It’s the merest bagatelle but nice to know all the same.
And it’s got all kinds of extra poignance just now.
It’s a brief stop on our Wednesday afternoon Chelsea walk.
The building is the historic old Duke of York’s Headquarters.
Takes a back seat just now though to the running track. Takes a backseat because Sir Roger Bannister - the man who broke the four-minute-mile barrier - died last weekend.
(Aside here: was there ever a more moving vale atque than the simple, heartfelt statement put out by Sir Roger’s family? “He banked his treasure in the hearts of his friends.”)
But to breast the tape - it was of course in Oxford - that day in May in 1954 - that Roger Bannister broke the four-minute barrier. But it was here, in London, in Chelsea, on this track, that he readied himself for that historic moment. That spring Roger Bannister was a 24-year-old medical student at St. Mary’s Paddington, one of the storied* London “teaching hospitals”. (By way of a “lap of honour” he went on to become a distinguished neurologist.)
Location, location, location. The running track at The Duke of York’s Headquarters in Chelsea was conveniently to hand if you were a medical student over the way at St. Mary’s Paddington. So this was where Roger Bannister trained - pounded the cinders and dreamed the dream - those early spring days in 1954.
You make the walk - well, squint a little bit, look hard enough, you just might see him, a wisp, a breath, a wraith, leaning into the bend, ghosting down the stretch.
*Be in no doubt about that adjective. St. Mary’s Paddington was where Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin.
A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at www.walks.com.