millionreasons: (london)
It's that weekend again. Often, people ruin it by getting married, but this year, nobody has tied the knot. No-one. Anyway, I booked Canary Wharf, which was a slick mega-marketing operation. We went up to the 30th floor and, as well as the view, there were 3D models of London to look at, one of which we weren't allowed to photograph because it was the proposed further expansion of Docklands: as well as being a financial hub, they want Canary Wharf to be the new silicon roundabout " San Francisco: people eating bagels on the street and going around on little scooters." We also went up to the 39th floor (Level 39) which is a "start-up accelerator", i.e. you can rent a desk for a nominal fee, receive mentoring and (importantly) cookies every day at 3 p.m. I was almost tempted.

We took the DLR back to Shadwell, an area of ungentrification, but in a bustling, busy, dare I say it, vibrant way, not like the sad suburbs of fried chicken and phone shops, and then a bus to Spitalfields to visit the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, set in the last Georgian house in Spital Square. The receptionist showed us the iron reinforcements on the door which were installed post-18th century silk riots. It wasn't the best example of a Georgian house in Spitalfields - that has to go to Dennis Sever's house, which is never open on Open House, although we have previously visited a private home and a Landmark Trust property, both of which were lovely, but it was interesting nonetheless.

We ate at one of the chain restaurants in Spitalfields Market, The Diner. I still feel a little sad about the redevelopment of Spitalfields. Where once were cramped lanes are now wide open spaces, where there was the Market Coffee House is some chain cafe. I don't mind chain restaurants per se (I'm very keen on Wahaca and Wagamama), but it's the boringess of the choice that grieves me; there's a always a Giraffe, a Caffe Nero, a Carluccio's, a Jamie's Italian. I note that Jamie still has desserts on his menus, despite his war on sugar.

We took the tube to Kings Cross and walked through the quiet bit of Bloomsbury to McCann Partners, a gorgeous art deco building that used to be a Daimler garage, now an advertising agency. It's odd that heritage and conservation, once the preserve of the conservative, fuddy duddy, defender of the empire, NIMBY-ish person (when the Lab governments from the 1940s and '60s were slum-clearing,  getting rid of the past and the bad old ways, moving forward into the white heat of technology), but now it's left wing people interested in conservation, for example, community based activism against knocking down Dalston Lane or Norton Folgate. Perhaps it's because now recent history isn't the empire, but the welfare state and buildings are being demolished for profit, not for the purposes of a bright new destiny: the future looks increasingly dystopian.

Then through the noisy bit of Bloomsbury to Senate House, another contender for the Ministry of Truth. It's already shut for the day, but Dave gets a double-plus good picture, and instead we go to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a new Georgian building (i.e. George V), with later art deco stylings. I knew nothing about the LSHTM except they never do very well on University Challenge, but it was an attractive, maze-like building. And they gave us some sweets.

Open sewer

Sep. 22nd, 2014 11:33 am
millionreasons: (pankhurst)
Open House weekend once more. We travelled east to Poplar, land of industry, motorways and the DLR. Balfron Tower, little sis of Trellick, is being decanted, refurbed and sold to people who work at Canary Wharf. Even Labour councils are getting rid of council housing.

The tower has been turned into an art gallery for a month - some artists have used the estate only as an exhibition space, but some have engaged more with its history: one scary room is wholly decorated in stills from a clause 28 speech film by Margaret Thatcher. The stuff of nightmares. Another has glass mice running up the cupboard in the kitchen. We have booked to see Home on High, a short film about the original occupant of Flat 135 on the 24th floor, who moved in in 1968 and is still alive (87) today, although he has not lived in the flat for 35 years. As well as interviewing him as he revisits the flat, the film shows his collection of knick knacks and gee gaws (which, in a different environment, would be called outsider art): a Charles and Di egg in a cupola, a sort of gnome lego clock, a collage of postcards and clippings from magazines.

The views are marvellous, if misty, and how strange it would have been to live here whilst the Docklands were being redeveloped, watching the vista go from brownfield site to big commerce. Apart from a converted Victorian corner pub, everything in Poplar is new (or rather post-war) build. History wiped away by bombs and slum clearance and now, council sell-offs.

We walked up the canal to Limehouse and on to Abbey Mills Pumping station, a beautiful high Victorian edifice, used now as a back up sewage sorter. It is known as the cathedral of sewage, but  it's more of an Alhambra with its decorated doors and intricate tile work. The place was mooted to be a museum and there are industrial bits and bobs around, various tidal level recorders, pumping machines that look like Dr Who baddies, an olde fire extinguisher, 1980s computer stuff that reminds me of Bletchley park, a literal trunk line, and a sewer map that shows that Stoke Newington's effluence flows through to Beckon. I'm more interested in the ceiling.

It's odd to be in an unfamiliar place. I assume what turn out to be smithies are cottages and stunted chimneys are the tombs of the unknown sewage worker. It's beautiful though and the grounds are tree-lined. Who'd have thought shit work could be so peaceful?

Sunday was St Pancras Chambers. What I didn't realise is that most of the building is now apartments, the hotel is 'round the side. However, we aren't allowed up the grand staircase, we have to take the servants' stairs up to the flat under the clock tower, which has the original maintenance stairs although the mechanical bits are now a mezzanine library. I had also never looked closely at the building detail. To save money, the statues that were to be on the frontage were cancelled, but you can still see where they should be. There are also gargoyles on the outside of the building (and on bas relief in the inside) featuring the wyvern, the mythical half-dragon half-gryphon that is the heraldic image of Mercia, home of the Midland railway, which built the hotel.

You can see the train station through the hotel, including the old booking office, which is now in reception. Progress is swings and roundabouts, you used to be able to walk into St Pancras and be on the train in 5 mins, now it's a long walk through a shopping centre. But there is a Sourced food market instead of a Pumpkins.

it's all a bit lovelier than Balfron Tower. Tasteful ostentation. Money is wasted on the rich, they just spend it making their lives easier and not more beautiful.

Afterwards, we wandered up to St Pancras Old Church, home to the Hardy tree, now a gnarled gothic gravestone-suffocated thing. If it were lashing with rain and someone was having a crisis, throw in a dead sheep and we could almost be in one of Hardy's books. We find Mary Wollstonecraft's grave and Sir John Soane's rather small mausoleum - I'd say his Lincoln's Inn house is a better memorial. The church is spartan, puritan almost, but conversely, has a statue of Mary (the virgin, not the author of The Vindication of the Rights of Women) and smells of incense.

We walk through Kings Cross station to the bus stop. Foreign tourists queue up to have their photo taken at the Harry Potter 9 3/4 trolley, which they then buy in the Harry Potter shop (the statue used to be between platforms 9 and 10, hidden away in the East Anglia section and there was no queue and no fee). Nobody is looking at the Philip Larkin plaque, the last lines of the Whitsun Weddings. The first lines are on a similar plaque in Hull station. If there's a better reason for visiting Hull, I can't think of it.

2014-09-21 14.12.55

Photos by [ profile] davidnottingham, except the Larkin plaque.
millionreasons: (Default)
The annual Open House weekend rolls around once more. We start off rather badly as I read Finsbury Circus as Finsbury Square and we stand looking at a rather dull mid-20th century building in Moorgate, wondering why we booked it, before finding the actual building, a 1920s Lutyens design which BP used to occupy. Indeed, the reception floor is made from ex-oil drums. I wonder if there are dead seabirds stuck to the bottom side. It's been refurbed in a space age way, all swishy lifts and self-cleaning glass ceiling. As ever with these places, the funny little human touches make it - we can see into offices with desks left as they were on Friday evening - some messy, some tidy, some completely clean although unfortunately we can't see the gonks and the framed photos.

On to Clerkenwell where we visit the Museum of the Order of St John, which is actually open every day, but the church and crypt and Mediterranean garden opposite usually aren't. This was reasonably exciting as I have oft stared into the courtyard, wanting entrance to the garden like a heroine in a Victorian orphan story.

Lunch in the Department of Coffee which has quite an interesting exhibition on with imagined future Londons (and other, lesser, cities). Quite
exhausted by this point, but battle on to Aldwych to have a gander at a Roman baths just behind the Strand. It's National Trust owned and used to be open  every day, but no longer. I am actually more interested in the history of it being a tourist attraction (from the Victorian times onwards) than its Roman ancestry, but there's no information on this, sadly.

Ease our aching feet off on the 38 bus to our final stop of the day - the  New River Head offices. These were once owned by the new River Company, then the Metropolitan Water Works, then Thames Water who promptly sold them for development into flats. But the Thames man who does the tour has a natural flair for history, this is not a Thames promo (he admits that TW do not advertise the 4 days a year the offices are supposed to be open to the public). He points out where the reservoir used to be (now a kids' park, and where the water was once stored, a car park) and the site of the old water mill. The board room is the main event, with its 17th century oak carvings and fresco. There's a distinct lack of fresci in 21st century buildings.

Then it's up to Hampstead to meet Birthday Dan and others in the annoyingly posh Holly Bush for beer and macaroni cheese (a side-dish is the only affordable dish on the menu) before decamping it to the Spaniards which is nicer and serves sloe gin. Walking along Spaniards Road in the
dark is slightly unnerving, not because I anticipate a mugging by an old Etonian [insert joke about the government] but because I have no
idea where I am, surrounded by heath on either side, it feels like we're on a country road, dim streetlights, cars rushing past.

Sunday in Spitalfields. 19 Princelet Street is one of the Huguenot buildings that was turned into a synagogue. Following the Jewish departure to North and East-er London, it fell into disrepair and was not sold until 1979. Rachel Lichtenstein wrote a wholly engaging book about it which focussed mainly on David Rodinsky who lived a hermit's life up in the attic until 1969, when he disappeared. 

I remember reading about a National Trust property which kept it, erm, real with no electric light, no tea or gift shop(pe), cobwebs on the
chandeliers. The traditional National Trusters hated it. The synagogue reminds me of that, it is literally stepping back in time. Flaking
ceiling, dust and damp, the ten commandments in Hebrew fading fast. If a Hasid from the 1930s wandered in now, he would notice no difference, probably feel heimlich (if a she, up to the Ladies' Gallery). In the basement are the remains of a Georgian kitchen (and a non-Georgian toilet), Because the building is now nominally a Museum of Immigration (although only open to the public 4 or 5 times a year), there are exhibitions, histories and information dotted around. You can fill in a card telling about your immigration experiences. I am a bit stuck on this since my ancestors probably came over on longboats although David claims both Italian (dad's dad's dad's dad called Giovanni) and Jewish on his mother's mother's (related to the Burton tailoring clan).

Around Brick lane, avoiding tourists, hipsters and Tikka touts, into the Up Market for lunch, into an electronic arts exhibition by my fellow Middlesex students where you can try versions of virtual reality, play a computer game that's at my level (making a virtual mocha
coffee) and create music by dancing. To be honest, I'm surprised they found a Mdx computer that works. I usually have to try 4 or 5 in the
library before I get one that will boot up.

Apart from Brick Lane, which just seems to be Camden these days, I do really love the backstreets of Spitalfields, the houses are beautiful, not a John Nash identikit stucco swerve of terraces, but individual Georgian houses, each with their own quirks, some opening little shops in their front rooms (we have a nosy round The Townhouse on Fournier Street). If I had a spare £1m £2m £4m, I'd love to live here, but I suppose there'd be the problem of noisy revellers walking from Brick Lane to Liverpool Street and there's always the chance you'd end up living next door to Tracy Emin.

We also go into the Hawksmoor church, but the pretty refurbishment has unfortunately stripped away the history. And that's it for another year.

Open City

Sep. 20th, 2010 09:43 am
millionreasons: (hackney)
London is open once again so we walk down to Clapton and visit the Round Chapel, once a church and now a community centre with an organ.

Onto the bus with a quick stop off at Look Mum No Hands for a coffee and rather delicious beetroot and chocolate cake. We attempt to hire a Boris Barclays Ken bike to get from Old St to Holborn but when we put our pre-registered and unlocked keys in the bike slot, they don't work. We try two other stands, same result. On ringing the helpline, the man Dave speaks to says he'll call him back. Does he? Does he heck.

So we walk to Kingsway to visit the Swedenborg Society, which worships celebrates the life of Emanuel Swedenborg, Christian-Mystic-Scientist, of whom Blake was a follower. There's a Stoke Newington connection; the vicar of St Mary's Old church and namer of the eponymous park, Augustus Clissold, was a member and benefactor of the society. There are also prose poems by Ian Sinclair on the wall and free films about the afterlife showing (Jacob's Ladder, Afterlife, and, um, Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey).

Pop into St George's, the last Hawksmoor church to be built (named after George I who is toga clad on the steeple), which features a lovely chandelier and wooden altar. Stop off for lunch at Moolis and then onto St Anne's on Wardour Street to climb the vertiginous tower. I thought there'd be a view, but it's just dust, chicken wire and pigeon feathers. We do get to see the mechanical parts of the clock chime the hour, however.

Realise that everywhere we've been to so far has been religious, and when we get onto Whitehall I remember that to most of England it's not Open House Weekend, its Pope Weekend. The noise of the police helicopters is awful and the roads are thronged with police and not-very-many people. I'm not sure if the Pope has just been or is just coming; there are both protesters and the faithful but not very many of either. I'm hoping to catch a glimpse of my hero Peter Tatchell, but I later find out that he's in Twickenham.

Push through the non-crowd and cross Trafalgar Square whose fourth plinth now holds a ship in a bottle. There are also robot arms (I too have a robot arm, made out of the bike/art print David bought earlier).

Onto the Banqueting house, once Charles I's dining room, now a Palladian palace for tourists to tick off. Sit awhile and stare at the Rubens roof.

Last destination of the day is the Foreign Office, a neo-classical dream in turquoise and gold. Into the Locarno Suite, which sounds like the back room of a working men's club where they hold the meat raffle, but is in reality a series of rooms around a beautiful indoor piazza. There is a questionnaire at the end of the tour; I consider suggesting that they sell the building to a zillionaire and move the FCO to the civic centre in Northampton. After all, we're all in this together! The toilets are very nice, no flimsy paper towels for Hague and co., it's Dyson airblades all the way.

In the evening, we go out to the Peking Palace to celebrate Fennings Fest '10. Dan is turning 40 and it's pointed out to me that out of the people there, I am the next to reach my fifth decade in this thing we call life. This is really quite terrifying; I thought there was still a large buffer of people between me and 40. Anyway, we eat fake meat, drink non-alcoholic drinks (Dan suggests we get some soya brandy as a digestif) and watch the Supreme Master on TV. Afterwards, we go to one of Holloway Road's Irish pubs. We leave because they're playing loud music and go into another, quieter one. The band starts five minutes after we arrive, playing out-of-tune versions of Route 66, Sweet Caroline etc etc. I've just read a book by Dara O Briain in which he claims that English pubs always have some distraction: food, pub quiz, meat raffle, but in Ireland you just go to the pub for a yarn and a drink. Not so, you can't go into any Irish pub without a fiddle starting up (or in yer actual Eire, Irish rebel songs). The regulars are dancing but I leave to get the bus. I think my uber-Englishness (reserved, un-emotional, complainy) does not work well with the craic.  I could not understand the sudden Celticphilia in the 90s when the Commitments and Roddy Doyle and River Dance and The Corrs and O'Neills and other awful things were suddenly very fashionable, unless it was some kind of collective guilt-fest reparation for the prejudice and harassment Irish people faced previous to this. I blame Bono. And Geldof. And the Pope.

Sunday, we start off at Stoke Newington Town Hall, built in the 1930s and restored earlier this year. Before that it was a Manor House. Surprisingly for Hackney Council, the whole restoration project seems to have been carried out rather beautifully and as ever with 1930s buildings, the devil angel is in the details.

The guide tells us that the balcony was closed to the public at council meetings after someone threw a show at a councillor. Plus ca change and all that. Onto another art deco gem, the Landsdowne Club. I do like poking around the stomping grounds of the posh. The guide tells us that in the early 2000s, the members got rid of the secretary and chair and staged a revolution, raising funds to re-gilt the gold leafing, doing up the rooms and setting up fundraising for future restoration work. This, according to our guide, created a virtuous circle as members flocked back and new members joined. Reminds me of the issues facing the social club Dave's parents belong to - they don't have enought money to bring in the bands and entertainment, so people don't turn up to spend at the bar and so they don't have enough money. The working and upper-middle classes have clubs, what do the bourgeois have? Book clubs and farmers' markets and dinner parties, I suppose. I have a look at the magazines available to read: Super Yacht World, Imbibe, Opera Monthly and Mayfair Resident. No New Internationalist or Marxism Today.

Last visit (after a restorative coffee at the outdoor Sacred Cafe) is the Royal Ballet School, home of all my Noel Streatfield fantasies. I so wanted to be a ballerina when I was a small girl, probably because they are the epitome of femininity and grace, everything I wasn't (add flexible to the list nowadays). We watch some tiny, impossibly young ballet dancers going through their paces, nosy around the wardrobe room and then walk across the Bridge of Aspiration which links the ballet school to the Royal Ballet Company.

And then home to our 1950s modernist council flat (some original features). Maybe we should open up next year?

January 2017

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