England became a unified state in AD 927 and, since the 15th century, has had a significant impact on the wider world, developing the English language, the Anglican Church, and English law – the basis for the common law legal systems of many other countries around the world. Its beautiful and varied countryside is interspersed with quaint villages and cosmopolitan cities including the capital, London.
The name "England" is derived from the Old English name Engla land, which means "land of the Angles". The Angles were one of the Germanic tribes that settled in Great Britain during the Early Middle Ages.
Victoria and Albert: Love and Art
A charming exhibition at London’s Queen’s Gallery until 31 October looks at the relationship between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, from their engagement through to his untimely demise.
|Franz Xaver Winterhalter, The Royal Family in 1846|
THREE OF THE smallest objects shown in Victoria and Albert: Love and Art at London’s Queen’s Gallery until 31 October are also three of the most evocative in this charming exhibition. Each symbolises the couple’s devotion to each other and their young family. I liked the simple, pebble bracelet made from tiny pieces of agate they’d found on their first journey together in 1841. Prince Albert had the stones sent back to London for polishing and then mounting in gold. It became a tradition on future trips to everywhere from Brighton to Woburn Abbey and each location is engraved on the mount. The second piece I found touching is a winged cherub brooch, inspired by a Raphael painting and designed by Albert. The wings are studded with precious stones, but the cherub’s face is Princess Victoria, their first child. In contrast is a tiny gold and enamel thistle brooch. Its flower is actually the Princess’s first lost milk tooth. On the reverse, an inscription notes that it was pulled by her father at Adverikie (Scotland) on 13 September 1843.
|Queen Victoria’s Costume for the Stuart Ball, 1851|
Assistant Curator Katherine Jones commented, “Albert often designed jewellery himself and no occasion was left unmarked or unrecorded by the couple in one way or another.” Which is why this fascinating exhibition, which focuses on the period of Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert, from the time of their engagement in 1839 to the Prince’s untimely death in 1861, covers everything from intimate family occasions and country walks to State occasions and official gifts sparkling with diamonds. Katherine’s particular favourite is the rarely seen Queen’s costume for the Stuart Ball of 1851. Designed by Huguenot artist Eugene Lami in beautiful silks and lace, it’s decorated with faux pearls and silver fringes. “It’s so delicate and sums her up somehow,” she said.
Here are Landseer’s paintings of Eon, Prince Albert’s favourite greyhound – “very friendly if there’s plum cake in the room” wrote the Queen – and the couple dressed as King Edward III and Queen Philippa of Hainault at a Bal Costume in 1842. William Ross’s delicate miniatures on ivory of the young couple are exquisite.
|Winterhalter, Queen Victoria, 1843|
One painting would probably have shocked her subjects – and it is still considered quite saucy for a royal! Queen Victoria shown with her head tilted provocatively and her brown hair flowing down her shoulder. By Winterhalter, she commissioned it as a surprise birthday present for Albert and it was in his dressing room.
Among the tasteful things on show are their occasional lapses, though fashionable at the time. Few could live with the stag’s horn, hoofs and teeth furniture from the Horn Room at Osborne, the over-the-top German carved writing table, or my particular dislike: the carved marble arms and feet of the Royal children. Awfully creepy.
Arguably the most extraordinary exhibit is the South Indian throne and footstool. Made of elaborately carved ivory and hardwood, set with gold, diamonds, emeralds and rubies, it’s upholstered with embroidered silk velvet. Originally shown in the India section of the 1851 Great Exhibition, it was presented by the Maharajah of Travancore when the Queen became Empress of India in 1876.
Victoria and Albert were very interested in new technology and they especially liked photography. There’s an entire cabinet of carte-de-visite portraits, which would be given to friends and family or arranged in albums by the Queen. In 1860, she posed for some to sell to the public, which were a great success. The couple’s favourite image from the newly formed Photographic Society is also on show: Obaysch the Hippopotumus sleeping at London Zoo!
|Roger Fenton, The Queen and Prince Albert, Buckingham Palace, 1854|
Among the art exhibits are some delightful and well-executed watercolours of her children by Queen Victoria, watercolours of interiors of the Royal residences and some master works collected by Prince Albert for the Royal Collection. Included here are Frith’s Ramsgate Sands, Cranach’s Apollo and Diana and Landseer’s Isaac van Ambergh and his Animals. The lion tamer was a favourite with Queen Victoria who saw him six times. “One can never see it too often, for it is different each time,” she wrote.
The last part of the exhibition deals with Albert’s death. There is a heart-rending photograph of Victoria gazing mournfully at a bust of Albert while her daughter Princess Alice looks sadly at the camera. It would be another 40 years before she would be laid beside him in the mausoleum she had built at Frognal and this great love story would finally end.
Victoria and Albert: Love and Art is on until 31 October at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1. Tel. (020) 7766 7301; www.royalcollection.org.uk.
Report by Pat Moore
Images: Royal Collection (c) 2009, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Sanderson: 150 Years of English Decoration
One of the world’s most pioneering fabric and furnishing companies – a quintessentially English company – is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Head to Bermondsey for an exhibition on Sanderson.
One of the world’s most pioneering fabric and furnishing companies – quintessentially English – is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. The exhibition Very Sanderson: 150 Years of English Decoration, running from 19 March to 13 June at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey, London, explores the work of the farsighted Arthur Sanderson.
This is the man who brought affordable machine-printed papers to housewives in the 1880s when a building boom led to a greater demand for decorative materials, yet also commissioned designers like Pugin and Picasso, Christopher Dresser, Voysey and The Silver Studio.
He had a gift for knowing what home makers wanted and then making sure they could find it in his shop. He started out in 1860 as an importer of French wallpapers and his company is still arguably the best-known interior design company in Britain today. This beautifully displayed exhibition takes you on a tour of 150 years of interior design and technology: Sanderson was even one of the first to produce booklets with colour plates to show customers their paints, papers and fabrics. There are all the styles on show, from Arts and Crafts to jazzy Moderne, 1950s and Pop Art, up to today, chosen from Sanderson’s incredible archive.
The Fashion and Textile Museum, founded by designer Zandra Rhodes, houses permanent and changing exhibitions on fashion, textiles and jewellery, and an academy, in a fascinating building designed by Ricardo Legorreta. The Fashion and Textile Museum, Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XF; tel: (020) 7407 8664. Report by Pat Moore.
Knightsbridge and Belgravia – London Insider’s Guide
“Guests want three things: a big smile at the door, comfy beds and fluffy towels,” says Kate Levin of The Capital and Levin Hotels in London’s Knightsbridge. And an award-winning restaurant can be quite welcome, too.
My research led me to a couple of Knightsbridge gems. Discreetly tucked away in a small street next to Harrods, two of London’s most charming hotels: the tiny 12-room Levin and, next door, its sister hotel, the 49-room, award-winning The Capital are both owned by hotelier-wine grower David Levin.
The Levin, which opened three years’ ago, is like a private townhouse inside. My guide Melanie points out the Penguin Classics library in the eau-de-nil painted foyer. Guests can choose from 500 titles while sipping a drink from the Honesty Bar. “Each room has a champagne bar. This is for guests who don’t like champagne,” she explains. There are three rooms to each floor, with earthy brown and deep red upholstery in tweeds and velvets against silvery flowered wallpaper. All the windows open and there are views of Knightsbridge’s Victorian mews. Downstairs, the Levin’s brasserie restaurant Le Metro serves seasonal dishes with Levin Loire Valley wines. “But if the weather’s nice, we can provide a picnic hamper to take to Hyde Park or Kensington Gardens,” revealed Melanie. Or for a really romantic outing, the hotel provides horse, carriage, butler and luxury hamper.
Next door, The Capital celebrates its 40th birthday. I’m greeted by Clive, the smiling concierge who will go jogging in Hyde Park with me, if I don’t want to go alone. The Levins really do think of everything. The foyer here is in peach pink and has an open fire for chilly days. “We wanted a country house atmosphere,” says Kate, David Levin’s friendly daughter and hotel manager. “My father says that guests want three things: a big smile at the door, comfy beds and fluffy towels. People feel so relaxed, one guest even leaves his washbag here! My godparents started off as guests who kept returning.” They’ve certainly got it right, the hotel has won two prestigious awards and the restaurant has two Michelin stars.
Remodelled from mostly Edwardian beginnings, each floor has different décor in warm colours with antique-style furniture. But The Capital also has a secret. During rebuilding, David Levin discovered an early Victorian set of rooms round a circular hall, complete with domed ceiling and columns, tucked away inside. “We’ve been told it was once a small hotel,” said Kate Levin. Now listed and perfectly restored, these are now Deluxe Rooms. I loved the blue and white decor against antique furniture, oil paintings and prints.
But you couldn’t come to The Capital without trying the restaurant, now under the care of top chef, Dieppe-born Jérôme Ponchelle – previously with Wilton’s restaurant. My friend and I enjoy barman Cesar’s famous Bellini in the comfy bar and then move into the peaceful dining room. Decor is relaxing: soft blue curtains, grey carpet. There are fresh roses on our table.
We begin with an appetizer of light chestnut foam and then I choose an inspired smoke haddock Carpaccio – thinnest slices served with a tiny boiled egg, rosti and frisee salad. My companion has delicious terrine of duck, pork and foie gras. Next come roast partridge with Savoy cabbage and grilled wild turbot with sauce Bearnaise, both served with baby vegetables. Charles, our knowledgeable sommelier looks after us, suggesting citrusy Puligny Montrachet, and a fruity red Ampelida, from Pays de la Vienne. Our waiter Alesso spoils us with six different cheeses, including the more-ish Fleur de Maquis from Corsica. But dessert is sheer indulgence. We couldn’t miss the prune tart soufflé with Armagnac ice cream or the Poached Pear with crème brulee and pain d’epice. A tiny glass of Pacherenc du Vic Bilh rounds off a truly memorable – and pampering – meal!
The Capital (5-star), tel: (020) 7589 5171. The Levin (4-star), tel: (020) 7589 6286. Basil Street, London SW3. Report by Pat Moore.
Hooray Henley at Hotel du Vin
Whether you are looking for a riverside retreat from which to enjoy the annual Henley Royal Regatta, or just a weekend break in this picturesque pocket of Oxfordshire, Hotel du Vin Henley-on-Thames fits the bill. Laura Latham reports…
The first time you see the beautiful Georgian townhouse that fronts Hotel du Vin on Henley’s New Street, you know you’re in for a treat. The entrance to the hotel is via a quaint courtyard, while inside is sparsely furnished with bare floorboards and reassuringly solid wooden counters. If it wasn’t for the receptionist asking about wake-up calls and valet parking, you might think you’d stepped back 200 years.
Hotel du Vin may be one of Britain’s best known hospitality brands but there is nothing standard about the company’s outlet in Henley-on-Thames. Located 50 yards from the river, at the heart of one of Britain’s most picturesque towns, the hotel is stylish yet comfortable, historic while offering the best in contemporary service.
The main part of the hotel is formed by the large industrial red-brick building that was once the famous Brakspear brewery, established by the family of the same name in 1812. Despite extensive renovation the building has retained most of its original character and the designers have done an amazing job of converting the former malt house and fermentation rooms into a chic luxury hotel with 43 rooms, three function suites and French-style bistro.
A peek at the rooms reveals a mix of classic and industrial architecture, with quirky features such as ironwork stairways and high-arched windows. “It is all very simple but at the same time has a lot of character,” says reception manager Lavinia Petru.
No two rooms are the same, yet all are spacious, airy and well designed. Standard rooms are priced from £145 per night and offer queen-sized beds and a bathtub with shower, while superior rooms and suites start at £195 and have king-size beds, rolltop baths and separate wet rooms. All rooms have large TVs, CD and DVD players and there is internet access for anyone who would rather work than explore the delights of Henley.
For sheer wow factor book into one of three river-view suites, which overlook the Thames and have vast living areas and bathtubs on the balconies. All rooms are named after wines, Dom Perignon is a duplex-style suite built into the former fermentation tower, while La Grand Dame has adjoining bathtubs, ideal for those who hate to bathe alone. These suites are, understandably, popular with honeymooners, though Lavinia lets on that during July’s Regatta week they tend to get booked up well in advance by people planning to party.
The cute courtyard studios are housed in a separate block of original outbuildings and have crooked stairways and sloping ceilings. My room was Taylor’s Port, which is large and open plan with a roll top bath taking centre stage. It also had a broken blind but a phone call to reception brought a member of the maintenance crew to fix it in less than five minutes.
The hotel bistro is popular with Henley residents as well as hotel guests and justifiably so, though you’ll find it hard to escape the feeling that you’re in France rather than Oxfordshire. The décor feels authentically Parisienne, though the menu is a mix of European dishes that includes good British fare, fish and one of the best selections for vegetarians I’ve seen in a long time.
Starters of aubergine parmigiano steeped in a hearty tomato sauce and a perfect beef carpaccio were filling without being heavy going. These were followed by a winter salad of squash, dolcelatte cheese and honeyed pecans and a dish of red mullet with blue truffled potato, an unusual accompaniment that turned out to be delicious. Make sure you arrive here with an appetite as portions are large.
When it comes to dessert, don’t make the mistake I did and
opt immediately for one of the puds on the menu. Not that my fig-and-almond tart wasn’t delicious, it absolutely was and so was my companion’s traditional plum pudding. But, while we were polishing them off, the cheese board was being presented to the couple at the next table. It offered such a wide and delicious range of UK and French cheeses that I’m ashamed to say I begged to be allowed a plate as well and it was well worth the extra calories.
One can’t stay at a Hotel du Vin and not sample their wines and the cellar here is extensive and evenly spread over European, Antipodean and South American varieties. If you’re having trouble choosing, the restaurant sommelier will be happy to give advice or select something for you and if you want private wine tastings then that can be arranged too.
Extras, for guests who want to live the high life, include a cigar humidor, with a world-class selection of smokes, and a private 12-seater motor launch for those who really want to push the boat out. During Regatta week the hotel will also put together hampers for those picnicking on the banks of the Thames, complete with champagne, canapés and, naturally, Pimms.
Hotel du Vin may have made its name by providing quality accommodation and fine dining but it is the people working here that complete the package. Yes, the location is stunning, the building is a haven of well-designed comfort and the food is amazing but the helpful and friendly staff make the place tick over so well.
French style and ambience in a historic and beautiful British setting, what more could you want?
Hotel du Vin, New Street, Henley-on-Thames, Oxon RG9 2BP. Tel: (01491) 848400; www.hotelduvin.com
One Lombard Street: Eat, drink and be merry in the City
ONE LOMBARD STREET restaurant in the City of London, with its Michelin star and dramatic former banking hall interior, tickles our editor’s tastebuds with its Festive Season menu.
Much as I adore the traditional Christmas meal, it can be overwhelming, so it was with great delight that I found that the Michelin-star One Lombard Street restaurant, in the City of London, is offering a special Festive Season dinner menu. My tastebuds were suitably amused by the celeriac and apple veloute with warm truffle oil. Then came the starter, a delicious warm salad of caramelised scallop and John Dory, Jerusalem artichoke and pomegranate seeds, ginger, curry and lime vinaigrette. Don’t think curry, think delicate flavours that enhance and don’t overwhelm the seafood. As a nice change from turkey, the more traditional goose followed: a confit with seared foie gras and stuffing, glazed winter vegetables and chestnuts, black winter truffle sauce. Seriously tasty. Followed by a palette cleansing clementine and mint granita. Normally the thought of Christmas pud in any form is too much for all but the most ardent Christmas foodie at this stage of a Christmas dinner but, because of the perfectly sized portions so far, we’re still up for it and the Christmas pudding souffle, vanilla ice cream, brandy butter makes the perfect conclusion to this delicious meal.
This former banking hall, right across from Bank underground station in the City, has a fabulous grade II listed neo-classical interior, with domed skylights by Pietro Agostini, under which is a circular bar. There’s a brasserie in the main banking hall and a separate, more formal restaurant at the back. If you’ve got any space in your festive season diary or are visiting London for Christmas shopping (and fitting in a visit to the nearby Tower of London, too), One Lombard Street’s Michelin-style Christmas cuisine, with its more delicate portions, is definitely the way forward. Tel: (020) 7929 6611.