Just as Downton Abbey started to fade from the headlines, a new British production, The Crown, took its place. While not as fanciful or entertaining as the comings and goings of Lord Grantham and his family and staff, The Crown is captivating for its fine accounting of a modern day Queen. While I never need a reason to go to London, the show provided an incentive to tailor my trip with a theme — walking in the footsteps of The Crown — recalling historic venues, sights, and personages keyed to scenes in the show. Join me…
The Crown Jewels
Providing the title for this impressive show, with its opening credits of liquid metal being wrought into a crown, the Crown Jewels within the Jewel House in the Tower of London were the first stop on my tour. To say that they are truly awe-inspiring is an understatement (these are not paste copies!). The additional fact that these jewels, comprising a total of 23,578 gemstones, represent a “working collection” that remains in active use lends more luster to the story (when pieces are removed for an occasion, Tower keepers leave a note in the case saying “in use.”)
One intriguing fact deserves a mention here (especially if you, like I, am a diamond lover). The famous Cullinan diamond, discovered in 1905 and given to King Edward VII by the Union of South Africa, could be considered the “mother” of the British Crown Jewels. At 3,106 carats it is to date still the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found and was cut into many smaller stones that appear in both crowns, tiaras, ceremonial pieces and diamond accessories (brooches, necklaces, rings) of the Crown Jewels.
Coupled with all the history, the mystique and beauty of the individual stones and the workmanship of the pieces, the Crown Jewels are truly a must-see (and one takeaway impression? They are so much larger than one would expect…and therefore, that much heavier). Here, a small sampling.
The Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross
The enormous 530.2 carat Cullinan I diamond, or Great Star of Africa, was added to the top of the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross (1661) in 1910. It remains the largest colorless cut diamond in the world (from my view within 4′ of the sceptre, the diamond appears to be the size of a child’s fist).
St. Edward’s Crown
Worn at the moment that the monarch is crowned in Westminster Abbey, this solid gold crown (1661) was used most recently at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
The Imperial State Crown
Made for the Coronation of George VI in 1937, the Imperial State Crown was reduced in height for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. It is centered with a 317-carat, cushion-shaped brilliant diamond cut from the original Cullinan diamond. One of the youngest crowns in the collection, it is worn by the Queen at each State Opening of Parliament.
The Crown of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother
Created in 1937, this exquisite crown is set with 2,800 diamonds including the most famous diamond in the Jewel House, the 106 carat Koh-i-Nûr (or Mountain of Light). Since arriving in Britain in 1850, this Indian diamond has been set in various ways including in two previous queen consorts’ crowns.
The site of the moving coronation scenes in The Crown, Westminster Abbey has been the site of every British Monarch’s coronation since William the Conqueror. It has also played host to many a royal wedding (the most recent being that of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge)and is in addition, a resting place for many royals (seventeen) and other significant individuals in the nation’s history.
One of the most important Gothic buildings in the country, the Abbey is a treasure house of stained glass, paintings, pavements, textiles and other artifacts.
Boasting 775 rooms, the palace became the official residence of the British monarch in 1837 after Queen Victoria came to the throne. The nineteen State Rooms are regularly used by the Royal family to entertain guests on their State, ceremonial and official visits to the United Kingdom. As well, family celebrations are enjoyed here; the 2011 reception of the Royal Wedding of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge was hosted by Her Majesty at the Palace. During August and September the Queen makes her yearly visit to Scotland allowing the palace to open up these lavish rooms to the public.
The centerpiece of London, Buckingham Palace is surrounded by greenscapes, from St. James Park and GreenPark to its own extensive landscapes and gardens.
The Queen’s Gallery
At the suggestion of The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh, an original pavilion at Buckingham Palace was copied to replace the conservatory destroyed in an air raid in 1940. Since 1962, it has served as a gallery for the Royal Collection…one of the last great royal collections to remain intact. And not only does it face the Palace’s garden but the gift shop is a gem!
The Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace
Many scenes in The Crown reveal the Queen’s interest in and affection for horses, both for riding and racing. So there was no doubt that I needed to make this stop –the Royal Mews (or, the Queen’s stables) where carriages used for royal and State occasions (opening of Parliament, weddings and coronations) are housed and maintained. It is also one of the finest working stables still in existence, responsible for the training of the Windsor Greys and Cleveland Bays, the horses that pull the royal carriages.
And once there, I stepped across the street to the Cavalry Bar and Palace Lounge to enjoy tea in its magnificent bright open space with panoramic views of the Royal Mews.
Clarence House is now the official London residence of The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall. But as related in The Crown, the Prince first lived there between the ages of one and three, when Princess Elizabeth and The Duke of Edinburgh took up residence following their marriage. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother lived there until her death in April 2002.
10 Downing Street
A Newport garden friend (a Brit, who had worked for Prime Minister Churchill) hasn’t seen the show yet but fascinated me with a story that confirms The Crown’s authenticity of a scene at 10 Downing Street…a young secretary trying to read mail to Churchill who was behind closed doors taking a bath.
In his later retired life, before going to sleep, Sir Winston would read the daily newspapers, which were not delivered until about 2 am. Then he would start the next day late with a scalding bath, the hot tap running all the time and a large soaking sponge on his head.
10 Downing Street, with its lacquered black door and gold crown atop the lantern, has been the residence and offices of British prime ministers since 1735. Though not the size of the White House, 10 Downing vies with our President’s residence as the most historically significant political building in the world.
Churchill War Rooms
The spectre of World War II hangs in the air during the first show of The Crown, which immediately reminded me of one of the most moving experiences of an earlier trip to London — The Churchill War Rooms. To see the very small underground complex (left intact) where Churchill directed the forces during World War II is to marvel at the outcome of that War. It is not to be missed!
Only a royal wave from the palace and a short stroll from Knightsbridge and Mayfair (how could I not stay here?) the Goring was the hotel where Kate Middleton and family resided in the prelude to the Royal wedding. And why not…the Goring is the genuine article -” a grand hotel with impeccable manners and a subtle streak of wit and wonder.”
Fortnum & Mason
“Grocer to the Queen” says it all really. The store is on six floors on Piccadilly with no less than 5 restaurants…and a favorite among the Brits for a tea stop.
Quite the dish in its day, and a festive punctuation for a nation still reeling from a World War, “Coronation Chicken” was created for the foreign guests attending the Coronation. Well worth your consideration!
2 young roasting chickens
Water and a little wine to cover
A bouquet garni
Cream of curry sauce (recipe below)
1. Poach the chickens with carrot, bouquet, salt and peppercorns, in water and a little wine, enough barely to cover, for about 40 minutes or until tender.
2. Allow to cool in the liquid. Joint the birds, remove the bones with care.
3. Prepare the cream of curry sauce (below).
4. Mix the chicken and the sauce together, arrange on a dish, coat with the extra sauce.
The rice salad that accompanied the chicken was of carefully cooked rice, cooked peas, diced raw cucumber and finely chopped mixed herbs, all mixed in a well-seasoned French dressing.
Cream of Curry Sauce
1 tablespoon oil
50g/2oz onion, finely chopped
1 dessertspoon curry powder
1 good teaspoon tomato purée
1 wineglass red wine
Three-quarters wineglass water
Salt, sugar, a touch of pepper
A slice or two of lemon and a squeeze of lemon juice, possibly more
1-2 tablespoons apricot purée
450ml/three-quarters of a pint mayonnaise
2-3 tablespoons lightly whipped cream
A little extra whipped cream
1. Heat the oil, add onion, cook gently 3-4 minutes, add curry powder. Cook again 1-2 minutes
2. Add tomato purée, wine, water and bayleaf. Bring to a boil.
3. Add salt, sugar to taste, pepper, and the lemon and the lemon juice. Simmer with the pan uncovered 5-10 minutes.
4. Strain and cool.
5. Add by degrees to the mayonnaise with the toma to taste.
6. Adjust seasoning, adding a little more lemon juice if necessary. Finish with the whipped cream.
7. Take a small amount of the sauce (enough to coat the chicken) and mix with a little extra cream and seasoning.
And to go with your “Coronation Chicken,” I close with this suggestion from one of the most quotable men in history…
A single glass of champagne imparts a feeling of exhilaration. The nerves are braced; the imagination is stirred; the wits become more nimble.
– Sir Winston Churchill
Who, in 1952, could possibly have predicted the course of the next 60 years? But stay tuned, for hopefully The Crown will have the audience to justify following through with their original intent…to capture the six decades of this remarkable woman who is the longest reigning monarch in history.