20 December 2017

More seasonal stuff

Last night I went to see Cinderella at Hackney Empire.
Well... what can I say... but WOW!  What an absolute delight. A joy.
It's on until 31st December and I urge you to go see it too.
What's not to like?
Old time entertainment with a modern twist inside one of our loveliest theatres. Designed by the ubiquitous Frank Matcham, it opened in 1901 and was saved from demolition in 1986.
View from my seat in the Dress Circle
And then more fun and sparkles to be sampled this Friday evening when I will join a group of friends  at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.
Thumbs up from 2016
Last year we'd sort of tested it out as a "why not? It's free!" idea but we had such a nice time hanging about enjoying the atmosphere that we've decided to do it all again this year. We'll be convening at the quieter bar near the fire pit, marked F16 on the WW map, from 6.30pm onwards. Do come and find us – as they say, "the more, the merrier".

Note: WW is free to enter, walk about and go to the bars etc but, of course, there are charges for the rides, experiences and entertainments.

13 December 2017

Festive events South, North and East

I should've written about the first two of these before they happened, not after. Then again, you wouldn't get to see the photos.
Late afternoon on Friday 1st December I joined some lovely creative people and the children from a couple of Southwark schools for a lantern procession around the area led by Old Father Thames and a small but very loud samba drum band. Oh it was lovely. See more here.

The route took us through residential estates, along lovely backstreets and into local parks whilst Old Father Thames told us the stories about the Thames freezing over, extra-large ice cubes and a skating elephant. See more pics here. The event was organised by Emergency Exit Arts.

Another samba band!
Two days later, on Sunday December 3rd, I was up on the new piazza adjacent to Archway tube station for an event organised by Islington Council. There was music and singing and all sorts of entertainment. The Christmas lights were turned on and we finally found out that the new name for the piazza is Navigator Square. This was decided by local people voting for their favourite from a shortlist of five names. The winning name is in recognition of the [mostly] Irish navigators, better known as navvies, who worked so hard to build the area and its roads.
Now all we need is for the underground toilets on the piazza to be re-opened and I suggest the new name for them could be the Navvy Lavvies.

Looking forward...
Talking about Christmas markets and events – tomorrow evening 4.30–9.30pm there will be a one-off Winter Night Market with lost of lovely stall selling all sorts of lovely things, just off Hanbury Street, London E1 (between Brick Lane and Spitalfields Market).
One of the stalls will be selling Christmas tree earrings and decorations, as shown in the row of pics above, as well as other jewellery and cards made from clay pipes foraged from the River Thames foreshores.
Do come along and say hello.

11 December 2017

Christmas Lights in London

'Tis the season to be jolly and all that
Last week I posted about the Archway switch on, one of many local events that took place last weekend. 
Larger displays can be found along some of the major shopping streets in the West End and they are just lovely this year, with barely any silly branding or commercial theme. So last night my friend Jen and I made good use of a pair of tickets for The Original Bus Tour's Christmas Lights Tour to be able to get a closer look at them.
We boarded the bus in Coventry Street, donned our free Santa hats and made use of the much-needed blankets – this was the snowy day and brr it was cold on that open top deck!

The tour is restricted by the routes the company is actually permitted to use – and so it takes a circuitous route to get to Regent Street, goes up that road, loops back and then goes back down it again. And that's about it. The Regent Street lights are indeed lovely, bu they are the same all the way along so once you get to Oxford Circus and go back again it all seems a bit repetitive.
We did enjoy ourselves (we  normally do!) but an adult ticket is a whopping £15 which I think is rather steep for just 45 minutes – even if I was new to London I think I would have been disappointed that the only lights I saw on the tour were the ones pictured on the leaflet. On the plus side, it must be said that the guide on the night was marvellous. He obviously enjoys his job, sharing his love and knowledge of London with the people on board.  
Sorry tour bus guys, thanks for the tickets and all that, but I suggest that these lights can be just as easily viewed from the top deck of any normal bus service that goes along Regent Street for a fraction of the cost.
Some of the best Christmas lights are in the smaller shopping streets that are not on bus routes and these are better seen on foot. I recommend a walking tour of London's Christmas lights – my friend Joanna leads a marvellous food-related lights tour in the West End that includes Carnaby Street, St Christopher's Place and Bond Street. Jo gives out freebies too but they are not branded hats! Booking for Jo's walk here. If you do book, please be sure to mention that you saw it here first ;-)

Back to the big displays – last week I went to Kew Gardens to see the marvellous lighting installations there – I am not going to show any photos because it would ruin the surprise and delight for you, but my favourite thing there, apart from the beautifully lit majestic old trees, was the Singing Trees – a simple yet wonderfully evocative section of the walk. The whole route is just delightful because you can wander about at your own pace. Be sure to watch the whole show projected onto the Palm House at the end of the trail.
Again, please try not to look at the photos of it before you go. For reference please see my post about last year's trail here. On until new Year's Day – book here.

The future is looking bright 
It doesn't all end at Christmas – the lights continue into January...
Lumiere London, January 18-21 – various sites in central London – see here for my review of 2016 
Winter Lights at Canary Wharf, 16-27 January – see here for pics etc of 2017

5 December 2017

North London Polytechnic, Holloway Road – compare and contrast

I was just tidying up my photo archive and rediscovered a folder called Holloway Road Then and Now from when I was taking comparison pics and writing about them here. In that folder I found a group of four pics I had put together of the London Metropolitan University buildings.
Looking at the collection now it's easy to get distracted doing a sort of spot-the-difference.

c1910 vs 2013
The North London Polytechnic was established in 1896, a period I refer to as the Heyday of Holloway.  This Victorian seat of learning was built "to promote the industrial skill, general knowledge, health and well-being of young men and women belonging to the poorer classes of Islington [and] to provide for the inhabitants of Islington and the neighbouring parts of north London, and especially for the Industrial Classes, the means of acquiring a sound General, Scientific, Technical and Commercial Education at small cost".
Only one of the buildings from that period now remains as The Rocket Complex echoing its past as The Great Hall (b1897) opened by the then Lord Mayor of London and used for social and academic events. It's sad to see how a lot of the architectural embellishments have been removed over the years, however, on the plus side, the clocks at the top are usually correct, which is handy.
The various university buildings feature for different reasons on a couple of my walking tours

Oh and by the way, the vintage clothing shop, now called Blue 17, by the bus stop (where the AA van is in the pic) is marvellous, one of the best around – do pop in and have a look – though be warned that it's hard to come out empty-handed.

2 December 2017

Archway Christmas Lights Switch On Event – tomorrow Sunday December 3rd

The new space next to Archway Station will be filled full of stalls and entertainment tomorrow – and they'll finally be announcing the name of the piazza.

I'll be there selling my Archway and Islington Christmas cards plus my tree decorations and earrings too... ooh!
Stalls will be set up by noon though the event is officially 1.00-5.30pm. Do come and say hello and join in the  festive fun. 
I'll also be in the same location the next three weekends as part of #ArchwayMarket on Saturdays 9th, 16th and 23rd, 11-5pm.

Seasonal cards and gifts available from my stall

1 December 2017

Today – Frozen In Time procession – Blackfriars, London SE1

I do love a good procession or parade.
And this one promises a "gigantic metal animation".
I stupidly missed that big elephant in Trafalgar Square about eight years ago and I really miss the wonderful parades that used to happen at the end of the Thames festival every September, so let's hope this makes up for it.
See you there.
Parade: 4.30–7pm
Nearest tubes: Borough, Southwark
More info here

From six of my Blackfriars Road photos

28 November 2017

Freightliners Farm

It never ceases to amaze me how many people who live in Holloway don't know that this is here.

I am here only showing images of the lovely tiled panels on the exterior wall but the other side of the wall is a marvellous surprise. Being a farm, it is more of a hands-on experience and to hard to capture in photos.
This "community space in the heart of Islington" has lots to see and experience for all ages. And a fab café too.
Go find out for yourself or come and discover it on one of my walking tours and find out about many more green places and things in the area.

Info: Freightliners Farm.

21 November 2017

Melancholia: A Sebald Variation – an exhibition at Somerset House

Melancholia: A Sebald Variation is a marvellous thought-provoking exhibition hidden away in the Inigo Rooms within the East Wing at Somerset House.
It's really worth checking it out. I stumbled upon it by accident last month and ended up spending quite a while in there.

The exhibition, presented by King’s College and curated by John-Paul Stonard and Lara Feigel, takes the writings of W.G. Sebald (1944-2001) as a starting point for an exploration of melancholia in European art and culture. Inspired in particular by Sebald’s 1997 publication On The Natural History of Destruction, this exhibition sees works by international contemporary artists set alongside images documenting the destruction of Germany in WW2, as well as W.G. Sebald’s own manuscripts and peculiar photography collection.
Highlights include: Albrecht Dürer’s famous print Melencolia I (1514) which is on loan from the British Museum, never before exhibited photographs by Anselm Kiefer, made in the 1980s, depicting aircraft constructed out of sheets of lead taken from the roof of Cologne cathedral,  Tacita Dean’s Our Europe and eye-witness drawings by Wilhelm Rudolph of the smouldering ruins of Dresden here in Britain for the first time. There are also some works that have been specially commissioned for the exhibition.
Make sure you have the time to watch Guido van der Werve’s award-winning endurance-art film project Nummer Vierteen: Home, 2012 – a fabulously compelling piece that lasts 50 minutes – it's worth finding out what time the screening starts so as to be able to see it from the beginning. And I'd also recommend taking time to watch the video of an interview between W.G. Sebald and Susan Sontag.
Until 10th December 
Tues–Sat: 11:30–17:30
Wednesday lates until 19:30
Sundays 14:30–17:30

13 November 2017

Diary of a Nobody at Kings Head Theatre – Avoid avoid!!

No pics with this post – just a review about what I had hoped would be an interesting twist on a much-loved book; a book I have read four times.

Last week I sent out a missive to customers who have been on my guided walks:
"As you know, one of my walks is all about how the Nag's Head area of Holloway and how it looked in its late Victorian heyday when George and Weedon Grossmith's comic character Mr Pooter "lived" there (here!).
I thought you might be interested to know that there is a play on at the King's Head Theatre at the moment that is based on the book. It runs until Saturday 18th.
I am just about to book my own ticket – perhaps I will see you there...?"

I went with two friends to see the play on Friday night. Oops. I'd spoken, I'd promoted, too soon. I could have stayed at home and clipped my toenails. Or enamelled the bath.
I should stick to my guns and only write about the things I have seen or experienced in person, because I had to again write to those same people:
"... Evelyn Waugh is quoted in the production's blurb as saying this is/was "the funniest book in the world". This quote needs to be put into context – bear in mind that Waugh's own characters, such as in Decline and Fall, are subtlely observed, hence why he would have loved DOAN as being in the same vein.
This particular adaptation is for people who like their old favourites updated, amended and added to, in this case using an inane mix of Victorian genteel and 20thC swearing, with a quite confusing mix of characters played by just four actors. I have read the book four times and I thought the first half hour of the play in particular was painfully fast.  
If, like me, you like the book's gentle comic style then be prepared to sit straight-faced all the way through the play wondering the other half of the audience is finding so damn laugh-out-loud-as-loud-as-you-
can-to-prove-you-get-the-joke-hilarious.  During the interval I wondered whether to bother going back inside. It got worse, not better.
But, hey, if you haven't read the book you might actually enjoy this as a piece of fun, jolly theatre.
On a positive note, the stage sets and costumes are good."
Note that the two friends I went to see the play with concurred. As we exited the theatre we three were numb, our ears having suffered one particular audience members' outrageously loud whooping and whoa-ing. We were all unusually stunned into silence by it all; it wasn't even worth a post-mortem so we said goodnight and all went home in different directions.
I am reminded that the play was serialised on the BBC a few years back with Hugh Bonneville in the title role – that too was very HA HA HA. Everyone seems to be missing the point. I wonder what the brothers Grossmith would make of all this...?

UPDATE May 2018
I am planning a guided walk around the Holloway area based on this book including the kind of places Mr Pooter would have visited and where he would have purchased many of the items mentioned in his diary. This will form part of the Footprints of London Literary Festival in October 2018 but I should have the walk up and running by July so please check Jane's London Walks for updates.

8 November 2017

What is Whitebait? Read Roger Williams's book and find out more

Whitebait – a tasty fishstarter?
Or evil selective fishing?
And what exactly is a whitebait anyway?

Find out more in this wonderfully informative and absorbing little book by the marvellous Roger Williams.
Available here and here.
Roger's other books include The Temples of London, London's Lost Global Giant: in search of the East India Company, Father Thames and The Fisherman of Halicarnassus.

Also see Hugh's Fish Fight

31 October 2017

Dick Whittington's Cat

Turn around turn around Lord Mayor of London.
For almost 700 years people have been relating the story about how young Dick Whittington was leaving London after realising the streets weren't actually paved with gold after all and, when climbing what is now Highgate Hill, he heard the sound of Bow bells calling him, predicting a bright future.
He is often depicted dressed like Errol Flynn in Robin Hood mode, carrying his meagre belongings tied in a handkerchief knotted onto a stick, accompanied by a cat, usually a black.
The Archway area has a few places named after the man which include the hospital and health centre and a park (see my last post). And it was whilst walking through the park last week that I thought to put this cat collection together.

The memorial to the story now sits just up from Magdala Avenue on Highgate Hill but as shown in this c1910 postcard the railed-in cat used to be sited outside the original Whittington and Stone public house on the corner of Macdonald Road. It stayed there well into the 1960s as shown by the third pic.
A fabulous view of Whittington Hospital's metal cat sculpture and beyond can be seen from the outpatients department. The Whittington and Cat public house on Highgate Hill has been converted into flats but branded lettering still hangs on for dear life. The last pic is of a lovely old toffee tin I gave my friend Jen as a present because she lives near here.
Three cats from Whittington Park, all very close to the main Holloway Road entrance; topiary, tiles and wall art.
Read about Dick Whittington here.

Update (Dec6th): My good friend Jen Pedler is now leading a marvellous guided tour all about Mr Whittington – 90-minutes long, starting and ending at Bank tube station. Booking here.

24 October 2017

Richmond Lock and Weir Draw-off – Low tide on the Thames – 29th October to 19th November 2017

Each year the tidal Thames is allowed to rise and fall naturally between Richmond and Teddington locks, so that the Port of London Authority can carry out essential maintenance on those locks and other infrastructure such as the weirs and sluices.
The extremely low tide this creates gives an opportunity to enjoy rare views of the Thames. This year the draw-off will happen in the three weeks between 29th October and 19th November.
In 2015 I went to see this with some friends, in fact we ended up walking from Richmond to Chiswick Strand via Isleworth and Brentford and it was a great day out*.

The low tide effect was especially good at Isleworth, as shown in the last eight pics, where we gained access to the river at the boat ramp (or whatever it's called) and saw one of those special foreign geese in amongst the regular ones (bottom left). It was really strange and special to be standing almost in the middle of a river.
It's also a good opportunity for a tidy up and local people and environmental groups gather to clear the river of harmful plastic and other litter.
PLA's notice to mariners regarding safety etc

*Except for trying to find Gunnersbury Station at the end – this must be the most well-hidden, hardest-to-access station in London... unless you can think of other contenders for that crown...?

19 October 2017

Whittington Park Cafe – colourful, tasty and great value for money

Wandering through Whittington Park yesterday morning on my way home from my osteopath I popped into the Whittington Community Centre on Yerbury Road to drop off some leaflets about my walks but with a rumbly in my tumbly I decided to stop for sustenance in the cafe.
And I am so glad I did – I am quite fussy about my coffee – I like it strong and black and usually ask for a double espresso with hot water on the side so I can top it up to just the right mount. The lovely lady behind the counter did that for me and it was perfect. Add a slice of the most delicious bread pudding ever and the bill was a measley £3.00.  Why do people frequent chain cafés when fab places like this are so much nicer, so much friendlier and so much better value for money?

My pics here do not do the place justice – lots to do, lots to see and all in the lovely setting of Whittington Park.
Click here to find out more info about the community centre.

10 October 2017

Guided Walks in Islington led by Yours Truly

I wrote recently about how I'd spent much of the first six months of this year doing a course to become a Clerkenwell and Islington guide and how last month I collected my badge and a surprise award for the best designed walk. See here.

I have since led five walking tours and have thoroughly enjoyed sharing the knowledge that I have gleaned through years of research. Many thanks to the lovely people who gave me such favourable feedback.
The award-winning Nags Head, Holloway, walk has recently had a name change – it now references George and Weedon Grossmith's comic character in Diary of a Nobody, but the walk content remains the same.
(Update: the title has subsequently been re-amended – see here)

Looking forward, this weekend I will be leading a tour called The Only Way Is Essex Road on Saturday 14th then on Sunday 15th I'll be walking the full length of Holloway Road talking about thirty pubs along the route including three short refreshment stops.
Also see my Green and Pleasant Islington tour – a stroll which takes us off the main road into places a stone's throw away that many Islingtonians don't even realise are there.

Dates and information for all of my walks can be found on Jane's London Walks or check the Guided Tours section on this site.
Booking through Eventbrite.
Hope to see you soon,

5 October 2017

Take One Picture – creatve inspiration for schoolchildren at The National Gallery

My last post was about the Degas exhibition at the National Gallery. If you do go to see that, or even if you don't, walk through the adjacent gift shop where some excellent and competitively-priced Degas-themed merchandise is available, to a room full of art made my schoolchildren.
When visiting the National gallery I often see groups of small uniformed people sat in front of a painting listening to a teacher, or engaged in making their own drawings, and I wonder what they are up to. Well, now I understand what's going on; it appears children are shown a painting (this year it's A Roman Triumph by Peter Paul Rubens) and are then encouraged to write about and/or create some kind of art based on their observations. 

Marvellous artwork across the ages. I especially love the elephants and the white ceramics. Bottom right is from a video where children are performing a play inspired by the sacrifice and slaughter depicted in Rubens' painting.
The cross-section of results shown in this room is delightful and shows we have some great future artists running around our playgrounds.
Take One Picture was launched in 1995, yet stumbling on this room last week was the first I knew about it. Probably because I don't have children. I wish similar things were available when I was a child. I'd have been proverbial pig in the dirty stuff.
Lots more educational stuff in the Learning section of the National Gallery's website.

3 October 2017

Drawn in Colour: Degas from the Burrell – National Gallery until May 2018

Last week I was invited along to the press view of a lovely Degas exhibition in the basement of the National Gallery – it's the first time this collection of twenty Degas pastels has been shown outside of Scotland. 

During the curator's tour I found out so much about Degas – his unusual techniques and his innovative ideas that effectively helped to mould the art of the future. Degas might have dressed in a conventional way but in his art he was definitely not a conformist and was always experimenting with new techniques to achieve the effect he wanted. It's even been suggested that his methods of composition, arranged from his hundreds of sketches to depict a snapshot in time, actually pre-date photography.
This gorgeous exhibitionion is free and runs until May 2018 so there is plenty of time to see it.

29 September 2017

A View of St Pauls from Bankside – 1917 and 2017

Earlier this year I bought a marvellous trial proof of an etching by Leslie Moffat Ward, entitled "Before St Paul's". It shows the a 1917 view of St Paul's from Bankside.
That means it's one hundred years old.

Intrigued by this major milestone I took some photos in an effort to compare Leslie's view with what we have today; first from the riverside and then from the terrace at that arty place.
On that day I had been to see the Giacometti exhibition which I was sad to discover was ultimately disappointing – so much repetition. It appears the poor man got stuck in a rut.
As for the converted power station, I have written about it in the past – it has now been open for 17 years and still there is no signage to direct the visitor to where the bloody art is and still it feels foreboding like an institution or cold-hearted work environment. It's a vast shed of a place with no humanity. And when you buy your tickets that's all you get; a ticket. No verbal directions, no leaflet – just a diagram on the wall that looks like something from the Crystal Maze.
I really don't like that art has to be commissioned to fill the central space. I am told that the "ooh look at me; I'm so arty and deconstructed" extension at the rear offers great views (yawn) but in my view they wouldn't have needed to spend all that dosh on a damn extension had they made proper use of the gaping hole in the building that's already there.
Back to Leslie Moffat Ward – that's art that is. Back to the comparison images – look at how busy the foreshore was back then compared to today's view – gone are the boats, the workmen and almost all of the old riverside buildings. I find this such a shame. I would love to be able to time travel for a while to see and experience for myself what it was like back then.
It's been commented how similar in style Leslie's work is to his contemporaries, namely William Lionel Wyllie, Noel Woodward Spencer and William Walcot.
Many other lovely etchings, sketches and paintings can be found at Atelier – the gallery specialises in artworks that feature London, as well as Paris, New York and Venice and the Channel Islands (the gallery is in Jersey). On the same day I purchased the LMW proof I also snapped up a wonderfully evocative Longstaff etching of Trafalgar Square.
I am really tempted by a few others... see you at the next art fair...

26 September 2017

Free Lectures at Gresham College, Holborn

Earlier this month I went to the London Historians' annual lecture at Gresham College, a stone's throw from Chancery Lane underground station.
I got there early and found the doors weren't open yet so I had a look around the outside spaces at the rear and noticed a modern Mercers Maiden on both sides of the archway to a modern office building.

Sorry for the appalling quality of these snaps – I only had my phone with me and the light was not good.
The stylised modern maiden is shown top left, above. Close to her within the courtyard there is another maiden which looks more like the ones in Covent Garden. Another colourful maiden can be found just as you enter the lecture hall.
In the courtyard there are also carved plaques and date stamps for Watney and Baden Powell.
Go and check them out for yourself when you attend on of the excellent free lectures.
Mercers maidens are the mark of the Mercers Livery Company and can be spotted all over London in some very strange and unexpected places – I must put a collection together soon.

21 September 2017

Footprints Of London Literary Festival 2017 – at least one guided walk every day in October

Get your diary out; this is going to take some planning...

Footprints of London are offering more than 50 literary-themed guided walks throughout October.
It's sort of like a walking book club – Footprints' qualified and experienced guides lead you through the pages of London’s literary history to see the places you might only have visited in your imagination; where some of the nation’s best beloved novels and poems are set, where the authors’ inspiration was born.

A you can by the calendar above, you can meet George Orwell in Soho, Wilkie Collins in Marylebone and Samuel Pepys in the City. You'll be able to hear from William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and T S Eliot and follow in the footsteps of fictional characters such as Mrs Dalloway and Sherlock Holmes. Or explore the literary connections of districts like Covent Garden, Bloomsbury and Chelsea.
For full details and how to book, please visit the Footprints website.

“I love walking in London,” said Mrs. Dalloway. “Really it’s better than walking in the country.”  

Leaflet design and artwork by Yours Truly

18 September 2017

All Offers Considered

Last weekend I spent two days in Lewis Cubitt Square, Kings Cross trying to sell off some of the bric-a-brac I have somehow amassed over years at the Classic Car Boot Sale. Apparently the green Roller I was paired with belongs to a famous artist. He wasn't there though; a friend of his was borrowing it for the weekend.

Markets like these are lively events but I have now had enough and the two pics of me in the bottom row, above, sort of say it all – doing stalls etc is fun but it's just so tiring, so energy-sapping. All I want to do at the end of each day is have a bath, eat comfort food, stare at rubbish on the TV and then go to bed early.
I have therefore decided no more markets of this kind for me – my achy old bones can't take it any more and in a couple of weeks I will be eBay-ing what's left at very low starting prices. I can't even be bothered to do a carboot sale!
If there is anything in the pics above that catches your eye (excluding me, the car and the cards) do contact me and make me an offer. And there's plenty more stuff not shown... grunt...

15 September 2017

I am now a Clerkenwell and Islington badge flasher

It's been official since I passed the last exam on July 15th but I now have physical proof. Yesterday I went with my fellow classmates and tutors to Islington Town Hall where the Mayor of Islington, Councillor Una O'Halloran, presented us with our certificates and badges.

A few special prizes were also handed out and I was surprised, and really pleased, to get the award for "Best Walk Design" this being the Nags Head tour I lead for the first time earlier this week. More dates for this walk and others will be added very soon once I have sorted out a diary/calendar.
Hope to see you soon.

11 September 2017

A time-travelling guide of the Holloway Nags Head area

This evening I will be leading a guided tour around the area of Holloway known as Nags Head.
I will be explaining how pre-WW1 this district was known as The Oxford Street of the North.

Holloway details
More info here.
More dates to be very announced soon, plus other walks in the Islington area covering Archway, Highbury, Upper Street, Essex Road, A1 pubs and more...
Watch this space and/or click on Guided Tours in the bar under the Jane's London masthead or enter "janeslondon" into the search box on Eventbrite.

Hope to see you soon.

Update (Wed 13th Sept): It was, from my point of view, a big success, despite the torrential downpour in the last five minutes. Thanks to all who came along and made it so enjoyable. Hope to see you all again soon, perhaps on one of my other walks.

5 September 2017

A walk along the Thames Path – Putney, Fulham Palace and Wandsworth

Nine months ago – yes – it's taken me that long to sort out a huge backlog of photos(!) – I gathered a few friends together and we went on a circular walk along the Thames starting and ending at Putney Bridge Station.
On this chilly December Sunday we walked south across Putney Bridge, turned left after St Mary's Church to follow a short section of the Thames Path in front of some nasty modern riverfront buildings, stopped to question some strange sculptures, then continued down Deodor Road and into Wandsworth Park.

The path then took us in, past and around some more new build which had some colourful carpet-esque tiles and mirrors which I think are supposed to evoke a comfy indoor environment. Then a diversion led us down some some ugly back streets full of rubbish which seemed at odds with the luxury/bespoke/exclusive (or whatever silly words the agents were employing) apartments a stone's throw away, to get to a section of almost natural habitat where Bell Lane Creek and the River Wandle meet the Thames.
Information boards were in place to tell us about the environment and how nature is being encouraged to reclaim the environment. Well, I wish nature would reclaim more than just the river banks there. The sign said that they expected "the work to be finished by by Spring 2017" so if you live around there please do send me an update. Thanks.
Nearby we noticed some other signs warning of a potential toilet/electricity accident. Ouch!
In Smugglers Way – don't get excited about the name of this road because there is no longer anything historical there let alone anything that hints at smuggling – but there was/is a big chunk of a very old olive tree from Aleppo in Syria said to date from 1600 in the forecourt of the wood reclamation flooring company, opposite Wandsworth's waste recycling centre. Again, if anyone has any more info on this, do let me know.
All this art and history was hard work so we stopped for lunch in The Ship. Sad to report that my memory of that place from when I used to go there, ooh, about 25 years ago, is far better than what I see there now. Like many places, the charm has gone. the Ship's popularity over the decades has, to my mind, changed it beyond all recognition and it's no longer that special hidden cosy historical place – I'd hate to think what it's like there on a Friday or Saturday evening as it was horribly noisy when we were there and it wasn't very busy at all at that time. Pubs these days rip out the dividing walls and the carpets and instead have bare floors and wooden chairs with no upholstery, not even any drapes at the windows and all this does is create noisy environments because there is nothing to absorb the sound.
From here we walked north across Wandsworth Bridge and left into Carnwath Road, somehow losing one of our group (who hadn't quite understood the circular route and got lost – oops) and then we headed northwards up Broomfield Lane, because The Hurlingham Club won't allow a path at the river's edge, past an old dilapidated building that evokes Evelyn Waugh novels, and then back to the start point via the park and Ranleigh Gardens.
Are you keeping up?!
And then we just about had time for a swift visit to Fulham Palace house including a peek into the chapel as it was closing (marvellous!). Phew. Oh, last pic above is an artwork there that I thought was by my friend Paul Bommer who did the wall murals at Fortnam and Mason, but no, just checked and it's not one of his.
FP needs a re-visit. There is so much to see, especially the gardens etc. It needs a lazy day. The idea was to go back in the summer time but it's September already and I doubt this will happen again any time soon.
We finished the day off with a few beers in The Eight Bells near Putney Bridge Station.

29 August 2017

A Walking Tour around Woolwich Arsenal

Earlier this summer I went on an excellent tour of Woolwich Arsenal led by my friend Laurence Scales.

Laurence is interested in machines and the military, especially things that go "bang" and so is the perfect guide for this kind of walk.
I find Woolwich to be a strange place, by which I mean in the planning sense, in the same way that I find Portsmouth a bit of a mess with its three distinct yet unlinked and unrelated zones. Both towns have strong links to our Naval past and both seem to have suffered over the years not just from neglect but from planning departments who don't seem to have a clue how to integrate and relate the history to the people who live there or what we need today – they just sling up another shopping arcade.
I wonder what percentage of Woolwich 's residents actually visit the old Arsenal site because the town clearly has two different zones, just a stone's throw apart, separated by one strip of tarmac (Beresford Street) – one side is all shops and markets and old cinemas with architectural hints of a bustling and prosperous past, and the other side, the Thames side, seems like a polished up homogenised version of history as if the machines just stopped working one day and overnight the buildings were gutted and cleansed and converted into [luxury?!] flats surrounded by manicured lawns, and commissioned art. For me, the arsenal side has an eerie feeling. Mind you, I'd love an address that was in No.1 Street.

Moving on... near the old covered market facing The Thames on the shopping side of the main road I spotted some fab old hand-painted signs for a long-gone music shop:

Regaee? Nice try!
More Woolwich observations from 2013

22 August 2017

Wonderful Wellington Arch

Whenever I am at Hyde Park Corner I like to take a detour into the centre of the roundabout to see the marvellous memorials  including this magnificent one to The Duke of Wellington.

It was moved to its current position within the middle of  roundabout in the 1880s – wow – that must've been some huge wheelbarrow!
There is a museum within the 5-storey arch that used to be a tiny police station. Next time you are there be sure to pop in and check it out.
More info here.

18 August 2017

Time for tea at Russell Square Cabmen's Cafe

The cab shelter at the north west corner of Russell Square always brings a smile to my face. I have stopped there a few times and partaken of the tea and snacks and I would recommend you to do the same.

Sixty-one little green huts were constructed in the late 19th century as places where Hamsom cab drivers could take a break and shelter from the elements whilst swapping stories with other cabbies. These mini-community centres also dissuaded the drivers from dispersing into nearby drinking establishments.
All you need to know about these marvellous little green tardises can be found here.
Of the 61 original huts there are now only 13 left and some are shown here:

It's not often possible to go inside the huts unless you are a cab driver but when they are open most will serve a cup of tea through the hatch and it's a great way to hang out with the people in the know.

15 August 2017

Happy birthday to me – Memories of Edinburgh Festival 2002 and pre-selfie selfies

Blimey doen't time fly?!
Someone told me recently that they were going to the Edinburgh festival this year and it reminded me of 15 years ago when I was there as a Perrier Awards comedy judge.
Yes folks, you read that right. I won one of the two 'members of the public' London positions (there was also a winner from Scotland) in a Time Out competition – the brief was to write a letter explaining why I was the best candidate for the job. My opening line began with, "my friends say I have an opinion on everything..." and I just knew when I sent it in that I was onto a winner. I had a gut feeling and I was right. I beat thousands of people to the post.

Top centre: me with my VIP awards night ticket and wandering about in Edinburgh. 
Middle row: Daniel Kitson accepting the winner's awards, me with Reg D. Hunter and his friend, and with Trevor and Simon (our pants are swinging just out of shot).
Bottom row: two comedians (oops, I have forgotten their names; a young Canadian and an America) and the lovely, shy and very clever Mr Rich Hall
Us judges were given lovely rented homes for the fortnight with VIP entrance to all the evening dos and backstage bars, travel expenses etc.
Seeing all those comedy shows was hard work though – it involved running back and forth across Edinburgh seeing five or six shows a day, and many of them not in the least bit amusing. At times I started to think I had forgotten how to laugh with my face stuck in rictus.
The thing is though, it was fifteen years ago. Eh? How did that happen? And whilst I was there I turned 40 – what a great way to celebrate – I thought winning that judging gig was one of my best birthday presents ever.
OK... now for the next batch of photos... You'll notice they all have something in common, and I don't just mean how some of the people in them have, er, changed over the years...

Me and... Dave Gorman, Nina Conti, Dara O'Briain, Hal Cruttenden, Jimmy Carr, Phil Nichol, Noel Fielding, Stephen Frost and Brendan Burns. (How did I not get a pic of lovely Sean Lock?!)
... notice that they are all close-ups and I am in every photo – that's because I am taking the photos – in other words, these are selfies before the word was invented.
For decades I have been using regular cameras to take photos of myself alongside friends or places without the need of a viewfinder/screen. Also, note that all the pics above are taken with a film camera – one shot, no deletes, no retakes, no post-production, no editing. Good aren't they?
I will dig out some earlier 'old-school selfies' when I get a mo.
Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me....

11 August 2017

Dover Street Market in Burberry's, Haymarket

The 3-sided clock – where did it go?
In 1912 Burberry moved into its headquarters at 18-22 Haymarket. When they moved out in 2007 I was concerned what might happen to the building and watched the site avidly as the changes took place.
First the lovely clock disappeared. Then the hoardings went up with signs on them saying something about a market. Ooh, I thought; a market. Ah, but yeah, but no.  
The new occupant is Dover Street Market which moved from its previous location in... in Dover Street, to here. Isn't that a bit confusing?  
Last month I finally found the time to take a peek inside:

It's great to see so much of the old Burberry store over above and around the concessions within. The selling spaces wrap around the original central staircase, which, if my memory serves me correctly, is octagonal. It has lovely wooden handrails and the woodblock and parquet floor have been lovingly stripped down to enhance the grain etc. I also like the way nails on the floor have been hammered in as a kind of feature to show where the carpet used to be, ditto sections of the floor that are light or dark depending on when and for how long it saw daylight. Oh, and check out the lovely circular windows on the stairs and the original skylights within the ground floor ceiling.
A single lift runs down the centre of the staircase but even though there are doors on every one of the five(?) floors, on the day I was there they didn't seem to be working, so I suppose that's how rich people stay thin.
On the top floor there is a tea and cakes shop but I can't tell you if it's worth putting the salopettes and crampons on for as I couldn't see a menu or price list.
Some of the concessions/designers' spaces and display cases are really imaginative, more cleverly designed than the stock within; I saw a lot of simple cotton things that looked like pillowslips with added holes for arms, some scrumpled things that would have your Nan reaching for an iron, some very expensive basic T-shirts and lots of find 'em everywhere lately deconstructed patchwork shirts.
To clarify; Dover Street Market is no longer in Dover Street. Dover Street Market is a company and has moved to Haymarket, which was once a market for hay.
It must be really confusing for visitors to London. Consider if you asked someone to meet you at Covent Garden Market and you waited for them at Nine Elms whilst they wandered around the Apple Market (which no longer sells apples), or for Billingsgate they go to an events location near Cannon Street whilst you stand like a prawn in the East End* .

And, as far as I can ascertain, St James Market, Piccadilly, was also moved from its earlier location at the top of Haymarket to St James' Churchyard.
Any more? I am sure there must be.
But back to Burberry's – where is the clock? I was hoping Burberry had taken it with them to their new offices at Horseferry House but I can't see it in any of these pics. I had a look on their site for more info and notice the clock is not on the building in the pics from 1913. Hmmm.

*Try it for yourself – an online search for Billingsgate Market will show that it's either a fish market in Poplar, or one of the 25 Wards of the City of London

8 August 2017

A lost letterbox in Upper Holloway, and some other post box conunundrums

Last month I posted about the reveal of the Brymay ad opposite Upper Holloway Station which happened after the new bridge was finished on Holloway Road and followed a year of upheaval including diversions and tail backs such that the Archway roundabout at the northern end of the road, which was also undergoing reconstruction at the same time, was spookily quiet. And, as it turned out, a perfect time to resurface Holloway Road revealing the old cobbles for about 30mins (I must dig out those pics).
Oops, I digress... back to Upper Holloway station...
The new bridge is now finished. But something is missing...
The cute little Victorian letterbox that used to be by the entrance to the station hasn't been reinstated.

Top row shows 2008 and 2014. Bottom row shows how the wall letter box was recorded at that site in 1909, and bottom right is how the bridge wall looks now.
So where is this wonderful old piece of Victorian metalwork?
Who has it? News please.

Whilst I am on the subject of Victorian letterboxes, I noticed last month that the Penfold acanthus pillar box in St Pancras Way, NW1, has moved to the other side of the road since the last time I took a snap of it which must have been approx 10 years ago. Why is that? But hey, at least it's still there.
This and more oddities in the pics below.

Top right – the Penfold box in St Pancras Way and below it a close up of its VA motif showing that the box used to be painted green.
Middle top – the box in the gate at Chelsea's Royal Hospital – accessible from both sides!
Top right – a wall letterbox, also in Chelsea – the same design as the lost Upper Holloway.
On the bottom row – a VR in London N6 is really thick with paint – compare it to the ones either side it and note also how the one bottom right, (EC4) has a different monogram design.

2 August 2017

Update – the double clocks at 296 Holloway Road have been removed

Photo: Jane Amelia Parker, 13 August 2008
Two years ago I write a post about the deterioration of the double clocks at 296 Holloway Road, see here.
Last week I noticed that they are not there any more, by which I mean they have been completely removed.
All that is visible is the outlines of some breeze blocks covered in magnolia coloured paint.
I am saddened at this – these Victorian clocks were a landmark feature of this stretch of road and Islington Archaeology and History Society had been campaigning for their restoration.

Photo: Jane Amelia Parker, 27 July 2017
The white parts were cracked but surely these areas could have been replaced with a modern counterpart because the metal sections including the hands were still intact – what has happened to those elements? Where are they now?  They must have been very heavy to remove.
And how and when did this removal happen?  The work must've been done in a hurry, or even overnight, because almost every other day I walk up or down the Holloway Road, especially this particular section, planning my guided walks and scanning for changes and details, and I did not see any scaffolding there.

Islington Tribune

Does anyone have any news about this?
Did anyone see a scaffold or any workmen in action, or know where the clocks have ended up?