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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?