Inspired by Kristine’s London, posted on April 7, 2010, I decided to write about MY London.
I first visited as a college student and remember only Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a few nameless pubs, and the Tower of London. My next visit was a few years later, shortly before Christmas. I loved the lights on Regent’s Street and my introduction to Liberty, a fabulous store to which I return almost every time I get to England. Once I finished my holiday shopping, I attended a performance of Handel’s The Messiah at St. Paul’s Cathedral in the presence of the Queen Mother. I actually got a glimpse of her as she entered. Needless to say it was a memorable experience.
An aside about Liberty of London. Have you seen the great stuff now in Target Stores from Liberty? They have a current ad campaign in lots of glossy mags such as Vogue and Vanity Fair.
Although I adore the great museums of London: the British Museum, the National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and many more, I have a special affinity for the smaller museums where I can browse without rushing to be sure I don’t miss anything. One of these is Apsley House, the home of the first Duke of Wellington, but Kristine has already described it, so I will just say, “Me too.”
Among my faves is Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Square. Soane (1753-1837) was a brilliant architect. His house was not only a residence but also his school at which he trained young architects. It sums up all that is generous and eccentric about the British character, at least to me, for he left it to the nation to be open free in perpetuity.
Typical of the convoluted sagas of many British families is the story behind the Wallace Collection, an outstanding art museum in Hertford House, Manchester Square. The entire tale is told on their website; it includes royal mistresses, stupendous fortunes, illegitimate sons, marriage to a floozie, and generous public bequests.
Another museum I enjoy visiting is the Geffrye Collection of period rooms. right.
I’ll mention two more small museums I like:
The Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, just across Lincoln’s Inn Fields from Sir John Soane’s. It was begun in 1799 and has some of the original collections, including John Hunter’s (1728-1793) on the development of bones as well as specimens collected by renowned botanist Sir Joseph Banks (1743–1820).
And the Fan Museum in Greenwich. Not as famous as Greenwich’s other museums or the Observatory, but delightful all the same.
I often spend time pawing around in libraries and research centers, so I have to include The British Library, the National Archives, the Family Record Center, the Westminster Archives, the Colindale Newspaper Archives of the BL, and the Guildhall Library, all of which have helped my researching. This trip in June 2010 will mark my first trips to the VandA Art Library and the Hertfordshire Archives. Wish me luck!! I know there are lots of you out there who, like Kristine and me, love to pour over new sources of information wherever they are. Someday I want to obtain a membership in the London Library in St. James Square, the epitome of a research heaven.
As I have outlined before, I adore exploring houses, both modest and sumptuous. Among less pretentious are the Dickens House and the Carlyle House, where we see how the merely comfortable lived. But the big treasure houses are even more fun. Three of my favorites are out in the suburbs today, but they were once country retreats.
Anyone who loves the stories of Sally, Lady Jersey (see this blog’s post of April 2, 2010) should visit Osterley Park. There she (granddaughter of the banker Robert Child)and her husband entertained lavishly. The house is magnificent and well worth the trouble of getting there.
The same thing goes for Syon House, home of the Dukes of Northumberland, which has perfect Robert Adam décor. The circuit of rooms, from the starkly classical black and white of the entrance hall, through the brilliantly colored Ante-Room to the dining room, the Red Drawing Room and the Library, provides the ideal impression of a great country house.
The third outlying property is Chiswick House, the Palladian model built by the 3rd Earl of Burlington in 1729. It became the property of his youngest daughter, Lady Charlotte Boyle, wife of the 4th Duke of Devonshire. During the time of the Fifth Duke and his Duchess Georgiana, it was a center of aristocratic social and political life. The house is a perfect jewel box surrounded by a lovely garden.
Now that I am sounding rather like a travelogue, I want to advise visitors to London to take advantage of the reasonably priced and never disappointing London Walks. I have never had a bad experience with any of their offerings, and I have taken many including Explorer Days Out. The only problem is that the crowds get large during the height of the tourist season. Just make sure that you are dealing with the original London Walks, not some rip-off outfit.
In the many times I’ve been to London, I’ve stayed in all sorts of places, from huge tourist hotels (dumps) to small BandBs to one memorable interlude at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park (guess which I liked best). I’ve rented apartments in several neighborhoods and a house in Chelsea. London is hard on the budget, but if you look carefully, there are reasonable accommodations and almost-inexpensive food choices (try Indian).
Over the years, I was lucky enough to see Rufus Sewell play Septimus in Arcadia by Tom Stoppard (probably the most exciting night of theatre I’ve had), the Royal Shakespeare company and several operas at Covent Garden. I wish they would have fewer Broadway musicals in London – the two cities sometimes seem almost interchangeable (Lion King, Chicago, Chorus Line, etc. etc. etc.—who cares?). But I admit I love to see British plays when they come to the U.S., so I am totally hypocritical on this topic!
Just so this is not an endless list (which it could easily be) or more stuff that sounds too much like bragging, I will conclude My London with another fun pub, worth visiting for its décor as well as its pints. Blackfriar’s Pub is usually jammed. So be prepared to wait for a table. Take along a book!
In closing, I quote the inimitable Dr. Johnson (1709-1784):
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
That goes for this woman too!
He’s fought for his country, now he’s fighting for his heart.
The battlefields of Badajoz are nothing compared to the cutting tongues of polite society, but Jack Vernon has never been very “polite.” A canvas is this brooding artist’s preferred company—having once been the outlet for the horror he witnessed at war, it’s now his fortune.
Painting the portrait of stunningly beautiful Ariana Blane is his biggest commission yet. Learning every curve of her body ignites feelings he thought were destroyed in battle. But he’s not the only man who has Ariana in his sights….
In writing Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady RITA Award winning author Diane Gaston has created a true page turner. Really. I picked up the book at 7 p.m., and the next time I looked at the clock it was 9 o’clock. I finished it at 10:30 – read straight through! While the story is touted as a romance, and it is that, it’s so much more – it’s a richly detailed tale peopled with characters who are not only believable, but who ring true. I never once wanted to kick a character in the arse and scream, “For God’s sake get on with it/open your mouth/grow up/use your head and move the plot along!”
Jack Vernon is a talented artist plagued by waking nightmares of the horrors of Badajoz, Ariana Blane is the gorgeous actress who intrigues him since their first meeting at the Royal Academy. But one of the backers of the play Ariana currently appears in is the odious Tranville, who wants Ariana for himself. No matter that Tranville has made Jack’s widowed mother his mistress for years and made the family beholden to him through his financial support. As if that isn’t enough for a wealth of plot twists and turns, there’s Jack’s sister, the sweet natured Nancy, and the matter of the plans surrounding her upcoming marriage – deviously arranged by Tranville. And, the entire plot is deliciously tied up and culminates on the field of Waterloo! You can read the first chapter here.
I so enjoyed Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady that I immediately went online to buy The Mysterious Miss M, which reviews say is Diane’s tour de force. For all the news about Diane’s past and future books, you can visit her website here.
It occurred to me that before Victoria and I begin posting about the things we plan to see and do on our tour, you should know just what it is we plan to see and do. To that end, here’s our itinerary:
Thursday, June 10th – Victoria arrives in London
Saturday, June 12th – Kristine and Brooke arrive in London, and within hours we head out to the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace to see the Victoria and Albert: Art and Love exhibition. Then it’s over to Apsley House (Yes!) and a walk round the St. James’s area, taking in the Square, the side streets, the shops and Piccadilly. No doubt we’ll be dropping in to the Red Lion Pub, a few doors up from the Almack’s Building, for a pint. Or two. That night, we’ll be dining at the Grenadier Pub in Wilton Row, once the local pub for the men in the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment and filled with military and Wellington memorabilia.
Sunday, June 13th – This one is subject to change. It’s either off to a Sunday roast at Gordon Ramsay’s Chelsea restaurant, Foxtrot Oscar’s, and then on to the National Army Museum and perhaps to Liberty’s before they close at 6 p.m. Or, Victoria will be doing research while Brooke and I head out to Hampstead, the Heath and Kenwood House.
Monday, June 14th – To Kensington Palace, with tea in the Orangery, and then we’re off to Cecil Court and Charing Cross Road for book browsing, to Grosvenor Prints in Seven Dials for print browsing, followed by drinks at the Landsdowne Club and perhaps a dinner of Peking duck in Leicester Square.
Tuesday, June 15th – We’re off to Windsor to spend the day with author Hester Davenport. A tour of the Castle, old Windsor and a meal are all on the agenda. No plans for this evening, as no doubt we’ll be knackered.
Wednesday, June 16th – Victoria’s husband, Ed, arrives and she’s off to spend the day with him. If they haven’t yet made it to Hampstead, Brooke and Kristine will do that. If they have, then instead they plan to visit lots of pubs, browse at Top Shop and Sephora and God only knows what else.
Thursday, June 17th – We all head out to Dover, cross the English Channel and end up in Waterloo – Woooo Hooooo!
Friday, June 18th – Tour of the Waterloo sights and battle camps, with fireworks in the evening. Wooo Hooo again!
Saturday, June 19th – Visit the battle locations in and around Waterloo, with evening tour in Brussels titled “Walking in Wellington’s Footsteps.” Double Woooo Hoooo!
Sunday, June 20th – The re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo – Huzzah! After which, Brooke and I again follow in Wellington’s footsteps and head off to Paris for a few days, while Victoria and Ed embark on a Rhine river cruise.
So there you have it. As I’ve indicated before, Victoria and I will be doing in-depth blogs on the various places we plan to visit and . . . . we’ll be bringing along a video camera, which neither of us really knows how to use beyond the old “point and shoot” method. If you can put up with the shaking, weird camera angles, any light problems and the like, we’ll be posting the videos on this blog for all to see. . . . as they say in England – oy vey.