The Best of Open House London – 2021 Highlights

For 2021 Open House London was spread across two weeks, allowing for even more London exploration! From tours inside Livery Halls, the Old Bailey and a Pumping Station, to underground tunnels, buildings sites and beautiful interiors, here are my highlights!

So here are my Open House London highlights from 2021 to share with you, hopefully it adds to your London to-do list!

New West End Synagogue

A totally new building for me, until seeing it listed on the Open House website I had never heard of this stunning building.

A short walk from Queensway and Bayswater tube stations, New West End Synagogue opened in 1879. The architect was George Audsley who had also designed the Prince Road Synagogue in Liverpool on which this is based.

Visit their website here.

Peak Freans Biscuit Factory Development

When an option to tour a closed-off building site comes up on Open House, I’ll (try to!) be the first to register for tickets. Having led public walks around Bermondsey for the last couple of years I was familiar with its history as Biscuit Town and was keen to explore the new development of the former Peek Freans Factory.

Open House Highlights 2021 | Peek Frean Biscuit Factory

The business began in 1857 when James Peek established a biscuit factory. By the 1860s a huge factory had been built on Drummond Road, Bermondsey (see above) of which only a few buildings survive today.

Open House Highlights 2021 | Peek Frean Biscuit Factory

The Biscuit Factory today is a shared work and studio space but we were looking around a new development by the Grosvenor Estate which is renovating the 1960s factory extension (below).

Open House Highlights 2021 | Peek Frean Biscuit Factory

It will be a huge development featuring retail units, private flats and public open space. As you can see from the model below it nestles against the railway viaduct, however what’s not as obvious is that the building next to it will be about 30 storeys high!

Open House Highlights 2021 | Peek Frean Biscuit Factory

We were told by the architect that the development will be stepped to ensure no light is stolen from existing housing nearby. Another positive aspect is that the roof top of the building will be saved as a public viewing gallery, offering a spectacular 360° view across London.

Open House Highlights 2021 | Peek Frean Biscuit Factory

You can view a pdf from the Grosvenor website here and find out more about Peek Freans from their heritage museum here.

38 Grosvenor Square

Grosvenor Square is currently a bit of mess, the former US Embassy undergoing a huge development for the new Rosewood Hotel. However a no.38 you can find a slice of the original Grosvenor Square in one of only three surviving buildings, built in the 1700s and formerly the Indonesian Embassy.

Open House Highlights 2021 | 38 Grosvenor Square

The architect was John Johnson who was heavily influenced by the Neoclassical style of Robert Adam. The ceilings – although not in the best state – are beautiful and might remind you of Kenwood House.

ROOM, The Beaumont Hotel

A short walk from Grosvenor Square is the Beaumont Hotel. It was only renovated in 2014, on the site of the former 1926 luxury car garage for Selfridges, but this means they’ve stuck with the Art Deco theme.

Open House Highlights 2021 | Room Beaumont Hotel

The exception to this is a public artwork commission by Antony Gormley. Called ‘ROOM’, from the outside it’s a brooding robotic figure that sits on the corner.

Open House Highlights 2021 | Room Beaumont Hotel

Inside, part of one of the suites, it has all the regular hotel room features but the bedroom is more a theatrical experience than anything else.

Open House Highlights 2021 | Room Beaumont Hotel

Gormley’s aim was apparently to ‘sculpt darkness’ and when you first step inside it’s to pitch black (although there are blind for natural light) and as you look up you can see the cavernous space made entirely of wood from the Black Forest without use of a single nail.

Open House Highlights 2021 | Room Beaumont Hotel

St Bart’s Pathology Museum

Set within the grounds of St Bartholomew’s Hospital (founded 1123!) is the Pathology Museum. Barts is a teaching hospital so it’s fitting that this room contains over 4,000 medical specimens, dedicated to anatomy teaching.

The museum opened in 1879, designed by Edward l’Anson and does occasionally host open days and events. Find out more on their website here.

Museum of London, Smithfield Site

Across the road from Bart’s Hospital, I was lucky to win a ballot spot to explore the new Museum of London site at West Smithfield.

Due for completion in 2025, the new museum will occupy the former General Market site, the entrance of the new museum housed on the corner of Charterhouse Street and West Poutry Avenue (below).

Open House Highlights 2021 | Museum of London Smithfield

As part of the tour we went above the roof level to see the restoration underway;

Open House Highlights 2021 | Museum of London Smithfield

This will house the ‘Living London’ section, London’s stories within living memory and will be set within the historic remains of Horace Jones’ General Market (complete late 1800s but left derelict after a fire for around 30 years).

Open House Highlights 2021 | Museum of London Smithfield

We also went underground, to where ‘London’s Past’ will showcase the Museum’s historic displays. They current have around 7million objects in their collection and so by having this new larger space hope to show more of it to the public.

The basement level sits within former railway depot where meat was brought into the market via rail. It’s still used by Thameslink and you can see (above) the trains continue to thunder past which will be incorporated into  the finished space!

Open House Highlights 2021 | Museum of London Smithfield

Above are some graphics of the basement space that was a bit too fragile to visit but you can find out more about the project and final vision here.

Leathersellers’ Hall

No Open House weekend is complete without a visit to one of the City of London’s Livery Halls and this year I visited the beautiful Leatherseller’s Hall in St Helen’s Place.

Open House Highlights 2021 | Leatherseller's Hall

The Leathersellers are one of the Medieval trade guilds of London with a Royal Charter dating back to 1444 but their hall is modern, the 7th in their long history!

Open House Highlights 2021 | Leatherseller's Hall

That’s not to say that there’s no history to be found inside of course, Eric Parry architects have created a contemporary, bright and airy space that also shows off their considerable heritage. A good example is with their library of leather-bound books, dating as far back as 1481.

Open House Highlights 2021 | Leatherseller's Hall

Originally this was a chain library, the books fastened to the shelves to prevent any light-fingered members pinching copies!

Open House Highlights 2021 | Leatherseller's Hall

But the most prized historic objects are the Royal Charters. The Leathersellers have three. The original from 1444 depicting King Henry VI and beautiful illuminated drawings;

Open House Highlights 2021 | Leatherseller's Hall

As well as a more subdued charter from King Charles II, reflecting that in the 17th century three was considerable tension between the Monarch and the City of London. This charter forces the Livery Companies into restrictive measure which – unsurprisingly – they weren’t happy about.

Open House Highlights 2021 | Leatherseller's Hall

Thankfully, by 1869 with new monarchs on the throne, this charter was revoked and legend has it that the Master and Liveryman all stamped on the Royal seal as a symbol of their frustration! The very battered Seal can be seen below;

Open House Highlights 2021 | Leatherseller's Hall

Tour of the Old Bailey

One of the tours I was most excited about for Open House weekend was the chance to see inside the Old Bailey, aka the Central Criminal Court that holds the nation’s most high profile court cases.

Open House Highlights 2021 | Old Bailey

Completed in 1907, the courts stand on the site of Newgate Prison, the infamous Medieval jail which until 1868 hosted public execution attended by thousands.

Open House Highlights 2021 | Old Bailey

Aside from some unpleasant reminders of shocking conditions on display, the gruesome history of Newgate is forgotten amidst the opulent decoration.

Open House Highlights 2021 | Old Bailey

Aside from some unpleasant reminders of shocking conditions on display, the gruesome history of Newgate is forgotten amidst the opulent decoration.

Open House Highlights 2021 | Old Bailey

The murals were by the artist Gerald Moira and one of the quirkiest is the lunette depicting a range of characters including Edmund Hillary, standing with a hiker’s stick on the far right and a cameo of Moira himself (bald, to the right of the central statue) holding a painter’s palette.

Open House Highlights 2021 | Old Bailey

These no photography inside the courtrooms, but I can safely say that after standing inside the dock of Court No.1 – which has housed some of the most notorious criminals and murders of the 20th and 21st century – is not something I’d like to repeat outside of a tour environment.

Pope’s Grotto

Outside of the central London, I headed out to Twickenham to visit a hidden gem that had been on my list for a while.

On the site of Radnor House school is the former villa of the writer, Alexander Pope (1688-1744).

Open House Highlights 2021 | Pope's Grotto

As a Catholic in an intolerant society, Pope sought refuge away from the centre of London from 1719. With money earned from his hugely successful translation of Homer’s Illiad he bought a villa and set about an unsuual extension into the former cellars.

Open House Highlights 2021 | Pope's Grotto

The 1725 the grotto was complete – a series of underground tunnels encrusted with stones, minerals and sculptures.

Open House Highlights 2021 | Pope's Grotto

Bolstered by his growing obsession with geology, Pope also created a sort of faux mine, with various elements, stone and treasures hidden in amongst the rocks. A good example (if hard to see!) is one of the hexagonal stones from the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, a gift from Sir Hans Sloane.

Open House Highlights 2021 | Pope's Grotto

Find out more on their website here.

Streatham Pumping Station

Finally, right beside Streatham Common Station is an extraordinary Victorian structure. With no clues as to its function you might guess it’s a mosque or elaborate museum but it’s in fact a Water Pumping Station, built 1890s and still in use for Thames Water!

Streatham Pumping Station | Look Up London

Open House was the first time in 12 years it’s been open to the public so it was great to have a chance to see inside, read the blog all about it here.

Did you see anything you’d recommend for next year’s Open House weekend? Let me know in the comments!

More London Inspiration

5 Comments

  • David Strong

    Reply

    I remember going past the Peak Freans biscuit factory on the train from London Bridge in the 1980’s. Lovely smell of biscuits as you went past!

    September 15, 2021 at 11:02 am
  • Geraldine Beare

    Reply

    The amazing glass ‘sculpture’ in the Leathersellers’ Hall looks like a Chihuly. I don’t suppose it is? There was a wonderful outdoor exhibition of his wok at Kew a few years ago.

    September 15, 2021 at 1:52 pm
  • Clare Auchterlonie

    Reply

    We finally managed to get inside the Reform club which was fun especially as we were shown around by Lord Keneedy of Southwark. But at The Royal Over-Seas League after the tour they invited you to buy a drink and sit on the balcony over looking Green Park which was a real treat 🙂

    Would highly recommend Lancaster House and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – both not on this years list due to COVID I assume but really amazing places to visit.

    Am hoping that The Royal Automobile Club on Pall Mall and UCL Sentate Building are on the list for Open House 2022.

    September 15, 2021 at 4:28 pm

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