I’m back to UK brands this month, and I would like to share the delights of the following brand with you:
The store is run by jewellery designer Sarah in Brighton. What I love about this store is the range, from affordable enamel pins and wooden brooches to more pricey fine jewellery pieces with precious stones. However, whatever the price, each piece of Rock Cakes jewellery is unusual and quirky.
On the same day I visited the Supreme Court, I decided to pop into the National Portrait Gallery. I’ve been there a few times in the past, but it’s been a while since I’ve gone through it thoroughly.
The NPG was founded in 1856 and was the first portrait gallery in the world. It moved to its current site in 1896. As the name suggests, it contains portraits of the great and the good from the late medieval period onwards – the pictures have been chosen for the significance of the sitter, not the artist. It’s interesting to see how this changes over time: in the sixteenth century it’s mainly monarchs, with the odd courtier; later on the litany includes scientists, artists and poets, and the modern day portraits include celebrities: singers, actors and sports people.
The Gallery is arranged chronologically from the top to the bottom, so I headed to the top floor via the escalator. The first things you see are casts from the tombs of medieval kings, this from a time before portraits were common. From then it’s straight into the Tudor era, starting with a few Tudor-era portraits of medieval kings. I still remember the first time I saw this part of the Gallery: I was fresh from studying the Tudors at A Level, and it was amazing to see the paintings I’d only ever seen in textbooks in the flesh. Queen Elizabeth has a strong presence but there are also famous pictures of Henry VIII and Mary, Queen of Scots.
Paintings dating from the Jacobean period onwards cover monarchs as well as famous scientists, writers and artists, including the famous Chandos portrait of Shakespeare and one of my favourites – a dramatic painting of poet John Donne. I naturally gravitate towards the writers – I love the picture of Lord Byron towards the end of these galleries.
Works from the Victorian era can be found on the floor below; these are very, well, Victorian. There is a room for politicians and a corridor for famous public faces, plus many representations of Queen Victoria herself. My favourite room here is the writers’ room, which contains Branwell Brontë’s painting of his three famous sisters, as well as a picture of another of my favourite authors, Thomas Hardy. Another of my favourites is the dashing portrait of a young Lord Tennyson.
The early twentieth-century gallery has recently been refurbished, and it was good to see it looking refreshed. In general this isn’t my favourite artistic period, but there are some interesting portraits here of the likes of Virginia Woolf, Sir Ernest Shackleton and Sir Winston Churchill.
The Gallery hosts regular special exhibitions (for which a charge is made) and offers late-night opening on Thursdays and Fridays. It’s smaller and a bit less daunting than the nearby National Gallery, but it’s well worth a visit.
Not so long ago I found out that you could book tours of the Supreme Court, which take place on Friday afternoons. I had some holiday to use up, so I booked the day off and booked myself onto a tour. I arrived at Parliament Square in plenty of time, and got through security in time to have a look around the exhibition before going off on my tour.
I’d assumed that the Supreme Court had been around for ages, but that isn’t the case at all: in fact, it’s a fairly modern institution. It was established in 2009, taking over judicial authority from the House of Lords. It is the final court of appeal for all United Kingdom civil cases, and criminal cases from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The most famous case in its short history occurred last year, when Gina Miller and other campaigners challenged the government, arguing that Parliament should have a vote on Article 50. The public are able to watch cases as they are heard; this particular case was the busiest ever, with queues forming outside the building.
The Supreme Court is housed in what was once the Middlesex Guildhall, designed by J. S. Gibson in 1912-1913. It is Grade II* listed, but has been renovated to fit in with what it’s now used for.
This is housed in the basement, in an area which used to be taken up by prisoners’ cells when the building was a Crown Court. It has information about the history and role of the Supreme Court, as well as the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and how the two courts fit into the legal systems of the countries they serve.
The tour took us round all three courtrooms and the library. The first courtroom is the largest and in some ways the grandest; it still has many of the original features. The second is very different, with a much more modern appearance. Curtains and carpets have been designed specially for the building, showcasing the emblem which is displayed on the wall. This reflects the four nations which make up the United Kingdom: a rose for England, a thistle for Scotland, leek leaves for Wales and a flax flower for Northern Ireland.
The third courtroom is generally reserved for the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which is the highest court of appeal for many independent Commonwealth nations or Crown dependencies which are too small to have their own.
The library is impressive, with a large array of books and walls covered with quotes relevant to law.
I really enjoyed my tour, and would definitely recommend it.
Address: Parliament Square, Little George Street, Westminster, London, SW1P 3BD
We gathered at the entrance by the war memorial and collected some lanterns to take with us on our walk. And we needed them – there are no other lights in the cemetery, and even with the lanterns it was pretty dark. (I apologise for the poor quality of these photographs – I tried with and without flash and they were both pretty dire). Our guides escorted us round the cemetery, stopping at various points to tell us about various notable people buried here.
Dr Rees Ralph Llewellyn – A doctor who performed the autopsy on Mary Ann Nichols, generally considered the first victim of Jack the Ripper
Towards the end of the tour we enjoyed some soul cakes of the kind eaten at Victorian Hallowe’en – they were baked to an original Victorian recipe and were yummy – spicy and delicious. We learned about nineteenth century Hallowe’en traditions and superstitions.
Finally, we were treated to an original Victorian music hall song, originally sung by Alexander Hurley, and based on a real event involving a strongman defeated by a daring rival.
Sadly I didn’t see any bats on the walk – perhaps because they were all frightened off by the fireworks. However it was a fascinating and atmospheric walk.