On 28th June I was lucky enough to be invited on a behind the scenes tour of the City of London with fellow authors Rowan Coleman, Joseph Connelly, Samantha Shannon and Louisa Young.
We met our guide and Andrew from the City of London Public Relations Office on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral and were taken on possibly the most astonishing tour I’ve ever been on.
We started by exploring the Square Mile – so many unknown treasures to be discovered…
A monument to the civilians who died in WWII.
The history behind the ‘pine apples’ on the top of various buildings.
Sam Shannon with a statue of John Donne
Postman’s Park with a wall of remembrance for the ordinary people who sacrificed their own lives in order to save others. Hugely touching and each one a short story in itself.
We then went on the Old Bailey where, unfortunately you’re not allowed to take photos (inside, anyway). We were given a talk by a senior official and it was a real eye opener into the kinds of trials that take place at the Old Bailey and the security and secrecy that needs to be in place in order to smuggle witnesses and high profile cases in and out of the building.
We were shown around Court 1 which was empty at the time and then taken into the astonishingly beautiful Great Hall before we lead downstairs towards the old cells (no longer in use).
I asked if I could stand in one of the cells and was shocked by how incredibly narrow they are and how claustrophobic I felt, despite a window at one end.
We were then taken outside to Dead Man’s Walk where a condemned criminal would have to walk through increasingly low and narrow archways until he approached the gallows at the end. We were allowed to try it for ourselves and I found it very unnerving – especially the way you were forced to fold into yourself as you approached your fate.
Dead Man’s Walk, The Old Bailey.
After our tour of the Old Bailey we were whisked away to meet the Lord Mayor of London, Fiona Woolfe. She is the 686th Lord Mayor, and only the second woman to hold the role since 1189. She was incredibly warm and welcoming and very generously agreed to answer our questions.
With the Lord Mayor of London (l-r): Louise Young, Rowan Coleman, CL Taylor, Samantha Shannon, Lord Mayor Fiona Woolfe, Joseph Connolly.
After we said goodbye to the Lord Mayor we were taken down to a safe room in the basement where the Lord Mayor’s chain, Queen Elizabeth’s pearl sword and other gifts to the City of London are kept.
The safe room.
The Lord Mayor’s chain.
Queen Elizabeth’s Pearl Sword.
Next on the agenda was lunch and a very welcome sit down! We ate in a restaurant in the Royal Exchange and were joined by the Chief Commoner who was fascinating company.
After lunch we were taken to London Bridge for a tour of the depths and the heights of the bridge. To say this was the scariest part of the tour for me would be a massive understatement. Not only do I suffer from vertigo but I suffer from claustrophobia too!
We began in the old control room…
…then went down a few steps into the engine room and then descended down an extremely narrow, long and windy spiral staircase into the depths of the bridge.
Then through a tunnel…
…and into the cavern the bridge swings into when it’s raised. We could hear the rumble of water above our heads and I couldn’t shake the fear that someone in the control room would accidentally press the button to raise the bridge and crush us all to death! I felt desperately claustrophobic, hot and wobbly. The tour was arranged to help us come up with plots, locations and themes for our novels – I certainly have a new kind of fear that I can use in the future!
Pretending not to be scared with Rowan Coleman.
Once we’d climbed back up the spiral staircase to the engine room myself, Rowan and Sam all had to sit down for a couple of minutes to steady ourselves and then it was time to leave the control room and get the lift up to the top of one of the towers. Hooray, time for fear number two!
We crossed the walkway (the one shown on the right here) where an exhibition was taking place and into the other tower. We then went up another spiral staircase so we were right at the very top of the tower. The balconies were opened and revealed the most astonishing views of London – views only very few people ever get to see.
It was very windy that high and I was too scared to step out onto the balcony but I did peer around the doorway to get a grab a few photos.
The plan was for one of us to press the button to raise the bridge but we ran out of time (and I had a train to catch) so there was just enough time for me to grab one last photo (look how relieved I look to be back on solid ground!) and then say our goodbyes.
I’d like to say a HUGE thank you to the Public Relations Department of the City of London and the other authors for making it a fascinating and memorable day. It was an incredible day and one I’ll remember forever. For anyone interested in conducting their own tour of the City of London you can now access an audio behind the scenes tour online for free. Just go here: https://audioboo.fm/cityoflondon