‘Tis about time for another journey back to Great Britain, so in 2019, we did just that. We took my husband Alec’s sister, Jean, with us. She had not been back to England since they emigrated to Canada in 1957. It was a whirlwind trip down memory lane, visiting family and old school chums, residing all across the country. We ventured into South Wales to visit a few of my relatives, including Jack, who had just celebrated his 100th birthday.
We did manage a wee bit of sightseeing en route — Windsor Castle, Margate (the two siblings’ long ago annual seaside holiday retreat) — Brighton — The National Botanic Garden Of Wales — Cotswolds — Anne Hathaway’s Cottage — Chatsworth House — All the time I kept my eyes and ears open observing and picking up little tidbits for my books. Unfortunately, time ran out as did my hopes of seeing Lord Nelson’s ship HMS Victory, docked at Plymouth, and the SS Great Britain, at Bristol. Even though I was in eyeshot of the Great Britain, I still did not see it. I suppose it would have been inconvenient for the vehicles behind us on the Severn Bridge over to Wales, if I had demanded we stop, in order that I could have at least looked over its railing and seen the famous Victorian steam ship in dry dock at Bristol’s dockyard museum. If that failed, I definitely could have looked down upon the River Avon and imagined seeing where the SS Great Britain began its 127 years of adventures sailing on the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
However, when we arrived in London for the final five days of our holiday, I made sure we made time for my book research. On a sunny afternoon at the end of May, we boarded a Thames River cruise boat and sailed down to Greenwich, our destination, the Cutty Sark. I must be honest here, it was my destination. The other two went along for the ride. Well okay, to be honest once more, they had to come as my chaperones. No lady should wander unescorted on a clipper ship. My, what would our great-great-great grandmas have said?
The 1860s clipper ship did not disappoint. We explored this magnificent sea vessel from its main skysail (okay, we didn’t actually go up there, but we did crane our old necks skyward — a feat in itself) to the bowels of the ship. I heard every creak and felt every roll down in the cargo hold where I also read every information board posted throughout. Alec clicked picture after picture of them in case I perhaps forgot or failed to write down the important information in my little black notebook. We poked our heads into the various cabins off the poop and main deck. My imagination went wild; I saw the captain and first officer going over charts in the captain’s richly panelled quarters, while the crew slept in their narrow bunk beds. I guess that’s why they called it the poop deck.
Suddenly, we too were pooped, so we headed down the gangplank right into the souvenir shop. Of course, I had to buy tins of Twinings tea. This was a tea clipper and besides the black tins had a replica Cutty Sark, embossed in gold, on the front. And, the souvenir guide book was a must. ‘Never enough information,’ I said.
I satisfied, they relaxed, we had a nice river boat cruise back along the Thames, sailing under Tower Bridge and passing by the Tower Of London. Oh, how my imagination could go wild in there. But, I’ll keep that for another book.
When we went to get off the bus outside our small hotel on Norfolk Square, I reached down to pick up my many purchases and panicked. “Oh, no! Where’s the bag from the Cutty Sark?”
Our hotel’s receptionist was most helpful and gave us a phone number to call the cruise company. By this time, I remembered I had put the bag under the seat of the boat, and thus, out of sight, out of mind. To be fair — my mind was on overload after all it had to digest earlier. And there the bag stayed under the seat, all alone — forgotten. Fortunately, it was the last trip of the day, so the crew found it. Two days later, we made a special journey by train to pick it up at their office located in Bermondsey. The guidebook lays in front of me as I write this and the Cutty Sark tin sits on top of the bread box in the kitchen. Both well used and enjoyed.
Not to let that catastrophe discourage us, we then went en masse to St. Bride’s Church to discover its hidden charms. After the Great Fire of 1666, Christopher Wren rebuilt the seventh St. Bride’s Church on this site on Fleet Street. His tallest and most unique steeple was completed in 1703 and still remains as romantic today. It represents a tiered wedding cake, as perfect as its name implies, even though the church, first built in the sixth century, was founded by St. Bride — Bridget, an abbess of Kildare Monastery.
Fortunately, we had this special church to ourselves except for a docent sitting at a desk, who welcomed us to look around at our leisure. And, that we did. The ornate interior is not overpowering. It is quite small, full of light and gives off a warmth and cosiness seldom felt in a church. It made us feel most welcome. Then —– the docent told us we could visit the crypts.
“Of course, here. Every old church in London had them. Now not to worry, luv, they won’t hurt you; they’re long dead and buried. He, he, he! No more burials down there since 1854 when the authorities sealed all the crypts in the City of London. Our poor city was ravaged with over 10,000 deaths by cholera alone in one year.” She tutted. “Why the poor souls were soon forgotten. It was not until the 1950s, when it came time to rebuild this church, that the crypts were discovered. You see, at the end of 1940, most of the church was destroyed in an aerial bombing attack. Only Wren’s steeple and the exterior walls remained.” She sighed and then smiled and announced. “Just follow the steps down over there.”
The three of us looked at each other, so someone had to say something, so I piped up, “Like the lady said, they can’t hurt us. They’re all dead! Eh! Besides, I may find something or someone I can use in my next book.”
For the next fifteen minutes, we walked relatively close together as we explored the old stone archways and cold brick pathways. The open iron coffin on display unnerved us a wee bit, but nothing unearthed was inside. It was designed to frustrate the attempts of body-snatchers.
In unison, we echoed from wall to ancient wall, “Nowt to fear from us, mate!”
And, thus we decided it was time to leave London. My quest for researching could be put on hold for another year or two or three. With my souvenir book on St. Bride’s tucked securely under my arm we returned home.