Vic Norman’s Dragon and Flagon London Pub Tours Review

Beer mats inside pub #2 of the tour

Beer mats inside pub #2 of the tour

Despite London’s pubs closing at an alarming rate, there are still a minimum of 4,000 to choose from. So how do you find a good one?

Well Vic Norman’s solved at least part of the problem with his Dragon and Flagon walking pub tours.

The concept is simple: meet at a station on a Friday evening (private tours available on other dates), find Vic (not difficult as he had bright red hair when I met him), let him take you to 5 or 6 pubs. As an added bonus he’ll give you drink recommendations at each pub and also tell you a bit of London history along the way.

In my experience London tour guides generally fall into either the entertainer or professor category. Vic is very much the entertainer and is quite the personality. While he certainly knows his history and will point out many interesting things along the way, the main focus is the pubs. This is for the best though, as after 2 or 3 pints most people won’t be listening to the history part anyway.

So if you’re looking for an in-depth historic lecture or conversely a straight no nonsense pub crawl, these tours are not for you. However, if you’re looking for a tour with nice mix of history, pubs and drinking then I certainly recommend giving Dragon and Flagon London Pub Tours a try.

On a lovely sunny Friday 3 weeks ago, I went on his A Tale of 3 Bridges Tour. Now I won’t spoil it by revealing everything that’s on it, but I did manage to take a few photos using my new Nexus 5 phone (so apologies if the quality is not that great).

Outside St. Paul's with Vic  (with red hair) and other tour members,

Outside St. Paul’s with Vic (red hair) and other tour members.

St. Paul's and the Thames

St. Paul’s and the Thames

Pub #1

Pub #1

The Golden Hinde

The Golden Hinde

The Thames

The Thames

The Monument

The Monument

The City

The City

Old Billingsgate Fish Market

Old Billingsgate Fish Market

The Tower of London

The Tower of London

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

The Queen's barge?

The Queen’s barge?

The Final Stop

The Final Stop

Dragon and Flagon London Pub Tours cost £10 per person and tour dates are available on on the website. Be aware that these are walking tours so sensible walking shoes are recommended.

Full Disclosure: Vic generously offered to allow me to come on his tour free of charge with no obligation to write anything about it. I genuinely enjoyed it and would say it’s well worth the money if you’re in town when he’s holding his next one.

The Empire Windrush Anniversary: An Event That Forever Changed The Face Of London For The Better

The Empire Windrush arrives in the mother country

The Empire Windrush arrived in the “mother country” 66 years ago today

The really important historical trends that shape our lives, such as technological, economic and social change, usually happen at such a gradual pace that we tend not to notice them on a daily basis. Yet in the long run, they often have a more profound impact than any singular event.

Nevertheless, humans seem to have a need to point to an event and say, “That’s when everything changed.” This despite the fact that the event in question may not have seemed all that important at the time.

Take for example the arrival of the MV Empire Windrush to Tillbury on June 22nd, 1948. The boat carried 492 people from the West Indies who were actively encouraged by the British Government of the time, to come to the “mother country” to help fill labour shortages that existed after World War 2.

It is now widely seen as the the event that symbolizes the beginning of mass, non-white immigration to the UK.

However, at the time – as the British Pathé clip below shows – it was seen as less important than the arrival of Ingrid Bergman and Alfred Hitchcock at Heathrow to film the now largely forgotten Under Capricorn.

Skip to 0:47 for the arrival of the Windrush

The video mentions a few interesting things, such as: the fact that the arrivals are mostly ex-servicemen, that they know England (aka the “mother country”) well, and that the Colonial office had to be prodded into giving them a cordial reception.

Yet, the true highlight is the king of calypso, Lord Kitchener singing: “London is the place for me … I’m glad to know my mother country.” Ultimately, Lord Kitchener would return to Trinidad in 1962, but the majority of those who came on the Windrush stayed in Britain.

Today over 1/3rd of Londoners were born outside the UK and over 40% classify themselves as non-White. This makes London one of the world’s most multicultural cities and is arguably it’s greatest strength. You can’t call yourself a global city if you don’t have a significant number of representatives from all over the globe living in it.

Yet, the road from there to here has not always been a smooth one. The 1958 Notting Hill and 1981 Brixton Riots are but two examples of the racial tensions that to some extent still exist in London today.

These tensions were in evidence right from the moment the first workers from the Windrush set down on British soil. While they were invited to come to work in the UK with promises of being part of the British colonial family – they faced discrimination from a local population that was often hostile to their arrival.

London Underground and British Rail are often held up as two of the model employers in the story of immigration to the UK, because they provided many of the first jobs to the new arrivals from the West Indies. Yet, here again the story is a little more complex.

While it’s undeniable that both organisations did provide employment, it was not always a smooth process. Blacks were mostly given the least desirable jobs and that was if they could get them.

This 1956 clip from the BBC’s Panorama shows just how much of an up hill struggle most new immigrants faced in London.

Given the treatment they received, I find it amazing that they decided to stay at all. Fortunately, they and waves of immigrants from all over the world since have. London would be a much worse place if they hadn’t.

The Secrets Of The Jubilee Line By Geoff Marshall

While the Jubilee line may be the youngest, even it has its fair share of secrets. Geoff Marshall shares just a few of the line’s secrets such as the Tube’s most pointless waiting room, where to find a Beatles themed coffee shop, the secret platforms at Charing Cross, the hidden entrance to the Houses of Parliament, and the cinema inside a tube station.

And if you enjoyed that one there’s even more videos:

For more Tube trivia be sure to visit his website.

Why Does London Have So Many Airports?

After a 3 year hiatus, Jay Foreman’s back with his 3rd Unfinished London video. In his latest installment he explains why London has more airports than any other city in the world. Why does London have 6 international airports? New York and Tokyo, which are much bigger than London, seem to manage just fine with only 2 each.

Well it all comes down to money, forward planning, not forward enough planning and semantics as to what actually counts as a “London” airport. Watch the entertaining and informative video above to learn all about how these forces created the crazy airport landscape we see in London today.

And in case you can’t name London’s 6 international from memory here they are in order of how many passengers they carry each year (numbers from 2013):

  1. Heathrow: 72 million.
  2. Gatwick: 35 million
  3. Stansted: 17 million
  4. Luton: 10 million
  5. London City: 3 million
  6. Southend: 1 million

Watch the video? Good. Do you think we should add London Oxford Airpot, London Ashford Airport, etc. to the list above?

Walking The 8th Wonder of the World: Thames Tunnel Pictures

24 - Thames Tunnel Entrance
Tunnel entrance from Wapping

This past bank holiday weekend, I and thousands of other Londoners got a rare opportunity to visit the 8th Wonder of the World: the Brunels’ Thames Tunnel.

Started by Marc Isambard Brunel and completed by his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the tunnel finally opened in 1843 after nearly 20 years of work. On top of being the first tunnel under a navigable river, it was also the first underwater shopping arcade and underwater dining hall. And it remains the oldest part of TFL’s infrastructure.

50,000 people are supposed to have walked through the tunnel on opening day in 1843. However, these days it’s a bit more difficult to get access, as it now forms an integral part of the Overground network. Fortunately, a confluence of engineering works allowed myself and others a rare walk through.

This was an extra treat as I’ve previously walked the East London Line above ground and it’s the first time while walking the Underground/Overground that I’ve actually been able walk directly between two stations along the track. You have no idea how times people have asked me if that was how I was doing my walks.

Here are just a few of my photos:

07 - Rotherhithe Platforms
Rotherhithe Station from track level

11 - Original Arch Thames Tunnel
One of the original arches

12 - Ghost in Thames Tunnel
Possible ghost sighting

13 - Original Arch Thames Tunnel
Old arch next to the preserved one

14 - Walking in the Thames Tunnel
Gives you an idea on the height of the Tunnel

17 - Thames Tunnel
Clear view down the tunnel

18 - East London Railway Marker
This used to be part of London Underground’s East London Line

20 - Thames Tunnel
Looking down the tunnel from Wapping

25 - Wapping Station
Wapping Station from track level

28 - Warning in Thames Tunnel
The irony is this sign can only be read when on the tracks

29 - Red Signal in Thames Tunnel
Just to be sure, the red signal was still turned on

30 - Surprise in Thames Tunnel
Surprise!

31 - 33,000 volts
Very glad the power was switched off

33 - Middle of Thames Tunnel
Roughly the middle of the tunnel

35 - 300m
Rotherhithe, that way

36 - Preserved arches in Thames Tunnel
There are a lot of arches

37 - Old and New archs in Thames Tunnel
Original section next to a preserved one

43 - Pumping Equipment in Thames Tunnel
If this pumping equipment wasn’t there, the station would quickly fill with water

47 - Rotherhithe Station from track level
A different view of a landing at Rotherhithe Station

49 - Water channel in Thames Tunnel
Just some of the water that has to be constantly pumped from the tunnel

53 - No service
Seems a little unnecessary to state this

54 - Thames Tunnel plaque
Thames Tunnel Plaque

56 - Original Thames Tunnel shaft
Original shaft down to the tunnel

57 - Original Thames Tunnel shaft
You can clearly see where the spiral staircases used to be

58 - Thames Tunnel door to shaft
Just be advised that the entrance to the original lift shaft is not for the claustrophobic

Learn more about the Thames Tunnel:

The Brunels’ Tunnel
King of the Underworld: Building The Thames Tunnel
Brunel Museum: History of the Thames Tunnel
Thames Tunnel on Wikipedia

More pictures of this past weekend’s visit from other blogs:

BBC – Thames Tunnel: Rare access to ‘eighth wonder of world’
Do Not Alight Here: Thames Tunnel Visit
Walking through a Tunnel under the Thames — Part 2
London Reconnections: In Pictures: The Thames Tunnel

5 Reasons Why Madrid’s Metro Is Better Than The Tube

Madrid Metro Logo

The logo for Madrid’s Metro looks a little similar to the iconic London Underground Roundel.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

After spending 4 days in sunny Madrid last week, I think got a good feel for the city (friendly people, great food and cheap beer) along with its metro system (Metro de Madrid). While it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Tube, I think there are (at least) 5 ways Madrid’s Metro clearly beats the London Underground.

1. It’s Cheaper

While both have zone systems, pretty much anyway you cut it, Madrid is much cheaper than London. In Madrid, the basic cash fare for the Metro is €1.50 (£1.21), whereas in London, it’s £2.20 (€2.70) for a non-peak zone 1-2 journey paid with Oyster or a whopping £4.70 (€5.80) if the fare is paid in cash.

2. It Has More Lines

Map of central section of Madrid's Metro

Some of Madrid’s Metro lines. Click for a complete map.

London boasts an impressive 11 underground lines (well 10 if we exclude the two-stop Waterloo & City line). However, Madrid has it’s own two-stop line, along with 12 others. This means that it beats London by 2 whole lines.

3. It Has More Stations

London Underground has 270 stations, which is pretty good until you learn that Madrid has 300. Moreover, until the recent financial crisis, Madrid was adding stations at rate that hasn’t been seen in London for over 60 years. According to Wikipedia (would be great if someone had a better source), Madrid’s Metro added 90 km (56 mi) of track and 80 new stations to the network between 2003 and 2007.

To put this in perspective, it’s roughly equivalent to the length and number of stations found on London’s entire Overground network.

4. It Has Far More Stations Per Capita

What’s even more impressive is that it has far more stations per capita than London. Madrid itself only has a population of 3.3 million compared to the roughly 8.2 million people who live in Greater London.

This means that Madrid has one station per 11,000 people, whereas London has 1 station per 30,370 people.

5. It’s Less Crowded

Waiting

Normal day on the London Underground

Roughly 1.2 billion annual trips were taken on London Underground in 2013 compared to just 558 million taken on Madrid’s Metro. This means that, on average, only half the number of people use the Madrid Metro each day compared to the Underground. Great if you want to get a seat!

So while London still has an older network with significantly more miles of track, Madrid’s Metro stacks up pretty well on most head-to-head comparisons.

A Few Other Random Observations

  1. For some reason the Madrid Metro is left-hand running, which is odd as Spaniards drive on the right. This may be due to the fact that residents of Madrid used to drive on the left until 1924.
  2. The Madrid Metro turns 95 this year, which sounds old until you realise that the Underground is 56 years older.
  3. The Madrid Metro doesn’t currently have a direct line from the City Centre to the main airport. Almost all passengers have to change to another line. While only the Piccadilly line goes to Heathrow, it does pass through central London.
  4. I didn’t see any adverts in the trains themselves. Although you do get ads in the stations and on platforms…
  5. VodafoneSol

  6. And, most surprisingly, Line 2 of the Metro along with Sol station are both sponsored by Vodafone. And don’t think this can’t happen to London as it’s already being talked about.

These are just a few of the things I noticed in my rather limited interaction with Madrid’s Metro. If you know of anything I’ve missed, other differences and/or interesting features, please tell me about them in the comment section below:

The Amazing Growth of London Shown In One Annimation

The video above animates London’s amazing growth over the last 2,000 years. See what sites from each of the city’s most important periods are now listed or in some other way protected. For example, did you know that there are more listed buildings from the Georgian period than any other before or since?

Officially titled The London Evolution Animation it was:

… developed by The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (UCL), as a partnership project between English Heritage, Dr Kiril Stanilov – The Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (University of Cambridge) and Museum of London Archaeology (with the Mapping London and Locating London’s Past projects), and was initiated and directed by Polly Hudson (PHD).

The London Evolution Animation (LEA) shows the historical development of London from Roman times to today, using georeferenced road network data brought together for the first time. The animation also visualizes (as enlarging yellow points) the position and number of statutorily protected buildings and structures built during each period.

Do you have a favourite period in London’s history? If so let me know below:

Which Party Has Traditionally Controlled Your Council? Borough By Borough Political Timeline

London borough council political timeline

Click for full size

The chart above shows which party has controlled your local London council from 1964-2014, with each square representing one year. Blue is Conservative control, red is Labour control, yellow is Liberal Democrat (formerly Liberal or SDP) control and grey is for when no party holds a majority.

The chart was created by reddit user BlackJackKetchum. Who’s also created a chart to show how many times each council has changed hands:

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