On Wednesday I talked a bit about museums I visited on my recent week long getaway in London, and they were great. Today I'm going to riff about the people and non-museum spaces, which was even more fun! (The very British shop window to the left was in the St. James area, about which more below.)
A catalyst for the trip was the opportunity to take an interesting workshop, which I did and very interesting it was, but what made London special was the people. Firstly, I stayed with a writer friend at her home in Chelsea, a gorgeous little townhouse just off the King's Road. In the 17th century it was literally the King's Road, a private route that King Charles II used to travel to Kew, and it was private until 1830. (Though a privileged few could also use it.)
Close to 200 years old, my friend's house is lovely and similar to the charming cul- de-sac at the right. The house has been very well modernized over the years, but it's an extremely VERTICAL house: 4 floors connected by many staircases, which the owner says keep her knees in good shape. Plus the house was FULL of books! (I did mention that the owner is a romance writer? <G>)
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea was the hotly beating heart of London's swinging 60's. The era moved on, but the area is still a delightful, diverse mélange of people and restaurants and pricey boutiques, which I admired through shop windows. When we went out to dinner my last night, there was this gold Ferrari casually parked just around the corner on the King's Road. A very flashy toy belonging to a rich princeling, perhaps!
Chelsea figured in one of my very first books, The Bargain. Originally entitled The Would Be Widow, the plot has the heroine in need of a husband in order to receive her full inheritance, but Lady Jocelyn has zero desire to marry. With her 25th birthday fast approaching, she goes to the Chelsea military hospital to visit an officer friend wounded at Waterloo, meets a dying man and impulsively strikes a deal with him so she'll quickly be a widow and his sister will be provided for. Then he doesn't die and life gets much more interesting for them both. <G>
The book was written way pre-internet, and finding a London military hospital was a challenge. I was grateful for what scraps of information I could find. Rather randomly, a scene later in the book takes place in the Chelsea Physic Garden, which was created by Sir Hans Sloane in the 17th century and operated by the Worshipful Society Apothecaries to grow plants from around the world in hopes of discovering some with valuable medical properties. (The statue on the right is of Sloane.)
All these years later, I can't remember how I learned of the Physic Garden, but it sounded interesting. When visiting London, I hauled my agreeable Mayhem Consultant there so I could look at the trees and plants, and it made a nice setting for a scene in the book.
I wanted to visit the Physic Garden again, and I found it is practically next door to the Royal Chelsea Military Hospital. In between the hospital and the garden is the Army Museum I mentioned on Wednesday. All these delights that I'd researched from afar were right next to each other mere minutes away. I discovered this when my hostess took me for a walk my first afternoon in Chelsea. Thirty years on, the Physic Garden is much more oriented to visitors, with cool programs and even a charming café where we had lunch. As you can see, it's an oasis of greenery surrounded by city buildings.
Another delight of my visit was taking the Georgette Heyer walk with Sophie Weston, who wrote one of my all time favorite romances, To Marry a Prince under the name Sophie Page. I won't say much about this tour of aristocratic Regency haunts in St. James and Piccadilly because Anne Gracie has written wonderful two blogs about the Heyer tour she took with Sophie several years ago: Part 1 and Part 2.
Anne's blogs are full of rich detail about real people like Byron and Brummell, and Heyer's fictional characters who hung out in these places. I was struck by how compact an area was involved, and how many shops that were patronized by Regency people still exist. I was much taken by this homey sign in a cheese shop.(Click on the image to enlarge the picture so you can read about ewe's milk cheese.)
There were wonderful little cul-de-sacs throughout St. James, sometimes with elegant boutique hotels or famous institutions tucked away in them. I was surprised to a building that was home to the legation of the Republic of Texas from 1842-1845, Who knew?
The weather was on the gray and rainy side, so naturally we ended our Heyer tour at a tea shop where we could get a proper cream tea. Yum!!
One of the chief delights of my trip was visiting an old friend from my Oxford days. She lives in the charming old town of Reigate, which sits at the foot of the North Downs a 45 minute train ride south of London. Retired from a career with the planning commission, my friend now does wonderful and diverse creative work.
She took me to visit Standen House & Garden, a splendid estate built and decorated in the arts and crafts style of William Morris. It was catnip for a former designer like me–and like so many British National Trust properties, it had a pleasant café most suitable for lunch. (Elderflower beverages are popular these days, a trend I quite approve of.)
Then it was home again to the book I should be writing, but filled with happy memories of friends, food, and history. I hope that someday I can make a similar visit because the delights of London and vicinity are limitless! (To the left is the compact but beautiful garden behind the house of my friend in Reigate.)
On Wednesday I asked you about London museums you enjoy or would like to visit. What other things would you like to do if you had a few footloose days in London? Gardens, shops, eateries? Dare to dream!