Everyday London Life

What's it like working as a Tour Guide and Steward?

Roman London

I first became interested in the Romans as a result of learning about London's history. What did they do for us? It's a cliche because it's true, there are a staggering amount of things, processes and ways of doing things that we still use today. Roads, money, bridges, towns, civil administration are a few examples. A Roman Fort was mostly built with the same structure, a square or rectangular walled enclosure that they would build before or even during a battle, the same kind of walls and ditches for defence each time. An early example of humans creating a repeatable structure, which has huge advantages in the practical sphere. Wherever you were in the world there was a Roman fort, built in the same way, there a person can relax and re-charge, a very useful thing in an uncertain world.

What makes a good tour?

One of my colleagues at the Royal Albert Hall was going for an interview for a tour guide role recently and she asked my advice on how she should proceed. It got me thinking about what are the core skills of what I do, what is the important stuff? What first came to mind was being able to be confident in front of groups of people and presenting the material well. Only some of a good tour is having interesting content, a lot of it is in the delivery. For me being lively and up-beat and paying attention to the group are key delivery skills. Also giving people an opportunity to ask questions and talking so you can be heard by everyone are very important. As is stopping in the right places and showing people what they want to see, or what they would want to see if they knew about it. Other factors are noticing the needs of people in the group and adjusting accordingly, for example offering elevators and making sure that you have everyone with you before beginning to talk.

I often remind myself to speak slowly and like to put intent and meaning in by how I speak the words. It is also important to give people time to look at what's in front of them and to talk about anything unexpected comes up, rather than ignoring it. Some years ago I was in a group tour when the guide was speaking to us in a theatre auditorium. About half way through the speech the stage hands began to rehearse some flying equipment on the stage. Our guide however just carried on as if nothing was happening and promptly lost the attention of the group completely.

The best tours are led by people who are interested in their subject and who enthusiastic about it, even subjects that are apparently boring can become interesting in this way.

Recent conversations

I was in the staff room on my break last night, listening to the conversations around me. Julie was complaining about the Extinction Rebellion protestors and wondering what they were hoping to achieve. The protesters have been shutting down roads and stopping trains running in their bid to draw attention to Climate Change. People thought that disrupting the Tube service was not very sensible as people need to get to work and I was listening and enjoying the to and fro of the conversation. Then I got involved myself and started to defend the protesters, I looked up some pictures of Waterloo Bridge which they had shut down and showed them to the people with me at the table. Almost straight away the whole vibe changed and it wasn't the pictures. Where before I had been interested and the feeling was lively, suddenly the vibe went down and I realised that I did that.

My ego was up and I was explaining and telling like it is and that's no good anymore. It doesn't help anything and you know what, nobody cares what I think. What was happening was conversation and I turned it, not deliberately, into nothing, it stopped, people got up and left and the whole vibe was different. Now I'm not using this to back up some story I have got about being rubbish or an idiot, learning not to use what you discover to hit yourself with is a key aspect of useful of self-awareness. However I realised then that I don't want to do this anymore, I want to learn, I want to converse and I want to listen. So next time that my buttons get pushed, I am going to shut up and listen.

What makes a good walk?

London can be noisy and busy so small tour groups are best if you want to hear everything. I aim for a maximum of twenty. Small groups booked at times that suit you might cost over a hundred pounds with some guides. That is fair, you are buying much more than just the time on the walk, the writing, learning and marketing has to be factored in too. For me forty pounds is more reasonable because I am new to running my own tours. I want lots of happy customers who will give me great reviews and recommend me to friends and family just because they had such a great time.

I learnt to be a tour guide doing open top bus tours in London. It was a great introduction to guiding and I found I had a knack for doing it well. Over time I learnt a great deal about how to give the best tours possible. At first it was learning a lot of new material and getting my head around the politics of the bus company. Later it became how to keep my energy levels up and be warm and engaging. This is more difficult when you are on a freezing bus in the winter and have done the tour many times before. What I found works is staying present in the moment and focusing on the customers, they are different each day.

Andi Hall guiding at Horse Guards Parade
Marching Foot Guards
Small Group Tour at Buckingham Palace

When working for the bus company I saw some great customer service but I also saw some that was terrible. People being put off the bus at the wrong stop because it suited the driver who wanted to go home early and guides that were bored giving a boring tour. Some staff were rather rude and would but their own needs before the customers.

It made me determined to never treat people like that and to endeavour to help in any way I can.

SECRETS OF WHITEHALL

Tour route for the Secrets of Whitehall

Turkish Bath Tiles

Wandering down the alleyway at the side of the Sherlock Holmes Pub I noticed this rather odd stone tracery and tiling. With a little research I discovered it was an entrance to the Charing Cross Turkish Baths founded in 1884. The baths feature in the Sherlock Holmes story "the adventure of the illustrious client" and "Psmith in the City" by P G Wodehouse.

Old Charing Cross

This is the Old Cross that stood at the top of Whitehall and gave Charing Cross it's name. 12 of these were erected in memory of Eleanor of Castille, at every place her body spent the night on way to burial in Westminster Abbey.

In 1647 this one was broken up at the behest of the "Committee for the demolition of monuments of superstition and idolatry".

According to E Sheppard's book on Whitehall the marble steps were used as paving stones, wouldn't it be great if we could find them?

In amongst the busy streets of modern London take some time to discover remnants of the past that connect us with our ancestors.

Discover a new way of looking at London by exploring one road; Whitehall.

WESTMINSTER GHOST WALK

Click this link to see the Ghost Walk route.

The nights are drawing in, there's a nip of cold in the air and the autumn leaves are showing their magnificent colours. Explore London after dark with with tales of ghosts, poltergeists and body-snatchers. Discover a modern haunting in the National Gallery, human bones buried in an 18th century house and look out for the Angel of the Thames.

Take a walk down an old alleyway and feel the chill of the past. With spooky places, tragic events and head-less ghosts, this is Everyday London's Ghost Walk

City of London Griffin in fog Westminster Underground Roundel

andi@everydaylondonwalks.co.uk

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