diamond geezer

 Thursday, May 25, 2017

7 Leyton/Wanstead & Woodford/Chigwell
Combining these three former boroughs in 1965 would have created a faintly ridiculous new borough, bulging at the top, thin in the middle and spreading out again to the south. More to the point, it would have amalgamated wildly disparate communities, from the northern fringes of Epping Forest to dense terraced streets just outside Stratford. As things turned out each of the three boroughs went its own separate way - one to Waltham Forest, one to Redbridge and the other staying put in Essex. For today's post I've headed to Woodford, specifically Woodford Green, slap bang in the centre.

The Woodford Green conservation area

Several years ago, Waltham Forest council issued a series of free leaflets detailing the delights to be found across each of their many conservation areas. The leaflets were impressive compilations of factual information sourced from the Planning & Transportation department, copiously illustrated, and printed in two colours on folded card. I think it'd be fair to say that no London council will ever have the time or money to create something as good as this again. What's more 90% of the Woodford Green conservation area was actually in neighbouring Redbridge, so they were almost doing the work for free. I'm delighted to say that the Woodford Green leaflet survives as a pdf, as do the rest of Waltham Forest's collection, as a perfect reminder of how much architectural excellence there is on Londoners' doorsteps.



The Woodford Green conservation area stretches for almost a mile along the ridgetop between the Lea and Roding valleys, with the Woodford Wells conservation area continuing to the north. The ridgetop is why there are so many grand interesting buildings up here, because an ancient forest track ran this way, and because the first well-to-do settlers chose the best locations with a good view. The ridgetop is also why so many grand interesting buildings remain, because the nearest railways pass to either side along much flatter ground, so suburbia tended to erupt down there rather than up here. Ah, if only that forest track hadn't turned into the A11 dual carriageway, the rural ambience might also have survived.



This is a fabulous place to begin. It's Hurst House, one of Woodford's oldest surviving buildings, built for a rich brewery owner in the early 18th century, and much admired by Pevsner. The house also has the peculiar local nickname of The Naked Beauty, a reference to the nude statue of a woman which once stood in the grounds. She's long gone, but the gardens are apparently gorgeous, and very occasionally open to the public. The obelisk and four cannon balls out front are not contemporary.



Standing tall over the southern end of Woodford Green, close to Hurst House, is this statue of Sir Winston Churchill. He was the local MP in the post-war years, because he had to be the MP for somewhere, and the statue was unveiled in 1959 by Monty of Alamein. Woodford has another political claim to fame concerning a Prime Minister of the same era, namely Clement Attlee, who lived in an unassuming semi down the hill at 17 Monkham's Avenue before becoming leader of the Labour Party. Woodford Green continues broadly north from Churchill's statue, via a fine horse chestnut avenue, to an unassuming cricket pitch.



This is The Castle Hotel, or rather it was from the early 19th century, a stucco-faced coaching inn and posting house where working horses were stabled. When Epping Forest was opened up in 1878 the inn became a popular spot for East End jollies, and daytrippers would have surveyed the view from behind the balcony rail on the top floor. The Castle's recent evolution has seen it change from pub to Harvester, and last year to a posh steak restaurant. As confirmation that the spending habits of the local populace have changed, the former Midland Bank across the road is now a Mediterranean meze grill.



The area around the pond at the heart of Woodford Green is where the original hamlet used to be, hence a high concentration of locally listed buildings exists along the shopping parade on the High Road. The facade at W. D. Chapman Local Butcher made it onto the list, with its red and white awning and nostalgic typeface, while the assemblage of boutiques and restaurants around the top of Snakes Lane is of a more appealing vintage. Unseen behind an adjacent hedge is Harts House, a Regency mansion that's now a care home surrounded by a private residential estate.



I shouldn't mention the redbrick and terracotta United Free Church at High Elms, designed by the same architect who did the Horniman Museum, because that's fractionally across the boundary in a different borough. But I can wax lyrical about the recessed carving over the entrance to the Woodford Green Men's Club, and the squat clocktower above. This unusual building was converted from a Wesleyan chapel in 1904, as one of the plaques beside the door explains - the other commemorates a dozen members lost in the Great War.



At the top of Woodford Green is All Saints' Church, built in 1874 and extended in 1876, which gives some idea of the residential explosion then underway in the neighbourhood. A prominent landmark, the building is Early English Gothic with a steep pitch tile roof, a tall tower and a shingled broach spire. Today's Anglican congregation is in the charismatic evangelical tradition, which helps explain why the church's website mentions nothing about the glories of the building, and much about the vision of the ministry.



Beyond the Horse and Well public house (circa 1770) we're technically into the Woodford Wells Conservation Area, which isn't quite so splendid because the main road dominates somewhat, and the occasional modern showroom shed intrudes. Crossing the dual carriageway requires descending into a deep tiled subway, municipally patterned, but a fine run of Georgian houses still stands intermittently between sympathetic infill.



Easily missed beneath a canopy of trees on the western verge is the Anti Air War Memorial, comprising a small upturned bomb, in concrete, on a raised plinth. It was commissioned in 1935 by the former suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, who owned the cottage behind, aghast that the League of Nations now considered aerial bombing an acceptable form of warfare. "There are thousands of memorials in every town and village to the dead", she said at the unveiling, "but not one as a reminder of the danger of future wars."



The conservation area peters out towards a fork in the road where a scrap of former Epping Forest lingers on. But there's one last visual treat, which is Bancroft's, an independent school which moved out to Woodford Wells from Mile End in 1889. From the front its castellations and turrets resemble a fortification rather than a school, whereas behind is a neo-gothic quadrangle and a succession of more modern educational facilities. And just 500 metres up the road is Buckhurst Hill, which is officially in Essex, although had the boundary been drawn differently Greater London would have carried on for several more miles.

» Woodford Green and Woodford Wells Conservation Area Appraisal (66 page pdf)
» The rest of Redbridge's conservation areas
» Leaflets for Waltham Forest's conservation areas

 Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Three years ago I set myself the slightly ridiculous challenge of visiting all the local government boroughs that touch the edge of Greater London. I'd done it before with London boroughs - the so-called Jamjar Years - but now I was heading outside the capital to see what delights existed out there.



A total of 17 Home Counties boroughs rub up against London, and I've spent a Saturday in each, attempting to visit at least four disparate locations, then coming home and writing about it. The writing about it shouldn't be disregarded, because that invariably took longer than the visit, making this a mighty task that's soaked up seventeen weekends and then some.

I started by the River Thames and worked my way round clockwise, ticking off another borough every two or three months. Unlike my jamjar journeys this wasn't random, mainly because "getting around" isn't as easy as it is in London, so a little more forward planning was involved.

Following yesterday's write-up of Thurrock my circuit is now complete. I've been to Kent, a lot of Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Essex, plus a couple of unitary authorities that aren't necessarily in any of those. For posterity's sake here's a full list, with a link to the relevant posts.

2014: Dartford, Sevenoaks, Tandridge, Reigate & Banstead, Epsom & Ewell,

2015: Mole Valley, Elmbridge, Spelthorne, Slough, South Bucks

2016: Three Rivers, Hertsmere, Welwyn Hatfield, Broxbourne, Epping Forest

2017: Brentwood, Thurrock


I've been to suburbs half a mile over the London border and towns ten miles distant, plus villages it's barely possible to commute from. I've been to stately homes and shopping centres, fortresses and vineyards, landscaped gardens and film studios, museums and markets, various muddy footpaths, a model village and a Roman bath. All of this fascinating stuff is out there, not far from London, if only we ever think to pop outside occasionally and take a look.

As with my eight year random safari around the London boroughs, the best part has been travelling around each borough to put a face to the name. It's not until you force yourself to walk from Shepperton to Staines, or you take the bus from Hatfield to Welwyn Garden City, or you alight from the train at somewhere called Lingfield, that you properly understand how an area truly fits together.

The variety has been amazing too, from densely-populated urban boroughs like Slough and Thurrock to rural idylls like Sevenoaks and Tandridge. It's not hard to contemplate a future extension of the capital's boundaries that would swallow up some of these districts, although a number of beyond-London boroughs peter out quite quickly once the commuter belt gives way to the Green Belt, suggesting a new dividing line wouldn't be easy to draw.

A number of people have asked if I intend to extend this Beyond London feature further, to which my answer is currently no. It would be tempting to add Watford, which doesn't quite touch London, ditto Windsor and Maidenhead, then Chiltern, and maybe Basildon, but where do you stop? One of you even suggested visiting all the remaining boroughs that touch a borough that touches London, a kind of second ring, so I've done some sketchy calculations and there are 24 of them.



But that would mean covering an area from the countryside round Saffron Walden to the coast near Eastbourne, so I think not. Don't sigh, you're not the one who'd have to write it all up.

Another reason for stopping here is that I've now explored 33 London boroughs and another 17 around the edge, which is 50 altogether, and 50's a nice round total. Don't worry, I have other irons in the fire, so I'm not at a loose end and can easily think up other stuff to do at weekends. But I do feel enriched to have visited 50 districts, and over 300 individual locations, across a wider area than most people choose to travel.

Sometimes you think you know somewhere quite well, but then you visit it and find out you didn't, but now you do.

 Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Beyond London (17): Thurrock (part 2)

Somewhere famous: The Royal Opera House
OK, so the actual Royal Opera House is in Covent Garden, but they have to make all their scenery somewhere, and that place is Thurrock. Previously they made it all in a big shed on the Bow Industrial Park, but that had to be demolished for the Olympics, and a more extensive facility has been created at High House Industrial Park in Purfleet. You can't miss it. As the name suggests it's on a hill, or at least the kind of unfloodable mound which passes for a hill round here, close to the point where HS1 ducks under the QE2 bridge. You also can't miss it because it looks like a slice of an enormous beer barrel, its ribbed roof rising above the neighbouring chimneytops with the ROH crest at its shallow peak.



Officially the Bob and Tamar Manoukian Production Workshop, this mega-studio and costume store has been built in the grounds of a Queen Anne manor, namely High House, which has been sympathetically restored as part of the new development. This includes the octagonal brick dovecote, one of the largest and finest in southern England, while one outbuilding has become a cafe with a walled garden out back. Rising alongside is a Creative & Cultural Skills' Backstage Centre, a kind of campus for production and rehearsal skills, hence I saw spotted several behind the scenes workers and students milling around the site. It's not clear whether the public are allowed to wander in off the street like I did, even for a coffee, but if you want to explore the interiors properly (and see the latest sets and scenery destined for the Royal Opera House stage) official tours are run on Fridays, and they look really interesting.
by train: Purfleet

Somewhere pretty: Chafford Gorges
The last thing I expected in a flat marshy area was tall chalk cliffs, but I should have thought again. The land between the Thames and the A13 rises to a height of over 100 feet, and has been repeatedly carved out over the centuries for mineral extraction. This has left gaping scars in the landscape, mostly deep chalk quarries, hence the network of man-made cliffs that threads across the area between Ockendon and Grays. The largest redundant quarry was Mill Wood Pit, which boasted post-industrial biodiversity of national importance, alas now lost, because in 1989 it was decided to cover the area with housing.



The new estate was called Chafford Hundred, a dense swirl of high-gabled houses, now numbering over 5000 in total and very much the place for the aspiring Essex family or upcoming yuppie to set up home. But suburbia didn't quite fill the entire area so a number of other quarries and pits have been left as nature reserves, a kind of undevelopment zone which all the major roads have to divert around and between. The most important scientifically is Grays Gorge, where chalk extraction ended in the 1920s giving alternative habitats plenty of time to establish. One footpath head around the rim, with the occasional gap to peer over, while another heads down 100 zigzag steps to the 'lower shelf' where wooded scrubland surrounds a central lake, and rare orchids can be found at this time of year if you know where to look.



Lion Gorge has a much better name, and sheer drop descents to a linear lake brimming with roddable fish, for those Men of Essex who enjoy a hooked dangle. Wouldham Cliffs create a lofty divide between the upper and lower halves of the estate, the only direct connection being an almost insignificant footpath of breathy steepness. From the top you can look east over Chafford Hundred's tightly-packed rooftops, or south over a cluster of oil silos towards Grays and the distant Thames. I met almost nobody at any of these places, but dozens at Warren Gorge because that's the ex-quarry with a car park and a visitors centre... and I'd say the least interesting of the lot. But if a geological and ecological safari ever appeals, you could do a lot worse than come explore Thurrock's artificial cliffs.
by train: Chafford Hundred  by bus: 370

Somewhere else pretty: Davy Down
Just north of Chafford Hundred, where the A13 crosses the Mar Dyke, an old pumping station is the focus of the Davy Down Riverside Park. Built in the 1920s to extract drinking water from a borehole, the original diesel pumps have been preserved and can still be seen on Thursday afternoons and intermittent open days. The rest of the park includes meadows, wetland and woodland areas, ideal for species spotting or a good runaround, as well as the photogenic 14-arch Stifford railway viaduct. And yet the entire acreage was woefully underused on Saturday afternoon - one lady walking a dog, a couple entwined on the grass and a couple of volunteers in overalls - as if the local population would much rather be indoors elsewhere than engage in outdoor recreation...
by bus: 370

Somewhere retail: Lakeside
Where Thurrock prefers to go for entertainment is a giant shopping complex by the M25. Lakeside opened in 1990 across a former gravel pit and quarry, bringing mall culture to the unsuspecting Essex populace, who duly lapped it up. The main retail cathedral is half a kilometre long, from House of Fraser down to Debenhams, with an even larger outlet park alongside and served by a five-figure number of parking spaces. For many families this is a full day out, circling the shopping levels and pausing for refreshment, be that a McFlurry in hand or a proper sit down meal. The preponderance of "eateries" is striking, with the more expensive chains lined up facing a pedalo lake and fake steamboat along the refreshed Boardwalk.



A few years ago the mall was renamed intu Lakeside, an over-chirpy brand whose exhortations to shop and enjoy are plastered everywhere. But they know their target audience well, ambling from fashion outlet to department store with broad smiles and several carrier bags dangling. There's a bright airy feel, plus upgraded Italian porcelain flooring to give the place a smarter ambience, but Lakeside is still seen as the downmarket partner of Bluewater across the Thames, as the continued presence of Poundland, Wilko and Spudulike confirms. And still half a million visitors flood in each week, to browse and consume at Thurrock's flagship commercial theme park, and why visit anywhere else?
by train: Chafford Hundred  by bus: 370, 372

» Two dozen Thurrock photos

 Monday, May 22, 2017

Beyond London (17): Thurrock (part 1)

I began my orbital tour around the capital three years ago in Dartford, and finally I've reached journey's end across the Thames. And that means Thurrock (or 'Furruck' as the locals call it), a marshy district with a drab reputation... and when the main town's called Grays, that really doesn't help. The majority of Thurrock's 150,000 population live in the southwest quadrant, between the A13 and the river, so that's where I spent most of my time. As usual I attempted to seek out some interesting places I hadn't blogged about before, and the day was less grim than you might have anticipated.

Somewhere to begin: Thurrock Museum
Yes of course Thurrock has a museum, because a lot has happened on the low-lying banks of the Thames estuary over the centuries. From mammoths in Aveley to Queen Elizabeth's pre-Armada speech, they're all covered here, plus Anglo Saxon artefacts from the UK's largest ever archaeological excavation at Mucking. You'll find the museum upstairs in Grays at the Thameside Complex, a very 80s-looking block which also doubles up as the town's theatre, the town's library and the purveyor of cheap coffee and pastries for those who don't venture past the box office.



A lot is packed into the cluster of galleries, first historically, then thematically, and finally geographically, with a decent case of exhibits for each of the disparate settlements which make up modern Thurrock. For example there's a fascinating look back at Kynochtown, the village serving the gunpowder factory since replaced by Shell Haven Refinery since replaced by Thames Oilport, and there's another corner focusing on the lost grand mansion at Belhus near Ockendon. Don't expect modern presentation, the labels and panels look like they're about the same age as the building, but they were a damned sight more informative than a shiny push-button 21st century upgrade might be. Open six days a week, it's free to look around.
by train: Grays

Somewhere grey: Grays
This town used to be called Greys Thurrock, where 'thurrock' is a shipbuilding term and the opener signifies ownership by Sir Henry de Grey, one of King John's favourite courtiers. The town clings to the estuary on the outside of a bend in the Thames, with the majority of older housing to the north of the railway and more of the modern stuff on the low-lying shore. This isn't so much the territory of white van man as white truck man, with the majority of local business being distribution-based, to transfer and/or process goods arriving at Tilbury or the newer docks. If London house prices scare you, Grays is highly commutable and still has decent-sized stock whose six-figure prices start with a 2.



The pedestrianised high street runs from the Old Courthouse down to the river, with a level crossing partway down, and a selection of not quite thrilling shops along the way. Looming over all is the tower of the State Cinema, an Essex behemoth which itself achieved cinematographic fame when it was used as a location in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The cinema closed on its 50th birthday in 1988, and has since briefly been a nightclub, but more recently an empty leaking shell with a very uncertain future. Its car park, however, is thriving, having been taken over by an enormous Morrisons which draws the denizens of Grays inexorably within. A lacklustre market up a side alley sells golden delicious, e-cigs and geraniums, while ladies who grew up long ago in East London pick over racks of fancy £10 shoes.



Beyond the railway the High Street descends past the parish church to a freshly redeveloped zone housing South Essex College, and almost no old buildings whatsoever apart from a couple of blokey pubs at the very foot. I wanted to walk further but the flood gates were firmly shut, protecting the flats on the waterfront and the cul-de-sacs behind, so instead I headed past the yacht club to the exciting-sounding Grays Beach... which turned out to be a drained swimming pool filled with sand. Stepping up onto the river wall I enjoyed the sweeping estuarine panorama, probably only because the sun was out, from the edge of Tilbury Port past the tip of the Swanscombe peninsula round to the distant QE2 bridge. The Thames is big out here, and immutably grey.
by train: Grays

Somewhere famous: St Clement's Church, West Thurrock
It is the most astonishing place to find a medieval church. From Purfleet to South Stifford the landscape to the south of the railway is almost exclusively industrial, right down to the estuary, sprawled with logistics hubs, warehouses and oil depots. Lorries thunder down feeder roads, pylons stride across the former marshes, and if you'd ever wondered where the Daily Mail is printed now its base in Rotherhithe has closed, it's here. Head south from the A126 roundabout to the Co-Op Distribution Centre, turn left into Procter & Gamble's site ignoring the sign saying 'Private Road', then right along the footpath up the side of the Fairy Liquid plant. However wrong it feels, keep walking, and a couple of hundred metres down is a church you know well.



St Clement's survives in a small green oasis, which is mostly churchyard, surrounded on two sides by factory premises and on another by the employees' car park. Viewed from one angle it looks like any flint-towered Essex church, but from the front it's impossible to miss the giant red processing plant behind, with tanks and silos and steaming chimney rising into the sky. Inexorably engulfed since the mid 20th-century, the church became redundant in 1977 and was adopted by P&G ten years later, who've reversed the dereliction and restored the interior, plus encouraged wildlife to thrive in the graveyard outside. I briefly met a couple of rabbits. Annoyingly I missed the one weekend a month when volunteers open up and allow the public inside (June 3rd/4th is the next), and I also struggled to take a decent photo into the sun, so I'd recommend visiting in the afternoon rather than the morning.

If you haven't yet remembered where you've seen this church before, think back to the 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral, because this is where the funeral was shot. John Hannah reads Auden's Stop All The Clocks inside, and then a pivotal conversation takes place at the front gate, with industrial chimney duly billowing in the background. The scenes in which the family set off to the church were filmed at the crest of a dead end in West Thurrock, whose pre-war pebbledash terraces are now bedecked with sequential satellite dishes. And whilst it is possible to follow a short path down from St Clement's to the Thames, Hugh Grant's waterfront scenes were actually filmed in Grays because the backdrop was better.



I followed the path through a narrow strip of mostly nettles to reach a couple of benches on a raised wall overlooking the river. A large cruiser sped by, cranes drooped, mud rippled. This is the sole break point from a truly remote footpath which runs three miles along the waterfront from Purfleet, and which I really want to walk one day, but I think best in company rather than alone, and preferably when the tide's not in. A tattooed jogger appeared from nowhere, scrambled up over some rocks and headed off along the wall, so it must be possible. And yes, that is the tallest electricity pylon in Britain rising close by, one of a pair comprising the 400 kV Thames Crossing, transferring power 600ft up to a similar mast in Swanscombe. I wrote about that in 2014 when I started my round-London circuit in Dartford... and this is an excellent connection to confirm, job done.
by train: Chafford Hundred/Grays

Beyond London: Dartford, Sevenoaks, Tandridge, Reigate & Banstead, Epsom & Ewell, Mole Valley, Elmbridge, Spelthorne, Slough, South Bucks, Three Rivers, Hertsmere, Welwyn Hatfield, Broxbourne, Epping Forest, Brentwood, Thurrock (pt 2 tomorrow)

 Sunday, May 21, 2017

A new tube map was released yesterday. Normally it takes me ages to find one, but the invisible staff at Bromley-by-Bow had dumped a stack on the shelf outside what used to be the ticket office, so I grabbed one on day one.

There is of course some new art on the cover. Dutch artist Lily van der Stokker has drawn some text in pastel-shaded boxes to create "an observation of the stolen moments between strangers on the Tube".



This is the kind of art which makes art critics write stuff like "Written in the first person and using language that is informal, she creates a kind of intimacy for a commission which is small in scale but vast in reach. The text ends ‘I know where I am going’, and through her apparent simplicity van der Stokker subverts our assumptions about our individual journeys." It's also the kind of art that tends to make anonymous grumpy men write "I don't like it I could have drawn it what a waste of money" in the comments box.

If you manage to find a night tube map there's a stuffed gorilla in a Hawaiian shirt on the front of that, which is obviously more exciting.

But what readers of this blog will really want to know is, has anything changed on the tube map itself? Why yes it has.

Lots of stuff which used to be shut has reopened. The Gospel Oak to Barking line reopened in February, and the new tube map finally shows this. Lambeth North station reopened in February, and the new tube map finally shows this. Two restrictions to step-free access ended in March, so they've been cleared off. Long term engineering works between Brentwood and Shenfield have just finished, so that's gone back to normal too. In addition there have been several changes to accessibility blobs - and we discussed that last month.

So I thought this might be a good moment to consider the evolution of the information panel on the tube map. Here are the information panels for the last four tube maps, from January 2016 through to May 2017, starting with the blankest column of all.



The second map was when the tram first appeared, so the key to all the lines was moved off the map proper and stuck down the side, plus the Overground closures started, taking up more room. On the December 2016 map the Overground information shrunk, and someone stuck all the contact details on the back cover, creating space to make the key a bit larger. On the latest map the key is the largest it's ever been, better spaced and with all the symbols in one long list, which is much more legible. The font size is still eye-wateringly tiny, but the extra space definitely helps.

Meanwhile, this latest version has hit a new low in the number of blue daggers on the map - there are only three! One's a long-term step-free access issue at Hounslow East, one's at Lancaster Gate station which is closed until August, and the other's at Custom House station which is closed until December. Mysteriously, Lancaster Gate isn't 'crossed out' on the map, whereas Custom House is, which is oddly inconsistent given that both are shut for at least the next three months.

Alas there are still seven red daggers on the map, a symbol which means "we can't be bothered to tell you what the issue is at this station, get your phone out and search for it, if you can be bothered." Amongst the invisible information imparted by these red daggers is "exit only on Sunday afternoons", "not served by trains in one direction", "no trains except very early or very late" and "only half the trains stop here". Some of this is important stuff people ought to know, but not even the enormous printed map in tube stations tells passengers what the red daggers mean, and searching online is ridiculously inefficient.

Worst of all, even if you follow the red dagger instructions on the tube map and search for "TfL stations", you won't find out what the special information actually is. Each of the station webpages used to have a box explaining what the problem was, but they've all disappeared in an unhelpful mismatch between printed and digital data. The Camden Town page says nothing about access on Sundays, the Cambridge Heath page says nothing about half the trains not stopping, the Goodge Street page says nothing about whatever the newly-created issue might be, etc etc etc. The map designers have expunged the information from the map, and the website designers have deleted the information from the web, and consequently the red daggers are now entirely meaningless.

Perhaps they'll print all the important information on the map next time. There's plenty of space.

 Saturday, May 20, 2017

Several election manifestos have been published this week, but only one is important, because it belongs to the party that's going to win.

60 things the Conservative Party manifesto (genuinely) promises

1) Under the strong and stable leadership of Theresa May, there will be no ideological crusades.
2) Under Theresa May’s leadership, ordinary, working families will no longer be ignored.
3) We must reject the ideological templates provided by the socialist left and the libertarian right and instead embrace the mainstream view.
4) We will need to give people real opportunity and make Britain the world’s Great Meritocracy.
5) The government’s agenda will not be allowed to drift to the right.

6) We will get on with the job and take Britain out of the European Union.
7) We continue to believe that no deal is better than a bad deal for the UK.
8) As we leave the European Union, we will no longer be members of the single market or customs union.
9) We will determine a fair settlement of the UK’s rights and obligations as a departing member state.
10) We will remain signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights for the duration of the next parliament.

11) We will not increase the level of Value Added Tax.
12) We will be the world’s foremost champion of free trade.
13) We want to make sure that there are as few barriers to trade and investment as possible.
14) We believe that shale energy could play a crucial role in rebalancing our economy.
15) We will continue our programme of strategic national investments, including the expansion of Heathrow Airport.

16) We will grant a free vote to give parliament the opportunity to decide the future of the Hunting Act.
17) We will make CCTV recording in slaughterhouses mandatory.
18) We will support local authorities that wish to combine to serve their communities better.
19) We will start moving significant numbers of civil servants and other public servants out of London and the south-east to cities around the UK.
20) We will maintain free entry to the permanent collections of our major national museums and galleries.

21) We will increase the defence budget by at least 0.5% above inflation in every year of the new parliament.
22) British troops will in future be subject to the Law of Armed Conflict, not the European Court of Human Rights.
23) We will maintain the commitment to spend 0.7% of our gross national income on assistance to developing nations and international emergencies.
24) We will work to reduce asylum claims made in Britain.
25) We will legislate to mandate changes in police practices if ’stop and search’ does not become more targeted.

26) We will repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.
27) We will extend the first past the post system of voting to mayoral elections.
28) We will legislate to ensure that a form of identification must be presented before voting.
29) We will retain the traditional method of voting by pencil and paper.
30) We will continue to ensure the work of the House of Lords remains relevant and effective by addressing issues such as its size.

31) We will lift the ban on the establishment of selective schools.
32) We will expect every 11-year old to know their times tables off by heart.
33) To help new teachers remain in the profession, we will offer forgiveness on student loan repayments while they are teaching.
34) We will prohibit councils from creating any new places in schools that have been rated either ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted.
35) Schools in England will offer a free school breakfast to every child in every year of primary school.

36) It is our objective to reduce immigration to sustainable levels, by which we mean annual net migration in the tens of thousands.
37) We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.
38) We will toughen the visa requirements for students, to make sure that we maintain high standards.
39) To defeat extremism, we need to learn from how civil society and the state took on racism in the twentieth century.
40) We will establish a Commission for Countering Extremism to identify examples of extremism and expose them.

41) We want almost every car and van to be zero-emission by 2050.
42) We will work with train companies and their employees to agree minimum service levels during periods of industrial dispute – and if we cannot find a voluntary agreement, we will legislate to make this mandatory.
43) We will review rail ticketing, removing complexity and perverse pricing.
44) By 2022, all major roads and main line trains will enjoy full and uninterrupted mobile phone signal.
45) We will invest in more community minibuses for rural areas poorly served by public transport.

46) We will introduce a new Double Lock, meaning that pensions will rise in line with the earnings that pay for them, or in line with inflation – whichever is highest.
47) We will ensure that the state pension age reflects increases in life expectancy, while protecting each generation fairly.
48) No matter how large the cost of care turns out to be, people will always retain at least £100,000 of their savings and assets, including value in the family home.
49) We will give workers a new statutory entitlement to carer’s leave.
50) We will means-test Winter Fuel Payments, focusing assistance on the least well-off pensioners.

51) We will make non-legislative changes in the NHS to remove barriers to the integration of care.
52) We expect GPs to come together to provide greater access, more innovative services, share data and offer better facilities.
53) We will make it a priority in our negotiations with the European Union that the 140,000 staff from EU countries can carry on making their vital contribution to our health and care system.
54) We will get 1 million more people with disabilities into employment over the next ten years.

55) We will build better houses, to match the quality of those we have inherited from previous generations. That means supporting high-quality, high-density housing like mansion blocks, mews houses and terraced streets.
56) We will build new fixed-term social houses, which will be sold privately after ten to fifteen years with an automatic Right to Buy for tenants, the proceeds of which will be recycled into further homes.

57) We will not proceed with the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press.
58) We do not believe that there should be a safe space for terrorists to be able to communicate online and will work to prevent them from having this capability.
59) We will be the global leader in the regulation of the use of personal data and the internet.
60) We will make Britain the safest place in the world to be online.

 Friday, May 19, 2017

The London Underground has had a zonal fare system since the early 1980s, before which fares were based on far you travelled. In 1981 two overlapping central flat fare zones were created, called West End and City, and these were later combined to create zone 1. In 1982 further concentric fare boundaries were set at approximately three mile intervals, initially called zones 2, 3a, 3b and 3c, then 2, 3, 4 and 5.



In January 1991 zone 5 was split to create a new zone 6 around the edge of the capital, and a few tweaks have been made to boundaries since. That's not the subject of today's post. Today's post is about the small number of stations which exist in two zones, the stations on the boundaries.



Zone 1/2: 5 stations
Only four tube stations exist on the zone 1/2 boundary, i.e. on the edge of the West End/City zone defined over 30 years ago. I haven't managed to discover precisely when they gained this 1/2 designation, but all were in place around 20 years ago when the first zonal tube map was produced. The four stations include Notting Hill Gate and Earl's Court out west, Vauxhall and Elephant & Castle to the south, and nothing to the north or east. It's not immediately clear why these four stations were doubled up and not the others on the edge of the central zone. I checked the original central bus zone on a map, and it doesn't match up, so it isn't that.

Only one other station has been added since, and that's Hoxton, which was designated zone 1/2 when it opened on the Overground in 2010. It's only zone 1/2 because the Department of Transport forced TfL to nudge Shoreditch High Street into zone 1 to help pay for the extension, so Hoxton became part of the transition back to zone 2. It's a fairly pointless overlap too, because the only Zone 1 journey you can make from Hoxton is one stop to Shoreditch High Street, and that's walkable in less than ten minutes.

Zone 2/3: 29 stations
Here's where the number of boundary stations explodes, and there are dozens. Nine tube stations have been on the list since the start (Archway, Bromley-By-Bow, Clapham South, East Putney, Hampstead, Manor House, North Acton, Turnham Green and Willesden Green) These are all roughly three miles out from the original inner boundary, and fairly well spaced, but with Bromley-by-Bow the only overlapper to the east. It was joined in 1999 by the new station at North Greenwich, presumably designated zone 2/3 to stimulate Jubilee line journeys in both directions.

Four National Rail stations have always been part of both zones 2 and 3, specifically Clapton, Herne Hill, North Dulwich and Putney. These were joined in 2007 by Willesden Junction, nudged inwards from zone 3 when the Overground began, in order to prevent orbital journeys becoming unduly expensive. Hampstead Heath was rezoned at the same time, but it jumped directly from 3 to 2, because there's no point having a single overlap station at a non-interchange on an individual line.

Meanwhile on the DLR, the entire Lewisham extension straddled the edges of zones 2 and 3 when it opened in 1999 - that's Cutty Sark, Greenwich, Deptford Bridge, Elverson Road and Lewisham. Greenwich and Lewisham had previously been overlap stations for the National Rail network. Around the same time the DLR stations at East India and Pudding Mill Lane were shifted onto the zone 2/3 boundary, a direct reaction to the extension of the Jubilee line - previously both had been zone 3 only.

To round off this long list we come almost up to date, specifically January 2016, and the Mayor's decision to shift the centre of London fractionally east. This meant redesignating stations in the Lower Lea Valley from zone 3 to the zone 2/3 boundary, specifically to encourage growth by making people think they weren't quite as far away as they'd always been. The main beneficiary was Stratford, but West Ham and Canning Town also earned a place, resulting in the last four stations on the Jubilee line all being in both zones 2 and 3. Three intermediate DLR stations also got the upgrade, namely Star Lane, Abbey Road and Stratford High Street, plus the Olympic Park end of the line at Stratford International. And that's 29 stations in all, phew.

Zone 3/4: 11 stations
Just six tube stations lie on the zone 3/4 boundary, and as far as I can tell they've all been there since the start. Out east we have Leytonstone and East Ham, up north we have Hendon Central and Bounds Green, and to the southwest there's Kew Gardens and South Wimbledon. Again it's not immediately obvious why these have been chosen and others haven't, so for example one northern branch of the Northern line has an overlap, while the other jumps from East Finchley in 3 to Finchley Central in 4.

Four National Rail stations have always been on the 3/4 divide, specifically Hendon and Bowes Park to the north, and Manor Park and Woodgrange Park to the east. The latter is now part of the Overground, while Manor Park is currently part of TfL Rail, and will soon join Stratford as the only Crossrail stations to sit astride two zones. Finally there's Crystal Palace, which used to be in zone 4 but was moved to the 3/4 boundary in 2004, well before the Overground arrived.

Zone 4/5: 0 stations
There are no stations on the zone 4/5 boundary, not a single one. Goodness knows why not. For some reason every single station that exists close to the 4/5 dividing line was placed on one side or the other, and none ended up inbetween. "Which London fare zone boundary has no stations on it?" sounds like it should be a pub quiz question.

Zone 5/6: 1 station
But perhaps this is the better pub quiz question. "What's the only station on the zone 5/6 boundary?" You'd never know without scouring a tube map, but there it is on the Piccadilly line, the only outlier, it's Hatton Cross. This station opened well before 1991 when the original zone 5 was split into a 5 and a 6, so there's no obvious reason why it should be an anomaly. But it does mean you can get to almost-Heathrow-Airport by paying a little less than going all the way.

Zone 6/7: 1 station
There's only one of these as well. When London's fare zones were first created there were no stations on the outer boundary, and the far end of the Metropolitan line sat comfortably outside. Special zones A, B, C and D were eventually created to cope with Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire, later simplified to 7, 8 and 9. The outermost overlap station was created in 1997 when Moor Park was moved from zone A to the edge of zone 6, specifically the 6/A boundary, now the more manageable 6/7. It's the only overlap station not to be in London, and the last of 47 overlap stations on my list. A fascinating set of reasons lie behind their perversely inconsistent spread.

» 1999 tube map
» 1999 London Connections map

 Thursday, May 18, 2017

London news story - generic template

Amazing event seen happening in London



insert photo of event
lifted from social media




We were sitting in our office when we noticed an amazing London event trending on social media.

[insert one-sentence summary of amazing event]



insert another photo of event
lifted from social media




Here's what one eye-witness on Twitter had to say about the amazing event.


insert tweet
reacting to the amazing event



Here's what another eye-witness on Twitter had to say about the amazing event.


insert another tweet
reacting to the amazing event



[name of area of London] has never seen an amazing event quite like this.



insert image of area
lifted from Google Street View




Other Twitter users also reacted to the amazing event.


insert another tweet
reacting to the amazing event



Here's what a [celebrity/politician] on Twitter had to say about the amazing event.


insert tweet from celebrity/politician
reacting to the amazing event



If we spot any more amazing events on social media we'll be sure to let you know.

 Wednesday, May 17, 2017

8 Willesden
Two former boroughs came together to make the London borough of Brent, namely Wembley and Willesden, with Wembley to the west of the river Brent, and Willesden to the east. For today's post I went along to Brent Museum at the new Willesden Library, and explored the exhibits looking for points of interest in the old borough of Willesden, selecting seven I hadn't visited before.



Here's what the museum had to say about each of the seven places, plus what I found when I got there.


7 secrets of the Municipal Borough of Willesden

Quainton Street and Verney Street, Neasden

These railway houses were built in the 1880s in what was then middle of the countryside. The Metropolitan Railway Company moved its workers into these homes, on streets simply called A and B. The streets still exist today and are called Quainton Street (A) and Verney Street (B). Neasden Power station was demolished in 1969.
I love the idea of a street called A and a street called B, and I'm also charmed by the workers' terraced cottages erected along each. The parallel pair were named Neasden Railway Village, home to platelayers, bodymakers and engine fitters, and very conveniently located for what's now Neasden Depot at the end of the road. In 1901 Willesden Council renamed the streets Quainton and Verney (after the stations at the end of the line), and a third road called Aylesbury Street was added in 1904. Additional houses have since been built at the southern end where the power station used to be, and they're nice too, but nothing quite beats the original As and Bs.

15 The Circle, Neasden

Claim to fame: Reggae legend Bob Marley lived at this house in 1972 when he and his band The Wailers were in the UK touring with Jimmy Cliff. They signed with Island Records, based in Kilburn. A blue plaque organised by the Federation of Reggae Music (FORM) commemorates Marley's residence.
The Circle is an odd name for a street that's merely semi-circular, a crescent of sub-prime Metroland semis curving off the North Circular Road just north of Neasden Parade. Number 15 seems less interesting than most, with its featureless paved front garden and exterior superfluously painted red to resemble the brickwork underneath. But yes, there is a plaque which hints at Rastafari glories past, or rather a group of devout dreadlocked men parachuted into the suburbs and striving to get their music noticed. The Wailers moved here from a tiny Bayswater flat, apparently, so were delighted to finally get a kitchen where they could prepare their own food rather than existing on fish and chips and Indian takeaways.

Post Office Research Station, Dollis Hill

The General Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill provided telecommunication services across the country. TIM the Speaking Clock began life at Dollis Hill in 1936, and in 1957 ERNIE (a machine that generated random numbers for the Premium Bond lottery) was built. Inside this top secret building during World War 2, engineers constructed and tested modules of the Colossus machine - the world's first programmable computer.
I've been here before, to head down into Churchill's secret wartime bunker, but not taken a proper look at the more important building alongside. PM Ramsay McDonald opened this cutting-edge facility on the ridgetop in 1925, and GPO work continued for precisely 50 years before being relocated to the outskirts of Ipswich. You'll not be surprised to hear that the building is now flats, and posh gated ones too, although the owner of Flat 11 has stuck his mobile number on the gate in case you need to gain access. Another cul-de-sac of less exclusive houses has been squeezed outside the fence, named Flowers Close after Tommy Flowers whose engineering expertise helped give birth to the Computer Age, right here.

Grunwick dispute, Dollis Hill

In 1976 Jayaben Desai walked out of her job at the Grunwick Photo Processing plant in Willesden. She led fellow workers in a strike to be represented by a trade union. On 7th November 1977 over 8000 people protested, and clashes with the police led to 243 of the protesters being injured. The strike lasted two years.
The Grunwick dispute typified industrial relations in the mid 1970s, an angry clash that grew louder, and brought the plight of immigrant women to the fore. Jayaben and two colleagues eventually resorted to a hunger strike, but failed to break the will of management, and subsequent laws on secondary picketing helped weaken the entire trade union movement. The Grunwick factory finally closed in 2011, overtaken by the rise of digital cameras, and three blocks of flats are now crammed into the site, in blocks named after photographers Addis, Arnaux and Belden. Jayaben Desai is remembered on a small plaque up Grunwick Close, close to the southern entrance to Dollis Hill station, and her GMB gold medal can be seen in Brent Museum.

Our Lady of Willesden, Harlesden

From 1475 to 1538, pilgrims travelled to Brent to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Willesden; the church is now known as St Mary's Willesden. Pilgrimages were taken to visit a statue thought to be a Black Madonna and the Holy Well at the Shrine of Our Lady of Willesden.
Willesden's Marian shrine became extremely popular with Londoners before the Reformation, it being a much easier trek than Canterbury, and Sir Thomas More was a regular visitor. The statue was removed, and reputedly burnt and the parent church (at the foot of Neasden Lane) duly became Anglican. As Willesden became more urbanised a Roman Catholic church was eventually built a mile to the south, in Harlesden, and a new statue of the Virgin Mary was installed (carved from oak from the original churchyard). This is now a National Shrine of Our Lady, as a large painted sign beside the west door attests, and every May the image is shouldered in procession around local streets.

McVities factory, Harlesden

McVities and Price built this biscuit factory on Waxlow Road in Harlesden in 1902. By 1919 they were the largest employer in Willesden with 1150 workers. Chocolate digestives, Jaffa Cakes and Penguins were on the production line at the factory, and still are today. The company later merged with Macfarlane Lang to become United Biscuits.
On a good day you can smell the whiff of digestives on the platforms at Harlesden station, although the blue McVities factory is best seen from the train on the West Coast Main Line. The main entrance is on Waxlow Road, the northernmost extent of the Park Royal industrial estate, where large lorries emblazoned with biscuits and Hula Hoops swing out bearing baked treats. I'd never walked down to the end of this commercial dead end before, where clipped hedges make way for faceless frontage and modern units, and the whiff of processed Chinese food now mingles. Heinz used to have a huge factory at the far end churning out 57 varieties, plus their own College of Food Technology, but that was demolished in 2000, and the Royal Mail's Western Delivery Office now occupies the site.

Gaumont State Cinema, Kilburn

Built in Art Deco style, the name State is said to have come from the huge 120ft tower, reminiscent of the Empire State Building in New York. It was the biggest cinema of its time in Britain, with 4004 seats. Gracie Fields, Larry Adler and George Formby played at the opening ceremony on 20th December 1937.
Visible for miles around, yet seemingly quite narrow when seen from the High Road, only the lofty tower gives a hint of the mega-auditorium which lies behind. As well as a cinematographic programme, the venue also hosted major music concerts (Louis Armstrong, the Beatles and Bowie all played here), but poor economies of scale led to closure of the main screen in 1980. Bingo took over, first Top Rank then Mecca, and for the last ten years the building has been owned by an evangelical church who pack out the seats every Sunday. Members of the public interested in local history are invited to drop in every Wednesday from noon.

 Tuesday, May 16, 2017

As the General Election approaches, only six candidates have put their names forward for the Bethnal Green and Bow constituency, fighting for the honour of being its last MP. In alphabetical order, here's the choice I face locally.

Rushanara Ali (Labour) - The sitting MP (until Parliament was prorogued), Rushanara took back the seat for Labour in 2010 after George Galloway buggered off elsewhere. She's Britain's first MP of Bangladeshi origin, and grew up round here (although she currently lives in the West Ham constituency). In 2014 she resigned as a shadow minister over Iraq, in 2015 she nominated Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour party leadership, in 2016 she called on him to step down, and earlier this year she defied the party whip over the triggering of Article 50. Thus far she is the only candidate whose leaflet has been poked through my letterbox. [website] [Twitter]

Charlotte Chirico (Conservative) - Just before nominations closed, the local Conservative party put out a brief statement announcing Charlie as their candidate - "a lawyer and a Councillor, sitting on numerous boards including the Children and Young Person's Board". What they didn't mention is that she's a councillor in Merton, and lives in Merton, and has presumably been airlifted in by Central Office to learn the ropes in a seat she has no hope of winning. Thus far she has no online presence and no operational Twitter account, although she has stood in front of the Burdett-Coutts fountain in Victoria Park wearing a blue rosette.

Ian de Wulverton (UKIP) - Ian has General Election form, in that he stood for UKIP in Ealing North in 2010 and polled 685 votes. He's also a local councillor for somewhere else in London, namely Heaton ward in Havering, where he took office for UKIP (at the third attempt) in 2014. He might be the same student nurse who Socialist Worker reported waving union banners from the top of the London Eye in 2000 in a protest about low pay and conditions, or there might be another Ian de Wulverton in London politics, you never know.

William Dyer (Liberal Democrat) - It's been a busy April for William, who a) handed in his dissertation at Queen Mary University, b) took up a job at Lib Dem party HQ as Membership Development Manager, c) discovered that Theresa May was calling an election and he was now the parliamentary candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow. William's interests are listed on Twitter as "museums, politics and the BIG GOD", and he lives in Bow, although he has been seen out canvassing more than once on behalf of Simon Hughes across the river. [Twitter] [Instagram]

Ajmal Masroor (Independent) - Ajmal's website describes him as an "Author, Broadcaster and Relationship Counsellor", and mentions that he grew up in Shadwell. Less prominently he's an imam who leads Friday prayers at various mosques, lives in Haringey, and has been banned (pre-Trump administration) from entering America. His list of 8 policy pledges mentions the local council much more often than it does Parliament, but 'Independent' can be cover for all sorts of things when you stand in Tower Hamlets. Ajmal previously stood here as a Liberal Democrat in the 2010 General Election, when he came second. [website] [Twitter]

Alistair Polson (Green) - Along with Rushanara, Alistair's the only other candidate who was on the ballot paper at the last election, quadrupling the Green party vote and ending up in a respectable third place. He's also a criminal defence barrister with a human rights background, lives locally, and is the most active of the half dozen on Twitter. The local Greens have a crowdfunding site up and running until tomorrow, and are hoping to raise enough to pay for a couple of nominations and some election publications. [Twitter]

» Wherever you are in the country, you can find out more about your General Election candidates at whocanivotefor.co.uk, and follow them on Twitter at mpsontwitter.co.uk/list.
» I've also made a special Twitter list of the Bethnal Green and Bow candidates here, if you're local and would like to subscribe.

When you work, there are things you don't see.



You don't see the chalkboard being left outside the churchyard gate.
You don't see the volunteers opening up the food bank for another week.
You don't see the donations being brought in by thoughtful members of the public.

You don't see the first time visitor walk down the path and tentatively approach the door.
You don't see the parent who's been trying to feed her children from an empty cupboard.
You don't see the sporadic stream of householders, hostellers and low income strugglers.

You don't see the pensioner emerging with his bag of ten personally-selected items.
You don't see the benefits claimant gifted tins, pasta, nappies and a friendly ear.
You don't see the family back home who won't go hungry again this evening.

You don't see the food poverty all around you.

Because you work, there are things you don't see.

Bow Food Bank is open to anyone every Monday morning (except bank holidays).
Find out more about giving a donation, in goods or money.

 Monday, May 15, 2017

Where did you go for National Mills Weekend?
I went to Wimbledon.

Tallest of a cluster of buildings in the middle of the common, standing tall with a set of recently-repaired sails, Wimbledon Windmill was built in 1817. It's of an unusual type too, originally a hollow-post mill, in this case an octagonal brick base supporting a conical tower with an iron shaft at its centre. Operations continued until 1864, after which the machinery was removed and the interior converted into living accommodation for six families. Since 1976 it's been a museum, and a surprisingly good one too, with the usual £2 entry fee waived this year because of the bicentenary.



The museum contains a seriously impressive collection of models, illustrating all the significant types of English windmill (using local examples wherever possible). Several of the sails turn at the push of a button, which is good news if you're a small child with a low attention threshold, and the timeline runs right up to modern wing rotors and aero generators. There's also a small room brimming with wooden tools gifted by a retired Norfolk carpenter, including numerous planes, the odd auger and a single snail brace countersink.

Upstairs the display gets a bit more Wimbledon-specific, including some cutaways, a lot of milling equipment and an evocative recreation of one of the Victorian living rooms. A central cabinet celebrates Robert Baden Powell, who was staying in the adjacent Mill House when he wrote Scouting for Boys in 1908, as a plaque on the exterior confirms. As a finale a steep ladder ascends into the tower to a wooden platform where a large cast iron brakewheel can be seen, as well as two further out-of-bounds ladders climbing precipitously to the top.



It's amazing quite how much has been crammed inside the former windmill, and how diversely informative it is, so do be sure to thank the museum's founder and curator if you're lucky enough to meet him inside perched by his desk. You might also like to know that the small shop just inside the entrance sells not just mill-related stuff but also a selection of cuddly Wombles, because that's exactly what a shop in the centre of Wimbledon Common needs. The museum is open every Sunday, and on Saturday afternoons, until the end of October, and bicentenary year is evidently the perfect time to visit.

Where did you go for National Mills Weekend?
I went to Shirley.

Shirley (on the east side of Croydon) is home to one of London's handful of surviving windmills... and one of the last to be built in England before mechanisation took over. It's very much a 19th century windmill, having first operated in 1808 and ceased in 1892, with a complete rebuild halfway through. Prior to 1854 it was a post mill, which meant the whole building turned, and since 1854 it's been a tower mill, which means only the cap does. They'll explain all this if you come along - they have wooden models of the two types they wheel out onto the lawn.

Shirley Windmill lurks up a cul-de-sac in the most incongruous of locations, a modern housing estate. You walk up into what looks like Brookside Close, and there at its centre is this windmill in the middle of a buttercup lawn. This suburban-rural hybrid goes mostly unnoticed, as much as any tall be-sailed building can, but on seven days a year The Friends of Shirley Windmill put their cones out, open up their tearoom, and allow the inquisitive public up to the top.



Every visit inside a windmill is somehow the same, and yet very different, depending on the clutter and the state of the machinery. Shirley's 17m-high tower has five floors, and four ladders to negotiate, with tours starting beneath the cap and working down. A giant wheel with 172 applewood teeth meshes against the central iron cog, which would be turned by the windshaft if only the sails were operational, which at Shirley they're not. The Friends have restored their mill to almost-functional, but decided not to go the whole hog because the resultant health and safety requirements would likely place this Dust Floor out of bounds.

Lower levels feature grain bins, chutes and hoppers, plus the obligatory pair of millstones so that guides can explain the groovy grinding process. One feature that sets Shirley above other windmill visits is the quality of its models, from scaled-down stonecases to rotating furrows, plus a fair bit of Meccano because one of the volunteers is a big fan. I'd often wondered precisely how the fantail rotates a windmill's cap as the wind changes direction, and another model demonstrated this particular bit of physics using a rotatable modified blowdrier. If there's a budding small engineer in your family, a visit to Shirley will intrigue and inspire.



As well as National Mills Weekend, the windmill is also opened up for free hour-long tours on the first Sunday of the month from June to October, and for Open House too. A tiny Visitors Centre explains more of the building's background and sells historical souvenirs, along with tea and particularly generous slices of iced cherry sponge. If you're vaguely local you might even consider signing up as a Friend, a merry and very sociable band from what I saw, and custodians of a fantastic agricultural relic.

London's windmills
Barnet Gate (Arkley, private, off-limits) [attempted photo]
Brixton (newly restored, pre-booked tours available) [I've still never been inside]
Keston (private, occasional tours by appointment)
Shirley (next open Sunday 4th June)
Upminster (splendid, but closed for restoration until 2018) [I've been]
Wimbledon (mid-common, contains an excellent museum)


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