London after dark

I had a meeting in central London on Tuesday morning so to avoid an exhorbitant peak fare on The lovely Virgin West Coast service, and an early start, I travelled down after work on Monday evening. It was quite late when I arrived but I needed some fresh air, so, after I checked into my Premier Inn at Waterloo, I decided to stretch my legs and take a walk along the Southbank. It was a pleasant evening and I managed to take a few snaps on my phone that came out reasonably well.

 

A Winter Break in London

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We’re just back from a short break in London. We took the train down on Thursday morning arriving midday and headed back home Friday evening to be greeted with hail stones and snow. Luckily the weather was quite good while we down in the Smoke. Cold, but only a little rain and a brief slurry of snow on the Saturday.

It was our third January break in London and, as previously, we stayed in the Premier Inn at Belsize Park, Hampstead. Cheaper than hotels in the centre of London but only 3 stops up the Northern Line and 15 or so minutes into the tourist hotspots.

After checking into our hotel just after midday we took the tube to Charring Cross and then walked over to the Courtauld Gallery. We wanted to see the Schiele  exhibition that was coming to the end of its run but we also enjoyed looking at the paintings, drawings and sculpture from their permanent collection.

Egon Schiele 23 October 2014 - 18 January 2015

After that we headed over to the Whitechapel Gallery where it was late night opening and a new exhibition of abstract art – Adventures of the Black Square Abstract Art and Society 1915–2015 – had just opened. there were some free exhibitions on too which were also very interesting.

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After a long afternoon of looking at art it was time to head back to the hotel.

The next day, after breakfast we took the tube to Euston and had a pleasant walk through Bloomsbury to the British Museum. Taking time to look around some of the Georgian streets and squares.

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There’s so much to see in the British Museum it can be overwhelming, so we concentrated on the Anglo Saxon, Viking and Celtic rooms upstairs

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and the Babylonian reliefs on the ground floor

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After that we went for a walk along the South Bank, stopping off for a very delicious meal in the cafe at Tate Modern.

We managed to get a table by the window with an excellent view

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We didn’t stop in the Tate but walked over the Millennium Bridge towards St pauls, taking in the views along the river and towards the Shard

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Not far from St Pauls, tucked away in a small square linked by narrow alleys to Fleet Street is the house where Dr Johnson lived while he compiled his Dictionary.

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It was a long day as we had tickets to see the play at the Hampstead Theatre

Saturday morning a return trip to Kenwood House which we visited last year.

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And after dinner we decided to brave the queues and take a trip on the London Eye which had just reopened following it’s winter shutdown. We’d only been on it once before, back in 2000, when it rained and we could hardly see anything. This time we were luckier as it was a reasonably fine late afternoon

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So we got some good views over London

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It was almost 5 o’clock and time to head back to Euston. We were shattered when we got home!

View down the Thames

I took this shot walking down the south bank of the Thames from Waterloo bridge towards the. Tate Modern

It was a lovely Winter's day. Cold but reasonably sunny. Couldn't complain.
St Paul's cathedral was clearly visible. The new buildings in the City of London are starting to change and dominate the view though. I think that Richard Roger's “Cheese grater” is quite an attractive building, but has hidden the “Gherkin” from this viewpoint. And, to me, the so called “Walkie Talkie” is just plain ugly and a blot on the landscape.
I fear that things are only going to get worse in the future as there seems to be a mad scramble to errect more and more steel and glass “vanity buildings” all competing to attract attention and dominate the skyline, even if there isn't a demand for them ( an article in the Guardian reveals that the “Shard” has had few takers and is virtually empty). St Paul's doesn't stand a chance.
 
 

 

Who let the sheep out?

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This bronze sculpture of a herdsman driving his sheep to market (Paternoster) was created by Elisabeth Frink and is located in Paternoster Square in London, close to St Paul’s cathedral.

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Badly bombed during WW2, the area was re-built after 1961 to a plan by William Holford. That development wasn’t popular and was demolished in 1996 and then re-built to a design by William Whitfield.

The statue was commissioned for the original post-war Paternoster Square complex in 1975 and was replaced on a new plinth following the redevelopment. It probably commemorates a livestock market in the area. However, Paternoster means “our father”, and the shepherd and his flock are used symbolically in Christian belief, so given the proximity to St Pauls I wonder whether it is meant to have some religious meaning?

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St Paul’s Cathedral

"Reader, if you seek his memorial, look around you." (English translation of the Latin epitaph on Christopher Wren’s tomb in St Paul’s Cathedral.

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Viewed across the river from the South Bank of the Thames near the Tate Modern, there is no denying that Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral, is an imposing sight. Your eye is drawn towards the magnificent dome, standing proud above the nearby buildings.

Until last week I’d only ever seen the outside of the cathedral, being put off by the rather exorbitant entrance fee.  This can be avoided by attending one of the regular church services, but for me, as a confirmed atheist, that would be too high a price to pay! In any case those attending the service aren’t exactly at liberty to wander around. But having taken a short distance learning course on architectural history a couple of years ago, I really felt I ought to go and have a proper look at this iconic building and we decided to visit during our recent trip to London – the decision helped by finding out that there was a  “two for the price of one” entry offer available for visitors travelling down to the capital by rail.

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It’s a massive building, So big that it’s difficult to get a decent view of the whole structure. And it’s very different from any other Cathedral I’ve seen in Britain. They’re almost all built in Medieval Gothic / Romanesque style or Victorian Neo-Gothic. But St Paul’s is unashamedly different – Baroque, albeit with a restrained English twist. Mind you Christopher Wren had to compromise with the Anglican church establishment who didn’t want the building to mistaken for a Catholic church. If Wren had got his way it would have been more ornate and different in a number of respects, as can be seen in his “Great Model” .

I have mixed feelings about the exterior of the building. I think the dome is impressive (even if he did cheat in it’s construction – it’s really two domes, one inside the other, with an intermediate cone supporting the outer structure) but I am less taken with the main structure. To me it looks like it’s two buildings – one on top of the other. This is particularly evident at the front entrance. Here we have a portico with a triangular pediment (which looks good on it’s own) stuck on top of another one. It just looks wrong and messy to me.

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And on the rest of the structure there’s a similar approach. It just doesn’t gel for me. But then, what do I know?

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Anyway, having had a good mooch around the outside we climbed up the steps at the front of the building and paid our £15 to get in (it normally costs that per person). We discovered that due to essential maintenance work the Stone and Golden Galleries on the outside of the dome were closed to visitors from 7 January – 28 March 2013. I’m not sure we’d have had the nerve to climb all the way up to the Golden Gallery on the very top of the dome, but might have braved the Stone Gallery for the view over London. We did manage to climb the 259 steps up to the Whispering Gallery, though.

I was quite disappointed to find that photography wasn’t allowed, particularly given the high entrance fee. I know the building is expensive to maintain, and this is the justification for the fee, but when you’ve paid that much I think they ought to let you take photos. I can’t see a good reason for not allowing them (they are allowed in York Minster, for example). There are pictures on the Cathedral’s website.

The inside is impressive, but it is quite different from other Anglican cathedrals. The Nave, is relatively plain, with not paintings, but with some fine decorative stonework on the columns, which have very ornate capitals, the cornices and ceiling.

The inside of the dome is covered in frescos illustrating the life of St Paul painted by Sir James Thornhill, a major painter of the time. You get a closer view by climbing up to the Whispering Gallery.

The Quire, the area where the clergy and choir sit during services, is usually the fanciest part of a cathedral, and this is certainly the case in St Paul’s. The ceiling, in particular is covered with highly detailed mosaics. Quite Catholic.

The high altar stands at the end of the Quire at the East end of the building and is covered by an incredibly ornate baldacchino. I’ve never seen anything like it in an Anglican Cathedral before. It’s very Catholic in style, based, I believe on the one above altar in St Peter’s the Vatican. It was only installed in 1958, but was based on drawings by Wren himself.

So, my overall impression was that I was impressed by the skill of the architect and the craftsmen who designed and constructed the great building. And there were a number of aspects that I like. But although, as I admitted to above, I’m an atheist, I was brought up as a Protestant and feel uneasy with excessive Catholic style ornamentation, and there was too much of that in St Paul’s for me. I guess I’d have made a good Puritan!

After we’d looked around the Cathedral floor and been up the dome to the Whispering Gallery, we went down into the crypt. First stop was the cafe for a cup of tea and then we spent some time wandering around looking at the monuments and gravestones, particularly looking out for those relating to people we admire. I thought the memorial to William Blake was quite ironic, given his views on the Church of England .

I’m glad I took the opportunity to visit. But don’t think I’d be prepared to pay to explore the inside again. I’ll stick to taking in the view from across the river, which to my mind displays the best aspect of the building (you can only see the dome and the top part of the main structure).

 

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