Roman bath review
This Roman Bath is a bit too piddly to warrant a standalone review (it will only take you ten minutes), so I'm going to combine it with a few bits and pieces in the surrounding streets. If you visit them all together then it turns into an interesting little walk.
Let's start with the art-deco Adelphi. If you enjoy old paintings of the Thames then you might have spied the original Adelphi on the waterfront. It was a big building that used to overlook the Victoria Embankment Gardens. Only it didn't -- because the gardens didn't exist in those days. When the Victorians built the Embankment they pushed the riverbank back 100 metres and the old Adelphi lost it's riverside setting. It quickly became unloved and unwanted and got demolished in the 1930s. The art-deco namesake that we see today isn't a patch on the original, but it does have a nice little terrace overlooking the park. That's where we're going first.
What you need to do is start at Charing Cross station and then head down the Strand. Turn right when you reach Adam Street, and you'll see the terrace at the end. But we're going to pause outside No.10 first, halfway down the street.
Does that front door look familiar? It should do. Have another look. What does that remind you of? It's No.10 Downing Street! Whenever somebody wants to fake a photoshoot outside Downing Street they always end up here, because it's practically identical to the real thing. The only bit that's missing is the iron lamplight across the top. And they haven't got a six-foot copper standing on the doorstep holding a truncheon and taser. But apart from that it's the same. Be quick if you're going to take a photo, though, because the residents are probably fed up of having tourists snapping photos outside their front door every five minutes.
Walk to the end of Adam Street and you'll be standing on that terrace I was talking about. It's not the greatest view in the world, but hey... who cares. It's something new to do, and sometimes that's all you want. You can see Cleopatra's Needle across the road if the trees aren't too leafy, and a thin little sliver of Victoria Embankment Gardens down below, but I think I actually prefer looking up at the towering hulk of the Adelphi.
If you want to see the difference a flight of stairs can make to your lot in life, then descend the set at the far end (the Charing Cross station end). On the upstairs terrace it's all leafy trees and river views, but directly underneath it's a homeless city of cardboard carpet and tarpaulin bedsheets. Cider bottles, empty cans and delivery vans. There must be thirty people living here at the moment, all tucked up under a plastic blue tarpaulin. If you put a sprig of parsley on their heads then they'd look like a tray of frozen fish at the fishmongers. One grizzly guy doesn't look very happy with his situation, and is currently standing here shouting and swearing at no one in particular. Everyone who walks past is a c-word, and we can all go and 'eff ourselves because we're all an 'effing bunch of c-words. One dopey do-gooder from the offices chucks him a couple of quid but he's too drunk or nuts to notice and starts swiping at the sky like a clockwork boxer. He's staggering around as if his feet are on back to front. Money isn't going to help this bloke, and the kindest thing you can give him is probably another bottle of booze so he can forget who he is.
I don't know why I'm telling you all of this because it's not very touristy, but what the hell -- this is London. I get a bit bored of seeing sunshine all the time. Let's go and look at life above and below the Adelphi Terrace -- pretty river views vs bottles of booze. And ten seconds down the road is the back end of the 5-star Savoy Hotel (literally just ten seconds down the road).
Now keep walking down the Strand, past Somerset House and St. Mary le Strand, and turn right into Surrey Street (it's a lot further than you think -- it's just after Waterloo Bridge). If you keep your eyes focused on the righthand side then you'll find an archway through the buildings labelled 'Roman Bath'. Head through there and turn right at the end. You might worry that you're about to get mugged because it's a bit dark and deserted down here, but don't worry. I promise you that it's perfectly safe (probably). Look at it this way: we're going on an adventure! Not many tourists know about this place so we're like pioneers, tiptoeing down the back alleys in search of Roman artefacts.
What you're looking for is a big white-framed window behind some iron railings. Push open the gate and have a peer through the window. What can you see? You might have to squint through the curtain of condensation, but hopefully you can make out a brick-lined hole in the ground (they've got a button on the wall which switches on a light, but it never works when I try it). Apparently that's a Roman bath. That's what it says on the sign. That's what it says in the guidebooks. Only it's not... because it's actually a 17th-century water cistern that fed the plants in Somerset House. The fairy story about it being a Roman Bath began as an advertising gimmick in the 1830s, and by early 19th-century it was being entered onto maps and pamphlets as a genuine Roman artefact. And here we are, two hundred years later... still staring at a water cistern.
There's one more place that I want to show you... so come back out onto the main road and carry on walking in the same direction as before, past St. Clement Danes, past the Royal Courts of Justice and Temple Church, and turn right into Bouverie Street. Halfway down there you'll see Magpie Alley on the left. Nip down there and look over the black barrier at the end. You'll see the remains of an old stone wall stuck behind a window. Squeak open the gate and walk down the stairs for a better look (it looks like you're not allowed to go down there, but you are).
This battered piece of wall is all that's left of Whitefriars Monastery -- a 13th-century priory from the time of Henry III. When Henry VIII dissolved the White Friars in the 16th-century their domain was demolished and forgotten, but this little wall somehow managed to survive beneath the houses until the developers decided they had to build an ugly building over it, which meant they had to lift it up and shift it across the street. So it's still a real wall from the monastery... but it's not where it used to be. It used to be over the road.
I’ve been here before…
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