Cecil Day-Lewis’s Tree

Posted by Colin

Where: Corner of Crooms Hill and Burney Street, Greenwich, SE10

Daniel Day-Lewis is currently starring in cinemas as former US president Abraham Lincoln in Speilberg’s epic biopic. And it would be a real shock if he didn’t pick up his third Best Actor Oscar for the portrayal. Back in November I read a fascinating article in the Evening Standard where his sister, Tamasin, recounts their childhood together and their relationship with their father, Cecil, who became Poet Laureate in 1968.

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It is lesser known that the children spent their early childhood in Greenwich and that Cecil was the first President of the Greenwich Society. In recognition of his work for them, the Society planted a tree in his honour in 1973 (a year after his death from pancreatic cancer in May 1972).

And yet, you could easily hurry past the tree and miss the plaque at its base – especially in the months when leaves carpet the land around it. If you’re in and around Greenwich – perhaps heading to the Park – then spare a second to find the tree planted for a national poet whose son is favourite to soon add to his collection of golden statuettes.

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Candlelit vigil at Cross Bones Burial Ground

Posted by Ruth

Where: Redcross Way, SE1
Website: www.crossbones.org.uk

Many of us are keen to be remembered after we’ve gone – regardless of the life we’ve led, whether we were rich or poor, achieved great things or not. Sadly, most of us (in a few generations time) will not be, and there are many that were forgotten even in their own time. A candlelit vigil held at Cross Bones cemetery on the 23rd of every month seeks to redress this.

The gates of Crossbones taken by us during a daytime visit

The gates of Cross Bones taken by us during a daytime visit

Cross Bones is a disused burial ground, originally established as an unconsecrated graveyard for “single women” – the prostitutes licensed by the Church to work in Bankside, but not permitted a Christian burial.

Its exact date of origin is unknown, but the site was written about by John Stow in 1598.

Later it became a pauper’s cemetery, eventually housing approximately 15,000 burials, before closing in 1853 due to public health risk.

The land was subsequently sold, and was all but forgotten until numerous skeletons were unearthed during the extension of the Jubilee Line in the 1990s.

The gates of Cross Bones are now adorned with flowers, ribbons and trinkets, creating a beautiful and meaningful memorial. Led by local writer John Constable, the Friends of Cross Bones hold this monthly vigil, for people from all walks of life to gather and remember society’s outcast dead.

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Far from being a macabre affair, the vigil was inspiring and moving, with strangers huddled together listening to local performers sing and recite poetry (including two odes penned by a young girl).

John Constable recounted a poem gifted to him 16 years ago by the spirit of the ‘Winchester Goose’ (one of the prostitutes allegedly buried at Cross Bones). The vigil ended with a collective non-denominational prayer, and an offering of gin – likely to be one of the few comforts to the Cross Bones residents in their lifetime.

The site is now owned by Transport for London and the Friends of Cross Bones are currently campaigning for there to be a permanent memorial garden to mark the site. Given the level of development in London Bridge that is no easy task, but an imperative one. For Cross Bones is as important a place as any of London’s gilded Victorian cemeteries, and an important place to remember those on the periphery of society – both in the past and present.

You can find a link to the Friends of Cross Bones’s petition to protect the site here

St Ethelburga’s Church

Posted by Ruth

Where: Bishopsgate, EC2
Website: http://stethelburgas.org
Twitter: @StEthelburgas

A calming atmosphere and sense of tranquility is not something one expects to find in the City of London. More typical is the rush of the business ecosystem, keeping the area pumping with suits and wealth. However, if you search them out there are hidden gems dotted about the Square Mile, offering a different experience in this infamous area.

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St Ethelburga’s is one such place. With the Gherkin towering in the near-distance, the City of London’s smallest church stands proudly within this concrete landscape. Built in approximately 1250, this little church has experienced its fair share of difficulty. Having just survived the Great Fire of London and the Blitz, this plucky church was hit again in the 1993 IRA Bishopgate bombing, suffering significant damage.

The church was subsequently rebuilt, and has reinvented itself as a Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, aiming to unite people of different faiths, and build relationships across conflict lines and cultural divides. It houses an interfaith tent – a place to pray and reflect on the commonality of our humanity – something which seems particularly appropriate in this spot.

St. Paul’s and Tower Bridge seen through a telescope from the Royal Observatory Greenwich

Posted by Colin

St. Paul’s Cathedral and Tower Bridge must be two of the most photographed landmarks in London. But chances are they haven’t been snapped like this before…

On Wednesday night I was leading a telescope viewing session at the Royal Observatory Greenwich as part of their annual Evening With The Stars season. At the start of the night our view of the Moon and Jupiter was obscured by cloud and so I turned the telescope’s attention to something a little more terrestrial: Central London.

If you’ve ever been up on Greenwich Hill you’ll know what a spectacular view of the Capital it provides. I was able to centre the telescope on the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is beautifully bracketed by Tower Bridge from the vantage point up on the hill.

Being such a cold night the view was pin sharp and I was able to stick my iPhone at the eye piece and capture this unique view of the two famous landmarks (click image for larger version).

You can spot the coat of arms of the City of London sitting on the gantry of the bridge on the far left of the picture. The glowing “ropes” are also clearly visible.

The telescope eyepiece with Wren’s St. Paul’s in view, and another of his creations in the background

It was even possible to see the flag of St. George fluttering atop the bridge (look closely, and perhaps zoom in and you’ll see it. It is a little dark due to being in shadow but you can definitely see the cross on the flag!) We could even tell the time by the cathedral clock.

Such a gorgeous view was particularly apt as the cathedral’s architect, Sir Christopher Wren, was also responsible for designing Flamsteed House – the Observatory’s flagship building.

So from a distance of 5 miles (as the crow flies) I was able to unite two of Wren’s most stunning creations. We got to see Jupiter and the Moon once the clouds had lifted, but sometimes London can be just as beautiful as the heavens.

Related Posts:

There is more than one St. Paul’s Cathedral in London…

A photo of London from space

The Shard, The Moon and Jupiter

In search of the cousin of the T.A.R.D.I.S.

Posted by Colin

Where: St. Martin’s Le Grand, EC2

As big Doctor Who fans it is disappointing that, apart from a replica outside Earl’s Court Tube Station, London is now devoid of any of the blue police boxes the like of which the 900 year old Gallifreyan uses in his travels around the universe.

In the 1950s there were almost 700 sprinkled across the city. By 1969 the Home Secretary (and future Prime Minister) James Callaghan ordered their removal as they were no longer useful.

However, those searching out blue phone boxes in the Capital will have some luck in the City of London, even if this particular breed doesn’t quite live up to the grandeur of the Mackenzie Trench-style.

Smaller and a brighter shade of blue, this cousin of the T.A.R.D.I.S. is no longer operational but it was once used by policemen to contact their nearest stations. They also acted as an emergency phone box for members of the public.

It is interesting to note that in older pictures of this particular box on St. Martin’s Le Grand it is painted the same colour as the T.A.R.D.I.S. style boxes. Was it changed due to the re-introduction of the popular BBC series in 2005? If you know, then let us know!

The offices that were once a railway station for the dead

Posted by Colin

This beautiful building at 121 Westminster Bridge Road, close to Waterloo station, stands out a mile as it is surrounded by horrible, soulless office blocks. Its own façade had obviously been more carefully considered.

Its ornateness is due to the fact these offices were once home to the London terminus of the Necropolis Railway – a train line that used to ferry the Capital’s dead 30 miles out of town to Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey.

When opened in 1854, Brookwood was the largest cemetery in the world and took up the slack when London’s own cemeteries were full to bursting. Despite its distance, it was quicker to reach by train than some of London’s cemeteries were by horse and cart. Brookwood remains Britain’s largest cemetery today.

The building in this picture is actually the second London station built for the Necropolis Railway – the first was closed due to the expansion of Waterloo station. 121 Westminster Bridge Road was bought in 1899 for £5,500 and construction cost just under £45,000 (or around £3.5 million today). The building was designed by Cyril Bazett Tubbs and was specifically intended to be attractive rather than solemn – a fact that still marks it out today.

The railway carried on its duties until 1941 when a bomb caused damage to large parts of station – it was declared closed on 11 May 1941. Today the original stone carved words of “London Necropolis” are hidden and the building serves as the offices of Transmarine Shipping Agencies Limited.

And so the transportation of a very different kind of cargo is now co-ordinated from this beautiful building whose unique history lies hidden to the thousands who walk past it everyday.

Solved: The Mystery of Satin Park and the Ginger Cat

Posted by Colin

There has been a lot of interest in a post we put up a few weeks back about Satin the Ginger Cat. Curious to find out who this famous feline was I have been trying to find out the story behind this little green area on Old Street in Islington.

I found some success with the kind people at the Wenlake Estate of which Satin Park is part. The official name of Satin Park is actually Anchor Yard, once home to the Anchor Tavern – an 18th century drinking den. However, the pub was demolished in the 19th century and a small area of grassland now sits where the beer once flowed.

Satin was a cat that had seemingly been abandoned and liked to spend her days in and out of the bushes of Anchor Yard and became somewhat of a local celebrity amongst the residents of the estate. Tragically, however, one day a dog from another estate was being walked through the area and attacked Satin causing fatal injuries. The residents were very upset and got together to mark the Queen of Anchor Yard.

So the mystery of Satin the Ginger Cat turns out to be a sad tale but one that can now be told. Googling Satin the Ginger Cat or even Satin Park returns very little information, save for a few Flickr photos of the plaque above. Hopefully now more people will know the story of this little enclave of EC1 that has captivated me ever since I discovered it almost three weeks ago.

Remembering The First Victim of the Railways

Posted by Colin

This is William Huskisson. This statue of him, which stands in Pimlico Gardens, on the North bank of the Thames, describes him simply as a “statesman”. Nothing else in the area eludes to anything else about him, save that he was born in 1770 and died in 1830. That death turns out to be a tale in itself.

Some research reveals Huskisson was an MP who made it to the Duke of Wellington’s cabinet but resigned from his post in 1828 after a disagreement over parliamentary reform, returning to his Liverpool constituency.

(As a personal aside: the row was centered on the constituency of East Retford – the area where Ruth grew up).

When Huskisson and Wellington were both attending the opening of the Liverpool to Manchester railway in 1830, Huskisson got off the train and headed for the Duke’s carriage in order to kiss and make up.

What Huskisson failed to notice was an oncoming train – none other than George Stephenson’s famous Rocket engine driven by the man himself. Huskisson noticed at the last minute and tried to scramble aboard Wellington’s train but the door swung open, preventing him climbing aboard. The train ran straight over his leg and dragged the MP all the way to Eccles. He was taken to hospital but died hours later.

Huskisson, then, is widely accepted as the first victim of the advent of the railways. A plaque, now at the National Railway Museum in York, says that the accident:

“DEPRIVED ENGLAND OF A ILLUSTRIOUS STATESMAN AND LIVERPOOL OF ITS MOST HONORED REPRESENTATIVE WHICH CHANGED A MOMENT OF THE NOBLEST EXULTATION AND TRIUMPH THAT SCIENCE AND GENIUS HAD EVER ACHIEVED INTO ONE OF DESOLATION AND MOURNING”

Huskisson’s widow, Emily, commissioned the statue for Custom House in Liverpool, but somehow it has ended up in SW1. With no plaque to explain his fate, it seems the story of this victim of science and progress will remain largely untold.

There is more than one St. Paul’s Cathedral in London…

Posted by Colin

Wren’s domed spire of St. Paul’s is one of the most iconic features of the London skyline. City suits and trapsing tourists buzz around the cathedral that saw the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana as well as Winston Churchill’s funeral.

Yet how many realise that there is actually a second St. Paul’s Cathedral in the middle of the Thames further upstream? Granted this second version is much smaller, so small it can be held aloft by a two tonne woman.

This diminutive copy of St. Paul’s can be seen on Vauxhall Bridge, which boasts eight impressive bronze statues installed in 1907 and dedicated to the arts and sciences. Around halfway along the upstream side (left hand side if crossing from Vauxhall) you’ll find the maiden dedicated to architecture. In her hands she holds a copy of the famous Cathedral.

Those crossing the bridge by car would never see the statues or St. Paul’s – they are best viewed from the river itself. However, if you are willing to peer over the edge, pedestrians can easily spot both.

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The Secret Policeman of Belgravia

Posted by Colin

Hidden amongst the white townhouses of Belgravia is a unique policeman who stands and watches the throngs as they bustle around the bars and cafés of Elizabeth Street.

But this uniformed law enforcer isn’t going to arrest you any time soon – he is a bollard. ‘PC Broxap’ stands on Gerald Road, just round the corner from Victoria Station, and outside apartments that were once Gerald Road Police Station between 1846 and 1993.

We found out about this strange and hidden part of SW1 from the Bollards of London blog – well worth a visit if you’re interested in these often overlooked stalwarts of the street.

(We took the picture on a quick visit on Sunday)