Walk Three: - Temple to Temple


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This walk takes us through the Saxon town of London: Covent Garden, the Inns of Court, The John Soane Museum and the Freemasons Temple. You'll find out how one of Britain's finest novelists started the world's first Police force, where to sell your story to the press, and how you can sit in Dickens' favourite chair - still where he left it over 100 years ago. Also why policemen wear pinnafores, and where to get the best croissants, and meet one of London's most frequently sighted ghosts.



Temple Tube Station
                      - interwar art deco Temple tube station is one of our favourites - one of the few that retains its pre-war ambiance. Nearby George Orwell roughed it with tramps in his researches for 'Down and Out in Paris And London'. Tramps and dropouts still congregate at the back of the Savoy and Adelphi Hotels - there's a complete street of them looking like a film set, which I don't recommend you explore. The doss house Orwell stayed in is still extant, in Lower Marsh, behind Waterloo Station, trying to go upmarket. He actually slept out on the Embankment - the lowest of the Tramps' stations of the cross - and offers this advice: get your bench early and stuff your clothes with newspaper. Of course Orwell was writing before the current wave of drugs transformed the homeless scene. On the Strand at night you're likely to be begged every fifty feet or so: but if you hang around you'll see there's hot food in abundance - there is no need to go hungry in London.

On top of Temple Tube station is an observation platform giving a view of the spread of the South Bank. It's a pity the Embankment is such a busy road - it is a local legend that every London cabbie has to take the Embankment every trip they make - even if you're going nowhere near. The embankments were made as early as Roman times to stop flooding of the tidal Thames. The present one is by Bazalgette, the architect of London's sewers. The walk starts and ends at Temple tube - so you can really join it at any point. You can even do it backwards. However Temple is closed on Sundays, as are many of the sights, but if you still want to do the walk click HERE and start at Holborn tube.

We begin by walking West, towards the Houses of Parliament along the Embankment, passing the front of Somerset House - formerly the home of the Inland revenue (tax) offices and now home to three museums and galleries and a couple of nice restaurants as well as the best courtyard in London. A number of historical rooms are open - mainly with a maritime interest. Around Christmas it's home to a free ice rink, and the rest of the year has a fountain display (check out the times of the shows) which is worth watching.

Enter through the main door off the Embankment- which leads to the Gilbert Collection (we have mixed feelings about this - it's comprehensive, but boring) and the Hermitage Museum (ditto). Waterloo sunset - a view
                      from the Bridge towards the City You can go upstairs to the courtyard level and back out onto the terrace which overlooks the river - a great place to have tea or coffee, or eat your sandwiches. If you want a great view of the Thames walk out onto Waterloo Bridge (great at sunset as the Kinks pointed out). The best view is when a glowering storm is brewing in the East, but the city buildings are set aflame by the setting sun, gold against a slate grey background.

The fountain court of Somerset House,
                      spectacular at night Through the fountain court and out through the main arch, don't overlook the Courtauld Collection - a small but perfectly formed gallery with some famous pictures.

Immediately opposite is St Mary-le-Strand Church (with its twin St Clement Danes to your right) both of them pleasant churches. St Mary is a neat Baroque style building dating from 1711 - Charles Dickens' parents were married here in 1809. St Clements is reputed to date back to the Danish occupation in the 10th century - parts of the original church still exist. It then became a Templar Church - after they were suppressed it came under the Bishop of Exeter, who lived in the Strand, rather than near his flock.

Today's building is by Wren, who repaired the building that had escaped the Great Fire, but lapsed into decay (cf St Paul's Cathedral). Samuel Johnson worshipped here and a plaque marks his seat. Buried here is the boy whose cheating move at football gave rise to Rugby. The Church's claim to be behind the rhyme 'Oranges & Lemons' is false (see St Clements in the City for that) but Orwell (who worked at the BBC which has its foreign language service nearby) evidently believed it and used the conceit in '1984'. Today's church is the official Church of the RAF and has much aviation regalia.

We'll turn left and proceed along the Strand: on your left is Savoy Court - the only road in Britain where you drive on the right. In the court is the beautiful Savoy theatre (it came before the hotel) where Gilbert and Sullivan's Savoy Operas were produced. Inside it's an exquisite monument of art Deco - but after a fire in the 90s it has been extensively restored. It's a pity that the quality of the drama there so often fails to match the decor. Look out for the plaques on the walls outside giving the tumultuous history of the palace that stood there.
It's worth poking your head in the Savoy Hotel which is the best Art Deco building in London. Wander round, have tea. It was built in 1889 and had Cesar Ritz as its manager and Escoffier as its chef (his cookware is still owned by the hotel). An innovation at the time was a large number of bathrooms (!) and some of the first electric lifts in the capital.

Out of the Savoy and continuing west along the Strand we turn up Southampton Street towards Covent Garden. Covent Garden area is a tourists playground by day - and a drinker's paradise by night. It was here that Henry Higgins met Liza Doolittle. It was a rowdy area in the 17th and 18th centuries, and prostitution was rife - Fielding (vide infra) called it 'the great square of Venus'. One peculiar usage was the throwing of dead cats at politicians electioneering here.
One of Hitchcock's best early colour thrillers was set here in the last days of the old fruit'n'veg market and shows the area as busy as it is today. The old vegetable market has been moved west and the piazza and buildings converted to a tourist-orientated market.
any spare change, Guv?The quality of the buskers at the west and east end of the markets is very high - they are auditioned and charged heavily for the privilege so please don't stint on the loose change if you enjoy their shows: many a professional artiste started here.

Imagine the market as a cross - the northern arm leads up to Neal Street with trendy shops and Neal's yard with it's excellent cheese shop and new-age boutiques - wander up and back down. The East arm extends out to The Theatre Royal (1603) - the backstage tours are recommended and can be arranged at the theatre itself. The history of the building is practically the history of English theatre post-Shakespeare. The much vaunted ghost appears at matinees in the circle, though we have never seen it. In the southeast corner is the London transport Museum (good shop - excellent for gifts) and in the northeast corner is the Opera House, which has recently been enlarged at great public cost, demolishing London's last remaining coffee house, Bedford's (of the 18th C) in the process. Aristocratic patronage blinded London's City Council's planning officers to this sacrilege - we're no great fans of the Royal Opera house which is mismanaged, expensive, and has enormous power with the elite.

The west arm of the cross (on your left as you emerge into the Piazza) has St Paul's, the actor's church, with a pleasant walled garden behind amid the hubbub of Covent garden. King Street, the north edge of the churchyard has fine neo-Georgian shops. Paul's Patisserie, a new addition at the West entrance to the Churchyard on Bedford Street is the best French Bakers in the centre, and has a small tea-room.

Mull around, explore. If you go to the northeast corner of the new part of the piazza walk you can walk through the Opera House buildings (take a peek at Floral Hall) and out the other side into Bow Street. It was here Britain's Police force was conceived by Magistrate Henry Fielding (great author - of 'Tom Jones' among others) in 1748, the Bow Street runners. They remained a separate force, paid in part by a bounty system, for ten years after the founding of the 'Peelers' in 1829. The police station and magistrate's court (1735), opposite the Opera House is the scene of an annual season of Gilbert And Sullivan's Opera 'Trial by Jury' in the Covent Garden festival (tickets sell like hot cakes) which takes place in the courtroom where it was originally set. However, exceptionally in 2001 it'll take place in the Royal Courts of Justice.

Up Bow Street and turn right, onto Long Acre and then Great Queen Street, heading East. Ahead is the Freemason's Temple - the main building being a inter-war addition to the Victorian one built around the original which dates from 1775. You can visit - free hourly tours 1100 - 1600 Monday - Friday. The blue staircase is well worth it and you can also go into the Temple itself (The Covent Garden festival also does plays and Operas there - including Mozart's Masonic 'Magic Flute'). The shops along Great Queen Street display Masonic regalia. You'll see men in unfashionable dark suits entering the side door - Masons (including a large number of Policemen - hence corruption allegations) - their little suitcases carry their ceremonial trowels and pinnafores. It's serious, really - they'll explain all on the tour of the temple the result of their their new-founded openness.

Crossing Kingsway at the end of Great Queen Street ( a hundred yards south of Holborn tube station) a passageway leads to Lincoln's Inn Fields, much improved since it was fenced off from vagrants - there's even a semi-decent restaurant in the park. The Architecture round Lincoln's Inn Fields displays a wide range of styles. We'll walk round clockwise, pausing at Sir John Soane's museum - a miniature British Museum - and one of our favourites - admission is free. Continue round to the East side, and you can enter the Inn itself to become a barrister all
                      you have to do is eat (it actually was an Inn - in the American sense - originally, now houses lawyers) via the big gates from the square. There's a beautiful walled garden, and a good selection of buildings - including the Hall where 'A Midsummer's Night's Dream' was first performed.

It's worth going right through the Inn to Chancery Lane, and back in through the great Tudor-style gates. Many of Britain's greatest legal brains are here, scurrying round the ancient staircases, where blackboards list the 'residents' at the entrance. The four Inns of Court go back a long way and were founded to organise Law Students along Oxbridge lines, so any resemblence to Oxbridge Colleges is intentional. Lincolns , the oldest, was founded in 1422, with Middle Temple (1501) Inner Temple Inner Temple (1505) and Gray's (1569) following. Their antecedent buildings date from 1292 - so do some of the laws which still govern England. However the websites are first-rate, up-to-date and have excellent maps and photos.Bacon built a venue for Shakespeare

Lincoln's still retains its complete 16th C gatehouse (1518), and much of the architecture can be traced back to 1489 (the Old Hall). The chapel dates back to 1619. Ben Johnson as a boy, laid the bricks along with his father a Bricklayer. Has an illustrious list of former students: William Penn, John Donne (who founded the chapel), Oliver Cromwell, Pitt the Younger, amongst others. See old buildings, old hall, chapel, garden and new square.

We leave the Inn via it's south entrance onto Carey Street, through the porter's lodge, reminiscent of that of an Oxford College. We're at the back of the Royal Courts of Justice (civil cases) a magnificent neo-romantic building by Scott. You can take a guided tour on the first (working) Monday and Tuesday of each month (see our 'Historic' section for details, but you can wander in unaccompanied any time, some impressive trials go on here and if there is a posse of press photographers gathered outside it might be worth going into the courtroom to see what they're on about - good way to catch the likes of Lord Archer, popstar Michael Jackson or Sting - celebs do their civil justice cases here, suing their managers, or newspapers.
If you are a Dickens fan turning right will bring you to 'The Olde Curiosity Shoppe' on Portugal Street (a detour of a few hundred yards). If not continue on into Bell Yard. Which ever way you go, continuing South will bring you onto the Strand again at the Front entrance to the Courts, which you can visit.

The Strand is the birthplace of England's tea obsession, with Twining's establishing themselves there as early as 1706 (number 216) - the shop is still there today and sells gift-orientated boxes of tea. We proceed East until it transforms into Fleet Street - once synonymous with Journalism (the Wig and Pen Club at 229 the Strand, opposite the court was once where scurrilous gossip was sold to journalists by those appearing in court). The Journalists have all moved out - to Canary Wharf in Docklands and up towards King's Cross - but the frontages of the buildings like the old 'Express' building still recall Evelyn Waugh's satire 'Scoop'. Reuters new agency is still on Fleet St - the man who started off with carrier pidgeons in the Franco-Prussian war, having progressed to satellites and telexes.

Further along Fleet St. is the timbered entrance to 'The Temple' - we'll come back to it later. Continuing along Fleet street we pass St Dunstans in the West church - a good old monument with a nice interior, but since it's re-opening as the headquarters of the Romanian Orthodox church in Britain it's been nigh impossible to get inside. Worth trying though. If not, you can see the clocktower with the statues of Gog and Magog which strike the hours.

Turn left up Fetter lane and then right into West Harding Street (follow the signs for Dr Johnson's House) entering a warren of passageways, at the midst of which is Dr Johnson's house off Gough Square (only visit the inside if you're a fan, though many enjoy their visit we find it a bit spartan). Wend your way South back onto Fleet Stret and visit 'Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese', at No 145, one of London's most famous pubs. Dickens' place is still kept for him - (though you can sit in the chair, he hasn't turned up for over 100 years, it's the table to the right of the fireplace in the ground floor room opposite the bar) - Dr Johnson stole the chair he used to sit in the nearby Cock Tavern and it's still in his house.

It was originally a chophouse as well selling the sort of pies mentioned in Blackadder. Virtually everyone who's anyone came here: Reynolds, Gibbon, Garrick, Tennison, Thackeray, Wilkie Collins, Mark Twain, Rooseveldt, Conan-Doyle, Yeats (many of them as tourists getting a taste of Johnsonia!). The pub parrot, whose specialty was imitating champagne corks, died in 1926, and an obituary appeared in 200 newspapers.

When you're suitably refreshed, go back West along Fleet Street and turn into 'the Temple' - the Inner and Middle Inns of Court opposite the end of Chancery Lane. (See the websites, details above). Make sure you visit Prince Henry's room . This is a great area with several courts, wander round to see them all - above all don't miss the Temple church, one of London's oldest.

We leave the temple via Middle Temple Lane (don't forget to explore both sides of this street before you leave) back out onto the Embankment where a right turn will bring you back to Temple tube, where we started - if it's a Sunday you're now halfway through! Go to the top of the page to continue.....

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