Back from London

5 July 2011

I am back from a two day trip to London, where we saw some amazing things and completely destroyed our feet in the process. Whenever I go to London I feel a certain regret that despite growing up nearby in Colchester, coming from a proper old fashioned East End family and then accidentally living there later on (in my defence, my then boyfriend was one of those controlling weird freaks who don’t read books, despise intellectual pursuits and think their partners shouldn’t have their own interests and so systematically ridiculed me about my love of history until, exhausted by the jibes, I decided it was best to just turn my back on it), I appear not to have taken full advantage of these facts. Still, we’re making up for it now!

I have a series of posts planned for this week about my adventures over the last few days, but thought I’d start with a brief photographic tour of What We Got Up To, which should hopefully provide a bit of a taster for what I have in store for you all…

A photo in passing of the spire of St George in the East Church on the Highway, Wapping. This is of course one of the six Hawksmoor ‘creepy’ churches that one will find dotted around London, all of which are fascinating structures. I’m particularly fond of this one as I grew to know it well during the previously mentioned residence in London which involved a lot of hanging around Wapping.

I’ve wanted to get to the top of the White’s Row car park on Commercial Street for ages just so that I can get this shot of the nasty little service road that runs alongside it. Weirdly and as I may have mentioned one or two times before, this road is the site of Dorset Street, which was apparently the worst street in London at the end of the nineteenth century and central to the Jack the Ripper case. The murder of Mary Jane Kelly took place in Miller’s Court, which ran off to the right hand side of the road, roughly where the shuttered doors are here.

The best known of Hawksmoor’s ‘creepy churches’ (look, that’s just what I like to call them), Christ Church on Commercial Street, Whitechapel. This church will be familiar to fellow fans of From Hell (both the book and the film) as it looms eerily over the crowded, revolting streets of Victorian Whitechapel.

I now know that my ancestor Sergeant Lee of H Division in 1888 (yes, Ripperology IS genetic), lived most of his life in the shadow of Christ Church. I totally forgot to get a photograph of the address that he lived at though with his enormous family – next time!

Christ Church looks great when snapped with the Hipstamatic app on my iPhone as I went past on my way to Folgate Street. I took F with me and pointed out the old Truman Brewery on the way, where my great grandfather was a manager. I think that Whitechapel is the place that I feel most at home because there are echoes of my family and therefore me at every turn.

I’m fascinated by the juxtaposition of grimy old and shiny new in Whitechapel, as illustrated by this photograph. I was in Spitalfields to visit Dennis Severs’ house at 18 Folgate Street, which was even better than I expected it to be and a magical and unforgettable experience. I’ll be posting in full about it this week…

A view down Artillery Lane that runs between Spitalfields and Bishopsgate. A spindly, narrow little street, lined with Victorian shops and houses that gives an evocative reminder of how this area would have looked at the time of the Ripper murders. I’ve already decided to have one of my book launches there at some point – in Before The Storm, one of the characters, Sidonie comes from a house on Artillery Lane.

More of the old and new – a view of St Botolph Without Bishopgate church which we walked past on our way from Bishopsgate to the Museum of London. John Keats was baptised here in 1795. I always get in confused with St Botolph’s in Aldgate, which was known as the ‘Prostitute’s church’ in Victorian times as ladies of the night used to walk around it touting their wares.

Mind you, the guide on a Ripper walk I went on many moons ago also seems to have been confused between the two as he took us to the one on Bishopsgate and told us that it is where the prostitutes used to hang out…

We took a walk through the remnants of the Medieval city to Moorgate and then the Barbican beyond. Very little remains of the old city but you can glimpse echoes of the past every now and again…

Photograph of the Lord Mayor’s carriage in the Museum of London, taken by a nice young man who noticed me struggling with O, the pushchair, a mountain of bags and my phone. I really enjoyed the Museum of London, although it closed earlier than the time stated on their website and so I missed seeing the Victorian bit that I particularly wanted to view. This is annoying but at least gives me an excuse to go back…

Back on Commercial Street again – it looks like someone’s done the Ten Bells up a bit, doesn’t it? That stonework looks brand new and there’s an awning too. I actually got a bit enraged when I spotted this – ‘How dare they improve my pub?!’ I demanded, which is a bit weird of me so I do apologise. I’ve taken dozens of photographs of the Ten Bells over the years so will have to do a comparison, which I won’t share with you so don’t worry. I’m not THAT mad. Yet.

The main tower thing at Canary Wharf, as seen from below so you can’t see the pyramid or flashing light on top. We decided to stay in the Docklands, which was a bit of a left field decision but I thought it would be fun for some reason. Google maps convinced us that we were close to Canary Wharf so we gamely set out for a bit of a wander only to get hopelessly lost in that embarrassing way that always seems to occur when one is looking for a very tall building.

Anyway, after much woe, we finally got to Canary Wharf, which was just as vilely soulless and rather depressing as we expected it to be…

View across to Canary Wharf the next morning – this has a pleasantly sixties feel to it, I think.

The Natural History Museum in the early morning. Stupidly, we failed to check their website before setting out and so our promises of dinosaurs were actually LIES as the dinosaur bit (the only bit worth seeing in my opinion) is closed until the end of the month.

Still, we gamely queued up to get in, which led to an altercation at the door when a Polish family attempted a blatant queue jump and my husband decided to very un-Britishly shout at them about their lack of manners – earning himself a raised middle digit from the mother.

Inside the Natural History Museum – the architecture of the building is far more impressive than the displays. When I was fourteen I once worked as a waitress at a function here, which was a lot of fun – except for some posh git who tried to get me to come back to his flat to do heaven knows what.

D took the boys off to the Science Museum, which they loved, while I headed off to the Victoria and Albert Museum, which I loathe with a passion but have been nonetheless persevering with since my teens because I worry that not liking it means that I am some sort of uncultured oaf. Maybe I am? I just find it a really depressing and frustrating experience as they have such amazing things there but the displays are tediously laid out, the attendants are at best arrogant and at worst rude and the whole thing is a confusingly laid out and iniquitous maze, in which not even the staff seem able to adequately give directions to where you want to be.

Not that it made a blind bit of notice yesterday as every single bit that I wanted to visit was either closed by a power failure or shut for refurbishment or I just couldn’t find it.

You are allowed take photographs (without flash!) in most of the Museum except the jewellery bit. However, I had forgotten this but a vague memory that this perhaps was the case lingered on when I visited yesterday – however, I couldn’t find any notice telling me not to take photographs (I was feeling pretty harassed and annoyed by this point though so probably totally missed it due to sheer fury) and when I went inside everyone else seemed to be blithely skipping about taking photos (some with frankly enormous cameras) so I followed suit.

However, I was soon disabused of this notion by a snarky attendant. I debated not posting any of the photos here as they are clearly contraband, however the V&A annoyed me so much yesterday that TO HELL WITH IT, here’s the last one I took. I intend never going back again anyway…

After all this, I decided a nice relaxing walk was in order and so while D took the boys off to the Doctor Who Experience (which was fabulous, just in case you were wondering), I strolled along to Kensington Palace for my appointment with the curator of the Ceremonial Dress Collection – which I will be posting about at great length this week, but prepare to be amazed…

Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the palace to be greeted by a scene that seemed straight out of 1997. This particular display was in ‘honour’ of what would have been Princess Diana’s fiftieth birthday on the 1st of July and is apparently all down to one man, who is one of the last standing gate decorators. I had a chat with one of the Kensington Palace staff while there and was told that there used to be two warring factions of Diana fans who decorated the gate with (occasionally slanderous and swiftly removed) slogans, banners and pictures. However, they’ve noticed a dropping off in the amount of stuff attached to the gates now and expect it to stop altogether at some point. Apparently it’s left up for a week then discreetly removed with everything being recycled.

I had a quick look through the Enchanted Palace visitor’s book inside Kensington Palace and was rather amused to find an entry by an Antipodean visitor who angrily scrawled that there wasn’t enough about ‘the ONLY princess DIANA‘ so there you go…

What would she have made of this, I wonder?

Anyway, I hope you liked this – full posts on Dennis Severs’ House and the Royal Ceremonial Dress collection to follow! Also coming up this busy busy month – my first ever press event (and probably my last) for the Dressing the Stars Exhibition at the Fashion Museum, another visit to the Bath Fashion Museum study area to feel up some nineteenth century evening dresses CSI style, a day spent as a 1930s housewife (gosh golly crikey) and Camp Bestival again.

 

Ps. We’d better get a Whole Foods in Bristol at some point – we visited the one on Kensington High Street before coming home to get burritos from their burrito bar and I’m in love! So much vegan goodness!

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