I'm a firm believer that if you walk around London enough, you'll eventually stumble upon something bloggable. Here's what I stumbled upon yesterday while walking the backstreets between Willesden Green and Brondesbury Park stations.
The Cambodian Embassy.
The flags outside number 64 were the first clue, that and a royal emblem on a blue plaque above the front door. I also noticed that the brick wall around this corner plot was higher than most, and yes, access was only through a gate with a push-button intercom. Here a burnished plaque confirmed that this was the Royal Embassy of Cambodia, and a separate plaque announced their official opening hours (the embassy closes for lunch between twelve thirty and two). Alongside was a very faded poster of Angkor Wat, which might once have tempted passers-by, but that's about all you can see. [photo]
If it looks like a big house, that's because it once was. There are a lot of big houses down Brondesbury Park, including one that's a convent, one that's a college and one with a large statue of an elephant outside, which I suspect is the residence of someone at the embassy. Perhaps it's even Her Excellency Dr Soeung Rathchavy, Cambodia's Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary (who's been in the job since 22 May 2017).
The Cambodians weren't always here in Willesden, they moved here from St John's Wood about ten years ago. I'm not sure why they moved this way, indeed South Sudan, who they used to share a building with, moved in entirely the opposite direction down to Marylebone. So I wondered if any other countries had their London embassies in strange locations...
It's possible to answer this question with the aid of the London Diplomatic List, a regularly-updated 150 page document which helps keep international diplomacy on track. As well as addresses there are also phone numbers, fax numbers, email addresses and full staff roll calls, so if you've ever wanted to know who Mozambique's Financial & Administrative Attaché is, here's your answer. I bashed their postcodes.
The four London postcode districts with the most embassies/high commissions
• SW1 (54)
• W1 (36)
• W8 (22)
• SW7 (19)
By far the most embassies are in SW1, i.e. around Westminster and Victoria. Over half of these are in SW1X, which is Belgravia, and a full dozen have an address in Belgrave Square, the very epicentre of diplomatic London. The second-placed postcode is W1, there being a lot of embassies in the West End, and particularly in Mayfair. Next up is W8, namely Kensington, with a considerable cluster immediately to the west of Kensington Gardens. The final big hitter is SW7, around the museums in South Ken, including four apiece in Princes Gate and Queens Gate. 80% of London's embassies lie within one of these four postcode districts.
The postcode runners-up
• WC2: Australia, Burundi, India, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe
• WC1: Barbados, Cuba, Haiti, Kosovo, Malawi, Sierra Leone
• W11: Cameroon, Greece, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan
• W2: Guatemala, Guyana, Laos, Sri Lanka
• W14: Paraguay, Grenada
• NW1: El Salvador, Guinea
• SW5: Dominica, Saint Lucia
And then there are the loners, seven embassies which share their postcode districts with no other country. Cambodia is one, up in NW6. Here are the other six.
American Embassy, 33 Nine Elms Lane, SW11 7US No other country has yet followed the USA from Mayfair to Vauxhall. A lot of highrise flats have erupted instead, on all sides, but the fortified cube with a moat stands alone. [photo]
Apostolic Nunciature, 54 Parkside, SW19 5NE
Facing Wimbledon Common is where you'll find the diplomatic office of the Holy See, or the Vatican's official UK bolthole. The Pope stays here when he's in town. Along with the American Embassy, it's one of only two diplomatic missions south of the Thames. [photo]
Embassy of the Republic of Moldova, 5 Dolphin Square, Edensor Road, W4 2ST
No, that's not Dolphin Square in Pimlico, that's Dolphin Square in Chiswick. Here, for some reason, the Moldovan embassy is a sturdy box built on the site of a former outdoor swimming pool. [photo]
Embassy of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, 73 Gunnersbury Avenue, W5 4LP North Korea's embassy, incongruously, is a seven bedroomed detached house on the North Circular in Gunnersbury. It opened its doors briefly for an art exhibition five years ago, but is normally unapproachable. Sorry for the poor photo, but I had to crop the Queen's Birthday Flypast out of the sky overhead. [photo]
Embassy of the State of Eritrea, 96 White Lion Street, N1 9PF
This one's in Islington, along a terrace around the back of Chapel Market, not very far from Angel station. I think it's also London's easternmost embassy, there being no embassies in the City or anywhere in East London. I wonder who'll move first. [photo]
Embassy of the Republic of Togo, Unit 3, 7 & 8 Lysander Mews, N19 3QP
Our last reclusive embassy is in Archway, up a sideroad, then up an alleyway into a business development of eight modern officeunits. Togo's taken Unit 3, with its open plan interior and loft-style upper floor, in a building that's more trading estate than international hub. Diplomacy on the cheap... or perhaps the sensible practical approach. [website]
And finally, here are the countries without a diplomatic presence in London. Embassy in Paris: Benin, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Suriname Embassy in Brussels: Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Chad, Mali, Samoa, São Tomé & Principe, Vanuatu Embassy in home nation: Andorra, San Marino London Honorary Consulate: Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Tuvalu No official Embassy address at present time: Somalia