Doors With Stories To Tell And Secrets To Keep

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 10 months ago
Doors With Stories To Tell And Secrets To Keep

If time (and legality) permitted, we'd peek through the keyhole of every door in London. Who wouldn't want to see what lies behind the portals on the Underground network marked 'Private Rod'? Or see if there really is a note stuck on the inside of 10 Downing Street, warning politicians not to flash their notes. Often, though, it's the door itself which holds the real fascination.

Graffitied doors

Photo: Matt Brown.

Schoolboys who chiselled their names into the panels and door of Harrow's Fourth Form Room (some expertly, some decidedly hamfistedly) went on to become world famous writers and prime ministers. This palimpsest of a portal is peppered with the ghosts of those who once walked through it — not to mention deep gouges that must have taken some elbow grease.

For contemporary door graffiti, see your local pub toilet. Recently we were treated to "Theo Ball did a shit ere". Theo Ball, your name shall go down in the annals of history (or, at least, until it's scrubbed off by the cleaner).

Prison doors

Coming face to face with a prison door is an experience you could usually do without. There are exceptions; the Museum of London houses a mid 18th century cell door salvaged from the infamous Newgate Gaol. Did Lord George Gordon — instigator of the Gordon riots, which saw the destruction of Newgate — find himself contained by this very door, after being banged up in the rebuilt prison? It's possible.

© Museum of London.

The museum's also in possession of a pair of wooden Newgate doors, ironically locked away in storage. And there's yet another Newgate door hidden away in the twisty corridors beneath the Old Bailey (the site, of course, on which the prison stood).

It's not all about Newgate; keep your eyes peeled for other extant penitential portals, such as this from Tothill Fields Prison, now tucked away in a back street near Westminster Abbey:

Photo: Matt Brown.

Beware imitations, such as this one at The Clink Prison Museum, which imprisoned one of our interns in 2016:

Inside (and outside) No.10

It may the one of the world's most photographed doors, but 10 Downing Street's portal harbours many a secret. The heavily-lacquered façade is made not of wood, but bomb-proof metal. No, it's not your eyes — the zero on the 10 is wonky — and for good reason. And we've already covered how there's no set of keys for the door of Number 10, so it can only be opened from the inside. It's also said that, following a spate of document-flashing snafus, the door has a note stuck on the inside reminding those leaving to hide their important documents from prying lenses. Manila folders people, manila folders.

Photo: Darrell Godliman.

Secret doors

London's got almost as many secret doors as it has secrets. Some aren't as secret as they claim to be. Every hipster and their shih tzu knows about the Smeg fridge that leads into the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town cocktail bar near Liverpool Street. Of late, the speakeasy door has become a genre unto itself. Fewer are privy to the door in the base of Westminster's Boudica statue, which leads to the Embankment Utility Tunnels, "a mad world of wires spilling all over the place like waves crashing against rocks on the coast." The more you look — especially with the help of the likes of Bradley L Garrett and Nick Catford — the more of these secret doors you find.

Even TfL staff don't seem to know what lies behind the doors on the tube network labelled 'Private Rod'. We like to think it's a green room for Rod Stewart when he's in town, but it's blatantly not. You'd hear his gravelly tones coming from the other side.

Photo: Matt Brown.

Storytelling doors

All doors tell one story or other, but some are quite explicit with it.

If you've been to the Freemasons' Hall in Holborn, you'll have seen the hefty bronze doors leading into the Great Temple. Weighing one and a quarter tonnes each, they depict the building of King Solomon's Temple.

Some doors' stories are even shorter, but just as timeless, such as "Facts not Opinions" over the top of the Kirkaldy Testing Museum in Southwark. And this one at the Palace Theatre:

Photo: Matt Brown.

Half storytelling doors

Other doors require a little research to reveal their true story. In 2005, scientific dating revealed that Westminster Abbey has the oldest door in Britain.

And have you ever clocked this singularly tall and narrow door on Flitcroft Street? It's tall because a giraffe lives here.

© Google.

Not really. It belongs to the Elms Lesters Painting Rooms, where they create and ship out tall theatre sets and props.

You will, however, find doors tailor-made for giraffes at London Zoo:

London Zoo. Photo: Ada Vogel.

This giraffe house, designed by a certain Decimus Burton, is Grade II listed.

The former home of Sebastian Horsley on Meard Street in Soho wears a baffling caveat:

Photo: A Lads Club Escapette.

That is, until you read Horsley's explanation:

A clipper is such an English device — only the English could think of it. A girl picks up a guy, takes £50 off him, rings the doorbell - my doorbell - says to the guy that there's no one in, and goes off to get a key, leaving him standing at the door. He's 50 quid down, he's really annoyed. He thinks this is the brothel, so he kicks the door in. So that's why I put the notice up.

We remain bamboozled by this padded door in Cambridge Heath:

Photo: Matt Brown.

And some doors — such as the one in Vauxhall tube station, deemed the world's most dangerous door — are probably best left shut.

Last Updated 03 January 2017