A Royal Day Out
By Head of Middle School Michael McLaughlin
On one of the students’ on-campus days, I walked from the campus of Charterhouse to Godalming village. I joined commuters in taking the morning train to London’s Victoria Station. From there, I walked to the official London residence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II: Buckingham Palace. I arrived at the palace gates in time to watch the Changing of the Guard. With their helmets glistening in the morning sun, members of the Household Calvary rode up the Mall to the fanfare of trumpets. Several regiments of mounted calvary, bands with their bearskin caps, and armed infantry marched directly in front of my vantage point as they moved with military precision and pomp between the palace, the barracks, and the Horseguards Parade.
Next, I made my way through the crowd to Saint James’ Park and towards Westminster Abbey. The great abbey church is what is known as a royal peculiar - it answers directly to the crown and, as such, has been home to a number of historic occasions in its thousand-year history: coronations, royal weddings, and funerals. As the bells peeled their noon chimes, I entered the cavernous church and sat in front of the quire screen to attend a mass.
With a morning that magnificent, I had to find a lunch large enough to satisfy my appetite and would boast a pedigree of historic heritage. Making my way down Parliament Street towards Trafalgar Square, I stopped at the Red Lion just a block away from the Prime Minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street. As I ordered my fish and chips, I read that Prime Minister Winston Churchill was known to have frequented the Red Lion, and that, indeed, the restaurant could trace its heritage back to 1434 as a medieval tavern. With nearly 600 years of practice, the lunch was superb.
My afternoon took me back up the Mall to Buckingham Palace. Each summer, the Queen opens the State Rooms of the Palace to visitors. My past trips to London never seemed to coincide with that window - this time was different. I had a 3:15 reservation to walk through this historic residence. When I plugged in my earphones to listen to the guided tour, I grinned from ear to ear: it was hosted by none other than Prince Charles, heir to the throne.
The tour transported me to the heart of the palace with stops in the throne room and ballroom, each lavishly decorated and designed with power in mind. It was fascinating to listen to descriptions of the rooms from the perspective of someone who grew up in the palace and who will one day reign there as king. The rooms were filled with priceless treasures - and seeing them in their historic setting was a delight. One such artifact was the gilded piano that Queen Victoria played with a copy of the sheet music that the composer Felix Mendelssohn arranged for the Queen to play with her husband Prince Albert. Whilst standing in front of the instrument, I listened to a soundtrack of two accomplished musicians playing that piece.
After the tour, I extended my visit to enjoy an iced coffee on the terrace overlooking the Queen’s Gardens - a terrific treat on a hot afternoon! I reflected on how fortunate I was to have this experience and brainstormed ideas for activities for my fall elective course with my Middle School students at Austin. A short time later, I was back on a train to Charterhouse, excited to share my story!