London Walking Tours    with Joanna Moncrieff

Open City 2010

Working full time during the day as a legal secretary plus working as a walking tour guide means I have little spare time.  I must have temporarily forgotten this when I booked myself onto a half-day volunteering slot for Open City weekend (formerly Open House), this morning.  Although I accessed the Open City website on the evening of the day volunteer places became available there were few sites left.  The City of Westminster was of course my preferred location being a Westminster Guide but there really were only a handful of locations to choose from.  I plumped for The Linnean Society one of the Courtyard Societies which surround the courtyard of Burlington House in Piccadilly.  My knowledge of the Society was minimal but it was a good time slot 10am to 1pm and central too.  The week before my posting I did some research on the Internet.  I had walked past the Society before and had heard of Carl Linnaeus the Swedish naturalist but that was the sum of my knowledge.

I was stationed in the “double cube” library which turned out to not be a double cube at all as it seemed the architects had made a mistake.  The back wall lined up with Burlington House but the front wall didn’t.  Each succeeding window recess along the front wall was increasingly smaller.

In 2007 to coincide with the 300th anniversary of the birth of Linnaeus the library had had a refurbishment so was still looking amazing.  Sunlight poured through the decorated strengthened glass in the roof which had been replaced to the original design.  The original glass had been destroyed in the Second World War.  The room was dominated by 2 oil paintings one of James Edward Smith the founder and first President of the Society and the other of Sir Joseph Banks explorer and naturalist and between them highlighted by sunlight was a bust of Carl Linnaeus whose collection, sold by his widow to pay for their daughter’s dowry was the basis for the Society’s formation. 

I was volunteering with 3 people who were very knowledgeable about the Society and it was a pleasure to volunteer with them.  Lynda the librarian, David a former President and Alan a Fellow.  In between the constant stream of visitors I had many interesting conversations with them the only downside being the back ache you get from standing around for 3 hours.

When my time was up I was offered a cheese scone and a cup of tea and most importantly a chance to sit down.  Whilst eating I gazed outside the window onto the courtyard below.  On the wall next to me I noticed a chart entitled “Window to the Stars” which listed a number of famous people who had been spotted outside the window; names as diverse as Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen and The Queen!  I was told later that only people who weren’t members of the Society were counted so if you spotted David Attenborough or John Craven they wouldn’t be included.

Feeling enriched by my morning’s volunteering I continued on my way.  I only managed 2 more buildings as had other plans for the afternoon but went on a fascinating tour around the King’s Fund in Cavendish Square and was amazed to discover a convent tucked away down a mews yards from John Lewis that I never knew existed and had some very interesting conversations in John Nash’s only church, All Souls Langham Place.

Definitely worth sparing the time.

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