Monday, October 23, 2017
A brand new Crossrail station opened yesterday at Abbey Wood.
From December 2018 Abbey Wood will be the southeastern terminus for Crossrail trains. The existing station has had to be remodelled from two platforms to four, with overbridges added for passengers changing trains and fresh connections made to the surrounding community. The comparison between drab generic 1980s infrastructure and the new swooshing manta ray design could hardly be greater. [animated flythrough]
It's taken several years to tweak the station into its futuristic format, but the new two-storey ticket hall has arrived relatively swiftly. The most prominent internal feature is the framework of timber beams curving overhead, brightly illuminated by rows of spotlights, while outside it's the overhanging zinc roof which dominates.
The key architectural challenge was to link the station both to the existing community at ground level and to the bus stops on the busy Harrow Manorway, hence the two levels, and the need for at least half a dozen big lifts. The lifts aren't yet in operation. They soon will be.
The upper concourse is the size of six tennis courts, and divided in two by a broad gateline capable of coping with Crossrail flows. Toilets will be provided near the top of the Crossrail stairs, although they're currently smothered with workforce and not yet open. One particularly retro feature appears - an actual ticket office! - but as yet there's no sign of anywhere selling coffees, Double Deckers or the Daily Mail.
A pair of automatic doors lead out through the glass wall to an extensive piazza. Local commuters will be pleased to hear that a pair of Metro bins are already positioned outside. National Rail's double arrow logo appears centrally above the entrance, along with a somewhat understated station nameplate, and will presumably be joined by a similarly large purple roundel at the end of next year.
The external forecourt is flat with occasional raised barriers, hence the need for a "No rollerblading, skateboarding or cycling" sign to snuff out any wilful fun. Meanwhile work is (still) not quite complete to repurpose the roadway, hence a lot of temporary barriers remain and connections to local buses remain poor. But this should soon be a seamless interchange for passengers hoping to reach Thamesmead or Bexleyheath, and a gamechanger for local connectivity.
So far only one of the giant staircases down to ground level is open, and even that clearly requires a few finishing touches. I wonder how many passengers will prefer to take the lifts - these prominently displayed in two glass-clad towers - but still closed off while installation continues. Indeed there's still a heck of a lot of last-minute hi-vis work going on outside, particularly on the flank towards Sainsbury's, only after which will the full scale of the transformation become clear.
It's also not yet apparent how this improved transport hub with its ground floor retail opportunities will reshape the local economy. Abbey Wood's lowly shopping parade looks like a spaceship's landed next to it, and suddenly has a direct pedestrian connection to the future. Will the regulars at the Abbey Arms at the foot of the staircase be joined by fresh drinking partners, or might a tower of flats be thought a better use of land?
Another key change which took place yesterday is that TfL took over management of the station from Southeastern, despite the fact that only Southeastern trains will stop here for the next thirteen months, and all the station staff were transferred across too. Amazingly this is TfL's first ever station in the London Borough of Bexley (even if the majority of the platforms are actually in Greenwich). It also means that TfL just opened a station with a ticket office, which isn't something they'd necessarily like to crow about.
As yet only the two Southeastern platforms are open, while work continues on the Crossrail island platform alongside. Two streamlined footbridges are in place, which along with the ticket hall stairs will allow transfer at either end of the platforms or in the middle. Around half of all the passengers alighting at Abbey Wood are expected to be changing trains, but if you do ever arrive by Crossrail be sure to sit up the front, otherwise it's going to be a long trek out.
Unless you live nearby, or like walking round woods and medieval ruins, there's probably not much need to visit Abbey Wood any time soon. I've been and taken several photographs so you don't have to go. But in just over a year's time there'll be several trains an hour heading out from the West End to this long-overlooked location, so it's good to know the station's already ready.
My Abbey Wood gallery
There are 20 photos altogether [slideshow]
» For a beyond-comprehensive look at how Abbey Wood station has been transformed, with innumerable in-progress photos, check out the Bexley is Bonkers blog. Here, for example, are 76 photos from three years ago when the work began, and here are 50 photos from Southeastern's final day on Saturday.
» Meanwhile Geoff's been along today, and here's his video.
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, October 22, 2017The winning number in last night's lottery was 649058. Were you a £25000 winner?
That's the Barking and Dagenham Lottery, a brand new initiative to raise money for good causes, and the first weekly lottery undertaken by a London council.
Councillor Saima Ashraf, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Community Leadership and Engagement, said: "Despite ever-increasing financial pressures on local authorities, we are determined to find innovative ways to continue supporting good causes that benefit residents in Barking and Dagenham. We hope that this scheme could mean some groups receive thousands of pounds of local money."To enter you go online and select a 6-digit number, or as many 6-digit numbers as you like, then pay £1 a week for each. Then every Saturday evening a random 6-digit number is selected and if you match it you win £25000. There are also several smaller prizes for matching digits at the beginning or the end of the chosen number.
A key selling point is that you get to choose which local good cause gets your donation. You could pick the Chadwell Heath Community Centre. or Nia Huggett Women's Centre, or Wellgate Community Farm or the 18th Dagenham Girl Guides... or you could nominate your money to Barking and Dagenham's central charity pot. You don't have to be resident in the borough to take part.
A brilliant fund-raising idea, or a desperate grab for cash? Let's see.
Issue 1: You're very unlikely to win.
Here's the prize structure, as it appears in the B&D lottery FAQ.
According to the FAQ, your chances of winning a prize are 1 in 55, or roughly once a year if you play once a week.
But your chance of winning a cash prize is only 1 in 500, or roughly once a decade if you play once a week. That's because most of the 'prizes' handed out are 3 free tickets for a forthcoming draw, which almost certainly aren't going to win a cash prize either. If you keep reinvesting those free tickets in future draws the chance of a cash prize rises fractionally, to 1 in 491, but these are still really rubbish odds.
As if to prove the point, nobody won a £25000 prize in Saturday's draw, nor a £2000, nor a £250. Three people won a £25 prize. Ten people won three extra tickets. Altogether the Barking & Dagenham Lottery paid out £75. This is not a brilliant way to get rich.
Issue 2: It's a bit complicated to understand.
Matching the drawn number to win £25000 is easy to understand, but the remaining prizes are less so because position matters. For example, if the winning number is 123456 then you'd win £2000 for 123459, £250 for 993456, £25 for 123999 and '3 extra tickets' for 999956. But there are no prizes for 654321, 912345, 923459 or 456999.
It's not cripplingly difficult, but enough to confuse a significant proportion of the population... although that might still not put them off, particularly if their eyes are fixed on the jackpot prize.
Issue 3: It's an Australian lottery in disguise.
Barking & Dagenham council don't draw the winning number themselves, and neither do their contractors, Gatherwell. Instead the six-digit winner comes from the Australian National Lottery's Super 66 game, a weekly draw which operates using identical rules. This provides the B&D Lottery result with independent validity, although residents of Chadwell Heath may not be chuffed to discover that the winning number originates Down Under.
It also looks mighty dubious that Barking & Dagenham reveal the winning number each Saturday at 8pm, whereas it was actually drawn at 7.30pm AEST, over ten hours earlier. But all's well because the B&D Lottery has a cut-off point of 23:59 on Friday, so players entering the draw on Saturday aren't eligible to win a prize until the following week.
Issue 4: People don't seem to be very interested.
The B&D Lottery's Twitter account has only 17 followers, one of which is the council itself, so local residents don't appear to be very enthused. Confirmation of this comes from the fact that only 587 tickets were sold in time for Saturday's inaugural draw, which is a measly total. Indeed Barking & Dagenham has a population of just over 200,000 people - about the same as York or Gateshead - and 587 tickets equates to a mere 0.3% of the population.
But never fear, because the council weren't expecting their lottery to be an enormous hit. They've set themselves a target of 735 tickets, just 735, and they've nearly hit that in week 1. That said, tickets for the first draw have been on sale since mid-September, so if 587 is the best they can do over a lengthy launch period, getting additional players to sign up might be a real struggle.
It's also important to remember that, unlike in the National Lottery, ticket sales don't affect the odds of winning a prize. The council have taken out insurance to pay the larger prizes, so even if they only sell 500 tickets a £25000 win would still be paid out. The insurers are probably laughing, however, because with these low sales a £25000 win should only happen once in every 32 years.
Issue 5: It isn't raising much money.
A major selling point of the B&D Lottery is that 80% of all cash taken goes to prizes and good causes - the National Lottery manages only 78%. Here's how each £1 raised breaks down.
50p from every £1 goes to the good cause of your choice and 10p to the B&D charity pot, while 20p notionally goes on prizes, if there are any. As for the 20% on "admin and VAT", a bit of digging reveals that VAT on lottery sales is charged at 12%, which means the administrators (Gatherwell) are taking 8p a ticket.
Because we know how many tickets were sold in the lottery's first week, we can calculate how much money has gone where so far.
Chosen good causes = 50p×587 = £293Thus far the lottery has raised £352 in funding for good causes which wouldn't otherwise have been received. Shared out between the 20 or so charities currently in the B&D basket equates to £17 each, assuming everybody gets the same. Peanuts? Or potentially £18000 a year, all told, if this works out.
Other good causes = 10p×587 = £59
Prizes = 20p×587 = £117
VAT = 12p×587 = £70
Admin = 8p×587 = £47
Issue 6: It's an inefficient way to donate money
Normally, if you want to donate £1 to the Dagenham & Redbridge FC Community Trust, they receive £1. They might even get a bit more if you sprinkled a bit of Gift Aid on top. In this case, however, you donate £1 and they get 50p, while 40p basically disappears, in the vain hope you might win a life-changing amount of money... which you won't.
Wouldn't it be better to establish a system for donating direct, and promote that, rather than dressing everything up in a lottery and sharing less. Or do we as punters only respond to the possibility of a big cash prize, and would never have considered giving the money in the first place otherwise? Might the B&D Lottery work better if rebranded as "donating to charity with the chance to win a prize", rather than "the chance to win a prize while donating to charity"?
The Barking and Dagenham Lottery might grow to success, or it might be an insignificant well-meaning failure. But the key question surely has to be why council funding has slumped so low that a lottery looks like a good way to make a difference. When you can't raise taxes to fund the needy, shake your balls.
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, October 21, 2017It's not every day that 500 acres of private land becomes publicly accessible for the first time. In north London, yesterday was such a day.
The Walthamstow Wetlands are a cluster of reservoirs in the Lea Valley, built between 1853 and 1904 to provide drinking water for the metropolis.
Now owned by Thames Water they remain operational, but now fulfil an additional purpose as a nature reserve, especially for birdlife. Until now only those with a permit have been allowed inside, generally anglers and ornithologists, but the entire complex is now open daily, free of charge, and we've a whole new world to explore.
There are ten reservoirs in total, each with a perimeter path to follow, plus a couple of historic buildings with internal attractions of their own. The overall site lies between Tottenham Hale and Blackhorse Road stations, with the main entrance about ten minutes walk from each. Come on foot, or by bike, or leave your car in the car park and expect to pay for the privilege. Dogs are not permitted, apart from the usual exceptions.
The first place to visit is probably the Thames Water Marine Engine House, now converted to a visitor centre and cafe, complete with lightly-stocked shop. Head upstairs to enjoy the viewing platform, which involves stepping out onto a balcony, providing a broad overview of this rather flat area. Also up here are some touchscreen displays (which refused to react to my touch) and a rather wonderful installation of artistic jars, filled by schoolchildren, dangling down through a hole above the cafe. The cafe serves morning breakfast, afternoon lunch and (expensive) cake, and was particularly well frequented yesterday. The toilets are under the stairs. Be sure to collect a foldable map before you venture off.
The map is essential not only because the wetlands are unsigned, but because some of these reservoirs are really rather large, so if you head off the wrong way it could be 20 minutes before you finally link up with another path. To get your bearings, three of the reservoirs lie north of the main road, accessed via a separate entrance, while the majority are to the south. A single cycle path threads across the site, almost two miles from one end to the other, with local access points for residents in Higham Hill or from Coppermill Lane. Other paths aren't necessarily so solid - but a pair of trainers will see you round, it's not currently walking boot consistency underfoot. Certain paths may be closed at certain times of the year, for example to assist breeding.
There are no hides, this isn't that kind of bird reserve, but the paths track the edges of the reservoirs so sightlines are generally clear. Bring some binoculars, because the majority of the wildlife action is small and distant, although you can expect to meet several geese (and their deposits) on the banks. Cormorants and herons are particularly dominant in their island fiefdoms, while overwintering fowl are expected to be abundant over the coming months. Personally I loved the opportunity to walk and walk and walk, with the landscape of the Lea Valley spread out across diverse watery vistas.
It's a wonderful space to explore, and will merit repeated visits, not just to watch the changing of the seasons but because it's pretty much impossible to trek the whole thing in one go. I'm particularly impressed that entrance is free, thanks to a unique partnership between Waltham Forest Council, the lottery, the London Wildlife Trust and Thames Water. I wonder how long they're going to be able to maintain a volunteer presence at each of the four entrances, and I also wonder how they'll ensure everyone's cleared out at the end of the day before they lock the gates.
The Walthamstow Wetlands open to visitors at 9.30am, and close at 5pm in summer and 4pm in winter (that's October to March). Best of all the Walthamstow Wetlands open daily, not just this weekend but henceforth, for a bracing day out whenever. Come twitch, angle or hike, and enjoy.
Some tips (southeast):
» The five reservoirs clustered closest to the visitor centre aren't named, they're numbered, specifically 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
» A good short walk is to circulate around reservoirs 2 and 3, along thin banks with water to either side. The path along the western edge, alongside reservoir 1, is the only wooded zone, hence rather pretty.
» A lot of these paths have reedy spaces for fisherfolk to cast their lines. I saw one particularly large carp gleaming in a net on the bank.
» At the point where reservoirs 2, 3, 4 and 5 meet is a small shelter for trout fishers. I hope all the screwed up tinfoil at the back is evidence of eaten lunches rather than anything less legal.
» The island within reservoir 1 is the largest heronry in the UK. One of the two islands within reservoir 5 is known for its cormorants.
» There's a very useful additional bridge, not shown on the map, approximately between points 6 and 7. Elsewhere, if there isn't a link on the map, there isn't a path.
Some tips (southwest):
» The West Warwick and East Warwick reservoirs have high raised banks, each allowing a lengthy stroll around the rim. Narrow steps, infrequently located, provide access from down below to up top.
» These reservoirs are more functional, and less landscaped, and run either side of the main railway line.
» The West Warwick reservoir is only accessible via a single low tunnel beneath the railway, and feels particularly cut off on the far side. I got followed through by a fox (whoa!) which eyed me suspiciously, then thankfully retreated.
» The Coppermill Tower, on the Coppermill Stream near Coppermill Lane, is a former pumphouse, and will one day provide a viewing platform and exhibition space. It looks great, but as yet it's not quite open.
Some tips (north):
» It's much quieter on this side of the wetlands, because most visitors don't think to cross the road.
» The architectural treat on this side is the Lockwood Reservoir, a vast trough with steep sides and a water tower at either end. The path along the western edge is closed until the end of the year so that a stone road can be laid around the perimeter, and the only way up to the eastern edge is currently to climb the grassy banks, which may or may not be permitted. Best views on the entire site from up top, though.
» The other two reservoirs are shallower, and geesier.
» I think the path round the eastern side of High Maynard reservoir is closed for seasonal reasons, because its gate was shut, but if so the signage wasn't authoritative enough and I could easily have walked through.
» Whoever knew all this was sitting on top of the Victoria line?
posted 07:00 :
Friday, October 20, 2017A♣ City of London
The City of London has always remained outside the administrative system of the other London boroughs, so there was never any danger of the Herbert Commission adding it to Greater London. It's always done its own thing, its planning department especially so, including a pioneering network of elevated walkways in the late 60s and early 70s. The 'pedways' were supposed to become a 30 mile network across the City keeping pedestrians above the traffic, but development ground to a halt and only a fraction were ever built. I've been out in search of what remains, with the aid of this 1992 map usefully tweeted by @MrTimDunn (the numbers and colours are my addition). Why not head down and explore for yourself?
[green - still walkable, amber - somewhat stunted, red - since redeveloped]
Pedways of the City of London
1) The Barbican Highwalks
The one set of pedways every Londoner knows is the maze of passageways around the Barbican, if only as somewhere it's notoriously easy to get lost. The estate was built during the precise period that pedways were in vogue, hence all the main thoroughfares run above ground level, leaving down below for water gardens, car parks and deliveries. The concrete highwalks exhibit considerable variety, from tight tunnels to broad esplanades and from smart crescents to narrow gangways, linking visitors to the central concert hall and residents to the outside world. For lovers of practical brutalism it gets no better.
Most of the original network survives, looping beneath slab blocks and skirting the towers, but the eastern end hasn't been so lucky. The Moorfields Highwalk comes to an abrupt end in midair above the edge of a building site, the remainder of the rooftop empire demolished as part of Crossrail-related development. Some new kind of connection will be created once that's complete, but in the meantime don't try following the fabled yellow line to Moorgate while a less than satisfactory diversion remains in place.
I could devote this entire post to the Barbican's pedways, but you don't need me to tell you where they are to be able to explore for yourself. The City's more elusive pedways deserve our attention instead.
2) Baynard House
Where you find pedways, you often also find concrete. Baynard House is a total concrete eruption, a three storey office block smothering the site of a royal Tudor mansion, located just to the east of Blackfriars station. Architect William Holford built his grey fortress with pedway principles in mind, its main entrance at first floor level, and an elevated walkway set back alongside Queen Victoria Street.
40 years later this gloomy passageway feels somewhat dour, frequented by BT employees and pigeons, twisting past boarded-up doorways, men in sleeping bags and a single potplant. It begins in a raised square with a Shakespearean totem pole depicting the seven ages of man, continues above the Mermaid Theatre accompanied by whiffs of urine, and descends on the far side of Puddle Dock outside a little-known entrance to Blackfriars station. As M@'s video attests, this is a pedway worthy of (brief) psychogeographical exploration.
3) Peter's Hill
According to the City of London's classification, the long pedestrian avenue which slopes down from St Paul's Cathedral to the Millennium Bridge was officially designated a pedway. It's still very much in situ, and easily the busiest on the map, but totally lacks that essential elevated pedway vibe, so I'm going to skip it and move on.
4) Fyefoot Lane
This meanwhile is a proper pedway, one of a series built to span Upper Thames Street when it was dual-carriagewayed in the late 1960s. It begins on Queen Victoria Street, slipping between a couple of office blocks wherein financial drones can be seen sat patiently tapping on computers. It's named Fyefoot Lane after a medieval alley which once ran this way down to the docks, previously known as Five Foot Lane because one end was only five foot wide.
The land hereabouts drops quite steeply towards the Thames, hence the walkway emerges at lamppost-top-height, just to the east of the Upper Thames Street tunnel. A double bend leads pedestrians to a sleek footbridge above the road, propped up on thin concrete wedges, with the City's coat of arms decorating the railings on each flank. No attempt is made to reach the building on the far side, there are simply steps down, but maybe that's why this pedway has survived riverside redevelopment and several of those downstream have not.
5) Suffolk Lane
Located just to the east of Cannon Street station, this pedway's had a modern makeover. At its heart, spanning Upper Thames Street, is an flat concrete slab much like that at Fyefoot Lane. But someone - I suspect the Japanese bank in the new building to the south - has clad the bridge's exterior with timber struts, and replaced the treads in the staircase with modern metal. Employees now trot out of the security door at first floor level with gym kits poised, before returning with a bagged-up noodle feast, while other local workers get to walk up from street level instead.
On the northern side the path bends round a much more 20th century office block, channelled through a pillared promenade, through whose windows Prudential employees are going about their business. The landing point is a backwater junction on Laurence Pountney Hill, with boltholes where "any sandwich and a drink" costs £9, and besuited souls do deals over a ciabatta and a glass of red.
6) Swan Lane
I will confess to never noticing this one before, which perhaps isn't surprising given it's been almost completely severed. An ummarked staircase rises on the corner of Swan Lane and Upper Thames Street, one block west of London Bridge, filling a space where you might expect to see two storeys of office windows. I ducked somewhat suspiciously past two ladies chatting, cigarettes in hand, and climbed five flights of stairs past a doorway marked Out of Order and a second landing with similarly non-existent access.
At the top of the final flight a diagonal railing brought my ascent to an abrupt halt, at the point where the pedway would have continued across the road. The footbridge disappeared when the building across the road was redeveloped in a more private manner, leaving an unintentional triangular landing which now functions as a kind of balcony overlooking the street corner below. This stumpy staircase should never have survived, but hurrah that it does, as easily the quirkiest pedway remnant on my list.
7) Pudding Lane
This is probably the best of the pedways outside the Barbican, both for length and for variety. It also has a splendid staircase to link roadside and footbridge level, curved in South Bank style, with no-expense-spared granite treads. A broad path heads Thamesward through St Magnus House, one of the chunky office blocks between London Bridge and Billingsgate, emerging onto an expansive terrace with fine views down to Tower Bridge and immediately opposite to the Shard. A sign at riverwalk level attempts to lure tourists upwards, but the vast majority pass by, leaving the upper terrace free for fag puffers, sandwich munchers and windblown litter.
On the northern side of the footbridge one prong of the pedway runs parallel to Pudding Lane, joining it roughly where 1666's fateful bakery once stood. The other prong runs parallel to Upper Thames Street, down a featureless corridor seemingly ideally sheltered for overnight sleeping. I found a small tent, a rolled up sleeping bag, and one alcove neatly laid out with carpet tiles, shoes and clothes on coathangers. If the worst ever happens, bear this pedway in mind.
The City's second-largest pedway network used to span the area around Bishopsgate, from Leadenhall Street north towards Liverpool Street station. No more. This part of town lies at the sweet spot for skyscraper development, unencumbered by protected views, and sequential rebuilding projects have wiped most of the highwalks away. The imminent behemoth rising at 22 Bishopsgate ensures that nothing survives of the former footbridge (and all points east), while the warren of paths around the foot of Tower 42 has (very) recently been cut by the intrusion of a gleaming glass row of bars and restaurants.
To find the one surviving chunk of pedway head to Wormwood Street, look for the concrete span across the road and climb the unmarked staircase alongside. Although it's possible to cross the bridge in perfect freedom, the main exit past the office block on the far side is fenced off and the other ends intrusively beside a second floor meeting room. Meanwhile a service corridor weaves south from the footbridge past several emergency back-exits and an open courtyard before terminating down a second corridor in hostile semi-darkness. The closure's only temporary, according to a brief notice, but it's hard to see how it'll ever again continue onwards through that new barrier of wrap vendors and burger eateries. A total dead end, in both directions, and easily the spookiest surviving pedway.
9) Middlesex Street Estate
Out on the far eastern edge of the City, and primed for unwealthier citizens, the Middlesex Street estate was built between 1965 and 1970 and so wholly embraced the pedway concept. One tower block and a ring of elevated flats surround Petticoat Square, with one upper gangway around the rim, and a series of access stairs squeezed in with the emergency services in mind.
When first built anyone could have wandered in, but the main entrance opposite Wentworth Street is now blocked off, and security doors prevent public access elsewhere. Laminated notices confirm that this is Private Property, No Loitering, and that rough sleepers will be arrested for trespassing. You will not be visiting this pedway any time soon.
10) London Wall Place
Somewhat unexpectedly, for those who thought pedways were out of fashion, a brand new City development is embracing them in a big way. London Wall Place is being built across a long splinter of land to the north of London Wall, to the southeast of the Barbican estate, with construction requiring the demolition of the former St Alphage Highwalk. The developers have been obliged to add new pedways amid their jungle of office blocks, mainly because the surrounding infrastructure includes several upper level links on all flanks which would otherwise be defunct.
Construction of the chain of bridges is well underway, not in concrete but in weathered steel, because architectural tastes move on. You can already see one of the seven bridges suspended above Wood Street, close to Jamie's Italian, and another over Fore Street close to Salters Hall. The closest to completion spans London Wall on a jaunty diagonal, and yesterday was being scrubbed down by a workman with a big cloth. Once open it'll breath fresh life into the Bassishaw Highwalk, formerly the Barbican's link to the Guildhall, and the workers in the adjacent offices won't be quite so shocked to see people walking past their window. It seems pedways are no longer the dead end concept they used to be.
» The Pedway: Elevating London (40 minute video)
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, October 19, 2017And while we're talking big screens...
It's been a a year since TfL hung two huge LED screens in the heart of Canary Wharf station. They blaze, the surrounding lighting dimmed for added contrast, drilling advertising messages into the eyeballs of millions of passing passengers. The CEO of Exterion Media described the screens as "enhancing the customer experience through delivering a truly world class estate". He may be keen, but my experience has not been enhanced.
But Canary Wharf was just the beginning, because TfL have coffers to fill.
Known as Hello London, the eight-year media partnership between TfL and Exterion Media aims to excite and engage the customers that make more than a billion journeys on TfL's Underground and rail services each year. Hello London will be bringing investment and innovation to the outdoor media market, installing improved digital screens and offering brands new opportunities in sponsorship, pop-up retail and experiential marketing. The partnership is expected to generate £1.1bn in revenue to reinvest in the transport system.Another big screen has recently been installed at King's Cross St Pancras. Specifically it's attached to the balcony in the western ticket hall, on the St Pancras side, close to the Circle line ticket barriers. It's nowhere near as big as the screens at Canary Wharf, but it's still much bigger than the Tube usually employs, and will be pretty much unmissable to those passing underneath. I've not seen it up and running, but its dancing pixels look like being a permanent distraction, and a full time moneyspinner.
It's a fair bet that the original designer of the western ticket hall didn't have a commercial intrusion in mind. Instead it feels like TfL's Chief of Economic Deliverance walked round all the prime stations in Zone 1 looking for big high-up rectangular gaps, noted this one with glee, and hey presto a huge digital screen has appeared. Expect more. Some of you may even have noticed more at tube stations elsewhere. Do tell.
Update: Apparently the King's Cross screen is for an Art on the Underground project, 'The Bureaucracy of Angels', a 12 minute film depicting the demolition of 100 migrant boats in Sicily. It's supposed to be running from 28 September to 25 November, so should be a temporary intervention, although I've only ever seen a blank screen when walking through.
Meanwhile you might be wondering where all the digital projectors on tube station platforms have gone. These large white boxes first appeared in 2008, firing moving adverts onto the opposite wall between trains, but last year they were all switched off. I was going to say they've all been removed, but then I found this one on the southbound Victoria line platform at King's Cross, dormant and a bit grubby.
These projectors vanished because Exterion Media are bringing in a better system. It'll be bigger (half as as big again), brighter (twice as bright) and with enhanced HD screen resolution. They call it DX3.
DX3 is a network of large digital screens (4.5m x 2.4m) installed cross track on London Underground. With a projection from the platform onto custom-coated surface, DX3 will cut through any ambient light conditions, ensuring high-defnition, premium resolution across the entire network. These screens allow for full-motion, dynamic digital content.DX3 is also running over two years late, so there's a blessing, but the new projectors will finally start to appear next month. 20 units will be live by the end of November, and 60 by the end of January, with the focus being busy stations in Zone 1. Expect to see them popping up in Liverpool Street, King's Cross St. Pancras, Waterloo, Oxford Circus and Bank, amongst others.
According to the people whose job it is to get excited about these things, the DX3 network will target "the ultimate premium consumer audience", reaching an annual footfall of 750 million with 5.5 million fortnightly impressions. These same people also describe the act of being shown moving adverts while you wait for trains as "a positive disruption to the everyday commute", on the basis that the average passenger would rather be sold to than be bored.
In reality, the advertisers need to provide something pretty damned wow to drag our eyes away from our phones. Ever since wifi was installed at stations most of us whip out our phones and check what the world's up to while we wait for trains underground, hence the hope that dazzling animated adverts projected in front of us will prove even more attractive. Stop watching what you wanted to watch and look at we want to show you, is the unspoken intention. And because most of us are really rather predictable, we'll probably fall for it and help provide TfL with their money.
Also coming soon are continuous 'ribbon' video screens along the sides of escalators, replacing the sequence of single screens we see today. Several escalators are already ribbon-ready, for example at Tottenham Court Road, with shiny blank metal surfaces awaiting all the electronic gubbins being slapped on top. Again the intention is to stop you whipping out your own phone for 20 seconds and to stare lovingly at all the marketing messages instead.
"Personally, I'm most excited about the ribbon screens," said Chris Reader, TfL's Head of Commercial Media. "I think they will offer a very innovative canvas for brands."Underground advertising will become even more entrenched once Crossrail starts up next year. Unlike, say, the Jubilee line extension of 20 years ago, all of Crossrail's new stations have been specifically designed with spaces for advertising in mind. Expect to see "a wide range of innovative and high impact formats that best complement the stations' large proportions and modern design elements" as you pass through, including vertically mounted TV screens between the platform edge doors.
And it's not just the tube. Drivers aren't being left out, as TfL scour their arterial estate in search of locations for giant screens. Here's the big screen above the underpass at the Sun In The Sands roundabout, playing out ads for Ford, British Airways and LBC to vehicles on the A2.
Other pixel-based distractions are to be found looming above the A3 in Kingston, the A40 in Ealing, the North Circular in Brent, the Uxbridge Road in Hillingdon and the A12 in Leytonstone. Digital roadside advertising is certainly nothing new, but what's fresh is TfL's emboldened embrace of their outdoor portfolio.
Tube advertising is nothing new either, it's been with us since Victorian times. What's changing is the scale of the distraction we customers are being presented with as we travel, no longer just multi-coloured static rectangles but brightly illuminated consciousness-piercing screens.
Ultimately we can blame our leaders rather than TfL. We live in a country where the government is extinguishing the subsidies it pays for public transport, and in a city where the Mayor has hamstrung investment by imposing a four year fare freeze. Both policies are nakedly political rather than economically sane, and both conspire to focus TfL on raising money via every other means possible.
Bear this in mind the next time you see another intrusive screen has gone up, and your brain nags you to watch what it has to say. As flexible dynamic messaging takes hold, going forward, there's little hope this flashy underground filmshow will ever go away.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, October 18, 2017Well this is exciting.
This new pilot screen at Shoreditch High Street station shows you how busy each of the carriages are before you board your train. Green means It's quiet in here, amber means It's getting a bit busy and red means This is rammed (or words to that effect). Something similar happens on the new Thameslink trains, although on Thameslink the displays are inside the carriages, not in the stations.
Shoreditch's new animated display appears at the far end of the ticket hall, at the point where the staircase splits towards the two platforms. At the start of the animation it looks like any other digital Next Train Indicator, listing the next three departures in each direction, but then several train graphics rush in from the right revealing the colours carriage by carriage.
During most of the day everything's green. But as the afternoon peak approaches some of the carriages go amber, occasionally covering most of the train, and at the busiest times there might be some red.
Use this information wisely and you could wander down the platform to the appropriate place to board the carriage with the most available space. That's assuming you can make your way to the right point before the next train arrives, of course, and can push past all the other people waiting in less optimal locations.
This might all seem a bit pointless on a walk-through train, but there is a potential benefit, namely a more efficient service. Encourage passengers to board emptier carriages rather than squeezing into full ones and departures can become more punctual. One display in Shoreditch isn't going to make a lot of difference, but imagine if this were rolled out more widely elsewhere - the cumulative effect on dwell times could be significant.
Another first is that you don't have to be standing in front of the display to see it, it's also available online. Surf to shoreditch.opencapacity.co and you can view the crammedness of Shoreditch's Overground trains from home, from the office or from outside in the street, exactly as the display appears within the station. Again imagine this kind of functionality rolled out for Overground stations elsewhere, or how this data could be employed within the usual transport apps.
Now let's stop and wonder what the hell is going on here.
For a start, how do they know where all the people are on a particular train?
Well, it's not all guesswork, it's down to a specially-installed electronic system called Orinoco. Every single one of the Overground's fleet of 57 Class 378 trains has been fitted with sensors and special software which monitor the weight of each carriage, specifically the pressure inside the air suspension bags under each carriage. These rise and fall to help keep the train's doors at platform height, and this allows the onboard computer to calculate how many people are in each carriage.
This "loadweigh" data is transmitted via 4G to Bombardier in Derby, then onward to a German company called Hacon who specialise in transport software systems, and it's they who generate the information on the display. Initially Orinoco was provided exclusively for Overground staff, who by using apps and tablets could direct waiting passengers to the least crowded carriages. But the release of the Shoreditch High Street data into the public domain is the first sign of spreading the information benefits more widely. [more info]
It's all damned clever but obviously it's not accurate. The software doesn't know precisely how many people are in each carriage, only how much they weigh, so (for example) an infant school outing or a rugby team with suitcases could seriously skew the readings. To counter this Hacon also cross-reference their data with other sources including "CCTV cameras, door sensors and ticketing information", with the expectation that if it was busy at six fifteen last Friday it probably will be again this week. Not perfect, but more likely to be correct.
But hang on, are we watching actual loadings now or a prediction for the future?
I'm willing to believe that a train arriving in 1 minute might actually be loaded as the display shows, but for those further away, how can they possibly know? Any train heading north and more than 2 minutes away has yet to pass through Whitechapel, ditto 10 minutes for Canada Water. Loads of people are going to alight and board at the intermediate stations, upsetting the pattern of which carriage is the busiest, so by the time the train arrives the current information will be badly out of date. A display you can only read on the stairs won't be much help if the train you intend to catch is several minutes away.
What's more, some of these southbound trains haven't even left yet. Trains to New Cross and Clapham Junction start from Dalston Junction, which is only 6 minutes up the line, which means the display frequently shows loadings on trains which haven't yet set out. Look for example at the Clapham Junction train at the bottom of the display above. It's 10 minutes away from arriving at Shoreditch, so must be waiting at Dalston Junction and still four minutes from departure. That means there's no way it can already be amber-busy in its front two carriages, away from the ticket hall, while the rear three carriages remain green.
I can only conclude that the display isn't showing genuine real time information, only computer predictions for what might be turning up later, in an attempt to manipulate passengers into the optimal position.
So don't necessarily believe everything you see on these displays, you're being toyed with, and who's to say what the borderline between a green carriage and an amber carriage is anyway. But the future is increased public data, the future is informed passenger choice, and the future is being nudged into position to speed up the service.
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Tuesday, October 17, 2017Most of you don't leave comments on this blog. Today's post is about the 5% of you who sometimes do.
When you enter a comment on this blog there are four boxes. One is for the comment itself. One is for 'Name'. One is for 'Email'. And one is for 'URL'.
Most of you leave a name, of sorts. Some of you leave an email address. But not many of you write anything in the URL box. Today's post is about why the URL box is usually empty.
First off, I've tried to quantify how empty the URL box is. I've scanned back through all the comments made by readers in the first half of this month. Thanks for all roughly-400 of them. And then I've totted up how many of these comments include a web address in the URL field. It's about 5%. Only one commenter in every twenty leaves a URL.
Sarah's one of the handful of people who left a URL. She has an actual blog. So does Andrew, and so does DrD, and so does Margaret, and so does Richard, and so does rasbhre, and they still update them regularly. A couple of other October commenters have a blog but haven't posted lately. But that's it for bloggers leaving comments so far this month. A paltry eight.
A couple of people left a personal website address in the URL box - Adrian left his Twitter handle and Tetramesh left his Flickr ID. These are both good ways of dropping a hint about the person who's actually leaving a comment, something deeper than just a name. Nobody left a Facebook login or an Instagram feed in the URL box. Nineteen out of every twenty commenters left nothing at all.
I wondered if URL-less-ness had changed over time, so I went back five years and ten years and took a look. I checked for URLs in all the comments made by readers in the first half of October 2012, and then did the same for all the comments made by readers in the first half of October 2007. In each case there were about 300 comments to consider. Here's what I found.
» In October 2007, about 45% of comments included a web address in the URL field.
» In October 2012, about 20% of comments included a web address in the URL field.
» In October 2017, about 5% of comments included a web address in the URL field.
That's quite some decline. What is going on? Here are ten possibilities.
1) Far fewer people have blogs these days.
We know this one's true. Blogs have had their day and people don't start writing them any more. A few of us maintain them, keeping the faith and providing the web with longform content on a semi-regular basis. But most people don't blog, and most people who did have long given up. When there are so few blogs out there, the URL box is almost always going to be empty.
2) People now do their commenting elsewhere.
Commenting on blogs is old hat now that people have Twitter and Facebook to broadcast their every thought. Why leave a comment on a blog where almost nobody will see it when you can shout it to a far wider audience and get direct feedback. The conversation has moved, hence far fewer of my commenters now have a blog of their own.
3) People no longer have a single web identity.
People now have multiple identities across several platforms, rather than one go-to site of their own. And while some people still have a personal homepage which acts as a CV, privacy concerns mean few people want to leave a URL revealing their name and contact details in a blog's comment box.
4) People don't think Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook count.
There is a general feeling, I suspect, that what goes in the URL box ought to be a proper blog. A Twitter address doesn't come to mind, even though it could, and would provide a bit of background to what makes a commenter tick. Even an Instagram link, YouTube channel or Facebook connection would adds a bit more depth, rather than simply being a "Mark" or a "Chris" who could be anybody.
5) The people who leave comments on blogs have changed.
In the early 2000s most of the people who left comments on blogs were also bloggers, adding to the discussion. Today most of the people who leave comments on blogs have no focused online voice, they solely want to comment on what others have written. Social media is increasingly reactive these days, and a much smaller proportion of people now provide the original material everyone else comments on.
6) Regular commenters without blogs are skewing the figures.
Several of my most regular commenters don't have a platform of their own, which surprises me given how persistently opinionated they are, and how much they always seem to have to say. Get a platform, gents.
7) It's harder to enter an accurate URL on a mobile.
I wonder if this is a potentially important issue. On a laptop it's easy to cut and paste your own personal URL (or Twitter handle or whatever) from one browser tab to another. On a smartphone that's a hassle, perhaps a nightmare, so it's increasingly the case that people can't be bothered to go to the effort of typing from scratch or copying a URL across.
8) URLs have to begin with http://, not @
Web addresses aren't the same as social media IDs, so some people might not actually know what URL to put in the box. If you're @malcolm1952 on Twitter, for example, then what has to go in the box is https://twitter.com/malcolm1952 or https://www.instagram.com/malcolm1952 or whatever, and that's quite complicated. But remember to tick the box marked "Please store my details for next time" underneath the comments box and you'll only ever have to type it once.
9) People are lazier that they used to be.
The number of people who leave the "Name" box empty is also increasing, as certain commenters fire off accidentally anonymous comments, and others choose not to fill in a name because they know who they are. Without even a pseudonym to go on, all the rest of us see is an unattributed opinion, which I think devalues the content of the comment somewhat. And if people can't be bothered to leave a name, why would they leave a URL?
10) There are more trolls than there used to be.
A lot more commenters these days are on the snarky side, leaving pointed remarks to make a personal dig. These people don't want to be traceable, indeed the names they're using won't be their real names, so they don't have their own URL to add. As the internet gets nastier, so personal accountability is on the decline.
I'm getting more comments these days than I was five or ten years ago, thanks, so leaving comments hasn't yet fallen out of favour. But far fewer of those commenters are leaving a URL, which seems a shame. There are always reasons why some of you will never have, or want to share, an online identity. But if you do have one somewhere, perhaps you'll consider sharing it in the future, and the rest of us might even take more seriously what you have to say.
posted 07:00 :
Monday, October 16, 2017Framlingham Castle is a castle. It is in Framlingham. Framlingham is in Suffolk.
It was built in the 12th century. It is a Norman castle. It sits on a big mound. It does not have a central keep. It has a curtain wall. The wall has thirteen towers.
The castle was built by Roger Bigod. The Bigods ruled Suffolk in early medieval times. King John took the castle from the Bigods. Then he gave it back. The Bigods gave it to Edward II. Edward II gave it to the Earl of Norfolk. Several other families owned it. Henry VIII got it at one point. Edward VI gave it to his sister Mary. Mary marched on London from Framlingham when she became queen. This is the most famous thing ever to happen in Framlingham. James I gave it to the Earl of Suffolk. The Duke of Norfolk got involved later. The castle ended up as a poorhouse. It now belongs to English Heritage.
Ed Sheeran wrote a song about Framlingham Castle. It is called The Castle On The Hill. It got to number 2 in the charts earlier this year. It is the UK's only million selling castle.
You can visit Framlingham Castle. You pay to go in. You get a wristband to show you have paid.
The best thing to do is walk around the walls. The way up is through the gift shop. The top of the wall is very high. There is a good view from the walls. You can see the grass inside. You can see the lake outside. You can see the barleysugar brickwork on top of England's oldest chimney. You can walk across high bridges linking the towers. You can take a selfie in an arrowslit. It is a good walk.
There is also a slide. There was not a slide in medieval times. The slide is a curly metal tube. It twists down from a high metal staircase beside the north wall. It is called the Time Tunnel. Children love going down the slide. Adults sneak a go when they think nobody else is looking. They can go down the slide as many times as they like.
The non-slidy way down from the walls is through the museum. The museum is in the Poorhouse. The Poorhouse is the only building remaining inside the curtain wall. The Poorhouse also contains the gift shop. The Poorhouse also contains the cafe. Once you have seen the walls and the Poorhouse you have pretty much seen Framlingham Castle.
But you have not yet seen Framlingham. Framlingham is a historic market town. It has cottages painted in pastel colours. It has a twisted one way system. It is frequented by people who wear red trousers and drive sports cars. It has a famous public school. It has a market triangle. The market sells chilli sausage rolls, knitted bags and hanging baskets. It also sells other things. The market is only a few minutes walk from the castle.
A good day out is to visit Framlingham Castle and Framlingham. Wave your wristband and you can wander between the town and the castle as often as you like. But you will have to go to Suffolk to see them.
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, October 15, 2017Once a month the big screen comes to the village hall. A film is chosen, long since played out in metropolitan circles, but fresh to folk in the heart of Norfolk. Tickets are sold in advance for a fiver at the village store, but one pound dearer on the door. Skip Strictly and come down Saturday night.
A band of volunteers sets out rows of chairs on the wooden floor, approximately within the white lines of the badminton court. The overhead projector on the balcony is fired up, and a screensaver zaps around a large screen lowered to cover the stage curtain. The seating may not be of multiplex standard, but the table by the entrance has Cushions For Hire, seemingly sourced from a suite of local sofas.
The audience, when it arrives, is almost entirely past state retirement age, with occasional late 20th century infill. They queue patiently and show their tickets to the ladies at the trestle table, writing down their email addresses on a sheet of paper to be informed of future events. Seating is unreserved. Drinks are purchased. There is time for gossip and chatter, which stops abruptly at seven thirty sharp.
A B-movie has been scheduled, sourced from the BFI's Britain On Film series. Of the hundreds of available films, this month's archive treat features TV documentary footage from the East Anglian coast in the 1960s. We watch the lifeboatmen of Cromer run down to the pier, we reminisce with the officers of the Cley coastguard and we join the crews of once-essential lightships trapped for a fortnight offshore. It is all very evocative of the time. No women play any part whatsoever.
The inter-film intermission soon arrives, providing time for a loo break or a refreshment top up. Wine and beer are available for £3 through a hatch in the back of the hall, and mugs of tea for 50p. These prove popular. Proper tubs of posh ice cream are on sale, but far better value are the scoops of vanilla or raspberry ripple hewn from a supermarket tub and served in a small bowl. Exploitative popcorn, nachos and Haribo are not available.
The Film Audience Network has provided questionnaires, completion of which will help them to gain further funding for rural screenings. The questionnaire stretches to 18 questions, which seems excessive for a night out, and at times intrusive. A precise age is requested, four alternative gender choices are provided, and Q12's interrogation of sexual orientation offers the option to self-describe in a separate box. Many sheets remain incomplete when the lights go down.
The main feature kicks off from a Blu-ray menu screen. The committee have picked well, choosing a wartime drama with a sense of humour, and events almost within the memory of many of those present. Laughs occur at infrequent appropriate moments. No phone calls are received during the performance, nor are bright screens switched on to check Facebook. There may be the odd tear in the eye during the final scenes.
Nobody stays seated until the end of the credits. It's already after ten o'clock, which is late for round here, and the hall has to be cleared prior to tomorrow's activities. The chairs disappear row by row, the washing up begins in the back kitchen and the poster for this month's film is unpinned from the noticeboard. Next month's film remains open to suggestion, please email with ideas, non-blockbusters preferred. The village cinema will return.
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, October 14, 2017The M25 famously passes underneath a cricket pitch on the edge of Epping Forest, where the need to preserve sporting status quo demanded the creation of the Bell Tunnel. But another (longer) tunnel exists to the north of London, on top of which you can play basketball, pick fruit or even have a picnic (so long as you've checked the grass really carefully first).
The Holmesdale Tunnel carries the M25 through the built-up neck of the Lea Valley. The planners of Ringway D identified a thin strip of land where Waltham Cross touches London where they could drive through a six lane motorway with a minimum of demolition. The area had once been full of glasshouses for market gardening, but after the war these were mostly replaced by housing, leaving a green space locals nicknamed the Backfield. It divided Cameron Drive in Waltham Cross from Holmesdale in Enfield, with houses in the latter facing out across the grass. Many children used the Backfield as a playground, with camping and dogwalking also popular pursuits. Right, we'll have that, said the engineers, and they made plans to dig it up.
The Holmesdale Tunnel would be 670 metres long, linking M25 junction 25 to a viaduct over the railway and the River Lea. It would be a super-underpass, built to motorway standards, and constructed using cut and cover techniques. There'd be room for three lanes in each direction, plus a raised walkway either side for evacuation purposes, plus a central wall to keep the two carriageways apart. Once the trench was completed a concrete slab was laid across the top and then covered with topsoil, allowing a new recreational space to be created. When completed in 1983 it was the most expensive section of road ever built in Britain with a price tag of almost £30m.
If you'd like to read more about the technical intricacies of its construction, this four-page article from the July 1982 edition of Ground Engineering magazine will tell you more than you ever need to know.
Millions of vehicles have passed through the tunnel since it opened, but local residents see none of that, only the Holmesdale Tunnel Open Space. It's mostly grass, and mostly featureless, but there is a multi-purpose sports pitch up one end with basketball hoops and goals for football, plus a wildflower area beyond. At the other end is a brick building owned by the Department of Transport which houses the ventilation system and a pumping system for removing groundwater. Trees can't be planted because the topsoil is too thin, but a short line of fruit trees has been added along one edge, and a couple of footpaths wend across the centre to link the two sides.
The old Backfield site is still the boundary between Hertfordshire and London, with the motorway and everything above it in Enfield and the houses to the north in Broxbourne. It's also still technically private government land, "to which the public is permitted to have access". A Friends group exists to organise kickabouts for kids and help keep the Open Space in order, but there are several hints that this may be in decline. It's been three years since they last tweeted anything, their webpage has expired, and it seems their last meeting in August had to be cancelled. The golden years of replanting the fruit trees after they were "destroyed by Dogs jumping up and ripping the the branches off" appear to be long gone.
There have been a couple of important upgrades recently, however, one down below and one up top. The motorway has been widened by removing the raised walkways, which allowed a merge lane to be added to/from the J25 roundabout, removing a two-lane bottleneck for through traffic. Alternative emergency access points were provided in the tunnel in the gap between the two carriageways, and the life-expired ventilation system was upgraded for good measure. This keeps all the motorists happy.
Meanwhile at the eastern end of the open space, close to the portal where the traffic rushes out past the Tesco Distribution Centre, an arty Gateway feature has been created to mark the point on the High Street where two boroughs meet. Several 'alphabet cubes' have been scattered across the pavement, which read ENFIELD from one direction and BROXBOURNE from the other. A bee-friendly garden with raised planting areas has been created between parallel gabions, plus an actual bench to sit on, which is a bit of a departure around here. There's also a mysterious churchlike sculpture, tiled and ideal for clambering, but with no hint as to precisely what it represents.
What I liked most about the Holmesdale Tunnel, other than the surreality of an invisible motorway, were the information boards scattered along its length explaining the site's past and present. I'd never have been inspired to come home and write all this otherwise, indeed much of the backstory would have passed me by. Next time you're orbiting London by car give a thought for the community you're ducking under, dead ordinary but spared the wrecker's ball, and still playing basketball on the roof a third of a century later.
posted 07:00 :
Friday, October 13, 2017K♠ Cheshunt/Enfield
Had the Herbert Commission had their way, Cheshunt Urban District would have become part of Greater London, whereas in fact it stayed in Hertfordshire (and is now part of Broxbourne). That leaves Enfield, today the northermost part of the capital, its boundary following the line of the M25. I've been out walking within a mile of the motorway to visit six of the lesser known settlements across the top of Enfield, some of which you might never have known were there. Click on the placenames to read the Hidden London summaries of each.
Beyond Cockfosters the northwestern quarter of the borough of Enfield is mostly fields, and rather attractive fields too. Botany Bay is the single settlement on a long ridgetop road between Potters Bar and Enfield, part of a landscape carved by two tiny brooks to either side, and part of what was once the royal forest of Enfield Chase. It's more hamlet than village, and doesn't stretch as far as a church (although there is a lowly shed called The Shack which local Christians are hoping to turn into a 24/7 prayer venue). At the centre of the string of houses lies the Robin Hood pub, which must rely on passing drivers rather than residents, and whose pre-book festive menu inexplicably runs from 1st November to 31st January. At Botany Bay Farm they're already ready to flog you pumpkins, plus almost-locally sourced sausages for Bonfire Night.
One thing Botany Bay has plenty of is open space, with a cricket club and a rugby club crying out for new members on posters attached to numerous walls and gates. The clubhouse appears to double up as a venue for almost anything, including the North London MG Club (every Monday), Googlies Jazz Supper Club (every Tuesday) and Big Boppa's Rock'N'Roll Club (every Wednesday). East Lodge Lane is very much Beware of the Dog territory, with angry hounds champing behind many a fence should a rare pedestrian walk by. I also surprised a lone pony in the next field, who leapt with brief delight to have company, then switched to indifference when it became clear I had no food.
This garden centre mecca is the northernmost settlement in London, assuming you can spot the houses among the retail sheds. Crews Hill is an entirely atypical location, essentially a collection of horticultural corrals subdivided into smaller units which'll flog you almost anything for your house or garden. Rattan, turf, bonsai, paving, resin, koi, rockery, fireplace, granite, trellis, lantern, sapling, rug, shrubbery, reptile, bench, mirror, decking, gnome, incense, jacket potato - it really is all here. One of the larger sites is a Wyevale, complete with pretend windmill, but most of the other businesses are as independent as they come, perhaps just a shed selling stone cherubs or a hut packed with New Age tat. On spring weekends hundreds queue in their cars to find a parking space, while on autumn weekdays a few pensioners find solace with a hyacinth and cuppa.
Given the nature of the goods on sale arriving by car or van is all important. You don't want to have to rely on the bus (the W10 is the 2nd least frequent bus in London), and while Crews Hill station has a pretty good service, it's also bleak and somewhat poorly used. Venture beneath the railway bridge to discover the eponymous hill and a few gated mansions, plus a golf course advertising several special offers should any individual, group or society fancy a round. But most visitors venture no further than the small business boulevard, perhaps topped off with a lager and an at-scale meal in The Plough, then spend a lot of time in the garden when they get home.
Whitewebbs Lane runs east from Crews Hill, parallel to the M25, and packs several fascinating features into its remote mile and a half run. First up is London's other transport museum, the Whitewebbs Museum of Transport, open Tuesdays and one Sunday a month. Its collection would best be described as eclectic, with various sheds and old vehicles outside and numerous smaller exhibits inside an elegant two-storey building which used to be a pumphouse for the New River. [my previous visit] [Ian Visits visit] [Londonist visit]
I kept walking, past a smallholding guarded by two angry rottweilers, to the edge of Whitewebbs Wood. It's large and dark, and somewhat oppressive, with muddy bridleways to follow should you choose to venture within. Keep going and it morphs into Whitewebbs Park, a slightly less dense patch of woodland almost nobody in Enfield lives anywhere near, complete with tarmac paths and the occasional lake. Half of the former Whitewebbs estate has been given over to a golf course, as is the modern way, but the grand mansion at the centre survives. Initially it was repurposed as a Home For Aged Men, but has recently become London's most architecturally impressive Toby Carvery. Sub-£7 diners feast within its sweeping wings, while the smell of gravy wafts out across the ornamental garden.
The carvery has competition from a 16th century pub back on Whitewebbs Lane, The King and Tinker, which claims to be one of England's oldest pubs. Its name comes from a fabled encounter between James I and a pub regular over an ale, after the incognito King slipped his courtiers after a hunt. As if that's not enough history for one spot, Whitewebbs Farm across the road is the site of a key meeting in the Gunpowder Plot. In October 1605 Guy Fawkes visited the house which used to stand on this site for a meeting with his co-conspirators, to discuss how Catholic peers might be spared the upcoming explosion. An ill-advised letter on the subject later blew their cover, rather than blowing up Parliament. Pop down to The King And Tinker and you can enjoy a pint in the Refreshment Garden's and a jump on the bouncy castle while reflecting on this remote spot's unlikely backstory.
At the eastern end of Whitewebbs Lane, within sight of the M25, a Premiership football team has bedded in. Tottenham Hotspur's training ground used to be a lot further up the A10, but this new state-of-the art site allows them to practice their ball skills in all weathers a little closer to home. Your best chance of catching sight of a top player is at the main gate on Hotspur Way, waiting for the blue and white barrier to raise. Elsewhere the perimeter is securely fenced off with a row of fast-growing shrubs immediately behind to inhibit paparazzi or over-zealous fans.
The hamlet of Bull's Cross can be found surrounding a mini-roundabout close by. It's been here a while. The Pied Bull pub claims it was once owned by James I as a kennel for his hunting dogs, which seems plausible given how much the king enjoyed living at Theobalds Palace close by. Bull's Cross is also home to the agricultural college at Capel Manor, and to Myddleton House, both of which have super-splendid gardens, and both of which I always urge you to visit whenever I write a post about the neighbourhood.
Bullsmoor is less lovely. This residential district is strung out between the new A10 and the old A10, squished into the last gasp of the Lea Valley conurbation before it slips into Hertfordshire. It has a peripherally arterial feel, with unpleasantly wide roads to cross and pylons stalking through the middle, and plenty of petrol stations and drive-thru takeaways to cater for the just-off-the-M25 market. Four separate shops in the local parade take the Bullsmoor name, the most appropriate of which is definitely the Bullsmoor Butchers, although that appeared to be shuttered and closed when I passed by... maybe something to do with its recent rockbottom Food Hygiene rating.
(there is one feature of particular note here, but I'll come back and tell you about that tomorrow, because it deserves a post of its own)
What a fantastic name for a London suburb. Freezywater can be found straddling the Hertford Road, the former A10, immediately to the south of Waltham Cross. It's been here a while too, with several avenues of late Victorian terraces tucked in between the main road and the railway, and some rather tasteful cottage villas scattered within. I searched in vain for the Freezywater Shopping Centre promised on Enfield Council's fading signs, but maybe a betting shop, chippie and Turkish food cash and carry suffice. I did however find a peculiar pocket park with contoured benches and artistic metal gates, apparently called Painters Lane Neighbourhood Park.
Freezywater is named after a marshy pond near the River Lea, which used to ice up in winter, but this disappeared a long time ago when the Rammey Marsh Sewage Works was built in it place. Now this too has vanished, replaced by the Innova Business Park in the late 1990s, a sprawl of distribution warehouses and low-key office units. Its streets have Blairite names like Kinetic Crescent, Velocity Way and Power Drive, a bit rich for the reality, but the central reedy lake is a nice throwback to the original Freezy Water. Enfield Lock station lies nearby, should a fast getaway be required.
...or read more in my monthly archives
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