After almost seven years of being a London dweller (*gulp*), you’d think that I’d have every major event in the diary and have worked out how to make the most of them by now. But despite learning a few lessons about whittling down the enormous list of places to visit during Open House London last year, the weekend came out of nowhere. I’d hardly taken a look at the list, let alone thought about entering any ballots.
I could only make the Sunday, which cut down the options somewhat and sadly eminated some of the places I didn’t fit in last year. So I worked through the remaining list based on whether I was willing to get up before dawn to queue and how far I was willing to travel. This left me with one choice, Two Temple Place.
All I knew at the time was that it was built in 1895 for William Waldorf Astor, a wealthy American-born attorney, politician, businessman, and newspaper publisher, and that it was previously known as Astor House. It promised intricate details from the inside out and I was intrigued to step back in time.
It’s fascinating what you learn when you pay attention to the small things.
Apparently the cherub at the bottom of this bronze lamp, conversing over the telephone, celebrates the then new age of telecommunication and electricity.
But it was in the intricate design on the interior that had the main impact.
Dark wooden carvings and bright light streaming in through the stained glass was certainly striking.
As there was a steady stream of visitors admiring the centerpiece, I thought I’d take a look around the ground floor.
The building was intended to be Astor’s estate office, with residential space to help create a home away from the US after emigrating to the UK.
The warm wood adds a darkness that makes it much easier to see it as an office than a home. There’s a sort of seriousness that you’d expect from its original owner.
With a postcode on Embankment, it is certainly prime real estate and I couldn’t help contemplate what the views from each window must have been like back then. Neighbour to Middle Temple and overlooking the Thames, I actually suspect the view hasn’t changed dramatically over the centuries.
Two Temple Place has had a number of owners since the Astor family sold the house in the early 20th century, carrying various different names including the Incorporated Accountants Hall. But despite the names and damage during the war, it has remained in its original shape for over 100 years.
I made it up the staircase doing that tricky thing of gawping up at the view overhead and watching my step and other visitors. There was so much to look at.
The mahogany carvings by Thomas Nicholls depict The Three Musketeers, said to be Astor’s favourite book. I like the fact that these details tell you a little more about the owner. It adds more of a personal touch than you’d expect from the late Victorian era.
Just as I’d thought the stained glass in the staircase was beautiful, I turned to my left on reaching the top of the staircase and found this intricate scene.
An Alpine Landscape, is thought to depict the Italian Alps.
A Swiss Summer Landscape, is more obviously located. Can you spot the Swiss flag?
Both were created by Clayton and Bell, one of the most prolific workshops for stained glass in the 19th century. These commisions were the only ones they completed that depicted a landscape.
You can hire Two Temple Place as a venue and I could imagine how beautiful it would look dressed with tables and low lights.
As I wondered what events may have been hosted there over time and the stories those panels could tell, I found myself in a small office.
It felt like a much more private space, with panels disguising secret book cases and a concealed entrance. I imagined this was where Astor came to get away from it all.
With so many details to take in, I could have spent hours wandering around, trying to build a picture of its original owner.
One of the best things about Open House London is how by entering each building you get a peek into someone else’s life and another era of time. An obvious observation I guess but just popping into one place reminded me what a great event it is and how I must get more organised about it next year.
The Bulldog Trust currently looks after Two Temple Place and whilst it’s not open to the public all year round, it does host an annual exhibition that allows access to the building. If all else fails, you should definitely add it to your Open House London list.
Did you go to Open House London this year? Where did you visit?