Tea Time in London, and more London Libraries

Victoria here. Before I finish my tea, I will tell you about several other London libraries I have used for research. After my day in the reading rooms of the British Library, I took the train to Hertford, a little north of London, and worked at the Hertfordshire Archives.  I took a taxi to the County Hall, where in addtion to the archives, they perform weddings and all sorts of other governmental business.

I had accessed their archival catalogue on line and pre-ordered a number of papers related to the Melbourne and Cowper families who had country houses and large land holdings there. The archives had more material than I could use in just one day, so I had to sort through a lot of things I wished I had time to look at — and tried to concentrate on the most significant materials for my needs. 

Darn if that isn’t a frustrating thing — when you have all sorts of letters, from ones telling the bailiff to do something about a certain field, or an account of a church fete organization, it’s hard not to read the whole thing.  But by 2:30, my eyes had glazed over and I headed back to London.  If I need the material again, they will copy some documents for me — or for you — more for a fee, but a few without charge if you have the specific numbers.

I got to the VandA National Art Library on Friday afternoon just an hour before it closed. Again, I had preregistered on line and asked for a certain sale catalogue I wanted to see.  Even though I doubted I would finish with it that day, at least I would have an idea of how much more time I’d need. 

Luckily, the material was brief: sales of rugs, bronzes, and a few other items.  So I had it copied (again, without charge) and I was done!  Amazing.  

Everyone was as nice as could be in both facilities. And I feel I accomplished most of my purposes. No one at eitjher place wanted any documentation of my status (darn good thing I guess) nor did they ask my purposes. It ws great! But was I hungry!!! That was a teatime too at the VandA, which is open late on Friday nights. 

Last year, I did some research at the Westminster Archives, which also has its catalogues on line. It has books, papers and records for the western part of what we call London, the part outside of the city.  I used microfiches and several rolls of microfilm, with the capable assistance of a librarian and found out exactly what I needed about a few streets in Mayfair — the parish records showed who lived where and when. Their facilities are located just a short distance from Westminster Abbey.

Three years ago I used the Colindale reading room of the British Library, on the Northern tube line. That’s where you can read the papers on  microfilm, microfiche, and in the case of the Morning Chronicle from the regency period, in bound copies. I felt the pages almost flake as I turned them. Very fragile indeed.  And talk about being easily diverted — wow. Everything was of interest. Quite a few of these newspapers can be accessed through the Library of Congress or the British Library on line.  There may be a  fee involved, but it’s worth checking.

Here’s one I haven’t been to yet.  If I had a pile of pounds, I would join the London Library, a private institution in St. James Square with a superb collection.  Georgette Heyer is said to have done most of her research there.  Someday, I’ll make it.

Because I only have one internet connection at the hotel, I don’t have any links to these places, but you will find them easily with google.

Now, as I sip my last drop of tea, I will tell you I went back to Buckingham Palace this morning, to the Queen’s Gallery Shop.  I bought a catalogue of the exhibition “Victoria and Albert in Love” that Kristine and I visited week before last. And a few other things. We rode the bus, as it is a beautiful day in London, but a bit on the warm side and those tube stations can be sweltering.  And anyway, even with the bumpy streeets, crazy traffic and constant noise, it’s fun to sit and look around.

We dropped off the loot at our hotel and wandered off to the British Library to see the exhibition there on maps.  Fascinating. Also walked around in the their permanent collection, the Magna Carta to the Beatles lyrics and music, including Jane Austen’s writing desk presented to the BL by the late Joan Austen-Leigh, one of the founders of JASNA, and a relative of the Austens.  Before the family gave the desk to the library, I was at a meeting where it was shown and I have touched it!!! 

After lunch we tottered off to the British Museum for a brief visit. Like the BL, it was jammed with people.  Huge crowd around the Rosetta Stone and inspecting the Elgin Marbles.

 Ed came back to the hotel, but I had to have one last crack at a nearby Ox-Fam bookshop.  Things were mostly too recent for my tastes, but I found a novel to read on the plane tomorrow.

So we  have abused our feet and backs again, even though we tried to take it easier today.  And since the tea is now cold, I’d better quit.


Return to London

Victoria here —  This morning (Sunday) our ship arrived in Basel, Switzerland, and we disembarked, heading for London.  The Rhine Cruise was wonderful, a congenial group of mostly Americans, a goodly number of Brits, and a few Australians. Quite a few of us were returning to London via train (I guess when we made the arrangements we were all considering the possibility that Icelandic volcano could have spoiled our plans).

So we boarded the French high speed train, the TGV, to Paris. It made several stops but was indeed fast. Lovely views of the summery countryside of France most of the way.  We arrived at the Paris East Station and took a taxi to Paris Gare du Nord — not very far. But it was HOT!! Must have been  in the 90’s.

We got on the Eurostar and sped off to London St. Pancras, which was also pretty warm. The trains were fantastic, efficient and why don’t we have them in the US????? Clean. Comfortable. Smooth. I really could rant about it, but I won’t.  I’ll just add that both trains were entirely booked with reserved seats.

We taxied to our hotel for two nights, the Radisson Edwardian Kenilworth, half a block from the British Museum. Left, the British Museum in 1811.

 London is also in the 80’s, but breezy and not as humid as Paris. It’s supposed to be like this all week, so if you aren’t busy, get yourself over here to enjoy the Great British Summer. Yeah.

We strolled around in the early evening and stopped at a little Italian restaurant with four tables  outside — delicious and very friendly. We talked with a couple of writers from Orlando and a German woman who lives in Durham. 

London was rather quiet tonight, with a lot a disappointment all around at the loss to Germany in the World Cup. Long faces.

Now we are resting up and hoping to put in a busy day tomorrow.  I have only one required stop, at the Buckingham Palace Shop, to buy a few goodies.  Maybe the Museum of London, but maybe just some strolls since the weather will be perfect. Sorry this post is information-less, but I am  just happy to be here!!

Back in the U.S. of A

Kristine here, back in the land of television shows in English and computer keyboards with all the keys where they should be. I did try to post while in France, but honestly, it was too frustrating. As Vicky has posted, once she is also back in the States we’ll be posting blogs and pics of our trip, but for now I’ll give you the highlights of the Wellington tour once Vicky and I parted ways. Vicky and Ed left us on Sunday morning, Battle of Waterloo day, in order to make their cruise connection. Brooke and I went on with the tour to the re-enactment site.

When we’d visited the day before to see the military camps, La Belle Alliance and Hougemount, someone had asked me if I were going to walk to the top of the Lion’s Mound, the great man-made hill erected to commemorate the Battle and I responded, emphatically, no. It’s an almost verticle hill with many, many steps to the top. Well, dear reader, never say never. It turns out that there were so many visitors to the battle that if you’d stayed on the ground, you’d never see a thing, being five or six deep in a crowd of spectators. It was absolutely freezing on the day, and had rained the day before so Brooke and I bought commemorative Waterloo blankets (not kidding) and began the long climb up the mound. We got about half way there and found ourselves spots from which to view the action. Once you left the stairs, you had to crouch down in order to walk to your place, the slope is so steep. Also, it’s covered in slippery grass, with no footholds to speak of. Talk about harrowing. Brooke later told me that she’d never before actually seen terror in anyone’s eyes as she had when she was helping me to our place. The fact that people above us kept losing their personal items – cameras, umbrellas and such – and that these kept rolling down the hill past us did not offer us much comfort. At last we found purchase, digging our heels and butts into the hillside in order to gain a bit of purchase, and settled in for the show. . .

And what a show it was. It was absolutely thrilling to be in the thick of the Battle, so to speak. The  formations, the cannons going off, the rifles being fired, the smoke enveloping the field as mounted calvary cantered across the field, all of it was fabulous. And to add to the authenticity of the thing, it began to bucket down rain. So now I’m precariously perched on the side of the Mound, watching the battle, holding an umbrella over us and trying to film the Battle. It was at this point that Brooke told me she wasn’t into Wellington as much as I was and this was all more of a sacrifice than she was prepared to make and that she was going down the pub to wait for me in the dry, with a drink. Thank God one of fellow tour members, an exceedingly nice man who was a retired police detective from Surrey, was with us and able to help me back down the Mound at the end or I’d still be sitting at the Battlefield.

Vicky and I took masses of photos all along the way and we promise to post them soon – shots of the military camps, the battle sites and lots of re-enactors in various uniforms. I also took much video – including footage of “Wellington” on horseback, galloping between regiments – and if I can figure out how to edit these, I’ll be posting them in the near future. It’s grand to be back and we look forward to sharing our trip via our posts here soon.

Do You Know About The National Trust and the Royal Oak Society?

Victoria here…a loyal member of the Royal Oak Society for quite a few years.  This is the U.S. organization that supports the National Trust in Britain. If you live in a major U.S. city, or visit one from time to time, you might find that one of the Royal Oak’s lectures could be on your agenda.

They bring historians, decorators, architectural critics and gardeners to the U.S. for programs in New York City, and several other cities, usually chosen from Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D. C., Chicago, and Los Angeles. Sometimes Miami, Charleston, San Francisco and others. The programs I have attended are marvelous.

To learn more about the Royal Oak, click here. There are many other worthwhile activities, too. But the very best thing is that you are part of the British National Trust and you are admitted free to all NT properties, not to mention getting a discount at their shops.

Here is the connection to the NT. As you probably know if you are an Anglophile, the National Trust is a fantastic organization that works to protect the land and the heritage of Great Britain. I have this dream that someday I will get to all of the places run by the National Trust, particularly the stately homes.

While the NT is an exceptionally well run professional organization, with a wonderful list of publications, most of the guards/guides in the buildings are volunteers, well-trained, but nevertheless, volunteers.  I have heard some wonderful stories from these worthy souls about their experiences — and most of them are only too glad to chat with guests, especially when they find out you are a member of the Royal Oak — then you are really someone special.

One day, a pal and I were at Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire  which was used for many of the interior shots of Pemberley in the 1995 Colin Firth version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. There was a large display in the stable of costumes from the film.  My friend and I walked slowly through the handsome rooms, reading about them in the guidebook and listening to the volunteer guides. 

We reached a large bedchamber decorated in red satin.  I turned to my pal and said, “Oh, this is the room where Darcy changed his coat!”

Well, the poor gentleman in charge of that room had heard that remark one too many times.  “Madam!” he sputtered. “This is not only the room where Darcy (here his voice dripped with exasperation) changed his coat. THIS was the bedchamber of Queen Adelaide after her husband died. She lived in this house for part of her life and this was her room.”
He meant the wife of William IV who had a rather sad widowhood, not really welcomed to court by Queen Victoria’s Mama, who wished Adelalide far, far away to reduce her possible influence on the young Queen.

My friend and I tried not to giggle as we assured the gentleman that we appreciated his information and felt ourselves quite well corrected in our views. This was a gentleman who took his history seriously, not to be toyed with by movie fans.

Another funny story I heard from an NT volunteer guide was a Saltram House.  She had been on duty during the filming of the Emma Thompson film of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.  Her specific assignment was to protect the Chippendale sofas in the Saloon. They are too large and fragile to be moved, so one volunteer was needed at each of the pair to keep the technicians from draping their dirty cables and cords over the delicate satin upholstery. Every day. In addition, the guide told us that during the filming, the beautiful carpeting was rolled up and replaced temporarily by a painted floor cloth, which looks exactly the same in the film. Rolling cameras and all the crew could tramp around on the floor cloth to their heart’s content.

One of my favorite parts of being a Royal Oak/NT member is getting the annual guidebook to their properties and their quarterly newsletters, just packed with information I use to plan my next visits.

So hat’s off to the NT and Royal Oak — and everyone else who works so hard to keep Britain’s cultural history and precious unspoiled land  available to all of us!  Huzzah!!

Knole, Kent (left)

Bodiam Castle, Kent (below)

Brancaster, Norfolk, salt marshes (left)


 Right, Scotney Castle and Garden, Kent

Napoleon's old territory

Victoria here.  We have reached the spot in our Rhine Cruise where the river is the border between France and Germany. Today we toured the city of Strasbourg, home of the European parliament aand other EU institutions.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised to find the first Place we encoutered was Place d’Austerlitz, where the Corsican general and his troops stopped on their way to the important battle of the same name, which thoroughly whipped the Austrians, IIRC. Hmmmm.

But despite that little reminder, the town itself is charming — parts of it are very French and parts monumentally German. It has passed back and forth, as has its whole region of Alsace a number of times. Here is some of the French part.

Many canals and the river Ill flow through and around the town center.  We saw lots of storks which live at the top of specially trimmed trees and quite calmly stared at us from their large nests.  Around the town I also saw evidence of the geese the region is famous for, but not a single one on the  river — just swans and ducks.

Of course the city is renowned for its ancient cathedral, combining Romanesque and Gothic features. It has a very complicated astrological clock that keeps the time, date, month, year, sign of the zodiac, lunar phases, etc.–all so old you would never guess they had the ability to fine tune such a huge instrument.  Some of the windows are extremely old and quite beautiful. The large rose window was destroyed in WWII bombing, so it is a new creation.

We finished off our stay with a lovely luncheon of French specialities: Quiche Lorraine and Flambe something, which was a very thin-crusted pizza aith local cheeses. And lovely wine from nearby vineyards.

Tomorrow we cruise further south, which is upstream, since the Rhine flows from Switzerland (Lake Constanz) to the Niorth Sea. Our curise direction,  from Amsterdam to Basel, has us moving south but upstream and the current is very very fast.  The boat must have a good strong engine to push us along, while going the other way, you’d hardly have to use any power at all except to stay in the channels.

Our off-boat trip will be to a section of the Black Forest.  Then on Sunday morning Ed and I leave the Viking Sun and take the train to Paris where we merely change stations to return to London by Eurostar.  I am busy making plans for a few last minute visits on the one day we have in London before going home.

I believe that Kristine and Brooke are soon to be back home, so next week, we will try to fill you in on all our London activities (we didn’t have a computer until Ed arrived), and sift through our pictures and video. I hope some of them, at least, will be worth the wait.