Day 36 – Chancery Lane – Fetter Lane – Fleet Street

“If you wish to have a just notion of the magnitude of this great City you must not satisfied with seeing its great streets and squares but must survey the innumerable little lanes and courts..” These words, which could stand as a mission statement for this blog, were spoken by Dr Samuel Johnson, creator of the first proper dictionary of the English language and the man who also coined the immortal aphorism “When a man is tired of London he is tired of life”. We visit Dr Johnson’s house in Gough Square towards the end of today’s itinerary but before we get there we have to wend our way through the labyrinth of streets and squares and courts that huddle in between Chancery Lane and Farringdon Street as well as picking out the major points of interest along the north side of Fleet Street.

Before all that though here’s a quick update on how much of the designated target area we’ve now covered overall since beginning this a year and a half ago..And I thought I’d be done in six months !

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Anyway back to today’s route..

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Starting point is on Chancery Lane by the eastern gate of Lincoln’s Inn. From here we head north and take a right into Southampton Buildings where we find the former home of the Patent Office, purpose built at the turn of the last century some fifty years after the founding of the Patent Office in 1852. In 1991, having outgrown these premises, the Patent Office (now called the Intellectual Property Office) was relocated to Newport in South Wales.

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Just around the corner is Staple Inn which is the last of the so-called Inns of Chancery to survive largely intact. The building dates from the the second half of the 16th century and the original half-timbered Tudor frontage still adorns High Holborn in incongruous fashion. The rest of the building behind this was pretty much fully reconstructed in 1937 though the courtyard and garden at the rear retain their original structure. Since 1887 it has been the London home of the Institute of Actuaries and was Grade I listed in 1974.

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Once out onto High Holborn by Chancery Lane tube station we turn right briefly then venture south down Furnival Street. Next turn is into the dog-leg that is Took’s Court where the early 18th century property at no.15 has been renamed Dickens House, not because this was another of the writer’s residences but because this building featured in Bleak House (under the guise of Cook’s Court).

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Took’s Court emerges onto Cursitor Street where we turn right and come out onto Chancery Lane again; opposite a blue plaque installed by the Cromwell Association in commemoration of John Thurloe (1616 – 1668). Thurloe joined Cromwell’s government after he seized power, first as Secretary of State then as Head of Intelligence and finally as Postmaster General. In 1660 following the Restoration he was arrested for high treason but never tried (he was released on condition that he assist the new government on request). He died at Lincoln’s Inn in 1668 and was buried in the chapel there.

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After a quick detour to Quality Court (which doesn’t really live up to its name) we double back down Cursitor Street, nip back up Furnival Street and then swing right into Norwich Street. This takes us into Fetter Lane where we head north to Holborn Circus then switch south again down New Fetter Lane. Cut back westward along Plough Place then continue on Greystoke Place before Mac’s Place takes us through to Breams Buildings. (This area was hit particularly hard in the Blitz so there was a lot of post-war rebuilding which has been undergoing redevelopment in recent years). Anyway just here on Breams Buildings is what remains of the overflow burial ground for St Dunstan-in-the-West Church (which we shall come to later) dating back to at least the 17th century.

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Turning right on Breams Buildings returns us to Chancery Lane where to south you have the Law Society’s Hall on the west side and King’s College Maughan Library to the east. The Law Society is the professional association representing the interests of the UK’s solicitors (barristers have the Bar Council). It was founded in 1825 then acquired its first Royal Charter six years later as “The Society of Attorneys, Solicitors, Proctors and others not being Barristers, practising in the Courts of Law and Equity of the United Kingdom”.   No doubt to everyone’s relief, a further Royal Charter in 1903 changed this to simply “The Law Society”. Women members were first admitted in 1922. It’s not entirely obvious from the pictures below but today the building is also home to the swanky 113 Restaurant.

The neo-Gothic Maughan Library building was originally built between 1851 and 1858, to a design of architect Sir James Pennethorne, in order to house the Public Record Office. The PRO had been formed in 1838 to streamline the maintenance of government and court records. The Domesday Book was one of the records transferred here, in 1859 from Westminster Abbey. It now resides at the National Archives in Kew, the successor to the PRO, formed in 2003 when that merged with the Historical Manuscripts Commission. King’s College took over the building in 2001 to create the largest new university library in Britain since WW2 with a £35m renovation. The library is named after, Sir Deryck Maughan, an alumnus and major benefactor of King’s College.

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The library contains a dodecagonal reading room which features in The Da Vinci Code (I’m sure the University is delighted with that !). The bronze statue of Confucius in the garden was donated in 2010 by the Confucian Academy to mark the official launch of the Lau China Institute.

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Entering Fleet Street from Chancery Lane and turning east we reach the aforementioned St Dunstan-in-the West church. There has been a church on this site since around the turn of the first millennium, named in honour of St Dunstan who was elected as Archbishop of Canterbury in 960 and was instrumental in bringing about peace with the Danes. That original church lasted right up until the early 19th century when it was rebuilt in 1831. The most well known feature of the church is its clock, which dates from 1671, and was the first public clock in London to have a minute hand. Figures of two giants strike the hours and quarters, and turn their heads. The courtyard also contains statues of King Lud, the possibly mythical ruler of pre-Roman times, and his sons. Lud gave his name to Ludgate, one of the original gateways to the City of London, where these statues stood before they were moved to the church.  Above the porch where they hide away is a statue of Queen Elizabeth I from 1586, the only one known to have been carved during her reign.

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As well as being an Anglican church, St Dunstan’s is home to the Romanian Orthodox Church in London. The beautiful iconostasis (altar screen) was brought here from a monastery in Bucharest in 1966. The high altar and reredos are Flemish woodwork dating from the seventeenth century. The church hosts classical music recitals on Wednesday lunchtimes so I was fortunate enough (along, sadly, with only about half a dozen other people) to hear a young pianist from the Guildhall giving the ivories a proper working over.

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Fleet Street is of course synonymous with the newspaper and magazine publishing industry even though the actual printing presses and the businesses that ran them have long since departed. In the pictures of the exterior of the church you will have seen glimpses of its next door neighbour, the London office of Dundee-based D.C Thomson, best known  as the publisher of the Beano and the Dandy. Thomson also print a number of Scottish regional newspapers and when in 2016 they relocated the two London-based correspondents for their Sunday Post paper its was perceived as being the very final end of newspaper journalism on Fleet Street.

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Heading back up Fetter Lane we pass, on the corner with Rolls Buildings, a statue to the radical English parliamentarian John Wilkes (1725 – 1797). Wilkes was expelled from Parliament on several occasions for his outspoken views but he was far from your typical social reformer. As well as being a member of the Hell-Fire Club, infamous for its debauched gatherings and Black Mass rituals he was also not beyond voter bribery in his efforts to get elected to the Commons. In 1754 he stood for election in the constituency of Berwick-upon-Tweed and was unsuccessful despite bribing a ship’s captain to land a boatload of opposition voters coming from London in Norway instead of Berwick.

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Forking right into New Fetter Lane and following this to its northern end we then turn tight into the heart of the modern developments I referenced previously. So we can move rapidly through Bartlett Court, Thavies Inn, St Andrew Street, the upper part of Shoe LaneNew Square, Great New Street, Nevil Lane, West Harding Street and Red Lion Court with nothing to detain us apart from this, frankly quite unexciting, water feature in New Square.

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So now we’re back on Fleet Street and the next little alleyway to the east, Johnson’s Court, will via a rather torturous route take us appropriately up to Gough Square where we finally encounter the house occupied by Dr Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784) while he was compiling his dictionary. That was during the years from 1747 until 1755 when the dictionary was published. It wasn’t the first dictionary of the English language produced but it was far greater in scope and erudition than any of its predecessors. Its pages were nearly 18 inches (46 cm) tall, and the book was 20 inches (51 cm) wide when opened; it contained 42,773 entries and it sold for the (then) extravagant price of £4 10s. Not surprisingly therefore it didn’t sell terribly well and Johnson and his publishers were forced to rely on subsequent abridged versions to make any money from it. Johnson had married Elizabeth Porter, who was 20 years his senior, in 1735 and when she died in 1752, Francis Barber, a former slave from Jamaica, joined his  household as a servant along with his wife and children.. He lived with Johnson for more than 30 years and was ultimately named as his heir.

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On the opposite side of Gough Square is a statue of Dr Johnson’s favourite cat, Hodge, unveiled in 1997 by the Lord Mayor. The statue shows Hodge sitting next to a pair of empty oyster shells on top of a copy of Johnson’s dictionary, with the inscription “a very fine cat indeed”. Unlike today, in Johnson’s time oysters were plentiful around the coasts of England and so cheap that they were a staple food of the poor (and cats).

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Moving on we wind our way through Pemberton Row, East Harding Street, Gunpowder Square, Hind Court, St Dunstan’s Court and Bolt Court dipping in and out of Fleet Street until we reach the Grade II listed Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub at no.145. Reportedly there has been a pub here since 1538 and according to the sign outside the current hostelry dates from 1667 when it was rebuilt after the Great Fire. Inside the pub is a warren of numerous wood-panelled rooms all deprived of natural lighting which lends a sombre, conspiratorial air even when the several open fireplaces are lit in the winter. Past patrons of the pub are said to include the ubiquitous Charles Dickens along with Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, P.G Wodehouse and G.K Chesterton. Dr Johnson must also have been a regular though his writings coyly neglect to mention it by name.

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Running up the side of the pub is Wine Office Court at the entrance to which is affixed this handy resumé of its history (from where you will see I nicked the opening to this post).

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We follow Wine Office Court up to Printer Street and then return to Fleet Street via Little New Street and the lower section of Shoe Lane (shown below).

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Now we’re right in the epicentre of Fleet Street‘s historic association with the Fourth Estate as we emerge in between Peterborough Court, the former home of the Daily Telegraph at nos. 141-135 and the Daily Express building at 128-121. These two very different looking buildings are both icons of the Art Deco age and both Grade II listed. Peterborough Court, with its “monumental facade” and Egyptian themed decoration, was built in 1927-8 and designed by architect Thomas Smith Tait. The Telegraph group decamped in the 1980’s post-Wapping and this is now the European HQ of mega-Investment bank Goldmans Sachs (who reputedly pay rent of £18m a year to the Qatari owners of the building).

 

The slightly younger Daily Express building with its striking black vitrolite panelling was built in 1931-2 and designed by architects Ellis and Clarke with the assistance of Sir Owen Williams. The flamboyant lobby, designed by Robert Atkinson, includes plaster reliefs by Eric Aumonier, silver and gilt decorations, a magnificent silvered pendant lamp and an oval staircase. The drawn curtains on the ground floor ensure that this, one of the very finest masterpieces of British Art-Deco, is invisible to the public except on Open House weekend. If you’ve never seen it I would urge you to seek out that opportunity (as I did many years ago though I couldn’t locate the photographs I took at the time so the one below is courtesy of http://manchesterhistory.net/architecture/1930/dailyexpress.html.)

The Express Group left the building in 1989 and following a major redevelopment of the site in the nineties it was also let to Goldman Sachs in 2000.

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Beyond the Daily Express Building we turn north again up Poppin’s Court into St Bride Street from where we criss-cross into Farringdon Street via Harp Alley, Stonecutter Court and Plumtree Court before finishing up under the Holborn Viaduct whence we shall return in the not-too-distant future.

 

 

Day 35 – Victoria Embankment – Aldwych – Somerset House

Not that many actual streets ticked off today but a reasonable distance covered and yet again a wealth of material to relay. It was also a fabulously bright (if cold) day as you will gather from the photographs. We start with a stroll through Victoria Embankment Gardens before doubling back and then dodging the joggers on the riverside promenade up to Waterloo Bridge. After that we head north to Aldwych and circle round to get back to Somerset House before ducking down onto the Embankment again and continuing eastward as far as Temple tube.

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The Victoria Embankment, as you might surmise from the name, is one of the great engineering feats of the Victorian era. The driving force behind this was the desire to improve the capital’s sanitation system by the creation of a new super sewer running west to east into which all other sewers would empty rather than into the Thames. This scheme gained the backing of Parliament when the dry summer of 1858 created what was known as “the Great Stink” with the raw sewage building up in the river making the atmosphere in the Houses of Parliament intolerable. Work began in 1864 and was completed in 1870.  Embankment walls were built close to the low-water mark and the area behind them filled in, making made space not only for the sewer but also for a road and for the new, partially underground, District Line. It also allowed for the creation of Victoria Embankment Gardens where our journey today begins.

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Prior to the construction of the Embankment this gateway on the topside of the gardens stood on the north bank of the river. Known as the York Watergate it was built in 1826 for our old friend George Villiers, first Duke of Buckingham and, as we have reported previously, King James I’s “favourite”. Built as a point of access from Villiers’ garden to the river, the Watergate was created by Sir Balthazar Gerbier who modelled it on the Fontaine de Medicis at the Palais de Luxembourg.

First of several statues in the gardens is that of Robert “Rabbie” Burns (1759 -1796) to all intents and purposes the national poet of Scotland. This is the only statue of Burns in England whereas there are 16 in the USA and 9 in Canada. Oddly the Soviet Union was the first country to put him on a commemorative stamp (in 1956). There is also a crater on Mercury named after him.

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In the middle of the gardens stands this memorial to the Imperial Camel Corps which was comprised of battalions made up of British, Australian, New Zealand and Indian soldiers and formed part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in WWI. In total the brigade deployed around 4,800 camels which, fully loaded, could cross the desert at between three and six miles an hour. The corps was disbanded after the war.

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Continuing east through the gardens there are further memorials to : Sir Wilfred Lawson (1829 -1906) Liberal politician and temperance campaigner; Robert Raikes (1736 – 1811) philanthropist and founder of the Sunday school movement and Sir Arthur Sullivan (of popular duo Gilbert & Sullivan) who we have encountered before hereabouts. On the south side there is also Portland stone monument (listed grade II) designed by Edward Lutyens (1869-1944), erected to the memory of Major General Lord Cheylesmore, soldier, administrator, and philanthropist which incorporates a small water garden complete with Koi carp (and very popular with the local pigeons). On the north side in contrast there’s a rather odd little lilting hut whose function is not entirely clear. All in all the collection of memorials in the gardens is pretty random; though none the worse for that.

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Leaving the gardens and heading back west along the Embankment we pass the monument created by Blomfield and Victor Rousseau as an expression of thanks to the British nation from the people of Belgium for this country’s part in the liberation of Europe in 1944-5.

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Back at Embankment tube station we cross the road to the riverside walk. You have to feel a bit sorry for W.S Gilbert (the other half of Gilbert & Sullivan) since, whereas his musical partner gets a full bust job with a half-naked floozy draped across the plinth, all he gets is this somewhat unremarkable plaque on the wall by Hungerford Bridge.

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In 1878 Victoria Embankment became the first street in Britain to be permanently lit by electricity. The lampposts with their distinctive entwined fish (sturgeons apparently) on the bases were designed by George John Vulliamy.

Vuilliamy also designed the faux-Egyptian cast- bronze Sphinxes that flank the most famous landmark on this stretch of the north bank of the Thames, Cleopatra’s Needle. This hieroglyph covered obelisk was created in the Ancient Egyptian city of Heliopolis around 1450 BC. It stands 21 metres tall and weighs 224 tons. So it was no mean feat to transport it over to England in 1877 from Alexandria (where Cleopatra had had it moved by the Romans in 12 BC). The sponsor of this enterprise, at a cost of £10,000, was the renowned anatomist Sir William James Erasmus Wilson. The Needle was housed inside a massive iron cylinder which was then converted into a kind of floating pontoon, named Cleopatra, so that it could be towed by ship, the Olga to be precise. Disaster struck when a storm in the Bay of Biscay caused the pontoon to list uncontrollably and the rescue boat sent across from the Olga capsized with the loss of its volunteer crew of six. Cleopatra was left “abandoned and sinking” but remarkably stayed afloat and was found four days later by Spanish trawlers and then towed into port by a Scottish steamer. Its journey was eventually completed in the wake of the paddle tug Anglia, under the command of one Captain David Glue.

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As you can imagine the tribulations of Cleo’s transportation were front page news at the time as you can see here daily-news-19-october-1877-cleopatras-needle.

The presence of cormorants along the river attests to the cleanliness of the water in the Thames these days and the concomitant increase in fish stocks.

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As we reach Waterloo Bridge there is yet another memorial, this time to the Victorian novelist and historian Walter Besant (1836 -1901). These days little more than a footnote in literary history, Besant’s work was extremely popular in his own lifetime. His novel, All Sorts and Conditions of Men, about the working-class inhabitants of London’s East End slums sold 250,000 copies and introduced a vogue for so-called “slum fiction” in the last decades of the Victorian era.

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Climb the steps up onto Lancaster Place and head up to Aldwych on the other side of the road from Somerset House.

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The Waldorf Hotel on Aldwych was established in 1908 by William Waldorf Astor of the fabulously wealthy and well-connected Astor Family who had arrived in England in the late 18th century from Walldorf in Germany (natch !) before heading west to America. At the time he had the Waldorf’s namesake in New York built in 1890 Astor was reputedly the richest man in America.

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Opposite the Waldorf, now part of the Hilton empire, stands India House; home to the Indian High Commission in London (or embassy if you prefer). Designed by Sir Herbert Baker the building was inaugurated in 1930 by King George V. The decorations on the outside of the building represent the various states of India, as they were under the Raj. The closest one in the picture below signifies Madras. Every time I go past here there seems to be some form of demonstration going on but I didn’t manage to ascertain what this one was about.

Duck round the corner down the steps into India Place where there is a bust of Nehru which was unveiled by John Major in 1991. That year also saw the fatal stabbing of 26 year old D.C Jim Morrison, just yards away, trying to arrest a thief while off duty. His killer has never been found.

India Place morphs into Montreal Place and emerges on the Strand opposite to north entrance to Somerset House.

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Turning east we almost immediately pass by the church of St Mary-le-Strand which now sits on a traffic island in the middle of the Strand (stranded you could say). This is another one of the churches built at the start of the 18th century under the “Commission for the building of fifty new churches”. The steeple was completed in September 1717, but the church was not consecrated for use until 1723. Bonnie Prince Charlie is alleged to have renounced his Roman Catholic faith here in favour of Anglicanism during a secret visit to London in 1750.

Beyond the church we turn left up Melbourne Place then left again to arrive at the front of Bush House The building, opened in 1925, was designed by the American architect Harvey Corbett and financed by an Anglo-American trading organisation headed by Irving T. Bush, hence the name. By the end of that decade Bush House had been declared the ‘most expensive building in the world’, having cost around $10 million. The BBC World Service (or the Empire Service as it was then), with which the building is indelibly associated, first moved some of its operations here in 1940 and had fully taken the place over by the late 1950’s. Given the nature and purpose of the World Service the inscription made above the main portico by the original owners, “to the friendship of English-speaking peoples” was always something of an embarrassment to the BBC. By 1972 more than 750 hours of programming a week in 40 languages from French to Somali were being broadcast from Bush House. In 2012 the BBC departed and World Service staff were transferred to new offices on the Broadcasting House site. The building has been taken over by King’s College as an extension to its Strand campus.

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Doubling back round the arc of Aldwych brings us to Australia House which is, yes you’ve guessed it, the home of the Australian High Commission – both the oldest Australian diplomatic mission and the longest continuously occupied foreign mission in London. Construction of the building began in 1913 but it was only fully completed just after the end of WWI (for obvious reasons). The two sculptural groups that flank the entrance are named The Awakening of Australia and The Prosperity of Australia and are the work of the Australian artist Harold Parker. The flashing chap on the roof is Phoebus driving the horses of the sun the creation of another Australian sculptor, Bertram Mackennal. The building’s luxuriant interior (merely glimpsed below) was used at the setting for Gringott’s Wizarding bank in the first Harry Potter film.

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Turning the corner back onto the Strand we pass what was the entrance to the now disused Aldwych tube station (originally called Strand station).  The station sat on a branch line of the Piccadilly Line and although there were various plans to extend this it remained just a single-stop shuttle from Holborn up until closure in 1994 (having only operated during peak hours for the 32 years previous to that). Due to its self-contained nature (and the fact it was closed most of the time) the station was always in high demand for film and TV productions. This has continued post-closure with Atonement, 28 Weeks Later, Mr Selfridge and Sherlock amongst the productions to have shot scenes here.

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Next block along is the rather unlovely main campus building of King’s College.

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And once past that we’re back at the northern entrance to Somerset House. This riverside site was once occupied by a palace built by Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset in 1547 and lived in by Elizabeth the First during the five years prior to her coronation. When Anne of Denmark (wife of James I) moved in in 1603 it was renamed Denmark House in her honour. The palace survived the ravages of the Great Fire but after decades of neglect following the departure of its last royal resident, Catherine of Braganza, in 1693 it was demolished in 1775. Within a year work had started on a replacement designed by Sir William Chambers. The new Somerset House (initially just the North Wing) opened in 1779 with the Royal Academy of Arts as its first occupant. The South Wing was completed in 1786 and the East and West Wings two years after that. At which time the Navy Board and the Stamp Office moved in. 1836 saw the establishment of the General Register Office, responsible for the recording of births, deaths and marriages, with which Somerset House became synonymous. Then in 1849 the Inland Revenue was created from the merger of the Board of Taxes and the Board of Excise and took over Somerset House for the next 15o years or so. The Registry Office actually moved out as long ago as 1970 and HMRC finally left for good in 2011. In between times the Courtauld Gallery moved into the North Wing in 1989 and in 1997 the Somerset House Trust was established to preserve and develop Somerset House for public use. The Riverside Terrace was first opened to the public in 2000, the same year that saw the first installation of a temporary ice rink in the piazza that was once, ignominiously, relegated to the status of a car park for Inland Revenue employees.

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Arriving to find the dismantling of the ice rink in full flow I initially cursed my sense of timing (again) but on reflection the photographs are probably more interesting than they would otherwise have been. The (free) exhibition on in the South Wing – until 26 February 2017 – is the Eye of Modern Mali a retrospective of work by the late Malian photographer, Malick Sidibe, and is highly recommended. Superb accompanying music as well.

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View across the Thames from River Terrace

Leave Somerset House via the Riverside Terrace and head down the steps on the east side of Waterloo Bridge to return to the Embankment. At the intersection with Temple Place stands this sadly rather obscured memorial to the godfather of Civil Engineering, Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859).

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Veer left up Temple Place and then again into Surrey Street which features some splendid red-brick terrace houses dating form the late 1760’s.

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In the bottom right of the picture above you can see the entrance to Surrey Steps which leads down into Strand Lane which, according to the signage, is the site of a “Roman Bath”.

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The provenance of the bath appears to be a matter of debate but most sources believe it actually originated as the feeder cistern for a grotto-fountain built in the gardens of the first Somerset House for Anne of Denmark in 1612 (some time after the Romans left Britain I think it’s fair to say). Shortly after the construction of the Georgian terraces, the owner of no.33, a Mr James Smith , converted the derelict cistern into a spring-fed cold bath which he opened to the public. It was only in the 1830’s when the management of the bath was taken on by one Charles Scott that the spurious Roman connection began to be advertised. The National Trust took possession of the Bath in 1948 and opened it to the public in 1951 following restoration. Nowadays visitors are only by appointment, otherwise you just have to peer through the very murky basement window to get a view of the bath (that’s if the outside light switch is working).

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Back on Surrey Street is the old Norfolk Hotel which was patronised at different times by both the agents of the Special Operations Executive French Section and Joseph Conrad, author of The Secret Agent.

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At the top of Surrey Street we turn right then head south again down Arundel Street. The Arundel House which now stands at the end of the eastern side of the street is a 19th century Tudor revival-style building which is currently the HQ for the International Institute of Strategic Studies. It takes its name from the Arundel House which occupied this riverside site in the middle ages and was the townhouse of the Bishops of Bath & Wells.

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We’ve now arrived at Temple tube station and the small elevated garden which sits on top of it affords good views of the Thames down towards London Bridge and the back of Arundel Great Court a 1970’s carbuncle that is in the throes of a long-running demolition and re-development project. In front of the garden on Temple Place is one of the so-called Cabmen’s Shelters. These green huts dotted around central London were originally put up between 1875 and 1914 by an eponymous charity with the aim of providing drivers of hansom cabs with somewhere they could get refreshments (non-alcoholic) without having to leave their vehicles prey to theft. Because they were situated on public highways the huts were not allowed to be larger than a horse and cart. All of the remaining huts are Grade II listed.

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So after all that it’s one final scoot along the Embankment back to Waterloo Bridge and we’re done.

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