Saturday 15th August
Today we went with Naomi Woolley, Ann’s niece currently working in England, to visit the Queen in Buckingham Palace London.
It was a unique experience, as every other palace we have visited on this tour has been a historic palace with no current royal residents. Buckingham Palace is quite the opposite …it is a full time working palace and has only been open to the public since the Great fire at Windsor Castle in 1993 and still only open for six weeks in Summer while the Queen is on vacation at Balmoral in Scotland. Actually the Queen was in London today because it is “Victory Over Japan” Day and special services of commemoration were held. She was not, however, at the Palace to welcome us personally! So it is a working Palace with over 450 staff, 67 000 formal visitors each year and this not counting the 400 000 annual visitors like us who pour into the place for six weeks every year in the Summer.
Since no photography of any kind, flash or no flash, is permitted in the Palace you won’t be bored by my poor snaps of 19 State rooms out of the 775 rooms in the Palace! We entered by the official entrance where visiting Presidents/Kings/Queens etc enter which is actually a quite demure wooden set of doors.
I have been wondering how BP would stand up against the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, the Vatican Palace outside Rome, The Doge’s Palace in Venice, The Ducal Palace in Mantua, The Pitti Palace in Florence, all of which we have seen on this tour. I was impressed by the uniform stylish and neo-classical (or Renaissance Revival) completeness of everything we were shown. I cannot vouch for the other 754 rooms but the 19 we saw were simply stunning,,,in finish, in design (architect John Nash from July 1822), in quality of furnishings/vases/tapestries/ in selection of paintings from the 20 000 in the Royal collection, in the extraordinary sculptures by Canova and many C19th classical sculptors and by the obvious pleasure, pride, courtesy, energy and commitment shown by the staff who greeted us at every turn.
One particular pleasure is that whilst your ticketed entry is at a particular time, once in the Palace you can take as much time as you like and no 0ne bothers, within reason, how long you stay. It is neo-classical in style and there is lots of gilt and red carpet but nothing is over the top and everything is there for a purpose and not just for decoration with the exception of the long gallery filled with significant paintings with Van Dyke, court painter to Charles 1 for nine years, particularly well represented but also Rembrandt, many fine Dutch paintings, the inevitable Canaletto, and many more too numerous to mention. I would have liked to see the chapel and library but these are not part of the State apartments tour.
A major highlight this year for the public was a presentation of how the main dining room is set up for a State dinner for 170 guests given by the Queen for a Head of State on the first evening of a visit to the UK. The gold plated cutlery, the instruments used to measure distances between chairs, cutlery etc, clever videos to show how the food is prepared, flowers prepared, courses presented, drinks chosen and served and so on.
Major features include several stunning drawing rooms, music rooms with pianofortes and grand pianos, the throne room, the ball room/banquet room, the amazing three level staircase leading guests ever upwards, displays of medals presented and videos of how it is done.
In addition we were able to stroll through the beautifully maintained gardens replete with all kinds of beautiful ducks on the lake, squirrels, and wonderful winding views. Later on we were able to visit the Mews (from mewing up=to cage up) where the Royal carriages/launettes/hansom cabs/phaetons/rolls/daimlers/bentleys/jags are kept all polished up and even some beautiful carriage horses looked after. We were also treated to a right royal lunch although we had to pay for it.
Finally we were able to visit the Queen’s Gallery which is a fairly new and beautifully designed and presented exhibition space for unique displays of the various Royal collections. The current theme is “Paradise is a Garden” and it was spectacular indeed with many memorial paintings, drawings, sculptures and porcelain including delicate Faberge flower jewellery to die for.
This was a very full day’s work and our tired feet were glad to jump on the underground and travel quickly “home” to the Barbican for a break at 5.15pm!