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A Straight Line Walk Across London
by Paul K Lyons
42 - From an English canteen past stately statues and institutions to a red tarmac joke
With the Abbey behind me, two large buildings dominate my view: the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre and the Methodist Central Hall. It is thanks to Powell Moya and Partners that we have the big, brash and horribly 1980s conference centre, built of concrete, but standing amidst so many other buildings of stone and brick. The 'surprisingly French' (Pevsner again) and ostentatiously large Methodist Central Hall stands boldly opposite the Abbey. It was built, to a design by Lanchester and Rickards, on the sight of a Victorian entertainment complex (with music hall and aquarium!) in the early years of the 20th century. It is known for its assembly hall which has the country's third largest dome after St Paul's Cathedral and the British Museum (ex-British Library), and for hosting the first assembly of the United Nations in 1946. I descend several flights of stairs to the spacious basement to take refreshments in what looks and feels like a canteen.
I walk down Little Sanctuary, between the conference centre and the back of the 90 year-old Middlesex Guildhall, a building which is richly decorated in architectural sculpture by Henry Fehr (whose 'The Rescue of Andromeda' adorns the balcony outside Tate Britain). Although now used by the Crown Court, it was built as the county hall and sessions court for Middlesex. Inside, illuminated panels commemorate its use by the maritime courts of Greece, Netherlands and Norway during World War Two. At the back of Middlesex Guildhall in Little Sanctuary is 'The Stone Gateway', positioned here by the Greater London Council in 1969. This is all that remains of the Westminster House of Correction of Bridewell, latterly known as Tothill Fields Prison, which occupied the site in the 17th century.
Bending round the corner of the Middlesex Guildhall and left into Little George Street, I walk behind Abraham Lincoln, wishing him to sit down (although he must be standing in Chicago also since this statue is a copy of the one there), and George Canning, who is remembered more for his liberal foreign policies than his four months as prime minister (the strain of the job must have been too much for him). Little George Street runs along the west of the traffic-busy Parliament Square where Field-Marshal Smuts, Lord Derby, Lord Palmerston, Benjamin Disraeli and Sir Robert Peel can all be found an arrow's flight from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
At Great George Street I decide to swing east and head for Horse Guards Road, since the alternative route west, along Parliament Street and Whitehall, would not keep me so close to the 300 easting. On Great George Street, I pass three great British institutions: Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (in a splendid 18th century building), the Institution of Civil Engineers (advertising conferences for 'Coastline structures and breakwaters' and 'Land sea margins: wave overtopping and protection along the coastline'), and the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (which is in Birdcage Walk, the road that leads on from Great George Street along the south side of St James's Park to Buckingham Palace).
Horse Guards Road is a wide open road part-laid in red tarmac. Red tarmac
is a tough fellow, the old joke goes, but not as tough as green tarmac.
Red tarmac was standing at a bar drinking neat vodka and boasting to the
bar man about how tough he was. But, when green tarmac walked in, red tarmac
cowered and looked very nervous. 'Why so frightened?' the barman asked.
'Don't you know', Red Tarmac replied, 'he's a cycle path'. (If it doesn't
make any sense, say 'cycle path' out loud a few times.)
A Straight Line Walk Across London - along the 300 easting
by Paul K Lyons
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