The Palace of Westminster, otherwise known as the Houses of Parliament, is at the center of British life and has been for centuries. How fitting then that we explore some of the landmarks around it which have either featured in or now commemorate some of the great literary achievements this country has seen that sit right at the centre of our culture.
Westminster Abbey is in itself an extraordinary place to visit. From the burial of Edward the Confessor to Will and Kate’s wedding, this astonishing building has played host to some of the most momentous moments in Britain’s history. One tradition that has become a unique institution is Poet’s corner. In what was something of a coup, great poets began to be interred in the South Transept to the chagrin of several traditionalists. However, as with many things, what started as an exception has become the rule: the first was Geoffrey Chaucer and the most recent memorial was to Philip Larkin.
The iconic clock tower has been the subject of many an iconic film scene and is without doubt the most popular landmark to visit in London. But when it comes to a literary legacy, the list is surprisingly shorter. While London is the location for many great novels and the inspiration to many a poet, Big Ben might just be too obvious a choice. However, there is one notable reference which comes in Virgina Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway which uses the bell’s chimes to signpost certain events in the novel.
The heaving commuter hub that is Victoria Station plays a key role in Oscar Wilde’s wildly famous satirical play The Importance of Being Earnest. It features in the most often quoted section of the play to boot where the joke revolves around the fact there were in fact two Victoria stations adjacent to each other, one ramshackle one with lines to the east, and the up-market Brighton line to the west. No such joke is possible now, but Southern Rail of late has proven equally as farcical.
The man’s first language was not even English. Joseph Conrad’s command of language was second to none and he lived only a stone’s throw from Victoria Station and the River Thames, the place where The Heart of Darkness began so ominously.
More widely known as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, this polymath and renowned international diplomat lived in Barton Street while he wrote his most famous work Seven Pillars of Wisdom which documented Lawrence’s role in the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks of 1916 to 1918. Churchill, so famous for his work just a few hundred yards away in parliament, noted of the book that ‘it ranks with the greatest books ever written in the English language.’
Heading away from the political and toward the royal portion of Westminster, this plaque commemorates a father and son pair who called St. James’s Park home for the best part of a century. James Mill was influential in political theory and in particular upon perceptions of the cultural development of British India. His son, John Stuart Mill, followed in the footsteps of his father’s final published work, The Principles of Toleration, by becoming the forefather himself of liberalism. John Stuart Mill is a behemoth of 19th-century philosophy and this plaque in Westminster marks a father-son duo whose work has undoubtedly weighed upon modern society from this quaint house in Queen Anne’s Gate.