Before I left Sydney I took out 12-month membership subscriptions to both the National Trust of Australia (which allows free entry to most, if not all, of the NT properties here) and the English Heritage which manages a further 400 (to which entry is free also). Regrettably, Hampton Court Palace was not one of these, but my Scots heritage is such that I plan to visit as many of the NT and EH sites as I can. I made a good start on Sunday last.
Sunday 25th September 2005
Despite the forecast – which was for rain all day – after some quite heavy showers, it cleared sufficiently well for me to venture abroad. So I betook me – as Samuel Pepys might have said – to Eltham Palace, about 15km SW of the centre of London; and (with two train changes and a half mile walk) close to 2 hours from Kew. I have to admit to not being a total fan of Art Deco, but if it was all like the Courtauld’s 30s additions to Eltham Palace, I could easily become one.
Certainly, some of it was “over the top” – not least being the centrally-heated in-house quarters for Virginia Courtauld’s pet lemur “Mah-Jongg” – but the pleasing proportions of many of the rooms and the simple almost austere lines of much of the furniture and furnishings won me over.
The entrance lobby, completely lined with Australian black bean veneer, is literally flooded with light from the glass domed roof. This room alone would, for me, have been worth the price of entry – if, of course, I had paid it. It had something of the aesthetic appeal – to me, anyway – of the Sydney Opera House. Perhaps it’s because Swedes were involved in both.
And that’s not to take anything away from the impressive hammer beam roof of the Great Hall (originally built for Edward IV in the 1470s) which adjoined and was integrated into the Courtauld mansion-building renovations. But it’s the roof of the Great Hall rather than the minstrel’s gallery and rood screen that they added, albeit sympathetically, that stops you in your tracks.
After the Palace, the gardens whilst large and well-maintained paled a little in comparison. However, for anyone interested in Art Deco, the entrance lobby alone, in my view, rates as a “must see”!
Tuesday 27th September 2005
After a frustrating day at Archives on Monday, I felt I needed another break. After all, it was all of a day since I’d had one! Anyway, off on Tuesday morning to visit the Principal Registry of the Family Division’s Probate Searchroom (now there’s a name) to see if I could get copies of any Wills that might give me some additional leads. I could, and they did. Not a lot, but enough to provide another piece or two of the jigsaw puzzle, so to speak. Service at the Searchroom was both first-class and friendlily helpful – now there’s a new phrase – and I brought away copies of three Wills within an hour of ordering them.
I had thought I would have to spend all day there, but seeing I didn’t (and fortified with a Starbucks Coffee) I headed across Waterloo Bridge, past that huge “Ferris Wheel” – and no, quite apart from the queues there, I wasn’t tempted – and back over Westminster Bridge. I rested up, briefly, admiring the Rubens ceiling at the Banqueting Hall, which meant regrettably missing a free one-hour lunch-time Mozart concert at the Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields.
Oh well, you can’t win them all – as someone is purported to have said. I made up for it with an hour or so at the National Gallery – including, I have to admit, a rather “yummy” lunch. Here’s yet another Gallery I’m just going to have to go back to.
Then, a leisurely stroll back past the Admiralty Arch through St James Park to Victoria Station and the tube “home”! I had forgotten both how well-provided with people-friendly parks London is and how comfortable I feel here. Certainly the weather helped, it being sunny and something approaching 20°. All in all, a really great day – and productive too!
Wednesday 28th September 2005
I should have known! Wednesday’s day at the Archives could only be described as frustrating. The additional leads I obtained from the Wills turned out to be just that, leads! And, as they almost certainly involve births, marriages and deaths in Scotland, I may have to “hold my whist” until I visit there early in the New Year. The Scottish records have for years been maintained separately from those in England, Northern Ireland and Wales and, as such, although accessible online, come at a cost.
Perhaps I needed another “break”. Whether I had one or not depended as much as anything on the weather which, despite the ominous forecasts, was unseasonably pleasant. In fact, if the truth be known, my frustrating day was preceded by well over an hour and a half just sitting in the sun overlooking the pond at the Archives and watching the antics of its resident white swan, geese, ducks and invading seagulls!
All very pleasant and relaxing. Which, I guess, is one of the reasons I’m here!
Thursday 29th September 2005
Another frustrating day, today… …and the more so because it appeared to start so well. After a search at the London Metropolitan Archives at Clerkenwell of four microfiches of transcriptions of memorial inscriptions from tombstones at the main Catholic cemetery in London, I found a “Richard Butler”, his plot number and a plan of the cemetery. So off to that at Kensal Green in the north-west of the city (3 tube line changes and over an hour away) only to find that this Richard had been laid to rest some 40 years earlier than the 1931 I was looking for – and clearly not related in any way.
Bloodied but unbowed, I headed back to central London and consoled myself with a rather delicious lunch of mussels in a white wine sauce, crusty bread (for dipping, dunking or whatever, you know) and a glass of pinot grigio. I have to say it wasn’t quite Loire Valley gourmet, but I felt a whole lot better for the indulgence! And at ₤15.00, it was good value – not just for London I’d have thought.
Methinks that’s enough for now. You can tell London’s really getting to him, can’t you? Back to the Archives tomorrow – to see if I can do better.
Friday 30th September 2005
In sifting my way through “The Times” archives (which fortunately is online), I came across an engagement notice dated 1 Jan 1943 for yet another Richard Jago Butler. I thought, I’ve struck oil here, not only because it’s one of the more recent bits of information I have about the Butler family, but it added another cousin I didn’t know I had.
So, into “search” mode again to see if I could find any record of the marriage. In not finding one, I surmised that perhaps he had been killed during the war and so went looking to see if I could find him in the casualty lists. And there he was, in the “Killed in Action” columns early in 1943. And, after diligently recording his service from the Navy Lists from 1940 to 1943, a check of the Commonwealth Graves Commission records confirmed that an R.J. Butler had been killed on 5 Jan 1943. However, this one was a Robert John rather than a Richard Jago.
Oh why wasn’t the family name something unique – like Smith or Brown or whatever! Clearly some more precisely focussed searching is called for than I’ve been using thus far!
Saturday 1st October 2005
In my trawl through “The Times” archives, however, I did find a number of entries about grandfather – the first of three Richard Jagos that I know of – mainly to do with his participation in the sea-trials of new ships, but also when he gave evidence at a coroner’s enquiry into the death of a stoker.
One thing that did surprise me was the level of technical detail published both about the tests themselves and the results achieved. I wonder to what extent that was indicative of what we would today describe as the arrogance of a Britain that really did, then, rule the waves.
Sunday 2nd October 2005
Perhaps as a result of being on a maritime roll, so to speak, I spent Sunday morning at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. I had intended to “tube” it into the city and then take one of the Riverboat cruises to Greenwich but, although fine, it was more than a little on the cool side – a condition not improved by a decidedly chilly breeze. How could they possibly call it that? It seemed to be capable of by-passing my “thermals” – underwear that is!
Anyway I completed the latter part of the trip – after one or two deviations brought about by not recognising that north from Monument Underground to Banks really does mean that – by the Dockyard Light Rail. I had heard about the amount of development in the area but was unprepared for its scale.
For those of you who have been there, and I guess that’s most of you, the setting and spacious grounds of the Maritime Museum and the adjacent Royal Observatory and Queen’s House that now comprise the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage site, are just great. And that entry to all of it is free is an added bonus – and probably the reason why half of London seemed to be there. Well perhaps not half, but would you believe, lots? I suspect many had come to visit the special “Nelson and Napoleon” exhibition. Mounted, perhaps, to mark the fact that the Battle of Trafalgar is celebrating some sort of birthday this year – something those historians amongst you will, doubtless, know all about! In any event, crowded as it was with “ankle-biters” of quite a wide age range, I gave the N&N exhibition a miss.
I enjoyed most – not necessarily in their order of enjoyment – the “Passengers’” gallery (depicting the way cruising used to be – all very “posh” – and as it is now, probably less so, with those massive floating Sheratons, Hiltons, or whatever), the really magnificently detailed models of boats and ships, and the display of the stained glass windows saved from the “Baltic Exchange”, an early maritime broking venue, if I understood its purpose correctly.
As the library is closed on weekends, I wasn’t able to determine what, if anything, they had which might add to my knowledge of the first of the Richard Jagos, but it was suggested that it would be worth ringing one of the librarians during the week to check.
A brief visit to the Royal Observatory – the crowds, you know; then to the obligatory viewing of “Cutty Sark” (again, only from the less-crowded wharf) and, as there was still an hour or five of daylight, off to the Imperial War Museum. I should have known better. Apart from the fact that it was much further from Waterloo station than I had been led to believe, it too was over-run by those “ankle-biters”. I don’t know how they got from Greenwich before me. I really must plan my trips to these places outside weekends and find other less popular – or populated – spots on Sundays.
Despite the competition, the Imperial War Museum has to join my list of “must sees”. Apart from a plethora – now there’s a word – of planes, guns, tanks, missiles and the like, the breadth and depth of the exhibits is enhanced by such “reality” experiences – if that’s the right description – of “The Trenches” and “The Blitz”. The queues for the latter were just too long, but if it was a realistic as the “The Trenches” one, it should be required viewing for the “Hawks” of the world!
Richard Jago, the younger, is proving elusive as, despite the “RN” after his name in that Engagement Notice, I can find no record of him in any of the Navy Lists. Any detailed service record he may have had is still maintained by the Ministry of Defence, and won’t be accessible for some years. I’m not sure if it altogether compensates for my lack of success with RJ Jnr, but I have been able to add to my information about grandfather RJ. And, with some help from the librarians at the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Institution of Naval Architects, there may just be more.
Tuesday 4th October 2005
Break time again! And, with so much to see and the weather still being reasonably favourable, why not, asks he. So, with those priorities sorted, I headed off into the city again today.
First stop was at one of the English Heritage sites “Apsley House”, originally designed and built by Robert Adam, but later extended and modified considerably – and I gather not for the better – by Benjamin Wyatt at the behest of its new owner, the Duke of Wellington. I have to agree with one of the guide-books which suggests that the contents are of greater interest than the house itself. Not only did he, the Iron Duke that is, collect art in a really serious way (including works by van Dyck, Goya, Rubens, and Velasquez), but also acquired a vast collection of silver gilt and porcelain – mostly presented by European monarchs of the day to show their gratitude for his Waterloo victory.
I can only say that they must have been very grateful indeed. It is one of the most lavish collections of this sort I’ve ever seen. That’s not to say that I found it overly appealing, – just lavish!
I had hoped to be able to climb to the balcony below the huge bronze statue surmounting the Wellington Arch opposite Aspley House, but, as it’s open only from Wednesday to Sunday, had to settle for what turned out to be a very ordinary photo of it – rather than from it – from ground level.
Perhaps influenced by all that extravagance, I indulged in a little window-shopping in Knightsbridge and had no difficulty at all in resisting the temptations offered by Armani, Burberry, Hermes, Louis Vuitton and the like.
And then, as if to clear the palate, I actually made it to the free lunch-time concert at the Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields.
On this occasion, it was a piano duo (Mirei Tsuji and Miho Sanou – two young Japanese pianists who studied – and now live – in London) playing works by Mozart, Schubert, Rachmaninov and Ravel. For those of you who have been there, the acoustic (I can never remember whether it is supposed to be singular or plural) of the church is quite astonishing and only marginally dehanced – there’s another new word for you – by the sound of the occasional tube train passing underneath.
If nobody else does, Roger and Denise will recall hearing that distinctive rumble in that just marvellous, now quite ancient, recording of Vaughan Williams’ “To the lark ascending” by the Academy of the St Martin-in-the-Fields. But, moving right along, I enjoyed the concert thoroughly – and if the applause was anything to go by, this view was shared by an appreciative audience of, I suspect mostly tourists, in the close to full church. I really must try to get to another concert before I leave London.
The National Gallery is just across the road and, as you will of course recall, having sampled the fare there, it seemed to make sense to me, anyway, to repeat the pleasure. For those of you interested in such mundane things as food, I had the most delicious roasted parsnip soup which turned out to be the best part of what was described as the “Gallery Ploughman’s”. That’s not to say that the crusty bread, aged cheddar, chutney, pickled onions and green salad that comprised the “ploughman’s” bit weren’t nice, just that the soup was something special.
Fortified by this – and the accompanying glass of Pinot Grigio – I spent another most enjoyable hour or so at the Gallery, this time concentrating on the Sainsbury Wing and the feast there of early works – Italian in particular.
Then, another leisurely stroll – with a brief stop to photograph the stark but impressive (to me anyway) layered glass Memorial to Police who have died in service – back through St James Park to Victoria Station and the tube “home”!
As you will have read, a busy day but one that really was “magical”!