Dr Johnson House

April 7, 2009 at 9:46 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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In a small secluded square near Fleet Street is a house from 1700 where Dr Samuel Johnson spent much of his life and wrote the first major English Dictionary between 1748 – 59.

Most of the house/museum is given over to a background of Samuel, his family and of course the development of the dictionary. While you might readily conclude that anyone who writes a dictionary might be a tad dull that’s not completely the case. I did find it interesting that he was often broke (except in his later years when he had a state pension) and the house reflects some of the security measures used to stop his creditors. Notably he was commissioned to finish the dictionary in 3 years but it ending up taking Samuel and his assistants 9 (published in 1755). The English establishment was still quite pleased with this as it took 40 academics from the French academy forty years to complete.

The upper floor is fairly sparse and recounts some of the stories from World War II when the building was used as a rest station for the auxiliary Fire Service – lucky as the building was hit by a bomb and the top floor destroyed.

This year also marks the 300th anniversary of Samuel Johnson’s birth and the museum website highlights some of the events.

As an aside the square also features a statue of Hodges the cat – one of the doctor’s companions.

The museum costs £4.50 (and there’s no Eftpos). The content of the museum is fine and if you’re willing to pay £4.50 then by all means make the trip. Otherwise unless you’re a linguist (or have an interest in that direction) you could probably pass by.

St Bart’s Hospital Museum

April 7, 2009 at 8:31 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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St Bart’s Hospital museum covers the history of the hospital. It’s fine and free but probably missable unless you have an interest in small and medical museums. It’s located in what feels like the side of a gatehouse wall just past the hospital church.

You’ll see a short video describing the life of its founder Rahere and the formation of the hospital in the 12th century (1137) as well as copies of the deeds and grants with signatures by Henry VIII. You’ll then progress through several different sections detailing the history and medical treatments practised here for 900 years. Overall it took about 20 – 30 minutes (including the video).

Outside the hospital walls (towards Smithfield Market) is a monument to where William Wallace was executed – it still gets flowers!

St Bart's

After the monument and just before you turn right towards the market is a passageway leading towards a nice looking church.

St Bart's (7) St Bart's (2)

The Bart Hospital Museum is a niche subject area but it knows its subject and does it well.

Billingsgate & Smithfield Markets

April 7, 2009 at 7:41 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, UK, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Early one morning I tried to wake up early so I could see London’s Billingsgate Market in full swing but sadly the snooze button got the better of me and I only saw the tail end.

Billingsgate is London’s fresh fish market located near Canary Wharf. It’s still run by the City of London (and as a result when you approach you’ll walk past signage indicating the political change). The market is open from 5am to 8:30am Tuesday to Saturdays. It’s a commercial space but members of the public can visit (photography isn’t permitted).

Billingsgate Market Billingsgate Market (2)

I’d envisaged a huge trade floor filled with fish of all descriptions and as I walked towards the long building I continued to believe this. Predictably this didn’t turn out to be the case. The trading booths occupy perhaps a third of the space with the rest presumably given over to storage.

When I arrived at 7:20 many of the traders were washing out their equipment but there were enough still actively trading to get a sense of the environment. I imagine if I was a foodie or a fisherman then you could spend quite some time checking out the varieties.

After Billingsgate I made my way to one of London’s other big commercial produce markets – Smithfields. I’d often walked past this literal meat market (near Farringdon) but never been able to go in due to its opening times. Luckily unemployment has a few benefits. It’s open 4:00am to 12:00 Monday to Friday. Once again this is a commercial building accessible to the public but not a tourist attraction per se.

Smithfields Market (2) Smithfields Market

The central hall runs the length of the building with traders on either side. I arrived about 9 and I assume I was already too late (despite the midday closing time) as most of the booths were deserted. Well that or they just hadn’t been set up yet – unlikely. What I did saw was a lot of red meat and I tried to imagine it multiplied by a hundred percent.

I have no idea when a good time to see the market is (possibly early?)and once again presumably only good for the foodies amongst you.

When you’re done at the market check out Smiths of Smithfield for a great breakfast!

Sir John Soane Museum

April 7, 2009 at 6:51 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Walking around Lincoln’s Inn Fields you might easily walk past the John Soane Museum. The museum is actually Sir John Soane’s former residence and as a result it naturally blends in with all the other period buildings.

The building has some interesting architecture with each room providing panels explaining the aesthetic. One of the key reasons to visit is the Soane collection including an the excellent Sarcophagus of Seti I and a variety of South American artifacts amongst classical and Asian pieces. Quite the variety.

Many of the pieces can be found in the basement where you’ll walk in the dimly lit chamber surrounded by any number of statues. Once a month on a special evening opening the basement and indeed the entire house becomes quite atmospheric when the staff light candles throughout the building. Apparently this has been done to reflect what the house would have looked like in the 1800s when the Soane’s would entertain their guests.

Due to the historic nature of the house only limited number of people can be in at any one time. As a result you may have to queue. I only waited for about 10 minutes. The house is free (except for the weekend tour, which is £5). You can also download a podcast tour from the website of the house before you visit and it has an introduction by Stephen Fry.

While the second floor didn’t thrill me the overall ambiance of the entire house and in particular its collection made it a worthwhile trip. Many thanks to @stimpson for initially giving me the idea.

Also don’t repeatedly make the same error by mistakenly calling it the Sloane Museum!

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