A Few Days in London…..11th to 16th January 2018

 

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We stayed in Acton with our son David and his wife Jennifer in their renovated flat. Buses and Underground to…..everywhere. Weather not brilliant, but we were here to use our National Art passes to good effect. First stop was appropriately No. 1 London i.e. the Duke of Wellington‘s Apsley House at Hyde Park Corner.  I had long wanted to visit here. As a historian knowing quite a lot about the man and his history I wanted to see his home. Having conquered at Waterloo, the nation gave him money to build a palace (rather like the the gift of Blenheim to Marlborough). However the Duke decided his modest country place at Stratfield Saye and modifications to Apsley House (which he bought from his brother) would be quite good enough thank you. Apsley House is quite average in size and has no gardens to speak of, but the remodelling and extending was done to such effect that the interior is quite magnificent. And that is what the Duke intended. It had to be a palatial interior to be a suitable place for him to receive the Great and the Good from all over Europe….and to be an apt repository for the absolutely magnificent gifts with which he was showered from every corner. To go round the house we had an audio guide and this was excellent (I don’t often use them). The pics just give a small idea of the style of the house including a thirty foot long dessert display. But one of the stars of the show was the Waterloo shield in its custom-made case which is displayed on a side table every year at the Waterloo Banquet. And this banquet takes place in perhaps the most astonishing room in the house – the Waterloo Gallery ‘one of the great palatial interiors of Britain’, a double cube ninety feet long and whose walls are filled with most of the Spanish royal collection of paintings…..gifted to the Duke by the King of spain after Wellington rescued them from the baggage train of the defeated Louis Napoleon. Here is the shield with Wellington at centre (and his major battles around the outside)……

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and part of the room itself….

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As with all great men lots of stories attach to the persona. I was reading one in the Times today…apparently when at a Reception in Austria some French soldiers turned their backs when he entered the room, the hostess apologised, but the Duke merely said ‘Ma’am, I have seen their backs before’. I also like his comments after his first Cabinet meeting as PM: “An extraordinary affair. I gave them their orders and they wanted to stay and discuss them.” Extraordinary is the word. We would love to return to Apsley House.

Another great trip was to Ham House on the Thames near Richmond. Taking the buses as we usually do meant quite a long walk but it was interesting to see the various impressive houses in the surrounds to Ham……

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and the first view of the house itself was spectacular enough…..a rare survival of a Stuart house and

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the creation of the tenacious Duchess of Lauderdale and her husband, the Duke, who together transformed Ham into one of the grandest Stuart houses in England. (The Duke is the ‘L’ in the famous Cabal.) Before even entering we had a half-hour tour with an architect around the outside of the house )something more sites should do surely), and this was as informative of the history of the house and its gardens as well as its architecture. One really interesting feature is the busts of famous men set into roundels on the house itself and into the semicircular flanking walls.

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The front door itself is very inviting…

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and once inside we were able to visit the ground-floor rooms that are open in winter and get a real flavour of the people who lived here and their tastes. Unusually the house was administered by the V & A before the National Trust and that is very apparent in the wealth of paintings and artefacts which they have brought back to the house. I was glad to read today that the NT also bought 4 paintings at sale which used to hang at Ham and have replaced them. Surely there are so many paintings in store throughout the country that should be brought out and placed where they belong?

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The Duchess’s private bathing room in the servants part of the house (to make hot water refills easier) is a very rare survivor indeed

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as is the still room at the back of the house where the Duchess liked to distil some of the many herbs from her kitchen garden..

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but the most striking thing about the house itself was the friendliness and knowledge of the NT guides (this isn’t always the case!)….they were superb. A lovely house I would love to revisit. And to cap it all we found a terrific city centre pub in Kingston with two real fires blazing away for a nice pint or two….

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Yet another interesting visit was to Kensington Palace. Getting there, or anywhere in London, is always an adventure as there is so much to see whether buildings…

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or statues….

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or iconic monuments…

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Strolling through Kensington Park on our way to the Palace was very pleasant, and made interesting in that we passed the whole of the Everton football team (including Roonie) out for a stroll before their heavy defeat a bit later!

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The outside looked very promising…..

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and, once inside, we made straight for the cafe which was good as they go. We then went round the King’s Apartments and the Queens Apartments (this being William and Mary) and, whilst imposing in some respects, the whole interior seemed gloomy and lacking any atmosphere…

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It was interesting to see some of the court costumes…

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but as I am getting cynical in my old age it all reeked of flummery. However going into the Princess Diana exhibition one could say that her costumes carried on in the same vein……..except that, on her, they were spectacular of course…the design prints were super too……

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What a gorgeous princess, and how tragic her death per se and for the monarchy I feel.

Interesting too was the exhibition on Victoria who lived here as a young girl and was informed she was Queen here and held her first Council here…

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On the Sunday we had a train trip with David and Jennifer to Hampstead Heath. I must say it was nice, and the view of London was pretty spectacular, but I wouldn’t make the effort to go there again…I was disappointed, and it was so, so busy with people. It makes us realise how lucky we are to live in the country.

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and some nice expensive houses….often called (ironically?) cottages……

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Of all the things we did in London the best by far was to spend a day at the National Gallery. Having never been there before I didn’t know what to expect. I have to conclude it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Seemingly all the famous pictures you know, there in your face, and almost touchable (we didn’t!). It was incredible. One picture that immediately appealed was the Holbein of Erasmus….you really feel you can get into the man, and what he represented…

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as for The Ambassadors well its size was overwhelming…who could not be impressed?

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Whilst wandering around it was great to see activity….

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and to look through the windows now and again…

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What impressed me most was the huge collection of Impressionists…I just loved looking at them all and seeing before my eyes how the style developed and how the painters interlinked….

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the snow scenes were particularly magnificent…

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but, having looked at what seemed like hundreds of paintings, being gluttons for punishment, we were then taken on an hour’s tour by one of the Gallery’s own experts one Lydia (Greek I think?). It goes without saying that her knowledge was vast, but it was the economical and enjoyable way in which she communicated it that was so good. What great learning experience…..we learned for instance that it was in the great sea-faring Empire of Venice that canvases first came into use when they cut down the old sails from their ships…logical when you think about it, but I never had.

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Also it was Venetian artists like Titian who had access to their trading networks who came to use Ultramarine Blue….so rare and valuable that it was worth more than gold. What a show-off the patron who commissioned  this picture was!

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Before leaving we had a quick glance at the Canalettos (I was hoping to see one of his scenes of Warwick, but they were all of boring old Venice!), another cup of tea, and then the bus home….can’t wait to go again.

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Our last trip was to the Design Museum which had relocated to the Commonwealth Institute building…the building itself was quite as impressive as its amazing contents…we approached it via the wonderful setting of Holland Park

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and past a Paolozzi (with whom we are very familiar from the Museum of Modern Art in Edinburgh where there is a terrific recreation of his studio)…..

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Our starting point, as often, was the cafe which F. and I both thought was quite exceptional…would that every cafe had such marvellous food. I couldn’t help but take pictures of the building….

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but we spent a long time looking at the displays which were enormously interesting and very informative…..here for instance are Jon Snow’s ties, and with them went a lovely film showing exactly how they are designed and sourced and made…

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but wherever you turned there was something to grab your interest…

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What a lucky pick it had been to make this our last trip…..all in all hugely enjoyable. What a place London is, what treasures it contains, how much I despise its Metropolitan elite and all it stands for!! How relieved to get back to the peace and quiet and clean air of St Keyne.

 

 

 

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