It never ceases to amaze us, the things that one can discover in London. There is a set of stairs by Temple Station that features in many movies set in “old London town” and right beside them is a building that we have walked past many times and admired from outside and which has recently been opened to the public.
2 Temple Place is an absolute gem; a Victorian Gothic revival, built as the London abode of the Waldorf Astors when they moved to the UK from the USA. With the funds at his disposal, no expense was spared on the internal fit-out of this town-house which is now owned by Smith & Nephew.
The building has recently been opened to the public as a gallery, currently holding the contents of the William Morris gallery which is undergoing refurbishment. This means one can see fabulous tapestries, paintings, tiles, wallpapers and sundry other William Morris/Burne Jones items in absolutely sumptuous surroundings.
Having had our fill of Victoriana we wandered outside to see that the next-door Inner Temple area had been commandeered as a film set for a new production of Great Expectations. Unfortunately the “heavies” near the entrance made it abundantly clear that the public were not invited to watch!
Crossing the Thames we set off in search of a photo-op of the, under-construction, Shard tower and stumbled into the back of Borough Market. It is never a hardship to wander through this part of London and having sampled the mulled wine we set off for home.
Every year we enjoy visiting grand country houses, decorated for Christmas. This year, the real treat was that the house we visited today, was very close to our new home.
Hughenden Manor was the home of twice Prime Minister – Benjamin Disraeli. It is a lovely liveable home, and today looked even more inviting, decorated for Christmas. Disreili was a friend and confident of Queen Victoria, and she even visited him there.
A fascinating exhibition explained the war-time activity conducted at Hughenden. The house was requisitioned by the army, and used for top secret work by map-makers. Like Bletchley Park, nothing was known of what went on there until very recently. The exhibition showed photos of the rooms converted into map-making studios. The maps were drawn from aerial photographs, and maps produced here, were used for the D-Day landings and the Dambusters raid.
After watching every episode of Downton Abbey, we couldn't miss the opportunity of visiting 'Downton Abbey' aka Highclere Castle, open especially for Christmas.
Even though it is only an hour from home, we decided to make a weekend of it, and booked a night at the nearby 'Bell at Boxford'.
A circular drive starting near Boxford, took us through lovely countryside and many beautiful villages. The best architecture had to be in the two big towns of the area – Hungerford and Marlborough. Both were prosperous market towns, it is said that 200 coaches a week passed through Hungerford in the 18th & 19th centuries, travelling from London to Bath. We had never properly explored this town before and it is really delightful, with a stylish Victorian town hall.
The road from here led through the Savernake Forest. This is a private road (although available to the public) and has deteriorated considerably since we last visited in 2007. The large and frequent pot-holes made driving with a small sports car very difficult.
Marlborough is larger than Hungerford , with wonderful 17th century buildings. It was delight to walk around the shops admiring the Christmas decorations.
Not far from here was Aldbourne, the best of the villages we visited. A large green, handsome church and cute houses, several pubs; it was a great spot to stop in. The church has two hand-operated fire-engines donated in 1778 after a disastrous fire in the previous year.
On Sunday we visited Highclere Castle, along with hundreds of keen Downton Abbey fans. The Christmas decorations were rather minimalist, but it was still interesting to see the castle again, as we now had the TV series to place in the various rooms.