when you're looking for a spot to have a picnic that isn't in one of London's gorgeous parks!

    Carry on walking straight, towards the glass bridge ahead.

    Turning onto Waterloo Bridge

    Pay wave

    Now go up the glass bridge in front of you. When you reach the top, turn left onto the larger bridge going over the Thames and keep walking. That's the Waterloo Bridge. I'll meet you a little further along it, where we'll talk about the London skyline.

    The City Skyline

    Pay wave

    Stop here for the moment, and look over the railings on your left, at the beautiful skyline: while London has many stunning old buildings, it has its fair share of skyscrapers as well.

    Look to the left side of the Thames, at the building with the smooth, slanted side to it in the distance - that's nicknamed the Cheesegrater, due to its reminiscent shape. Just behind that is a round building made up of glass blue-toned diamonds – this is called the Gherkin, also due to its shape.

    To the right of those two is a building that looks like a distorted box – this is called the Pint Glass. While these three buildings may look cool, they're just simple office blocks!

    Now look to the right side of the Thames, at the tall, thin glass building. That's The Shard, the tallest building in London. In fact, The Shard will forever be the tallest, because it's built to the deepest and widest dimensions that London law allows. Those panes of glass that you see poking the sky will be the tallest point in London, until that law changes.

    Just to the left of that is a very small, grey tower emerging from a brick building on the water. That's the OXO Tower, and you can see the word "OXO" on its side. You might be wondering why OXO was allowed to put their brand here, considering it's against the law to advertise on buildings on the Thames. They actually fought in court, arguing that it isn't their logo, but is just decorative art of two circles with a cross in the middle... Needless to say, they won, but the company no longer resides there. It's now a space used for pop up art galleries, boutiques and apartments.

    When you're ready to move on, head back along the bridge, the same way we came. Just before the glass bridge, on your right, there's a set of stone stairs going down to the street below. Go down the stairs, and I'll meet you at the bottom.

    Embankment

    Pay wave

    Turn right here, and keep going.

    You're now walking along the Embankment, which was once part of the River Thames. In the 1860s, it was decided that the sewage needed to go somewhere... so they built this street to cover up the sewers! Before that, the river was so wide that when it froze over, on-ice markets were held during the Winter – it's hard to imagine what that would be like today!

    Carry on walking with the Thames on your left.

    Turning onto Savoy Place

    Pay wave

    Now cross the small side street in front of you. Then follow the road that curves around to the right, going past the statue on your right-hand side.

    Michael Farriday

    Pay wave

    Keep walking.

    The statue on your right is of Michael Farriday, a man who helped pioneer the electrical light. His statue stands outside this large brick and stone building, which is now the Institution of Engineering, but was once home to the BBC's radio enterprise.

    Carry on following the road straight ahead.

    The Savoy Hotel

    Pay wave

    Continue straight.

    This large building on your right is the Savoy Hotel, one of the most prestigious hotels in the world. Almost every famous person you can think of has stayed here, including Marilyn Monroe, The Beatles and Charlie Chaplin. Winston Churchill used to bring his cabinet to lunch here. The hotel's main driveway on the Strand is also the only road in the UK where you drive on the right-hand side. I'll explain why in a bit.

    For now, carry on going straight.

    Carting Lane

    Pay wave

    Turn right here, and keep walking.

    Look on the left-hand side of the road ahead. Can you see the lit black streetlamp? This is the only streetlight in London that has been lit since its day of construction. It runs off of gas below it. We're stood on top of sewers... it runs on methane!

    This is Carting Lane, home to food entrances and stage door entrance to the Savoy Hotel and Theatre. The theatre – which is joined onto the hotel – is most famous for being the first theatre in the world to be entirely lit by electric light. Before that, a mix of oxyhydrogen flame and quicklime were put together to create a light which was then magnified onto the stage called "limelight".

    Remember I said I'd explain about the Savoy's right-hand-side system on their front road earlier on? The reason is because women who arrived here on horseback sat behind the drivers on the right, and didn't like walking around the car to get in. It became a quirk, and it's stuck ever since.

    Continue straight, going up the stairs at the end of the lane.

    Crossing the Strand

    Pay wave

    The road in front of you is called Strand. Cross over it now, via the zebra crossing. Be safe and wait for the traffic lights, and when you get to the other side, turn left and head down the road.

    What's In A Name

    Pay wave

    Keep walking.

    You're now back on normal ground level, away from those sewers that were built in the 1600s. At one time, Strand was right next to the edge of the River Thames, which is how it got its name; "Strand" comes from the Old English word "strond", which means "edge of the river".

    We're about to turn down a small alleyway. It's marked by a painting of a lady with her name, "Nell Gwynne", written beneath. Nell Gwynn was one of the first actresses to ever grace the stage, back in the 1660s. Don't worry – I'll tell you when we reach the alleyway.

    Continue straight.

    The Tale of Bull Inn Court

    Pay wave

    Look up – jutting out from the building on your right is the painting. Turn right here, and walk through the archway into the alley.

    This is Bull Inn Court, home to a very bloody murder. William Terriss was once the manager of the Adelphi Theatre nearby. He took on a young actor called Richard Archer Prince in 1890, and they worked together on "The Harbour Lights". Prince was unfortunately forced to leave the show, but Terriss still supported him financially. After a decade of becoming mentally unstable, Prince came here one night, waited for Terriss to leave his dressing room and stabbed him to death claiming it's "revenge for giving him a decade of unemployment". Henry Irving was a friend of Terriss', but said that Prince should not be executed because he was an actor!

    Continue straight.

    Rules Restaurant

    Pay wave

    Stop here for a moment and look across the road to your right, at the restaurant with the name "Rules" emblazoned over the canopy outside. There are probably a couple of flags above the entrance, too.

    This is Rules, the oldest restaurant in the whole of London. Once you've had a look, turn left and walk down this narrow lane.

    It was opened by Thomas Rule in 1798, originally as an oyster bar and a place that served British cuisine. As time progressed, it has become increasingly popular with people in entertainment. It's even been used for media appearances on shows like Downton Abbey, and for scenes in films like Spectre.

    Keep walking down the lane. I'll meet you on the corner ahead.

    The Lady

    Pay wave

    Turn right here, and keep walking. As you turn, have a look at the building on the corner on your right. This is the base for The Lady magazine, but it hasn't always been. It was once the home of the original public bathroom for women in London. Despite the protesting that went into getting one, attendance was so poor that the council was forced to shut it down due to high running costs.

    Continue walking straight. I'll see you in a moment.

    St. Paul's Church

    Pay wave

    Now stop here, and look through the gate on your right. This is the entrance gate to St Paul's Church, which I spoke about earlier in Covent Garden Plaza.

    Notice the gorgeous Etruscan architecture. The church is sometimes referred to as the "Actors Church" because of its theatrical connections and performances that still go on there today. As I said earlier, it was in this area that the first Punch and Judy show was ever performed. St Paul's is also the setting to the opening of George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion" and the novel's musical stage adaptation "My Fair Lady". The church is decorated with homages to different actors who have been associated with the venue over time.

    Now continue walking to the corner ahead.

    Turning onto New Row

    Pay wave

    Turn left here and cross the road over the zebra crossing. Then head down the small lane straight ahead of you.

    The Dirtiest Street in London

    Pay wave

    Carry on following the lane.

    This is New Row, one of the cutest little streets in London, with small boutiques and unique pubs. It also intersects Bedfordbury, a street we'll turn onto soon. Bedfordbury was once known as the dirtiest street in London, with filthy washing hung across the road and broken windows in almost every single pane you could lay your eyes on.

    Keep walking straight.

    Left onto Bedfordbury

    Pay wave

    Turn left here, into Bedfordbury, and keep walking.

    Goodwin's Court

    Pay wave

    Stop for a moment, and look across the road to your right. Can you see the small open doorway? It has the numbers '23' and '24' above it. Walk through it now, going all the way to the road on the other side.

    [3 SECOND PAUSE]

    This is Goodwin's Court, but be quiet when you're walking down here. This street is home to many different producers and agents in the entertainment industry. If you happen to glance through one of the windows here, take note of the posters and artwork on their walls.

    This street is also famous for being a basis for the Diagon Alley designs in the Harry Potter series. Alongside the book shops we saw earlier on Charing Cross Road, these two areas helped Warner Brothers bring the famous Harry Potter shopping street to life – small shop fronts, odd brick work and big bay windows? Sounds just like Harry Potter to me!

    Carry on walking.

    Noël Coward & Duke of York's

    Pay wave

    Now stop here, making sure to keep out of the way of people trying to get in and out of Goodwin's Court.

    While we're here, we're going to talk about the final two theatres on our walking tour: the Duke of York's Theatre, which is down the road to your left, and the Noel Coward Theatre, which is just across the street to your right. You can't really see the Duke of York's facade, but you can see their sign jutting out on the other side of the road, about two storeys up.

    The Duke of York's was originally named "The Trafalgar Square Theatre", and is the original home of J M Barrie's Peter Pan, way back in December 1904. It's also where David Belasco's play Madame Butterfly was first performed. Giacomo Puccini attended a performance of the play, and it was here that he decided to write the famous opera that we all know and love today. Belasco is celebrated more in New York than he is here in London, with Broadway's Belasco Theatre being named after him.

    Now look at the Noel Coward Theatre, across the street to your right, with its magnificent stone facade and canopy. It was previously known as the Albery Theatre, where shows like Oliver! and the hit play Children of a Lesser God had their first appearance. The theatre reopened as "New Theatre" in March 1903, after Charles Wyndham decided he wanted another place besides Wyndham's Theatre, which we saw earlier on. The design of the Noel Coward is almost identical to Wyndham's, because W G R Sprague designed and oversaw the construction of both.

    If Goodwin Court is still behind you, turn right now and have a stroll up the street, sticking to the right hand side of the road.

    Left onto St. Martins Court

    Pay wave

    Now turn left and cross the road. Then head down the pedestrian lane ahead, with the Noel Coward Theatre on your right.

    Poster Parade

    Pay wave

    Continue straight.

    This is St. Martin's Court, my favourite alleyway in the whole of London. As you can see, this wall on your right is lined with posters dedicated to the shows currently running on the West End. Overhead is a joined marquee between Wyndham's and the Noel Coward – it's lined with lights, so it's extremely pretty on summer evenings. There's something about this street which is so full of fun and love for the theatre. New York has a similar little lane called Shubert Alley, which is also full of theatre posters, and it's a very magical place to be.

    Keep going. We're almost at the end of our time together!

    Goodbye!

    Pay wave

    Now stop here.

    We have unfortunately come to the end of our walking tour for today and, aptly, we have ended up back outside my favourite theatre in the West End: Wyndham's Theatre!

    Maybe now is a good time to head back to a wine bar, like Gordon's which we saw at the start of the tour, or maybe it's a good time to see whatever is currently playing at Wyndham's Theatre to your right. If you fancy a drink somewhere nearby then why not try Round Table on your left – a perfect place for some al fresco dining – or if you're keen to get home and rest your feet, Leicester Square Station is just down the road to your right.

    Whatever you choose to do, I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day. Thank you for coming along on this walk with me, and I hope you have enjoyed listening as much as I have enjoyed talking. If you have some time on your hands, feel free to download another one of the walking tours from the VoiceMap app. And if you really enjoyed your walk this afternoon, you can create your own VoiceMap walking tour as well – just click 'create your own VoiceMap' on the app's home screen.

    So, until next time dear companion, thank you for being my partner for today. From black telephone boxes to abandoned tube stations, to streets of theatre posters, it's been fun. Don't forget to rate this walking tour accordingly when you press "finish" and I shall see you all another day. Goodbye!

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