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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Kade

Green Park, Buckingham Palace, Houses of Parliament

When I got up this morning and opened the curtains, I saw the lights on the London Eye had been changed to red. I assumed since they celebrate St. Patrick's all weekend that the color of The Eye would stay green. Maybe, they turned it red since all the drinkers now have red eyes. Ha, ha...

Vacation is going by quickly. Hope you are enjoying the nightly blog as much as I love writing it. I'm certainly learning so many different things!! I take my iPad with me as we walk and when we stop for a few minutes I usually write. Waiting for our meal is also another great time to stop and write. There is a risk doing this. When I go to save my draft I have to be extremely careful to tap the save draft instead of delete draft. My hand has slipped many times and I tap the delete. Once it is deleted, it is gone and I have to start over. Certainly hate when that happens!!!!!

We had a lovely leisurely breakfast. I enjoyed the traditional English breakfast at the Chestnuts House while Michael liked this one better. We both agreed the omelette at Chestnuts House was superb!!!!

We bought tickets to tour the Houses of Parliament but the first tour we could get tickets for started at 1:20.

In the mean time we took the Tube out to Green Park and Buckingham Palace.

Green Park, the smallest of the capital's eight Royal Parks, attracts millions of visitors each year.

Comprising just over 40 acres of mature trees and grassland next to Buckingham Palace, the peaceful triangle between Piccadilly and Constitution Hill offers a popular location for picnics and sunbathing in fine weather. In the summer, deck chairs are scattered throughout the park. When we took my mother to London years ago, she especially enjoyed sitting in the deck chairs. It was a chance to catch her breath from all the walking we made her do and she always loved to "people watch".

Although situated so close to St James's Park, The Green Park is quite different in character. It is more peaceful with mature trees and grassland and is surrounded by Constitution Hill, Piccadilly and the Broad Walk.

The Green Park was first recorded in 1554 as the place where a rebellion took place against the marriage of Mary I to Philip II of Spain. It was a famous duelling site until 1667 when Charles II bought an extra 40 acres and it became known as upper St James's Park.

Green Park is a peaceful refuge for people living, working or visiting central London, and is particularly popular for sunbathing and picnics in fine weather. It is also popular as a healthy walking route to work for commuters. The paths are used extensively by joggers and runners.

The seven secrets of Green Park

1. What is in a name?

Many people will tell you that Green Park is so called because flowers don't grow there. Some people will even claim that the reason for the lack of flowers stems back to Charles II; his wife Catherine apparently caught him picking flowers for his mistress and ordered all flowers to be removed.

Try telling that to the 250,000 daffodils that pop up each spring, among the many other types of flowers that flourish. That aside, the park doesn't have formal flower beds like the other Royal Parks do.

2. dry land

It's the only Royal Park with no lake, pond or body of water. It also has no playground, or buildings

3. Tyburn

Underground, it's not so dry. The now-buried Tyburn stream, running from Hampstead to the Thames, runs under the park, coming in from Mayfair before heading off west underneath Buckingham Palace. The Broadwalk through the park roughly follows its path.

4. Music to our ears

Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks was composed specially for a firework display in Green Park in April 1749, although it was first played in public in full at a rehearsal in Vauxhall Park a few days before.

The firework display celebrated the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle and the end of the War of the Austrian Succession.

5. A Royal assassination attempt

Constitution Hill borders Green Park to the south, separating it from Buckingham Palace. It got its name as it was where King Charles II used to take his afternoon walks, or Constitutional.

In June 1840, an assassination attempt was made on Queen Victoria as she and Prince Albert rode in a carriage along Constitution Hill. The would-be assassin Edward Oxford leant against a fence waiting for the royal couple, before drawing a pistol and firing off shots when they arrived. Luckily he missed, and the royal couple were whisked off before any harm could come of them. Oxford was acquitted of treason on the grounds of insanity and sent to the State Criminal Lunatic Asylum in Bethlem, Southwark.

6. Robbery

In the 18th century, Green Park was notorious for being a haunt of highwaymen and robbers.

7. Rare trees

Most of the trees in Green Park are plane trees and lime trees, both fairly common, but the park is also home to black poplar trees, which are Britain's rarest native timber trees.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace has served as the official London residence of the UK’s sovereigns since 1837 and today is the administrative headquarters of the Monarch. Although in use for the many official events and receptions held by The Queen, the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are open to visitors every summer.

Buckingham Palace has 775 rooms. These include 19 State rooms, 52 Royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms. In measurements, the building is 108 metres long across the front, 120 metres deep (including the central quadrangle) and 24 metres high.

Buckingham Palace is often a focal point for significant national celebrations and commemorations.

The balcony of Buckingham Palace is one of the most famous in the world. The first recorded Royal balcony appearance took place in 1851, when Queen Victoria stepped onto it during celebrations for the opening of the Great Exhibition. Since then, Royal Balcony appearances have marked many occasions from The Queen’s annual official birthday celebrations to watch the RAF Flypast at the end of Trooping the Colour, Royal Weddings, as well as special events of national significance such as the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

it is also very much a family home, in addition to holding The Queen's Gallery and the Royal Mews. The Queen gave birth to Prince Charles and Prince Andrew at the Palace, and to this day notice of royal births and deaths are still attached to the front railings for members of the public to read. The christenings of The Prince of Wales, The Princess Royal, The Duke of York and Prince William took place in the Music Room and many Royal Weddings have been celebrated at Buckingham Palace, most recently The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s.

George III bought Buckingham House in 1761 for his wife Queen Charlotte to use as a comfortable family home close to St James's Palace, where many court functions were held. Buckingham House became known as the Queen's House, and 14 of George III's 15 children were born there.

George IV, on his accession in 1820, decided to reconstruct the house into a pied-à-terre, using it for the same purpose as his father George III.

As work progressed, and as late as the end of 1826, The King had a change of heart. With the assistance of his architect, John Nash, he set about transforming the house into a palace. Parliament agreed to a budget of £150,000, but the King pressed for £450,000 as a more realistic figure.Nash retained the main block but doubled its size by adding a new suite of rooms on the garden side facing west. Faced with mellow Bath stone, the external style reflected the French neo-classical influence favoured by George IV.

The remodelled rooms are the State and semi-State Rooms, which remain virtually unchanged since Nash's time.

The north and south wings of Buckingham House were demolished and rebuilt on a larger scale with a triumphal arch - the Marble Arch - as the centrepiece of an enlarged courtyard, to commemorate the British victories at Trafalgar and Waterloo.

By 1829 the costs had escalated to nearly half a million pounds. Nash's extravagance cost him his job, and on the death of George IV in 1830, his younger brother William IV took on Edward Blore to finish the work. The King never moved into the Palace. Indeed, when the Houses of Parliament were destroyed by fire in 1834, the King offered the Palace as a new home for Parliament, but the offer was declined.

Queen Victoria was the first sovereign to take up residence in July 1837 and in June 1838 she was the first British sovereign to leave from Buckingham Palace for a Coronation. Her marriage to Prince Albert in 1840 soon showed up the Palace's shortcomings.

A serious problem for the newly married couple was the absence of any nurseries and too few bedrooms for visitors. The only solution was to move the Marble Arch - it now stands at the north-east corner of Hyde Park - and build a fourth wing, thereby creating a quadrangle. The cost of the new wing was largely covered by the sale of George IV's Royal Pavilion at Brighton.

Blore added an attic floor to the main block of the Palace and decorated it externally with marble friezes originally intended for Nash's Marble Arch. The work was completed in 1847.By the turn of the century the soft French stone used in Blore's East Front was showing signs of deterioration, largely due to London's notorious soot, and required replacing.

In 1913 the decision was taken to reface the façade. Sir Aston Webb, with a number of large public buildings to his credit, was commissioned to create a new design. Webb chose Portland Stone, which took 12 months to prepare before building work could begin. When work did start it took 13 weeks to complete the refacing, a process that included removing the old stonework.

The present forecourt of the Palace, where Changing the Guard takes place, was formed in 1911, as part of the Victoria Memorial scheme.

The gates and railings were also completed in 1911; the North-Centre Gate is now the everyday entrance to the Palace, whilst the Central Gate is used for State occasions and the departure of the guard after Changing the Guard. The work was completed just before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

When we returned to go on the Houses of Parliament tour, there were demonstrators protesting about immigration, racism, etc. in front of Parliament. There was wall to wall police presence. When you see police patrolling, they have their finger on the trigger of a machine gun. Officers walk in pairs or more. I see cameras all over the city.

Houses of Parliament

Tours of the Houses of Parliament are available on Saturdays throughout the year and on most weekdays during parliamentary recesses.

We opted for the audio tour. We could go at our own pace. I liked this as I was able to stand and take pictures in the certain rooms we were allowed to. I was able to take pictures in Westminster Hall and St. Stephan's Hall. However, you were not allowed to take pictures in the very important rooms: Commons Chamber, Members Lobby, Central Lobby, Peers Lobby, Lord's Chamber, Prince's Chamber, Royal Gallery, Norman Porch or the Robing Room.

There are visitor assistants on hand to answer any question you may have.

It is such a fascinating tour!!! It is a must if you want to get a feel of history.

We purchased the Palace of Westminster official guide. It has photos of the rooms I was not allowed to take pictures in. I'm more than happy to let you borrow the book.

Big Ben

The name Big Ben is often used to describe the tower, the clock and the bell but the name was first given to the Great Bell.

The Elizabeth Tower, which stands at the north end of the Houses of Parliament, was completed in 1859 and the Great Clock started on May 31st with the Great Bell's strikes heard for the first time on the 11th of July and the quarter bells first chimed on September 7.

Parliament's Clock Towers

The Clock Tower you see today is not the first tower to be built in Parliament's grounds.

The original tower was built in 1288-90 during the reign of King Edward I. It was located on the north side of New Palace Yard and contained a bell and clock. The bell, first named 'Great Edward' and later known as 'Great Tom', struck on the hour.

A second tower replaced the original in 1367. This was the first public chiming clock in England. By 1707, this tower had fallen into disrepair and was demolished. A sundial was put up in its place.

A terrible fire destroyed most of the Palace of Westminster in 1834. Architects were invited to submit their designs for the new Palace and a commission was set up to select the best. Out of 97 designs submitted, the architect Sir Charles Barry's was successful. However, his winning design did not feature a clock tower. He added this to his design in 1836.

Construction of the Clock Tower began in September 1843. This is the iconic tower which stands today in the Houses of Parliament.

Constructing the Elizabeth Tower

The Elizabeth Tower was built from the inside outwards, meaning that no scaffolding was visible to the outside world. Materials were transported by river. A winch lifted materials to the masons and bricklayers.

Materials for the Elizabeth Tower came from all over the United Kingdom:

  • cast iron girders from Regent's Canal Ironworks were used

  • Yorkshire Anston stone and Cornish granite were used on the exterior

  • a Birmingham foundry supplied the Elizabeth Tower's iron roofing plates

Caen stone from Normandy, France was also used on the inside of the tower.

The foundation stone for the Elizabeth Tower was laid on 28 September 1843. Its foundations were dug 3m deep.

The construction fell five years behind schedule and the tower was finally completed in 1859. There was no official opening ceremony for the Elizabeth Tower, possibly because its completion had been so delayed.

Building the Great Clock

Charles Barry was a fine architect but he was not a specialist clockmaker. He sought advice from a friend, Benjamin Lewis Vullamy, after adding a prominent clock tower to his design for rebuilding Parliament after the 1834 fire.

Vulliamy was the Queen's Clockmaker. He began designing a clock for Barry's tower. Other respected clockmakers, like Edward John Dent, wanted to be involved and disputes broke out. In 1846 a competition was held to decide who should build the clock.

The Astronomer Royal, Sir George Airy, was appointed referee and set out high standards for the clock to meet. These included:

  • the first stroke of each hour to be accurate to within one second

  • the clock's performance to be telegraphed twice a day to Greenwich Observatory

Seven years delay

Airy's demanding standards led to delays which lasted seven years. During this time Airy appointed Edmund Beckett Denison to support him in his decision. Denison was a barrister and also a gifted amateur clockmaker.

In February 1852, Dent was appointed to build the clock to Denison's own design.

The next delay occurred when it was discovered space inside the tower was too small for the planned clock design. Modifications costing £100 had to be made.

Dent died in 1853 and his stepson, Frederick, completed the clock in 1854. It cost £2500 to make.

There was another delay because the Clock Tower wasn't finished on schedule. Until installation in 1859, the clock was kept at Dent's factory. Denison made many refinements including inventing the 'Double Three-legged Gravity Escapement'. This was a revolutionary mechanism, ensuring the clock's accuracy by making sure its pendulum was unaffected by external factors, such as wind pressure on the clock's hands.

Denison's invention has since been used in clocks all over the world. It is also known as the 'Grimthorpe Escapement' as Denison was made Baron Grimthorpe in 1886.

The clock was installed in the Clock Tower in April 1859. At first, it wouldn't work as the cast-iron minute hands were too heavy. Once they were replaced by lighter copper hands, it successfully began keeping time on 31 May 1859. It was not long before the chimes of the Great Bell, also known as Big Ben, joined in.

The Great Bell- Big Ben

Officially, the Elizabeth Tower's bell is called the Great Bell though it is better known by the name 'Big Ben'.

There are two theories for this name's origin. These are that the Great Bell was:

  • named after Sir Benjamin Hall, First Commissioner for Works 1855-1858

  • named after Ben Caunt, a champion heavyweight boxer of the 1850s

The first theory is thought to be the most likely.

The name 'Big Ben' is often associated with the Elizabeth Tower and the Great Clock as well as the Great Bell. It was to the Great Bell that the name originally was given.

Making the Great Bell

Warners near Norton near Stockton-on Tees cast the the bell in August 1856. It was transported by rail and sea to London. On arrival at the Port of London, it was placed on a carriage and pulled across Westminster Bridge by 16 white horses.

The bell was hung in New Palace Yard. It was tested each day until 17 October 1857 when a 1.2m crack appeared. No-one would accept the blame. Theories included the composition of the bell's metal or its dimensions. Warners blamed Denison for insisting on increasing the hammer's weight from 355kg to 660kg.

Warners asked too high a price to break up and recast the bell so George Mears at the Whitechapel Foundry was appointed. The second bell was cast on 10 April 1858.

This bell was 2.5 tonnes lighter than the first. Its dimensions meant it was too large to fit up the Elizabeth Tower's shaft vertically so Big Ben was turned on its side and winched up. It took 30 hours to winch the bell to the belfry in October 1858. The four quarter bells, which chime on the quarter hour, were already in place.

Big Ben rang out on 11 July 1859 but its success was short-lived. In September 1859, the new bell also cracked and Big Ben was silent for four years. During this time, the hour was struck on the fourth quarter bell.

The Clock Dials

The ornate decoration on the Elizabeth Tower's upper floors owes much to Augustus Welby Pugin's influence on the main architect, Sir Charles Barry. The two architects collaborated successfully on the Palace of Westminster's neo-Gothic style which is displayed to great effect on the clock dials.

Each dial is 7m in diameter and is made from cast iron. Each dial contains 312 separate pieces of pot opal glass, a type of glass with an opaque finish.

The hour figure of four o'clock is shown by the Roman numeral IV, rather than IIII, as is more commonly used on clock dials.

Under each clock dial there is a Latin inscription carved in stone: "Domine Salvam fac Reginam nostrum Victoriam primam" which means "O Lord, save our Queen Victoria the First."

At 9am on 11 August 2007, a team of specialist technicians abseiled down the south clock dial, to spend the day cleaning and repairing the clock dials. This essential work takes place once every five years.

2009 saw the 150th anniversary of the Elizabeth Tower, the Great Clock and the Great Bell, also known as Big Ben.

Elizabeth Tower Facts

Here are some of the fascinating facts and figures about the Elizabeth Tower

Dimensions: over 96 metres and 12 metres square

Steps to belfry: 334 Steps to lantern (the Ayrton Light): 399

Amount of stone used: 850 cubic metres Amount of bricks used: 2600 cubic metres

Number of floors: 11

Locations of building materials: Anston, Yorkshire Caen, Normandy, France Clipsham, Rutland (for restoration work in 1983-5)

Great Clock Facts

Clock dials

Number of clock dials: 4 Clock dials diameter: 7m Length of hour figures: 60cm Clock dial frames: cast iron Glass in each clock dial: 312 pieces of pot opal glass Illumination of each dial: 28 energy efficient bulbs at 85 watt each Lifetime of each energy efficient bulb: 60,000 hours

Minute hands

Material: copper sheet Weight: 100kg, including counterweights Length: 4.2m Distance travelled by minute hands per year: equivalent of 190km

Hour Hands

Material: gun metal Weight: 300kg including counterweights Length: 2.7m

The hour figure of 4 o'clock is shown by the Roman numeral IV, rather than the usual IIII on other clocks.

clock dials

Number of clock dials: 4 Clock dials diameter: 7m Length of hour figures: 60cm Clock dial frames: cast iron Glass in each clock dial: 312 pieces of pot opal glass Illumination of each dial: 28 energy efficient bulbs at 85 watt each Lifetime of each energy efficient bulb: 60,000 hours

Minute hands

Material: copper sheet Weight: 100kg, including counterweights Length: 4.2m Distance travelled by minute hands per year: equivalent of 190km

hour hands

Material: gun metal Weight: 300kg including counterweights Length: 2.7m

The hour figure of 4 o'clock is shown by the Roman numeral IV, rather than the usual IIII on other clocks.

The mechanism

Clock mechanism frame material: cast iron girder frame Clock mechanism dimensions: 4.7m long and 1.4m wide Clock mechanism weight: 5 tonnes Pendulum length: 4.4m Pendulum weight: 310kg Duration of pendulum beat: 2 seconds

Pendulum adjustment: pre-decimal pennies are used to regulate the clock mechanism. Adding one penny causes the clock to gain two-fifths of a second in 24 hours.

'The Double Three-legged Gravity Escapement', designed by Edmund Beckett Denison, compensates for outside pressure (like the wind) on the clock hands and is crucial for accuracy.

The pendulum bob

Pendulum bob weight: 203kg Material: concentric tubes of steel and zinc

The Great Bell and quarter bells

Weight: 13.7 tonnes Height: 2.2m Diameter: 2.7m Musical note when struck: E Hammer weight: 200kg

First quarter bell weight: 1.1 tonnes First quarter bell diameter: 1.1m Musical note when struck: G sharp

Second quarter bell weight: 1.3 tonnes Second quarter bell diameter: 1.2m Musical note when struck: F sharp

Third quarter bell weight: 1.7 tonnes Third quarter bell diameter: 1.4m Musical note when struck: E

Fourth quarter bell weight: 4 tonnes Fourth quarter bell diameter: 1.8m Musical note when struck: B

The bells are fixed and struck by hammers from outside rather than swinging and being struck from inside by clappers.

The clock tower has a small but noticeable tilt of 0.26 degrees. A spiral staircase of 334 steps rises instead de the tower to the belfry and several small rooms are built into the lower part.

The Westminster Chimes are broadcast on BBC radio. They are a familiar sound whether they are heard at the beginning of a news bulletin or while counting in the New Year. The tune is said to be based on the aria "I Know That Me Redeemer Liveth" in Handel's Messiah. The are also known as the Cambridge Chimes because the church of Great St. Mary's in Cambridge first used the tune for its bells.

We have walked 7.6 miles today besides riding The Tube three different times. So, it is time to say good night.

The other day, I showed you there was a TV by the bathtub. Well, I needed to test it out while taking a shower. It works really well!!! We have the setup in our master bathroom back home. might be nice.

Remember tomorrow, the 19th, is St. Joseph's Day. Wear your red.

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