Celebrating Home: The Geffrye Museum

For many years I’ve had a deep interest and appreciation for interior design; especially that of years past. I used to make a monthly home magazine for my mum, full of drawings and descriptions of rooms I’d imagined in various styles from historical periods and cultures around the world. Although I don’t have time to continue that magazine, I still appreciate interior design and what it says about the ideas and preferences of contemporary society. In London last April, my mum and I visited the Geffrye Museum, which is the Museum of the Home– and that visit satisfied my long-held love for interior design!

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The exterior of the Geffrye Museum– although it has been a museum since 1914, the building used to house almshouses for the elderly poor in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Geffrye is located in the Hoxton/Shoreditch area of London, which I’d never been to before. We took a bus from Liverpool Street Station through an area which wasn’t terrible but wasn’t the nicest or cleanest either– in these somewhat shabby and nondescript surrounds, the Geffrye’s large ivy-covered building really stood out!

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Looking towards Liverpool Street from the Geffrye

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A very old painted advertisement on a building beside the Geffrye

The Geffrye Museum is free to enter, which is pretty awesome seeing that it features a reading room, beautiful gardens, and eleven fascinating period rooms which are described and analyzed in full detail. There is also a little cafe and a busy shop, which is crammed full of mainly books on horticulture, decorating, and historical interior design. I had trouble not buying most of what was for sale there!

Upon entering the Geffrye, one begins a journey through time. Each period room is a representation of a middle-class room from a specific decade, and the journey begins in the 17th century. First there is a room which has exhibits of artifacts and write-ups on the appropriate decade, which prepares visitors for the authentic interior in the next room.

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This parlour, featuring ornate, heavy furniture and little extra comfort, is from 1690

In the middle of the building is the former almshouse’s chapel, which is quite small but has a very airy feel. Then there is a reading room, with gorgeous paintings on the walls and bookcases below them. Visitors are encouraged to take time to sit and read, and a pleasant array of books on interior design is offered.

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The chapel features carved memorial stones and a painted version of the Ten Commandments

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I’d love to have such a reading room as this in my house! It was restful and beautiful.

My favourite room in the whole place was the 1790 drawing room. I love Georgian design– it’s so classical and ordered. Unfortunately I’m not sure I could live in a room like this one, because white furnishings frighten me and because I have too much stuff, but it’s so lovely that that doesn’t make me like it any less!

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I especially love the wallpaper here. When I have a house of my own, most of it will probably be clad in traditional or vintage wallpaper

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The 1830 example was slightly bolder and more ornate than the 1790 one, and it too was gorgeous

Also interesting was the Victorian room. When I was younger, I adored Victorian style because I loved things for the sake of things– if there was a table or a mantelpiece, I thought that it should be covered with cloths and useless knick-knacks. Now I tend to cringe when I see a Victorian interior. The ostentation and busyness of the Victorian home is no longer for me!

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Victorians seem to have been experts at cramming as many furnishings as possible into a small space

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The Arts and Crafts-inspired room, more or less contemporary to the Victorian one, was much more tranquil and uncluttered

The Geffrye also boasts several more modern period rooms, like a 1960s one and a modern loft. The ’60s one just reminded me of my grandparents’ bungalow, with lush carpets, bright colours in sometimes odd combinations, and utilitarian wooden bookshelves. After looking at the modern rooms and perusing the museum shop, it was time to go outside and check out the gardens. Mirroring the rooms inside, the Geffrye has several period gardens, beginning with a knot garden from the 17th century.

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I’d love a knot garden like this; simple yet striking.

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A cute little greenhouse, similar to what may have been seen in Victorian and Edwardian gardens

The Geffrye Museum offers a wonderful and educational look at what life was like for middle-class families throughout history, through looking at their distinctive interiors. It’s amazing what one can learn about a time period by just looking at its interiors, and the Geffrye does this very well. I really enjoyed my visit there– it was something different that was presented in a great way, and I’d love to go back!

Foray to Fleet Street

Dismal January is the perfect time to plan a vacation, and my friend and I are currently planning a springtime trip to London! It will be her first time in the UK and my tenth if I remember correctly; so it’s going to be a fantastic eye-opener for her and an interesting time for me, as I will be our travel guide! I’m extremely excited but also a bit nervous– I hope I don’t get us lost or anything. But miscalculations happen to the best of us– my London-born dad once got us on a Tube from Clapham heading south to Morden when we were trying to get back to central London– and I’m really looking forward to the adventure.

Planning this next trip has, however, shocked me into the realization that I still haven’t posted about even half of my last trip in 2015!! This won’t do, so for this post I will take you along on a walk/bus ride I took from south of the Thames, along Fleet Street, and to the Strand. I hope you enjoy it.

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We began with a nosh-up at The George in Southwark, where they serve excellent fish & chips and a nice selection of beer. This galleried coaching inn lays claim to being the oldest pub in London

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Southwark Cathedral stands next to the Thames and overlooks the bustle of Borough Market

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We didn’t go into Southwark Cathedral, but the exterior is beautiful and unusual; with small stones filling in the gaps between the large hewn cornerstones

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The Golden Hind was surrounded by swarms of tourists. This example is the only seagoing replica of the original 16th century galleon, which was captained by Sir Francis Drake

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A nice macabre reminder of the Clink, which was notorious for its poor treatment of prisoners and its opportunistic jailers

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The remains of Winchester Palace, which was the house of the Bishop of Winchester

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The famous Globe Theatre, on the south bank of the Thames

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Shakespeare’s original theatre is gone, but today’s Globe continues to show productions of his work in a very authentic setting

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The Millennium footbridge is a fixture of modern London, and I crossed it for the first time in April

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A view from the footbridge of some of London’s new buildings– it’s always changing

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Tower Bridge can be seen in the distance

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The glorious facade of St. Paul’s greeted us as we came across the bridge

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From St. Paul’s, we took a bus towards Westminster; a double-decker bus, of course. This plaque on Fleet Street caught my eye– it commemorates a T.P. O’Connor, journalist and Parliamentarian, whose pen could “lay bare the bones of a book or the soul of a statesman in a few vivid lines”. I liked that memorial.

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Taking a double-decker lets you see things just above street level which you wouldn’t normally notice

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Even London’s lamp posts are works of art!

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Some beautiful carvings of what seem to be heraldic crests

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Charing Cross Station, always busy! The architecture is really quite unique and striking

It will be amazing to be in London again in the spring, and I think posting about my last trip will help me to get all excited and ready for it! London is always memorable, and I feel that this next trip will be even more special and exciting.

The Neighbourhood of a Genius

For as long as I can remember, my grandparents have had an embroidered picture of a flower in their kitchen, with a quote underneath: A thing of beauty is a joy forever. Although I’ve seen those words every time I sit at their kitchen  table, I didn’t always know the source of the words. But now, having an interest in poetry and in the Romantic period in general, I do– those words hail from the mind of John Keats, one of the English language’s greatest poets.

Now that I know Keats’s work, I deeply appreciate it. He is one of my favourite poets, and I especially appreciate the sense of fruitlessness yet emotional intensity in his work. I can be dramatic; so the tragedy of his life (which spills over into his work) resonates with me. Keats suffered from bouts of depression, and since I have always felt things deeply I can feel the emotion in his poems. My favourite poem is 1818’s When I have Fears that I may Cease to Be— this poem is so poignant when one considers that Keats did in fact die young.

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Keats wrote much of his poetry at this house in Hampstead, which I visited this past April.

On my latest trip to London, I was determined to do things more unusual than the standard tourist attractions. So visiting Keats House was the perfect thing! Although visitors can go inside the house, my mum and I just walked around outside in the beautiful, if small, grounds. Fittingly, there were several people sitting outside, each with a book in their hands.

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The rear facade of Keats House. Keats lived here during the beginning of his sadly doomed engagement to Fanny Brawne.

It was amazing to be walking the grounds where Keats walked, and where he perhaps sat on the grass and wrote poetry– but I also appreciated Keats House for its architecture. I love the symmetry and purpose of Georgian buildings, and Keats House really is striking. Set against the lush green grass and the gnarly, still-bare trees, it was absolutely beautiful.

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The front door of Keats House, known in his day as Wentworth Place

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A small plaque remembers Keats

The neighbourhood surrounding Keats House is also lovely. Hampstead Heath is only five minutes away, and the area is hilly and historic. It has a quieter, more village-y feel than much of London, but there is still no shortage of things going on!

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A road not far from Keats House

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A picturesque square and pub near Hampstead Heath rail station

I can see why Keats spent some of his most productive years in this area. Being in such a beautiful setting, and being near to Fanny Brawne must have given him such inspiration. I look forward to one day returning to Keats House– this time with a pencil and paper, so perhaps I can create something amazing in the same way he did.

 

 

The Loveliness of London

My dad and brother are currently enjoying a week-long trip to London, and are making a point of touring all the best pubs and military museums. Needless to say, I am jealous! But I’ve been trying to combat this jealousy by enjoying some British delights of my own at home– I’ve been drinking lots of tea, eating way too many chips, and watching  a few hours of British telly almost every night. It’s nothing like actually being there, but it helps. So with my mind on London, I figured this would be the perfect time to revisit some of the reasons I miss and love this great city so much! All photos are from my most recent trip to London (in April of 2015) and I do hope you enjoy them.

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London has some amazing river views, like this one of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The Thames is the very heart of England’s capital

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London is full of fabulous cars, thanks to its general affluence, history, and reasonable climate. I never see cars as unusual as this vintage Bentley in Canada

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Even small supermarkets offer great food. On my last night in London I enjoyed Kentish ale, a butter chicken sandwich, and crisps

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Whispers of World War II are all around London. This scene is from the Churchill War Rooms beneath Whitehall

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The age of London is incredible. This hatter’s shop dates from 1676

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Highgate Cemetery was one of the most memorable places I’ve visited anywhere in the world. It’s one of London’s most unique attractions

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In London, one can get (relatively) close to royalty. These are the stables in the Royal Mews, which house Her Majesty’s carriage horses

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London’s green spaces and gardens are superb, considering it’s such a metropolis. This lovely water garden is at Kensington Palace

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London wouldn’t be London without its pubs.

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Every pub has a story, and each one is unique despite the fact that many are now controlled by breweries and offer set menus. 

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Pub grub and the friendly pub atmosphere are sorely missed when I’m back in Canada. Although many establishments try, there’s nothing that comes close to an authentic pub around here.

Visiting the Emirates

It can be hard being a football fan in North America. Working full time for minimum wage means that I have neither the time nor the funds to indulge in watching as much football as I’d like, since I’d have to buy a substantial TV subscription in order to do that! But I still love Arsenal (and Newcastle and Swansea follow not-so-closely behind; my family hails from the North and from Wales), and I try to watch as many of their matches as I can.

My brother finds football boring, as I used to as well– I remember shaking my head with him as our Grandad extolled the virtues of the beautiful game! But now I love football, and I was determined to visit Arsenal’s home ground on my latest trip to London. It was something different to do and it was neat to visit something further afield from central London. I’m glad my mum humoured me and agreed to spend an entire precious morning visiting the Emirates!

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My first glimpse of the Emirates, as we headed away from Holloway Road Tube station

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The glorious Emirates Stadium, branded very much with Arsenal in mind

The stadium was so impressive– I was surprised at the size, since I’d never been beside a football stadium before. It was covered in Arsenal logos and photographs, and it is an unmissable fixture of the area.

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A pair of cannons add much to the Arsenal-themed atmosphere!

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I imagine the tenants of these blocks of flats must see and hear it all come match day…

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A notice on one of the stadium doors warns most appropriately against the wearing of away colours

My mum and I walked around the perimeter of the whole stadium– it was quite a jaunt. It was very interesting because there were dog-walkers, joggers, and locals also walking around the outside; the Emirates seems to be fully embraced as not just a sports ground but also somewhere to meet and enjoy.

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Wojciech Szczesny, Arsenal’s then-goalkeeper, is my favourite player

Around the perimeter there were many banners celebrating Arsenal’s achievements and famous players from past and present. Although I only started watching football about five years ago, I was proud to see that my team has been successful and illustrious for years upon years.

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I remember watching the FA Cup last year– a match which Arsenal won!

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Kieran Gibbs is my second-favourite Arsenal player

Visiting the Emirates was a unique experience, and I’m really glad I decided to go. Next up on my list is attending an actual Arsenal match– I’d better start saving my money now!!

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Churchill War Rooms: Part Two

As Part One of this series attests, the Churchill War Rooms in London are a fascinating attraction for history buffs, Churchill admirers, and families alike. I particularly enjoyed them because of their focus on a distinctive and important historical figure, and– as you’ll see in this post– their enduring atmosphere of the Forties.

The War Rooms remain almost exactly as they were at the height of the war; with bare yet practical fixtures and few decorations even in the bedrooms prepared for various politicians and government workers. But I love the practicality of ’40s interior design, and seeing these rooms made it easier to imagine what the atmosphere of war must have been like.

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Many important calls must have come through on this telephone…

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There were many bedrooms like this in the War Rooms, which would have housed politicians safe underground in the event of German attacks

Most of the bedrooms were essentially identical, with simple wooden furniture, a navy blue bedspread, and no unnecessary luxuries whatsoever. But one bedroom had a bit of individuality– it was the room set aside for Clementine Churchill, the wife of Sir Winston.

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Clementine Churchill’s bedroom had charm reminiscent of an English country house, with chintz and traditional furniture

The rest of the rooms were for work, not relaxation. The conference room for the Chiefs of Staff was unadorned but had an imposing atmosphere. Amazing to think of the plans and discussions that must have occurred in this room!

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It was here that the Chiefs of Staff would make plans in the midst of German air raids and general chaos

One of my favourite rooms was the map room. As you would expect, it contained maps– they plastered the walls, and the maps themselves were plastered with pinholes and strings to denote the location of various fronts, convoys, and units over the progression of the war. The maps were very beautiful, and it was rather breathtaking to see all the events of the war represented in one single room which was so important in WWII.

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This section of the map shows Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union– significant to me because of my writing!

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I made sure to find Stalingrad on the map, since it was at Stalingrad that the Germans went no further.

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A detailed tally of flying bombs was kept in the map room– the War Rooms were really on top of everything!

The authentic atmosphere, kept so close to what it was 70 years ago, really made the Churchill War Rooms something special. It was quite moving to be there in the corner of an old-fashioned room once all the audioguide-led tourists had passed by; and to just think of the history that came to pass there. I loved the War Rooms, and would go back there any day!

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A representation of part of the map room at the height of the war

Churchill War Rooms: Part One

It’s pretty shocking that up until April of this year, I’d been to England eight times over ten years and yet had never visited the Churchill War Rooms. Given that this subterranean complex was so integral to England’s war effort, I can’t believe I never visited it– so on my last trip, I made sure that it was one attraction I could not miss.

The War Rooms are controlled by the Imperial War Museum, which I think is one of the best museum organizations in the world! IWM attractions are always very informative and well put-together, and there are things to entertain adults and children alike. I enjoyed the Churchill War Rooms immensely; because they are a relic of Britain’s wartime resolve, and they pay tribute to one of the greatest statesmen and most fascinating characters in modern history: Sir Winston Churchill.

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A portrait of Churchill was one of the sole adornments on this corridor’s wall

One of the fixtures of the War Rooms is a large hall which displays various artifacts pertaining to the history of World War II and to Britain’s beloved wartime leader. Some of these displays were interactive and all were very interesting; but I enjoyed examining the simple static objects best. One such object was an example of the German’s famous Enigma machine, which created what Germany believed to be unbreakable ciphers during the first part of the war.

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The four silver rotors at the rear of the Enigma machine were effectively what created the cipher.

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The Anglo-German Declaration, signed by both Hitler and Neville Chamberlain. A true piece of history

As I moved through the exhibit, I also got a glimpse at the amazing life of Churchill. Regardless of whether one admires his personality or his politics, it must be said that Sir Winston was an extraordinarily accomplished man. I personally do admire him for his conviction and his leadership during the wartime years, and learning more about him at the War Rooms was really inspirational.

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Churchill’s greatcoat; similar to the one he wore in the famous photograph of the 1945 Yalta Conference

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One of Churchill’s many accomplishments was a Nobel Prize for Literature; received in 1953

I can usually be expected to go teary-eyed at a war museum, and my visit here wasn’t unusual in that respect! The object that evoked the most emotion for me was, at first glance, a carefully-folded Union flag. But this flag was special– it was the flag that was draped over Churchill’s coffin after his death in 1965. For me, this flag was really a symbol not only of one man’s unforgettable legacy, but also of the merits of the Great Britain I love so much. Even prior to visiting the War Rooms, one of my favourite Youtube videos (and one of the only ones guaranteed to make me cry) was one featuring footage of Churchill’s funeral procession. You can watch it here; and I highly recommend that you do, because it shows the love and admiration that ordinary Britons held for Churchill even two decades after his greatest success.

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The flag that Churchill served throughout his life, and which accompanied him on his journey to the next.

What I loved about the Churchill War Rooms was that they focused on Churchill himself as much as they did on their wartime operations. They were much more than a dark set of spartan corridors, and they gave me a better understanding of both World War II and one of Britain’s greatest and most memorable figures.