wishlist: spitbank

Spitbank Fort

The English city of Portsmouth has been fortified since Henry VIII built Southsea Castle in 1544 to protect the entrance to the harbor. The Tudor monarch was well aware that the strategic naval port on the south coast of Hampshire was exposed to attack from the French, a consideration that also concerned Prime Minister Palmerston a few years later in the mid-nineteenth century. Across the Channel, a newly crowned Emperor Napoleon III had revenge for his uncle’s defeat at Waterloo on his mind, which caused the British Government to reassess their coastal defenses. The result: a ring of detached sea forts - Spitbank, Horse Sand and No Man’s Land – built on the Spithead shoals in case of French invasion. The irony is that the forts never saw any action in the defense of he city, landing them the nickname “Palmerston’s  Follies.” De-activated by the end of WW II, the forts have been privately owned since 1982, going through many guises until one of them – Spitbank – finally found its true calling as a luxurious hideaway hotel. Arrive in style from your own private yacht or let them pick you up from nearby Gosport in a water taxi. The first thing you’ll notice is how things have changed since 1867: the previous gun emplacements have been transformed into eight stunning bedroom suites with sea views. The rooftop’s been converted to highlight a hot pool, expansive sun decks, and a steam sauna – all of which look out to Portsmouth Harbor and the iconic glass Spinnaker Tower. Your biggest decisions are likely going to involve where to eat and what to drink, so start with some bubbly in the Victory Bar before moving on to local crab and ribeye in the historic arched, brickwork of the Officer’s Mess. How about digestifs round the fire pit, looking out over the Isle of Wight? If the breeze proves too strong, settle in for brandy and roulette (or poker) in the Crow’s Nest. Win or lose, there’s nothing like waking up to the sound of the waves. Take a room for a short break or – more to my liking – hire the fort out as your own private island, with your own private crew. There’ll be no need to worry about neighbors telling you to keep the noise down – until the other two forts go condo that is.

spitbank suite

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obit (the dust) of the month: hand in hand to hell

Richard III

A skeleton found beneath a Leicester car park has been confirmed as that of English king Richard III. Experts from the University of Leicester said DNA from the bones matched that of descendants of the monarch’s family. The skeleton had suffered 10 injuries, including eight to the skull, at around the time of death. Two of the skull wounds were potentially fatal. One was a “slice” removing a flap of bone, the other caused by bladed weapon which went through and hit the opposite side of the skull. Other wounds included slashes or stabs to the face and the side of the head. Richard III was portrayed as deformed by some Tudor historians and indeed the skeleton’s spine is badly curved, a condition known as scoliosis. However, there was no trace of a withered arm or other abnormalities seen in the more extreme characterizations of the king. Born at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire, where Mary Queen of Scots was later executed, Richard had one of the shortest reigns in English history: just 26 months. Appointed as protector of his nephew, Edward V, upon the death of his brother Edward IV, Richard instead assumed the reins of power. Edward and his brother – the famous Princes in the Tower – disappeared soon after, leading to speculation that they had been murdered on the orders of their uncle. Challenged by Henry Tudor, Richard was the last English king to die in battle. He was slain at Bosworth in 1485, leaving Shakespeare the ingredients for a (quite literal) field day. Read the full story HERE.

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dames and divas

London’s National Portrait Gallery is one of the capital’s great free museums. Just off Trafalgar Square, it’s a mecca for Anglophiles and devotees of period drama due in large part to the historic paintings of Tudor and Stuart royalty that fill a handful of galleries. Yet it’s also a museum very much rooted in the present - eclectic and embracing multifarious media: from tempera and photography to LCD monitors utilizing integrated software. It’s one of the best places to wander without a map – you’d be hard pressed to find a room that doesn’t lead you off on a flight of fancy involving both artist and subject. It strikes at the heart of what I love so much about Britain: you can’t turn around without having your curiosity piqued.

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