This is the start of my A to Z blog tour challenge. I have chosen the theme ‘London’ but have tried to mix things up a bit. I’ve included two guest bloggers later on in the process too.
Today to ease us in gently I’ve chosen
If you google ‘Aldwych’ on google Maps you will see a short curved road linking the Strand to Fleet Street. Nothing special about it then.
Well, not if length is your criterion.
But this is a classic example of a modern London Street in the sense that is it anything but modern but is also anything but a museum piece. Nothing is not in use and fully functioning yet it reeks with the history of the place. And the uses? Well they are eclectic to say the least. London, you might say, in microcosm.
The sign above says ‘Theatreland’ and it is in part. There are two theatres actually on the Aldwych, one just before its start and several off it as the side roads lead up a slight slope towards Covent Garden (of which more later in this tour).
The theatres appear on the first part of the north side of the crescent before Kingsway heads due north. Kingsway is unique as the exit for a one way tunnel off Waterloo Bridge which was built when London had trams and trolley buses (before my time).
Between the theatres sits the squat fronted Waldorf Hotel, famous for its salad and afternoon teas. Once, a colleague booked a room there. He had a client dinner in Covent Garden and then an important pitch for new work early the next morning and knew it was pointless commuting home and back. Sadly he over imbibed and on his way back to the Waldorf was mugged. Being feisty, Welsh and drunk he fought rather than gave up his wallet and was tossed, unceremoniously into a skip. Unaware of any injuries he crawled out and headed for the hotel where he collapsed fully clothed onto his bed. The next day he awoke to find the pillow had stuck to his head wound overnight – he hadn’t appreciated he was cut – his jacket was ripped and one shoe was missing. Nothing daunted he showered until his head was clearer and the pillow came free and headed for the pitch. Even without a jacket, sporting a wound that would do justice to a prize fight and with one shoe missing he secured the work. The client was heard to say ‘we want him on our side’.
On the south side of the Aldwych, there are two monumental buildings (after a rather bland modern hotel, the newest construction hereabouts).
The Indian Embassy and Bush House. Bush House is both part of the Inland Revenue and, more importantly home to the BBC’s World Service.
When I began as a law trainee one of the jobs was to go to Bush House to pay the stamp duty on any documents requiring it. The machines for affixing the red seals were enormous things with many levers and a hissing sound like some small mammal was being sacrificed in the process.
Dickensian is probably too modern a term for the process of having something stamped. The rules on paying stamp duty were out of date by this time and ripe for smart-alec lawyers and accountants to find loop holes.
Which we did. Sadly the duty became a tax a few years ago and no more did you need to affix a seal to a document. They will be much missed.
After the interruption of Kingsway the Aldwych curves south again. On the north west corner stands St Catherine’s House home of the registrar of Births Marriages and Deaths. Searching now is of course mostly online but this was yet another place I visited regularly as a trainee, to collect a death certificate or similar.
Next up and only a small frontage to the Aldwych is the London School of Economics, whose buildings spread north and west from here.
The LSE has always been a hotbed of protest, from the 30s onwards, being anti white rule in Rhodesia, anti Vietnam, anti apartheid in the 60s, through to this day. Recently it has been associated with Qaddafi’s son Saif and the current criticism around safe spaces. It always leads though not necessarily in the right direction.
Opposite stands the rather magnificent Australian Embassy and a more modest building, amongst these giants that representing the State of Victoria.
The glories do not end here. Curve round to the line of the Stand that joins each end of the Aldwych and we have two churches, one the RAF’s church, then King’s College, the second of the major London Universities hereabouts, and
Somerset House now home to art galleries, restaurants and an open space used for water features in the summer and ice skating in the winter.
And finally this little gem from the 1930s – the Strand station, now closed. Oddly perhaps it is my favourite building of them all. No idea why!
Tomorrow it is
B is for Bridges
This is part of the 2016 A to Z Blogging challenge. Please click here to find your way to other participants.