Destination…Museum of London

So yesterday I told you all about the journey, leaving you with the adage that the getting there is often just as fabulous as the destination.

This is the post about the Destination.

I arrived at the Museum of London, eagerly anticipating a couple of free hours of strolling through time. The Museum is laid out in chronological order and is quite interactive with fewer than usual items of the ‘do not touch’ variety. Prior to entering the permanent exhibition there’s also a display called London and the Olympics which celebrates the Games already held in London (1908 and 1948) as well as the 2012 preparations.

The journey starts with an exploration of the region from 450,000 BC before London was…well London. The locations of significant archaeological finds are also showcased – places like the site of the current Heathrow Airport – as well the work along the shores of the Thames where FROG volunteers from Thames Discovery continue to catalogue new finds to assist in preserving London’s rich history.

From 50 to 410 AD, the Romans built, defended and rebuilt Londonium – there are some great displays of homes, shops, food and the opportunity to peek at the defensive City wall from another perspective.

Traditional Roman dining room
Roman Wall from the Roman Gallery of the museum

We then move to Medieval London and the galleries which showcase the period from 410 through to 1558 AD covering Viking raids and the emergence of Anglo-Saxon power right up to the early Tudor years. This gallery also shows much of the religious development of London and features a model of the original St Paul’s Cathedral.

The original St Paul’s Cathedral

The next gallery take us on the path of London’s devastation through civil war, the plague and fire. I was fascinated by the survival of London at the end of this period in spite of the loss of between one third and one half of the population to the Black Death, followed by the loss of some 13,000 homes (but only 9 lives) in the Great Fire of 1666 the following year. It took London 50 years to rebuild including Christopher Wren’s reconstruction of St Paul’s Cathedral as we know it today.

I followed the arrows downstairs to the next set of exhibitions entitled Modern London: Expanding City.

A main feature of this gallery is the recreated Pleasure Gardens which allow you to wander, sit and watch the cinematic story of the time unfold on the screens around you. The hats on display were…interesting. It must have taken incredible posture to manage these with any grace and dignity.

Pleasure Garden fashion – can you see the ship hat on the left of the picture?
Pleasure Garden – a (t)horny affair!

Just down the ramp from the Pleasure Gardens there was an arcade walk to celebrate the Victorian era.

The Victorian Walk celebrates the era of expansion 
Trinkets for sale – The Victorian Walk

Next we move into the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Modern London: People’s City. The class divide is brought to life by an interactive version of Charles Booth’s map of poverty in London which sits opposite a vintage motor display, a recreation of the entrance to the Savoy Hotel and panelling from the Selfridges lift which was installed in 1928.

Vintage ‘white walls’ representing People’s City
Japanese panelling in the Savoy Hotel recreation

The Selfridges Lift
But did you know that Harrods installed the first escalator in 1898?
Smelling salts were on hand to revive passengers from the ride.

The final step in time is Modern London: World City which takes us from pre WWII London, through the fab 50s and swinging 60s right up to today.  This was a busy gallery so I was frustrated in my attempts to take pictures and despite cases filled with fashion, music and even a real life Vesper, I managed this one only.

My one and only tribute to Modern London: World City

There’s a room off to the side of this exhibition called the City Gallery which contains the Lord Mayor of London’s official coach which leaves the gallery each November (since 1757) for the Lord Mayor’s Show.

The Lord Mayor’s Coach, first commissioned in 1757
Amazingly preserved after more than 250 years

So after two and a half hours I emerged into the dark evening thinking ‘well that was that’ – only to find a special installation in the windows outside.

The London Cityscape by Simon Crostin was commissioned by the Museum of London to commemorate the 2012 bicentennary celebrations of Charles Dickens in conjunction with the Museum’s exhibition, Dickens and London, running until June 10, 2012.

I wandered slowly back to Moorgate along the raised walkways around St Alphages, still snapping away (as my previous post will attest to). And as I finally sat, homeward-bound, on the top deck of the bus, I marvelled at the fascinating snippets I’d learnt about London’s chequered past and felt a quiet contentment at my big day out and the historic city that I’ve chosen as my home.

Your Armchair Tour Of…London Wall

First things first – you might be wondering about the title of the post. It’s not meant to suggest that I have been an armchair traveller – as you know I like to get out and about and see what there is to see. But I’ve had a few people leave comments or send messages that, in reading some of my wanderlust-themed posts (Nuremberg and Prague to cite a couple), it’s like they get to visit without leaving their armchair. This is another one of those posts. If you are not in the mood for a meander, you should read something else.

This week’s small lull between the festivities of Christmas and the euphoria of New Year’s Eve means that Londoners aplenty have availed themselves of the opportunity for rest and relaxation (or a little sale shopping but I digress). Which means that the actual City of London is pretty deserted at this time of year – a  golden opportunity to mosey around free from the usual tyranny of the booted and suited.

My ultimate destination was the Museum of London, a museum I have not visited since I first ‘got off the boat’ in 2004, and one of my favourites. But the empty streets tempted me and I spent a little time meandering, fascinated, along London Wall.

London Wall is a street that runs through the City of London (also known as the Square Mile) that is located along the course of the first defensive wall that the Romans built around the beginning of the 3rd century AD.

On a quiet, traffic free day, it is easy to take photos and absorb a little of the atmosphere of London’s Roman past:

Restored Roman arches along London Wall

All that is left of the church of St Alban in Wood Street.
Remember my visit to St Albans early in December?

A blast of modernity right amongst the history
Walkway along the remains of the preserved wall
The old and the new – why I love London
Deserted City streets on December 27th – no festive cheer here!
Ruins on the other side of London Wall (the street) – they’re everywhere!
So I took this and then turned around…
…to see this. Looks a bit like a gigantic Meccano set to me.

Grace and elegance as I passed a random window

London’s Square Mile

At this point I had wandered right along to the Museum and so disappeared indoors for at least a couple of hours… 

…and when I emerged at about 4.30pm, the day had dipped its lights in deference to the night. As it does here in London during December..and November…and January.

So this is what happened walking back to Moorgate:

Remember the Meccano building? Looks quite cool at night.
And those Roman arches? Them and my shadow
Finally, a touch of Christmas on the corner of London Wall and Moorgate
No significance other than it seemed like a good idea to take a pic.
Some rather fetching glasswork across the road – missed this during the daylight hours
The Dragon and St George’s Cross, guarding the City of London

And so with London’s guardian of the realm at my back it was time to board the bus and take my weary legs and aching feet back up north to my cosy flat and a hot bath. But not before a final snap from the bus stop…

 …of largest licorice allsort I’ve ever seen!

We are so busy rushing to the destination sometimes we often forget that the getting there can be just as fabulous. In case you’re wondering, this is where I went:

So much to see in such a short walk.

And here endeth the tour.

Verulamian By Any Other Name..

Last Friday night I stayed in St Albans after our work Christmas Party and the following morning, my hostess with the most-ess took me on a little guided tour of this bustling market town 22 miles north of London.


St Albans Coat of Arms

St Albans started life as an Iron Age town called Verlamion (meaning settlement above the marsh) and following conquest by the Romans in 43 AD, was renamed Verulamian and grew to become the second largest town in Roman-occupied Britain (after Londinium of course). Sometime around 250 AD, the pagan-converted-to-Christian Alban was executed for his beliefs. Actually he was beheaded – there was nothing new about Henry VIII’s predeliction for offing heads. He was later named a saint (the first British Christian martyr) and a shrine built over the site of his execution following the adoption of Christianity into the Roman empire by the Emperor Constantine. And so St Albans was born.

Market Place, St Albans

Saturday is market day in St Albans so it was first a wander amongst the stalls lining Market Place.

Before long, we turned into a covered alleyway, much like the Block and Royal arcades in Melbourne, and emerged to see the Church and Abbey of St Alban basking in the wintery sunshine.

Source: allaboutstalbans.co.uk

A reverent stroll around inside revealed an awe-inspiring array of history, architecture and restoration works – if you click here, Robin from St Albans Blog has taken some magnificent photos of the interior.

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks
Source: Wikipedia

We emerged back into the winter sunshine and set out down the park towards our lunch destination, the oldest pub in Britain, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks.

It started life as a pigeon house near the Abbey before being dismantled and rebuilt in its current location as The Round House. The foundations of this building date from about 793 AD and in 1800, it was renamed to reflect the popularity of its main attraction, cockfighting – that is until it was banned in 849 AD. There’s even a glass case containing a large black cockerel above the door as you enter the low-beamed dining room. (For the record, I had a butternut squash and swiss chard bake which was really delicious and perfect for such a chilly winter’s day.)

Source: allaboutstalbans.co.uk

With the magnificent Verulamian Park just across the bridge (over the River Ver), we took a brisk and chilly stroll around the part-frozen lake and climbed the hill to view the hypocaust and mosaic. The building looks a little like a toilet block from afar so if it hadn’t been for my local guide, I may never have bothered with this.

By this time, I needed to head back for the train (silly old me had booked a Sainbury home delivery for 4pm thinking I would be home in plenty of time instead of playing tourist in St Albans). So up the hill we trudged again, this time through the Monastery Tower (which has been a prison in its life amongst many other things), back into town, past the Clock Tower (erected by the town to symbolise its independence from the church, including the setting of its own curfew) and parted ways with me off to the train station for the trip back to London, feeling very satisfied with my impromptu day out into one of England’s most important historic towns.