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.

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.

 

Hang Out in the Docks

From the early 17th century the docks in East London have been key to the history of its development. A former Georgian warehouse which is now Museum of London Docklands tells many a story of shipping and trade through interactive  displays and hands-on activities . Hear stories from sailors, merchants and pirates, learn about the transatlantic slave trade, roam the alleyways of Sailortown and inhale the smells of East London’s past in a recreation of Victorian Wapping. More information.

 

Hatch, Match, Dispatch

That’s how this palatial building on the Strand was referred to once when housing the Register of births, marriages and deaths. Now, a place for free art exhibitions as well as open air cinema in the summer and a skating rink in the winter, the Somerset House has been used for many functions. A royal abode where young Elizabeth I lived while her half-sister Queen Mary I reigned, and Anne of Denmark, wife of King Charles I kept residence there, temporarily giving it a name of Denmark House.
The original name comes from the first owner Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector to young Edward VI, who commissioned its building in the 16th century. The Duke was executed in 1552 and the house went to the Crown. Initially used by the royals, it was given up for residence to people close to the Crown and suffered from neglect until it was demolished in 1775.
The current building designed by Sir William Chambers has since been home to the Admiralty, the Royal Academy and the Inland Revenue among many other functions.
Somerset house was the first building in England to have parquet flooring and hosted the first performance of an Italian opera in the country. It has also been a popular filming location and features in the James Bond and Sherlock Holmes films. And it once stood in for Buckingham Palace.

Follow the Money

You can even be at the helm of the monetary policy for a few minutes … at the Bank of England museum. From hand written notes to sophisticated plastics, see the history of money evolve over more than 300 years and the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street presiding over it. It’s free. The rest of the current building which is a joint effort by Sir John Soane and Sir Herbert Baker, including the inner garden, the rate room and Carney’s office is open to public on the Open House Weekend in September. Founded to raise money during a time of war against France from private investors, the bank was established by Royal Charter in 1694 and moved to its current location 40 years later. The earliest paper money was a form of receipt for deposits left with goldsmiths for safekeeping. The portrait of monarch first appeared on notes in 1960 and ten years later the first historical character to grace the face of banknotes was William Shakespeare on the 20 pound note. The first polymer notes that will be 15 percent smaller in size have already been introduced in the circulation. Sir Winston Churchill is on the five pound note and Jane Austen will adorn the 10 pound note later this year. You can  lean a lot more including about how to tell a forged note from the genuine one at the BoE museum which is open Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Long Live The Longplayer

It’s a long way getting there but it’s worth it. And there is time as it is a 1,000-year long composition. It has been playing already for 16 years, so another 984 years to go. Conceived and composed by Jem Finer, one of the founding members of The Pogues band, the Longplayer is located in the 19th century lighthouse at Trinity Buoy Wharf. The composition of Longplayer results from an application of simple rules to six short pieces of music. Six sections from these pieces are playing simultaneously at all times.

Longplayer chooses and combines these sections in such a way that no combination is repeated until exactly one thousand years has passed. There are 234 singing bowls, used as a part of the 66-foot-wide orchestral instrument to perform Longplayer Live. There are also public listening posts around the world, and a continuous online audio stream. Listen in, take in, meditate and walk around the area which also has an American-style diner, a café, and an artsy office space made from disused shipping containers.

Free Treasure: Guns & Lenin

Apart from some 150 species said to inhabit the Thames and an occasional whale washing up in its estuary, there is also a lot of rubbish in it. Go comb the shoreline when it recedes — the usual find is 17th clay pipes (mostly fragments), cotton buds, shipping nails and ceramic pieces. One fellow treasure hunter I spoke to found a well preserved Roman leather shoe,  another found a gold coin and gave his daughter for birthday. A colleague once heard a story of someone finding a gun and a bust of Lenin.