Twelve Days of Christmas London Style -Day 12

COLUMBIA ROAD FLOWER MARKET

It might seem odd that my last ‘favourite’ thing in my Twelve Days of London is a flower market, but you have to remember that, when J and I flew out of Calgary, we left behind temperatures of minus 30C with windchill. To be faced with such colour, and a LEMON tree – an actual real lemon tree – it was a true feast for the eye.

lemon trees

The Columbia Road Flower Market operates every Sunday from 8am until 3-ish. And it doesn’t just sell flowers.  You want a Christmas tree?  They’ve got Christmas trees!

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The street also boasts an eclectic collection of independent shops, art galleries, vintage stores and coffee shops, so if flowers aren’t your thing, there’s plenty of others things to see.  (And it’s only a 10 minute walk from The Geffrye Museum, one of my favourite museums in London.)

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Twelve Days of Christmas London Style – Day 11

HIGHCLERE CASTLE

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Highclere Castle, December 2014

I love watching Downtown Abbey – trying to figure out where I’ve seen the outfits before – and I also love Christmas Markets. So when J called me back in October to say there was a Christmas Fair on at Highclere Castle in December, was I interested… well, of course the answer was ‘Yes’!  (I’ve just checked out the website and it looks like tickets for some spring/Easter events are already sold out, so if you’d like to visit Highclere in 2015, book your tickets asap!)

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Christmas Fair, Highclere Castle

 

We were lucky with the weather which was cold but sunny. We took the train from Paddington to Newbury, and from there a taxi to the castle. (Taxi is approx 16GBP each way so it’s a bit pricey. There is no taxi rank at the castle for the return journey, so ensure you have a cell phone with you and get a card from the driver who takes you out there so you can call to be picked up at the end of your visit.)

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Jackdaws Castle, Highclere Castle, December 2013

 

 

The exterior of the castle and the surrounding parkland is just as stunning as it appears on the TV show. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take pictures inside. Also, unfortunately, the Christmas Fair was held in the downstairs rooms, so we didn’t get to see them set up as they are on TV – and they were very crowded – but we were able to view the upstairs rooms.

Was it worth it? If you’re a Downton Abbey fan, definitely. Even if you’re not, it’s a beautiful house. And if you’re a fan of Ancient Egypt, you will know that it was the fifth Earl of Carnarvon who discovered Tutenkhamun’s tomb along with Howard Carter back in the 1920s.

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Door knocker, Highclere Castle

My one piece of advice; if you’re interested in seeing the rooms as they are portrayed in the TV show, don’t visit when there is a fair of any kind running. Save your visit until you can take your time and savour the rooms as they should be viewed.

 

Twelve Days of Christmas London Style – Day 10

MUSEUM OF THE ORDER OF ST JOHN

I may not have attended Hogwarts, but my school did have ‘houses’. Rather than being sorted by a magical hat, our gym teacher lined us up and counted down the row, “Smith, Montgomerie, Crawfurd, St John.” I found myself in St John; our colour blue and emblem the Maltese Cross.  I couldn’t have told you anything about the history of St John, although the fact that local neighbourhoods boasted names like Temple and Knightswood should have given me a clue.

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St John’s Gate. Clerkenwell, Museum of the Order of St John

So when J led me to St John’s Gate in Clerkenwell last week, and told me we were going to visit the Museum of the Order of St John, I was excited to finally learn something about the history of my house from (cough) all those years ago.

Briefly, in 1080, monks under the leadership of Brother Gerard built a hospital in Jerusalem to care for pilgrims in the Holy Land. Called Hospitallers, they cared for everyone, no matter their faith. With the coming of the crusades, the order was militarized and became known as the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.

Over the next few centuries, following defeat to Muslim forces, the order retreated first to Cyprus, then to Rhodes then finally to Malta. When the Templar Knights were forcibly disbanded, their wealth was transferred to the Knights of St John. They remained in Malta until the island was lost to Napoleon in 1798.

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Museum of the Order of St John, Clerkenwell

In 1140, the Priory in Clerkenwell became the English HQ of the Order of St John. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII in the 1530s, the priory was seized. For a while it housed the offices of the Master of Revels – who licensed plays, including Shakespeare’s – then a coffee-house and finally a pub which Charles Dickens used to frequent.

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St John Ambulance

 

 

 

 

 

 

The modern order of St John came into being in 1888, its principal charity in the UK being the St John Ambulance (to teach first aid to the general population). Providing medical care in both world Wars, they also returned to their roots in the Middle East by founding the St John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem which still exists to this day.

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Museum of the Order of St John, Clerkenwell

Like Charterhouse, which I talked about a few days ago, the Museum of the Order of St John is a hidden gem of a place. It’s open to the public Monday-Saturday, from 10am-5pm, and entrance is free. Guided tours are available Tuesday/Friday/Saturday at 11am and 2.30pm on a first come, first served basis, with a donation of 5GBP is suggested.

Every time J and I go back to London, we try to explore a ‘new’ area.  Although this year our focus was on Spitalfields, Clerkenwell is a fascinating district and I don’t doubt we’ll be back again to explore it in more depth.

And next time you’re at a hockey game or football match, and see St John Ambulance personnel in attendance, take a moment to think about their 1,000 year history.

Twelve Days of Christmas London Style – Day 9

SOMERSET HOUSE

If you’ve ever seen the movies Love Actually, Goldeneye, Sherlock Holmes, The Duchess, Shanghai Knights or Last Chance Harvey (amongst others) then you’ve caught a glimpse of Somerset House, just off The Strand, in London. Known by many (of a certain generation) as Register House, it was, until fairly recently, where official hatch, match and dispatch certificates were filed. (Birth, marriage, death.)

The first building in this location was a Tudor Palace, and it remained a royal palace for many years, housing three queens, including Catherine of Braganza, the wife of Charles II. Extended over the years, it fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1770 to be replaced by the present Somerset House, designed by architect Sir William Chambers, and built to house the Headquarters for Offices of State, especially the Navy and Taxation.

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Somerset House Ice Rink, December 2014

With official departments being moved out at the end of the 20th century, much of the building was opened up for public use. Somerset House now hosts the Courtauld Gallery, shops, cafeteria, museum, concerts, summer fountains and winter skating. (For winter skating, it’s advisable to book tickets in advance as many dates/times quickly sell out in advance.)

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The Fortnum and Mason Christmas Arcade, Somerset House 2014

 

During the Christmas Season, the famous Piccadilly store Fortnum and Mason takes over one of the ground floor wings to provide a beautiful shopping arcade. Fortnum and Mason was founded in 1707 by footman William Fortnum who sold candles made from wax stubs left over from the Royal Household. Over the years F&M became famous for their travelling food baskets, and sent over 10,000 Christmas puddings to the Western Front every year during WW1.

 

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Part of the tour of Somerset House.

Tours of various parts of the building that are normally closed to the public take place on Tuesdays at 12.45 and 14.15. Tickets are only available in person on the day and cannot be booked beforehand. For more information, please click here.

When Somerset House was built, the Thames was much wider – there was no Embankment – so boats sailed right up to Somerset House. Nowadays there is a small museum where the boats docked, with audio-visual displays depicting the evolution of the buildings on that site from earliest times to present day.

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Memorial Stone. Somerset House

Given that this was once a royal palace with a chapel (and graveyard), there are still some memorial stones to those who were buried within its grounds. One in particular caught my eye, the date of death being 1691/2.  I’ve seen that before on old gravestones and never quite understood why. How can you have 1/2 or 5/6 or 8/9 as the last number on a date? The answer is to do with the changeover from the Julian to Gregorian calendar, with the last two numbers reflecting the date according to both calendars. (The Gregorian calendar, which more accurately reflected the solar year, was introduced into some European countries in 1582. Canada, the US and the UK adopted it in 1752 with Turkey being the last to introduce it in 1927.)

If you are interested in visiting Somerset House, please click here for more details.

 

Twelve Days of Christmas London Style – Day 8

MUSEUM OF BRANDS

outsideTucked away in a mews in Notting Hill, you’ll find the Museum of Brands, a gem of a trip down memory lane, opened by consumer historian Robert Opie in 2005. He began his collection in Inverness in 1963 when he decided to keep the packaging on his packet of Munchies instead of throwing it away. Now, the museum boasts a fabulous collection of consumer goods and packaging from the 19th century up to the present day.

imagesIf the name Robert Opie isn’t familiar to you, you’re bound to have seen his ‘Scrapbooks’ of life over the past 100 years in bookstores in Britain and abroad.

Visiting the Museum of Brands offers you a familiar, but half-forgotten world, waiting to be re-explored.  “Remember when…?” “I remember having one of those…”

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Gift Shop Museum of Brands.

For students of marketing, it’s a fascinating lesson on the importance of branding. Trace the evolution of a bottle of Johnstone’s baby powder, or a tin of Tate & Lyle syrup, or tin of Crosse and Blackwell soup, or Cadbury’s chocolate bar, down through the decades (or centuries!) and you’ll discover the essential brand doesn’t change.

This is a fun way of learning history. When were some of your favourite sweets invented?
Crunchie – 1929
Terry’s Chocolate Orange – (a particular favourite of mine!) 1932
Black Magic – (I remember my Dad buying these for my Mum) 1933
Rowntree’s Dairy Box – 1936
Quality Street – 1936
Cadbury’s Roses – 1938.  (Remember the advert, Roses Grow On You?)

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Televisions lining the wall in the cafe, Museum of Brands

And when you’re sitting in the museum’s cafe, wondering what to do with the wrapper on your KitKat bar, (throw it away or start a collection of your own) sit back and watch the TV adverts of old playing on one of the screens lining the walls. How many jingles do you remember? ‘For hands that do dishes…’ ‘Everyone’s a fruit and nut case…’ ‘Murray mints, Murray mints, Too good to hurry mints…’ ‘The Esso sign means happy motoring…’ ‘My name is Bond. Brooke Bond!’

For details on the museum, its location and opening hours, please click here to check out their website.

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Portobello Road

And afterwards, why not take a stroll down Portobello road, a mere stone’s throw from the museum. All and all, a lovely day out.

 

Twelve Days of Christmas London Style – Day 7

FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE MUSEUM

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The daily schedule of trainee nurses at St Thomas’s Hospital

Long, long ago, in a country far, far away, I trained as a nurse at the Royal infirmary of Edinburgh. On our first day, we were told that our School of Nursing had been founded by one of Florence Nightingale’s own nurses. And indeed, Florence’s influence was everywhere; from the long Nightingale wards we worked in, to the clear hierarchy between doctors and nurses and almost military discipline.

I’d long promised myself a visit to the Florence Nightingale Museum. Set within the grounds of St Thomas’s Hospitaldirectly across the Thames from the Houses of Parliament, (the original hospital was bombed during WW2), this is where Florence established her first nursing school in 1860. The museum is divided into three sections; Her Early Life, The Crimean War and Post-War Work.

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The view of The Houses of Parliament from St Thomas’s Hospital

Born in 1820 in Florence (hence her name) to affluent and well-connected British parents, Florence rebelled against the expectations of becoming a dutiful wife and mother, refusing at least one offer of marriage. Highly intelligent, she worked hard to educate herself in mathematics and science, both through traditional book learning as well as travel. Financially supported by her father, she began nursing in 1840 in Germany, later becoming Superintendent at the Institute for The Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Harley Street.

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This Turkish lamp, a fanoos, is more likely what Florence carried around the wards rather than the genie lamp depicted in pictures of the time.

In 1854, at the request of the Secretary of War, Sidney Herbert, Florence brought together 38 volunteer nurses (including 15 Catholic nuns) to sail to the Crimea. Arriving at the hospital in Scutari they discovered total chaos with little care offered to the sick and injured. Most deaths were caused from illnesses such as cholera or typhoid, rather than wounds sustained in battle, so through basic nursing care, good food, fresh air and adequate sanitation, she is credited with reducing the death rate amongst soldiers from 42% to 2% following hospital admission. It is during this time the legend of The Lady with the Lamp arose – although it’s more likely she walked the wards carrying a Turkish lamp rather than the one portrayed in images of that time.

Florence also met with Mary Seacole, (voted the Greatest Black Briton in 2004), a Jamaican nurse who set up the British Hotel near Balaclava for the care of sick and convalescent soldiers. Although they never worked together, the relationship between the two women appears to have been friendly, with Mary staying overnight at Florence’s hospital on her arrival in the Crimea.

nurse picturesHaving succumbed to Crimean Fever (probably Chronic Brucellosis) Florence returned to Britain where she remained an invalid for the rest of her life. Even so, she founded the Nightingale Training School at St Thomas’s and continued to be extremely influential, writing and advising on nursing, sanitation and hospital design until her death in 1910.

The museum doesn’t just focus on Florence Nightingale herself, but on the evolution of the profession/vocation of nursing over the years. There are fascinating interviews with nurses of all ages, including modern military nurses who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Edith Cavell’s dog, Jack. Using him as ‘cover’ on early morning walks, she helped approximately 200 allied soldiers escape.

One exhibit includes the story of Edith Cavell, the British nurse shot in World War One, and her dog, Jack, who was often her cover for helping allied soldiers escape.

For more information on this intriguing little museum, please click here to check out its website.

 

Twelve Days of Christmas London Style – Day 6

HAMPSTEAD HEATH

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Hampstead Heath

If I ever win the lottery (mind you, I’d have to start buying tickets first!) I’m going to buy myself a house in Hampstead and walk my dog on Hampstead Heath every day!

This park of 790 acres (with its own police force) is, according to the guide book, less than 6km from Trafalgar Square and just within Zone 2 on the Northern Line.

I adore London, but, even so, the crowds and traffic can sometimes become rather suffocating. Even in the city parks it’s hard to get away from The Madding Crowd. In contrast, I found few tourists walking the heath; most walkers were locals out with their dogs. (The downside of this is that once you’re actually on the heath, there are no signposts.)

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The view of London from Parliament Hill.

A quick google search revealed that Hampstead Heath has been used as a location on over 50 movies and TV shows – including Notting Hill, The Omen, 101 Dalmatians and Mansfield Park – so it’s possible you’ve seen it on-screen before. Especially the view from Parliament Hill overlooking London. And that was my goal.

 

“Which way to Parliament Hill?” I asked one of the underground personnel when I arrived at Hampstead Tube Station.

“Turn right and go up the hill,” he said.

Which is what I did.

And got totally lost.

Moral of the story? Just because someone works in a location, doesn’t mean they know the area.

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The opposite direction to Parliament Hill!

When I found myself inside the park going downhill through a tangled path of trees, I cottoned on that I was probably heading in the wrong direction. About a hundred yards away I saw a man walking his dogs. I reckoned he was bound to know the area. “I know you,” the voice in my head said as I drew closer. “I definitely know you,” it repeated when he started to speak. And then I gave an Oscar-winning performance of my own, pretending not to recognise the Downton Abbey actor, as he pointed me in the right direction!  Turns out there are two heaths – west and east – and I was on the wrong one.

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Downshire Hill. Turn left here and follow the road all the way down to the park entrance.

If you want to visit Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath, turn LEFT as you exit the tube station, and head DOWNHILL until you reach Downshire Hill.  Turn LEFT and walk to the end of the road. Hampstead Heath is just across the road and you’ll find a signpost there to Parliament Hill.

I’d also hoped to visit a few of the museums in Hampstead – Kenwood House, Burgh Museum, John Keats’ House and 2 Willow Road – but none were open that day. (Second moral to the story – always check museum opening times in advance.) But after a fabulous walk across the heath, I enjoyed a leisurely stroll back along the main street.

Despite its village feel, Hampstead boasts some of the most expensive houses in London.It was great just doing a bit of window shopping – apparently Judi Dench has been known to shop for clothes at The Hampstead Bazaar just opposite the tube station – and I stopped in for a lovely cup of tea and scone in one of its tea rooms.

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Hampstead

I’m definitely going to revisit Hampstead on my next trip to London – striding out across the parkland after being hemmed in by people and traffic was a real joy – but this time I’ll take my own advice and check out the museum opening hours ahead of time.

Kenwood House: Daily 10am-5pm

John Keats House: Winter hours: Friday-Sunday 1-5pm

Burgh House Museum: Wednesday to Friday and Sunday noon-5pm

2 Willow Road:Check website