Thursday, 11 February 2016

London: Westminster

Big Ben

Another great walk from London's Hidden Walks vol 1 by Stephen Millar: around Westminster starting from Westminster tube station. You cross the road and are immediately confronted with the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. You walk across the bottom of Parliament Square and crossing the road into Old Palace Yard, there is this wonderful view of the Henry VII's chapel. It is remarkably different from the rest of this great church, dating from 1503-12, while most of the rest of the Abbey dates from the 13th century.

A little further on on the same side is the Jewel Tower, built about 1365, and something else I had never noticed, although I have walked around Westminster many times while at work.

I crossed the road into Victoria Tower gardens and admired Rodin's Burghers of Calais, one of 12 casts of the original. Calais was about to fall to Edward III in 1347 and he promised to spare the citizens if six leading burghers emerged from wearing nooses and carrying the city's keys. They too were spared after the intervention of Edward's Queen, Philippa of Hainault.

As you walk through the gardens there is a great view back towards the Victoria Tower. On the right is the Buxton memorial, commissioned by Charles Buxton MP to commemorate the abolition of slavery in 1834 and designed by the Gothic revival architect Samuel Sanders Toulon.

The route now follows the Embankment with a lovely view of the pinkish Lambeth Bridge.

Along on the right is the rather uninspiring Tate Britain building, opened as the National Gallery of British Art in 1897.

Across the river stands the imposing MI6 building, which I photographed from the Lambeth side only a few ago while on a self-designed walk around South West London.

Now round the back of the Tate and along John Islip Street, with the red brick buildings of the massive Millbank estate on the left. This early social housing scheme was built between 1897 and 1902, the bricks being recycled, according to Wikipedia, from Millbank Prison which had closed in 1890. I enjoyed the Arts and Crafts solidity of this porch.

After passing Smith Square you go along Lord North St where there is a rare reminder of the Blitz in this sign locating the nearest air raid shelter.

At this point I departed the route for a while to locate one of London's few art nouveau features: this fabulous peacock terracotta panel over the door of a building in Abbey Orchard St by W J Neatby.

I rejoined the route as it entered Dean's Yard, part of Westminster Abbey and home to Westminster School, some of whose pupils were enjoying a pleasant game of football on the grass,

An archway in the corner leads into the Abbey cloisters and the College garden, where the main facade of the School can be seen.

On the way back out I went through the cloister to see the Chapter House. This dates from 1250 and its own way is astonishing as the one we saw last week in York. There is also another wonderful one in Lichfield. Another project?

Emerging from Dean's Yard, you find yourself in front of the Abbey.

To its left is St Margaret's church. It was founded in the 11th century when the monks of the Abbey decided they didn't want to continue to share their abbey church with the local populace. The present building dates from the 15th century.

At this point I had almost run out of time, so I did my second planned detour and left the section of the walk which goes into Whitehall undone. I was heading towards the United Westminster  Almshouses in Rochester Row. On the way, I realised I was passing the famous Greycoat Hospital. It was founded as a school in 1698 and took over these premises, a former workhouse, in 1701.

The almshouses date from 1879 and resulted from a scheme to consolidate and rebuild several sets of almshouses on the site of Emery Hill's almshouses in Rochester Row.

Conditions: a beautiful winter's day.

From: London's Hidden Walks vol 1 by Stephen Millar (Metro Publications).

Distance: about 3 miles.

Rating: five stars. Some world-famous sites as well as all sorts of less well-known things. I used to work a lot in this area - I must have passed the offices of a dozen former clients - but I still discovered much that was new.

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