diamond geezer

 Monday, September 18, 2023

Yesterday's Open House tally was eight.
Here's a quick summary.


• The pricey building where I carried on climbing past the last public room and accidentally ended up in an attic space where a private group were celebrating something, so retreated rapidly.
• The terraced house transformed by its architect owners into a colour-supplement-friendly void, even down to the Ottolenghi cookbook, although apparently it took them five years most of which they spent lodging with the mother-in-law, and while I was putting my shoes back on their nextdoor neighbour arrived home and unlocked his door revealing bog-standard plasterboard which is the ungentrified house-share reality hereabouts.
• The landmark building where I was convinced there might be a queue so arrived early, unnecessarily because at that stage I was the entire queue, and in the end we set off late waiting for sufficient people to turn up.
• The much-loved building where everyone else was arriving for a tour and dashed through to hear a volunteer read a prepared speech, while I stayed in reception and enjoyed a one-on-one chat with the managing director.
• The bombed building where the first sign that a deluge was approaching was that a Health and Safety poster started flapping, and by the time I got outside summer had precipitously ended.
• The cosy building where one of the other people on the tour asked a question about external access, so the volunteer said "well why don't I show you?" and opened a small door and led us down a narrow staircase lit only by our smartphones, and eventually we stepped out into what used to be the car park and that answered her question, and only on the way back in did we discover that the stairs had a light switch after all.
• The boozy building where Open House signage was non-existent, but it was in fact fine to walk past the beers and Sunday roasts to a dingy space screening a powerpoint presentation where the slide changed five times slower than my reading speed, watched over by a cliquey in-crowd gossiping behind me, and I decided I might not come back to watch them perform.
• The historic building where the volunteer dragged out the tour for so long that by the time we reached the final plaque the kettle had been unplugged and the refreshment-making paraphernalia locked away in the cupboard and I'm still not sure if there were biscuits or not.



Let's do five of those in more detail (not necessarily in the above order).
(I'm saving one, and the other two I'll spare you)

Open House: The Mildmay Club (Stoke Newington) The Authentic One



London's not well-blessed with working men's clubs but sometimes a pub just won't do, what you want is a social safe space where activities and friends are more important than overpriced beer. Here on the north side of Newington Green the Mildmay Radical Club has been delivering since 1900, although it officially dropped the radical tag a while back and opposition to the Boer War is no longer committee policy. Open House is essentially an opportunity to recruit new members, yes we have four bars here let me show you. Out back is a cavernous room with nine snooker tables watched over by a four-faced clock from Woolworths, up top a large hall and their pride and joy is a sprung dancefloor in front of a glittery stage where you could still imagine Double Diamond being brought to the table in dimpled glasses. Film crews, unsurprisingly, drop in a lot when making gritty period dramas. Around 1400 men and women are currently members and they're actively looking for more, young and old alike, so if you're approximately local this might be the social breakaway your life is missing.

Open House: Hackney Empire (Hackney) The Plush One



This independent jewel has been bringing joy to East London since 1901, initially as a music hall, later a bingo hall and since the 1980s as a proper theatre. It's particularly well known for its panto but comedians, opera companies and beardymen recording podcasts can also fill the seats. Some idea of the sumptuous space within comes from the fussily over-decorated lobby, where a plaque remembers the wad of dosh Lord Sugar gave to help fund a much needed millennial upgrade. But only when you step through to the stalls or dress circle does glitzy gold and red decor really hit, not to mention the swooping scale of the auditorium. Several so-called West End theatres can't hold a candle to Hackney. For Open House we got to wander freely into unlocked boxes, scrutinise the lager selection at the bar and even walk through the private door into the wings and out onto the stage. You don't normally get the chance to stand where Charlie Chaplin, Julie Andrews, Lenny Henry and (just a couple of weeks ago) the Rolling Stones have wowed the crowds, but that's the joy of Open House for you.

Open House: Little Angel Theatre (Islington) The Puppety One



In 1961 a disused temperance hall off Upper Street was transformed into a mini theatre for mini people, specifically a marionette theatre targeted at children. The Little Angel's branched out into other types of puppetry since but is still thriving 60 years later and they still put on eight different shows a year, some here and some at the satellite space just up the road. For Open House there was a chance to walk between the raked seats and up onto the stage, past the friendly wolf on Red Ridinghood's bed and into the backstage area. The Little Angel is one of only three UK theatres equipped for dangle-stringed puppets and the only one with a double marionette bridge ("here, come up the steps and take a look"), although most puppetry these days tends to be rod-controlled. Along the side of the building is a workshop where the puppets are made, and it was a real treat at the far end to meet Lyndie who's been here bringing wood to life here since the theatre opened. She showed us her latest mid-carved figure and then whipped out a past character who suddenly sprung to life on the floor, a few deft tugs creating a personality full of grace and charm. I imagine every middle class Islington family with young children knows this theatre exists and treasures it, and the rest of us could so easily overlook it entirely.

Open House: The Hospital Chapel of St Mary & St Thomas (Ilford) The Not Actually A Hospital One



Near the top of Ilford Hill, just across the road from the station, is Redbridge's oldest surviving building. Only one of its walls actually dates back to 1145, after the Victorians got a bit too gung-ho upgrading it, but you don't find many religious buildings in outer London which were founded by Norman nuns. In this case that's nuns from Barking Abbey, a mile down the Roding, who established almhouses for 13 penniless men and threw in a chapel for good measure. One original window also survives, unceremoniously filled-in. These days a tour of the interior includes a lot of features of mysterious provenance ("we're not sure where these stained glass windows came from") ("we're not sure what these tablets are") ("we're not sure if the two stone fish are contemporary") but the two glowing saints at the west end are definitely by Edward Burne-Jones. Ian visited in 2019 and has a much fuller report, but you really want to hear the story from one of the Friends of the Hospital Chapel who can recount all of the ecclesiastical detail in situ. As well as Open House the chapel's supposedly open to visitors on the second Saturday of the month and also for communion on Thursdays, although you risk doubling the congregation if you turn up for that.

Open House: The Estorick Collection (Canonbury) The Italian One



The American writer Erik Estorick became interested in Italian modern art while on honeymoon, as you do. He bought a lot of it quite cheaply, because paintings with fascist associations weren't much in demand in the 1950s, and started hiring out his artworks to public galleries. After his death in 1993 his collection ended up at Northumberland Lodge in Canonbury with a selection spread across galleries on three floors. Normally it's £7.50 to get in but for Open House they waived it, and I'm a firm believer that every paid-for attraction will eventually let you in for free so off I went. The upper floors feature drawings, paintings and sculptures, many by Eric's favourite artists, who if you read further might now be considered to be of dubious political persuasion. I confess to walking past the drawings faster than the colourful stuff. And yes it's interesting, and yes the background detail is fascinating, and yes normally the two ground floor galleries aren't between exhibitions, and yes there's a classy little cafe, but unless you're a connoisseur I doubt you'd think you got your £7.50-worth.

Sorry it was a long day and meteorologically sometimes quite taxing, and after I got home I did what I could but I haven't managed to completely finish writing this, I need some sleep, but I will come back and add the last building honest, quite possibly in a day or two's time when nobody's reading it any more, and sorry there aren't many additions to my album on Flickr this time because I'm saving the Photoshop-heavy venues for further posts because I'm not done yet.


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