The London Grill: Rebel Tours

We challenge our contributors 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 they will face the same questions ranging from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out what Londoners think about their city. The questions are the same but the answers vary wildly.

Charlie and Ellie started Rebel Tours in 2021 wanting to bring something different to the walking tour scene in London. After years of experience as tour guides and historians, they didn’t want to keep telling the same old stories, instead wanted to show a different, more authentic side to London with alternative walks focused on the city’s social history. Meet the Rebels here.

What’s your secret London tip?

Ellie: The Tate Modern has a great viewing platform from their cafe on the top floor of the new building. I always send tourists there, because it’s free and it’s a nice place to have a coffee after looking at all the amazing artwork.

Charlie: Always carry a small umbrella in London, whatever the weather! As well as an extra layer. Even if the sun is shining and it feels warm, we can go from a cloudless blue sky to rain within 10 minutes. It’s hard to remember that this is a small island nation far from the equator, so our weather is very changeable! Once the sun goes down, it is often very chilly, so if you’re planning on being out for the whole day, always ensure that you have a warm layer and something for the rain!

What’s your secret London place?

Ellie: Anywhere near the river immediately relaxes me. I grew up by the sea, so when I see the water I’m always happy. There’s a pub in Wapping called the Prospect of Whitby, which claims to be the site of the oldest tavern on the river. When the weather is nice, I like to sit on one of the balconies and watch the water swish and swirl under my feet.

Charlie: The Pride of Spitalfields is probably my favourite pub in London. It is a proper East End boozer, where all sorts of people come together, and the pints are cheap for central London! It’s hidden away just off Brick Lane, so tourists rarely stumble upon it. If you’re looking to drink with the locals, this is definitely the place to go.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?

Ellie: It’s a classic, but it has to be the extortionate rents and terrible quality of the flats. That would be the only thing that gives me ideas for moving. Charlie doesn’t have that issue anymore!

Charlie: Aside from the cost of living, we are a city that really relies on public transport – and if there are signal failures, strikes, or engineering works, then the whole city shuts down. Always plan ahead, and set off earlier than you think you’ll need to!

What’s your favourite building?

Ellie: I’m always impressed by St Paul’s, no matter how many times I see it. It is one of those buildings that makes me think, wow, I live here. And that’s a privilege, not every place has a building with that effect.

Charlie: I’m going to have to agree with Ellie, nothing beats St Paul’s Cathedral. In terms of interiors though, the Painted Hall out in Greenwich is a must-see!

What’s your most hated building?

Ellie: There’s an office block in Mitre Square in Aldgate and it’s just hideous. It annoys me every time I’m doing our East End tour. It’s totally black and oppressive, like something Darth Vader or Sauron would have built.

Charlie: That’s a tricky one, I actually love all of our buildings. So I’ll say the Palace of Westminster – not because it’s not beautiful, but because I am frustrated by its inhabitants… that’s a fair reason to hate the building, right?

What’s the best view in London?

Ellie: I love to walk across the Millenium bridge and look out to the river. But then I always love to look towards St Paul’s on one end and the Tate Modern on the other. I love that juxtaposition of the old and the new, which you find all over London.

Charlie: I think the view from a bar called Aqua in the Shard is incredible. Rather than paying to go to ‘The View’ at the top, I recommend people grab a cocktail there. Or for a truly free view, you can’t really beat Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath (less crowded than Primrose Hill), or the view from up by the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

What’s your personal London landmark?

Ellie: It might be Hanbury Hall in the East End. It’s not a big landmark but there’s so much history in one building. It was built as a church for French Huguenots in the 18th century but in the 1880s it was where meetings were held about the matchstick girls strike led by people like Annie Besant and Eleanor Marx. It was such an interesting time, this is when we see the beginning of Trade Unionism and strike action.

Charlotte: I think I’d say Cross Bones Graveyard in Southwark. This is the final resting place of medieval prostitutes who effectively worked for the church/Bishop of Winchester. They were known as the Winchester Geese. In more recent centuries, the graveyard was used as a general pauper’s burial ground for poor people in the area. The site is prime real estate, and developers have been trying to get their hands on it for years, but the locals have ensured that this does not happen. The fences of the graveyard have been transformed into a shrine: there is a memorial to the Winchester Geese, but also names written on ribbons, of other unfortunate souls buried there, who would otherwise be forgotten – as well as some modern-day sex workers who have been murdered or gone missing. It’s a sombre place, but well worth a visit. There is also an excellent wine bar across the road from it, called the Boot & Flogger.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?

Ellie: I absolutely love the Shardlake series by C.J Sansom. It’s set in Tudor times and the protagonist is a lawyer called Matthew Shardlake who always gets himself involved in plots or conspiracies. I think the author is incredible at bringing Tudor London to life. One of my favourite historians is David Olusoga and although it’s not about London specifically, his book Black and British does feature a lot of the capital and it’s really an amazing read.

Charlie: London’s Strangest Tales by Tom Quinn is a great one, full of some of the more unusual and fascinating stories about the history of the city.

What’s your favourite restaurant?

Ellie: Charlie and I often eat in the Halal Restaurant in Aldgate after a tour. It was opened in 1939 and is still run by the same family. The food is great, the prices are very reasonable and they have loads of vegan options.

Charlie: There’s an excellent Mexican restaurant in Euston called Mestizo – it’s proper authentic Mexican, rather than Tex-Mex or other American-style. One of the owners is vegan, so again, they do have a separate vegan menu available. The cocktails are also incredible!

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?

Ellie: A trip with my partner and the dogs to Hampstead Heath with a nice picnic. When they’re all tired from chasing sticks, we drop them off at home and go to our local cinema, The Genesis to watch a film. If I’m not full from all the popcorn, we would go for dinner at the Unity Diner in Spitalfields. Perfect!

Charlie: I live on a narrowboat on the Regent’s Canal; I quite enjoy walking along the towpath to Camden, or around Little Venice. Or I might even drive my boat up to Kensal – there is a great pub there, that you can moor up next to!

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