Six of the Best Staircases in London
Some of these are viewable on Open House, some not – though some are just viewable anyway. I missed out a few examples, such as the main hall in the National History Museum, which are really just a normal staircase in a very impressive room, rather than an impressive staircase in itself.
Best Staircase, Like, Ever – Grand Hotel, St Pancras
The Ups: This staircase featured in the Spice Girls' video for "Wannabe", but don't hold that against it. It's a gorgeous example of hardcore Victorian splendour, with beautiful curves, curly ironwork, cod-medieval wall decorations and lovely ceilings. It's also an impressive number of storeys high. Pictures are available here and here. This is the sort of staircase you'd want to be carried up by some sort of manly romantic hero with his shirt half falling off, or indeed the sort of staircase that you'd run down sobbing, trailing your skirts behind you when he reveals the next morning that he's actually engaged to the dowager Marchioness of Penzance. A grand and overblown place for grand and overblown emotions.
Any Downs? The now derelict hotel is usually part of Open House weekend, BUT this year the building is being redeveloped, so it's not. Sniffle. Let's hope it's being restored to its former glory for future generations to enjoy, eh?
Best Staircase To View When Tipsy – The Salisbury, St Martin's Lane
The Ups: Several people on my friends list have been in this very drinking establishment (and indeed, it even features in my icon for today), and a few of them may have had these very stairs pointed out to them by me in a haze of gin-induced overexcitement. Possibly, those folk may have smiled benignly and wondered what the hell I was talking about, but I love the dizzying view up through the stairwell with its winding and ornate old-fashioned handrails. Free to view to all pub clientele – simply go to the far left-hand end of the main bar, just next to the doorway down to the toilets, and look directly above your head. Woah!
Any Downs? You can't actually go up these stairs unless you work in the pub, and if you did, they'd probably be more dull than they look.
Most Alluringly Inaccessible Staircase – Mystery staircase, Wigmore Street
The Ups: This is one of those architectural oddities that gives me a little smile every time I walk past it. It's a nameless building on Wigmore Street (apparently an office conversion of some sort), roughly opposite the Wigmore Hall, and through its impressive porch, there is a tempting view of a huge marble staircase, one which forks at the top and goes off in two different directions. It looks like exactly the sort of thing you'd want to high-kick down while wearing a red sequinned leotard and huge feather headdress and singing "Lullaby of Broadway".
Any Downs? I don't even know what the building really is, so how one might gain access to it remains – yes! – a Mystery. And even if they did let you in, they probably wouldn't let you tap dance down the stairs with a full Busby Berkeley chorus line. Bummer.
Best Highly Secret Staircase – Freemasons' Hall, Covent Garden
The Ups: Despite the fact that the Freemasons are, like, dead secret in all things, they always open their main London lodge to the public on Open House weekend, and if you like Art Deco, it's well worth a visit. There are lovely mosaic floors, ceiling frescos and bizarre symbolic stained glass designs, and the stairs are all pale marble in strict rectilinear spirals, with lovely inbuilt light fittings. Not huge and sweeping, but small-scale and stylish.
Any Downs? Well, the whole "secret society" thing is not very PC, is it. Especially when girls aren't allowed to play. That's why all girls should visit, then find a cupboard to hide in for a few days and jump out at an awkward moment. That'll fettle 'em.
Most Stylish Staircase Accoutrements – the former Daily Express building, 120 Fleet Street
The Ups: This is the entrance lobby to the former offices of a newspaper, which was built at the height of ostentatious splendour. The silver curling snakes that they have as handrails are possibly the most gorgeous interior decor feature I have every seen. There are pictures here – including the snakes AND the oval-shaped spiral view up into the stairwell. As usual, it's part of the Open House programme this year, and highly recommended to those who like a bit of full-on Art Deco shininess – the starburst ceiling and three-dimensional wall murals are famously gorgeous too. Oh, and there are silver maple leaves all over, because Lord Beaverbrook (who built it) was Canadian.
Any Downs? Only the disappointment that you can't go all the way up the stairs, and also that you can't get your entire house redecorated in the same style (at least, not without handing over a sum of cash equivalent to the gross national product of Paraguay).
Best Downward Spiral – The Wolseley café/restaurant, Piccadilly
The Ups: The Wolseley is located in a former bank, which means it is impressively filled with marble walls, dark woods and gold twiddly bits. To get to the toilets, there's a door in the centre of the back wall, and while the loos themselves would not have made it into my Top Six Toilets list, they do happen to lie at the bottom of a very cool stone staircase, twisting subtly through the dark and moodily uplit by little foot-level lamps. And being a restaurant, it's all yours for the price of a slightly expensive but tasty pot of tea.
Any Downs? They are a little on the dark side, so you might well trip over a minor celebrity in your haste to get to the little girl's room. And how embarrassing would that be...