Kings, Courtesans , Highwaymen and Footmen; Dukes, Generals, Prime Ministers and Clergy; Class, Cash, Revolution and Power. While researching The Poshest Walking Tour in the World, I’ve been astounded by how much I didn’t know of London.
As a cyclist, I’m like a swan, graceful in my mind, but pedaling in a most animated fashion underneath. I used to glide through town, oblivious to the history and visions around me, the ugly duckling concentrating on his pond, eyes down to make sure I don’t get run over by some fat man in a tanker. A world where horsepower is horseless, ethers are palpably unnatural, and great schools of humanity migrate along the darkly sweating rivers of hard tar macadam.
And yet these rivers, only a couple of lifetimes ago, would have had a much more natural feel and smell, organic in nature, man so close to the world that the world would often bite back. Man was a worm, and yet there was a majesty in the worm’s struggle, lost today except in the most primitive of communities; man was a worm, whose majesty is still visible in the skin shed as he left us.
But Oh what a beautiful skin it was! Mayfair, the most expensive property on that arbiter of all things money, the board game Monopoly, is a youthful place. Yes, it throngs with the young trendies of the town, yes, it is filled with the latest, most fashionable trickets and baubles the world has to offer, yes, the sounds of Mayfair are the sounds of lives being lived with verve and energy. However, the place itself is not even that old.
The twentieth century is so far gone that things that happened then are now seen as history, and yet for me, born in 1975, it doesn’t seem that long ago. There are still people alive today who were born in the nineteenth century. When they were born, there were people still alive who’d experienced being held up by highwaymen – in Mayfair.
A couple of lifetimes ago, Mayfair was on the edge of London, an enclave of the rich, a mansion covered hilltop, a place where young men and women already came to gallivant. How do you write the stories of the place? Using ourselves as our best guides, with far too many stories to put into a dozen tours, we selected the most fun, funny, character filled, characteristic stories, and learnt a greater truth about London in the process.
Walking through the streets, selected for their vista as much as for the stories we tell, we have found ourselves contemplating, looking up, and seeing for the first time how London was. London’s history is written into her fabric, from the shape of the streets and architecture of the buildings, to locations of modern day crowds and attitudes of our police.
As a cyclist, my eyes used to be on the road, my mind on getting to my destination as fast as possible. But once I raised my eyes from the level of the ugly duckling, I started to see the swan that is London, majestic above me, proudly showing, for all those who would care to learn, the history of a mere worm that struggled and became king.