888,246

The Tower, surrounded

96 years ago, at 11am, the guns fell silent on one of  the bloodiest wars in history. Countries across the world were left counting their dead and facing up to a reality that four years of conflict had achieved comparatively little. In Britain and the Commonwealth, that number was 888,246 – excluding the 306 British soldiers shot for cowardice and the thousands of weakened men killed subsequently by the Spanish Flu epidemic.

It’s a difficult number to visualise, especially as now, nearly a century on, no soldier who fought in that conflict remains alive. But that is why Tom Piper’s installation of Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red has had the impact it has. As of today, 888,246 poppies stand in the moat of the Tower of London, and its impact has been incredible.

Poppies

I’ve paid three separate visits to the Tower since the poppies first appeared, and I’ve been surprised at the way in which the different visits have affected me. The first was really just to see what was going on – it was mid September so the moat hadn’t begun to fill up yet. I was on my own and it was a flying visit while I happened to be in the vicinity. The second, nearly a month later, was in the company of American friends on a busy Sunday afternoon.

When Robin burst into tears at her first glimpse of the wave of poppies over the moat, my British nature cringed. She sobbed that it was a waste, a brutal destruction of young men. And do you know what? Even though it’s complete against my character to cry in public, I entirely agreed with her. What this phenomenal installation demonstrates more than anything is the sheer scale of the sacrifice made by a generation of young men. Like anyone who has studied the war in some depth, I know that there is little that can be credited to it – it wasn’t ideological, it was territorial power struggle between imperial powers in their twilight years; its peace process set the stage for an even bigger conflict barely two decades later; and it brought grief to millions upon millions of people across the globe.

On that afternoon, the sun shone brightly and everything looked beautiful. You might say it was perfect conditions for poppy observation. We spent some time jostling with the crowd, paying our respects and watching even more flowers being added.

Adding poppies

Poppies Oct 2014

Poppies Oct 2014

But this past weekend I returned and discovered I was wrong, they hadn’t been the perfect conditions. Perfection, for this installation, is a state that brings home to you some of the reality of the nightmare the fallen soldiers, and their comrades who survived, faced on a day to day basis. We visited late in the evening, after dark and after several torrential downpours. The massive crowds of preceding days had dissipated, but large puddles had taken up their places in front of the fences. Rain still fell, and damp (from an hour in the rain waiting/watching fireworks) continued to pervade our shoes and coats.

As I stood, taking in the sight of an almost complete installation, I realised that much of life in the trenches involved damp, rain, discomfort and noises not dissimilar to (but much more threatening than) the fireworks we could hear in the distance. But our dampness would only last as long as it took us to get home and into dry clothes. For the people represented by the poppies, the conditions of the trenches lasted for days and weeks – on repeat. It was a humbling realisation for a group of people who had been bemoaning their wet shoes only a couple of hours earlier.

It may have been dark, but it was still easy to see how the poppies had spread since my previous visits. On the river side of the Tower, I spotted the point at which I’d taken a photo of a small run of poppies back in late September. The difference was staggering.

Moat, September 2014

Moat Nov 2014

But the biggest difference to my previous visit in early October was the response of the public. I don’t mean the crowds of visitors, or the fact that virtually everyone within reach of London has posted photos of it on Facebook, I mean the memorials. On the fence surrounding the Tower, personal memorials have appeared – laminated sheets containing dates, a century old photo of a young man in uniform and a few pieces of information; or a small wooden cross. All of a sudden, the poppies had names.

I don’t know of anyone in my immediate family who fought in WW1 – I don’t have any names or dates that I could share at the Tower. The names I can ascribe to the poppies are those I know from history, literature and other people’s family stories. Like the elderly woman I met when I was 7 or 8, who had a photo of a man in uniform on the wall of her room in the old peoples’ home where my parents were chaplains. She explained that he had been her fiancé, but was killed in the war, and she had never married anyone else. [For the impact of the loss of a generation of men upon women, read Singled Out – I can’t recommend it highly enough.] As we stood by the fence, Anne (mother of dear friends Jenni & Gill) told me about her grandmother, who lost her fiancé in the war – but who did marry subsequently. Here were names. Name, after name. Nowhere near 888,246 of them, just a splash in the ocean of red.

In MemoriumThe poppies will start to disappear after today, although the wave and the cascade from the window will stay until the end of November. These sections will then tour the country, before eventually making their home at the Imperial War Museums in London and Manchester.

The treasure behind the chicken wire

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a friend entitled: “Embankment Station – Eastbound Platform” – an intriguing subject for an email, I think you’ll agree.* Upon opening it, I was greeted with the following:

‘Get yourself there. A panel has come off, revealing this awesome old map behind it. It features delights such as Aldwych and Holborn Viaduct Stations and describes the Heathrow Terminal 4 station as “under construction”.
It encourages you to “Get to know London”. I missed two trains looking at it and might spend my entire lunch break tomorrow revelling in it once more.’

This photo was attached:

Embankment map Thank you Ollie E for being a fellow TfL Geek.

My brain immediately got to work. Firstly, when was I going to manage a trip to Embankment to see this for myself?? Secondly, how old was the map?

The first question was difficult to answer, given that it’s not a station I often find myself at – but this was definitely worth a separate journey. The second one could be answered, but only with a bit of detective work and logical deduction. Ollie had provided me with some initial clues:
– Heathrow T4 was ‘under construction’.
– Aldwych station was still in use.
– Holborn Viaduct station existed.

Now, anyone who’s been on the Aldwych station tour can tell you that the station ceased to operate in 1994, so it certainly wasn’t older than that. A quick Google revealed that Holborn Viaduct shut in 1990, so we were probably looking at a map from the 1980’s. Wikipedia informed me that Heathrow T4 station opened in 1986, and thus we had a few years in the 1980’s to choose from…

It’s taken two weeks, but today I finally got chance to visit the map myself. The eastbound platform of Embankment station is theoretically on my way home from college, but I’d not taken that route on the first Mondays of term. However, after a meeting there this afternoon, I made a plan to make a brief stop at Embankment before continuing home. In the end, I missed four trains while I pondered the map and my goodness, it was worth it!

Now ‘protected’ by chicken wire (not glamorous!), it was utterly entrancing. No wonder Ollie had missed a couple of trains and been tempted by a return trip. Amongst the features that fascinated me were:

Monument escalator The escalator graphic between Monument & Bank. (Also, the East London Line used to be purple! Presumably that’s from the days when it and the H&C were part of the Met line?)

East LondonThe wonder of East London and Docklands (below) without the DLR. Plus, station names when the docks were still ‘docks’ and not ‘quays’. Oh, and Stepney East? That would now be Limehouse.

Docklands

HeathrowThe aforementioned Heathrow Terminal 4 and also, look how far out west the map goes!

Of course, while this is indeed very interesting, it still didn’t answer the question of the map’s date. [Although, now that I’m thinking about it, most TfL maps have a date on them somewhere. Why did I not choose to look for it??] Another clue lay not in the map, but in the last panel of the platform’s artwork:

Embankment Art

The panels which covered up the map are dated 1985. [Can I just take a moment and decry the artwork at Embankment? I mean honestly! It’s reminiscent of a 1980’s duvet cover! When you think of the amazing designs featured across the network, I feel this station has been let down rather badly. Incidentally, the tiles around the map suggest that the original platform had the classic District Line style, which has unfortunately been obliterated.] And thus, one may conclude that the map was current immediately prior to their installation – somewhere around 1984.

Of course, Ollie and I are not the only ones to have been fascinated by the map (indeed, someone joined me to peer through the wire – but perhaps they were just curious as to what was captivating my attention). This blogpost reveals that the map dates from the introduction of the ‘Capitalcard’ – the Travelcard’s forerunner – an event that took place in 1983. It would appear that my deductions were pretty much spot on.

Here’s hoping that the treasure behind the chicken wire remains visible for a good while longer!

*Non-Londoners may not be aware that currently (and until the end of the year) the only functioning eastbound platform is on the District/Circle Line. Neither the Bakerloo nor Northern stop at the station at the moment.

When Church History & TfL geekery collide

Last week (I am horrendously behind in blogging at the moment, forgive me) I achieved something of a 2014 First – if I was still keeping lists of such things. For the very first time, I had my own byline in the Church Times.

In all the ways thou goest

It had been on the list of ‘hypothetical things to achieve at some point’, and was partly achieved last summer when I was part of the paper’s Greenbelt reporting team. But this was an actual commission, that came about through a random combination of Twitter and a college seminar while in France last autumn.

The article, ‘In all the ways thou goest’, was on the subject of prayer while travelling, in the context of the growth of apps and websites that facilitate praying on the move. It derived some inspiration from friends who regularly pray on their commute, tweeting invitations to share requests with the hashtag #trainprayer.

What actually prompted the commission from the Church Times was a tweet of mine from way back in January, when I’d just finished writing up a hypothetical retreat for London Diocese, based around the concept of retreating on the tube. I’d risen to a challenge from one of my tutors who had speculated as to whether it would even be possible to retreat while on the tube. Surely it’s too busy and too stressful to be a place to meet with God?

For a start, I knew that people did use it for just that purpose day in, day out. Back in my commuting days, I did and saw others clutching Bibles or similar on our morning journey. I also knew that the tube has a lot of religious connections, in terms of station names and the history behind them. Finally, I figured you could use the context as a means of shaping who, what and where you prayed for.

You see most of that in the article, but as I needed to make it whole-of-UK friendly, the tube specific factoids were left out – so I thought I’d share them here instead. That way, next time you feel inclined to pray on the tube, you may want to pray into the history of some of the places on the maps above your head. See, Church History and TfL knowledge comes in handy all over the place!!

[Incidentally, I’m indebted to Morven for going through my copy of What’s in a Name and marking every station that has a religious connection – not the funnest Sunday afternoon activity on a weekend in London, but she learnt lots too!]

Blackfriars – name taken from the colour of the habits worn by the Dominican Friars at a monastery on the site from the 13th Century to 1538 when it was abolished by Henry VIII.

Boston Manor – the ‘Manor’ originally belonged to the convent of St Helen’s Bishopsgate.

Bow Church – named after St Mary Bow Church, which has been a place of worship since the 14th Century.

Camden Town – this area of London was originally a manor belonging to St Paul’s Cathedral.

Canon’s Park – six acres of land were granted to the Prior of the St Augustinian canons of St Bartholomew’s, Smithfield in 1331 & were recorded as ‘Canons’ during the 16th century.

Grange Hill – the Grange was originally one of the manors that belonged to Tilty Priory, until the dissolution of the monasteries.

Highbury & Islington – during the 13th Century, the Priory of St John of Jerusalem had a manor here, which was destroyed in 1381.

Highgate – at the ‘high gate’, tolls were collected from travellers wishing to use the Bishop of London’s road across Hornsey Park to Finchley.

Hornchurch – ancient records (1222) refer to a ‘horned church’ or monastery.

Hyde Park Corner – from 1066-1536, Hyde Park belonged to Westminster Abbey

King’s Cross St Pancras – St Pancras is named for Old St Pancras church. [Which I finally visited last week and is fascinating. It definitely deserves its title of ‘old’!]

Liverpool Street – a priory stood here from 1246-1676.

Mansion House – the station was built on what had been the site of Holy Trinity the Less.

Parson’s Green – named after the area surrounding Fulham’s parsonage.

Plaistow – is derived from the Old English for ‘playing place’ and was where mystery plays were staged.

Preston Road – derived from the Old English for ‘priest’ and ‘farm’. A priest is mentioned as owning land in the area in the Domesday Book.

Ruislip Manor – the area once held a priory dependent upon the Norman Abbey of Bec.

St Paul’s – named after the cathedral, which was first built in the 7th Century.

Upminster – means ‘the church on high land’.

Walthamstow Central – derived from the Old English for ‘welcome’ and ‘holy place’.

Whitechapel – named after the white stone chapel of St Mary Matfelon, which was first built in 1329.

Tube Angel

You see, sometimes, having a geeky interest in the tube comes in very useful!

Hidden London: The City Edition

It’s been nearly 3 years since I acquired the fabulous London’s Hidden Walks book, but my ability to actually do many of the walks has not been great. In fact, my parents completed more of them over a weekend in 2012 than I had till this weekend! [I’m now on a mission to do several asap – I did another on Monday, in fact.]

But, the presence of my mother this weekend encouraged us to head out on one that even they hadn’t managed (following on from a Saturday we spent exploring Soho last year) – specifically, the Western City walk. This one, handily included sights not 20 minutes walk from my flat, so we were able to join the loop at hidden feature number 7 and continue around from there.

What I love about this book is that no matter how well I know the area, it always manages to tell me something new. For example, we began our walk at St Sepulchre’s, where a friend of mine is the vicar, but until the walk, I’d no idea that John Smith (of Pocahontas fame) was buried there. Also, despite the area of the walk being one I walk through on a very regular basis, I discovered places I never knew existed – so there is always something for the confirmed Londoner to learn! And I learnt a lot…

If you ever fancy taking a walk around the City, do it on a weekend because it’s totally deserted and you can stop and stare at things without ending up under the feet of a commuter. Saturday was quiet and sunny. The only time we had to deal with people was on the Thames’ Path & St Paul’s, towards the end of the walk. Also, in a first, we bumped into someone else doing the same walk. Fortunately he was either very fast or we were very slow, as we didn’t see him again – doing the walk in tandem could have been awkward, especially after Mum observed that “if we’d been in a Richard Curtis film, you’d have been married by the end of it!”

Newgate drinking fountainThe Newgate Fountain – I’ve walked past this countless times & never noticed it.

Sherlock graffiti

A nugget of info that will probably be included in future books is that Giltspur St is the street onto which Sherlock fell from the roof of St Bart’s. A nearby phone box is dedicated to Sherlock themed graffiti – I was impressed.

Sherlock graffiti

Emerald in the CityA bit of the Emerald City in the City. (Aldermanbury Square)

Shakespeare's Folio Shakespeare gets mentioned a lot around the City – in this instance, a celebration of the first performance of his First Folio at a church that was subsequently destroyed in the blitz.

The GuildhallThe Guildhall. Incredibly, I’d never stood in this square – on a sunny Saturday it was simply stunning. Almost like being in Sienna. Yesterday when walking down Cheapside I realised I could glimpse down one of the sidestreets…

Wren, ReflectedWren, reflected in modernity. A frequent explanation in the book was “the church xxxxx was built in the 12th Century, destroyed in the Great Fire of London, rebuilt by Wren and then gutted in the blitz…” In several cases, only a garden marked the spot (God bless consecrated land!), in others just a tower. In one case, the remains were shipped to Missouri. As you do. 

Our walk also took us through Postman’s Park – which I only discovered the joys of last month – and took us right up to Wesley’s Chapel. The joy of these walks is that you can skip the bits you already know. There’s no need for one Methodist minister and one former Methodist to pay homage to Wesley – we could both name numerous visits there in the past. But, we did take the opportunity to have lunch in the cemetery over the road. We’re classy like that.

One last thing (and you may want to skip this if you’re of a sensitive disposition). The information provided about the walk also gave me a valuable insight into the motivation Medieval street namers had. I’m very fond of unusual/funny/possibly rude street names, and now realise that modern day readers’ minds may not be as dirty as first thought.

Comedy Streets

Take the streets above. That first one is a street I pass frequently – and yes, I took a photo the first time. I’d imagined it had no ‘rude’ connotation but was perhaps connected to poultry (it is close to Smithfields Market) or fighting birds. Our guide instead revealed that this was one of the earliest red-light districts in the City – no dirty minds required here, it’s plain fact! Brilliantly, the guidebook also re-told a story about a scandal that took place on the street in the 18th Century, involving ‘the Cock Lane ghost’. The story is a little complicated, but involved a woman called Fanny who was having an affair. Ultimately, it resulted  in fascinated visitors to the street being invited to communicate with the “scratching Fanny of Cock Lane” – i.e. a ghost. The hilarity.

Love Lane was also a red-light district, as was another street just off Bow Lane. The street no longer exists (or was re-named) but involved the word ‘grope’ and a name for a body part that might be described as Chaucerian. Those Medieval street namers were nothing but forthright!

And as for Prudent Passage? I’ve no idea. It wasn’t a red light passage, it simply amused me and will be added to my collection…

Hidden corners of London

It’s amazing what you can discover in parts of the city that you thought you were familiar with. One diversion, or an attempted short-cut, and all of a sudden you’ve made a delightful discovery.

Lately, I’ve taken to running (on Saturdays – on weekdays, this would be a no-go) through The City, particularly in and around Bart’s Hospital, Smithfield and the Barbican. It’s an area I often walk through, but my most recent discovery was made when realising I’d taken the wrong road and needed a route back to the right one. Spotting a park, I realised it would work as a cut through, so I hot-footed it through it.

I noted it as a nice spot to have a sit down amid the busy-ness of central London and found myself back there while on a head clearing stroll. I posted this picture on Twitter and was rather surprised at the response it received (especially as I don’t consider it to be up to my usual photographic standards!):

Postman's ParkThe fountain in Postman’s Park

Several people seemed to be familiar with it, which I considered slightly odd, given that I’d never heard of it and it’s virtually on my patch. Then I had a tweet that mentioned some memorials – someone else concurred that these were a must-see and I realised that I’d clearly missed something. On that particular afternoon, I entered on the Aldersgate side (next to a Wesley tribute) and had only ventured as far as a bench by the fountain before turning around and leaving again. On my run, I’d entered at Little Britain [yes, that’s an actual street name] and passed through to Aldersgate – so the key feature of the park hadn’t featured either.

What I had missed is actually visible in the above photo. Beyond the fountain, beneath the low roof, is a collection of memorials to those who have died in saving others – officially known as ‘The Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice’ by George Frederic Watts. It’s a collection of plaques remembering just some of the many who have committed such acts and once I successfully found the park’s key feature this afternoon, I realised just how utterly beautiful it is.

Memorial to Heroes

The inscriptions were varied – from children saving playmates from icy water; to men saving women from ‘unmanaged’ horses; to a lady saving a fellow pantomime cast-member from a burning dress; and the first memorial in over a decade – to a hero from 2007:

Memorials

The park in question is known as Postman’s Park, owing (thanks to Wikipedia) to its proximity to the former GPO and the fact that postmen liked to sit there – got to love a honest-to-goodness place name! It’s just across from St Paul’s station, in between Little Britain and Aldersgate, and is thoroughly worth a visit.

Just up from Postman’s Park (either Little Britain or Aldersgate, to London Wall, then left, then another left at a road after Barbican station), is Charterhouse Square. Located behind Smithfield market, my discovery of it last Thursday finally answered a question I’ve been pondering for some time [well, at least 2 weeks]: What’s behind the long brick wall on Old Street, just past St John’s Street? Answer:

Charterhouse The Charterhouse

Super lovely and well-worth a wander to, should you ever be in the vicinity.

Seriously, this city surprises me on a near-daily basis. Long may it continue!