diamond geezer

 Saturday, September 17, 2022

Open House weekend is here again, as indeed it was last weekend when I visited the following...

Open House: Founders Hall (Cloth Fair, City of London)

A livery company that's not been on the Open House list before? Let me in. Their hall sits beside the City's oldest surviving church, St Bartholomew the Great, so needed some careful architectural thought when they rebuilt it in the 1980s. You can tell they got it right because it's already listed, "as a distinctive and nuanced late-C20 reinterpretation of a livery hall, its architectural design fusing neo-Vernacular historicism, Arts and Crafts influences with Post-Modern wit and extravagance." Think of a chapel raised on top of an irregular stack of greenhouses and you're halfway there. Just inside the entrance, fresh from the RA Summer Exhibition, is Grayson's Perry's Covid Bell. It was designed during the pandemic and features a doctor, a patient and what Grayson describes as "an aerial view of a multicultural cemetery". We were urged to give it a ring.

"So, erm, founders of what?" I asked the lady sitting in the parlour, confessing that I hadn't done my homework. She pointed out, patiently, that founders were metalworkers and that, long before the Industrial Revolution, the City had been the nation's crucible. A friendly five minute conversation ensued during which she casually revealed that, as well as being high among the Founders, she and her husband bought the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in the 1960s. But they only bought the business, not the site, hence when the site-owners sold up to a developer a few years ago they found themselves without a home, She was at pains to point out that the bell-ringing business carries on, whatever certain 'misguided campaigns' might have hinted, with the larger bells now being manufactured in Kent and the smaller handbells in Bromley.

Things got tough for bellmaking when conservationists started to insist broken bells were welded rather than replaced. Things got worse when a second-hand bell-swapping website was established, a kind of eBay for bells, and the current economic climate isn't helping either. The company has recently sent orders to Switzerland, Cornwall, the Welsh Fire Brigade and the Met Police, but people are buying smaller sets of handbells than they used to, and hopes that bells might be cast to celebrate the recent Platinum Jubilee proved unfounded. I mentioned the fine tone of Grayson's bell and was promptly told that it was 'just art' and what I should really do was ring their Hall Bell above the stairs, which I did and it was startlingly pure. Always stop for a chat, you never know what you might find out.

Open House: British Cardiovascular Society (Fitzroy Square, WC1)
Not just a chance to visit a heart-rending organisation but a chance to step inside a proper Georgian townhouse in period Fitzrovia. An opportunity to visit their electrocardiography display in the basement and the library on the second floor via one of those iconic cantilever staircases. Perhaps take a look at how pacemakers have evolved, from great chunky things you half-carried to tiny bleeps you can hardly see, or scrutinise some catheters, and do please pick up a BCS centenary mug on your way out.

Open House: 1 Quality Court (off Chancery Lane)
Are we sure it's this way? Through an archway into a hidden courtyard, down to the building at the far end and press button 1 on the entryphone. Then buzzed through into a five storey atrium to be told "these are all serviced offices, there's more information on the cafe tables" and left to explore. Nothing spectacular or even promising, except it turned out this used to be part of the Patent Office so part of the realm of the Comptroller General. They're now based in Newport hence the change to serviced offices, but I did at least like the dangly lightbulbs, if nothing else.

If you fancy getting away from the madness in central London today, here are eight recommended Open House openings (and a review from when I went).
» Swakeleys Estate (Hillingdon) [Sat] Jacobean!
» St Jude on the Hill (Camden) [Sat, Sun, 10-5] Lutyens!
» Kaymet Factory (Southwark) [Sat, Sun, 11-6] Traymaking!
» Former Grosvenor Cinema (Harrow) (Sat, 11-4.30] Art Deco!
» Dorich House Museum (Kingston) [Sat, Sun, 11-4.30] Sculpture!
» BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir (Brent) [Sat, Sun, 10-4] Marble!
» Greenside Primary School (Ham & Fulham) [Sat, 12-5] Goldfinger!
» Markfield Beam Engine and House (Haringey) [Sat, Sun, 11-5] Steam!

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