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Historical Footsteps Tours

 

 

 

     
 

 

 

Historical Footsteps Tours

 

Phil Lewis runs Historical Footsteps Tours, where he will take you on guided tours of key locations of historical interest. The tours include The Blitz, The Kray Twins & Jack The Ripper and there are several new tours in the pipeline. Here Digger talks to Phil about his tours.

 



Digger: Hello Phil. Lovely day.
 
Phil: Absolutely. Iím going out in the garden later.
 
Digger: Sounds like a plan to me. Shall we crack on with the questions? Does that sound good?
 
Phil: Yes please.
 
Digger: Can you tell me a bit of the history of Historical Footsteps Tours?
 
Phil: It started in 2009. I had been a teacher for many years Ė a lecturer. When I retired I wanted to indulge in my passion, which was researching and looking at historical events and personages. And I really didnít want to stop lecturing and teaching as such, so I decided to swap an indoor classroom for an outdoor one basically.
 
Digger: Ah!
 
Phil: And I also had done a few battlefield tours in Europe before that. I actually took people out to The Somme and Ypres. To the western front there. So Iíd done some of that with fairly largish groups and I just wanted to continue and maybe branch back into the UK. I started off just looking at military history Ė that was the idea. But Iíd also done some research way back in the 1970s for somebody for a Jack The Ripper book and Iíd been to visit the original sites. So, I decided to pursue that and go back and research Jack The Ripper a lot more thoroughly and I thought ďWhy not turn it into a walk as well?Ē I was aware that several other companies do that. And while I was along the way I thought ďThe Krays look interesting as well.Ē I started off originally with Jack The Ripper in the June, although I had the idea at that time for an Invasion Of Britain Tour too. Thatís in development still now, in fact. It was early October that I decided to put on The Krays and Iíd already done a Blitz Tour. So I was doing Jack The Ripper and The Blitz when I started. Then we had the bad weather which put paid to a bit of development I must say in the winter months. And it now seems that The Krays are one of the most popular tours.
 
Digger: Why do you think that is?

 
Phil: I think people like the extremes of The Krays - the contrast between the violence and dark side and them as family men and their generosity with people. I think there are a number of companies doing the Jack The Ripper walks, maybe twenty or so. Although I do them, I donít do anywhere near as many Jack The Ripper Walks as I do Krays Walks or Blitz Walks. I think there are three or four doing Krays Walks, if you can find them, on a regular basis. Possibly one or two people are offering Blitz Tours but nobody seems to do them on a regular basis. Whereas I do both The Krays and The Blitz Tours at least two to three times a week.
 
Digger: What do you most enjoy about what you do?
 
Phil: I think being out there trying to give out some of the knowledge that Iíve got. Also, to try and enthuse other people to try and make them as fascinated by these events as I am.
 
Digger: Do you get good feedback from them?
 
Phil: Yes I do.
 
Digger: I know when Iíve been on some tours, and itís not just a British thing as I noticed this abroad as well, there tend to be one or two who ask questions and contribute and the rest stay tight-lipped.
 
Phil: I started off running tours with up to 25 people. But I cut that down because people were saying that they preferred the tours with smaller numbers and I did a bit of market research and asked people if they would be prepared to pay more. Because, obviously, one would have to put up the price if there were fewer people on a more individual tour. And the answer was yes. So the latest groups Iíve had with smaller numbers going through and youíve got people who are generally very enthusiastic about it. Some people know very little about it and they come along with friends and others who do have a more detailed knowledge. They go away saying ďI wouldnít have thought that, I didnít really know any of that. Well there you are Iím sixty years of age and I finally learned something about a time I vaguely knew this sort of thing happened." I had a lady last week who was possibly in her fifties and her son and his partner had booked the tour and she was down here for the weekend with them. She came on The Krays Tour with them and was quite amazed at the end of it. She said ďWell, I knew The Krays existed but I had no idea of what their activities were and how they spread.Ē And some people, they have a detailed knowledge, but they donít have a feel for it until they get to the actual locations. Because I often say that with the Battlefield Tours, and itís probably true of these other walks, that you cannot appreciate the historical sense unless you go and walk the actual areas.
 

Digger: Thatís right.
 
Phil: Unless you actually visit them you donít have a complete picture in your mind.
 

Digger: Did they use the original locations in the movie with the Kemps?
 
Phil: No, very little. In fact Iím not sure they used any. Certainly not the Krays' home at Vallance Road. Amongst all of the other tour locations, The Krays ones are the ones where most are still there. With the exception of the house they actually lived in. The clubs they owned Ė the majority have gone. But most of the streets are the same and the pubs they drank in are the same.
 

Digger: You donít ever bump into any of the characters?
 
Phil: No I havenít yet, although I do know that two or three of them still live in the area.

Digger: I had a look at Mad Frankie Fraserís website. He was obviously mainly part of the Richardsonís gang but had lots of Krays connections.
 
Phil: Yes, heís in his eighties now.
 

Digger: He is referred to there as 'con turned icon.'

Phil: The only other person that still lives in the area is their cousin Rita and as far as I know she still lives in the area. She lives almost opposite where they used to live and people are surprised when they discover that their cousin still lives close by.
 

Digger: How much work is there in the creation and preparation of these tours?
 
Phil: A lot of research and reading first. So on average for instance The Krays - I read something like twelve to fourteen books about The Krays. Jack The Ripper in excess of 25 books on him and most of the original documentary evidence Iíve either seen now or seen additional copies of it.
 

Digger: And do you then learn this in your head?
 
Phil: Yes, on average I have to read each book about four times.
 

Digger: Do you give out handouts?

 

 

Some images courtesy of and © copyright www.rexfeatures.com

Newspaper reports of the Jack The Ripper murders

 


 
Phil: Not on The Krays one because thereís so much information. If it something on Ypres then there would be maps and other stuff given out.
 

Digger: Is it mainly Brits who are interested in The Krays or do you get Europeans, Americans, Japanese?
 
Phil: Not on The Krays, itís almost all British interest, although you will get some Canadians who have looked on the website and come in on that tour as a result. Jack The Ripper is a very varied audience and with the Blitz ones it has quite a cross section on that. Iíve had young students who are doing GCSE who just happen to be doing it for their history and parents will bring them along on that. Iíve had Australians and Americans on it because Americans are quite into that period and the rest have been typically younger couples with their parents. I have had one or two teachers coming in on them as well.
 

Digger: I can remember seeing an American lady being interviewed outside the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square on a vox pop from 1969. This was on the Ďextrasí to the DVD for the Battle of Britain movie. And someone asked her what the Battle of Britain meant to her. She said ďI donít know why they call it the Battle of Britain, we were involved as well.Ē I canít believe how ignorant some people can be of events.
 
Phil: The Americans I get tend to be older members of the family or friends who were over here during the period, not of the main Blitz itself, but just afterwards. And they lived in London. So they talked with a lot of people here who had been in the Blitz or saw a lot of the remains of the first Blitz, because there were several Blitzes. There was the ĎLittle Blitzí and then the V1 and V2. When I do the tour itís mainly concentrating on the first major Blitz.
 

Digger: The V1 gave you a warning because at least you heard the engine cut out but the V2 was totally silent wasnít it?
 
Phil: Yes. The story I tell about the V2 is that my uncle, who was nineteen years of age, was actually killed in the worst V2 attack in Britain. At home on leave and he was directly under the blast at New Cross.
 

Digger: How much destruction did that make?
 
Phil: It killed 168 people. I donít know how many were injured but there were one or two people who were right near the blast and survived without a scratch but it took them four months to find out who my uncle was. Heís not on the official memorial as they donít recognise that it was him although my other uncle could definitely identify what he saw.


Digger: Are there ever any questions or happenings that stump you while taking a tour and what are the biggest challenges doing a tour?
 
Phil: I donít think there are many questions that stump me, although sometimes someone will ask something about an area which is way outside the tour.
 

Digger: (Laughs) Something completely out of left field after youíve been doing the tour for an hour?!
 
Phil: Yes. ďHow many houses did they have in Suffolk?Ē Or something like that.
 

Digger: Do you make up an answer?!
 
Phil: No, what I would normally do is get their email address or phone number and say ďCan I find out?Ē I did have somebody recently who was writing a screenplay for a film or a play and they said they werenít doing anything directly on The Krays although the Krays would feature. And although they were interested in The Krays and always had been ďCan I come back to you now Iíve seen the places and got the atmosphere?Ē Sometimes I get the odd TV company with questions for their research. The first instance of media interest I had was when I first started last June and Iíd only been in operation for two weeks. I was sitting here one evening and there was a phone call and the guy at the other end said ďIím doing some research. Iím based up in Glasgow and weíre doing it on The Blitz. I see you run tours on The Blitz.Ē And at that time Iíd taken two bookings and he said ďCould we come down and film the tour?Ē That was for a BBC programme called The Week We Went To War. So the company featured in one of those and that provided them with stuff and I recently had a TV company wanting me to identify a church in The Blitz. Although thatís proving very difficult Iím afraid.
 

Digger: In the City?
 
Phil: Yes. So you do get challenges in that sense, but not from people asking questions. Although you do get odd characters who join your tour. Like the lady, not one of my clients, who was drunk on the Jack The Ripper Tour. Sheíd been in a pub nearby and nearly pushed me out of the way saying to the others ďWell, I can tell you all about this site here.Ē Totally drunk. I had to get her away in a very polite way. No major problems Ė sometimes youíll get somebody who says ďI thought that was different to that...Ē But I often say on a tour that there are two different versions of this incident and which we believe is entirely based on how credible you think that evidence is.

 
Digger: Isnít it odd that the further away we get from these events the more technology allows us to know what happened?
 
Phil: It is. The ones that are very difficult are the Jack The Ripper ones Ė there are so many theories. I suppose the only real difficulty there is that everybody seems to have their pet theory.
 

Digger: Thereís no DNA available?
 
Phil: No, nothing like that. The only physical clue ever left that was definitely a clue to one of the murders. That particular piece of evidence no longer exists. Unfortunately a lot of the documentary evidence for the Ripper incidents has also gone, been lost or stolen.

 
Digger: Conspiracy theories?
 
Phil: Thatís a good old chestnut, that one, that doesnít stand up. We know, now, there must be a good twenty suspects and very few of whom seems to stand up. People like Patricia Cornwell have spent fortunes on their theories. People seem to get a pet suspect and then try to fit all the evidence to that suspect rather than take all the evidence and then see who does it lead to.

 
Digger: Thatís a common fault, isnít it?
 
Phil: Yes, and unfortunately what tends to happen these days is that someone will write a book on Jack The Ripper or The Krays and what they are doing is using other books as part of their evidence. But other books are taking things that are wrong from elsewhere, so sometimes the myths or things we take as facts, but are incorrect, are perpetuated. This does create difficulties. The other thing is that when visiting the sites you have to make sure you can get access.
 

Digger: I should imagine you need peopleís agreement?
 

Phil: In some areas, yes. In fact, not for me but a number of the Jack The Ripper Tour operators had problems recently because there are some University of London residences in Whitechapel and one of them is in the site which could have had a connection with a victim. And some of the groups have been standing outside there and irritating the residents so I and most of the other companies did have a letter from the warden of the place saying can you please tell your guys to keep people away. Which I can understand. So making sure we donít obstruct traffic or pedestrians and also making sure you know where the group is safe. Crossing roads, the timing of the tour and making sure it doesnít go too long so they get tired or too short that they donít think theyíve got their moneyís worth.
 

Digger: Yes, people do have a saturation point for taking on information and they need comfort breaks too.
 
Phil: Comfort breaks and refreshments. You need to check that the pubs are happy to have groups in and for me to talk about the area. We go into The Blind Beggar and a very small pub called The Carpenterís Arms on The Krays Tour and I havenít asked the landlord there. But you realise from the size that you canít take a big group in and it can only be six or seven people. So you have to keep your group to that size because most people will want to go in there and have a look and have a drink. Thatís another popular thing with The Krays Tour, it does incorporate two pubs which many see as a great draw. Also certain days, like Monday, I canít do a Krays Tour because one of the pubs is closed. Then there's the order of the sites that youíre going to, making sure itís a logical progression. Sometimes you canít do it chronologically Ė The Krays Tour is like that, whereas The Ripper Tour you can do chronologically.

Digger: Do you think that people in forty or fifty years' time will be going on tours based on what's happening now?

Phil: I think it will be much more difficult. Whether youíll get somebody in forty or fifty years' time doing something like what just happened up in Cumbria where that guy committed mass-murder this week I donít know. But, the point is, people either like a good yarn where people have been caught after a long 'career' like The Krays or they like a good Whodunit.

 
Digger: And itís far enough away in time for them not to feel uncomfortable?
 
Phil: Yes, and unfortunately, at least with the murder ones which tend to be the popular ones Ė a walk on a robbery probably wouldnít go very well - it tends to be unsolved murders, no matter how macabre, that appeal to people. I donít know about modern gangs and I foresee that maybe something on spies or something like that might be popular. But again, the problem is going around these sites is getting more and more difficult because of congestion charges and parking fees. Taking a group around an area has got to be a very local activity, like a literary thing or a historical thing in a local area. Because you can only really make a walk from something in a relatively small space. Charing Cross Road and The Strand or Oxford Street you might have problems with and I wouldnít even attempt it. A lot of my tours take place in the evenings Ė The Kray Walks and the Jack The Ripper ones, because most of the activities occurred in the night and Iím doing nothing more theatrical by offering those in the night than anybody else. The Kray ones could be operated in the daytime but if I started walking around in the daytime thereíd be a lot more traffic and also we wouldnít just be able to stand at the side of the road and look around in the Bethnal Green Road. Weíd be in the way of the stalls and market traders and we wouldnít be able to necessarily see what we wanted to see. And to get in the pubs during the day Ė one doesn't open until six. The Blitz one Ė holding it in the evening wouldn't be as good because you need to see the faces of the buildings and the damage that you can actually still ascertain and therefore the Blitz ones are much better in the afternoon. The best time is the weekends and I tend to do two Blitz Tours on a Saturday and Sunday.
 

Digger: Is the Invasion Of Britain Tour due anytime soon?
 
Phil: It will be ready but itís going to take at least another eight weeks.
 

Digger: It was fascinating when you told me the other day that if we had been invaded by The Germans we would have overrun them because we had so many secret cells and counter-invasion measures in place and the Royal Navy would have cut off their supply routes and it could have shortened the length of the war by three years.
 
Phil: That was a war game that was played at Sandhurst and I need to check out the details of that. Before I ever give any of these details I check it out two or three times just to make sure that the actual figures I am giving out are correct. Because Iíd hate to give the wrong figures out to anyone.
 

Digger: Youíd end up sounding like an MP.
 
Phil: I would indeed.
 

Digger: Where do you see Historical Footsteps Tours going in the future?
 
Phil: There will be some expansion on it. Hopefully on the walks side at least another three walks that Iíve got in mind. There are also some slightly longer tours as well. Thereís another murder one that Iím hoping to put on in Kent and Iíd like to get the one-day Battlefield Tours to The Somme and Ypres underway. They are ready, itís just a question of putting them on.

Digger: Youíre not tempted by anything else from history as yet?
 
Phil: You mean much further afield?

 
Digger: You do The Krays. I was thinking maybe a rock and pop culture tour?
 
Phil: There are several great spy stories that feature around London and Iíd like to do something along those lines. In the forties, fifties or earlier, especially the instances of German agents.
 

Digger: And you could go back to Profumo.

Phil: You could indeed, and that takes us back to Whitechapel because Christine Keeler did have a drink in one of the pubs with The Krays at one point and you'll find that Mandy Rice-Davies says she did. But she didnít. There is a murder one on the Edwardian murders in East London - I want to put that into operation.
 

Digger: Youíre going to be busy.
 
Phil: Yes, if they take off Iíll need to expand staff but at the moment I do most of them myself and weíll see how they go. I donít know Ė the pop culture one might be difficult for me.

 
Digger: Maybe Iíll do that one! I donít think itís been done properly at all and thereís so much there. I canít imagine that anyoneís done some market research and found out it there wouldnít be popularity for it Ė why wouldnít there be?
 
Phil: I think it would be popular. It would be one of these I would possibly offer it but I wouldnít run it myself. Iíd have to bring in a guide to run it. I would think there is a limit to what one can research oneself.

 
Digger: The Bag Oí Nails club has just opened up again in Soho. Where all the sixties movers and shakers used to hang out. It wonít be the same as the original, just as The Cavern isnít the same in Liverpool.
 
Phil: There are plenty of opportunities. Itís just finding niches. The Battle of Britain one isnít operational yet because we need this guy to give me permission for the people on the tour to sit in the Spitfire, which would make it a much more popular tour.

 
Digger: Nobody can fly in one these days. You can fly alongside one in a helicopter but thatís the nearest you get.
 
Phil: Iíve actually sat in one because I know the guy who owns it Ė the plan is the group would go to several other places to do with the Battle of Britain first and then end up at Biggin Hill to see the Spitfire coming back from an Airshow, it will close down and then weíll have each one of them sitting in the cockpit for about five minutes.

 
Digger: Are there size restrictions? Incredibly, in the Battle of Britain movie two pilots share a cockpit when theyíre evacuating from France.
 
Phil: If youíve ever tried sitting in a Spitfire, two people would be almost impossible.
 

Digger: They must have been very small.
 
Phil: You also have to be able to climb up onto the wing.  But they are much stronger than you think.
 

Digger: Well, Phil, it all sounds fascinating and best of luck with all your plans for these new tours.
 
Phil: Many thanks David. Thatís lovely. Have a good weekend.

 

 

 
     
    
 
  Historical Footsteps Tours  
     
 
  We are a small company based in North West Kent that specialises in tours based around historical figures, incidents and events. We believe that history is best explored by retracing events in the locations where they actually took place.
The majority of Historical Footsteps Tours are centred around London and southern England and range in duration from 2 hours to a full day. We believe that clients deserve as much of our personal attention as possible and, therefore, restrict our group sizes for walking tours to 10 people and the full day tours to 23 people. The majority of our tours are devoted to areas of historical interest that are covered by few if any other tour operators. Some of our tours such as the Jack the Ripper walking tour cover a greater number of sites than many other operators.
Most tours will operate all year round. Please keep watching our website for details of our new tours as they are developed and become operational.

Jack the Ripper Walking Tour
During the late summer and autumn of 1888 a series of horrific murders took place in the East End of London that became known as the Whitechapel Murders.  The murderer, who was given the title of Jack the Ripper was never apprehended.  Relive this 'Autumn of Terror' with an Historical Footsteps walking tour through the streets of Whitechapel and Spitalfields.

The London Blitz Walk
In 1940, London and many other cities in Britain suffered a period of sustained air raids that tested the determination and courage of the civilian population of this country. Although most of the physical damage to buildings has been repaired it is still possible to see evidence of that period in our history. Why not join one of our Historical Footsteps Tours for a two and a half hour guided walk through some of the areas affected by the Blitz.  Tour group numbers are limited to a maximum of 10 people. Tours start at Bank Underground Station.

The Kray Twins Tour
In the East End of London in 1933 twin boys were born. Their names would become well known throughout London and the rest of Britain as notorious gangsters in the second half of the 20th century.
Ronnie and Reggie Kray spent much of their childhood and teenage years in Whitechapel and Bethnal Green. They achieved their first taste of fame as boxers but they are more famous for their gangland activities and crimes that included the murders of George Cornell and Jack 'the Hat' McVitie.

The Invasion Of Britain 1940
In development

The Battle Of Britain Tour
Anyone looking out to sea from Dover in 1940 could clearly view the colossal German armaments along the French coast 25 miles away and witness overhead the daily troublesome Luftwaffe flights probing Britain's defences. Nobody doubted that it would be long before the Germans tried to invade Britain and it was obvious that, as a preliminary to such an invasion, Britain's air defences would need to be destroyed and its Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) rendered inoperative...

Tel: 07855948976 (Within the UK)
+44 7855948976 (From outside the UK)

Email: plewis@historicalfootstepstours.com

 

 
   
     

 

 


 

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