July 26, 2008

London Athenians Summer Party

Another sumptious banquet for London Athenians!

July 22, 2008

Kew National Archives Update

“Who do You Think You Are? This is the theme of the recently refurbished National Archives and where thousands of family historians and other researchers study. You are welcome to walk up to the first and second floors to join hundreds of people staring at computer screens and pouring over large maps and documents. Their tones are hushed and the lighting slightly dimmed.

On the ground floor, the mood is more boisterous in the café, cybercafé (free internet) and bookshop.

The museum centerpiece is a Domesday Book original, which recorded all of William the Conqueror’s English holdings in 1086. But I enjoyed getting the scoop on British spies using personnel files kept secret until the 2000 Freedom of Information Act forced them into public domain.

As you first enter the museum, you are faced with the story of Pearl Cornioley, who parachuted into Nazi-occupied France and eventully rose to command 3,000 underground fighters. When recommended for a military MBE, she instead was offered the civil version because she was a woman. Pearl declined, citing she had done nothing remotely "civil."

This photo (from the website) of the Archives, shows no exterior changes since the facilities were built in 1977.

July 19, 2008

Thames Path: Staines to Pangbourne

From May 26th to July 19th, we walked from Staines to Pangbourne. Public transportation will soon be tough but we have less than 100 miles to go. Some sights along the way:

Datchet: Picturesque Bridge and Elegant Hats for Hire

Longboats and Pets

Windsor Castle

Maidenhead: Brunel Brick Bridge and Almshouse

Cookham-on-Thames: Holy Trinity Church

Marlow: Churches

Henley-on-Thames: Site of the Royal Regatta

Lower Shiplake: Miniature Railway & Station

July 13, 2008

Long History for Kew Short Lots and The National Garden Scheme (NGS)

A giant juicy blackberry beckons me to pluck it and pop it in my mouth. Furtively, I look around and see no one. For a moment, my mood brightens but reluctantly I resist.

Kew “Short Lots” is the first allotment site in London to be opened to the public by NGS and I do not want to be the reason the public is not invited back next year.

One man picking gooseberries (for “jam, pie, and crumble”) tells me a “full plot” should be sufficient to grow enough fruit and vegetables to feed a family. I doubt this until I chat with a woman planting shallots in a half-plot overflowing with asparagus, apples, chilies, victory plums, figs, squash, beans, and berries.
Another man entertains a small crowd by demonstrating how he is re-cultivating his new plot. He claims the previous renter had only enough time to cultivate berry brambles. I notice a small brown neighborhood cat doing a little digging of her own, just out of view of the proud new planter.

According to notes published by the Short Lots Users Group (SLUG), Short Lots covers “one acre, one rood and 28 perches”. Short Lots history parallels the history of many allotments in England. It was common land for over 200 years until it was “enclosed” in 1824 and given as private property to King George IV.
In 1917, Short Lots was divided into just over 50 plots for families to cultivate and feed themselves during WWI. Allotment holders joined forces in 1938 to raise funds to provide a permanent water supply and distribution.
Interest in allotments spiked again during the WWII “Dig for Victory” campaign, and now, because of renewed interest in “good food”.

Over 70 people have Short Lots applications on file and each expects to wait at least seven years for an allotment. Annual rent for a half-plot (5 rods or 2700 square feet) is £34 and full-plot (10 rods) is £68. If you are slow to pay your rent or do not cultivate your land for three months, you get a “letter”. Current allotment holders live in fear of losing their land to waitlisted applicants unless they conform to strict SLUG standards.

NGS organized the afternoon opening of Short Lots and has an interesting history of its own. At a time when visiting gardens was reserved for the privileged, NGS asked individuals to open their private gardens to the public for a small fee and donate the proceeds to the Queen’s Nursing Institute. Since its founding in 1927, NGS raised over £40 million to support training and pensions for nurses as well as cancer and gardening charities. Because of NGS (www.ngs.org.uk), we can now visit over 3600 gardens across England and Wales.

July 11, 2008

Maisie Brown on Barnes & Mortlake

Maisie Brown wrote “Barnes and Mortlake Past with East Sheen”, one of a series published by Historical Publications Ltd. I attended her talk at Sheen Library because Mortlake includes the part of Kew in which I live. In addition, my Travel Writers Boot Camp assignment was “Historical research on a neighbourhood, tradition, or attraction.” I arrived early to ask Maisie “What attraction would pull an American tourist out of central London to visit Barnes or Mortlake?” Imagine my disappointment when this woman, who has devoted much of her life to researching this area, thought a moment and replied “Hampton Court.”

Maisie did tell us a humorous story from Victorian times. Kew market gardeners grew vegetables destined for Covent Garden. When the Hammersmith Bridge was built in the early 1800s, there were always traffic jams and the trip across the Thames could take hours. Fortunately for the drivers, their horses knew the route. The drivers would load up their carts with vegetables, point their horses toward the bridge, and promptly fall asleep. The horses would navigate their way until they reached Hyde Park Corner where they stopped – hay for the horses, coffee for the drivers.

July 09, 2008

Kew Gardens Summer Swing

Clutching our waterlogged Summer Swing tickets to “Stars of the Commitments” (1991 BAFTA winner) fronted by “Sounds of the Blues Brothers”, Kris and I trudged through the downpour to Kew Gardens. We were sure the show would be cancelled or we would be the only two in the audience.

We could not have been more mistaken. Attendance estimates ranged from 2500 (entrance guard) to 4000 (Become a Friend of Kew staff), but there were thousands dancing in the rain in front of the stage. One of the singers joked, “If it is any consolation, there is a small leak in the roof over the stage and we are getting a bit soaked, too.”

We sought refuge under the neck-and-shoulder massage tent, the South African wine tasting tent, the Kew Beer sampling tent and we even bought an annual Kew Gardens membership for Kris’ mom under the “Become a Friend of Kew” tent. After gorging myself with free samples of carrot cake and listening to most of the songs, we departed. I missed “Mustang Sally” and the fireworks, still admiring the many whose spirits would not be dampened by a bit of rain.