Stepping out to the London beat
The best the city has to offer can really only been seen under your own steam. Not that I want to malign the number 11 bus, which will take you all the way from the Kings Road in Chelsea to St Paul’s, following famous landmarks on the way. It truly is the best route for sightseeing. But, to really get under the dust covers of London, then it’s shanks pony. If your feet are made for walking, there’s a surprise around every corner.
City tit bits
Fleet Street (EC4) is in the City of London. Look up above the shop facades and you’ll see evidence of its newspaper past. There on the red brick walls is the faded lettering announcing papers long since gone, such as The Manchester Guardian.
El Vino’s is still operating, minus the journalists. This is the wine bar where male hacks (no women allowed in those days, except as guests) took long liquid lunches.
Further down the street, The Cheshire Cheese public house has also long lost its regular imbibers. Across the road and down a tiny alley is St Bride’s. This is known as the journalists’ church and has had many services and memorials for revered correspondents. The famous wedding cake spire and building are badly in need of renovation. As ever funding is an issue.
But while Fleet Street is now a different animal, there’s much to see if you know where to look. Among modern interlopers such as Starbucks and MacDonald’s, you’ll find a number of small passageways that reveal the area’s history.
Bolt Court is in one of those pathways off Fleet Street. This is where the City Lit, London’s oldest adult education centre, used to be before it moved to sparkling new premises. It’s also where the London Bureau of The Baltimore Sun had its offices. Convenient for me to pop out from work at the paper in my lunch hour and squeeze in a fitness class. And the same centre offered me the opportunity to indulge in my love of pottery and all things art. Now the building is an upmarket apartment building. And The Baltimore Sun is long gone.
If you meander past the lawyers chambers in Bolt Court you’ll hit the cobbled pavements of Gough Square. Guarding the entrance is a small bronze cat, Hodge. He sits comfortably on his plinth, looking at the home he shared with Dr Johnson, the renowned man of letters. At Hodge’s feet sits the remains of a feast, an empty oyster shell.
When my friend Eileen and I had finished an evening class, Hodge would always receive a pat on the head as we made our way to a local pub for a drink before heading our separate ways home. He never responded, but it gave us a warm glow to acknowledge London’s rich history in that small gesture.
Fleet Street runs from the Aldwych to Ludgate Circus. Any bus taking you to St Paul’s Cathedral will go down Fleet Street. If you’re taking the tube then the closest at one end is Temple on the District and Circle lines. Or at the other end the closest would be St Paul’s on the Central line.