In all my travels, I’ve never had the opportunity to spend more than a couple of days at a time in London. That’s barely enough to remember how the underground works and orient myself. This summer, we spent ten wonderful days basking in the history I write about.
Since we were traveling with our daughter’s family, it made sense to take a flat in Maida Vale, which was affordable and easily accessible and best yet...close to all the historical west end neighborhoods most important to me. The canal was Regency era, but the houses built south of it during that era were destroyed in the war. The houses north of the canal—where we stayed—are more Victorian. Fittingly, the area where we stayed wasn’t as aristocratic as Mayfair, but contained homes of writers and publishers and artists! But it was portrayed in Victorian literature mostly as an upper middle-class place where Cits might live. Many of the rows of townhouses and flats date back to the late 1800s.
The neighborhood is referred to as “Little Venice” for the canal that runs through it, full of lovely boats that people live on. They’re often ornately adorned with flowers and create quite a picturesque sight. Byron was the first to compare the area to Venice. Personally, I think Byron was overly generous, but maybe two hundred years have changed it.
A must-see on our list was the Victoria and Albert museum—that place is enormous. Do not go in without an agenda. It took us half an hour just to track down the Regency pottery and furniture. The lovely spacious galleries are spread out across acres of buildings that have been added on since the collection first started in 1851 for the Great Exhibition.
Of course, right down from the V&A is Hyde Park, surrounded by the famous streets of Mayfair. We spent a day of wandering right there, admiring the Serpentine, the riding paths, and the rows of townhouses I couldn’t go into, sniff.
Because we were with the kids, who hadn’t seen as much of England as we have, we also did tours to Bath, Stonehenge, and Windsor. We had a chance to compare the
various royal palaces from the Tower, to Kensington, to Windsor and found them all to be an interesting product of their times.
The Tower was all layers of open space, built to house many people inside stout walls without concern for privacy. The Tudor part of Kensington is a wandering dark collection of rooms and corridors that were used right up through Victoria’s childhood—bound to give any child a dismal outlook. The Tudor rooms were designed to glitter in candlelight but by day...one might as well sleep because
sunshine hardly entered them. We couldn’t tour the private wings, which one assumes have been updated!
Windsor is the sprawling magnificence we think of as a real castle. Huge public rooms, one leading into the other, each one more magnificent than the last. The heart of the public rooms, the Queen’s Private Chapel, was burned in 1992, but the restoration was seamless, right down to simply turning over the scorched floor boards so the original wood could still be used.
I cannot possibly give justice to our explorations in words, but I sincerely hope they gave the thirteen-year-old some idea of the depths of our history. Have you been to London? What did you like best? And if you haven’t been, what would be your priority?
Photo credit: Little Venice Christopher Chan, creative commons