Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Brimstone Butterfly’s Open House London: September 2011

The highlight of the architectural year came around last weekend when many doors usually closed to the general public were flung open as part of Open House London 2011. Unlike last year, this time the Brimstone Butterfly was determined to target properties that I have often referred to on here but which I had last visited a year or so prior to beginning this blog. One place proved particularly poignant to me as only a week earlier I had been interviewed for a post there. It was more than a little irksome to hear reference made, in all innocence, by the guide to what would have formed an important element of my role, had I but succeeded in my quest to gain employment with them.

Fearing I had left it too late I was pleased to discover that I had secured the last available ticket for Lambeth Palace, the medieval residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury. I had been there a number of times in the past but that had involved queuing for hours. This time I could sweep up to the entrance with only minutes to spare and be certain of entry.

I also paid a visit to the early 18th century Marlborough House, once the home of the Duke of Marlborough, then members of the Royal family before being handed over to the Commonwealth Secretariat.

En route to Marlborough House I came across the Royal Society and the Royal College of Pathologists and decided I could afford to dash around them so long as I kept a careful eye on my strictly limited time, subject as I was to the vagaries of public transport.

My final house call on Saturday was to 19 Princelet Street, the 18th century silk merchant’s house which had been turned in to a synagogue by Jewish refugees in the 19th century and is now a museum, celebrating the wave of refugees to the area..

Public transport being even more of a nightmare than usual, on  Sunday I went first to Hampton Court to see one of the largest former grace and favour apartments in the palace. It is not usually open to the general public as it houses the CEO’s offices. So big is this apartment it has it own resident ghost, who current staff claim to have witnessed.

From thence I made my way to the mid-17th century York House in Twickenham, once the home of the grandson of the last King of France.

My last visit of the year was to nearby Marble Hill House. I wrote extensively on the subject of the latter last year but as it was so close to York House and as I had time to spare, I decided it was worth making the effort to include it on my packed itinerary. I had hoped to call on the Aviatrix, but she alas appeared to be hibernating.

I shall be returning to the subject of these various buildings anon. However, as I only did a whistle-stop tour of the Royal Society and the Royal College of Pathologists I shall relate my brief visits to them in this post, making no apologies for the fact that I did not endeavour to discover their respective histories. Both institutes are housed in Carlton House Terrace which stood on the site of Carlton House, the London home of the Prince Regent. Carlton House was demolished in the 1820s to make way for the present buildings.

The Royal College of Pathologists occupies house number 2. As befitting its name the building is very sparse and the meeting rooms in the basement are stripped down to their bare bones or rather brickwork

The Royal Society occupies houses 6-9. A former occupant was the German Embassy. I do not know whether they were responsible for the ornate Marble Hall in the Venetian style.

There was an exhibition on the contribution of the Arab world to the sciences decorated with an image of  Mohammed bin Hadou, the Moroccan ambassador at the court of Charles II. The original oil painting by Sir Godfrey Kneller can be found at Chiswick House and an engraving in the equally august surroundings of the Partridge’s Dining Room. There was also a somewhat disconcerting marble bust of Royal Society’s founder, Charles II, nearby. It was disconcerting because it did not look much like him in my opinion.
.The  City of London room had a fine white marble fireplace but little else to commend it.


The Library with its putti friezes and Classical figures in the coffered ceiling was rather jolly though not really to my taste.
 The Council Room was far more sedate in style

Keeping the best until last I gradually made my way through an ornate pair of wooden doors onto an opulent marble staircase with a Renaissance style ceiling inlaid with mother of pearl. I was glad I had made the detour on my way to Marlborough House, little realising what splendid interiors were concealed behind the austere Regency exterior.

I shall return to the subject of Open House London 2011 anon.

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