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Tales of the City

When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life," said Samuel Johnson; and even jaded teenagers with short attention spans can relate to these words after exploring the London haunts of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Wilde, Dickens and other writers with walk guide Alison Hook.

Raising her voice above the roar of traffic and construction work at the Monument, she takes a group of Year 9 pupils back to the London Shakespeare lived and worked in. "People tend to connect Shakespeare with Stratford-upon- Avon and forget he spent most of his life in London," she says.

As we leave the City and proceed across London Bridge towards Southwark Cathedral, she describes how the original bridge would have looked laden with houses. The City gates at its northern end were frequently adorned with par- boiled, tar-dipped heads the fate of those who disobeyed the laws within it.

Among the people commemmorated in the cathedral, are Shakespeare's brother, Edmund, who was buried here, and the American director, Samuel Wanamaker, who launched the now nearly completed project to rebuild the Globe Theatre exactly as it was in Shakespeare's day. At the nearby ruins of the Bishop's Palace, we hear how the bishops of Winchester became wealthy through running brothels and at the Clink Museum, near the site of the notorious Clink prison, Alison Hook describes the kind of humiliating punishments meted out there.

At The George, the oldest galleried pub in London, we stand where strolling players used to perform for money thrown down to them from the galleries, and can see that such pubs would have inspired the design of the first permanent, admission-charging theatres. The walk finishes at the rebuilt Globe, where reduced entry into the museum and a tour of the site can be arranged.

Alison Hook, who is head of English at Queen's Park Community School, north London and a qualified City of London guide, conducts this walk for Year 9 pupils and for GCSE and A-level students. She also takes groups around Dickensian London, taking in Lincoln's Inn Fields, Clerkenwell, Dickens's House and the site of Marshalsea Prison in Southwark. There is also a "Bohemians and Bluestockings" walk, exploring the Fitzrovia area of London frequented by Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

On the Oscar Wilde walk, the tour visits aristocratic Mayfair and St James, the theatres where his plays were performed, hotels he stayed in and his favourite drinking establishment, the Cafe Royal.

A-level student, Nazreem Chaudhry, described it in her school newsletter as a "fantastic journey through time . . . and an essential contribution to the understanding of Oscar Wilde's life and work".

Alison Hook's walks take place on Fridays and cost Pounds 3 per student in a group of 12 or more (accompanying adults free). Evening and weekend tours can also be arranged. Details: Alison Hook, 0171 281 5373 (home), 0181 451 0088 (school)

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