GUEST ARTICLE:After a delayed arrival in London, I spent Monday afternoon wandering around in the late summer sunshine and finally, going up on the London Eye – which has to be the most gigantic con ever.
For those who have not encountered it, the London Eye is a monumental ferris wheel which stands on the north bank of the Thames, just opposite Westminster.
It was built as a temporary attraction for the Millenium in 2000 but, in the tradition of other temporary structures like the Eiffel tower, it has stayed on long past its initial expiry date.
It is an absolutely amazing construction, but there is one small problem – London is an incredibly boring city when viewed from above.
Still, I got some pretty good photos of light and shadow interplaying with the tubular structure although it certainly wasn’t worth the £15 I paid for the privilege.
There were 17 people in my capsule and, if you multiply that by the number of capsules, and consider how many revolutions there are per day, they must just be raking it in! In this regard it’s a bit like the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb only with less to see and less to do.
Charles Dickens Museum
On Tuesday, after a brief foray into the outer reaches of my London family history, I took the opportunity to visit the Dickens Museum at Doughty Street.
The museum is housed in Dickens’ only remaining London residence. He lived there 1837-1839 and, in this period, completed the Pickwick Papers and undertook both Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby.
The museum, as only the British can do, contains the most amazing collection of artefacts relating to Dickens’ life and the places he wrote about.
These included a grille from the debtors’ prison in which his father was detained as an insolvent, the clerk’s desk he sat at when employed in a lawyer’s office in Gray’s Inn, a window from the house said to have been the model for the house which Oliver Twist was made to burgle (and therefore, said to be the window through which he was pushed), and the Little Wooden Midshipman from Dombey and Son.
It also boasts many pieces of household furniture from Dickens’ various residences, including sideboards, clocks, commode chairs and even the table at which he wrote his last words (part of the incomplete Mystery of Edwin Drood).
One of the upstairs bedrooms was where his young sister-in-law died suddenly and tragically. Her death became the model for that great piece of Victorian sentimentality – the death of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop.
Later in the afternoon, I went on to the British Museum to catch up on the bits of Turkey I won’t be seeing when I go there later in the trip. However, all I could find was one very small gallery devoted to “Anatolia”.
The more significant Greek collections were, unfortunately, closed as part of a refurbishment program.
It has been a number of years since I last visited the British Museum, so I must say the internal atrium came as quite a surprise – a vast glass and steel web has been cast over the internal courtyard and all the stonework of the buildings has been thoroughly cleaned. It all looks quite spectacular.
On the way to an internet cafe to work on this missive, I encountered one of those surreal moments that only London can deliver. In the midst of the peak hour crowds in Tottenham Court Tube, there was a Japanese busker playing a slow rendition, on electric guitar, of “I vow to thee, my country”.
Victoria and Albert Museum
Several hours later, I had completely lost my bearings and gave the miniatures up for a future visit.
Further interesting fact: Despite Roman Catholic services being outlawed in 18th century England, Londoners could attend public masses in the chapels of the foreign embassies.
The V&A has on display a very impressive set of sliver from the Sardinian Embassy’s chapel, including the most enormous silver thurible and boat.
Tate Modern: International modern and contemporary art
On Saturday afternoon, I paid a visit to the Tate Modern. It is often said that more people attend museums than attend football matches. That I could well believe given the crowds of young and old who swamped the Tate. I limited myself to the top floor, which offered cubism, realism, futurism and minimalism.
Some of the minimalist exhibits had lines around them with signs “Please do not cross this line”. Surely if people heeded such signs there would be no galleries of modern art!
Foundling Hospital Museum
Having returned to London, on a Thursday morning, I made a failed attempt at researching some family history at the London Metropolitan Archives and then went on to spend the rest of the day around the museums. First, I visited the Foundling Hospital Museum.
The Foundling Hospital was established in the early 18th century by a man named Coram who decided something had to be done about the infants being abandoned in the streets of London.
Apart from the fact that, if they did survive, they posed a law and order problem, they also represented an enormous waste of human resources in a growing economy. The female supporters of the Hospital offered rather more sentimental reasons.
Coram was aided in his enterprise by two celebrities of the day – the artist Hogarth, who established London’s first permanent art exhibition at the Hospital (thereby attracting the patronage of the fashionable) and the composer George Frederic Handel, whose famous Oratorio, the Messiah, was performed for many years in the Hospital’s chapel.
Linley Sambourne House
On Saturday morning, I booked in for a tour of Linley Sambourne House – a perfectly preserved Victorian household in Kensington. Linely Sambourne was a cartoonist (eventually, the chief cartoonist for “Punch” and illustrator of the “Water Babies”) who moved into the terrace house in question in the 1870s. The place is an absolutely perfect example of a dimly-lit, elaborately furnished Victorian residence.
The William Morris wallpaper can barely be seen for all the framed photos and drawings. Until now, I hadn’t realised the extent to which my grandmother (who was born in London in the 1890s) was influenced by such interior arrangements. I recognised several pieces of furniture, and even the frieze with plate shelf that ran around each of the drawing room, morning room and dining room.
The house survived simply because it was inherited by an Edwardian bachelor (with quite a thing for actresses) who never married and, therefore, never redecorated. By the time of his death after World War II, his sister and then his niece already had sufficient country and London homes to leave the terrace in Kensington alone.
The latter lady, Anne (eventually Countess of Rosse), who died in the 1990s, was instrumental in establishing the Victorian Society in 1957, and gave the house to the London Council in 1970. She may be known to the more obsessive monarchists among you as the mother of Lord Snowdon.
By 6.30pm I was undergoing the ordeal that is now Heathrow airport, where the queues stretch as far as the eye can see – and they now even have a separate scanning procedure for foot ware!
Seems to me that they’re putting a lot of effort into creating procedures and not putting nearly so much effort and resources into managing them effectively.
This travel diary has been written by my friend Joseph Waugh who likes to travel to places with interesting architecture and history.
If you’ve travelled somewhere off the beaten track, can write well and have good quality photos I encourage you to contact me and I’ll consider publishing your travel diary here including generous attribution and links back to your website as thanks for your contribution