60 Years Ago Today

Saturday August 23, 1952:

Today we started a guided tour of London, which was 698 square miles. There were bombed out buildings with all the debris cleared away. First we saw Trafalgar Square, National Gallery of Art, Savoy, Bush House, statue of William Gladstone, St. Clement Eastcheap Church, building of Lesser Courts, Fleet Street, and Cheshire Cheese. Strangely it was legal to drive on the right hand side of the road and so different than what I am used to. Crazy!

On our tour, Tom Collins was our guide and we passed by more bomb damage, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Cannon Street, an old London stove, a narrow winding street, East Cheap Street, Tower of London, and All Hallows-by-the-Tower Church where John Quincy Adams, the U.S. sixth president was married.

We emptied the bus to stand in line to see the Crown Jewels. It was the real deal with the largest cut diamond in the world at 513 carats. There was a round display case which was built to a point. We viewed the Royal Scepter, Imperial State Crown with a Cullinan II Diamond, Black Prince’s Ruby, Queen Elizabeth’s Crown for the Queen Mother, Queen Mary’s Crown, and St. Edwards’ Crown which was less bejeweled with only a few earlier monarchs crowned with it. Later, it was used only for display at the coronations. Unfortunately, in 1649 a.d. Cromwell confiscated and melted down most of the Crown Jewels.

As our tour continued we saw an ampulla, which was a small nearly globular flask or bottle with two handles. It contained oil which the sovereign was anointed with. Then there were salts which were placed on a coronation banqueting table where people would sit in front of or behind according to rank. Then we viewed the Maundy dish, which originally were six silver dishes used to hold the gifts. Now Maundy money, specially minted, was distributed to the poor of Westminster.

Next we learned about the Most Noble Order of the Garter, founded in 1348 a.d., which was the highest order of chivalry, or knighthood, existing in England. And there was a legendary old 13th century wall that the English didn’t even know existed till World War II bomb damage revealed it.
We arrived at the Tower of London, the bloody tower where untold unofficial executions took place. And from the 3rd century to 1820 there were many political prisoners there as well. Sir Walter Raleigh spent 30 years there in prison under James I and was visited by Prince Henry.

Finally, he was executed at the Palace of Westminster in 1618 a.d. Archbishop Laud, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1633 a.d. to 1645 a.d., was held in the Tower of London. He leaned out from the Tower of London and blessed Charles I Earl of Stratford.

At the Tower of London, Beefeaters were ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London and acted as tour guides. The walls of the White Tower were 15 feet thick and earlier it was used as a prison. On display was the uniform coat of Duke of Wellington, an Irish-born British soldier and statesman, who was one of the leading military and political figures of the 19th century. Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII, was tried for treason with trumped up charges and beheaded at the Tower of London. Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII, died in childbirth. Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII of England, was also tried for treason for committing adultery while married to the King and was beheaded in the Tower of London as well. Lady Jane Grey, who was a prisoner at the Tower of London during her nine day reign was convicted of treason, let go, and died later in the Wyatt’s Rebellion.

The ravens of the Tower of London comprised of at least seven individuals (six required, with a seventh in reserve). The presence of the ravens was traditionally believed to protect the Crown and the Tower. A superstition suggests that “If the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.” It was pointed out how the Tower Bridge center rises to allow boats to come through.

After the Tower of London, we headed to Tooley Street while we learned that the population of London was 8,300,870. Then we went down Duke Hill Street and to Nancy’s Steps that led to the London Bridge. Next we caught sight of the English stock market, Bank of England in Windsor, Princess Street, Moorgate Street, garden at the bottom of bombed out building, St. Gill’s Church where Oliver Cromwell was married, a congested area, Cheapside Street, a bombed out warehouse, and an office building section. We also observed the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral which was architect, Sir Chris Wren’s, masterpiece. There were eight scenes painted on the dome showing the life of St. Paul.

There was a book which holds 28,000 names of U.S. military men who had lost their lives in military operations from the British Isles. There were pictures of a presentation of a book to Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower which was dedicated on July 2, 1951. Continuing on there was a statue of Queen Anne in front of a building that used to be at St. Paul’s Cathedral. At this time a fire engine buzzed by us.

At 1:30 p.m. we were at Trafalgar Square and started off to St. James Park, Buckingham Palace, statue of Queen Victoria, Queen Mary’s house, Marlboro House, Hyde Park corner, War Memorial, and Park Lane. Benjamin Disraeli, a British Prime Minister, lived at Grosvenor Square, a large garden square. It was the end of the morning tour.

In the afternoon, our tour resumed to Dickens Old Curiosity Shop, Lincoln’s Inn, Covent Gardens, Long Acre Street, Little America, Roosevelt’s Statue, Oxford Street, Wallace Collection Museum, and Marble Arch, which was built to be a white Carrara marble monument entrance to Buckingham. It now stands on a large traffic island on Oxford Street. Soon after was the smallest house in London where special smaller furniture had been made for it. And in Hyde Park there was a dog cemetery.

Then we drove by Kensington Gardens, Serpentine swimming pool, Prince Albert Concert Hall, Albert Memorial, Royal Palace of Kensington, Queen’s site gate, University of London, Science Museum, Natural History Museum with a petrified tree in the garden in front of it, Sloan Street, Edgar Allen Poe’s school where he went, park for old soldiers, Chelsea Barracks, apartment houses for workers, fashionable Dolphin Square, St. George’s Square, apartments for workers with all different colored doors, Tate Gallery, Parliament with a picture from Lambeth Bridge, St. Thomas’ Hospital, Big Ben, County Hall, red brick Scotland Yard, and Statue of Richard the Lionhearted.

We ended back at Westminster Abbey and waited for a few minutes before we could go through. Since services were being held the choir was singing. Then a prayer was said, organ music was played and everyone stood. Kipling, Handel, and Scott were just a few of the many distinguished literary people that were buried there. Oh, oh! There were no shoes inside the church. Oh well! What can one say. It was too late.

Then we ended up on 10 Downing Street where the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom works with over 100 rooms. There was a British red telephone booth on the sidewalk. I forgot to push the buttons. We called Halliday Hall about getting tickets, but no soap.

Later Lucile, Betty Lou, Carol, Elo, and I squeezed in for standing room only for The Millionairess staring Katharine Hepburn. When it was time to go home, we got on the tube. After awhile we wondered about being on the wrong train, because we were the only people left except for one other man.

Finally, a conductor came up to us and told us we would never get home this way, because this train was going to bed, I guess. We hadn’t heard him call to change tubes. So he told us exactly which train to take to get to Clapham South. After following his instructions, we made it back to the hotel safely for a good night’s rest.

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