A mosey ’round Merseyside (Liverpool #2)

The story so far…

Mum and I went to Liverpool over the Easter break. On Day 1 we did a Magical Mystery Tour, took the Ferry Across the Mersey, trawled through The Beatles Story and sweated it out at the Cavern Club. It was an excellent and very musically-themed beginning to our trip but there was much more to come. Here’s what happened next.

On Day 2, we started out with a City Explorer Bus Ride to orient ourselves with the other things to see and do in Liverpool. Our guide on the bus had a traditional Liverpudlian accent which Mum mentioned was sometimes hard to understand. Speaking of Mum here she is on the bus, taking photos (a common sight when one travels with my mother) and her version of rugging up against the blustery cold wind.

Mum in Liverpool

We then spent some time wandering around Albert Dock, taking more photos…

Albert Dock

Liverpool architecture

Top: The three graces of Liverpool Bottom: View from Albert Dock

…and visiting the International Slavery Museum.

Slave museum

We spent a couple of hours here. It was a great follow up to the Sugar and Slavery walking tour that I did in London in March and I must say that I left not only shocked by the legacy of the slave trade from the 15th and 16th centuries but devastated that slavery continues to prosper in places like India and Africa (just to name two).

We topped off our more leisurely day with a nanna nap back at the hotel before a fab dinner just around the corner at Jamie’s Italian (complete with a friendly waiter who had just returned from travelling in Australia).

Our final day dawned and with a mid-afternoon departure scheduled, we decided to spend our remaining time exploring on foot with a view to visiting Liverpool’s two cathedrals en route.

The streets behind the hotel yielded some interesting ‘art’…

Street scenes Liverpool

…but we did find our way to Chinatown…

Chinatown

…before heading to our first place of worship, the gothic-inspired Liverpool Cathedral.

Liverpool Anglican Cathedral - exterior

It was magnificent, full of soaring arches and stained glass. I particularly loved the intimacy and quiet of the Lady Chapel and the series of windows dedicated to some of the important women in English history…

Liverpool Anglican Cathedral - Chapel windows

After a fortifying coffee in the cathedral cafe, where we gazed out over the nave spotted with coloured light from the windows, it was time to head up Hope Street…

Suitcases

…to the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

This is the seat of the Archbishop of Liverpool and while it may not have the same traditional look as its Anglican counterpart at the other end of Hope Street, Paddy’s Wigwam (as it is also known) is Grade II listed. Originally the cathedral was to be the largest in Europe, planned to be on a par with St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City but after several years and millions of pounds invested, only the crypt was completed and work stopped as the money dried up.

However, it was generally acknowledged that Liverpool still needed a cathedral and so Frederick Gibberd, winner of a world-wide design competition, built the existing cathedral between 1962 and 1967. He managed to do this within both the time period specified (five years) and the one million pound budget as well as preserving the crypt which is now used for all sorts of events and concerts.

After I got over my shock at its modernity, the space and light really grew on me and after wandering through the crypt as well, I left feeling more inspired by this unconventional tribute to faith than the traditional magnificence of the Anglican Cathedral at the bottom of the hill.

There was not much time left to explore so we headed back to the hotel to collect our things and made our way to Lime Street Station to catch our train back to London – just in time! But here are a few of the other places we saw on our final foray through the streets of Liverpool…

Liverpool street scenes 2

Clockwise from top left: The Everyman Theatre stands at the top end of Hope Street opposite the Metropolitan Cathedral; The Monro Gastropub in Duke Street, a former merchant’s house built in 1765, was named in honour of the first passenger service scheduled between Liverpool and New York in 1817; St Luke’s Church was built in the early 1800s and was badly damaged in the Liverpool Blitz of 1941 – the ruins are Grade II listed; the Philharmonic Pub on Hope Street, another Grade II listed building, was built for local brewer Robert Cain at the end of the 19th century.

And so that, my friends, was our Merseyside mosey. Liverpool turned out to be a great city with plenty to see and do so I hope you enjoyed the armchair tour.

The window

Let me start this by saying I had an awesome Saturday last weekend. It was filled with some of the things I love best – literature, history, discovery and most of all, London.

I had spent a fascinating hour at the old Roman House and Bath on Lower Thames Street right opposite the Billingsgate Fish Market. The City of London is an area I’ve explored over the last few years through walking tours (In Shardlake’s Shoes) but it’s not on my way to any frequent haunt so adventures tend to be a result of turning left instead of right, peering around unbidden corners and just venturing into open doors.

With some time to kill before heading to the Kings Place Festival, rather than head directly back to Monument Station, I let myself meander aimlessly along cobbled lanes admiring the architectural mix of old next to new.

IMAG3435 (360x640)

I had ambled up St-Mary-At-Hill toward Eastcheap when I saw this off to my right.

The window (small)

Intrigued, I headed towards it, the street silent and shaded against the warm afternoon sun. As I drew closer, I looked up and spied a steeple chalked against the blue of the sky.

Tower (360x640)

The sunlit window beckoned and as the cobbles turned left into Idol Lane, it became part of something much bigger. The tower in front of me rising up to unite the disparate parts of steeple and window into one glorious whole.

IMAG3397 (640x360)

IMAG3413 (360x640)

St-Dunstan-in-the-East – all sweeping curves and delicate green. A little piece of history tucked just a few steps back from the dust and traffic on Lower Thames Street. I smiled and I could feel the warm anticipation of discovery growing inside me. The black iron gate was open so I edged through, curious and quiet, as though not to disturb the peace of the garden.

IMAG3430 (360x640)

IMAG3401 (640x360)

I wandered along the leafy paths drinking in the beauty of this patch of nature and history entwined. Each turn revealed a stunning view, each door a different aspect to behold.

IMAG3415 (362x640)

IMAG3426 (640x383)

IMAG3423 (360x640)

IMAG3424 (640x360)

The delicate shapes of the old walls reached up amidst the modern cut of the City, softening its edges and somehow showcasing the modern skyline. There’s a mix of old and new that I love about London – the way that each seems to compliment, even enhance, the other. I don’t think anywhere does it better.

IMAG3416 (640x360)

My breath caught over and over again as I gazed around me. I was moved, wanting to absorb each moment and imprint it into my mind. At the same time, I wanted to share the fullness of it. I found myself retracing steps, phone in hand hoping somehow to capture a fragment of what I was feeling in order to pass it on.

I typed my first draft of this post an hour later, sitting on the floor of Kings Place waiting for the event I’ve booked in for to start. It was a download I couldn’t stem, a rambling deluge of words and feelings for such a short space of time that had become so large and urgent in my memory.

Now I reshape it, ordering it, adding the photos which speak to my heart the most. There’s joy in revisiting the photos I took. They return me to places I stood – the central garden where the wiry black boughs framed by gothic arches were misted with emerald leaves, the far reaches of the path where I could see the red piped curves reaching from the bricked corner of the building next door – and the things that I felt – the warm sun on my face, the cool sweat on my back that made my t-shirt cling to the place that my backpack had been.

IMAG3429 (400x640)

And I smile again. It feels like the same smile as when I first set eyes on that black iron gate. And I feel grateful – for the moment, for the discovery and for the opportunity to live in this magnificent city I am lucky to call home.

To my mind, that’s not bad for a Saturday.

Not bad at all.

Under foot

The Museum of London is my favourite museum. When I first arrived in London, I spent a too-short couple of hours sheltering there from the January cold before a meeting-over-a-drink on London Wall and over the years I have visited several times, not just for new events but also to revisit the permanent exhibition. It’s the patchwork of all of London’s faces through history that I find so endlessly fascinating.

Anyway, the Museum is trialling a series of Archaeology Archive events over the next few months, opening up sites for the public to visit and to learn more about what went on here well before we were a twinkle in anybody’s eye. So at 2.45 yesterday afternoon, I entered the nondescript door at 101 Lower Thames Street and followed our Museum of London guides, Joe and Nicola, down the short flight of stairs to the Roman House and Bath.

The house and bath is thought to be from the period leading up to 400AD – the story of the site came to life under Nicola’s passionate telling: the building and its abandonment – probably around the late 4th/early 5th century when Rome withdrew its support from Londinium – the unusual layout of the bath house and why it might have been built that way, and how archaeological evidence – or absence thereof – plays its part in refining the story. There still remains some debate as to whether this was a mansio – a ‘stopping point’ – or a family home but that in no way diminished the impact of what we saw.

The tour began with a look at the east wing, what was thought to be the furnace room and the remains of the hypercaust heating system beneath the floor.

East wing with hypercaust tiles (640x360)

The east wing – you can see hypercaust tiles to the right. The furnace room is on the other side of the walkway and links through a series of channels under the floor to circulate warm air throughout.

We then spent some time looking at the bath. Comprised of a frigidarium cum change room in the centre, the tepidarium (warm room), caldarium (hot room) and plunge pool, Nicola’s narration took us back over 1600 years, introducing us to the family who may have lived here.

bath layout (640x360)

You can see the layout of the bath here. The frigidarium was the flat area in front, to the right you can see the site of the caldarium (hot room) with its hypercaust tiles and the furnace that you can see just on the outside of the wall). The family would have walked through a small connecting room to the tepidarium (warm room) on the other side (left side of picture).

They may have trodden the tessellated floor of the frigidarium to change, walked through to the tepidarium to acclimatise to the heat, then visited the caldarium  for a short time before returning to the tepidarium to relax, chat and receive the cleansing ministrations of various experts (scraping the skin with a strigel was a common method of removing the dust and grime of London).

tessalated floor (640x360)

Remains of the tessellated floor of the frigidarium

IMAG3374 (640x360)

The tepidarium – you can see the remaining floor level tiles sitting above the the hypercaust pillars

And let’s not forget an invigorating dip into the plunge pool before leaving the bath.

IMAG3366 (640x360)

The plunge pool was located at our backs as we looked over the frigidarium. It’s not huge – just enough for a dip in and out.

Just under an hour later, our small group headed back up the stairs and, after signing the visitors book, emerged onto the sunlit street. I still find it quite hard to believe that all of that fabulous history lies beneath an unassuming office block opposite the imposing Billingsgate Fish Market on a roadwork-strewn City street.

The Roman House and Bath is a Scheduled Monument which means that it is registered as one of Historic England’s 5627 important archaeological sites. It also means that it is a legal requirement of the owners/occupiers of the property to protect the site. The Museum of London plays a big part in this with teams of historians, archaeologists and conservators overseeing preservation efforts.

This trial – the opening of their Archaeological Archives – is an effort to raise public consciousness about London’s history and encourage visitation albeit, with a small fee, in the hope that there will be support and funding for a permanent programme.

If you are fascinated by history and/or London and have an hour one weekend to visit the Roman House and Bath – or any of the other openings in this year’s trial – please do it. Being able to stand beneath the street, to see this and listen to the expertise and passion of people like Nicola and Joe from the Museum of London is an absolute privilege.

It would be a shame if the doors were closed again and the conservators were left to appreciate London’s past alone.

———————————————————–

For more information about this special programme, visit; http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/london-wall/whats-on/adult-events/archaeology-events/

9 minutes of glory

When I first visited London in 2000, I was smitten by all of the things that a tourist to this great city is usually smitten by – the iconic images seen in movies, read about in books and learnt about in high school. That it’s all real is amazing. That it’s all so old is inspiring.

I loved both history and literature at school and so was especially keen to visit Westminster Bridge, having been inspired by William Wordsworth’s Composed upon Westminster Bridge, 3rd September 1802:

...The City now doth, like a garment, wear / The beauty of the morning.

When I stood on the bridge just over 14 years ago, snapping eagerly away at the gilded clock tower of Big Ben, its face smiling benignly over the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, little did I imagine that I would ever walk beneath those historic spires on a daily basis.

For the last 18 months, I have been based in an office less than 500 metres away from these icons of London. Each morning, I emerge from Westminster tube station beneath that resplendent clock tower and walk the 0.4 of a mile to the office (about 9 minutes) with Westminster Palace at my elbow to the left and Westminster Abbey just across the road to my right. And then I get to do it all again – in reverse – on my way home.

I am regularly filled with this feeling of delighted disbelief – when the little voice whispers softly in my head, ‘This is my life. I really did this.’ I can’t help but smile. It seems impossible to be immune to this sense of wonder and I remain astounded that it has not yet paled. Samuel Johnson wrote, ‘The man who is tired of London is tired of life’ – I know what he means.

In those moments of wonder, I find myself pausing for a little longer in an attempt to capture the moment. My Facebook friends know only too well how much I love to snap and share and in doing a little phone gallery spring cleaning the other day, I was so struck by the range of photos I had taken in the last few weeks that I wanted to share them with you too.

So welcome to my commute…

Arriving at the top of the stairs at Westminster tube station, I pop into a nearby coffee shop and emerge with cup – and often camera phone – in hand to this…

underground sign

A short walk takes me to the corner of Bridge Street and Parliament Square giving me this view of the Houses of Parliament (Westminster Palace) as I cross the road…

Westminster Palace from Whitehall

…this view of Whitehall – which leads past Downing Street and up to Trafalgar Square – over my right shoulder…

Looking down Whitehall

…and the clock tower to my left. This particular shot was taken in the afternoon but sometimes I get my timings right and my commute is accompanied by the deep chimes of Big Ben heralding the hour.

Big Ben

I walk right past the Palace – this was taken from the end of the palace building looking back towards the tube station (now hidden behind the walls of Westminster Hall).

Return journey

Looking upwards provides another spectacular view, this time of Victoria Tower which houses the Norman Porch and the Sovereign’s Entrance – this is the only route that the Queen is allowed to use to enter the building (which she most famously does each year at the State Opening of Parliament.)

Norman Porch

Taken from the same place but on a different day and in another direction, this is Westminster Abbey, home to the Coronation Chair (Westminster Abbey has been the church for every coronation since 1066), Poet’s Corner and the Grave of the Unknown Warrior. The two square towers are the ‘back’ of the main entrance.

IMAG2340

Just last week I captured the afternoon light streaming through the stained glass of the Abbey’s windows…

Abbey Windows

…and this 700 year old building doesn’t look too shabby at night either.

Abbey night

And then the glowing clock face marks my return to Westminster station again. This picture was taken by pausing during my normally rapid clip along the concourse that runs back towards Westminster Bridge and the stairs down to the tube.

Big Ben framed

So that is my commute peeps. Well 9 minutes of it anyway and in a total of 40 minutes – that’s an awesome and glorious 22.5%. Every. Single. Day.

(Except Saturdays and Sundays and Bank Holidays and vacation days and…oh well you get the picture.)

Let’s face it, if I’ve got to commute anywhere, I’m rather glad that it is this one.

My Backyard… Building Blocks

Today I was reading an interesting piece on Fevered Mutterings on what constitutes ‘travel’ and the premise that we tend to think about the packing of a suitcase, backpack or even overnight bag as an activity inextricably linked to travelling. 

When I think of travel, I think of going from point A to point B (which is the definition that comes to my mind given the Transport for London website exhorts me to ‘travel by foot’ for a portion of most of my journeys) but this is not a vision that will keep me going in the depths of winter darkness. Thank goodness Mike Sowden suggested that redefining travelling as ‘venturing somewhere new’ means it is right under our noses – that ‘travel *is* our own backyard’.

And last Sunday it was my own ‘backyard’ that I ventured out into to have a gander around Old London Town. I’m not sure that under normal circumstances, I would be up for an architecturally themed stroll on a wintery Sunday morning but I enjoyed Blue Badge Guide Paula’s trek around Shardlake’s London so much last September that it was an easy and enthusiastic ‘yes’ when the flyer came through for her guided walk through Post-War City Architecture

So we started at Barbican tube station and followed Paula – and her post-war story – through the City of London. Here’s what we saw…

Standing outside Barbican station on a crisp January morning

Following the bombing raid on London on 29th December 1940, much of Greater London was flattened. But contrary to wider plans, the City took its own view of its rebuilding and commissioned architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon to create urban villages for the working class…


The Golden Lane Estate was originally positioned outside the City boundaries until ‘re-zoning’ brought it into the fold – perhaps that explains why a 2 bedroom apartment here goes for around £680,000.
…and the more affluent inhabitants of the City.
The Barbican Estate was opened in 1969 (that makes it as old as me) and stretches over a 40 acre site. It contains more than 2,000 flats, of which a 2 bedroom version will set you back about £900,000. Oh and check out the upside looking windows top right.

We then ambled around the back of the Museum of London, took a quick peek at the Pedway System (a scheme based on raised pedestrian walkways which never really took hold) then crossed London Wall to Wood Street.

Traditional building blocks adorn the home of the City’s Police Force (yes, a separate force from that of Greater London). Standing with your back against the wall will give you a great view of the tower reflected in the building opposite.
The tower of St Alban stands in the centre of the street in stark contrast to the architecture around it and here the Norman Foster designed 100 Wood Street forms a geometric backdrop to Christopher Wren’s deft touch. But walk through its checkerboard frontage and you’ll find a veritable oasis. Soaring windows angled outwards bring light into the old churchyard and provide space for the old plane tree’s leafy boughs.
Next it was a trot down Gutter Lane to emerge on Cheapside – crossing the road, we found ourselves standing in One New Change with this rather spectacular view…
The dome of St Paul’s pierces the sky right opposite One New Change. Thirteen ‘views’ of the cathedral are protected by the London View Management Framework which prevents the construction of any buildings which may impinge on the view. There’s even a protected view from Richmond Park’s King Henry’s Mound several miles away.

We headed out of One New Change and down to Bank Junction where the architectural contrasts abounded again.


This is No 1 Poultry: the street, like those around it (Milk Street, Bread Street) named after the market produce originally sold here. The building, designed by James Stirling for Peter Palumbo, carves a ship-like post modern silhouette against the sky and has caused much outcry from those – including Prince Charles – whose more conservative sensibilities it offends.
Turning from the post-modernist perspective, we found more traditional architecture clustered around the junction with the Royal Exchange (top left) and the Bank of England (bottom left) dominating the view.

We headed up Cornhill, our guide Paula setting a brisk pace…

The Leadenhall Building (the ‘Cheesegrater’) looms above the stone buildings along Cornhill while St Michael’s doors (right) are tucked a few neat steps back from the street.

…and came to a stop on the corner of Leadenhall Street and St Mary Axe, finding ourselves both surrounded and dwarfed by edifices of steel and glass…

The famous Lloyd’s of London ‘inside out’ building (right) was designed by Richard Rogers (who also designed the Pompidou Centre in Paris with Renzo Piano) on the site of both the previous Lloyd’s building and before that, East India House. The construction style (called Bowellism) is notable for having its interiors – stairwells (spirals), restrooms – the boxes behind the piping which contain electrical and water conduits –  and air conditioning ducts easily accessible to ensure that building never need close due to any malfunction of its ‘essential’ services. This 1986 building was Grade I listed in 2011 much to the chagrin of Lloyd’s (the listing means that the building cannot be changed in any way) so the insurance company’s ‘overflow’ will be moved right across the road to…
…the Cheesegrater (official name The Leadenhall Building). Situated at 122 Leadenhall Street, this building is nearing completion and is expected to open in Spring this year.

And not to be outdone, just a stone’s throw away stands The Gherkin.

The Gherkin‘s official name is the Swiss Re Building – or that’s what previous owners Swiss Re insisted on. Another Norman Foster design and completed in 2003, 30 St Mary Axe was built on the site of the former Baltic Exchange which was damaged in a Provisional IRA bombing in 1992. I thought it seemed rather fitting that The Cheesegrater is within arms reach of The Gherkin…

And with that, it was a short walk to Bishopsgate and the end of our tour. Almost 3 hours (including what Paula likes to call a ‘warming coffee break’ at the Costa Coffee halfway point).

I strolled back towards Moorgate tube station filled with excitement at what a dynamic and fascinating city I live in. The time had flown by and I was so glad that I had dragged myself out of bed and braved the chill to explore this amazing ‘backyard’ of mine. I kept gazing around, wondering about the stories of the buildings that loomed over me and as I reached the intersection of London Wall and Moorgate again, I couldn’t help but take just one last parting shot.


The old and the new right next to each other again.

I don’t know their story. But I am sure it’s fascinating.