Walkabout London

If I were 20 years younger, and could still walkabout for relatively long stretches, I would walkabout London Town. Because, when I was there about 18 years ago, I looked up suddenly to see that I was crossing Wimpole Street,

and was immediately reminded of Elizabeth Barrett. I even looked up and down the street for a sight of Robert Browning, coming to visit. Another time, strolling through a park, I spied a grave marker, sitting by itself in the green, and went over to check it out. It belonged to Anna Cromwell, a granddaughter of Oliver.
Anna Cromwell grave.jpg
How she came to be here, I still don’t know, but the discovery made me want to explore other parks, other gardens, other out of the way markers for those bits of London’s history, real and literary, that aren’t in the guidebooks. Not that anyone’s trying to hide them. It’s just that there are so many, it would be like trying to count the stars on a moonless summer night in the country.

There are, for instance, 994 Blue Plaques. These are plaques placed on buildings in which certain notable people lived or worked. From William Blake to Bertrand Russell. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Peter Cushing. Nathaniel Hawthorne to Emile Zola. Anywhere you walk, you can look up suddenly to see a familiar name. The Jeremy Bentham Pub. Baker Street, Harley Street (where the doctors practice, you know), and the Tottenham Court Road. I just know I’ve run across that street in a book somewhere. Beginning to feel right at home.

Agatha Christie taught me about zebras and chemists shops, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Baker Street and Dickens of Temple Bar. There are 3,000 parks. How many more hidden treasures lie there, I wonder? More granddaughters tucked away among the greenery?

All I can say is that if you have spent a lifetime within the covers of English lit, London, should you be so lucky as to spend some time there, is going to feel familiar. As if you have been there before. Which, of course, you have been. You’ve toddled round with Bertie Wooster, had a refreshing tisane with Poirot, and left your calling card with Amelia Sedley of Vanity Fair. Wear a good pair of walking shoes. And make yourself at home.