diamond geezer

 Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Days Out Beyond London (N)

Here's part two of my attempt to compile a comprehensive list of sightseeingworthy places within 10 miles of the Greater London boundary. That's actual attractions or places of interest, not nice pubs or great walks because there are hundreds of those. Yesterday I covered south of the Thames, and today I'm working clockwise around the north. If I miss out anything good let me know and I'll try to add it, the idea being that this builds into a useful resource for anyone to refer back to. And if you're ever bored in the future and in need of inspiration, simply click back to April 2019 on this blog and hopefully something from the list will take your fancy.

SURREY (Spelthorne)

Sunbury: The Sunbury Millennium Embroidery is displayed in the Sunbury Embroidery gallery (free, 10-4pm, closed Mondays) within the 18th century Sunbury Walled Garden [blogged].

Staines: Spelthorne Museum (free, 9.30-5.30pm, closed Sunday) can be found downstairs within Staines Library [blogged].

BERKS

Slough: Since 2016 Slough Museum (free, 9-5pm, closed weekends) has been located in The Curve, Slough's 'Cultural Hub', and is based around eight themed exhibition ‘pods’. John Betjeman gets a mention.

Eton: You won't get round the college, but you can visit the stuffed exhibits in Eton College Natural History Museum (free, 2.30-5pm, Sun). Over in Eton Wick, the History On Wheels Museum (£7, 10-5pm, last Sunday of the month) majors on motors, militaria & memories.

BUCKS

Burnham: The fabulous grounds of Cliveden (£16, 10-5.30pm, NT), the Astors' Italianate mansion overlooking the Thames, are open daily. The chapel and a small part of the house only open for two hours on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays [blogged]. Burnham Beeches provides a cheaper landscape treat [blogged]. The Chancellor's refuge at Dorneywood (2-4pm, must be pre-booked, NT) opens its gardens on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons (and the house for a fortnight in July).

Beaconsfield: Britain's finest model village, Bekonscot (£10.90, 10-5.30pm) features an extensive labyrinth of tiny worlds and mini railways [blogged]. Full size farm animals and tractor rides can be enjoyed at Odds Farm Park (£14, 10-5.30pm) in Wooburn Common.

The Chalfonts: Milton's Cottage (£7, 2-5pm, closed Mon, Tue) is the only surviving home of poet and parliamentarian John Milton [blogged]. The Chiltern Open Air Museum contains over 30 reconstructed historic buildings from an Iron Age roundhouse to a 1940s prefab (£9.50, 10-5pm) [blogged]. Chenies Manor (£9, 2-5pm, Wed, Thu) is a chimneyed Tudor manor house in a fine garden [blogged]

Amersham: A revamped Amersham Museum (£3, 12-4.30pm, closed Mon, Tue) opened in Old Amersham in 2017.

[beyond the 10 mile limit: Marlow, High Wycombe, Wendover]

HERTS

Berkhamsted: Don't expect too much if you head to what's left of Berkhamsted Castle (free, 10-6pm).

Apsley: The Frogmore Paper Trail (£8, Thursdays and the first Sunday of the month), on the Grand Union near Hemel Hempstead, provides engrossing tours of the world's first mechanical paper mill [blogged].

Rickmansworth: Three Rivers Museum (free, 2-4pm weekdays, 10-4pm Saturday) is the home of heritage in SW Herts. [blogged]. They also organise visits to Croxley Great Barn on the last Saturday morning of the month (Apr-Oct).

Watford: Watford Museum (free, 10-5pm, Thu-Sat) is housed in the former Benskins Brewery, whereas Bushey Museum and Art Gallery (free, 11-4pm, closed Mon-Wed) is bespoke [blogged]. The world skips those and goes to Hogwarts instead at the Warner Bros Studio Tour London (£45, 8.30am-10pm, pre-book), by far the most expensive attraction on my list.

Borehamwood: You could easily spend five minutes in Elstree and Borehamwood Museum (free, 12-6pm, closed Sun, Mon, Fri) [blogged]. Expect to spend longer at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum (£12, 10.30-5pm, closed Mondays) in London Colney [blogged].

St Albans: Deep breath. Discover numerous Roman finds at Verulamium Museum (£5, 10-5pm, closed Sunday mornings), the remains of a Roman Theatre (£2.50, 10-5pm), underground central heating at the Hypocaust (free, 10-4.30pm), the lightweight St Albans Museum and Gallery (free, 10-5pm) and the mighty cathedral of St Alban's Abbey (free) [blogged] [blogged]. Some days you can climb the Clock Tower (£1, 10.30-5pm, weekends only) or go inside the St Albans South Signal Box (free, 2-5pm, alternate Sundays).

Welwyn/Hatfield: The main attraction is the Tudor palace of Hatfield House (£19, 11-5pm, closed Mon, Tue). Alternatively step out of town to enjoy the watermill at Mill Green Mill (£3.50, 10-5pm, closed Sunday mornings, Mon, Fri and Sat) [blogged]. Discovered beneath the A1, now buried under Junction 6, are Welwyn Roman Baths (£3.50, 2-5pm, weekends only) [blogged].

Hertford/Ware: The county town's treasure trove is Hertford Museum (free, 10-5pm, closed Sun, Mon). One of the weirder places described in Ware Museum (free, 11-4pm, Tue, Wed, Sat, plus Sunday afternoons) is Scott's Grotto (£1, 2-4.30pm, Saturdays), a series of subterranean chambers constructed over a 30 year period inside a chalk hillside.

Broxbourne: Paradise Wildlife Park (£21.50, 9.30-6pm) has lions, tigers, leopards, zebras, armadillos, lemurs, guinea pigs and fibreglass dinosaurs in its menagerie. Up in Hoddesdon, Lowewood Museum (free, 10-4pm, closed Sun-Tue) has a stuffed tiger [blogged]. Tudor Rye House Gatehouse will hopefully reopen for the summer soon.

[beyond the 10 mile limit: Tring, Harpenden, Knebworth, Bishop's Stortford]

ESSEX

Harlow: Alas they've cut back the hours at Harlow Museum (free, 9.30-3.30pm, Tue & Thu only) [blogged]. To enjoy the town's chief architect's home and modern sculpture collection, head to The Gibberd Garden (£5, 2-6pm, Wed, Sat, Sun).

Waltham Abbey: As well as the 'abbey' itself, the town is home to Epping Forest District Museum (free, 10-4pm, closed Thu, Sun) and the Lee Valley White Water Centre (8am-8pm) which was opened for the 2012 Olympic canoeing [blogged]. The Royal Gunpowder Mills (£10.50, 10-5pm, check dates) cover a fascinating site, often with explosively special event weekends thrown in [blogged]. Littl'uns will enjoy the animals and activities at Lee Valley Park Farms (£10, 10-5pm). Out towards Epping is Copped Hall (£8, arrive at 10am on the third Sunday of the month), a historic county house under restoration [blogged].

North Weald: Make tracks to the Epping Ongar Railway (£14, mostly weekends) which runs heritage services along the former Central line to Ongar [blogged]. Or to North Weald Airfield Museum (£2, 12-5pm, weekends) if airborne military operations are your thing. On the way to Ongar is Greensted Church, which is nothing less than the oldest wooden church on the planet [blogged].

Brentwood: Brentwood Museum (free) doesn't make it easy to visit (10.30am-12.30pm on the first Saturday of the month and on the subsequent Sunday, then 2.30-4.30pm on the subsequent Monday, Apr-Oct). Ingatestone Hall (£7, 12-5pm, Wed, Sun) offers tours of a Tudor family home, plus gardens, further up the A12. St Mary The Virgin in Great Warley (2-3.30pm, Thu) boasts a remarkable Arts & Crafts/Art Nouveau interior. And don't tell anyone, but the Secret Nuclear Bunker (£7.50, 10-5pm) at Kelvedon Hatch is one of the weirdest tourist attractions you will ever enter [blogged].

Thurrock: You'll find Thurrock Museum (free, opens 9am, closed Sundays) upstairs in the Thameside Complex in Grays [blogged]. Facing the Thames estuary are Tilbury Fort (£6.50, 10-6pm, closed Mon, Tue) and Coalhouse Fort (£4, 11-5pm, last Sunday of the month), one immaculately tended by English Heritage [blogged], the other a crammed cramped warren [blogged]. Birdwatchers should flock to Rainham Marshes Nature Reserve (£6, 9.30-5pm) [blogged] or the Thurrock Thameside Nature Park (free, 9-5pm) in Mucking [blogged].

[beyond the 10 mile limit: Chelmsford, Canvey, Southend]

If you have any further thoughts on places you'd go out of your way to visit, please add them in the specific comments box above and I'll add your best choices later.

 Monday, April 29, 2019

Days Out Beyond London (S)

In April 2015 I compiled a comprehensive list of sightseeingworthy places to visit in outer London, quadrant by quadrant, to counter the usual inner London focus. This April I thought I'd turn my attention to the Home Counties, specifically anywhere within 10 miles of the Greater London boundary, and compile something similar. I'm not interested in nice pubs or great walks, because there are hundreds of those, but actual attractions or places of interest. I'm doing south of the Thames today, clockwise, and will head north tomorrow. If I've been and blogged about it, I'll link to that. I'm going to be quite strict about the 10 mile limit. If I miss out anything good, let me know and I'll try to add it, the idea being that this builds into a resource for anyone to refer back to. Summer's coming up, could be useful.

KENT

Dartford: OK, Dartford Museum (free, 9am-5pm, closed Sundays) won't detain you long, but might be preferable to a haul round Bluewater or a walk underneath the QE2 Bridge [blogged]. Nearby medieval chapel/garden St John of Jerusalem (£2.80, 2-6pm, NT) is only open on Wednesdays.

Cobham: Owletts (£4.20, 11-5pm, Sundays, NT) was the 17th century home of 20th century architect Sir Herbert Baker.

A20/M20: The Swanley New Barn Railway (£1, weekends and school holidays, Apr-Oct) runs a brief service with ride-on trains round Swanley Park [blogged]. Petrolheads would no doubt prefer the thrill of a race day at Brands Hatch (£16-ish, various events). Great Comp Garden (£8.50, 11-5pm) near Wrotham, covers a quirky seven acres. Old Soar Manor (free, 10-6pm, closed Fridays) in Plaxtol is what's left of a 13th century knight's house.

Darent Valley: A beautiful place for a day out, and dead easy to reach by train. Lullingstone Roman Villa (£8.10, 10am-6pm) rubs up against Lullingstone Castle (£9, noon-5pm, Fri-Sat), the former properly historical, the latter more for the horticultural [blogged]. Eynsford Castle is medieval but in ruins, and always open. The Shoreham Aircraft Museum (£5, 10-5pm, Sat, Sun) is an Aladdin's cave of crashed military debris [blogged]. It takes about two hours to explore the Otford Solar System [blogged], and rather less time to look round Otford Heritage Centre (free, weekday mornings, weekend afternoons).

Sevenoaks: The town's lovely (though the museum's skippable). Top suggestion is to walk out through the Deer Park to Knole (£15, 11-5pm, NT), a magnificent 400-year-old archbishop's palace, and if you're feeling fit stride further along the Greensand Ridge to Ightham Mote (£14.40, 11-5pm, NT), a pristine 14th-century moated manor house [blogged].

Westerham: National Trust members are spoilt for choice hereabouts. In Westerham itself is Quebec House (£5.90, 12-5pm, NT, closed Mon, Tue), once home to soldier James Wolfe [blogged]. A more impressive draw is Chartwell (£15.50, 11-5pm, NT), Winston Churchill's downland hideaway, accessible by Oyster-friendly 246 bus on Sundays [blogged]. A hike from there via Toys Hill (also NT) leads to Emmetts Garden (£12, 10-5pm, NT) with its seasonal bursts of colour (and a bluebeller's treat) [blogged].

Eden Valley: Further out, another heritage cluster. Hever Castle (£17.75, 10.30-6pm), Anne Boleyn's childhood home, is a moated manor plus lake, maze and landscaped parkland, so not to be rushed. 19th century Chiddingstone Castle (£9.50, 11-5pm, closed Thu-Sat) is filled with art and antiquities and can be found within Chiddingstone Village (NT). Beyond lies Penshurst Place (£12, 10.30-6pm), another stately home complex with extensive gardens and activities. Over in Edenbridge the small Eden Valley Museum (free, hours vary, closed Mon, Tue) tells West Kent's social history [blogged].

[beyond the 10 mile limit: Rochester, Maidstone, Tonbridge, Royal Tunbridge Wells]

SURREY

Oxted: Less than one mile from the London border, enveloped by the North Downs, Titsey Place (£8, three afternoon tours, Wed, Sat, May-Sept) offers a charming house/garden/tearoom combo [blogged].

Caterham: The East Surrey Museum (free, 10-5pm, Wed, Thu, Sat) is small and homely (and very near the station) [blogged].

Reigate: Pride of the town are Reigate Caves (£5, 10-4pm, 2nd Saturday of the month, May-Sept) [blogged], mined for sand beneath Castle Hill, and definitely worth seeing on the few days they're open. Climb Reigate Hill for one of the best vistas on the Downs, nip into Reigate Fort, then follow the escarpment to Gatton Park [blogged].

Epsom: To 'discover the fascinating past of Epsom & Ewell', pop upstairs in the flying saucer at Bourne Hall Museum (free, 9-5pm, closed Sun, Mon) [blogged].

Dorking: In town is Dorking Museum (£2, 10-4pm, Thu-Sat), a decent and recently-upgraded delight [blogged]. Staff run occasional tours into the South Street Caves, but tickets sell out fast. Climbing Box Hill, perhaps via the Stepping Stones, is a knackering must [blogged]. On the opposite side of the valley is Denbies Wine Estate where you can stroll amid the vines or take a wine-tasting tour [blogged]. Beyond Ranmore Common is Polesden Lacey (£13.60, 11-5pm, NT), the quintessential Edwardian country retreat and one of the National Trust's finest [blogged].

Clandon: Clandon Park (£8.40, 10-5pm, closed Mon, Tue) burned in 2015, but the National Trust welcomes those who'd like to see how restoration's going. The country house at Hatchlands Park (£11.80, 2-5pm, Tue-Thu & Sun, also NT) opens four days a week, but the surrounding garden and parkland daily.

Woking: The town where HG Wells wrote War of the Worlds now has a Martian in the town centre and a modern culture-shed called The Lightbox (£5, 10.30-5pm, closed Mondays) mixing history with art [blogged].

Weybridge: Transport fans should head to Brooklands Museum (£14.50, 10-5pm) for a display that's mostly cars and aircraft (including an actual Concorde you can actually board), but also includes the London Bus Museum [blogged].

Chertsey: I should mention Chertsey Museum (free, 12.30-4.30pm, closed Sundays and Mondays), the museum of the borough of Runnymede, but the true attraction hereabouts is of course rollercoastertastic Thorpe Park (from £33, from 10am, Mar-Oct) [blogged].

A3: Near Esher you'll find Claremont Landscape Garden (£9.50, 10-6pm, NT), a gorgeous place to roam, and also the boarding point for trips to The Homewood (£14.35, pre-booked tours, Friday or Saturday), a Modernist country villa [blogged]. Further down near Cobham is Painshill (£8, 10-6pm), a particularly elegant 18th century landscaped garden [blogged], and on the other side of the M25 the ever-popular RHS Garden Wisley (£14.50, 10-6pm).

Windsor Great Park: Virginia Water (free) has a gorgeous landscaped lakeside, notably the Valley Gardens, [blogged]. For more formal horticultural delights try The Savill Garden (£11 summer, £6 winter, 9.30am-6pm).

Egham: Egham Museum (free, 10-4.30pm, Tue, Thu, Sat) is little known, whereas the meadow at Runnymede (free) where Magna Carta was signed is world famous [blogged].

[beyond the 10 mile limit: East Grinstead, Crawley, Leith Hill, Guildford]

BERKS

Windsor: Obviously there's Windsor Castle (£22.50, 10-5pm, occasionally closed), which'll be thronged with tourists. For a rarely-seen royal hideaway make a date instead with Frogmore House (£7+£9, three days a year, late May/early June) [blogged]. Windsor Museum (£2, 10-4pm, closed Mondays) fills the ground floor of the Guildhall. Finally let's not forget the brick wonders at Legoland (from £29, 10-6pm).

Cookham: The Stanley Spencer Gallery (£6, 10.30-5pm) displays the artist's works and temporary exhibitions in a converted Wesleyan chapel.

[beyond the 10 mile limit: Bracknell]

If you have any further thoughts on places you'd go out of your way to visit, please add them in the specific comments box above (Kent, Surrey or Berks), and I'll add your best choices later.

 Sunday, April 28, 2019

6 miles from central London

Let's visit the locations that lie six miles north, east, south and west from the statue of Charles I in Trafalgar Square (in a post which confirms that random locations are sometimes unexpectedly interesting).

[1 mile], [2 miles], [3 miles], [4 miles], [5 miles], [map]


SIX MILES NORTH: Alexandra Palace
(on the grassy slope out front)

Having been to some pretty dull residential corners on this mileage quest, this is a proper treat. Six miles due north from Charing Cross lies Alexandra Palace, the heritage entertainment bastion (plus TV mast) on its high hill overlooking the capital. I'd not been recently, and was mighty impressed by the upgraded theatre entrance in the East Court. This vast space has been spruced up with a multi-coloured geometric floor, a rather good historical exhibition (from Wild Bill Cody to the BBC) and the deadest cafe you ever did see. But the precise spot is outside, across the road and down a bit - so not quite at 'perfect vantage point' level. Head down the steps and turn left, towards the tallest tree, stopping where the path bends back on itself. Bingo.



The grass is freshly mown, scattering dandelion heads, lolly sticks and fag ends amid the cuttings. Leaves rustle. Birds sing. Frisbees are thrown. A Green Flag flutters. Up on the South Terrace a double decker bus rolls by. A flurry of foliage blocks sight of Docklands and the City, but the consolation prize is the Spurs saucer, a couple of towers in Ilford and possibly riverside Woolwich. A few steps away behind a picket fence is the entrance to the Ally Pally Pitch and Putt course, unusual in having ten holes. Jack has this month's best score, with 36, while Helen leads the women with a 57. One round plus equipment hire clocks in at just under a tenner, but come before 2pm on a schoolday and they'll let you go round twice. Only two players are taking advantage, and the lad in the hut looks a bit bored. Perhaps they'll ask him for a Solero when they hand their clubs back.

SIX MILES EAST: Thames Wharf DLR station
(Scarab Close, E16)

With almost pinpoint accuracy, welcome to a DLR station that doesn't yet exist. We're on the site of the former Thames Iron Works shipbuilding yard, close to the mouth of the River Lea, where a sheaf of railway sidings once ran down to the dockside. After the Royal Docks closed the area was given over to scrappy industrial uses, notably metal recycling and waste management, because the land was polluted and cheap and nobody else wanted it. The DLR extension to Woolwich sped through it on a viaduct without stopping, and Dangleway passengers get to inspect it in unnecessary detail as they rumble all-too-slowly above. The road into the heart of the site is called Scarab Close, perhaps deliberately named after dung-rolling beetles, and is not somewhere any urban explorer should be venturing. Access is off Dock Road, home to five tall readymix concrete silos, a lockup for the storage of JCB diggers and a Brutalist office block abandoned long ago by Carlsberg-Tetley.



This is the very last corner of the Royal Docks to be redeveloped, but plans for 7000 homes are now on the table and even the Chancellor has thrown in some money. The project's called Thameside West, because that sounds nicer than Brownfield Dump, and its residential towers are expected to be particularly densely packed. But they'll only sell if the DLR stops, hence the intention to build Thames Wharf station between Canning Town and West Silvertown. The name's been programmed into the onboard display system for years, you may remember. A major catch is that the Silvertown Tunnel is due to emerge alongside, indeed Dock Road is due to be transformed into its northern portal, gushing forth traffic towards a reconfigured Tidal Basin roundabout. Two major building projects side by side is a recipe for pollution, disruption and delay, so don't rush to buy a flat, and don't expect to be disembarking from a train here anytime soon.

SIX MILES SOUTH: Streatham Common
(southwest corner)

And back to green again. Six Miles South serendipitously lands in the bottom left-hand corner of Streatham Common, alongside the High Road, just opposite Sainsbury's. Lush slopes, intermittently fenced off with orange netting, spread uphill towards the tearoom and the distant Rookery. Down here there's simply an avenue of horse chestnuts, in full blossom, and a plane tree which may or may not be dead. Criss-crossing paths lead off across the common, carefully following desire lines so nobody feels the need to divert onto the grass. Shoppers trudge by, variously laden, followed by a glum youth in a NASA hoodie smoking a rollup. A gardener from Lambeth Landscapes edges his white van down the footpath taking care not to run anybody over.



At the bus stop a posse of homebound schoolkids in maroon blazers hurl swear words, and in one case a heavy log, at one another. A procession of hearses crawls by, kicking off with Grandad, then a floral tribute in the shape of a football, then various members of his family. The Friends of Streatham Common invite you to a Bat Walk on Friday, a Bird Box Survey on Saturday and a Kite Day on Sunday. Silvana Ices have parked up opposite the entrance to the playground hoping that someone will take their advice and 'try a twin cone today'. The clock on the tower of Immanuel and St Andrew's Church is 70 minutes slow. Dad kicks a football through the dandelions, and Small Son passes it back. 'Celebrate Streatham', says the banner hung from the streetlamp, and here you would.

SIX MILES WEST: Cromwell Close, W3
(Acton, off the High Street)

Acton's smart and dapper, at least in the slice between Churchfield Road and the High Street. Desirable Victorian terraces cut through, conveniently located for shops that sell craft beer, vintage clothes and farmhouse cheese. Turn off Grove Road halfway down to find Grove Place, and turn left off that to enter Cromwell Close. Its residents would rather you didn't because they've slapped Private Property signs everywhere in an attempt to deter unwanted parking, and in the vain hope that pedestrians won't discover it's a cut-through. These flats are rather newer, the central block resembling a converted mill whereas it's absolutely nothing of the sort. Before 1971 this was the site of Acton Technical College, in its later life a campus of the fledgling Brunel University, whose demolition left a hole ripe for redevelopment. No Cycling. No Ball Games. No Dumping. CCTV In Operation. And lots of space for parking.



Through a gate on the far side is Locarno Road, a brief cul-de-sac connecting to the High Street. As well as being packed with Pizza Hut delivery bikes it has two tiny shops, one a barbers and the other an entirely unbranded cafe with space for four chairs outside on a scrap of astroturf. The streetsign high on the wall behind a drooping cable is headed 'Borough of Acton'. Looming across the main road is the clocktower of redbrick Acton Town Hall, as was, deemed surplus to requirements by Ealing council and sold off as a valuable asset. The building's now emblazoned with signs advertising 58 luxury apartments, and its marketing suite and showhome are open seven days a week. Ealing's housing register contains over 12000 applicants, but priorities post-austerity are somewhat skewed.

 Saturday, April 27, 2019

Here's a question I've long wanted to answer.

How many storeys high is the average London home?

It's a hard question to define but, essentially, are there enough two-storey houses in the suburbs to balance out all the flats in the centre?

Now, finally, I've found some actual data to help me come up with an answer. It comes courtesy of James Gleeson's report Housing in four world cities: London, New York, Paris and Tokyo which he published for the GLA this week. The report is here, Jim's carefully-selected summary-tweets are here and a quick spoiler would be "Compared to the other three cities, London’s housing is older, lower-rise, more likely to be social housing and less likely to be vacant." It's a fascinating comparative read. Best of all, Jim's full set of data has been provided in a downloadable spreadsheet, and I've been able to use that.

Here's a good start...

TypeNumber of homes%
House or bungalow 1,732,23051%
Low rise flat1,419,98941%
High rise flat277,4468%
Total 3,429,665 100%

Let's be clear what this data is. It's the number of homes in London, not the number of buildings, nor the number of people. There are about 3½ million homes in London. Just over half of them are houses or bungalows. Just under half of them are flats. The data is from 2016.

That's interesting, but to clarify the average height of a home we need data about storeys instead...

StoreysNumber of homes%
163,3952%
21,490,43443%
3981,65829%
4433,66813%
5183,0648%
6 or more 277,4465%
Total 3,429,665 100%

Let's be clear what this data is. It's the number of homes in buildings with that number of storeys, not the number of buildings, nor which floor people live on. 43% of London's homes are in two-storey buildings. Three-quarters of London's homes are in buildings with one, two or three storeys. Only 5% of London's homes are in buildings over 5 storeys high.

So, how many storeys high is the average London home?

There are three types of average, two of them easier to calculate than the other.

The mode is two-storey buildings, because that's by far the most frequent (43%).
The median is three-storey buildings, because if you lined up all of London's residential buildings in height order, the middle one would have three storeys.
And the mean is more complicated.

To find the mean you add up all the storeys and then divide by how many homes there are. For homes in buildings up to five storeys that's easy because we know how many there are. The problem is with "6 or more", because we don't know how high the tallest blocks of flats are.

If we assume the minimum case, i.e. all highrise flats have six storeys, this gives an average of almost precisely 3. If we assume all highrise flats have seven storeys, this only knocks the mean up to 3.1. We'd have to assume all highrise flats had 13 storeys before the average rounded up to 4 rather than down to 3. And 13 storeys is definitely pushing it, which leads me to conclude that the mean is 'three and a bit', and nearer to 3 than 4.

So, the average London home is in a building with two storeys (mode) or three storeys (median, mean).

But in Paris and Tokyo it's roughly five.
And in New York it's more like seven.



London's a lot more low-rise than these other world cities.

This table may help to explain why...

BuiltNumber of homes%
Before 191992455627%
1919 to 1944 1,030,94530%
1945 to 1964449,43713%
1965 to 1980422,00812%
1981 to 1990152,8265%
Post-1990449,89313%
Total 3,429,665 100%

And so might this...



This is a map of population density, which shows that some parts of inner London are quite crowded but most of the outer suburbs really aren't. Kensington, Islington and the East End might be densely packed, but that's not true of Hillingdon, Havering and Bromley. A heck of a lot of London is pre-war houses with gardens on residential streets, and not so much is post-war flats.

And that's why the average London home is two, maybe three, storeys high.

(For some less woolly statistics and conclusions, check out @geographyjim's proper GLA report)

 Friday, April 26, 2019

One of the joys of a long-running blog is that I can look back through the years to see when it was thought Crossrail would open.

In 2004 I wrote..."2012: Crossrail (optimistic view); 2013: Crossrail (pessimistic view)" (2012, ha!)

In 2006 I wrote... "Crossrail is coming. Very slowly, admittedly, but by 2013 it's hoped that rail travellers will be able to zoom underneath central London and out into the suburbs far faster than is possible today." (2013, ha!)

In 2007 I wrote... "If everybody in the UK contributed five pounds to the Crossrail project... we might just have ourselves a transport lifeline by 2015." (2015, ha!)

In 2009 I wrote... "Work on the grand east-west rail link finally kicked off yesterday, at Canary Wharf, when Boris and Gordon joined together for the first dig. There'll be a brand new station here by 2012, although there won't be any trains for another five years after that. (2017, ha!)

In 2011 I wrote... "Crossrail has been on the drawing board so long that some feared it might never be completed. The completion date keeps slipping back, once 2012, more recently 2017, and now 2018 if we're lucky." (2018, hmmm)

In 2014 I wrote... "Crossrail's coming in stages, with the first proper bit at the end of 2018, and the whole thing by 2019. Hopefully." (2018/2019, ooh)

July 2014 is significant because it's the first time the staged opening of the line was made explicit.
Dec 2018: Trains run through Central Section (Paddington - Abbey Wood)
May 2019: Central Section connected to Stratford and Shenfield
Dec 2019: Full service operating including Reading
Perhaps unwisely these deadlines remained the same for the next four years. In every announcement and press release the start date was always going to be December 2018, with full completion one year later, and nobody ever suggested nudging anything later.

In August 2018 TfL finally admitted it wasn't going to happen, with the opening of the first stage shunted back to 'autumn 2019'. Precisely who was stringing who along with over-optimistic weasel words still isn't entirely clear. (2019, sheesh!)

In December 2018 TfL came clean again, pushing the start date into 2020, but unable to give much more clarification than that. Construction work and signalling were much further behind than anyone had dared to admit, and didn't look like being sorted any time soon. (2020, meh!)

And yesterday we got the latest bad news, an actual definition of the delay, specifically "a six-month window for delivery of the central section with a midpoint at the end of 2020". Translating that out of projectspeak suggests an opening date somewhere between October 2020 and March 2021...but with Bond Street missing "because of design and delivery challenges". (2021, aaaagh!)

I thought it might be instructive to provide a visualisation of just how late Crossrail's going to be.
Aug 2018: First delay announced
Sep 2018:
Oct 2018:
Nov 2018:
Dec 2018: Original opening date (Paddington - Abbey Wood) Second delay announced
Jan 2019:
Feb 2019:
Mar 2019:
Apr 2019: Third delay announced [We Are Here]
May 2019: Original opening date (Paddington - Shenfield)
Jun 2019:
Jul 2019:
Aug 2019:
Sep 2019:
Oct 2019:
Nov 2019:
Dec 2019: Original completion date (through Paddington to Reading)
Jan 2020:
Feb 2020:
Mar 2020:
Apr 2020:
May 2020: Mayoral election
Jun 2020:
Jul 2020:
Aug 2020:
Sep 2020:
Oct 2020: Earliest opening date (Paddington - Abbey Wood, minus Bond Street)
Nov 2020:
Dec 2020: Two years late
Jan 2021:
Feb 2021:
Mar 2021: 'Latest' opening date (Paddington - Abbey Wood, minus Bond Street)
Apr 2021: Queen Elizabeth's 95th birthday (fingers crossed)
None of that includes the key dates for the opening of Bond Street station, the connection to Shenfield and the final extension to Reading, which will commence "as soon as possible". And of course there's always the possibility of yet another delay in a grovelling press release yet to be written. Don't get your hopes up.

From 2012 to 2013 to 2015 to 2017 to 2018 to 2019 to 2020 to 2021, Crossrail's launch date has slipped depressingly and inexorably further into the future. For a megaproject once lauded as "on time and on budget" it's a chronic embarrassment, because it turns out building railways is difficult, writing software is hard and over-promising is really simple.

 Thursday, April 25, 2019

Yesterday the Mayor popped down to Stratford to launch the latest of his Low Emission Bus Zones. Twelve LEBZs are planned by the end of the year, with ten now in place and only two to go. The idea is to cut nitrogen dioxide levels along specific corridors (outside the central Ultra Low Emission Zone) by using less-polluting vehicles. All scheduled TfL buses travelling within an LEBZ need to meet or exceed latest Euro VI emissions standards - something which all new double decker vehicles now do.
[press release] [news story] [map] [evaluation report]

I'm particularly interested in the Stratford LEBZ because it goes past my house. In total it's five miles long and runs from Mile End station through Stratford to the edge of Ilford - an impressive distance. Essentially it's the route of the 25 bus, and now also the 425 bus, plus also a fair chunk of the 86. But numerous other bus routes impinge along the way, stopping at at least once within the zone, which means a mammoth game of vehicle upgrading and fleet swapping has been required to meet the LEBZ standard.

Nobody's ever published an accurate map to show the precise boundary of the zone, so here's my best schematic guess at which 21 bus routes are affected.

Mile EndBowStratfordForest GateIlford
25
425
205108   27686
8
488
D830858
325
330
W19
147
69   104   238
241   262   473

And then I wondered whether it was possible to verify that all the bus routes in the Stratford LEBZ were actually compliant, so I went for a five mile walk to take a look.

n.b. If I were a proper bus geek I wouldn't have had to go for a walk. This website lists the vehicle types used on every bus route in London, and if I knew my Streetdeck Geminis from my Enviro 400s I'd instantly know which were Euro VI compliant. Better still, this amazing website lists all the vehicles currently in operation on every London bus route and precisely where they are, so I could determine what was running on, say, route 25, without leaving home. But I am not a proper bus geek, so I did the lowbrow thing and looked to see whether there was a green symbol on the side of the bus or not.



Sometimes the green symbol says Hybrid, which means it's always been Euro VI compliant, and sometimes it just says Cleaner Air, which means it's been retrofitted after entering service. Sometimes the buses have green symbols on both sides, but sometimes it's only on one, usually the nearside, which makes it harder to spot. To ensure I had reasonable data I made sure I checked at least three buses on each route. On the main routes I saw a lot more than that.

Every vehicle on route 25 had a green symbol on the side. That's not surprising because the buses on route 25 are brand new, introduced within the last couple of months, so they must all be Euro VI compliant. Indeed it's probably this fleet of new buses which has been the trigger for Stratford's LEBZ reaching critical mass. Every vehicle on route 425 also had a green symbol on the side, which is impressive given they all had '10', '11' or 13' numberplates so must be over six years old. Retrofitting works, it seems, even on old vehicles.

Other bus routes where every vehicle had a green symbol on the side were the 58, 69, 108, 147, 238, 241, 262, 276, 308, 330, 473 and D8. I'm therefore perfectly willing to believe that these are LEBZ-friendly bus routes. All the 'New Routemasters' on route 8 were symbol-less, but they run into the Ultra Low Emission Zone so must be OK. Which just leaves routes 86, 104, 205, 325, 488 and W19 with questions to be answered...

On the 325 and the 488 two vehicles had green symbols but one didn't. On the 205 two vehicles did but three didn't. On the 104 four vehicles did but five didn't. Each of these routes is operated by a mix of vehicle types rather than one definitive model, as if picked from a stock of "whatever's available". Yesterday the 488 was operated using vehicles of four different ages (2012, 2014, 2015 and 2017), and the 104 by a dog's breakfast of six (2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013). It seems likely that some of these stand-ins won't have been emissions-compliant, but I can't be 100% sure.

What I might be able to prove is that the 86 failed the emissions test yesterday. Almost all the vehicles I saw on route 86 were fine, until suddenly this old beast turned up.



It has an '03' numberplate, making it sixteen years old, and unsurprisingly it didn't have a green symbol on the side. I wondered if it was a one-off, but the next 86 to turn up was similarly ancient and unmarked. Both of these vehicles run on the route regularly. Age isn't necessarily a barrier, because I also saw a 2004 vehicle and a 2005 vehicle with green stickers on the side, so they must have been tweaked. But neither of the two unmarked 2003 vehicles appear to have been upgraded (unless you know better), so that's a fail.

The W19 was an intriguing anomaly. I saw seven different W19s altogether, all single deckers with '66' numberplates, so barely over two years old. But not one of the seven had a green symbol on the side, making it the least obviously compliant of all the routes I checked. Might there be a rogue route inside the Stratford LEBZ that nullified the Mayor's grand claim? Well no, I've since done some research to discover that these vehicles are Enviro200s which the manufacturer says are indeed emissions-compliant, so all is well. Sheesh this is murky and complicated.

I also wondered precisely why the LEBZ terminated where it did, so looked to see which additional bus routes made the roads at each end non-compliant. At the Mile End end the 339 seemed to be the problem, otherwise the LEBZ would have rolled all the way down to Whitechapel. And at the Ilford end I didn't see a single green symbol on routes 150, 167, 364, 296, 396 or 462, suggesting that far less retrofitting has been going on in outer London and vehicles are generally older. That's the problem with targets - by improving a handful of corridors you leave the others behind.

In conclusion (if you're still with me)...
» Low Emission Bus Zones are woolly concepts, which probably make sense within TfL Towers but haven't been fully explained to the public.
» Welcome though Low Emission Bus Zones are, huge areas of London are still by default High Emission Bus Zones.
» You can't identify a Low Emission bus route from its vehicles because they've been inconsistently labelled.
» It is not the case that every bus inside a Low Emission Bus Zone has low emissions, because sometimes a garage sends out old vehicles to make up the numbers.
» On the day the Mayor launched the Stratford LEBZ, it wasn't fully compliant.
» Data gathered within earlier LEBZs reveals big cuts in NOx emissions, so hopefully Stratford's air will improve too.
» Fewer of our buses are killing us, hurrah, but the problem's nowhere near fixed yet.

 Wednesday, April 24, 2019

On 28th March 1968 Westminster council granted permission for the erection of a ten storey building on the sites of 30-40 Marylebone Lane, 14-15 Henrietta Place and 74-77 Welbeck Street for use as storage in the basement, shops on the ground floor and a public car park on the upper floors and roof. The client was Debenhams, whose Oxford Street department store stands immediately opposite. The end result was astonishing.



The Welbeck Street multi-storey car park was built between 1968 and 1970, designed by Michael Blampied and Partners. Inside are 359 parking spaces operated by NCP. Outside is a striking, sculptural facade comprised of interlocking precast panels supported on a system of precast frames and columns. It's the tessellating diamonds which make it sing, a giant Pop Art canvas tucked away along a Marylebone sidestreet. For a few more weeks there's nowhere quite like it.

In 2014 the site was valued at £30m. In 2015 English Heritage declined to list the building, unable or unwilling to cite it as a special-enough example of architectural interest. The value of the site shot up to £75m, encouraging owners LaSalle Investment Management to put it up for sale. It was bought by Shiva Hotels, "a dynamic, privately-owned company on a steep growth path with enviable connections and unique capabilities in site acquisition, development and hotel management", and they got busy with plans for transformation. It'll all have to be knocked down, they decided, even the latticed facade, because multi-storey car parks don't provide the headroom today's hotel guests expect.



On 1st December 2017 Westminster council granted permission for "the demolition of the existing building and redevelopment to provide a new building comprising basement, lower ground floor, ground floor and first to ninth floor levels. Use of the building as an hotel with supporting facilities (Class C1) with publicly accessible restaurant/bar (Class A3/A4) and cafe (Class A3) at part ground floor level, publicly accessible spa and guest business facilities at lower ground floor level, roof terrace with swimming pool, roof level plant and associated works."

Because the building would be more than 30 metres high they had to seek permission for the redevelopment under Category 1C of the Mayor of London Order 2008, but Sadiq chose not to intrude, other than to impose a few trifling conditions which were quickly met. The hotel's 205 bedrooms will help meet targets in the London Plan requiring 40000 additional hotel bedrooms by 2031, plus nobody really minds if you get rid of a car park inside the Congestion Zone these days, indeed it's generally seen as a plus.



Shiva tweaked their plans, proposing to excavate two additional basement storeys, and Westminster council deliberated again in February 2019. Of the car park they said "The contribution of the existing building to the character and appearance of this part of the city is considered to be neutral." And of the new hotel, pictured above, they said "The design is considered a high quality building which will contribute positively to, and preserve and enhance, the character and appearance of the area". Imagine being the kind of planning weasel who writes this kind of thing, let alone believes it.

The restaurant on the ground floor promptly closed and the SophistiCats lapdancing club relocated to King's Cross. This month the demolition crew moved in. They're very busy inside at the moment, and thus far all that's happened outside is the erection of some scaffolding across the lower reaches. This forest of metal poles wrecks the exterior symmetry somewhat, for photographic purposes, but nowhere near as much as the building'll be wrecked over the coming months. Nip out of Bond Street station's northern entrance soon if you want to take a look.



This corner of Marylebone is very much in flux at present, with an office block undergoing rebuilding on one side of the car park and a luxury mansion block development on the other. To walk alongside is to dodge trucks, cranes and scores of builders popping out for a caramel vape. Cross Wigmore Street to enter Marylebone Village proper, where commercial cleansing has already replaced irregular blocks with modern infill, cosy boutiques and dining opportunities for the smart set.



An expensive hotel for London's richest visitors will fit in perfectly as the neighbourhood ratchets inexorably out of reach. What hope did a concrete car park ever have?

 Tuesday, April 23, 2019

What I did in the Easter Holidays

 Good Friday, April 19, 2019




Without doubt the finest section of the London Loop is number five. I took BestMate for the full six-mile sub-Croydon hike, because the weather was ace and because he needed to be home by four. The heights of Riddlesdown were glorious, dotted with skylarks and cowslips, plus an unexpected flock of goats atop the chalk cliffs. "I'm afraid there's a payback for this descent," I said, which he soon discovered was a considerable number of steps. Hawkhurst Wood was thick with bluebells. I had been hoping to impress him with Kenley Airfield, but alas none of the gliders were out so we had to make do with an observatory detour instead. Up Rydons Lane we helped an elderly dogwalker from Bermondsey, keen to escape the area, by directing her to the nearest bus stop. Then we stopped for a pint and some lunch outside London's southernmost pub, The Fox, hunkering down in the company of several families who'd hiked no further than the car park. Happy Valley proved even more glorious then Riddlesdown, its dry chalk notch winding between banks of freshly burgeoning green. And finally we strode the ridgetop route across Farthing Downs, overlooking pristine suburbia on both sides, before descending past the City of London cattlegrid just in time for the train home. Without doubt, the finest section of the London Loop.

 Easter Saturday, April 20, 2019




The weather is everything Great Yarmouth's traders could have hoped for, and the seafront is buzzing. Thousands have driven to the coast, lured by the promise of sunshine and fun, only to discover that sea breezes have dragged the temperature down by several degrees but what the hell we're here now. Those with windbreaks set up on the sand, while others enjoy an end-to-end stroll or hide away in the busy amusement arcades. Everywhere is serving chips, and most visitors are partaking. Mind the manure as you cross the segregated horse-and-carriageway. On Britannia Pier gypsy Romany Petulengro stands in her doorway awaiting truthseekers she must have known weren't coming. The Tourist Information Office is entirely empty because everyone already knows why they're here, and it isn't for the culture. Tattoos are on full display across backs, arms and ankles, and gently reddening. At the Pleasure Beach the longest queues are for the wooden rollercoaster, first rattled in 1932. Step back a few streets to find the squashed terraces where the locals live, sandwiching the medieval city walls, then keep going to reach the dockside and its highly impressive heritage waterfront. The Nelson Museum is closed on Saturdays. The Elizabethan House Museum is closed on Saturdays. The Row Houses are closed on Saturdays. I have picked a bad day to visit the historic side of town, so have to make do with people-watching down the coastal strip, and the obligatory bag of chips.

 Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019




Once the Easter roast has been devoured, step out through the patio doors and let's sit in my brother's back garden. Every piece of wooden furniture has been removed from the summerhouse and brushed down, then carefully oriented to face the sun. Cushions have been added where appropriate. For reasons nobody is able to adequately explain, hoverfly density is at its greatest to the rear of the garden by the big hedge. A pigeon takes too loud an interest in the birdbox and is vigorously shooed away. A pack of cards sourced yesterday from Great Yarmouth's amusement arcades proves too flimsy for outdoor use, what with the light breeze, so a sturdier set is requisitioned instead. Later an impossibly hard jigsaw makes an appearance, its 500 tiny pieces supposedly forming the image of a pile of coloured marbles, although probably not for a few weeks yet. Would you like a mini pack of Mini Eggs? Anyone for drinks? Before the first grandparent departs, activities pause for the capture of a set of family photographs in various combinations. Parents and offspring, husband and wife, all the boys please, everyone. In 50 years time these will be the photos on the mantelpiece, assuming photos and mantelpieces survive, to remind the youngest here of faces long passed and to act as genealogical curiosities for their children. Smile please.

 Easter Monday, April 22, 2019




One week on, Extinction Rebellion has not been extinguished. Waterloo Bridge may have been cleared and Oxford Circus may have lost its yacht but Marble Arch remains a traffic-halting bastion. Its central island is covered with pop-up tents, banners have been hung by the pedestrian crossings and a stage blocks the outer carriageway. Up on the platform one of the organising committee is explaining about the decentralised network of screen-printers they got to make all the flags, and at key points the more woke members of the audience wave their hands rather than applauding because it's more inclusive. The Radical Wellbeing tent offers yoga, acupressure and Earth wisdom. Meet at 2pm by the family tent for de-escalation training. A long line curves off from the trestle table serving a vegan meal to those whose provisions ran out days ago, while others hotfoot to Pret or M&S for drinks and sandwiches. Observers are free to wander through the site, but the majority of those here are the committed, marked by hourglass badges and with an air of earnest engagement. The full age range is represented, from young children to the concerned retired, but with a bulge in the crusty twenties. Many will be heading back to school or college tomorrow, be they students or teachers, but this final ER hub shows no signs of fading away while there's a planet still to be saved.

 Monday, April 22, 2019

I spent a couple of hours exploring the City of London Cemetery.



It's in Aldersbrook, near Ilford.



It opened in 1856 and is still filling up.



It is an amazing place.



Perhaps you have been.

Crowdsourced update: Five of you have been. John went to attend a funeral. Most of Ken's family, born in the East End, ended up there. Roger went for Open House weekend, so got to go round the crematorium. He recalls a number of memorials commemorating bulk reburials from other cemeteries which had needed to be cleared, often as a result of being in the way of new railway building. Peter's parents are buried there. So are three of Jack the Ripper's victims - head to the beautiful rose garden to see two of their plaques. Interesting place. The cemetery is an oasis of peace in the heart of urban East London. Four of you have not been. It's actually in Newham.

 Sunday, April 21, 2019

It's a cracking Easter weekend, weatherwise - very warm and sunny across the UK. But how unusual is that?

To help find out, here's a table summarising the weather over the last 50 Easter weekends.

The temperature shown is the highest temperature recorded anywhere in the UK across the four-day bank holiday weekend.

For example, in 1969 the highest temperature was 21°C at Gatwick Airport on Easter Monday. This temperature appears in the second column because Easter Day was Sunday 6th April.

Highest Easter weekend temperature
 23-31 Mar1-8 Apr9-16 Apr17-24 Aprsummary
1969 21°C  very sunny
197013°C   unsettled
1971  18°C dry, fine
1972 19°C  mild, wet
1973   14°Cmixed, cool
1974  18°C mostly fine
197510°C   cold, sunny
1976   21°Cmostly fine
1977  12°C wintry, snow
197815°C   cold, windy
1979  23°C warm, dry
1980 17°C  fair
1981   18°Cwent downhill
1982  14°C cold, bright
1983 11°C  wintry, snow
1984   26°Cvery warm
1985 17°C  unsettled, dull
198613°C   showery, chilly
1987   24°Cwent downhill
1988 17°C  indifferent
198919°C   improving
1990  13°C unsettled
199118°C   went downhill
1992   20°Cwarm, dry
1993  16°C mixed
1994 13°C  wet, windy
1995  19°C went downhill
1996 17°C  mixed
199718°C   improving
1998  12°C wintry showers
1999 19°C  warm, dull
2000   18°Cwet
2001  15°C cold wind
200218°C   went downhill
2003   25°Cwent downhill
2004  18°C average
200518°C   very dull
2006  17°C mixed
2007 20°C  dry, sunny
200811°C   wintry
2009  20°C mixed
2010 15°C  dull, cool
2011   28°Cvery warm
2012 16°C  very dull
20139°C   very cold
2014   21°Cvery sunny
2015 21°C  improving
201615°C   wet, windy
2017  15°C mostly dry
2018 14°C  unsettled
2019   26°Cvery warm

The data comes from a splendidly geeky webpage, now defunct, but captured forever within the Wayback Machine archive. It has full summaries of weather across the Easter weekend between 1959-1989 here, and 1990-2014 here, which you should read if you're after considerably more detail.

It's important to note that the weather often changes dramatically across the Easter weekend, so the highest temperature on one day may not reflect the temperature on the others. For example in 1970 the maximum temperature of 13°C occured on Easter Monday in Suffolk, whereas the highest temperature on the Saturday in London was only 6°C.

Also a high temperature in one part of the country doesn't necessarily mean it was similarly warm everywhere. For example in 1979 the maximum temperature of 23°C occurred on Easter Sunday in London, but Manchester only reached 13°C on the same day.

Also temperature doesn't tell the whole story, so it could have been a mild Easter but also miserably wet. For example Easter Monday in 1973 was plagued by thunderstorms and hail, and London saw over an inch of rain across the Sunday and Monday combined.

That said, the following obvious conclusions jump out...
» Easter tends to be coldest when it's in March
» Easter tends to be warmest when it's in the second half of April
» The two coldest Easters were both in March
» The five warmest Easters were all in the second half of April

But...
» An early Easter is not always cold
» A late Easter is not always warm
» An early Easter (26th March 1989) can be warmer than a late Easter (23rd April 2000)

Also, before anyone gets over-excited...
» A random snapshot of over-specific data proves nothing about global warming
» The Church isn't going to change the date of Easter just because Britons would like better weather

As an aside, I like how the table shows that Easter never appears in the same column two years running. That's because the gap between consecutive Easters can only be 50, 51, 54 or 55 weeks, never 52 or 53.

The worst Easter of the last 50 years is undoubtedly 2013, when a cold east wind pegged temperatures down to 4-6°C in many places and Braemar recorded a record-breaking low of -12½°C on Easter Sunday. Other notably poor Easters include 1994, 2008 and 2012, while more recently in 2016 Easter Monday was blighted by Storm Katie.

The best Easters were probably 1969 (dry, fine and very sunny, except on the east coast), 1984 (fine, warm and sunny), 2007 (dry, sunny and mostly warm), and especially 2011 (whose top temperature of 28°C was the warmest since 1949). We won't top that at Easter 2019, but four days of wall-to-wall sunshine and temperatures in the mid-twenties might just be as good as Easter ever gets.


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