back to the blustery moors

eight years ago this week I returned from spending a semester studying in London. yesterday, prompted by a request for some pictures of standing out on the blustery moor to match the one posing with the Monumento do Peregrino in Galicia, I pulled out the journals from my study-abroad experience and looked back through my photos to find something suitably windswept. in fact, I found a photo of the Nine Maidens standing circle, which I hadn’t found to associate with my last post on the area.

stone circles are scattered across Dartmoor, including the one we visited, and contains the largest collection of Bronze Age tools anywhere in Britain. at that time, the climate was much warmer and trees likely covered much of the moorland, which were cleared by inhabitants using fire in order to make way for farm fields. as the climate cooled and people fled, the acidic soil they left behind made preservation of stone foundations and tools comparatively successful, thus resulting in the plethora of prehistoric tools. when things warmed up again, people returned and used many of the same tactics to construct needed buildings as they had before; some built in this longhouse style remain in use today (with modifications) though many lay abandoned and ruined.

one of the distinct features of Dartmoor are its numerous tors — hills topped with rock outcroppings similar to but markedly less famous than the one in Glastonbury. in early May each year, the British Army arranges a  weekend hike known as the Ten Tors in which youth between the ages of 14 and 19 complete circuits of 35, 45, or 55 miles (depending on age) in teams of six. according to the organizers it’s not technically a race, but more of an endurance test of survival and outdoor skills; obviously that doesn’t stop teams from competing with one another for the best time though. since there are a variety of potential routes, however, you won’t necessarily know which other teams might keep pace with you. the first race took place in 1960 with about 200 people; now participation is capped at 2,400 youth from southwest England. two noteworthy things happened during the 2012 event — the first all-girls team completed the course in a school-record time; and a team on track to complete in sixteen hours diverted upon hearing the distress calls of another team and ensured their rescue before crossing the finish twenty minutes after the official close of the race, which would have barred them from receiving recognition of completion. naturally, the director of the event acknowledged them anyway.

having spent an comparatively mild fall afternoon out on the moor, and reading about the variable if not downright tempestuous weather, it’s amazing to consider anyone would want to undertake a weekend of trekking around the moor, braving whatever the elements seek to dump on you. in more than a few years the weather has necessitated evacuation of teams at some point during the competition or outright cancellation prior to starting out.

Brompton Cemetery

apparently the summers of volunteering under duress rubbed off on me and, while studying in London, I got out and involved on a few projects including one tidying up around monuments and beating back brush at the Brompton Cemetery. on this occasion, I managed to trick Becca into joining me though now I don’t recall how. the film “Finding Neverland,” some of which filmed in and around the cemetery (as well as in Hyde Park) though I don’t think it was released before we volunteered. perhaps I had a sense that some degree of celebrity might rub off on us or something. the novelty of celebrity was still fresh at the time; while I’d seen a few celebrities up to this point — both around London and elsewhere — I’d never faced the inconveniences that can accompany movie sets. in addition to “Finding Neverland,” Brompton Cemetery has featured in numerous films, most recently in the first of Guy Ritchie’s two “Sherlock” films.

begun in 1836 and consecrated by the Bishop of London in 1840, Brompton is one of the oldest garden cemeteries in London. over 35,000 monuments mark the final resting places of some 205,000 people buried over the course of more than a century. while the park covers some 39 acres of land once belonging to the Lord Kensington, the cemetery had to close to burials between 1952 and 1996 due to space constraints; it has since begun allowing burials once again, however.

following the economic and commercial shifts on the Continent that resulted from Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, the living population of London exploded in the early-mid 19th century — as did the dead population. the rapid increase in number of necessary burials necessitated more burial space. designed by Benjamin Baud, Brompton is one of seven cemeteries constructed around what was the outskirts of London in the mid-19th century in response to health hazards posed by the existing overburdened, overflowing, inner-city burial grounds. it’s central chapel was modeled on St. Peter’s Basilica and features impressive colonnades, catacombs, and private mausoleums. for whatever reason, the catacombs never attracted much interest and most of the spots remain unoccupied.

some interesting facts about the cemetery before wrapping up: Beatrix Potter took naming inspiration from headstones in the cemetery; several Native Americans were once buried in the cemetery following their unexpected and untimely deaths while touring in England (as part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show). after researchers in the late twentieth century traced the families of two of the men (Chief Long Wolf and Paul Eagle Star, both Sioux), their remains were returned to tribal territory in the United States for reburial.

turns out I don’t have any photos of our afternoon of weeding, but here’s a video tour of Brompton Cemetery if you’re interested in seeing what it looks like.

London 2012

and now a break from our current theme programming …

eight years ago, I was studying in England as London bid to host the 2012 Olympics. as a temporary local and twenty-one-year-old with only a vague understanding of what bidding for the Games entailed and could mean, few of the outwardly-visible self-promotion efforts the City made stuck with me. I remember there were special bid-themed seat covers on some of the Tube trains — that’s about it.

my elation that London won the bid was tempered by the 7/7 attacks and, to some extent, the latter took on greater prominence in my memory. the Olympic Games were a long way off (2012!? what kind of futuristic, mystical place is that?!) and 7/7 was more immediate. during the intervening years, the terrorist attack has faded and the excitement of the XXX Olympiad grew, in spite of the mishaps that threatened to overshadow any successes London might enjoy. missiles on residential buildings that will only work if it’s not cloudy? the ticketing debacle? poor London, it seemed, would never overcome the derision, gaffes and flubs.

yet somehow they did. for the most part. to some extent, I think the oddities of the Opening Ceremony were aided by the absurdity of how NBC edited the program for “American sensibilities”, but I believe Danny Boyle said something to the effect that because the Beijing Opening Ceremony was so spectacular, precise and over the top, it took some of the pressure of being supremely perfect off. he could focus more on developing a program that captured the British spirit.

I don’t remember much of anything about the Beijing Games; I’d just graduated from UCSD, was working crazy hours at two different jobs and searching for something full-time. I don’t know if I watched any of the Games, much less the Opening or Closing Ceremonies. maybe its the change in my circumstance that has me more engaged this time around, but it probably doesn’t hurt that I’m already plugged into a lot of British culture. one of my favorite podcasts is doing “micro-episodes” every day talking about the events one of the hosts is attending — events for sports that he has no particular interest in beyond the fact that they are a) sports, b) Olympic events, and c) happening in/around London (the first he went to was actually a soccer match held in Cardiff last week) I can’t imagine he’d trek across the globe and snatch up tickets to events anywhere else, but he’s so enthusiastic about all the elements associated with London 2012 that it’s infectious.

all this is to say that watching the Games have me thinking about my previous time in England, reminiscing and yearning to go back sooner rather than later. to assuage that itch, I’m going to do a few posts about my ’04 adventures — keep an eye out.

Albert Memorial Bridge

the Albert Memorial Bridge connects Battersea and Chelsea over the Thames and is pretty spectacular by night. it was designed and built in 1873, but the principals used in constructing the bridge proved it structurally unsound and, beginning in 1884, modifications were made over the course of three years to stabilise it. further reinforcements were introduced in 1973 (after a proposal to turn the entire bridge into a landscaped park with pedestrian access over the river failed), which makes the existing bridge a hybrid of three architectural styles.

the first bridge on the sight dates from 1771, when a wooden bridge connected industrial Chelsea with the rich farming village of Battersea. despite campaigns to demolish the bridge, even after the Victoria (now Chelsea) Bridge was completed downriver, the wooden bridge remained well into the 19th century, growing increasingly unstable, unpopular, and unsafe, while (not surprisingly) the Victoria Bridge became more congested. to rectify the congestion, Prince Albert recommended the construction of a toll bridge between the two existing bridges; predictably, the operators of the decrepit Battersea Bridge opposed the new bridge as it might diminish their custom (one wonders whether they recognized the connection between the derelict quality of their bridge and a decline in customers …), but a compromise (whereby the owners of the new Albert Bridge would purchase the Battersea Bridge upon completion of the former) authorization to begin construction on the new structure came in 1864. the man selected to design it, Rowland Mason Ordish, also designed the Royal Albert Hall, St. Pancras railway station, the Crystal Palace, and Holborn Viaduct. delays in completing the Chelsea Embankment blocked the project, however; in the intervening six years, Ordish designed the Franz Josef Bridge in Prague (said to be a model for the Albert Memorial), and the bridge owners were required to obtain another Act of Parliament before finally beginning construction in 1870. predicted to last about a year and come in under 70,000 GBP, naturally the project ran three times longer than expected and nearly three times more expensive.

in part because of the original agreement with the owners of the Battersea Bridge, the new Albert Bridge opened already deep in the hole and, consequently, never proved financially successful. the expense of paying off the rickety wooden bridge owners drained many of the resources intended for improving the traffic approach on either side of the new Albert Bridge, making it more difficult to access even as it struggled to compete with the Victoria Bridge, which remained more popular as it allowed for closer access to the center of London. after operating as a toll bridge for 7 years, the Metropolis Toll Bridges Act allowed the City to purchase both the Albert and Battersea Bridges for a paltry sum and remove the tolls. the tollbooths remain at either end of the bridge, however, and are the only ones remaining on bridges in London.

as with the Millennium Bridge (and probably any other pedestrian-use-heavy bridge) the Albert Bridge also has trouble with vibrations when large numbers of people cross at one time. these concerns prompted the placement of signs at the entrance warning troops from the Chelasea Barracks (actually closer to the Victoria/Chelsea Bridge, and which were vacated in 2006) to break step when crossing.

though it was painted uniform colors for the first century of use, in the late 20th century, a new pink, blue, and green color scheme was selected in an effort to make it more visible in foggy weather. additionally, some 4,000 lights were added to illuminate the structure, effectively turning it into a recognizable landmark of west London. along with the Tower Bridge, the Albert Bridge is the only Thames London bridge never to be replaced, and in 1975 was given protection as a “listed structure” (which prevents modification without “consultation). however, because of changing use patterns, increased weight of vehicles, and the fact that it wasn’t designed to carry automobiles in the volume it now sees, the bridge continues to deteriorate. in order to refurbish and strengthen the structure, the Bridge was closed in February of this year.

a decent entry on Wikipedia

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Millennium Bridge

oh, Millennium Bridge, you landmark that left a little blemish of embarrassment on London’s face (but not as big as the Millennium Dome, which might redeem itself with the Olympics …) when you had to be closed promptly after opening because of your swaying when people walked across you in unison.

the bridge opened on an “exceptionally fine day” in 2000, but was only open for two days before the wobble closed it for fully two years while modifications were made to correct the unsettling effect.

the “wobble” was caused by a “positive feedback” phenomenon, wherein the the natural sway of humans walking resulted in small oscillations in the bridge, then causing the people on the bridge to sway with the motion of the bridge, amplifying the effect. on the day the bridge opened, it was crossed by some 90,000 people (due in some part to the fact that it was included in the route for a Save the Children charity walk), with up to 2,000 walking across at a time. attempts were made to limit the number of people on the bridge at any one time, which resulted in long queues — one wonders if the architects would have suffered greater criticism if they’d left it open and maintained the limited access.

as with the Bean in Chicago, the design of the Millennium Bridge was selected through a design contest that was organized in 1996. concern for maintaining a clear view of the London skyline resulted in the bridge’s low profile. while the Tate Modern certainly isn’t anything dazzling to view from the north bank of the Thames, the way that St. Paul’s is framed from the south bank is quite spectacular. shame I didn’t get that shot. if I recall correctly, Becca and I were on our way to see “Romeo & Juliet” at the New Globe, which is also near the south foot of the bridge.

Christ Church Greyfriar’s Cemetery

when I started looking for more information on this photo (which I’d labeled Greyfriar’s Cemetery), all I came up with were sites on Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh — decidedly not the information for which I was searching. enter Google Maps … it’s amazing how much detail the site has developed over the last couple of years. search for St. Paul’s in London and ta-da! only a few hundred yards away stand the remains of Christ Church Greyfriars (also known as Christ Church Newgate, as it stands on the Newgate road).

the original, Gothic church was part of a Franciscan monastery and was built between 1307 and 1327. the monks of the monastery wore grey habits and became known as “greyfriars” for their appearance. this church contained remains from Marguerite of France (second wife to Edward I), Isabella (widow of Edward II), and the heart of Eleanor of Provence (wife of Henry III). after the Dissolution of Monasteries by Henry VIII, the church was granted to the City and suffered extensive damage, vandalism, and theft of objects. surrounding buildings, which previously belonged the monastery, were later used by students of the nearby Christ’s Hospital, and eventually the church returned to its original uses. it was the second largest church in medieval London but the structure was destroyed, along with much of the area, by the Great Fire of 1666.

the second church was designed by Sir Christopher Wren (who designed a total of 51 churches after the Great Fire, including St. Paul’s across Newgate St from this church) and completed in 1687 (though it took another 30-odd years before a steeple was placed atop the church tower). for many years, the church served as an important center for society and music in London, but the size of the parish declined significantly around the turn of the twentieth century, as the area gave way to more and more businesses and the employees of the businesses moved farther out to suburbs and the Home Counties. by 1937, there were only 77 parishioners and, following a post-war reorganization of the Church of England, the parish was merged with another.

while the parish staggered on until 1954, Wren’s church suffered devastating damage during the Blitz. on December 29, 1940, one of the worst bombing raids during the war, the Christ Church Greyfriar’s was hit, along with much of the surrounding neighborhoods. a total of 8 of Wren’s churches were damaged or destroyed that same night. the church spire, however, did emerge relatively unscathed and was disassembled in 1960 and reconstructed using modern reinforcement techniques. the spire now houses residences on  twelve levels, and the grounds that were once the nave are now a public garden and memorial.

more info here: and at wikipedia