England, Part V: The Final Day

Our last day in England was as action-packed as our first two days in London. We had planned to go to Churchill’s War Rooms. Several friends had recommended it, and after seeing The Darkest Hour, we were both very interested in learning more about Winston Churchill and his role in World War II. We had passed the site the day before and noted the very, very long line of people on the sidewalk and decided that we’d better get there as early as we could.

We showed up at 9:10, knowing that the museum didn’t open until 9:30. There was already a line ahead of us—perhaps about thirty people. What we hadn’t realized was that it would have been possible to buy tickets ahead of time for a set time on the priority line, but now it was too late. As we stood outside waiting, the line behind us grew longer and longer, stretching down the block almost to the corner by the time the doors opened at 9:30. Then we had to wait as the priority ticketholders entered. Every ten minutes or so they would allow in more people, including a few from the regular line.

We finally entered at 10:20, saying to each other, “This had better be worth the wait.” It was. Without question.

We spent two hours underground at the exhibit. The audioguides were excellent, providing clear directions on where to go and lots of information about what we were seeing as well as interviews with some of those who worked in the war rooms with Churchill. It was a fascinating tour. Seeing the spaces that were recreated in the movie and realizing that these men and women had spent days and nights during the long years of the war burrowed beneath the ground, doing intelligence work and collecting information about the war’s progress, made us appreciate even more Churchill’s leadership and commitment to winning the war.

There is one very large gallery devoted to an exhibit about Churchill’s life. For some reason they decided to start with the war years, then the post-war years and his death, and then his early years as a child, a young adult, and a politician. I found that room a bit confusing and overwhelming. Maybe because I am such a linear person and like things to be in chronological order. I most enjoyed hearing some of Churchill’s speeches in his own voice and also seeing pictures of him and his family as a boy and then as a father and husband.

We finally emerged from the dark around noontime and were grateful to see sunlight, although it was a cloudy and gray day. We walked over the Westminster Bridge. Well, we tried to walk. The throngs of people made it as crazy as being in Times Square before theaters open. You could barely move. We were heading to the Tate Modern, which is on the other side of the Thames. When we finally managed to get away from the crowds, it was quite a relief.

After a quick lunch, we continued our walk to the Tate Modern. We enjoyed the walk along the river with the London skyline in view—we could see St Paul’s Cathedral and all the modern skyscrapers that we had seen the day before, but now from a distance with the river in the foreground.

We finally reached the Tate Modern, and it is an imposing structure. Once a power station, it was converted to a museum and opened in 2000. I can’t say that I found it a terribly inviting building—it still looks more like a power station than a museum, although there are glass additions on top of the old building.

Entering the building felt a bit like entering a huge train station—a very large open hall descending down towards the ticket booth and museum itself.

We went to two of the exhibits, the first being Artist and Society, which focused on how artists use their art to comment on society. Some of those works were very provocative—like the collection of firehoses attached to each other to evoke the hoses used to spray African American protesters during the civil rights movement in the US or a series of photographs showing the demolition of buildings in the name of urban renewal. But some just left me cold, like the one of strange large forms just strewn on the floor.

The second exhibit we saw was more traditional and included works of artists who were more familiar, such as Picasso, Dali, and Rothko. It focused on the artistic process itself. I enjoyed that exhibit more than the first because I tend to be more conventional in my idea of what is art and prefer art that is more about aesthetics than politics.

We wanted to take the elevator up to see the observatory on the tenth floor. But the lines were too long, and we gave up. I think we’d just had enough of crowds for the day.

Our last evening in London was much less hectic than the day. We took an Uber to Covent Garden and had a fabulous sushi dinner at Sticks and Sushi. Then we walked from there to St Martin-in-the Fields Church for a concert of Vivaldi, Mozart, and Purcell. The music was soothing and relaxing, and the setting quite beautiful.

For our last morning in England, we had the wonderful treat of meeting two of my cousins—Annette, my fourth cousin, once removed, and Mark, my fifth cousin. Annette and Mark are related to me through my Seligmann family. We are all descended from Jakob Seligmann and Martha Mayer, my four-times great-grandparents. Mark and Annette descend from Jakob and Martha’s daughter Caroline who married Moses Morreau, and I descend from Jakob and Martha’s son Moritz. We had a delightful time together—sharing family history and our own stories. Mark and I have now continued to share and explore our mutual family history.

And after saying goodbye to my cousins, we packed our bags and headed for Heathrow for the flight back to the US. I was quite sad to leave. It had been a perfect vacation with the right mix of relaxation, exercise, gorgeous views, art and culture, history, and friendly people. I was in no way ready for it to end.

But it did, and now I have found great pleasure in recreating and remembering it all through my blog. I hope you have enjoyed my travelogue as well. Thanks for coming along.

Next—a return to the story of the children of Henry Goldsmith.

 

 

England, Part IV: Visiting My Ancestors’ Neighborhood

One of the reasons I wanted to revisit London on this trip to England was that when we first visited London in 1995, I had no idea that I had ancestors who once lived there. I did not start doing family history research until 2012, and sometime thereafter I learned that my three-times great-grandfather Hart Levy Cohen was born in Amsterdam, but had immigrated to England and settled in London by 1799. He married my three-times great-grandmother Rachel Jacobs at the Great Synagogue in London in 1812, and together they had five children born in London, including my great-great-grandfather Jacob Cohen, who was born in 1824. By 1851, however, Hart and all his children had left London and settled in Philadelphia. 1

But from at least 1799 until 1851, I had direct ancestors living in London, and I wanted to know more about where they lived and what their community was like. I’d done some research several years back about the area and about the treatment of Dutch Jews, known as Chuts, so I knew that the neighborhood ranged from poor to middle class in those days and that Dutch Jews like my three-times great-grandparents were often treated as outsiders in the community.2

I was fortunate to find Isabelle Seddons, a historian who does walking tours of London including the former Jewish neighborhoods of Whitechapel and Spitalfields. I knew that the Cohens had lived on New Goulston Street in 1841 and at Number 8, Landers Buildings on Middlesex Street, in 1851, both addresses located in Spitalfields in the Whitechapel district of London. I gave Isabelle the information I had, and we arranged to meet at 2 pm on May 30 at the Whitechapel Gallery in London.

What made the tour even better is that my friend and cousin-by-marriage Shirley and her husband Ron were able to join us. Shirley and I had connected years back when I was trying to sort out the three Selinger brothers who married three of my Cohen relatives and Shirley was trying to learn more about her Selinger ancestors. I was quite excited that we would finally get to meet in person. Shirley kindly brought me a copy of an 1875 map of the neighborhood showing New Goulston and Middlesex Streets.

The four of us on the tour

Shirley and I standing in front of the pub where we and our husbands shared some beers and some stories after the tour

Here’s a current map of the area we visited.

 

Isabelle started the tour with an overview of the Jewish history of the area. She pointed out that during World War II, the neighborhood was heavily bombed by the Nazis because of the ports that were (and are) located nearby. Thus, many if not most of the original buildings are gone, as can be seen from this photograph and from others.

According to Isabelle, the Whitechapel-Spitalfields area was predominantly Jewish from the 18th century until World War II, when the neighborhood was evacuated because of the bombing. After World War II, the Jews did not return to this area of London, and a new wave of immigrants settled in the area. Today it is primarily a Bengali neighborhood where mosques have replaced synagogues.

This building was originally a church, then later a synagogue, and now a mosque. See https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1240697

The area was always poor, though some of the Jewish merchants were better off than most of the residents. As Hart Cohen and his sons were china merchants and living on a street that Charles Booth designated on his historic poverty map of London as less poverty stricken than others, I assume they were among those who were somewhat better off. Nevertheless they left London by 1851.

The largest influx of Jews came in the late 19th century from Eastern Europe, long after my Cohen ancestors had emigrated. They came in huge numbers and lived in terrible conditions, and much of what is left in the area that reflects its Jewish past dates from that era of immigration and afterwards, not from the early 19th century when my family lived there.

Isabelle took us to see the archway built in the late 19th century as part of a housing project supported and promoted by the Rothschild family and other wealthy English Jews to provide the poverty-stricken Jews living in the area with decent housing. It was called the Four Percent Industrial Dwellings Company because the investors were promised a four percent return on their investment.  The housing units were destroyed during the war, but the arch remains as a reminder of this early attempt at urban renewal.

One Jewish entrepreneur had what today would seem like an excellent business idea.  He wanted to create an indoor market where various vendors could sell their wares—food, clothing, household goods—all in one covered space. In today’s world where places like Covent Garden Market and Faneuil Hall Marketplace thrive as well as all the shopping malls that exist throughout the US, such an idea would seem to be a no-brainer and an instant success. But in those times people—vendors and shoppers—rejected the idea, and the owner converted his building into a textile factory. Today it houses graduate departments of Glasgow Caledonian University offering advanced degrees in, among many other areas, in International Fashion Marketing and Luxury Brand Marketing.

Most of the Jews made their living in the late nineteenth century as tailors or working at a nearby matchstick factory, and working conditions were terrible. In 1888 the matchstick workers went on strike after organizing themselves at Hanbury Hall, a building originally built as a Huguenot chapel in 1719. The hall became a center for union and radical activity during the late 19th century. Today it operates as a café and venue for social events.

Hanbury Hall

The poverty of the Jewish residents of the area was also reflected in this building, which was built as a soup kitchen for poor Jews, as the engraved inscription indicates, and still operates as a soup kitchen today for the newer poor immigrants in the area.

Soup Kitchen for the Jewish Poor

But there are still some signs that this was once a Jewish neighborhood, such as these old store signs:

And this Star of David at the top of a drainpipe. This is the Christ Church primary school on Brick Lane, one of the major thoroughfares in the area. It was founded in 1708 as a parish school, but when the building on Brick Lane was built in 1874, most of the children in the neighborhood who attended the school were Jewish. According to Isabelle, the Star of David was added to reflect the school’s tolerance and openness to students of all backgrounds.

Christ Church Primary School with Star of David on the drain pipe

We saw another Star of David with what appears to be the scales of justice inside it so perhaps this was once a lawyer’s office.

UPDATE: A member of the Tracing The Tribe group on Facebook provided me with this information about the Star of David below: “The interesting Magen David at 88 Whitehall is not on scales but is actually shown as supported by two lions of Judah wielding sabres. Beneath is a pair of medallions, decorated with Menorahs. It was designed by Arthur Szyk in the mid 1930s. It is a staple of every Jewish London tour and there is actually a more ornate but similar design also by Szyk located inside.”

And we found an old mezuzah painted over a doorway at this house:

The relief sculptures above the windows and door on this building reflect that this was at one time a Jewish bakery:

Once a Jewish bakery

There is also still one active synagogue in the neighborhood, the Sandy’s Row Synagogue. Although the synagogue was not housed in this building until 1867 after my ancestors had left the area, this could be the congregation that my ancestors joined as it was founded by Dutch Jewish immigrants to the area.

But Hart Cohen and Rachel Jacobs were married at the Great Synagogue in 1812, and their son Jacob, my great-great-grandfather, and my great-great-grandmother Sarah Jacobs were also married at the Great Synagogue in 1844. Unfortunately, the Great Synagogue was destroyed by the Nazis and no longer exists though Isabelle did show us where it once stood.

Where the Great Synagogue once stood

I asked Isabelle how a synagogue could survive today in this community, and she explained that there are a number of Orthodox Jews who work in downtown London who come to the synagogue for daily minyans before and after work.

We also heard the story of Jacob Adler, an actor and violinist who played in the Yiddish theater. His former home was marked with a plaque of a violin in the sidewalk. Adler had immigrated to London from Odessa where he had already had a career in theater. After Yiddish theater was banned in Russia in the 1880s, he came to London and within a short time had established his own theatrical club on what was then Prince Street in the Spitalfields neighborhood. His theater was quite popular until a fire broke out and the audience panicked. In the stampede to exit the building, seventeen people were killed. After that Adler lost his audience and so immigrated to the US, where he became a well-known actor on the Yiddish stage in New York.

The last few stops on our tour were of the streets near and where my three-times great-grandparents lived between 1841 and 1851, according to the census records and other records: New Goulston Street and Middlesex Street. The Landers Buildings identified  on Rachel Jacobs’ death certificate in 1851 no longer exist, and Isabelle had no luck finding where they were located or what they were, though we do know they were somewhere on Middlesex Street. Both streets are located in the area where Dutch Jews once lived and where the principal market for the neighborhood was located on Petticoat Lane. As you can see in the photograph below, it still is the setting for an open air market.

Petticoat Lane

These other photographs are my attempts to capture a sense of where my ancestors once lived. I don’t know whether any of these buildings were even there in 1841. But 180 years ago or so, my Cohen ancestors walked, lived, and worked on these streets:

And like so many neighborhoods in cities in the United States, this once poor neighborhood is today being gentrified by young people who want to live close to where they work in downtown London. In many of the photographs you can see the skyscrapers of the financial district looming behind the streets of Whitechapel and Spitalfields. Isabelle told us that this house is now worth four million pounds:

So this neighborhood that was for almost two hundred years a Jewish neighborhood and then a Bengali neighborhood is now becoming a chic place for millennials and others looking to live close to work.

Signs of gentrification

Will they tear down what remains of the evidence that the area was once Jewish? Will the Stars of David and Jewish signs and other reminders disappear as yet another upscale community of coffee shops and expensive restaurants takes over? I hope not, and if so, I am glad I got to see this area before that happens.

 

 

 

 


  1. My three-times great-grandmother Rachel died in London on January 9, 1851, and Hart and the two children still living with him in England came to the US shortly after her death. I still haven’t found out where she was buried. 
  2. See my earlier blog posts here and here

England, Part III: London and Come from Away

The final three days of our trip to England were spent in London. We’d visited London for a week back in 1995 and had seen most of the major attractions then—the British Museum, Parliament, Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guards, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus, the Tower of London, Hampstead Heath, and so on. So we decided to focus our three days on some sites we had not seen in 1995.

We stayed at the St Ermin’s Marriott hotel in the Westminster section of London. It is a gracious old hotel built in 1899 that Marriott took over and renovated. It was originally built as residential apartments and later used during World War II as a base for British espionage and intelligence operations. Churchill is said to have frequented its bar when meeting with officials there.

You enter the hotel after passing through a beautiful passageway lined with flowers, and the lobby is also quite magnificent with a white double staircase and reliefs on the ceilings and walls. We took a tiny, narrow elevator to our sixth floor room. The room itself was very small. The bed was perhaps eight inches from the outer wall, and there were no dressers for our clothes or space to tuck away our suitcases. But the room was clean and the bed comfortable, and the staff at the hotel was very friendly and helpful.

We spent our first day mostly strolling through the neighborhood near the hotel. We stopped at Westminster Cathedral and then passed Buckingham Palace where the queen was apparently hosting a garden party and there was a line of people dressed to the nines waiting to enter the palace grounds. The men were in morning coats and the women in bright dresses with elaborate hats. I wanted to take a picture, but it seemed a bit tacky, so I resisted.

Westminster Cathedral

Buckingham Palace

We weren’t sure this guard was real until we saw him move.

The Mall, the street that runs from Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square

We admired the monument dedicated to Queen Victoria that stands right in front of the palace. I kept hearing the theme song from Victoria as we studied the monument from all angles and read about the significance of the various sculptural features.

From there we took a lovely walk through St. James Park. The gardens and the birds and ducks and geese and pelicans make it a true oasis in the middle of a city where there are far too many cars, taxis, tourist buses, and people.

We then walked over towards Westminster Abbey and Big Ben (which is currently being renovated and is wrapped in scaffolding as is much of the Parliament building) and noticed that the Supreme Court was having an educational open house for the public that day. So we spent some time there, looking at the court rooms. No court sessions were being held, so we did not get to see any judges in wigs and robs.

St Margaret’s at Westminster Abbey

The London Eye (and no, we did not ride it)

Harvey at Westminster Bridge with Parliament behind him

Poor Big Ben

Supreme Court library

We also passed the Royal Horse Guards and avoided being kicked or bitten by the horses as we made our way to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery, where we spent an hour or so enjoying the galleries devoted to 19th and 20th century paintings.

By then it was time to head back to the hotel because we had theater tickets that night in the West End. After a short rest, we walked from the hotel to Sartori, a very good Italian restaurant in the West End just a block or so from the theater.

And then we saw what I believe is the best theater I have ever seen. If you haven’t seen Come From Away yet, you are missing a true masterpiece. The music, the staging, the acting are all excellent, and the writing and the story are so moving and effective. I rarely cry at live theater (though often at movies and television) because I am usually too aware that what I am watching is “just” theater and thus I am somewhat emotionally removed from it. But this play grabbed me from the beginning and kept me emotionally engaged throughout. I cried, I laughed, I was there with them all in Gander, Newfoundland. Will the play stand the test of time when those who lived through 9/11 are no longer in the audience? I would think that its universal themes of human decency, kindness, and the need for hope and love will sustain it.

Our second day in London started with a walk from the hotel to Covent Garden, a neighborhood of lots of upscale shops and restaurants and a big market that resembles Fanueil Hall Market in Boston—aisles and aisles of food and stores and restaurants and street performers. And St Paul’s Church (not to be confused with St Paul’s Cathedral discussed below).

St Paul’s Church

Street performers in front of St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden

Our walk continued along the Strand and Fleet Street where the Royal Courts of Justice are located as well as many law firms and publishing companies. The streets were crowded with young men in suits and women dressed in business clothing—presumably many of them lawyers or business people. We went into the court building, but it was lunch hour so no courts were in session. We did pass a number of lawyers sitting with clients, so there were likely hearings scheduled for the afternoon.

Somerset House

Royal Courts of Justice

After a quick lunch, we reached St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Christopher Wren landmark that is still one of the tallest buildings in London.  You can see its dome from many vantage points in the city. When we saw what they were charging to enter the cathedral (twenty pounds each or about $26 each), we opted not to go inside.

St Paul’s in the distance on Fleet Street

Facade of St Paul’s Cathedral

The Dome of St Paul’s

Temple Bar, also designed by Christopher Wren

Here’s a map showing all the places we saw on the first day and a half in London. Our hotel is the circle at the lower left on Caxton Street and St Paul’s is at the upper right.

We decided to take “the Tube” or the Underground the rest of the way to Whitechapel, where we had arranged for a guided walking tour of London’s Whitechapel and Spitalfields neighborhoods, the neighborhood where my Cohen ancestors lived between about 1800 and 1851 before immigrating to the US. More on that in my next post.

The Oyster Card—London’s public transport pass

 

 

England Part II, The Cotswolds and Oxford

The morning we left Cornwall for the Cotswolds was the only really rainy time we had during our entire trip. While packing for the trip, we’d prepared for the worst after hearing how damp and cold England can be this time of year, but we had almost no rain and lots of sunshine during our entire stay. And that one rainy morning was spent traveling to the Cotswolds. (No, we didn’t drive—we decided that would be too stressful, and the train connections were not workable, so we hired a driver to take us.)

We arrived at the Kings Head Inn in Bledington around 1 pm, just in time for lunch.  And the rain stopped. The whole area was just charming.  Bledington is a tiny little hamlet, and, like all over the Cotswolds, all the houses and buildings are made of the same beige-colored stone.  According to Wikipedia, there are about 490 people in the village. The only commercial building we saw was the inn itself.

The Inn described itself as more a pub/restaurant with rooms than a hotel, so we weren’t sure what to expect. But our room was certainly adequate. It was in a separate building across a lovely courtyard from the actual inn. The room was small and somewhat dark, but nevertheless comfortable. And although we were a little concerned about noise—especially from the rooster who spent much of the day strutting around and crowing—we slept well, and the rooster had the decency not to start crowing until about 7 am.

During our first afternoon, we decided to take the “easy” walk suggested on a brochure distributed by the inn.  It was easy in the sense of not being physically challenging, but following the instructions turned out to be quite a challenge. Truly, it was not the fault of the person writing the directions, but rather the person who was interpreting them, i.e., me. Somehow I misread the first step in the directions and ended up walking the trail backwards! But I didn’t realize that until we were nearly done with the two hour walk. It’s not worth explaining how or why, but despite following the steps backwards, we ended up finding our way without any trouble, thinking we were doing the walk in the right direction. I am still mystified by how that could be!

For example, the directions included a step that described going under an archway formed by trees.  I thought this was what they meant.

Only when we passed the actual archway much later and were almost done with the walk did I realize that something was off.

Making it even more embarrassing was the fact that another woman had joined us on the walk, thinking I knew what I was doing. I kept acting like I did, and neither she nor my husband suspected anything. I only confessed to my husband after we were safely back at the inn. (As my good friend Art would say, “Frequently wrong, but never uncertain.”)

Even though we did it backwards, it was still a scenic and enjoyable walk, passing through fields with cows and sheep, going along a lovely little creek, and walking along an abandoned railroad path.

After dinner at the inn, we took another shorter walk, enjoying the light on the houses and the church from the late-setting sun. That time I knew what I was doing.

The next morning we were picked up by Peter of Cotswold Electric Bike Tours for our day of bicycling around the Cotswolds. We drove to Burford, which is about eight miles south of Bledington. It is a much larger town than Bledington with lots of shops and a big church, but also all in the same beige-colored stone. We met up with three other people joining us for the day—Carolyn and her adult daughters Meghan and Rachel from Salt Lake City (which, of course, led to a conversation about the Family History Library). After a quick lesson on how to use an electric bike, we were off on our thirty-mile trip around the area.

This was our first time on e-bikes, and we loved them. What a pleasure it was to get that “assist” going up some of the steeper hills. But for the most part the ride was relatively flat (or so it seemed after walking in Cornwall) and extremely scenic. We traveled from Burford to Windrush to Sherborne to Northleach to Bibury to Westwell and back to Burford.

Here are some of the images we captured during our almost seven-hour ride:

Burford

Flowers along the way

Norman doorway in the church in Windrush

Interior of Windrush church with Romanesque and Gothic features

Church graveyard, Windrush

Windrush

In Sherborne we saw some Morris dancers, a form of English folk dancing dating back to the fifteenth century. We also stopped for a short tea and cake break in Sherborne.  .

We continued on our way, going through Northleach and seeing its beautiful church.

Northleach

We stopped for a late lunch in Bibury, a town once described as the most beautiful in England and thus packed with many tour buses and tourists. It is beautiful, but the crowds and buses and traffic made that harder to appreciate.

Bibury

 

After lunch we continued on to Westwell before returning to Burford and the end of our tour.

The six of us all had a wonderful time with lots of laughs and good conversation, and Peter also taught us a great deal about English history and the history of the region, pointing out the architectural characteristics of each era as seen in some of the churches we visited. It was a fun and educational day and gave us a good overall view of the Cotswolds.

The next day we decided to take the train to Oxford, which is only half an hour by train from Kingham, the town next to Bledington. We walked the mile to the station, itself a pretty walk.

Cows in someone’s yard. Really.

We arrived in Oxford at 10:30 and signed up for a 1 pm walking tour. We then spent the rest of the morning walking through the city.  The city was filled with young people—university students and teenagers coming to tour the university. Everywhere we went there were large groups of teens touring together. And lots of impressive architecture.

The tower from the old northern wall of the city

We walked to the south end of the city to Christchurch—which is both a college within Oxford University and a church. Some of the scenes in the Harry Potter movies were filmed at Christchurch, we were told. It certainly has the feel and appearance of a proper English school.

Exterior of Christchurch, a college at Oxford

 

Grounds of Christchurch

Refectory at Christchurch

Refectory

Quadrangle at Christchurch

The church at Christchurch was magnificent, especially the stained glass windows.

At 1, we met up with our guide and a group of fellow tourists—about sixteen in total. Out of that group, we were the only Americans. There were people from Germany, France, Scotland, England, Australia, and India. The guide was very knowledgeable, and the tour focused on Oxford University and its unusual (by US standards anyway) college-university system.

I am still not sure how it all works, but from what we were able to understand, students apply to individual colleges within Oxford and study in tutorials with a tutor and just one or two other students in that college for their three years of undergraduate study. They produce papers each week for the tutors and have exams at the end of their first year and then at the end of their third year. Every college has its own library, church, and faculty, and the students eat and learn and live in their chosen college. But there are also some university-wide courses. I may have this all wrong. I still don’t know whether students have distribution requirements across several fields as in US schools. I also am not sure whether they take only one tutorial at a time or multiple courses in different subjects each semester. So if there are any Oxford experts out there who can explain this all, please let me know.

Our guide showed us many of the different colleges as well as some of the main libraries and other buildings.

House where Shakespeare stayed when he visited Oxford

Jesus College

Old bookstore

Sheldonian Theater

We enjoyed the comment about Bill Clinton

Bridge joining two parts of Hertford College

New College

Merton College

Corpus Christi College

Corpus Christi College

Radcliffe Camera

Bodleian library

Our guide pointed out the students who were finished with their last exam and the wild way they decorated themselves to celebrate the completion of their studies at Oxford.

When the tour ended, we walked a bit more and then made our way back to the train station, back to Kingham, and back to Bledington and the Kings Head Inn.  The following morning we left Bledington for the last stop on our trip to England, London.

England, 2019: Cornwall

Almost ten years ago my husband and I started watching Doc Martin, the British television series about a London surgeon who develops a fear of blood and is forced to retire from surgery and become a country doctor in a small fishing village in Cornwall called Port Wenn. We were immediately taken not only by the story and the eccentric characters and humor, but also by the gorgeous scenery—the rocky cliffs surrounded everywhere by deep blue water.

We decided that someday we would have to visit Cornwall and specifically Port Isaac, the real name for the village where Doc Martin is filmed.  Since then I have watched and re-watched Doc Martin enough times that I know most of the dialogue by heart. It has been a wonderful way to escape and have a laugh and enjoy a good love story and a great diversion while riding my exercise bike.  So my interest in visiting Port Isaac only intensified over the years, and last year we started making plans for our visit.

We arrived on Tuesday, May 21, after landing at Heathrow that morning. We took a bus to Reading, a bustling small city where we had a quick breakfast and a short walk before boarding the Great Western Railway train to Bodmin Parkway.

I had made arrangements with Lyn, a taxi driver, to meet us at the station, and she was there waiting for us when we arrived.  She gave me a warm hug when we met—a wonderful welcome to England. On our half-hour drive to our hotel, she entertained us with stories of her family, her dog, and life in Cornwall as we tried to adjust to being on the left side of the increasingly narrow roads she maneuvered. It was quite an adventure.

I cannot say enough good things about our hotel, the Longcross, a small hotel about a mile outside of Port Isaac. It is an elegant older building with lots of Victorian details but with all the modern amenities—wifi, flat screen tvs, and comfortable and spacious rooms. From our room we could see miles of open farmland, the bright blue sea in the distance, and magnificent sunsets.

The view from our room

Outside the hotel was a lovely English garden with arched walkways and a pond and an array of flowers and trees.

But what really made the Longcross my favorite hotel of all time was the service and the food. When we arrived, we met with Jamie, the general manager, and with Julia, who runs the dining room and whose husband Andy is the chef and runs the kitchen. We explained our long list of dietary restrictions (especially mine)—no meat, no shellfish, no dairy, no onions. Julia quickly said that there was no problem—she would create a menu just for us for each night that we were there using a different fresh fish each night depending on what was available in the market. And she and Andy created dinners for us that were just incredible—beautifully presented and made from all fresh ingredients. I still cannot believe how accommodating and gracious the staff at the Longcross was.

I didn’t take pictures of the food, but here are some of the menus Julia typed up for us.

Of course, we didn’t go to Cornwall just to eat! We went for the scenery and for the opportunity to see some filming of the next season of Doc Martin. Each morning we walked the mile or so into the village, passing cows and fields and those iconic Cornish hedges while trying not to get killed as cars sped by, passing each other on the narrow and winding one-land roads.

We were fortunate to see two days of filming while we were in Port Isaac and to see many of the places in the village that were familiar locations from the series. Here are just some of the Doc Martin-related photographs we took while in Port Isaac.

Of course, being such a big fan, I was excited to see some of the stars and to watch the filming process itself. It was quite interesting to see how much time and how many people it takes to film what may end up as just a few seconds of a scene in the finished program. Being an introvert, I wasn’t one of those who could run up to get selfies with the actors or to get an autograph, but I did enjoy seeing how Martin Clunes and Caroline Catz went in and out of character as they waited for the crew to set up each shot for the scenes being filmed.

We did have a chance to shake hands with Ian McNeice, who was collecting for the local lifeboat station on the afternoon we arrived, and we also met and spoke at length with a woman who was an extra during the first day of filming. She also gave us some insights into how the program is created.

But most of our time was spent walking—doing a walking tour of the village, walking on the coastal path to neighboring Port Gaverne, walking up and down the very steep hills, and walking to Port Quin, another neighboring harbor.  We were told that at one time Port Quin was a place where fishermen lived, but after all the men were killed at sea, their families left, and now all that is left are some cottages that are available to rent.

Port Gaverne

All the photographs below were taken in Port Isaac or walking along the coast to Port Gaverne.

I loved every minute we spent in and near Port Isaac. But we also wanted to see more of Cornwall, so one day we took a driving tour with Kez of Cornwall Tours. He was a delightful young man who was a native of Cornwall and very proud of the region.  He took us to Truro, the largest city in Cornwall that we wanted to see in honor of Truro, Massachusetts, where I had been coming since I was a young girl many years ago. England’s Truro is nothing like the one on Cape Cod (which is more like Port Isaac than England’s Truro), but it is a nice little city with a beautiful cathedral and some lovely winding streets and the Cornwall history museum, where we learned about the mining history of Cornwall from ancient times into the 20th century.

Truro Cathedral

Kez then drove us to St. Agnes, an old tin mining community, and on to several beautiful beaches in Perranporth, Newquay, Saint Eval, and Booby’s Bay. As a surfer, Kez was an expert on the Cornwall beaches. It was a three-day weekend in England, so the beach areas were fairly crowded and people were surfing even though the temperature was at best in the low sixties.

St Agnes

Perranporth

Newquay

Newquay

After seeing several beaches and having a quick lunch in the picturesque town of Padstow, we headed to Bodmin Moor. I’d never seen a moor before and was curious after reading about them in English novels such as Wuthering Heights. Kez took us there, where we saw the wide open highlands, a stone circle from pre-historic times, cows and calves, and Temple Church, a medieval church that was so well hidden that it may be the only one that has stained glass windows that survived Henry VIII’s orders to destroy all the decorative elements in the Catholic churches as part of the English Reformation in the 16th century.

Temple Church

Temple Church

Our last stop with Kez was Tintagel where legend says King Arthur’s castle once stood. Work is now being done on the bridge that connects the small island where there was once a castle to the mainland, so you cannot get to the ruins, but the views were nevertheless well worth the drive to this location.

Tintagel

Thus ended our last day in Cornwall. With one last excellent meal at the Longcross, one last sunset, one last breakfast the next morning, and lots of goodbye hugs, we were off to the Cotswolds on May 26.