The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 32, August 12, 2007, Article 18


My work week got busier and busier and I stayed later at the office
each night.  On Thursday I didn't leave until nearly 11pm.  On the tube
home the driver announced, "we're stopping at this station for a few
minutes so we can clean up some vomit on the first car."  That was
just what I needed to hear as I attempted to digest a few pieces of
late-evening pepperoni pizza from the office.  The driver came on
the loudspeaker a couple minutes later and said, "Really, it's only
vomit, there's no need to look down the car."   I wasn't among those
looking - all I wanted was to get back to my hotel.

At 6am my alarm rang and by seven I was standing outside on my suit
and tie.  Three of us hopped into a car driven by our client.  We
circled around some local street closures, then alongside Hyde Park
to Marble Arch.  The large archway was built as an entrance to
Buckingham Palace, but it was later moved and reassembled at the
southwestern corner of Hyde Park.  Here we turned onto Edgeware
Road heading north out of London.  This is the beginning of what
is now the A5 expressway, following a route originally paved by
the Romans.

We arrived in Leavesden well before our 9am meeting.  The building
had a café in the lobby, and our client offered to buy us breakfast.
I'm not a ham and eggs person on a good day and would have been happy
with some toast or cereal.  But the café was mainly offering hot
wrapped sausage sandwiches, basically sausage hot dogs.  Everyone
bought one.  When in Rome, do as the Romans do, I thought.  So I
ate a sausage hot dog for breakfast.

Our meetings went well, thanks in part to our preparation work the
night before.  But a lack of sleep was catching up on me.  I had to
concentrate to not doze off as others droned on.  But that wasn't
my biggest problem - that would be the silent sausage farts.  My
biggest fear was that I'd fall asleep and my colleagues would wheel
me out of the room so I would stink up the hallway instead.  But
the storm passed and a supply of caffeinated cola kept me awake.

About 5 o'clock our client dropped us at a train station and we
took the tube back into London.  We worked until 6:30 or so, then
walked toward the Lowlander Pub in Covent Garden, where we'd been
a few Fridays before.  My co-worker, who's usually very good with
London directions, ended up detouring us a good bit out of our way,
but it gave me a chance to see Covent Garden Market again.  The
place was alive with hoards of people.  An acrobat entertained by
juggling while riding a unicycle on a rope suspended between two
columns.  Tourists were having their photo taken with a man dressed
as a statue of a Roman soldier.  A sign chiseled in a nearby wall
noted that Samuel Pepys watched his first Punch puppet show near
the site in May 1662.  Over three centuries later, the place was
still a magnet for street entertainers.

We finally got to the pub around seven.  Our client joined us later,
along with his wife.  We had some nice conversation, but I was fading
fast - exhaustion was setting in.  I couldn't bear to eat and drink
like the locals - screw the Romans, screw Wild Boar Sausages, and
screw the beer, too.  I ordered a bottle of water and a hamburger.
I left around 9:30 and could barely keep my eyes open.  But I made
it home, looking forward to a good night's rest.

I guess I got my rest - I didn't set the alarm and didn't crawl out
of bed until after 10am.  The forecast was for a sunny day with a high
of 79 degrees Fahrenheit.  That would make it warmest day I've seen my
whole stay in London.  Earlier this week it had hit 102 degrees back
home in Virginia.  Here in London the high was only 70; going to work
in the morning I saw people wearing jackets.  I gladly put on shorts
and a T-shirt, looking the part of a proper American tourist.

I left my hotel around noon.  As I walked to the main street, I
could already tell it was going to be a perfect day, one where the
skies are clear, the air is warm, and all the women are beautiful.
Alongside Prince Alfred pub, a florist displayed colorful cut flowers
for sale.  I wanted to buy my wife a bouquet, but she and my kids
were thousands of miles away.

Wishing to try something different for lunch, I walked into Halal, a
local eatery run by a Muslim.  I hadn't been in before, but was impressed
with the cleanliness and brightness of the place.  I ordered a chicken
curry dish, and it was very good.  As I paid my bill I noticed some Euro
coins in the tip plate.  I asked the manager about the exchange rate,
and then offered to pay in pounds for the coins.  He agreed, and I took
the coins - two fifty cent coins of country different designs, and a
twenty cent and ten cent coin.

I walked into my regular Queensway tube station.  As I turned the
corner onto the platform, a train was just arriving.  See - I just
knew it would be a perfect day.  I hopped on and exited at the Holborn
station.  One woman walking near me had a little dog walking ahead of
her on a leash.  A woman up ahead of me was wearing a pair of jeans
cut a little bit too low around the waist, revealing an inch or so of,
shall we say, "cleavage".  She must have felt a breeze (or my eyeballs)
and gave her pants a tug upward.

On the way to my destination was Sir John Soane's museum.  This time
there was no wait to enter and I went in for some unfinished business.
I made a beeline for the Napoleonic medal set on the second floor.
The sunlight beaming through the window made it easy to see the medals
this time.  I confirmed Tuesday evening's impression - the medals were
generally in superb shape, although some could benefit from some
conservation work.

Two small holes in the trays were unfilled, causing me to wonder if they
had ever been filled.  Two round patches of background material less faded
by sunlight than the surrounding areas made me suspect two larger medals
had either been lost or (hopefully) taken by the curators for study or
conservation.  One of them had suspended via a hole or bezel - a small
nail remained behind.  My favorite medal?  There on many, particularly
those with very high relief.  They had allegorical motifs, nudes, Gods,
warriors and of course, Napoleon.

In the daylight I could read the spines of many of the books I saw.
Remember, Soane was an architect and he used his collections and
library partly for the education of himself and his pupils.  Some of
the books were tour guides and town histories, undoubtedly acquired
for information on old buildings.  Some titles included "Walks Through
Bath", "Beauties of England and Wales", "Oxford Guides", "Winchester &
Cambridge", "History of Exeter" and a four-volume set of "Hughson's

Before leaving I took a quick walk around, and it was a better
experience now that the rooms were better lit.  Light poured through
the windows and skylight domes.  Outside in the court I could see
Soane's tall monument to the family dog, inscribed "Alas / Poor Fanny".

The Picture Room revealed its secrets.  I had wondered why it contained
so few paintings.  It didn't.  Today I could see that the walls open up
on hinges, an ingenious space-saving design revealing many more paintings
and prints behind on hinged panels.  Many are paintings and drawings
of Soane's architectural designs.  On a shelf is a scale model of
Soane's South Front of the Bank of England.

Once outside I decided to walk through Lincoln's Inn Fields, a city
park across the street.  It is the largest public square in London
and is thought to have been one of the inspirations for New York's
Central Park.  The trees are a wonder - with trunks measuring several
feet across, they must be centuries old.  The oldest building facing
Lincoln's Inn Fields is Lindsey House, built in 1640.  At nearby
Powis House, the charter of the Bank of England was sealed in July

As I continued my walk I heard the beep-beep-beep of a construction
vehicle backing up.  It was a flatbed truck (pardon me, "lorry")
carrying wooden timbers, perhaps for scaffolding.  Construction
cranes towered nearby.  I imagined John Soane's excitement if he
could be with me today - he'd probably run over to the site
foreman's office, imploring to be shown the plans.

I passed the Courts of Justice and Law Society on Chancery Lane.
A plaque on one building noted what had been lost to earlier
construction: "Site of Old Serjeant's Inn 1415-1910".

My destination was the home of Samuel Johnson, author of the first
major dictionary of the English language.  An elderly couple from
Chicago that I'd met at the Benjamin Franklin house recommended it,
but noted that it was difficult to find in narrow lanes off Fleet
Street.  So onto Fleet Street I turned.  A double-decker tour bus
passed by.  Across the street was a tall, narrow building housing
Ye Olde Cock Tavern.

Following my map I came to Pemberton Row. There was a construction
fence and another tall crane.  But the fence held clues that I was
drawing near.  Painted on the fence were definitions of interesting
English words, including: "Equinumerant - Having the same number",
"Discalceation - The act of pulling off the shoes", "Circumferaneous
- Wandering from house to house ' 'A circumferaneous fiddler, one
that plays at doors.'"

Around a corner I walked onto Gough Street and spotted my goal, but
my heart sank as a read the sign on the locked gate: "Dr. Johnson's
house will be closed today..."   But I was relieved to read the rest:
"... between 1-2 pm".  I was even more relieved as I checked the time
on my mobile phone: 1:57pm.   The admission was 4.50 GBP.  I pulled
out a fiver and waited.  I was soon joined by five other people.

A pretty blond woman walked out of the house and clapped with
excitement - "Ooh, a crowd!"   She unlocked the gate and let us in.
I paid my admission and was given a 50 pence coin in return.  I looked
at it disappointedly.  "You should be giving out Johnson coins in change,"
I said.  In 2005 the Royal Mint issued a circulating commemorative 50p
coin in honor of the 250th anniversary of the 1755 publication of
Johnson's Dictionary. Finding one of the coins in change had partly
inspired my visit.

The clerk explained that they'd tried to get a supply of the coins,
but it had taken months to get their order filled by their bank.
They had none in the till, but did offer some uncirculated ones for
sale in Royal Mint packaging.  The gift shop also sold books on
Johnson, including, of course, James Boswell's classic, "The Life
of Samuel Johnson."

In the front hallway, the original front door was secured with two
large deadbolts and an even larger iron chain.  Partway up the stairs
was a small built-in closet that once stored candles, handy when
going upstairs after dark.

At the top of the stair was a nook with chairs and a video player.
I pushed in a tape and watched a 20-minute video with costumed actors
portraying Johnson and Boswell touring the house and discussing
Johnson's life.  He had been born into a poor family in 1728.  He
entered Oxford University but was too poor to complete his studies.
He later found work as a teacher and founded a private academy.  He
only had three pupils, but one was David Garrick, who became Johnson's
friend and later went on to fame and fortune as an actor.  By 1737
Johnson was penniless and he and Garrick set out together to make
their fortunes in London. There he found employment writing for
The Gentleman's Magazine. For the next thirty years, Johnson wrote
biographies, poetry, essays, pamphlets and parliamentary reports.

In 1745 he signed a contract with a publisher to write his dictionary,
worth the equivalent of over $300,000 today.  He thought the project
would take three years; it took a decade.  He moved to the Gough street
house to work on the project and be close to his printer.  Johnson
scoured his extensive library for references, underlining words and
sentences for inclusion in his dictionary.  He had a team of six
clerks working for him in the attic of the house.  They transcribed
the excerpts onto cards and organized them for him.  Johnson would
study the cards and write his definitions.  Eventually the cards
were assembled and prepared for the printer to typeset.

I climbed to the attic workroom.  While Johnson's dictionary was not
the first dictionary of the English language, it was by all accounts
the best to date and came along at a fortuitous time - the declining
cost of printing and the corresponding rise in literacy demanded
clearer standards in meaning spelling, and grammar.  The workroom
was dim, but large enough to accommodate the clerks and their work.
It held no furniture or artifacts relating to his dictionary.  If
there was copy of his original dictionary anywhere in the house, I
did not see it.

So what's the numismatic connection?  Well, we at The E-Sylum love
words, although it's been a while since we've defined an unusual
numismatic term.  That's all that led me here.  But there were
some interesting numismatic items here besides the 2005 commemorative.

In the attic room through 18 September is "Behind the Scenes", an
exhibit on Georgian Theatres 1737-1784.  In one case was a
Shakespearian Jubilee Medallion, a silver medal struck in 1769
to "commemorate the Jubilee organized by David Garrick in Stratford-
Upon-Avon to celebrate the bicentenary of Shakespeare's birth.  The
medal was displayed with its original hanger, ribbon and box.

In another case was a group of 1778 Haymarket entry tokens.  These
were used as admission tickets to the Haymarket Theatre.  The four
apparently polished tokens were encased in Lucite.  Their
inscriptions included the words "Box", "Pit", "First Gall'y" and
"Second Gall'y".  The exhibit text explained that Boxes were for
people "of quality".  The Pit was for "ladies, gentleman and
intellectuals."  The First Gallery was for "tradesmen and their
wives" and the Second Gallery was for "the mob."  [Quick quiz:
name a U.S. numismatic item relating to a theatre. -Editor]

Finally, a third case contained another unusual numismatic item:
"John Philip Kemble's 'George'", a crude-looking medal of "silver
or nickel alloy c1781-1817."  The text explained that "A George
Medal was "... traditionally worn onstage by actors in the role
of Richard III; it depicts George slaying the dragon'.

It was nearly 3pm.  I made my way out of the Johnson house and
found a new passage back to Fleet Street.  The dome of St. Paul's
Cathedral loomed in the distance.  I was thirsty, but passed up
the first shops I encountered - A McDonald's and a Starbuck's.
Not enough of the local color for this numismatourist.

But I soon came across Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese restaurant.  A
sign noted that it was rebuilt in 1667 (after the London fire
of 1666) and was "a known haunt of Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens
and countless others."   To the right of the entrance was a sign:
"Under 15 Sovereigns ... Rebuilt in the reign of Charles II and
continued successively in the reigns of ..."  The sign listed
all monarchs from James II (1685-1688) through Elizabeth II (1952-).

The most telling sign of the restaurant's longevity was the stone
stoop in front of the door - it was worn down several inches by
centuries of patrons' shoes.  A grate above it allows today's
visitors to enter without tripping.  But I didn't need a restaurant,
just a drink.

This being Saturday in the City of London, a booming business
district during the week, many shops were closed.  Local chains
Pret A Manger,  E.A.T. and William H. Smith were closed for the
weekend.  I found an open convenience store and bought a cold Coke

I walked down the street and entered St. Paul's Cathedral.  After
waiting in line with other tourists I bought my ticket and was told
"if you want to climb the dome, you'd better start now - there's
not much time left."  So I found the first of the 400+ steps and
began my ascent, but not before marveling at the absolute beauty
and splendor of the magnificent structure.

"Stairway to Heaven" I heard someone quip. The first landing is the
Whispering Gallery, a shelf of seating surrounding the lower part
of the main dome.  A choir began to practice and the sound and view
were heavenly.  Entering another door, I climbed the second set of
stairs to a higher landing.  It's as if Christopher Wren designed
the stairs with tourists in mind; the various landings allow you
to catch your breath before resuming the ascent.  There are also
benches at various points along the stairs.

The final journey is on a narrow winding iron grill stair.  If you
look down, you'll see the faces of others below looking up at you.
The line of people backs up here, as people linger at the very top
before coming back down a separate stair.  At one point in the final
climb, you have to squeeze through a narrow stone doorway.  The trek
is not for the obese, acrophobic, claustrophobic, or discreet women
in skirts.

A one point there is a glass window in the floor at the very center
of the dome.  You can look down from an angel's perch to the floor
of the Cathedral below, where people look like ants.  Near the pinnacle
of the dome you step outside onto a walkway to a magnificent view of
London.  The Thames sparkles below.  Downstream is the Tower Bridge
and Tower of London.  Upstream are the Houses of Parliament, the
Millennium Bridge and the London Eye, the huge Ferris Wheel also
built to celebrate the millennium.  I took some photos, like everyone
else.  What would the architects Wren and Soane think to view their
city from this vantage point today?

The climb down was quick and uneventful.  I entered the American Chapel
at the East End of the Cathedral.  A sign read "This area, originally
containing the high altar, had suffered major bomb damage in October
1940."  Later, downstairs in the crypt, was a placard stating "following
the bombing raid of 29 December 1940, when St. Paul's was seen rising
above the smoke and flame all around, Winston Churchill telephoned
the Guildhall to insist that that Cathedral must be saved at all costs.
St. Paul's was a symbol of the nation's defiance in the dark days of WWII."

After the war, restoration work began on the Cathedral. The replacement
of the high altar area "revived an unfulfilled plan of Sir Christopher
Wren and provided a space for a chapel of great beauty and significance."
The American Chapel was dedicated in November 1958.  The sign
reproduced Winston Churchill's letter about the Chapel:

"Our two countries, parted long ago by war, were brought together
again by war in a unity and understanding such as we had never known.
Through long years of endeavour and endurance we shared all things,
and though we lost so much we found a lasting friendship.  We shall
not forget those gallant American soldiers, sailors and airmen who
fought with us..."

Churchill's was the only non-royal state funeral held in St. Paul's,
on 30 January, 1965.  The others were Nelson and Wellington, who have
huge monuments in the basement crypt.  I lingered a bit, then went
outside to continue my journey.  I followed my map toward The Tower of
London, passing the Bank of England on Threadneedle Street.  By the
time I arrived at the Tower it was 5:30 and too late to enter.  I
walked around the outside of the old structure, and viewed some
remaining parts of the old Roman wall that once encircled the City.
I hopped on the tube and headed home for dinner.

Back at the hotel Saturday evening I did my laundry and worked on The
E-Sylum in my room.  Twice I returned to the laundry room to find that
one of the other guests had mucked with my dryer - after an hour and
a half my clothes were still wet.  I stalked back to my room and brought
my laptop down to the laundry room, where I worked on the E-Sylum with
the computer atop a dryer.  Next one to touch my clothes will find
themselves stuffed into a washing machine with the agitator in an
awkward place.  So my Saturday evening wasn't as glamorous as the ANA
awards banquet in Milwaukee.  But it was a fun day of numismatic

For more information on the Marble Arch, see:

For more information on Covent Garden and Punch and Judy, see
Full Story

For more information on Lincoln's Inn Fields, see:'s_Inn_Fields

For am image of the Samuel Johnson commemorative 50 pence coin, See:

For more information on Samuel Johnson, see:

For more information on the Royal Haymarket Theatre, see

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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