After having lunch at the British Museum on Tuesday, I decided to take a walk through the city. My eventual destination was the Science Museum, with a rendezvous time agreed of 5pm. It was just after 2 so 3 hours of wandering beckoned. I was headed for the Strand, following up on a tip, and walked down Southampton Row and the Kingsway. I walked through the crowds of people, many in more of a hurry than me, some narrowly averting death as they crossed the road.
Being a radio geek, as well as an architecture one, I was particularly interested in Bush House, for a long time the base of the BBC World Service, now relocated to Broadcasting House. I invariably fall asleep with my radio on, usually after Radio 4 has shut down and reverted to the World Service. Oftentimes the World Service is more insightful with a broader perspective on the day’s news, looking more globally, or just a wee bit. As much as I have my gripes with the BBC, including their coverage of Scottish football and the typically mealy-mouthed way they have handled the recent report into sexual abuses, it remains one of the foremost broadcasters in the world and rightly so. Bush House is a fine building, now part of King’s College London, with its frontage splendidly grand with pillars, sculptures and domed entrance.
From there I turned towards the Royal Courts of Justice, not so far away, passing a statue of Samuel Johnson, who even in statue form had a smug coupon. The Old Bailey looks like a cathedral rather than a court complex – many of the British state’s institutions do, really – and it was very familiar from many sightings on the news. The place was busy but I couldn’t see any camera crews, suggesting the judicial business of the day was suitably mundane. To be fair, it looks better in person than on the news, where it itself looks part of the ordinary.
Somerset House was flying a yellow flag with a smiley face in the middle. According to the Creative Review, it is to do with Somerset House’s Utopia season of exhibitions and other creative happenings. It reminded me of an old workplace where a similar flag on the wall irked me immensely. So much so that it came down and was replaced by a picture of waves breaking onto a sandy beach. I am pro-smiling but anti-forced jollity, you see. The courtyard at Somerset House is stunning and I will try to get back for a proper look another time soon. It reminded me a bit of Trinity College Dublin architecturally. Thinking back on it now, I am thinking on how in many other cities, Somerset House would be the major tourist draw and it just shows the scale of London that it isn’t, though it was still busy.
Walking down by the Savoy led me past a statue of the scientist Michael Faraday, who I studied a few years ago during an OU course. Nearby was another BBC connection, a plaque denoting that a building on Savoy Place housed the BBC from 1923 until 1931, when Broadcasting House was built in Portland Place. A few years ago I read a biography of Lord Reith, the first Director General of the Corporation, which talked a lot about the building and how Reith insisted on locking it up for the last time, just as he personally shut down one of its transmitters a few years later when he demitted his post.
As I walked, I took in the architecture, a mixture of Georgian and more modern. I was particularly intrigued by gaps between the buildings, where developments and calculations missed and had some left over. Victoria Embankment Gardens had a statue of Robert Burns, his hair quite as messy as my own mop at the current time, which was a cue to hum along to one of Burns’s tunes as I walked.
Eventually I found where I was heading for, John Adam Street, the Adelphi and the RSA, as suggested by one of this blog’s readers. John Adam was one of the Adam brothers, architects of some of the finest buildings in the country, including on John Adam Street itself. He is buried in Greyfriars kirkyard in Edinburgh, incidentally. The Adelphi itself replaces some Adam-designed buildings though is no less fine, art-deco and impressive, looming over the street. It is a fascinating building though one I would need to look at more in order to see whether it works within its surroundings. More generally, it is a beautiful street, full of individually interesting buildings all part of a very varied area that could proudly have stood in any city in the world.
From there, I headed for the Embankment. I seem to have a habit of being on the Embankment when I am in London, paying particular attention to Cleopatra’s Needle which I remember reading about in a library book when I was a kid. I had vague plans to walk all the way to the Science Museum and just looked around at my surroundings, getting steadily more irritated at the sight of the Palace of Westminster ahead. I tend to feel a bit nationalistic in Westminster and the Proclaimers song ‘Cap In Hand’ passed my lips, at least until I fell silent as I felt a look from a girl on a bench. Not a favourable look, I guessed.
I walked past the Palace and sat in the park just beyond on Millbank. I looked across the river to Lambeth and sat and thought for a few minutes. I had done a lot of walking that day and the previous day too so was beginning to feel weary. A check of Google Maps also discouraged me – 54 minutes on foot was the same as from the other end of the Embankment, if I took the right route. Instead I walked straight back up to Westminster Underground and hit the Circle line, a short time later ending up at South Kensington.
I will write a post at some point soon about the Science Museum, the main reason for being in that particular part of the world.
Writing about this walk has been like downloading a zip file, a lot of details in a small space. There was a lot to take in and to process. The distilled essence here hopefully doesn’t detract or subtract from the actual experience. Being in London was fine, not entirely enjoyable in some parts, particularly being on the very crowded Tube, but I have made some peace with it this time. Even if I had to get slightly enraged in the process.