London Stories and Tips

Lost in Pimlico, the Tate and the Temple

Side of Tate Britain Photo, London, England

September 25, 2001

I checked out of the hotel this morning and took a cab to Liverpool Station where I stored my bags in Left Luggage for the day. Pricey but convenient. Stashing them at the hotel would mean either schlepping them around on the tube or risking being late taking a taxi in rush hour traffic. Now my bags are here and ready to go when I am. I’m meeting a friend when she gets off work and spending the rest of the week with her and her partner out in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex.

Freed of my burdens, I caught the tube to Victoria Station, hoping to locate the post office. My tourist map had a little envelope symbol in the vicinity but I never did find it. Probably walked right past it knowing my luck. I was heading south on Buckingham Palace Road. I think. Those new popular little popup tourist maps are handy but don't have the detail that my other one published by Let's Go on the inside covers of a pocket guide book does. It didn't serve me well in the walk towards the Tate Gallery which was my goal for this morning.

I turned of BPR in the general eastern direction of the Tate and found myself along some quiet streets in Pimlico, lined with white terraced houses. I passed by a church, St. Gabriel's, by Warwick Square and I walked and walked until I realized that the fold out pocket map was really only good if you were following main streets! I couldn't figure out where I was but at one point I could see the four smoke stacks of Battersea Power station looming up so I knew I was close by the Thames at least. I followed that road, which turned out to be Grosvenor Road and came to a pub called the Spread Eagle.

By this time I had been walking about 3/4 of an hour and it was about 11:30 a.m., my face was clammy and hair frizzy in the morning humidity and I was gasping for a drink. Pub. drink. plan! Only I did take the girl behind the bar somewhat by surprise when I asked was there any way I could get a cup of tea! There was, Bless her! I sat down by a window to peruse my woefully inadequate map only to discover I was about 100 yards from the Tate which was just around a bend in the road. Oh well, I did have a pleasant walk and this after all is the way you *should* see a city. Walk and see where the roads take you. You can't get that far lost in London in the long run, not on foot with a map in hand even one lacking in detail as mine. The tea was restoring and my feet enjoyed the rest.

After all the moaning I have done over the years about wanting to see the Tate Britain and the J. M. W. Turner paintings, I should have known I had my hopes up too high. There are quite a few rooms in a separate wing at the gallery dedicated to Turner but most of what's here are his unfinished works. Of the one room that had finished paintings I only recognized one of his shipwreck scenes. I thought it would be mostly works that I would recognize but perhaps most of them are scattered around galleries around the world unless this was a temporary exhibition. I ate lunch at the gallery, feeling let down a bit but the
food at least is excellent here!

After lunch I browsed in the other galleries, seeing works by John Constable and some really nice portraits by John Singer Sargent, an artist I hadn't really considered before. There were a lot of portraits that were actually very interesting although the Victorian morals were really played up in many of them with allegories depicted in others. The gallery is not really large so it's not overwhelming. Most of the modern art is now housed in the Tate Modern on Bankside near the Globe theatre and wobbly new Millenium footbridge.

After a browse in the shop I took a bus up through Trafalgar Square and got off near Aldwych. I wandered down the Strand, admiring the turreted Royal Courts of Justice, a bit too Over The Top for my taste but interesting nonetheless. Twinning tea shop is just across from it as well, a deep narrow shop filled with tea and coffee, cups and teapots.

A little farther on I arrived at Temple Bar. This was originally where the Knights Templar had their headquarters and church. There is still a very old church there but it is covered in scaffolding. The "Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon" were founded in 1118 to protect Christianity during the Crusades when they accumulated a vast amount of wealth, mostly donated by grateful followers. Power followed along with the wealth. About 200 years after their founding, however, their organization went down in flames, literally and inexplicably swiftly and without resistance, in France. Shortly after, in London, the law profession moved into the area where the Templars once reigned. This area is the Lower, Middle and Upper Temple area of London, just off the Strand near the courts. It consists of a few streets, lanes, courtyards lined with buildings of various age containing law offices and law schools and residential blocks for law students as well. When you finish your law degree, you are "called to the Bar". There are a few medieval buildings left and there is a serene Fountain court circled with benches and trees through which the rays of sun knifed through like laser beams. There has been a fountain on that spot since the 17th C. There is also a large fenced park which is not open to the public. Many of the buildings are under tarp and scaffold for restoration including the old Temple Hall.

I emerged from there and found myself on the Embankment, not far from Blackfriars. Since my feet again ached to the point of feeling like I was walking on bruises, I decided to head to the station, collect my bags and find a place to sit even though I was early to meet Nikki. We found each other at the appointed meeting spot though the tide of commuters rushing into the station after 5 p.m. It takes about 40 minutes by train to Rayleigh where she parks her car. A large strong looking bloke offered to help carry the suitcase over the platform cross over. He lifted it like there was next to nothing in it while I nursed the huge bruise on my wrist that I got that morning from wrestling it DOWN four narrow flights of stairs at the hotel! We arrived in Leigh-on-Sea around 6 where Dave had already started cooking our tea and we had a relaxing evening catching up.

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