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Debut for Westminster Guide

I did something last Wednesday that I had spent a year in training for but had never actually carried out, owing to being too busy on other projects. However, it proved to be both an enjoyable and fulfilling experience leading a group of oil company executives on a tour of the Victoria/St. James’s area of Westminster.

We began at the St. James’ Court hotel in Buckingham Gate and spoke about the Emmanuel Hospital that had stood on the site for three hundred years until it was cleared to make way for the hotel, with the founding family’s Coat of Arms still represented on the gates of the hotel. One of my guests for the walk happened to be from Japan and his colleagues seemed a bit stunned as I spoke a bit of Japanese to him as we begun our tour. It was a bit of a bonus for me too as I have been getting less and less practice with the lack of Japanese tourists in London. I think due to the unfavourable exchange rate for Japanese people. Of course in reverse it is a great opportunity for us to go to Japan as it’s very affordable for us right now.

Our walk took in some of London’s most iconic tourist spots like Buckingham Palace and Westminster Cathedral and the Abbey. Not often walking guides’ most favoured stops, as some seem to think “leave it to the bus tours”! However, I think it would be daft to ignore them as you walk past provided that you can spin an interesting anecdote along with a bit of the history.

Westminster Cathedral

Our stroll around the St. James’s and Victoria area in this case, was scheduled for one and a half hours and I’m pleased to say that we were able to keep to the schedule.

The Sanctuary SW1

The Sanctuary SW1

Descriptions of the buildings and surrounds were accompanied by some anecdotes about characters associated with them, hopefully a bit of humour and salacious tales of outrage and intrigue thrown in too.

Mindful of my guests needing to be at their restaurant tables for 7.30pm we arrived on time with a few minutes to speak about the restaurant and its predecessors before my smiling guests went off to enjoy their meals.

Having been asked to stand in for a colleague at rather short notice, I surprised myself by actually quite enjoying the experience. So much so that I have decided to include a few walks in our tour schedules now, so look out for some announcements in that regard.


Magdala – What’s in a name?

On the 10th April 1868 Lieutenant General Sir Robert Napier led a British expeditionary force on a successful raid on Magdala, Ethiopia.

The Emperor, Tewodros II of Ethiopia angered at Britain’s lack of response to his request for military aid, had imprisoned some British protestant missionaries, keeping them in chains and subjecting them to vicious beatings. Two British diplomats had been sent to negotiate the safe release of the hostages, but Tewodros subjected them to the same fate as the missionaries, which infuriated the British Government.

On 2nd January 1864 Tewodros, known to the British as Theodore, had seized the British envoy Charles Cameron along with his staff and all efforts to secure their release had failed. Indeed it seems that any further attempts to send negotiators ended with the same result. Eventually the British government decided that stronger action was needed so with the usual British expediency a punitive expedition was decided upon by August 1867.

The main form of defence in the region was the naturally mountainous and prohibitive, roadless terrain. No invading force had attempted to take Ethiopia in centuries. The logistics of the British expedition gives some indication as to the size of the task that lay before them.

Napier had been in command of the British Indian Army in Bombay and had set sail from there. His force consisted of thirteen thousand British and Indian soldiers, along with twenty thousand camp followers, over forty thousand animals, horses, mules and those for food, included were forty six elephants to pull the heavy guns. Railway equipment with rolling stock, locomotives and enough material to lay twenty miles of track, plus hundreds of tons of equipment, artillery, ammunition and supplies.

Napier’s force had landed by October 1867 and after building themselves a port to land the equipment began the long and arduous trek to Magdala. Local opposition was smoothed both by diplomacy and the large amount of local currency that the British had bought direct from the mint in Vienna.

By the 9th April, Napier was camped on the outskirts of Magdala and lay siege the next day. 10th April. The battle ended with the defeat of nine thousand Ethiopian troops for the loss of two British.

Sir Robert Napier was elevated to the peerage as Baron Napier of Magdala by the following July.  A commemorative bronze equestrian statue of Robert Cornelis Napier, first Baron Napier of Magdala (1810-90), that once stood in Waterloo Place, now stands at the north end of Queens Gate near Kensington Gardens.

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By astonishing coincidence on the 87th anniversary of the battle, outside a pub in north-west London called The Magdala after the battle, a tragic event occurred. This event was a significant contributor to one of the most important changes to the judicial system of this country, the abolition of capital punishment. Unfortunately the main protagonists were both to lose their lives, Ruth Ellis shot her lover David Blakely, Blakely died at the scene and Ruth Ellis became the last woman to be hanged in this country.

magdala bullet

In reality the story of Ruth Ellis and the murder of Blakely is so much more complex than that which we have always been led to believe. A simple story of a jealous and revengeful lover, in an act of retribution, resulting in swift justice through judicial process? Not according to author Monica Weller. During the process of ghost writing the story of Ruth by her sister Muriel Jakubait, Monica Weller uncovered a story of intrigue, espionage and the now it seems commonplace cover-ups. Files hidden from the public, files gone missing, long term secrecy orders, these seem to indicate all was not as it seems.

Ruth Ellis had unwittingly found herself embroiled in the company of those involved in the secret services that operate in the name of Britain’s state machinery.

Whilst reading the story the first name that stunned me was that of Stephen Ward, Ward was one of the central figures of the scandal known as the “Profumo Affair” that rocked Britain in 1963. It was a scandal that eventually brought Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government to its knees. It was this involvement of Ward and his associates that got me thinking, this is far bigger than the story I had heard in the past.

The actual scene of the murder is even more intriguing than you can imagine. Only a few months beforehand a murder was committed by another female within metres of the pub, so close that you can see the crime scene from the entrance to the pub. When he spoke of the Ruth Ellis hanging executioner Albert Pierrepoint said, no one ever mentions the second last woman to be hanged because she wasn’t glamorous like Ruth.

If you want to know the full story I can heartily recommend “Ruth Ellis: My Sister’s Secret Life” by Muriel Jakubait with Monica Weller.

Want to see the sites involved and hear the story on the spot? We tell it on our Murder Mystery and Espionage tour.



The Battle of Copenhagen 2nd April 1801

Formerly aligned with Britain, the Russian navy was hemmed in its home ports by the winter ice in the Baltic. Britain during one of her many spats with Napoleon’s France had begun intercepting any foreign vessels that it suspected of trading with France. Russia meanwhile had joined with Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Prussia in forming an alliance against Britain, calling itself the League of Neutrality. The League was determined to force free trade with France, but the existence of the League of Neutrality threatened the supply of high quality oak and the tall pines suitable for ships’ masts. Britain saw this as an act of aggression and felt compelled to act.

Post-revolutionary France under Napoleon Bonaparte had probably the strongest army in Europe, but Britain held supreme on the high seas. The British fleet was under the command of Sir Hyde Parker. He was the son of Sir Hyde Parker and also the father of yet a third Hyde Parker, all with illustrious careers in the Royal Navy; all becoming Admirals, with the third becoming First Sea Lord.

Second in command was Vice Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson, probably Britain’s greatest ever naval commander.

However, Nelson’s reputation at this time had become somewhat sullied in the eyes of the British public, owing to his ménage a trois with Lady Emma Hamilton. For his part the 61 year old Parker had just married the 18 year old Frances and found it difficult to motivate himself to leave the port of Great Yarmouth. To Admiral Parker though, Nelson was his outstanding subordinate, extremely capable of not only carrying out a battle plan, but also possessing the ability to think on his feet.

Prompted by the frustrations of Nelson, who had muttered in private about the lack of activity, Parker was ordered to sail for Copenhagen. On arrival, he was to secure the separation of Denmark from the league, either by diplomacy or if necessary force.

Parker’s fleet lay at anchor, off the shore of Copenhagen on the night of 31st March. Due to the lack of reliable charts of the approaches to shore, Captain Thomas Hardy, another hero of the later Trafalgar campaign, took depth soundings along the channel. The waters were to prove to be very shallow except for a deeper channel that made it possible for lighter ships to navigate.

It was decided that Nelson would lead an inshore attack with all the lightest vessels, better suited to the shallower waters, while Parker remained in the deeper water with his heavier ships.

Denmark’s allies in the League of Neutrality, failed to come to her aid with any effect. The reluctant Swedes were too slow to act. Prussia had no effective navy and the Russians were still in port.

Battle of Copenhagen

The Danish fleet, which was generally not in good shape, were lined up along the shoreline, along with some old hulks forming a powerful gun battery along with shore based batteries. Hostilities began a little after 10am and by 11.30 am a battle lasting until shortly after 1pm was in full swing.

On the approach to the battle three British ships were grounded, one of which was HMS Agamemnon that took no further part. The other two continued but were severely disabled.

As the battle raged on, Parker from his withdrawn position could not see the signals of his ships because of the smoke of gunfire. Seeing the distress signals from the Agamemnon, he signalled for the withdrawal of his ships. Nelson was told of the signal, but turned to his flag captain Thomas Foley saying, “You know Foley, I have only one eye, I am entitled to be blind sometimes”. It is thought that he put his telescope to his blind eye and said “ I really do not see the signal”.

Nelson fought on and by about 2pm most of the Danish guns had fallen silent.

Between 1600 and 1800 Danes were killed, wounded or captured. 264 British were killed and 689 wounded.

Following the battle Nelson ordered the destruction of most of the remaining Danish fleet and within a week had secured the objective of Denmark’s withdrawal from the League.

News had reached the Admiralty of Parker’s reticence in the affair and he was summoned back to London being replaced in command by Nelson.

Unfortunately the battle was repeated later in 1807 with the second Battle of Copenhagen by which time of course Nelson was dead.

If you want to learn more about Nelson and his life why not book our Nelson’s Column to his Flagship Taxi Tour

Our recommended friends

Hello Everyone,

This time I would like to mention that apart from obviously ourselves, there are actually other attractions available in this great city of ours. I know, I know, we should be talking about London and UK Taxi Tours exclusively and telling you all just how wonderful we are and what a great time you would have with us.  All this is of course very true! However, to let you know how even more wonderful than you already think we are, I am going to let you know about some of our great colleagues that offer some alternative fun things to do.  You should also check back on this page to get updates on what’s new or simply great.

First up is walking tour guide Joanna Moncrieff.  Joanna is one of our own main researchers and might even answer an email or two for us if we are sinking under the weight of enquiries, so I think it’s only fair to tell you all about the great foodie based walks, amongst other things that Joanna offers. You can read all about them on her cute website here

Another of our associated guides is the wonderful Sandy Rhodes. Sandy does our personal tours of Hampton Court, where she is an official guide, so we know just how brilliant Sandy is. She is also a qualified Westminster guide and does her own walking tours in Westminster. You can visit her site for information here

Our expert on the Marylebone area, is none other than the delightful Susie Fairfax Davies. Susie will always make sure her infectious character gives you a warm welcome to her guided walks.  Susie is a resident of Marylebone so who better to describe its marvels to you than herself. So we have no hesitation in recommending that you give her website a look. Please follow the link

Are you are a fan of books? You could enhance your stay in London by attending a walk guided by a lifelong collector of books Anthony Davis. Anthony’s love for books is manifested in a collection of rare and early editions. His guided walks will enthrall you with his great knowledge. Also you may be tempted to attend one of Anthony’s various lectures. Please check out his website for more information.

Another guide that we like is Cemetery Club member and all round nice guy Sheldon Goodman. Sheldon is also a Westminster guide and an expert on many things related to London’s many and extremely interesting cemeteries. Do you want to say “Hi” to people like I.K. Brunel or Wilkie Collins, or maybe a film star from the past? Famous authors, playwrights, engineers, even royalty? Sheldon is on first name terms with many of them and would be only too willing to introduce you. Check him out either through this site or through our website.

When visiting London, you could do worse than look up London’s best and most varied website to do with many London related activities. It really has become one of London’s most important information websites, with loads of articles and quirky things to do. It ‘s a free online magazine that I know you will enjoy and find most useful. See it here

Everyone needs to eat right? Not everyone is well-heeled enough to dine in some of London’s great and famous restaurants, with their celebrity chefs and gorgeously expensive menus. If you are so comfortably off that it’s one of your main London treats, then my number’s in the contact section (my tastes are very reasonable). If though, you would still love to have great dining experiences and would love to know where you can rub shoulders with me, while my rich friends have taken up my previous offer, you could always try restaurants and their deals section You could be waving across the tables at me, while you chomp into Champagne and Oysters for under £40, while I try not to get too embarrassed at my host’s bill.

Then I suppose the fact that you are already here means that you have secured a decent bed for the duration of your stay? If you haven’t got that far try this one for size. I’ve stayed in a top rated Marriott hotel in London for £110 for a double room. You can get your bargains here.

Finally for now, if you’re a bit of a history fan and want to gobble up as much of it as you can while you’re here, how about popping into one of London Historians’ monthly pub meetings. There’s no need to become a member, although you may feel you want to join afterwards.  Introduce yourself and find a warm welcome amongst people that really know London, details here.

Teen Queen that might have been

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Yesterday (12th February) was the Anniversary of the death of Lady Jane Grey

Jane Grey was the daughter of Henry Grey the 1st Duke of Suffolk and his wife Lady Francis Brandon. Opinion differs on her birthdate, some think 1536 others 1537, but there can be no dispute over the date of her death. It was 12th February 1554 at Tower Green in the Tower of London.

She was regarded as one of the cleverest and best educated young women of her day and it is hard to believe that one so young should fall victim to the political shenanigans of Tudor England.

The young Jane who spent her educative years studying hard and excelled at languages . She would read the Greek classics like Plato, but regarded her own upbringing as both strict and harsh. She wrote:

“For when I am in the presence either of father or mother, whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand or go, eat, drink, be merry or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing, or doing anything else, I must do it as it were in such weight, measure and number, even so perfectly as God made the world; or else I am so sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened, yea presently sometimes with pinches, nips and bobs and other ways (which I will not name for the honour I bear them) … that I think myself in hell”.

At the age of about eleven she had been sent to live with Edward Seymour who was about to marry Henry VIII’s widow Catherine Parr. She remained with the couple until Catherine died in childbirth. Seymour was in fact planning for Jane to remain within his household until he himself was arrested and eventually executed.

The young King Edward VI having been brought up by his father Henry VIII as a Protestant didn’t want the throne to accede to his sister Mary, a devout Catholic. As he lay dying at Greenwich he changed the line of succession in his will to exclude his sisters Mary and Elizabeth, who were regarded in law as illegitimate. Instead he named his first cousin once removed as his successor in an attempt to prevent his Catholic sister taking the throne.

Lady Jane Grey was named as Queen of England on 10th July 1553. Certain members of the Privy Council were unhappy at the boy king’s decision to alienate his sisters from the line of succession. Within nine days of her reign Jane was arrested and sent to the Tower of London. Charged and convicted of Treason, for which the sentence was death. The treason involved signing a number of documents as “Jane Quene of England”. The death sentence wasn’t initially carried out and she remained imprisoned in the Tower until February 1554.

Unfortunately a Protestant revolt lead by Thomas Wyatt against the newly installed Queen Mary, which had no connection to Jane at all, sealed her fate and she was beheaded on Tower Green on the morning of 12th February 1554. She had not only lost her throne but her head as well in the violent tradition of her day.

National Foundation Day in Japan by Mariko Okamoto

Today is a National Holiday in Japan. Mariko gives a brief explanation of this event. English version follows below!


Japan’s “National Foundation Day” is “to commemorate the founding of and to promote patriotism in Japan”. Now a national holiday, the day is celebrated as a “Founding Festival” at shrines and temples around the country.

“National Foundation Day” dates from the Meiji era, at that time it was called “Kigensetsu”.

According to Japanese folklore Emperor Jimmu was the first emperor and he is thought to have been crowned in 660 BC. He was a descendant of the Sun goddess Amaterasu by her grandson Ninigi and the Storm god Susanu. Jimmu took an army from Nyagu in the south island of Kyushu to capture Yamato, modern day Nara Prefecture on the main island of Honshu and from here he ruled Japan.

February 11 was the date Emperor Jimmu was crowned, however there is no documentation to support the historical facts, so now the festival is generally known as “National Day” instead of the “National Foundation day.”

In 1948, following the second world war “Kigensetsu” was discontinued but in 1966 following popular appeal the National Assembly reinstated the festival.

London and UK Taxi Tours welcome all Japanese visitors to London and encourage you to enjoy a taxi tour. It’s the most efficient way to see London and England.