From the outside – see how its different from the buildings next door? He built over the balconies to make an extra walkway bit…
As you may know, I like my culture either free or involving booze, so I’m lucky that London has tons of free museums and late night openings where you can drink wine and ponce around looking at interesting things (doing exactly that at the Grace Kelly late at the V&A tonight). We shouldn’t take this for granted – other cities I’ve visited lately charged tons for their great buildings – but we have the V&A, British Museum, Natural History Museum, National and Portrait Galleries, the Tates and loads more I can’t think of now, that are free, in gorgeous buildings, have great little cafes and do interesting events. London should be very proud.
The Sir John Soane Museum is also free, does late evenings and events. I knew very little about Sir John apart from that he was an architect (he built the Dulwich Picture Gallery – sadly not free and hence unvisited thus far) and his house often features in those “best random/hidden museums in London” lists. So I went along a couple of weekends ago not knowing what to expect apart from imagining it was probably a bit like Dennis Severs’ house. And I really liked it. As an architect he made it exactly as he wanted – a living breathing original work of art to show his students. He used lights, space, structures and decorations to build his perfect home, AND he had a dressing room. It’s gorgeous inside – a late 18th/early 19th century mansion far bigger inside than it appears and all stained glass and velvet, cornices and secret walkways, over-looking an amazing courtyard filled with Greek and Roman ruins. I don’t think I’ve seen a nicer central London townhouse – it feels like you’re back in the days of Jane Austen and Dickens and the Brontes (note: this may not be historically accurate).
Photo with kind permission from Graham’s flickr photos
He was an eccentric and a socialite – a Great Gatsby type who loved art and design and threw humungous parties which must have been fabulously hedonistic and posh. He built the dark stone basement as a gothic joke to the trends of the time, where the main piece of furniture is an Egyptian sarcophagus (not to be confused with that flap of skin in your throat which stops water going down your airpipe) which he bought to great fanfare – it was sadly a time when Egyptian tombs were raided by British and German excavationists and items sold to the highest bidder – and celebrated by having a three-day party with hundreds of people all invited to look at his new acquisition by candlelight. So when he died, his house which he made like a museum, became a proper museum. As well as being a home, it is filled higgeldy-piggeldy Summer-Exhibition style with Hogarth and Turner paintings, mirrors, busts, books, a giant statue of Adonis, artefacts and carvings and pottery and bits chipped off various buildings through the ages. And it even has a skeleton if you peer through the little window above the basement (good to scare small children with).
It’s definitely interesting enough for a little visit and I’d imagine the late night candlelit ones would be fantastic – it’s free every Tuesday – Saturday 10am to 5pm, or there’s a museum tour for a fiver at 11am on Saturday mornings. On the first Tuesday of every month they do the special candlelit evening from 6-9pm. Good old London.