Following Forgotten Footsteps Through London

Jun 12th, 2008 | By | Category: Readers Contributions

If you find yourself amidst the vibrant, exciting, pulsating bustle of London City, with a day to fill, why not embark on a slightly more serene adventure and follow in the footsteps of some of Europe’s finest writers and follow them through the streets of London.

For those of you who never leave home without a book safely tucked away in your handbag, briefcase or backpack this could be the ideal way to pass a lazy day in London’s bustling metropolis. Feel inspired as you chase the shadows of Dickens, Shakespeare, Eliot and their fellow literary comrades through these famous thoroughfares.

One of the most popular attractions is the famous Westminster Abbey Cathedral, located just opposite the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Open to visitors from 9am onwards this beautiful church will capture your heart and imagination. You step into history as you pass through its doors and the atmospheric vibrancy within is palpable from the outset. You will pass statues of notable statesmen, the effigies of past monarchs but for our purposes you will no doubt direct your main focus to Poet’s Corner. Home to the remains of Robert Browning, Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Samuel Johnson and Lord Tennyson to name but a small few, you cannot but be moved by this sight. Memorials have also been put in place for John Milton, William Shakespeare and others of their revered ilk who rest elsewhere. The great Bard’s memorial holds court in this corner and watches over his brethren and any visitors who come to stand in their shadow with their heads bowed. This building with its 3,300 inhabitants is a must for all history and literary enthusiasts. To stand here among the ghosts is to truly touch the fabric of our literary past.

Emerging from Westminister Abbey, continue northwards on your journey to the neighbourhood of Bloomsbury. Notable for being the headquarters of the Bloomsbury Group, established by Virginia Woolfe, you can find a plaque in memory of their endeavours at 50 Gordon Square, with an individual plaque dedicated to Virginia at 29 Fitzroy Square. Until 1973, the British Library was housed at the nearby British Museum in Great Russell Street. This would have drawn countless thinkers and writers to Bloomsbury to sit amongst the bookshelves. Among them were George Bernard Shaw and Karl Marx. You can still visit the old Reading Room where they would have sat and view the actual historic desks and chairs that they would have used.

However it should be noted that the books that were once housed here have now been moved to the British Library at 96 Euston Road, a mere five minute stroll northwards from Great Russell Street. Would-be writers could not complete this literary exploration of London without paying this venerated institution a visit. As you walk from Bloomsbury and its museum to the National Library, Dickensian fans may want to stop of at their master’s residence at 48 Doughty Street. This building now operates as a museum and an homage to Dickens’s work and life. You can explore his study and view his manuscripts and other personal items at your leisure under the expert direction of Dickensian guides dressed in eye-catching attire from that period. A treat indeed! If you are so-inclined you could also take a detour to visit The Old Curiosity Shop at Portsmouth Street, said to have been visited by Dickens himself and it certainly wouldn’t look out of place in the author’s literary works.

Walking onwards along Gray’s Inn Road towards the British Library, book lovers can expect a real literary feast here. Hours of fun are to be had for those who wish to immerse themselves in this vault of creative endeavour. It provides shelter to over 150 million items, among them original manuscripts by Jane Austen and the Brontes. Other jewels include The Magna Carta and Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook. These are but a few of the treasures to be discovered here. If you have a favourite author, be sure to ask the staff for guidance, as they are extremely friendly and always happy to help. Be aware that the library is very popular with academics, researchers and students as well as tourists and so demand may exceed supply. An enthusiast could spend an entire day here and so it may be an idea to put aside a day for this purpose alone. It will be well worth the wait.

Having already visited Westminster Abbey you may have reached your quota for buried remains and memorials thereto, but if that only whetted your appetite then perhaps a trip to Bunhill Fields Cemetery to the east is worth a visit. Bunhill has been termed as The Dissenters Westminster Abbey, given that it is home to religious non-confomists. Within its boundries you will find monuments to William Blake, Daniel Dafoe and the tomb in which John Bunyan peacefully rests. It was in nearby Bunhill Row, just to the West of the cemetery that Milton wrote his famous Paradise Lost. This cemetery offers a welcome escape from the city’s mania and is a pretty corner not often included on London’s must-see list.

If walking amidst these famous graves has given you a greater taste for life then it’s time to return to the exuberant bustle of the city and to take a stroll across the Millennium Bridge to Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. With St. Paul’s Cathedral behind you, The Tate Modern Gallery waiting in front and the Thames rushing beneath, you are in the centre of this wondrous city and it’s unending activity. Take it all in. On New Globe Street to the east you will find an accurate replica of the most famous and important of Elizabethan theatres, Shakespeare’s Globe. Built as recently as 1993 it stands on the site of the original theatre. It houses exhibits that will satisfy the appetites of the most ardent Shakespeare fans and it dedication to authenticity transports you back to a time long since past. Guided tours are also on offer, but these are subject to seasonal restrictions so do check beforehand.

If your feet have begun to protest then there is only one stop left on your adventure and that is Southwark Cathedral, London’s oldest Gothic Cathedral and only a three-minute stroll from The Globe. Shakespeare himself is said to have worshipped here and is now remembered by a memorial dedicated in his honour in 1912. As the closest cathedral to the theatre district in Shakespeare’s time, one could imagine many thespians seeking a moment of silent reflection here before their opening night. An eye-catching architectural wonder, this is a perfect way to conclude a trip into London’s literary past. The writer Anna Quindlen wrote recently “All English Literature leads to London”. If that’s the case, what are you waiting for? Get your walking shoes on!

© Claire Doohan 2008

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