Essay Author: Abby Beazer, host of IDK Adulting from the Undergrad Podcast Lab
Voice Actress: Normandy Wanberg
One of the most impressive characteristics about the United Kingdom, and more specifically, England, is the impact that it has had on the world. It’s legacy, in other words. From the ancient builders of Stonehenge to the Picts and Romans to the rise and fall of the British Empire. Whether or not one has studied English literature or English politics and history, most people I know, know something about England’s past. Even if it’s just the rhyme about King Henry the VIII’s wives: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. (Coincidentally, the graduate student TA from my study abroad purchased a t-shirt from Hampton Court Palace’s gift shop with the same rhyme listed on its front.) And of course, the history and legacy of England and the UK centers around London.
The city we now know as London began its life in 50 A.D. as a square mile Roman fort on the north bank of the Thames after Roman forces invaded Britain seven years earlier. After defeating a native British Queen who sacked Londinium, the Romans, spent the next 200 years building their city-fort into a much more heavily fortified city with a twenty-foot-high wall. Portions of this “London Wall” have been preserved and are still visible in certain parts of the city right next to modern buildings. I encountered one of these sections and it was a striking comparison to see ancient moss and vine covered walls next to plate glass windows and steel. But the Romans didn’t stay forever, and after roughly 500 years of various invasions, William the Conqueror was crowned King of England in 1066. Since this “first King of England” assumed the throne, there have been centuries of royal contentions and scandals, political upheavals, and cultural change and innovation. Ranging from the rumored deaths of the princes in the Tower of London at the hand of their uncle Richard III, King Henry VIII’s marital escapades, Shakespeare’s theatrical debut and popularity, the growth and rise of the British Empire across the world, to Queen Elizabeth II’s ascension to the throne and England’s involvement in the modern era. And throughout its history they have produced a large number of great writers, artists, and world influencers. Practically everything a body of people would need to create a great and enduring legacy.
I wanted to visit London and the UK ever since I was about 11 years old. Why? Because I was obsessed with Harry Potter and Shakespeare at that age, and I wanted to see where my favorite characters, author, and playwright lived. As I got older and entered college this turned into a desire to experience all the different rich cultural aspects that make London and the UK what they are. But I didn’t want to just visit and have the typical touristy style experience. I love to really learn about things, to experience them. So, when I found the flyer for BYU’s London Centre program with the directors’ statement that: “Although we’ll use textbooks and conduct classes at the Centre, our main textbooks and classrooms will be London and various UK sites. We’ll be hyper-hip traveling scholars, not blah, blah, blah, run-of the-mill tourists,” I knew I found the right program for me. I needed the structure of a few classes to help me understand all the history and culture that I would see and experience in London. I needed something that would push me beyond the bounds of a tourist gawking at crown jewels and resorting to taxis instead of using the Tube.
Walking around London was an interesting experience because of the widely varied areas of the city. For instance, around the BYU Centre, most of the buildings on Palace Court are renovated and remodeled Victorian townhomes. And a short tube ride away and you would be in the middle of modern skyscrapers full of offices and shops. Yet near the almost ultra-modern financial district, you can easily find the Tower of London that dates from the 12th century. Everywhere you go and everywhere you look in London there’s a mix of several different historical eras that are represented in the architecture. On one of my many walks around London, I encountered Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on the south side of the Thames. Now, I went inside this building twice while I was in London, but I had only ever approached it from the city side of the building, never from the river front. Until the day in question that is. The Globe is interesting to me because from the outside (approaching from New Globe Walk) it doesn’t look like an old theatre from Tudor times. The outside of the building looks modern, with the only indication of its cultural and historical age and importance is the peak of the thatched roof above. But if you approach the building from the Thames, it looks like it’s a building out of time. Like Shakespeare’s Globe was plucked from around 1600 and plopped down into modern London in 2017 between more recent looking buildings. After entering the building’s courtyard, and then entering the theatre, I felt like I went back in time to England during the Elizabethan era.
This is because the current form of Shakespeare’s Globe was only completed and opened in 1997, roughly 350 years after the original Globe was demolished. But, to preserve history as best as possible, the theatre was recreated using both materials and techniques that originate from Tudor times. I don’t mean that they found wooden beams that were perfectly preserved from Tudor times and used those for construction, but that they used materials Tudor architects would have used when it was originally created. The dark wood beams and white plaster sectioning off the circular outer wall and the thatched roof are as authentic as the hard, wooden benches inside. The actors still don’t seem to use microphones, but they have added some lights and a sound system, but they only use them when absolutely necessary in order to keep the theatre as much like it once was from 1599-1642. The Globe also still offers groundling tickets, a group of audience members who pay for cheaper tickets to stand for 2 ½ or 3 hours next to and around the stage instead of sitting on the wooden benches in the surrounding balconies.
Given modern theater experiences, one might think that a modern audience would balk at the idea of standing for that long. But they don’t. And I was one of them. I attended two shows at the Globe: Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing with my study abroad program. For Twelfth Night, I was given a “sitting ticket” that when I arrived at the Globe I discovered was on the side and partially obscured by a pillar supporting the stands! I had to lean around the pillar for the entire show, but I didn’t really care. Why? Because I love Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, and it was my first week in London, so everything was a bit dream-like due to jetlag, exhaustion, and the bewilderment of learning to exist in a big city. Later on, in the summer, I was given a standing or groundling ticket for Much Ado About Nothing. Not only did I stand for the entirety of the show, but I also arrived early with other students so that we could be first into the yard and closest to the stage. I stood roughly five feet, or less, away from actors and actresses as they performed one of my favorite plays on the stage of my favorite playwright. I stood in the same place that people in the 1600s stood to watch plays that are still favorites today. Even though I had aching feet, my aching cheeks from laughing and smiling so much far outweighed that. And when I think about it. It’s an amazing convergence of timelines. Past, present, and future generations have enjoyed, and will continue to enjoy, plays in that magnificent theatre. The people on stage, in the yard, and in the stands may change, but the visceral reactions and emotions and thoughts that are provoked by such a place won’t. And that’s one of the most amazing kinds of legacies that I think I’ve ever encountered.
I find it impressive that London as a city and Londoners as a people have recreated and preserved such buildings as the Globe Theatre, the Roman walls, the Tower of London, and other sites because it’s difficult to do that. I think one of the reasons that they’ve kept their historical sites in such good condition, or recreated them in some cases, is because of the pride that the British people have for their historical, social, and cultural heritage. It motivates them to preserve antiquity while at the same time furthering modernity. Showing not only that the past, present, and future can exist side by side within a city, but that they can help each other and the people of the city to leave a legacy of their own. This caused me to think about the type of legacy I want to leave and the one I’m creating. For me, I have a feeling that my legacy is going to be made up in three parts: my descendants, my photography, and my writings (fictional and otherwise) because each of these tell a different part of the story of who I am. Just as the different architecture styles found throughout London tell different parts of the city’s story.
An important part of creating one’s legacy is that we need to do things and record those experiences in some form. Before I left home for London, countless family members, friends, and coworkers told me to have fun and make some memories. As someone who’s been a part of both a high school yearbook, newspaper staff, and the official photographer for a university club, this can feel counterintuitive sometimes. It’s a problem that comes with any event that you really want to remember later. Do you spend time in the moment or spend time recording it? It might seem like this is just a problem from our mobile phone heavy age, but it’s not. Wordsworth, the great poet, was not above this worry. But the question remains, how do we create good memories (by recording the event or just actively thinking about it) while also being in the moment?
In Wordsworth’s poem “Tintern Abbey,” he describes a visit to Tintern Abbey both from earlier in his life and five years later. From the poem, we learn that he was accompanied by another person during the later visit. This unseen person is who he addresses such lines as “Thy memory be as a dwelling-place / For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! Then, / . . . Of tender joy wilt thou remember me” to, and other lines where he compares previous memories to current events (lines 141-145). He is also constantly painting a vivid scene of Tintern Abbey surrounded by nature. But where he was simply experiencing the ruins of the Abbey the first time he visited, when he visits the second time, he seems more concerned with making this a valuable experience—a good memory. I can empathize with the desire to make good memories after my own visit to Tintern Abbey near the beginning of my time in England.
Me and my fellow students had forty-five minutes to an hour in Wordsworth’s subject of memory and reflection. It’s a strange, almost haunting feeling to see a skeleton of a chapel greet you after passing through the more modern gates that protect it. Standing on a patch of green grass that was once stone within its ribcage, I turned round and round. The building was hollow and yet full of greenery and sunlight. It was intimidating to feel that I was so young while surrounded by something so ancient. It was the same feeling that I had when I looked at dinosaur fossils in museums. Like I was a microscopic speck of dust on the timeline of not just humanity, but the earth as a whole. This empty cathedral was a stone creature that had seen the rise and fall of dynasties and governments while framing the blue sky above, while I can’t even remember 9/11 because I was only four at the time. I stood wondering at what the stained glass had looked like, and yet still felt horror at what else had so obviously been destroyed. Appreciation at what remained, but incredible sadness at what had been lost.
Thanks King Henry VIII.
Of course, with all of us in such a small area, we took a program photo. We all took photos of what we saw, many of us trying to capture emotion in an image without a face. I found myself looking at Tintern Abbey through my camera lens almost as much as without it. And it has made me realize just how difficult it must have been for Wordsworth to write poetry about memories with just notes. I can’t even imagine how difficult that would be without notes. I kept little notes of everything we did in a little blue notebook just so I could remember what adventures I had when I went to write in my journal. But that still leaves my memories to become distorted because I have to wait to record them. Photos aren’t much better sometimes because we might take a photo of part of the ruins of a castle or abbey while feeling a deep sense of wonder or mystery, but when we return to the photo later, we might feel like it’s just a bunch old stone blocks. At the same time, a good photo – a candid photo – of a person or a group can perfectly capture their emotions because it’s not staged or lined up perfectly. It feels natural. It puts you back in the moment. And what’s often what we want our memories to do—we want our memories to accurately take us back to a certain event or emotion. We want them to be an accurate record of our legacy. Which might be a challenge because our legacies aren’t often fully controlled by us, but by the memories of others.
How can we preserve our uninfluenced memories? Honestly, from all of my experiences with historical sites, photography, and writing, I don’t think we can. But I think we can do the next best thing. Enjoy the experience and record it as soon as possible afterwards. Be in the moment to remember it well. It’s like riding a bike. You can’t stress too much about keeping your feet on the pedals because otherwise you’re going to crash into a chain-link fence and end up in the road because you’re not steering. Or, sometimes you can record it as you go with photos, videos, and notes. No matter how you try to balance the urge to just experience or just record what you’re doing, you just have to hope that you’ve done your best. As my time in London ended, I could only hope that I had taken enough pictures and notes to remember all the wonderful places I had visited and things I had done, and all the great friends that I made along the way. But like Wordsworth eventually reminds us in his poem, I know that me and my fellow students and professors will always remember the most important parts even if other things fade.
Such as the adventures I had when I completely forgot I had a phone. Or couldn’t use it. Such as during the various theater shows I attended. Near the beginning of the summer, three other students and I went and saw The Lion King after spending all day at the London Zoo. At the show, there were strict no phones or cameras rules. Which I did not mind at all. It forced me to live in the moment and absorb the experience of the show from my cheap standing tickets position. Even though I didn’t “record” and part of it, I lived in the moment and I can still remember some expressions on the actors’ faces or lines that they so obviously adlibbed.
Another adventure that I had with these same fellow students (Nina, Davis, and Adam) resulted in an even stronger feeling of really living the experience was when we got a little lost in a remote part of Northern Ireland. As a part of a free week during the program, we were allowed to plan our own week-long trips around Europe. We chose Ireland, and for the last two days of our trip we spent it in Northern Ireland. Our original plan to visit Giant’s Causeway was dashed to pieces when we discovered that it was much farther away from Belfast than we originally planned. About 60 miles away from Belfast, which would have made it almost impossible for us to get there, spend enough time at the site, and then return to Belfast to catch our flight in time. So instead, we discovered the Gobbins, near Islandmagee and roughly 20 miles and a 25-minute train ride away. Or so we thought. We used the hostel’s Wi-Fi to download directions, and then set off. When we got off the train at the prescribed stop, we discovered we were in the middle of a nature preserve. And started walking. Roughly 20 minutes later we arrived at the visitor’s center, which we discovered was still a good distance away from the actual site. And that we had needed to buy tickets in advance in order to get a tour and shuttle ride to the site. So, we started walking again. This time for at least an hour through winding two-lane roads bordered by tall hedges and up and down hills as we climbed steadily higher. Several times cars passed us as we walked on the shoulder of the rode.
When we reached the top of the hills, we navigated through small side roads downwards towards the coast, where we eventually found the shuttle stop for the visitor’s center. And the Gobbins. An interesting name given to a cliff-face that has a series of ledges and bridges that you can walk along right next to the crashing Northern Sea, and an observation platform that hangs 30 feet out from the side of the cliff-face and allows you to feel like you’re going to fall to your death while staring at sharp rocks and pounding waves below. But it was beautiful. I don’t think I looked at my phone more than a few times that day, and only to check the time, as we explored the seemingly little-known area of Northern Ireland. I remember being afraid that the observation platform was going to give way, but also reveling in the feeling of the brisk sea wind blowing my hair into my face. We explored the rocks at the shore exposed by the low tide and discovered small tide pools. We discovered the rotting and dilapidated frame of a small cottage on the cliffside that was almost entirely hidden by plant life. We’d only found it because Adam had spotted the stone chimney. We stared up the cliff from the bottom and didn’t dare go beyond the metal staircase to the next ledge because of a sign and a warning from a passing tour guide that we needed helmets beyond that point because of falling rocks.
I remember searching for four-leaf clovers as we walked back to the train station as we sang pop songs and made up songs and talked about our studies. And how Adam talked about his plans to propose to his girlfriend back home the US as soon as he got back. (They did get engaged soon after he got back and got married about six months later.) While my friends and I remember all these things and more about this little adventure into the unknown, I highly doubt the employees at the visitor’s center remember four American college kids wandering around. I highly doubt that from their perspective I’ve left any kind of legacy behind. But to my friends and family, one of the highest points of my life’s story and my legacy is this event. I’ve told the story more times than I can count and written about it at least once in my personal journal and multiple times in emails to my friends. This is a part of the legacy that I have been creating as I’ve lived my life and written my journals and created photo albums. It’s going to be a part of the legacy of physical thing of my life that I’ll leave behind at some distant date in the future.
But almost more important than the places I got to visit and the literature and historical events that I learned about while I was in London are the things I learned about and developed in myself. In order for me to be a “hyper-hip traveling scholar” and get all that I could out of my time there I needed to strengthen and develop some attitudes and skills. They weren’t simple attitudes and skills like loving literature or being comfortable being in a new place on my own for a little bit either. I had to create in myself the attitude that there’s probably going to be a great deal of information that I don’t know yet that I’m going to learn here, and I’m probably not going to understand all of it. And that’s okay. I had to strengthen the skill of taking the information I know and building upon it with all the knowledge that my professors and the city itself were presenting. My experiences provided me with the insight that I would not have had otherwise. And as a result, I didn’t just have a fantastic time in London learning about it and learning to become a part of it. I changed. I went from being a pretty knowledgeable traveler, to a much more scholarly traveler who is striving to always learn from their experiences and the world around them. And that will change the way that I continue to create my personal legacy throughout my life because this trip changed how I view life. Legacies and memories are created as we live them, but can still be changed after the fact by how our memories work and by how we preserve memories externally.
If you want to see more of Abby’s work, feel free to visit her blog, https://awanderingbee.weebly.com/ or listen to her podcast IDK Adulting on Apple Podcasts.