Open House London 2016

logo.jpg Open House London is a yearly event that opens the doors of hundreds of properties throughout London many of which are not normally open to the public. The queues for popular properties can often be hours long and others are only available for pre-booked visits only. If you are interested in seeing particular properties or want to make the best use of your time I would advise you purchase the guide book that comes on sale a few months ahead of the event. The sheer scope of this is incredible so the information is very helpful.

The event is held on a weekend in September but this year, 2016, I ended up only visiting on the Saturday, though, as always, I tended to overdo it a bit…This year I kept in the Fleet Street/Lincoln's Inn area as it is an area I am not really familiar with but is quite close to where I have worked for years.

No. 14 Lincoln's Inn Fields

Sir John Sloane was a notable architect who was known for his large collection of art and antiques. When he died he gave his property and collection to the nation. Sir John Sloane's Museum is located at 12 and 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields with 14 privately owned for many years it was only recently acquired then used for office space and storage.


14 was opened up to the public as Open House London where we were shown through the rooms reminiscent of the other houses but much more utilitarian. Starting on the ground floor we were shown up the wonderful “floating” staircase to the first and second floors then into the attic space where we made our way across over the museum in 12 and 13 then back down to the basement of 13 to have a look at the recently opened kitchens.

The Royal Courts of Justice

This gothic building is located on Fleet street and houses the Royal Courts of Justice. Despite appearances the building was only built in 1882. It is still actively used with the original 19 court rooms on the first floor around a central atrium.

The building is open to the public whenever the courts are in session if you wish to watch any of the proceedings but for Open House they had talks in various court rooms and the opportunity to visit the cells which are used to contain those accused for the days the courts are in session. Each court room was designed by a different architect and has it's own unique character. There are different types of trials held here so different court rooms are set aside for each.

I listened in on the “What happens in a courtroom” talk which was very interesting and explained about the court works and the various traditions. Another demonstration was on the different robes that the different types of judges have to wear - ending with a volunteer from the audience dressed up. One court room was reenacting various historical trials - This was particularly popular. I only caught the end of this one and another where the “High Court Tipstaff” talked about his job (basically, to escort prisoners around the country in a very nice uniform).

The cells were quite small, basic and very clean. We were also given the opportunity to try on some defensive gear used by the security guards and also have a look in several transfer vans out in the courtyard.

There were a number of other areas open to the public including the “Bear Garden” - Basically a lounge for barristers.

Dr. Johnson's House

The tiny Dr. Johnson's House is located in a small courtyard just off of Fleet Street. Dr Johnson was the author of the first modern dictionary and his house is unusual in that it was one of the few in the city that survived the great fire (though, ironically, the roof was destroyed by a bomb in the second World War). Johnson rented this house specifically for it's attic where the place suited him and he felt he could concentrate on his work in peace.

For Open House London much of the furniture appears to have been removed (or pushed to the side) but was made interesting by talks by the curator.

The house is normally open to the public with a small admission charge.

Kings College London

I learned that Kings College London had a number of properties open for the day so I made may way around to several of them in the same area…

Maughan Library

The Maughan Library is housed in the former Public Record office. It has been turned into a modern university library for the Faculties of “Arts & Humanities” and “Natural & Mathematical Sciences”. For Open House they gave us a printed self-guided tour to see highlights of the building.

The first room they showed us into was the “Weston Room” which is much like a chapel with wonderful stained glass and monuments.

We were shown one of the original cells from the Public Record Office - A room of metal bookcases with slate shelves intended to preserve the printed material stored here.

We were able to look into the modern study areas and storage facilities of the library but the highlight towards the end of the tour was “The Round Room” which was actually being used by a number of students attempting to study despite the public traipsing around them…

'Roman' Bath

As time was getting short by now, I made my way back down to Fleet Street and along to the main Kings College campus, entering just off Surrey Street to see the 'Roman' Bath.

There is some debate about whether this really is a “Roman” bath – Indeed, in the talk I was about to hear, I was told that they now believe it was actually the cistern for a fountain built for Anne of Denmark. It is pretty basic so the cistern idea sounds far more likely.

I only visited for a short period of time when we were told by the volunteers that a history professor was just giving a talk across the way in the middle of the campus. This was a really interesting talk as we learned the history of the area surrounding us which was quite amazing - Evidently the campus is part of the original Somerset House and even has royal connections. Just standing there with the professor pointing out features of the walls and ground around us he talked of many hundreds of years of history. Whenever they do any construction here they can barely dig a few feet before hitting something of historical importance. To me this really drove home the point that London is an old city with a fascinating and varied history.

College Chapel

Looking completely out of place in the largely modern and clinical interior of the college, the College Chapel was completed in 1831. I just had a sit and looked around. Quite an amazing place.