Around this time last year, two groups of On London readers who had supported the site’s epic crowdfunding campaign took part in the Vic Keegan Lost London Walk – a sociable and highly educational stroll around a dozen or so sites of historical significance in Westminster that are either sadly under-appreciated or have completely disappeared. Now, to celebrate the recent publication of Vic’s 100th Lost London article and to thank him very much, here’s a location-by-location guide to that walk so that you can follow its route all by yourself.
Walkers assembled at the Crimean and Indian Mutiny Memorial by the west entrance to Westminster Abbey. You can’t miss that. But you could easily miss the Jerusalem Chamber, which, as Vic as put it, “peeps cautiously up above the Abbey shop”. Here, a poorly Henry IV sat by a fire and much of the King James Bible was written. Much more on that from Victor here. Vic also directed our gaze down Tothill Street towards the spot by St James’s Park station where an early example of dubious high rise building rose in during the 1870s – the Queen Anne’s Mansions “monster flats”.
Setting off, it was just a few yards before we came to St Margaret’s church yard at edge of Parliament Square and the grave of Alexander Davies, the only raised tomb it contains. Davies was a humble scrivener, who died in 1665 and bequeathed to his daughter Mary 500 acres of what was judged pretty worthless pasture land. That land is now called things like Mayfair and Belgravia.
Round the other side of St Margaret’s high up on one of its walls, on St Margaret Street opposite the Westminster Hall, is a lead bust of Charles I, which was discovered in a junk yard in Fulham after having disappeared for centuries. A statue of his executioner, Oliver Cromwell, stands right across the road. Walk on a little further and you come to the medieval Jewel Tower, built in 1365 and, as Vic tells us, one of only two buildings from the medieval Palace of Westminster still intact. Westminster Abbey garden, beautiful but rarely visited, is right next to it.
We walked on to Westminster Bridge, which inspired poems by William Wordsworth and William Blake. Victor quoted from them. On the other side of the bridge, close to St Thomas’s hospital, were shown the now long lost sites of London’s first modern circus and first music hall. Then, it was even deeper into the back pages of this bit of Lambeth, and the limited but evocative view of what was known as the Necropolis Railway. Vic has written his own poem about that. Before you get there, up a half hidden flight of steps, you pass a series of mosaics about Blake’s works on the walls of Centaur Street, beneath a railway tunnel.
Looping back to Westminster Bridge, we stopped to admire the (ahem) dismembered Coade stone lion on its plinth on the Southwark side by County Hall, before crossing the bridge and stopping to imagine the Westminster opera house that never was. Near Whitehall Palace steps, the last surviving part of a once massive royal palace still on public view, we paused to ponder the myths and realities of Cleopatra’s Needle.
Passing Downing Street, Vic mentioned that the Colonial Office used to be down there and was the setting for the one and only meeting between the Duke of Wellington and Lord Nelson. Cardinal Wolsey’s wine cellar, which lurks beneath the Ministry of Defence building on Horse Guards Avenue off Whitehall, was not (as usual) open to the likes of us, but it was nice to think about as we approached Trafalgar Square and were advised by our guide that Nelson’s Column was never really meant to have been there.
After that, we all piled into the Café in the Crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields and had a drink, having discovered some choice portions of Vic Keegan’s Lost London. And there’s so much more of it, all archived here.