Monday 3rd March – 8th meeting of 2014
Today we changed our meeting day to Monday as we wanted to visit 2 Temple Place which is not open on Tuesdays. We met at Charing Cross and made our way up the Strand to Somerset House where we turned right down towards the river and Middle Temple. We walked up to the Neo-Gothic building which is in keeping with the outward style of the area and entered into Temple Place where we were greeted by a friendly lady who explained the floorplan. We of course decided to have coffee first and made out way to the small cafe. The seating was in a small panelled room which gave us a taste of what was to come.
The building was erected in the 1890’s to be used by William Waldorf Astor as his office after he moved house with his wife from America after a family dispute there. They lived in Carlton House in London and had country seats at Cliveden and Hever Castle. The interior of the building is elaborately designed with wooden panelling and wood carving everywhere. The carvings all depict characters from literature as for instance the large staircase which features the figures of The Three Musketeers on the posts. In the very large room upstairs which William Waldorf Astor used as his personal office, it is decorated with lots of carving including a panelled door featuring figures from the Legend of King Arthur. The room also has some beautiful stained glass windows at each end.
The Bulldog Trust runs the building now but it only opens for three months of the year to the public in the form of an exhibition. This year this features collections from eight of University of Cambridge Museums and has the title ‘Discoveries, Art, Science and Exploration’ which explains the wide variety of exhibits on show. On display are the little known treasures and curiosities which take you from Darwin to DNA and from Captain Scott to the Exploration of Space.
It is a diverse exhibition featuring such things as the skeleton of a Dodo found in Malaysia in 1870, a fossil of a ichthyosaur found in 1835 to a collection of snow goggles – including those of Captain Scott. A display of artwork and sculptures are also shown and a beautiful snakes and ladders game decorated in mother of pearl from the early 19th century but apparently the game originated in India eight centuries ago.
These were only a few of the exhibits there and it made for a busy morning with so much to see and also the beautiful building it was housed in. The building used by The Bulldog Trust as its headquarters is now being let out for private and commercial hire and is now available to weddings. On top of the roof stands the famous weather vane of the Carovel of Columbus which was regilded and put back in 1949-51 when the building was restored after being bombed in the war in 1944.
It was well worth a visit and we shall be looking at the exhibition programme for 2015 with a view to a return visit.