I came across Open House London while flicking through TimeOut magazine one Tuesday morning. I excitedly read about all the great London buildings that open up their doors to the public for one weekend only for free; 10 Downing Street, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Royal Banqueting House and all number of historic and modern landmarks. As I went to check online though and realised that I was too late to nab a booking to visit the Prime Minister’s residence, I decided to look closer to home.
Turns out N17 had a surprising amount to offer and I quickly sorted out my own little architectural walking tour of Tottenham. Open House states on their website they’re a “not-for-profit organisation to promote public awareness and appreciation of the capital’s building design and architecture” and through their work aim to engage the wider community in their surroundings. So with this in mind we headed out into Tottenham to uncover the stories behind buildings in our neighbourhood.
We didn’t have to wander far, choosing to start our exploration in Hale Village a housing estate we see on a daily basis, looming in all its citrus coloured glory over our local underground station.
At most sites you are escorted around by a guide, either someone working in the building, or a volunteer with a passion for buildings. At Hale Village we were met by two caretakers who had been looking after the site from the word go, they were here before there was even properties to look after. Sounds like a cruisey gig, but I imagine it must be a full on 24 hour operation now. Since planning consent was granted in 2007 around 1,200 properties have been completed with more to follow fast.
It was a different experience wandering around the estate, which is partly private residential buildings, partly student accommodation and a few retail and public services thrown in, and hearing about it from a function and maintenance perspective. It’s a pretty amazing space to have sprung up in the last 8 years, but it also takes some pretty impressive technology and planning to maintain. We visited the boiler station that will supply all heating for the entire estate and the guides talked about dealing with the rubbish that’s generated by the estates residents. In short, the scale is huge. The boilers look bigger than petrol tankers.
Originally I had been attracted to this tour as I wanted to snoop and see what these buildings were like on the inside. That didn’t happen, darn! But I didn’t mind, learning about the inner workings of an estate was worth it even without knowing how big their living space was. 639 Tottenham High Road – Enterprise Centre
Our next stop was a building I had never come across before, it’s a grade two listed building right on the high road, currently used as a multi functional community and small business support centre. I was interested in what they were doing there, so we went along to check it out.
The building itself was damaged badly in the riots and many of its original interior features have been lost. What once may have been grand staircases and ornate high ceilings have been replaced with more practical modern designs with a lot less flare. While our volunteer guide was rightly sad about the loss of character in most of the building, I was much more intrigued by how the space was being used now.
639 sounds like it does a bit of everything, while we were there, teams of students participating in a youth enterprise programme scheme were gathering signatures for a petition to support homeless people in the community. There were also skills seminars and local entrepreneurs coming and going from office spaces rented in the building.
If you work freelance you are also able to rent desk space in an open plan office area in the building and set yourself up around others doing the same. I nudged Ben when we learned of this as if there was one thing he found difficult while freelancing from home, it was motivating himself to do work during work time then finish at normal hours. Leaving home and being with other freelancers would be so much better for a work/life balance. The idea is that you make great industry contacts through this too. For example – as a jewelery designer you may find yourself sitting next to a graphic artist – just the skills you need to take your brand logo to the next level.
I could keep going on here, charitable activities, business mentoring, career development this building has so much going on in it. The exterior of the building is still standing staunch too. You would never know it sustained petrol bombs and fire just a few years ago. Solid and worth checking out for a bit of community vibe.
Bruce Castle and the surrounding Bruce Castle Park is a part of Tottenham I wish I had discovered sooner. As Ben and I were walking towards Bruce Castle, diligently following Google Maps, Ben said we’d be coming up to what looks like a really big park. He wasn’t wrong, with sports facilities, playground, swimming pool and plenty of leafy green trees it was a sizeable place. How did we miss this from our lives?
Anyway we have found it now, and we started off getting to know this new area for us with a tour of the castle that lends the park its name. The tour involved a long history of the castle and all it’s uses, a country manor back when Tottenham was not swallowed by the behemouth city of London, but was actually on the rural outskirts – very hard to imagine now. It was also a school for boys and has been home to a number of noblemen and most notably – visited at some point by Henry Tudor. There’s some Tottenham royal connections right there.
All Hallows Church
The history of Bruce Castle was often linked to its close neighbour the Old Hallows Church which came up a lot on the tour and we learned was also participating in Open Day, so we thought we may as well check it out.
People often say while travelling Europe, if you have seen one church you have seen them all. But there is always something very grand about churches that gets to me. This little parish church was no exception. I love how it looked so unremarkable form the outside , then opened up and wowed you on the inside. I also adored the kneeling cushions. They were knitted with flags of the United Kingdom, African and European nations, sporting flags and logos, Tottenham Hotspurs’ was there of course, coats of arms and royal banners. They were so kitsch and gorgeous, it really made the place feel homely and well-loved.
A great free day out in London. I’ve signed up to the mailing list so that next year I can be more organised and see some of the touristy sites of London, but I’m definitely not disappointed that this year I got the chance to explore Tottenham.