St Paul’s Triforium Tour

IMG_9921

Did you know that you can take a special behind the scenes tour of St Paul’s Cathedral, in which you visit its triforium area? After being whisked like a VIP through a locked door in the staircase that ascends the main dome, you will enter the triforium – an arched gallery that stands above the nave. This area includes a number of interesting sights not normally accessible to the public, including St Paul’s Library, the Geometric Staircase and Wren’s Great Model.

IMG_9878

But first the triforium leads down past some fascinating stone remains of the old St Paul’s – destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. These were excavated in the nineteenth century; their shelves boast unique labels, declaring ‘Norman’, ‘Gothic’ and so on. Next stop is St Paul’s Library, a wonderfully evocative old room, with its wooden bookcases full of beautiful old books. The library dates from 1709, although it was largely empty in its earliest days as most of the collection was lost in the Great Fire. Its holdings focus on theology, church history, classics and medical books (used to help the priests treat illnesses). You can contact the librarian if you wish to arrange to conduct research in these topics in this wonderful environment.

IMG_9936_2

The tour then takes in the Geometric Staircase, which will be familiar to film fans having featured in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and the 2009 version of Sherlock Holmes. Next is the superb view down the nave from the west balcony – the very same as used by BBC camera operators on special occasions. The final stop is the Trophy Room, where you can see Wren’s Great Model of his favoured plan for the cathedral. This massive model was made in 1673-4 from oak and plaster at a cost of around £600 – which would have bought you a good house in London at the time. If you take the Friday tour you might also catch a glimpse of the cathedral’s seamstresses toiling away in their room next door.

IMG_9991

Tours also include entry to the rest of the cathedral, including the crypt and galleries. They are held on Mondays and Tuesdays at 11:30am and 2pm, and Fridays at 2pm, and cost £20. Given that full price tickets bought on-site cost £15, this seems a good deal. Tours must be booked in advanced and are for groups of five or more only, so round up a few friends. To book contact 020 7246 8357 or email admissions@stpaulscathedral.org.uk

IMG_9896

Phoenix Cinema Tour

Fancy a peek behind the scenes at one of Britain’s oldest cinemas? Well you’re in luck as the lovely Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley runs regular (and free!) tours of its fascinating High Road premises. The Phoenix was purpose-built as a cinema back in 1910 and is well worth a look – as well as visiting its deluxe deco auditorium these tours also give you access to areas visitors would never normally see and teach you much about its history and heritage.

It’s interesting to learn that the East Finchley Picturedrome, as it was then known, was originally more or less back-to-front compared to its current layout. The rake of the cinema followed the slope of the hill down towards the High Road, with the screen at the front of the building. Patrons would enter via doors on either side of the screen – and as people used to come and go during screenings back then this made for many interruptions. Originally the cinema was topped with exotic Moorish-style onion dome towers – a huge revamp in 1938 rung in many changes, not least of which was the sleek modernist frontage we still see today. It was at this point that the screen was moved to the back of the cinema and landfill used to create a rake that now went in the opposite direction, though the 1910 barrel vaulted ceiling was retained.

These renovations also saw the addition of the beautiful gold and bronze art deco plasterwork panels in the main auditorium. Designed by Mollo and Egan – who worked on similar decorations in a number of cinemas of the era, many now sadly demolished – the panels represent various aspects of art and industry. The rich golds, bronzes and reds of the auditorium create what is surely one of London’s most beautiful cinemas, and one which has been featured in a number of films itself (such as The End of the Affair and Interview with a Vampire).

The tour spends some time in the auditorium (before the screenings start for the day), pops past a boiler room behind the screen (where you will see a hand-drawn decoration from the earliest days of the cinema) before finishing in the projection room, one of the tour’s highlights. Not only will you get to see the projectionist’s view of the auditorium, but a projectionist is on hand to point out the many old features of the room, as well as explaining how films are screened today. While most cinemas are now exclusively digital, at the Phoenix the old 35mm projector still sits side by side with the digital one. Other nice touches include the vintage ‘no smoking’ signs which were mandatory back in the days of highly flammable nitrate film stock (and when people still contemplated smoking in the workplace).

The tours run for approximately 45 minutes on Sunday mornings, generally once a month – the next dates are 22 April, 13 May and 10 June, usually starting at 10.30am, 11.15am, 12 noon and 12.45pm. They are free but must be booked in advance – contact the box office on 020 8444 6789 or email heritage@phoenixcinema.co.uk.

http://www.phoenixcinema.co.uk/education/heritage/tours/