Saturday, May 30, 2020
On this date one year ago I left the house and went to northwest London. It wasn't a very exciting trip, hence I never blogged about it at the time, there being much more interesting things to write about. But it was much more exciting than any trip I've made for the last ten weeks so I thought I'd write about it now. Excitement, it turns out, is relative.
I took the Central line from Mile End, where trains were running normally and there were no signs outside urging me not to travel. I was aiming for Perivale but alighted at Hanger Lane, because in those days I had a Zone 1-3 Travelcard so it made sense to get off at the limit of validity and do the last mile by bus. It didn't strike me to worry the bus might be overcrowded. Once in Perivale it was quite a hike to get across the A40 dual carriageway via the footbridge. I nearly managed to take a good photo of the tube station's strikingly-curved frontage, but unfortunately a businessman in a blue Toyota had other ideas.
My first target was Horsenden Hill, the highest point in Ealing. I started my ascent beyond the canal bridge, striking out into the trees along a familiar path. One particular dividing line between woodland and open grass cast my mind back thirty years to a world where the sky is burning, the seas sleep and the rivers dream. The final assault on the western flank was the toughest part of the climb, but the view from the summit is always well worth the effort. I love the exhilaration of a good hilltop, there being nothing even vaguely this high anywhere near me in Bow.
I watched the planes landing at Heathrow, which planes did frequently in those days, and kept my distance from the couple with the two dogs. Eventually it was time to head back down. Normally I've followed section 9 of the Capital Ring, which takes a circuitous route through the woods for no particularly enjoyable reason, but on this occasion I decided to follow the steep track down the northern side of the hill. This emerged into a large meadow I'd never encountered before, and very pleasant it was too, although it did mean I reached the boring stretch along the road rather sooner.
Sudbury Hill tube station, or the street immediately outside, marks the point where Ealing meets Brent meets Harrow. These are three boroughs I hadn't visited recently, which is why I was making this semi-pointless journey in the first place. Perhaps I should have been using my freedom more usefully. I nearly popped into Wenzel's for some lunch, because this is not a treat afforded to those of us living in East London, but decided a tuna baguette was unnecessary. This meant I was walking past Sudbury Hill Harrow station when a train pulled in and actually stopped, which I'd never been around to see before.
On the far side of Harrow Road I entered Never Previously Visited London, which is always exciting, and chose to follow Sudbury Court Road to see where it led. It led to some allotments, then to a path into a small parklet perched on top of a delightfully minor hill. It looked like the kind of place only locals knew about, somewhere to take the toddler, walk the dog or smoke a spliff. But it offered a fine view of Wembley Stadium over the rooftops, and way beyond that the BT Tower and the Shard, so I was chuffed to have stumbled upon it.
I'd also never walked along East Lane before, nor caught a bus this way, so this was rapidly turning into a voyage of discovery. North Wembley station looked so unfamiliar that it suddenly dawned on me this was a tube station I'd never previously used, nor even seen from the outside, which wasn't something I believed to be possible. But I had no plans to use North Wembley today because it was in zone 4, so carried on walking until the next bus turned up. It turned up half a mile later. I climbed upstairs touching all the surfaces with abandon.
I wasn't as excited by my top deck trundle through Wembley and Neasden as I would be were I allowed to make the same journey today. Ooh a former town hall, ooh a gyratory, ooh an industrial estate. My bus took half an hour to reach Cricklewood where I finally switched to the train and Thameslinked into St Pancras. The Hammersmith & City line was borked so it took an age to get home, but at least I'd finished my library book by the time I reached Bow Road. And I can only imagine how busy that last journey was, indeed most of the rest of London exists only in my imagination these days.
posted 07:00 :
Friday, May 29, 2020To the south of Hackney Wick lies Fish Island.
Its remote location earned it the nickname 'the Island' in the late 18th century, when canals and railways first encouraged industry to move in. The 'Fish' part came later from the names of the streets, which included Dace, Bream and Roach. Before WW2 quite a lot of people lived here, but heavy bomb damage saw housing cleared away in favour of predominantly industrial usage. [1895 map] [1949 map]
The precise boundaries of modern day Fish Island are debatable, but let's say it runs from the Hertford Union Canal to the Greenway, with the A12 and river Lea to either side.
Here's my attempt to survey what's gone, what's going and what's likely to survive.
The brown zones are flats completed before the Olympics.
The red zones are flats completed in the last couple of years.
The orange zones are flats under construction.
The yellow zones are cleared and vacant, awaiting development.
The green line marks the edge of the Fish Island Conservation Area.
The pace of redevelopment has been much faster in Fish Island than Hackney Wick, aided by there being fewer people around to notice. The area's also a lot more cut off, with very limited road access and a minimum of footbridges to nowhere terribly important. When the sales brochure for the latest development describes Fish Island as "at the heart of the action" and "well connected to the heart of the city", it is unashamedly lying.
That latest development is Fish Island Village, where "Village" is another shameless marketing fabrication. Its six acre site borders the Hertford Union Canal and was formerly Neptune Wharf, home to a Scottish and Newcastle brewery distribution depot. In its time it's also been a timber depot, paintworks, abattoir and store for pre-cast concrete panels, but FIV's marketing collateral is strangely silent about these. 600 flats are planned, most of them already built and occupied, but construction continues apace at the western end of the site where a new primary school is also earmarked.
The ground floor of many of the new blocks has been given over to low rent studio space for artists and designers, courtesy of The Trampery. A few small units facing Roach Road are occupied, mostly with fashion-related start-ups, while the larger spaces further back remain echoingly empty. Until these communal caverns can be occupied, which the current situation will only delay, the activation of Fish Island Village at street level just isn't happening.
Until this week I hadn't walked through the heart of the new development, and I was struck by how dense and dark it felt. Wyke Road has become a canyon shielded by seven-storey brick, the walkways between residential blocks have a blankly utilitarian vibe, and sunbathing canalside isn't going to be an option until rather late in the day. I have actually been inside one of the blocks for Open House, shown round by one of the architects, and was impressed by the sense of space and interior finish. Very little of that style pervades the exterior, however, and the development's slogan Enhancing Not Replacing is nothing but weasel words.
The prime site at the junction of canal and river was taken years ago by the Omega Works, a rare jigsaw piece already in place when the Olympic decision was made. Newly squeezed-in further along the waterfront is Legacy House, its gated driveway covering the site of one of the original hipster cafes. Thankfully Stour Space nextdoor survives, the lynchpin of Fish Island's cultural offering, although currently very closed. But DOH are still serving up chai, brioche and veg boxes from a hatch round the bend, while the CheeseTruck's very-local owners have an abundance of small-producer cheese and charcuterie they'd be delighted to deliver.
Monier Road is destined to be the spine road of the new Fish Island. It used to head nowhere much but now lines up with a gap where a new bridge is waiting to be winched in, creating a vehicular connection to the Olympic Park. For now it's quiet enough to stand in the middle of the street and snap a photo with a wall of flats on one side and nothing much on the other. Almost every old building on the narrow strip between Monier Road and Beachy Road - marked yellow on my map - has been flattened, and the only one that's left has a notice on the door giving a demolition date. This time 148 flats are planned, with Taylor Wimpey promising an "articulated saw-tooth plan" and "deliberately irregular massing", as the old Fish Island sequentially dissolves away.
Yay, the next block between Beachy Road and Stour Road remains all present and correct. This includes an empty piano factory, a furniture workshop and perhaps most importantly an outpost of the Truman Brewery. It's not the original Truman's, it's the Black Eagle Brewery trading under the name, but they are currently selling cold pints (weekdays only) should you be local enough to pop in. Hang on while I Google the address to see what planning applications have been submitted... ah, dammit, 1908m² of commercial space plus 330 student rooms were approved by the Mayor in February this year. Fish Island's dominoes continue to fall.
Thankfully most of the Island's southern strip, bordering the Greenway, lies within a protected Tower Hamlets conservation area so should be safe. Here we find old blocks like the Algha Works, Swan Wharf, Britannia Works and Percy Dalton's Peanut Factory, each occupied for many years by artists' studios and the generally creative. It's such a compact cluster that you can spin around 360° at the junction of Dace Road and Smeed Road and it looks like very little has changed. This is the weatherworn aesthetic architects in other parts of Fish Island are attempting to emulate, if unsuccessfully.
But redevelopment continues to encroach right up to the conservation area boundary. Forman and Son's yard is being comprehensively residentialised as Lock No 19, an L&Q project delivering 170 canalside flats. At the other end of Dace Road HG Construction are in the early stages of erecting 144 flats in five jarring cuboidal blocks, and on the opposite side of the Greenway Taylor Wimpey have nearly finished 175 more as part of something they've inexplicably christened Aspext. Any unprotected industrial site is fair game, it seems, as Fish Island's yards and warehouses slowly sink beneath a tidal wave of highrise boxes.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, May 28, 2020Hackney Wick was once known for its edgy creative vibe, a neighbourhood of studios and warehouses where things got done but hardly anybody lived. Times are changing.
This is The Wallis, a new residential development on the corner of Wallis Road and Berkshire Road. It's famous as the site of the factory where the world's first synthetic plastic - Parkesine - was developed. It's going to be flats with a Sainsbury's underneath.
To be fair, the warehouse the developers knocked down was thrown up in the 1950s, whereas Parkesine was invented in the 1860s, so nothing of significant heritage value was lost. To be further fair, the four buildings that do survive from the original Parkesine Works are being retained and restored and hemmed into a yard round the back. But all that passers-by will see is a modern brick apartment building looking like any other modern brick apartment building, and that's pretty much how Hackney Wick is going.
Only one building at the Wallis Road crossroads will survive, a 1920s social centre for local workers, but on the other three corners everything will be modern flats. Further along Wallis Road expect further apartment blocks replacing every building that isn't an 'individual heritage asset', which is most of them. Telford Homes are well underway building Stone Studios, a dense wodge of 110 flats "ideal for investors", while planning applications are already in to replace the variety of warehouses on the northern side. The Olympic effect is very real round here, just somewhat delayed.
I've been for a walk around Hackney Wick to try to survey what's gone, what's going and what's likely to survive.
The red zones are 21st century flats, already complete.
The orange zones are flats under construction (The Wallis is the top one).
The yellow zones are cleared and vacant, awaiting development.
Pink shows where development will, or may, take place.
The largest red zone is also the most recent. It's The Bagel Factory, like so many developments named after the building destroyed to create it. Five years ago gorgeous smells still wafted across the area from Mr Bagels, two years ago construction was well underway, and today 140 households are enjoying German-engineered kitchens with a 'renovated warehouse' feel. It's not a bad development of its type but a tad monolithic, and with concierge desks that look far too luxurious for anything here to be affordable.
Across White Post Lane is a long thin parcel of contaminated land surrounded by a ten foot high brick wall - one of the yellow zones on my map. This is the site of the Hope Chemical Works, importers of American crude oil and at one time the UK's main crude petroleum distillery. In 1893 the owners coined the word 'petrol' to describe their main product, which is one heck of a linguistic claim to fame. But since 1971 the site's been empty, and its unbroken wall is increasingly a canvas for some of Hackney Wick's famous graffiti. I'm amazed to see that what's planned here is a 240-room hotel comprising two six-storey blocks linked by a skybridge, plus workspace and foodiespace at ground level. The 150 year-old wall will not survive, summarily dismissed as "a non-designated heritage asset".
The other yellow zone on my map, between Trego Road and the Hertford Union Canal, is enormous. Formerly it was the McGrath waste transfer station, a smelly business few will have been sad to see the back of, and one day it'll be a Galliard Homes development called Wickside. Another 500 homes are pencilled in across seven acres, plus a linear canalside strip amusingly called a park. But redevelopment is moving at a glacial pace, and at present the site is littered with piles of rubble, the occasional mothballed warehouse and a noisy guard dog in the back of a van surprised that anyone's walked anywhere near.
Not everything's disappearing. Lion Works' eclectic warehouse cluster will survive, the Eton Mission boathouse is secure and the shell of the Lord Napier pub remains a centrepiece. But for the time being Hackney Wick is very much a chequerboard mix of old and new. Walk some streets and an air of dereliction still pervades, walk others and you could be in the middle of an estate agent's brochure.
Yesterday I watched one young couple pose for a professional photographer in front of sun-drenched graffiti, while on the other side of the wall a driver manhandled a mattress out of his van into a crumbling warehouse. Incomers waited patiently for a latte from the pop-up hipster joint by the station, while mechanics from the vehicle bodyworks on Chapman Road were content with another cuppa outside Mapps caff. The cramped grocery store on Wallis Road still sells own brand comestibles to members of the studio collective nextdoor, whereas three of the shops in Felstead Street are called Béton Brut, Vinyl Pimp and Frankenbike, suggesting the gentrification battle is already over.
"Victorian and Edwardian buildings coalesce with former industrial warehouses covered top to toe in street art, rivalling the oise stone walls of Belleville, Paris for aesthetic edginess. From the boundaries of Victoria Park to the Lee Navigation Canal, you’ll find wall-to-wall art collectives, with creative activity taking place in every nook and cranny." [The Wallis, sales website]We need new places to live, and Hackney Wick has the potential to furnish thousands more. But with every block redeveloped and every wall demolished, any reason to make a special visit ebbs away. The developers taking advantage of Hackney Wick's edgy vibe are inexorably destroying it, like moths nibbling at a favourite blanket.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, May 27, 2020Vacancy #CV19-4872
37.5 hours a week
Salary: £8.72 /hour
Dear Mr Geezer
Thank you for your application to join our Contact Tracing Army.
It is gratifying that you are so keen to join our never-ending fight against the global disease and those spreading it. Only by identifying the undesirables in society can we hope to contain the infection.
Our phonebank of volunteer interrogators will be the cornerstone of national renewal. Without diligent tracking and timely isolation the virus will swiftly re-establish itself amongst us, damaging the already fragile economic recovery. We hope to onboard you to our nationwide team shortly.
Unfortunately the software needed to complete registration is not yet ready, our online training is suffering teething troubles and the contact tracing app on the Isle of Wight requires further iterations before public rollout. Nevertheless we remain convinced that the entire process will be up and running on 1st June, as promised, or alternatively sometime thereafter. Your role in all of this will be critical.
In the meantime, we ask you to stay alert and save lives.
Our future plans rely on knowing everything about everyone. To this effect we are establishing a new national database to be populated not only by names and addresses, but also statuses, proclivities and probable intentions. Any data you can collect before 1st June will therefore be enormously helpful in moving forward our ultimate goal of comprehensive mass surveillance.
As a Home Office Informer the evidence you gather about your neighbours will be essential. We need you to be the eyes and ears of your community.
We suggest you sit by your front window with a small notebook, twitching your net curtains as appropriate. What are your neighbours doing. Why might they be doing this? Can they be trusted?
Answers to the following specific questions would be particularly helpful.
• Who are their regular and occasional contacts?While you have your notebook open, we would also appreciate it if you would keep tabs on the other members of your household. Basic details such as age, distinguishing features, lifestyle choices and political affiliation can be entered later into our online spreadsheet. Your initial training will also cover how to scan personal emails for incriminating evidence, the basics of video surveillance and elementary blackmail techniques.
• Could they be borderline feverish?
• Is that hayfever or might it be a persistent a dry cough?
• Did they leave the house more than once a day during April?
• Have they recently had friends or family round? (please give details)
• Are they the sort to meet up for a barbecue in the park?
• Might they be claiming Universal Credit fraudulently?
• Is theirs potentially a marriage of convenience?
• Do they ever talk in a funny European language?
• If so, have they ever tried to use the NHS without paying?
Our ultimate aim is to sign up 170,000 full-time unofficial collaborators, along with a much larger number of occasional informers. An East German-style points system will be used to select the most appropriate candidates.
It is imperative that you download the new NHS Contact Tracing app when it becomes available, because as an employee of the state we need to know where you are at all times.
Please also encourage friends and family to do the same. Later in your training we will explain how to upload the app in stealth mode so that it cannot be detected. We already know more about the population of the Isle of Wight than any other part of the country, and need this unprecedented accumulation of data to continue.
On an unspecified future date we intend to make use of the app mandatory when accessing all types of public service, and early adoption will ensure that your personal health score will be optimised. Subject to confirmation by the Home Secretary, only those scoring above 60% will be allowed to travel abroad and only those scoring over 80% will be allowed back in.
Please do not tell anybody that you have applied for this role. We have been trying for years to introduce a National Identity Database and are delighted to have the perfect opportunity to slip it into operation under cover of a global health crisis. Your cooperation in this matter is greatly appreciated.
We will be in touch again once we have firmed up protocols and got the technology working. We may be some time.
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, May 26, 2020There now follows the longest possible gap between the late spring bank holiday and the late summer bank holiday.
The late spring bank holiday was on the earliest possible date - Monday 25th May.
25 26 27 28 29 30 31
The late summer bank holiday is on the latest possible date - Monday 31st August.
25 26 27 28 29 30 31
That's a gap of 98 days.
In all other years, when 25th May isn't a Monday, the gap is only 91 days.
On the plus side, this year we get the shortest possible gap between the late summer bank holiday and Christmas.
The late summer bank holiday is on the latest possible date - Monday 31st August.
25 26 27 28 29 30 31
The Christmas bank holiday is on the earliest possible date - Friday 25th December.
25 26 27
That's a gap of 116 days.
In all other years, when 31st August isn't a Monday, the gap is at least 119 days, and can be as many as 122.
There's been talk of adding an extra bank holiday this October to make up for the fact we've wasted four under lockdown, and to give the tourist/hospitality industry a boost.
It'd need to be a Monday or a Friday, because any other day of the week would be impractical.
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
This year most schools are taking half term in the last week of October, so Monday 26th October has got to be a strong contender. Picking 26th October or 30th October would also be the best way to equalise the gap between the late summer bank holiday and Christmas, with roughly two months either side.
On the negative side the clocks go back on Sunday 25th October, which might dampen hopes of a tourist boom on Monday 26th. Also the weather is generally better at the start of October rather than the end, so Monday 5th October has got to be a strong contender too.
There have long been factions pushing to introduce a Trafalgar Day holiday, but 21st October this year is a Wednesday so that's not ideal. The date of the battle of Agincourt - St Crispin's Day, 25th October - has also been suggested, but that's a Sunday this year so a no-hoper. A Hallowe'en bank holiday is, thankfully, also dead in the water because that falls on a Saturday.
I note that October 26th is the feast day of Alfred The Great, being the anniversary of his death, which is just the kind of mythical heroism our current government might seize upon. October 5th is merely St Thraseas's Day, or the International Day of No Prostitution, which is much less promising. We are perhaps fortunate that Margaret Thatcher's birthday is a Tuesday this year.
Of course suddenly throwing a bank holiday into the mix in five months time wouldn't be welcomed by anyone who's already booked a wedding, a holiday or an important meeting on that particular day. Also there's no guarantee that by the time October comes round we won't all be back under lockdown again, thereby totally wasting our additional day off. But it's fun to speculate.
posted 07:00 :
These photos are for the benefit of Men Who Like Buses But Do Not Live In East London.
Route 25 has new vehicles.
On Friday it still had these old ones, which were almost two years old.
Now it has brand new ones, specifically E400 MMC hybrid double deckers.
This is because a new contract started on Saturday.
Previously the buses were operated by Tower Transit, based at Lea Interchange Depot.
Now they're operated by Stagecoach, based at Bow Garage.
Route N25 also changed over. Route 425 changes over in July.
The new buses have USB ports so you can charge your phone while travelling.
I have not been for a ride on a new bus so will not be subjecting you to an end-to-end report.
posted 00:25 :
Monday, May 25, 2020Distressingly this is our fourth bank holiday under lockdown. Typically it's another warm sunny day which in normal times would've seen many of us flocking cross-country to make the most of it. Annoyingly these perfect conditions will all be wasted, again, except by those with cars and no sense of communal responsibility.
Under normal circumstances I would definitely have travelled somewhere by train today, not least because it's a rare weekday with off-peak fares, but instead I find myself pottering around ultra-locally. So for blogging purposes I've been imagining where I could potentially have gone, at sequential intervals of 10 miles from home.
10 miles from home: Epping Forest
A walk along socially-distanced footpaths sounds ideal, and the tea hut at High Beach is the requisite distance from home. But my normal means of getting there involves the Central line which remains off limits, and to walk it would be a 20 mile round trip and that's entirely impractical too. If even the first location on this list is out of bounds, all hope of near-future travel is screwed.
also 10 miles from home: Putney, Neasden, Gidea Park, Ruxley
20 miles from home: Sevenoaks
A trip to inner Kent should be cheap and easy, plus I fancy a walk across the Deer Park to Knole because I've not been getting much value from my National Trust membership this year. But even though bank holiday trains to Sevenoaks ought to be quiet, the tubes before that alas won't be.
also 20 miles from home: Uxbridge, Croxley Green, Billericay, Chartwell
30 miles from home: Southend
A dash to the seaside makes for a perfect bank holiday treat, and the seaside doesn't get any closer to me than this. Unfortunately I suspect thousands will have had the same idea, so the pier'll be packed, the prom'll be seething and the queue for a Rossi's lemon ice will be plain dangerous.
also 30 miles from home: Maidenhead, Luton, Maidstone, Gatwick
40 miles from home: Biggleswade
I'm always happy to visit a minor provincial town in search of points of interest, because they always have several. I could even try looking up where Harper Twelvetrees was born. But today is not the day for putting my health on the line for a minor provincial town.
also 40 miles from home: Aylesbury, Isle of Sheppey, Farnham, Reading
50 miles from home: Goring
The Thames Valley is gorgeous at this time of year, and Goring's ideal because I can pair a waterside stroll with a hike up onto the Downs. I've missed both of these lately. I'm less convinced that reaching Paddington will be as enjoyable.
also 50 miles from home: St Neots, Lavenham, Canterbury, Brighton
60 miles from home: Dungeness
This is another personal favourite, first the adventure of riding the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway to get there, then the magnificent desolation of the pebbly waste Derek Jarman called home. But those RHDR trains are really tiny, so couldn't be worse for social distancing, so not today.
also 60 miles from home: Blenheim, Wellingborough, Walton-on-the-Naze, Bognor Regis
70 miles from home: Banbury
It's not the most exciting of destinations but I've never been, except straight through on a narrowboat, and it'd be nice to see the legendary market cross first hand. That said I see the Lego exhibition in the town's museum has been delayed, so maybe I'd be better off waiting.
also 70 miles from home: Thetford, Sutton Hoo, Gosport, Andover
80 miles from home: Shanklin
I love the Isle of Wight, and last time I was in this coastal resort I had to miss out on riding the cliff lift because I had a tube train to catch. I just worry about the additional complications of reaching the island by ferry, catamaran, hovercraft or whatever, and then doing it all again on the way back.
also 80 miles from home: Stow-on-the Wold, Rugby, Stamford, Aldeburgh
90 miles from home: Calais
I had genuinely been considering a day trip to Calais this year, taking advantage of the special Southeastern Day Tripper ticket before the UK's Brexit transition period ends. But a ferry crossing's just too much faff at present, and within weeks the need to quarantine on both sides of the Channel will have killed this day trip off.
also 90 miles from home: The Needles, Evesham, Leicester, Southwold
100 miles from home: Bournemouth
Bournemouth's possibly the perfect target on a sunny spring bank holiday, with miles of sand, two piers, leafy chines and a dash of refined heritage to boot. However I hear the narrow paths zigzagging from clifftop to beach are proving a social distancing nightmare, so where'd be the fun in that?
also 100 miles from home:Bath, Loughborough, Boston. Hunstanton
110 miles from home: Bristol
Or how about Bristol? This waterside city is a cultural hub it's hard to tire of, plus it's easy to use Temple Meads as the jumping-off point to somewhere interesting nearby. I fear the waterfront might be quite busy though, the Clifton Suspension Bridge considerably more so, so no.
also 110 miles from home: Lichfield, Nottingham, Cromer, Dunkirk
120 miles from home: Lincoln
I am persistently cross with myself that I've not been back here this century, at least before sunset. Lincolnshire remains one of my least-blogged counties, and the cathedral on a hill would be an ideal reintroduction. I worry that not much would be open this particular bank holiday, though.
also 120 miles from home: Yeovil, Glastonbury, Hereford, Dieppe
130 miles from home: Ludlow
Here's part of the country I know very little about - borderline Shropshire - but the town has a castle and a museum and a river plus some rollicking scenery. However I note it's a three-and-a-bit hour journey from London, each way, which can't possibly be the safest use of my time.
also 130 miles from home: Bridport, Ironbridge, Market Rasen, Ostend
140 miles from home: Eyam
Nowhere has more historical resonance at present than the plague village of Eyam, whose residents took a hit in 1665 for the greater good. For that very reason I suspect the current inhabitants may not be best pleased with Londoners barging in and poking around, so best give the place a miss.
also 140 miles from home: Barry, Shrewsbury, Cleethorpes, Bruges
150 miles from home: Crewe
It's not the most glamorous of towns, more a jumped-up railway junction, but it has a Heritage Centre full of trains which'd be eminently bloggable. However I'm not convinced walking the streets for the rest of the day would be any more fun than walking the same old streets back home.
also 150 miles from home: Sidmouth, Minehead, Llandridnod Wells, Rouen
160 miles from home: Alderney
I'd love to go back to the Channel Islands, especially this tiny one which I last visited in the spring half term 45 years ago. But I well remember how small the plane was, and we had to catch another plane before we caught that one, so aviation issues mean I can cross this off the list for some considerable time.
also 160 miles from home: Exmouth, Oswestry, Stockport, Pontefract
170 miles from home: Swansea
I've already had to cancel a trip to Wales as part of post-lockdown travel restrictions, so it'd be brilliant to go back properly and explore more of the rocky coast around the Mumbles. However nothing's really changed since the end of March, GWR-wise, so Wales is not going to be happening any time soon.
also 170 miles from home: Torquay, Runcorn, Rochdale, Leeds
180 miles from home: Liverpool
I have never been bored on a trip to Merseyside, there being so much to see and so many things to do, even people to meet. Unfortunately I see there are rail replacement buses in operation this bank holiday weekend, and the idea of piling aboard a crowded coach at Crewe quashes all my desires to go back at present.
also 180 miles from home: Ilfracombe, Machynlleth, Burnley, Harrogate
190 miles from home: Scarborough
How have I never ever been to Scarborough, despite living not so very far away for a year? I've been meaning to go for ages, to finally experience the architecture, the chips and the sweep of the bay. But I haven't pre-booked my LNER ticket, as is now mandatory, so I won't be going today.
also 190 miles from home: Clovelly, Rhyl, Preston, Antwerp
200 miles from home: Plymouth
This actually is the last place I visited outside London, so OK, I really don't need to go again. Indeed it looks like standing on the hillside at Mount Edgcumbe, marginally into Cornwall, is going to be the furthest I get from London for some considerable time.
also 200 miles from home: Porthmadog, Snowdon, Blackpool, Brussels
210 miles from home: Paris
Eurostar makes a trip to the French capital so straight-forward, which is why I've availed myself of several journeys over the past few years. Alas, not only is Brexit cutting us off from the continent but coronavirus is too, so I'm glad I got over there while I easily could.
also 210 miles from home: Tintagel, Pembroke, Bangor, Lancaster
220 miles from home: Barrow-in-Furness
I'm now reaching the boundaries of a viable day trip, indeed this is normally a four hour journey and the only way to get there before noon is to leave Euston at half past five. Today however a railway replacement bus is involved and you can't get to Barrow before quarter to three in the afternoon, so no thanks.
also 220 miles from home: Padstow, Barnard Castle, Middlesbrough, Amsterdam
230 miles from home: Durham
But this sounds like a perfectly reasonable place to visit. I could maybe drive up from London, acting responsibly and with integrity, as I'm sure this would be perfectly legal. In fact I have no alternative but to go, as every adult in the country would doubtless agree, and not even the Prime Minister can stop me.
also 230 miles from home: Newquay, St David's, Holyhead, Lake Windermere
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, May 24, 2020This is my local Tesco supermarket, a large drab box beside the A12 in Bromley-by-Bow.
I've shopped here many hundreds of times, but only now thought to dig into the site's history, which is how I came to discover the amazing exploits of Victorian philanthropist Harper Twelvetrees.
Harper was born in Biggleswade in 1823, moving to London in 1848 with the express intention of manufacturing a cheap range of laundry products. Only when the government scrapped duty on soap in 1853 did this become financially viable, and shortly afterwards he set up a small factory on Goswell Road in Islington. Initial success required him to expand, and in 1858 he moved production to a larger site off Three Mill Lane in Bromley-by-Bow adjacent to the River Lea. A century and a half later it's where I buy my milk and frozen peas.
At the centre of the site was a timber-framed house of Tudor origin, much upgraded by its previous owners the Lefevre family (who were responsible for setting up the distillery at Three Mills across the river). One of their number, Charles Shaw-Lefevre, had recently ended a lengthy term as Speaker of the House of Commons and been elevated to the Lords as the 1st Viscount Eversley. Harper Twelvetrees renamed his new property Eversley House, moved his family in and built his new factory around it.
The Imperial Chemical Works was a great success. It manufactured a vast range of products targeted at ordinary working people, with Harper's aim to "encourage cleanliness among the poor by selling them a packet of soap powder for a penny". One of his biggest brands was Saponine, a detergent which "lathers abundantly in hot or cold water" and "washes expeditiously with or without soap". If you were lucky enough to get to the Bodleian Library's The Art of Advertising exhibition at the start of March you could have enjoyed this glorious full colour Saponine ad from Harper Twelvetrees' Soapery, Bromley-by-Bow. In its day, the company's advertising was considered brash, even vulgar.
Scrubwell. Well, this is really wonderful! I had no idea that washing-day could be got over with so little trouble and labour. I think I shall try this wonderful powder.Also manufactured here were Satin Enamel Starch, Harness Polishing Liquid, Soluble Powder Blue, Perfumed Toilet Soap, Saltpetre, Epsom Salts, Metallic Writing Inks, Powder Lead, Yeastrine, Baking Powders, Mice Killer and Bug Destroyer. In one corner of the site was a small factory equipped with lathes and circular saws for the production of washing machinery. Mrs Beeton praised Twelvetrees' Villa Washing and Wringing Machine in her Book of Household Management... "excellent for family use...very easy to work without being cumbersome... strong and very durable", and all yours for 55 shillings.
Thrifty. And just consider what you save, in time, trouble, and labour, by using this ‘Glycerine Soap-powder'. Just consider the difference between slop, slop, slopping about all day, and having your house cleaned up before dinner, or nearly so.
Scrubwell. Thank you, neighbour, for your friendly advice and information. I will try Harper Twelvetrees' ‘Glycerine Soap-Powder' for myself.
At its peak the Imperial Chemical Works employed over 400 people. Harper was keen to look after his employees' welfare, building rows of cottages nearby to provide accommodation and setting up a lecture hall on site in a former workshop. Lord Shaftesbury and John Stuart Mill are amongst those believed to have stood at the lectern. A library was set up in one corner, and the hall also hosted evening classes, sewing circles and non-denominational services. Meanwhile sick employees were covered by a benevolent fund subsidised by one hour's pay a week, while thrift was encouraged via a penny savings bank.
As the Stratford Times reported in 1861, Harper Twelvetrees was changing Bromley-by-Bow for the better.
"Instead of dirty, narrow lanes bounded by high walls, now there are to be seen neat, commodious and well-built cottages, flanking tidy roads. The old population is losing its distinctive traits before a new, fresh, and vigorous class that is rapidly settling amongst them, and giving an air of busy life and incessant occupation to a place which once wore an empty gloom hardly redeemed by the the wild rush of waters roaring in the adjacent mill-stream."But it didn't last. In 1865 Twelvetrees sold his chemical works through a third party to the General Trading Company for £53852-8s-5d, but they then went into liquidation and he only recouped £791. Declared bankrupt through no fault of his own, Harper did what any self-respecting Victorian philanthropist would do and started again, this time on the other side of Bow at the Cordova Works in Grove Road. His reputation was strong enough that the business took off by selling a similar range of products to before, and his patented soap powder was even exported overseas. Harper Twelvetrees died in Upper Clapton in 1881 at the age of 58, leaving behind five children called William, Walter, Florence, Edwin and Herbert.
The original Three Mills site was bought up in 1871 and transformed into the Crown Chemical Works. For almost a century this was home to Kemball, Bishop and Company Limited, manufacturers of citric acid, a full history of which can be downloaded here (courtesy of the Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society). KB's chief claim to fame, I was thrilled to read, is that its tanks were secretly used by the government during WW2 to scale up the country's production of penicillin. Around the same time the company also teamed up with American pharmaceutical company Pfizer, which worked out well until 1971 when production was outsourced to Ireland and the Bromley works closed down. [1897 map] [1949 map]
The site was levelled and lay derelict until 1983 when Tesco came along and opened their superstore. The building's footprint is on the skew so doesn't precisely match the chemical works, but essentially the homewares and drinks aisles are outside the boundary while most of the food section and the self service tills lie firmly within. Harper Twelvetrees' house would have been in the main car park, just opposite the disabled ramp leading up to the rear entrance, should you ever wish to pay tribute to the great man. It's a shame that the pharmacy counter isn't on the site of the penicillin tanks, and that the washing powder shelves are at the wrong end of the store, but you can't have everything.
If your local supermarket has a more interesting backstory, I'll be surprised.
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, May 23, 2020
20 things that happened this week #coronavirus
• reopening schools in doubt over safety concerns
• most of Europe past virus peak
• hospitals in São Paulo overwhelmed
• loss of taste/smell added to UK symptoms list
• food industry seeks 'pickers who are stickers'
• tests now available to anyone with symptoms
• death toll in Brazil overtakes UK
• Trump is taking hydroxychloroquine
• inflation tumbled to 0.8% in April
• contact tracing to begin in June
• track and trace app delayed until June
• 17% of Londoners may have had virus
• Scotland to start easing lockdown next week
• UK buys 10m antibody tests
• global death toll accelerating
• 14 day quarantine for those entering the UK
• UK borrowing at record high
• Dominic Cummings broke quarantine while infected
• ...this was abhorrent behaviour/perfectly OK
• (and then went back to Durham 2 weeks later)
Worldwide deaths: 310,000 → 340,000
Worldwide cases: 4,600,000 → 5,300,000
UK deaths: 34,466 → 36,675
UK cases: 240,161 → 257,154
FTSE: up 3% (5799 → 5993)
posted 22:00 :
Today marks two months since the imposition of lockdown, during which time we've all been living under a series of ill-defined rules. So I made some rules of my own.
Go out...Some of these were the law, some were what I felt comfortable with and others I fell into as a matter of routine. At no point in the first eight weeks did I break any of them.
✔ no more than once a day
✔ no more than 5 days a week
✔ for less than 2 hours
✔ no more than 2 miles from home
✔ within a 1×2½ mile box
✔ keeping as far from others as possible
✔ without meeting friends or family
✔ without stopping to sit down
✔ avoiding all transport
✔ and be home by noon
Then as lockdown supposedly eased, I realised I needn't/shouldn't/couldn't carry on. Some of these rules were no longer necessary, while others risked tying me into a set of limiting behaviours for no particularly good reason. So I started breaking them.
Here's where I stand today, with a red cross if I've finally broken that rule.
In brackets is the number of consecutive days I've kept it up.
✘ no more than once a day (63 days)no more than once a day: This'll be the law requiring 'daily exercise'. I finally broke this rule yesterday when I went to Tesco to do 'essential shopping' and then went out for a walk.
✘ no more than 5 days a week (56 days)
✘ for less than 2 hours (59 days)
✔ no more than 2 miles from home (68 days)
✘ within a 1×2½ mile box (60 days)
✔ keeping as far from others as possible (61 days)
✔ without meeting friends or family (73 days)
✔ without stopping to sit down (60 days)
✔ avoiding all transport (68 days)
✔ and be home by noon (60 days)
no more than 5 days a week: This is me ignoring my right to daily exercise in favour of staying in a couple of days a week because it felt safer. I got a lot of spring cleaning done. But last week I upped 5 to 6, and this week I've been out the full 7.
for less than 2 hours: Two hours felt about right to start with, then became a self-imposed limit. I finally broke through the 2 hour barrier last week, delayed by writing copious notes, and haven't been timing myself since.
no more than 2 miles from home: I still haven't walked more than 2 miles from home since all this started. I've still managed loads of five mile walks though.
within a 1×2½ mile box: I stayed within my quarantine box for 60 days, then consciously snapped out of it by doing a full circuit of Victoria Park. My new 'box' is now 2 miles wide, but still 2½ miles deep.
keeping as far from others as possible: It's impossible to social distance perfectly, but every step of every walk since March has been made with human avoidance in mind.
without meeting friends or family: My last social meets with friends (73 days) or family (75 days) were both for birthday meals in early March. I have no idea how extroverts are coping with this.
without stopping to sit down: Pausing during daily exercise was specifically outlawed, you may remember, and I still haven't slumped on a lawn or a bench since lockdown started.
avoiding all transport: It's now 70 days since I was last on a bus, and almost as long since I was on a train. In the absence of a bike, my horizons are significantly diminished.
and be home by noon: Entirely my choice this one, but being out first thing in the morning has felt safer than being out in the busier afternoon. I haven't been out in the evening for 79 days, so have been missing a heck of a lot of sunsets.
I intend to break at least three more of these rules today, and then hopefully I won't feel trapped by not doing things any more. But don't expect to see me on board public transport any time soon.
posted 08:00 :
For the last three weeks, in lieu of fresh material, Radio 4's The Archers has been rebroadcasting a number of classic episodes lifted from the last two decades. I have of course continued to count the number of episodes in which each character appears, despite this now being based on editorial selection and hence intrinsically meaningless.
6: Eddie, JenniferEddie and Jennifer have been the most-heard characters, at six episodes apiece, with their spouses Clarrie and Brian as runners-up. Brookfield power couple David and Ruth made four appearances each, along with matriarch Jill and the inimitable Lynda.
5: Brian, Clarrie
4: David, Ruth, Jill, Lynda
3: Tony, Pat, Tom, Adam, Ian, Kenton, Shula, Ed, Emma, JoeBridge Farm doesn't register until the rundown reaches three. Here too we find the first of the no-longer-present characters (whose departure I've signalled by underlining), in this case Joe Grundy. Peggy's long-dead husband Jack appeared in two of the selected episodes, as did serial baddies Rob and Siobhan.
2: Jack, Peggy, Helen, Rob, Henry, Lillian, Siobhan, Debbie, Alice, Neil, Will, Kirsty, Alan
1: Elizabeth, Kate, Ruari, Justin, Jim, Alistair, Jazzer, Roy, Susan, Chris, Harrison, BertI've split the single appearance category into two lists, one for current characters and one for those no longer heard. Hearing Phil and Nigel again will have been evocative for many listeners, not to mention former Bull stalwarts Sid and Kathy. Given that no episodes from 2003-2005 or 2011-2013 were included in the selection, many other one-offs will have missed out.
1: Phil, Nigel, Sid, Kathy, Carol, Alf, Christine, Nic, George, Matt, Charlie, Tim, Anna, Ursula
Several of these classic episodes contained a much larger cast of characters than would usually be included today, in one case as many as fifteen. However when present-day Ambridge returns this Monday a new monologue-heavy format means that the entire week's episodes will feature only four characters, thereby distorting these statistics even further. I'll keep you updated.
posted 01:00 :
Friday, May 22, 2020This road sign on Wick Lane has been puzzling me lately, because the metric measurements are ridiculously precise.
12 foot 9 inches is fine, but 3.890m is given to the nearest thousandth of a metre, i.e. to the nearest millimetre, and that's not the way low bridge signs normally work.
I could have done some proper research, but instead I speculated wildly like a man in a comments box. Surely this was incorrect? Aren't all low bridge signs supposed to be to one decimal place, or maybe two? I think I saw a sign like this somewhere else once? Maybe it's an old sign? What if all low bridge signs are actually supposed to be like this? Perhaps the EU are to blame? Isn't this typical of local councils nowadays? Who employs idiots like these? Obviously this can't be right?
And then I got tired of speculating without any evidence and did some proper research by tracking down the Department for Transport's Traffic Signs Manual. All the answers I needed were in Chapter 4, a meaty tome, twelve of whose 109 pages are given over to signs for bridges. Here we go...
The standard minimum clearance over every part of the carriageway of a public road is 16’‑6” (5.03 m). Where the clearance over any part is less than this, signs should be provided.This is why you've never seen a low bridge sign saying 17 foot something or 6 metres something. In fact you won't have seen a sign saying 5 metres something either, but we'll get to that.
The Regulations require heights on new signs to be shown in both imperial and metric units.This dual marking is because bridge strikes are a very serious hazard, and the government doesn't want anyone versed in only one of the measurement systems to misjudge.
Imperial and metric heights should be calculated separately.It may not surprise you that there are very specific rules for this. Let's start with the rules for imperial.
The imperial figure shown on signs to indicate the available headroom should be at least 3 inches less than the measured height to allow a safety margin. If the resulting figure is not a multiple of 3 inches, it should be rounded down to the nearest lower multiple of 3 inches.The DfT provide two examples to help you get your head round this.
This means if you see an imperial height on a low bridge, the real clearance is three, four or five inches higher than that. For example the road sign in this photo shows 10’‑3”, so the real clearance could be 10’‑6”, 10’‑7” or 10’‑8”.
Example 1: measured height 15’‑2”
• subtract 3” to create a safety margin: 14’‑11”
• round down to nearest multiple of 3”
• sign as 14’‑9”
Example 2: measured height 14’‑6”
• subtract 3” to create a safety margin: 14’‑3”
• sign as 14’‑3” (rounding down not required as already a multiple of 3”)
The highest a low bridge can be, you may remember, is 16’‑5”.
Thus, the maximum headroom that will normally appear on a sign is 16’‑0”.This is the kind of top fact I like to unearth during research.
Next, the rules for metric measures.
To obtain the metric figure shown on signs, the bridge height should be measured to two decimal places, rounding down to the nearest 0.01 m. The following method is then used to calculate the appropriate signed height:Examples are again provided (and arguably even more necessary).
a) if the second decimal digit is 8 or 9, delete it and sign the bridge with the remaining whole number and the first decimal digit;
b) if the second decimal digit is 7 or less, delete it and reduce the first decimal digit by 1. Sign the bridge with the remaining whole number and first decimal digit, as reduced.
Essentially measurements ending in 8, 9 or 0 round down once, and measurements ending 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 round down twice.
Example 1: measured height 4.19m
• remove the final 9 (subtract 0.09m)
• sign as 4.1 m
Example 2: measured height 4.17m
• remove the final 7 (subtract 0.07m)
• reduce first decimal digit by 1 (subtract 0.1m)
• sign as 4.0 m
This means if you see a metric height on a low bridge, the real clearance is at least eight centimetres higher than that, and maybe as much as seventeen.
The maximum headroom that will normally appear on a sign is 4.9 m.This is why you never see a low bridge sign saying 5 metres something. Even though 5.02m officially counts as a low bridge, it'll always be signed 4.9m instead.
And finally, importantly, this.
The height shown on the sign must be to only one decimal place.Here we have official confirmation that the sign I saw on Wick Lane was incorrect. It shouldn't say 3.890m, it shouldn't even say 3.89m, it should be rounded down to 3.8m. Whoever made the sign broke the rules, because the rules say three decimal places is not allowed.
With my initial query solved, I was now intrigued by the fact that imperial and metric heights are rounded differently. One might be rounded down a lot and the other a little, depending on what its final digit was, and the two heights displayed on the bridge might no longer be equivalent.
A quick bash with a spreadsheet confirmed that the difference between imperial and metric measures is normally small. Three quarters of the time they're no more than two inches apart, but the difference can occasionally be as much as four.
The greatest difference occurs when a bridge has a clearance of 3.57m (11’‑9”), in which case 3.4m is four inches less than 11’‑6”. The maximum difference in the opposite direction occurs when a bridge has a clearance of 2.88m (9’‑2”), in which case 8’‑9” is just over two inches less than 2.8m. But this is all by the by.
I'll end by analysing this classic low bridge on Coppermill Lane on Walthamstow Marshes.
It says 1.5m, which means the actual metric clearance must be somewhere between 1.58m and 1.67m. But 1.58m is 5’‑2”, which rounds down to 4’‑9” and the sign alongside doesn't say that. Similarly 1.67m is 5’‑6”, which rounds down to 5’‑3” and the sign alongside doesn't say that either. This means the actual clearance must be somewhere between 1.59m and 1.66m, which may be some consolation if you rick your back while cycling underneath it.
And this is why I like doing proper research.
If you have nothing better to do, 1700 pages of traffic sign manuals might keep you occupied too.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, May 21, 2020London's Disused Railways
North London Railway: Old Ford - Victoria Park
Today I'm completing my walk tracing the disused railway between Bow and Victoria Park (1850-1944). If yesterday was mostly flats, today is mostly dual carriageway.
Just to the north of Old Ford station, somewhat unexpectedly, the trackbed of the disused North London Railway can still be seen. Step out onto the footbridge at the end of Old Ford Road and there it is, an overgrown strip of green running immediately alongside the A12, plain as day.
A quick bit of local infrastructure history. The A12 is part of the East Cross Route, one of the few sections of the GLC's proposed London Motorway Box to be bulldozed through to completion. It was planned in the 1960s, by which time the North London Railway was only being used for freight, so it made sense to build the new road alongside an existing breach in the townscape. Between 1973 and 1984 an ever-decreasing number of trains ran alongside what was then an urban motorway, the A102(M), before the tracks were finally lifted leaving a thin strip of land unsuitable for development. If only the railway had closed before the road opened a much more efficient use of land could have been achieved, but chronology dictated otherwise. [1893 map] [1949 map]
The flats alongside the line are part of the Locton Estate, another Tower Hamlets neighbourhood laid out before the railway closed, otherwise they could have fitted in a couple of extra blocks. The flats on Candy Street are additionally constrained to the north due to the intervention of Joseph Bazalgette's Northern Outfall Sewer. By coincidence this is also the point where his High Level and Middle Level Sewers converge, rising to the surface beyond Victoria Park to continue their journey to Abbey Mills above ground. Thames Water still maintain a depot here to keep an eye.
The former railway has become a stripe of woodland by the time it reaches Wick Lane. Here the abutment of the original bridge lingers on as a graffitied brick wall, easily spotted alongside the letterbox tunnel beneath the A12. Ducketts Apartments across the street are the only housing to have been built on the railway alignment north of Old Ford. Another brick abutment marks the point where trains once crossed the Hertford Canal, not many feet above the towpath, and has again proved irresistible to purveyors of aerosol art.
This brings us to the unlikely tale of Britain's first railway murder, which occurred on this very line in July 1864. City banker Thomas Briggs was heading home on a late train from Fenchurch Street to Hackney Wick when he was robbed and beaten for his gold watch, then thrown from the compartment. His body was spotted on the tracks by the driver of the next southbound train and taken to the nearby Mitford Castle pub where he died from his wounds. A German tailor called Franz Müller was accused of the crime after selling the watch chain to a jeweller, subsequently arrested in New York and sentenced to death by hanging. The incident captivated the nation and led to the introduction of communication cords in all train carriages. In 2011 Kate Colquhoun wrote a fine book about the case called Mr Briggs' Hat, which I have attempted not to over-spoiler.
A few years ago you could have popped into the Mitford Castle for a pint, although by this time it had lost its upper storeys and been renamed the Top O' The Morning. Alas the pub closed in 2013, and in 2015 was demolished to make for way a jarring stack of luxury apartments and a new pub called The Italian Job. This being borderline Hackney the new place majors in craft beer and 'insane sourdough pizza', while the noticeboard outside informs us that lockdown tragically aborted a Mothers Day cupcake-baking class. At least they've reaffixed the heritage plaque outside, but its murderous legend doesn't fit the incorrigible hipster vibe.
Cadogan Terrace, you may remember, is inner London's only single track road with passing places. Its Georgian terraces face Victoria Park and no longer have a railway chugging along the rear, so residents must be doubly pleased. The run of houses broke only for Wallis Road, here reduced to a stubby cul-de-sac after the A12 barged brutally through. At its lowest point a thickly wooded embankment is the sole clue that trains were once carried overhead. For pedestrians or those on two wheels a dramatic footbridge extends further across six lanes of traffic as the East Cross Route splits to meet the Hackney Wick interchange.
The junction's complex because it was supposed to link to the North Cross Route but that was never built, for which residents of Camden, Highbury and Dalston remain eternally grateful. It was also complicated by the presence of the North London Railway, which swept across the left-hand carriageways at what used to be ground level via a brand new concrete viaduct. This touched down on the wooded embankment you can see in the middle of the photo, which was also the site of Victoria Park station, by this time defunct. The viaduct was finally removed in the late 1990s, having carried no passengers and very little freight.
The entrance to Victoria Park station was on the bend in Cadogan Terrace opposite what used to be the park's Station Gate. Today it's a car parking space, immediately behind which the A12 carves by in cutting, summarily demolishing all trace of the main building and two platforms. The brick footings of a former signal box survive on the far side of the chasm above the Hackney on-ramp. A third platform existed to the rear, this time on the Stratford line, because we have finally reached what used to be the junction with what's now the Overground. Don't bother looking out of the window on your next journey between Homerton and Hackney Wick because you won't see it because it isn't there. A12 one, North London Railway nil.
• Abandoned stations: Victoria Park-Bow
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, May 20, 2020London's Disused Railways
North London Railway: Bow - Old Ford
Today (and tomorrow) I intend to follow the route of the nearest disused railway to my home, which I have somehow never got round to blogging before.
The line in question was opened by the East & West India Docks & Birmingham Junction Railway in 1850, and was once important, but declining patronage and bomb damage saw it close to passengers in 1944 and to freight in 1984. The trackbed to the south of Bow was reused as part of the DLR in 1987, but the northern tracks were subsequently lifted and have mostly been covered by housing. It's that defunct northern section I'm attempting to trace, aided by the fortunate coincidence that the entire mile falls within my quarantine box.
The North London Line didn't originally go to Stratford but to Poplar, because that's where the docks were. The first westbound trains headed for Islington and Camden, but in 1865 a viaduct was opened connecting Dalston to a new terminus at Broad Street and services were diverted there instead. From Poplar to the City typically took three quarters of an hour, thanks to the inefficiently roundabout route, with trains running every 15 minutes at peak times. You can read a (very) full history of the line on the excellent Disused Stations website, or perhaps join the North London Railway Historical Society to get your four-monthly newsletter fix.
I'm going to start my journey at Bow station, or as it's now known Bow Church. The original station building was on the northern side of Bow Road, with a lofty chapel-like roof and ten arched windows along its frontage, whereas the DLR station was added on a fresh site to the south. Down below were four platforms, the extra two feeding spurs long since built over which allowed southbound trains to head towards Fenchurch Street or Plaistow [1897 map] [1955 map]. The bomb-damaged building was retained as a parcel depot after closure but removed entirely when the DLR was built, and today a lowly car hire lot covers the spot.
Bow station should not be confused with Bow Road, the disused Great Eastern Railway station 100 yards down the road (1876-1949), nor Bow Road, the later Underground station (still operational).
Just beyond the former platforms the two remaining tracks now narrow to one so that DLR services can rise steeply to curve round towards Stratford. But originally the line ran straight ahead with no connection to the Great Eastern Mainline, amid a veritable granny knot of railways dividing up the heart of Bow. I'd like to show you the modern view from the front of the DLR but that would involve non-essential travel, so here's someone else's front-seat video instead.
To see where the line went next requires a five minute walk down to the police station then back up into the Malmesbury Estate. Trains ran along the back of Caxton Grove, whose terraces have long since been replaced by flats or, on the railway side, a scrap of recreation ground. This is the Four Seasons Green Play Area, a breakout space for local families, thus alas locked at present to avoid unnecessary congregation. In normal times I would have entered the 'Dog Agility Area' at the rear and looked over the fence towards the site of an old signal box, but this too is currently an illegitimate option.
Continuing north immediately requires crossing another railway, this time the mainline into Liverpool Street. The chunk of Bow beyond has been comprehensively redeveloped since the war, one of the most recent additions being a slanting brick block on the former railway alignment in Morville Road. Those giant bluebells are part of an oversized community art project round here - we'll be passing two huge anemones and a massive daisy later. Earlier cul-de-sacs covering the ex-railway have Thatcher Era stamped all over them, with a parking space for all. Having walked up Primrose Close and back for no readily apparent reason, I can confirm that the disapproving Neighbourhood Watch vibes are strong.
At Tredegar Road comes one of the few obvious relics of the old railway, a humped bridge. Cars and buses still slow to rumble over it, despite the fact no train's been underneath since 1984 and housing either side ensures none ever will again. Both Victorian parapets survive, in grubby brick, one now with a communal bin store stashed behind.
The next wall of flats is a 21st century bastion, marketed as The Heart of Bow, and then we hit the Lefevre estate, formerly Lefevre Road, Lefevre Grove and Lefevre Terrace. Its blocks are each named after a Roman god or goddess, individually illustrated in cartoon form above the main door, which must have seemed like a good idea at the time. The estate's centrepiece is a linear park brightened by those huge anemones I mentioned earlier, whereas railway-hunters need to slip down one of the forbidding cul-de-sacs to discover the former alignment. Chariot Close, between Juno House and Saturn House, is a direct hit on the up platform of our next station.
This is the same estate viewed from the A12, shielded by a barrier block with fearsomely small windows to muffle the roar of the former motorway. The down platform was at its northern tip. Here we find Old Ford station, an 1867 addition to the line which unsurprisingly faced Old Ford Road. This ridiculously long street once ran from York Hall in Bethnal Green to the McDonald's drive-through at the Bow Roundabout, but construction of the A12 severed it in the low 600s, precisely here.
Old Ford station's L-shaped building had a central arched doorway between three pairs of matching windows, and the words North London Railway written in cement across the facade. Also closed in 1944 the building lingered on until 1967 before being demolished, although the Railway Tavern across the road survives intact. Looking at the mundane flats covering the station entrance today, it's hard to imagine earlier residents stopping to buy a newspaper from the W.H.Smith bookstall in the ticket hall before starting their commute into the City.
We'll continue to Victoria Park tomorrow.
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, May 19, 2020Dangleway rides again!
The perfect social distancing travel solution
It's been a tough eight weeks, especially for those who rely on London's premier cablecar for their cross-river travel.
So it's fantastic news that services on the Dangleway restarted at 7am yesterday morning, once again providing regular travellers with the ideal isolation experience. Now any Londoner can make their daily travel just that little bit safer, so long as they live nearby and need to make an essential journey to somewhere just across the water.
"We are working hard to restore all services to normal levels as quickly as possible. Today we have stepped up our services on the way to that to help make the journeys of those who must use public transport as safe as possible."The Dangleway's sponsored aerial pods are the perfect environment for risk-free travel. Step inside, let the doors close behind you and leave your health concerns behind as you swoop above the Thames in your own private cocoon.
Mike Brown, London's Transport Commissioner
Important: Do not touch any of the surfaces as previous occupants may have been unclean.
To make use of the restored Dangleway service, simply make your way to North Greenwich or that dead bit of waterfront beside the Royal Victoria Dock. Please do not queue for a ticket, because that would mean giving our furloughed staff something to do. Instead walk up to the barrier, wave your contactless card and prepare for lift off.
If crowds are heavy expect to have to queue while maintaining a 2 metre distance from other passengers at all times. However experience suggests overcrowding is not normally an issue, especially now that families from the Home Counties are unable to make a special visit, so expect to reach the departure zone in seconds flat.
Given the national requirement to maintain social distancing, the capacity of the wider transport network is hugely constrained. However, unlike the tube where only 15 per cent of normal passenger numbers can be carried, we are 100% confident that even reduced Dangleway capacity will be more than enough to meet demand.
"If you don't need to travel by rail or Tube, then don't. Everyone is going to have to get used to a new way of travelling."In excellent news, all solo passengers and household groups are to be given their own private cabin for the duration of their flight. Previously the Private Cabin Experience was only guaranteed on payment of a £60 fee, but coronavirus allows us to offer this unique privilege to all.
Sean O'Callaghan, British Transport Police Assistant Chief Constable
The Dangleway remains the ideal vantage point from which to view the building sites of North Greenwich, the towers of Woolwich and the scrapyards of Silvertown. Given that you're unlikely to be getting on a plane any time soon, this glorious panorama may be the only aerial view you'll be seeing for quite some time.
A Dangleway journey remains the best way to visit various South London attractions including the Emirates Aviation Experience, which is closed, the O2, which is closed, and the Cutty Sark, which is closed. The Thames Barrier remains open.
Across London's transport network, only TfL Rail and the Dangleway are now running at 100% of normal service. Given that nobody wants to go to Heathrow any more, or ever wanted to go to Romford, the Dangleway is the sole mode of travel offering a full and essential service.
"A long-lasting anti-viral disinfectant that protects for up to 30 days is being used on the entire fleet of more than 600 Tube trains, at all London Underground stations, on the DLR and Tram network, the Dial-a-Ride fleet and at 33 key bus stations... but we won't be spraying it here."Hand sanitiser dispensers have been installed at Dangleway Terminal North and Dangleway Terminal South, just as they have at tube stations and tram stops across the capital. Please squirt yourself before and after your ride in the sky, as part of the 'new normal' of public transport etiquette going forward. Masks are neither useful nor technically necessary, but we urge you to wear one anyway.
Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London
Please come back and ride the Dangleway very soon. Annual passenger numbers have been in decline since 2012, and were on course for another record low in 2020 even before lockdown intervened. We need you and, rather than cramming aboard a horribly unhygienic train, we're thrilled to say you now need us.
Previously a white elephant carrying mostly nobody.
Now, unexpectedly, the only safe way to travel.
...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan20 Feb20 Mar20 Apr20 May20
Jan19 Feb19 Mar19 Apr19 May19 Jun19 Jul19 Aug19 Sep19 Oct19 Nov19 Dec19
Jan18 Feb18 Mar18 Apr18 May18 Jun18 Jul18 Aug18 Sep18 Oct18 Nov18 Dec18
Jan17 Feb17 Mar17 Apr17 May17 Jun17 Jul17 Aug17 Sep17 Oct17 Nov17 Dec17
Jan16 Feb16 Mar16 Apr16 May16 Jun16 Jul16 Aug16 Sep16 Oct16 Nov16 Dec16
Jan15 Feb15 Mar15 Apr15 May15 Jun15 Jul15 Aug15 Sep15 Oct15 Nov15 Dec15
Jan14 Feb14 Mar14 Apr14 May14 Jun14 Jul14 Aug14 Sep14 Oct14 Nov14 Dec14
Jan13 Feb13 Mar13 Apr13 May13 Jun13 Jul13 Aug13 Sep13 Oct13 Nov13 Dec13
Jan12 Feb12 Mar12 Apr12 May12 Jun12 Jul12 Aug12 Sep12 Oct12 Nov12 Dec12
Jan11 Feb11 Mar11 Apr11 May11 Jun11 Jul11 Aug11 Sep11 Oct11 Nov11 Dec11
Jan10 Feb10 Mar10 Apr10 May10 Jun10 Jul10 Aug10 Sep10 Oct10 Nov10 Dec10
Jan09 Feb09 Mar09 Apr09 May09 Jun09 Jul09 Aug09 Sep09 Oct09 Nov09 Dec09
Jan08 Feb08 Mar08 Apr08 May08 Jun08 Jul08 Aug08 Sep08 Oct08 Nov08 Dec08
Jan07 Feb07 Mar07 Apr07 May07 Jun07 Jul07 Aug07 Sep07 Oct07 Nov07 Dec07
Jan06 Feb06 Mar06 Apr06 May06 Jun06 Jul06 Aug06 Sep06 Oct06 Nov06 Dec06
Jan05 Feb05 Mar05 Apr05 May05 Jun05 Jul05 Aug05 Sep05 Oct05 Nov05 Dec05
Jan04 Feb04 Mar04 Apr04 May04 Jun04 Jul04 Aug04 Sep04 Oct04 Nov04 Dec04
Jan03 Feb03 Mar03 Apr03 May03 Jun03 Jul03 Aug03 Sep03 Oct03 Nov03 Dec03
Jan02 Feb02 Mar02 Apr02 May02 Jun02 Jul02 Aug02 Sep02 Oct02 Nov02 Dec02