Ok, fair readers, things get a little dark today. Can you handle it? We’re talking medieval hospitals, holocaust survivors, terrorist threats and really dull streets. Hey, no one said this adventure would be all roses and rainbows.
But don’t worry. We’ve also got friendly construction workers, ice skating rinks and the warm evening sun to balance it all out.
Ready for Day 8?
Let’s do this.
New Official Name For Boring Streets
Out of the 7.49 miles I walked today, I’d rate the first 4.67 of them a 2 out of 10 (on a scale from waiting for someone to piss in Sugar Baker’s Court to riding the lift in Heron Tower). I’m not talking about the back alleys and industrial access streets I pointed out on Day 4 – every neighbourhood is bound to have it’s boring parts. But street after street of it was a bit dull. I mean, how is it possible to have every access point on all sides of a building appear to be the back door?
It seems fitting then, that the perfect name for these lacklustre streets would be found in this very neighbourhood. In future, all boring streets will hereby be referred to as:
After that rave review, I’m sure you’re dying to experience them for yourself! Examples of Lackington Streets can be found below.
Towering Building of the Day
(every day seems to have one)
After all these blah roads, I was beginning to think I wouldn’t find ANYthing of particular interest or aesthetic appeal to show you today. Oh how wrong I was. Perhaps it’s last week’s virgin voyage up the lift of the Heron Tower that made it my new favourite, or maybe it’s just because it’s so ridiculously tall it stands above everything. Either way. It really is a gorgeous building.
The Ring of
After two IRA bombings in the early 1990’s, a ring of security gates was installed around the City. These concrete islands forced traffic into single file, past a plethora of CCTV cameras and ultimately up to this blue box, staffed by armed police. While this did decrease the likelihood of attacks within the City, the IRA got around it by doing what you’d expect they’d do: attack high-value targets outside of the ring. Now isn’t that clever?
These days the posts are empty and the islands most often provide great places for bike racks. I’d consider that progress.
Oddly, I only found two plaques on my walk today. Interesting then that they would be for the same building in two different places.
Bethlehem Hospital – also known as Bethlehem Royal Hospital, St. Mary Bethlehem and, the name you might be most familiar with…drumroll please…Bedlam.
Ring any bells?
This hospital is widely known as the “first and oldest institution to specialise in mental illness” (according to the great and powerful Wikipedia). With descriptions by neighbours of “cryings, screechings, roarings, brawlings, shaking of chaines, swearings, frettings, [and] chaffings” coming from within, it’s not surprising that “bedlam” has now come to mean a scene of uproar and confusion.
If the auditory description isn’t enough. Let’s hear about their hygiene (or lack thereof):
Inmates who were left to brood in their cells with their own excreta were, on occasion, liable to throw such “filth & Excrem[en]t” as [their piss-pots] contained into the hospital yard or onto passing staff and visitors.
Because it’s the right month for scary stories, here’s Edward Wakefield’s observation of one particular “patient” in 1815:
… a stout iron ring was riveted about his neck, from which a short chain passed to a ring made to slide upwards and downwards on an upright massive iron bar, more than six feet high, inserted into the wall. Round his body a strong iron bar about two inches wide was riveted; on each side of the bar was a circular projection, which being fashioned to and enclosing each of his arms, pinioned them close to his sides. This waist bar was secured by two similar iron bars which, passing over his shoulders, were riveted to the waist both before and behind. The iron ring about his neck was connected to the bars on his shoulders by a double link. From each of these bars another short chain passed to the ring on the upright bar … He had remained thus encaged and chained more than twelve years.
Aren’t humans just peachy sometimes?
Having seen two former locations of this crazy place in one day, you’d think I’d be done. It seems, however, that I might just come across it again near the end of my wanders. Stay tuned!
A More Uplifting Place
(aka where Bedlam used to be)
Sometimes a place full of poo and screeching crazies can be converted into a place of beauty and serenity.
Enter: Finsbury Circus
On the former grounds of the 2nd Bethlehem Hospital stands the City’s largest, public open space. It’s a gorgeous oval “square” lined with really rather lovely architecture and filled with a lush green garden. Well, it’s mostly filled with Crossrail construction equipment at the moment, but there’s still a fair bit of greenery to be found. I was assured by a kind, hard-hatted gent that the park would be restored to its former glory once construction is complete.
Upon seeing my curiosity (is it really that apparent?!) he also said I should get in touch with the Crossrail folks to ask if I can don my own cap and have a private tour of the work site!
Another Former Bedlam Site
Liverpool Street station, one of the UK’s busiest stations serving over 123 million people a year, stands on the site of the 1st Bethlehem Hospital. In keeping with today’s theme of general dreariness, it too has had some crap days in its past. I think the following story takes the cake though: In 1917, a bomb hit the station and killed 162 people. Five years later, a plaque was erected in memory of the victims. Sir Henry Wilson did the honours of unveiling the work. On his way home from the ceremony, he was assassinated by the IRA.
A little bit awful, no?
Let’s lighten the mood with a fun fact for regular Liverpool Street commuters (or anyone who cares to look up next time they’re there): when the roof was reconstructed after the damage it suffered in WWII, the beams and windows were colour-coded to differentiate between the old and new sections. Original parts are painted brown and have smoked plexiglass, and the new sections are blue with clear glass. Give it a gander next time you’re wandering through.
Right. The last depressing (but also uplifting) story of humanity comes in the form of the Kindertransport. In the late 1930’s, thousands of children – mostly Jewish – were rescued from Germany, Austria and Poland by boat and train before they could be sent to concentration camps. Liverpool Station played a big role in this migration as the trains’ terminus point in London. This is where newly orphaned children would emerge into a new city and meet new foster parents.
These children’s experience is captured in several sculptures throughout the station. The one pictured above (The Arrival) was created by Frank Meisler, a Kindertransportee who went on to become an internationally renown sculptor. This work is part of his series dedicated to the Kindertransport. Other works can be found in Berlin (Trains to Life, Trains to Death), Gdańsk (Departure) and the Hook of Holland (Channel Crossing to Life). I find it really touching that these pieces link such scattered cities to honour the children who shouldered so much at such early ages (and the adults who sacrificed themselves to guarantee the kids’ safety).
Something a Little More Sunny
Ok! After a few downers today, maybe it’ll help you to know that the ice skating rink in Exchange Square is currently under construction! Soon you’ll be able to sip mulled cider whilst wearing big, thick gloves and a long-flowing scarf before you embarrass yourself on skates in front of your date, or better yet, coworkers.
If that’s not enough cheer for you, here’s a photo from the end of my day.
I didn’t start walking until after 2:30 today and finished just as the sun was beginning to stoop low enough to give us one last warm hug before saying goodnight. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect end to the day 🙂
See you next time!
PS, if there’s an ad below this post, I do apologise. Free WordPress account and all.