There’s no better way to encounter London’s history than to walk it – and an experienced, eloquent guide makes all the difference. Whether you’re leading a school or college group, curating an exhibition, or you want to give friends or colleagues an out-of-the-ordinary experience, an expertly-led walk can be the beginning of a long and passionate love-affair with the city and its past.
In addition to a long-running collaboration with Wellcome Collection, I’ve led walks for the Museum of London, the Bloomsbury Festival, the Queen’s Gallery, the British Science Festival, UCL Medical School, Imperial College Medical School, Regent’s College, ACCENT International, the Royal College of General Practitioners, and many schools and colleges around the world.
Below is a list of the guided walks I’m currently offering. All are around two hours long, all begin and end near a tube station, and all are suitable for groups of up to 25 people. I don’t have a regular schedule of walks, but I’m always happy to arrange one for you or your group – drop me a line at richard [at] richardbarnettwriter [dot] com.
Last Rites: Bodies And Burials In The Ancient City
More than three hundred thousand people work in the Square Mile each day, but their numbers are dwarfed by the dead beneath their feet. London is a great city of the departed, its oldest districts – Holborn, Fleet Street, the ancient City itself – built on two thousand years of bodies, bones and dust. From murderers dancing the hempen jig at Newgate to plague victims dumped in mass graves at Charterhouse Square, Last Rites tells the shockingly lively story of London’s nameless dead and their part in the making of the modern city.
In Sickness And In Health: Medicine For London’s Poor
Bloomsbury in the twenty–first century is quiet, elegant, leafy – but all is not as it seems. Well into the nineteenth century, the northern part of Bloomsbury was desperately poor, crammed with slums, workshops and Dickensian dust–heaps. Its inhabitants were often desperately ill, riddled with chronic disease and prey to typhoid or cholera . From Enlightenment health spas to the Modernist utopia of the Finsbury Health Centre, In Sickness And In Health reveals the voices and stories of Bloomsbury over the last three centuries.
Sensational Bodies: London’s Golden Age Of Anatomy
By the middle of the eighteenth century London was the most advanced and exciting centre of anatomical discovery in the world. In ‘Sensational Bodies’ we’ll meet the anatomists who began to explore the terra incognit of the human body, just as Captain Cook mapped the unknown islands of the Pacific. But as we’ll discover, anatomy was never just the private pursuit of physicians and surgeons. This was science conducted in the public gaze, and artists, aristocrats and the thrill-seeking demi-monde flocked to witness dissections and operations by the stars of the day.
Conspicuous Consumption: The Art Of Making Money From Medicine
In the twenty–first century healthcare is widely seen as a human right, but this powerful idea has a deceptively short history. For centuries medicine in London was a lively, cut-throat marketplace, and in more recent times the streets around Harley Street have become a citadel of elite private medicine. But the West End has also witnessed many other ways of making money from medicine – such as Georgian body–snatchers to John St John Long, ‘King of the Quacks’. Conspicuous Consumption tells the story of London’s fascination with money and medicine.
Tall Ships And Tropical Diseases
Greenwich is London at its most graceful. Quirks of geography made it a perfect place for a maritime settlement – but as Britain extended its global reach through trade, conquest and exploration, and as the city grew outwards, so Greenwich took on a new role as London’s window on the world, the oracle of global time and a notorious hotspot for spies, saboteurs and pleasure-seekers. Take a walk around this exotic entrepot – half port, half palace – and get a rare breath of London’s historic sea air.
For more than a century Bloomsbury has been synonymous with London’s literary life: novels and essays, gossip and back-biting, genius and wasted talent. But this outpost of highbrow taste has also witnessed a prodigious assortment of diseases, addictions and obsessions. Dead Famous offers an unashamedly nosy glimpse into the private lives of Bloomsbury’s most extraordinary residents, from Lindow Man via Charles Darwin’s chronic flatulence and W.B. Yeats’ impotency to the sexual revolution and ‘Carry On Doctor’.
Liquid History: A Walk Along The Fleet
London has many lost rivers, but the greatest of them all is the mighty Fleet – a prehistoric tributary, a Roman trade route, a medieval moat, an eighteenth-century eyesore and a Victorian sewer. The history of the Fleet captures both the potent symbolism and the stomach-churning reality of London’s relationship with dirt. Join us as we paddle – metaphorically – in the Fleet’s lower reaches, exploring the experiences of those who have lived and died beside it over two thousand years of urban history.
Death By Water: John Snow And Cholera
Through the late 1840s John Snow, a Soho GP, watched helplessly as dozens of his patients succumbed to cholera. In 1854, working against the grain of contemporary medical thought, he used pioneering medical detective work to argue that the disease was transmitted by polluted water from a communal pump on Broad Street. Join us as we walk in the footsteps of Snow – and some less savoury characters – to uncover the story of dirt and disease, politics and revolution in the grubby heart of the West End.
Dutch Courage & Mothers’ Ruin: The London Gin Craze
Early-eighteenth-century London was awash with cheap, fiery gin. Distillers and bootleggers made fortunes as doctors and pamphleteers blamed it for destroying the health of the nation, while the city’s poor bore the brunt of its appalling effects. But what were the political and cultural roots of the gin craze? Why were Londoners drinking Dutch gin, rather than French brandy or Scottish whisky? And how did the most appalling scenes of social breakdown inspire the greatest work of satirical art in British history? Find out on this walk into the landscapes of Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’.