A few years into having lived in London, I realised I'd only explored a fraction of the city. So I dived into the capital's clandestine to find out what else London offered beyond it's iconic skyline.
The ruins of St. Dunstan-in-the-East
In the shadows of the modern steel and chrome structures surrounding it, are the ruins of one of the last Blitz-damaged buildings in the UK. The church stood proud for 900 years, even surviving the Great Fire of London, but in 1941 it took a direct hit and remained abandoned until the late sixties. The City of London then decided to make the sight safe and turn it into a public garden, so today St Dunstan-in-the-East is overgrown with trees, ivy and wall climbing flowers that decorate the ruined arches.
At the Eastern end of the Nine Elms quarter, nestled amongst the ever ascending steel skyline, is a mid-18th-century mansion. It's home to LASSCO's (the London Architectural Salvage and Supply company) showrooms and their doors are open to anyone keen to step inside and browse the oddments. But it's more than an antiques shop- should you ever fancy a dinner party to impress your friends, you can hire any of the rooms. The Saloon perhaps? Once a duke's drawing room, it will seat sixty. A smaller party? Perhaps the Library. Or how about a Karaoke in the Cellar? There's also a restaurant, which is how I first came across the House. If you're ever in this part of London, I reccommend the food and a wander around the ecllectic emporium afterwards.
Chewing Gum Art.
When you see one, you'll start to see the others and then you'll wonder how the heck you managed to miss them. That's how I felt when I crossed Millennium Bridge and first spotted one of Ben Wilson's pieces of miniature art. Ben paints tiny artwork onto discarded pieces of chewing gum on the bridge, a concept that was born out of the realisation that it isn't classed as criminal damage if the paint doesn't touch the bridge itself. A woodcarver by trade, each piece of his art demonstatres the skill and patience of a master craftsman. Next time you walk between St Pauls and Tate Modern, take a moment to look down.
Inside the ancient churchyard of St Pancras, behind the small church, is one of the strangest sights I've seen in the capital- an Ash tree surrounded by hundreds of neatly placed headstones. The story goes that during the 1860's, when the Midland Railway line was built over the original St Pancras Churchyard, an Architect named Blomfield was commisioned to supervise with exhuming the human remains and dismantlying the tombs. Being a rather unpleasant task, he passed the job onto his young protégé, Thomas Hardy (who in the following years would go on to become the renound novelist). Hardy is credited as having had the idea to place to the remaining headtones in a pattern around an ash tree at the back of the churchyard. In the years since the trunk has absorbed many of the headtones, melding life and death in a bizarre but beautfiful way.
Shackleton’s Crow’s Nest.
There is no shortage of history under the All Hallow’s church next to the Tower of London- An original Roman road is still here, perfectly preserved. The Church Register is down here too, opened to the day John Quincy Adams (the sixth president of the USA) was married here. Continue through the narrow passage and you'll find yourself in a chapel where the altar is made of stone from Richard I’s castle Atlit, built during the crusades by the Knights Templar. But turn the corner, and you'll see what at first appears to be just a barrel. Look closer at it's plaque and you'll realise it's the crow’s nest from Shackleton's ship The Quest, the vessel he died on in 1922. When the Quest returned to Europe after his death she was put to use as a mine sweeper during WW II but was eventually sunk by ice in 1962 off the coast of Labrador. Shackleton's Crow's Nest was saved before the vessel fell beneath the waves and somehow made it's way into the basement here.
A small and relatively hidden park in central London, Postman's Park shelters a wall of memorial plaques unveilved in 1900 commemorating the bravery of ordinary people who gave their own lives to save others. Initiated by artist George Frederic Watts, the tales unravelled on the plaques are tragic but simultaneously uplifting. This was a world before health and safety, but also a world before indifference. Take your time here, and be prepared to be moved.