Day 74 – Sloane Square – Chelsea Bridge Road – Pimlico Road

This trip sees us returning to south-west London, specifically the area to the north, south and east of Sloane Square which is a nexus of Chelsea, Belgravia and Pimlico. Basically, about as swanky as it gets. It’s long been a desirable area for the well-off and well-known so there were more blue plaques on this jaunt than you can shake a yappy little handbag dog at. But we’ve also got theatrical history, an iconic department store, a clutch of churches, a few embassies and one of the largest building sites in the capital to offer you. It’s a bit of an epic tbh.

Right next door to today’s starting point, Sloane Square tube station, is the Royal Court Theatre. This red and moulded brick building with a stone facade in free Italianate style was designed by Walter Emden and Bertie Crewe and opened in 1888 as the New Court Theatre. Previously there had been a theatre on the opposite, west side of Sloane Square, a converted non-conformist chapel variously known as the New Chelsea Theatre, the Belgravia Theatre and the Royal Court Theatre between 1870 and 1887. By 1900 the “Royal” monicker had been reapplied to the new theatre and in the following few decades it played host to several of George Bernard Shaw’s plays. It ceased to be used as a theatre in 1932 and became a cinema from 1935 to 1940, until World War II bomb damage closed it. It reopened in 1952 and four years after that was acquired by The English Stage Company whose aim was to produce plays by young and experimental dramatists and “the best contemporary plays from abroad”. This intent was manifested from the outset with the premiere of John Osborne’s “Look Back In Anger” as the third production. Since then, the RCT has “courted” controversy on many occasions and played a key part in bringing about the abolition of theatre censorship laws in the 1960’s. Writers such as Caryl Churchill, Jez Butterworth and Sarah Kane have had multiple works given their first run here and “The Rocky Horror Show” debuted here in 1973. The building was Grade II listed in 1972.

Sloane Square forms a boundary between the two largest aristocratic estates in London, the Grosvenor Estate and the Cadogan. Named after Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753), an Anglo-Irish doctor who, jointly with his appointed trustees, owned the land at the time the square was laid out in 1771. In the 1980’s, of course, it became synonymous with the rise of yuppiedom and the Peter York-coined “Sloane Rangers”. These days the clientele for the Ralph Lauren and Tiffany stores is somewhat different I would imagine though you still have to watch out for marauding Range Rovers and where you step on the pavements.

On the west side of the square, the Peter Jones department store still caters to its traditional demographic however. The shop is named after Peter Rees Jones (1842–1905), the son of a Carmarthenshire hat manufacturer, who opened a store here in 1877 on a 999-year lease from the Cadogan estate at £6,000 per year, the terms of which have never been increased (apparently). After Jones’ death in 1905 the store was bought by a certain John Lewis, who already owned a thriving business on Oxford Street. The present building was built between 1932 and 1936 to designs by William Crabtree of the firm of Slater, Crabtree and Moberly and is the first modern-movement use of the glass curtain wall in Britain. It is a Grade II* listed building. Despite being one of the flagship stores of the John Lewis partnership it has always retained the Peter Jones name.

Just off the square, on Sloane Street, stands Holy Trinity Church which, like the theatre, was constructed in 1888. The architect was John Dando Sedding (1838-1891) who was appointed by the 5th Earl Cadogan and his wife Beatrix. The church is notable for its impressive stain glass windows, chief amongst which is the great east window designed by Edward Burne-Jones (1833 – 1898) and installed by Morris and Company (which was founded by William Morris and members of the pre-Raphaelite movement including Burne-Jones). During WW2 the church was hit by several incendiary bombs causing considerable structural damage. Post-war there was considerable pressure to demolish rather than restore the building, and it was only saved from this threat by a campaign mounted by the Victorian Society and Sir John Betjeman who described the church as the Cathedral of the Arts and Crafts Movement. I should also note that at the time of visiting there was an extensive selection of Charity Christmas cards for sale and the two ladies on the till were very amiable.

It’s about time we got into some actual streets, so let’s kick that off by exiting the square northwards up Sedding Street. On the left we pass the Grade II listed Neo-Georgian Sloan Telephone Exchange which dates from 1924 and was designed by John H. Markham for HM Office of Works. These days it’s used for offices.

At the apex with Sloane Terrace stands the Cadogan Hall. This started life in 1907 as a new Christian Science Church designed by Robert Fellowes Chisholm, hosting up to 1400 worshippers. However, after planning permission for renovations was refused in 1996, the congregation moved on. The Hall was sold but fell into disuse until it was acquired by the Cadogan Estate in 2000 and four years later opened as a concert hall and the permanent base of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Most of the concerts put on here are classical in nature but they also host (mainly) vintage pop and rock acts and jazz performers. In fact, I was due to attend a concert by the now 85-year old Ron Carter (one time bassist with the Miles Davis Quartet) and his current band in a couple of weeks’ time as part of the London Jazz Festival but sadly it’s been postponed until next year.

We turn left down to Sloane Street then turn briefly north before checking out the rear of the Hall on Wilbraham Place. Not an essential photo this next one but I do like these gates.

Returning to Sloane Street again via D’Oyley Street and Ellis Street we come across the first of today’s many blue plaques at no. 95, this one commemorating the English writer, traveller, political officer, administrator, and archaeologist, Gertrude Bell (1868 – 1926). Gertrude spent much of her life travelling around and mapping the Middle East and is principally known for her involvement in the establishment of territorial boundaries in the region following the break-up of the Ottoman Empire post-WW1. She was (alongside T.E Lawrence) a strong advocate for independent Arab states and was also opposed to the Balfour Declaration which determined the future of Palestine. Towards the end of her life she settled in her beloved Baghdad where she was President of the National Library and founded the Iraq Museum as a permanent home for the country’s rich collection of antiquities. I can thoroughly recommend the 2016 documentary about Bell’s life, Letters from Baghdad, in which quotations from her letters are read by Tilda Swinton. 

On reaching Pont Street we turn east and then south again down Cadogan Place where the houses, which distinguish themselves from other stuccoed terraces in the area by having mini gazebos on their first floor balconies, face the extensive eponymous private communal gardens. Both flats and terraced houses here are popular with foreign buyers, the average price of the former being upward of £3m and the latter £11m. There were some extremely expensive looking motors parked along the street but as I have little interest in cars you’ll have to use your imagination. The metal ironing board dumped beside the bollard outside no.69 strikes a nicely incongruous note.

The next two blue plaques appear at nos. 30 and 44 Cadogan Place respectively. The former commemorates the actress Dorothy Bland (aka Mrs Jordan) (1762 – 1816) who was at least as famous for her love life as she was for her comic stage performances. In 1790 she became the mistress of the Duke of Clarence, later King William IV and during their a 20-year relationship bore him 10 children, all given the surname FitzClarence. The couple lived together as husband and wife, mainly at Bushy House in Bushy Park, Surrey, of which William was Ranger, until they finally separated in 1811. Dorothy moved to Cadogan Place the following year, living there for three years before retiring to France where she passed away within a year. The anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce (1759 – 1833) resided at no.44 but only for the last ten days of his life (it was his cousin’s house). One month after his death, the House of Lords passed the Slavery Abolition Act, which abolished slavery in most of the British Empire from August 1834.

Next street along, moving eastward, is Cadogan Lane which is largely comprised of mews houses which back on to the grand residences of its neighbour to the west. At no. 40 is an English Heritage (as opposed to GLC) blue plaque in honour of the writer and actor, Jeremy Lloyd (1930 – 2014). Lloyd is perhaps best known as the co-writer (with David Croft) of the sitcoms Are You Being Served and ‘Allo ‘Allo. In 1974 (at the age of 14) I went with my grandparents to see the recording of an episode of the former at the BBC’s White City studios. To my embarrassment, my grandma collared Jeremy for his autograph.

To the north Cadogan Place extends across Pont Street and here at no.4 Judy Garland died in June 1969 having accidentally overdosed on barbiturates. That house was eventually demolished in 2019.

No launderette of the day this time unsurprisingly so you’ll have to make do with London’s finest dry cleaners which we turn right past to get to Chesham Street where we immediately take a left into Chesham Place. It’s here you’ll find the German Embassy, or rather the 1970’s extension thereof. Amazingly, this won the Westminster City Council prize for architecture in 1978.

Next up is Lowndes Place where the composer, William Walton (1902 – 1983) lived. Among Walton’s orchestral works were marches he wrote for the Coronations of both King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II, entitled Crown Imperial and Orb and Sceptre respectively. Of the 13 film scores he composed those for the three Laurence Olivier-produced Shakespeare adaptions Hamlet, Henry V and Richard III are probably the best known. In 1934 Walton began an affair with Alice, Viscountess Wimborne, his senior by 22 years, which lasted until her death in 1948. Later that same year he met and married (in Buenos Aires) Susana Gil Passo who was 24 years his junior.

At the end of Lowndes Place we turn right into Eaton Place then right again up Lyall Street which was home to the master builder, Thomas Cubitt (1788 – 1855) who featured prominently in Day 69.

At the top end of Lyall Street we make a sharp left turn back down Chesham Street to the westernmost section of Eaton Place which plays host to the Chilean Embassy.

After turning off onto Lyall Street again we follow Eaton Mews North back to Eaton Place.

This next stretch of Eaton Place, going east, is the site of another embassy, that of Hungary. Though (and I’ll hate myself in the morning for saying this), judging from the number plate, that car would be more at home outside the German embassy.

We turn right beyond the embassy down Belgrave Place then switch back westward along a previously unexplored section of Eaton Square. The grandest of the houses along here (no.93), with its double set of columns, was once the residence of Stanley Baldwin (1867 – 1947). Baldwin served as Prime Minister on three separate occasions, May 1923 to January 1924, November 1924 to June 1929, and June 1935 to May 1937. During the last of these stints the country was ruled by three different monarchs, George V, Edward VIII (although he was never crowned) and George VI. These days, of course, it’s hard to imagine a Conservative PM seeing out a full term of office let alone remaining as leader after losing even one election.

Just a few doors away, at no. 86, lived Edward Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax (1881 – 1959). He held various ministerial posts during the first and last of Baldwin’s three terms of office and in between time served as Viceroy of India from 1926 to 1931. Neville Chamberlain appointed him as Foreign Secretary in 1938 and he initially gave his support to the appeasement of Nazi Germany. However, after Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, he became a proponent of resistance to further German aggression. On Chamberlain’s resignation early in May 1940, Halifax effectively declined the position of Prime Minister as he felt that Winston Churchill would be a more suitable wartime leader. Following the retreat from Dunkirk, Halifax proposed trying to reach peace terms with Hitler using Mussolini as an intermediary. He was overruled by Churchill after a series of stormy meetings of the War Cabinet and was subsequently eased out of the Foreign Office, becoming UK ambassador to the USA from 1941 to 1946.

On the corner of Eaton Place and West Eaton Place is the house where Frederick Chopin gave his first London performance in 1848. West Eaton Place runs into Eaton Terrace where the Antelope pub is in full bloom.

Beyond the pub, Cliveden Place takes us all the way back to Sloane Square. Before we finally leave the square via the southern section of Sloane Street I’ll just quickly mention the two monuments on the island. The Venus Fountain was created in 1953 having been designed by sculptor Gilbert Ledward. The fountain itself depicts the Goddess Venus, and on the basin section is a relief which depicts King Charles II and Nell Gwynn by the Thames. At the other end, the Chelsea War Memorial is a slightly off-centre cross made of Portland Stone with a large bronze sword affixed to its west face.

This section of Sloane Street, which runs down to join Chelsea Bridge Road, is lined on its west side by impressive Dutch style red-brick buildings built in the 19th century at the instigation of Earl Cadogan.

A good run of streets now before we get to the next point of interest (yet more of those blessed blue plaques !). So we’re working our way east to get to South Eaton Place and taking us there are Sloane Gardens, Holbein Place, Whittaker Street, Bourne Street, Caroline Terrace, Eaton Terrace, Eaton Gate, Lyall Street and Eaton Mews West. On reaching no.16 South Eaton Place we are presented with two plaques. The topmost is in honour of Robert Cecil, 1st Viscount Cecil of Chelwood (1864 – 1958) one of the creators of the League of Nations post-WW1 and accordingly winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1937 (though I’d rate that as the very definition of a pyrrhic victory given what happened two years later). The one underneath celebrates Philip Noel-Baker (1889 – 1982) the politician, diplomat, academic, athlete, and renowned campaigner for disarmament. He carried the British team flag and won a silver medal for the 1500m at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, and (how’s this for coincidence) also received the Nobel Peace Prize (in 1959). So far, he is the only person to have won both an Olympic Medal and a Nobel Prize.

We’re heading back west to the top end of Chelsea Bridge Road next by means of Chester Row, Graham Terrace and Holbein Mews.

Holbein Mews

The 12-acre site to the east of Chelsea Bridge Road between Pimlico Road and Ebury Bridge Road was formerly occupied by the Chelsea Barracks. The original barracks, designed to house two battalions of infantry, were completed in 1862 and comprised a long and monotonous brick structure broken by towers in the centre. It also included a chapel which still remains (and which we will come to later). In the late 1950s these original buildings were demolished and in June 1960, construction started on new barracks primarily consisting of two 13-storey concrete tower-blocks which were used to accommodate four companies from the Guards Regiments.

In 2005 the then government announced that Chelsea Barracks would be sold and three years later the site was vacated with the troops transferred to the Royal Artillery Barracks at Woolwich. In the meantime, a sale to the Qatar Investment Authority for £959m had been agreed subject to Westminster Council’s stipulation that 50% of any residential units should be affordable housing. The original development scheme proposed, a contemporary design with a series of copper, glass and concrete pavilions, by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners met this requirement but was withdrawn after criticism from Prince Charles. A new masterplan – designed by Squire and Partners – was approved by Westminster Council in 2011. Under this scheme the site would be redeveloped in multiple phases over several years and would incorporate 448 residential units including 123 affordable units (27%), as well as a new leisure centre, NHS medical centre, community centre and local shops. Phases 1 to 3 have now been completed and ground has been broken on phase 4.

As you can see the results are a long way short of awe-inspiring and, to make matters worse, the buildings facing on to Chelsea Bridge Road have some of the naffest poetry I’ve ever encountered etched in their walls. Cabbage face and mushroom lips my arse ! The Qataris are also noticeably more comfortable advertising their involvement in this project that others around the capital. According to one of the security guards the penthouse apartments have a guide price of around £120m.

Anyway, moving on, we follow Chelsea Bridge Road down to its eponymous river crossing then backtrack to the start of Ebury Bridge Road. On the corner here is a plaque marking the flat where Jerome K. Jerome (1859 – 1927) wrote his timeless Three Men In A Boat in 1889. This humorous account of a two-week boating trip on the Thames upstream from Kingston to Oxford has been filmed numerous times including the 1956 screen adaptation, with David Tomlinson as J., Jimmy Edwards as Harris and Laurence Harvey as George, as well as German and Russian language versions.

Heading east along Ebury Bridge Road, with a quick detour into Gatcliff Road, yet another massive development on the south side is at least trying something different with these colourful (but temporary) work and community spaces.

I mentioned earlier that I’m no car buff but who doesn’t love an old Wolseley like this one on St Barnabas Street.

St Barnabas Street intersects Ranelagh Grove where you’ll find that chapel referred to above. As noted, this example of mid 19th Century Romanesque-Byzantine style with Venetian Gothic elements is the only thing that remains of the original barracks. As part of the current development this Grade II listed building was fully restored, including a new bell cast by the world’s largest foundry, John Taylor & Co., and is now home to the Prince’s Foundation (as in Charles of course) – funny that !

Our route takes us back west briefly next, Bloomfield Terrace leading into Pimlico Road which we follow down past Dove Place and Whistler Square (phase one of the Barracks development) before doubling back as far as Passmore Street. En route we pass the southern end of Holbein Place where there is a memorial to WW2 SOE agent Yvonne Cormeau (1909 -1997). In 1940 her husband, who had enlisted in The Rifle Brigade and been sent back to the UK after being wounded, was killed when their London home was bombed. Yvonne’s life was saved by a bathtub which fell over her head and protected her but not her unborn baby. Shortly thereafter she joined the WAAF (to “take her husband’s place) and in 1943 was recruited by the SOE where she was swiftly promoted to Flight Officer. Later that year she was parachuted into southwestern France to be the wireless operator for the SOE network there; a role she carried out until the liberation of France 13 months afterwards. Before dedicating herself to the SOE she placed her 2-year old daughter with a convent of Ursuline nuns in Oxfordshire.

Once on Passmore Street we take an almost immediate right turn into Bunhouse Place which takes us back onto Bourne Street. In Ormonde Place, a discreet a relatively recent private residential development on the west side there is a somewhat incongruous statue of Hercules (about which I can find no further information).

St Mary’s Anglican Church on Bourne Street was built ‘quickly and cheaply’ in 1874, with the intention of providing ministry to the poor living in the nearby slums of Pimlico. Sadly, it appears there is little else of note to be said about it.

We pass the church to the south along Graham Terrace and make our way back to the intersection of Eaton Terrace and Chester Row for today’s pub of the day. The Duke of Wellington is devoid of other clientele when I enter but as I work my way through a (pretty good) fish finger sandwich and glass of Sauvignon there is a flurry of fresh arrivals (mostly tourists).

We make our way back along Chester Road then drop down South Eaton Place to Gerald Road to continue east. Here we find the last (blue) plaque for today commemorating the residence at no. 15 between 1930 and 1956 of the playwright, composer, director, actor, singer and noted wit, Sir Noel Coward (1899 – 1973). During this period, he penned two of his most successful stage works, Private Lives and Blithe Spirit and collaborated with David Lean on the patriotic WW2 films In Which We Serve and This Happy Breed. Subsequently, in 1945, he also provided the (uncredited) narration for Lean’s Brief Encounter.

From Gerald Road we turn right onto Elizabeth Street then head back west along Ebury Street. Next left, Semley Place, leads into Ebury Square and off the south-western corner of the square, where the very short Avery Farm Row adjoins with Pimlico Road, stands the Memorial Fountain to Richard Grosvenor, 2nd Marquess of Westminster. Created in an Italian-renaissance style in around 1869 this incorporates four enamel mosaics by the renowned Italian glassmaker and artist, Antonio Salviati.

We make our way back up the west side of the square into Cundy Street. I was shocked to learn (from another security guard) that the splendid 1950’s estate, designed by T.P Bennett with a definite nod to Art Deco, is scheduled for demolition. Grosvenor Estates, which owns the site has received approval from Westminster Council to replace the existing 160 flats (44 of which are leased by the council) with new housing including 88 affordable homes, senior living housing for up to 170 people and 75 open market homes. These will be framed by new and improved green spaces and introduce a community hub, food store and cinema to the area. To my mind (and that of the existing residents who fought unsuccessfully against the plans) this could have been achieved without doing away with the current flats.

Back on Ebury Street is a today’s very final plaque (honestly). It’s one of the rare sepia brown London County Council ones from pre-WW2 and it commemorates the house in which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) composed his first symphony in 1764 (at the age of eight !).

I don’t tend to focus on retail establishments very much but sometimes you just can’t help yourself.

Ebury Street ends at Pimlico Road where we turn east briefly to find ourselves at the top end of St Barnabas Street. On the corner here is the Grade II listed Orange Pub and Hotel (formerly the Orange Brewery) which dates from 1845-6. And across St Barnabas Street is the Church of St Barnabas which is a year younger, having been completed in 1847 to the designs of Thomas Cundy (Junior).  It was one of the earliest Ritualistic churches, and the first in London in which all pews were free (charging for pews was normal practice at the time). The building was listed Grade I in 1958.

To finish off today (at last) we follow Ranelagh Grove and the last section of Pimlico Road onto Ebury Bridge Road and head up towards Victoria past the National Audit Office. This seminal example of Art Deco architecture was probably the last hurrah for that iconic style of building (at least as far as the UK is concerned). It was constructed as The Imperial Airways Empire Terminal and opened in June 1939 just months before the outbreak of WW2. Designed by the architect Albert Lakeman it has a symmetrical facade with a 10-storey central clock tower and wings curving forward to form a crescent shape. As well as being used by Imperial Airways for ticketing and checking in passengers, it was also used by the airline as a Head Office. The location was chosen because the Air Ministry insisted that Southampton had to be used as base for flying boat services, and this was the only site that backed on to what was then Southern Railway station. Over the years the name of the building changed in synch with changes to the national airline, becoming first the BOAC Terminal and then the British Airways Terminal. The building closed to passenger use in 1980, partly due to pressure on BA to cut costs and also because it became redundant as Heathrow Airport gained direct transport links. It was officially listed a year later and since 1986 has been occupied by the National Audit Office, the independent Parliamentary body with responsibility for auditing central government departments, government agencies and non-departmental public bodies. The sculpture above the entrance, “Wings Over The World” designed by Eric Broadbent, is the only remaining external clue as to the building’s original use.

Day 70 Part 2 – Black Prince Road – Lambeth Road – Albert Embankment

On to the second leg of this excursion and this time we’re knocking off the triangle of streets bounded by Black Prince Road, Kennington Road and Lambeth Road then heading back down the Albert Embankment to Vauxhall station.

We start on the Albert Embankment at White Hart Dock. The origins of a dock and slipway at this site can be traced back to the 14th century. The present structure was built c.1868 as a parish dock when the Albert Embankment was constructed by the Metropolitan Board of Works to improve flood defences. Several other inland docks were built to enable continued access to the river for firms such as the Doulton Pottery (see below) but now only White Hart Dock remains. It was used to hold an Emergency Water Supply during the Second World War and the faded EWS logo can still be seen on the brickwork of the western wall. In 1960 the Borough of Lambeth sought to close White Hart Dock as it had “not been used by commercial craft for very many years” but the proposal wasn’t implemented and the Dock just fell dormant and largely unnoticed. Then in 2009, the Dock was cleaned and refurbished and Handspring Design were commissioned by Lambeth BC to create the timber sculpture now seen in and around it. Made in Sheffield from sustainably sourced English Oak, the arches and boats celebrate the meeting of land and river and remind us of the site’s long history.

There is also a plaque here (possibly the wordiest you’ll find in the whole of London) commemorating the victims of the mid-nineteenth century Lambeth Cholera Epidemic. During 1848 and 1849 at least 1,600 nearby residents (who took their water directly from the river) died of cholera and were buried in unmarked graves. It was by studying this tragedy and the 1854 outbreak in Soho (which we covered many moons ago) that Dr John Snow (1813 – 1858) was able to conclude that cholera was a waterborne disease rather than one transmitted through the air.

Heading away from the river on Black Prince Road named as you will recall (if you were paying attention last time) after Edward of Woodstock, the eldest son of Edward III. Edward junior never made it onto the regnal throne as he died of dysentery at the age of 46. Instead, on the death of Edward III, succession passed to the Black Prince’s 10 year old younger son, Richard (II). At the junction with Lambeth High Street stands the formidable Southbank House which is the only surviving part of the Doulton Pottery complex that dominated this area from the early Victorian era until the mid 1950’s. This Grade II listed gothic extravaganza with its striking pink and sandy-coloured terracotta ornamentation was built in 1876-78, probably to a design of architect, Robert Stark Wilkinson. The building housed the pottery’s museum and art school as well as serving as company HQ. During WW2 the pottery’s industrial buildings presented an easy target for German bombers and the resulting destruction hastened the process of transferring production facilities to Stoke-On-Trent which had begun in the the 1930’s. New clean air regulations finally sounded the death knell for the Lambeth factory in 1956 and demolition of all the buildings apart from the HQ followed shortly thereafter.

Beyond Southbank House and after passing under the railway we turn left into Newport Street. Adjacent to the railway, the Beaconsfield Contemporary Art Gallery occupies the southern (girls) wing and only remaining part of the former Lambeth Ragged School. This was built 1849-1851 by Henry Beaufoy, whose family wealth came from the vinegar trade, in memory of his late wife, Eliza. Originally the plot had been owned by South-Western Railway and in 1903 the decision was made to sell the site back to them. One year later most of the school was knocked down when the railway was widened. Network Rail still own the freehold for the site. Beaconsfield took over the lease from the London Fire Brigade in 1994 and worked with LKM Architects to restore the building and transform it into a contemporary art space. 

We turn left after the gallery, back under the railway, along Whitgift Street, named after John Whitgift who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1583 to 1604. At the end we turn right into Lambeth High Street past the Windmill pub, renowned for its extensive selection of rums apparently.

The building behind the pub was formerly the headquarters of the London Fire Brigade and looking back down Lambeth Hight Street towards the rear of Southbank House there is some vestigial evidence of this.

To the east of Lambeth High Street at its top end lie the Old Paradise Gardens. These public gardens were opened in 1884 on the site of what had been the burial ground for St Mary’s Church from 1703 to 1853. The old gravestones can still be seen around the perimeter of the gardens, the walls of which are Grade II listed. Originally known as Lambeth High Street Recreation Ground the gardens were renamed in 2013 following refurbishment.

Just beyond the gardens is Old Paradise Street which takes us east to the top end of Newport Street home to the eponymous gallery, created through the conversion of three listed buildings, which were purpose-built in 1913 to serve as scenery painting studios for the booming Victorian theatre industry in London’s West End. With the addition of two new buildings, the gallery now spans half the length of the street. It opened in 2015 for the purpose of displaying works from Damien Hirst’s private art collection to the public free of charge. The current exhibition, which runs until 12 December 2021, features the hyper-realistic paintings of Richard Estes, a mixture of vignettes of American urban life and panoramic landscapes.

The railway arches on the other side of the street are all part of the Pimlico Plumbers empire.

Beyond these, heading south again, we’re back on Black Prince Road and moving eastward into what was one of the largest conglomerations of social housing in the capital. Or at least it was when the various apartment blocks and towers where originally constructed in the late sixties and early seventies. These days there is a significant interspersal of private ownership. We make an immediate loop of Lambeth Walk, Lollard Street and Gibson Road (and we’ll come on to the cultural resonance of the former later on) to start with. Then further east on Black Prince Road, Marylee Way provides the main route into the Ethelred Estate. In 2012 the residences in Ethelred and its sister estates, Thorlands and Magdalen, still owned by Lambeth Council (around 1,300 leaseholds and tenancies) were transferred to Housing Association, WATMOS. This was after a ballot of tenants in which 51.1% voted in favour. Hopefully it’s working out better than Brexit.

The estates are to the north of Black Prince Road. Of note on the south side is the Beaufoy Institute, built in 1907 by Henry’s nephew, Mark Hanbury Beaufoy, as a technical school for boys and also to replace his uncle’s Ragged School which had been torn down three years earlier. The Beaufoy vinegar-making dynasty began in 1741 when the family switched from the distilling of gin, apparently horrified by the damage it caused and its toxic ingredients. Their malt vinegar was used on ships as a ‘fumigator, antiseptic and preservative’ and the Beaufoys acquired a lucrative Navy contract. They also produced ‘sweets’ or ‘mimicked’ wines from raisins with added sugar and by 1872 were advertising cordials and non-alcoholic drinks as well. The Beaufoy vinegar works were bombed in 1941, and the Institute was requisitioned for use by women manufacturing munitions. It returned to use as a school after the war, before being eventually acquired by Lambeth Council. It was bought by the London Diamond Way Buddhist Centre in 2012.

At the eastern end of the street named after him the Black Prince is also commemorated with a pub on the corner with Hotspur Street.

We turn north up Kennington Road then dip into the estates and back out again via Lollard Street, Distin Street and Fitzalan Street. Further up Kennington Road we veer off along Walnut Tree Walk which returns us to Lambeth Walk. En route we encounter Hornbeam Close and Bedlam Mews, which some local vandals have decided merits some retrospective nominative determinism.

Lambeth Walk is, of course, best known for being the title of one of the songs in the 1937 musical Me and My Girl. The contemporaneous musical, with music by Noel Gay and original book and lyrics by Douglas Furber and L. Arthur Rose, tells the story of an unapologetically unrefined cockney gentleman named Bill Snibson, who learns that he is the 14th heir to the Earl of Hareford. It was revived several times in the 1940’s and made a triumphant return to the West End in 1984 in a version revised by Stephen Fry and starring Robert Lindsay and Emma Thompson.

I have to say that if the song didn’t already exist I doubt anyone would be inspired to write it by the present-day Lambeth Walk.

It does however boast Pelham Hall which was built as Lambeth Mission Hall in about 1910 and is distinguished with an exterior pulpit.  The building is now home to the the sculpture department of Morley College.

On the wall of the adjacent Chandler Hall Community Centre is a stone plaque dedicated to Charlie Chaplin who lived in the area in his youth and whose uncle ran the (long since departed) Queens Head pub in Black Prince Road. No. 5 Lambeth Walk, on the junction with China Walk, was built in 1958 to replace the Victorian municipal swimming baths which a V2 bomb had destroyed in 1945. The new building had no pool but provided slipper baths and laundry facilities for the local community. In the early 1990’s it was reconfigured for use as a GP practice.

Lambeth Walk doglegs into Lambeth Road where he turn left and head down towards Lambeth Bridge. At 109 Lambeth Road is the building that houses the Metropolitan Police’s Forensic Science Laboratory. It also hosts the Met’s 24 hour emergency call centre and its Lost Property office (inter alia). And it does more than nearly any other building of its era to give Brutalist architecture a bad name (not that it’s not intrinsically a bad name to start with).

Across the road, in stark contrast, is the former Holy Trinity Primary School (1880) now part of Fairley House School (for children with learning difficulties).

Back on the same side of the road as the Met and just beyond it stands the Bell Building which is a poster child for the sympathetic redevelopment of former public houses into residential space. Crucially the emblematic exterior sculpture of a man lifting a heavy bell has been retained.

Crossing the road again we’re in front of the former St Mary’s Church which was saved from demolition in 1977 by Rosemary and John Nicholson who turned it into The Garden Museum. The church is the burial place of John Tradescant The Elder (c1570 – 1638), the first great gardener and plant-hunter in British history. Tradescant was gardener to Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury then to George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham (remember him) and finally to Charles I, after Buckingham’s assassination. His son, John Tradescant The Younger (1608 – 1662), followed in his footsteps as royal head gardener and is buried beside him. The first church on this site predates the Norman Conquest and is mentioned in the Domesday Book. The present church was originally built in 1337 and the bell tower still largely retains its 14th century form. The rest of the building was substantially rebuilt in the Victorian era.

Turn to the right beyond St Mary’s and you’re face to face with Lambeth Palace or, more specifically, Morton’s Tower. You can’t go beyond this gateway as a rule since, as it rather pompously states on the website, this is “a working palace and a family home” and therefore not open to the public except on rare special occasions. The Tower was built by John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1486–1501 and is one of the few surviving examples of the early Tudor style of brick building. From the time of its completion onward the “Lambeth Dole” of bread, broth and money (which originated in the 13th century) was dispensed to beggars at the gate. In his 1785 History of Lambeth Palace archivist Andrew Ducarel writes that in his day it was regularized and consisted of a weekly allowance of 15 quartern loaves, 9 stone of beef and 5s., which were divided amongst around 30 poor parishioners and distributed three times a week. The practice was discontinued after 1842 and replaced with direct pecuniary grants to the poor.

After negotiating the roundabout at the nexus of Lambeth Road and Lambeth Bridge we set off on the final stage of today’s journey, southward along the Albert Embankment to Vauxhall Station. Almost immediately on the left is the headquarters of the International Maritime Organization and just beyond that the former HQ of the London Fire Brigade (as referenced earlier). Commissioned by the London County Council, the building was designed by EP Wheeler, architect to the LCC, with sculpture work by Gilbert Bayes, Stanley Nicholas Babb and FP Morton. It was opened by King George VI in 1937. Despite not being one of the prime examples of 1930’s architecture in the capital it has acquired a Grade II listing. In 2020 a plan to redevelop the building into a new home for the LFB Museum and erect two towers of over 20 storeys each immediately behind creating over 400 flats and a 200 bedroom hotel was submitted to public inquiry. Although the scheme had the support of the London Fire Commissioner and Lambeth Council it was vetoed by the Secretary of State for Housing in the summer of 2021. (The main objection being, I think, that it would spoil the views from the Palace of Westminster).

Time for the pub of the day finally, and in the face of plenty of stiff competition, the sunny skies tipped the balance in favour of the Tamesis Dock, a converted 1930’s Dutch barge, permanently moored on the river opposite the Millbank Tower.

These floating bars tend to charge over the odds but this one was pretty reasonable and thanks to the mild weather (for mid- November) I was able to enjoy a glass of wine and some baked goats cheese up on the deck, in glorious isolation and with a great view of the Houses of Parliament. Until I drew the attention of the local gulls that is.

Lambeth Council actually designated the Albert Embankment riverfront an Area of Conservation in 2001 but as noted earlier this hasn’t stopped them approving plans for redevelopment. The Corniche Building, designed by Foster & Partners, was completed in spring 2020 and along with the adjacent Dumont and Merano residential blocks has created 472 new luxury apartments close to the river.

As we approach Vauxhall Bridge the railway converges with the Albert Embankment and the river moves away.

The space between the road at the river here at Vauxhall Cross is famously occupied by the MI6 Headquarters. Officially the organisation that operates out of these premises is called the Special Intelligence Service (SIS). The MI6 pseudonym was used extensively during WW2 especially if an organisational link needed to be made with MI5 (the Security Service) but it is no longer applied by the secret services themselves. Of course it’s still the go-to appellation as far as the media and popular culture are concerned. SIS moved to Vauxhall Cross in 1994 from its previous home, Century House, on Westminster Bridge Road (see Day 55). Architect Terry Farrell won the competition to design the new HQ and he took his inspiration from 1930s architecture such as Battersea and Bankside power stations, as well as Mayan and Aztec temples. The building has 60 different roof areas and six perimeter and internal atria, and also incorporates specially designed doors and 25 different types of glass to meet the Service’s specific needs. Vauxhall Cross has, of course, featured in many of the films in the James Bond franchise made since it was opened. The building was first featured in GoldenEye in 1995 and is depicted as coming under attack in The World Is Not Enough (1999) and Skyfall (2012). In fact in the latter the front of the building is completely destroyed in an explosion. A 15 metre high model of the building was constructed at Pinewood Studios to create this illusion which was cheered by MI6 staff at a special screening of Skyfall at Vauxhall Cross. Filming for the 24th film in the series, Spectre, took place on the Thames near Vauxhall Cross in May 2015, with the fictional controlled demolition of the building playing a key role in the finale sequence of the film.

The light is beginning to fade as we head up onto platform 8 of Vauxhall Station and before the train arrives to take us back to the suburbs there’s just time to contemplate how very different this view would have looked just a couple of years ago.

Day 68 – Buckingham Palace Road – Ebury Street – Eaton Square

Back again at long last then. For this resumption we’re exploring the (extremely) upmarket and pretty verdant nexus of Belgravia and Pimlico. There are quite a few interesting former residents to check out and plenty of colourful springtime flora to brighten the route.

Starting point today is Victoria Railway Station from where we head south down Wilton Road. Turning left into Gillingham Street we encounter the first of today’s many blue plaques at no. 17, commemorating the writer Joseph Conrad (1857 – 1924). Conrad was born in the Ukraine into a family of Polish land-owning nobility. After being sent to Marseilles as a 16 year-old to take up a career with the French Merchant Navy he enlisted with its British counterpart four years later. At this stage his largely self-taught knowledge of English was still very rudimentary. He began writing his first novel in 1889 but his two most well-known works, Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim, date from the turn of the century by which time he had been forced by ill-health to give up a life at sea. Orson Welles adapted the former for his first screenplay for RKO pictures in 1939 but ended up abandoning it in favour of Citizen Kane; forty years later it became the inspiration for Apocalypse Now. Lord Jim made it to the screen twice, in 1925 and 1965, the second time with Peter O’Toole in lead role.

We return to Wilton Road via Gillingham Row then continue south as far as Longmoore Street which feeds into Vauxhall Bridge Road to the east with the help of Upper Tachbrook Street. Returning west along Warwick Way then north up Guildhouse Street brings us back to Gillingham Street. We double-back up Wilton Road and swing into Bridge Place which runs to the east of the lines running out of Victoria Station. At the junction with Belgrave Road sits the London branch of HM Passport Office, Globe House. This was opened in 2002 and replaced the office on Petty France which had acted as the the London-based passport issuer for fifty years.

Turning right we cross Eccleston Bridge over the railway lines (though Google Maps seems to think this is an underpass).

On the other side is the southern access to Victoria Station reached via the Victoria Place shopping mall which was unsurprisingly quite deserted. It also possesses the most pointless pair of escalators I have seen in a long time (and people were actually using them !)

Beyond the mall we turn north up Buckingham Palace Road and head up to Grosvenor Gardens which runs either side of the eponymous triangular green space. At the southern corner of the gardens is Terminal House with its familiar 1930’s style Portland stone cladding. It was actually built between 1927 and 1930 to a design by architects Yates, Cook and Darbyshire with some assistance from Edwin Lutyens.

The gardens themselves are looking particularly resplendent in the Spring sunshine (far more so than I remember from my time working in the vicinity). They are dedicated to Marshall Ferdinand Foch (1851 – 1929) whose equestrian statue stands adjacent to Buckingham Palace Road. Foch served as Supreme Allied Commander during the First World War. It was Foch who on 11 November 1918 accepted the German request for an armistice. He was in favour of crippling settlement terms that would render Germany unable to pose any future threat to his native France but was overruled by the British and Americans. As the Treaty of Versailles was being signed on 28 June 1919, he declared: “This is not peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.” His words proved prophetic though, ironically, historians generally consider that the rise of the Nazis and the outbreak of WW2 were in large part attributable to the harshness of the treaty terms rather than their leniency.

Fittingly the mansion blocks on the two prongs of Grosvenor Gardens have a distinctly French appearance. Grosvenor Gardens House (in the background above) was built in 1868 in a French renaissance style by architect Thomas Cundy III and originally known as Belgrave Mansions. The parents of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother had a home there so she may have been born there in 1900, though this is not known definitively. Less uncertain is that David Niven was born there in 1910. In 1878 the proto-venture capitalist and philanthropist William Henry Blackmore killed himself in his study following a disastrous investment in a US railroad. And in 2017 the building featured in a £132-million High Court trial for damages brought against luxury property developers, Christian and Nick Candy (the latter married to Holly Valance) which was eventually resolved in their favour.

The artwork you can see in the slides, comprised of three brightly coloured, chimneyed mini dwellings is by sculptor and designer Richard Woods and entitled Small, Medium and Large. According to Woods the title references the commercial choices we are presented with on a daily basis. He also points out the sculpture’s flirtation with perspective. “It’s large enough that standing at one end of it distorts your point of view. The big house looks small and the small house looks big depending on your perspective.”

At the apex of the gardens we head briefly southward on Ebury Street before turning left back to Terminal House then continuing south by was of Phipp’s Mews and Eccleston Place. This brings us out onto leafy Eccleston Street where we take a right turn. As I pass a perambulatory trio of well-heeled ladies of one of them expostulates loudly “Now, can we talk about my bouquet !” I am unable to contextualise this in any way.

From here we head back up Ebury Street then west on Lower Belgrave Street which gets us to the top end of Chester Square. This is the smallest and least grand of the three residential garden squares created by the Grosvenor Family (since 1874 the possessors of the Dukedom of Westminster) in the mid nineteenth century. These things are relative though, a house here will still set you back north of £20m at the very least. Past and present residents include Margaret Thatcher, Roman Abramovich, Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful and Nigella Lawson. No. 76 is the residence of the ambassador of Colombia.

At the end of the first of the triptych of gardens that comprise Chester Square we turn right along Belgrave Place to reach Eaton Square. Eaton Square is divided into six separate (private need I add) gardens being intersected laterally by Lyall Street in addition to Belgrave Place and right through middle by the A3217 which leads into Sloane Square. The gardens are all Grade II listed on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. Architect Thomas Cubitt was commissioned by the Grosvenors to oversee the design and building of the surrounding houses which are predominantly three-bay-wide porticoed buildings, joined in regular terraces in a classical style, with four or five main storeys, plus attic and basement and a mews house behind. The first block was laid out in 1827.

A circuit of the uppermost two gardens takes us past the Bolivian Embassy at no.106 which could be said to be punching above its weight (if you were being unkind).

First of several blue plaques is at no. 37 in the south middle section where Neville Chamberlain (1869 – 1940) resided from 1923 to 1935. Chamberlain is, of course, one of the most maligned British politicians of the 20th century on account of his futile and humiliating attempt to reach a peace agreement with Hitler. What history tends to forget that his signing of the Munich agreement in September 1938 and his homecoming declaration of “A Peace For Our Time” was strongly approved of by the British public at the time. What I hadn’t appreciated until I looked into his life was that he actually survived as PM until as late as May 1940 when the failure of a military campaign to get a defensive foothold in Norway led to his downfall. Also unbeknown to me was that he only lived for a further six months after his resignation before succumbing to bowel cancer.

A few doors down, no. 44 was briefly home to Prince Klemens von Metternich (1773 – 1859). Metternich was one of the most influential politicians of nineteenth century Europe, playing a significant part in Austria becoming a major political force on the continent in the first half of that century. As Foreign Minister he led the Austrian delegation at the 1815  Congress of Vienna which redrew the map of Europe following the (initial) defeat of Napoleon (after 6 months of negotiations it was signed nine days before the Battle of Waterloo). In 1821 Metternich was appointed Chancellor of State and devoted the next 27 years to trying to uphold the status quo. In 1848 however he became a casualty of the wave of revolutions that swept through Europe that year. Within the Austro-Hungarian Empire this took the form of a series of nationalist revolts in several of the occupied territories. Metternich went into exile, initially in England, and spent four months in Eaton Square before decamping to Brighton and then to Brussels.

No. 80 on the north-western most section was where the American financier and philanthropist, George Peabody (1795 – 1869) died. We have encountered him many times before on this odyssey in relation to the various Peabody Trust housing estates which still to this day provide affordable housing for Londoners. Born into a poor family, Peabody started out in the dry goods business before moving into banking. He relocated to London in 1837 where he came the pre-eminent American banker in the then capital of world finance, co-founding the firm that eventually became J.P. Morgan. Peabody donated over $8m (equivalent to more than $160m today) to philanthropic causes, mostly during his lifetime.

Let’s have a quick break from the blue plaques to show a couple of shots of these extensive gardens, which on this glorious spring day were being enjoyed by less than half a dozen of the entitled residents across their six separate sections.

The final former resident to namecheck is Vivien Leigh (1913 – 1967) who had a flat at no. 54. Leigh was born Vivian Mary Hartley in British-ruled India. Her initial acting successes came on the stage then in 1937 she got her screen breakthrough starring alongside Laurence Olivier in the historical drama Fire Over England. Their meeting created history of a different kind. In short order Leigh and Olivier moved in together though it wasn’t until early 1940 that their respective original spouses granted them divorces. Prior to that, of course, Vivien had won the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind in the face of the stiffest of competition. She was awarded the best actress Oscar, a feat she repeated with her performance in 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire. She had however already had struggles with her mental health by this time and those struggles worsened during the 1950’s. In 1960 she and Olivier divorced and then in 1967 the chronic tuberculosis, with which she had first been diagnosed on the 1940’s, resurfaced and took her life.

In a strange twist of fate, the same flat in Eaton Square was later occupied by the German-Actress Luise Rainer (1910 – 2014) who had been one of the other actresses in the running for the part of Scarlett O’Hara. Rainer moved to Hollywood in 1935 and despite only making eight films there over a four year period remarkably also won the Best Actress Oscar twice – for The Great Ziegfield (1935) and The Good Earth (1937). The only other actress to have won two Oscars by the age of 30 is Jodie Foster. However, the pressure which accompanied that early success led her to suddenly quit the film business in 1938. She died at no. 44 just 13 days shy of her 105th birthday. (Almost twice the age Vivien Leigh lived to).

Having completed the meanderings in and around Eaton Square we follow Elizabeth Street back to Chester Square. At the southern end stands St Michael’s Church which was built in 1844, contemporaneously with the square itself. The church was designed in the Decorated Gothic style by Thomas Cundy the younger. The War Memorial Chapel at the north east end of the church was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott (the red telephone box man if you were paying attention many moons ago) and completed in 1920.

Having completed a circuit of the lower of the two Chester Square gardens we continue east on Elizabeth Street, home to several upmarket boutiques and eateries as well as Walden Chymist (sic), family-run since 1846. A good day for the statutorily required alfresco dining even if that’s not well represented buy the photo below.

Another stretch of Ebury Street next and the final blue plaque of the day. No. 109 is where Dame Edith Evans (1888 – 1976) lived up until the age of about 14. (A young Noel Coward lived next door at number 111 which his mother ran as a boarding-house). Edith is best known for her stage roles including her seminal performances as Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Altogether now “A h-a-a-a-andbagggg !” She appeared in a handful of silent films during the First World War years but after the last of these in 1917 it was another thirty years before she ventured away from the stage again. In her later years she made eighteen screen outings, a rare example of an actress who enjoyed greater success beyond middle age than before it. Though she will always be associated with playing haughty, aristocratic women those weren’t the roles she especially wanted to be remembered for. When she first read through the role of Lady Bracknell with John Gielgud she commented, “I know those sort of women. They ring the bell and tell you to put a lump of coal on the fire.”

When we reach the intersection with Eccleston Street we turn right and then right again onto the continuation of Eccleston Place. Halfway down here is Eccleston Yards which Google describes as a trendy plaza and which afforded a better shot of some pre-lockdown easing al-fresco dining. Also on this section of Eccleston Place is one of the two branches of LondonCryo which specialises in various types of cryotherapy which apparently involves lowering the skin temperature to c. -110 degrees centigrade for about three minutes. So a quick dip in the sea at Bridlington would probably have the same effect.

We emerge back on to Elizabeth Street opposite Victoria Coach Station, somewhere I was not unfamiliar with in my much younger days. Technically the address is 164 Buckingham Palace Road though the arrival terminal is on Elizabeth Street. The station was opened in 1932 by London Coastal Coaches, a consortium of coach operators. The distinctive Art Deco style was the creation of architects Wallis, Gilbert and Partners. Initially it had space for 76 coaches plus a large booking hall, shops, buffet, restaurant, lounge, bar and administrative offices. Most coach services were suspended during WW2 and the building was requisitioned by the War Office to be returned with the resumption of coach travel in 1946. In 1970 the coach operators’ association which managed the station became a subsidiary of the National Bus Company and in 1988, ownership was transferred to London Transport (Transport for London from 2000 onward). In 2013, the freeholder of the site, Grosvenor Group (which as we’ve already seen owns pretty much everything round these parts), announced that it wished to redevelop the site and relocate the station elsewhere in London. However, a year later the building was Grade II listed by English Heritage so Transport for London will continue to use the site at least until 2023, when several leases expire.

On the opposite (east) side of Buckingham Palace Road the massive office and retail space known as The Hub, which includes one of Google’s London offices, is undergoing a major redevelopment scheduled for completion in 2023. We walk up the road and back down Colonnade Walk which is inside the development. Despite the air of desertion there are still people manning the reception desks in some of the offices.

So we’re just about done. It only remains to cross Elizabeth Bridge to reach the other side of The Hub and head up Bulleid Way, where London’s Green Line Coaches arrive and depart from, to close the circle back to Victoria Train Station.

Day 67 – Lambeth Bridge -Smith Square – Victoria Station

I know I’ve been guilty of false promises in the past but this genuinely is a short one, essentially just filling in the odd shaped gap between the area we covered last time and the south western limits of our original target zone. We’re starting out across Lambeth Bridge, heading up into the shadow of the Houses of Parliament then winding our way west as far as Victoria Rail Station. However, despite the relative brevity of today’s walk it’s not short on places of interest from the political to religious to theatrical.

To get to Lambeth Bridge we walk from Waterloo Station along the South Bank and the Albert Embankment.

The latter provides evidence that the yoof of London have been resorting to some old skool outdoor pursuits to keep them occupied during lockdown.

Also on the Embankment is a monument to The Special Operations Executive, secretly formed during WW2 to recruit agents to fight for freedom by performing acts of sabotage in countries occupied by the Axis powers. The bus on the plinth depicts Violette Szabo (1921 – 45), who was among the 117 SOE agents who did not survive their missions to France and was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre.

Lambeth Bridge is one of the more prosaic of Thames crossings in the capital. The current structure is a five-span steel arch, designed by engineer Sir George Humphreys and architects Sir Reginald Blomfield and G. Topham Forrest which opened in 1932. The only notable features are the pairs of obelisks at either end of the bridge topped with stone pinecones (though there is a popular urban legend that they are pineapples, as a tribute to Lambeth resident John Tradescant the younger, who is said to have grown the first pineapple in Britain).

Having crossed the bridge we make our way north through Victoria Tower Gardens towards the HoP. A short way in we pass the Buxton Memorial Fountain which was commissioned by Charles Buxton MP to commemorate the 1834 act of abolition of slavery in the British Empire. It was originally erected in Parliament Square in 1866 (to coincide with the ending of slavery in the USA) from whence it was removed in 1949 and only reinstated in its current location eight years later. At the outset there were eight bronze decorative figures of British rulers on it, ranging from the Ancient Briton Caractacus to Queen Victoria, but four were stolen in 1960 and four in 1971. They were replaced by fibreglass figures in 1980 but by 2005 these too had gone missing and the fountain was no longer working. Restoration work was carried out and the restored fountain was unveiled on 27 March 2007 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the Empire. Though, as you will note if you were paying attention, colonialist landowners were able to keep the slaves they already had for another 27 years.  

At the northern end of the gardens is a statue by Auguste Rodin (1840 -1917) entitled The Burghers of Calais. This is one of twelve casts of the work and was made in 1908 then installed here in 1914. The first cast. done in 1895, is in Calais itself. The sculpture represents an act of heroic self-sacrifice that was recorded as having taken place during the Hundred Years’ War. In 1346, King Edward III of England, after victory in the Battle of Crécy, laid siege to the port of Calais.  Philip VI of France ordered the city to hold out at all costs but starvation eventually forced the residents to parley for surrender. According to contemporary chronicler Jean Froissart, Edward offered to spare the people of the city if six of its leaders would surrender themselves to him, walking out wearing nooses around their necks, and carrying the keys to the city and castle. One of the wealthiest of the town leaders, Eustache de Saint Pierre, volunteered first, and five other burghers joined with him. They expected to be walking to their deaths, but their lives were spared by the intervention of Edward’s queen, Philippa of Hainault, who persuaded her husband to exercise mercy by claiming that their deaths would be a bad omen for her unborn child.

Leaving the gardens we head west on Great Peter Street and then follow Lord North Street south to Smith Square (which is actually circular). Smith Square has long had an association with government departments and political parties (not really surprising given its location). Nobel House at no.17 was built in 1928, for the newly-formed Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). ICI leased it to the government in 1987, and it is currently headquarters for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. On the south side is Transport House which from 1928 to 1980 was Labour Party HQ before being taken on by the TGWU until the 1990s. It is now the headquarters of the Local Government Association. №s 32-34 served as Conservative Central Office between 1958 and 2003. It stood empty until 2007 when it was sold to developers. Irony of ironies, it’s now called “Europe House” and is home to the UK office of the European Parliament.

In the centre of Smith Square stands the imposing Grade I listed St John’s Church. Designed by Thomas Archer and completed in 1728, as one of the so-called Fifty New Churches, it is regarded as one of the finest works of English Baroque architecture. It is often referred to as ‘Queen Anne’s Footstool’ because legend has it that when Archer was designing the church he asked the Queen what she wanted it to look like. She kicked over her footstool and said ‘Like that!’, giving rise to the building’s four corner towers. In fact the towers were added to stabilise the building against subsidence. The church was hit by an incendiary bomb in 1941 and stood as a ruin for 20 years until a charitable trust took it on and restored it for use as a concert hall.

The eastern, southern and western approaches to the square are named Dean Stanley Street, Dean Bradley Street and Dean Trench Street. Not sure how Lord North Street fits into that sequence (incidentally Harold Wilson was once a resident). Or Gayfere Street which also leads north away from the square.

Resuming in a westward direction, on the corner of Great Peter Street and Tufton Street stands Mary Sumner House. This is the headquarters of the Mothers’ Union which was founded by the eponymous Mrs Sumner in 1876. The MU was, and still is, an Anglican Church-led organisation which aims to bring mothers of all social classes together to provide mutual support and to be trained in motherhood, from a vocationary perspective. Today the vast majority of its 3.6m members are to be found in India and Africa.

Halfway down Tufton Street we cut through Bennett’s Yard to Marsham Street then continue southward to Romney Street which takes us back to Tufton Street from where we drop down onto the Horseferry Road. We turn back up Marsham Street then take a left onto Medway Street and run down the side of the Home Office building to Monck Street. Opposite the northern end of Monk Street, on Great Peter Street, is the Indonesian Embassy.

Continuing west the next turning south off Great Peter Street is Chadwick Street which doglegs west itself past the Channel 4 building. Back on Horseferry Road I double back to loop round another stretch of Medway Street and on the way pass Michael Portillo who’s talking away on his mobile. (I’m almost 100% certain it’s him despite the absence of vivid pastel coloured trousers that would’ve clinched it – to be clear, he is wearing trousers just bog-standard navy blue ones). Return up Horseferry Road to the roundabout junction with Great Peter Street then complete a northerly circuit of Strutton Ground and St Matthew’s Street before resuming a westerly trajectory past The Grey Coat Hospital which confusingly is actually a C of E secondary school. The school was first established back in 1698 and moved into this building on Greycoat Place three years later. It was restored and extended, with the addition of wings in 1955.

Originally it was intended as an educational facility of 40 boys of charitable or orphaned status. Today that same number of boys have places in the sixth form with all other pupils being girls. Apparently, Ho Chi Minh worked as a labourer here in 1913 whilst a student in England

Next up is Greencoat Place home to the GreenCoat Boy pub which dates back to 1851. I called in here for a drink after one of the anti-Brexit demos only to find it occupied by a bunch of geezers in “Free Tommy” t-shirts. One of the quicker pints I’ve drunk.

From here we work our way up to Victoria Street via Greencoat Row, Francis Street and Howick Place round the back of the House of Fraser store, which I’m somewhat surprised to see still operating. Back when I worked in this area (late 1980’s) it was still called the Army & Navy Store. Army & Navy Stores originated as a co-operative society for military officers and their families during the nineteenth century. The society became a limited liability company in the 1930s and purchased a number of independent department stores during the 1950s and 1960s. Although the flagship store on Victoria Street was acquired along with the rest of the estate by HoF in 1973 it wasn’t until 2005 that it was refurbished and re-branded under the House of Fraser nameplate. We bypass the next section of Victoria Street on Wilcox Place and another stretch of Howick Place and on regaining it walk the 100 metres or so to the station.

Just outside the station, at the intersection of Vauxhall Bridge Road and Victoria Street, stands Little Ben, a cast iron miniature replica of Big Ben.This was manufactured by Gillett & Johnston of Croydon, and was erected in 1892. It was removed from the site in 1964, and restored and re-erected in 1981 by Westminster City Council with sponsorship from Elf Aquitaine Ltd “offered as a gesture of Franco-British friendship”.

Turn around 180 degrees and you’re facing the Victoria Palace Theatre which absent the pandemic would be continuing its run of the deservedly successful Hamilton. The theatre was built in 1911 on the site of the former Royal Standard music hall and was designed by the pre-eminent theatre architect of the era, Frank Matcham (1854 – 1920). Up until WW2 the theatre hosted a mix of plays, variety shows and revues, including a record-breaking (at the time) 1,046 performances of Me And My Girl. After the war, in 1947, the theatre became the home of The Crazy Gang (not Wimbledon F.C – the comedy sextet including Flanagan and Allen) for the next 15 years. After that the egregious Black and White Minstrel Show ran until 1970. In more recent times as the focus switched to narrative musicals the biggest hits have been Buddy and Billy Elliot. Most of Matcham’s original theatre remains but when Delfont MacIntosh Theatres added it to their stable in 2014 it underwent a major two year refurbishment which was completed in time for the opening of Hamilton in November 2017.

London Victoria station was originally built as two separate termini to serve mainline routes to Brighton and Chatham. The Brighton station opened in 1860 with the Chatham station following two years later and construction involved building the Grosvenor Bridge over the Thames. It became well known for luxury Pullman train services and continental boat train trips and as a departure point for soldiers heading to the continent during WWI. In 1898 work began to demolish the Brighton line station and replace it with an enlarged red-brick Renaissance-style building, designed by Charles Langbridge Morgan. At the same time the Chatham line station was extensively reconstructed and enlarged. All of this took until 1908 to be fully concluded. In 1923 the two stations came under the ownership of the newly formed Southern Railway and in 1948, following nationalisation, British Rail assumed control. In the 1980’s the station was redeveloped internally, with the addition of shops within the concourse, and above the western platforms (the “Victoria Plaza” shopping centre) and 220,000 square feet of office space. In a previous post I praised the fact that this was the first London mainline station to do away with the 30p entrance charge to its toilets. This time I am happy to report that, following refurbishment and Covid-related alterations, these are some of the finest public washroom facilities in the capital.

So after that masked visit to the station we complete the loop of Terminus Place, where the buses hang out in front of the station, then circumnavigate another temporarily “dark” place of entertainment, The Apollo Victoria Theatre, via Wilton Place and Wilton Road before heading south on Vauxhall Bridge Road. A rather different aesthetic proposition from the Victoria Palace, the Apollo was originally built in 1930 as a Super Cinema, with stage facilities for Provincial Cinematograph Theatres, who were part of Gaumont British. I think it’s fair to say, judging by the exterior, that it’s not that high up in the pantheon of 1930’s Art Deco cinema buildings though it is Grade II listed. However, the interior was described at the time as being like “a fairy palace under the sea” or “a mermaid’s dream of heaven”. After sympathetic restoration in recent years this alone is apparently worth the price of a ticket for Wicked. Despite being named the New Victoria Theatre when it opened it was soon being used exclusively for cinema releases. Saved from demolition in the 1950’s the New Victoria was spruced up in 1958 and began playing host to ballet and live shows, as well as film presentations. It was later operated by the Rank Organisation, who eventually closed it in 1975. After five years it was taken on by the Apollo Leisure Group and reopened as the Apollo Victoria. Initially playing host to a series of concerts by the likes of Shirley Bassey, Cliff Richard and Dean Martin, the Apollo began its successful espousal of full-scale West End musicals with The Sound of Music in 1981. In 1984 Starlight Express began a run that lasted for 18 years and now Wicked has clocked up 13 years and just prior to lockdown reportedly welcomed its 10 millionth visitor. I haven’t seen either of them.

Continue down VBR for about 200 metres then take a left and head back in the opposite direction up Kings Scholars Passage. Do another about face and take Carlisle Place south down to Francis Street before switching direction again to follow Morpeth Terrace and Ashley Place round to the front entrance to Westminster Cathedral. Carlisle Place and Morpeth Terrace are both lined with the style of redbrick mansion blocks that were so prevalent when we visited the Marylebone to St John’s Wood area some months back. This is the first time I’ve come across them this far south.

Westminster Cathedral (not to be confused with the Anglican Westminster Abbey of course) is the largest Roman Catholic church in England and was designed in the Early Christian Byzantine style by the Victorian architect John Francis Bentley. The foundation stone was laid in 1895 and the fabric of the building was completed eight years later, a year after Bentley had died. For reasons of economy, the decoration of the interior had hardly been started by then and much of it remains incomplete to this day though it does contain some fine marble-work and mosaics. The fourteen Stations of the Cross alongside the outer aisles are by the controversial sculptor Eric Gill (though perhaps not so inappropriate given the Catholic Church’s recent travails). The Cathedral is currently only open for Mass (four times daily) and, to a limited extent, for private prayer between 2pm and 4pm. Since I didn’t want to visit under false pretences I decided not to wait around for the next opportunity. (So the interior shots below are again not my own).

On the east side of the Cathedral we head south yet again on Ambrosden Avenue and then go up and down Thirleby Road before crossing over Francis Street into Emery Hill Street. This takes us back down onto Greencoat Place from where we venture west again, calling in at Windsor Place and Coburg Place, before turning north up Stillington Street. Final photo-op of the day here – the Victoria Telephone Exchange building – about which I can tell you precisely nothing. Nice to end on a note of mystery.

Well almost, we just have to negotiate one last street, Willow Place, before we finish today’s excursion back on Vauxhall Bridge Road with a pint and a fish finger sandwich waiting at the White Swan.

Day 66 – Millbank – Vauxhall Bridge Road – Horseferry Road

Well it’s been a while, for obvious reasons, but I’m finally back pounding the pavements of the mighty capital albeit under the constraints of the “new normal”. In order to minimise use of public transport today’s walk isn’t contiguous with the previous outing back in March. Instead we’ve hopped off the train at Vauxhall and crossed the bridge of the same name to explore the area where the southern part of Westminster rubs up against Pimlico, home to Tate Britain, MI5, Channel 4 and the Royal Horticultural Society.

Vauxhall Bridge is looking a bit of a mess at the moment as it’s in the throes of three months’ of “critical maintenance” which will include addressing the corrosion and deterioration of the Edwardian structure’s metalwork and bearings. As such it’s closed to all vehicles other than southbound buses. In addition to this, just upstream from the bridge on the south side is one of the construction sites for the 25km long so-called “Super Sewer” which will finally prevent raw sewage flowing directly into the Thames when the 150 year old existing Victorian sewer system overflows. This is scheduled for completion in 2024. Let’s hope they manage to keep to the timetable better than Crossrail.

The present Vauxhall Bridge was opened in 1906 replacing the first iron bridge to be built across the Thames which was put in place a century earlier. The new bridge was originally intended to be built of concrete faced with granite in a neo-Gothic style. However when it was discovered that the clay of the riverbed at this point wouldn’t be able to support the weight of the concrete it was decided to impose a steel structure on the granite piers which had already been embedded. The bridge was built to a functional design by engineers, Sir Alexander Binnie and Maurice Fitzmaurice (yes I know). After something of an outcry from the architectural community,  Alfred Drury and Frederick Pomeroy were appointed to design four monumental bronze statues each to be sited above the piers. On the upstream piers are Pomeroy’s AgricultureArchitectureEngineering and Pottery, whilst on the downstream piers are Drury’s ScienceFine ArtsLocal Government and Education each of them weighing approximately two tons (just look closely). 

At the north end of the bridge we turn right on Millbank towards Tate Britain but as I’m slightly early for my booked visit we can knock off Ponsonby Terrace and Ponsonby Place on the way.

Jeté, a bronze sculpture of a dancer, cast by Enzo Plazotta in 1975 which stands outside no.48 Millbank.

Standing opposite Tate Britain on the west side of Atterbury Street is Chelsea College of Arts. The college started life in 1895 as one of the schools of South-Western Polytechnic (which actually was in Chelsea). In 1908 this merged with the Hammersmith School of Art to form the Chelsea School of Art.  The school was renamed Chelsea College of Art and Design in 1989 and then acquired its present name in 2013. It only took over the site here on Millbank in 2005, the buildings having originally been built to house the Royal Army Medical College in 1907. Prior to that, Millbank Prison had occupied the site of both the college and Tate Britain for around 80 years. Amongst its alumni Chelsea includes Anish Kapoor, Steve McQueen, Chris Ofili and Mark Wallinger.

As mentioned, I had pre-booked my visit to Tate Britain in accordance with the current requirements. I had decided to forego the Aubrey Beardsley exhibition and follow the designated route devoted to British Art from 1930 onward despite the fact that there aren’t that many Britons among my favourite artists of the 20th century. The selection of highlights below therefore eschews the obvious Bacon’s and Hockney’s in favour of some lesser-known lights.

Milk and Plain Chocolate (1933) by Ben Nicholson (1894 – 1982). Nicholson’s second wife was the much more widely known sculptor, Barbara Hepworth. The Mondrian influence on his abstract work is clearly apparent here.

Morvah (1958) by Paul Feiler (1918 – 2013). German-born Feiler, he was sent to school in England in the thirties, was a member of the St Ives School of painters. Morvah is a village west of St Ives.

Family Group (1949) and King & Queen (1952-3) by Henry Moore. Immediately recognizable of course. Personally I much prefer Moore’s figurative work to the abstract stuff.

More Moores. Including the posthumous 2020 work “Masked Man” there on the right.

Inversions (1966) by Mary Martin (1907 – 1969). Not just picked in order to provide the reflection of the day.

As noted above, the institution first known as the National Gallery of British Art was built on part of the site of the Millbank Penitentiary, used as the departure point for sending convicts to Australia, which was demolished in 1890.
Sidney R.J. Smith was the chosen architect and his design with its grand porticoed entranceway and central dome resembling a temple remains the core of the building today. The statue of Britannia with a lion and a unicorn on top of the pediment at the Millbank entrance bluntly emphasised its function as a gallery of British art. The gallery opened its doors to the public in 1897, displaying 245 works in eight rooms from British artists dating back to 1790.

Since its original opening, the Millbank site has had seven major building extensions, doubling in size in its first 15 years. And by 1917 it had become responsible for the national collection of British art from 1500. The Tate Gallery name was officially adopted in 1932 and in 1955 it became wholly independent from the National Gallery.  A major extension in the north-east corner, designed by Richard Llewelyn-Davies opened in 1979 and in the same year, the gallery took over the adjacent disused military hospital, enabling the building of the new Clore Gallery, designed by Sir James Stirling and funded by the Clore Foundation. That opened in 1987 and went on to win a Royal Institute of British Architects award the following year.

On the right above is part of Steve McQueen‘s large-scale installation, Year 3. Every Year 3 class in London was invited to have its photograph taken by a team of specially trained Tate photographers. Participants included children from state primaries, independent schools, faith schools, special schools, pupil referral units and home-educated pupils.

Just beyond Tate Britain, heading downstream, is the Millbank Tower, which upon its construction in 1963 as the HQ for the Vickers engineering conglomerate, after which it was originally named, was the tallest building in the UK. It retained that pre-eminence only until the Post Office Tower opened the following year. It was designed by Ronald Ward and Partners and built by John Mowlem & Co. and unlike many of the high-rise buildings of that era has not only survived but attained Grade II listed status. Throughout its history, the Millbank Tower has been home to many high-profile political and other organisations. In the nineties the word Millbank became synonymous with the Labour Party which ran its 1997 General Election campaign from offices here and after the election relocated its HQ to the tower. After five years residence however, the £1 million per annum rent forced another move. The United Nations also had offices in the tower, but moved out in June 2003. Other public bodies such as the Environment Agency and the Audit Commission have continued to occupy the building. I had a brief temporary job here in the mid-1980’s with Whitehall Securities which was the holding company of Pearson plc, then the owner of Penguin Books and the FT.  The floor they leased in the tower basically just comprised the boardroom and the directors’ offices and dining room. My job was to assist the guy who organised the rota for the pool of drivers who ferried those directors to and from their homes and around the city. Different times eh ?           

30 Millbank which is part of the same sixties complex was used as campaign headquarters by the Conservative Party between 2006 and 2014 and more recently the Leave.EU and People’s Vote campaigns have had offices in the tower. In 2016, to the surprise of precisely no-one, a successful application was made to redevelop the complex as a luxury hotel and flats. Post-Covid I can’t but think that the developers might wish to renege on that option. Oh and that sculpture in the top right photo is “Momentum III” by Michael Spiller.

That’s enough of Millbank for now; we’ll make our escape via Thorney Street and then turn onto Page Street which takes us past the back of Burberry HQ to John Islip Street.

John Islip was Abbot of Westminster from 1500 until his death in 1532 and was buried in the chantry chapel he built at Westminster Abbey. We follow the street named after him all the way back to Vauxhall Bridge Road passing en route the rear of Tate Britain and the statue of John Everett Millais (1829 – 96). 

The statue was commissioned shortly after Millais’ death by a committee chaired by Edward, Prince of Wales and was created by Thomas Brock (1847 – 1922) who also designed the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace. A leading light of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, Millais is today as well-known for his personal life, rescuing his wife Euphemia “Effie” Gray from her unconsummated first marriage to the critic (and Millais’ patron) John Ruskin, as he is for his art.

Once on Vauxhall Bridge Road (VBR) we swing right past the Embassy of Lithuania and the White Swan Pub (which I visited many times in the late Eighties) and loop round Causton Street and Ponsonby Place back to John Islip Street.

We take the first left, Cureton Street, then continue heading back north-east on Herrick Street, checking out St Oswulf Street and Bulinga Street before arriving at Marsham Street. This area between Tate Britain and Vincent Square is occupied by the Grade II listed red brick buildings of the Millbank Estate built between 1897 and 1902. The bricks were recycled from the demolished prison. The 17 buildings, comprising one of London’s earliest social housing schemes, are all named after painters; below are Rossetti and Ruskin Houses and Turner and Stubbs Houses. The estate has 562 flats and these days roughly half of them are private leases.

Marsham Street takes us back to John Islip Street where we continue on to another stretch of Page Street that links up with Erasmus Street which sends us back south east again. VBR is reached again via Cureton Street, Causton Street and Regency Street. At the junction of the latter two is our sole blue plaque of this outing.

Harry Mallin (1892 -1969) was a middleweight amateur boxer and officer with the Metropolitan Police. He won gold at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp and successfully defended the title four years later in Paris ( a feat unmatched by a British boxer until Nicola Adams came along). In 1937, he achieved the distinction of being the first British television sports commentator, when he gave commentary on two boxing matches broadcast by the BBC from Alexandra Palace.

Next we work our way north from VBR courtesy of Chapter Street, Douglas Street, Esterbrooke Street and Regency Street as far as Vincent Street. In between Vincent Street and Page Street stands the similarly Grade II Listed Grosvenor Housing Estate  designed by Edwin Lutyens (1869 – 1944) and built between 1929 and 1935.  The estate comprises seven U-shaped blocks faced with grey bricks and white render in a checkerboard pattern. I think influence of that man Mondrian might be in play here as well (Mondrian was an almost exact contemporary of Lutyens – 1872-1944).

Having circumnavigated the estate via Herrick Street, Page Street and Regency Street we wend our way back to VBR by means of Hide Place, Douglas Street and Osbert Street then criss-cross between VBR and Vincent Square along Stanford Street, Bloomburg Street and Udall Street. On the corner of the latter and Vincent Square stands what was the Infants Hospital from 1907 to 1995 but is now of course luxury apartments.

Vincent Square, all 13 acres of it, is owned and principally used as playing fields by Westminster School. The square contains a cricket pavilion, four football pitches (cricket pitches in the summer), about 10 tennis courts, and the groundsman’s house. It was developed in the 18th century on land originally known as Tothill Fields, and was named after William Vincent, a former Dean of Westminster and headmaster of Westminster School. Prior to that its uses had included acting as a burial pit for victims of the Great Plague. In the south and west corners are a couple of concrete-based basketball courts/five-a-side football pitches. The day I passed by coincided with the return to school of the majority of London pupils and so there were about seventy or so year 7s from the local comprehensive crammed into these spaces for their first games lesson. If you’re looking for a visual representation of the British class structure you couldn’t do much better than that.

More upscale accommodation is available at Vincent House on the west side of the square. This elegant 1939 building offers serviced rooms with accompanying facilities including a bar with snooker table and piano.

We detour off to complete a triangle of Fynes Street, Regency Street and Rutherford Street and a loop round Maunsel Street, Horseferry Road and Elverton Street before returning to the north(-ish) side of the square where we find, Lindley Hall, the HQ of the Royal Horticultural Society which also incorporates the Lindley Library which is based upon the book collection of English botanist John Lindley, comprising many rare books dating from 1514. The Hall was built in 1904 to host botanic art exhibitions held by the RHS and nowadays hosts events such as London Fashion Week as well as weddings.

We follow the west side of the square and Hatherley Street  back to VBR for a final time. At the junction of the two is a terracotta plaque to the above-mentioned William Vincent.

Rochester Row lead us back in a north-easterly direction towards Horseferry Road with diversions en route to take in Walcott Street, Vane Street, Rochester Street and Greycoat Street.

On the way we call in at St Stephen’s Church which was built by Angela Burdett-Coutts (1814-1906), grand-daughter and heiress to the banker, Thomas Coutts. She intended it as a memorial to her father, Sir Francis Burdett, a former brilliant and radical Member of Parliament for Westminster. With the encouragement of her close friend, Charles Dickens, she chose to build it in a very poor area on the edge of the notorious Devil’s Acre on land donated by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey. The chosen architect was Benjamin Ferrey, a pupil of Pugin, and the foundation stone was laid in 1847.

On the building adjacent to the church on Rochester are several signs like the one to the left. “Ancient Lights” refers to the common law right to light which means that the owner of a building with windows that have received natural daylight for 20 years or more is entitled to forbid any construction or other obstruction that would deprive him or her of that illumination. 

Horseferry Road takes its name from the ferry which once used to cross the span of the Thames now occupied by Lambeth Bridge. These days it’s best known for being home to the original (and now London) headquarters of Channel 4 TV. It’s also the site of Westminster Coroner’s Court and the regimental headquarters of the London Scottish Regiment (where the inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic took place). The Channel 4 building was opened on 6 July 1994 and was designed by Richard Rogers and Partners. It was the first major building they had designed since the Lloyd’s building (1978-1986).  The building, which consists of two four-storey office blocks connected to a central entrance block in an L shape, is finished in grey steel cladding, which is perforated by red-ochre steel struts. The precise colour of those struts was reputedly achieved by copying a sample of the paint used for the Golden Gate Bridge and provided by the City of San Francisco.

Having followed Horseferry Road down to the river all that remains is to walk back along Millbank to our starting point. One last important stop before we finish though is Thames House which occupies the block between Millbank and Thorney Street. Originally built in 1929-30 as offices for chemical giant, ICI, Thames House has since 1994 been the home of the UK Internal Security Service, more popularly known as MI5. The building was designed by Sir Frank Baines, of the Government’s Office of Works, in an ‘Imperial Neoclassical’ style.  High up on the frontage are statues of St George and Britannia sculpted by Charles Sargeant JaggerThe building has been Grade II listed since 1981. Reportedly there is an automated miniature monorail within the building which brings files up from the basement for the use of MI5 office staff.

Day 65 – Marylebone Road – Edgware Road – Seymour Place – Hyde Park Place

Today’s excursion is primarily concerned with the triangular area formed drawing a line along the Marylebone Road from Baker Street tube to the junction with the Edgware Road then down the latter to Marble Arch and back across to where you started. After completing that there was just time to hop over to the west side of Edgware Road a do a few streets to the north of Hyde Park. Looking at this map, it just (finally) occurred to me how much easier this same project would be in Manhattan where the streets are all numbered and laid out in a nice symmetrical grid.

Day 65 Route

We start out today on the Marylebone Road again, outside Old Marylebone Town Hall. This was designed by Sir Edwin Cooper (1874 – 1942), who also designed the impressive Port of London Authority building in Trinity Square, and opened in 1920. The building was listed in 1981 and in 2013 it was acquired from Westminster City Council by the London Business School. Following a redevelopment programme that involved the creation of a new glass and steel entrance structure linking the Town Hall building with its annexe, the Sammy Ofer Centre (named after £25m donor Idan Ofer) opened for, well, business in 2018. The main building continues to function as Westminster Registry Office in which capacity it has historically proved very popular with both members of the Beatles and wanna-be members of the Beatles. Paul McCartney has got hitched here twice; to Linda in 1969 and then for the third time, to Nancy Shevell in 2011 (I have to admit that that one passed me by). Ringo and Barbara Bach also tied the knot here as did Liam Gallagher and Patsit Kensit (of course they did) and Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffiths.

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Moving past the Town Hall we turn left into Upper Montagu Street then work our way back to the Marylebone Road via Salisbury Place, Thornton Place, York Street and Knox Street. Sandwiched between the latter and Wyndham Street is the suitably low-key London HQ of Philip Green’s Arcadia businesses. I guess these days it’s somewhat stretching a point to call it an empire.

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Down Wyndham Street to York Street again then back up Enford Street which emerges opposite the Landmark Hotel; which we covered last time out but not with an accompanying picture of the whole building so here it is in all its splendour.

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Back on the south side is the Grade II listed but derelict building that started out as the Free Hospital for Women and Children and Samaritan Institution when constructed in 1889. Fifteen years later it was renamed (slightly more snappily) as the  Samaritan Free Hospital for Women. After becoming part of the NHS in 1948 it survived for almost a further 50 years until it closed in 1997.

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Opposite, and somehow I missed this last time, is what remains of St Marylebone Grammar School. The school was founded in 1792 under the name of the Philological Society by Thomas Collingwood, under the patronage of the Prince Frederick, second son of George III, with the aim of helping “the heads of families, who by unexpected misfortune, have been reduced from a station of comfort and respectability.” It moved to Marylebone Road in 1827 and was accepted in trust by the London County Council in 1908 and renamed St Marylebone Grammar School. During the early Seventies SMGS was subject to a tug of war between the Labour controlled ILEA, who wished to merge it with a local secondary modern school, and the Conservatives who ran Westminster Council who didn’t. When Labour took over the Council in 1974 the Parents’ Association continued opposition to the scheme but in the end the ILEA simply refused to continue funding the school beyond 1981 and it was forced to close. Today the listed main original building forms part of the Abercorn independent prep school. Alumni of SMGS include pop star Stuart Goddard (aka Adam Ant), footballer John Barnes and writer Jerome K. Jerome

Continuing west the next left turning off of Marylebone Road is Seymour Place. Just  round the corner the Rwandan High Commission is the first of four HCs we’ll encounter today.

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Returning to York Street we switch eastward and then cut through Wyndham Place to Crawford Street. This is the site of St Mary’s Church which was built as one of the Commissioners’ churches in 1823–1824 and was designed by Robert Smirke (1780 – 1867) who was also responsible for the main block and façade of the British Museum.

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From Crawford Street we loop back up to Harcourt Street which runs on a diagonal north-west to Old Marylebone Road and is home to the Swedish Church (Svenska Kyrkan), otherwise known as Ulrika Eleonora Church, which dates back to 1912.

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For our final visit (for today) to the Marylebone Road we stroll westward in the shadow of the heavenly vision that is the Marylebone Flyover. As the plaque proclaims, the flyover was opened by Mr Desmond Plummer, leader of the Greater London Council, on 12th October 1967. 119m long and 17m wide it is crossed by around 80,000 vehicles each day. It was created as part of a proposed series of 1960s congestion-relieving initiatives forming the eastern end of the Westway elevated dual carriageway, one of the few schemes that actually came to fruition.

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Turning south on the Edgware Road we make an immediate left into Chapel Street where we find the second of the two tube stations named after the Edgware Road. This one serves the Circle, District and Hammersmith & City lines and was opened as part of the Metropolitan Railway between Paddington and Farringdon in 1863.

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At the end of Chapel Street we cross over the Old Marylebone Road and follow Homer Street down to Crawford Street. Running parallel to this, back up to the OMR, is Homer  Row where T.S. Eliot (1888 – 1965) once resided. American born poet and playwright Thomas Stearns Eliot moved into 18 Crawford Mansions with his wife, Vivienne, in 1916, shortly after the publication of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. At the time, Eliot was working as a teacher at Highgate School where he taught a young John Betjeman. He also wrote book reviews and lectured in the evenings at University College London to earn extra money. By 1920 the couple had managed to find accommodation close to Regent’s Park that was both more capacious and less insalubrious in its surroundings. Today two bedroom apartments in Crawford Mansions sell for more than £1m.

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Transept Street and Cabbell Street which both cross between OMR and Chapel Street are the settings for the impressive crimson-hued Oxford and Cambridge Mansions which date from 1885.

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These buildings seem a world apart from the chaos and exoticism of the Edgware Road with its shisha cafes and mobile phone/money transfer outlets. One of the few relics of bygone days is Robertsons Pawnbrokers at 199 on the west side. Established in 1797, Robertsons specialises in fine, pre-owned, jewellery, gold, diamonds, watches, antiques and silver, and artwork and since the 1960s has been part of Suttons & Robertsons, one of the largest pawnbrokers in the UK.

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Crawford Place takes us east back to Crawford Street which is one side of the square  that surrounds the Seymour Leisure Centre, the others being Seymour Place, Bryanston Place and Shouldham Street. Grade II listed Seymour Leisure Centre was originally built in 1935-37 as a public baths and laundry by architect Kenneth Cross for St Marylebone Borough Council. The building is faced in purple brick with red brick architraves and Portland stone dressings and the gabled roof is clad in Spanish tiles. One of very few public sports facilities in central London, SLC boasts a gym, sports hall, 30m pool and an indoor climbing wall.

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Besides Shouldham Street there are three more streets that bridge across from Crawford Place to Harrowby Street; Molyneux Street, Cato Street and Brendon Street. Opposite the start of Molyneux Street is 45 Crawford Place which is shared by the High Commissions of Belize and of Antigua & Barbuda and the street itself is home to the High Commission of Tonga.

Of much greater interest though is Cato Street, not that you would know it to look at it. For here it was that the perpetrators of the eponymous Cato Street Conspiracy met in 1820 to hatch their plot to assassinate Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool and all the members of his cabinet. The conspirators, enraged by the Peterloo Massacre and the repressive legislation enacted in its wake, styled themselves as the “Spencean Philanthropists” after the radical speaker Thomas Spence (1750 – 1814). They were led by Arthur Thistlewood, who had been involved with the Spa Fields riots of 1816, with George Edwards as his second in command. The conspirators planned to assassinate the cabinet while they were at a dinner hosted by Lord Harrowby. They would then seize key buildings, overthrow the government and establish a “Committee of Public Safety” to oversee a radical revolution. Unfortunately, this supposed dinner was a set-up courtesy of Edwards who, it transpired, was a government spy.

At 7:30 pm on the evening of February 23 the Bow Street Runners stormed the Cato Street hideout. Some conspirators surrendered peacefully, while others resisted forcefully, Thistlewood killing one of the police officers with a sword. He along with three others slipped out through the back window but they were arrested a few days later. During the trial, the defence argued that the statement of Edwards was unreliable and he was therefore never called to testify. Police did however persuade two of the men, Robert Adams and John Monument, to testify against other conspirators in exchange for dropped charges. Accordingly, most of the accused were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered for high treason. All sentences were later commuted to either hanging and beheading or transportation for life.  Thistlewood, Richard Tidd, James Ings, William Davidson and John Brunt were hanged at Newgate Prison on the morning of 1 May 1820.

On the stretch of the Edgware Road between the intersections with Harrowby Street and Nutford Place is a branch of Waitrose which occupies a former Woolworths store that first opened in 1914 but was done up in the modernist style seen below in 1936.

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On the actual junction with Nutford Place this forlorn and faded pub sign presents a telling juxtaposition of the past and present of this area.

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After a quick nod to Forset Street we proceed east on Nutford Place as far as Brown Street where we turn north. Off Brown Street is the pretty nondescript cul-de-sac of Castlereagh Street which, for the sake of symmetry, I am taking to be named after Robert Stewart, Lord Castlereagh (1769 -1822) who was one of the members of the aforementioned Lord Liverpool’s cabinet; Foreign Secretary in fact. Ulster-born Castlereagh was one of the prime movers behind the repressive government legislation that inspired the Cato Street conspirators and was directly named in Shelley’s vitriolic Masque of Anarchy poem written in response to Peterloo. He didn’t long survive his would-be assassins however, taking his own life in 1822 after being threatened with the exposure of his homosexual proclivities.

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Having arrived back on Harrowby Street we turn right and then head south on a further stretch of Seymour Place past the Sylvia Young Theatre School. Sylvia Young first opened her school as a full-time establishment on Drury Lane in 1981. It moved to this current location in a converted church in 2010. The impressive list of alumni features actors such as Keeley Hawes, Lily Cole, Billie Piper and Steven MacKintosh and singers Amy Winehouse, Rita Ora and Dua Lipa.

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From here, starting with George Street we continue dipping in and out of the Edgware Road all the way down to Marble Arch with Stourcliffe Street, Wythburn Place, Great Cumberland Place, Upper Berkeley Street, Hamden Gurney Street, Seymour Street and Bryanston Street providing the route. At 51-53 Edgware Road you can just about make out what remains of the Art Deco Gala Royal cinema. This opened as the Royal Cinema around 1938/9 then was taken over by Jacey Cinemas and Gala Film Distributers in the 1960s. Theirs was the partnership that introduced continental and art house film to London. As time went on the Gala Royal couldn’t compete with the big cinema companies of the West End and towards the end of its life, resorted to screening saucy sex romps before closing in 1979. The building briefly reopened showing Arabic films to cater for the growing Arabic population on Edgware Road but shut for good in 1981. It now houses what I presume to be an Egyptian restaurant, judging by the pictures of Mo Salah outside, called Shishawi.

On Upper Berkeley Street is the West London Synagogue which was consecrated in 1870. The main sanctuary, shown below, was built in the Neo-Byzantine architectural style by Davis & Emmanuel.

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So as noted at the beginning once we arrive at Marble Arch we nip across the Edgware Road and head west along the Bayswater Road. After a hundred metres or so we turn right and move away from Hyde Park up Stanhope Place where we come across the first of a string of Blue Plaques. Lily Elsie (1886 – 1962) was one of the most successful stage actresses of the Edwardian era with a particular forte for musical comedies including the first London production of The Merry Widow. Despite a multitude of male admirers, according the renowned dress designer of that age, Lucile, “She was absolutely indifferent to most men for she once told me she disliked the male character and considered that men only behaved tolerably to a woman who treated them coldly”. Sadly this didn’t prevent her from entering into an unhappy marriage that led to her exile from the stage.

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We turn down Connaught Place and at the end where it meets the Edgware Road is the house where Lord Randolph Churchill (1849 – 95), father of Winston of course, spent nine of the last twelve years of his relatively brief life. From the start of his political career Randolph was a champion of progressive Conservatism also known as “Tory Democracy”. As this philosophy gained ascendancy within the Tory party his star rose culminating in his appointment as Chancellor Of the Exchequer in Lord Salisbury’s second administration which began 1886. Unfortunately he had little talent for building alliances and gathering supporters within the Commons and lasted only a few months in the role before resigning in a row over cuts to the Armed Forces. He never made it back from the political wilderness and suffered from increasingly debilitating illness for the remainder of his life. It is considered a point of fact that he had been undergoing treatment for syphilis since his mid-twenties but it is still open to debate whether it was the mercury poisoning or an unrelated brain tumour that caused his demise at the age of 45.

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Next one is in Connaught Square, reached via Seymour Street, where the ballet dancer Marie Taglioni (1804 – 1884) lived for a couple of years at no.14. Swedish born, but Italian on her father’s side, Ms Taglioni’s main claim to fame is that she is credited with being the first ballerina to truly dance en pointe.

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Connaught Square is bordered to the north by Connaught Street which we cross over into Portsea Place where no.16 was once the home of the South African author, proto-feminist and ant-war campaigner Olive Schreiner (1855 – 1920) once lived. I have to confess to a total lack of familiarity with Ms Schreiner and the work for which she is reportedly best known, The Story of An African Farm, but her advocacy of socialism, pacifism and the rights of non-white races mark her as a woman distinctly ahead of her time.

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At the top of Portsea Place we take Kendal Street back to the Edgware Road for the very final time then make our way back south towards Hyde Park via Park West Place, Porchester Place, and Albion Street. The last of these has commemorations of two former residents, novelist William Makepeace Thackeray (1811 – 1863) at no.20 and Sir Charles Vyner Brooke (1874 – 1963) at no.13. Thackeray is of course best known for his magnum opus Vanity Fair but he also penned The Luck of Barry Lyndon which was adapted for the screen by Stanley Kubrick in 1975. Thackeray was renowned as a man of idleness and gluttony (allegedly including an addiction to spicy peppers) which undoubtedly helped to hasten him into the grave at the age of 52. Vyner Brooke was the third and last White Rajah of the Raj of Sarawak. The Raj was established as an independent state located in the northwestern part of Borneo from a series of land concessions acquired by the English adventurer, James Brooke (Charles’ great uncle), from the Sultanate of Brunei in the mid-nineteenth century. As a major producer of oil, rubber and black pepper, Sarawak prospered for a century until the territory was invaded by the Japanese in WW2. After the war it became a British Crown Colony, the last one, before becoming part of Malaysia when it gained independence.

Last port of call for today is on Hyde Park Place. This part of London, north of Hyde Park was originally the site of the village of Tyburn which was infamous as a place of public hangings from 1196 to 1793. In 1571, the so-called Tyburn Tree was erected near where Marble Arch is currently situated. The “Tree” or “Triple Tree” was a novel form of gallows, consisting of a horizontal wooden triangle supported by three legs which meant that several prisoners could be hanged at once. Among those executed throughout the ages were the 105 martyrs of the Catholic Reformation. It was in commemoration of these martyrs that Mother Marie Adèle Garnier established the Tyburn Convent here in 1903, she and her  community having fled to England from France two years earlier on account of French laws prohibiting religious Orders. In so doing she fulfilled a prophecy of the 16th century Roman Catholic priest Father Gregory Gunne who in 1585, referring the execution four years earlier of St Edmund Campion, proclaimed “You have slain the greatest man in England and one day there, where you have put him to death, a religious house will arise, thanks to an important offering.”

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Day 64 – Lisson Grove – Edgware Road – Church Street – Marylebone Road

This second excursion beyond the bounds of our original mission covers an area that  stretches westward from Regent’s Park to the Edgware Road and southward from St John’s Wood Road to the Marylebone Road. It’s intersected north to south by Lisson Grove and east to west by the Regent’s Canal and includes the massive Lisson Green estate. At the very end it overlaps slightly with our very first post from back in July 2015 when things were shorter but not necessarily sweeter (or so I like to think).

Day 64 route

Starting out from Baker Street tube station once again we head north on Park Road. On the right we pass Kent Terrace, built in the late 1820’s as part of John Nash’s Regent’s Park Crown Estate. One of the last terraces to be built, it’s the only major one that faces away from the park. Outside no.10 is a Blue Plaque commemorating the painter and illustrator E.H Shephard (1879 – 1976) best known for illustrating Wind in the Willows and the Winnie the Pooh books.

We continue across the canal as far as Lodge Road which takes us west past the site of replacing some unloved sixties’ apartment blocks with scarcely less attractive 21st century equivalents (despite the golden finish which is obviously expected to appeal to certain demographic tastes). North Bank on our left leads to the St John’s Wood electricity substation which is shown off to good effect by the winter sunshine.

Oak Tree Road takes us up on to St John’s Wood Road and continuing west we pass the London home of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue and incur the suspicion of the security guard by stopping to take the photograph below. As you can see, only the portico remains from the original 1925 building following a late 1980’s redevelopment. Just over 8% of British Jews subscribe to the anti-Zionist denomination of Liberal Judaism as practiced by the LJS which was officially founded in 1911. This contrasts with over 65% who fall within the Orthodox and Strictly Orthodox denominations.

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Round the corner on Lisson Grove you have the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady, built in 1836 to a design by architect J.J Scoles.

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A bit further south we reach the canal again and follow this west a short way before looping north and back via Pollitt Drive, Henderson Drive and Cunningham Place. The last of these is adorned with a Blue Plaque in recognition of Emily Davies (1830 – 1921) suffragist and founder of Girton College, Cambridge which was Britain’s first college for women. Initially she served as mistress of the college and then as Secretary until 1904. However, the college only began to grant full Cambridge University degrees to women in 1940.

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Then from Aberdeen Place we nip through Victoria Passage which crosses the canal to get to Fisherton Street. Turning right we find our way back to Aberdeen Place via Lyons Place. There’s another Blue Plaque at no.32, this one in honour of Guy Gibson (1918 – 1944) the commanding officer of 617 Squadron, which he led in the “Dambusters” raid of 1943. He was awarded the Victoria Cross following the raid, which resulted in the breaching of two large dams in the Ruhr area of Germany, and became the most highly decorated British serviceman at that time. He went on to complete over 170 war operations before dying in action at the age of 26. In the 1955 film he was portrayed by Richard Todd.

Northwick Terrace takes us back up to St John’s Wood Road and a left turn gets us in short order to the Edgware Road a.k.a the A5. As we head southward almost immediately on our left looms the mock Tudor façade of 1930’s mansion block, Clifton Court.

Making a loop of Aberdeen Place, Lyons Place and Orchardson Street we circle back round to the Edgware Road arriving at a new development also named Lyons Place. This is built on the site of a 1930’s petrol station and the original intention was to incorporate a new station underneath part of the building. This may still be the plan but so far all that has been realised are these three massive Pop Art style sculptural representations at the front of the proposed forecourt.

Next we head back east along Orchardson Street until a right on Capland Street and a left into Frampton Street takes us back to Lisson Grove. Here we cross straight over and continue east alongside the Regent’s Canal.

Not sure if we’ve said anything about the Canal previously but, in case not, the bare bones are that it links the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal in the west to the Limehouse Basin and the River Thames to the east London and is 8.6 miles (13.8 km) long. Anyway this particular stretch runs parallel to the north side of the Lisson Green estate which we access via Casey Close just before the canal disappears beneath the mainline out of Marylebone.

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So we wind our through the estate taking in Swain Street, Tresham Crescent, Paveley Street, Lilestone Street, Mallory Street and Bernhardt Crescent before landing back on Lisson Grove. As noted in the last past, the second iteration of Lord’s Cricket Ground was sited where the estate now stands. (I did ask this gent if he minded before I took this photo btw).

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Heading back north up Lisson Grove we work our way west again courtesy of more of Frampton Street and Fisherton Street then Luton Street and Penfold Street. The latter is home to the rather splendid Art Deco-ish Wallis Building. This is one of a number of buildings which from the 1920’s onward accommodated the Palmer Tyre Company which amongst other things manufactured tyres for the Air Ministry for use on the WW2 air fleet of spitfires, hurricanes and wellingtons. Round the corner on Hatton Street another part of the original complex is now rebranded as Hatton Street Studios. It’s all residential and office space now of course.

More of the Edgware Road next. This area is well-known for the high number of residents of Arabic and North African extraction as testified by the proliferation of shops catering for that community and is sometimes referred to as Little Beirut. It’s not really a surprise then that the former Portman Arms on the corner with Boscobel Street has now morphed into the Dar Marrakesh shisha bar (yes I know Marrakesh is in Morocco not Lebanon).

Venables Street runs parallel to the Edgware Road and takes us down to Church Street which is a thoroughfare of surprising contrasts. The western end is occupied by a street market specialising in the cheapest of cheap commodities with the shops either side catering for similar tastes. Then about halfway along, just beyond Ye olde public conveniences – which I’m not sure are used by anyone other than the pigeons these days, the north side of the street changes tone entirely to become a row of high-end antique dealerships. Many of these dealers started out as stallholders at Alfie’s Antiques Market (of which more later). In recent years, supported by Westminster Council’s Church Street regeneration programme, there has been an annual antiques fair in the street with up to 80 traders participating.

Just beyond those conveniences, on Salisbury Street, are the RedBus Recording Studios. Opened in 1978 these studios have hosted recording sessions by the likes of Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran and Culture Club, which is something of a giveaway in terms of pinpointing its heyday.

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Salisbury Street leads into Samford Street which in turn merges into Gateforth Street which completes the circuit back to Church Street, taking us past the Cockpit Theatre on the way. The Cockpit was founded at the end of the 1960’s by the Inner London Education Authority as a community theatre. It was the first new purpose-built theatre-in-the-round created in the capital since the Great Fire. The theatre places an emphasis on working with both emerging companies and new writers as well as hosting training events. From experience I can highly recommend the “Jazz in the Round” concerts which take place on the last Monday of every month.

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We emerge back out on Church Street opposite the aforementioned Alfies Antiques Market  which occupies the 30,000 sq. ft. Egyptian Deco building that started life nearly a century ago as Jordans Department Store. Jordans went bust in the early seventies, a time when this area was semi-derelict with shops boarded up and vandalism rife. Despite this, local resident Bennie Gray decided to buy the site with the aim of turning it into an unpretentious antique market with low overheads. He named it Alfies after his jazz-drummer father. Within a matter of weeks they had recruited nearly a hundred antique dealers to the project. To begin with, trading was limited to the ground floor and one day a week, but within a few months the market occupied all four floors of the building and was open five days a week. 40 years on the market is still going strong (and increasingly catering to the ethnic demographic of the neighbourhood). If you can negotiate the warren-like interior the roof top café is a bit of a find (so to speak).

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Notwithstanding the view from the rooftop the discovery of the café was especially fortuitous since, as I hinted earlier, it was to prove difficult to locate a pub of the day on this latest route. Case in point, the Duke of York on Church Street is in the process of being converted into a south Asian restaurant.

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After eventually finding our way out of Alfies we take Plympton Street south to Broadley Street and then loop back round on to Church Street via another section of Lisson Grove, passing this remnant of the Victorian era on the way.

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On the south side of Church Street is a Green Plaque commemorating Henry Sylvester Williams (1867 – 1911). Williams was a Trinidadian lawyer and writer, most noted for his involvement in the Pan-African Movement. He moved to Britain in 1897, forming the African Association which aimed to “promote and protect the interests of all subjects claiming African descent…. by circulating accurate information affecting their rights and privileges as subjects of the British Empire, by direct appeals to the Imperial and local Governments.” In furtherance of the interests of the movement he sought election to Parliament and although unsuccessful in this objective did win a seat on Marylebone Borough Council in 1906.

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From this point on we’ve got a clear run down the bottom of the Edgware Road courtesy of Ashbridge Street, Mulready Street, Whitehaven Street, Penfold Place, Corlett Street and Bell Street in addition to repeat visits to Broadley and Penfold streets. There are two separate tube stations named Edgware Road, one serving the Bakerloo Line and the other the Circle, District and Hammersmith and City Lines. The former (shown below) is the one which actually has an entrance on Edgware Road. Over the years there have been several proposals to rename one or the other of them to avoid confusion but nothing has stuck.  This Edgware Road station was opened in 1907 and is one of many with the familiar ox-blood red glazed terracotta façade designed by architect Leslie Green.

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On Bell Street I was much cheered (oops slipped into Samuel Pepys mode there) to come across the Vintage Wireless Company Shop even if I didn’t dare venture in for fear of finding something that I couldn’t do without but would have to. One day soon I’ll make a special return trip.

Further east along Bell Street is part one of the now bifurcated Lisson Gallery; part two being round the corner on Lisson Street. They seem to be concentrating very much on large scale sculptural works these days, which are not really my thing. Lisson Street comes to an end on the Marylebone Road (A40) which I follow east very briefly before turning north again up Daventry Street where there is yet another repurposed pub, the Phoenix, which is now an “award-winning” backpacker hostel. The Pheonix is sandwiched between Highworth Street and Harrow Street, both of which are about twenty yards long.

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Returning west along Bell Street we then zigzag between that and  Ashmill Street by waty of Ranston Street, Daventry Street again, Shroton Street, Cosway Street and Stalbridge Street. The first of these is a rare survivor from the days of cobbled streets and contains a row of cottages built in 1895 at the instigation of Octavia Hill (see Day 56), co-founder of the National Trust and social reformer on behalf of the “deserving poor”.   Octavia bought up as many of the leases on what was then called Charles Street as possible, demolished them and asked her friend Elijah Hoole, an architect, to build the new cottages. Immediately the cottages became popular and, when the reputation of the street had improved, she asked for the name to be changed.

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The cottages in question are at the far end

Something of a theme of this post is defunct boozers and there’s another one on Shroton Street. That notice of forfeiture in the window is dated just days prior to this visit.

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Christ Church on Cosway Street dates back to 1825 and was designed by Thomas Hardwick (who was also responsible for St John’s Wood Chapel – see previous post). The church ceased to be a place of worship in 1973 and is now occupied by Greenhouse Sports which since 2002 has been providing sports programmes for teenagers from the local estates.

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Cosway Street takes us back out onto Marylebone Road almost opposite Westminster Magistrate’s Court which opened in 2011 as a replacement for City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court. The Chief Magistrate of England and Wales, who is the Senior District Judge of England and Wales, sits at the court, and all extradition and terrorism-related cases pass through it.

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Back on the north side at the junction with Lisson Grove sits the Grade II listed Manor House a six storey block of flats built in 1907 in an “eclectic arts & crafts style” (according to Historic England”).

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From here we leg it back up Lisson Grove all the way to Rossmore Road which links eastward back to Park Road. On the corner here, 116 Lisson Grove, is a final Blue Plaque for today. Double honours this time with shouts for painter Benjamin Haydon (1786 – 1846) and sculptor Charles Rossi (1762 – 1839) neither of whom I was familiar with. Of the former it is reported that “his commercial success was damaged by his often tactless dealings with patrons, and by the enormous scale on which he preferred to work”. He was imprisoned several times for debt and died by his own hand. In 1977 he was portrayed by Leonard Rossiter in a West End play written by satirist John Wells. The house on Lisson Grove was owned by Rossi who rented part of it to Haydon. Rossi was court sculptor for both George IV and William IV and was also responsible for the terracotta caryatids adorning St Pancras New Church (see Day 7).

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From Rossmore Road we head south on Harewood Avenue towards Marylebone Station passing Hayes Place and Harewood Row on the way. In between those two side roads stands the Sisters of Mercy St Edwards Convent. (If you’re expecting some 1980’s Goth band related wisecrack at this point I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you). The first Sisters of Mercy convent in England (the order originated in Dublin) was founded in Bermondsey in 1839; this one on Harewood Avenue dates from 1851 having transferred from Bloomsbury where it was established 7 years earlier. The Sisters’ mission (doh!) is “to create an awareness of issues of injustice and be a voice for the voiceless”.

A final visit to the Marylebone Road takes us from Harewood Avenue to Great Central Street and past the Landmark Hotel. The hotel was built in 1899 for Sir Edward Watkin  the so-called ‘Last King of the Railways’ as the Great Central Hotel in order to serve passengers using Marylebone Station to travel on the new Great Central Railway. The commissioned architect was Col. Robert Edis whose previous work included the ballroom for Edward, Prince of Wales at Sandringham. When the hotel opened rooms cost three-and-sixpence a night (17.5p in new money I believe). In 1988 the hotel was purchased by Kentaro Abe(aka Japanese pop star Sen Masao). It was renamed the Landmark London Hotel in 1995 when acquired by the Lancaster London Hotel Company. Since 2008 it’s been part of the estate of the Leading Hotels of the World group.

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From Great Central Street we head north on Boston Place and then turn straight round to return on Balcombe Street. Balcombe Street is notorious for the eponymous siege which took place in December 1975 when four armed IRA gunmen took the residents of Flat 22b, middle-aged married couple John and Sheila Matthews, hostage in their front room. The men demanded a plane to fly both them and their hostages to Ireland. Scotland Yard refused, creating a six-day standoff between the men and the police. I thought I would risk repeating myself as I recently caught a BBC World Service Witness History podcast on the siege. You can listen to it here (it’s only 9 minutes long)

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csyx2z

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Which only remains for Melcombe Place to take us over the finishing line for today – Marylebone Station (gateway to the Chilterns natch !). One of London’s less exalted mainline stations, Marylebone was opened in 1899 as the London terminus of the Great Central Main Line (as previously noted). Services originally ran as far north as Sheffield and Manchester but were gradually scaled back after nationalisation in 1948 and the line north of Aylesbury closed under the Beeching Act of 1966 leaving that and (the mighty metropolis of) High Wycombe as the furthest destinations. When Chiltern Railways acquired the franchise following privatisation in 1996 they extended services into Birmingham and in 2011 took over the Oxford route from First Great Western. In spite of that Marylebone is undoubtedly still best known as a square on the Monopoly board accept to Beatles fans who will recognize it as a location for several scenes in A Hard Day’s Night.

 

 

 

 

Day 63 – Regent’s Park – St John’s Wood High Street – Lord’s Cricket Ground

So after a longer recess than parliament’s we’ve steeled ourselves to resume our exploration of the World’s Greatest City armed with an expanded mission to venture beyond the heartland out into the wilds of Zone 2. The first of these new excursions returns to  where we originally began back in the summer of 2015, Regent’s Park. This time though we’re not heading south towards Baker Street but turning north up into the leafy avenues of St John’s Wood and meandering west for a rendezvous with the home of cricket.

Day 63 route

We head up into Regent’s Park from Baker Street Tube station and follow the shore of the boating lake. I don’t envy the poor sod with the job of cleaning up these pedalos before they come back into use again.

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A good few minutes are wasted on a detour trying to get a shot of this Great Crested Grebe…

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…before we’re able to leave the park via Hanover Gate and continue clockwise round the Outer Circle. We immediately pass on our left the Central London Mosque, built to a design of Sir Frederick Gibberd and completed in 1977. Its main hall has space for over 5,000 (male) worshippers, with women accommodated on an overlooking balcony.  The mosque is joined to the Islamic Cultural Centre (ICC) which was officially opened by King George VI in 1944 having been constructed on land was donated by the King to the Muslim community of Britain in return for a donation of land in Cairo from King Farouk of Egypt and Sudan on which to build an Anglican cathedral.

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Right next door to the mosque is Hanover Lodge built in about 1827, and designed by the John Nash, the only villa in the Park he had a hand in personally. Nash originally intended to build 45 villas in the Park in the 1820’s but only eight were completed. From 1832 to 1845, it was the home of Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, and from 1911 to 1925, of David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty, both of whom are commemorated with blue plaques on the exterior. In 1948, it became part of Bedford College, and then in the 1990s it was briefly rented by the French government to house their ambassador.
In 1994, the businessman and Conservative peer Lord Bagri purchased a 150-year lease on Hanover Lodge from the Crown Estate for £5.9 million and over the next 12 years spent millions of pounds renovating it, hiring the architect Quinlan Terry to supervise, including an underground swimming pool that can be converted into a ballroom. Renovations were finally completed in 2009, “after 10 years and 100 applications for planning and listed building consents” costing an estimated £25 million.
Then just three years later, in 2012, Bagri sold it to Andrey Goncharenko, the Russian billionaire, for £120 million. The oligarch has since submitted scores of planning applications of his own including one aimed at extending the basement as the swimming pool is “too small”. The mega-rich – don’t you just love ’em.

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Between 1988 and 2004 the aforementioned Quinlan Terry designed six detached villas, each in a different neo-classical style pastiching Nash’s, which line the Outer Circle to the north of Hanover Lodge. Terry said in a 2002 interview that the Crown Estate had told him to “step into Nash’s shoes and carry on walking”.

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On the other side of the Outer Circle from the villas, inside the Park itself is Winfield House. This Neo-Georgian mansion was commissioned in 1936 by the American heiress Barbara Hutton and its  12 acres of grounds constitute the second-largest private garden in London after that of Buckingham Palace. Since 1955 it has been the official residence of the United States Ambassador, hence the presence of armed police guards and the fact that the house and gardens are completely hidden behind trees and fencing. (Which is why this picture had to be sourced from elsewhere). I like the fact that the US Ambassador has a “soccer” pitch right in front of the house.

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At about 11 o’clock on the Outer Circle we leave the Park via Macclesfield Bridge, crossing the Regent’s Canal and then Prince Albert Road en route to Avenue Road. A left into Allitsen Road and another into Townshend Road takes us back towards the Park. There are some very imposing apartment blocks overlooking the Park from Prince Albert Road. One of these is Viceroy Court which when built in 1934-36 by the architectural firm of Marshall & Tweedy consisted of 84 luxury flats. The largest flat had 6 bedrooms, 3 reception rooms , a lounge hall, 3 bathrooms and offices which, at the time, could be rented for £625 a year. During WW2 it was one of the blocks of flats requisitioned by the RAF and lived in by aircrew training at Lord’s Cricket Ground.

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A loop of Mackennal Street, Shannon Place and Eamont Street brings us back to Prince Albert Road and the even grander North Gate, a massive Edwardian mansion block built circa 1907 and designed by architect Edward Prioleau Warren. By the turn of the 20th century it had became popular for wealthy families to live in mansion blocks, largely due to the invention of the hydraulic lift. An Art Deco extension was added in the 1930s and during WW2 American troops, guarding the US ambassador in Winfield House, were housed here. Famous past residents include band leader Joe Loss, Mantovani, Bud Flanagan, Mr Pearl of Pearl & Dean fame and Prince Nazeem the boxer. According to a 2014 survey tenants in NW8 pay the highest rents in the capital.

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We follow Prince Albert Road south down to St John’s Wood High Street and swing into the latter. A short way up we take a right into Greenberry Street and circumnavigate North Gate via this, Newcourt Street and Culworth Street. Next left, heading back up Prince Albert Road, is Charlbert Street the home of RAK Studios. The studios and the record label of the same name were founded by impresario Mickie Most (1938 – 2003), the former in 1976, seven years after the latter. RAK records is most strongly associated with a string of (generally) successful but (not always) critically acclaimed Seventies pop acts including Mud, Suzi Quatro, Hot Chocolate, Smokie and Racey. Amongst the hits, on other labels, recorded at the studios (which are very much still active) are possibly the two most famous tracks to stall at no.2 in the UK singles chart – “Vienna” by Ultravox and “Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues. Mickie Most himself is commemorated by a blue plaque on the exterior of the building. Born in Aldershot as Michael Hayes, he moved to Johannesburg at the age of 19 and reinvented himself as the eponymous frontman of Mickie Most and the Playboys who had 11 consecutive No.1’s on the South African charts. On returning to the UK in 1962 he forged a career as a record producer for the likes of the Animals, Hermans Hermits and Donovan before starting his own label. In the Seventies he appeared as a judge on ITV’s ‘New Faces’ talent show and produced the cult TV music show, Revolver, which over just eight episodes showcased the Punk and New Wave scene and is largely remembered for Peter Cook’s involvement as manager of the fictional ballroom setting.

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At the top of Charlbert Street we turn left along St John’s Wood Terrace and walk down as far as the northern end of St John’s Wood High Street. To the east of the High Street we wend our way round Charles Street, Allitsen Road (for a second time), Bridgeman Street and Barrow Hill Road before returning to check out the shops. St John’s Wood High Street is pretty much as you would expect with a notable absence of turf accountants and fast food outlets. There are some very well-appointed charity shops though, including Oxfam where I managed to pick up a jukebox-ready 1969 Blood, Sweat and Tears 45″ for 49p. As you can see, the Christmas lights are suitably understated.

At the top of the High Street we turn left onto Circus Road then pretty much straight away turn north up Kingsmill Terrace. Acacia Road takes us west to St John’s Wood tube station and from there we head south on Wellington Road as far as Circus Road again and then from there continue south on Cochrane Street to Wellington Place from where we enter St John’s Wood Church Grounds. The grounds are a former graveyard turned public park and contain the only Local Nature Reserve in the borough of the City of Westminster. St. John’s Wood was part of the Great Forest of Middlesex in the medieval period and from 1323 the land was owned by the Knights of the Order of St. John, after whom the area is named. The area began to be developed in the 19th century, and St John’s Wood Church and burial ground were consecrated in 1814. The latter however closed as soon as 1855, and was converted to a public garden in 1886. There are thought to be around 50,000 graves, including those of the artist John Sell Cotman (1782 – 1842) and the prophetess Joanna Southcott (1750 – 1814). Cotman was a leading member of the Norwich School of Painters and specialised in marine and landscapes. In his later years he was appointed as Master of Landscape Drawing at Kings College School where Dante Gabriel Rossetti was on of his pupils. Having become a member of the Wesleyan Church in her forties and been persuaded that she possessed supernatural gifts, Joanna Southcott wrote and dictated prophecies in rhyme, and then announced herself as the Woman of the Apocalypse spoken of in a prophetic passage of the Revelation. At the age of 64 she declared that she was pregnant and would be delivered of the new Messiah but instead died just a short while afterwards.

The church itself was designed in the neo-classical style by Thomas Hardwick and is Grade II listed. The blessing of the marriage of Paul and Linda McCartney was held here in 1969.

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The church sits on the Lord’s roundabout, between the cricket ground and Regent’s Park. The statue of St George and the Dragon in the middle of the roundabout was created by sculptor Charles Leonard Hartwell (1873 – 1951) and is a second casting, the original being in Newcastle.

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We cross back over Wellington Road and take St John’s Wood Road west along the southern perimeter of Lord’s. Serendipitously we reach the Grace Gate ten minutes before the last tour of the day is due to start and the lady in the ticket office kindly allows me to part with £20 even though the tour is technically full. So I hurry on through to the museum and join the assembled party of Indian, Sri Lankan, Australian, South African, American (?) and Scottish (??) cricket lovers.

The self-designated “Home of Cricket” is of course owned by the Marylebone Cricket Club (the “MCC”) which was founded by the eponymous businessman Thomas Lord in 1787. The current site which is the third iteration of the MCC’s home ground in this vicinity was established in 1814. The second move was occasioned by Parliament’s decision to change the planned route of the Regent’s Canal so that it would cut the then cricket ground in two. Lord’s is also the home of Middlesex County Cricket Club and until I was at quite an advanced age I thought that was what the “M” in “MCC” stood for (ignoring the fact of the requirement for an additional “C”). The MCCC have their HQ in what is effectively an out-building (they know their place). The guide informs us that unless you are an ex-test player or have a couple of million quid to donate to the redevelopment programme the waiting time to become a member of the MCC is currently 29 years.

The tour starts in the museum with a run-down of the items in the trophy cabinet which naturally include the original “Ashes urn” (the one which the Australians almost invariably have possession of is a replica).

We then proceed to the Members’ pavilion; on the way in I note that the MCC are the only people in the English-speaking world who refer to mobile phones as “portable telephones” which tells you a lot more about them than even their archaic dress code.

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The staircase we head up to get to the famous “Long Room” is lined with painted portraits of England captains past and present. The quality of these varies quite considerably; if I was Michael Atherton I’d be fairly happy, but if I was Michael Vaughan then not quite so much. The Long Room isn’t as big as I had expected and apart from the one of WG Grace the paintings in here aren’t much to write home about either. In fact the best painting in the whole place is tucked out of the way in the Members’ only function room opposite the Long Room (see below).

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Next up are visits to the Home and Away Dressing Rooms though that appellation is a bit misleading since both are devoid of any actual changing facilities. Basically they’re just places for the players to relax and have Tea while contemplating the respective honours boards which commemorate those England and Overseas players who have either scored a century or taken five wickets in an innings or ten wickets in the match during a test at Lord’s. The only players to feature on both sides of the England honours board are Gubby Allen, Ray Illingworth, Ian Botham, Andrew Flintoff, Stuart Broad, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes while Australia’s Keith Miller, the West Indies’ Sir Garfield Sobers, and India’s Vinoo Mankad match that achievement on the “away” board. Surprisingly Sachin Tendulkar, Shane Warne and Brian Lara are all conspicuous by their absence. The only person to appear on the boards in both dressing rooms is the West Indian batsman, Gordon Greenidge, by virtue of having scored a century for an MCC invitational side (predominantly comprised of England players) in the 1987 bicentennial test against the Rest of the World. I suspect that quite a sizeable proportion of the MCC membership have yet to get over this.

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After leaving the Members’ pavilion we make our way round to the Mound Stand, climbing up the stairs to appreciate the view from the debenture holders bar. Adjacent to the Mound Stand is the Tavern Stand on top of which is perched the famous weather vane of Father Time removing a bail. The Pavilion is over to the left and the Grandstand directly opposite. To the right the Compton and Edrich stands which used to flank the futuristic looking Media Centre have been reduced to rubble in preparation for the next phase of the redevelopment of the ground. Due for completion in 2021 this will only increase the capacity of the ground from 30,000 to 32,000 (though most of that increase will be made up of hospitality suites). The Media Centre, designed by the Future Systems architectural practice, was considered pretty controversial when it was built in 1999 but it went on to win that year’s RIBA Stirling Prize and is now viewed as an iconic structure by just about everyone. A couple of final facts, courtesy of our genial Yorkshire tour guide, before we leave. The only player ever to hit the ball over the top of the Pavilion was the ill-fated Albert Trott (1873 – 1914) (who played for both England and Australia) in 1899. The Lord’s Slope actually runs from north to south, not between the Pavilion and Nursery ends as I had always assumed. The total drop is around 2.5m (or 8ft 4″ in old money).

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The tour lasted just over ninety minutes and was pretty enjoyable in the end (despite my reservations at the outset). We exit via the Grace Gate again and turn right down to Grove End Road and then north up to Elm Tree Road which initially runs east parallel to the cricket ground before veering north up to the western section of Circus Road. From here we return southward down Cavendish Avenue which terminates on the junction of Cavendish Close and Wellington Place. The pillar box here is in the form designed by John Penfold during the Victorian era, 1866-79 to be precise, of which only around 150 originals remain in the UK. Sadly, as far as I can ascertain, this isn’t one of those so must be one of the 1989 replicas that were made.

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From Wellington Place we make our way back to Wellington Road and haul ourselves up this to our final port of call for today, St John’s Wood tube station. The station building was designed by Stanley Heaps and is Grade II listed. Its platform design, courtesy of Harold Stabler, remains the same as when the station opened in 1939. St John’s Wood is the answer to the common trivia question “Which London Underground station does not contain any of the letters in the word “mackerel”? and the station also featured in the video for Soft Cell’s “Bedsitter” (a much less common trivia question). On which trivial notes we’ll sign off.

 

Day 62 – Tower Bridge – Queen’s Walk – Hay’s Wharf

Well it’s taken nearly four years, which is about three and a half more than originally planned, but after 62 days and god knows how many miles every street covered by the central section of the London A-Z has finally been walked. Of course, give it a few more years and no-one will have a clue what that means as they’ll only ever have used Google maps to get around but, just as a reminder, this is roughly the area we’re talking about :

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or to put it another way :

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And (having just counted them up) that’s roughly 2,028 streets, roads, lanes, walks, passages, avenues, mews(es) and rents altogether. Though I probably shouldn’t count Downing Street as it wasn’t actually possible to set foot there.

Anyway back to today’s valedictory lap which is mercifully short – just across Tower Bridge and west along the river to London Bridge.

Day 63 Route

Tower Bridge was built between 1886 and 1894 and is a combined bascule (the bit that raises and lowers – from the French for “see-saw”) and suspension bridge. It has a total length of 244m and the two towers are 65m high. Over 50 designs had been submitted for the new river crossing and the successful proposal for a bascule bridge was a collaboration between Horace Jones, the City Architect, and engineer, John Wolfe Barry. The incorporation of twin towers with connecting walkways was intended to allow pedestrians to be able to continue to cross the river when the bridge was raised. However, in 1910 the walkways were closed due to lack of use – the general public preferred to wait for the bascules to close rather than clamber up the two hundred-odd stairs and (allegedly) run a gauntlet of pickpockets and prostitutes once they got to the top. Only in 1982 with the creation of the Tower Bridge exhibition were the Walkways re-opened and covered over. Two massive piers were sunk into the river bed to support the construction and over 11,000 tons of steel provided the framework for the Towers and Walkways. This framework was clad in Cornish granite and Portland stone to protect the underlying steelwork and to give the Bridge a more pleasing appearance.

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Compared to many London attractions entry to the Tower Bridge exhibition is relatively reasonably priced at just under a tenner. This gets you up to the walkways, 42m above the river, and also includes access to the engine rooms. I chose to climb up the 200-plus steps inside the north tower rather than take the lift. Those that go for the latter option miss out on half the exhibition (including the “dad-dancing diver – you’ll see what I mean). Each walkway now includes a short glass-floored section which is not great for those that lack a head for heights. If these had only been configured “à la bascule” then the world would be able to rid itself of a bevy of annoying teenagers on regular basis.

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To get to the Engine Rooms, which are situated underneath the southern end of the bridge, you follow a blue line from the base of the south tower. The bascules are operated by hydraulics, originally using steam to power the enormous pumping engines. The energy created was stored in six massive accumulators so that, as soon as power was required to lift the bridge, it was always readily available. The accumulators fed the driving engines, which drove the bascules up and down. Despite the complexity of the system, the bascules only took about a minute to raise to their maximum angle of 86 degrees. Today, the bascules are still operated by hydraulic power, but since 1976 they have been driven by oil and electricity rather than steam. The original pumping engines, accumulators and boilers are now exhibits within the Engine Rooms.

We descend from the west side Tower Bridge Road down onto Queen’s Walk and then turn left immediately and follow Duchess Walk past a line of upscale eateries to Queen Elizabeth Street. On the triangular island bordered by this, Tooley Street and TBR stands a statue of Samuel Bourne Bevington (1832 – 1907) who was Bermondsey’s first mayor and came from a Quaker family who made their fortune in the local leather trade.  The sculptor was Sydney March (1876 – 1968) who was something of a go-to guy at the start of the 20th century if you wanted a monument to a major figure of Empire or a WW1 memorial. Beyond this statue (and you can only just see the plinth in the photo below) is a bust of the far more significant figure of Ernest Bevin (1881 – 1951) who was co-founder of the Transport and General Workers’ Union and served as Foreign Secretary in the 1945-51 Labour Government.
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At the junction of Queen Elizabeth Street and Tooley Street sits the building that was built in 1893 as a new permanent home for St Olaves’ Grammar School. The school was founded in the late 16th century following a legacy of £8 a year granted in the will of Southwark brewer, Henry Leeke. The building on QE Street was designed by Edward William Mountford, the architect of the Old Bailey. The school upped and decamped to suburban Orpington in 1968 and the building was acquired for use as an annexe by South London College. That tenure lasted until 2004 after which the listed building lay idle for ten years until it was bought by the Lalit Group as the latest addition to their chain of luxury boutique hotels, opening in 2017.

We turn right past the west side of the hotel down Potters Fields which runs into its eponymous park where a lunchtime session of Bikram yoga is in full swing.

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On the north side of the park, heading back towards Tower Bridge is London’s newest major theatre, the Bridge, founded by former National Theatre luminaries, Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr, and opened in 2017.  Diagonally opposite across the park stands City Hall the headquarters of the Greater London Authority (GLA) a combination of the Mayor of London’s office and the London Assembly. The building was designed by Norman Foster and opened for business in 2002, two years after the creation of the GLA. The unusual shape of the building was supposedly intended to minimise surface area and thus improve energy efficiency but the exclusive use of glass for the exterior has more than offset any benefit this confers. In a singular display of unity, former Mayors, Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, have both likened the form of the building to a particular element of the male anatomy; the former dubbing it “the Glass Testicle” and the latter “the Glass Gonad”.

City Hall forms part of a larger riverside development, called More London, with the usual mix of offices, shops and restaurants, which covers the area once filled with wharves and warehouses forming part of the so-called Upper Pool of London. Adjacent to City Hall is a sunken amphitheatre called The Scoop which hosts open-air music performances and film screenings during the summer months (and more lunchtime yoga as you can see below).

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In order to arrive at The Scoop we cross Potters Fields Park back to Tooley Street and return via Weaver’s Lane and More London Riverside. En route we pass through a herbaceous garden, of forty different perennial species, designed by the man responsible for the highline garden in New York, Piet Oudolf.

The thoroughfare known as More London Riverside continues beyond The Scoop, veering away from the river in between new HQ’s for accountancy firms Ernst & Young and PWC and lawyers, Norton Rose.

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On arriving at More London Place we head back down to river along Morgan’s Lane, which joins Queen’s Walk by the mooring of HMS Belfast. Although I have been aboard HMS Belfast before that was about 45 years ago I reckon so I was sorely tempted to repeat the experience but time was against me so I spurned the opportunity.

Built by Messrs Harland & Wolff in 1936, HMS Belfast was launched by Anne Chamberlain, wife of the then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, on St Patrick’s Day in 1938. A year later she was commissioned into the Royal Navy under the command of Captain G A Scott (the ship that is, not Mrs Chamberlain). The Belfast was immediately called into service patrolling northern waters in an effort to impose a maritime blockade on Germany. However, disaster struck after only two months at sea when she hit a magnetic mine. There were few casualties but the damage to her hull was so severe she was out of action for three years. On rejoining the fleet in 1942 the Belfast played a key role in protecting arctic convoys en route to the USSR. She then went on to spend five weeks supporting the 1944 D-Day landings. She retired from service in 1963 and a few years later a trust was formed under the auspices of the Imperial War Museum to preserve her. After a successful campaign HMS Belfast was opened to the public in 1971, the last remaining vessel of her type – one of the largest and most powerful light cruisers ever built.

Bang in front of HMS Belfast on the riverfront, and taking up valuable real estate that could be otherwise utilised for even more bars and restaurants, is the enduring loveliness that is Southwark Crown Court. Opened in 1983 its 15 courtrooms make it the fourth largest centre for criminal sentencing in the country. It specialises in serious fraud cases. High profile cases in 2019 include the founder of Extinction Rebellion and another activist being cleared of all charges relating to protests in which they entered Kings College London and spray painted “Divest from oil and gas” on the walls and Julian Assange being convicted for breaching bail conditions by taking refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy. (Who says judges are out of touch ?).
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The front entrance to the court building is away from the river on English Grounds which is off Battle Bridge Lane. Surrounded by the latter, Counter Street and Hay’s Lane is Hay’s Galleria. In 1651 merchant, Alexander Hay took over the lease of a brewhouse beside London Bridge which included a small wharf. By 1710 his family company owned most of the warehouses along the river between London Bridge and the future southern end of Tower Bridge and the expanded wharf officially became known as Hay’s Wharf. By 1838 the company had fallen under the control of John Humphrey Jnr, an Alderman of the City of London. He commissioned architect William Cubitt to design and build a new wharf with an enclosed dock which work was completed in 1857. Unfortunately, just four years later, the Great Fire of Southwark destroyed the warehouses surrounding the new wharf. The buildings that form Hay’s Galleria are some of those arose from the ashes of that fire. Within a few years Hay’s Wharf was handling nearly 80% of the dry produce coming into the capital earning it the soubriquet of “London’s Larder”. The area suffered terrible bombing during WW2 but the Hay’s Wharf company recovered and by 1960, was handling 2m tons of foodstuffs and had 11 cold and cool air stores. However, over the course of the following decade, the explosion in the use of container ships led to the shipping industry moving out to the deep water ports of Tilbury and Felixstowe. Quite rapidly the London docks began to close and in 1969 The Hay’s Wharf Company ceased operations. In the 1980’s the site was acquired for redevelopment by St Martin’s Property Corporation, the real estate arm of the State of Kuwait’s sovereign wealth fund. Hay’s Wharf, renamed Hay’s Galleria, was filled in and paved over and a glass barrel vault installed to join the two warehouse buildings at roof level to create an atrium like area with shops and stalls on ground level with offices in the upper levels. The adjoining wharf to the east, Wilson’s Wharf, was levelled to make way for the Crown Courts and the wharf buildings to the west, Chamberlain’s Wharf together with St Olaf House, were taken over by London Bridge Hospital (see below).

On leaving Hay’s Galleria we continue west along the river as far as London Bridge, passing the aforementioned eponymous hospital. On ascending up to bridge level we turn south and take the walkway that curves round to London Bridge Station then take the stairway down from Duke Street Hill to Tooley Street emerging opposite another part of London Bridge Hospital, a private hospital opened in 1986. St Olaf House, which houses the hospital’s Consulting rooms and Cardiology Department, was built as the Headquarters for Hay’s Wharf in 1931. This outstanding example of an Art Deco building was designed by the famous architect, H.S. Goodhart-Rendel, and is one of his best known works. It is a listed building, with its well-known river facade and its Doulton faience panels by Frank Dobson, showing dock life and the unloading of goods – ‘Capital, Labour and Commerce’.

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The building on Tooley Street is somewhat less impressive and so perhaps not the most fitting way to close this project. But then again this has not just been about venerable and grandiose old buildings and the ports of call for the open-top bus tours. It’s been about poking into every corner of the heart of this great city and circulating round each and every one of its arteries from the grandest boulevard to the grimiest cul-de-sac. In that spirit therefore, please salute these former shipping offices which first saw the light of day in 1860.
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And so it’s goodbye from me…..for now.

 

 

Day 49 – Piccadilly – St James’s Square – Pall Mall

First excursion of the year and not a long one but this small area between Piccadilly and Pall Mall (yellow to pink on the Monopoly board) is rich in historical and social significance. From Fortnum and Mason to the Royal Automobile Club, St James’s (where nearly 50% of the property is owned by the Crown Estate) still clings to an aura of privilege and old money. It also contains the former residences of two women who, in very different ways, have played an important role in shaping the evolution of this country – Ada Lovelace and Nancy Astor.

Day 49 Route

Starting point today is St James’s Church on Piccadilly. This was consecrated in 1684 having been built to the order of Henry Jermyn, Earl of St Albans to the serve the new residential development of St James’s Square. And wouldn’t you know it but the architect was the ubiquitous Christopher Wren accepting a rare gig outside of the City of London. The reredos and the marble font were created by master carver of the age, Grinling Gibbons (there’s a forename that’s ripe for revival surely). And that font was where William Blake was baptised in December 1757. St James’s is well known as a classical music venue and I was fortunate enough that my visit coincided with a lunchtime recital by the prizewinning Greek pianist, Konstantinos Destounis. The church is also very actively involved in highlighting social and political issues and is currently host to Suspended, an installation by artist Arabella Dorman which highlights the plight of refugees attempting to flee from persecution and famine to the safety of European shores.

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We exit the church onto Jermyn Street, turn left and then return to Piccadilly via Church Place. Heading east towards Piccadilly Circus we pass Waterstones flagship store which occupies the Grade I listed building that came into being in 1936 as Simpsons of Piccadilly, at the time the largest menswear store in Britain. The building was designed by the modernist architect, Joseph Pemberton (1889 – 1956) and much of the interior was the work of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895 – 1946), one of the most influential professors at the Bauhaus school of art in 1920’s Berlin.

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A right turn down Eagle Place takes us back onto Jermyn Street where we continue east onto Regent Street St James’s (or Regent Street South if you’re pushed for time). The Lumiere London art festival had taken place the previous weekend and the area around Piccadilly had featured several of the installations, including this light projection onto the old Swan & Edgar building.

We drop down to the end of Regent Street St James’s where no. 1 with its ornate carved frontage, home of the Greek restaurant Estiatorio Milos, stands on the corner with Charles II Street.

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Charles II Street runs west into St James’s Square.  As already mentioned the square was laid out in the late 17th century by Henry Jermyn, the 1st Earl of St Albans one of the most influential courtiers of the Restoration period. The houses on the square quickly became some of the most desirable properties in London and by the 1720’s seven dukes and seven earls were among the residents. A century or so later the clubhouses arrived and the square lost a bit (but only a bit) of its cachet. Turning right to proceed anticlockwise around the square we pass the BP head office at no. 1, a turn of the 21st century building they acquired in 2001. The original house at no.3 next door was owned by at least three separate dukes at different times but was replaced in the 1930’s by this office block.

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Then at no.4 we have an original Georgian House built 1726-28 by Edward Shepherd and the only one on the square to retain its garden and mews house at the rear. It is now the Naval and Military Club but was once one of the homes of Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor (1879 – 1964) the first woman to sit as an MP in the House of Commons. Nancy Witcher Langthorne Astor, to give her her full name, was an American citizen who moved to Britain at the age of 26 when she married, for the second time, to Waldorf Astor heir to the massive fortune of the Astor family with its origins in the 18th century US fur trade and New York real estate. Their primary home was the 375 acre Cliveden Estate in Buckinghamshire, a wedding gift from Waldorf’s father. Waldorf had enjoyed a promising political career prior to WW1 but when he succeeded his father’s peerage to become the 2nd Viscount Astor he was automatically shunted off to the House of Lords. This left the way open for Nancy to contest the vacant seat and she duly won the November 1919 by-election. She was in actual fact not the first woman to be elected to parliament, that milestone was achieved by Constance Markievicz in 1918 but as she was an Irish Republican she was barred from taking her seat. I think it’s fair to say that Lady Astor’s success is now viewed as purely a symbolic one. Her political accomplishments were largely negligible although she remained an MP until 1945.  Her personal ideology was also pretty suspect in many ways – she had not been a strong advocate of women’s suffrage and held strong anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic views. However, while she and many of her circle were in favour of appeasement suggestions that the “Cliveden set” were pro-fascist appear to be exaggerated.

Across the road from no.4, just outside the gardens, is a memorial to WPC Yvonne Fletcher who on 17 April 1984, at the age of 25, was killed by a shot from the Libyan People’s Bureau (Embassy) which at the time occupied no.5. WPC Fletcher was on duty monitoring a demonstration against the Gaddafi regime, eleven of the participations in which were also wounded. Although diplomatic relations between the UK and Libya were severed no-one was ever brought to account for the murder. Two years later US fighter planes conducted bombing raids on Libya having taken off from UK air bases with the acquiescence of Margaret Thatcher.

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We leave the square temporarily via Duke of York Street off to the right of which is the now (thanks to the eponymous book and TV series) infamous Apple Tree Yard. You’d be hard pushed to find anywhere quite so unappealing as a venue for a spot of alfresco hanky-panky but then that’s probably the point. Though I’m pretty certain the scenes in the TV series weren’t actually filmed here anyway. The yard’s other claim to fame is that it was home to the office where Sir Edwin Lutyens designed the enclave of New Delhi (within the metropolis of Delhi) to replace Calcutta as the seat of the British Colonial Government in 1912. This was marked in 2015 by the installation of a sculptural work in granite by the artist Stephen Cox.

Back on Duke of York Street it’s a short hop up to Jermyn Street again for a quick eastward foray to tick off Babmaes Street before retracing our steps to Ormond Yard which is opposite Apple Tree Yard and ends in a small passage that cuts through To Mason’s Yard. Bang in the middle of Mason’s Yard is the White Cube Gallery which was constructed here on the site of an old electricity subs-station (and is the first free-standing structure to be built in the historic St James’s area for more than 30 years). In its architectural style the White Cube aims for a spot of nominative determinism though White Orthotope would be nearer the mark (this is also true of its sister gallery, White Cube Bermondsey). It’s a good old space inside and usually showcasing something worth a visit. Current exhibition by Korean artist, Minjung Kim, which just opened today is a case in point.

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