Walking through Marylebone this afternoon, I came upon this plaque which I don't think I've noticed before. It's on the northern end of Marylebone High Street, near the junction with Marylebone Road. And a rare reminder of that sinister place name - Tyburn.
Tyburn was London's principal place of execution - both beheadings and hangings - and continued as such right down until 1783. Among those who met their end here were the pretender Perkin Warbeck ... Oliver Cromwell (executed posthumously - no, it doesn't bear thinking about!) ... and 'gentleman' Jack Sheppard. Hogarth's 'Idle 'Prentice also came to a sticky end at Tyburn. But as well as Tyburn Tree and the gallows, not too far from where Marble Arch now stands, there was also this royal hunting lodge which, to judge from the plaque, outlasted the execution spot. Tyburn was the name of a manor within St Marylebone. But nowadays, the term has fallen into disuse - one of those localities whose name is lost to history.
From this happy hunting ground, I headed north through the Crown estate to Regent's Park,passing on the way this happy remnant of the Georgian era
And in the park's English Garden - where better - a newly-married couple were getting their photo taken - the bride so all-in-white that my mobile phone couldn't quite cope ... it's as if she has been excised from the picture.
It was a Muslim wedding, with a Muslim woman photographer. The groom is posing as he kisses his bride's hand, and she is leaning away as if swooning at this display of romance. I wasn't the only passer-by whose attention was caught by the scene - and if you are reading this, bride or groom, wishing you every happiness!
I am endlessly fascinated by the herons at Regent's Park. There were about twenty today, congregating as always round the south-east corner of the boating lake. And they looked hungry. Or at least they were joining in the quest for bread and titbits provided by passers-by.
They are elegant birds, habituated to the admiring gaze of the Regent's Park public. So you can get close-up and personal - and you can admire on these photographs the brahmin-style tuft of hair that the heron sports.
On the other hand ...
When I went to the National Archive at Kew a couple of months ago, there was a solitary heron in the pond outside. One of the staff was chatting to friends about the heron. "Yes, we were all very fond of him - until we saw what he did with the moorhen chicks. Ever since then he's had a nickname - Herod ... killer of the first-born!"
In the northern half of Regent's Park, not far from that venerated open-air cafe 'The Honest Sausage', stands this wonderful Gothic style monument. A watering hole, in its most literal meaning. And as you can see, enormously in demand on a wonderfully sunny bank holiday weekend.
What I hadn't appreciated until now is the India - indeed the Parsee - connection.
The fountain was built in 1869 by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association (not many charitable endeavours encompass both human and animal welfare quite so magnificently), inuagurated by a member of the royal family, and paid for by a wealthy Bombay (now Mumbai) based Parsee industrialist.
Parsees - Zoroastrians by religion, a community numbering only in the tens of thousands - have had, and continue to have, an influence out of all proportion to their numbers. They have played a role in Indian industry and commerce akin to that of the Quakers in Britain a couple of centuries ago. Their role in politics, in India at least, has been less evident - though both M.A. Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, and Indira Gandhi married Parsees. But quite remarkably in Britain, the first three Asian MPs were all Parsees - Dadabhai Naoroji ('Mr Narrow Majority'), elected Liberal MP for Central Finsbury in 1892, Sir M.M. Bhownagree a Conservative representing (unlikely as it seems) a seat in the East End of London, and Sharpurji Saklatvala, a communist who represented Battersea in Parliament in the 1920s.
The plaque on the drinking fountain in Regent's Park omits to mention the full name of its Parsee benefactor, and what a marvellous name it is - Sir Cowasjee Jehangir Readymoney. Here's his Wikipedia entry. As you can see, the plaque records that Sir Cowasjee provided the funds for the fountain 'as a token of gratitude to the people of England for the protection enjoyed by him and his Parsee fellow countrymen under the British rule in India.' This was barely a decade after the 1857 Rebellion/Mutiny - decsribed by some as India's First War of Independence - so quite a bold statement.
Above the plaque is what appears to be a likeness of the benefactor - judge for yourself how well it captured his features:
Regent's Park and around has many attractions - zoo, mosque, boating lake, beuatiful gardens, open air cafes, and lots of open space for a kick around. Nice to see several generations joining in this game of soccer this afternoon. Quite a spectacle!
Around the lakes, the herons were as brave and brassy eyed as ever - at one spot, there was a bust up among a troupe of herons competing for what seemed to be chicken luncheon meat being provided by a - it would seem - regular heron tamer.
For most of the thousands sauntering around, the delight was the trees in blossom and the flowers in bloom, and weather which allowed you to take it all in. London in the spring!
On a single stretch of water at Regents Park this afternoon, fully a dozen brassy eyed, sharp beaked herons were lined up by the water. They are majestic, graceful birds. I'd never seen so many in one place. Several were so accustomed to humans that they faced, not the water, but the passers-by - just ten feet or so distant.
The photos here were taken by Anu on her i-phone - you get a sense of the heron's elegance, and its reckless self confidence.
Just nearby, swans were indulging in a courtship ritual, entwining their necks around each other in a very sensual manner.
Everyone stopped and watched, enthralled. Including a family on a pedal boat.
We weren't quite quick enough with the i-phone. So, sorry, no photos of enraptured swans, so more of those proud Regents Park herons instead.
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