The first museum we tackled was the British Museum, only a 20 minute walk away.
It is housed in an imposing building in Bloomsbury, reminiscent of the Parthenon in Athens. The details even in the facade was amazing.
You’ll find out later about the British obsession with all things Greek.
Some of you might now that I was a great fan of the British spy show Spooks. So it was my mission to find the building they called MI5 Headquarters. And I found it!
It wasn’t the actual MI5 building, of course, but the Freemasons’ Hall. The real MI5 building is best seen in the latest James Bond film Skyfall (it gets blown up). I walked past it on another walk, incidently, and saw the MI6 building across the Thames. I admit that there were a lot of security cameras about the place.
London is a busy place, and the major stations are the busiest places imaginable. London Waterloo station might not be as busy as, say, Shinjuku station in Tokyo, but it’s a sight more hectic than Sydney Central Station at its worst.
Londoners do love their markets. They seem to come out in droves, no matter the weather. We toured of delights of various East End Sunday markets. First up were the Columbia Road Flower Markets in Shoreditch, which took its flora very seriously. There East End marketers flogging their wares with thick Cockney accents, and a profusion of dogs being taken out for walks.
In the back alleys were art galleries, home ware shops, cafes and little bakeries, which sold very tempting treats.
We moved on to neighbouring Spitalfields, home to the famous market, and also Brick Lane, renown for their curries. There were plenty of produce on offer, and also food stalls from every type of cuisine you could think of.
East Enders are particularly renown for their sharp wit. This made me giggle a bit.
One thing that London has an abundance of is markets. On weekends, it seems that Londoners and visitors from everywhere hang out in them, no matter the weather.
The closest market to us is Smithfield, down the bottom of St John Street. It’s not really a ‘hanging around’ kind of market, but a serious wholesale one that buys, sells, probably even butchers, meat of all kinds. Like most wholesale markets, most the action takes place in the early hours of the morning. I’m not one to wake up so early (unless it’s from jet lag) so unfortunately I can’t tell you what it’s like.
I can however tell you about its history. Smithfield has been a livestock and butchers market since medieval times. Livestock used to be driven down St John Street to be slaughtered, although livestock weren’t the only things being butchered. Smithfield has also long been an execution spot, being not too far from the Tower of London. William Wallace (of Braveheart fame) was executed here, and many other deemed a heretic or dissident – quite a few during Tudor times.
Nowadays there aren’t any crowds crying out for blood, just a line of semi-trailers in the middle of the night, waiting to unload their meaty goods.
It’s true that all this talk of history (particularly history beyond the 18th Century) is a bit bewildering for us from the New World, but I suppose even the 12th Century pales in comparison when you look at things from a geological point of view. We’re not getting into geology quite yet, but we are heading back to the 12th Century. Through this Tudor gate is the oldest church in London.
St Bartholomew the Great church isn’t really in Clerkenwell, but in the neighbouring parish of Smithfield. It was built as part of an Augustinian Priory, way back in 1143 – that’s a mere 77 years after the Norman Invasion, in the time of King Stephen (that’s the bad dude in Pillars of the Earth). From the outside, you can tell that it’s an old build by the handmade mortar, full of shells and other bits and pieces, and by the flint stones that were used.
From the inside, it’s pure Norman architecture – simple and elegant. Even though it’s been built up and fixed up quite a bit in its time (due to fires and in the Great Wars, bombings), one can’t mistaken it for anything but a medieval church. Unsurprisingly, it’s a sort-after location for period dramas. It’s very easy to imagine bald monks and knights and lords worshipping here.
Let’s take a walk around Clerkenwell. By Clerkenwell Green is St James’s Church. It was built on top of St Mary’s Benedictine Nunnery after its dissolution at the time of Henry VIII and is a major landmark in Clerkenwell.
Around the corner is the School Keeper’s entry to was a rather grand old school.
There were many flats and terraces, of various ages. These terraces may be Georgian.
Hubby however was interested in pubs. This one was tiny inside, and looked as if it hadn’t been redecorated since 1720. In Victorian times, it was a coffee house, where the intellectuals of the day met, such as Samuel Johnson, Handel and Dickens.
Clerkenwell is in the East End, just outside the walls of the old city. It rises to a little hill, and has a view of St Paul’s from the north side.
St Paul’s might have been rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666, but the fire didn’t get this far north, hence places like St John’s Gate, built in the 14th Century by the Knights Templar, still preserved.
Recognise the name and the cross? Well, you would be familiar with the St John’s Ambulance service. It all started here.
The area around the gate once supported the Smithfield Meat Market down the road, but the warehouses and factory spaces have now been taken over by interior designers and architects. Now the old juxtaposes with the new.
Hello from England. Hubby and I are touring around Europe for three months (Hubby is working, I am leisuring). I haven’t had possession of the laptop for a few weeks, hence the silence, but hopefully I’ll be posting at least semi-regularly on our journey.
Our first stop is London. What a city it is. Yes, it’s cold. But as an Australian, lots of things are very cheap here now, half the price of Australia, compared to 10 or so years ago when it was the other way around. London isn’t just about cheap food and shopping. As a lover of history and literature, it’s wonderful to simply walk around.
I’m staying in the East End, and the photo below was taken on my walk from the East End. I walked past the grand St Paul’s Cathedral, and over the Thames via the Millennium Bridge. It’s quite a view back to the cathedral.