This is one of the world's greatest museums, and the 8 million pieces it contains can be a little daunting for the visitor. My version of the tour takes the sting out of it. I will be asking you if you have any particular emphases or historical/geographical focus, and will take anything you say and merge it into a route that takes in the museum's highlights and hidden treasures. The 'standard' walk takes in the history of the museum, the rise of archaeology, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Central America, North America, Easter Island, Egypt, Assyria and Greece. Other alternatives include Egyptian state formation, the rise of the Middle East, African art and culture, Central and East Asia, European prehistory and many others. The route can be endlessly altered to reflect the interests of the client, and no two walks are ever alike!
This is a highly irreverent, rude and amusing look at history and archaeology, designed to inform kids without drowning them in unnecessary detail. Major themes in human behaviour, episodes in history and the rise of civilisation are broached, emphasising a "what do you see here?" approach that engages kids, while keeping them entertained with disgusting and funny stories that convey lots of academic information under the guise of fatuous and scatological observation. As for the adult version, these walks can also be 'spun' to reflect specific interests or school curricula - previous one-off walks include the Silk Roads, Egyptian mummification and the rise of civilisation.
The National Gallery contains one of the world's great art collections, which spans the Renaissance to the mid 20th century. It is impossible to take it all in, so I offer a highly personal, utterly biased - and hopefully amusing - perspective on all that western art has been for the last half a millennium or so. The emphases vary depending on mood and the client's preferences, and usually take in the southern and northern takes on the Renaissance, skipping quite lightly through the 17th and 18th century, then honing in on on the explosion of artistic expressions that characterise the 19th and 20th centuries. It is not designed to be exhaustive but is a good introduction to the major themes plus a lot of fun art gossip about the works and their creators. The fact that art usually involves a lot of "what do you see here?" means that this walk can be tailored to suit children of all ages.
The City of London is probably one of the most complex and fascinating ancient cities in Europe. Extensively bombed during WW2, it nonetheless contains historical remains going back to the Roman period and before, and was home to many of Britain's most famous and mysterious characters. This stroll through history talks over the history of the Tower of London - William the Conqueror's fortress on the Thames - and then winds its way back westwards via Jack the Ripper, remarkable kings, heroic queens, gross executions, Roman temples and much more besides. This can be run for kids as well, focusing on the gory and the bizarre, and manages to disguise a large amount of fact as flippant observation.
The seat of power in London started in the East then moved steadily towards the West, where it still stands today. It's a forbidding area, packed with massive monuments, extensive historical information, vast galleries, inexplicable statues, astounding buildings and vast crowds of tourists who are usually lost, dazed and confused. You, however, will not be among them, as this tour will tease out the main themes in history from kings and queens to power politics, scandal, executions, art history, culture, design and architecture, in the guise of a gentle stroll that can be endlessly amended to suit personal interests. This can also be made to suit kids' interests, and they - and their parents - will leave with a lot of information that amuses, yet is also really useful historical fact.
London is built on London - there has been something resembling a town here for at least 2000 years, and perhaps as far back as 5000 years. Mammoths, hippos and woolly rhinos once stomped around what is now the Thames and Westminster. Neolithic and Bronze Age people got it into their heads that the waters were sacred and therefore sacrificed pots, gold and people to it. The Romans turned up (on elephants!) to steal the gold, then stayed to trade and develop the place. A native queen called Boudicca came down to avenge herself on the Romans for their high-handedness; eighty thousand died in the slaughter that followed. The Romans got religion, got corrupt, got cold feet and then left the place to the Saxons, who were happy enough living outside London (because it scared them) but were soon invaded by the Vikings who popped out of Scandinavia and began making nuisances of themselves (although the local girls found them very alluring). Alfred the Great wandered into town on a christianizing mission, then a load of squabbles broke out and when the smoke cleared the Normans were in charge...followed by the Normans-disguised-as-Englishmen, followed by the Welsh, the Scots, the Dutch, and finally the Germans. The thousand years from William the Conqueror (although he was actually known as William the Bas***rd in his lifetime) to the present day is one of the most fascinating in Europe, and I would be happy to show some of it to you. The tour suits kids as well as it can be scaled down in detail and up in grossness to stick in the mind.
The British are generally known for their writing rather than their art - you've probably heard of Shakespeare but I doubt that you could describe a Gainsborough in detail. Or would want to, come to that. Other countries snort rather derisively at our artists, and its certainly true that we haven't had a Picasso, a Michelangelo, a da Vinci. But it's not a desert up here in the North - the narrative of how we saw the world through time as we went from marginalised rock to global empire is a fascinating and socially relevant one. This is a run through the evolution of art in Britain, and how it was influenced by the inside and outside world over 500 years. The latter end of the tour takes in the spectacular internationalism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the proliferation of 'isms that continue to bedevil us today. This tour can also be turned to appeal to children, although the National Gallery is better suited to a child-friendly narrative.
A hundred and fifty years ago a painting was a painting and a sculpture was a sculpture. Yes, there were different styles, but for the most part a good knowledge of the Bible, history, mythology and maybe a few legends would see you through. Somewhere along the way, however, something changed really quite markedly. The art world today must accept pickled sharks, tins of human excrement and unmade beds as serious works of art, and sell them alongside Monets and Picassos, da Vincis and Gainsboroughs. Don't be scared! Modern art is only an elitist 'thing' to our minds because those who own it ensure that it stays that way. The mystery is not as mysterious as it first appears to be! This walk takes us through the rash of 'isms that has characterized the late 19th to early 21st centuries, looks at the changing role of art and the artist, defines how art and society have played with each other, and examines hundreds of world-class works from all over the globe that chart (and define) a changing world. This walk suits the beginner although it can be presented at every level, including children.
If you are a diehard art junkie - or would like to become one - then this is the tour for you. It examines traditional art styles of the 16th to 19th centuries in the Tate Britain, then introduces some of the major themes in the modernist movements of the 19th-20th centuries. Major trends, internationalism and artistic styles are all discussed at an accessible level. There is then a break for lunch at a local pub (built on what are allegedly haunted ruins) then a short boat trip through the bustling heart of London to the Tate Modern where we will explode some of the myths of modern art and further explore where art has gone, currently is, and where it is going next. The level of the tour can be pitched at whatever expertise you have, although it may not be suitable for younger children given the duration. In one day you will acquire some of the skills you need to critically assess paintings, or alternatively brush up on art knowledge that you may already possess.
"Thank you very much for organizing and providing a highly enjoyable and very informative tour. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and appreciated your efforts to make it accessible for all ages. We also appreciate your going a bit 'off-piste' and taking us through exhibits we would have missed otherwise."
"...from the very first minute of the tour with Dr. Lawrence Owens it was clear that it is going to be a completely different experience! It was a hilarious and simultaneously educational 3 hours that felt like it was only 15 minutes. Kids and adults alike were sad when the tour ended, just like a great movie we did not want it to stop. Besides being a lot of interactive fun, my kids still remember basically everything they learned during the tour; Dr. Lawrence was able to show them that history and archaeology can be a lot of fun and not just some boring subjects people learn at school. All I can say I wish I had a teacher like Lawrence at school or had taken a similar tour back in my teens. The whole family still remembers Dr. Lawrence and what he taught us and how much fun it was. Can't recommend enough."
"Our guide for the British Museum, Lawrence Owens, was easily the best guide I've ever had for any tour anywhere in the world. While the tour was geared towards kids, my wife and I have continued to discuss things learned despite numerous previous trips to the British Museum. Our children (9 and 6) continue to recite what they learned from Lawrence. Miraculously, he kept four jet lagged travelers focused, engaged, and amazed."
"We had a fantastic time with Dr Owens! We’ve already recommended him to several friends. Please thank him for his time and expertise. It’s a day we’ll always warmly remember!"
"I can unequivocally say that this was the best guided-tour I have ever taken. I have actually taken many private tours all over the world, ever since I got tired of my husband asking me questions that I didn’t know the answers to on our vacations. When I signed up for this I knew that I would be getting an actual archaeologist as our guide. A PhD, and expert in the field – what I was not informed of was that our guide was actually Indiana Jones. I kid you not. Not only was Lawrence a third generation historian and a fascinating expert on the subject matter that made 3.5 hours breeze by like it was 20 minutes, but he is also a field archaeologist. In his spare time you can find him in Syria or Egypt uncovering rare artifacts and mummies. He literally was shot at during an excavation and his bodyguard had to kill an armed looter. He also uncovered the oldest named human in the history of civilization. So there is that. There will be many books authored by Lawrence in the near future. I hope to read them. If you are lucky enough to take a tour from him before Chris Pine or Henry Cavill plays him in the move, good on you."
"Lawrence...We had a great time today and I assure you Matthew learned a lot!"
"Hello Lawrence...sending along some of the pictures from our visit today at the British Museum and National Gallery. We all agreed we had a fabulous day with you as our guide. You are a wealth of information and are great at explaining both history and art in a way that is educational and fun. We will be in touch the next time we are in London...Until Next Time!"
"Our time with Lawrence was the highlight of our trip to London. With his tremendous fund of knowledge and passion for his subject, Lawrence made history come alive in a fun and engaging way. Our kids (6, 10, and 12) were wary of another museum visit, but after their time with Lawrence at the British Museum, they were asking for more another tour with him. We were lucky to snag more time with him at the Tower of London which was equally amazing. We all learned a ton and kids are still quoting 'Lawrencisms'. Best guide ever!"
"During this European trip, we did 2 tours in London and 3 in Paris. Four of those tours were focused for the kids. Lawrence was by far the best guide we had, and he kept the kids engaged throughout the tour. I cannot possibly recommend Lawrence enough."