Christmas London Tour – Part 1

It is that time of the year when many of you have time off from work coupled with a lifting of the congestion charge.

So here is a potted car tour of our capital taking some the tourist sites which for one week only will be free from the usual hordes.

It is circular and may be started from any point. The directions are written in the manner required when answering questions on The Knowledge.

[T]he instructions are pretty self-explanatory: L/L means leave on left; L/By leave by; Comply is to go round a roundabout; and L; R; and F I’ll let your work those out. We start at St. Thomas’ Hospital and the Florence Nightingale Museum.

From a good family Florence went into nursing when before her time they were mostly harlots. Florence went out during Crimean War with 38 nurses to tend over 10,000 injured soldiers. She came back to England in 1856 and raised £50,000 to start a nursing school at St. Thomas Hospital and strove to improve sanitary standards in hospitals. A small idiosyncrasy was that she kept a small owl in her apron pocket (this can be seen in her statute in Waterloo Place. At the age of 40 she became a hypochondriac. A visitor at her house said they could hear her laboured breathing through closed doors it was as if she was breathing her last. But she managed to struggle on for another 50 years dying at the age of 90.

L/L Lambeth Palace Road

Comply Lambeth Circus

L/By Lambeth Palace Road

Lambeth Palace the London seat of Archbishop of Canterbury for over 700 years. The first bishop to live here was Stephen Langton generally accepted as the author of Magna Carta.

Museum of Gardening In St. Mary’s Church dedicated to John Tradescant gardener to Charles I. Buried in graveyard is William Bligh of The Bounty whose crew mutinied and was romantically recreated by Hollywood. What is little known is that 21 years later while Governor of New South Wales another mutiny occurred resulting in him being held prisoner for two years.

R Westminster Bridge Road

L Addington Street

R York Road

L Chichester Street

R Belvedere Road

South Bank Complex started in 1951 on bombsite. Royal Festival Hall, two concert halls, Royal National Theatre, Hayward Gallery of modern art. Museum of the Moving Image, the hat and cane owned by Charlie Chaplin is on view along with all aspects of the cinema.

F Upper Ground

R Hatfields

L Stamford Street

F Southwark Street

L Southwark Bridge Road

L Park Street

R New Globe Walk

Globe Theatre first thatched building since the Great Fire of London in 1666. There were four theatres here from 1580-1630: The Rose, the Swan with seating for 3,000, the Hope the newest theatre had a moveable stage to facilitate bear and bull baiting and the Globe part owned by Shakespeare. The original Globe theatre was in Shoreditch some 1½ miles to the north but after a disagreement with the owner of the site it was dismantled and moved here overnight. It was used in the summer only as there was no roof, the price of admission being 1d for the pit; 2d for the gallery; and 3d (approximately 1p in today’s’ money) for a seat. Plays known to have been performed here include Richard III, Romeo & Juliet, King Lear, Othello, Henry VIII, Love’s Labour Lost, The Winter’s Tale, The Taming of the Shrew and Pericles.

Turn New Globe Walk

L Park Street

Stop at The Anchor public house the original definition of an inn was a place where food, drink and lodging could be obtained, whereas a tavern, strictly speaking, sold only drink, and woe betide the landlords of either who broke and law. The Anchor was rebuilt in 1676 after a fire, replacing the original frequented by William Shakespeare. Dr. Samuel Johnson, who obviously found compiling the first dictionary in the English language thirsty work, came here. There are tales of river pirates selling their booty to the barman, of escapes from the nearby Clink prison, and of the press gang, whose job it was to impress upon fit and hearty men the need to join the Navy. One of the river ferrymen overcharged Samuel Pepys, the diarist and Secretary to the Navy Office, for his journey across the river the Anchor. Shortly afterwards the man found himself in the Navy.

Walk to Clink Prison takes its name from the dungeons of the Palace of The Bishop of Winchester, which stood here. The surrounding area formed the notorious ‘Liberty of the Clink’ famous for its medieval ‘stews’ (brothels), taverns, bear gardens and theatres.

R Park Street

R Redcross Way

R Southwark Street

R Thrale Street

R Southwark Bridge Road

F Southwark Bridge

F Queen Street Place

R Upper Thames Street

F Lower Thames Street

L Fish Street Hill

The Monument 202ft high precisely 202ft from Pudding Lane bakery where great fire started on 2nd September 1666, the fire burned for 4 days destroying over 13,000 houses, 87 churches, miraculously only nine people were killed. Designed by Christopher Wren and erected 1671-77 it is the tallest unsupported Doric column in the world, surmounted by gilded fireball; relief on pedestal depicts rebuilding London after fire. The fire started by accident but a Frenchman, Robert Hubert confessed to starting it and was later hanged at Tyburn. This was once a favourite spot for people wishing to commit suicide who had a head for heights. There must be something about kneading dough, or the fact that as a result of a nearby baker’s oven the City was consumed by fire, that has made this ledge the launch pad of choice for suicidal bakers. Six unfortunates have committed suicide by jumping from the top of the Monument and three had associations with baking; John Cradock in 1788; a man named Leander in 1810; and Margaret Moyes a daughter of a baker in 1839.

F Monument Street

L King William Street

F London Bridge

London Bridge first built of wood by the Romans the oldest bridge across the Thames being the only crossing point until 1749 when a second bridge was constructed, due in part to the three-hour traffic jam waiting to cross. In 1014 Ethelred, trying to regain his throne from Canute called on the aid of Olaf of Norway for his Vikings to lash ropes around the supports of the bridge and set off downstream, the foundations were shaken and the bridge gave way thus dividing the Danish forces. The popular nursery rhyme “London Bridge is falling down” is probably based on this event. The southern approach was known as Traitors Gate where the heads of enemies of the state were placed on spikes having been parboiled and dipped in tar to preserve them. One of the first heads was that of the Scotsman William Wallace who was hung, drawn and quartered in 1305, portrayed in the film Braveheart starring Mel Gibson. The bridge was considered a prime place to live and as you did not have far to go for shopping as the bridge was full of all kinds of shops and a chapel. The last London Bridge, built in 1831, has made a long journey overseas, this time to warmer climes. It can now be seen in Lake Havasu, Arizona; though whether the buyers thought they were purchasing Tower Bridge is a matter of conjecture.

L Duke Street Hill

F Tooley Street

B/L Queen Elizabeth Street

L Tower Bridge Road

F Tower Bridge

F Tower Bridge Approach

L Tower Hill

R Trinity Square

All Hallows by the Tower John Quincey Adams, 6th President of the United States was married here when he was ambassador to the Court of St. James. Also William Penn the founder of Pennsylvania was baptized here. There is a very good brass-rubbing centre situated inside the church.

Tower of London the most perfect medieval fortress in Britain, begun by William I in 1066 to awe the people into submission on this strategic site outside the city near the only possible crossing point of the Thames. The walls range from 11 feet at the top to 15 feet at the bottom. It has been a palace, prison, and place of execution and has housed the royal armouries, the mint, the royal observatory, the royal menagerie, the public records, and still guards the Crown Jewels.

Built to be escape proof, but this was not to be, one of the most bizarre escapes was that of Lord Nithsdale, a Scottish peer, who had chosen the wrong side in 1715. He escaped, accompanied by his wife and maid, dressed as a woman, not that remarkable except he was over 6 feet tall and sported a full bright red beard.

It is said that if ever the Ravens leave the Tower, England will fall. A yeoman warder is now in charge of their well-being. Among those executed here were Thomas Moore and John Fisher for refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy during Henry VIII reign, also Henry’s wives Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey who was briefly Queen of England.

In 1685 James, Duke of Monmouth was executed after the Battle of Sedgemoor, the axe was blunt and after the first blow he got up and rebuked the executioner.

Tower Bridge Built between 1881 and 1894 in the Gothic style. The span now raised by electricity, the hydraulic machinery having been replaced. It is opened many times a year, now contains a museum and you may visit the top for panoramic views across London.

Tower Hill is the principle place of execution by beheading for the traitors who have been imprisoned in the Tower, seventy-five people known to have been executed here. Lord Lovat in 1747 was the last man executed by beheading in England. So many people would come to see an execution that in Lord Lovat’s execution a spectator stand collapsed crushing several people to death to which Lord Lovat commented: “The most mischief, the better sport”. A descendent of Lord Lovat still sits in the House of Lords today.

L Muscovy Street

R Seething Lane

R Crutched Friars

F Jewry Street

L Aldgate

Aldgate Pump before the piping of water into the City there was a series of pumps from which water could be drawn. The water from this pump had a different taste from the other local pumps making it a popular tipple. It was discovered that during its journey underground from the hills of Hampstead 5 miles to the north, it passed through a cemetery. Calcium from the bones gave its unique taste.

B/R Leadenhall Street

Lloyds of London is a unique insurance market, which has no shareholders and accepts no corporate liability for risks insured. It is a society of underwriters made up of individuals called ‘names’ that accept insurance risks for their personal profit or loss and are liable to the full extent of their private fortunes to meet their insurance commitments. Named after Lloyds Coffee House where business started near here in the 1680’s. Present building opened 1986. Architect Richard Rogers.

F Cornhill

R Finch Lane

L Threadneedle Street

Bank of England founded in 1694 and called The Bank of London, the present building’s exterior was built in 1788 but the interior was remodelled in 1925. Its nickname ‘The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’ is thought to originate from a cartoon by James Gillray in 1804 satirising government interference. The best-known functions of the bank are the design, print and issue of banknotes, to store the gold reserves in its vaults and to raise finance and manage the government debt.

F Bank Headway

L/By Poultry

F Cheapside

St. Mary-le-Bow Church Although enemy bombing in 1941 destroyed the original bells it is said that a true ‘cockney’ has to be born within the sound of these bells. Probably dating from 1520 when a larger bell was installed in the tower of the old church to sound ‘the retreat from work’. Thinking I was a true cockney until discovering the clock tower, and the bells, were rebuilt to Christopher Wren’s design in 1956, nine years after my birth – oh well!.

F Newgate Street

Old Bailey Until its demolition at the turn of the century the name Newgate was synonymous with death and deprivation. The prison was probably London’s most corrupt, all necessities, such as beds, had to be paid for and your treatment and conditions depended entirely on how much money you had or could get hold of. Henry Fielding called it one of the most expensive places on earth, indeed not unlike some of London’s hotels today! If you happened to have a private income a place was found for you in the Press Yard where the rooms were large and spacious as well as being well supplied with light and air, and free from smells. The prisoners confined here spent much of their time drinking, gambling and gossiping. There were inns both inside and outside the prison gates and outsiders were allowed in to mix and drink with the prisoners. It would not be uncommon to witness a game of skittles or tennis or even be a party to one of the many illicit weddings performed inside. If you had the money you could pay to stay away from prison for days on end. The post of prison keeper was hereditary as it had many financial perks. At Fleet Prison the post became vacant after 350 years and was sold for £5,000, an enormous sum in those days. For the majority however, life was not so comfortable. The stench in the prison was so bad that during trials herbs were strewn the court of justice and the passages leading to the prison. The help prevent infection and disguise the obnoxious smell of the prisoners they were bathed in vinegar before their appearance in court.

Site of Tyburn was a place of entertainment for hundreds of years. Prisoners would be carried by cart from here to Tyburn 2 ½ miles away, facing backwards if convicted of treason. One of the perks being an executioner was keeping the victims clothes. Hannah Dagoe brawled with the executioner who tried to stop her stripping off and throwing her clothes to the crowd. She was an immensely strong Irish woman who, when the executioner tried to stop her, nearly knocked him out of the cart. She was eventually to depart the world in the same state of undress as the arrived. Early forms of execution the prisoner had to mount a ladder with a rope tied around his neck and ordered to jump, this was modified later by standing on a cart before a horse towed it away leaving you dangling. The crowd would surge forward to pull the legs of the prisoner to ensure a speedier death. Many women dashed forward to place the dead man’s hand on their cheeks or breasts as the dead were thought to have mystical gifts and be able to cure warts, pimples and other blemishes. Later the rope was sold at 6d a yard. Tyburn was closed as a place of execution in 1783 because of the ever increasing problem of riots associated with hangings, particularly highwaymen who were very popular, thereafter Newgate was used.

F Holborn Viaduct

Comply Holborn Circus

L/By Charterhouse Street

L Ely Place

Stop at Old Mitre

If ever there was a place which encapsulates ‘Englishness’ the Ye Olde Mitre Tavern is it, hidden away down an alleyway in Hatton Garden. The first Mitre Tavern was built in 1546 as the boozer for servants working in the Palace of the Bishops of Ely. This small area is still technically under the control of the Diocese of Ely, Cambridgeshire and until the last century the pub licence was issued from Ely. The City police at that time had no jurisdiction within its bounds.

The Mitre today claims to be the oldest pub in London, which although rebuilt in 1772 it is technically still part of Cambridgeshire, so it should lay claim to be the oldest boozer in Cambridge.

Soon after its rebuilding Dr. Johnson was a regular – Is there any 18th century public house without that claim? – much of the interior would be familiar to the grumpy lexicographer. If you want to be transported back to Georgian London a trip to the outside gents toilets will give you that questionable experience. The only hand basin in the men’s is in the cubicle so be weary of pissing on your hands if somebody is taking a dump there. The women’s toilets are upstairs in the Bishop’s Room it would be too tempting to have the men’s toilets in the Bishop’s Room for fear of jokes about bashing it.

Beware of head and body injuries in Ye Olde Mitre, as the ceilings are low and the rooms are small, dark and crammed with furniture and people, With no TV’s, gaming machines or piped music, just the murmur of polite conversation Ye Old Mitre is a hidden gem.

Avoiding Boris Bangers

Today we have a Guest Post from Dean Ronnie on alternative ideas instead of London’s Official New Year’s Eve Firework Display and what to do if you haven’t got a ticket.

With last Tuesday’s announcement that all of the tickets for London’s New Year’s Eve fireworks display have sold out, you may be one of the thousands of disappointed people that are now thinking what can I do now?

[F]or 2014, the Mayor of London has changed the way in which London’s NYE fireworks are organised. Unlike previous years, where the fireworks were free to attend and people could just turn up and queue to be given access to the Southbank and Embankment, this year the event is ticketed. However now with all of the 100,000 £10 tickets having been snapped up, perhaps you have been left wondering what else you can do. There’s no need to spend £212, which is the price the tickets have been reported to being sold for. Fortunately, NYE in London isn’t just about the Mayor of London’s firework display; here we present to you our alternative New Year celebration ideas.

New Year’s Eve Dinner and Live Band at Shakespeare’s Globe
Instead of standing around outside, why not see the New Year in with in an elegant New Year’s Eve dinner in the Underglobe dining room located underneath Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre? With this option you will have a three course meal, accompanied by half a bottle of wine whilst listening to a live band. And don’t worry, as with this option you will still get to see the fireworks. Once dinner is not waisover, you will then be able to step outside and see the fireworks

With table tennis?
If you’re looking for something really different, why not take part in some table tennis? Holborn’s table-tennis social club, Bounce, will be hosting the “Big Bounce Tournament” on New Year’s Eve, where guests will be able to enjoy table tennis, canapés, pizzas and also cocktails.

Watch the fireworks from London’s high points
If you can’t bear to miss the fireworks, you don’t have to. Simply head to the hills and enjoy the celebrations from a high view. Parliament Hill and Primrose Hill are good place to go, alternatively if you money is not an issue, why not head to London’s Sky Bar. While tickets start at £225, from the Sky Bar you will be able to enjoy 360 degree views with a welcome cocktail on arrival, champagne at midnight, a DJ, acts and performers, showings of classic James Bond movies and a luxury breakfast at 5am.

Bacanal NYE Masquerade @ Il Bottaccio
If extravagant parties are your thing, Bacanal NYE Masquerade @ Il Bottaccio will suit you right down to the ground. A raucous Wolf of Wall Street themed party, the event will comprise of food, entertainment and atmosphere in champagne brunch setting which is also complete with live performers, music and plenty of fun.

With your own New Year’s Eve Firework celebration
If you can’t join them, beat them! Don’t worry about not being able to get tickets to the main London fireworks, host your own firework display. The many types of firework display packs that are available make it easy for you to put together an incredible display. Whilst it might not be on the same scale as the main event, at least you will be able to choose the fireworks you fire and it will probably last longer too!

Is London going to be hosting F1 street races?

The notion of Formula One racing taking place on the streets of central London has been around for a while now, and new laws currently being rushed through Parliament may mean that a London Grand Prix to rival those in Monaco or Singapore could very well become a reality within the next few years.

F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone first unveiled his plans for a London Grand Prix back in 2012, and a demonstration event on Regent Street in 2004 attracted a crowd of several thousand. World champion Lewis Hamilton is another vocal supporter of the idea.

[E]cclestone’s proposed route would cover 3.2 miles, starting on the Mall then running up St James’s Street to Piccadilly, where cars would reach a top speed of 180mph as they raced towards the Wellington Memorial. They’d then pass Buckingham Palace, speeding down Birdcage Walk to Parliament Square and taking in the Palace of Westminster and the Houses of Parliament before turning onto Victoria Embankment. With the London Eye looking down from the far bank they’d head up to Trafalgar Square, passing Admiralty Arch as they embarked on another of the proposed 59 laps.

The event would cost £35m to stage but could earn well over £100m according to its supporters, with 120,000-280,000 fans paying between £60 and £1000 for tickets. The global TV audience could reach a billion viewers, and advertisers would be charged £10m apiece. With that kind of money at stake, it’s no wonder that Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Prime Minister David Cameron have also got on board.

Currently, local authorities can temporarily close roads but they can’t suspend speed limits or other road safety laws, making motor racing untenable. All of that is set to change if the Deregulation Bill currently passing through Parliament becomes law, and it seems the Prime Minister is keen for it to get the royal assent before the next election.

Not everyone is happy about the proposals, however. Green London Assembly member Darren Johnson said a London Grand Prix was a terrible idea, citing environmental concerns. While broadly supportive, Boris Johnson has said that air quality and noise pollution need to be considered before the idea is given the go-ahead.

General safety is another major concern, of course. It’s one thing high speed motor racing taking place in a course that’s built for the purpose, another in a historical urban environment where people have to live and work. F1 safety has been a major concern of late, as discussed in this Max Mosley Q&A session.

The economic benefits aren’t so clear-cut either. Shops and businesses along the route could be closed for over a week, and whether they’ll be compensated for their losses hasn’t been mentioned yet.

As for London’s cabbies, they’ll be glad of the extra business the influx of tourists, professionals and spectators will doubtless bring. However, closing central London for eight days or more is the kind of chaos and disruption they really don’t need.

The London Grill: Chris West

We challenge our contributor to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat will face the same questions that range from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out just what Londoners really think about their city. The questions might be the same but the answers vary wildly.

Chris-West

[I] do regular talks (not tours) about Charles Dickens and his London; these are held regularly at the George in The Strand. I also do various private events as guest speaker. I passionately admire the way Charles Dickens influenced society through his writing and force of personality. He knew London and its ways intimately. I try to reflect on this in my talks, hoping to stimulate thought and encouraging people to further investigate aspects of life that interested him. This picture was taken during a BBC production at the Charles Dickens Museum in Doughty Street. It is filmed in the Drawing Room, using a pen and ink well used by him, on his chair, at his desk, where he wrote at least part of David Copperfield; in my lapel is a geranium, his favourite flower. My latest book: The Story Of St Katharine’s is now on sale at Nauticalia. I can be contacted via my website CharlesDickensLondon.net.

What’s your secret London tip?
Find the websites who advertise what’s free in London, such as Londonist – it’s the way to really learn about what’s on offer in London. Try to use upstairs on the bus instead of the underground.

What’s your secret London place?
St. Katharine Docks- now the quietest, most peaceful haven, with beautiful boats, eateries and space to sit, to reminisce about when it was a busy dock, specialising in luxury goods like silks, spices and ivory. Dickens wandered around there as a child, before the docks were built, observing the squalid living conditions of the slums and noting the rich variety of low life ruffians, urchins and thieves, mingling with poor, decent folk, trying to survive ill health and hunger. He gained great inspiration for his writing from this area.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
We could do with more powerful modern day reformers to keep pushing for higher standards. I guess that Charles Dickens would love the progress since his time – but we still desperately need more opportunities for the youngsters. If he was still around now, he would be remonstrating against red tape and money being wasted by bureaucracy and demanding bold new initiatives to cut unemployment. He might admire Boris on his bike – but Ministers in Jaguars in austerity times is not good- we’re all in it together? Humbug!

What’s your favourite building?
The Royal Courts Of Justice – Following so much lampooning of the legal fraternity by Dickens (not least in Bleak House) Gladsone and Disraeli united to order the replacement of the antiquated courts in Westminster and near St Pauls, in favour of the wonderful new building, which houses eighty courts, and has one of the most splendid Great Halls in Europe (do visit, it’s free). As well as a great monument to Dickens, it is also handy for me to direct people to where I hold my Talks, which is directly opposite, at the George in the Strand!

What’s your most hated building?
Hate is not quite the word for me, but there are so many loathsome buildings like Oliver House in City Road, that should be singled out and shamed into renovation by the owners, wherever it can be done.

What’s the best view in London?
The bridge across the lake in St. James Park. Beautiful view of the back of Buckingham Palace, from where the Monarch can look down the lake to Horseguards Parade and Whitehall, seat of government – dignified fountains at each corner of the lake, with exquisite trees lining the banks. The London Eye towering above Whitehall, inspiring us towards modern Britain and great engineering.

What’s your personal London landmark?
The Gherkin- it’s sleek, dazzling and splendid, somehow dignified yet cheeky, being surrounded by old masterpieces like St Pauls and Mansion House. Also, when it comes into view, I know I’m nearly home.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
Apart from Dickens’ books, I would say The Queen – I’m still in love with Helen Mirren (not that she has ever looked my way)! And I think it does justice to our amazing head of state – it must help others to understand better how the U.K. works. Also Four Weddings and A Funeral, showing off various aspects of London, as well as Simon Callow’s excellent performance, as he was climbing to the dizzy heights in which he now excels, in his masterly portrayal of Dickens at the Playhouse, and shortly opening in Christmas Carol.

What’s your favourite restaurant?
Agonising choice between two of Dickens’ favourites, Simpsons and Rules – Obviously because Simpsons is ‘all British’ and carves the finest roast meats at the table, and the Strand is the most amazing historical ‘Street’, yet Rules equals in standard, and devotes the delightfully intimate ‘Dickens Room’ to his memory. So Rules, because it is neighbour to the second site of Warrens Boot Blacking Factory (which later became Cherry Blossom), where he was humiliatingly forced to work at the age of eleven, (at the same time as his father was shamefully incarcerated in prison for debt). I like to think that it was cathartic to the great man, as he sat there, tucking into his oysters, whitebait, fowl and red meat, pleased in the knowledge that he climbed up from there to international fame and success.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
Always my nearby fitness centre, because of my spine problem (and the irresistible swimming pool and free Times newspaper). Then favourite walk across Tower Bridge, walk along the Thames to London Bridge, shopping in Borough Market and snack, sitting by the river. Maybe an hour in the BFI watching a favourite bit of film on their wonderful free computer screens – lots of writing on the pc then maybe cycle into the City for an hour or two with my girl friend.

This ‘Grill’ was first posted on the Radio Taxis blog.

Cyber Satan

I think I might have sold my soul to the devil, or at least the cyber version of Satan for recently I’ve been given the latest version of Amazon’s Kindle the Voyage, instead of going to a local bookshop to be served by knowledgeable, honest staff I find myself ordering books at the touch of a button.

Possibly the most enjoyable read I’ve
had this year was Jessie Burton’s
The Miniaturist.

[I]t was bought on a whim after a friendly Waterstone’s shop assistant recommended it when I picked it up out of interest. Since then it’s been voted Waterstone’s book of the year.

Running CabbieBlog I get through a considerable number of books every year, and so with my new shiny Kindle in my hand I looked up Cross River Traffic by Chris Roberts, published in 2005 which retailed at £15. What price as the download version? Yours at the press of one’s digit – £1.02, and that includes 20 per cent VAT.

If my rudimentary maths is correct a 240 page book that has taken the author years of research to compile is now selling at 85p, that’s cheaper than my local charity shop sells Jeffrey Archer.

With that fierce level of competition it is hardly surprising that 67 independent bookshops closed last year, and today if you exclude outlets owned by large retailers we now have less than a thousand in the country.

The miniaturist While shops have to fork out ludicrously high rates and rents (unlike charity shops selling books), pay well-read staff to assist the public, heat and light their premises so customers are comfortable leafing through a volume that they will probably buy elsewhere, Amazon paid just £4.2 million in tax last year – J. K. Rowling probably paid more.

Evidence if any was needed of the demise of bookshops can be found down Charing Cross Road once the most bookish street in Britain. Feminist bookshop Silver Moon has been subsumed into Foyles, which itself has moved further south, presumably to avoid the higher rents now demanded to be near CrossRail; Murder One, once the UK’s only crime and mystery bookshop has been killed off; Art Specialists Shipley and Zwemmer have gone the same way; and Quinto’s is now a Patisserie Valerie.

Len Edgerly at The Kindle Chronicles podcast has been following the story of publisher Hachette. They had refused to give in to Amazon’s demands to supply heavily discounted books or face expulsion from the retail giant’s virtual shelves. Hachette – an appropriate name given their treatment – had the support of more than 900 authors, but to no avail. Apparently it has ‘come to an agreement’ with Amazon to have their titles featured alongside the bigger publishing houses.

All this might for the present be good for the consumer, but ultimately will anyone bother to write given their work is retailed at 85p?

Another downside of owning an e-book reader, and I bet Amazon know this, is that it’s more tempting to hit that buy button. The Japanese have a word for it – tsundoku – it means buying books and not reading them; letting books pile up unread on shelves, floors or nightstands.

Or nowadays piled up on one’s Kindle.