My London by Kristine Hughes

I’ve been to London many times and whenever those who don’t know me very well ask why I keep returning to the same city, I’m hard pressed to explain to them what London means to me. My London is not the city that exists now. Madame Tussaud’s and the London Eye are all well and good, but my London is the old city, the Square Mile that was bordered to the north by the Oxford Road, to the South by Vauxhall Gardens, to the east by Mile End Road and to the west by Hyde Park. To my mind, Richmond, Hampstead, Brixton and Golder’s Green are not in London. Though I may visit these places, they lay outside the parameters of the London I see in my mind, the London I see when I walk the streets today. You can still see Georgian, Regency and Victorian London on practically every street. Kensington Palace, St. James’s Palace and Apsley House still exist. Hatchard’s bookshop and Fortnum and Mason, the Burlington Arcade and the Tower are still to be found. True, there are no longer Hansom cabs or sedan chairs for hire, no hawkers crying their wares in the streets and, certainly, no dandies strolling in St. James’s Street, but every now and then you come across a London view so perfect, so historically right, that it makes the trip worthwhile.

One of the stops I always make while in London is Apsley House, London home of the Dukes of Wellington, where today you’ll find all of the many paintings and gifts bestowed upon the first Duke by grateful nations on display. While the current Duke of Wellington does live there, the portions of Apsley House now open to the public have a museum feel, there’s nothing of Wellington the man left to see except for a small room in the basement that houses some of his army gear. But again, portions of the upstairs rooms do offer views onto 19th century life. Enough to make me return time and again.

Perhaps what I love best about London are the modern day memories my visits have provided and the people I’ve met along the way. There was the time I was strolling down the Mall with a tour group and our way was suddenly blocked by a burgundy Rolls Royce coming out of a drive and stopping right in front of us. It was an older Rolls and the windows were as large as those found in some houses. Looking through the back passenger window, my gaze met and held that of Prince Charles. He was dressed in full regimental regalia no less. He smiled at me and raised his gloved hand to the visor of his hat in a jaunty salute before the car pulled away. Then there was the day that I was taken to the Victoria and Albert Museum and for a cruise up the river by David Parker, then curator of the Dickens House Museum. At one point during our ramblings, David took hold of my elbow, stopped me and pointed to a second story window. Looking up, I saw Inigo Jones’s ceiling of the Banqueting House through the upper storey windows. Amazing. Another memory I’ll always cherish is the time Anthony Lejeune, author of The Gentlemen’s Clubs of London, invited me to dinner at Brooks’s Club. Walking up the stairs to the second floor dining room, I came face to face with Sir Thomas Lawrence’s full length portrait of George IV. Having port after dinner in library, I gazed at the portraits of the Dilettanti Society that range the walls and marveled at the fact that there were bed billows, in white pillow cases, placed on the arms of the leather couches, ready for any member who felt the overwhelming need of a nap.

On our upcoming trip to London this June, as soon as I land on the Saturday, I’ll meet up with Victoria Hinshaw and the first thing we plan to do is to walk the St. James’s area. We’ll visit the lesser streets, give a nod to the Almack’s building, stroll by the statue of Beau Brummell and, no doubt, raise a pint at the miniscule Red Lion pub in King Street, a perfectly preserved time capsule of a Victorian pub.  No doubt I’ll be returning home with many more memories to treasure . . . . .  . More musings on adventures ahead soon, as well as detailed blogs on the sites Victoria and I have on our itinerary.  

9 thoughts on “My London by Kristine Hughes”

  1. Kristine! Seeing Prince Charles that day is a cherished memory for me, too–especially your face as we realized who it was.

    I was just recommending Floris and Apsley House and Lock and Co. to my friend Keira who wanted recommendations of what to see in London. Can you imagine? Some people think Apsley House is optional!!!!

  2. Talk about jaw dropping – that moment taught me the true meaning of the word flummoxed! Apsley House is certainly not optional – it's a pilgrimage. Except for Brooke, who refuses to go anymore. She says twice was enough for her – philistine.

  3. For me, seeing Princess Margaret sitting a few rows in front of me at a production of Lady in the Dark, and then seeing her later only a few feet in front of me was magical. She was tiny and lovely skin. My favorite places in London are the V&A, and having a lovely afternoon tea somewhere. Last trip it was the Wolsley restaurant. I also love the Wallace Collection. Every trip, I always try and seeing something new that I've never seen before.

  4. I was in London once a week from the ages of nine to twelve as I went to the London College of Music for my piano and music theory lessons. I did make several trips strictly in tourist mode and returned once again when I was in college for a brief visit, but I never really got to see London as I want to now – the way you saw it. I am dying to go back and see it now with the eyes I've acquired through my study of the Regency. One day.

  5. I can honestly say that it's my fondest wish that each of you get to London soon. I know what it's like to long to go there – I long for it something fierce between visits, believe me. And each and every time the plane touches down on English soil, I burst into tears. I'm finally where I belong. Vicky and I are bringing a video camera with us and we promise to take lots of shots of every conceivable thing you'll be interested in and post them here on the site. Wouldn't it be great if we could all plan a trip to London together in the next few years?

  6. Diane Gaston pointed me to your blog, Kristine (and Vicky). (And of course I have Kristine's book.) What a marvelous recounting of your visit. This is the kind of travelogue I love to read, instead of a laudry list of places people went to.

    And Kristine, I'm the phillistine, Diane lovingly mentioned above. 🙂

  7. Keira – I should introduce you to the other philistine, my daughter Brooke, who has had enough of Apsley House – as though there could be such a thing! I'm so glad you found us, Keira. So you're going to London, too? You'll have to do a guest blog for us when you get back and let us know all about your adventures, okay? Kristine

  8. I saw Prince Charles in his well-groomed flesh several years ago when I was researching My Lady Scandalous. Had just spent a tiring morning at the Newspaper Archive in North London and had stopped off at the Royal Academy for a cuppa. As I went into the Ladies' Room to wash up, two upper-class matrons were all a-twitter trying to figure out what Royal or otherwise-important person was on the premises — there was police presence all over the place — and they nearly swooned when they learned it was Prince Charles. They ran out the door — which is just behind the main stairs to the museum — me, following, hastily wiping my hands on a paper towel — and there he was, himself, coming down the stairs, looking very well indeed, not a hair (of those he has left) out of place, wearing a gorgeous bespoke medium-grey suit, his complexion glowing. Very gracious. These two women practically had orgasms, whilst I just took careful note of everything, including the flower (a carnation) in his buttonhole. Later, at my daughter's in West London, as I described all to her and my grandchildren, my eldest grand-daughter was most upset. "Your jeans are all torn in the seat! The Prince could see your bottom!" she exclaimed. And they were, indeed, but I assured her that I had not taken off my very long cardigan, which covered the offending bit, my bottom. Heck, they were my favorite jeans, very comfortable for long stays in nasty research archives! She, however, was mortified and I have never heard the end of it 🙁

Leave a Reply