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Thursday, 23 September 2010

Open House London 2010 :Charlton House Part Two


Charlton House is sited I quickly discovered on the top of a rather steep hill. Or at least it seemed that way to me as I slowly made my way towards it from the railway station. Having managed to take an earlier train than planned I toyed with the idea of popping into the local greasy spoon and availing myself of a coffee and making use of their other facilities. Then I decided that as, according to the map, the uppermost part of the hill was known as The Village, I fondly imagined it to be full of quaint tea shops. I was wrong in my assumption.

Daniel Defoe, author of “Robinson Crusoe” and my own personal favourite “Roxanna” had not been very impressed by Charlton village, judging by his comments he made in his work “A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies” published in the 1720s.
“Charleton, a village famous, or rather infamous for the yearly collected rabble of mad-people, at Horn-Fair; the rudeness of which I cannot but think, is such as ought to be suppressed, and indeed in a civiliz'd well govern'd nation, it may well be said to be unsufferable. The mob indeed at that time take all kinds of liberties, and the women are especially impudent for that day; as if it was a day that justify'd the giving themselves a loose to all manner of indecency and immodesty, without any reproach, or without suffering the censure which such behaviour would deserve at another time.
The introduction of this rude assembly, or the occasion of it, I can meet with very little account of, in antiquity; and I rather recommend it to the publick justice to be suppress'd, as a nusance and offence to all sober people, than to spend any time to enquire into its original.”

Oddly enough, Defoe fails to mention Charlton House itself, even though the Horn-Fair would have been held in front of it, before the village green was enclosed in the 19th century. My own first glimpse of Charlton House was of its former summer-house built in the 1630s and designed by one of England’s foremost architects Inigo Jones. An alternative theory suggests it was actually built in the 18th century. Either way, its destiny was less than glorious when it was turned into a public convenience in the 1930s. But its beautifully carved wooden door is now firmly shut to both lovers of architecture and those desirous of answering a sudden call of nature. I fell into both camps on Sunday.

To while away the time until the house opened its doors to the public, I explored the gardens. I came across an intriguing stone monument decorated with an ankh symbol, a carved lizard, a scorpion and two crossed snakes. On top of the monument was a giant acorn. There was also a faded inscription in Latin. I later discovered that the monument was an antique folly bought by a former owner of the house on a European jaunt to Rome. The inscription simply bore witness to the fact.

Close by the summer house is one of the first mulberry trees ever planted in England. King James I, erstwhile patron to Adam Newton who built Charlton House, was keen to encourage the English silk trade and it was believed that silk worms would flourish if fed mulberry leaves. Unfortunately it was later discovered that King James had commanded the wrong kind of mulberry trees to be grown and their leaves were not suitable for the silkworm industry. In the following century the legendary Giacomo Casanova found another use for the fruit of the mulberry tree, when he discovered that the juice of the berries could be used as an ink. Thus he was able to write hidden messages to another prisoner help captive in the same prison under the leaded roof of the Doge’s palace. By means of this secret correspondence Casanova was finally able to escape from his Venetian goal.

As I approached the house, I heard a voice calling out to me. Being partially deaf I could not establish where the sound was coming from until I looked up and saw a man leaning out of an upper storey window.
“Do you need any help?” he asked, adding, “We open at ten”.
“I know, I replied. "That’s why I am taking pictures whilst I wait”.
The front of the house has a handsomely decorated porch, delicate stonework tracery edging the roof and a sundial located between the third and second storey bay windows. 1607, the date building work started on the house is carved into the stone work on the plain stone surface of the porch. As I walked around the side, I realised from the brickwork that one of the turrets had been completely rebuilt. The house viewed from the rear was distinctly plain and gave little inkling of its rich interior. 

On the stroke of ten I walked in through the front door. A woman sitting at a little table by the entrance handed me a ticket and a guide. The ticket was to allow the Friends Of Charlton House to establish how many visitors their open day had attracted. By noon, it was already in three figures. The hall known as the Minstrels’ Hall, owing to the addition of a minstrel’s gallery in the 19th century, is of double height and runs the full length of the mansion. High up on the wall, on the opposite side to the main entrance, sits the feathered insignia of the Prince of Wales, in honour of Sir Adam Newton’s illustrious pupil, Prince Henry Fredrick. Royal insignia abounds in a house which owes its very existence to Newton’s place in the royal household. The ceiling also displays Jacobean strap work. In a corner, I noticed a painting of a pretty 18th century woman in a silvery white gown. I was unable to establish who she was or her connection, if any, with the house.

I made my way from the Minstrel’s Hall to the Old Library. The little corridor which joined the 19th century one storey extension to the mansion was lined with geometric blue and white tiles. It also displayed a sequence of photographs taken from a 1909 edition of County Life magazine, showing the mansion in its Edwardian heyday when the principle family rooms were all richly furnished with antiques. Nowadays, like Eastbury Manor, Charlton House must earn its keep. Thus part of one floor is given over to a Japanese Language school, the former chapel and another chamber form the local public library and the Minstrel’s hall has been has been turned into the Mulberry café which is open on weekdays to serve the local population. Other rooms are rented out used for conferences and weddings. Consequently, as with Eastbury Manor House, Charlton House has been denuded of its original furnishings and is filled only with utilitarian furniture for official functions.

The confusion as to where the original family chapel lay meant I first assumed it had been part of the Old Library. However, even though the strapwork on the ceiling and the wooden carvings around the gallery suggested Jacobean origins, it simply did not look old enough to date from the early 17th century. This was hardly surprising as it had all been built in the 19th century with a sympathetic eye to the original mansion.
I returned back into the main house and noticed two finely carved wooden doors by the foot of the principle stairwell. These led to the former family chapel and another chamber, both of which now serve as a public library. Sadly the doors were firmly locked. So I walked up the stairs instead. The oak staircase is in an excellent condition and the treads emitted a satisfying creak as I ascended to the first floor. The walls of the stairwell were decorated with a delicate floral design in plasterwork dating from the 19th century. 

The Long Gallery is more satisfying than the one at Eastbury Manor House in that the walls are still covered in wooden panelling and there is an exquisite marble fireplace in situ. The ceiling too retains its splendid plasterwork. It is therefore far easier to imagine 17th century denizens perambulating up and down its length when the weather outside was too inclement for the ladies and children of the household to brave.


Adjacent to the Long Gallery is the White Drawing Room. It contains another magnificent fireplace. Apparently the design, which draws on Biblical and Classical themes, is made of plaster but was painted to look like marble by a television production companym when they serialised Tom Sharpe's Porterhouse Blues in the 1980s. It took me a while but eventually I was able to deduce that the central roundel was of Perseus slaying the Gorgon Medusa with the winged horse Pegasus standing nearby. Beneath the roundel was a depiction of Christ in his triumphal chariot bearing in his wake Evil, represented by Death and the Whore of Babylon, the latter wearing the papal tiara a none too subtle dig at the Roman Catholic Church. The frieze also showed scenes from the Crucifixion. I would dearly have loved to have got closer to the fireplace but there was a small hill of stacked blue chairs and a large table barring my way. There was also a low lying trolley, presumably to cart the chairs around the building. I did debate whether or not to stand on the trolley but it did not look particularly safe and I had visions of sending the chairs collapsing in to a heap on top of me. So I refrained from such recklessness.

 
 The next room, the Grand Salon, is directly above the Minstrel’s Hall and likewise runs the length of the house. This contained the most ornate plaster ceiling of all with its 3 dimensional hanging pendants. More royal insignia was incorporated into the original design. The fireplace was decorated with marble statues of Venus and Mars. The former has developed a hairline above her lip giving Venus the somewhat unfortunate appearance of possessing a moustache Frans Hals' Laughing Cavalier would have envied. Although this is without doubt the most magnificent of the rooms on display it is by no means my favourite. That accolade must go to the Newton Room. But before I could reach that I had first to progress through several other rooms first.

The Dutch Room (possibly a corruption of the name of Sir William Ducie a former owner) contains a plain black marble fireplace. I assume it was this same fireplace that led  Edward Hasted in his work “The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 1” published in 1797 to relate the following rather improbable tale:
“Dr. Plot says, there was a marble chimney-piece in the dining room of this house, so exquisitely polished, that the lord of Downe could see in it a robbery committed on Shooter's-hill, whereupon, sending out his servants, the thieves were taken.”
I loved the plasterwork frieze along the wall in this room and could envisage it adorning the walls of Brimstone Butterfly Towers had I but the space and the money to reproduce it..

Dr Plot could also have been referring to the ornate black marble fireplace with its geometric patterns in Prince Henry’s room. It is doubtful that Prince Henry ever visited Charlton House as he died before its completion at the early age of 18.

Having walked through a small panelled corridor, whose locked doors led to modern offices but which housed the servants’ quarters in earlier periods, I came into the Newton Room. The fireplace in this room was one of the most enchanting I have ever seen. The plasterwork seems to depict lots of naked and semi naked women and mermaids frolicking about. I haven’t a clue  as to what they are supposed to represent but they seem so jolly and engaging that I sat down and just gazed at the fireplace for a good quarter of an hour. In the 1909 photograph of the same room in Country Life magazine, the background had been painted in so that the figures in relief showed up that much more clearly. I imagine the original plasterwork would have been brightly coloured, in line with the colourful Jacobean fireplace at Igtham Mote. I noticed that the internal windowsills of the Newton Room were lined with marble. The view looks over what was and still is parkland. Unlike in earlier epochs, the park land can now be enjoyed by the local community as well as by visitors to the house. 

I made my way to the Green Room, a much more intimate space, which I assume derives its name from the green and white tiles of sailing ships lining the inner fireplace. By comparison to the other exuberant decorative schemes this fireplace and its surrounds were rather restrained. Likewise, the black and white marble fireplace in the so-called Ducie Room, displaying the 17th century heraldic shield and initials of Sir William Ducie, later Viscount Downe and his wife Frances.
I finally made my way back to the Mulberry café in the Minstrels’ Hall and found myself being served by the same man who had called to me from the upper storey window. I also saw him vacuuming the floor of the Old Library as well as instructing a group of staff as to their duties for the day, so clearly he was willing to turn his hand to anything. 

As a postscript I must remark on a strange incident that befell me at Charlton House. Before entering the mansion I had checked the time and messages on my mobile phone. I then switched my phone off before entering the building. After I had wandered around on my own in a virtually empty house, the mansion gradually began to fill up with visitors. I took the opportunity to eavesdrop on one of the guided tours and was indignant to learn that the Long Gallery was supposed to he haunted. "Why hadn’t I witnessed any supernatural manifestations whilst I was sitting on my own in the Long Gallery earlier?" I silently grumbled. When the Long Gallery was once again empty, save for myself, I whisked out my camera and switched on the video recorder element.
“If there are ghosts here I want to see some action,” I challenged aloud
Later, seated in the Mulberry Café with my slice of Victoria sponge cake and cup of cappuccino, I played back the Long Gallery footage. To my disappointment but not my surprise there was nothing amiss. I then stepped out of the mansion to continue with my packed itinerary and switched on my mobile, or at least tried to switch it on. But it would not work. I tried unsuccessfully again throughout the afternoon whilst I was at the Old Naval College complex in Greenwich but to no avail. I knew I had recharged it the night before so it couldn't be that the battery had run flat. At home I plugged it in on the off-chance that I had been mistaken but there was not so much as a flicker of activity, so I promptly unplugged the charger. An hour later I tried again and this time the mobile phone came to life. For some reason I have lost the date and time settings but to my great relief I retained all my stored telephone numbers. Next time I find myself in a haunted house I shall be a little more circumspect as to what I demand of the resident spirits in future.                                                    

video

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

It’s (not) the real thing.


I received an e-mail from an American airline advising me of changes to security arrangement for passengers arriving in the United States. The e-mail reminded me of an incident which happened to me the last time I flew into Los Angeles airport. Being of a conscientious disposition, I completed various landing cards, including one which listed the produce I was bringing into the country. I will never forget as a schoolgirl, Russian border guards insisting I consumed the fresh fruit I had brought with me on the train from England. The alternative was to have it confiscated.

When I showed that I had such a declaration on arrival I was sent to stand in a special queue. Finally, I reached the head of the queue and handed my form over to the seated official. He almost choked as he read it.
“You are bringing in coke!” he spluttered in disbelief.
The man had misread my handwriting. I had in fact written cake. In case I should feel peckish when I reached my hotel, I had packed a hermetically sealed fruit cake. Once the mistake had been cleared up I went on my way. However, subsequently I did wonder whether an American court would accept a prior declaration of illicit drugs at customs in mitigation, should I later be charged with possession of cocaine. It is not something I would ever consider putting to the test.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Open House London 2010: Charlton House Part One




On Sunday I flung myself out of bed at 7.30 am determined to keep to a hectic itinerary marking the final day of the annual Open House London weekend. I had earmarked two specific locations on the basis that both afforded me the best opportunity to peruse buildings or parts of buildings not normally open to the general public. My second port call of call was the Old Royal Naval College complex at Greenwich; my first was Charlton House, acknowledged as the finest example of a Jacobean mansion extant in London. As with Eastbury Manor House in Barking, Charlton House is another of those architectural jewels few have heard of outside the immediate vicinity, an oversight its supporters are keen to overcome. 
Henry, Prince of Wales
 Neither teaching nor the Church are generally thought of as being lucrative professions. But then Sir Adam Newton was no ordinary cleric or teacher. As Dean of Durham and a royal tutor to boot he was very much the exception to the rule and was able to commission a magnificent mansion for himself at Charlton, now to be found in the London Borough of Greenwich, but then set in the rural tranquillity of the Kent countryside. His house was fit for a king, not surprising given that the heir to the throne, Prince Henry Frederick, had been Adam Newton’s most illustrious pupil. Nor would Newton have been particularly concerned about Biblical strictures on rich men, camels and eyes of needles. According to the National Dictionary of Biography Newton had used royal influence to secure the post of Dean of Durham, despite not being in holy orders and had promptly sold it on again when it suited him, leaving others to carry out his priestly duties. He had already spent part of his early adulthood passing himself off as a priest in France. Around 1600 he returned home to his native Scotland where his talents secured him the post of tutor to the King’s eldest son. It was a fortuitous time to have joined the Scottish royal household. A short while later, Queen Elizabeth of England died and Newton’s royal master, King James, became sovereign of two kingdoms. Like many another Scot, Newton eagerly followed James southwards to England to make his own fortune. 

 By 1607 Newton was wealthy enough to begin building his house at Charlton. By the time it was completed in 1612, Prince Henry had died suddenly at the untimely age of 18, leaving the hopes of his Stuart dynasty resting upon the slight shoulders of his younger brother Charles, destined to be King Charles I. Fortunately for Newton, royal patronage did not cease with the death of the young prince and he was appointed as a senior official in the household of the new heir to the throne, Prince Charles. Having been naturalised as an Englishman by King James’ first parliament, Newton was later made a baronet in 1620. Charlton House remained his principal residence until his own death in 1629, by which time Prince Charles was now King of England.
King Charles I
 Historians both trained and amateur sometimes like to speculate as to what might have happened if Prince Henry Frederick had not died so young. His brother Charles like King Henry VIII was never meant to be king. It was always assumed that their elder brothers would live long enough to succeed to the throne before them and perhaps sire their own heirs. But whereas Henry had always been robust and extremely athletic compared to his sickly elder brother Arthur, it was Prince Charles who was deemed the runt of his family compared to his own brother Henry Frederick. His poor constitution as a child had also left him unusually small, possibly only around five feet in height, when compared against his son Charles and paternal grandmother, Mary Queen of Scots both of whom were said to be six feet tall and certainly Charles would have been dwarfed by the 6 foot 2 Henry Tudor. He also suffered from a stammer. Had Prince Henry lived, there is no reason to suppose that Newton’s family would not have continued to enjoy royal favour.
Sir Walter Raleigh's Prison Cell: Bloody Tower
Sir Walter Raleigh's Cell: Tower of London

 It is very doubtful that the Elizabethan adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh, a personal favourite of Prince Henry Fredrick’s would have ended his life a prisoner in the Tower and later executed on a charge of High Treason either. I visited Raleigh's prison cell in the Bloody Tower last year, which has been staged as  it might have looked whilst Raleigh was held captive there. As it was, King Charles’ disastrous reign led to civil war and Newton’s second son and ultimate heir Henry being forced to sell Charlton House. Having fought on the losing Royalist side, Henry Newton was subject to a heavy fine by Parliament and obliged to lead the life of a private gentleman far away from state affairs. Consequently, he sold Charlton House to one Sir William Ducie in 1647 and retired to his estates elsewhere in England.
Initials and coat of arms of William and his wife Frances Ducie
Sir William Ducie, like Sir Henry Newton, was another second son who had ended up inheriting his father’s wealth and titles, following the death of his elder brother Richard. William’s father like Henry’s was a self-made man who had accumulated a fabulous fortune as a banker to King Charles I. He had also served as Lord Mayor of London in 1630. The strong family ties with royalty saw Sir William elevated to the nobility when he was made Viscount Downe by the restored King Charles II.  Even if he had not been born one, William certainly knew how to spend like a lord. Thus, when he died in 1679 he had run through his father’s fortune and was heavily in debt, resulting in Charlton House being sold in 1680 to another Sir William, this tine Sir William Langhorne.

Sir William Langhorne
Sir William Langhorne’s chief claim today is twofold; first, that he married the hapless 17 year old Mary Aston when he was 84 in the forlorn hope of siring an heir, having failed in his quest with his other wife. Mary must have been eternally grateful that he died within a matter of months, leaving her, one would hope, a wealthy widow even though the Charlton House and estate were left to a nephew. Mary Aston went on too marry one George Jones of Twickenham. Let us hope he was far closer in age to her and that they enjoyed a long and happy marriage together. Langhorne's second  claim to posthumous fame is that his shade is said to haunt the grounds of Charlton House, doomed to spend eternity seeking for that elusive woman with whom he could engender a line of descendants. Perhaps there is a poetic justice in the fact that Langhorne failed to have a direct descendant to leave his wealth to. His fortune could be attributed to ill gotten gains. Having trained as a barrister and with shares in the East India Company, Langhorne was sent out to India on the company’s behalf to adjudicate in a dispute. He stayed on and became in time the Governor of Madras. However he fell out with the East India Company when they accused him of acting on his own behalf, as opposed to the company’s, and amassing a huge personal fortune.  As a result he was sent home in disgrace. But the canny Langhorne somehow managed to hold on to his money and used it to attract the hand of the Duke of Rutland’s widowed sister Grace in marriage. Whilst out in India Langhorne is believed to have built Guindy Lodge for his official residence as Governor of Madras. Though much altered since Langhorne’s era, since Independence the present building is now styled Raj Bhavan and serves as the official residence of the Governor of Tamil Nadu.

Subsequent owners of Charlton House were far less colourful than Sir William Langhorne. The Maryon-Wilson family can claim the longest ownership of Charlton House from 1767 to 1923. They also have the highly dubious distinction of enclosing what had been for centuries the village green in front of the house, something which far grander previous owners had never thought fit to do. They moved  an ornate gate onto it to leave the other  residences of the village in no doubt as to their claim to the hitherto communal land.  

A kind of redress was made to the local populace when Greenwich Council bought the house and land in 1925. Much of the land has since been turned into public parks, which means from the rear of the house and from certain angles, the windows afford views not too dissimilar to what might have been seen over a hundred years ago, when Carlton House was still in private ownership.

Nowadays, Charlton House, like Eastbury Manor House, must earn its keep. Accordingly, it can be hired out for business functions, weddings and filming. The Mulberry Café is located on the ground floor Minstrel’s Hall where I partook of coffee and cakes. The former Jacobean chapel and another room serve as the local public library. Unfortunately that was probably why these rooms were closed to visitors on Sunday. A single storey Victorian extension to the house had originally been converted into a library by Greenwich Council, until they decided it was too large for their needs and chose the chapel instead. The 19th century extension is in the vernacular of early 17th century architecture, complete with strap work details on the ceiling. The wood did not look sufficiently ancient but given that the room was called the Old Library I was rather confused as to its true age. Now I realise that the Old Library is in the new wing and the New Library is in the old wing.
I shall return to this subject anon to describe the interior of Charlton House and my own spooky encounter in the reportedly haunted Long Gallery.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Thames Day 2010 :Part 3 Diablada or:The Dance of the Devils


Thanks to a sharp-eyed commentator on www.Jezebel.com  called Danse Manatee, I have been able to establish that the characters in the images below, which I took at last weekend's Thames Day 2010, are from the traditional South American dance known as the Diablada or Dance of the Devils. Fusing Christian and l pre-Conquest elements, it tells the story of the eternal battle between the Good and Evil. The character at the front is of course Satan. The figure circling him with a cross on his breast, a shield on his arm and a sword in his hand is the Archangel Michael. Several South American countries, including Bolivia, Peru and Chile, are currently engaged in an eternal  battle of their own to establish that the dance originates from within their respective borders.


Behind the two main characters follows hosts of winged angels. I am grateful to Danse Manatee for correcting my fundamental error of assuming that the original images were oriental in origin

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Thames Day 2010: Carnival of the night part two.

Now that the sky had turned black the night carnival could began in earnest.
Surrounded by various examples of marine life glowing around her, the winsome mermaid perched upon her throne sported battery operated LED lights in her headdress, as did her small handmaiden. The latter looked rather bored at possibly cold to boot. The semi-clad women elsewhere in the parade had their spirited dancing and the hot gaze of the men around them to distract from the distinct nip in the air.

video

A giant purple robot then sauntered down the road, operated by a seated man. Although his appearance was not of itself in any way frightening and if anything reminded me of a huge child’s toy robot, the thought of several tons of articulated metal suffering a sudden catastrophic failure was alarming. At one point the robot appeared to be stroking a man’s head but I imagine his actual hand was kept well clear. To reduce the impact of the Robot’s formidable size and bulk, he was equipped with a disarming voice that drawled Hello, how are you?” as its eyes appeared to alight on certain faces in the crowd. Or else he politely announced” Pardon me. Excuse me, Robot coming through!”
 Some men and women were costumed like giant butterflies and were almost as spectacular as a Brimstone Butterfly in all its sulphurous yellow glory.
The giant papier-mâché  Ancient Egyptian Queen was on the same heroic scale as the robot. I am not sure what the giant masked male figure was supposed to represent but I thought he did looked scary.
 One of the most incongruous groups present featured an Austrian brass band, all the men dressed in lederhosen with wearing the traditional feathered lederhosen hat. I was less certain what other groups were supposed to represent so just settled back and enjoyed the procession. One group held bright pink silk parasols edged with gold tinsel aloft.
 A man and a woman dressed in oriental costumes of predominantly of Imperial yellow silk caught my eye. The masked woman in particular had something of the air of the acclaimed English designer Zandra Rhodes about her.
 The giant man with the ginger hair seemed a tantalisingly familiar figure from a child’s storybook but he remained obstinately unknown to me. Ditto the blue eyed white furred gossamer winged creature behind.
 The next group seemed to be holding giant paper dollies aloft. There were some very young children amongst them and I admired their stamina and fortitude.


 Being a Scorpio I was of course intrigued by the illuminated scorpion. The monochromatic mask float was impressive too.

   Whatever this is I like it. hence its inclusion.

A man dressed as a blue and white tea cup and driving a table laid out for afternoon tea pedalled his tricycle ahead of his fellow pieces of china. I found the idea of both the men and women wearing matches pantaloons very droll touch. And where would any self respecting tea party be without a silver kettle, which followed along on a float of its own.
 I then saw more figures from Ancient Egypt including another scorpion.

I find it hard enough to totter along a street in high heels. How some of the Ancient Egyptians and other women in long white trousers and green tops managed to walk around in stilts for long stretches at a time I do not know. By contrast the red and yellow clothes bandsmen had it easy.
  One troupe represented the different parts of a dragon but as there was something of a gap between the segments as they came into view, it was not quite apparent at first that that had been their intention.
 The shows girls came next strutting their stuff and their mighty feathers. The lady in a long gown of pink feathers probably got the better deal in terms of coping with the chill in the air. A mixture of semi naked showgirls and fully clothed angels followed in her wake.

And thus the carnival dew to a close, allowing me ample time to promenade slowly back along the Victoria Embankment to Hungerford Bridge and from thence to the South bank to browse the food and craft stalls. Most of the latter were already packing up for the night by the time I arrived. Luckily I was able to buy a Polish doughnut. This along with a banana and a bottle of water from home served to slake my appetite, which had seen me eye the food stalls longingly. Unfortunately the long queues proved an effective deterrent as I wanted to grab a prime spot on the bridge from which to watch the fireworks display, which served as a magnificent finale to the day’s events.

If it had not been for the fact that I had woken up later than I had planned and so had not spent the day in the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, I would not have found out about the Night Carnival and fireworks by the River Thames. The moral of the story is whereas the early bird catches the worm, it is the wise old owl that gets to have all the fun at night.