Wednesday, 20 July 2016

London 2016

Arrived back from York Monday mid-afternoon by very fast train service (about 2 hours), and checked into our hotel for the next 5 days all prepared for our planned attack on the London itinerary.

Up first thing on Tuesday and after a filling Full English Breakfast, sallied forth for a 15 minute walk to the London Metropolitan Archives. We are trying to find out a little more on Peter's Beckett family who actually lived (at quite a few places) in this very area. Spent hours wading Workhouse and Infirmary records with a nil result. This family certainly kept their lives well hidden. Hopefully we'll find out more another day - but not on this very rainy London day.

Disappointment at the lack of results at the LMA was alleviated by a delicious dinner out at the Strand hotel followed by a wonderful performance of "Hobson's Choice" at the Vaudeville Theatre in the Strand. It starred Martin Shaw (Judge John Deed, Inspector Gently) and Christopher Timothy (All Creatures Great & Small). They, and the rest of the cast, gave us many laughs at this quite old comedy/play. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

Wednesday was the day for our trip to the National Archives in Kew. A fantastic resource centre and once you pass through security and show two pieces of I.D. (passport/driver's licence), you're allowed into the research rooms and can have access to whatever your heart desires in their vast catalogue. Heaven. Peter was searching for particular WW1 records relating to his grandfather - and found them. I, on the other hand, was attempting to find West India shipping records as Birkley was a West India Captain ca 1830. No luck at all. He's still a mystery.

Later that evening Peter attended a meeting of the Western Front Association at Hornchurch arriving back at our hotel late that night with a massive tome given to him as a gift to add to our luggage weight! While he was there, I walked a very short distance to the wonderful British Library and spent an hour or so at their 'Treasures of the British Library" exhibition almost drooling over the world's most beautiful and important books and documents - everything from 1,000 year old documents, illuminated manuscripts, the Magna Carta, original manuscripts from Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, etc, not forgetting some of the Beatles lyrics - Michelle - written by Paul on the back of an envelope, and also 'Hey Jude' scribbled on the back of a child's birthday card. Wonderful stuff and of course I was the last to leave being shoo-ed out at 8pm.

The cottage at Bletchley where Turing cracked the Enigma code.
Thursday was our outing to Bletchley Park - the home of those amazingly brilliant code and cypher people during the 1939/45 War. Over 10,000 people worked there in top secret jobs throughout the was and interestingly 6,000 of them were women. We saw through the Mansion and all the remaining huts where such incredible work was carried out. If you've seen the movie "The Imitation Game" you'll get a bit of an idea of the whole set-up, but it is vast. We had a guide show us various areas and had an explanation and demonstration of the code-breaking "Bombe" which helped de-code some of the messages sent by the various Enigma machines.

Our last day in London was Friday and  in the morning we had made a most important visit to Libertys - such a gorgeous shop (I could have stayed for hours). Fabulous wares all imaginately displayed - and of course I bought some of their wonderful Liberty print fabrics - some for daughter, Claire, to use in her patchwork, a piece for me for a summer top, and of course some lovely Rowan fine yarn for knitting.

During our London stay we have made good use of the London Underground and found London Transport's Oyster card quite brilliant and very easy to use. At the end of our stay we were able to 'cash in' what credit remained on the cards as well as the five pounds each card had originally cost us. So convenient for travellers.

Sometimes you get quite a surprise on the Tube. When changing lines who did we see but Star Wars Stormtroopers and Federation Officers waiting for their train. Who'd have thought it?

Peter managed to drag me away from Libertys eventually and we travelled down to Wapping by the Thames to have lunch with our cousin Brenda at the very ancient "The Prospect of Whitby" pub.  This pub was built in 1520 and is in the close neighbourhood where my Birkley family lived during the 18th century. They certainly would have known it and possibly had an ale or two or three there. The Thames dockside of course suffered greatly during the last war and many of the old streets and lanes disappeared and now everywhere there are modern buildings and apartments. I doubt the old Birkleys would recognise the place now - apart from the The Prospect of Whitby, of course.

Before heading back to our hotel we dropped into Harrods - as you do - for a bit of a browse. Masses of people there so we didn't stay long but enjoyed wandering around the toy department. Such fun toys.

We certainly seemed to pack a fair bit into our short stay in London - none of the usual tourist hotspots though - we visited new and old favourites and thoroughly enjoyed them all. Saturday morning saw us wheeling our cases over the road to the beautiful St Pancras Station to board the Eurostar train to Belgium.

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