Upon exiting the gallery, we came upon a yellow crush. Demonstrators, draped in yellow tee shirts and ponchos against the rain, called upon the Malaysian prime minister to step down after losing the popular vote but retaining the office. With some difficulty, we managed to wend our way through the crowd and make for Piccadilly.
From every point of the Circus branched out shopping avenues. We chose one, with some forethought, which led us before Japanese bakeries and covered passages. Taking a moment to examine one such passage, we discovered luxury wear and glass finery, as well a shop specialized in the sale of cashmere for children. To what end children might need cashmere we could have speculated but, for once, avoided the exercise.
The avenue issued at Green Park through which we wandered for a short time. At a glance, the park outwardly gave little to inspire the visitor. Trees rose from the even turf, and clusters of flowers sometimes rose to one side or another of the walkway. The occasional monument broke up the otherwise even lawn. In the largest of the park’s open areas stood lawn deck chairs, white and wooden. If their configuration appeared more or less at random, visitors to the park had introduced a measure of order therein by pulling the most comfortable up in a circle about one another. Though available for hire, we did not take the trouble to discover to whom and by whom, a brief glimpse of the rates deciding the matter.
The greatest surprise which I met with in that park, in fact, came later upon reading of the park’s history in the comforts of the flat. Like my own experience with the city, the park’s beginnings owed more to outcasts and the social margins than the city. Commonly said to have served as marshy burial for lepers from the surrounding hospitals, the park entered into the London domain proper only in the 17th century (following its drainage, incorporation and passage through a local family) by order of Charles II, for whom the land became a brickwalled royal park, complete with icehouse.
Despite its royal status, the land resisted this incorporation as the marsh had resisted drainage and remained at the outskirts of London life as it provided refuge, in its own way, to brigands and thieves. Only in the early 19th century did the park become properly tame as an extension of St. James’s Park.
At this time, were I to have walked along Green Park’s southeast path, I might have taken a small footbridge to cross the Tyburn stream, since then engulfed by the earth, but over which I had surely passed that day. Like any number of old London waterways, the open-air Tyburn met its end in a 19th century culvert. Civil authorities, concerned about cleanliness and epidemics, had made the stream to pass through a concrete and brick network of tunnels as but one local part of the city’s sewer system. So contained, it followed its course under street and park, shop and residence, even skirting, unseen, the front gates at Buckingham.
Although various projects had been proposed to unearth, or at least uncover, the Tyburn, nothing had thus far come of those efforts. So remained hidden the stream whose waters had, early in London’s history, parted to form an island home to Westminster Abbey. From the sofa in the flat, I regretted not having placed an ear to the ground and tried to follow the waterway to its end. Instead, like so many before me, I had passed through, posed and smiled for a photograph before Buckingham, unaware of the obscure courses beneath my feet.