Day 53 – Waterloo Station – Westminster Bridge – Queen’s Walk

Something of a milestone reached today as, for the first time, we’ve ventured south of the river. First time for this blog that is; Waterloo Station, where today’s journey starts, has been my point of entry to central London for the best part of three decades.

We begin our excursion by heading round the southern end of the station and beyond Lambeth North tube station before cutting down towards the river through Archbishop’s Park. Having circumnavigated St Thomas’ Hospital, partly by way of a stroll along the Albert Embankment, we loop back under the railway arches and then cross over Westminster Bridge. Turning east on the other side, Victoria Embankment takes us along the river to Hungerford Bridge where we cross back over and fight our way along Queen’s Walk through the tourist hordes and past the London Eye and County Hall. After that there’s a full circuit of Waterloo Station and we’re done.

I should also mention that this took place on the day of the England v Croatia semi-final so the (very hot) air was filled with expectation and trepidation – though not in the vicinity of those aforementioned hordes.

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So we start off by exiting the station onto Waterloo Road and turning right, then at the crossroads by the Old Vic we turn right again and follow Baylis Road all the way down to Lambeth North tube. At the top of Kennington Road stands the Lincoln Tower, built in 1876 (the centenary of American independence) in the Gothic revival style as a memorial to Abraham Lincoln. The construction cost of the tower was partly met from funds raised in America by Christopher Newman Hall, the pastor of Surrey Chapel, an independent Methodist and Congregational church based on Blackfriars Road, which had acquired the site in the mid 19th century.

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We continue south west on Kennington Road as far as Cosser Street which runs alongside the William Blake (public housing) Estate. At the end of Cosser Street we turn right on Hercules Road for just a few yards before continuing north, underneath the rail tracks, on Virgil Street. When Virgil Street ends at Carlisle Lane the entrance to Archbishop’s Park is immediately opposite. This was originally part of the grounds of nearby Lambeth Palace, the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, but from 1869 onward was set aside as a play area for children and for ball games and in 1900 was turned into a public park. Ownership remains in the hands of the Church Commissioners. Nowadays the park is also home to Zip Now London (allegedly the world’s longest and fastest city centre zip wire). I would guess it doesn’t take much more than 30 seconds to cover the 225m distance which would make the cheapest ticket equivalent to about 67p per second (about 50% more than Ronaldo earns in the same time).

After a circuit of the park, not including a go on the zipline (it wasn’t yet open), we exit onto Lambeth Palace Road opposite the south side of St Thomas’ Hospital, more of which later.

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We follow Lambeth Palace Road eastward as it converges towards parallel proximity with the river then drop onto the Albert Embankment and head down river towards Westminster Bridge. This is where you’ll get the best views of the Houses of Parliament (see previous post) and it’s also considerably less busy than, say, the South Bank if you’re after a riverside stroll.  Albert Embankment was created by the engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette for the Metropolitan Board of Works between 1866 and 1869 and included land reclaimed from the river and various small timber and boat-building yards. It was intended to protect low-lying areas of Lambeth from flooding while also providing a new highway to bypass local congested streets. As with its counterpart, the Victoria Embankment, on the north side the street furniture of the Albert Embankment was the creation of George Vulliamy (1817 – 1886). But whereas the sturgeon (or dolphin) lamp posts are common to both sides, the 15 benches on the Albert side have a swan motif in their cast iron arms and panels rather than the sphinxes and camels of the more numerous resting spots on the Victoria side.

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The river-facing wing of St Thomas’ Hospital,  dates back to 1871 when the hospital moved to this location from Southwark and is now Grade II listed. The hospital, in its original Southwark incarnation, is believed to have been founded towards the end of the 12th century, run by a mixed order of Augustine monks and nuns and dedicated to St Thomas à Becket. When the monastery was dissolved in 1539 during the Reformation the hospital closed but reopened 12 years later when it was rededicated to Thomas the Apostle. In the late 20th century the name was changed from St Thomas’s to St Thomas’ which was undoubtedly due to modern a predilection for simplification but has been  justified on the basis that the hospital is associated with two separate men called Thomas. (Though, as the grammar police and I will tell you, this means it should be known as St Thomases’ Hospital).

Once we reach Westminster Bridge and turn right onto Westminster Bridge Road we find ourselves at the main entrance to the modern building, the North Wing, which was completed in 1975. It met with widespread public disaffection at the time, particularly from MPs who felt it ruined their view from the Palace of Westminster. Between the walkway up to the entrance and the embankment a garden area has been created above the car park.  At the entrance to this garden stands a memorial to Mary Seacole (1805 – 1881), the British-Jamaican businesswoman and nurse who travelled independently to the Crimea and set up the so-called “British Hotel” behind the battle lines in order to treat wounded servicemen. The statue was unveiled, not without controversy, in 2016. (Inside the hospital buildings is a museum dedicated to Florence Nightingale, that much better known Crimean War “angel of mercy”). Despite the question marks about the efficacy of Mary’s treatments and the  claims of her being a medical pioneer she is undoubtedly someone who deserves to be celebrated for what she managed to achieve in the face of twin obstacles of race and gender. The centre of the garden features Naum Gabo’s fountain sculpture Revolving Torsion and just ahead of the main entrance is sculptor Rick Kirby’s work Crossing The Divide from the year 2000. That’s the same year that a statue of Edward VI, originally erected in 1739, was moved to its position directly outside the North Wing. It was Edward VI who granted the hospital a royal charter that facilitated its re-establishment post-Reformation.

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Following the perimeter of the hospital we return to Lambeth Palace Road and then take a left up Royal Street. This is dominated by the Canterbury House block of social housing flats, built c.1960, which is remarkable in that from the rear it looks like the epitome of a run-down sixties’ estate and yet the front could be mistaken for a 3-star hotel on the Costa Brava.

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Next we weave in and out through the tunnels underneath the railtracks out of Waterloo courtesy of Upper Marsh, Carlisle Lane and Centaur Street before ending up back on Hercules Road.

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William Blake (1757 – 1827) lived in a building on Hercules Road during the last decade of the 18th century, hence the nearby housing estate named after him and the series of mosaics in the railway tunnels inspired by him. On the way back towards Lambeth North Tube, Newham Terrace offers up one of those historic industrial signage remnants that I’m so fond of.

From the tube station we head back towards the river, starting on Westminster Bridge again and then looping round Addington Street and cutting through (the absurdly named) Forum Magnum Square onto Belvedere Street which runs along the back of the old County Hall.

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The main central building of County Hall was built between 1911 and 1922 in an Edwardian Baroque style to the design of architect, Ralph Knott, as the new home of the London County Council (LCC). The LCC was created in 1889 as part of the previous year’s Local Government Act, becoming the first elected authority with responsibility for the whole of London. It’s predecessor, the Metropolitan Board of Works, had government appointed leaders and a more limited set of powers. The north and south blocks of County Hall were added between 1936 and 1939. In 1965 the LCC was superseded by the Greater London Council (GLC) on the back of the 1963 Local Government Act which saw the creation of 32 new boroughs comprising the new metropolis of Greater London, extending into areas such as Croydon and West Ham that were formerly part of Surrey and Essex respectively. It also signalled the effective demise of Middlesex as a separate administrative area. The GLC ran London for 21 years until in 1986, under the aegis of Ken Livingstone, its Labour controlled administration became in embroiled in a death-match with the Conservative government and Margaret Thatcher duly abolished it. Parts of County Hall still remain empty to this day but in now houses two hotels (at opposite ends of the spectrum), a Marriott and a Premier Inn and a number of Merlin Entertainments attractions, which we’ll deal with later.

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Next we finally cross over the river via the packed to the seams Westminster Bridge. At the north end of the bridge stands the statue to Queen Boudicca and her daughters created by Victorian sculptor, Thomas Thornycroft (1815 – 1885). The statue was commissioned in the 1850’s by Prince Albert and was originally intended to sit atop the central arch of the entrance to Hyde Park. Albert died in 1861 before it was completed and the project then ran into all-too familiar funding issues. Thornycroft managed to complete a full-size model of the work before his own death in 1885 but it wasn’t until 1902 that it was installed here by Westminster Pier thanks to the efforts of his son and the support of the LCC. Which makes it all the more shameful that it’s plinth is currently obscured by a stall hawking tourist tat.

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Moving swiftly on we proceed eastward along the Victoria Embankment passing, firstly, the Battle of Britain Memorial unveiled in 2005 to coincide with the 65th anniversary and then the Royal Air Force Memorial of 1923 with its Golden Eagle sculpted by William Reid Dick. In the background beyond the memorial you can see the PS Tattershall Castle, a floating pub that served as a passenger ferry across the Humber Estuary from 1934 to 1973.

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We cross back over the river using the western element of the two new footbridges built alongside the Hungerford Railway Bridge in 2002. Officially these are called the Golden Jubilee Bridges in honour of QEII’s fiftieth anniversary on the throne but in reality everyone still refers to them, collectively, as the Hungerford Footbridge. Which is surprising in a way since the original Hungerford Footbridge (on the east side) was notorious for being both unsightly and dangerous and was the scene of horrific murder in 1999 (just a couple of years after the decision to knock down the bridge had already been taken). The railway bridge dates back to 1864 and was designed by Sir John Hawkshaw. It replaced a suspension footbridge of 1845 created by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (the original brick buttresses of which are still in use). The name derives from Hungerford Market, a produce market on the north bank which existed on the site of what is now Charing Cross Station from the late 17th century until, er, they knocked it down to build the station.

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View west from Hungerford Bridge

On the other side of the bridge we descend the steps down to Queen’s Walk and head back west towards County Hall. En route we pass the site of the Underbelly Festival which runs throughout the summer months beside Jubilee Gardens featuring comedy, circus and cabaret performances in its Spiegeltent and providing al-fresco drinking and dining.

And so we reach the London Eye which is now apparently the most popular paid tourist attraction in the UK with 3.75 million visitors annually. Quite when it took over the top spot from Madame Tussauds I’m not sure but, ironically, the Tussauds Group were one of the original owners along with British Airways and Marks Barfield (the architects who created it) when it opened in 2000 as part of the Millennium celebrations. At the time it was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world at 135m though that record is now held by the High Roller in Las Vegas at 167.6m. It has also lost out on being the highest public viewing point in London since the Shard was built. It is now owned by Merlin Entertainments who took over Tussauds Group in 2007. BA ended its brand association in 2008 and Coca-Cola became sponsors from the start of 2015.

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Merlin Entertainments run a number of other attractions that are based inside the County Hall building: The London Dungeon (relocated here from its original home near London Bridge); Shrek’s Adventure and Sea Life. On a more edifying note I’ll just make mention here of some of the sculptures that adorn the exterior of County Hall. (I should also belatedly namecheck the Ornamental Passions blog which has been an invaluable source of information on this topic). The sculptures on the Jubilee Gardens façade are the work of Alfred Hardiman and are intended to represent Open Spaces and Child Education. Those on the riverside façade are by Ernest Cole (1890 – 1979), who was only 24 when awarded the commission and whose work on the figures was interrupted by First World War in which he was co-opted into the Intelligence Corps.  Cole was also responsible for the works on the Westminster Bridge Road side including World Beyond which shows the world resting on the shoulders of three grotesque representatives of the human race with two more contorted figures standing astride it. Not surprisingly, Cole’s work caused something of an uproar when it was unveiled and this led to him being replaced by Hardiman for the later commissions. At the outbreak of WWII, Cole and his wife, Laurie Manly, were briefly imprisoned on suspicion of being fascist sympathisers on account of their subscription to Il Popolo d’Italia the newspaper founded by Mussolini.

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I strongly suspect that Cole and Hardiman’s efforts go completely unnoticed by the crowds thronging round the London Eye and along the rest of Queen’s Walk. Having battled through them twice I make my escape, heading up the side of Jubilee Gardens and down Chicheley Street into York Road. Here I head back to the front entrance to Waterloo Station. The station first opened in 1848 so it’s celebrating its 170th anniversary this year. That original station was built by the London and South Western Railway but wasn’t intended to be a terminus, just a stopping point on the way to the City of London. That further extension never materialised however and by the turn of the 20th century the railway company had accepted the fact and recognized that Waterloo needed to be completely rebuilt to function as a proper terminus for the increasing volume of train traffic from the south west. The rebuilt station was formally opened on 21 March 1922 by Queen Mary. The main pedestrian entrance, the Victory Arch (known as Exit 5), was designed by James Robb Scott and is a memorial to company staff who were killed during WWI. It is flanked by two sculptures featuring Roman goddesses; “1914” with Bellona in armour with a sword and torch, and “1918” showing Pax, the goddess of Peace sitting on Earth. Waterloo is now the busiest railway station in the UK, the largest in terms of floor space and with the greatest number of platforms.

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Just across from the main entrance, on Mepham Street, is the Hole In The Wall Pub which I visited several times in the late seventies and early eighties. I still recall the horror of using the toilet facilities there so I was more than a little amused to see this recent addition to the local street furniture.

Mepham Street leads out onto Waterloo Road from where we circle past the station for a second time and on this occasion fork right up Spur Road onto Station Approach Road / Cab Road which the taxis use to add an extra few hundred metres to their journeys (just kidding guys). A left turn takes us down to Leake Street which is basically a foot tunnel under the railway. It’s home to The Vaults an immersive theatre and alternative arts venue that occupies a maze of previously disused arches underneath Waterloo Station. From late January to late March for the last few years the Vault Festival has been held here; and with over 350 shows across 16 venues it’s fast becoming a serious rival to the Edinburgh Fringe for showcasing new and experimental comedy and theatre.

The Leake Street tunnel is also an officially sanctioned open canvas for graffiti art. Not sure what the protocol is for how long each work is allowed to stay up before being over-sprayed but I suspect this one has already gone (unfortunately).

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We retrace our steps up Leake Street and leave via an alternative exit onto Lower Marsh. This always used to be one of my favourite streets in London with a number of idiosyncratic shops selling vintage clothes, jazz books and records, pre-1970’s memorabilia and cut-price designer menswear. Latterly it’s sadly succumbed to the twin curses of redevelopment and rate hikes so almost all of those independent retailers have now gone (apart from the fetish gear suppliers). The shops have of course mostly been replaced by coffee-shops, a couple of which, to their credit, have a decent sense of style. Not quite a pub of the day but I’ll give a shout out to the Scooter Bar where I had a Mexican lager I’ve never heard of before and they let me bring in a take-out of Pad Thai Noodles from one of the several food stalls out on the street.

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Ok so we just finish things off with the streets running off Lower Marsh to the south namely Grindal Street, Frazier Street, Murphy Street, Joanna Street and Tanswell Street and then return to the station. For once my timing has clicked as the Band of The Royal Coldstream Guards are belting out a few popular tunes on the concourse and just as I decide to hang around for one more they launch into, what else but, Three Lions. Naturally this brings the house down though unfortunately there is no self-fulfilling prophecy here. Nonetheless these boys in red done good as did the ones over in Russia. Bring on Euro 2020 !

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Day 33 (part 2) – The Strand -Covent Garden -Savoy Place

So the second leg of this walk resumes where we left off last time, on the Strand by the Adelphi Theatre, then heads north towards Covent Garden before crossing back over the Strand to traverse the streets either side of the Savoy Hotel and running down to the Embankment.

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The origins of the Adelphi Theatre go back to 1806 when it was originally known as the Sans Pareil (without equal). The current, fourth building on the site, has been around since 1930 when it was constructed by the Pitcher Construction Company to the designs of Ernest Schaufelberg. The design was notable for the absence of any kind of curve (unusual for the thirties) and the building process attracted a great deal of public attention due to the builders frantic attempts to complete on time and avoid a punitive daily over-run penalty of £450. The venue has been home to a good number of successful productions, several of them off the Lloyd-Webber conveyer belt.

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Just a few doors further east stands the Vaudeville Theatre of which the present building is the third incarnation, opening in 1926. It has less then half the capacity of its near neighbour and therefore tends to present comedies and straight drama rather than musicals. Though it did play host to part of a then record-breaking run by the musical Salad Days in the 1950’s (a 1996 revival was rather less successful, reflecting changing tastes). Dance/performance art troupe Stomp had a five year residency here from 2002.

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Turn north up Southampton Street where in the 1870’s Vincent Van Gogh worked in the London offices of the French art dealers, Groupil et Cie, commuting from lodgings in Brixton. This clock, outside no.3, was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1904 for George Newnes Limited, the publishers of such periodicals as John O’London’s Weekly and the Ladies’ Home Magazine.

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Turning left back onto Maiden Lane we find the rear of the Vaudeville Theatre which houses the Hungarian Cultural Centre (not looking particularly active it’s fair to say). 150 years before there was any theatre here the French philosopher Voltaire (1694 – 1778) spent a year living in the house that then occupied this spot – he had gone into self-imposed exile as an alternative to imprisonment in the Bastille at the instigation of the aristoctratic de Rohan family with whom he had fallen into confrontation.

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Across the road is, reputedly, the oldest restaurant in London, Rules, which was founded in 1798 by Thomas Rule to purvey “porter, pies and oysters” to a clientele of “rakes, dandies and superior intelligence’s”. Since then, it appears, just about anyone who is anyone in the literary and entertainment worlds has passed through its doors. And the menu would probably still look pretty familiar to the rakes and dandies of the Regency era.

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Retrace our steps up Bedford Street then head east towards Covent Garden plaza along Henrietta Street. Another green plaque here, this one in commemoration of the fact that Jane Austen stayed at no. 10 during 1813-14.

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Turn back down Southampton Street then left into Tavistock Street followed by a right down Burleigh Street. Squashed in between more modern buildings is the former vicarage of St Michael’s Church, dating from around 1860 and now the rectory of St Paul’s (see above). St Michael’s itself was built in 1833 on the corner with Exeter Street but demolished in 1906.

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Exeter Street runs along the back of the Strand Palace Hotel which was built in 1907 by J.Lyons & Co. to cater for those who wanted  “the maximum of luxury and comfort with the minimum of expense.” To which end they charged 5 shillings and sixpence (27p in new money) for a single room with breakfast. Even today the room rates represent pretty good value for central London. Unfortunately I am unable to unearth any information about the decoration on the bridge across the street or the clock on the rear facade of what is currently the HQ of the nuclear industry association.

Turning the corner brings us back out on to the Strand opposite a somewhat more famous hotel, the Savoy, built by Richard D’Oyly Carte – the man who brought the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan to the world – and opened in 1889. The Savoy was the first luxury hotel in Britain, with electric lights, electric lifts, en-suite bathrooms and constant hot and cold running water among its innovations. The name derives from the historic region of France (which today spreads into part of Italy and Switzerland as well) and specifically Count Peter of Savoy who was the maternal uncle of Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III, and accompanied her to England. Henry made Peter Earl of Richmond and gave him the land which lies between the Strand and the Thames where he built the Savoy Palace in 1263.

When D’Oyly Carte’s daughter Bridget died childless in in 1985 ownership of the hotel fell into corporate hands ending up as part of the Fairmont Hotels estate some twenty years later. I’m sure you won’t be at all surprised to learn that Fairmont Hotels is affiliated with one of the members of the Saudi Royal Family. In 2007 the Savoy closed for a complete renovation, budgeted at £100 million but ultimately costing more than twice that amount. Judging by the reviews when it reopened in 2010 the expense seems to have been worth it with the new Edwardian decor on the Thames’ side and the Art Deco stylings on the Strand side earning lavish praise. FYI – to stay in one of its 267 rooms for the night will give you enough change out of £500 for a couple of beers (though not here) and that doesn’t include breakfast.

We continue east along the Strand past the front of the Strand Palace then head south down Savoy Street which offers us our first glimpse of the river before we turn right onto Savoy Hill and then right again up Savoy Steps. In so doing we encircle the Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy. The palace of Peter of Savoy lasted barely a hundred years before being superseded by an even grander palace built by John of Gaunt who had gained control of the land via inheritance of his wife, Blanche (great-great-granddaughter of Henry III). That one had an even briefer lifespan, being burnt to the ground during the peasants’ revolt of 1381 led by Wat Tyler. The site remained semi-derelict until, at the beginning of the 16th century, King Henry VII ordered the building of a foundation hospital which included three chapels, dedicated to St John the Baptist, St Catherine and Our Lady respectively. The first of these, now known as the Queen’s Chapel, is the sole building that survives.

Continuing back down Savoy Hill towards the Embankment and then turning left onto Savoy Place we arrive outside the HQ of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (or just IET as it prefers to call itself) which has an impressive 167,000 members in 150 countries. There’s a statue of our old friend Michael Faraday (1791 – 1867) outside and a suitably tech-inspired art installation in the lobby. A carved inscription on the facade of the building notes the fact that this was the original central London home of the BBC from 1923 to 1932 (when Broadcasting house opened).

We next head back west along Savoy Place then turn north up Carting Lane which runs up to the back of the Savoy Theatre. D’Oyly Carte built the first theatre here in 1881 eight years prior to putting up the hotel on the adjacent lot. A green plaque on the back wall commemorates the fact that that original theatre was the first public building in the world with electric lighting. The building was reconstructed at the end of the twenties and the new Savoy Theatre opened in October 1929 with a production of The Gondoliers (of course). Then in 1990 during another renovation the building was almost completely gutted by fire. Against expectation it arose, Pheonix-like, from the ashes just three years later with an extra storey housing, inter alia, a swimming pool above the stage.

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A few steps further on we reach the Coal Hole, another old haunt of mine, which is rumored to occupy what was the coal cellar for the Savoy Hotel in its early years. The pub is Grade II listed but despite its proximity to the Savoy Hotel is no longer part of it.

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Turning left along the Strand again we pass another green plaque; this one honouring the fact that the Royal Air Force had its original headquarters in the Hotel Cecil, which then stood on this plot on the Strand, from 1918 to 1919.

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Turn south again down Adam Street where at no.8 there is a blue plaque celebrating one of the pioneers of the industrial revolution, Sir Richard Arkwright (1732 – 1792). Arkwright was not, as I erroneously recalled from schooldays, the inventor of the spinning jenny. The patents which brought him his fortune were the spinning frame (later re-dubbed the water frame) and the rotary carding  engine that transformed raw cotton into cotton lap. His factories employed a high percentage of children (aged 7 and up) and although he allowed employees a week’s holiday a year they were not allowed to leave the village in which he housed them. When he died aged 59 that fortune was worth £500,000 (which apparently is only equivalent to about £68m today).

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Adam Street leads down to Adelphi Terrace which runs along the rear of the Grade II listed Adelphi. The construction of this purpose-built office building, 1936-8, by Stanley Hamp of Colcutt and Hamp required an act of Parliament (the Adelphi Act of 1933) due to the covenants on the site imposed by a statute of 1771 relating to the original development of the area by John, Robert, James and William Adam from 1772 (Adelphoi is Greek for brothers). The Act gave permission for the demolition of 24 Georgian houses built by the Adams, as well as placing conditions on the height of the new building and requiring the developers to maintain and widen public thoroughfares. Although it sparked controversy at the time of its erection the Adelphi is now regarded as one of London’s premier Art Deco buildings. The four giant allegorical relief figures on the corners of the Embankment front representing west-east are ‘Dawn’ (by Bainbridge Copnall), ‘Contemplation’ (by Arthur J Ayres), ‘Inspiration’ (by Gilbert Ledward), and ‘Night’ (by Donald Gilbert). Turning north up Roberts Street and right onto John Adam Street brings us to the front entrance with its carved reveal panels by Newbury Abbot Trent depicting scenes of industry. However there seems to be some confusion as to whether the building represents 1-10 John Adam Street or 1-11 (perhaps it’s a subtle tribute to Spinal Tap).

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Across the road is the home of The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce which, I have to confess, I had never heard of before. The RSA was founded in 1754  by William Shipley (1715 – 1803) with the central credo that the creativity of ideas could enrich social progress. The first meeting was held at Rawthmell’s Coffee House in Covent Garden. Fellows of the RSA over the years have included Samuel Johnson, Benjamin Franklin and William Hogarth. Their current mission statement reads “We believe that all human beings have creative capacities that, when understood and supported, can be mobilised to deliver a 21st century enlightenment.” Amen to that.

The house itself is a survivor of the development by the Adam Brothers in the 1770’s and it’s our final port of call on today’s journey.

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