The verdict so far: they’re holding up pretty well.
But before I get to that — happy 90 days (or so) to the publication of A Star Shall Fall! I’m going to semi-cheat and say your pre-pub goodie is the commencement of another round of trip-blogging (since this is something I know several of you enjoy), but since research notes about another book entirely don’t quite qualify on their own, you can also have just a teensy bit more of excerpt. (Or start at the beginning, if you missed the prologue before.)
Anyway. London. Victorian period.
I start out the traditional way, saying good morning to St. Paul’s Cathedral, then heading down Ludgate Hill and dodging the construction at Blackfriars to get to the river path. There I sit while I eat my breakfast, but after that there’s no sitting until I get to my usual bit of wall, up near Moorgate. (I’m there as I write this section in my notebook — well, I’m in the Salter’s Company garden behind. There’s a nice litte fountain I’d never noticed before.)
My feet are holding up despite a doomed attempt on my part to actually follow the whole series of London Wall plaques. You may recall mention of these from the Midnight trip, when I chanced across #12 in the series. Well, this time I found #7, and had the sudden inspired thought that maybe I could use my improved knowledge of London geography and the little mini-maps on the plaques (showing the locations of the previous and subsequent plaques) to retrace my steps to #1, and then follow the whole series from there. Hah: in failing to find #6, I happen upon #5 instead, and then fail to find either #4 or #8. I suspect my original guess was right, and they’re not all in place anymore.
So I finally give up on my backtracking and continue along my usual path, tracing the approximate line of the vanished wall. It turns out the area around my bit of wall (yes, I feel possessive; are you surprised?) was laid out as a garden in 1872; maybe I’ll arrange a cameo appearance for it in the book.
I’m glad this is my fourth trip, when things are already familiar, because approximately 63.9% of London’s landmarks are under scaffolding, being spiffed up for the Olympics in 2012. Progress on St. Paul’s has shifted to the northwest corner — almost done! — but it looks like at least half the White Tower is wrapped up, and the aforementioned work at Blackfriars has made a giant mess of that area. Fortunately, everything is now familiar enough that I can just shrug and move on.
Something that isn’t under construction: the Museum of London. Their modern galleries (i.e. 1700s-present) are finally open, after years of work, and I have to say they’re pretty spiffy. There’s an entire room set up as a “Victorian Walk” with re-created shop fronts, as well as loads of interactive material. I wish this had been open last year; they’ve got another room set up with mannequins in eighteenth-century dress scattered around a Vauxhall-style pleasure garden, with recreation videos playing on the walls. I’d love to give it all a closer look, but a) the galleries are swarming with tourists and children and b) my ankle is starting to twinge a little. I wonder if long standing is actually more of a problem than walking?
Circuit complete (with requisite stop for lunch in the St. Paul’s churchyard), it’s time to start something new.
I haven’t ever really gone into the East End. Brief trips via the DLR to the Museum in Docklands, but that doesn’t count. I don’t have a laundry list of places I want to visit — not like last year and the West End squares — but I do have one, which is Eliza’s church: St. Anne’s.
Whitechapel is interesting. To some extent I think I see change past Aldgate because I expect it, but I do think the change is real: suddenly many fewer guys in conservative suits, many more women and minorities and casual clothing. The average height of buildings falls off precipitously, too. Is it a side-effect of local government — the City being more friendly to banks and investment firms than Tower Hamlets, or problems with inter-borough commerce — or is it just a social thing, where no investment banker would be caught dead working in Whitechapel or Spitalfields or wherever?
Anyway, I go to the church because I want to see the building, but also because I got no response to my e-mail query about historical records and the viewing thereof. Knocking on the office door gets me a Brazilian secretary — surprise! This formerly Irish-tastic flock is now mostly Brazilian, conducting all but a couple of their Masses in Portuguese. When I find myself on the phone with a very friendly and energetic priest (the secretary rang him up when she couldn’t answer my query), I learn that the auxiliary parish buildings were badly damaged in WWII, and the congregation fell off to almost nothing, until St. Anne’s was given over to the Brazilian community to rejuvenate. But they mostly commute in from other boroughs; the surrounding streets are heavily Muslim, and apparently that produces more than a little tension.
My own personal tension, fortunately, is limited to the repeated question of “can I lift this heavy, dust-covered document box down from the top shelf just at the edge of my reach without falling off the table I’m standing on?” Because the secretary pointed me at those and basically told me to, er, knock myself out (not literally). Since my one other lead is an elderly Irish lady whose name and phone number were given to me by the energetic priest (along with his instructions to explain that “Father Fred” took the liberty of handing these things out to a random American writer he’s never actually met), I climb on the table and start dragging things down.
It’s a fun bit of archival work: books of patchy records, only semi-sorted, full of old newspaper clippings and financial logs. I’m hoping for a listing of the priests, deacons, etc. for 1884; instead I can now tell you how much was paid out for bread and groceries in May of that year, or the surname of every parishioner who ponied up the cash to rent a pew. Unsurprisingly, it reads like a Dublin phone-book. No Brazilians back then.
It’s entertaining, if only tangentially productive. (My best find is a pair of obituaries from the 1890s that let me extrapolate the names of two priests, and documentation telling me the altar I saw is a purchase from 1901.) I walk back to the hostel to swap out things before going to meet my sewer-research contact for dinner, which almost turns out to be a mistake: inertia is a powerful thing, my friends. I slept wretchedly last night, and although my ankle has survived six or eight miles of walking with only a brief twinge or two, my right calf is a different matter. I blame my physical therapist, who gave me exercises a week ago Monday that trashed my calves something fierce; I tried to lay off since then, but it seems I’m not fully recovered.
If push comes to shove, of course — if walking comes to riding a train — I can take the Underground. But the stations, as I discover while riding up to St. Pancras, have been too thoroughly rebuilt; aside from the symbolic value of visiting them, I don’t get much of use. And the Circle Line, I learn from my contact, is no longer a circle: now you have to get off (at Paddington, she thinks) and switch platforms to ride all the way around. As I was planning to get on at Cannon Street one of these evenings and do the circuit, this change annoys me. Stop raining on my symbolism parade, Transport for London! <shakes fist>
But anyway, dinner, we talk about shit (no really) as well as other, more pleasant subjects, and I come back to the hostel. Where I back up my photos, type up these notes, and now, as soon as this is posted, go to bed.
I hope I sleep better tonight. (I’m not sure it’s possible for me to sleep worse — certainly not as tired as I am.)