Saturday, May 18, 2013
Pavilions are ten a penny these days. You can't move in London without stumbling across a pop-up structure, designed by architects, occupying some public space somewhere. These temporary creations give students and consultancies the opportunity to show off their artistic tendencies, and also to spout meaningful words about the inherent meaning of their abstract concept. Plastic poles, wooden struts, steel bars and polymer panels, all interlinked in dynamic ways to create a cognitive space intersecting reality. Or something.
Next month a pavilion will be popping up at the Serpentine Gallery, as is the tradition each June. Sou Fujimoto's signature building will "inhabit a space between nature and artificiality". We're promised "a new form of environment will be created, where the natural and the man-made merge; not solely architectural nor solely natural, but a unique meeting of the two." Not only that, but "it will form a semi-transparent, irregular ring, simultaneously protecting visitors from the elements while allowing them to remain part of the landscape." Your typical average pop-up pavilion, then.
And now there's one in Bethnal Green.
This is the Summer Showcase Pavilion, the end result of a competition organised by ArchTriumph. They invited international teams "to design a freestanding transportable temporary contemporary showcase Pavilion that reflects peace and its unique location." That's the Museum Gardens in Bethnal Green, a peaceful square round the back of the Museum of Childhood, and a lovely place to rest on a sunny day. Designs had to "encourage hope and highlight the need for ecological and sustainable architecture and design principles", as you do. The pavilion "should provide an inspirational space" where visitors can "admire, embrace diversity and engage with each other to share discussions about design, importance and benefits of peace and co-existence or other stories in a peaceful setting." And to add to the challenge, this year's pavilion would be "dedicated to the newly created South and North nations of Sudan as we encourage a peaceful future through architecture". Looking at the final design, I'm sure you can agreed they succeeded in meeting this challenging brief.
The winning team were an interdisciplinary trio from France, that's Gregoire, Irina and Adrià. They created this "visually and aesthetically engaging" pavilion, capable of providing "an ideal contemporary space offering a sense of tranquility and beauty". Their self-supporting structure has been created from lightweight PVC membrane and embraces the geometric conception of double curved surfaces. It's not immediately obvious from ground level but the pavilion has perfect symmetry, a bit like a twisted cloverleaf. And we're told that "the geometry of the pavilion blurs our notions of inside and outside", which is almost exactly what Sou Fujimoto said. This must mean that Peripheral Blurring is this year's fundamental design message in the world of pavilions, so do bear that in mind if you're thinking of designing your own.
I stumbled upon the Peace Pavilion completely by accident. I didn't know the Mayor of Tower Hamlets had been down on Thursday to officially open it. I just wandered through from the station and there it was, an inflatable membrane plonked in the middle of the lawn. Various local teenagers were staring at it, and taking smartphone photos of each other in front of it, because it was new and strange. A few mums had gathered, it being the middle of the afternoon, and some led their toddlers into the middle for a stare. I don't think they discussed design, importance and the benefits of peace and co-existence, but you never can tell.
There are a few metal chairs scattered inside the pavilion to encourage contemplation. I've got almost exactly the same chairs at home, so I'm quite excited to discover that they're art, and not just cheap car boot knock-off dumped here by my landlord. There's also a lone security guard on patrol, in case anyone turns up and tries to vandalise the pavilion, or daub it with graffiti, or pierce the membrane, or even try to run away with it. Don't do that, because that's not in the spirit of international peace and sustainability. I'm not saying you should rush down to Bethnal Green to see it, because it's only a twisty geometric inflatable with added seating. But watch out for pavilions in your part of town too, because you never know where one will pop up next.
posted 07:00 :
Friday, May 17, 2013I nearly walked to work yesterday. It's Walk To Work Week this week, and I like to play my part. From home to the office is only five and a bit miles, which is perfectly doable, and it's a fascinating walk too. I should have set my alarm an hour earlier, but I didn't think. And then I woke up and the weather was glorious and I wished I had. I considered walking anyway and turning up in the office an hour later than usual, because I'm allowed to do that, which is nice. But instead I jammed myself into a train and arrived the quick way. Lots to do, best not waste time.
I nearly had lunch yesterday. It's the done thing in the middle of the day, and I don't like to starve. Our canteen usually serves up fine food at very reasonable prices, and this saves me having to cook anything at the end of the day. But yesterday they conspired to offer a menu consisting entirely of things I don't like, bar a bowl of semi-acceptable soup, and that didn't seem worth the effort. I know lunch is only a short period out of the working day, and barely a few minutes if you "grab and go", but I gave it a miss. Save half an hour at lunchtime and get home earlier, I thought. Lots to do, best not waste time.
I nearly lost it in the middle of the afternoon. It's not like me. Normally I can juggle several things simultaneously, moving each inexorably closer to completion, but I'm struggling at the moment. There's all the usual work to do, plus a chunk of extra work someone thought we could do as well, and then some. I was trying to keep up with the maelstrom when someone wandered over and interrupted by dumping even more on me, at which point a flurry of meeting requests for October arrived and I almost flipped. I'd liked to have stood up on my chair and yelled, but it's not the done thing in an office, plus it's a swivel chair and I'd have fallen off. Instead I cursed quietly and knuckled back down. Lots to do, best not waste time.
I nearly went home at four o'clock. I do when I can, it's allowed, but ill-advised at times of plenty. It would have been tempting to down tools and leave anyway, but in my experience that only makes the future worse. Instead I continued with tasks one to seven, and the newly arrived task eight, before an email arrived suggesting task nine. Lots to do, best not waste time.
I nearly went home at five o'clock. Staying any later than that is an admission of failure, especially when I'm always one of the first people into the office in the first place. Instead I went and made a cup of tea, in a defeatist manner, as if to confirm to myself that I had no intention of heading home any time soon. And then I returned to my desk to discover task ten, which might not have been urgent but was relatively simple to get out of the way. Lots to do, best not waste time.
I nearly went home at six o'clock. Everybody else seemed to be leaving, or had put their coats on and skedaddled already. It gets easier to work as everyone else goes home - there are far fewer distractions - but that's rarely a good enough reason for staying on. I plugged myself into some music and jigged along to an unexpectedly fine tune, safe in the knowledge that nobody else was watching. I still had a document to check, and a spreadsheet to complete, and a meeting to organise, and some files to transfer, and an email I'd accidentally overlooked earlier. Lots to do, best not waste time.
I nearly went home at seven o'clock. I'm sure I would have done if it had been winter. There's nothing like the onset of darkness outside to hint that it's time to go home. After three hours of night-time I'd have been longing to get out, but evening daylight surreptitiously tempts us to carry on. Seven is also when the cleaners turned up, sensibly avoiding my end of the office until the last few stragglers have left. There was only one other person left by now, and I only noticed him when the lights went out and he stood up and waved his arms around to turn the sensors back on. Lots to do, best not waste time.
I nearly went home at eight o'clock. I was almost done, but there was one last column on a spreadsheet to colour in. It wasn't crucial, but it added quality to a deliverable, and I'd never get it done tomorrow once a avalanche of further 'stuff' arrived. I did that thing where you send your boss an email after eight o'clock in the evening, as if to prove a point, in the hope they'll notice the timestamp. I said hello to the cleaners, because we have that word in common, and because there was nobody else to talk to. And then finally I started shutting down and packing up. Lots done, time not wasted.
I nearly stayed in town and went for a drink. The streets round about were full of people doing just that, indeed looking like they'd been doing that for some considerable time. I could have gone for food somewhere, because I was slightly ravenous by this time. But instead I walked to the nearest station, long after the last free Evening Standard had been dispensed, and headed home. I even got a seat, which is one of the few bonuses of departing work in the middle of the evening. I wandered down Bow Road in wasted daylight, along with E3's other late-at-work stragglers. And I decided no, sorry, I won't be walking to work today either. Lots to do, best not waste time.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, May 16, 2013Just for a change, let's delve into the diamond geezer readers' postbag. Or rather, let's take a look at your interesting comments from yesterday and share them with a wider audience.
If you remember, the big Crossrail 2 choice is whether to build a Metro service or a Regional service. You strongly preferred the latter.
Indeed, not one reader could see the attraction of the Metro service.
I support the regional option as it gives really great travel time reductions to lots of suburban stations. [Rational Plan]
I think this would be best suited as a regional line. Think Crossrail as being the Paris RER style and the tube being the metro. [James]
Ah, but don't forget that DLR carriages are double length.
The metro option having tiny short platforms!? What on earth are they "thinking"? When every other tube and railway line in London is rammed, and would benefit from longer trains... [Malcolm]
I confess I can't understand this metro option. Why limit it to four cars? Do it at least at tube length, or not at all. [Andrew Bowden]
Whatever, it seems that only one of the two options is viable.
The metro option would be an automated (hence DLR like) line with platform screen doors running at up to 40 trains an hour. The trains are not 4 carriages long, but 4 units long. As they are articulated units, this means they are as long as existing tube trains. [Rational Plan]
To me it feels like the metro option has simply been set up to fail - which is probably why TfL have suggested it. It feels very much like a "someone's going to ask us what we'll get if we do this cheaper, so let's shave a few million off the price and show what you'd get" Sell the benefits of spending a little more money. But still, is a 6 car metro service that much more expensive than a four car? [Andrew Bowden]
You weren't thrilled by how few stations Hackney is getting...
Set up to fail is right. No-one can possibly take the metro option seriously. This will be a proper full-scale Crossrail - the consultation is a publicity exercise, nothing more. [Arkady]
Obviously the Regional version wins hands down. The Metro version looks like a cheaper mistake that it will only cost an absolute fortune when the need for an upgrade becomes overwhelming apparent, as it almost certainly would within six months of opening. Like the 1983 tube stock on the Jubilee Line (with single doors, on predictions of decreased tube usage in the future) it would be an expensive mistake....and utterly inexplicable given predictions of *increased* population and public transport usage in the capital. [Dominic H]
It would be curious to build Crossrail 2 as a conventional metro style service, the clue is in the name! [Mikey C]
...whereas Haringey gets a string of four stations.
Astounded that the Metro version of the Chelsea-Hackney line doesn't even, really, go to Hackney. [Dominic H]
Stoke Newington surely needs a tube link as badly as Hackney, though. [Dominic H]
The central section of the route needed further clarification from some.
It seems strange to have Tottenham served by both branches of CR2 [Mikey C]
On the regional plan, why the odd duplication up the A10 corridor, meaning each station only gets half the service? Surely one tunnel calling at Dalston and/or Hackney, and at Seven Sisters and/or Tottenham Hale would be cheaper? [SW commuter]
Why does the Tottenham Hale branch need more services? The Seven Sisters to Cheshunt always seems more crowded to me. [John2]
Ironic that the proposed northern route runs from Seven Sisters to Alexandra Palace. There used to be an almost identical line from Seven Sisters to Palace Gates with stations at West Green and Noel Park (Wood Green High Road). It was closed to passengers in January 1963. I travelled on the last train, but I don't think I'll still be alive to travel on the new first train! A further extension from Ally Pally to Muswell Hill might be worth considering. [Anon]
Others queried the links made in the southern section.
Piccadilly Circus has still not been confirmed as being in either option as it will be very difficult to build! Pbv easier in the Metro option as smaller footprint. [Anon]
Why cram even more people into TCR and Victoria? Most services into Victoria call at Clapham Junction anyway. Stops at Sloane Square and Bond Street would make a much better distribution of traffic. [Anon]
One of you submitted a fervent plea not to scrimp on the trains.
On the metro version, who is going to use the Wimbledon-Tooting stretch? Locals already have South Wimbledon station. There is an interchange between the SW suburban network and CR2 at Clapham Junction, and the SWT route between Wimbledon and CJ is much more direct and thus faster. I doubt that many people from the SW suburbs wanting the Northern Line will appreciate the double change at Wimbledon and Tooting - better to change at Waterloo (although this stretch makes a lot of sense in the regional version, as there would be no need to change at Wimbledon) [SW commuter]
Why can't the Wimbledon bit go to Sutton instead of following SWT? [John2]
But generally you don't care which option is built so long as one of them is.
'If Metro trains won't be staffed, please ensure plenty of station staff to support safety. This is vital for a busy urban line. Also, please design the trains to better cater for the elderly, sick and disabled, who make up at least a fifth of the population. New Victoria and Hammersmith & City/Met Line trains are actively painful to travel on if you have a physical disability. It was particularly pointless making the seats shorter as people's legs take up the same amount of room when sitting, and this causes untold discomfort to those of us needing good seating support.' [misspiggy]
Crossrail 2 won't be coming to a neighbourhood near you soon. But hopefully eventually.
Just start building it. This country spends far too long talking about infrastructure projects, instead of getting the job done. This adds to the cost, and we have to wait years before we see any results. [John]
I'd choose whichever option has a better chance of being built. There are far too many transport projects that go nowhere at all (pardon the pun), and we need anything we can get. [Chz]
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, May 15, 2013We've not yet got Crossrail, but how do you feel about Crossrail 2? TfL would very much like to know, so they've launched a consultation and it runs until the start of August. If built Crossrail 2 will connect southwest and northeast London, then perhaps connect further out into Surrey and Herts. A considerable amount of information has been published already, but if you don't have the time or inclination to dig through that, here's my Q&A.
This is new, isn't it?
Not at all. TfL have long had plans to build a NE/SW tube line, they've just never had the money. The idea of linking Chelsea with Hackney has been around since 1974, in recognition of these two places being two gaping holes in the tube network. The proposed line even had its own nickname, Chelney, but never (as yet) any trains.
How many options are there?
There are three options. The first is the Metro option (see map), which involves trains running between Alexandra Palace and Wimbledon. The second is the Regional option, which uses the previous option as a core, then extends onto National Rail lines at each end. And the third is not to build Crossrail 2 at all, which is the most likely outcome if the project fails to get sufficient funding.
How much will this cost?
The Metro option is due to cost £9bn, the same as the Olympics. The Regional option is more expensive, at £12bn, but for that you get a lot more miles. TfL have also taken into account "optimism bias", which is the tendency of all big public infrastructure projects to massively underestimate how much they're going to cost. In this case they reckon the actual total could easily be another 50% higher.
Tell me about the southern part of the core route
Crossrail 2 kicks off at Wimbledon, perhaps linking directly into the surrounding rail network to serve Twickenham, Surbiton and Epsom. The next stop would be Tooting Broadway, at last creating a south London link between the District and Northern lines. Then to Clapham Junction, which we're told is one of the most important links of all, offering SW London commuters a direct connection to the West End. Then continuing underground beneath the Thames to King's Road Chelsea, which would be a brand new station serving a brand new neighbourhood, and about time too.
Tell me about the central part of the core route
Victoria is one of the busiest stations on the Underground network, where Crossrail 2 would provide passengers with a vital alternative to the overstuffed Victoria line. The new line would cut diagonally through to Piccadilly Circus and then to Tottenham Court Road, journeys which aren't currently possible on one train. Tottenham Court Road would become the megahub where two Crossrails meet, an essential interchange which your grandchildren will use a lot. And then onward beneath Bloomsbury to Euston St Pancras.
Euston St Pancras?!?!?
Yes, don't look so surprised. I mean, technically King's Cross St Pancras doesn't exist either, but everyone's long got used to the tube station namechecking these two neighbouring rail termini. In this case Crossrail 2 needs to stop at Euston to serve High Speed 2 from Birmingham, while High Speed 1 is sort-of nextdoor at St Pancras so there'll be an exit there too. Might be a long walk, though.
Tell me about the northern part of the core route
From Euston St Pancras to Angel Crossrail 2 would be in parallel to the existing Northern line, but offering Islingtonites a direct link to the centre of town for the first time. Then to the Overground station at Dalston Junction, before the rest of Hackney is entirely bypassed by a really long gap on the way to Seven Sisters. Here Crossrail 2 funnels in traffic from the Victoria line, then on to Turnpike Lane to relieve the Piccadilly. And finally to Alexandra Palace, where hordes of passengers will be able to alight from National Rail commuter services and ride easily into central London.
How is the Regional route different to the Metro route?
The Regional route would extend at both ends to connect with the main rail network, with trains running through direct. At Wimbledon the link would be short and no new lines would be created. But to the north there'd be a fresh split beyond Angel, with an additional station in central Hackney before continuing on to Tottenham Hale. The run towards Cheshunt would be excellent news for those in the Lea Valley, and be the driver for considerable further growth. And expect one other key difference in the centre of town. In the Regional option there'd be no station at Piccadilly Circus, because apparently it'd be too close to Tottenham Court Road. It seems Crossrail 2 can have either Hackney Central or Piccadilly Circus but not both.
Any other differences between the Regional and Metro options?
Oh yes. And this one's really important. If TfL go with the Regional option, then the service would be run by 10-carriage Crossrail-style trains serving 250m-long platforms. But if they go with the Metro option, then the service would be run by 4-carriage DLR-style trains serving 120m-long platforms. In the latter case trains would be only half the size, but there could be as many as 40 trains an hour so the number of passengers per hour would still be high.
Hang on, "DLR-style" service?
That's right. You can forget TfL ever again building a tube line with train drivers. Instead expect cab-free trains with no member of staff up front staring out of the window. That's the union-free future.
Building Crossrail has been massively disruptive. Won't building Crossrail 2 be even worse?
Not necessarily. TfL have been long-term clever and protected the central portion of the route from development. Way back in 1991 they safeguarded the route that trains might take, ensuring that any new buildings along the way left sufficient room for Crossrail 2 to squeeze through. Plans were further strengthened in 2008, which should help to minimise any future disruption. Tottenham Court Road won't need to be dug up again, for example - the current major building works will ensure that the Crossrail station is also Crossrail-2-ready. Crossrail 2 is also the reason why Dalston Junction looks far too big for its current levels of traffic, someone's been planning ahead.
Has the entire route been safeguarded?
Er, no. The original safeguarded route anticipated Crossrail 2 taking over the southern end of the District line, but now that won't happen, it'll have its own tunnel. More importantly it anticipated Crossrail 2 taking over the northern end of the Central line from Leytonstone to Epping, but now that won't happen either. There aren't the development possibilities in Essex that there are in north London, so Crossrail 2 will be entirely fresh digging, not a landgrab from the existing network.
Why does the route wiggle about quite so much?
There are two ways to build a new railway. One is to serve a brand new area, and the other is to link together as many existing lines as possible. The Northern line extension to Battersea is an example of the former - it pushes afresh into Nine Elms and links to nothing. Crossrail 2 on the other hand will thread through umpteen existing services, creating numerous alternative routes for passengers and relieving overcrowding on parallel lines. Battersea nil, Crossrail 2.
Surely we don't need another railway already?
Oh yes we do. London's population is getting larger, faster, and people need to get around. The capital's population could be 20% higher by 2030, so either we build more railway capacity or our existing services will become wildly overcrowded.
Isn't it ironic?
50 years ago the Victoria line was built to relieve the Piccadilly line. Now a new service is urgently needed to relieve the Victoria line. While various parts of southeast London await their first tube line, it seems the NE-SW axis is about to get its third.
What's the timescale?
Medium-term: lots of planning.
Long-term: lengthy disruption as building work gets underway.
Very-very-long-term: a new railway through London. But don't expect it to be running until the early 2030s, that's 20 years hence. London transport doesn't move fast, so best get on and make a start.
So what's the big choice?
Does London get another rail line or another DLR line, that's basically the choice. Long Regional trains rushing across town, or shorter Metro trains shuttling fast through the middle. Take your pick. Join the consultation. Offer your thoughts. Or die waiting.
» Crossrail 2 consultation introduction
» Crossrail 2 animated fly-through
» Crossrail 2 Metro route option (map)
» Crossrail 2 Regional route option (map)
» Crossrail 2 consultation (before 2 August)
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, May 14, 2013PICCADILLY: Harringay (St Ann's Road)
There are several long gaps between stations on the Piccadilly line. Sometimes that's because the intermediate station was closed, as with Brompton Road (in Belgravia) and York Road (north of King's Cross). But head to Green Lanes in Haringey and there's a mile and a half's gap because the station in the middle was cancelled by order of the Chief Executive Officer and never built. Let's do the half hour walk.
We like Manor House station. The platforms are tall and deep, with cream tiles and blue-bordered Way Out enamel. Watch out for the jet black ventilation grilles, each with an identical representation of bucolic horticultural charm. A pillared gate leads to a verdant garden with a trio of doves a-cooing by their cote, which isn't what you expect to see high on a station wall. Up the escalator is a ticket hall with a bobbly ceiling, semi-resembling the Tardis circa 1975. And check out one of the pillars for an impromptu photographic museum featuring various black and white shots of the station and its environs circa 1935. They've been stuck up with yellowing sellotape, but where else are you going to see the original cylindrical Fares tables, and a tram pulling in above. If all tube stations had this personal touch, you might love your local a little more.
Manor House is the only Underground station in the borough of Hackney (and then only just, because the stairs to the northwest come up in Haringey). It's also one of London's entirely underground stations, built beneath a whopper where Green Lanes crosses the Seven Sisters Road. Never ever attempt to cross this monster diagonally. Beside the non-Hackney exit is a grand gated entrance to Finsbury Park, plus the less imposing Park View Cafe. I was unimpressed by their outside food kiosk, partly because their "Egg Benedict" sounds a trifle weedy, but mostly because they dare to sell "Panini's".
The long walk to the next station begins along the upper edge of Finsbury Park. This is the nice bit, so make the most of it. Ahead is the New River, now only a few months short of 400 years old, and a corner of the park designated for hockey and baseball only (because they're big round here). The Arena Shopping Centre looks like retail nirvana, judging by the busy-ness of the car park, but the shops coming up next along Green Lanes have hugely more character. We're entering Little Turkey, a dash of London with a flavour of extreme eastern Europe. It seems such a friendly place, or maybe that's because every other shop serves up food of some kind and teems with people. Maybe meze, perhaps baklava, and possibly some of whatever that floury thing is being bashed out by the lady in the shop window by the bus stop.
Disney's are celebrating their centenary this year - that's the two floor furniture showroom on Grand Parade, now looking surprisingly out of place. But it's easy to see where all those tables and sofas might end up if you turn off the main drag and head up one of the parallel streets. This is the so-called Harringay Ladder, a twenty-rung residential district whose smart terraces must have estate agents aflutter. Only two features link these hillside avenues - one the New River threading through, the other a narrow pedestrian alleyway that runs for almost a mile between sequential houses.
Harringay (St Ann's Road)
And now we reach the junction where the Piccadilly line could have had a station, but doesn't. St Ann's Road crosses four railways on its long curve down towards Stamford Hill, but merits no station on any of them. One was planned here at the western end but Frank Pick, Chief Executive of the London Passenger Transport Board, turned it down. He thought this street corner already had a good enough bus and tram service, which may have been the case then, but is only half true today. Instead the majestic Salisbury Hotel, now a restored pub, remains unserved. Its French Renaissance façade dominates the exterior, while inside are Art Nouveau motifs and a cast-iron columned bar. Again it's slightly at odds with the distinctly non-English non-Victorian nature of most of the surrounding businesses, but that's the joy of this cosmopolitan neighbourhood.
The Piccadilly line may not be obvious on the surface, but this long run between stations necessitated the appearance of a ventilation shaft a little further along. Check the corner of Colina Road for a boxy brick building rising to a dark grille at rooftop level. On one side a verge of flowers is blooming an almost appropriate shade of blue, while on the other is the car park for the outlet store nextdoor. Why go to Jermyn Street for your posh Hawes and Curtis shirts when you can pick them up cheap or wholesale in cufflink-unfriendly N8? But for the tube connection to Piccadilly Circus walk on. The shops at last give way to flats and houses, and only the occasional Bulgarian Breakfast bar, before reaching the confined expanse of Duckett's Common. And at the far end of that...
We like Turnpike Lane even more than we like Manor House. That's mostly because it has exterior presence, and has it in spades, if a Modernist touch is what you like. The main ticket hall is a lofty cuboid lit by blue-rimmed windows, above which rises a tower with louvred ventilators and a flagpole on top. It has to be by Charles Holden, and it has to be Grade II listed, and rest assured it's both. A restaurant and a pawnbrokers have taken the original retail unit to one side, while the busy modern bus station has been carefully hidden round the back. The main pedestrian entrance is down globe-lit steps beneath a low curved slab. But there are feeder subways elsewhere, with each caged entrance labelled "TURNPIKE LANE STN." in white capitals on brown.
The interior of the ticket hall is dramatic, raised to double height with strong horizontal features. Above the ticket window is a blue clock in ITV Schools Programmes style, and in the centre a classical bowl-shaped uplighters. There are more of these down the escalator, and a subtly different version on the lower concourse with what looks like a white ceramic loudspeaker blooming on top. They're only a minor architectural tweak, but they add such panache to the circulation space. And finally the platforms, which are remarkably similar to those at Manor House, as you might expect for stations opened on the same day. Again there are jet black ventilation grilles, again depicting the station's name literally, so this time with horse-drawn traffic approaching a turnpike tollhouse. And if you've enjoyed this trip, just three minutes on the next train south and you can go round again.
posted 01:00 :
Monday, May 13, 2013For reasons I have never adequately understood, my bladder knows when I am almost home.
It can stay dormant for hours if required, which is a useful trick, but then suddenly wakes up as my front door approaches. The reflex is entirely subliminal - I don't consciously think "ooh, I'm nearly back, thank god." But then something kicks in, like a switch being flicked or a curtain being drawn back, and I hurry to get home a little faster.
I'm surprised by the precision of it all. I can be out for the entire afternoon, or trapped on a long train ride somewhere, and nothing happens. But hit Bow Road, or walk across the pavement close to home, and a synapse fires. I switch from calm and contented to a feeling of mild foreboding, all in a matter of seconds. A nagging feeling emerges that perhaps it might be wise to reach my bathroom soon, and my pace quickens, just in case.
It's nothing medically embarrassing, you understand. I'm not talking about incontinence or anything like that, just the natural feeling you get as a hint that all's full. And it's not usually an issue, nothing more than a slight inconvenience. But occasionally it scales up somewhat as I reach for my key, and hypes up further on the long trek from communal to personal front door. The urgency continues to increase as I battle with the final lock and then... and then everything's alright again.
Sometimes I'm climbing the steps when the feeling first arrives, and that's OK. Sometimes it happens as my front door comes into sight, and that's probably fine. But other times it happens further back, and that's not so good. I might still have a road to cross, or half a mile of street to walk down, and that's nowhere near as comfortable.
Returning home after a visit to the pub is the worst, obviously, because on such occasions I could be filled with considerable excess liquid. I'll have been sensible and done the necessary before departing, and survived the entire tube journey back, but alighting in Bow can be the trigger for my bladder to twinge. Still several minutes from home, all I can do is practise the self-control I've gained over many years and speed up a little, perhaps a lot, as I wish perhaps I'd chosen to live a little closer to the station.
Things were far worse, interestingly, before I moved to London. I had to drive everywhere then, which meant keeping my car in a garage located a short walk from home. I'd drive up to the garage door, step out of my car to open it, and that's when my evil bladder would kick in. It recognised my homecoming without registering I was at the wrong door, but sent an irreversible message to my brain anyway. I still had to raise the garage door, negotiate the car inside without scraping it, then close the door and lock it down, and all this before I could cross the lawn to reach the safety of home. Sometimes I'd be jigging a merry dance before my parking shuffle was complete, occasionally even abandoning the car mid-manoeuvre and hoping no neighbours would drive home before I returned. I think I got away with it, just about, but it was a close shave once or twice.
I'm not complaining about my situation, it's not usually a problem. Indeed quite the opposite, I'm more than pleased by the length of time I can generally engage in self-control. But I don't understand how my bladder can be quite so good at noticing I'm almost home, even when I'm absolutely not thinking about it, then kicking in with a sense of urgency related to geographical proximity.
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, May 12, 2013Remember Water Chariots? The greedy company who hoped to clean up on river-based transport during the Olympics? They blundered in with an over-optimistic business model, hiked up prices beyond the heights of reason and promptly sank into administration before the end of the Games. Good riddance. But there was one unfortunate consequence of their demise, and that's the absence of a legacy service. Water Chariots were awarded their initial contract on the basis that they had the best plans for a post-2012 waterbus service, but it's now 2013 and we don't have one. You can hop on a narrowboat from Camden to Little Venice or grab a cruiser down the Thames, but the Lea remains stubbornly passenger-free.
A dozen of Water Chariots' former fleet have ended up further upriver and now belong to the Lee and Stort Boat Co. They've transformed most of their firesale stock into "luxury holiday boat's that are built in the most modern contemporary design", but use other craft to run waterbuses and party boats between Hertford and Ware. A niche market perhaps, but yesterday they sent a boat down to Bromley-by-Bow to show what a post-Olympic waterbus service might have looked like. A couple of itineraries were available as part of the Fun on the Green festival, one south to Bow Locks, the other north to Old Ford Lock. And both free of charge, which has to be a better deal than Water Chariots mercenary £95 return.
So what's the River Lea waterbus experience like? Is there a potential leisure market for this sort of thing, or was Water Chariots' legacy plan pure bluster? I couldn't resist being taken for a ride.
That's the first time in two years I've ever seen a boat pulled up at the Three Mills water bus stop. This was built with money from British Waterways and the Olympic Delivery Authority, and boasts a lovely metal sign depicting the nearby mill buildings. But lo, there was the former Water Chariot low in the water, with most of its previous branding removed but still with "Fast Track Express Hospitality Service" painted on the side. This is no luxury vehicle, as I've long suspected. It's more a cavernous space with a metal floor - easy to mop should any partygoer ever throw up - upon which are laid out rows of very ordinary blue chairs of the kind you might find in a church hall. The best seats are the curve of wooden benches in the prow, so well done to you if you grabbed those. Meanwhile a counter near the entrance sells drinks and bar snacks, but only if people are interested, which it seems they're generally not.
There are two reasons you might ride a water bus. One is to travel to somewhere else, and the other is to enjoy the view. In this case we were on a round trip so it was the view that was all important. Unfortunately, due to potentially inclement weather, all the window spaces had been covered by protective plastic so the view was pretty poor. A little blurry, a little drippy, a little smeared - and absolutely nothing worth taking any photos through. There were a couple of breaks in the plastic surround, so a tiny number of people could congregate here and look out properly, but everyone else missed out. Perhaps the crew feared it might rain horizontally partway through the ride, or perhaps they thought we were all wusses who'd not survive outdoors except in a floating bubble. But as an observation boat in lockdown mode, sorry, this former Water Chariot sucked.
We headed off slowly, oh so slowly, towards the Olympic Park. We passed the back of Tesco's car park and a graffitied wall, the first of many along the way. A vista opened up towards Stratford, but only because acres of warehouses have been levelled and nobody's yet got round to building flats in their place. It was nice to be down at water level, close to passing swans and several moorhens nesting in the reeds. It was less thrilling to stare at the undulating iron barrier that lines most of the edge of the Lea Navigation, but this is potentially crucial flood protection for my part of London so I'm not complaining.
The bridge at the Bow Flyover is very low, beneath flat concrete slabs which would prevent anything much taller than a narrowboat from making its way upstream. Further demolition is taking place beyond as Crossrail destroys increasingly more of what used to be Cooks Road. They're making up for that by digging a new tunnel portal, which now extends into the river itself behind a protective cofferdam. Even at the weekend there were half a dozen workers here, standing on the scaffolding and removing barrowloads of spoil from somewhere down deep. "PIES" screamed a sprawl of graffiti round the next bend, beneath a flurry of inelegant rail bridges. The area remains more post-industrial than green, although thankfully it's not yet blandly residential throughout, and there is still wildlife aplenty afloat.
A commentary would have been nice, I thought, if the crew could have thought of anything to say apart from "oh look, there's the Olympic Stadium". That's best viewed from further away before it disappears behind yet another brick wall and metal security fence. On we ploughed towards the back of Fish Island, overtaken by several bikes and the occasional walking group. And at last we dipped beneath the Northern Outfall Sewer to our final destination at Old Ford Lock. This provides a natural barrier to any water bus service, because to proceed through the lock and then have to come back again would be a lengthy and pointless activity. Instead we turned round slowly in the basin, without ever stopping at the mothballed Water Bus Stop alongside, and started our return trip.
I tried to imagine that I was seeing the waterside for the very first time, rather than for the hundredth, to try to infer the route's likely tourist potential. It's not the worst stretch of river in London, not by any means, but it lacks anything I could readily describe as a highlight. The underside of the Bow Flyover and an imperfect view of a 2012 arena are never going to attract a substantial body of visitors to the water. There's surely no long-term business model here, no all-year waterbus option, not even on the longer run past Bow Locks down the Limehouse Cut. Even a fiver a ticket would be pushing it, I reckon, given the lack of stuff to see. But I'm still pleased I've finally been for a pleasureboat trip along my local river, however hard it was to look out through the plastic and properly enjoy the ride.
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, May 11, 2013It's National Mills Weekend!
That means windmills and watermills across the country are open for your delectation and delight. Whethere you're in Anglesey, Devon or Norfolk, there'll likely be one near you.
You could visit one of London's four open windmills.
✖ Brixton (Sat, Sun, 1-5pm)
✖ Shirley (Sun, 12 noon - 5pm)
✖ Upminster (Sat, Sun, 2-5pm) (Craft Fair Sun)
✖ Wimbledon (Sat 2-5pm) (Sun 11-5pm)
Or you could come to Bromley-by-Bow and visit the world's largest surviving tidal mill.
❂ House Mill (Sat, Sun 11am-4pm)
And if you come today, you could also enjoy this...
Fun on the Green has been organised by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority. There'll be conservation and wildlife activities, sport for all, face painting, a dog behaviour clinic, petanque, football, yoga, drawing classes, a police cycle surgery and organised play in the Wild Kingdom. The latter is Three Mills' new outdoor playspace, opened last September, paid for by Olympic legacy cash and aimed squarely at young adventurers. There'll also be free boat trips and themed guided tours, which is a proper rarity hereabouts and a potential treat.
25 minute boat trip to Bow Locks: 11.00, 12.30, 2.00, 4.00
50 minute boat trip to Old Ford Lock: 11.30, 1.00, 3.00
30 minute Guided Island tour: 12.45, 1.45, 2.30, 3.30
Refreshments will be available on Three Mills Green with a tea tent provided by the East London Women’s Institute. Meanwhile the Miller’s House Café will have a BBQ along with their usual range of refreshments. All this plus the possibility of visiting Roman Road Market beforehand, and it could be E3's most visit-worthy Saturday for a very long time.
posted 00:01 :
Friday, May 10, 2013At what time do London's last tube trains run into their last stations?
Last trains: Monday - Saturday
Bakerloo: arrives Stonebridge Park 0053
Central: arrives Loughton 0130
Circle: arrives Hammersmith 0103
District: arrives Upminster 0133
Hammersmith & City: arrives Barking 0114
Jubilee: arrives Stratford 0112
Metropolitan: arrives Uxbridge 0123
Northern: arrives Edgware 0113
Piccadilly: arrives Heathrow T123 0121
Victoria: arrives Walthamstow 0102
Waterloo & City: arrives Waterloo 2152 (Mon-Fri)
Waterloo & City: arrives Waterloo 1842 (Sat)
From Monday to Saturday all London Underground lines shut down around 1am-ish, except one.
I'm sure you can spot the odd line out.
Last trains: Sunday
Bakerloo: arrives Queens Park 0035
Central: arrives Loughton 0036
Circle: arrives Hammersmith 0039
District: arrives Upminster 0059
Hammersmith & City: arrives Hammersmith 0059
Jubilee: arrives Stanmore 0035
Metropolitan: arrives Uxbridge 0100
Northern: arrives High Barnet 0022
Piccadilly: arrives Cockfosters 0056
Victoria: arrives Walthamstow 0024
Waterloo & City: LINE CLOSED
On Sunday all London Underground lines shut down between midnight and 1am, except one.
I'm sure you can spot the odd line out.
Ah yes, the odd one out is that peculiar two-station beast, the Waterloo & City line.
It shuts down before 10pm on weekdays.
It shuts down before 7pm on Saturdays.
And it doesn't bother opening at all on Sundays.
It's a very-early-shutty-downy sort of line.
But (fanfare) all that's about to change.
A new tube map has been released - online if not yet in stations - available here.
It's being issued mainly because Edgware Road (Bakerloo) is closing until Christmas.
But check the daggered list down the edge and the big W&C news is announced.
That's quite an extension for the Waterloo and City line.
On weekdays that's another two and a half hours of shuttling back and forth.
And on Saturdays that's almost six extra hours - the entire evening.
No longer will you have to think "Oh, I wonder if the Waterloo & City has closed down yet?"
From 2 June it'll run as late into the evening as all the other lines, near enough.
Apart from on Sundays.
There'll still be no Sunday service whatsoever, just like there isn't at the moment.
But the rest of the week, woohoo, extended service.
Remember, always check out the new tube map carefully.
You never do know quite what you might discover.
Except there is one really stupid thing about the tube map announcement.
"From 2 June operating hours from Mondays to Saturdays will be extended to 0030."
Except that 2 June is a Sunday.
So make that 3 June instead.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, May 09, 2013Prime Ministerial briefing paper - embargo 09/05/13
We've had this excellent idea down at the Department, and we wondered awfully whether you might be able to squeeze it into your Queen's Speech next year?
It's regarding the class system. When Britain was great, it used to look like this...
UPPER CLASS MIDDLE CLASS LOWER CLASS
But then things went all PC and somehow this happened...
WE ARE ALL EQUAL
...which is obviously ghastly, and so very at odds with the meritocracy we want to impose.
What Britain needs is a class system for the 21st century. One that rewards endeavour over expectation, and raises strivers over skivers. We think we've found it.
ELITE CLASS PRIVATE CLASS PUBLIC CLASS UNDERCLASS
The new system has four classes rather than three, to better divide the population and thus increase aspiration. In particular we have chosen to split the main body of the proletariat into those salaried by the private sector and those subsidised by the public sector. As we hasten the drive to sell off government services, clearly every employee we can shift into a private company is better deserving of our respect.
The table above provides an overview of the new class system, but there'll also be a detailed series of subdivisions for government use. This will enable us to fine tune the ranking of our population, and will also pass on further subliminal messages about what's really important in this country.
1a ROYALTY & THE PEERAGE Because nothing ever changes at the very top 1b HM FORCES Forever hurrah for Our Boys in the military 1c BANKERS Bastards all, but so important to our economy PRIVATE
2a HOMESOWNERS Anyone with a second home has really made it 2b HOMEOWNERS Because an Englishman's castle is his home 2c RENTERS Only social failures and young people rent PUBLIC
3a STATE PENSIONERS The bedrock of our nation (and they still vote) 3b UPPER PROFESSIONALS Judges, midwives, immigration officials, etc 3c LOWER PROFESSIONALS Teachers, nurses, social workers, librarians, etc UNDER-
4a STUDENTS Supposedly intelligent individuals on loans 4b FAMILIES ON BENEFITS We especially hate any with more than three kids 4c THE DISABLED They could probably get jobs if they tried 4d THE UNEMPLOYED Wastrels who need to look for work harder 4e PRISONERS Elite class members are exempt from this category 4f IMMIGRANTS Our focus group told us to put them at the bottom
We intend to disseminate this new ladder of aspiration through a series of lifestyle articles published in Mail Online. We're hoping that Mumsnet will pick up the underlying subtext, and that the BBC News Magazine will launch a "What class are you really?" interactive quiz.
Our ultimate aim is a fully reclassified society in which tax breaks and state benefits are paid in proportion to the intrinsic value of an individual. In essence we need to re-establish the fact that some people are inherently better than others. I think we're nearly there, David, but one last push should fix society for good.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, May 08, 2013Day out: Amberley Museum
My job today is to persuade you to visit a museum 50 miles from London. Not because I've been asked, but because I suspect you might enjoy it. As such I'll be dropping into today's review a number of phrases designed to hook specific members of my audience. Watch out for these as you read through.
Location: Station Rd, Amberley, West Sussex BN18 9LT [map]
Open: 10:00-17:00 (mid March - end October)
Admission: £11 (£6.60 children) (under 4s free)
Amberley Museum is located in a chalk quarry in the South Downs, close to where the river Arun cuts through the escarpment. It was dug out between the 1840s and the 1960s, with the chalk burnt on site in kilns to make lime. After the business closed the Southern Industrial History Centre Trust moved in, deeming the 36 acre site ideal for a museum. Over the years it's grown into quite a collection of "stuff", especially buildings rescued from elsewhere in southern England. Although industrial heritage is the watchword, there's a particularly strong emphasis on crafts, transport and the history of communications.
Catch the Bognor Regis train from London Victoria and you can be at Amberley in less than 90 minutes. The entrance to the museum is immediately opposite the station, which is no coincidence because the entrance lies along a path that used to be a goods siding. On special event days, of which there are many, the main gates may be open to allow to allow in a stream of vintage motorcycles or whatever. Those on foot enter through the shop, then the lime kilns, before emerging past the blacksmith into the main square. And then, well, what a choice.
There's a Print Workshop! Not just a shed full of exhibits, but actual working presses that still produce printed materials (available for sale). Also on show is the last hot metal front page to roll out of Fleet Street (which'd be the Sunday Express from 1986).
There's a Radio and Television Exhibition! Step inside the wooden shack for an extensive history from crystal sets to Betamax. Learn about Peter Pendleton from Marconi in Writtle, the world's first DJ. Gawp at valves, and old Sinclair Electronics adverts and a proper BBC microphone. Listen in to the radio hams chatting to new friends around the world via short wave (I was almost excited, until the bloke on the other end turned out to be from Norfolk). And end up in a room crammed with wirelesses, reel to reels and cathode ray monsters. I'm sure we used to have one of those.
For a recce round the entire site there are two options...
There's a vintage bus! In fact there are lots, tucked away in a couple of preserved bus garages round the site, but some are quite fragile so don't come out often. Climb aboard and take a ride around the site, welcomed aboard by a conductress in pristine white Southdown uniform. And she'll clip you a ticket too.
There's a narrow gauge railway! It runs round the edge of the site, up the tongue below the cliff and back again. Hop on for free, if you can find a seat, or maybe squeeze your entire family in beside an unsuspecting solo visitor and taint his ride. "Sit down Hayley, no sit down." "Look Noah it's Thomas, toot toot, toot toot!" Volunteer crews (who like playing trains) ride the footplate and spray steam into the sky (or possibly over you). Watch out for the ticket office rescued from Hove station along the way.
There's a bric-a-brac stall! It's more a caravan really, with a pair of volunteers keeping an eye on the books, videos, toys and general bits. If you're having trouble persuading your other half to visit Amberley, maybe mention they do shopping too.
There's a museum of roadmaking! Not cars, but the actual surface on which they run, in copious detail. The building's funded by the Worshipful Company of Paviors, and it's hidden in a chalk pit up the hill so you might well get the place to yourself. As well as a wall of roadsigns (pre and post Worboys), and a big orange cement mixer, there's also a 1970-model traffic bollard and a room round the back including a 1960s Moulton bike. There's even a display of perforated circles showing the development of the Road Fund Licence. For the win.
There's a hillside walk! Most visitors don't bother, it's a bit steep if you're young, and it's a bit steep if you're old. But take the five minute climb up the zigzag path and you'll pass bluebells, primroses and violets, or at least at this time of year you will. And from the top there's a great view down across the South Pit, the entire museum and the rolling Weald beyond. Just me and a yellow butterfly on my visit, gorgeous.
There's a Bodger's Camp! In a glade by the nature trail, a cluster of huts is home to a trio of woodcraft activities. Colin makes shafts and spindles on his pole lathe. Barnersby & Son make rakes and gate hurdles. They both sell their wares and offer the opportunity of a hands-on course, as does the beardy bloke who'll help you to make your own bow and arrow.
There's a pottery! Tilly makes her own stuff on site, including something personalised I've bought for one of you. And she spelt it right.
There's a De Witt lime kiln block, which English Heritage recently threw money at. There's a wheelwright's shop, a relocated roadside cafe and a fire station! There's a village garage with an Austin 7 inside!
Whereas right down the end...
There's an electricity pavilion! It's a big metal shed originally filled by the local electricity company, celebrating all the household uses this magic juice has brought. I loved the mass of historical artefacts, from early electrics via a 1930s shopfront to a Goblin teasmade. There's even a display of 100 years of light switches, and two Sinclair C5s.
There's a Connected World exhibition! BT have a few museum outposts across the country, and here at Amberley they have the telephone collection. It gives up around 2006, so the mobiles look almost prehistoric, but the rest go way back. It was proper nostalgic actually dialling a number, and to try out an A and B button payphone, and to learn how a telephone exchange works (from a 1960s video).
There's a Railway Hall! It's got little working trains and carriages inside, including a MailRail loco with all the canvas hoppers still intact. And there's a green painted hopper from the Bond film "A View To A Kill", inside which Roger Moore and Grace Jones battled, and still painted with the Zorin logo. The museum was used for filming exterior scenes for the mine sequence back in 1984, with a rail tunnel through to the quarry next door playing the part of the entrance.
It is a veritable feast, is Amberley. A pick and mix of heritage goodies, both educational and hands-on, but the exploration is always entertaining. An ideal place for grandparents ("look we had one of those") to bring the family, or for anyone keen to dig through generally uncharted aspects of our nation's recent past. I stayed five hours in the chalk pit, on a glorious Bank Holiday Monday, and revelled in the experience.
And nearby, so you know...
• a minute down the road by the turnpike bridge there's a pub, a brasserie and riverside cafe, each with a capacious car park.
• fifteen minutes walk away is the village of Amberley, a chocolate-box village of curved lanes and thatched roofs. It has a tearoom, a 12th century church and a pottery, but no longer a pub (because the new owner wants to turn it into two houses, which local residents are not happy about)
• the South Downs Way crosses the valley very close by, so before long you can be striding up onto the escarpment for a stunning view.
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, May 07, 2013Tonight Bow E3 hits your TV screen. You probably won't notice, because it's appearing at the same time as the opening round of The Apprentice. But switch to Channel 4 at nine, or use your favourite catch-up service later, and you can enjoy an hour spent down Roman Road Market. It's all part of the new series Mary Portas Queen Of The High Street, in which everyone's favourite shopping guru descends on various retail centres and attempts to enhance their profitability. Later in the series she'll be in Liskeard and Margate, but episode 1 sees Mary doing up a traditional East End market cor blimey how's yer father.
Tonight's show was planned last summer, around the time that the Department for Communities and Local Government were selecting their shortlist of Portas Pilots to receive central funding. Roman Road didn't appear on the initial list, and there have been mutterings that it only sneaked on later because the TV company wanted it. "Roman Road would be the perfect road to bring back to its former glory" they said in an email to the civil servant in charge of the project. "Roman Rd is on top of our list and we're still hopeful that all our towns are part of the government selected towns" they said in another. There's no indication that the civil service reacted to this prodding, obviously, but hey presto here's Roman Road kicking off the series tonight.
Tonight's show was filmed in November last year. Mary came down to Roman Road on a regular basis to talk to stallholders and try to boost takings. She tried a bit of rebranding with swathes of stripy material, and brought in a few food trucks to stir demand. She also had words with the council after discovering that traders earned their pitch merely by rising to the top of the waiting list, not because what they had to sell was appropriate. A minor flurry of local publicity ensued, which some residents almost noticed, and the TV company duly filmed the results.
Tonight's show was edited earlier this year. I know this because the production company contacted me in February to ask if they could use a photo of mine. For narrative reasons they needed an image of the Woolworths that used to stand halfway down the street, a sight rarely included on London's tourist trail, and I just happened to have one lurking on Flickr. There's no guarantee it survived the cut, but if you see a picture of Bow's Woolworths with Christmas sparkle in the window, that's mine. It'll probably be accompanied by a shot of the Iceland that's taken over the building since, just to make a point, but that's Roman Road for you. Hell, we've even still got a Wimpy.
I don't know precisely what tonight's show will reveal, but I thought I'd wander 'down the Roman' on Saturday to see how the market's doing now. Are there any obvious improvements six months on, or have things reverted to normal now the TV cameras and Mary have gone away?
As markets go, Roman Road's fairly smart. Don't come here looking for pan scrubbers and value detergent, it's not that kind of place. I only spotted one stall doing flowers, and one doing fruit and veg, and one doing cheap plastic smartphone covers. Instead the majority of the stalls are clothes or fashion related, which I think has always been the case, but feels a little more concentrated than before. Dresses flapped in the wind on Saturday, and drizzle splattered the handbags on display. One stall offered Bling Bling Shoes, while another had women crowding around to pick from a varied selection of cheap accessories. Ladies of a larger size found their dress choices beneath awnings down a sidestreet, while younger customers could pick up a "silk dress" for £3. Is every garment along here the 100% genuine article? I have my doubts, but then affordability has always been more important than authenticity down Roman Road.
Affordable perhaps, but never quite desirable. Mary hoped to nudge the market upmarket by bringing in the moneyed local crowd brought to Bow by the Olympic factor, but I saw no sign of these people on my walk along the street. Everyone I passed could easily have been a character on EastEnders, economically speaking - there are no bankers or social media planners here. Instead I passed old ladies discussing debt, two friends bickering, gentlemen on mobility scooters, young families seeking bargains... just the sort of people who'd have been here before.
A team of market inspectors were working their way down the street with a clipboard. Kids clustered around "Mickey's Sweets, established 25 years" (in which case that definitely wasn't Mickey running it). A pair of small but angry dogs engaged in a yap-off across the central gangway. Justin Timberlake rang out from a transistor radio, or its modern equivalent. At a stall entitled "Perfumes Similar To" the proprietor had carefully stuck a printed notice over the word "Similar". And up another sideroad a concrete mixer reversed into the site where a new Tesco Metro is being built. Not even Mary can hold back that retail intrusion.
But there is one long-term change here, and that's the appearance of "street food". For those who aren't aware, that's artisan nourishment, one step up from the usual van serving burger and onions. When Mary brought these traders in last year I didn't think they'd last, I couldn't see local folk stumping up. But although a couple of stalls have vanished, a hardcore remains, mostly down the western end by The Albert pub. Saint Sugar have breads and pastries, giant coloured meringues and pains au chocolat, although they're not selling like hot cakes. Here too are Original Fry Up Material, a pair of entrepreneurs with a converted ice cream van who'll fry you breakfast in a muffin smeared with "secret sauce". I'm not usually one for such extravagances, but my takeaway chunky meat treat was delicious. Watch out for OFM on TV tonight (apparently Mary's crew followed them around for a day to see how their homemade sausagemeat was put together), and at various other London locations (including Brick Lane on Sundays).
I spotted Mary at the weekend, not in downtown Bow but in Maida Vale where she lives. She was out with the family (other half, baby son, dog) at the Canalway Cavalcade, perusing the stalls above Little Venice basin. It was good to see an entrepreneurial expert taking appropriate interest in retail opportunities in her own neighbourhood. Whether she'll have a long term effect on mine is yet to be seen, but let's hope tonight's TV programme isn't already over-optimistically out of date.
posted 07:00 :
Monday, May 06, 2013PICCADILLY: Park Royal & Twyford Abbey
The Piccadilly line has more than its fair share of abandoned stations. The more well known are in the centre of town (Aldwych, Down Street, Brompton Road, York Road) but there are also plenty further out. This one's in a corner of Ealing and, just its luck, closed before the Piccadilly even arrived. Let me run you through a history in three parts.
You'd think, if there was an abbey in West London, you'd have heard of it. But Twyford Abbey's hard enough to spot, let alone experience. To be fair it's not really an abbey at all, that's just the name given to the manor house when it was rebuilt by a wealthy coachman 300 years ago. The house then lent its name to the surrounding area, a small group of houses round a 13th century chapel, before being taken over by a group of monks in 1901. They used it as a nursing home, at least until 1988 when they ran out of money and relocated, leaving Twyford Abbey empty. And, somewhat unexpectedly, it's remained empty to this day. There are developers in situ, there are vague plans, but it's difficult to do anything dramatic with a Grade II listed building, and even more so when the building's becoming increasing derelict. One suspects the developers are hoping the building will fall down one day, but it hasn't yet, and remains a not-quite crumbling shell with ambiguous potential.
There is a front gate, but it's firmly locked. Signs attached to the railings warn "Keep Out", "Strictly No Admittance", and the gatehouse is still occupied by a security guard. The drive beyond the gates is sufficiently long and leafy to shield the house from prying eyes, so for a view you need to walk round the houses. At the far end of Brentmead Gardens, almost at the North Circular Road, stands St Mary's Church. It could be an electricity substation, this postwar erection, were it not for the tower and the statue of Mary over the door. But walk up the side through the churchyard and there's the old 13th century chapel tacked onto the back, extended from a capacity of 40 to service the growing population. And beyond that, past the trees and through the hedge, there's the best view you'll get of Twyford Abbey.
It looks a bit like a castle, although those are fake crenellations, and the entire façade has an air of pastiche. The boarded up windows and detached clockfaces don't help. But the surest sign of decay are the yellow and blue-striped awnings flapping from the balconies. Some are intact and extended, others bluntly ripped, others blown up onto the roof above. It's like someone closed down a hotel a quarter of a century ago and whisked the guests away, which in effect they did. The gardens are extensive but now widely overgrown, with cedars rising above, and with tree roots destroying foundations. You could squeeze hundreds of flats into this abandoned space, but as yet nobody has, and so Twyford Abbey decays unseen.
» Four sets of photos from inside Twyford Abbey
» David's video from 2008, stepping through the hedge to explore
Park Royal & Twyford Abbey station
Park Royal earned its name in the same way as did Queen's Park - from the Royal Agricultural Show. The organisers were tired of moving this annual extravaganza round the country so bought a permanent 100 acre site in West London nudging up to Twyford Abbey. The first show at Park Royal opened on 23 June 1903, also the first day that a new station opened alongside on Twyford Abbey Road. The Metropolitan District Railway used the occasion to launch their new extension from Acton through to South Harrow, that's the vertical blue line to the left of a modern tube map. The station was wasn't built with longevity in mind, more a staircase up to a pair of wooden platforms, but it did the job. The Show was attended by King Edward VII, Princess Alexandra and numerous fine specimens of cattle, sheep and pigs. All the latest advances in agricultural machinery and breeding techniques were showcased, and 65000 visitors came along to take a look.
Attendance dropped in 1904, perhaps because West London was so far from the rural heartland. The Royal Agricultural Society attempted to lease parts of the site to other users, but only Queen's Park Rangers could be tempted, moving their home ground (briefly) to the horse-ring. Alas 1905 proved even less successful, with only 24000 visitors turning up, so the Society cut their losses and sold up. The site found more favour with industry, being ideally located for road, rail and canal transport, and eventually grew into the largest industrial estate in southern England. Most notably the horse-ring that had been QPR's home was reborn as the Guinness Brewery, at one point the most productive brewery in the world, but closed in 2005 and since entirely demolished.
And all trace of the station has vanished too. It closed on 6 July 1931 when a new temporary station was opened on Western Avenue half a mile to the south. At this point the trains were still part of the District line - the Piccadilly didn't take over until July 1932. Park Royal & Twyford Abbey was then completely dismantled, with some of its girders transported to Devon to create a footbridge at Dawlish station. A patch of parkland now exists alongside, providing grassy slopes for marketing folk at Diageo HQ to sit on over lunch. It's strangely bland, but rather prettier than the decaying factories hereabouts until not so very long ago.
» A history of Park Royal and Twyford Abbey
Park Royal station
That temporary station on Western Avenue was soon replaced by something permanant, and majestic. Park Royal is a thrusting 30s masterpiece in an Art Deco/Streamline Moderne style. It looks like a Charles Holden, but is actually the work of his proteges Herbert Welch and Felix Lander. The architecture fits together like a set of building blocks - a cuboid for the tower, a cylinder for the ticket hall and a curved quadrant for the shops alongside. Park Royal's brick tower dominates the A40 alongside, rising to mega-roundels only on the sides the public can see. One of the flats above the shopping arcade extends into the foot of the tower, making this one of the most desirable properties in London for the tube-obsessed modernist. The ticket hall is double height with high level windows, its roof supported by symmetrically arranged fluted piers. A cascade of clerestory windows leads each staircase down to platform level. And here, halfway along the northbound, is one of the most delightful waiting rooms on the network. It's more of a shed really, with narrow internal benches and a door that slides shut to keep the winter at bay. In spring, with blossom all around, I can think of few finer stations to dally at.
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