Friday 16 March 2012

Those Places Thursday - Collins' Illustrated Guide to London and Neighbourhood

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'Whether we consider London as the metropolis of a great and mighty empire, upon the dominions of whose sovereign the sun never sets, or as the home of more than three and a half millions of people, and the richest city in the world to boot, it must ever be a place which strangers wish to visit.'

Well, practically everything in that sentence has changed since it was written in the late 19th century, except the last bit. London has always attracted people, visiting for business or pleasure, and we are expecting even more than usual for the Olympics later this year.

I have written about this wonderful little book before, but it is always worth re-visiting. It begins with a suggested itinerary for each a week's visit, day by day; the advice for the whole of Sunday is to look at the Saturday newspaper for a list of preachers and their engagements. For the other days the suggestions are not so different from modern guide books:

  • Westminster Abbey, St Margaret's, St James's Park, Bond Street and Regent Street.
  • South Kensington and Natural History Museum, Albert Memorial, Regent's Park and Zoological Gardens.
  • Tower, Monument, Docks, Guildhall, St Helen's Church, Crosby Hall, St Paul's Cathedral, General Post Office and home by river.
  • Windsor and Eton
  • National Gallery, Crystal Palace, or Richmond Park and Kew Gardens.
  • Houses of Parliament, Record Office, British Museum, Madame Tussaud's.
Sounds pretty exhausting to me. Most of the attractions listed are still popular with visitors today, although Crosby Hall and St Helen's Church will be unfamiliar to most. The Collins Guide tells us that Crosby Hall in Bishopsgate was once the residence of Richard III, but is now a restaurant. St Helen's church, adjacent to the Hall, contains the effigies of the hall's founder Sir John Crosby and his wife Agnes. You can still visit the church, but not the hall; a modern building now stands on the site, with a plaque commemorating the medieval building it has replaced. But the hall was not demolished, it was dismantled and moved to Cheyne Walk, Chelsea in 1910.

General Post Office
The magnificent General Post Office building still exists, but only as a shell. The interior was completely redeveloped as an office building, Nomura House, when the Post Office left in 1984. Two other places on the list have also changed significantly; the Record Office building in Chancery Lane is still there, but it now houses the library of King's College. The institution has changed its name twice, and its location once, and is now The National Archives at Kew, as if you didn't already know that. The Crystal Palace had already moved from Hyde Park to Sydenham by the time the guide appeared, but sadly is no more, having burned down in the 1930s. It has left its mark on London, though, since the area when it stood still bears the name Crystal Palace.

Crystal Palace interior
I have visited almost all of the places on the list, but spread out over several decades, not crammed into a single week. If I had the time I might try to visit more of the places in the guide, taking the book with me, to see how much of it is still relevant. Quite a lot of the historic attractions are still there, although the prices have gone up a bit, I think!


1 comment:

  1. Is the author any relation?

    Sounds like an interesting little book - I might just hunt down a copy.