Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Postcard from London (2)

Monday, 27th February 2006

‘Let me take you by the hand
And lead you through the streets of London...’

Ralph McTell
Lyrics from Streets of London

The black cab deposited us in the centre of Lincoln’s Inn, the centre of London’s Inns of Court. Once the home of the Knights Templar, lawyers gradually took over the buildings following the demise of the Order. The present buildings go back to the late 15th Century, with the coat of arms over the arch of the Chancery Lane Gatehouse being of Henry VIII. The 17th century poet, John Donne, was a student here, as was Oliver Cromwell.

Our destination on this occasion was the Temple Church, built in 1160 by the Knights Templar. One of the few circular churches surviving in England, it has found new heights of fame since being featured in Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code. Today, however, we were out of luck…it was closed for filming!

Undeterred, we decided to take to the streets of the City and let them lead us to wherever. Ten minutes later, having walked down Fleet Street (imagining the presence of the River Fleet which has been piped to flow under the street) we arrived at the house of Dr Samuel Johnson. Dr Johnson was the 18th century scholar who compiled the first definitive dictionary of the English language (published in 1755). In keeping with the luck of our day, it was closed!

Back to the streets then, down Chancery Lane back to Fleet Street and up towards the Strand. This route took us past the Royal Courts of Justice where, coincidentally, the trial had just started in respect to the possible plagiarism of the book The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail by Dan Brown in his own book The Da Vinci Code. Side stepping the throng of reporters and photographers, we made our way across to the church of St Clement Dane.

The church is now the church of the RAF, following its renovation after the Second World War. It was built in 1680 by Sir Christopher Wren on the site of an older church built by Danish settlers. Dr Johnson attended services here and the crypt, once a place of burial, was where the wife of John Donne was buried. The bells of the church are famous for their ‘Oranges and Lemons’ theme.

Standing outside the church, I had one of those revelatory experiences which occasionally occur when one takes the trouble to walk around London rather than drive. From St Clement Dane, the line of sight allows one to see the spire of St Mary-le-Strand at the Aldwych and, in the distance, the spire of St Martin-in-the-Fields at Trafalgar Square; a neat line of stations of worship and quietude amidst the frenetic thoroughfares which are Fleet Street and the Strand.

Avoiding the Strand, we walked down to the Victoria Embankment and continued our walk by the side of the Thames back to Westminster. Briefly stopping at Somerset House (with a mental note to return to enjoy its exhibitions at leisure) we continued to the House of Parliament where we were expected for lunch.

* * *
After passing through the security checks, we entered the Palace of Westminster through St Stephen’s Entrance. Following a leisurely look at the old Westminster Hall (1097), where we previously attended a reception celebrating the 900th anniversary of the Order of St John, we sauntered through the lobby between the House of Commons and House of Lords, to descend to the dining rooms alongside the Thames.

Today, we were part of a small party of guests of Edward Leigh MP, Conservative Member for Gainsborough and the Rt. Hon Lord Lamont, whose origins were in Grimsby, Lincolnshire.

A convivial lunch followed, with plentiful wine and conversation in grandiose, wood-panelled and historic surroundings – a splendid way to finish a morning’s stroll.

Lunch over, we adjourned to the Visitor’s Gallery to watch the tail-end of Parliamentary Question Time (today on matters of Defence), then back to St James’s and, ultimately, Lincolnshire.

And so 'adieu' to London until our next ‘quick fix’…

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