Simeon and a Tale of Two Bridges

Dear Simeon, Norway has gifted our Queen a majestic pet of a polar bear. Her Majesty has given permission for the incredible creature to swim along the Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge to hunt for fish and stretch his big, fluffy, white legs. The other day, the royal pet came back from his paddle with something stuck between his teeth … it’s a treasure map of the long-lost mysterious island of Bridges! It’s no surprise that the Palace has tasked YOU to find out where the gold and gems are hidden, after all, you are the world’s most famous treasure hunter. You will need to venture on this epic journey, solving clues scribbled on the back of the map and avoiding booby traps to pinpoint the exact location of the treasure. Good luck, Simeon!

Simeon, the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please), was intrigued to read these instructions while having his elevensies in a cafe on Tooley Street near London Bridge Station. Fortunately, Simeon was only a stone’s throw away from the start of the Treasure Trail, so after finishing his cup of tea, Simeon set off on his search for clues.

To solve his first clue, Simeon carefully climbed down the steps belonging to the 1831 London Bridge designed by John Rennie (1761-1821) and built by his son of the same name (1794-1874). Not only are these stairs very old, but they are also the location of the murder of Nancy in Charles Dicken’s (1812-70) book Oliver Twist (1837). Fortunately, there was no sign of the criminal Bill Sikes, so Simeon safely reached the bottom of the staircase.

The current London Bridge is one of many that have spanned the River Thames since the Romans built the first one around 2,000 years ago. The original may have had a drawbridge in the centre to allow ships to pass, but today’s bridge does not have this feature.

Simeon quickly hastened across the bridge, staying away from the edges so that he would not fall into the river. He was a little nervous after hearing that the British warship HMS Jupiter collided with London Bridge in 1984. The Leander-class frigate of the Royal Navy weighed 16,060, approximately the same as 3,200 elephants, so the collision caused a lot of damage. The ship’s captain, Commander Colin Hamilton, was severely reprimanded for the accident.

The first bridge, built around 50 AD, was a wooden pontoon bridge made from several barges that floated on the river. Naturally, this bridge did not last long, and another was constructed in 59 AD. This time, the Romans used long poles known as piles to lift the bridge above the water level. The surrounding area became a small trading settlement, which grew into the town of Londinium. Unfortunately, the second bridge was destroyed in 60 AD by Queen Boudicca of the Celtic Iceni tribe. Although the bridge did not survive, the Romans fought back and defeated the rebels. After this, they built a wall around the town, some of which still survives today, and another bridge.

At the end of Roman rule in Britain, Londinium was abandoned, and the wall, buildings and bridge fell into disrepair. Some claim Alfred the Great (849-899) built another bridge in 878 AD, but others suggest this was Sweyn Forkbeard, father of Cnut the Great (d. 1035). Regardless of its creator, Norse poetry records the destruction of the bridge in 1014 by Olaf II Haraldsson (995-1030), the King of Norway. In Saxon literature about the Battle of Brentford, fought in 1016 between the English led by Edmund Ironside (990-1016) and the Danes led by Cnut, there is mention of a bridge crossing the Thames, which suggests another had been built.

Records reveal that William the Conqueror (1028-87) built a new London Bridge after the Norman Conquest in 1066. His son, William II (1050-1100), repaired or replaced it during his reign, only for it to be destroyed by fire in 1136. King Stephen (1096-1154) built a new one, and Henry II (1133-89) created the “Brethren of the Bridge” to oversee repairs and maintenance.

In 1170, following the murder of Saint Thomas Becket, the repentant Henry II commissioned a new bridge from stone rather than wood, upon which a chapel stood in memory of the martyr. Building works began in 1176 and continued during the reign of King John (1166-1216). In addition to the chapel, several houses and shops spanned the distance across the Thames. Money from the rent helped maintain the bridge. By the late 14th century, the bridge had reached its capacity of 140 houses. Presumably, several of these later merged because, by 1605, there were only 91. Descriptions of the buildings from the 17th century suggest they had four or more storeys, including a shop on the ground floor.

Simeon wishes he could have seen the bridge with all the shops and houses, but sadly several fires made the upkeep of the bridge impossible. These fires destroyed sections of the bridge over the years, and the houses were gradually demolished for safety purposes. The last house was pulled down in 1761.

In 1799, architects and engineers entered a competition to design a new London Bridge to replace the medieval one. Whilst Thomas Telford’s (1757-1834) proposal was deemed the safest, it would result in the demolition of many neighbouring buildings. Instead, John Rennie the Elder (1761-1821) won the competition with his conventional five-stone-arches design. Rennie had previously designed Waterloo Bridge further along the river, which featured nine equal arches. Unfortunately, Rennie died before work on the new London Bridge began, so the construction was overseen by his son, John Rennie the Younger (1794-1874).

The new London Bridge opened in 1831 and soon became the busiest point in London, with over 8,000 pedestrians and 900 vehicles crossing every hour. Unfortunately, by the 1920s, the bridge was sinking into the riverbed, and talks began about replacing it. Due to costs, nothing much happened for a few decades until Ivan Luckin of the Common Council of the City of London suggested selling the bridge in 1968. Robert P. McCulloch (1911-1977) of McCulloch Oil purchased it for $2,460,000, and the bridge was carefully disassembled and sent to Arizona, where it was reconstructed over Lake Havasu.

The current bridge, or the “New New London Bridge”, as Simeon jokingly calls it, was designed by Baron William Holford (1907-1975) and opened in 1973. It cost £4 million to build, which equates to roughly £60.1 million today. “No wonder they were not happy when HMS Jupiter collided with it in 1984!” exclaimed Simeon.

Shortly after crossing over London Bridge, the clues led Simeon to a church, where he thought he would stop for a rest before carrying on his journey. Peeking through the door into the sanctuary, Simeon almost jumped out of his fur when he came face-to-face with a Viking! Fortunately, it was only a statue, so Simeon bravely entered the building for a closer look.

On closer inspection, Simeon discovered the Viking was Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney (1080-1115), also known as Saint Magnus the Martyr, to whom the church is dedicated. Magnus’ father, Erland, and his uncle Paul were the joint rulers of the Orkney islands off the northeast of Scotland. When he was young, Magnus and his cousin Hakon were kidnapped by King Magnus Barefoot of Norway (1073-1103) and forced to serve aboard a pirate ship. Magnus resisted because piracy went against his Christian values, so he spent his time on board singing psalms and praying. Eventually, Magnus escaped and sought asylum at the court of Malcolm III of Scotland (d. 1093).

When Magnus Barefoot died in 1103, Magnus and Hakon returned to the Orkneys, where they began jointly ruling in 1106. Unfortunately, the power-hungry Hakon wanted full control of the islands and, by 1114, was prepared to battle for the title. Not wanting to fight, Magnus agreed to hold peace negotiations on the Island of Egilsay in c.1115, but instead of reconciliation, Hakon ordered his cousin’s murder. Magnus tried to take refuge in a church, but Hakon’s soldiers captured him. The soldiers refused to kill Magnus despite Hakon’s demands. Instead, Hakon forced his cook to strike Magnus over the head with an axe.

The Church of St Magnus the Martyr was built in the Baroque style of Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) following the Great Fire of London in 1666, which destroyed the original church on the site. Due to its proximity to Old Billingsgate Market, a famous fish market, the church became the guild church of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers. It is also the guild church of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers and the ward church of the Ward of Bridge and Bridge Without.

Although a church has existed on the site for around 900 years, it was not dedicated to St Magnus until the 20th century. Initially, the church considered dedicating the building to the Roman saint of Cæsarea until the famous Danish archaeologist Professor Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae (1821-85) proposed St Magnus while conducting research about the Vikings in Britain. Support for the latter proposal increased after the discovery of St Magnus of Orkney’s relics in 1919. After much discussion, the dedication to St Magnus took place in April 1926.

During Simeon’s exploration of the church, he came across many exciting things, most notably a model of Old London Bridge by David T. Aggett (1930-2021), a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers. Aggett’s phenomenal attention to detail reveals the precariously balanced medieval buildings and over 900 miniature figures, showing how crowded the bridge was on a daily basis. Amongst the crowds is King Henry V (1386-1422), processing from Southwark to the City of London.

Aside from the model of the bridge and the statue of St Magnus, there are several artworks in the church, including iconic paintings of the Virgin Mary. A statue of Our Lady of Walsingham references the village where the Virgin allegedly appeared to Richeldis de Faverches, a devout noblewoman, in 1061. On the other side of the church is a monument to Myles Coverdale (1488-1569), an English preacher who produced the first complete printed translation of the Bible into English. Other dedicated items are dotted around the church, including stained glass windows, but Simeon had no time to investigate everything. He had treasure to locate!

After leaving the church, Simeon hurried through Old Billingsgate Market, which thankfully no longer smells of fish, and past a church called All Hallows by the Tower until he reached the Tower of London. Due to the temporary Superbloom event, the area in front of the Tower was much more crowded than usual, making searching for clues harder for Simeon, but he was not deterred. Until 18th September 2022, the water-less moat of the Tower is open to the public. In honour of the Queen’s platinum jubilee, over 20 million flower seeds were sown in the moat to create beautiful gardens, including the Queen’s Garden, inspired by her 1953 coronation gown. Simeon had a quick glance down into the moat in case any clues had fallen in and spotted a few (thankfully pretend) fierce lions. He did not spot any polar bears (or gibbons), despite knowing that Henry III was given a white bear by the King of Norway in 1252.

At the side of the Tower of London, Simeon spotted a curious set of stairs leading into the River Thames. Known as the “Queen’s Stairs”, this was once the main entrance to the Tower for important visitors. Anne Boleyn (1507-36) entered the Tower here from a boat to prepare for her coronation as Queen and marriage to Henry VIII (1491-1547). Further along the river, Simeon came across “Traitor’s Gate”, where Anne Boleyn entered the Tower for the final time. All traitors were brought into the Tower through this gate as prisoners, subjected to a trial, and received their punishment. Unfortunately for Anne, she had her head chopped off. With fur standing on end, Simeon hurried away from the Tower before he could suffer the same fate!

Simeon’s next task was to cross back over the river via Tower Bridge. This was even scarier than London Bridge because Tower Bridge is a bascule bridge, meaning it can swing upwards to let large boats pass beneath. After double checking no large boats were heading his way, Simeon began the 240-metre walk across the Thames.

Commercial development in the East End of London rapidly increased in the 19th century, leading to the requirement of another river crossing downstream from London Bridge. In 1877, the Special Bridge or Subway Committee held a design competition, which more than 50 architects and engineers entered. Many bridge concepts were rejected due to insufficient headroom, so the winning design was not chosen until 1884, when civil engineer Sir John Wolfe Barry (1836-1918) proposed a bascule bridge. Working alongside the designer Sir Horace Jones (1819-87), Barry developed the plans to include two Gothic-style towers, joined together by two horizontal walkways around 60 metres above the surface of the water.

Construction of Tower Bridge began in 1886, and officially opened in 1894. The construction cost £1,184,000, equivalent to over £143 million today. During the Second World War, Tower Bridge became a target for enemy action because it was a major transport link across the Thames. In 1940, the high-level walkways took a direct hit, putting the bridge out of action for some time. Another bomb caused damage to the towers and engine room, which contained the hydraulic machinery to power the bascules. Fortunately, by the end of the war, Tower Bridge remained standing but needed significant repairs.

Since 1982, the two towers and high-level walkways have been open to the public as part of the Tower Bridge Exhibition. Simeon did not have time to investigate on this occasion but has heard about the great views across London from the top. After reaching the opposite bank of the Thames, Simeon hurried off to search for more clues in the historic riverside street, Shad Thames. Known now for restaurants and luxurious apartments, Shad Thames once contained the largest warehouse complex in London. In Victorian times, the warehouses stored tea, coffee, and many spices, such as vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, anise and coriander.

Shad Thames has featured in many films and television shows, including Oliver! (1968), Doctor Who (1984), A Fish Called Wanda (1988), Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), Run Fat Boy Run (2007), and Cruella (2021). Simeon did not see any camera crews, but he made sure to be on his best behaviour just in case.

In Horselydown Square, just off Shad Thames, Simeon discovered an impressive water feature by the British painter and sculptor Antony Donaldson (b. 1938). Created in 1991, Waterfall features a copper cistern from which water flows over the edge. Six life-size, bronze female figures in various poses cling to the cistern, while a seventh reclines on the surrounding wall.

Averting his eyes from the unclothed figures, Simeon took great interest in other bronze objects around the fountain wall. Simeon found a camera, wallet, watch, sunglasses, shoes, and a pile of books, all presumably belonging to the women playing in the water.

Simeon’s next set of clues took him to Potters Field Park between Tower Bridge and City Hall. The name originates from the many potters working in the area during the 17th and 18th century, such as Pickleherring Pottery, established in 1618 by Christian Wilhelm. Between 1618 and 1710, 124 potters operated in the area, which decreased to 68 between 1710 and 1733. Since 1772, pottery making has disappeared from the area, but their memory lives on in the name of the park, which opened in 1988.

Further along the Thames is Hay’s Galleria, where Simeon looked for some of his final clues. Originally a warehouse known as Hay’s Wharf, the galleria gets its name from Alexander Hay, who owned a brewery on the site in 1651. When John Humphrey acquired the property in the 1840s, he commissioned the English engineering contractor and future Lord Mayor William Cubitt (1791-1863) to convert it into a wharf. Hay’s Wharf became one of the chief delivery points for tea in London, and at its height, received around 80% of the dry produce imported to London, earning it the nickname ‘the Larder of London’.

Hay’s Wharf remained in use until the Second World War when it suffered severe bomb damage. Attempts to rebuild the wharf were thwarted by modern shipping techniques, such as containerisation, and Hay’s Wharf officially closed in 1970. The majority of the old dockland areas were purchased by St Martin’s Property Corporation, and Hay’s Wharf was converted into Hay’s Galleria. Hay’s Galleria housed a year-round market and became a popular tourist attraction. Permanent traders sold souvenirs and jewellery from stalls until 2010 when they were removed and replaced with more traditional shop formats. Hay’s Galleria also features restaurants, flats and offices.

Finally, Simeon reached the location of his final clue and discovered the whereabouts of the mysterious Island of Bridges. After reporting back to Treasure Trails, Simeon received his well-deserved certificate. Treasure Trails provide adventure, mystery and spy trails all across Great Britain. Whilst Simeon always has fun solving the clues, he also enjoys learning about the area, as do his human companions.

To purchase A Tale of Two Bridges from Treasure Trails, click here.

Did you know, Simeon is now on Instagram? Follow his latest adventures at @theadventuresofsimeon or on his personal blog page.

If you enjoyed this blog, here are some of Simeon’s other adventures.
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp
Simeon Investigates Covent Garden
Simeon and the Green Witch’s Treasure
Simeon Conquers York
Simeon’s Bristol Highlights
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part One
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part Two
Simeon goes to Grantham
Simeon and the Cable Car Mission
Simeon and the Quest for the Roman Hoard


If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

Simeon goes to Grantham

Dear Secret Agent Simeon. The miserable malcontent Ivor Grudge is up to his old tricks again. This time he has planted a device in the Bell Tower of St Wulfram’s Church. The device is set to explode at the stroke of midnight. You must act quickly to find the code to deactivate the device and save the Church and the resident Peregrine Falcons who nest there.
Regards, Treasure Trails

Once again, Simeon, the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please), is called in to save the day. After receiving Top Secret Spy Mission Documents from Treasure Trails in the post, Simeon headed to the South Kesteven district of Lincolnshire to follow a trail of clues around the town of Grantham. The two-mile trek took Simeon past some notable sights, including the birthplace of the UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the school attended by Sir Isaac Newton.

Grantham was once an Anglo-Saxon “homestead by gravel”. Names ending in ham were usually medieval homesteads, and “Grant” comes from the Old English word for gravel. Today, the urbanised town contains shopping centres, many pubs, industrial estates and high street shops. Yet, as Simeon discovered, there are plenty of buildings dating back hundreds of years.

According to the Domesday Book of 1086, Edith the Fair (c. 1025-66), the first wife of King Harold Godwinson (c. 1022-66), had a hall or house in Grantham before the Battle of Hastings in 1066. After this, William the Conqueror (1028-87) established a manor house, and the area became a valuable asset to future kings. Records also reveal St Wulfram’s Church existed at the time of the “Great Survey”. Yet, the building Simeon set out to save was built at a later date.

Simeon’s trail of clues passed through St Wulfram’s churchyard, and Simeon could not resist having a peek inside the church. The building is named in honour of St Wulfram of Fontenelle (c. 640-703), who served as the Archbishop of Sens in France during the 7th century. Wulfram took holy orders hoping for a quiet life, but instead, he became a missionary to Friesland in Germany. He succeeded in converting the pagan King Radbod (d. 719) to Christianity before retiring to Fontenelle. After his death, Wulfram was canonised, and he is remembered for several miracles. He is credited with the miraculous delivery of a stillborn baby, thus saving the mother’s life, preventing the death of a hanged man, and rescuing two boys who the king had sacrificed to the sea during a pagan ritual.

There are only four churches dedicated to St Wulfram, two in France and two in England. One is in Ovingdean, Sussex, and the other in Grantham. Only a few stones of the original Saxon church remain in Grantham, which was altered and expanded by the Normans after 1066. Likewise, not much is visible of the Norman building due to a lightning strike in 1222.

In 1280, after rebuilding the nave, the church expanded towards the west, taking over the space once belonging to a Saxon marketplace. Supporting piers or columns in the church feature mason marks, which indicate the gradual process of building the tower. Simeon, being on the small side, could not see these marks from ground level, but he felt awe-inspired by the height of the spire, which is visible across the town.

The spire reaches an impressive height of 86.2 metres (283 ft), making it the tallest church in England at the time of completion. Many churches and cathedrals are now taller than St Wulfram’s, but it takes credit for inspiring architects to aspire to reach such heights. One side of the spire is wider than the other to incorporate a spiral staircase leading to the belfry. “That’s where the nasty Ivor Grudge has planted his device,” realised Simeon. “I must prevent him from destroying this beautiful church.”

Simeon hurried off to complete his mission after temporarily getting distracted by the beautiful stained glass windows. The oldest windows date to the Victorian era and illustrate scenes such as the Last Supper, Christ’s early years, the Evangelists and the biblical Prophets. Others depict the four Lincolnshire saints: Regimus, Hugh, Botolph and Gilbert of Sempringham, and the Latin Fathers: Ambrose, Jerome, Gregory and Augustine.

Four windows are relatively modern in comparison to the Victorian stained-glass. One, known as the Catlin window, depicts a war in heaven, as described in Revelation 12:7-12. Designed by Henry Harvey of York in 1962, the window shows the archangel Michael holding the scales of justice and a spear. On one side, a man, surrounded by chaos, begs the angel for help. On the other, a defeated Satan and the condemned fall into hell. This window was donated by Lewis Catlin in memory of his family.

The Porter Window (1969), named in memory of Jessie Porter, depicts the birth and life of Christ. Jessie came from a family of shoemakers in Grantham, so the designer Leonard Evetts (1909-1997) included shoemaker tools in the design. John Hayward (1929-2007), who made nearly 200 stained glass windows in his lifetime, produced the other two contemporary windows. Donated by Thomas Hall in memory of Minnie Hall in 1970 is a window depicting Jesus walking on water. His disciple, Peter, tries to follow suit but begins to sink. “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 14:31, NIV)

Hayward designed the other window in 1974 for Lily Pinchbeck in memory of members of her family, who regularly attended St Wulfram’s Church. The design symbolically represents the seven Sacraments: baptism (font and scallop shell), eucharist (bread and wine), confirmation and holy orders (bishop’s mitre), reconciliation (tears), anointing of the sick (oil), and marriage (ring). The window also represents the Pinchbeck family with references to baptism, singing in the choir and serving at the altar.

Having finished admiring the interior of St Wulfram’s Church, which Sir Gilbert Scott (1811-78) expertly restored in the 1860s, Simeon ventured outside to search for clues along Church Street. Several old buildings surround the church, including the original building of the King’s School (the present school is situated on Brook Street). On closer inspection, Simeon discovered that Isaac Newton (1642-1726) once attended the school between 1655 and 1660.

The school’s history dates back to the early 15th century, but few records exist until Bishop Richard Foxe (1448-1528) refounded the establishment in 1528. This suggests the school fell into disuse towards the beginning of the 16th century. Foxe came from Ropsley, a village near Grantham and served as Lord Privy Seal to Henry VII (1457-1509). Foxe also refounded Taunton Grammar School in Somerset (1522) and set up Corpus Christi College in Oxford (1517).

During the 16th century, the school officially became known as the Free Grammar School of King Edward VI. At first, not many attended the school, so classes were not large when Newton began studying in 1655. The future “natural philosopher” started attending King’s School at the age of 12, where he learned elementary mathematics, Latin and religion. He lodged with an apothecary’s family in the high street, who noted he was “a sober, silent, thinking lad,” yet records suggest Newton could also defend himself in a physical fight.

Newton paid little attention to his lessons, preferring to make mechanical devices and discover how things worked. (“I would rather climb trees,” says Simeon.) As he approached his 17th birthday, Newton’s mother called him home to work on the family estate, but he proved useless at manual labour and frequently had his head in a book. Newton’s uncle and Mr Stokes, the schoolmaster at King’s School, persuaded Newton’s mother to return him to school. After another year of education, Newton earned a place at Trinity College, Cambridge. As was customary for King’s School scholars in the 17th century, Isaac Newton carved his signature on the wall of the school library.

Isaac Newton is remembered fondly in Grantham, and Simeon spotted many references to the scholar around the town. The primary shopping centre is named the Isaac Newton Centre, which houses the public library as well as a range of shops. Opposite the centre is a statue of Newton, which the town erected in 1858. The sculptor, William Theed the Younger (1804-91), a favourite of Queen Victoria (1819-1901), made the statue from the bronze of a Russian cannon used during the Crimean War. It cost the public £1800 to produce this statue of Newton, which is the equivalent of £230,000 today.

During his search for clues, Simeon discovered another statue dedicated to Sir Isaac Newton. Situated in Wyndham Park Sensory Garden is a large hand holding an apple. Newton developed his Law of Gravitation after witnessing an apple falling from a tree. Nigel Sardeson, a self-taught woodcarver, produced the statue from the remains of a horse chestnut tree in 2010. Unfortunately, the roots and interior of the tree stump began to decay, and the statue sprouted fungus.

An urgent preservation project took place in 2015. The statue was removed from the ground and taken away for treatment. A year later, the Mayor of Grantham, Linda Wootton, unveiled the refurbished apple sculpture, which now sits upon a concrete base.

The apple statue is one of many attractions in Wyndham Park. As Simeon made his way through the grass and trees, he came across an open-air paddling pool, a model boating lake and the River Witham. Carefully skirting these for fear of getting wet, Simeon searched the area of clues.

The park is named after Lieutenant The Hon. William Reginald Wyndham of the 1st Life Guards, who died in action in 1914 at the beginning of the First World War. His mother, Constance Evelyn Primrose, Lady Leconfield (1846-1939), officially opened the park in 1924. The model boating lake predated the park by almost forty years and was once used for bathing.

While walking beside the River Witham, Simeon spotted a bench dedicated to Mr James Bench, the inventor of the bench. Scratching his head, Simeon moved on, convinced someone was pulling his leg. Soon, Simeon was distracted by a sign marking the way to “Grantham’s Oldest Resident”. Intrigued, Simeon eagerly took that path, eyes peeled to spot something very old.

After walking almost a mile (a very long way for a little gibbon), Simeon finally came face-to-face with “Grantham’s Oldest Resident”: an oak tree. Resisting his animal instincts, Simeon looked up in awe at the huge tree rather than climb up its 600-year old trunk. The tree is an ancient English oak (Quercus Robur) with a girth of over 7 metres. That’s more than 30 Simeons!

The tree’s exact age is indeterminable, but the Woodland Trust suggest it may have been a sapling when Grantham was attacked during the War of the Roses in 1461. The tree has seen Grantham grow from a relatively small village into a large town with a population of over 44,000 people. In 2018, construction work threatened the Grantham Oak, whose roots stretch almost 7 metres. The Woodland Trust and the South Kesteven District Council intervened, placing protective measures around the tree and its roots to protect it from damage. It is unusual to find an oak tree as old as this in an urban setting. Most are cut down to make way for roads and buildings, so the Grantham Oak’s survival makes it even more special.

Back in the town centre, Simeon spotted the much thinner Market Cross. Demolished and rebuilt several times over the centuries, the cross is a reminder of Grantham’s early days as an 11th-century market town. Grantham played a large role in the wool trade, which helped raise funds to build St Wulfram’s Church. The nine metre-high cross sits in the centre of the historic part of the town on octagonal limestone slabs.

Not far from the Market Cross, Simeon found a tea room (or gibbon refuelling stop, as he calls it) and treated himself to a chocolate brownie. Being an observant gibbon, Simeon noticed the strange name of the tea room, The Conduit. “I wonder why it has that name,” thought Simeon. He did not need to look far to find out. On the pavement outside stood a strange little building, also called The Conduit. This is the remains of Grantham’s first public water supply.

The first water conduit was constructed in 1134 by the Greyfriars, a group of Franciscan monks who lived near the marketplace. They used lead pipes to convey water from a nearby spring to their house. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the water was rerouted to the strange little building outside the tea room in 1597. The inhabitants of Grantham could draw water from the conduit instead of springs or streams, and by 1680, water carts delivered water directly to houses for a fee of £3 a year. The conduit needed several repairs throughout its lifetime, and the lead pipes were replaced with iron pipes. Eventually, the conduit fell out of use due to the advent of modern water systems.

While looking for clues, Simeon came across a whole range of interesting things, including the birthplace of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013). Thatcher, née Roberts attended Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School, which was established in 1910. The King’s School, attended by Newton, only admits boys.

Thatcher and Newton are not the only notable people from Grantham. Edith Smith (1876-1924), the first woman police officer with full arrest powers, patrolled the streets of Grantham. Thomas Paine (1737-1809), the author of Common Sense, briefly worked in the town as an Excise Officer. There are also many past and present politicians and sportsmen who hail from the area. Simeon also came across a family of bees living in a hive outside the Beehive Inn. South African bees have inhabited the hive since 1830.

After walking the many streets of Grantham, Simeon solved all the clues, cracked the code and saved St Wulfram’s Church from destruction. He learned so much about the town along the way and thoroughly enjoyed himself. When in the area, Simeon recommends visiting Belton House, built in the 17th century. It is located 3 miles from Grantham and has extensive parklands. It was also one of the locations for the BBC’s 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice.

To purchase the Grantham Treasure Trail, visit treasuretrails.co.uk

Read about Simeon’s previous adventures here:
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp
Simeon Investigates Covent Garden
Simeon and the Green Witch’s Treasure
Simeon Conquers York
Simeon’s Bristol Highlights
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part One
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part Two


My blogs are now available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify.

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

Simeon Investigates Covent Garden

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Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please) was beyond excited to receive a letter from Treasure Trails with a number of clues to solve a mysterious murder in the heart of London. Famous detective novelist Lotta Twist (fictional but don’t tell Simeon!) has died under baffling circumstances and it was up to Simeon, with a little help from his friends, to work out which suspect was the murderer and what weapon they used.

After hunting high and low between Leicester Square and Covent Garden, Simeon solved the mystery but, along the way, he discovered many exciting streets and buildings. Of course, the biggest and most popular of all was Covent Garden’s central square, London’s main theatre and entertainment area. The Covent Garden Piazza is full of luxury shops, street entertainers, market stalls and hundreds of excited tourists; and amongst them, was a little wide-eyed detective, Simeon.

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Apple Market, Covent Garden Market traders inside Inigo Jones’ “handsomest barn in England”.

Covent Garden is the name of a district in the capital that stretches from St Martin’s Lane near Trafalgar Square and Drury Lane, towards Camden. Although it is now a popular shopping and tourist area, it used to be famous for the former fruit-and-vegetable market in the central square. Simeon was intrigued to discover the market stalls selling homemade wares was still known as Apple Market.

The history of Covent Garden dates back to 400 AD when the area near St Martin’s-in-the Fields was used as a Roman gravesite. Excavations have also suggested that there were Anglo-Saxon settlements nearby. From around 600 AD, the land stretching from Trafalgar Square to Aldwych was a trading town called Lundenwic, however, during the reign of the King of Wessex, Alfred the Great (c.847-899), the boundaries of the capital were shifted and the town was abandoned, eventually becoming a field.

A document dating from 1200 AD states that the land became the property of the Benedictine Monks of the Abbey of St Peter, now known as Westminster Abbey. Over the next century, a square garden, approximately 40 acres long, was gradually established, combining orchards, meadows, pastures and arable land. Adopting the Anglo-French word for a religious community, the quadrangle became known as “a garden called Covent Garden”. The name has stuck ever since.

The Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, meant the land belonging to Westminster Abbey, including Covent Garden, became the possession of King Henry VIII (1491-1547). Just over a decade later, however, Henry’s son Edward VI (1537-53) granted the land to John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford (1485-1555). The Russell family, who were eventually elevated to the Dukes of Bedford, held the land until 1918.

The land, including Covent Garden, did not remain farmland under the Russell family’s ownership. In 1630, Francis Russell, the 4th Earl, commissioned the English architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652) to build a church (St Paul’s Church) and houses around a large square. Initially, these houses attracted the wealthy, however, they lost their appeal after a market was set up in the square, coffee houses and taverns were opened, and prostitutes moved in.

As a result, due to the seedy establishments, Covent Garden became known as a red-light district and gentlemen had a wide choice of brothels to visit in the area. Things improved after a more permanent trading centre was built in 1830. Later, in 1913, the 11th Duke of Bedford, Herbrand Russell (1858-1940) agreed to sell his estate to the MP Sir Harry Mallaby-Deeley (1863-1937) for £2 million. Not long after, it was sold in 1918 to the Beecham family for £250,000.

The Beecham family, the proprietors of Beecham Estates and Pills Limited, managed the properties around Covent Garden until 1924 when they gradually began to sell them off. By 1962, the main bulk of the district, including the market place became the property of the newly founded Covent Garden Authority at a cost of £3,925,000. Since then, redevelopments have been undertaken and the main market building was opened as the shopping centre it is today in 1980.

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Simeon was intrigued to discover the original rules, orders and bye-laws of the market on the wall of one of the tunnels leading into the centre of the market place. Despite the warnings of various penalties, it appears the rules are no longer enforced.

Notice is hereby given that in persuance of the Act of Parliament passed in the ninth year of the Reign of King George the fourth entitled “An Act for the Improvement and Regulation of Covent Garden Market” the several Rules, Orders and Byelawes hereunder written have been constituted, provided and ordained for the purpose in the said Act mentioned. Dated this 22nd Day of May 1924

Simeon thought it rather naughty of the stallholders to disobey the rules that were clearly stated on the wooden sign. “No Fruit, Flowers, Vegetables, Roots, Herbs or other thing shall be placed, pitched, exposed for sale, or sold in any part of the said Market on a Sunday.” Well, that’s a 40 shilling penalty everyone should be paying, deemed Simeon in disgust.

“No person shall sleep or lie down on any Stand, Footpath or Gangway in the said Market or on the said Terrace or Steps leading thereto.” Just as well Simeon did not need a nap, otherwise, that would have cost him five shillings.

“No person shall carry, use or have any lighted Candle or other Light except in a Lanthern …” Try telling that to the fire juggler!

Of course, these rules were written when the market sold fruit and vegetables and not the hand-crafted commodities of today. Covent Garden now boasts some of the best luxury clothes shops in London, including Chanel, Mulberry UK and Sass & Belle. There are also independent stores, such as Benjamin Pollock’s Toy Shop, which sells creative, theatrical and educational toys that nurture storytelling.

Opposite the Covent Garden piazza is Jubilee Hall, which contains Jubilee Market, the only market in London to be wholly owned by traders. The market opened in 1904 and was later taken over by the traders in order to save the building from bankruptcy. Along with the rest of Covent Garden, Jubilee Hall was renovated in 1985 and reopened by Queen Elizabeth II (b.1926) on 5th August 1987.

The stalls in Jubilee Market change from day-to-day. On Mondays, the market offers a whole range of antiques. Sold by professional antique dealers, collectables can be found from every era and style, including Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, fine china and old books. From Tuesday until Friday, the market describes itself as a General Market. During this period, traders can sell anything they wish and shoppers can find bargains on plants, greeting cards, beauty products, clothes and souvenirs.

The weekends at Jubilee Market are devoted to the arts and crafts. Traders show off their creative skills and sell their art to the public. The term “Art” in this case is rather broad and visitors can expect to find anything from hand-painted items, jewellery and fashion to metal sculptures, fossils and minerals.

Whilst the market place is the main attraction, Simeon’s murder mystery trail took him up and down streets and alleyways that were just as exciting. As well as solving clues, Simeon discovered many interesting things about Covent Garden, including statues, noteworthy buildings and famous people associated with the area.

One of the first buildings that caught Simeon’s attention looked at first to be a regular sandwich shop: Pret a Manger. The building’s history, or rather the site’s history, on the other hand, is much more noteworthy. A green, circular plaque situated on the upper level of the building reveals that this was the site of the Old Slaughters Coffee House. Whilst the plaque and present building are in Cranbourne Street, the original address of the coffee house was 77 St Martin’s Lane. The building was destroyed when Cranbourne Street was built in 1843.

The Old Slaughters Coffee House was opened by Thomas Slaughter in 1692. It was frequented by game players who would meet to partake in chess, draughts and whist amongst other things. For a time, Benjamin Franklin (1706-90), the American polymath and founding father of the United States, was one of the establishment’s regular players. It was also popular with artists, including, Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), William Hogarth (1697-1764) and Louis-François Roubillac (1702-62). The English dramatist Henry Fielding (1707-54) was another regular patron of the coffee shop. Incidentally, Fielding lived in the area and came up with the idea of the Bow Street Runners, an early form of the Police Force. Eventually, Britain’s first Police Station was opened on Bow Street and manned by Robert Peel (1788-1850).

The coffee shop’s claim to fame is for its use as a meeting house for discussions that resulted in the founding of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (later the RSPCA) in 1824. The meeting was organised by the Reverend Arthur Broome (1779-1837) and chaired by the MP Sir Thomas Foxwell Buxton (1786-1845). Amongst the eight attendees was William Wilberforce (1759-1833), who was also responsible for the abolition of the slave trade.

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Almost opposite the site of the Old Slaughters Coffee House is a memorial to the writer and playwright Dame Agatha Christie (1890-1976). Unveiled by her grandson Matthew Prichard amongst others on 18th November 2012, the book-shaped sculpture by Ben Twiston-Davies celebrates the 60th anniversary and 25,000 London performances of Christie’s play The Mousetrap.

The memorial provides a brief biography of Agatha Christie née Miller who was born on 15th September 1890 in Torquay, Devon. She was educated at home, which helped to develop her lifelong passion for writing and reading. She also developed an interest in poisons, which secured her with a position as pharmaceutical dispenser during the First World War. This, in turn, provided her with considerable knowledge to use in her novels.

Agatha married her first husband, Archibald “Archie” (1889-1962) on Christmas Eve 1914 in Bristol whilst he was on leave from the army. In 1919, their only child Rosalind Margaret Hicks was born – the future mother of Matthew Prichard and unveiler of this statue. Unfortunately, Agatha and Archie’s marriage was not to last after he fell in love with another woman. In 1930, however, Christie met Max Mallowan (1904-78) who she subsequently married.

Due to being an archaeologist, Mallowan was required to travel extensively, particularly in the Middle East. Christie accompanied her husband and the places she visited became the settings for some of her murder mysteries.

At the time the memorial was erected, Agatha Christie’s books had sold over two billion copies in 100 languages. She is famous for her characters Hercule Poirot, the all-knowing Belgian detective, and Miss Jane Marple, the all-seeing village spinster. The Mousetrap, amongst many other plays and books, shot to fame during Christie’s lifetime making her one of the most successful and best-loved writers of all time. Agatha Christie was appointed Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1971, five years before she died on 12th January 1976.

Almost immediately around the corner from Agatha Christie’s memorial is the St Martin’s Theatre where The Mousetrap has been performed continually since March 1974. Having moved there from the Ambassadors Theatre on Charing Cross Road, the play is now the longest-running production in the world.

Opposite the theatre is another building Simeon found of interest. Situated in a narrow, slightly triangular building is The Ivy, a restaurant popular with celebrities and theatregoers. It was opened as an Italian cafe in 1917 by Abele Giandolini “Monsieur Abel”. Over the years, it has become the haunt of many famous names, including, Laurence Olivier (1907-89), Vivien Leigh (1913-67), Marlene Dietrich (1901-92), Terence Rattigan (1911-77) and Noël Coward (1899-1973).

In 1950, The Ivy was sold to Bernard Walsh who made it part of a chain of fish restaurants. The establishment changed hands twice more before closing in 1989. Fortunately, it was saved from permanent closure by Jeremy King and Chris Corbin who renovated the building and reopened it the following year. Today, The Ivy is owned by multi-millionaire Richard Caring (b.1948).

The Ivy can seat up to 100 guests at a time, plus a further 60 in the private dining area on the first floor. No mobile phones or cameras are allowed in the building and there is a strict dress code. Simeon, wearing absolutely nothing, decided not to try his luck in securing a table for lunch.

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There are many other pubs and restaurants around Covent Garden and, if Simeon had been a drinker, his murder mystery trail could easily have turned into a pub crawl! According to Trip Advisor, some of the best bars and pubs in the area are The Kings Arms, Mr Fogg’s Tavern (named after the fictional explorer Phileas Fogg), Crown and Anchor, Lady of the Grapes and The Long Acre Bar & Kitchen. Some of these establishments are easy to find, whereas others are hidden away in the city’s courtyards and backstreets.

The Lamb and Flag (formerly The Coopers Arms) was established on Rose Street in 1833. Despite being small and out of the way, the pub earned a reputation for staging bare-knuckle prize fights, earning it the nickname “The Bucket of Blood”. The covered alleyway (mind your head!) to the side of the building also has a sinister history. It was here that the English poet John Dryden (1631-1700) was attacked by thugs in 1679. It is believed the 2nd Earl of Rochester, John Wilmot (1647-80) was responsible for hiring the thugs. There had been a long-standing conflict between the two men.

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Simeon enjoyed investigating all the little alleyways and discovering where they led. Whilst trying to solve a mystery, Simeon also unearthed other mysteries, for example, Monty Python’s house. Simeon’s first question was, “Why did a python named Monty have a house in Neal’s Yard?” His second question, after establishing that Monty Python is a British surreal comedy group who created the sketch comedy television show Monty Python’s Flying Circus, “How can ‘Monty Python’ have a plaque stating that the filmmaker ‘lived here 1976-1987’?”

The answer: Rather than commemorating a person as the plaque implies, it is indicating the location of the Monty Python studios in Neal’s Yard. This is where the British surreal comedy group created their BBC sketch show, which first aired on 5th October 1969. Broadcast until 1974, the series was written and performed by a group of six people known as “the Pythons”: Graham Chapman (1941-89), John Cleese (b.1939), Terry Gilliam (b.1940), Eric Idle (b.1943), Terry Jones (b.1942), and Michael Palin (b.1943). The show pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable at the time, influencing British comedy of the future.

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As well as being part of Covent Garden, Neal’s Yard and the surrounding streets are also known as Seven Dials. This is a junction where seven streets converge, forming a circular space at the centre. The land originally belonged to the estate of the Worshipful Company of Mercers, however, in the 1690s Thomas Neale (1641-99) designed a new layout consisting of six residential roads to replace the open farmland. Although the plan was for six roads, Neale added in a seventh road in order to own and lease out more properties. This area was used as the setting for Agatha Christie’s The Seven Dials Mystery (1929).

“The stranger who finds himself in the Dials for the first time…at the entrance of Seven obscure passages, uncertain which to take, will see enough around him to keep his curiosity awake for no inconsiderable time…”
– Charles Dickens

In the centre of Seven Dials is a sundial column, however, because the original plan was for six roads, there are only six faces or dials. The column itself is said to be the gnomon (the piece that casts the shadow) of the seventh dial. The original column was built by the stonemason Edward Pierce who based the design on a Doric column. Today, a replica sits in its place. The column itself is 20 feet high, however, it is sat on top of an 8-foot plinth, making it appear even taller.

Intrigued about the sundial, Simeon was pleased to discover a plaque on the wall of a nearby pub containing instructions for using the dial to tell the time. “The Sundials show local apparent solar time. To convert this to Greenwich Mean Time (G.M.T) use the graph below. Find today’s date and add or deduct the number of minutes shown (+ or – on the graph) to the time showing on the sundials to obtain G.M.T. ” Each of the faces is accurate to within ten seconds. It is impossible to get a totally accurate reading because the sundial is positioned to the west of Greenwich, thus making it 3.048 seconds behind G.M.T.

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There is so much more to discover around Covent Garden and Simeon, being only a little gibbon, had only enough energy to walk up and down a few of the streets. Nonetheless, there are a couple more highlights Simeon wishes to mention. The first is a beautiful statue of a ballerina opposite the Royal Opera House.

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Also situated near the Royal Ballet School, Young Dancer by Italian-born British sculptor Enzo Plazzotta (1921-81) is a statue of a ballerina sitting on a stool while lacing up her shoes. Plazzotta is remembered for his fascination with movement and portraying this with bronze. Although this particular model is not in the process of moving, ballet and dance were Plazzotta’s favourite subjects. This statue was unveiled in 1988, seven years after the artist’s death. There are a number of other sculptures by Plazzotta around the capital, including, Crucifixion outside Westminster Abbey, Jéte (a ballet movement) near the Tate Modern, a homage to Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man in Belgrave Square, and Camargue Horses near the Barbican.

Whilst Simeon enjoyed posing with the young dancer, his favourite thing about his trail through Covent Garden was knowing he was walking in the footsteps of famous and important people of the past. Many names have already been mentioned, however, before he reached the Covent Garden Market, Simeon found one more person to add to his list.

Along Henrietta Street above what is now the designer men’s shoe and clothes shop Oliver Sweeney, is where the novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817) stayed between 1813 and 14. In 1813, Jane’s older brother Henry lost his wife Eliza after a long and debilitating illness. After her death, Henry moved into the rooms above Tilson’s Bank on Henrietta Street, which is where Jane and her niece Fanny Knight visited him.

While she was visiting her brother, Jane took the opportunity to do some shopping, writing to her sister, “I hope that I shall find some poplin at Layton and Shear’s that will tempt me to buy it. If I do it shall be sent to Chawton, as half will be for you; for I depend upon your being so kind as to accept it . . . It will be a great pleasure to me. Don’t say a word. I only wish you could choose it too. I shall send twenty yards.” The shop she mentioned was also on Henrietta Street. Today, a plaque marks the apartments in which she stayed.

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Where’s Simeon?

Simeon (and friends) thoroughly enjoyed the murder mystery trail around Covent Garden set by Treasure Trails. This was not the first trail the little gibbon has completed, nor will it be the last. The trails allow you to solve fictional murders or find buried treasure, at the same time as discovering the hidden secrets of cities and towns around the United Kingdom. There are over 1000 trails to choose from that provide a fun way to explore all parts of the country.

Simeon has learnt that Convent Garden is not only a market but a whole district. He found hidden alleyways, beautiful statues, impressive buildings and interesting historical facts but, most importantly, he caught the killer. Simeon highly recommends Treasure Trails and cannot wait to go on his next adventure. I wonder where that will be?

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Catch up with Simeon’s previous adventures here:
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp

For more information about Treasure Trails and the areas they cover, please visit their website.

Simeon goes to Amsterdam

32866310_10213968890207792_2656639836118581248_nMeet Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please). Instead of swinging from tree to tree in the subtropical rainforests of Bangladesh, Borneo or Sumatra, Simeon enjoys going on trips with his human friends. Fortunately, being a stuffed toy (do not mention that to him, it is a sore subject) Simeon can easily fit in hand luggage and be taken into all sorts of places where animals are not usually welcomed. This year, 2018, was a very special year for the small ape; in May, Simeon experienced his first trip abroad to the artistic capital of the Netherlands: Amsterdam.

Jetting off from London Southend Airport, Simeon landed at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol a mere 35 minutes later. It took less time to get from England to the Netherlands than it did to get from home to Southend! Schiphol is the main international airport of the Netherlands and sits nine kilometres southwest of Amsterdam. Despite being the third busiest airport in Europe, Simeon and friends whizzed through security to discover their luggage was already waiting for them on the conveyor belt – a complete contrast to most of London’s airports!

Without any to-do, Simeon found himself on a train heading to Amsterdam Centraal. Not only was this his first trip abroad, it was his first ride in both an aeroplane and a train! And what a good experience it was, too. Despite understanding little Dutch, it was quick and easy to get from A to B, the only issue being which exit to use at Centraal Station.

 

 

Soon to be connected to the Eurostar line, Amsterdam Centraal is the largest train station in the Netherlands and has been listed as a rijksmonument or national heritage site.  The Gothic/Renaissance Revival station building was designed by the Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers (1827-1921) and first opened for public use in 1889. Like the majority of buildings in Amsterdam, the station was constructed on the canals and required 8,687 wooden poles. The structure and surrounding area have since been redeveloped to make it more pedestrian friendly.

Despite renovations, Amsterdam Centraal Station is one of the most impressive buildings in the city; it looks more like a palace than a station. The building is richly decorated both inside and out. The façade is made up of red brick with prominent carvings on the towers either side of the main entrance. Each tower is topped with a spire and displays a large dial, however, only one of these is a clock. The other, which at a glance may look like a clock, is a read-out for the weather vane that sits on top of the station.

33401578_10213993463502109_6251086077671505920_nAmsterdam has an area of approximately 84.68 square miles, which is far too much for a little gibbon to walk. Fortunately for Simeon, there are 16 tram routes across that city, the majority of which begin their journeys outside Amsterdam Centraal. So, with 72-hour travel pass to hand (other time periods are available) Simeon was ready to check in and out of the trams as he made his way from one destination to another.

Although trams travel all over the place, the best way to experience Amsterdam is on the canals. There are plenty of canal trips to choose from of varying lengths that traverse the 60 miles of water. The most famous canals in Amsterdam are Prinsengracht, Herengracht, and Keizersgracht, however, the small ones are just as interesting to travel along – gracht means “canal” and Prinsen, Heren and Keizers can be translated to “Prince”, “Lords” and “Emperor’s” respectively.

 

 

Initially, the 17th-century canals were a form of defence but eventually became a means of navigating the city. Today, they are one of Amsterdam’s greatest attractions. Simeon opted for the open-top tour by the Blue Boat Company that took its guests around the more narrow canals in the city. The trip began at the company office on the edge of the water in Stadhouderskade, which is a short walk from the Museumkwartier where the major museums are located.

Depending on the tour company and guide, not only does a canal trip offer extensive views of the city, it provides a lot of interesting information and local knowledge that may not necessarily crop up in guidebooks. On an hour and 15-minute ride, after Simeon had got over his disappointment about not being allowed to drive the boat, he learnt a lot of fascinating facts about Amsterdam.

The name Amsterdam comes from Amstelredamme, indicating its origins as a 12th-century fishing village around a dam in the river Amstel. Although the city has lots of canals, it sits around two-metres below sea level. Originally, the area was farmed for peat, which was used to heat houses, resulting in the low level of the land. Due to this, Amsterdam was not inhabitable as a city until grand developments in the 14th and 15th centuries when the majority of canals and original buildings were constructed.

Most of the buildings in the city look fairly old, however, they do not date back as far as the conception of the city. Many of the buildings in Amsterdam were built during the 17th century and, as Simeon was amazed to see, stand rather crookedly, leaning forwards, backwards or even sideways. There are a number of theories for this strange sight but do not worry, they are unlikely to topple over.

Original buildings were built on wooden poles so that they would be raised above the water level. Unfortunately, due to the peaty quality of the soil, the poles began to sink into the ground as they tried to sustain the weight they were holding. This may be the cause of many of the slanted buildings around the city. Thankfully, the situation has been rectified by filling up the gaps below houses with cement so that they would not sink any further.

What surprises some people to learn is that some of the structures were deliberately built at a slant. This is known as op de vlucht bouwen and was a building regulation pre-1800. This may have stemmed from medieval times when the top floor of a wooden building traditionally jettied out further in order to prevent rain from flooding the floors below. The strongest reason for the leaning buildings is for economical purposes. As a staple port, Amsterdam was receiving daily deliveries from merchant boats of cotton, spices and so forth. Warehouses tended to be situated in the attics of the buildings along the canals and in order to store the crates, they were winched up on ropes from a hook on the top of the building. In order to prevent damages to the walls and windows, buildings were slanted forwards to provide enough room for the boxes to swing without hitting anything.

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One thing that will not go amiss, regardless of whether you take advantage of a canal tour or not, is the width of the tall, Dutch buildings. Typically, houses are three windows wide and four windows high and were built as such due to heavy taxes imposed upon the people of Amsterdam. Similarly to London, Amsterdam had a window tax meaning that the more windows a building had, the more its owners would have to pay. Another tax was on the width of the houses – the wider, the more expensive. Large families were forever going up and down narrow, spiralled staircases in order to navigate their tall but thin houses. Any buildings wider than three windows were likely owned by the wealthier people of Amsterdam.

33167034_10213993573304854_4090493120037257216_nA good thing about travelling via the canals is, at least in Simeon’s opinion, you are not at risk of being hit by any of the 881,000 bicycles zooming around the city … or so you would think. To the astonishment of the people on the boat, the tour guide revealed that 15,000 bikes are pulled out of the canal every year. These are not necessarily a result of clumsy cyclists; thousands of bikes are parked against railings on the edge of the canals or bridges every day. It only takes one to fall over before a domino effect pushes them all into the water. Cars are also parked by the side of canals and risk falling in, fortunately, only five unlucky drivers are affected by this!

Returning to the Museumkwartier, Simeon had the opportunity to visit two of the most popular museums in Amsterdam. The city itself is one of the most visited cultural places in Europe and it is without a doubt in part due to its most famous museum, the largest museum of art and history in the Netherlands, the Rijksmuseum. Opened in 1885 and designed by Cuypers in the same Gothic-Renaissance style as his station building, the Rijksmuseum houses a number of different collections including 19th-century art and art from the middle ages. The most well-known section, however, is the masterpieces of the 17th-century painted by the school known as The Dutch Masters.

 

The majority of artworks in the museum are of Dutch origin and can be found in all the collections, however, the artist visitors flock to see is the magnificent Rembrandt (1606-99). The Rijksmuseum owns 20 of his works including the extraordinary Night Watch or De Nachtwacht, which impressed Simeon with its colossal size (363 cm × 437 cm). Initially called Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq by the artist, it portrays the eponymous company being led out by Captain Frans Banning Cocq and his lieutenant, Willem van Ruytenburch, who are captured in a dramatic use of light and shadow, giving the impression of movement. Traditionally, portraits of military groups were static and posed but Rembrandt broke away from this custom.

Visitors also get to see paintings by other famous Dutch artists such as Vermeer (1632-75), Hals (1582-1666) and Van Gogh (1853-88). Simeon was particularly ecstatic to see The Milkmaid (Het melkmeisje) by Vermeer as well as look at examples of sculpture and decorative arts.

Amsterdam is a great city for art-lovers and on the opposite of the Museumplein is a museum devoted to one of the greatest Dutch artists from the 19th-century. Vincent van Gogh was born in Zundert, a small town in the south of the Netherlands. Although he spent a large amount of his artistic career in France, the Van Gogh Museum has brought 200 of his paintings back to his home country. As well as paintings, the museum has an enormous collection of drawings and letters made by van Gogh at various times during his life.

Visitors are not allowed to photograph the exhibits, however, they have provided a couple of areas where snap happy tourists can record a few memories. Simeon was pleased to discover that one version of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers was in one of these areas – this vain, little gibbon loves having his photograph taken!

The museum is set out in chronological order so that guests can learn about the artist’s life as they peruse his paintings. This also allows the more art savvy to notice and compare the development of van Gogh’s paintings as he progressed through his ten-year career. These are interspersed with artworks by other notable painters who inspired van Gogh or had a personal connection to him, for instance, his friend-cum-enemy Paul Gauguin (1848-1903).

The museum is located in two buildings joint together by way of underground passage. One side houses temporary exhibition and the other contains three floors of van Gogh’s work and timeline. Designed by Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964), and eventually completed in 1973, the museum is a stark contrast to the Rijksmuseum. The architecture is modernist and features wide open spaces, although, once the crowds enter, there is not much space left!

Already seen in the Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands boasts another famous artist, however, to discover more about him, Simeon had to move away from the Museumplein and get the tram to Rembrandtplein. This artist is, of course, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn.

Rembrandtplein, originally called Botermarkt, was established in 1668 as the central square for a dairy market. Today, it lies in homage to the 17th-century Dutch artist with a large cast iron statue of Rembrandt standing in the middle. Although Rembrandt was born in Leiden, South Holland, he bought a house nearby in Amsterdam, making him a significant famous association with the city.

In honour of his 400th birthday in 2006, a bronze-cast representation of his famous painting, The Night Watch, was erected in front of the statue of Rembrandt. Tourists are drawn to the square like magnets thanks to the brilliance of these figures produced by the Russian artists Mikhail Dronov and Alexander Taratynov. With so many cameras around, Simeon had to be quick to get his photograph taken with the majority of the characters.

The house Rembrandt owned is not on the square but a short walk will bring you to the very building now known as Museum Het Rembrandthuis. Decorated to look exactly how Rembrandt lived, Simeon enjoyed exploring the 17th-century rooms and seeing hundreds of collectable items that the artist had amassed during his career.

Rembrandt both lived in and worked from this building between 1638 and 1658, painting and teaching new students. His studio, kitchen and sleeping areas give the impression of an artist’s life during the 17th-century. People were shorter and did not need tall doorframes, causing visitors to duck in order to enter a room – not a problem for Simeon! Their beds were also much shorter but not because of their stature; the Dutch slept sitting up in fear that lying down would cause the blood to rush to their head and kill them.

With the main art museums fully explored, Simeon had time to visit smaller, lesser-known museums in Amsterdam. These were Cromhout Huis and Het Bijbels Museum. The former is a canal-side house once owned by the Cromhout Family who lived there for almost two centuries. The house faces the Herengracht canal and is decorated as splendidly as it would have during its Golden Age. An audio guide educates visitors about the seven generations of the Cromhouts, their ups and downs, and their unique pieces of furniture and art collection.

On the top floor of the house is Amsterdam’s Biblical Museum where the Bible is mixed in with art and Dutch culture. The collection features rare Bibles, including the oldest printed copy in the Netherlands (1477), Egyptian artefacts and many other treasures. Simeon’s favourite was the model of the Tabernacle and the 19th-century model of Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

There may be many museums in Amsterdam but there are so many other things to see. Dam Square, where the national monument and Koninklijk Palace can be found, provides several photographic opportunities and is surrounded by souvenir shops. However, the best places to buy mementoes is at one of the city’s markets, particularly the Bloemenmarkt situated along the Singel Canal. This flower market has been a tradition since 1862 and is open all year round so that both locals and tourists can benefit from the brightly coloured plants. The best time to visit this market is in the spring when the Dutch tulips are in full bloom, however, at any other time of year, the market is full of fake but beautiful tulips (Simeon thought they were real), or you can purchase bulbs to take home to plant in your own garden.

Simeon was only in Amsterdam for a few days, and although he visited so many places, there is still so much to explore. Amsterdam is the type of place tourists can visit time and again and discover something new on every trip. There is, of course, the “other side” to Amsterdam that gives it a bad name and evokes the saying “Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go to Amsterdam” but that is an extreme exaggeration. Nonetheless, Simeon has compiled his top tips for those wanting to visit the Dutch capital city.

Simeon’s Top Tips

1. Be careful crossing the road. Bicycles and trams have right of way.
2. Don’t take photographs in the Red Light District. This is where all the prostitution and sex-oriented businesses can be found.
3. Avoid Coffee ShopsYou may end up purchasing 5g of cannabis with your order!
4. Try the Stroopwaffels (syrup waffles) but make sure it does not contain a certain ingredient … Marijuana
5. Book museum tickets before you go. Particularly the Van Gogh Museum, it works on a timed entry system and runs out of tickets quickly.
6. Don’t fall in the canalThat would be silly.
7. Don’t eat the cannabis lolly pops or ice creamIt may look yummy but might not do you any good.
8. If purchasing tulip bulbs, make sure you can legally bring them homeSome bulbs need special licenses to be taken abroad.
9. Always check in and out of tramsNot just in.
10. Be prepared to pay by cardNot all shops take cash.