"Welcome to our embassy," greeted Colin Crooks, the British ambassador to South Korea, in fluent Korean on Monday as he led a preliminary tour of the legation and the ambassador's residence in a neighborhood in Seoul steeped in the country's early modern history.
The British Embassy is among a number of historical venues to be open to the public during the "Jeong-dong Culture Night," a historical and cultural festival in downtown Seoul scheduled for Oct. 13-14.
Many spots within the embassy were named after prominent British figures symbolizing the ties between South Korea and Britain, which mark the 140th anniversary of their diplomatic relations this year.
Upon entering the embassy's heavily guarded gate, the ambassador guided a group of visiting reporters to the office building, which was established in 1992 to handle the increasing number of diplomatic tasks between the two countries.
Aston Hall, located in the basement of the building, was named after William George Aston, the first British and European diplomat to be posted in the country, the envoy said.
Making his way to Broughton's Club, named after the first British Royal Navy officer to come to the country, the ambassador held up bottles of Scottish whiskey and beer.
"I can't drink yet because I'm still working," Crooks said, smiling, showing the array of drinks stored in the bar.
After passing by the red-brick building currently used to accommodate diplomats, the ambassador welcomed the visitors into the residence where he stays. The building bore a marking of the year 1890, suggesting its construction date.
"This is the oldest ambassador's residence in the country," he said, adding that Britain bought the land in 1883 for 7,500 nyang, an old Korean monetary unit, equivalent to about 200 pounds at the time, according to the ambassador.
A photo of Charles III and Queen Camilla adorned the wall of the residence, and inside, an open space reflecting bright sunlight from wide windows and art works welcomed visitors.
Crooks went on to introduce the monuments and artworks displayed in the main living space, including the original foundation stone of the residence, and an artwork by British sculptor Henry Moore, which Crooks explained was the "most expensive work in the house."
Pointing to a painting of spoons in bright orange displayed in the dining area, he said, "This is an artwork by my favorite artist."
"I used to stay in Pyongyang as an ambassador from 2018 to 2021," he explained, adding the drawing was by a North Korean defector named Oh Sung-cheol, who has been studying at the British Council since last year.
The garden outdoors was graced by pine trees planted by a British foreign minister 40 years ago, and a cherry blossom tree planted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1999. "The garden is my favorite place in the embassy," Crooks said.
The festival, which annually draws in over 200,000 residents and tourists, will be organized by the Jung-gu district office this year under the theme "Rendezvous in Jeong-dong."
It will include the night time opening of 33 historic and cultural facilities, concerts and tours of historical sites in the neighborhood.
Many activities related to the Korean Empire (1897-1910), the successor to the Joseon Dynasty, including a performance by people dressed in period costumes, are set to take place during the event.
Source: Yonhap News Agency