Ever walked past Charlton House and wondered what’s inside? You’ll be able to take free tours one the capital’s best surviving Jacobean mansions this Sunday as part of the annual Open House London event.
The 400-year-old Grade I-listed building features original period detail including wood panelling and plasterwork. The tours are run by the Friends of Charlton House and it’s a chance to get to know a fascinating building whose importance to the area is often overlooked.
It also comes during a period of change for the house, which was spun off by Greenwich Council last year into the Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust, along with its heritage centre in Woolwich and some war memorials.
The past year has mainly been spent setting up the trust and finding its feet – we’re told disentangling its computer systems from that of the council has been a challenge. If you look inside, it’ll be obvious that the building is in need of refurbishment, and the independent charity is charged with finding a sustainable future for the house.
The archway in the house’s grounds needs work done to it, and the trust recently got a £35,000 grant to fund a survey of the whole site.
Currently, the house runs as a community centre, and is also home to the borough’s least-used lending library, a Japanese language school, Charlton Toy Library, and the Mulberry Tea Rooms – bafflingly only usually open during weekday day times. It’s also frequently hired out for weddings.
We’ve written before about the shaky publicity given to events there – the trust has taken some steps to address that, although billing Charlton House in a press release for Open House as being in “the heart of Greenwich” suggests the old local authority mindset perhaps hasn’t quite gone away.
The trust also has the old summer house opposite St Luke’s Church (most recently used as a public toilet) and the Charlton Assembly Rooms (the red brick building at the Woolwich end of the village) – so it’ll be a big player in any discussion about the future of Charlton. It hasn’t inherited the stable buildings next door to the house, which remain in council hands.
What’s the future for Charlton House? Maybe one clue is over in Walthamstow, where the William Morris Gallery – the former home of the celebrated designer – reopened in 2012 after a multi-million pound revamp. It now houses a museum devoted to Morris as well as guest exhibitions. On a sunny weekday visit in early July, it was doing a roaring trade.
Interestingly, Waltham Forest Council still owns the 1740s building and obtained funding as part of an Olympic legacy project. In Charlton, it’s the new trust that’s been left with the mammoth job of finding a new future for the district’s most historic building.
If you want to find out more about the building’s past and present, pop along on Sunday and take a look. As for the future, your thoughts would be welcome below.