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.