Clarence House, the Queen Mother and other Famous Mothers
It is a lovely August day and London is looking its best for our Famous Women themed day organised by Barbara Barker. Our tour begins close to the Millennium Bridge with coffee at the Salvation Army Headquarters. This impressive glazed building was opened in 2004, on the site of the original 1881 HQ. Then we travel south through Southwark, back across the Thames over Waterloo Bridge with its fabulous views and on to Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly.
Our guide keeps up a constant discourse on famous women: Elizabeth Fry prison reformer; Rosalind Franklin DNA scientist; Ada Lovelace mathematician; Angela Burdett-Coutts. Did you know when she became the sole heiress to the Coutts Bank fortune at the age of 27 in 1837 she gave most of it away to good causes and founded the NSPCC? Much later she married a man half her age - which reminds me of our Mrs Pretty who gave the Sutton Hoo treasure to the nation and had her only child at the age of 47!
We circumnavigate Hyde Park and get stuck in a traffic jam in Knightsbridge caused by building work on the Candy Brothers' latest residential complex (our guide says £150m for a 4-bedroom flat! ). Moving at last, we drive round the back of Buckingham Palace, the front of Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament and south over the river. Wow, London never fails to impress! Lunch is at the South Bank Centre and we have time to explore the Royal Festival Hall built in the 1950s for the Festival of Britain (elegant and spacious) and the Hayward Gallery (people and cars strictly separated 1960s style, so lots of steps and high level walkways).
Back in the coach and across the river again we come at last to the piece de resistance of our day. Designed by John N ash and built in 1827 for the Duke of Clarence (later William IV) Clarence House is a white stuccoed mansion at the west corner of the rambling brick 16th century St James's Palace. The view as we enter the garden from The Mall lives up to our expectations and, inside, our tour of the ground floor reveals further delights. The Lancaster Room, with its clear evidence of the present incumbent HRH Prince Charles, is a firm favourite with many. There are Prince of Wales reminders everywhere - photographs of Edward VII and Edward VIII and a fire screen with an embroidered purse with the badge of Frederick, Prince of Wales (1707-51). Some prefer the Queen Mother's Morning Room, retained by Prince Charles very much in his grandmother's taste. I especially like her (large) collection of botanical Chelsea porcelain! And we all love the Garden Room, Princess Margaret's sitting room when she lived here. Light and airy with bright carpets and upholstery, it has an eastern feel accentuated by the huge tapestry (shown at the Great Exhibition in 1851) depicting an Egyptian scene.
Sated with the opulence, glamour and sheer size of things, we wend our way home, stopping at St Martin-in-the-Fields Crypt Cafe for a refreshing cup of tea before leaving our great city. A fantastic day out, Barbara - many thanks.