Being a Tourist in London

During last week’s heatwave we made one of our rare visits to London. I can’t remember the last time I went, probably it was over two or three years ago when I attended a course for work. Such visits meant travelling in by train, dashing to the course venue and seeing very little of London. So it was strange to be in London with the whole day devoted to sightseeing.

First we went to the Museum of London – my first time there. Some of its galleries are closed as they are being redeveloped but there was still plenty to see – the history of London up to 1666. The highlights for me were the gallery showing Medieval London AD410-1558, topical for me as I’d just finished reading Company of Liars a novel of the plague by Karen Maitland, and the exhibition of the Great Fire of London 1666. I was also fascinated by the shoes on display – the long-pointed toe, or ‘poulaine’, popular in London in the 1380s, with the toe measuring up to 4 inches long, stuffed with moss or hair. The 16th/17th century jewellry display is just beautiful.

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museum-highlightsIn the Museum shop I bought a booklet of the Museum Highlights to remind me of what I’d seen, and a mug showing the Houses of Parliament and a red London double-decker bus.

Next up was a walk from the Museum along London Wall to Wren’s Monument. I was delighted to see the remains of the original City Wall outside the Museum, including a thirteenth century tower.

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As we were on our way to see Wren’s Monument commemorating the Great Fire of London we didn’t have time to stop and look at anything else, but I took photos of various sights along the way including St Alban’s Church Tower, sandwiched on a traffic island in Wood Street. I didn’t know what it was but thought it looked so incongruous between modern buildings. According to various websites it may date back to AD 930. The rest of the church was destroyed in the Great Fire, subsequently rebuilt by Christopher Wren in 1685, only to be bombed in the Blitz in 1940. The remaining perpendicular tower with its pinnacles is now dwarfed by modern buildings.

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The Royal Exchange (now a luxurious shopping centre) – you can just see the Gherkin in the background.

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And this golden statue caught my eye

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It’s Ariel, or the Spirit of the Winds, on the Bank of England on Tivoli Corner, by Sir Charles Wheeler.

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And here is Wren’s Monument, a Doric order column made of Portland stone with a viewing tower. It’s 202 feet tall, which is the distance from the base of the monument to the shop on Pudding Lane where the fire started. I didn’t go up it – my legs wouldn’t take all those stairs but others with me did – maybe I can get one of their photos.

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The photo above is of the viewing tower and if look closely at the enlarged picture (click on it)you can just make out my son and grandson looking down.

And finally here is Tower Bridge taken from London Bridge.

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D H Lawrence

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At the weekend D and I went to Nottingham and whilst there we visited D H Lawrence’s birthplace at Eastwood, 8 miles from Nottingham. 8A Victoria Street is the house where Lawrence was born on 11 September 1885 and I think it is a  fascinating place. The house was newly built when the Lawrence family moved there in 1883, one of several rows of houses built for the miners by the local colliery company, Barber Walker and Co. It’s a redbrick two-up, two-down standing in a row of terraced houses. The adjoining end terrace house is now a museum and shop.
Lawrence Birthplace Museum

We were the only visitors and we had a most informative and interesting guided tour of the house – it was as though the family had just left, with the fire lit in the kitchen range and the table laid out with examples of everyday objects of a miner’s family. Although the furniture dates from Lawrence’s early childhood some of it, such as the chiffonier had actually belonged to the Lawrence family.  We saw the parlour, the ‘best’ room, only used for visitors, such as the vicar. The parlour window was used as a shop window displaying clothing and lace made by Lydia, Mrs Lawrence, although the customers had to come to the back door to buy items. We also saw the kitchen – the heart of the house, and the bedrooms, one where Lawrence was born and the children’s bedroom where they all slept together in one bed. Outside is the washhouse, where children on school visits can experience a little of what it was like when water had to be drawn by pump and heated in a copper to do the weekly washing. There is no bathroom, of course, and baths were also taken weekly in a tin bath in front of the fire in the kitchen, with all the family using the same water.

Lydia’s family thought she had married beneath her, even though Arthur her husband was a “butty”, responsible for a team of miners working at the coalface. Lydia had been a non-certified teacher and having lived in Kent she didn’t have the same accent as her neighbours, who felt she was putting on airs and graces.  D H Lawrence was known to his family as Bert. He was a sickly child who missed a lot of schooling but still went on to win a scholarship at the grammar school. Mrs Lawrence had ambitions for all her children, encouraging them in their education and careers; in contrast to Arthur who hated books, she loved to read, borrowing books from the Mechanics’ Institute library close by the house. Even though Lawrence only lived there for the first two years of his life I found it easy to picture him and his brothers and sisters living there.

In the museum next to the family house one room upstairs is full of his paintings and some of his personal belongings, such as his travelling trunk. I knew very little about Lawrence before and didn’t know that he painted. Some are landscapes and some are nudes. Nothing too shocking was on display but as with his book Lady Chatterley’s Lover, they were considered immoral and shocking at the time. You can also watch a short DVD on Lawrence outlining his life and works. Downstairs is a small shop with Lawrence’s books on sale and other gift items. My visit had made me more interested in Lawrence so I bought a D H Lawrencebiography of him by John Worthen, D H Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider. Worthen was the Professor of D H Lawrence Studies at the University of Nottingham where he is now Emeritus Professor.

Eastwood, itself seems to be a museum of Lawrence, which is remarkable really as he himself felt out of place there, although he loved the countryside around, calling it “the country of my heart”. There is a Blue Line Trail around the roads leading to the houses he lived in and some of the places he used to visit. In the photo below of Princes Street you can just see the blue line on the paving slabs. Lawrence’s Uncle Walter and his family lived here close to Victoria Street (the bollards mark the junction with Victoria Street).

Lawrence Heritage 2 

We also visited the D H Lawrence Heritage Centre, which is in Durban House where the colliery owners lived and where Lawrence used to go to collect his father’s wages. The exhibition shows the area as it was when Lawrence was a child – the farm where he used to visit the Chambers family, the school and the conditions of the coalmines.

Also on display is the copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, used by the prosecution at the trial in 1960 when Penguin Books were prosecuted under The Obscene Publications Act 1959, with all the passages and phrases considered as obscene underlined in red. The book had been published a number of times before Lawrence’s death in 1930 but it was the decision by Penguin Books in 1960 to publish the unexpurgated text and the extensive publicity this and the trial received that led to the widespread sale of the book.

I have started to read Worthen’s book. It’s very readable and detailed – as the quote from Claire Tomalin on the back cover indicates it is

The best and fullest portrait yet of this great English novelist and poet.

I’d like to think this would please Lawrence – it’s such a contrast to the criticism of one reviewer in 1928 of Lady Chatterley’s Lover to which Lawrence responded:

Nobody likes being called a cesspool.

It’s amazing that you can visit both the Birthplace Museum and the Heritage Centre for free on weekdays!