Back in September I attended my first Open House London weekend which was fantastic and I managed to see everything I wanted to and more. The one place that I absolutely wanted to visit was the Foreign and Commonwealth Office building so I headed there near its opening time and after a brief security check I got in without having to queue – not the situation when I left as the queue then was starting to skirt around the building.
This was definitely my favourite of the buildings I visited that weekend, with some stunningly beautiful rooms. Last year marked 150 years since the building opened – the Foreign Office being based in various other areas in London before then (the first Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Charles James Fox, was only appointed in 1782).
The building was designed by architect George Gilbert Scott (he also designed the St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel among many other buildings) despite actually coming third in the design competition. Construction of the Foreign Office began in 1861 and what was then the India Office began in 1875.
Unbelievably the building was allowed to fall into disrepair and there was even talk about demolishing it at one point, but thankfully it was given Grade I status and by 1997 renovations were complete. You can actually see one of the before and after cards they had on display pictured below – the transformation is even more breathtaking in person. I also appreciated that all of the rooms are used daily by the staff at the FCO who were on hand to answer questions about the building and their work.
Some of my favourite rooms included:
Dunbar Court, part of the former India Office, designed by M D Wyatt in 1866. The statues all around the airy and spacious court are important figures in Anglo-Indian history as well as the names of Indian cities and provinces. It used to be open to the air, which seems astonishing today, with a roof eventually added in 1868. It is still used a lot today and can be hired out for events like film premieres.
The Lacarno Suite was designed by Gilbert Scott for diplomatic dinners and conferences and it was here on 1 December 1925 that the Locarno Treaties, aimed at reducing tension in Europe, were formally signed.
And then there is the Grand Staircase, designed to impress foreign visitors. The female figures around the dome represent countries which had diplomatic relations with Great Britain in the 1860s and the murals, painted by Sigismund Goetze during World War One show among other things the origin and development of the British Empire.
These are by no means the only stunning rooms in the building and you can find more of my photos here.
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