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.

Southside House: Fire and the aftermath

Southside House before the fire of November 2010
The success of our visit to Clandon Park had made me keen to take Reshna to see the 17th century Southside House by Wimbledon Common, a place the Brimstone Butterfly has written about at length in the past. I like to think of it as my neighbourhood stately home. It has the advantage of being comparatively close to Brimstone Butterfly Towers and within reasonable walking distance. Consequently, it did not require any planning from me other than to check the opening times. To my horror I discovered that the roof of the house had caught fire last November resulting in the mansion sustaining substantial damage.  The house is not scheduled to open for its usual tours until Easter 2012. However, it will be holding some special events, more details of which can be found on its website. I would encourage anyone who can go to these events to do so as the house needs public support now more than ever. The set of photographs immediately below are taken from the website for Southside House.
Entrance Hall

Clock Tower

Dining Room

Entrance Hall

Music Room

Music Room

House from the back gardens

Restoring wall chandeliers from the Music Room
 One curious fact about the house is that the fire revealed the existence of a secret room accessed by moving a hearthstone in the dining room fireplace. It seems a former resident, Malcom Munthe, knew all about the hidden chamber as he had stored his cache of World War Two weapons and live ammunition down there. They had most probably been issued to him as a British Officer serving in the Special Operations Executive. Given that Malcolm and his mother had bought the two adjoining 17th century houses and transformed them into the baroque mansion of their dreams and that Malcolm had done a lot of the work himself, he might even have designed the secret room as I don’t believe the dining room is original to the house. I have been told some pretty far fetched stories about Southside House in my time, whether it be Lord Byron strolling in the grounds and chatting to his publisher or Emma Hamilton striking winsome attitudes on the low lying stage in the Music Room. But this knocks all the other tales into a cocked hat if only because it is actually true.

A view towards the Entrance Hall

The garden room entrance to the house

A fireplace in an upper chamber

Stairs with bell rope for nursery

Rear of house from the pet cemetery

The Entrance Hall fireplace

The Upper Gallery in the Entrance Hall

The Entrance Hall from the Upper Gallery

The room with extant powder closet and canvas wall hangings

The Dining Room fireplace concealing the secret chamber

The ceiling of the Entrance Hall

The Dining Room

The exterior of the back of the house

Wall painting in gardens

Temple in gardens

Statue by house

Statue by house
Bed chamber with Prince of Wales insignia in silver thread

Southside House was originally two separate houses

The family pet owl
 There is a very good likelihood that careful restoration will restore the house to its former glory. It seems the fire service were able to rescue the principle works of art contained within. The irony is that the fire will lead to the house being spruced up. In the past, part of its appeal for me was its faded and somewhat down at heel charm. In the set of images directly above I have taken the opportunity to show my own photographic record of the house and grounds before November’s devastating fire. They will have to suffice as a reminder of past glories until the renovation of Southside House is completed in 2012. I am only thankful that the wonders of Southside House have not been reduced to a few memories captured within in a photograph album