I took this photo of a window display in the St. James neighborhood where we stayed on our recent trip to London. I just love this. Our first full day in London proved to be filled with all kinds of quintessential British experiences -- old book stores, the Royal Academy of Art, history, the Thames River, and Shakespeare. And despite the fact that I was not wearing tweed, cashmere and pearls, I felt very British indeed.
Each day we would start out from this street where our hotel was located. History seemed to echo from the walls of this charming little neighborhood. Even though our hotel was close to bustling St. James and Piccadilly streets, it was tucked away in this lovely little side street, St. James Place.
This is the entrance to The Stafford Hotel where we stayed. I love this hotel because it is friendly, intimate, and has an atmosphere that is very English. The main building at The Stafford was originally a grand late-17th century townhouse with a stable courtyard at the rear. The stables were converted into 12 Carriage House rooms, which is where we stayed. The American Bar located within the hotel is famous and is decorated with baseball caps, yachting pennants and other memorabilia donated by the hotels guests. During World War II, the Stafford served as a club for American and Canadian officers, and today their pictures still grace the walls of the bar. We had dinner at the American Bar one night and it was a very cozy experience.
Some of the pennants and memorabilia on the wall of The American Bar at The Stafford Hotel
Taking the short walk to Piccadilly street, I discovered that Hatchards was right around the corner. This is my favorite bookstore in London, and I spent some happy time there browsing amongst the stacks and buying some wonderful books. Hatchards, booksellers since 1797, is the oldest surviving bookshop in London. Its customers have included some of Britain's greatest political, social, and literary figures -- from Queen Charlotte, Disraeli and Wellington to Kipling, Wilde, and Lord Byron. Not only is it the oldest book store in London, but it is filled with all kinds of books that just don't exist in the U.S. At least not yet. And if they do, they often have different dust jackets.
The Royal Academy of Art was also close by. We saw an exquisite Degas exhibition there, more on that later!
The bookseller at this rare book store pulled out many books for us to see, including a very scarce collection of woodcuts -- "Twelve Woodcuts" -- by the Bloomsbury artist and art critic Roger Fry. It was obvious that we were in a literary neighborhood steeped in history when he mentioned that Nancy Mitford used to work at Heywood Hill, another bookseller, right around the corner. When the owner Heywood was called up to serve in the War in 1942, Nancy worked at the store and was responsible for keeping it going. A visit to London always includes hearing stories about famous writers, artists, and politicians who lived or worked "right around the corner." We were walking in their footsteps.
And of course where ever you are in London, you are bound to see these iconic blue plaques which indicate the residence of a notable writer, statesman, or in this case, a musician. That blue door is so typical of London -- I love the doors and the vibrant colors they are painted throughout the city.
So much history here
That night we took a taxi to the Shakespeare Globe theatre to see "Much Ado About Nothing." This was a wonderful experience that I will never forget. I felt that I had gone back in time to the sixteenth-century when Shakespeare wrote the plays. This theatre is an exciting space to see a Shakespeare play, as it is a recreation of the actual Old Globe theatre in London where the plays were originally performed.
The theatre from the outside
This is the stage just before the play began. The theatre is an open air space, with only part of it covered. The seats are benches, but you can buy a cushion for comfort.
Before the play we enjoyed this amazing view of the river at the Bankside Pier, just across from the Globe Theatre. I loved the mood created by the dark and cloudy sky and the reflections of the buildings and lights in the water.
That night as I went to sleep my head was filled with images of London with its 2,000-year history and love of pageantry and tradition. It was obvious to me, this was going to be a very good trip!