Day 5: France and England

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!



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