London is not England.
It is now surpassed in size by other cities but it is still huge. About thirty five miles across. Up until the early sixties it was the largest city in the world. It is still in the top ten. This fact can be good or bad. One has to deal with it in small bites. In fact one has to deal with it street by street. Each street has some history and one has to peal back the layers to find the story.
The modern city is a layer cake of history. Constant building and rebuilding not to mention periodic fiery catastrophes have shaped it’s current somewhat haphazard form. Except in certain places it is not an elegant or beautiful city though it has it’s places and also has had it’s chances (such as after the Great Fire and after the Second World War) at attaining some overall plan but commerce always won out over aesthetics.
I was born there and left it over forty years ago. I know it well but in the interim it has changed dramatically. In the fifties it was slowly picking itself up after a ruinous war the vestiges of which I experienced as a child. It was a battered grey place with much rebuilding to do and with little money left in the coffers. By the sixties this had improved and the rebuilding process was well under way. When I was last there ten years ago vast swathes had been completely changed. A whole new part of the city has developed to the east of the old City. Where once stood the docklands and warehouses of the old east London now sit gleaming glass icons of the new economy.
A little history first because London has much of it. In the beginning….
Roman London about two thousand years ago.
Nicely situated at the easiest place to ford the river and still be able to get to the open sea by boat. An inland port.
A south facing prospect and protective hills to the north.
The roads they built that go in all directions are still in use today.
There were tribes living along the banks of the Thames long before the Romans but we have little to show for it other than what is sometimes dredged from the silt of the river and now sits in Museums.
According to unverifiable lore Brutus a Trojan founded a town here called
Troia Nova, or New Troy. The name in time corrupted to
Trinovantum. The Romans named it Londinium
This original Roman layout did not change much through the next 1500 years with the City staying mostly within the original Roman walls but by the 1700’s it was growing well beyond those bounds.
The Victorian era saw massive growth making it the largest city in the world by 1900.
What were once separate villages gradually grew together into a single mass.
A vast brooding immensity.
Luckily many of the private hunting parks of the aristocracy survived giving many open air breathing spaces within this tangle of humanity.
London is still of course a bustling crowded city. We found it to be actually a much cleaner place than before. The new rules keeping out traffic from the centre seems to have made the air much easier to breath and the roads to be more clear of traffic and flowing. Outside the traffic exclusion zone it is another matter. The surrounding areas are heavily travelled day and night.
Richmond is named after the town in Yorkshire which was the seat of the Tudor family who came out on top in the well known Wars of The Roses. Henry the Seventh celebrated by building a new Palace there. Little of it remains today except for a gatehouse and nearby Kew Gardens which was part of the grounds of this old palace.
The view from Richmond Hill (below) looking west along the Thames is well known and has not changed much at all over time. Still very pastoral and not a large modern building in sight. Of course views like this are desirable. Among others Mick Jagger and Pete Townsend are able to enjoy it from their houses atop this hill.
This is where we are staying at the bottom of the hill just off The Vineyard-
which believe it or not once grew vines.
gardens of large riverside houses.
Below-Some just look old. These are newer buildings made to fit into a Georgian style riverside plaza development a few years ago.
The “City” of London is distinct from the city that is called London.
It has its own police force and laws.It’s own Mayor. The monarch has to ask permission from that Mayor to enter the City.
Christopher Wren also rebuilt 51 churches that surrounded the original Cathedral.
Many are now gone but some still survive hiding away behind new modern
glass office blocks.
Below-St Pauls sits upon Ludgate Hill so named after the pre Roman King Lud. This statue of him with his two sons once sat upon the entrance to the City from the west or Ludgate. Now it is in the old Church of St.Dunstans.
Further down those narrow alleys toward the river one comes to the place where the old Blackfriars Monastery used to be.
THE BLACKFRIARS PUB
It was built in 1875 near the site of a thirteenth century Dominican Priory, which gives the area it’s name and was the inspiration for the pubs design.
Totally charming and more like a church inside than a pub. A profane church. It is decorated in the Nouveau end of the Arts and Crafts style, with mottoes on the walls such as -Haste Is Slow, Industry Is All – and friezes of monks with animals ears going about the business of collecting eels and boiling eggs and making brew.
The reasonable exterior does not prepare you for the extraordinary interior. The immediate impression is that of an extravagantly ornate church, or scaled down cathedral, every inch decorated in marble, mosaic or bas-relief sculpture.
Details appear after awhile such as the various figures perched on the mouldings. This one below is reading a book upside down.
In the 1960’s Sir John Betjeman, who later became the Poet Laureate of England, led a campaign to save the Black Friar from demolition. Thanks to him and his supporters we can still enjoy this delightful pub.
It is amazing to think that buildings such as this were even considered for demolition but the sad fact is that many fine buildings were swept away in the post war rush to rebuild and modernize.
Here are some.
as opposed to the “east” Minster of St.Pauls.
Salmon ran swift in the river in those far off days and a fisher of these saw a vision of St Peter and thus the present abbey was begun. In realty the Church was simply building upon an existing power spot.Here is an image of modern day Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament superimposed on the ancient Thorney Island. The Thames has since been tamed and altered beyond all recognition.
His tomb is in the Abbey and has been the site of much pilgrimage through the years.
In fact one has to move very slowly through the Abbey so as not to miss the many famous names inscribed on the pavement beneath one’s feet.
Carved from oak in 1297 it was originally gilded and coloured. During its history many tourists and pilgrims have made their mark upon the wood.
It is said to be the oldest chair in the country.
The day were there it was the current Queen’s official birthday and from the very window he went to his fate from we caught the ceremonial red white and blue fly past.
As the name suggests this are was once the site for the May Fair held in what were once fields. Now synonymous with high end homes and wealth.
As I photographed this Bentley a yellow Lamborghini and a red Ferrari raced by parked “common” Porsche’s and BMW’s.Speaking of cars a Morgan with perhaps “The” Mr Pink who’s high end shirt shops are to be seen in all good neighborhoods.
designed the iconic “red” hunting coat. The coat was made of scarlet cloth but was always referred to as “PINK” in honour of its originator.
He claimed he took five hours a day to dress, and recommended that boots be polished with champagne. His style of dress is often referred to as dandyism.
A view from Richmond House on Whitehall toward the City.
Below– Details on South Africa House in Trafalgar Square.
We took shelter in here from the crowds and the pavement to find it an oasis of cool and with a chamber group rehearsing The Brandenburg Concertos for their evening performance.
The old Michelin garage in Chelsea. Note the illuminated piled tires at corners of building. Now it is a restaurant. (Not my photo).
was such a success that Prince Albert-Queen Victoria’s husband
wanted to promote the aims of the Exhibition
and to extend “the influence of Science and Art upon Productive Industry” by building museums, colleges, schools, concert halls, and premises for learned societies.
This where I would want to have an apartment in London.
Surrounded by free Museums and the Albert Hall I could never complain of boredom.
is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, housing a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects.
One of the most decorative places in London to eat lunch.
Originally this room was opposite as one entered the building. It is flanked by two smaller rooms one, a breakfast room was an early William Morris’s commission. The windows are full of Victorian maxims and mottoes about the joys of eating and drinking, such as such as ‘Hunger is the best sauce’ and ‘A good cup makes all young’.
Solitude– by Lord Leighton. We have this one hanging in our house.
Rather than naming what they do have it is easier to name what they do not have in their collections. Sculpture, painting, ceramics, porcelain, furniture,glass. Greek to Modern.
Obviously we went immediately to the fashion and clothing area.
Barges and warehouses lined the river which brought the wealth of Empire right into the heart of the City. The ships are gone now and the river is quiet. The way was cleared for a walking path direct from St Pauls over the river to the South Bank and the Tate Modern.
Tower Bridge now is dwarfed by a new skyline developing in the City.
Now after all the passing years they are listed as preserved examples of that period and house the National Theatre and various music venues.
Great views for those who lack vertigo.
Below-Speaking of Charles Dickens this is the building where I lived from 3-11 years of age at the top floor corner.
The Dickens Estate was built by the London Council on cleared Victorian slums in the nineteen twenties.
They were model housing for the day with indoor plumbing and electric light. In fact today they look much better than the housing that surrounds them built later in the sixties which now look shabby.
Below- Today rebuilt. This image illustrates the patchwork of styles that in a way makes London unique. The medieval survivor next to the surviving Edwardian next to the modern. Of European cities Paris is untouched, Berlin is all brand new whereas London is a mixture of periods.
Below– Charing Cross Road famous for book shops.
The first photo is as I remember it in the sixties with quaint little shops at street level with Victorian era apartments above. There was a tobacconist wherein nothing had changed much since 1860 with old advertising etc. There was the famous Dobells Jazz shop where one could buy all the American records and across the road was an ancient tobacconists where it was like a museum and nothing had changed since the 1800’s.
Second photo (above) as it is today. The architect seems to show absolutely no regard for the context into which these structures are going. This is another sad effect of London’s boom. The shops at street level are now chain stores and restaurants.
However not all has changed.
In the Regency Period 1837 John Nash designed some spectacular buildings and environments.