I had the privilege of visiting The Royal Albert Hall for a private tour and saw the backstage, the lounge for the Royal Family, the Royal Box and other parts of the Hall usually off limits to the public.
The Royal Albert Hall was built between 1867 and 1871 and was officially opened on 29 March 1871 with the presence of Queen Victoria, who was overcome with emotion as she was reminded of her late husband, Prince Albert, who had died a decade earlier, never having seen the Hall named in his honour.
After the death of Prince Albert in 1861, plans of commemorating him a hall on the present site came up. The Prince had suggested as early as 1853 that the Royal Academy of Music might like to build a music hall on the south side of Cromwell Road. But it remained an idea and never even came to a planning stage until after the Prince’s death.
The Hall was originally designed with a capacity for 8,000 people. But historically, since its opening in 1871 it has a few times accommodated as many as 12,000 people. Under the present day safety restrictions, the maximum permitted capacity is now down to only 5,544 including standing in the Gallery.
I’ve been here many times prior and it was quite eerie and strange to see the hall practically empty.
The bust of Victoria and Albert are on display in one of the walls.
The hallway on the 2nd floor.
This set of steps lead to the Royal Box.
Lounge or reception where members of the royal family would wait before they proceed to the Royal Box.
Royal Albert Memorial as seen from one of the massive windows on the 2nd floor.
Prince Albert’s bust and Albert Memorial.
The details of the stone works and other ornamentation all over the building are quite impressive. Loads of initials, ‘RAH’ – Royal Albert Hall – or ‘VR’ – Victoria Regina or ‘VA’ – Victoria and Albert are seen everywhere.
The Royal Albert Hall is a very historic and magnificent edifice and it certainly is one of my favourite buildings in London.
The Prince Albert Memorial is a monument, essentially a ciborium, erected in honour of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s Consort. His death only at age 42, not only shocked the nation but also devastated the Queen. The monument is one of the great works of the Victorian renowned architect George Gilbert Scott in 1863-72.
The cast-bronze statue of the late prince sits on a plinth upon a larger pedestal, which also has marble figure groups of the four continents and a frieze of great artists, figures representing manufacture, commerce, agriculture and engineering.
From the centre rises a massive spire, containing a smaller niche with gilt bronze statues of the Christian virtues. Through two more tiers of plinths with bronze angels, the spire is finally topped with a cross.
There’s four massive marble figures representing Europe, Asia, Africa and America that stand at each corner of the memorial as shown in the following four photos.
The monument is inside Kensington Gardens right across the street from Royal Albert Hall.
It’s beguiling even from a distance.
If you happen to visit London, and wanna stroll around Kensington Palace and Gardens, it’s worth seeing this monument. And of course, Royal Albert Hall is just across the street, another iconic building in the city that’s worth visiting. If interested to read more about Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, here’s a link to an old blog post.
Standing next to Westminster tube station and right across the street from The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, St Stephen’s Tavern is a traditional pub that originally opened in 1875. It has been frequented by many renowned personalities including prime ministers such as Winston Churchill, Stanley Baldwin and Harold Macmillan and even today it is one of the watering holes of some famous British politicians.
It’s on a Grade II Listed building with ornate wooden carved high ceiling and other fittings from the original Victorian structure. (According to English Heritage, “A building is listed when it is of special architectural or historic interest considered to be of national importance and therefore worth protecting.”)
Unarguably, it is one the best pubs to visit in London for those interested in political history. It’s mentioned in one of Winston Churchill’s biography books and it’s been on my list of ‘historic places to visit’ in the city for over a decade. I’ve only visited once to take these photos with a visiting friend from Manila, and it was packed with tourists and possibly with some of the British government’s elite, too.
Today marks the bicentenary of the birth of Queen Victoria. She was born at Kensington Palace and lived there until her accession, on that historic morning, the 20th of June 1837, when she was informed of the death of her uncle, King William IV. Up until that day, aged 18, she shared a bedroom with her extremely protective mother and was never out of her mother’s, or her nanny’s sight. But something significant happened on that fateful morning, she went to see the Prime Minister and her privy council on her own without her mother. Then she moved out of her mother’s bedroom into another room at Kensington Palace and only her governess was given access to her bedroom, a privilege denied to her mother. Even after she married Prince Albert and moved to Buckingham Palace, Lehzen became her private secretary and had access to her bedroom. Again, it was a privilege she never gave to her mother. In fact, she never allowed her mother to live at Buckingham Palace but had bought her a house in London where she lived until her death.
It’s safe to say that if there’s one person that had the greatest influence on Victoria’s life, it was her governess, Baroness Louise Lehzen. She was born in Hanover; her father was a Lutheran pastor and her mother was also a daughter of a pastor. No doubt Lehzen’s Christian upbringing made a strong impact on Victoria. She came to England as governess to Princess Féodore, Victoria’s half-sister. In 1824 Lehzen was appointed governess to the young princess Victoria, and remained as Victoria’s friend, ally and constant companion. Lehzen was strongly protective of Victoria and encouraged Victoria to become knowledgeable, strong, and independent from her mother’s and her mother’s private secretary, John Conroy’s influence. Her mother, the Duchess of Kent, and Conroy tried to control Victoria and even tried to forced her to sign a document that would make Conroy a regent in case Victoria inherits the throne before she turns 18. Lehzen advised Victoria against it and she dedicated her life to ensure that if Victoria became Queen, she would be intelligent and strong-minded. After the queen married Prince Albert, Lehzen became her secretary in private matters. Lehzen was often criticised by many historians for her influence over Victoria but I believe that if there’s one person who truly had only Victoria’s interests at heart, that would be Baroness Lehzen. Victoria wrote in her diary about Lehzen, “she’s the most affectionate, devoted, attached and disinterested friend I have.”
Lehzen not only imparted to the princess Christian values but also a love of history. She also provided the love and affection which Victoria never received from her own mother. The princess was taught to control her temper and to admit her mistakes to all she had wronged, regardless of rank. Though she encouraged the princess from a young age to keep a journal, she never kept one herself, thinking it inappropriate to her position as a royal servant. “She was very strict.”, Victoria later wrote in her diary. The queen had great respect and seemed in awe of Lehzen, but with that the greatest affection as her diary revealed. Even in old age, Queen Victoria often talked about her governess and made mentioned of her in her diary. The queen provided Lehzen a handsome pension, visited her in Hanover several times, sent her a wheelchair when she was infirmed, and after Lehzen’s death, the queen even erected a memorial in her honour. No doubt, Baroness Lehzen was indeed the greatest single influence in the formative period of the character of the princess. Lehzen was her confidant, best friend and ally. God has providentially worked it out that Lehzen became an instrument in imparting Christian virtues to the princess, and it must be to her credit, and ultimately to God, for handing over to the nation a queen that embraced Christian values. God has indeed accomplished His purpose in the life of Queen Victoria.
She lived a truly unique life. Under her rule, Britain doubled its size making it the largest imperial power in the world. It controlled more than 14 million square miles of territory (23% of the world’s surface) and approximately 460 million people at its peak. It has an international trade that dwarfed all others, and produced thirty percent of the world’s total industrial output. Its navy dominated the oceans and its empire expanded on a simple principle that trade follows the flag. It was described as being the “Empire on which the sun never sets.”
There are innumerable books written about Queen Victoria and I’ve read more than a dozen biographies written by both British and foreign historians. I’ve also read a lot of social history books on the Victorian era simply because it truly is my favourite period in British history. What’s remarkable about this age is the fact that religion pervaded the social as well as the political life to an extent that’s unimaginable today. The British people embraced Christian values; that’s not to say that majority of the people were Christians but rather, people were extremely religious; were thirsting for faith and are continually seeking it. The Russian theologian Alexis Khomiakov was amazed at how silent the streets of London were on a Sunday. He wrote in his book, Russia and the English Church, (London, 1895): “Germany has in reality no religion at all but the idolatry of science; France has no serious longings for truth, and little sincerity; England with its modest science and its serious love of religious truth might [seem] to give some hopes…” Remarkably, it was also an age of major scientific discovery and progress, and the rise of Darwin’s Origin of Species to Karl Marx’s Das Kapital and other new ideologies that undermined faith in the truth of the Bible.
Kensington Palace has a permanent exhibit on Queen Victoria’s life, and to celebrate the bicentenary of her birth there’s a special exhibit called Discover the Real Victoria. It opens today and I can’t wait to visit. I’m sure the exhibit will yield more fascinating and fresh insights into the life of Queen Victoria.
Five years ago I made a comparison of the current queen and her great-great-grandmother in this post.
We have had the longest winter ever! And this is one of the coldest spring I can remember since I moved to London 18 years ago. April started out bitterly cold this year, and there was little sign the cold will be relenting until about a couple of weeks ago. Not that we didn’t get our spells of brilliant sunshine, we sure did. But even when the sun was out, it still was a bit chilly. Obviously it hasn’t fooled the trees. Wisterias were in full bloom this time last year; today the buds are just barely starting to bulge and it might take two to three weeks before they are in full bloom. Continue reading “Spring? More like Summer in London!”→
Just as the first signs of the new season are starting to bloom, London is blanketed in snow and the forecasted severe weather implied freezing cold temperatures until the end of the week. Snow is a fairly rare phenomenon in Britain’s capital, and the tiniest sheet of white can cause Londoners to go into a state of hysteria — flights are cancelled, roads are closed, public transportations are delayed, everything seems to shutdown, and the city goes on a panic mode. Londoners just can’t cope with the downpour of snow! While I like snow and enjoy the lovely wintery landscape, I hate being cold. With five layers of clothing, I went out with Jared the other day to document the scene. The trees look quite breathtaking under the soft white powdery snow blanket. It was biting cold and even with leather gloves lined with cashmere, it felt like my fingers were falling off haha! I don’t think I can cope living in a place with sub-zero temperatures. Anyhow, we took loads of photos with our iPhones and I just wanted to share a few of them. For my family and friends in the tropics, these photos may cause you to dream about being in winter wonderland. 🙂 Continue reading “Postcards from London – Winter 2018”→
I’ve been making bath salts recently — thanks to my friend Rhoda who introduced me to this wonderful concoction. But before I’m quite there let me just say that I’ve been using Epsom Salts, or Magnesium Sulphate, for warm baths, foot soak, shower scrub, facial wash, etc., for many years now (and I’ve also been taking this) but the idea of making bath salts never even occurred to me until I saw Rhoda’s Instagram post.
Taking Magnesium has a whole host of benefits. It not only boosts magnesium levels in the body but it also alleviates muscular aches and pains, helps relieve stress, and other therapeutic effects.
As soon as I saw Rhoda’s post, I immediately dried some flowers (I happened to have a bouquet of roses) on the microwave and made some bath salts. I followed Rhoda’s instructions and experimented with different essential oils — orange, lavender, etc.
The dried flowers smell so good that I decided to put some on a small ceramic dish on top of my desk and every time Jared comes in he’d tell me how he likes the smell — and he’s not even into flowers, fragrance and all of that girly thing. So for the last three weeks I have this big jar of dried roses sitting in my desk and it will probably stay there forever! (Photos above and below are before and after drying the flowers respectively.)
The bath salts are great DIY gift ideas to give to family and friends at any occasion. I have recently given away a few jars as birthday gifts to friends. I’ve simply put the bath salts in a jar, decorated them with dried autumn leaves and card tags — and voilà, special gifts to friends! ( I love my Everyday Label Punch and enjoy making my own card tags.)
If you consider adding a cup or two of this concoction to your bath then you can also have a luxurious bath experience in your own home. And you might end up doing it regularly. The dried flowers and the essential oils will make your bathroom, and yourself, smell absolutely divine.
After my morning run (I run 5 miles, at Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, 3x a week), I usually soak my feet in warm water with epsom salts and a few drop of essential oils for 10 minutes. Now that I got the bath salts it’s even more convenient and pleasurable to do foot soak. I use them not just for foot scrub & exfoliating foot treatment but also for shower scrub and facial wash (I just add a tiny amount to my facial cleanser). All of us deserve a little pampering sometimes and this is one of those things I do to indulge myself in a little bit of luxury — at a minimal cost!
The 31st of August was just a normal day for us in London, rather unusually bright and sunny, not grey and wet like the day before so we went to Kensington Gardens for a picnic at around 1PM to enjoy the warm sunshine. We were in our usual spot, behind The Orangery, and just as we were about to eat our ‘Chinese take-away’ (we don’t always eat sandwiches and crisps every time we go out for a picnic, you know!? ), we spotted and heard a helicopter hovering above us. We were then reminded that it was Princess Diana’s 20th death anniversary. After eating I grabbed a book from my handbag and started reading it but the sound of the helicopter bothered me so much that I decided to put it away and told Jared I was going to walk around the park towards the front gates of Kensington Palace.
I wasn’t expecting to see a huge crowd but there were at least 200 or more people standing around the gates plus a hundred more sitting on the grass in front of the palace. As I was starting to read a few letter tributes I spotted a familiar face — Andrew Morton — the official biographer of the late Princess of Wales. He wrote the explosive book that shook the British monarchy to its very core — Diana, Her True Story. I’ve read some other books he wrote over the years and I’ve seen him on tv being interviewed about his books numerous times hence, he looks familiar. I was too shy to approach him but thought there might not be any other opportunity like this. So, I mustered enough courage and walked towards him. Rather bashful I said, “Hi. You’re Andrew Morton, right?” He gave me a warm smile big and a reply, “Yes. I am.” With a silly grin, probably even blushing a little, I said, “My name is Elna Smith. I’ve read some of the books you wrote and my favourite so far is ‘Diana Her True Story’ which I’ve read in 1993.” “Have you, really? He replied, “You must be very young then. Are you just visiting London?” he asked. “Oh, no.” I interrupted, “I am originally from the Philippines but I’ve lived here in this neighbourhood for over 17 years. You mind if I ask you some questions about Princess Diana?” He gave me another big smile and said, “Sure. Go ahead.” And I sure did take the opportunity to ask him some questions about the late princess, and he candidly answered them all. It was a really nice chat I had with him. He was incredibly gracious and kind. A real gentleman indeed.
I thanked him and asked if I could have a photo with him; he was happy to do it and even asked a lady standing nearby to do it for us. Interestingly enough, no one else other than myself recognised him. But a lady who took our photo, she was standing right next to us, overheard our conversation and she introduced herself as a German tv/radio host, and asked Andrew a couple of questions about Princess Diana. He then asked where the nearest loo is and I told him, The Orangery or Royal Garden Hotel. He smiled, said thank you and walked away. Afterwards, I ran back towards The Orangery thrilled to tell Jared about my rare encounter with the famous royal biographer.
At around 6PM Jared and Trystan were already tired playing football while I was about to finish reading my book when we decided to pack up and go home. But I told Jared, ‘I’ll walk towards the front gates and have another look at the crowd. I might spot another famous personality, may be someone very close to Princess Diana. I’ll see you in half an hour!’ And off I went back to the palace gates . . .
Wouldn’t you know it? As soon as I got there, I saw Ken Wharfe, Royal Protection Officer of the late princess — just saw him being interviewed on ITV a couple of days prior. He wrote two books ‘Diana Closely Guarded Secret’ and ‘Guarding Diana Protecting The Princess Around the World’ — I’ve read the first one but not the newly published 2nd book.
I tried to do what I did to Andrew Morton — introduced myself, asked some questions, and asked for a photo with him. Unlike Andrew Morton, Ken Wharfe was very serious but kind enough to stop and have a little chat. But he was with someone, a younger man, probably his assistant or bodyguard (who knows? ), who told him they have to go. They seemed to be in a rush that I only managed to ask him one question: ”What was Princess Diana like behind the camera?” His answer was, “Complicated but witty.”
I then walked over towards the front gates to check some of the tributes and take some photos. And as I was heading home, I spotted another familiar face! This time, it was Arthur Edwards — a journalist/royal photographer who became Princess Diana’s trusted friend. He wrote a memoir, ‘Diana: The People’s Princes – A Personal Tribute in Words and Pictures’ — another great book I’ve read about the late princess.
Mr Edwards was having a serious conversation with someone, probably another photographer, when I spotted him. I lingered for about 10-15 minutes and waited until he walked away; then I ambushed him. No, I didn’t. He’s an elderly man — probably in his late 70s; as he walked away I simply followed him and started talking to him.
I had a brief but nice chat with him. He’s such a charming old man — gentle, sweet and kind — what I envision a grandfather should be. I truly respect and admire him. Mr Edwards didn’t make any money from his book — proceeds go to Princess Diana Memorial Fund. Apparently, he is in good terms with the royal family and especially with Diana’s two boys who sometimes invite him to special occasions. It was really heartwarming to hear a few stories about Princess Diana from a man who captured not only the joys but also the heartaches of the late princess.
The next morning, 1st of September, I did my morning run at the park and saw more people leaving flowers in front of the palace gates. While running, I got a phone call from Tina; she wanted to see me at Kensington Gardens where she was heading with Lucia. We then met up and sat in one of the benches in front of the palace. Tina’s grieving over the recent death of her sister-in law and niece and was greatly distressed so I listened to her talk about it and just tried to encourage her.
In the evening just before the park closed down, Jared and I walked over to Kensington Palace once again to have one last look at the tributes before they are finally removed.
There were more flowers, handwritten notes, photographs, candles and other tributes on display. So much more than what I saw earlier in the day.
I was telling Jared on our way to the park that during Princess Diana’s funeral twenty years ago I skipped work and was glued on tv for almost a day; and when I spotted the funeral cortège moving solemnly down the streets of London I cried the first time I saw William and Harry walking behind their mother’s casket. It reminded me of losing my own father at a young age and I tried to imagine myself in their shoes — what it would be like for the young princes to have lost their mother. I said to Jared, ‘I have meet you a few months after she died, and who would have thought back then that three years after Princess Diana’s death I’d be living in London, in the same neighbourhood where she lived for many years.’
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that one day I would end up marrying a foreigner, much less a British-American. You see, I didn’t dream about living abroad or marrying a white man. My goal was simple — to marry a Filipino, someone who could support a big family so I wouldn’t have to work, I wanted to be a housewife and raise three beautiful and smart kids. But life happens not according to our plan but God’s.And yes, His plan is always the best. I promise, I’m not gonna bore you with my love story though I must say that it’s a rather amusing story full of drama and comedy including death threats, church division, etc.
Sorry I digress. Back to KP, it was starting to get dark and there were only a handful of people hanging around. Jared insisted on taking some photos of myself; I was barefaced and refused but relented after he told me this might be the last time the whole nation will celebrate Princess Diana’s death anniversary. Jared showed me the photos he took of and said, ‘You have to blog about this occasion, about meeting those book authors yesterday, and include this beautiful picture of yourself.’ I had a big laugh and said, ‘Sige na nga!’ (Okey then).
Note: Although royal sighting has been the norm around here, and I’ve seen some of the most senior royals (blogged about it last year —here’s the link), I have yet to see Prince Harry in person.