The (extraordinary) British Museum

What can I say that hasn’t already been said 1,00,000 times or more about this incredible museum?

I will let my pictures speak for me.

 

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Whenever I am lucky enough to visit the British Museum, I always go right to the Elgin Marbles.

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Mass tourism is the bane of my existence.  I hate it with every fiber in my being.

 

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Did I mention that I detest mass tourism? I do.

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Mass tourism.

 

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Beautiful, lush St Jame’s Park, London

It’s a beautiful park in the heart of London, but did you know it takes its name from a leper hospital!  It sure does!  Read on…

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St James’s Park is a 57-acre park in the City of Westminster, central London. The park lies at the southernmost tip of the St James’s area, which was named after a leper hospital dedicated to St James the Less. It is the most easterly of a near-continuous chain of parks that also includes (moving westward) Green Park, Hyde Park, and Kensington Gardens.

 

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The park is bounded by Buckingham Palace to the west, the Mall to the north, Horse Guards to the east, and Birdcage Walk to the south. It meets Green Park at Queen’s Gardens with the Victoria Memorial at its center, opposite the entrance to Buckingham Palace. St James’s Palace is on the opposite side of The Mall.

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The park has a small lake, St James’s Park Lake, with two islands, West Island, and Duck Island, named for the lake’s collection of waterfowl.

A resident colony of pelicans has been a feature of the park since pelicans were donated by a Russian ambassador in 1664 to Charles II. While most of the time the wings are clipped, there is a pelican who can be seen flying to the London Zoo in hopes of another meal.

 

The Blue Bridge across the lake affords a view west towards Buckingham Palace framed by trees. Looking east the view includes the Swire Fountain to the north of Duck Island and, past the lake, the grounds of Horse Guards Parade, with Horse Guards, the Old War Office and Whitehall Court behind. To the south of Duck Island is the Tiffany Fountain on Pelican Rock, and past the lake is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with the London Eye, the Shell Tower, and the Shard behind.

I first visited St Jame’s Park with my mother on a trip to London many years ago.  She delighted in the flower beds, planted seasonally, and always lush and beautiful.  As I walked through the gardens last month, I thought of my mom and how much she would love how they looked that day!

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Nerd Alert: the history part of this post:

In 1532, Henry VIII purchased an area of marshland through which the Tyburn flowed from Eton College. It lay to the west of York Palace acquired by Henry from Cardinal Wolsey; it was purchased in order to turn York Palace, subsequently renamed Whitehall, into a dwelling fit for a king.

On James I’s accession to the throne in 1603, he ordered that the park be drained and landscaped, and exotic animals were kept in the park, including camels, crocodiles, an elephant and exotic birds, kept in aviaries.

While Charles II was in exile in France under the Commonwealth of England, he was impressed by the elaborate gardens at French royal palaces, and on his ascension he had the park redesigned in a more formal style, probably by the French landscaper André Mollet.

An 850 x 42 yard canal was created as evidenced in the old plan. The king opened the park to the public and used the area to entertain guests and mistresses, such as Nell Gwyn. The park became notorious at the time as a meeting place for impromptu acts of lechery, as described by John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester in his poem “A Ramble in St James’s Park.”

In the late 17th and early 18th centuries cows grazed on the park, and milk could be bought fresh at the “Lactarian,” described by Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach in 1710.

The 18th century saw further changes, including the reclamation of part of the canal for Horse Guards Parade and the purchase of Buckingham House (now Buckingham Palace) at the west end of the Mall, for the use of Queen Charlotte in 1761.

Further remodelling in 1826–27, commissioned by the Prince Regent (later George IV) and overseen by the architect and landscaper John Nash, saw the canal’s conversion into a more naturally-shaped lake, and formal avenues rerouted to romantic winding pathways.

At the same time, Buckingham House was expanded to create the palace, and Marble Arch was built at its entrance, while The Mall was turned into a grand processional route. It opened to public traffic 60 years later in 1887.

The Marble Arch was moved to its current location at the junction of Oxford Street and Park Lane in 1851 and the Victoria Memorial was erected between 1906 and 1934.

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Duck Island Cottage, in the pictures above,  has a long history and is now the headquarters for the London Parks & Gardens Trust.

The park is Grade I listed on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.

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The Monument to the Great Fire, London

Mention The Monument to a Londoner and, as generic as that title might seem to the average person, a Londoner knows that you mean The Monument to the Great Fire, London. The horrible conflagration swept through the central parts of London from Sunday, 2 September to Thursday, 6 September 1666.

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Modern-day view of The Monument, designed by Sir Christopher Wren.

The Monument to the Great Fire of London takes the form of a Doric column in Portland stone, situated near the northern end of the London Bridge. Atop the column is a gilded urn of fire. Commemorating the Great Fire of London, the monument stands at the junction of Monument Street and Fish Street Hill, 202 feet in height and 202 feet west of the spot in Pudding Lane where the Great Fire started on 2 September 1666.  It was designed by Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke.  Its height marks its distance from the site of the shop of Thomas Farriner (or Farynor), the king’s baker, where the blaze began.

Constructed between 1671 and 1677, the monument was built on the site of St. Margaret’s, Fish Street, the first church to be destroyed by the Great Fire.  Another monument, the Golden Boy of Pye Corner, marks the point near Smithfield where the fire was finally stopped.

The viewing platform near the top of the Monument is reached by a narrow winding staircase of 311 steps. A mesh cage was added in the mid-19th century to prevent people jumping to the ground, after six people had committed suicide there between 1788 and 1842.

Three sides of the base carry inscriptions in Latin. The one on the south side describes actions taken by King Charles II following the fire.

The inscription on the east side describes how the Monument was started and brought to perfection, and under which mayors.

Inscriptions on the north side describe how the fire started, how much damage it caused, and how it was eventually extinguished.

The Latin words Sed Furor Papisticus Qui Tamdiu Patravit Nondum Restingvitur (“but Popish frenzy, which wrought such horrors, is not yet quenched”) were added to the end of the inscription on the orders of the Court of Aldermen in 1681 during the foment of the Popish Plot.

The inscription on the east side originally falsely blamed Roman Catholics for the fire (“burning of this protestant city, begun and carried on by the treachery and malice of the popish faction”), which prompted Alexander Pope (himself a Catholic) to say (in
Moral Essays, Epistle iii. line 339 (1733–1734) of the area:

Where London’s column, pointing at the skies,
Like a tall bully, lifts the head, and lies.

The words blaming Catholics were chiselled out with Catholic Emancipation in 1830.

The west side of the base displays a sculpture, by Caius Gabriel Cibber, in bas and alto relief, of the destruction of the City; with Charles II and his brother, James, the Duke of York (later King James II), surrounded by liberty, architecture, and science, giving directions for its restoration.

 

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The fire gutted the medieval City of London inside the old Roman city wall. It threatened but did not reach the aristocratic district of Westminster, Charles II’s Palace of Whitehall, or most of the suburban slums.

The fire consumed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St Paul’s Cathedral, and most of the buildings of the City authorities. It is estimated to have destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the city’s 80,000 inhabitants.

The death toll is unknown but was traditionally thought to have been small, as only six verified deaths were recorded. This reasoning has recently been challenged on the grounds that the deaths of poor and middle-class people were not recorded; moreover, the heat of the fire may have cremated many victims, leaving no recognisable remains. A melted piece of pottery on display at the Museum of London found by archaeologists in Pudding Lane, where the fire started, shows that the temperature reached 1,250 °C (2,280 °F; 1,520 K).

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The first Rebuilding Act, passed in 1669, stipulated that “the better to preserve the memory of this dreadful visitation,” a column of either brass or stone should be set up on Fish Street Hill, on or near the site of Farynor’s bakery, where the fire began.

Christopher Wren, as surveyor-general of the King’s Works, was asked to submit a design. Wren worked with Robert Hooke on the design. It is impossible to disentangle the collaboration between Hooke and Wren, but Hooke’s drawings of possible designs for the column still exist, with Wren’s signature on them indicating his approval of the drawings rather than their authorship.

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The Monument depicted in a picture by Sutton Nicholls, c. 1753.

It was not until 1671 that the City Council approved the design, and it took six years to complete the 202 ft column. It was two more years before the inscription (which had been left to Wren — or to Wren’s choice — to decide upon) was set in place. “Commemorating — with a brazen disregard for the truth — the fact that ‘London rises again…three short years complete that which was considered the work of ages.'”

The Edinburgh-born writer James Boswell visited the Monument in 1763 to climb the 311 steps to what was then the highest viewpoint in London. Halfway up, he suffered a panic attack, but persevered and made it to the top, where he found it “horrid to be so monstrous a way up in the air, so far above London and all its spires.”

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Views published in The Graphic, 1891.

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During the 2007–2009 refurbishment, a 360-degree panoramic camera was installed on top of the Monument. Updated every minute and running 24 hours a day, it provides a record of weather, building and ground activity in the City.

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Panorama of London taken from the top of the Monument