Day 5, in which we hear bloody tales of the Tower and then pilgrimage to Red House

December 14, 2010 at 2:26 am
By JB & MS

Today has been the most adventurous day yet.  We started the morning with the celebrated St. Paul's Cathedral, which isn't actually what we're studying, since it's neither Gothic or Gothic Revival but rather Baroque.  JB went early – at 7:30 – to attend a service.  Unfortunately, she had to go alone because everyone else was too lazy to want to go with.  The service was lovely, though she wishes she could have seen a sung service.

The cathedral includes, in the basement, an extensive crypt with tombs of and memorials to many fallen soldiers, including Admiral Nelson, and a lot of artists, for example John Everett Millais and Edward Lutyens.  We were all creeped out by the haunting sound effects they were playing in the crypt.  MS liked St. Paul's less than Westminster because he thought they did a lot of weird touristy things like the aforementioned sound effects.  In the end, it was a really impressive structure, especially the height of the dome, but it's definitely neoclassical, so it's a very different building than all the other cathedrals we're studying.

After that we had an eventful walk to the Tower of London in which we got briefly lost (and cold). No worries though as JB and MS made it safely to the ToL. Our tour guide was named Simon, and although he wasn't the famous popular historian (a.k.a. Schama), he did offer us a lot of information about the place. We learned about all the gruesome executions that took place, including those of Anne Boleyn, Kathryn Howard, and Lady Jane Gray (three Queens of England). Afterwards we took a look at the Crown Jewels, and we can confirm that they are indeed massive (and shiny). JB chortled at the fact that they made another crown just for a visit to India (the Crown is not allowed to leave the country). There was also a diamond that was over 500 carats, which MS has confirmed is a lot of carats. After this sightseeing, we set our sights on our final destination of the day. Red House.

We were all really excited to see Red House, because a lot of us have studied it in more than one class.  As soon as we approached and could see the distinctive roofline, we all acted like giddy school girls (JB says: nerds).  The house was so much more than we expected it to be – it even converted a few anti-Red House people.  Received in 2003 by the National Trust, the house is being restored to include a lot of Morris & Co.'s original works, but they're also working to include some additions done by later owners, which are important to the story of the house.  We were all very struck by the ceiling treatment, something we hadn't read anything about previously.  Morris did the ceilings in plaster, and while the plaster was wet, poked holes in it in a pattern.  Later, guests to the home were invited to paint these patterns in a sort of paint-by-numbers manner.  The ceiling above the main staircase has been perfectly preserved from the original.  One of the great things to see in person was the panel doors in the drawing room.  At some point after Morris left the home, a later owner put paneling over the Rossetti murals in the drawing room, which were rediscovered when the Trust attempted to re-wire the house.  Now you can pull back the paneling on hinges to see the hidden murals.

The kindly guides at Red House were so helpful to us.  They really knew their stuff and were enthusiastic about the house, and excited to share in our enthusiasm.  While they didn't give us an active tour, there were five guides standing around the house who could answer any of our questions.  We really like the format of the visit, that it wasn't a guided tour, because it allowed us to experience the house more organically.  At the end of the visit, we spent a long time setting up for an amazing group photo, which promptly failed. But while we don't have a physical reminder of our trip, Red house will live on in our hearts. Later at our dinner we toasted to Red House and the wonderful tour guides, and then we returned to our Hostel to recover in time for our next adventurous day.

—JB & MS

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