Jane Lane and Charles II

Jane Lane and Charles II

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Grey's Inn, Wilton's Music Hall, Bonfire Night

Grey's Inn Hall

On Friday my friend Clare, who is a barrister, took me to lunch at Grey's Inn Hall . Grey's Inn, Lincoln's Inn, The Middle Temple, and the Inner Temple are the centuries-old law schools of England, where many barristers still have their chambers. Grey's Inn Hall is beautiful - hammer beam roof, dark and elaborately carved wood paneling, stained glass windows, etc. And rich with history. Besides its legal history, it was the site of early performances of some of Shakespeare's plays. No pictures were permitted, but you can see a photo of the interior at http://www.greysinn.info/ and learn more about Grey's Inn at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greys_Inn.

Wilton's Music Hall

Friday night I met some friends at Wilton's Music Hall (wiltons.org.uk and wiltonsthevenue.co.uk), an 1858 music hall that fell into disrepair and was long closed, used for non-performance purposes, and on the brink of destruction before it was recently saved and restored, and is once again presenting occasional performances. It's near Cable Street in Shadwell, an area of the East End of London near the river that was long associated with sailors and maritime life in general.

Music hall, if you don't know, was the English precursor to American vaudeville, with variety acts, singers and dancers - the working classes' entertainment that thrived during the Victorian era and even into the about the first quarter of the 20th century (http://en.wikipedia/wiki/music_hall)

Friday was a free film night, with screenings of some rather silly Rank Organization special short features from the 1960s on Piccadilly, London's clubs, London's markets, etc. Amazing to see the changes in many areas of London since then. And a big laugh at the chipper line "The London of the future will have no traffic jams!"

The Wilton's building is fantastic, with history oozing from every pore, as my friend Alice says. We sat in the balcony, which runs around three sides of the house, with a narrow rectangular stalls section below, and a proscenium stage with two levels. Beautiful twisting columns, ornate plaster work, all in a state of arrested decay and semi-restoration.

Part of the pleasure of the evening was just being in the place. Before the films we had some snacks and drinks in the Mahogany Bar, which according to the Wilton's web site has been a bar as far back as 1725. Afterwards, we sat upstairs in an area with brick walls and a fireplace that I think must have been some kind of public area, or maybe office or something, as it's on the wrong side of the building to be dressing rooms.

"Remember, remember the Fifth of November, Gunpower, Treason and Plot!"

Thursday night was Bonfire Night - the annual commemoration of Guy Fawkes's failed 1605 plot to blow up the King and Houses of Parliament (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Fawkes_Night). Since then, the Fifth of November has been celebrated with bonfires, fireworks, and burning "Guys," or effigies of Guy Fawkes. Our commonly used term "guy" to refer to a man derives from this custom, incidentally. The guy came to mean not just the effigies that were burned, but any ragged-looking man, and then just any guy.

Since Bonfire Night fell on Thursday, most of the big public fireworks displays were on the weekend instead, so on Saturday night I walked with my friends Clare and Alex up to Blackheath to see the fireworks. Blackheath is a large open area just south of Greenwich, that has long been used as a gathering place and staging area before advancing on London. Wat Tyler's rebels gathered there in 1381 , Henry V arrived there on his way home from Agincourt in 1415, and in the 18th century, the old retired sailors housed in Greenwich played cricket on the heath. One of my favorite tales is of a game of the one-legs against the one-arms, with a naval carpenter standing by to make repairs and replacements. For more, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackheath,_England.

The fireworks were great - a 20 minute display to music, and a big crowd was gathered. It really is pretty much exactly like the Fourth of July celebrations in the U.S. I didn't take into account exactly how the crowds would impact our getting around, and afterward we made our way, slowy, slowly to Donna's house in Lewisham. The streets and busses were packed, so we walked from Blackheath to Lewisham Station (quite a ways) and then got a bus to Donna's, not arriving until 10 p.m.

We missed the burning of the guy but got there in time for Tim setting off some fireworks that came perilously close to the house and throwing a couple of old Christmas trees on the embers of the bonfire and creating a raging inferno, as well as having mulled wine, hot soup, sausages, and pies.

Yesterday and today the Docklands Light Rail and several lines of the underground were closed for repairs (a regular and annoying feature of London life these days, as the city spruces itself up for the 2012 Olympics). This complicated transportation a lot, so over the weekend I mostly stayed around Greenwich and did research work and following up various inquiries on line, but this afternoon I went to see my friend Bucky in town, taking the Thames Clipper, referred to as the river bus, a much more enjoyable means of transportation than the underground, anyway.

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