If you’re going to be in London for a few days before or after YMCA175, why not take the YMCA175 Heritage Walk Challenge!

This challenge will take you on a journey to 9 locations of historical YMCA significance. It’s a 5-mile walk (plus a couple of tube rides) and should take you about 2½ -3 hrs, depending on how long you stay at each location.

Once you arrive at each location, read the Information page. It will provide you with:

  • Some brief location facts
  • A BODY message to remind you of the benefit of walking!
  • A MIND cryptic puzzle … solve all the clues to discover the hidden anagram message
  • A SPIRIT prayerful blessing, to say as you leave

Use this info as you please, and enjoy the journey!

You can take this Heritage Walk Challenge at any time, and visit the locations in any order …. but on Thursday 8th August, between 9am and 2pm each location will be manned by a volunteer to greet you and cheer you on your way!!


The site of the King’s Weigh House; the non-conformist Chapel where George Williams worshipped.

LOCATION: Travel to Bank Tube Station. While still underground, follow signs to District & Circle Lines (Green & Yellow) and Monument Tube Station. After a few minutes walk underground, exit into Monument Tube Station. As you walk into Fish Street Hill, you are standing on the site of the King’s Weigh House. 

READ: Fish Street Hill – Info

NEXT: Go back into the Tube Station. Follow signs to Central Line (Red). Take Tube west, to Holborn Station, then change to Piccadilly Line (Purple) and take Tube north,  to Russell Square.


George Williams’ Christian belief was influenced by two prominent ministers, Charles Finney and Thomas Binney; without both, there would be no YMCA.

The rousing books of Charles Finney inspired zeal, prayer, and a passion for Christ, while the sweet and mellowing teaching of Binney added a ‘big-picture’ thirst for social transformation, through Christian association and endeavour.

Their contrasting styles are dramatized in the 2018 YMCA film production of Soul in the Machine.

If George Williams had been moulded only by Finney, how he would have antagonised and alienated some of the finest characters he attracted to his side. But all that was forbidding and harsh in the teaching of Charles Finney was smoothed and polished beautiful by the influence of Thomas Binney.” (J.E. Hodder Williams, The Life of Sir George Williams, 1906, 36)

George Williams worshipped at The Kings Weigh House Chapel in Fish Street Hill, London, it was here that he came under the influence of Thomas Binney.

BODY: Save £££ Today
Walking is free … think of all the pounds you can save by taking a regular walk as part of your journey to work, or instead of signing up to expensive fitness clubs.

MIND: Also Sacred Ground!
Sadly claimed by the Great Fire, nearby once stood.

SPIRIT: … a Blessing for YMCA’s Christian Ethos
May God grant within YMCA /
a reflection of His LOVE for the whole world, with no exceptions / the power of CHRIST to energise its service provision / and the possibility, of knowing LIFE, in all its fullness


The family home of George Williams and his wife Helen.
13 Russell Square

LOCATION: See map below. Look out for the blue plaque on the wall of the building.

READ: Russell Square – Info

NEXT: Go back into the Tube Station. Take Tube south, to Holborn. Follow signs to Central Line (Red). Take Tube east, to St Paul’s Station.


George Williams was born in Dulverton, Somerset and lived on Ashway Farm with his parents and seven brothers until he left to be apprenticed in Bridgewater at the age of 14. Following his apprenticeship, he found employment in London with Messrs. Hitchcock & Rogers drapery establishment

George’s prospects began to rise through promotion, and he also caught the eye of the boss’s daughter, Helen Hitchcock.

In 1853 George and Helen were married; George having been made partner in the business a few months earlier. George would later inherit the business from his Father-in-Law. George & Helen had five sons and a daughter, and their family home was 13 Russell Square.

George would often walk around this neighbourhood, giving away booklets and tracts to those he would meet, always keen to get into conversation. Through his business endeavour he amassed great wealth, which he used to benefit YMCA, and many other Christian organisations.

BODY: Spend Time with your Loved Ones
Walk to discover new places together, take time to catch up with news from friends and family … and stay healthier at the same time.

MIND: #1 Insect Home!
Check in the Square to discover who guard their family homes with leaves for doors.

SPIRIT: … a Blessing for our Families
May God grant:
Blessing on your family and friends with his warm love. Provision for all their needs with his generous favour. Guidance as they travel through life, and protection from all that does not reflect his goodness


YMCA began here, in a bedroom in Hitchcock & Rogers drapery establishment.

LOCATION: See map below. Look out for a parade of shops, including ‘Blacks’. The YMCA location plaque is on the inside of the overhang corner pillar.

READ: St Pauls Churchyard – Info

NEXT: Walk across the Churchyard to the Cathedral and enter St Paul’s Crypt by the side door.


In 1841, the young 20 year old George  was employed ‘behind the counter’ for a wage of £40 per year.

The fact that the owner Mr Hitchcock initially rejected George as an employee, and was only persuaded by persistence, and a ‘second interview’ is encouragement to us all, that success, through determination and come out of defeat!

George Williams gained a Christian faith while an apprentice in Bridgewater. When he moved to London it was this faith that would inspire his desire to transform the lives of young men around him, ‘rescuing them’ from the depravity of the drinking and gambling Taverns, which were the antidote to the long working hours.

George Williams began prayer & Bible meetings in his bedroom, which rapidly grew in number from 2, to 20, 25 then 27.

It was the success of these meetings which were the subject of the conversation between George and Edward Beaumont when walking on Blackfriars Bridge some months later.

The drapery business remained on this site until 29th December 1940 when it was destroyed by bombing in The Blitz. The firm survived, moving to Queen Victoria Street, where it remained trading until 1984.

BODY: Defeat Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is linked to poor diet and obesity. Walking regularly combined with a healthy diet can help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

MIND: Founding Faith!
Which other faith father is honoured in St Pauls Churchyard?

SPIRIT: … a Blessing for YMCA pioneering new work
May God grant you: Mindfulness of the extravagant wonders found in the natural world. Creativity in sharing with others the gifts we have been given. The spark of new ideas, dreams and visions, and resilience to use all this to stand for love, and stamp on injustice.


The final resting place of Sir George Williams, founder of the Young Men’s Christian Association. Saint Pauls Cathedral

LOCATION: See map below. Enter by the side door which leads down to the café and shop. Walk through the café to the far side toward the metal railings. Note: entry into the café / shop area is free.

READ: St Pauls Crypt – Info

NEXT: Walk to front of St Pauls and continue along road, down Ludgate Hill to traffic lights. Turn left onto New Bridge Street, toward Blackfriars Bridge.


On 14th November 1905 on a grey rainy day 200 black draped coaches travelled the short distance between Exeter Hall and taking two hours to reach the doors of St Pauls Cathedral.

Sir George was received by a congregation of 2000 mourners. Quite a ‘send-off’ for a young man from Somerset, apprenticed in Bridgewater.

Sir George’s grave lies near to those of Lord Wellington and Lord Nelson, and just behind the Winston Churchill memorial.

The simple bronze slab is surrounded by foliage, entwined with the names of  the countries from which YMCAs were operating at the time of his death: Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Switzerland, China, Russia, and the United States.

The marble memorial a few feet away on the wall contains the words of one of his last speeches: “My last legacy, and it is a precious one, is to the Young Men’s Christian Association. I leave it to you beloved young men of many countries to carry on and extend.”

BODY: Reduce Your Risk of Cancer
Regular moderately intense walking may reduce your risk of developing some forms of cancer, including breast, bowl and womb cancer.

MIND: Top Dollar Guy!
Like George Williams, he rose through the ranks to become head of the business.

SPIRIT: … a Blessing for YMCA’s Future
May God grant… that whatever changes, whatever stays the same / YMCA will always say this… / You are More! You can be More! You are not alone!


Where the divine inspiration for the YMCA took place as George Williams walked across with Edward Beaumont.

LOCATION: See map below.

READ: Blackfriars Bridge – Info

NEXT: Walk back to the traffic light junction with Ludgate Hill, and turn left into Fleet Street. Look out for Serjeants Inn on the left hand side in approximately 600m.


Edward later recounts in his diary …

“After walking a few minutes in silence you said, pressing my arm and addressing me familiarly, as you were in the habit of doing, ‘Teddy, are you prepared to make a sacrifice for Christ?’

I replied, ‘If called upon to do so, I hope and trust I can.’ You then told me that you had been deeply impressed with the importance of introducing religious services such as we enjoyed, into every large establishment in London, and that you thought that if a few earnest, devoted and self-denying men could be found to unite themselves together for this purpose, that with earnest prayer God would smile upon the effort and much good might be done.”

And so the idea of YMCA was planted, to be germinated a few days later on 6th June 1844.

The original bridge was replaced on the same site just over 20 years after this event, and it’s likely that George & Edward walked the same route over this newer bridge too.

BODY: Boost Your Energy Levels
You may feel like your too tired to walk … but did you know that regular walking can actually boost your energy levels, and help you feel less tired in the long term.

MIND: Riverboat View!
Stand river-west on the bridge viewpoint, looking back, see the words on the red/white plate.

SPIRIT: … a Blessing for Inspiration
May God grant you: His love which is irresistible and contagious. Hearts and minds that are filled with His plans and purposes. Inspiration to serve the poor and the disadvantaged, and activities which nurture and nourish body mind and spirit


The office of the world’s first YMCA General Secretary. Fleet Street

LOCATION: As you walk up Fleet Street, away from Blackfriars Bridge, Serjeants Inn is on the left. Look out for the Green Elephant!! See map below.

READ: Serjeants Inn – Info

NEXT: Continue walking in the same direction along Fleet Street., past the Bank of England Law Courts, and then along Strand. Walk past St Clement Danes Church and St Mary Le Strand Church, an on toward the Strand Palace Hotel. 


Early in 1845 the first YMCA employee, T. H. Tarlton, was appointed Secretary, and by Hitchcock’s help (George William’s employer) offices were taken in Serjeant’s Inn, Fleet Street.

It was through Tarlton that George Williams was able to persistently influence all phases of YMCA work. Often travelling together across the country, George would supply most of the ideas, improvements, methods, with the Secretary carrying them into effect.

Serjeants Inn is one of the City of London’s important historic sites.

It is said that during the 16th and 17th centuries the Inn formed the legal centre of England. The freehold of the Inn was given to the Deans and Chapter of York and Canterbury in 1409 and they held it until 1838 when it was sold to The Amicable Society to relieve financial difficulties. The Amicable Society, began the world’s first life insurance office, which later became the Norwich Union.

The gates of the original building were rediscovered in a scrap yard in 1937, and reinstalled in their former location.

BODY: Lower your chances of a stroke by 30%
Walking the equivalent of the heritage walk distance each week, just 21 minutes each day, can significantly cut the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Source: Harvard Medical School

MIND: The Wise & Meek will Understand!
Jesus’ words in Matthews Gospel Chapter 10 verse 16 will guide you to the moto which greeted the YMCA’s first employee each day.

SPIRIT: … a Blessing for YMCA Employees
May God grant you patience in your daily task. Wisdom to discern the right path to follow. Strength to persevere, compassion to understand, and humility which enables goodness to flow, and others to flourish.


The site of the famous Exeter Hall.

LOCATION: Now occupied by The Strand Palace Hotel. See map below.

READ: Strand – Info

NEXT: Continue in the same direction along Strand. At Charing Cross Station, folk right and walk along  Duncannon Street toward St Martin in the Fields.


All that remain is Exeter Street which runs up the side of where the building used to be.

Built in 18xx, (The site id now occupied by The Strand Palace Hotel), Exeter Hall was a forerunner of the modern ‘conference centres.’

Owned by a group of Christian trustees, it held many of the annual gatherings for non-conformist churches.

Very early on YMCA decided education through public lectures should be one of its main activities. Exeter Hall was selected and hired as the focal point for these lectures which were an innovation, unseen in Victorian England before.

Between 1845 -1865 the Exeter Hall Lectures offered education to the less privileged beyond school age. The committee reported that 171,213 copies were sold of the printed individual lectures of the fifth course. This was still long before the 1870 Act which made education compulsory in Britain.

In 1880, when Exeter Hall was put up for sale, George Williams was compelled to find means to purchase it for the Association. He and four other ‘gentlemen’ each contributed £5,000 for the purchase (175 years later, the equivalent of £600,000 each). For 27 years Exeter Hall was the headquarters of the London YMCA, and from 1882 (on its creation), the offices of the National Council of YMCAs – now known as YMCA England & Wales.

BODY: Improve your Mood and Mental Wellbeing
Walking helps you maintain a positive sense of wellbeing, and can even relieve depression. When done as part of a group, the social benefits also reduce isolation and loneliness.

MIND: Sooty & Dark !
Across from the Hall, and down the Way, was a place ‘good’ YMCA members would have avoided.

SPIRIT: … a Blessing for YMCA innovation & influence
May God grant you: Imagination to go where others have not yet gone. New ways to share old truths. Grace and patience to listen well to others, and the confidence and courage to speak truth to power.


The venue for the YMCA 175th Anniversary Celebration Service.

LOCATION: At the ‘top’ north-east corner of Trafalgar Square. See map below

READ: St Martin in the Fields – Info

NEXT: Before you leave the Church, check-out the surprisingly large café in the Crypt, for refreshments. Then … Walk across Trafalgar Square, past Nelson’s Column. Carefully cross the traffic roundabout (with the Equestrian Statue of Charles I) and walk along Whitehall.  Walk past Horse Guards (and the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment guards), and past Downing Street (residence of the Prime Minister) toward Parliament Square. Westminster Abbey is on the far side (south) of the Square.


The celebration service took place at 2pm on Thursday 6th June 2019, led by YMCA Youth Ambassadors.

Over 30 young people contributed to the service, drawn from YMCAs across the UK, in front of a packed 500+ strong congregation.

Participants also included YMCA EW President, Archbishop John Sentamu, YMCA World Secretary General Carlos Sanvee, YMCA Europe Secretary General Juan Simoes Iglesias and music from the YMCA Gospel Choir, and St Martin’s Voices.

The earliest record of a church on this site dates back to 1222, when it would have been surrounded by fields. The present building designed by James Gibbs was completed  in 1726.

Since 1948 St Martin in the Fields has been serving homeless people within the borough of Westminster.  Today, The Connection at St-Martin-In-The-Fields helps 200+ people every day through its daytime and night services. In faith, ministry and mission,  St Martin in the Fields has great synergy with YMCA, and we thank them for their support with our special celebration.

BODY: Chill Out
A perfect way to destress – walking enables you to zone-out of your daily worries, and the endorphins released will leave you feeling much better.

MIND: Rock Baby!
Which baby is featured in the YMCA founding basis?

SPIRIT: … a Celebration of Thanks
Let us celebrate together: A heritage of good works, prayerful outreach and dedicated service. Hearts, hands and voices united in works of peace and joy. Our housing officers, youth workers, cleaners, caretakers, teachers, childcare practitioners, gym instructors, managers, support staff and chaplains, … and as we thank God for our past, let us pray for a hope-filled future.


A huge stained glass window is installed in the Abbey, commemorating the work of the YMCA during the first World War. Parliament Square

There are two ways to see the window inside the Abbey. (1) as a paying tourist, complete with audio visual guide & headset. Allow 1 ½ – 2 hrs for this experience. (2) as a participant in one of the daily services. Allow 30 – 45 minutes. Check details at https://www.westminster-abbey.org

LOCATION: Enter on the West side. See map below.

READ: Westminster Abbey – Info

NEXT: Congratulations! You’ve completed the Heritage Walk Challenge. You’re now in the heart of London’s governance. From here you could, view the Houses of Parliament & Big Ben, take a trip along the Thames, or walk through St James Park to Buckingham Palace. Enjoy the rest of your visit. {Nearest Tube Station: Westminster. Opposite Big Ben}


Enter the Abbey through its west doors. The YMCA window is the third main window on the right.

The window commemorates the service rendered by the YMCA during the First World War, and also its founder Sir George Williams.

Two portraits of Sir George appear at the base of the window, in youth and old age, together with the red triangle and World Alliance of YMCAs logos.

Colin Williams, great-great grandson of Sir George, and former Vice President of the YMCA, was a donor to the Abbey’s recent restoration appeal, and a small window for him, with the YMCA badge, can be found in the Abbey’s Lady Chapel.

BODY: Keep Your Weight in Check
Using up more energy than we take in is the only way to lose weight. A daily walk can help burn off some of those calories, and help tone and strengthen your muscles.

MIND: 4 in 10!
She was killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

SPIRIT: … a Blessing for YMCA’s Responding to Needs
May God grant you the serenity to accept the things you cannot chang., Courage to change the things you can. And the wisdom to know the difference.

Copyright 2019 | YMCA175 | All rights reserved