I started out on Friday with a visit to Westminster Abbey. It’s where most of the royal monarchs have been married and buried, as well as many other British notables. It was very touristy but I enjoyed it, particularly seeing the graves of Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, and more.
Two monuments were especially cool for me – those of Queen Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots. Those two were cousins with a complicated kinship; they had a long rivalry, which stemmed from Mary having a claim to the throne of England while Elizabeth was Queen, and which ended with Elizabeth signing a warrant to have Mary beheaded.
Elizabeth had no children, and when she died, James VI (Mary’s son) was her heir and became King James I of England. James was the one who commissioned a monument each for Elizabeth and Mary, and who had them placed across the hall from one another. He did have his mother’s built larger and slightly more ornate, and it includes a caption that Mary should have been Queen of England.
Unfortunately no photography is allowed inside the Abbey, so you’ll have to take my word that it was beautiful.
Here’s the area around it instead:
Next I walked five minutes to the Churchill War Rooms. These were a series of underground rooms that served as home for Britain’s War Cabinet during World War II. Originally a basement store, they got repurposed in 1940.
The rooms included two meeting rooms, offices, switchboards, a broadcast room, private bedrooms for senior officers (everyone else slept in the sub-basement), map rooms, and more.
The War Cabinet’s primary meeting room:
Typing Room. If you look closely you can see gas masks on their desks. They had lots of different provisions in case of attack, including the masks and armed guards.
Winston Churchill’s bedroom. He only slept three nights here, but used the room often for his daily afternoon nap.
It was all completely underground, and though the top was reinforced with concrete, it wasn’t actually bombproof. Luckily it was never hit during the war, as the members of the War Cabinet – which regularly met in the rooms – included PM Winston Churchill, the three heads of the British Army, Navy, and Airforce, and top government officials.
The whole rooms were top-secret, and nobody even knew it existed until well after the war, when the carekeeper began letting people in. Eventually the rooms became adopted as a part of the Imperial War Museums.
Within the War Rooms was a separate exhibit on Churchill himself, from his childhood to his service as wartime PM to his later years. Some of the many fun facts I learned about Churchill:
- He worked 18 hour days almost every single day of the war
- He hated excessive noise and had signs posted in the war rooms’ hallways that banned whistling
- He was a good jockey and horse rider when young, and as he got older had a passion for horse racing
- He liked to wear one-piece, zip-up velvet suits. He called them “siren suits.” His family nicknamed them “rompers.”
- There was one room within the War rooms that contained nothing but a private phone line that connected him directly to the other Allied leaders; this room had to be kept especially secret, so the sign on the door called it the “Prime Minister’s Private Lavatory”
Churchill’s private phone room:
The Churchill War Rooms are one of my favourite things I’ve done in London so far.
That was my first full day in London. That night, I met back up with Abbey (who works at an office during the day) and we began our weekend adventures…