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From Blitz to Barbican

This website is all about free events and venues in London including one of my favourite places — the Barbican Center. It has been a magnet for culture vultures for years since opening its doors in the 1980s. The new complex dominates the area almost obliterated by German bombs in WWII. What is now a sprawling center used to be a street which took its name from a watch tower adjacent to the London wall built by the Romans. It has more than 2,100 homes in a maze of towers, terraces and walkways, and its own lakes and gardens. There is also a church, St. Giles, where Oliver Cromwell got married and John Milton was buried, a sports center, a library, restaurants, cinemas, concert halls, exhibition space and a conservatory.

Conservatory
Conservatory

London’s largest outside of Kew Gardens with 2,000 species of tropical plants, it is open to public on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. A tip for parents: one child under 12 can eat for free at the Barbican Kitchen for every adult ordering a main meal. Cinema tickets are half price on Mondays. You can go on the Big Barbican Adventure to explore the nooks and crannies of the center in a trail for families. Pick up a free kit from the Box Office. Check the website for other free events.

Open-Door Private Members Club

Well, not quite, but it looks like one from the inside and the outside. The Two Temple Place neo-Gothic mansion is part of The Bulldog Trust and is open to public, showcasing museums and gallery collections from around the UK. It also hosts annual exhibitions and other cultural and philanthropic events. While visiting, check out its cafe’s additional seating room.

Private Public Garden

London is all about parks and gardens. Some gardens you can only get to if you have a key or pay a visit on an open-door day.  Yet there are some that are open to public but they are so tacked away that few know about them.  Such is the lovely garden in the Center for Reconciliation and Peace Center off Bishopsgate Street. It is behind St Ethelburga’s Church.

A rare example of a medieval City church, it survived through the Great Fire of London and the Blitz in WWII but was severely damaged by an IRA bomb in 1993. It has since re-opened as a center which builds bridges across divisions in culture and religion, bringing together people of various backgrounds. Come to take part in one of its many programs or simply to sit and reflect in its lovely garden or bedouin tent.

London At a Glance

Imagine looking through the airplane window when you descend in one of its airports. The winding ribbon of the Thames river,  the Tower Bridge, the Eye, the Parliament and many of its other iconic sites. You can get the same view from the ground at the Building Center, a 1:2000 scale interactive model of central London. The 12.5 meters-long installation, it covers more than 85 square kilometers, 19 boroughs and about 170,000 buildings, including the river itself with its 21 bridges.

Touch screens will help bring buildings to life highlighting the way the city has developed over time. The Building Center offers other free exhibitions and events throughout the year.

Public Private View

When in Mayfair, don’t reduce your time to shopping and restaurants only. There are more than 100 private galleries which are open to public and work later than regular museums. A most recent addition is the Eden Fine Art Gallery hailing from the New York art scene. It is now showcasing works by David Kracov which are an explosion of colour and happiness.

See the full list of galleries.

Revolution Time

It’s been a hundred years since a revolution in Russia swept away the tsar, the country and turned the life of people on its head. Revolution 17 is a project which delves into the century that followed through music, theatre, performance, talks and films, exploring the story of Soviet and then post-Soviet Russia with a wide range of free events.
Dash Arts, set up by Josephine Burton and Tim Supple in 2005, is a unique platform which has since produced  many events with artists from around the world. A lot of their work focuses on the countries from the Post Soviet states. Events from the past included tributes to singer-songwriter/ actor Vladimir Vysotsky and rock singer Viktor Tsoi, Ukrainian cooking demonstrations, Georgian film, living at a Russian dacha weekend and talks about sex in the Soviet Union. More details.

Free Time Machine

It’s round the corner from Barbican Centre in Charterhouse Square and started off as a priory next to a mass Black Death grave. Now it is often referred to as an Oasis in the City. And it is really. Spanning more than six centuries of sometimes tumultuous history, the Charterhouse next to the Barbican tube station and the Smithfield market and what will soon be a Crossrail hub, is a quiet abode for 45 male pensioners. Wind back to the 14th century, a Carthusian monastery was founded there following the plague in which thousands of people died, more than 50,000 of them burried in a pit. It is now a lovely garden in Charterhouse Square.
Reformation brought the end to monks’ peaceful life and in the 16th century it fell into the hands of aristocracy. Queen Elizabeth I stayed there before being crowned to sense out the sentiment. The place was bought by then richest man in England Sir Thomas Sutton, who gained wealth through coal trade, marrying well and renting money at 10 percent. He was also a philanthropist and donated the ex priory for it to become an almshouse for gentlemen pensioners, at the time soldiers and servants to the King. The community now consists of former teachers, musicians, writers and clergymen. Once a week, the brothers give tours of the Charterhouse. You will see pretty much everything but their flats including the Great Hall where breakfast, lunch, tea and supper are served daily. You have to pay for the tour and to be able to see most of the premises but its museum is free. The Chapel also hosts concerts. 

 

Explore Electromagnetic Field

At a museum dedicated to Michael Faraday in the Royal Institution and over 200 years of history-making science. From the odds and ends that became the first electrical transformer to the tube that told us why the sky is blue. The highlight of the museum is Faraday’s magnetic laboratory displayed as it was in the 1850s opposite a current nanotechnology lab.