Monday 28 February 2011

London: Part the Second.

The manuscript I've been working on lately, is a story set in Eighteenth Century London.  Through my research, I discovered the Foundling Hospital and - later - Foundling Museum.  That was the main point of interest of my recent overnight in London, which I wrote about in my last post. 

On that visit, I was hoping to find the memory or sense of that past time; after-images which seem to linger and accumulate in a place like London. I did.  Both of that time, and of many, many others.

The best way to get a sense of a city is to walk around in it.  So, once I'd been to the Foundling Museum - my first stop - I spent my remaining two half-days walking around the city. 
The London of Henry Fielding (author of the book I'm currently reading, published in 1749)  wouldn't have been all that different from the London of today in many ways.

Though the London I was looking for is rooted in the past, it is still very much present today:  Huge, loud, chaotic, people being moved about in wheeled vehicles, filled with clashing smells, bustling, peopled by locals and by inhabitants from other parts of Britain and the world: London hasn't changed all that much over the centuries. 

(view from a Covent Garden cafe)

Covent Garden was a must see.  Even though the structures there are mostly different to those that were there almost three hundred years ago, one still gets a feel for the busyness of the place.  And there were performers of all kinds: musicians, jugglers, acrobats - some of them really good, others really, really bad - as would always have been the case. 

This was a group of fantastic, young musicians.  That night, when I went, again, walking through the Market, there was a fabulous acrobat with nothing but a boom-box set up on the upper level.  He did a show that was a mix of break-dancing and acrobatics, culminating in a diving leap from the ground through the hooped arms of a standing audience member, and landing in a perfect roll-and-stand.  I was too busy watching to get out my camera.  I strolled down by the Thames.  In the past, it was notoriously smelly.  Thankfully, it's not so these days, though I wouldn't fancy a swim in it. 

The next day I went to my absolute favourite market: Borough Market.  It's a huge food market located in Southwark and most of the current buildings were built in Victorian times, though the original Market dates back to the 13th century.  It's currently located under a railway viaduct.  It's busy, and noisy, and the architecture is amazing - all brick and iron. 

In keeping with the Victorian theme, I found my way to a strange sort of museum. 

I've long been a fan of Sherlock Holmes.  I've read all the stories, and I've seen countless movie and television renditions of the stories.  (I was in the Basil Rathbone camp until I saw Jeremy Brett in the role.  He absolutely lives the character.)   

221b Baker Street will forever be known as the home of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, and the Sherlock Holmes Museum is located at 221b Baker Street.

I must say, it was a bit of a disappointment. As an example of what a Victorian city dwelling would have been like, it's is of interest.  They have papered the walls and furnished the rooms accordingly. 

But I had been hoping to find information about Arthur Conan Doyle and some talk of the Sherlock Holmes phenomenon: a character so well loved that he has been adapted to other media, as well as to blur the line between fiction and reality for many people - the number of fan-letters written to Mr. Sherlock Holmes over the years is astounding.

I'm not quite sure why there isn't more information there.  Apparently there was a dispute, some years ago, between Doyle's daughter and the museum: she didn't approve of a museum being set up for a fictional character and refused to donate any of her father's items to it. 

Upstairs there were two rooms with life size wax figures of some of Holmes' antagonists, but as I absolutely hate life size wax figures, I didn't take any pictures and made quick work of those two rooms. 

At the very top, was this fantastic toilet.

After the museum, I took a stroll through Regent's Park, just at the head of Baker Street.   At the edge of the pond, was a man feeding the birds.  As I got closer, I was amazed to see the variety of birds: ducks, geese, swans, herons, gulls, and - yes - pigeons.

I walked along the edge of the pond where willows hung branches into the water (note the nest at the top.) 

A lovely knobby-kneed tree.

A path that led through more trees.

Past cheeky squirrels who thought I was reaching for vittles to toss them when I fished in my pocket for my camera.

To this mysterious ivy-eaten hut.  (I was dying to hop the fence for a closer look.)

After the breather of the park, I plunged back into the other London.  And more markets.  First, Leadenhall Market.  It was my first time there.  Parts of it were used as "Diagon Alley" in the filming of the Harry Potter movies.   It's mainly a market for upscale shops, though there were vendors selling paintings and shoe-shine boys (men, actually). 

Next stop,  Spitalfields Market which is like a gigantic, covered yard sale where one can buy anything from faded maps to old Toby Mugs to vintage dresses. 


I picked up some old letters and photographs from a woman's stall. 

 I don't know what I'm going to do with them, but somehow I just liked the idea of having them.  Of course, I do wonder how the people to whom they belonged would feel about some stranger, a century later, being in possession of them.  Does feel strange.  For now, they sit in my secretaire, which belongs to roughly the same period. 

Finally, I had a bit of time before catching my plane, so I browsed in one of the bookshops, and came across this: Peter Ackroyd's "London: The biography."  It's one I've had my eye on for a while.  Seemed like the right time and place to finally buy it - for when I've finally finished the nearly 900 delightful pages of "Tom Jones."


  1. I love your post and images-- I went to London in 2009- my son got married in Scotland so off we went to London and Edinburgh-- I loved London and we went to all the big museums and to Covent Gardens- but I missed all the markets and the Foundling museum and so on... I will write these all down because I do hope to go back for another visit some day as I would love to go on to Ireland on my next visit-- especially now since my son's inlaws live in Scotland.

  2. p.s. me again.. I would love to go to that Spitalfields market. I did luck out at Covent Garden- on the day we went they had their flea market day and I loved it... bought some some treasures.

  3. Living vicariously through you ... :O) ... thanks for the guided and well-photographed tour!

  4. Oh, I suspect those markets could be an endless source of inspiration. Lovely post!

  5. Thanks, Donna. You are lucky to have contacts in Scotland! What a beautiful place to get married. I was there once and it was lovely. Ireland is also on my list of places to visit one day.

    The markets really were wonderful. I missed the flea Market at Covent Garden - next time hopefully. The Spitalfields one is really worth seeing when you're next in London.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the tour, Jan! There were a few other shots I had wanted to include (of a great pub and a cheese shop near Borough Market), but they had people quite prominently in the foreground, so for reasons of privacy I left them out. There are so many wonderful things to take pictures of in that city.

    Thanks for dropping by, Donna! There really is so much to see in those markets - one could spend days exploring them. What was fascinating too, was to watch the vendors. So many of them are such characters - like they've stepped from the pages of a old novel.

  6. I really enjoyed this. I was in the UK, twice, years ago, in London for a few days and again in the UK for a week . . driving around . . on the side of the street I'm not used to! I loved it. The people were so friendly. As a wabi-sabi lover, that market sounds and looks luscious! Would love to go back.

  7. I also found the people to be incredibly friendly, Jann. Even in a city as huge and busy as London, there is a certain humour and patience and good will which always surprises me. When my husband and I were there last year, each time we stopped to look at our map, someone would stop and ask whether they could help us find our way.

    The driving around on the other side of the road sounds stressful! Though I'm sure one gets used to it quickly...not much choice, I guess.

  8. I live 30 miles from London - a 40 minute train journey to Waterloo station, yet I've never seen half of the places you've wandered around, perhaps it's because I'm no great lover of cities. It was lovely to see and view the city through your eyes though - I'm left with the notion we too often take for granted places on our respective doorsteps, I must somehow try and rectify that!

  9. It is so true about taking the place you live for granted, Kate. We had a visitor from Canada stay with us for a few days a while ago. He saw more in those few days than we have in almost three years here. On the other hand, it does depend on what you're interested in seeing. (Don't think I could have sat through quite as many operas as he did.)

    I must say, I envy you your set-up: living not in a city, but within striking distance of one. (And being so close to those amazing manor homes, cemeteries, and forests that you've taken pictures of...)

  10. Great to discover some of London with you. I haven't been in YEARS! In fact, it was in the 1980's... that really IS a long time. Beautiful griffin sculpture on the architecture, and some toilet!

  11. That is a while, Valerianna.
    I love playful touches like the statue and the toilet - it even has the floral pattern on the inside!