OPEN HOUSE 2006
Open House is an event that's run in London for a number of years. I've been going for at least seven years. Basically, it's a weekend in September each year that grants the public access to buildings and places in London that you can't get into during the rest of the year. It's a great way to engage with the city and this year's Open House weekend was last Saturday and Sunday (16th and 17th September). Planning is always essential: some buildings need to be pre-booked (even though tickets are pretty much always free). So here's a brief rundown of the buildings I visited, with my friend Dave Morris, who is going to be drawing Hidden City, the supernatural comic series that I've written:
Saturday began at The Reform Club, a magnificent gentlemen's club on Pall Mall, near Picadilly. Started by Whig politicians in 1836, the interiors were designed by Sir Charles Barry, who also created The Houses of Parliament, and they are based on the Farnese Palace in Rome. The place smells of power and money and the forty minute tour really wasn't enough time to explore its rooms…
Then we moved onto Dover House, Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland, which is located on Whitehall, next to Horseguards. This was less impressive than the Reform Club: although it possesses a grand marble entranceway, the rooms are decorated in a very plain, Georgian style so it looks like so many other Georgian places here. It's got a nice view of Horseguards parade ground though…
The third place we visited was the real surprise: we had a little bit of time left of the day (the buildings are only open in the daytime) so we walked to the end of Pall Mall to Marlborough House, which is now the headquarters of the Commonwealth but was built by Christopher Wren and his son in 1711 for the Duke of Marlborough and his family (the family that Winston Churchill was part of). As soon as you enter it, you are greeted by a fabulous ceiling festooned with paintings and gold. It's a truly unique house complete with a series of grand rooms. What was also rather nice was the statue we found to Queen Alexandra that's located outside Marlborough House, which is worthy of Rodin. It's just a shame that we weren't allowed to take photos in any of these three places.
Saturday night we checked out Brian DePalma's The Black Dahlia at the cinema, which had a great cast and some exciting moments but which was let down by messy directing and a script that needed to be tighter.
Sunday was as much fun, possibly more: we started at Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner and got to look out at the top towards the Palace and through Hyde Park. The weather was great, as it was on Saturday: in the mid-seventies even though we're halfway through September. It was entertaining to wander near the Arch and our next place was Seaford House, this Victorian house on Belgrave Square with a very over-the-top onyx staircase which was added in 1902. The house was very impressive in parts. Then we left Hyde Park Corner and walked through Belgravia, Chelsea and came out by Brompton Oratory, just west of Harrods and spent about an hour wandering through the series of mews behind the Oratory, finding some hidden gems. I'm not familiar with that part of London at all so it was a real pleasure discovering places like the Russian Orthodox church there and a lot of very picturesque streets. Then we went back to Hyde Park Corner and decided to end the day in Apsley House, occupied by the Duke of Wellington and his family since the 18th century. Another exceptional house, I sneaked a photo in there although it's a bit blurry. So Open House is over for another year. I got to see six places I'd never visited before and explore a part of London I really didn't know. It's a great way to engage with the city and I'm already counting the months until next year.