A London Diary (or "A Taste of Britain")
By Dorothy Dean Holman
(1895 - 1984)
[Edited by John M. Holman, Contributing Writer]
Monday, April 29, 1974 -- Frannie and I left Hampton about 6 o'clock P.M. in her car and drove to Logan Airport. Stopped at her house to pick up her new white hat she had forgotten. Then on our way, stopping at Howard Johnson's for ice cream cones. As we neared the airport, a thunder shower was making up and it began to rain.
Met Frannie's brother, Sid, and wife and daughter and granddaughter in the lobby. It was terribly hot, no air conditioning. Had to take off my suit jacket, which I seldom do. Wore my purple tweed suit, navy bird cage (whimsey) and navy pumps. Boarded the plane at 9:40 after being frisked and our baggage inspected. Didn't take off till 10:30 as fog in Detroit (point of departure) had held it up. The stewardess apologized and said it would be a 5 hour and 50 minute flight. And we were off. We were given a magazine to read, a menu, a pillow and a blanket, and were informed of safety measures, while a steward concentrated on the donning of life jackets, use of oxygen masks, and were shown the safety escape doors. Then we were served drinks, and took ginger ale and orange juice, after which were served dinner. Ran into turbulence while eating which resulted in the coffee being slopped all over the tray. Dinner consisted of shrimp cocktail, braised steak, potato croquettes, string beans, roll, cheese cake and coffee. Plane personnel very pleasant.
Movies were shown with ear phones. At 12:15, we put our chairs back and tried to sleep. Frannie dozed, but don't think I did at all. At around 3 o'clock, airplane host said to set our watches 5 hours ahead. Breakfast served of orange juice, grapefruit sections, 2 rolls with marmalade and coffee. Arrived London (Heathrow Airport) 9:30 London time Tuesday morning.
Tuesday, April 30, 1974 -- Went through customs then boarded a bus for the hotel, the London Tara in Kensington. Took a picture of the nose of our plane through the window of the bus, it was too big to get it all in. Also took picture of the bus. Noticed a sign on the way which read "give way" instead of our "yield". Saw numerous signs differing from ours which I'll note as I go along. Beautiful countryside, London a huge city, said to be the largest in the world. Was told it was 30 miles in circumference. Suburbs look like home in places.
The leaves were all out and shrubs in bloom. Gardens everywhere, window boxes on commercial buildings colorful with primula, and tulips combined with pansies, stocks, primula, etc., all around the city. Cars drive on left side of road, drivers sit on right side. Seems strange. Saw miles of wooden fences, horses in pasture, small community gardens. Everything looked so neat and clean. Gas is called patrol. Apartment houses are mostly of brick, I never saw so many brick buildings, and with chimney pots, 2, 3, 4 or more pots to a building, and one long narrow chimney had 12! Was told each pot went to a fireplace or stove. Long blocks of apartments all connected and private houses the same. Were built that way for protection during the years of invasion. Didn't get a picture of these, no opportunity to. Saw a Bingo sign and a store called The Variety Box in Piccadilly.
Passed a Christian Science Church not far from the hotel, and a reading room. Street signs are on sides of buildings. Elevators are called lifts. We operated them ourselves when going to and coming from our room
Arrived at hotel, registered and were given the key to our room, No. 572 on the 5th floor. We freshened up and lay down and slept till 3:15, then went down for tea in the hotel coffee shop. Had a beef (rare) sandwich, tea, apple pie and ice cream, pie not sweet enough for me. They serve a sugar called sugar crystals, resembling raw or born sugar only coarser. Picked out some cards in the souvenir gift shop and some stamps, after cashing a $20.00 travel check, and received 7 pounds and 90 pence. A pound is equal to $2.50 in our money but it fluctuates. They take out 10 pence for cashing them.
Up to our room and rested a few minutes until time to take a taxi to the Strand Hotel to meet and have dinner with two of Frannie's English women friends, who were in London for the day. Had a good dinner served by gorgons dressed in brown belted tunics, after the French manner. Drinks in the lobby before dinner (sherry), I had ginger ale. Friends were charming.
After dinner, we were whisked, and I mean whisked, back to our hotel in a taxi. They drive at breakneck sped in London. And so to bed at quarter of twelve. Thought of calling home (it would have been around 7 there), but decided against it. So ended our first day in that exciting city of London.
Wednesday, May 1, 1974 -- Woke at 7:30, bathed and dressed. First, to describe our room. Twin beds, 2 chairs, table between beds with lamp, radio and telephone, a larger table on which tow rite (with lamp), a small one in front of huge picture window, with net curtain and burnt orange drapes to match the bed spreads, a television, and a good sized closet. Bathroom connecting with batch and shower, wash basin and toilet.
A girl came in every morning after we went out, to make beds, clean, and leave fresh towels. Face cloths weren't provided, so I had to buy one the first time I went out, at Woolworth's, no less.
Breakfasted at 10 and had an English breakfast consisting of orange juice, corn flakes, bacon and eggs, a sausage and coffee. They only half-fry the bacon, I like mine crisp, and we didn't like the taste of the sausage. So from then on we partook of a continental breakfast, which was included in the price of the tour ticket, and was just like I have at home. It consisted of orange juice (tumbler size) corn flakes, (the only other choice was porridge)rolls and coffee, hard rolls at first (a plate piled high with them), later crescent or whole wheat.
Mailed cards to John and Bill. Wore new pant suit today and raincoat and old shoes. Addressed cards. Frannie tried to get accommodations at a farmhouse for overnight in Stratford, but they were no long taking guests. I was disappointed. Frannie made reservations for a trip to Shakespeare country for the next day. Had lunch in coffee shop, then took taxi to Paddington station to catch a bus for orientation tour of the city, included in tour itinerary. At lunch met two couple from Connecticut.
On tour of the city saw sign "No Entry" instead of our "Do Not Enter". Advertising signs on trucks say "Ring 1234" instead of "Tel. 1234". Thrift shops are called "Reject Shops". Window boxes on buildings full of mixed primula, very colorful. Passed a goat house where people board their goats through the winter, the driver said.
Went over the Chelsea suspension bridge, saw Chelsea tower and the River Thames, through Parliament Square, over the Yorkshire bridge into Vauxhall. Saw Big Ben and were allowed to leave the bus to take a picture. I took two, and one of Frannie standing in front of the bus. Crossed Westminster bridge, Parliament Square and saw statue of Winston Churchill, and was told there was one of Abraham Lincoln, but did not see it.
Along Downing street and into Trafalgar Square with statue of Lord Nelson, and the Strand Theatre District. Ran into traffic jam caused by demonstrators for socialism, it being May 1st, marching with banners and placards. Were held up for a time. Crossed London Bridge and saw the tower of London, which is more than a single tower, but a set of buildings of stone. Driver remarked that the old London Bridge had been sold to someone in Arizona, he thought. Saw Tower Bridge from London Bridge, went through industrial district, bricks blackened. Noticed neon signs on buildings here and there reading "Take Courage," I thought "how inspirational", until I learned later Courage is the name of a beer.
Was told Tower of London was once surrounded by water, but is now filled and sown with grass. Saw monument on the spot on Pudding Lane where the great fire of London started. Saw the ship "Discovery" from the Antarctic.
Through Trafalgar Square and along Pall Mall, past the American Embassy with the U. S. Flag flying, on Grosvenor Square, Hyde Park and Speakers' Corner with someone speaking to a small crowd. Saw graveyard in Victoria Park for dogs and cats, full of small thin headstones and fenced in by a wrought iron fence. Frannie wanted to return to it and get a picture but we never did.
Back to starting place and taxi to hotel. This was called an orientation tour of the city for tourists. Walked out to Kensington High Street and had supper at Kinny's(sic), similar to McDonald's but no too good. Then up to our room to write more cards. Watched T.V. for a while. Saw a gorgeous rainbow after a shower. Wearing my old shoes. Glad I took them. End of Wednesday, 2nd day.
Thursday, May 2, 1974 -- Up at 6:30, breakfast at 7:30 in hotel coffee shop (Continental). Waitress pours milk on your cornflakes swimming in it. Walked to camera shop on Kensington High to fix camera I'd dropped on the bus and broke a corner off. Shopkeeper suggested taping it so walked on to Woolworth's for black tape. Bought a package of pea seed and one of mixed flowers with Bill in mind, and a wash cloth. Took a bus to travel agent's for tickets to a show, also free with our tour fare, and made reservations for a trip to Stratford on Avon for the next day. Never saw the tickets after that, didn't get a chance to see a show anyway.
Frannie tipped taxi driver 2 pence. Riding on the buses is dangerous business. Started up once before I was quite off and had to make a jump for it. Then took taxi to Buckingham Palace to see changing of the guard. There was a mob there. Couldn't see the actual changing, but saw the new guard coming in and the old guard going out. Took pictures of them and of mounted police who rode back and forth keeping the people back on the curb. Beautiful horses.
Walked to near-by Saint James Park and sat on a bench to rest, beside a man who was eating a sandwich while reading the paper. As we sat there, a brigade of Scotch guards in kilts and carrying bagpipes walked by. They'd been at the changing of the guard but because of the crowd we'd been unable to see them. Took pictures of them. On leaving the park, Frannie said, "Here comes Mr. Churchill", and coming toward us was a man the perfect image of him, dressed in black, wearing a hat like Churchill's, carrying an umbrella, and with a round florid fact like Churchill. Would love to have had a picture of him but lacked the courage.
We had a discussion concerning a duck on the pond, which Frannie said was a mallard, but I said was a blue-winged teal because of a blue patch on its wing. Have looked it up in my bird book and find I was right. Took a taxi to Dean St. and ate at a nice restaurant called "Leoni's". The dinner was on a friend in Hampton who had given me $10.00 for it. We both took a picture of the street sign as proof we'd been there and Frannie took one of me in front of the restaurant.
Took taxi back to hotel. We were called many things by the drivers "mother," "darlin'," "sweetheart," "dear," "luv," and sometimes "madam." Rested a couple of hours, then had tea and cheese cake in coffee shop. Wrote more cars and was in bed before 10:00. Note: everything is garnished with water cress in hotels and restaurants.
Friday, May 3, 1974 -- Frannie set her alarm clock for 6 o'clock as we had to be at the starting place for a tour to Stratford on Avon by 8:30. I was up at 5:30, bathed and dressed, with breakfast at 7:00. Took taxi to Knightsbridge (starting point) and met with a couple from Michigan, and the four of us made up the party. Noticed a unique town sign along the way which read "Hampton Lucy." Tulips blooming all over London, in Squares, before business houses and private homes, mostly combined with pansies, stocks or primula. Talkative driver named Bill Doughety (pronounced Dockety). Was surprised to hear him speak of Darby and Joan until he explained that those were the names given old couples. He said pension for a single old person was 4 pounds a week, hardship cases 2 pounds more, but said the government didn't provide enough for their elderly. Passed two of his daughters going to school, and said he also had a son, all three were adopted.
Left London and headed for the open country. Saw cows in pasture, black and white which he said were Jerseys, but were really Holsteins. Must have thought we were city ignoramuses. Saw also horses in pasture, plowed pieces and fruit trees in bloom. More wooden fences. Went 70 miles an hour on the freeway, the limit. Lovely scenery, little villages, houses so different from ours. Lots of yellow bushes along the roadside called gorse, driver got out and got us a sprig. Were prickly to touch.
Signs read "Oxford M. 40," Miles of wooden fences. Saw my first hedgerows. Lovely little towns, small houses close together, neat, each with fenced in yard and garden. More gorse, More hedgerows. Nearing Sokenburg, Chiltingham. Drove through a notch. Driver called our attention to gorgeous view ahead. Pasture full of sheep, an occasional farmhouse. Some hedgerows kept trimmed, others allowed to grow. Sign along road read "End of Motorway 1/2 mile." Saw signs of towns Amesbury, Wheatsley, Thane. Another sign read "Single file traffic.
Saw first stonewalls made of flat stones. Went past Forest Hill sign with Sandhills off to the right. Into Oxford, city of universities. According to driver, there are 12,500 students there, 126 schools in the city, some state-sided. Went into the cathedral, took pictures. Other town signs noted, Cowley, Henley and Reading. Passed an Alice-in-Wonderland shop. Lewis Carroll went to Oxford. Driver said he made pocket money baby-sitting for professors' children. Told them stories to entertain them which led to his writing Alice in Wonderland.
Saw a shop called Vanity Flair, a women's shop. Driver gave a resume' of Churchill's life, and quoted from his famous speech. "I have nothing to offer you but blood, toil, sweat and tears" and ended with "we shall never surrender." "Let them say a thousand years from now, "this was our finest hour." Driver, a great admirer of Churchill.
Saw my first thatched roof outside Oxford. Approaching Stratford. Stopped for coffee and biscuits (cookies) at a unique little lunchroom. Driver told us where Churchill's grave was, but we didn't find it. Walked way up the road and it was just across the road from the lunchroom
On to Stratford. Passed town signs, Glympton, Chipping, Norton, Moulton, Ditchley, and Kiddington. Passed community gardens. Driver talked of Shakespeare and quoted long passages. Passed more thatched roofs, field of little lambs, another of cows. Town signs Whitchford and Ascot. Saw a flock of hens in green grass of an orchard. England is sure a storybook land. Stopped for lunch at the Alverston. Crossed the Avon. Saw sign Coventry, near where the Paul's spent the summer (Connie's sister and family). Houses typically English. Visited Shakespeare's birthplace and saw his garden. Also went through Ann Hathaway's cottage, took pictures and bought a sketch of the cottage for 50 pence. Saw bench were Shakespeare and Ann sat while courting. Leaving Shakespeare country we went on to Warwick (English pronounce it Warrick) and visited the castle, which is said to be haunted, but saw no ghost.
Saw an English robin. Not as colorful as ours. May have been a young one. Back to starting oint and onto a bus for home. Went to end of line and had to get a taxi for the rest of the way. You don't pay when you get on, but colored girl conductor goes around collecting. 10 pence. Went up to our room then down to supper in coffee shop. Went down later for snack. I ordered garlic coffee ice cream. Thought it tasted funny. Waitress said it was blended with Irish whiskey. Can't say I liked it, but it didn't affect me in any way. And so to bed.
Saturday, May 4, 1974, Cloudy. -- Left the hotel at 9:30 in a chauffeur-driven car, just Frannie and I, for a trip to Winchester Cathedral. Driver's name was Michael Cullen. Out of London through the Hammersmith area where middle-class families live. Parallel to the Thames which we would cross several times. Passed the oldest brewery (Fuller's). Driver said there are few public golf clubs in England, no club houses, no dues. You pay a pound ($2.50) and play a game.
Saw canals and were told they flow into the Thames and are used to transport goods to loading on cargo ships at Greenwich. An overhead bridge sign read "15 ft. headroom." Drove through Windsor, cobble stone streets some original. The castle is across the street from shops and houses. Two sentries on duty pacing back and forth, keeping step and turning at same time, although on opposite sides of the street. Driver said they count the steps and so keep in step. The Union Jack was flying which meant the Queen was in residence. Could not go in the castle but could walk in the courtyard. We didn't. Window Castle was built by the Romans in 1060 of square stones without the aid of any mechanical devices.
Unique fences called mat fences, made of rush and faced with small stones on the street side. Driver said he lived in a "wee" house in Bracknell. Saw the Ascot race track. Saw a sign "Hatfield's Garage." Drove through Guilford, past a pub, "The Nag" and another "The Railway Arms" and another "The Hen and Chickens." A cemetery sign read "Glades of Remembrance." Sign along street "At Any Time", meaning no parking.
Old and new houses mingle in Guildford, old with many gables, new plain brick. Visited Guildford Cathedral, rather plain, not ornate, built by contributions from the public after the original destroyed in the war. Denomination -- Church of England. Sign "No Parking on Verge." Passed several milestones used as markers in stage coach days. Drove through Hogsback, so named for contour of land. Saw gypsy encampments. Saw Getti's mansion whose grandson was kidnapped in Italy, was in the news. Extreme security. Still cloudy.
Village of Farnham. Crossed over Skinny Bridge, heading for Godalming (accent on first syllable). Sign by road "Two-carriage way" (our two-lane highway). Crossed into Hampshire County on way top Bird World, a bird sanctuary featuring tropical and unusual birds. Interesting. Was pecked on finger by a duck. Most interesting were the Mynah birds, always whistling, such as boys whistle at girls. One kept saying "Where's my dinner?" Some people bring their Mynahs there, now have 4 named Bill, Ben, Jack and Minnie. Mynahs belong to the starling family and are the most popular with visitors. Still cloudy and cold. Had on my new rain coat and my tan tam and of course, my old shoes.
Came to town of Alton. NOticed people still wearing furs. Stopped at Swan Hotel for lunch. Had cold chicken and salad with apple pie and custard for dessert. Then off to Winchester to see the Cathedral, passed a sign reading "4 Marks". Driver took a picture of a thatched roof cottage for me in Alton. Through picturesque Bishop Sutton with houses close together, lining the main street. Noticed roofed sheds with open sides for storage of hay. Saw stone barns in middle of fields also for hay storage. Driver said they were called haggards in Ireland.
Entered Winchester. Narrow streets, only one car wide. Very old city. Small many-paned windows. Went into Cathedral. Very beautiful architecture and stained glass windows. While drive took Frannie off to see a part I had already seen, I saw man dressed in long black cassock, so though I'd talk to him. Me - "Are you a bishop?" Man - "No, I'm head verger." / Me - "A what?" Man - "Head Verger." / Me - "I get the verger, but what kind?" Man - "Head" / Me - "Can you spell it?" / Man puts one hand on top of his head and the other under his chin and says "Head". / Me - "Do I talk funny to you?" Man - "No" / Me - "That's strange, because you talk funny to me." / Man - "I'm a Yorkshireman." / Then he told me what his duties were, seeing that everything was ready before each service, of which there are 3 daily. Driver took picture for me of one of the windows. Winchester used to be the capitol of England before London. Drove through city. Many old buildings. Started back a different way, through Basingstone.
Driver treated us to gum drops, said they were called American hard gums. Candy over there is known as sweets. Another road sign said "Dual Carriage-way Ahead." Stopped to take a picture of a hedgerow, took one of Frannie beside it and she one of me, with hedgerows on rolling hills in background. Frannie took one of the driver before a farm gate with name of farm on it. Noticed hedgerows had some rose bushes in it beside something resembling privet. Saw picturesque farm but too far away to get picture. Road sign read "Hook" meaning "Curve". A magpie flew across in front of the car, it was black and white. While photographing the hedgerow, a lark flew up singing, one of the highlights of my trip. Edwin Way Teale mentions them in his book, "Springtime in Britain."
Passed through towns of Hartney and Whitsey. Passed house where David Copperfield was written and went through town of Bagshot where driver said Dickens was born and grew up. Drove through village of Phagen and passed the Runnymede Hotel, also brick house where the Magna Carta was signed. Laundromat was called a 'Washateria' and dry cleaning place a 'Cleanateria' in one town.
Back to London. Stopped in a book store, bought a Beatrix Potter book for Chrissy for 40 pence (around a dollar) and are $1.95 here in town. To the hotel, paid the driver 10 pounds and 1 pound tip. Took his picture standing by the car. Up to our room to freshen up before going down to dinner. One more day. We leave a day early because of a threatened air strike, and all flights cancelled for Tuesday.
Note: -- While waiting for a taxi on a London Street, saw a man walking along with a lamp-lighter's ladder and he disappeared around a corner. Ladder, narrow at top, wider at the bottom.
Sunday, May 5, 1974 - Cloudy -- Continental breakfast in coffee shop. Discussed where to go. Planned on Westminster but learned Poets' Corner closed to tourists on Sundays. Disappointed. It was either boat ride on the Thames or Kew Gardens and Hampton Court. Decided in favor of the latter. Had to be at the starting point at 2:15 to join group for tour. Went early to eat. Ate at a pancake house on Kensington High on Connie. Had broiled chicken and mushrooms. Took taxi to Paddington Station and waited almost an hour for the bus. While waiting, a poorly dressed woman, like a character out of Dickens came in begging. Held out her hand to 2 men but got nothing.
Passed a street sign in Bayswater reading "Orme Court." Thought of Barbara in Hampton. Tour guide said his name was Abbott, and number of coach 1412. Were told to remember in case we got separated from the group.
He was easy to follow as he was bald. In spite of that, Frannie got lost and missed going through Hampton Court Castle. Didn't see her again until we got back to the coach. Interesting Castle, full of history in William and Mary time. Driver gave some statistics. (367,000 churches in England, 7 ½ million people in grater London, 10,000 taxi drivers, 8,000 taxis and 6,000 buses.)
Beautiful, colorful gardens in both Kew and Hampton Court. Took pictures although cloudy. Thomas Gainsboro buried in churchyard in Kew. Occasional signs in city read "Toilets" in London. Went over Kew Bridge, good view of the Thames. Driver said, "If you want to live longer, live by the Thames." Christopher Wren lived to be 91 there. Lady Baden-Powell lives there now, and is 85.
Alexander Pope's house was pointed out to us, 1680-1744. Driver had a wonderful memory for dates. Rows of huge horse chestnut trees in bloom. Driver called them candlelabras. While in Hampton Court, saw a grape vine 300 years old, and a flag pole 400 feet high, the tallest in the world, a Douglas fir! Yew trees in rows trimmed in triangular shapes. Most popular tree in England is the Plane tree.
Some signs on streets are pictured instead of written. For instance, two children, hand in hand, means children crossing. Men working shows man with shovel. Was told signs like these are international, since people are not multi-lingual.
Coming back, crossed the Thames twice, once over Kingston Bridge. Back to Paddington Station for taxi to hotel. Frannie was hailing a taxi when a man also waiting, kept saying "Queue, lady, queue" which meant she should get in line. One has a lot to learn when visiting a strange country. Back at the hotel, freshened up and went down to dinner. Back to room to start packing. Did a cross word puzzle, then went to bed.
Monday, May 6, 1974 - Fair -- Up and breakfasted. Checked out. Took taxi to Victoria Station to change tickets, as we were leaving a day early due to threatened air strike (BOAC) Found we were at wrong station so taxied again to the right one and bus to Heathrow Airport. Looked for gifts in airport, but same as at hotel gift shop, so didn't buy anything. Boarded plane. Took off at noon. Were served generous lunch. Watch movies. Set watch back 5 hours. Later served tea. On way to airport, saw sign on building, For Sale, see "Holman Real Estate".
Arrived Logan Airport 2:30 p.m. our time. Looked down on Boston as we came in. Waited outside on runway for signal to come in. Went through customs. Declared seeds but was allowed through. Frannie's brother met us. Called Connie to meet me at toll house in Hampton. Took the limousine service at 3:45, arrived Hampton 5 o'clock. Cost me $10.00. Was invited out to Frannie's brother's for overnight but was anxious to get home. Frannie went home to West Boylston with him. Connie met me at the toll house.
Home again after a wonderful week in England. My dream had come true. Much credit is due Frannie for tending to all arrangements.