Day 5: Other Activities

Day five was so full of activities that I chose to split it into two posts: one specifically regarding my World War 2 research (previously posted) and one just on the general sightseeing and experience. We started the day by getting the tractional tourists picture out of the way. 

Next for the morning was a walking tour of the East End. This is such an interesting part of London- it has had such a diverse history with so many changes. Originally it wasn't even within the city walls. The streets of the East End reflect their history with names such as "Bishopsgate" after one of the ancient city gates and :"Houndsditch" after the ditch beyond the wall where the dead dogs were thrown. The area was eventually integrated into the city though it was a poor slum full of immigrants and migrants. One of the biggest immigrant groups to move into this district was the Huguenots from France who fled persecution in France for their protestant religion. In 1687 alone, 13,000 Huguenots immigrated to London and settled in the East End to begin weaving patterned silken clothe- their famous trade. The silk became the height of British fashion and they prospered until the fashion changed. They eventually abandoned the area and the next group to move into the area was the Jews- once again fleeing persecution for their religion. Our tour guide is from the area and her great grandparents settled in the area throughout the Jewish immigration in the late 1800's. As I stated yesterday in my blog, her father was a part of the World War 2 evacuations. The Jew's have since moved out and now Asians have settled in the area as well as hipsters and artsy people. The homes once occupied by the poor immigrants have now become million pound homes owned by bankers and lawyers. Quite the change from earlier times.
The old homes of the Huguenot immigrants
We also saw a building in which the first every trade union meetings took place and where Annie Bassant planned the first strike for match stoke makers in the East End to protest the working conditions that caused most of the women who worked in the factories to lose their lower jaws to "Fossies" within 5 years of working in the factories. This was the first major step in the direction of improved work conditions and unions. Another interesting thing we saw on the tour was the remains of the Truman Beer Factory. This was established in 1666 and was open and working until 1989. At one point it was the biggest beer factory in the world. Beer was popular in the 1700-1800's because doctors often encouraged people to drink beer instead of water to avoid the spread and contractions of Cholera (a water based disease). Truman Beer Factory is now a bustling street market and art destination. Our tour ended at a small handmade bagel shop still run by the Jewish descendants of the earlier immigrants. 
Truman Beer Factory
Also related to the East End was a walking tour we took earlier this week revolving around the Jack the Ripper murders in 1888. 5 prostitutes were brutally murdered in the East End and the killer was never caught. Our tour took us to each of the locations where the women were killed. Some places have been changed drastically and others have remained virtually unchanged. Seeing the actual house where the final victim was killed was quite creepy. It was very cool to do both tours and see two different parts of this diverse part of London.
The final home of Mary Kelly (the final victim)
After the tour we headed off the to Victoria and Albert Museum. Wow is about all I can say. The amount of art, history and fashion was just mind boggling. The 3 of us just walked around with our mouths hanging wide open taking in everything we could. There were replicas of the statue of David, a notebook belonging to Leonardo Di Vinci, a ring from 1500 BC and so so so so much more. We didn't even make it all the way throughout the museum and we still spent hours there. The most incredible thing: it was completely FREE. That is the true greatest thing about exploring London, so many things are free including all the national museums and galleries.

Leonardo Di Vinci's Notebook
Ancient Armour for a horses head
Imitating the ancient catholic statues

After the V & A, we went to the Natural History Museum briefly. What a gorgeous building. The giant dinosaur right when you walk in certainly makes for quite the impression. It was very crowded so we only saw the mammal exhibit but the whales were HUGE! It was super cool. 

Next we decided to release our inner nerds and headed to Kings Cross station. They literally have platform 9 and 3/4 set up in the station with a trolley heading into the wall. We waited in line for a good 15 minutes (happily) before getting to pick our house scarf, put our hands on the trolley handle, pick up the wand and smile for the picture as the helper throws your scarf so it appears you are running! I was like a kid in a candy store- the nerd alert was on high. Such a fun little experience that was COMPLETELY FREE. They also had a small gift shop with typical Harry Potter themed things. I bought a chocolate frog and got the Snape card :( 
Kings Cross Station
THE Platform 9 and 3/4
Bye muggles, I am going to Hogwarts
Ravenclaw, Gryffindor and Slytherin heading to Hogwarts
After dragging our very tired selves back to the flat, we made a nice pasta dinner together and watched the VE Day concert on the telly before crashing for the night. London is exhausting and wonderful and exciting and beautiful all wrapped up in one. I can't believe the first week is already almost over.

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