diamond geezer

 Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Random borough (21): Waltham Forest (part 3)

Somewhere random: Leytonstone station
Leytonstone stationWhen you think of the great film director Alfred Hitchcock you probably think of Hollywood, but you should instead be thinking Waltham Forest. Not quite so glamorous, admittedly, but the great film director had his humble origins in Leytonstone. If he'd followed in his father's footsteps he'd have been a greengrocer on the High Road, but dad's footsteps died out when Alf was only 14 and he ended up at an East End university instead. His career moved rapidly from draftsman to silent movie title designer to film director, and in 1929 he lurched into the limelight with "Blackmail", the first British talkie.

There's no sign of number 517 High Road today, just a rather ordinary petrol station, so Hitchcock stalkers should instead make tracks to Leytonstone tube station. A rather magnificent mosaic tribute was installed here in 2001, and the two sloping subways leading up from the ticket hall now resemble a subterranean art gallery. There are 17 mosaics altogether, lovingly constructed from over 80000 vitreous glass tesserae, and each depicts either a famous Hitchcock movie or a scene from Alfred's life. Some even manage to combine both, which is rather appropriate given that the old man loved to make a cameo appearance in his own films.

PsychoThe BirdsSuspicion

Blimey they're good, even if subdued lighting means most aren't displayed in optimal conditions. That's partly to your advantage, however, because you can try to guess which film each mosaic represents before squinting to read the small plaque positioned immediately above or beneath. For example, the celluloid inspiration for the first two illustrations above is obvious. That lady in the shower must be from Psycho, and the woman with peckable spaghetti hair can only be enduring The Birds. But what's that butler doing on the stairs, any idea? You can confirm your suspicion by hovering over the third picture for an answer.

If you can't make it down to Leytonstone, the wonders of the internet allow the entire gallery to be viewed online. You could go direct to the manufacturers, the City Arts & Greenwich Mural Workshop, but if you yearn for finer detail I recommend the excellent Joy of Shards. But nothing quite beats seeing the tiles in the flesh, even if to view them you have to keep stepping out of the way of every would-be passenger rushing down the subway. No murderous thoughts, please, there'll be a better view once the lady vanishes.
by tube: Leytonstone

Somewhere pretty: Chingford
One thing Waltham Forest does well, which I've not seen replicated in any other London borough, is to produce a high quality series of detailed leaflets documenting its architectural treasures. And not just the grander listed buildings, but also residential streets in heritage clusters. If you live in one of the borough's conservation areas (Leucha Road, Ropers Field, Walthamstow Village, etc) there's probably a leaflet documenting its geographic extent, ornamental features and all necessary planning regulations. There are also four Millennium Heritage Trails, each printed on luxury folded cardboard, for borough residents to get their hands on. I picked up a full set at the Vestry House Museum (grab now, before council cutbacks bite), and followed Trail 1 to the heights of Chingford. It's not all Norman Tebbitt, you know.

Corbis Cottage on Chingford GreenThere are at least 23 buildings of architectural note in Chingford, apparently, including a 400-year-old dovecote and a late Victorian terracotta-clad pub. The oldest is Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge on the forest edge, which I've visited before (and which is also Londonist's "Museum of the Month"). Nextdoor is the Butler's Retreat, a listed barn used to serve refreshments to Forest-bound visitors, although alas currently closed for refurbishment. Of the remaining buildings of note, most are clustered around Chingford Green - a thin triangle of grass surrounded by one of the borough's larger conservation areas. A wide range of architectural styles are on show, from faux Tudor to faux Gothic, although my favourite was the genuine weatherboarded tweeness of Carbis Cottage. Before the railways came Chingford was but a small hamlet of similarly rural homesteads. It's very different now.

Forest ViewThe leafleted trail doesn't shy away from more suburban highlights. There are some particularly grand homes along The Drive, for example, and a few equally over-turreted mansions facing the golf course along Forest View. The north end of Chingford is where Waltham Forest's better off residents come to live, not quite gated luxury but still a million miles away from conditions in the tightly packed streets of Leyton far to the south. For a topping treat, however, trudge up to the highest point of the estate where you'll find a short footpath leading to the summit of Pole Hill. Not only is there a great view through the trees towards the City, but there's also an obelisk or two marking an unlikely geographical coincidence. The Greenwich Meridian passes directly through the top of the hill, so as you stand beside the trig point you are precisely due north of the Royal Observatory. Further details are included in my special Meridian postings from five years ago (including Waltham Forest's series of carefully aligned pavement tributes). Pole Hill's a lovely spot - even Lawrence of Arabia thought so - and all the better if (like me) you get the entire mound completely to yourself.
by train: Chingford


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