it was my first visit to two architectural gems so there were swathes of
culture and loads of history to absorb. I was on a steep learning curve but
it turned out to be a fascinating experience with the added pleasure of
seeing Hyde Park in wonderful October sunshine. Thank you, Julie and
Margaret, for arranging a great day out.
We were decanted from our coach into Kensington Gardens,
once the private parkland of William III and Mary 11 and now merged into
Hyde Park. We approached the palace from the south so our first view of the
building was its most handsome faqade behind the flamboyant statue of
William. The royal couple chose to move to this modestly proportioned
Jacobean brick mansion in 1689 from Whitehall. Their change of address was
largely due to health reasons because William's asthma and bronchitis were
aggravated by Whitehall's damp and smog.
Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to transform the existing house and
later monarchs employed Hawksmoor and Kent to carry out further alterations.
Grinling Gibbons decorated the interior with carved panels, graceful fluted
Corinthian pillars, friezes and statues. William Kent seems to have produced
some of the most interesting features for George I - in particular the
trompe l'oeil crowds of figures (including a self-portrait) overlooking the
King's Stairway. In the dramatic Cupola Room his trompe l'oeil fresco gives
the effect of a dome although it is only 3.5 inches in depth. The King's
Gallery, designed by Hawksmoor, has an opulent ceiling painted by Kent and
its walls are covered in fabulous works of art. This room has recently been
restored to its original perfection and it was here that I found one of the
most interesting objects, a working wind vane, the wind direction indicated
by a moving pointer on a painted map. It is attributed to Thomas Tompion
(1694), one of the most famous clock makers. (There is a similar one in
Moving forward to the 19th century, Victoria was born in a ground floor room
once known as the North Drawing Room on 24 May 1819. Her bedroom on the
first floor shows a complete change of style from the rest of the palace
with pretty floral wallpaper and much lighter furnishings. I could picture
her playing here as a girl with her beloved little dog, Dash. It was in this
bedroom that she was woken at 5 am on 20 June 1837 to be told that her uncle
William IV had died and she was now Queen. A white marble statue of Victoria
as a young girl stands on the Broad Walk to the east of the palace. It was
made by her daughter, Louise, a gifted sculptress, in 1893. More recently
Kensington Palace became the London home of Charles and Diana, and Princess
Margaret had an apartment here.
Our tour of the palace included a viewing of the Royal Ceremonial Dress
Collection from the 19th century to the present day and a display of the
Queen's hats and handbags. Some of the colourful. hats rotated on slender
stands. It looked like a rather attractive piece of installation art and
would not have seemed out of place in Tate Modem. The sunken garden created
in 1909 is an attempt to copy the formal gardens laid out by William and
Mary. Dwarf cypresses and terraced flower beds surround a rectangular pond
to form a sheltered tranquil place. Just the spot for a picnic.
Apsley House, No I London, Hyde Park Corner (Wellington Museum)
beginning of the 19th century London ended at Hyde Park Comer and the
countryside began. So Apsley House was known as No I London because of its
location just past the toll gate into London from the west. Many of the
distances to England's towns were measured from Hyde Park Comer.
The house was designed by Robert Adam during the 1770s for Lord Apsley.
Fifty years later it became the suitably grand home of the first Duke of
Wellington. He took up residence in 1817 just two years after defeating
Napoleon at Waterloo. Wellington used the architect Wyatt to enlarge and
alter the house. The Dining Room was created in 1819 and the Waterloo
Gallery some ten years later. Then in 1828 (the year in which he became
Prime Minister) the final touch
was added - a classical portico and the whole exterior clad in Bath Stone.
Apsley House was given to the nation in 1947 and it has become the
Wellington Museum. With its collection largely intact and family still in
residence, it is the last grand aristocratic town house in London.
The museum is rich in sumptuous 19th century furniture, memorabilia,
trophies, tableware and art. Many paintings depict Wellington's
contemporaries, victories and family. Perhaps the most stunning painting is
Velasquez's "The Water Seller of Seville", painted in 1919 when the artist
was only twenty years old, and Correggio's "The Agony in the Garden",
apparently stolen from Joseph Bonaparte's luggage at Vittoria. Then there is
the huge Goya portrait of Wellington on horseback: allegedly the original
was of Napoleon but the head was re-painted. Finally in the basement I found
the famous caricature "A Wellington Boot or the Head of the Army", one of
many drawn by William Heath in 1829.
My favourite part of the building is the staircase - light, delicate,
curving upward in a great spiral and picked out in white and gold. At the
foot of the staircase is a startling double life-size Canova statue of
Napoleon wearing only a fig leaf. To continue the fig leaf theme:
overlooking the back of Apsley House in Hyde Park is the Achilles statue, a
33 ton bronze copy of a Roman original. It was erected in 1822 on behalf of
the women of Great Britain to commemorate the Duke's achievements. This nude
statue caused outrage and William Wilberforce, no less, led a campaign to
have it removed for decency's sake. A fig leaf was eventually positioned in
the appropriate place and the statue remained.
As we left for our journey home we passed yet another heroic image - an
equestrian statue of Wellington by Sir Edgar Boehm on the central traffic