London is still my favourite big city. I love wandering through the galleries and streets, stopping now and then for a coffee, watching the people, and listening to their conversations – mercifully in English.
My departure for London this time was delayed for almost an hour as we waited for unaccompanied baggage to be removed from the hold, missed our slot, and eventually soared southwest over lake and forest, Gothenburg and the Kattegat, Denmark and the North Sea, and then England’s pleasant pastures green. Finally, after being “stacked” for what seemed an eternity, circling the Tower and the London Eye, Big Ben and Hampstead Heath, we at last soared once more up the Thames estuary and landed at Heathrow.
And what are English people talking about these days? Certainly not the pending elections which were to determine who would run the country (including Scotland) for the next five years. And certainly not the glorious spring weather, which has brought a profusion of pink and purple cherry blossom, wisteria and lilac to the parks and gardens. The daffodils were ahead of those here in chilly early spring Stockholm, and were just about past their prime. But they were closely followed in a glorious fugue of tulips, hyacinths, primroses, peonies, roses and bluebells, filling the mild air with a riot of colours and heady scents.
I still believe London to be the epicentre of the English-speaking world – a hive of ceaseless intellectual, cultural and social activity. A visit to this ancient place is always fascinating – experiencing, as it has, the rich cultural influences of numerous marauding invaders. From the Saxons and the Romans to the Vikings and the French, and the devastating ravages of Plague, Fire and Blitz, all have left their indelible mark. All these colourful events are well documented in journal, book, gallery and museum, for, predictably, the English are utterly obsessed with history. One only has to read the letters published in the history magazines to observe a keen and well-read knowledge thereof, and the stimulating debates that these epistles ignite.
The culture is what constantly draws me back to London: the music and art, theatre and film, talks and tours – again, all in English!
I had been told about Hatchlands, a National Trust house-museum near Guildford, by fellow travelers on the MRT* Verona Opera tour last year. I suggested a visit to this fascinating place with my friends Andrea and Renata, recently relocated from Stockholm to Guildford.
Guildford is a forty-minute journey on the fast train from Waterloo Station to Portsmouth, and, after a generous Sunday lunch of lasagna, potato cakes and vegetables, with tiramisu for dessert, we set out for Hatchlands by car.
This beautiful Georgian mansion was built in the 1750’s for Admiral Edward Boscawen and his wife Fanny. They gave the celebrated Scottish architect Robert Adam one of his first commissions, and his Neo-classical style can still be seen in the marble fireplaces and plaster ceilings. The Boscawens did not stay in this family home for long, however, and subsequent families made significant changes to the estate.
|The Temple, Hatchlands|
Today it is occupied by tenant Alec Cobbe, with his fine collection of paintings and furniture.
But this was not what I had come for. Also housed here is the Cobbe Collection, one of the largest collections of keyboard instruments associated with famous composers in Europe – 43 altogether.
Renata and I marveled at King Charles II’s virginals (1664), tuned and maintained by Henry Purcell (1659-95), with its beautifully painted lid and ornate casing. The soundboard of JC Bach’s square piano (Zumpe & Gabriel, 1777-8) is marked by his signature, presumably to ensure that the correct instrument would be delivered to his house in London. He took it to France with him, where Mozart joined him, and played upon it his newly-composed Piano Sonata in A minor (K310). We saw Marie Antoinette’s square piano, made by Sébastien Ėrard in 1786-87. He was one of the earliest piano makers in Paris, who, because of his connections to the royal family and aristocracy, had to flee for his life during the Revolution, and settled in London.
We saw Mahler’s grand piano, Elgar’s square piano, Chopin’s Pleyel piano, and his English Broadwood, Liszt’s Italian upright and Bizet’s composing table piano, Haydn’s Longman & Broderip grand piano and another Ėrard piano, signed by one of the “Titans of the Keyboard” of the Romantic Era, Sigismond Thalberg. The rivalry between Thalberg and Liszt was legendary, and largely fomented by the press. It all came to a head when the so-called “revolutionary princess”, Princess Belgiojoso, achieved a remarkable social coup when she persuaded the two virtuosi to play at her salon. As in other such contests, victory was tactfully shared between the two: Thalberg was declared the “first pianist of the world”, and Liszt the “only one”. However, posterity has greatly favoured Liszt, and Thalberg has remained little more than footnote in Romantic piano literature. How I wish I had been present to witness this pianistic show-down!
Unfortunately no photography is allowed in the villa.
Concerts, lecture-recitals, music tours and picture tours take place at Hatchlands. See www.cobbecollection.co.uk for more information.
You can have “snacks and light bites” in the Tea-room, or buy locally-produced items in the Shop: plants for your garden, or music recorded on the Cobbe Collection’s instruments. Or you can explore the 400-acre parkland, and enjoy the woods, the Rookery Pond, the Temple, the cows in the meadows and the Bluebell Wood in spring.
And if you enjoyed this, become a member and “Get to know 500 special places inside out”
– all well taken care of by the charitable organisation National Trust: “Medieval fortresses that have played host to the dark arts of battle. Public houses that have welcomed regulars like Charles Dickens. Views that have inspired painters and poets – from the buds of spring to the last leaves of autumn.”
There are books, magazines and regular newsletters; for £60 a year “All this is yours to enjoy as a member. Join today and your membership will help take care of these special places – for ever, for everyone.”
I would, if I lived in England.
Visit https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ to find out more.
For me no trip to London is complete without attending a performance at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.
The evening began with a delicious Indian curry with my nephew Jonathan at Masala Zone
in Floral Street, around the corner from the ROH:
“We and our Fine Dining Sister Restaurants, Chutney Mary, and Amaya & Veeraswamy are the Leading Restaurants serving Real Indian food. Fresh. Healthy. Friendly.”
Rossini’s (1792-1868) drama buffo (operatic comedy) in two acts, Il Turco in Italia (The Turk in Italy, 1814, was conducted by Evalino Pidò and directed by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier.
This comic opera was as amusing and light-hearted as I had anticipated – the music bursting with Rossiniesque wit and vivacity. Rossini took his lead from Mozart, in terms of style and facility, though he never quite matched Mozart’s depth and pathos. For the sheer brilliance of multiple ensembles in which as many as six characters each sing their own thoughts – simultaneously – Mozart and Rossini cannot be matched. Rossini’s is such happy music, rapid-paced and sparkling. One can only come away from an evening of such brio entertainment feeling jaunty and uplifted.
Savoy Opera composer Arthur Sullivan in turn took his lead from Rossini, creating the comic “patter-singing” character. Think of Figaro’s famous rapid-fire aria “Largo al factotum” in Rossini’s Barber of Seville (1816), and Gilbert and Sullivan’s “I am the very model of a modern Major General” (Pirates of Penzance, 1879), and you have the picture.
I enjoyed the pastel shades of the ever-moving cubist sets, and the 1950’s costumes which enhanced each stereotypical character: the faithless, flirtatious Fiorilla (Aleksandra Kurzak) with her provocative polka dot décolletage, the despairing Don Geronio (Alessandro Corbelli), her cuckolded husband, with his baggy pinstripe suite and cream brogues, and the dashing Turkish Prince Selim (Ildebrando D’Arcangelo) with his sexy pencil moustache and gold-chains-on-hairy-chest. Add to the mix Zaida (Rachel Kelly), the faithful gypsy lover of Selim, and her Turkish companion Albazar (Luis Gomes) with his yellow denim suit and Vesper to match, gypsies, sailors, ball guests and neighbours, and you have the perfect ingredients for hilarious operatic farce. So what if Rossini and librettist Felice Romani hold up the mirror to some of the less attractive aspects of human behaviour? At least, ennobled by this delightful music, we can laugh about them.
I couldn’t help observing once more an interesting thread running through comic operatic history – the satirical manner in which Turks are portrayed. From Lully’s Turkish chorus in Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (1670 ) to the Pasha Bassa Selim, his servant Osmin, and the Janissaries in Mozart’s singspiel, Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail (The Escape from the Harem, 1782), Turks are always the butt of humour and buffoonery. There is also Mustafà, the Bey of Algeria in another of Rossini’s comic operas: L’Italiana in Algeri (1813).
One can only ascribe this phenomenon to the successive invasions of Europe by the Ottomans from the Late Middle Ages until the 20th century. The attack on the Byzantine Empire in 1356, which provided a base for operations in Europe, and the subsequent fall of Kosovo in 1448, of Constantinople in 1453, and of Greece in 1460, were followed by conquests in what is today Eastern and Central Europe, as well as wars with Russia. Apart
from several defeats, such as that at the hands of the Holy League at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, the Ottoman Empire enjoyed successful incursions into Europe for about five and a half centuries. Only the First World War caused the collapse of this powerful Empire, in spite of the Ottoman (Turkish) victory at the Battle of Gallipoli in the Dardanelles (1915-16.)
We hear many references to the Ottoman presence in Europe in the “Turkish” effects added to European Classical music, such as the use of the triangle and tambourine. Examples of a “Turkish” style can also be heard in Mozart’s Rondo alla turca in the Finale of his Piano Sonata No.11, K.331, Haydn’s Symphony no. 100, the “Military”, and the jaunty “Turkish march” in the Finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Gioacchino Rossini composed 39 operas altogether, an impressive list indeed, considering that he stopped composing operas at the age of 39 in order to enjoy his other favourite pastimes: wine, women and song (“depending upon the vintage!”)
He wrote Il Turco relatively early in his career, at the age of only 22, and if he can be accused of anything, it is self-plagiarism. This can be attributed to the insatiable Italian demand for new operas every season, and Rossini’s lack of time to make each work newly- composed. Only with Verdi’s work do we begin to see a calculated rejection of this convention, and the lavishing of more time on each work, including greater attention to the details of production.
When not enjoying cultural pursuits, London is a fabulous city for SHOPPING!
My friend Lucy and I enjoyed a delightful afternoon tea at Liberty’s in Regent Street, and exploring the shops and boutiques surrounding this wondrous old store. Built inside to resemble a multi-storeyed ship, Liberty’s looks from the outside like an Elizabethan mansion.
Known principally for their exquisite textiles and fabrics, which include the signature floral designs (“Classic Liberty print creates beautifully timeless pieces”), this store is an Aladdin’s cave of fabrics, homeware, stationery, clothing, accessories, cosmetics, haberdashery, chocolates and gifts.
|Liberty’s scarves||Liberty’s fabrics|
Inside the store looks like the decks of a large wooden sailing ship:
The English afternoon tea, in the restaurant on the fourth floor, is a treat not to be missed: salmon, cream cheese and cress sandwiches, death-by-chocolate slices, rhubarb tartlets, and of course the signature scones with strawberry jam and whipped cream.
The little boutiques in out-of-the-way places are always a delight.
|Butler & Wilson boutique||Victoria’s Secret|
This time we were intrigued by a shoe shop called Irregular Choice, with the most bizarre footwear I have ever seen:
Equally fantastical is their website: www.irregularchoice.com.
For anyone with a passion for shoes, this is without question the shop for you.
And when it comes to names, there is no shortage of punny English usage to catch the eye, and weaken resolve.
The covered market at Covent Garden is a treasure-trove of hand-made delights, paintings and antique jewelry, and you may be lucky to catch musicians or a singer offering their talents to those eating their lunch in the basement of the market.
|Covent Garden Market||and lunch-hour performer|
Selfridges on Oxford Street is a magnificent emporium.
But the many floors displaying an endless and daunting display of expensive designer labels are not for me. I prefer to explore the lower ground floor, with the beautifully arranged food hall, and the stationary and confectionery.
This time I discovered a new macaroon counter, a satellite branch of a flourishing business created by French chef Pierre Hermé.
|Macarons de Pierre Hermé.||Jardin en Corse|
I sampled a few from a dazzling array of these delicious, delicate bite-sized almond cookies in every colour of the rainbow, and in flavours beyond my wildest imagination: pistachio with Morello cherry and cinnamon, olive oil with mandarin orange, apricot and crunchy pistachio, passion fruit and milk chocolate, jasmine tea with grapefruit and mango, liquorice and violet, jasmine flower and jasmine tea, vanilla violet and blackcurrent, rose and rose petals, salted- butter caramel, and Brazilian dark chocolate.
There are also “seasonal” flavours, and this month it is Jardin en Corse (Corsican Garden) with nepeta – an aromatic plant like peppermint (commonly known as catmint, the etymology of which stems from an ancient Etruscan city.)
These treats can be ordered online, where you will find gift boxes with names such as Les Incontournables de Paris (The Essentials of Paris), Initiation au jardin, Chat fauv (Wild Cat), Macaron plaisir sucré, Le Styliste and Vive Saint Germain des Près.
The concept of a “Wonder Room” is quite delightful – From astounding jewelry to the finest watches, The Wonder Room at Selfridges London is a unique destination that plays host to the world’s most desirable brands. Enjoy the luxury experience online with breath‐ taking collections from Cartier, Chopard, Bulgari and more.
|Selfridges Food Hall||A novel way with decanters|
More sobering was my visit to the Foundling Museum near Russell Square, which was opened in 2004. I had heard about this museum while attending Edward Saunders’s course on William Hogarth (1697-1764) and the London of his day at the UCT Summer School 2015. The brochure informs us that “the Foundling Museum explores the history of the Foundling Hospital, the UK’s first children’s charity and first public art gallery.
The Foundling Hospital, which continues today as the children’s charity Coram, was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram in order to care for babies at risk of abandonment, as well as those already found abandoned. The engraver-painter William
Hogarth and the composer George Frederik Handel were instrumental in helping Coram realise his vision. Their creative generosity also set an example for ways in which the arts can support philanthropy.
Poverty was not the only cause of the abandonment of children – usually by prostitutes – alcohol was also a terrible curse, as Hogarth’s etchings vividly illustrate:
|Etching by William Hogarth||Tokens which once belonged to the left children|
Through a varied programme of exhibitions and events, the Museum celebrates the ways in which artists of all disciplines have helped improve children’s lives for over 275 years.
After 17 years of tireless campaigning, Thomas Coram finally received a Royal Charter in 1739 from King George II which enabled him to establish his Foundling Hospital.
From 1741, when the first babies were admitted, to 1954 when the last pupil was placed in foster care, the Foundling Hospital cared for and educated around 25,000 children.
Today, Coram now helps a million children and young people every year. They “help children and young people to develop their skills and emotional health, find adoptive parents and uphold children’s rights, creating a change that lasts a lifetime.”
A number of famous painters donated their works to the hospital, including William Hogarth, Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Antwerp-born John Michael Rysbrack.
Most poignant for me were the artifacts of the children of yesteryear, telling the tragic tale of the desperately poor mothers who had to give them up. These include tokens – small defining objects with which each child was indexed – such as pieces of fabric or ribbon,
simple jewelry, coins and buttons. Many of these today provide a fascinating documentation of the fabrics of the 18th and 19th centuries. There are also text books and exercise books on display, and other personal items that have survived the years.
A video plays in the museum, featuring the testimonies of former pupils at the Hospital who are still alive to tell their stories.
Fascinating for me was the Gerald Coke Handel Collection, which includes manuscripts, (including one of The Messiah), printed scores, and libretti that belonged to the great composer, as well as his Will.
|Handel’s conducting score of the Foundling Hospital Anthem, 1749||George Frederick Handel|
The information board alongside informs us: “George Frederick Handel (1685-1759), one of the greatest composers of the 18th century Baroque Era, supported the Foundling Hospital through a series of fund-raising concerts. Born in Germany, Handel settled in London, where he composed for three British monarchs, Messiah became an annual event.
In 1749 Handel offered to conduct a concert at the Foundling Hospital to raise funds for its Chapel. He composed a new anthem for the concert, known today as the Foundling Hospital Anthem. The concert was a huge success and was repeated the following year, this time with a performance of Handel’s oratorio Messiah. Performances of Messiah became an annual event at the Hospital and raise over £7,000 for the charity.”
My third day in London was spent enjoying one of the delightful LONDON DAYS organised by Martin Randall Travel*. The theme was the Arts and Crafts Movement during the 19th century in England.
To quote the tour brochure:
For a long while Arts & Crafts was the acceptable face of Victorian art. Sales of William Morris wallpaper boomed while many major Victorian buildings succumbed to the wrecker’s ball…creations which fit into the Arts & Crafts category – not so much a style as a basket of ideas and attitudes – still stand out as exceptionally appealing and intriguing.
The day provides a splendid survey of this dissident and subversive phenomenon, with excellent examples in many media… These included two houses, two churches, the V&A Museum and a pub.
For its instigators, the movement was as much about politics and economics as a matter of aesthetic preference. They championed craftsmanship and craftsmen and excoriated industrialisation and machine-made artifacts; most added a dollop of Utopian socialism though with varying degrees of commitment. A.W. Pugin was the precursor, Ruskin its prophet and Morris the high priest.
Our able guide was Michael Hall, an historian and writer on British architecture and design. A former architectural editor for Country Life magazine, he has published many articles and books, including The Victorian Country House and Waddesdon Manor: The Biography of a Rothschild House.
Our rendezvous was near the Tower of London, where I enjoyed exploring the church of All Hallows-by-the-Tower while I waited for the rest of the group to arrive (eight in all.)
This ancient building is the oldest church in the City of London, and has a fascinating history. It contains a Saxon arch made with recycled Roman tiles – the oldest surviving piece of church fabric in the City. It was founded as the Saxon Abbey of Barking in 675 on the site of a former Roman building, the remains of which have been discovered in the crypt.
It was badly damaged by a terrible explosion in 1650, and restored eight years later – the only example of work done on a church during Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth Era (1649-60.) It also narrowly escaped destruction during the Great Fire of 1666, due to the perspicacious demolition of buildings surrounding it, for the creation of firebreaks. The church has dealt with numerous beheaded bodies from the nearby Tower, including Sir Thomas Moore, who refused to accept Henry VIII’s Act of Succession in 1535.
I was intrigued by the ornate wrought-iron sword rests in the church, all dating from the 18th century. They were ceremonially used by the Lord Mayor of London when he attended the church for Sunday services. A parish usually had a sword rest made when one of its parishioners was elected to the mayoralty and, at All Hallows, this happened on three occasions. This particular one was erected in honour of Sir Thomas Chitty, who was Lord Mayor in 1760, and it bears the arms of the Fishmongers’ Company.
The other sword rests belonged to Sir John Eyles, Lord Mayor in 1727, which bears the arms of the Haberdashers’ Company, and for Slingsby Bethel, MP for London and Lord Mayor in 1755, which bears the arms of the Salters’ Company.
Michael regaled us on the way to our first stop with background information about the Arts & Crafts movement: Industrialisation was the catalyst, an attempt at beauty amidst all the ugliness and social evils. Still alive today, it was initially inspired by mediaeval literature and romance. An obvious example is the Neo-Gothic architecture of the Houses of Parliament in London (which I recently heard nicknamed Hogwarts, of Harry Potter fame.)
The leading Victorian art critic and philanthropist, John Ruskin (1819-1900) was the inspiration behind the main leaders of the Arts & Crafts movement which included William Morris (1834-96), Edward Byrne-Jones, Henry Wilson, H.H. Armstead, A.W. Pugin and F.W. Pomeroy. All these men were the sons of rich industrialists, and could have enjoyed lives of ease and travelling through the great art capitals of Europe, painting and writing. Instead, they devoted themselves to helping craftsmen made redundant by the advent of machines. Alongside the wealth and privilege which industrialisation brought to some, it brought great poverty and neglect to others. Child labour had only just been reduced, schools for the poor barely existed, and malnutrition allowed diseases such as rickets and TB to flourish. It was to these people that the Arts & Crafts Movement addressed their skills and energy. Their message was to make everyday things beautiful, and to revere Nature – through crafts, painting and architecture.
William Morris, an artist, craftsman and socialist politician, was the most versatile and dynamic member of the movement. He claimed that the Gothic style was also “modern”, and his designs became the hallmark of this primarily secular and domestic style in England. We see this in his wallpaper and textile designs, for which he dyed his own yarns. He was a friend of the Pre-Raphaelite artists, John Everett Millais, Edward Byrne-Jones, John William Waterhouse, William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, in whose works a rose-tinted passion for medieval romance is clearly visible: The Lady of Shallot (Waterhouse), Ophelia
(Millais), Lady Lilith and Proserpina (Rossetti.)
In 1858 Morris married the celebrated beauty Jane Burdon, and built for her and their children a red brick home at Bexleyheath in 1859-60, designed by Philip Blundell. Today Red House – where the Arts & Crafts movement began – is about half an hour’s drive from London.
Red House, Bexleyheath
Morris intended it to be a “house of the 13th century.” The 19th century Romantic Era obsession with Gothic and medieval styles is clearly evident in the wall paintings, stained glass windows and wooden interior decoration. Material and inspiration was gleaned from the legends and folklore of Merrie Englande, and resonances with Art Nouveau and the Aesthetic Movement can also be seen.
|Stained glass window: St. Catherine and her wheel||Medieval wall painting|
This red brick country mansion is now sparsely furnished; it is humble, lacking the ostentatious stucco ornamentation used at the time. Here and there Morris’s moto is displayed: Si je puis (If I may.) It is a simple home for family and friends, illustrating that hospitality is another theme in the Arts & Crafts movement.
|Table piano||Red House – “The House of Friendship and Creativity”|
Blackfriars Pub in Queen Victoria Street was our next stop, for a much-needed coffee and biscuit. This pub was designed by Herbert Fuller-Clark in the 1870’s, at a time when drinking was at a peak in England, which in turn led to a phase of elaborate pub interior design.
Blackfriars is rich in brass and wood carvings, colourful stained glass windows and decorated ceilings. Still the best Art & Crafts pub in England, it was remodeled in c.1905. Its curious wedge shape, flanked by two streets, is known as the “flat-iron” style.
Our group then took the tube to the Victoria and Albert Museum where we enjoyed a pre- arranged lunch in the Morris Room, a beautiful restaurant richly ornamented with stained glass windows, columns and ceiling.
|Victoria & Albert Museum – “ALL OF THIS BELONGS TO YOU”|
In Room 125 we were shown various exhibits representing the different styles which prevailed during the late 19th century: Aestheticism (based on the “art for art’s sake” philosophy), the Arts & Crafts Style, and the strangely modern style of the Scottish Designers Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Macdonald sisters. Included here are Morris wallpapers and textiles, furniture – especially chairs – and stained glass windows.
|V&A: Room 125 – Morris chair|
I was interested to see designs inspired and influenced by Japanese design, which the British admired for its “simplicity, purity of form and strong feeling for nature.”
Another short tube trip brought us close to our next destination: Holy Trinity Church in Sloane Street, designed by the distinguished architect John Dando Sedding (1838-91). This Anglo-Catholic church beautifully illustrates the philosophies of the A&C movement in sculpture, stained glass, metalwork and the whole splendid (neo-) Gothic style.
|Holy Trinity Church London||Stained glass windows by Christopher Whall|
The roof was totally destroyed by incendiary bombs during the WW II, but the windows were miraculously undamaged. The mission of the A&C Guild, which was founded in 1998, is, as stated in the church brochure, “to explore and guide people to faith through the Arts.”
The exquisite ornate metal work was done by Henry Wilson (1864-1934), and the stained glass windows by Christopher Whall (1849-1924) and Sir William Blake-Richmond (1842-1921). The interior is also graced by a beautiful ceramic Madonna and Child by Luca della Robbia 1400-82).
Next on the agenda was Emery Walker’s House at No. 7 Hammersmith Terrace, a tall terraced house built in the 1750’s on the River Thames at Hammersmith in West London. Its sober Georgian exterior belies a secret interior: the decoration and furnishings preserved as they were in the lifetime of the “typographer and antiquary” Emery Walker (1851-1933), a friend and mentor of William Morris who lived here from 1903-33. It is the last authentic Arts
& Crafts interior in England, and is soon to be closed for renovations for two years. I found the interiors to be very overstuffed, cluttered and “busy”, with Morris’s heavily curlicued wallpaper, and upholstered furniture. The fireplace is lined with blue-and-white Dutch tiles, and a brass chandelier is suspended from the ceiling.
|Emery Walker’s House-Museum|
There is a narrow, flower-filled back garden leading to a small raised platform overlooking the River Thames.
Afternoon tea was a welcome break at the cosy Black Lion Pub nearby, followed by a coach ride to our last destination: St. Michael and All Angels Church, in Bedford Park, Chiswick.
This church was designed by Richard Norman Shaw, who, the brochure informs us, employed “a cocktail of styles which characterised the Queen Anne revival, and a sensitivity
to the aspirations of an aesthetically-minded middle class community”. It was consecrated by the Bishop of London in 1880. The interior is most unusual indeed, with the overhead wooden arches and pews all painted in dark sage green, the walls terracotta pink, and the ceilings white.
I was reminded of the naïve style of the Swedish painter Carl Larsson (1853-1919), with the simple timbered interior and its country style.
Our day ended with drinks and snacks at the Martin Randall Travel offices in Voysey House,
Barley Mow, formerly a Sanderson wallpaper factory (1902), and named after the
architect Charles Voysey. It is a grade II listed building – a building that has been placed on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest.
*For more information about the excellent cultural tours (music, art, gastronomy, walking, architecture, history, archaeology, etc.) organised by MARTIN RANDALL TRAVEL, visit https://www.martinrandall.com.
On a previous trip to London, friends had instructed me to “look up” – and enjoy the architectural riches of the city:
the attractive pediments and arches, pretty turrets and dormers, and neo-Classical grandeur.
This time, made more aware by what I had learned during the Martin Randall London Day, I was even more aware of the structural beauty of many of the civic and residential buildings. As always, in these significant venerable cities, the old is to be found juxtaposed beside the new.
|The old and the new|
The ballet at The ROH is always of an exceptionally high standard, and the production of La fille mal gardée (The Wayward Daughter) was as delightful as I had anticipated. With music by Ferdinand Hérold, and the classic, if rather dated (1960), choreography of Frederick Ashton, this was a wonderful way to spend a spring evening with my friend and fellow balletomane, Jane.
The star ballerina Natalia Osipova’s high jumps and vivid presence enable her to more than manage Ashton’s demanding choreography. She and Australian-born Steven McCrae (Colas) contributed much to this popular light-hearted ballet-comedy with their brilliant technique and amusing characterisation.
I agreed with Luke Jennings’s review in The Guardian:
Osipova meets the technical challenges of the role head‐on, and if there are moments at the beginning of the ballet when her charm is a little forced – a little too broad and Bolshoi‐scale
– she quickly settles into character. Her phrasing, from curtain‐up, is pin‐drop precise; she hits each musical beat as if creating it. And her Act 2 grows and grows. The “When we are married” mime, which Ashton took directly from the Russian ballerina Tamara Karsavina’s memory of the 1885 St Petersburg production of Fille, is beautifully and touchingly delivered, with every gesture radiantly legible. Osipova’s embarrassment when discovered by Colas is sweet and funny, as is her rueful yielding to his kisses, and her dancing in the final pas de deux is all billowy loveliness.
We all know how demanding the career of a dancer is upon the human body, but I had no idea how punishing it is. I was shocked to read in another review about the physical hardship McCrae endures for his art: “pulled hamstrings, sprained fingers, toenails so crushed they have to be drilled to relieve the pressure, and paracetamol before a show to relieve the pain…The punishing schedules are often more grueling than those of most athletes. They were on their feet for twelve hours a day six days a week, often without breaks.” (www.theguardian.com). “We’re jumping the whole time, destroying our knees. With every performance, you want to give everything you’ve got because it could be your last.”
Everyone has a turn to shine in this charming ballet, from the farmyard chickens and the dim-witted Alain – whom her mother wishes her to marry, to the hard-working hay makers.
Mother-grundy Widow Simone, who has trouble keeping her high-spirited daughter under control, is a perfect character role for Philip Mosley, although his clog dance was often out of sync with the ROH Orchestra, ably led by Barry Wordsworth.
A favourite destination of mine in London is FOYLES Book Shop in Charing Cross Road (Tube: Tottenham Court Road.) But this time, instead of the cluttered old store, with floor upon rickety floor crowded to the ceiling with books, a cosy coffee shop, the sweet scent of books and the atmosphere library-hushed, I was surprised to find a bright and airy space, with a large new plastic canteen, and none of the decadently rich hummingbird cake I had enjoyed in the old shop on previous visits. I suppose change is good – much of London is a cacophonous building site these days, but I missed the tranquil, antiquarian atmosphere of the old shop, with its threadbare carpets and be-spectacled, Dickensian assistants. https://www.foyles.co.uk/ .
As is usually the case, there were more excellent exhibitions at the British Museum.
including Defining Beauty: the body in ancient Greek art and Indigenous Australia: enduring civilization, Connecting continents: Indian Ocean trade and exchange, the prince and the pir: dervishes and mysticism in Iran and India, and Bonaparte and the Brits: prints and propaganda in the age of Napoleon.
I attended Defining beauty – the body in ancient Greek art.
As the brochure informs us:
Experience the brilliance and diversity of ancient Greek art in this major exhibition focusing on the human body.
For centuries the ancient Greeks experimented with ways of representing the human body, both as an object of beauty and a bearer of meaning. The remarkable works of art in the exhibition range from abstract simplicity of prehistoric figurines to breath-taking realism in the age of Alexander the Great. These works continued to inspire artists for hundreds of years, giving form to thought and shaping our own perceptions of ourselves.
‘The chief forms of beauty are order, symmetry and clear delineation’ – Aristotle
‘In portraying ideal types of beauty… you bring together from many models the most beautiful features of each’ – Socrates
The exhibition, which runs until 5 July 2015, displays over 120 objects including beautiful Greek sculpture that has miraculously survived since Ancient Times. There are, apart from the iconic white marble statues, terracotta and bronze ones, and vases which demonstrate the quality and inventiveness of ancient Greek art.
I gleaned many more interesting nuggets, from both the excellent audio guide, and the exhibition labels, such as that Iris was the goddess of the Rainbow, and that Hadrian’s villa was called Tivoli – the name given to such pleasure gardens as those in Copenhagen, and
the seat of the Villa d’Este near Rome; Ganymede means “beautiful youth”, and symposium
means “drinking party”!
The exhibition is beautifully curated, displaying several themes:
1. Defining beauty – what is the ideal beauty? The Greeks had very clear ideas about this, as is seen in their perfectly sculpted forms.
2. Body colour – many statues were brightly-painted, in colours which scientists have been able to discern and analyse. A modern reproduction of one such, to give viewers an idea, was quite startling in its garishness.
3. Men like gods – Heracles, and the Labours he achieved are, quite frankly, superhuman. (An inspiration for modern-day “Superman”, perhaps?)
4. Giving Form to Thought – We are invited to “hear” the sound of sculpted drapery as it flutters around the body – the “fabric of vision”. Dionysus was the god of wine – and of irrational thought. (The Greeks were quite clear about Apollonian versus Dionysian thought and behaviour). Women were regarded as wild and passionate, and considered a threat to the stability of male society, hence their sculpted bodies mostly appearing covered by drapery – a form of male control. According to Greek mythology, Ganymede was abducted by Zeus in the form of an eagle, Leda was seduced (raped) by Zeus in the form of a swan, and Europa, a Phoenician noblewoman, was abducted by Zeus in the form of a white bull.
5. Rites of passage – The abduction of Persephone by Hades was seen as a mythical parallel for the physical and psychological trauma of separation – separation at birth (from the womb), at marriage (when young girls literally vanished behind the closed doors of their husband’s homes, never to be seen again by their families), and at death. Demeter, goddess of fruitfulness and the harvest, grieved for the loss of her daughter for a third of the year. This was the ancient Greeks’ explanation for winter, when the earth fails and everything withers and perishes. Separation is portrayed as a kind of death. With the high infant mortality rate in ancient times, children were only acknowledged into society once they had survived until the tenth day, and not at birth. Education for girls was only to enable them to take charge of the household economy. Spartan women were made to do athletics in order to become fit, and to produce powerful men, who in turn were to become machines of war.
6. Love and Desire – the Greeks believed that we are all reduced to equals when we die (as Shakespeare points out in Hamlet: Act IV Scene 3:
Now, Hamlet, where’s Polonius?
At supper! where?
Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain convocation of politic worms are e’en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service, two dishes, but to one table: that’s the end.
A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and cat of the fish that hath fed of that worm. KING CLAUDIUS
What dost you mean by this?
Nothing but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar.
7. Beauty and the Beast – the ancient Greeks created superhumans, such as powerful Amazon women, Theseus who slew the Minotaur, Perseus who slew the Medusa, Hercules, and other fantastical creatures: the sphinx, Kaineus – a Lapith hero of Thessaly – (and the Centaurs) who is deconstructed and transformed in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Pan was a goat-god, whose name provides the etymology for the word “panic” (groundless fear), akin to the panic of stampeding animals.
8. Character and Realism
9. The Greek Body Goes East – Alexander the Great traveled from Greece to Spain, to India, Libya and the Balkans. Lord Elgin, the Scottish nobleman and diplomat, was the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during the early 19th century, and is known primarily for bringing back to London several marbles from the Parthenon.
10. The Shock of the New – we look at the Italian Renaissance, and the emulation by Renaissance men of the culture, learning – and sculpture – of the Greeks. The reclining Dionysus from the Parthenon is remarkably similar to the image of Michelangelo’s Adam, in his Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Explore the human condition through ancient Greek eyes and see how everything in their world – sexual and social identity, gods, monsters and even natural phenomena – was portrayed in human form. Discover the significance of the British Museum’s Greek and Roman collection, and the importance of its global setting in London, where it is an integral part of a world story. (Exhibition brochure).
This I did – and found it absolutely fascinating.
My last cultural stop was at the National Portrait Gallery near Trafalgar Square. There I enjoyed an exhibition of expat American John Singer Sargent’s brilliant Portraits of Artists and Friends – but not so much his landscapes.
The brochure informs us:
John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was the greatest portrait painter of his generation. Acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic, he was closely connected to many of the other leading artists, writers, actors and musicians of the time. His portraits of these friends and contemporaries, including Auguste Rodin, Claude Monet and Robert Louis Stevenson, were rarely commissioned and allowed him to create more intimate and experimental works than was possible in his formal portraiture.
This major exhibition of over seventy portraits spans Sargent’s time in London, Paris, Boston and New York as well as his travels in the Italian and English countryside. Important loans from galleries and private collections in Europe and America make this an unmissable opportunity to discover the artist’s most daring, personal and distinctive portraits.
This wonderful exhibition ends on the 25 May: See https://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/sargent/home.php
It was fascinating to see Sargent’s range of cultured friends – artists, actors, writers and musicians – and the manner in which he captured their individual personalities. I recently read that Sargent always looked for the “animal” in the sitter, and, once aware of this trick, I found myself perceiving the long foxy noses and pointed ears of his aristocratic women and intellectuals, wealthy lion-maned patrons, doe-eyed acolytes, and plump, kitten-faced children.
I stayed again at the St. Giles Hotel in Bedford Avenue. My standard room had everything one needs (tea- and coffee-making facilities, a safe, hairdryer, fresh soft towels, liquid soap dispensers and a shower cap) – except air. For fresh air the window must be opened, which then admits the ceaseless city din. A fan is provided, which at least keeps the air circulating when one is driven to sleep with the window closed.
It was nice to have a bath tub; one needs simply to ask at reception.
There is also a very basic cafeteria for breakfast, which costs extra, and another around the corner, with dreadful coffee and stale granola. Rather head to the Starbucks nearby, in New Oxford Street.
London’s largest health and fitness facility is situated beneath the St Giles. Guests receive discount entry to the YMCA leisure facilities, which include a swimming pool and gym.
My friend had an executive room on the 9th floor, which she found better equipped, with a bar fridge and air conditioner, and much quieter, and with a good view.
Internet access, costing (exorbitant) extra, was unreliable and intermittent. It is outsourced, and thus the reception staff, some of whose English is extremely limited, were not particularly helpful. This is a popular hotel, especially with Scandinavians, but the desk was usually overcrowded and undermanned.
But for centrality, if not for budget resources, this hotel cannot be beaten. Near the extremely busy crossroads of Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Street, New Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road, it is close to the British Museum, the Shaftesbury Avenue theatres, Russell Square and Regent Street. It is within walking distance of Covent Garden and the Royal Opera House, and Trafalgar Square with the National and National Portrait Galleries and St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields.
Nearest Tube: Tottenham Court Road.
Camden is a great choice for travelers interested in theatre, museums and culture trumpets the booking.com website. But I will probably stay elsewhere next time. Any suggestions?
The “LONDON AT A GLANCE” section (as if it takes but a glance to take in this majestic city!) in guide books usually lists such signature favourites as St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, the changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, the British Museum, the National Gallery, Madame Tussaud’s, the London Eye, and the V&A Museum. Then there are the Museum of London (essential), the Science, Natural History and imperial War Museums, the Tower of London, and Tate Britain and Tate Modern. And, if you’re so inclined, the churches – marvellous designs by Inigo Jones, Nicholas Hawksmoor, James Gibbs and Sir Christopher Wren – some beautifully sculpted and carved by Dutch-born Grinling Gibbons. And there are the parks: Hyde Park, Kew Gardens, and Regent’s, Green, Greenwich, Richmond and St. James’s Parks – lungs of fresh air and flowers in an otherwise fume-choked, bustling, never-sleeping megapolis.
But if you have been to London before, and have seen and done all the above, then perhaps seek out some hidden gems – those places less-visited, and quieter – and possibly London’s best-kept secrets:
1. Sir John Soane’s Museum is the former residence of Sir John Soane, the architect for the Bank of England, and one of London’s finest museums. It houses more than 20,000 architectural drawings and antiquities, including the Egyptian Sarcophagus of Seti, and paintings by Turner, Canaletto and Piranesi. Most interesting is the famous series of eight paintings by William Hogarth, collectively titled A Rake’s Progress (1732-33).
2. The Wallace Collection, to be found in Marylebone, a little behind Selfridges, is a grand old London town house mainly featuring painting, furniture and porcelain from 18th-century France. There are 28 rooms displaying works by Old Masters including Titian, Canaletto, Rembrandt and Gainsborough, and fine ancient armoury. I go there for the delightful French Rococo paintings of Jean-Honoré Fragonard, especially The Swing (1767), depicting my favourite frock in all art:
And the courtyard restaurant at the Wallace Collection is a hidden gem in itself.
3. Fulham Palace: not everyone expects to find stately homes and palaces in London. Here entry is free, offering a wealth of art, architecture, history and a varied programme of events throughout the year.
4. Little Venice: London’s answer to the Italian city, where you will find waterside cafes, pubs and restaurants. The area comes alive in summer when Londoners board canal boats, or walk along the riverside to nearby Camden or Regent’s Park.
5. Kyoto Gardens in Holland Park: “a hidden gem wrapped in another hidden
gem: Holland Park”. This beautiful park is tucked away in Kensington, and is a favourite spot of the actress Joanna Lumley. The park has plenty of its own hidden corners, with winding paths, statues, peacocks, an opera house and an orangery, alongside the tranquil Kyoto Gardens.
6. Leighton House Museum: also in Kensington, this former studio-house of the Victorian artist Frederic, Lord Leighton, is now one of London’s best-kept secrets. The interiors alone are worth the trip, and include the elaborately-tiled Arab Hall. Here you will also find some of London’s finest Victorian paintings, drawings and sculpture, including works by the Pre- Raphaelites Edward Burne-Jones, John Millais and Leighton himself.
7. Horniman Museum and Gardens: this family favourite is located off the beaten track in leafy south London, and entry is free. It is a cabinet of curiosities, from musical instruments to natural history, including the famous giant stuffed walrus, an aquarium and beautiful gardens.
8. Kenwood House is perched on the edge of Hampstead Heath, and another hidden piece of London heritage to explore. It is full of little gems, from Robert Adam’s gorgeous, pillared library, to the sculpted gardens, and various masterpieces dotted throughout the property, such as works by Rembrandt, Turner and Vermeer.
9. The Geffrye Museum is another of London’s more idiosyncratic museums, and can be found amongst the beautiful 18th-century almshouses and gated gardens in the heart of bustling Shoreditch. It explores English houses from 1600 to the present day, focusing on the living rooms of London’s ever-changing urban middle classes.
10. Chelsea Physic Garden is a tranquil green space sadly often forgotten by both Londoners and tourists, and is utterly charming. Established in 1673, it is a walled space beside the Thames, and is London’s oldest botanic garden. It contains around 5,000 edible, useful, medicinal and historic plants.
11. The Savoy Museum is also free, and is located next to the American Bar. The museum displays cards from some of the hotel’s famous guests, old photographs and vintage alcohol (a vintage cocktail will set you back a mere £5,000). The Savoy lobby is also home to Kaspar the cat, a statue which is used to this day as an extra guest when there are 13 at a dinner.
12. Camden Passage is tucked behind Upper Street in Islington, and is a real treasure trove of cute cafes, independent boutiques, vintage shops – where you’ll find everything from exquisite one-offs to fun party outfits – as well as an antiques market selling furniture, curios, war memorabilia and various bric-a-brac.
13. The Guildhall: the Romans enjoyed gladiatorial combat in this amphitheatre in Londinium. It is a piece of the city’s history, hidden away until 1988 when the building of the beautiful Guildhall Art Gallery revealed its circular walls and bloody history.
14. Neal’s Yard: a small alleyway between two shops on Monmouth Street, and a psychedelic courtyard where the walls are painted a dazzling array of bright colours. Trees are planted in metal drums, and flower boxes are perched on every window sill, overflowing with blossoming flora.
15. The Courtauld Gallery: situated in Somerset House, a beautiful 18th century neoclassical palace, the Gallery’s collection includes paintings from the 14th century until today. The Courtauld is best known for its Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, including works by Monet, van Gogh, and Cezanne.
16. St. John’s Lodge Gardens: from Regent’s Park look for a small gate with a corridor of flowers leading to what looks like a dead-end. It seems to be privately-owned, but on closer inspection you will find that it leads to a tranquil garden. Very few people know about it, but it is a lovely spot to share a picnic with the ducks that stay near the fountain.
17. Leadenhall Market: a beautiful market in the City of London, located under an elegant Victorian roof, selling flowers, cheese, meat and other fresh foods. It is open Monday to Friday from 11:00 – !6:00. There are also shops, pubs and restaurants in the market building. Diagon Alley scenes in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone were filmed in this market.
18. The Monument to the Fire of London: was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built in 1667 to commemorate the Great Fire of London (1666). There are 311 steps to the top of this historic landmark, from which one can see spectacular views of London. Each visitor who climbs to the top of the Monument receives a certificate: Monument Street, EC3R 8AH (Tube: Monument/Bank.)
19. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese: is a pub with a real old world atmosphere, having survived through the reign of 15 monarchs. It consists of a great number of bars and dining rooms reached through a labyrinth of passages and staircases. It has a dark wooden interior, where bar food is served as well as beers, traditional ales, wines and spirits. There is also a restaurant: 145 Fleet Street, The City, London, EC4A 2BU (Tube: Temple.)
20. The Crypt Café: situated in the crypt (basement) of St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields church on Trafalgar Square. It is a self-service café which offers a wide and tasty variety of good-value, freshly-made hot and cold meals, snacks and drinks. It is “the ultimate choice for a combination of superb, inexpensive food in an historic atmosphere.” (Tube: Charing Cross.)
Some useful websites:
https://www.visitlondon.com/things-to-do/sightseeing/one-day-itineraries/secret-london Secret shops in London: https://www.timeout.com/london/shopping/secret-shops-in-london
Secret days out in London: https://www.timeout.com/london/things-to-do/secret-days-out-in- london
Enjoy unusual exhibitions: https://www.timeout.com/london/things-to-do/londons-hidden- museums-and-libraries-2