Hola! Hope you're smiling :)
I had written to Georgina, my favourite writer whom I met in Oxford last year – the memory of which remains much treasured to me now and forever. In my email asked Georgina if she was free for a meeting while I was in London and also asked for a recommendation of a place in London that she likes. I did have my own things to do and wasn’t sure if I’d have the time to follow any of Georgina’s recommendations but I still asked just in case I have the opportunity. And here was the opportunity! An extra day in London meant – Westminster and this place I had never heard of before.
From my email to Georgina:
“I am very excited about being in London again! I’d so love to visit any of your favourite places in the city, places you would recommend – museums, coffee shops or streets – any spot in London that’s dear to you :)”
“Have a wonderful time in London. I’m sure you have plans for sights to see, but one small museum I recommend is the Sir John Soane museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, he was a wonderful eighteenth-century architect and his house is crammed with his pictures and his collections of things.
Have a wonderful time in London and Liverpool,
and keep warm!
Googling ‘Sir John Soane’ immediately and checking out the museum online, I was determined to go. http://www.soane.org/
Catharine seemed interested in joining but she was meeting with her new employers and the team. However, she said she’d maybe able to meet me at Lincoln Inn Fields and join me on the tour to the museum as she was closeby but she wasn’t sure.
With last night’s experience of getting to Angels on my own, I was beginning to feel very comfortable about getting to Lincoln Inn Fields. I had the map, I had the phone numbers, I had everything I needed and didn’t have to care much.
From Westminster’s amazing underground station I reached Holborn from where Lincoln Inn Fields was just two minutes away. After coming out of the Underground station, I wasn’t sure about the direction. I proceeded left as the map said but I wanted to be really sure. Outside the station were Red Cross Volunteers with buckets accepting donations.
I will never understand this. I don’t know why sometimes I don’t really think much and generously drops pounds into buckets of buskers or the homeless but at some other times, when I should really be generous, at more appropriate times I fail to be generous and regret it later. I should have dropped a pound into one of the buckets but I didn’t! Maybe because I guessed other, more well off passersby would be generous and their generosity will cover the lack of mine or maybe because I didn’t think my single pound or two would make much difference to the organization but the same would certainly be of great use to me. I am really silly. A little after taking the left and walking on, I paused and returned back to the station to ask one of the volunteers for the directions to Lincoln Inn Fields. I will always remember this nice stranger, volunteer for he was extremely nice in telling me that I was on the right track. Of course it was just directions he was giving and that exactly what was incredible about him! He was extremely nice, friendly and warm even for the few seconds he spoke. He made me feel very good.
I kept walking for over 5 minutes but there was no sign of Lincoln In Fields, I was glad to see directions for Somerset House – I don’t know how I stumbled upon their Facebook page but I am familiar with the place and knew that they had an ice skating rink. I could see that if I miss Lincoln Inn Fields, I will reach Somerset House nevertheless but I didn’t really want to miss visiting the Soane Museum. I stopped an elderly gentleman and asked him for directions. He said I should keep walking for another two minutes. He was nice too and he was right.
A street sign on a small lane pointed to Remnant Street which leads to Lincoln Inn Fields. It was an interesting lane, it was small and narrow but it opened into a huge complex, almost like a secret city. The lane opened into a square that had a park and buildings all around it. I cannot believe now that I struggled to find the Soane museum that was only 2 minutes from where I was standing! And I also couldn’t believe that none of the people in the neighbourhood I inquired about the museum with, knew where it was! When it was just there, on the street.
The problem was that the museum was like any other house and didn’t have a grand entrance or any such pretence. I found a small line of people outside the museum and soon realized that the museum let in only one or two people at a time. I thought that was fantastic as it meant that one doesn’t spend too much time inside the museum and also gets a very personal introduction to Sir John Soane and his house.
Visiting the John Soane museum is incredible for reasons more than one. At the museum, one is welcomed with great Britishness that is impressive and exclusive to very British pockets such as the museum. To be guided by a Warder, to be asked for my coat, to be helped with taking it off and to be spoken in the most charming English accent was a treat! The museum’s website tries to describe this on their site
What to expect on arrival
Sir John Soane’s Museum was not designed to cope with the 5-600 people who visit each day. A member of staff is on duty at the gate throughout the day to manage the queue and to direct visitors. Upon arrival:
And for that reason, the house had no lights but only warm, wonderful candles. Entering the house of Sir John Soane, I knew what to expect but I didn’t think that it’d be so amazing. Like a secret portal, like time travel. I found myself transported to a London house of a passionate architect of early 19th century. Thanks to the museum caretakers, the arrangement of the artefacts and the very warmth of the house, wandering alone felt very different and very special. It wasn’t like going to a museum but to a house where the host has excused himself for a bit, perhaps to arrange the table for dinner or to relieve himself or fetch a very special artifact to show, and has therefore left you alone to wander and admire the beauty of things before he returns.
A truly amazing part of the house is the centre that is bright with light from the overhead glass roof-patch, at the heart of which is Sir John Soane’s very accurate bust surrounded majestically by precious pieces of architecture.
The only disappointment is that the host didn’t return but his presence lingered in the house. I loved Sir John Soane for one particular reason. As passionate as he was, Sir John Soane was a hoarder. He kept precious things because he knew their preciousness while not many would know or seek to know or even respect something like a brick-chip or a piece of shapeless plaster of paris, but he preserved them all! I gladly felt better of myself for treasuring some really precious things whose preciousness I understand but sadly, some of my friends and family don’t.
As I wandered, I felt endeared to Sir John Soane, the son of a brick-layer who won a scholarship to go to Europe, collected valuable things, saved them for life and with his passion for archeology and architecture, went on to become a Professor, got the honour of knighthood for his passion. Amazing story. I soon arrived at a tiny room where John Soane spent a lot of time examining small things. It’s a very small, intimate room – I could easily imagine the aged Soane crouched into his wooden chair with tea on the table and examining tiny, precious things.
I loved the arrangement, every single bit of the house has something amazingly special. It was like wandering in a treasure box. The moments when one find oneself completely alone and in silence and darkness in narrow corners or really narrow paths inside the house, things and that moment seems surreal.
The library and dining room are the largest rooms of the house which are distinctly non-British with bright red walls though British in a sense that they are woody, beautiful, well organized, warm and wise as described in English novels from the 1800’s.
After nearly 25 minutes of wandering, I left the house and was happy to see the next guest let in – a solo visitor. Of course I visited the museum shop and bought a few nice cards. Happy to get my phone back, I called Catharine and asked if she’d be able to join me. Sadly, she couldn’t. I now had to make up my mind about where to go next. It was only around 5 pm, already dark outside but still too early to go home.
There’s plenty of material online about Sir John Soane museum and Sir John Soane but this video by The Guardian is my favourite for greatly capturing the essence of Soane and for calling him the ‘Poet of British Archietecture.’ http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/video/2011/sep/08/sir-john-soanes-museum