|Subject: UK 2001 Part 2 (long)(extracts)|
The sky is dark, gray and cool today. I am meeting a group of Corrie friends for a ping after lunch but had to decide how to fill the morning. I thought I would go and have a look at Westminster Cathedral. The pub where I'm meeting everyone is on Trafalgar Square at the top of Whitehall so it's within walking distance of the Cathedral if it doesn't rain. (It did)
I took the tube to Victoria station and started walking in the general direction of the cathedral according to my map. I ended up approaching it from the back, past a lot of old Victorian buildings, many of which echo the Cathedral which is constructed of red and white striped brick and stone. I arrived at the door at 11, right in the middle of High, or Solemn Mass. I could hear the choir and suddenly felt a need to attend Mass, something I hadn't done in 25 years without a reason (weddings, funerals, christenings etc.) I put away my camera and went in. The cathedral was full, with quite a few people standing at the back or along the side aisles. I am not a church goer but was brought up Catholic and like a great number of people in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on NYC and Washington, felt the need for a little restoration of the soul. Just the sound of the choir echoing gloriously off the exquisitely painted ceilings and the thunder of the massive pipe organ making your chest vibrate was an experience not to be forgotten.
After mass I took the lift up the bell tower for a 360° look out over a gray and dismal looking London. There is a small balcony out a door on all four sides of the tower. Back down in the nave I wandered around with the other tourists and admired the friezes and sculpture and mosaics on the walls of the side chapels. You could still smell the incense closer to the altar. I had a quick browse in the gift shop for a postcard but wasn't very impressed with most of what they had on offer as far as other articles. Seemed kind of cheap and cheesy to me.
I begin the walk towards Whitehall with a stop in a department store called Army & Navy for a bathroom break but the gusts of wind soon carried a heavy misty rain so I took refuge in a bus shelter and took the bus the rest of the way to the Lord Moon on the Mall, where I was meeting my mates. J.D. Wetherspoon's owns a chain of pubs around the country and they situate them in renovated old buildings. This one was an insurance company or bank. I was early and it was crowded so I bought a pint and perched on a stool near a ledge where I could lay my glass. I did get a table after about 20 minutes but didn't keep it very long because not long after hearing a few police vehicles screaming by, the owner came around to everyone and informed us that we had to evacuate the building out the back door. Seems there was a suspect car down the road and the police were evacuating the whole street! Yikes!!!! This isn't all that unusual for London but a first for me and how was I going to find my friends! I later told another Londoner friend of mine about the bomb scare and her reaction was Oh, what a bore!!! which puts it pretty much into perspective for me!
The Original London Walks tour. We are a group of about two dozen, which was a pleasant surprise to our guide, a short, perky woman named Hillary. Seems last week she only had 3 or 4 on her tour and in the wake of the Sept. 11 events, thought it might take a few more weeks for the numbers to rebound. The cost for the full day is £25 which includes £10 for the all day tour (normally £5 for a 2 hour tour) and the cost of the river boat from Richmond to Hampton Court Palace and the entrance fee to the Palace itself. Most major attractions seem to be in the £9-£11 range so this was not out of line. We take a commuter train to the town of Richmond to start out walking tour.
A bit of history about Richmond: Richmond used to be called Shene and a Royal hunting lodge was built here first by Edward III in the 14th C. Richard II lived here until his wife, Anne of Bohemia died and in his grief, he tore the manor down. Henry VII built it again but it burned so he rebuilt a fine palace and renamed it for himself. (He was the Duke of Richmond before he wrestled the throne from Richard III in 1485 at Bosworth, thus ending the Wars of the Roses and establishing the Tudor dynasty). The palace was used by royalty for the next century until Oliver Cromwell tore it down during the Civil War. The palace was never rebuilt although many fine estates and manors were founded here, Richmond being a prestigious place to live then as well as now. Charles II gave the green to the town and it's been a public greenspace ever since. There is also a large old Deer Park where the monarchs used to hunt and where some royalty still lives. (It is either the Duke and Duchess of Kent or Prince and Princess Michael of Kent)
Hillary recounted the history of the town as we walked along the edge of the green. She pointed out the Victorian theatre where a theatre has stood probably since Elizabethan times and described how the green used to be part of the palace grounds and was partly used as a tilt-yard for games of jousting. We were allowed a short break to walk through some of the narrow cobbled lanes and find something to take with us for lunch on the river boat.
We made our way to what remains of the old Tudor palace, a gate and gatehouse. Henry VII's coat of arms watches over the red brick gate and you can still see the black brick pattern in the building that used to store the Royal Wardrobe, that's the linens, bed and wall hangings and tapestries. There used to be arches on the ground floor that are since filled in. This was to keep air circulation so that the fabrics wouldn't become damp and moldy. This courtyard also contains some elite manors and cottages, one of which was owned by a former favourite of Queen Anne, Abigail Hill.
We followed a path to the river, passing a manor once owned by an 18th C. Lord Mayor of London, Lord Asgill. The Thames here is narrower than in the city, dotted with small islands called Aits or Eyets and lined along one side here with houseboats, reflecting in the calmer waters of the river. There is a nice park along the waterfront, a town project to beautify the area. We came across a marine repair shop under an arch by a bridge where a fellow told us he was building a wooden submarine. There was a brief silence as we all wondered if he was having us on but it turns out it's very true! In 1620 there was a wooden submarine that made a successful underwater journey to Greenwich and the BBC is doing a documentary on it. This man was commissioned to build a replica!
The boat ride upriver takes about an hour and a half from Richmond, about half the length the journey will take from Westminster pier in London. We had our sandwiches and a drink and watched the lovely scenery as we passed by. The weather is variable, with a bit of sun and blue sky showing now and then. There are lots of parks, businesses and a number of prestigious looking houses and apartment blocks which probably wouldn't come cheap. This follows the traditional approach to Hampton Court which was always by Royal Barge along the river. The first part of the palace you see is a great gilded gate that backs the south front and Privy Gardens.
Some of the history of Hampton Court Palace: It was built by Cardinal Wolsey in 1515 as a means to show off his wealth and power. His power waned, however, when he was not able to obtain a legal method to rid Henry VIII of his first wife, Katherine of Aragon and when Henry strongly hinted that he REALLY liked the palace, it was donated although the writing predicting the fate of Wolsey was clearly on the wall. Henry spent a lot of time here, and expanded the palace to the point where it could house and entertain nearly 1000 people, servants, court attendants, hangers on and favour seekers. William III and Queen Mary II planned to tear down the palace and hired Christopher Wren at the end of the 17th C. About half way through the rebuilding process, Mary died and William lost heart. Lucky for us as that meant quite a bit of the Tudor section still stands albeit with renovations and alterations. The Palace was still lived in during modern times, for grace and favour apartments until a fire in one of them in 1986 caused a lot of damage to the King's Apartments. These were restored but I don't believe anyone lives here now.
Hampton Court would have been imposing and impressive at it's height in the 16th and 17th C. with gilded cupolas, brightly painted brickwork and a gate house that was two stories taller than it's current height. It was reduced in Georgian times for safety. All the old Tudor chimneys are different. There are about a half dozen sections to be visited including the Tudor State rooms, Tudor Kitchen's, Stuart King's and Queen's Apartments, Georgian Rooms and Wolsey rooms with the Renaissance Galleries. The Privy and sunken gardens are open with the rest of the palace until 6 p.m. and the park is open until dusk.
Hillary led us first to the Tudor state rooms. We gaped up at the exquisite hammer beamed ceiling of the Great Hall, spotting the little painted faces peeking down. Eaves droppers! Most of the stained glass here is 19th C. but one window and section of the wall is believed to be original. The ceiling of one ante room is leather mache and gilded and there are Tudor roses everywhere in glass, in stonework and paintings and tapestries. The Royal Chapel has subdued lighting and is very peaceful. There are no photos allowed inside most of the Palace except the kitchens. There are actors/guides around in period dress who will stop to tell you about their manner of costume and what sort of person they are meant to represent for that period in time. We saw one man in a splendid doublet and tunic from Elizabethan times and another couple dressed in late 17th C. outfits and heard about the cost of their clothing and the type of people they would have represented.
Hillary took us next through the Stuart King's Apartments which are laid out identically to the Queen's apartments on the floor below though I didn't see that or the Georgian rooms. These rooms are much larger than the Tudor section with higher ceilings and wide sweeping staircases. There are lots of painted ceilings with Baroque decoration, plaster work and rich wall and bedroom hangings. My favourite room contained over 3000 pieces of armament decorating the walls in various patterns. Rifles, knives, swords, spears, etc. After this section our formal tour was over. Hillary was off with our applause and thanks and we had a couple of hours to look around on our own. I headed to the café by the kitchens first thing and then went to explore the kitchens, pretty much the last original Tudor part of the Palace, a series of rooms that are used for skinning game, plucking preparing fowl, baking, cooking etc with the old scarred wooden tables and huge ovens, high enough for a person to walk into.
There are a couple of gift shops and cafés in the complex. It's also interesting to explore some of the little courtyards. You can get an audio player to do a self-guided tour of various areas. I did go into the Wolsey rooms and Renaissance galleries as well. It's not known if Wolsey actually used those rooms but they are small, low ceilinged, and wood paneled and you can almost imagine him sitting at a desk by a window. There is supposed to be the ghost of Katherine Howard in one of the Tudor anterooms, too. On the grounds are a tennis court, a maze, the Great Vine which still produced wine every fall, the sunken garden and Privy Gardens and the huge park with it's pruned yew trees and fountains. When I was here in 1993 during a photo op stop of the gardens on the bus tour, the Privy and sunken gardens were in the process of being restored, using plants and shrubs that would have been there in the 17th C. The lowering sun cast long shadows along the garden paths and glinted off the decorated south front of the palace. I made my way to the train station across the river. I chatted to a couple on the train, two seniors who live in London. They told me about a documentary that was being aired on television, on the wives of Henry VIII. The second part was on tonight! What an appropriate way to cap off this day! Diane Johnston