Let’s go on a walk through London highlighting some interesting facts about Americans and how their stories are interwoven with ours.
Image courtesy of the BBC
Some Americans will have heard the children’s jingle, ‘London Bridge is falling down.’ The one we see here is not the original, not even the one that was around in the sixties. That one was, in fact, falling down.
Engineers discovered a serious deterioration in the vast, 1000 foot bridge, which took quite a hammering during the Second World War. Serving the citizens of London well for over 130 years, the constant traffic took its toll. The bridge was not only sinking from the constant weight of traffic, but crumbling too.
The plan was to build a new one, and the question arose as to what to do with the old London Bridge. A member of the Common Council of the City of London, Ian Luckin, suggested they put the bridge up for sale. Why not make some money on the old girl, he offered his peers.
‘Not just a bridge’, he said. `It is the heir to 2000 years of history going back to the first century AD, to the time of Roman Londinium.”
‘They all thought I was completely crazy when I suggested we should sell London Bridge when it needed replacing.’
It was a long shot and did not seem to appeal to the locals at all, but they did put the sale of the bridge into public view, hoping for any potential buyers. They got lucky. In 1968, a wealthy American Industrialist, Robert McCulloch paid £2.46m for the bridge. The industrialist from Moussourri owned the single largest tract of land in Arizona in 1963, intending to develop a city, Lake Havasu City. What he needed was a major attraction, something to draw tourists and investors. London Bridge would be perfect.
The sale went through and the careful dismantling of the bridge began, each block carefully marked for shipment and re-assembling. The operation took three years to complete. First, the blocks were transported to the Merrivale Quarry, in Devon and from there, shipped via the Panama Canal to California and finally trucked to Arizona.
Now it spans the Bridgewater Canal, a testament to the genius, or folly of one man who wanted to bring London Bridge to the USA.
The All Hallows-by-the-Tower stands on ground that has revealed signs from Roman times and could well have been built as early as the 7th Century. Firmly established as a church between the 11th and 15th centuries, its proximity to the Tower of London indicates there were strong royal connections. It was declared a Royal Chapel by Edward IV but more importantly, it served as a temporary burial ground for the more eminent victims of executions at Tower Hill, such as Sir Thomas Moore. The church sustained damage over the years. Fortunately it escaped being gutted by the Great Fire of London in 1666, thanks to the quick action of Admiral William Penn.
Image courtesy of Britain Express
Penn ordered his men from a nearby naval yard to blow up any still existing houses surrounding the church, creating a firebreak and saving the church. Admiral Penn was the father of William Penn of Pennsylvania, who was baptised in this church. The younger Penn was schooled in Chigwell, Essex, and the establishment was run according to very strict Puritan rules.
Later he was to be drawn to Quakerism, and rejected the Anglican faith. His beliefs saw him imprisoned many times, but his faith held steadfast. The Quakers (Society of Friends) were seen as religious radicals and often subjected to persecution. Undaunted, he continued to profess his religious beliefs through public speaking, writing books and pamphlets, and even spent time in the cells of the Tower of London in 1669 where he wrote ‘No Cross, no Crown.’
His father’s death in 1670 left him with large estates in England and Ireland, though he continued to preach his sermons and write. He married and had eight children, four of which died in infancy. A prolific writer, he also became interested in American Colonisation, fostering a long found dream of a colony where all could live with religious tolerance. In 1681 he, and 11 other Quakers, bought the rights to East New Jersey, which he renamed after his father, Pennsylvania.
When he sailed to America in 1682, his plans for a new government and the establishment of Philadelphia were well under way. He managed to secure a number of treaties, including those with the Delaware Indians, but not all was plain sailing and in due course he was forced to return to England.
His family connections offered Penn excellent relations with King James, and he enjoyed the good fortune bestowed upon him by the King. He was able to exercise his faith without intolerance - helping secure the release of many Quakers held in London prisons. The death of King James, and the accession to the throne of King William and Queen Mary, who were suspicious of his intentions, cast him from the Royal Circle, at times living in fear of his life.
Things deteriorated progressively in Pennsylvania. In his absence they lost the colony which was ceded to New York. He returned to the colony and tried to restore relationships, repair the broken treaties, but was eventually compelled to grant the lower countries their independence and grant Pennsylvania, a revised constitution. Less than two years later, he was forced, once again, back to London. The rest of his life was an unhappy one. A severe stroke left him helpless and dependent until his death in 1718.
Another famous American, John Quincy Adams, who became the 6th President of America, was married in this church on July 26th 1797. His wife Louisa Catherine Adams, was born in America and raised in London. Her father, Joshua Adams would like to entertain visiting Americans and it was there that the young Louisa met John Adams, American minister to the Netherlands. John Adams’ father, John Adams, was also a President of the United States of America.
ST PAUL'S CATHEDRAL
Image courtesy of Visit London
In the East wing of the great St. Paul's Cathedral is a very special chapel. Dedicated to all Americans, stationed in the UK during WWII, who lost their lives in the line of duty.
The American Memorial Chapel was built in a section of the Cathedral destroyed by the Blitz, which makes it even more poignant. In the centre of the chapel is a leather bound memorial book, a roll of Honour to the 28,000 Americans who lost their lives, from Aaberg to Zingele. Many died in the D-day landings.
Americans visit to pay their respects and sit for a little while, in contemplation, in thanks, and perhaps to remember a family member who may have been one of the fallen. The Chapel was opened by Queen Elizabeth II and Vice President Nixon in 1958.
Much thought has been put into the designing and construction of the Chapel. If you look at the three stained glass windows, you will find the State symbol of every State, and the wood carvings display the natural birds, plants and flowers indigenous to the country. Hidden in a wood panel are stars and a space rocket.
In 1959 President Dwight D. Eisenhower, himself in command of the Allied troops on D-Day, visited the Chapel. He said:
‘Each name inscribed in this book is a story of personal tragedy and a grieving family’ a story repeated endlessly in white crosses girdling the globe.’
In the crypt of St. Paul's cathedral, is another memorial to a remarkable American, who lost his life at the age of 29, fighting for the British in the RAF. William Meade Lindsley Fiske III, known as Billy Fiske was born in NYC in 1911.
Image courtesy of Traveling Boy Blog
‘An American citizen who died that England might live.’
From a young age, Billy Fiske, who spent time in France during his teens, excelled at Bobsleigh, a sport he picked up whilst there. A mere three years later, he led the US Bobsledding team to victory at the Winter Olympics in St. Moritz. More gold medals followed at the winter Olympics at Lake Placid, and had the Olympics in 1936 not taken place in Germany, his team were sure to win again.
Billy Fiske was a principled man, boycotting the Olympic Games in Nazi Germany.
He wanted to join the RAF and fly for Britain. This was illegal, to fight for a country not your own at the time, so he ‘used’ Canadian papers to find a way to join the war effort in England. He was accepted. Based at Tangmere in Southern England, his diary reads; ‘ I believe I can lay claim to being the first US citizen to join the RAF in England …’
Young and fearless, he took part in the Battle of Britain, flying a Hawker Hurricane and received great praise from his squadron leader and fellow pilots. He was a natural, they said, yet sadly, within days of joining his squadron, he was dead. Shot down, he managed to land his plane but died two days later from his injuries.
Fiske is buried in a churchyard in Boxgrove. Beneath the plaque, placed in his honour and in recognition of his valiant efforts, in a small casket, are his RAF flying wings.
St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate, is the largest Anglican parish in London. Built in the early 11th century, it lies close to the Old Bailey, which used to be Newgate prison. Back in those days, the prisoners to be taken to Tyburn to be executed, would have their last time on earth, counted by the bell ringing of the church. The bellman would enter the prison from the church via tunnel to pray for the doomed prisoners. On the day of the execution, the bells would toll again, and the bellman would be present when they were loaded onto the wagons to begin their final journey.
The church has survived many centuries and seen the reigns of many kings and queens. Largely destroyed during The Great Fire in 1666, the steeple survived and the restoration work took four years, carried out by Sir. Christopher Wren.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
An Englishman, with strong connections to America, lies buried here. Captain John Smith, of Pocohontas fable and fame. A colourful soldier of fortune, a great adventurer, Captain Smith travelled far and wide. Born in Lincoln, he saw war in Hungary, fought the Turks (and cut off quite a few heads) and set sail for America.
Captain Smith established Jamestown in Virginia, the first permanent English settlement on the continent. He was also the first to map out the coastline of Chesapeake Bay and the coast of New England.
When Jamestown was established in 1607, Pocahontas was still a young 10 year old girl, the daughter of Powhantan, ruler of many tribes in the Chesapeake. Barely a few months after his arrival, Smith was captured by the Native Indians and brought before Powhantan, surrounded by men with clubs, and he feared his end had come. Pocahontas approached Smith, leant her head against his body and all was forgiven. Relations flourished between the English and the Native Americans and the chief began to call him his son. Pocahontas was free to enter the town with her envoys and enjoyed learning more about the English language and culture.
But peace was not to last. The drought of 1609 meant food was scarce and the English demands began to threaten the survival of the Native Americans. Smith approached Powhatan, thinking all would be worked out. There was a plot afoot to kill him, warned by Pocohontas. Her father’s tribe moved further away and little was heard of the young girl until she was in turn captured by an English group of men looking for food, and brought back to Jamestown as a prisoner, hoping to be useful in exchange for captured English colonists.
The plan was abandoned, and she was educated in Christianity, and denounced her tribal beliefs and family. She married John Rolfe, had a child and they sailed for England where she was presented as visiting royalty. Planning to return to America, Pocahontas, now known as Rebecca, became gravely in and died at Gravesend, where she is buried.
Smith returned to England. He died in 1631 and is buried here. The story of Captain Smith and Pocohantas was not so much the romance as Disney would want you to believe.
YE OLDE CHESHIRE CHEESE PUB
Mark Twain, along with Dickens, PG Woodhouse, Samuel Johnson and many other literary greats are said to have visited this pub which dates back to the 16th Century. The pub you see here was built after the Great Fire of London in 1666.
Image courtesy of Coutours
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Right up there with Westminster Abbey and the White Tower, as one of the oldest buildings in London, is Temple Church. Dating back as far as the 12th century, the circular church represents the church on the Mount in Jerusalem, the birthplace of the Templar Order. The church contains effigies of Crusaders, assisted by the Templars and are not actual graves.
Some may recognise the temple as an important film location in Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code.’ in 2006. Temple church as survived the crushing of the Knights Templar by Pope Clement in 1307, the Great Fire of London in 1666 and a bomb during WWII.
TWO TEMPLE PLACE
A quirkier location in London you would be hard to find. This is the home of the Astor Family, a prominent American family with a history as colourful as the interiors of the building. Today the building is managed by The Bulldog Trust, a charitable organisation and is hired out for exhibitions and events.
William Waldorf Astor was born in NYC in 1848. He inherited a large fortune from his father and grand-father in 1890, built up over three generations in the property market. William however, was not enamoured with America, the press in particular and had a constant fear that his family would be kidnapped for ransom.
His vision of establishing a home in England led to the acquisition of Cliveden in 1890. Other homes included Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, another in Brighton and a large home in Sorrento.
Requiring an office and a lavish London base, he commissioned architect John Pearson - with an unlimited budget. Very specifically, his passions for art, literature, history and mythology needed to be reflected throughout the house. Some examples are:
The cherub with the telephone.
The columns in the entrance hall are carved to represent the Three Musketeers.
The Great hall features up to 54 characters, from Pocohantas, Ophelia, Marie Antoinette, Robin Hood and Maid Marion, all chilling together, alongside Cleopatra and Marc Anthony. There are a number of them.
Astor bought a number of newspapers, The Observer amongst them and was known to be a great philanthropist. He was awarded citizenship in 1899 and a Peerage under title of Heever Castle in 1916.
William Astor died at the age of 59 in the Bahamas. He is buried in the Octagon Temple at Cliveden. Two Temple Place was opened to the public as a gallery in October 2011.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN HOUSE
Image courtesy of Britain Express
Benjamin Franklin lived in this house between 1757 and 1775, and this is believed to be the only surviving house that Franklin lived in, right in the heart of London.
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was known as a philosopher, inventor, diplomat, scientist, writer and founding father of the United States of America. He is the only statesman to have signed all four documents in the creation of this new nation; The Declaration of Independence, The Treaty of Alliance with France, The Treaty of Paris, bringing peace with Britain, and The Constitution. Quite the man.
Arriving in London, he took up lodgings in the house, run as a boarding house by Mrs. Margaret Stevenson. A few quirky rumours about Dr.. Franklin.
It is said that Dr. Franklin liked to have ‘air baths’, in front of the window. It is believed that he also formed a relationship with Mrs. Stevenson and later her daughter in the time he stayed there. His role as an Ambassador to England from the United States was important, but he found plenty of time to continue to write articles, letters and contribute to the Craven Street Gazette. He had a very full and happy social life, and did not seem to worry all that much about his wife and family back home!
TRAFALGAR SQUARE AND GEORGE WASHINGTON
George Washington, also known as the ‘ Father of the Nation’ and First President of the United States. He was elected twice. Soldier and statesman, Washington led the Patriotic Forces to victory in the American Revolutionary War. He resigned the commission when the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783.
An excellent leader, he was also a man of conscience. At first, he himself owned over a hundred slaves, but by the 1770’s he found this problematic and in his will, allowed for the release of Image courtesy of Wikipedia
twelve, one a man named William Lee. The other 123
slaves were to be given their freedom on the death of his wife, Martha. She released them all before her death.
The statue you see here in Trafalgar Square has an interesting twist. It is alleged that Washington, born in England and a citizen of Britain, vowed never to set foot on English soil again. The statue standing here stands on Virginia soil.
Despite this, the English had a great deal of respect for George Washington. The King called him ‘the greatest man of the age.’
Tucked away at the bottom of a narrow alley, plopped between vintage wines and elegant hats, lies Pickering Place. Step into the smallest square in London and surround yourself with 18th century architecture, gas lamps and imagine the secretive duels which took place here. It is said that even the dandy, Beau Brummel, took part in one here.
Image courtesy of LondonxLondon.
Beneath these pavers are huge vaults belonging to Berry Bros. The thickly painted panels used to line the front of the shop. There is a plaque, placed by the Anglo-Texan Society in 1963, commemorates the Texan Embassy that rented a premises here, from Berry Bros between 1842 and 1845. Texas then joined the other states of America. An outstanding debt/rent of £160 pounds was settled by the Society.
THE STAFFORD HOTEL
We are blessed to have in London, two American Bars. One in The Savoy, and one in The Stafford. Personally I love this quirky, hat bedecked bar, and especially the story of Nancy Wake, who has no ties to any Americans, but lived there towards the end of her life and loved a gin and tonic at 10 in the morning.
The American Bar is so named for the American soldiers who frequented the hotel during the Second World War.
Image courtesy of TripAdvisor
They continue to keep the atmosphere similar to the early cocktail bars, and create cocktails celebrating key moments in US History - for example, ‘The Raven’, in honour of the American Poet, Edgar Allen Poe.
Image courtesy of Royist
‘Little America in London.’ Dating back as far as the late 18th century, this square has been associated with Americans, living in or visiting London. Between 1785 and 1788, John Adams, 1st United States Minister to the court of St. James’s and the 2nd US President stayed here, on the corner of Brook and Duke Street.
Talking of Brook street, Jimmy Hendrix lived there briefly in June 1969, which is a museum now.
The beautiful green square in the heart of Mayfair belongs to the Grosvenor family, the Duke of Westminster. During the war, General Dwight Eisenhower established a US Military headquarters at 20 Grosvenor Square, Whilst running the operations for the D-Day landings, this square was known as ‘Eisenhower platz.’
The Duke of Westminster granted a piece of land in the square, in 1947, for the erection of a statue dedicated to President Roosevelt. The statue was funded entirely by British Citizens, showing their support for the relations between Britain and the United States. The statue, designed by Sir. William Reed Dick, was unveiled by his wife in 1948, in the presence of the Royal family and many other important dignitaries.
In 1960, the Brutalist building you see before you on the west side of the square, was commissioned as the new home of the US Embassy, designed by an American, Eero Saarinen, with the brief that it blended in naturally with the style of Grosvenor Square (not so sure about that.)
Only six floors are above ground, the rest below. The exterior facade is Portland Stone and the Eagle above has a 35 foot wingspan, inspired by a carved, wooden eagle in the New England museum. The embassy moved to Nine Elms in 2018. It is the only US Embassy on land not owned by the US.
The Embassy has since been bought by the Qatari Royal Family and is scheduled to open as a five star hotel.
Another statue you will find in the square, is that of President Ronald Reagan, the 40th US President, also made from bronze as the one of Eisenhower. This was unveiled on the 4th of July.
The obelisk is the Eagle Squadron Memorial. Consisting of a Portland Stone column, surmounted by a bronze sculpture of the American Bald Eagle, sculpted by Dame Elizabeth Frink.
Before the US entered the war, many Americans wanted to volunteer for the RAF to fight against Nazi Germany. This was illegal, as they could only fight for the US and many did so illegally, or using fake Canadian papers. More than 600 applied. After Pearl Harbour and the inclusion of the US into the war, there were more than 80 Eagle Squadrons. These were later quietly incorporated into the US military.
Sponsored by the Hearst Foundation, the monument was unveiled on the 12th May, 1986. Inscribed are the names of the 244 American and 16 British fighters.
‘They came not as warriors in search of conflict, but rather as crusaders in the cause of liberty. They became brothers in arms to their British colleagues …’
The beautiful pergola and created garden in Grosvenor Square, is a memorial to the British victims of September 11th, 2001, who died in the terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania, Washington and Shanksville. Beneath the memorial is buried, a half-ton steel girder taken from ruins of the One World Trade Centre in New York.
The garden, opened by the Princess Royal in 2003, contains flowers from Britain and the United States. The flowers bloom in September. The white, Bianca rose, is prominent here. The rose was part of the bouquet carried by Queen Elizabeth at the memorial and each family placed the white rose outside the Abbey. On the first anniversary of the tragedy, more than 30 000 white petals were dropped from the whispering gallery in St. Pauls to honour the victims.
The inscription on the pergola reads: ‘Grief is the price we pay for love.’
Coutours has an American in London tour that includes this and much more. For further information on this private tour, please contact Emma. firstname.lastname@example.org
As a tour guide and a lover of London, I will be writing a series of interesting stories about London; tales I have heard, places I have visited, tasty food I have eaten and delicious drinks I have enjoyed. Watch out for this every week or so.