London’s hidden interiors

[slideshow_deploy id=’2985′]

London Hidden Interiors is a thrill. The English Heritage book satiates a curiosity, instigates a hunt and strengthens a romance with London, my fair city.

I fancy a great deal of cities: Munich, my anchor. LA and Berlin, what raunchy playgrounds. Calgary, my perpetual white Christmas. Ah, and Paris, l’amour fou.

However, it is for London that I cross my heart. The reasons are endless but in its infiniteness I find it incredibly easy to lose sight of this city. That is until London gestures towards me offering subtle reminders.

It happened recently, during one of my more uninteresting routines, walking from the office to the bus stop.

My commute home starts with a swift exit from the office building followed by purposeful strides on River Thames’s northern bank, past the Fishmongers’ Hall and past my sweaty gym until I’m directly beneath London Bridge – an illustrious name often mistakenly given to neighbouring Tower Bridge. I hear the river slap against concrete slabs when I climb the secluded stairwell leading to the bridge’s surface. There I’m greeted by the hustle of rush hour, a slew of City workers dashing every which way. Always in haste. Everyone seems desperate to escape the cold, wet and dreary for warm homes and cosy pubs.

Normally I charge on towards Liverpool Street station where, like clockwork, I hop on the bus, hop off bus and walk into my house. The end. But that evening, atop the northern side of London Bridge, an imposing structure interrupted my post-work drill. I stopped. Fellow Londoners glared and pushed past me.

The Fishmongers’ Hall had always stood there – since 1671 to be precise (though its older site had been destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666) – and on first encounter, its distinguished pillars and large windows had enthralled me. And as it is with several objects of desire, my eyes glazed over with each daily encounter.

That evening, the building on its own accord stole my attention. The Fish Hall’s windows shone brightly; I’ve never seen its insides lit up for passersby to see. Ornate gold frames cradled grandeur paintings. Green iridescent walls boasted a rich tenor. The interior was made all the more vivid against a backdrop of winter’s dark night. While I yearned to know more of its prosperous history, I was perfectly happy to study its extravagance a bit longer. It was a moment of serenity amidst the hectic city buzz.

I learned later it was the Banquet Room that had me transfixed. A quick internet search led to a wealth of British history related to one fine building. As entertaining as it was to regard it online, I treasured being able to physically see its interior, if only from across the street; a secret moment no one else but the building and I seemed privy to.

I’m afraid I can be terribly sentimental.

To say that I experienced a similar ‘Fish Hall’ spell with London Hidden Interiors would be… hypersentimental. Nonetheless, over 400 glossy pages provide a fascinating expedition of London’s select buildings and its inner core, some of which are closed to the public. The book divulges what lies inside famed prestigious icons, infamous structures and lesser-known frames. There are pubs, hotels, libraries and even a prison. The photo spreads are revealing and brilliantly shot while its accompanying commentary is detailed and compelling.

Flipping through London Hidden Interiors is like strolling through your favourite locale, taking cursory glances through windows to see how the neighbours have fixed up their front rooms – except the book allows you to linger inside the house for much longer, scrutinising every fine detail as it pleases you. And, as it is in a gallery, you may choose to read notes explaining the history, context and materials used to create the masterpiece.

I have revisited my copy of the book for second and third (and more) helpings, discovering something new each time. It has become a daunting task choosing a favourite.

Do I consider my affections for libraries and appoint St. Paul’s Cathedral Library – a mouthwatering chamber for any casual bibliophile?

But what about Drapers’ Hall, a Victorian livery hall whose “grandiloquent suite of rooms…make Buckingham Palace seem homely?”

Or perhaps I favour something urban. Take Battersea Power Station, notorious for its silhouette and uncertain future. London Hidden Interiors savours its post-war Control rooms before the building ceases to be.

No. I think it must be 18 Folgate Street – a building I had often passed by, utterly oblivious to the curiosities that are scattered within.

What of The Wolseley’s handsome layout? Or Gordon’s Wine Bar’s intimate cellar? Both have fed and watered me in the past – dare I be biased?

Maybe I prefer the piece on the Old Operating Theatre due to its medicinal (and mildly macabre) history. It’s another of the book’s few that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting years back, when I was still green to London-living. I had attended a creative writing workshop in the theatre. How wonderful it was to be served a dose of warm nostalgia (albeit, with a side of cringe) from a single image.

Or, could my favoured interior be the one that tops my to-do list? Like South London’s Rivoli Ballroom?

The book showcases over 200 reasons why I’ve promised mself to London. Readers less-emotionally attached to London will undoubtedly find the book entertaining. It is the architectural history version of a bare-it-all photo spread and it’s every bit as tantalising.

I am determined to breathe in more of London, likely using London Hidden Interiors to guide my quest. There are various locations open to the public, and London hosts open house days once a year for some of the book’s more private selections.

Architecture, design and rich history surround me, whether I’m acquainted with it or not. I’m all the more enamoured when London brings it to my attention but just as ecstatic when literature about London spells it out for me.

by Erika Soliven

London Hidden Interiors – written by Phillip Davies and photographs by Derek Kendall – is available here. Images are provided by Atlantic Publishing.


About The Author

Glass Online arts writer

Related Posts