Saturday, 29 September 2012

London Open House Weekend

After years of missing London's Open House weekends (in my pre-Australia days) I finally made it this year! Last weekend I managed to visit five properties all within easy reach of my flat. It was interesting to see inside some buildings that aren't usually open to the public. They were eclectic and had some interesting characters too.

End House, Crofton Park

My first stop was End House in Manwood Road. The compact three bedroom house was added to the end of a terrace when someone sold part of their garden to a developer.

A mecca to minimalism the house has a wedge shape, being narrower at the front than the rear. The architects have produced a fantastic design and the house didn't feel like it contained awkward angles despite none of the rooms being square.

The owner of the house was very brave letting strangers roam through every room. The house was a bit overly styled though. Do people really have Liberty and Harvey Nichols out on display?

The Capitol, Forrest Hill

A quick cycle down to Forrest Hills took me to The Capitol. Formerly a cinema it is now a Weatherspoons pub.

Rather embarrassingly I was the only two person on the 1pm tour. Two guides and one guest! A local historian had done quite a bit of research into the cinema and started with a 15 - 20min talk into the history of the building and a bit about the architect who built several cinemas across London.

Originally opened in 1929 as a silent cinema, films with sound tracks came in only a couple of months after it opened. It remained as a cinema until the 1990s (I think), when it inevitably turned into a bingo hall and is now a pub.

After the talk there was a tour of the building through parts which are now closed to the public. We got to visit the old tea room, upper balcony, offices and up onto the roof of the cinema. The tour took a slightly strange twist when the member of Weatherspoons staff accompanying us, told us he could see ghosts and started pointing out the four the cinema (allegedly) has!

Seagar Distillery Tower, Deptford

When I returned from Oz I discovered that Deptford had built it's very own sky scraper, the Seagar Distillery Tower. On the twenty seventh floor of the tower is a small observation deck. Usually just for residents use it was open for the weekend.

There isn't really anywhere else in the area that you can get an aerial view of South East London and I was surprised how different things look from above. I really enjoyed the 360 degree views of Canary Wharf, Greenwich, Blackheath, Lewisham, Brockley, across towards west London and the City.

A member of staff from the developers let us up to the top floor. It was interesting to hear him talk about how the plans for the building have had to evolve during the recession. The penthouse flat apparently went for a steal because they needed some sales, plans for a 24hr concierge were shelved and plans for a hotel on the site have been set back.

I'd never seen my flat from above before and I was surprised how green Brockley looks from above (which you can almost see in the hazy photo above).

Lewisham Arthouse / Lewisham Library

After a successful Saturday I visited two further properties on a rather soggy Sunday. The first was Lewisham Arthouse, somewhere I pass most days on my cycle to work but have never been in.

A Grade II (if I remember correctly) listed building the Arthouse was originally built as a rather grand Deptford Library. The building is now used as an artists commune and one of the resident artists showed us round. He reminded me a lot of my uncle rocking the chequered tea towel round the neck look.

Although the building has now been heavily sub-divided glimpses of the former grandeur remain. With impressively high ceilings, parquet flooring, a vaulted roof, ceiling mouldings, the odd book case and bespoke wood panelling on some of the walls, it must have been a wonderful place to borrow a book.

In the arthouse they had some interesting photos of the local area from circa 1920. Lewisham Way certainly was a bit grander back then with it's own department store and a smart set of shops which looked quite similar to Brockley Way from the same period.

They have a open studio / art exhibition coming up in a couple of weeks and I'll definitely be going along for another look around.

de Monchaux Studio, Brockley

Situated at the end of someones garden on Manor Avenue the de Monchaux Studio was a stark contrast after the Lewisham Arthouse. Also an artists studio is is a sleek, modern and bright single room. With great architecture it was very pleasing on the eye.

The development of the mews roads in Brockley is generating a bit of controversy / chatter, but the studio seemed to provide the perfect template. Small and unobtrusive you wouldn't even know it was there from the road. It didn't overlook anyone else and made great use of the end of someones garden. It made me think we should stop all the NIMBYism and start making better use of the mews.


  1. Great blog. I was s
    a student at Forest Hill Boys from 87-94 and spent a lot of time in Forest hill. The spoons was never a cinema then.

  2. Thanks Chris. I will have to double check when it actually stopped being a cinema.

  3. That would have been great doing that. I do like a good sticky beak into other peoples abodes, the library would have been magnificent in its day.
    Do you miss Sydney at all?

    1. There is lots I miss about Sydney! I had a great time there, but I think it was the right time to move home so I don't have any regrets either. I have an idea for a blog mini-series on my favourite things about Sydney. It just hasn't happened yet!