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Travelogue I2

June 2, 2016

Yet, arrived shortly thereafter, I remembered that I was there not to make sense of historical preservation on the Continent but to confront and complete my hypotheses on London of six months earlier. So I set about collecting and recording the odds and ends to which I had, for a lack of time, given little attention before to see whether they found their place within my vision of an empty city turning out the living and the dead.

From my base at Russell Square, I took the pulse of Bedford Place and took note of irregularities in the otherwise uninterrupted brick facades lining the thoroughfare. In the way of irregularities, I noted such features as the existence of a covered, first-floor balcony at number 11. If the balcony’s platform itself differed little enough from those to either side, wrought-iron screens rose from those at waist level to meet and support a sloping, tin roof, which I had not seen elsewhere. Moreover, the stretches of wall between number 11’s balcony windows showed matte white rather than the usual brick found, most closely, at numbers 12 and 10.

Though unimportant as an isolated event, the balcony’s existence on this way, otherwise of a smothering uniformity, suggested that the historical societies’ hold on building and property managers did not prove as total as it might ordinarily seem. In much the same way, number 11’s second- and third-floor facades stood out from their counterparts due to a marked difference in color: to number 10’s darker, grim brickwork responded number 11’s lighter, even milky fare, to the point that the brick capstones trimming the windows’ upper edges melted into the surroundings. Number 11 served as a reminder that irregularities might so slip past theoretical watchdogs into even the most closed of systems.

My feet and observation mission carried me on through the city, only coming to a halt at a traffic island north of Somerset House. A church, heavy with Baroque stylings and motifs, stood behind an iron fence and flowering trees from where it dominated the traffic island. Although I felt that more urgent business lay elsewhere, I drew nearer and copied the name St. Mary le Strand into a notebook before I moved on. Later reading would show that the elaborate steeple above had not figured in the architect’s original plans. Indeed, those plans had foreseen, with the stone allotted, a more modest bell tower and, farther west, a seventy-five meter column topped by a statue of then-Queen Anne. Said plans died with the Queen in 1714.

The church had undergone one other notable alteration in the early twentieth century. When civil authorities sought a way to ease traffic through the City of Westminster, widening the Strand, the church’s namesake, seemed an easy answer. In order to widen the Strand, authorities deemed it in the general interest to demolish the Church obstructing traffic flow. In time, the authorities came, however, to reverse their decision with regards to the church, if not to its churchyard. As with so many historical summaries, the reasons therefore went unmentioned in the text.

Regardless, only the churchyard met its end at the hands of the bureaucrats. As the churchyard’s dwellers understandably could not remain beneath the widened thoroughfare, the authorities found them a new home in the Brookwood cemetery some twenty miles outside the city. Like the dead evicted from other London churchyards, St Mary le Strand’s former residents made their way to their new home via the London Necropolis Railway. Thirty or more to a car, they travelled as they had in life, arrayed into a variety of classes as their social statuses and means allowed. For their convenience, the rail administration had even seen fit to extend the railway into the cemetery itself with two separate stations for Anglicans and non-conformists respectively. Upon arrival, the dead alighted and descended into the new, unmarked chambers prepared them.

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