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Open House London: our highlights

Peek behind the doors of some of London’s most famous buildings at Open House festival this September

Written by
Things To Do Editors
&
Katie McCabe
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The annual Open House festival gives curious Londoners the chance to pull out their best Loyd Grossman impression and venture behind the closed doors of some of the capital’s biggest, most renowned and most secretive addresses for free. Normally, it takes place over a single weekend and involves some very long queues, but this year, the organisers are stretching it out for a full nine days. That’s a whole lot of potential snooping. 

What is Open House London?
A huged festival dedicated to making architecture accessible to all. This year it’s split into three themes: ‘Local London’, ‘Global London’ and ‘Architecture and Wellbeing’. The festival 
allows access to private homes, government landmarks and historic sites that are normally closed to the public and just waiting to be explored. Some of the buildings offer free half-hourly tours, others simply open to walk-in visitors. It’s the largest event of its kind in the world and features walks, talks and tours as well as the chance to nose around intriguing London spaces you’d never usually get to enter.

When is Open House London?
The 2021 addition will take place over nine days, from September 4 and Sunday 12.

Where is Open House London?
More than 800 buildings across 30 London boroughs will be taking part. It’s a vast sprawl, so you’ll need to dedicate some time to planning what you’d like to see. If you want to visit multiple locations, check on the Open House website in advance for details. Open House is extremely popular, so unless the building you have in mind is extremely obscure, you can expect to queue. 

How much does Open House London cost?
Brilliantly, it’s all free. Check each listing carefully on the Open House website before you set off, as some require advanced booking and entry to famous venues like 10 Downing Street and New Scotland Yard are allocated via a ballot (which sadly, has already closed). For others, just wear your most comfortable shoes and turn up on the day.

Still can’t decide what to see? Have a look at this writer’s guide to Open House London. 

Find out more about Open House London here

Quirky venues

St Bartholomew’s Hospital, Maggie’s Centre
Paul Tucker

St Bartholomew’s Hospital, Maggie’s Centre

The Grade I-listed north wing of this central London hospital houses spectacular canvases by William Hogarth and a historic Great Hall. A new addition, Maggie’s Centre, a cancer care unit, is crisp and modern in contrast. 

St Bartholomew’s Hospital, EC1A 7BE. Find out more here

Turning Earth E10
  • Things to do
  • Markets and fairs
  • Leyton

Turning Earth’s second and largest studio sits within the Argall Avenue industrial estate bordering the Lee Valley and is a real hive of creativity. Spend an afternoon nosing around the serene space watching budding potters craft their wares and sign up to become a member if you catch the ceramics bug. On your way out, pop into Lighthaus Café for a slice of ridiculously good banana bread. 

Top floor, 11 Argall Avenue, E10 7QE. Find out more here

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A short stroll up the hill from Honor Oak Park station will get you to this remarkable estate collection of sustainable self-build houses. Constructed using methods developed by architect Walter Segal, who led the project in the 1980s, the homes were created by people on Lewisham’s housing waiting list who were willing to help build their own house, with little or no building experience. Some have now been extended and many feature sustainable heating and power. Genuinely visionary.

Walters Way, Honor Oak Park, SE23 3LH. Find out more here

Offices and industry

Southwark Integrated Waste Management Facility
Grainge Photography

Southwark Integrated Waste Management Facility

Ever stared into your recycling bin and thought: What really happens to all this crap? If so, you need to look round this place – it’s Europe’s most advanced recycling facility. All your questions (like ‘What do you guys do with all of London’s old egg boxes?’) will be answered.

43 Devon St, SE15 1AL. Find out more here

Foreign and Commonwealth Office (virtual tour)
  • Attractions
  • Parliament and civic buildings
  • Whitehall

Sumptuously painted walls and ornate fixtures decorate these Victorian government offices. With this virtual tour, you’ll be able to explore the highly decorative Durbar Court, India Office Council Chamber, Locarno Suite and Foreign Office Grand Staircase, all of which look very much like they did in the nineteenth century. 

Find out more here

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Abbey Mills Pumping Station

Abbey Mills Pumping Station

Who knew a house of turds could be so lovely? Go and see the gothic architecture and beautiful brickwork of the ‘Cathedral of Sewage’ that saved London from the Great Stink. Constructed by Joseph Bazalgette, Edmund Cooper and architect Charles Driver in 1868, the structure helped form the foundation of London’s modern sewage system.

Abbey Lane, E15 2RW. Find out more here

Ancient attractions

The Charterhouse (Chapel and Museum)
Open House 2017

The Charterhouse (Chapel and Museum)

The Charterhouse was founded as a Carthusian monastery in 1371 and later became a Tudor mansion – Elizabeth I and James I both spent time here. In 1611 it was endowed as a school (since moved to Godalming) and almshouses, which it remains to this day.

Charterhouse Square, EC1M 6AN. Find out more here

Valence House
Open House 2017

Valence House

This Grade II-listed fifteenth-century manor house with a medieval moat and recently discovered late sixteenth-century wall painting is the only surviving building of its kind in Dagenham. It hosts an exhibition about Barking and Dagenham’s history.

Becontree Avenue, RM8 3HT. Find out more here

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The Oak Room, New River Head
Open House 2017

The Oak Room, New River Head

Formerly the boardroom of a seventeenth-century water house, the Oak Room is a fine late-Renaissance room demonstrating the New River Company’s wealth. It has a hand-carved oak interior, plus an overmantel and panels over the doors. It’s all grand stuff.

173 Rosebery Avenue, EC1R 4UL. Find out more here

Secret spots

Reform Club
Open House 2017

Reform Club

Built as a gentlemen’s club and inspired by Italian Renaissance palaces, the Reform Club is one of the finest Victorian buildings in the country. The tunnelled steps bring you to a square atrium with a glass mosaic roof that refracts the light in every direction.

104 Pall Mall, SW1Y 5EW. Find out more here.

The Caledonian Club
Open House 2017

The Caledonian Club

This was the last mansion house of its kind to be built in London. The club, founded in 1891, moved to these premises in 1946. A new five-storey wing with a terrace garden was officially (and appropriately) opened on St Andrew’s Day 2006 by Queen Elizabeth.

9 Halkin St, SW1X 7DR. Find out more here

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The Hurlingham Club
Open House 2017

The Hurlingham Club

The last of the grand eighteenth-century mansions which once fronted this part of the river, the club retains its quintessentially English traditions and heritage, while providing modern facilities and services for its members with magnificent interiors and extensive grounds. Now you can have a gander without the price tag.

Ranelagh Gardens, SW6 3PR. Find out more here

Find more fun things to do in September

London events in September
  • Things to do

Say goodbye to summer in style – get out and get stuck into the last of the capital’s festivals, pop-ups and outdoor shindigs this month.

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