As we begin to emerge from lockdown in London, it seemed a good time to reflect on what it was like over the last 3 months, while really hoping lockdown does not have to return. During lockdown I’ve been volunteering at the Unity Kitchen in Victoria preparing meal to go out to those in real need. As well as being a good thing to do, this has meant I’ve been travelling to the heart of Westminster and experienced a very different London from the normal hustle and bustle.
Here are my photos showing the strangeness of these times when central London had no visitors and no office workers, when hotels and restaurants were shut, when theatres and cinemas went dark and the streets were empty. Plenty of signs were erected to remind us of the rules.
The most extraordinary sights were London’s world famous attractions with no queues, no crowds and no noise from excited touists. Buckingham Palace in mid June at 11.30 would normally be rammed with people watching the Changing of the Guard, instead it was just me and 2 families, so 8 people in total and there was nothing to see as they changed the guard in the evening without any fuss or ceremony..
Westminster Abbey has constant queues outside and visitors stream into the west entrance from the moment the doors open at 9.30 and by noon these lines are right back to the main gate. However, with the Abbey closed the sad sight of the shuttered doors and empty waiting area was all I could see.
Horseguards Parade hosts a Changing of the Guard, Trooping the Colour and many other events and is usually full of people wandering through on the their way to Buckingham Palace or the Cabinet War Rooms. Instead, I had the whole parade ground to myself and the front, usually sees gangs of people getting too close to the mounted guards, but on my visit this was empty too, except for a couple of policemen.
We have a saying ‘It was like Piccadilly Circus’ which means somewhere was really busy and whenever I’m passing through there are hoards of people, usually young visitors, sitting on the famous statue as travellers pour out of the numerous tube exits. During lockdown there were more pigeons than people!
Trafalgar Square is a famous place for gatherings, demonstrations, events and is somewhere to just hang out. The lions are usually subject to climbers, young and not so young, looking for that great holiday photo. Lockdown London saw it strangely empty except for the workers cleaning the fountains and a few folk strolling through, perhaps like me on their way to or from work.
Covent Garden is a great place to visit to see the market stalls, enjoy the street performers and sample the many restaurants and bars. but as I walked through at lunchtime on a weekday, I was the only person there and it felt like I was in a post -apocalyptic film where all the other humans had disappeared…. The Lamb and Flag is a famous pub in the area with a never ending crowd of street drinkers at any time. Its other claim to fame is as a venue for bare knuckle fights in the early 1800s, earning it the gruesome nickname ‘the bucket of blood’ . A plaque outside notes that ‘On the 19th December 1679 in the alley by the Lamb & Flag the poet John Dryden was nearly done to death by rogues hired by the Earl of Rochester’, quite a story! Seeing tube stations, whose exit barrers are so full of eager visitors all day and night, with the gates completely closed was a sad reminder that things were definitely not normal.
Oxford Street is a mile of contiuous shopping, the longest in Europe and is a challenge to walk along due to the sheer volume of people and shopping bags. Not during lockdown. There was no one even window shopping and no traffic except for the occasional bus or rare taxi. The banners pay tribute to the extraordinary work of the NHS and care workers who fought so hard to keep their patients alive.
Saturdays on Portobello Road are heaving from early morning onwards with antique dealers and then tourists wanting to see the market, the painted houses and the venues from the film Notting Hill – yes they do still ask about the bookshop and the blue door! This photo is the sad sight of a street bereft of stalls and visitors. Westbourne Grove is another beautiful street of coloured house and gorgeous boutiques which were all closed during lockown.
Lockdown London was still stunning to look at and the lack of people gave us a different view of our favourite place, as these photos show. London will reopen to welcome visitors from abroad and the rest of the UK. I look forward to seeing you all back and taking you on tours of the great city.
Keep well, keep safe.