January 20-21, 2023
We’re in London for a nice visit this week, with quite a number of activities planned. Though it didn’t take us long to clear customs through Heathrow’s e-Gates and to get into the city (part of which was on the new Elizabeth underground line), because we arrived pretty early in the day, our hotel room was, predictably, not ready. Hotel assured us that the guest (with a lower status level) had already checked out and we could wait in the lounge…Three hours later, the hotel told us that the guest had not in fact checked out and had until 2 to do so. Had we known this at the time, we would have left all our luggage at the desk and gone out. We actually got into our room at 3pm (6 hours after checking in). Needless to say, we didn’t do much of anything that first day.
Saturday the 21st, we had plans to go out to Kew , a small village about 45 minutes outside London. Home to Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, it’s somewhere we’ve visited many times, but not today. See 2015 , 2019 , 2021. Today in Kew we’re also visiting the National Archives and having High Tea at Newens Maids of Honour. We knew where the National Archives were located having made a point of finding it before, but since our visit to Kew in the past was focused on the Gardens, we hadn’t visited it. This really large facility is tucked away only a few blocks from the rail station next to the River Thames. We weren’t sure what historical immigration records they had relative to those we found at the PRANI and those we found in Edinburgh, Scotland.
We discovered that the records they had didn’t help our research needs, which were more focused on Scotland and Ireland; the German ancestry that passed briefly through England on the way to Canada wasn’t something that was retained in their records. The staff were very helpful and if you had the need for their resources, it would be a great place to spend some time.
A bit disappointed, we walked about a mile down to Kew Rd to have High Tea at Newens Maids of Honour.
It was pretty busy today (Saturday) with the tables booked for the afternoon (never imagined it), even at 3 pm, so we sat outside on the patio. That was absolutely fine, except it was still a bit cool. Maids of Honour pastry is a traditional English pastry that dates back to the 16th century, it was said to have been created for King Henry VIII’s court and was named after the group of young ladies who served as ladies-in-waiting to the queen. The recipe for the pastry was rediscovered in the 19th century and is still available in bakeries in Kew and London today. Though we’ve never stayed here, Newens apparently has a few rooms to let. I don’t think they’d be too fond of guests making their way downstairs at night to sample the goods though 😉.
After tea, it’s time to walk back to the quaint little train station. The train station has small shops arranged in a semi-circle as you approach it. We’ve become accustomed to using our phones to tap-in/out of the Underground’s turnstiles; so convenient and haven’t used our Oyster cards in several years. The train back to London involves a couple of stations and line changes, but using an app like CityMapper makes it easy- put in your destination and then choose which of several options (and whether you’re taking the Tube, driving or walking) and it will tell you the line and the direction and alert you when you’re nearing the point to get off… It doesn’t cover every city, but a lot of the ones we visit.
We’ll return to the hotel for a bit before we head over to the Tower of London for the Ceremony of the Keys. The Ceremony of the Keys is an ancient ritual, held every evening at the Tower of London, when the main gates are locked for the night. It is said to be the oldest extant military ceremony in the world, and is the best-known ceremonial tradition of the Tower.
We exit the Tube at Bank Street (Bank Street is located in the Canary Wharf area and is home to many financial firms) and walk about 15 minutes to the Tower. It’s been a number of years since we attended this ceremony and are interested to see if it’s changed. As we approach the area, I began to recognize the area where you gather to wait for the Yeoman Warder who will be our guide to arrive, check names against the list and let us in the gates of the Tower. Yeoman Warders were originally part of the Yeoman of the Guard – the monarch’s personal, crack bodyguard who traveled with him everywhere.Henry VIII decided that the Tower should be protected by part of the royal bodyguard. Nowadays, their roles are mostly ceremonial, though there is an armed guard at the Tower since the 1000 year old fortress does still contain the Crown Jewels, is highly symbolic of London and the Norman Conquest and a huge tourist attraction.
Unfortunately, we’re not allowed to record the tour (security?) There are quite a number of videos on YouTube about the Tower and its history, so take your pick! The ceremony starts at 9:30pm and lasts about 45 minutes.
There is one point in the tour where it stops at the White Tower and we’re allowed to take photos before we head back to the gates, which are now locked. There’s a small person sized door in the gate through which everyone exits as the Yoeman Warder counts noses – wouldn’t want anyone to be locked in for the night!
The outer wall of the Tower complex are surrounded by a moat (no water) and bathed in floodlights (YouTube).