You’d lose your head if it wasn’t sewed on

Just another chapter in England’s bloody history, but according to popular, if dubious legend, it was realised that no official portrait existed of the deceased Duke. His body was exhumed, the head reaffixed to the body and he sat unknowingly for his portrait . . . . . . . . . . .

Exclusively for Patrons, here is List 20: Run 318 the next ‘run’ from my travelogue Pootling around London: Manor House to Gibson Square, again I hope you find it both amusing and informative.

Thank You again for your support.

Leicester Square WC2 to The Guildhall EC2

I never expected the Knowledge to be a pleasant ride around London in the sunshine, but today is testing my resolve to its limit. In 1853 Charles Dickens in Bleak House described Leicester Square as: ‘Wintry morning, looking with dull eyes and sallow face upon the neighbourhood of Leicester Square, finds its inhabitants unwilling to get out of bed. Many of them are not early risers at the brightness of times, being birds of the night who roost when the sun is high and are awake and keen for prey when the stars shine out.

Not much seems to have changed this Sunday morning, Leicester Square is almost deserted and what little warmth lingered in the air has been extinguished by the application of cold water sprayed upon the street, courtesy of Westminster Council endeavouring to keep clean this popular place of revelry.

I wonder if Maurice Micklewhite talking to his manager from a telephone booth in Leicester Square was this cold. He was said to have been opposite the Odeon and looked up, seeing his favourite actor, Humphrey Bogart in The Caine Mutiny, decided on Michael Caine as his stage name.

Leaving, the now pedestrianised, Leicester Square by St. Martin’s Street I turn into the curiously named Orange Street, which I would later find out stands on the site of The Duke of Monmouth’s stables, which were referred to as Orange Mews, a reference to the colour of Monmouth’s coat-of-arms. So far pretty dull trivia with which to use remembering the name of this handy cut-through.

The Duke of Monmouth was the eldest illegitimate son of Charles II. In 1685, after declaring himself King, he led an unsuccessful rebellion to depose his uncle King James II, but lost at the Battle of Sedgemoor. Tried for treason he had the misfortune to meet his Maker at Tower Hill via the good offices of Jack Ketch, London’s most inept executioner. Ketch took eight blows, witnesses said that Monmouth started to rise reproaching the executioner, but eventually the deed was finished with a knife.

Just another chapter in England’s bloody history, but according to popular, if dubious legend, it was realised that no official portrait existed of the deceased Duke. His body was exhumed, the head reaffixed to the body and he sat unknowingly for his portrait.

Running parallel with Orange Street to the north of Leicester Square is Lisle Street, now pedestrianised and lined with dozens of Chinese restaurants, it stands on the site of Leicester House, once one of London’s largest houses. The house once witnessed a bizarre accident, Frederick, Prince of Wales was hit in the throat by a cricket ball and died. The accident was summed up at the time by this ditty: ‘Here lies Fred, who was alive, and is dead, there’s no more to be said!’

There isn’t any more to be said about Leicester Square and I’m now skirting the edge of Covent Garden and turning into Strand.

As often is the way when pootling about London, the need to spend a penny arrives at the most inopportune time. Knowing there are public toilets outside The Royal Courts of Justice, I decide to avail myself of them. The problem here is that, it is also a cabbies’ rest rank, so as I make my way down to the underground conveniences I get the usual good natured banter: “The game’s up”; It’ll take longer than you can imagine”; or, my favourite: “Stop wasting your time talking to me about how to pass, just get out on your bike”.

Just beside the toilets, behind St. Clement Danes Church, is the statue of London’s most quoted figure. Samuel Johnson died just as his statue was ready, so it was thought appropriate to unveil the work as his body was conveyed into the church for the lying-in-state. “By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show.” This seems to me to be a pretty felicitous maxim for any Knowledge student.

Setting off again, this time the dozens of points along this stretch of road, I find Twinings Teas on the right, claimed to be London’s oldest shop, producing a beverage that floated The British Empire. You enter this tiny shop, through a white portico guarded by two Chinese figures, one blue, the other yellow. Both Twinings and Jacksons of Picadilly lay claim to have invented Earl Grey, that most English of teas. But since Jacksons are now owned by Twinings, it could be said their disagreement is no more now than a storm in a teacup.

My next stop is Temple Bar, the boundary for the City of London, it is here that the Monarch symbolically asks permission to enter The Square Mile. An earlier and more elaborate construction here served a more sinister purpose. Heads of traitors (boiled in salt to deter birds eating them), were used to festoon its pediment. At the time, an enterprising local hired telescopes for 1/2d a look, should anyone wish to avail themselves of the spectacle. The Duke of Monmouth, it was he you might remember had his head reattached, was spared this ignoble display of his body parts.

Just after Temple Bar, on the south side of Fleet Street is the El Vino Bar, despite being the haunt of lawyers, as late as 1982 it lost at the Court of Appeal, and was found to have been breaking the law by refusing to allow women to stand and be served at their bar, giving a new connotation for newly qualified female barristers to be ‘called to the bar’ across the road at The Royal Courts of Justice.

Crossing Ludgate Circus, the site of The Daily Courant, England’s first daily newspaper, I turn left into Old Bailey, which gave its name to the famous courts.

The Old Bailey was built upon the site of Newgate Prison, which in the late 18th century was the principal place of execution, replacing Tyburn. The scaffold was erected in front of the prison affording a good view for those who took their entertainment in this way, and making the owners of adjacent properties rich, renting out their windows for the spectacle.

Negotiating the last few streets, including the impressively named St. Martins Le Grand and the more prosaic Wood Street, I’ve reached the end of the run.

Not many buildings as old as Guildhall still serve the same purpose for which they were built. Essentially it is the administrative centre of the London guilds.

In London, there are 108 guilds and the number is growing, Hackney Carriage Drivers is a recent addition, despite the fact that London cabs were first licensed by Oliver Cromwell.

In medieval times the role of the guilds was very clear. It was a trades union which operated as a closed shop. Offering members mutual support; they set standards for their trade, and they kept out strangers.

Many have vanished, as fashion and technology changed: the virginal-makers; the hatband makers; the horserubbers; and the shivers (makers of bungs for barrels apparently).

Some of the oldest are very wealthy, as any land or properties bequeathed to them is held in perpetuity. Nowadays trade, charity, education and fellowship is their purpose and in 2010 the companies gave away nearly £42m, half for educational purposes – a lot of schools have livery connections.

Less is more
I recently heard this anecdote from a Knowledge boy:

“I met up with a Knowledge boy that I have been chatting to online for a while, this is what he had on his scooter: a compass the size of an orange; a traditional Knowledge board; an iPhone running Memory Map; multiple action camera points; a global tracker linked to his Mac back home; and an 12 inch iPad Pro in the back box.

We shook hands and had a 10-minute chat while chatting I’m looking at his bike thinking where is the kitchen sink, we go to set off then nothing, I had to go to the garage and buy some jump leads to get him on his way.”

The GPS users experienced a reduced sense of place.

As humans we have to face the fact that mentally we are lazy, most would rather watch TV’s diet of drivel than engage in understanding a programme titled Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.

Our brain tries to decrease the amount of information being stored, which, of course, is the appeal of GPS. But surely it’s better to have an understanding of our place within the urban environment. Just around the corner could be an exquisite building just waiting to be explored, or a small green space to get solitude.

While others are looking at a blue dot superimposed upon a crude map on their phone, and because of the high buildings in the vicinity, giving them an inaccurate signal telling them they are standing in the middle of the Thames, when, patiently they are standing in Trafalgar Square.

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