What a gorgeous day to be out in London. After the crap weather on Day 25, today was absolutely heaven. For the most part, I was out on the streets today, taking in the sun, chatting with strangers, listening to the London medley of traffic, construction, students at lunch and birds in the park. But I did find two places that sucked me indoors and it was difficult to pry myself away from them.
This project is all about discovery (more on that topic later) and one of the bigger challenges is balancing time on the streets with time investigating interesting places. So many fascinating things are scattered throughout even the smallest slice of London that it can be tricky trying to take in as much as I can without stopping for absolutely everything. I could walk all the streets a hundred times over and never have exactly the same experience. That’s probably why I love it so much.
By now, you’ll be familiar with London’s Inns of Court (remember Gray’s Inn on Day 21 and Inner and Middle Temple on Day 22). Today I finished off the court-et (haha I am actually giggling out loud while writing that one) with Lincoln’s Inn. After having seen all four Inns, I still believe Inner Temple to be the winner in terms of sheer beauty, but Lincoln’s in has some pretty gorgeous features (the amazing blue sky behind it certainly doesn’t hurt).
Isn’t the architecture wonderful? I love the stone work and the mix of colours. You can’t see much from the photo but there are also patches of ivy vines here and there whose leaves will look amazing against the red brick when they come out soon. Also worth noting are the chimneys. They are very much the style of those at Hampton Court, Henry VIII’s fabulous palace out in Richmond, every one of them a different pattern of carved brick.
As you may have noticed, I have a bit of a thing about the spring flowers so I have to share an image of the purple and white crocus in the garden too.
Unsurprisingly, the four Inns of Court fall within walking distance of the Royal Courts of Justice, home to the High Court and Court of Appeal of England and Wales. This gorgeous building is open to the public to peruse, with possible restrictions depending on the cases being heard. By the time I got here today, I was running late so I didn’t get a chance to go in but I will on the next walk and I’ll report back with some photos for you.
It’s fun walking around in this neighbourhood because you see lawyers coming and going to Court in their robes and collars. I haven’t been lucky enough yet to see anyone wearing a wig from Ede & Ravenscroft, London’s first legal wig maker. It might be best that I don’t see these in action though as it is really hard for me to take the whole thing seriously. According to E&R, the legal profession continues to wear wigs to show the “unchanging status and impartiality of justice in society”. But how can you take anything seriously in a room full of people wearing these?
I have also yet to see any lawyers quite as sophisticated as this cat, a resident of a pub across from the Court.
Before I take you inside the hidden gems I found, I have to share one last story from this area. I had never noticed the Old Bank of England before but it caught my eye today so I popped in for a glimpse. Apparently, before it was the Bank of England, it was actually home to a couple of pubs and that is the state it has been restored to. While the place is absolutely gorgeous (really really gorgeous, in fact), it hides a gruesome secret. The building happens to sit over a series of tunnels and vaults where the victims of The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, also known as Sweeney Todd, and his mistress Mrs. Lovett would butcher his victims before cooking them into her famously unsavoury pies. All those bankers carrying on their business above (whether it was banking or drinking at that time) had no idea what was happening under their feet.
I would not have noticed the Soane Museum if its staff weren’t standing around greeting people. It really is a completely nondescript building from the outside. But inside it is one of the most curious places I’ve visited in London. Oh, and it’s free to get in so you have no excuse not to visit.
Technically, I made a promise to the guy out front that I wouldn’t take any photos, but it’s such a strange place I didn’t know how I could possibly describe it without giving you at least one or two visual teasers. I can only hope that, as it is in the name of promoting the site and encouraging you all to visit, that anyone from the museum who reads this might turn a blind eye to my indiscretion just this once.
Sir John Soane was an architect and collector who designed his own home/museum. But this is not like any “house museum” you’ve ever been to, with volunteers dressed in period costumes pointing to roped off dioramas of fake people cooking fake fish over the place where a stove may or may not have been when it was in use. This is something completely different in every possible way.
Soane used the house both as a house and a museum during his lifetime. His collection is really remarkable and displayed in a way that allows you to wander through freely, getting up close and personal with Hogarth paintings, an Egyptian sarcophagus and a model scale of Pompeii made of wine corks (someone’s clever plan for having to drink a whole lot of wine).
It was really hard to pull myself away and get back out walking. I’ll definitely be back soon to explore it more in depth. There’s not much else I can say about this place except that you have to go there. Really. Maybe right now.
2 Temple Place
The last stop I made today was at 2 Temple Place. I passed by here on a previous walk and thought of peeking in but was headed the other direction at the time. I was pleasantly surprised with what I found when I managed to get inside today.
Similar to the Soane Museum, the interior’s purpose doesn’t seem to fit the exterior’s style. The building is certainly eye-catching with its incredible stonework and fortress-like appearance. It looks like a tiny castle or military post of some kind. According to the wonderfully informative woman in reception, this idea of strength and security is not far off from its actual intention.
2 Temple Place was the office of the richest man in the world at the time of its construction: William Waldorf Astor. You can imagine no expense was spared in designing exactly the space he wanted.
The only way I can think to describe the interior is as masculine. It’s ornate and decadent but in a bold, dark, brooding, manly kind of way. If you were called for a meeting with Astor himself, you be led through the heavy doors, up the incredibly beautiful dark, wooden staircase sparkling with colour from the stained glass windows above, and into his cedar-panelled Great Room where he’d be sitting at his large desk, back to the window, his silhouette dominating this already overwhelmingly powerful space. You’d be made of pretty strong stuff if you weren’t just a little bit intimidated by the time you met the man in person.
The castle-like quality of the exterior comes from Astor’s strong concerns for security (you can imagine why). In fact, the building itself is a small fortress around what was at the time the largest strong room in Europe, along with two enormous, fortified safes.
Now, the house is run by The Bulldog Trust who supports their activity through various events and exhibitions at the house as well as providing a venue for corporate and private events.
What drew me in today was the Discoveries exhibition that is running until April 27th (as it tends to go in London, this is free as well). On display are a wide variety of objects that all relate to “the pleasures of looking, and the power of objects to generate wonder as well as new ideas”. They have a dodo skeleton, the Tinamou Egg, a collection of snow goggles through the ages and the Agostino Scilla book from 1670 claiming that fossils are not geological phenomena but the remains of once-living creatures.
It was the perfect place to end a day that filled me with the pleasure of walking and the power of new places to generate wonder and new ideas.
See you next time!
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