Friday, 4 November 2011















What I love about London is that, for all the years I've lived here, there's always something new to discover. And although I've walked past the quirky mansion at Two Temple Place countless times, admiring its lovely weathervane - because I do remember to look up if there's not too great a chance of getting run over - I had absolutely no idea of the magnificent splendours inside. I assumed it was some rather grand legal establishment.
What I didn't know was that it was the London pied à terre of American millionaire William Waldorf Astor - who came to England because he thought there was less risk of being kidnapped here than in New York. He never lived here - I suppose he didn't need to if he had Cliveden and Hever Castle - but he kept a bedroom here for his mistress.
But just look at this ... isn't it fab? Betjeman called it 'one of the most attractive late-Victorian private houses in London.' Astor asked his architect for a house that would 'personify literature' ... wouldn't you love to be able to do that? I'd be happy with a bookroom and a proper set of library steps. Those mahogany carvings are from Shakespeare and Walter Scott and Arthurian legend. (I had a Downton moment and thought of the housemaids doing the dusting.)
The house only opened to the public a few days ago and there was a real buzz there this afternoon; people were so bowled over that they were actually talking to each other.
It's the start of a new scheme for bringing wonderful provincial art collections to London. (It did cross my mind that people outside London might think we had the lion's share already.) The first exhibition is from the William Morris gallery; only as far away as Walthamstow, but I'm ashamed to say I've never been there.
When the next Lord Astor put the house up for sale in 1928, a newspaper said that it was too magnificent to be really comfortable.
I'm not so sure. I could imagine sweeping down that staircase in a greenery-yallery gown.
If anybody's tempted to visit ... it's free to get in.
And the quince and blueberry tart in the very pretty tearoom immediately won my vote for the best art gallery tea in London.

9 comments:

Mystica said...

Thanks!

bookssnob said...

Mary I got an email about this on Thursday and couldn't believe I'd not heard of it before - I can't wait to go and check it out. I'm glad to hear it's busy - it deserves to be. It looks so stunning!

mary said...

Mystica, I wish you were near enough to visit.

It's quite breathtaking, Rachel. You will literally gasp when you see that hallway. I think it's been open before for Open House weekends but I'd never been. But don't delay because when the present exhibition ends, the next one isn't on until 2013.

As for the cake, you will never look at Peyton & Byrne again.

Darlene said...

Right, Mary and Rachel! Next time I am back in town how about trying this tea that's so wonderful? It's looking like a year from now but delayed gratification is good for the soul (at least that's what I tell myself when I'm whining).

mary said...

Darlene, I kept thinking how much you'd love it! That's a date then if you're here for their next exhibition. We'll ask them to reserve a slice of quince tart just for you!

Lucille said...

I'm tempted! So glad the text arrived, I was a bit stumped by the pictures alone, I thought you'd gone all minimalist.

mary said...

I must have been fiddling with it, Lucille. And this is certainly no house for anybody of minimalist tendencies!

gudrunstights said...

Very beautiful! It seems spacious yet cozy. How wonderful that they've opened it to the public.

mary said...

I'm not sure that I'd call it cosy, Anbolyn -it's too imposing for that, but there is a lovely warmth in all that polished wood.