Sunday, 15 July 2012

Through the ages

I'm going to go a little off topic here and over the next few days share some images and experiences from my recent trip to London. I have been there on numerous occasions and each time I discover something new, and rediscover something much loved.
And this time I was really reminded of the old and new cohabiting so cohesively together. London means such different things to so many people, all of whom have equal ownership of it, and its many different areas.
And they're not just the locals.
The first time I went there I was 18 years old, and one of the first things I did was to go shopping.
As you do.
I remember walking down the massively wide footpaths of Oxford St and hearing so many different languages being spoken around me. It was a truly exhilarating experience. For these languages were not just being spoken by handfuls of tourists, or small groups of minority migrants; they were being spoken by hordes of people from all over the world, in London for all manner of purpose, who belonged to London as much as the English, and to whom London was very much home, no matter where they were from, or how long they stayed.
London to me really is the centre of the western world, with only New York to compete for this title. Yet while New York's sense of history and tradition cannot be denied, it cannot compare to London on this.

I stayed in an apartment in a tucked away little corner of Westminster, a borough famed for the high profile Abbey and Houses of Parliament, but also a densely populated and very quiet residential area.
My accommodation displayed perfectly that English predilection for a greatly pared back version of grand country style in even the smallest of urban dwellings.
And while I have never been a fan of the 'country look', this particular penchant seems to be a defining experience, and one that I enjoy in this context.

The apartment was in a multi-story red brick Victorian style building, that was originally built as council housing in the first quarter of the 20th century.
Part of the Peabody Estate, so named for the philanthropist who helped fund such projects all over England, each of the buildings in this unique zone is named after a famous 19th century artist.
Turner House.
Rossetti House.
To name a couple.
Which is particularly pertinent to the location of these buildings, just behind the original Tate Gallery.

First opened in 1897 to house Sir Henry Tate's gift to the nation of his private collection of British art, the building is a fabulous example of late 19th century embellished classicism.
Palladian meets Victorian.
And despite its grandeur contrasting quite starkly with the modesty of its neighbouring buildings, its contents and function clearly inspired their names.
And interestingly for a colonial visitor, the mother ship of the Tate Britain is built on the site of a former penitentiary where detained convicts awaited transportation to Australia.

Nearby addresses also include the quietly grand Vincent Square and Marsham St.
The former is one of the largest private garden squares in London, home to a substantial cricket club and pitch right in the middle of central London. The buildings lining this quadrangle vary in age from 17th to 19th century; many are apartment buildings, some are still single houses. And although only a finely honed stone's throw from those of the Peabody Estate, cater to a very different demographic, mainly very old, under the radar, aristocratic money.

Neighbouring Marsham St is defined by its unique deco architecture from the early 20th century. Although reminiscent of grand deco apartment blocks in America, theirs is a particularly English take on art deco, a style not widely seen in Britain. And again the residents hale from another sector of society: many of these are the London bolt-holes for members of parliament from all over the country, easily accessible to Westminster Palace, but within a surprisingly quiet and serene enclave.

So with this uniquely peopled and out-of-the-limelight neighbourhood as my platform, I set forth to enjoy the multi-layered inspiration that London can provide.

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