This was a splendid reunion! Great company, activities, hotel, and weather! Amazingly, we barely saw a cloud the entire weekend. But most importantly, it was a chance to meet with former colleagues and long-time friends. Despite the prophets of doom, on Friday 13th May, some 70 plus members of the British Chapter of the 1818 Society and their friends met in Winchester, the ‘City of Kings’ and the Saxon capital of England. Members travelled from around the UK, the Isle of Man, and also Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the USA. We stayed in the Hotel Mercure Wessex, centrally located in the grounds of Winchester’s historic Cathedral.
The first day, members enjoyed walking tours of the centre of town – including the Great Hall where King Arthur’s ‘legendary’ table hangs, the famous Winchester Cathedral grounds, the historic medieval city gates, Winchester City Mill, St Swithun’s (England’s smallest church) and Winchester College, which has been educating boys continuously since around 1382! Other members enjoyed Evensong in the Cathedral with its magnificent male choir. Listening to the choir, one can only reflect on the lives of the young choristers who are scholarship ‘boarders’ in the Pilgrims School on the Cathedral grounds and are required to sing in six services a week. On Saturday, we ventured by bus and ferry across the Solent to the Isle of Wight where we visited Osborne House, the summer home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and their nine children. Of Osborne House, Queen Victoria said “It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot” and few would disagree.
Described as a cottage, the house is in fact considerably larger than the White House. After being donated to the nation by her son, Edward, after her death, the House served as a convalescent home until the early 2000’s and has only recently been restored to its original state and opened to the public. On entering the front hall, one faces a canon – placed there at the Queen’s behest. Victorian humour perhaps?
Then we passed by the enormous collection of paintings and sculptures acquired by the royal couple in their personal capacity, then on to the Queen’s bedroom (and bathroom), the side by side desks of the Queen and Prince Albert and the magnificently restored Durbar room with the amazingly beautiful carved wood panels by Bhai Ram Singh. Indian décor was all the rage at the time. All enjoyed the recently opened Swiss Cottage, ‘built’ by Prince Albert as the children’s play house (read substantial, detached 3 BR house with multiple reception rooms and grounds).Prince Albert wanted the children to know how to survive and so here they learned to cook and sew, entertain and even garden. Each child had its own vegetable patch and wheelbarrow and grew identical crops – under the ‘supervision of their gardener’ which they then sold to Prince Albert at market prices.
But for many, the highlight of Osborne House was the Queen’s private beach and especially, her bathing machine. Prince Albert believed sea water to be healthy and encouraged the Queen to bathe. Apparently on the first occasion, especially, her bathing machine. Prince Albert believed sea water to be healthy and encouraged the Queen to bathe. Apparently on the first occasion, the Queen was delighted by the refreshing waters but felt suffocated when she put her head under water! Unlike most bathing machines of the era which were horse drawn, the Queen’s machine was drawn into the water by a series of winches. Having been used as a chicken shed until recently, this too has now been restored.
In the evening, following welcome cocktails, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner followed by Sir Sebastian Anstruther’s talk on the trials and tribulations of the recently established South Downs National Park, on which Winchester borders.
Sir Sebastian is a committed organic farmer with an estate nearby of some 3000 acres. It would have been interesting to spend more time discussing the issues of sustainability versus local development with the peer. Sunday morning – your hard-working Board met early to review and plan the past and coming year. This was followed by a re-assuring presentation by John Gandolfo and his team from HQ on the WBG pension plan (Click here to see the powerpoint presentation)*. Following this, Nicki Marrian warmly welcomed Inder Sud, the new 1818 President who briefed members on developments at HQ and his thoughts and plans for the 1818 Society in the near future.