Two Temple Place was built for William Waldorf Astor, one of the richest men in the world, and today it is owned by the Bulldog Trust charity. Since 2012 it has opened its doors for a free annual exhibition. With this also comes the wonderful opportunity to visit one of the most splendid buildings in London, a magnificent Victorian house.
Two Temple Place was built as the headquarters of the Astor Estate and was was completed in 1895. It was designed by John Loughborough Pearson, the gothic revivalist architect. It has a rather romantic looking façade overlooking the River Thames. It is constructed of Portland stone and features beautiful oriel windows. The design reminds me of a Tudor palace with its battlement features. It however draws on a variety of architectural styles including gothic, Elizabethan and arts and crafts movement.
The weather vane features a copper replica of the Santa Maria and is by J. Starkie Gardner. The Santa Maria was the ship Christopher Columbus sailed in when he made his famous expedition of 1492 and discovered America.
There are lamp posts either side of the staircase leading to the main entrance. On the left handside lamp post is a cherub holding a light bulb of the type used in the 1890s, dating from the time when the building was constructed. These electric lamps decorated with examples of the latest technology of the time would have emphasised to the visitor what a thoroughly modern man Astor was.
On the right handside lamp post is a cherub listening on the telephone.
Also on the right handside lamp post is a cherub speaking into a telephone receiver.
The building was designed to provide both business and residential accommodation for Astor. The offices and boardroom were located on the ground floor and were designed to be functional with little ornamentation. Upstairs were the richly decorated Great Room, the library and Astor's private apartments.
The dramatic staircase linked the two domains. The staircase is in mahogany wood, with its ornately carved balustrades, features figures depicting the characters from Astor's favourite novel, Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers. Each figure is 1 1/2 feet tall and exquisitely carved by Thomas Nicholls. In the photo above is Aramis (left) and Athos (right). Additonal opulence was provided with the oak wall panelling and coloured inlaid mable flooring.
The literary theme continues on the first floor gallery, where supported by ten ebony columns are more elaberate carvings which include six carved figures from American novels and above that a decorative frieze featuring Shakespearian plays.
Crowning the magnificent staircase is a stunning, stained glass skylight.
The Great Room, on the first floor, runs the entire length of the building and certainly has the wow factor with its impressive hammer beam ceiling, panelled walls and decorative carvings.
The main door to the Great Room contains nine silver gilt reliefs of Arthurian heroines. This was an early work by George Frampton who is better remembered for his Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens and Edith Cavell's statue outside the National Portrait Gallery.
At either end of the room there are alcoves with seating areas and colourful stained glass windows by John Robert Clayton and Alfred Bell. We were lucky enough to visit on a sunny day and the sunlight just streamed through the western window.
The western end window depicts Sunset. In the foreground is a pilgrim walking by two milkmaids and their cows. In the background there is a town and mountain view with a backdrop of a pinky red sky.
A close up of Sunset shows the level of detail represened in the windows. The images are fairytale like depicting turreted castles, sailing ships and cultivated vineyards.
The eastern end window depicts Sunrise with a huge orange and yellow sun assending from the mountain range. In the foreground is a man with a scythe walking up a hill and meeting a woman carrying a basket. The images are also fairytale like depicting more turreted castles and there's a sailing boat flying the Swiss flag.
Two Temple Place really is one of London's hidden gems and both its exhibitions and the house itself are well worth visiting.
Address: Two Temple Place, London, WC2R 3BD
Nearest Tube Station: Temple
Opening Hours: Check website for details of their next exhibition.
Prices: Free. There are charges for some of their special events.
Tea room available (I can recommend their homemade cakes)
If you enjoyed this you might like reading my blog about the beautiful art deco styled Eltham Palace.
The author of this blog is a qualified City of London and City of Westminster Tour Guide who leads guided walks combining world famous landmarks with hidden treasures often missed by the crowds