Wednesday, 28 March 2012

40 Minutes

Along with dozens of commuters, many of whom are gabbling into mobile phones, I alight from the terminated train at Fenchurch Street. Heartily sick of ringtones, I stroll across the concourse and out into the sunny March air. The meeting in Bloomsbury begins in an hour; shall I jump on a tube to Kings Cross or shall I walk?

It's too nice a day to waste. I decide to give my feet a workout.

Across the plaza and past the tower of All Hallows Staining. the rest of the church is gone. When Princess Elizabeth was released from the Tower by her suspicious sister Queen Mary, she came here to give thanks. A short time later, it was the first church to ring its bells in celebration of her accession.

Across Fenchurch street and down Billiter to Leadenhall. Past the inside-out edifice of Lloyds and the Market where Harry Potter bought his first wand, then swing left. There's St Andrews, now a creche with the monument of John Stow gazing studiously down upon the squalling infants. Across a busy junction, glancing up to see the statue of Ceres standing guard over where the corn market once bustled.

Down Cornhill, past the neo-Norman doorway which George Gilbert Scott added to St Michaels, down to the crux where the Royal Exchange, Mansion House and Bank of England jostle for attention. The top floor of Mansion House is a different shade from the rest, having been added a generation later by the son of its original architect.

Along Cheapside, past a relief of Becket stuck to an office wall, marking his birthplace; past St Mary with its balcony and its veggie cafe, its bells ringing out to all Cockneys. I hasten across the junction outside St Pauls station, once the site of a Standard, a conduit and John Leland's resting place. I stroll past the mighty ruined steeple of Christ Church, now a garden over the ashes of Malory the populariser of King Arthur, and past the bland stretch of grass where three Queens are anonymously buried. Now I'm in the neighbourhood where Captain John Smith and the poet Chatterton once roamed. By Holborn Viaduct, statues of the city's first Mayor and most significant Tudor merchant stare haughtily into the distance.

Across Holborn Circus... the big, imposing red building is now on my right, on the site of Furnival's Inn so scathingly described in Dicken's Bleak House. On the other side of the road, the half-timbered row familiar from packets of Old Holborn. Swing right into Grays Inn Road, home of doctors, dentists and barristers in training, lots of cafes and small shops, competing aromas of morning food drifting across your path and tempting your salivary glands.

A short cut left then right into Doughty Street, past the Dickens Museum, the only one of his London homes still standing. Past the old ground of the Foundling Hospital, created by Coram and patronised by Hogarth and Handel. Through a gateway and across St George's Gardens, another old resting place now a public park. One tomb announces the presence of Anne Gibson, the daughter of failed Protector Richard Cromwell. The abolitionist Zachary Macauley is also here, but his presence is unmarked; hopefully his memorial in Westminster Abbey makes up for this oversight.

Deeper into Bloomsbury now, past a training building for soldiers, into a University area with bustling students, bustling Internet cafes and bookshops. Up into Cartwright gardens, where a statue of John Cartwright, erected by public subscription, carries script extolling the virtues of a forgotten political hero.

And finally into the University College building, where I take my seat 40 minutes after stepping from Fenchurch Street station. Order is called, and we talk about the future...

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