Since I am now living on the other side of the world to my family and most of my friends this blog is about things I enjoy, things I notice, people I meet, people I miss, history, planning for the future, love and life in general! I guess it's about whatever pops into my head which I want to share with my friends and family... and who knows? I might make some more friends along the way!

29 September, 2008

London Open House - part 3, The FCO

Having had an amazing experience with the modern architecture of City Hall, I knew exactly where I wanted to go next, and I decided to walk half way then catch the tube the rest of the way! I was glad I did the walking part coz I had known there was a big cycling event on in London today, and had seen clusters of folk on bikes, many of them in sponsorship safety vests, but had not seen any of the closed roads I had heard about... On my way to the tube I crossed an overpass and saw hundreds of folk on bikes taking over the streets of London! It was wonderful to see!

The event is called The London Freewheel, and this year it was sponsored by Sky Sports Chanel! I took some photos... naturally! It gave me a good feeling to see London's streets given over to bikes instead of cars, taxi's, motorcycles and buses!
More information on the London Freewheel event here:

Then on to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office! I had been told by several people that I would love it, and they were completely correct! When I got there I mentioned that so many folk had recommended I visit, and one of the security guards who works there told me he still gets goosebumps when he looks at it all! He, along with several others, also told me that it just keeps getting better and better as you go along!

Again - they were completely correct!

You enter the office through a covered drive in area, then into a huge court yard and to your left, where you enter the building up a marble staircase, with two huge carved firepaces on either side, and the statue of a Gurkha soldier in front of you.

Then through a humble looking doorway, on the other side of which is the Gurkha staircase, beautifully carved and the original site of the statue we already passed in the entrance hall. To one side of this lovely staircase was an alcove which contained three small recycling bins, I was tickled to think that this must be the most attractive recycling station in England!
We did not ascend the stairs, however, and continued along the same coridoor. All was very pretty and clearly the workmanship was top quality and had been carefully restored, but nothing truly remarkable, expecially to a girl from Marvelous Melbourne! For those of you who don't know it, Melbourne was, for a brief period in the 1860-70s, the wealthiest city in the world, on the floor of money coming in from the Victorian goldfields. The resulting wealth was displayed by banks who wanted to appear more grand and sturdy, or safe, to their prospective customers so some magnificent Neo-Gothic buildings were constructed. Many of them, along Collins Street and Spring Street still stand today, and Melbournians are proud of their rich, Victorian heritage. So, visiting a building of Neo-Gothic architecture, which was entered from the more humble areas, was wonderful and interesting, but not worthy of goosebumps... yet!

Along this corridoor we went towards the heart of the India Office, who's entrance we had just come through. Along the way the light changed from electric to natural, and there, on my right, was a magnificent courtyard! It was glassed over, making it an all weather space, and there were various displays in it, and despite the organised information it still felt extremely spacious.
The India office has some really lavish details to it, mostly because, at the time it was being built, India was bringing a huge amount of wealth into Britain and the architect of the interiors, Matthew Digby Wyatt, had pretty much a 'bottomless purse' to budget with. The next room I entered was The India Office Council Chamber, and I thought this was lush and beautiful. I was completely taken with the dark, mahogony surfaces, the rich, deep pinks of the curtains and carpets, and the huge marble mantel piece and carving above it. The whole room had been enjanced with much gilding of cornices, wall surfaces, cabinets and even minor details. It had a lot of natural light from the nearby Dunbar court yard, but was also lit by beautiful lamps hung from the ceiling.
As I dragged myself away from this lovely, warm and inviting, yet still business-like room, I mentioned to the guard that I knew what everyone was talking about when they recommended I visit today. He told me, "you ain't seen nothing yet!"

So, down some corridoors and through to another stairway, which we didn't ascend either, but which was accessible to a point so that the public could gaze upon the magnificent light well which was supported by several 'goddesses'. It was called The Muse Staircase, and the natural lighting pouring in was enhanced by the white figures apparently holding the glass in place.
Enthralled I carried on, and when I entered a corridoor which had vaulted ceilings and a deep, rick blue background to gold stars and supporting arches I stopped to take a photograph. The guard seemed amused, and I smiled at him, but a moment later I realised that in my enthusiasm for the narrow corridoor ceiling I had walked past double doors to yet another magnificent saloon. This was more breathtaking than any I had yet been in to! No wonder the guard smiled at my excitement for a mere vaulted ceiling!

The Conference Room of the Locarno Suite was where I had arrived, and I spent several minutes sitting and taking in the lavish interiors of this gorgdous space. The walls were hand painted and gilded with rich colours and patterns, the carpet and furnishings offset the rest of the room beautifully, and, again, there was lots of natural light to enhance the gorgeous, classicly shaped lamps which hung from the ceiling and were mounted on the walls. The most breathtaking aspect of this room for me was the ceiling, which was detailed with shape and gilding and paint and enhanced with lighting! I thought this must be the last room as it was so beautiful and I had been told that it kept getting better, but I was very wrong. The next room, which actually was rather small by comparisson and was a connecting room to two larger ones, was the official dining room of the Locarno Suite. This entire area, I later found out, had all been given false ceilings, the decoration covered up and partitioned off into tiny, artificially lit office spaces. It was now as opulent and rich as it had first been envisaged to be by the original architect, George Gilbert Scott. The colours were very different to the two adjoining rooms, and the room had a very different ambinace to the other two in the suite of three.
From here I entered a real masterpiece! The main, Reception Room of the suite had high, vaulted ceilings which were painted with various constellations and symbols of the zodiac. Their design had been lost long ago, and the renovators of the post-WWI 1920s had used pumice stone to remove most of the decoration in here. To the astonishment, and delight of the restoration team they had failed to complete the tast properly, and there was one section, which together with written descriptions meant they were able to restore this amazing room to it's original design as well. The light poured in through arched windows on both sides of the length of the room, and the effect was almost breathtaking.
This is the room where the the Locarno Treaties, designed to reduce strife and tension in Europe, were signed by all the involved parties, after being initialled at Locarno in Switzerland in October 1925. The only room considered large enough at the time it was rather shaby even then and lots of huge paintings and portraits were hung to cover the decaying decoration on the walls. Of course, this historical moment is where the suite of rooms gets it's current name. So I sighed a contented sigh and left what was surely the last of the magnificent rooms of the tour... but whilst correct in it being the last room, I was not prepared for the hallway and grand staircase beyond it! The magnificent Grand Staircase contains marble columns, a duplicated split staircase, rich, deep red carpets and magnificent murals all depicting different aspects of England as Brittania! The light in here is again a combination of natural and arificial. I really didn't want to leave after all of this, but I lingered around the sides of the upper level which the public had access to, stopping briefly to admire the informal sitting room of the Foreign Secretary, and then on down the staircase, feeling very underdressed in jeans and a t-shirt, and so out to the huge courtyard through which I had entered over an hour ago! This had been a visit well-worth making, and if any of you are ever in London and have the opportunity to see the FCO I highly recommend it!

... and of course there is a set in my flickr account here:

So on towards home, and most importantly after this weekend, on towards my bed!

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