The Retirees go Abroad – Shakespeare and Dickens in London


We started the day with a visit to St Paul’s Cathedral. The Cathedral is massive and has the traditional dome. We were told later by our guide Corrina on our walking tour that Wren the Architect fought with the Bishop about the rebuild of the church after the Great Fire of London (1666)

Wren wanted a dome like catholic cathedrals but of course this was an anathema to the Bishop of the time. The Bishop wanted an English spire not a dome but Wren outlasted the Bishop hence we have a large dome and two spires on the cathedral today.

It is costly to visit the cathedral but we found the crypt which was free to enter. Here is the coffee shop and gift shop amongst the columns and vaulted ceilings together with statues and monuments all accessible at no cost. After coffee we returned to the St Paul’s Tube Station entrance to meet Corinna. Corinna is an actress also but in the twilight of her career and she does these tours for interest and to keep her active. The weather was a little kinder today. The sun was shining most of the time but the wind had picked up and it was chilly.

Corinna started the tour by taking us across the street to the remains of a church destroyed in WW2. This church had been rebuilt by Wren after the Great Fire but devastated in WW2 and turned into a memorial garden. The bell tower has recently been converted into a residence (sold to the current occupier for 4 million pounds). She sat us down and said “London was to Shakespeare and Dickens what Paris was to Balzac. It held them in its thrall, was both their canvas and their inspiration, their workshop and their raw material. They in turn made it their own, imaginatively colonising it. And, like “special correspondents for posterity”, bequeathed it to us. Today, despite the ravages of time, riot, bombing, and especially fire, traces of their London – shipwrecks from the past – still abound in the City. Everything from superb half-timbered Elizabethan dwellings to the magnificent early 16th-century gatehouse where Shakespeare went with his plays to the offices of the Elizabethan Master of the Revels. And from London’s grandest Tudor manor house to crooked little alleys which fed the fires of Dickens’s “hallucinating genius”.” (an extract from the advertising on the web site)

We admired the gardens and looked at various pictures which Corinna handed round. Then off she went; she may have been in her senior years but she was not slowed by them. We chased to follow her to the Candle Makers Guild building, then to the Mayoral carriage on show near another guild hall, then down some alleys to a small garden where a statue of Shakespeare stood. In fact it is a memorial to John Hemminge and Henry Cordell who are credited with compiling and publishing the First Folio in 1623 being the first collection of Shakespeare’ s works. It is located near the Pewterers’ Hall another guild hall this time for makers of pewter.

After a short stop she charged off again passed a remnant of the wall of London but no time to stop just a quick photo. Onto a memorial to people who had died rescuing others. After that we entered Little Britain St and walked passed St Barts Hospital and through the gates to St Bartholomew Great Church where we paused to hear another anecdote on Dickens as around this area Dickens set a number of his stories. Quite frankly I cannot recall exactly what the anecdote had to do with but everything we were seeing was new and fascinating.

As we left the church yard Corinna pointed out the seamstresses and embroiderer’s guild and then the Hand and Shears Hotel – this had been the sewing and cloth district in the times of Dickens.

We ended up near Farringdon Tube Station. But before she let us go Corinna had to do a little song and dance to finish her tour so here on the footpath in public view Corinna starts singing and dancing – no doubt the residents are used to this performance but I was taken by surprise and delighted. After giving directions to the tube station and the local hotels she vanished.

We elected to go to the oldest looking establishment we could find – the Jerusalem Tavern.

Jerusalem Tavern
Jerusalem Tavern

It was tiny and inside it was busy with workers from nearby, the floors were worn and the layout was higgledy piggledy but we were able to order lunch and a drink and rest our feet as we sat at the table in the bay window of the pub. After answering natures call I bumped into one of the other tourists on our tour and suggested he join us – tables were in short supply. Andrew did join us and he turned out to be an Aussie from Sydney an actor by profession and visiting his girlfriend in London, We chatted away out of the wind in the warm atmosphere of the pub and after finishing lunch bid Andrew adieu and headed for the Tube station and home.

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Retired Australian Lawyer having worked representing the innocent and the not so innocent in Australia and some of the remote parts of the world and having travelled widely through Europe, Western Russia, Canada, USA, New Zealand, Thailand Malaysia Solomon Islands northern China, Hong Kong and the UAE So now that I have the time I am writing about my travels present and past. Hope you enjoy exploring off the beaten track.