London Seats from the London Correspondent

You may remember from her first report that Judy has been finding literary benches dotted around London. She has found some more and shares them with us. 🙂

London never ceases to be surprising, and often one thing will lead to other exciting finds. One of the latest treasures I have discovered is a series of benches placed around the city in different locations to highlight different books and authors. The project is called Books About Town, and you can see all of the wonderful painted benches on the website:

(Scroll your mouse over the photos to see the captions.)

Some London pubs from my London Correspondent

How about some pubs to make life interesting? What would London be like without a few lovely pubs? The locals love them, certainly, and during the fine weather the young people stand around in large bunches outside the pubs after work and before they go home. They are very noisy places, but there is a great buzz about them, and many have lovely hanging baskets and flowers along their fronts, so they are very colourful as well.

  • The Hung, Drawn and Quartered. I cannot tell you about the interior of this but I could not resist the name. I hope you can read the inscription by Samuel Pepys on the board.
The Hung, Drawn and Quartered
The Hung, Drawn and Quartered
  • The Wheatsheaf in Fitzrovia. Goerge Orwell and Dylan Thomas drank here.
The Wheatsheaf
The Wheatsheaf
  • Pullins in Herne Hill.  Great place for a meal.
Pullins Pub

Blackfriars Pub, beside Blackfriars Bridge

  • The Gun, Canary Wharf
  •   The Princess Louise in Holborn. Beautiful etched glass.
The Princess Louise
The Princess Louise

From my London Correspondent #3.5

In the last post Judy, my London Correspondent, was taking us through some of the not-so-famous churches of London. She had one more to show us, but I thought it deserved a post all of its own, if only for its name!

4.  St James Garlickhythe

This has been a sacred place since 1100, but the early church was lost in the Great Fire of London in 1666. It was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren and completed in 1683, although the tower was not added until 1717, by the other famous London church architect, Nicholas Hawksmoor. It is known as “Wren’s Lantern” because it was rebuilt to be full of light. The name Garlickhythe refers to the nearby landing place or ‘hythe’ on the Thames where garlic was sold in mediaeval times.

St James Garlickhythe
St James Garlickhythe

In 1860 the congregation had dwindled to twenty. Charles Dickens attended a service which he described in The Uncommercial Traveller. The building was pervaded with damp and dust, which Dickens used to convey the presence of dead parishioners.

During World War I a bomb dropped by a Zeppelin missed the church but caused damage nearby. In May 1941 during the London blitz a 500lb bomb crashed through the roof and buried itself in the south aisle, but did not explode, and it was removed and detonated elsewhere.

St James Garlickhythe
St James Garlickhythe

The buildings surrounding Saint James were destroyed by incendiary bombs and damaged the external walls, and the clock of St James. While this damage was being repaired in 1953 it was found that the building was infested with death-watch beetle, and closed for repairs until 1963. Sir John Betjeman said it was the best restoration of a city church.


It is lucky that the church survives to this day, because in 1991 a nearby crane collapsed and part of it buried itself in the south wall, so the church was closed again for repairs.

The new bells were cast in Whitechapel Foundry in 2012, installed first on a barge on the Thames and rung on the river during the pageant for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. They are now called the Jubilee Bells.

St James Garlickhythe is home to eleven livery companies, and has had long associations with London Companies, especially the Vitners, the Weavers and the Joiners.

St James is also a stop on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostella, as it is dedicated to St James the Great. Visitors to the church may have their pilgrim passport stamped with the impression of a scallop shell.

The scallop shell motif is a symbol of St James. This one is in a French church on the
The scallop shell motif is a symbol of St James. This one is in a French church on the pilgrim route.

A change introduced by Henry VIII was the order that all parishes in England were to maintain a weekly record of births, deaths and marriages. The oldest surviving registers are those of St James, the first being a baptism of Edward Butler on 18th November 1535.

St James Garlickhythe
St James Garlickhythe

The London Correspondent, #3

Let’s continue to wander through London with the Correspondent, aka as my sister, Judy. 

1.  St Lawrence Jewry, next to the Guildhall

St Lawrence Jewry
St Lawrence Jewry

This church lies in the heart of the City of London. It has been important in the affairs of the City because of its close proximity to the adjacent Guildhall, and many civic events have been held here, particularly by the once very powerful Livery Companies of the City. There has been a church on the site since 1180. After being destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 it was rebuilt by Christopher Wren, then it was restored again following extensive damage during WWII. The church is full of light and space and splendour, and its white and gold design is said to remind us of the glory and beauty of heaven.

The light, space and splendour of the inside
The light, space and splendour of the inside

The patron saint, St Lawrence was Archdeacon of Rome, and martyred in the second century, on a gridiron, which has become his symbol and is found on the crest of the church.

Thomas More (1478-1535) was born in nearby Milk Street, and he became Chancellor of England during the time of Henry VIII. Around 1501 he delivered a series of lectures in the church about the relationship between Christianity and government, which he further explored this theme in his book Utopia. He was executed in 1535.

The side chapel is the Commonwealth Chapel, with windows at the side representing the Commonwealth as it was in 1957.

2.  St Olave, Hart Street

St. Olave Church
St. Olave Church

Olav, patron saint of Norway, is credited with saving London from the Danes in 1013. The original church on the site was built some time in the 11th century, probably in wood, and replaced in stone in the late 12th or early 13th century. The church today is essentially the third one, built about 1450 and lovingly restored in the 1950s, after the bombing in WWII.

Samuel Pepys is the most famous parishioner of the church (1633-1703), and Pepys is buried with his wife and one of his brothers at the east end of the church.

John Betjman described the church “A country church in the world of Seething Lane”.

A country church in London
A country church in London

3.  The Mediaeval Chapel of St. Etheldreda

The Mediaeval Chapel of St. Etheldreda
The Mediaeval Chapel of St. Etheldreda

This lovely chapel can be found in Ely Place, in Holborn.  The origins of the chapel date from 1260. It was part of the property owned by the Bishop of Ely, and was one of the largest and most elegant because the Diocese of Ely was the heart of sheep-rearing country and very wealthy.

The land on which the Bishop built was outside the City of London, and today all that is left of the Palace of the Bishops of Ely is the mediaeval chapel with its undercroft or crypt.


St Etheldreda’s is, except for Westminster Abbey, the only surviving work from the reign of Edward I (1239-1307) in London, and it was also the first pre-reformation shrine to be restored to Catholic hands, but it was not until 1879 that a Catholic Mass was said for the first time in the upper church. In the intervening centuries the building luckily survived the Fire of London, and being converted into a brewery, and during World War II all the glass in the windows was destroyed. The memory of St Etheldreda, who lived and died in great holiness in 678, is maintained in this lovely building.

St. Etheldreda
St. Etheldreda

I have recently discovered City Mapper, a free App which can be downloaded for iPads and iPods. You can put in your starting place and your destination, and the app works out the route and the best means of transport to get there, as well as how long it will take, on the bus, train or walking. It’s brilliant.

From my London Correspondent — 3 very interesting museums that are off the beaten track

As you know, my London Correspondent is my sister, Judy. I also mentioned that she loves the unusual, and today she certainly has some interesting museums for us to look through.  So come on the tour with me…..

1. Museum at the Royal Chelsea Hospital

The Royal Chelsea Hospital is a marvellous place, situated on the banks of the Thames at Chelsea. It was established at the time of Charles I to provide a home for disabled war veterans, and still today provides a home for old soldiers. They are all enlisted men, not officers, and without dependents. There is a lovely museum there which tells the history of the facility and even has a recreation of one of the little cabins they sleep in. If you are lucky you will see one of the red-coated pensioners strolling the grounds. They are all incredibly helpful and friendly, and it is also possible to see the chapel and the dining room if they are not in use.

2. The Ragged School Museum

This amazing museum in Copperfield, London, close to Mile End and Limehouse, is a fascinating place. It is in the original building of one of the schools founded by Dr Barnardo to teach poor children of the East End, and is the only ragged school building left, according to the very helpful and extremely informative volunteer guides. The old warehouse building backs onto Regent Canal, and it provides a very authentic view into life of the children who came here, ragged, dirty, poor and hungry. The photos they have of these poor waifs and the houses in which they lived are very moving.

The museum is set up with a display area on the ground floor, a classroom on the first floor and a space set up as an old kitchen. During the term school, groups come to the classroom, where they are met by a very strict teacher, (an actor in wolf’s clothing) who stands no nonsense, and often terrifies the little ones. The museum aims to show what life was like for the poor in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The museum is free, and well worth a visit.

You might remember that John Lewis’ rooftop garden Judy showed us last time was supporting Barnardo’s


3. The Museum of London at Docklands


This museum is connected with the Museum of London at the Barbican, which is also worth a visit. The Museum at Docklands at Canary Wharf is housed in the original warehouse building of the West India Docks, and has exhibitions relating to all things connected with the docks and the Thames. I was particularly interested in the West India Dock, the slave trade and sugar coming from the West Indies, which was as important in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as oil is today. There are very interesting exhibitions ranging from the original Romans to the fate of the docks during World War Two and the damaged that was suffered, and subsequent years. The recreation of sailors’ town from the early years is very evocative of the cramped and squalid conditions in which people lived.

Robert Milligan was a wealthy West Indian merchant, and was responsible for getting the construction of the West India Docks started. His statue is outside the Museum of Docklands
Robert Milligan was a wealthy West Indian merchant, and was responsible for getting the construction of the West India Docks started. His statue is outside the Museum of Docklands

And now a report from our London Correspondent….

My sister, Judy, is calling London home for a little while. How hard would that be? 😉 So, I have asked her to be my London Correspondent for the blog — and she accepted, even before she knew what the pay was to be! She knows London well, and loves to investigate the quirky and more unusual aspects. You are unlikely to be taken on a tour of the Crown Jewels, but you will get to see parts of London that others might not show you.

Now, it is over to Judy…

London never ceases to be surprising, and often one thing will lead to other exciting finds. One of the latest treasures I have discovered is a series of benches placed around the city in different locations to highlight different books and authors. The project is called Books About Town, and you can see all of the wonderful painted benches on the website:

The first one I saw is absolutely splendid, in Red Lion Square, which in itself is a little treasure, an oasis of calm in the midst of busy streets and offices, with its own little café.

Red Lion Square, with its cafe, trees and pigeons
Red Lion Square, with its cafe, trees and pigeons


I have only seen two of them so far, and one was from a bus, but that is definitely a trail to follow in the next few weeks. They are even available for purchase for those who would like a literary bench, though I think they would be too heavy to post to Australia.

The second literary bench, as seen from the bus. (They don't look very comfortable :( )
The second literary bench, as seen from the bus. (They don’t look very comfortable 😩 )

On the subject of gardens and benches, another lovely and surprising find was the rooftop garden in John Lewis store in Oxford Street. This busy shopping street is always crowded with people, but on the rooftop of the department store is a delightful peaceful spot. They have set up tables and chairs, and a little café with umbrellas and many flower boxes, to provide shade from the sun, and yes, it was hot the day I went.

photo_7 photo_4

There are views over the city of London, but the traffic below is just a distant hum.


There were even tables and chairs, and activities for children. Well done, John Lewis.


January books — from The Midnight Mayor to Nazi Germany

A Madness of Angels, or the Resurrection of Matthew Swift by Kate Griffin

Also The Midnight Mayor, or the inauguration of Matthew Swift

I had read The Minority Council late last year. Of course it turned out to be number 4 in the series — don’t you hate that, not starting a series at the beginning. But I loved the book so much that I willing hunted out the first at the Library. (This is not a difficult task, as I can request them online and hey presto! they appear at my local branch.)

To the books…..

Matthew Swift was an reasonably good sorcerer before he was killed. After he was resurrected he became an amazing one. This is not giving anything away. He is dead before the book begins, and the opening pages describe his resurrection, and the resurrection within him of the blue angels. The blue angels/Matthew Swift draw magic from electricity and phone lines, giving them power that very few magical creatures can withstand.

Griffin has taken the traditional element of fantasy, such as magic, wizards, sorcerers, fairies and so on and woven them into something new and dynamic. I am new to the concept of Urban Magic, so her ideas may be mainstream within this genre. However I would be very surprised if that was the case. London sits firmly in the centre of her creation and it is the movements, patterns, history that creates the magic.

I love the real London, and I love the London Griffin has created. I can easy believe in the gritty, powerful magic of the city.

An example of this urban magic — Swift uses his Oyster card to fend off an dangerous creature, Hunger, at an Underground barrier. He explains later that

…everyone and everything has its own unique magic. The underground’s magic is defined by the rhythms that go through it. It’s like a heartbeat, a pulse, the flow of life like blood through its veins, describing in every detail the shape of power in its tunnels. When you go into the underground, you buy a ticket, you pass through the barrier, you enter its tunnels, you take the train, you use your ticket, you exit through the barrier. This part of what defines it, this is part of what makes the taste of magic different, heavy, crowded, full of dirt and noise and life and strength. If you know that this magic is there, if you understand the rhythms that shaped it, it is a very simple matter to harness it to a spell that utilises to the full its unique signature.

There is the Beggar King, and the Bag Lady — “She isn’t simply a bag lady….she is The Bag Lady, the queen of all those who scuttle in the night, gibbering to themselves, and the voices that only they can hear. She is the mistress of the mad old women in slippers who ride the buses….she is the lady of all dirty puddles…..However, when the pigeons were nested for the night, it was to the Bag Lady that my gran would always offer her prayers.” There is a litter monster, the last train and, in The Minority Council, fairy dust, more powerful and more addictive that any drug found in our world. There is the spirit of the train conductor, who helps Swift after accepting a gift of The Train Journey’s Companion.

Switft’s urban magic doesn’t work in the countryside, or even in the large London parks like Regents Park.

It sounds cute, and parts of it are endearing, much of it witty. However it is also strong and violent. Right from the beginning of each book Swift has to fend off  monsters that are overpoweringly awful.

Angry. Attacked, burnt, attacked, hurt, attacked, fled, attacked, attacked, attacked, gunning for us, gunning for me, gunning for my….for people who stopped to help. (From early into  The Midnight Mayor)

The action pulls you along and you discover what the blue angels are and who brought Swift back to life. He is no superhero, but a well drawn character who, while making mistakes, also knows when to use a can of spray paint, an Oyster card or the by-laws of the Underground!

And by the way, her distinctive writing is pretty good too! I am so looking forward to reading the third book. I just hope there is a fifth, sixth, seventh etc!!

A man without breath by Philip Kerr

(Warning, this review has a big spoiler in it.)

Many years ago I read a trio of stories by Kerr about his detective, Bernard Gunther. What made these stories standout in the vast genre of crime fiction was that Gunther was a detective in Berlin in the late 1930s. In these stories Gunther had to tread carefully, while holding onto his own moral compass. So, when I saw this one on the Library shelves I wanted to read it. And I got about to thirds of the way through when I decided not to finish it. This is most unusual for me, especially as I had got so far.

It wasn’t the awful subject matter of the story, although that was pretty gruesome. It is set in March, 1943. Gunther is working for the German War Crimes Bureau and has been sent to Smolensk, in German occupied Russia, to investigate a mass grave found in a forest. If it is the grave of thousands of Polish officers who had been murdered by the Russians, it is good propaganda for the Germans. If it is where the SS murdered thousands of Jews, then it must be a secret that stays buried.

Smolensk is a frozen town filled with anxieties and fears, with not much food or hope. Other murders happen that Gunther is drawn to solving.

What countered the foul taste in my mouth while reading this was that Gunther and others are determinedly anti-Nazi. Kerr’s research has found events that shine like a beacon in this dark time.

One was a protest. On February 28th 1943 Berlin’s last Jews were rounded up for deportation. A couple of thousand were held in the Jewish Welfare Office. They were Jews who had non-Jewish wives. The wives protested outside the office and, miraculously, their husbands were released. They were the only Jews who were not deported. As Gunther, the narrator, muses:

……it begged the question, what might have been achieved if mass protests had taken place before? It was a sobering thought that the first organised opposition to the Nazis in ten years had probably succeeded.

What made me close the book [spoiler alert!] was when Gunther murdered a man, and it wasn’t one of the baddies. It wasn’t done in an argument or rage. Gunther uses the Greater Good Argument, but I don’t think that was good enough. He is a detective in the Philip Marlowe mould — hard bitten but with a core of decency. That’s why he is anti-Nazi. That’s why I couldn’t countenance his murder of another anti-Nazi.  I don’t want my Good Guys to behave like the Bad Guys. That’s why I had to close the book.