As part of the Being Human 2016 festival, the Reluctant Internationalists team recently led a series of walking tours around London exploring the city as the home of international projects. The walks highlighted London as a magnet for, and laboratory of, international ideas and collaborations. The three tours centred on Wartime, Epidemic and Communist London with each taking participants through the streets of central London to illuminate the stories, lives and organisations often hidden amid the modern day bustle of the city. In this way, the tours provided an insight into the architectural, social, cultural and international history of London. We were delighted to have so many people attend and take such a keen interest in hearing an alternative history of the city (and we were especially thrilled to see the sun shining!) Thank you to all who participated- for those who couldn’t attend short summaries and the key stops of each tour are outlined below. A PDF leaflet of the key stops is also available to download here.
Wartime London Walking Tour
- Eaton Square – St James Palace – Chatham House – Ambika House, Portland Place
The first walking tour, led by Jessica Reinisch, focused upon Wartime London. This tour walked participants through Belgravia and Westminster, highlighting the governments-in-exile that were based in London during the Second World War. The tour explored the physical proximity of exile and British politicians and of the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) to the BBC on Portland Place. The walk began in Eaton Square before continuing through the streets of Belgravia’s ’embassy land’, across Green Park to St James Palace and Chatham House, before concluding at numbers 11 and 19 Portland Place. The tour explained the history of the Polish government-in-exile based in Eaton Place, detailed the history of the Declaration of St James’s Palace which established the United Nations, and illustrated the diplomatic history of Chatham House. In addition, walking to the former site of the UNRRA headquarters and hearing about UNRRA workers’ diaries from when they were living in a hostel around the corner in Devonshire Place, brought a personal context to the history of this organisation. Similarly, Jessica’s homemade flapjacks made to an original wartime ration-era recipe (with reduced amounts of syrup and very little fat!) further emphasised the living conditions experienced by civilians and governments-in-exile alike in London at this time.
Epidemic London Walking Tour
- Wellcome Collection – Portland Place – Royal Society of Medicine – Malet Street
The second tour centred upon Epidemic London, exploring responses to global epidemics and how these in turn shaped international epidemic management. Dora Vargha led attendees on a walk through Bloomsbury from the Wellcome Collection to the Joseph Lister Memorial and the Nursing and Midwifery Council on Portland Place. The walk then continued to the Royal Society of Medicine in Wimpole Street, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and to Senate House on Malet Street where the tour concluded. The tour outlined the history of many key figures in the history of international medical research who were based in London. This included details of Florence Nightingale’s pioneering data visualisation techniques, Joseph Lister’s principals of cleanliness that transformed surgical practice, and Henry Wellcome’s medical research. Dora also added contemporary resonance to the historical aspects of the tour, explaining where the brand ‘Listerine’ derives its name from and incorporating discussion of the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s recent hearing concerning Pauline Cafferkey’s conduct during the Ebola epidemic. In addition, the tour’s participants were treated to some much needed sustenance – in the form of chocolate eyeballs and gummy brains!
Communist London Walking Tour
- Queen’s Theatre – Queen’s Hall – British Museum – Tavistock Place
The third tour of the day examined Communist London and was jointly led by Ana Antic and Johanna Conterio. The tour examined the bases of leading Communist activists and highlighted London’s links with continental Europe. The walk through Soho encompassed the key sites of the Queen’s Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, The Queen’s Hall on Langham Place and the Communist Club at 107 Charlotte Street. The walk then traced the Communists’ presence in Bloomsbury by visiting the British Museum, Tavistock Square and Lenin’s residence in London at 36 Tavistock Place. The tour highlighted that London was far more important than Moscow in the international socialist and communist movement prior to 1917. Ana and Johanna detailed Lenin’s life in London and the visit of Karl Marx to the British Library (originally located in the British Museum). They also vividly brought these historical figures to life with contemporary accounts of the problems in obtaining entry to the library when reliant upon overseas proof of address documents. Johanna evoked the spirit of the era by leading a group sing-a-long of socialist songs.
Thank you to all who attended the tours. We intend to develop online digital ‘reconstructions’ of each walking tour with maps of the route, key stops, historical information, photographs and archival documents enabling the tours to be recreated and links in London’s international history to be further emphasised. More information on this will be posted on the website in due course.