Prince Henry's Room is a first-floor Jacobean chamber overhanging Fleet Street above the arched entrance to Inner Temple Lane. It boasts an original 17th century plaster ceiling and carved oak panelling, and is particularly notable as one of the few surviving pre-1666 timber-framed buildings in the City. According to my Penguin Guide to London, 1986 edition, it contains "a small exhibition relating to Samuel Pepys the diarist" which is open 1.45-5pm daily (except Sunday) and admission is free. But this closed without fanfare about 20 years ago, probably through lack of interest, so I'd lost faith in ever getting to visit. But Open House has finally come up trumps, or at least the latest occupants have woken up to the fact that people might want to look inside, and yesterday they finally let us in.
These days 17 Fleet Street is otherwise known as Catalonia House, having been rented by a delegation from Spain's itchiest regional government. It's not an entirely random move because a group of republican émigrés first kept an office here in 1940, but only recently has it gone full-on trade/tourism/culturepromotional hub. They only use Prince Henry's Room for events, not office space, which explains the seriously anachronistic flatscreen TV wheeled in front of the fireplace. But otherwise it retains a proper throwback ambience, most notably the ceiling, the stained glass and one (just one) of the panelled walls. Focus hard and you can almost imagine Samuel Pepys drinking "a store of wine" here, as he indeed did on 14 October 1661 when this was the Fountains Inn.
It's called Prince Henry's Room because it was built in 1610, the year that King James I invested his eldest son as Prince of Wales. Look up and you'll see the Prince of Wales's feathers and the initials "PH" in the very centre of the wonderfully ornate plasterwork. Alas Prince Henry died of typhoid two years later and the heir to the throne switched to his 12 year-old brother Charles, thereby setting Britain's future on an entirely different path. In the 18th century the building was half-occupied by Mrs Salmon's Waxworks, a motley collection of infamous historical figures (including, ironically, Charles I at the scaffold). The modern Pepys exhibition would have been far less showy, and much smaller, and indeed rather shorter-lived.
A plaque on the windowsill states that the house was under threat of demolition in 1900 when the City of London Corporation stepped in and bought it. A plaque on the bookcase (which is now stuffed with Catalonian collateral) confirms it was made from some of the timbers that supported the ceiling before the room's restoration. The one surviving Jacobean wall isn't all that exciting, save being fire-defyingly old, so the ceiling is doing most of the heavy lifting here. I loved the opportunity to finally climb the stairs and see what I'd been missing, as too did Ian Visits who probably got some better photos than me. But if you didn't go sorry, this was a Friday 8th September opening only, and you'll have to hope they make it an annual event.