Certainly Charing Cross is the best of all starting-points for exploring expeditions, and by Charing Cross I mean the south-east corner of Trafalgar Square.
From there you may wander along the Strand, or north into Bloomsbury, or through Cockspur Street into the realms of Mayfair, or southward to the Thames, and in every direction there are unnoticed stories to be found.
UNITED SERVICES MUSEUM
“More kindly love have I to that place than to any other in yerth.”-CxnUCEx.
One day I turned my back on Charing Cross to go to St. Margaret’s via Whitehall, blissfully unconscious of the fact that it happened to be Saturday and that the church closes its doors every day at q p.m. and for all day on Saturdays.
At the corner of the Horse Guards Avenue I paused undecided, having taken months to summon up courage to pass the giant at the entrance to the United Services Museum!
He snorts with such a supercilious sniff at the would-be visitor that you have to remember it may possibly be only the good-natured contempt of one service for another, and that the Orion’s figurehead may really be elevating his nose at the Horse Guards across the way, on which I notice that Spencer Compton, 8th Duke of Devonshire (b. 1833, d. 1908) also bends a grave and somewhat disapproving eye from his elevated statue in the middle of the road.
Mr. Street, in his delicious Ghosts of Piccadilly, says, “There is ever a Devonshire filling his eminent position, calm, retiring, imperturbable, and never an amusing thing to tell of any one of them,”and this statue tells you to believe him.
To come back to the United Services Museum -a thing that far too few people do, for it is one of London’s many buried treasures–don’t be misled by any optimistic guide-book that tells you the admission is sixpence. That is only true on Saturday afternoon; at other times you part with a shilling unless you are a soldier or sailor in uniform, or one of the many troops of schoolchildren that are admitted free every week.
There are myriads of things to delight any childish heart-cunningly contrived models of ships, plans of battles, the actual walking-stick and snuff-box of Sir Francis Drake, Oliver Cromwell’s sword, the very bugle that sounded the Charge of the Light Brigade, a room devoted to souvenirs of Lord Wolseley, and rows of other treasures with heroic stories of brave men.
I have yet to find a museum without a Napoleonic souvenir, and here there is a startling one-”Marengo’s “skeleton. You are so engrossed by the relics of General Wolfe and Nelson and Wellington and other heroes, that you almost forget what you came to see-the Old Banqueting Hall where they are lodged, the beautiful Palladian structure that Inigo Jones built in 1622-all that is now left of the old palace of Whitehall.
The nine ceiling paintings that Rubens did at Charles L’s request look as fresh as if they had been painted yesterday, having been restored too many times. Rubens got £3000 for them, while Wren only received L100 a year for rebuilding all the City churches and £zoo a year for rebuilding St. Paul’s-but Wren was an Englishman and Rubens a foreigner.
The Banqueting Hall was all that James I. accomplished of the great palace he meant to let Inigo Jones build for him in Whitehall, and just outside the hall Charles I. met his death, a short distance from the statue where
Comely and calm he rides Hard by his own Whitehall.
A little crowd clusters every morning at eleven to see the guard relieved at the Horse Guards, now the office of the C.LC. of the Home Forces.
On the king’s birthday, June 3rd, the Trooping of the Colour at the Horse Guards is an unforgettable pageant.
The English have not, like the French, the courteous custom of saluting their flag, but on this occasion every civilian head is bared as the drums beat and swords flash, and the uplifted colours are borne slowly round the parade ground to the strains of God Save the King and the old regimental marches, played by the band of the Life Guards in their magnificent uniforms.
It is a gallant sight, and a goodly thing to see.