Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Entries Tagged as 'Brandon'

Two of These Things are Not Like the Others

September 4th, 2009 · 1 Comment

It would be easy to provide a thoughtful, all-encompassing understanding of museums in London. I have tried to give some idea of the sprawling elegance of the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, the comparative edge provided by the Tate Modern, and the gaping expanse filled by the British Museum. All inspire and churn the mind (or stomach) in different ways. Yet it would be foolhardy to say you can provide an “easy” nor “all-encompassing” understanding of museums in London (not that anyone has, necessarily). A double-threat stands in your way—The Victoria and Albert Museum and the Sir John Soane’s Museum.

I walked away from both of these buildings baffled. It took much effort not to dismiss the V&A as immediately nonsensical, so I settled on “eclectic” as the best way to describe it. The V&A has been described in previous posts as an enjoyable hodgepodge of items without ties to anything distinctly British and breaking from any sort of natural organization. I agree with these perceptions of the museum, though it did, admittedly, take some time for me to reach this conclusion. I enjoyed the individual displays, but I got caught up with the confusing flow of the individual displays and the building as a whole. The display dedicated to Japan, for instance, did not contain a natural progression of Japanese art; a piece of art from the 21st century rested in the same case as centuries-old clothing. How does this make sense? Is the purpose to jolt the accepted model for museums? I have asked others and myself these questions and have come to appreciate the fresh perspective held by the V&A. It purposefully provides a jolt, but it takes varying amounts of time to recover, reflect, and, ultimately, revisit.

That in mind, I have yet to recover from the Sir John Soane’s Museum.

The history of the museum gives some indication of what to expect from the famed architect Sir John Soane and his conversion of his home into a museum in the 19th century. The collection was impressive in size and range – sculptures, paintings, books, furniture, pottery, figurines, etc. Once again, I appreciated the attention paid to detail in the cataloguing and presentation of the items, but I got caught up with the following questions: Why is this here? Why is this important? Who would benefit from this? I did not learn very much from the museum. (This does not include my sudden, pressing need to redefine my understanding of the word “museum”.) Granted, this may have been a result of the ‘jolt’ provided by walls lined with statues and other artifacts with little to no descriptors. Accustomed to the museum model that gave you some indication of what you viewed, I never took the initiative to ask more about the items lining every square inch of the walls. (I should mention here that the V&A did maintain this model.)

So, I try to assign a new word to describe this outlier of sorts. ‘Eclectic’ cannot apply to this museum, for a common theme of antiquity and classicism prevailed despite the range of the items. ‘Nonsensical’ does not apply either, for Soane had a set purpose in designing the museum for students (the education portion of the museum continues to this day).

For now, I will settle on ‘unusual’ and ‘out of place’ as ways to show Soane’s Museum as an outlier that expands the range of museums in London. The V&A did fall into this category when taken at face value. Perhaps I will come to the same conclusions when reflecting on Soane’s Museum.

Moreover, I hope to come to some conclusions about what each museum has to say about one’s British identity/identity in London, whether or not that is the museum’s immediate goal. This is a question that I have seen in previous posts but I have not been able to answer. I welcome your thoughts on either of these museums or your ideas on the role played by museums in shaping identity (if you’ve begun to formulate them…I cannot get my head around it just yet).

Tags: Brandon

“It’s the wanting to know that makes us matter.”

September 1st, 2009 · No Comments

Possibly one of the most personally thrilling aspects of being in London are our ventures out to its numerous theatres. I have always enjoyed the performing arts – backstage, onstage, and in the audience. Besides finding performing onstage a thrill, I enjoy theatre for its ability to transport, reflect, commentate, and juxtapose. It takes a subject (society, culture, science, etc) and turns it into a picturesque/edgy/nonsensical/expressive form for an awaiting audience. Some interact with the audience face-to-face, while others prefer to let the audience engage with the performers from their seats. Either method has its immediate advantages and disadvantages, but both demand some reflection.

London has provided several different uses for theatre. I guess it sounds odd to see theatre as a “tool”, but it undoubtedly has some uses. Take, for instance, the plays of Noel Coward (the subject of my research paper). His plays (usually comedies) make some social commentary of British society during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s – the time during which he wrote his plays. Theatre can be used as ways to mock, mimic, reflect, or reinforce themes found recurring in society. Even today, we learned about the play An Inspector Calls from Rick Fisher, the show’s lighting designer. As a commentary on wealth and the prevalence of blissful ignorance, this play aims, in part, to lead the audience towards some sort of understanding of self-reflection and self-improvement. Certainly a single show does not always solve these issues, but J.B. Priestley – the author – certainly saw the point of confronting them.

On the other hand, theatre can, and does, entertain. Take the list of musicals available in the West End. Several are highly entertaining and well-done. No, they do not always include profound thought or interesting social commentary, but the story is usually popular and well received. Some are edgy, but many have glitz and glamour and are eagar to please audiences (e.g. Legally Blonde the Musical). I can’t really argue that this theatre is useless and without meaning – primarily due to the fact that I have seen some of the shows on that list (I am still holding out on Sister Act the Musical, though. Don’t worry.).

But London theatre also combines the two in order to deliver entertaining yet serious shows. The two shows we have seen – Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida and Stoppard’s Arcadia – exemplify their successful combination. Both reflect on the ways of the past and comment, albeit loosely, on British society. Both entertain their audiences by pricking their minds and engaging their attention through clever language or comedic timing. Both frustrate and confuse their audiences due to fast-paced or even outdated language. Both step into the far reaches of complex issues ranging from love and thermodynamics. Both were enjoyable in this way, or, at the very least, deserving of some appreciation as works of performance art.

Theatre has several universal properties (namely the several noted above – social commentary, entertainment, etc.). London has adapted these properties to fit its own diverse audiences by providing a long list of plays, musicals, and other forms of performance art in the theatre. Each has its own purpose. Each attracts a different type of London theatre-goer. I often walk outside the auditorium during intermission simply to look around and listen to the other people around me. These people may or may not be seeing the same show that I am watching. It’s at this point in my experience of London theatre that I wonder who you can really pin down as a London theatre-goer. Can you even identify them?

I hope my next outing to see All’s Well that Ends Well will help bring me closer to providing an answer.

**The title of the post is a quote from Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia.

Tags: Brandon

There’s Always Room for Jell-O

September 1st, 2009 · 8 Comments

If there is one thing that immediately places you in the mindset of a new country, it’s the food you eat there. From your last meal at home to the first meal abroad (and beyond), food plays an unavoidably large role in how you understand and view your new home (I mean, you’re bound to get hungry at some point). Do not let the title of this post deceive you–I promise not to make this a justification for gluttonous behavior. I plan to explore some of the British dining etiquette I have come to understand after only several days of making observations. It’s something that I find interesting and, more often than not, it’s one of the things that stands out about unfamiliar places such as London

Americans are often criticized about their appetites. Films have been produced and books have been written about the subject, and they will continue to hit the shelves as long dieticians and the media keep it at the forefront of society’s attention. I am not a critic for this recent movement, nor am I against moderation with regard to food. Alas, I think I am digressing; this is a whole different debate to have at another time.

I mention American diets because it certainly has a significant presence in what I see, hear, and do every day. Before coming to London, I suspected things would be very similar in some ways and the complete opposite in others. In my self-conceived notion of London, food ads would show fruit stands – not necessarily McDonald’s. Restaurants would have over-the-top service to accommodate their customers – similar to some/most restaurants in the US. People would make eating a priority in London – e.g. causing a widespread shutdown of business during “tea time” (not unlike a siesta of sorts). These are the things that I predicted. Some were correct. Many were completely wrong.

The British, as I observed walking around in Heathrow once our plane landed, have no different impressions of food than Americans do. The airport is lined with various fast food places, for instance. It took several days later when my initial assumptions would prove incorrect. It was my second or third experience in a London restaurant that gave the British away immediately as defining “food service” on completely different terms.

After taking our seats in the busy restaurant, we sat down to look at our menu. Our waitress asked us what we wanted to order only five minutes after sitting down. She did not oblige our requests for more time – she stood explaining that we had to order our food now, and then we could sit in the restaurant for as long as we wanted. I didn’t want to dismiss her as rude or not friendly. I mean, after all, she did not give us her name, ask us how we were doing, or show any sign of interest in serving us. I did not know this girl too well, so who was I to pass judgement?

This threw me off, but do not get me wrong – I have no hard feelings against the restaurant or its employees. I will admit, however, that a food server would not rush a table of people in the US. You would run the risk of inciting riots, food fights, and a big decline in tip (I should note here that we did tip the server. Generously, if I might add.). This is all part of the experience, I tell myself.

Food has different meaning on the city streets/pavements as well. Often, restaurants or sandwich stands have seating outside. No one walking by on any pavement has food in their hand – no sandwiches, no drinks (except some coffee cups), and no bags of food. It’s because no one eats while walking. In America, people sample their meals (or eat the whole meal) in a sprint to the workplace. There are even American food companies that make this run-by eating, “food-on-the-go” easy (microwavable soup containers, perhaps?). They have no problem eating in the car. The British, thus far, appear starkly different, as far as I can tell. Food should not be rushed nor on-the-go; if you are seen eating on the run, you get strange looks (I have received these looks since arriving here). Even settling down on the curb with some lunch will attract stares. To give you a sense of some table manners, look through an article in the London Evening Standard. It is not comprehensive, but it gives you some sense of how eating your sandwich while rushing to the Tube can seem confusing and downright frustrating to onlookers.

I did try to stay away from “American” cuisine. I quickened my pace past Subway and Pizza Hut and Starbucks. I told myself I would never eat at these places. And yet I gave in to my first British Frappucino at Starbucks the other day. Why would I go against my goal? The answer is simple (to an extent) – food can be a comfort to many people, myself included. Eating something that reminds you of home should not make you feel guilty. I have had my share of fish and chips and other foods, but the occasional dip into American food should not raise any alarms. Or that’s how I see it, anyhow.

This post does connect to our study of what defines London and its various inhabitants, who place themselves in very different regions of the city. In Stepney Green you will find very few, if any, pubs. You can, however, order Thai, Middle Eastern, or Turkish food on just about every block. In Bloomsbury, you can find a multitude of pubs within a ten-minute walk of entering the area. You would be hard-pressed to find as many Thai or other ethnic food available in the area.

What does this mean? Does this reinforce the notion that London is defined by its very separate ethnic groups? Perhaps this strengthens arguments made that London is not a unified city and should not be deemed so. This does have some bearing on the issue, for food represents part of culture and, in turn, what defines certain peoples of London. Can someone from Stepney Green feel comfortable in Bloomsbury, what with the more prominent pub culture (and vice versa)?

The subject of food is easy to observe, but it has some deeper issues you must analyze in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of its role in a culture. Has anyone experienced boundaries set by food or food services? For example, think about the food available at this weekend’s Carnival – how does this tie into London and how Londoners define themselves in the larger region?

Tags: Brandon


August 30th, 2009 · 2 Comments

I realized that I forgot to discuss at any length my trip to various art museums in London. So, here is an account of my foray into the wider world of art—according to Britain.



The National Gallery  looks out onto Trafalgar Square (find a history of the building here). The building itself is massive and houses thousands of paintings in room after room. The group that I went with found themselves lost in the maze of interconnected rooms. Sure, the collections are divided by period, but when one was distracted by William Turner or Titian, one room seemingly spilled out into the next. Disoriented and confused, it often took several minutes before we could find our way out of the labyrinth.

I should note that we only saw about twenty, maybe thirty, percent of the museum. We were warned that you could spend hours and even days on end in the museum but never truly heeded the warning.

Tired and ragged, we trekked on to the National Portrait Gallery. I should pause for a moment, for I went into this museum with low expectations. I never expected this museum to house any works of art but the typical “woman-seated-staring-at-a-diagonal” type of portrait. Or a bust of an obscure member of Parliament from the 18th century. I did not want to see this, to be honest, because I prefer art with sunlit scenery, some shock value, or images that did not focus solely on human features. I imagined myself walking mindlessly through halls lined with hundreds of identical portraits.

The National Portrait Gallery had all of that, but I’ve never been so wrong about a museum. I found paintings, photographs, busts and other, more abstract, media used to trace the human features of celebrities, average people, and, yes, even obscure members of Parliament. But even the people I did not recognize were immortalized by outstanding and, in many cases, awe-inspiring portraits and sculptures. Take, for instance, one of the paintings submitted to the 2009 BP Portrait Award. They were just incredible (here’s one example). This museum gracefully balanced the shocking and the more tame, the popularized and the relatively obscure. It’s all I ask for in a museum, and something rarely seen in art museums I have seen in the past.

This brings me to the next art museum I visited – the Tate Modern. Again, I think a pause is in order. Having only one course surveying the history of art since the Renaissance, I cannot declare myself all-knowing with regard to art. By the same token, I can appreciate all art. Especially when its definition is psychologically and visually questioned and, in some cases, shattered. I appreciate modern art for this reason; it tacks on an imminent and bold question mark next to the word “art,” and thereby forces us to question the painting/photograph/slideshow/etc. before us. “I could (never) do this” is often heard at these exhibits. As an art history professor explained to me during the course, these people (the Rothkos, Koons, and McCarthys) of the world) DID do it. And that is why it is art. Their expressions of limitless passion and angst and joy spill out into these exhibits, begging for a smiling or a wincing, almost riotous, audience.


The Tate Modern at night. Disturbingly brooding? Or pleasantly shocking?

The Tate Modern at night. Disturbingly brooding? Or pleasantly shocking?

 Although I have studied art prior to visiting these museums, I looked for a distinctly “English” way of displaying art. Their art included famous works Americans can only view on posters or through a search on the Internet. Moving beyond that initial shock of standing before works including Turner’s “Rain, Steam and Speed”, you can look around and see throngs of art-hungry visitors to the museum. Look closer, and you hear French, Italian, and other languages. Crowds of people from across Europe and, more specifically, England fill the labyrinthine halls. Surely not everyone in London is an art connoisseur, but there’s certainly much diversity to be seen.

Whether you’re revolted or relaxed by the work, at least you had a reaction. Art is universal, it seems, whether you’re in America looking through great art in a book or you’re the very room containing that work.


If you are interested in some light reading, I suggest an article by Jack Handey in the New Yorker a few years ago. It’s pretty funny and mocks some of the more criticized aspects of modern art.

Tags: Brandon

"We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give."

August 26th, 2009 · No Comments

The man who spoke these words has been criticized, revered, idolized, and forever memorialized in Britain and throughout the world. His contributions (and faults) are integral to history books and will remain as such so long as people study the twentieth century in any capacity. This man was Winston Churchill. His life and legacy, traced by the recently opened Churchill Museum (located in the equally significant Cabinet War Rooms), was one among many stops on today’s venture out to the city.

What a fascinating life this man led. Certainly, many know him as the Prime Minister who essentially led Britain through WWII. The years of his (first) term in office were some of his finest and most recognized moments. I’ve studied Churchill before stepping foot in the Museum (If you haven’t seen it, you must go – it’s worth every pence) and knew that he led an illustrious career in the British government throughout the early 1900s. Throughout his life he wrote books and articles, he painted, and he traveled. He went on to serve as Prime Minister once more in the 1950s but soon retired due to his declining health. The life he led was unconventional but provocative enough to grab the spotlight as one of the most influential leaders of the last century. I certainly agree with Kelley (“All Around Westminster”) that all politicians have their faults and not-so-proud moments, and Churchill is no exception. I do not and will not idolize Churchill, but, admittedly, just his persona alone demands your attention.


"Cheer up! They will forget _you_ but they will remember _me_ always."

This museum, attached to the Cabinet War Rooms, gave such a profound impression of life for government officials during the Second World War. Moreover, if Winston Churchill had to crawl through these narrow halls for meetings underground during bomb raids, one can’t even imagine what it was like to be stuck above ground (or at least above the thick slab of concrete and steel that guarded the War Rooms). As a student endlessly fascinated by culture, politics, and leadership of Britain, Europe, and the United States (few among a growing list) during the twentieth century, this museum gave me some new perspective on Britain during the war.

I feel I would be doing the Westminster Abbey and St. James Park some injustice if I failed to mention how astounded I was when I saw them. The architecture of the Abbey and the awe-inspiring space it occupies could make anyone feel small and insignificant. The tombs and busts of individuals line every wall and, to add some eerie sense to the building, every walkway. The eroded stone of tombstones embedded in the floor felt sacrilegious; take, for instance, standing on the grave of Charles Dickens, which felt powerful and odd at the same time. The hundreds of people in the Abbey had headsets stuck to their ear, which, at the time made sense. After some reflection, one could have wandered without tour guides or headsets and have had a similarly profound experience.

St. James, too, had some remarkable qualities. The most striking is it’s sheer size. A pond cuts through the middle of the park and stretches far into the distance. At one point, you couldn’t hear or see anything but the park. The people, too, add an interesting flavor to the area. No one sat in the hundreds of chairs in the space (and rightfully so – you must pay to sit down in the chairs, apparently), so they opted for lying down in the grass. Some were loud businesspeople eating their lunch, some were on a run, and others seemed dazed and confused as they wandered. It definitely attracts a variety of people, but, as already noted below in Audrey’s post “Peace out from the park,” the open gates of the park may be limiting other people given its location, among other reasons.


How did we possibly manage to fit all of this in one day?

Tags: Brandon

"Mind the Gap, Please"

August 24th, 2009 · 2 Comments

And what a gap we’ve had to climb across. I’ve tried to compare the city of London to Philadelphia (near my hometown) with limited success. Certainly, there are in both cities museums, rich histories, congested traffic, great restaurants, distinct cultures, and hidden sights known only to the most astute tourist. Once I consider London’s inherent variety – cultural, architectural, personal, etc. – my comparison falls short. Nay, even dismantled entirely. Every venture into the surrounding city reminds me that I may never realize just how much variety comprises the massive city of millions of people.

Our walk through what was Roman London (Londinium) on Sunday gave me some solid evidence of the historical variety of London. Over the last 2000 years since the Romans invaded and settled in the region, London has changed leadership as various civilizations came to the dominate the area in turn. Even within it’s own boundaries, London has shifted from The Canterbury Tales to the development of green spaces to the bowler hat and, despite continued debate, the recent introduction of immigrants from around the world. London has not stood still since dropping the name Londinium and, given recent readings (See A.N. Wilson’s London: A History), I doubt it ever will.

Bloomsbury surrounds our hotel with parks, pubs, celebrated figures, and some of the most beautiful areas of London I have seen thus far. Sure, I’m still in the phase in which every part of this city (even the “rubbish” bins) fascinates me to no end. But these parks are just incredible. We passed through about a half-dozen through our walk. I’m sorry Rittenhouse Square, but as beautiful as you are, Tavistock Square may be your new rival.


Consider, too, the variety contained within London’s museums. I, not unlike some of my classmates below, enjoyed the Museum of London Docklands as providing a very different, localized perspective on the history of the city. The curators handled the controversial and well-debated enslavement of Africans during the 17th through 19th centuries with grace and decisiveness. This is important, as the subject never really left the forefront of academic research to this day. Just as Sarah noted in her post “London, Sugar & Slavery at the Docklands Museum,” the museum approached it’s survey of the slave trade without provocation. Even the aesthetics of the building gave support to this ideal. The ceiling structure of the museum offered some quiet reminiscence to the original use of the site – a warehouse used to hold rum, molasses, coffee, and other goods from the West India slave plantations. While I certainly found this exhibit moving and among the best I’ve seen, I do not want to repeat the thoughts already shared by my classmates, for I hold many of the same impressions (please see many of the posts below to get a better idea!).

I will comment on the final exhibit of the museum that covered the modern history of the Docklands from the Blitz to the Beatles to Container City. The twentieth century, just as any century in London, has brought an onslaught of change and variety to the city. The Luftwaffe attacks in 1940 brought solidarity, though sometimes brought on by propaganda. The Underground renovations brought a renewed transport system to an increasingly crowded city. Though immigration was not discussed to any great length in the exhibit, we know that this was the time of an increased Afro-Caribbean presence. Nevertheless, it was an incredible, aesthetically pleasing, and largely informative exhibit.

London has never remained put. I see it in the museums and the other areas I’ve visited in the last few days. The variety is simply inconceivable. At the very least, this guarantees me a new experience every time I venture out into the city. I mean, what more could I ask for?

Tags: Brandon

Walking along Electric Avenue

August 22nd, 2009 · 4 Comments

Entrance to the Brixton Market

As soon as you step off the bus at Brixton, the Caribbean and African influences in the community jump out at you. Signs for jerk chicken, racks of exotic spices, fresh melons and peppers, halal butchers, and the smell of fresh fish overtake your senses. The market extends for about two to three blocks and is full of colorful clothing, food, electronics, and toiletries. It was a bit intense of an experience to see fish so fresh they might still be wriggling, chickens hanging upside down with their heads still in tact, and butchers chopping animals up in the back of a market stand. That being said, many stands boasted products that could be purchased in any local or chain vendor. When asked where the jewelry she was selling was made, a vendor replied, “The factory”. In a similar vein, a different vendor was quite angry when we took a photograph of the DVDs he was selling- proof that they weren’t necessarily the most legal of all goods? Maybe. Still, as you strolled through the market, reggae music that was from other musicians than Bob Marley met your ears to show you that the market was more than just an outdoor equivalent to any old supermarket.

Jamaican influence

The racial aspect of Brixton was quite striking. The market vendors seemed to hail mostly from Jamaica, Ghana, and Nigeria. People from many different backgrounds crowded both the main street and the market. As soon as you step off the main road, however, you find yourself in a quiet, remote residential community mostly inhabited by white people. So as you journeyed through Brixton, the community seemed quite segregated. The majority of the residential area was white while the majority of those at the market were black. The street that connected these two areas was full of people of all races but the segregation was certainly noticeable. One circumstance made this segregation quite tangible to the three us today. One white man sat in the back of a quite crowded bus next to younger black men. For reasons unbeknownst to us, the black men started yelling and cursing at the white man. When he tried to leave the men, they grabbed his paper and increased the amount of profanity they threw his way. The bus then stopped and the three of us exited quickly to the market. The incident was not violent nor was it necessarily completely race related but it seemed to be if not characteristic than at least not out of place in terms of the tensions in the area.

On the edge of the market, a small plaque sat on the wall of a building. It commemorated those who were killed in a 1999 bombing of Brixton. As we had never before known of Brixton, hearing of a bombing took us by surprise. After researching the occurrence when we got back, we were able to make more sense of it. At the edge of Electric Avenue, a nail bomb was planted by David Copeland, a member of the British neo-Nazi Socialist Movement, in the early evening of April 17th. The group is a far right anti-immigration party. When the bomb exploded, it spit out glass and nails in a 20-foot radius and injured 50 people. He was planning on attacking other cities including Brick Lane and Old Compton Street (other racially and sexually diverse communities). Police accepted his testimony that he worked alone and he was sentenced to six life sentences in prison. This bombing is not an isolated incident in Brixton’s history. It is one example of racial tension that have persisted in the area for years. During the 1980s, the tensions erupted in multiple riots. These riots were usually sparked by the community’s distrust of authority and resulted in increased community damage and heightened tensions between the police and public. This tension continues today as we witnessed in the market. A vendor poked fun at a policeman passing by asking him, “Why aren’t you smiling? You never smile! You smile when you write a ticket though.” While the policeman continued walking by unfazed, the tension between community member and authority was still evident.

commemoration plaque

As you walk away from the market up a hill, you see a construction site for a proposed community center. Windrush Station will have representations from local community groups including the Black Cultural Archives and the Brixton Society. The name “Windrush Station” comes from the British ship Empire Windrush that brought the first generation of African Caribbean settlers to Britain to Brixton. The community hopes to hold events such as Brixton Splash that celebrate community pride of Brixton. Still, the website that advertises these events has pictures of only young white people who weren’t very prominent at the market that we saw today. So, while the community center promises to increase connectivity and inclusion in Brixton, it is not without the undertones of segregation.

*sidenote* We thought there might be a connection between Eddie Grant\’s \”Electric Avenue\” and Brixton’s Electric Avenue. Comments?

Tags: Audrey · Azul · Brandon · Markets

Steppin' into Stepney Green

August 21st, 2009 · No Comments




After a half-hour of travel along the Northern and District Lines of the Tube, we arrived at Stepney Green. We walked out onto a pavement lined with various ethnic restaurants and shops geared toward a Middle Eastern population. Trying to better understand the population of the area, we passed restaurants including A’la Pizza, Halal Bite, and Rama Thai restaurant. The women dressed in full or partial hijabs gave some indication of the local population as well. We searched for a literal Stepney Green or park as we walked down the moderately busy street. The locals we asked could not point us in the right direction, so we set off on our own.

On the way, we discovered several interesting aspects of Stepney Green, including several private colleges, residential areas, elementary schools, and unique alleyways opening up to even greater neighbourhoods.



Speaking to a doctor of marketing, we learned more about the Royel College of London and the London Crown, two of many private colleges in the area. These two housed 300 and 400 students, respectively, and provided a liberal arts education. The location of the colleges did not give any prominence to the building itself, though. Rather, each college was tucked in a obscure alleyway marked by graffiti and garbage. The signs blended in so well with the business signs dotting the building facades that we had to take a closer look just to notice them.


Still searching for Stepney Green, we wandered off the main road through a desolate tunnel into a rather lovely residential neighbourhood. We first saw a loading dock and an unglamourous site undergoing renovations. This opened up to two rows of tidy homes and ornate gardens (Amy even befriended a black cat along the way!).

There are many monuments erected in the honor of William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army. His founding of the organization began in Stepney Green at an Almes House, which opened in 1695. Captain James Cook is also immortalized in a series of plaques in front of his home in Stepney Green (Cook was a famed circumnavigator and explorer during the mid-1700s).


"On this site stood a house occupied for some years by Captain James Cook, R.N., F.R.S. 1728-1779 Circumnavigator and Explorer"
“On this site stood a house occupied for some years by Captain James Cook, R.N., F.R.S. 1728-1779 Circumnavigator and Explorer”

Our trip through the residential areas led us to an elementary school and adjoining playground. The high brick walls and gated backyard gave an impression of safety and comfort. This suburban area directly contrasted with our experience on the main road of town, which seemed more “run-down” and tired. There were no people in these residential areas, whereas people congregated on the main road for lazy conversation and commerce.


So what of the actual Stepney Green? We were ready to board a bus home in defeat when we realized (thanks to a bus map) that the actual Green was behind us the entire time. We wandered toward Stepney Green Road (go figure), which led us to a wide gated entrance to the park. Lined by tall trees, benches, and houses, the park stretched for as long as we could see. We stopped to take a break from our arduous journey (and to celebrate) and headed back home via bus. Walking the rest of the way from Tottenham Court Road, we arrived safely at the Arran House.


We expect to see more of these juxtapositions of poorer, run-down neighbourhoods and more surburban, gated communities. These proved to us how London is truly multi-faceted and cannot be defined by one’s initial  perception.

Tags: Amy · Brandon