diamond geezer

 Monday, September 22, 2008

London Open House (catchup): There are 700 potential buildings to visit on Open House weekend, so even when you think you've visited a lot you've barely scratched the surface. I managed 13 altogether, spread out across the capital. Here's a rundown of those I've failed to mention thus far.

Barnardo's collecting boxBarnardo's Village: When I was little, and every penny counted, I used to have a Dr Barnardo's collecting box in the shape of a cottage. It was given to me by a nice old lady who lived up the road, and every year she'd invite all the box-owning boys and girls in the village to a big party in her back garden. I always felt slightly guilty attending because I knew how few pennies were inside my box, and that my share of the sandwiches and squash on the table beneath the tulip tree had probably cost considerably more. Yesterday I went along to Barnardo's HQ in Barkingside, out on the loopy bit of the Central line, and discovered that these cottages are based on real life buildings that played a major part in the charity's work. More to the point, my old collecting box is rare enough that it would now be worth more empty that it ever was full. If only I'd have known, I could have eaten those sausage rolls and jelly with a clear conscience.

Dr Barnardo's initial work with ragged children had concentrated solely on boys, but a wedding gift of Essex land in 1873 allowed him to establish a home for girls as well. He created a Girls' Village of 14 cottages set around a rural green, each housing about 20 girls looked after by a supervisor called 'Mother'. Girls were trained in washing, cleaning and embroidery, all the sorts of skills that might get them a job as a household servant when they were older. The village grew with the addition of further cottages around a second green, until more than 1300 girls were being housed, fed and educated on site. It took until the 1930s for boys to be admitted, ending the practice of splitting brothers and sisters on separate sites. It wasn't until the 60s that institutional care was frowned upon and the village emptied of residents. One of the greens was developed as a (criminally hideous) residential school for disabled children, and another area sold off to the council (now, perhaps unsurprisingly, home to a Tesco supermarket).

Barnardo's village

The Barnardo village in Barkingside isn't usually accessible to the public, but for Open House we were shown an Ever Open Door. One cottage has been restored as a heritage exhibit, with charity memorabilia and a reproduction of the good doctor's office inside. There was also access to the Children's Church, normal-sized on the outside but with child-height pews on the inside. "Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not" reads the inscription on the arch over the chancel, and this might well have been Dr B's motto. I doubt there'd have been volunteers selling squash and biscuits at the back in his day, let alone Christmas cards, pens and mugs. I followed a most informative tour round the perimeter of the green, viewing the modern housing association infill and trying to block out views of the 60s monstrosity office block in the old apple orchard. And we ended up beneath the clock tower at the bronze memorial marking the spot where Barnardo's ashes were scattered in 1905. His heart will be forever here on the edge of the London suburbs, amongst his girls, and deserving of our thanks.

» Bevis Marks Synagogue: Another Sunday, another synagogue. I'm getting the hang of covering my head now, but the skull cap they provided kept trying to slide off so I had to hold myself upright to avoid unintentional offence. Considerably more photogenic than Nelson Street which I visited last week, but conspicuously unwilling to allow photographs. [exterior photo]
» Christ Church Spitalfields: Hawksmoor's triumphant Baroque box, permitted to fall derelict but recently restored to former glories and reopened in 2004. The congregation's on the evangelical side, and they were just clearing off when I arrived on Sunday which may explain the two toddlers whizzing round the nave on scooters. But what a place in which to worship. [interior photo]
» Kirkaldy Testing Museum: The centrepiece of the museum is a Victorian curiosity - a 47ft long metal device for testing the stresses and strains of metals. It works on hydraulics, and so attracts (extremely keen) enthusiasts of a mechanical bent who like wearing overalls and getting greasy. The museum's small but rammed, and opens on the first Sunday of every month. Ian can tell you more.
» The Linnean Society: Serious natural historians, tucked away in a side wing near the Royal Academy, as they have been for centuries. Darwin first announced his theories of natural selection at a meeting of the Society in 1858. And they have a lovely library.
» Old Turkish Baths: Looks like a mini minaretted temple on the outside, accidentally discarded between two office blocks near Bishopsgate. Enter inside, down the steps, and it's a pizza restaurant. A damned ornate fame-obsessed pizzeria, but a pizzeria all the same. [exterior] [interior]
» Blue Fin Building: Yet another new office block, home to IPC Media, in the shadow of Tate Modern on Southwark Street. "Sorry, we're closed." Damn. [exterior photo]
» Greenwich Yacht Club: No, completely missed this one. How the hell am I supposed to get (promptly) from the East End to the North Greenwich Peninsula when the Jubilee line's shut, the East London line's shut and the only bus under the Thames refuses to pick me up because it's full. Damned frustrating. Yeah, should have gone by boat.

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