London through such enquiring eyes can be fascinating often unearthing living survivals in a modern city, improbable links with a remote past.
THE visitor often knows far more about London than the Cockney. The knowledge is usually limited to the obvious "sights" with the result that many interesting and unusual items are missed, though frequently they are within a stone's throw of familiar landmarks. Bond Street may suggest exquisitely dressed women and an air of leisure, essentially modern and twentieth-century, but the next time you pass Sotheby's, glance at the Egyptian carving. It is the goddess Sekhet, which has gazed with inscrutable expression on the changing fashions of 3,000 years. Nos. 147 and 150 New Bond Street could tell many stories. Nelson lived at the former; Lady Hamilton at the latter. Turn into Burlington Gardens and on the right-hand side, just before Vigo Street is reached, an entrance into the Albany, London's most famous block of flats, is seen to have iron gates. They are nothing special, but they have a story. They were erected when Lord Macaulay received an anonymous note informing him that his rooms were to be burgled. The whole thing was a hoax by his niece, but the warning was taken seriously.
Mayfair has many interesting links with tie past. No. 4 Chesterfield Street once housed Beau Brummell and tradition declares that the Prince Regent was given many lessons here by Brummell in the art of tying a cravat. Shepherd's Market is saturated with atmosphere. A stone's throw from the sophistica- tion of Curzon Street and Park Lane you find a village street with butchers, grocers and greengrocers, a setting that might have been stolen from a sleepy market town. The impression is no more than surface deep. Walk into the bar of Shepherd's and you find a blase "local" with brittle humour and fashion-plate styles. The eighteenth-century sedan chair converted into a telephone- box is amusing for those of slim proportions, but the whole atmosphere kills any suggestion of a village community that might fit into the maze of tiny streets. Several shops display hand- written advertisements, again like any general store in a country High Street. The only difference is the wording of the bait.
Every taste is anticipated. Traffic is mainly on foot with habitual pedestrians drawn from ladies of easy virtue who must walk miles every day on their village beat. At least they are in line with a doubtful tradition that has persisted in this neighbourhood for several centuries. In the days of the old May Fair, which was held in the area now occupied by the Market, Curzon Street and Hertford Street, the night air echoed to the bedlam let loose by drinking-booths, side-shows, merry-go-rounds, bull-baiting, and plays. So notorious was its reputation that in 1702 a purity cam- paign was launched. Many of the prostitutes who frequented the Fair were arrested, but their friends counter-attacked and swept the constables into the sheep-pens where they were pelted with brickbats, so injuring one of them, John Cooper by name, that he died. Popular outcry resulted in the Fair being suspended, so perhaps after all the Market with its multifarious activities could be worse.
Hyde Park Corner is hardly the best place on which to linger. Statistics show that some 80,000 vehicles cross this junction every day. The next time you are in this stream of traffic and you pass under the Wellington Arch, glance at the "Quadriga", those four huge horses. From street-level it is difficult to gauge their true size, but it was possible for the sculptor, Adrian Jones, to have tea with some friends inside one of the beasts. The massive Artillery Memorial that commemorates the 49,076 men of the Royal Artillery who died in the First World War was so designed by C. S. Jagger that its howitzer, if fired, would in theory have found the Somme with its shell. In the Park itself the giant Achilles statue, erected by the ladies of Britain in 1822, had the distinction of being London's first unclad statue.
St. James's Street has its quota of interesting places. Not many people know of the existence of Pickering Place, for this Georgian gem is hidden from sight, but two centuries ago it was a notorious gambling rendezvous and a recognized meeting-place for duelling. If you like occupying the seat of the famous, look in Berry Bros., the wine merchants with a centuries-old tradition, and there you will find scales that have recorded the weight of a long line of famous personalities from the Prince Regent to the present day. A little higher up just past Ryder Street, the famous hat museum of Lock's, the oldest hatters in London, is well worth examining. St. James's Palace is rich in history. Originally a hospital for women suffering from leprosy, it was converted into a private residence by Henry VEI, served as a prison for Charles I, and the birthplace of Charles II. Close at hand in the Pall Mall 79 to be exact is a freehold property, the concession being granted by Charles II to Nell Gwyn, who lived here from 1671 to 1687. An echo of the eighteenth century can almost be heard in the delightful shop of Fribourg and Treyer in the Haymarket. Here it was that Peter Fribourg set up business in 1720 and the firm hold ledgers showing that snuff was supplied to such names as George HI, George IV, Pitt, and the exiled Napoleon on St. Helena. In Waterloo Place we may locate the mounting-blocks that were put there on the orders of the Duke of Wellington.
Chelsea has a wealth of artistic and literary associations. Cheyne Walk will suffice as an instance. George Eliot lived and died at No. 4; Swinburne, Meredith, and Rossetti lived at No. 16; Whistler sampled many houses, living at Nos. 21, 96, and 1 01. He died at No. 74. Towards the end of his life Turner lived at No. 119. Close at hand in Cheyne Row is the house where Carlyle lived for many years until his death in 1881. It has been turned into a museum. Should you be of a morbid disposition, turn into Milmans Street, where you will find a Moravian burial ground, with four neat divisions, married and unmarried men and women having their separate enclosures. If such be your taste, then a visit to St. Botolph's in the Aldgate would not be wasted, for there you will find in a glass case the mummified head of Lady Jane Grey's father, the Duke of Suffolk, who was executed on Tower Hill in 1554.
Several items of general interest lie within sight of Marble Arch and along Bayswater Road. For instance, a stone in the road between Hyde Park and Edgware Road is passed unnoticed every day by thousands of people. Few, if any, are aware of the scenes that this site has known, for here is where the Tyburn Gallows stood from the twelfth century until 1759. A little further along Bayswater Road, just past Stanhope Place, is Lon- don's smallest house. The frontage is only 3 ft. 6 in. wide. Close to the Victoria Gate is an unusual sight. Towards the end of the kst century the Duchess of Cambridge was given permission to bury her dog here. The custom grew and today there must be some three hundred miniature tombstones commemorating the memory of cats, dogs and birds. To single out a private house for mention usually means that someone of distinction has lived there. Nos. 23 and 24 Leinster Gardens are different in the sense that they are not houses at all. Upon examination they are seen to be only frontages supported by iron gkders over the Metropolitan railway. Their purpose was to preserve the good appearance of the street.
The Tate Gallery houses a unique collection of British painting and modern sculpture. The group of French Impressionists ranks among the choicest in Europe. For these art treasures we are indebted to the memory of Sir Henry Tate, who not only gave 80,000 for the building, which was opened in 1897, but donated his own collection as a start. Although the galleries are admirably suited for the display of these art masters, they might well be haunted by unhappy spirits, for the site was formerly occupied by a gloomy penitentiary. It housed some 1,500 convicts and with more than three miles of corridors was the largest prison in Engknd. Its doors finally closed in 1890. Only the gates are left as reminders of its grim reputation, and these can be seen further along Millbank as the entrance to Mr. Speaker's stables.
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