Return to the Rookery
There is delight in empty city routes on crowded Saturdays. The key to discovering hidden London in your own perspective is to simply pick one of the busiest landmarks. Take Oxford Street of Trafalgar Square and then just turn around, turn your back on it and walk down the nearest and narrowest street.
I hadn’t gone out to be lost for so long.
Parallel to Great Portland Street old mansion apartments and iron railings fulfilled my old-worldly fascinations. And there were no people, no people, only my footsteps not needing my old white stick searching for cracks in the pavement and people out of eye shot. The dear old BT Tower and New Cavendish Street reminded me another semester is soon to start. My brain must commit itself to intricacies of the Eliot’s and more god damn philosophy. But until then there was no need to squint from thinking, only walk, walk and observe and be lost.
Goodge Street blinded me in late sun and the ever growing crowd required the unfolding of a cane. It is a cane that kept my failing sight safe for a decade and has since been lost, left behind in extreme tiredness and I feel I have lost a friend in that stick that let me walk where I could not fully see. I hate the thought of it somewhere in this city without the rest of me. I have a new one but it just feel like a stick and nothing more, nothing valuable.
The Phoenix Garden was a secret now found by many others. People filled its winding brick paths and nooks of benches. I sat down, back where the Rookeries once stank and thrived, and spoke to my mum on the phone, ate shop made sandwiches. It is an area with only the church remaining of it’s past yet never fails to make me wonder what it used to be. I long to brink and open my eyes to old London squalor, wooden lean to’s, crime and prostitution dressed in bustles. The ghosts of Rookeries past.
Thomas Beames wrote his own account of this demolished, vanished world of the London poor and I think his descriptions will always walk me back to St Giles even if nothing of it can be traced.
For a historical account of London’s Rookery Slums from investigative visits I highly recommend The Rookeries of London (Dodo Press)
‘by Thomas Beames. I found a coverless, hardback edition in the uni library and it is fascinating, describing London’s Victorian slums from his own discoveries.