Day One: In which there is much walking

Woken up at 6:30 this morning by a fire alarm. Good morning, London.

The rest of my shared room decided they might as well get up, so after a failed attempt to go back to sleep (and mind you, I didn’t get to sleep until after 1 a.m.), I get up, too. We might as well get started.

I have many things scheduled for upcoming days, but nothing for today. This is deliberate. Today is just for the City.

For those not familiar with its history, a brief primer: London the city is a sprawling monstrosity, but the City of London is a tiny thing, approximately one square mile, and back in the Elizabethan era, it was all there was. The City; some suburbs beginning to burst out of its walls; Westminster upriver, connected by a thin thread of development; Southwark across the Thames, connected by the one and only London Bridge. I’m staying in a hostel near St. Paul’s because I wanted to be in a place that existed back then, and where I could walk the City.

There’s almost nothing here that dates back to the sixteenth century, though. The Great Fire saw to that in 1666, and what it missed, the Victorians got. I have to scrounge to find Tudor-era buildings; that’s what the next few days are for. But the City is still here, and that’s what today is for. Many of the streets are still right where they used to be, even if now they’re lined with Starbucks and Pret. Sir Christopher Wren had grand ideas after the fire for how to redesign the city into a more harmonious pattern, but while he was busy planning, Londoners were busy rebuilding — right where everything had been before. I walk different road surfaces than my historical characters did, but the roads themselves are often the same.

So today was a wandering day, and what you get is a wandering journal.

The hostel is right by Blackfriars, so that is where I begin: Blackfriars Bridge, where I can say hello to the Thames. It’s quite likely impossible for me to overstate the importance of this river to London; I had to begin with him, with Old Father Thames. The tide is going out when I show up, bleary-eyed but wakeful, at eight in the morning, and I watch it for a bit. There are still boats on the river — barges and sightseers — but far fewer than the hundreds (even thousands) that plied it in Elizabeth’s day. One cannot simply flag down a wherry like a water-taxi to get across to the south bank, but there’s no longer any need; bridges span the Thames’ width every few hundred feet, it seems. (An exaggeration, but not by much.)

I faff about for a bit until learning my first lesson of London geography: stairs. The city isn’t all that hilly, but there is a grade in places, and more importantly, there’s accretions of occupation until you find walkways bridging buildings, and what you thought was a ground-level street (by which I mean Holborn Viaduct) is no longer any such thing. Stairs lead from Blackfriars down to the accumulation of pedestrian roads called the Thames Path, which grant me my wish: to walk along the river from Blackfriars to the Tower. Construction gets in my way occasionally, but from Paul’s Walk onward, I mostly keep to the water.

The various steps are gone, that led down to the water’s edge back when river travel was a daily occurrence. (I may venture eastward to Wapping, where I think one can still find some.) And Queenhithe’s been filled in, it seems, the small dock that used to exist along here. Once upon a time there was a drawbridge in London Bridge, and ships would sail upriver to unload at Queenhithe, but I think even by Elizabeth’s time that had ceased; Queenhithe mostly took in shipments from points further west. Somewhere in here I pass Walbrook Wharf, recalling the first of London’s lost rivers. (I still mean to go out on Blackfriars Bridge and see if I can spot the outflow for the buried Fleet.)

Construction forces a brief detour up to the Monument, then down again to Lower Thames Street. I’m following the path the characters of Memento once took, chasing a solimond toward the Tower.

I see the New Globe, across the water in Southwark, and then I’m at London Bridge. It’s a disappointing sight, as I knew it would be. (The thing that gets photographed all the time is the far more photogenic Tower Bridge.) I spend a moment standing there, though, trying to envision the old medieval bridge, crowded with shops and houses along its length, with the twenty? (I think twenty) arches supporting it across the Thames. As the arches became choked with debris, I can understand how “shooting the bridge” became a dangerous proposition, even in a wherry.

The Tower sneaks up on me, hidden behind other buildings. I’ll come back here tomorrow, and give it some real time then.

Minories and Houndsditch now, following the line of the old, vanished city wall. The places remember the names of features now lost; I’ll pass all the gates by the time I’m done, though none of them are still there. I spot ward names, too: Portsoken this, Cordwainer that, and occasionally an office for ward administration. I think the ward boundaries have changed only as much as the streets have, which is to say not much. Across Bishopsgate, and a sign points north to Finsbury Circus; the green fields that used to be there and at Moorfields are long gone, though the City seems to be waging a determined program to cram microscopic little gardens and parks in wherever it can, which give me places to stop and rest my feet. I’ve been going for an hour and a half, maybe two hours, when I hit Moorgate, but I’ve also been stopping frequently, and taking various detours. It’s still worth noting, though, as a measure of travel time.

I stumble, quite by accident, on what’s left of the Wall. Chasing a route to the other side of a fenced-in-thing that turns out to be a ruined bit of the Church of St. Alphage, I find a fragment of the old Roman/medieval wall. (It does not, as one might expect, lie along the London Wall road.) There’s other fragments, too, and some plaques. There are supposed to be twenty; the first I see is number 12. That leads me to 13 and 14, but I fail to find 15, and wonder whether all of them are even still around; I haven’t seen others on my perambulations, though I keep my eyes open after this.

The Museum of London, around Aldersgate. Almost nothing on the Tudor Era (just the Dissolution, really), but I hit the jackpot in the store: a book with a giant, panel-by-panel reproduction of Agas’ sixteenth-century woodcut. Finally, a map of the City big enough for all those bitsy things to be legible.

Take Newgate too far, onto Holborn Viaduct, but it means I find the Church of St. Sepulchre, and a pub called the White Swan along Farringdon Street. Must eat lunch there (and do). Chatty Australian waitress gives me tips to a couple of neat places I might check out. Backtrack up (literally) to Holborn and Newgate; take Old Bailey south, and thus to Blackfriars again. Back up Farringdon until I find and climb Ludgate Hill, crossing my own tracks. If I had bothered to look left from the intersection where Old Bailey became Paternoster Something-or-other, I would have seen the cathedral. The churchyard is still a gathering place; now it’s tourists and other people sunning themselves on the steps. (I join them for a while.) But Wren’s monument to mathematics contains no vestiges of its predecessor, not even in the pamphlet, and admission is pricy, so I move on. We’ve done the perimeter; now it’s time to explore the interior.

Eastward along Cannon Street to Eastcheap. Detour down Pudding Lane; no plaque I can find for the actual site of Farynor’s house and the start of the fire, but I climb the Monument, all 311 steps, in honor of Philip Merriman. (Memento geekery has been ongoing all day; I’m listening to the soundtracks on shuffle, and queuing up appropriate tracks as needed.)

My feet are beginning to hurt enough to take notice of.

Seething Lane, complete with a Walsingham House (technically on Pepys Street) that is certainly not his actual house, and maybe not even in the right spot. Was St. Olave’s his parish church, when he lived there? It’s right across the street, with a tiny and charming cemetery. But no mention of him in their list of famous parishioners; the nice old man who might have been the rector checked. (For the second time today, someone refers me to the Guildhall Library. That place may eat my Monday.) If I were truly badass, I would find the Papey, Walsingham’s other house — but I’m not that good.

Crutched Friars (I love these street names) to Crosswall (whose name seems self-explanatory) to Vine Street, heading north. Now we’re just wandering gratuitously, until my feet give out. Aldgate, Fenchurch; Lombard is narrower than expected, and not the only street to be so. Turning onto Cornhill means I find the Royal Exchange, but of course it isn’t the original building. Onward to Leadenhall, and then onto Mitre Street, to see if it’s the location of that Old Mitre pub the waitress from the White Swan told me about, that dates back to the sixteenth century. (No dice.) Cut through to Duke’s Place. I wonder how many pairs of shoes John Stow wore out, researching his Survey of London — and find myself staring at the John Stow House, on Bevis Marks. Again, not the actual building, but it proves the lasting power of names here. Camomile Street takes me to Bishopsgate, then Threadneedle; there’s the Royal Exchange again, this time from the other side. (Serious foot pain now. How many pairs of feet did Stow wear out?) Only a little further to go. Poultry to the misleadingly-named Cheapside, now crammed with banks on the east end instead of goldsmiths on the west. (I do find one, though, near Glitter Lane. How apt.) St. Paul’s from the north side, with more people hanging out in a little park tucked away around the back; with the sun setting on the far side of the cathedral, I think I get some decent pictures.

It’s only 4 p.m. at that point, but I’m toast. Shooting pains in my left foot send me back to the hostel — fortunately, I aimed to end up near it — and now I’m typing this up. I’m afraid to calculate how far I walked today. Good thing tomorrow will involve a small amount of walking, followed by sitting on my butt for several hours.

The City is both smaller and larger than I thought. I walked its circumference by lunchtime, with much inefficiency; I walked most of its major roads by the later afternoon. But you can pack a surprising number of people and buildings into that space, a fact which is easy to forget when one is used to wasteful American use of space. It’s important to remember that many of the buildings here now probably occupy a larger footprint than earlier structures did; I passed countless little lanes, courts, passages, and alleys that merited street signs despite being six or ten feet wide, and there were probably more back in the day. And even important streets might be the size of my home alley back in Dallas. No wonder Agas’ woodcut is a labyrinth of bitsy little things.

I’ll upload pictures later. That’ll be more work than I feel like dealing with right now, and besides which, I’m hungry. Time to connect to the internet and post this, then limp off in search of food.

0 Responses to “Day One: In which there is much walking”

  1. kniedzw

    Glad you made it safe and sound. Let me know if you manage to get in touch with Rachael. Also, are you able to get to your normal email, or should I be shooting you emails at gmail?

  2. d_c_m

    Yay London!! This is awesome to read as 1) I love reading about your writing adventures and 2) I am an utter total and complete Anglophile who could live in London.

    Keep the updates coming please!

  3. unforth

    Glad to hear that you arrived safe and sound. 🙂 Have fun!! It sounds wonderful!!

  4. tybalt_quin

    Here via your link on fangs_fur_fey.

    There’s almost nothing here that dates back to the sixteenth century, though.

    You’re dead on re the Fire toasting pretty much everything in the region pre-1666 (and what the fire didn’t get, got blown up during the Blitz), but I notice that you mentioned walking past the Church of St Sepulchre on your travels. Aside from the fact that the Church was the one that rang the bell for condemned prisoners being led out of Newgate Prison (now the Old Bailey), there’s a road next to it called Giltspur Street. If you go up it, keeping Bart’s Hospital on your right you come up to a square – on the far side is Smithfield Market (which has been on that site certainly since the 14th century because it’s where the Peasant’s Revolt culminated) and on your right (as you face Smithfield Market) is a black timbered building, through which lies a church, which I believe is the oldest church in London and one of the few remaining Norman churches remaining in the country. All of the alleyways around it are on exactly the same layout as they were in the Middle Ages. If you’re into doing something touristy – London Walks do a tour around there, which can give you a history.

    There’s a plaque on St Bart’s Hospital on the square showing where William ‘Braveheart’ Wallace really got his head chopped off and his entrails cut out and a golden statue of a little boy having a pee on one of the buildings on Giltspur Street, which is something to do with the Great Fire and was put up because the Lord Mayor said that a child could piss the fire out.

    Hope that’s of some use and hope you fun whilst you’re here.

    • cassandra1967

      Due to quite a few obstacles in my life I will never be able to travel. Thanks to you I felt like I was there. Thank you so very much for your wanders and words. I really appreciate it.

      • Marie Brennan

        You’re welcome! Most of what I wrote is taken verbatim from my notes, which were designed in part to make me feel like I’m there, when I re-read them weeks or months after the fact. I’m glad to know it worked for other people, too.

    • Marie Brennan

      I had always heard it as “a woman might piss it out,” but if it’s a statue of a child, I might have heard wrong.

      Thanks for the info! I would have gone looking for those things, but Monday, the day on which I would have done so, was (as mentioned in other posts) disgustingly cold and rainy. So, alas, no wandering in that direction.

      • tybalt_quin

        I had always heard it as “a woman might piss it out,” but if it’s a statue of a child, I might have heard wrong.

        I heard the same thing, but I’ve overheard the London Walks saying otherwise so …

        would have gone looking for those things, but Monday, the day on which I would have done so, was (as mentioned in other posts) disgustingly cold and rainy. So, alas, no wandering in that direction.

        No worries – it seems you’ve experienced a traditional English Bank Holiday weekend (aka shockingly bad weather).

        I know your interest lies in Elizabethan England, but if you haven’t checked out his works before, you might want to take a look at a series of books by C J Sansom entitled Dissolution, Dark Fire and Sovereign. They’re set during the reign of Henry VIII (so are earlier than the period you’re interested in), but the guy really did his research into how people lived in Tudor London and I’ve been reliably informed that his portrayal of the sights and smells of the city are pretty authentic. They’re also very good mysteries with a strong political backstory that incorporates the religious and social upheaval of the time. Sansom got himself on a list of 25 novelists we’ll be reading in 50 years time and is v. highly rated. Apologies if he’s already on your radar, but I figured it was worth a mention.

        • Marie Brennan

          Ooh! Somebody mentioned him to me during the trip, but no, I’d never heard of him before. I don’t mind stuff that’s mildly earlier, and they would probably interest me even if I weren’t writing this novel, which is the most important criterion. I’ll check them out!

  5. diatryma

    Reading this is going to totally spoil me for travel. I’ll need to do lots of research and have a very knowledgeable friend with me if I ever make it to Europe.

    • Marie Brennan

      It really does add a lot, knowing the history of an area when you go there; you notice (and get fun out of) a lot of things that would otherwise mean nothing.

  6. Anonymous

    Alas, A Safe Journey

    Glad to see you made it back from your walk around the city alright. Minus some soreness. I would have loved to have gone on doing something like that. But I have left the country only once so far (I am in the US myself) and that was to Australia. Hopefully you’re enjoying your trip despite the required research and oh-so-sore feet!

    From what I heard, the 16th Century in London doesn’t seem to be around much more, which, it seems, you are discovering. But then, I am by no means an expert to throw a comparison at. And so I promptly close my mouth on the topic before I make a fool of myself. It seems that Tybalt might be leading you somewhere though.

    By the way, I was wondering if I could fling an email at you, Ms. Brennan, or Ms. Neuenschwander (whichever you prefer). I don’t want to clog up your gmail if you have already an immense amount of fan mail and other such questions. I am sorry if I’m being rude in asking, it is not my intention. (I sense potential shaken heads and muttered ‘oi veys’ from those possibly reading this)

    Just have a quick question about naming structures that I was curious if you could answer.

    Keep the travel updates coming and take care! And sorry for the long comment, I won’t do it again.


    • kniedzw

      Re: Alas, A Safe Journey

      I’ll wager (as her fiancé) that she doesn’t much mind the occasional email asking a question or two. Hell, I send her email nearly every day that is far more banal and far less thought-provoking than a question on naming structures is likely to be.

      …and I’m sure there’s no offense taken by asking if it’s OK to send her email. 🙂

      • Anonymous

        Re: Alas, A Safe Journey

        Amen about the banal and less thought intensive emails to one’s significant other! Though I usually do it more over the phone, but then that’s me.

        And I had forgotten that I heard you two were engaged. Congratulations to you both!

        I understand, but I merely wanted to make sure. Thank you. 🙂


        • Anonymous

          Re: Alas, A Safe Journey

          “Amen about the banal and less thought intensive emails to one’s significant other!”

          And now I come slinking in carefully to say, more for my safety than to meaninglessly add another comment on here…that’s sound more harsh than I meant. (insert hollow chuckle)

          The most simple of conversations and the most philosophical of conversations are held both with one’s significant other…at least for me. Personally, I find that almost strangely amusing.

          Though, once again, thanks for the reassurance and I’ll send her an email in just a moment.

          …I’m definitely in the doghouse when she gets home… (insert second chuckle)


    • Marie Brennan

      Re: Alas, A Safe Journey

      Long comments aren’t a problem! And I got your e-mail; I’m in the process of digging my way out of all the stuff I didn’t deal with while gone, so it might be a little bit before I reply, but I promise I will do so.

  7. ckd

    The Museum in Docklands has a lovely model of the old London Bridge, and lots of good history of the “wet side” of London: the Thames, the docks, and so forth. I highly recommend it.

    • Marie Brennan

      As you might have noticed from later posts, I didn’t make it there, though I had sincerely intended to.

      I blame the British Museum, and the rain.

      • ckd

        I did see that post, and I can’t argue with a trip to the British Museum under pretty much any set of circumstances. (The apartment-hotel we normally stay in when in London is a short walk away from there, a bit west of Tottenham Court Road, and we always go there at least once.)

        “A spectacular feature of the gallery is a 1:50 scale model of Old London Bridge, the first stone structure over the Thames. One side of the model illustrates the state of the bridge and its buildings at around 1450, the other – hidden until visitors pass through into the next gallery – the bridge in all its Tudor glory.” There are some photos on the BBC site, which may give you some of the flavor.

        I’m glad the suggestion was useful, even though you didn’t get there as you’d wanted to.

    • Marie Brennan

      Should add to clarify: your recommendation was what made me plan on going there, so thank you, even if I didn’t make it in the end.

  8. drydem

    I miss London so much. I recommend taking a Jack the Ripper walking tour if you have the chance.

    • Marie Brennan

      That’s the kind of thing I would have loved to do, but I really did have to make myself focus on my period. (Except for failing my will save at the British Museum.)

  9. sapphohestia

    Welcome to London! Have a fabulous time. I had a really cheeky tour driver who told my group of college-aged girls to go to a pub on flet street (one that survived the fire) and told us that, if we were extra nice to the waiter, he’d light a newspaper, drop it down a trap door in the basement, and we could see it fall down into the river fleet.

    A good story, but he was a lying bastard.

    Anyway, I hope you get to the British Library. I wonder if you could flex your academic credentials to see some old books. If not, you could probably find some period-appropriate medical books at the NLM.

    • Marie Brennan

      I’d heard that too, though I didn’t get a chance to find out first-hand that it was untrue. But at least I found the outflow for it into the Thames, I think.

  10. gollumgollum

    I’m so amused that your day started out with a fire alarm.

    In London.

    Gah. *grin*

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