We did a two hour walk from Covent Garden Underground Station to the Royal Courts of Justice in London on 26th July 2011. This is a regular walk organised by www.londonwalks.com and was led by Richard III (they have seven Richards doing guiding). This was an excellent way of learning about a part of London.
Richard started by standing in Long Acre and pointing out The Freemasons Hall about 300 metres away and encouraged us to visit the inside of this notable building. Around the corner in Bow Street he showed us the, now unused, Bow Street Police Station, which was the first police station in the country and was also a magistrates court where notable figures like Oscar Wilde and Dr Crippen were tried. The Bow Street Runners in 1749 were the first people paid to find criminals and they were based nearby. We crossed the street to Covent Garden Opera House and went up the stairs to the Floral Hall. The structure of the hall is made of iron and glass and was originally built in 1858 as a flower market next to the Opera House. In the 1990’s the whole structure, including the iron pillars, were lifted one floor up and incorporated into the Opera House to create a wonderful bar area.
The first fruit, vegetable and flower market at Covent Garden appeared in the mid 17th Century and became the most prominent such market after the Great Fire in 1666 destroyed many other markets. The market was active until it was moved to bigger premises, south of the Thames, in the 1960’s. The buildings fell into disrepair and were eventually substantially rebuilt in 1980 to create the market building we know today. Off to the side, at No. 8 Russell Street, is Boswells, the coffee house where Mr Boswell met Dr Johnson in May 1763.
The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in Catherine Street is the most recent in a line of four theatres on the same ground, the first dating back to 1663. From there we crossed the Strand to the courtyard of Somerset House. The Somerset House that we see today stands on the site of an earlier Tudor palace that was demolished in 1775. The decision was taken to house many of the government’s offices under one roof and the architect was instructed by parliament to produce, “an ornament to the Metropolis and a monument of the taste and elegance of His Majesty’s Reign”. Somerset House today is an arts and cultural centre with many tenants in that field. It includes the Courtauld Collection which houses Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. Exhibitions and events occur in the Gallery overlooking the Thames and in the courtyard. There is an open air skating rink in the winter and open air movies in the summer.
Next door is the Strand campus of Kings College London part of the University of London. The Byzantine Gothic College Chapel, built in 1864, is located on the first floor of the King’s building directly above the Great Hall and is a magnificent chapel. At the corner of Aldwych and The Strand, Richard talked about the Australian High Commission building which was opened in 1918 and St Clement Danes, the Royal Air Force Church, opposite it.
We walked up Clements Inn Passage and into the heart of the campus of The London School of Economics. On the campus at 13 Portsmouth Street is The Old Curiosity Shop which dates back to the sixteenth century, although the name was added after the novel of the same name by Dickens was released, as it was thought to be the inspiration for his description of the antique shop.
We went round the corner to The Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The Hunterian Museum is an amazing collection of about 6,000 specimens relating to comparative anatomy, pathology, osteology and natural history. I noticed an explanation of why surgeons are addressed as Mr rather than Doctor. The College of Surgeons did not have the status of a university in 1800 and thus those issued with its diploma had not completed a Phd and thus could not be addressed as Dr. The title Mister became a badge of honour, and today after someone graduates from medical school with the degrees MBBS or MB ChB, (or variants thereof) they are called “Doctor” until they are able, after at least four years training, to obtain a surgical qualification: formerly Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons but also Member of the Royal College of Surgeons or a number of other diplomas, they are given the honour of being allowed to revert back to calling themselves Mr, Miss, Mrs or Ms in the course of their professional practice
We stepped into Lincoln’s Inn, one of the four legal Inns in London, where barristers are trained and practice. Richard pointed out buildings from five different centuries. We crossed New Square and walked down Star Yard and Bell Yard and arrived at the front of The Royal Courts of Justice. The Royal Courts of Justice, commonly called the Law Courts, is the building in London which houses the Court of Appeal of England and Wales and the High Court of Justice of England and Wales. Courts within the building are open to the public although there may be some restrictions depending upon the nature of the cases being heard. The building is a large grey stone edifice in the Victorian Gothic style and was opened by Queen Victoria in December 1882.
Our walk ended only half a mile from where we had started but we had seen and explored a huge amount in a short period of time. Richard III was interesting and incredibly well informed.
We left the group and had a lovely lunch at The Real Greek on the corner of Bow Street and Long Acre.
This activity was part of a programme of days where Tibby and I spend time with other doing something interesting. Previous days were:
Thursday 26th May 2011 – Churchill War Rooms, Churchill Museum and lunch at The Portrait Gallery
Monday 30th May – South Bank Food Market. London Saxophone Choir in open air, South Bank Beach Hut Display, Ai Weiwei sculptures at Somerset House, Covent Garden and the film, The Way.
Thursday 9th June – Two hour guided Mayfair walk, lunch at Claridges and Beating the Retreat on Horse Guards Parade
Tuesday 12th July – Top designs of 2011 at Design Museum and lunch at Oxo Brasserie
Tuesday 19th July – Barclays Boris bikes to Regents Park and Pericles at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre