Sunday, July 26, 2015

Covent Garden and Westminster

9 July 2015

We discovered by accident that a Tube strike was planned for the Thursday of our stay, with the tubes starting to shut down from early evening on Wednesday.  This wasn't a major drama for us as our hotel was so central that we just arranged our day around things we could reach by walking.

The first walk we chose was Inside Covent Garden. It was excellent (as these walks usually are). Initially we were told about the history of Covent Garden, then we went to St Paul's Church, Covent Garden (which I had not been able to get into on Sunday). It is known as "the Actor's Church" and contains memorials to all sorts of actors and entertainers. Outside the church there is one of the last night-watchman's boxes, used by the night-watchmen to keep dry or to lock up miscreants while there were watching the graveyard looking out for "resurrection men" (i.e. body snatchers).  It looks like a Tardis, and I really wonder if it was the inspiration for the Police Call box.

St Paul's Covent Garden

Then we were taken into Simpson's-in-the-Strand. It had been established as a coffee house in 1828 and had developed and changed over the years.  It became noted for chess - even known as the home of chess - and it was one of the members who designed the chess pieces we know today.  It developed a restaurant, known especially for its joints of beef carved at the tables.  In one episode of Downton Abbey Lady Mary dined at Simpsons.

We then looked at various other points of interest around the Strand before heading to Maiden Lane (which runs parallel to the Strand) to see Rules Restaurant. It is the oldest restaurant in England, having been established in 1798.  We got to see inside before it had opened, so were able to see things like a private dining room that we wouldn't have been able to see during business hours. It was fascinating, and it was also used in an episode of Downton Abbey.

Rules Main Dining Room

Private Dining Room

The Bar

The Downton Abbey table

We then looked at the undercroft at St Martin-in-the-Fields, which is located near Trafalgar Square. We actually had lunch there before walking down Whitehall for our next walk, and after lunch I did a brass rubbing.  

Undercroft, St Martin in the Fields

The next walk was Old Westminster. By this time it had become quite hot.  In the morning it had been cool and overcast, so we didn't think to bring hats and we certainly regretted that.

The Westminster Walk covered the British Parliament (correctly called the Palace of Westminster), St Margaret's Church (the one next to Westminster Abbey, the Political Saloons of Westminster and Westminster School (from the outside only, of course). 

Portcullis House (housing parliamentarians) and
St Stephens Tower (housing the bell called Big Ben)

Boudicca Statue

The Palace of Westminster

St Stephen's Tower, Westminster Palace and
Westminster Hall

Westminster Abbey

By the time that walk ended we were hot and tired so had to stop for a drink.  We then walked back along the embankment.  There were enormous queues snaking along the footpaths of people trying to get onto a ferry (since there were no tubes) and I felt very sorry for them.

We had dinner in an old pub on the Strand called The Coal Hole where we had eaten last trip and then had an early night.

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