When in London – never do as the tourists do
For those in love with London there is nothing sweeter than getting up early on a Sunday morning - for then to walk the streets of this fantastic city. The tourists are still asleep and all is quiet – well - as quiet as the city of London can ever be.
For the visitor who does not want to see the traditional turist sights - or be part of a stampeding herd at Oxford Circus - I have one simple recommendation: turn around and quietly walk in the opposite direction.
Every street in this somewhat chaotic city landscape is filled with history. You can almost sense the people of the past, the people who built this unique universe – stone by stone – cobble by cobble. Here they lived, here they loved, here they mourned and here they died.
It is when being out and about in the early hours of the morning that I am reminded of why I once came to this place - and why I made it my home for many years. Today, I am back to walk some old and dear hunting grounds - and to feel close to all that once was.
My starting point is Holborn
They say that where you first land in London is where you will always stay. There is a great deal of truth in that statement. Holborn and the surrounding area is where I got to know people when I first came to the British Isles - and this is where my first feeble roots took hold.
Every passing double decker bus, every small mountain of bin bags on the street – those very bin bags that rather shocked an odd Norwegian when he first came here - and the smell and feel of London reassures me that I am back home.
Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children
I am drawn up past Red Lion Square, across Theobald Street and towards Great Ormond Street. The Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children is a formidable institution with a long history of helping thousands of children from all over the world. I always like to show my gratitude for all the good work they perform here every single day - by just simply walking by when I am in the neighbourhood.
If you support just one charity this year then maybe make this one your chosen candidate. You would follow in the footsteps of Princess Diana - who served as president of the hospital from 1989 and until her death in 1997. And you would follow in the footsteps of J. M. Barrie, the creator of the character Peter Pan, who donated the Peter Pan publishing rights to the hospital in 1929.
Coram’s Fields – playground for children and young people
Just behind the hospital – in Guilford Street, just a short walk from Russel Square – you will find the entrance to Coram’s Fields. To quote the website of the Coram's Fields charity: this is a unique seven acre playground and park for children and young people living in or visiting London.
Many moons ago, when I first walked past this big city oasis, I noticed the sign saying that no adult is allowed in without being accompanied by children. I thought that such a sweet and funny message - albeit - I realised later - sadly maybe also written with a more sinister reality in mind.
Children need to run and play. The park is free to visit and is open from 09.00 until dusk every day - all year round. Why not on occasion spare your child the noise and kerfuffle of London - and make a visit to this wonderful and secluded world. If there is one particular London memory that a child will take with them back home - it might just be a visit to this large garden of play.
St George’s Gardens is my next stop
I could never be in this part of London without visiting St George’s Gardens, a place very dear to my heart.
If it wasn’t for the fact that I once lived in 1 Regent Square – in a flat with its living room’s back wall just bordering this tranquil garden – I would probably never have known it even existed. It is a hidden and tranquil spot. Once an active churchyard, now a park with many of the old memorials and headstones still intact. Somehow, I feel the closest to the long gone people of London within these garden walls.
I remember the first evening after moving into the flat, being busy putting everything in order. The windows were open and we suddenly heard this terrible scream. It sounded like a human in distress. It took us a while to realise that it was indeed a fox crying. Even deep inside the city of London a fox would roam and call for its mates.
Sadly I missed the annual party on the 23 April 2016, just by a day. Otherwise I would have been there for sure.
Read more about the interesting history of St George’s Gardens and where to find it by clicking on the link below.
Reaching Tavistock Square to pay my respects
Tavistock Square is situated between Russel Square and Euston Station. I wanted to come here today for a special reason: I wanted to pay my respects to the 13 innocent people who lost their lives here in one of several London terrorist attacks on 7 July 2005.
A young suicide bomber blew up a double decker bus just outside the square and thus became a coldblooded murderer. No cause or action can ever justify the murder of innocent people. Sadly, it happens all over the world – every single day.
The people who lost their lives here on that day could have been me and you - or someone that we knew and loved. Let us hold their names up to history. They should all still have been here walking among us today.
- Anthony Fatayi-Williams
- Jamie Gordon
- Giles Vernon Hart
- Marie Joanne Hartley
- Shyanuja Niroshini Parathasangary
- Miriam Hyman
- Shahara Akhter Islam
- Neetu Jain
- Sam Ly
- Anat Rosenberg
- Philip Stuart Russell
- William Wise
- Gladys Wundowa
Maybe it is not a coincidence that a memorial and a statue of Mahatma Ghandi can be found just a few yards away, at the centre of Tavistock Square. The statue of Ghandi has a powerful presence and it was sculpted by the renowned Polish born sculptor and actress Fredda Brilliant. This man became a symbol of peace - and was also himself murdered in cold blood. His simple message was freedom through peace - and it is his words and his actions that will be remembered. The murderers who stole so many lives - in all corners of the world and through every second of eternity - they will be nothing but dust. No matter who they are or what position they hold.
In 1994, a stone commemorating the "men and women conscientious objectors all over the world and in every age" was unveiled here. This is its message: «To all those who have established and are maintaining the right to refuse to kill».
Remembering lost loved ones
In my home country, Norway, we do not have a similar custom: the custom of donating benches or other items to parks and public places, containing small plaques commemorating a loved one. It is such a simple yet powerful thing.
In Tavistock Square - and all over London and the UK - you will find such memorials. On this day there were in particular two names that caught my eye:
- Guite Mackay (Margaret Anderson) 1924 - 1991 - a Canadian who loved living in London
- Jayne Smart 1964 - 2002
There is also a tree in Tavistock Square planted there in 1967 in memory of the victims of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf
Between 1851 and 1861, Charles Dickens lived close by in a house called Tavistock House - and in one corner of the park you will find a bust commemorating the renowned author Virginia Woolf. She also lived in a house close by between 1924 and 1939. On a plaque attached to the bust we read:
«Then one day walking round Tavistock Square I made up, as I sometimes make up my books, To the Lighthouse, in a great, apparently involuntary, rush.»
Carluccio’s at the Brunswick Centre
I could have walked the paths of Tavistock Square much longer but the wind was rather chilly on this cold April morning - so it was time to return to the warmth and comfort of my Holborn hotel.
On my way back I simply had to walk through the Brunswick Centre and past Carluccio’s restaurant. If you are not familiar with the name Antonio Carluccio then I suggest that you see the television series «Two greedy Italians» - also featuring Gennaro Contaldo (available on dvd). If you are a food enthusiast and/or a lover of Italy then I can promise you that you are in for a treat.
For a sample of the splendours found at Carluccio’s please take a look at one of the photos added. Mouthwatering is the word I am looing for.
The horse hospital
As a person who is interested in both history and horses I have to admit that I stopped in my tracks when I read «The horse hospital» written on a wall in Herbrand Street. This building turned out to be a splendid example of how the old merges with the new.
Today, The Horse Hospital is an art venue focussed on underground and avant-garde art. Previously, it was indeed: a horse hospital. This is what the art venue’s website says about the history of the building:
«The Horse Hospital is the only existing unspoilt example of a two-floor, purpose-built stable remaining for public access in London.
Situated in the heart of historic Bloomsbury, at the corner of Herbrand Street and Colonnade – a working mews immediately behind the famous Hotel Russell, midway between London’s West End and Spitalfields arts district and built originally in 1797 by James Burton, the building may have been redeveloped sometime after 1860.
The shell is constructed with London Stocks and red brick detail, whilst the interior features a mock cobbled herringbone pattern re-enforced concrete floor. Access to the both floors is by concrete moulded ramps. The upper floor ramp retains hardwood slats preventing the horses from slipping. Each floor has five cast iron pillars and several original iron tethering rings.»
This was my walk in London today – maybe you would like to write about yours
During my walk today, I covered nothing but a small fraction of the vast city of London. There is so much history, so many stories to tell and to share. Maybe you have a story to write and a landscape - anywhere in the world - that is close to your heart? I dare you right here and right now: write it down and share it with the world.
And with these words I leave you for now. My mind is set on a robust English breakfast - and maybe a cup of hot, sweet chocolate. For medicinal purposes only, of course.