One of the first places we visited was the British Museum. This museum has existed since 1753. Some of the items the museum contains were originally the property of one man, Sir Hans Sloane. Throughout his life, he collected many things he thought would be of educational benefit or interest to the people of England, so in his will he left the entire collection of 71,000 objects to King George II. His one condition was that his heirs be paid 20,000 pounds.
King George II added to the collection left by Sir Hans, and in 1759 the museum was opened to visits by the people of England. Since then, the museum has only closed during World War I and World War II. It has added to the original collection, increased the hours during which it’s open, and now millions of people visit each year.
We also paid a visit to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. This art gallery, open all but four days every year, was established in 1824 with only a handful of paintings. It’s grown a lot since then, and now houses well over 2000 works of art. The original gallery was contained in a townhouse in the Pall Mall area, and consisted only of paintings owned by the homeowner, John Julias Angerstein. The House of Commons thought the art owned by Angerstein would benefit the residents of the country as a whole, so purchased the collection from him with the intention of expanding. But for over a decade, until 1838 when the present gallery building opened, all of the paintings remained in Angerstein’s home.
We also took in a performance of Les Miserables, which had been playing in the same theater for over a decade. It was very enjoyable, but we felt like to get a real picture of England, we would have to travel outside of the city.
We rented a car so we could tour some of the castles in the area. My favorite was Leeds Castle. Leeds Castle includes a hedge maze with a turret at the center. From the turret, you can look down at the maze and see anyone coming in behind you. You can also go down to the “grotto,” a manmade tunnel containing a running stream, seashells, and stone figures--including one huge, looming face spouting water into a fountain.