A few weeks ago I went on a four-hour cycling tour of Baroque architecture sites in London and Greenwich. It was hosted by Open City, a charity which champions good architecture and design in the capital. Midway through that tour we stopped to admire the Grade II-listed Chartered Accountants' Hall at One Moorgate Place, which has a series of decorative friezes (one of which is pictured above) running along the second level of the building. Our tour guide mentioned that if we ever got the chance it was worth taking a look inside, because there was a particularly beautiful library on the ground floor.
With that magic word 'library' ringing in my ears, I was delighted to discover that the building, which is home to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), was open to the public today as part of Open House London. Of course, I made sure to toddle along, camera at the ready...
I wasn't disappointed. When I walked into this room, which features a high ceiling, Doric columns, an elaborate-looking bridge, portrait gallery and book-lined alcoves on two sides, I couldn't believe the beauty of it. I suspect everyone else on the free guided tour thought the same, judging by the 'oohs' and 'ahhs' as we entered the room — followed in quick succession by the clicking of camera shutters.
I missed a lot of what the guide was saying because I was too mesmirised by the decor. But I do know that the Members' Room, as it is known, is part of the original building (there are 20th century additions to the rear), which was designed by the eminent Victorian architect Sir John Belcher in 1890.
And while I was there to admire the book-lined walls, the real show-stopper was the bridge, which spans the width of the room. There was something familiar about it that I couldn't quite put my finger on. And then I discovered its design was based on the Rialto Bridge in Venice and suddenly it made sense...
According to our guide, it is too weak to walk over and is merely for decorative purposes, but I'm not sure if that has always been the case.
Sadly, it's much the same for the books, which are no longer loaned out and remain on the shelves to look pretty. The ICAEW has a "proper" library elsewhere in the building for its members to use.
There were other curiosities on show, tucked safely away in glass cabinets — that's probably because the room is available for hire, so if you've got a spare £1,300 or so, you can host a dinner or party in rather sumptious surrounds.
In another room upstairs, I was delighted to see this drawing, dated 1950, on show. It breaks all kinds of copyright to publish here, I'm sure, but it gives you a glimpse of what it must have been like to visit the library at the time. As our guide explained, it was "very much a gentleman's club".
To get an even better look at the room, which doesn't seem to have changed much in more than 100 years, check out this full 360° tour.