National Geographic : 1932 Feb
SOME FORGOTTEN CORNERS OF LONDON Many Places of Beauty and Historic Interest Repay the Search of the Inquiring Visitor BY HAROLD DONALDSON EBERLEIN AUTHOR OF "VISITS TO THE OLD INNS OF ENGLAND," IN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE ONDON is the least-known part of all England. Like Rome, it is inex haustible, and no one can ever hope to know all of it. If you care to seek, you can find within its bounds everything from pre-British and Roman remains down to the latest gramophone records or the new est feminine bagatelles from Paris, to say nothing of all else under the sun, fetched there from the farthest corners of the earth. However much we may love, marvel at, and feel the homely spell of the dear old grubby, splendid city on the Thames; whatever curious rewards we may reap by prying into the infinitely varied past or the complex present, a perpetual half-con sciousness of the amazing, manifold med ley of antiquity and modernity haunts the mind. And London is so little known partly be cause so much of it is forgotten. Changes tread fast on the heels of changes. In the thronging tides of human life that pulse through London's veins and arteries, each individual is bent on his own immediate ends. It is inevitable, then, that many a place of beauty or of quaint historic inter est should be heedlessly passed by and for gotten by all save the very few who either have some special association therewith or else are prompted by a sort of tender curi osity to keep old memories green. FAMILIARITY OVERLOOKS PRECIOUS RELICS Londoners don't know London. With comparatively few exceptions, they know only the narrow orbit in which their own daily lives are run. And if nearly all Lon doners either don't know or have clean for gotten hundreds of intriguing corners, the usual traveler in London has never even heard of them. And yet these diverting corners exist aplenty, and they are well worth prying into. Modern London, re member, is "built on ancient London, and ancient London was built on a London still older." Scratch the crust of modern Lon don and you invariably find some delight- ful ancient thing beneath, faintly concealed or only half-concealed and merely out of mind. For instance, there is the Roman Bath in Strand Lane. Scarcely more than fifty feet from one of the city's busiest thorough fares, a clear, cold spring still floods the basin of this old bath. It is a tangible and ever-fresh memorial of the distant past, in vested with associations that make us feel our near human kinship with those bygone men and women, of like passions with our selves, whom we are all too apt to view in a purely detached manner as mere lay figures in the pages of history. Strand Lane, joined by an inconspicuous passage with the Strand just about oppo site the east end of St. Mary-le-Strand, runs quiet and unremembered down the slope toward the river. For the greater part of its brief course it is a fairly sunny and cheerful little place, not too much hemmed in and begloomed by the backs of the buildings abutting on it. At the top is the old watch-house of St. Clement Danes, wearing the suave exterior and delicate iron balcony of its Regency remodeling but, underneath all that, really a very ancient building. Formerly the par ish watchman lived in this house and occa sionally, at night, had to take disorderly or drunken characters in custody there till morning. At the right of the lane, and close to the watch-house, a door and a descent of sev eral steps lead into a vaulted passage. A door at one side of the passage opens into a barrel-vaulted chamber, and in the floor of this chamber is sunk the bath, built of thin Roman bricks, such as are worked into the walls of St. Albans' Abbey.* THE ROMAN BATH IS PARTLY ELIZABETHAN The bath itself is about 13 feet long, 6 feet wide, and between 4 and 5 feet deep, and is now paved with slabs of white mar * See, also, "London from a Bus Top," by Her bert Corey, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE for May, 1926.