Join bestselling historian Dr Matthew Green under the stars on a lantern-lit tour of eighteenth-century London, experiencing how the Georgians colonised not just continents, but the night itself.

Taking in the luminous projection on the façade of Sir John Soane’s Museum by installation artist Nayan Kulkarni, we will venture down twisting streets, narrow alleys and cobbled courts once pitch-black and menacing but, from the 1700s, spectacularly illuminated by street lamps, flaming links, backlit window art — so beautiful against bricks smeared in seacoal — and vast public light shows as featured in Georgian Illuminations.

With places like Holborn and Oxford Street now ‘vast fiery threads stretching into the sky’ (as a Prussian visitor put it) and the bricks, pavements and leaves of new West End Squares mottled in brilliant light and swimming in shadows, Dr Green will resurrect — in startling, memorable detail — how the Georgians embraced nightlife more than ever before, from jelly houses where prostitutes wobbled exotic jellies in front of men tied to chairs to kamikaze gambling in seditious chocolate houses; midnight concerts in lit-up pleasure gardens to patriotic firework displays; violent mug houses to swear political allegiances (and burn down rival mug houses) to edifying literary soirées with their violins and candelabras; late-night frost fairs on the Thames with moon-beams chinking skate-rutted ice to shorthand-writing competitions and inquisitions of insanity in the city's multitudinous coffeehouses which stayed open until the last person put down their ‘soot-coloured ninny-broth’, this was a metropolis that never slept.

Lantern in hand, the swirl of your breath in the autumn mist, the tour will reveal the foundations of our all-night city — such a far cry from medieval London with its strict nightly curfew — conveying how it was not just human faculty that was transformed but the fabric of London itself during a mental and physical Enlightenment. 

About the tour leader

Dr Matthew Green is a historian, writer and broadcaster with a doctorate from Oxford University. He has appeared in documentaries on the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, and has written historical features for the Guardian and Financial Times. Passionate about bringing history to life a range of mediums, he is the founder of Unreal City Audio, which produces immersive tours of London as live events and podcasts, and writes historical libretto. He is the author of London: A Travel Guide Through Time (Penguin) and the critically-acclaimed Times top 10 bestseller Shadowlands: A Journey Through Lost Britain (Faber). Follow Matthew on X: @drmatthewgreen

About the tour

The tour will begin promptly at 18.00 opposite Sir John Soane’s Museum on Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where it will also end. The tour will go ahead unless there are extreme weather conditions which prevent travel to/from the Museum. It this is the case, you will be informed by midday on Saturday 4 October. Please dress appropriately.

Georgian Illuminations will be open for an out-of-hours viewing for ticket holders from 17.30 – 18.00.

This event is part of the public programme complementing the exhibition, which runs from 4 October to 7 January 2024.