Monday 27 February 2017

London History with Grandchildren by Janie Hampton

Isambard Kingdom Brunel 
Last week I was tasked with grand-child care during the half-term holiday. Ben, 9, Desdemona, 7, my co-grandparent and I decided to go on a history outing to London. We began at Paddington station to admire the work of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 –1859) and discusshis extraordinary ability to design not only innovative railway stations but also bridges, canals, viaducts, docks, steam ships and trains.
Then by double-decker bus via Marble Arch, formerly the royal entrance to Buckingham Palace, and then after it was moved next to Hyde Park, a police station until 1968. This was also the site of the Tyburn gallows where from the 12th century, public executions took place, the last one a highwayman called John Austin in 1783. Swerving round behind Buckingham Palace we peered over the wall and wondered why the Queen needed such a big garden.
Ben and Desdemona wanted to see their great x 5 grandfather, immortalized in Westminster Abbey. But entry to the 13th century abbey is expensive unless you attend a service. So during Holy Communion we admired the extraordinary Gothic architecture (‘All built without machines!’ said Ben), and whispered about the many coronations held here ever since William I on Christmas Day in 1066. We found our ancestor beside his friend the slave abolitionist, William Wilberforce (1759 –1833), watching over the audio-guide stall. Thomas Fowell Buxton MP (1786-1845) fought to abolish capital punishment (unsuccessful), reform prisons (some improvement), and founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (now the RSPCA). I hope his several hundred living descendants are still inspired by the inscription: ‘Endued with a vigorous and capacious mind, of dauntless courage and untiring energy.. he devoted his powers to the good of Man. In Parliament he laboured for the liberation of the Hottentots in southern Africa, and above all, for the emancipation of eight hundred thousand slaves in the British Dominions. The energies of his mind were afterwards concentrated on a great attempt to extinguish the slave trade in Africa…’ The white marble monument was paid for by friends, colleagues and ‘many thousands of the African race’. (see Your last paper five pound note  History Girl)
Thomas Fowell Buxton meets one of his many
great great great great great grandsons in
Westminster Abbey
Walking through Parliament Square we saw the statue of Winston Churchill (1874 –1965), recently adorned with a Mohican hair cut made from green turf. ‘Why?’ asked Ben, which prompted a discussion on dissension, demonstrations and the right to protest. The statue of Oliver Cromwell guarding the Palace of Westminster led on to republicanism, and why Britain reverted to a monarchy after his rule. Once in the Houses of Parliament, we entered the huge 11th century Westminster Hall. Here we met Andrea our tour guide who told us the hall had been improved with a timber hammer-beam roof back in 1393, and is still the largest in Northern Europe. She led us on the route that the Queen takes once a year for the State Opening of Parliament. From the Sovereign’s Entrance at the base of the Victoria Tower, we saw the scratches on the Royal Staircase where the swords and spurs of troopers of the Household Cavalry have worn holes in the stone; and the tiny lift that, now she is 90, the Queen uses (though the stairs are still freshly carpeted each time.)
Andrea and history students in Westminster Hall
Andrea kept the tone and content just right for children. Between the Queen’s Robing Room and the House of Lords, we stood on the spot under which Guy Fawkes had hidden 36 barrels of gunpowder in 1605, and almost blew up King James I, all the peers and members of parliament. We saw where Guy Fawkes was tried (roughly where Nelson Mandela, a more peaceful political opponent, gave a speech three hundred years later) but Andrea didn’t give the gory details of his execution (hanged, drawn and then quartered.) In the Members Lobby we saw the doorway damaged by a bomb during World War Two; the statues of six previous prime ministers; and the pigeon hole of Prime Minister Theresa May, arranged democratically in alphabetical order and no larger than those of the other 650 Members of Parliament. Neither the House of Commons nor Lords were sitting, so we could go inside and stand beside (but not sit on) the MPs’ and peers’ leather benches.

After lunch in the vaulted Jubilee café, we crossed over Westminster Bridge (1862) and embarked on a Thames Clipper for a 45-minute history of river-side London. As it zig-zagged back and forth across the river, the twin-hulled catamaran cut through the incoming tide. After the Tate Modern, we shot under Waterloo Bridge (1945 - mainly built by women), London Bridge (first built by the Romans), and spotted the 13th century “Entry to the Traitor’s Gate” below the 11th C Tower of London. Passing under 19th C Tower Bridge we could see the underside of people walking across the glass walkway. Desdemona watched the skyline carefully, ‘Look there’s St Paul’s Cathedral! And do you see how the old and the new buildings are all muddled up?’ We talked about the 1941 blitz, dockers and shipping. We passed wharfs and warehouses now converted into apartments, including the fascinating home of History Girl Michelle Lovric. But as the waves grew and clouds descended, I feared the next stage of our journey would be a foggy white-out.
Entrance to the Tower of London 
Crossing the Greenwich Meridian Line prompted an unscientific explanation of the difference between that imaginary vertical line, and the horizontal equator. As we disembarked on the south side of the Thames, the storm departed and the skies cleared. We clambered into a glass-sided Emirates cable car which shot up from Greenwich Peninsula and crossed high above the river to the Royal Docks. The view was amazing, with a golden sunset behind Hampton Court, and opposite, a rainbow landing somewhere in the Anglo-Saxon wool depot of Woolwich. ‘Look, there’s the Thames Barrier,’ said Ben. ‘And there’s an airport,’ said Desdemona as a small plane flew over us. Grandfather pointed out the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf far below us. The cable car too, was historical, as it was paid for by the European Union in 2013 – and they won’t be doing that again in Britain any time soon. We returned from Royal Victoria on the Docklands Light Railway, which gave us a high level view of Billingsgate Market and East India docks. A walk over Tower Hill took us to the underground and back to Paddington.
Paddington Bear from Peru reminds young travellers about the importance of generosity to migrants
This grandmother was delighted when Ben told his parents it was his ‘Best ever day out in London.’ I don’t think they even noticed how much history they’d learned along the way.

Our Route:
Number 36 bus from Paddington to Buckingham Palace
Number 148 bus to Parliament Square
Houseof Parliament tour
Emirate Thames CableCar
DocklandsLight Railway
London Underground- Tower Hill to Charing Cross.
No 15 bus Trafalgar Square via Piccadilly and Oxford Circus, to Paddington.


Anonymous said...

What a splendid day - I wish I was your grandchild! The closest I can get is having my ancestor (Wilberforce) next to your ancestor!

Janie Hampton said...

That makes us almost related!

Unknown said...

How absolutely lovely. What a day. And I love the photograph of Ben with Paddington. Brava Grannie!

AnnP said...

Yes, a lovely day. I've taken notes and hope to do some of those things with my grandchildren. Thank you.

Marjorie said...

Wow, that's an impressive amount to cover in one day!

Penny Dolan said...

What a fine tour for them and you and us. I've also taken notes!

Unknown said...

Ben's real name is Bill not Ben and Desdemona's name is actually Delilah

From Bill not Ben and papa Charlie (his grandpa)