Then it was our last day in London…for now. We decided to spend the morning in the west side of London. Scott had never been to the Natural History Museum in Kensington. I hadn’t been there in years so we decided to go early before it opened. When we were at the V&A a few days prior, the line was impressive for the Natural History Museum. (And a block away, there was no line to the V&A!). We got there a little after 10 and there was already an enormous line. Thankfully it moved fast but it took about 30 minutes to get into the museum.
This is part 2 of our adventures at Hampton Court, a Tudor palace. I was very keen on hearing some period music while we were there. Some of the historical reenactments mentioned musicians so I was bound and determined to listen to something medieval. I wanted to go medieval on that bass. (Sorry, I couldn’t help).
Some context: Back in graduate school, I belonged to an instrumental guild for the Society of Creative Anachronism who like to recreate the better parts of the Medieval Ages and the Renaissance. We played various types of recorders (soprano down to a bass) and performed a variety of medieval and Renaissance music. I loved it; it was the best thing I did in grad school. And there is nothing like playing music while people dance. Seriously. Best feeling in the world. I only wish there was something easily accessible in Chicago so I could continue it.
So I went to the courtyard to learn that the Master of Ceremonies was facing a quandary. He had two sets of musicians to choose from but could not decide what was appropriate. Should he hire a gentle and melancholy lute player to resonate with the king’s illness or should he hire boisterous and happy musicians to remind the king of the good times? We were to help him make his choice. So we wandered into the apartments to a small hall behind the Great Hall. This had a wonderful gold and white ceiling, beautiful stained glass, and additional tapestries.
The lutist played a slow sweet tune and then a trio of musicians played a lively tune that they recently learned in Spain. I was so happy to hear this music! The audience voted to determine which musician(s) should become the new court musicians. The trio of musicians won. However, the head of security, I think it was Thomas Seymour, had some questions for the musicians. He was suspicious about the musicians’ travels across Europe and decided to arrest them for further questioning. Alas! So the lutist won out. It was all very delightful to watch!
After a few days of adventuring in the London, we decided to take a little trip out to the Tudor Palace of Hampton Court. It’s about 35 minutes by train outside of London from Waterloo Station. It was a fairly easy trip outside of the city. You can access it by Tube but it takes longer and may require a bus. So train it was!
Now I’m going to talk about the Victorian and Albert Museum. It’s a museum that I’ve gone to occasionally over the years but didn’t make it a point to go. It’s a big of a strange museum with an eclectic collection. But it does have a wonderful collection of non-Western art and some fascinating exhibitions on fashion and design. Now that I’m a little bit more fascinated with design, I found it much more compelling.
We first went to the copies room. It’s a huge room with these plaster casts of famous monuments from all over Europe. There is Michelangelo’s David and the Trajan Column, cut in half because it is too large to fit the height of the room. It has copies of magnificent doors of churches, fountains, and much more. I don’t like it. The room feels so crowded and fake, which it is. I’ll admit that the effect has a certain impressive feel to it since they have brought together all of these disparate monuments. However, I feel that each one loses its significance when jumbled together. I prefer to see these works of art individually and in their original form. I’m a traditionalist, I suppose.
On the way, we did see a magnificent series of angel statues. Formerly, four statues stood in front of Cardinal Wosley’s palace. However, two statues made their way to the museum but two were lost. Recently, the two lost statues were found in an estate in England; they had been outside for many years. The museum is currently trying to raise the funds to purchase them from the current owners. For now, the four statues are exhibited together. It’s neat to see the difference between the two statues that had been preserved inside and the two that had been subject to the elements. It’s a striking contrast.
I also got a kick out of the fashion galleries. They had a series of displays showing how fashion changed over the decades/centuries from the late Regency era to the present day. You could see the outrageously voluminous costumes slowly transform into flapper outfits (including one inspired by surrealism) to the practical outfits during WWII to the development of punk fashion in the 1980s.
There was also a brilliant exhibition called “Disobedient Objects” that was about objects from recent protests in the past 30 years. I was elated. It didn’t even occur to me that a museum would keep the buttons, the signs, etc from global protests. This is what I love writing about so it was so neat to see such recent objects. For instance, there were these cardboard shields with book titles painted on them that were used in recent protests against budget cuts to libraries and educational programs. There were instructions and an example of gas masks made from liter soda bottles from Turkey in the recent Gezi Park Protests. There were textiles made by women in Columbia detailing their heartbreak from murders and drug smuggling. So many magnificent objects. I was really gratified to see that they had a Guerilla Girls banner.
That’s all for now! Next, I’ll talk about Hampton Court!
Before I discuss the Middle Temple and my talk on the Savoy hotel, I’m going to talk about the British Museum at little bit more. My fiancé’s favorite part of the museum is a series of rooms that strives to give viewers a sense of what the museum may have looked like back in the day. The walls are covered in shelves with various objects and books on them. Cases have artifacts from the original collections, mostly from Sir John Sloane’s collection that was a fundamental part of the beginning collection. It’s a wonderful jumble of artifacts from all over the world and from different times. It’s so different from the other galleries that spotlight a series of artifacts, usually from the same culture. Here it is a mixture. I didn’t spend a lot of time there in the past but I really appreciate it now. I like how it talks about the items and their meaning within the culture while also talking about how the items came to the museum through Sloane, Captain Cook, etc.
Next to this gallery was a mélange of items. Many items were collected in the early history of the museum. Other objects seemed to be recent acquisitions. I was really excited to find that some sculptures from Michael Rakowitz were included. I came across his work last year in the MCA’s Way of the Shovel. The pieces were part of his “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist” where he recreated antiquities stolen from the Baghdad Museum from product paper. I wrote about it here. It was really neat to see his work recognized by the British Museum. I think it’s a worthy acquisition for this tremendous museum.
So now I’m going to move on to the Middle Temple. I’ve talked about this previously but I’ll summarize. Middle Temple is one of four legal inns that are 100s of years old where lawyers would go to learn, socialize, and, at one point in time, live. The four inns are the Middle Temple, Inner Temple, Gray’s Inn, and Lincoln’s Inn. These four inns are the only places, I understand, where one can become a barrister in England. Each inn is a series of buildings in London that have amazing histories and traditions. Middle Temple (and Inner Temple) gets its name in part because the land was formerly owned by the Knights Templar.
We have been going to the Middle Temple Hall for decades as part of a program at our university. Students learn about the similarities and differences between the British and American legal systems. The lectures take place in one of the rooms in the Great Hall Building. This year, we were in the law library. In the stairwell of the library, there are wonderful objects like a glass display case of old artifacts from the 15th and 16th centuries. Or a copy of the US constitution with stars of signees who were Middle Templer members. Or a secret globe of the New World that was a state secret in the 15th/16th centuries.
The Great Hall is also worth mentioning; it is simply magnificent. It’s a wonderful combination of carved wood, stained glass, and double barreled ceiling. It’s where one of the first performances of a Winter’s Tale was performed. The main table on the dais is made from planks from Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hinde. And when they did reconstruction of the ceiling, they found 120 pairs of die and a coffin with a body inside of it!
As part of the program, my parents give lectures on various topics in law and history. I’ve been giving lectures on local history for the past four years. I’ve spoken about the Parthenon Marbles, the Rosetta Stone, the history of the British Museum, and this year, the Savoy Hotel. I give the students an idea about some of the wonderful institutions (and their objects) nearby the Temple area.
In this year’s lecture, I gave a history of the world famous luxury hotel: the Savoy. I won’t go into extensive detail since it has quite the history. It’s an institution that established many firsts in the world of hotels. The hotel was built out of money raised from Gilbert and Sullivan’ operettas. Richard D’Oyly Carte went into partnership with the two of them to write operettas. Eventually, they opened the Savoy theater due to the success of the shows. After that, D’Oyly Carte had the idea to open a hotel as well. He wanted to define it as a luxurious hotel and brought in many innovations, such as electricity, speaking tubes in rooms, 24 hour service…and individual bathrooms. At the time, the norm was to share bathrooms. Another luxurious hotel built at the same time had 400 rooms with 5 bathrooms. Yuck. He asked the builder to make 70 bathrooms to which the builder asked if he thought the guests were amphibious. So you can thank him for personal toilets in hotels.
The hotel was favored by royalty throughout the world, stars (opera and film), film magnates, politicians, etc. Winston Churchill was a huge fan and spent many hoursl there. He was particularly fond of Kasper, a cat statue named after a late kitchen cat. In the early 1900s, there was a dinner party where only 13 guests came; one person cancelled at the last minute. There is an old superstition that says that the first person to stand up will be killed shortly. Well, the first person at that meal to stand up ended up being shot dead a few weeks later. So the hotel decided never to allow 13 guests at the table. At first they had a staff member sit at the table but that was awkward. So they had this statute of a cat placed at the table with a napkin tied around his neck and he got his own plate for each course. Churchill loved him and insisted he be present for various meetings. Teehee.
One of my favorite stories about the hotel is during WWII. During a board meeting, a bomb hit nearby which caused the curtains to go across the room. Rupert D’Oyly Carte, the son of Richard D’Oyly Carte, coughed said, “”Gentlemen, to continue.” I just love the sprit.
So that’s just a taste of my talk.
Tomorrow I’ll talk about the Victorian and Albert Museum.
That’s all for now!
Readers, so it’s been a little over a week. I have been absent because I went on a second trip. This time, we went on safari in Namibia in Southern Africa. It was the bees knees. Now that I’m back, I’ll resume my discussion of my first trip in England and France. Then I’ll move on to my adventures at Erindi Private Game Reserve in Namibia.
Go to this! It’ll be the bees knees!