Monday, 28 September 2015

Open House London 2015

The return to school has been all-consuming as ever, weekends given over again to sleep and work. One weekend almost saw me write a post all about my new bed (suggests the state of mind I'm in?) but then I did something worth actually writing about so here I am, using my commute to tap out as many words as I possibly can in a relatively short space of time. Actually I also almost wrote a post about my new commute (it's almost blissful). I'm so glad I saw sense.

Last year's Open House was such a wonderful experience that of course I got very excited when posters for this year started popping up. I downloaded the app as soon as I could and started plotting.

Having learnt from last year, I decided to be strict with myself and to organise the day according primarily to location. Tearing myself away from the likes of the pumping station at Abbey Mills, I mapped out a route around the City, still full of plenty of intriguing treats!

I've decided I'd quite like to plan to venture out into the city early on a Sunday again!
Another year, another failed attempt at heading up the Gherkin. Despite arriving at St Mary Axe at 9am (any earlier on a Sunday could surely only have been described as sacrilege?), we worked out that the queue was already at least 2 hours long and, as experience the previous year had taught me, we did not have 2 hours.

The only small issue with not wanting to join the throng was the fact that nothing else opened for another hour. Not deterred however, we happened upon a St Helen's Church right by Gherkin that was open and churches always provide some interest!

Having wandered and admired, we moved on in the wrong direction and accidentally stumbled upon St Ethelburga's, a centre for reconciliation and peace where men were singing in morning worship and a beautiful garden provided a perfect slice of peace in an otherwise hectic area (although not so hectic on a Sunday, admittedly).

Almost time for other locations to open their doors, we made a quick coffee stop where I ordered my first PSL of the Autumn and made our way to the St Botolph Building.

We were met by a very formal sign in process complete with body searches and badges then led to the central atrium. Towering at dizzying heights above us rose an intricate twin lift system where two lift cars occupy the same shaft. We all 'ooh-ed' and 'aah-ed' as their function was demonstrated then it was our turn to ride up to the 13th floor.

Wondering of course about the logistics of two lifts in the same shaft, we couldn't help but be apprehensive as we stepped in, especially as our tour guide disappeared behind closing doors because he couldn't fit in the car with us!

On the 13th floor we were met with astonishing panoramic views, filling us with envy towards those office workers lucky enough to call the building their place of work. The floor was also given over to young artists as a display space for their pieces, making for a very colourful atmosphere.

When we could finally bring ourselves to leave the view behind, we made our way to Aldgate station where we caught a train to Monument to continue our adventuring. I don't think I'd ever been to Aldgate before. It's very antique, complete with old signs which we liked.

At Monument we then had a short walk to our next destination; the remains of a Roman house and baths. Hidden beneath what appears from the outside to merely be a block of slightly ugly offices (the Roman looking building sits on the other side of the road; most misleading), the ruins and the history behind how they would have come to be there was pretty surreal. Something to love about London has to be its being steeped in rich history (which I did take in but am by no means about to try to relay. I'm no historian)!

Lunch was had at St Dunstan-in-the-East which was much quieter upon this visit than my last. Sunnier too to the point where we almost sat on the grass, although it turned out to be too soggy.

The afternoon took us to Temple where we ogled at beautiful architecture from the inside and out and were wow-ed by yet more history in the Elizabethan banqueting hall which not only survived the Great Fire of London but also the two World Wars. From the hall to the church and to more incredibly intricate and brightly coloured windows!

After Temple we wended our way to Warren Street for a visit to Miranda House, home to Francisco de Miranda, a Venezuelan activist in the Georgian era. Like at St Botolph House, we were whisked into a tour and filled with information which I feel I wouldn't have been so interested in had it not been for the husky Spanish voices feeding it to us (they were female. I'm a sucker for anything Spanish)! Although it was very pretty inside, it was also very small and as we were amongst a tour party, I didn't end up taking any photos as my view was more than a little obscured by bodies.

At this point, the day began to feel like it was drawing in on us so we picked up speed. On to our next location we walked. I think we were possibly slightly disappointed by the Royal College of Physicians as lots of rooms were unopened. However there were still plenty of terrifying looking implements for doing goodness knows what and some flattened innards (framed) lined one wall. We did allow ourselves to stop for tea in the sunlit garden before scurrying on to our penultimate port of call.

We're not really sure what Asia House was all about. Yet again we were swept up in mass movement of other visitors through a door leading to the back of the house. We found ourselves in an empty room where an Indian dancer stood in the centre, fellow guests seated around her on the floor or perched on windowsills. She welcomed us to Asia House and explained that she would be performing a dance to reflect the celebration of architecture that had been going on over the course of the Open House weekend.

I think we were grateful to have arrived when we did as the rest of the house was a little nondescript. There were some beautiful ceilings but we weren't really sure what it was or why it was there so were glad to have seen a dance to entertain us. It was certainly a bit different to the other events of the day.

Finally, we turned back towards Fitzrovia in search of the Fitzrovia Chapel which we found thanks to the guidance of a builder working in the area who had obviously noticed many a lost soul wandering in the area over the course of the past two days.

Suffice to say, I think we inadvertently left the best til last.

Fitzrovia Chapel was nestled amongst newly constructed flats and restaurants in Fitzroy Square. When I managed to tear myself away from the dazzling ceiling, I was absolutely fascinated by the images on display showing how the building was protected while construction went on all around. Once a place of quiet contemplation and prayer for the staff and patients of the Middlesex Hospital, the Grade II listed chapel was such a tiny, seemingly fragile building, now standing as a memorial to the people who sacrificed their own lives to save the lives of others. Open House weekend was its first opening to the public since restoration. It's a truly special place and I hope to be back!

So much more packed into one day of this year's Open House Weekend than into two days last year and I can definitely say for both that my eyes have been opened even further to the wonders that London holds. Already excited by the prospect of next year's event (my aim is to persuade my parents to make a weekend of it)!

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