There’s no point in making a New Years resolution if you know straight away that you won’t stick to it, so I’m not going to promise that I’ll be writing a monthly blog but at the very least I can guarantee this one today to cover January. Not only that, but I also guarantee something a little different to usual. No stunning Welsh mountain scenery or sweeping coastlines. No dreamy sunsets or sunrises. The images about to feature weren’t taken using fancy equipment, just the phone in my pocket.
Every year, during that mad time in between Christmas and New Year, I like to pop in to the city as early as I can and explore places before anyone wakes up. In the past I’ve gone to Camden, Primrose Hill, Richmond Park, Greenwich, Oxford Street, Regent Street and more. It’s so eerie walking around places where you know that thousands of people will be colliding and apologising to each other later that day, but you’re the only person there right now and the person operating CCTV has no one else to watch.
This year, I wanted something different. I feel like I’ve covered most of the obvious spots in London in some form and didn’t want to be disappointed if the weather didn’t play ball. I can’t remember how I found a particularly useful webpage, but I’m guessing it was probably something to do with Secret London or Timeout London as I find a lot of good stuff through them. Anyway, I had a look and it was a map of places to check out for weird and wonderful nods to history that I bet most will pass every day and not acknowledge.
All I had to do was select which ones to visit and make a sensible walking route. First stop: Barbican.
Problem – Barbican station was closed on that day. No worries. Go to Moorgate and walk a mile. That route along Beech Street will take me to the last piece that Banksy did so it will be nice to revisit.
Coming out of the tunnel at the other end meant it was time to locate the first bit of treasure on the map – Mendelssohn’s tree. Standing on the corner of a busy junction opposite Barbican station, there was no tree to be found. Certainly not a special one. The only possible place for it would be inside the Barbican estate so we went to find some steps and entered the maze of brutalism. There in front of us, 1 level above the road, on the walkway, was the 500 year old tree that Felix Mendelssohn apparently loved to sit under when he would visit Burnham Beeches. The tree was felled by a storm in the ’90s and brought to London where it now sits here. It’s a slightly odd location but quirky, and I like quirky things.
From here it was time to go back down to street level and head towards Smithfield Market where a number of locations were waiting for us. This must have been an incredibly busy area back in the olden days as we hit 5 historic spots in quick succession.
First up was the oldest house in the City of London – 41 Cloth Fair – that survived the Great Fire of London. Coming at it from Smithfield meant cutting through an alleyway, and it was like stepping straight in to a time machine. Add a little smoke or smog and dim the lights and you could easily be fooled in to thinking The Artful Dodger and Fagin were waiting to pounce on you. Failing that, you could run in to Bert before he takes you up to the rooftops, step in time.
A short hop around the corner on to West Smithfield and Rotunda Gardens took us to the site where William Wallace was hung, drawn and quartered. I don’t think he was the only one but he was a celebrity so he’s getting the mention. Overlooking this scene is St Bartholomew’s Gatehouse, another building that has survived centuries. Standing in this area should also feel familiar as it was where Sherlock (Benedryl Slumberhatch) faked his death and where Bond went underground to the MI5 HQ in Skyfall (might not have been Skyfall but it was definitely Daniel Craig). The reality is that the secret underground HQ is just a car park.
As if this wasn’t exciting enough we then went to find the corner of the fabulously named Cock Lane. Why? To find a small, golden, naked boy of course. This was a memorial to the Great Fire of London that started on Pudding Lane, and the boy was made a little fat on purpose to sort of illustrate the role that gluttony played in the fire. I’m not 100% sure why he isn’t wearing pants though. Seriously, who needs to bake cakes at 1am on a Sunday? This is long before Sunday opening hours! The Golden Boy of Pye Corner…
Now just a stone’s throw away from this beaut is London’s first drinking fountain. It might not work any longer but drinking fountains are making a strong comeback in the city in 2020! They aren’t quite as ornate as this one at St Sepulchre-without-Newgate Church.
Turning 180 degrees here means you are now facing the Old Bailey and can walk behind to find the old Newgate Prison wall. It’s on private property and the signs clearly state this so I didn’t get any shots but took a wander down to St Paul’s Cathedral for this symmetrical snap at the modern Paternoster Row.
At this stage it was time for my mate to go for a wee and grab a coffee. I took the opportunity to pop in to One New Change shopping centre and get some great images of the interior as well as the city skyline from the roof.
But you can’t see them right now cos this is about history and One New Change is a fancy new place.
Coming up in Part 2 of my London History walk will be St Dunstan’s in the East (the cover pic), a roman wall and Highgate Cemetery. I might throw in some more graffiti and street art too for fun. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to get over to the brilliantly named Farting Lane to check out a lamp, and the tribute to a nazi dog near Buckingham Palace was just a bit too far out from our route. Shame.