Behind the scenes at some of London’s great buildings!

Once a year thanks to Open House London, all kinds of buildings that you can’t normally get into open their doors for us to have a good nose around – and it’s absolutely free!. The big challenge is to decide which ones and fit them all in. I went for 5 amazing places on Sunday and we squeezed  them in despite crowds and road closures due to the final leg of the Tour of Britain cycle race wheeling into London. My choices were: Trellick Tower; Customs House; Apothecaries’ Hall; RSA, and the star of them all, The Foreign Office.

So let’s start with our favourite, the Foreign Office, just off Whitehall, which was so much more decorative then I expected (wasv thinking dull civil service type offices and corridors) . It’s grand, beautiful and must be an incredible place to work from the imposing entry courtyard, to the unbelievable central Durbar Court. There are beautiful ceilings and elaborate staircases to take your breath away with a rich history to match. I expected someone to break out singing ‘Rule Britannia’!

In complete contrast is the block of flats called Trellick Tower which dominates the skyline in North Kensington. I’ve never managed to get inside before so relished the opportunity of a tour given by a resident who showed us in 2 flats and told us about the delights of living in a Erno Goldfinger designed environment. It’s 31 floors high and the views are amazing – photos show the west view towards Westfield and the BBC and east along the canal to the City. The flats are incredibly spacious and all have balconies (great for frustrated gardeners) and the corridors are bright and colourful, unlike many public housing projects. This grade 11 listed building is still majority occupied by council tenants – what a flat to have!  And yes, the James Bond villain is named after Erno Goldfinger!

The Apothecaries’ Hall dates from about 1670, although the lovely courtyard is newer being remodelled in 1786 (!).  Inside we were treated to loads of information about the ancient Livery Company and a chance to see their magnificent great hall, their beautiful old jars and one jar that reminded us of older remedies with its caption ‘leeches’ – ouch…

The RSA building dating from 1770s, just off the Strand, was a strange mixture of conference style rooms with amazing ceilings in pastel shades. It designed by Robert Adam as one building but more were purchased and incorporated including the Adelphi Tavern. The Great Room  has the most extraordinary wall sized paintings by James Barry and the roll of honour of Chairman ranges from monarchs, to Olivier, to Crick and Berners-Lee.  I really liked the full name of the society on the doorpost – such a worthy aspiration…

Our last visit to mention was to the Customs House on the Thames by the Monument. Steeped in history as from 1671 every ship’s captain coming up the Thames with cargo had to register here in the famous Long Room  and pay his Custom duties before he could unload or sell his cargo. The old entrance on the river is not the one we came in but as you step out and smell the river you can easier imagine how it was back then – aided by the excellent displays of paintings on the wall around you.

So that was Open House weekend for another year but we are planning next year’s already!

Bye for now,

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