9 Things I Learned on a Bowl of Chalk

Jonnie from a Bowl of Chalk Our excellent tour guide Jonnie from Bowl of Chalk

Not last Saturday but the Saturday before, a couple of us got together and went on a pay-what-you-want walk with Jonnie from Bowl of Chalk.  I'm going to start off by saying that the tour was excellent and Jonnie's knowledge of London, especially the Great Fire of London, was astounding.

We met up just behind St Paul's Cathedral and wound our way round the cathedral and over the Millennium Bridge to the Bankside area. There we explored Borough Market and the high street before crossing the Thames again and landing up at The Monument.

It was not a short walk and took about three hours. I slept very well that evening but my sleep was all the sweeter for the new titbits of information I picked up that day. So without further ado, here are 9 things I learned on a bowl of chalk* in London Town. I was going to list 10 but I think 9 is just as fine.

I’ve walked up and down Cheapside countless times but it never occurred to me to question the rather unusual name of this street located just behind St Paul’s Cathedral.  In medieval English, ‘cheap’ was the word for market and at that time, Westcheap was one of the main produce markets in London.  Many of the roads leading off from it are named after that produce: Bread Street, Milk Street, Poultry (which like Cheapside, is simply known by one word).

You really want to visit Cheapside, because it is where One New Change is located.  This shopping centre has a roof terrace with some incredible views of St Paul’s Cathedral and the changing London skyline.

St Paul's Cathedral from One New Change St Paul’s Cathedral and London Skyline from One New Change

Just down the road from Cheapside is Threadneedle Street which most likely derives from ‘three needles’, the sign of the merchant tailors.  Their 14th century guildhall Merchant Taylors' Hall is located on Threadneedle Street to this day.


I did know there are no roads in City of London but I didn't know this comes from the actual definition of the word road which in this case is a thoroughfare that goes from one point to another with no houses or shops on it. 

Since Roman times, The City of London has been one of the most important destinations in the world and as you know, all roads lead to Rome London, so there would be no roads in London because once you’d arrived here, well, you’d arrived at your destination.

The Shard from One New Change The Shard and London Skyline from One New Change

Being that it was the only bridge linking the City of London to the slums of the south, London Bridge was actually closed at night.  Of course, back then London Bridge was almost a town in itself and there were houses, shops, pubs and all sorts of buildings on the bridge.  For this reason, there were loads of inns down what is now Borough High Street where you could stay the night or await a stage coach.

Just in case you were wondering how gruesome medieval London really was, the severed heads of traitors and executed criminals were impaled on spikes and displayed on top of the southern gatehouse to London Bridge.  This served as a warning to all who entered London of the fate that awaited them should they step out of line.

Borough Market and Shard Borough Market and the Shard at Dusk

Great things happen in London. Really scary and monumental occasions in London are called "great". So you have the Great Plague of 1665-66, the Great Fire of London in 1666, the Great Frost of 1683–84 and the Great Smog of 1952.

If you have a vision of a dark and foggy London, you’re not far wrong.  The Great Smog of 1952 was so severe that 4,000 deaths were immediately linked to it.  It was largely attributed to air pollution and resulted in the Clean Air Act of 1956.  Fireplaces and stoves that produce smoke are still banned in the City of London.

Umbrella Installation at Borough Market Umbrella Art Installation at Borough Market

I already knew that the Great Fire of London was started by Thomas Farriner at his bakery in Pudding Lane but I had no idea that ‘pudding’ had a really different meaning back in 1666.  Basically, pudding refers to the lovely stuff that is left over once you take all of the useful bits off a carcass, in other words, it meant offal. I guess I can see the link between that, black pudding and the art of putting leftovers in a crust to make a pie.  Still, it is rather grim.

I also knew that Thomas Farriner was a king’s baker but I learned that this isn’t as fancy a title as I’d imagined.  Essentially, it just meant that he baked for the royal navy.

The Shard from the George The Shard as seen from The George Inn

I knew that the old St Paul’s Cathedral burned down in the Great Fire of London and that what we see now was built by Sir Christopher Wren.  I didn’t know that Old St Paul’s Cathedral was massive, an imposing compound that dominated the London skyline.  It was so big with its thick stone walls that Londoners thought that it could not possibly fall prey to the fire that was raging through the city in early September 1666. 

People began to store all sorts of valuables in the cathedral such as books, works of art and furniture.  Everything was lost.  Not only did the fire reach the cathedral but the scaffolding caught alight, the lead spire melted and centuries of valuable objects were lost.

The George Southwark The George Inn, Southwark frequented by Charles Dickens

Lord Mayor Thomas Bloodworth is now infamous for being the most useless mayor in the history of the City of London. As Lord Mayor, it fell to him to give permission to demolish adjoining properties which could have prevented the Great Fire from spreading right across London as it did. 

He was summoned from his bed and refused to grant the necessary permission, infamously saying that "a woman might piss it out" before going back to bed.

Thanks for that Lord Mayor Bloodworth.

The MonumentThe Monument to the Great Fire of London

Conspiracy theories were rife after the Great Fire of London. People thought it was retribution for the August 1666 raid on the Dutch town of West-Terschelling  in which the entire town was burned down by the English Fleet. It didn’t take long for Londoners to begin killing foreigners, Catholics and anyone else they didn’t like the look of.

It was up to the Duke of York, James to protect these people from the mobs and he began “arresting” foreigners to keep them safe.

So that brings me to the end of my thoroughly useful titbits of information gleamed from the Bowl of Chalk tour.  I absolutely intend to go on Jonnie’s other two walks so do let me know if you’d like to join in next time.

* Have you figured out what a bowl of chalk is yet?  Well, I’ll give you a clue, it’s cockney rhyming slang but you’ll have to visit the Bowl of Chalk website to figure out what for!

28 comments on "9 Things I Learned on a Bowl of Chalk"
  1. Beaufitul pictures! And how cool with the umbrella art.. I thought it was Bergen, hehe

    Hope you have a good week ahead Emm:-)

  2. Great....
    Best regards from Paris,


  3. Excellent tour and excellent photography!

  4. Aren't walking tours a brilliant way to see the real city history!

    I didn't know that the city was locked up at night. Other medieval cities were, of course, but I thought London would have been too big. Or was it only the bridge that was closed?

    Nor did I know (or remember, possibly) that there were lots of shops, pubs etc right on the Bridge. It is normal in Italy, even today, so I think it is a great idea.

  5. The umbrella installation is awesome! London is probably my favorite city ever, and your photos have definitely reminded me of why!

  6. this reminds me that I should start my fall/winter trips in my town:)
    Blog about life and travelling
    Blog about cooking

  7. love this reportage and photos .. i agree that on foot, the city takes on another 'allure'
    I will be sure to remember this on my next trip !

  8. Wowness ..what a fabulous read and super awesome post! Love that very first shot of yours Emm..stunning and so peaceful! OOh I am enchanted by the umbrellas..so very beautiful and enchanting! Hmm.. a bowl of chalk.?...I just checked out that site..pretty cool! Still wondering what it means ha ha!
    You are awesome as usual Emm...and this post was chalk full of intrigue!

  9. Just WOW. I knew maybe three of those facts. Oh Mr Bloodworth! What an idiot. Thanks for the great read. :O)

  10. Very informative and interesting!!! Thanks for sharing. I'll have to make sure to mark the next one on my calendar. Can't believe I missed this one!!


  11. Ok, I seriously need to sear this idea in my brain, because next time I go to London, I want to take this walk :)

  12. great photos and i particularly love the umbrella art installation. Thanks for taking us along on your wonderful journey. What an awesome
    experience and I loved every moment you shared with us!

  13. So interesting! And I LOVE the picture of the umbrellas!

  14. While I wasn't a huge fan of this tour I think I'd be up for checking out his tour in East London. The description has sold me.

  15. Thanks very much. Lovely write up and really great photos too. Glad you enjoyed it. Byeeee ... Jonnie

  16. What an interesting walk - London certainly is seething with history. Yes, that is the right word - i imagine all the historical events of the past boiling up in a kind of mist over everything, once you're tuned in to the idea. I didn't make the connection between "cheap" and "market" but you can see how people got to use the word "cheap" in its present form, when applied to goods.

  17. Wow, how thorough is this post? I will be doing mine soon, too. Probably this rainy afternoon will be a posting day as I feel i might be coming down with something nasty in the throat area. Wish Meliz and Greg a fond farewell for me in hug form, please?

  18. Great photos and post, Emm! The umbrella installation looks fabulous!

  19. Thank you for all these nice "goodies" about London! I should have read this just a tiny bit before ... :-)

  20. This is absolutely fascinating! I just sat and absorbed every word! I want to do a tour! Amazing! :)

  21. Sounds like a wonderful way to learn about London and take photographs. Kudos to you for remembering everything on your tour!

  22. @ Spiderdama: do they have umbrella art in Bergen? I cannot wait to visit there one day.

    @ Pierre: Merci Pierre

    @ Adullamite: thank you! I am glad you enjoyed it.

    @ Hels:walking tours are definitely the way to go. I think it was just the bridge that was closed because it became dangerous to cross it at night. I've seen paintings and artist's impressions of the bridge - it is so strange, it makes me a little heartbroken that I did not see it like that.

    @ Kay: London is my favourite city ever too, although I' a little biased. Glad you liked the photos.

    @ Ola: Yes, Ola, we're dying for photos of your home town!!!

    @ This Is Belgium: perhaps next time you come, we can go on the trip together!

    @ Sy: thank you my dear!

    @ Victoria: thank you! That first photo is one my my favourite photos ever! Bowl of Chalk = walk in cockney rhyming slang.

    @ Wendy: thank you!! I'm so glad you enjoyed it and totally agree with you on Bloodworth!

    @ Selena: well, i am absoutely going on another walk with Jonnie so let's make a plan!

    @ Cristina: I will absolutely make sure that I, as your dedicated tour guide, takes you along!

    @ Life Ramblings: so glad you enjoyed it and welcome back again!

    @ Angelika: indeed. Although at three hours, it was a big walk!

    @ Kathy: that was one of my favourite parts, to be sure!

    @ Melissa: cool. Let's definitely make a plan.

    @ Jonnie: no, thank you!! It was really good.

    @ Jenny: totally with you on "seething". I adore London's gory, horrible history.

    @ Jen: Heh, it took me over ten days to write! I was so sick but so intrigued by Jonnie's walk.

    @ Ash: thank you!!

    @ RuneE: well, maybe it will help for next time you're here!

    @ Stefanie: do one!!! Or better yet, join us on our next one.

    @ AVCr8teur: you know, I was just so taken by what he told us that it was pretty easy to write this quick list. And this was just a fraction of what he told us on the tour.

  23. hi Emm, i've just regained feeling in my extremities after taking the same tour this very cold afternoon. It was great though, and i also intend to take his other tours. Perhaps we'll meet! It would be a treat for me because i'm a big fan of your blog

  24. Hey Branwen, thanks for popping by! Isn't it a great walk? Perhaps we should set up a plan to go on the Sunday walk - perhaps end Jan, beginning Feb?

  25. hi Emm, that would be great! End of january would be good

  26. Hi Branwen, goodie! Okay, I'll get in touch with Jonnie. I know that he takes one or two weekends off a month so I'll find out when he's available during that time. In the meantime, I can't see your contact details so please feel free to get in touch via the Emm in London Facebook page or at emminlondon@gmail.com.


Comments are welcome!

All comments are moderated and will be published once approved

Hint: Comment using Name / URL so that I can follow you back to your blog