The best way to explore London, they kept saying, is on foot. That’s one thing that our hosts, London’s Hyde Park Ward youth committee, were most emphatic about.
In preparation for our coming, the committee had examined the four famous “walks” of London—“royal,”“history,”“museum,” and “zoo”—and had concluded that since there were so many things to see, they would create a fifth “walk”—the Hyde Park youth committee walk. So, the “walk” was set.
Present that day were our appointed hosts: Erica Karpaiya, 13, MIA officer; Ray McConnell, 23, London Stake missionary coordinator; Glenn Millar, 13, deacon; Jonathan Howes, 13, deacon; Louisa Karpaiya, 15, MIA sports director; J. B. Breckinridge, 18, new convert; Nicole Levreux, 18, visitor from the Chatilion Branch in Paris; and Pauline Wong, 23, MIA counselor. Doyle L. Green, director of all Church magazines and photographer of this feature, and myself, New Era managing editor, were the guests.
We soon found out why walking is the best way to see London. Strolling down the winding streets, breathing the misty air, slowly drinking in the legends, traditions, pageantry, and customs makes you more than just a spectator—you become a participant in a great adventure that fills you with pride and respect for the British people.
As we headed for our starting point—Trafalgar Square—our hosts reviewed a smidgen of Britanic data; since the summer of A.D. 43, when Roman processional elephants and legions crossed the Thames and set up camp, there has been a London. The name is from the Celtic word Londinion, most likely a personal name. Romans, Saxons, Danes, Normans, Tudors, and others came and left their marks, each helping to mold what became one of the great cities of the world, the heart of the empire that ruled the largest dominion in the world’s history. Greater London today covers more than 700 square miles. However, the fabled old City of London covers about a square mile—677 acresof walls, towers, guards, gardens, gates, river, statues, and monuments, with more history crammed into the lore of its public buildings than perhaps any equivalent spot on earth.
As we neared Trafalgar, our lesson in history closed. Our hosts were now ready to show us London. Here is what we saw:
Our tour ended. But even now its spirit lingers on. For me, London is more than a place, more than a city. It is a spirit of an indomitable people. London is an attitude, a feeling toward human dignity and learning and arts and manners that has profoundly influenced all civilized peoples. The world owes much to this city and its spirit, more than any of us can ever repay.
Whether you are conscious of it or not. London is a part of you, wherever you are.
[photo] (1) Trafalgar Square—Pigeons gawk as our group rests in “the finest site in Europe.” The square is named for the great naval battle fought off the coast of Spain in 1805 in which Admiral Horatio Nelson signaled his famous message, “England this day expects every man will do his duty.” Nelson’s fleet defeated Napoleon’s seemingly invincible forces, and Britain gained a naval supremacy that lasted more than a century. A 17-foot statue of Nelson stands atop the 184-foot column, placed so that “he can see the sea.” Other monuments to heroes dot the square, but none is more revered than Lord Nelson’s.
[photo] (2) The River Thames—For most of 2,000 years this river has been the principal highway into London from the outside world. Only recently have planes taken precedence. Along its beautiful banks are the city’s most famous buildings—Parliament and Westminster Abbey in the background—and across it span the city’s fifteen famous bridges. Including a later edition of one that most English-speaking people have sung about since it was first built in 1209: “London Bridge is falling down, falling. …”
[photo] (3) Parliament—(A rest stop and, “Look at the camera, please!”) Known as the Houses of Parliament, the building’s real name is the Palace of Westminster. It is the visual symbol of the rights of the common man. When Commons is in “House,” the Union Jack flies above Parliament. The popular name for the famous clock in the building’s tower is Big Ben, but in fact the 316-foot-high tower is named the North or Clock Tower (minute hands are fourteen feet long, hour hands nine feet long), and Big Ben is not the clock but the 13 1/2-ton bell that with sonorous notes marks the hours to the tune of Handel’s “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth.”
[photos] (4) Westminster Abbey—(Our group reads the sign, “Keep off the Grass, please.”) Immediately west of Parliament is this famous example of British medieval architecture, the most hallowed church in the nation. In use for more than 900 years, Westminster Abbey is more than a church; it enshrines memories of all that Anglo-Saxon people have achieved. Here kings and queens have been crowned and are buried—Henry VII and Mary Queen of Scots, to name two. Gilted effigies, statues, swords, and banners of knights abound. Sanctuaries, tombs, and memorials to the nation’s great citizens are present. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Milton, Handel—the names are all there. As we walked by, we began to sense the brilliance of Britain and to understand why Westminster Abbey is the soul of England and beloved of all her people. (5)
[photos] (6) The Albert Memorial—Built to promote “Christian and Moral Virtues,” the National Monument to Prince Albert husband of Queen Victoria is affectionately regarded as a Victorian bungle by some and deeply loved by others. The monument features more than 180 statues of men and women distinguished in poetry, music, painting, literature, sculpture, engineering, sciences, commerce, agriculture, and manufacturing. The main figure is Prince Albert holding a catalogue of the 1851 Great Exhibition that he proudly sponsored. (7)
[photos] (8) Hyde Park—(Time to refresh ourselves with a cool drink.) Hyde Park is just outside the fabled Square Mile and is itself nearly a square mile—636 acres, including a 41-acre lake called the Serpentine and a mile and a half of loose (or rotten) soil known as Rotten Row, which is used for horse riding. Formerly a deer park, a royal hunting ground, and a fashionable resort, Hyde Park was also once regarded as the dueling place. It is one of half a dozen large London parks and indicates how well the British understand man’s need for open spaces, greenery, and relaxation.
And relax we did. By the time we reached the Serpentine, everyone wanted a boat race—in which it was quickly discovered that two boys can row faster than one boy, no matter how the girls cheer! (9)
[photo] (10) Marble Arch—In a corner of Hyde Park stands the Triumphal Arch, designed to be the entrance to Buckingham Palace, residence of the monarch. But its width, spanned by our London hosts, turned out to be too narrow for the state coach! Since the king or queen couldn’t use it, the beautiful arch, popularly known as the Marble Arch was moved to Hyde Park.
[photo] Piccadilly Circus—Piccadilly is like a hub in the great wheel of London; important streets are as spokes in the wheel, conducting traffic to and from this center. Its gigantic, gaudy neon signs advertise their wares, while fashionable restaurants, smart shops, theaters, and music halls stretch out in nearby streets. (In a nearby shop, the group admires British silver and Wedgewood.) (11)
[photos] (12) British Museum—Our hosts had saved a real treat for our tour’s end—the British Museum. There are seventeen major museums in London, but none of them quite like the British Museum, with its fantastic range of priceless treasures gathered from the ends of the earth. It houses one of the world’s largest libraries—over fifty miles of shelves. In the special collections section we found the item that everyone wanted to see—the Magna Carta, that great charter of English liberties written in 1215. It represents in legal form a contract between a king and his people. The fundamental rights of man as expressed within this magnificent document have helped to motivate drives for human liberty throughout the world—the very words are part of many nations’ great documents including America’s Declaration of Independence. (13)
[photos] Photography by Doyle L. Green