19 Oct 2014
Today has been a real treat.
We arrived at St Giles-without-Cripplegate and joined the regular Sunday morning congregation. We found a seat on a long timber pew, next to our friend Rebecca who will become a Godmother.
I really enjoyed participating in the service, even though we don’t attend church ordinarily; it’s familiar from my school days. A pipe-organ accompanied a small choir, and music filled the church. It felt good to sing along. And I enjoyed experiencing the architecture in the way it’s designed to be experienced. It was a moving ceremony.
Myles (14 mths) was happy in his parents arms. After the ceremony Prosecco and cupcakes were served. It felt strange to sip a glass of bubbles in the church. We mingled with the congregation and met a few of Eleanor’s friends. We met an interesting girl who grew up in communist Prague. With soft white skin and bright blonde hair she looked Scandinavian, and spoke with a rounded Czech accent. I wish I could remember her name. We spoke about not taking the freedom to travel for granted and I was struck with the good fortune of being raised in Australia.
Eleanor and Julian (Myles’ parents) had arranged for a reception at a local pub next to the church. David and I joined Rebecca and four other guests at a large round table by the window, overlooking the water gardens. The afternoon was spent deep in conversation that ranged from one interesting topic to the next: from radio drama to film makers, books and painters. From Venice, travelling, property in the Canary’s and to the Architecture of the barbican.
One of the ladies at our table was Vivian Elliot; a Canadian author who’s lived here for some 25+years. In 1988 her book was published “Dear Mr Shaw” about letters people have written to George Bernard Shaw, and his often unexpected replies. It’s been out of print for a while and one day she decided she should probably have a copy herself. So she bought a second-hand copy from Amazon. When it arrived, she opened the cover and recognised her own handwriting. It was a thank you note to the midwife that had delivered her son, who “came out at the same time as my book”. What a coincidence!
It turned out that besides Rebecca, everyone at our table lives here in the Barbican. I was fascinated to know more about the lifestyle of living in this unique modernist estate. There is a real sence of community, where people know each other. The church plays a central role in this also.
Tim and Alan live in an apartment with many of the original features and I was interested to hear about them. Later they very kindly invited us to come and see their apartment
“We were wondering if you’d like to come up and see the apartment?” Alan asked.
“Oh wow, yes please that would be great!” Did I sound over-enthusiastic?
So we said good-bye to Rebecca and Mona, and followed our new-found friends through to the water garden. Alan and Tim have lived here for eleven years, and are very knowledgeable about the Barbican estate and its history.
Firstly we walked down into the sunken gardens in the lake. They are lovely private pockets of space surrounded by the sound of falling water. In summer, people come down with a bottle of wine and relax here. “Sounds perfect” I said picturing a crisp white wine on a long hazy summer day.
Up in their apartment overlooking the city, I was impressed with many of the forward thinking architectural details: the huge double glazed sliding timber door mechanism, the recessed wash hand basin, and the passive under-floor heating. The kitchen was the most interesting with a strange water based waste disposal system that isn’t really used much today.
Afterwards Tim and Alan escorted us to a car park that runs below the road opposite their place. And there, hidden in an underground car park is a surviving piece of Roman wall. London Wall dates from around 200AD!! It is incredibly sturdy and well-built.
“What a surreal day we are having” David said.
“This is definitely a highlight of our trip” I agreed trying to reconcile this bit of wall with its age.
The church St Giles-without-Cripplegate, means the church stood without (outside) London Wall near Cripplegate. It was built in 1090. Amazing.
But now it was time to say farewell to our gracious tour guides and we hugged promising to stay in touch. We really enjoyed their company and thanked them for the secret tour. The Barbican is growing on me, and after spending the day here, I understand it now.
What a day! We have met such interesting people. This is what we love about London.