London City Sightseeing

On The Road Travel Essays

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London City Sightseeing

THE ROUTE

The route forms a circle, beginning at Upper Woburn Place (just off Euston Road) in the Bloomsbury district, and ending there. For this reason, you can begin the tour at any point in the circle, and come back to your point of origin. If you do "cut in" to the circle at any other point than Upper Woburn Place, preface your commentary with the opening remarks given under "The Text." The tour takes about 2-1/2 to 3 hours.

The following is the sequence of streets to follow. Plot the route on a map ahead of time, and check the route with your driver.

Take Upper Woburn Place south, when it becomes Tavistock Square. Continue south, through Woburn Place, Russell Square, Southampton Row, Kingsway. Left on Aldwych, then east into Fleet Street. Along Fleet Street, through Ludgate Circus, down Ludgate Hill, right around St. Paul's, east on Cannon Street, then left into Queen Victoria Street. At the Bank, turn right, into King William Street, stay on it, cross the Thames on the London Bridge, turn left into Duke Street Hill, which becomes Tooley Street. Turn left on Tower Bridge Road, re-cross the Thames on the Tower Bridge, proceed around the Tower of London on Tower Hill, turn right into Lower Thames Street, pass under London Bridge, continue on Upper Thames Street, and take the underpass into the Victoria Embankment. Stay on the Victoria Embankment until Big Ben, then cross the Thames on the Westminster Bridge, turn right on Lambeth Palace Road, cross the Thames again on the Lambeth Bridge, turn right on Millbank and take it up to Parliament. Circle Parliament Square, and take Whitehall up to Trafalgar Square. Take Admiralty Arch into the Mall. Circle around in front of Buckingham Palace, then take Constitution Hill up to Hyde Park Corner. Turn left into Oxford Street, take it to Oxford Circus, then turn south into Regent Street, and proceed again through Piccadilly Circus, down Haymarket, left into Pall Mall, right on St. James Street, and left into Piccadilly. Around Hyde Park Corner again, and then up Park Lane. Turn right into Upper Brook Street, circle Grosvenor Square, and take Upper Grosvenor Street back to Park Lane. Right on Park Lane, past Speakers Corner, and east on Oxford Street. Take whatever left turn brings you to Baker Street (Orchard Street?), continue up Baker Street, turn right on Marylebone Road, take Park Crescent, then back onto Euston Road, and continue until you are back at Upper Woburn Place.

THE TEXT

Opening Remarks  Our route takes us south, where we cross the River Thames on the new London Bridge. We'll spend some time on the southside of the river, and then cross again to the north on Tower Bridge (the lovely Victorian bridge near the Tower of London). As we pass through the city, notice: (1) the different districts and areas of the city — how each one is different in character and in its housing from the others; (b) the street names and place-names, which tell you a good deal about what these places originally were when London was much smaller. If you can see the flashing beacon of the Post Office Tower, keep it as a reference point, so that you can make out the circle our route traces. We'll see that tower later from the bridges of the river.

Bloomsbury District (Going down Upper Woburn Place, Tavistock Square, and heading south)  Here, the name "Bloomsbury" indicates that it was once a very different sort of area. The suffix "-bury" at the end of the name indicates that this was once a small town in its own right. The name "Bloom-" might indicate that large quantities of flowers once grew here. The area now is best known as the site of the British Museum and the buildings of London University. The area still has many lovely squares (e.g. Russell Square, which we pass on the right); there used to be even more squares and gardens, but the expansion of London University meant that many of them had to be filled in. The Bloomsbury district's main claim to fame is that in the late 19th and early 20th century, it was the favorite place in London for intellectuals and artists — writers, painters — who formed the famous "Bloomsbury group," including the novelist Virginia Wolf and the satirist and social commentator Lytton Strachey.

(At the beginning of Russell Square on the left): Now we'll see an interesting contrast between two London hotels. The first one is a big old Victorian-Gothic hotel, typical of the "grand style" of the 19th century — now somewhat worn and dilapidated (it's the "Hotel Russell"). Next to it is a piece of the 20th century, the modern "Imperial Hotel." It's up to you to decide which style you prefer and which one suits London best. London is full of jarring contrasts of this kind.

(On Southampton Row): We're now entering the district of London known at "Holborn." The suffix "born" indicates that once there was a stream running through the area (as unlikely as that may seem now). (At the point on Kingsway where stairs lead down to an underground station): If you see the stairs leading down — there was once an electrified street-car which ran the whole length of Holborn, and emerged at the other end. It's now no longer used, and the tunnel is closed. (1/3 of the way down Kingsway): Off to our left is a square (you can barely see it) called "Lincoln's Inn Fields," one of the medieval "inns of court" of London — a lovely park set right in the middle of the city. These "inns of court" at various points around London are the homes of the legal profession; many "barristers" (lawyers) have their offices there, and much ceremony and tradition surround them.

(As the bus approaches Aldwych): Looming up at the end of this street is Aldwych. The building directly in front of us is "Bush House," which was the original home of the B.B.C. (British Broadcasting Corp.), the state-owned radio and TV network. At the very top of the building (which you might barely be able to make out) is the motto of the B.B.C.: "Friendship between all English-Speaking Peoples." On the right of Bush House is "India House," which used to be the administrative headquarters of the Indian government when India was a British colony; coming up on our right, at the other end of Aldwych, is "Australia House," from which the government of Australia was also administered when it was a British colony.

(As the bus turns into the Strand): In the middle of the street is a statue of one of the most famous 19th century British prime ministers, William Gladstone, facing down the Strand toward Trafalgar Square. (Continuing east on the Strand): Directly behind Gladstone is the old Church of St. Clement Danes (in the middle of the street), now the ceremonial "mother church" of the British armed forces. It was bombed during the war (as was much of this area), and has since become the chapel for the R.A.F. (Royal Air Force).

(Passing into the city area): As the Strand becomes Fleet Street — the publishing center of London — we see the boundary stones which mark the entrance into the "City," the ancient square mile, which was once the whole of London. The ancient city wall of London ran through here, and this was the western gate. On top of the boundary-columns is a griffin with a shield, the emblem of the old City of London. On the left, the old Law Courts, including the famous "Old Bailey," which was once a prison. On our right (you can glimpse it only through narrow passageways) is the "Temple" area of London, a series of six secluded courtyards, another one of the medieval "inns of court." This is the legal center of the city; many law firms have their offices here, and bar examinations are conducted for candidates seeking admission to the profession. We're well into Fleet Street now, the "newspaper street" of London. You'll see the signs of the various newspapers which are edited and published along this street. This was a famous literary area of London in the 18th century. Samuel Johnson used to haunt the taverns in this area, and his house is off Fleet Street a couple of blocks to our left.

(Approaching Ludgate Circus): We're coming to Ludgate Circus. The name "Ludgate" indicates that there was once a gate into the city here. The name "Lud" comes from the pre-historic king (half-historical, half-legendary) who was responsible for restoring much of the city. (Passing into Ludgate Hill): We now have a splendid glimpse of the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral, gleaming nicely now that it has been cleaned and illuminated. Believe it or not, the cleaning of St. Paul's stimulated much controversy; one would have thought that cleaning it was the obvious thing to do. But many English people thought otherwise. The "Letters" columns of the local newspapers were full of angry protests against the idea. The basis of the protest was the claim that Sir Christopher Wren knew how sooty London was, and that he expected the cathedral to darken with age, and that this was a part of his original plan. At one point a letter was received by the Architect's Journal saying that the writer had had psychic communication with Wren, and that the ghost of Wren had approved the cleaning project. Whether this was the deciding factor or not, the authorities did decide to clean it. When the cathedral was being built — following the destruction of the old St. Paul's in the Great Fire of 1666 — the money to finance it came from a special tax on coal. It's ironic that just this coal caused the soot which blackened the cathedral and which made a complete cleaning operation necessary.

(Directly in front of St. Paul's): Here in front of St. Paul's is a monument to Queen Victoria. We'll see a more impressive monument to Queen Victoria when we come to the front of Buckingham Palace. (Moving down Cannon Street): Notice the modern office buildings. These new buildings were put up because most of the older buildings were destroyed during the London Blitz in World War II. This whole area, which is the center of the financial district, was an inviting target for the Germans. Right after the war, when reconstruction began, flocks of Londoners came down here to get their last view of St. Paul's unobstructed by surrounding buildings — a view which we'll never be able to see again.

(Turning left into Queen Victoria Street): Up ahead is the spot which has been called "the most closed-in open space in the world," where seven major traffic arteries of the city converge. This is the very heart of the financial district of the city. On the lampstand is the crest of the city of London; this tells you you're in the old City area. It has a red cross on a white background with a sword; some say the sword represents the one used by the Lord Mayor of London to strike down Wat Tyler, who led a peasants' revolt in the 14th century. But in fact, the sword's true origin is the sword of St. Paul.

(Turning into King William Street): As we swing around, notice the front facade of the Bank of England, containing the famous gold vaults. And on our left is the Royal Exchange, and in front of that a famous statue of Wellington, hero of Waterloo, sitting on a horse wearing a Roman toga, bare-legged and without any spurs. On the right is Mansion House, residence of the Lord Mayor of London — not the mayor of London as a whole, but the mayor of the old City area. Its main function now is a banqueting hall; there's a famous Egyptian Room which seats about 300 people at the state banquets. It's in this square, in front of the Royal Exchange, that new English sovereigns are proclaimed on the day of their coronation. An official ceremony is held; someone stands on the steps of the Royal Exchange and proclaims that a new monarch now rules.

(Continuing along King William Street): As we pass through the financial district, you'll see the crests of the banks which have their headquarters here: merchant banks, and ordinary banks are all clustered here next to the stock exchange. Although this was once the whole city of London, very few people in fact live here today; at night it's very quiet — mostly offices, banks, insurance offices; the population of the old City area is down to about 12,000 people.

(Just after the intersection): Keep your eyes to the left; you'll get a quick glimpse of the Monument designed by Sir Christopher Wren, commemorating the Great Fire of London (1666) — it's a tall column about 150 feet high. It is calculated that if the column fell down, the tip of it would just touch Pudding Lane, which is where the fire actually broke out. You can actually walk the 300 stairs to the top, getting a spectacular view of London.

(Passing onto London Bridge): Just before we get onto London Bridge, you can see, directly to the right, "Fishmonger's Hall," the hall of one of the medieval guilds (the old unions of merchants and traders). Nowadays, these guilds are mostly ceremonial, but once they wielded considerable political influence. This was the home of the "fishmongers" — merchants of fish. We're now on "London Bridge" — the new London Bridge, of course. The original London Bridge (built in the Middle Ages) was lined with houses. The second London Bridge (built in the 1830's) was becoming too old for modern traffic. It was dismantled and shipped off to Arizona, where it has been reconstructed on dry ground. Looking off to the left, we have one of the famous night-time silhouettes — Tower Bridge illuminated. The ship just in front is the H.M.S. Belfast, the last of the British cruisers; it's now a floating museum of naval warfare. You might be able to make out the cranes which are part of the Port of London. London, after all, is more than classic monuments. It is also a busy port, and the cranes and dock areas are evidence of that. Looking up to the right, you can see the flashing light of the Post Office Tower, and the area where we'll later pass by. You can see Westminster (Houses of Parliament) and the old City we've just been through. The building ahead and to the right is Southwark Cathedral.

(Turning left into Duke Street Hill, which soon becomes Tooley Street): We now have a nice view of the dome of St. Paul's, silhouetted between two spires in front of it. We're now coming to an area which contrasts starkly with the classical landmarks we've just seen. This is the back of the dock area of London. Nowadays, the docks are being moved gradually down-river to the east; now all we see are remnants (warehouses, offices of trading companies) of the port activity that used to flourish here. This is the old district of Southwark. Centuries ago, when the City-area of London was still surrounded by walls, the Thames formed the south "wall" of the city. This area was just outside the city boundaries. In Shakespeare's day, it was the theater area of London. The city authorities at the time were opposed to theaters; they thought the crowds too rowdy and were suspicious of any large gatherings where, they felt, seditious activities might take place. so the theaters were built here, just across the river from the city proper, and out of reach of the authority of the London Council.

(Turning left onto Tower Bridge Road): We're now approaching the famous Tower Bridge, the draw-bridge which opens up to let shipping pass under it. You should view it as a Victorian construction, comparing its style, say, to the Houses of Parliament. Someone has described this bridge as a "skeleton of steel clothed in stone" — which indeed is what it looks like. It is also a tribute to British workmanship that the two giant wings of the bridge (each weighing about 1000 tons) have never failed once in almost 100 years of operation. They operate (on average) once a day. When the bridge was first opened, there was a pedestrian walk running along the bridge, about 112 feet above the river. But they had to close it at one point, since it became the favorite spot for suicides — somewhat like the Empire State Building in New York. We have a view east, down towards the modern dock area. You can tell from the silhouettes that it's still a busy commercial area. On the left, we can see the Tower of London coming closer. And we also have a view back to London Bridge, which we crossed a few minutes ago. Cynics say that the reason the Tower is so brightly illuminated at night is to keep people from making mad dashes across the walls to get at the Crown Jewels. Coming up on the right is the original building of the Royal Mint, where English currency was made. (That's probably illuminated to prevent people from getting in also!) In fact, the actual manufacture of currency has been moved out of London — to Harlow and Swansey; but that building remains as the 17th century home of the Royal Mint.

(Turning left, circling the Tower and continuing down Tower Hill): On the right, opposite the Tower, is Trinity House, the headquarters of the Coast Guard and Lighthouse Authority. You can now see once again Wren's Monument to the Great Fire (ahead). The figure at the top of the column is an urn representing the ashes of the fire.

(Moving down Lower Thames Street): On the left, we're passing Billingsgate Fish Market; during the day, this whole area is unmistakable — the smell of fish is everywhere. In the daytime, you can see porters carrying the fish, wearing the traditional wooden hats. This whole area is one of redevelopment; new buildings are going up to replace the older structures and the ruins of World War II.

(Continue on Upper Thames Street, passing under London Bridge): Fishmonger Hall once again, to our left (immediately after the bridge). The lovely illuminated gardens on the right are the Dick Whittington Gardens, commemorating Dick Whittington, one of the famous early Lord Mayors of London. He was depicted in many popular medieval "pantomimes" (plays), where he appears as the man just about to leave London as a pauper, but hears the sound of bells and returns to become, eventually, the Lord Mayor of London four times.

(At one point, the road goes right around a church tower): Here you can see an example of how the English will go out of their way to preserve any monument which they find architecturally important; they've re-routed the road to go around this isolated church tower. (As the road swings south toward the river): We're going past the Mermaid Theater (left) — one of the famous new theaters in London, located in a former warehouse that used to back onto the river.

(As the road passes under Blackfriars Bridge): This is Blackfriars Bridge; this whole area is known as "Blackfriars" — from the Dominican monks who lived here. Blackfriars Bridge was built at the end of the 18th century; known then as "Pitt Bridge" (after the Prime Minister of the time). It was a toll bridge originally; but after about 12 years, the crowds rioted and burnt the toll house down. The government then bought the bridge and made it free, renaming it Blackfriars Bridge.

(Just as you emerge from the underpass onto the Victoria Embankment): On the right is one of the famous London "public" schools, the City of London School. We're on the Victoria Embankment. On the left are four ships, permanently moored — two of them naval training vessels, one the home of one of the more modern guilds (the Guild of Master Mariners), and the fourth the polar exploration vessel "Discovery." Look carefully at the Embankment as we move along it. If you look at old pictures of London, you'll notice them showing the banks of the Thames sloping gradually toward the water, ending in mud flats. There is no embankment, no wall along it. The Victorians built this embankment — and only the Victorians could have done so. They built it because they were going to construct a new sewage system for the city. So while they were at it, being Victorians, they drained some 32 areas of marshland, and put up this handsome promenade. If you look closely (left), you'll see the highly embellished lampstands and benches, looking very ornate, very Victorian. This is the area that figures in so many Victorian mystery novels — it is here that the murders on foggy nights take place, with the police inspector in his trenchcoat looking around the embankment for the culprit. On the right, we're passing the back of the Temple area. We passed by the front of it when we came down Fleet Street — it's over behind the trees to our right; these are the gardens of the temple. In former centuries, the Thames used to come right up to this point. Along the Strand, which runs parallel to us a few blocks to the right, the houses of the medieval and Tudor nobles stood right on the river's edge. ("Strand" is an old English word for "beach.") It is now the place where birth and death records for England are kept, and is thus a treasury of genealogical information. (This is where you come if you want to trace your ancestry.) The east wing of Somerset House we see now is part of Kings College, one of the properties of the University of London. Somerset House used to be a royal palace; then it passed to the Duke of Somerset, after whom it is named.

(As the bus passes under the Waterloo Bridge): The impressive building across the river is the Royal Festival Hall. It remains from the World's Fair of 1951, and it now houses the National Film Theater. When the construction is done, it will house the National Theater as well. Laurence Olivier, the actor, is the director of the National Theater and has been a moving force in the construction of this new theater. That whole area used to be a fun-fair year round, but this building is all that remains. The white building on the right is the stately Savoy Hotel, a watering place for celebrities. Ahead and on the left is a fine view of the Houses of Parliament. Coming up on the left is Cleopatra's Needle. This Egyptian obelisk was constructed about 1500 B.C., and given to England in the early 19th century. A twin of this obelisk stands in Central Park, New York City. The obelisk took 50 years to arrive in England from Egypt, because the ship that was bringing it had to ditch it in heavy weather, and it took 50 years to recover it. On the right is the back of Charing Cross Station, one of the railroad stations in central London. The front entrance of it is off Trafalgar Square.

(As the bus approaches Whitehall still on the Victoria Embankment): One of the most impressive sights in London after dark is across the river — the London County Hall. It is the administrative center for Greater London. At night, it looks like something you'd expect to find at the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. The buildings on our right are the backs of the Whitehall government offices — the political hub of Britain. In one of them is Scotland Yard — the home of the British police force. Directly in front of us is "Big Ben," the bell-tower of the Houses of Parliament. On it is one of the most famous clocks in the world; its time-keeping is so accurate that the final weight-balance is controlled by the placing of pennies on scales — that's how sensitive the clockwork mechanism is.

(Turning left at Big Ben, and onto Westminster Bridge): The statue on the left is of Queen Boadicea, a Celtic queen who led a rebellion against the Romans. Although her forces burned London to the ground, Londoners still put up a statue to her! Whenever you encounter a statue of a military personage, you can always tell something about him/her by the position of the horses (if there are horses in the statue). If both legs of the horse are raised (as they are in this one), that means that the person died on the field of battle. If one leg of the horse is raised, then that means the person was dead when the statue was put up. If all four feet are on the ground, that means the person was still alive when the statue was put up. Behind and to the right: a lovely view of Parliament again. Notice the stone lions as we come off the bridge. Lions are a common symbol of authority in Britain. In front of important public buildings, you'll see lions, symbolizing the authority and power administered from them.

(Leaving the bridge, turning right onto Lambeth Palace Road): This huge complex on the right is St. Thomas' Hospital. It's an example of the sort of building which is replacing the ugly docks that used to stand here and the back-to-back houses along the river. (While passing the park on the left): The impressive building coming up on the left is Lambeth Palace, the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England. The lovely park on the immediate left is the Archbishop's Park. The infamous Captain Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty is buried on the grounds of Lambeth Palace. We're going to cross the river for the last time on the Lambeth Bridge. This will give us our best view yet of the Houses of Parliament.

(On the bridge): The impressive building ahead on the left is a modern office block, the Shell Building. The white facade of the Savoy Hotel (which we saw earlier) is visible on the right.)

(Turning right after the bridge, and into Millbank): On the right are the Victoria Gardens, next to the Houses of Parliament. There are several famous statues in these gardens, including the "Burghers of Calais" by Rodin. The Houses of Parliament are on our right, the back of Westminster Abbey on our left. (Across from Old Palace Yard, just before Westminster Hall on the right): The statue in Old Place Yard is that of Richard I, the crusader-king. (Just before Parliament Square): The church on the left is St. Margaret's Church, the parish church of the House of Commons. Westminster Abbey used to be, but one day the members of Parliament who were in Westminster Abbey thought the service was too "high church" (tending toward Catholicism), so they all walked out, and went to St. Margaret's instead. St. Margaret's has been the parish church of Parliament ever since.

(Turning left into Parliament Square): This is Parliament Square, laid out by Sir Charles Berry, who designed the Houses of Parliament in the 19th century. There are many statues in the square — all in puzzling positions. Some are facing Parliament, some looking away, some looking toward some other figure. No one knows exactly why they face the directions they do. (Turning right, around the square): On the left is Middlesex Guildhall, with interesting carved figures around the door. (As the corner approaches): On the left, a statue of Abraham Lincoln.

(Proceeding into Whitehall): This is the famous avenue called "Whitehall," the home of the British civil service — Foreign Office, Treasury, Home Office, etc. (At the Cenotaph): The Cenotaph, a British war memorial, where ceremonies take place every Armistice Day (November 11). (Left): This is Downing Street — not lit up at night because the Prime Minister wants to sleep. Then the Horse Guards parade. Ahead is Trafalgar Square, with the Nelson Column in the center. to give you an idea of the proportions of the column: the statue of Nelson on top is 17 feet high. The building on the left is the old War Office, now the Admiralty Building. The statue just ahead of us (coming into Trafalgar Square) is that of Charles I, shown looking down Whitehall where he was executed by Cromwell. On the other side of the square is the National Gallery, the major British art collection. Just behind the statue of Charles I is a little plaque in the pavement indicating the exact center of London. It's from this spot that all distances in England are calculated.

(Turning left, and passing through Admiralty Arch): We're turning into the Mall towards Buckingham Palace, passing under Admiralty Arch. Notice that the public cannot use the central arch; that's reserved for visitors of state and royalty driving down the Mall to Buckingham Palace. On the left, in front of the Admiralty Building, is a statue of Captain Cook, the famous explorer who mapped much of the Pacific for the first time, and was killed in Hawaii by hostile natives.

(As you pass St. James Park): Notice the flagpoles on the left and right, topped with crowns, waiting to be decorated with flags on state occasions. On the right are the backs of palaces. On the left is St. James Park, with a lake in the middle, full of swans. Here at noon, you'll see civil servants and politicians walking with lunchbags, enjoying the greenery and flowers. On the right is the column built for the Duke of York — the famous Duke of York in the nursery rhyme, who "had ten thousand men; who marched them up the hill and marched them down again."

(Approaching Buckingham Palace): We're approaching the official residence of Queen Elizabeth — Buckingham Palace. Whenever the queen is actually in residence, the Union Jack flies from the top of the palace. The elaborate monument ahead is the Victoria Monument, built of solid marble, topped with a gold figure of Winged Victory, representing the success of the British Empire. Around the base are allegorical figures symbolizing the virtues by which the empire was won in the 19th century: patience, hard work, valor, etc. (As the bus passes in front of the palace, heading for Constitution Hill): Formerly, the guards used to stand outside the fence in the sentry boxes. But the tourists, taking advantage of the discipline and motionlessness of the guards, took the most atrocious liberties with them; so the guards were moved behind the fence for safety.

(Moving down Constitution Hill): This is Constitution Hill. Behind the wall to the left is the most exclusive garden in the world: the Buckingham Palace Gardens, the private gardens of the queen. On the right is a public garden — Green Park. Long ago, it formed the outer defenses of London in time of war — during the Civil War for example (17th century). At that time, the whole area was dug up to make fortifications against the royalist forces attacking the city.

(Approaching Hyde Park Corner): This is one of London's busiest traffic interchanges. The arch ahead is known as the "Quadriga" or Wellington Arch. The figure at the top represents Peace stopping the chariots of war. Such a figure is known as a "Quadriga." Originally, the plan was to put a statue of Wellington on top, but it weighed so much that it almost toppled the arch, and had to be removed. The arch is also an example of the British knack for putting monuments to practical use. The arch is in fact one of the smallest police stations in the city — located in one of the sides of the arch. The other side is used for removing traffic fumes from the underpass running below it. The various statues around Hyde Park are war memorials.

(As the bus turns right at Hyde Park Corner): On the left is the old entrance to Hyde Park (three parallel roads), no longer used, because (it is said) it's too narrow for a Rolls Royce to get through. In the 19th century, horses and carriages made quite an impressive spectacle on Sunday afternoons. On the left: Apsley House, formerly the home of the Duke of Wellington, now a Wellington museum.

(Going along Piccadilly): This is Piccadilly, leading into the entertainment center of London. Formerly, this whole area was dotted with residences of the well-to-do. Now, there are only large stores and commercial establishments. What residences there are are few and far between, and very expensive. (Nearing the Ritz Hotel): This is the exclusive Ritz Hotel, on the left. (A few short blocks later): On the left, the Burlington Arcade — a pedestrian street, full of shops. On the right (somewhat later) is one of the most famous of London's department stores: Fortnum and Mason's, primarily a food store. It retains some of the atmosphere of the old London stores, including clerks in evening dress and white gloves.

(Nearing Piccadilly Circus): We pass now into Piccadilly Circus. These bright neon signs have always been dear to the hearts of Londoners. During the war, many of them had to be turned off for fear of air raids. At the end of the war, at a certain day, all the lights came on, and thousands of people flocked here just to see that tradition renewed. The name "Piccadilly" comes from a shop that stood here in the 17th century, owned by Robert Baker, a tailor who sold "piccadills" (lace collars). The statue in the center is known as "Eros," but it was originally set up to honor the memory of Lord Shaftesbury, famous patron of children's charities. (Passing Shaftesbury Avenue): Shaftesbury Avenue is the center of the theater district of London.

(Going straight ahead on Coventry Street): We're going to pass Leicester Square. The British are fond of parks; right here, in the center of the bustling entertainment district, is a restful and pleasant park. (Driving along the north side of the square): The statue in the center is of Shakespeare, surrounded on the base by figures of swans (from the fact that swans swim on the river Avon in Stratford and are often associated with Shakespeare). The park, like many, was named for the nobleman who owned land or lived here, the Duke of Leicester. We're now going to drive around the square-shaped area known as Soho — the center of the entertainment district of London. We're on the south edge of the area now. The small streets on the left lead into Soho.

(Turning left into Charing Cross Road): Coming up ahead on the left is the other end of Shaftesbury Avenue, at Cambridge Circus, the twin to Oxford Circus (which we'll come to later). Cambridge Circus is reputed to be the headquarters of the British Secret Service; nobody knows, of course. Whether the public lavatories in the center of the circus are a clue or not, no one can say. But in all good spy novels, this is where the Secret Service offices are always located. (As the bus goes past Foyles Books, on the left): This is Foyles, the most famous book store in England, and the largest. (As the bus comes to Center Point): On the right is one of London's most talked-about landmarks — the gigantic office building on the right, called Center Point. The building stands empty. The price of land is so high in London that the realtors figure that they can make more of a profit by keeping it empty and having the rental value rise than by renting the office space for a fixed fee.

(Turning left into Oxford Street): This is Oxford Street, one of the major shopping streets in London. There are four major shopping thoroughfares in London, each with its own character: Oxford St., Bond St., Regent St., and Tottenham Court Road. The most expensive of them is Bond St; Oxford St. is in the middle, price-wise. We're now on the north edge of the Soho area.

(Approaching Oxford Circus): We're coming up to Oxford Circus. Years ago when London was much smaller, this was indeed the Oxford road, heading out to Oxford. It still runs in that direction, but is now well within the bounds of the central area of the city.

(Turning left into Regent Street): We're turning into Regent Street, another of the main shopping streets of London. Notice the buildings that line the street — grand, palatial buildings designed mainly by John Nash in the early 19th century in the "Regency" style. They're some of the best facades in London. It's much debated whether Nash or Sir Christopher Wren is the key-architect of the city. Whereas Wren built the churches and public buildings, Nash built the private homes. Nash's plan was to make of Regent Street a "spine" around which the whole of London's commerce and shopping would revolve. The name "Regent St.," like "Regents Park" refers to the Prince-Regent, later King George IV, during whose reign Nash did most of his work. If you see some "Wedgwood China" in the showcases, you might wonder who Wedgwood was. Josiah Wedgwood was the founder of the modern British pottery industry up in the north Midlands. His name is now associated with very high quality china. (Approaching Swan and Edgars): This store called Swan and Edgars has the most enviable location of all: bounded on one side by Regent St., and on the other by the street called Piccadilly.

(Passing through Piccadilly Circus again, and then right, heading down Haymarket): This is the street called Haymarket — another example of a street which has parted from its original function; it hardly looks like a "haymarket" today.

(Turning right into Pall Mall): This street, known as Pall Mall, is named after an old French game. Today it's known as the center of London's "club" life. These exclusive clubs, such as the Athaneum (catering to people of intellectual eminence), Reform Club, Garrick Club (for actors), specialize in all types of professions. The tradition of the British club can be seen here at its finest. The image is of staid British gentlemen sitting all day in heavy, plush armchairs, reading newspapers. (Turning right into St. James Street): We're approaching the Bond Street area, one of the most posh of London's shopping areas, and the most expensive.

(Going west on Piccadilly): We're heading back toward Hyde Park Corner again. The statues you can see ahead on the right are facing Apsley House, residence of the Duke of Wellington. A story is told about Wellington and Apsley House: in 1831, after Wellington had become a politician, he was involved in a crisis over the reform of Parliament. At that time, he was highly unpopular, and there was a small riot around Apsley House. After this, he installed on the windows some iron gratings. These remained there for years afterwards, and 20 years later, in 1851, Wellington was coming up the Mall from Buckingham Palace, and was greeted by a crowd — this time a cheering crowd. The duke took one look at the crowd, gave it a piercing glance, saying nothing, and simply pointed up toward the grating in his windows, leaving the crowd rather bemused. It shows something of the character of the man.

(Going along Park Lane): We're heading up Park Lane, with Hyde Park on our left. Hyde Park, like many of London's parks, was once a royal hunting ground. One of the famous roads in Hyde Park is called "Rotten Row" — once a popular riding promenade, with carriages and well-dressed crowds. The name "Rotten Row" is a corruption of the French route des roi ("way of the king"); what a comedown! On the right, the London Hilton. The flags you see above another building on the right are not the American Embassy, but on the Playboy Club. It's often mistaken for the U.S. Embassy. (Continuing along Park Lane): Many of London's most stately hotels overlook the park — like the Dorchester, on the right.

(After turning into Upper Brook Street): This area has always been one of the most fashionable and exclusive in the city. It's made up of these classically-designed houses — early 19th century "Regency" style. (Entering Grosvenor Square): This is Grosvenor Square, most famous today for the U.S. Embassy located here. It's on the right (the west side of the square). (Proceeding along the north side of the square): The F.D. Roosevelt Memorial is on the right — put up in 1948, illustrating the American associations of this square. (Turning south, and proceeding west along the south side of the square): You can get another glimpse of the U.S. Embassy now. Look up at the large golden eagle on the top of the building. This little area of land is American soil, set right in the heart of London. (Leaving the square by Upper Grosvenor Street): You can see the side entrance of the embassy now (on the right), with another eagle set in the entrance. (At the corner of Park Lane): On the right is a plaque indicating that this was the home of the great 19th century Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli — the man who bought the Suez Canal for Britain; he was also the great political opponent of the man whose statue we saw earlier at Aldwych (Gladstone).

(Turning right, into Park Lane and continuing north; approaching Marble Arch); The arch coming up in front of us is "Marble Arch." It used to be located at the front entrance of Buckingham Palace, until the Mall was redesigned. Instead of tearing it down, the authorities dismantled it and re-located it here. It was felt that the stonework and wrought-iron gates were of such artistic value that the arch had to be saved.

(Heading around the corner, toward Oxford Street): On the left is Speakers' Corner, famous for its oratory and its example of English free speech — sometimes taken to extreme limits. (Starting east along Oxford Street. Ask the driver to point out the plaque in the pavement indicating the former location of Tyburn Gallows. If he doesn't' know, the skip the following): The road running up to the left used to be known as "Tyburn." It was the scene of public executions, when such executions were part of the criminal code in Britain. People used to flock here; it was something of a public spectacle to see highwaymen and murderers executed by the gallows. We're now at the western end of Oxford Street, which runs from the Marble Arch down to "Center Point" which we saw earlier. On the left are examples of highly embellished Victorian houses, with carvings on the lintels and doors. We're coming into an area of squares again — of lovely pocket-parks surrounded by classical mansions.

(Turning left, toward Baker Street, passing Portman Square): These lovely Georgian houses are associated with the name of Robert Adam, the famous architect and builder of the 18th century. (As the street becomes Baker Street): This is Baker Street, best known for the fictional residence of Sherlock Holmes, the detective who lived at 222-B Baker Street, down on the right.

(After turning right on Marylebone Road): On the left, the London Planetarium Building, and next to it, Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, with the cameo of Madame Tussaud herself on the front of the building. (A little later): On the left, the Royal Academy of Music, a teaching institution for budding musicians, the title "royal" indicating royal patronage. (As Park Square approaches): We're moving along the southern edge of Regents Park, containing the London Zoo and the open-air theater.

(Turning right, into Park Crescent): Here again is the work of John Nash. These lovely buildings in the classical Regency style are some of the finest in London, often photographed for travel posters. These buildings go all the way around the edge of the park, preserving the look of London from the early 19th century. Today, many of these buildings are owned by London University, and used — if you can imagine it — as student residences.

(Still on Park Crescent, passing Portland Place): Portland Place runs down to Oxford Circus, which we saw earlier. After Oxford Circus, the street becomes Regent Street, one of the most exclusive shopping areas of the city. Down this street is the building which the B.B.C. occupied after it left Bush House on Aldwych (which we saw at the beginning of the drive), and from which the famous broadcasts during the war were made to underground organizations all over German-occupied Europe.

(Leaving Park Crescent and turning right on Euston Road): This is Euston Road, another major thoroughfare of the city. (As Euston Station looms up on the left, brightly illuminated at night): Euston Station on the left, built in the 1950's to take the place of the old Euston Station. There was much controversy at the time about a famous old arch, Euston Arch, which stood in front of the old station. Some wanted to keep it there; others wanted to dismantle it and rebuild it elsewhere; but it was finally decided to demolish it altogether, so that only the brand-new station remains. Euston is one of several railroad terminals in London. Each of them used to be the main-station of a separate railroad, when they were owned by different railroad companies. Euston Station, located in the north side of London served the northern cities of England. Victoria and Waterloo, located farther south in London, served the south of England. Eventually, in the early 20th century, these different railroad lines were integrated into one railroad authority, run by the state. Today, the stations are jammed during rush hours by hordes of commuters coming into the city to work.

(Approaching Upper Woburn Place, where the tour ends): We hope you've enjoyed this bit of London, and will take back the memory, not only of the familiar monuments of the city, but also the contrasting areas — from the docks on the Thames, to the palaces, and the fashionable residences just off Hyde Park. London is a sprawling city, full of such contrasts, and an excursion like this is the best way to sample its varied districts.

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