Londoners love to honour traditions and April is jam-packed with noteworthy dates that are ripe for observance. But, if you’ve ever questioned the ins and outs of The Boat Race or wondered why the Queen has two birthdays, this insider’s guide should help.
The Oxford Cambridge Boat Races—an Oar-some Display
It’s difficult to believe that a challenge between two school friends could cement a 190-year sporting rivalry. But, each year, students from two of the world’s most prestigious academic institutions take to the River Thames to row a gruelling 6.8-kilometer course between Putney and Chiswick Bridges.
The Boat Race (7 April) sees two races—two teams of women (2.15 pm) and two teams of men (3.15 pm) that take on the ultimate amateur rowing challenge.
The bridges on the course prove popular vantage points on race day, but you could also head to Bishop’s Park in Fulham where big screens display all the action and bars and street food vendors are on hand to keep you sated.
If all that rowing action seems far too serious, make a date instead for The Goat Race at Spitalfields City Farm. Now in its 11th year, two goats, one sporting the dark blue colours of Oxford, the other the lighter blue/green shade of Cambridge, make a dash around the farm. The fun kicks off at noon.
The Queen Celebrates — Happy Birthday, Ma’am!
You might think that the Queen celebrates two birthdays because she is, well, rather important. However, far from being some quirk of royal deference, the reason why our monarch celebrates both her actual birthday in April and an official birthday in June is rather more mundane – it’s all thanks to our inclement British weather.
It was during the reign of George II in 1748 that the sovereign’s official birthday celebrations moved to the summer. George II was born in November, not a month conducive to outdoor public celebrations, and it was felt that a birthday military parade in the warmer months would be more appealing. The Government saw fit to combine the monarch’s official birthday bash with the military pageantry of the Trooping the Colour, a tradition that still exists today (8 Jun).
The Queen celebrates her 93rd birthday privately on 21 April, where we can only imagine that glasses of Dubonnet & gin, one of her favourite tipples, will be raised. Publicly, the occasion is marked with an impressive 41-gun salute fired in Hyde Park at noon (22 April), plus a 62-gun salute at the Tower of London (1 pm). Other gun salutes also take place at Windsor Great Park and Edinburgh Castle.
Honouring our Patron Saint
The image familiar to most Brits when recalling St George, the patron saint of England, is of a knight on horseback slaying a dragon. It’s a myth that has been perpetuated by artists throughout history, and depictions of this very scene can be found at the National Gallery (in two paintings entitled "Saint George and the Dragon"). It’s also in the form of statue in the middle of a roundabout near Lord’s Cricket Ground.
While St George may have given rise to the English flag with its red cross on a white background, it is thought that the patron saint was neither English nor a knight. Rather, it is believed he was born in Turkey and became a soldier. 23 April—St George’s Day—is supposedly the day of his martyrdom.
Following England’s victory at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, St George’s Day became an important feast day. The tradition waned somewhat, but in 2010 the Feast of St George was revived here in capital when the City of London hosted a pageant dedicated to the patron saint. The festivities have since moved to Trafalgar Square (20 April) where live music, artisan crafts and English fare can be enjoyed (noon-6pm).
Marking the Birthday of The Great British Bard
Giving someone ‘short shrift’ or declaring that ‘the world is my oyster’ is only possible because of William Shakespeare. Words and phrases found in his plays have seeped into our everyday language and, 455 years on from his birth, the playwright continues to inspire with his canon of works.
April 23 is thought to be the date of both The Bard’s birth and death, events that are honoured with numerous events in his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon (27 April). Shakespeare enjoyed much of his life in London, so the capital’s links with the wordsmith are also celebrated this month. Shakespeare’s Globe, a reconstruction of the Elizabethan Globe Theatre, kicks off its summer season on 23 April.
Birthday celebrations include a two-hour walk through Shakespeare’s London, where a company of 22 actors led by Mark Rylance enact sonnets on the streets; "Sweet Love Remember’d" (20-21 April) departs from Westminster Abbey and Shoreditch. The Bard is also honoured with a production in Westminster Abbey (25-27 April), where Rylance and actors provide encounters with Shakespeare’s works as the audience roams the Abbey—a great way to commemorate the playwright’s legacy.