History has always been
my passion, especially the history of places. I can’t
explain where it comes from but it must be something
to do with my back-
ground. My father’s job was
managing big country estates so we always lived in beautiful
historic landscapes close to castles and stately homes.
I was actually born within the park of Brancepeth Castle
near Durham, a medieval stronghold of the de Bulmers
and then of the Nevilles, leaders of the Revolt of the
Later we moved to Yorkshire. My father worked at Castle
Howard, one of Britain’s most famous stately homes.
From our home in Bulmer, a village on the estate (where,
incidentally, the de Bulmers of Brancepeth originated),
we could see in one direction the domed mausoleum of
the Howard family designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, an
architect well known to my London walkers through his
work on London churches. In the other direction, the
ruins of medieval Sheriff Hutton, base of the pre-Reformation
Council of the North, stood out starkly on the skyline.
From the middle of the village, which stands on the
edge of the Howardian Hills, we could look out over
the Vale of York and on all but the haziest days see
the twin towers of York Minster rising up above the
city 14 miles away.
York was our home town
and we went there regularly. Walking the city’s
winding streets – lined with medieval and Georgian
buildings, dominated by castle and minster and ringed
with medieval ramparts and walls – must have had
a profound effect on a youth like me with a penchant
for the past!
After school in Rutland and university
in Oxford (where
I received my training as an historian and graduated
with a doctorate in history), I moved to London.
For many years I worked full-time as an independent
historian, writing my London guides amongst other things. These days, besides keeping my existing books up to date and preparing new ones, I operate a London walking group and volunteer with my local historic buildings conservation group.
I live in Barnes,
south west London, close to the River Thames and within
easy walking distance of – for me – three
significant riverside sites: the London home of William
Morris in Hammersmith, the ancient palace of the bishops
of London in Fulham, and, sandwiched between the two,
Hammersmith Bridge, built by the great Victorian engineer, Sir Joseph Bazalgette.
The mausoleum at
The Tudor courtyard
at Fulham Palace