I am thrilled to say that I can present something very special today: a Maiden themed self-guided city walk through London! This is an abridged version; to access the full version (for free), please visit London Beyond Time and Place. As mentioned before, I have teamed up with Philipp Röttgers of London Beyond Time and Place for an exchange project. Whereas I have written a short piece on how Maiden function as ambassadors of British culture, we get a more practical approach on how to get acquainted with the elements of English history which were immortalised in Maiden songs. Philipp Röttgers is an author, a journalist, and a musician, who seeks in depth knowledge on all things London, but most of all London’s “spirit.” He is not only a blogger, he has also conducted several interviews with London aficionados, written a city guide, and offers a range of self-guided city walks in his shop. You can also follow London Beyond Time and Place on Facebook and Twitter.
A Maiden Walking Tour through London sounds not difficult at first. The city has been one of the most important settings in the band’s history.
There is the Marquee club in Soho, where Iron Maiden (but also Blaze Bayley’s band Wolfsbane) played early gigs. There is the O2 Arena, where Maiden played their last London gig on “The Legacy of the Beast” tour (a slightly bigger location than the Marquee). Steve Harris was born in Leytonstone in East London and the band was perceived as proper East End band. The famous “Beast over Hammersmith” concerts were, as the name suggests, filmed and recorded in Hammersmith, on the other side of town. The band recorded in various studios like the Battery Studios in North London, as did its members on their solo projects. Bruce Dickinson’s final shows with Iron Maiden in 1993 were filmed at Pinewood Studios west of central London, several weeks after the proper tour had ended. Band members were introduced to each other in music clubs in Camden or Soho, Bruce Dickinson was at Queen Mary College on the Mile End Road in East London, Janick Gers lived in Chiswick for some time, “The Best of the Beast” was promoted in Piccadilly Circus… so you see the problem. How does one include all the significant locations in a coherent walk?
And what about all the places that are related to the band’s lyrics? London has always been the centre of the political and cultural history that inspired many of the band’s songs. There is William Blake, the greatest London visionary, who influenced Bruce Dickinson’s superb solo album “The Chemical Wedding.” The American Edgar Allen Poe, author of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (which inspired the Maiden song “Murders in the Rue Morgue”), studied at boarding schools in Chelsea (West London) and Stoke Newington (North London). “The beast” itself Aleister Crowley, inspirer of songs like “Revelations” or “Moonchild,” was of course also from London and lived in Chancery Lane in his youth. And “the Alchemist” John Dee had his house in Mortlake on the southside of the River Thames.
You cannot visit all these places in one go. But maybe we can play with madness?
While it might be quite easy to find “Maiden locations” – locations related to Maiden’s history or to historic events in Maiden songs – it can be a bit more difficult to turn it into a self-guided walk. However, my advantage is that London and its symbols and history help me. A place like London is so full of history, that you can create your own story – you can see and interpret things and buildings that others would put into a completely different context. The walk I offer is just one possibility.
So, let us become Nomads and start our walk. This is an abridged version of my Iron Maiden London Walk. You can find the full walk at my website “London Beyond Time and Place.”
The walk starts at the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. Facing the National Gallery, on your right is St-Martin-in-the-Fields, the church known for its regular lunchtime and evening concerts. Many ensembles perform there, including the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields. You are in the cultural centre of Westminster.
In the National Gallery, you will find illustrations by the beloved English Romantic painter, engraver and illustrator John Martin (19 July 1789 – 17 February 1854). Iron Maiden’s artwork designer Derek Riggs repeatedly and undoubtedly pointed out John Martin as his role model, the man who inspired most of his works from the early Maiden years. His paintings are typically vast and melodramatic depictions of religious subjects and fantastic compositions. In them, the minimal figures are placed in imposing landscapes. So, if you are looking for the illustrations that influenced for example the “Live After Death” artwork, you should visit the National Gallery and look at Martin’s biblical paintings (however, during the pandemic you will have to book in advance to go inside the gallery).
From the main entrance of the National Gallery, walk anticlockwise around Trafalgar Square until you reach the statue of Sir Charles James Napier GBC. Napier was an officer of the British Army’s Peninsular and later a Major General of the Bombay Army. The whole next stretch of the walk will be full of references to Britain’s war history, a topic that the British seem to like to celebrate a lot. The colours of the Union Jack don’t run from cold bloody war. And Iron Maiden have referred to several wars and war stories in their lyrics.
From Napier’s statue, walk over the square to its centrepiece, Nelson’s Column, one hundred and sixty-seven feet tall. Trafalgar Square was constructed between 1829 and 1841 and is conceived as England’s memorial to her greatest sailor Admiral Nelson. Standing at Nelson’s Column, cross the road on the next streetlight on your left and go to the traffic island with the Equestrian Statue of Charles I in the middle, the only English monarch to be executed. Cross the traffic island and walk along Whitehall, the street that lies ahead of you.
The buildings on your right are part of the old Admiralty buildings. This was the official residence of the First Lord of the Admiralty. You could tell a historic tale, mostly related to war, to almost all of the statues and buildings that you will see along Whitehall. You will pass the equestrian statue of George William Frederick Charles, 2nd duke of Cambridge (1819-1904), field marshal and commander in chief of the British army. He was the only son of Adolphus Frederick, the youngest son of King George III. A little further on the other side of the road, there is the Horse Guards Parade. Keep walking along Whitehall, cross Horse Guards Avenue. The house on the corner is Banqueting House, the only survivor the Whitehall Palace, that burned down in 1698.
At the building, right at the corner of the street you will see a bust of King Charles I. above a small wooden door. It was close to this door that the king had been led to be executed.
Keep walking along Whitehall and notice the equestrian statue of Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, in the middle of the road. Haig was a British field marshal and commander-in-chief on the Western Front during the First World War from 1915 to 1918. His diary from the First World War period was declared a UNESCO World Document Heritage Site in 2015.
Most interesting for Iron Maiden fans is the fact that Haig was commander during the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele. The horrors of this battle have been immortalized in the song “Paschendale,” written by Steve Harris and Adrian Smith, on the 2003 album “Dance of Death.”
The next monument on Whitehall is “The Women of World War II,” and a little further on the right is the entrance to 10, Downing Street, residence of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. From 1979 to 1990, the first woman to hold that office was Margaret Thatcher, nicknamed “The Iron Lady”. On Iron Maiden’s second single “Sanctuary” from 1980, band mascot Eddie is depicted with a knife in his hand while crouching over her corpse. This caused quite a controversy and on the next single, “Women in Uniform”, she is seen again waiting for Eddie with a machine gun in her hands. It is open to interpretation who is the villain in these covers. Also, there is a slight similarity between the names “Iron Maiden” and “Iron Lady” …
Keep walking until Whitehall turns into Parliament Street. You pass The Cenotaph, a war memorial. Its predecessor was a temporary structure that was erected for a peace parade after the end of the First World War, before the current memorial was permanently erected.
At the end of Parliament Street, you come out on Parliament Square. On your left is Elizabeth Tower with the famous bell Big Ben, next to it are the Houses of Parliament. Cross the street and turn right to get onto Parliament Square with its many statues and sculptures. The first one you meet is quite familiar. It is Winston Churchill…
If you want to keep on reading (and walking), you can find the entire Iron Maiden London Walk on my website “London beyond time and place”. The full walk includes some famous statues in and around Westminster that are related to war-themed Maiden songs, a building that includes memorials to writers and poets that have influenced Maiden songs, and the area south of the river inhabited by a certain London poet and visionary that heavily influenced Bruce Dickinson’s solo album “The Chemical Wedding”…