Friday 14th August
On our first full day in London we met Ann’s niece Naomi Woolley on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral where she had trained into from Surrey. We were able to hand over a belated birthday present and it was wonderful to see her again.
We walked from St Paul’s down Ludgate Hill Road and up the Chancery Lane to the Lincoln Fields Inn past Dr Samuel Johnson’s house. Johnson’s famous quote “that if a man is tired of London he is tired of life” I think makes a lot of sense. There is something for everyone in London town! Johnson’s work on the English Dictionary, his voluminous writings on the poets and just about everything else makes him a very formidable Englishman indeed. Even his cat is immortalised in a statue outside his house.
We wandered around the Lincoln Fields Inn gardens surrounded by extraordinary Elizabethan architecture of the Treasury Building and their very own chapel open to the public and finally found our way to the whimsical museum of Dr John Soanes, significant neo-classical architect, Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy from 1836, eccentric collector and very generous man whose trust allows visitors to see his collection for free.
Soanes house on four levels is an absolute marvel of curious oddities, very significant ancient vases, clocks and 10 000 books in many languages, thousands of his own drawings, wonderful sculptures, and architectural casts from Greece and Rome scattered about in a unique way which defies description and as photography of any kind is forbidden so you will have to go and see it yourself! It is our second visit here and you could go twenty times and still see something new. His collection of paintings including three Canalettos, the complete original collection of Hogarth’s The Raike’s Progress, and many original Piranesi prints including the Colosseum. Soanes had an architectural vision for the rebuilding of London but many of his suggestions were not accepted. This place is altogether one of my favourite places to be in London. Even the staff are “quaint”.
After a quick Italian lunch we ventured on the underground to Manchester Square to see the Wallace Collection. My (Richard’s) beginning on the London underground was inauspicious (others would say “bloody stupid”) putting my oyster card into the automatic ticket machine which immediately gobbled it up and jammed the system. Luckily there were some helpful railway folk nearby with keys to unlock the jaws and release my precious oyster card.
The Wallace Collection (which is also amazingly, free due to a bequest and many generous supporters) is contained within the family house of four generations (Hertford House and garden) in the middle of otherwise busy and very urban London. The collection was formed over five generations of Marqueses of Hereford (Seymour-Conways). The fourth Marquis had an illegitemate son Richard (also an important collector) who went to live in France and for reasons unknown changed his surname name to Wallace and after his death his wife bequeathed the collection and house to the nation insisting that it be called the Wallace Collection.
There are many amazing private art collections including the Frick collection in New York, the Rothschild Collection in England, The Getty collection in California and the man in The Golden Woman who paid over a million for the Klimt painting. Amongst these private collections the Wallace Collection must rate very highly indeed.
The collection of paintings is stunning including Fragonard’s The Swing, Foppa, The Young Cicero Reading, Gainsborough’s Mrs Robinson, Boucher’s Madame Pompadour, Rembrandt’s Titus, His Son, van Dyck’s Paris, and many other fine works by Rubens, Delacroix, Canaletto, Pisano, Del Sarto and on and on. In addition there is a huge collection of arms and armoury, a vast collection of Sevres porcelain, Amazing collections of Bouille cabinet and book cases and other early French and English cabinets, an extensive collection of miniatures and gold trinket boxes, a substantial Napoleonic collection, a huge Maiolica collection and no doubt I have omitted much. Hertford House also has a study centre and library and is a hive of artistic and intellectual activity.
We finished the day at Ann’s favourite London store Liberty in Regent St with all its glorious Liberty fabrics and vast array of fashion outfits and household bits and pieces over six floors.
By then it was raining and we joined the peak hour train rush home.at Oxford Circus subway…an experience matched only in my experience by Rome Termini and Tokyo’s subway! We were happy to be in our own ‘home’ cooking for ourselves in our Barbican apartment.