I set myself a task today. I thought I’d try and write about London with regard to the senses. Seeing is a bit of an obvious one, but there’s always, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting to explore. I’m going to start with the tactile.
There are many old bits of London that you can run your hand over and think about the people who have maybe done the same thing ten, fifty, even two hundred years ago. The city would be nothing without the people who live and have lived in it. I suppose the obvious one is probably the Tower of London. In the White Tower you can transport yourself back to around the late 11th century and fantasise about the hands that have been placed on the stones previously, be they either Regal or commoner.
Another obvious one is the churches, both in the City and in London in general. If you take a look at the City, there are an incredible fortyfive churches crammed into the mile square area. Of these I think only six survived the Great Fire and so pre-date 1666, some unfortunately succumbed to the Luftwaffe in the 1940s. In one of these St. Etheldreda’s near Hatton Garden, you can run your hand over the stonework and you could be touching the same surface as Henry VIII did when he visited the church in the 1530s to meet with Thomas Cranmer to discuss his breaking with the church of Rome and his subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn.
However, there is a little gem hidden away near the River Thames, that should you touch it could transport you much further back than the two previous examples. Near the old Billingsgate Fish Market there is a surviving piece of the Roman Jetty that stood of by the river around 2000 years. It has been dated to around 75 AD and was uncovered in 1931 by workmen in nearby Fish Street Hill.
Every time I visit the site, I always run my hand over its surface and wonder how many Cassia’s or Cassius’did the same before stepping into an awaiting boat.