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KEEPING AN OPEN MIND 2010
The past few weeks have just flown by so there’s a bit of a backlog here. With me going to New York and then (rather less glamorously) to Birmingham, I’ve not updated as regularly as I normally do. I shall enddeavour to catch up this week so here’s the first post in a little while. Open House, as regular readers of this blog know, is a weekend, usually the third one in September, where hundreds of buildings, structures and places are opened up across the whole of Greater London. These are usually places that are not usually accessible to the public so for someone like myself, it’s a wonderful opportunity for me to see places I’ve never been to. I’ve been going for over a decade now so it’s getting harder and harder to find new gems. This year, we decided to pick Southwest London, so on the Saturday we went for The White Lodge in Richmond Park plus the Kilmorey Mausoleum in St Margaret’s and Garrick’s Temple of Shakespeare in Hampton. The White Lodge is a Georgian building which was built as a Royal residence and since the 1950s it has housed the Royal Ballet School. The exterior is wonderful but the interior is like any other wealthy school you would visit. It did give us an excuse to walk a little around Richmond Park, which is stunning, and recommended. So after visiting there, we got in the car and after lunch, drove to the Kilmorey Mausoleum located in St Margaret’s near Teddington. This is an Egyptian-style mausoleum, built by the Earl of Kilmorey in the 1850s. It is unusual because most funerary objects these days are located in the grounds of cemeteries so this was somewhere a bit different. Not a huge place but worth visiting if you happen to be nearby anyway. Lastly on the Saturday we went down to Hampton to see Garrick’s Temple of Shakespeare, which is also not big but it’s perched right on the river so really beautiful. We walked down to Hampton Court and back which is always enjoyable. On the Sunday, consulting the book, I decided to visit the Apothecaries Hall in Blackfriars in the City of London. I was pleasantly surprised to find somewhere in the City of London, a part of the city I thought I was very familiar with, that I had never visited before. This is the hall for the City Guild that includes pharmacists as its members and dates from 1670, just after the Great Fire of London. Behind an unassuming façade on the street is a wonderful wood-panelled building, so this really was a hidden gem. So even though I’ve done Open House for over a decade now, I still managed to find new places to engage my interest. This weekend continues to be a wonderful event…

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OPEN HOUSE 2009
So as promised, here’s my post on this year’s Open House weekend. I have been going to it for about 10 or 11 years and have seen some incredible places over the years (St Pancras Chambers, Middle Temple Hall, Freemasons Temple, Charterhouse Square and many more), so each year I have to come up with new and interesting places to visit. So I got the booklet and went through what was on offer for 2009. I have visited most sites in the City of London, Camden and Westminster of note, so my choices were a little more eccentric for this year. On Saturday, I had to go on my tod but I still wanted to get as much as I could out of the weekend because I am working on a book on Open House, so I planned to see at least two places on the first day: Swakeleys House in Middlesex and The Hurlingham Club down in Fulham just near the river. So I made it to Swakeleys House in Ickenham, Middlesex just as it was opening. Built in the 16th century, the house is no longer a private residence but was recently owned by Proctor & Gamble and is now owned by another company. Much of the house is unchanged although it did have some restoration work carried out on it in the 20th century. We got to see the hall and staircase which was rather spectacular. When I got chatting to someone at Swakeleys, he told me that I should also check out Cranford Park, just round the back of Heathrow. So since Middlesex was just a little bit north of there, I thought ‘why not?’ It was a nice bright day and that’s part of the joy of Open House. So I finished at Swakeleys, jumped back in the car and then spent a little time battling the traffic to get from northwest to west London. I also got horribly lost trying to find Cranford Park and eventually someone told me that it was literally just off the M4 motorway and it was easy to miss. Heathrow Airport is surrounded by loads of little areas that are hinterlands on the very outskirts of London and they all look quite similar, so it is easy to get confused. But I did find Cranford Park and it was just about worth a visit. It was the site of a house at one point, which was levelled in the 1940s but the stable block is still there as is a 16th century church, St Dunstans, which is a very attractive church. It’s also set in grounds which you could walk in for miles, as it meets up with the Grand Union Canal. There was a bikers meeting on the day I went, so I got to see some nifty bikes when I was there. The church also had a small but atmospheric churchyard. So my second stop was somewhere I’ve never been to in London before so that was interesting and worthwhile even though the house is no longer there. My final port of call was the Hurlingham Club, down in Fulham and this was relatively easy to get to as I just got on the M4 and headed south towards the river. This is a fairly exclusive club with sports facilities founded in 1867, with a waiting list of 18 years to become a member, set in 42 acres of amazing grounds just off New Kings Road in Fulham. It is the kind of place that you wouldn’t find unless you knew it was there. It has tennis courts, a restaurant and it is also the place where the rules for Polo were invented. It is used for professional tennis tournaments as well throughout the year and it was a very impressive and imposing place, as its surroundings totally insulate it from the rest of London. So that was my first day at Open House 2009. I’ll be posting something on the Sunday in the next couple of days. Meanwhile, here’s a few photos taken at the three sites I went to on the Saturday…