diamond geezer

 Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Marking the meridian

Hither Green
xi) The meridian clips the bottom right corner of Manor Park, a recently revamped Lewisham greenspace, although nobody thought to spend any of the council's money to mark its passage. Instead there's a rather nice twizzly wind-blown sculpture further up the park, and a few wildflower meadows bordered by a narrow wetland zone. Across the precisely-zero line flows one of London's lesser known rivers - the Quaggy - at the very point where it slips from pleasant parkland shallows to ugly concrete channel [photo]. I promise to come back and follow the Quaggy another time, but for now it's due south to a direct hit.
xii) Only a handful of railway stations lie precisely on the meridian, and Hither Green is the only one south of the Thames. Even better, you don't have to enter the station to see its meridian marker. A pedestrian subway leads beneath the tracks [photo], linking the shopping parade in Staplehurst Road to a bleak plaza on the opposite side of the tracks. Midway through, almost precisely where a ramp leads upward to the ticket office, a silver arch crosses the darkened roof of the tunnel [photo]. A red strip up and over the centre divides the western hemisphere from the east [photo]. Top marks to whoever thought up this idea, which beats the usual council-friendly scrawled mural depicting worthy services from the local community. Step beneath in awe and wonder, and let's be on our way.
xiii) Lewisham Council have had another go at marking the meridian outside a new residential development on the corner of Hither Green Lane and Woodlands Street. They teamed up with Barratt Homes, whose dead-ordinary living-boxes are piled up alongside, and installed a line of eight metal plaques across a paved piazza beside a car repair shop [photo]. Each plaque depicted an English town or location straddling the meridian, some more local than others, which was a rather charming way of twinning the area with Sussex, East Yorks and points inbetween. That was in April 2007, but unfortunately the developer's optimism has proved unplaced. A bunch of metal squares lightly bolted to the ground, in southeast London - what were they thinking? All but one have been duly nicked, presumably for scrap, leaving only the plaque for "Peacehaven" intact on the pavement. Maybe just as well, because it's only taken 2½ years for the graphic etched on the Peacehaven plaque to become almost completely illegible [photo]. If that's Barratt quality, one can only fear for residents of the adjacent flats.

xiv) Beyond the South Circular, at the heart of the Corbett Estate, the local parish church lies directly on the zero degree line [photo]. This Edwardian pile ought perhaps to be called St Andrew's-on-the-Meridian, but alas not. It has (reputedly) the widest Gothic nave in Britain, a whopping forty feet across, plus a newly restored organ. I didn't get to peek inside, however, because The Free Pentecostal Apostolic Church of the Lord Jesus Christ were in full flow within.
xv) It's not quite perfectly aligned, but Torridon Road SE6 is London's most meridian-y street. It heads almost precisely due south for a full kilometre, with the zero degree line running through every single one the residential terraces on the eastern side of the street [photo]. Gardens at the top of the road, then back rooms further down, then front rooms, then front gardens - an unseen link between a complete row of neighbours. We should, perhaps send some of the Greenwich Observatory's thousands of tourists to stand instead on the traffic island outside the post office [photo], or to take photos of Torridon's 0° mini-roundabout [photo].
xvi) And then, oh blimey, I really wasn't expecting this. I knew that Catford had an enclave of surviving post-war prefabs, but I wasn't expecting to turn a corner on my Meridian journey and stumble upon them [photo]. Altogether there are 189 low-rise temporary chalets here, each set in its own fenced off patch of land, and each lovingly cared for [photo]. A few fluttering Union Jacks here, a few gnomes there, and all around the feeling of being amongst a defiantly proud and tightly knit community. Residents christened this the Excalibur estate, and the byways are all named after lesser known knights of the Round Table. Meliot Road (named after Sir Meliot de Logris) runs closely parallel to the meridian, with the line passing through one particularly fine example of a half-timbered prefab [photo] [photo]. Oh to discover that such a building even exists, let alone in such a significant location. In the 1950s a prefab-packed estate such as this might have been a common sight in many parts of South East England, but this Catford hideaway is a rare (and uncommonly large) survivor. Six chalets have recently been protected with Grade II listed status, but long-term residents won't be reassured until the council finally designate the whole of Excalibur an official conservation area. Long may this unique lifestyle continue, it's magic.

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