Christmas London Tour – Part 3

It is that time of the year when many of you have time off from work coupled with a lifting of the congestion charge.

As with last year here is a potted car tour of our capital taking all the tourist sites which for one week only will be free from the usual hordes. It is circular and may be started from any point. The directions are written in the manner required when answering questions on The Knowledge.

[T]hey are pretty self-explanatory: L/L means leave on left; L/By leave by; Comply is to go round a roundabout; and L; R; and F – I’ll let your work those out.

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.

L/By George Street

F Birdcage Walk

St. James’s Park Originally a deer part of Henry VIII. James I established a public menagerie with exotic animals and birds, hence the road Birdcage Walk. In 1829 John Nash commissioned by George IV made this the epitome of an English landscape garden. Fine views of Buckingham Palace, and the spires, pinnacles and domes of Whitehall, wonderful colour in spring and summer, lake with over 42 species of birds.

R Buckingham Gate

Buckingham Palace A modest brick house owned by The Duke of Buckingham, was enlarged in 1825, the project proved too expensive and the architect John Nash was dismissed. When Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837 it was scarcely habitable. The drains were faulty, there were no sinks for the chambermaids on the bedroom floors, few of the lavatories were ventilated, the bells would not ring, some of the doors would not close, and many of the thousand windows would not open. When Queen Victoria moved in on 13th July 1837 it was, for the first time in her life, that she had a bedroom to herself. The east front was added in 1847 removing Marble Arch to its present position; in 1853-5 the ballroom block was added. In 1913 the present east front was built, with the famous balcony. Over 600 rooms, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh occupy 12 rooms on the first floor overlooking Green Park. The Royal Standard flag flying means Queen is in residence.

Queen Victoria Memorial Succeeding to the British throne at the age of 18 and reigning for 63 years, Queen Victoria was married to her cousin, Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha for 21 years. She was related, either directly or by marriage, to most of the royal houses of Europe. The industrial revolution, the rise of the middle classes, social reform, scientific and medical advance, the apogee of empire, a distinctive artistic style and a sense of union never again experienced are all hallmarks of the period known as ‘Victorian’. This statute was erected in 1911 commemorating her rule. Its creator Sir Thomas Brock, was made Knight Commander of the Bath on the platform during the unveiling ceremony. Note that the Queen wears her wedding ring on her right hand as she did in life, to please Albert’s German custom. At some time in its life the Queen’s nose was knocked off and replaced. The new nose was whiter than the original leading wags to suggest that it looked as if the old Queen snorted cocaine. Sadly its refurbishment for the 2012 Olympics has corrected the colour difference.

R The Mall

L Marlborough Road

L Cleveland Row

St. James’s Palace From 12th century a leper hospital dedicated to St. James’ the Less, Bishop of Jerusalem, it was pulled down in 1532 by Henry VIII, now a fine example of Tudor architecture. Charles II, James II, Mary II, Queen Anne and George IV were born here. Official residence of monarch until Buckingham Palace was used in 1837. Now the offices of Prince Charles and the Beefeaters.

R St. James’s Street

Gentleman’s Clubs These clubs mostly came into being during the 18th century mainly as a place to wager. Two members made a morbid wager on the date of death of a famous actor called Charles Macklin. They chose badly as he lived to well over 100. They faired rather less well, as each gambler committed suicide over his respective gambling debts.

No. 6 St. James’s Street. Lock the hatters who devised the bowler as a hard hat for poacher-chasing gamekeepers.

L Bennet Street

R Arlington Street

R Piccadilly

Comply Piccadilly Circus

Its proper title is ‘The Angel of Christian Charity’ and is a memorial to the Earl of Shaftesbury who entering Parliament at only 25 led the way to reform factory workers conditions. His Coal Mines Act of 1842 prohibited the use of women and children under 13 working below ground. He supported Florence Nightingale. It is said the statute is a play on the word shaft connecting the arrow with his name.

L/By Coventry Street

R Haymarket

L Pall Mall East

R Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square Laid out between 1829-41 to commemorate Lord Nelson’s victory over the French and Spanish navies at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21st October, 1805. Nelson was fatally wounded by a musket shot fired from the French ship Redoubtable. He was carried below deck and died in the arms of Thomas Hardy, his dying words ‘Kiss me Hardy’ have been immortalised. He probably said ‘Kismet Hardy’ meaning that it was his destiny. The fluted Corinthian column is 170 feet in total. Nelson aloft stands 17 feet 2 inches high. The bronze capital was cast from the cannon of the Royal George, which sank in 1782 while being heeled over for examination of her underwater timbers with great loss of life. At the base are four 20 foot bronze lions by Sir Edwin Landseer, added in 1867; the reliefs are made from French cannon captured at the battles of St. Vincent, the Nile, Copenhagen and Trafalgar. A few days before the statue was erected in 1843 fourteen people ate a precarious rump steak dinner on the top of the column.

Comply King Charles Island

King Charles Statue This statute by Hubert Le Sueur in 1633 and standing on the original site of Charing Cross is used as the starting point to measure distances from London. In 1649 John Rivett, a brazier, was ordered to destroy it by Cromwell, but he buried it in his garden and made a fortune by selling souvenirs allegedly from the metal. He gave it back to Charles II upon the Restoration of the Monarchy. The pedestal is said to have been designed by Wren and carved by Grinling Gibbons. The sword is not original, in the last century it was knocked off by an over- enthusiastic journalist covering a royal procession and was lost in the crowd. On 30th January each year, the anniversary of the King’s execution, the Royal Stuart Society holds a wreath-laying ceremony here.

L/By Northumberland Avenue

R Victoria Embankment

Great Scotland Yard spiritual home of the police was built on an unsolved murder mystery. When the previous building was being removed a headless female body, the victim of an unsolved murder, was found in the basement of the building. It remains unsolved. In 1748 Bow Street Runners were formed by Henry Fielding who wrote the book Tom Jones ‘not the singer’ and was also a magistrate, with only 7 men working out of Bow Street. In 1821 Sir Robert Peel the then Home Secretary formed the police force, hence the nickname ‘Bobbies’. They had to wear their uniform both on and off duty and were often beaten up or murdered. In 1864 they were given their famous helmet, but the blue uniform is inherited from the city police formed in 1782 when they were required to attend public hangings and blue was considered a suitable backdrop to the event.

R Bridge Street

Comply Parliament Square

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 three 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. The first poet to be buried in the south transept commonly known as Poet’s Corner was Geoffrey Chaucer in 1400 and, after this, other poets sought to be buried near him. But many poets, often because of the unconventional lives they led, were considered undesirable by successive Deans and have only been given memorials many years after their deaths. One of the strangest is that of Ben Jonson, who despite his fame, and fortune as a poet and playwright decided to invest his wealth on wine, women and only escaped the hangman’s noose after killing a fellow poet in a drunken brawl by using the bizarre Elizabethan law at the time which gave anyone who could read Latin the right to have the letter M branded on the thumb instead of the long drop with a short rope. Living in poverty he persuaded the Dean of Westminster Abbey to give him a resting place a mere 2 feet by 2 feet, not having the money for the traditional size. Here his friends interned him standing bolt upright in a corner that has now become Poet’s Corner.

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