I have been to London twice before. Once as a young girl with my mum during the traditional Autumn Holiday, and once after a crazy New Years Eve in Portugal celebrating the arrival of 2006.
I don’t remember much apart from China Town from my first visit and my disappointment of Portobello Road from my second. Thus, I must admit I was not exactly over enthusiastic when my boyfriend dreamt of us visiting London. However, last year for his birthday I gave him a plane ticket to London, and finally we found the time to fit in a long weekend trip.
But seeing as it is a long time since any of us visited London, we wanted to make the most of it. Most of all I have been looking forward to the pubs. Ever since my trip to Ireland and Dublin, I have longed for that special pub feeling. Moreover, we wanted to go sightsee. We wanted to spend a day on the top ten picks for London. And thirdly, I wanted to experience the Brick Lane Market and Sunday UpMarket while my boyfriend was dreaming up plans to eat a full English breakfast. Looking back, I can proudly say that we managed it all plus a little more.
We arrived Thursday evening at our hotel near Paddington Station and headed down to Little Lebanon on Edgware Road where we found a charming and very local Lebanese restaurant. The area is full of Lebanese restaurants and coffee shops and quite a pleasant and interesting street to walk down.
Since our plan was to do the my-feet-will-bleed-at-the-end-half-marathon-sightseeing tour on Friday, we went to bed early on our first night, attempting to fall asleep in the hard uncomfortable twin beds of our small and noisy hotel room.
City of London
Friday began at Temple Subway Station and our first spontaneous addition to our tour was the near-by church St. Clement Danes. I must admit it was the name that drew us near, and after our visit I did a bit of quick research on the name, the origin of the church and the Danish Vikings. While the present church which is neatly situated on The Strand was build by the design of Sir Christopher Wren between 1680 and 1682 and the interior was rebuilt after it blazed out during the London blitz on May 10th 1941, it is believed that the original church on the spot was build by Danes settling around The Strand during the reign of Danish Viking kings.
Canute the – what’d you say?
England was overrun by Viking conquests in the 9th century AD and in 865 a large army of Danish Vikings – amongst these the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok, whom most know from the HBO series Vikings – invaded England. Ten years into the campaign the Danes controlled East Anglia, Northumbria and Mercia, leaving out only Wessex. These conquests resulted in many Danish warriors settling down in northern and eastern England, marrying local women and intermingling with the Anglo-Saxon population. While the Vikings ruled England until 954 AD their influence lasted for centuries, and surveys have shown that the English have quite a bit of raging Viking blood running through their blood.
In 1003, the Vikings returned to the English throne in the guise of Sweyn Forkbeard. Sweyn was King of Denmark between circa 960 and 1014 and is mostly known for his weird nickname and the fact that his father Harald, with the even weirder nickname Bluetooth, converted Denmark to Christianity. Some however have also named him the last Viking King of Denmark. As atrue Viking he planned and executed a number of invasions and conquests along the English coast in the first decade of the 1th century. The cause for these invasions was revenge after the English King Æthelred had massacred a large number of Danish settlers in England in 1002 , also known as the St. Brice’s Day Massacre. Some even argue that his sister Gunhilde and her family were amongst the victims of the massacre. After a series of invasions and demands of Danegeld, which pretty much means tribute to Danes, he and his son Knud reconquered England in 1013. He was crowned the King of England in December 1013 and remained such for the remaining two months of his life.
Three years after his death and after the sudden death of King Æthelred’s son Edmund Ironside, his second eldest son Knud gained the throne of England, which he held until his death in 1035. At the time of his death Knud ruled over Denmark, Norway, England, parts of Scotland, parts of Sweden and areas on the Eastern side of the Baltic Sea – awarding him the nickname the Great. England remained under the rule of the Knytlinga kings until 1042.
The Viking conquests of England and the later rule of the Knytlinga kings established a large Danish settlement in England, even establishing areas under Danelaw – Danish Law, which was referred to for centuries later. A large group of settlers lived at the present day The Strand, and St. Clement Danes is a reminder of their part in English history and heritage.
The church is named after Saint Clement of Rome who is the patron saint of mariners and many churches in Scandinavia have been named after him, including Aarhus Cathedral. Danes have after all always been seafarers.
After it was hit during the London blitz in 1941, the church was restored and re-consecrated in October 1958 by funds from the Royal Air Force. Since then it has been the Central Church of the Royal Air Force.
St. Pauls or Pub lunch?
After enjoying the peace of the beautiful St Clement the Danes, we headed up the Strand as it turned into Bond Street. I loved this walk, feeling as if I was smack in the middle of a Jane Austen book, and in stead of London buses, horse drawn carriages would scurry down the road.
We ended up as all tourists ultimately do with the choice of whether to pay the outrages £18 for access to St. Paul’s Cathedral or not. We decided against it opting for a peaceful rest in the charming green park behind the church before heading up St. Martin Le Grands.
As lunch time was approaching we decided to join the crowds at Lord Raglan, a charming pub filled to the brim with lunch hour guests from the surrounding financial headquarters. I was rather pleased that my boyfriend had convinced me to do our heavy sightseeing through the City of London on Friday rather than during the weekend, as I imagine the area and pubs would have been dead empty outside office hours.
After lunch we crossed the road to the pleasant Postman’s Park and the iconic Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. There is something so humble and beautiful about this memorial, reading the names of real people, who sacrificed themselves in an attempt to safe others. Whispers in the wind of long lost lives, heroes of everyday life whose only reward was their own untimely death.
Daughter of a bricklayer’s labourer
Who by intrepid conduct saved 3 children from a burning house in Union Street Borough at the cost of her own young life
April 24, 1885
of Lincoln Court
Great Wild Street
Rushed into a burning house to save a neighbours children and perished in the flames
July 28, 1873
Edmund Emery of 272 King’s Road Chelsea
Leapt from a Thames steamboat to rescue a child and was drowned
July 31, 1874
After walking through the streets of London, passing the Roman walls of ancient Londinium, walking down Gracechurch Street and passing The Monument, we finally found our way to the Thames, strolling down towards the Tower of London and London Bridge.
On the other side of the Thames we discovered the hidden gem of Shad Thames with its beautiful cobbled streets and iron bridges. Shad Thames is a street which runs through Butler’s Wharf from London Bridge to Saviours Dock. The area of Butler’s Wharf and Saviour’s Dock has been a warehouse district and part of the Upper Pool of London for centuries, and was central in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist from 1837-9, as the place where Bill Sikes den is located and where he dies by falling off a roof. At the time the area was described by Dickens as the filthiest and strangest localities hidden in London and a Venice of Drains, but with the trade expansions of the Victorian era the district grew into its hay days with many of the present day warehouses on Shad Thames dating from the last decades of the 19th century.
Up until the post WW2 era the district was central to London with the warehouses on Shad Thames housing huge quantities of tea, coffee, spices and other goods, which were unloaded and loaded onto river boats. Yet, after the Pool of London lost its shipping to coastal deep-water container ports further east the area was abandoned and the last warehouse closed in 1972. After a decade of abandonment and derelict, the area of Butler’s Wharf and Saviour’s Dock was restored and renovated as the warehouses were converted into expensive flats and a fashionable residential area. Today, many of the warehouses are named for the commodities previously stored in them. Thus, today the old warehouses are named Coriander Court or Saffron Wharf, Tea Trade Court or Vanilla and Sesame Court.
After walking from Shad Thames and the long way down Jamaica Road to Bermondsey Station, we took the tube East to North Greenwich from where we took the Thames Clippers from North Greenwich Pier to London Eye and Westminister. The 45 minutes were a wonderful chance of relaxing our tired feet, but as you are probably well aware, if you’ve read my blogs before, I can’t sit still when there are opportunities to photograph, and sailing on the Thames I couldn’t help standing on the tip of my toes most of the way, camera in hand and leaving me deadbeat tired when we finally reached the London Eye, and the second part of my-feet-will-bleed-at-the-end-half-marathon-sightseeing tour.
Read about Westminster in my next blog