Home to Queen Elizabeth II, the British Library and some of the best art galleries and museums in the world, London is at the top of many academic travel itineraries. For specialists in court studies, it is interesting to see living palaces, such as Buckingham Palace, Kensington, Windsor and St. James’s, alongside historic palaces fully open to the public, such as Hampton Court and the Queen’s House, Greenwich, and the Banqueting House at Whitehall. An array of country houses are within easy reach, many still inhabited by their early modern courtiers’ noble descendants.
Palaces and art collections
London’s public art collections are all free to the public and several have excellent libraries. For artworks and objects related to the early modern court, the must-see collections include the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the V&A and Wallace Collection. Exhibitions at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace and the Royal Academy, regularly feature artworks related to the early modern court. The 2017-2018 season is particularly promising in this respect, with the Charles II: Art and Power exhibition opening at the Queen’s Gallery on 8 December (through 13 May 2018) and the Charles I: Collector of Genius exhibition opening at the Royal Academy in January 2018.
- The Heinz Library and Archive at the National Portrait Gallery houses an excellent photo archive of British portrait subjects as well as a vast collections of other resources related to British portraiture. Check the website for hours and make an appointment in advance: http://www.npg.org.uk/research/archive.php
- The National Art Library is situated inside the V&A: http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/n/national-art-library/
- The Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum is a brilliant resource, though you will need to make an appointment and specify which works on paper you would like to see: http://www.britishmuseum.org/about_us/departments/prints_and_drawings.aspx
The main auction houses display artworks and objects associated with early modern courts at their Old Master Sales in July and December.
It is also a treat to visit the picture dealers Phillip Mould and Mark Weiss, whose galleries include a profusion of court portraits:
- Other remarkable collections include the Courtauld Institute Gallery, the Museum of London and the Wellcome Collection.
There are a number of spectacular country houses suitable for a day-trip from London. Ham House is a short drive from Richmond, and has rich, well preserved interiors: Knole, Wilton and Boughton all have outstanding collections of artworks and furnishings. Further afield, Chatsworth (pictured below) and Hardwick Hall were once both owned and occupied by the Earls of Devonshire, although the latter is now held by the National Trust. Both houses have impressive pieces of furniture, textiles, porcelain, and paintings from the Tudor and Stuart periods (as well as later additions), and Hardwick is particularly notable for housing one of the most extensive collections of embroideries, fabrics, and tapestries in England. It is also unusual in that the majority of these pieces can be identified in the 1601 inventory of the house.
For short research visits during the UK summer, Duchy House, the Courtauld Institute of Art’s student accommodation, is a good option. Its proximity on the Strand, just steps from Somerset House, means easy access to the Courtauld’s excellent library and art gallery and a 10-minute walk from the National Gallery. For a day trip to Knole, the train leaves just up the road at Charing Cross. See here: http://courtauld.ac.uk/study/student-life/accommodation/duchy-house-summer
If you are working at the British Library, Institute of Historical Research, Warburg Institute or Senate House, Goodenough Club, 23 Mecklenburgh Square, is a good base in Bloomsbury. http://club.goodenough.ac.uk/
For the National Archives, there are well appointed apartments nearby at Clarendon House. https://clarendonlondon.com/serviced-apartments-london/kew/clarendon-house-gardens/
There are a host of exquisite boutique hotels near the main palaces, though these are more expensive:
- Buckingham Palace, Rubens at the Palace: https://www.rubenshotel.com/
- Kensington Palace, The Laslett Hotel: http://www.living-rooms.co.uk/hotel/the-laslett
- St. James’s, Dukes Hotel https://www.dukeshotel.com/
- Somerset House, Henrietta Hotel https://www.henriettahotel.com/
Libraries, courses, seminars.
Many London-based academics prefer to work in libraries rather than their own homes or offices, and many of these spaces are readily accessible to visiting researchers. Check the individual libraries as some may require you to have a letter of introduction. Some of the favoured spots in central London include:
- The British Library: https://www.bl.uk
- Institute of Historical Research: http://www.history.ac.uk/library
- The London Library: http://www.londonlibrary.co.uk/
- The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art Library: http://www.paul-mellon-centre.ac.uk/collections/library
- Senate House: http://www.senatehouselibrary.ac.uk
- The Warburg Institute: http://warburg.sas.ac.uk/library
Seminars on a wide range of early modern topics are run through the Society of Court Studies and the Institute of Historical Research. These are free, and as well as providing inspiration, are a great opportunity for local networking.
- The Society of Court Studies: http://www.courtstudies.org/
- Institute of Historic Research: http://www.history.ac.uk/
Short, specialised courses on dress history and construction are run by the Royal School of Needlework (Hampton Court) and The School of Historical Dress (Lambeth). These courses are not free, but they are extremely worthwhile as they are run by experts and offer the wonderful (and rare) opportunity to recreate historic garments and learn historic stitching. These courses usually sell out quickly, so it is advisable to sign up well in advance if possible.
- Royal School of Needlework: http://www.royal-needlework.org.uk/courses
- The School of Historical Dress: http://theschoolofhistoricaldress.org.uk/
Food and coffee
There are places to eat and drink in all the main academic libraries as well as the art galleries. There are appealing options nearby, too.
The British Library
the small coffee shop by the main doors (Origin Coffee) makes excellent coffee, and they have a larger shop just outside the library on Euston Road. There are also two further cafés in the library itself (levels 2 and 3), although the surrounding space gets very busy. There is also a range of inexpensive options nearby in St Pancras station, such as Leon.
For the lively atmosphere and good food and coffee, opt for Fernandez and Wells, which is just inside the courtyard at Somerset House on the left.
The National Archives
There is a canteen-style, self-serve, inexpensive restaurant as well as a small café for coffee and tea. However, many people bring in lunch that they have picked up en route (we tend to get lunch at Wholefoods in Piccadilly Circus or Kensington High Street, Pret a Manger or Itsu). The closest coffee shop is Starbucks and that’s a 15-minute walk in Kew, so remember to collect on your way in if that’s what you fancy.
The National Gallery and The National Portrait Gallery
There are two cafés inside the National Gallery, which offer an array of cabinet and cooked food as well as the requisite tea and coffee. There is a Pret just across the road, and there are a host of good options in nearby Covent Garden.
Favourite spaces & eating places
- Berber & Q, Haggerston: http://www.berberandq.com
- Brawn, Bethnal Green: http://www.brawn.co
- Ciao Bella, Bloomsbury: http://ciaobellarestaurant.co.uk/
- Legs, Hackney: http://www.legsrestaurant.com
- L’entrepôt, Dalston: http://lentrepot.co.uk
- Mildred’s, Soho: http://www.mildreds.co.uk/
- Noble Rot, Bloomsbury: http://noblerot.co.uk
- Osteria Basilico, Notting Hill: http://osteriabasilico.co.uk/home
- Ottolenghi, Notting Hill and Islington: https://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/
- Perilla, Newington Green: http://www.perilladining.co.uk
- Rochelle Canteen, Shoreditch: http://www.arnoldandhenderson.com
- Allpress, Dalston: https://uk.allpressespresso.com/discover/london-roastery
- Doppio, Kentish Town and Shoreditch: http://doppiocoffee.co.uk
- Flat White, Soho: http://www.flatwhitesoho.co.uk
- London Review Bookshop, Bloomsbury: http://www.londonreviewbookshop.co.uk/
- Store St Espresso, Bloomsbury: http://www.storestespresso.co.uk
Special shops and haunts
- The Button Queen, Marylebone: http://www.thebuttonqueen.co.uk/
- Daunt Books, Marylebone: https://www.dauntbooks.co.uk/marylebone/
- The Inns of Court, and Temple Church: http://www.templechurch.com/history-2/
- Liberty, Regent Street: http://www.libertylondon.com/
- Fara Retromania, near Victoria Station: http://www.faracharityshops.org/specialist_shops/retromania_fara.php
- Provisions (wine and cheese specialists), Holloway: http://www.provisionslondon.co.uk
- Royal College of Physicians’ Museum Regents Park: https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/about-rcp/venue/museum
- St Ethelreda’s Church, Holborn: http://www.stetheldreda.com/
- Thomas Heneage Art Books, St. James’s: http://www.heneage.com/