It is Valentine’s Day weekend and we are celebrating Love in London. From love struck lovers to royal romances to dangerous liaisons – love happens in London in all its many forms. And if you want to be lovely inspired this weekend, we invited the expert London Blue Badge guide, Simon Whitehouse, to tell us more about the theme, as he is also promoting his virtual tour of ‘Love in London’ this Valentine’s weekend. Simon is a fantastic guide and a true storyteller, and he shares with us why he thinks London is one of the world’s most romantic cities in the world!
The origins of Valentine’s Day
There are many legends about Saint Valentine was supposedly a Roman priest who performed secret weddings against the wishes of the authorities in the third century. Imprisoned in the home of a noble, he healed his captor’s blind daughter, causing the whole household to convert to Christianity and sealing his fate. Before being tortured and decapitated on February 14, he sent the girl a note signed “Your Valentine.”
By the 1400s, nobles inspired by Geoffrey Chaucer had begun writing poems known as “valentines” to their love interests. It was only at this point that stories began to appear linking Saint Valentine to romance.
The 17th-century diarist (& serial romancer!) Samuel Pepys refers to gathering on Valentine’s Eve for a party, during which the guests would write their names on pieces of paper and draw lots to be assigned a possible sweetheart.
By the 19th century, Valentines cards were BIG business…! The Museum of London has over 1700 cards in its collection….! Here is one:
Roller skating was a big craze in London. Known as ‘Rinkomania’, the roller rinks were a new opportunity for men and women to socialize. Perhaps this card was for designed to sweep someone off their feet and fall head over heels in love!
First, let us take you on a romantic journey at the National Gallery & see the greatest ‘love at first sight’ in art history. Shall we start with Titian’s Bacchus & Ariadne.
Theseus, whose ship is shown in the distance, has just left Ariadne on Naxos, when Bacchus arrives, jumping from his chariot drawn by two cheetahs, falling immediately in love with Ariadne. Bacchus raised her to heaven. The constellation Corona Borealis, Bacchus’s crowning gift to her, is shown in the sky above her head.
Another painting is the ‘Swinging’ lovers. You might want to check out the naughty secrets behind the Rococo romance of Fragonard’s ‘The Swing’ at the Wallace Collection.
One of the masterpieces of the Rococo era, the painting depicts an elegant young woman on a swing, with a smiling young man, hiding in the bushes on the left, watches her from a vantage point. As the young lady swings high, she throws her left leg up, allowing her dainty shoe to fly through the air – definitely, a painting full of flirtation!
Or, perhaps, you are looking for that perfect place to pop the question? How about in front of the stunning ‘The Meeting Place’ 9m/27 ft high sculpture by world-renowned sculptor Paul Day at London’s most romantic railway station?
Or the world-famous maze at Henry VIII’s pleasure palace at Hampton Court Palace! (although we hope you have better luck than Henry’s wives….)
And chaps, “if you like it then you should put a ring on it”… You can get some ideas by going to the Victoria and Albert Museum to see this exquisite ‘Papillon’ ring on display in the dazzling jewellery galleries! It was designed in 2014 by London-based master jeweller G (Glenn Spiro) and given to Beyonce Knowles by hubby Jay-Z it sparkles with tsavorites and diamonds and was donated by the Beyonce to the museum!
And, finally, take yourself and your loved one and relive your London fantasy by visiting the iconic locations from ‘Love Actually’- the ultimate love letter to London from writer and director Richard Curtis! A Blue Badge guide can show you the location of the heartwarming scene where lovestruck Mark (Andrew Lincoln) declares his love to Juliet silently with his cue cards..!
About the author:
Simon Whitehouse is an award-winning London Blue Badge Guide, lecturer, presenter & recovering actor. He’ll take a subject, a topic, a painting, a building, a person & weave you a wonderful story from it. Find him on Twitter.