The Attraction Of Opposites In Westminster



Slide background



Martin Dean takes us on a tour of Westminster to show us harmony in a borough of contrasts. On bright days in winter, or in the humid summer heat, the light arcs down in the backstreets of Westminster and fills them as though they’d been blessed. It looks almost liquid, a sanctifying flood of light between streets studded with clergyman’s tailors, bookshops of divinity and Victorian alleyways winding to and from the great gothic Abbey that brings the coaches of eager visitors from China and Russia like pilgrims to its gates. Here you can pick up a Bishop’s crook, silk vestments or get yourself on TV wandering between the news crews on Victoria Tower Gardens, cameras gazing longingly at Parliament. Westminster_003 Photo By Andreas Praefcke (Own work (own photograph)) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons I talk about the backstreets because this district is piled high with grand buildings and squares, palaces and spires, statesmen and clergymen – it is a district of main streets, broad avenues and royal processions. Its backstreets and unseen spaces take on a greater significance as these avenues of unseen light, the places of to-ings and fro-ings of everyday men between these lofty testimonies in stone to god or state. These shafts of light in the shaded lanes between the great places of power, holy and mundane, seem to lead you away to some hidden wisdom beyond the obvious. Westminster_004 By Crux [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons Through the alleys, cutting between the high buildings, you find interlaced with the great old buildings the blocky modern oblongs of government departments and the offices of banks, insurance companies, administrative facilities. The two zones are not separate – they merge and part, they intermingle, although in some places the great wash of the Thames carves a certain boundary between old and new, flowing between like time. Egyptians columns flank the Lambeth Bridge, as though to pass between times you need to undergo a spiritual journey, and travel the way of initiation to bring together these opposites. It is this feeling of many times and forces locked in opposition that gives Westminster its simultaneously magical and menacing atmosphere. Beside a Palladian frontage two figures fight a minotaur, watched by glassy flatnesses and frozen cranes across the water, the blue and green surfaces of the MI5 building, ringed with cameras. You turn then, following the sound of music, between rich terraces to find another great church, tucked away like a secret, orchestras rehearsing its isolated melodies within. Westminster_002 By Sheila Thomson [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons Along this way I would always walk, having decided to be lost among it all, if only to see what route some other part of me preferred through the different monuments to civilisation. Beside me builders sat on concrete shapes and ate their sandwiches. Where to feel at once lost and the beauty of being lost, at sea as an interloper in time, modern man in ancient city, ancient soul in modern landscape? Here in Westminster where the bankers and tourists mingle with the priests and occasional royal or policeman on horseback or clutching machine gun, military bases concealed beside pubs, Orwellian ministries looming overhead and the spires and domes of the city radiating outwards. Power and god, earthly and holy, ancient and modern – this is the place to wander through the opposites and find your place between them. Feature Photo By Diliff (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons Westminster Abbey, 16-18 Whitehall, Westminster, London SW1A 2DY

// codepeople-post-map require JavaScript