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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

In Shardlake’s Shoes…

It’s Sunday again (where does the time go?) and I’ve been out and about today enjoying the lovely Autumn weather and indulging my passion for history and books in one fell swoop.

The City of London proved itself an excellent stage for Shardlake’s City, a walking tour based on the novels of C.J. Sansom and his protagonist, Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer living in Tudor London. Blue Badge guide Paula met us this morning at the glorious Royal Courts of Justice and took us on a 2 hour odyssey back into 16th century London…


The Royal Courts of Justice, Fleet Street London

We visited Shardlake’s ‘home’ at 124 Chancery Lane, the Inns of Courts where he plied his trade, the public houses frequented by his able assistant Barak and a whole range of locations pertinent to the five novels in the Shardlake series so far. Here are just a few pics…

Shardlake’s offices were located at Lincoln’s Inn in Chancery Lane, just a short walk from his front door….

…but he also petitioned at Gray’s Inn and Clifford’s Inn. The Prudential building actually housed one of the ‘feeder’ inns for London’s legal profession.

The Old Mitre is representative of the back alley pubs where Barak, Shardlake’s assistant, would have visited.

Shardlake’s investigations took him all over the City of London, from Cromwell’s corridors to the seedier parts of the city…

Clockwise from top left: Smithfields Market, site of public executions in the 16th century; getting our bearings coming out of St Bartholomew’s; peering over the ‘back fence’ at St Bartholomew’s Monastery and Chapel

Clockwise from top left: St Bartholomew’s Hospital (with Henry VIII over the door), the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, the site of the infamous Newgate Prison (demolished in 1777) opposite the Old Bailey (right)


Near the end of the two hours, we approached one of our final stops on the tour, the Guildhall, to find that rather than a quiet square, the Pearly Kings and Queens Harvest Festival was in full swing…


As the tour drew to a close in Poultry (which ended at the site of…ahem…Grope C*nt Lane – did what it says on the tin really) it was time for a well-earned coffee and chinwag. The conversation started with giving our guide Paula a bit of a grilling about the whys and wherefores of being a guide before weaving through subjects like architecture, book clubs and history just to name a few. It was a very pleasant way to cap off our shared walk through Shardlake’s City together.

Finally, I headed for home, foot-sore and mind buzzing with all of the interesting tidbits that I’d learned about London over the course of the tour. As I sat on the tube going back to Finchley, I flicked through all of the photos I’d taken, reliving a fantastic three hours (including the post-tour coffee). And I marvelled at how a little girl from the other side of the world grew up to live in one of the most fascinating cities in the world.

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If you like the sound of this tour, check out crossingthecity.co.uk and find out when the next Shardlake City tour – or any of the other tours in Paula’s repertoire for that matter – is scheduled. You might just fall a little bit more in love with London yourself.


The City of London…

I had a couple of appointments in London today which took me from leafy Kingston Upon Thames into the City of London and in between appointments I walked through The Temple and across the ‘boundary’ of City of London/City of Westminster. Have you ever seen the boundary marker for the western-most point of the City of London? It’s a silver dragon with arrow tongue and tail standing on a plinth. The dragon symbolises the City of London and bears the red cross of St George featured in the City’s coat-of-arms. Apparently, these are dotted around the boundary of the City of London.

The City’s boundaries have remained almost constant since the Middle Ages. In the medieval period the City was the full extent of London, and distinct from the nearby, but then separate, settlement of Westminster, which became the City of Westminster. The City is not one of the 32 London boroughs. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_London)

Interesting huh?!