diamond geezer

 Sunday, September 21, 2003

London Open House Weekend

Every year, for a couple of days in the middle of September, the doors of about 500 of London's public and private buildings are thrown open to the public. This is London Open House weekend, a time to enjoy and celebrate the capital's varied architecture and history. From the 11th century Westminster Hall to the 21st century City Hall, you can take a peek inside buildings you'd normally only see from the outside, or maybe never even knew existed in the first place. Thanks to all the volunteers who make it all possible, and here's a list of some of the places I managed to visit this year...

insure your supertanker hereLloyd's of London: It's that dramatic futuristic building in the middle of the City, the one with twelve lifts on the outside, designed by Richard Rogers and opened in 1986. Us lucky visitors got to see their collection of old Lord Nelson ephemera, the enormous underwriting room full of hundreds of tiny desks where all the trading happens, the eleven-storey glass-windowed atrium, and the Lutine Bell that rings to bring news of lost ships (one ring bad, two rings good). Nice escalators too. Favourite fact: Edward Lloyd was never an underwriter, he merely owned Lloyd's coffee shop where the first maritime underwriters used to meet. Starbucks clearly still have a long way to go.
Tour: well-structured and impressive, 8/10. Guide: knowledgeable, friendly, 8/10.

still a place to eatBanqueting House: Not just another non-descript building down Whitehall, but an ornate Jacobean dining hall with huge painted ceiling. Many sumptuous banquests for nobles and heads of state have been held in this magnificent room. However, this weekend they'd set up a trestle table in one corner selling tea, Kit Kats, slices of swiss roll and Mr Kipling's cherry bakewells. A far cry from the building's glorious past. Favourite fact: The hall was built for King James I in 1622, but became the site of his execution in 1649.
Tour: brief and touristy, 5/10. Guide: just a video, 3/10.

the glass front bitChannel 4 Television: It's always a lottery on Open House weekend which tour guide you get. Some know their stuff inside out, while others have clearly never set foot in the property before. Here at Channel 4's HQ I got to the front of the queue just in time to miss the really well-informed guide, ending up instead with the token volunteer merely present to make up the numbers. She took us up in the scenic lift, which had nice views over, er, part of London. She told us that the C4 building had two sort of arms. She took us along the curvy walkway on the third floor behind the glass front bit, held up by the joint things. And we went out onto the terrace at the back, made of some kind of wood I think. Favourite fact: there's an ironing board in the Channel 4 boardroom, complete with iron, inbetween the flipchart and the widescreen TV.
Tour: not quite worthwhile, 4/10. Guide: wet blanket, 1/10.

John Prescott works here26 Whitehall: This morning you'd have found me queuing for an hour trying to gain entry to a tall posh building down Whitehall, otherwise known as the Ripley Building, otherwise known as the offices of the Deputy Prime Minister. This impressive Georgian building has been home to the Admiralty for nearly 300 years, and top navy men still meet to make important decisions in the wood-panelled Board Room on the first floor. John Prescott's ministerial team are now based in the building, although we were assured that the solitary Jaguar parked in the courtyard this morning wasn't his. Security was high (we're currently on 'Black Special', if you're interested) and we had to surrender our mobile phones and cameras on the way in. Favourite fact: Lord Nelson's body rested here on the night before his funeral, having been stored in a barrel of alcohol during the long voyage home from the battle of Trafalgar.
Tour: bit short given the long wait, 5/10. Three guides: one very good, one ok, one dire, average 5/10.

tower of East LondonLimehouse Accumulator Tower: If you've ever travelled on the DLR from Limehouse to Westferry, you may have seen a fifty-foot octagonal brick tower right beside the railway tracks. It's not an old signal box, it's actually pioneering Victorian technology - a tower that once provided hydraulic power for raising heavy cargo at Regent's Canal dock. The tower has recently been restored as a viewing platform, although recent housing developments at Limehouse Basin have reduced the view somewhat. Sadly the tower is only open very occasionally which is a great shame because, on a sunny day like today, the view from the top is great. Favourite fact: To reach the top requires climbing two spiral staircases, the first inside the tower and the second inside the chimney.
Tour: classic industrial archaeology, 9/10. Guide: keen engineer, 8/10.

Also visited:
Talkback Productions: award-winning big comedy, award-winning small offices.
St Pancras Midland Hotel: except there were queues round the block, so I was glad I saw it last year instead.
West India Quay Impounding Station: pumps the Thames into the Docklands docks, using original 1929 technology.
House Mill, Bow: this is one of those famous places within 15 minutes walk of my house, so I've already written about it. Surprisingly big, impressively restored.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream