Lon­don via the back­streets

Matilda Hick­son spends a day ex­plor­ing Lon­don via its back­streets and is thrilled by what she learns and dis­cov­ers

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS -

It is the hottest day of the sum­mer so far in Lon­don. 35 de­grees centi­grade. A day surely to spend by a pool or in a cool of­fice or home – not walk­ing around Lon­don for more than eight hours and clock­ing up nine miles to boot?

But to­day is a spe­cial day as I am join­ing a tour of the back streets of Lon­don led by es­teemed lec­turer and writer Barn­aby Roger­son. We start at Hyde Park Corner and fin­ish at the Tower of Lon­don. It is only 3.5 miles as the crow flies, but as we will be keep­ing, lit­er­ally, to the back streets, we shall be walk­ing much fur­ther.

As some­one who only comes to Lon­don for meet­ings, and goes straight from the train sta­tion to the meet­ing and back again, I’ve never re­ally given my­self the time to ex­plore the city – which is why I’m look­ing for­ward to this day – de­spite the heat.

We meet at Hyde Park Corner and af­ter point­ing out the war memo­ri­als and a quick dis­cus­sion about Ap­s­ley House and how the Duke of Welling­ton bought it anony­mously from his brother to pay his debts, we set off into Hyde Park at a brisk pace, snatch­ing pho­tos as we go.

We con­tinue to May­fair and Green Park, where the first per­for­mance of Han­del's Wa­ter Mu­sic took place. Cross­ing Pic­cadilly, we are re­minded that the name comes from pic­cadill, a type of col­lar that made a for­tune for the tai­lor, Robert Baker, who in­vented it. On the way we see the house in Shep­herd Mar­ket where Pa­trick Leigh Fer­mor left to walk the length of Europe, aged 18.

Stand­ing out­side the north­ern en­trance to St James’s Palace, built by Henry VIII be­tween 1531 and 1536, I didn't know that the Palace was built on the site of a for­mer leper hospi­tal ded­i­cated to Saint James the Less. Next we stop by a lovely bronze art nou­veau-style me­mo­rial to Queen Alexan­dra by sculp­tor Sir Al­fred Gilbert and as we pass by the Duke of York Me­mo­rial, we are in­formed that his mis­tress was Mary Anne Clarke, whose grand­daugh­ter, Daphne du Mau­rier, wrote a book about her life. I love th­ese sorts of con­nec­tions.

We reach St James's Park and have a well-earned re­fresh­ment break at the café there. Morn­ing tea is laid out beau­ti­fully for us and I de­cide that I need at least two brown­ies to keep my strength up for the rest of the morn­ing.

The pace con­tin­ues af­ter our break. Barn­aby is on a mis­sion to de­liver us to our spe­cial lunch venue, Mid­dle Tem­ple Hall, on time, but there is much to see be­fore we get there. We head over to the Ad­mi­ralty Build­ing where the Horse Guards are chang­ing over for the day. Did we know that the hel­mets worn by both reg­i­ments are ac­tu­ally based on an Ot­toman hat, worn by guards (known as the Tressed

Hal­berdiers) at the Topaki Palace in Is­tan­bul? The long tas­sels were used to cover their faces so they couldn't see the ladies in the harem as they de­liv­ered wood to the fire­places.

Also, within the Guards’ mu­seum, is a glass wall where you can watch the horses be­ing groomed and in­spected at 3pm. The glass wall came about be­cause Queen Vic­to­ria came down to in­spect the horses one day and found her Guards­men asleep on duty. Oh, and the Ad­mi­ralty build­ing is where Ian Fleming and his brother, Peter, used to work and was syn­ony­mous with the se­cret ser­vice.

We pop in to see the beau­ti­ful ceil­ing by Rubens in Ban­quet­ing House where Charles I was brought for his ex­e­cu­tion, and at the back of the Min­istry of De­fence build­ing, we spot some grey stone steps with a col­umn base on the top one. Th­ese steps used to lead down to the River Thames, which to­day is at least 200m away. I hadn’t re­alised that we no longer walk along the orig­i­nal river bank.

Walk­ing through White­hall Gar­dens Barn­aby points out a small plaque to Wil­liam Tyn­dale, a man who cam­paigned to have the Bi­ble trans­lated into English so more could read it and to have it placed in every church. From the gar­dens we walk up Craven Street, where Barn­aby points out a bow win­dow of a house that also used to over­look the river a cou­ple of hun­dred years ago, and the house where Ben­jamin Franklin used to live as a young man and where he plot­ted the down­fall of the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment.

As we ap­proach the Savoy Ho­tel, we learn that Gilbert and Sul­li­van (drama­tist & com­poser) used to hate each other, but that was fine with Richard D’Oyly Carte who made a for­tune from them – enough to build the Savoy and buy up a lot of Lon­don. As we pass the Savoy a treat awaits us. Not just the cool in­te­ri­ors and posh toi­lets but a glass of cham­pagne. This is def­i­nitely the way to see Lon­don.

The back­street tour is de­scribed as be­ing a tour of two cities – the royal city, com­plete with grand spa­ces, palaces and parks, and the work­ing city, the an­cient heart of com­merce. And now we were leav­ing the for­mer and cross­ing into the lat­ter. But first we passed through Covent Gar­den and the the­atres be­fore reach­ing the Inns of Court. I was lov­ing the sense that each area I knew from a tube map, re­ally had its own story and char­ac­ter.

Barn­aby con­tin­ued to in­tro­duce peo­ple I had never heard of. For ex­am­ple, Ge­orge Pe­abody, an Amer­i­can banker based in Lon­don who started Lon­don’s first hous­ing as­so­ci­a­tion and tried to en­cour­age the Bri­tish to do the same. We walk past some

Pe­abody flats, that are still in use and said to be light and airy with good-sized rooms.

And so we make it to one of the high­lights of the day for me – lunch at Mid­dle Tem­ple Hall. We are about to eat in the same place that El­iz­a­beth I saw the open­ing night of Shake­speare’s Twelfth

Night. How fan­tas­tic - and lunch was too (in­volved wine and large dessert).

Af­ter lunch we visit the Tem­ple Church – a beau­ti­ful 12th-cen­tury build­ing that is all honey-coloured stone and light in­te­ri­ors. Barn­aby in­forms us the church was built as an apol­ogy to the Tem­plars by Henry II for not go­ing on a cru­sade as promised. He also tells us that to be a Knights Templar you had to be able to prove that you had an aris­to­cratic back­ground go­ing back 400 years. Not for ev­ery­one then.

Leav­ing the church we en­ter a small street with old houses that used to have their oc­cu­pants listed on the front porch and fur­ther down the road is the As­tor fam­ily home, which you can ex­plore on one of Lon­don's ‘open door’ days (22-23 Septem­ber 2018). We are now mov­ing into the Black­fri­ars area and Fleet Street – so there is news­pa­per his­tory mixed with Ro­mans, monks and Ir­ish schol­ars.

Lead­ing the way swiftly into St Bride's Church, which has seven lay­ers of oc­cu­pa­tion fin­ish­ing with Wren, Barn­aby takes us to the crypt that was ex­posed by bomb­ing in the Sec­ond World War. To­day you can see an old Ro­man mo­saic that is still in situ – who knew all th­ese trea­sures were wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered?

A quick visit to the river again to dis­cuss the South Bank as we are now def­i­nitely into the City part of our tour. The rea­son the tour is done on a week­day is that we are to ex­pe­ri­ence the 'liv­ing' city, the heart of the 'work­ing city' - if we came on the week­end it would be mostly empty. We carry on past the Royal Ex­change, which stands op­po­site the Bank of Eng­land, and are whisked on down small streets (pass­ing the Lon­don Mithraeum which has re­cently opened as a mu­seum) to our very wel­come af­ter­noon tea spot – Marco Pierre White’s restau­rant at Thread­nee­dles Ho­tel.

Our fi­nal leg of the tour takes us from the heart of the City to the Tower of Lon­don. I love the mix of an­cient churches jux­ta­posed here with the enor­mous mod­ern build­ings – tiny churches are dwarfed by the Shard, Gherkin and Lloyds build­ing. Our fi­nal des­ti­na­tion is a Ro­man wall and the naval me­mo­rial, which com­mem­o­rates the loss of lives at sea in both World Wars.

It has been the most stun­ning day – so much to learn and to re­visit at our leisure. And full marks to Barn­aby who has not flagged at all in the heat but kept up the pace, so we fin­ished our al­most nine-hour odyssey, on time.

The Lon­don Back­street Walk is or­gan­ised by Martin Ran­dall Travel, who have other Lon­don itin­er­ar­ies as well as many over­seas tours. For more in­for­ma­tion see www.mar­t­in­ran­dall.com

Far left: The art nou­veau me­mo­rial to Queen Alexan­dra by Sir Al­fred Gilbert

Left: The bow shaped win­dow of a house in Craven Street that used to over­look the Thames

Below: The blue plaque that marks the spot where the King's wardrobe used to be kept at 5 Wardrobe Place

Below: The Tem­ple Bar Me­mo­rial, in front of the Royal Courts of Jus­tice, marks the bound­ary be­tween West­min­ster and the City of Lon­don. The me­mo­rial takes its name from nearby Tem­ple Church (Im­age: © Nina Lock­wood)

Above: Lock & Co, the world's old­est hat shop on St James's Street Right: Plaque to Wil­liam Tyn­dale in Vic­to­ria Em­bank­ment Gar­dens (Im­age: © Nina Lock­wood)

Far right, bot­tom: Dick Whit­ting­ton (c. 1354–1423) was not just a pan­tomime char­ac­ter - he re­ally was Mayor of Lon­don. His blue plaque is at St Michael Pater­nos­ter Church in Col­lege Hill. He was a me­dieval mer­chant and politi­cian who fi­nanced a num­ber of pub­lic projects, such as drainage sys­tems in poor ar­eas of me­dieval Lon­don and a hospi­tal ward for un­mar­ried moth­ers. He be­queathed his for­tune to form the Char­ity of Sir Richard Whit­ting­ton which, nearly 600 years later, con­tin­ues to as­sist peo­ple in need

Right: Lon­don's an­cient churches are dwarfed by the mod­ern build­ings in the City Far right, top: Names of oc­cu­pants of build­ings used to be writ­ten on out­side porches

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