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.

Meet the Meat Market

It has seen many a head roll (not just cows’) including that of Scotland’s hero William Wallace who was hung, drawn and quartered there with his head then stuck on a pole above the London Bridge in 1305. It’s Smithfield market, the largest meat market in London. It survived through generations and iterations. In medieval times it was known for public executions when scenes of torture were commonplace. It was also the site for wife selling in the early 19th century when divorce was very difficult and men brought their unwanted wives along with other goods to the market to sell them. History has it that one woman’s fortune turned around there when she was picked up from the gutter by a wealthy passerby, remarried and propelled by her new husband to the world of the upper crust. In 1852 the Smithfield Market Removal Act was passed relocating the live market to Copenhagen fields in Islington, clearing the way for Sir Horace Jones to design the new market buildings that we know today. In 1873 the Poultry Market was erected to the west of the Meat Market and followed by two buildings further west known as the General Market and Annexe. The market itself was for the chop as part of those recent fancy kill-old-build-new redevelopments. But it was saved by the SAVE Britain Heritage.

The market is open from about 2 am to 7 am ish and is mainly catering to wholesale buyers but there are lots of bargains for individual buyers too. Families are known to use the night time and no congestion charge to stock up for weeks ahead at a third or even half of the price they would pay at their local.
 It’s better quality too.  Visiting is free.

From Gladiators to City Clerks

The City is the oldest part of London known in the Roman times as Londinium and was under Roman rule for a fifth of its history. The Romans built a wooden amphitheater, a Wembley Stadium of the times, accommodating more than 7,000 spectators to watch wild animal fights and execution of criminals, as well as gladiator combats. Over the centuries it was buried under layers of later buildings and was re-discovered in 1988 during site preparations for the new art gallery. The record of the finds from 13 years of fieldwork filled three volumes and the amphitheater was opened to public in 2002. It is six meters below the modern pavement. The circle of black paving stones in Guildhall Yard marks the original extent of the arena.

From the Roman times fast forward to the 12 century when the City became so important to the country as a trading center that the Crown granted the people their own form of local government. The government, formed before the Parliament, sits in the Guildhall, the City’s only secular medieval building . The City is divided into 25 wards and 125 members are elected to represent them. The Square Mile as it is also known counts 9,000 residents and around 400,000 workers. It is a city within a city and even has its own police with 700 officers. The City’s present-day links to its past through more than 100 livery companies that were created from the early trade practices in the 12th century: Merchant Taylors, Fishmongers, Drapers and Haberdashers. You can visit the Guildhall and the amphitheater for free. Also worth visiting is the Art Gallery which provides a portrait of the City through years. The changing display counts 250 artworks from its permanent collection including Victorian art and Dutch 17th-cenury masterpieces. The library also host various exhibitions and talks throughout the year. Free introductory tours of under 45 minutes are available on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 12:15, 1:15, 2:15, 3:15. They can be joined or left at any time and no booking is required.

Lights On!

Canary Wharf is hosting a week-long festival of winter lights. More than 30 installations and interactive art. Make light and music follow your brain waves, steam up in Ovo, pick up wisdom from floating words, play the sound of the Big Bang and wear wings like an angel.

Policing the City

Did you know that when it comes to policing London there are two separate forces? The Metropolitan Police, or the Met, which was formed in 1829 and the City of London Police, formed ten years later. The Square Mile, unique in many ways, stands out on that front as well. Their history from watchmen in the 13th century to the so-called charleys to marshals to present day officers is documented by a new museum in the Guildhall library. Police uniforms, criminal tools, radio communication devices and a model of the Exchange buildings which featured in the infamous Houndsditch jewellery robbery case are on display.