Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

Poppies, St Paul's and Pepys

I had most of yesterday morning free in London, and decided to try a commemoration of everyone's favourite blogger, Samuel Pepys. Insufficiently thorough research led me to this walk proposed by the Daily Telegraph, and so I set off to Tower Hill to give it a try.

Of course, this is the weekend of the immense poppy display at the Tower of London.
poppies in the moat

Non-UK residents may be unaware of this: a (ceramic) poppy for each of the 882,000 British soldiers who were killed in the first world war has been planted at the Tower of London, producing this tremendous sea of red. Even at 9 am yesterday, it was already crowded, and I shudder to think what it was like later in the day when the Prime Minister and his wife cam to place the last two flowers.
queue for the poppies

It is a moving display of collective remembrance.

I was less fortunate with Samuel Pepys. To begin at the end of his life, St Olave's Church, at the end of Seething Lane where he lived (just around the corner from Tower Hill station) is closed on Saturdays. The Monument to the Great Fire, which I first remember ascending when I was 15, is still there but surrounded by building work; I got a couple of decent shots though.
monument
monument plaque

I walked along Cannon Street to St Paul's Cathedral, thinking of the Great Fire, and Pepys trying to get through to the proper authorities in the burning city:
...At last met my Lord Mayor in Canningstreet, like a man spent, with a handkercher about his neck. To the King's message he cried, like a fainting woman, "Lord! what can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses; but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it."
The streets were a lot quieter than usual because of the Lord Mayor's Show and the various Remembrance Sunday events going on; the clouds were lowering behind New St Paul's, which was only half-built by the time Pepys died (and featured also on Doctor Who later that evening):
2014-11-08 10.02.19

I went into St Paul's for perhaps the second time in my life - I think I went with my family when I was a teenager - and had a good look around. There was a remembrance concert starting at 1100, but the crowds were not yet thronging. I was particularly interested in contrast between the tombs of Nelson and Wellington, and Napoleon's tomb in Paris (which I've visited several times over the years). Nelson's tomb is the more similar to Napoleon's (and of course that's chronologically the wrong way round; Napoleon was still alive when Nelson was buried):
Nelson's tomb

Nelson is very much in the place of honour, the focus of the crypt as a whole, giving him prime position as a supreme national hero; but the crypt itself is a very enclosed space, an element but only one element of a national place of worship. Napoleon occupies the central place in the Dôme des Invalides to the point that I'm sure many visitors think it was built for that purpose.

It is interesting to note that Nelson's sarcophagus had been commissioned almost 300 years earlier for Cardinal Wolsey, but was never used by him. Apparently it had been sitting around Windsor waiting for the right occupant.

Wellington, who presumably had more say in his arrangements than Nelson did, is in a less prominent place:
Wellington's tomb

He is surrounded by the gradually decaying flags from his funeral in 1852, which look like campaign flags and make him appear to be in mute dialogue with his former colleagues. The places of his victories are inscribed around his sarcophagus. There is no mention of the fact that he served two terms as prime minister; it's the resting place of an old soldier who knew when his best days had been.

Somewhat ironic that Wellington and Nelson ended up so close to each other in death, in that in life they met only once, shortly before Nelson's was killed (he didn't know Wellesley, and had to ask who he was).

Anyway, back to Pepys. Having failed on his tomb, I did better on his birthplace in Salisbury Court off Fleet Street.
Pepys birthplace plaque

But I was not very satisfied. I felt that there must be some better guides to Pepys' London out there. And of course, once I got home, I found that there are: Glyn Thomas has compiled three excellent walks, one for Westminster, one for the west of the City and the South Bank, and one for the east of the City and Greenwich. Thanks to my recent change of job, it is likely that I will be in London a lot more often in the next year or so. Would others be interested in joining me in doing any or all of those walks, either on a winter weekend or a decently daylit evening?
Tags: london, writer: samuel pepys
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