Part of the A212 road runs along one side of Crystal Palace Park, carrying traffic between the suburbs of south east London. However, beneath a section of the road – unbeknownst to those passing above – is a quite astonishing structure, usually hidden from the public. This is a subway, but not of the concrete, graffiti-ed, dubious-smelling variety more commonly seen beneath Britain’s roads: it is something else altogether.
Highgate is London’s famous cemetery – it’s the one that most people think of first when Victorian cemeteries are mentioned and it’s the most well known of the “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries that date from the early Victorian period. Its location on a hillside overlooking the towers of central London draws thousands of visitors, and the overgrown western cemetery has inspired quite a few chilling tales over the years. Although it retains the glamour and prestige it commanded in its heyday, Highgate looks quite different now compared to its Victorian beginnings. Despite the many years of neglect (now being remedied by the Friends of Highgate Cemetery), this wonderful burial ground is still one of the finest locations of Victorian funerary architecture in Britain.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I walked past this church and its burial ground before finally stopping to explore it. All Saints, Fulham, is situated close to the River Thames, and is the twin to the more famous church on the other side of Putney Bridge – St Mary the Virgin, Putney. St Mary’s was the home of the Putney Debates, a series of discussions amongst members of the Parliamentarian New Model Army, in 1647. But All Saints also has an interesting history, and has a churchyard full of fascinating graves – including the tombs of many of the Bishops of London.
I first came across this beautiful street while a tube strike was in progress – disruption to my usual route to work meant that I had travelled on a National Rail service into Waterloo, and had then covered the rest of my journey to work on foot. Turning off the busy Waterloo Road into a maze of residential streets, following the people heading in the direction of the City, I found myself on Roupell Street and felt as though I had stepped back in time.
Nestled between pubs, restaurants and the hospital buildings of St Bart’s on West Smithfield is a Tudor gatehouse. During the week office workers, hospital staff and the traders of nearby Smithfield Market hurry past this structure without giving it a second glance, but groups of people on guided tours usually stop outside this rather incongruous site. The gatehouse marks the entrance to the City of London’s oldest parish church, St Bartholomew the Great, a rare survivor from the Great Fire, albeit much changed from its early years.
London’s Square Mile is notoriously short of green space. A crowded maze of winding streets for many centuries, the City of London was originally bound by the ancient Roman walls and as the city expanded open spaces became further and further away for those living in the dirty and overcrowded centre of town. Although the Royal Parks of London have a longer history, it was the Victorians who first advocated a wider movement for open spaces in Britain’s industrialising towns and cities. Much of the reasoning behind the parks movement came from the belief that the widespread disease in urban areas came from dirty air – or ‘miasma’ – and parks were seen as a way to improve the health of those who could not afford gardens or country retreats of their own.