In which I do research and Jim is forced to walk–a lot!–and we find a River which is not a river and an Angel which is not an angel.
On the suggestion of my UK Agent, John Parker, we decide to check out Clerkenwell as a possible location for Book 4. Clerkenwell has an interesting history first as a rural spa where the gentry could take the waters far from the madding crowds, later as the location of an infamous “House of Detention” from which Wat Tyler directed his Peasant’s Revolt, and later as a seat of radicalism and socialism less drawingroom genteel than that of Bloomsbury. Some people also claim that Sweeney Todd plied his razor here, but I’m not sure of that.
So, we hop out of bed, find our brekkie once again at Gran Sasso and then walk down Euston Road to King’s Cross Road and follow it down for a while as it dips southeast and becomes Farrigdon Road…and begin to think we should have taken the tube to Farringdon, and maybe we’ve missed the crossing and where are we anyway, when we find Rosebery Avenue and stumble into the pedestrian favoring lane of Exmouth Market. We sit down in the shade of a market stall near a pub and try to figure out where we are. And are surprised to discover we’re in Clerkenwell.
We wander around trying to find Clerkenwell proper and discover a park which is not Clerkenwell Green. Mr Kat finds a Victorian dog waterer. and gives it a go. But we have no dog nearby, and a sign that reads “Dogs not allowed on lawns” might explain why. There is a dog on the next path over, being inspected by some police constables–possibly for bits of lawn between his toes–or maybe just petted.
We carry on looking for the famous Well of Clerkenwell and this time we actually find it: behind glass in an office building. Or rather Mr. Kat does, as I’m looking the wrong way. It’s very hard to take a picture of through the glass, but we decide not to follow the signs to the Farringdon library to cajole someone into opening up the exhibit for us, as we can see most of it through the glass wall. We carry on down the street and around the corner in need of a nice cuppa. Tea that is. Which we find at a small sandwich shop near Clerkenwell Green.
It is not particularly green and is so very small we can’t imagine how Fagin and the Artful Dodger managed to find enough pockets to pick here upon which to train Oliver Twist. But the Royal Philharmonic offices are located on the other side so we figure that makes up for a lot.
We stumble around a bit looking the place over and discover Clerkenwell Priory Gate, which is somewhat choked with traffic and a tree. We wander some more and come up on the other side of the priory gate through Passing Alley which proves to be very well named indeed.
More twisty little streets, including one called Cowcross, lead us to Smithfield Market–the largest meat market in Europe–and also the location of many executions, including that of Sir William Wallace.
We don’t make the turn that would take us down to St Bartholomew’s Hospital, Hosier’s and Cock Lanes or the Haberdasher’s Hall (of which I’m not aware until we return to the US), but take Charterhouse Street toward the Charterhouse, which we discover one can’t get into from this side. But we do discover Sutton’s Hospital and its checkerboard wall . The dark squares turn out to be made of flint, which Mr. Kat recognizes from his childhood in Norfolk as real, honest to goodness, hand-me-another-arrow-Zog nappable flint. Ouch. Don’t fall against that wall, kids….
We also find one of the famous Smithfield Pubs which were charted to open at 6 a.m. for the benefit of the market men who’d worked all night and thus missed opening hours. The Fox and Anchor is at the end of Fox and Knot Street and it’s such a remarkable bit of Art Nouveau, that I had to take a photo of the whole thing. You can click on the picture to see the whole building front. At the top, there is a fired tile frieze of a Fox and not one, but two Anchors under a mass of lilypads and the date, 1898. It’s very surreal. Also note that the gargoyles are laughing when viewed from the front.
Oddly we don’t pause for a pint at the F&A, but carry on back up Cowcross and around by some byways until we come out at Northampton Road and Rosomon Place, get lost again, never stumble over the House of Detention, and wind up in a Pub on Rosebery that appears to have five different names, none of which I now remember. But it does have the best Pie and a tolerable Pint. I have Matador Pie, which contains no matador (take that Mrs. Lovett), but does have beef, real Spanish chorizo (not to be confused with the orange fat and spices squeezed into intestines that is sold in the US as chorizo), tomatoes and Spanish olives. It is divine and served with peas that are actual peas, not mushy peas. Mr Kat says they ruin the experience of true English Pubness, but I’m OK with that.
After we are suitably refreshed, we carry on, looking for the Head of the New River, which we find just a few blocks up Rosebery. Funny, it doesn’t look like a river….
but the sign delares that it is .
Mr. Kat puts up with me for a while as I try to find any sign of the actual river–which is actually an artificial river dug by Sir Hugh Myddelton in the 17th Century. Eventually we find a pumping station, some gardens, and a locked iron gate which would normally lead to the actual bit of water that is still exposed at New River Head, but as it is Wednesday and past 2, it’s locked.
Drat. Mr. Kat is getting restive, so we agree to follow the course of the river up toward Angel Tube Station and see if we have any better luck, but if not… I’m in trouble….
After a lot of wandering about, I find a park which is directly over the course of the New River and has been laid out to look a bit like a river. Leaving the increasingly grumpy Mr. Kat on a bench to dandle his toes in the non-existent water, I follow a hunch…
And discover the other end of the Islington Tunnel on Regent’s Canal. (Remember how the research started at the Canal Museum near the tunnel on the first night in London?) Well, here’s the other end: and some narrow boats that are moored nearby .
I return to Mr. Kat, pausing only to take a photo of the marker that shows where the invisible New River crosses 25 feet below Regent’s Canal–but the photo looks like a big gray blob, so I erase it–and agree to go home, but stop a few times on the way back to the tube station to take photos of the canal markers on the street. The City of London apparently can’t decide how to let the canal be made known as there are three different markers embedded in the sidewalks. The last on seems to be quite old and seems to indicate that the tunnel bends. Another one nearer Angel Station shows another bend, which must have made “legging” it through the tunnel quite interesting indeed. And it occurrs to me that the New River must not have been dug 50 feet deep, but that the city of London has somewhat grown over it until it’s not so very strange that its pipes are now below the Regent’s Canal, but wouldn’t it be interesting if they weren’t…? And of course, there’s always the River Fleet nearby, under the ground….
We find Angel Station, which is certainly not an angel and cannot, in fact, find any angels anywhere nearby. Later I’m informed that the station is on the site of what was once a coaching inn named The Angel and that there are many pubs named the same all over London. This makes me a bit sad and I really think the Underground folks need to erect an angel of some kind for Angel. We do, however, find the longest (and steepest) escalator in all of London. . This photo was taken about half-way down, so you can see how very long and steep it is.
Finally, another tube ride and a bit of walking later and we’re looking for dinner along the Euston Road when we find the most bizarre sight of the day: a templeful of Caryatids, just holding up a roof for no known reason on a building which does not appear to have anything to do with Greek temples or any temple at all. It looked a bit like a synagogue, in fact, but only a bit.
Eventually we find ourselves in an Indian buffet in Bloomsbury which turns out to be very delicious and we toddle off to our trusty hotel for a cuppa and then into bed, following an ominous message from my agent….
Tune in next time for the adventures of Kat Signing Books!