This first week of 2011 has been a slow one for me during which I have done nothing but stay at home, nursing a nasty cold. Apart from suffering the usual symptoms, I have felt strangely lacking in energy and – to Freya’s evident pleasure – have spent a lot of time lying on the bed reading with her cuddled up beside me.
We did go out on Sunday with friends, when we paid a visit to Dennis Severs’ house, as I recounted in my recent post, A house in Folgate Street. The following day, Bank Holiday Monday, we went out again on what proved to be an abortive mission to visit Dr Johnson’s house in Gough Square.
As we passed Claremont Square, we saw a fox standing atop the covered reservoir. Tigger was quicker on the draw than I and got this photo before the fox disappeared. The reservoir is closed off behind railings and so wild life feels secure within and this fox went about his business in a calm and unhurried manner.
We had brunch at CrêpeAffaire in St Pancras station before taking a bus to town. This picture of Holborn Viaduct will give you some idea of how quiet it was. Bank holiday closures and the cold weather no doubt both played their part.
We walked on down to Ludgate Circus and turned into Fleet Street. Looking up Ludgate Hill, I was attracted by this group of three spires, two belonging to St Paul’s Cathedral and the third, in front of these, the spire of St Martin Within Ludgate.
There are some interesting buildings along this street which, of course, used to be the very heart of the newspaper industry before the various titles started moving out to cheaper premises on the periphery. The name comes from the River Fleet which once ran along here in the open but is now confined underground.
Above the doorway of number 110/111, these rather dissipated-looking cherubs play distractedly with a rather deflated terrestrial globe. The whole piece could do with a wash and brush up.
This is the spire of St Bride’s, long considered the church of the newspaper industry. Built in 1672, it is the second tallest of Wren’s churches – only St Paul’s Cathedral is taller – though the spire was added later, in the early 1700s.
This rather colourful clock decorates the façade of 135-141 Fleet Street, sometimes known as Peterborough House, once the home of the Daily Telegraph. This striking edifice was built in 1929-30 in Neo-Classical style with stylized Egyptian columns.
I was amused by this carved panel over one of the doors. It shows the god Mercury, with his traditional winged helmet and caduceus staff, apparently splitting himself in two in order to run off in two different directions at once. Mercury was the messenger and herald of the gods and so this panel is perhaps an allegory of journalists rushing off to bring news from around the world. While Mercury fits the classical theme, the actual design and the lamp above it present a more Art Deco perspective, I think.
Here is another clock. (I do so like clocks.) More restrained in style than the first, it is nonetheless an elegant piece of work and its owners, I am glad to say, have kept it clean and in good condition. (Few details mark the decline of a building more clearly than an ill-favoured clock.)
This one, at 9 Gough Square, commemorates James Boswell, Scottish laird and companion and biographer of Dr Johnson, author of the famous English dictionary.
Here another companion of the literary doctor is commemorated: the cat Hodge. Dr Johnson had more than one cat – an unusual interest at the time – but it is Hodge who is best remembered, James Boswell having written of him in Johnson’s biography:
I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature. […] I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying, ‘Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this;’ and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, ‘but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.’
Here, Hodge is seated upon the famous English dictionary and beside him is an oyster, in memory of those bought for him by his indulgent master.
And thus we arrived at Dr Johnson’s house at 17 Gough Square. It can, of course, be visited. But not on a bank holiday! Our mission, as I said at the beginning, turned out to be abortive.
We could have chosen another destination, I suppose, but it was cold and I was already feeling the beginnings of the bad cold, so the idea of going home to relax in the warm and make tea, seemed a most attractive proposition.
Waiting at the bus stop, I took the last photos of the day, trying to capture this wonderful Gothic pile, the Prudential Building at 142 Holborn Bars.
Feeling somewhat better today, I am looking forward to Omelette Day tomorrow and the possibility of a courier run next week. I shall of course keep you posted.