I have returned from my whirlwind tour of London, which is itself a whirlwind, continuing and even intensifying the dynamic expansion (up and out) that I witnessed the last time I was over there, with no cessation in sight! There’s nothing new about this: the metropolis (Londinopolis, according to the title of James Howell’s 1647 survey Londinopolis an historicall discourse or perlustration of the city of London, the imperial chamber, and chief emporium of Great Britain: whereunto is added another of the city of Westminster, with the courts of justice, antiquities, and new buildings thereunto belonging) emerged in the later sixteenth century and just kept growing all the way up to the twentieth century, when wars stopped and then resuscitated its regular redevelopment. London remains the “chief emporium” of Great Britain, but also of the world. It was difficult to take a picture anywhere in the city without capturing a crane in the background: construction zones abound in every district. And even where there are no cranes there are constant contrasts between old and new–some quite shocking–and some more subtle. But London remains an amalgamation of neighborhoods, and I do wonder what its citizens think of the relentless development pressure. You hear complaints of “blackened” Belgravia, where wealthy foreigners have purchased flats in which they will never live, and “iceberg houses” with hugely built-out basements below ground, but what looks like folly architecture to me seems okay to Londoners. I purchased a book by Rowan Moore, the architecture critic for the Observer, to give some insights into London’s 21st-century building boom during the long flight home, but Slow Burn City was more about anecdotal building than perceptions of planning, for the most part.
I did complete my planned itinerary (including Botticelli Reimagined at the Victoria & Albert, which was ok, but from my perspective presented in backwards order; the Pepys exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, which adhered to its one man’s life and times format without fail, and the AMAZING sixteenth-century Sutton House in Hackney, which will get its own post), and took students to Hampton Court, Westminster, Greenwich, and the Tower of London. The rest of the time I spent in the east end–in Spitalfields and Shoreditch– exploring bustling neighborhoods that I didn’t know very well, inspired by the wonderful blog Spitalfields Life and steadfastly avoiding the Salem-like Jack the Ripper Museum, which was supposed to be about the lives of the female victims (and working-class women in general) but is somehow not. Spitalfields is surrounded by modern buildings but its core is eighteenth-century, and it has been a long-time refuge for immigrants: French Huguenots in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Irish and Jews in the nineteenth, and Bangladeshi today. It is home to the Old Spitalfields Market, which is probably the best market in London, a city of great markets. I fell hard for an architect there, and I don’t mean my husband (who came along): one sight of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Christ Church, Spitalfields and I was a goner–so he’s going to get his own post too.
Some of my favorite places and photographs: more focused posts to follow all week.
Real Tudor and Faux Tudor: Two of my favorite buildings in London: the Staple Inn in Holborn and Liberty of London; busts from Liberty, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, and the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Troops trooping near Buckingham Palace; In the Tower yard; armour in the White Tower; “graffiti” on window frames in the Tower and at Hampton Court Palace; The view from the White Tower–fortress against modernity! In the garden at the Victoria & Albert; the view south across the Thames from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.
The amazing St Pancras train station and adjoining hotel, saved from demolition by Poet Laureate John Betjeman, whose statue is prominently situated inside; Marylebone streets; a few blue placques.
Very Vibrant Spitalfields: Nicholas Hawksmoor’s STUNNING Christ Church, Spitalfields (completed 1729) with which I am OBSESSED; the view from the Church: old and new buildings encasing the market; a few items from the market (thanks Carol!), the beautiful Fournier Street; an effigy of London Mayor Boris Johnson (or Donald Trump)?
March 21st, 2016 at 4:30 am
what a very interesting alternative tour
March 21st, 2016 at 5:52 am
Thanks, Simon. High praise from a Brit! I did go to several of the “usual” places, but I don’t think anyone needs to see a picture of Buckingham Palace.
March 21st, 2016 at 6:14 am
I agree. And I already know where most visitors go… because (with my other (work) hat on, I wrote this…
March 21st, 2016 at 6:41 am
Wow! Now I’m even more grateful for your comment!
March 21st, 2016 at 7:00 am
… but, as you know, there are interesting things to see away from the thronging crowds
March 21st, 2016 at 7:06 am
London is amazing in every way–every single street. I did get a bit overwhelmed with all the construction on this particular trip, however.
March 21st, 2016 at 7:13 am
yep it has been v heavy last few years. i am not a londoner really
March 21st, 2016 at 2:30 pm
You’re not the only person obsessed with Christ church, Spitalfields. The painter Leon Kossoff has been drawing or painting it repeatedly for years. Quite a few of his paintings and drawings of it are in the Tate Britain and more in his book of London Landscapes.
March 21st, 2016 at 4:52 pm
Thank you so much, Roger! This is a new obsession so I have much to learn. I brought some books back with me but will now go on the hunt for artistic depictions.
March 21st, 2016 at 5:02 pm
I recognized Hawksmoor’s church from the graphic novel “From Hell,” which says something both about the quality of the drawing in it and the distinctiveness of the church.
March 21st, 2016 at 5:15 pm
Hi Brian! Yes, Hawksmoor seems to be at the center of a subgenre of “psychogeography” which I am now trying to figure out. Ian Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd, as well as From Hell. He has a reputation as the “Devil’s architect” but I’m not sure that is from his time or ours.
March 21st, 2016 at 5:21 pm
My own impression is that much of it is read back from the present . . . but I am willing to be informed otherwise.
Oh, and my own visual delight of late was a trip yesterday to the Harvard Art Museum(s), which I hadn’t seen since they reopened after major renovations to the Fogg. Drooled in front of a few Rossetti pieces. The good news is that as a Cambridge resident I can visit for free, so I’m planning return trips.
March 21st, 2016 at 5:24 pm
I share your opinion but I am diving in for a bit! Good to know–already missing London–so I’ll set my sights on Cambridge!
March 21st, 2016 at 5:25 pm
If you’re going to be in the neighborhood, drop me a line and we can have a coffee together.
March 21st, 2016 at 5:27 pm
March 21st, 2016 at 5:47 pm
Welcome back! Sounds like you had a wonderful trip! Looking forward to looking at all the photos and reading all your thoughts!
March 21st, 2016 at 6:47 pm
Thanks Laura. I do have lots of pictures coming up….
March 21st, 2016 at 8:32 pm
So glad that I just found this blog – we may be kindred spirits. You wrote:
“The rest of the time I spent in the east end–in Spitalfields and Shoreditch– exploring bustling neighborhoods that I didn’t know very well, inspired by the wonderful blog Spitalfields Life …
I start each morning reading THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S blog in my email. I recall his recent piece about Hawksmoor’s Christ Church.
I have been to London 5-6 times and never tire of it – hope to return in June. On my list – Spitalfields, Liberty (not a shopper but I believe I have missed something in the past by not stopping here), and a drink at St. Pancras station, pausing to pay homage to the Betjeman statue.
Looking forward to reading more about your recent trip…
Helen B. Lynnfield
March 22nd, 2016 at 4:00 am
Wow, Helen–we do have similar tastes! I just adore that blog, more than I can say, really. I hope the rest of my itinerary is interesting to you, but I did have to go to some of the more “traditional” sites as I had students in tow this time. I did not get to spend anytime in the southern part of the city, particularly Bermondsey, which I regret, but I’m going back this summer too. File Liberty under “Arts and Crafts London” rather than shopping and you’ll enjoy it! And report back, please. Donna
March 22nd, 2016 at 5:48 pm
Donna, I will get back to you. Another thing I like to do in London is to attend a public lecture. There are scores of them. Went to a great one two years back at the London School of Economics. So many choices…