29 September 2015

A wander in North London

Starting from Kentish Town station, cross the junction with Fortess Road and walk north past The Bull and Gate public house and The Forum. 
On your right on the corner of Highgate Road and Burghley Road is Elsfield, a really interesting block of modernist tiered flats painted blue and white. I like this block; it looks like a ocean-going liner and always cheers me up. In my mind, this is how modern housing ought to look.

Continue walking north. Hints of the past are really noticeable along this stretch of the road, especially the cottages either of the Vine pub which back onto College Lane. As you go under the railway bridge look at the parade of shops etc on the other/west side of the road and imagine how this area might have looked 100 years ago.
The Vine public house, an old Sun Insurance marker, a blue enamel street name sign, and the uncovered carved lettering on the Costcutter at No.157 on the corner of Mansfield Road showing a previous occupier, probably in Edwardian times, was J Ritchie.

Time for a beer
Turn right into Chetwynd Road and walk up the hill, then left at the lights into York Rise to see what used to be a fantastic proper locals' pub called The Dartmouth Arms. It closed down earlier this year and looks to be turned into shops/cafe. 
Facing the pub in Bellgate Mews is one of my favourite old and faded shop advertisements (a ghostsign) listing things such as flannelettes, calicoes, gloves and ribbons. 
Return to Chetwynd Road and continue up the hill. At the top, on the corner of Darmouth Park Hill is the Lord Palmerston pub. I can't quite work out why this pub is still open yet the Dartmouth is closed. A different clientele I suppose.

Dartmouth Arms, St John's Tavern, Boston Arms, Lord Palmerston
Then, cross over and walk down Cathcart Road to meet Junction Road and, depending on your pub preference, turn right to go to the grungy authenticity of the Boston Arms at the junction of Tufnell Park Station, which also has a great live music venue within the building, or turn left to go to St John's Tavern, a pub with great interiors and a restaurant at the rear. There are, of course, other pubs in the area. Which reminds me that 
I always intended to do a pub crawl down the Holloway Road starting at the Archway Tavern and ending at The Famous Cock at Highbury and Islington Station. But since having that idea almost half of the pubs along that stretch have closed down. And I never went in most of them! For instance, The Lion at Archway closed down earlier this year and I heard there are plans to convert the building into a cafe. Another cafe. Do people eat at home any more?

22 September 2015

Brentford canal

An interesting guided walk following on from my visit to Boston Manor House, starting near the GlaxoSmithKline building and ending in Brentford town centre.

I have never walked around that area before and was impressed how lovely it is. Apart from the flyover and the bloody planes on the Heathrow flightpath.
More about the Brentford area of The Grand Union Canal here.

18 September 2015

Daniel Maclise: The Waterloo Cartoon at The Royal Academy

The scale and quality of this is staggering – and it's just a sketch!
Go and see this.

In the side room there are some fabulously amusing satirical cartoons drawn by the French showing their depictions of the British soldiers.

Such a shame that postcards or prints are not available.

Direct link to this show here

15 September 2015

Whittington, St Mary's, Archway and Highgate Hospitals

On either side of Highgate Hill, just north of Archway Station you will find a lot of hospital buildings, some pleasing, some ugly, some neglected, and some over 150 years old.
There have been a lot of hospitals and a lot of name changes on these sites over the years. In the following paragraphs I have done my best to get the information correct. However, if you spot any errors, please do let me know.  Here goes...

The impressive Edwardian buildings viewed from Highgate Hill.
The original main entrance for Archway Hospital can be found on the Archway Road side.
Originally built in 1848 on the nine-acre site of an old leper colony as the Highgate Smallpox and Vaccination Hospital; one of only two isolation hospitals in London dealing with the smallpox epidemic of that era (the other one being the London Fever Hospital in Liverpool Road, approx 2.5 miles further south). The HSVH was supported by voluntary contributions and in 1867 had 108 beds. It closed in 1896. 
In 1900, the site was officially reopened by the Duke and Duchess of York as the Highgate Hill [workhouse] Infirmary with 800 beds.
Then, in 1914 it became the Islington Infirmary (II). Five large linked blocks (shown above) had been added by 1920 and some of the original buildings were converted into a nurses' home which was accessed via a tunnel.
During the same period the Holborn Union Infirmary opened in 1879 in the southwest corner of the site with its main entrance on Archway Road (still intact and visible today). It had separate blocks for male and female patients in 625 beds. In 1921 the name was changed to the Holborn and Finsbury Hospital (HFH).
In 1930 the London County Council (LCC) took over the whole site – HFH was renamed St Mary's Hospital, and II became Archway Hospital. By 1948 both had merged with Highgate Hospital across the road to become part of The Whittington Hospital.

The modern hospital
The latest buildings of the Whittington Hospital on the opposite side of Highgate Hill are a stark contrast in architectural design.
Accident and Emergency, out Patients, Pathology and Imaging (X-ray) departments opened on the western side of Highgate Hill in 1977, and in 1980 a six-storey psychiatric wing was built. Further extensions and new buildings were opened in 1992. The entrance in Magdala Avenue was completed in 2008.

Top: the modern blocks of Whittington Hospital (1992?).
Bottom left: the Whittington & Cat pub hangs on for dear life whilst all around is demolished.
Bottom right; Whittington Hospital entrance in Magdala Avenue.
Top: left, the entrance canopy, and right, the second floor waiting area
Bottom: Cats – Whittington's metal feline and Dick's companion on Highgate Hill

The Highgate Wing
On the Dartmouth Park Hill side of the Whittington Hospital estate there are some nice old brick buildings dating from 1869 from when this was The St Pancras Union Infirmary (later to become the Central London Sick Asylum District, then the St Pancras Union and subsequently the North Infirmary). Florence Nightingale has been quoted as saying that in its day the infirmary was "the finest metropolitan hospital". Edith Cavell worked there as a Night Sister in 1901.
When the LCC took over this site in 1930 they renamed it Highgate Hospital. By 1945 it had been grouped in with its neighbours Archway Hospital and St Mary's Hospital to form The Whittington Hospital as part of the NHS. 

Why Whittington?
The grouping of all the three hospitals (Archway, St Mary's and Highgate) into one meant a new name was needed. "Trinity" was a front runner, but "Whittington" won. A well-known folktale tells us that Dick Whittington was walking on Highgate Hill when he heard the bells of Bow telling him to "turn again, turn again". The event is commemorated by a statue of his cat on The Whittington Stone on Highgate Hill (shown above, bottom right). He subsequently became Lord Mayor of London three times.

I collect old tins and gave this one to Jen as a birthday present earlier this year, thinking it would tie in well with her Archway guided walk.

See also The Temperance Hospital

11 September 2015

Brixton Windmill

Did you know there is a fully-functioning windmill in the back streets of Brixton within the aptly named Windmill Park?

A windmill has stood on this site since 1816. This is one of only a handful left standing in London. The bonus is that this mill, rather than having been turned into living space, or similar, produces an excellent finely-ground flour which is available to buy in the adjacent cafe. Also available; tours, events, arty things, children's activities and more besides – see here

On the streets nearby I spotted some other these nice things:

The side of the old Ace cinema, a lovely decorative street sign for Blenheim Gardens, a simpler one along Brixton Hill where a stretch of shops was known as The Pavement, and layers of faded and peeling red paint on a pillar box.

8 September 2015

The Worshipful Company of Vintners livery hall

You may recall that earlier this year I visited two of London's livery company halls, namely The Drapers and The Cutlers.
Well here are some pics I took whilst on a tour of The Worshipful Company of Vintners' livery hall. Situated on almost on Southwark Bridge, it is a fine building with a rich history, lots to see and plenty of interesting stories to hear about.

In no particular order – paintings of the old City of London and drunken cherubs, swans, wood and stone carvings, the coat of arms in glass and some very old gilt tapestries

The downside to this tour was that, unlike the others, we weren't even given a cup of tea, let alone a glass of wine – the Cutlers had plied us with madeira!
A point of interest; the Vintners, along with the Worshipful Company of Dyers, are the keepers of the Queen's swans and hence take part in the Swan Upping Ceremony every year (see also here).

These tours were booked through London Historians

4 September 2015

A Forage on the Foreshore in Rotherhithe then a walk around Surrey Quays along the Thames Path to Greenwich

On Sunday 23rd August I met up with a group of friends for a Forage on The Foreshore. This time we met late morning outside The Angel pub at Rotherhithe with a plan to walk east towards.
The weather forecast had not been favourable and so we were not surprised that soon after we hit the foreshore the clouds broke. We managed to stay beachside for just over an hour before the rain set in and retired to The Mayflower for lunch where we assessed our finds including the usual bits of pottery, clay pipe, glass and metal fragments, plus an old leathermakers awl.
The sky cleared so we continued eastwards along the Thames Path to Greenwich...
Start point outside The Angel / lunch at The MayflowerOld Salt Quay / Malcolm and Graham admiring the view 

A short stop at The Blacksmith's Arms for excellent coffee. It's a lovely old wood-panelled pub with multi-hinged hooks for coats and bags on the walls and under the bar (take note modern pub designers!) and a restaurant at the rear. I enjoyed chatting to Stuart/Stewart, one of the locals, at the bar. I also spotted a great old photograph of how the Surrey Quays area used to look in its docklands heyday – compare that with how it looks today
We then popped in to Surrey Docks Farm; I will post about that separately sometime soon.

Continuing along the Thames Path – there are a few bits of unlabelled metal chain and what look like discarded anchors here and there but nothing to explain them. A prime example is an old crane near Custom Reach House. Note the strange net curtaining in the cabin window! I could see no information about this one piece of preserved history and wonder if people actually know why it is there or what it used to be used for. It's the same on The Isle of Dogs.
Click here for info about the history of London's docks.
A few minutes along the path is Helsinki Gardens with its expensive modern riverside apartments. A pretty friendly cat was keen to enhance William Pye's Curlicue. But we had no idea why it was there or what its relevance was so thanks to Tom for doing the research.
There are many different types of dockers' mistresses along the path and you can clearly see why they are so affectionately called by by looking at some of the ones along this stretch! Others though, like the ones at South Dock Marina, look more like Wellington boots.
This is the only area along the route where signage is used to explain about the historical features left behind as hints of the past; the hydraulic lifting gear, the swing bridge (not shown here), the lock keeper's cottage,etc. I also noticed a couple of lovely old Victorian lamp posts.
Further along the signage stops. A Pair of gateposts just stand there with no explanation, ditto a badly repaired obelisk. These must, I am sure be remnants of long-ago dismantled wharves. And I often wonder if anyone else knows what those freestanding crumbling manmade constructions in the river were used for. Read on...
More unlabelled things as we advanced on Deptford.
A gridded orb sits on one of the stuctures. A wooden board is all that remains to explain it; the plaque that used to be screwed to it having been been removed. I photographed it years ago and can here tell you that it's called Circumsphere by Chris Marshall and Stephen Lewis and was erected in September 1998. The plaque read: "The [red] discs [on its surface] show the route of Sir Francis Drake's circum-navigational voyage around the earth which was completed at this waterfront in 1581." It went on to explain that it is mounted on a 'dolphin' which is the name given to many small mooring structures that sit by the River Thames and provided low tide moorings for ships, barges, tugs and liners. So there you go.
Faded, scratched, unkempt boards show an attempt at generic historical information near the old Royal [Navy] Dockyards buildings (now the Pepys Research Centre) and Convoys Wharf (at the time of writing, a huge empty fenced-off wasteland awaiting redevelopment).
We also spotted a signpost with six pointers on it each none of which have anything written on them. Who knows, perhaps this is also art. It's hard to tell. Ditto the set of raised stairs that Malcolm climbed "just cos they were there". 
And so to Paynes Wharf which in the past five years has been transformed into apartments and exhibition space. All that's been retained of the old wharf buildings are some of the boundary walls including the arched river frontage though I can't understand why 'they' decided to paint white the landward-facing side of the building opposite Twinkle Park (what a lovely name!). The charming cobbled street that leads down to Watergate Steps is still intact.   
These are older pics. The first two pics are mine taken in 2009. The archive pic (sorry, I can't now recall where I got this from) shows how the name along the top is not the same as it appears today.    
Left, the shell of the Princess of Wales pub in a back street.
The Dowell's Coals depot at Deptford Creek is now long along with this sign which used to sit on the gate at the junction of Creek Road and Norway Street. When I was there in 2009 the mouth of the creek was more visible from the Thames and there was a lot of mud and remnants of old piers and landings to be seen. I now wich I had photographed that. Now we've got 'swanky', 'luxury' apartments wrapped around keep fit centres, restaurants and supermarkets.
The last two pics show me on the throne (thanks to Meike). I can't recall who that fella with the small head is but he's holding a clay pipe.
And finally... Greenwich.
What a great day out. Thanks to all who came along!

More Info
Please note that finding specific info on the area for the above has proved difficult and I have as good as given up. Googling the streets and squares tends to results in lists from estate agents. Wikipedia gives a rough outline of the general area here

1 September 2015

Why is the UK still knocking down historic cinemas?

That's the heading on this article from BBC News.
Well I don't know.
Of the London cinemas that remain but are no longer used for their orginal purpose many have been gutted and used for other things. The only ones that seem to have retained their interiors are now being used as churches or pubs. Many others are now converted into shops or other businesses and oly hints of their once sparkling past can be seen on the street-facing façades.

Top: Essex Rd, Finsbury Park, Leyton
Middle: Edgware Rd, Acton, Holloway
Bottom: Stratford, Westbourne Grove, Hoxton
Top: Lea Bridge Rd, Bruce Grove, Bethnal Green
Middle: Dalston, Oval, Willesden
Bottom: Walthamstow, Kilburn, Camden
Many more architecturally interesting London cinemas have been reduced to rubble over the decades, mostly since the 1970s. And, to me, it just beggars belief that the developers didn't at least retain the ornate façades or re-use some of the lovely bricks and tiles. (Note to self: Rein it in Jane, you about to start ranting about modern glass architecture with a projected lifespan of 15 years...whoa!)
Seeing as everything these days, films, music, etc., is available as downloads, or on demand, for how long will the few magnificent palaces that remain, some of which I show below, still stand?

Top: Shaftesbury Ave, Dalston, Holloway
Bottom: Brixton, Leicester Square x2
My two favourite cinemas used to sit adjacent to each other in Camden. 
The Parkway was a lovely old Art Deco cinema with a red dralon seats and just two screens. I particularly recall seeing Oliver Stone's JFK on the big screen there in 1991 whilst munching on a box of Maltesers. The small above the ticket office showed independent films and there was a piano on the first floor next to the confectionery and drinks counter and very often someone was tinkling the ivories before the film began. I am pretty sure that I read that John Boorman used the cinema when filming parts of Hope and Glory. There is a great scene when the lad who is the lead in the film can be seen leaning forward in the first row of the circle transfixed by the film he is watching.
The cinema was gutted and modernised just prior to the last offensive about saving our old cinemas. Really bad timing and such a sad loss. 
The Camden Plaza around the corner, opposite the tube station, showed art house films and was simpler inside, but I recall the small entrance lobby/ticket hall was wood panelled, almost Tudor in design. At one point the cinema formed part of the Gaumont chain (later Odeon) and a pic of the faded sign on the side of the building is shown below.

It's just occurred to me that many long gone cinemas gave their names to the junction on which they sat* as in the case of The Savoy Cinema in Acton (Savoy Circus). I used to drive past it often in the late 1990s and I just took it for granted. Then hoardings went up around it and very soon there was a big empty space. It stood empty like a barren wasteland for years. Below are some comparison pics. Amazingly I cannot find any older pics than these from 1971.

Top left approx mid 80s. Top right: late 90s I think (note the blocked up doors)
Bottom: 2009 and the plans for the site today
Lots of great pics and info about demolished London cinemas can be found here – click the tabs under the map to see other categories.

*I have often wondered whether there was a cinema called The Apex at Apex Corner. I have so far drawn a blank about where this name come from. Or possibly there was a shop? Whatever it was, it's now long gone. Londonist wrote a piece about the naming of road junctions a while back... does anyone out there have any more info?