Monday, 17 May 2010

On What Went Before

I pass through Fenchurch Street Station every day. In the book I'm reading, set in the 1500s, Fenchurch Street is mentioned as a hub for tradesmen and merchants, as it is today for bankers and city slickers. This parallel, between London past and London present, has made my commute ten times more interesting, in the same way as the novel London Belongs to Me did a couple of months ago.

It's reminded me of the history that is hidden beneath the surface, overshadowed by skyscrapers and ignored by commuters. If the thought of the thousands of people that live and work in London today is a daunting one, then the thought of all the people who have lived and worked here in years gone by is even more impressive. The place is in a constant state of flux; the skyline and the road maps are more or less always changing. Downmarket areas transform themselves from places to avoid to the places to be - from urban decay to city chic. The history of the place is almost impossible to comprehend as old gives way to new, but it's impossible to escape, too. There's a plaque outside the Gherkin (pictured) in memory of the Roman girl whose remains were discovered when digging the foundations. Part of a wall built by Roman soldiers nearly 2000 years ago still stands outside Tower Hill station, and gives its name to one of the busiest streets in the City. Blue plaques mark houses that were once home to people of note; their stories have been preserved along with the buildings they lived in - but what about the millions of others whose stories, and homes, are long forgotten, buried under what came after?

I imagine the same can be said of anywhere that's home to so many; it's nice though, every now and then, to be reminded that you live somewhere special - especially when it's so easy to take it for granted and concentrate its faults.


  1. This is one of the great reasons to why I love London. Lately I've found some wonderful houses with dates on them, buildings from as far back as the 1800s. It's a wonderful city and full of surprises.

  2. It's really amazing to know the stories and history of a certain place who had gone too modern that almost everyone forgot what it really looked like before.

  3. I think I'll add London to my bucket list now.

  4. London- and the UK, to be honest- is one of my favourite places for this very reason. You're surrounded by history, overwhelmed sometimes by the enormity of things, of lives lived and loves lost and the whole damn shebang.

    It's one of those places that when I get off the plane, I always have to take a deep, deep, deep breath- try and breathe London in. And not just because I'll most likely have to deal with Heathrow. Ha.

  5. I agree! That's the reason why I studied archaeology as opposed to history - your finds could be anyones, whereas history is written by the winners:)