London – Temple, Inns of Court and a war leader

Back on the other side of the river we were in search of Temple Church which is just south of the impressive Royal Courts of Justice. This seemed harder to track down than the map suggested. Finally we were directed down a passageway by some scaffolding contractors who were blocking one entrance.

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The church was closed today unfortunately but Greg still wanted to see it. This medieval church was built by the unique order of soldier monks the Knights Templar, founded to protect monks on their way to and from the Holy Land,  Jerusalem in the 12th century. The monks took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

The Church is in two parts, the Chancel and the Round Church which as consecrated in 1185 and designed to recall the circular Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, notable for its circular nave. In the Dan Brown book the Di-Vinci Code, the characters believe that the 13th century stone effigies of the Knights in the church are actual tombs, but this is not in fact the case.

We much come back again when the church is open!

The temple is situated in the heart of London’s legal quarter as are two of the four ancient Inns of Court (the professional associations for barristers in England and Wales, which also provide libraries, dining facilities and professional accommodation).

The Inner Temple and Middle Temple are “liberties” of the City of London which means they are within the boundaries of the City, but not subject to its jurisdiction but operate as their own local authorities.

The two Inns occupy the core of the Temple area, where there are numerous Chambers all with the names of the all barristers and their clerk listed outside. (Barristers cannot form partnerships or companies, and are therefore regarded as self-employed sole practitioners. To share costs and expenses, barristers typically operate with each other as “chambers” administered by barrister’s clerks). Middle Temple Hall is a very grand building built between 1562 and 1573 and virtually unchanged, having survived the Great Fire of London and world wars. The first ever performance of Twelfth Night took place here in 1602!

We had more trouble finding our way out of the Temple are, as we found the exit gates of Temple gardens and whole complex appeared to be locked, and being a Saturday there were almost no workers about! The Inns are private property and it was easy to feel we were trespassing rather! Eventually we backtracked and found our way out, catching a number 11 bus past Trafalgar Square and to Westminster.

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Our next destination was Churchill’s war rooms. This secret WW2 bunker and museum shows the story of Winston Churchill and the story of how the war was won. This group of basement offices in Whitehall served as the nerve centre of Britain’s war effort. The complex was occupied by leading government ministers, military strategists and Winston Churchill.

The building was reinforced and adapted to provide meeting rooms during air raids and to house a military information centre based around a “map room”. The war cabinet met here 115 times during the war, and the War Rooms were in use 24 hours a day until 16 August 1945 when the lights were turned off. It opened as a museum in 2005.

It’s a fascinating insight into what it would have been like working with Churchill, who was a workaholic and could be a difficult boss, but stories from the ladies that worked with him, showed how immensely proud people were to have been part of the hugely important work here. The price you paid was the lack of daylight, rather cramped conditions, and still the fear that a direct hit by a bomb could still leave you trapped underground.

Map Room, Churchills War Rooms

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London – Temple, Inns of Court and a war leader

Walking London, Bank to Blackfriars

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We tried to do justice to the breakfast to get our money’s worth, then headed back to the DLR to the western end of that line. Bank station

As you come out of Bank station you really can’t miss the Monument which stands at the junction of Monument and Fish Street Hill in the City of London.

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The Monument was built between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire of London and celebrate the rebuilding of the City. Designed by Christopher Wren and made, the flame topped Monument is the tallest isolated stone column in the world and contains 28196 cubic feet of Portland Stone. It stands 202ft high and is positioned 202 feet from the spot in Pudding Lane where the Great fire was believed to have started. You can climb up the 311 steps to the observation gallery to get unique and exhilarating views across the capital. Not today though.

From here we head to the river to take the Thames Path past  the church of St Magnus the Martyr which stood on an important crossroads between the City and old London Bridge. This ancient church, just 300 yards from Pudding Lane was one of the first building to be destroyed by the Great Fire of London. It was rebuilt by 1687 also under the direction of Christopher Wren at a cost of £9 579 19s 10d, one of Wren’s most expensive churches.

There was a diversion for the Thames path while a new set of steps was being built. Further along the waterside in Hanseatic Walk sits the Fishmongers Hall, home of the ones of most ancient City guilds, the Fishmongers’ Company. Rebuilt twice after the great fire, and devastated by bombs in WW2, it has been restored to its former glory.

The path then goes under the railway serving Cannon Street station in an atmospheric tunnel of Victorian brick arches, Steelyard Passage between All Hallows Lane and Cousin Lane. The first thing you notice is the dark, with street level floor lights guiding your way and the second is the eerie sound installations. Steelyard Passage is now equipped with speakers which pipe out industrial sounds, atmospheric recreations of the sounds of the work of the docks from when the area served cargo ships rather than trains.

The Steelyard, like other Hansa stations, was a separate walled community with its own warehouses on the river, its own weighing house, chapel, counting houses and residential quarters. In 1988 remains of the former Hanseatic trading house, once the largest medieval trading complex in Britain, were uncovered by archaeologists during maintenance work on Cannon Street Station.

On the south bank of the river and towering behind you are futuristic buildings such as the Shard, and cranes in every direction show the extraordinary boom in building in London.

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Walking onwards we reach the contrasting environments towards Embankment. First you reach Queenhithe. Hythe is the Saxon name for a small harbour and Queenhithe (or Queens dock) was probably a Roman dock, known in Saxon times as Ethered’s Hythe. It existed during the period when Wessex king Alfred the Great re-established the City of London around 886 AD. The dock is still there, but very silted up and being upstream  of London Bridge meant that seafaring ships could no longer reach this ancient dock. The dock’s history is commemorated in a 20m mosaic recently installed on the river wall, commissioned by the City of London, and paid for by a hotel group who are constructing a new hotel on the waterfront. It’s a fascinating and beautiful work of art.

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Another work of art, is the London Millennium Footbridge that you reach shortly afterwards. A steel suspension bridge for pedestrians only it links Bankside with the City of London. Once known as the wobbly bridge after initial problems with visitors feeling unexpected swaying motions!. We cross the bridge, walk past the Tate and find somewhere for a lazy coffee.

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Then strolling onwards under Blackfriars railway bridge and to Blackfriars Bridge. This was opened by Queen Victoria in 1869, designed by Joseph Cubitt, replacing an earlier bridge of Portland stone that suffered many problems. The name Blackfriars came from a Dominican priory that used to stand nearby. At the edge of the 923ft long bridge of five wrought iron arches are piers with stone carving of water birds by sculptor John Birnie Philip. Alongside the bridge is the sign from a long gone railway bridge the London Chatham and Dover Railway Bridge. Some of the supports from the old bridge can still be seen.

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Walking London, Bank to Blackfriars

London Docklands -old and new

IMG_3516So to celebrate Greg’s birthday, we were having a couple of days in London. I found a Premier Inn in Docklands which was fairly reasonable and gave us a new area to explore! When I realised it was right next to the Excel centre, I checked what was on there, and got us cheapish tickets to the Grand Designs show too.

It was an unhurried train journey up on Friday morning. Alighting at Victoria we headed upstairs for our favourite Hema shop and costa coffee for Greg then topped up an Oyster card and headed east.

In the distant past when I used to work in the Canary Wharf tower, and live in Bow, the docklands light railway was the only way to travel to work. Also working in that tower were a load of CAD (computer aided design) designers and engineers working day and night shifts to complete the design of electrical works for the Jubilee Line underground extension. The contract ballooned from £52m to £250m in the time I worked there. These days of course it’s all built. You no longer have to get the driverless trains (that stopped running early evening) but can get the Jubilee line right across London and pop up in the new deep Canary Wharf station where there are doors sealing the platforms until the trains stop. We got on a train that passed Canary Wharf and North Greenwich, effortless slipping back and forwards under the Thames and arriving at Canning Town.

I used to get a Canning Town bus on my way to college, a desperately poor and deprived area of Tower Hamlets, one of London’s poorest boroughs. Today it still is, but the dockland area is radically transformed, and Canning Town has an underground station and is a major interchange. This is where we change back onto a DLR route towards Beckton, getting off at Prince Regent, the east bound stop for the Excel Centre and a short walk from the Premier Inn that sits between the elevated DLR tracks and the crossrail building works below.

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The Excel Exhibition Centre built in 2000 is a vast exhibition space that has been used for Olympic Events and numerous exhibition and shows. It sits on the waterside of the Royal Victoria Dock. At 4km long, the royal docks were once the largest enclosed docks in the world. Now they are the setting of a 21st century transformation. The dubious bank holiday weather brings some ominous clouds but we decide to set off anyway, walking along the dockside and seeking lunch. We find a waterside restaurant and settle down for lunch, while watching the Emirates skyway transport people across the docks by cablecar.

As we watch the clouds get blacker and blacker, and suddenly there is thunder, lighting and some spectacular hailstones falling. By the time we are ready to leave it is just torrential rain, so we reverse our visiting plans, and duck back to The Royal Victoria DLR station and head towards Poplar to change for West India Quay.

When I worked here, this DLR stop was a mystifying waste of space. Nothing but derelict buildings and rusting cranes, and only yards from the next station Canary Wharf, where the only office buildings were situated.

Now it’s transformed with dockside eateries and a pedestrian bridge linking to the other side. This is also the location of the Docklands Museum. In March 2016 a new exhibition opened, celebrating the history of the Grade 1 listed building itself – Number 1 Warehouse. This warehouse built in 1802 was part of the West India Docks, London’s first enclosed dock system. A walled and gated compound, the docks provided a secure area where cargoes could be loaded, unloaded and stores.

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The West India Docks would have been a hive of activity in which dockers, merchants, clerks, warehousemen and coopers combined to operate the busiest docks in the world, accommodating over 600 vessels. At its height, No.1 Warehouse was piled high with valuable cargoes from around the world including sugar, rum, tobacco, spices, coffee, timber and wine. Cargoes were constantly on the move as they were winched from the holds of ships, to the quayside and straight into the warehouses via loophole doors. This process went on daily for nearly 200 years, helping to establish London as a major world city, until the advent of shipping containers forced the dock’s closure in 1980.

We got back on the Jubilee line, just as the local office workers were starting to pile out for the Friday night journey home (or Friday night drinking in the local bars, which I remember well!) This time we got out at North Greenwich, home of the Millenium Dome or O2 as it’s now known. Left for the O2, and right for the Emirate airline across the docks.

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This time the storms had passed and we got fantastic views with blue skies. It’s pretty impressive and cost only £3.50 with my oyster card! By the time we walked back to the hotel, we were too worn out to wander around looking for dinner so settled for the in-house restaurant meal deal with breakfast.

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London Docklands -old and new

Museum mile, Bloomsbury

On Saturday we went to London, train at 9.24 change at Lewes and tube to Russell Square station.

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Bit of a miserable day, cold and drizzle, but we walked via Russell Square, once the private garden for the mansion of the Duke of Bedford. It was laid out by the 5th duke with groves of limes and acacias, gravel walks and a greenhouse for growing melons. The end of the garden had a raised terrace walk, which covered earthwork fortifications put up by the Parliamentarians to defend London during the English Civil wars.

Onward then to the British Museum as Greg hadn’t been before. It’s changed a bit since I went last too. In 2000 The Queen Elizabeth II Great Court transformed the inner courtyard of the museum into the largest covered public square in Europe. It’s a two acre space enclosed by a spectacular glass roof with the world famous Reading room at its centre.

We started downstairs in Room4, Egyptian sculpture and continued through the sculptures of ancient Assyria (modern day Northern Iraq)

Back out again past the Rosetta Stone, which is a stone from 196BC with writing on it in two languages (Egyptian and Greek) in three different scripts, hieroglyphic (used for important/religious documents), demotic (common script of Eqypt) and greek, which was the language of the rulers of Egypt at the time.

The stone was discovered in 1799 in El-Rashid (Rosetta) in Eqypt but it held the clue to breaking the code of the hieroglyphs that had baffled scholars for centuries.

After the British defeated the French, it was handed to the British army who sent the stone to the museum where it has been since 1802 (apart from a few trips underground during the first world war)

Next upstairs the grand staircase to the third level for the Eqyptian mummies. Rather crowded and full of annoying rucksacks and children. Death and the afterlife held particular significance and meaning for the ancient Eqyptians. Complex funeral preparations and ties were thought to be needed to ensure the transition of the individual from earthly existence to immortality. Mummification, magic and ritual are investiaged through the objects on display including coffins, mummies, funerary masks, portraits etc. These days modern research methods including x-rays and CT scans are used to examine the mummies in a less invasive way.

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Onwards through to British history – including Romans, Vikings and celts, also some of the treasures found at the Sutton Hoo burial.

 

Time for lunch, and we brave the drizzle for a walk through Bloomsbury streets. After the Great Fire on London in 1666 wealthy Londoners did not want to return to the crowded conditions of the old medieval city. The new estates being built to the west of the city offered a new way of life and became London’s first suburbs. According to Dr Everard Maynwaring, Bloomsbury had “the best air and finest prospect being the highest ground, a fit place for nobility and gentry to reside”. The underlying pattern for Bloomsbury with diverse shapes and sizes of the squares can be traced from the original fields and closes. Bloomsbury Square was the centrepiece of the estate developed from the 1660s to the 1850’s laid out by the 4th Earl of Southampton as the forecourt to his grand London home.

We meandered a little, and found ourselves in Lamb’s Conduit Street. This street is named after London merchant William Lambe in recognition of the £1500 he gave for the rebuilding of the Holborn Conduit in 1564. The conduit was an Elizabethan dam made in the one of tributaries of the Fleet River, and restored in 1577 by Willam Lamb who also provided 120 pails for poor women to gain a living by selling water.

Our destination for lunch was the Lamb (also named after William Lambe of course) in Lamb’s Conduit Street, which is a Grade II listed pub built in the 1720s. The pub was refurbished in the Victorian era and is one of the few remaining pubs with “snob screens” which allowed the well to do drinker not to see the bar staff, and vice versa! Dickens lived close by and was said to have frequented the pub. We had a rather nice pub lunch (amazing onion rings!) and a welcome sit down. I also visited the “powder room”!

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Next stop was the Dickens museum at 48 Doughty Street. This is the only remaining London home of Charles Dickens, and this beautiful Georgian terraced house lets you step back in time and walk the halls in the footsteps of Charles Dickens. His “house in town” was an important place in the writer’s life, where his two eldest daughters were born, his sister in law Mary died and some of his best loved novels were written. In this house he achieved lasting celebrity and recognition. Spread over five floors (and cutting into the house next door!) it is a fascinating example of a Georgian townhouse.

Doughty Street contains mainly grade II listed Georgian houses built between 1790 and the 1840’s. In the 19th century it was an exclusive residential street with gates at each end manned by porters in gold laced hats and the Doughty arms on the buttons of his mulberry coat. The London Post Office railway runs under the street but is now disused. These days many houses have been converted to offices popular with solicitors and media companies.

 

Coram’s Fields are what remains of the forecourt of the 18th Century Foundling Hospital established by Captain Thomas Coram, a retired shipwright and entrepreneur who was shocked by the number of destitute children in London. Work began in 1742 to build the hospital in Lamb’s Conduit fields, and it became a popular cause for the rich and famous, displaying art from the best artists of the time (such as Gainsbourough and Joshua Reynolds) and putting on Handel concerts. Today the square is a children’s playground, and you are not allowed in, unless you are accompanied by a child. You can find out more about the hospital at the nearby Foundling Hospital Museum.

Another short stroll in the drizzle and we are back in Theobalds road and then Bloomsbury way. Theobolds Road was named as King James I used this route when travelling between Theobalds Palace and London, with his court and baggage on some 200 carts! Samuel Coleridge Taylor was born at number 15 and Benjamin Disraeli at number 22.

In Bloomsbury way sits the parish church of St Georges. When suffragette Emily Wilding Davison threw herself in front of the King’s horse on Derby day 1913, her funeral was the occasion of a mass demonstration. Two thousand suffragettes formed a guard of honour for the coffin as it travelled from Victoria staion to St Georges church. Mrs Pankhurst dressed in deep mourning clothes was arrested at the church.

Back towards Museum street and a left turn to the Cartoon Museum which is a fantastic museum of cartoon and comic art from the 18th century to the present day. Then we were tiring rather and headed back to Victoria by underground, and our train home.

We visited just three of the 13 museums within the Museum Mile. One was free, and two free with our Art Pass, all in all a bargain!

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Museum mile, Bloomsbury