Sir John Soane’s House

Saturday 2 July 2022 – London.

As I have alluded to on a couple of occasions recently, life has been very busy. Work has been hectic for most of the past month as a work-mate was on leave; I’m not sure how he coped when I had seven months off. Alongside this I’ve been trying to get the possessions we sent back from New Zealand (things we sent to NZ in the first place) from the shipping company without paying hundreds of pounds in unnecessary tax due to being poorly advised. Thankfully, I managed to achieve an acceptable tax result and expect to see the stuff that was pick up in January delivered shortly, six months after it was collected from us in Auckland.

Last week I finally had confirmation that scaffold will be going up on the rear wall of the block my flat is in so a significant amount of maintenance can be done. As a member of the residents association for the block I started work on this project two years ago and it has been a constant thorn in my side, creating a large amount of unnecessary stress. Hopefully the four months of actual work will pass smoothly and the scaffold will be down on time, and my view to the sea will no longer be compromised by bits of steel pole. I haven’t been at the flat enough this summer.

Running alongside this Eleanor has sold her house. She has accepted an offer on her house at least, fingers crossed all goes according to plan. It was a great reward for the amount of cleaning, tidying and decluttering we have done in the past month. The housing market is hot in London and she was very happy with what the purchaser offered, and it sold immediately. Phew,  now the constant tidying can stop and I can hang my towel on the banister again.

I probably should have mentioned in a prior post; but my youngest son, Aiden, has come to the UK from New Zealand for a few months. Though since he’s been here he’s barely stayed with us; there are festivals to attend and friends to see, and to be fair, if it was me, I would  be doing the same. His timing wasn’t great with the house sale going on, though he stayed for a couple of days soon after arriving and repaired and painted a couple of walls in the conservatory which was much appreciated. Then he buggered off to do fun things and I’ve barely seen him since; till yesterday.

Eleanor is at the flat for the weekend, we spent a couple of days there together this week and I came back to London last night. I met Aiden at Eleanor’s when I got home and we went to the Bell,  the pub at the end of the road for a burger and a beer for dinner.

Today Aiden wanted to do the tourist thing and visit the Tower of London, something I was very up for as it is a favourite tourist attraction of mine, so we left home mid-morning with that intent. We took the tube to The Barbican so I could share with him the last remains of the Roman wall that surrounded the city and was built about 1800 years ago. I’m still amazed that things this old still exist; we live in such a throw-away society; built-in obsolescence is the norm now. Use it and bin it. One of the things I appreciate the most about living away from New Zealand is the sheer volume of fabulous history that you can see and touch and it is seemingly everywhere.

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I took Aiden past St Pauls Cathedral. He was amazed at the size and detail of the building, we all are, and there’s nothing like this in downtown Auckland.

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I’ve never seen this worn and damaged statue, it’s a little disturbing; like his face is melting under the pollution and vile fug atmosphere of the UK in 2022. I digress…

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We crossed the Thames on the bendy bridge and walked along the Southbank, past the new old Shakespeare’s Globe, the new old The Golden Hinde, (the ship Sir Francis Drake sailed around the world) and the new newer Borough Market. I should have seen the warning signs as we walked the Southbank, particularly when we got to Borough Market, but I was too busy telling Aiden about London and talking about the things we walked past; there are a LOT of tourists about. There are few things in life I enjoy more than walking the streets of the centre of London with someone unfamiliar with the city and showing the bits I love; and there are a lot of bits I love.

I took Aiden past the even newer Shard, waved in the general direction of where I lived not far from the Shard for most of 2013 and half of 2014, now mostly obscured by other buildings. Then back to the side of the Thames at City Hall, the ultra modern precinct next to Tower Bridge and over the river from the Tower of London. Our destination for the morning.

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Walking the cobbled way between the outer wall of the Tower and the river we (I) realised that visiting the Tower on a warm and sunny July weekend and the first summer since the pandemic ‘ended’ was a stupid idea. There were a lot of people about and when we discovered it was going to cost £32.90 each to visit we agreed a mid-week in autumn would be a better time.

I was tempted to get tickets to the Superbloom event in the dried up moat outside the walls of the tower, but that was too busy. I took a couple of photos instead. Maybe this is something Eleanor and I can do together? it looks quite spectacular.

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Aiden and I agreed that the next best thing to going to the Tower was to go and have a beer. Though it was a bit of a walk away, and on the other side of St Pauls Cathedral, almost where we had come from, I chose Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese for a drink.

We took a slightly meandering walk to the pub. I tend to avoid the busier streets, not so much because they are busy with people and cars, which they are, but because the back streets are far more interesting, especially those streets in the older parts of the City of London. There are numerous narrow roads and lanes and not quite hidden alley-ways linking even quieter lanes all over, and very few are travelled much outside of working hours. There are plenty of Wren designed churches as well. I must do a Wren photo walk one day.

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One of London’s older pubs, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese was first opened in 1538, then completely rebuilt in 1667 after the great fire that devastated London in 1666. It is a very old pub and a great spot to take a visitor, especially from New Zealand where an old building is anything over 100 years old. we sat in one of the cellar bars and got listen to a very loud American telling his friend about all the drugs you can buy in California. We only stayed for one.

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While we were having our pint Aiden got a message from some friends about a gathering in Lincoln Inn Fields, which is a five minute walk from the Cheese. Rather than take the main roads we took the alley in which the pub entrance sits and walked past the statue of Hodge the Cat. Hodge was owned (are cats ever owned?) by Dr Samuel Johnson, whose house is nearby. It’s the small things in London that are the best.

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Aiden’s friends had yet to arrive when we got to Lincoln Inn Fields so we took the opportunity to visit the free Sir John Soane’s Museum. A place I’ve thought about visiting for ages but never have, and I’m definitely going back again. Born in 1753 Sir John Soane was one of England’s premier regency architects and a wealthy man. Between 1782 and 1823 Soane bought three houses on Lincoln Inn Fields, demolishing and then rebuilding all three, he lived in one and used the other two to house his ever growing and extraordinary collections. In 1833, four years before his death, he had a private act passed in parliament turning his houses and collections over to the people of Britain, to be kept as they were at the time of his death.

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The collections are completely bonkers, vast and varied and very interesting; the highlight for me being the sarcophagus of the Egyptian King Seti who lived between 1303 and 1200 BC. It was incredible to see something like this, in what was once a private collection. We were free to take photos, though no flash was allowed, so a few long exposures were taken, meaning a lot of images were consigned to the bin.

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Most of the rooms are filled to the ceiling with interesting things to look at, in places the space between exhibits is quite narrow, care needs to be taken as you walk around and limited numbers are allowed in the building at any one time to minimise risk. It’s (supposedly) exactly as it was when Sir John passed away in 1837. Our bags were put into clear plastic bags that we had to carry in front us as we perused the collection; I was grateful for this as I’m a little clumsy, and I could imagine me toppling some valuable art work.

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The collection contains a number of original pieces Soane’s discovered on his travels, there is a Greek urn from around 4bc (I recall); hopefully acquired legally and morally! There are also a number of plaster casts made from original Greek and Roman sculpture. I learned that casts was a huge thing in the early to mid 1800s when we visited the Victoria and Albert Museum last week.

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I really enjoyed the museum and will hopefully be heading back there with Eleanor sometime in the not too distant future.

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Aiden and I walked back to Kings Cross Station. We stopped for a beer on the way, or intended to but the prices were mad so we left before buying anything and had a can when we got home.

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Published by

wheresphil

Wannabe writer and photographer. Interested in travel and place. From Auckland, New Zealand.

One thought on “Sir John Soane’s House”

  1. You really do have a thing against little old NZ . Auckland in particular it seems.. An ex British colony I might add. We have hundreds of years of Maori history . Not as interesting as a Roman wall or St Paul’s. I do think you’re not comparing eggs with eggs. More like eggs with brussel sprouts. It’s hardly New Zealands fault it lies at the bottom of the Pacific and took a bloody long time for the poms to discover it. When they did they flocked here in droves for the gorgeous beaches forests mountains and abundant islands . Not to mention the far more acceptable weather . I found large swathes of the UK dreary dull and grey and the people quite unnacetably class divided and rude or violent. Each to their own .

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