Exploring some of the cute and colourful mews off Brompton Road

A few days ago I found myself at the Victoria & Albert Museum and afterwards with a bit of time to spare and still entirely without any tourists, I decided to take a stroll to properly explore some of the lanes and mews that are just off the busy Brompton Road where Harrods is.

Whilst Harrods and much of that part of Knightsbridge is often extremely busy and perhaps a little distastefully ostentatious to locals, just a few minutes walk away takes you to a very different area. Classy, understated, traditional and exactly where I would live if I had to live there which is why the streets were home to all manner of British actors as well as the occasional shy and retiring Hollywood star with screen heroines such as Ava Gardner.

The heathland village of Brompton was first recorded in 1294 and its name derives from Old English words meaning ‘farmstead where broom grows’. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s coat of arms is topped with a sprig of broom representing Brompton.

The marshy ground was drained in the 16th century and converted to fruit gardens. The Brompton Park nursery was established here in 1681 and has given its name to the Brompton stock: a large, usually red, biennial variety of the species Matthiola incana.

From around 1800 the area between Hyde Park and Brompton Road began to be developed in a piecemeal series of small streets and squares. The squares were and still are populated by grand buildings but nearby were the stables and modest homes of the servants who worked for their betters and as with other parts of London, over a few centuries they have become some of the most desirable places to live.

A year ago I wrote on the The (Deserted) Mews of Mayfair and it seems many parts of London are as deserted as ever but one gets the feeling that these particular mews are always quiet which I think exactly why the people who live there, love them so much.

Picturesque Mews

The blue terrace house above has obviously myself with blue and white decor and olive trees out side the front door. I’d guess their house is worth 10 times mine though. The house in the distance on the left was one of the homes of actor Sir Alec Guinness who of course starred in dozens if not towards a hundred films.

Me being artsy.

Of course if I were truly artsy then I might cut out the traffic cone on the edge of the photo! This corner was famous across Britain in the 1980’s and early 90’s as the setting for an iconic VW Golf car advert. Personally I’d think a VW around here would be more for the cleaning staff rather than residents!

Beautiful Mews

The view of this mews could be said to be out of this world which would be apt in someways as famed actor Sir Terrence Stamp used to live on the left. Of course he has played many roles but I always think of him as General Zod from the Planet Krypton who came so close to beating Superman 40 odd years ago. For some reason I often prefer the baddies in films. Darth Vader and General Zod were much more my people than Luke Skywalker or Superman.

Incidentally Sir Michael Caine lived further down the street when his career was just starting off and the pink building on the right which is about as long as a train carriage and no deeper than 3 feet and in places much shallower, recently sold for almost £1million so it gives a clue as to what the proper houses are worth.

From Russia With Love

The street above is another lovely Mews and in the distance you can see the spire of a Russian Orthodox Cathedral.

Going potty!

You’d never know you were in the heart of London would you?

Horrifyingly gorgeous!

This old mews has been on-screen a few times including one of my favourite 60’s shows, The Avengers, a crime-fighting show with often sophisticated villains and the even classier Emma Peel played by Dame Diana Rigg and John Steed who was played by Patrick Macnee.

Whilst just on the right was a location in the last great Alfred Hitchcock film, Frenzy!

Brompton Oratory

And then as I was just about finished, I caught a lovely glimpse of Brompton Oratory, a Roman Catholic Church. The photo also gives a glimpse or what many of the streets in this area are like. The house on the right was home to actor Jack Hawkins who appeared in countless films such as Lawrence of Arabia, Zulu, The Cruel Sea and The Bridge Over The River Kwai whilst one or two doors down was the home of Charles Gray who famously played Blofeld in James Bond.

Given the distinctive nature of the streets and my knowing all these house locations just from memory, it makes me wonder whether I have a new walking tour. There is so much more to London than the famous sights!

Posted in Architecture, Life, London, Photography, Travel, Ye Olde England Tours | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

I’ve created a monster!

You might remember well over a year ago I got a very tiny Spider Plant Coronavirus Diary 55 – great oaks from little acorns grow. By September last year, it had been repotted and grown somewhat Coronavirus Diary 70 – The front cottage garden in Autumn.

Almost another year down and whilst nothing has changed for me in being totally Excluded from government support whilst being barred from working in my profession, the little Spider Plant is not so little. In fact it’s turned into a monster with numerous shoots having sprouted out from the main plant to produce baby plants which in turn are now much larger than the original plant was when I got it and they too have produced children.

It’s all getting a bit out of control and I could tell the plant needed a bigger pot though I hadn’t quite expected its roots to be so potbound. Obviously it loves the location it has been growing in for over a year.

So I found the largest ceramic pot that I have which will give it room for another year. I’m not sure how much bigger a put I can find for it, especially suspending it from the roof of my somewhat condemned front porch, before it all falls down.

Getting it bang into its hanger was a bit of a nightmare too with all the leaves and runners everywhere but now its up, it does a good job of making the house seems bit more cottagey and stopping people looking to so easily too.

I’ve created a monster!
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I’ve joined the Clone Club – Orphan Black

It’s hard to have not noticed that the Olympics have been on for 2-3 weeks recently but I’ve not watched a second of it as I can’t bring myself to support anything to do with TeamGB on the account of being ExcludedUK though I have watched athletes from the Refugees team on Twitter as I feel an affinity to them.

Anyway just by chance I stumbled across a relatively recent television show that aired for 5 years called Orphan Black and I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. It is about a lady who witnesses someone who looks just like her, commit suicide by jumping under a train… something I often think of doing myself and indeed just 4 days ago helped a lady on the tube who was feeling similarly.

In Orphan Black this lady, Sarah, assumes the identity of the dead woman only to find she is a police detective and in fact the reason they look alike is that they are clones. Not just two clones but several of them, potentially dozens, maybe hundreds.

The clones are all unaware of their situation and are the property of a hi-tech organisation who are manipulating their lives and in some cases outright experimenting and killing them under the auspices of helping the wider human race whilst also running a programme of life-extending treatments under the control of a mysterious Victorian man.

Things quickly get out of hand for Sarah and it seems the organisation has a special thing for her as she is the only clone who has had a baby though her life and health are such that she’s long been unable to care for it.

It turns out every clone has a Monitor in their life to keep tabs on them. Maybe their spouse, maybe their boss, neighbour or best friend. Some of the clones are being murdered and others are suffering from a genetic fault which will lead to their deaths unless it can be genetically engineered out.

There are many reasons to watch Orphan Black but the main one is actress Tatiana Maslany who plays over a dozen characters or clones. They all have very distinct personalities and and life-styles and there is no-way in the world one could ever mix them up. In fact for one I had to check it was the same actress playing a certain part!

It’s a really clever and gripping well told story and as well as all the drama and intrigue it has incredible funny moments and sense of family. None more so when either 2 or more clones are on-screen at once or when due to various plots one clone has to stand in for another and it totally comes over as one character pretending to be another character, not the actress just playing a different side to the character.

One of the characters who isn’t a clone is Sarah’s brother, Felix. He is one of the most fun characters I can remember seeing, a very life-loving, vice loving gay artist who lives in the loft of a warehouse. Both Felix and Sarah were adopted from London and have the best London accents even though the actors are Canadian. The situations he finds himself in on behalf of his clone sisters are way beyond any brother should have to face but he nearly always does with some grace albeit with some profanities and the occasional naked behind.

The story follows Sarah as she meets other clones as they attempt to resolve the situation they are in, often using force whilst at the same time living their lives whilst at risk of abduction and murder.

One of the clones is Alison who is top right of the photo montage above, who is a regular American house-wife who is a world away from some of the other characters in a hilarious suburban existence with her husband Donnie whilst dealing with drug dealers and ex-boyfriends or her clone Sarah who doesn’t realise he is chasing the wrong woman.

One of the characters I really like is Cosima, I think it were real life, she’d be the one I’d be friends with. A brainy scientist who is racing against the clock to save her own life and the lives of others whilst treading a very fine line with the cloning organisation who very much have their own hidden agenda.

My absolute favourite character though is Helena, a young lady born as the twin sister to Sarah in London but then with the forces of evil approaching, was sent away and abandoned, suffering a terrible cruel life at a Ukranian nunnery before coming to Canada. Helena makes her initial entrance for just a few seconds when she tries to assassinate Sarah but then disappears for a while before making this shocking debut below.

I really like the journey Helena goes on. At first she is terrifying and is always a legitimate psycho killer, lacking all social graces and liable to kill any one who wrongs or who she doesn’t trust, including some of our heroes. But over the course of 5 years she slowly becomes one of the family and rather than be terrified when her distinctive music comes onscreen, we are relieved because we know she is going to sort out whatever baddies are currently threatening or actually injuring and killing our beloved clone friends.

Despite her nature, I think Helena is the most honestly open and loving clone and in some ways the most vulnerable. She is also funny even if not always intentional, calling Donnie “strong like a baby Ox” and labelling Felix, “Sestra-brother”. Whether she is hallucinating talking to a scorpion about mango’s or in the midst of dishing out unspeakable but deserved violence, she is always entertaining. And she never loses her edge, minutes after a failed suicide attempt that left her near death in an attempt to stop her unborn babies being experimented on, she kills the midwife in the penultimate episode. Helena will always be my Candy Girl! Sarah too goes on an incredible journey and shows such guts to see things through despite all the suffering she and her daughter go through.

And if that isn’t enough Tatiana also plays Rachel, one of the least likeable characters on the show who is a senior figure in the cloning organisation, Neolution.

Especially in the times we live with talks of conspiracies, vaccines, hoaxes, suspicious organisations and even worse governments, the show is even more contemporary with ever as it muses through what rights people have over their own bodies. For myself it very much feels like what it is to be Excluded too and I have spoken to some others and they feel very much the same.

My Sestra’s!

Various people get killed, some good people turn out to be bad and some bad people turn out to be good and I was so happy how it ended with the story completely wrapped up and everyone who made it free to live out their lives.

I watched all 50 episodes of Orphan Black in about 3 weeks and only finished last weekend. It was never a hit show with only a few hundred thousand people watching it each week when it came out but almost everyone who has seen it, totally loves it. It’s only been 4 or 5 days and I miss Orphan Black so much. The camaraderie and family feeling and the action, the laughs, the suspense and the horror and wondering what on Earth will happen next.

I really recommend Orphan Black, I’ve never been into a television programme or indeed missed it so much when it is over. The pain is real!

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Jewels of Persia at the Epic Iran – 5,000 years of Culture exhibition at the V&A

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is the world’s largest museum of applied arts, decorative arts, and design, housing a permanent collection of over 2.27 million objects. It was founded in 1852 and named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and in addition to its regular objects, often plays hosts to astounding collections from around the world.

Iran has long been the country I most want to visit but many people today know nothing of the country beyond its present day government and yet Iran or Persia as many used to know of it has one of the greatest histories and richest cultures on the planet; I’d actually say the number one but that’s just me.

Two or three years ago I visited the special exhibition at the British Library on the mostly forgotten but again my favourite period of British history at The Anglo-Saxon exhibition at the British Library so I was thrilled when I managed to wangle a ticket to Epic Iran which has already been open for months and continues to September.

I asked at the front desk where the exhibition was situated in this gargantuan museum and was told to turn left at Buddhism and I immediately felt at home, like when I studied Africian and Asian history and politics at SOAS. Where else can you get directions that say to turn left at Buddhism?

I’ve written a few posts about Iran such as last years The Fire Temple of Chak Chak that weeps for its princess and There’s something about Persian door-knockers! and it was so nice to see objects I largely knew all about in real life as everyone else spent more time reading the wonderful informative texts and piecing things together, for me I just knew what they were and their significance and so spent 2 hours or more just marvelling at monuments and works of art and having done so it in no-way made me change my mind of where I most want to visit!

I took photos of nearly everything but here are just a few things that made my day.

Cyrus Cylinder

The Cyrus Cylinder is something I’d seen before at the British Museum and is a Babylonian account of the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus in 539 BC, of his restoration to various temples of statues removed by Nabonidus, the previous king of Babylon, and of his own work at Babylon. The cylindrical form is typical of royal inscriptions of the Late Babylonian period, and the text shows that the cylinder was written to be buried in the foundations of the city wall of Babylon. It was deposited there after the capture of the city by Cyrus in 539 BC, and presumably written on his orders and then discovered in 1879 AD. Far from the oldest object but one I always enjoy studying.

The Immortals

The Immortals also known as the Persian Immortals was the name given by Herodotus to an elite heavily-armed infantry unit of 10,000 soldiers in the army of the Achaemenid Empire. This force performed the dual roles of both Imperial Guard and standing army and was founded by the legendary Cyrus The Great.

Persian weaponry

If I remember the photo above shows equipment from the Sassanian Empire making them almost 2,000 years old.

Persian Armour

This armour is of a much later period and is likely ceremonial from the 18th or 19th century but harkens back to equipment of just a few centuries earlier.

Book of stars

As with many other fields of science, various dynasties in Iran both safeguarded existing knowledge and pushed forwards the realm of science, maths and medicine. Here is an ancient book of stars showing contemporary constellations.

Shahnameh: The Epic of Kings

Whilst many know of Persian carpets, less known in the western world is the fantastic wealth of poetry and literature in Iranian culture. None more so than the legendary classic by Ferdowsi the Shahnameh or The Epic of Kings which both draws on ancient myths and legends before becoming a legitimate source of history and daring-do’s. Originally published in 1010AD it played a vitally important part in safeguarding Iranian culture at a time that the country had been under effectively foreign Arab rule and becoming increasingly Islamic as traditional faiths were becoming marginalised. Nevertheless it gave the springboard for later dynasties to again make Iran a great power with its own distinct civilisation though still very Islamic in nature.

Youthful rebellion

I’m not really into modern art, well not at all to be honest so anything 20th century and beyond isn’t really my thing but this piece from 2008 caught my eye, illustrating the huge numbers of young Iranians who are pushing the rules to the limits as they want to enjoy the freedoms that so many of the rest of us enjoy.

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Up close and personal with the wedding dress of Diana, Princess of Wales

One of my childhood memories is of the Royal Wedding between Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. It was in the school summer holidays and even at the age of 7 and living nowhere near London, it was impossible to escape. The day before we had a new front door installed to our house then I was allowed to stay up late to watch the night for Royal Fireworks as a historic network of beacons spread across the kingdom.

One of the unforgettable elements of the wedding was of course the wedding dress that Lady Diana wore that day on Wednesday 29th July 1981 at St Paul’s Cathedral and for a few months you can see it in real life, as it’s part of a new exhibition called ‘Royal Style In The Making’ at London’s Kensington Palace, which launched on 3rd June and runs until 2nd January 2022. The exhibition explores the partnership between fashion designers and the Royal Family and explores how some of the greatest gowns in history came to be.

Of course the star attraction is the wonderful wedding dress of Princess Diana which anyone who saw it back then can never forget.

The iconic ivory gown was embroidered with sequins, lace and a humungous 10,000 mother of pearl sequins and pearls. The dress was designed by husband-and-wife team David and Elizabeth Emanuel and included a piece of Carrickmacross lace was attached to the dress that once belonged to Queen Mary.

Everyone is used to seeing weddings where brides have to take care fitting their dress into their car and carefully closing the door but Lady Diana actually struggled to fit into the carriage on the way to St. Paul’s Cathedral thanks to the vast amounts of fabric on her dress. The designers had to fold the fabric over the princess which caused wrinkles when she disembarked the carriage. This had been planned for however and upon her emergence outside St Pauls, the dress could be unfolded leaving not a trace of a crease or crinkle.

Great lengths were taken to ensure that Diana’s dress was kept a secret until it was unveiled to the world only on the big day. They even installed a safe to keep designs and fabric swatches, which was guarded 24/7 by security guards

The designers even created an alternate dress with a much more pronounced V-neckline and no lace which was kept on hand in case details of the original dress were leaked. They had other spare elements too and second guessed every conceivable problem right down to someone spilling a cup of a tea.

The dress’s 25-foot train was the longest in the history of royal wedding dresses, attached via a carefully crafted mechanism inside Diana’s sweeping skirts. But the tulle veil attached to her tiara was actually longer than the train, at a super impressive 153 yards.

Whilst all this was hard to miss, one of the things kept hidden from view was an 18-carat gold horseshoe, covered with diamonds that was stitched into the dress as a good luck charm.

And here it is!

Wedding dress of Princess Diana

Out of all the things in life, dresses aren’t generally something I’m at all interested in but it certainly is beautiful and just as I remember it. In 1981, I certainly didn’t envision that 40 years later I’d be looking at it again. Can you think of a 20th Century dress that made anything like as big an impact? Perhaps Marlyn Monroe and that dress!

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Visiting the statue of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Thursday the 1st July 2021, would have been the 60th birthday of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. To commemorate the occasion, Diana’s sons, the Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex, came together to unveil a special memorial statue of their mother in Kensington Palace’s Sunken Garden which is said to be have been her favourite place in all the palace gardens, where she came to seek solace and comfort from the turbulent forces in her life.

The Sunken Garden at Kensington Palace

The statue was created by Ian Rank-Broadley, a royal-favourite sculptor known for his work on British coinage and on the Armed Forces Memorial. It shows Diana standing among three children, dressed in a stylish shirt and pencil skirt, accessorised with a wide belt. A statement from Kensington Palace stated that the figure ‘is surrounded by three children who represent the universality and generational impact of The Princess’ work’, while the ‘style of dress was based on the final period of her life as she gained confidence in her role as an ambassador for humanitarian causes and aims to convey her character and compassion.’

A distance shot from across the pond.

I had the opportunity to visit a few days after the statue was unveiled during a hot and humid spell which I combined with a visit to the fabulous Kensington Palace with its great exhibitions on Queen Victoria. The shady cool of the tree tunnels that surround the sunken garden were something of a paradise.

Due to expected crowds, security concerns and no doubt the trampling of the beautiful sunken garden, the general public aren’t currently able to get up close and personal with the statue but that’s probably no bad thing as you can get to view it from several viewpoints around the the perimeter of the garden and the good thing is, you can view it or photograph it without those people taking awful selfies around and about!

A view from the side

As seems to be the case with many statues, especially those not made out of stone, initial opinion of experts and the public were divided into it being a fine memorial or something rather horrid. I must say though, it seems to fit in well with the garden and whilst I would have the little children being her young sons if it were my design, I understand that it’s not meant to be that way.

Though you have to pay to visit inside Kensington Palace, you can see the statue of Diana for free in the gardens if you know where to look. It also marks the end point of my Princess Diana Walking Tour through Ye Olde England Tours.

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Visiting the statue of Noor Inayat Khan in Bloomsbury, London

When I was in London a few weeks ago, I realised I had 20 minutes or so to spend before my engagement so decided to pop along to Gordon Square Gardens, a place a I know very well, to visit a relatively new statue in London to Noor Inayat Khan whom I wrote about in my last post.

The sculpture has been installed in Gordon Square Gardens on land owned by the University of London, close to the Bloomsbury house where Ms Khan lived as a child in 1914 and where she returned while training for the SOE during World War II.

Gordon Square is just one of many beautiful squares in Bloomsbury, this one perhaps one of the lesser visited ones unless you’re a student nearby or a customer of the rather lovely Vegan cafe that sits in precisely the opposite end of the gardens than the statue I was looking for.

Noor Inayat Khan

I say looking for but I knew exactly where it was, I just hadn’t been there before. It was only erected in 2012 and unveiled by Princess Anne. In peak summer it is rather hidden away by the dense foliage of the overhanging trees so if you didn’t know it was there then you could be just a few seconds away and never see it.

Statue of Noor Inayat Khan

I’ve read a lot about Noor and knew of her back in the 1990’s when I studied nearby at SOAS. It was quite a moving moment to come and see her wonderful statue which is a fitting memorial for such an incredible lady.

Inscription on the rear to the statue

For some reason my photo of the fourth side of the plinth didn’t come out but it mentions how Noor Inayat Khan was executed on the morning of September 13th, 1944.

Just a minutes walk or so away is the address where she lived in the months leading to her mission to France at 4 Taviton Street where she stayed with her mother. Last year towards the end of the summer of 2020 a Blue Plaque was unveiled on the front of the house to commemorate her residence here.

Noor may not be well remembered despite her incredible bravery but we visit her statue on our Bloomsbury Literature Walking Tour (fittingly she was a poet and a writer of children’s stories before the way) which stands close by the home of another notable female resident of the square, Virginia Woolf.

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Noor Inayat Khan – Born an Indian Princess, Lived a French writer, Died a British Spy

Every now and then I like to post on great but often overlooked female figures in history. Over the 9 years I have been blogging just some of the notable women I have written about include Khutulun – The Mongolian Wrestling Princess Empress Matilda Edith Cavell – Patriotism Is Not Enough Mary Seacole – The Greatest Black Briton Gertrude Bell – The Ketrun – Desert Queen, Nikbanou as well as The Most Powerful Women in History 10-6 The Most Powerful Women in History 5 – 1 and not forgetting the recent post on Lottie Dod – The Victorian Wimbledon lady tennis star who even beat the men!

Today though I thought I’d write about a very special lady whose life spanned half the world and who more than played her part in saving it. Her name is Noor Inayat Khan and she is almost equally forgotten in India, Russia, France and the U.K.

Noor was born in Moscow to musician father Hazrat Inayat Khan and American mother, Pirani Ameena Begum. From her name you might hazard a guess that she was a Muslim lady and Noor Inayat was a descendant of Tipu Sultan (the Tiger of Mysore) who famously fought the British East India Company, then the most powerful commercial organisation of its era and likely still unsurpassed in that regards.

The onset of World War I in 1914 forced Noor Inayat’s family out of Russia and eventually, they moved to France. There, she grew up to become a writer of children’s stories and poems, and a frequent contributed to French radio programmes.

But Noor Inayat’s peaceful life was rudely interrupted by the onset of the Second World War. With Nazi Germany seemingly unstoppable, her family did as many wealthy Europeans did and fled to London.

Noor was disgusted at how Fascism was destroying Europe and her beloved Paris in particular. She was both a pious Sufi which meant amongst other things she abhorred violence and lying and she believed in the ideals of Gandhi and his near life-time long movement of non-violence to achieve Indian Independence but like many her innate hatred of Fascism along with a belief that Britain was likely to move towards Independence after the war, led her to join up with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF).

Wanting to take a more active part in the war, by 1943, Noor joined the F (France) Section of the Special Operations Executive, which a British World War II organisation. From here, she was sent to be trained as a special wireless operator in occupied territory.

In WWI and II, a wireless operator’s job basically was to maintain a link between the agents in the field and London. They had to pass secret messages back and forth about, planned sabotage operations or where arms were needed for resistance fighters. Hence, it is safe to say that a wireless operator was very much the nervous system of a resistance.

The role of a wireless operator during WW2 was rigged with danger and threat to life. As long as they were on the mission, the operator had to be quick on their feet, live in disguise, have quick exit routes wherever they were working, which included having aerials hung up disguised as washing lines.

Noor Inayat was sent to France with a new identity: Jeanne-Marie Renier, a professional children’s nurse. But just before leaving, she began having second thoughts about the mission. Perhaps it is because her superiors did not have high opinions about her. In feedback reports, Noor Inayat was called “unstable”, “not overburdened with brains”, “childlike”, “very feminine”, “pretty scared of weapons”, “clumsy”, and “physically unsuited for her job”, among other things. She was going to prove everyone wrong in a big way and to be fair, Vera Atkins, a British intelligence officer at the F section, admitted that Noor Inayat’s (or Nora Baker as was her alias) commitment was unquestioned.

Working for the SOE or Special Operations Executive was amongst the most dangerous jobs in the British military and her job role generally had a life expectancy of only six weeks. Given the code name of Madeleine and assuming the identity of “Jeanne-Marie Renier”, Noor was parachuted into France. Shortly after her arrival however, the Gestapo arrested hundreds of people and her spy network all but collapsed. Her commanders in London urged her to return, but she refused to abandon her French comrades without communications. 

A colourised photo ofNoor Inayat Khan by Russeltarr

For three months, she single-handedly ran a cell of agents across Paris, frequently changing her appearance and name.

Terribly, this all came to a sudden end when she was betrayed for a sum of 100,000 French Francs and after making a failed attempt to escape over the rooftops, she was captured and taken to a series of German prisoner and concentration camps where she was kept mostly in solitary confinement as the Germans considered her so dangerous. One of her few communications to her fellow prisoners was done by her etching her name and address in London on the base of her food bowl.

In the following weeks she was terribly beaten and tortured time and time again but refused to give away any details of her French operatives even though she was told by doing so, her life would be spared.

On 13 September 1944, Noor Inayat Khan was shot dead at Dachau concentration camp. Her last word that she shouted to the guards was “Liberte” which means ‘Freedom’ in English.

Two and a half million Indian soldiers volunteered for the British Empire in WW2, fighting in far-away fields in Africa, Europe and the Far East. It was the largest volunteer army in history and Indian soldiers were awarded 28 Victoria Crosses and 9 George Crosses in World War II.

In April 1949, Noor Khan was posthumously awarded the George Cross by King George VI. Her citation reads:

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the GEORGE CROSS to:— Assistant Section Officer Nora INAYAT-KHAN (9901), Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.
Assistant Section Officer Nora INAYAT-KHAN was the first woman operator to be infiltrated into enemy occupied France, and she was landed by Lysander aircraft on 16th June, 1943. During the weeks immediately following her arrival, the Gestapo made mass arrests in the Paris Resistance groups to which she had been detailed. However, she refused to abandon what had become the principal and most dangerous post in France, even though she had been given the opportunity to return to England, because she did not want to leave her French comrades without communications and she also hoped to rebuild her group. Therefore, she remained at her post and did the excellent work which earned her a posthumous Mention in Despatches.
The Gestapo had a full description of her, but it only knew her code name “Madeleine”. It deployed considerable forces in its effort to catch her and break the last remaining link with London. After 3 months, she was betrayed to the Gestapo and taken to its H.Q. in the Avenue Foch. The Gestapo had found her codes and messages and as a result, it was now in a position to work back to London. It asked her to co-operate, but she refused and gave it no information of any kind. She was imprisoned in one of the cells on the 5th floor of the Gestapo H.Q. and she remained there for several weeks during which time she made two unsuccessful attempts to escape. She was asked to sign a declaration which stated that she would make no further escape attempts, but she refused to sign it and the Chief of the Gestapo obtained permission to send her to Germany for “safe custody” from Berlin. She was the first enemy agent to be sent to Germany.
Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN was sent to Karlsruhe in November 1943, and then she was sent to Pforzheim where her cell was apart from the main prison. She was considered a particularly dangerous and unco-operative prisoner. The Director of the prison was also interrogated and confirmed that Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN refused to give any information whatsoever either about her work or her colleagues when she was interrogated by the Karlsruhe Gestapo.
She was taken to the Dachau Concentration Camp with three other female prisoners on 12 September 1944. On her arrival, she was taken to the crematorium and shot.
Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN displayed the most conspicuous courage, both moral and physical over a period of more than 12 months.

In my next post, I will visit the statue commemorating the life of this brave lady.

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What a rare gold coin from the Black Death can tell us about life in the 1350’s.

One of the things I wanted to do when I was little was to go metal-detecting. I still remember the joy of getting one and going deep into the woods to see what I could find. Sadly for me about 10 minutes into it I was accosted by a local official who told me a licence was needed. Not a very expensive licence but too much for a young teenager in the 1980’s.

My dreams of finding treasure evaporated (unless you include Mudlarking… which also needs a licence). Very annoying especially in the 39 years or so of wandering around those woods, thousands of times, that remains the one and only time I ever met anyone in them, let alone an official.

Fortunately, other people have better luck and recently a “very rare” Edward III gold coin lost in the wake of the Black Death has been found by a teenage metal detectorist.

The 23-carat leopard coin was discovered with another gold coin, called a noble, near Reepham, Norfolk.

Finds liaison officer Helen Geake said the leopard was withdrawn within months of being minted in 1344 and “hardly any have survived”.

She said the coins were equivalent to £12,000 today and would have been owned by someone “at the top of society”.

The leopard – which has never been found with another coin – was discovered with a “rare” 1351-52 Edward III noble.

After the Norman Conquest, the only coins in circulation were silver pennies with the old Anglo-Saxon gold coins taken out of circulation. (To read the history of the penny check out my post)

“The royal treasury might talk in terms of pounds, shillings and pence, but the physical reality was sacks of silver pennies,” said Dr Geake.

“Then Edward III decided to reintroduce the first gold coins in England since the Anglo-Saxon era – and no-one knows why.”

Perhaps it was because with silver, if you had to purchase a large item like a farm animal or property then you’d have to physically carry around large sacks of silver coins with you.

The new gold coins, called a florin, a leopard and a helm, were minted in early 1344, but withdrawn within months. 

Dr Geake said: “For some reason they didn’t catch on, but when one or two pennies were the equivalent of a day’s wages at today’s minimum wage rate, perhaps very few people used them.”

They were replaced with the noble, worth six shillings and eight pence. 

The Reepham find shows the leopard, which was worth three shillings, was in circulation for much longer than previously thought.

Rare Leopard coin

Usually of course discontinued coins would be removed from circulation as quickly as possible but as this coin was found with another coin 6 or 7 years later it suggests perhaps that despite its over-valued rate against silver, the owner still saw much value in it during the terrible times of the Black Death which arrived in 1348.

It also perhaps shows that the government was unable to withdrawn these coins due to the general chaos and cataclysm of having a third of the population dying generally and even more in large cities like London.

The coins were found in October 2019. Their status as treasure is currently being decided by coroners.

For a post on some of the missing buried treasures you might want to read this. I have several other treasure posts including this one in London or indeed you can see my close encounter with a freshly excavated Roman shoe.

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Exploring the private gardens of Buckingham Palace

It was with something of a sense of awe and excitement that I entered the Buckingham Palace estate through the mews and stables and then as the trees and bushes opened up, the expanse of the lawn appeared and beyond that, Buckingham Palace itself.

A good play to learn to ride a horse if you’re a Royal!

It may surprise people from overseas but few have ever claimed that Buckingham Palace to be the most beautiful building, it was really never planned to be the high profile building it is today and the most prominent facade is possibly the least the impressive albeit it, looking more regal since the balcony was added. Otherwise it could be just a standard if large townhouse, its rather plain frontage almost fitting as a tradesman entrance. As such the private rear frontage to the rear wing of the Palace is always said to be the finest looking though it has to be said is far from the finest royal palace building even in London.

Emerging from the stables you can't help but happen upon Buckingham Palace
Emerging from the stables you can’t help but happen upon Buckingham Palace

Even though there was a long queue of people to get in at each allotted time slot due to many brining in picnics through security, the garden felt almost empty and very spacious the entire time.

Only a relatively small proportion of the gardens are open to the public, maybe 30-40% and this may be partly that they are so big, it would be very difficult to safeguard visitors and plants in the more remote areas of the gardens especially as some areas have quite natural and rough terrain. The garden like the Royal Parks nearby play a very important role for wildlife in London.

A very small part of the herbaceous border.

One of the stars of the garden is the 156 metre long (about 420 feet) herbaceous border which has if I remember anywhere near correctly has around 240 different species of plants.

As is the case when in one of the large Royal Parks, you barely realise you’re right in the centre of London at all. Occasionally you can hear the odd police siren in the distance but that’s about it. Also you can barely see any other buildings above the many trees of the garden with the exception of a 50 year old monstrosity of a hotel tower block in Park Lane.

In one corner of the garden, photography is forbidden as it is right underneath the Queens personal apartments in the palace but one can freely wander around there. Towards the edge of the lawn in that area are 5 tall and slender trees, perhaps Poplars. I spoke with one of the very friendly members of staff and asked if they were perhaps planted in memory of King George V. She liked my romantic musings much more than the reality and indeed my second guess, the trees were planted to obscure the view of the distant hotel from the windows that the Queen looks out from!

I had to get permission to take this photo, you can likely guess who lives just behind those trees.

I had a good talk to two or three staff there and it was fascinating, I was particularly interested in how much care and effort modern day planting and maintenance is focussed on the environment and caring for rare species of insects and the like.

One of the smaller trees amongst the 1,000+ you’ll find in the garden of Buckingham Palace.

A footpath winds round through a wooded section of the garden past two Plane trees, Victoria and Albert that were planted by the people the trees are named after and we see a summerhouse with an artistic corgi inside.


Some parts of the gardens notably the Rose Garden, summer house and meadow in the south-west corner are off limits accept to those on a special tour but there was more than enough for us to see.

I must admit I felt rather naughty walking over the lawns of Buckingham Palace. Even the grasses are of a Victorian variety than aren’t ordinarily available any more. Lawns in Britain can be almost sacrosanct; even in the 1980’s if anyone strayed more than a few centimetres or inches of the footpath at my school then you’d be in detention and big trouble and you don’t have to go far to see discreet signs in many places to keep off the lawn. So walking across the lawn of the Queen was a little surreal to say the least.

Feeling naughty!

It was a lovely atmosphere though and lots of people were sat out with blankets and some with very fine wicker baskets with silver cutlery and fine bone china cups and saucers though many more were roughing it somewhat. Everyone was so polite and well-behaved and quiet, it reminds me a little of how life used to be when everyone was respectful of each other and their surroundings though it must be said that from what I could tell, only a certain type of visitor was present. If there was any riff-raff around then it was likely myself!

My forever home! – I’m glad I dressed reasonably smart for what I thought was just going to be a regular meet in London.

My friend and I decided to have tea on the terrace of Buckingham Palace (again I was treated) which afforded excellent views out over the garden and we were sat within touching distance of the place itself. A window was open 3 storeys above us, if The Queen had nothing else to do but listen to our conversation then she’d be hearing what a marvellous time we were having. It’s very possible that when life is hopefully back to normal again next year, the experience that we were having simply won’t happen again so given I had no idea I was even coming to the Palace an hour or two earlier, it was definitely a nice surprise.

A very fine spot to have a soya Hot Chocolate

As much as the Palace is gargantuan and the gardens are like heaven on earth, much of our enjoyment was down to the fact of where we were. Actually sat having tea likely where The Queen and Prince Philip had plenty of teas themselves. Perhaps King George VI sat here whilst preparing for the ‘Kings Speech’ in WW2. Did Queen Victoria herself sit here with Prince Albert as the children played out on the lawn? Perhaps none of these things ever happened but be that as it may, it didn’t hinder our enjoyment one bit.

Buckingham Palace – Up Close and Personal

We went to the shop near the mews and stables which was well stocked in all manner of things. I could have bought a lot but sadly being Excluded, my opportunity to contribute to the economy was practically non-existent so I got myself a fridge magnet, a small gardens book and a majestic blue Buckingham Palace bag which one day I will give to a tourist on a Royal London Walking Tour.

We could have stayed in the gardens all day and to be fair to us, we did stay in for nearly 5.5 hours. Every view of the garden was just sumptuous and the only reason not to dwell in a perfect spot was because a few seconds away was the promise of a totally different perfect spot.

The long and beautifully cared for route to the exit.

The walk from the furthest reach of the lawn to the exit is itself 7 or 8 minutes long even for quick walkers and it takes you past the lake from a different point of view and along the foot of some high, rough and tree covered high ground before appearing back in the 21st century not too far away from Hyde Park Corner.

If you enjoyed this post then you might like my book The Secret Gardens of the City of London which is based on my #1 rated tour Sacred Secret Sanctuary Gardens Walk.

Secret Gardens of the City of London Kindle Cover
Secret Gardens of the City of London Kindle Cover

I hope you enjoyed my posts on just a few of the highlights of Buckingham Palace gardens. The gardens are open to the public until early September 2021 but are largely sold out. It’s always worth checking the website however as my friend had been trying to get a ticket for months and two just randomly appeared whilst we were chatting.

Posted in Life, London, Travel, Ye Olde England Tours | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments