Open House London

An Exlusive Insight into 100 Architecturally Inspiring Buildings in London 

Victoria Thornton,  Ebury Publishing, £25

We’re nearly at that time of year again, folks. The time where we can poke into places we’re not normally allowed near, see inside buildings that we’ve only seen the outside of and see some incredible architecture, old and new, up close, for one weekend only. I have a love-hate relationship with it – however hard I plan I always end up turning up on the wrong day being late or being the one after the last person in the queue is let in (happened with Linley Sambourne House last year – I queued for a good forty minutes, then the person in front of me got in and I didn’t. To add insult to injury she turned and smirked at me. Bah…)

We’ve talked about Open House weekend so many times – had long discussions about things in Greenwich we’d like to see opened and even tried the odd campaign to see that happen.

Greenwich is pretty poorly served for openings – just two pages in the catalogue and many of them are places that would be open anyway. Not that I’m knocking anywhere that chooses to open their doors for this incredible event – a heartfelt thank you to all of them. I’ll do my pick of the openings at the end of today’s post. But there are places I would love to persuade to open their doors too.

One I keep meaning to contact is Our Lady Star of the Sea on Crooms Hill – a church I understand has Pugin interiors. Yes. I’ll put that on my list for pestering next year. You can see the lovely White Dog of Crooms HIll at the same time if you’re lucky. She’ll be feeling lonely now the paths are open again in the park…

I did try to get the roof of the Observatory opened a few years ago – they said they’d think about it, and that’s the last I heard of it, hint, hint.

Forget the Observation Tower at Greenwich Borough Hall. Several Phantomites have had upleasant encounters with the letting agency who have no intention of allowing anyone at all up there, ever. Why Greenwich Council ever gave that up I still don’t know. It’s an observation tower, built for the people,  from which only the pigeons have a view.

I’ve lost count of the number of different places I’ve written to to try to get power station tours – never with any luck at all – it seems such a missed opportunity for a place that most people think is closed down (I get a lot of emails from people suggesting this derelict hulk be turned into an art gallery/peformance space/shopping mall)  to become part of the community but I’ve had virtually no repsonse.

The closest I got to an answer was mutterings of ‘security issues’ – but I don’t buy that. There are much higher profile buildings (including strategic-industrial) quite happy to do tours. My problem is that I’ve never been able to pin down the guy (or gal) who could actually make a decision and I’m passed around jobsworths who don’t want to stick their necks out.  Maybe next year we could have a concerted effort together – anyone know the exact person we need to talk to?

My final wishlist ‘want’ is the fabulous Rotunda -Nash-designed, incredible history, odd construction methods – and absolutely locked up.

But that’s enough of what we can’t see. Before I go onto what we can, I really want to talk about the book that’s come out celebrating the event. It’s not cheap, but it is beautiful, and one of those books that you’d want as a physical presence, rather than on your Kindle.

A hardcover, full-colour exploration of the kind of buildings open across London, it features heavily the modern, achitect-led constructions rather than the historic ones I tend to graduate towards. The great thing about this is that, flicking through, I find myself fascinated by them – my eye doesn’t really catch listings in the brochure about modern buildings, but seeing a photo of a particularly odd/innovative design makes me want to read the write-up and the write-up makes me want to see the real thing. Often the sculptures inside very large, airy atriums pull me in more than the buildings themselves.

Obviously other people’s homes are particularly nose-worthy and the ones in this book are, for the most part sleek, smooth and design marvels, especially the ones created in teeny spaces, using innovative technology. But how on earth would you live in such places? Don’t these people have clutter? I note that at least one place has children living in it. HOW? Where are the books? The toys? The papers? The mess? The crayons? Those poor kids…

There’s only one actual Greenwich place in the book  - if you’ve never been to Greenwich Yacht Club, it’s worth a sneak around there, and reading the background to it and the GMV, but there are close things – such as the extraordinary cathedral of sewage, Crossness (never been? Go!) and the very wonderful Trinity Buoy Wharf – so near, and once, so far – now a little easier to visit thanks to the cable car. It’s also worth checking out Marlborough House in Pall Mall to see the loot from the greatest act of Royal vandalism Greenwich has known. Both are discussed in the book.

So -onto my Greenwich recommendations for the 22/23 September this year:

Blackheath House – I don’t know this, but I think I read it’s recently been listed. I may be wrong.

Charlton House – owned by the council and thus pretty empty, but the panelling, fireplaces, ceilings etc remain and are majestic.

Devonport Mausoleum – you can get pretty close to this anyway these days but I’m hoping to be allowed inside the fencing.

Dreadnought Library – I’ve never seen this – I always seem to turn up on the wrong day – but it’s apparently a good example of new within old.

Eltham Lodge – make sure you’re in plenty of time for this fabulous old mansion – I arrived on the stroke of 12.30 and was unceremoniously (and quite rudely) kicked out.

Greenwich Heritage Centre – nice place, not really sure why it’s on the list – it’s always open.

Greenwich Yacht Club – definitely worth a nose for the stilts alone.

Old Royal Naval College – the tours you normally have to pay for are free.

Queens House – absolutely seminal building – again, not sure why it’s on the list, being open all the time (except during the Olympics, natch) but deffo worth seeing if you’ve not been inside yet (where have you been? )

Ravensbourne – an utterly amazing building from the outside – one of my faves, but rather dull inside.

Ruins of Garrison Church, RA Barracks – normally only able to be squinted at through iron gates, worth a view.

Sevendroog Castle – Supeb views and well worth the long queue, not least for the mouldings (and mould) on the inside. Sponsor a brick while you’re waiting; I hope to see it reopen as a tea room and observation tower sometime in my lifetime.

St Alfege Church – book one of their Crypt tours and see the tombs of General Wolfe, Thos. Tallis and Lavinia Fenton.

Call: 020 8853 0687

St Mary Magdalene School – I don’t know this one.

St Saviour’s Church, Eltham – ditto

Station Officers’ Mess, RA Barracks –  If this is the cute bit in the middle, it’s well worth joining a tour.

Thames Barrier and Information Centre  - not sure this is particularly worth it – the REALLY interesting bit is the barrier itself and that bit’s not open.

The Coronet Cinema, Eltham – in the middle of some serious change – probably worth seeing while it’s still at least partially there.

Tudor Barn – a beautiful place.

Woolwich Town Hall - I’ve only ever been in the foyer – it’s on my list for this year.

Enjoy Open House Weekend, folks.

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3 Comments to “Open House London”

  1. Michael says:

    Sadly looks like the inside of Sevendroog Castle is not actually going to be open to the public. From their website:

    “Open House on Sunday 23 September 10am-3pm.
    Talks on the hour about the history of the building and future plans. The castle interior will not be open but the trustees will be able to provide an update about the restoration. Information stall and refreshments”

    However from the same website I see that refurbishment is planned to start (and finish) next year!

  2. That’s worth knowing Michael. It would be great if they can get it up and running so it’s open all the time – or weekends or the summer or something. It truly is a great view and on Open House they only give you five minutes because of the number of people so although no access is sad this year, figners crossed for next.

  3. Maghan says:

    Excellent info about Open House, will be visiting many of the houses mentioned including Linley Sambourne House – noticed on the website that they have a free flow this year and open until 4pm.

    I do recommend volunteering one day and get a Volunteer priority entry card.