This is the second part of our Christmas Tour. No pictures are necessary we all know what the tourist sites look like; all that’s provided is a potted history. I’ve attempted to give directions as a Knowledge student would use. No doubt I will be castigated by those same students for any mistakes. Please note also that at this time of year there are many road closures and so the tour may not always be adhered to.
L/By Charterhouse Street
Comply Holborn Circus
L/By New Fetter Lane
F Fetter Lane
L Fleet Street
Fleet Street St. Bride Church rebuilt by Wren 1670-84 with tiered spire 1701-3, 226 feet high inspiration for wedding cakes. Gutted in the Blitz and restored. River Fleet below was covered over in 1765. Latrines were built over the Fleet and conditions were so bad that it stopped flowing because of the sheer volume of human waste. A common sight in the Middle Ages was the human public convenience! This was a man wearing a large cloak and carrying a pail, the cloak being used to conceal the customer as he relieved himself in the bucket. Conditions so bad that in 1664 the Great Plague took hold. Once the plague was diagnosed a red cross was painted on the door and everybody in the house, contaminated or not, was locked in for 40 days and if another death occurred in the house the quarantine period had to start again. Guards were placed at the door; the inmates desperate to get out would try to strangle the guards by dangling a noose from an upstairs window. By 1665 over 100,000 had died.
F Ludgate Circus
F Ludgate Hill
St. Paul’s Cathedral first founded in 604, this is the fifth church of that name to be built this site. The fourth was even more awe-inspiring, being considerably larger than today’s’, which in its time had the tallest spire ever built. More a gigantic meeting and market place than a church. Street entertainers performed here, probably came from Italy as in Rome they were burnt as wizards. Henry VIII gambled away the church bells on a single throw of the dice; they were removed and sold for the value of the metal. Very occasionally the building was used for religious purposes, new translations of the bible, along with Luther’s was burnt here and in 1517 a maypole was denounced to death, although whether the sentence was carried out is uncertain. Cromwell’s troops burnt the pews and furniture and the roof fell in after the scaffolding holding it up was sold. Used as a cavalry barracks during the bitter winter of 1652 and horse dung was sold as fuel at 4d a bushel. For a small fee young trouble makers would climb to the top of the church and shout abuse and throw stones at passers-by, it seems hooliganism is not a 20th century phenomenon. Eventually burnt to the ground in the Great Fire of 1666. The current church is one of the great Gothic churches of Europe. Built by Sir Christopher Wren between 1675 and 1711, it took so long to build that to be called a St. Paul’s workman in the 17th century meant to be very slow at your job. In crypt tombs of Nelson, Wellington including his funeral carriage and many more including Wren’s almost anonymous plain black marble slab erected by his son, epitaph reads:
Si Monumentum Requiris, Circumspice If you seek of monument, look around you
An old legend says that if anything goes wrong with the bells it is considered an ill omen for the Royal Family.
L/By St. Paul’s Churchyard
F Cannon Street
R Friday Street
R Queen Victoria Street
L White Lion Hill
L Victoria Embankment
Temple on right. The word ‘inn’ originally meant a hostel where barristers and law students lived in a community. These Inns of Court, medieval colleges of lawyers, through which all have to pass who wish to qualify for the legal profession, developed into a sequence of courts, gardens, and alleys, badly blitzed in Second World War but restored. Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was staged here in 1602. In 1608 King James I granted the Inner Templars, members of a legal fraternity, limited ownership. In gratitude they gave him a ‘stately cup’ of pure gold. His son in need of money pawned it.
Victoria Embankment designed by Bazalgette. Under this road is London’s first sewer. The river was so bad before there were dredgers who got a living from removing corpses taken from the Thames.
Cleopatra’s Needle having nothing to do with her but called Cleopatra’s Needle, carved in 1475 BC over 1,000 years before London was named, is by far the capital’s oldest man- made attraction. Stands over sixty feet high and weights 186 tons. Presented to the British in the early 1800s against its wishes. It was loaded onto an iron pontoon and showed its obvious displeasure at being moved from the shores of the Mediterranean by nearly sinking off The Bay of Biscay. The obelisk was saved but six seamen died in the ferocious storm. We eventually erected it in 1887. It is now the most popular suicide spot on this stretch of the Thames come here at night to witness two ghosts who are seen jumping into the river. You cannot help but feel that the needle is waiting for the day when it can return home to stand proud under the hot Egyptian sun.
R Horse Guards Avenue
Banqueting House The only remaining part of the old Whitehall Palace above ground, designed by Inigo Jones and completed 1622 is the first purely Renaissance building in London. Inside it has a gallery with a stone balustrade so the King’s subjects could watch him dine. The ceiling commissioned by Charles I painted by Rubens and celebrates ‘The benefits of Wise Rule’. 14 years later in 1649 Charles walked out through a window here to his beheading, wearing a thick vest to stop him getting the cold, fearing that if he shivered they would think him afraid.
Haig’s Statute Douglas, 1st Earl Hag who commanded the British forces in 1915 during the first world war, but has since been denigrated for his mismanagement of the battle of Passchendale, his critics were quick to point out that the hind legs of his horse suggest not propulsion but urination. Now spoiling the view of Dover House built 1787 by Henry Holland looking like a Wedgwood Vase.
F Parliament Street
Comply Parliament Square
Houses of Parliament In 1834 the Palace of Westminster burn down, ending the accommodation for the legislature for nearly 300 years. Designed by Charles Barry whose son designed Tower Bridge, with ornamentation by Augustus Pugin in Perpendicular Gothic. When the clock tower reached a height of 150ft. work on it had to be suspended as it was discovered that the mechanism of the clock could not be raised inside it.
Westminster Hall The only surviving part of the original Palace of Westminster, built in 1097, with additions and alterations, it has the widest hammer-beam roof in the country added in 1399. Traditionally the Royal champion would ride to the centre of the Hall, throw down his gauntlet, and challenge any man denying the right of the Sovereign to single combat.
From 13th century to 1882 it housed the law courts. In early days men were hired as witnesses here, the sign of their trade was a straw protruding from their shoe, hence expressions ‘man of straw’ and ‘straw bail’ The barristers waiting for a brief, would place themselves around the room leaning against the posts and pillars where the expression ‘going from pillar to post’ comes from.
Amongst those tried here have been Sir John Oldcastle (Shakespeare’s Falstaff), Sir Thomas More, Queen Anne Boleyn and Guy Fawkes. After the Restoration the heads of Cromwell and his fellow Commonwealth leaders, Ireton and Bradshaw were placed on the roof. Cromwell’s head stayed there for 25 years until it was finally blown down. We seem to have forgiven Mr. Cromwell as his statute has pride of place outside Westminster Hall; unfortunately his spurs are upside down. The Irish however had not forgiven his barbaric treatment of them, as they refused to help finance the making of it.
Westminster Abbey Every coronation since 1066 has taken place here, although two sovereigns have not been formally crowned: Edward V, one of the princes in the Tower who was murdered in 1483, less than 3 months after his accession and Edward VIII who abdicated to marry Wallace Simpson. During the dissolution of the monasteries part of the Abbey’s revenues were transferred to St. Pauls Cathedral as a bribe to save it from destruction, the expression ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ comes from this act. Legend has it that John Bradshaw, who pronounced the death sentence on Charles I in 1649, haunts the Deanery.
L/By Margaret Street
F Old Palace Yard
F Abingdon Street
Comply Millbank Circus
Thames House on right headquarters of MI5. They are recruiting what they euphemistically describe as ‘mobile surveillance officers’ that’s spies to you and me. Now I’m old enough to remember the Burgess/Phil by/Maclean debacle and rather assumed recruitment was through an old boys’ network with links to an Oxbridge College, and a predilection to, shall we say? – unusual sexual appetites. There is great deal on the MI5 site about extended working hours, multitasking, thinking on your feet and the need not to have facial tattoos (they make you too noticeable, apparently!), but nothing about getting shot at, being stabbed with trick umbrellas or being irradiated. Should MI5 not be your cup of tea (or vodka martini), there’s always MI6 across the water. So surely there is something in there for everyone?
L/By Lambeth Bridge
That is the end of our circular tour. We have, of course, just scratched the surface. We haven’t visited Royal London or the West End. Hopefully I will return to those another day. Remember during the Christmas period there are numerous scheduled road works, for check them out follow this link.