The West End and Kensington

PICCADILLY CIRCUS AT NIGHT
PICCADILLY CIRCUS

PICCADILLY CIRCUS

Our third route takes us from Trafalgar Square westward into Pall Mall, a long straight thoroughfare extending to St. James’s Palace. We pass Haymarket on the right, with the lofty New Zealand building on the corner, and just beyond it glance into the pleasant little Royal Opera Arcade. So we come to Waterloo Place, at the foot of Regent Street. Across the way is the celebrated Athenaeum Club, with its classic frieze. In Waterloo Place are some interesting memorials – note particularly the one to Sir John Franklin, picturing his burial in the Arctic ice. From Waterloo Place we proceed up Lower Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus, second only to Trafalgar Square as a meeting-place. Visitors from all parts of the world can usually be seen grouped around the fountain below Gilbert’s graceful statue of Eros. This is also an extremely busy traffic centre and visitors are advised to use the ‘lower deck’ when crossing from side to side. This ‘lower deck’ contains shops and the underground railway booking offices.

LEICESTER SQUARE

LEICESTER SQUARE

Let us get our bearings. Assuming that we stand with our backs to the Criterion Theatre we can look straight across towards Shaftesbury Avenue, with its theatres and restaurants; to the right Coventry Street leads to Leicester Square with more restaurants and some large cinemas. In Haymarket, the lower end of which we passed at the beginning of our walk, is the Design Centre, a display of well-designed goods produced in the United Kingdom. On either side of Swan & Edgar’s store in Piccadilly Circus are two of the best streets in London, Regent Street and Piccadilly. Regent Street, lined by good shops, curves gracefully up, past Oxford Circus, its junction with Oxford Street, to the distinctive building of the British Broadcasting Corporation. Beyond is Regent’s Park, described later.

PICCADILLY CIRCUS AT NIGHT

PICCADILLY CIRCUS AT NIGHT

More varied in interest is Piccadilly. On the left is St. James’s, one of Wren’s loveliest churches, and containing some of Grinling Gibbons carving. Just beyond is Burlington House, the home of various learned societies, but most widely known on account of the Royal Academy of Arts, whose summer exhibition of works of living artists is one of London’s major events. Attracting no less attention are the loan exhibitions of international art staged each winter. The Royal Academy was founded in 1768 by George III and at first was quartered in Somerset House. It came to Burlington House in 1854. Adjoining qn the west is the well-known Burlington Arcade containing very high class jewellery and other shops.

Then comes Bond Street, another fashionable shopping street, but we continue along Piccadilly. Down on the left is St. James’s Palace. Until Henry VIII forsook it for Wolsey’s Whitehall, this was the monarch’s official residence and foreign ministers and ambassadors are still accredited to ‘Our Court of St. James’. Little is now left of the Palace designed by Holbein apart from the gateway and the Chapel Royal, to which visitors are admitted.

Beyond the Ritz Hotel Piccadilly suddenly opens up a view across the Green Park to Buckingham Palace. Many of the houses in this part of Piccadilly are occupied by famous sporting or social clubs. Clarges Street on the right leads through to Shepherd Market, not quite so unsophisticated as the name might suggest but a pleasantly individual corner of the West End of London.

HYDE PARK CORNER AND THE HILTON HOTEL

HYDE PARK CORNER AND THE HILTON HOTEL

Now we come to Hyde Park Corner, another busy traffic centre where the continuation of Piccadilly dives under the north-south route formed by Grosvenor Place and Park Lane. At the corner is Apsley House, once the home of the great Duke of Wellington and now containing a Wellington Museum. Grosvenor Place runs south past the Wellington Arch and the gardens of Buckingham Palace. Park Lane skirts the eastern edge of Hyde Park and leads us to the Marble Arch in Oxford Street. Several of London’s most luxurious hotels are in Park Lane and off to the right is Grosvenor Square, with the United States Embassy and a statue of President F. D. Roosevelt.

THE ROOSEVELT MEMORIAL, GROSVENOR SQUARE

THE ROOSEVELT MEMORIAL, GROSVENOR SQUARE

Marble Arch and the Cumberland Hotel

Marble Arch and the Cumberland Hotel

The Marble Arch was designed by John Nash on the lines of the Arch of Constantine in Rome and was erected in 1827 in front of Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately it was too narrow to allow the State Coach to pass through and in consequence it was moved to its present site in 1851. It now serves no useful purpose and the traffic makes it difficult to effect a close inspection of its reliefs. A few yards westward is the site of Tyburn Tree: the gallows on which malefactors were hanged in years gone by.

At the corner of Hyde Park nearest to the Marble Arch is Speaker’s Corner, where various orators hold forth on an astonishing variety of subjects before an audience that is usually more inclined to ribaldry than applause. Close by is an underground car park with accommodation for 1,000 cars.

SERPENTINE LIDO

SERPENTINE LIDO

Hyde Park is the largest in London and with the adjoining Kensington Gardens it covers 636 acres. The 41 -acre lake known as the Serpentine is used for bathing and boating and there is usually a regatta during the summer. Rotten Row (1i miles) is set aside for horse riding. Kensington Gardens is another beautiful area of turf and trees and flower beds, with the Round Pond beloved of juvenile yachtsmen and Frampton’s delightful statue of Peter Pan. Beside the public approach to Kensington Palace is a very lovely sunken garden. Kensington Palace, in which Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon have apartments, became a royal residence in the time of William III. Sir Christopher Wren was called in to make additions and alterations and his hand can be detected in the charming Orangery. The State Apartments are open to the public and contain other examples of Wren’s work and carvings by Grinling Gibbons.

Part of the Palace is now set aside as the London Museum, which specialises in exhibits illustrating the history of the social and domeistic life of London over the centuries.

Long before reaching the Palace our eye will have been caught by the Royal Albert Hall and its attendant memorial to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort. The hall is one of the largest in the world, with seats for more than 7,000 people. There is a continuous series of concerts and other entertainments and the hall is also much in demand for rallies and festivals. Particularly popular are the Promenade Concerts organised by the British Broadcasting Corporation in late summer.

Albert Memorial Kensington Gardens

Albert Memorial Kensington Gardens

The Albert Memorial across the road has been the butt of many uncomplimentary remarks but it is worth walking round the base to see the 180 marble reliefs of architects, sculptors, musicians and artists. High above sits the statue of the Prince, in his hand a copy of the catalogue of the Great Exhibition of 1851 which he encouraged and which incidentally provided funds or sites for several neighbouring museums and colleges. The Exhibition Building became the Crystal Palace at Sydenham but was burnt down in 1936.

Geographers will not need to be told that only a few yards from the hall are the headquarters of the Royal Geographical Society. Let us here turn down Exhibition Road to ‘Museum land’. Passing the Imperial College of Science and Technology, we come to the Science Museum, a fascinating wonderland with many interesting prototypes and a special children’s section. Next door is the Geological Museum, where beautiful models and lovely jewels deny any idea that geology is a dull subject: Facing Cromwell Road is the long frontage of the Natural History Museum with a wonderful collection illustrating zoology, entomology, botany, mineralogy and palaeontology.

Turning to the left along Cromwell Road we reach the entrance to the Victoria and Albert Museum, devoted to Fine and Applied Art of all countries and housed in a beautiful building designed by Sir Aston Webb. The eleven departments include architecture and sculpture, ceramics, engraving and illustrating and design, library, metalwork, painting, textiles and woodwork. There is a fully licensed restaurant.

Just east of the museum in Cromwell Road is the Church of the Oratory, one of London’s principal Roman Catholic churches and an important centre for sacred music.

If instead of turning down Exhibition Road from the Royal Geographical Society we continue westward we will come to Kensington High Street, one of London’s most popular shopping centres. Near the far end is the Commonwealth Institute, whose galleries display a colourful collection of exhibits relating to the countries and peoples of the Commonwealth. Another unusual building is Leighton House, a few hundred yards west of the Institute, in Holland Park Road. It was designed by Lord Leighton, a former President of the Royal Academy and contains a reproduction of an Arab hall, his studio and much lovely tiling and interesting pictures. Here too is the British Theatre Museum.

Kensington High Street is continued by Hammersmith Road, where is Olympia, the scene of many important exhibitions and of the annual Services Tournament. Other great exhibitions and trade shows are organised at Earl’s Court, a mile or so to the south of Olympia, all of which are well advertised in the press.

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