On our third day in London Charlotte and I caught the Tube, crowded as usual, to the British Library. I wanted to look at some books there that were not available in Australian libraries. This was the only time in our trip that I did formal family history research.
There was a queue to get in: security restrictions. I first had to register as a reader, but expecting this I had come prepared. I had filled in my application beforehand and I had brought my passport as proof of identity.
The British Library is said to be the largest public building constructed in the United Kingdom in the 20th century. At its centre is a six-storey tower housing the King’s Library: 65,000 printed volumes, and pamphlets, manuscripts, and maps collected by King George III between 1763 and 1820.
I hoped to find what I could about the experiences of my 3rd great grandfather James Gordon Cavenagh (1770-1844), a surgeon at the Battle of Waterloo. [See Surgeon James Gordon Cavenagh at Waterloo, a guest post by one of my cousins, which includes my findings]
Charlotte and I then walked to the British Museum, where we were to have lunch with Greg and Peter. It was half-term school holidays and busy, expensive too, so we had lunch at a small restaurant nearby.
Afterwards, rather than return to the British Museum we went to the Victoria and Albert Museum instead. We enjoyed the sculpture and furniture collections, and the building itself was well worth the visit. The jewellery collection was beautifully displayed.
Then we caught a taxi to the Burlington Arcade, where I had been commissioned by my mother to buy her a cashmere jumper. I am not normally very interested in buying things, but the jumpers were so light and soft and in such lovely colours it was a pleasure to take on this little shopping expedition.
We had a brief look at Burlington House next door. It is said that the arcade was built by the 1st Earl of Burlington “to prevent passers-by throwing oyster shells and other rubbish over the wall of his home”. Burlington House is now used for temporary art exhibitions of the Royal Academy. It is the headquarters of several scientific institutes, notably the Royal Astronomical Society and the Linnaen Society.
“The store was posh. The tea was lovely and Dad said “The coffee was the best in England!” I had Welsh Rarebit for the savoury dish, Mum had an omelette [Lobster Omelette Victoria in lobster bisque sauce with shaved truffle], and Dad had haddock from Cornwall. Then the sweet platter was brought out. There were scones and jam and cream and lemon curd. There were five cakes: a cheesecake egg, a red velvet cake, a rose petal cakey, and a chocolate mousse cake. My [Charlotte’s] favourite was the cheesecake, with the chocolate mousse a close second.”
Our waiter was friendly and attentive. The servings of cake and scones were unlimited, but sadly our capacity to absorb it all was not, and we could not even manage to do justice to the very tempting cake trolley. We were given a large package of cakes to deal with later. It was a memorable meal.
On the way back to Kensington we passed quite a few people dressed in very conspicuously formal outfits, stragglers from the Queen’s garden party. I think we did better at Fortum and Mason, actually.