An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 202

Clinton Howell Antiques - October 10, 2022 - Issue 203

An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture

A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts

My son lives in London and has for about fourteen years now. I think I might have oversold London to him when he was young as that seems to be where he will be for the foreseeable future if not forever. The Queen's funeral procession, as it happened, passed by the end of his street when the bier was headed for Windsor and it prompted a question from him of where and when I have seen the Queen over the years, It isn't a hard question for me as I remember those three moments rather clearly. She was a public figure of a different sort than politicians who are, in an odd way, not nearly as interesting to see--I can't explain just why I feel that way. I also must admit to having no feelings about the monarchy one way or another, but the Queen was altogether different. Her position as a public figure has been endlessly discussed since her death and I can't shed any additional light on that discussion so I will let it be. She did her job very well and, as cushy as it seems from the outside, I wouldn't want it for a second. 

The last time I saw the Queen was in 2001, Sept. 14. I had flown in from Bangkok, stopped off in Fulham where I was staying to edit my baggage and then took the tube to St. Paul's to have a fitting done on a blazer that I had purchased. I needed to be fairly quick as I was booked on a Eurostar for Paris to go visit friends. The shop where I purchased the blazer was near Ludgate Hill, the road that leads to St. Paul's Cathedral and when I walked up the staircase from the tube, I found myself in the midst of thousands of people who had come to pay their respects to those who died in the 9/11 terrorist attack. It was a very sobering moment,  and if I hadn't had a train to catch, I would have tried to go into the church, but I had a bag and I needed to cross Ludgate Hill. I worked westward from the tube station away from the Cathedral and then took a left southwards where I reached the zebra crossing and just as I did, the Queen drove by in her limo. I felt that she looked right at me, although I suspect this was a practiced way she had to make it seem as if she was looking at everyone while seeing no one in particular.

The very first time I saw the Queen was in June of 1962. I was in Edinburgh with my mother and brother, just beginning a trip around Europe with Scotland being the first port of call. I can visually recall the street where the Queen's limo drove, and I could still find it if I was in Edinburgh (or possibly on google maps) but I cannot remember the name of the street. I seem to remember that Charles and Anne were in the car with her, but they didn't interest me, particularly. Nor, for that matter, did seeing the Queen matter that much to me until everyone started to talk about it. As a twelve year old just about to turn thirteen, my interests were in things like Mons Meg, the famous cannon captured from the Dutch located in Edinburgh Castle.

I have told the story about the other time I saw the Queen a number of times and at the risk of boring my readers, I will tell it for the last time. My brother rented the old lock keepers house that was located where the entrance to the Regent's Canal (the canal that connects north London to the docks) used to be. Why they moved the canal entrance, I am not certain, but what was left behind was a substantial key, a cut into the side of the river that allowed barges to moor, but was never used as such while my brother lived there. The area around the key was substantial, big enough to allow us to work outside, weather permitting. English weather is what drove me out of England, but June of 1975 was lovely as was the entire summer, the first decent (read warm) summer that I experienced in England after three rather cold summers. My brother and I were working outside and, as it was hot, we decided to strip to our underwear as there was no one who would see us. Indeed, if you were on the river, the only thing you would see were warehouses, save for the two of us on the key. I happened to notice two police boats flanking a large boat coming down the river and I summoned my brother--"something's going on", I said. My brother, connecting what he'd heard on the radio with what we were seeing said, "it's the Queen, she's on walkabout in Greenwich, today". As we stared, she went by and we waved. She waved back. That was the time that I not only saw her, but she saw me, as well.