A Cultural Feast in London, June 1906

A Cultural Feast in London, June 1906

During the last year, many of us have longed to be able to pop into a museum or art gallery, see a play or even just mooch around the shops.  Browsing through Margaret Nettlefold’s diary, I came upon her notes of a trip to London with two of her daughters in June 1906.  Fast-forward 115 years, and Margaret’s  holiday diary reads like a tourist itinerary for a 21st-century London city break!


“London, June 11 to June 16 1906.  Self, Evie & Nina, with Nat & Katie at 108 Harley Street.”

Margaret travelled with Evie and Nina, aged 13 and 11.  They stayed with Margaret’s sister Katherine, who had trained as a doctor, and her husband Dr Nathaniel Harman.  Harley Street was populated with medical practices in 1906, as it still is today.

“Thurs, 11 June. Came up midday – went to Madame Tussaud’s, afternoon.”

Madame Tussaud first exhibited her waxworks in Britain in 1802, and the museum was well established in its current site on the Marylebone Road by the time Margaret and the children visited.

“Fri, 12 June.  Saw Westminster Abbey in the morning.  Evie & I went to see the Winter Exhibition at Royal Academy of Old Masters, British School. ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in the evening, good performance & charming scenery.”

The celebrated actress Ellen Terry was starring in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Adelphi Theatre at this time, so this was probably the production that the family saw.

“Sat, 13 June.  Wet in morning – did some shopping & omnibus riding with Evie afterwards. Hippodrome with Nat & Katie in afternoon. Splendid performance.“

What did the family see at the London Hippodrome?  Probably a performing chimpanzee!  Mr Link, also known as The Missing Link, was appearing dressed in a suit, smoking cigarettes and shaking visitors’ hands. The theatre had opened in 1900 and initially contained a circus ring, so performing animals and acrobatic spectacles were regularly staged.

“Sun, 14 June.  In afternoon with Nat & Katie to zoo.”

London Zoo opened to the public in 1847.  When the family visited, “tropical” animals had only recently been accommodated outdoors.  At a time when children could only see exotic animals in books, the zoo must have been incredibly exciting.

“Mon, 15 June.  Morning with Evie, Nina & I to the National Gallery – saw British Schools & Italian.  In afternoon Katie took Evie to British Museum.  Evening all went to ‘Peter Pan’ – a child’s play at Duke of York’s. Much appreciated by all.”

Museums and galleries feature prominently in this trip.  Margaret loved art and history, and passed these passions on to her children.  Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie was first performed at the Duke of York’s theatre in 1904, and was still running in 1906.  It has remained popular to this day.

“Tues, 16 June.  All went to Natural History Museum S. Kensington – delightful animals –

home afternoon.”

The Natural History Museum had first opened in 1881.  Having seen living animals at the zoo, the family finished their trip by gazing at the species of the remote past, and enjoying the astonishing architecture of Alfred Waterhouse.  Then home to Winterbourne, no doubt exhausted after their punishing schedule!

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