Once a year London lets us into its hidden treasures, the many fine buildings which we usually can only see from the outside. Open House weekend is when it happens and it’s one of my favourite times to be exploring London. Some of the buildings are accessible all year, some only for an entry fee but during Open House weekend, a huge list of buildings are there for us to enjoy and it’s all free!
Once a year we get the chance to peek behind some normally closed doors, and some that normally charge entrance fees, when Open House weekend rolls around again.
I’ve been enjoying these weekends for many years now and there is always somewhere new to visit. There are so many places on offer it’s a challenge to see how many you can get to and it’s fun to see the other Open House fans, easily identified clutching their green guide books and a map of London.
|The trusty Open House guide book|
This year we managed just 5 properties on the Saturday but were incredibly lucky with the sunny weather as the Sunday saw a massive storm sweep over the country and drench London. The highlight was undoubtedly the Royal Courts of Justice due to the grand scale of the building inside and outside and the stories about what happens in the courts themselves.Built in 1870 in unmistakable Victorian Gothic style it is a huge building and full of interest. Once through the security screening we could wander all around the building and a few of the actual courts were open for visiting (but not for photographing). In the Lord Chief Justice’s Court we were treated to a brilliant talk by one of the top Ushers and the Tipstaff about their work and the work of the Courts. It was fascinating, full of history and information about how the courts work today and their position in our legal system and how many common phrases came into being such as ‘called to the bar’ and ‘taking silk’. The Tipstaff was in full elaborate uniform and described his ceremonial role but also his work in child abduction overseas cases, merging the traditional and the modern responsibilities. The seriousness of this court was highlighted by the very solid looking bars on the dock!
|Magnificent main hall, Royal Courts of Justice|
We were allowed access to the cells and hopefully that will be my only visit especially as we made the daunting walk from the cells to the Police vans waiting outside to take prisoners in locked units away to prison. It made me shudder and I was pleased to be back in the main building and outside in my freedom!
|Hope you never have to enter the cells!|
|Imposing exterior of the Royal Courts of Justice|
The Roman Bath is neither Roman nor built as a Bath! It seems it was originally a cistern built in 1620 to feed a fountain in nearby Somerset House and is filled by a cold stream. It fell into disrepair and became part of a public bath in 1776 and was in use as a cold plunge bath until the end of the 19th century. The ‘Roman’ description may well have been an advertising gimmick – so nothing new there! It is down a hidden side alley and is now part of the National Trust so if you pick the right day members can pop their heads in but no bathing allowed now…..
|The ‘Roman Bath’|
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is housed in a fabulous art deco building in an area of wonderful art deco public buildings which includes the impressive Senate House.Opened in 1929 it has all the angles and geometry you would associate with art deco style and although the exterior is unchanged, expansion has required them to build a new wing within a glass atrium which blends in really well. In these grand surroundings they are world leaders in research and the fight against killing diseases. The school’s founder, Sir Patrick Manson, made the first link between mosquito bites and malaria and one of its teaching staff, Dame Claire Bertschinger was interviewed by Michael Buerk on the Ethiopian famine which led to the setting up of Live Aid – so LSHTM has some pretty important events to its name.
|London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine|
Dr Johnson’s House is a rare surviving city dwelling dating from the end of the 17th century, although the upper floor and roof were destroyed by bombing in the Second World War. It is amazing that the house survived at all given the amount of wood in the house but it is great that it is still here to visit. The house has some very interesting architectural features and I especially liked the swing doors enable one large room to be divided into three small ones – very practical and good use of space which is always of interest to a city dweller like me! They have a copy of Dr Johnson’s famous dictionary, compiled in this house over the course of 9 years, 6 more than he originally claimed he needed! The house was very busy so photos were not easy to take – have a look at their website instead: http://www.drjohnsonshouse.org/
More from London very soon.
Bye for now
I love maps and can spend hours looking at even the most ordinary ones so the chance to go to an exhibition at the British Library called Magnificent Maps was not to be missed! The British Library is not somewhere I go normally as you have to have a readers’ pass to see most of the books but I think I should go more often as this exhibition was wonderful. They also have the most amazing permanent exhibition in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery of world class treasures (as they say) and I really didn’t have enough time to do them justice on this visit.
Back to the maps, which ranged from 11th century Mappa Mundi (my favourites) and maps from the first explorers to a Grayson Perry take off and the satirical map of London called the Island from 2008. They have 80 beautiful maps from tiny psalter map from 1265 to the largest atlas in the world. They explore the themes of maps as art, as propaganda for pride and expressions of power. I was amazed at the accuracy of some of the early works and the skill of these early map makers. The British Library itself is a great modern building and they claim to have 14 million books tho’ I wonder if they are all in this building. I’ve put in a couple of photos to show you entrance to this 1997 building and courtyard with its statue of Isaac Newton by Eduardo Paolozzi and one of the wonderful interior.
Open House weekend in London saw hundreds of properties, normally closed to the public, throw open their doors for 2 days. This is so popular that many are booked up as soon as the programme is announced and others just have huge queues all day.