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Top five things to do in London: Best kept secrets

20 January 2012 | London Calling

From special exhibits and hidden rooms to surprising subjects and bizarre tales, London’s arts and culture venues contain a treasure trove of secrets waiting to be discovered, writes Andy Greeves.

Roman Amphitheatre at the Guildhall Art Gallery
Underground art culture is such that it can go on under the radar for years before being discovered by the masses. In 1988, the Guildhall Art Gallery, home to the City of London’s art collection, unearthed a genuine underground cultural phenomenon when a Roman Amphitheatre buried below was uncovered by archaeologists.
 
The original gallery was destroyed during an air raid in 1941 and was not rebuilt until the 1990s. It was in preparation for the construction of the new building that the Amphitheatre was found. In 2002, the excavated remains were laid open to public gaze for the first time in nearly 2,000 years as part of a display area by architect Nigel Coates. Free entry is provided as part of a visit to the gallery and offers a fascinating view into the capital’s Roman past.
 

Concerts at Wilton’s Music Hall
Wilton’s Music Hall is a crumbling treasure set in the heart of Whitechapel’s thriving arts scene.
 
It is the world’s oldest surviving Grand Music Hall and with diverse entertainment including theatre, music, comedy, cinema and cabaret on offer, it is perhaps the best, least-well-known cultural attraction in the capital.
 
The venue has an incredible history, having been used as a bomb shelter during World War II and a rag warehouse in the 1950s, and was spared from demolition in the 1960s by Sir John Betjeman. Guided tours of this fascinating music hall are available in addition to a programme of events throughout the year.
 
However, restoration work at Wilton’s Music Hall is ongoing, and having been rejected for funding from the Heritage Lottery Funding earlier in the year, its future is uncertain.
 

Piano at Barbican Library
The Barbican Centre in central London is home to its own library, with a fantastic collection of books covering randomly unconnected topics such as children writing and finance. The library, which also offers spoken word recordings, videos, DVDs and CD-ROMs, has a great flare for music with CDs and sheet music available.
 
And practice piano, for use by members of the public, is located within the library, provides a delightful surprise for musicians. They can leave and tell their friends later that they played the piano at the Barbican Centre!

 
Cinema at Museum of London Docklands
On the second Friday of every month, a Grade I listed Georgian warehouse at the London Docklands opens to the public for a cinema screening.
 
The Docklands Cinema Club features classic films with mini introductions from writers, directors, critics and fans. Screenings from now until the end of the year include Carry on Screaming, Pool of London and Great Expectations. A large screen and comfy seats can be found inside the warehouse and with drinks, refreshments and of course, popcorn on offer. This most unexpected of venues offers an authentic theatre experience.

 
Modern art offering at the Museum of London
While venues such as the Tate Modern, White Cube and Saatchi Gallery have a world-renowned reputation for contemporary art, a pleasant surprise for visitors to the Museum of London is that it too houses its collection of modern work.
 
The museum’s Sackler Hall has a changing programme of exhibitions displaying the best artistic talent London has to offer, and the standout feature currently is a 45-metre elliptical LED curtain, which forms both an impressive sculptural installation and a dynamic media space within the museum.

 

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