Friday, April 5, 2019

Open House London | The Foreign and Commonwealth Office Building

For one weekend every year, the Open House London celebrates the city, its great architecture, the histories of old buildings and the virtues of new ones. Last September was my first visit to the Open House and I was lucky enough to explore few buildings over the weekend, The Foreign and Commonwealth Office Building on Whitehall being one of them.

Although the Foreign Office dates back to 1782 when the first Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Charles James Fox was appointed; the glorious building which we see today houses The Foreign and India Office quarters which were started in 1861 and took 7 years to complete, opening in 1868. And The Colonial and Home Office sections were then started and completed in 1875. 

The architectural style of this building revels in the juxtaposition of the work of  two great architects - George Gilbert Scott, a leading architect of the Gothic Revival style whose famous works include The St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel and The Albert Memorial, and Matthew Digby Wyatt who was the Surveyor of the East India Company in 1855 and subsequently became Architect to the Council of India.

We first enter into the richly decorated Durbar Court. 'Durbar' was the term used in Mughal India where Indian Kings and other rulers had their formal and informal meetings and was adopted by the British to refer to a ceremonial gathering to demonstrate loyalty to the crown. Wyatt sure did bring the grandiose to this courtyard - it was the old India office from where the subcontinent was governed for almost a century. Around the three floored Durbar court are statues of men from British India. A reminder of our histories, both different narratives, right? I was not very comfortable seeing the imperial rulers on a pedestal, but there they were - Robert Clive, Commander-in-Chief of British India, infamous for the Battle of Plassey, for his atrocities committed on Indian peasants, high taxes and for facing trial in England because of the enormous personal fortune he earned in India; Warren Hastings, the first de facto Governor-General of India from 1773 to 1785; and Minto (Gilbert John Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound) of the Minto-Morley Reforms.

But let's get back to the stunning architecture. Here are some pictures I took that day.

The India Office Council Chamber is lavish in its style. The chimney piece and overmantel are the center piece in this room and the carvings of the two female figures represent Asia and Africa, the two biggest colonies of Britain. On the right is the painting of Warren Hastings.

Another of Wyatt's designs is the Muses' Staircase distinguished by an octagonal glass lantern decorated with cherubs representing Roman virtues.

Scott's architectural style comes through in the grand Locarno Suite – three interlinked rooms that were used to host dinners, receptions and conferences and gained its current name in 1925 when the Locarno Treaties was signed.

We are dazzled through the last leg of the tour of this grand building. Last but not the least is the awe-inspiring staircase designed by Scott. The staircase rises 60 ft in height and is surrounded by rich painted decorations and murals. The dome over the middle portion of the stairs has a Sun painted in the center with signs of the zodiac around. The twenty female figures you see painted around this and the four seated ladies at the corner of the dome represent the countries (in the four continents) Britain had invaded in the 1800s. (The office very colorfully describes these as "countries which Great Britain had diplomatic relations with..")

There is a lot of history and grandeur inside this building. The next Open House London will take place on 21 & 22 September 2019, so mark the dates.

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  1. The pictures are beautiful. It's kind of cute to hear the word Durbar in London. It really is strange to watch history from a different perspective. We don't even think that there can be any perspective but ours, however there always is.

  2. The architecture is exquisite. I loved how beautifully the interiors are maintained even after all these years.

  3. Well, thank you for the history lesson! I knew none of that. And that architecture really is outstanding.


  4. Wow that's some amazing architecture! Beautiful photos Aditi!

  5. It’s so fascinating to see these old buildings - the architecture and the history. Beautiful photographs too, Aditi!

    Modern Gypsy (

  6. Wow! What a fascinating place! You can really see the many influences that went into creating the architecture, such as the details of the ceilings and door frames. Thanks for sharing this and giving an insight into it's historical significance!

    Lissie x

  7. Gorgeous place and like you I also love architecture. I’d love to see the place some day. A secret, I love every time a Hindi word finds a place in the oxford dictionary. Durbar is one.
    Thanks for such a beautiful virtual tour with those tales from history.

  8. Wow, this is a hugely impressive building and you have a wonderful eye for a shot. These are gorgeous photos, thank you so much for sharing your visit, how fascinating! Lisa x

  9. This place looks magnificent! I love how you let us be on this journey by sharing your experience and the photographs! That's why, I love the blogging community so much :)

  10. These pictures are so beautiful! Glad you had a great time.

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  11. I didn’t realise there was an open house once a year, that is so cool. The building looks beautiful. Beautiful designs! Thank you for sharing.
    Lauren |

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  14. You can really see the many influences that went into creating the architecture, such as the details of the ceilings and door frames. Thanks for sharing. מחיר בנייה למטר