London Studies Group One - Visits and walks around London
About the Group:We visit different venues of well known and lesser known historical or cultural interest in London each month, incorporating a shortish walk where possible to see things en route or a longer optional walk after lunch. Members take turns in organising visits. They plan the day, supply timings and cost information. Generally we leave from Edenbridge Town Station and we meet at a London main line station and travel onwards by bus.
When and where do we meet?
We meet on the third Friday of each month.
How much does it cost?
Travel end entrance fees
MUSEUM OF THE ORDER OF ST JOHN
After the obligatory coffee stop we took the short walk from Farringdon Station through fairly nondescript buildings until we turned a corner and there in front of us was the magnificent Gatehouse dating from the sixteenth century. After admiring this edifice we moved into the main building of St John's Gate where we were greeted by our guide. He explained the history of the different strands of the organisation whilst we went through the various rooms including the Grand Chamber where the crests of past masters were displayed.
We moved through rooms associated with many famous people before we entered the Malta Room. Here we heard how the Knights of St John had originally served as hospitallers for pilgrims in the Holy land in the eleventh century but had evolved into a fighting force and used to hold back the advance of the armies of the Ottoman empire on behalf of the Christian faith. They had been driven out of the Holy Land in the 1291 and then, progressively from Cyprus and Rhodes before ending up in Malta where they had held out in a siege lasting four months in 1565 - stemming the tide. They remained there until Napoleon invaded the island in 1798 whilst en route to Egypt.
Meanwhile back in the UK the English Order had been formed in the 1140s in the Priory in Clerkenwell but had been dissolved briefly by Henry VIII and then permanently by Elizabeth I. For centuries afterwards the building went through various ownerships and usages including being the office where 30 of Shakespeare's plays were licensed as well as a pub where Charles Dickens was one of the clientele. Eventually the order was reformed in 1831 and in 1888 was granted a Royal Charter as a charitable organisation dedicated to first aid and care in the community. This included forming the now familiar St John Ambulance Brigade whilst it also established an eye hospital in Jerusalem. At about the same time ownership of the building was regained.
We then proceeded to the nearby Priory church which had been rebuilt after destruction in WW2 although the twelfth century crypt remained. That concluded an excellent and informative tour. We stopped for a brief view of the treasures in the museum before heading for a nice meal and then the train home. A most enjoyable day.
1st Class visit to the
Post Office Museum
This London Studies tour proved to have been the most challenging to organise to date, due to the teething problems of the newly opened London Postal Museum (Exhibition) & Mail Ride.That said, the wonderful turnout for this trip (29 members) certainly made the efforts more than worthwhile.
The Postal Museum covers two separate sites on opposite sides of the road. On arrival at the Postal Museum and on receiving our wrist bands we headed back across the road for the Mail Rail Ride.
Excitement built as we started down the stairs to the underground area, to await instruction to board the train. This in itself proved quite challenging in terms of the small spaces provided. After all, these trains were originally designed for mail bags not humans. Then we were off, on an underground journey steeped in history. A running commentary and film extracts along the way informed us of the by-gone days of the mail rail service.
There was a slight air that the best of the day had passed us by as we headed back to the Postal Museum for a coffee before continuing our day visiting the ‘Exhibition’. Our mood was soon revived on entering a world of ‘colour’ and ‘cheeriness’. Excellent information displays made it easy to read and absorb further history of our postal service.
The interactive points, proved enormous fun, especially amongst us more childlike adults within the group, including designing a self-image postage stamp. Our Chairman, joined in, ‘sorting’ the mail whilst travelling on a train simulator looking very much the part in his appropriate postal uniform. All too soon our visit came to an end at the Gift Shop with a gathering of the group before heading off.
Our next and final port of call for the day was The Castle Pub whereby arrangements had been made for the private use of the upstairs bar in order that we could all seat comfortably and enjoy our pre-ordered meals and drinks at the tables provided. The atmosphere was of laughter and chatter as people exchanged their experiences of the morning.
Not only had our journey up to London run smoothly but the return trip back to Edenbridge Town ran just as easily, a perfect end to a thoroughly enjoyable day.
Click HERE for more photos
ALL ABOARD FOR ST. PANCRAS!
On arrival in London, our first stop, inevitably had to be for a traditional coffee break. Suitably refreshed we met up with our guides below the extremely large statue of the greeting couple at the Station aptly named "The Meeting Place". Then after inspecting the friezes around the base depicting people and incidents in the station's colourful history our group moved on to where we could admire the magnificent Grade 1 Victorian Station and Hotel buildings known as "The Cathedral of Railways".
We heard about the innovative work in its construction in 1868 including the revolutionary glass roof and the surprisingly important role of beer in its early years before the talk moved on to its eventual decline to the point of the threat of demolition.
This was followed by the story of its reprieve as a result of the intervention of the likes of John Betjeman and the Victorian Society. It was, however, made clear to us that saving the station was only the first stage in bringing it back to a modern fully functioning station and hotel - now separate entities. There were years of having to deal with the requirements of organisations such as English Heritage whilst having to overcome objections from a number of local organisations including complaints by ladies of the night that the reconstruction work would adversely affect their trade!
After hearing that the Victorian building
was now a combination of an upmarket hotel and luxury apartments (which can shake quite significantly when trains move by but still command very high prices!) we moved on to stand by the statue of Sir John Betjeman and shown how much of the Victorian work had been incorporated into the new complex as a hub for both Eurostar and numerous railway lines which give it direct access to the Continent and many parts of the
After passing the restored Victorian booking office (now a restaurant/bar) we moved downstairs through the station complex where old brick and metalwork exist hand in glove with a modern mixture of shops and restaurants. Then it was outside to see how new buildings had been integrated into the old followed by a walk through the surrounding area and heard about its major redevelopment including nearby Kings Cross - one of the biggest in Europe.
As well as many new buildings (some more attractive than others!) we saw how a number of remnants of our industrial heritage had been re-utilised. Perhaps the most imaginative was the conversion of Gas holders into apartments illustrating the gentrification and enhancement of an area that had previously been run down and decidedly seedy.
Finally we moved back into the station and parted company with our guide after thanking him for a fascinating and illuminating insight into a wonderful combination of Victorian enterprise and modern technology.
July Visit to
On the 20th July the group caught the usual 9.09 train from Edenbridge and headed to Victoria. We made our way along the busy Victoria Street towards Westminster. It was a very warm day and the colourful pavements were packed with tourists as we hurried along in order to have time for a pre tour coffee.
We met our guide, Simon, in the Wesley café and then moved onto Dean’s Yard to start the tour. Simon proved to be an extremely knowledgeable and personable speaker who balanced his information with moments of humour.
We learned that in 960 AD Benedictine monks travelled from Glastonbury, presumably because the festival was a wash out, to the quiet, water surrounded site in Westminster. It was here they established the early Abbey. Edward the Confessor greatly enlarged the building in the 1040s but unfortunately he was too ill to attend the consecration in 1065 and died a few days later. We saw the magnificent tomb of Edward, now a saint, which occupies a central position in the Abbey. It has been ‘must see shrine’ for thousands of pilgrims over the centuries that followed.
|The 10 Martyrs|
The Gothic Abbey we see today was mainly constructed in the time of Henry III during the 13th century, being consecrated in 1269. A number of chapels have been added over the years and the two towers over the West Door were constructed in 1745.
This doorway now also displays 10 modern martyrs, including Martin Luther King, in niches above the entrance.
|Immaculate lawns between the cloisters|
We also discovered that the ill feted Mary Queen of Scott is buried in the Abbey not far from Elizabeth I, her old foe. However, her head is higher than that of the Tudor Queen so perhaps she had the last laugh.
Henry the VII and his wife, Elizabeth of York have tombs in a chapel along with the supposed remains of the Princes in the Tower. There was some debate over who was really responsible for the death of the Princes but Simon agreed with several of us that the culprit was Margaret Beaufort rather than the much maligned Richard III.
|Inside the Cloisters|
The Abbey has become one of the top tourist sites in London. Scans have proved that over 3,000 bodies have been buried there although currently only ashes are interred and only if you are considered ‘worthy’ .
It isn’t an Abbey at all but a ‘Royal Peculiar’ as, since the dissolution of the monasteries, it is directly responsible to the monarch, with no place for the Archbishop of Canterbury. All monarchs since William the Conqueror have been crowned there along with many Royal burials and marriages.
We really had our money’s worth with Simon, the tour lasting well over the allotted 2 hours. A few intrepid members then had the stamina to climb the steps to the newly opened Queen’s gallery, which I understand, was really worthwhile. As for the rest, some returned home but a few stalwarts staggered of to the ‘Albert Pub’ famed for its House of Commons Division Bell.
In our defence we did test ourselves on the tombs and memorials we had seen. Many worthies were remembered but I am sure Elsie Longbottom wasn’t one of them!
An excellent if exhausting day!London Studies One
The Great Plague of 1665
|Did you hear the one about the Scotsman, the cart and the pit?|
On a lovely sunny day a group from London Studies One were taken back to the grimmer times of 1665 and the Great Plague. Our guide started by telling us that on the spot where we stood on Tower Hill thousands of Londoners had gathered in 1664 to witness a comet that was believed to be the bringer of a great catastrophe and how shortly afterwards the Great Plague started to take hold. London had suffered several plagues in the past but this was by far the largest since the Black Death. No accurate figures were known of the actual deaths as often the death of those not of the "faith" was not recorded. However it was estimated that 100,000 died- representing 15% of London's population.
She took us through the symptoms, how death came very quickly and that rats were not suspected of causing the disease. It was mainly put down to the air whilst dogs were believed to be a contributory factor- and suffered accordingly. At this point a "seventeenth century waterman" appeared with "rat" in hand to defend the little creature. Despite an entertaining interactive experience we were not totally convinced!
We moved on to Minories where there had been many deaths and heard of Daniel Defoe's personal experience of the cries of "Bring out the Dead" with affected families being locked into their homes and the dreaded red crosses painted on their doors. Guards were posted outside to keep them in (although sometimes they could be bribed to look away!). Then past sites of plague pits and hearing of the Scotsman who survived both the cart and the pit.
Onwards through the Aldgate area and an unexpected encounter with a "plague doctor" of the time with full regalia - giving a bit of a shock to at least one of our party! He was clad head to toe to avoid any infection with a long "beak" filled with herbs to avoid infection - at least in theory. We were told that most doctors had actually fled the City and that the remedies being applied by those remaining were totally ineffectual.
Next on to the City and the Church of St Olave with its association with Samuel Pepys. Pepys actually appeared whilst we were there- looking remarkably fit for someone over 300 years old! He relayed some of his experiences of the Plague from a diary he was writing and wondering what to write about next before we walked on to St Dunstan in the East where the good doctor re-appeared with more anecdotes.
|Pepys into the past|
Our final stop was by the Monument dedicated to the Great Fire of 1666 which, apparently, did not end the Plague. It was due to improved sanitation. And that was the end of what had been a thoroughly entertaining morning. Better still, all of us escaped without incurring the dreaded pustules - at least as far as I know! Time for lunch at a nearby pub where no Rat Pie on the menu but good food in the Company of a large number of noisy football fans. Our thanks to Steve and Yvonne Whittaker for organising the day.
Brunel's London April 2018
London Studies One
After all of the bad weather and several months of preparation, 27 members of London Studies One set out to discover Brunel's London. There are always things that can go wrong on these trips but we are all experienced and can rise above them. The 9-09am from Edenbridge to London Bridge actually was on time and we all got a seat! Three weeks prior to the trip we were informed that there would be a strike on the Docklands Light Railway starting that day. Part of our trip involved that line. The alternative would have been very inconvenient but we discovered 24 hours before that the strike on the driver-less trains had been suspended. Someone was on our side.
After a coffee just over London Bridge on what was to be a perfect day weather-wise, we met Maribeth, our guide at Embankment station. An American in London for seven years but what a natural guide full of interesting facts about the subject! The first leg of the trip was to take the ferry, about 40 minutes, to Masthouse Pier during which Maribeth told us all about the background of the three Brunels, in particular Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the middle one. We sailed under several of his bridges, including Tower Bridge, and alighted for the half hour walk to Island Gardens along the banks of the Thames with stunning views across the river to the Greenwich Observatory, the Maritime Museum and Greenwich itself with the Cutty Sark. We timed it perfectly because at 1pm we saw the Time Ball rise and drop from Flamsteed House by Greenwich Observatory. It had done this every day from 1833 and it was the first time Maribeth had seen it at the right time on one of her trips.
You can find out more about it HERE.
After our ride on the DLR to Rotherhithe, we were taken into the Brunel Tunnel by the Brunel Museum. We were lucky because just a short time ago, many of us may not have been able to enter because it was rather hazardous. However, new steps and lighting had been installed and we were all able to enjoy the experience.
After three hours of what turned out to be a perfect talk, walk, sail and ride, we all adjourned to the Mayflower pub 100 yards away for a well deserved lunch. We had the first floor restaurant to ourselves with a perfect view of the Thames from where the Mayflower sailed to Plymouth, USA in 1620. You can find out more about that voyage HERE.
London Studies One goes
hunting for treasure!
Fortunately the weather was good for the 21 members of the U3A London Studies One group taking part in the Treasure Hunt in March 2018.
Six groups left Victoria Station and wound their way through the streets of London, finding the answers to clues.
We all met for lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, before continuing the journey back to Victoria Station finding answers to further clues.
Answer papers have yet to be marked, following which a small prize will be presented to the team who correctly answered the most questions. For the time being we'll let the pictures tell the story!
Julian and Isobel
London Studies One
Visit to Household Cavalry Museum
On a cold but very sunny day with blue skies we've scarcely seen this year, 22 people set off to visit the Household Cavalry Museum in Horse Guards Parade but were thwarted at the very start by Southern Rail creating problems. We had people at various stations rushing to catch trains on other lines, but miraculously all came together on the Parade Ground just in time to see some of the Guard change. A quick stroll through the attractive spring planted gardens in St James's Park enabled us to have a welcome coffee break in the Park Cafe before entering the museum.
The Household Cavalry Museum was created by converting former eighteenth century stables within the Horse Guards, a building of exceptional historic and architectural interest. The rest of the building is a functioning military headquarters.
The Household Cavalry consists of two of the oldest and most famous regiments in the British Army, the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals. The mounted regiment continues today and provides the mounted soldiers on their magnificent black horses who are at the heart of all major ceremonial occasions in London and around the UK. The soldiers divide their careers between ceremonial duties and operational soldiering with the Household Cavalry Regiment.
We listened to a very interesting and informative talk which we would have liked to be longer but were then given headsets which explained the history and duties of the regiments and the exhibits in the museum. After the Civil War with King Charles I executed and Oliver Cromwell's failure, King Charles II returned to England in 1660 and created a mounted bodyguard. Further troops were formed with Horse Grenadier Guards and the Royal Horse Guards or "The Blues". They were all part of the Household Cavalry in 1820. The Life Guards covered the King's personal security and The Blues' main task was to preserve the peace across the South of England. The Royal Dragoon Regiment which began as a troop of horse in 1661 and known as "The Royals", amalgamated with The Blues in 1969 to form The Blues and Royals.
One very poignant exhibit was the bridle of Sefton, the horse which survived severe injuries when four soldiers and seven horses were killed by an IRA bomb in Hyde Park in July 1982.
The cobbled floor in the original stable area was repaired and retained, and through a glazed screen, visitors can watch the horses being looked after from the museum side where the stable fixtures have all been left in place.
The horses are exercised very early every morning and generally retire at 18 with some serving into their 20's. Fit ones go to retirement stables or to members of the public with suitable stabling. For three weeks a year the Mounted Regiment goes to Norfolk to enjoy the countryside and swim.
The Museum isn't large but very comprehensive,
After a brief browse around the gift shop, several people had to catch an earlier train home, some went to explore the local area further, and nine of us enjoyed a very convivial lunch in the Café in the Crypt at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square before embarking on, fortunately, a smooth journey home.
watching the video below, taken on the day by
our member Isobel Lanyon.
Fishmongers' Hall Visit
After a rain swept weekend, a blessedly dry day welcomed the first London Studies One visit of 2018. The Sun even made a brief appearance and Southern Rail was (almost) on time. A rare combination!
The main object of the visit was Fishmongers' Hall but before then we made a stop at the Christopher Wren City church of St Mary Abchurch. It had been damaged in the Blitz but had been sensitively restored and we had the opportunity of seeing the intricate wood carvings by Grinling Gibbons as well as the restored painted dome. However, as fascinating as this was, it was merely the precursor to the main event - a visit to Fishmongers' Hall. This is the home of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, one of the senior Livery Companies in the City of London. The building is the fourth on the site - having been built in around 1834 - and we met our guide in the reception area under the recently installed superb (and appropriate) fish themed chandelier. He then took us around the building and went through the long history of the Livery Company back to its Royal Charter of 1272 when it had a monopoly of the fish trade in the City, and explaining how in earlier times its apprentices would often get into street fights with those of rival Livery Companies. Then, after a refreshing tea break, we visited a number of the richly decorated rooms, many of which had high quality paintings with the theme of the River Thames and when we reached the main staircase we came across the statue of probably the most famous/infamous member - Sir William Walworth who stabbed to death the leader of the Peasants Revolt, Wat Tyler, in 1381.
As we moved upstairs we were told about the next notable event in the Guild's history over three hundred years later when it took over the responsibility for the annual Doggett's Coat and Badge Race which commenced in 1714 and continues to this day. It is the world's oldest continuous sports race as well as the world's longest boat race. It is held once a year on the Thames and the participants are recognisable by their distinctive scarlet outfits.
The guide advised that by the eighteenth century the Guild had ceased to control the fish trade but still has connections with the Fish industry although its main activity these days is charitable work with its income derived from investments. As this was told to us, we continued with our tour, seeing famous paintings of both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh and then observing the magnificent chandelier in the smaller hall with its commanding views over the River Thames before concluding our visit in the main Hall where major functions are held.
Then it was back home via London Bridge with everyone agreeing that a great start had been made to the year's events.
Banqueting House and Whitehall
Our November visit was to Whitehall where we had a private tour of the Banqueting House. We heard that the 9-09am from Edenbridge Town had been playing up recently so we had a contingency plan if we should find ourselves without transport. Fortunately, luck was on our side and we made it to London Bridge at the time arranged.
There were 26 of us and we decided to take a slightly less direct route so that we could take in more of the sights rather than going directly on the underground. Our walk across London Bridge was further enhanced by the bright blue sky above us. We were afforded a spectacular view of Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, London City Hall, the Walkie Talkie building, the Gherkin, Hays Galleria and HMS Belfast to the east and St Paul's, Southwark Bridge, Southwark Cathedral, and the Millennium Bridge next to the Globe and Tate Modern to the west. A glance behind us gave us the best close-up view of The Shard, the tallest building in Europe and shooting above other buildings ahead of us was The Monument to the great Fire of London. It all served to remind us of how many iconic buildings we have in our capital city and how tourists from all over the world flock to see them (despite terrorist attacks in the area)
A coffee break next to Monument Underground was the first stop and, after a short tube ride to Embankment, we headed south again on the North Bank, spotting the Millennium Wheel and through Whitehall Gardens with its beautiful architecture and on to the Banqueting House just ahead of the Ministry of Defence and immediately opposite Horse Guards Parade.
We met our guide who gave us a 1 3/4 hour tour of the Banqueting House and the local area. He was extremely knowledgeable and able to answer all of our questions as well as giving us an insight into this fascinating building.The Banqueting House, Whitehall, is the grandest and best known survivor of the Palace of Whitehall, in its time the largest palace in Europe. The building is important in the history of English architecture as the first structure to be completed in the neo-classical style, which was to transform English architecture.
It was built between 1619 and 1622 at a cost of £15,618 and designed by Inigo Jones. The building was controversially re-faced in Portland stone in the 19th century, though the details of the original façade were faithfully preserved. Today, the Banqueting House is a national monument, open to the public and preserved as a Grade I listed building. It is particularly famous for its Rubens ceiling which is a masterpiece and the only surviving in-situ ceiling painting by Flemish artist, Sir Peter Paul Rubens. It is also one of the most famous works from the golden age of painting.
The canvases were painted by Rubens and installed in the hall in 1636. The three main canvasses depict The Union of the Crowns, The Apotheosis of James I and The Peaceful Reign of James I. Most likely commissioned by Charles I in 1629-30, this ceiling was one of his last sights before he lost his head. The King was executed on a scaffold outside on Whitehall in 1649. Our guide showed us the route he took and added an interesting description of the execution.
Our tour outside took in the New Scotland Yard, the Thames, County Hall and 10 Downing Street. We finished with a pleasant lunch in the Cafe in the Crypt of St Martin in the Fields in Trafalgar Square.
London Studies One
Houses of Parliament and Afternoon Tea
At very long last and after considerable effort by the organiser, our visit to the Houses of Parliament (more correctly - The Palace of Westminster) took place on Trafalgar Day.
The aftermath of a hurricane threatened heavy rain and indeed the early morning was pretty damp. However by the time the large party got to a very crowded Westminster we were greeted by a clear blue sky and so it remained for most of our stay.
We first had a stop at the Cathedral teashop for our morning refreshments before passing through the very heavy security at the entrance to Parliament and entering the magnificent hammer beamed Great Hall dating back to 1097 which has seen many significant incidents in our past including the trials of William Wallace, Charles the First and Guy Fawkes. We then met our guide and immediately went from the oldest part of the Palace to the latest -"New Dawn" - back lit lighting in the shape of scrolls (representing relevant Acts of Parliament) which commemorates women being enfranchised including first being given the right to vote in 1918 and cleverly changing its illuminations to correspond with the Thames tides.
We entered the Central Lobby where you have the right to summon your MP and then on to some of the richly decorated major rooms within the Palace whilst our excellent guide recounted the history of the building including the major rebuild to the exterior "Gothic" design of Charles Barry following a major fire in 1834. The guide explained the various elaborate interior themes in a number of the rooms including furniture, stained glass windows and wallpapers designed by Augustus Pugin as well as a number of the customs. The Throne Room was particularly impressive although the cushion of the Royal Throne needed a bit of TLC! We moved on to the House of Lords where it was pointed out that it was represented throughout by the colour red - in particular the padded seats - which you sat on at your peril! The procedure to be followed on the State Opening of Parliament was explained to us including the role of the Black Rod. We then had a brief stop at a a Committee Room before passing the busts of many former Prime Ministers although Messrs Blair and Cameron were not to be seen (Off giving talks?). Next on our itinerary after proceeding through the Churchill Arch (flanked by a statue of the man himself in typical pugnacious mode and David Lloyd George) was the House of Commons (represented throughout by the colour Green) which is much newer than most of the rest of the Palace - having been rebuilt after being destroyed by bombing in 1941. Obviously many of us would have seen this part of the building on the television but it was a totally different atmospheric experience seeing it "in the flesh". We also visited one of the division lobbies where so many decisions have been made that affect us all.
Our tour of this extremely impressive building at the heart of our government was now at an end. We returned to the Great Hall and thanked our guide before most of the party moved on to the terrace for afternoon cream tea overlooking the Thames. As may be expected it was an excellent mix of the sweet and savoury and despite unlimited tea some were tempted to drink something cold. white and very sparkly!
Before departing the building some members popped into the Palace shop where, amongst the wide variety of souvenirs you could buy "Speaker Bercow's Whisky". The perfect short at the end of our stay?
London Studies One
Gravesend to London River Cruise
Hailed as a great success by all who took part, thirty of us from London Studies Group One had a three hour cruise from Gravesend along the Thames seeing all the amazing sights that this great river has to offer. The ship went far beyond Westminster bridge and gave us a wonderful view of the "new London" set against the older landmarks. The Captain talked non stop for over 3 hours giving us an amazing and very humorous insight of all aspects of the river and river life (from seal spotting through to naming famous owners of riverside dwellings. We all gleaned so much new knowledge about the Thames and its features on the way to and through London. He may not have been politically correct but he made us laugh on many occasions!
In a break from tradition, London Studies One arranged an "ad hoc" visit in August and ten of us joined an "Unexpected London" walk on what turned out to be a lovely sunny day with London looking at its finest.
Our guide started the tour by telling the story of the largely forgotten campaigner Lady Isabella Somers-Cock (Lady Henry Somerset) who was a leading light in the Temperance and Women's rights movements before we moved on to 2 Temple Place - a Victorian architectural gem built by William Waldorf Astor.
Then it was off to Edgar Wallace's pub and hearing about his career before we passed by, and heard about, the Law Courts buildings but we had to skip St Clement Dane Church as a service was about to take place. However our guide arranged for us to visit the, normally off limits, Gilbert Scott chapel at Kings College which has been restored in recent years to its Victorian splendour. After that we stood by the entrance to the closed Strand Underground Station and heard about its use in films before we entered the courtyard of the majestic Somerset House and learnt about its history. The guide reminded us that the building had strong naval connections including Horatio Nelson and that until the embankment was constructed its splendid rear entrance was the main entry point, directly serving river traffic.
We proceeded under Waterloo Bridge which was largely built by women due to men being on war service before we passed the bustling tradesmen entrance of the Savoy Hotel, hearing stories of its guests and how some of them contributed to keeping alight a unique London gaslight. The ancient Savoy Chapel was also externally viewed before we ended our visit in front of an ornate 1606 Watergate which is now some considerable distance from the river. This was the end of our official visit but most of the party then headed across to the South Bank, and after observing splendid views of the City from Charing Cross Bridge, had a convivial lunch near the Royal Festival Hall.
There was, however, time for one final "adventure" as several in the party joined local families in trying out the water fountains whilst managing to stay dry! Then it was back to London Bridge where even the cancellation of our planned train back home didn't spoil what had been a thoroughly enjoyable day.
London Studies One Trip to Greenwich
Despite a rather dubious forecast earlier in the week, the 21st turned out to be a beautiful day, as we made our way to Cutty Sark Station. This proved to be an interesting journey culminating with the DLR that winds its way through the modernized docklands, where we gazed in amazement at the gleaming glass fronted offices and apartments.
Following the obligatory coffee break we headed off to The Cutty Sark, just a few minutes’ walk away. As a child I regularly visited this ship, in its dry dock. However, since the renovation in 2012 it has become an entirely different experience. The copper bottomed hull can be viewed from below making the size of the vessel far more evident. There is plenty to keep the visitor interested inside, including the large space for cargo, the living quarters for hands and officers, the upper decks and rigging. We learned that The Cutty Sark was built on the Clyde in 1869, she was one of the last of the tea clippers to be built as well as one of the fastest. We saw how 10,000 tea chests were carefully loaded into the hold and found out about tea production and the sailing routes. I hadn’t realized that she was also involved in the Australian wool trade, bought by the Portuguese and finally rescued by a wealthy sea captain for use as a training ship at Falmouth. She was finally brought to Greenwich in 1954 as a tourist attraction.
We were now ready for the second stage of our visit, The Royal Observatory, so we made our way past the magnificent buildings of the Maritime Museum and the Queen’s House. Greenwich Park looked resplendent in the sunshine as we strolled amongst the tourists. However, then came the hill! As we struggled to the top we soon discovered it was not wise to walk and talk at the same time! Once we had recovered we all took advantage of the fantastic views over London and the O2. We couldn’t help but recall that this stunning setting had been the backdrop for the equestrian competition in the 2012 Olympics.
Inside the Observatory many of us relived our childhood by standing astride the Meridian line. We also discovered how the mysteries of the stars, longitude and time were unravelled by some very clever scientists who also designed accurate clocks and revolutionised navigation of the oceans. We saw the red ball drop on the top of Flamsteed House. This happens at 1pm every day and in the past was used to enable ships in port to synchronise clocks to Greenwich Mean Time. This House was built in 1675 by Sir Christopher Wren to house The Astronomer Royal.
This was an interesting and informative visit despite the somewhat bizarre audio guide that was hard to follow at times. However, by now, we all felt in need of sustenance so headed back to town for lunch, where there were numerous eateries to tempt us.
Greenwich is an amazing World Heritage Site that is right on our doorstep. There is so much to see that one day is not sufficient to do it justice and I would highly recommend a visit to this lively cosmopolitan destination.
London Studies One
Despite outside events causing the cancellation of the originally booked tour and several late withdrawals, the June visit of London Studies One involving a select few went ahead with plan B (or was it plan C?).
After a brief visit to the George Inn (the last galleried inn in London) and pausing at the temporary memorials to the victims of the London Bridge/Borough market atrocities, it was time for a reflective coffee break before joining our guide and the "Hidden London" tour.
As often the case in such walks, the guide displayed his considerable acting talents bringing to life fascinating aspects of London's past with numerous anecdotes as we followed him around the well known and not so well known parts of the City of London. We started with the Great Fire of London, moving on to stories of old London Bridge followed by various Christopher Wren Churches, Livery Companies, places where famous people from the past lived, historic pubs and other significant places of interest. Whittington (Dick to his friends), the Bard and Boz all featured. We even had a brief encounter with a cyclist who was obviously king of all he surveyed and learned some new cockney expressions from him.
In fact at times there was so much to hear and see that it was difficult to take it all in. We ended up by paying our respects to Doctor Johnson's cat and favourite drinking establishment before returning to London Bridge for lunch and then catching the train back to Edenbridge Town - having had an extremely rewarding day.
London Studies Highgate Cemetery
The May trip of London Studies One was to the cemeteries at Highgate to meet up with notables of the past.
The first part of the visit involved a short wander around the East Cemetery where we saw the last resting places of some of the famous/infamous including Karl Marx and the train robber Bruce Reynolds. Then it was across the road to the Victorian West Cemetery where we met up with our guides and split into two groups.
As we walked among the ornate tombstones of the Victorian elite as well as an unexpected later Russian addition our guides told us about the history of the place since it was first built in 1839 and how after originally being the choice for many of the wealthier elements of society it had more recently fallen on hard times before being taken over by the Friends of Highgate Cemetery. The West Cemetery has the finest funerary architecture in the Country but the highlight was clearly the "Egyptian" temple which leads to slightly spooky terraced catacombs marking the wealth and importance of their occupants as well as the Circle of Lebanon with its magnificent 300 year old Cedar of Lebanon tree.
Passing by family vaults we moved on to the ornate Italianate mausoleum built by Julius Beer for his daughter and heard how it was saved from vandals by pigeons! As we continued the tour our guide kept us entertained with stories of some of the inhabitants - from Generals to authors, a circus owner, a bare knuckle boxing champion (with a figure of his faithful dog still in attendance) as a well as the man who nearly married Beatrix Potter and many others. Then all too soon the tour concluded.
Throughout our time the threatened rain held off and then after thanking our guides it was time for most of us to take the steepish walk up to Highgate village and lunch before heading home. We had enjoyed a unique insight into Victorian fashions in life and death.
The April visit of London Studies One was to one of the oldest and newest attractions in London - Charterhouse.
Dating back to 1348 this site was originally a Carthusian monastery built on the site of a plague pit before becoming, in turn, a Private Mansion, a school and a now a home for elderly persons in need - the Brothers. However only this year has it been open to the public
After passing Smithfield and then seeing the former home of Poirot we had our morning coffee before meeting our guide.
Our guide firstly gave us a review of the history of the site and its current use. Then the tour itself commenced with a sight in the first hall of some early schoolboy carvings before seeing the remains of the cloisters and a monk's cell. We moved on to the Masters Court with views over Lord North's Tudor Mansion before passing through ancient Wash House Court and hearing about the fate of the monks who incurred the wrath of Henry the Eighth. After observing some Tudor patterned brickwork we next went into the balconied Great Hall in the Tudor Mansion where the Brothers eat in some style and we finished the indoor part of our official visit in the Great Chamber where Elizabeth 1st briefly stayed before her Coronation with its superb (albeit faded) tapestries and ornate fireplace and ceiling (restored after damage in the Blitz). We concluded the tour outside, observing the tomb of one of the original founders of the Monastery - found during post war restoration. With an excellent guide giving us plenty of information at every stage it had been a fascinating insight into this little known historic part of our Capital City - enjoyed by all.
Afterwards there was time for a brief visit to the museum which revealed, inter alia, the many literary connections with the site. Then most of the party put culture briefly to one side and enjoyed a very convivial lunch at a nearby Italian Restaurant
Barbara, who organised the visit, raises her hands in relief as we all celebrate another successful London Studies Visit.
Historic Tour of London Pubs
Although the weather was dry, there was at times a biting wind as we waited for the Thames Link at East Croydon station to continue our journey to Blackfriars station, where it had been pre-organised with Costa Coffee to serve us as quickly, as possible in order that we could meet our Tour Guides at 11.00 am.
Apart from having a coffee, it was an opportunity to take in the breathtaking views from Blackfriars Railway Station. These stretch both up and down the River Thames and take in the lovely sites of London, from the platforms.
Just before 11.00 am we ventured downstairs to meet our guides, one for each group as there were 30 of us in number. Jiamei Jin, Managing Director of Insider London had also arrived to meet us all to show her support and to wish us an enjoyable day.
The day was Friday 17th March - St Patricks Day. We came across several Irish people, throughout our tour, celebrating the fact the it was St Patrick's Day. This added to the merriment and atmosphere as we moved from pub to pub.
Our Guides were Francis, Ben and Charlie. It had been decided to start us off in different pubs, but following in the same direction. This enabled us to have more room because one or two of the pubs were quite small.
Our first venue was The Black Friar, Grade II listed pub and built around 1875 which sits on the site of the old Blackfriars monastery. Inside the wedge shaped building it is covered in mosaics, ornamental decorations with copper showing monks getting up to monkish things. By far the best part of this particular pub is the ornate dining room/alcove at the back, which really has to be seen.
From here we ventured down the backstreets and little alleyways, and whilst on our way to two or three more very interesting drinking establishments, located in the famous Fleet Street, we stopped at St. Bride’s Church, designed by Sir Christopher Wren (this latest version anyway). The design of the steeple was said to be copied by a London baker who was looking to design his own wedding cake. That is how wedding cakes, even today incorporate the same tiered design.
As you can see, we didn't just go from pub to pub without further historic enhancements along the way of various buildings and pieces of architecture.
We managed to visit four historic pubs including The Old Bell, The Cheshire Cheese and The Tipperary (of the song fame) ending up in the Punch Tavern, where we met up with the other two groups for a pre-ordered lunch. Oh and maybe another half pint!
It would be an injustice to write in too much detail here about our tour as we would like to recommend that you take the opportunity of going on it yourselves sometime We are sure Jiamei and her team at Insider London Ltd would love to hear from you.
Isobel Lanyon & Barry Marshall
The February London studies outing was to the newly opened Design Museum. The world's leading museum devoted to contemporary design in every form is now open in its new location on High Street Kensington in what was the Commonwealth Institute. The building is spectacular in design although form over function tends to dominate in some areas. The 17 members found lots to discuss and were also reminded of items they were familiar with in the past as well as present. The NEW OLD exhibition felt like science fiction when you see how designers and makers develop products to enhance the lives of the elderly. A really amazing piece of research identified what was lost when people left the workforce in terms of skills, knowledge, expertise and wealth. Of course we knew this already!
There are two free exhibitions:
Designer Maker User presents the museum’s collection to look at the development of modern design through these three interconnected roles. Designer Maker User features almost 1000 items of twentieth and twenty-first century design viewed through the angles of the designer, manufacturer and user, including a crowd-sourced wall. The exhibition covers a broad range of design disciplines, from architecture and engineering, to the digital world, fashion and graphics. Designer Maker User features a bold, colourful and engaging display with digital inter-actives.
New Old designing for our Future Selves The first in a series of pop-up exhibitions, NEW OLD explores how design can help people lead fuller, healthier and more rewarding lives into old age, asking the question: how can designers meet the challenge of a rapidly ageing society? From robotic clothing to driver-less cars, this exhibition rethinks design approaches to ageing.
The other exhibitions are:
Reactions to a Complex World The exhibition asserts that design is deeply connected not just to commerce and culture but to urgent underlying issues – issues that inspire fear and love. This is a bold, multidisciplinary and global exhibition that aims to capture the mood of the present and establish the Design Museum as the home of design debate.
Beazley Designs of the Year exhibition and awards are a provocative cross-section of contemporary design drawn from six categories: architecture, design, graphics, product, transport and fashion. Some challenging ideas in many areas which get the little grey cells working.
The group consensus was The Design Museum is well worth another visit.
After postponements due to problems at Southern Region and cancellations at venues, Ken Harrison, ably assisted by Michele, persevered with our proposed visit to the Queens Gallery and the Royal Mews and finally, a group from London Studies 1 set off for these locations on 3rd February.
We took the usual 9.09 from Edenbridge Town (now, at long last, having the luxury of four carriages) and had our obligatory coffee break on arrival in London before entering the Queens Gallery near Buckingham Palace.
The current exhibition is "Portrait of the Artist" and is the first exhibition to focus on images of artists from within the Royal Collection. It showcases self-portraits by world renowned artists of the past including Rembrandt, Rubens, Reynolds as well as more recent artists such as Lucian Freud and David Hockney. In addition there are images of famous artists produced by their friends and pupils including a sketch reputed to be the most reliable surviving likeness of Leonardo da Vinci. The collection of over 150 paintings, drawings etc. demonstrated the collecting tastes of our monarchs over many centuries with items from the 15th Century to the 21st Century - all of very high quality.
Our party were thoroughly impressed by what they saw and the free audio guides greatly added to their appreciation of what was before them. There was also the added attraction of a talk given by one of the staff on the artist Landseer and how many of his paintings were acquired by Queen Victoria.
However good the exhibition was, inevitably we eventually had to move on and that was to the Royal Mew which was just a short distance away. In these buildings are housed the Carriages (both horse drawn and motor) used by members of the Royal Family and it is still very much a working organisation. Indeed one horse drawn carriage departed whilst we were there.
After having a brief introduction to two of the horses in their stables we proceeded around the courtyard to see the Royal Carriages, each in its own "stable" and admire the craft work that had gone into producing them. Again we had the benefit of audio guides as well as explanatory boards. We then saw some of the working area and heard how the carriages were prepared before proceeding through the main stable yard and ending up with the superb richly decorated Coronation Coach dating back to George III.
What impressed us the most? Well we all had our own views but it was fascinating to note that the craftsmanship shown at the time of George III was still with us today - as demonstrated by the Diamond Jubilee State Coach built in Australia for the Queen's recent Jubilee which has the additional touch of combining modern refinements (such as heating!) with reminders from our historic past (relics from, The Mary Rose, Scott's Antarctic voyage, Waterloo etc.).
Then it was through the inevitable gift shop (which some of us resisted!) before heading for lunch or home.
Not only was this a thoroughly enjoyable visit but it had the added advantage that our tickets enabled us to have free re-admission to either venue within the next twelve months making it excellent value for money.
ST PAUL'S CATHEDRAL
27 of us went on a tour of St Paul’s Cathedral. We set off from Edenbridge and after arriving at London Bridge we had a pleasant walk along the South Bank and over the Millennium Bridge to reach St Paul’s where our tour guide met us for our 2 hour tour which was very interesting and also very entertaining. It turned out our guide was a former actress and it showed in her passionate ways of explaining things and giving us an insight into Sir Christopher Wren’s architecture.
After the tour, many decided to climb the first 250 steps to the Whispering Gallery and the very brave climbed a further 250 steps to reach the very top and were rewarded with magnificent views over London. A good day was had by all.
London Studies Group visit to
The Wallace Collection
Tucked in Manchester Square, just behind Selfridges, is Hertford House, home to the Wallace Collection. Having never visited before I was absolutely stunned when I walked in through the door! Room after room was crammed with paintings, furniture, ornaments and other artifacts that have been saved for the nation to enjoy. Nothing can be changed, or bought or sold, or loaned – everything must remain as the benefactor bequeathed it.
I was very pleased that we had come with a specific purpose – to view the Old Masters – otherwise I would not have known where to start. I have to confess to being somewhat of a heathen when it comes to paintings so I was delighted to have this opportunity to be educated. My eyes were well and truly opened as we listened open-mouthed to our guide, Philippa Edwards, a local lass from Tonbridge. We didn't just see pictures: we saw history, we shared the lives of the subjects, we learned the lessons incorporated into the pictures for the benefit of a population that could not read and understood the symbolism used so often. In the Lutheran churches there were no religious paintings to warn of the dangers of sin so the artists painted the ideal lifestyle and illustrated the perils of sin! Who would have thought that a picture of a girl on a swing would indicate that passion comes outside marriage or that in the early days the only artists who painted cows and sheep were the Dutch because their homeland had become wealthy thanks to these animals?
There was so much we didn't look at. One felt rather guilty marching through some of the rooms not stopping to admire but if one sees too much, one sees nothing so we retired to the very attractive conservatory restaurant for an excellent lunch. Very definitely a place to return to many times and sincere thanks to Molly for organising the trip.
Most of us started at Edenbridge Town station, whilst others joined along the way, as we headed for Clapham Junction. We were all greatly relieved that the trains ran smoothly and there were no further sink holes to disrupt our progress. I was alarmed at one point that I may have mislaid our Chairman but it turned out he had been unwell and had spent the night in A&E. I understand all is well now.
It was a short walk over the river to The Palace from the station where we were afforded a lovely view of the red brick house and expansive grounds. Our guide, Philip, was a really quirky man. He was friendly, extremely knowledgeable and had plenty of opinions to offer. We learned about the changes that had been made to the Palace, since its redevelopment for Cardinal Wolsey in 1515. Philip was clearly quite annoyed about alterations made by Christopher Wren in the 17th century. The tour around the kitchens was fascinating and I think we were all amazed by the servants dining room, which resembled a baronial feasting hall. The painting of the ‘the Field of the Cloth of Gold’ was one of the many stunning works of art also on display.
There were good facilities for lunch and morning coffee and the only rain we saw was during our break, so the weather was kind to us. The gardens are well worth a visit and a number of us got lost in the maze.
I would recommend Hampton Court as an excellent place to visit, in fact one trip does not completely do it justice and I imagine that the annual flower show is also a ‘must do’ for gardeners. An enjoyable day all round.
Most people made their own way home but a few, more foolhardy, of us set off for ‘The Oval’ where we were eventually joined by Mike and Debbie Collins. We watched Kent thoroughly beaten by Surrey in a T20 game, much to the delight of the Chairman. What a day!
Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons followed by the Florence Nightingale Museum
|Guided Tour of the Museum|
The latest visit of London Studies was decidedly medically themed - starting with the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons followed by the Florence Nightingale Museum.
We took the later train at 10.09 and on this occasion Southern Rail was only marginally late. So far so good! Unfortunately this did not last long as the bus we boarded at London Bridge soon ground to a halt due to of significant roadworks that caused a 45 minute delay to our arrival at the Hunterian. The museum had been originally founded by John Hunter in the eighteenth century and eventually built up one of the largest anatomical museums in Europe with over 13,000 exhibits. After his death in 1793 the collection was purchased by the Government and passed into the custody of the Royal College of Surgeons which expanded the museum until 1941 when many items were destroyed by German bombs.
The collection was subsequently re-built and there were plenty of objects to see on the day we visited including the seven foot plus Irish Giant (and reading about his sad story) and body parts galore, as well as seeing the progress of medical science over four hundred years. Unfortunately our travel delay caused us to shorten the duration of our visit and we soon had to move on for our lunch break at Waterloo.
Then it was the turn of the Florence Nightingale Museum where, following tea and biscuits with Peter Pan, a guide showed us around whilst recounting details of the life and activities of the famous lady of the lamp. Our guide was able to point out significant artifacts relating to Florence Nightingale - including the lamp itself which she used at the British hospital at Scutari in the Crimean War. There was then some free time at the Museum where we could see evidence of her legacy of developments in nursing in subsequent military conflicts before we all headed home - as the dark clouds gathered.
|Florence and her sister|
|Florence's Writing Desk|
Backstage Tour of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
|Arrival in Bow Street|
|Buskers in Covent Garden|
The majority of the party took the usual 9.09 and after a brief coffee stop and paying homage at the site where football was inaugurated we arrived at Bow street - with its history of the famous Bow Street Runners and the equally (in)famous ladies of the night who (allegedly) ran from them.
There was then a short period of free time when some explored the actors church whilst others savoured the modern day (and less risqué) pleasures of the Plaza including craft stalls,shops and entertainers.
|The Floral Hall|
After that it was time for the main purpose of the visit and met our guide for the backstage tour. We started at the nineteenth century foyer and the adjoining original entrance with its covered carriage way - designed so that the well to do in past times did not have to risk getting their feet wet. We were then told about the history of the building which dates from 1858 (with improvements in the 1990s) and is the third on the site - after disastrous fires in 1808 and 1856. It was fascinating to hear of the different types of entertainment that have been performed over the years and that it is only in more recent times that, with a change in ownership, it has concentrated solely on Opera and Ballet. We were also given details of how the house, including rehearsal rooms for singers,dancers and musicians, extends to nearly half of the area surrounding the
Covent Garden Plaza and that, despite this, further expansion was already underway that would last for another two years. We then moved on to the bar area (sadly closed), pausing to view the superb glass Floral Hall - used for receptions, before passing through the artists rest room and on to an area with a view of a rehearsal room. There we were given the rare privilege to observe some of the dancers practising for a forthcoming performance and for many this was the highlight of the tour. In fact our guide had to drag us away to move on to the next part of the journey where we were able to briefly observe some of the scenery in preparation before hearing about and viewing the costumes used in the various performances, all carefully labelled, as well as seeing the team who make and repair them.
|The Royal Opera House|
The tour concluded with films. One showed how the scenery is prepared off site and transported to the ROH where a sophisticated computer system manipulates the parts into space whilst the other showed how that scenery was moved around from scene to scene and between performances. Despite some restrictions due to the major renovation work being underway the group thoroughly enjoyed the visit, although the steady rain that greeted us as we left the building was decidedly less welcome!
London Underground & Tube Tour
Insider London Ltd is a relatively new company and was the source for this month’s (March 2016) London Underground & Tube Tour with the Edenbridge U3A London Studies Group. They were very supportive, informative and professional in making our event the success that it was for 29 of our members.
We left Edenbridge Town on the 9.09 train for London Bridge, meeting up with those that had travelled via other routes for a welcome coffee at Pret-A-Manger, Baker Street Tube. The Manager had kindly agreed to organised extra staff to be on duty so that we may be served promptly so that we could be time to meet guides from Insider London Ltd at 11.00 am. Insider London Ltd had previously suggested that we divide into three groups, with each group having its own Guide for this two hour tour therefore benefitting the most from the tour.
Our tours promptly commence, with excitement and anticipation of what we were about to see and learn. Baker Street Metropolitan Line station was the starting point of our tour and dates back to 1863. It was the first underground line between Paddington and Farringdon, serving six intermediate stations and was known as the poshest.
Some of the people that we heard about on this tour (and there were many) who contributed to the London Underground as we know it today were:
Frank Pick, an Englishman, joined the Underground Electric Railways Company of London in 1906. In 1907 he was put in charge of publicity of the Underground Group. He swept away the clutter from stations where, until then, commercial advertising could be displayed anywhere. He designated far larger areas for the group’s essential signage, including route maps and station names.
by commissioning eye-catching commercial art, graphic design and modern architecture, creating a highly recognisable brand including the first usage of the roundel typeface that is still used today. Frank Pick rose through the corporate ranks becoming Chief Executive Officer and Vice-Chairman of the London Passenger Transport Board from its creation in 1933 until 1940.
Harry Beck was the Englishman that was known for creating the London Underground Tube Map in 1931 that is still used today. Beck was never actually paid for the map as he created and worked on it in his spare time. Therefore he was never actually commissioned to develop his idea of the London Underground Map. It is however reported that he received a fee of five guineas for the copyright. The first publication in 1933 of 700,000 copies ran out in the first month!
Leslie Green was appointed as architect for the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL) to design stations for three underground railway lines then under construction. He designed 27 stations which didn’t have escalators.
Amongst other interesting facts and things we heard about and saw were:
1890 – Deep Tunnel Line
1902 – Colour Code on Underground i.e. Central Line = Red
1911 – First escalator installed (now 440)
1920 - The World Time Clock Map
1941 – Combination of all underground stations
1968 – ‘Mind The Gap’
* Brompton Street Tube sold for £53,000,000 for luxury flats development
* Different stations with individual tile design
* William Terriss (William Charles James Lewin) Actor, the ghost of Covent Garden Underground and Adelphi Theatre
* Why staff grew beards
* Ghost Stations to include a glimpse of one
* Colour co-ordination
* Individual identities of stations
….. and so much more. Our tour ended after two hours and we couldn’t praise it highly enough and would like to thank Michelle, Kristina and Tony (our Guides from Insider London Ltd) for making it such a fascinating occasion.
Once we all regrouped at the end of our tour at Westminster Tube Station and walked round to The Red Lion Pub. Historically this pub was a frequent venue for Charles Dickens and was also the local haunt for many British Prime Minsters until the 1970’s. The manager of the Red Lion had kindly reserved the downstairs area in the basement known as The Cabinet Room so that we could all eat together with our own bar and facilities and enjoy the political surroundings.
After lunch we left the comfort of the Red Lion and made way for the journey home. Unfortunately on our arrival at London Bridge we were advised that our train had been cancelled and we would have an hour to wait. It was suggested to head up to the bar on the 33rd floor of the Shard for a drink and to admire the views until our next train was due. A perfect end, to a lovely day.
My thanks to all U3A members for their support, Pret-A-Manger, Insider London Ltd and The Red Lion, Westminster and of course, Barry Marshall whose help was invaluable.
We had a party of 23 who braved the early hour and threat of snow to board the train for London. We were each confidently expecting a seat since 8 carriage trains were promised for 2015 – this proved not to be the case ! The train was mostly full as it comprised 4 carriages only. However we arrived at London Bridge and fairly rapidly caught a bus which stopped long enough in Princes Street to let us all off! There was then time for coffee at a choice of 2 locations within sight of the Guildhall.
We then met our guide who conducted us through airport style scanning devices – bags only- to start our tour of the Great Hall. This lived up to expectations as to its sheer size with the capability of seating up to 900 people in its rectangular shape. Marble busts and reliefs of national heroes were installed around the walls- including Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and sundry prime ministers including Winston Churchill - Margaret Thatcher was to be found in a nearby corridor. The decoration was relatively plain – I was expecting more in the way of gold leaf. The building had however suffered from both the Great Fire of London (1666) and from the Blitz in the second World War. Various versions of it had been built since the first Mayor of the City of London in the 1290's.
Apart from banquets,and conducting City business, the Great Hall was used for trials- usually for treason- due to its proximity to the Tower of London. Examples include the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey who briefly succeeded Edward VI before she was seized, tried and executed and various Guy Fawkes plotters.
We were introduced to the legendary figures of Gog and Magog whose function is that of protectors of the City. They were overcome in battle by Brutus , a descendant of Aeneas of Troy – founder of Rome- who in around 150 BC was looking for a kingdom to take over- hence Britain!
After being conducted around the more mediaeval rooms below the Guildhall, the second main highlight proved to be the Roman amphitheatre. The remains of this were only discovered in the 1980's underneath the present Gallery building. What remains are drainage channels – to sluice away the blood – and parts of the wooden seating. It was London's only amphitheatre built around AD 70 not long after the Romans had conquered the southern half of what became England. It was big enough to seat around 7000 spectators- a provincial sized establishment as the Colosseum in Rome held up to 100,000. The calculated dimensions of the London Amphitheatre are traced on the Yard outside the Guildhall in a black marble line.
Finally, we witnessed the opening of the January session of the Court of Common Council in the Great Hall. There was a short procession of the mayor and 4 or 5 staff . Regrettably the robes were fairly plain although the mayor had a black velvet mediaeval style flat black hat with white trimmings. There was a notable absence of richly embroidered dress- possibly because this is now the 21st century, and this was a business meeting!
There was time to look briefly at St Lawrence Jewry- the municipal church of the City of London. After the Great Fire of London, Christopher Wren rebuilt many destroyed London churches and this is a fine example. Its name is to distinguish itself from other St Lawrence churches in London. It happened to be located next door to the chief synagogue.
Exhausted from our efforts, we left the Picture Gallery for another occasion, piled on a bus and arrived back in London Bridge in good time for an early afternoon train!