Open House London 2013

Severndroog Castle under wraps
Severndroog Castle under wraps

Open House London, that great opportunity for architecture enthusiasts and the simply curious to have a look inside buildings that are not normally open to the public, is on again the weekend after next – 21st & 22nd September. And it’s all free. If you want to enter the ballot for tickets to visit some of the really desirable buildings – the Shard, the London Eye, 10 Downing Street and Grays Inn – then there are just a couple of days left to enter.

At Severndroog Castle there will be talks about its history and the Trust’s plans for its restoration every hour from 10.00am to 3.00pm on Sunday, and some of the Trustees and the Heritage Manager will be there to answer questions. There will also be an information stall and refreshments, but the castle won’t be open.

I picked up a brochure giving details of what buildings are open and when from the library earlier in the week, and there are some 840 entries this year. Details are also available on the Open House web site. It’s a little disappointing that fewer of our local architectural gems are open: for example the listing doesn’t include the Royal Artillery Barracks, St George’s Garrison Church or Woolwich Town Hall – all of which have been open in previous years. Nor does it include the Crossness Engine House this year.

Earlier in the year Open House asked for suggestions about what buildings we thought should be included in the event. I sent them the following list of amazing buildings which I think are significant locally, and which I’d love to see inside:

The Royal Military Academy Woolwich
The Water Tower at the top of Shooters Hill, and the Brooke Hospital Water Tower at the bottom of Shooters Hill
Herbert Pavilions, Shooters Hill Road – formerly the Royal Herbert Hospital
The former Woolwich Polytechnic buildings around Polytechnic Street in Woolwich
The art deco cinemas in Woolwich – The Granada Cinema, Powis Street and The Odeon Theatre, now the New Wine Church
One of Berthold Lubetkin‘s modernist terrace at 85-91 Genesta Road

But none of them are in the brochure – wouldn’t it be great if they were open for visitors?

Don’t misunderstand me, there’s still a huge number of interesting buildings to see, all round London, and some new ones close to home. The Woolwich Arsenal Clock Tower restoration sounds fascinating, and there’s also an intriguing sounding tour round Woolwich’s squares with a landscape architect.

I’m just greedy to see even more of our local historic buildings.

Officers Mess at the Royal Artillery Barracks - not in this year's Open House
Officers Mess at the Royal Artillery Barracks – not open in this year’s Open House

London Open House Coming Soon

Inside City Hall
Inside City Hall

I’ve been a huge fan of Open House London for many years – what’s not to love about the opportunity to look round the inside of some of London’s iconic buildings, both ancient and modern, famous and comparatively unknown and all for free! However the weekend has become so popular that patience and a willingness to queue have become essential qualities for anyone participating, and many of the most desirable architectural opportunities, those which have to be booked in advance,  have not been accessible.

This year Open House is the weekend of 22nd/23rd September, and the web site opened for bookings last week …. and promptly crashed, presumably due to the number of people trying to book. As a result of irresolvable “technical difficulties” the organisers have changed their method of allocating places at the bookable events from first-come-first-served to a ballot system, whereby there will be a random draw from the names of everyone who has registered their interest before the end of Wednesday 29th August. We can register our interest on the Open House London 2012 web site.

The bookable buildings and events include some amazing opportunities; for example the Institute of Civil Engineers’ (ICE) Engineering East London boat tour described here last year, and the ICE Tour of the Emirates Airline Cable Car (more usually known as the Arabfly Dangleway). The booking web site describes these:

Engineering East London: ICE Boat tour to the Hoo Peninsula – max 2 per application only for this event. Ballot that opened for this last week still stands
Sun 11am North Greenwich Pier (the O2), Peninsula Square SE10 0PE
Duration 5 hours. On board bar with light refreshments and sandwiches. Max 80 on tour. D R T E
Discover how engineers are shaping east London on a Thames Clipper river tour from the 02 to the Hoo Peninsula and back again, with live commentary from London’s leading engineers and regeneration experts discussing landmarks including the Thames Barrier, London Gateway and the proposed Thames Estuary Airport.
Tube: North Greenwich; 129,161,188,422,472,486

ICE tour of Emirates Air Line cable car
Sat 10am, 11am, 12noon. Meet: outside North Greenwich tube station, 5 Millennium Way, SE10 0PH. Part of tour will be outside, bring rainwear. Max 18 per tour. Duration 1 hour. D E
The tour will explore the civil engineering achievements of the construction of the cable car and the regeneration of the Royal Docks. Led by the Emirates Air Line project director and ICE regeneration and sustainability expert. Organised by ICE. 2012.
Tube: North Greenwich

Other bookable tours include the Arsenal Emirates Stadium, the Canary Wharf Crossrail Station Construction Site, the Heron Tower in the City of London and the Shri Sanatan Hindu Mandir in Wembley. Something for everyone, so get booking now!

Royal Artillery Barracks
Royal Artillery Barracks

Most of the Open House buildings and events don’t have to be booked in advance.  All of them, and there are more than 750, are  listed in the Open House London 2012 Guide, which is available at the moment free from Woolwich Library, while stocks last, or for £6.50 from the Open House web shop, and they can be searched for online.  Amongst the local buildings open are the Royal Artillery Barracks, the ruins of the Garrison Church of St George and its Marvellous Mosaics, the Tudor Barn and Woolwich Town Hall, though some are open on the Saturday only. Severndroog Castle won’t be open, but there will be talks on the hour between 10am and 3pm about the history of the building and progress on the restoration plans.

Slightly further afield, one of my favourites from a previous Open House Weekend is the Crossness Engine House with its stunning brightly coloured iron work and working beam engine. There was quite a long queue to get in – but it was well worth the wait. In central London there are far too many favourites to list them all, but I’ll never forget the imposing imperial murals and marble work  of the Foreign Office and India Office, the living history of Westminster Hall and the money-perfumed Bank of England.  However I still haven’t made it into the Gherkin – the queues have always been just too long.

I’ve hardly scratched the surface of the all the Open London architecture so far, with luck there’s years more exploring to do.

Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret
Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret

London Open House Weekend

Severndroog Castle
Severndroog Castle
Title: London Open House Weekend
Location: Severndroog Castle
Link out:
Description: Grade II* listed triangular brick Georgian tower with Gothic windows. Standing 63ft tall in woodlands it offers spectacular views across the capital. Built to commemorate the 1755 conquest of the Malabar Coast by Sir William James.
Start Date: 2009-09-19
Start Time: 10:00
End Date: 2009-09-20
End Time: 15:00

Arrive early to avoid disappointment as only 20 people can be on each floor at a time, so the queues back up a lot.

If you would like to sponsor a part of the tower for £5, you can do that too, and have your very own Severndroog Brick!

This is probably the best chance this year to have a look at the impressive interiors and views that can be enjoyed at Severndroog Castle, the campaign to save the castle for the public is now in it’s fifth year, and the more support it receives at events like this the better the long term prospects of having our own castle on the hill will become.

On some open house weekends, although not this time, it is possible to visit the unique Lubetkin Houses, which were reportedly the architect’s first commission before going on to design the penguin pool at London Zoo among other things.

Another art deco gem in this area is the mind blowing “Italian Gothic” Gala Bingo Club on Powis street, formerly known as the Granada Theatre “The most romantic theatre ever built” [1. Granada images found on]. This is a fascinating place to visit, not least because it acts as a happy reminder of the impressive art deco achievements of Woolwich, along with the Odeon and the Co-Op (which is now destined to become a multi storey car park as part of the controversial Woolwich Triangle proposals) – note – the Granada is open on Sunday only from 1030 to 1130, although bingo membership is another way to enjoy the place, but it would be hard winning any games if you kept getting distracted by the intricacies of the carved wooden ceiling!

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