Excerpts from 1,900 word article

LONDON'S SECRET: IT'S A CITY OF VILLAGES



The American was plainly relieved to hear us speaking English, here on King's Road where two others before us hadn't understood his question. We understood the question right enough, and his confusion, but couldn't give the requested directions to "downtown London," because there is no such place. London has its commercial sector, West End theatres and shops, and landmarks around which tourists assemble in flocks. But there is no real core. Instead it is made up of 20 or more villages, and Chelsea, in which we stood discussing this phenomenon with the Albertan, is one of them.

This is a city shaped by history from times when a small river settlement became England's walled capital. As the wall fell into ineffectual ruin, a series of villages attached themselves to the original community. Like squares on a vast patchwork quilt each is different from the rest. Some you will visit without recognizing them as villages. The City for example and Pimlico with Westminster Abbey and the Tate Gallery inside its boundaries. Others are remarkably countryfied, yet less than five miles from Marble Arch or Piccadilly.

The following will give you a glimpse of the Londoner's London, the villages they would rather like to keep to themselves. All can be reached by tube or bus from central London.



GREENWICH

In case you know the name but not the face, I should tell you that Greenwich covers six square miles bordering the Thames, four miles east of St Paul's. The Docklands Light Railway will get you there in no time at all; a river boat is a pleasurable alternative. And I suggest you come early so you can spend the day, exploring this seafaring nation's rich maritime heritage safely stored here ...

Some pretty important people have been associated with Greenwich over the years. Edward 1 was the first of many monarchs to live here. Henry V111 was born here, as were his daughters Mary and Elizabeth. James 1, in 1616, commissioned a new Greenwich residence which remains one of England's grandest architectural gems. Elizabeth 1 knighted Sir Frances Drake aboard the Golden Hind in neighbouring Deptford. Almost 400 years later Elizabeth used the same sword when knighting Sir Francis Chichester at Greenwich....



HAMPSTEAD

Hampstead is a gentrified hideaway with the 800-acre Hampstead Heath, in whose woods badgers and foxes and countless bird species reside, just four miles northwest of Marble Arch ...







HIGHGATE

Close to Hampstead but on even higher ground, Highgate has its own warren of alleys lined with tiny speciality shops. Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital while living in Highgate. A huge monolithic block with Marx's head upon it marks the spot where he is buried in the hilltop cemetery overlooking the city. Open daily and carefully tended by volunteers, the cemetery has pleasantly shaded paths among the plots.....

About halfway down the Highgate Hill, the Whittington Stone topped by a bronze cat is protected by an iron cage. In the children's tale Dick Whittington was an ill-treated lad who ran away from his harsh employer, but turned back at the bidding of Bow Bells which forecast his future as Lord Mayor of London. In reality Richard Whittington was born to wealth, and elected Lord Mayor of London three times. His fortune was so great he made substantial loans to Henrys 1V and V, and died leaving it to charities or for public use.

CHELSEA

Chelsea's houseboats brighten that bland stretch of the Thames by the celebrated Cheyne Walk. An area still attractive to artists and writers, it has had George Elliot, A.A. Milne, Henry James, Dylan Thomas and Thomas Carlisle as residents.

The community's main thoroughfare is King's Road, built by Charles 11 to carry him from Whitehall to Hampton Court...



RICHMOND

Upriver from central London, Richmond has six square miles of park first enclosed by Charles 1 as a hunting ground. With red deer wandering in the park, and ducks waddling about the river, it is hard to believe this is only 30 minutes by tube from Westminster....