Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ghosts of London's past

The very obvious difference between the cities I recently visited in America and London is age. Although London is quite trendy with some extraordinary modern architecture and design, these newbies have to nestle among buildings that represent every period, style and fad of the past 2000 years. As you walk around, you catch little glimpses of the past in the form of old buildings in odd places and ex-train stations and chapels. And, if you look up, you'll always be surprised. My old art teacher - an inspirational and hugely supportive little chap called Arthur Andrews to whom I owe much of my sense of wonder and love of art - was always saying, 'Look up dear boy, look up! There are hidden treasures above us all that most people, sadly, never see'. And he was right. We don't look up - which is why the goodie is always able to hide in the roofbeams from the baddies in films. Quite apart from the enormous population of rooftop statues in London, there are al manner of plaques, inscriptions, dedications and bas reliefs to be seen if you just look up.
This little batch of photos is the result of just one day's walking around London. They are a dedication plaque on the external wall of St Marylebone's School, the ancient George pub off Borough High Street (a quite odd mix of the old 16th century pub and modern offices. The pub is so old that the front door is about a foot below modern pavement level), Spitfire Studios near Kings Cross, a Tudor town house near St Bartholemew's Hospital, the ex-NorthMet power and light factory in Wood Green, T G Lyne's old television and radio store in Kings Cross, what was the Henry Heath hat factory off Oxford Street and the now long-defunct Brompton Road Tube Station.

8 comments:

Me said...

Great to see these snaps - you have pointed some of them out before - but you can't help but be impressed on how old and new rub along nicely. I like London because it is so eclectic.
x

Stevyn Colgan said...

I'm a country boy at heart and nothing gives me greater pleasure than romping through fields, woodland and coastlines. But the city has much to offer and I love London. It's a great place to work and visit ... as long as I don't have to live there! Done that. Never again. x

willow said...

Glorious architecture!! I loved this post.

Debby said...

I loved looking at these pictures. That is the thing that I love best about New York City...the old nestles comfortably into the new. Of course, our old is not old at all compared to your old. Our oldest buildings are, I believe, in St. Augustine, Florida.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Willow, Debby - Well, if that's the sort of thing you like, I'll post some more of the same. I walk past this kind of stuff every day and probably take it all for granted. After all, some of our churches are Norman and, like the Tower of London are nearly 1000 years old. Then, of course, there's all of the much older Celtic and Roman stuff ...

Janet said...

I agree with the comment about New York. I used to take loads of photos while I lived there - most up them upwards, where a lot of the little treasures are.

But London is even more eclectic.

You really got around in one day, covering all that territory!

One last comment (for now...) - re the pub off Borough High Street. Our company's London courses are now often run at a venue on Borough High Street. It - and the area behind the Tate Modern, where I usually stay - are new parts of London for me. There is so much to explore between the hotel and the venue, and I'm trying to cover all of the back streets. What an interesting part of London...and one most of the tourists miss.

Janet

chris hale said...

Your fascinating images show that, despite the developers, London still has a good many secret corners left. As a child in the late 1960s I spent many happy hours wandering alone around the City and the then derelict docklands(probably unthinkable now), armed with a copy of "The London Nobody Knows" by artist Geoffrey Fletcher, seeking out the bits of the metropolis that never made the tourist trail. James Mason made the book into a film in 1967 (now available on DVD). You might also be interested in "London - The Biography" and "Thames - Sacred River" by the eminently readable Peter Ackroyd. Mr. Ackroyd's rather esoteric views on the capital and his belief in the "genius loci" that inhabits parts of the city are (to me) fascinating. Sorry, I'm rattling on!

Stevyn Colgan said...

Janet - the area you describe is a goldmine. Enjoy it!

Chris - Rattle on all you like matey - it always makes fascinating reading. I've read Ackroyd's book on the Thames as Joel Meadows and I were pitching a book on certain aspects of London last year. He writes well ... if a little oddly. He seems to have the monopoly on London books at present so it's always good to find new writers.

Incidentally, I found a little picture book recently called 'London above eye level' by John R Murray which has lots of shots of the strange gargoyles, statues and architectural oddities that most of us miss. There's also some nice stuff at http://knowledgeoflondon.com/rooftops.html