The Grand British Textile Tour 2022 – Recap!
They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I think that is as true about places as it is about people. After a two-year hiatus, we were finally able to take our Grand British Textile Tour to London and the Lake District. The two years of waiting to get back to London felt particularly long, given the circumstances that kept all of us home. I spent a lot of time watching British TV, reading British authors, and generally doing whatever it took to ease my Anglophile longings for travel. On the day that I finally arrived in London, any anxiety about traveling went away when I stepped out of the tube into the city center and felt like I was finally home.
A friend and I traveled to England a few days ahead of the tour, to hit some sites that we wanted to see, and to get adjusted to the time zone. And what a few days we had! We romped through Kew and Chelsea Physic Gardens, spent time combing over everything at Liberty of London and had a luxury tea at Brown’s Hotel. It was during our tea at Brown’s that I heard the ominous news that the Queen was ill and her children were gathering at Balmoral. Then, while we were making our way into Fortnum’s I heard church bells ringing – the announcement Queen Elizabeth had passed away.
What a turn of events! As we rushed back to the hotel to watch the news, billboards were already plastered with images of the Queen. Our tour was scheduled to start the next day and suddenly we found ourselves in the middle of history. That night I was simultaneously glued to the news, while also trying to figure out how this would affect our schedule.
The next morning we met and gathered with the group at our hotel, the Rubens at the Palace – chosen for its proximity to Buckingham Palace. As we introduced ourselves, I saw a sea of people streaming down the road toward the palace, flowers in hand. However, we headed out in the opposite direction, to meet our guide for our Savile Row tour.
The Savile Row tour is a particularly magical part of our time in London and each visit is a little bit different, depending on who can take our group. This year we were very excited to start at Anderson & Sheppard, but with the news of the Queen, our visit was up in the air. Anderson & Sheppard are tailors to King Charles and we weren’t sure if they would be open. Luckily, they were able to accommodate our group, even as they were rushing around, preparing for any new workload of suits needed for the Queen’s funeral. Our next stop, Gieves & Hawkes was also preparing for the services by taking their military uniforms out of storage and getting them ready for the mourning events.
The rest of our Savile Row visits were wonderful and we headed over to Liberty of London for a private tour. Unfortunately, as we walked purposefully to the doors, we were told Liberty had closed for the day, out of respect for Her Majesty. What a disappointment! But, Liberty is right next to Carnaby Street, so we pivoted and did an impromptu tour of Carnaby Street fashion history. Later, we spent a fascinating time at Hand & Lock, who are the royal embroiderers. Not only did we learn about their history, but we also heard about their new workload as they prepared to replace thousands of hand-embroidered military emblems to reflect the change in the monarchy.
That night, after we returned to the hotel, I walked up to Buckingham Palace and spent time looking at the flowers, notes, and gifts that were left by the gates. I felt like I was experiencing history as I milled about with thousands of other people.
Luckily, the rest of the tour went off without a hitch – aside from our canceled trip to Buckingham Palace. But we were still able to enjoy a private tour of Kensington Palace, the Fashioning Masculinities exhibit at the V&A, time at the Alexander McQueen exhibit, and the inspiring Eternally Yours exhibit at Somerset House. This was a last-minute addition instead of our trip to Buckingham Palace, and I was thrilled we were able to see it.
After three days in London, we hopped on a private coach and made our way up to the Lake District, stopping for a tour of Middleport Pottery. King Charles’ charity, the Prince’s Trust was quite involved with preserving this Victorian building and business. A reporter from the BBC was interviewing tourists at the pottery about King Charles and his hand in preserving Middleport. I was asked for an interview too! I don’t think it ever aired though, I couldn’t find it online.
Finally, we made it to the glorious Lake District where the vistas were stunning, the towns charming, and as I enjoyed a drink at our beautiful hotel, the Lindeth Howe, I wondered why I don’t spend all my vacations there.
The next few days were a whirlwind of inspiring textile and design-related sites – from Beatrix Potter to Cable & Blake, a company manufacturing locally-made wool fabric. This was mixed in with magnificent dinners at the hotel, and enjoying the stupendous views from the terrace. After a stop at Quarry Bank Mill – an industrial-revolution-era textile mill – we made it to Manchester for our final group dinner.
It’s funny how the anticipation of the trip made the days just before it drag slowly by, but once there, time sped up. It seemed like it was over before it started! It still seems surreal that we were there during the Queen’s passing and mourning period, but I think it added a once-in-a-lifetime aspect to the tour. In the end, it was a wonderful experience shared with a lovely group of women, and I am thrilled that I was able to enjoy that time with them.