July 31, 2012 by LeVoyageur
Many years ago, when I had been living in Chicago for about three years, a friend and her companion from out-of-town came for a visit. They were to stay with me and we would ‘catch up,’ since we didn’t get to see each other very often. They were also coming to see the sights of Chicago. For one of them, it was her first visit and they wanted to hit all the big attractions.
When they arrived late in the evening, they got settled in and we had dinner. The next morning, I gave them a set of keys and directions to the bus and “El” so they could get downtown. They were a little surprised that I wasn’t going with them, but I explained I had some things to do and would meet up again with them later.
This was more or less the truth… In fact, I just could not tolerate the idea of ambling down the ‘Magnificent Mile’ of Michigan Avenue on a sunny Saturday in Summer. It just was not for me. Now, having lived in London, Paris, and New York for varying periods of time, I long for the predictable, easy-going crowds of Chicago. But back then, I knew that they would have a better time without me and they got along just fine.
This is all to say that, I am a terrible tour guide. I generally do not like big tourist attractions and avoid them even when I’m in a place for the first time. But when it’s a matter of seeing an old friend or not, we can usually find a compromise and meet up and have a good time. This often involves food or a walk in a local park. Easy-peasy.
One thing I do like to do when a friend is visiting and we have an afternoon to spend together is show them around my area. In London, that is the neighborhoods of Clerkenwell, Hatton Garden, and Angel. These are not the first on most people’s list of places to visit. However, I just don’t know Mayfair. And, frankly, I loathe Knightsbridge. Nottinghill? Well, if I must. Hampstead: baby central.
I like to go with what I know. My neighborhood has three street markets that operate during the work week. There are numerous cafes and interesting pubs. There is the bustle of a diamond district at Hatton Garden and the vibe of Clerkenwell’s artsy design industry. Camden Passage off the main drag near Angel is filled with antique vendors and art shops, not to mention some of the best chocolate in town. So why, dear visitor, would you want me to show you around Kensington? (Tongue, firmly in cheek.)
But, since most people are not visiting London, and any rational person would not be visiting London during the Olympics, I am offering a tour of my neighborhood via blog. I will first point the reader to my post Leather Lane, which is where I spend a good deal of free time during the week. Around the corner from Leather Lane, onto Hatton Garden and then down a passageway past Ye Olde Mitre Tavern is Ely Place.
Here is one of the local sights I like to show to visitors: St. Etheldreda’s Church. Situated on Ely Place, a stone’s throw from Chancery Lane, St. Etheldreda’s is a 13th century church with a storied past. Named for a 7th century Anglian princess, abbess, and later a saint, St. Etheldreda’s appears to be a thriving Roman Catholic parish. But if you weren’t looking for it, you wouldn’t see it. The church was probably once a prominent building in the area, but it is now obscured by many anonymous office buildings and is on a dead-end street.
Nothing though can really obscure the fact that it is unlike any of the buildings around it. Through centuries of persecution, neglect, and war, the parish somehow survived and stands today as a place of calm amid the busy banks, markets, and gem merchants of the area. It is one of those rare places in a city like London where a visitor will find a true piece of history without hordes of fellow travelers streaming in. It’s a place to sit and soak up the history of London and catch your breath. It may not be a marvel of architecture or the site of royal occasions, but it is one piece of my neighborhood in London I like to share with others. Please enjoy the photos.