Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Open House inspiration

Spoiled for choice by the 750 buildings welcoming visitors on Saturday and Sunday for Open House London? I'm not about to attempt a definitive guide or authoritative list of what to see, but here are some of the visits I enjoyed in previous years, loosely themed. All are open this year and don't require pre-booking: be inspired!

Livery halls

Ever wondered what goes on behind the - often rather impressive - closed doors of the City livery companies? Some I've visited with the wonderful London Historians will be opening.  Try the original home of copyright enforcerment, Stationers' Hall with its charming, 'hidden' garden (open Sunday); or Drapers' Hall, built on the site of Thomas Cromwell's mansion after his execution in the 1540s. It has been rebuilt since, after the Great Fire and more recently in 1772; the opulent interiors are largely Victorian - and lit by elaborate chandeliers. (Open Sunday.)

A late eighteenth century building in the City of London has its origins in sixteenth-century Deptford. It's not a livery hall, but Trinity House is responsible for our lighthouses, safety of shipping, and the welfare of seafarers. Not only is this a fine period interior, restored in the 1950s after suffering bomb damage during the Second World War, but it also contains plenty of sea-related details including model ships and lighthouses. (Open Saturday.)

Social history

If you'd prefer to learn about everyday lives, then Open House certainly isn't just about grand buildings.

See the work of Roman London's cowboy builders - and some rather good ones - at the intriguing Billingsgate House and Baths (open both days). Learn how the Romans bathed; ponder whether this was a wealthy villa or a mansio (inn).

Definitely not for the wealthy, London's almshouses offered homes for the needy (albeit with conditions to be met and plenty of rules attached). There are lovely examples of such 17th-century philanthropy at Trinity Hospital, Greenwich's riverside almshouses (open Saturday), or the restored and repurposed chapel of Lewisham's Merchant Taylors' Almshouses (open both afternoons).
By contrast, the social housing on Poplar's Lansbury Estate represents the ideals of post-war Britain. It was one of the attractions at the 1951 Festival of Britain, whose presence is still felt around the estate. Its focal point is the eccentric 'practical folly' of a clocktower in Chrisp Street Market (open both days).

Beyond housing, get close to the history of the Jewish East End in Sandys Row Synagogue - the oldest surviving Ashkenazi synagogue in London and still active today. (Open Sunday.) Potentially more macabre is the Old Mortuary in Rotherhithe - but thanks to its newer role as home to the venerable Time and Talents association, it's a surprisingly welcoming place in which to learn about the grim history of bodies in the Thames. (Open both days.)

Perhaps more cultural than social, but physically a near-neighbour to the Old Mortuary, is the magical Sands Films (although its building - a former granary - and the contents of its Rotherhithe Picture Research Library also justify its place here). Sands Films are a production company, film studio, and especially a costumiers for film, theatre, opera and ballet - exploring their amazing workshops and racks of extraordinary costumes is a very special experience. Highly recommended, and open both days.

Unexpected views

Hidden beneath a main road and behind locked gates, the stunning colours and patterns of the Crystal Palace Subway come as a wonderful surprise. This year, the fantastical foot tunnel doesn't require pre-booking, so you can relive the experience of arriving at the Crystal Palace through this marvelous bit of hidden Victoriana. (Open both days.)

Rather less lovely, the Seager Distillery Tower does however offer unbeatable views across Deptford and far beyond. Tours run on Saturday and Sunday.

The 'star'

Some buildings are consistently popular, and usually for good reason. Expect to queue if you want to visit the Foreign and Commonwealth Office - but you'll forget your aching feet when you see its fantastic interior. Highlights are the Durbar Court and Locarno Suite, but there's eye-catching ornamentation everywhere. (Open Sunday.)


umblepie said...

Thanks for your many interesting and fascinating posts - and photographs.

CarolineLD said...

Thank you, umblepie!