Secret Westminster

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Date : 16th April, 2021

Time : 1h 37’ 55”

Number of runners (total to date) : 2 (7108)

Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/6633887534

The City of Westminster* contains Regent’s Park, Oxford Street, Soho, Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Mayfair – the list just goes on and on and there’s no way to plot a 10km route that takes in all the sights. So, at Darren’s prompting, we took a different approach and focused on ‘Secret Westminster’. Sights that even people like me – who think they know London – have never heard of, let alone seen.

We met at Tottenham Court Road tube station. OK, Tottenham Court Road is hardly a secret but you probably weren’t aware that, in 1814, a vat of beer in the Meaux & Company Brewery exploded, unleashing a huge tsunami of beer that swept down from Tottenham Court Road to the surrounding streets. Of the eight people who died, five of them were attending a wake.

From there we followed our noses – or rather we followed the noses – through Soho. Artist Rick Buckley put up 35 noses across London claiming he installed them as a protest against CCTV spying culture in London. Most of them have been removed but there are still reputed to be 7 noses dotted in and around Soho. (Admiralty Arch, Bateman Street, Dean Street, Meard Street, Endell Street, Great Windmill Street and D’Arbly Street if you’re interested.)

Frankly they’re not easy to spot – especially when you’re also trying to run – but we did see one in Meard Street.

On a slightly more serious note, we also found John Snow’s water pump on Broadwick Street. Originally, the pump in question was the source of a deadly cholera epidemic but now it’s a reminder of the lives saved by Dr John Snow. Why care? Because Dr Snow produced evidence that cholera was waterborne via ground-breaking research that changed the way scientists investigate and treat epidemics across the world. Which seems quite topical.

From there we made our way through oddly empty Soho streets

to Phoenix Gardens. Built on a WWII bomb site, that was subsequently turned into a car park, it’s a delightful green ‘you’d-never-know-it-was-there-unless-you-read-this-excellent-blog’ space that won a Shell Better Britain Campaign Award and, even more excitingly, the Best Environmental Garden in Camden in Bloom every year since 2004.

South past St Martins Theatre where ‘The Mousetrap’ is still playing – or would be if it wasn’t for COVID. Famous as the world’s longest running play, The Mousetrap opened in London’s West End in 1952 and ran continuously until 16 March 2020 – with its 27,500th performance taking place on 18 September 2018.

To Trafalgar Square where Heather Phillipson’s vast physical and digital sculpture – The End – tops the Fourth Plinth with a giant swirl of whipped cream, a cherry, a fly and a drone that transmits a live feed of Trafalgar Square. (The live feed can be seen at www.theend.today .)

On to the UK’s smallest police station in the south-eastern corner of Trafalgar Sq. Built in 1926 so that the Metropolitan Police could keep an eye on the more troublesome demonstrators, it contained a direct phone line back to Scotland Yard in case reinforcements were needed. Whenever the police phone was picked up, the ornamental light fitting at the top of the box started to flash. Today the box is used as a broom cupboard for Westminster Council cleaners…

From there we made our way to Admiralty Arch for some more nose spotting. Too much scaffolding made that impossible so we ran down Horse Guards Rd, across Horse Guards Parade, past the 4 Horsemen of the Pandemic

and out onto Whitehall. South past Downing Street and the Cenotaph and into Parliament Square and its large gothic building and clock on a tower before arriving our next destination : Jewel Tower. Which is quite a large building and one which, somehow, I’ve never previously noticed.

It was built between 1365 and 1366 to house the personal treasure of King Edward III and it’s one of the surviving parts of the original Palace of Westminster. (It continued to be used for storing the monarch’s treasure and personal possessions until 1512, when a fire in the Palace caused King Henry VIII to relocate his court to the nearby Palace of Whitehall.)

Next up was College Green – commonly used for media interview of members of parliament – where Alex Salmond was busy explaining to a reporter why his new party – Alba – would benefit the Scottish nationalist cause and had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with his ongoing fight with Nicola Sturgeon…

With a little bit of a search we then located the air raid shelter signs along Lord North Street

before making our way to Buckingham Palace. Obviously the Palace is hardly a secret but I mention it because Prince Philip had just died and the flags were flying at half mast, the world’s media was out in force and the flowers were blooming magnificent.  

Past St James’s Palace and onto Pickering Place – the smallest square in Britain, home to the Texan Republic’s embassy (until Texas joined the United States in 1845) and also the last place in London where a duel was fought.

North to Berkeley Square and the legendary Annabel’s night club. The only night club the Queen has ever visited (apparently) it regularly hosts the great and the naughty of London and has hosted any number of performers including Tina TurnerRay CharlesElla FitzgeraldDiana RossBryan Ferry, Hot Stew and Lady Gaga.

I’m not sure how many readers will have been inside Annabel’s but if you are ever invited, as I once was, take out a loan, brace yourself for eye wateringly expensive food and drink, and enjoy one of the most extraordinary clubs I’ve even been to anywhere in the world.

To give you a sense of it all, that lavishly decorated corridor we admiringly walked down – which would be the centrepiece of most clubs – turned out, not remotely embarrassingly, to be the way to the ladies…  

Our next stop was the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Farm Street – described as ‘Gothic revival at its most sumptuous’ – it really is beautiful.

As are the Mount Street gardens to its north.

A final run through more of Mayfair to the ever lovely Hush restaurant courtyard

and then it was now time to say goodbye to Darren. He was off to visit his Mum – regular readers will be relieved to hear she is doing somewhat better. I, on the other hand, took advantage of lockdown easing and went to my favourite barbers for my first professional hair cut in a year. It’s a fine place – quick, friendly and tremendous value for money. I’d give you the address – except that it’s a secret!

Please like / follow Run the World on Facebook , Instagram and Twitter because it would be great to stay in touch and because, however silly it may sound, it makes all the travel and running that little bit easier if you think people care!

*A little bit of background. I’m currently undertaking a challenge – Run the World – to complete a 10km run in all 206 countries in the world. (I’ve run in 183 countries to date.) I’m doing the challenge to raise funds for Cancer Research and to promote the importance of an active healthy lifestyle.

In addition to completing a 10km run in all 206 countries in the world, I’m also doing 44 runs in the UK. Taking the global total to 250 runs. Why? Because 250 runs is equivalent to running 2 500 000 metres. Which is a metre for every one of the two and a half million cancer sufferers in the UK.

All well and good but the question we asked ourselves at Run the World HQ is : where should those 44 UK runs take place? And part of the answer – three-quarters to be exact – is that 33 of them will take place in London. One in each of the 32 London boroughs plus one in the City of London.

About Run the World

I'm running 10 km in every country in the world - a total of 205 countries - by the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. I'm doing the Run the World challenge to promote the benefits of sport and physical activity and to raise money for cancer research following the death of my mother from cancer. If you'd like to donate to Cancer Research - https://www.justgiving.com/Dan-Thompson11/ - then I know they'd be very grateful.
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