Today’s walk could be described as a mishmash, a hodgepodge a…salmagundi? (Thanks for the new word, Thesaurus.com). There were no consistent themes, no all-present buildings, just bits and pieces of city mashed together to create a lovely day out.
Because Halloween is just around the corner, let’s start of with the creepy stuff. *ooooOOOOOOooo*
Just in time for the year’s scariest night, we have our first Congestion Zone cemetery! Well, that’s not exactly true since I’m pretty sure every bit of London has bones beneath it (it’s just a matter of how deep). Bunhill Cemetery is the first official resting place I’ve come across on my wanders though. And it turns out it’s full of famous writers (and cheeky squirrels) too! Plus the name comes from when it was originally referred to as “Bone Hill” so that makes it even cooler.
Let’s take a little stroll through Bunhill Fields, shall we?
When I say famous, I don’t mess around. William Blake is one of England’s most renowned poets, painters and printmakers. He was also a walker of London, it seems, though he has a slightly darker take on it than I do (oh those Romantics, always getting us down):
When I’m gone, I’d love to have Wikipedia define me as a “trader, writer, journalist, pamphleteer and spy”. Now just tell me he’s Willem Dafoe’s great-great-great grandfather and I think I might have a new hero. Oh, and thanks for writing the first English novel, Daniel Defoe. Hammock loungers around the globe salute you.
While the Pilgrim’s Progress isn’t exactly my type of reading, apparently it was second only to the Bible in terms of readership at one point. Stephanie Meyer, eat that. When Twilight has been in continuous print for 335 years then MAYBE I’ll consider reading it. Probably not though.
And then there’s this guy. I’m sure he’ll be famous some day if he hangs out with this crowd.
Best Chat of the Day
After seeing this colourful display of Worshipful Company of Gardeners’ plaques lining the wall in a local estate, I summoned up the courage to ask a nearby woman a little more about them. As it turns out it is her own back garden that won this prestigious award for Best Small Garden in the City. FIFTEEN times!
As well as being masterful gardeners, she and her husband are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. They happily told me about their garden and the award nights at the Lord Mayor’s house (replete with fine dining and champagne, of course) before inviting me over for tea later this week! Hopefully I’ll be able to give you an even better glimpse into their story shortly.
Blending In By Standing Out
Today’s street art was more subdued than what I experienced in Shoreditch on Day 9. In fact, it was mostly relegated to cable boxes. Someone in EC1 really enjoys turning these ugly bits of infrastructure into happy works of art for passersby. They all look so different, though, that I had to wonder if it is all the work of one artist. Or perhaps this community is conspiring to make their surroundings just a touch more silly and wonderful?
If you know, please share!
The collage below has a few of my favourites (click for the bigger image).
Another street in the neighbourhood hosts this great little mosaic with voices from the community. I’m beginning to ❤ EC1 myself.
History and Hypocrisy
I spent a good chunk of time in the Cripplegate area today, a neighbourhood that’s socioeconomic status has fluctuated wildly over the centuries. During Queen Elizabeth’s reign, it served as the City’s fashion hub. After the plague, it was one of the poorest neighbourhoods in London. By the end of the 19th century, it’s trade centred on women making “costumes, shirts, collars, artificial flowers and feathers, gold and silver embroideries and similar to order”.
In February 1891, the Cripplegate Foundation was formed, its objectives being to relieve poverty, hardship and distress and improve the quality of life in the area. Lofty goals, no doubt. To achieve these ends, the Foundation designed and built the Cripplegate Library, which housed reading rooms, news and reference libraries, and classrooms for teaching trade skills to those in the neighbourhood.
Within 10 years, it was a bustling centre for arts and education housing over 48,000 books and helping more than 1.25 million visitors. The library expanded to include a theatre (the only place in the City licensed to stage plays), a gymnasium and – clearly the most important in terms of education – a rooftop rifle range.
In 1940, things changed drastically when bombings destroyed the Cripplegate area. While the library was hardly touched, it suffered from a loss of patronage as people moved away to find new housing. To cover its costs, the Foundation was forced to rent out the building to new educational institutions.
In 1897, they sold off the building entirely and pocketed £4.5 million in the deal. This chunk of cash, along with other investments have allowed the Foundation to become one of the top 100 grant making trusts in the country and it still gives regularly to local charities as well as needy individuals.
Today, the building houses a large UBS office. The facade, front hall and stairwell are all listed and are gorgeous pieces of architecture to see if you are in the area. I wanted to get photos of the inside for you but when I asked the security guy if I could snap a quick photo of the staircase, he said, “I’m sorry you can’t take any photos because the cameras are watching us”. I asked why it was ok for them to take pictures of me but not for me to take pictures of a few steps. He just laughed at me and carried on chatting.
Not Exactly a Castle
At the end of Day 9 I promised you a castle but it appears I have led you astray. Rather than being home to a tall, dark, handsome prince and his band of long-haired, bearded knights, it is the headquarters of the clean-cut, crisply dressed Honourable Artillery Company (The London Daily Photo blog points out that it really should be the Royal Company as the Queen is the Captain General, but tradition is tradition, I guess).
I’ll have to apologise to all military fans reading this blog and just put it out there that if there’s one thing I have no particular interest in researching, it’s the military. Sorry about that. It’s just not my bag. It is interesting though, that records of Bunhill Fields show that these grounds were used for military practice as far back as 1498! You can find out more about the history on the Artillery Company’s site and on wikipedia if you are into this stuff.
As for this particular building, I can’t find anything about its past at all. Maybe it once was a castle but it looks a little too perfect and a little too maintained to be any type of real old castle. Please share more info if you happen to know about it!
I’d like to see more of these plaques around! Who are the English Hedonists? And, more importantly, how do I get invited to one of their parties?
Here’s the inscription:
Warm hearted Nell Gwynn, in her will, desired her natural son, the Duke of St. Albans, to lay out £20 a year to release poor debtors out of prison and this sum was distributed every Christmas Day to the inmates of Whitecross Street Prison.
That’s it for today, folks. Next up: the Barbican!
See you next time!
153 days until the Congestion Zone Party! Follow on Twitter for more updates.