Saturday, 19 March 2011

(19 Mar 2011) West End and Holborn

The map for this secret walk

St. Martin-in-the-Fields
The Crypt's cafeOnly a relaxed walk in the West End this time, with the meeting point being inside the crypt of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square. Today it's a coffee shop and probably the most atmospheric in the area.

The current church is the third on that spot. There was one there in the 13th century, which was rebuilt by Henry VIII three centuries later so that plague victims would stop passing from in front of his Whitehall Palace. At the time, the church was literally in the fields, between the cities of Westminster and London. The current church was built in the 18th century and promiment figures christened there include King Charles II, Francis Bacon etc. Architecturally, it is quite interesting too. In fact, after the architect published the plans with a bestselling book in America, St. Martin's-in-the-Fields influenced heavily what we now consider the iconic style of New England churches.
Inside St Martin's in the Fields Outside St. Martin's-in-the-Fields Outside the crypt of St Martin's in the Fields

Trafalgar Square
Although most Londoners visit Trafalgar Square often, few know a lot about it. In my opinion, it symbolises the birth of modern Britain and it's no surprise that Hitler declared once that he would transfer Nelson's column to Berlin to mark his final victory.

Nelson's ColumnTrafalgar Square is a great source of QI trivia. For example:

- The lions are made of the bronze of the French cannons captured at the Battle of Trafalgar
- Nelson's column is 56m high and Nelson's statue itself is almost 6m, although it looks much smaller from the ground. Nelson faces SW towards his fleet and flagship at Portsmouth
- One of the statues around the square is George Washington's. Washington once said that he would never set foot in London again. So, soil was brought from Virginia and that's what his statue is standing on
4th Plinth- From the very beginning, Trafalgar square has had fourth plinths, but due to disputes and lack of funds the fourth was never permanently occupied. It is usually occupied by controversial works of contemporary art

Trafalgar HawkUntil recently there were thousands of pigeons there, but the council has now got rid of them with the use of specially trained hawks, at a cost of about £60,000 a year.

The statue of Charles I that stands in Trafalgar square is from 1633. After Charles I was beheaded, the statue was given to a local brazier to melt down, but he hid it instead and made a fortune selling trinkets supposedly made from the statue's bronze. After the restoration of monarchy, the statue reappeared and Charles II mounted it so that his father would face the scene of his execution outside the Banqueting House on Whitehall.

National Gallery
One of the best galleries in the world, the National Gallery houses some of my favourite paintings. Picking a few of them:

Turner's impressionistic "Fighting Temeraire" showing one of the Battle of Trafalgar's old veteran ships being towed by the new technology of the steam power.
Turner's 'The Fighting Temeraire'

Caravaggio's "Supper at Emmaus" magnificently capturing the surprise of Jesus's disciples when he reveals himself.
Caravaggio's 'Supper at Emmaus'

Van Dyck, the image maker of Charles I, making him look the divine ruler that he wanted to be, not long before his execution.
Van Dyke's 'Equestrian Portrait of Charles I'

De La Roche showing the execution of Lady Jane Grey, the 9-day queen, who was deposed in favour of Mary Tudor (nicknamed Bloody Mary for killing 300 protestants).
De La Roche

Joseph Wright, who depicted science in the divine way previously seen only in religious paintings.
Joseph Wright's 'An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump'

Most authorities believe that Soho took its name from an old hunting cry, which also later became the Duke of Monmouth's battle cry during the English Civil War. Soho today is best-known for its music scene, theatres, restaurants, and of course the sex industry.
Again several QI trivia for this area:

The attic of 22 Frith Street is where television was invented by John Baird. When he finalised his invention, Baird ran downstairs, grabbed the first person he saw and took him upstairs to pose in front of the camera for what would be the first ever demonstration of a TV. Baird then visited the Daily Express to promote his invention. Terrified, the news editor said to his staff: "For God's sake, go down to reception and get rid of a lunatic who's down there. He says he's got a machine for seeing by wireless! Watch him — he may have a razor on him".

28 Dean Street is where Karl Marx lived. He was so poor that three of his children died there. His wife's uncle was Philips, the multi-millionaire founder of the Philips company. Philips refused to lend them any money because he disapproved of Marx's socialist activities. It was at that time that Marx was researching in the British Library to write Das Kapital.

The Marlboro brand of cigarettes takes its name from Soho's Great Marlborough street, where the company's factory in London was situated.

One of Soho's seven nosesScattered around Soho are seven sculpted noses. The legend says that if you are lucky enough to find all seven you will become infinitely wealthy. Many locals and tourists have been walking around Soho to spot them, but none has ever reported finding them all.

Next, we stopped for lunch at a Belgian pub before moving off towards Holborn.

Lincoln's Inn fields
This is where Anthony Babington was quartered in 1586, for the attempt to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I. The process was so messy that the queen ordered that his accomplices would be simply hanged.

Hunterian Museum
Certainly not for the squeamish, the museum houses more than 3,500 anatomical and pathological preparations, fossils, paintings, drawings and specimens from the collection of John Hunter and others. Exhibits include the skeleton of the 7ft 7in tall 'Irish giant' Charles Byrne, surgical instruments from the 17th century, carbolic sprays used by Lister, the tooth of a megatherium (an extinct giant sloth) donated by Darwin, Winston Churchill's dentures etc.

Sir John Soane's museum is on the opposite side of the same square.