Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery
What is common between the Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery?
Alright, there were crowds everywhere I have been so far – at the London Tower, the Borough Markets and St Paul’s Cathedral, but they were nothing compared to what I saw at the Buckingham Palace grounds.
The weather was exceptionally good, sun was out and we were in time to see famous Changing the Guards ceremony.
Except we didn’t.
After waiting for a long time a policeman told me that Changing the Guards is not happening today. Instead there was Trooping the Colour ceremony.
I had no idea what Trooping the Colour was. So I did what curious woman of my age and times does. I googled it.
Trooping the Colour has marked the official birthday of the British monarch for 260 years. Over 1400 parading soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians come together each June in a great display of military precision, horsemanship and fanfare to mark The Queen’s official birthday.
My husband and I watched the first dress rehearsal of Trooping the Colour for Queen’s Birthday next weekend. That trumped the Changing the Guards.
And that explained the crowds too.
Here are five interesting things I found about the palace:
- When it was first built, The Buckingham Palace was not a palace but a townhouse. It was built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703.
- King George III bought it in 1761 as private residence for Queen Charlotte and it became to be known as The Queen’s House.
- During the 19th century, three wings were added to it around a central courtyard to enlarge it. In 1837, Queen Victoria became the first monarch to take it up as royal residence.
- In around 1610, James I planted 10,000 mulberry trees on a site that forms North West corner of Buckingham Palace gardens now, to set up a silk industry in England. The project failed, because he planted wrong mulberry trees.
- The Buckingham Palace is open to public three months a year, usually in summer. This year it is open from 22 July to 29 September. During these months, you can walk through 19 of the magnificent State Rooms and explore the Palace’s Gardens.
The Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square is walking distance from the Buckingham palace but it was hard to get there because of barricades.
Trafalgar square was bustling with tourists, activists and street artists. But there was something missing.
Apparently former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, banned feeding the pigeons. People caught feeding the birds face possible prosecution and a 50 pound fine under the new law. He even brought a hawk periodically to scare pigeons away. Consequently there no pigeons left in the square.
Trafalgar is the name give to an area formerly know as Charing Cross to commemorate the Battle of Trafalgar, a British naval victory in the Napoleonic Wars over France and Spain that took place on 21 October 1805 at the coast of Cape Trafalgar.
The column in front of the National Gallery is called Nelson Column. Nelson died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1815. In order to preserve his body on the long passage from Spain to Southampton it was submerged in a barrel of rum. Upon opening the barrel, the rum had gone. Nelson’s men had attached a tap and emptied the barrel; taking ‘stiff drinks, throughout the voyage home.
National Art Gallery
I was more mesmerized by the National Gallery building, both its exterior and as well as interior.
Founded in 1824, it houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900.
The building was an object of public ridicule before it was even completed. Two years before completion, its infamous “pepperpot” elevation appeared on the frontispiece of Contrasts (1836). Even King William IV (in his last recorded utterance) thought the building a “nasty little pokey hole.”
In 1840, during landscaping of Trafalgar Square, a north terrace was added which made the building looked raised, thus addressing one of the points of complaint.
Fortnum and Mason
While walking through the Piccadilly street my daughter spotted the Fortnum and Mason departmental store and took us in, “You got to see this,” she said, “this is where Londoners buy gifts.”
Fortnum and Mason is a department store that caters for high end shoppers. It was established in 1707 by William Fortnum and Hugh Mason. Starting as a groceries store it built its reputation on supplying quality food throughout the Victorian era. Later it developed into a department store and focused on stocking a variety of exotic, specialty and also ‘basic’ provisions.
It caters for royalty and aristocracy. Many of the items on display didn’t even have a price tags. Perhaps it works on the principle, “If you need to know the price you can’t afford them.”
As the story goes, William Fortnum was a footman in the household of Queen Anne. The royal family’s insistence on having new candles every night resulted in large amounts of half-used wax, which Fortnum promptly resold for a tidy profit. The enterprising Fortnum also had a sideline business as a grocer. He convinced his landlord, Hugh Mason, to be his associate, and they founded the first Fortnum & Mason store in Mason’s small shop in St James’s Market in 1707.
The Covent Garden has long been associated with entertainment and shopping. Street entertainment at Covent Garden was noted in Samuel Pepys‘s diary in May 1662, when he recorded the first mention of a Punch and Judy show in Britain. Impromptu performances of song and swimming were given by local celebrity William Cussans in the eighteenth century.
Covent Garden is licensed for street entertainment, and performers audition for timetabled slots in a number of venues around the market, including the North Hall, West Piazza, and South Hall Courtyard. The courtyard space is dedicated to classical music only. It has 13 theatres, over 60 pubs and bars and hundreds of shopping carts.
The street performances happen every day of the year, except Christmas Day, shows run throughout the day and are about 30 minutes in length. Street artists have to qualify to perform so the quality of entertainment is really good.
What are your experiences of these places? Would you like to share them. Drop me a line please.
Next post is on London Eye and Westminster Abbey. Stay put.