Open House 2009

September 21, 2009 at 10:29 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Every year many of London’s buildings that are normally closed to the public are opened up for a rare chance to see some classic gems as part of Open House. This year I went to:

St Stephens: A historic church located near Bank. It could have been interesting but sadly it didn’t seem open when we came by at 9:15 (opening hours started at 9). Perhaps we missed the entrance?

St Stephens - Open House (3) St Stephens - Open House (2)

Lloyd’s:The iconic modern industrial high-rise in the City, home to Lloyds and numerous other traders. Normally when you visit you have to be smartly dressed and for men wearing a tie but not on this Saturday (Sunday it’s closed). The high atrium, external lifts and views of the city make this a worthwhile visit but it’s better to get here early as the queues can take a while. Probably no more than 30 minutes once you get in.

Lloyds Building - Open House (14) Lloyds Building - Open House (30) Lloyds Building - Open House (7) Lloyds Building - Open House (62)

Japanese Festival: Nothing to do with Open House but this special one off event at Spitalfields Market was on the same day so I opted to detour off the itinerary to check it out. There were plenty of stalls serving food and other Japanese related products. Taiko drummers were performing energetically when I arrived and provided a soundtrack for my wander around. It looked like a pleasant day out with a number of families perusing the various activities and shops.

Japanese Festival (18) Japanese Festival (23)

Chartered Accountants’ Hall: The Accountants’ Hall is, oddly enough, the home of the Institute of Chartered Accountants with a historic Victorian exterior, library and reception room blending with modern banqueting hall, restaurant  and council chambers. A 15 minute tour provides an overview of the building and its history.

Chartered Accountants Hall - Open House (12) Chartered Accountants Hall - Open House (6)

Pipers’ City of London: Located near Guildhall is the City’s marketing office and its scale model of London. It only takes 5 or 10 minutes to look at but it is quite cool to see the city in miniature with all of the proposed buildings on display. You can also choose specific buildings or categories and they’ll be illuminated.

Piper's City of London - Open House (19) Piper's City of London - Open House (11)

St Mary’s – Bow Church: Another historic London church and this one was open. There were tours of the crypt and guides on tour to answer your questions. I took the opportunity to let the ambience soak in. However I only stayed for 15 minutes.

St Mary-le-Bow - Open House (10) St Mary-le-Bow - Open House (5)

Salvation Army: The International Headquarters of the Salvation Army, located near Saint Pauls, had tours of their building every half hour. We missed the latest one so opted to have a wander around the basement cafe and small exhibit space instead. Obviously we didn’t get the most out of this building and I’d be interested to hear if anyone went on the tour.

Salvation Army - Open House (2) Salvation Army - Open House

120 Fleet Street: Formerly the Daily Express building (during the heyday of the newspaper industry on Fleet Street) is notable for its art deco foyer. You may have to wait in line for 5 minutes or so but with the 1920s style mouldings and design it’s worth it. Probably takes 5 – 10 minutes once inside.

120 Fleet Street - Open House (8) 120 Fleet Street - Open House (3)

Honourable Company of Master Mariners: Down near Temple tube station and moored in the Thames is the HQS Wellington, home to the Honourable Company of Master Mariners. A 40 minute guided tour of the vessel offers a background to the company, its tussels with the City of London and a history of the Wellington (named for the New Zealand City not the Admiral) and other ships. Interesting but a touch long.

HQS Wellington - Open House (9) HQS Wellington - Open House (14)

Society of Antiquaries: Located inside Burlington House, the Society of Antiquaries while relatively small is home to an impressive library and imbues a sense of history and the preservation of knowledge onto this casual observer. Definitely one to look in on.  10 minutes.

Society of Antiquaries - Open House (10) Society of Antiquaries - Open House (6)

Linnean Society: Also located within Burlington House, the Linnean Society does for biology what the Antiquaries does for museums and history. Again it has an interesting library although you can’t wander as extensively nor can you pick up random books to browse through. 10 minutes.

Linnean Society - Open House (3) Linnean Society - Open House (2)

Open House is a great weekend but it’s important to have a plan to make sure you can see as many sites as possible during the weekend and try and avoid those that are normally open – unless they have a special tour or event on.

More photos at Flickr and a Google map.

Plus unrelated to Open House but still cool giant chess set in Trafalgar Square!

Trafalgar Square Chess Set (2) Trafalgar Square Chess Set

Open day weekend

October 19, 2008 at 6:34 pm | Posted in General, London, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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There is a legend known only to a few. That for two days in Greater London there is an open house day… that lasts two days.  These mysterious landmarks are normally off limits to the lay commoner but for a glorious weekend in September (20-21) they open their doors to the public. In an event known as Open House. However, the alignment of planets that allows for the great opening also carries with it a curse and a heavy burden. Spread out over 699 sites across the capital. Beware the reckless traveller that does not plan their viewings for lo the sheer number will boggle and confuse. You may cry out in despair and lament why all of these places are open on the same day but such rational protestations will fall on deaf ears. What place is there for logic when grandiose claims of 699 sites must be upheld! Even if some are open normally. Be wary in your search for the Lloyd’s Building for it is open only on Saturday and only those early enough or with great forbearance will prevail as the line becomes long and treacherous. Should a quick respite be needed try The Treasury as it takes all of 5 minutes to walk through the meeting room, past the staff cafe and outside again. Truly impressive.

Treasury (6) Treasury (4) 

Beyond the Treasury was the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Possibly the best of all open buildings. Years of Empire produced a wonderful building with interesting and fascinating interiors charting the (former) reach of British Empire. Well worth a visit.

FCO (12) FCO (17)

FCO (33) FCO (30)

Next on the journey of a thousand steps came the home of the Cabinet where no mere devices of man (cameras and phones) where permitted to work. The rooms were small and well appointed but we were quickly done thus making the trials of entry almost more trouble than it was worth. At Trafalgar Square with spirits low we traversed the streets for enlightenment at St Martin in the Fields. Yet another venue ‘open’ on this special day that is open on most other days as well. Nonetheless the church while small was nice to wander around and the new expansion had recently opened and it provided a nice blend between old and new.

st martins st martins (8) st martins (18) st martins (25)

Within the centre of the city inside it’s walls and past its modern monuments to power lies the Guildhall. Home to London’s Guild’s and a Horology Museum. While fine to explore there was limited information available and so the tours on offer of the main hall were invaluable.

Guildhall Guildhall (4)

Guildhall (8) Guildhall (7)

For those considering adventuring on this special day I would advise you strike off any place normally open and to limit yourself to one borough of the city in order to maximise the number of places you can see. For the Powers That Be I urge you to restructure this event to run throughout the year and improve the search functions on your site.

Lastly, if you are considering visiting Lloyds next year then I implore you not to…just so I can get in!

More photos at Flickr.

Cardiff – Senedd – The Welsh National Assembly

October 19, 2008 at 12:46 pm | Posted in General, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | 2 Comments
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The Welsh National Assembly, the Senedd (Senate) is a unique building situated on Cardiff Bay.

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Throughout the day they offer free tours. If you’re lucky you may even be the only one on the tour. My guide was happy to answer my questions about the building and Welsh politics. The building was built with the environment in mind both in terms of sustainability and the materials available in Wales used for its construction.

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The spacious atriums are  filled with natural light and with the slate floors and wooden ceilings provide a warm and pleasant atmosphere. The upper level allows you to look down on the assembly chamber. The assembly chamber itself is danker than the rest of the building. It feels contradictory given the amount of potential light to come down. A small fact the ceremonial mace was donated by the government of New South Wales, Australia as a gift on the opening of the Senedd.

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Overall the 30 minute tour was interesting from an architectural and political perspective. While the building may largely just house the assembly chamber but it also provides a focus for the nascent Welsh political system.

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