Posted in London on Monday 20th September 2004 at 8:18pm

Up early after a refreshing night of sleep. Checked out of the hotel, and enjoyed my customary replacement breakfast on Southampton Row. Had planned two objectives for today.

The first was to visit St. Pancras Old Church. This is where the young Thomas Hardy was charged with the task of disinterring and reburying the dead in conjunction with the construction of the Midland Railway. Strangely, the works for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link are now on the same site, and its easy to imagine Hardy at work here. He is commemorated by a tree, surrounded by some of the tombstones moved to accomodate the railway.

Hardy Tree in St. Pancras Gardens
The Hardy Tree in St. Pancras Gardens

Spent quite a bit of time at the church, stumbling across the monument to William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, and the Soane family tomb, which reputedly inspired the design of the old red Telephone Box.

Leaving the churchyard, I plunged headlong into the mess of work sites for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, and found myself picking my way along the authorised walking route between deep pits, flooded gullys and streams of competing, diverted traffic. I still fear that the quite amazing station building at St. Pancras will be wrecked by all this work. Finally struggled out somewhere near Kings Cross and struck out east for my next objective.

On Pentonville Road and City Road, I realised I was again walking the boundary - a narrow band between the end of the City and the beginning of the suburbs. A place where people are trying hard to get in or out, but rarely want to stay in the same spot. Everything seems to come to a head at the Angel, where suburban Islington meets the edge of the City in a mess of traffic and wine bars. A relief then to swing north onto Colebrook Row (once the home of Charles and Mary Lamb) in search of the Regent's Canal. Wandered along the pleasant, quiet, almost rural row of cottages built along what was once Myddleton's 'New River', and which is now a long narrow stretch of parkland. Quite accidentally stumbled across the eastern mouth of Islington Tunnel.

The canal is an oasis. Calm, quiet and soothing (despite the appeal for witnesses to Actual Bodily Harm on the tow path gates). Walked as far as the lock at the entrance to City Road Basin.

Lock at City Road Basin
Lock at City Road Basin

The canal is also a boundary in itself, forming an arc around the northern fringe of the city, from Paddington to Limehouse. An impressive achievement overall. Eventually turned back towards City Road. From here, crossed into the strange boundary lands once more, pressing along Spencer Street (full of students registering at City University) and Myddleton Street - home of the Family Records Centre, into Exmouth Market. Settled down with coffee and watched the always busy street for awhile.

So, walk over I headed for Farringdon and then to Paddington. When I surfaced from the underground, it had begun to rain and all was rather grey and dull. A very pleasant, tiring and oddly challenging weekend. Time to start planning for next time.

Movebook Link


Posted in London on Sunday 19th September 2004 at 10:41pm

I realised yesterday that I was going about the whole Open House thing quite differently to most people. They had their guidebooks and were running from spot to spot, ticking off places they'd seen and strategically planning to queue at just the right time for popular spots. My own dreamy and disorganised progress was quite different.

So, knowing that some of my chosen spots were open on Saturday only, and that the Great Eastern Hotel and suchlike would have a huge queue before I'd even set out, I decided to take a couple of the Guided Walks. Since I'd thought seriously in the past about taking the City of London Guide course, it would be interesting to see them at work. Set out first though, with my own unguided wander through Lincoln's Inn and along Fleet Street, pausing for coffee opposite St. Dunstan-in-the-West, ending up at the City of London Visitors Centre in good time to sign up for the first walk.

The Riverside Walk was led by an enthusiastic and amusing American guide. From St. Pauls we set off southwards to the river, over the Millenium Bridge and along Bankside taking in the Globe Theatre, the Clink Prison, the remains of Winchester Palace and Soutwark Cathedral. A quick historical catch-up was pretty well delivered - covering the site of London, roman origins, the lost rivers and the growth of less salubrious businesses on the south bank, away from the jurisdiction of the City. Then, over London Bridge and along the river by Custom House, Old Billingsgate Fish Market and to Tower Hill. The walk was fun and quite informative in some ways. There were a few too many apocryphal stories, and a strange obession with how good certain taverns or eating houses along the way were, but the group seemed to enjoy it a great deal. Since I rarely drift south of the Thames, it was an interesting diversion, even if I'd have liked more 'hard' History.

A quick journey back to Blackfriars to sign up for the afternoon walk. Paused along the way to stop in for a pint at The Black Friar - a pub almost never open when I'm around at weekends, and with a highly decorative interior. Good beer too. Got to the Visitors Centre in time to get one of the last few tickets for the next walk.

The Wren Walk promised 11-and-a-half of Sir Christopher Wren's churches, built to replace those lost in the 1666 fire. The guide was a tiny, rather older but spirited woman who had the unenviable task of leading a party of sixty people - some of whom clearly had no idea what the walk was going to be about. First challenge was to get the party across the street to St Martin-within-Ludgate and then safely back to the other side for St. Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe! Highlights of the walk for me were the dark wooden carvings and impressive painted ceiling dome of St. Mary Abchurch and the High Anglican opulence of St. Magnus the Martyr which would have stood hard by Old London Bridge. I left this church reeking of incense, the warden having described their worship as 'as close to Rome as you can get without jumping in the Tiber'. Sadly, I clean forgot to ask to see the mummified body in the Vestry at St. James Garlickhythe. The guide had a particularly annoying blind-spot for Hawksmoor however, and having stopped the party to look at St. Mary Woolnoth, promptly forgot his name! She also clearly expressed a dislike of his work, casting him as an inferior pupil of Wren who didn't achieve much. A shame really. Also a few dubious claims about Richard Whittington's finacial affairs were raised when we were at St. Michael Paternoster Royal. An interesting and varied walk however, and a chance to see more of the always intriguing City Churches.

St Magnus the Martyr

Again, pretty tired after my wanderings. A good pub meal and some more beer to round off the day.



Posted in London on Saturday 18th September 2004 at 9:08pm

The first day of London Open House. The majority of people seemed to be heading for perhaps larger attractions than I - certainly there were huge queues at The Bank of England and 30 St. Mary Axe. Overall, it was really good to see the crowds wandering the streets of the City at a weekend.

I had only very loosely planned what I wanted to see, and set off early for a guided tour of The Old Sessions House at Clerkenwell. This building is now the London Masonic Centre, and has been rescued from obscurity and decay by the efforts of many lodges which meet here. Whilst much refurbished, the previous use of the building remains apparent in the barred windows, vaulted cell areas (now a bar) and the frighteningly small 'punishment cell' now rather an overcrowded linen cupboard. Also talk of a tunnel underground to the House of Detention, which is worth further investigation.

On to Mercer's Hall. There were a variety of Livery Halls open for the weekend, but this one only for today. As Mercers are first in the Order of Precedence, it seemed fitting to visit this one before any others. A most impressive place, managing to reflect the grandeur of centuries within a relatively recent building.

Next, to Guildhall. Everytime I try to visit this building, it is in use and closed to the public. Once again, the Crypt was out of bounds, but the Great Hall was stately and impressive. Spent some time wandering and soaking up the atmosphere. Chatted to the attendant for some time about Gog and Magog and their history. He claimed to converse more with them than with his wife!


...and Magog
and Magog

From here, I zigzagged across the City via a variety of churches. Starting close by with the calm, austere St. Lawrence Jewry - used by the Corporation for religious services, then Hawksmoor's sinister St. Mary Woolnoth where the Pegasus Choir added to the overbearing and oppressive atmosphere. Next onto St. Stephen Walbrook, the Lord Mayor's parish church. Absolutely breathtaking interior too with a soaring dome (a prototype for St. Pauls) and Henry Moore's simple but fitting marble 'cheese' altar. My pictures of the interior do it no justice, but I got the altar pretty well, showing its scale.

Henry Moore altar at St. Stephen Walbrook
Henry Moore altar at St. Stephen Walbrook

Sadly, St. Andrew Undershaft and St. Helen's were closed, but also got to visit St. Olave Hart Street where Pepys and his wife have memorials. A curious little church, not at all as forbidding as its fearsome gateway would imply!

One of the highlights of the weekend for me was a chance to visit 19 Princelet Street. Having read so much about this strange, quiet but important little Huguenot silk merchant's house in Spitalfields I was thrilled to finally get to see it. Sadly, the building is in terrible repair, and prevented from more regular opening by its state. The plan is to raise £3 million to open the house as a full time Museum of Immigration and Diversity. A fitting purpose. The strange mix of the small, simple living areas and the open space of the backroom Synagogue was disorienting. Sadly, the rooms above (including Rodinsky's attic room) were not accessible due to the condition of the building.

My final destination for the day was just around the corner at Christ Church Spitalfields - Hawksmoor's masterpiece. The church is slowly being restored to a condition near to original, after well-meant but destructive attempts to alter the church - particularly during the 19th century. Inside, it is vast and simple - full of light and space. Pleased to see lots of what seemed to be locals visiting too, since they would be more familiar with the crypt being used as a somewhat notorious treatment centre for alcoholics! Staff and helpers all incredibly knowledgable and friendly too.

Christ Church from Brushfield Street
Christ Church, from Brushfield Street

Rested afterwards, and had coffee on the steps of Christ Church. Watched the people and traffic on Commercial Road and noted how different the atmosphere was here despite the proximity of the City, just at the other end of Brushfield Street.

Back to Bloomsbury, very tired and footsore. Hobbled out for an average but expensive Indian meal and a few pints sitting outside The Swan, effectively my local when I'm here.



Posted in London on Friday 17th September 2004 at 7:47pm

A sluggish start to the day. Finished packing in something of a hurry, and out to catch the 0912 to Bristol. Time for a decent coffee, then onto the 1010 to Paddington. The same loud bunch of homeward bound Londoner's followed me from one train to the next, finding their way into my coach too, providing for some high volume entertainment on the way. Arrived in London feeling tired and disconnected. Straight to the usual hotel, checked in and headed out.

The first afternoon is always odd - quite an adjustment to make. Reminds me how quiet a life I have at home. Plunged headlong into the maelstrom, with a long and not very well planned wander. It sort of ended up going from St George's church in Bloomsbury to St. George-in-the-East at Shadwell, but didn't quite make it. The route was a very strange one, but sort of described a boundary between the City and the less salubrious borderlands.

Walked quite a way, along Old Street and Great Eastern Street, ending up heading south though Shoreditch. Noted the East London Line extension works, and the remains of the Bishopsgate Goods Yard site. Sheltered from the rain in the Golden Heart, a refreshingly normal pub in the strangely fashionable neighbourhood. A couple of pleasant pints, then on southwards. Inexplicably felt the need to get to the river. Over Whitechapel Road and into the mess of tiny streets between Cable Street and The Highway. Stumbled accidentally across the remains of Wilton's Music Hall.

Wilton's Music Hall
Wilton's Music Hall, Graces Alley

Reached The Highway. Never a comfortable street for me. Decided to head back to civilisation, and turned west again. Arrived back in the city at Tower Hill, and found All Hallows church open. Wandered in for a rest in the cool and quiet. A long walk back, seemingly against the tide of escaping City types, who had gathered in huge groups in Leadenhall Market. Exhausted and relieved to get back to the hotel. A strange outing really - felt like I was walking an uncomfortable line between the affluent and the struggling all the way. My painful foot, buzzing head and strange attitude didn't help the feeling of tension. Noted that despite not eating all day, I never let myself feel hungry until I arrived back in the City. As ever, reading too much into the territory. A strange start to what might be a very curious weekend.

Movebook Link


I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.

I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.

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