Monday, September 29, 2014

A Visit with the Royals and their Country Estate

When I realized how close Cambridge is to the Queens' Norfolk country retreat, Sandringham, I knew I had to make time to see it. Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh regularly visit Sandringham for the holidays. I got to chatting with one of the very friendly and knowledgable docents who informed me that they close the house around the end of October to make it ready to receive the Royal family and it stays closed to the public until around February. The staff in the house also work in the house with the Royal Family. He in fact services the boilers to the house. (A good man to have around in the English winters and a large drafty house.) The house was first opened to the public in 1977. The main ground-floor rooms, regularly used by the Royal Family, are decorated in the Edwardian style of the house's original Royal occupants. 

The site has been occupied since the Elizabethan Era. Sandringham Hall was built in 1771, the hall was rebuilt in the 19th century after it was purchased by Queen Victoria for her eldest son and his new bride, the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, and Queen Alexandra. It has been passed down as a private home through four generations of British monarchs.

The lineage of the British monarchy since Queen Victoria can be traced by the inhabitants of Sandringham. Edward VII and Queen Alexandra had two sons, Albert Victor and George Frederick. Albert, the heir apparent, was engaged to marry Princess Mary of Teck. Mary would be Queen but not due to her marriage to Albert Victor. Unfortunately, he would die of pneumonia, January 14, 1982 at Sandringham. A year after Albert's death, George and Mary were engaged and married in 1893 and they would become King George V and Queen Mary in 1910. They would also have two sons, Albert Edward (Edward VIII who abdicated) and Albert Frederick, who would become King George VI. George VI married Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, and their eldest daughter is the current reigning Queen Elizabeth II. There you have it - the four generations of royal lineage who have occupied Sandringham.

The resulting red-brick house, completed in 1870, is a mixture of styles. The galleried entrance hall is still used by the Royal Family for entertaining and family occasions, also the entrance for the publicly accessible rooms, which include a small drawing room, a larger parlor room, the dining room, and a hallway leading to the ball room, which was attached later. The decor and contents remain as they were in the Edwardian times. Both Queen Alexandra and later Queen Mary were collectors of objects d'art. Members of the Russian and European Royal Families (also relatives of the British Royal Family) were frequent guests to Sandringham and brought gifts, which are on also on display. 

Also on the estate is St. Mary Magdalene Church, where the Royal Family attends Christmas services. A medieval church that dates to the 16th century and restored in 1857, it is a small church in the Perpendicular style. The Chancel is quiet incredible (and here's what it looks like because sadly, I wasn't allowed to take pictures.) There are memorials to many members and relations of the Royal Family in the church (Victoria, Edward VII, Alexandra, George V, George VI and Queen Elizabeth) and churchyard. 

In addition to touring the first floor of the house, there are also about 600 acres of country park and garden. The formal planting of the Edwardian age is incorporated with rolling hills, grass paths, and gravel walkways in wooded glens. Peaceful and quiet, it is easy to understand the draw of these gardens for the Royal Family seeking solemnity and serenity. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Stumbling into History

Taking advantage of a perfectly clear and sunny day, we decided to walk the almost 5 miles to Waterbeach along the Cam. A dusty trail with foliage along the side, fields to the left, the Cam with water fowl aplenty to our right. We journeyed on foot encountering the occasional runner and cyclist, but mostly had the English countryside and nature to ourselves.

Along the way we stumbled upon a cement structure. Curious as to what it was, we "off-roaded" to explore. On our quiet Sunday walk we discovered an actual piece of history. The cement structure  was a pillbox, a British hardened field defence for World War II. These were small fortified structures constructed to prepare for invasions and were known as "pillboxes" because of their shape. Two pillboxes are strategically located along the River Cam and near the railway. These were Type 24 pillboxes (there are many different types), which is an irregular hexagon with a rear wall of about 14 feet and other walls vary from 7 to 8 feet. The entrance has an embrasure on either side, suitable for rifles or light machines guns, and embrasures in each of the walls. The walls were built to shell proof standard with walls at least 12 inches thick. Internally there is a Y-shaped anti-ricochet wall with the top of the Y nearest the entrance. See diagram: 

British WWII Pillbox FW3/24 section

Waterbeach itself is a quiet little village with a town green in the center, some shops, a few pubs, and of course the local parish church. What is remarkable, in my opinion, about this small local village church is that it dates to the 12th century. We stood in a church that is over a thousand years old while a young man was practicing on the organ, for what I presumed was the next week's service. The facade of the church is studded with flint, creating a polka dot aesthetic. As explored in yesterday's post, the use of flint in buildings is common for this area. 

Before reaching Waterbeach, we also came on a few wild gardens, one called Cow Hollow Wood that we explored by ourselves. Built by volunteers, they returned fallow land to the wild with native plants and put in trails and benches to enjoy the serenity of their creation. While wandering around the wooded area, I couldn't help imagine what all the fields around would have looked like before cultivation and what we would have seen before the cultivation of the land into farms and the building of railways and roadways. 

On a Sunday afternoon to go from pre-cultured land, to a 12th century church, to a World War II defense structure was truly an adventure through history.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

From a Great Journey to a Small Church

After a day at work, a flight across the ocean, clearing customs, the tube to London's King's Cross, a train to Royston, a bus from Royston to Cambridge (because of course this weekend of all the weekends possible there's track work which results in shuttle service), and a hackney, I finally arrive at my destination in a quaint flat at the end of a quaint Walk (literally the name of the road) in Cambridge.  And because I'm in England, the weather must be mentioned - it was gorgeously sunny and warm with a slight breeze all day, perfect for walking. 

The first stop (there's no time to plan, follow the itinerary) was St. Peter's Church, the smallest church in Cambridge. It rests on Castle Hill with an overgrown and wild church yard. Though originally built in the 11th century, traces of the Roman history of the area are visible in the church's exterior. Terracotta Roman roofing tiles became building materials. In fact, the exterior walls of the church display such a variety of stone, you can't help but wonder how it was all scavenged. Because Cambridge has no natural supply of stone for building, most buildings had to import the stone or use local flint rock, which is not ideal since it only comes in small nodules and can't be faced like building stone. 

Cambridge Castle was built shortly after the Norman conquest on the highest point in Cambridge overlooking the River Cam, and overshadowed the Church. At first a keep and mote infrastructure, stone was eventually brought in to build the castle. Once the castle fell out of general use, the stone was scavenged and used to build the rest of Cambridge. Examples of the castle's stone can be found in the Colleges' buildings. 

Traces of St. Peter's Saxony history are present in the carved doorways and stone font, decorated with four mermen grasping their split tails. It is posited that the font was perhaps a Saxon mortar for grinding grains. It's likely that the Christians repurposed the mortar as a baptismal font, incorporating the pagan iconography of the mermen into Christianity. 

The church was eventually rebuilt during the Georgian period, and then cut in half to its present size in the 18th century. 

Next to St. Peter's is Kettle's Yard, the former home of Jim and Helen Ede, which is now a museum. Harold Stanley "Jim" Ede was curator at the Tate Gallery in the 1920s and 30s. His home showcases his friendship with many artists and their worldly travels. The Ede's transformed four dilapidated cottages into a single home, resulting in a variety of differently shaped rooms, art work and collectables throughout the home. Not only is this a truly unique museum because of the Edes, but also because you can actually sit in all the chairs in the house, even a rattan-backed chair ergonomically designed to hug the sitter. 

The first of many English afternoons too come ended as all English afternoon's should...with tea, scones, jam, and cream. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Itinerary

I am as ambitious about this year's trip as I was with last year's list of things to do and places to go. This year's trip was slightly easier to plan because I included things I didn't have a chance to get to see last year - here's looking at you Wellcomme Collection that was under construction and the V&A that's so big that I spent most of my afternoon just in the jewelry room.

So the villages, towns and cities to visit this year includes:
Llandudno (Venturing into Wales for the first time!)
and last but not least, London (of course!) 

The sites and activities for London are:
Tower of London to see the poppies
British Museum (because somehow I've never really done it)
Hunteriarn Museum
National Portrait Gallery (my all time favorite museum)
Sir John Soames Museum
Wellcomme Collection
Westmintser Abbey
Tate Britain
V&A Museum
Westminster Cathedral
The Monument
Regents Park
Hyde Park
Kensington Gardens

In York, the plan is to see the Cathedral, Castle Shambles, and Viking Center. 

My most favorite "surprise find" is Sandringham Estate in the north part of East Anglia. I can't go to England and not visit a grand estate of some kind! I saw both Chatswoth House and Burghley Estate last year, plus Hampton Court. This year, it's the HM The Queen's Norfolk retreat. 

As a good friend asked, "are you planning on sleeping?" Most likely yes but only from exhaustion at seeing and doing all of this! 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

At it again...

On the eve of a journey, there's excitement and nervousness. In about 20 hours or so I'll be in the great land of England for the second of what is now becoming an annual pilgrimage to my second home away from home across the Atlantic. This year's visit takes me from Cambridge, to York, to Chester, to Northern Wales, to London.

As with last year's trip, each day's historical activities will be logged and described herein through following posts. Stay tuned...more to read shortly!