I have not received a wealth of mail begging for more blogs since my Edinburgh post, but I was thinking today that much of what I’ve been doing on this side of the great pond might be considered newsworthy, so I thought I’d regale you with a few journeys within London since I returned from Edinburgh.
Saturday morning 27 August I joined Bill and between 25 and 30 students for his inaugural walk in London, which he calls the Two Cities Tour. Why TWO cities? Because London is a tale of two cities in many ways. The city of London was founded by the ancient Romans, and was known as Londinium. A good bit of Roman wall that surrounded the city remains intact, notably in the area near the Tower of London and the area around the Barbican complex. That set of buildings houses offices, restaurants and theatres, but is also home to The Museum of London.
|The Roman wall at the Barbican|
At the beginning of its collection is a section devoted to Roman London, and if you look outside rather than in, you’ll see large sections of the Roman wall. I’ve always enjoyed that section, because while I am examining small artifacts, models of buildings and some sculpted figures of ancient Romans at different tasks, I can turn my head to the windows, glance outside, and realize that the artifacts, buildings and people belong right where I see them, versus the Elgin Marbles, for example, that should properly be housed in the new Acropolis Museum in Athens rather than a wee bit west of the Museum of London, in the British Museum.
The Roman city housed within these walls grew into the City of London. In the 6th century, after the Christianization of Rome, a cathedral (a church that houses a bishop) was built, according to legend, on the site of a temple to Diana that may or may not have been the site of the present St. Paul’s Cathedral. By the tenth century a cathedral stood on the highest hill in London until it burned to the ground in 1087. On that same site was built another St Paul’s, ancestor of today’s St. Paul’s Cathedral.
|St Paul's Cathderal from the South Bank|
As time passed the Romans left it behind and invading Germanic tribes, including the Angles and the Saxons, first took, then settled in to this place. These were followed in the ninth and tenth centuries by Viking invasions, and for years the domination of the area shifted between Norse and Anglo-Saxon control. Finally in 1066 the Normans invaded and took firm control. Normandy is located south of England along the northwestern coast of France but was founded in the tenth century by Norsemen (Danish and Norwegian Vikings). William, Duke of Normandy (after the invasion aka William the Conqueror), was crowned king.
William’s (the conqueror’s, not Sheasgreen’s )coronation occurred at Westminster Abbey.
Where was this? In the SECOND city of Bill’s tour, that of Westminster, adjacent to and just west of the walled Roman city, settled by Saxons and known as Lundenwic. An abbey was probably built there in the eighth century, and in the eleventh century Edward the Confessor, the penultimate Saxon king of England, had a vision of a complex that would include a royal palace and a church, and ordered the building of each. The church was called Westminster, as it was located west of London Center and St Paul’s Cathedral. Westminster Abbey was dedicated to St. Peter, in fact its full title is The Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster. So from that time Saints Peter and Paul watched over what would become greater London.
Westminster was established as the political center of London, and remains so today. It includes the great abbey, site of the coronation of kings and queens, and burial place of seventeen monarchs, and the Neo-Gothic Houses of Parliament, which of course controls the United Kingdom today. The City of London, on the other hand, was and remains the center of Great Britain's monetary power. Monetary and political power: a potent mix!
|Bill and students at the Westminster Pier, the beginning of the Two Cities Tour|
Bill’s tour begins on Westminster pier, just outside of the Westminster underground station, beneath a statue of Boadicea (or Boudica) in her chariot. She was the bold queen
|Boadicea and Big Ben|
of a local tribe who vanquished the Romans and sacked the cities of Londinium and Verulamium (St. Albans), but who subsequently suffered defeat by a force of 10,000 Roman soldiers and committed suicide by poison rather than be captured by the enemy. Just behind and above that statue stands one of the great icons of London, Big Ben, and to the left of it the Houses of Parliament. He explains the history better than I did in my notes above, then takes students across to Whitehall, where he continues his tale of two cities, walking and stopping to talk at Number 10 Downing, the Horse Guards (changing of the guard ceremony while we were there), and at Whitehall Palace before heading to Trafalgar Square and finishing the first portion of his tour.
|Bill & students on the South Bank|
He next leads students across the Thames via the Hungerford Footbridge, and walks along the beautiful South Bank for nearly all the rest of the tour, stopping for rest and victuals at the excellent Royal National Theatre (where this trip we were caught in a strong rain storm and sheltered under it’s unusual but in this case protective architecture). Farther down the river he takes us into the Tate Modern, a great museum housed in an amazing building, and up to the seventh floor café, not for food but for the spectacular view of the city that can be seen from that vantage point. Very near to the Tate is the New Globe Theatre, where we pause to remember its founder, Sam Wanamaker, and there is also a stop at the site of the old Globe. This Saturday we were very lucky in that the Rose excavation site was open. A woman talked about the site and the plays that were and even today are put on there, even though the place is buried beneath a huge office building, just next to the entire footprint of the Rose Theatre, a rival to the Globe in Elizabethan England. It is logistically next to impossible to stage plays in this place, but clever directors rise to the challenge and produce plays by Shakespeare, Marlowe and others to audiences of no more than fifty people at a time.
Bill then takes us to Southwark Cathedral, home to a memorial to Shakespeare, and on to the Borough Market, one of the finest in London, where we stop (and where some feed) for about twenty minutes. We continue the walk until we get to the Tower Bridge
|Bill and students in front of Tower Bridge|
and head back across the Thames to the Tower of London, last stop on the tour. We do not go into the Tower, as it is a very expensive place and would take an entire day in itself to do it proper justice, but stand instead next to a statue of a Roman emperor in front of the ancient Roman wall that once protected Londinium many centuries ago.
It’s a great tour and it covers a great length of the two cities. It also takes time, usually over four hours, this time because of waiting out the rain at the RNT and the lucky stop at the Rose, taking over five hours! Exhausting, but a great learning experience and also great fun.
Did I just write the word “Exhausting”? Indeed we were, but Bill and I were not finished. We walked back across the Thames for a pint at a pub near Borough Market, then crossed Borough High Street to a little known burial site, in Redcross Way, called Crossbones (also written as two words, Cross Bones) Graveyard. There is almost nothing to it these days, except for an long iron gate covered with flowers, candles, inscriptions and photos.
|Bill at the Crossbones Graveyard|
You can peer through the gate and see a small empty yard, empty except for one plain but pretty cross made of green foliage lying on the ground. It seems like a place that time forgot, except that apparently not everyone forgot. More on that, but first the fascinating history:
Winchester Palace was located in the South of London, very near the new Globe. It was built in the twelfth century to house bishops of the district, who were very wealthy landowners as well as men of the Church. Among his many privileges? duties? pleasures? the bishop was allowed to license prostitutes, who became known as The Winchester Geese. No surprise that there were prostitutes plying their trade in and around the South Bank, as it was a district of entertainments, bear-baitings and as you now know, sexual pleasures. But certainly a surprise – a big one for me – that a bishop should be regulating them legally, while prostitution was completely illegal just across the river to the north. All very well, but what do the Winchester Geese have to do with Crossbones Cemetery? They were buried in that unconsecrated graveyard.
But they weren’t the only ones. Later outcasts of many kinds, including cholera victims, were also put to rest here. In fact it became completely overcrowded, numbers of bodies estimated by the Museum of London at as many as 15,000, many of them children. In the first years of the new millennium local residents opposed the development of the site on moral grounds, and won their suit, so that in the middle of an upscale neighborhood there exists a decidedly downscale memorial to prostitutes, outcasts and plague victims. At 7 pm on the 23rd of every month vigils and services are given in honor of the unknown dead.
|Inscription on the gate at Crossbones Graveyard|
I was strangely touched, not only by the history, but by the community effort to remember and keep buried the dead. I doubt this site plays a part of many, if any, tours of the city, but it was fascinating and moving to me.
And that was the end of Bill’s Two Cities Tour, the very last visitation admittedly for Bill’s and Dottore Gianni’s eyes only.