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The Palaces of London

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As a country with a constitutional monarchy, it comes as no surprise that London has palaces to accommodate the Royals and their families and staff. However, not many people realise that there is more to the London palaces than the ones that are home to the Royal Family.

The buildings better known to most as the Houses of Parliament are more correctly named the Palace of Westminster and are the seat of democracy in the UK. The grand gothic buildings are a quite different prospect to the Queen’s London residence of Buckingham Palace and give a different angle on British public life.


Buckingham Palace

The main seat of the work of the Monarch in the UK, Buckingham Palace is more than just the London home of the Queen; it’s the hub of all official activity of the Royals across the country and the world. The Queen’s household and royal staff operate from the Palace and co-ordinate a busy calendar of events and engagements for not only the Queen but also the main Royals. The Palace itself is the setting for a number of these engagements, with garden parties, banquets, official receptions of foreign dignitaries and royal audiences of various kinds.

buckingham palace east facede

Buckingham Palace’s famous East Façade

The Palace has seen a number of extremely high profile events in the past few years. In the summer of 2011, Prince William, son of the Prince Charles, married his fiancée Catherine Middleton in a ceremony at Westminster Abbey before returning to the Palace for the reception. William and his bride, the Duchess of Cambridge, appeared on the balcony on the east side of the Palace like William’s father and mother before them. Then, one year later, the same balcony saw the appearance of the Queen as part of her Golden Jubilee celebrations to greet the enormous crowds of well-wishers that turned out to support her to mark 50 years of her reign.

The Palace is now open to visitors throughout the summer months. It’s possible to take a tour of the rooms State Rooms and see the palatial surroundings for the Queen and her family.


The Palace of Westminster

Better known as the Houses of Parliament, the Palace of Westminster is the set of buildings in which the House of Commons and House of Lords meet to form the British government. The impressive gothic buildings on the banks of the Thames have been the home of rule by the people of Britain since the Middle Ages and was rebuilt after a widespread fire gutted the Palace in the early 19th century.

gothic structure palace westiminster thames

The imposing Gothic structure of the Palace of Westminster, on the banks of the Thames

Organised tours of the House of Commons and House of Lords give you the chance to see the seat of British democracy in action. The House of Commons with its surprisingly small debating chamber is a particular draw and along with the voting lobbies that surround it form only a tiny part of the palace’s vast interior.

The oldest part of the Palace is Westminster Hall, which was completed in 1097. Serving as a debating chamber for both the Houses of Parliament and Lords to sit together, it has in recent years held the audience for a speech by Barack Obama on his 2011 visit to the UK and for the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in her historic address to parliament.



London’s palaces have a huge and on-going role to play in the government and public life of Britain and the British people. From the largely ceremonial nature of the Queen’s London residence to the daily life and work that goes on in the Houses of Parliament, these two buildings are far from fairy-tale castles and have a firm footing in reality.


Image Credits: Wikipedia 1 and 2

The London Muse – Famous Artists and Their London Landscapes

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The scenery and landscapes of London has long been the muse of artists who were born in or moved to the city to hone their craft. Some of the most famous cityscape paintings in the world are of scenes from London, either the iconic sights that people will instantly recognise or documentary of life of the normal folk of the capital going about their business.

Some very famous artists have lived and worked in London, many of whom have chosen to make studies of the city as part of their art. The places and people of London have proved to be very inspiring for some very well-known painters whose works depicting the city and its life have been celebrated by galleries and critics.


Joseph Turner

Although most widely known for his oil paintings, JMW Turner was one of the greatest masters of watercolour landscapes. Of these, a number were painted of views of London and his great use of light showed the city as having a wonderful glow.

In 1881, Turner published an etching of a view of London from Greenwich from which most will recognise some of the most noticeable landmarks. The domed roof of St Pauls and spires of Westminster Abbey can be seen over Greenwich Park and put into context the ways in which the city has changed in the past 130 years. From this work, he went on to paint a number of studies of London architecture, including landscapes of a number of the Thames bridges and a dramatic, almost impressionist-style landscape of a fire at the House of Lords.

turner old london bridge tate britain

Turner’s Old London Bridge, currently at Tate Britain


A number of Turner’s London landscapes are in the collection at the Tate Britain gallery in Millbank.


Claude Monet

Several years after Turner started to use impressions of light and shade in ways the realists that came before him would have frowned upon, Monet brought impressionism to the London landscape with a vengeance. His oil painting of the Thames below Westminster is a masterpiece of using light and silhouette to bring a feeling of dawn over the river.

monet thames below westminster impressionist

Monet’s Thames below Westminster – a beautiful impressionist takes on the London skyline


The painting, along with others of Monet’s works, is at the National Gallery near Trafalgar Square.


John Virtue

A much more contemporary painter but no less influenced by the landscape of London, Virtue takes impressionism to the point of abstraction and produces complex monochrome works that leave the viewer with an impression of the city unlike any other.

Rather than giving his works titles Virtue chooses to number his paintings, leaving the viewer even freer to place whatever interpretation on the piece they wish. Described by the National Gallery as “[riding] the fine line between impressionism and figuration,” Virtue draws on the work of Turner and Monet in the creation of his own works.

While there are some more abstract paintings in his portfolio, there are some paintings that are unmistakeably London and will be recognisable to anyone who looks.

Virtue was an associate artist at the National Gallery between 2003 and 2005, and a number of his works can still be found amongst the collection.



There are many paintings by some of the old masters of the London landscape that will still strike a chord with the modern visitor to the city. However, London continues to be a muse for many artists visiting or living in the city and inspires creative minds to invent new and interesting perspectives on the way the architecture impacts on its people.



Image Credits: Wikipedia 1 & 2

The Boat Race – London’s Longest Running Sporting Event

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The Easter Weekend of 2013 in London saw the 159th Boat Race, by far the longest running sporting event to take place in the city. Covering a course of a little over four miles along the Thames, the race is as much a part of London as the river itself.

The chance to see the university rowing teams of Oxford and Cambridge go head to head in a tough race from Putney to Mortlake in West London has proven to be a big draw for visitors to the city for many years. This year, those who turned out to watch the race were treated to the sight of two Olympic medal winners battle it out to be on the winning team with one in each of the blue boats that fought it out on the river.


History of the race

The Boat Race has seen Oxford and Cambridge pit their best rowers against one another since 1856, and has taken place every year come rain or shine except during the years of both World Wars. Through the years, Cambridge have traditionally had the edge in the winning stakes, with three more wins under their belt than their Oxford opponents over the total number of races that have taken place.


boat race route

The course of the famous Boat Race, with the sides of the river chosen at the coin toss


The most recent race

This year two strong teams, each with a decorated Olympian amongst their team members, took to the river to battle it out for first place. After a slog along the course, the Dark Blues of Oxford took the day with over a length lead on the Light Blues of Cambridge. Over a quarter of a million people are thought to have lined the banks of the Thames to watch the boats pass and cheer on their chosen team. This differs from the Olympic course at Henley-on-Thames, where this year’s ladies teams battled it out for their own title in the wake of two of their male compatriots in the men’s race boats.


2013 boat race crews

The 2013 crews, ready for the off


Over half a million people turned out to see the Boat Race. With beautiful weather, it was a great draw for tourists who had the chance to see a little bit of London history being played out in front of their eyes. The victorious team, Oxford, took to the podium in Putney and sprayed the waiting crowd with champagne to celebrate their victory over their great rivals.


The future of the race

Next year’s race will be held on the 6th April and will follow the same famous course as this year, but with one difference. Whereas the women’s race this year was on the Olympic course in Henley and held one week earlier than the men’s race, next year the men and women will compete on the same day using the same course. This is a big change to the tradition of the Boat Race and signifies the growing equality that women’s sports are gaining with those of the men and brings women’s rowing to a huge television and live spectator audience.

The teams, however, will continue to race in light and dark blue as ever and the competition will be just as fierce. If there’s one thing about the Boat Race that is never likely to change, it’s the huge rivalry between the Oxbridge universities that dates back much further than the race itself.



The Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race is one of the highlights of the London sporting calendar and brings with it a unique atmosphere and long heritage. While the location of the race may change, the spirit of what makes the race such a huge draw for the crowds has and will remain the same for years to come.



Image Credits: Wikipedia 1 and 2


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