Picture this. Dawn break, bitter cold, the Thames splashing beneath you, the London lights blinking as if it were waking up. That was what I witnessed on the 5th of November and Guy Fawkes on the 31st of January 1606. Inspired by Bonfire Night, I decided to loosely base my walk on the route of the hanging, drawing and quartering of Fawkes and his co-conspirators. Fawkes luckily managed to avoid being quartered by successfully hanging himself. My walk began at the Tower of London at 6:54am, finishing at the Old Palace Yard of Westminster at 8:14am.
I started my walk from the Tower at the break of dawn and passed a pub that is amusingly called The Hung Drawn and Quartered. A man stopped me on my tracks and asked if I wanted to be his friend. I wondered if flaneuses had this problem. As I made my way along Eastcheap, I thought of the experience of being drawn through London. Samuel Pepys wrote about witnessing Major General Harrison being hung, drawn and quartered in 1660, commenting that Harrison was ‘looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition’ (Pepys’ diary 13/10/1660). Pepys was a funny man, I bet he was a right laugh.
Along Cannon Street I found Fish Street Hill which is the road after the infamous Pudding Lane. I find City of London road names entertaining as they were named after places of trade, such as Bread Street, Pudding Lane and Cloak Lane. I like to imagine myself transported through time to the time when the streets were rich of people buying and selling goods. Fishmongers had settled to Fish Street Hill by the 13th century. Bebbington wrote in London Street Names that fishmongers were hated by the poor as the Fishmongers’ Company ‘used its monopoly to keep prices artificially high’, which was troublesome for the poor as fish was a staple in their diet (Bebbington, 1972, p131). Fish Street Hill was also mentioned in Stow’s Survey of London. According to Stow, Edward the Black Prince (1330-76) used to live there (british-history.ac.uk, accessed 06/10/16). The Black Prince was the eldest son of Edward III (1312-77) and was named the Black Prince during the Tudor era. He was known for being an exceptionable military leader but he died before his father, which led to his younger brother Richard becoming the King (history.ac.uk/ (accessed 06/10/16).
Past Cannon Street and St Paul’s Cathedral, I walked along Fleet Street. Named after the River Fleet, Fleet Street used to be the centre of journalism from 1500 when Wynkyn de Worde set up a printing shop (Ackroyd, 2001, p401). Saussure mentions that the coffee houses on Fleet Street that the press also encouraged people to visit coffee shops as a way of mongering the news. (Ackroyd, 2001, p402). Fleet Street was inherently popular area of journalism from the 1500s until the 1980s when prominent newspaper organisations moved to the south of the river or to the newly built up Docklands. Today there still lays acknowledgement towards the historically respected industry, such as the plaque commemorating the Standard newspaper or buildings named after publishing companies or coffee shops. The last of the Fleet Street journalists left in August of this year from the Sunday Post which is based in Dundee, marking the end of journalism on Fleet Street (independent.co.uk). Though saying that, I did pass a lit up ‘BEANO’ sign which made my inner child feel giddy. The Beano is owned by the Dundee based DC Thomson who also owned the Sunday Post and it started in 1938 at the beginning of the Second World War. The Beano has been the epitome of childhood for many generations.
Passing the Royal Courts of Justice, I greet the Strand bordering between the City of Westminster and the City of London. The Strand has changed in the hundreds of years since the drawing of Fawkes and co, for now it is a one way system. In the middle of the one way system is a church that intrigues me. This church was St Mary le Strand, a Grade I listed building. The church was completed in 1717. A metre above the road I saw etchings of ‘VAULT 15’ ‘VAULT 16’ ‘VAULT 18’. These vaults were places of burial due to a lack of graves available during the time of the building of the church, so their solution was to place them in vaults instead. (Johnson, Crypts of London)
Walking down the Strand towards Trafalgar Square, I noticed the City has woken up. Sleepy but excited tourists bustled out of Charing Cross, their faces covered by their maps as they decide where to venture. Disgruntled workers in their suits holding Starbucks coffee, scowled at the tourists who they knew would inevitably take up their path.
Nelson on his column bade me farewell as I turned onto Whitehall. I could see the end of my walk in sight. Fawkes’ end was also in sight many moons ago, but his literal end. Having walked 3 miles already before 8am and running on 4 hours sleep, I was exhausted. Fawkes must have felt to same. At least I wasn’t getting dragged through the streets of London on a January morning.
Halfway down Whitehall, after Big Ben loudly chimed eight times, I noticed a building that had the head of Charles I attached on the side of it. This building was Banqueting House and it was built during era of Elizabeth I. The reason why the head of Charles I was on the side of it was is because it is where he was executed on 30th January in front of large crowds. Charles was executed after the Second Civil War, between the roundheads and the Cavaliers, because Charles did not consult Parliament as he forced his wishes the country (educationscotland.gov.uk/). Banqueting House has a large history; from being a place of reception for Holland’s ambassadors during Cromwell’s era, to Queen Victoria granting it to become a museum. Today you have to pay £5 to enter if you are a student. (hrp.org.uk/)
Westminster and the Old Palace Yard were in sight. Exhaustion overcame me. That was the earliest I had gone for a walk and I promised myself to never do that to myself for the sake of an assignment. I crossed the road and walked towards the Old Palace Yard, a policeman wished me a good morning. I stood in the middle of the Yard and thought of Guy Fawkes and the torture he went through, how long the walk/drawn was, and of the bitter cold that we both experienced. I wondered if Fawkes saw the fishmongers on Fish Street Hill, the printers on Fleet Street, and the grandness that is Banqueting House while he was being dragged through the streets of London. It was a pleasant morning.
Ackroyd, Peter, London: The Biography, (London: Random House, 2001)
Bebbington, Gillian, London Street Names, (London: Batsford Ltd, 1972)
Johnson, Malcolm, Crypts of London (London: The History Press, 2014)
Shameless self-promotion: I’ve been writing a separate blog about my mental health and walking, if that’s something that interests you then here it is