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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Great British baking

Are you a fan of the tv show, The Great British Bake-off?  I am!  I learned so much about baking in general and about British desserts in particular from watching that show.

Yesterday I was in the cantina of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and was delighted to see Lemon Drizzle Cake, Bakewell tart, and other desserts I learned about on the show.

I tried the Bakewell tart, and it was tasty.  It needed some salt to balance all the sugar.  But, that’s just me.

 

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The Princess Diana Memorial, Hyde Park, London

During my first walk through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, I noticed these markers in the pavement, guiding the visitor to the Princess Diana Memorial.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to go see it.  I remember her death all too well, just like I can remember the day President Kennedy was shot.  Markers of time that I wish I could forget.

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In the end, I couldn’t not go.  I’m so glad I did.  It is a lovely, lighthearted place.  I think Diana would have loved it.  On the sunny Sunday afternoon I was there, families and especially children were enjoying the water as it flowed through the monument.  I loved it.  But, I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures.  It was still too raw for me.

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The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain is a memorial in London dedicated to Diana, Princess of Wales, who died in a car crash in 1997. It was designed to express Diana’s spirit and love of children.

The fountain was built with the best materials, talent and technology. It contains 545 pieces of Cornish granite – each shaped by the latest computer-controlled machinery and pieced together using traditional skills.

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The design aims to reflect Diana’s life, water flows from the highest point in two directions as it cascades, swirls and bubbles before meeting in a calm pool at the bottom. The water is constantly being refreshed and is drawn from London’s water table.

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The Memorial also symbolises Diana’s quality and openness. There are three bridges where you can cross the water and go right to the heart of the fountain.

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The memorial was designed by American landscape architect and artist Kathryn Gustafson.

 

The fountain is located in the southwest corner of Hyde Park, just south of the Serpentine lake and east of the Serpentine Gallery. Its cornerstone was laid in September 2003 and it was officially opened on 6 July 2004 by Queen Elizabeth II.  Also present were Diana’s younger brother Charles Spencer, her ex-husband Prince Charles, and her sons William and Harry.

Working on the project began in 2001. The fountain was designed by Gustafson Porter.  Kathryn Gustafson, an American landscape artist said she had wanted the fountain, which was built to the south of the Serpentine, to be accessible and to reflect Diana’s “inclusive” personality. Gustafson said: “Above all I hope that it provides a fitting memorial for the princess and does credit to the amazing person that she was.”

The memorial has the form of a large, oval stream bed about 165 by 260 ft that surrounds, and is surrounded by, a lush grassy field. The granite stream bed is from 10 to 20 ft wide. It is quite shallow and is laid out on a gently sloping portion of the park, so that water pumped to the top of the oval flows down either side. One side of the stream bed descends fairly smoothly to the downhill end of the oval with gentle ripples; the other side consists of a variety of steps, rills, curves, and other shapes so that the water plays in interesting ways as it flows to the tranquil pool at the bottom. The two sides were intended to show two sides of Diana’s life: happy times, and turmoil.

 

https://www.archdaily.com/803509/diana-princess-of-wales-memorial-fountain-gustafson-porter-plus-bowman

 

The Marble Arch, London

My home away from home these days is in the Marylebone neighborhood of London.  A key feature of this burgh is The Marble Arch, a 19th-century white marble-faced triumphal arch. It sits, rather isolated, on one edge of Hyde Park.

But, once upon a time, the Marble Arch was located in a much more regal place.  This rather simple triumphal arch is neither in its intended location, nor was it completed in the intended way. Nevertheless, during their coronations, the processions of both Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II passed through the arch.

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John Nash (1752-1835) was the favoured architect of the Prince Regent, later King George IV. Under George’s auspices Nash designed and planned such landmarks as Regent’s Park, Regent Street, Carlton House Terrace, much of Buckingham Palace and Marble Arch. Marble Arch was designed to be both a grandiose gateway to an expanded Buckingham Palace and an exuberant celebration of British victories in the Napoleonic Wars – a Triumphal Arch. But the Grade I listed Arch that we see today is nowhere near as grand as Nash originally intended.

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This model below, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, gives an impression of how Marble Arch might have looked. Nash had it made to illustrate his intended design to George IV.

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Bristling with sculpture, including an imposing equestrian statue of George IV crowning the structure, the overall design was approved and sculptures were commissioned in 1828.

By 1830, most of the statues and panels were complete and Nash’s work at Buckingham Palace and on the Arch was progressing. And then the King died.

Shortly after the King’s death Nash was sacked by the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, for overspending on the project. The architect Edward Blore was commissioned to complete the works in a more economic and practical fashion.

Alas, had George IV lived a little longer we would certainly have a very different Marble Arch today.

Edward Blore found himself in possession of a jumbled collection of statues and panels.  Blore tried to get Nash to provide drawings to explain how the jigsaw was intended to fit together but Nash, unhappy about his dismissal, would not cooperate.

All Blore really had to go on was Nash’s model and the assortment of sculptures in his yard.

The model has a “military side,” celebrating the Duke of Wellington’s victories, including the Battle of Waterloo and a “naval side” putting Lord Nelson’s achievements center stage. Both sides were to have friezes of battle scenes and allegorical panels along with a selection of “winged victories” and other figures.

On each end of the Arch these two themes were to have been repeated. One end would bear the word “Waterloo” and the other the “Trafalgar” and under each, the names of commanders and battles.

The model was never intended to be a definitive plan, but rather to give an overall impression of how the finished arch might look. It contains at least one big mistake, the military side is topped with the portrait of Nelson and the naval side with one of Wellington.

Blore eventually decided to complete the Arch but without most of the sculpture. So, the Arch today has only four allegorical panels and a little decoration. The ends are blank except for three laurel wreaths.

The Arch was completed in 1833, although the central gates were not added until 1837, just in time for Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne.

Blore incorporated most of the battle scene friezes high up in the central courtyard of Buckingham Palace. In 1835, the rest of the sculptures were given to William Wilkins to use in the construction of the new National Gallery.

Wilkins used some of the statues, but he wanted less military symbolism so he adapted many of figures. Statues representing Asia, seated on a camel, and Europe sat upon a horse with an empty frame between them can still be seen above the main door of the National Gallery.  Above both the western and eastern doors of the gallery are some figures of “winged victories,” many shorn of their wings.  Some of the statues even had their laurel wreaths replaced; one now holds a painter’s easel and brushes.

A portrait of Wellington that was to have filled the empty frame between Europe and Asia is now inside the staff entrance to the gallery.

The other significant surviving remnant is the Equestrian Statue of George IV, by Francis Chantrey, which stands on a plinth in the north-eastern corner of Trafalgar Square.

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The Marble Arch stood as a formal gateway to Buckingham Palace for seventeen years. But, it was overshadowed by Blore’s enlarged Buckingham Palace and seen as unsatisfactory.

In 1850 the decision was made to move the Arch to its current location of Cumberland Gate where it would form a grand entrance to Hyde Park in time for the Great Exhibition of 1851.

The stone by stone removal and reconstruction of the Arch was overseen by architect Thomas Cubitt who completed the entire complex process in just three months.

The relocation was a success, vast crowds of people passed through the Arch en route to the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park and Marble Arch remained a grand and direct entrance to the park for more than 50 years.

In 1908 a new road scheme cut through the park just south of the Arch, leaving it completely separated from Hyde Park. In the 1960s roads were widened still further, leaving the Arch in its current isolated position, no longer part of a Royal Park.

The whole Arch is clad in ravaccione, a grey/white type of Carrara marble from Italy. This was the first time marble had been used in this way on any British building. The eight enormous Corinthian columns were each cut from a single slab of marble.

North side of the Arch:

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The sculpted panels on this side are by Richard Westmacott, who also produced the statue of Achilles nearby at Hyde Park Corner.

Three female figures representing England (center) wearing Britannia’s helmet, Ireland (left) with her harp and Scotland (right) with the shield of St Andrew.

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“Peace with Trophies of War” Peace stands on a heap of shields, helmets and weapons. She holds an olive branch and two cherubs hold her gown. The cherub on the right side makes me laugh; he looks like he is on a carnival ride.

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Above each of the three arches are pairs of “Victories” with their laurel wreaths.

The central keystones of the lower arches are the heads of warriors wearing Greek helmets pushed back in the manner of statues of Athena. The central arch has a magnificent lion’s head carving as its keystone, with clawed feet protruding from under its mane.

South side of the Arch: 

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On this side the panels are by E.H. Baily, who is perhaps best known for the statue of Nelson in Trafalgar Square.

“Virtue and Valour” Virtue is the figure on the right holding the fasces (a bundle of rods around an axe) that symbolise strength through unity and on the left stands a soldier in Roman dress representing valour.

“Peace and Plenty” The Angel of Peace is to the left. Plenty with her cornucopia to the right. The flame in the middle represents liberty.

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On this side, between the Victories, the keystone of all three arches is a bearded male head, possibly Neptune.

The Central Gates:
Originally planned to be cast in “mosaic gold”, the gates were actually cast in less expensive bronze. Each gate features the same three designs: a lion at the top, George IV’s cypher in the middle and St George slaying the dragon at the bottom.

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The smaller side gates were added in 1851.

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Above: Coronation procession of Queen Elizabeth II passes through Marble Arch, 1953 © Press Association.

The arch at night, below:

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Today, the neighborhood around it is called Marble Arch, particularly the southern portion of Edgware Road and also to the underground station.

https://marble-arch.london/marble-arch-story/