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The Hairy Handed Gent's Guide to London

From Soho in the rain to places to run amok in Kent, where to howl at the moon in Mayfair, and all the good places for Beef Chow Mein and Pina Coladas, the discerning werewolf’s guide to London

rain 15 °C

London is teeming with werewolves. You can hardly escape them.

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I just missed capturing in full view this werewolf as he strolled down Piccadilly Street. He was about to attack the woman with the rollerbag suitcase, but saw my camera and dashed out of the frame. I clicked quick enough to just get a partial view of his hairy face in the frame.

I was reminded of this fact recently in of all places Toronto. I was listening to the top-40 radio station that was previously called The Mix but has now been rebranded as Virgin Radio. Sir Richard Branson slaps his Virgin logo on yet something else. He’s almost has hard to escape as the werewolves.

The radio was playing a new song by Kid Rock which seemed to consist of Kid Rock singing over the music from the verses of Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon and the chorus of Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Hearing the bits of the Warren Zevon song got me thinking about all the places named in Werewolves of London, and I decided I should go and check them out, keeping of course a gun loaded with silver bullets and a vial of holy water handy, just in case.

For those that don’t know the song, or those that know it and after being reminded of it want to hear it, you can listen to it on youtube and check out the lyrics at this site.

I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand
Walking through the streets of Soho in the rain

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In the centre of the West End is the area of Soho, a diverse area of high street shops, pubs and clubs (for both the gay and straight crowds), sex shops and residences for both the rich and the poor.

The area’s name comes from the 17th century, when the area was used for hunting. “Soho,” the hunters would call, “there is the fox.” No wonder werewolves stalk the area, they are looking for payback for the hunting of their canid brothers.

Soho seems a fitting place for werewolves, really, given the number of places that seem to cater to our most animalistic of desires, those for food, drink, sex and dance music.

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He was looking for a place called Lee Ho Fook's
Going to get himself a big dish of beef chow mein

If a werewolf was stalking from beef chow mein, Soho would be a good place to do it. There is some debate whether Chinatown is part of Soho or not, but it certainly is very close to it.

Lee Ho Fook’s is the name of a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown, on the pedestrianized Gerrard Street at numbers 15-16.

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The next part I wasn’t so much looking forward to, that of the eating of Lee Ho Fook’s offerings. Perhaps werewolves, used to supping on the raw flesh of the wiry “little old ladies” that they mutilated last night, aren’t too particular about their asian cuisine. However, the fully human customers who had reviewed the place online were unanimous in their view that the place sucked. However, as any great artist suffers for his art, I was prepared to suffer through a meal at Lee Ho Fook’s.

By art, I mean my writing, and by writing, I mean this blog. Many will dispute that this blog constitutes art. In fact, there are probably a group that would dispute the assertion that this is even writing, but I digress.

Luckily for both my art and my stomach, Lee Ho Fook’s had this sign posted on the door.

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Saved by renovations!

I did, however, go to another Chinese restaurant and get a beef and noodle dish, just to keep in the spirit of the thing.

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He's the hairy-handed gent who ran amuck in Kent
Lately he's been overheard in Mayfair

While the song is about London, there is this one mention of someplace that is actually not in London. Kent is a county to the south-east of London which includes both the white cliffs of Dover and the entrance to the channel tunnel. I haven’t been to Kent, other than travelling through it on my way to Brighton and France. I mean, it sounds a scary place, what with werewolves running amuck.

Canterbury is in Kent, which is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury who is the chief Bishop of the Anglican Church. The current Archbishop is one Rowan Williams, who if you look at pictures of him, you might think him a rather hairy individual. Hmmm, werewolves in Kent and a hirsute bishop. Coincidence?

Unlike Kent, Mayfair is in London. Mayfair is just to the west of Soho and bordered on the other side of Hyde Park. The area, named after the annual fair that used to be held in the area, was one of the most fashionable residential areas in the 17th and 18th century.

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Over the years the area has converted to being a mostly commercial district, including being home to a number of the most expensive and exclusive hotels in London, including places like the Ritz and Claridge’s

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Well, I saw Lon Chaney walking with the Queen

Mayfair is bordered on the south by Green Park, which, along with St. James’ Park forms the beautiful park area surrounding Buckingham Palace.

Now, I have never seen the Queen out walking, and in fact right now she is off on summer vacation, but I think if she was to walk, she would probably take a stroll along The Queen’s Walk in Green Park.

The Queen’s Walk was built by Queen Caroline, wife of King George II, as a walk towards the Queen’s Basin, a large reservoir in the park. The reservoir is gone now, filled in by Queen Victoria (I guess she wasn’t a fan of water), but the walk still exists today.

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I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic's
His hair was perfect

The Trader Vic’s in London is in the Hilton Hotel just north of Hyde Park Corner in Mayfair, one of the many previously mentioned luxury hotels in the area.

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While this was my first visit to the London brand of Trader Vic’s, I had been at a Trader Vic’s before when I was in Beverly Hills. No werewolves in Beverly Hills that I saw, though the place does have a few monsters of it’s own. Reconstructed by plastic surgery and kept alive by injections of platypus’s placentas and nightly sleeps in their oxygen chambers, some of the old codgers weren’t much more than Frankenstein’s Monster with better credit. The place is so image conscious that I can’t imagine a werewolf would have to spend long in Beverly Hills before someone would be suggesting a “really good doctor” to apply a course of laser hair removal treatments.

Trader Vic’s in London is much like Trader Vic’s in Los Angeles, in that it is a tacky Polynesian theme.

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I had a Pina Colada, though I don’t think anyone mistook me for a werewolf. After spending a morning wandering around in the rain in Soho, my hair was much less than perfect.

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Better stay away from him
He'll rip your lungs out, Jim
I'd like to meet his tailor

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I don’t know where werewolves have their clothes tailored, however if they really have perfect hair and hang out in bars in Mayfair, then they probably wear bespoke. In London, the place to buy your tailor made suits is Savile Row. Werewolves shopping in one of the many tailors along Savile Row could find themselves rubbing shoulders with Prince Charles, Daniel Craig and Jude Law.

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Savile Row used to be a posh residential area, but like other areas in Mayfair, turned to commercial properties in the 18th century with tailors starting to populate the area. The area became well known for bespoke tailoring by 1846, when the “founder” of Savile Row, Mr. Henry Poole inherited his father’s tailoring business at No. 32.

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As we continue into the new millennium, though, Savile Row is in danger. The rise of men’s fashion houses in France and Italy along with the rise of rents in central London threaten the existence of the tailors along the row. So get out there and buy your suits now, while you still can.

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Good thing it was only a half moon. A full moon and I probably would have had my lungs ripped out.

Enjoy London, lycanthropes
Werewolves of London

Posted by GregW 08:31 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Olympic Fever - 4 Years Out - Get Innocuated Now!

A tour of the Olympic Site in Stratford doesn't reveal much of London's 2012 Olympic Plans

sunny 23 °C

Did you watch the Beijing opening ceremonies? I did, one of the few pleasures of living in the most expensive city in the world with no job is the ability to watch stupid stuff on TV in the middle of the day.

I absolutely loved the footprints walking from Tiananmen Square to the Olympic site. I was absolutely gutted to learn later that what we saw on TV was just some CGI hocus-pocus. Damn computers! At least this video shows that the fireworks did appear in real life, and were probably worth seeing in real life. Too bad we at home didn't get the chance.

It's a little bitter sweet watching the 2008 Olympics, as this was the second Olympics in the past 12 years where Toronto lost to the winning city. We also lost a the 1996 Games to Atlanta (coming third behind Athens, who got 2004's games). Of course, given the poor showing so far of Canada's Olympic team, perhaps it's best that we didn't win. It would be quite embarrassing to not win at home, as Canada did during the 1976 in Montreal, when we earned the distinction of being the only host country to never win a gold medal.

Anyway, all this Olympic talk had be wondering how London is doing getting ready for their shot at the games in 4 years time. I know that they are doing something, as the DLR (which runs between Olympic sites in Greenwich and Stratford) and Jubilee lines (which runs between central London and Stratford) seem to be constantly under construction, so something is going on.

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But I was a little more curious than that, and took the tube up to Stratford to see what I could of the main Olympic site.

Here's what it looks like!

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Umm, okay. Not quite. That's a picture of what it will look like, hopefully, in 4 years time. What it really looks like today is this...

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...mounds of dirt, earth movers and construction cranes. At least, that's what it looks like at the few places you can actually see inside the site. Mostly, you just get a view of blue hoarding covered up with Olympic posters...

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They are pretty posters though, and the inspiring pictures can't help but put a bit of excitement about the event in 2012 in your step.

I walked all around the site. Mostly it's highway, hoarding and big trucks. The very west side is bounded by the River Lee (navigation channel), and so you get a bit of a different view of the area.

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It's not always grand, as it seems a lot of the area has been left to seed, so you get a fair bit of graffiti and run down buildings.

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That being said, though, there are some very nice and wild parts of the channel, and it's quite quiet, natural and peaceful for most of it. The geese seemed to like it.

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So, with 4 years to go, I guess there is still lots of time to turn the blue hoarding, dirt piles and graffiti'd buildings into something spectacular. I'm not getting too excited just yet...

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...but still, I think 2012 is probably going to be pretty cool.

Posted by GregW 05:00 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Sheep And The City

A visit to Mudchute Farm (which sounds dirty in a sexy way, but is just dirty in a cow patty kind of way)

sunny 22 °C

My photo of the day.

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It was taken at Mudchute Farm, which is just down the street from my flat. Mudchute is kind of an odd name, I will admit. The area is named such because much of it is land fill from the creation of the docks to the north and west of the area. Silt from the channels and basins dug for nearby Millwall Dock were dumped on the area using a conveyor system - the mud chute.

The area, with the rich soil from the river bottom and marsh quickly blossomed (literally) and became both a park and a farm. The park, just south of the farm, was the original field where Millwall FC played their games in the late 1800s. They then bounced around to a few different locations before landing on the south side of the river in an area that definitely isn't Millwall, but the Lions still kept the Millwall name.

The farm today provides allotment gardens for those that want to grow their own fruits and vegetables.

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In addition, they have pigs, chickens, llamas and donkeys on display for the kids.

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But the coolest thing is the sheep and cow pasture, where you can wander around and get right up close and personal with the animals. The sheep and cows are pretty used to humans, and you can go right up and pet them, if you so wish.

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Right after I took this picture, the black cow came up and took a good, long sniff at my camera, trying to figure out if it was edible. Luckily, she figured out it wasn't, and moved on. Saves me from having to buy a new camera!

Posted by GregW 07:00 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Zero Degrees Thai and Stopping the Floods

From Greenwich Park's Thai Zero Longitude Festival, along the Thames Path to the Thames Barrier and the Woolwich Foot Tunnel

semi-overcast 22 °C
View Exploring A New Home on GregW's travel map.

I woke up to a sunny day, so decided to head across the river to Greenwich and catch a bit of the Thai @ Zero Longitude Festival. It's called such because it takes place in Greenwich Park, and thus is at 0 degree Longitude.

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As these types of events are meant for cultural learnings, here's what I learned (or in some cases, had re-enforced).

Thai food is good food.
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Thai women are very pretty...
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...even if sometimes you aren't quite sure about their origins.
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Thailand makes wine. Monsoon Valley Winery and Vineyards produces three wines from 3 different wine growing regions in Thailand. The wines have won awards at events in London and France. I had a glass of the red and can say it is fruity.
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Thai boxing in London seems a very popular pursuit with people who are not native Thai, like the young boy inside the Thai ring today.
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Thailand's classical music sounds, to my ears, much like the sound of a harp being fed through a wood chipper.

If it's a sunny day, it's good to just crash out on the grass and relax.
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- - -

After a while sitting on the grass, I started to feel a little sluggish. Probably a combination of the food settling in my stomach, the wine going to my head (which was already a little fuzzy from a Saturday night drink-up) and the sun beating down on me, so I figured it was best to move.

I decided to complete a journey that I had contemplated the first time I was in Greenwich, and headed out to see the Thames Barrier. I took a short-cut, skipping over much of the industrial lands I went through last time, and picked up the Thames Path on the other side of the O2 arena.

Less industrial than the Thames Path between central Greenwich and the O2, the Thames Path from the O2 towards the Thames Barrier still has a somewhat rundown feel to it, mostly due to the fact that the tide was low and thus a good portion of the river bottom was exposed, leaving boats stranded in the mud and revealing the garbage of human contact with the river.

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There was still some industry along the way, but mostly it was hidden behind large retaining walls. Every once and and while, though, you'd find a place where the industry had leaked out onto the recreational walkway of the Thames Path.

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I can only assume this was a beach manufacturing plant, otherwise what would they use that sand for?

- - -

In my last entry, I talked about the Great Fire of London. Keeping up with the theme of disasters befalling London, there has been a number of floods to have damaged the city, mostly storm surges and high tides coming up the River Thames.

On 7 December 1663, Samuel Pepys (who we read some of in my last blog entry) recorded in his diary "There was last night the greatest tide that ever was remembered in England to have been in this river all Whitehall having been drowned". In 1236 the river is reported as overflowing "and in the great Palace of Westminster men did row with wherries in the midst of the hall".

The worst flood is perhaps the 1953 North Sea Flood, which killed over 2,100 people, including 307 in England. So it was that the Thames Barrier in Greenwich was constructed, completed in 1984.

The Thames Barrier is a flood control mechanism downstream of London that is meant to block storm surges and unusually high tides from flooding the city. That's good news for me, leaving as I do on the flood plain / reclaimed marsh of Isle of Dogs.

For something with such an important function, it sure is pretty, with its Art Deco-ish, shiny silver hoods poking up out of concrete pilings.

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The barrier works by having a gate lying flat along the river bottom, allowing boats to pass through the barrier. If a surge is predicted, however, the gates swing up from the river bottom and rise up 5 stories in the air to block the oncoming surge. The gates have been raised over 100 times since opening in 1984.

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(If you can't quite picture how the thing works, check out this webpage, which has a diagram of the gates and how they work about half way down).

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So the 9 pillars and 10 gates of the Thames Barrier stand guard, like sentries, ready to protect their upstream charges, the city of London.

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- - -

My walk wasn't quite over, but the portion on the Thames Path was. The Thames Barrier is the terminus of the Thames Path, that runs 108 miles from the start of the Thames in the Cotswolds down into London.

From the Thames Barrier, I headed towards Woolwich, picking up bits along the river when I could, but having to do a good portion of the walk along the side of rather busy roads.

I eventually arrived at the Woolwich Pier, and having walked somewhere around the equivalent of 10 kilometres, I was ready for an easy ride back.

There was a few different options. On the north bank of the River, the Docklands Light Rail runs back to Isle of Dogs, or I could grab a Thames Clipper boat and take a water ride back to my home. I choose the DLR, mostly because I wasn't sure where the pier for the Thames Clipper was.

As for getting across the river, I had two choices - the free Woolwich Ferry or the Woolwich Foot Tunnel. Another pedestrian tunnel under the Thames? Sign me up!

And so after another kilometre added to my walk for the day, I found a seat on the DLR, leaned against the window and watched the miles of Thames River I'd walked along today rewind. It's good to now that the Thames Barrier is there to ensure that all that water doesn't spill over its banks and wash away my new home.

Posted by GregW 11:05 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Of Ales, Heirs and AERs

How the Great Fire, a brewery, one of the biggest banks in the UK and me all fit together

sunny 20 °C
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In the early hours of September 2nd, 1666 a fire began at a the bakery of Thomas Farriner, baker to King Charles II. According to most accounts, it is likely that Mr. Farriner failed to put out the fire in his ovens, leading to an ember blowing out and igniting nearby straw. Sparks from the bakehouse showered surrounding buildings, and soon the fire spread to the Star Inn in Fish Street. From there, the fire quickly spread to the north, east and west. Only the Thames River stopped the fire from spreading to the South.

The fire, now known as The Great Fire of London burnt for days. Up to 430 acres were affected by the fire, much of them within the city walls. Over 13,000 houses, 87 parish churches, 6 chapels, 3 city gates, four bridges, 52 guild halls, a prison and many famous and important buildings had been destroyed, leaving ten of thousands homeless and ruined.

So important an event is The Great Fire in the history of London that they erected a monument to it. Unfortunately, you can't see it right now, because it is covered in scaffolding as part of a refurbishment, but it is there.

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I won't describe in any more detail the Great Fire, because people much more eloquent than I described the fire in eye witness accounts, including Samuel Pepys. Mr. Pepys was a member of parliament who is now most famous for his diary of his life in London. Mr. Pepys described his view of the multiple days of the fire, which is available online at the European History About pages, taken from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, by Samuel Pepys, transcribed by Mynors Bright and edited by Henry Wheatley, London, 1893. On the 2nd day of the fire, Mr. Pepys was in his boat on the Thames River watching the fire. Eventually the heat, embers and ash blowing across the river was too much for Mr. Pepys.

When we could endure no more upon the water; we to a little ale-house on the Bankside, over against the 'Three Cranes, and there staid till it was dark almost, and saw the fire grow; and, as it grew darker, appeared more and more, and in corners and upon steeples, and between churches and houses, as far as we could see up the hill of the City, in a most horrid malicious bloody flame, not like the fine flame of an ordinary fire. Barbary and her husband away before us. We staid till, it being darkish, we saw the fire as only one entire arch of fire from this to the other side the bridge, and in a bow up the hill for an arch of above a mile long: it made me weep to see it. The churches, houses, and all on fire and flaming at once; and a horrid noise the flames made, and the cracking of houses at their ruins.

That little ale-house on the Bankside was the Anchor pub, the pub attached to the Anchor Brewery, established in 1616 by James Monger. The Anchor Pub still exists, and so we know that the view that Mr. Pepys would have had across the River Thames would have looked something this, however with different buildings, and most of them on fire.

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The Anchor Brewery first came to my attention back in the spring of this year, right about the time I had decided to move to the United Kingdom.

I had picked up a booked called "Beer: The Story of the Pint; The History of Britain's Most Popular Drink" by Martyn Cornell. The book is a pretty heavy read, starting with the first known brews in ancient Egypt with a lot of scientific crap on how different types of beers are brewed and what the OG (original gravitity) of different types of beer are, so it took me many months to get to the half way point of the book, which in the timeline of the book brought me up to the 1700s and 1800s.

The author Mr. Cornell writes about how in the late 1700s a number of Quakers started to get into the brewery business. "Most profession were barred to them because of their beliefs, and an objection to tithes, the tax on farmers imposed by the Church of England, drove them away from agriculture. Once in business their integrity, and their willingness to help each other through difficult times, helped them prosper."

He goes on to talk about how by the end of the century (1700) that two of the biggest breweries in London (and probably the world) were run by Quakers, one of those being the Anchor Brewery in Southwark, which "a knot of Quakers" (according to the previous owner's widow) had bought. One of the names, and probably the most famous, would be the name of BARCLAY (yes, of the banking). According to legend, David Barclay, who was a Quaker banker, was walking across a Thames Bridge when he saw a "For Sale" sign on the brewery wall, and decided to buy the brewery so that his nephew Robert would have a career. The tale is probably urban myth as the brewery manager prior to the sale was John Perkins, who was also a Quaker, and as such likely was the one who alerted David Barclay to the sale, especially seeing as he became on the investors and co-owners of the brewery.

Four Quaker families went in to become partners on the purchase of Anchor Brewery (later renamed the Barclay Perkins Brewery) - Barclay, Perkins, Bevan (partners with Barclay in banking) and (potentially later after the sale) GURNEY.

That was the only mention of the name Gurney I found in the book. Gurney is not specifically mentioned in the original sale information about the Anchor Brewery on page 117, but mentioned specifically on page 172, where the book says, "Like other breweries, even the biggest, Barclay Perkinds was a family-run business. Even in 1889 the partners were all descendants of the Barclay, Perkins, Bevan and Gurney familes who were the original investors in the concern in 1781."

I couldn't find much on the Internet regarding the Barclay and Gurney connection, save for an article which talks about a bank in Norwich called Gurney and Co joining an amalgamation of 20 banks under the name Barclay & Co. Ltd. in 1896, though this would suggest that the banks merged long after any Gurney was investing with Barclay on a brewery.

According to another history of English breweries, the brewery was Barclay and Perkins until 1955, when it merged with Courage breweries.

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The brewery finally closed in 1981. At that time, the site underwent a redevelopment and the remains of the ancient GLOBE THEATRE (yes, THAT Globe Theatre) were found in 1989, and "and after seven years of campaigning led by Sam Wanamaker, a reconstructed Globe Theatre was opened to the public in August 1996 with a performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, the first production held on the site for more than 350 years."

The site of the Brewery is now a Premier Inn, and the pub house itself has undergone a number of extensions and refurbishments over the years, but it still has a nice character, a large patio on to the River Thames and even a few hand pumped ales on tap.

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Now, many of you (especially those not related to me) will probably wonder why I have done so much research into this brewery and the names of Barclay and Gurney. My grandmother, who was the one whom I claimed ancestry from when first coming to London, had the maiden name Gurney.

My father, uncle and a cousin have done a lot of research into our genealogy and as far as we know, I have no family connection to the Gurneys who were the bankers and brewers. Too bad for me, and lucky for the folks at Barclays Bank, I think. Otherwise, I probably would have already marched into the Barclays office to collect my inheritance and demand a job.

"Hey there, I'm here to see Mr. Varley about my job. I was thinking Vice President. No, no, you're right. That's probably a little too junior for me. Senior Vice President? Nah, probably want to stretch a little bit. Don't want to make a lateral move. Executive Vice President. That seems right. So, will Mr. Varley see me now?"

I could do it too. Barclays is headquartered at Canary Wharf. I could walk there in 20 minutes.

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Posted by GregW 01:36 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

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