Place: Staple Inn, High Holborn, London.
Date: March 19, 2012.
Camera: BlackBerry Curve.
One of the great things about London is that you could live here a lifetime and keep discovering new things about the city. I've been here 13 years and I still come across new areas, streets and buildings I've never seen before.
Recently I've been doing some freelance work in Holborn, an area I have never properly explored outside of the usual haunts, such as the Belgian Bar on Kingsway, the coffee shops on Sicilian Avenue and Bea's of Bloomsbury on Theobald's Road. Usually, if I alight at Holborn tube station it's because I'm heading elsewhere on foot — usually Bloomsbury.
So when I wandered down High Holborn — towards the Chancery end — for the first time, past the cafes and sandwich bars, Waterstone's and Little Waitrose, I thought I'd stumbled back in time when I looked up and saw this stunning black and white building. I didn't fully appreciate its width, its uneven frontage or its beauty until I was on the other side of the road and looking back towards it.
I think it is particularly special because wooden buildings are few and far between in London — if the Great Fire didn't get them in 1666, then they were surely bombed by the Germans during the Second World War. Apparently this building, which dates from 1585, did suffer bomb damage in 1944 but was restored.
According to Wikipedia, it was originally a wool pack, where wool was stored and weighed. But it was also attached to Gray's Inn, which is one of the four Inns of Court, where all the barristers hang out.
Since 1887 it has been used as the home of the Institute of Actuaries.
It apparently houses an inner courtyard — sadly, not open to the public — which has been referenced in the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Charles Dickens.
There is more about the history of the building on the Actuarial Profession's official website.
It has promptly become my new favourite building in London — and when I return next week I want to take a proper look at the street frontage up close.