Before Patrick Leigh Fermor could begin his great walk across Europe he had to make his way from his Mayfair home to Irondale Wharf, next to Tower Bridge, to board the Stadthouder Willem that would take him to the Hook of Holland.
Fermor describes the route he took in the opening pages of A Time of Gifts. Yesterday (or, on 9th June 2014 if you are reading this in the future) I followed in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s footsteps – or rather, the tyre tread of his cab taking photographs of the locations that he mentions as I went.
“A splendid afternon to set out!”, said one of the friends who was seeing me off, peering at the rain and rolling up the window.
The other two agreed. Sheltering under the Curzon Street arch of Shepherd Market, we had found a taxi at last.
As we shall see, not all the locations that Leigh Fermor mentions are still extant. As you can see above, though, the arch is. To be sure, I am only assuming that this is the correct arch. For all I know, they hailed a cab from another one now gone. However, as the one above leads into Shepherd’s Market, I hope I can be allowed my assumption. Below is the arch from the Shepherd Market end.
In Half Moon Street, all collars were up. A thousand glistening umbrellas were tilted over a thousand bowler hats in Piccadilly…
Here is Half Moon Street. Bowler hats are all but extinct now. Suited men in general rarely wear hats these days, which is a great shame. To be sure, I don’t think I saw too many suited men in this part of London. Smart-casual was the order of the day; given the weather that was probably sensible.
… the Jermyn Street shops, distorted by streaming water, had become a submarine arcade…
Since joining the London Library nearly three years ago I have come to know Jermyn Street very well, albeit fleetingly as I cut through or pass down it on my way to and from St James’ Square. The street is most well known for the fashionable clothes shops based on it; but, as the picture below of Turnbull & Asser shows, the external decorations of the shops are also rather lovely to look at.
By the bye, round the corner from Jermyn Street is the Cavendish Hotel where the Bright Young Things of the twenties used to drink and party. If I remember correctly, Leigh Fermor joined that scene in the early thirties although by then the movement had passed its sell-by date.
… and the clubmen of Pall Mall, with china tea and anchovy toast in mind, were scuttling for sanctuary up the steps of their clubs.
Above is a picture of the Travellers Club, of which Leigh Fermor was a member. They clearly got on well together as in later years the club presented him with a bronze bust of himself.
Incidentally, the Travellers was also Mons. Alfred Gilbey’s home after leaving Cambridge in the sixties. If you don’t know about Gilbey, shame on me for not mentioning him on this blog. I shall make a note to do so. In the meantime, search him out. He was a very holy man.
Blown askew, the Trafalgar Square fountains twirled like mops…
Well, here are the fountains in an altogether more sedate mood. The square is normally a hive of activity – it was somewhere after nine o’clock by the time I reached it so I’m sure many tourists were still at their breakfast tables.
… our taxi, delayed by a horde of Charing Cross commuters reeling and stampeding under a cloudburst crept into The Strand.
I waited for a horde of commuters to burst out of Charing Cross Station but, alas, none came. It was more a decisive trickle. After a few minutes, I got impatient and took the above photograph.
We splashed up Ludgate Hill…
It was as I walked up Ludgate Hill that I reflected on how much London has changed since Leigh Fermor’s trip began in December 1933. What inspired this thought was seeing the construction site on the left of the road and new-looking Cannon Street station on my right. I was surrounded by newness and it felt very dislocating
To be sure, there are still many buildings standing that eighteen year old PLF would recognise but occasionally construction sites and buildings that seem to have no continuity with buildings from the past make one feel that not only is the past another country but another world.
… and the dome of St. Paul’s sank deeper in its pillared shoulders.
This photo of St. Paul’s was taken from its south side. Not long ago, it was hidden behind scaffolding so you are seeing the fruit of many men’s labour in cleaning the facade. It is quite a majestic sight.
The tyres slewed away from the drowning cathedral and a minute later the silhouette of The Monument, descried through veils of rain, seemed so convincingly liquefied out of the perpendicular that the tilting thoroughfare might have been forty fathoms down.
The Monument was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and marks an important event – the Great Fire in 1666. You can also climb up it for a view of the City. However, I rarely see it mentioned as a place worth visiting. It doesn’t even have a proper name! It is a lovely memorial, though, and – as you can see – has a pub next door. There is really no excuse not to step off the beaten track for a moment and pay it a visit.
The driver, as he swerved wetly into Upper Thames Street, leaned back and said: “Nice weather for young ducks”.
Conversely, the less said about Upper Thames Street the better. Neither would I recommend anyone visit it. As you can see, above, it is a valley of concrete and glass, a representation of all that is wrong with contemporary architecture. Let’s move quickly on.
… the bells of St Magnus the Martyr and St. Dunstan’s-in-the-East were tolling the hour…
Above (on Lower Thames Street, just a few feet from where the previous photos were taken) is St Magnus the Martyr church, part of the Church of England. The noticeboard outside it declared that St Magnus’ is a ‘Forward in Faith’ church. I didn’t know what this meant at the time but have since been informed that Forward in Faith is a traditionalist group within the Anglican Communion. It rejects the idea (should I say ‘theology’?) of female priests and bishops. Looking at the notice boards, one would be forgiven for thinking that the church was a Catholic one – the services, for example, were referred to as Masses. Interestingly, the rector’s full title is ‘cardinal rector’. I assume this office is a Pre-Reformation one.
I have to apologise for not getting a clear photograph of St Dunstan’s. The church is in a very tight area, crowded in by buildings. Below is a wall, beyond which is the church garden. I assume that the wall is all that remains of an older church building. I must look that up. The garden, though, was a very tranquil space; I’m sure it is very popular with office workers in the area.
The Mint and the Tower of London. Dark complexes of battlements and tree-tops and turrets dimly assembled…
Above is a photograph of the Royal Mint Court. I have no idea if this is the same Mint building that Leigh Fermor passed. The quotation above seems to apply more to the Tower than Mint. Today, the Mint appears to be offices. Perhaps back in the thirties it was indeed where British money was made? Maybe the building, too, looked different.
… the driver indicated the flight of stone steps that descended to Irongate Wharf. We were down them in a moment; and beyond the cobbles and the bollards, with the Dutch tricolour beating damply from her poop and a ragged fan of smoke streaming over the river, the Stadthouder Willem rode at anchor.
Here we are! As you can see, Irongate Wharf has gone now; replaced by the Tower hotel. But this is where the Stadthouder picked Leigh Fermor up and, bore him away to Holland to begin his great adventure. Or, as he called it, the Great Trudge! Below is a photo of the Thames, looking down the river. I wonder how much that view has changed since 1933?
Here is a photograph of the Wharf. The picture comes from the Museum of London’s website.
I started my journey in Mayfair at about eighty thirty in the morning. It took me about two and a half hours to walk to Tower Bridge – that’s including stops to take pictures, take bearings and so forth. I could certainly have done with the weather being a little cooler but am glad it wasn’t raining!
After finishing my little trek, I retired to a pub on Tower Hill. It was not yet midday so I forewent an alcoholic drink and settled for a lemonade instead. If you would like to know ‘what happened next’ for Leigh Fermor, I cannot recommend A Time of Gifts and his its sequels Between the Woods and the Water and The Broken Road highly enough. To find out what happened when another man followed in PLF’s footsteps, not just to Tower Bridge but across Europe, I can also recommend Nick Hunt’s Walking the Woods and the Water.