Around a year ago I met a wonderful tour guide called Yannick Pucci, a linguist and a historian, Yannick maybe from Luxembourg but he knows far more about my home city than I do. Back in May, I went on Yannick’s Macarons and Mews Tour in Belgravia where I was guided around the pretty back streets and byways of this charming and affluent part of London. On the way we scoffed macarons galore whilst learning the secret history of a haunted pub, where to see the prettiest mews houses in Belgravia and most importantly the difference between a macaron and a macaroon….a differentiation that highly important for a blogger to be aware of.
When Yannick asked me if I’d like to trial his new tour Piccadilly and Petit Fours, a walk that investigated some of the most dapper areas of Mayfair, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday. Rather than spoil the surprise of my favourite guide’s new tour I thought I give you the top ten secret stories about London that I learnt whilst on my walk.
1. Why there are no flowers in Green Park?
Ever noticed anything strange about Green Park? It’s a pretty park to idle away the day, but there’s absolutely no flowers growing there. The story goes that the wife of King Charles II discovered that the king had picked flowers in the park to give to another woman. As an act of revenge, the Queen ordered that every flower be removed from the park and no more should be planted. Though the truth of the story isn’t quite clear, to this day there are still no flowerbeds in Green Park.
2. Where did Lord Byron Come to Weigh Himself
Berry Bros & Rudd on St James Street is one of Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchants but back when it opened, the store was a grocer selling exotic goods such as coffee, cocoa, tea, snuff and spices. Within the shops was a large set of grocer’s weighing scales where many notable customers weighed themselves and their weights were recorded. As well as Lord Byron, a man obsessive about his weight, royal princes, Beau Brummel and William Pitt the Younger all weighed themselves on the famous scales which are still in the shop today.
3. Where was London’s last ever duel fought?
The last ever place where a duel was fought in London is Pickering Place, which is the smallest square in Britain and also the location of the Texan embassy. You would never know this tiny little piece of London with its unspoilt Georgian architecture was famous for it’s gambling den, bear baiting and duels!
4. What is London’s oldest chocolate shop?
This was a tour that mixed the past with petits fours and Yannick led us into several different confectioners including colourful Prestat, one of London’s oldest chocolate shops. the shop was founded in 1902 by French immigrant Antoine Dufour whose family was credited with creating the chocolate truffle in France. Dufour bought the truffle to England and the chocolate treat became widely available with the opening of the first Prestat shop.
Here were chose a chocolate to take with us to sample, on good advice I selected the red velvet truffle. One of the most famous patrons of the shop was Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, who made Prestat truffles one of the central motifs in his novel, My Uncle Oswald. Prestat has also supplied the Royal Family for many years and has held a royal warrant since 1975.
5. How did Piccadilly get it’s name?
Piccadilly used to be named Portugal Street after Catherine of Braganza, the wife of Charles II. The name Piccadilly came from the tailer named Robert Baker who was famous for making piccadills which were the frilled collars that were fashionable in the 17th Century. Baker had a large house named Pickadilly Hall located along the road.
6. Why did Fortnum and Mason open?
It wouldn’t be a tour of Piccadilly without popping into one of London’s best known and most upmarket department store for our next treat.
The origins of shop are really interesting too: William Fortnum, footman to Queen Anne, was getting increasingly frustrated with the diva-like behaviour of his employees who insisted on having new candles every night. He decided to sell the left over wax for a decent profit and set up a grocery store as a sideline. He soon convinced Hugh Mason, his landlord, to join the business and they set up the first Fortnum & Mason in 1707. Amongst other accolades, Fortnum’s are credited with the invention of the scotch egg! Today Fortnum’s is famous for it’s picnic hampers and rather delicious afternoon tea served in the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon.
7. Who was setting trends far before David Beckham?
Beau Brummel was the most dedicated follower of fashion in regency England. He rejected the overly ornate fashions for a more tailored look and Dolce and Gabanna have him to thank for establishing the modern men’s suit worn with a necktie or knotted cravat. Apparently he took five hours to dress and polished his shoes with champagne! I wonder if he lit his cigarettes with pound notes too 😉
8. Which luxury accommodation was originally stables to house horses?
The elegant Stafford Hotel in St James Place has been a London favourite for over a hundred years but it wasn’t until the late 1990s that the original stables was turned into luxury accommodation.
I loved the fact that The Stafford kept it authentic and the horses names are still on the doors. A few months ago I came to a lunch here held in the Wine Cellars. This room also has an interesting history as it was used as an air raid shelter during the World War II; there’s even a little collection of war memorabilia still housed there.
9. How did people make calls around London before mobile phones?
Before the days of mobile phones these iconic red boxes were found on every corner of London, sadly they’ve somewhat diminished but just outside the Royal Academy are two listed red phone boxes. One is the original wooden design and the other is the cast iron prototype by Giles Gilbert Scott who also designed Waterloo Bridge and Battersea power station.
10. What connects the Piccadilly and Petit Fours Tour to my Wedding?
Yannick had already given me a teaser that there was a little connection to my wedding to spot while we were out on the tour.
Yannick led our small party into St James’s Church on Piccadilly and advised me to take a picture of this tablet, dedicated to Architect, William Curtis Green.
‘It’ll come up again later.’ He smiled…Towards the end of the walk we arrived at the famous Wolseley restaurant, where Yannick and I once enjoyed breakfast together with a group of fellow bloggers. Yannick explained that William Curtis Green was the architect that designed the Wolseley and he also designed….The Dorchester! Where I had my wedding reception…well you learn something new everyday.
Actually I learnt a lot of new things on this tour…I never would have known where the scotch egg was invented, how Piccadilly got it’s name or that champagne makes great shoe polish if wasn’t for Yannick’s wonderful knowledge of the quirky side of London. Every time I meet Yannick he teaches me something new and I would highly recommend his new tour. Along with me on the tour was Shobna who blogs at Just Go Places, she brought along her two good as gold children who also thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
You can book the Piccadilly and Petit Fours Walking Tour via Eventbrite where you will also find all of Yannick’s other wonderful tours available. Check the website for available dates and the tour is priced at £15.