The Thames, Britain’s Great River – Part Six


“A mother is she who can take
the place of all others

but whose place
no one else can take.”

Gaspard Mermillod

“Life” by Ludovico Einaudi, performed by Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà (courtesy of Analekta):


“Prelude” by Giovanni Marradi (courtesy of Andreea Petcu):


“The loveliest masterpiece of
the heart of God
is the heart of a mother.”
St. Therese of Lisieux

“Reverie” by Claude Debussy (courtesy of David Harris):


Courtesy of Jason Hawkes Aerial Photography:

In this post, I want to show a few official places which would be of interest to many but are never on the list of tourist companies. One of the most elegant is the residence of the Speaker of the Commons. In case one my readers is not quite sure to whom I am referring – it is the person, who when things get too heated among the MPs in the House of Commons, bangs his gavel and shouts: ‘Order! Order!’

Courtesy of The Times and The Sunday Times:





The Speaker’s status had elevated over the last two centuries. This was reflected in the new residence, built after the 1834 fire. The new building was designed to ennoble the dignity of the office and enhance its status by providing the Speaker with a palace within a palace. Approached via a separate entrance in Speaker’s Court, flanked by panels carved with the Mace and national emblems in stained glass, a splendid ceremonial staircase leads to a magnificent suite of reception rooms.


At the time of rebuilding, it was stipulated that the style of its furnishings, fittings, and decorations would be in accordance with the best examples of the Tudor period. This was done very successfully. Lavish gilded coffered ceilings, panelling, stained-glass, floor tiles, elaborate Gothic chimneypieces, and widespread use of heraldry displaying the arms and armorial bearing of past Speakers combine to create a romantic evocation of the glories of the Speaker’s office.

Suite Bergamasque, L. 75 (Transcribed for Harp): IV. Passepied by Claude Debussy, performed by Xavier de Maistre:





The centrepiece of the entire enfilade of rooms is the State Bedroom. Until 1529 the Palace of Westminster was the principal royal residence, and the buildings played an important role in state ceremonials. It was customary for medieval monarchs to spend the night before their coronation in the palace. Although this practice had long fallen into disuse, a gorgeous state bed was provided, as a reference to past royal practice. Carved into the footboard are the royal arms, and its valance is embroidered with the emblems of the three kingdoms – the Thistle, the Tudor Rose, and the Shamrock. Because the Speaker’s House is in England, the Tudor Rose emblem is prominent on many features.


After the war and afterwards, such opulence became unfashionable among certain parts of the government. Unbelievably the State Bedroom was dismantled and sold off. It was rediscovered in a Welsh barn in 1985, purchased by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, and restored by the Victoria & Albert Museum. The bed and the bedroom were reconstructed, adjoining the Speaker’s Dining Room.


In the matching south pavilion is the Lord Chancellor’s residence with its superb River Room, restored in 1997-8, with dark green monogrammed Pugin wallpaper and a fine collection of loaned paintings and neo-classical sculpture.



Gymnopédie No. 3 by Erik Satie, performed by Sir James Galway and the London Symphony Orchestra:





Between 1682 and 1684, the American-born Sir George Downing, political opportunist, profiteer, and spy, employed Sir Christopher Wren to design a cul-de-sac of two-storey town houses between Whitehall and St James’s Park. Forty years later it was described as ‘a pretty, open place especially at the upper end where there are four or five very large and well-built houses fit for persons of honour and quality.’ In 1732 King George II presented two houses to Sir Robert Walpole, the Prime Minister at the time, who would only accept them if they could be used as an official residence for future First Lords of the Treasury, the title which remains engraved on the brass letterbox of the famous door.



Over the next 250 years, the fortunes of Downing Street waxed and waned. Following an IRA mortar attack in 1991, the entrance door was replaced in replica in blast-proof steel. The splendid, three-sided staircase, its chrome yellow walls lined with black and white portraits of each prime minister, leads to three inter-linked rooms. The Pillared Hall, with a portrait of Elizabeth I over the fireplace, created in 1796 is used to receive guests. The Terracotta Room, once Walpole’s dining room, has plasterwork incorporating a straw-carrying “thatcher,” a tribute to the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher. The White Drawing Room has a fine series of paintings by Turner and a bronze of Florence Nightingale.


The State Dining Room, completed by John Soane in 1826, has his characteristic shallow, starfish vault and ceiling, but double-height, creating a spacious, dark panelled room for formal entertainment overseen by a massive portrait of George II. Deep in the basement, the two-storey vaulted Great Kitchen of 1732 remains.


No 10 is also the official residence of the cat of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, a post currently occupied by Larry. As a civil servant, the tenure of the Chief Mouser of the Cabinet Office runs with the office of Prime Minister, not the incumbent, which provides a reassuring sense of continuity. His predecessor, Wilberforce, saw off four prime ministers.


Courtesy of Inside Edition:

Courtesy of AFP News Agency:



Recently, a new member of the government arrived at No 10, a puppy called Dilyn. He was rescued from a farm, due to be put down because of his jaw deformity. This was corrected by a vet, and Dilyn now leads a happy life of luxury.



I Great George Street


The Institution of Civil Engineers was the world’s first professional engineering body. Although a small group of Civil Engineers was founded in 1771, it was not until 1818 that the present institution was established, at the Kendal Coffee House in Fleet Street. In 1839 the organisation moved to George Street. In 1910 a handsome new headquarters was created, the design conveying the confidence of the profession which was responsible for building Britain’s infrastructure throughout the 19th century, and this supreme self-assurance permeates the interior.


From the entrance hall, a grand Imperial staircase rises through to the first floor. A huge glass dome allows light to pour into the entire ground floor. On the landing is a moving bronze war memorial flanked by mourning female figures.



At ground floor level are suites of meeting rooms panelled in a late 17th-century style, stained glass, and engraved glass panels. In the library, the chimneypiece has carved consoles in the form of gigantic bearded heads.


The principal first-floor space is the Great Hall, a vast chamber lined with giant pilasters in the style of Louis XVI. At the centre of the ornate ceiling is a fascinating war memorial mural depicting an allegorical female figure swathed in the Union Jack with the background depicting a biplane and representatives of all the armed forces and services from the First World War, painted in 1920 by Charles Sims. He had been an official war artist, but the appalling scenes he witnessed, and the death of his son in 1914, induced insomnia, among other mental problems, culminating in his suicide by drowning in the River Tweed in 1928. Another victim of war. We now are determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Can we hope?





Courtesy of Institution of Civil Engineers:


89 – 91 Pall Mall


With its own rifle range, Turkish baths and spectacular indoor swimming pool resembling some exotic set from a Cecil B DeMille epic, the Royal Automobile Club was the last and grandest expression of the great age of of club building.  Its flamboyant French facade in the style of Louis XIV is unlike any of the other gentlemen’s clubs, which took their architectural inspiration from Grecian antiquity, or the elegant palazzi of Rome and Venice.


The Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland was founded in 1897 by Frederick Richard Simms as “a Society of Encouragement for the motoring movement and the motor and allied industries in the British Empire.” The building was created by an army of French craftsmen, sculptors and blacksmiths who were brought across the Channel to impart an authentic Parisian quality to the entire building.


Inside is a vision of Edwardian opulence with massive top-lit oval vestibule in Louis XV style lined in French stuc and surrounded by a gallery at first floor level. Immediately beyond, overlooking the garden, is the former lounge (now a restaurant) decorated with a sky-painted ceiling and a stage and musicians’ gallery at opposing ends. The members’ dining room and the billiard room have elegant ceilings. The great smoking room runs from front to back with the coffered ceiling and entablature of gryphons.




In the basement, lit by torches, is the famous Byzantine swimming pool overlooked from a niche on the stairs by a fine bronze sculpture of a sea goddess. The swimming pool is lined with Sicilian marble and surrounded by massive Doric columns covered in shimmering blue and gold mosaics. During the war, Prince Olav of  Norway, General Sikorski and General de Gaulle were all regulars.


“Ave Maria (Méditation sur le Premier Prélude de Piano de S. Bach)” by Charles Gounod, performed by Rusanda Panfili:


Pall  Mall



Currently the headquarters of the Commonwealth Secretariat, Marlborough House remains a royal palace, its last resident being Queen Mary, who is commemorated by a simple stone plaque on the garden wall facing The Mall.


The house was built by Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, in the garden of St James’s Palace. Designed by Christopher Wren and his son, it was described at the time as ‘in every way answerable to the grandeur of its master.’ Approached by a broad flight of steps, and faced in red Dutch bricks, originally it compromised two tall storeys with a crowning stone cornice and balustrade over a basement.



In 1817, the Crown reacquired the property, and from 1853 to 1861 it was used as the National Art Training School, the forerunner of the Royal College of Art. The future King George V was born here in 1865. In the garden is Queen Alexandra’s poignant pet cemetery, and Queen Mary’s thatched revolving summer house.


The great glory of Marlborough House is its lavish interior, which reflects the changing fashions of each period of its use. The main entrance leads to a double height cube – the Saloon around which runs a balcony, over which are paintings of the Battle of Blenheim. On the ceiling above is a cupola surrounded by paintings moved here in 1711 from the Queen’s House in Greenwich. They depict Peace, surrounded by the Liberal Arts and Virtues. Below are tapestries. To the west and east of the Saloon are two grand staircases with huge murals illustrating famous battles.








Above is one of the meeting rooms for Commonwealth events

The primary interest of the interior is the mural paintings which celebrate one of Britain’s greatest military commanders in his original London house, together with the historical associations with the Royal Court. Outside on the boundary wall to Marlborough Road is a profoundly moving bronze masterpiece, the Queen Alexandra Memorial.


Courtesy of Wonders of London:

See you next week for more unusual places!

As it will be Mothering Sunday this weekend, in honour and recognition of all mothers:

“For mothers are the first educators, the first mentors; and truly it is the mothers who determine the happiness, the future greatness, the courteous ways and learning and judgement, the understanding and the faith of their little ones.” Ba’hai faith

“Mama” by Andre Rieu (courtesy of dariusz gawryszek):


“Lullaby (Song of the Sandman)” by Enya (courtesy of hetorakelt):

56 thoughts on “The Thames, Britain’s Great River – Part Six

  1. Another fabulous chapter in this magical series. I love the pictures and the animals
    Lovely, Joanna

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I agree with the phrase mentioned, that is why mother is only one.

    Beautiful photographs.

    Kind regards, Joanna.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Absolutely gorgeous as always, dear Joanna. I always learn so much from your fabulous post. The music below gave me chills. So beautiful .💕
    “Ave Maria (Méditation sur le Premier Prélude de Piano de S. Bach)” by Charles Gounod, performed by Rusanda Panfili

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Fine tour of elegant buildings. I wouldn’t mind going for a dip in that swimming pool right now.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow!!!! Love love love the pictures!!
    I am enjoying the read, Joanna🤍

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That first quote melted my heart. All those architects & paintings look so stunning. I don’t know why such places never included by tourist companies.

    Thanks to you for highlighting them. Have a happy weekend, Joanna.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Another exceptional post Joanna and you’ll be pleased to know that I haven’t been inside any of the places you’ve covered. I’m tempted to ask how you’ve been able to see them, but you may want to keep that to yourself 😊

    I found The Speaker’s House video fascinating, and I also liked your choice of music, the nature photos and reference to Mother’s Day.

    I can tell that you put a lot of work into your posts and I sincerely hope that this isn’t the last one on the River Thames and London.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Brilliant! I love it that you never forget to include the “little ones” 😸🐕. Enjoy your weekend 🌹💖💝💚🙋‍♂️

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A fascinating post, Joanna. That state bedroom is amazing, and since I’ve always loved the water, that swimming pool caught my eye. What a dream to have that in a home. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. The sixth part of the Thames series is again awesome, in which you have talked about some prominent places, but less visited, like Speaker’s House, 10 Downing Street, Institution of Civil Engineers, Royal Autombile Club and Marlborough House. The last three ones are entirely new for me. Thank you, Joanna for your minute details with amazing pictures that are really useful for those who have not visited London.

    Your reference to cat and puppy is so sweet. The question posed by you while referring to the death of son of Charles Sims is very relevant even this day, as we fail to learn a lesson from our history. Finally the coincidence! Your opening and closing quotes are on mothers and my poem today was also on the mother. Happy Mother’s Day!!

    Liked by 3 people

  11. You teach me more than I ever knew about the city of my birth! Great music and videos. I love swans. And of course cats and dogs, so wonderful to see them too. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. As always a great post Joanna! Ver well described!!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you, Jyothi, for your kind comment. Much appreciated.


    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thank you, Carolyn, for your wonderful comments! Greatly appreciated.
    Apologies for being late, my laptop charger had to be replaced.



  15. Dear Kaushal, my apologies for being late in reading your wonderful comments and not reading your posts; my laptop’s charger had to be replaced urgently. I have just received the replacement, and tomorrow I will first read your work. I am so glad that I could show something new! More to follow…


    Liked by 1 person

  16. Thank you, Lauren, for your kind comments. More interesting places coming soon…


    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thank you, Dear Ashley, for finding time to read and comment! More interesting facts to follow…
    Now you wrote the comment, I can relax! Thank you. Greatly appreciated.



  18. Thank you, Malc, for your generous comments! I am delighted that you have liked the places, and more coming soon!


    Liked by 1 person

  19. Thank you, Ritish, for your lovely comments. More to follow… I am a writer, but tourist companies are rarely run by writers. Your praise is greatly appreciated.



  20. Thank you, Sirishty, for your wonderfully enthusiastic comments! Much appreciated!


    Liked by 1 person

  21. Thank you for your lovely comments. Same for me as we have 20 degrees!


    Liked by 1 person

  22. Thank you, Dear Grace, for your wonderful comments!! Much appreciated!


    Liked by 1 person

  23. Thank you so much for reading and commenting on my post. Much, much appreciated!



  24. Thank you, Pat, for your lovely comments!! We both love animals, don’t we?



  25. My pleasure, dear Joanna.💕


  26. You’re welcome 😊


  27. You’re welcome 😊


  28. Yeah, that’s true.
    I hope they equally cares about these historic heritages.

    Have a good day, Joanna.


  29. It’s alright, Joanna! It happens at times, but I was a bit worried. You’re so considerate. Thanks for your comment. It’s always my pleasure to read your work. Looking forward to much more interesting facts and posts from you.


  30. Thank you, Kaushal, I didn’t want you to think that I have dropped dead! I am only happy to oblige!



  31. Another wonderful chapter in this magical series.
    I loved every part of it
    I had never heard the story of Dilyn, the puppy at No 10, who can now lead a happy life of luxury.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Thank you, Luisa, for your lovely comments! Dilyn won the lottery, and he knows it! More to follow and you will find the interesting facts there too…


    Liked by 1 person

  33. Fabulous photos and information Joanna. Of course the best bits were all about Larry the cat!

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Thank you, much appreciated,



  35. Thank you, Peter, for your kind comment. Greatly appreciated.


    Liked by 1 person

  36. Thanks a lot, Joanna
    Looking forward to the next section ❣️💕


  37. Thank you Joanna for sharing such a lovely and informative share. I enjoyed the tour of the impressive buildings. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  38. Thank you, Henrietta, for your kind comments. Greatly appreciated.


    Liked by 1 person

  39. This is beautiful.. the buildings the music … all of it, Joanna!

    Happy Mother’s day to you!


  40. Thank you, Cindy, for your wonderful comments! Greatly appreciated. Happy Mother’s Day to you!


    Liked by 2 people

  41. You’re so welcome and thank you so much!💕🙏


  42. A beautiful Mother’s Day post, JoAnna, a true feast for the senses! The flowers and the music are enchanting. I love the art you have chosen, especially the touching portraits of mothers. Thank you for always including animals. Larry is a charmer! Wishing you a Happy Mother’s Day! ❤


  43. Thank you, Cheryl, for your wonderful comments! If possible, I will always include animals as they are an important part of nature. Thank you for noticing the beautiful portraits of mothers.
    Not all readers noticed or rather mentioned. And you are right, Larry is a star!
    Thank you again, Cheryl. Greatly appreciated.



  44. Thank you so much… I know that read and listened to your previous post but got distracted and didn’t comment. I am sorry I must go back to it I look forward to each post so much.

    In this post I enjoyed the piano pieces. I had to sell my piano because we are moving and it was a wonderful substitute listening to the music. I also so enjoyed reading about the speaker in the house and especially about Larry! I love cats and finding more about Larry was very heartening and entertaining. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  45. Thank you, Morag for your wonderful comments! Everyone, well, almost, loves Larry! By the way, the speaker of the house, loves animals, and they all live with him and his family in splendor, including his parrot, called Boris, who likes sitting on his head, also, there are a few dogs and cats sharing a sofa with him. I am very happy that you liked the music.



  46. I love the poems about mothers and the pictures are beautiful


  47. Thank you, Mariana, for your kind and so prompt commenting. I greatly appreciate your words! I do hope I will hear from you again.



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