If the outcome of WWII had been different, and London had been beaten into submission instead of Berlin, then imagine if you can, what Whitehall would look like now: Wilhelmstrasse is (or was) Berlin’s ‘Whitehall’.
The road runs for one and a half miles between the Marschallbrucke on the River Spree down to Hallesches Tor in Kreuzberg, but the most interesting part from a historical point of view, is the section between the bridge and Niederkirchnerstrasse where the Berlin Wall split the city into two.
Originating from the time of King Frederick William I, this once wealthy residential thoroughfare, developed into Prussia’s main government district with many of the buildings being taken over by the state, including the Palais Schulenburg for Otto von Bismarck’s Chancellery.
At the end of WWI, the area came under the control of the Weimar Republic, but on 30th January 1933 there was a new Chancellor – Adolf Hitler, who immediately set about building a new chancellery for the Third Reich at the junction of Wilhelmstrasse and Voss Strasse.
After Hitler’s suicide in the Chancellery bunker and the subsequent defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, the street found itself within the Russian sector as far as Prinz Albrecht Strasse (now Niederkirchnerstrasse). Bomb damage and the Battle for Berlin had left the area in tatters, and as neither the Russians nor East Germans had any reason to save whatever was left, the land where Prussian palaces once stood, was now either part of No-Man’s Land separating East and West Berlin or built upon with Eastern Bloc architecture.
As Edinburgh started to spread out from the Royal Mile a rabbit warren of Closes, Wynds and Courts developed to house the expanding population. Generally speaking Wynds were open alleyways with a public right of way whereas Closes were private and closed at one end. Collectively, I believe that they’re all often referred to as Closes.
Characteristically, the buildings were (and still are) tenements with multiple occupancy. People from all walks of life lived in the same block but needless to say some apartments were much better than others. I read somewhere that there were as many as 300 Closes, but I think the figure is much nearer to 60 these days. Even so you can’t fail to notice them and it has to be said that most of them are not that enticing to wander into – if you can that is.
First impressions of the Royal Mile might lead you to the conclusion that the most famous thoroughfare in Scotland is just one long street encouraging swarms of tourists to part with their hard-earned money on buying ‘Tartan Tat’, but scratch below the surface and it will soon become apparent why this spinal cord that joins Edinburgh Castle with Holyrood has played such an important part in Edinburgh’s – and Scotland’s – history.
The history goes back a long way too – about 340 million years in fact. This was around the time when volcanic activity, followed by glaciers during the ice age, helped to form a classic example of what geologists call a ‘Crag and Tail’. Obviously, the crag is where the castle sits, and the tail is the ridge that has become known as the Royal Mile.
This famous artery is not just one street but five – Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate and Abbey Strand, and if you’ve not been here before it helps to know where each one is and what it has to offer.
The image of Newcastle as a shipbuilding city with a party town atmosphere tends to hide the fact that it has some wonderful classical buildings, especially in the area known as Grainger Town.
Richard Grainger was the man behind the area’s development in the first half of the 19th century, and one of his most notable achievements was the construction of Grey St, which runs over the top of the Lort Burn.
The Lort Burn used to flow openly downhill to the Tyne, but eventually became just an open sewer until the lower section was transferred underground with the construction of Dean St over the top of it in 1749.
Originally part of the Roman road to Silchester, the Strand has always been one of London’s most important roads as it connects the City of Westminster with the City of London, and as its name suggests, originally ran alongside the Thames, but nowadays runs slightly inland for about ¾ mile between Charing Cross and Temple Bar.
Between the 12th and 17th centuries some of the most influential people in London owned mansions along the southern side of the road with gardens that swept down to the riverside, but apart from the re-designed Somerset House, they have all but disappeared.
As the aristocracy left for the West End, the Strand became a popular hangout for people who preferred a pint, a coffee, or even a cup of tea and at no. 216 you can still visit Twinings which has been here since 1706. These days it’s more like a small museum, and somewhere to sample their different blends. The samples are free, but the idea of course is that you’ll be tempted to buy one or two of them before you leave.
During the 19th century Joseph Bazalgette’s plans to improve London’s sewage system led to the demolition of many of the fine houses that were still left along the Strand. The river was narrowed, the shoreline raised, and a road built to form an Embankment.
Not only did the engineering works improve the health of Londoners, it also improved transport links between Westminster and the City. Apart from the road, an underground railway line was constructed underneath it, all of which helped to relieve congestion along the Strand.
It’s strange isn’t it, that although London’s practice of discharging raw sewage into the Thames caused cholera epidemics which cost thousands of lives, it was only when MPs kicked up a stink about the smell that something was actually done about it.
The job of sorting the whole problem out was given to a Victorian engineer by the name of Joseph Bazalgette.
His scheme involved an extensive network of underground sewage pipes that took the effluent from Central London out into the Thames Estuary.
The project involved several locations including the mile and a half section of riverside between Westminster and Blackfriars Bridges, the most challenging of them all.
After buying up and demolishing many expensive riverside properties, work started on the Victoria Embankment project in 1865.
Not only did Joseph Bazalgette deal with the sewage problem, he also narrowed the river to make it more controllable, built a new road to ease congestion along the Strand (which linked Westminster to the City of London), and even allowed for the construction of a line for the Metropolitan and District Railway beneath the road.
Following on from my article about the City of London Corporation, it’s not difficult to see how London became an important trading and financial centre.
As British explorers opened up new trade routes, then most of the important trading and commerce ended up on the streets of London, the hub of which was centred around what is now called Bank Junction.
The junction is where nine streets converge and includes three of The City of London’s most influential buildings – the Lord Mayor’s Mansion House, the Royal Exchange, and the Bank of England.
The Bank of England was founded in 1694 and ‘The Old Lady ofThreadneedle Street’ was opened in 1735, but the story goes back much further than that.
Visitors to Exeter city centre will probably want to see the Cathedral, do a bit of shopping, and maybe take a look around the Museum, but like anywhere, it would be easy to overlook some of the less obvious points of interest.
With this in mind I thought it might be worth taking a closer look at some of the things that might go unnoticed while wandering around the High St.
A word of warning though first. High Street is a pedestrianised area, except that it isn’t. By that I mean that buses use it – and there are plenty of them, so be sure to keep your wits about you when using the road.
The street runs in a north-easterly direction from the top of Fore Street, and if you follow it from this point the first thing you’re likely to miss is Parliament Street.
After crossing over the North St/South St junction the first street on the left is Parliament St, and the reason you’re likely to miss it is because it’s one of the narrowest streets in the world (the award for the narrowest goes to the town of Reutlingen in Germany). It links High St with Waterbeer St and ranges in width between 25 and 48 inches (0.64m and 1.22 m). It may not look that old, but it’s been here since the 14th century, believe it or not.