A Straight Line Walk Across London

by Paul K Lyons

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Brighton Cross

Kip Fenn
A novel about
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44 - From Roberts and Wolsely to Blair and Cook, via Gladstone, Thatcher and Speer

The guard's quarters that lie around the parade date from the 18th century. The central building, Horse Guards, has a picturesque tower with a balustrade beneath. The buildings facade has several archways and lots of semi-circular arched windows. The parade ground is used by the Queen's Foot Guards and Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment for ceremonial duties. The famous Trooping of the Colour, for example, takes place here every year on the Saturday closest to the Queen's Official birthday (6 June). Originally, the regiments' colours were carried (or 'trooped') down the ranks so as to be recognised by lower-ranking soldiers. The Queen salutes and inspects the troops before both regiments march past her.

Here also are two equestrian statues: Earl Roberts (earl being one down from a viscount) and Viscount Wolsely. Both men were outstanding military leaders who died within a year of each other in 1913-14. Roberts served in Afghanistan, India and South Africa, and was one of the first to call for compulsory military service. Wolsely, a precocious and efficient commander, served all over the world, often as the government's chief troubleshooter (such as in Canada, Zululand, South Africa and Egypt) and worked tirelessly to modernise the army. A mighty cannon barrel, Turkish in origin and over 500 years old, sits in a much more modern British gun carriage decorated with lions, crocodiles, women charioteers, and mythical creatures. The females figures with sharply-pointed breasts must surely have been designed to quicken the determination of the gunners. On the old gun an inscription (translated) reads: 'The dragon guns . . . when they breathe roaring like thunder may the enemies forts be raised to the ground.'

It has taken a long time to traverse Horse Guards Road, and I don't think I'll dawdle by the grim creeper-covered covered Citadel that looks as unreal and misplaced as another 'Doctor Who' set. These two blocks, one large and one small, of pebble and flint walls house the entrances to a deep shelter constructed by the Admiralty in 1940. Turning right into the Mall, a wide elegant road, often employed for pageantry, that leads along the north side of St James's Park to Buckingham Palace, the ubiquitous Nash is again in evidence, as the architect of the cream-coloured Carlton House Terrace on the north side. The project was led by the soon-to-be King William IV, who was happy to demolish the grand and royal Carlton House (pillars from which were employed in building the portico of the National Gallery). The long and imposing terrace, completed in the early 1830s, is split in two by steps and a column holding a statue of Frederick Augustus, the second son of George III who was immortalised in the song about the grand old Duke of York. The terrace has a Roman classical style, with both Corinthian columns for the facade overlooking the park and Doric columns supporting the terraces. This was Nash's last job, since he died in 1835.

Among the various institutions currently housed in the Terrace, the Institute of Contemporary Arts or ICA is well known to London's arty set, and the Royal Society is well known to scientists.

For 35 years, the ICA has ploughed both controversial and banal furrows in the capital's film, theatre, dance and art fields, sometimes leading trends, and sometimes trying too hard. The ICA's current activities include two exhibitions, 'Foreign Office Architects: Breeding Architecture' and 'Yoko Ono: Odyssey of a Cockroach'. Also there is a performance called 'Men in the Wall'. This, a brochure explains, is 'a four-screen, 3-D, stereoscopic installation which re-defines dance performance'. Previous occupants of the ICA part of the Terrace were Sir Matthew Ridley, Home Secretary from 1896 to 1900, and William Gladstone, who was Prime Minister four times between 1868 and 1892. It's possible Gladstone's cabinet may have met in the house at number 11, during his first term (1868-1874).

The Royal Society has been at 6-9 Carlton Terrace also since the mid-1960s. It says it is the world's oldest scientific academy in continuous existence, and that it has been at the forefront of enquiry and discovery since its foundation in 1660. The backbone of the Society is the Fellowship - the most eminent scientists of the day, elected by peer review for life. There are currently 1,370 Fellows and Foreign Members. However only 58 are women (plus one - Margaret Thatcher - who was elected under the so-termed old statute 12). Around 44 new Fellows are elected each year. Before the ICA and the Royal Society took over much of the Terrace, all manor of counts and earls and barons and dukes lived in these upper class homes. In the years before World War Two, numbers 8 and 9 were occupied by the German ambassador, Joachim von Ribbentrop, who renovated the interiors with some help from Hitler's architect, Albert Speer.

The red tarmac Mall is known to the world's leaders and joggers as a processional route to Buck Palace and as the final stretch of the London Marathon. It ends at the impressive Admiralty Arch (or three-arch to be more precise) which straddles the whole Mall and more. Built in Portland stone a few years before World War One, to a design by Sir Aston Webb, it serves as Edward VII's memorial to his mother Queen Victoria (who died in 1901). After serving the Admiralty for much of the 20th century, the building was recently subject to a major refurbishment and is now home to the benignly-named Strategy Unit which reports directly to the Prime Minister. This was created in June 2002 as the result of a merger between three departments: the Performance and Innovation Unit, the Prime Minister's Forward Strategy Unit, and part of the Centre for Management and Policy Studies. It has around 80 staff but is usually on the look out for high flyers, who can expect to earn around £40,000 a year for a fixed term contract.

Captain James Cook can be found on the south side of the Mall, just west of the Arch. A full-length figure, sculpted by Thomas Brock, he stands in front of a capstan with his foot on a coil of rope. The stone plinth, which is carved with ship's bows and a globe within a wreath, states: 'Circumnavigator of the globe, explorer of the Pacific Ocean, he laid the foundations of the British Empire in Australia and New Zealand. Charted the shores of Newfoundland and traversed the ocean gates of Canada both east and west.' The statue was unveiled by HRH Prince Arthur of the Connaught on behalf of the British Empire League in July 1914. On the corner of the Mall and Cockspur Spring, exactly on the 300 easting, and contained by Admiralty Arch is another Brock sculpture, this one is of an amply-built young woman, seated and holding a sexton. It is entitled 'Navigation'.

 A Straight Line Walk Across London - along the 300 easting

by Paul K Lyons
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