Monday, April 5, 2010

Your Top London Stops

As an aspiring writer of medieval and Regency stories, where would I want to visit on a 6-7-day tour of London in August?

YES! THE TRIP finally has some chance of happening. (omgomgomgsoexcitedomg)

Ahem, now that that's out of the way, on to practicalities.

What do I want to see that would not be an onerous burden on my long-suffering family who might possibly be with me?

Anna Campbell has added the British Museum as the first item to my list.

Another suggestion from Candice Hern was Sir John Soane's House.

The mundane is the London Eye.

A dream, that won't be possible, would be to stay at a holiday cottage on the estate of Devonshire's Chatsworth.

What places would you add to my list?


Cara King said...


You definitely need to do a walking tour of St James's, especially St James's Street, Keira. You can do it on your own (with a book that's a good guide), or there should be guided tours that do it as well (there used to be one that did Mayfair and St James's together -- much of Regency Mayfair was bombed away or changed, but bits are left -- but there's lots of fabulous things in St James's to see, including the outsides of White's, Brooks's, and Boodles).

There's not much of Medieval London left (though the Tower's good, of course, for that!), but I'd advise going to the Museum of London -- lots of great info there, and it's right by one of the still-standing parts of the wall. And Westminster Abbey would be good (out of town for medieval London, of course, but not hugely dissimilar to the old St Paul's, perhaps...though if you're seeing other medieval cathedrals, skip it.)

Actually, I did a series of articles for the Beau Monde newsletter years ago aimed at Regency writers touring in England...if you wanted, I could post the London bits in the comments here...

Congrats on the trip!!!


Cara King said...

BTW, the problem with the British Museum is that most of it is devoted to not-England -- i.e. there's amazing Greek and Egyptian and Babylonian things in it, but I figure I can see mummies elsewhere. For a Regency writer, I'd probably say the Elgin Marbles are the only key thing. (I tend to mostly just skip the British Museum myself, but I know others have different ideas.)


Keira Soleore said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Cara, for starting me off on a grand tour. I'm already feeling more excited (if that's possible to imagine).

What guide book do you suggest for a walking tour of St. James & bits of Mayfair?

Ah, yes, the Tower, most definitely. I had not thought of London Museum. Oops.

The Brit Museum has some good bits of medieval artifact collections, hence a short focused trip there. As it is, it's virtually impossible to see an entire museum of that size--that one place would take up the entire trip. :)

I was toying with the Westminster Abbey before I read this, unless of course, you have better options for medieval cathedrals that are closer.

For my daughter, I have to do B.Palace.

I would adore links to your Beau Monde newsletter articles if those newsletters are online.

Cara King said...

The newsletters aren't online...but if you want, I could post the relevant parts here. (My series was on England in general, so only certain columns are London-based.)

For the walking tour, if you have the book "St James's, London" by Joan Glasheen, I think that has all the info you need (and is also a splendid resource.) Or if you have Londonwalks by Anton Powell, that will do -- it has a walking tour that includes St James's. (At least, my edition does, and I assume later ones as well!)

Are you going to be in London the whole time, BTW?

Oh, and tastes vary, but possibilities for Regency research that are also fun tourist destinations include the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery (portions only, of course), the V&A (for the costumes and period rooms), and depending on what you're interested in, things such as the Old Operating Theatre, the Geffrye Museum (more rooms), the Museum of Childhood, the Science Museum, Dr Johnson's House, the Wallace Collection, etc. And of course, just walking around is amazing.

There are things I would avoid if at all possible (if the family allows it -- which hopefully they will, because there are plenty of fun-for-the-family things that aren't horrid tourist traps), and these include Madame Tussaud's, the London Dungeon, and the like.

Oh, and this topic was discussed many times on the Beau Monde loop, so you might also search their archives for posts on this topic!


Anna Campbell said...

Oh, Keira, how utterly exciting! Actually for a writer, I'd strongly recommend the British Library. You'll see things like original pages from Jane Eyre and Persuasion. And it's free! Westminster Abbey is actually right in the centre of things and definitely worth seeing. A tube ride towards Heathrow is Osterley Park. It's a magnificent country house which will give you a good idea of that side of life. Kew Gardens is lovely and gives you an idea of English landscape design. Syon Park is only slightly more difficult to get to than Osterley and again, gives you a great idea of a country house. I'd definitely recommend John Soane's house (again free). It's Regency for a start and has a deliciously gothic and rather campy crypt. Oh, you're a lucky duck!

Keira Soleore said...

Cara, since the trip's so short, we hope to stay in London proper the whole time.

I'll look into acquiring one of those books for the walks.

I'll add in Brit Lib and the V&A, too. Brit Lib's twitter feed claims they're going to have a Magnificient Maps collection on view May onwards. I'm hoping for good maps from the late 800s which are notoriously difficult to find.

The Madame Tussaud's and London Eye might not be avoidable, but perhaps they can be persuaded to separate for that day. :)

I should look through my Beau Monde archives. I'm sure folks talk about this all the time on the loops. It's just that when people I know well tell me, as opposed to folks I've never met, I prefer to listen to first group. :)

Keira Soleore said...

Fo, sorry, the Brit Lib comment above was supposed to be for you.

I'll add Osterley Park to the mix. Kew might be doable, too.

All of you, thanks a ton for this. You're making my itinerary here for me.

michellewillingham said...

I'm taking notes! :) We're going in early July. How about you?

Keira Soleore said...

Michelle, heh! With all this wonderful advice, soon we'll have assembled a 7-day trip itinerary here that anyone can simply print out and follow. :)

I have hopes of a trip mid-August. We've been talking about it seriously this weekend. Only after we buy plane tickets will it perahps be 100% on.

Keira Soleore said...

Comments from Twitter:

By Becke_Martin...
I'd recommend Sir John Soane's Museum near Lincoln's Inn Field. Very cool! And the Royal Gallery.

By Lisa Hendrix...
Westminster, Houses of Parl... Oh, shoot, just get a good map of London proper and start marking sites. They're all wonderful. Start So. end Victoria Gardens, walk up Millbank (changes names several times) to Trafalgar Sq. Turn L for Mall, Buckingham, or turn R down Strand to Fleet St., the Temple, cut over to St. Paul's (group, not alone) & then to Tower and Tower Bridge. That's all just to start Look at map, you'll see you pass Drury Lane, Bow Street and Cheapside.

By Mary Danielson...
Hatchard's! The must-visit for a biblophile. Fabulous historic bookstore, with a v. interesting selection of UK history books. AND right next door is Fortnum & Mason! Which is what Harrod's *should* be like--gracious, friendly, interesting dept. store. Hooray for you going to London, Keira! You will have a fabulous trip!

Diane Gaston said...

I agree with most of this! But I'm adding Apsley House and the George III room of the British Museum. There you will see so many things, collections of lots of different stuff and the Rosetta Stone.

Locke and Co. Hatters where you will see Wellington's and Nelson's hats! And it is right in Mayfair as you are walking around looking at White's and Hatchard's.

Spencer House, right there in London.

And may I say I am soooooo envious!!!!!!!

Anna Campbell said...

Keira, definitely agree with Diane (I ALWAYS agree with Diane, LOL!), Spencer House is amazing. It was only open on a Sunday so check the times. Would be a pity to miss it. It's right on Green Park so well within your circle of touring. Actually not really your period, I know, but I found the Banqueting House so interesting. I'm not a great Charles I fan but the story of his beheading is very moving and the Rubens paintings will knock your socks off. Plus they have some of the fanciest toilets I've been in!

Diane Gaston said...

I thought of another place!
Floris Perfumers

It's a block or so behind Hatchard's, as I recall. A beautiful store. When I walked in there for a gift for my sister, I thought I could not afford a thing, but one of the Saville Row-suited young clerks found a lovely gift within my price range!

Keira Soleore said...

Fo, fancy toilets? Yes, I'll get right on it.

Keira Soleore said...

Er, Fo, I didn't mean that I'll get right ON the toilets, I meant, I'll get right on writing the spot on my list to visit, because, um, it has fancy toilets.

(By the end of this trip, my family'll commit me, and it'll be all your fault.)

Keira Soleore said...

Diane, my family wanted a place to visit in August. Last year, was our first family Europe trip to Munich. While my husband worked, Miss Wee and I had a great time, so much so that she's been lobbying for a place to visit this August. London was her choice. That's right, not mine, hers. But I took up her cause with great enthusiasm, of course. And since August is also my birthday, I, er, arm-twisted, no, no, persuaded, Hubby into agreeing. Well, at least, verbally.

Keira Soleore said...

OK, so there's George III room at the British Museum, Hatchard's, F&M, White's, Floris Perfumers, and Locke and Co. Hatters.

Would you folks recommend: Soane House, Apsley House, or Spencer House?

Also would you recommend: Banquetting House, Kew Palace, Kensington Palace, or Hampton Court Palace?

Keira Soleore said...

I may not be able to avoid B.Palace.

Also I will definitely be going to the Tower.

Anna Campbell said...

Snort! Good old British toilet humor, K? You'll fit right in in the old dart! They love a good loo joke!

Keira Soleore said...

Yes, Fo, me the old fart in the old dart. Lovely!

Lisa Hendrix said...

I'm going to add Syon House (aka Syon Park) to your list. It's the London home of Duke of Northumberland andthe last surviving ducal residence with intact lands in London.

It's over on the West end, near Kew Gardens, so it's easy to do those two together.

The Duke used to have a town house too (Northumberland House), but it was destroyed by fire in the 19th c. The bld currently called Northumberland House is a Victorian era hotel that was taken over by the govt.

[Can you tell I'm using the dukes of Northumberland in my Immortal Brotherhood books? lol]

Keira Soleore said...

Lisa, you really need to get over to visit the fortress in Bamburg. Awesome, awesome atmosphere. We stayed down in the village in a a manor house. And of course, we had to visit Alnwick, too. Best library, currently in use by the family, that I've ever seen anywhere!

OK, so then the question to everyone becomes: Soane House, Apsley House, Spencer House, or Syon Park?

Kew Gardens--in.

Lisa Hendrix said...

And omg, almost forgot that the National Archives is at Kew, and you can see the Domesday Book and all sorts of other primary documents. "Entrance to The National Archives is free. Anybody aged 14 or over can access the original documents at the Kew site, after producing two acceptable proofs of identity and being issued a free Reader's Ticket."

Then there's the British Library, near King's Cross (Magna Carta! Lindesfarne Gospels! Ann Boleyn's personal bible! A DaVinci codex!)

Gawd, I wish I was going with you.

Cara King said...

OK, so then the question to everyone becomes: Soane House, Apsley House, Spencer House, or Syon Park?

Sir John Soane's House has definite advantages -- it's very Regency, and has lots of freaky stuff in it. He was weird, though, so it's not typical, FWIW.

Apsley House is gorgeous, but unless you're specifically doing Wellington (or a big fan of his), you might find it disappointing. It has display after display of the silver etc that grateful nations across Europe gave him -- not really my thing, doesn't really help me with my research -- and it's sort of post-Regency in some ways. (But I know folks who love it! So maybe read on it and look at pics to help you decide.)

I confess I've never done Spencer House, because it's expensive and not open often, but I've heard great things, and it's very centrally located. (If you do a walking tour of St James's, for example, you walk right by it.)

Syon Park is seriously outside of London. It's really a day-trip. It's gorgeous, yes, and if you're going to take a day out to do a stately home, that would be a great choice. BTW, I did a Risky Regencies post on Syon Park a while ago: Syon Park

You might also double-check the amount of time that Kew takes (both in walking around and in getting there) if you're trying to squeeze a lot in.

Good luck!


Keira Soleore said...

The Original Domesday Book? OMG! I have a copy. National Archives, YES!

Now, since I'm already there, what about Kew Palace? Is it sufficiently palace-y to satisfy?

Yes, I cannot miss BL. I've been to Lindisfarne (well, off the coast from Bamburg yano), so seeing the actual illustrated manuscripts will be marvelous.

Keira Soleore said...

Cara, your post and mine crossed. Thanks for the practical check on time and distance. I was greedily adding to my list. But I should start calculating travel times and open times (sleep? food? what? fuggedababit).

Keira Soleore said...

And if you look in the comments of your Syon Post, Cara, you'll see my comments right there. Doh! My memory's a sieve.

Anna Campbell said...

Cara, how interesting about Syon. Love that house.

Keira, you can actually get there reasonably easily by British Rail (from Waterloo when I visited) - it's just past Richmond, definitely not a day trip (I'd say about half an hour on the train), and then about a twenty minute walk from the station. I went there one afternoon so didn't need a whole day. Syon was the inspiration for MY RECKLESS SURRENDER so it's a place I have a great fondness for!

Apsley House is terrifically interesting but as Cara said, unless you're a Wellington freak, I think you could miss it, given what other delights are available.

Anna Campbell said...

Keira, having said that about Syon, Osterley is definitely easier to get to - much closer to the tube station, for a start!

Keira Soleore said...

Fo and Lisa: Syon seems more like a country house setting than a town home. Am I right on this? Of course, this wouldn't be true by Northumberland standards.

By the way, what happened to Devonshire's London spread? Did that burn down?

Anna Campbell said...

Both Syon and Osterley give you the idea of a country house and it's amazing to have them so close to town - of course the suburban spread wasn't such a big deal when they were built and they were IN the country then! Devonshire House was demolished in 1924. It used to be on Piccadilly. Yeah, I love Wikipedia!

Anna Campbell said...

Actually another lovely house on the river that the National Trust runs is Ham House. It's mainly 17th century though so again, outside your period. I think the solution, Keira, is that you'll have to go back again!

Anna Campbell said...

Oh, I went to Ham House when I stayed in Richmond. There's a ferry that runs across the river. Again, it's not an enormous distance from town.

Keira Soleore said...

Thankee, Fo, shame it burnt down.

What a name: Ham House. For a place with such a modest name, it sure is fancy. And 2010 is said to be the place's 400th anniversary (thank you, Nat'l Trust for that tidbit).

Most houses are redone by successive generations, this one seems to be a rarity for being virtually unchanged. WOW!

Given the period it was built in and it's proximity to the Mills & Boon headquarters, I bet Amanda McCabe has also been to see it.

Lisa Hendrix said...

Northumberland definitely had a separate house in town, and Syon was considered a country house. I suspect it's where the Percy's held house parties during the Season.

There's an travel company itinerary for a Regency tour that you can grab that lists a lot of interesting places. It's a Word doc, so don't be surprised when it starts downloading:

Diane Gaston said...

Of course, I can't understand HOW anyone could not be a Wellington Junkie. But in defense of Apsley House, don't you want to see Canova's statue of Napoleon?

Keira Soleore said...

Heh, Heh, Diane. When one's deeply in love, one imagine everyone's likewise affected. :)

Lisa, that .doc is a fabulous resource!!

Keira Soleore said...

Borough Market near London Bridge

Diane Gaston said...

Keira, coincidentally, Kristine Hughes is blogging about Floris and Apsley House and all those places I love and mentioned to you!

Number One London

Keira Soleore said...

What a marvelous travel story from Kristine. Thank you, Diane, for pointing me to it.

Keira Soleore said...

My thanks also go to the comments on Facebook with a host of excellent suggestions...

April 5 at 1:38pm · .Theresa Klisz
Why, the Tower of London, of course! Chat it up with the Beefeaters and just watch/listen to what the other tourists are doing/saying. Great dialogue-nabbing opportunities. You must see the Diana/Dodi tributes in Harrod's and pick up fixings for a picnic lunch from Selfridge's. Go see a show in the West End; attend evensong at St. Paul's and walk across a London Bridge!

April 5 at 1:38pm · .Anna Campbell
What fun, Keira! I love hearing people's suggestions.

April 5 at 2:18pm · .Santa O'Byrne
Practicalities! Hang practicalities! You're going to London - you lucky duck!

April 5 at 2:20pm · .Vanessa Kelly
The British Museum, natch! I could spend days there. Plus, Osterley Park, the home of the Earl of Jersey. Just a short-ish tube ride and a short-ish walk, and you're on a huge country estate.

April 5 at 2:35pm · .Magdalen Braden
Absolutely you MUST go to the John Soame Museum. It's a perfectly preserved gentleman's house from the right time period. Okay, so he had a sarcophagus in the basement (LOL) but the rest of the furnishings are just so lovely. It's near the Inns of Court, but that's rather of more interest to me...

April 5 at 2:42pm · .Sally MacKenzie
Oh, Keira, I'm SO envious. We might go in the fall...maybe. I guess I have to do somethig to make that happen, eh? Or have you founds some special travel sprites that make all the arrangements for you? Please send them my way if you have--and fill their pockets with golden coins!

April 5 at 2:48pm · .Jacqueline A Wilson
I had planned to be there as well, but looks like not happening this year - air fare is $$$$$

April 5 at 2:53pm · .Delle Jacobs
How wonderful! Consider Hampton Court. I didn't, and have regretted it ever since. Tower of London is immensely educational even for a tourist trap.

April 5 at 4:58pm · .Cheryl Lee
How wonderful! My Medieval suggestions are The Guildhall, Westminster Abbey, the Inns of Court, Temple Church. If kids are in tow, the Museum of London is great (good Medieval section too). Don't miss the V&A. Spencer House is lovely. If you can spend a night in York, you'll be in Medieval heaven (I think it's only 2 hours by train). And I hope you're going to Bath!!

April 5 at 7:13pm · .Kandy Shepherd
If you get a chance, try to get to Bath. Could maybe even find a one-day bus trip if time is short.

April 6 at 4:36am · .Jo Manning
Bath is a must-see! In London, so much, so much, but don't miss Dr Johnson's House, or the herb garden in Chelsea, and every single museum! Go to Kew Gardens, too, and tour the palace.

Keira Soleore said...

Well-guided, cheap London walks (6-8 pounds, 2 hours, 1-2 miles):

Stay, Tube, and Sightseeing information:

Keira Soleore said...

From Jaqueline Wilson: