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29 April 2014

Canalway Cavalcade at Little Venice

A great event takes place this Bank Holiday weekend in and around the canal junction of Little Venice.
From Saturday 3rd until Monday 5th May you will find all sorts of attractions on the water and the surrounding roads and towpaths. These include pageants, entertainment, boat trips, foods, stalls, music and dance.
Find out more here.
 Some of my London canal photos, from Limehouse Basin to Little Venice

25 April 2014

African Galleries at the British Museum

Beneath the Living and Dying exhibits, in Room 24 at the back of the British Museum's courtyard, are two flights of stairs that lead down to the African Galleries.
I can't believe I had never found these fabulous treasures until earlier this year – and what a find!
Three rooms contain some absolutely gorgeous hand-crafted pieces including masks, bronzeworks, carvings and even a hat made out of spiders' webs.
Beautiful and inspiring.

23 April 2014

Victoria Street – a glass corridor

As you will probably already know, I am not a fan of all these build-it-glass, build-it-fast, and build-it-high architecture that is sprouting up like a fungus all over this once great city.
Due to the homogenous design of these clip-together buildings I have been referring to this invasion of glass as 'The Dubaiification of London'
The latest victim of this spore is Victoria Street, SW1.
This vital route links The Palace of Westminster to Buckingham Palace Road and Victoria Station and, just like Cheapside* is in the process of being turned yet another glass river resembling a crevice in an ice flow.
Exiting Victoria Station one is confronted by the enormous upheaval of demolition and construction on a vast scale. Victoria Station itself is undergoing redevelopment, but works do not stop at the station concourse – there are other projects on the go at the same time and the whole of Victoria Street is a massive building site.
I photographed the area back in 2008, as shown above, and in July last year had access to see the huge hole made at the back of the The Victoria Palace Theatre. As you can see, Land Securities have very kindly kept the theatre but demolished a building of similar age that was to the right of it. The theatre will now sit like a tiny little child surrounded by huge shiny robots as per The Albert, a Victorian yellow brick public house that still survives on the corner of Buckingham Gate and is shown in the collection of images below.
What else is staying?
Little Ben has been removed – I assume he will return in the same position.
I notice the old Victoria Arcade has also been retained. I am hoping this is a permanent feature as I would hate to lose that beautiful (Doulton?) ceiling.  
But I am disappointed that the Overtons' sign on the building at the easter tip of the station concourse has been removed.
Westminster Cathedral's a bit old, so it's a good job we can't really see it. It can only be seen reflected in the glass windows of Victoria Street's upper floors, phew; that's a relief.
Compare and contrast... see the archive image above, bottom right, for how the Army and Navy Store used to look in 1905. Much of the rest of the street would have looked similar; imposing, solid and made to last... until someone with a wrecking ball and a love of mirrors came along.
I despair.
Read more about the plans for Victoria Street here.

*blimey, did I never get around to writing that one?

21 April 2014

The tiles of Tottenham Lane and Hornsey

At the beginning of last century, Crouch End and Hornsey looked rather different – Edwardian high streets would have been lined with shops beautifully decorated with tiles and fancy ironwork. And many of them would have had a lot of produce outside the shop, hanging above, around and in front of the window, with the owner and staff smartly dressed in white aprons ready to greet their customers.
At street level, most London high streets show barely a hint of their past these days, but this area of N8, probably due to it's lack of tube station and minimal bus connections, still has a few shops that display some lovely glimpses of the past. I mentioned some of my observations in a post earlier this year. This time I am concentrating on the tiles.
And what amazing tiles! It's hard to fathom how they were chosen to go together as never in a million years would I have thought to put such patterns, colours and textures together on the same wall. But they look fantastic.
The pics below are from just three different shops:
Top row: On the corner of Tottenham Lane and Harvey Road is Garden Transformations who have painted their double-width shop bright blue and kept these tiles which are along the side street (phew!). The mix of colours and patterns is bonkers! As you can see from the pics above, florals are placed next to bright pinks and turquoises, with swags and brown reliefs all mixed in too. And, notice too, that the old curved window frames are still in place along that face.
Middle row 1 & 2: Also in Tottenham Lane. I found these by accident because I had a strange urge for a bag of chips – it must have been serendipity because on entering George's Fish Bar I was amazed to find that the shop is tiled on both sides up to dado level with these wonderful golds, blues and greens. I chatted to the owner and he tells me that there has been a fish shop there for over 100 years; that the tiles are from the first ownership (though he isn't George and he isn't related to George or his family). But how lovely that the tiles are still in situ. Shame the outside of the shop doesn't retain any of the original features though. Now it's got me wondering how many other shops along that stretch have tiled interiors... 
Middle row 3 & 4 and all of the bottom row: These tiles are from either side of a what must have been a terrace of similarly-decorated shops in Hornsey High Street. It's a japanese restaurant at the moment. The crazy mix of Edwardian tiles on both sides of the recessed window have been retained over the decades – I can't see a trace of paint on them, just a few stickers.  
Here's how the junction at Middle Lane has barely changed except for the look and feel of the shops and the kind of things they sell. The shops back then just looked nicer.

18 April 2014

Lots Road Power Station

Following on from Monday's post, this takes us out of Chelsea Harbour and into Lots Road itself.
I was last there in November 2008 and took the pictures that form the top row of this collection:
As you can see the metal silo-type building on the opposite side of Chelsea Creek (part of Counter's Creek) has gone and a vast swathe of land now stands empty waiting to be developed. It'll probably end up looking like Chelsea harbour itself, or the opposite bank in Wandsworth, or Battersea.
I just googled 'Chelsea Creek' for the link above and the first thing that came up on the list was a site saying that this is the 'newest and most fashionable dockside development, combining luxurious city living with blissful tranquility'
Aha! Very clever... what they mean here is it's like living in the city at the weekend when all the offices are closed. i.e. it's dead! Tranquil... means there's no one about (see Monday's post re Chelsea Harbour)
Since I am pulling apart estate agent speak here, what exactly is a 'luxurious' in this sense? Most homes these days have flushing toilets, running water, gas central heating etc. Some even have underfloor heating, double-glazing and en-suite bathrooms. But are these luxuries? Surely these are things you'd expect to find in an expensive box-as-home in an area such as Chelsea. I have even seen the word 'luxury' on billboards for flats in Holloway, North London. Does luxury vary borough to borough? Do these homes have wall to wall cashmere carpets and sensor lighting that goes on and off when you wink in a certain way? Perhaps Chelsea folk get even more luxury for their money and their apartments come complete with a butler-mum-PA who does absolutely everything... he/she cooks and feeds you, runs you bath/shower, dries you and even wipes your bum.
Lots Road...
There doesn't appear to have been much change to the Lots Road Power Station main building in the five and half years since I was there last. It's sort of the same as happened to Battersea Power Station – they say developments are pending and then these buildings just sit there derelict for decades. Indeed, the patchwork interior wall, shown top right, still looks the same today. The lovely green concertina goods gates are still intact, as is the building opposite that use to house Cremorne Works.
Further along the road I saw someone carefully renovating the little blue corner shop.
I have made a note in my diary to go back again in another five years to check if anything has moved on or if there is any sign of life there.

16 April 2014

A well known London street

Next time you are out shopping in Central London take a break and look up and around you at some of the gorgeous architectural details.
These images were all taken in a 500 metre stretch of one busy street.

14 April 2014

Chelsea Harbour and Imperial Wharf

On Saturday I went down to the Chelsea waterfront to check out access points for a future foreshore forage*.
God, it's dull down there. Back in the late 90s /early 00s, I had the misfortune to occasionally freelance at an office within the Chelsea Harbour development. I found it devoid of any life and it made me feel trapped and alienated. It was just expensive furnishing emporiums, expensive boxy apartments, expensive boats and one or two places where you could get some over-priced snacks and drinks. I would breathe a sigh of relief when I reconnected with reality every evening.
I hoped things might have improved over the years and it would now be more of a go-to area vis-a-vis St Katharine Docks etc. But no.
I was in the vicinity for just over an hour and apart from a street cleaner, two people getting into a car, another two looking hungry, one man on one of the many apartment balconies with a river view, one lady with a cute little dog and one jogger, that was it.
Chelsea Harbour still looks like something the props department made for Howards Way. It's accessed via Lots Road, an area now standing mostly empty or derelict, waiting to be transformed into the next set of glass boxes for people who occasionally need a London pad. 
The Thames Path leads west from the harbour, via Imperial Wharf, under the beautiful brick-built Wandsworth Railway Bridge, and on to Wandsworth [road] Bridge. I only walked about three quarters of it before I turned back again.
Despite what Imperial Wharf's website says, nothing is happening there. This 'sought-after location' is dull dull dull. Or perhaps people who can afford £1000 a week rent money are also dull.
Along the path there are a few dockers' mistresses and metal ladders preserved within recesses in a modern fence designed to resemble an ocean liner indicating that this was once a lively and commercial stretch of the river. On the other side of the path there are overly-landscaped and manicured gardens in front of Imperial Wharf's imposing apartment blocks. It certainly doesn't look like a park to relax in. I very much doubt you can kick a ball about there. Ooh, sorry, just remembered I also saw two people sitting in the park, so that's a total of ten.
Next to a identikit riverfront pub there is a restaurant called the Blue Elephant; I think White Elephant might be a better name.
I also spotted near the harbour a few lamp stands with dragons on them and, moored at the river taxi jetty (closed), there was a gilded barge. Who owns this? Is it Royal?
A sign on the old power station gates reads: Chelsea Waterfront – Quintessentially London. Eh? Discuss.

*Sorry, fellow foragers, but there are no easy steps available, so this area won't be an area we'll be visiting in the future.

10 April 2014

A London Country Diary by Tim Bradford

I just got this great book containing the musings, observations and illustrations of Tim Harding.
Subtitled Mundane Happenings from the Secret Streets of the Capital, each one- or two-page entry concerns something Tim has spotted in the area of North London where he lives, bounded by Finsbury Park, Stoke Newington, Highbury and Holloway.
Read about pubs, parrots, charity shops, dogs, frogs, football, prams, and plants he doesn't know the name of.
It's amusing, heart-warming and thought-provoking and, living within the same area, I can identify with a lot he writes.

More info here
See Tim's website here.

7 April 2014

Discoveries at Temple Place

Discoveries is a small but engaging free exhibition showing at Two Temple Place. It's an intriguing collection of art and artefacts chosen from the millions of objects stored at eight University Cambridge museums and is on until 27th April.
This was my first time inside this building and I am embarrassed to admit that I had no idea about the treasures withi. Built by Lord Astor, the richest Victorian in the world, as his estate office, it's an architectural gem.
I'll say no more... go and see see for yourself. The house is only open to the public during exhibitions, but tours are available.

3 April 2014

Penfold's Victorian post boxes

John Wornham Penfold's distinctive hexagonal letter boxes date back to 1866 and were manufactured by Cochrane Grove & Co in Dudley. Made in three different sizes, the nine different designs featured acanthus leaves on the top and balls/seeds around the edges.
Many originals, as well as a few replicas made by Machan Engineering in the 1980s, still grace our streets today and I love it when I spot another one. So far, I have snapped ten in London and one abroad.
It's interesting to note how five of these are situated really close to each other in an area bounded by Clissold Park, Finsbury Park and Highbury Fields.

Top row: Tower Bridge (the first replica), Walthamstow Village (closed with a black metal plate that makes it look like a highwayman!), Battersea Village and Queens Drive.
Middle row: Highbury New Park, Highbury Grove (missing its finial), Prince Albert Road and St Pancras Way.
Bottom row: Aberdeen Park x2 2008 vs 2014 (the second pic shows it needs a new paint job!), Nevill Road (also missing its finial) and Wellington, NZ.

Find more pictures and information in a Flickr group, here.