|New construction cheek by jowl with old architecture.|
One can visit London a thousand times and never really see the same thing twice due to the vast layers of history that are draped over everything, unseen or unrecognized by those eking out their survival or in the throes of climbing the rungs of finance, industry, and class upon which this particular ladder to the stars depends. And yet so much of London is available for free.
The first time we came into "The City" I ran around like a frantic, headless chicken attempting to take it all in at once. Now I am smart enough to sip London like a fine wine (or good ale depending upon which part of town you are visiting). It is gratifying in the extreme to leave early, spend all day seeing the sites on one's list and return at dusk, unlocking the boat and magically one is home! Everything one needs to be comfy is right at hand. In the damp cold of a raw London evening, the fire burns a bright welcome as we remove our coats, set about fixing dinner and sit over a good meal reviewing the day like some rare found treasure washed up at one's feet.
Since Les was born and raised in Paddington, drove Routemaster buses through London suburbs in the late 1960's and later worked as a private courier within the boundaries of Greater London, he is a smashing tour guide. With my personal agenda shaped by literature, history, and a fascination with the Plague, our daily journeys throughout the various boroughs of London have led us to parts of the city even Les had no idea existed.
This trip I decided to focus on the EC1-EC3 post code area, drifting across the Thames to the South bank. EC1-EC3 is an ancient section of the city first formally recognized in written history as Londinium by the Romans. The old Roman wall is still in view where it escapes from the confines of soil and centuries of building over the top of it.
This area contains The Museum of the Order of St. John (Hospitallers), Tower Hill, Tower Bridge, All Hallows at the Tower Church, St. Olaves Church with plague graves, St. Katherine Docks, and across the Thames, the Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret, Borough Market, The ruins of Winchester Palace, the replica of Commander Drake's ship The Golden Hind, and the old prison aka The Clink.
We started out early on Saturday with bus pass and Oyster card in hand. It takes two buses (the 23 and the 15) to travel from Paddington to Tower Hill. We were accompanied on our travels by dozens of French tourists--many school aged kids with chaperones in tow. The bus filled with French chatter and the scent of Rive Gauche parfum. It was packed to overflow capacity and the bus driver had to forgo letting anyone on at a couple of stops.
We removed ourselves at Tower Street across from the Hung, Drawn, and Quartered Pub which as one can guess by its name, overlooks Tower Hill. On the side of the building is the quote I used at the top of this post, by none other than neighborhood local Samuel Pepys! I had no idea he actually lived in this area. (I've had a link to the electronic version of Pepys' diary on my blog So this is Love...for four years.)
The condemned commemorated in the quote was responsible for signing the death warrant of King Charles the First. Cromwell and the Parliamentarians took over and remade the government without king and crown.
|St. Olaves crouches beneath the weight of modern buildings.|
With the son of Charles I on the thrown, Major General Thomas Harrison was found guilty of regecide though he went to his death without apology; his public beheading eulogized forever after by a well known diarist in the audience.
We struck out first for Hart street and Seething Lane to see St. Olaves church. I was astonished by how the modern world had nearly swallowed up this lovely ancient church and its famous yard. Sadly neither the building or the churchyard were open.
Why did I want to see St. Olaves? A church has been on the premises since the 12th century, dedicated to King Olav of Norway who fought with the Anglo-Saxon King
Eathelred the Unready against the Danes in 1014. Local citizenry who contracted the plague in the last epidemic of 1665-66 were buried in the churchyard. During WWII King Haakon VII worshiped at St. Olaves while in exile.
This was the church of diarist Samuel Pepys and his wife, both of whom are buried within. Charles Dickens nicknamed it Saint Ghastly Grim for the five skulls with bones atop the churchyard gate.
Therefore the skulls grin aloft horribly, thrust through and through with iron spears. Hence, there is attraction of repulsion for me in Saint Ghastly Grim, and, having often contemplated it in the daylight and the dark, I once felt drawn towards it in a thunderstorm at midnight." (Charles Dickens, The Uncommercial Traveler, Ch.9)
|This tiny corner is all that is left of the famous churchyard.|
"The five skulls act as guardians to this repository for the dead. Underneath the trio of skulls reads the inscription ‘Christus Vivere Mors mihi lucrum’, which means ”Christ lives, death is my reward’. In a City that has seen as much death as it has change, these three skulls saw Plague sweep the City, witnessed the flames of the Great Fire almost lick the walls of the Church itself and seen Charles Dickens peering up at them in the soaking rain. They still gaze down on us, as we scuttle up and down Seething Lane and will be doing so for many more years to come." (Sheldon, co-creator of The Cemetery Club blog, accessed on-line on 04/07/14.)
|Note the sign above indicates Mother Goose was buried here in 1586!|
Mincing Lane is a corruption of Mynchen Lane for the tenements that were held there by the Benedictine "Mynchens" or nuns. The Crutched Friars were a group from Italy--the Frateres Crucifari who were allowed to establish a home in 1249. These mendicant monks were known by their long wooden staffs surmounted by crosses--the crutch with which they walked the streets of London.
I can stand alone with eyes closed and the sounds of the 21st century fade away, replaced by layer upon layer of history as it unfurls around me. Voices call out in Latin, the Anglo-Saxon which birthed Olde English, Middle English and modern English--its all there for those who an imagination with have eyes to see and ears to hear.
|The Ship pub, 27 Lime Street, EC3. Originally built in 1447, "The Ship has always been closely connected with ship owners and master mariners. The notices of the Port of London Authority|