Continuing To Play London Tourist

| March 15, 2012
Inner Courtyard at Lambeth Palace home of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Inner Courtyard at Lambeth Palace home of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In our second week in London we visited the Garden Museum in London on Lambeth Palace Road.

Not too well known, it is in the church of St. Mary at Lambeth. King Hardicanute died at a wedding feast on the site of the church in 1042.

The first church was built by Countess Goda, sister of Edward the Confessor in 1062, and the church is mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086. Richard Bancroft, the first of six Archbishops of Canterbury was buried in the church in 1610. John Tradescant was buried in a tomb outside the church in 1638.

He had introduced to England many of the plants taken for granted today.

The Tradescants traveled the world in search of new plants around the time of Elizabeth I.

The son followed his father as Royal Gardener and made several voyages to America. His home in Lambeth became the first museum open to the public. He was buried there in 1662.

Elias Ashmole was buried there in 1692. He acquired the Tradescant collection to form the Ashmolean Museum.

After World War II, the church was damaged and stripped of its furnishings and closed in 1972.

In 1977 the building was saved from destruction by the formation of the Tradescant Trust with the intention of establishing a Museum of Garden History.

The Trust’s work repairing and converting the church into the world’s first Museum of Garden History became a great architectural conservation project, and was completed in 1991.

I was amazed to find they leave the agaves outside all winter. The camellias were already in bloom and mine were too when I arrived back home.

Just behind the church/garden is Lambeth Palace, home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The door to the garden was ajar and we peeped in and a warder showed up to talk to us and show us around the courtyard. He said the Archbishop is the fifth most important person in England. Who were we to argue?

That evening we went to meet Ann Green for drinks at the Rubens Hotel across from the Palace. Many Louisvillians know her as she was the head of the Royal Armoury at Leeds and an active partner at the Frazier Arms and History Museum in Louisville. It was great fun to see her.

Ann is now chairman of the company that was established to improve the visitor experience at Hadrian’s Wall, all 130 miles of it as well as  the economy of the entire World Heritage site! She has a daunting job ahead of her.

That evening we went to the Tower of London to witness the locking of the Tower. Few people are granted permission each evening to watch the “Ceremony of the Keys.” Ann had spoken to John Hammon, of the Tower, who arranged for us to see this ceremony that has been performed nightly for the last 740 years. It was COLD! But it was interesting and very impressive.

Tradescant Garden.

Tradescant Garden.

The next day was a day of fun.

Our hotel was across the street from the Victoria & Albert Museum, a decorative arts extravaganza and we spent the day there. Oh, such sheer bliss. The pottery, the furniture, the sculpture, how delicious.

That evening we stayed in and relaxed.

The next morning we met Paul Babb uptown at the Wallace Collection, another favorite of ours.

We like it that it is in the Wallace private mansion. They were an interesting family and it is too long to get into here.

The collection ranges from fine porcelains to Oriental armor. They have turned the enclosed stable yard into a restaurant with a glass roof. It is so elegant and it is right downtown.

Then we braved the crowds and the pigeons at Trafalgar Square to go to the National Gallery of Art.

That is always an experience. You get lost and see things you hadn’t planned on seeing and then you find out that you like them.

But, then, some of the art is off-putting. I’ve forgotten the artist’s name but there is one whole room of paintings by an Italian artist whose paintings look like he had an astigmatism. Or maybe it was me.

We went over to Pimlico to Bennison Fabrics to visit friends who are in the business of replicating historic fabric for stately homes, museums and such. It is so fascinating to look at their fabrics which are printed in 50 meter lengths. They are exquisite and averaging as high as 400 pounds sterling, or about $600 a meter.

That evening we were off with the Babbs to a popular fish restaurant in Mayfair. Mercy! They serve huge fish.

Yesterday we did what is left of the antique shops on Kensington Church Street.

So sad! There used to be dozens of shops but they are now down to a precious few. The only bright spot was having lunch at the Churchill Arms Pub.

It is famous for its scores of hanging baskets of flowers inside and outside and for its Thai food.

Our last day in London we met the Babbs and revisited Leighton House the incredible home of Sir Frederic Leighton, the only English artist ever to be made a peer.

The first floor of the house in Kensington is decorated in the Arab style with exquisite tiles from Damascus, Cairo and Rhodes, and others created by William de Morgan on the floors, walls and ceilings. One room has a pool and fountain in it. The second floor held his studio which overlooked his huge back yard. Definitely worth the visit.

Next we went to the Linley Sambourne House, the home of the Punch artist and political cartoonist from 1874 till his death in 1910.

It remained in his family until it was presented to the nation in 1980. It is virtually unchanged since the 1890’s.

That evening as planned we had dinner at the home of Gary Woo.

He is an excellent cook and served six courses that were delicious and exquisitely presented. It was a great ending to a wonderful trip. It was the trip of a lifetime actually and the next morning we flew home.

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Carla Sue
A fixture in Louisville society, Carla Sue Broecker has been writing her weekly column for more than two decades.

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