Tuesday, 7 July 2015

My Favourite #London Street: Exhibition Road

Blue Badge Guide and Daily Constitutional Associate Editor Kim writes…

My favourite street in London is Exhibition Road in South Kensington.

When I first came to live in London I had a beautiful home in Thurlow Square with a view of the Victoria & Albert Museum from my attic bedroom window, and discovered Exhibition Road pretty quickly.   

I was a nurse at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington (I was there for William & Harry's births and the Regent's Park bomb) and on beautiful mornings it was so much more pleasant to walk through the park to get to work. 

Exhibtion Road was the start of the journey with the street sweepers and postmen for company and hardly any traffic so looking at the enormous buildings (I'd come from the Pennines!) was my first close up introduction to London's architecture - pass the bomb damage on the V&A, nod to the exterior of the Geology Museum (now part of the NHM), past the solid splendour of the Science Museum, glance and wonder what goes on in the Church of the Latter Day Saints (I went inside on a day off and they were very happy to show me round and very welcoming),  peer into the basement of Imperial College and the huge engineering machines visible with not a clue what they are for, admire the grand apartment blocks and wonder who lives there, speed up past the Afghan Embassy and say hello to Captain Scott on the side of the Royal Geographical Society.  From there it's into the Park and an opportunity to see the Horseguards on early morning exercise.

I moved out into humbler surroundings in Brixton, found Rex and had children.  So it's back to South Kensington on weekend, holiday and school visits to see dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum, sit on chairs of nails and chase bubbles in the Science Museum and look at the naked statues in the V&A. There's nothing like children to get you reading those labels quickly and really looking at the details that they've spotted and you usually miss and Exhibition Road always offered something new.

In 1999 it was Exhibition Road that enabled me to see the total eclipse of the sun, in an event organised by the Science Museum.  With a load of kids we made pinhole cameras and saw London in a completely different light. And the same autumn I joined the Blue Badge course to begin my current career.  

Exhibition Road was where I came for the entrance exam and two lectures a week for 18 months. I met my best guiding friend at the parking meter on the street on the very first night of the course. 

In recent years it's a lovely mixture of work and pleasure. What better way to finish off a visit to Kensington Palace or the Albert Memorial with a discussion about the Great Exhibition than to then walk down the road that was created for the event and pop into the V&A to see what was created with the profits and enjoy the beautiful tea rooms?  

But it's also the road I use for the wonderful concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. I've done Proms, Rock concerts, taken children to concerts with Father Christmas and my mum to the Messiah here and it's always spectacular and special.  

Today I enjoy the annual Christmas Eve carol concert and then stand at the exit with my bucket as people show their appreciation and Christmas spirit by giving money to St George's Hospital charity.  

I always cast a glance at Thurlow Square as I pass and am grateful that I had such a marvellous address as an introduction to London but it's Exhibition Road that is the draw.  A great street in its own right and the gateway to some of the best outdoor AND indoor delights of London.

Kim, who has worked in the House of Commons and the European Parliament, is another 24-carat Blue Badge Guide: she won the London Tourist Board's Guide of the Year award in 2001.


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