May 5, 1999--Still running around London on my last full day, trying to find all the Shelley-sites I can.
Of course, it’s hopelessly hopeful to imagine that historical sites from Mary Shelley’s day remain as they were—or remain at all. I once suggested to scholar Betty Bennett that it would be a good idea for “someone” (i.e., not I!) to compile a list of all the places Mary lived—with a note about the place’s current status. Betty thought it was a good idea, but I have no idea if anyone’s pursued it.
So much has occurred since 1851 when Mary died. Railroads, highways, subways, World War II, urban renewal, and, of course, the sort of contemporary casual carelessness with which present wanderers of this planet sometimes (often?) treat those who have gone before.
By way of a small, small illustration: I attended tiny Hiram High School in tiny Hiram, Ohio (1959–1962); the high school, built between 1913–1914, closed in 1964, consolidating with the nearby community of Mantua (pronounced MAN-uh-way by the locals). The elementary grades remained for some more years, but the old high school portion of the building was razed in the early 1980s, and the rest of it went in 2010 after being unoccupied for a while. Today, there is only an empty lawn on the site. No sign. No indication that anything had ever stood there.
Memories fade fast. At my wife’s retirement celebration at Hiram College in May, 2012, I spoke with a young member of the history faculty and discovered she had no idea that Hiram had once had a public school system, K–12, had once had a high school only blocks from where we were chatting.
So as I scurried around London my final day, I was not finding a lot—nor was I expecting to find a lot—that remained. I just wanted to go there, to stand there. Here’s what I found.
• The Marble Arch at Tyburn—still standing. Still echoing (in my mind, anyway) with the terrified cries of those who were executed on that spot for some six hundred years.
• Bread Street—nothing. The church, of course, is gone (as I said), and if Mary were to stand where I stood to take the pictures I took, she would recognize absolutely nothing. Urban renewal. Modern buildings. She could just as well be standing near the site of Hiram High School.
• 14 North Bank Street—I took various subway lines to find the street, but what I found was nothing that suggested Mary and her son had ever been there. I realized, standing there, that I could have been just about anywhere in the Western urban world. From the soil that Mary knew have risen apartments and offices, thick stacks of red bricks and glass that look like buildings everywhere—factories, offices, schools.
|St. Mildred's, Bread Street|
PBS and MWS married there
Destroyed in WW II by the Luftwaffe