Sunday, December 20, 2009

On the thirteenth day of Christmas...

....we celebrated Christmas with M&M before they headed back to the US for Christmas with the families.  They will represent the London contigency this year since the Budman and I are staying in London during the holidays.  Yes, we will miss seeing family and friends, but we will also enjoy seeing the city during this festive time of year and getting a little R&R.  Plus, sleeping in our own bed for the next 2-3 weeks is quite appealing.

So, after concluding dinner, the Budman and I headed alone (Mike was ill so they opted out of iceskating) to catch an evening skating session at Somerset House.  Somerset House is a spectacular neo-classical building in the heart of London, sitting between the Strand and the River Thames. During the winter months, an iceskating rink appears for Londoners.

Somerset House Ice Skating 1209 002

What's this history of this place?  Here it is: When Henry VIII died in 1547, his son, Edward VI, was still too young to ascend the throne. Edward Seymour, the boy's ambitious and successful uncle, seized this opportunity and had himself created Lord Protector and Duke of Somerset. The new Duke and Protector, "desirous of possessing a residence suitable to his high rank", was determined to build himself a palace. The Duke already owned land on a prime site between the Thames and the Strand; an important thoroughfare linking the Tower of London to the east and the Palace of Whitehall and Westminster to the west. It was here that he began building his great mansion, Somerset House, in 1547. However, clearing the site required the demolition of a number of existing churches and chapels. By 1551 Somerset House was virtually complete, having cost over £10,000 to build.

Although he had commissioned one of the most influential buildings of the English Renaissance, the Duke had little opportunity to enjoy Somerset House. In 1551, his opponents had him arrested again and tried for the much more serious crime of treason. This time there was no escape. The Duke of Somerset, Lord Protector of England, was executed on Tower Hill in January 1552. From there, Somerset House passed into the hands of the Crown including:

*  Elizabeth I lived here during the months leading up to her asecnsion to the throne
*  Both James I as well as Charles I gave Somerset House to their queens for their own private use
*  During the Civil War, Somerset House was used as quarters for General Fairfax who commanded the Parliamentary Army
*  Oliver Cromwell's body lie in state here

Many architects' hands touched this building, evolving it throughout the centuries; finally, a new Somerset House was built on this site and reflects the architecture we see today. 

Makes me wonder, what would English Royalty make of the fact that it is home to an iceskating rink during the holidays?  We sure enjoyed it.

Somerset House Ice Skating 1209 011

Somerset House Ice Skating 1209 012

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