The Cedar & The Sea: a sensory tour of a neo-Gothic building

Experience Two Temple Place, a neo-gothic building on Victoria Embankment, through a unique sensory and artistic tour.

The Cedar & The Sea: a sensory tour of a neo-Gothic building

Two Temple Place is often nicknamed the "house of stories", and there is much to uncover! Rebecca Hone (the Head of Exhibitions at Two Temple Place), and Tasha Marks (a food historian and head of AVM Curiosities), provide an incredibly engaging sensory tour of the neo-Gothic and romantic building. Our journey includes the story of William Waldorf Aster, for whom the building was built in the 1890s, as we observe his love for literature in the carvings and reliefs he commissioned of famous literary and cultural figures.

We begin our tour in a large stately room familiar to those who have seen The Bodyguard or Silent Witness! The first sensory experience involves taste, as Marks hands us each a cocktail with apple to marry together Aster's American heritage and love of Britain, and salt to represent the marine influences of the Victoria Embankment. 

Then we head up a grand staircase, walking past carvings of characters from The Three Musketeers, taking a journey through French literature. At the top of the stairs, we enter the world of English literature through carved wooden reliefs of Macbeth, Antony, and Cleopatra. This then gives way to American literature, with ceiling sculptures from Rip Van Winkle and The Scarlet Letter. We pause here to enter a new sensory experience, listening to a reconstructed version of Debussy, which is somehow uncomfortable yet soothing. It is oddly reminiscent of waves, and Marks describes it as being on a ship - surrounded by wooden carvings and listening to a creaking ocean soundscape. The tour expertly marries together fascinating cultural information with an immersive experience, allowing us to engage with the building fully and its cultural elements.

The public library and study is the room from which the exhibition gets its title, as it has an art installation to compliment the smell of the building - a cedar smell and a sea smell! A scented hanging fabric brings out the calming smell of the cedar panels lining the room and a briny element to represent Aster's travels from the US and his new location by the river. The fabric flows across the centre of the room, and footage of the ebb and flow of the Thames is projected onto it, adding to the atmosphere. Hone takes care to point out the beautiful carvings of political figures such as Bismark and Machiavelli, alongside a delicate and beautiful carved relief in silver of the women of Arthurian legends. It would be great to visit during the day to see them more closely, as the dim lighting for the art installations obscures some of the detail. Nonetheless, these carvings and small details made the tour so special!  

I would thoroughly recommend this experience to anyone interested in architecture, neo-Gothic buildings, literary art, or someone simply looking for an exciting way to learn something new!

This exhibition is now closed, but Two Temple Place has other exhibits and events on, and it often welcomes tours!


Kashmini Shah

Kashmini Shah Contributor

Hi, I'm a Politics and English Literature student based in London!

I love to do deep-dives into the political, psychological, or social messages projected by media, both overtly and subliminally. I'm a huge fan of books, and can most likely be found hiding somewhere in a library with a fantasy or feminist book in hand.

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