Friday, March 14, 2008

The Regina Scott Tour of England, Part I

Today we’re going to tour the sites of London that the famous author (okay, the author) Regina Scott found interesting on her most recent visit, starting with London and then heading to Bath. No stragglers. Do try to keep up. And we’re walking . . .

Ah, here we are in Hyde Park, where the young ladies and gentlemen of the nineteenth century went to see and be seen, strolling, riding horseback, or driving carriages. And here is the marvelous bronze statue of Achilles. He stands as a tribute to the Duke of Wellington and was cast in 1822 from French cannons captured at the battles of Salmanca, Vittoria, Toulouse, and Waterloo. He’s anatomically correct, but a fig leaf was added to keep the passing ladies from blushing. Wouldn’t you know it? Someone chipped it off in 1870! If you don’t mind blushing and look closely, you’ll see it’s back in place today.

As we cross Mayfair, where the Fashionable lived, we come to St. George’s Hanover Square. The London aristocracy often attended this church (although I’d wager they didn’t have the handy traffic signal then). It’s only a block off the nineteenth century shopping paradise of Bond Street.

A short hop on the Tube brings us to the Russell Square area, where there’s a number of townhouses from the nineteenth century. Then there’s this intriguing little relic, which I can only conclude served to block the street behind it from emptying onto a busier thoroughfare. Many of the public conveniences like lampposts and post boxes are marked to indicate in whose rein they were erected. Not surprisingly, you’ll find any number marked IIER (the current Queen Elizabeth). This one, however, dates from the time of King George IV (the Prince George who led the Regency period) and must have been erected between 1820 and 1830.

Now on to the British Museum, home of any number of amazing antiquities from around the globe. See here one small portion from an end pediment of the Parthenon Marbles, brought to England in the nineteenth century by Lord Elgin. The panels of the main frieze take up the entire length, both sides, of a very long room. You may remember my previous post on these sculptures, how they were much admired during the nineteenth century. All I can say is that they make me sad. They are beautiful but nearly all damaged in some way (headless, armless, handless). Still, I can see why artists came from far and wide to view them (and still do today).

Now back toward Hyde Park we take a stroll down St. James’s Street, bastion of the gentleman, with clubs and shops for cigars, fine wines, and perfumes. And here is White’s! The famous gentlemen’s club looks as dapper today as it did in the nineteenth century. This is where a young gentleman might go if an older friend or father had membership to play cards, read the paper, take a bit of dinner, and generally breathe in all that masculine air. No ladies allowed. And see what I mean about that bow window?

Everyone still here? Very good. Next week, on to Bath!


Evangeline Holland said...

What I find interesting about White's is that the bow window wasn't built until 1811!

Regina Scott said...

True! Supposedly it was built at Beau Brummell's instigation. Good thing he had 5 years to enjoy it before leaving England.