The annual Open House Weekend is a highlight for Londoners eager to get behind the closed doors of splendid buildings they wouldn’t normally have access to. It is run by a small, not-for-profit organisation with the aim of promoting public awareness and appreciation of the capital’s building design and architecture. Best of all, entry is completely free!
This year I was able to make it to five different venues:
1. Foreign and Commonwealth Office
This was the first place I crossed off my list this year and definitely my favourite of the weekend! There’s always a long queue for this one so I made sure to get there about 10 minutes before opening time. There was already a queue forming at that time but we only had to wait about half an hour to get in, which by Open House standards is pretty reasonable. It’s well and truly worth the wait once you get inside.
2. Marlborough House
Marlborough House is a Grade I listed mansion which stands on Pall Mall. It was designed by Wren for the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and later became a Royal Palace in the early nineteenth century. Since 1965 it has been the headquarters of the Commonwealth Secretariat and a frequent meeting place for Commonwealth conferences.
This one is a bit of a hidden gem, there were no queues to get in and the rooms we got to walk through were grand, as you would expect from a royal palace. Sadly they wouldn’t allow photos to be taken inside but I was able to find an excellent virtual tour of the interior and exterior of the house.
3. Royal Courts of Justice
The Royal Courts of Justice house both the High Court and Court of Appeal of England and Wales. Designed by George Edmund Street in the Victorian Gothic style, it feels a lot like you are walking into a cathedral. The Royal Courts of Justice are usually open during the week so there wasn’t a queue for this one either, just a quick scan through security. Photos can’t be taken in the court rooms.
4. Argentine Ambassador’s Residence
The Open House website warned of long queues for this one but we were able to walk straight in. The house designed by Thomas Cubitt in the late 1840’s and acquired by Argentina in 1936. The lavish interiors still remain but unfortunately photography is not allowed.
5. Leighton House
Leighton House is the former home of the Victorian artist Frederic Leighton. It’s a remarkable building, containing a fascinating collection of paintings and sculpture by Leighton and his contemporaries. The “Arab Hall” is particularly striking, designed to showcase Leighton’s huge collection of sixteenth-century Middle Eastern glazed tiles. Once again, no photos allowed which is a real shame as the outside does nothing to reveal the beauty hidden on the inside.
Did you make it out to Open House London? What were your highlights?