Sunday 10 January 2016

A Couple of Nice Little Houses

Chiswick House
As I have mentioned before, last year was marked by rather more frequent trips to London than usual for family reasons, and we also enjoyed a year's membership of English Heritage, so when we've visited our family we have usually stayed a mayor two extra and visited some of the London properties managed by this state heritage organisation. In October we stayed near our family at the Brook Green Hotel, Hammersmith, which I thoroughly recommend, by the way, and visited a couple of houses in west London while we were there, one in Chiswick, the other at Hyde Park Corner, both with interesting histories.

Apsley House
Our trip began as usual with a train from Stamford, and a change at Peterborough, but rather later than usual as it was a Sunday and we could not get away until the evening. The Brook Green Hotel kindly arranged for us to check in later than usual, although our trains were actually well on time and we were earlier than anticipated. The Hammersmith & City Underground line was closed for weekend engineering work and we had to travel by the Piccadilly tube line instead: Hammersmith has stations on both lines, opposite one another in the town centre, so it does not make much difference, but the Hammersmith & City is mostly on the surface and makes for a more interesting journey in rather bigger carriages. A short walk to the hotel and check-in. Very friendly staff, nice room with view over Brook Green, the urban oasis which makes this part of London such a pleasant place to live.

Café at Chiswick House
It is always worth checking opening times for historic houses etc because they are commonly closed on one or more days per week; they have to do their cleaning and maintenance some time, so the "tourist" section of our itinerary was built around when our planned destinations would be available for a visit. We have the English Heritage app on our iPhones and were able to plan our days over the wonderful Brook Green Hotel breakfast, including planning the travel there using the Busmapper app. And so, after breakfast we toddled down to Hammersmith bus station and sought the departure bay for service 190 which would take us almost to the gates of Chiswick House. The grounds of the house are a public park, open year-round free of charge, and are well-used by local people; plenty of dog-walkers in evidence and lots of people casually using the café, which, incidentally, is a worthwhile piece of modern architecture itself.

The current house seen from a point in front of where the
original house stood
The "house" is actually just one wing, built by the 3rd Earl of Burlington in the Palladian style for entertaining visitors and contains no real facilities for dwelling. It was inspired by the Mediterranean architecture he encountered on the Grand Tour. An audio guide leads visitors around and explains the history of the house, including the long-demolished parts. Well worth a visit, and with the grounds freely available it is possible to see the exterior before deciding whether to come in. The bus ride there from Hammersmith was easy (we followed the route in real time on bus mapper so we knew where we were and when to get off) and passes the famous Fullers brewery. Chiswick station is a half-mile walk and if we'd been coming here from home, that is probably how we'd have come.

The other place we visited involved a bus trip in the other direction towards central London, and we began, the following day, with a walk along Brook Green to the bus stops for eastbound services along Kensington High Street, alighting (as they say in bus and train jargon!) at Hyde Park Corner. There to our left was Apsley House and to our right, on a traffic island, a statue of the Duke of Wellington and the arch commemorating him. Notable for his victory over Napoleon, we has also Prime Minister for some time and had Apsley House extended to make a comfortable London home. Even after extension it is still not huge: the neighbour over the road is Buckingham Palace, and that is huge.

In this house and at the Wellington Arch, also an English Heritage property, I learnt a very great deal about the politics of the Napoleonic era and the Battle of Waterloo, and the adulation in which the victor was held afterwards. Showered with gifts from all over Europe, Apsley House is as much as anything a museum in which to keep them all, and now they are available to anyone who cares to pay to visit the house. It is worth crossing the road, on the level or by subway, to visit the Wellington Arch, too: the exhibition space inside is small but the view from the top is well worth having. I have driven and been driven past this so many times and have never really given it a second thought before.

By the time we'd walked around these two places and between them we needed something to drink and there was no café or bar anywhere near, but we were on the edge of Hyde Park and walk through there soon brought us to an excellent café-restaurant on the side of the Serpentine and were we stopped for a snack and a drink before strolling on through Hyde Park to Kensington Gardens.

We paid a quick visit to the Albert Memorial on Kensington Gore: again, this is something I had passed very many times but had never really looked at, and it is well worth a visit. From opposite there we caught a bus back to Hammersmith and our hotel.

In due course I shall publish the photographs of the memorial on Flickr: there are far too many to show here.

We returned home from London on the 20:35 train from Kings Cross, the last on weekdays that gives a connection for Stamford, and after the usual First Class refreshments were home in time to unpack and still be in bed at a decent time, ready for what the next day would bring. On this trip to London we had used the Underground only for getting there and back: all our travel within London for our visiting had been done by bus. We did this because it was the most convenient in the circumstances, but it did have the bonus of allowing us some great views as we moved from place to place, too. Thoroughly recommended!

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