Sunday, 31 July 2011

A request post on our recent visit to London

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

When I wrote a week ago about seeing "Much Ado About Nothing," I asked my friends on Facebook and Twitter what else about our holiday they would be interested in hearing about: visiting The Sherlock Holmes Museum; The London Film Museum; The Doctor Who Experience or The Cabinet War Rooms.  The response from some of you was that you wanted to hear about all of it.  So this is that post, apart from The Doctor Who Experience: I won't write about this because my husband has already written a post about it here.  He has the nerd credentials, I mean the expertise, to do justice to it better than I could.

The first thing that we did after dropping off our bags at the hotel was head to Baker Street and The Sherlock Holmes Museum (my choice, you will be surprised to hear).  We got off at Baker Street station, and I was pleased to see the tiles on the platform show a cool silhouette of a Sherlock Holmes head smoking a pipe (which is made up of lots of little Sherlock Holmes heads).  The station is a lot closer to the museum than I remembered (but then last time I went there - over 10 years ago - we misjudged London distances and had rather a long walk there).

There is no 221B Baker Street, as this number is swallowed up by a big office building.  The museum itself is just up from where the fabled address would be.  It is rather different from what I remember from over 10 years ago, which is maybe a sad indictment of our times (the little shop now seems to be a rather bigger shop, and Mrs Hudson's Tea Room - which I remembered and counted on for a late lunch - now seems to be closed).

The entrance to the museum is guarded by an employee in old fashioned policeman's garb, who poses for pictures with tourists at the entrance (there just happens to be a deerstalker hat to hand to be worn in the photo).  The museum itself ranges over about 5 floors in this tall, thin building.  The entrance hall leads up to a floor which has a mock-up of Holmes' bedroom (with disguise paraphernalia laid out on the bed) at the back, and the study at the front (complete with an older man, acting as Holmes, who invites visitors to sit down and have their photo taken wearing - again - a deerstalker and holding a Meerschaum pipe or magnifying glass).  The 3rd floor is given over to Doctor Watson's room at the back, and Mrs Hudson's at the front.  On the 4th floor are mannequins in poses from some of the stories, items of memorabilia, and a book containing some of the letters that have been written to Holmes.  This is something that fascinates me - that Holmes has such a life outside the stories that people write to him (I believe that the building subsuming 221B used to be Abbey National, and for a while they employed someone to respond to letters to Sherlock) - and I was a bit disappointed to find that they did not have so many letters on display as I remembered.  I'm not sure if this is just my memory playing tricks.  Some of the letters displayed are quite sweet letters written by children (I remember one in particular of a child asking if Holmes could solve where her cat went all night, and why it slept all day).  The final floor is a small Victorian toilet in the attic - I can honestly say that I had no desire to see Holmes's toilet.  It takes away some of the mystery, somehow.

By the time we left we were very hungry, so we had a quick lunch before going over to Westminster.  I had wanted some photos of The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.  However, by the time we got over there it was very overcast and soon started to rain.  We first of all headed for shelter, thinking we might go on The London Eye - but I decided that London would not look its most attractive in the murk, and I didn't fancy going on it when it was a bit windy.  By total happenstance, we sheltered in part of County Hall near The London Eye and found that part of it was given over to The London Film Museum.  As this was a) dry and b) sounded interesting, we decided to go in.

 I am very glad that we did.  The London Film Museum has standard exhibits as well as temporary exhibitions (at the time we went, a Harry Potter exhibition with costumes and figures, a Ray Harryhausen exhibition with some of the stop motion figures, and - of particular interest to Mark - a Chaplin exhibition including hat and cane).  There are photos from the history of film making in the UK and information on the studios that operated in the UK, as well as a multitude of models and artifacts.  To keep Mark entertained there were smaller exhibits on "Star Wars" and "Doctor Who", a figure from "Alien" and the Rank Studios gong.  I was entertained by Mark being startled when the dinosaur from "A Night at the Museum" suddenly moved, and I saw my second Sherlock Holmes study of the day (if only we had gone on to The Sherlock Holmes Pub, which I have been to before, then I could have made it a triumvirate).  I am also breaking one of my own rules - not to include any photos of myself on the blog - to show a photo of myself with some friends that I made at The London Film Museum...

We initially weren't sure what to do on the morning of our last day, until I remembered that Mark had said a while ago that he thought The Churchill War Rooms sounded interesting.  The entrance fee to The Churchill War Rooms - the secret rooms underneath Whitehall that were intended to offer some bomb protection for Churchill and selected staff, and from which he was able to plan operations - includes entrance to The Churchill Museum.  I have to admit that I think I was initially less interested in this than Mark, but I found these rooms and the stories of those who worked there fascinating.  The Churchill Museum, although the layout seemed a little illogical, had an interesting array of Churchill memorabilia (clothes, letters, a couple of paintings) as well as interactive exhibits such as a timeline that allowed you to navigate through significant moments in Churchill's life.  I was particularly taken with a couple of old fashioned telephones that were on display; on these you could dial a selection of numbers to listen to selected memories of people who worked in the war rooms.  Your tour of the rooms is aided by an audio navigation device, narrated by Geoffrey Whitehead (we asked, as it was really annoying me that I recognised but couldn't place the voice) from which you can select to hear information about the rooms that you pass.

We enjoyed our stay in London, and I hope that this post tells you a little about the places that we went (in conjunction with Mark's post on The Doctor Who Experience and mine on "Much Ado About Nothing").  We managed to do quite a lot in the time we had, also including meeting friends and paying tribute at 84 Charing Cross Road.  However, it was still nice to return home to the cat afterwards....

1 comment:

  1. I remember you posted the Simpsons' pic on Twitter but I might have missed the link to this post.

    Wow! Any mention of Sherlock Holmes gets my attention, so of course I'd love to visit the museum. One day...