News & Events – London Visits (Archive 2017 & Earlier)

Postal Museum and Mail Rail

Photos taken by members of the group:

Theatre Royal and Sarastro Restaurant – Wednesday 29th November

I took the largest number of members (30) on this trip as so many members wanted to go. I am pleased to report that I didn’t lose anyone, although Solveig gave me a scare on the tube. Thank goodness we found you were on it all along Solveig as it would have spoilt my unbroken record if I’d lost you.

After coffee at the Natural Kitchen, Pepys Street, we all managed to board one bus, which took us to The Strand, where we then walked to the Theatre Royal. As I had booked all 30 places, (the maximum allowed) I didn’t think I needed to worry about being a few minutes late, but was quite wrong! David our first tour guide was obviously concerned, but had thankfully waited those extra minutes for us. Our tour started in the foyer with David giving us some entertaining facts about the theatre. We then moved through the doors into the area with stairs leading to the auditorium, where we saw some impressive statues to the likes of David Garrick, who became manager in 1747 and shaped many theatre reforms in his day and was largely responsible for theatre as we know it today. Whilst David was speaking Mrs. Mop came along dusting the stairs and interrupted him. She took over as he had to ‘go back to the office’, so we were given more interesting stories about the theatre.

Mrs Mop then took us into the ante room from where you could see the two royal boxes, although we weren’t allowed in there but I did managed to perch my bottom in the chair that the queen would have sat in on royal visits, before we moved into the theatre itself.

Here David re-joined us, dressed as the 18th century playwright Richard Sheridan, playwright of The School for Scandal, which was performed at the theatre in 1777. Whilst David (Richard) was speaking, the orchestra were having a rehearsal for the matinee performance and two girls were also doing a sound check on the body mics. This caused some hilarity as David, being the obvious performer that he was, seemed very good at the ad-lib and quipped during some of the sounds, making us all hoot with laughter.

Nell Gwynne then joined us for a tour into the tunnels under the theatre, with more interesting facts. Finally David re-joined us to take us under the stage to have a look at all of the wizardry that is used these days and to view the original workings that are preserved there.

After our tour we went off to the Sarastro Restaurant, Drury Lane, for a delicious 2 course lunch, with the added bonus of particularly colourful and entertaining toilets, the photos of which are too risqué to publish!

Thanks to all the members for making this a day to remember.



With a mixture of anticipation and apprehension (“it will be pretty dusty and dirty in the factory”), 17 members of the group lined up for an incredibly interesting 90 minute tour of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. This is Britain’s oldest manufacturing company according to the Guinness Book of Records, having been started in 1570, when Elizabeth I was on the throne! The foundry has made some incredible bells, going to destinations all over the world, including of course the iconic Big Ben, and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.

At 1.15 precisely, just as the carillon of 11 bells had sounded in the little courtyard where our tour began, we heard about the history of the Grade II listed building (which has now been acquired by developers with the rest of the other old buildings on the block). Passing the Burmese temple bell into the oldest part of the factory, we noted the template of Big Ben appended to the main wall. The factory manager, our very able guide, knew all the processes needed to make new bells and the history of bell making. He told us all about re-working of old bells, the tuning process (bells, once tuned never go out of tune, but they can be tweaked), and refurbishing of bells. He took us through all the processes from making the mould (using red sand, fairly old horse manure, and goat hair), to using the wooden templates (made on the premises), to pouring the ore to cast the bell (once every 3 weeks on a Friday). He also told us about the blacksmith making the iron clappers and the manufacturing of hand bell sets.

On the top floor he showed us where the carpenters work on the circular rigs on which the bells are mounted and where the bell pulls go round. There were many small plaques honouring previous workers, giving their date of death and age. We noted only one lady, Miss Wem, who was a member of the office staff.

We had a fascinating afternoon, and the time whizzed by. Sadly, we eventually realised, this is the end of the line for the foundry. It is closing in May – the owner is retiring, with no one wanting to take over. Some of the equipment will go into museums, maybe some will go to the only other bell foundry in the UK – Taylors in Loughborough – and the staff of 24 – who knows – some will retire, but others like the factory manager, will go into something else. He quite fancies being a London guide, I believe.

After an obligatory checking over of the little shop, we all went on our various paths, some to check out Brick Lane and its markets, others to meet family, and others to go home. Another lovely trip organised by Lorna.

Written by Barbara Santarelli


Houses of Parliament

Have a look at the photos taken during our recent tour of the Houses of Parliament, followed by a delightful Thames cruise.


Eltham Palace

Recently, our U3A members went by coach to Eltham Palace.

Eltham Palace is a former 13th century medieval royal palace that eventually became neglected as it was thought to be too far from the River Thames to be used by the royal household.

It was acquired by Stephen and Virginia Courtauld in 1933 and rebuilt as an ultra modern Art Deco home. No expense was spared to provide the couple with a home where they could entertain their friends.

As we were a large party we split into 2 groups to tour the grounds and have a guided tour of the house. The gardens were full of delightful surprises: a walled garden, a stupendous rockery, parts of the old remains of the original palace, a rose garden, beautiful shrubs and an amazing view of the City of London. The medieval hall that remains is prominent as you circle the palace.

The Art Deco house is a wonder. Built on the model of a cruise liner and circular in design, it was decorated and furnished with all the glamour and elegance of the times. It is innovative in design, in that the original Hall is part of the house. Our tour guide was most informative and the contents that remain tell us much about the character of the unusual owners.

It was a superb day out, the weather was idyllic. If you have not been, I thoroughly recommend a visit!

Written by Frances Devereaux


Hampton Court Palace

Wednesday 22nd July – Visit by London Visits Groups 1 and 2

The day arrived and the weather forecast looked promising, with only a hint of a possible shower. On arrival at Hampton Court Palace, most people headed straight to the nearest café for refreshments.

Base Court was the first stopping place once we had entered through the archway. This area acted as an open-air lobby, where Henry VIII’s guests were greeted by court officials. A replica of a 4 metre tall fountain was the centrepiece of this area and runs with red or white wine at weekends, as it did in Tudor times when festivals or celebrations were held.

Most people visited Henry VIII’s apartments, and they were very impressive. We began in the Great Hall where we watched a rehearsal of Macbeth (Time Play). This hall displayed Henry’s most splendid tapestries – The Story of Abraham. Moving through the apartments we visited the Horn Room, the Great Watching Chamber, Page’s Chamber and Haunted Gallery, arriving at the top of the Queen’s staircase. We also saw a replica of Henry’s crown in the Royal pew, and the Chapel Royal with its magnificent ceiling.

The State apartments of George III contained an impressive Guards Room containing a vast collection of weaponry. These apartments were very interesting to walk through and gave a good idea of life in the times. There was a good view out of the windows over the Privy Garden.

Some people managed to visit the Young Henry exhibition and the historical gardens, which ran down to the River Thames, but thankfully nobody got drenched in the heavier than expected rainfall.

I don’t expect anyone saw everything in our visit as there was so much to see. We left Hampton Court Palace at 4.30pm and found that our driver Ken was very knowledgeable about the roads and traffic as he avoided all of the major hold-ups on the way home. It was a very enjoyable day out.

Lorna Reeve


Kensington Palace

The inaugural visit for this new group took place on 24th June, 2015 – a lovely warm, sunny day. A small party travelled to London by train and tube and after a refreshing coffee and pastry proceeded to Kensington Palace. This wonderful building has been home to members of the Royal Family since 1689 and is today divided into two – a private wing where members of the wider royal family live, and the historic state apartments, which we visited.

The rooms open to the public house four unique and individual displays:-

The Queen’s State Apartments created for Mary II by her husband William III in the 17th century where they were able to spend time away from the hustle and bustle of the court.

The King’s State Apartments once the glittering court of George II and Queen Caroline where the king would receive petitions from ordinary citizens.

Rooms where Queen Victoria spent her childhood and became Queen. These contain an exhibition featuring many personal objects and extracts from her diaries and letters and explore the different roles she played during her life. It was here that the new 18 year old Queen held her first Privy Council just a few hours after learning that she was the monarch.

An exhibition of costumes worn by the modern royals, including exquisite dresses from HM Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret and, of course, Princess Diana.

After further refreshments in the cafeteria, we took a stroll around the Palace grounds which contain a beautiful sunken garden.

This day out proved to be a very enjoyable first visit.

Pat & John Wickham