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