London Literary Tour

On this expedition through London, you’ll visit sites that have strong associations to works of literature.

This story was created for the Google Expeditions project by ePublishing Partners, now available on Google Arts & Culture

Visit the landmarks that help bring English literature to life. Including a reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and 221B Baker Street, former home of (the entirely fictional) Sherlock Holmes.

Millennium Bridge

The Millennium Bridge was designed as one of 3 landmarks in London to celebrate the advent of the new millennium. Extending 320 meters, it was the first footpath to cross the Thames River built in over a century. It opened on June 10, 2000, but closed 2 days later when crowds made it sway unnervingly, and it didn’t reopen for 2 years. Despite its newness, the location and romance of the bridge has already linked it to London’s literary history.

The River Thames

The river Thames features frequently in literature. Characters in Charles Dickens’ novel Our Mutual Friend earn their keep on the Thames. The poet T.S. Eliot described it in The Waste Land as “sweet” and sweating of “oil and tar.”

Harry Potter

The Millennium Bridge starred in the movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. In one key scene, Voldemort and his Death Eaters destroy the “Brockdale Bridge”, snapping it in half and sending cars shooting into the river below.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

The poet John Donne served as Dean from 1621 until his death in 1631. When the church burned down in 1666, a marble effigy of Donne survived. In 2012, a new statue of Donne was unveiled in the gardens.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

The Globe Theatre, reconstructed in 1997, stages the plays of the great English playwright, William Shakespeare. Today’s theatre is only a few hundred meters from where the first Globe Theatre, built in 1599, stood. It burned down in 1613, when sparks from a cannon shot off during a performance of Henry VIII ignited the thatched roof.

Recreating the Globe

The theater was rebuilt, and Shakespeare’s company continued performing there until Puritans closed them down in the 1640s. Nobody knows exactly what the original Globe looked like, except that it was polygon shaped. The outside walls are made of plaster and covered in white with green oak laths and staves for support—typical of 16th-century buildings.

Thatched Roof

Based on excavations of another nearby Elizabethan theatre, the architects decided the original roof was probably made of reed thatch. Special permission had to be secured—thatched roofs have been banned in London since 1666, the year of the Great Fire.

The Box Office

Theatre goers are purchasing their tickets outside. In Shakespeare’s time, people didn’t pay until they were inside. They placed the money in a box. This led to the modern term box office.

Playbills

Look along the street at the playbills plastered on the red-brick walls. There are many advertising performances at the Globe including one for Titus Andronicus, which was one of Shakespeare’s earlier plays, and another for Hamlet, one of Shakespeare’s tragedies.

Inside the Globe Theatre

Typical of the open-air playhouses of its time, the original Globe Theatre was a playhouse with a central yard, a raised stage, and covered gallery seating. It held about 3,000 people,  standing and sitting. When architects set out to rebuild the Globe, they undertook extensive archeological excavation and research to ensure that the new theatre was as faithful to the original as possible (though certain safety features, like sprinklers, were added). 

Shakespeares Globe Interior by Photographer: John TramperShakespeare's Globe

The Stage

The raised stage juts into the yard. Look closely at the walls around. The wood panels behind are painted with mythological figures, the columns are painted to look like marble and there are glints of gold leaf.

The Yard

The yard, also called the pit, can fit about 700 people standing. All levels of London society came to the theatre, including the poor, who paid a penny to stand in the pit. Pit-goers were referred to as groundlings.

Shakespeares Globe ExteriorShakespeare's Globe

The Galleries

Three tiers of roofed galleries circle the yard. In Shakespeare’s time, the lowest level offered bench seating. The Gentlemen’s Rooms were seating areas on either side of the stage. The Lords’ Rooms offered the most expensive seats in the house. 

Shakespeares Globe Interior by Photographer: John TramperShakespeare's Globe

The Ceiling

The Globe is an outdoor theatre. While the seating galleries are covered, look above the yard and see how it’s open to the sky. The ceiling above the stage is called the Heavens, decorated with the moon and zodiac signs.

Westminster Abbey

The first church on this site was built, along with a palace, in 1040 C.E. by King Edward the Confessor. The church was attached to a monastery, and referred to as the “west” minster. In 1245, King Henry II pulled much of it down and reconstructed a Gothic-style church. It has profound links to English history, culture, and literature. Every English monarch but 2 has been crowned in Westminster Abbey, and 17 monarchs are buried here.

Poets’ Corner

Westminster Abbey is the final resting place for hundreds of important figures in Britain’s history. Many notable British authors are interred in Poets’ Corner. Medieval poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, who was Clerk of the King’s Works at Westminster, was the first.

Palace of Westminster

Look across Abingdon Street and you’ll see the Palace of Westminster, which holds the Houses of Parliament—the legislative bodies of the British government. The House of Commons has operated a library in the palace almost continually since the 1800s.

Big Ben

People often call the clock tower Big Ben, but that name really refers to the massive bell. It has appeared in film adaptations of beloved books, including Peter Pan and Mary Poppins, and featured in Virginia Woolf’s famed novel Mrs. Dalloway.

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral, located in the historic city of Canterbury in Kent in southeastern England, is one of the oldest and most famous churches in all of England. It dates back to 597, when St. Augustine—who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury—first came to England from Rome. The cathedral was rebuilt in the 1070s and rebuilt after a fire in 1174, which is when it took on its Gothic style.

The Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer, arguably the father of the modern English language, wrote his most notable work in the later 1300s. His Canterbury Tales focuses on a group of pilgrims, from different levels of medieval society, making their way to Canterbury Cathedral from London.

Inside Canterbury Cathedral

The interior of Canterbury Cathedral is majestic, with vaulted ceilings and elaborate stained glass windows. The walls are covered with memorials to soldiers and statesmen and even a famous musician. The building itself is Gothic, but the interior reflects different styles. The wooden choir stalls, for example, are Victorian. The cathedral is still used for services everyday.

Thomas Becket

In 1161, Thomas Becket became Archbishop of Canterbury, but angered the king after saying he would side with the church. In 1170, 4 knights murdered Becket in the cathedral, inspiring works such as T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral.

Library

You can’t see them from here, but the cathedral also has a reading room and library. The library contains about 30,000 books and pamphlets printed before the 20th century, and another 20,000 books and periodicals published since then.

221B Baker Street

221B Baker Street is the fictional home of the renowned detective, Sherlock Holmes. The “B” refers to the second floor flat where Holmes lived above his landlady, Mrs. Hudson. 

The creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes is regarded as the world’s greatest fictional detective. Doyle wrote a total of 56 short stories and 4 novels about Holmes, who used deductive reasoning to solve crimes, following the clues to their logical conclusion. He is famous for saying, “Once you’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be truth.”

239 Baker Street

This building that houses the Sherlock Holmes Museum is at 239 Baker Street, between numbers 237 and 241. In 1990, the city council decreed this building could be called 221B Baker Street and unveiled the blue plaque to prove it. Inside, is a recreation of Sherlock Holmes’ flat. Step back into the Victorian era into Holmes’ sitting room, study, and scientific laboratory. 

King’s Cross Station

King’s Cross is a major London railway station on the north-central edge of the city. Millions of commuters pass through the station every year, boarding rail trains and connecting to the Underground (tube) as they make their way through London.

The Victorian station designed by Thomas Cubitt’s brother, Lewis, opened in 1852. In 2012, it underwent a massive restoration, and currently operates 12 platforms with trains leaving for Scotland and Yorkshire, as well as nearer destinations.

Platform 9 3/4

Perhaps no train platform is as famous as platform 9 3/4, from where the Hogwarts Express leaves. The invisible barrier between platforms 9 and 10, through which witches and wizards must run. Here it is actually between platforms 4 and 5.

Inside King’s Cross

Through the arched window, you can see a rounded glass roof. In a scene from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, underneath a “great domed glass roof,” Dumbledore asks Harry where they are. Harry says, “It looks . . . like King’s Cross station.”

St. Pancras Station

The dramatic building down the road to your left was used in the movie Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as the entrance to King’s Cross. Ron Weasley parked his father’s magical car, a Ford Anglia, across the street.

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