One of the things I love about London is the mix of old and new. There are stone buildings that have been around for hundreds of years encompassed about by giant edifices of steel and glass. Even with all the new building that goes on in the city the history is still right there in front of you in all the old buildings and spaces dotted around the city.
Near London Bridge station an unimposing old church stands between some old town houses. Opposite are the large stone buildings that make up Guy’s Hospital; these old buildings which once housed patients are now used for administration purposes while newer facilities, which are more conducive to modern medicine and treatment of patients, are just around the corner. This theme of old and new drew my attention as I walked around London on a windy, Thursday afternoon. The old church I had started my walk at, was once St. Thomas Church which had made up part of St. Thomas Hospital, which houses the Old Operating Theatre. The operating theatre, the oldest in Europe, only survives today because it is in the attic of the church; which is dwarfed by larger modern buildings that surround it. This juxtaposition can be seen everywhere in London; the old living alongside the new.
Heading north from the Old Operating Theatre I came to London Bridge. The bridge, rebuilt between 1967 and 1973, was full of standstill traffic; quite a different view to what would have been seen over 400 years previously when the bridge was a place of commerce and residence. With shops, houses and even a church on, the bridge would have been full of hustle and bustle. One of the only ways to cross the Thames into London, it was a place where criminals’ heads were displayed on spikes to warn offenders of their fate should they get caught, a strange sort of welcome to the city.
On the north side of the bridge, stretching along the expanse of the Thames bank was a profusion of buildings. With stone buildings that had, at one time, probably been the grandest buildings in the area now being overshadowed by larger glass office blocks to house some of the many companies that reside in London.
It was easy to see that I was moving into an area with a high density of offices. As I walked along the street it was a hive of activity. At 2pm on a Thursday afternoon business men and women were rushing around to get lunch before they headed back to one of the many offices in the area; offices that could be found in century old buildings as well as hundreds more modern that can be seen throughout the area. Cannon Street, like other streets I had already walked down, had the same tale to tell; old stone buildings were alongside newer glass and brick buildings and to add to the effect of new and old many cranes were also visible showing the ever changing face of the city as more buildings are erected.
Over the heads of passing people and between the office blocks on Cannon Street a large stone structure could be seen, St. Paul’s. Redesigned by Christopher Wren after the fire of London in 1666 this building dominates the skyline, with space all around it, unlike so many of the old buildings in London that seem to shrink in size compared to so much of the modern architecture that is shooting up around them.
Down the road and around the corner from St. Paul’s another church can be seen. Like St. Paul’s, the original church that stood here was destroyed in the fire of London and redesigned by Christopher Wren. Unfortunately, during WWII bombs were dropped on the building leaving only ruins, these remains have been made into a garden. As with most old buildings in London, whether fully intact or not, Christchurch Greyfriars Garden is no different; peering over the ruins are some modern office blocks.
Making my way to my destination I stumbled upon a small park amongst the great big buildings found in central London. A place of quiet and serenity in amongst the hustle and bustle of a busy, modern, city. Postman’s Park is not only a little green space to relax but also houses gravestones from the numerous churches around it as well as a Victorian memorial to everyday heroes that died while trying to save other peoples’ lives. 62 plaques give details of those who sacrificed their lives for others but the instalment was never finished as its creator, George Fredric Watts, passed away before its completion; but this old park helps tell stories of people that would have otherwise been forgotten.
As I neared my destination, St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, I noticed all the construction work going on. Cranes filled the skyline, as often happens in London, signifying the construction of more new buildings; but it is clear to see that the old buildings are still valued within this ever changing city. On a corner of St. Bartholomew’s, I came across a sign dedicated to a nurse of King Henry VI. This, like so much I had seen on my walk, was the old surrounded by the new. Written on the wall under the dedicatory stone were many messages regarding Sherlock Holmes. Holmes and St. Bartholomew’s have an ongoing connection throughout both the Arthur Conan Doyle novels and the BBC TV adaptations. So here not only is it a contrast between the old and new dedications to people, but also between real life and fantasy. London seems to be a place of contradictions that seem to work together to make it the place that it is today; a place of history and modernity.
All photos taken by author of this blog
Drawing of London Bridge – Daily Medieval: London Bridge is Going Up!