Every year in September, buildings of historic, architectural and ecological note open for the public for free. In London Open House is in full swing. Take a look at the overwhelming website – it’s all going on tomorrow as well.
Most years I go and feast my eyes and wear out my feet: holidays are planned around Open House we have to be in London the right weekend! Fortunately, Heritage Open Days which is similar but nationwide, is usually the weekend prior so some years we’ve managed both, although for the forseeable future we will be Singing for Water over H-O-D weekend.
So, A is busy with a family wedding, and I’m on my tod, and decide to take full advantage of the lovely Overground and quarter the borough of Hackney. I set off with my ‘favourites’ list and Transport For London maps, full of purpose and enthusiasm.
First stop Hoxton. I’ve been to the Geffreye Museum recently so I bypass it and head for Graeae Theatre’s offices and rehearsal space, right next door. I bump into R, who I know from BSL classes and who works there, so I get a personal tour. The building started life as a Tram depot and stables and has great arches all along the front which make for excellent natural light and a showcase for the sculptural logo that runs the entire length of the building.
The rehearsal space is particularly fine, with a sprung floor, and sophisticated lighting rig, all of which can be accessed and controlled from ground level. The whole building has been thought out very carefully for access issues with textured flooring, good adaptable lighting, plenty of circulation space, induction loops… And according to R it really is a pleasure to work in.
Galvanised by this first venue, I toddle round the corner to Hoxton Hall, which is a very different kettle of fish – still with a drama theme – HH is a tiny musical hall. It has done time as a temperance hall, a Quaker meeting-house and various other things, and is typical of theatres of its time in being seriously uncomfortable! I notice a pile of patchwork cushions in the gallery, I’m sure they are needed.
The Hall is being brought to life by a couple of performers, singing about wanting their beer and not getting it. Disconcertingly they are flanked by a couple of headless dummies in theatrical costume, which in the dim lighting are a bit on the sinister side!
Back to the station and a short hop to Canonbury and then a stroll up to Newington Green for the Unitarian Church, at over 300 years old it is the oldest dissenting church in London that is still in use. Built when religious dissenters were still breaking the law ,and expanded since, it isn’t a particularly beautiful building, though it has a peaceful, open atmosphere (they were positively encouraging a young child to play the organ) and apparently the ball-hinges on the pew doors are rare… but it is its history that matters, both in terms of religious dissent, and in terms of feminism. Mary Wollstonecraft worshipped here (pew 19), and I have a soft spot for her.
I am struck as I have been before, by the similarity of layout in religious buildings of this period, and the musical hall I have just come from. Something about the galleries…
I have a long list of other places I could go – a tower off Mare Street, The Hackney Empire, another theatre at Dalston (in the old Reeves paint factory), a tour of the East London Line stations… But I’m hungry and its trying to rain, and we are doing Crossness Pumping Station tomorrow, so back to Canonbury station and the train all the way home with no changes. I love the Overground!
Copyright Cherry Potts 2011