Tag Archives: england

Status Update – Windsor Castle

Apr 05, 2017

The castle itself is so huge that there really isn’t a way to get a single pic of the whole thing.

So for those who don’t know, I’m adventuring in London for a week, looking for story ideas, researching a few things I already know I’m going to write about, and generally enjoying being in my happy place. I would absolutely live in London—or anywhere in the UK, for that matter—if I could. But seeing as they don’t have a visa category that fits me, I’ll have to make due with visit.

And yesterday I visited Windsor Castle! For those who don’t know, Windsor Castle has been a continuous residence of the Royal Family for the past 900 years! It was actually started by William the Conqueror shortly after he took over. And when I say “started,” I mean that various parts of the complex have been built, destroyed, rebuilt, added to, refurbished, and expanded over hundreds of years. In fact, the latest edition to the castle was done in the 1990s. But I’m getting slightly ahead of myself.

These are the old (old, old, old) Norman towers.

Or maybe not. Because I could talk about the magnificence of the design and decoration of the State Apartments or the incredibly art collection (I always get excited when I see very famous paintings in person, and there were very famous paintings that I knew on practically every wall of the place). I could talk about the Royal Family or the fact that Victoria and Albert lived there most of the time in their lives. But what I found most fascinating and what I really want to talk about is the fire of 1992.

I remember vividly when the castle burnt down. November 20, 1992. I have vivid images of aerial shots of one whole section of the castle in flames. But walking around inside of it, I was both curious about where the fire had been and what potentially was destroyed and how it could be that I wouldn’t obviously see all the damage.

Her Majesty’s personal entrance to the castle.

And that’s the cool story.

First of all, I learned how the fire started. It started in what was formerly a private chapel built for Queen Victoria. But the chapel was in an awkward location, and it got in the way of anyone trying to cross from the private apartments to the state apartments. What actually happened is that an ancient velvet curtain was standing too close to an old fashioned spotlight. It got too hot and WHOOMP! The whole thing went up. But not just that, because of the former structure of the roof, not only did the chapel ignite like kindling, it quickly spread all the way through the parts of the castle that were connected by the roof structure.

I think I remember stories of Prince Charles himself rushing to the scene and helping to rescue art and artifacts from the walls and rooms, but I can’t remember if that’s true. Anyhow, several of the larger rooms were massively damaged, including two large halls that adjoin what was the chapel. It’s a shame that I couldn’t take pictures of these rooms myself due to photography restrictions, because they would be really useful to illustrate the following stories…

So one of the rooms that sustained serious damage was the Grand Reception Hall. I took a picture of the picture of it in the Windsor Castle guide book that I bought. (Actually, all of these interior pics are from that guidebook). What you’re seeing is the restored room. The cool stories from this room are, first, the floor. That’s still the original floor, but with a twist. The floorboards were badly charred in the fire. So what did they do? Like a stain on a sofa, they flipped each board individually and put it back down in place. I thought that was awesome. The other story is that giant urn at the far end. It’s two tons and over six feet tall, so they couldn’t exactly haul it out of the room in the middle of the fire. The thing is, it’s made of malachite. And if you know anything about rocks (which I didn’t until the tour explained it), malachite doesn’t come in enormous slabs. So really, the urn is marble covered with a fine layer of malachite fit together like jigsaw pieces. Well, during the fire, the urn filled and doused with boiling water. So the adhesive holding the malachite to its base melted. All of the pieces flaked off in the days following the fire. They had to be reassembled piece by piece in the years of restoration that followed.

The other cool fire story is about St. George’s Hall, which is massive and beautiful. But for a historian, the story behind it is such an exciting insight into history that I was almost jumping up and down. See all that marvelous ceiling beamwork? Looks medieval, right? Nope. The entire ceiling was destroyed in the fire. There was a scary-sad picture of it looking like a burned out skeleton on the tour. So they reconstructed it. BUT, they did all the work in the medieval style with historical tools and erected it completely the way the original ceiling would have been made. And you may or may not be able to tell from this picture, but the texture and color of the wood is very, very different from the hundreds of years old ceilings you see in medieval buildings now. So for me, it totally informed on what these magnificent structures would have felt like when they were new…which is not the same as they feel now. I think places like Westminster Abbey (which I visited yesterday) and Winchester Cathedral (which I visited in 2010) would have felt much warmer and more vibrant than they do now.

But the coolest of the cool parts of the reconstructed castle is the brand new Lantern Lobby. This is where the fire started. Like I said, it was formerly Queen Victoria’s private chapel. But when it came time to rebuilt, they brought in architects to take a look and totally rethink what the space should be. This room is what they came up with. And the ceiling is incredible. But unlike St. George’s Hall, which was reconstructed in the medieval fashion, this ceiling and it’s vaulting was designed by computer! All of the angles and placement and calculations were designed specifically to draw the eye upward and to bring it together into an amazing, aesthetic harmony. And really, this pic doesn’t do justice to how perfectly that mission was accomplished. It’s so cool.

So those are just some of my observations about the castle. I have another really awesome story about St. George’s Chapel (which is bigger than the Cathedral in my hometown), where my man, Charles I, is buried. But I’ll tell that story in another blog post.

The First King George

Jul 29, 2013
King George I of England

King George I of England

I’m loving all this excitement about the new future monarch in our midst! The future King George the seventh, I think it is. (I had heard some speculation that when Prince Charles takes the throne that he might take it as George VII, but that was when The King’s Speech came out and it may just be idle Hollywood-fueled gossip) I guess I’m a bit of a royalist. But no, actually I’m just a history nerd. And as a history nerd, today I want to tell you about the first King George of England.

Because I like George I. He was an interesting man in an interesting time. History has flip-flopped back and forth about whether he was a good king or a bad king, but right now the prevailing opinion is that he was a good king. Apparently he was moderate, fair, tolerant, and influenced by the Enlightenment. But man, did he had a hard time in his own times!

The thing about George I is that he inherited a great big huge mess that could be said to have been started by that old rascal, Henry VIII. Yep, it’s that whole Catholic v. Protestant thing. Religion had been a major hot-button issue all through the 16th and 17th centuries. A civil war was fought over it in England, not to mention decades and decades’ worth of near war and squabbles. Finally, parliament had had enough and the Act of Settlement 1701 was passed, barring Catholics from taking the throne. Continue reading

How Old is Too Old to Run Away?

Mar 09, 2012

When I was a kid I had this fantasy about running away to England.  I mean, I really, seriously wanted to run away.  To England specifically.  When life got miserable, and believe me, my childhood was seriously miserable at times, I would daydream about how I was going to do it.

Part of this fantasy, of course, involved setting off without telling anyone.  I didn’t just want to move to England, I wanted to disappear to England.  I wanted to go without taking anything with me and without telling anyone where I had gone.  I’m sure that all came from some sense of wanting all the people who were so awful to me on a daily basis to wonder where the heck I’d gone, maybe to get a little worried and send out a search party for me.

The reason I never went was because I was smart enough to figure out that there are some inherent problems in just disappearing to a different country.  For one thing, you would have to take cash.  Credit cards are traceable.  Passports are also traceable, and you can’t enter a foreign country without one.  I toyed with the idea of somehow getting a fake passport, a new identity.  I think I even came up with a few false names for myself.

In the end I never went.  I didn’t have enough money.  It always came down to money.

So here I am, almost 38 years old.  What is my biggest secret fantasy?  What do I sit around and daydream about?  What do I plot and plan and do mental gymnastics to figure out the logistics of?

Running away to England.

Oxford as photographed by me.

I had my first trip to England in the summer of 2010.  I went with my cricket team to Winchester and Oxford.  A lot of completely and utterly life-changing things happened to me over those eight days.  A LOT.  Oxford was beautiful.  Walking through the cobble-stone streets of a university that has been operating for a thousand years, finding myself in nooks just out of earshot of motor traffic and looking up to Medieval buildings, actual Medieval buildings, all around me sent chills through my bones.

High Street, Winchester. Home of the best pasty EVER!

Walking down the High Street in Winchester was even more soul-shaking.  I felt like I was home.  I wandered through Winchester Cathedral as though I knew every stone, had felt every ray of sunshine before.  I touched Jane Austen’s gravestone, sat outside the house that she died in under a tree in front of a wall that she may have looked at while she dreamed.  I drove around Hampshire feeling like I’d never seen anything so beautiful.

I’m not sure about reincarnation, but if it’s the real deal then I know I lived in Winchester hundreds of years ago.  It hasn’t changed much.

I want to go to England.

Profoundly.

But here’s the thing.  I have debts.  I have stuff.  I have cats.  I have a job in the good old U.S.A.  I don’t have a job in Winchester or Oxford or Derby or anywhere in the U.K.  I’ve gone online to see about getting a work visa and basically you have to jump through a lot of hoops and already have a job with a U.K. company to even apply for a work visa.  You can, however, get an artist’s visa if you’re, oh, say, a writer with an independent income.

The problem is that I’m not.  Yet.

Beautiful Hampshire!

Then there’s that voice that says to me “You’re too old.  International moves are for college students and people who’ve just graduated.”  Of course I also know that’s not true, but that’s the same voice that tells me I have too many debts in American dollars to pick up and move to the original side of the pond.

And yet, that’s where my soul is.  I’ve been told by several people that I’m British at heart.  In fact, 20 years ago, long, long before I’d ever set foot on English soil, a South African friend told me that I was more English than most English people he knew and that if I ever went to England I would never go back.

In a way he was right.

But can you really just pick up your life, leave behind your debt, your job, your family, your friends, your house, and your cats and make that change?  Is there a statute of limitations on following your soul?  Or does the evil specter of money make returning to your heart’s true home nothing more than a dream?

Another reason to love England: Pubs!

Once again, credit cards are the reality check in my desire to run away to England.  Only this time I’m not as concerned about people tracking me by my credit card use as I am paying of a dollar balance with pounds.  I’m sure there are ways to do it, otherwise no one would ever move internationally.  And there’s still the nagging issue of the non-existent, good-paying job and visa I would need in the U.K. to make this fantasy work.

Plus Kristine would kill me and Stewart might never forgive me.

Then again, if they ever move to NYC, like both of their careers lean towards….

So what do you think?  Do you think I could do it?  Do you think 38 is too old to make a 180 and change your life entirely?

Me and some cricket friends on a stop while punting on the Isis.