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The hidden footprints of London

By Gary Holland
BBC London

London has some of the most recognisable and most photographed landmarks in the world. But what happens when you step away from the tourist trails and discover London's secret photographic opportunities?

The Lloyds Building
London's varied architecture offers amazing photographic opportunities

I joined Corinna from the Hairy Goat London Photography Mystery Tour to see what London had to offer.

The tour, which can differ each time with no set route, starts at Tower Hill tube with a look skywards in Trinity Square.

Lampposts outside the original headquarters of the Port of London Authority
Shadows make an interesting photograph

At the top of Trinity House, home of the General Lighthouse Authority, is a weather vane in the shape of a ship. This is the first of several unusual weather vanes I will see. Later, I spot weather vanes sporting deer, fish and even a beaver.

Like many others walking at street level they are sights easily missed.

Further ahead is the original headquarters of the Port of London Authority. This grand building is a photo opportunity itself but Corinna is quick to point out a shadow cast from one of the ornate lamp posts.

Corinna explains how there are advantages to London's variable weather: "Bright light brings shadows, but great reflections. Dull weather gives more evenly lit photos. Wet weather is more difficult to deal with, but can also show dramatic skies, water rippled windows and lots more colour on the street with umbrellas."

"Accept the weather and work with it."

Further ahead I find areas of London I've often walked past but never noticed.

The Gothic structure of Minster Court
The Gothic structure of Minster Court

There are the remembrance gardens for the Merchant Sailors, the private yachts of St. Katherine Dock, streets still illuminated by gas light and probably the smallest lamp post in London!


Architecture also plays a big part in the mystery tour.

We see the huge art-deco building of One America Square, modern glass structures, the Gothic Minster Court and many historical houses.

What new things have you seen in the last week? If you say "nothing", then you aren't looking.
Corinna, Hairy Goat Photography Tours

"London is full of surprises, with dramatic and brave architecture alongside ancient buildings, quiet gardens, and quirky features at roof level," says Corinna. "So many buildings are now constructed of glass, providing ample opportunities of photographing the neighbouring building in a completely different fashion. Plus, don't just take a photo of an entire building, take just a small section, or get down low."

Medieval times

We walk in an area famous for Samuel Pepys and the Great Fire of 1666 and then we arrive at the gruesome gates of St Olave church.

The gates of St. Olave's Church
The gates of St. Olave's Church

The church dates from 1658 and is one of the few medieval churches remaining in London.

It is the burial place of the first plague victims, Samuel Pepys and his wife Elizabeth, and a woman by the name of Mother Goose who died in 1586.

Even along the main City roads I look up and see dragons, gargoyles, camels and grasshoppers - symbols and carvings all depicting their own historic story.

At other times I look down and see historic London place names displayed on one of London's newest streets - Plantation Lane.

We duck into a series of passageways near to Bank and are transported back in time.

Plantation Lane, a new street in the City of London
Plantation Lane, a new street in the City of London

Situated in one of the alleys is the George and Vulture, an old coaching house dating from 1600 that was mentioned in Charles Dickens' "Pickwick Papers". This remarkable building offers a fantastic portrait photo due to its height and position.


In the nearby twists and turns of the medieval courts you will see hidden pubs, restaurants and shops including the site of London's first coffee house. The Jamaica Wine House in St Michael's Alley was the site of the Pasqua Rosee's Head 1652. Rosee was a man-servant brought to England from Ottoman Smyrna by Daniel Edwards, a trader in Turkish goods.

Two 19th Century mice thought to depict a quarrel over missing lunches
Make a point of taking the back streets and explore the alleys and passageways
Take care, but don't be timid - ask people about the buildings they work in
If you have a small camera, always carry it with you
Keep looking up, down and around

As our three hour walk snakes around the city one building dominates the skyline - 30 St Mary Axe, better known as the Gherkin or the Swiss Re Building.

Although I have seen this skyscraper many times it is a first for me to stand at the foot of the building and take a photo of the Gherkin's base. Previously I had never stopped to wonder what the bottom of the building was actually like.

Size isn't everything

It is also the small things that are worth looking out for. In Philpot Lane we see a building complete with two mice fighting over a piece of cheese. It is rumoured it was added in the 19th Century after two workmen fought a deadly battle over missing lunches.

You can view the fighting mice and other photos of the walk in our photo gallery.

In Leadenhall Market small dragons are pointed out to me along with the original wrought iron hooks where the produce used to be hung outside the shop fronts.

A plaque at the Watts's Memorial in Postman's Park
A plaque at the Watts's Memorial in Postman's Park

This particular walk ends three hours later in Postman's Park near St. Paul's, one of several gardens we visit en route. This is a great chance to photograph sub-tropical plants and view the Watts Memorial of 1900.

George Frederic Watts's Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, is a memorial to ordinary people who died saving the lives of others.

I have to agree with Corinna - it's far more pleasurable to walk down a city street knowing something about its history and architecture, than to just use it as a means of getting from A to B.

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