The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 35, September 3, 2007, Article 14


Saturday morning I joined a couple of my coworkers for an excursion
to the Imperial War Museum at the former Duxford air field.  We
traveled by train to Cambridge then took a taxi to Duxford.  The
air field, which was the headquarters of the American air force
through much of WWII, houses a marvelous museum of flight.  We
saw some early biplanes, complete commercial aircraft, B25 and
B52 bombers, a Japanese Zero, an a prototype Concorde.  There
is also a museum of land warfare including working tanks.  I
only came across two numismatic displays, both consisting (not
surprisingly) of military medals.  One case housed about 50 medals
"presented by Colonel R.G. Wilkes CBE TD DL".  The collection
included miniature Victoria Cross and George Cross medals, the
British Empire Medal, a Queen's Gallantry Medal, and Gulf and
Iraq medals.

Sunday morning brought a 9:30 phone call from Phil Mernick.
Were we still on for our planned trip to the Greenwich Observatory?
Absolutely.  We agreed to meet at half ten in front of the Mansion
House steps near the Bank station.  Bless him, Phil had emailed
me a picture of the Mansion House with an X marking the meeting
spot.  I knew that a meeting spot outside the station was a good
idea the minute he suggested it.  Meeting up inside would be a
dicey proposition even for locals.  Bank is a rambling junction
of underground lines connected by an interminable number of
walkways and passages, making you wish you had just gone up to
the street and taken a taxi to the other side.

As I stepped onto the street I recognized immediately where I
was - just down the way was the Bank of England on Threadneedle
Street, which I'd walked past a couple weeks earlier on my way
to St. Paul's Cathedral.  I was right next to Mansion House,
which I'd learned from my guidebook on the tube ride was the
official residence of the Lord Mayors of the City of London.
Built in 1753, the palatial mansion is still in use today.
I took a walk around the outside of the huge building while
waiting for Phil and Harry to arrive.

Once we met up, the Mernicks walked me over to a nearby Roman
ruin, the Temple of Mithras.  Discovered in 1954 during the
construction of a nearby office tower, the ruin (primarily a
foundation) was disassembled and reconstructed at modern street
level (the Roman layer is about 18 feet below modern London
street level).  Clearly visible are the bases of seven columns
along each side and a well next to the altar for ritual baths.
Also found at the site were third-century white marble likenesses
of Minerva, Mercury the guide of the souls of the dead, and the
gods Mithras and Serapis.  These are on display in the Museum
of London.

We walked back to the station and got on a train heading toward
Greenwich, but Harry suggested a sightseeing detour. We would
get off at Canary Wharf Station and walk from there.  Canary
Wharf is a huge real estate development project begun about 1981
and now home to England's three tallest buildings.  Canary Wharf
is built on the site of what were once the busiest docks in the
world. Heavily bombed in WWII, the area never fully recovered.
A huge influx of private and public money in the 1980s started
the area toward recovery. A new train line and stations were
built and incorporated into plans for the office towers.  As
the newest line in London's system, our train was fully automated
and driverless.  We sat in the first car facing forward, getting
a rare view of London's tunnels and elevated railways.  It was
like being on a slower version of a Disneyland ride.

While on the subject of the bombings, I asked Harry about his
family's experience during the war.  Their father was a bookkeeper
for a small company and in his off hours was stationed on rooftops
as a fire watchman.  One day at home a German doodlebug bomb
destroyed a pub and row of houses just 50 yards from their house,
and their father's eye was injured by shattered glass.

Their mother had co-owned and managed a drugstore before having
children and becoming a housewife.  But during the war she had a
job as secretary to an Air Raid Precaution warden.  Her office
was in a series of tenements called the Hughes Mansions.  One day
she took off to attend to young Philip - Tuesday 27th March 1945.
That day Hughes Mansions was hit by a German V2 rocket, killing
over 130 people including her boss.  It was the last day V2
rockets hit London.

Canary Wharf was quite nice, but rather deserted since it was a
Sunday.  We walked through the lobby of the main tower and visited
a massive underground station, the largest in the world.  Eventually
we found ourselves in a nice park next to the river Thames.  The
Mernicks pointed out our destination across the river - the
Greenwich Observatory and the nearby Queen's House and the Old
Royal Naval College.

We weren't going to take a train or bus to the other side of
the river - we were going to walk - UNDER it.   On opposite banks
of the river stood two cylindrical domed structures.  These were
the entrances of a pedestrian tunnel (the Greenwich Foot Tunnel),
built beneath the Thames in 1902.  Each of the structures houses
a spiral staircase and a lift (elevator).  We walked down the
stairs on the north bank and rode the lift up on the south bank,
emerging near the Greenwich dock and the Cutty Sark.

Arguably the most famous ship in the world, the Cutty Sark was
launched in 1869 and is the world's sole surviving tea clipper
ship, with the majority of her original hull fabric intact.  On
display in Greenwich, the ship was undergoing a major restoration
effort when struck by a devastating fire on 21st May this year.
I remember the anguished headlines and TV reports that week,
shortly after I first came to London.

Luckily, many of her major features had been removed for conservation.
Although damaged heavily, the restoration effort continues.  We
were unable to view the charred ship which was covered by a huge
tent, but visited the temporary display and gift shop set up in
a small tent next to the Cutty.  The tent's roof was pocked with
repaired holes where embers from the flaming ship burned had
through.  Phil bought a souvenir Spanish piece-of-eight for his
reference collection of coin copies.  I emptied all my pocket
change into the collection box.

After visiting the Cutty Sark we walked onto the grounds of the
Old Royal Naval College.  The grounds are quite historic, like
everywhere else in London, it seems.  It was here that the
royal residence stood for over two centuries.  Henry VIII lived
and jousted here, and it was here that his daughter Queen
Elizabeth I was born and raised.

The "new" buildings of the Old Royal Naval College were designed
by Christoper Wren and begun in 1696.  First we visited the
Painted Hall. Planned to be the hospital's dining hall, it
turned out to be the finest dining hall in the Western world,
decorated with stunning paintings throughout.  Too beautiful
to be used for its original purpose, the room was a little-used
showpiece until the body of Admiral Lord Nelson was brought
there to lie in state in 1802.

The Mernicks knew of another secret little passage - I followed
them down to the basement of the building and we walked through
an underground tunnel to the Chapel on the opposite side of the
courtyard.  I thought the Painted Hall was wonderful, but the
Chapel was simply stunning.  I'd never seen anything like it and
felt it was probably the most beautiful indoor space I'd ever
seen.  The bright light, bright pastel colors and elegantly simple
ornamentation were a wonder.

We weren't done yet - next we visited The Queen's House.  Begun
in 1616 as a private house for James I's queen, Anne of Denmark,
it was completed in 1638.  The design was a radical departure
from the Tudor period and quite controversial in its day.  The
building is said to have been a model for The White House in
Washington, DC., and it's easy to see the resemblance.  You gotta
love the name of the daring architect - Inigo Jones.

We took a break for lunch at a noodle place in the nearby streets
- the original Greenwich Village.  The first shop we came across
proclaimed itself "the first shop in the world" because it stands
next to the primary meridian line - zero degrees longitude.  Next
we visited a local flea market looking for treasures.  Phil picked
up a book called The Collector, a compilation of articles and
illustrations from The Queen newspaper on various collecting topics
including numismatics.  It was published in 1905.  Harry found a
1961 medal with portraits of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.
He collects these medals, but hadn't seen this particular one before.

We hoofed it up the long hill to get to the Royal Observatory,
another Christopher Wren design commissioned in 1675 by King Charles II.
It was here in 1851 that astronomers established the basis of longitude,
the Prime Meridian.  Marked by a long steel strip in the courtyard
(and highlight by laser light at night), it's the spot where tourists
queue up for photos standing with one foot in the western hemisphere
and the other in the east.

The exhibits inside are simply wonderful for anyone with an
appreciation for the history of science.  As I'd learned weeks
earlier when Harry discussed a Royal Mint medal honoring John
Harrison, the Observatory collection includes Harrison's prize-
winning longitude marine chronometer (called H4) and its three
predecessors.  Essential for safe and accurate maritime navigation,
Harrison's invention, which took decades to perfect, is probably
one of the most important machines ever constructed by man.

While at the observatory we also took in a view of London produced
by a camera obscura, where light from a small slit is directed onto
a surface to show a faint outline of an outside scene.   You have
to wait for your eyes to adjust, but an image does appear.

We'd had a fun day but it wasn't over yet.  We walked away from
the Observatory, across a park and caught a bus to the Mernick's
neighborhood in East London.  We passed the Millennium Dome.
After getting off the bus we took a shortcut through a housing
project.  Once in their flat the brothers showed me some of
their literature.

First came a 1623 book by John Speed titled "The Historie of
Great Britaine" - part I, History & Geography.  The book consistently
uses coins as illustrations, and many chapters also include an
illustration of the monarch's official seal.

Next came a four-volume set of Ruding's "Annals of the Coinage
of Britain &c.", 1817 (the plate volume is from 1819).

Finally, we viewed a two-volume 1769 work, "The History and
Antiquities of the Exchequer of the Kings of England".

It was time to call it a day, and Phil walked me to the nearby
tube stop.  I headed back to my hotel and after dinner worked
on completing The E-Sylum.  Many thanks to the Mernick brothers
for their kind tour and company - it was a great experience
having two knowledgeable local guides for an experience above
and beyond the usual tourist routine.

By this time next week my stint in London will be over.  But I
do hope and expect to cram in some more numismatic experiences,
so look for one last London Diary in next week's issue.

To learn the difference between the Mayor of London and the Lord Mayor, see:
Full Story

For more information on the Temple of Mithras, see: Full Story

For more information on Canary Wharf, see:

For more on the Hughes Mansions V2 rocket attack, see:
Hughes Mansions V2

For more information on the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, see

For more information on the Cutty Sark, see:

For more information on the Old Royal Naval College Greenwich, see:

For more information on the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, see:,_Greenwich

For more information on John Harrison, see:'s_timepiece1.htm

For more on the Camera Obscura, see:

To view the web sites of Philip and Harold Mernick, see:

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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