All Souls Langham Place London

Why does it  take such a long time to get out of Wales on a train? It seems to take  forever. There are frequent stops as the train ambles across South Wales and  the M4, when it is on its best behaviour, can be just as quick.
It makes  you realise how impenetrable Wales  must once have been and how remote parts of it must have seemed. When the story  of Sarah Jacob hit the papers in 1869 with such tragic consequences, people  from London  would travel down on the train to visit the farmhouse where she sat in bed  receiving visitors. You can read about Sarah on page 108 of Volume One of Stories in Welsh Stone. She was of  course a curiosity. She provided a glimpse of another world, a primitive alien  place into which modern values had not yet reached. Hers was a world that still  believed in fairies.
We must  never forget either the impact of that other issue. The Welsh were Welsh  speaking. To Victorians living in London it would have seemed very exotic that  something so odd should now be within easy reach of the capital as a result of  the sudden expansion of rail transport. The train might seem slow to us but it  was a modern marvel to them.
Wales has  always been a different world. I was reminded of this when I went up to London  for an English Examiners meeting on Wednesday (11 June 2009).  A great deal of the Welsh heritage is  preserved in the peace of the countryside. In London some of the heritage can seemed  confined and overwhelmed.  Look at All  Soul’s Church in Langham Place.

Langham Place London

It is a  beautiful church – the last surviving church built by John Nash who developed  Regent’s Street. It was completed in December 1823 at a cost of £18,323 10s 5d.  It was built of lovely Bath  stone and has17 columns and a 12 sided steeple. It was originally derided as a  “deplorable and horrible object” but we are much more kindly disposed towards  it. The BBC broadcast their daily service from there between 1951 and 1994.
Nash  himself is a very interesting figure. Some have claimed that he was born in  Cardigan in Wales 1752 but today it is generally accepted that he was born in  London, the son of a millwright in Lambeth. But there is certainly a Welsh  connection. He spent a long time in Wales as an architect of country  houses following the collapse of a business venture. He developed parts of the  house on the remarkable Hafod estate near Aberystwyth which was destroyed in a  catastrophic fire. I have written about the estate and hope that it will  feature in Volume Two.
Nash eventually  returned to London and made a huge contribution to the landscape of the capital.  He did some work on Buckingham Palace.  Marble Arch and the Haymarket Theatre amongst  his work, as well as the Brighton Pavilion. Some of the things we remember  about London were left behind by Nash.
All Soul’s  is one of them. It is a beautiful structure, and yet now it is overwhelmed by  the buildings around it – and there are cranes beyond showing that there are  others to come which will cast an even greater shadow.
London has  always changed and changes so quickly. When I am there I stand and stare as  everyone else rushes around full of business and pressure. It isn’t like home.
Perhaps  that is why the train slows down in Wales. We live life at a much  gentler pace down here. And perhaps we should be grateful.

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