Somerset House

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Adult family

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I had noticed in a magazine that on Thursday and Saturday afternoons there are free guided tours of Somerset House so when my sister and I met in London last Thursday we obtained tickets for the 2.45pm tour.

You really need to head straight for The Seamen's Hall at Somerset House in the morning to obtain tickets as they are limited (I think there were about 20 people in our group).

The gentleman who took us round, Bob Chapman, warned us that though it says online the tours last about three quarters of an hour to an hour, he usually went on for longer. However, he said that if anyone wanted "to be released" after the stated 45 minutes that was fine. He also explained that there were very few opportunities to sit so wasn't really suitable for anyone with problems with their legs.

On going out into the courtyard we were met by the sight – and sound – of dozens of children enjoying dashing and splashing through the fountains, and we felt quite jealous: note to selves, to bring a towel next time!

We learnt how the original building, of 1547, had been the grand home of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and was in a sought-after position between The Strand and The Thames. We were led round the outside of the four buildings surrounding the courtyard and Bob told us some of the societies and institutions that had occupied them over the years.

He explained the meaning of some of the statues and decorations we saw and we learnt about the strong naval connections, before going inside to see new Miles Stair and much older Nelson staircase.

The tour included going down to the oldest part of the original building – quite eerie – and in the ancient chapel we saw memorial tablets from the 1600s. Then for those who still had the energy – after about an hour and a half – we were taken downstairs to see some of the archeological finds as well as a wonderful old royal barge.

A fascinating and extremely interesting tour – and all for free.

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