The ghosts of kings inhabit London's St James' Park: Henry VIII who first laid it out as a deer park in 1531; James I who introduced menageries and aviaries; Charles II who skated and swam in the newly constructed canal; but perhaps most of all Charles I, who on a bitterly cold January morning in 1649 walked with his dog across the park to his execution in Whitehall. Footnotes, a new series of historical and architectural London audioguides, evoke ghosts familiar and forgotten, whether royals or rakes, writers or builders, in places often barely glanced at by today's passers-by, writes Deborah Mulhearn.
The walks are thoroughly researched and vibrantly recorded by a group of Londonophiles from diverse backgrounds, including architecture, engineering, mathematics, social history and law. They aim to fill a gap between fleeting guided tourist tours and erudite but sedentary research and reading, though they can be enjoyably consumed from an armchair (even one that is miles from London). A dozen walks are currently available on tape or CD, with more planned.
London's social and philanthropic history is revealed above the roar of the traffic on the Euston to King's Cross walk - a Quaker library, a memorial stone to conscientious objectors and inter-war social housing are among the many gems in the densely packed area between the two stations.
Walkers can proceed at their own pace, directed to hidden corners, courtyards and gardens, as well as through classic London streetscapes, Victorian enclaves and well-known landmarks. The crisp commentaries are sometimes idiosyncratic, but never pompous. It's okay to be overwhelmed - or underwhelmed - by an architectural masterpiece.
The Footnotes website offers advice on which walk to choose, for example St James and area, shaped by successive monarchs, Strand and Embankment for Edwardian razzmatazz or Borough for medical and mathematical history.
Tips on how and when to gain access to buildings are included, and new architecture and future plans are not overlooked.
Deborah Mulhearn is a journalist in Liverpool