Wandsworth Prison Museum

Wandsworth Prison Museum
Wandsworth Prison Museum

One of the places I was most excited about visiting during Open House London was Wandsworth Prison Museum, as it is so rarely open. This tiny, free museum in a small garage near the museum entrance is crammed with relics and artefacts relating to the history of Wandsworth Prison.

Inside the museum
Inside the museum

These include: examples of prison officer uniforms, an ‘escape board’ listing the names of inmates thought to be an escape risk, a selection of truncheons and handcuffs, and documents relating to the prison’s history. There is a photograph of ten-year-old Robert Davey, sentenced to three months in prison in 1874 for stealing rabbits, and and an Illustrated London News article about Kate Webster, the only woman to be executed at the prison: she was hanged in 1879 for killing her elderly employer, Julia Thomas. There is an original Victorian prison door, which was only replaced in the last few years. The hangman’s noose on display is actually a film prop, but the black cap which was worn by the judge pronouncing sentence of death is the real thing.

Black cap worn by the condemning judge
Black cap worn by the condemning judge

I had also been able to sign up for an architectural tour of the prison, which was a strange experience. The prison was built in 1851 as the Surrey House of Correction, laid out in a panopticon style, with wings radiating out from a central chamber. At the time it was built it was hailed as the prime example of a modern prison, designed to accommodate the increasing numbers of prisoners that the smaller London jails could not cope with. It originally held both male and female prisoners, though now it is a male-only prison. We passed the former location of the condemned cells and the gallows, a sobering experience, and also paid a visit to the prison’s medical centre, where Oscar Wilde, one of the prison’s most famous residents, spent some time. Other notorious prisoners over the years have included John Haigh, Ronnie Kray, Derek Bentley and escapee Ronnie Biggs.

Wandsworth Prison
Wandsworth Prison

The tour was unusual and worthwhile; the museum is fascinating and well worth a visit.

FACTS

Address: Heathfield Road, London, SW18 3HS

Website: capcollections.org.uk/organisation/wandsworth-prison-museum/

Opening Hours: Generally by written appointment only, but the museum sometimes opens on special weekends, such as Open House London weekend.

Prices: Free

Lancaster House – Open House London

Lancaster House

As part of the Open House London weekend I visited Lancaster House, a private palace now managed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For many years known as Stafford House, it was the London home of the Dukes of Sutherland between 1830 and 1911, before the lease was bought by Lord Leverhulme. As a Lancastrian, he gave it its present name, and presented it to the nation: first as a home for the London Museum, then as a centre for Government hospitality.

Lancaster House

The House began as York House, home of the Duke of York, brother of George IV. It was begun by architect Benjamin Dean Wyatt, but the Duke soon died and the lease was sold to the second Marquess of Stafford. The Marquess himself, then the Duke of Sutherland, died only a few years later, and the second Duke decided to expand the house to accommodate his growing family. He employed architect Sir Robert Smirke, but Wyatt was still involved with the decoration of the state rooms, leading to a somewhat awkward situation. The decoration was eventually completed by Charles Barry.

Lancaster House

During the nineteenth century Stafford House was a centre of political life, playing the same role to the Whigs as Apsley House (residence of the Duke of Wellington) did to the Tories. The second Duchess, Harriet, was a friend of Queen Victoria and her Mistress of the Robes. Several famous people stayed in the house, notably Garibaldi in 1864, and Chopin in 1848. Nowadays, the house is often let out for filming; it makes a good stand-in for Buckingham Palace, as in Downton Abbey and The King’s Speech.

Lancaster House

I spent some time in the grand entrance hall before the tour began. We were taken around the house, beginning upstairs and later heading to the downstairs rooms. The rooms are ornately decorated and very grand, an appropriate setting for the national and international political meetings that often take place here. Downstairs, I was particularly excited by the library and its built-in bookshelves.

Lancaster House

Lancaster House

Lancaster House

Touring Lancaster House was a fascinating experience, and I’m glad I got the chance to do so.

Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare – Open House London

Garrick's Temple to Shakespeare
Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare

On the Sunday of the Open House London weekend, I headed south again to visit Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare, created by David Garrick for his hero William Shakespeare. Born in Hereford and raised in Lichfield, Garrick moved to London and became the most well-known and acclaimed actor of the age. In 1754 he purchased Hampton House, now Garrick’s Villa, overlooking the Thames at Hampton.

Garrick's Villa
Garrick’s Villa

His riverside garden was laid out by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, and this octagonal Palladian temple was built in 1756. The temple has a dome and eight Ionic columns, making it similar in style to the temple at Chiswick House.

Bust of Garrick
Bust of Garrick

From the temple, Garrick gave money and cakes to poor children every year on May Day. He also used it for entertaining friends such as Dr Johnson, as well as for writing and storing relics to Shakespeare. Eventually he had a tunnel constructed to enable him to reach the temple from his house.

Inside the temple
Inside the temple

In 1758 Garrick commissioned a life-size marble statue of Shakespeare from the eminent Huguenot sculptor, Louis François Roubiliac *Garrick may have posed for this himself). The original version had ‘veins’ across the face, a characteristic of the marble; Garrick insisted the head was replaced. The original statue is now in the British Library; this version was given to the Trust by the British Museum.

Shakespeare sculpture
Shakespeare sculpture

The temple eventually fell into disrepair until the late 20th century when the local council and several charities raised funds to restore the building and lay out the gardens again. It is now managed by the Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare Trust, and contains copies of paintings from major galleries plus original 18th century prints and engravings about Garrick. It’s open on Sunday afternoons throughout the summer months and occasionally you can attend concerts here, too.

Garrick on stage
Garrick on stage

FACTS

Address: Hampton, Middlesex, TW12 2EJ

Website: garrickstemple.org.uk

Opening Hours: Sundays 2-5 March-Oct (check the website for exact dates/times)

Price: Free

The National Archives – Open House London

The National Archives

Every year as September approaches I look forward to Open House London, when normally closed buildings open their doors to the public for free. This year I spent my Saturday down at The National Archives at Kew, somewhere I’d never yet visited.

History

The National Archives are the official archive and publisher for the UK government and they also care for over 1,000 years of national documents. They are experts and leaders in the information and records management and archive fields, and focus on ensuring the future of physical and digital records.

The National Archives was created in 2003 by combining the Public Record Office and the Historical Manuscripts Commission. The building itself was built in 1977 as an additional home for the public records then held at Chancery Lane. The site used to be a World War I hospital, and it was later used by several government departments.

NA foyer

My visit

There were a number of activities and talks taking place all day. I went on a Repository Tour, which was a fascinating journey through the document shelves behind the scenes. We saw the carts zooming past the shelves, on their way to pick up books ordered by readers, and saw the lift system that sends requested books down to the reading room. Extra-valuable items can only be viewed in a specially-constructed strongroom, where you’re only allowed out by a member of staff. I also joined a Collection Care Studio tour, which was a fascinating chance to explore the ways in which the NA look after the objects in their collection. These included the protection of fragile or unusual objects with 3D printing technology, iron gall ink and the Naval Knights of Windsor, conservation as part of the digitisation process, care of highly used documents, caring for Terence Cuneo’s war paintings, packing items for loans and collections, wax seals, x-rays and the hunt for arsenic wallpaper samples, and the emergency plan.

Afterwards I attended a couple of talks: The Public Record Office, Kew: Its place in British Architecture of the 1970s and The Changing Face of Kew. I also wandered around the public areas of the building and saw a couple of screenings of films from the archives including excerpts from Blue Peter. There were a few displays of documents about the building of the PRO at Kew and the 40th anniversary of the National Archives at Kew.

Domesday book

Finally I popped into the Keeper’s Gallery, which has a permanent exhibition about the history of the Archives and its most popular holdings, including the Domesday Book. It proved an interesting way to round off my day.

FACTS

Address: Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU

Website: nationalarchives.gov.uk

Opening Hours: Tues-Sat 9-5 (late opening Tues and Thurs)

Price: Free

St Pancras Chambers – Open House London

St Pancras Chambers
St Pancras Chambers

My next Open House London tour was of St Pancras Chambers – the building above St Pancras Station. The station, originally constructed in 1868, was refurbished between 2001 and 2007, the threat of demolition narrowly averted thanks to the efforts of a passionate group of people including the poet John Betjeman.

Station entrance (former goods entrance)
Station entrance (former goods entrance)

At the time of original construction, the East Midlands Railway wanted to surpass the recently built King’s Cross Station, so commissioned George Gilbert Scott to create the beautiful, opulent Gothic Revival style building. The money ran out partway through construction, leaving no money for the planned extra storey or for the statues supposed to be dotted around the building – the empty niches are still visible.

Wyvern
Wyvern

On the tour we saw some fascinating details: the theme of the wyvern (a mythical creature) runs through all of the architecture, and the materials used in the building come from the various towns and cities served by the East Midlands Railway, such as Sheffield steel and stone from Nottingham.

Former station entrance (now hotel entrance)
Former station entrance (now hotel entrance)

The original entrances to the station still exist but are now more commonly used as the entrances to the apartments and hotel. The Hansom Hall is the current name for the hotel lounge, as it was originally where travellers were dropped off outside the ticket hall.

'Spice Girls' staircase
‘Spice Girls’ staircase

We then got to go inside the building. The most exciting part for me, I must admit, was seeing the very staircase that featured in the Spice Girls’ video for “Wannabe”.

Stairwell
Stairwell

We got to go all the way up to the top floor: this part of the building has been converted into flats. You can see from the staircase that originally, the more prestigious rooms were on the lower floors: the design becomes less ornate as you go up the building. Nowadays, of course, the best flats are at the top, where it’s still possible to see the former servants’ quarters above your head (the original floor has been removed. My tour was given by the man who actually lives in one of the apartments – the one with the bell tower – so we got to look in there too – a fascinating experience.

In the corridor
In the corridor
Former servants' quarters
Former servants’ quarters
Inside the bell tower
Inside the bell tower

55 Broadway – Open House London

55 Broadway
55 Broadway

I always make a habit of visiting some interesting buildings when Open House London comes around. This year I was lucky enough to visit 55 Broadway, the former headquarters of London Underground, near St James. The Underground Group was formed from a group including the Tube railways, London General Bus company, tram operators and electrical supply companies, and in 1927 when they decided they wanted their new headquarters to reflect its bold vision of the future, they hired architects Adams, Holden and Pearson for the job.

55 Broadway
55 Broadway

It was a challenging job from the start. With its irregular shape and depth (St James’s Park station sitting just 7.3 metres below the site) Adams, Holden and Pearson’s job was a difficult one. They managed to get around it, however, by incorporating the cruciform layout into their design.

Epstein's controversial sculpture
Epstein’s controversial sculpture

Charles Holden, later known for his work on the Northern and Piccadilly Line extensions, used Portland stone and added bronze features to the building. Carvings by Eric Gill, Henry Moore and Jacob Epstein (who’s “Night and Day” caused controversy) adorn the outside of the building, which is now Grade 1 listed.

Visitor pass
Visitor pass

We started off outside, where we were introduced to the history of the building and got to see the original foundation stone.

Foundation stone
Foundation stone

The tour took us up several floors, including the seventh floor with its original management rooms, outside to see the roof gardens, and right up to the flagpole.

Map in the foyer
Map in the foyer
Lord Ashfield plaque
Lord Ashfield plaque
Roundel design in the building
Roundel design in the building
Early tube map
Early tube map
Inside the building
Inside the building
Management rooms
Management rooms
Management rooms
Management rooms
In the garden
In the garden
View from the roof
View from the roof
View from the roof
View from the roof
55 Broadway
55 Broadway

William Booth College: Home of the Salvation Army

The Tower
The weekend just gone saw Open House London 2013. I didn’t really get involved with it, partly because I spent Friday night completing the Maggie’s Culture Crawl (a night-time charity walk around London) and didn’t get to bed until 9 am. This didn’t leave me with much time or inclination to stand in queues to enter buildings for hours. However, when I went to Denmark Hill station (in pursuit of my London Underground project) I saw that the Salvation Army’s William Booth College was right across the street and open to visitors. I thought, since I was there, I might as well pop in, though my only knowledge of the Salvation Army comes from two rather dubious sources: one, the ‘Sally Army’ weapon employed by the little wriggly soldiers in the computer game Worms, and two, Harold Bishop in Neighbours.

William Booth College

The College was founded in order to train cadets, both men and women, for service as officers. Built as a memorial to, and named after, the founder of the SA (statues of him and his wife Catherine are present outside), it was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the architect of Liverpool Cathedral, opening in 1929.

Inside the College

I attended a short talk on the history of the Salvation Army, and then there was an opportunity to climb the tower, but since I’d just done a 15-mile walk and subsequently had only two hours’ sleep, I decided not to take this.