Monday, October 14, 2013

The Sound of England

Everyone knows the sounds of the Westminster Quarters. (I experienced the 2 p.m. ringing of Big Tom, the bell at Lincoln Cathedral, which is where I first learned of the music's origin.) The number of chime sets correspond to the quarter hours that have passed. The permutations are always played in order, with the count of the hour struck at the top. But, there's an interesting story to this omnipresent melody, with an English connection, of course.

The Westminster Quarters are also called the Cambridge Chimes. The chimes originated at the church of St. Mary the Great in Cambridge, which has a long association to bells. The Society of Cambridge Youths was founded in 1724 to formalize the responsibility to ring St. Mary's bells.

The chimes were adopted in the mid-19th century by the clock tower at the Palace of Westminster, which houses the very famous bell, Big Ben, that sings out these tunes. The adoption of the Cambridge Chimes for Big Ben spread the use of the tune and thus the name from Cambridge Chimes to Westminster Quarters.

A little bit of Cambridge is experienced every time a clock or church bell rings out on the quarter of the hour.

History as Reality

I've been home long enough to reacclimate to life, and to a life that is not in England. I've maintained some English behaviors to retain the feeling of vacation as well as the Englishness I adopted, such as simply drinking tea instead of coffee.  With all fantastic vacations, I can't help but reflect on the past two weeks of living an English life.

What struck me most profoundly was how much of  history is literally everywhere and a part of every day. Churches that are many hundreds of years old are a part of people's modern lives. The daily bustle across a market square is carried out in similar fashion today as it was over a century ago.

Existing within these spaces brought history from the page to life. Simply being present heightened the experiences of the history that was built by the giants of English architecture or inhabited by royalty. It is one thing to know what happened and where and when, but to stand in the room where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert slept (at Burghley House) or where King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn dined (at Hampton Court) incorporates the senses and allows the imagination to take over to truly be, turning history into reality. Being surrounded by the artifacts and evidence of the longevity of this island nation's history and it's people was truly unique and awe-inspiring.

Thank you all for reading the blog and accompanying me on this journey!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fit for Kings

Today I accomplished another goal on this trip...I went to Hampton Court Palace, a place of great history. Check that palace off of the Anglophile's To Do List.

Begun in 1515, Cardinal Wolsey, Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII, transition Hampton Court from a medieval manor into a palace for himself. After visiting in 1514 with his first Queen, Katherine of Aragon visited for the first time. Henry liked it so much that he claimed it for himself. After Wolsey lost his fortune, power, and prestige, he gave up Hampton Court to Henry. Henry made vast improvements to the Palace, building the Great Hall with its richly ornamented ceiling and the Chapel Royal with a fan-vaulted wooden ceiling. The 16th century kitchens provide a glimpse into what it would have been like to prepare food for hundreds of people on a regular basis.

Hampton Court is also the location for many of the joyous and tragic moments in Henry's life. Jane Seymour gave birth to Prince Edward in 1537, who was baptized in the Chapel Royal. Jane then died shortly after the birth. Henry's 5th wife, the silly Catherine Howard, was interrogated and kept under house arrest at the palace in 1541 after Henry learned of her supposed dalliances and possible adulterous behaviors. And Henry married his final wife Katheryn Parr in the Chapel Royal in 1543.

The Palace found a new life under William III and Mary II, who transformed large portions of the buildings into what its present form. In 1689, Sir Christopher Wren demolished large parts of the Tudor palaces and built new Grand Halls and a series of State Rooms. These apartments today are filled with porcelain, furniture, paintings, and tapestries. These privy rooms weren't actually used as private bedchambers, but were as viewing rooms for visiting with the royals. These series of State Rooms would slowly decrease the crowd of courtiers from who wanted to see the king and queen down to who actually was able to meet and converse with the king and queen.  For William III,  he kept a series of private apartments on the ground floor below his State Rooms.

And behind the scenes were true people who helped and served the royals with the very private of private activities. Exhibits also were devoted to the servants and people who served the royalty, such as the Pages of the Bedchamber, the Laundress of the Body, and the Seamstress and Starcher.

Hampton Court also has a lovely series of gardens. The 59-acres of gardens are made up of Tudor and Knot Gardens, rose gardens, a Maze (a Wren-work), and fountains, and Orangery and Exotics Garden.

I enjoyed tea and cake after walking through all of the gardens and palace, and my favorite aspect was being in the place that hosted so much history that I have learned about. Walking through the hallways with the rounded domed ceilings by the kitchens, I couldn't help imagine what it would have been like to be in those very cold and cavernous hallways when unprecedented events were happening above in Henry's Great Hall. It was truly awe-inspiring to be on site.

Photos from the day can be found here.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Afternoon of Art

For my last day in London, I spent it viewing the most amazing works of European art at both the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery.

On a gorgeously warm and sunny day (the weather truly has been magnificent and yes, everyone here really does talk about the weather all the time), I walked from Lincoln's Inn Fields to Trafalgar Square to first go to the National to see their collection of more than 2,300 paintings. The National is the perfect art museum for me because it covers my favorite periods of Western art - mid-1200s to 1900. The layout is chronological, though the galleries are not organized sequentially. Starting with the Renaissance greats, I saw works by Lippi, Leonardo's The Virgin on the Rocks, and one of my all-time favorite Dutch Renaissance paintings, Van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait. Moving into the 16th century, the typical European Old Masters are represented by Titan, El Greco, and my favorite, Hans Holbein, which is represented by The Ambassadors. I spent more in the 18th and 19th centuries than in the 17th century with the Gainsborough's, Turner's, Constable's, Hogarth's, Renior's, and Manet's.

After two hours of art-viewing, I needed to rejuvenate. On a recommendation, I ventured across the street to St. Martin-in-the-Field's for lunch in it's cafe. Ironic that the church's name includes "in the Fields" considering it sits off of Trafalgar Square. However, St. Martin's used to truly be surrounded by fields when it was founded in the 13th century. The current 18th-century building was constructed by James Gibbs, a follower of Christopher Wren. The interior is adorned with Italian plasterwork and a huge mahogany and silver organ. The cafe is in the church's crypt with gravestones for Charles II's mistress, Nell Gwynne, among many others underfoot of the cafe's patrons. (By the way, the food truly was excellent.)

On to what is now my favorite museum in London, the National Portrait Gallery. The Portrait Gallery's collection is based on identity of the subject and not necessarily on who the artist is or the artist's talent. The works vary hugely in quality and have been organized by the subject and the time in which the subject lived rather than the time in which the piece was painted, like the National. Beginning chronologically with the Plantagenets and Tudors and ending with the current period, the portraits of royalty, artists, writers, politicians, scientists, musicians, and philosophers are presented. I spent two hours and still ran out of time (because they were closing and I spent too much time in the Tudor and Stuart rooms) so I wasn't able to see the modern portraits, such as this one of the Duchess of Cambridge. But I got to see my favorite portrait of Elizabeth I.

I love this museum not only because of the subject matter but because taken on a whole, the Portrait Gallery presents a visual map of the Britain's history. The historical actors depicted in these works of art have each influenced the creation of this unique nation.

Photos from the day can be found here.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Ship of the Fens

Another Cathedral to check off the list, my third in a week. (The first being St. Paul's and the second being Lincoln's.) Today I ventured up from Cambridge to Ely to see the town and the Cathedral.

Ely's Cathedral can be seen for miles before you reach England's second smallest city (Fun fact! Wells is England's smallest city.) The cathedral is known as "the ship of the Fens" because Ely used to be an island surrounded by freshwater marshes, which are Fens. Ely is named as such because of the eels that were found in the marshes and thus the land became known as Eel Isle, which then became Ely.

The cathedral's history dates back to the 7th century when the original cathedral was built by a monastic community. Pilgrims came to Ely for centuries to visit the shrine of Saint Etheldreda (referred to locally as Audrey), who was the daughter of the king of East Anglia and died in 680.

Like most cathedrals, Ely is a conglomeration of many centuries of architectural styles. After the Normans invaded Ely, which took them five years to finally do, they enhanced the current building. The 11th century Norman nave's series of columns leads to the Gothic-styled Octagon Tower, which supports a distinctive wooden roof. The original tower crashed in the 14th century due to instability in the foundation. The Octagon was built from 1320 to 1340 by William Hurley, who later became Master Carpenter to the King at Westminster. I went on a tour to the top of the Octagon and saw for myself the many massively large oak trees that are used to support the lantern atop the tower. At the time the oak trees were cut down in the middle of the 14th century, they would have already been many hundreds of years old. This wood then is well over a thousand year's old.

The Octagon incorporates medieval carvings that tell the story of Etheldreda. Unfortunately, Saint Etheldreda's shrine and many of the Cathedral's statues were destroyed in the Reformation. Most of the stained glass windows were created and installed in the Victorian period of the late 19th-century as was a painted wooden ceiling.

Ely also has a historic connection to Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth after the English Civil Wars ended in 1651. Cromwell lived in Ely for 10 years from 1636 to 1646 when he inherited the property and the position as the local tax collector from his uncle. The house still stands and is a museum of Cromwell and 17th-century domestic life.

To end my pilgrimage to Ely and to sample a bit of English domesticity, I ended my day with a true English tea - an egg and watercress sandwich, scones with jam and cream, and a pot of tea. One thing I've enjoyed most this week is the copious amounts of tea I've had - at least three small pots a day. How will I incorporate my afternoon treat of tea and cake into my normal life?

Photos from the day can be found here.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Grand Tour of Grand Estates

This was the weekend for two big events - one I couldn't wait for and the other I dreaded. Since planning this trip, I've been looking forward to going to Chatsworth House. However to get there, I was going to have to drive, on the other side of the road, in a car with the driver's seat also on the other side of the car. And then there's turning right. And also, roundabouts...they are everywhere.

The folks at the lovely little car rental agency thought they were doing us a favor by upgrading our rental from a little car to a full four-doored SUV. I was not pleased and had been hoping for a small car to make navigating the small roads easier. So now I had to drive on the other side of the road, sitting on the other side of the car, and in a huge car at that! (I would have had a problem driving this car even in the States.) Well, we had it and off we went. Driving was very odd and uncomfortable at first but I got the hang of it and had the most excellent of navigators to help guide and, most importantly, support in both directional and moral ways. And as I went through more and more roundabouts, I got the hang of them. Turning right though was tricky every time. The motto became, "Far right! Far right!" to make sure I was turning into the correct (i.e. left lane.) And also to note, when not paying attention to driving but to something else like turning or to oncoming  traffic, habit kicks in and I found myself going towards the right side instead of the left. Thankfully the few times that happened no one was coming and all was safe. Of course by the end just as we were ending the weekend, I had the hang of driving. I suppose this means that the next time I visit England I won't be so worried about taking a weekend long as I have my navigator extrodinarie. 

Friday - Derby
The first stop on the weekend tour of grandiose estates was Chatsworth House, located in Derbyshire near the Peak District National Park. (Note to self: Spend more time at the National Park. From what I saw of it while driving, it is worth additional exploration.) 

The first house was built in 1557 by Bess of Hardwick. Mary Queen of Scots was a "visitor" at Chatsworth during a number of her years while incarcerated in England. Between 1687 and 1707, the 4th Earl of Devonshire replaced the old Tudor mansion with the current Baroque palace. The 6th Duke of Devonshire continued to remodel the house adding Georgian style galleries to the heavy Baroque-style state rooms. There is quite a distinction between the different wings of the house. The gardens' landscaping was designed by Lancelot "Capability" Brown in the 1760s and developed by the head gardener Joseph Paxton in the mid-19th century.

The Chatsworth House is currently the home to the 12th Duke of Devonshire, and the family does in fact still live in the House. Exploring the lavish interiors, extensive grounds, and various gardens took the entire day and it was time well spent. 

Saturday - Lincoln
Since we were staying in an adorable little bed and breakfast in Lincoln, we decided to spend Saturday in Lincoln. This also meant that we didn't have to drive anywhere. Lincoln is is surrounded by a flat landscape, called the Fens, and rises dramatically on a cliff above the River Wittham. 

The Romans founded the first settlement in AD 48. Lincoln grew to be the fourth most important city in England (after London, Winchester, and York) by the time the Normans invaded in 1066. The city has retained the look and feel of a medieval town with the preservation of many small streets and medieval buildings, many along the aptly named Steep Hill that leads to the cathedral. 

Construction on the original Norman cathedral began in 1072, but after fires and earthquakes, three versions of the cathedral later has resulted in the present Gothic style, particularly the Early English and Decorated periods. The three towers of the massive Lincoln Cathedral can be seen for miles around. And on a clear day, like the one we had on Saturday, you can see for miles from the roof of the center tower, which we climbed to for the view.

Sunday - Stamford
Continuing on the with the theme of grand buildings, we left Lincoln for Stamford and the Burghley House. William Cecil, 1st Lord of Burghley was Queen Elizabeth I's advisor for 40 of her 45 year-reign. He built Burghley House in 1560-1587, designing it himself. (The Cecil family still lives in the House and operates the House Trust.) 
The exterior contains typical Tudor features of turrets and cupolas. The roof line bristles with stone pyramids and many chimneys disguised as Classical columns and towers. The House's interior is lavishly decorated with Italian paintings of Greek gods and scenes across many walls and ceilings in heavily wooded rooms. There is actually a lovely room with Heaven all along the ceiling and walls while in the next space, a grand staircase, Hell is depicted with a mouth crammed with sinners. This hellish staircase leads to a Great Hall with a double beamed roof that was a banqueting hall in Elizabethan days, and then turned into a library. The Great Hall served an elaborate dinner to Queen Victoria, who stayed in the house twice, once as a child and again later as Queen.

Capability Brown also designed Burghley House's surrounding deer park (of which deer currently roam) and landscaped the grounds in 1760. The oak trees that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert planted in 1844 are still standing. In fact, there's a grove of many old oak trees as part of the landscaping. 

Before leaving Lincolnshire, we stopped for tea and scones in Stamford, a showpiece town famous for its Georgian townhouses and medieval street plan. The spires of the medieval church in Stamford can be seen from the deer park of Burghley House. 

Driving back to Cambridge, and comfortable now doing so, I appreciated the beauty of this fine English country, the changing landscape and scenery from the rolling hills of Derbyshire, through the wooded areas of Nottingham, and to the Fens of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. This weekend afforded perfect weather to see a few of the most precious pieces of architecture, estates, and grounds in England. If I wasn't already in love with this country, I would be now after this magnificent weekend.

Photos from the weekend can be found here

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Not Enough Time for the Past

I had to quickly come to terms with the fact that I wasn't going to get to see everything at the Victoria and Albert Museum (aka the V&A). First of all, there are seven floors, 150 galleries displaying around four million objects of sculptures, jewlery, textiles, clothes, paintings, ceramics, furniture, architecture, and more.

Following the success of the Great Exhibition (aka the First Worlds Fair held in 1851), the V&A was established in 1852 to make works of art available to the public. Originally called the South Kensington Museum, the Museum moved to its present site in 1857. The South Kensington Museum was renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1899 when Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone for a new building, the current building, designed to give the Museum a grand facade. And grand it is with its red brick exterior, soaring dome, and vast open galleries.

Overwhelming doesn't begin to describe the building or the collection. With little idea of what to see first, I started wandering without a plan. I quickly came to the Fashion Galleries and ogled the finery, thankful to be wearing jeans and a t-shirt and not a two foot wide crinoline cage or a corset.

I next found myself in the jewelry gallery, where I spent most of my time seeing every little bejeweled piece, 3,000 from all across Europe, from ancient to modern. Spending time here easily made up for for skipping the Crown Jewels at the Tower. And if I am ever able to wear this amethyst necklace, I'll gladly wear any amount of bustle padding, corsets, and crinoline. I got lost, well not lost so much as turned around in the silver gallery (it's that large and there are a lot of silver pieces), learned how miniature portraits are made, and stood in a room surround by large and gorgeous medieval tapestries.

I saw so much from around the world and across time, but yet I ran out of time for the furnishings and sculptures and paintings and photographs. The V&A and I will just have to have another date when I next return to London.

Photos from the day can be found here.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Quintessential English Town

I took a break from London today to visit a small little town in Essex called Saffron Walden. The best thing about the day was the bus ride through many a little English village, with stone walls and thatched roofs and the Tudor-esque style of architecture in which the first floor juts out beyond the ground floor.

There has been a settlement near current-day Saffron Walden since before the Roman occupation of Britain, and thereafter, an Anglo-Saxon town was established. There is still the foundation of Walden Castle, which was constructed in 1116 and is near Saffron Walden's quaint museum.

The early town was known as Chipping Walden. The saffron crocus was grown in the area during the 16th and 17th century. Saffron is extracted from the flower's stigmas and used in medicines, condiments, perfumes, and as an expensive yellow dye. The production of saffron became an industry for the town, thus it changed it's name.

Saffron Walden is a market town, with the center based around a large square that holds market a few days a week. I had lovely chats with a few of the shopkeepers I visited and a leisurely lunch in a lovely little cafe. Many of the old buildings in Saffron Walden exemplify a decorative plasterwork unique to East Anglia, which adds color to the streets and mixes nicely with the Georgian architecture  and yellow-bricked buildings. The town is small enough to walk the whole thing in about an hour. And like any proper English town, there is a Common and a church. Saffron Walden's parish church, St. Mary the Virgin, is the largest parish church in Essex and was built in 1430 under the supervision of the designer of the Chapel at King's College, John Wastell.

The one thing I didn't have a chance to do while in Saffron Walden is visit Audley End, which is on the ground of Walden Abbey. Henry VIII granted Walden Abbey to Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas Audley (I'm assuming a result of the seizures of the monastic lands, an idea by Thomas Cromwell to raise money for the crown.) It was converted into a domestic house for Audley, known at the time as Audley Inn. The original  building was demolished by the first Earl of Suffolk and a grander mansion was built to entertain King James I. Christopher Wren was one of the architects involved in the redesign.

Reflecting on my day in the English country, the one thought I continued to have was really a question - when can I move here? Life in the English countryside truly does seem idyllic.

Photos from the day can be found here.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Medical History, Oddities, and Curiosities

Today, I embarked on a theme - medical history - which ties my everyday life to my hobby of history. I first went to the Royal London Hospital Museum, which was a bit tricky to find as it is in the crypt (restored) of a late 19th century church, St. Philip's Church, in Whitechapel. The London Hospital was founded in 1740 and became Britain's largest voluntary hospital. (I could write so much about the history of the London Hospital, but will focus this just on the museum.)  The museum is divided by the centuries within which it has operated.

The 18th century section gives an overview on the foundation of the hospital and medical education and health in the 18th century. An operation bell of 1792 hangs by the front door. The bell was rung to call attendants to the operating room to hold a patient still. 

The 19th century section displays contemporary surgical instruments and medical equipment, surgery before antisepsis, and profiles Florence Nightingale and Eva Luckes, a hospital matron.  

The 20th century section focuses on the first and second World Wars, Nurse Edith Cavell, and scientific advances in medicines, such as x-rays. 

Continuing onwards, I next went to the Hunterian Museum, which is in the Royal College of Surgeons. On display is the collection of medical oddities and curiosities of the late 18th century physician John Hunter. He gathered all sorts of items, human, animal, and plant, to instruct his medical students. Hunter believed that surgeons should study the structure and function of all sorts of living things to understand how the human body adapts to injuries, diseases, and environmental impacts. Edward Jenner (of the smallpox vaccine fame) and Astley Cooper (a surgeon and anatomist who described several new anatomical structures, which are named after him) were both students of Hunter. The collection includes two floors and shelves upon shelves of pickled animal and body parts in jars, surgical instruments, and case studies of successful experimental surgeries, such as repairing facial gunshot wounds to World War I soldiers. The honestly coolest thing were boards of lacquered systems of arteries, veins, and nerves. The human subject would have been placed on the board and then all else but what currently remains on the board was dissected away.

Next, was the Wellcomme Collection. I was so excited to see this since it is described by my Frommer's guide as, "the capital's finest museum of medicine." Sadly, most of the collection is closed because the museum is undergoing remodeling. Here's what I missed! I'll just have to come back after it reopens in 2014.

So since I had more time then I had planned, I took the opportunity to visit the British Library. For a bibliophile  and nerd, the British Library is Mecca. First of all, it is receives a copy of every single title published in the U.K. and stored on 400 miles of shelves. The only thing I saw (and had time for) was "Treasures of the British Library," which displays 200 of the library's holdings, such as Shakespeare folios; drawings by Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Durer; Jane Austen's writing desk and letters; a slightly singed copy of Beowulf; musical scores by Beethoven, Mozart, and Handel (incidentally, Beethoven and Mozart's scores were clean but Handel's had many scribbles); a letter from Elizabeth I to her brother, Edward VI; a speech to Parliament by George III's; loads of illuminated manuscripts and maps; and of courses the 1215 Magna Carta. I never pass up the opportunity to see one of the many versions of the Magna Carta. To me it is the epitome of English and British history as a symbol of the foundation of the state. 

And that is exactly what I'm experiencing everyday in this magnificent city and country - the epitome of English and British history that surrounds me as I walk like the New Yorker I am up Bloomsbury Street and past the British Museum, around Lincoln's Inn and Chancery (Shout out to Bleak Houses!),  and through Whitechapel.

Photos from the day can be found here