Open House London 2013

William Beckwith, Champion swimmer, 1882Last weekend was the London Open House weekend, and judging by the many posts and photos on my Facebook feed (admittedly not a very scientific piece of research!) it seemed to be more popular than ever, with thousands of people venturing into vast-but-usually-inaccessible edifices like Battersea Power Station and little-known treasures such as the Crystal Palace subway. Those visiting Westminster were spoiled for choice: with 89 entries in the Open House guide, we must have been one of the most prolific boroughs.

A good number of residents and non-residents used the opportunity to find out about our Archives Centre building and the treasures contained within. Tours were led by a number of Archives staff, and featured Daniel Day-Lewis’s baptism record, Nathaniel Bryceson’s diary, a cutting from the ‘Illustrated London News’ of the proposed underground station at Baker Street (which opened in 1863 – 150 years ago this year), an 1882 playbill advertising William Beckwith (champion swimmer who performed tricks such as eating sponge cakes under water – pictured above) and, of course, the oldest document we possess: a letters patent from King Henry III to Westminster Abbey, dating from 1256.

Our very oldest item: a letters patent dating back to 1256! Westminster City Archives

A few of the comments received:

“Enthusiasm and detail – excellent”

“Very pleased with free tea and coffee”

“Very enjoyable, did not know this existed.”

“I really loved going into the conservation room and seeing how conservationists work. If I didn’t have a job, I’d definitely volunteer.”



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