6 Hidden Gems To Check Out As Part Of This Free Festival

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Last Updated 11 November 2019

6 Hidden Gems To Check Out As Part Of This Free Festival
Bart's Pathology Museum
Bart's Pathology Museum is one of the places you can visit during Being Human. Image: Bart's Pathology Museum

Londoners pride themselves on their local knowledge. But how much of the city have you really seen?

The Being Human festival — returning November 14-23 — is themed around Discoveries and Secrets this year, and promises to take you on a tour through some of the city's stranger cultural venues. Festival Curator, researcher and weird London fan Dr Michael Eades takes us on a tour of some of the archives, theatres, quirky museums and Roman temples lying behind-the-scenes and beneath the streets of London.

Soho Poly Theatre, Westminster

Soho Poly
Soho Poly. Image: Matthew Morrisson

The Soho Poly theatre is a tiny underground space underneath the University of Westminster. During the 1970s it was where Londoners came to see cutting edge avant-garde theatre in their lunchbreaks — people like Nigel Havers and Bob Hoskins performed here before they hit the big time. The theatre closed in 1990 and was boarded up and forgotten about until a few years ago, when research by academics at the University led to its rediscovery. It's only open very occasionally for special performances, so don't miss the opportunity to visit.

Various events, November 18-22

BT Archives, Holborn

Image: BT Archives

"It's good to talk!" Speaking of Bob Hoskins, who could forget the lovable East Ender's ad campaign for BT in the 1990s? In the shadow of the BT Tower itself, there's a little known archive telling the history of the UK's largest telecommunications company, covering everything from the days of the British Empire to ad campaigns for the first push tone phones. The archives are held at the Holborn Telephone Exchange and are open for a special day viewing in collaboration with Central Saint Martins during the festival.

Reading the Archive, November 15, 10am-4pm

London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE, City of London

London Mithraeum
Image: London Mithraeum

The East End bore the brunt of the Blitz in the Second World War, which led to appalling loss of life but also uncovered archaeological remains beneath the modern city. The most famous find of all was a temple dedicated to the Roman god Mithras. After being moved several times, Mithras's temple reopened a couple of years ago in its original location, beneath the Bloomberg building. For Being Human festival, you can experience a performance based on the lives of those who would have worshipped at the temple.

Excavating Roman Voices, 19 November, 5pm-7pm

Bart's Pathology Museum, Smithfield

Image: Bart's Pathology Museum

Not far from the Mithraeum, you can find a very different but equally intriguing London venue. Bart's Pathology Museum is part of the St Bartholomew's Hospital, and is not for the squeamish. The museum houses over 5,000 medical specimens, ranging from embalmed limbs to shattered neck vertebrae from judicial hangings. It’s a grisly collection, but it has been used for centuries to help train the city’s doctors and surgeons. For the festival, this venue is hosting an event about Humanising Medicine, where you can hear hear the personal stories of health, illness and care from doctors, nurses, students and patients at the same time as having a poke around one of London's weirdest museums.

Humanising Medicine, 19 November 5.30pm-7.30pm

The Glory, Haggerston

Image: The Glory

London is — generally speaking — a very LGBTQ+ friendly city. Like many major cities from Berlin to New York though, it has also seen a decimation in recent years of certain parts of its queer nightlife. As the city has become more 'respectable' (or gentrified) it has shedded any number of underground venues catering to people whose nocturnal tastes might be a bit more… adventurous, from Soho nightclubs to gay saunas. The Glory is an East End pub and LGBTQ+ performance venue which will — for this festival at least — be revisiting the days of a less sanitised, perhaps more exciting London.

Gay Sex and the Disappearing City, November 16, 6pm-7.30pm

Horniman Museum, Forest Hill

Image: Horniman Museum

If you haven't been to the Horniman before, it's worth visiting purely for its collection of taxidermied animals — including an overstuffed walrus. The conservatory and the gardens are the stars of the show for the Being Human festival, where musicians and sound artists from Goldsmiths, University of London, are creating an immersive experience based on the 'eco-acoustics' of the museum’s collections.… Weird sound experiences in the company of stuffed animals. What could be better?

Sounds from the Gardens, November 16 and 17, all day

More than 50 events take place across London as part of Being Human festival (14-23 November). Events also take place across the country, from Orkney to rural Devon. Almost all events are free.