diamond geezer

 Thursday, September 25, 2014

Some buildings are on the Open House list every year and I always mean to go but never do. So this year I did two of them.

Open House: Royal Geographical Society
Follow Exhibition Road right to the end, past the Natural History and Science Museums, and you'll reach Kensington Gore. At number 1, overlooking Hyde Park, is Lowther House, since 1913 the headquarters of the Royal Geographical Society. The RGS is rather older than that, born out of gentlemen's dining clubs, for the advancement of geographical learning. Many a global expedition has been planned here, including the first successful assault on Everest, although modern patrons are more likely to surf to the Himalayas than actually visit. Anyone can enter the exhibition pavilion out front (currently home to an excellent display of People in London). But to walk in off the street and explore beyond requires booking an event, membership, or waiting for the third weekend in September. [3 photos]

Many great discoveries have been announced in the lecture theatre, although the current version is a relatively recent sponsored revamp and a little gloomy. The names of various organisations and luminaries have been carved into the staircase to balcony level, including the last but one President Michael Palin CBE. Climb a little further to discover the Members' Room, whose bookshelves and alcoves are named after the continents and regions of the world, but whose contents turned out to be two centuries of geographical journals. More interesting is the ground floor Map Room, a treasure trove of globes and portraits, plus a scale model of the Everest massif - alas not a Hillary original. In common with many delicate artefacts at the RGS this is emblazoned with officious messages warning bystanders not to touch, or in this case not to place their canapés and wine glasses on the Khumbu Icefall.

I've often thought that if I was ever going to join a London-based organisation the Royal Geographical Society might be for me. I used to subscribe to their monthly Geographical magazine as a sixth former, and there were current copies lying around as freebies for Open Housers to purloin. But a visit reminded me that the RGS is as much about mud hut villages as oxbow lakes, and aligned more towards adventure than armchair travel, so the £127 annual membership subscription probably wouldn't be worthwhile. Maybe. Oh we'll see.

Open House: The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom
Despite sounding like it ought to have been around for centuries, the UK's Supreme Court is barely five years old. It was established out of the Constitutional Reform Act which split parliament and the judiciary, creaming off a dozen Law Lords to arbitrate in the trickiest cases in the land. They never sentence, only decide, and thus far only one of the twelve is a Lady. And the court's location could hardly be better, poised between church and state on the corner of Parliament Square opposite Westminster Abbey. This is the former Middlesex Guildhall, completed in 1913, the seat of government for London's lost county. Much of the interior was ripped out when the building was redesigned, but the surviving remainder looks a lot older than it is thanks to its art nouveau gothic styling. Queue for the security patdown on Open House Open Day and you'll be given pretty much free rein to roam inside. [6 photos]

First up beyond the lobby is the main library, a stunning triple-height space stacked with legal tomes. And then there are three court rooms, the largest of which is on the top floor. This was originally the main council chamber, now with less adversarial seating, beneath an impressive hammerbeam roof. Court 2 is rather more plain and modern, with an Eleanor Roosevelt quote etched into the glass facing into, and away from, the main corridor. Both courts strongly feature the court's logo, a quartered circle featuring stylised versions of the national symbols of the four Home Nations. It's simple but very attractive, and I fear most of the carpets in the building would have had to have been torn out had Scotland voted for independence last week. Or perhaps cases would have shifted to Court 3, where commonwealth and dependency cases are heard, be that for the Bahamas, the Falklands or the Isle of Man.

Members of the public are welcome to visit the building during opening hours, and to sit at the back of the courts when a case is in session. Tours are available for a fiver, or you can simply go get a drink from the cafe at the foot of the lightwell, and maybe buy some Supreme Court souvenirs while you're there. I resisted the mug, the notebook and the cuddly teddy bear, but I suspect victorious claimants may be more easily tempted.

» 64 Open House photos (Canary Wharf Crossrail, Tower 42, Balfron Tower, Worlds End Estate, 20 Triton Street, Hackney Marshes Centre, Royal Geographical Society, UK Supreme Court)

<< 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  Jul18
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