diamond geezer

 Tuesday, August 21, 2018


Kensington & Chelsea didn't take long to cross, it's only narrow, and Hammersmith & Fulham isn't much wider. I'll soon be in Ealing, and that'll take rather longer. But if it's exciting places you're after, sorry, 51½°N has already peaked. [map] [photos]

To provide some bearings, the Uxbridge Road runs about a mile to the north of the 51½°th parallel, the A4 about half a mile to the south, and we will never quite hit either of them. Instead we're kicking off in residential territory round the back of Olympia, in the borderlands between Hammersmith and Shepherd's Bush.

Shepherd's Bush Road   [51.5°N 0.222°W]
A quiet country lane until the mid 18th century, Shepherd's Bush Road became a spine road off which subsequent suburbia grew. It ferries traffic from the apex of Shepherd's Bush Green to the Hammersmith gyratory, and was once wide enough for trams, so feels pretty spacious. They still do proper pubs round here, the local being The Richmond, which retains a beer'n'Sky vibe, and whose food menu consists solely of a well known frozen pizza brand. Elsewhere along the parade, a more gentrified vibe has encroached. The cafe on the corner doubles up as a fitness studio and deli, plus a useful space to park the kids for 'indoor play', while round the back is a candlemaking supplier with a royal warrant.

A coach pulls up outside the acupuncture clinic, a shaky-looking luggage trailer tagged on behind. A man with a ponytail dashes out of the dry cleaners and yells up the road towards his shaggier mate. Thames Water are digging up the pavement by the estate agents. Sandbags hold down a metal stand supporting a long-vanished road sign. The off licence that's proved surplus to requirements is plastered with posters for the Shepherds Bush Green Family Funfair. For morning coffee and the Mail, tables out front at the Mustard Brasserie suffice. That window arrayed with with four smart dresses and a pot plant is what passes for a charity shop hereabouts. Inhabitants of the broad Victorian avenues to either side seem well blessed.

Aware I'm nipping across the borough too fast, I pause in Benbow Road for a glimpse of how things are. Smart terraces are the order of the day, here generally one floor lower than they were a mile back. These are homes where most residents climb steps to their front door but some descend to a semi-basement, whose front rooms are either cautiously shuttered or open to reveal Sunday-supplement-perfection. Old maps confirm this area was once a hamlet called Cacklegoose Green, which is so brilliant a name you'd think a local developer would have appropriated it, except it seems there's nowhere to be redeveloped. If you're counting, I'm now the same distance west of the Greenwich meridian as I was east when I started out on the edge of Essex.

Starch Green   [51.5°N 0.240°W]
Here's an unfamiliar but genuine place name (as can be confirmed by the spider maps in local bus shelters being titled "Buses from Starch Green"). This former hamlet has been almost completely swallowed apart from a scrap of eponymous green beside a pair of mini roundabouts. Once there was a pond here, around which several laundries grew up, hence the name. Today there is still one dry cleaners on King's Parade, but Starch Green's roadside edge has been fenced off to discourage egress, and its benches are better used by pigeons than passers by. I was impressed by the variety of trees, including a thick gnarly plane and a dense pine, and by the council operative cleaning, tidying and generally keeping the garden ticking over.

The most obvious landmark is the The Oak W12, or as it was once known The Seven Stars, as evidenced by the name carved into some jaunty stonework above the gastropub's side door. The most unnerving shop name is a hairdressers called Askew Cuts, named because it sits at the foot of Askew Road but come on, would you risk a a restyle in there? Another tonsorial lost opportunity is Ali's & Sons International Gents Hairdressers, which surely would have been better off as Ali Barbers. The most intriguing shop name is Bears Ice Cream Co, who do Icelandic soft scoop, but alas not in the morning when its shutters are down. And apologies, because if 51.5°N had run a fraction further south I could have brought you a report about the top of Ravenscourt Park, rather than a rundown of small businesses on the Goldhawk Road.



Bedford Park   [51.5°N 0.257°W]
Hurrah, I thought when I first saw where the line for 51.5°N went, I'm going to Bedford Park. Laid out across fields to the north of Turnham Green station in the 1870s, it's widely seen as the very first garden suburb, or at least the prototype, and I've never blogged about it before. The estate had a troubled start, and grew in a fairly ad hoc manner, but that helped give it character and a genuine leafy feel, and today's residents are no doubt delighted by their housing choice. And then I looked at the maps on The Bedford Park Society's website and noticed I'd be skirting the oldest bit, where the 200+ listed buildings are, and passing instead through the fractionally-younger not-quite-original avenues around the perimeter. Hey ho.

Abinger Road's lovely, though, a backwater tree-lined street pushed right up against the estate's impermeable boundary. Its houses are varied enough to have real character, with low walls or spruce hedges or more likely a perfect white picket fence along the front. By being built just before the dawn of the motor car these homes have front gardens too narrow to park a vehicle in, which is I think the key to why everything looks so attractive, although it does instead mean endless parked cars along the road. Over in St Albans Avenue the houses are fractionally later still, and a lot terracier and brickier, but still with that late Victorian sparkle. An adorable characteristic is how each house was built from a subtly different shade of brick to its conjoined neighbour, and who wouldn't want a plaster relief cornucopia beneath their upper bay window? You lucky lucky people.

South Acton station   [51.5°N 0.270°W]
Less than half a mile away, the ambience is very different... and we have a station. South Acton's on one of the Overground's quieter arms, hence other Acton stations draw much higher passenger numbers. Because of the way the timetable falls, the allocated member of staff has several minutes between overlapping trains to pop round the back of the ramp for a vape, or to sit on the platform with a Metro. But what's more striking, indeed unmissable, is the housing estate going up alongside. Welcome to Acton Gardens.

The first block of flats, by the railway, was built on the site of the terminating platform of a minor District line shuttle cancelled fifty years previously. More recent blocks have part-tiled facades in signature colours, possibly so that if you're heading home blind drunk you simply head for the tangerine one, the turquoise one or the butterscotch one. As for the new block perched above the token Sainsbury's Local, this has variegated bricks resembling mottled chocolate, plus golden balconies, and the photograph I took of it looks uncannily like an architect's vision. I think only the Biffa waste bin gives the game away. And it's not finished yet, because Acton Gardens is a massive project involving the sequential replacement of the entire South Acton Estate. I watched as an extendable claw grappled with what was once the balcony of a maisonette on the tenth floor of Grahame House, and sent a lifetime of debris smashing to the ground. They'd never knock down Bedford Park and replace it with something more suitably-dense, but pockets of social housing continue to replenish and renew.



Gunnersbury Park   [51.5°N 0.285°W]
We had to hit another park eventually, and this one's splendid, and historical, and home to an excellent newly-renovated museum. Fortuitously I blogged about it in June, so don't need to go into enormous detail about it again, plus it turns out the 51.5°N line just misses the main building where the museum is. Instead it hits the so-called Small Mansion, the one lottery money hasn't got round to restoring yet, where the Learning and Curatorial Department hides out behind a woefully peeling porch and faded frontage. Inside are stacks of chairs and tables, and piles of packing boxes, and an office one of whose occupants has a pencil case in the shape of an Egyptian sarcophagus. Brilliantly the line also slices through Princess Amelia's bathhouse, a tiny folly containing a flint-walled pool (not generally visible to visitors).

The park is wide, and stretches all the way to [51.5°N 0.297°W] (across the boating lake, horticultural college and a huge fenced-off area awaiting transformation into a dual-borough outdoor sports centre). But my eye is particularly drawn to a sign on the very farthest gates, which have been blocked off and clearly labelled 'Project Kiss'. Another sign on the adjacent footpath apologises on behalf of "work for Secret Group", and a separate map displays the full restricted area ("for further information, please get in touch with communications@secretgroup.com"). It's an open secret that this summer's sold out Secret Cinema event is Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, but officially nobody is supposed to know quite where it's being held. As a posh charcuterie van rattles across the grass, and staff unlock the barrier to let it out to fetch fresh meat for tonight's fancy dress hordes, my lips are sealed.



 Monday, August 20, 2018

It's inevitable in a blog like this that there are going to be mistakes. Sorry about that.

So it's equally inevitable that people are going to point them out. What's interesting is how they do that.

To illustrate this, I've trawled back through all the comments people have sent this month pointing out that I've got something wrong.

I've not included matters of opinion, shades of argument or issues of perception. These are errors I actually made, (or was accused of making), and how people phrased their response. No names, no pack drill.

The polite
The link for <hyperlink in text> does not seem to work.

That <object in photograph> looks more like <not what I'd wrongly assumed it was in the text>.

I'm fairly sure <statement of fact, without explicitly mentioning I was wrong>.

<Factual statement, again not explicitly stating I was wrong>.

<What I should have written>, I think, not <what I did write>. (plus some additional background information)

<Location which I'd failed to fact-check> is not <actual location, sorry>.

I asked about this on TfL internal comms. Apparently <reason I couldn't have known, thanks>.
The concise
<phrase lifted from text> ??

<Just one word from the post, as it should be spelled>
The verbose
The tiniest of corrections: <long explanation running to four sentences and 82 words, including reference to a website where I could confirm my error>
The pedantic
Just in case you hadn't noticed, <minor point of formatting>.

I think that there's a typo in <phrase I didn't believe contained a typo>. Regards.
The flattering
A wonderful summary of <compliment, to sugar the pill>. One tiny thing, <error> should read <correction>.

Lovely! Broken link for <incorrectly copied hyperlink in post> – I guess the missing domain is <correct link, thanks>.

Very much enjoyed the blog as usual. Surely <thing I mentioned> is not designed to <reason I hinted at> but rather <reason I should have given instead>.

Very good, particularly since you’re now in my manor. Two quick comments. First, <critical observation based on incorrect viewpoint>. Second, <74 words of historical geographical discourse>.
The over-cautious
Sorry to be one of those people, but <error which wasn't mine, but originated in the organisation I'd copied the information from>.

In your para about <name of building> you have a link which is titled <incorrect name of building>. Slip of the pen?

Confused but not wishing to be a pedant and therefore sent to the naughty corner, but <observation confused by the misconception I must have been correct, whereas in fact I was wrong>.

You induced a rather premature 'senior' moment during my morning cup of tea when I suddenly couldn't picture, for love or money, <error in post>. Did you mean <yes obviously I meant that, so next time be brave enough to say so>?
The mistaken
I think <lengthy, but fatally flawed, argument>, no?

Except, of course that <erroneous counter-example>.

Have I missed something? <Bemused queries, confirming that yes, they had missed something>.

You said <what I said>. You also said <statement which wasn't the contradiction they hoped it was>.
The unhappy
I note <expression of disgust, querying the professionalism of one particular phrase>.

I think you have been a bit harsh with <editorial opinion, quite possibly based on shaky facts>.

The tone of the article is <somewhat negative>, and I think that is a bit unfair on the apparent factual information.

What about <fact I did not include, because you can't include everything>?
The sanctimonious
<A common error> should of course read <the correct version>. A common error.

Don't you mean <smug explanation, including additional data to prove correctness>? Confusing, isn't it?

<Quote from text>. Don't you mean <more usual terminology for this abbreviation>?

<Rebuttal of fact, using a deliberately erudite word>, not <what I wrote>.

Didn't <inconsistency based on something I wrote last year, pointed out by the knowall who's appeared in this list four times already>?
I churn out a lot of stuff on this blog, much of it supposedly factual, without an editorial team to back me up. There are always going to be mistakes, slips and errors, and I'd always rather they weren't present.

So my thanks to those of you who put me right, including those who politely slip me their thoughts via email rather than in public. But when you do spot something incorrect, and you will, it'd be lovely if you could phrase your response directly, thoughtfully and/or politely. Nobody enjoys a patronising pedant, least of all the recipient of their ill-phrased critisism.

 Sunday, August 19, 2018


After yesterday's world-famous haul, can the 51½th parallel keep coming up with a series of locations you've properly heard of? Yes, yes it can. [map] [photos]

Belgrave Square   [51.5°N 0.153°W]
The epitome of unaffordable housing, Belgravia was a speculative development on fields to the west of London in the 1820s, and its success is why the Duke of Westminster is now exceedingly rich. Belgrave Square is its focus, and is much larger than your average London square, but even so the architect only managed eleven houses on each side. Each is a mini palace hidden behind standardised white stucco frontage, although an element of difference exists in which particular style of heritage black lantern each resident has chosen to hang inside their porch. Counting flags confirms that least a dozen of the houses are used for diplomatic purposes, including the Turkish Embassy, which is a precise 51.5°N hit. A fleet of black cars and vans with diplomatic plates is parked outside, along with a cluster of visiting motorbikes, and every now and again a sleek black Rolls Royce glides past. I actually saw two in a row... we're not in Thamesmead now.

At the square's northernmost vertex, where the anti-clockwise numbering starts, a statue of Argentine general José de San Martín faces the ambassador's residence on Grosvenor Crescent. The plinth lies within one of the few visible pockets of central garden, the remainder screened behind carefully cultivated shrubbery for the benefit of the few. On the traffic island opposite is the Romanian Centenary Garden, a raised bed planted with native flowers to mark 100 years since unification, although in late summer it has the look of well-cultivated weeds. Nearby I saw several groups of workmen taking a quick break before they returned to upgrading the interiors of their vastly wealthier paymasters, and seemingly in no hurry to get back.



Harrods   [51.5°N 0.163°W]
Strictly speaking, 51.5°N only scrapes the pavement outside the northern tip of Harrods, but anyone standing here would immediately have their eyes drawn towards the adjacent world-famous department store. Door 6 leads into the lipstick room, just before the handbag hall, each offering far more luxurious varieties than anyone might rightly need. A lot of those swanning inside are tourists from the wealthier end of the scale, their numbers boosted by the weak pound, very likely wearing sunglasses, and often designer headscarves or gold-threaded shawls. The next entrance along Hans Crescent has been converted into a fake bullion vault, because that thrills the clientele, and the commissionaire is only too happy to step out and take a grinning family snapshot.

Back on the corner, a young busker with an electric cello is sitting on an amp and wowing the crowds. He starts with a familiar tune I eventually work out is Ed Sheeran, then smiles and segues into Hallelujah - a not-especially Leonard Cohen version. The circling crowd is enthralled, and appreciative, perhaps inspired by the handwritten sign 'Saving Up For Music College'. With admirable frequency audience members step forward and drop notes and coins into his case, not necessarily in the local currency, helping towards his three year overdraft. I suspect this is one of the primest pitches in London, although I wonder quite how long your performance would have to be to save enough for a Christian Louboutin.



Royal Albert Hall   [51.5°N 0.177°W]
My chosen line doesn't cut the concert rotunda itself, but instead the steps to the south connecting down three flights towards the Royal College of Music. Previously these were the South Steps, but at the turn of the century they were ripped out and rebuilt to accommodate dressing rooms, energy equipment and a loading bay underneath. Today they're the Diamond Jubilee Steps, renamed when HM The Queen officially graced them with her presence, and you'd never guess all that infrastructure was hidden beneath your feet.

At the top of the steps is the 1851 Exhibition Memorial, originally intended to be 'Britannia Presiding over the Four Quarters of the Globe', but then Prince Albert died and he got to be the main statue instead. As the key driver behind Albertopolis I guess it's only right. The upper piazza is large enough to cope with scores of Promenaders, including those hanging around for day tickets to the Gallery (£6, first come, strictly 1 each). I decided against hanging around for Prom 43, and also against popping into the Verdi restaurant for tagliatelle al ragù d'anatra or a quattro stagioni. A word of warning if you cycle here, don't leave your bike chained to the railings outside Albert Court because the porter charges £20 to release unwelcome steeds.



High Street Kensington station   [51.5°N 0.192°W]
This is one of zone 1's odder outdoor stations, accessed through a shopping arcade rather than directly from the street. I bet Pret, Nero, Leon and M&S weren't the original vendors immediately outside the ticket hall, but times change. Platforms 1 and 2 are fairly standard, if often thronged, while platform 3 is used by the wilfully downgraded Olympia service. But platform 4 is the true curio, an almost-unused siding accessed down a barely-noticed staircase from the concourse, or via a gloomy crossing behind the buffers of platform 3. I couldn't bring myself to walk down to the far end without appearing astronomically suspicious. Come back on 1st October for the station's 150th birthday party.

Design Museum   [51.5°N 0.200°W]
Formerly the Commonwealth Institute, this is where the Design Museum ended up after fleeing their previous Thamesside home at 51.503°N. The shell of the building survives pretty much intact, notably the copper-covered hyperbolic­ paraboloid roof, but the entire interior was gouged out at the behest of the new owners, and it isn't the same without the central podium and flying staircases. Don't get me wrong, it's a different kind of impressive inside, but walking round again I was struck by how much of the new museum is wasted empty space. Stepping up from the gift shop in the foyer, a set of benches sponsored by Land Rover. Around the central atrium, a string of haute couture photographs as a sop to visitors too poor to pay £16 to see the main exhibition. On several floors, locked doors leading to study zones, education spaces and a dead restaurant. In the basement, a few posters. It could be so much more. It isn't.

At least the free exhibition Designer Maker User is always open on the top floor, and that's extremely good, but again crammed into a much smaller space than the building's footprint could allow. I love the wall which shows a century of gadgets shrinking inexorably towards a tiny smartphone. I always stop to pay homage to Kinneir and Calvert's road signs. But having been round before it didn't take me long to wander through, and I barely stayed in the building for half an hour. I should've been more appreciative because, looking ahead, the Design Museum's the last building of any familiar stature on 51½°N before the suburbs kick in ahead.



 Saturday, August 18, 2018


Halfway across London on the 51½th line of latitude - essentially a random circle drawn around the earth - we cross into Westminster and totally hit the jackpot. How's this for a world famous quartet? [map] [75 photos]

Amazingly, 51½°N passes directly through the Palace of Westminster, at the very heart of British democracy. Perhaps more amazingly it passes through the House of Commons [51.5°N 0.124°W], I believe immediately behind the Speaker's chair. Sadly it's not possible to go inside and find out, because getting your phone out to check the GPS coordinates isn't permitted, so I never got the opportunity to confirm when I took a private tour earlier in the year. So, short of getting elected, I visited the next best thing...

Westminster Hall   [51.5°N 0.125°W]
The oldest building in Parliament, built at the behest of William II in 1097, Westminster Hall was once by far the largest hall in Europe. And if you fancy taking a look inside, it's free to visit. I think you can just walk up on spec, but I pre-booked a ticket to view the latest exhibition tucked away in the corner of the hall... two hours notice was fine. I waved my printout at the visitor entrance and swanned down the ramp, entirely alone other than Oliver Cromwell watching over me. At the bottom I went through all the obligatory airport-style security procedure, relieved that I'd remembered not to bring a bag or wear a belt. And I noted that there were at least 16 people present in this small anteroom, watching over the scanners and conveyors, some with guns, and was almost pleased I'd turned up to give a few of them something to do.

Westminster Hall is an architectural marvel, especially the enormous 14th century hammerbeam roof, a fortunate survivor of blaze and blitz. A lot of it's under sheets and scaffolding at the moment, which is good news for its longevity, but less than great if all you want to do is admire. It has to be said that the general impression isn't helped either by the presence of a large exhibition in one corner, but it is an excellent exhibition so more than deserves its summer residency. It's called Voice & Vote, an archive-rich history of women's place in Parliament, and will be straddling 51.5°N until 6th October. From its opening line ("Women have always participated in politics, but not on equal terms with men") it is perfectly pitched.

I discovered that in the 18th century women were only allowed to view Parliamentary proceedings by peering down through a ventilator in the roof, and that the campaign for the vote started well before the suffragettes. I saw the plaque Tony Benn had placed on a broom cupboard in honour of Census-overnighter Emily Davison, and the actual Acts which sequentially introduced the vote for all. I learned that the first female MP stood for Sinn Fein so never took her seat, and was inspired when Mhairi Black stared me in the face and told me why she's proud to be here. It never hurts to be reminded about the intricacies of the battle for equality, and it's always worth remembering that Westminster Hall is totally open for a visit.

Most of the others thronging Westminster Hall were on official £20 tours, which are daily during the summer recess, or suited staff nipping out through mysterious doors. A lot of milling around was going on, as groups stopped to hear a nugget of original history, or hunted for the plaque showing where Winston Churchill lay in state. The shop was also popular, especially because the cafe is currently closed for renovation so it was the only place to buy refreshment. Parched souls who only wanted a bottle of water were being forced to queue behind folks on coach trips stocking up on House of Lords wine gums, or even House of Commons babygrows. Democracy is a many-faceted and splendid thing.

St Margaret's Church   [51.5°N 0.127°W]
Sorry, not quite Westminster Abbey, but the parish church in its shadow facing out onto Parliament Square. The current building's fast approaching 500 years old and serves a very central clientele, so tips the high end of the scale as parish churches go. Also, whereas getting into the Abbey costs £20, popping inside St Margaret's is free, even though you have to join the same queue to get through security. It took me 15 minutes to inch across the churchyard to the bag check, despite not actually having a bag. During the wait I listened in on an American family planning their week-long London trip based solely on where the sightseeing buses would take them, and advised another traveller that no, this wasn't the line for Big Ben. Maybe the scaffolding confused him.

Eventually I reached the front door - I believe access is a lot easier in the winter - and politely put my camera away. Photography is banned inside St Margaret's, as a well-placed pictogram in the aisle decrees, although this doesn't stop bored tourists wandering in for thirty seconds and taking several photos. Alas that means I'm unable to show you how impressive the interior is, especially the ring of historic memorials around the wall. The recipients are an eclectic bunch, as befits a long-standing Westminster building, and include Olaudah Equiano (baptised 1759), Samuel Pepys (married 1656) and Henry Layard, Discoverer of Nineveh (died 1894). I was hoping to join the "free 20 minute tour with one of our guides" advertised outside the front door, but no guide turned up at the appointed time, nor either side of it, so that was my opportunity to be properly educated royally stuffed. Sung Eucharist is held every Sunday morning at eleven, which is no doubt a better bet.

Methodist Central Hall   [51.5°N 0.130°W]
In readiness for the centenary of John Wesley's death, the Methodist Church asked its followers to each contribute one guinea towards a worldwide mission fund. They raised a million, and Methodist Central Hall was the largest project to be delivered. This grand baroque building (opened in 1911) was deliberately designed not to look like a church, indeed the current chapel was formerly a branch of Midland Bank. Wesley's Cafe in the basement is a useful drop-in for non-chain refreshment, but you can also go inside for a proper look-around. Volunteers run free 20 minute tours, and these actually happen, although the one I went on started late and then lasted 70 minutes. I had no complaints.

The main hall sits beneath the world's second largest self-supporting ferro-concrete dome (narrowly beaten by a Melbourne library, we were told). The organ is also magnificent although these days the congregation doesn't usually fill the upper tiers of cinema-style seating. The first session of the United Nations was held in this room in 1946, and the minutes are now on display in the visitor centre, along with a set of leatherbound volumes containing the names of all those million who gave a guinea. As for the grand staircase, this was based on the Paris Opera House and makes quite an impression, although it can't have been much fun for older members of the congregation to tackle before they put the lifts in.

But the best bit of the tour came when our guide unlocked a side door on the upper landing, and led us outside onto the balcony with a mischievous smile. This is the same door the presenter of the BBC's New Year's Eve concert dashes out of just before midnight so they can stand on the balcony and gesture towards Big Ben, the London Eye and the imminent fireworks. But it's the more immediate view which is most striking, of Westminster Abbey full on, its twin western towers rising in sheer magnificence (and to a lesser extent the QE2 Conference Centre to one side). I think we kept our guide busy talking and answering questions simply so that we could stay out here and gawp a little longer. I can't guarantee you'll manage the same, and in full sunshine, but sometimes the best London sightseeing is free.

Where next? 51.5°N doesn't quite slice TfL HQ at 55 Broadway, but it does pass through the Ministry of Justice in their Brutalist spaceship opposite. It also passes through the Guards Museum, a repository of all things Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh. Next it spans Wellington Barracks, not quite gracing St James's Park. And then, well, who'd have guessed?

Buckingham Palace   [51.5°N 0.143°W]
My chosen line of latitude misses the front, where the Queen waves on special occasions, but hits the tradesmen's entrance round the back of the State Rooms. Look for the wall topped with urns and follow it round. I watched a flow of palace staff returning inside after a break, several in unflattering brown uniforms, and overheard one poor footman claiming that he had no pass and no lunch because his trousers had bust. Here on Buckingham Gate is also the entrance for folk wanting to visit the Queen's Gallery, beneath a portico so outlandish you suspect Prince Charles must have had something to do with it. £12 currently gets you inside to peruse a collection of subcontinental treasures, but I'd recommend spending twice as much to go on the excellent tour of the palace proper instead.

And when that tour is finished you'll be directed across the garden, where the Queen hosts her garden parties, and ushered out of a small back gate on the far side of the lake [51.5°N 0.148°W]. It's fun to stand here on Grosvenor Gate and watch tourists emerge, some dangling gold carrier bags, others wearing a crown they bought in the gift shop, entirely baffled which way to go next. Some turn right for Hyde Park Corner, others turn left for Victoria, and others fall into the hands of the pedicab crew, parked up on the pavement awaiting custom. It's £10 for a lift to Victoria station, which is all of 600m distant, not that I suspect most of those taking advantage of the offer realise this when they climb in.

Wow, tick, tick, tick, tick.

 Friday, August 17, 2018

Darryl's 853 blog had a cracking scoop on Wednesday, featuring leaked details of a massive set of changes to central London bus routes, due to be consulted on next month.

It's part of a high level TfL strategy to reshape London's bus network in readiness for future growth, which likely means a lot more fiddling with bus routes than we've seen for many a year.

One key issue is removing excess capacity where it's deemed not to be needed. Another is reducing over-bussing on crowded roads, where there are currently too many routes in place. And a third is "simplifying the network", a phrase TfL seem keen to use as a bit of uplifting spin, rather than as a negative reaction to budgetary strain.
Matching customer demand – bus demand has fallen by 8-12 per cent in central London and will fall more as a result of the opening of Crossrail and other new or improved rail services.
Reducing buses on crowded roads – this will make our network run more efficiently, help improve journey times and reduce congestion, emissions and road danger.
Modernising the network – we will improve bus services in several town centres to simplify services and reducing the number of buses, while still providing connections and access
Passengers in outer London, where demand for buses remains high, may see more services. Expect major announcements at the start of 2019. But demand in central London is falling for a variety of reasons, slower traffic being just one, hence TfL's urge to kick off here and trim things back.

This first mega-consultation is due to launch in the third week of September, once details have been shared and finalised with borough representatives and other stakeholders. But the list of proposals is already drawn up, and likely won't change much, so I thought I'd share a summary below. Darryl has additional detail here, including some illuminating slides from TfL's high level Powerpoint presentation.

Embarrassingly, because TfL no longer produce their own bus maps, the official presentation had to resort to using an external map produced by charity worker Mike Harris. Even the last official TfL bus map will be three years out of date by the time this tranche of changes is pushed through, and entirely obsolete, so don't expect to ever see an overview of what the evolving reshaped network actually looks like. Muppets.

My table includes other central London routes currently up for consultation, or where outcomes have not yet been announced, but 28 of the routes in the list below are appearing for the first time. Skimming down the list should give you an extra month to mull over what you'd like to say in response, before the six week consultation period actually begins.

RouteCurrent situationProposed changeResult
3Crystal Palace to Trafalgar SquareCrystal Palace to Whitehallsmall cut
4Archway to WaterlooArchway to Blackfriarsmedium cut
9Hammersmith to Aldwychreroute via Piccadilly, not Pall Mallre-route
10Hammersmith to King's Crossmerged with route 23 WITHDRAWN 
11Fulham Broadway to Liverpool StreetVictoria to Liverpool Street (see 311)big cut
14Putney to Warren StreetPutney to Russell Squaresmall cut
15HTrafalgar Square to Tower Hillsummer weekends and bank holidays onlyALMOST
19Finsbury Park to BatterseaFinsbury Park to Holborn (see 311)big cut
22Putney to Oxford Circus (via Mayfair)Putney to Piccadilly Circus (see 311)re-route
23Westbourne Park to AldwychWestbourne Park to Hammersmith (see 10)merged
25Ilford to Oxford CircusIlford to Holborn Circusmedium cut
40Dulwich to AldgateDulwich to Clerkenwell Green (see 45/388)re-route
45Clapham Park to King's CrossClapham Park to Elephant and Castlebig cut
48Walthamstow to London Bridgeroute withdrawn (see 55)WITHDRAWN
53Plumstead to WhitehallPlumstead to County Hallsmall cut
55Leyton to Oxford CircusWalthamstow to Oxford Circus (see 48)extended
59Streatham Hill to King's CrossStreatham Hill to Eustonsmall cut
67Wood Green to AldgateWood Green to Dalston Junctionbig cut
76Tottenham Hale to Waterlooreroute via London Wall (see 4)re-route
88Clapham Common to Camden TownClapham Common to Parliament Hill (see C2) extended
94Acton Green to Piccadilly CircusActon Green to Marble Archmedium cut
100Shadwell to London WallShadwell to St Paul's (see 388) extended 
113Edgware to Oxford CircusEdgware to Marble Archsmall cut
134North Finchley to Tottenham Court Road North Finchley to Warren Streetsmall cut
159Streatham to Marble ArchStreatham to Oxford Circussmall cut
171Bellingham to HolbornBellingham to Elephant & Castlebig cut
172Brockley Rise to FarringdonBrockley Rise to Aldwychmedium cut
205Bow Church to Paddingtonre-route to skip Marylebone stationre-route
242Homerton to St Paul'sHomerton to Aldgatemedium cut
311New route (see 11/19/22)Fulham Broadway to Oxford CircusNEW ROUTE
341Northumberland Park to County HallNorthumberland Park to Waterloo Roadre-route
343New Cross Gate to City Hall[subject to separate review]unknown
388Stratford City to Elephant & CastleStratford City to Finsbury Circusbig cut
476Northumberland Park to EustonNorthumberland Park to King's Crosssmall cut
C2Oxford Circus to Parliament Hillroute withdrawn (see 88)WITHDRAWN
RV1Covent Garden to Tower Hill[subject to separate review]unknown

Many of the proposed changes are to ease traffic flow on specific road corridors:
Euston Road: 59, 476
Oxford Street: 10, 23, 94, 113, 159
Tottenham Court Road: 14, 134
King's Road/Piccadilly/Shaftesbury Avenue: 9, 11, 19, 22 (and new route 311)
Whitehall/Westminster Bridge: 3, 53
Kingsway: 171
Waterloo Bridge/Fleet Street: 4, 76, 172, 341, 15H
London Bridge/Blackfriars Bridge/Farringdon Road: 35, 40, 45, 100, 343, 388, RV1
London Bridge/Hackney Road: 26, 48, 55

The only newly-doomed route is the 48 (joining the 10 and C2 which went to consultation earlier this month). Someone's looked at its route and decided it shadows the 26 and 55 too much, so a kick of the 55 into Walthamstow means the 48 can safely be scrapped. Then there's the almost-demise of the heritage Routemasters on route 15, which currently run daily, but in future will only roll out on bank holidays and summer weekends... which should help potential passengers to entirely forget the route exists, so it can be wholly scrapped later.

A few routes are being chopped to shadows of their former selves, including the 242 which has been sequentially cut back from Tottenham Court Road to St Paul's and now to Aldgate. Savage reductions in length are also proposed for routes 11 and 19, their decapitations mostly covered by new route 311. The 311 will also take over from route 22 through Mayfair, becoming the fourth different bus on the Mayfair route in less than ten years... as if nobody who plans bus routes quite knows where any of this is going.

The 45 and 171 face big cuts which'll see them both terminate at Elephant & Castle, far short of central London. while the 67 gets a similarly big curtailment to Dalston Junction from the north. Then there's the sorry tale of the 388 from Stratford, which fairly recently was extended across the Thames to Elephant & Castle to replace the 100, but is now to be lopped back to Finsbury Circus, close to where the 100 currently terminates, but the new plan is for the 100 to be partially extended... and again it feels like the planners are simply messing about.

Other things to note. The rerouting of routes 9, 40 and 341 appears to mean that Pall Mall, Fenchurch Street and Fetter Lane will no longer have a bus service. Check the consultation when it officially emerges to see if this is genuinely the case. The beleaguered RV1 is to be "subject to separate review", which following the recent halving of its frequency can only suggest that a much more serious fate awaits. And it seems the long-promised beheading of route 25 to Holborn Circus is still on the cards, severing the East End's link to the West End, and without a decent connection to take its place. [Update: Yes, that's been confirmed today, as part of another enormous consultation reveal]

It does make sense not to run buses filled with empty seats, especially now Mayoral fare policies have made this an untenable luxury. It does make sense to reduce traffic congestion by taking out some buses so that others can run more smoothly. But the breaking of long-held connections is a harder pill to swallow, resulting in increased journey times partially mitigated by use of the Hopper fare, which may just be what a "simpler network" is all about.

Watch out for the full consultation in mid-September. And know this... there's more coming.

 Thursday, August 16, 2018


If today's stretch of the 51½th line of latitude were 500 metres further north, it'd run from Tower Bridge to the Royal Festival Hall. Instead it slips through the minor backstreets of Southwark, missing almost everything of interest, for which I apologise in advance. [map] [photos]

Bermondsey Street   [51.5°N 0.081°W]
How hip is Bermondsey Street? Not at its northern end, where it slinks beneath London Bridge station, but down here winding through the becalmed historic heart of Bermondsey proper. Time Out are hyper for the place, evangelising especially about the food and drink options, but also the retained artsy craftsy vibe. 51½°N sweeps in across Tanner Street Park, around half of which is tennis courts, and well-used tennis courts at that. The remainder is mostly grass and path, where creative types come to recharge, students skim through their college notes and well-dressed women follow behind tiny pugs with plastic bags poised. What looks like a cafe in the corner is more of a restaurant, with pre-booked tables and a wine list, so Al's Cafe on the main street is a better bet. A shop called Lovely and British promises Eclectic British Sourced Lifestyle Shopping, and is shelved with stuff nobody genuinely needs, which doesn't stop it being busy. The average age of those hereabouts looks to be below average, while the average income looks to be above average, in sharp contrast to the slice of Southwark we're passing through next.

I'm peeved because the White Cube gallery isn't quite on my invisible line, so I have an existential debate with myself about whether 51.4998°N really counts. It's only ten metres out, and if my smartphone were less accurate it'd be reading 51.500°N anyway. I decide no, it doesn't count, but go in anyway. I enjoy the latest exhibition, Memory Palace, more than I expected. The themes it's hanging off are tenuous, but some of the artwork is challenging and splendid, and I spend far too long looking at Jac Leirners collage of 1980s regional advertising. Best of all there's a new-ish Christian Marclay film to enjoy, a 24 minute decontextualised splicing of movie scenes depicting the destruction of art, and it totally hyped me up for next month at the Tate.

The Borough   [51.5°N]
The next kilometre is the dull stretch I hinted at earlier. I'm expecting a lot of this kind of thing out west, but wasn't expecting to experience it quite so close to the South Bank. It turns out northern Southwark has an entrenched residential/commercial underbelly of housing estates, backstreets and minor office blocks, as if the primeness of the location has been overlooked simply because it's south of the river.

The Leather Market [51.5°N 0.085°W] once housed true craftspeople, but now hosts recruitment consultants, marketing executives and novelty wellness engineers. The stark terraced flats of the Lockyer Estate [51.5°N 0.086°W] have an unavoidably undernourished feel. On the Kipling Estate, Richer Sounds Head Office [51.5°N 0.089°W] is a peculiar bastion of modern infill, opposite an LCC block where a council operative is strimming round the pear trees. The Royal Oak [51.5°N 0.091°W] is a traditional Victorian boozer serving Sussex ales, and a highly recommended watering hole, but I'm too early to get behind the net curtains. Lighthouse-keepers Trinity House own a lot of land alongside Borough High Street, which is why Avon Place [51.5°N 0.094°W] has a bicentennial mural along its length featuring Henry VIII, osteopathy and a fox chewing a brake cable.

Scovell Estate   [51.5°N 0.098°W]
Here's an oddity off Great Suffolk Street, an entirely atypical council estate built by Southwark's architects in the 1970s. Long blocks of totally lowrise housing run along pedestrianised walkways decorated with pot plants and hanging baskets, with a few garages hidden out of sight out of mind. Many residents have little back gardens, with gate access to one of the mini streetlets, and some actually own bungalows. You see this kind of development further out from the city centre, but here we're less than a mile from Westminster Bridge or the Bank of England, so it all feels delightfully parochial. I don't think residents are used to many cut-through visitors, though. A lady out chatting to her neighbour has to break off ("Olly!") to stop her Jack Russell ("Olly! Olly!!") from chasing after me ("Olly! Olly!! Olly!!!"), and my presence leaves both quite perturbed.

Blackfriars Road   [51.5°N 0.105°W]
Nearly, not quite at St George's Circus, the foot of Blackfriars Road is in flux. The old BT offices at Erlang House have been demolished, and in their place has arisen Blackfriars Circus, a large Barratt development whose last penthouse apartments are currently up for sale for between £1m-£2½m. The ground floor retail/restaurant units have yet to be filled, apart from a Tesco Express, whose delivery lorry has decided not to park in the bay provided and is blocking the single southbound carriageway. There used to be two lanes, but one has been sacrificed to a smart whizzy Cycle Superhighway on the other side of the road, the two-way nature of which throws me when I walk out into it without looking. Thankfully no Super Cycles were incoming.

Facing Blackfriars Circus is a completely different approach to housing, in plain London brick rather than some fancy variegated palette. Peabody Square is a Victorian collection of four-storey tenement blocks, each with a central porch, and each of these topped off with a keystone flourish depicting a letter of the alphabet. Blocks A to R run clockwise around the first great courtyard, now filled with a micro-playground, while a second quadrangle juts off from the rear. It's quiet and human in scale, admittedly concierge-free, but I'm sure most residents are happier to pay less rent rather than have a suave clerk to sign off their Amazon packages. A plaque confirms that the Queen Mother visited in 1962 to mark the centenary of the George Peabody Donation Fund. Expect Blackfriars Circus to be demolished long before any royal curtain-tugger drops by.



Lower Marsh   [51.5°N 0.114°W]
Just briefly, let's do Lambeth. Lower Marsh is a beloved market street, technically a conservation area but very much a treasure in transition. Several quirky old businesses survive - the Olympic Cafe has a slew of photos of its Chinese menu across its window, and Top Wind is a flute shop whose retro frontage seemingly hasn't changed since it opened in 1991. But elsewhere are blatant incomers, like Waffle Doodle-Doo and Vaulty Towers, and heaven knows how anyone gained planning permission for the geometric white condo at the western end of the street. All the street vendors serve from identikit stalls in Olympic ring colours, with tables alongside to enable rapid guzzling. Don't expect hot dogs, it's more Taste of Morocco/Falafel Wrap/Newdlez.com kind of line-up. I greatly approve of Barbarellas cafe because one of the things advertised on its shopfront is panini, plural. The beggar sitting crosslegged outside the Co-Op is busy reading a book, obliviously hoping that passers-by drop coins into his empty popcorn tub.

At the far end of Lower Marsh the multiple tracks heading out of Waterloo station cover a large portion of Westminster Bridge Road. It's gloomy under there. Only four of Waterloo's platforms extend far enough to just cross the line of 51.5°N, and they're the former Eurostar platforms so are currently out of commission.

St Thomas' Hospital   [51.5°N 0.118°W]
I've ended up at London's most central hospital, thankfully of my own volition. Entrance to the site is on two levels, a concrete walkway for independent visitors and a canyon below for all kinds of ambulance. One neonatal carrier from the Kent coast has seemingly come a heck of a long way. Inpatients has recently been relocated to Gassiot House, alongside the Pain Management Unit. I watch as a member of staff, downgraded from her receptionist role by automation, politely tells a checker-in that they may have to press harder because the touchscreens "can be a bit temperamental sometimes". Beneath my feet is the Florence Nightingale Museum, which I had been planning to pop inside because it's the first museum I've encountered on the 51½th parallel. Instead I transfer that baton to Ian Visits, because he's just published a review of the place, saving me the need to go round again.

The Hospital Gardens provide a chance to escape the wards for staff and patients alike, for example the nurse who walks past shepherding an old man in pyjamas. Other orderlies are grabbing a bite to eat around the new statue of Mary Seacole, or wandering off site completely for a cigarette. Someone medical-looking is breastfeeding her baby while she takes lunch. Caution, the water in the fountain is impregnated with chemicals. A new plaque reveals that Searle's Boathouse, first home of the Leander Club, was established here in 1818. A siren wails as another arrival pulls in down below. Once again I'm hugely impressed by the NHS's compassionate ambition (and equally despairing of an official poster I spot on a wall by the ambulance park praising the valued contribution of "Siemens Healthineers").

The point on the Albert Embankment where 51.5°N launches off across the Thames is marked, coincidentally, by the memorial plaque to the victims of Human BSE (vCJD). The spot is very popular with tourists, who like to place one or more of the group against or on the river wall and take photos with Westminster's gothic turrets immediately behind. Westminster Bridge is very close by, along the line of 51.501°N, but I've come on the one day passage is sealed off by a strip of blue and white tape, two police cars, several clustered officers and at least one wielded weapon.I will get across the river to continue my latitude quest, but alas a screwball in a Ford Fiesta got there first.



 Wednesday, August 15, 2018


A fifth crossing of the Thames brings the 51½° line of latitude south of the river for the last time. That means Southwark, and a lot of Rotherhithe and Bermondsey, as we close in on central London. [map] [photos]

Surrey Docks City Farm   [51.5°N 0.034°W]
I'm too old to have a favourite city farm, but this delightful farmyard slams in high on my non-existent list. It's been here by the riverside since 1986, before which the site has been a shipyard, timber yard and a receiving station for smallpox patients. It's easy to slip in from the Thames Path, by the herb garden, but most parents and very small children enter via the main gates on Rotherhithe Street. There is an unmistakeable whiff of livestock just before you head inside. It's amazing how much has been crammed in, including a central yard where you pet the goats, a duckpond, a blacksmith's forge and a small orchard (please do not pick the loganberries).

Animals kept along the 51½°N line include Alice and Hermione the donkeys, who give rides to those of small enough stature, and Rupert, Winnie and Marmalade the Oxford Sandy and Black pigs. A path laid with mosaics leads round the back of their pens to the Muck Heap, which might explain that whiff earlier, passing the Youth Allotments where a crew of young locals grow flowers and veg in raised beds. One of these children was proudly telling her Mum about all the good work she'd been doing with the farm animals that morning, and pointing out her sweetcorn of which she was evidently very proud. The sunflowers are coming on particularly nicely. And don't forget to wash your hands before you leave.

We don't quite get to pass Stave Hill, one of London's largest artificial hills, which is a shame because it's the only elevated bit of land for miles with an actual view. But we do cross Russia Dock Woodland, which is one of the original Surrey Docks filled in to create an ecological buffer, with tiny meandering paths amongst the trees, a wider recreational space, some very keen volunteers and a few old wharfside rails thrown in for good measure.

Albion Channel   [51.5°N 0.046°W]
I wanted to stop off somewhere in the old Surrey Docks to take the temperature of the 80s redevelopment, so picked this artificial waterway running across its heart. Originally this was Albion Dock, one of a labyrinth of ten, and the edge of the docks can still be seen as the higher of the two paths along the eastern side. Most of the rest was filled in to create a place the LDDC hoped people would want to live, and they've been proved right. What's striking is the variety of styles, from pointy-topped stacks to sweeping curved crescents, with red brick flourishes and primary-coloured window frames for added interest, and what's also striking is how not-very highrise the development is. These days they'd have crammed far more people in, indeed down at Canada Water they're doing just that, and nobody gets to live alongside a duck-topped iridescent green channel, more's the pity.

Rotherhithe Tunnel   [51.5°N 0.053°W]
I was worried when I saw that the 51½th parallel crossed the Rotherhithe Tunnel, because I've walked through this polluted tube once and once was enough. But it all turned out fine because the relevant slice is out in the open, on the gentle descent from the roundabout, not far from the huge gates that slam shut to read 'Tunnel' 'Closed'. A slew of signs along the glazed tiled wall warn incoming drivers what they should, must and absolutely cannot do for the next zigzag mile. Breaking down is strongly unrecommended. I love that the Edwardians laid a pavement along both sides of the carriageway, but 21st century pedestrians shouldn't expect to be able to cross from one side to the other as the flow of two-way 20mph traffic never stops.

Two church towers rise above the approach ramp, both belonging to Scandinavian places of worship, and originally built for the benefit of seamen. The one with a copper spire atop what looks like a town hall is the Sjømannskirken, a Norwegian Church Abroad, and gives its name to neighbouring St Olav's Square. The one that looks like a firefighters' practice tower is the one we're interested in, because it's on the right line of latitude, and that's the Finlands Sjömanskyrka, or Finnish Church. It looks very much like a small block of flats, but if you ever get inside (say for the annual Christmas Fair) it resembles a modern and rather compact school hall. These days the seamen are long gone, and both the old pubs bookending the shopping parade opposite have closed down, and [insert usual comment about how fast London changes].

King Edward III's Manor House   [51.5°N 0.059°W]
Another direct hit, and our first ancient monument. Edward III built a moated property here around 1350, when this was merely a watermeadow, with a gatehouse facing the Thames to allow him to come and go by boat. Nobody's entirely sure why he picked the hamlet of Rotherhithe, but falconry's the likeliest reason. By the 16th century river access had been lost and the manor house went private, becoming a pottery, then partially warehouses, then was entirely demolished in the 1970s other than a few foundations. These now sit at the centre of a sparse lawn, the indentation of the former moat clearly visible, watched over by an astonishingly mundane terrace of Southwarky housing. Better known is The Angel pub, a much more likely destination for those walking by, which dates back to the 17th century, not the 14th (when this particular bit of land was in the river). Best place on today's walk for a Thames view, this, on the outside of the final bend before the Pool of London.

Dockhead   [51.5°N 0.072°W]
I'm pausing here, on Jamaica Road, because something's changed. For the first 12 miles of my journey I don't think the line of 51.5°N crossed a single house or dwelling place that was more than 50 years old. Partly that's because of the quirkiness of the line travelled, but mainly because estuarine London wasn't particularly development-friendly until relatively recently. But here on the Dickens Estate the five-storey LCC blocks are of 1930s vintage, at the extremity of the SE1 postcode, and are built on the site of the infamous Jacob's Island rookery. Dockhead also has the first shopping parade I've come across since starting out, which boasts an art gallery, an organic cafe and a quality dry cleaners amongst its semi-gentrified line-up. Two of the shopkeepers are out front chatting, because for much of the week nobody's really interested. The doors of Most Holy Trinity RC Church are firmly bolted. Shad Thames isn't far away. It feels like we've finally hit the city.

Maltby Street Market   [51.5°N 0.077°W]
Oh. My. Word. I have somehow never managed to be here at the weekend before, and I am unprepared for the seething crush on the far side of what looks like a quiet railway viaduct. A few of the arches on the Druid Street side provide clues, like the hairnetted lady from the St John's Bakery selling doughnuts and three quid Eccles Cakes fresh from ovens under the railway. But it's on the other side, along the narrow Rope Walk, that the foodie herd squish to enjoy the very best in everything Time Out adores. Some sellers serve out of the arches themselves, perhaps dispensing gin, raclette or beefsteak. The majority serve from little stalls, griddling while you watch or unpacking from coolboxes stashed underneath. It is rammed.

The clientele is mixed, but mainly young, the occasionally gymbod leading his parents into the melee to source something with noodles. At the Cheese Truck a grilled stilton, bacon and pear chutney sandwich costs an amount with the trailing zero missing. Craft beer is big. An acrid smell sparks the alleyway. Only the central section has tables, and they're all taken, so latecomers juggle their way to the council estate car park at the far end holding a plastic trayful in one hand and a cup of tinkered juice in the other. Not everyone's pleased. "I can't believe they charged £6 for this and skimped on the chicken," joshes one lad to his mates, But most have the look of regulars about them, Maltby Street being where they kick off their weekend to ensure it isn't wasted.

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