This year marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Polish Embassy at 47 Portland Place, and running around the outside of the building is a public exhibition about its century of history.
It’s mainly a series of photo display boards telling the history of the Embassy and its occupants.
The origins of the Polish Embassy lay a couple of years earlier in 1919 when the UK and the newly independent Second Polish Republic established diplomatic ties, but it was in 1921 that they secured a 993-year lease on 47 Portland Place, and it’s been the home of the Polish Embassy ever since.
During WW2 for a short while, the building became the seat of the Polish government in exile, not only handling applications for aid on behalf of refugees but also storing cases of state treasures smuggled out of Wawel Castle before they were sent to Canada for safekeeping. In 1942 the building was used for the Parliament in exile, which makes it one of the few diplomatic buildings in London to have hosted meetings of both the executive and legislative branches of their governments.
Unsurprisingly, the exhibition does not shy away from the decisions of the Allies of the Tehran Conference which effectively doomed the country to Soviet occupation. Not one of the British government’s better decisions. The government in exile was evicted from the Polish Embassy as the Communist government took over.
A few display boards remind us of the protests in London outside the Embassy by people opposed to the Communist government, and in 1990 democracy was restored, and a more conventional Ambassadorial presence took over.
As the exhibition notes, the lease on the building lasts until 2913, so they hope to celebrate many more centenaries.
The display boards will be hung outside the Embassy until the end of this year, and it’s a good way to spend 5-10 minutes if in the area gleaning a brief history of how Poland was represented in London, along with a lot of historic photos from inside the building, and the later protests outside it.
The embassy is at 47 Portland Place, about halfway between the BBC’s Broadcasting House and Regent’s Park.