Tag Archives: Smithfields

Greater and Lesser and Lost

Now that I know more about the Charterhouse, I wish I had had the time to tour it.  I realize only a tiny, tiny percent of British pensioners can live there, but what a great model that could possibly be replicated.

The two places on my To-See list today were Smithfield Market and St. Bartholomew the Great church.

Smithfield is the original meat market.  It’s a wholesale market which takes up several city blocks so even I couldn’t miss it.  I had had it up to my eyeballs with other shopping areas and markets that sold artisanal caramels and hand-knit tea towels and reproduction antiques. I wanted to go somewhere where I couldn’t buy anything.

Smithfield exceeded my expectations by being closed.  Of course, it was Saturday.  Few people set out to buy half a cow on a Saturday in London. So I walked around and through the parts that were open.  There wasn’t much to see; the site has been a stock yard and meat market for over 800 years and the buildings appeared to be Victorian but who knows.  Later, I learned that they do indeed sell meat retail, so if you are looking for a deal on offal or a lamb shank, check it out.

Now I had to find St. Bart’s, as it’s commonly called, which was one block away but which required me to take the following route: Poultry Avenue to West Smithfield, which turns into Long Lane.  Right on Cloth Street, then right on Middle Street which turns into Clothe Fair, and it should be right there.  Right. 

I passed Barley Mow Passage, Rising Sun Court, Kinghorn Street, and Bartholomew Passage.

Don’t turn, I said to myself each time, because I always have the urge to turn at the first place I see.  Maybe they were shortcuts.  And Rising Sun Passage sounded intriguing.

I steadfastly stuck to the route on the paper map I had printed out, and immediately became lost.  The neighborhood was deserted except for a few shady-looking guys unloading trucks, and I wasn’t going to ask them for directions.  I doubled back, retraced my steps, still couldn’t find anything indicated on the map, started to whimper and imagine myself murdered; some poor vendor would find me hanging from a meat hook when he opened his stall on Monday….

I decided to walk down Rising Sun Passage after all, and there was St. Bart’s.

Rising Sun was named for a pub, so that was a relief.  When in doubt, go into a pub and have a pint and a packet of crisps, and everything will be ok.

I knew that St. Bart’s was old.  In fact it’s the oldest church in London, which is saying something. It was founded in 1123 as an Augustinian monastery.  In case you’re wondering, there is also a St. Bartholomew the Less, also founded in 1123, and “It was called the Less to distinguish it from its larger neighbour.”  So there weren’t two St. Barts, one who was great and one not so great.  There are two churches named after the same guy.

I have been in many, many old churches but St. Bart’s struck me immediately as really ancient.  Which of course it is.  But after visiting a dozen old churches in a month, they all blurred together. St. Bart’s was different.

As usual my photos won’t do it justice, but maybe they’ll give you a feeling for the place.

In old sites where they built one thing on top of another, it’s good to look up, down, and around so you don’t miss anything.  There were crypts that told sad stories.

I liked the contrast and detail in the flooring and wondered what was below the grating.

I spent a half hour inside, then wandered back out into the passageway.

I was glad I had come on a Saturday.  The quiet seemed fitting and I felt at peace.  I had a pint and a packet of crisps in the Rising Sun, then walked back toward the hotel, where I ran into Lynn and Richard having a bite to eat at a sidewalk café.

“They’ll let anyone eat in this neighborhood!” I exclaimed as I joined them.

Assisted Living, UK Style

There was a festive atmosphere on the bus, with all the Pride celebrators.  As we snaked northward, they alighted and quiet descended.  I got off at the Barbican and it was utterly deserted.

The Barbican Centre is the largest performing arts center in Europe. It’s designed in the Brutalist style.  One of my favorite London buildings, Trelick Tower, is Brutalist. I think it’s creepy but in a cool way.

To me, the Barbican is just not that interesting.  However, it is home to lots of wonderful companies, like the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

My plan was to wander around the Smithfield neighborhood adjacent to the Barbican, then meet Lynn, Richard, and Possum at the hotel.  I had packed a backpack as light as possible for my two nights away but it still felt like I was lugging around a bowling ball after a couple hours.  Much as I love to daydream about hiking the Appalachian Trail or the Superior Hiking Trail, I am realistic that they are not for me.

Smithfields is not a “Top 10” London sights in any guidebook, so I was caught off guard by all the fascinating history it contained.  I don’t usually like to cut and paste from websites, but I’m making an exception today.

I passed through Charterhouse Square and this art deco apartment building which has served as the fictional residence of Agatha Christie’s character Hercule Poirot.

Here’s the Wikipedia 101 on Charterhouse Square:

“In 1371 a Carthusian monastery was founded by Walter de Manny on what is now the north side of the square. It was established near a 1348 plague pit, which formed the largest mass grave in London during the Black Death, and tens of thousands of bodies were buried there. The name of the monastery, Charterhouse, was derived as an Anglicisation of La Grande Chartreuse, whose order founded the monastery.

“The Charterhouse was dissolved as a monastery in 1537, and in 1545 was purchased by Sir Edward (later Lord) North (c. 1496-1564) and transformed into a mansion house. Following North’s death, the property was bought by Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, who was imprisoned there in 1570 after scheming to marry Mary, Queen of Scots. Later, Thomas Sutton bought the Charterhouse, and on his death in 1611, endowed a hospital (almshouse) and school on the site, which opened in 1614, supporting 80 pensioners ….”

That’s just the first 240 years.

An almshouse is a residence for “poor, old, or distressed” people, and the Charterhouse still serves this purpose.  Here’s what their website says:

“The residents of the almshouse, both male and female, are known as ‘Brothers’. This is a purely traditional term for those living in this community and acknowledges the past when there was a monastery on the site.

“The Brothers were originally those who could supply ‘good testimonye and certificat of theire good behaviour and soundnes in religion’ those who had been servants to the King ‘either decrepit or old captaynes either at sea or land, maimed or disabled soldiers, merchants fallen on hard times, those ruined by shipwreck or other calamity’.

“The Brothers are selected from a wide variety of professions, which includes teachers, clergymen, writers and editors, musicians and artists. At entry they have to be over 60 years of age, in need of financial and social support and in good health. They must be able to live independently but have a desire to be part of a supportive community following a very simple set of rules. Their accommodation is entirely private. All the meals are taken together in the Great Hall and many Brothers participate in the many social events that take place. Many Brothers contribute to the life of the Charterhouse by giving their time as tour guides, arranging entertainment and visits, editing the Charterhouse Magazine (a twice yearly in-house publication), cataloguing the extensive artwork and volunteering to help with events. The Brothers meet as a group at least four times a year with the Master and other senior staff to discuss current topics.”

Now that’s my kind of assisted living!  And here’s the building:

Not too shabby, eh?  If only I were a UK resident, I would say I had found my retirement plan.