“I like the spirit of this great London which I feel around me…I got into the heart of city life. I saw and felt London at last: I got into the Strand; I went up Cornhill; I mixed with the life passing along; I dared the perils of crossings.” – Charlotte Brontë,
It is perhaps with this spirit of adventure and excitement that I was so wrapped up in the living of life that I have very few photos to share for this post! I am sorry for it now, especially as I think of the stunning architecture of the city and of the palace.. but, I digress. I don’t think I mentioned that on Christmas day, T and I were feeling so laid back that we made pasta for ‘lunch,’ not realizing until after we’d eaten that it was close to 5pm. Meanwhile, we’d bought ingredients for a proper Christmas dinner: a whole chicken, potatoes, ingredients for homemade stuffing and a cauliflower chickpea bake that we’d been wanting to try… well that went by the wayside! We decided it had worked out for the best, laughing at what we lovingly think of as our ‘traditional Christmas pasta’ (we’re not even Italian!), as we had friends arriving from Canada on the 27th.
It was our first time having long term visitors stay with us. 4 people in a small one bedroom London flat in winter for more than a week is a bit squishy, but they were awesome houseguests and it was so nice having them here that it all worked out 🙂 It was a lot of fun (shopping on Oxford street, dinners out with very allergy-friendly menus) but for me, there were 4 highlights: The Camden Market Music Legends Tour, the Original London Bus tour, Hampton Court Palace, Camden Market, and New Year’s Eve.
First up: Camden Music Legends Tour. Led by a knowledgeable guide, we got to explore some of the side streets away from the market, revealing the impressive musical history there, and the tour guide’s genuine passion for music really shone through. We heard of impromptu performances (Prince, Adele, and Kanye are only a few artists who have made surprise appearances to the delight of unsuspecting audiences), career break-out moments, punk rivalries, and the evolution, survival and demise of iconic venues. Our guide wove a tale of many years ago, when the navigation canals were being dug and of the English, Scottish and Irish workers. During the day, they all worked just fine together.. but come evening, they’d get drunk and fight each other. And so, a pub was built for each, to keep them apart and happy: Dublin Castle, Windsor Castle, Pembroke Castle, and Edinboro (that’s not a typo) Castle. It was really a great story, but I’ve recently started reading Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Reading tales of workhouses and treatment of the poor in Dickensian England (Portsmouth University has some great information about “Poverty and the Poor” relating to Dickens’ writing here). I started to wonder: if these men were building canals in the early 1800s, what was life like before the poor laws? Could this tale be true?
I did some research but couldn’t get a definitive answer:
The legend of the Camden castles, by Peter Watts for Waterfront
The History of Camden’s Castle Pubs AllInLondon (no author named), and
The Castles of Camden, by a London cab driver on his blog: CabbieBlog
If you read through- I’d love to know what you think!
Sadly, the tour ended just as the market was shutting down for the day, so we didn’t get a chance to explore the market itself. Oh well- a great reason to make another trip there!
A big surprise for me was the Original Tour. It was my first time on a bus tour like this through the city, so not only did I see streets I hadn’t seen before and learn more about my new home, but the route that the bus took allowed me to get a better sense of the lay of the land. I had come down Strand from one direction, to visit the Royal Courts of Justice and the Twinings Tea shop. A few weeks later, I walked down Fleet street with T and we went to the famous Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (hilariously, it was rebuilt in 1667- so the one there now is the “new” one). Unbeknownst to me until the bus tour, Fleet Street and Strand run into one another, and the two spots I had visited were less than a block apart! The tour included a pre-recorded digital narration, which lacked personality but revealed great tidbits- some more questionable than others: In the 1800s, the Marble Arch was built at the entrance to Buckingham Palace. Rumour has it that the Marble Arch that sits in Hyde park was moved there because the reigning queen hated it so much that she had a coach purposefully built too wide to pass through it so that it would have to be relocated! One source claims this must be false as Queen Elizabeth II’s state coach passed through it for her coronation- but as the reports are conflicting, I’m reserving my judgment!
I can’t think if I’ve yet mentioned my fascination with the Tudors and the time of Henry VIII. I’ve read several historical fiction novels that focus on this time and the Tudor family and I never tire of them. The history of Hampton Court Palace is staggering! If you’re a history lover like me, you’ll want to read more about the building history. This palace played a massive role in Henry’s life (it’s where Jane Seymour gave birth to Edward, where Catherine Howard was declared Queen, and where Henry married Katherine Parr, just to give a few examples of this). And it’s stunning! Some fun facts: because it’s a palace, not a castle, public police and agencies cannot enter on official business without an invitation (though they can visit as tourists).
We toured through dozens of the hundreds of rooms in the castle, including a separate chocolate kitchen and the Chapel Royal which is essentially the same today as it was during Henry’s time. Photos were not allowed, but I’d bet there are pictures out there on the internet! We also went through the garden maze, which was the first hedge maze planted in Great Britain; we had a race (sadly T and I lost) to the middle and back out again.
I loved it all, but the highlight above all else was the working Tudor kitchens! The kitchens fed 600+ people on a typical day, to say nothing of celebrations. Imagine, in such a vast property, there would have been a bustling court life. The best part: there is STILL a kitchen staff, and they use the historical recipes and texts and use traditional tools and methods to prepare historically accurate dishes. To prepare this post, I was poking around the palace website and found a series of videos showing some of what they do there, and more information about historic cookery. I asked about getting a job, but the jobs were reserved for men! Men were more expensive to employ and to keep home during times of war, so to have male kitchen staff was a sign of power and dominance, important to a king. There is a female in the group who is officially the seamstress, which allows her to dress up and get herself into the kitchen. She is beginning to apprentice unofficially, so she is really breaking a glass ceiling as a female in a kitchen, given how ardently they strive for authenticity! Try to imagine, below left, that 4 or 5 people could have easily stood at those stoves, and then look at the massive chimney rising above, going right up the wall. And on the right, an even larger fireplace (shown is only one half of it) for roasting dozens of roast, whole chickens and sundry meats at one time.
Alright- I could write pages and pages about the kitchens (and I stayed in the kitchens, watching the various cooks, for a loooooong time, until T finally pulled me away so we could continue our tour) but I’ll move on because I haven’t even told you about New Year’s Eve!
Oh! And if you wondered- we did end up making another trip back to Camden town so we could take more time to explore the countless stalls, eat at the Cereal Cafe (which has lots of gluten free cereals and dairy free milk alternatives!) and take in more of the eclectic Camden vibe.