Here are some notes on our visits to lesser-known London sites.
When we came out of Westminister Abbey we chanced to look across the street and saw this dramatic building, labeled Methodist Central Hall – a good omen, as our next goal was to visit Wesley’s Chapel, where John Wesley, the father of Methodism, preached, and to visit his house, gravesite, and museum at the same location.
First, though, we got something to eat at the Wesley Cafeteria at Methodist Central Hall.
Who knew Wesley had a cafeteria?
We decided to take a taxi across town and the helpful doorman hailed one for us and off we went. It’s amazing to us how ably London drivers maneuver through these narrow, winding, traffic-laden streets.
I somehow failed to take a picture of the chapel, so here's one from the internet on a sunny day.
Inside the Chapel:
Wesley planned the Chapel to be “purposely modest.” It’s nothing like the gorgeous cathedrals and abbeys we’ve seen, but it is still charming.
Margaret Thatcher was married here and her two children christened in this church. This altar rail is her donation to the Chapel.
A friendly volunteer, pip pip, cheerio, and all that, told us that Sunday attendance is around 400 and the church is very active in its part of the city.
I had seen on the Chapel’s website that a recital was scheduled for 1:00 pm and so we timed our visit to coincide with that so that we could participate in an event at the Wesley Chapel. The recital was by a powerful baritone, accompanied by his father, apparently (same last names), doing a German operatic piece, Sechs Monologues aus Jedermann. It seems that Jedermann has been visited at dinner by DEATH and told to pack his bags. This, as you can imagine, was pretty unsettling to Jed, as demonstrated vocally, accompanied by loud piano noises. A little of that goes a long ways. Reading ahead in the program notes told us that things turned out pretty well for Jedermann in the last Monologue, so we slipped out.
Another volunteer had come on duty and he took us on a tour of Wesley’s house. Wesley had the house built, a small, vertical, four-story building, for his own use (he married late in life, unsuccessfully - his ministry consumed him) and also with rooms for visiting clergy and their families.
One interesting item on display is an electrical spark generator. Wesley became interested in electricity through his contacts with Benjamin Franklin when he was in London. I asked the guide if Wesley bought the machine from Franklin or if it was a gift. He said he didn’t know, hadn’t been asked that before, but would try to find out.
A little background on Wesley, for the non-Methodists out there: He was born in 1703, one of 19 children born to Samuel and Susanna Wesley, only seven of whom survived childhood. When John was young, he was trapped in a burning house, but was miraculously rescued. Susanna said that convinced her that God had a special purpose for him.
He went to Oxford and was ordained as a Church of England minister. He and his brother Charles, who eventually authored hundreds of poems that became hymns (Oh for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, …. ), went to America, to Georgia, with intents to bring Christianity to the Indian tribes and colonists. That didn’t work out, so they returned to England. On their sea journeys, they had been impressed by some Moravians on board. When storms threatened, the Moravians' faith gave them a serenity that the Wesleys didn’t have. Something was missing. Back in London, John attended a Moravian service and, in his famous phrase, felt his “heart strangely warmed” by the presence of God. God cared about him personally. It changed his life; it changed his theology.
He and Charles organized Holy Societies. These groups began developing, in essence, a method for living a Christian life, hence the name. John began riding around the country, preaching his message to large crowds. Out of this grew the Methodist Church. John, though, never left the Church of England, even though it disapproved of him.
More historical information here.
Behind the church, tucked in a small graveyard backed by a modern office building, is John Wesley’s grave.
Frank, our guide, told us that Susanna Wesley was buried in the cemetery across the street, Bunhill Cemetery. Moreover, he told us, there are some other famous people buried there – John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress, Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, and Isaac Watts, a prominent early-day Methodist preacher and hymnist. Wow! Had to check these out. Crossed the street and walked up to a map that identified famous-person graves and Pow! The most prominently displayed person was the Rev. Thomas Bayes.
Some of you know that there is an area of statistics called Bayesianism. Not my cup of tea, I'm afraid, even though my thesis was Bayesian. Some of you heard, and still recall, Kathleen Diegert’s essay at my retirement party on my life as a closet-Bayesian. Now, I’ve got no quarrel with Bayes himself. He proved a fundamental mathematical theorem. It’s the way others have used and abused his theorem in almost theological ways that bugs me. Anyway, I was glad and not a bit uncomfortable to pay respect to Bayes's gravesite.
The grave areas were locked and there didn’t seem to be a caretaker about, but, just before we gave up we saw him - the caretaker, not Bayes. He unlocked the gate so I could stand by Bayes’s grave.
I did feel some regret in the following way. My statistical hero is Sir Ronald A. Fisher, of England of course. I had planned to visit the Rothamsted Agricultural Experiment Station, where he had worked and developed fundamental statistical methods, but we hadn’t made it there and wouldn’t have time to – it’s NE of London, but not far. He died in Australia and is buried there.
My second statistical might-have-done was to visit the office of the Royal Statistical Society in London. Turns out that that office is not too far from the Wesley Chapel, but I didn’t realize it until the next day, which was too late. Here's a picture of Fisher and I encourage you to learn all about him.
Sorry, Sir Ronald, that I didn't do more to pay homage while we were in London.
The British Library was one of Rick Steves’ highest rated (three-stars) London sights and in reading about it on Monday I saw that it was open late on Tuesday evening, so off I went. Susie had had enough walking for the day, so she studied British modern culture on TV (I think).
The main Library attraction is its amazing collection of ancient documents. You can see two early copies of the Magna Carta, which, the narrative explains, established the principle that the King was subject to the law, not above it.
You can see musical scores written by Mozart, Handl, Mendelssohn, and others. I remember reading that Mozart didn’t make mistakes: he sketched in all those notes and musical signs and got them right the first time – every note, sharp, and flat, and more. Seemed to me, though, in what was displayed, that he had a few corrections, but nothing compared to other composers.
There are ancient Bibles, laboriously and elegantly hand-written and beautifully illustrated. There are also foundational documents for several other religions. Also, some early copies of Shakespeare's plays. Which reminds me: our guide through John Wesley's house said that Wesley possessed a copy of these plays. After Wesley's death, the person to whom his possessions were entrusted burned the Shakespeare plays. The theatre at the time was regarded as not reputable, especially for a theological figure like Wesley.
You can listen to Virginia Woolf talk about her writing (this tied in with the London Walk I took the next night that had a literary theme) and much more. And you can see handwritten lyrics by the Beatles.
Additionally, the King’s library (collected by one of the King Georges) is housed in its own separate four-story glass-walled chamber within the library.
Near the British Library, which is a modern building, opened in 1998, I saw this building, the St. Pancras (not to be confused with pancreas) Hotel and thought it was worth a picture.
(Do you remember when we used to really worry about using too much film and taking too many pictures?)
Rick Steves recommended walking tours of areas in London, so I showed up at a London Walk billed as a Literary and Pub Walk. (At London Walk you don’t sign up, you just show up at a designated Tube exit and look for a guide bearing a London Walk sign.) Our guide was Brian, a wry, friendly fellow. He told us a mix of stories about literary and royal notables.
One of the King’s scoundrel-relatives was told by the King that he would pay off his debts if he would marry a German woman with the right connections. This ne’er do well agreed, but didn’t go to Germany himself. He sent his mistress to find him a German wife. Big mistake (said Brian). She found and brought one back that was not only ugly, she smelled bad. Brian had some funny quotes that answered the question, How bad did she smell?
This walk was in the area of the British Museum (a three-star site we didn’t visit), which, until 1998, housed the British Library. The Library attracted several literary types to live in this part of the city. Both Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin were registered readers in the Library. Brian told us that while in London, Lenin worked as a tour guide. Thus, in many of his statues he has one arm upraised, Follow me … .
We went by a building that housed the Faber and Faber publishing firm (there was only one Faber who thought his company would sound more established if he added another Faber to the name). T. S. Eliot, while a director there turned down George Orwell’s manuscript of Animal Farm, with a comment to the effect that, the book needed more public-spirited pigs.
Brian also told us about a literary and intellectual group that were called the Bloomsbury Group. That group included Virginia Wolfe and its members generally gathered in the part of London we were visiting, called, then, Bloomsbury.
We also got a science history story along the way. Leo Szillard (SPELL??) left Germany in the 30s and came to London to study physics. He had an idea that nuclear fission could be accomplished. Unfortunately, Rutherford, the head of the department, had gone on record saying that fission was impossible, so Szillard knew he wouldn’t get far there. One rainy evening, as Szillard was walking down the very sidewalk we were on, at a spot right over there, he got an idea: Here’s how to create nuclear fission. He hurried back to his room and wrote it up. He subsequently went to the University of Chicago where, with other eminent physicists, he succeeded in creating nuclear fission. From that followed the famous letter from Einstein to Roosevelt saying this knowledge could lead to a powerful weapon, and the atomic age was born.
Oh, the pub part of the tour. Brian stopped for a 20 minute break at a historic pub, the Queen’s Larder, mid-way through the Walk. Nothing very literary there.
The tube system almost got me on this excursion. I had been carrying both Susie’s and my Oyster (transit) cards. I thought I’d use one card on the way to the Walk, the other on the way back, in order to keep them balanced. Well, on the way I made an intermediate stop at Picadilly Circus to buy some souvenirs. I inadvertently used one card to enter the system, the other to exit. Foul! said the system, and wouldn’t let me out. I had just topped off the passes by adding five pounds to each when I left our hotel, so I couldn’t understand the problem. The system sent me to the assistance desk and the nice lady explained what I had done wrong. I showed her my receipts for the added amount and she put time back on one card so I could complete my evening travels. Next morning, though, both Oysters were dead again – they showed a negative balance! I bought enough time for another souvenir run, though.
I'm working on this posting on 9/11, from the Queens burough of New York City. I went out this morning and walked across the RFK bridge across the East River to Manhattan, and at the bridge's halfway point I paused at 8:46am, the time at which the first plane hit the World Trade Center, to look at the Manhattan skyline and reflect. A sobering moment that reminded me: While in London I read a remarkable article in the Sunday London Times Magazine about the people in the World Trade Center who jumped, or tried to do the impossible escape of descending down the side of the building. The topic has been unofficially taboo for the last 10 years, but the author was obsessed about finding out. Turned out that the official NIST report had a list that identified several "jumpers." The author talked to some of their loved ones. Very, very painful memories, but most felt the ones they knew had made understandable decisions – they didn’t regard it as a (cowardly) suicide. We can only hope that we’re never faced with the same dilemma.
Also, one fireman was killed by a falling body. The fellow firemen who tended to him did not go into the building and therefore were not killed when it collapsed, so the man’s widow took some comfort from that. Really hard to think about, but I wanted to share this with you.
There is a program by which airline employees and dependents can fly standby on other airlines. Mandi set us up for this and we had a standby listing for an American Airlines flight that left Heathrow at 700 pm on Thursday. We went to the airport, though, around noon right after checking out of the Montana Hotel. While checking us in, the AA rep said, What are you going to do all afternoon? Then she said, The two o’clock flight is wide open. We’ll take that, we said. Not only that, we got excellent seats – right behind a bulkhead (lots of foot room and nobody leaning back in our laps) with an empty seat between us. New York, here we come.
Susie and Rob