As a “foreigner” living in London for only a short three and a half months, I am constantly wandering (whether or not that was my intention). Since it is likely that wandering might leave me lost and disoriented, I instead chose a specific route to walk. Beginning at the Tate Modern Museum and ending at the British Museum, my 40 minute walk took me on a historical journey of architecture. I payed special attention to any dates I could find on the buildings, the design of the streets, outer appearance of the buildings and the cultural vibes I picked up on.
The Tate Modern museum in Southbank is itself a bustling place for art enthusiasts and abstract thinkers to let their creative minds run wild. Similarly, Southbank is an equally as bustling place for food-lovers (like myself) to explore Borough Market or tourists to walk along the Thames towards the London Eye. The Tate Modern building was formerly known as the Bankside Power Station, which was closed in 1981. The building risked being demolished, however in 1994 it was announced that the building would be the new home of the Tate Modern art museum. In 2000, the museum was opened (Archive Journeys: Tate). After walking through the exhibitions on display inside the museum, I was overwhelmed by the modernness of my surroundings (as well as some of the disturbing “modern” art I had just witnessed). As I walked along the Thames River, I noticed the modern bridges, industrial-style buildings and long row of chic restaurants that likely attract any and all tourists (myself included).
Architecture is an important way for walkers from all time periods to recognize what type of area he or she is in–whether that be judging by social, economic or cultural status. What is obvious about the Southbank area is that it is completely catered to fit the needs of a tourist. As I mentioned, the restaurants and blatant tourist attractions are what line the river and the entire area running from Tower Bridge to Waterloo. Furthermore, the area suits the modern tourist; food, museums and iconic attractions are what entertain the average tourist, which Southbank does exactly.
As I walked over the bridge towards Covent Garden, I noticed a dramatic change in scenery- even the bridge was made of stone instead of steel/iron. I quickly realized I was close to the theater district within Covent Garden. Covent Garden is a place rich with history that many do not realize. Hundreds of years ago, Covent Garden was a thriving trading settlement. As time progressed, the area’s identity evolved from trading post to bohemian fashion center to a theater-goers paradise (Covent Garden Area Trust). My walk through the windy streets near Wellington Street only further enhanced my amazement at how history within London is constantly surrounding us.
I hardly recognized any of the streets or buildings I continued to walk past through Covent Garden, a place I have wandered around numerous times. It was another reminder of how vast London is and how it is full of surprises that if you are lucky enough to stumble upon, will change your entire perspective again and again.
I mentioned earlier that I tried to pay special attention to any dates on buildings that I could find. The first was a large, stone building with the dates 1717 and 1967 printed at the top. I have been unsuccessful in identifying exactly what the building is and what it was/is used for, yet still, the date 1717 could be important. When I researched “1717 London,” here’s what I found: “that was a city without sewers, the streets filled with dung from the thousands of horses and wet with sewage thrown out of the window. The houses were black with soot blowing out of numberless chimneys. Some children died asphyxiated while being used as live chimney brushes. It was dangerous to walk about in the streets after dark…” (R.W.Bro. Leon Zeldis 1996-2016). A grim picture, to say the least.
I find this recount of London in the early 1700’s to be shocking. Walking through (most) streets of London is always pleasant, serene, beautiful and educational. Never could I have imagined that such a magnificent place be portrayed in such a vulgar way. However, I would have never understood that such a picture was possible if it had not been for my walk and peaked interest in this particular building and its date (shown below).
Another dated building I came across was The Plough 1855. The blue plaque is located on Museum Street. Mostly, this was another dead end search in terms of what it means and any historical significant associated with it. What I did find was a listing of the building that explains what apartments and shops are contained within the building (see the list here).
I walked only 7 more minutes until I was standing in front of the astounding British Museum. The British Museum was founded in 1753 as the first national public museum in the world (History of the British Museum). Not only is the architecture of the building absolutely stunning and overwhelming, but what the museum holds inside is even more astonishing. Mummies. Mummies dating back to 600 B.C. It is profound to look at such an ancient and vital piece of history.
In a matter of only a few hours, I had walked from modern, 21st century life and art to witnessing buildings along the streets that are older than America itself and also witnessing artifacts that are older than Jesus. I walked through history that day in the most literal sense possible.