London: English Astronomers


Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Tower, Thames, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tea at Harrod’s

The MWT group accompanied by Astronomy magazine editor, Dave Eicher, had an early start to discover London where history reigns:  The Tower of London. Built in 1067 by the Norman conqueror, William, useful to Henry VIII as he changed the Anglo history forever by abandoning the Roman Catholic Church and forming the Anglican one. Two of Henry’s wives were beheaded in the courtyard.  Before him the two princes were imprisoned by Richard III, and now, the Royal Crown jewels are Yeomen guarded and on display. There’s the Koh-I-Noor and Great Star of Africa diamonds as well as the Imperial Crowns. The black Ravens still guard the Tower.




From the Tower we cruised down the Thames to Buckingham Palace where our guide strategically placed the group for an up close watch of the Changing of the Guard.






After a traditional pub lunch we strolled to Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, St. Paul’s Cathedral. Astronomer, architect and political strategist Wren had his plans in front of King Charles II just nine days after the Great Fire. He built an additional fifty churches, the army hospital and observatory at Greenwich, the Sheldonian Theatre at Oxford and much more. Genius astronomer/architect left his mark on Restoration England.


Cameras and heads filled with sites and histories of England we closed the day at the landmark Harrods for High Tea.

Friday, August 9, 2013                        Greenwich – Where the Day Begins and Ends

Lecturer, Dave Eicher, Astronomy magazine editor, gave an illuminating talk: Comets, Visitors from Deep Space with special information on Comet ISON. He further enhanced our visit to Greenwich by highlighting the lives of the English Astronomers whom we were here to honor.

On arrival at Greenwich, we strolled first to Flamsteed House, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and constructed by Sir Thomas Moore. Here is where Harrison began his quest for Longitude.

The Harrison clocks I – IV, reveal a grand artistry and genius of their creator. The Octagon Room with its long windows were great for viewing but not for observing the eclipses because they were not aligned with the meridian. The astronomers built a shed nearby with correct coordinates and the King never knew. Outside everyone stood on the Prime Meridian.


    The Queen’s House, designed by Inigo Jones for Charles I wife.


It houses the elegantly beautiful Tulip Staircase.



   The house is filled with one of the greatest exhibitions of marine paintings, including the portraits of great seaman.

A painting of the 1832 Great Comet hangs in the gallery.

After a day replete with astronomy, dinner was appropriately served at 16 Seconds West Restaurant before returning to our hotel.



Saturday, August 10, 2013            National Portrait Gallery & The Doll’s House

Today was a third visit to an old favorite, The National Portrait Gallery, where art brings history alive. Each section is grouped with magnificent portraits of the Royals along with the scientists, artists, poets and actors of the period. The winners and losers of each era are grouped together as they lived. There is Charles I, who was the greatest art collector and the only English king to lose his head. His son, Charles II, is displayed with two of his mistresses, actresses of the Restoration stage, Nell Gwen and Barbara Villiers but also with Sir Isaac Newton and Samuel Pepys.

Across the street is St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church whose Crypt Café offers fresh food for lunch while your feet dangle over a burial site. Ironically mine was dated 1776.

Closed the day with the inimitable London stage: Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. It was the very best of drama! The award winning performance by Hattie Morahan as Nora is not to be missed.

 Sunday, August 11, 2013                                     Oxford

Excitement built as we walked the paths of Oxford’s great scientists and writers. We began our stroll at the Bodleian, opened in 1602 with the books donated by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, brother to Henry V. For lunch our guide reserved one of Chief Detective Morse’s favorite pubs, the White Horse.





Afterwards we crossed the street for a visit to the History of Science Museum, where bone chilling, early instruments of medicine and astronomy including astrolabes, sundials, even Einstein’s blackboard reside.




The HSM is a small but overflowing museum with early science instruments.                   Down the street is The Eagle and Child Pub where the Inklings C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and a crowd of erudite writers held heady discussions and read each other’s works.



Topping the day was Christ Church College:  soaring spires and high ceiling dinning hall where the voices of a learned past still whisper. Long tables set awaiting the eager students and perhaps a Harry Potter. We paused in the chapel to listen the choir rehearse for today’s Evensong.

Before returning to London, a stop to pay homage to the late CD Morse at his favorite watering hole, the Randolph Hotel.


Monday, August 12, 2013               Stonehenge, Claverton Pumping Station, Bath

A ride through England’s rolling hills and fertile plains led to Stonehenge where we met Heritage Guide and astronomer, Simon, and astronomer, Andy, who set up solar scopes while we walked around the ancient stones with Simon.



A stop was added at the Claverton Pumping Station on the river Avon to celebrate the 200th Anniversary. Ron Rennie, a member of the group and the great, great, great grandson of John Rennie, designer and builder of the Pumping Station was welcomed by the Station’s staff and members of his family.  Claverton opened the same year Pride and Prejudice was published.



On to the beautiful city of Bath we visited Sir William and Carolyn Herschel’s home and garden.  Herschel, along with is sister, observed and recorded their research and discovery of Uranus.  Carolyn was the first female comet hunter.












A stroll along the streets filled with beautiful floral hanging baskets and aged cobbled stones where once Austin, the Herschels, Newton and the Romans walked.  Baths’ healing soaks have been taken since the Romans first arrived.





We closed the day appropriately in the Pump Room with a delicious and elegant High Tea of cakes, scones, sandwiches and choices of teas accompanied by classical music.








Tuesday, August 13, 2013                                                Kensington Palace

Today a stroll from the hotel to Kensington Palace for the morning where the young Prince George and his parents’ now reside. They are out while their suite (former Princess Margaret’s suit) is being renovated. The Queen Victoria Apartments and King’s Hall were open for tours. The King’s Hall offers a wonderful exhibit of historic paintings.

A special fashion exhibit was featuring evening dresses of the Queen, her sister Margaret and Princess Diana.

For something truly British, the 60th Anniversary of Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap called tonight.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013            National Gallery – Book of Mormon

Trafalgar Square was filled with Scots today. Here to play England for the first time in twenty years.  Their past rowdiness had caused them to be banned. Today men in tartans were everywhere but the pubs showed signs of “Football Free Pub Today”.  England won.

 The National Gallery has a wonderful exhibit of Impressionists paintings including Van Gogh and Monet.  There is plenty of Rubens as well who was introduced to England by the great collector, King Charles I.

 London:  English Astronomers tour will be repeated in 2015.

Until Next TimeMelita Wade Thorpe

In the words of Tigger:  “Ta, Ta for now.”