The next day marked both a turning point in my London stay, as well as the last full day. As I felt that, up to that point, my feet had carried me through more galleries than thoroughfares, I made the decision to set off alone, to throw myself into the city to see whether I might hold or thrown and where to and from. So, coming from Lewisham, I alighted at the London Bridge Overground station and made for the river.
I had not set myself any particular path for that morning but soon found myself on one all the same. For my vague intention to wander through the City of London and to see what had become of this historical center over the centuries placed me incidentally but squarely on the tracks of the London Fire. I had traversed the Thames and thought nothing of it. Once across and as had often been the case, some well-placed signage brought lost history to light.
Some soul or other had affixed the signage in question to the Ye Olde Watling public house, itself remarkable for its supposed connection to Christopher Wren, architect of post-Fire London. The public house had taken in workers from the nearby St. Paul’s worksite within its walls of straight-length, brine-pickled ship timbers acquired at a steep discount. Its upstairs had also housed drawing rooms for architects and foremen.
Unwilling or unable to enter, I left the public house and continued my unwitting arc through the City. I stopped to collect my lunch from a shop on a small square. Curious to see what lay about the bend, I made short work of my sandwich and passed through an alley and soon found myself in another square, though of a decidedly different feel. For the open space was covered in smooth, dull flagstones and bounded on two sides by, what I learned to be, Bow Church.
Of the building itself, neither the discolored bricks nor the chipped, grey cut-stone trim jumped out at me. Yet I could not help but observe the considerable height between the threshold of one side door and the flagstones of the square below. For a gap of more than a foot opened between one and the other. I had difficulty countenancing that the door had been so designed or that the step had disappeared, never to be replaced. And I thought to find confirmation of my hunch in the indirect explanation afforded by a plaque affixed to one church wall.
It seemed, as per some Rights of Way Act or other, the parish’s churchyard had since 1932 been decommissioned, whether out of hygiene concerns or convenience. Such would explain the difference in elevation between church floor and square as, so I imagined, both the stones and soil had needed clearing away. And with those had necessarily gone the dead, in an anticipation of the greater resurrection to come.
The plaque made, however, abundantly clear that the church had not officially given the grounds over to the public way, which seemed to add to my confusion. For, if the portion of flagstones between the wall and the bronze studs opposite marked out the original churchyard and the public made use of and passage over the grounds by privilege rather than right, it gave me to wonder whether the dead had in fact parted. Perhaps the stones and soil alone had found a new home, and the churchyard’s inhabitants instead left just as they were, somewhere beneath my feet.
I could only conclude that London teemed with more residents than one crossed in its streets.