I’ve got a slightly different kind of review for you all today. Last week, my writing group the London Writers’ Cafe arranged for us to all go on The Cloak and Dagger Tour.
Now, I’ve always considered myself a history nut. With my degree in the Classics, my amateur research into the nineteenth century and my general fascination with the crazy, crazy history of my beloved London, I thought I already knew it all. But wow was I wrong.
The tour starts outside the George Inn, one of the favourite haunts of the London Writers’ Cafe. If you’ve never been, head over to London Bridge and grab a pint. It’s the oldest bar in London, despite what anywhere else may claim, and it’s a really cozy place with a great historical atmosphere. Fun fact, it was also mentioned in Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit as the author visited it often!
Our mysterious guide, Cary, was full of enthusiasm and sheer knowledge. I’ve been on a couple of these walking tours, but I can honestly say this is the first time I’ve met a guide so knowledgeable and able to answer every question with vivid and intelligent detail.
We heard about the sordid history of Southwark Cathedral and cringed as Carey re-enacted how a victim would have been hung, drawn and quartered with the help of a hapless volunteer on the original spot of the old Clink Prison site. We learned why Borough being in a slight bowl in the landscape caused havoc and found out things I’ve never wanted to know about pig farming in a city.
This is very much a history lesson for adults with all the dark and twisted details you miss out on when you’re a child! And despite the rain, Cary’s ability to tell these tales means you become wrapped up in the adventure of it all. It’s a truly immersive walk which gets you looking at London in a whole new way.
After the tour, we retreated back into the George Inn where Cary and another actor, Felix, performed a short play about murder, betrayal, and vengeance. I’m not going to say anymore, as I don’t want to spoil it, but it was amazing. It was so well performed, I felt like I was eavesdropping on a private conversation from the past. As I said, I’ve visited the George Inn many times, but I’ve never been so immersed in the history as I was during the play. I finally felt the history of the place.
The guys were even happy to answer questions after the play and it was fascinating to get their take on the history of the play and the characters motivations (again, no spoilers!).
This is one of the really unique aspects of the Cloak and Dagger Tour and the reason why I realized I knew so little London history. Most guides, books, and documentaries focus on the middle class and the aristocracies when telling history. Not through any class bias, I believe, but simply because these are the people we have the most evidence on.
The Cloak and Dagger Tour aims to tell the story of ordinary people. These are the voices of the past speaking out to us and, consequently, I found the play completely riveting. Compared to the often heavy and political motivations and stories about the upper classes, stories of ordinary people somehow feel more accessible.
Obviously, this is a blog about writing and fiction so I’ll get to my point. One of my great loves in life is good stories and this tour has it in spades. If you’re in London and have an interest in history, or just want to hear amazing stories, this is really worth a go. Even if you think you know your history, or what’s involved in being hung, drawn and quartered, you’ll never understand it until Cary’s re-enacted it, believe me.
The stories come alive and you start seeing the streets around you in a different way. You don’t have to write historical fiction to get something out of this. You just have to admire good storytelling and appreciate the world that came before this one which, though incredible, is luckily one we’ll never have to live through!
These guys are a little start up company and I’m delighted to have discovered them so early. They’re planning on creating another tour ‘Women of History’ which I’ll definitely be back for! They’ve launched their new website here and their Facebook group is here.