Well, I’ve spent over a week agonising over what to visit tomorrow for Open House London. I suspect many of you are in the same boat. I have decided I shall try and get to as many as possible of the following:
In the City:
120 Fleet Street (old Daily Express building)
Apothecaries’ Hall (see comment!)
Bells and Belfries at St Botolph Aldgate
Fishmongers’ Hall (arggh: fully booked)
Middle Temple Hall (see comment!)
Guildhall Art Gallery (know it well, but just popping in to pay a bill!)
If I might be allowed a moan, some venues demand applications in writing with a list of names, weeks in advance, successful applicants notified in writing, etc. I’m looking at you, Mansion House.
A couple of recommendations from last year: Apsley House (Duke of Wellington’s gaff, aka Number One London) and Wren City churches tours from the Guildhall.
Will try to finish up at the Imperial War Museum (hoping to see bits of the old Bethlem (Bedlam) Hospital), then to the Anchor pub on Bankside from 17:30 for convivial pints with anyone who wants to meet for Open House de-briefs. I’ll take the London Historians table flag.
Open House tends to be very much a personal thing, but if anyone wishes to schlep around with me, you’d be very welcome, get in touch!
So, how was it for you? As ever, not enough time. Of the above items, I managed Marlborough House, Custom House and Bell Ringing at St Botolph without Aldgate and unexpectedly found St Magnus Martyr open on my way to Custom House. Bonus.
Marlborough House in Pall Mall. Built by Sarah Churchill in the early 18C. Commissioned Wren to design it, which he did, probably with input from his son. This notoriously difficult patron then sacked them. A fine town mansion used over the years by various royalty and now the HQ of the Commonwealth Secretariat. Lavish interiors, fine pair of staircases, much portraiture and large wall paintings of the 1st Duke’s victories in battle. Interior photography forbidden, unfortunately, but here’s a shot from the gardens, ie the rear of the house.
St Magnus Martyr. Closed last time I visited a few months ago, I happened to notice it was open on my way to Custom House. Not listed in the Open House Guide. Inside, there is an amazing model of Old London Bridge c1400 built by a parishioner in the 1980s. I had no idea that this church was actually on the bridge itself (ninth pier from the north side) before land reclamation placed it on the current bank. The remains of Miles Coverdale, author of the first complete bible in English (the Coverdale Bible), are kept here.
Custom House. This is the fifth custom house on the site. Designed by David Laing in the 1820s, it was somewhat jerry-built and immediate and very dangerous problems occurred. Robert Smirke was brought in to sort it all out. This picture of the main hall where captains and agents over the years came to declare goods, pay excise duties etc.
St Botolph without Aldgate. St Botolph is the patron saint of travellers, hence several St Botolph’s were sited outside the old gates of London. For me the highlight of the day was to learn about the English bell-ringing tradition, witness a practical demo in bell-ringing (St Botolph has eight bells) and then to visit the the belfry itself. Very cramped. Four of us plus a guide could barely fit in there, in practical terms only really space for two. Like many of London’s bells, these were made by Whitechapel Bell Foundry, still going and Britain’s oldest manufacturing business. Such a treat.