It wasn’t planned that way, but it has just been a weekend of several hundred years of London’s history leading up to its social smorgasbord present. This was also planned to be a TripAdvisor review of Tally Ho! Bicycle tours, a fine two-wheeled tour of historical sites in Westminster.
Evolution not revolution or creation
That the UK (or London) has evolved rather than being created or subject to design through revolution is a long-taught part of High School social sciences and this three and a half hour tour by on the quintessentially-British Pashley bikes contains food for thought with around a dozen stops around historical Westminster sites in three and a half hours of easy-going cycling. Our guide was Harry, London born and bred and while studying Economics and Government a source of real knowledge.
Tucked up between the back of the MI5 building and the Palace of Westminster, St Johns Smith Square is a peaceful, architectural gem of an address, demonstrating a lot of these qualities. The centrepiece was around St John, once a church now a classical music venue. The almost cubical design with four turrets was said to take its design from Queen Anne’s upturned footstool, which she kicked over and suggested was emulated in an argument with the architect Thomas Archer. It’s now surrounded by listed houses selling for anything between seven and twelve million pounds.
That the wide, sedan-chair-width main doors and gutter-access servant’s doors are now accessed by the same people represents social progress of sorts, though probably not as much as you’d expect. The recent cancellation of London’s Garden Bridge is some reminder that architectural sycophancy is still around in some sort of form.
Smith Square almost entirely merges onto Westminster School gardens, site of an actual reversal of equality. There is something monastic and gothic about this Square entirely penned in away from the bustle of Victoria in a scene that could have been passed direct from the 1800s, especially with the distant sound of a choir practising.
Westminster School was originally set up for the orphaned destitute of the parish around Westminster in Dean’s Yard, but several hundred years of evolution has seen the market better utilise it as a public school with yearly fees of over GBP 20,000 for an education adjacent to the UK seat of Government. Nice intentions you feel, but subtly corrupted by the market benefits of the location over the years.
Whether this conservatism is directly down to the church’s closed-shop attitudes is hard to judge, but another anecdote here gleefully passed on by Harry was the debate about women becoming bishops, which took place relatively recently in the tellingly historic looking, but actually 20th Century Church House. Though mercifully approved, a noteworthy argument against was that women would struggle with the emotional demands of the bishop’s role and may faint.
After stops at Horse Guards Parade, Lambeth Palace, Covent Garden and The Embankment, Street Art is the final stop under Waterloo Station, quite a nice ending and one where everyone is free to spray out some creativity. Intention or design I’m not too sure, but this jigsaw riot of clashing colour does point to a more positive, egalitarian and liberal present and future in London.
A riot of colour, smells of various types of incense and bashing of instruments were funnily enough the theme of Shri Kanagathurkkai Amman Temple (SKAT) festival in Ealing, literally a hundred meters from my front door on 13 August. Though I’d seen the elephant shrine in storage it was a lot more invigorating to see it used in the spirit it was intended. Though I missed it, and my friends Malcolm and Anita imbibed, the local park was distributing free food in the spirit of togetherness.
Similar to the graffiti, you feel new influences are where the good stuff and the hope currently is in London, the contemporary curve on over a couple of hundred years of evolution.