Please Join Us . . . An Invitation From Victoria

Victoria here.  As you know by now, Kristine and I have planned a Wellington Tour to England in September, 2014 that we hope will appeal to all our blog readers, Facebook friends, fellow authors and Regency, Georgian and Victorian enthusiasts. We have included an attractive mix of places — London, Brighton, Windsor…with the special, added attractions of Walmer Castle, Stratfield Saye, Basildon Park, Frogmore and Highclere Castle — aka Downton Abbey — all of which make us absolutely rabid to get underway.

We’ve managed to include a little bit of everything you love most about England — wonderful parks, elegant interiors, seaside jaunts, historic landmarks, a river cruise, royal residences, centuries old pubs and lots of historical gossip. I’ve been to all these places — with the exception of Highclere Castle.  And I am so eager to go back to all of them, not to mention seeing the real Downton Abbey.

I read this fascinating book about Almina, Countess of Carnarvon, whose Rothschild fortune saved the 5th Earl and Highclere Castle and also financed his Egyptian expeditions.  A selection of precious items from King Tut’s Tomb will be part of our tour of Highclere Castle.  And it’s worth reading even more about Almina, who led a rather scandalous life after her husband died.  So combine The Buccaneers, The Mummy’s Curse, and Café Society between the Wars …and multiply by 100.  It’s more fun than any of the capers of todays mindless starlets.

Furthermore, there is the garden and park at Highclere…which make only cameo appearances in DA.

We’ve left lots of time for our group to be able soak up the atmosphere and grounds at Walmer Castle, the Brighton Pavilion, Stratfield Saye and Windsor Castle. Kristine is determined to leave flower bouquets at the graves of Wellington and his Waterloo mount, the fabulously bad tempered Copenhagen. We’ll take you on pub crawls and strolls through the streets of London that are simply steeped in Regency through Victorian history – gentleman’s clubs, the homes of period personalities, shops and Royal landmarks.

Kristine in Jermyn Street with our close friend, the Beau. We’ll make plenty of time for you to have your photo taken with Brummell, as well.
Victoria trying to photograph Apsley House, despite the London traffic.  

In our excitement, Kristine and I have assembled a Pinterest board comprised of photos of the many places and items you’ll see on The Wellington Tour. Please visit – Click here.

In our previous tours, Kristine and I have had lots of fun — and excitement.  We had an encounter with  Highwaymen at Belvoir Castle – and I’m proud to tell you that we won!

We accompanied the Duke of Wellington to Waterloo and inspected the tents of his soldiers.  Really.  In Belgium. 

We’ve both  passed Buckingham Palace many times, though we haven’t had time for tea with Her Majesty yet. One of these days . . . . .

Of course, we’ve both made the pilgrimage to Apsley House every time we’re in London. We can’t wait to show you our favorite bits.

And while wandering down Pall Mall one day, we stood and wondered why these big torches burned all day.  We’ve yet to find out.  If you know, please leave a comment.

Royal Automobile Club, 89 Pall Mall
There are hundreds of nooks and crannies at Windsor Castle we have yet to investigate. And we long to get another glimpse of the Playing Fields of Eton.
Windsor Castle Gardens in former moat

And we have yet to meet the pelicans in St. James Park, those gigantic ones that never are around when we are. 

St. James Park

Or maybe we snoozed through their appearances.

We have so much we’re anxious to share with you and we hope that many of you can join us on this adventure – truly the trip of a lifetime.


FYI:  What Kristine and Victoria really look like when they’re in England.

Funny how much we resemble The Fullerton Sisters,
 as painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence, c. 1825

Royal Albert Hall, Since 1871

Royal Albert Hall,

On my very first trip to London — so long ago I dare not reveal the year — I attended a concert at this venerable institution.  Being a student and nearly penniless as were my companions, we sat way up at the top in the cheapest seats. Sad to say I don’t remember anything about the music we heard, but I will never forget the view of the vast auditorium packed with cheering fans. For what, I couldn’t say, though I assume it was one of the Proms.

Prince Albert, by F. X. Winterhalter

Prince Albert (of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, 1819-1861) carved out a place in British history both as the Prince Consort who assisted his wife Queen Victoria in many ways, and as a promoter of science and technology developments.  He was the mover and shaker behind the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the development of South Kensington, which came to be known as Albertopolis, into a center of education, scientific and cultural development.

map showing the institutions of South Kensington/Albertopolis
For a fuller exploration of the architecture of the area, consult the Royal Institute of British Architects here.

Many now-great institutions grew here on the site of an agricultural oasis up to the mid-19th century:  the Natural History Museum…

Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road
… the Science Museum,
Science Museum, Exhibition Road 
… the Imperial College London, the Royal Geographical Society, the Royal College of Art, and the Royal College of Music. The Victoria and Albert Museum, sprawling repository of great works of the decorative arts is the eastern most part of the neighborhood.
Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road
Victoria and Albert Museum Entry

Northern most of the complex is the Albert Memorial, recently renovated, in Kensington Gardens opposite Royal Albert Hall. Sir George Gilbert Scott designed the Gothic structure, dedicated by Queen Victoria in 1872.

Albert Memorial
Prince Albert
Getting back to Royal Albert Hall, it was begun in 1867 and dedicated by Queen Victoria in 1871.  The design was conceived by Henry Cole, who was inspired by ancient Roman amphitheatres; the details were worked out by two Royal Engineers, Captain Francis Fowle and General Henry D. Scott.  The vast central auditorium is elliptical in shape, about 185 feet wide and 219 feet long; it can be rec
onfigured for many types of events both with traditional staging and in the round. 
Take a Virtual Tour of Royal Albert Hall here.
Funds for building the Hall came partially from profits of the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. Prince Albert suggested that the area of South Kensington be filled with institutions to promote education and progress, but he died before the scheme was completed.

For a full timeline of the construction of the Hall and many of the events held there, click here.

Among the many stray facts about the Hall is the number of red bricks used: 6,000,000.  Originally it was lit by gas, which was replaced by full electric lighting in 1888.  Only minor damage to Royal Albert Hall occurred in Word War II; it was said that the German pilots, as they did for St. Paul’s Cathedral, left it alone because its distinctive appearance served as a landmark for their bombing runs. Refurbishment took place in 1996-2004, with the addition of many modern conveniences, upgrading the restaurant facilities and other amenities.

massed choirs in the RAH
Royal Albert Hall was purposely designed to adapt to all sorts of events, concerts, conferences, speeches, meetings, ceremonies, exhibitions, sporting events (tennis, wrestling, boxing) and even the circus.  Classical, opera, jazz, folk, rock and pop concerts have included the most famous performers in the world. Verdi, Wagner and Elgar all conducted their works at the RAH.  The list of stars who have play the Hall would illuminate not only the vast dome but the entire sky above.
Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary, 2011
Royal Albert Hall is held in trust for the nation of Great Britain but it operates entirely on its own earned funding.  Many educational programs are operated in collaboration with schools and other institutions.  Even if the hall is “dark” when you visit, you can book a tour.
The annual 8-week program of BBC Proms will run through Saturday, September 8, 2012.  For more info in the Proms, click here.
Rock on, RAH!

London Walks

If you are lucky enought to be in London this season, be sure to take advantage of one of the city’s best bargains: London Walks.  Here is their website with their daily schedules.

Though I am missing out on London this year, I’ve visited at least once almost every year for the last 25 or so, and I never tire of tagging along with the London Walks guides.  Not a single disappointment —  and I’ve been on quite a few of them at least twice.

There are many operators of walking tours and many may be excellent, but with London Walk, you can be confident you have an experienced and entertaining guide.  Among the most popular walks (and operated by many it seems) is a night-time venture through the alleys of the East End in the footseps of Jack the Ripper.  Note: you won’t find him! I found the LW guide a fount of knowledge about the criminal, the victims, the crimes and the locale, with all sorts of facts included about the residents and architecture of the area, now largely gentrified.  I didn’t want a sideshow kind of tour — and it wasn’t.  But be careful of copycat tour operators.

Bodecia on Westminster Bridge
One of my favorites (well, they  all are!) was a recent one: Old Westminster. I had told myself that since I’d visited Westminster Abbey, watched a debate in the House of Commons and walked across Westminister Bridge in the past, I really didn’t need this tour.  Was I wrong or WHAT?  I learned so much!  And that is exactly what happens on all the tours.

Little Venice

Also highly recommended: the Little Venice walk through a neighborhood not far from Paddington Station. You’ll see lovely homes and a fascinating church with a monument to actress Sarah Siddons. St. Mary on Paddington Green is, for Regency lovers, more like churches looked in those days, before the Victorians tarted them up with fancy new stained glass and other gee-gaws.

St. Mary Paddington Green, completed 1791

One of the Walks I have taken at least three times is Legal and Illegal London or the Inns of Court.  You will learn all about the British legal system, the difference between solicitors and barristers, and how the law is taught and practiced while walking around the delightful buildings and gardens of the City.

Gray’s Inn

 And you will visit the Temple Church, full of fascinating lore, dating from the 12th century, but with many renovations, including repairs after the Blitz.

Temple Church

On the walk Secret London, you find out why there is a camel on the banks of the Thames and secrets of sculptor Sir Edwin Landseer’s lion paws in Trafalgar Square.

You’ll find walks geared to fans of Harry Potter, the Beatles, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare and many more clever approaches to seeing the great city.  There are some special opportunities to visit Olympic sites too.  Each Walk takes about two hours (don’t forget to visit the loo before starting out).
Most days of the week London Walks runs Explorer Days, to such not-to-be-missed- sights such as Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral, Canterbury, Bath, Oxford and many many more, all accessible by train.  These cost a little more, but if you don’t drive in England, it is a convenient way to see a bit of the countryside as well major cities.

The Roman  Baths, Bath

Another special set of walks visit pubs in the evening, a boon to those of us who sometimes visit solo and enjoy a bit of company with our  pints (or I suggest half paints as you will visit several pubs and time is short at each one).  Here is one of my favorite London pubs, though I can’t remember which walk features it.

Blackfriars Pub

I hope this has convinced you to try out some of the London Walks on your next visit.  You won’t be sorry.

If you, like me, have to stay home this year, you might send for London Stories, pub
lished by London Walks, and written by David Tucker and the Guides.  It’s a good armchair companion.  It’s available on their website and elsewhere.

Walking St. James's, Part Two

Victoria here, continuing my walk through parts of St. James’s…I reached Marlborough House, once the residence of Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), and his wife Alexandra of Denmark.

Since it was not only the day of Trooping the Colour but also part of the Open Squares weekend, the gardens of Marlborough House  were open to the public.  It is now the home of the Commonwealth Secretariat and Conference Center. The tents shown above not only dispensed hot tea, a necessity on this chilly day, but also displayed brochures and booklets on the 54 member nations of the Commonwealth.  Anyone for a vacation in Tasmania?

Marlborough House was built for Sarah Churchill, first Duchess of Marlborough by Sir Christopher Wren, closely bordering the grounds of St. James’s Palace.  Eventually the house was taken up by the crown and used by various members of the royal family.  For many years, as the residence of Edward and Alexandra, it was the home of the Marlborough Set, a late Victorian social circle around the Prince of Wales.

My favorite feature of these gardens was most definitely the Pet Cemetery where Alexandra’s dear little dogs are buried in a corner.  

I walked to the opposite corner of the gardens and watched the troops escorting the Queen back to Buckingham Palace. I stood on a mound inside the wall that gave an excellent views, only partially blocked by the police and mounted officers along the route.

A memorial to Queen Alexandria is built into the garden wall of Marlborough House, just opposite St. James’s Palace.

East facade of St. James’s, facing the grounds of Marlborough House
Queen’s Chapel, opposite St James’s Palace, north of Marlborough House
The Queen’s Chapel was built for Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, in 1625 and designed by Inigo Jones.  It is used for services at various times of the year that are open to the public.  It was originally Roman Catholic but is now Church of England.
I walked around the corner of St. James’s Palace to the more familiar facade of the palace which faces north, up St. James’s St. toward Piccadilly.
From here on, the royal connections are more limited: the warrants given to various merchants which supply the royal family and the memberships various royals hold in the gentleman’s clubs.
Berry Bros. and Rudd, wine merchants, est. 1698

Through a narrow passage beside the shop is Pickering Place, a small courtyard reputed to be the sight of duels.
  They must have involved swords for certainly it is too small for gun play.

Nearby is Lock and Co. Hatters, est. 1676.

D. R. Harris, Chemists, is located at 29  St. James’s St. Their website is here.

St. James’s Street is also the location of several of Britain’s most prestigious gentleman’s clubs. Below is Brook’s.

Here is the famous bow window of White’s.
When I reached the top of St. James’s Street, at Piccadilly, I turned east once more and sought the comforting, yet stimulating, confines of Hatchards Bookshop.  Oh, to be there once more!!  Their website is here.
I will leave you here, as I immerse myself in some wonderful volume — most likely more about London or British history.

Walking St. James's, Part One

St. James’s Palace

My pictures of London’s St. James’s over the years show astonishing similarity of views, but I keep trying to capture the essentials of the area and manage to fail.  St. James’s is the area around St. James’s Palace and was once, in the reign of the Stuarts, where “everyone” lived.  Before Kensington, before Belgravia, before Mayfair, St. James’s Square was — and is — the Place To Be.  Only the most exclusive clubs, the most distinguished businesses and retailers, the most luxurious hotels…the creme de la creme of London.

map of St. James’s
St. James’s is bordered on the east by Haymarket, on the north by Piccadilly, on the south by the Mall and St. James’s Park, and on the west by Green Park.  Once part of the royal hunting grounds itself, like the Parks, the area of St. James’s was granted by Charles II to Henry Jermyn (Earl of St.Albans) to develop as a residential neighborhood adjacent to St. James’s Palace.

Last June (2011), I watched the Queen and Royal Family, accompanied by a FEW of her  Guards, parade from Buckingham Palace along the Mall toward the parade ground at Horse Guards for the annual Trooping the Colour.  See this blog of July 30, 2011, for more.
The Queen was accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, beside her and following were Prince Charles, Prince William, and Princess Anne on their uniforms as Colonels of Guards regiments.

While the Queen was reviewing her troops, I took the opportunity to wander around St. James’s and snap more pictures.  I walked up the steps from the Mall between the two large buildings that comprise Carlton House Terrace, once the site of the Prince Regent’s fantastic Carlton House, demolished in 1825.

The large townhouses which comprise the Terrace wings and Carlton Gardens are mostly offices now but once housed distinguished figures such as Lord Palmerston. 
Waterloo Place is not much more than a parking lot, sadly. 
Waterloo Place with Duke of York Column
The large monument is to the Duke of York, son of George III and brother of George IV.
Waterloo Place was to be the terminal point of the great development of Regent Street, stretching from the Mall to Regent’s Park, as designed by architec
t John Nash for George IV, and for which Carlton House itself was demolished.  But unlike the nearby Trafalgar Square, it has never become a public gathering place of importance.
Looking in the other direction, north, up Regent Street.
 One one side  of Waterloo Place is the Traveller’s  Club and on the other is the Athenaeum with its garden.  I assume all the distinguished members were at Horse Guards, for it appeared to be rather deserted. 
Atheneaum, with equestrian statue of Edward VII
Athenaeum and Garden
Athenaeum Entrance
Things were pretty quiet with everyone watching for the Queen’s return, so I turned west and walked down Pall Mall.
Above, looking west on Pall Mall with London’s ever present traffic diversions
  At 87 Pall Mall is the elegant facade of Schomberg House with its Coade Stone figures supporting its portico.
Just a few steps farther is the handsome 79 Pall Mall with its lovely window set off by pink geraniums looking out at the busy street.
A building on this site, still part of the Crown Estate, was given to Nell Gwynne (1650-1687), the little orange seller who became the Restoration Theatre’s most famous actress — as well as being one of the mistresses of Charles II.

I’ll continue with my St. James’s Views soon…next stop, Marlborough House and St. James’s Palace.  How I long to return…there’s so much more to explore in just this one small area of London.