..and well worth a visit. A fine house and museum, open to the public, but way off the usual tourist radar, is Two Temple Place. A stone’s throw from Temple tube station ( District and Circle Lines ) the house is owned by and is the home of the Bulldog Trust a charity which provides financial and advisory services to other, small charities. The Bulldog Trust was set up in 1983 by Richard Hoare, scion of the banking family, a family resident in Clapham in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which featured in an earlier article, see A Walk on the Wild Side .
The neo-gothic mansion on the Embankment was built, in the 1890s, for William Waldorf, the first Viscount, Astor and, even though Astor became a British citizen, there are connections with his homeland throughout the building. Designed by John Loughborough Pearson, a leading architect of the day, and made of portland stone, the house was destined to be Astor’s estate office. His home, or homes, were at Cliveden and at Hever Castle, Kent. He was, at that time, probably the world’s richest man.
During the months of January to April Two Temple Place hosts exhibitions, usually from publicly owned collections from around the UK, in partnership with the Courtauld Institute of Art, based just across the way at Somerset House ( itself worth a visit, but that’s a blog for another day ). For the rest of the year the house itself is open on designated days, during the week and sometimes at weekends. Guided tours are available.
The interior is very opulent, with much marble, stone and wood panelling and carving. It also reflects the taste and literary favourites of its first owner. So, for example, small statues of characters from ‘The Three Musketeers’ are carved, by Thomas Nichols, on the newel posts of the grand staircase. ‘The Three Musketeers‘ was Astor’s favourite book. The frieze in the main hall includes statues of characters from American literature – Hester Prynne from ‘The Scarlet Letter‘, Natty Bumppo from ‘The Last of the Mohicans‘ and Washington Irving’s Rip van Winkle. There are also eighty plus characters from Shakespeare. Nine silver gilt panels in the Great Hall show heroines from Malory’s ‘Morte d’Arthur‘. These, by Sir George Frampton, were exhibited at the Royal Academy before being placed within the building.
The entrance hall has a wonderful mosaic floor and the sheer artistry of the wood carving is remarkable – Astor hired the very best craftsmen. There is also some fine stained glass. The interiors are very redolent of the Arts & Crafts movement, reaching back for inspiration to Tudor times or earlier and the first exhibition in modern times here was in conjunction with the William Morris Gallery. But the simplicity of Morris designs, particularly of furniture, is somewhat lacking and there are elements which are not of that style at all. It is a mixture and a grand and idiosyncratic one. Nonetheless it is certainly worth visiting. The current exhibition is ‘Beyond Beauty’ – of ancient Egyptian artefacts and art – and I’ll be writing about that specifically in my next post.
Entrance to the exhibitions at Two Temple Place cost £11, though many events are free. Proceeds go to the charitable trust. Check out the web-site. which gives details of opening days and a virtual tour can be taken here.