Monday, October 6, 2014

A Capital Idea, Old Chap

Leave it to Hatchard's, the oldest bookstore in London, to have an entire table devoted to books on the city. After a long flight to London and checking into the hotel, there is nothing better than getting out and taking a walk. Fortunately Hatchard's is right around the corner from where we were staying. After some happy browsing, I made a mental note to go back for some very special books I spotted.

The Stafford Hotel is located on a quiet side street just off of St. James. It is an easy walk to so many favorite places.

Such as Fortnum and Mason; I had to check out the Halloween candy displays

And the neighboring streets, each one a little gem

Jermyn Street was practically glowing at dusk

After a glass of wine at the American Bar and a delicious dinner at Scott's Restaurant, it was time to retire for the night to get some rest before our first full day in London.


The next day we made our way to the National Portrait Gallery to see a very special exhibition

This exhibition devoted entirely to Virginia Woolf was a beautiful and moving experience. It includes the letters Virginia wrote to her husband Leonard Woolf and sister Vanessa Bell before drowning herself in the River Ouse. It also includes the walking stick that she left behind on the riverbank. There are famous portraits of her that we have seen in so many books, such as the photographs by Beresford and Man Ray and the exquisite paintings by her sister Vanessa and Bloomsbury contemporary Roger Fry. 

Lady Ottoline Morrell's photographs of Virginia at Garsington are also there, shown as a slide show. Virginia wrote "is the sunlight ever normal at Garsington? No I think even the sky is done up in pale yellow silk, and certainly the cabbages are scented." These photos show her animated and vivacious as she chats with Lytton Strachey and friends. They capture an aspect of her personality that many people don't know about, the enchanting and charming side that her friends loved. She had a great sense of fun, loved practical jokes, and was an incorrigible gossip.  

There is a wall of early photographs that show the illustrious family she was born into -- her father Leslie Stephen was an eminent literary scholar and her mother's family was closely associated with the Pre-Raphaelites. Many of these family photos were taken by her great-aunt, the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. There are also photos of and art by Virginia's fellow Bloomsbury members. Virginia's own writing is seamlessly woven throughout.

Surprisingly, one of the items that touched me the most was about her sister It was a painting of Vanessa done by Duncan Grant that has never been shown in public before. Absolutely beautiful, it was done for Vanessa's son Julian to take with him when he went to Spain to fight in the Civil War. Knowing that he died in that war makes this work all the more poignant. It is owned by a family member. I was happy to learn that the BBC is making a televised drama about Bloomsbury. There are so many stories to tell. Go here to read more.

There is much to say about this exhibition. It was an opportunity to learn about Virginia Woolf's life in the most visual and beautiful way. And speaking of beauty, the poster for this exhibition is wonderful and I am planning to get mine framed. If you can't get to London to see this show, order the poster and catalogue here. It was a once in a lifetime experience! 


After lunch we headed over to the Victoria and Albert to see Wedding Dresses, 1775-2014. This  fabulous exhibition traces the development of the wedding dress and its treatment by fashion designers over the last two centuries. It included vintage films of all the royal weddings of the last century. Loved this!

I couldn't get any photos of the exhibition, but I loved discovering the back of the V & A.
What a great gathering place on a Sunday afternoon!

The following day was gorgeous and we walked to St. James Park. It was green and leafy, just beautiful. I could have lingered there forever.

But we wanted to see the Churchill War Rooms, which were absolutely fascinating. These are the underground rooms and bunker where Churchill held secret meetings during World War II. There is a Churchill Museum which includes interesting details about his life. Photos and films of his speeches show him rallying the public during WWII. There are scenes with Roosevelt and other world leaders. There is also a film of his funeral. I loved learning that on the day of his funeral all stores in London were closed and all sporting matches were stopped. On his 90th birthday he received 300,000 cards. If you haven't been, be sure to go next time. History truly comes to life here.

 After lunch at the Wolseley Restaurant, we took a little walk down Dover Street.

Where we discovered Peter Harrington, a beautiful rare book store. It is painted an exquisite shade of green. Not sure what color this is but I can think of many names. Maybe British Library Green? This was a little jewel box of a store and packed with lovely editions of many books I love.

And this is where I bought the five volumes of "The Diary of Virginia Woolf," making me very happy after seeing the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.


The following days included some very special places and events

The Ceramic Poppy exhibition at the Tower of London

The amazing "Wolf Hall"

 John Sandoe Books 

This fabulous book store which we stumbled upon consists of three floors in an 18th-century dwelling and is crammed with about 25,000 books. The books are piled everywhere -- window ledges, stairwells and tables -- though they swear they have a system. It's very cozy in there, a bibliophile's heaven!

The bustling Bourough Market which dates from 1851

A walk across Millennium Bridge ending in this glorious sight of St. Paul's Cathedral

The war memorials with wreaths of red poppies

I was beginning to realize that history was the theme of our trip to London so far: Virginia Woolf, the royal wedding dresses, the Churchill war rooms, and Hillary Mantel's plays about Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII. London is filled with history and wherever you go you are walking in the footsteps of  legendary figures. I am always so inspired when I am there.


But the next day we decided to do something completely different and spend some time in nature. We took a drive out to Richmond to visit Petersham Nurseries and Kew Gardens.

Petersham Nurseries -- I loved all the gardening tips for September

The dahlias were blooming

This is the tea room

The award-winning restaurant where we had a delicious lunch

There were flower arrangements everywhere

And so many plants to buy

As well as unique garden ornaments

Next was the magnificent Kew Gardens

Dressed in autumn colors

The conservatory

Beautiful yellows and oranges

It was a perfect way to end our visit to London and a great transition for going into the countryside the next day.

We celebrated our last night in London with a special cocktail called Lost In The Museum. I loved the name, so fitting for our trip!

The next morning we were off to Cornwall

St. Mawes

 Stay tuned! There are castles, country walks, and cream teas coming up.


  1. An exciting post, interesting full of beautiful pictures and information. Thanks for sharing!

  2. OH good grief!I'm suppose to be getting dressed and here I sit GLUED to your POST!Makes me want to hop on the plane right now!You know you got me into VITA.........well I just got back from FRANCE and my lovely TOUR GUIDE's MOTHER Lives right next door to her house!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Beautiful photos....Good buy and I need to get there its been way to 35 years!!!XX

  3. Sunday, thank you for letting us know where to buy the poster of Virginia Woolf. I immediately ordered it.
    I had already ordered the book. How exciting your trip sounded. I will be eager to hear more as I have a feeling you might have visited some of the places they went growing up. Thanks for such a delightful post and the photos are wonderful.

  4. Please, please keep showing us your pics. What a beautiful view you're giving us. I missed many of those places. Next time, I'll have to do more research on places to see in London. We stayed in the Belgravia area of London, but I did not see such beauty as you.

  5. Dripping. Absolutely dripping with envy and yearning, Sunday. Thank you for this excellent, stimulating post and for sharing so much, so far . . .

  6. Sunday, it all sounds fabulous! It has many years since I visited is one of my favorite places! Thanks for sharing! Hugs! Bonnie

  7. I loved every photo and comment. This blog made me feel as though I have had a beautiful visit myself. Thank you so much! Judie

  8. Your trip sounds absolutely wonderful and it looks like you got quite lucky with the weather. I always have that feeling of being surrounded by history in London as well. The National Portrait Gallery is one of my favorite museums in the world, and Scott's is a restaurant that I love, and where we also eat dinner the first night we arrive. I think the restaurant in Richmond will be enough to entice my husband to come with me to the gardens, the next time we go! Thanks for sharing your fantastic trip with all of us.

  9. Thank you for the links to the Virginia Woolf exhibit! The photo album is there, as well as the portrait and the audio tour (wow!) Not as wonderful as actually being there, but as close as I will be able to get this side of the pond. This post of yours is one I am savoring section by section. Ab Fab!

  10. I would really enjoy the Virginia Woolf exhibit. London history, London gardens and parks London shops…
    Thank you for sharing your trip. Your photos are lovely.

  11. We visited so many of the same places! I do wish we could have coordinated our schedules. xo