Thursday, June 3, 2010

Welcome to London!

So you've made it across the pond, congrats! You are at the very beginning of an exciting month abroad full of all things British. Your new home is King's College, located just a few steps from Waterloo tube station (pretty much the hub for traveling anywhere within London and beyond) and the River Thames. Across Waterloo Bridge is the main building of King's College, Somerset House. The Somerset House is a major arts and cultural center in London, so be sure to check out their July events to see what concerts, movies, and other events will be taking place during our summer trip (a Corinne Bailey Rae concert and a Kill Bill Vol. 1/Enter the Dragon double feature are among the lineup). We'll be doing a Neighborhood Walk pretty soon after you've settled into your dorms and that will introduce you to your neighborhood grocery store, bakery, pub, and some more interesting sites such as the Old Vic, National Theatre, Globe Theatre, and the South Bank of Thames. You can also check out the stops on the neighborhood walk on the Neighborhood Walk Google Map.

You can learn more about King's College here, but to briefly summarize: its considered one of the top 25 universities in the world and was founded in 1829 by King George IV and the Duke of Wellington. Read more about its founding including a the Duke's famous duel here: History of King's College. King's College boasts an impressive history of staff and students including 9 Nobel Prize winners, John Keats and Florence Nightingale, among others notables.

Take a virtual tour of King's College and look down the Waterloo Bridge (connects the Strand and Waterloo campuses of King's College- we are staying at the Waterloo campus), check out the King's College Maughan Library, and even take a peek into a dorm room by clicking on "King's Accommodations." Be sure to select "Stamford Street" from the bottom menu and then choose "Bedroom."
Are you a fan of the royal family? Check out the official website of the British Monarchy. You can even sign up for the British Monarchy Twitter! Want to learn more about the palaces? Check out the Historic Royal Palaces.

St. Paul's Cathedral

A dominating and beautiful fixture of the London skyline, St. Paul's Cathedral has been a part of the city of London since 604 AD. The current cathedral is actually the fourth to be built, the first being wooden and was burnt to the ground in 675. Rebuilt 10 years later, it was then destroyed by the Vikings in 962. The current church was rebuilt by the design of Sir Christopher Wren between 1675 and 1710, over ten years after it burned yet again in the Great Fire of London.
Despite taking 28 direct bombs during the German "Blitz," the Cathedral survived the Second World War with minimal damage. Today the cathedral prepares for its 300th anniversary by completing a massive in-and-out restoration, due for completion this year. The Cathedral is jam-packed with incredible art, architecture, and history. Take a stroll through the crypt to see the tomb of Admiral Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Christopher Wren- just a few of the many historical figures laid to rest here. Prince Charles and the former Lady Di were married at St. Paul's. Be sure to climb the dome of the Cathedral and give the Whispering Gallery a try.

The Cathedral's library, called The Library of Dean and Chapter, was built as part of Wren's design. Little of the earlier cathedral's collection survived the Great Fire of London. Today, the collection contains approximately 21,500 volumes, including works of theology, church history, and patristics. Currently the library collects significant titles on the Church of England, Sir Christopher Wren, and the city. In addition to the Library, St. Paul's houses two other collections, The Architectural Archive and The Fabric Archive.

More on St. Paul's:
Other sites of interest in this area:
The Temple Bar Gate is the only surviving gate to London and has mention in texts dating back to 1293. As a boundary of the city, its original inception was probably no more than a chain between posts of wood. It would have been the place for all visitors of London to pass through (the Gate guidebook points out this would include all the great figures of English history) and also to display the heads and various body parts of traitors. The gate that stands today was designed by Sir Christopher Wren.
Temple Church was built by the Knights Templar as a Templar headquarters in Great Britain and is was consecrated in 1185.

Oxford and the Bodleian Library

The town of Oxford has been around since before the middle ages, dating back to its founding in the 9th century by Alfred the Great. The University of Oxford was the first university in the English-speaking world with teaching beginning in 1096, possibly earlier. Residence halls became a part of the University in the 13th century due to unrest between the townspeople and students of Oxford. Women have been admitted to the University since 1920 although not until 1974 have all of its colleges accepted women. Today Oxford has its strengths in the humanities as well as natural and applied sciences. Famous Oxonians are many and include Stephen Hawking, Rowan Atkinson, T S Eliot, Oscar Wilde, Robert Hooke, Sir Christopher Wren, John Donne... the list goes on.

While in Oxford, consider stopping by the Eagle and Child Pub, a popular meeting place for the Inklings writer's group that included Chronicles of Narnia author C. S. Lewis and Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolken. Oxford student and later professor Charles Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll) worked closely and formed a friendship with the Dean of Oxford's Christ Church College and his family. Dodgson wrote two books with one of the dean's daughters, Alice Liddell, as the main character- Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass. Today, the candy shop that Alice and Dodgson frequented and that Dodgson later mentioned in Alice Through the Looking Glass still stands as Alice's Shop. Christ Church College at Oxford has an impressive history that dates back to its days as a monastery in the 9th century to being a location for filming movies such as Brideshead Revisited, Harry Potter, and Alice in Wonderland.

From the University of Oxford:
Facts and Figures
A Brief History
A virtual tour of Oxford

The University of Oxford has 8 museums and collections: the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments, the Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum, the Museum of the History of Science, the Pitt Rivers Museum, and the Christ Church Picture Gallery.

Here's a listing of the museums with a map of their locations in Oxford.
Another listing of the museums with a short video about 4 of them.

The Bodleian Library at Oxford University is the oldest of many Oxford Libraries and the second largest library in the UK (the British Library is the largest). The first Oxford library was housed in a single room at the University in the 1300s. In the late 1400s, Humfrey the Duke of Gloucester donated a large sum of books and manuscripts that would not fit in the room. Thus, in 1488 the new building, Duke Humfrey's Library, was opened. After being stripped of its collection to rid England of Roman Catholic influence, Sir Thomas Bodley rescued the medieval institution. A research library, the Bodleian is known to have refused to let King Charles I check out one of the books in its collection. By 1914 the Bodleian had one million books in its collection and today Duke Humfrey's Library is the oldest of the Bodleian Library's nine reading rooms. Read more about the history of the Bodleian.

History of Christ Church Library
About J.R.R. Tolken
About C.S. Lewis

Museum of London

The Museum of London, although a museum of urban history focusing on London's past, is anything but ancient. The extensive collection of over two million objects is contained within nine permanent galleries and traces the history of London from prehistoric times to today. You can go inside an actual prison cell from the 18th century and read inscriptions written by its many residents, see Oliver Cromwell's death mask, and marvel at marble sculptures from the Temple of Mithras from Roman Britian. It also has ever changing special exhibitions with modern expressions of London and its culture and many virtual exhibitions such as one on the infamous Bedlam (Bethlem Royal Hospital, now home of the Imperial War Museum). There are also two additional museums that house the collections of the Museum of London: the Museum of London Docklands, housed in an old sugar warehouse and tells the story of the London ports from Roman times to today; and the Museum of London Archaeology, which offers an internationally acclaimed archaeological research center and is also available for commerical archaeologial services. While in this area, be sure to check out remains of the Old Roman Wall.

British Library

The Magna Carta, Leonardo da Vinci's Notebook, and Beatles manuscripts... these are a few of the 150 million items in the collection of the British Library. The British Library was opened in the 1970s and currently consists of the Library of the British Museum, the Patent Office Library, the National Central Library, and the National Lending Library for Science and Technology. At the heart of the British Museum lies the round Reading Room, opened in 1857. It is temporarily in use as an exhibit display space and will revert back to a reading room in 2010.

More on the British Library:
Facts and Figures
The British Library on the Web
History of the British Museum

Greenwich National Maritime Museum

Greenwich, a borough of London, has its roots deep in London's royal lineage. A royal residence as far back as the time of Edward I and called Greenwich Manor by Henry IV, Greenwich Palace was named Bella Court while owned by the Duke Humfrey of Gloucester. Humfrey, younger brother of King Henry V, was a founding donor of an early collection at Oxford University that became the Bodleian Library (The oldest reading room in today's Bodleian Library is Duke Humfrey's Library). Greenwich's renamed Palace of Placentia fell under royal ownership of Henry VI after Humfrey's death. Greenwich Palace remained England's main royal palace through the birth and lifetime of Henry VIII and fell out of favor during the reign of Charles II.

The Queen's House, built by James I for his queen, Ann of Denmark, still stands as the central building of the National Maritime Museum. In 1694 the Royal Naval Hospital was built by the design of none other than Sir Christopher Wren (great bio on Wren) as a residentian hospital for seamen. This became the Old Royal Naval College in the late 1800s, and was taken over by the Greenwich Foundation in 1998. Be sure to check out the breathtaking Painted Hall, originally designed by Wren to be the dining hall of the hospital but never used as such in Wren's time. In 1657, Wren was commissioned to design the Royal Observatory to help the first Royal Astronomer perfect sea navigation. Today the observatory keeps Greenwich Mean Time and houses the Prime Meridian and London's only public camera obscura, among many other astronomical items of interest. The Caird Library is located on the first floor of the museum and was completed in 1937. Its collection currently contains over 140,000 books, pamphlets and periodicals focusing on maritime history.

More on Greenwich:
History of the National Maritime Museum
Map of the 3 sites
Biography of Admiral Nelson
History of the Old Royal Naval College
Collections of the National Maritime Museum

National Art Library and Victoria & Albert Museum

Image taken from:

The Victoria & Albert Museum (or the V&A as its commonly known) is distinct from other museums in London in that its history is tied to the educational system of the UK. It was first controlled by the Board of Education to be used by the Government Schools of Design and its collection still holds a focus on fine and decorative arts. The museum consists of three entities, the V&A South Kensington (what most people think of as the V&A), the world's greatest museum of art and design; the V&A Museum of Childhood, one of the world's largest and oldest collections of toys and childhood artifacts; and the archives and stores at Blythe House. You can browse the collections of the V&A and preview exhibits such as the Grace Kelly: Style Icon exhibition within the Fashion, Jewelly & Accessories collection. The V&A boasts and award-winning collection searching- give it a try! The National Art Library is located within the V&A and serves as a public reference library as well as the curatorial department for the art, craft and design of the book. Its holdings also focus on fine and decorative arts.

What's in a name? From the A Grand Design: The History of the Victoria & Albert Museum introduction:

The Museum was founded in 1852 as the Museum of Manufactures (at Marlborough House), renamed the Museum of Ornamental Art in 1853, opened as the South Kensington Museum in 1857, and renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum on 17 May 1899 by Queen Victoria (b. 1819; reigned 1837–1901) in her last official public appearance. A tribute to her beloved consort Prince Albert (1819–1861), the name has led to confusion about the Museum’s identity among the public, many of whom are said to visit the V&A in the belief that it houses the personal collection of Victoria and Albert. In fact, the V&A’s collections of more than 4 million objects are drawn from two thousand years of cultural history, and include ceramics, metalwork, jewelry, furniture and woodwork, sculpture, textiles, paintings, drawings, prints, and rare and illustrated books.