We arrived in London late Thursday evening and spent the night at the Premier Inn, Heathrow Terminal 4. We’ve stayed there previously when needing a quick overnight near Heathrow and I highly recommend it. The hotel is very quiet, with comfortable rooms and a decent restaurant, all at very reasonable prices. And you can’t beat the location – a 10 minute walk to the Terminal and Heathrow’s transportation hub.
Friday morning we took the Tube into London (Mansion Street stop) and booked into our weekend lodgings at the Cove Cannon Street, a “serviced apartments” hotel. We had a very comfortable bed-sit apartment with a full galley kitchen located right in the heart of the city.
We didn’t intentionally time our visit to take in the coronation. Matt had literally just completed our booking at Cove when the date of the coronation was announced. He watched accommodations disappear from booking platforms then reappear moments later at much higher prices. So we were very lucky in our timing, and the room turned out to be a very comfortable place to watch all the pomp. More about that anon…
Our first Friday morning stop was to a site we’d never visited before: the Church of St. Magnus the Martyr, just three blocks from our hotel at Canon Street. The church sits on the north bank of the Thames, and used to be directly aligned with London Bridge (the previous bridge, now in Lake Havasu City, Arizona). The pedestrian entrance to the bridge is the only thing left standing from the old bridge.
The church is notable for two things: its somewhat overblown Christopher Wren interior (IMHO)…
…and a 12 foot long scale model of the medieval London Bridge (NOT the one in Lake Havasu) created by the Worshipful Company of Plumbers which is housed in the church’s vestry. You know what we came to see. The model faithfully reflects the bridge’s architecture and setting in the Thames – running boats under the bridge when the tide was high was a very dangerous occupation then – as well as the bustle and chaos of hundreds of people doing business and trying to cross the bridge simultaneously. It’s brilliant.
Exiting St. Magnus, we walked along the Thames walk to Tower Pier to catch a ferry upriver to Westminster Pier. The day was partly sunny (Brit speak), with rain lurking in dark but picturesque cumulus clouds.
One of the things I like best about London is the lovely walks you can do through the 3 central interconnected royal parks: Hyde Park, Green Park and St. James Park. And walking is what we did! From Westminster Pier, we gradually made our way on foot through Westminster, then caught the 148 bus to the top of the Serpentine (that snaky looking body of water) in Hyde Park.
The streets were heaving (as the Brits would say), with barricades up along most major streets and police everywhere. The UK mobilized something like 30,000 police and civilian reserves to line those barricades.
Many buses had been re-routed or cancelled for the weekend, so it took a while to find a stop where buses would actually pick up passengers. It was a very slow ride.
Hyde Park was a (relatively) tranquil oasis amidst the bustle and noise. All of these royal parks have gorgeous gardens, and in early May, blooms were abundant.
Green Park borders the grounds of Buckingham Palace, and much of the green was barricaded off. The Important People were arriving for the next day’s coronation ceremony, so there was a constant parade of green-decked motorcycle police with flashing lights leading limousines along the Mall, then through Green Park and on to their lodgings. This area was so jammed with people that it was hard to move. Lots of folks were camped along the streets, complete with tents, cooking apparatus and portable toilets.
Central London is usually easy to navigate, but the many barricaded streets made passage very difficult. Every couple of blocks there was a spot in the barricades where minders would pull open the fences for about 30 seconds to hustle people across the street. (“Go, go, now! Hold, hold, hold!”) People would queue and push and then make a mad dash for the other side (all in very orderly fashion, of course, this is Britain). It was a relief to get out of the Green Park crush and stroll through St. James Park – my favorite.
We finally managed to cross Horse Guards Road and make our way to Parliament Street where we hoped to catch a bus back to the Cove, but, alas, the bus we wanted wasn’t running. While waiting at the bus stop, I asked this gentleman if I could photograph his King Charles flags. He happily obliged, then graciously gave me one as a souvenir.
We finally gave up on the bus and walked to the Westminster Tube stop to make our way back to the Cove. We had dinner at a nearby pub with decent food but an earsplitting din. Friday night on a holiday weekend in London!
Saturday, coronation day, was cold and drippy. I was quite happy to watch the ceremony in Westminster Abbey and the beginnings of the parade from the comfort of our cozy apartment.
Once we’d had our fill of the pomp, we donned raincoats and walked through empty London Streets to visit Sir John Soane’s Museum on Lincoln’s Inns Field.
We visited Soane’s Museum more than 30 years ago at the urging of our dear friend Alan Eyles. Alan was an architect, and Soane’s museum is a paradise for architects. We didn’t fully appreciate the genius of the man (or the place) on our first visit, experiencing it as a discombobulated jumble of this and that. On this visit, we were lucky to get on an excellent guided tour, which gave me a deep appreciation for the man and the place.
John Soanes was the youngest of seven, born to a bricklayer in 1753. He was the only child in his family who was able to attend primary school. His father died when John was 15, and John had to go to work on a building site. He caught the attention of the site’s architect and was invited to live with him and learn architecture. Over a long career, he became one of the country’s most innovative and influential architects, receiving a knighthood in 1831.
A crucial part of Soane’s architectural education was a scholarship awarded by King George 3rd (our King George) to take the European Grand Tour. He spent two years traveling in (mostly) Italy and became friends with many wealthy young men who later became clients. As his wealth grew, Soane began collecting bits of classical architecture by purchasing others’ discards on the art market. He taught architecture at the Royal Academy, and used his collection as teaching tools – an important resource for his students since this was the era of the Napoleanic wars and students could no longer take the Grand Tour.
The building housing the collection was Soane’s family home. When his collection outgrew the space, he bought the house next door, and then the house behind, and connected all of them with walkways and extension rooms. It is a maze. Here is a link to an amazing 3-D virtual tour of the Museum which is well worth a look.
One of Soane’s innovations was his use of natural light. He experimented with various types of skylights, clerestory windows and interior windows to illuminate the spaces. Yellow glass was used to provide warm interior light on grey days (which London has in abundance).
The Museum contains the largest collection of architectural drawings in the world, and a room full of models carved from cork and molded from plaster of Paris. The models depict famous ancient sites that influenced Soane’s vision.
Soane was also on the cutting edge of modern plumbing for his time.
Soane’s prize possession – and the most expensive item in the museum – is the alabaster sarcophagus of Seti 1. Giovanni Belzoni removed the sarcophagus from Seti’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings and shipped it to London in hopes of selling it to the British Museum. That Museum’s trustees hemmed and hawed for 2 years before declining to pay Bellini’s 2000 pound asking price, and Soane snapped it up. The museum is maintained exactly as Soane created it, which is unfortunate, since the sarcophagus’ location in the Sepulchre Chamber is not conducive to display. I’ve included some images made by the Factum Foundation, who recorded the inscriptions and and did restoration work in 2016.
Leaving Soane’s Museum, we walked back into central London by way of Covent Garden where we had a trendy and overpriced lunch.
To wrap up the coronation, here are some snaps on central London streets as the festivities wound down.