11 August 2014

Behind the film set of Belle at London's Kenwood House

Have you wondered where you can see a famous blue door, where James Bond blasted out of M15, where Bridget Jones lived and Diagon Alley? In London of course!  London is much used as a film set and you can easily spot scenes from famous films as you wander round and I know this more than most as I live in Notting Hill where fans of the film are always hunting down the blue door (it's at 280 Westbourne Park Road by the way). That much loved movie links us to my film set for today, Kenwood House, as this beautiful house also appears in Notting Hill, but more recently featured in Belle.  

Belle is the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle who was the daughter of John Lindsay, a British Naval Officer, and a African woman, Maria Belle, who was enslaved in the West Indies. He took his daughter home with him in 1765 and as he was away at sea she was brought up by his uncle Lord Mansfield. This is where Kenwood comes in as she lived there for 30 years. 

Dido was brought up as a gentlewoman alongside her cousin Elizabeth. The two of them feature in a famous painting attributed to Johann Zoffany which was unusual in showing them as equals. I'll not give away too much of the film but I would recommend seeing it for the good performances, thought provoking story and the grand film set. 

 Kenwood House looks across the huge green expanses of  Hampstead Heath and from here you really feel like you are in the countryside. I used to visit Kenwood every year for the concerts held in the natural bowl leading down the lake  in the photo and it was magical as the sun went down and the music floated across the water.

The house itself has been closed for refurbishment for a year but now you can visit the house to explore its splendid rooms, its gorgeous library and its surprising art collection. More good news about visiting is that it is free to tour the house. 

This elegant building dates from the early 17th century and remodelled by Robert Adams in the early 18th century and it is his work that we can admire, especially the library which is one of Adams' most famous interiors.

There is plenty of art to enjoy with a collection of masterpieces from a Rembrandt self portrait to a paintings by Vermeer, Landseer and Gainsborough. In the grounds there are a number of notable sculptures including a Barbara Hepworth and a Henry Moore.

If you happen to be visiting Kenwood in May, you'll be treated to a vibrant displays of rhododendrons showing nature's best colours and here's just one photo of the beauties we saw:

I am pleased to report that to complement the wonderful house, gardens and grounds they also have a really good cafe with excellent cakes and snacks where you can rest and refresh yourself.

For more information check out the Kenwood page on the English Heritage website.

Bye for now.

29 July 2014

Buckingham Palace opens for summer 2014 with a look at the Royal Childhood

Fancy a nose around Buckingham Palace? Luckily HM The Queen kindly leaves London for several months each summer so can pop in!  As well as enjoying the sumptuous state rooms of Buckingham Palace, you can visit their special exhibition which changes each year. For 2014 we have 'Royal Childhood' as the theme, no doubt inspired by Prince George's first birthday. They have well loved toys and pristine ones, childhood outfits and gifts to the royal families from the time of the future George lV in 1767 through to Prince George of Cambridge.

Entering by the side door, sadly not through the front entrance, you are soon into the heart of the official royal residence in London.There is a no photo ban on the state rooms but we could snap away in the special exhibition.

The impressive front of Buckingham Palace with the family waving from the balcony!

The Royal Childhood in its elaborate setting

I've picked out my favourite items but there are over 150 items in all spanning over 250 years and many generations of the royal family. The blanket intrigued me as I can't imagine how Queen Victoria had the time or the inclination to make her own!

Royal nursery chairs

Blanket made by Queen Victoria  in 1883 for her granddaughter   

17th century cradle used by Queen Victoria's daughter

Casket with the teeth of Queen Victoria's first children

Royal outfits feature strongly and I enjoyed the display of mannequins in front of photos of the same outfit:

HM Queen, a young Prince Charles and his Scottish outfit
The Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in pink coats

Princess Di with Prince William in green shorts

Other charming gems were the earliest remaining dress belonging to a Princess Victoria in around 1830 and a delightful silk plaid dress from 1844 worn by a Prince!

Fit for a Princess
Fit for a Prince!

Saving your child's drawings and writings happens in all families and the royal are no different so Prince Charles's art work and the Queen's note book are on display, although I doubt they ever got stuck onto the fridge!

Prince Charles aged 8

Now aged 9

Princess Elizabeth writes to her friend

What struck me was that the royals have much the same toys as the rest of us but they are much much bigger and better!  One great example of this is Prince Andrew's fully functioning James Bond car with rotating number plates, a working smoke screen and which is big enough for a child to sit in and drive. There is a miniature caravan which you could live in and Parisian dolls dressed in Lanvin!

Fancy a spin?

The royal caravan

Poshest of dolls
There are some delightful films playing as you go round the special exhibition, showing the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret having dancing lessons, various royals pushing their children around in carts and the fun sight of Princess Margaret chasing after Prince Charles and Princess Anne!


Prince George does appear in a few photos but this show is mostly about his parents, grand parents and much further back than that!


After enjoying the palace and the Royal Childhood, visitors are rewarded by the great cafe overlooking the enormous gardens where the cakes come with chocolate crowns on! Suitably refreshed you are ready to attack the shop with quality royal themed gifts for all tastes. A new feature this year is the Family Pavilion with games, a rocking horse and a stage with a dressing up box to entertain younger visitors.  The gardens are delightful and so tranquil you can forget you are in the middle of London until you catch a glimpse of the palace again.
Quality cakes at the Queen's cafe

The tranquil landscaped gardens

The nuts and bolts:
Opening dates:   26th July - 31st August and 1st - 28th September
Entry prices:       2014 - Adults £19.75, over 60/students with card £18, under 17s £11.25 and     under 5s free (timed ticket fee of £1.25 per ticket)

Bye for now,

24 July 2014

London's Imperial War Museum reopens with a wow factor!

The Imperial War museum has been getting ready for the centenary of the First World War (1WW) and has been closed all year but this great museum reopened on Saturday with its new 1WW Galleries at the heart of its £40 million pound revamp. 

On arrival the same impressive building greets you with its rather menacing guns pointing straight at you.  These massive guns fought battles in both world wars mounted on battleships and challenge the imagination to visualise how big the ships must have been.

The new atrium grabs your attention as soon as you enter: it's huge and full of dramatic symbols of war. They have dug down an extra floor to give this area even more height and more wow factor. The atrium houses a collection of items, symbols of war both old and new. It's good to see as you go round the museum that, although the focus is on 1stWW, there is plenty of attention given to more recent and ongoing conflicts. In the atrium you can explore the 9 iconic items chosen to introduce themes of war from the 1stWW to the present day. These include: a huge V2 rocket, a T-34 Russian tank, a damaged press Land Rover from Gaza and the remains of a car from a Baghdad market.  Look up and there is a Spitfire and a Harrier jump jet both easily contained within the vast atrium space. Each item has a film or generous information to supplement those already with knowledge or to easily inform those coming to this subject afresh. 

My eye was caught by the V2 which stands at 14.3m high. I realised from watching the film how little I knew about these rockets which along with the V1s killed over 8000 Londoners and destroyed over 30,000 homes, flying their deadly path from launch sites mostly in Holland and Belgium.

The vast Fosters + Partners atrium

A V2 rocket towers above visitors

The menacing sight of the Russian tank

Battered press vehicle

What's left when a car is caught in a bomb blast in Iraq

This wreck of a car, caught in a suicide bomb, was taken around the USA by the British artist Jeremy Deller as an artistic piece called 'It is What it is'. He crossed America with a US soldier and an Iraqi citizen to confront people with the reality of war. 

I was drawn into the new 1WW galleries to see the result of all the Curator and his team's hard work. As you will have gathered already, the subject matter is bound to be hard to take in and the new galleries can be a bit overwhelming as they carefully and accurately portray the horror of this war that saw millions lose their lives and millions more have their lives damaged for ever.  The galleries take you through the war on a chronological path and aim to tell the story of the 1WW through the lives of those who experienced it and they are mindful that, although this generation is no longer with us, their words live on and deserve to be read by future generations.

There is so much to see that I can only bring you a fraction of the impressive galleries. Out of so much sadness, the medical section showing how soldiers were assessed for service told a powerful story. Eye sight was tested and chests checked but as the need for men increased the height requirement was lowered and in our terms these men were very short and I suspect not that healthy. 

War fever lead to many being desperate to sign up and this letter from a boy of 9 wanting to be a bicycle messenger at the front was a poignant read.

Posters rallied men to join up and worked on their guilt if they didn't!


The photo on the bottom right above shows you one of the examples of interactive displays which feature all through these galleries and well designed displays really add to the experience, the fun and the learning. 

I was interested in the role of women during the war and photos of women taking the place of fighting men in factories as well their role as nurses, including the fateful role of Edith Cavell, a nurse who helped Allied soldiers escape and was executed by the Germans.

Smaller items often give insights that the appalling numbers of dead do not. Having said that, reading that 20,000 men could die in a day at the Battle of the Somme in 1916, over a million in total, is still hard to comprehend.  These next 3 photo give some insight in the everyday struggle of existence for the soldiers, the fear and the mundanity.

As you leave the 1WW galleries, you should take a moment to read and digest this quote from the last soldier to die who had experienced the 1WW and reflect on its impact:


I was pleased to see that some areas had survived the museum revamp such as the 2WW feature on the Allpress family, tracing how the war affected their lives and what happened to them. On a more sombre note the Holocaust rooms continue to tell their powerful and shocking story through information, interviews, models and personal possessions. 

I was lucky enough to attend a press preview and reports since have described how busy the museum is, especially the 1WW galleries, so get there early and expect long waits to get in. 

Bye for now,