Dickens, Johnson and Ye Old Cheshire Cheese
The capsule that propels me from London to Amsterdam has just emerged from from the Channel Tunnel and is travelling at speed through the French countryside. According to the digital display, ’we rijden met een snelheid van 265km/h’, so now is as good a time as any to catch you up my the last two days of wandering the streets of London.
I had quite a few hours to kill before I could get into my room (and shower!) when I arrived on Wednesday, so I dumped my bags and went for a meander around the streets of WC1B - Bloomsbury. I stopped for a coffee at Redemption Cafe, and while the coffee itself was nothing short of a misdemeanour, Redemption Cafe’s mission is a worthy one - they upskill and provide opportunities to young offenders giving them a much needed second chance.
Coincidentally, Redemption Cafe is situated very near Great Ormond Street Hospital. I guess it is a teaching hospital as I automatically connected to the Eduroam wifi network using my UTS credentials - I didn’t realise Eduroam roamed that far afield so it was a nice surprise. I shall now go in search of cafes near universities throughout my travels.
I also happened across The Dickens House Museum, situated in his Doughty Street residence. Dickens didn’t live there very long (only two years) but it is the only one of his London abodes still standing. I picked up a terrific book while there titled Walking Dickens’ London by Lee Jackson, and spent the next day and a half using it as a rough guide to some of London’s hidden gems and hidden history, including Dr Johnson’s House and Ye Old Cheshire Cheese - one of London’s oldest pubs. Ye Old Cheshire Cheese was, apparently, one of Samuel Johnson’s favourite haunts (it is also likely the tavern to which Carton takes Darnay in A Tale of Two Cities according to various sources).
Eighteenth century man of letters Samuel Johnson complied the Dictionary (though he was neither the first nor last to do so) from the garret of the house (now a museum) in Gough Square. He was commissioned to write the dictionary in three years but it took him nine.
I also visited St. Paul’s Cathedral realising that when I lived in London in my early twenties, I never once stepped foot inside. The Crypt holds the tombs and memorials of a number of well known (and not so well known) men and women (mostly men) of history. The Duke of Wellington and Lord Nelson are entombed there as is its architect Christopher Wren. Wren was originally commissioned to restore St Paul’s but had only just started the project (wooden scaffolding in place) when the Great Fire of London destroyed it completely (fuelled, unfortunately, by the wooden scaffolding). There are memorials to Florence Nightingale, William Blake and Lawrence of Arabia (though not Gertrude Bell, who ought to be memorialised alongside Lawrence if you ask me).
As magnificent as St Paul’s is, I was much more taken with another of Christopher Wren‘s churches (he had many to rebuild after the Great Fire in 1666) - St. Martin’s-within-Ludgate. A little church that is easily missed, it was once part of the west gate into the original city of London and on the site of what was once the city’s Roman and medieval walls.
The excitement is building in London with the impending coronation and Eurovision (to be hosted in Liverpool given the war in the Ukraine) - both upcoming events are generating excitement in equal measure.
Seeing an old mate, his partner and their kids - Richard and I popped into The Flask in Highgate for dinner… though, unfortunately, we didn’t spy any of the famous locals (Jamie Oliver, one of the Gallaghers, one of the Pythons, etc.)
Seeing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags flying at Australia House
Wandering through Borough Markets - much more gentrified and artisan than it was 30 years ago and with some interesting takes on sustainably sourced produce (such as the venison that can be bought from ‘Bullet to Borough’)
Cumberland sausage and mash at Ye Old Cheshire Cheese
Samuel Johnson’s garret - the room in his house in which the Dictionary was written
The seventeenth century breadshelves in St. Martins-within-Ludgate where the wealthier parishioners would leave bread for those less well-off
The many tiny, hidden courts, places and corners of London