Thousands of people enjoyed a weekend exploring London’s most fascinating buildings at this year’s Open House event.
At Westminster City Archives, we too adopted an “access-all-areas” approach for the event on Saturday 17 September. 86 visitors joined us for free tours, and were treated to a behind-the-scenes trip to the Archives Centre’s conservation studio and stores.
On the way, our Librarian and Archivist shared some entertaining stories about Westminster’s history, as well as showing some treasured items from our collections.
Among the exhibits was our very oldest item: a letters patent dating back to 1256! (see above). The document granted Westminster Abbey the right to hold a market at Tothill Fields – an area of common land in Westminster which has long since been built over.
A selection of 19th century cartoons on display raised some laughter, including a Cruickshank sketch of architect John Nash impaled on the spire of All Souls, Langham Place. Cruickshank drew this humorous sketch in response to a Parliamentary debate of 1824, when MPs had demanded to know “who could be the architect who invented such a monstrosity”?
The design of the church, with its mixture of architectural styles, was so unpopular that one Minister commented:
“Among the many deplorable objects of the kind in the metropolis and its neighbourhood, this was the most melancholy departure from the rules of good taste that he had yet seen. The spire was only to be compared to an extinguisher on a flat candlestick”.
Other exhibits were more sobering. Looking at the Westminster bomb map, our tour parties were taken aback by how many attacks our City suffered during the dark days of the Second World War, and were saddened by photographs and reports of the Aldwych flying bomb incident.
For some visitors, our items on show whet the appetite so much that they got stuck into research straight after the tour! Others came back to our Meeting Room to be plied with teas and coffees by our Friends of the Archives.
A good time was had by all, and we can’t wait to fling wide our doors again for Open House next year.