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Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery

What is common between Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, and the National Gallery?

Answer: Crowds.

Alright, there were crowds everywhere I have been so far. At the London Tower, at  Borough Markets, and at St Paul’s Cathedral. But they were nothing compared to what I saw at the Buckingham Palace grounds.

Buckingham Palace

The weather was perfect, the sun was out, and we were in time to see the famous Changing the Guards ceremony.

Except we didn’t.

After waiting for a long time, a policeman told me that Changing the Guards was not happening today. Instead, there was Trooping the Colour ceremony.

I had no idea what Trooping the Colour was. So I did what a curious woman of my age and times does. I googled it.

Trooping the Colour marks the official birthday of the British monarch. A 260-years old tradition. Over 1400 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. That trumped the Changing the Guards.

And it explained the extraordinarily large crowds too.

Trooping the Colour ceremony rehearsal

Here are five interesting things I found about Buckingham Palace:

  • When it was first built in 1703, Buckingham Palace was not a palace but a townhouse. It was built for the Duke of Buckingham.
  • King George III bought it in 1761 as a 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 the northwest corner of Buckingham Palace gardens, to set up a silk industry in England. The project failed because he planted the wrong mulberry trees.
  • Buckingham Palace is open to the public three months a year, usually in summer. During these months, you can walk through 19 of the magnificent State Rooms and explore the Palace’s Gardens.

Crowds on Buckingham Palace grounds

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square is within walking distance of Buckingham palace, but it was hard to get there because of barricades.

The Square was bustling with tourists, activists, and street artists. But something was missing.

No pigeons.

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.

This area was previously called Charing Cross. It was named Trafalgar Square to commemorate the Battle of Trafalgar, a British naval victory in the Napoleonic Wars over France and Spain in 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. 

There is a story about that. 

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 mesmerized by the National Gallery building, both its exterior and as well as interior.

Founded in 1824, it houses 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. Its infamous “pepperpot” elevation appeared on the frontispiece of Contrasts (1836). Even King William IV (in his last recorded utterance) called it a “nasty little pokey hole.”

In 1840, during the landscaping of Trafalgar Square, a north terrace was added, which made the building look raised. It makes it look much better. I don’t know what the fuss was about. I liked the building anyway. I think it is very impressive, particularly from the inside.

Fortnum and Mason

While walking through 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 cater to high-end shoppers. It was established in 1707 by William Fortnum and Hugh Mason. Starting as a grocery store, it built its reputation on supplying quality food throughout the Victorian era. Later it developed into a department store and focused on stocking various exotic, specialty, and also ‘basic’ provisions.

It caters to royalty and aristocracy. Many of the items on display didn’t even have price tags. Perhaps it works on the principle, “If you need to know the price, you can’t afford it.”

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.

Flower display at F&M
Exquisite china on display at F&M
Perfumes display at F&M
Chocolate display at F&M

Covent Garden

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. In the eighteenth century, a local celebrity William Cussans gave impromptu performances here.  

Covent Garden is licensed for street entertainment, and performers audition for timetabled slots in several 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 on 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 outstanding.

Covet Garden Market

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.

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