Open House

It’s a rather grey and miserable day when I set out for Open House London this year, so the view from Primrose Hill over to Central London is murky at best, but it’s still rather odd to see the skyscrapers of the city rising up above the suburban houses in the foreground. I’m here for a tour of Alexandra palace, although as it turns out much of the building isn’t accessible; I am able to visit the east court with its glass ceiling and faux sphinxes. Heading back into central London, I visit the Bishopsgate Institute, with its wonderful stained glass ceiling and green tiling that rather reminds me of the older Tube stations. Next up is Swedenborg House in Bloomsbury; a somewhat understated place I’d walked past before. I’m somewhat puzzled as to why a single book was balanced above the stair landings on a narrow ledge. The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Piccadilly is another one I’d walked past before, although the interior is rather more ornate here with a mosaic apse.

The following day I find myself in Clerkenwell visiting the Museum of St John. This has changed quite a lot since I last visited several years ago, with a museum detailing the history of the order in Jerusalem, Malta, Rhodes through to the present St John’s Ambulance and including exhibits like models of the church of the Sepulchre and Islamic armour. I especially liked the great hall with its ornate stained glass (Canadian heraldry turns out to prominently feature beavers) and medicinal flasks for items like Dragon’s blood. Next up is the nearby Marx Memorial library, which turns out to have as wide a range of communist merchandise as Szobor Park with the addition of tea and cake. We go on a tour of the basement stacks, the wonderful fresco by John Hastings of the worker of the future with its nods to Diego Rivera, an asymmetrical chess set and chairs by Rodchenko in red and black as well as rather of a lot of busts of Lenin. I briefly have a look in the church of St James before heading off to Charterhouse Square. As I queue to enter Charterhouse Chapel, I can see that Florin Court is currently partially covered in scaffolding due to fire damage. The chapel is one of the few places in London to retain pre-great fire structure and especially ornate monuments; it does rather draw attention to the question of how much like this was lost in the fire.

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