29 March 2014

London 10 - Marylebone

A Quiet Quarter (Marly-bone as the BBC might have it) 

Mary-le-Bone?  Marrowbone?  Something about bones?  Le Bonne? Simon-le-Bon?  No, not Bonne.  And not Bone neither.......

Mary-Le-Bone.  Sounds French?  Well there's plenty of Frenchification in the area (le Pain Quotidien, Le Relais de Venise L'Entrecote par example.....) Aubaine, having started as a bakery in the Brompton Road, then pinging pop-ups into Selfridge's, is now the place for Saturday Brunch in this genteel area....  And if you want to get a whiff of real cheese, just slip into the hermetically sealed cheese shop opposite, where Camembert fumes will overcome your wallet in seconds.

But it is not bones, though there are plenty here; nor bonne, nor French.  The name comes from the church of St Mary at the Bourne, and this particular bourne also gave us Tyburn (Ty Bourne), where hangs another tale...... (The village here was originally named Tybourn and what is now Oxford Street was once Tybourn Road.  The Tyburn Tree, famous place of execution, was where Marble Arch is now.....)

St Marylebone Parish Church, from the Churchyard

This church is the fourth in the area, and was built between 1813 and 1817, at a cost of £60,000.  Its predecessor, which was on Marylebone High Street, was the baptismal spot of Lord Byron.  It was also where Charles Wesley and Lord Nelson worshipped, and both Nelson's and Byron's daughters were baptised there. Charles Dickens, who lived next door from 1839 to 1851, was a member of the congregation of the New Church from time to time.  Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, who had lived in Wimpole Street, were married here in 1846. It is an unusual church, partly because it faces north, and partly because it has a double gallery.

The Apse was added in 1844, and the church quickly added to the attraction of Marylebone, which, unlike some of the other villages of Greater London, does not have deep roots. In the mid eighteenth century there was little here apart from fields, with the odd lane traversing them.  Later it became a good area for burials, like Highgate for example, as there was unused space and few influential inhabitants. 

Where the old church stood is now a memorial garden, which commemorates, among others, George Stubbs (the painter), James Gibbs (the architect) and the Wesleys (Charles, his wife Sarah and their son Samuel);

Though it was not originally placed here, and therefore does not cover any bones......

And nearby, in Paddington Gardens, more memories of bones:

Where also sits the Street Orderly Boy, a statue by Donato Barcaglia of Milan (1849 - 1930) which was placed here in 1943.  A Street Orderly Boy was a street cleaner, perhaps like Jo the Crossing Sweeper in Bleak House.

But poverty and filth are not the themes here.  Marylebone, partly because of its relative newness, is a spacious and comfortable district.  Unlike Clerkenwell, for example, this was never a place of stews and slums.  The fields were allotted to, gifted or leased, gentry from the country, to build their houses and squares.  The names remain, even if the family doesn't.  Harley Street, for example, home of the uber-medics, takes its name from Edward Harley, Earl of Oxford (AKA Lord Harley of Wigmore, hence the Wigmore Hall) in 1730.  He had married Lady Henrietta Cavendish Holles, only daughter and heir to John Holles, Duke of Newcastle who had bought the Manor of Tyburn in 1710 for £17,500.  

The couple had two daughters.  One died in October 1725 at the age of four days.  The other, Lady Margaret Cavendish Harley, married William Bentinck, 2nd Duke of Portland, in 1734 when she was 19.  So she inherited the estates, which included Marylebone High Street, in 1741 when her father died.  This accounts for such place names as Cavendish Square and Portland Place, which was laid out by Robert and James Nash, and which later was the home of Richard Hannay, hero of John Buchan's The Thirty-nine Steps...... 

By the sort of convolutions of peers that arises from endless Country House parties and duels at dawn, all this property passed by marriage to the Howard de Walden family, who just happen to be one of the wealthiest families in England, owning houses such as Audley End in Saffron Walden (the name associated with the very profitable production of saffron....) and reputedly being worth over £1 billion.

Not to be confused with the Portland family, and their Dorset connexions, the Portman family, originally from Somerset, have owned about 110 acres of Marylebone, between Oxford Street and Edgware Road, since the sixteenth century.  Their property includes Portman Square, parts of Baker Street (fictional address of Sherlock Holmes) and Manchester Square, a fine Georgian build from the late eighteenth century.

The north side of this square is occupied by Hertford House. This was originally Manchester House and was at one time the home of the Spanish Ambassador (whose chapel is just nearby - in Spanish Place, just to make it simple), but the 2nd Marquess of Hertford bought the lease in 1797.  A French connection then began under the 3rd Marquess who let the French use it as an Embassy and then while the 4th Marquess was himself in Paris it became a store for the family's growing collection of French Art.

The 4th Marquess however failed to leave legitimate issue, so it became the home of his bastard son, Richard Wallace, whose widow then bequeathed the entire collection, which includes 2,370 pieces of European and Oriental Arms and Armour, 528 pieces of furniture and 510 ceramic objects, to the Nation.

There are wonderful opportunities to compare Canaletto side-by-side to Guardi and that's not to mention Frans Hals' 1624 painting The Laughing Cavalier which is held by some to be the best of all baroque portraits.....

Marylebone Village is a quiet, aristocratic part of London. But, though the Landed Gentry may own the streets and squares, it is not only the high born, nor the "English," who live here.....  

It is a pleasant place in which to wander, and it has attracted a variety of residents, from those mentioned above, through writers and thespians:

To Beatles (both John Lennon and Paul McCartney lived here at times and the Apple offices began in Baker Street and moved to Wigmore Street before finishing in Savile Row) to Nipper Pat Daly (a boxer) and Barbara Windsor.  The Pope-Hennessy family are also remembered in St James's Roman Catholic Church, where Solemn Latin Mass is said at 10.30am every Sunday.

It is an easy place, with old-fashioned shops, such as James Taylor & Son, which still display the lasts from Rab Butler's shoes in their window:

Daunt books have a large shop in the High Street.  This chain, founded in 1990, have kept the former Edwardian bookshop almost as it was, with skylights and raised galleries, and William Morris prints. With an enviable collection of travel writing, and now its own publisher's imprint, this is a place to treasure.

Just down the road is the famous Waitrose clock, a victorian timepiece that somehow John Lewis used to persuade the powers that be that a supermarket would not lower the tone of the High Street.  Or perhaps, the other way up, the city fathers insisted on the time-piece to ensure that this particular grocer was respectable, so no hoi-polloi shopkeeper would get the idea that this was tesco territory!

But time is not the point here.  In Marylebone time stands still and you have to linger, not hurry.  Whether it's a sidewalk cafe.....

A phone call in the car.....

Or just a little window shopping, reflecting on the stylish architecture and the quality produce.....

Marylebone may not be buzzing like an angry wasp, but it fizzes like a glass of champagne.  It may not shock with cultural upheaval, but it is not stuffy, and in the neo-classical splendour of the Parish Church, just back from the snarling traffic of Marylebone Road, there are some surprises to be reflected on.....

And there are some bones connected to the Marylebone......

22 March 2014

Roman walks 2

From the Pantheon to Trastevere

So [continuing from Walking in Rome 1 - published on February 15th], once the great monuments of the Forum and the Vatican have been studied and absorbed, a long walk round the centre of living Rome is recommended. It's almost impossible to stroll in this city without coming on something of interest, whether it be classical, medieval, renaissance, baroque, neo-classical or modern. It's also possible to enjoy a great deal just sitting watching the world go by. And then just in the Piazza Venezia and on the Campidoglio there are palazzi, museums and. churches enough to fill a day or two of hard. work. Just a few glances, however, are enough to set the imagination afire: look up at the balcony on the fifteenth century Palazzo Venezia and think of Mussolini, on his box, stirring the eager crowds. Or turn your eyes to Vittorio Emmanuele II, twelve metres long and high in gilded bronze, celebrating the unity of Ita1y. Or allow the cold, white columns of the monument (the stone is from Brescia, in the north, quite out of character, but coincidentally where the then-mayor of Rome came from) to take you back to the hard, heavy imposition of the Roman emperors. If you can, see it at night, with a fleeting moon behind suddenly scudding clouds, edged by the soughing pines; it can create an eerie impression. Or climb to the Piazza del Campidoglio and slip down behind to look out over the Forum, and think of the footsteps of Caesars and Saints that have preceded you.

From here, by the Campidoglio, anyway, walk back down the steps between Castor and Pollux, and follow straight, braving the traffic, down the Via d'Aracadi to the Piazza di Gesu, where you'll always find a breeze rustling the posters of the paper stall (apparently the devil and the wind were once strolling and chatting in this square when Il Diavolo had the sudden urge to slip into the church, asking the wind to wait for him. Faithful chap, the wind.)

Inside the church (La Chiesa del Gesu - http://www.chiesadelgesu.org/?lang=en - mother church of the Jesuits), apart from the illusions of the Trompe l'oeil ceiling depicting the Triumph of the Name of Jesus, and the space and grandeur of Vignola's design, you'll find the largest block of Lapis Lazuli in the world, incorporated into the magnificent tomb of Saint Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the order. Then, with the church behind you, cross the road to the right and go up the Via del Gesu and turn left at the end until you come to Piazza della Minerva, where Bernini had the bright idea of sticking a sixth century BC Egyptian obelisk on the back of an elephant. The choice of an elephant was to demonstrate how a strong mind is needed to support firm knowledge. Bernini didn't actually do the sculpting himself, and his intention was that there should be a gap under the belly, but never mind. The Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva (http://www.basilicaminerva.it/home.htm) is the only truly Gothic church in Rome, though it is not at all what you would expect with that claim. It's very pleasant when the afternoon sun streams through the rose window, but its main attractions are that Saint Catherine of Siena lies under the main altar (except for her head, that is, which is in a glass case in Siena), that to the left of this is Michelangelo's Christ bearing the Cross, and that at the right end of the transept there are frescoes by Filippino Lippi, the main wall carrying his Assumption.

From here it is only a few paces to the Pantheon (one of the greatest of all man's architectural achievements). Up the Via della Minerva and into Piazza della Rotonda, and rest for a minute on the steps of the fountain to marvel at the sixteen columns of Egyptian granite, the falsehood on the architrave (although Marcus Agrippa built the first temple on this site, the emperor Hadrian was almost entirely responsible for what we see today), and the exterior of the largest concrete dome in the world until modern times (its diameter is 43.30 metres, nearly a metre more than St Peter's).  Inside, although Raphael, Victor Emmanuel II and Umberto I are all buried here, the most striking thing is the grace and. audacity of the coffered ceiling with its eye of heaven letting in the sun and air (and a little rain). Stepping gingerly on the uneven slaps of the original floor we can marvel at the way they bridged that span some 1800 years ago. The concrete was an innovation, as was the idea of filling the  areas that bear no load with light materials such as old amphorae, tufa and pumice (today they use expanded polystyrene in exactly the same way). One story about how they did it was that the brick barrel was filled with earth in which coins had been buried and when the dome had set the poor of the city dug out the interior in a scramble for 'easy' money.  Ingenious, even if apocryphal.

Leaving the Pantheon, closing the immense Roman doors behind you, go up the Salita dei Crescenzi to the left and then right across the street to the grey renaissance church of San Luigi dei Francesi (http://www.saintlouis-rome.net/). This is the national church of the French in Rome, but it is also the home of three masterworks of Caravaggio which you will find in the far left corner chapel. The one that always sends a shiver down my back is on the left, The Calling of St Matthew, where the artist has used powerful cinematic lighting to hit the very ordinary chap Matthew right between the eyes. Outside and down Via del Salvatore to the Corso del Rinascimento and you are beside the Palazzo Madama, seat of the Italian Senate, guarded by Carabinieri in their best outfits. Across the road and down the Corsia Agonale and you're in the Circus of Domitian, or what's now called Piazza Navona, famous for its lightning artists, expensive bars and Bernini fountains. The harmony is fine, and the flowery windows and tiled roofs that surround are impressive. It is a pity that they don't still flood it as they did in the summers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, allowing processions of elegant  boats and a degree of good clean fun! Nowadays the fountains seem to collect an unfortunate amount of rubbish.

If you wander up the right-hand end of the piazza and then duck down the Via Lorensi, look up a moment and admire the rather different spire of Santa Maria dell' Anima, which is the German church in Rome. Next door to this is Santa Maria della Pace, which may be closed, but behind it is a lovely cloister by Bramante which you can enter through number five dell' Arco della Pace (and there may well be a temporary exhibition on as well). Up the Largo Febo a bit you can see remnants of the Stadium of Domitian under the modern buildings, then, crossing the road, keeping to the right, follow the Via di San Agostino into the piazza of the same name. This church, the Basilica di Sant'Agostino, with its flight of steps and pleasing travertine face, contains another Caravaggio, The Madonna of Loreto,  in the first chapel on the left, as well as the most popular statue of the Virgin and Child in Rome (by Andrea Sansovino), just inside the door, smothered in lights and offerings, and in the process of being eroded by kissing. Turning right of the church the narrow Via dei Pianellari leads into via dei Portoghesi and Via della Scrofa (Sow Street, so named after a relief of a sow you can find on a fountain just by here). Turn left and follow this street, which then becomes Via della Ripetta, after the little port it used to serve on the Tiber.  Here boats once docked and there was the hustle of busy port traffic, but now grinds the traffic on the Lungotevere, high above the sweep of the river. Ignoring this, however, if you can, have a look at the beautiful friezes of the reconstructed Ara Pacis, (http://en.arapacis.it/) recently  (2006) re-housed in a splendid museum, but as is still traditional this is closed on Mondays.  The Altar (of Peace) was made, in 13BC, to commemorate Augustus' achievement of obtaining peace in the Empire. The rather grand and mournful mound once crowned with cypress, though now in restauro (under restoration - due to reopen in 2016) is the Mausoleum of Augustus and his family, which once held the ashes of Agrippa, Tiberius and Claudius, amongst others.  Mussolini had the idea of using it as his own memorial, but history did not work out that way.....

Skirt around this and make for the bulky apse of San Carlo al Corso and then pass through, keeping this on your right, cross the Via del Corso and wander up the Via della Croce. This street has some rather good food stores, a couple of interesting restaurants and an excellent old wine shop (http://www.anticaenoteca.com/), where you can still, despite sophisticated modernisation, have just a glass of local grape juice or you can pay the earth for a prestigious bottle of famous wine. Anyway, turn right off the Via della Croce here and walk two blocks to the Via Condotti and turn left. This is one of the smartest streets in Rome, noisy with the bangling of gold and the chinking of diamonds. Up to the left, at No. 86, is the best of all Cafés too, the Caffé Greco (http://www.anticocaffegreco.eu/index.php), an experience worth paying for if you feel like sitting in the back and relaxing with a drink. Just about everyone famous in the last couple of hundred years has passed some time here, though the ghosts I see most often are those of a well-wrapped but expansive Goethe and a shiny-trousered, nervous James Joyce.

Suitably refreshed we enter the last stage of the walk, climbing the Spanish Steps (unless you first want to visit the Keats-Shelley House (http://www.keats-shelley-house.org/) just to the right, at No 26 Piazza di Spagna) and wandering along the Viale Trinita dei Monti, admiring the Villa Medici on the right, and the rooftops of Rome on the left. 

If you then keep slightly right, along the Viale Mickiewicz, you come to Piazzale Napoleone and the Pincio Gardens, and from these terraces you have one of the best views over Rome, particularly attractive in the evening. Below is the Piazza del Popolo, with the church of Santa Maria on the right (two more Caravaggios, together with works by Bramante, Pinturicchio, Raphael and Sansovino can be found in here) and the great Porta del Popolo which leads out onto the Via Flaminia and the North. This was where most visitors on the grand tour arrived, dusty or muddy according to the weather - hungry and thirsty certainly.

Although you could go on from here and never stop, it is probably better to linger for the sunset and then join the passeggiata, or the weary travellers, and drift down to the Piazza either to the refined and lovely Rosati's bar (http://www.barrosati.com/)on the far side, or in the sharper and more popular Canova (http://www.canovapiazzadelpopolo.it/) at the entrance to the Via del Babuino. This is where Fellini used to have breakfast.  It must be time for an aperitif.

To get a good idea of how Rome was; you know, how it was once, in the good old days, a wander around Trastevere, the thirteenth precinct, can provide much entertainment and interest. This is the Montmartre of Rome, once the artists' quarter in a sense and traditionally the foreigners' quarter, too, the name being a corruption of Trans Tevere, meaning Across the Tiber, which implies it isn't really Rome, even though parts of it have been enclosed by walls since 87BC and it officially became a part of the city after Augustus' administrative reform.

While there are few examples of 'big stuff' (as my old flatmate Bob Brecknell used to say) here, there are many surprising gems and suggestive lanes festooned with washing, and there are many curiosities. In one ex-convent, for example, you could once find the museum of Folklore and Romanesque Poets (now the Museum of Rome In Trastevere http://www.museodiromaintrastevere.it/) Once there was also a cinema here that showed a different  film in English every day (the Pasquino, in Vicolo del Piede) and which had a ceiling that slid open in the summer to let the neighbours watch....  But it has gone now.... There is also the great Sunday market of Porta Portese, indefatigably thriving outside the Port gate, leading to Ostia, as it has for over two millennia.

Anyway I propose a walk - though no walk can cover everything - that will introduce you to this characterful zone. You can live here for years, and still keep discovering things. To illustrate the ad hoc nature of this area we start in Piazza Sidney Sonnino, named after an otherwise unremembered Italian statesman. Here buses from all over Rome used to converge and fume in the confusion of traffic lights and turnings. On the river side you can see the Torre degli Anguillara, the only surviving thirteenth century tower in the region, sometimes called the Casa di Dante, because of the institute of that name that has its library there. Note, by the way, a stone that marks a flood level of the old Tiber, before the banks were constructed to tame it.

Beyond this there's another square, dedicated to and with a friendly monument to the dialect poet Giuseppe Gioachino Belli, who left, in over two thousand sonnets, a lively picture of early nineteenth century life.

Crossing Piazza Sonnino, in a way that correctly gives you the impression that it once had the right of way, is the Via della Lungaretta. If you dive up this, past the Torre degli Anguillara you come to the pretty Piazza in Piscinula, passing on the way a fine medieval house on the corner of Via della Luce. Up to the right of the piazza and through a narrow alley (passing, under the arch, the site of a memorial to the Emperor Vespasian - i.e. a gentleman's urinal, still sometimes called a Vespasiano after the ruler who introduced public toilets - and who made a fortune out of selling urea) and down to a crossroads where you will find the church of the Ospizio dei Genovesi, dedicated to John the Baptist, but which was the home from home of Genoese sailors who landed at the nearby Ripa Grande..... the church isn't very special, but the cloister is beautiful, filled with orange trees and colourful vegetation, and sculpted in the fifteenth century from warm travertine stone. It is one of the gems of not-so-famous Rome.

Back up towards Piazza Sonnino you can find, tucked away on the right, the remains of what must be the earliest fire-station in the world, the barracks of the VIIth Coorte dei Vigili, a kind of urban police and fire brigade in the second century AD. Opposite is the slightly run-down portico (it needs weeding) of the church of San Crisogono, worth stepping inside to admire the thirteenth century Cosmatesque pavement, but also it is a curiously peaceful church, perhaps because of the press of city life and crowds that throngs around it.

Not far away, down the Via della Lungaretta, is the larger, and more famous, Santa Maria in Trastevere, one of the oldest churches in Rome , and, until the invention of spray-can-graffiti, standing in one of the loveliest squares in the city. The tympanum of the facade is a beautiful mosaic of the Madonna and ten young women, erroneously supposed at times to represent the wise and foolish virgins. The Romanesque campanile, and the harmonious clock, make a not-too-obtrusive focus of the whole area. On the right of the church, if you follow Via della Paglia (Straw Street, a reminder that the area was until comparatively recently fragranced by the smell of stables) and then turn right into Piazza San Egidio you will find the Museum that I mentioned above, tucked neatly into a restored Carmelite convent. It does not sport a large display, but the scenes of Roman life are fascinating, and it's worth dropping in. 

If you now follow Via della Scala a little way, on your left you'll see the Farmacia of the convent of Santa Maria delIa Scala (Antica Spezieria di Santa Maria della Scala), which is  still run by the barefoot Carmelites, as it had been since the sixteen hundreds. The actual  pharmacy is relatively modern (the original is upstairs and can be visited on request) but it has atmosphere, partly because of the herbal odours and partly because of the elegant decoration of the room, and it reminds you of the days when monks were often responsible for healing, when the sight of a friar gathering herbs would not have been at all unusual, as in Romeo and Juliet, for example.

Straight on, anyway, and through the Porta Settimiana, which pierces the Aurelian wall, and on down the Via Lungara, which takes you towards St Peter's, past the Queen of the Heaven (Regina Coeli) prison (originally a convent, hence the name), but only go as far as the Villa Farnesina (http://www.villafarnesina.it), one of the loveliest renaissance villas in Rome even though the gardens have been spoiled by the creation of the Tiber banks and the roaring Lungotevere. This is the current home of part of the Accademia dei Lincei, (The Academy of the Lynx-Eyed - and the other part is across the road in the Palazzo Corsini). This Academy’s mission is to promote, coordinate, integrate and spread scientific knowledge in its highest expressions in the frame of cultural unity and universality but it is really for the frescoes that it is worth entering. Some of the decorations are by Raphael, who lived nearby with his baker's daughter. There's a spacious and well-lit gallery where he and helpers decorated the ceiling with the Fable of Psyche, and in a room to the left there is a fresco of Galatea, by Raphael, as well as works by Baldassare Peruzzi and Sebastiano del Piombo.  On the first floor there is a bedroom painted by Il Sodoma, and then there is the marvellous Salone delle Prospettive, where one can glimpse pictures of sixteenth century Rome between painted columns.  It's a wonderful house, and the last time I was there I wandered alone and undisturbed for almost an hour in and around the place, while not at all far away the tourists teemed and queued.

Opposite the entrance to this jewel is another great house, the Palazzo Corsini, but this isn't anything like so attractive. The colonnade out the back and the immense palms of the garden are impressive, but a detour down Via Corsini (past a thriving magnolia and two carabinieri) will take you to the entrance to the botanical gardens (http://www.ortobotanicoitalia.it/lazio/romalasapienza/ - now owned and run by Rome University), which extend for twelve hectares on the flanks of the Janiculum hill, and which include much of what was the park of the Palazzo Corsini. These gardens boast some eight thousand plants, many of which are rare and some of which are unique in Italy: the sequoias and cypresses and cedars are particularly imposing, and there is also an orchid collection.

Back through the Porta Settimiana and turn right up the Via Garibaldi (unless you can afford to stop and eat in the garden of Da Romolo (http://www.ristoranteromolo.it/en/), where the ghost of Raphael sometimes drinks).  The road soon leads left and on the right there are some huge rusty gates; these belong to the Bosco Parrasio, a garden where the Academy of Arcadia used to meet - apparently you can get in via No. 52 Via di Porta san Pancrazio, though I've never succeeded (Visite al Bosco Parrasio: Inviando una motivata richiesta al Custode generale dell’Arcadia, per il tramite della segreteria dell’istituzione (dott.ssa Giovanna Rak, info@accademiadellarcadia.it), è possibile ottenere l’autorizzazione per visitare singolarmente o in gruppo il Bosco Parrasio). Anyway, it was in these gardens, or in the house, that members of this academy have met since the seventeenth century. Their purpose was to eliminate bad taste and to purify Italian art, and members took pastoral names. This chosen place was named after a Greek Grove sacred to Apollo.

Up some scruffy steps now to the Fontana Paola, where water from Lake Bracciano gushes out of its low pressure Roman pipes (there's a pretty garden behind this, too).  The nearby courtyard of the church of San Pietro in Montorio shelters the Tempietto del Bramante, a perfectly proportioned example of Renaissance architecture, built to commemorate the place where St Peter was supposedly crucified.

At the top of the hill, the Piazzale del Gianicolo, is a great place to sit on the travertine ledge watching the sun tinge the mountains behind Rome. Garibaldi dominates on horseback, and over the other side of the area you could once see a rather sad relic of a different Rome, a rapidly declining farm, such as impinged on the city on all sides until the post-war explosion.

In fact, until the late 1970s, this farm was still alive and kicking, with animals and tilled fields, and it made an extraordinary contrast to the hustle of cramped Trastevere. Alas, some ten years later, the only sign of life in a very closed and decaying building was a trickle of blue smoke from a chimney, slow and damp like the crawling of centuries.  You won't see even that now, however, as it has been transformed into a smart villa, with neat hedges and electronic gates, though the physical layout of the buildings is as it once was, so with quite a lot of imagination you could just about see how it used to be......

15 March 2014

London 7 - Clerkenwell

The London of Lenin

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, 1870 - 1924, his desk and his office in the Marx Memorial Library & Workers' School, 37a Clerkenwell Green, where he edited ISKRA from 1902 - 1903

Clerkenwell takes its name from a well on Farringdon Lane next to which London Parish Clerks used to perform Mystery Plays.  It is now part of the Borough of Islington, though was once in Finsbury, and while it has a clear centre, in Clerkenwell Green, it is no longer clearly defined - some would have Smithfield in Clerkenwell, though really Smithfield is in Smithfield (which is in the City of London).

Anyway, it is a great area to explore, and is fast becoming very fashionable, with publishing, design and architecture in particular flourishing, which has led to smart bars and restaurants and to the opening of the first gin distillery in London for about 200 years.  This is COLD (The City of London Distillery) down Bride Lane, just off Farringdon Street, which Jonathan Clark opened in 2012.  It's a strange irony perhaps that William Hogarth, artist of Gin Lane, lived part of his life in the Gatehouse of the Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, a mere spit away.....

But for the moment it is Lenin I am interested in.  Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, then aged 32, married to Nadya, was at large in Europe, editing The Spark, which was the magazine of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party.  As it was banned in Russia, he edited it first in Munich and then in London, and it was then distributed clandestinely amongst supporters in his homeland.

In 1902 the Lenins moved into Number 30 Holford Square, just a half mile north of the Green.  Bomb damage in the Blitz led to the area being entirely rebuilt in the 50s, as the Bevin Court housing estate.  The name was taken from Ernest Bevin, though the original plan was to name it after Lenin, as the project's architect was the Russian Berthold Lubetkin (who also designed the penguin pool in London Zoo), and he had already created a memorial to Lenin that had graced the earlier Square.  Trouble is that by 1953 communists were not as popular as Labour politicians.  Lenin - Bevin - only two letters different!

Искра - The Spark - was a political newspaper of Russian socialist emigrants established as the official organ of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party

Imagine Vladimir Ilyich wandering down Farringdon Road every day, and working in his tiny office (which he shared with Harry Quelch, director of the Twentieth Century Press) in what had been built as a Welsh Charity School in 1737 (there were many Welsh artisans living in poverty in Clerkenwell at that time) but which was to become the Marx Memorial library on the fiftieth anniversary of Karl's death.

37a Clerkenwell Green, The Marx Memorial Library

The Green has not been green for some three hundred years, but there was a busy market here in Victorian times, and it was here that Fagin and the Artful Dodger inducted Oliver Twist into the gentle art of pick-pocketing.  Nice one, really, as the imposing building that blocks off the south west end was the Middlesex Sessions House, built in 1782, and it served as a judicial hall until 1921.  From under the dome here many thousands of miscreants, some not much different from young Oliver, were sent to the colonies or to the gallows.  In later years it became a Masonic Hall, but is now a venue for weddings.....

The Former Middlesex Sessions House, built in 1780 for £13,000.  A complex of tunnels under the building once linked the court not just to Newgate but also Clerkenwell House of Detention, the cellars of adjacent Marx Memorial Library and The Crown and The Horseshoe pubs

A few steps from Lenin's office in the other direction is the Crown Tavern, a rebuilt version of the Crown and Anchor, where Lenin may have had the occasional lunch.  He is reputed to have met Stalin here, and it was around that time that Lenin coined the phrase Bolshevik, which means Majoritarian, to contrast with his opponent Martov's Mensheviks (Minoritarians).  This came about following disagreements at the second conference of the RSDLP which took place in London in July 1902.  

I don't think I knew exactly what a Bolshevik was before...... Funny how words grow.

St James's Church, Clerkenwell.  There was a Benedictine Nunnery on this site from 1100, though the present church dates from 1792.  The Crown Tavern is on the right.

Apart from the cars, the scene from the church steps cannot have changed that much in the last 100 years, though I doubt that Lenin saw it from this angle very often.

From the Steps of St James - looking towards Clerkenwell Green

I don't know for sure, but unlike some later Russian leaders, I doubt whether Lenin was much of a drinker, and I suspect he might have quenched his thirst at this trough more often than he frequented the Crown.  We take drinking water for granted these days, but it was a major issue in Victorian London, and this was one of 85 that the association provided in the mid-nineteenth century.  Beer was generally safer, tea and coffee were too expensive, and with the dangers of (untaxed) gin drinking and the activities of the Temperance Movement, water became the poison of choice for large numbers of citizens.

The association originated with Samuel Gurney in 1859, to provide clean drinking water.  The association extended its help to animals in 1867.

Another thing that we take for granted in civilisation today (unless of course you happen to be taken short in the new Farringdon Station) is the public toilet.  In Lenin's time the nearby Passing Alley was known by a different name.....

Passing Alley - once Pissing Alley, and one of many such public conveniences in London

Curious, perhaps, as it is literally next door to this fine medieval gateway, which is part of the Priory of the Knights Templar of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, though Henry VIII dissolved the Priory in his rage against the powers of the Church in 1540.

St John's Gate, built in 1504, the only gateway spanning a public highway in London; William Hogarth once lived here

This complex of buildings, Norman, Tudor and modern, is something special.  Within the Gatehouse is the Museum of the Order of St John, which has been here for over 100 years, though it was refurbished in 2009/10. It tells the story of the Order of Knights, from its origin in Jerusalem in 1080, to its work today with the St John Ambulance.  Apart from at one time being a coffee shop, run by the father of William Hogarth, the artist, the building has also hosted The Gentleman's Magazine which gave Samuel Johnson his first job as a writer.  Later it housed a tavern, The Old Jerusalem, where Dickens used to drink; (he got everywhere, that Dickens!)

The Museum of the Order of St John tells a unique and fascinating story — the story of the Order of St John — from its origins in eleventh century Jerusalem, through to its role today with St John Ambulance and the St John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem.

It is a surprising place to encounter Caravaggio, but he is currently on show here:

The first version of The Cardsharps, by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), on loan to the Museum of the Order of St John

While the Queen presides in youthful glamour on the first floor:

Upstairs in the Museum

Under the glitter of splendid chandeliers:

That Chandelier

While across the way the Priory Church of the Order of St John, restored after being bombed in 1940, is light and tranquillity:

The Church of the Order of St John: Acoustically perfect and visually satisfying, the understated grandeur of the Priory Church of the Order of St John always comes as a surprise when first one enters through its unassuming front door. Its large, light space is used for concerts and lectures

And beneath it there is the Norman crypt, once used to store bodies, now a chapel in its own right:

The Norman Crypt of the Priory Church of the Order of St John

And next to the church there is a peaceful herb garden, recalling the use of plants in medicine and care, such as St John's Wort:

The Cloister Garden

Retracing steps towards Cowcross Street, which itself is a reminder of the times when drovers would head to Smithfield Market down St John Street, past the Cross that stood at the junction, there are alleys which reach back into the past:

Off Cowcross Street

And just by here, with faux shop names over the fronts, hides The Rookery, which is one of the more up market places to stay if your business (or pleasure) brings you to the Capital. Lenin would not have put up here, though I imagine Putin might....

The Rookery - in its own words: all period charm. Polished wood panelling, stone flagged floors, open fires and genuine antique furniture give the place a warm, homely atmosphere – more private club than hotel

Lenin would have been much more likely to have grabbed a sandwich at the Curved Angel:

The Curved Angel Cafe - not everything has been gentrified

Or perhaps, just perhaps, on his way home he might have dropped in for a game of table football at the Cafe Kick in Exmouth Market, opposite the excellent Medcalf, an erstwhile butcher's shop, now a classy modern restaurant.....

Café Kick was born in 1997 out of an old Toy Shop in Exmouth Market. It quickly grew into a very busy Continental Bar

Or he might have dodged down to the coffee shop which is where the Jerusalem Tavern, only home in London of St Peter's ales, has set up shop, pretending to be olde worlde, and pinching the name from the wine shop that was once in the cellars of the St John Gate.

The Jerusalem Tavern attracts all sorts....

I like it here.  Though I don't like it when the City Types crowd in on a Friday evening (or for that matter any evening!)  It may be phoney, but it is calm, a copy of the Guardian is available, and good food can be had from lunch until early evening.

But can be quiet inside, at times....

A sign of the complexity of the area is just a few steps away. Watchmakers used to work around here, and indeed John Harrison, who persuaded the world that longitude was time, lived not far away.  It is an area where metal and precision meet.

Further along Britton Street

Though not everyone has the same feeling for design.  There are not many green spaces here, and one, which is being refurbished, is St John's Garden....  Is the red significant?

St John's Garden is being restored!  The red frame blends in perfectly with this tiny bit of green!

And just down the road is the Metropolitan Railway station (once Terminus) of Farringdon, now being drilled and gutted and uprooted and magnified to make it also a part of CrossRail.  As the web page says, When complete, it is planned that over 140 trains per hour will flow through the Farringdon interchange when it becomes a link between Thameslink, Crossrail and London Underground services. Farringdon will be the only station from which passengers will be able to access all three networks. Farringdon will become one of Britain’s busiest train stations......

I wonder what Vladimir Ilyich would have thought?

Opened in 1865 this was a station for the world's first ever underground railway - The Metropolitan Railway - which ran from Paddington to Moorgate.

It is a complex area, where the old resists change, but the new rises from the roots of the ancient.  Lenin could have snuck through this alley:

Faulkner's (or Faulkerner's) Alley, pretty much unchanged since 1660

But he could not have eaten at this restaurant, however much the premises might have suited him:

St John -  one of the new school of dining places, though it opened in 1994.  A Georgian building, once a smokery and also once the Editorial Office of Marxism Today.

He could have brought lead or glass from the Farmiloe family, from this very building which was especially constructed with reinforced floors to withstand the weight of the merchandise.  In recent years it has been used for film sets, with Batman and Sherlock Holmes blowing through in their own ways, but now it is becoming, for the moment at least, licensed club premises.  Not something Lenin would have enjoyed, I think.....

Farmiloe's - until 1999, when it removed to Mitcham, one of the oldest firms in the area.  Work has just begun to change it into a night club

On the edge of the area, where the Hicks Sessions building and the largest brewery in London used to be, old and new share the air.  There is something reassuring about how it is not all blasted away in the name of progress:

I wonder if Lenin rode a bike?

I'm tired, and would love to stop longer.  Without a pied a terre in the Bevin estate I would have to try The Rookery, or the Zetter Townhouse.  Could be worse, I suppose, but in the spirit of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin's marxist principles, perhaps it would not be quite the thing, this time.....

The Zetter Townhouse, 13 rooms, £210 - £475 per night.  Lenin did not stay here.