Saturday, September 19th 2015
This weekend, London is celebrating the now annual event called Open House London. Many buildings that are not normally accessible to the public throw open their doors and welcome us to come in and look around. Some provide tours to explain the history and purpose of the building and the organization that resides within it. You will find more information about this on the Open House London Website.
With so many interesting and historically important places to visit and so little time in which to do so, how do you make a choice? If you are SilverTiger, that’s easy: just follow Tigger as she zooms off to her chosen destinations!
The first leg of our journey took us to King Charles Street in Whitehall. If you have never heard of this street, or passed the end of it without realizing it was a street, then that is not surprising as it is now to all intents and purposes the courtyard of an important government building (see this Google Map of its location). Entry to the street, which is a cul de sac, is through this imposing structure known variously as the King Charles Street Arch or the King Charles Street Bridge. It was designed by John McKean Brydon (1840-1901) who, however, did not live to see its completion in 1908.
The arch is extensively decorated with patterns and figurative reliefs. These sculptures were done by two artists, William Silver Frith and Paul Raphael Montford. (Who did what is left as an exercise for the reader!) The semi-reclining figures shown above are thought to represent Government (left) and Shipping and Navigation, respectively.
The building we had come to see lies within King Charles Street and is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It was completed in 1873 to a design by Sir George Gilbert Scott with Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt (English Heritage listing) though I think most people assign it to Scott whose third attempt it was, the first two designs having been rejected by Parliament. I believe that the interior is as sumptuous and impressive as the outside but I cannot say so from personal experience. By the time we arrived, there were already long queues waiting for access and we therefore decided to seek a less crowded place to visit.
We then rode the buses to the Strand1, to the Royal Courts of Justice, today open to the public. This magnificent Victorian Gothic palace was designed by George Edmund Street (1824-81). Unfortunately, he did not live to see it finished and ceremonially opened by Queen Victoria in 1882 (work having begun under his supervision in 1874).
The building’s name is plural because within it are two courts of law, the High Court and the Court of Appeal of England and Wales.
Most of my photos are of the Great Hall, the first area that you enter into when coming from the street. We did visit other areas as well but photography was not always permitted in them.
Between taking the above photos, we went ‘downstairs’ to see the holding cells. As in grand houses where the servants’ quarters are narrow and pokey in contrast to the commodious apartments of the owners, so here, the corridors leading to the cells and the cells themselves were bare – stark even – and functional. We were led by uniformed staff whose job it was to direct and manage people who would be confined in cells between appearances in court. I imagine that they were somewhat more amiable with us than they would be with their more usual charges but I was happy to ‘escape’ back to the surface after this visit. (Photos were not allowed here.)
We went out into the large courtyard which proved to be a pleasant area on this, a warm sunny day. One use of the courtyard can be intuited from the white object at the lower left edge of the photo above. It is what is commonly known as a prison van, used for bringing prisoners to court and, if the verdict goes against them, taking them back to prison. We were invited to view the interior of the van and to sit on one of the compartments. A compartment is quite small and contains little more than a hard seat. The door of the compartment would be closed and locked during transit – not a pleasant experience for someone who suffers from claustrophobia. I was invited to sit in a compartment and although the door was not closed, I was glad to come out again. One should remember that persons thus transported are not necessarily found guilty of any crime.
On our way out, we stopped to pay respects to the architect, George Edmund Street, at his elaborate memorial. This was sculpted by Henry Hugh Armstead (1828-1905).
We went up the road to Barnards Inn in Holbourn and popped into the current premises of Gresham College, an institute of higher learning famous for its programme of free public lectures. It was founded in 1597 by Sir Thomas Gresham and established then in his own house. Two moves brought it to Barnards Inn in 1991. More information on the college and its history will be found here.
We later went for a little walk around Soho where, in Frith Street, we came across this large painting by Swedish street artist, Amara por Dios. It was apparently invited or commissioned by the Chotto Matte, the Japanese restaurant whose walls are used as its canvas. It is quite difficult to photograph because it runs over two surfaces at right-angles to one another.
It features the artist’s trademark female figure, here entwined with an oriental-style dragon. It is very colourful and appealing with a crisp, highly professional finish.
This piece seems to be a puff for the film Legend about the Kray twins. Its style is immediately recognizable as that of Paul Don Smith but it is in any case signed as his works usually are.
Among the artworks jostling for position in this area we find several instances of this stencil by Endless. What could be more counterintuitive than an advertisement for graffiti removal posted by a street artist? That, however, is not the joke. The punch line – or should I say sting in the tail? – is to be found in the phone number. Anyone ringing this would find himself in conversation with a gay chartline. (I’ll leave you to find out which one yourself if you are so minded.)
Carlisle Street runs west from Soho Square, crosses Dean Street and ends as a cul de sac in front of the Nadler Hotel. Looking down Carlisle Street to the hotel, I saw what I first thought was a giant dragonfly. I approached to have a better look.
By Hew Locke, the sculpture represents a winged female figure identified as the moon goddess Selene. It is a very unusual work, I think, especially for one commissioned by an hotel, but all the more interesting for that reason. The artist’s own explanation of the work will be found here.
That was my last ‘trophy’ of the day, after which I was content to go home and put the kettle on!
1Should it be Strand or The Strand? There seems to be argument about this just as there is about (The) Borough and (The) Angel and no doubt others. Perhaps the answer is that if the name is cited as part of an address, then it is ‘Strand’, pure and simple, but if you are speaking of it as a district or area then it is ‘The Strand’. Or perhaps not…