21 September 2013

Open House London: Twickenham

I am very interested in architecture but have always avoided Open House London because of the anticipated long queues (true, as it turns out) and I thought that none of the properties were that close to me (not true, as it turns out).

This year I splashed out 69p for the iPhone app and discovered that there were a few properties worth visiting within cycling distance. Some were in Ham or Petersham and so were easy to get to whereas the ones in Twickenham took a little bit more planning, we really do need that proposed new bridge.

First stop was Darke House where a reasonable queue had already formed ahead of opening time at 10am. Sadly after bit of a wait we discovered that it was not going to be open after all. This late withdrawal was, apparently, on the website but it was not on the app that I had checked that morning.

Luckily there were other attractions nearby and I headed to J.M.W. Turner's country residence, Sandycombe Lodge in Twickenham.

This is where he lived rather than worked so there is no studio to see, just a typical period cottage. Inside has some character and some information about the house and Turner's time there, his father also lived there, but there is not that much to look at, hence a picture of the outside.

The displays inside explained the history of the house and some of that is very obvious from the outside, such as the way that the original small cottage expanded on both side.

I was in the area so it made sense to go to the gardens at York House where the Naked Ladies cavort in the tumbling water.

There are large formal gardens too though they did not offer much in the way of colour at that time of year. The gardens are more for promenading in, mostly by people with prams or buggys, and they lack decoration; apart from the ladies of course.

Crossing a footbridge over the road took me to York House. This is still the main offices of Richmond Council when most authorities have decamped to purpose-built, and more practicable, offices and left the old building in the hands of developers for quite a few pieces of silver.

The sunken lawn (I have no idea why it is like that) attracts small children as the banks are ideal for rolling down. Even on a quite grey day like this one was there was one small girl determined to have a go and I had to wait some time for her to roll out of the picture. You cannot take pictures with children in any more.

The gardens are opposite Eel Pie Island and the view of the island from the Twickenham bank is of a delightful jumble of clutter. It reminds me of the picture game books I had as a child where you had to look at a picture like this and find five boats, one crane a telephone number and three ladders.

Cycling back home I had a stroke of luck and stumbled across Pope's Grotto and Radnor House School that were also open for the day.

The grotto was built by Alexander Pope in the 1720s to let him move between his house and garden without having to cross the main road. Much has changed since then, Pope's mansion has gone and Radnor House School sits in part of the garden but the grotto is still there.

The grotto is about 20m long, just about wide enough for a couple to walk side-by-side and tall enough for them to do so without stooping. It is heavily manufactured and there is no pretence that this has been tunnelled from rock. The ceramics that line the walls have been carefully chosen and reward a close look.

At the garden/school/rive end of the grotto there are two side aisles with statues in. They are not very pretty but it is interesting that they are there.

The grotto is reached via the school which has some merit of its own. It is clearly not as old as it sometimes pretends to be and the Tudor look is decidedly fake but still attractive.

There is no river path at his point (unlike on the opposite bank) so this is a view of the Thames that normally only school children get to see. On the left is Ham Lands and on the right are the moorings at Strawberry Vale.

A day that had not started well with the unexpected closure of Darke House got better as other places were discovered or rediscovered and, in the end, Twickenham showed that it does have plenty to offer for the curious visitor.

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