Ian Fagelson’s tours in London prove to be a huge hit

He is out in all weather – most recently during a pair of winter storms – with “enthusiasm” and “expert knowledge” that has impressed Trip Advisor reviewers.

Ian Fagelson showing tourists the site of the first synagogue in London (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ian Fagelson showing tourists the site of the first synagogue in London
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When Ian Fagelson retired from his job as a partner in a London law firm, he wanted to keep his mind active. He completed a master’s degree in history and took a cooking course. But then an advertisement for tour-guide training caught his eye.
Two years of study qualified him as a City of London and Westminster tour guide. Some 18 months later, the 68-year-old has made it into Tripadvisor’s top-10 London tour guides from a list of close to 1,400.
As a history buff and “people person,” Fagelson had decided it “might be fun” to design and lead tours with the proceeds going to charity. To date, his tours have raised more than £25,000 for the Norwood and World Jewish Relief charity organizations.
He is out in all weather – most recently during a pair of winter storms – with “enthusiasm” and “expert knowledge” that has impressed Trip Advisor reviewers.
His tour topics include Jewish history, Shakespeare and the “quite popular” sex and vice in Covent Garden, which focuses on the sex industry in the 1660s.
“At the time, Covent Garden was the red light district where all sorts of things would go on,” Fagelson explains. “On the tour, we visit pubs and cover their various sordid histories. For some reason, people seem to quite like that one.”
His Jewish tour is different to others in that “I deliberately don’t cover the East End – there are loads of great tours in that area that people can already do. But there is a Jewish history all over London that people don’t know about.”
The £15 tour covers almost 1,000 years of Jewish history, from the arrival of a Jewish community from Normandy in 1066 to the child Kindertransport refugees of 1938.
“On our journey from Bank to Liverpool Street, we encounter the Jews of medieval London, the unfortunate Jewish doctor who inspired the creation of Shylock, Queen Victoria’s favorite prime minister, the Jewish stockbroker who saved the British economy during the 1745 Jacobite rising and the Protestant rabble-rouser who became an Orthodox Jew.”
Fagelson – who lives in Hampstead Garden Suburb and is a New North London Synagogue member – is “delighted” to have made Trip Advisor’s top 10. “It is a really nice feeling to know people have gone online to make the effort.”
For him, the best thing about the tours is the opportunity “to meet people from all over the world. It takes all sorts but there is something about walking tours – the people who take them are always nice.”
One Chinese woman was so enamored by the Jewish history tour that she invited him to see Fiddler on the Roof with her to explain what was going on. “I get a lot of bookings from Chinese tourists who are fascinated with Jews and Jewish history.”
He enjoys “researching bespoke tours for people who are interested in specific things” and recently designed a medical research tour of London for a group of doctors.
“I love taking people to places they have never been before and people love the fact that the money goes to charity.”
An added incentive is Fagelson’s personal connection to Norwood, as the charity has supported his son Jonathan, who has a learning disability, since birth.
“Norwood has been wonderful to my family, which is why I am very active in fundraising for it and always have been,” he said. “They have helped Jonathan enormously with his self-confidence and cognitive abilities.”
His 30-year-old son is currently involved in Norwood’s “Sara’s Kitchen” project, which offers young adults courses in catering and barista training, while also developing their independence and social skills.
As well as raising money for Jewish charities, Fagelson has designed tours to support other good causes, including Child.org, which works to lift people and communities out of poverty.   
This article was originally published in ‘The Jewish Chronicle’ and is reprinted with permission.


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