I am a London Blue Badge Guide and am working as the peak of the summer season begins to wain for some. That said, after 6 years in the travel business, I am beginning to realise that there is no typical year and no discernible trend. A little like playing the stock market or following currency fluctuations. There are trends but they are affected by many variables.
Taking that into account, after a morning’s tour of Westminster Abbey I find myself on a rainy day with time to explore London. Why on earth would I want to do that? I live on the outskirts of London, I work in London (but only some of the time), I see its best parts every time I am in London. if you have ever spent a few days in London, you’ve seen everything there is to see..… Haven’t you?
Every now and then I am asked to put together a bespoke tour. Something a little out of the ordinary. Something that requires a little more thought. Exercising the little grey cells of creativity as it were. Also, I may pass something every day, mention it day after day and each time think to myself, “I really need to know a little more about that.” or I may want to take advantage of one of the special exhibitions of which every gallery and museum will hold in order to educate, inform and raise much needed finds.
They say it always rains in London. – Not so, I’ve heard it has less rain than Melbourne or Istanbul (but have never checked or been to either) but occasionally we have a day of continuous rain. Today, after a long hot summer, it is much needed rain and looking at the weather forecast, all thoughts of global warming are going out of the window and I am sure that newspaper editors are suddenly shelving plans to provide reports of global warming and drought contingency plans. Normal service is close to resuming. There had been mention of a hose pipe ban a few days ago and that is almost akin to a modern day rain dance.
What can a Blue Badger find to do on a wet afternoon in the City? Methodism, Freemasonry and early 20th century art, that’s what. Are you sitting comfortably?
Driving north to south in or out of the City of London you will pass the fortress-like facade of the Honourable Artillery Company. Next door to that, are the Bunhill Fields, the burial place of “non-conformists”, whose august number include John Bunyan (of Pilgrim’s Progress fame), Daniel Defoe (he, who introduced us to Robinson Crusoe) , William Blake (artist, poet and mystic as one well known online encyclopaedia describes him), and Susanna Wesley, (the mother of Methodism). Bunhill Fields contains a staggering number of burial plots but it is the Wesley connection that brings me here. Across the road from the burial ground is the London home of John Wesley, the Foundary Chapel and the Museum of Methodism. (https://www.wesleyschapel.org.uk) Aside from that, it has an example of one of the finest Victorian lavatories I have ever seen. (Followers of @jollygoodglyn on instagram will recall that I am not shy in appreciating fine quality toilet facilities (the V&A provides a previous example).
By this time, the rain it had begun to raineth, not a heavy deluge you understand, just a sustained permeating sort of London rain. A quick check on the bus route and I was able to get to Bank, jump on the Central Line for a few stops and time to check out a long held fascination with the Freemasons. I am not a member of the Freemasons, you understand, (but doesn’t everyone say that?), but have always been curious as I regularly drive past the eponymously named UGLE building close to Covent Garden. I have also been spending a good deal of time in Bath, where I have been told that much of the architecture bears symbols associated with freemasonry. I spent just short of an hour in the museum and library. Fascinating from an artistic point of view and, perhaps essential if you are a member of the Freemasons. I leave a little none the wiser but like all good museums, resolve to return to see more. One thing, I now understand the relevance of 1717 above the portal of the building. (https://www.ugle.org.uk/freemasons-hall/tours)
I am looking at London from the perspective of those with walking difficulties today, so am wholly reliant on public transport and where possible will take the bus instead of the underground (we are sightseeing after all). I have never quite understood why Transport for London don’t have a bus App and just recently, have noticed that the live bus updates appear a little harder to find. A well known Englishish coffee brand benefits from my need to find the best form of transport and so after a little research I find myself outside Lairds Hatters choosing my next hat (after all, a chap can’t have too many hats but it is best not to leave them at home). The bus arrives promptly and I am whisked off to the front door of the Tate’s Collection of British Art at Tate Britain.
Tate Britain, for those of you who aren’t aware, is the Tate’s original gallery. It is housed on the site that has been variously a hospital for the mentally ill and a prison for those to be transported to “The Colonies”, as commemorated in “Lockrings”, Henry Moore’s nearby statue. While National Gallery seems to be a warren of dead ends and eclecticism, you know where you are with Tate Britain. It celebrates British Art from 1500 to today. As you have to make an effort to get there it is a little more intimate and you find yourself in a gallery with those sharing a common bond of discovery. My purpose today, is to seek out the “Aftermath” exhibition running at Tate Britain between 5 June and 23 September. The exhibition focuses on “art in the wake of World War One.” and does what Tate Britain does best, namely display the work of British Artists in the context of how they influenced and were influenced by events of the time.
And then time for tea but more of that on another day.