The London Series – The First Day

“Stowed into taxi and away, a most interesting drive – over Old Father Thames – past Queen Victoria Statue, House of Commons – saw Big Ben. St James Park and then Buckingham Palace. It was 11am, the guard was changing, and the taxi man stopped, we got out and stood in the sunshine to hear the band and see the marching men.”

That was a an excerpt from my Great Aunt Grace’s travel journal from 30th September 1938 after her sister, Olive & Grace had arrived in London. They had travelled by ship from New Zealand for their grand tour of the UK during 1938/1939.

Little did I know that 72 years later, my sister & I would have a rather similar first day on our first trip to London in November 2010.

On our first real day in London, my sister and I had alighted in Piccadilly Circus after catching the tube from our accommodation in Wembly, and couldn’t believe our eyes.. We were in LONDON!! It’s nearly 6 years later, but I remember it so well.

We went past New Zealand House (a place our great aunts frequented – at the time, it was the only way to get news to/from home). Of course the building now would be completely different to the one back in the late 30’s – I actually think it’s now in a different part of the city too.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was looking up The Mall towards Buckingham Palace 

We then walked a little further and found ourselves in St James Park, in awe of the squirrels running around – we don’t have those things in New Zealand! Being complete travel novices, we didn’t actually really know where we were but then we saw a small crowd forming and wandered over to see what it was all about.

View of Horse Guards Parade from St James Park 

Changing of the Horse Guards at Horse Guards Parade – not quite the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace that our great aunts saw, but still – pretty darn close.

Changing of the Horse Guards

After the guards, we kept walking and found ourselves on Great George Street – my sister & I had a bit of a laugh about this. Our Great Grandfather on my dad’s side was called George. To this day, we call him Great George – I think he would get a kick out of that.

We kept walking and suddenly there it was, Big Ben.. or to be precise the Elizabeth Tower (we all know that Big Ben is the name of the bell right?) and the Houses of Parliament.

Houses of Parliament & The Elizabeth Tower (better known as Big Ben) 

It’s kind of weird reading Grace’s diary.

There are loads of things in there that we did on that trip that we didn’t even know Grace & her sister Olive had done so many years before – like the day they visited St Paul’s Cathedral and the Temple Church in one day .. that kind of blew me away because I had visited those two places on the same day during one of my days alone in London.

The stunning St Paul’s Cathedral

Or the time they have visited Corfe Castle, during their trip around England. I hadn’t even heard of Corfe Castle until I was planning that 2010 trip but my sister & I had added it to our itinerary during out drive around the South East of England.

Corfe Castle
Corfe Castle 

My sister said that when she was reading the diary for the first time, Grace actually reminded her of me. I take that as a massive compliment. I would love to have met Grace and talked to her about her travels.. I wonder if that’s where I get my love travel from.

What I would love to do is completely retrace Grace & Olive’s steps – without the boat journey from New Zealand & the outbreak of WW2 of course! Plus is gives me yet another excuse to visit the UK – not that I really needed one 🙂

Have you have retraced your families travels?



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