Going Up to London

“When are you next up in town?” I ask my colleague who lives in the north of England.

“Down,” she says, “Look at the map. You come down to London, not up.”

But it’s always been coming ‘up’ to London, no matter where in the country one lives. (A similar thing pertains in Oxford – you go ‘up’ to College, and you can be ‘sent down’ (expelled) from the University.) Is this simply London’s sense of self-importance, or is there another reason?

Today, reading Judith Flanders’ “The Victorian City”, (a very good book – recommended) all became clear. In the early days of the railways as the companies planned their routes and schedules, they needed to distinguish the primary direction on each stretch of track. Hence ‘up’ lines – going towards London – and ‘down’ lines – going away. 

This was so all-pervasive (it lasted until at least after WW2) that it’s stayed fixed in many minds – so we still go ‘up west’, or ‘up to town’ (the centre of the city) regardless of the actual direction of travel.

A dastardly murder in Pall Mall

If you’ve never been to Westminster Abbey (or it’s ages since you last visited), now is the perfect time to go.

The absence of foreign visitors and coach tours might be hitting some of us in the wallet, but the usually overcrowded cultural attractions – the Tower of London, the British Museum, our other museums and galleries, cathedrals – are suddenly oases of calm. You are unlikely to get this opportunity again, so go visit! You will come away refreshed and uplifted.

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The Ascent of W1: the Marble Arch Mound

I actually thought it might be a good idea. It was certainly an idea worth exploring, and perhaps wacky/left field enough to work; plant a hill in the centre of the city, with flowers and trees. Bring a spot of the old rus to the very urbe Oxford Street. Give Nash’s poor, lost, isolated Marble Arch a bit of company.

Mind you, I thought it was going to be an actual hill – several thousand tons of soil compacted into a new knoll/tor/hillock. I didn’t think it would be just a web of scaffolding covered in rolls of sedum and sparse saplings. Nor did I know that the budgeted cost was £2 million (with an actual cost of £6 million: Six. Million. Quid).

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The 4500 year old Standard of Ur

Back in the British Museum for the first time since lockdown and prepping for a real life tour with a real life guest.

The Standard of Ur is an object I’ve walked past on numerous occasions, but until yesterday hadn’t ever really spent any time looking at. Its history and what it tells us about early city civilisations is remarkable.

It was discovered in the late 1920s during the British archaeologist Leonard Woolley’s excavation of the city of Ur. One of the most famous and earliest of the cities of ancient Mesopotamia (“between the rivers” of the Tigris and Euphrates; modern-day Iraq), Ur was a city-state of the Sumerians, founded about 3800 BCE.

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American Memorials in London

Another map, this one done for my UKToursOnline talk, “Star-Spangled Capital”. That’s about statues and memorials to Americans in London, and includes presidents, Founding Fathers, authors, philanthropists, artists and more.

As always, this is an ongoing project, so if you know of something that should be included, just post the details in the comments and I’ll add it to the map.

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