Day 52 – Houses of Parliament – Westminster Abbey – Parliament Square

A pretty meaty one this to the say the least; with two of inarguably the three most iconic and important buildings in London to cover off (the third being St Pauls’ Cathedral – sorry, Buckingham Palace). So most of today’s excursion is taken up with visits to the Houses of Parliament (or, more precisely, the Palace of Westminster) and Westminster Abbey, though we did manage to fit in a few actual streets to the south and west of those behemoths before circling back to Parliament Square.

Day 52 Route

Starting out from Westminster tube station we cross Bridge Street and head along the south side of Parliament Square to the public entrance of the Houses of Parliament at Cromwell Green. After an inspection of my ticket – I’ve booked the audio guide tour – I make my way down the ramp at the bottom of which the airport-style security check awaits. En route we pass the statue of Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658), one of only two in the grounds of the Palace of Westminster. The statue was erected in 1899 in the face of fierce opposition from the Irish National Party owing to Cromwell’s ravages against the Catholic population of Ireland. In the end Parliament only approved the statue because an anonymous benefactor, later revealed to be ex-Prime Minister Lord Roseberry, agreed to fund it. After his death Cromwell was originally buried, with great ceremony, in Westminster Abbey. However, following the restoration of Charles II, his body was exhumed and subjected to a posthumous execution and his severed head displayed on a pole outside Westminster Hall (for twenty-four years).

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Given the scaffolding in evidence in the picture above, including the complete coverage of Big Ben, this is perhaps the time to note that, after series of protracted debates, both the House of Commons and the House of Lords voted in early 2018 in favour of a temporary decampment from the PoW to allow a long overdue so-called Restoration and Renewal programme to take place.  They won’t be vacating the premises until 2025 however so you’ve still got plenty of time to visit before it’s closed down for six years (at least).

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First port of call, and where you pick up the audio guide, is Westminster Hall (on the right above minus Cromwell’s severed head). This is the oldest part of the PoW and has, miraculously, survived intact since it was built by William II (aka William Rufus) son of William the Conqueror in 1097. The magnificent oak hammer-beam roof, commissioned in 1393 by Richard II, is the largest medieval timber roof in Northern Europe measuring 68ft by 240ft. In addition to the new roof, Richard also installed statues of every king of England from Edward the Confessor to himself in niches in the walls (only 6 now remain). Ironically, the first event to take place in the hall after Richard’s redevelopments was his own deposition by Henry IV in 1399. On 16 October 1834 a fire broke out in the Palace when two underfloor stoves that were injudiciously being used to destroy the Exchequer’s stockpile of tally sticks ignited panelling in the Lords Chamber. The two Houses were both completely destroyed but Westminster Hall was saved, partly by its thick Medieval walls  and partly because the PM, Lord Melbourne, directed the fire fighters to focus their efforts on dousing the Hall’s timber roof.

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There are a number of brass plaques embedded in the floor of the Hall commemorating events of historic significance that have taken place there, including the passing of the death sentence on Sir Thomas More in 1535. The stairs at southern end of the Hall were created by architect Charles Barry in 1850 along with a new arch window as part of his post-fire renovations. Turning left at the top of these stairs brings us to the entrance to St Stephen’s Hall above which can be seen the light sculpture New Dawn created by, artist-in-residence, Mary Branson, in commemoration of the campaign for women’s suffrage and unveiled in 2016.

St Stephen’s Hall started life as St Stephen’s Chapel in 1292 and was the in-house place of worship for the reigning Kings of England up to Henry VIII. In 1550, two years after the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry’s son Edward IV gave the chapel over to the House of Commons for use as their debating chamber. The chapel was destroyed by the fire of 1834 and was reconstituted as St Stephen’s Hall as part of Charles Barry’s restoration work. Following the destruction wrought during WWII the hall once again became the venue for sessions of the Commons from 1945 to 1950 while the Commons Chamber was being rebuilt.

On either side of the Hall are statues of famous parliamentarians including John Hampden, Robert Walpole, William Pitt and Charles James Fox and on either side of the doorways are statues of early Kings and Queens of England. The paintings on the walls depict various important events in British history, while the ten stained-glass windows, five on either side, depict the arms of various parliamentary cities and boroughs; these were damaged in air raids during the Second Word War and since restored.

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St Stephen’s Hall represents the last opportunity to take photographs inside the Palace of Westminster; beyond here it’s strictly verboten. As a consequence I won’t dwell too long on the rest of the tour which takes us into the Central Lobby where we turn right to pass through the Peers Lobby, the Lords Chamber, the Royal Gallery and the Robing Room and back again. Traversing the Central Lobby for a second time gains access to the Members Lobby and the Commons Chamber. Now on the day of my visit neither of the Houses was sitting so it was possible to get right in among the green and red benches (though of course you’re not allowed to sit on them). When either of the Chambers are in session visitors can, of course, view the debates from the respective public galleries – no tickets required except for PMQs. The visitor’s gallery in the Commons is formally known as the Strangers’ Gallery. Back in the 1930’s according to my guidebook “any Foreigners desirous of listening to a debate” needed to apply to their Ambassadors”. There was also a separate Ladies’ Gallery back then though persons of the female persuasion had recently also been granted access to the main viewing gallery. The grilles referred to below were installed over the windows in the Ladies’ Gallery (earning it the nickname “the Cage”) so the women could see out but men could not see in, and therefore not be distracted by the women watching them. They were removed in 1917 following a petition from the London Society for Women’s Suffrage and just a couple of months after the passing of the bill giving the vote to women over the age of 30.

Galleries

Once the tour is over we leave the HoP and head across to the South-West corner of Parliament Square and follow Broad Sanctuary down to the entrance to Westminster Abbey.  As ever my timing is the complete opposite of impeccable since if I’d just waited a couple more weeks then the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries would have been open. Reached via the newly-built Weston Tower, the first major addition to the abbey since 1745, these apparently offer stunning views down into the nave of the church as well as housing 300 treasures from the Abbey’s collection selected to reflect it’s thousand-year history. Still, I expect the queues are going to be absolutely horrendous. It’s busy enough on the day of my visit though having pre-booked a ticket online I get in pretty quickly. At £20 a time (£22 if you buy on the day) the revenue from visitors to the Abbey is probably sufficient to keep the Church of England solvent all on its own. Despite the crowds it’s not that unpleasant shuffling round; I suspect it’s the free audio guides rather than piety that keeps the noise to a minimum and the no-photography rule is universally adhered to.

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Westminster Abbey can trace its origins back to the middle of the eleventh century when Edward the Confessor built a new stone church dedicated to St Peter alongside an existing Benedictine monastery founded around a hundred years earlier. This church became known as the “west minster” to distinguish it from St Paul’s Cathedral (the east minster) in the City of London. Unfortunately, when the new church was consecrated on 28 December 1065 the King was too ill to attend and died a few days later, his mortal remains being entombed in front of the High Altar. This set something of a trend since when King Henry III (1207 – 1272) had the Abbey rebuilt in the new Gothic style he died before the nave could be completed. Henry did however have time to transfer the body of Edward the Confessor (by then sanctified as Saint Edward) into a more magnificent tomb behind the High Altar in the new church. This shrine survives and around it are buried a cluster of medieval kings and their consorts including Henry III himself, Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, Richard II and Anne of Bohemia and Henry V. Westminster Abbey is of course irrevocably linked with the history of the English/British monarchy. Every monarch since William the Conqueror has been crowned in the Abbey, with the exception of Edward V and Edward VIII (abdicated) who were never crowned. The ancient Coronation Chair can still be seen in the church. Elizabeth I was buried in the vault of her grandfather, Henry VII, in the so-called Lady Chapel which he had constructed in 1516. Her successor, James I, didn’t attend her funeral service but he later had a white marble monument erected in her memory in a chapel adjacent to the Lady Chapel. Although a few years after that he had a taller and grander memorial installed for his mother, Mary Queen of Scots.

But it’s not just royalty that’s buried and/or commemorated in the Abbey of course. When Geoffrey Chaucer was buried here in 1400 it was because he was Clerk of The King’s Works not for his literary achievements. However, nearly 200 years later, when Edmund Spenser (of Faerie Queene fame) asked to be buried next to Chaucer the concept of Poet’s Corner was born and continues to this day. Deciding which dead writers merit the honour of being immortalised in Poet’s Corner is the prerogative of the Deans of Westminster.  Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Handel and Laurence Olivier are among those whose actual remains lie here while Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Lord Byron and a host of others are memorialised in brass or stone. The most recent additions to the pantheon include Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin and David Frost.

As I noted already there’s no photography allowed inside the abbey so the next selection of photographs are all of or from within the College Garden and the Little Cloister Garden. Before we get to that those though I just wanted to record one personal highlight of the tour which is the murals in the Chapter House. These were painted in the late 14th century at the instigation of one of the monks of Westminster, John of Northampton, and depict scenes from the New Testament’s Revelation of St John the Divine (otherwise known as the Apocalypse). Only fragments of the paintings remain and many of those that do are extremely faint but this ghost-like appearance only adds to their macabre impact.

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We exit the Abbey on its west side opposite the Crimea and Indian Mutiny memorial which sits inside a triangular island created by Victoria Street and The Sanctuary. Turning south we pass through the gatehouse of the octagonal turreted building  known as The Sanctuary built to the design of Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1853-54. Nowadays this accommodates the Deanery of the Abbey and also the Attorney Generals’ Office.

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On the other side of the gatehouse is Dean’s Yard which comprises most of the remaining precincts of the former monastery of Westminster, not occupied by the Abbey buildings. The East side consists of buildings occupied by Westminster School, the South by Church House, the headquarters of the Church of England and the West by Westminster Abbey Choir School.
Historically the Abbey was one of the last ecclesiastical sanctuaries to surrender its ancient rights, with the result that the precincts were largely occupied by the most undesirable and dangerous of inhabitants. They were held in check by the Abbot’s own penal jurisdiction, and by the knowledge that the Abbot could instantly expel them to their fate at the hands of the Common Law. Westminster School displays a royal pardon of Charles II for the King’s Scholars who murdered a bailiff harassing the mistress of one of the scholars in Dean’s Yard, allegedly in outrage at the breach of traditional sanctuary although it had been legally abolished by then.

After a circuit of Dean’s Yard we leave the same way we came in, head back up to Victoria Street and after a few steps to the left turn south down Great Smith Street. Take a right next into Abbey Orchard Street past the Department of Education building and down to the end where it forks in two by Companies House. This unprepossessing building is just the London office and information centre; the actual Registrar of Companies (for England & Wales) is down in Cardiff.

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Taking the left fork we drop down onto Old Pye Street and continue west. On reaching Strutton Ground we turn south as far as Great Peter Street where we head back eastward. On the corner with Perkin’s Rents we have today’s pub of the day (the first in a long while), The Speaker. Aptly-named given its location of course and though it doesn’t look much from the outside the interior is salubrious enough and they do a damn fine bacon, brie and onion chutney bagel to go with a decent selection of beers. Used by male House of Commons researchers as a venue for mansplaining to their female colleagues (on the evidence of this one visit).

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In Victorian times, the area round here was a notorious slum known as the Devil’s Acre.  The houses were mostly occupied by what a contemporary described as “mendicants, hawkers, costermongers, lodging house keepers, thieves and abandoned females of irregular and intemperate habits” and it wasn’t unusual for 10 to 12 people to share a room. The slum was cleared from 1877 onward and the Peabody Trust built one of their estates to replace a large part of it.

We pass through the middle of the estate up Perkin’s Rents back to Old Pye Street then follow that east to its junction with St Ann’s Street and turn south back down to Great Peter Street. Here we turn east as far as Great Smith Street and head north towards the Abbey again. On the west side of the street is the Westminster Library which when it was built in 1891 incorporated a public baths and wash house. The baths themselves were removed in 1990 when that part of the building was turned into the Westminster Archive Centre but if you look in the top left corner of the picture below you can see the original sculpted panels of swimmers created by Henry Poole (1873 – 1928).
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We turn right opposite into Little Smith Street which runs through to Tufton Street. At no.11 resides J. Wippell & Company, suppliers of clerical vestments and church furnishings. The Wippell family set up in business in the West Country in 1789 but this London shop was established just over a hundred years later.

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Proceeding north up Tufton Street brings us to Great College Street where we turn right briefly, past the southern end of Westminster School, before diverting into Barton Street. Barton Street and Cowley Street, which comes off it at a right angle, are fertile ground for blue plaque hunters. No.14 Barton Street is the one-time home of T.E Lawrence (1888 – 1935) better known of course as Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence lived here while writing Seven Pillars of Wisdom and account of his experiences working for British Military Intelligence in the near east during WW1.

Round the corner at no.6 Cowley Street Lord Reith (1889 – 1971), the first Director-General of the BBC, lived from 1924 – 1930. Despite having no broadcasting experience (though it’s hard to see where he would have got any at that time) he got the job as general manager of the newly formed BBC in 1922 and stayed in the lead role until 1938. He is memorialised by the BBC’s annual series of Reith Lectures which began in 1948.

Across the road no.16 was the home of legendary luvvie Sir John Gielgud (1904 -2000) from 1945 to 1976. Gielgud’s career spanned almost 80 years, ranging from leading roles in Hamlet and King Lear on the stage to playing the butler to Dudley Moore’s Arthur for which he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Nothing to do with these famous ghosts but if I could have my pick of somewhere to live in London then Barton Street / Cowley Street would be very high up on the list.

There’s a small second section of Cowley Street, perpendicular to the main stretch, which emerges back out on Great Peter Street. Then the next northward turning is Little College Street which takes us back to Great College Street from where it’s a short hop east to Abingdon Street, on the other side of which are the Victoria Tower Gardens. At the entrance to the gardens stands the memorial to the mother and daughter leading lights of the Suffragette movement, Emmeline (1858 – 1928) and Christabel (1880 – 1958) Pankhurst. The main feature of the memorial is a bronze statue of Emmeline by Arthur George Walker which was unveiled in 1930. Shortly after Christabel’s death the statue was moved to its present location and bronze reliefs commemorating her achievements were added.

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On the river embankment wall is a green plaque in memory of Sir Thomas Pierson Frank (1881 – 1951) who as Chief Engineer for the London County Council during WW2  directed repair operations to public infrastructure including the Thames wall such that although this was hit at least 121 times during the war years the city never flooded.

Above left is a shot of the southern end of the Palace of Westminster showing the Victoria Tower after which the gardens are named. I mentioned earlier that there were just two statues in the grounds of the PoW and we pass the second of those as we return towards the Palace via Abingdon Street and through Old Palace Yard. The equestrian statue of Richard I (popularly known as Lionheart or Coeur de Lion) was created by Baron Carlo Marochetti (who collaborated with Landseer on the Trafalgar Square lions if you remember). The statue was originally produced in clay for the Great Exhibition of 1851 then funds were raised to enable it to be cast in bronze and it was installed in Old Palace Yard in 1860.

Having arrived back at the HoP we cross the road again and set off on an clockwise circuit of Parliament Square. Plans for the Parliament Square Garden were included in Charles Barry’s design for the new Houses of Parliament following the 1834 fire but the gardens weren’t laid out until 1868.  The first batch of statues were erected between 1874 and 1883 as monuments to the nineteenth century Prime Ministers; the Earl of Derby, Viscount Palmerston, Robert Peel and Benjamin Disraeli. Most of the others were installed after the post-WWII redesign of the garden to commemorate both giants of 20th century British parliamentary history and iconic world statesmen. So, in the slides below, we have, respectively :

  • Nelson Mandela, sculpted by Ian Walters (2007) in the foreground with Sir Robert Peel sculpted by Matthew Noble (1876) beyond him and in the background Abraham Lincoln (1920).
  • Mahatma Ghandi sculpted by Philip Jackson (2015) in the foreground and Benjamin Disraeli sculpted by Mario Raggi (1883) behind him.
  • The most recent addition to the pantheon and the first woman to be granted the honour – Dame Millicent Fawcett (1847 – 1929) sculpted by Gillian Wearing (2018). The statue was erected to coincide with the centenary of women being granted the vote. Millicent Fawcett was a leader of the suffragist arm of the campaign for votes for women who were less militant than the suffragettes though unlike the suffragettes they didn’t call a halt to their campaigning during the First World War.  The words on the banner her statue holds are from a speech she made after the death of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison.
  • George Canning sculpted by Sir Richard Westmacott (1832 but moved to its present location in 1949).
  • David Lloyd George sculpted by Glynn Williams (2007)
  • Winston Churchill sculpted by Ivor Robert-Jones (1973)

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Final port of call for today is the Supreme Court Building which stands on Little George Street which runs parallel with the west side of the square. The building, originally known as the Middlesex Guildhall, dates from 1913 and was designed in the neo-gothic style by Scottish architect, James Gibson. The Supreme Court is the highest court of appeal in the UK but it has only been in existence since 2009; prior to that the House of Lords (or rather the Law Lords) occupied the top-tier of the British legal pyramid. It was the Constitutional Reform Act of 2005 that led to the creation of the Supreme Court in order to fully separate the legislature from Parliament. The Supreme Court doesn’t conduct trials as such; it sits in order to determine whether the correct interpretation of the law has been applied in civil cases that are referred to it for appeal. The Justices of the SC, currently numbering eleven and appointed by an independent selection commission, determine which cases they will hear based on the extent to which they raise ‘points of law of general public importance’.  The same 11 justices also form The Judicial Committee of The Privy Council (JCPC) which is the court of final appeal for the UK’s overseas territories and Crown dependencies, as well as many Commonwealth countries.

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Day 51 (Part 2) – Victoria Embankment – Whitehall – Horse Guards Road

Second leg of this one resumes outside New (Old New) Scotland Yard on the Victoria Embankment, proceeds down to Westminster tube, goes up Parliament Street and Whitehall past Downing Street and cuts through Horse Guards Parade before finishing at the Mall.

Day 51 Route

I had hoped to take a look at the Crime Museum (aka The Black Museum) attached to New Scotland Yard but it turns out it’s only accessible to serving police officers. So with the river on my left I walk down the Victoria Embankment to Westminster Tube and then turn right up Westminster Bridge Road towards Parliament Square. Heading away from the square north up Parliament Street on its west side the next major government building that comes our way is HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs). This stands back to back with HM Treasury (of which more later) as part of a complex of government buildings developed between 1908 and 1917, originally called the New Public Offices but later referred to as GOGGS (Government Offices Great George Street). Great George Street flanks the southern side of the buildings.

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Across the road is the Red Lion pub which is the closest hostelry to Downing Street, though the last sitting Prime Minister to pop in for a drink apparently was Edward Heath. Less surprising is the fact that Charles Dickens was a regular back in the day (since just about every pub in central London claims the old literary boozehound as a one-time habitué).

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The next block up, standing to the west of the cenotaph where Parliament Street changes into Whitehall, is home to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This was completed in 1868 and was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811 – 1878) who was later responsible for the Midland Hotel at St Pancras (see Day 9).  Scott designed the new Foreign Office as ‘a kind of national palace or drawing room for the nation’ with the use of rich decoration to impress foreign visitors. The building is adorned with a series of sculptural reliefs which, in typical Victorian fashion, take the form of a woman with her top at least half off accessorised to represent either a geographic area or a high concept. So in these creations of H.H Armistead and J. Birnie Philip we have Australia, Africa, America, Asia and Europe (more modestly depicted than the others of course) along with Education, Government, Law, Literature, Agriculture, Manufacture and Commerce. And I didn’t choose this one so I could make some cheap jug-based quip – it just happened to be the easiest to photograph.

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Which brings us to Downing Street and something of a breakdown in the mission because, since 1989, access to the street has been blocked by a security checkpoint and it has been patrolled by armed police since the IRA mortar bomb attack of 1991. The street is named after the diplomat George Downing (1624 – 1684) who had the street and its houses built in the 1680’s. Described by the official Government website as unpleasant, miserly and brutal, Downing came to prominence under Cromwell and then switched allegiance with alacrity when the Restoration became inevitable. For his assistance in purging many of his former Parliamentarian allies he was knighted by Charles II in 1660. The first Prime Minister to take up residence at no. 10 was Sir Robert Walpole in 1735, it having been presented to him by King George II. It was used on and off by subsequent 18th century Prime Ministers more as an office than as a home. Viscount Goderich engaged Sir John Soane to do a makeover on the house in the 1820’s but this didn’t tempt any of his immediate successors to move in. And although no.11 was made the official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1828 the surrounding area became increasingly seedy and demolition looked a real possibility. However during the era when Disraeli and Gladstone traded the premiership the house was refurbished and modernised several times. It was later fully renovated during the 1950’s and again in the Thatcher and Blair years. The IRA mortar bomb mentioned above was fired from a white transit van in Whitehall and exploded in the garden of Number 10, only a few metres away from where then PM John Major was chairing a Cabinet meeting to discuss the Gulf War.

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We’ve passed over many of the statues and memorials on Whitehall but I quite admire this equestrian bronze of Field Marshal Earl Haig (1861 – 1928), a 1936 work of Alfred Hardiman. At the time, however, it aroused considerable controversy on account of the riding position and the stance of the horse. Earl Haig commanded the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front during WW1 including during the Battle of the Somme which saw the highest number of casualties in British military history. Although treated as a national hero in the aftermath of the war subsequent reappraisals of his wartime strategies have earned him the soubriquet “Butcher of the Somme”. Bizarrely there is a football club in Argentina named after him. Club Atletico Douglas Haig was founded in 1918 and currently plays in the second tier of Argentinian football.

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We continue a short way further up Whitehall and turn left to pass through the central arch of the Horse Guards building to get to Horse Guards Parade. The first building on the site was commissioned by Charles II in 1663 but the current one dates from the reign of George II. The originally commissioned architect for the new building, William Kent, more or less retained the plan of the original with its clocktower, courtyard and two oversize sentry boxes but utilised the then fashionable Palladian style of architecture. The Duke of Wellington was based here while Commander in Chief of the British Army. The building is still in use by the military and also houses the Household Cavalry Museum (gave that one a miss). There are a lot of jobs I don’t envy people having to do but standing for hours in full military regalia while gurning tourists act the prat in front of you must be high up on the list.

Horse Guards Parade occupies the site of the old Palace of Whitehall’s tiltyard where jousting tournaments were held in the time of Henry VIII. For much of the 20th century is was used as a car park for civil servants but following that mortar attack a review of security arrangements recommended that it be restored to public use. So in 1996 it was resurfaced and a year later car parking banned (apart from tourist coaches apparently). Horse Guards Parade notoriously hosted the beach volleyball tournament during the London 2012 Olympics.

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Circling around the Parade we arrive on Horse Guards Road to the east of St James’s Park and head north back up to the Mall. We turn right towards Admiralty Arch as far as the bronze statue of Captain James Cook (1728 – 1779), by Thomas Brock and erected in 1914, before doubling back. Cook, born the son of a farm worker, is one of the most remarkable examples of 18th century social mobility. After his success in exploring and mapping the Antipodes, Cook’s luck ran out on his third voyage to the South Pacific when a dispute with Hawaiian islanders escalated to the point where he tried to take a local leader hostage and in the ensuing melee was stabbed and killed.

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Incidentally, the flag on the left there is that of Mozambique, one of the many put up along the Mall for the meeting of the Heads of Commonwealth. As you can see it includes an image of an AK-47 rifle – meant to represent defence and vigilance. It’s one of three national flags to feature a firearm, the others being Guatemala and Luxembourg (only kidding it’s actually Haiti). In 2005 a competition was held to design a new flag; a winner was selected from 119 entries but rejected by the ruling government.

So we head right down to the southern end of Horse Guards Road and HM Treasury which occupies the western side of GOGGS (hopefully you were paying attention earlier) and has been based here since 1940. The royal treasure was originally located in Winchester, and was moved to the Whitehall area following the Norman Conquest. The Treasury then operated from the Exchequer Receipt Office in Westminster Cloisters until the Restoration in 1660. On ascending to the throne Charles II, perhaps wanting to keep a close eye on his finances, allocated it rooms in Whitehall Palace. In 1698 a huge blaze, caused by a servant airing some linen too close to the fire, destroyed all of the Palace but the Banqueting House (see last post) and Cardinal Wolsey’s wine cellar which is now under the Ministry of Defence building. Following the fire, the homeless Treasury moved to Henry VIII’s former Cockpit (near today’s Horse Guards Parade). Then in 1734 a new Treasury was built by William Kent on Horse Guards and this was later joined by an adjacent expansion building designed by John Soane. Both those buildings were severely damaged by bombs in 1940 prompting the move to GOGGS.

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In the north-west corner of GOGGS you can visit Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms. In the build–up to the Second World War, the government began looking for a strong basement in which a map room and a Cabinet Room could be constructed without major alterations. The basement of GOGGS was chosen, not only because it was convenient for Downing Street, but because its concrete frame 2 would help prevent the collapse of the building if it received a direct hit from a bomb. Initially, only a few rooms were commandeered but when Horse Guards was bombed on October 14, 1940, wrecking parts of 10 Downing Street, all Churchill’s staff moved into GOGGS. After the war the War Rooms were left in aspic, with access restricted to small groups and strictly regulated, until the Imperial War Museum took them over and opened them up to the public in 1984.

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The entrance to the War Rooms is located at the western end of King Charles Street which intersects GOGGS (I may have overdone that particular acronym just a tad) and the Foreign Office. In the middle of the steps leading up to the street stands a statue of Robert Clive (aka Clive of India) (1725 – 1774) by John Tweed which was positioned here in 1916 having been unveiled outside what is now the Welsh Office on Whitehall four years earlier. Clive is indelibly associated with the British East India Company and its excursions into India, laying the foundations for the establishment of the Raj. His finest hour came in 1756 when, having just been appointed as a Lieutenant Colonel and Deputy Governor of Fort St David, he re-took the city of Calcutta from the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj ud Daula, with just 3,000 men against the Nawab’s 68,000-strong French-backed army. This led to release of 23 out of 146 captured Britons held in the so-called “Black Hole of Calcutta”, a cell just 18 feet square. Though that doesn’t necessarily compensate for his overall impact on Anglo-Indian relations.

At the other end of King Charles Street is a triumphal arch connecting the Foreign Office and Treasury buildings erected in 1908 and incorporating a frieze by sculptor Paul Montford of nine figures representing trade and travel by sea.

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And so with just a short stroll back to Westminster tube station to finish that’s Whitehall and its surroundings done and dusted. Next time it’s the turn of Parliament.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 18 – Clerkenwell – Farringdon – Hatton Garden – Holborn

Today’s route is another compact one covering the area bounded by Gray’s Inn Road to the west, St John Street to the east and Holborn to the south. Highlights include a visit to the Museum of the Order of St John (try and contain yourself please) and a stroll around the (in)famous home of the London diamond trade, Hatton Garden.

Day 18 Route

We start in familiar territory and quickly knock off the triangle of streets that are bordered by (and sunken beneath) Rosebery Avenue, Clerkenwell Road and Farringdon Road. Despite some great names: Coldbath Square, Crawford Passage, Bakers Row, Warner Street, Eyre Street Hill, Back Hill, Summers Street, Ray Street and Herbal Hill have only this temporary resident to tempt open the camera lens.

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Like most things though this is a matter of timing. This area of Clerkenwell (and a bit beyond) was once known as “Little Italy” due to the influx of about 2,000 immigrants from that country in the 1850’s. It remains something of a spiritual home to London’s Italian community due to St Peter’s Church (on Clerkenwell Road) which is the force behind the Procession of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Sagra which takes place each July and brings this sunken enclave alive. I was fortunate enough to stumble across the procession, and its accompanying food and drink stalls, some years ago and have been trying to schedule a return visit ever since.

St Peter’s Church opened amid great celebration in 1863 and at the time was the only church in Britain designed in the Roman Basilican style. The painting below of the Beheading of John the Baptist is from the 17th century and by the hand of artist, Alessandro Turchi.

Leaving the church we head east along Clerkenwell Road as far as St John’s Square which  straddles the road. The north side of the square was included in one of our earlier posts. However, unlike on that occasion, St John’s Priory is open to visitors today. I won’t go through all the history again but for Tudor buffs would remind you that the Knights of St John were the last of the monastic orders to be abolished by Henry VIII (in 1540). Consequent upon that Henry took the priory and all its land and wealth which were second only to those of Glastonbury Abbey. Henry gave the priory itself to his daughter Mary to use and as a palace and on her accession to the throne she restored the Order only for Elizabeth to do away with it for good when she became queen.

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Across the road is St John’s Gate where the main part of the Museum resides. If, like me, you’ve seen anything of the recent TV series on the Crusades this is well worth a visit. There’s no entry fee and the museum does a great job in presenting the remarkable story of the Order and its survival.

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And it also provides the opportunity for today’s selfie-of-the day. I know what you’re thinking – not everyone can carry off the suit of armour look that well.

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Continuing down St John’s Lane we reach Passing Alley which according to several sources was known as Pissing Alley back in the days when an al-fresco emptying of the bladder was more in tune with public sensitivities.

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Just a couple of doors further down is this sign for E.Higgs Air Agency which upped and moved away several decades ago and was last heard of trading out of Bracknell under the name of Higgs International.

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At the end of St John’s Lane we turn right down Peter’s Lane to cut through to Cowcross Street whose name derives from the time (up until the 1850’s) when live animals were herded down here on their way to Smithfield Market. Turning west we arrive at Farringdon station which opened in 1863 as part of the first London underground line, the Metropolitan.  One of the finest looking tube stations in the capital it has fortunately been left unscathed by the developments for, firstly, Thameslink and now Crossrail.

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From here we turn briefly up Turnmill Street and then right into Benjamin Street. At the end of this is the Goldsmiths Centre which was opened in 2012 as a new training and education facility supported by the Goldsmiths’ Company (one of the 12 great livery companies of the City of London). The building combines an 1872-built Grade II listed Victorian school with a modern extension.

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Just round the corner, on another section of Peter’s Lane, the weathervane and bull’s head mouldings on what is now the Rookery Hotel are another reminder of the proximity to Smithfield Market.

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So next we snake round Eagle Court, Albion Place and Briset Street which brings us out onto Britton Street. Here we find Mountford House, a block of flats built in the 1970’s but which incorporates the 1901-03 façade (by E.W Mountford) from the offices of Booth’s Gin Distillery, demolished as part of the same redevelopment. The preservation of the façade represented a rare victory for the forces of conservation at that time.

At the top of Britton Street we turn left then head back down Turnmill Street and pass Farringdon station again via another stretch of Cowcross Street. We then head north up Farringdon Road before slipping into Saffron Street and cutting up Onslow Street to return to Clerkenwell Road before heading south again on Saffron Hill. Where this meets Greville Street sits today’s pub of the day, the One Tun, which was established as an alehouse in 1759 and was frequented in his day by our old friend, Charles Dickens. Reputedly this was this inspiration for the Three Cripples pub which appears in Oliver Twist and will be familiar to viewers of the BBC’s “Dickensian” series. Accordingly I should probably have had ‘a little drop of gin’ and a pie instead of a pint of Ubu bitter and a duck fried rice. (Shame that Booth’s Distillery’s no longer around).

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After leaving the pub we move north again up Kirby Street which leads into Hatton Place from where Hatton Wall crosses into Hatton Garden. Hatton Garden and the streets leading off it create the internationally renowned jewellery quarter and hub of the UK diamond trade. Recently of course it has become indelibly linked in the public consciousness with the April 2015 raid on the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company which occupies nos 88-90; the so-called “largest burglary in English legal history”.

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On reflection then I suppose I should have been a bit more circumspect in wielding the camera round these parts. (But I guess no-one would expect lightning to strike twice).

The “bluecoat” statues on the building below are indicative of the site of a charity school. This building was originally a church built after the great fire of London allegedly to a design of Sir Christopher Wren. It was converted to a charity school at the end of the 17th century, suffered serious bomb damage during WWII and upon rebuilding was named Wren House. Fortunately these statues had been sent to a college in Berkshire for safekeeping prior to the start of the Blitz.

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Treasure House at nos. 19-21 dates from 1907 and is embellished with a fine set of carvings relating to the gold trade.

The southern end of Hatton Garden forms one of the spokes of Holborn Circus. Heading west from here along Holborn (A40) we pass this statue of Prince Albert before turning right up Leather Lane.

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It’s been some years since I last visited Leather Lane market and I have to say it seems to have headed downmarket (so to speak) in the intervening time. Though in fairness the stallholders were packing up as I got there and my memory may be putting a bit of a gloss on its former status.

I did quite like the idea of the pie-minister though.

Having dipped in and out of St. Cross Street we exit the north end of Leather line by Portpool Lane and in doing so pass through the middle of the Bourne Estate. Constructed during the Edwardian era between 1905 and 1909 the estate represents one of London’s best examples of tenement housing and a number of the housing blocks have been Grade II listed. The Bourne Estate is the third of the three key estates built by the London County Council in the years of its greatest innovation. In Britain the Bourne Estate is the least known, but it has an international significance as the model for the much admired and highly influential public housing erected in Vienna immediately after the First World War.

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Portpool Lane terminates on Gray’s Inn Road and taking a left turn southward we call in on Verulam Street before taking the next left which is Baldwin Gardens. This brings us to the massive, and yet extremely well-hidden, Church of St Alban the Martyr. This one was originally built in 1859 to a design of William Butterfield. After being “burnt out” in 1941 it was restored during 1959-61 under the guiding hand of Adrian Gilbert Scott.  The large mural behind the altar, The Trinity in Glory (1966) and the paintings of the stations of the cross down the side are by Hans Feibusch, an artist of German Jewish extraction who after fleeing to Britain in in 1933 produced murals for 28 different Anglican churches. St Alban, incidentally, was beheaded by the Romans in Britain some time in the 3rd or 4th century A.D.

Baldwin Gardens takes us back to Leather Lane and then via Dorrington Street, Beauchamp Street and Brooke Street (with an “e”) we work our way back to Holborn and the site of the building called Holborn Bars but perhaps better known as the Prudential Assurance Building. This impressively monumental terracotta edifice in the Gothic Revival style was built in 1879 to the designs of Alfred Waterhouse (after whom the square which it surrounds came to be named). The Pru still own the building but since 1999 they no longer occupy it. In 1986, when they did, I had a temporary placement here and still remember the woman who sat opposite me and talked incessantly of nothing but her future wedding which was more than a year away. It was one of the longest weeks of my life.

This has been a bit of a marathon posting so well done if you’ve stuck with it right the way through. We’ve reached the final stop, you’ll be relieved to hear, which is Gresham College on the other side of Holborn. Gresham College was founded in 1597 and has been providing free public lectures throughout the more than 400 years since. From 1542 to 1959 the site which it occupies now, Barnards Inn, was home to the independent school operated by the Worshipful Company of Mercers.

 

 

 

 

Day 12 – Gray’s Inn Road -Pentonville Road – New River Head – Charles Dickens Museum

Bit of a meandering one today, largely covering the triangular area bounded by King’s Cross Road, Pentonville Road and Roseberry Avenue then returning to Gray’s Inn Road and ending up at the Charles Dickens Museum. Much of this area is comprised of the site known as New River Head which is integral to the story of London’s water supplies. This trip also takes us for the first time into the London Borough of Islington.

Day 12 Route

Begin within a return visit to Kings Cross and take the Scala on the corner of Pentonville Road and King’s Cross Bridge Road as the starting point. Originally opening as a cinema in 1920, the Scala has had many incarnations including a brief ill-fated stint in the late seventies as a Primatarium (a specially made-up word I suspect). This monkeying around lasted all of 18 months before the venue reverted to being a cinema and also hosting live music performances. That continued until 1993 when the Scala Cinema Club went into receivership after losing a court case over an illegal screening of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. After a radical make-over it was resurrected in 1999 as a concert and club venue. Unfortunately the building is completely swathed in scaffolding for repainting at present.

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Cut through onto the top end of Gray’s Inn Road where the familiar un-tarted up Kings Cross lives on.

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On the opposite side of the road is Willing House, now a Travelodge but originally built around 1910 in a ‘Free Baroque’ style for the Willing family, whose fortune was founded on billboard sites.

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The streets which intersect between Gray’s Inn and King’s Cross Road have little of real interest but the photos below give some flavour of St Chad’s Place, Field Street, Leeke Street, Swinton Street, Wicklow Street and Britannia Street.

One thing of note on Wicklow Street is this indication that the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital isn’t that keen on taking on any additional patients.

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After that lot it’s back out onto King’s Cross Road and a break for lunch; finally catching up with the vogue for Vietnamese Banh Mi rolls (after everyone else has moved on no doubt).

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Cut up onto Pentonville Road again via Lorenz Street then back down Weston Rise and up Penton Rise. Somehow it’s never really registered with me before that a Rise is so-called because it does just that. On the west side of this incline is the 1960’s GLC built Weston Rise Estate which is garnished at its southern end by a somewhat incongruous tropical garden.

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On the other side is Vernon Square, home to Kings Cross Baptist Church and behind which is another SOAS campus.

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Heading further east along the Pentonville Road brings us to Claremont Square in the middle of which is the eponymous reservoir originally dug at the start of the 18th century then covered in 1855 following The Metropolis Water Act of three years earlier, prompted by the cholera epidemic of 1846, which required this of all reservoirs within London. The reservoir fell into disuse in the 1990s, but came back into service in 2003 to provide a kind of header tank or balancing reservoir for the London Ring Main

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Claremont Close loops off the square and then Mylne Street leads off the south-east corner down to Myddleton Square. This, the largest square in this part of London, is named after Sir Hugh Myddleton  one of the main architects of the New River project – of which more in a minute. In its centre sits St Mark’s Church, Clerkenwell, consecrated on 1st January 1828. The church is unusual in that there is no graveyard in its grounds. The congregation have also shared the church with the World Community for Christian Meditation since 2002.

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Having circumvented the square, Ingelbert Street takes us into Amwell Street and then River Street returns us to the square from where Myddleton Passage cuts through to Arlington Way. Here we emerge opposite the west side of Sadler’s Wells Theatre on Roseberry Avenue, London’s premier contemporary dance venue. The current building which opened in 1998 is the sixth theatre on this site; the first erected in 1683. Current offering is Matthew Bourne’s “Sleeping Beauty” which I can thoroughly recommend.

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Immediately to the west of Sadler’s Wells is the area known as New River Head which derives its name from being the site of the mouth of the New River, the channel cut at the start of the 17th century to supply London with water from springs out in Hertfordshire. This was all carried out under the auspices of the New River Company which became a very substantial property owner over the next couple of centuries before being taken over by the Metropolitan Water Board in 1904. It was the latter which constructed the Laboratory Building (below) in 1938 as a home for the testing of water quality. This archetypal 1930’s creation was converted to residential use in the 1990’s.

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On the apex of Roseberry Avenue and Hardwick Street sits the equally impressive New River Head Building which was opened in 1920 as the headquarters of the MWB. This also succumbed to conversion into luxury private residences in the nineties.

 

Hardwick Street leads into Amwell Street again and crossing over into Merlin Street we find Charles Rowan House  with its distinctive turrets and atypically Expressionist feel. This was originally built in the 1920’s as married quarters for Met policemen and was converted into council housing in 1974.

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Next up is Wilmington Street, then Fernbury Street and Naoroji Street (named after Dadabhai Naoroji (1825 – 1917) the so-called “Grand Old Man of India” and the first Asian to sit as a British MP). A bit more of Amwell Street then left into Lloyd Baker Street and right into Lloyds Street. The elevation comes into its own here with this view across to the BT Tower in the west.

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From Great Percy Street we dip back into Amwell Street then loop back via Cruikshank Street and Holford Street. Cumberland Gardens and Prideaux Place are the next stops before arriving at Percy Circus. Like Great Percy Street, this takes its name from Robert Percy Smith, Governor of the New River Company from 1827 to his death in 1845. It is also the least central of the London Circuses. At No. 16 is yet another blue plaque commemorating a brief residency of Lenin.

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Next down Vernon Rise back to King’s Cross Road and again zig-zag between this and Gray’s Inn Road taking in Acton Street, Frederick Street, Ampton Place, Ampton Street, Cubitt Street, Pakenham Street and Wren Street. This brings us to St Andrews Gardens opposite which on GIR is the London Welsh Centre – a hub for Welsh cultural activities in the capital not a rugby player.

Just a bit further up the road is the old Kings Cross telephone exchange with its distinctive blue façade.

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Wander down to Doughty Street to  rendezvous with final stop of the day, the Charles Dickens Museum at no.48. Dickens only lived in this Georgian terraced house from 1837 to 1839 but two of his daughters were born here. it was where he wrote Oliver Twist and it also sadly witnessed to the death of his 17 year old sister-in-law. The museum first opened in 1925 and, as you would expect, is home to the world’s most important collection of Dickens memorabilia, including the writing desk you see below. To be honest I can’t say it was the most scintillating museum experience I’ve ever had – perhaps I should have waited a week for the Christmas decorations to go up.

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48 Doughty Street
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Drawing Room
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Study