“Eccentricity exists particularly in the English because of that peculiar and satisfactory knowledge of infallibility that is the hallmark and the birthright of the British nation” —DAME EDITH SITWELL, THE ENGLISH ECCENTRICS
Bubbles and squeak. Spotted dick. Victoria and Albert. Okay, perhaps that last one might not sound as odd as the first two, but they are all indicative of our quirky English cousins. The eccentricities of a people that held sway over an empire around the globe and yet, with all that worldliness, they wrap fish and chips (that’s French fries, to you and me) in newspaper. Oh, and the potato chips that we know and love? In England, they call them crisps. Told you they’re eccentric.
Victoria and Albert may have been reigning monarchs more than 100 years ago, but the royal couple’s—and particularly Albert’s—penchant for education, weird science and visual art and design fusion still sets the bar. London’s Victoria & Albert museum, with its more than 2 million objects, might just be the craziest curio closet in the world. A cast of the fig leaf made for the modesty of the David, anyone?
En route to the Handel & Hendrix in London Museum, note the historic Mayfair neighbourhood of tiny alleys and turn-of-the-many-pastcenturies mews near Hanover Square—it’s an architecture buff’s adventure. You’ve arrived once you cross through a petite courtyard—and if you’re savvy enough to spy the blue plaques on the museum’s exterior (I, myself, took a few wrong turns before finding it, but who cares? This is London!). It’s actually two buildings that share a wall, where both musicians lived; George Frideric Handel’s house at 25 Brook Street and Jimi Hendrix’s flat at the top of 23. Handel is best known for his Messiah, while Hendrix is still lauded as a guitar messiah. Handel so loved Britain, he became a citizen and spent the rest of his life at 25 Brook. His home has been maintained to reflect how he lived and worked, including at the Royal Academy, in the 1700s. By contrast, Hendrix lived here for less than a year during 1968/69; the musician decorated the flat himself, appeared on the Happening for Lulu TV show (yes, To Sir with Love’s Lulu) and was subsequently banned from appearing on the Bbc—and performed back to back concerts at The Royal Albert Hall. His bedroom has been restored with vintage finds, including from his favourite Portobello Road flea market stalls, and his vast collection of vinyl is also catalogued.
And, speaking of curio closets, if you’ve ever watched an episode of Hoarders, you haven’t seen anything yet. The home/museum of the architect Sir John Soanes has remained mostly untouched—at his request—since his death more than 180 years ago. He designed the Bank of England building but it is his home/office/ school for his students at numbers 12, 13 and 14 Lincoln’s Inn Field that has given him immortality. Not far from Holborn tube station, the row of homes is chock-a-block with architectural models, casts and drawings, on the walls, floors, ceilings—there’s even the sarcophagus of Egypt’s Seti I. Every inch is utilized. You could spend hours feasting your eyes in these narrow rooms, especially on Hogarth’s A Rake’s
Progress, the story of the fictional Tom Rakewell that comes to life in eight paintings. www.vam.ac.uk; www.handelhendrix.org; www.soane.org
Sir John Soanes' Home/museum
Hendrix's bedroom in Handel & Hendrix Museum
Ampersand Hotel, Science Tea