28 November 2022

More wood blocks street paving in London and further afield (part 3)

In April 2021 I wrote piece about areas of wood block paving still visible in London. These I'd found mostly in the Clerkenwell, Islington, old Finsbury and Shoreditch areas, plus the large remnant at the south side of County Hall. I followed that up six months later with an update, adding other sightings in Southwark and Islington along with a panel in an alley off Clerkenwell Rd that I did indeed go to look at in person, and I did take more pics, but what have I done with them?!  

Well, since then I have spotted some more, and one of them was just a couple of days ago, a few minutes' walk from my home in Holloway N7. I was crossing the junction of Holloway Rd heading west and standing on the central reservation directly in front of Barclays, now closed and empty, and looked down to see this wood-filled manhole:

How, had I not seen it before?!  In my defence, I rarely ever cross the road at that point. Here's the Google Streetview of that location, looking back from Barclays to where I was standing. As you would expect, I then made a search of the whole junction to see if there were any others in the vicinity, but no. 

So I came home and added my photos of my new find to my 'Wood Blocks More' folder which contains, in no particular order... 

Within the covered entrance to Bermondsey Leather Market on Weston Street:

A couple in Hampstead, NW3:

Further afield, outside London, I found a lovely example in Waltham Abbey: 

And in Whitstable there is a paved floor within the gatehouse entrance to the castle gardens:

Someone told me they saw a filled manhole cover in Chalk Farm Road, Camden, but whoever that was didn't take photos or provide me with any more info. I've just been up and down that road onscreen via Google Streetview but I can't find it. I'll have a proper look next time I am visiting the markets.

I'll leave you with a pic of one of the first examples I ever spotted – I cannot believe that I omitted to include this one, as well as the other two that are very near here, when I compiled my initial post on this subject back in April last year. Unusually, this is not in the road but instead it's set within the pedestrian pavement outside Pizza Express, Upper Street, Islington, hinting perhaps that the road used to wider. Here it's looking lovely after the rain and I think the outer shape resembles the London Underground roundel: 

Re the other two nearby, they are actually in Islington High Street, behind the old tram electricity station, today an Amazon outlet. One is still intact see here, but the other one a few metres south on the No Entry sign near The York pub, was infilled about two years ago. I do have some pics before they slapped it full of tarmac and when I find them, and the photos in the Clerkenwell alley, and the Camden example, I will compose Part4. Ooh the excitement, ha ha!


Update August 2023: I have set up a London A-Z Directory of Woodblocks. If you can add to the list, please leave a comment under this blog post or email me at jane@janeslondon.com

24 November 2022

Save Kings Cross Coach Station from demolition!!

Earlier this week I was walking towards Kings Cross Station along Euston after attending a talk at the British Library. I was horrified to look across the road and see that Belgrove House, until quite recently home to the Post Office, Access Storage and other companies, is currently wrapped in plastic with signs all around the whole block to Argyle Square telling us that demolition is in progress.  

These pics of the building, taken as screen shots from Google Streetview dated July 2022, show that demolition signs have been on the building since well before that date and, had I reinstated my 'All change here! guided walk about 1930s KX architecture this year I would have already noticed being as this building obviously features as a stop on the tour. 

Hey, it may not as impressive as it's counterpart in Victoria, but it's a well-constructed yet understated neo-Georgian style that sports many key 'Art Deco' motifs including Jazz Age metal grilles and elegant brickwork. 

Also, it's an important link to the past. But having already posted about this potential loss on my Facebook page, and gleaned responses, it appears that Camden Council have been negligent as regards their assessment of the site and the age of the building. It’s hard to believe, seeing as this sits a few doors down from Camden Town Hall, but they think the original coach station was demolished and replaced with this structure. Yet this is the bus station, not a replacement.  To my mind it’s the brick finish that confuses people. If interwar buildings aren’t rendered and painted white then people don’t recognise them.  Also worth mentioning that Victoria Coach Station didn’t look as bright when it was first built. Go google.  

Lazy idiots. Especially because photographic evidence of the building in the 1930s does exist and more info is available here, thanks to Save Bloomsbury, which also highlights that the building has been under threat since at least 2020. I am rather frustrated that I have only discovered all this now as having walked past the front of the building many times these past few years I hadn't noticed anything on the building declaring the plans. See here for December 2021 where, despite objections already being raised, there are no signs of change. wouldn't have seen this having researched the building in 2019 and not being able to lead walking tours during Lockdown. 

So, what's replacing it? Brace yourself... see last pic, below, for an artist's impression – there's plenty more across the web here.  

I'm thinking a 90 year lease was due to expire? The coach station building has been there for over eight decades and the external structure has always looked, to me, to be in very good condition. And I always admired how it had been sympathetically designed to fit in with the Georgian buildings that would have then stood at either side. I am not sure we can say the same of the high-rise proposal that will replace it which I very much doubt will be standing there for a similar time period. 

Oh and one more thing, M@ the Londonist guru points out that Oasis filmed Supersonic on the roof of the coach station – it has some great views of the surrounding area inc KX station. See here

This last pic sourced from here – akt-uk are the structural engineers working on the new build.

6 November 2022

Holloway Road, The Oxford Street of The North*

I moved to Holloway over three decades ago. Back then there was a good selection of shops – well-known high street names mixed in with a healthy range of independent local businesses, a market that was a different each day of the week, another outdoor/carboot market in the school playground at the weekend, and a couple of department stores.

Within two years, in July 1990, Jones Bros department store closed, later to be replaced by a Waitrose. Then, a few years later, Next shut up shop here, as did Mark One, River Island, Ravel, Shelly's shoes and other well-known names. And since that, for whatever reason, there has been a drip, drip effect. It's sad, but it's not all bad.

Marks and Spencer, a fixture of the area since the later Victorian heyday* closed a few years ago (behind the tree in this pic), even though it was understandable seeing as it was rarely busy in there. Yet the company has opened up other stores in nearby Archway and Finsbury Park, and Lidl successfully filled this N7 space. See an old post about M&S here.
New Look disappeared during the pandemic and a few months ago I noticed that Barclays Bank had gone, having been at the corner of Parkhurst Road for over 140yrs (see pic further down). Just last week the Clarks factory outlet store on Seven Sisters Road closed its doors for the last time.

Of the independent traders and small businesses that have gone, I was saddened to see Rolls and Rems fabric shop and Michael’s greengrocer, both well-known traders on Seven Sisters Rd for +20yrs of trading, close their doors, adding their names to the long list of bygone businesses that I recall from the 1990s. 

Despite these losses, I am often to be heard saying that Holloway has everything you need – we still have Selbys department store which is marvellous, yet I am sure that only a tiny percentage of people who live near here have never been inside to see what's on offer (it might be due to the often poor advertising in the windows along Holloway Road which often makes it look like a sale outlet) – I was in there last week chatting to a member of staff discussing how sad it was to see so devoid of shoppers despite the excellent range of products available.  

On the ground floor, for instance, there are lots of well-known fashion names such as Whistles, White Stuff, Seasalt, Benetton and Barbour, plus a major cosmetic brands, quality accessories, lingerie and menswear inc Levis etc. Oh, and lots of shoes, such that I'd say it's the best shoe shop in Holloway, yet hardly anyone seems to know it's all in there. The next floor is a one stop shop for home and haberdashery. I have given up looking anywhere else for bed linen, furnishings and kitchenware because other stores miles away in Oxford St or in retail parks. just don't have the same choice.  Next time you are in the area heading for Morrisons, walk through Selbys and exit via the rear door in the precinct. 
We also have Argos, many supermarkets, lots of fresh food outlets, plus our fair share of pound stores, charity shops, market stalls and more – we have this past year seen a more shops leave the area, probably exacerbated by a mix of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.  

I am now wondering which business is the oldest here after Selbys which started as a drapery store in 1895 and Drivers and Norris which can trace its history back to 1852. I am pretty sure, since the closure of some of the shops mentioned above that these two companies are unusual vis their history in N7. My guess as to the 3rd-longest trading outlet here would be Boots the Chemist or possibly NatWest. 
The Great Britain as a nation of shopkeepers era has definitely passed us by now, by which I mean, just like many shopping areas of this kind, we have a wonderful diversity offering products and services from around the world, be it German burgers, Turkish barbershops, or Chinese groceries. 
As such, I wonder if today there are any independent businesses that can claim to have been trading here for 20 years or more. The ones that spring to mind, and I need to check this, are food outlets such The Holy Chinese takeaway and Crystals kebab restaurant, both opposite the Odeon on Holloway Road, and I do know that the EyeValue opticians has been in Holloway since 2001. Perhaps some of the barbers and hairdressers can also claim a medal here, and possibly Holloway Stationers and Book Shop opposite Selbys. 

I have a plan to look further into this and go into the shops to talk to the owners and ask for more info. That would be nice thing to do, so watch this space.
Please do check in again for an update, or add you own thoughts, suggestions and memories below. Alternatively, send me an email: jane@janeslondon.com

Pics are all screen grabs from Google Streetview here – to see previous years, as shown above, use the retrospective facility via the small inset window (tab at top left when viewing on a large screen). 

* The area was often referred to as "The Oxford Street of The North"* – if you want to find out more about that late Victorian shopping heyday, or the Art Deco era, please join me for a guided walk via janeslondonwalks.com.

3 November 2022

Finchley High Road – is this the longest road in London...?

Watching the world go by from the top deck of a No.263 to High Barnet, I happened to notice that the street numbers along the High Road, A1000, are in the high 800sHmm, I thought, how intriguing. That's a bigger number than Holloway Road which, at two miles long, goes up to 695 on the West side and 804 the East side and used to extend to 820 before the last block was demolished north of Giesbach Rd. 
I wondered how high this ancient route through Finchley and Whetstone goes up to and sat amazed, watching as numbers went ever higher, through the 900s, then past 1200... (and I wondered if the word ‘high’ is correct in this instance. Big? Large? any ideas?)

Well, it turns out that Finchley High Road goes up to 1541 on the West side and 
1536 on the East side. As shown in the Google Streetview above, showing the junction of Walfield Avenue, N20, here the High Road name ends and the ancient title of The Great North Road is seen, as seen on the street sign above the pavement. 
Then, as the Gt Nth Rd continues northwards it become Pricklers Hill, then Gt Nth Rd again, then Barnet Hill and High Street before reverting to the Gt Nth Rd again as it passes Monken Hadley on its way to Scotland. Soonafter it's called Barnet Road hinting at it being the road to Barnet from the North. Road names of this kind always amuse me, after all, it depends which way you are travelling! 
Intrigued by these high numbers, I looked to find other long roads in the UK and discovered that the prize for four-figure door numbers goes to No.2679 Stratford Road which can be found on a stretch of the A3400 linking Bordesley to Hockley Heath, Solihull. It continues to, you've guessed it, Stratford-on-Avon. Oh my god! I thought door numbers as high as that were only to be found in other countries, such as the US! 
The houses along the Stratford Road there are quite spaced out and the road is about 10 miles long. In comparison, the A1000 starts just south of East Finchley here and covering a distance of about 4 miles, comprising terraces of various kinds and paired villas, so I think the Barnet road wins on density in a look how much you get for your money kind of way!