Sunday, August 02, 2009
Some Accidental Sightseeing
I decided to walk from my hotel on Great Russell St to get the Tube from Chancery Lane to Piccadilly which is where The Royal Academy is. I was walking along streets full of modern buildings when all of a sudden this appeared in front of me. I had no idea what it was but took some photographs anyway. When I got home I told DH about it and he said ' Oh you should have gone through the archway, there's a wonderful courtyard at the back.' It turns out to be Staple Inn, it was built in 1586 and managed somehow to survive both the Great Fire of London in 1666 and also the Second World War. It's the last surviving one of the original nine Inns of Chancery - these housed associations of junior lawyers in London from medieval times until the 19th century. DH worked in the City of London for many years and went to London on business virtually every week during the thirty odd years that he worked in Sheffield so he is a mine of information on the history of this part of London. All the photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.
This is the courtyard of Burlinton House, the home of the Royal Academy and also five other learned Societies including the Linnean Society, the Society of Antiquaries and.....
.... the Royal Astronomical Society. Burlington House was once one of the great London Town houses and belonged originally to the Earl of Burlington then later it was inherited by the Duke of Devonshire. As the Devonshires already had the magnificent Devonshire House as their residence in Town Burlington House was eventually sold to the Government in the mid 19th century.
The statue of Sir Joshua Reynolds who was the first President of the Royal Academy when it was founded in 1768. He held this position until his death in 1792. Quite why he is wearing a garland of flowers I'm not sure but it does add a nice summery note to things.
There are buildings on three sides of the courtyard and the fourth side has this archway which leads out onto Piccadilly.
Just across the road from Burlington House is one of my favourite London shops - Fortnum and Mason. The Food Hall is an Aladdin's cave of wonderful exotic foods and the most fabulous handmade chocolates. Afternoon tea there is a very pleasant experience too though there's usually quite a queue for a table. It was nearly 5.30pm though so no time to go in there this trip. This is where the unexpected part of the day began, Piccadilly was absolutely seething with people so I turned down Lower Regent St thinking I'd walk down to the bottom and find a quieter Tube station. It's a while since I've been in this part of London and I'd forgotten that if you walk down Lower Regent St and through Waterloo Place you are on the Mall with Admiralty Arch at one end and Buckingham Palace at the other and Horse Guards Parade just over the road. Horse Guards was nearest so I decided to wander over and take a few test photos with my new little camera (would you believe that I forgot to pack my Olympus!!)
Horse Guards is best known these days for being the place where the Trooping of the Colour takes place each June celebrating the official birthday of the Queen. Originally though this was the site of the tiltyard of Whitehall Palace where Henry Vlll himself took part in tournaments. Jousting was one of his favourite pastimes.
Just visible in the background is the London Eye.
Opposite Horse Guards on the edge of St James' Park stands the Guards Memorial which commemorates members of the Foot Guards who have lost their lives fighting for their country - the Foot Guards are the Grenadier Guards, the Coldstream Guards,the Irish Guards,the Scots Guards and the Welsh Guards. I actually find this a more impressive and moving memorial than the Cenotaph which stands in Whitehall.
One of the Guards on duty as I walked through Horse Guards onto Whitehall. They are not allowed to speak to anyone when they are on duty but I did ask whether I might take his photograph and received the barest nod of his head in reply.
The Life Guards and the Blues and Royals form the mounted section of the Guards Divison known as the Household Cavalry and are the ones you see escorting the Queen on ceremonial occasions. They are the oldest and most senior regiments in the British Army. This young soldier is in the Blues and Royals,they wear blue tunics and have red plumes to their helmets whereas the Lifeguards have red tunics and white plumes. While on guard duty they carry swords and wear white riding-breeches, known as buckskins, and the tall black leather boots of cavalrymen. They don't only carry out ceremonial duties of course but are also regular soldiers who serve overseas in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
I passed Downing Street with barely a second glance and at the corner of Parliament St I saw this tall tower with a clock at the top - it took me a minute to realise that I was looking up at Big Ben! This photo is really worth enlarging to see the detail of the clock face and the decoration of the tower. The London Eye is in the baxckground once again.
Looking towards the two western towers of Westminster Abbey, there is nearly a thousand years of history here. It's the place where every English and British monarch since William the Conqueror has been crowned. The only exceptions are Edward V and Edward Vlll neither of whom had a coronation. It is the burial place of kings and queens,aristocrats, soldiers, politicians, great literary figures and many others. Those buried here include Chaucer, Dickens,Isaac Newton, Sir Laurence Olivier, Lord Byron and perhaps most poignant of all The Unknown Warrior - an unknown British soldier from the First World War who represents all the nameless dead from that dreadful conflict.
The Great North Door of Westminster Abbey, one day I must actually go in through that door and go round the Abbey, in all the years I've been going to London I've never actually been inside.
The final photograph was the most unexpected thing of all, I had absolutely no idea that there was a statue of Oliver Cromwell outside the Houses of Parliament! He stands on Cromwell Green and has apparently been there since 1895. Regular readers will know that I am not exactly a big fan of Cromwell's! This isn't the side of the Houses of Parliament that everyone is familiar with of course, it is usually photographed or filmed from the Southwark side of the Thames which is the glamorous view. At this point I decided it was finally time to go back to my hotel, it was raining the whole time I was taking these photos so the light was poor and the quality isn't great I'm afraid but I enjoyed my spot of unexpected sightseeing in spite of the weather.