London Open House 2013

Sep 13th, 2013, 12:04 PM
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London Open House 2013

Hello, Fodorites.

I wonder if anyone has had experience with the London Open House Weekend and might weigh in on what I might expect in terms of the “long queues” the guide book tells of, plus other issues you might foresee? It takes quite a lot of plotting and planning, and for those venues where one is asked to prebook, all the slots were already taken. Disappointing… but a little bit of a relief, too, in helping me cull my wish-list. Most venues close to visitors about 4:30.

1. Royal Geographical Society (the venue I most want to see, hence the priority; also, is close to my hotel)

Tube/Bus to Whitehall Street (Question: Would the #9 Bus from Kensington Rd to Charing Cross be very slow on a Sat a.m.? Would you recommend instead the Circle/District tube from South Kensington to Westminster?)

2. Admiralty House (LQ/long queue anticipated)
3. Banqueting House (LQ)
4. Foreign & Commonwealth Office
5. The Royal Society (Carlton House Terrace)
6. Marlborough House
7. Burlington House (Linnean Society, Royal Society of Chemistry, Geological Society of London, Royal Academy of Art)

If time, one of these…68 Dean Street, Dr. Johnson’s House (17 Gough St), St. Bride Foundation , Vintners Hall, City of London School (extended hours thru 7 pm)

1. Leighton House
2. 18 Stafford Terrace (LQ)

Tube/Bus to Middle Temple Hall (Question: Assuming the Circle/District Line from Notting Hill Gate to Temple is best on Sunday a.m.?)

3. Middle Temple Hall (garden tours 12/1:30/3)
4. Westminster Hall (LQ)

If time…Argentine Ambassador’s House (Belgrave Sq), Romanian Cultural Institute (Belgrave Sq), Osborne House (12 Devonshire Sq; 10-4 only), Drapers Hall (Throgmorton Ave; City of London), Apothecaries Hall (Black Friars Lane), St. Bride Foundation (printers foundation), Chandos House (Queen Anne St; 10-3 only), Handel House Museum (LQ; 25 Brook St)

So hard to choose and organize, and certain buildings I’m not visiting as they are open to the public generally (but perhaps in a more limited fashion.)

Question: My interest is in late 18th-19th century architecture/art, plus professional societies of that time, so if there’s a particular building you might recommend, I’d love to hear them. I focused on Westminster, City of London and Camden.

Thanks in advance for any helpful feedback!
ChgoGal is offline  
Sep 13th, 2013, 12:20 PM
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I would expect long queues for popular non-bookable attractions, so pick the one you want to see most and head there first, early.

Good luck on trying to see all on your wish list - sounds exhausting. 10 Downing Street would be the one for me.
sofarsogood is offline  
Sep 13th, 2013, 12:23 PM
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And don't forget Heritage Open Days, which covers the rest of England, and is on this weekend
sofarsogood is offline  
Sep 13th, 2013, 01:17 PM
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Yes, will be a tiring day, no doubt. But I hope someone may have actually BEEN to one of these "long queue" sites. Was it an hour's wait? Two? It may be evident by the time I get there if I see bodies lined up around the block, and if that's the case, perhaps I'll just head on to my next stop. Fortunately, the places I am most keen to see aren't labelled as "long queue" sites - but hoping someone has experienced this weekend.
ChgoGal is offline  
Sep 15th, 2013, 05:33 AM
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Hi Chgogirl,

Sounds like a great take, very ambitious. I am sure that you know that the BANQUETING HOUSE is open most days – quite beautiful with that gorgeous Reubens ceiling. MARLEBOROUGH HOUSE, an extensive complex somewhat like BURLINGTON HOUSE where the Courtauld Gallery is located, has regular tours of the complex. So you might want to concentrate on those landmarks that are not generally open to the public.

I wanted to visit MANSION HOUSE, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London in the City, which is only opened to the public at 2PM on Tuesdays most of the year. Unfortunately, it was not available when I was there in June. Also planned to visit SPENCER HOUSE, a magnificent 18th century residence near St. James Park, which has tours on Sunday only. Didn’t make it though.

Please let us know how you fare on this venture. So many sites to see in London, so little time…
latedaytraveler is offline  
Sep 15th, 2013, 05:42 AM
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Chgo girl, my bad...

Sorry, I meant to say SOMERSET HOUSE, not MARLBOROUGH HOUSE, where the Courtland Gallery is located. If I recall correctly isn't MARLBOROUGH HOUSE a royal residence near to Buckingham Palace where Edward VII lived before becoming king?

Sorry for the confusion...
latedaytraveler is offline  
Sep 15th, 2013, 06:25 AM
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This isn't necessarily something history's much guide to.

I was at one Open House yesterday (the rest of us are a week ahead of London) which got 15 visitors all weekend last year and over 400 just yesterday. And, even if they're not billed as guided tours, you sometimes (at least here) find you've arrived as the bloke who used to run the place or whatever is talking, so bang goes the timetable.

That means you never do a fraction of what you set out to. Junk anything you can normally see anyway (so bang goes the Banqueting House and most of the Royal Academy) as well as anything that's off brief (in your case Marlborough House and Banqueting House, both of which are far too early for you).

If you have a specific interest, the likelihood is that both the staff present at the property and your fellow visitors share it, and I've long decided there's more to be learned from chatting to them than from trying to cram in something else I wasn't that interested in anyway.

I'd be generally leery of spending time on City livery companies' Halls. They're sometimes architecturally interesting, but mostly places loads of flashy artefacts get dumped over the centuries: sort of secular cathedrals, or pretention-free Masonic temples. Like much in the City, many were destroyed in the Blitz and you're now seeing a recent re-creation - often of what we think it looked like before its earlier destruction in the 1666 fire. Unlike learned societies, the City livery companies with historic halls stopped having anything to do with their ostensible trade centuries ago. Drapers Hall, for example, contains next to nothing about the history of apparel retailing or the English wool trade (bizarrely, its best tapestries and upholstery are all foreign made from foreign fabric, though that 18th century decision was uncannily prophetic), and the Company's had no commercial influence since Tudor times (when it actually controlled England's largest export industry). None of the companies had a similar role in the 18th century British explosion of global trade and economic thinking to the role played in the similar scientific explosion by learned societies two miles west.

I can see how an interest in learned societies might elide into livery companies. But there's more to be learned about livery companies in libraries than in a few crowded Open House weekend hours. And the companies are generally very generous, especially by facilitating access to archives etc, in helping people interested in them.
flanneruk is offline  
Sep 15th, 2013, 08:23 AM
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Thank you, flanner and lateday.

I think I will be able to reschedule the Banqueting House, and very much wanted to visit Mansion House, but I didn't have my ducks in a row early enough to write for the ticket. I purchased the guide, not knowing all the information was available online FASTER, and by the time my guide arrived here in my mailbox (mid-August), many of the pre-booked sites were filled. Lesson learned.

Flanner, I appreciate your retelling of the experience you had yesterday, in regards to timing and the amount of people who showed. I'll be sure to post back once I experience the London weekend. And very much appreciate your input on the livery halls.

I am trying not to get my hopes up too high, understanding that so many of the buildings I was initially interested in, upon further investigation, were recreations or rebuilt after heartbreaking fires and the war. So much more is to be found in libraries or online, but you're absolutely right. There is always a small object or tossed-off comment by the docent that illuminates so much for me and leads me on a different path of study. I don't know what I don't know - which is a lot.

Wish me luck! We'll see how well my ambitious plans for the weekend turn out.
ChgoGal is offline  
Oct 4th, 2013, 10:00 AM
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Hi, Fodorites.

Wanted to post on my experience of the Open House weekend for future travelers.

Except for those buildings that I didn’t write/email to pre-book in time, I saw most everything I wanted to see, and it was an amazing weekend. Absolutely worthwhile if you can plan your trip to coincide with the event.

So, for future travelers, pre-book for places as soon as possible, by looking at online listings as soon as they’re available. Don’t wait for the printed book to get mailed to you. It’s not even necessary to BUY the program book, as online had all the information, plus links for additional detail on each venue.

Essential to plot your walk/train/bus route for the venues you wish to see ahead of time, or you will not see half of what you want.

Long queues, for me, meant 20 minutes at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and 35 minutes for Dr. Johnson’s House (which was a last-minute add-on). Some venues noted as ‘LQ,’ were, in fact, so large they could accommodate the crowds and the queues were non-existent.

Do not bother with small venues normally open to the public (Dr. Johnson’s House, Benjamin Franklin’s House, Handel House Museum, etc.), as the queue plus the crowd will diminish your enjoyment of the place.

Here’s what I managed to do:
Day One:
Royal Geographical Society
Admiralty House
Banqueting House
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Royal Society
Marlborough House
Royal Society of Chemistry
The Linnean Society
Royal Academy of Arts
Dr. Johnson’s House (this was an add-on at the end of the day; total let-down after the long wait, plus the crowd; would've been much more worthwhile to go as a paid visitor).

Here’s what I couldn’t do:
68 Dean Street (was Saturday only, tours on the hour, allowed 15 in at a time, and there was a long line. Should have been a pre-book situation; Gave this up right away.)

Day Two:
Leighton House
18 Stafford Terrace
Middle Temple Hall
Bank of England Museum
Foundlings Museum (not part of Open House; but went there b/c of cancelled venue nearby)
Argentine Ambassador’s House
Romanian Cultural Institute

Here’s what I couldn’t do:
House of St. Barnabas – Cancelled; sign was posted on the door

HIGHLIGHTS: My interests won’t coincide with perhaps others, but the Royal Society, RGS, Linnean Society had incredible tour guides/docents. The interiors of the Argentine Ambassador’s House, Marlborough House, Leighton House, 18 Stafford Terrace and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office were stunning.

Wish I could've managed Mansion House, the Oriental Society and Osbourne House, but the first two were pre-book situations, and the last was geographically too far off from other venues I wanted so I gave it up. Also, learned of "The Roof Gardens & Babylon Restaurant" while there and missed my chance. I heard this was very nice, and an early a.m. venue that would have been nice to go to before Leighton House.

A great weekend!
ChgoGal is offline  
Oct 4th, 2013, 11:50 AM
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Wow - you managed so many venues. sounds wonderful

I briefly considered trying to go to London for Open House but will be there at the end of this month and couldn't swing two trip so close together.
janisj is online now  
Oct 4th, 2013, 12:19 PM
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Yes, wish I could be there in October to meet you, and see Patrick, Scott and Jamie again! Never enough time or moola for me!
But yes, I enjoyed the venues a great deal. London is such a great town!
ChgoGal is offline  
Oct 4th, 2013, 01:49 PM
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Hi ChgoGal,

Thanks for getting back to us. Wow, you really did it up, eh? Kudos on getting around to so many venues. Too bad that so many of these sites are closed to the public much of the year. But that’s what makes seeing them during Open House so special I guess.

On a similar note, if (the big “if”) I return to London next summer, I plan to attend several public lectures/tours which I recently found described on this site:

Glad that thing worked out so well for you. So much to do and see in London…
latedaytraveler is offline  
Oct 4th, 2013, 03:20 PM
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Good grief, such energy. I jsut managed to go to just one of the sights nearest me, the Crossrail station at Canary Wharf. (But then, I did have other plans and commitments that weekend).
PatrickLondon is offline  
Oct 5th, 2013, 05:50 AM
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@ldt: Thank you for that link on lectures! What a great resource. Have bookmarked for future reference.

@Patrick: Yes, I was definitely in a tourist frenzy, and had to slow it way down after that weekend. Believe me, when the open house is here in Chicago, I MIGHT drag my carcass out of the house. Or I might just watch Shawshank Redemption for the nth time because it happens to be on tv.

Re: Canary Wharf; When I took the DLR back from Greenwich, I was struck by how much the view of Canary Wharf (from the "quay" stations), looked like Chicago's Wacker Drive overlooking the Chicago river. It bothered me a bit, and surprised me, to see such an American-looking view right at that particular spot. Looked like so many American city centers to me.
ChgoGal is offline  
Oct 5th, 2013, 09:04 AM
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"Looked like so many American city centers to me."

Just as Westminster Abbey looks like any French Gothic cathedral or abbey church, Buckingham Palace looks like any Mitteleuropa 18th century schloss, St Paul's looks like any Italian Baroque remodel of an early Christian church or pagan temple, the City's Guildhall looks like every Guildhall in Flanders and St Pancras looks like the Moladavian Royal Palace in Iasi.

Apart from our Regency terraces and our Victorian redbrick back-to-back workers' houses, London's architecture has always mostly copied the prevailing international norm for that kind of building at the time.

It's the mix, not any one style, that characterises London. Assertive, massive, grouped, concrete and glass in Canary Wharf isn't destroying anything and is a massive improvement on what was there before (IMHO, it looks even better on a working day when the lads and lasses creep out from their trading floors and suffuse the area with the aroma of naked greed).

It's those one-off trophy buildings in the City, Westminster and Southwark, and their impact on historic sightlines, that most of us worry about.
flanneruk is offline  
Oct 5th, 2013, 03:40 PM
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You make a good point, flanner. I was just surprised that Canary Wharf exists as it does. I knew it was an area of London, but wasn't aware of its makeup/purpose. I can see how the City would not be able to accommodate all those international finance companies and would need to expand somewhere, but as a tourist looking through sepia-tinted glasses, I was jarred by the sight.

Yes, far more concerning are the adjustments to the historic skyline. In Chicago, we grumble and shrug and eventually become indifferent to whatever shiny, soulless monolith Trump (or egomaniacs of his ilk put up). But I don't think I'll ever look at the London Eye or the shard or the gherkin with the same forgiveness.
ChgoGal is offline  
Oct 5th, 2013, 11:58 PM
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"Looked like so many American city centers to me."

It was conceived and sold as a way precisely to develop a new focus for regeneration of an area that had lost its primary economic function, and take some pressure off the existing financial/business centres. The prime movers in the whole concept are from Montreal (which may be an additional explanation for the underground shopping centres and food courts - apart from the simple issue of income being better from above-ground offices).

Tower Hamlets (the local authority) has fairly strict local rules about stepping down heights of buildings in any new developments around Canary Wharf itself. Other developments closer to the City of London are dealt with by other authorities (and for very tall developments like the Shard and the Gherkin, it ends up on the desk of Our Beloved Mayor™. The London Eye went up under a different regime, but I think most people like it, and it may turn out to be as "temporary" as the Eiffel Tower was supposed to be. But while we're at it, I think they should put up a modern version of the 1951 Skylon on the original site (with new technologies like carbon fibre, LED lights and solar energy it ought to be possible to make one even lighter and more aerial than the original).
PatrickLondon is offline  

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