Fleet Street and Smithfield
I took my plan for this Sunday’s stroll from two different guides – City Walks London and Eccentric London by Benedict le Vay. I started at Holborn Tube Station, where I was treated to the site of an open fire merrily burning on the truck painting stripes on the road. Safety? We don’t have that in London.
I passed the home of the BBC World Service, dedicated to the friendship of English speaking peoples. I stopped to admire the Waldorf Hotel, famed for its tea dances in the 1920s. No doubt, like P.G. Wodehouse’s Aunt Augusta, if I had gone in I would have seen Edwin lunching at the Waldorf with a creature.
Passing the Waldorf, I turned down India Place past the statue of Nehru, to find the little church of St Mary-Le-Strand. In Saxon times, this area was the heart of London. The present church is one of those built following the 1711 Act for building new churches in London.
I walked through the quite beautiful space of Somerset House, past Inland Revenue and down to the Thames Embankment. I walked past John Stuart Mill (the people you meet…), past the closed gate to Middle Temple Lane and up Temple Avenue to Fleet Street.
In bygone days, this was the course of the river Fleet – according to Benedict le Vay, the only river to have exploded due to the gas produced by its own effluent. Later of course, Fleet Street was more famous for the gutter press than the gutter. The outlet of the Fleet can still be seen below Blackfriars Bridge.
Just off Fleet Street and up a tiny alleway I found Dr Johnson’s House. In the same little square you can find the bronze statue of Dr Johnson’s cat, Hodge, who, according to Percival Stockdale,
…by his master when caressed
Warmly his gratitude expressed;
And never failed his thanks to purr
Whene’er he stroked his sable fur.
Hodge was presumably fond of oysters, as a pair of shells adorn the statue.
Returning back along Fleet Street toward Blackfriars I passed Wren’s St Bride’s, allegedly the primary inspiration for the tiered wedding cake.
I passed the Old Bailey, took a tour through Smithfield, visited Gloucestershire and found myself back at Ludgate Circus. Owing to the Engineering, Blackfriars Tube Station was out of service, so I had no choice but to make my way up to St Paul’s and home.