A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND: DAY 3 – PART ONE

Diane and I began Day 3 with a cab ride to Sloane Square, where we met authors Louise Allen/Melanie Hilton and Beth Elliot for a visit to the Chelsea Physick Gardens. As some of you may know, Beth writes Regency romance and Louise writes Regencies, as well as several non-fiction books, including Walks Through Regency London and To The Field of Waterloo: The First Battlefield Tourists. I had mentioned to Melanie that I wanted to pop in to the Royal Chelsea Hospital in the hopes of visiting the site that once held Ranelagh Gardens, above. Melanie came prepared with research notes and a map and off we set – 
The four of us headed out of Sloane Square and down the King’s Road. 
It was fairly slow going, as we were chatting and stopping to take in 
architectural details along the way. 
Unfortunately, once we’d gotten to the Hospital, we discovered that the Ranelagh Gardens site was inaccessible, as the site was being prepared to host the Royal Chelsea Flower Show, opening in a few days time. Beth, Melanie and I decided instead to visit the Hospital’s Museum, while Diane was otherwise occupied, below. 
We found this portrait of the Duke of Wellington in the entrance hall, 
along with French Eagles, such as the one below. 
Back outside, we stopped for a photo before heading to the Physick Garden:
Left to right: Beth, Melanie and Diane. 
Part Two Coming Soon!

A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND: DAY 2 – PART 3

After our visit to the National Portrait Gallery, Diane and I once more decided to wander aimlessly through our favourite City. We soon came across Godwin’s Court, above, located off of St. Martin’s Lane. Built around 1630, it was originally called Fisher’s Alley and lately, it stood in as Knockturn Alley in the Harry Potter films. Coincidentally, Cecil Court, where Diane and I visited Mark Sullivan Antiques earlier in the day, stood in for Daigon Alley in the films, as well. 
But Godwin’s Court is not a film set, it exists as you see it above day in and day out, which is what I love about London. There are pockets of centuries old history to be found almost around every corner, if one knows where to look. See the sign below.
Above is Seven Dials, once one of the worst areas of London and a true rookery and one that Dickens was familiar with. Seven streets intersect here, warehouses abounded and many of the taverns had interconnecting basements through which thieves and ne’er do wells could escape the clutches of the law, such as it was in the 18th and early 19th centuries. 
Above and below, further peeks into the City’s 18th century past. 
After a while, we found ourselves in Charing Cross Road and in the same block as the few remaining antiquarian and second hand bookshops that survive here. When writing blog posts, I often forget that  people I do not know, people who are younger than myself and people who haven’t been to London may be reading my posts. I assume that others know as much about the things I write about as I do, and so I often forget to include bits of history or back stories to the places I feature. I do not want to do that here. This I must tell you – if you haven’t read a book called 84 Charing Cross Road, you must rectify that immediately. Set just after WWII, the book covers the relationship in letters between a bookseller in London and a customer in New York who places requests for books via mail. There is also a movie of the same title starring Anthony Hopkins and Ann Bancroft which you are perfectly free to watch, but I urge you to read the book first and see the film afterwards, rather than watching it  instead of reading the book. 
After a good browse, during which I found but a single title and that for my mate Ian Fletcher, rather than for myself, we continued our stroll. 
The entrance to The Ivy restaurant above and the stage door of the St. Martins Theatre, below. 
Neither of us having seen The Mousetrap before, Diane and I decided to take in a performance and it was a hoot – a murder mystery set in an isolated English country house sometime in the 1940’s, Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap is the longest running play in history. Afterwards, we returned to our hotel for dinner and indulged in ribeye steaks, chips and pinot noir. 
The perfect end to a truly perfect day. 
Day Three Coming Soon!

A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND: DAY 2 – PART 2

After watching the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, Diane and I 
skirted St. James’s Park and noted all the glorious gardens in full bloom, above and below. 
Crossing the Mall, we then walked up the path that runs along Green Park up to Piccadilly, but instead we turned in at Milkmaid’s Passage as short cut through to St. James’s Street. 
I wanted to introduce Diane to Boulestin, a favourite restaurant of Victoria’s and 
mine in St. James’s Street. In fact, I like it so well that I’ve included it on the itineraries for several upcoming tours as a dinner venue. 
The restuarant is a revival of Marcel Boulestin’s pre-war venue in Covent Garden and has achieved the perfect blend of modern chic, French flair and historic touches. Click here to read about the original restaurant, the most expensive in London, and about chef Marcel Boulestin. 
In the photo above, you can see the outdoor seating area which is in Pickering Place, which is also adjacent to Berry Brothers and which was also the site of the last public duel in England. 
Diane and I each had a bowl of homemade soup and shared a cheese plate afterwards. Delicious!
Afterwards, we detoured through Jermyn Street in order to pay a visit to an old and dear friend. 
Then it was on to meet another old friend, antique dealer Mark Sullivan, 
whose shop is in Cecil Court. 
After pouring Diane and I a glass of wine each, it was at least a half hour of catch up before we got to the business at hand – Artie-facts, the true reason for our visit. As usual, Mark had found me another Wellington for my collection, and what a corker!
As you can see, he’s right at home now and fits beautifully into the collection. 
We decided to end the afternoon seeing even more of our pals, so Diane and I headed over to the Regency section at the National Portrait Gallery.
Part Three Coming Soon!

A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND: DAY TWO – PART ONE

Diane Gaston and I began our first full day in London with a gentle stroll through the area around our hotel. Walking London, with no destination in mind, is a favourite pastime of mine, as one never knows just what one might see. 
Can you hear me now?
Interesting rear elevations and roofs of buildings, above. 
Would love to see what’s in that domed turret room, wouldn’t you?
Yes, of course I thought of the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Westminster Abbey
This Ben needs no introduction.
Too bad it was so early in the day and this pub was still closed. 
Will have to return and have a poke about. 
“Look, Diane, Cockpit Steps. Let’s take them and see where they lead.”
They led us to Birdcage Walk!
We backed up a few steps so that I could take a look at Queen Anne’s Gate. In his diaries, James Lees-Milne relates that he and a friend were walking here just after a bomb had been dropped on the nearby Guard’s Chapel during WWII. Miraculously, all the houses in the Gate survived unscathed except for most windows. What’s the significance of Number 36? Until 2004, it was the headquarters for the National Trust but has been bought and renovated more recently. Read about it here
Back in Birdcage Walk, we saw the Chapel James Lees-Milne had written about, which took a direct hit from that bomb that shattered windows in Queen Anne’s Gate. The bomb hit on a Sunday. During church services. 141 people, including the Chaplain, were killed. Heartbreaking. 
Before long, we’d arrived at the Palace, our home away from home, where there was a large crowd gathered. Something must be going on, thought I. I wonder what it is?
“Excuse me, officer, but can you tell me what’s going on?”
Honest to God, the cop looked at me like I had two heads and said, “Changing of the Guard, madam.”
More of Day Two coming soon!