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September 15, 2009

Monday Museum Madness!

Admiring tiny ivory carvings in the sculpture gallery above the medieval plaster cast gallery.

Admiring tiny ivory carvings in the sculpture gallery above the medieval plaster cast gallery.

We had an absolutely wonderful morning at the Victoria & Albert Museum, right here in South Kensington. We had a bit of trouble finding my friend, costumier Suzi Clarke, as we came in from the tube tunnel rather than Cromwell Road, so we took a little side detour into the sculpture gallery. Once we managed to find Suzi, we immediately launched into the costuming-focused displays. Instead of going straight into the fashion gallery, though, we took a side detour into the Asian Textiles exhibit, which had several gorgeous gowns made of India muslin and block printed Indian cotton:

A 1780s gown with tabbed bodice over petticoat -- made of scrumptious block-printed Indian cotton.

A 1780s gown with tabbed bodice over petticoat -- made of scrumptious block-printed Indian cotton.

Close-up view of the tabs...

Close-up view of the tabs...

Yet another block-printed 1780s gown, this one with a simpler pointed front (the front closes with pins, which go into the stays and don't stick the wearer!).

Yet another block-printed 1780s gown, this one with a simpler pointed front (the front closes with pins, which go into the stays and don't stick the wearer!).

Close-up of the bodice front...

Close-up of the bodice front...

Side view to show the back silhouette...

Side view to show the back silhouette...

Detail of the wonderful printed cotton...

Detail of the wonderful printed cotton...

Regency gown of tamboured India muslin

Regency gown of tamboured India muslin

Close-up of the tambouring on the bodice...

Close-up of the tambouring on the bodice...

And sleeve detail -- look at that design!

And sleeve detail -- look at that design!

Here is the "sister" dress to the first two block-printed gowns. This one has a jacket with tabbed front and flounce around the hips.

Here is the "sister" dress to the first two block-printed gowns. This one has a jacket with tabbed front and flounce around the hips.

Close-up of the tabs crossing over the plain stomacher...

Close-up of the tabs crossing over the plain stomacher...

Sleeve detail (I tell you, folks, we were all drooling buckets by now! ;) )

img_0828We moved on into the main fashion gallery, where Suzi and I took a seat in the center. Everyone else enjoyed wandering through the exhibit, photographing and sketching. Several came back to our central point with questions, which called for Suzi’s expert analysis and years of costuming wisdom — what a treat to have such a fantastic guide! Lindsay continued to shoot photos as we talked. She apologizes for the dimness of some of these, but lighting is deliberately kept low to prevent fading of the fabrics, so getting clear shots is a bit of a challenge.

Painted silk saque-back gown ca. 1770s...

Painted silk saque-back gown ca. 1770s...

Detail of the back...

Detail of the back...

Another painted silk--this one a jacket over a skirt and petticoat...

Embroidered silk--this one a jacket over a skirt and petticoat...

A set of stays from the 1780s. I loved the tabbed waistline on these.

A set of stays from the 1780s. I love the tabbed waistline on these.

We next attempted to get up into the Textile Room, which is buried in a far back corner of the third floor. The V&A is almost as confusing to navigate as the British Museum because of staircases that only go to every other floor with “half floors” in between in many places. We managed to get from two to four but couldn’t find our way to three without going through the British Galleries. However, these are some of my absolute favorite galleries to visit (one on the second floor and one on the fourth). I highly recommend them if you visit the V&A, as they are filled with beautiful portraits, furniture, and, yes, many historical garments (including James II’s wedding suit!). We tried our best to hurry through to the Textile Room, but it was like herding reluctant cats to get 24 people all heading in one direction! ;) I didn’t mind. I know how distracting these galleries are, and there is so much to photograph (to see pictures of what’s here, check my posts from 2006).

We did finally make it up to the Textile Room, where frame after frame of fabric, embroidery, lace, and such awaits the eager student of fashion. Here are just a couple of things we pulled from the upright files:

Embroidered 18th-century stomacher

Embroidered 18th-century stomacher

And here's another one...

And here's another one...

You could spend absolute days in here, poring over beautifully preserved examples from the 1600s onward. But we began to run short on time, as half our group was headed to Suzi’s after lunch to view her private collection! So we all gathered for a delicious luncheon in the V&A Cafe’, which is one of the finest museum cafes anywhere with hot and cold dishes prepared by expert chefs. Some of our ladies continued to explore exhibits, while those going to Suzi’s headed to the tube.

Suzi's delicious tea spread, ready for our ladies!

Suzi's delicious tea spread, ready for our ladies!

Suzi shows off one of her Worth bodices.

Suzi shows off one of her Worth bodices.

And here's another beautiful one in turquoise silk...

And here's another beautiful one in turquoise silk...

And a Victorian bodice...

And a Victorian bodice...

I’m speeding through highlights only in this post. We have hundreds upon hundreds of photos from yesterday! Wish I could share them all, but it’s just hit midnight here, and we’re heading to Greenwich at 8:15am to the Fan Museum! I’ll post about today’s fun tomorrow night.

Here are two final photos from yesterday — these of some of our ladies waiting in line at the Globe Theater for the evening performance of “As You Like It.”

Carilyn, Cassie, and Amanda, hamming it up and having fun.

Carilyn, Cassie, and Amanda, hamming it up and having fun.

Two mother-daughter pairs and one of our Aussies...

Two mother-daughter pairs and one of our Aussies...

All but three of us opted for “Groundlings” tickets, which means standing room right around the stage — really the best view in the house. Being rather pregnant myself, I opted for a seat in the second tier right at the railing, renting a cushion to sit upon! ;) We thoroughly enjoyed the play, complete with spectacular costuming as usual. Wish I could share photos, but no photography is allowed during performances. You’ll just have to come over here and get to the Globe yourself!

See you tomorrow!

September 14, 2009

Sunday's Refreshment

mettabWe had a very leisurely Sunday, enjoying a late-ish breakfast before 18 of us attended the 11 o’clock service at the Metropolitan Tabernacle (home to the famous 19th-century “prince of preachers,” Charles Spurgeon). We were able to meet our dear friends who live in Dulwich and meet others we’d hoped to say “hello” to while in London, which was lovely. We had a light lunch, then I took a nap before we met up with several other ladies to go to the Royal Academy of Arts, which had a special exhibit of Pre-Raphaelite artist William Waterhouse’s paintings on display only through Sunday. Unfortunately, we arrived to find a two-hour line to wait for tickets!  We debated the merits of having one person stand in line to wait for tickets but finally decided we just wouldn’t have time enough to tour the exhibit.

The windows are painted F&M's signature robin's egg blue, which is also used for their boxes and bags and exclusive items.

The windows are painted F&M's signature robin's egg blue, which is also used for their boxes and bags and exclusive items.

We thought about heading back uphill towards the National Portrait Gallery, but the call of Fortnum & Mason just across the street lured us in for tea time and delighted browsing. If you’ve never heard of the famous F&M, then you are really missing one of London’s high points. This is the most elegant, refined department store around, complete with richly detailed wood paneling, crystal chandeliers, mirrored elevators, and seven theme restaurants. Not to be missed!

This is the confectionary hall, which is wall-to-wall sweets, teas, and coffees!

This is the confectionary hall, which is wall-to-wall sweets, teas, and coffees!

We made our way upstairs to The Parlor, which serves ice cream, coffee, and afternoon tea. Here is a selection of tempting photographs to show you what various members of our group enjoyed!

Two scones, clotted cream, strawberry preserves, and Darjeeling - yummy!

Two scones, clotted cream, strawberry preserves, and Darjeeling - yummy!

Three scoops of sorbet in a cut-glass bowl with a biscuit on top!

Three scoops of sorbet in a cut-glass bowl with a biscuit on top!

Mochacinno with whipped cream and toffee sauce with a miniature ice cream cone on the side. Decadence!

Mochacinno with whipped cream and toffee sauce with a miniature ice cream cone on the side. Decadence!

Enjoying good conversation at our table...

Enjoying good conversation at our table...

And someone captures our photographer for the memory book...

And someone captures our photographer for the memory book...

toepartyAfter a wonderfully refreshing time of conversation and good teatime food, we all browsed through the bookstore on the third floor (picking up more than a few wonderful books and stationery items!). Then we headed up to Piccadilly Circus to catch our tube back to the hotel. After a light supper, a bunch of us gals capped off the evening with a pedicure party–too much fun! Here you see Courtney giving me glamorous, glittery toenails (I call them my “Ruby Slipper” toenails!). We talked about what costumes we plan to wear Wednesday for our day in Greenwich, and several ladies shows theirs off. It was a great ending to a super day. Next time I’ll tell you about our Monday with Suzi at the V&A!

September 14, 2009

Dressing "Ophelia"

costumerack Okay, as promised, here is the step-by-step costume demonstration we enjoyed at the Globe Exhibition Saturday with Lindsay as our model! (At left you see the rack of sample costumes from various Globe productions.)

This is Lindsay in the linen chemise with very finely knit stockings (you see Kitty kneeling at right). James is pointing out the fineness of these stockings. Working classes wore very rough, wide-gauge stockings.

This is Lindsay in the linen chemise with very finely knit stockings (you see Kitty kneeling at right). James is pointing out the fineness of these stockings. Working classes wore very rough, wide-gauge stockings.

Kitty and James "cross-garter" Lindsay. This was the best way to secure stockings so they didn't fall down during the day. The garters are long fabric tapes that cross behind the knee and are tied above the knee.

Kitty and James "cross-garter" Lindsay. This was the best way to secure stockings so they didn't fall down during the day. The garters are long fabric tapes that cross behind the knee and are tied above the knee.

Now Lindsay's doeskin shoes are laced on. These are buttery soft and have cutwork on the top.

Now Lindsay's doeskin shoes are laced on. These are buttery soft and have cutwork on the top.

Lindsay has slipped on the corset and waits for Kitty to lace her up.

Lindsay has slipped on the corset and waits for Kitty to lace her up.

"Suck in!"

"Suck in!"

Now we get a back view as Kitty finishes the lacing.

Now we get a back view as Kitty finishes the lacing.

Kitty is tying the Spanish Farthingale to brass-tipped cords hanging from the waistline of the corset. This supports the Farthingale so it doesn't slip down.

Kitty is tying the Spanish Farthingale to brass-tipped cords hanging from the waistline of the corset. This supports the Farthingale so it doesn't slip down.

Time to add the bumroll (or French Farthingale), which gives the skirt its distinctive "pouff" at the hipline.

Time to add the bumroll (or French Farthingale), which gives the skirt its distinctive "pouff" at the hipline.

This is the hand-blocked skirt, which is an exact reproduction of a skirt in the Museum of London.

This is the hand-blocked skirt, which is an exact reproduction of a skirt in the Museum of London.

Over her head goes the skirt...

Over her head goes the skirt...

...and James and Kitty tie it in place as they did the Farthingale.

...and James and Kitty tie it in place as they did the Farthingale.

Lindsay shows off the skirt, front view...

Lindsay shows off the skirt, front view...

...and James turns her around to show the "shelf" created behind by the bumroll.

...and James turns her around to show the "shelf" created behind by the bumroll.

Now the partlet is tied--a little demi-blouse that goes between corset and jacket.

Now the partlet is tied--a little demi-blouse that goes between corset and jacket.

Kitty shows us the jacket before it goes on Lindsay. Note the front ties and contrasting color to match the skirt.

Kitty shows us the jacket before it goes on Lindsay. Note the front ties and contrasting color to match the skirt.

Kitty ties the jacket in front.

Kitty ties the jacket in front.

Lindsay makes an adjustment and turns around to give us the full view...

Lindsay makes an adjustment and turns around to give us the full view...

A shot to give you the jacket front in full...

A shot to give you the jacket front in full...

And all that was missing was the hat! Lindsay has let her hair down as a young girl of Ophelia's age would.

And all that was missing was the hat! Lindsay has let her hair down as a young girl of Ophelia's age would.

Isn't she demure?

Isn't she demure?

Full back view...

Full back view...

And now, what went on must come off...

And now, what went on must come off...

Kitty has the bumroll beneath her arm, so you can see the shape clearly.

Kitty has the bumroll beneath her arm, so you can see the shape clearly.

Untied, the Farthingale slips off over the shift.

Untied, the Farthingale slips off over the shift.

James holds the Farthingale while Kitty unlaces the corset.

James holds the Farthingale while Kitty unlaces the corset.

And, finally, Kitty unties the garters.

And, finally, Kitty unties the garters.

Now you know why ladies of means had servants to dress them! ;) Hope you enjoyed this little jaunt through Tudor fashion. See you again soon!

September 13, 2009

At last — a REAL post!

I finally have all the photos formatted so I can share our days with you! Here are some shots from Friday’s kick-off to the tour so you can see how we started out. First off, this is Nigel, our wonderful tour guide, who met us at Heathrow and took us on a two-hour narrated coach ride all over London, telling stories around every corner and pointing down practically every alleyway:

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After 28 years on the London police force, he should know this town like the back of his hand! He’s also a great history buff and thoroughly loves England. It was a fantastic time. We stepped off the bus at several spots for photo ops, including the Albert Memorial in Kensington Park, Buckingham Palace, and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Gaping at the Albert Memorial from across the street (for a photo of the memorial itself, see my blog posts from March.)

Gaping at the Albert Memorial from across the street (for a photo of the memorial itself, see my blog posts from March.)

Nigel gives us all the details on Buckingham Palace (the queen wasn't home today!).

Nigel gives us all the details on Buckingham Palace (the queen wasn't home today!).

We had the most fantastic weather for photos....

We had the most fantastic weather for photos....

And here we are at St. Paul's, enjoying its beautiful front ("Feed the Birds," anyone?)

And here we are at St. Paul's, enjoying its beautiful front ("Feed the Birds," anyone?)

Our group started out chipper and talkative, but jet lag started to hit hard toward the end, and we were ready to check into our hotel, the Millennium Gloucester in South Kensington. We deliberately left Friday afternoon free so that our ladies could unpack, settle in, or hit some sightseeing spots of their choice. A bunch went to the Tower of London together. My husband and son went to St. Paul’s to hear the boys’ choir while I stayed back to unpack and take care of the rest of our check-in process (including getting Internet hookup–so important!).  We grabbed some yummy Portuguese food for supper from a place around the corner from our hotel, then crashed for the night.

Our group sits enthralled as Kitty gives us the history of the original Globe and this amazing reproduction.

Our group sits enthralled as Kitty gives us the history of the original Globe and this amazing reproduction.

Saturday morning we enjoyed a delicious full English breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant before gathering to head to Shakespeare’s Globe for our group tour. With this many Jane Austen fans in one place, you can imagine the kick we got out of having a guide named “Kitty.” ;-) She was an absolutely lovely lady who obviously has a passion for Shakespeare and for the theater itself. She led us through all the levels of the Globe so we could see the stage from all angles, explaining who would have sat where and why and showing us the incredible artistry that went into recreating the entire theater authentically. Workmen built the timbered structure entirely by hand, using tools from the time period (some of which had to be made especially for the Globe project). All of the beams are fastened together with wooden pegs, and the walls are of lathe and plaster.

A view of the stage from the yard.

A view of the stage from the yard.

The stage from the topmost level, right under the thatched roof.

The stage from the topmost level, right under the thatched roof.

After a 40-minute tour through the theater, we stepped into the Globe Exhibition museum, which includes artifacts from the time period, plus a glorious gallery of costume!

One of several gents' outfits on display...

One of several gents' outfits on display...

A mannequin in shift, corset, and Spanish farthingale.

A mannequin in shift, corset, and Spanish farthingale.

Here is what’s most amazing about the productions staged at the Globe: For period plays, all of the costumes are made entirely by hand, using only materials that would have been available in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. All of the lace is hand-made, and all trimmings are created from originals in museum collections around Britain. So being able to view these outfits up close with no glass to interfere was nothing short of heavenly! Lindsay took all these gorgeous pictures so you can see the level of detail. It’s astonishing that so much work goes into outfits that will be worn on the stage and seen from a distance. Seeing them up close is a revelation.

Another fabulous gent's costume...

Another fabulous gent's costume...

The hand-starched lace on the ruff was amazing, and the fabric was reproduced from an orginal garment in a London museum.

The hand-starched lace on the ruff was amazing, and the fabric was reproduced from an orginal garment in a London museum.

Two costumes were behind glass because of the intricacy of their workmanship. This photo shows a gentleman’s costume that was created by a donor for the Globe Exhibition:

saturday-globe-20-1
This gown defies belief — from the custom-woven fabrics to the hand-made lace ruff, it is just mind-bogglingly intricate:

Notice the size of the wheel farthingale beneath the skirt. It's all about status....

Notice the size of the wheel farthingale beneath the skirt. It's all about status....

And here's the back view...

And here's the back view...

saturday-globe-28After we finished the exhibition tour, Kitty let us know there would be a costume demonstration at 12:30 and 1:30, dressing a volunteer from the crowd in “Ophelia’s” costume from the most recent production of “Hamlet.” Part of us opted to go to lunch and catch the 1:30, but those who had other plans for the afternoon went to the 12:30. Here’s Courtney dressed in Ophelia’s shift, taking her turn as model. We didn’t get any other pictures from the first demonstration, but you’ll get to see Lindsay go through it in my next post!

saturday-imperial-war-museum-11My small group moved on to the Imperial War Museum after the Globe. This wasn’t just a stop for my son (who absolutely loved it!) but for me, as I wanted to see the Children’s War exhibit, which covered the history of London during the bombings in WWII and had heart-breaking stories of evacuee children who did not see their parents for anywhere from two to five years. The photos below show mannequins wearing clothing donated by these (now grown up) children, many of whom saved their identity tags, the toys they took in their pockets when they left home, and letters they wrote home to their parents:

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The horrors to which these children were exposed were unimaginable.

The horrors to which these children were exposed were unimaginable.

102_1193The most fascinating part of this exhibit is a two-storey “home front” house with fully-furnished and decorated rooms. Here is a series of photos I shot while walking through the house. You can see period furniture and wallpapers. The windows are not mullioned windows but are taped in that pattern — they had to tape the windows for safety during bomb raids. Rather than utilitarian “Xs”, they created the look of leaded glass!

The family room, with a dress in progress on the mannequin.

The family room, with a dress in progress on the mannequin.

The tiny kitchen...

The tiny kitchen...

102_1198There were a lot of posters and advertisements encouraging women to recycle and mend clothing, reuse as many items as possible, and use up every scrap of food. There is a similar exhibit in the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, but I enjoyed this one more, as the rooms are not behind plexiglass, and you can really see things in detail. The gift shop had a wide array of vintage reprints from this time period, as you can see from this shot I took of one shelf — lots of books on fashion, hairstyle, makeup, food, and more.

Halfway through the museum, I took a tea break to put my feet up, enjoying this lovely Victoria Sponge with clotted cream and strawberry preserves, plus a pot of Earl Grey tea. Yum!

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saturday-ye-olde-cheshire-cheese-2We decided to hit the famous Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Shop for supper, but the directions I got from the Internet took us into a quiet residential side street in Chelsea — nowhere close to where we needed to be! We finally broke down and hailed a cab, which took us to the opposite side of town off Fleet Street (closer to the theater district). Lesson learned — don’t trust website directions implicitly; double-check them! But it was well worth the drive, as this is London’s oldest pub, rebuilt in 1667 after the Great Fire. The restaurant upstairs was filled to capacity, so we ducked our heads to get down the narrow staircase and ordered directly from the bar. Let me tell you that this is one of the best-kept secrets in Great Britain. If you want to save 50% off your supper bill, order directly from the bar. You can get take-away food or eat it at a small pub table. The atmosphere was delightful, as you can see in the shot below. We enjoyed cottage pie, steak pie, and fresh salad greens with home-made vinaigrette. Everything was delicious and very inexpensive, especially for London.

saturday-ye-olde-cheshire-cheese-1

We walked ourselves back to the St. Paul’s Underground, where Lindsay snapped these beautiful photos:

Yes, that deep indigo really is the color of the sky we saw last night!

Yes, that deep indigo really is the color of the sky we saw last night!

This is Temple Bar, the old western entrance gate to London which was later moved over by St. Paul's. It has a very spooky appearance at night!

This is Temple Bar, the old western entrance gate to London which was later moved over by St. Paul's. It has a very spooky appearance at night!

After settling back into our room, we had a knock at the door and found several ladies out in the hall ready for a gab fest. With group members going in all different directions yesterday, it was really fun to hear where they’d been and what they’d found. Several ladies hit the Portobello Antiques Market and snagged great bargins. Others brought back gorgeous pashmina shawls at a stunning bargain-basement price. It was delightful to see all the treasures. We were joined by still more ladies over the next couple of hours and sat up until far too late talking, swapping sewing stories, and laughing. This is the most wonderful, congenial group you can imagine — just like a party of sisters. We all wish you were here!

More tomorrow…!

September 12, 2009

Time slipped away from me…

Well, I had every intention of blogging all about yesterday and today this evening, but it’s 1 a.m. London time, and I’ve just had the most delightful gab-fest in my room with half a dozen other gals, so I’ll have to blog tomorrow night. ;)

I downloaded wonderful Friday photos from Lindsay’s camera, but they’re in the wrong format, so I can’t even give you a sneak peek. So sorry to keep you in suspense! We have had a complete blast, and I look forward to sharing in detail ASAP. In the meantime, here’s a fun shot to tide you over — this one from our tour of Shakespeare’s Globe, where Lindsay got pulled for the costume demonstration, dressing in “Ophelia’s” 100% authentic outfit from the shift out:

dressinglindsay

Wish you were here! I promise longer “postcards” very soon! :)

Warmly,

Jennie

September 11, 2009

We're here!

the-globeThe weather is glorious, South Kensington is lovely, and we’re all determined to stay up and beat jet lag! ;-) I’ll post pictures later when I’ve found all my cords to download the camera. It’s been a fun morning, and the afternoon promises to be a delight as well. Tomorrow we go to Shakespeare’s Globe! I look forward to sharing all the fun details as we leap into our itinerary. :)

September 9, 2009

Preparing for take-off!

Well, we fly out of New York tomorrow night, so we’re in the last mad dash of packing and preparing here in Alabama. I look forward to sharing this trip with everyone who is following from Facebook and Twitter and my site’s newsletter. Thanks for your kind comments and for tagging along virtually!

Warmly,

Jennie

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July 23, 2009

Counting down to the big fall tour!

england-trip-day-1-london-109I can’t believe we are just seven weeks out from the big historical costuming tour! My husband and I will be leading a group of 23 ladies through a one-week tour of London’s best spots for studying the fashions of history — including the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Museum of London, Kensington Palace, the Greenwich Fan Museum, and Shakespeare’s Globe. We’ve also left time in the schedule for visiting the National Portrait Gallery and other wonderful spots all around London Town. It’s going to be fantastic!

I’ll be “live blogging” during our tour, September 10-17, and then again during our weekend extension to Bath for the opening of the Jane Austen Festival. Stay tuned for lots of wonderful photos by our group photographer, Lindsay Keen of Deep South Images.

england-trip-day-1-london-098

April 11, 2009

An update on the Brompton crypt!

My husband stopped in London on his way back from Sudan in late March and visited Brompton with WD-40 in hand. After thoroughly spraying the lock, the key turned as nicely as you please, and he got in!

cryptangel3

He managed to shoot a short video of the crypt’s interior. If I can get it formatted properly, I’ll share it here. The good news was that he discovered the missing glass panel from the bottom of the door back behind one of the columns next to the altar table. It had not broken after all, accounting for the lack of shattered glass on the floor of the tomb. Apparently, it just came loose and fell off. Someone years ago must have stowed it safely in the back so it wouldn’t be broken. Matt doesn’t think it will be too hard to fix, so that might be a future project on another trip.

At any rate, it was great to have a happy ending to the crypt key story, and I thought you’d enjoy the update. ;-)

March 21, 2009

Day Four: Kensington

Our earliest appointment this day was at 10:30 at the Victoria and Albert Museum, so we ate a leisurely breakfast before heading to the station to board the train to Victoria and, from there, the tube to Kensington. It was another bitterly cold day, so we bundled ourselves up appropriately, me fervently wishing I’d brought one of my favorite wool hats! As you can see, Benjamin was wrapped from top to toe, ready for the day in his borrowed stroller. After arriving in South Kensington, I couldn’t figure out which side of the station we’d exited on, so I stopped to ask a newspaper vendor for directions to the V&A Museum. Mistake! He sent us completely around our elbow to get to our toe, far out of the way toward Royal Albert Hall and Kensington Palace. After we’d gone about half a mile, I felt this had to be the wrong way to go, but I didn’t have my map with me, so on we trudged. After three blocks, we were forced to make a right turn (building ahead!), and I spotted Kensington Palace across the road. That’s when I knew we’d been sent in the opposite direction, so we headed back down toward the station, me looking for Exhibition Street, which was my memory marker for the museum.

We arrived rather breathlessly at 10:45am, 15 minutes late for my appointment with the costume curator, Susan North. Now, in my folly, I had not printed out Susan’s note with her phone extension on it, and when I asked for her at the desk, I said, “Susan Hunt.” Why I did this is beyond me, as Suzi had already corrected me on this in an early email when I got the name mixed up! I guess the mistake just stayed in my head. The poor ladies at the desk could find no “Susan Hunt” in the directory (naturally!), and when they called up to the fashion and textile office, they got an answering machine. They also called the other information desk to find out if anyone was waiting for me or had asked for me. No dice. So, Bria and I headed into the fashion exhibit, telling the ladies at the desk we’d be there if Susan Hunt ever turned up (which, of course, she didn’t!). I forgot to take out my camera the entire time, so these are all Bria’s from the V&A.

After browsing the fashion exhibit, we headed into the wonderful British galleries (1500-1780s), Bria stopping to snap lots of pictures. After that, we walked over to the medieval galleries, which were in the midst of being revamped. The only place open was the plaster cast room, which contains life-sized replicas of some of the most famous sculptures (pagan and Christian) in the world. Many were breathtakingly huge, and we wondered how on earth they were placed in the room! An artist was in this room with a large sheet spread out on the floor, sketching the exhibit in charcoal. Her work was really spectacular. Along one side of the gallery were many tomb effigies from the 12th and 13th centuries:

We wandered around, open-mouthed and exclaiming like a couple of Mark Twain’s “Innocents Abroad” until we decided it was time to head to Kensington Palace. We had noon lunch scheduled in Kensington’s Orangerie with Suzi Clarke and her friend, Anne, and we wanted to be in time for that!

The walk back to Kensington was cold but worth it. We went through the long park, passing the incredible memorial to Prince Albert placed by grieving Queen Victoria. It really is a sight to behold–more like a pagan shrine to a god than a memorial to a mere man, I must say! But we all know how Victoria loved Albert. He sits there in gilded majesty, looking kinglike save for the missing crown. He is surrounded by intricate sculptures, and paintings adorn the sides of the pergola under which he sits. There’s a big fence around this memorial that didn’t used to be there years ago — a testament to the times, I suppose. Though I can’t see why a terrorist would want to blow up Albert, as he sits alone in the middle of a vast park! Below is a close-up of his statue. It really is amazing.


We wended our way through the long park, enjoying the spring flowers beginning to peek out, and finally making our way to the palace proper. We passed this statue of Queen Victoria on our way around to the entrance:

As we passed the sunken garden, we could see the Orangerie on the right:

In Victoria’s time, this would have been a hothouse to grow fruit. It has now been transformed into an utterly charming restaurant:

We had arrived a few moments early, so we took our seats to wait for Suzi and Anne, who arrived only a tick or two later — perfect timing! Somehow in all the fun of greetings and eating, I totally forgot to get a photo of us together. Phooey. Suffice it to say that lunch was delicious and dessert exquisite. I had the traditional beef stew, while Bria had a rich broccoli soup. For dessert, Bria tried the raspberry meringue, and I had the special “Orangery Cake”–lemon and orange with citrus frosting. And, naturally, I added a pot of Earl Grey to my lunch! It was all prepared perfectly and served beautifully, and the atmosphere so friendly and warm. It will be such a delight to take our entire group to this wonderful place for lunch in the fall! Suzi and I talked over the itinerary, she providing lots of excellent suggestions for our day in Greenwich and talking about settling our museum dates. I told her I hadn’t been able to find Susan at the V&A, and she gave me a look of blank astonishment when I said, “Susan Hunt.” She then reminded me that the name was Susan North, and I felt like such an idiot! So I’d missed our appointment for no good reason–just my bad memory! I wrote an email of apology to Susan that night!

After a lovely hour’s visit, we parted ways, Bria, Benjamin, and I heading into the Palace for our short tour. Photography is, unfortunately, not allowed inside the palace, which is a shame. We skipped the audio tour, as we were short on time, but I hear it is excellent, and that’s what we’ll be doing this fall. At right you see the front exterior of the palace behind its low brick wall (close-up below). It has a wing to the far left as well. The interior has its grand spaces and amazing rooms, but when you see the Princess Victoria’s bedroom, you’re rather astonished that it isn’t grander. Then you recall her rather unhappy childhood and realize it’s just as it would have been. In one room is an exact replica of the dress Victoria wore on her first day as queen when she met with her privy counselors. It’s a black dress (mourning for King William) with a white pelerine–really very pretty. And when you see it, you realize afresh how small Queen Victoria was. She’d have come just above my shoulder.

We had a lovely time going through the rooms and halls of the palace, though we had to carry Benjamin’s stroller up and down several flights of stairs. Good exercise! There is a current exhibit about the last debutantes presented at court (to Queen Elizabeth II in 1958). The debutantes donated many of their gowns, stockings, gloves, and even lipstick to the exhibit. There’s a fun room where you can try out dance steps of the 1950s or learn a proper curtsey (the deep, bending kind you give to royalty at court). All in all, it was a fun stop, and I know our fall tour folks are going to enjoy it, especially as the gardens will be fuller then (they were just stirring to life while we were there).

From Kensington, we were slated to hop a bus to Brompton Cemetery so I could perform a favor for a family friend. I had in my possession a giant skeleton key to one of the most famous mausoleums in all of London. According to legend, this tomb inspired the father’s tomb in “The Phantom of the Opera.” It dates back to 1915, when oil tycoon James McDonald I was buried there. His wife and son are also buried with him, but no one since. James McDonald V lives in the states and asked if I’d drop by and check on the mausoleum, as it hadn’t been opened in years. He wanted to ascertain its condition and see if any cleaning or repairs needed to be done. Needless to say, this was a very exciting errand! Having been provided with a map to the cemetery, I was armed and ready. Bria and I headed back over toward South Kensington Station to find the right bus stop for our bus, but it eluded us. It was not in the spot the map told us it should be, so I finally went into a Whole Foods market that offered home delivery, figuring they should know what is where. Sure enough, they knew where we needed to go, and as we trotted up the street, we spotted our bus just reaching the curb. Hurrah!

It took about fifteen minutes to get to Brompton, but the street we stepped out onto provided no clues as to the location of the cemetery, and I wasn’t sure if we should turn right or left. Looking left, I spotted a funeral home office and knew they’d be able to direct me. I popped in the door and was greeted by such a stereotypical sight that it was all I could do not to burst out laughing. Two grave men (pun intended, I assure you!) were seated at matching desks, both wearing black suits with vests and black ties. Oh, how English! It was like something out of a Dickens novel. I fought back my smile and tried to look appropriately sober as I asked for the way to Brompton Cemetery. The younger man stood up and asked my business at the cemetery, to which I replied, “I’ve got a key to a mausoleum that I am to open and inspect.” He did not even bat an eyelash but replied, “Quite right; quite right.” Then he led me back to the doorway and pointed out where I needed to go — just two blocks down to the right. I thanked him and rejoined Bria, grinning at the whole scene. I’m sure it’s probably beyond normal in Britain to encounter Victorian-looking undertakers with three-piece suits, but it just tickled me!

We walked briskly down the street and entered the enormous cemetery gates. I was pretty sure we were at the wrong end of the cemetery, as this did not match my map, so I stepped into the “Friends of Brompton” office for assistance. The chap who came out positively pounced on the key and exclaimed, “We don’t have a copy of that; any chance you could have a duplicate made?” I promised I’d ask and followed his directions through the cemetery to the other side, passing the gigantic cemetery office in the center:

Now, this cemetery is famous for more than this mausoleum, of course. There are many well-known people buried here, but it is best remembered as being a favorite haunt of Beatrix Potter, who found on tombstones names for many of her beloved animal characters. There is a “Tom Nutkins” buried here, as well as a “Peter Rabbet” and a “Jeremiah Fisher.” You can read about this fascinating discovery HERE. There are many beautiful tombs and monuments in the cemetery, including lots of carved angels (so popular during Victorian and Edwardian times). Here are a couple I snapped as I passed:


We finally reached the mausoleum at the far end of the cemetery. It was certainly on the largest plot, surrounded by a large patch of ground where other tombs were positively crammed together. Quite an impressive sight–very art nouveau and very ornate, guarded by two angels on either side of the door:



Years of pollution and rain have made it look like the right-hand angel is crying. The door also had a green patina from years of rain and snow. It was no doubt bronze or possibly copper (more likely bronze):

As you can see, the glass has been broken out of the bottom of the door behind the floral design–a great pity. This must have occurred many years ago, as no traces of glass remain inside the tomb. You can see what the glass used to look like in this detail shot of the upper door:

It was now time for the moment of truth. Out came the key, and I swung aside the little rectangle covering the keyhole. Bria snapped a shot of me trying the lock:

The key turned in both directions, but, after a certain point, it would not budge. Vastly disappointed, I determined to see if I could find someone to help at the cemetery office. Accordingly, I marched back to the center of the cemetery and knocked at the door. No answer. I’d passed a policeman on a bicycle on my way around the building, so I headed back in his direction. He was just finishing up a conversation with an elderly gentleman when I walked up. I asked him if he might be able to assist me, and, when I showed him the key, his face lit up. In a thick cockney accent, he said, “Oi was just about ta ‘ave a cup uv tea over in the office, love. Why don’t you step in and ‘ave a look at the keys we ‘ave ‘angin’ around?” I followed him through the massive green door and watched as he fished around through several drawers before triumphantly producing a grocery bag absolutely loaded with skeleton keys. He dropped it with a clatter on the counter and began pulling out large groups of keys on chains. He knew which ones belonged to the cemetery gates and discarded those. I could only marvel at the sheer amount of keys in the bag–none of which were labeled. How on earth could anyone know which one would open which crypt? Not a single key matched the one I held in my hand, which I’d suspected after the Friends man told me they had no copy. Disappointed, the policeman asked if I could “wait a tick” while he had his tea. I told him I had a friend waiting and would head back down to the mausoleum. He promised to catch up quickly.

By the time I’d reached Bria and Benjamin, I could see the policeman heading towards us on his bike. It’s a good walk halfway through the cemetery! He came up and held out his hand for the key. I explained that it would turn, but only so far, and I was afraid of breaking it. He mentioned that leaning into the door might help. At any rate, he gave it his best try, but, finally, afraid of breaking the key off the lock, gave up as well, every bit as disappointed as we were not to get inside! He said, “You’d best ‘ave a locksmith out ‘ere to get at the lock, Oi’d say.” I mentioned that my husband would be coming through in a couple of weeks and could have a go at it with WD-40. He thought that might be worth a try. We stood around talking about the tomb for quite a while, and the policeman was extremely knowledgeable about the cemetery and its occupants. Turns out he is an absolute history nut and reads voraciously when he’s not working. He had anecdotes about all kinds of famous people buried in Brompton, about Beatrix Potter, and about all kinds of other historical figures in and around London. It was quite an amazing half hour we spent with him!

Since I couldn’t get into the tomb, I put my camera through the lower half of the door and photographed the interior, which is exquisite. Below you’ll see the altar, stained glass windows, tall vase, and vaulted ceilings.


Note the black marble columns flanking the altar. Extraordinary. Below are photos of the tomb vaults:


I also snapped a few more pictures outside the mausoleum. You can see beautiful little snowdrop lilies just starting to bloom in the yard around the tomb:

At the very front is a gateway with hinges bearing evidence of the gate that used to hang there. The yard is also surrounded by posts that used to have chains in between, all missing now.

The helpful policeman told us that many gates and chains were taken for scrap metal during WWI and never replaced. As this would have been right around the same time the last English McDonalds were buried there, it’s no surprise they were never replaced.

I snapped a few more pictures before we left, capturing the stained glass from the exterior and the cross on top of the front:


At long last we made our way to the gate, obtaining directions to the nearby station from the policeman on our way. We left the angels guarding the locked tomb and turned our thoughts toward high tea back at our host home in Dulwich. After two brief train rides and a short bus hop, we were back home and so happy to get into the warmth! Benjamin was thankful to see his bed, and Bria and I sat down to a delicious supper (“tea”) and a final evening’s visit with our friends. It was a lovely evening all ’round. We couldn’t believe our journey was already over and we’d be flying back across the ocean in half a day’s time! Our trip to the airport next morning was uneventful, and we boarded right on time. We arrived home ready to crash, get over jet lag, then share pictures with you! All in all, it was a fun quick stopover, and I look forward to fall all the more!

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