Monday, November 5, 2012

Suffragettes and the Strand

Waking up in Canterbury to the rattle of linen carts being unloaded directly beneath our window was as good as any alarm clock.  With practiced precision The Heiress and I moved quickly from bed to breakfast and were soon on board the hi-speed train taking us to St Pancras, London.  The fields were still lying below a haze of fog and mist so there wasn't much of a horizon to watch quite along the way.  Coincidentally, one of The Heiress's friends and her beau were travelling on the same train, really helping my daughter feel a bit less sad about leaving Canterbury behind.

Arriving at last in Bloomsbury, we quickly unpacked and made way for the Museum of London.  A fascinating treasure trove full of artifacts from the time of the Romans, Londinium and present day.  I am determined to come back here yet again as it was my second visit and my travels partners never seem to want to stay as long as I do.  The Heiress was anxious to visit The Women's Library and see their exhibit 'The Long March to Equality'.  It was the section featuring the suffragette movement that we were riveted to and has certainly spurned me on to learn more about Millicent Garret Fawcett, Katie Sliddon, Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davison.  Seeing their letters in person about the abuse and harassment they endured in an unrelenting pursuit for equality has touched me more than any documentary or chapter in a book.  See this exhibit if you possibly can.

Moving on next to the Strand The Heiress wanted to visit the Twinnings tea shop.  It's quite a narrow shop and was absolutely bustling with customers.  After choosing a few teas to sample back at home we made our way to the back of the shop where they house a small museum.

You really get a sense of just how precious tea was when it first arrived in England by the small tins it was kept in - or the very ornate canisters to display its importance or the owner's wealth.  We drank many cups of take-out tea to stay warm during our long days spent walking outdoors and were thankful the price has come down drastically! 

After sampling some tea poured by a lovely young sales lady we decided it was time for something to fortify ourselves before moving on to The Courtauld Institute of Art.  Ye Olde Cock Tavern has been on this site since 1887 and was a favourite drinking spot of Samuel Pepys, Charles Dickens and Dr Johnson...who could resist?  We had the most delicious steak and ale pie, mashed potatoes smothered in rich gravy and three kinds of fresh veg all glistening in butter.  Just the thing after being outside and on the move since early in the morning.

The sight of Somerset House lit up for the evening made The Heiress gasp.  It is quite a spectacular view when you don't have anything like it at home.  They are preparing the skating rink for the winter season and a lovelier evening spent outside in the cold, fresh air I can't imagine.  The Courtauld Gallery's late night meant we could squeeze in one more event before calling it a day and it was everything we could have hoped for.  If we had appeared dressed as a Roundhead or Cavalier for the Lely talk we could have got in for free but sadly there was no puffy shirt tucked away in my suitcase.

What I don't know about art could fill a massive library but I do enjoy stumbling upon works of art I have seen in books or highlighted in documentaries and I do so love to learn.  Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergere is one such piece that made my eyes light up when I first spied it.  So did Vincent Van Gogh's Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear, not as pretty as the Manet but definitely an iconic piece.  The Courtauld Gallery very much reminded me of The Wallace Collection in that they are manageable and intimate while being world-class in content.  Take a look at their website for a short clip featuring some of the collection, it's breathtaking and I will definitely be visiting again during my next trip. 

Tomorrow is Highgate and Hampstead...


  1. The suffragette exhibit sounds excellent, Darlene, as does the rest of the day. I have never been to the Courtauld Gallery but I'll have to put it on my list for next time I'm in London (hopefully sometime in 2013).

  2. You've seen more of London than I have! When I lived nearby I loved going into town for the day and browsing museums and galleries, and looking at 'blue plaque' houses and markets.