A visit to Lambeth Palace

The dying light of a London evening


For someone born in London, I have a great reluctance to go into the centre of this great city. I feel energy draining from me from the very moment of stepping off the train, and being swept along by the tide of humanity that swirls around the famous landmarks and familiar buildings. But last Friday was something special, as Helen and I were invited to a reception at Lambeth Palace, and we arrived via Waterloo Station, onto the South Bank, past the queues for the London Eye, glimpsed through the bare-twigged trees of the embankment.

It is all rather exciting for someone up from the country, as a carousel tinkled round, buskers sang, holidaymakers surged and the Thames made its sombre way to the sea - and a bright orange comma butterfly settled on a sunny bush.

Lambeth Palace oozes history; the Great Hall has an spectacular wooden ceiling; portraits in the house itself tell of the many men - and of course they are (so far!) all men - whose episcopal lives have graced, or been graced by this old house. There is a magnificent magnolia in the courtyard and the gardens extending to the rear of the main building are judged to be the second largest private garden in London - the largest being Buckingham Palace. Walking around the gardens, the sense of being cut-off and in another world is strangely altered from the serene surroundings of the Great Hall, as one is conscious in the open air of being close to busy roads and several high buildings that look down on the Palace and its grounds.

Pleached lime trees line a walk above lawns and flower beds, a rise with daffodils and other Spring flowers is behind; an apiary is tucked away in a corner, but some feral bees are nesting in a hole in an ancient tree. Irish bells, violets, spurge and narcissi fill beds with contrasting blues, yellows and greens. Under an ancient fig tree wood anemones shine brightly in the weak sunshine of an April London evening.

John Mann