Walking from the museums to Kensington Palace, we passed by a number of well-known landmarks, including The Royal Albert Hall. Since its opening by Queen Victoria in 1871, the Royal Albert Hall has hosted some of the world’s leading artists from many performance genres, with almost 400 shows a year being performed in the main auditorium. The venue has become one of the UK’s most treasured and distinctive buildings.
In Kensington Gardens, we walked past the Albert Memorial, one of the
most ornate memorials in London. Unveiled in 1872, it was Queen Victoria’s memorial to her husband. Influenced by the series of 13th Century Eleanor Crosses (Charing Cross
perhaps being the most famous) the memorial is one of the most ornate high-Victorian gothic extravaganzas anywhere. Marble figures representing Europe, Asia, Africa and America are at each corner, and higher up figures representing manufacture, commerce, agriculture and engineering. Further up, are gilded bronze statues of the angels and virtues. There are 187 exquisitely carved figures in the frieze around the base. The memorial took 10 years to complete and at 54m tall, is visible from quite a distance.
Kensington Gardens, once the
private gardens of Kensington
Palace, cover an area of 270
acres. The open spaces of Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Green Park, and St. James’s Park together form an almost continuous “green lung” in the heart of London. The garden are the setting of J.M. Barrie’s book Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, a prelude to the character’s famous adventures in Neverland and also contains the Elfin Oak, an elaborately carved 900-year-old tree stump. The gardens are open to the public and are very popular in the summer months for family outings.
Kensington Palace has been a
residence of the British Royal Family since the 17th century, and is presently the official London residence of William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge; Prince Harry; the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester; the Duke and Duchess of Kent; and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.
The palace’s dual role as a private home to royalty and a public museum began in 1899, when the State Rooms were opened to the public on the Queen’s birthday. During WWI, George V allowed a number of rooms in the palace to be used by those working for Irish POW’s and Irish soldiers at the front and decreed that its royal inhabitants adhere to the same rations as everyone else.
The Palace was severely damaged during The WWII Blitz of 1940, damaging many of the buildings including the State Apartments, particularly the Queen’s Apartments. Repairs to the palace were not completed for several years, but after the war, Prince Philip stayed with his grandmother in the lead-up to his 1947 marriage with Princess Elizabeth, the current Queen Elizabeth II.
A marble statue at the entrance gates of Queen Victoria, in her coronation robes. Born at Kensington Palace, she grew up there, until summoned in 1837, at the age of 18, to become queen.
In 1981 2 apartments were combined to create the London residence of Prince of Wales and his wife, Diana, Princess of Wales, and it remained the official residence of the Princess after their divorce until her death.
Princes William and Harry were raised in Kensington Palace. Upon Diana’s death in 1997, the gates at Kensington Palace became the focus of public mourning, with over one million bouquets placed as tribute, reaching 1.5m deep in places. The Princess’s coffin spent its last night in London at Kensington Palace. Diana, Princess of Wales’s residence was stripped bare and lay vacant for 10 years after her death. It was somewhat surreal to walk around the palace, knowing that she had frequented the same places.
The Queen’s bedchamber and this bed are thought to have been the birthplace in 1688 of James Edward Stuart, son of King James II. However his birth was a threat to the Protestant establishment that rumours were spread that the royal infant had been stillborn, and a living baby was smuggled into the room, hidden in a warming pan. To protect him, a young James was smuggled into France by a maid, where he lived out the rest of his days. He became known as “The Old Pretender”, continuing to claim the throne until he died in 1766.
There are paintings and statues all over
the palace, even on the stairwells. The
ceilings are high and all painted, with
incredibly detailed artworks. Massive
ornate tapestries and huge paintings covered the walls. The amount of priceless treasures we saw was stunning!
Corridors that were wide enough to literally swing three cats and as long as a short runway, made me wonder what on
earth they would have been used for. Was there once a very long dining table with a hundred or more chairs, in this room? Ostentatious was the
word that came to mind as we were walking through the rooms. Highly polished and very well kept woodwork included wall panelling and staircases. I wouldn’t like to be
the person that has to keep the place spick and span!
In some of the rooms, plain white clothing of yesteryear was on display but the shadows depicted a full person. Made us look twice at the mannequins!
A video clip showing that London wasn’t the only place
to enjoy Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, could be viewed in one of the rooms at the Palace. It showed how communities up and down the country, however big or small, organised festivities to mark the occasion. Streets were decorated with triumphal arches, flags and bunting. Children were presented with Jubilee mugs and medals and the elderly were given tea for the women and tobacco for the men.
The seventeenth-century German cradle in which Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s children slept and some of the clothing they wore, all brilliantly preserved!
Diana’s presence is still felt in the palace and there are mementos of her all over the place.
We walked past the duck ponds and back through the gardens
to the bus stop at Hyde Park corner where we caught a bus back into central London.
We headed to Piccadilly Circus; walking
from there to our last stop for the day – Ripleys Believe it or Not.
Despite its fun sounding name, Piccadilly Circus is simply a road junction and public space in London’s West End, built in 1819 to connect Regent Street with Piccadilly. The word circus, from the Latin word meaning “circle”, is a round open space at a street junction. Being located close to major
shopping and entertainment areas in the West End
has made Piccadilly Circus a busy
meeting place and a tourist
attraction in its own right. It is also
well known for the video display
and neon signs mounted on one of
the corner buildings; as well as the
Shaftesbury memorial fountain and
statue, which is popularly, though
mistakenly, believed to be of Eros;
it is however his brother, Anteros.