Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The joy of meandering

Getting lost can be a pleasure. We walked one Saturday along the Regents Canal towards Kings Cross but decided by chance to wander towards Camley Street Natural Park. We took a wrong turn and instead found ourselves in St Pancras Gardens – serendipity indeed.

The park is a quiet haven dreaming between the heaving throng of St Pancras International – next stop Paris - and densely packed Somers Town. Underneath flows the Fleet River on its journey from Hampstead Heath to Blackfriars.
When Mary Wollstonecraft met Percy Bysshe Shelley in St Pancras gardens the river would have gurgled past them before their eyes. It is now covered over and flows underneath the ground in darkness.

At the centre of the garden is a memorial obelisk donated by the philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts in 1879.
 It is a sundial and represents a memorial to those people who had been buried near the old St Pancras church and whose graves had been moved to make way for the Midland Railway. The track is only yards away and at this point it fans out into multiple lines entering the platforms under the domes of the station.

Angela Burdett-Coutts was the richest heiress in Victorian Britain who, after inheriting a fortune and the family bank at the age of 23, devoted her life to a great number of good causes.  She is perhaps best known now for founding the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). She was sometimes known as the "Queen of the Poor."  In 1871, Burdett-Coutts became the first woman to have been made a peer in recognition of her achievements.

There is a quality of silence in the St Pancras gardens.  It is remarkable because of its location in the middle of restlessness and hubbub.