Good day to you and welcome to the third day of my walk along the Jubilee Greenway in reasonably central London which I had come upon more or less by accident on Day 1, managed to wander off on an interesting diversion on Day 2 and had determined myself to regain and continue on Day 3.
If you have read the previous entry you will know that my hastily formed plan on Day 1 to walk the Jubilee Greenway, when I had accidentally “discovered” it, had foundered the next day out. This happened at Little Venice where I managed to keep on along the Regent’s Canal which had then gone on to become the Grand Union Canal. This in itself is not a problem as I love all things to do with inland waterways but I am a “thran bugger” as my late Grandmother used to say. If you are not fluent in Northern Ireland patois that means a stubborn or awkward person and there is nobody more stubborn nor awkward than me when I get a notion in my head. The Jubilee Greenway I had decided on and it was going to be walked come Hell or high water.
I had even taken a decent look at the map on the website I have linked above which is very detailed and accurate but my look was obviously not sufficiently decent to stop me falling at the first hurdle as you shall see.
I got the Tube round to Warwick Avenue station and arrived a shade before 1100. Although this was only the 6th of January and the light would be gone by 1700 I really cannot face the rush hour on public transport, it is unbelievably uncomfortable. I may have mentioned this before but it bears repeating. Until the recent introduction of air-conditioning on some Tube lines the poor old commuter in the summer was enduring temperatures and conditions that would be illegal for the transportation of animals for slaughter. Only four of the 11 lines are currently air-conditioned and some lines are not scheduled to get it until 2030!
Obviously, temperature would not have been a problem on this dry but pretty chilly day but the over-crowding still makes travelling between about 0700 and 0930 an absolute non-starter for me. Forget it if you have luggage, you just won’t get on the train. If I am flying from any of the London airports, apart from City which is very near me, I actually book flights timed to avoid the situation but enough of the lamentable state of the Tube and back to the walk.
I knew that I had to walk the short distance down to Paddington Bridge, bridge number 1 and the official start of the Regent’s Canal, cross it and make a sharp left to double back along the the canal and it would be way-marked from there. OK, got that? Down to the bridge, left back along the canal and keep going, it’ll be marked. That would all have been fine if I had started from the right bridge but I told you I had not looked at the map closely enough. I really must get back to my first principles that I learned so long ago. I duly crossed A bridge (not the right one) and turned left into Maida Avenue instead of Warwick Crescent where I should have been which meant that I was heading Northeast instead of Southeast. I could hardly have been more wrong. I knew I had to go and find Paddington Station as the route turned along the front of it but after a while I still couldn’t see it. Let’s be honest, it is a bloody huge railway terminus and you cannot exactly miss it.
I took a right into Park Place Villas as I knew I had gone wrong somewhere. My problem was, I just didn’t know where.
I have worked in some pretty posh parts of London and this road, which shortly becomes St. Mary’s Terrace, is right up there with any of them, it is for the very rich. I couldn’t resist taking the images of just one of the many splendid buildings there even though I was a bit afraid of being confronted by a bulky “gentleman” in a dark suit asking me what I was doing. Either that or a tap on the shoulder from the local constabulary thinking I was scoping the place out for a burglary. I thought the architecture was stunning, right down to the access gate which you can see.
By now I had worked out that I really wasn’t where I should be and so it was a matter of adopting a policy of walking in the vague direction I thought was correct and seeing what turned up, something always does. In this case the something was the impressive St. Mary’s Church which was built in pursuance of a 1788 Act of Parliament to the design of John Plaw.
Plaw eventually emigrated to Canada but before he did he also designed a military barracks in Southampton which became the Ordnance Survey offices in 1841 following a fire in their original offices in the Tower of London. Why am I telling you this? Not 12 hours before typing this and before I had even heard of Plaw, I had watched an excellent BBC documentary about the self-same OS and I am now back to thinking about everything I see and write about being somehow connected to something else. Strange.
What is also strange is the footprint of the church which is in the shape of a Greek cross rather than the more traditional cruciform design usually seen in British churches and this lends it a slightly unusual and Orthodox appearance. Yet another strange thing, perhaps in keeping with the Orthodox appearance of the building, is the fact that they call their newsletter “Pravda” which is the Russian word for truth and is famous as the official newspaper of the Communist era USSR. Perhaps the priest has Marxist leanings, who knows?
From my position at the front of the Church I could see the Marylebone flyover and I knew I could find Paddington from there easily enough. What I could also see was Paddington Green which I had passed umpteen times before but had never been in as far as I recall so surely time to remedy that and I’m glad I did.
Reading the very enlightening information board I was guided to what looked like some sort of overgrown shrubbery that on further examination, had I even seen it, I would probbly have passed off as being a disused gardener’s store or perhaps a utility facility of some sort but it is a whole lot more interesting than that. Believe it or not, this is in fact the entrance to a Civil Defence Report and Control Centre built in 1953 at the height of the Cold War and we are back to the former USSR I mentioned only a couple of paragraphs ago.
Had the Russians dropped the “big one” in a nuclear war then London was high on the target list and somebody or another would have had the unenviable task of attempting to co-ordinate a post Apocalyptic society from this concrete bunker although I really wouldn’t have given much for their chances.
Although I wasn’t lost, I knew I wasn’t where I should have been and yet I had already discovered some beautiful houses, a lovely Church and a nuclear bunker. Not bad going.
I was in Paddington Green which, in addition to being the title of a completely forgettable TV series on British TV about 20 years ago was also famous for the building you can see here, Paddington Green police station.
Apart from serving the needs of the local community DP, as it’s radio callsign was, housed the high security cells where high-risk prisoners, including all suspected terrorists, were housed and interrogated. All sorts of very dangerous people were held here until, in yet another bout of the short-term money saving for which the Metropolitan Police is noted, closed it in late 2018.
In something of an irony I found out whilst researching this that in the period between me taking the image and writing this the premises had been squatted by a anti-capitalist group planning who knows what mayhem for the capital and who refuse to rule out the use of violence. Perhaps they may yet end up in cells which they are not occupying without permission.
I knew that to get to Paddington train station from here was a straight run down the Edgware Road and left into Praed Street but I deliberately decided to take a slight detour to take in the Paddington Basin as I still had my canal head on a bit. It is literally years since I was round this way and last time I was there the whole area was still under re-development. I wanted to see what sort of a job they had made of it.
When I walked into the central area of the complex I saw that they had made rather a good job of it and the whole area is very pleasing, a mixture of office space, retail outlets and hospitality outlets. For once I’ll shut up and let the images do the talking except to tell you that the black barge pictured is ” boutique hotel and event space” (their words not mine) and if you stay here you get not only two bicycles but also your own rowboat. How very green.
I found Praed Street easily enough and knew I was back on the Greenway if only I could find one of the distinctive way-marks. I found myself passing the front of St. Mary’s hospital which I had done literally hundreds of times before and once more I found something I had missed on all those previous occasions. It is all fairly self-explanatory really.
Honestly, central London really is like that. There is barely an old building that does not have something interesting about it. I often wonder will the soulless modern identikit structures that now litter the centre of every major city in the world have similar interest in 100+ years time. Indeed, I wonder if they are even designed or built to last for that length of time. Probably not.
I went past the station and on to the junction of Gloucester Terrace where I found one of the distinctive pavement way-marks which I have just discovered are made of recycled glass to fit in with the “green” theme of the Walk. The route down to Bayswater Road was fairly easy, fairly uninteresting and remarkably fairly free from unscheduled diversion. I was now back to where I had finished the previous day with my meandering along the canal so I knew I would have done the complete circuit if I ever got to the end of it.
I knew the route went through Kensington Gardens on the far side of the Bayswater Road but I hadn’t really checked the map that far ahead and so I didn’t know which of the numerous gates it went through. While I was trying to work this out I noticed the building and plaque you can see above.
This attractive building was home to the military intelligence section of the Czechoslovakian Government in exile during World War Two. I would love to know what went on in those rooms but one operation that is in the public domain is the assassination of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich in Prague in May 1942. This was carried out by two SOE operatives and we’ll be coming to the SOE again in the next entry.
Whether the operation was worth it is a moot point as the repercussions were horrendous even by German standards with entire villages being massacred and the families and friends of the assassins also being murdered, many of them in concentration camps.
I was half-tempted to go a couple of hundred yards further along and have a lunchtime pint in the Champion pub which I hadn’t been in for years. I don’t know what it is like now but some years ago it was very well-known as a gay venue and I did have rather an interesting evening in there one night.
I was out drinking after work one evening with an openly lesbian colleague and great friend who was fond of a pint so we were a good drinking partnership in the days when I still could. We were having our usual fine time and then she said she had to dip out as she was meeting her girlfriend in the Champion as it was “ladies night” in there. She suggested, probably a bit light-heartedly, that I should come with her. Sure, why not? I’d never met her partner before and I liked the pub so it seemed like a plan.
We took ourselves over there where I met the love of her life and a few of her other friends but it was slightly unreal as, apart from a couple of presumably gay barmen, I was the only male in the place and it was fairly busy. I was introduced all round and it was really rather fun being the token “tame straight guy” in the bar. Probably a little too much alcohol was consumed and I spent most of the evening being soundly hustled at pool by a couple of ladies who could play a bit. Some of the propositions I received sounded interesting if biologically impossible and the humour would have never passed the political correctness police but it was a great night and just another fond memory dragged up by my walk which we’ll return to now.
The Greenway actually takes a dogleg right and then left into Kensington Gardens and the cynic in me was thinking that this was probably to do with making the distance up to the required 60 km. Realistically it is more likely because it gives better views of the Diana Memorial Playground, the Princess Diana Memorial Garden and Kensington Palace where Princess Diana once lived. Honestly, I am surprised they didn’t just rename the whole park after her. At the risk of alienating people, I wasn’t a huge fan of hers in life and her virtual beatification in death I find somewhat ludicrous.
Just to reinforce the message, in addition to the Jubilee Walk I was now also following the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk, the way-mark for which I have included an image of here but you really can’t miss them. We haven’t even come to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain yet and we will soon enough but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.
I stopped briefly to take an image of the rather nice Edwardian clock tower which stands beside the Broad Walk cafe which was tempting for coffee but I kept on a bit further.
I stopped briefly to take another image of Kensington Palace although I couldn’t get any closer as it was closed for works so I contented myself with an image of the statue of Queen Victoria which sits in the Gardens in front of the Palace. This is to commemorate the fact that she was born and spent her childhood here before leaving to live in Buckingham Palace in 1837 on her accession to the throne. The statue was sculpted by Princess Louise, the Queen’s daughter, who was regarded as being very talented in that field, irrespective of her Royal family connection. I think the statue is ample testament to that statement.
More recent residents of the Palace have included Princess Margaret and Prince Harry and his wife before they decamped to Frogmore Cottage in Windsor and then retired to Canada. It is the current London home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children.
In another discovery just now I discovered that the Victoria’s full name was Alexandrina Victoria but she dropped the first name when she became Queen which was probably just as well. Somehow I feel that the term “Alexandrinian era” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily as “Victorian era”. I also found out that she was born Princess of Kent which may explain her fondness for that County as evidenced by her recuperation from a teenage illness in Ramsgate which I wrote about in a recent post. Every day is indeed a schoolday!
I’d had a bit of a walk without a break now so I thought my slightly aching old bones could do with a sit down for a few minutes and there are certainly no choice of options. I chose the little structure you can see which had a lovely view of the Round Pond which was designed in 1728 at the request of Queen Caroline when the Gardens were detached from the adjacent Hyde Park. The Pond is home to a couple of model yacht clubs but sadly there were none on display that day. It measures a decent seven acres which gives the model yachtsmen plenty of water to play with and also provides ample habitat for the numerous birds that congregate there. For some reason I cannot quite fathom (pun intended as always) it is up to 16 feet deep in places although why it needs to be I have no idea.
The shelter is probably useful for keeping the rain off but it wasn’t much protection against the biting cold so I didn’t sit about for long. I did, however, have time to take the long range image included which I couldn’t resist of the people feeding the birds who included a Buddhist monk complete with flash trainers and jeans which blew my ideas about what such men were allowed to possess out of the water a bit. Still, he was probably making a bit of merit in is own way.
Being the inquisitive sort of a creature that I am I had to investigate the little plaque I saw which informed me that the shelter had been erected by the Silver Thimble Fund in 1919 so that obviously prompted another bout of research. The Fund was started in the First World War by the wonderfully named Miss Hope Elizabeth Hope-Clarke who, inspired by a damaged silver thimble she had, organised collections of similar items made of precious metals which were recycled and the funds used to buy medical equipment for the war effort. At the end of the war, the remaining monies were used to construct two shelters in the Gardens. So now you know and so do I!
Driven on by the need to keep warm I was reminded of how big the Gardens actually are, 270 acres to be precise. If you add Hyde Park, Green Park and St. James’s Park, which are more or less a continuous green area, you could easily spend a whole day just wandering about here and not use the same path twice. It is a fantastic resource and often referred to as “London’s green lung”, so thanks very much to King Henry VIII who, when not collecting, divorcing and beheading wives, found time to enclose this as a hunting ground. It is hard to imagine a hunting ground right in the centre of a capital city but things were a bit different in 1536.
Hunting was obviously a popular pastime with the Royals and there are plenty more examples in what is now Greater London. The area of Soho, right in the centre of town, was named for a hunting call similar to “Tally Ho” and Queen Elizabeth’s hunting lodge still stands in Chingford. I’ll cover that if I ever get round to writing about my London Loop walk but that is a big project. Greenwich Royal Park, which we shall pass later on in this walk, is another good example. View Halloo and all that.
It was still just after midday so I had achieved a fair amount in just over an hour. My knees and back were both holding up well thus far and I knew I had at least four hours of decent light left so I was set for a good day out. I don’t know whether endorphins were kicking in and I am not even sure if you can trigger endorphins merely by strolling about central London but I was feeling a slight sense of euphoria by this stage and I am sure I was grinning to myself although eccentric behaviour like that goes totally unremarked in London where it is commonplace.
I passed from Kensington Gardens into Hyde Park by crossing South Carriage Drive although you wouldn’t know you were in a different Park except for the signage. The demarcation is purely nominal, it is all really the one vast open space. I could see the Serpentine away to my left which is sort of a river and yet it isn’t. It was originally formed by damming the River Westbourne and additional water was diverted from Tyburn Brook when the Gardens and Park were being laid out in 1730. Nowadays the water comes from three boreholes within Hyde Park itself.
There are various leisure activities here including a fishing club and boats are available for hire in summer. If you don’t fancy rowing yourself then you can cross the river in a 48 foot completely solar powered boat, the largest vessel of it’s type in the world. Perhaps the best known activity is swimming and there is a swimming lido here. I took the image from the pontoon where the hardy souls / idiots plunge in to the water. Club members are allowed to swim 365 days a year and there is an annual Xmas morning race here for the Peter Pan cup which was presented in 1913 by J.M. Barrie, author of that book. What utter madness, rivalled only perhaps by the annual New Year’s charity swim in Broadstairs Harbour which some friends of mine organise.
There is plenty of birdlife around and I did take an image or two but I thought I’d share this one with you. What exactly this creature was doing I am not sure but I’ll ascribe it to grooming and move on.
I passed a lovely statue of a dog which you can see here and which is functional as well as attractive. As you can also see, the pedestal is a watering place for animals which must be much appreciated by thirsty hounds on a warm summer day. This was yet another feature I don’t remember having seen on my previous visits to Hyde Park although it had been some years since I had visited. If you are wondering about the name of the Park, it derives from the old manor of that name which was “liberated” from the Church by Henry VIII on the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
In complete contrast to the pretty modest doggy statue, the next two structures I saw were respectively big and bloody massive. The first is the Albert Memorial, erected at the behest of Queen Victoria to commemorate her beloved late husband and consort. I have been reading a bit about her recently and in an age where aristocratic marriages were often made for political reasons, Victoria and Albert were a proper Mills and Boon romance which I find strangely pleasing. The monument was opened in 1872 and is to the design of George Gilbert Scott who we have met before on this walk. It’s funny how certain people keep cropping up.
I literally turned round 180° to take the next image which probably doesn’t require much introduction to most readers but for the benefit of those not familiar with London it is the Royal Albert Hall, again named for Prine Albert and built with funds from the very successful 1851 Great Exhibition which he had organised. I am sure it was done on purpose but what my images demonstrate is that Albert the statue gazes in perpetuity on the great Hall built to commemorate him.
The Hall was designed by a couple of Royal Engineer officers and they might have done better to enlist the help of someone from the Army School of Music as the acoustics were appalling. Even with modern technology and various acoustic additions I believe it still presents a challenge for sound engineers.
The RAH is best known for the annual Proms series, especially the famous “Last Night”. I have never been as I am not much onto classical music and the only concert I have been to here was to see Eric Clapton some years ago – I still have the T-shirt. Better still, with tickets for all Clapton’s shows in this venue, which he jokingly refers to as his front room because he plays it so often, changing hands for fortune I was lucky enough to be there on a complimentary ticket, courtesy of my then girlfriend. Thanks again, Pixie.
There are all sorts of events here and when I was passing the Cirque du Soleil road crew were loading in. That is another show I’d love to see some day.
Regaining the park I saw these two mounted officers of the Metropolitan Police. The Met have about 110 horse which are mostly used for public order duties and can be regularly seen at large sporting events. They are also used for less orderly public gatherings at which they are particularly effective and Hyde Park is a good place to see them as one of their seven main stables is there.
The stable for the East of the city is at Bow, which is near me, and for some reason they regularly pass my home, probably because the street is a bit of a cut-through and avoids a very busy major junction. Only a couple of days before writing this I managed a brief conversation with one of two mounted female officers as they walked along my road and a fine sight they were. The reason there is such a large proportion of female mounted cops is that there is a weight limit so the poor old horses do not get too tired on long periods on duty as female officers tend to be lighter.
I used to play rugby with a guy called Al who was one of the “Commissioners Cavalry” as the police apparently call the Mounted Branch and he had some great stories about his antics there. Of those I can remember, my favourite was of when he was on duty at West Ham’s old stadium (they are a soccer team if you don’t know) at the Boleyn ground in East Ham. Yes, I know, West Ham played in East Ham and now they play in Stratford at the Olympic Stadium, it’s confusing.
Al had been minding his own business when two youths, with no crash helmets on as UK law requires, came flying by on a moped. It later transpired to have been recently stolen. Al spurred his noble steed into a full gallop in one of the fairly narrow streets of terraced houses there and managed to run them off the road and arrest them. I would given anything to have seen that, it must have been some sight.
He must have loved what he did because when he had to retire as a policeman he went straight back to work as a civilian stable hand in the same stables he had been working in. His retirement function was quite some night but that’s a whole different story!
Police horses aren’t the only equine presence here as the wide unpaved broadway attests. This rejoices in the odd name of Rotten Row although I don’t think it is rotten at all, I think it is pretty good. The name derives from a corruption of the French Route du Roi (King’s Road) and refers to King William III who had the ride constructed in the late 17th century. It has the distinction of being the first artificially lit highway in the UK when gas lamps were installed in 1690 as a measure to deter the highwaymen who plagued the area. It seems strange to us now to think of highwaymen this close to the centre of town but there you are.
Next I came upon the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain which I promised you earlier. I know I was not seeing it to best advantage on a winter weekday with hardly a soul about and I also know that it is virtually a place of quasi-religious pilgrimage for adherents of the cult of Diana from around the world but I found it completely underwhelming. I’ll even give it a fair chance with a full width image and let you decide for yourself.
There is a serious amount of statuary in Kensington Gardens / Hyde Park and here are another couple of examples. This first one is called Serenity and is the work of Simon Gudgeon. It was unveiled in 2009 and if you look around the base you can see small nameplates. These were all people who had donated £1000 (about $1,250US) to fund an educational centre in the park for teaching children about nature. Sounds like a good idea to me.
I took the image of the name plates fairly much at random but whilst composing this piece one plate caught my eye. Apparently, Paulina Brandt met John Nichol at the Central in the Albert Hall in 1946. So what? With my compulsion to research everything I couldn’t let this go and set about doing a bit more Sherlocking and this, almost inevitably, turned up a fascinating story.
I found out that Paulina Brandt was born in London to German parents and, without going through her whole life story, she ended up in the WRNS (Women’s Navy) as a meteorologist stationed at RNAS (Naval airbase) Worthy Down in Wiltshire. Not only that but her whole story is told in her own words on an Imperial War Museum oral history tape. It is quite a story and I am glad now I spent some time finding out about her.
It never ceases to amaze me how much information there is online. I knew a guy who worked for the Government doing “computer stuff” (I never enquired what exactly) and I once asked him how many pages there were on the World Wide Web to which he replied that nobody had a clue but it was billions. That was about 15 years ago and the net has grown exponentially since then so today’s figure must be mind-blowing.
If I considered my compulsion to research everything a problem I’d see a Doctor about it as I am sure it is not normal but I’m not harming anyone and it keeps me happy. Back to Hyde Park.
The second piece of statuary on this section of the Greenway is called Boy with a Dolphin which is the work of Alexander Munro and dates to 1863. Munro was friendly with the much more famous Dante Gabriel Rossetti and had exhibited at the 1851 Great Exhibition in the Park which I mentioned above.Like just about everything else in the Park (including one of the roads) the statue is Grade II listed. These pre-Raphaelites were an unfortunate bunch as Munro died in his 40’s from disease and Rossetti in his 50’s from the effects of alcohol and drug abuse. It seems these artistic types were at it long before the likes of Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison.
After this fairly lengthy walk I had finally come to the end of Hyde Park and you cannot really miss it due to the fairly imposing structure here. Passing through you are at Hyde Park Corner where the Greenway crosses the road but please be careful and use the pedestrian crossing as the traffic is terrifying. Regular readers will know that I love military history, statues and memorials so if that is not your thing then you might want to scroll down quite a few paragraphs because this area is absolutely jam packed with such items.
In the order in which I saw them, the first was the statue of the Duke of Wellington who I have a particular interest in and who was arguably Britain’s greatest ever military commander. The statue is a fairly standard equestrian military pose of the time sculpted by Joseph Boehm and unveiled in 1888. What is of particular interest is the honour guard of four soldiers of the Duke’s period who form the honour guard. The are a Grenadier guardsman representing the English, a Scottish Highlander, an Irish Dragoon and a Welsh Fusilier. There is a popular turn of phrase about “the English beating the French” at Waterloo and previously in the Peninsular War but it was no such thing as about two thirds of the British troops were Irish and Scots.
Wellington himself was Irish, born plain Arthur Wesley, the better known Wellesley being a later affectation. Whilst he famously described his soldiers as being “the scum of the Earth (which they were for the most part) he was particularly fond of his Celtic contingent, regarding them as being almost berserkers in the Norse tradition, especially with a drink in them which was also true.
To continue the military them I did a smart about turn (about face for my American readers) as I had done at the Albert Memorial and took the image you see here which is Apsley House, Wellington’s home and now a Museum. As Albert was looking at his memorial Hall so the Iron Duke is looking at his own front door.
Apsley House famously has the postal address of Number One, London and was designed by the renowned designer Robert Adam. Again, it is another attraction in London that I have inexplicably failed to visit in my thirty plus years of living here. Another one for the “to do list” I feel.
Close by the famous victor of the Napoleonic campaign is a memorial to a more modern but no less bloody conflict, the First World War and more specifically the Machine Gun Corps. The statue is known as the Boy David from the Biblical story of David and Golaith and the quotation from the Book of Samuel on it makes reference to the terrible impact of machine gun fire in that war when it states, “Saul hath slain his thousands but David his tens of thousands”. How very true and how very tragic.
On each side of the monument you can see two Vickers machine guns which are actual working weapons which that encased in bronze by the William Morris Foundry in Lambeth to the design of Francis Derwent Wood. The Vickers is a tremendously reliable weapon which was in service until the 1960’s and there is a documented case from WW1 of a machine gun company firing ten of them continuously for twelve hours (they used up 100 barrels) expending one million rounds without a failure. I wish every weapon I ever carried had been as reliable.
Just a few yards away I came to another memorial, this time to the New Zealand War Memorial which I must admit I didn’t get at first. As it’s appearance suggests, it is a modern piece, dating to 2006 and is the work of architect John Hardwick-Smith and sculptor Paul Dibble, who are both Kiwis themselves.
At first sight it appears to be a group of leaning iron girders with quotations and designs that are very recognisably New Zealand related. Obviously there was a rugby ball included! I passed it off as being another modern memorial that was being a bit eccentric (in every sense of the word) just for the sake of it but it was only when I was leaving the area a while later that it made sense as one of the images hopefully shows. Looked at from the right angle the tops of the girders are cruciform in shape and resemble the simple crosses often placed on soldier’s graves on and around battlefields.
Next on my tour of this densely packed area was the Wellington Arch, so what’s the story here then?
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries there was a plan for grand ceremonial city gates to be erected in this area and John Soane and Robert Adam, both of whom we have encountered on this walk, submitted designs but the Government wouldn’t pay for them. Some things never change.
After Wellington’s victory at Waterloo there was a change of heart and the government of the day granted £300,000 (a considerable sum) as a “Celebration Fund”. A young designer called Decimus Burton submitted plans for a structure which was going to be a gateway for Buckingham Palace at one point. The plan was changed to make the arch a commemoration of Wellington’s success. It was not originally on this site but nearby and was topped by a monstrous equestrian statue of Wellington which was popularly ridiculed for it’s scale.
Eventually the arch was moved here and the statue removed to Aldershot military garrison where it remains to this day. It was eventually replaced in 1912 by the current sculpture of Triumph in a quadriga (four horse chariot). I have seen an old photo of the original statue on the arch and this is much better. You can go inside the arch and climb it but I am not great with heights so I gave that one a swerve.
We are still not finished with the war memorials here by a long way so let’s move on to the next. Diagonally opposite the New Zealand Memorial is the memorial to the fallen of their antipodean brothers-in-arms, the Australians. Like it’s Kiwi counterpart, this monument was unveiled on Armistice Day, 11th November 2003, three years before the New Zealanders. It commemorates the 102,000 Australians killed in both world wars which is a huge figure by any reckoning but is made all the more remarkable when you consider the population of this sparsely populated country.
In the first global conflict 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner. This was out of over 4000,000 who volunteered from a population of less than five million. That is a casualty rate of almost 65% of all the men who took ship for foreign shores.
The second time round was equally terrible for a nation which then had a population of just shy of seven million. In that conflict over 27,000 Australians were killed and 23,000 wounded. The so-called free world certainly owes a great debt to the men from “down under”.
Like the New Zealand monument this one is the work of artist Janet Laurence, understandably an Aussie. The memorial is made from granite quarried in Western Australia and at a distance it appears to depict the names of battles, which it does. In my image you can see Ruhr, Kokoda and Bougainville, three of the 47 major battles the Australians took part in and which are commemorated here but it pays to look closer.
The large names are made up of thousands of smaller names which I correctly took to be Australian place names, which they are but I did not know that they are the 23,844 towns in which the Australian soldiers were born and they are not just in Australia but the UK and elsewhere. I thought it was very cleverly done and I much prefer it to the New Zealand one although this is purely on aesthetic grounds. The sacrifice is the same and worthy of the utmost respect whatever the artisitc merits of the monuments.
We are not done yet and we have still got to look at the Royal Artillery First World War memorial which you can see here. It was designed by sculptor Charles Jagger and architect Lionel Pearson. Jagger knew exactly what he was depicting in his sculptures as he had served in the war as an officer in the Artist’s Rifles at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. He was wounded three times and earned the Military Cross. His Regiment is interesting in that, having been disbanded after World War Two it was resurrected in 1947 as 21 SAS Regiment, the Territorial element of Britain’s Special Forces.
Jagger’s depiction of the obviously dead gunner lying under his greatcoat is startlingly realistic but unusual in that you don’t often see war memorials that actually depict the horror of conflict. It is normally allegorical figures or at best, or worst, a soldier with a reversed rifle honouring a fallen comrade. This is bloody death in all it’s stark reality. This feature wasn’t in the original design submitted to the Committee overseeing the project and was controversial amongst them but Jagger insisted and his proposal was eventually accepted.
There was also considerable debate about the weapon which tops the memorial. It was initially designed to be much smaller and point across the structure rather than along it but after some debate it was decided that this orientation offered a more pleasing silhouette to those approaching from Hyde Park. It is a trench howitzer and is absolutely accurate as the sculptor took advice from a junior artillery officer who had served in the war.
Another unusual feature of this particular memorial was that it seems to have been adopted by a number of scooter clubs but why I just cannot fathom out despite my usual obsessive research. I know that the Wasps Scooter Club in London organised a ride on Remembrance Sunday 2018 where they were hoping to better their 2017 total of 950 machines and get to four figures.
Sadly, the sacrifices made over 100 years ago and commemorated here are still being made and I spotted a poppy cross in memory of Cpt. Tom Sawyer, a Commando gunner who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2009 along with RM Corporal Danny Winter. What makes it even more tragic is that it was a “friendly fire” incident where an untrained Danish officer ordered a Javelin missile to be fired on their position. I dislike the term friendly fire, it is no such thing. It is a mistake if you wish to be polite and a lot of other things if you don’t but friendly fire is a poor euphemism.
Well, that is all the memorials for this particular area but, following the Greenway out onto Constitution Hill you will be either pleased or dismayed to read that the very next thing I saw was yet another one, this time in the shape of the Commonwealth gates which commemorate the five million men and women from the Commonwealth in the two World Wars. Opened by the Queen in 2002, the gates were designed by Liam O’Connor Architects and Planning Consultants. There are four piers of fairly simple design and the first stone was laid by HM the Queen Mother in 2001, less than a year before her death.
As with the Australian and New Zealand monuments, some of the figures behind the memorials are phenomenal. For example, the Indian subcontinent and Nepal sent almost 1.5 million men and women to the first global conflict and 2.5 million to the second. This number included 100,000 and 132,000 Gurkhas respectively and, knowing their reputation as ferocious and fiercely loyal warriors, that was a tremendous contribution to any military endeavour. I have had the privelege of meeting some and I am going to go back to our recent friend Wellington here for a quote. Speaking of his soldiers he said, “I don’t know what effect these men will have on the enemy, but by God, they terrify me”. The very thought of over 100,000 Gurkhas is enough to put the fear of whatever Gods they may believe in into the heart of any foe.
I had seen the small pavilion to the side of the gates but never known what it was about until this day. The trick here is to go into it and look up. On the domed ceiling you will see 74 names which are those of the 23 First World War recipients of the Victoria Cross and the 39 VC’s and 12 George Crosses awarded to Commonwealth troops in the Second World War. If you look closely you will see a number of British looking surnames like Norton, Wilson and Cumming. Whilst some of these were South Africans, Australians etc., a good proportion were British officers serving in Indian regiments and therefore commemorated here. Brave men all.
Walking East along Constitution Hill, I had the lovely Green Park on my left and I am not going to insult your intelligence by telling you how it got it’s name. I know there was an even more beautiful green space to my right but I couldn’t see it because of a high wall topped with barbed wire and some vicious looking spikes. I knew there were heavily armed police officers in there for this is H.M. the Queen’s back garden! Properly known as Buckingham Palace Garden, my only chance of ever seeing it is if I am invited to a Royal Garden Party and I think that’s unlikely.
I’ve already given away the next building I came to, arguably one of the most recognisable buildings in the world and certainly in the UK. Yes, it is Buckingham Palace, home to the monarch and I’ll give you the briefest of potted histories here as this is already a very long post and there is so much information about it elsewhere.
“Buck House”, as it is often referred to by Londoners, didn’t start life as a royal palace but was a private townhouse which was built in 1703 for the Duke of Buckingham, hence the name. I can’t help wondering that if this was his townhouse, what must his “family seat” have been like? It wasn’t always this grand, though, and the original building was hugely extended and upgraded in the 19th century by the architects John Nash (him again) and Edward Blore who wasn’t even a trained architect! Thus we have today this imposing and instantly recognisable facade.
Buckingham House, as it was and still is officially named, had been in Royal hands since the reign of George III although he installed his wife Queen Charlotte here and it was then known as Queen’s House. You will hopefully remember Queen Charlotte from Kensington Gardens earlier in this piece.
Buckingham Palace, as it became, only developed into the principal residence of the monarch when Queen Victoria moved here from Kensington Palace in 1837 when she ascended the throne. In doing so, she took exactly the same journey we have just made and proved again my point about things all being interconnected. Thanks, ma’am.
Perhaps my favourite story about Buckingham Palace concerns the much-loved late Queen Mother during the Second World War when a German bomb destroyed the Palace chapel. At this time the East End of London, where I live, was being systematically flattened by the Luftwaffe due to the presence of the London Docks. After the Palace bombing (one of nine) the Queen, who had refused to be evacuated to a safer location, said she was glad it had happened as now she could look the East End in the face. Is it any wonder she was so universally loved in UK and beyond? She really was a class act.
To my left now I saw the rather imposing Canada Gate which again I had passed literally thousands of times and never stopped to examine properly. It is amazing what you don’t notice when things are so familiar to you.
Once again we find ourselves bumping into Queen Victoria as the gates were erected in the early part of the 20th century (it was commissioned in 1905 and completed in 1911) as part of a series of memorials to the late Queen who had dies on 1901. Presented by the country which was then the the senior Dominion of the British Empire, it is to the design of various artists of the Bromsgrove Guild who represented the Arts and Craft style which was in vogue at the time. If you look through the gates you will see a broad tree-lined avenue leading up to Piccadilly which follows the route of the culverted River Tyburn, one of London’s “lost rivers” which I am determined to explore at some point. The avenue was designed to provide a good view of the Victoria Memorial, which stands outside the Palace, from Piccadilly.
The coats of arms of six Canadian Provinces are included but you may know that Canada has 10 Provinces but this reminded me of something I had been made very aware of on my three extended trips to that lovely country. Canada is a young country, very young. Most of the West was not opened up until the coming of the railways in the very late 18th and early 19th centuries. At the time the gates were constructed there were only the six Provinces featured on the gates as British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Alberta were not officially part of Canada then. The three newcomers were honoured by having their coats of arms inscribed on the pillars.
Turning my back on Buck House, which fortunately isn’t regarded as being a treasonable offence, I took off long the Mall and yet another connected piece of trivia. I had never given much thought to why the Mall was so named until I was researching one of the first pieces I published on this site about my 2013 Malta trip which begins here. Whilst researching a post about Valletta I had found out that the name derives from the Italian word pallamaglio which refers to game played with mallets and a ball, a bit like croquet without the hoops or polo without the ponies. Just another small and ultimately useless piece of information I picked up whilst writing this blog.
If I had walked all the way along the Mall I would have come to the wonderful Admiralty Arch with Trafalgar Square just beyond but the path directed me into St. James’s Park, yet another portion of the “green lung” which had begin all the way back in Kensington Gardens. At 57 acres it is a relative tiddler compared to it’s two larger siblings which we have already traversed and this may be because it is the baby of the family. The land has been in royal possession since 1532 when Henry VIII purchased it although if he had waited a few years he could have just taken it for nothing as he had done with Hyde Park.
St. James’s is a pleasant enough name but it actually refers to a rather unpleasant leper hospital that stood nearby. I suppose nobody but the poor lepers wanted to live here as it was a marsh and not particularly appealing. King James I had the marsh drained in 1603 and the whole area was turned into a sort of medieval safari park with camels, crocodiles and even an elephant roaming about so I do hope they had decent fencing. Later on, cows grazed in the Park and you could buy fresh milk from a “Lactarian” on the site.
In 1826 the park, as it then was, was re-modelled by none other than our old friend John Nash who seems to have been responsible for designing just about everything hereabouts. At this time a Marble Arch was erected at the Buckingham Palace end of the park before it was moved in 1851 to it’s current position at the junction of Oxford Street and Park Lane and replaced with the Victoria Monument which stands to this day.
At the East end of the park stands one of the quirkiest buildings in London and there are plenty to choose from.
Built on it’s own man-made island, it is the Duck Island cottage which was built in 1840 as accommodation for a warden to look after the birds in the Park on behalf of the Ornithological Society who had introduced many of them. It was also a meeting place for the society who were filthy rich and absolutely clueless as to what they were about. They merged with another equally monied and inept group called the Acclimatisation Group and, picturesque as the Cottage is, it is hard to imagine that some huge international ecological disasters were plotted here, most of which impact to this day. Really, I have not gone quackers (sorry couldn’t resist that).
These well-heeled buffoons were responsible for introducing the cane toad and the rabbit to Australia where they both remain major pests. An American idiot called Schiffilin introduced 100 starlings from this very park to the USA for no better reason than they are mentioned in Henry IV and he wanted Americans to be able to see every bird mentioned in Shakespeare. I promise I am not making this up. Today there are an estimated 200 million of the loathsome creatures in that country and they have driven many native species to the point of extinction.
From my British perspective they committed much greater sins in my country by introducing the grey squirrel and Japanese knotweed. The former have successfully all but killed off the native red squirrel and the latter is responsible for more damage to buildings than any other plant, ivy included.
Should you wish to complain, the cottage address is 69 Horse Guards Road, London SW1A 2HQ. I am guessing the HQ in the post (zip) code stand for Headquarters of the Ecological Cock-up Group. Seriously, please don’t write to them as the Cottage is now home to the London Parks and Gardens Trust who I don’t doubt take their environmental responsibilities much more seriously.
St. James’s Park is only a short stroll from Parliament Square and I knew the Greenway went there before doglegging upstream along the Thames, crossing it and then heading back long the South bank. It was still only 1430 and I had done a fair bit as you will know if you have waded through this lengthy post thus far, for which I thank you. My knees were starting to play up a bit which was and still is a worry.
My back has been giving me gip for over 35 years now and I am used to it but my knees have always been pretty good. “Old age has laid its hand upon me”, to quote from the old Irish song “Spanish Lady” and I suspect things are starting to seize up, drop off and so on. I had never intended this to be a route march and so I decided I would quit at Westminster Tube Station which is a straight run home for me on the District Line.
I used to work in this area and know all the pubs round Westminster, including a couple of absolute beauties, but I didn’t bother and decided to head back to my local for a single pint which was a mistake. The pint wasn’t a mistake as it was well-kept and served as always in the Half Moon but the sitting down to enjoy it was. No that’s not true either, the sitting down was fine it, was the getting up and trying to get moving again that was the problem and I must have made a fine sight as I hirpled my way home. Isn’t hirpled a lovey word? It is not made up, I promise you.
On the way through Westminster Station I noticed that the traditional London Transport roundels had been defaced, and I use that word advisedly. As the image shows, the traditional red, white and blue roundels which re iconic in the true sense of the word and have served perfectly well since 1908 had been replaced by these aberrations. Apparently the are the work of some guy called Larry Achiampong, who I have never heard of, and represent ” ‘sanko-time’, based on African mythologies and their relationship to science fiction”. What? More importantly, why? Another sacrifice on the altar of political correctness albeit a thankfully temporary one. At time of writing on March 2020 they have all hopefully been removed again.
Well, that was a bit of a day out, wasn’t it? I promise you that the next instalment, where I venture “South of the water”, is a bit shorter but there is still lots to see so stay tuned and spread the word.