diamond geezer

 Monday, May 20, 2024

River Wogebourne
Shooters Hill → East Wickham → Abbey Wood → Thamesmead (5 miles)
[Wogebourne → Thames]

The Wogebourne is a five mile tributary of the River Thames in the southeast London boroughs of Greenwich and Bexley, that flows generally in a northeasterly direction, from its source in Oxleas Wood in Shooter's Hill, to Thamesmead where it joins the Thames. The Wogebourne has appeared in records since at least the fourteenth century, and has been known by other names including Woghbourne, Plumstead River, and Wickham Valley Watercourse.

...and if you're thinking "What?!" so was I. How can there be a five mile river in southeast London hardly anyone's heard of, because if you'd seen a name like Wogebourne you'd think you'd remember it. And yet it clearly exists, it has a surprisingly detailed Wikipedia page, indeed my first paragraph was cut and pasted from the first paragraph there. It also exists as an annotated blue line on OpenStreetMap, also as an unnamed wiggle on an Ordnance Survey map, so I went out and walked it...

The Wogebourne rises on the slopes of Oxleas Wood high on Shooters Hill. If you know the hilltop cafe it starts a bit east of there, deep in the woods, indeed there are multiple potential sources because all sorts of boggy trenches arise and merge across the southeastern slopes. The map says it starts by a junction of footpaths, one you might know because it's part of the first section of the Capital Ring, although I found some fairly convincing furrows further up. The first sight of a water-filled channel comes beside the big green fingerpost in the middle of the woods, where half a dozen planks also form a very minor footbridge, but these channels turn out to be two tributaries and the Wogebourne plunges on down.

This feels properly rivery. A muddy notch weaves through the trees to the left of the main path, not exactly flowing at this point but that's May for you. The separate track alongside is an offbeat treat, at one point blessed with rope swings and four separate planks for adventurous youthful crossing. A fence at the end suggests the Woodland Working Party didn't really want me coming this way but hey, these mossy banks and shady clearings are well worth the incursion. Further on are additional treetrunks laid to aid crossing and also muddier stripes which made me glad I decided to wear boots. I see why they added a footbridge here.

On the far side of the woods the brooklet turns north to follow the fences along the back of Oxleas Close, but still not really carrying any water. For the next mile the Wogebourne will be marking the boundary between Greenwich and Bexley, indeed for most of the 20th century it defined the dividing line between London and Kent, which is pretty impressive for an otherwise insignificant stream. Near the foot of the slope a final mini-bridge allows dogwalkers to enter Eastcote Gardens, perhaps Welling's least known open space, and then the muddy trench heads towards an overgrown grille and disappears from view. We've reached the bottom of Shooters Hill so there's a busy road to cross, which the Wogebourne does in a pipe which is why you've never seen it.

To try to see where it emerges look for the footpath to the left of the We Anchor in Hope pub and the BP garage, just before the Welcome to Bexley sign. Unfortunately the path is sealed off by a fence, barbed wire and railings with a sign saying DANGER Please do not distract Operatives working on ELECTRICTY which is a lie because no such operatives exist. Alas the Green Chain has been blocked here since 2007 when Woodlands Farm started locking the gates at either end of their land claiming vandalism was an issue, and despite a shedload of campaigning by the Inner London Ramblers they still refuse all access. Not only does this force a mile long diversion but it means everyone gets to miss out on a streamside walk through a haymeadow which I remember being lovely. These days you can only glimpse the buttercup slopes of the Wogebourne valley through a security fence along the edge of Footpath 245, which is scant reward, and next time you see a sign saying Permissive Footpath remember that the bastards do sometimes actually close it.

You won't see the river at the far end of the diversion, by the goats, because it runs behind the back gardens of the houses on Keats Road. Nor will you see it by the obvious dip in the road outside the Glenmore Arms, a large former pub which has inevitably become nine not very large flats. Often as a minor river crosses the suburbs you'll spot a culvert behind a parapet or a narrow space between two houses where it must have passed, but not here because the Wogebourne has been summarily demoted to a pipe. That's particularly baffling up ahead because we're about to enter East Wickham Open Space, a splendid expanse of undulating heath where half a mile of stream would be entirely fitting, but alas it's all been buried.

To cross East Wickham Open Space I followed the wiggly blue line on OpenStreetMap. It seemed perfect as it headed off into a long thin line of greenery labelled Bourne Spring Wood where a stream might well once have run. However I grew less convinced as I started walking gently uphill, the contours increasingly suggesting the natural path would have been off to the left much closer to the cemetery. By the time I reached the final summit the cartographic wiggles were getting sillier, almost requiring some kind of waterfall, because the former stream had patently flowed along the notch in the valley some way below. I checked later on an old OS map and the blue line on OpenStreetMap had indeed gone totally the wrong way, neither was Bourne Spring Wood originally where the map said it was. It turned out that the route of the Wogebourne, and indeed Bourne Spring Wood, had all been added to OpenStreetMap by a user called carlwev four months ago and it seems they got a fair chunk of it wrong.

But on the far side, on Wickham Lane, was a dead cert indication. A stink pipe beside the road isn't always a marker for the passage of a buried river but couple it up with a borough boundary sign AND a street called Bournewood Road AND a street called Woodbrook Road and there must be flowing water hereabouts. I even saw that water just around the bend on Woodbrook Road, but not as clearly a I'd have liked because the culvert was very overgrown and because the resident of the house alongside had just come out to tinker with his white van. But this was my first sighting for a mile and a half so that was a win.

According to a reliable map the Wogebourne is joined by a short tributary flowing down from Bostall Woods somewhere round the back of Waterdale Road, and carlwev's blue line agrees. But you can easily confirm that a river once flowed here if you just stand back, survey your surroundings and imagine. Immediately to the west the land rises rapidly to the high ground around Plumstead Common, immediately to the east is the lumpen hilltop of Bostall Woods and the only thing which could have carved this narrow gash in the sandy ridge is a relentlessly erosive river. Even if you didn't know its name, the Wogebourne must have created the contours of this suburban landscape.

Many of the sideroads to the east of Wickham Lane have a distinct dip, and at the bottom of Gatling Road is a very very tall stink pipe in precisely the right location. The Wogebourne would have crossed Bostall Hill by the Jet garage - again the dip confirms it - and must still lurk in a pipe round the backs of the houses on Woodhurst Road. Its presence is signalled on Bracondale Road by a short section where they didn't build any houses, only a much less heavy row of garages. And we know that it then crosses the railway because Crossrail had to deal with it, half a mile to the west of Abbey Wood station, reburying Culvert 615 after they'd finished.

Everything between the train tracks and the Thames was once Plumstead Marshes, so any river would have braided out across all sorts of drainage channels making further route-tracing very difficult. Wikipedia says it now feeds the canals of what's now Thamesmead, a dense and attractive network, and also the big lakes like Birchmere (pictured below). Specifically it says "the Wogebourne completes its course through a man-made lake called Southmere and a purpose-built channel named Crossway Canal which empties into the Thames at Crossness". And again I thought hang on, if a proper river flowed out into the Thames wouldn't this fact be better known, so I checked the Wogebourne's Wikipedia page and it turns out it was all written four months ago by a user called carlwev. Aha, I thought.

The reason I've never blogged about the Wogebourne before, it turns out, is that it wasn't on Wikipedia or OpenStreetMap until the start of this year. That it now appears is all down to a single individual, I hesitate to say obsessive, who chose to document it online in what seems to be over-accurate detail. The gist is right, the Wogebourne flows pretty much as described, but carlwev's cartographic certainty is unfounded and his 700 words describing the river's course undoubtedly overconfident. Moderators don't always nip in, ask questions or tone things down, and that's how I found myself following a five mile river that exists mostly unseen not quite where anyone thought it was.

 Sunday, May 19, 2024

  Arsenal title-chasing live blog
16:00 Could still win it.
16:05 Bugger.
16:23 Sigh.
16:43 Aagh.
16:45 Oooh.
17:22 Bugger.
17:53 Ooooooh!
17:54 Sigh.
17:59 Could still win it.
18:00 Didn't.

Every year on May 15th the people of Cheam hold a charter fair.
They have to hold it on the right day or permission lapses.
It dates back to a market charter granted by Henry III in 1259.

Also much of the above may not be true.

Firstly there is no evidence that Henry III granted a charter to Cheam in 1259 or in any other year. Tradition says he did but no historical records exist to confirm this, so it's all hand-me-down hearsay. There is thus no legal obligation to hold the fair on the right day but they still do.

Secondly there's no evidence that the fair has been held every year. Tradition says it has, indeed local figures have often gone out of their way to hold some kind of celebration even when no large event took place. During one particularly lacklustre 19th century year a resident called Granny Sloper met the terms by sticking a table of produce outside her house, during WW2 villagers set up an ice cream stall with a dartboard next to it and during the pandemic they got some children to play hopscotch in the street. But nobody knows for sure if the fair has ever failed to take place, and over 7½ centuries that possibility seems rather likely.

Thirdly the fair is no longer held on the correct day. In 2011 councillors suggested a weekend would be better for footfall reasons and since then the main fair's been transferred to the subsequent Saturday. But tradition holds strong so something always takes place on May 15th - this year it was a game of badminton outside the Red Lion in which a small group of children took on the fair's sponsor, a local mortgage broker.

I went along yesterday.

I missed the procession. This takes place at the ridiculously early hour of 9am and I was still on the wrong side of London at the time. What happens is that pupils from St Dunstan's school dress in Tudor outfits and are led through the streets by the Mayor of Sutton in his red robes. I didn't feel like I'd particularly missed out by skipping this.

Cheam Charter Fair takes place in Park Road, a historic dogleg behind The Broadway. It pretty much fills the street too, with 80-odd stalls strung out along its length and a very decent crowd of locals milling through. What I most liked was how traditional and rooted in the community it was, from the Rotary Club's Splat The Rat sideshow to the Trefoil Guild's tombola. I can't claim that the prizes in the shoe shop's lucky dip were amazing, nor that anyone genuinely needs a £1.50 'Paint your own Shortbread Biscuit' kit, but the tat level was a lot lower than your average contemporary streetfair.

And sure the usual array of home-baking entrepreneurs had turned up attempting to sell gift-wrapped slabs of Rocky Road, but they weren't winning out because the best cakes were selling out fastest from the clingfilmed trays on the Mothers Union table. And OK multiple Etsy-style craft ladies had turned up attempting to flog things they'd been sewing all winter, but the crowd was actually larger round the Hook-A-Boat paddling pool where a 50p dip could win you a Swizzels fruit lolly. And admittedly a local heating company had dressed up a Worcester boiler in a cape and was claiming it as a mascot, but the good people of Cheam were sensibly giving their table of sponsored gonks a wide berth. The two constables sent to police the event looked like they were having the best day.

Best of all, the Lumley Chapel was open.

St Dunstan's church was founded just over 1000 years ago, and mostly demolished in the 1870s when burgeoning Cheam needed a less dilapidated place of worship. But the Duke of Bedford refused permission to demolish his private chapel so they kept the end section and filled it with all the old memorials and plaques from the remainder of the church. The Lumley Chapel now stands alone in the churchyard beside its Gothic replacement and since 2002 has been entrusted to the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. For Charter Fair day it was unlocked and the local populace came for a look inside, regularly entertained by historian Andrew Skelton giving a quick explanatory tour.

The major monuments are those of Tudor courtier John Lumley and his two wives, he the lucky sod who inherited Henry VIII's nearby palace of Nonsuch through marriage. The most ornate memorial is that of his first wife Jane, the front of which depicts their three children in alabaster standing in front of a recognisably palatial backdrop. The Lumley vault is a steep shallow space just down there, said John, pointing to the ringed flagstone one of us was standing on. Most of the other commemorative clutter is from later well-to-do families, and John went on to point out how many of them had been referenced in a local street name. The only part of the chapel that's properly pre-Norman are the windowy remnants in the flinty exterior, since-filled in, but that's enough to make this the oldest building in the entire borough of Sutton.

If you want to look inside the Lumley Chapel you don't have to wait until Charter Fair day, the key is kept at Cheam Library nextdoor. Unfortunately Sutton council are increasingly skint so the majority of its libraries have just been switched to a Self-Access model which means you can no longer walk in off the street without a library card (or app) and PIN. Staff are now only provided on Wednesdays, Thursdays and alternate Saturdays, and without someone behind the desk you'll never get the key because this is the miserable cheapskate future austerity has delivered.

In better news a key is also available at the next building I visited, although that's recently had its Saturday opening hours cut thanks to the same cultural budget squeeze imposed last month, damn you Eric Pickles.

I finished off my visit in Whitehall.

That's Whitehall the 520-year-old timber-framed house, one of the cluster of wooden Tudor buildings in Cheam along The Broadway. You can tell it's special just by looking at it, and if it's open you can also see how a recent splash of lottery money has improved the offering within. First up is a little gift shop offering Cheamy publications and a foursome of Cheamy badges, then you're free to head off and explore across two storeys and a spacious attic. A few relics from Nonsuch survive downstairs, displayed alongside a rather splendid model of the very splendid palace. A lot of rooms however display little but information panels, for example a Cheam Discovery Trail you could follow or a look at the former agricultural bounty hereabouts - specifically lavender, peppermint and watercress.

Upstairs the interior decoration gets a bit more thematic and focuses on former residents, which I think is why the largest attic room is full of maritime ephemera and makes seashore noises. I would have like to read more about the actual building itself, for example the marvellously steep and twisty attic staircase, but maybe I missed that part. When you're done there's also a decent sized garden which contains a 20 foot deep well, suitably railinged off, and perhaps a cafe too if council accountants have deemed it worthy of keeping open. And all this is free to visit (it was £1.60 last time I came in 2009) but perhaps that's a condition of the lottery funding. Hurrah anyway.

Cheam might look very 1930s, but at its heart are Saxon and Tudor treasures and a medieval Charter Fair, making it unlike almost anywhere else in London.

If charter fairs are your thing a reminder that Pinner's is coming up in 10 days time, although that's more high street fairground and a mere 14th century youngster.

 Saturday, May 18, 2024

As science evolves, so does the Science Museum.

But to open new galleries they have to close old ones, and next for the chop is The Secret Life of the Home.

This much-loved corner of the basement, where the life of the domestic appliance is quirkily celebrated, closes forever on Sunday 2nd June. I went for a last look round with a wall-to-wall smile, and if you want to do the same you have three weekends left.

The basement has long been a child-friendly part of the museum, somewhere that button-pushing and lever-pulling has always been encouraged. The first Children's Gallery opened in 1931, revamped in 1969 with more interactive exhibits including a Van de Graaf generator, multiple pulleys and a small gold ball you could never grab. In 1986 this was augmented by a more wideranging and resilient attraction upstairs (Launchpad, now Wonderlab, entrance fee £12) before finally being replaced by the gallery we're mourning today.

The Secret Life of the Home opened in 1995 as an evolution of the former domestic appliance gallery. The mastermind behind the transformation was the cartoonist/engineer Tim Hunkin, he of the amazing arcade machines under Southwold Pier and at Novelty Automation. He'd recently made a series 'The Secret Life of Machines' for Channel 4 so the Science Museum took him on to refurbish the old gallery and then extend it along a corridor, preferably as cheaply as possible. Tim wanted to get away from nebulous themed displays and rediscover the joys of glass cases overstuffed with objects and cryptic labels, and built up the new interactive gallery one case at a time over the course of a two year period. You can read a fascinating 10,000 word account of how he did it, battling conservation guidelines, fire regulations and over-energetic foreign students, here on Tim's reassuringly old-school website.

The first case you see on entering is full of toilets, which is quite the curtain raiser. One's sliced in half so you can see how the cistern works, and it was once possible to spin a wheel and send a model turd around the U-bend. Close by is the Home Security room with its passive infra-red alarm system to defeat, and alongside is the red Automatic Door that's been delighting children at the museum since 1933. A photo shows its 13½ millionth opening in 1967, and I added two more before it closes for good. The all-pervading electronic beeps you can hear are from a game of Pong, the original two-bat video game from 1978 which astonishingly is still the most popular exhibit in the gallery - every passing child wants to stop and twiddle. A Commodore Vic 20, a Victorian Singer sewing machine, a yellow Hoover upright, a modern Bosch power drill, a wide-ranging selection of light switches and a set of five motorised hot water bottles... they're all here.

Turn right and it's mostly kitchen appliances and boilers.

Cooking: Enjoy a complete wallful from iron ranges to microwave ovens, the latter fully documented because they were cutting edge in 1995. I particularly liked the evolution of toasters, the dollop of baked beans on a postwar electric hob and the modern plastic kettle some jobsworth's had to stick an 'Unsafe' sticker on.
Tea & Coffee: Many thanks to Mr and Mrs Davey of Warminster for donating their 1966 Goblin Teasmade.
Food Preparation: Oh gosh, we had a Kenwood foodmixer exactly like that when I was a child, just not sliced in half so you could see its innards.
Irons: A particularly Tim Hunkin touch is that one of the irons is a half-melted gooey mess, this to demonstrate the importance of not removing the safety thermal link.
Refrigerators: I confess I wasn't so much looking at the fridges, more at the 1990s packaging inside... four McCain Deep Crust Pizza Slices, four Iceland Chargrilled Quarter Pounders, two Heinz Weight Watchers low fat Dessert Bombes and a pack of twelve St Ivel Shape fruit yoghurts.
Washing: Gasp at the size of a labour-saving blanket bath, or turn the four wheels in the right order to see how the mechanics of a washing machine do their thing.
Heating: Where else in London are you going to see a comprehensive display of Imitation Coal Effects, or indeed an advert asserting that 'Modern Folk use Hard Coke for comfort in the home'?

Or turn left up the home entertainment corridor.

TV: Follow the evolution of screen size from pre-war miniature to still-not-enormous Sony Trinitron. There's also a functioning cathode ray tube to twiddle with.
Radio: As expected, huge wooden cabinets with Hilversum on the display, handbag sized transistor radios and something tiny Sinclair once sold.
Hi-Fi: "Mummy, why does the old Grammo phone have a brass trumpet, why is there an entire case of reel-to-reels and why do I need to know how a CD player works?"
On The Move: Before the Walkman and the Handycam there was the solid state Super 8 automotive tape player.
Valves: This cabinet also includes a record press, stereo cartridges, crystal pickups and a selection of gramophone needles. Look carefully and there's a label in the corner which is the best label in any museum anywhere, not just the basement of the Science Museum...

Tim's gallery is marvellous stuff, playfully displayed, and intensely nostalgic for anyone over 40. But what was once cutting edge is now wildly out of date and entire chapters are missing, the youngest appliances now being three decades old. The Secret Life of the Home is alas no longer How Things Work but more How Things Worked, so you can see why the Science Museum might be mothballing it. They promise to add the items to their online collection, for what it's worth, but will then despatch the entire exhibit to the museum's Science and Innovation Park for storage. This amazing warehouse will finally be opening for public tours later this year, but even if you can be arsed to go to a field south of Swindon don't expect the opportunity to play with all of The Secret Life of The Home ever again.

We don't yet know what'll fill the space left by this basement gallery, only that its long-term future is still "being considered by teams across the museum". But you don't have to go far around the museum to find multiple examples of something modern replacing something old. I found a 2013 map of the Science Museum online and used it to walk round and see what's disappeared over the last decade. It's a lot.
5th floor: Medicine (entire floor closed to the public in 2015)
4th floor: Medicine (entire floor closed to the public in 2015)
3rd floor: Flight, Science in the 18th century (became Wonderlab in 2016)
2nd floor: Shipping (became The Information Age in 2014), Mathematics and Computing (became Mathematics in 2016), Energy (replaced by the Clockmakers Museum in 2015), Public History (became Science City 1550-1800 in 2019)
1st floor: Cosmos & Culture, Time, Agriculture (all became Medicine in 2019), Materials (became Engineers/Technicians in 2023)
Ground floor: Energy Hall, Exploring Space, Making The Modern World
Much of this makes perfect sense. It's quite frankly astonishing that the Agriculture gallery with its tractory dioramas lingered until 2017, and the Computing gallery didn't really need an intricate explanation of how punched cards worked. But a lot of really fabulous exhibits disappeared from view when these old galleries closed, their replacements much sparser in content and increasingly focused on 'themes'. We're not yet at the stage where screens and images outnumber actual physical artefacts, but the direction of travel seems inexorably towards displays you could instead experience sitting at home online.

And which gallery's closing next? Amazingly it's this one.

The Exploring Space gallery, the long dark room with the dangling Soyuz rockets, is scheduled to be emptied and replaced by the Horizons Gallery, "the Science Museum’s new landmark gallery exploring how today's scientific discoveries are shaping our future". We're told "it will be the destination for our audiences to discover and learn about the most exciting and impactful science stories transforming lives today and extending what we know about ourselves, our planet and our universe", indeed we were first told this a year ago today so don't act surprised. Expect permanent displays of iconic objects and a programme of regularly changing exhibits telling stories through innovative digital displays and other media, with a particular focus on the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. It should be better than it sounds.

And don't worry, space travel will be finding a new home in the West Hall of the millennial Wellcome Wing, most likely on the ground floor where the Covid vaccine story is currently being cleared out. But I bet there'll be less of it, the rest pensioned off to a shed in Wiltshire you'll likely never visit, as the museum looks more to the future than the past. If you like stuff, especially household appliances in cases with quirky labels, come sooner rather than later.

 Friday, May 17, 2024

As the phoney war before the next election escalates, I'd like to express my disappointment that the next government won't be as left wing as it should have been.

Just look at this.

These are Comrade Starmer's so-called first steps, a limp selection of depressingly weak promises which reads more like an apology than an agenda for change. How would Britain be any different under a Labour government if this depressingly anodyne recipe were implemented in full over a five year period?

It speaks volumes that Starmer chose to launch his mini manifesto in Thurrock, a red wall Tory stronghold in all but name, rather than surrounded by staunch allies in an area that's voted Labour all its life. You only had to look at the shadow ministers sat behind him in their grey suits - not a donkey jacket in sight - to realise that Keir has sucked the very soul out of what used to be a campaigning party.

The upcoming election is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform society leftwards and bring equality to all, especially the marginalised and downtrodden. Instead it seems the so-called Labour party is happy to pander to the needs of neo-liberals and mega-corporations with a wishy washy slate of pledges that promises to do nothing to improve the lot of the poorest in this country, except within six marginalised scenarios.

What is the point of waiting fourteen years for government if you fail to implement the most basic of socialist policies and merely continue the rightward drift of the current incumbents?

And what does Deliver economic stability even mean? We should be increasing the higher rate of income tax and introducing a universal wage for all whilst simultaneously ending the scourge of zero hours contracts, but instead all the talk is of woolly themes like fiscal rules and robust institutions, benefiting nobody the Labour Party was originally created to serve. Given the toxic shock an inept Tory Prime Minister delivered in just seven weeks, its financial repercussions still painfully evident, a Conservative defeat is all but baked in. Labour should therefore be promising nothing short of total redistribution of wealth because they'd still undoubtedly win, and if not now, when?

Our health service is itself on the resuscitation table as the Tories seek to privatise this much-loved institution by stealth. And yet all Sir Keir can promise is to Cut NHS waiting times, a target which ought to be taken as read whenever a Labour government comes to power rather than being anything startlingly new. It's patently impossible to trust Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting with his modernising views and emphasis on private healthcare solutions, indeed who's to say we won't all end up paying for doctor's appointments on his watch, indeed the health of the nation remains at risk of existential decline if a centrist government takes power.

When it comes to immigration it's time to reverse the populist rhetoric of the Braverman years and embrace the benefits of diversity. It's nobody's priority to Launch a new Border Security Command, that's merely oppression writ large in the face of a human rights tragedy, as you'd think a former lawyer like Sir Keir would recognise. We should be welcoming our migrants with reception barges in the middle of the English Channel and then packing them off to work in care homes, not to mention reversing Brexit because the will of the people undeniably supports a fresh start with our former European partners, and don't let the biased media tell you this wouldn't be a surefire votewinner.

On the face of it the promise to Set up Great British Energy is a positive thing, a bold move to tackle economic hardship and the inevitable scourge of climate change. But where is the promise to renationalise our water companies, ending the crippling bills which bleed us dry to pay shareholders and allow human sewage to pollute our rivers? Where too is the former pledge to spend £28bn a year on climate projects, or to impose a pay-as-you-go road tax on the most polluting vehicles, or to phase out coal 100 days into a new Labour government? The absence of these key issues from Sir Keir's list speaks volumes, whereas what we need are rock-solid aspirational commitments which precisely match our own personal agendas.

A plan to Crack down on antisocial behaviour sounds like something the Daily Mail would campaign for, not a key plank of a Labour relaunch. Are we so desperate for former Tories to vote for us that we abandon all our core values? Rather than rapping knuckles and advocating stop and search we should instead be opening youth clubs and investing in Sure Start centres, thereby empowering a new generation instead of demonising them. It's barely a decade since Tony Blair proposed introducing a mandatory new ID card for all, a draconian imposition Keir Starmer might easily reconsider, such are the dangers of electing an insufficiently progressive government.

Of all Keir's first steps Recruit 6500 new teachers is undoubtedly the weakest, an aspirational target which barely addresses the issue at hand. England contains over 24,000 schools so this pledge amounts to providing a new member of staff only for one in four, a drop in the ocean which entirely fails to "ensure that every child has access to high-quality education provision". More important is to reverse the assault on gendered toilets and the teaching of woke studies, issues the wider voting public would undoubtedly support if only they had been educated better themselves.

It's been five years since Jeremy Corbyn presented a radical agenda to the nation and was roundly defeated by an incompetent populist buffoon. Now is the time to try again, moving left to balance out the Tories moving right, rather than simply rolling over and telling red wall voters what they want to hear. We cannot afford to be pragmatic, we must embrace our egalitarian principles and offer policies which improve the lot of everyone on this island equally, otherwise what is the point of voting Labour... we might as well all stay at home.

It seems Sir Keir is insistent on courting the centre ground in an attempt simply to gain power rather than reshaping Britain, indeed he looks likely to win a landslide with his mealy-mouthed managementspeak and watered-down promises. We must therefore prepare ourselves for five long years of abject disappointment as a Labour government manages to be insufficiently bold with every policy choice and every ministerial decision. It might even be better if Starmer were to lose and we faced spending the rest of the decade under a cruel Conservative regime further rolling back the state and leaving the weak to fend for themselves. Only once every voter is screwed equally will the need for a proper Labour government become collectively inevitable.

 Thursday, May 16, 2024



London's Monopoly Streets


Group: British Railways
Purchase price: £200
Rent: £25
Annual passengers: 10 million
Borough: Westminster
Postcode: NW1

The second of the four railway stations on the Monopoly board is unexpectedly minor, the terminus for a few trains from the Chilterns. It made the cut for the UK version because Waddington's boss Victor Watson was from Leeds so chose only LNER termini, which Marylebone was between 1923 and 1948. It may be a small station but it's much loved, packed with detail, architecturally superior and an excellent way to avoid travelling on Avanti West Coast. To answer that question, announcements on the Bakerloo line pronounce it MARR-le-bone.

A (very) brief history: Marylebone opened later than all of London's other mainline termini, providing an alternative service to the Midlands and the North West along the Great Central Main Line. The first trains ran on 15th March 1899, i.e. almost exactly 125 years ago, which helps explain the abundance of anniversary stickers and celebratory bunting currently in place around the station. Marylebone was never especially popular for long distance journeys and when Beeching axed its Midlands connection it became solely reliant on commuter traffic. In 1984 British Rail announced plans for a full closure and conversion of the tracks into an expressway for coaches, but public opposition (and excessively low headroom) put paid to that. Marylebone's subsequent turnaround came from better signalling and long-term investment from private company Chiltern Railways, and they've been running the show here since 1996.

Let's start outside. The station arrived too late to face direct onto Marylebone Road so was instead shoehorned one street back on Melcombe Place, its arrival requiring the demolition of an entire block of residential housing. The front of the building features Dutch gables and multiple chimneystacks plus the arms of the Great Central Railway above the centre of the arch. It still looks more like a station you might find in Wolverhampton or Nottingham rather than a main London terminus. The most striking exterior feature is an iron and glass porte-cochère, currently used to shield the taxi rank from the elements but which was originally built to protect guests heading into the Great Central Hotel across the street. It's proper elegant.

Hotel fact: Between 1948 and 1986 the hotel building was used as the headquarters of British Rail.
Porte-cochère fact: British Rail stumped up the cash to restore the structure in 1993 (see adjacent plaque).
Great Central fact: The rail company's name survives in the name of Great Central Street, a road punched through to connect to Marylebone Road, and can also be seen in the tiles at the far ends of the Bakerloo line platforms because that station was once called Great Central.

Step inside and it all looks very impressive but also a bit cluttered. Originally all the facilities would have been around the edge of the concourse, and the tiny WH Smith shop still is, but additional kiosks have been added in the middle over recent years. One's a garish gold colour and dispenses coffee, while another used to contain helpful station staff but now only proffers information about Bicester Village, the Oxfordshire outlet that's the highlight of many a far eastern visitor's London trip. Chiltern's accountants must be delighted these smiling brand voyagers still turn up in big numbers, validating all that investment they put into introducing direct services in 2016.

The ticket office isn't where the old Network SouthEast signage says it is, but instead behind a slightly-rustic-looking counter near the top of the tube escalators. Time was when the queue used to get frustratingly long, indeed Michael Portillo once joined the line behind me and spent several minutes waiting his turn, but when I rocked up on Sunday morning I unexpectedly strolled straight to the front for immediate attention. All the obliging folk with simpler queries are over at the machines in the middle, pushing buttons under the departure board, or swiping directly through the gates on e-tickets instead. The departure board only shows the next six services but that's generally everything leaving the station for the best part of an hour. And if your next train to Birmingham could be that far distant, this helps explain the abundance of retail and hospitality options close by.

If there's time for a beer the bar at the Victoria and Albert awaits. It's been here since 1971, though looks older, and its cheapest draught lager is currently an Amstel for £5.70. Alternatively, if background baseball's more your thing, maybe try the plainer Sports Bar by the toilets. A Greggs exists for those who can't board a train without clutching a hot pastry, a Burger King for those who need something greasier and an M&S Food for those whose snack requirements are more middle class. Also lining up against the back of the escalators are a Boots and a card shop, and if you need a thoughtful gift for the person who'll be greeting you at the end of your journey I recommend the florist over the Oliver Bonas.

For cranial nourishment you can always check out the multitude of heritage plaques and posters. An entire history of the station was displayed across seven colourful panels in the western vestibule to celebrate the recent 125th anniversary, so feel free to read those if my earlier potted summary wasn't sufficient. Alongside is an enormous map of the local area part-overlaid across Chiltern's rail network, a new artwork which must both impress and confuse those entering the station (for augmented information scan the QR code alongside and make sure you have the latest version of Instagram on your phone). Meanwhile for those who prefer to read words without additional faff, the three plaques lined up above M&S's £10 bouquets were installed to commemorate Sir Edward Watkin's 200th birthday, Sir John Betjeman's 100th and the centenary of the opening of the station.

When the time comes to board your train, aim for the V-shaped gateline in front the platforms and aim towards Boarding Area A or Boarding Area B. Those turning right towards the lower numbered platforms also get to enjoy a 9-foot statue of the driving force behind Chiltern Railways, Adrian Shooter, which was unveiled in 2022 a few months before his death. Adrian's achievements include wangling a 20-year franchise, enabling substantial long-term investment, doubling passenger numbers and having a Himalayan steam railway in his back garden. He later refurbished lots of former District line trains for use on the rail network but that hasn't turned out quite so well. Adrian is also the only person I've ever had Christmas dinner with who went on to be honoured by a public statue. Admittedly he left the meal early, but this was in 1995 when his mind was probably fully occupied on winning the first Chiltern franchise instead.

The original railway into Marylebone proved so expensive to build that there was only room for half the number of intended platforms, hence the trainshed feels long and narrow. It still has great character, however, and remains ideal for use by film directors requiring a heritage vibe. Two further platforms were added in the 1980s by replacing the central carriage road, and three more squeezed in at the far end in 2006 to support a busier timetable. If you're lucky your train leaves from the closest, but you might have to walk up to the far end to reach the shorter platforms 4, 5 and 6 so make sure you leave enough time. This long hike also involves passing a substantial bike rack which fills one entire wall, a facility which is no longer available only to season ticket holders. If you're curious about the staircases at the very tip of each platform, they're for emergency use only and bring you out onto the bridge at Rossmore Road.

One thing which marks out Marylebone is that the lines into it have never been electrified, hence you can always hear the characteristic low thrum of the diesels while they're sitting in the platforms. At less busy times, with so few trains barely occupying so long a space, you can easily imagine how station closure once ended up on the agenda. But during rush hours, on Wembley match days or when the pull of Bicester Village is particularly strong, best give thanks that no fool ever signed off on that proposal and thus this transport jewel survives and thrives.

 Wednesday, May 15, 2024

A Nice Walk: Suburban circuit (¾ mile)

Sometimes you just want to go for a nice walk, nothing too taxing, a bit of a stroll, easily reached, pretty flowers, running water, hidden secrets, occasional benches, refreshment opportunity, entirely step-free, won't take long. So here's an anonymous three-quarter-mile circuit in the London suburbs, nowhere near enough to make a day of it but a nice walk all the same.

I'm starting from a station used by many people who live in the local neighbourhood. It won't be winning any prizes for architecture, nor is it a regular on the tourist trail, nor is it clear when the ticket office sold its last ticket. A mop and brushes are tucked away in the corner near a yellow plastic cone. Outside I dodge the blue car that's just pulled up, delivering a late commuter to the main entrance who then rushes for the stairs. The cafe outside is remarkably quiet, the proprietor looking out in the seemingly vain hope that someone might want a mocha and an almond croissant. It's very easy to see what the establishment's signature colour is. I check six properties in the estate agent's window but they offer nothing I could afford, then turn to ponder what might be going on with the peculiar shop opposite. Thankfully the rain has now stopped.

While I steel myself for the off, a small terrier stops for a sniff in the foliage at the foot of a young tree. The pillarbox by the crossroads has a last posting time of 9am so it may already be too late to get a first class letter somewhere by tomorrow. The fingerpost on the corner is simultaneously over-pedantic and somewhat out of date. A Sainsbury delivery van heads off in the opposite direction to the way I'm going. I'm surprised I haven't blogged about this street before because it has several memorable features you'd think I'd have mentioned previously, but I see I've pencilled it in for later. A parakeet squawks overhead, heard but not seen. One house has a chequered tiled front path, another a brolly drying in the porch and another drips with the last faded gasps of wisteria. I think those are the first foxgloves I've seen this year.

After the final junction I enter uncharted territory, by which I mean I've never walked this way before. Number 22 has a trace of bunting draped across the fence left over from what appears to have been a lively party in the back garden, judging by the number of gazebos. An estate agent would have no trouble selling the two houses at the far end, their glasswork and woodwork being very distinctive, but perhaps not the bungalow opposite which is opportunistic postwar infill. The footpath ahead fades in gently, heralded by some impeccable herbaceous beds. The brickwork to either side make me wonder if perhaps... and when I check later on an old map yes that was absolutely the case.

The street furniture in the area is very distinctive, each item labelled with the name of the manufacturer, and definitely from a previous catalogue rather than the sustainable timber-focused solutions they offer today. At the allotments one sign warns users what not to add to their compost and another gives the date of the upcoming BBQ. The usual motley assortment of cloches, boards and plastic sheeting are being used to keep seedlings protected from any late frost. One plotholder has covered their canes with upturned empty 7-Up bottles while another, inexplicably, has a birdtable topped with assorted gnomes. Personally I wouldn't have put that blue sign on my shed but it is very evocative of a previous motoring era.

Ahead is probably the least attractive section of the walk but the upcoming obstacle has to be negotiated. At least the whiff of stale urine is only brief. I don't think the paint daubed on the wall is meant to be art but it's possible it was meant to be a long time ago. The fence ahead appears to comprise timber panels from at least six separate installations, judging by the colours of the staining. Crossing the next street has been made easy by an abundance of overfussy pedestrian crossings dating, I suspect, from the Tufty Club era. The houses here are half a dozen years older than the cafe. Along the next footpath the clematis is in bloom and a few early pink roses are poking above the fence, so that's nice. And then we hit the park.

This is very much the highlight of the walk, although I see I wasn't particularly impressed the last time I was here. Also the same people who made the bollards made the litter bin, or rather 'litter & dog waste' bin because it's definitely brimming over with more of the latter. The grass sparkles with dandelion clocks and buttercups, a couple of irises are flourishing by the cycle path, a handful of bluebells are holding on and I think I spotted some alliums starting to shine. All in all I'd say the finest feature is the long-standing clump of conifers. Most of the benches are unattributed but Ian and Rocky have a new one. Anyone reading the noticeboard might assume the only events which take place locally are dog-related, and the evidence I saw bouncing across the nearby grass suggested the demand is well justified.

A river trickles quietly through, apart from the stripes where it's less quiet, and is best viewed from the inconspicuous footbridge. At this time of year what's being carried on the surface is mostly blossom but I imagine the channel gets quite leafy later. Thus far only Tracey and Philip have attached an engraved padlock to the metalwork and I very much hope their trailblazing schmaltz doesn't catch on. I also found a minuscule blue artwork stuck to an upright, like a dimpled organic shell, plus a sign suggesting Helen was to thank for the prickly mammal by the park entrance. I think I was supposed to hunt for several more of these but I only found a small marbled stomach on a noticeboard.

On leaving the park the house opposite is very obviously half of a pair of semi-detached houses, now with a separate cul-de-sac nextdoor where I guess the bomb hit. An ambulance turns up here as I pass, but not in a loud flashy way so I assume the visit is routine. The cars parked between the gate and the main road - which might give some idea of the local demographics - are a Ford, Toyota, Audi, Kia, Fiat, Suzuki, two VWs, two Skodas and two Hyundais. The 'Beware of the dog' sign on the back gate at number 39 has split clean in two straight down the middle. If you want to see the crust of bread abandoned on a tree stump by the cycle crossing, best hurry before the magpies snaffle it.

The circuit is almost at an end but there's still time to admire the local plasterwork and the window on the house on the corner which resembles an Art Deco sunset. If you're in the area on Saturday, be aware that one of the houses is holding a plant and cake sale in aid of cancer research and they're offering a free bookmark with every purchase. The presence of a school in the vicinity perhaps explains the scrap of burst balloon on the pavement, not far from the empty packet of strawberry flavour pencils. The loop is closed by negotiating some cycle-unfriendly metalwork, a tiled wall and a stack of unread Metros, as you would expect in such a location. I'm pleased to see the cafe now appears to have some customers but I choose not to join them, after what has certainly been a memorable walk.

 Tuesday, May 14, 2024

In May 2004 I wrote a month-long series called Silver Jubilee to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Jubilee line. I believe in playing the long game, so today I'm reviving the feature to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Jubilee line extension.

The Jubilee line extension opened in six incremental stages as engineers battled against the immovable deadline of Millennium Eve. The first section to open was North Greenwich to Stratford on Friday 14th May 1999, a fact commemorated on plaques at three of the four stations if you know where to look.

So here's what I wrote about the first four extension stations in 2004, when they were just five years old, in each case followed by an updated version. The first in each pair of photos is from 2004, the second from 2024. More photos here. If you want to read about all 28 Jubilee line stations (complete with hundreds of links that no longer work) the original Silver Jubilee posts are here.

Silver Jubilee: North Greenwich

Opened: Friday 14th May 1999
Distance from previous station: 1.7 km (beneath the River Thames)
You are now entering: the London Borough of Greenwich, zone 3
Fact file: North Greenwich station is even bigger than Canary Wharf station but serves a local population of virtually zero. The station contains over 150000 tonnes of reinforced concrete and is sort of purple-themed. There are three platforms here rather than the usual two, just in case anyone ever wants to build a new branch line out to Beckton and the Royal Docks.
5 things I found outside this station: a carelessly-discarded Dome, WH Smiths, a bus station in the middle of nowhere, a 1000-space car park, Group 4 security.
Nearby: Millennium Dome, Millennium Way, Millennium Village, Millennium Quay, Millennium Sainsburys, big fat Millennium zero.
Nearby, but a 5 minutes detour by road: the Blackwall tunnel.
Not nearby enough: Greenwich, civilisation.

No longer true in 2024: North Greenwich is no longer the middle of nowhere. The local population is now many thousands. The Dome got rebranded by a phone company and now hosts massive gigs. The eco-tastic Millennium Sainsburys was demolished before its 20th birthday.
Now change here for: Dangleway

Platforms: Long and deep, much the same as ever. Still under-escalatored. Nothing else on the Underground feels like it.
Concourse: Unnervingly long, with one busy end and one eerie end that's always taped off. Temporary central barriers now seem permanent. Always an in/out clash as streams cross and merge, attempting to keep right. Spacious, but that space hasn't been used particularly practically.
Ticket Hall: Occasional whiff of hot sausage rolls thanks to branch of Greggs (opened 2021). Full history of station displayed on window of former ticket office. The inevitable Pret. Lengthy whiteboard odes courtesy of @allontheboard, sometimes very out of date and facing backwards. Intermittent hordes of provincial gig-goers.
5 things I found outside this station: Branded aerial cabin, arrows to nudge punters towards the Dangleway, little stalls selling cupcakes and coffee, plaque commemorating the opening of North Greenwich Transport Interchange by a minor MP on 18th May 1999, the only bus station information kiosk in London still displaying rack of leaflets explaining 'How to make a simple face covering'.
Nearby: Opportunities to eat and drink, adverts for brands, flat-flogging sales office, tiny insta-friendly art gallery, taxi drivers who only go south of the river, massive mouth of a not-quite finished road tunnel, more opportunities to eat and drink, the tip of a still unfinished neighbourhood.

Silver Jubilee: Canning Town

Opened: Monday 14th June 1847
Jubilee platforms opened: Friday 14th May 1999
Distance from previous station: 1.7 km (beneath the River Thames again)
You are now entering: the London Borough of Newham
Change here for: Docklands Light Railway and North London line
Fact file: This is a double decker station, with the DLR platforms directly above the Jubilee line platforms. The eastbound DLR runs directly above the westbound Jubilee, but in the same actual direction.
5 things I found outside this station: a big flyover on the A13, an MFI superstore, a teeming bus station, Purvi newsagents, a large stone memorial commemorating the nearby Thames Ironworks (HMS Warrior was built here in 1860).
Nearby: Bow Creek, Leamouth, Trinity Buoy Wharf (London's only lighthouse).

No longer true in 2024: The MFI superstore has become phase 1 of 'Manor Road Quarter', a 32 storey residential tower. The bus station is seemingly permanently propped up by obstructive temporary scaffolding. Newsagents are no longer a thing hereabouts. Now borderline zone 2/3.
Now also change here for: DLR to Woolwich or Stratford International from the former North London line platforms.

Platforms: Much the same as ever. Roundels now have pigeon spikes on top. Enormous blue vinyls confirm that these are platforms 5 and 6.
Concourse: Annoying one-way system because the original design overwhelmed the escalators. Someone on the staff likes drawing full-colour manga.
Ticket Hall: Costa (for anyone who's somehow missed the oversupply of coffee shops outside). Dangleway ads in place of ticket office. New exit to Bow Creek (already in place in 2004 but not yet open).
5 things I found outside this station: A bus drivers' mess room, a mess of a bus station, a bus map dated 28th October 2010, an intrusive new cycleway, a new residential neighbourhood anyone you'd met in 2004 would have laughed at the idea of.
Nearby: Towers towers towers, flats flats flats, streets of pure capitalism named after suffragettes, millennials grazing, unscenic tidal mud, City Hall.

Silver Jubilee: West Ham

Opened: Monday 16th October 1854
Jubilee platforms opened: Friday 14th May 1999
Distance from previous station: 1.6 km
Change here for: District, Hammersmith & City, c2c and North London lines
Fact file: West Ham station is 1½ miles from West Ham football ground which must fool a lot of away supporters. You want Upton Park instead.
5 things I found outside this station: Ibstock bricks and small glass squares, Costcutter Express, a mini-roundabout, Memorial Avenue, a chippy under new management (shame).
Nearby (eastward): a recreation ground, the East London Rugby Club, a few houses.
Nearby (westward): no houses, Bow Back Rivers, light industrial sprawl, Olympic Park 2012 (maybe), the site of the old Big Brother House.

No longer true in 2024: West Ham football ground is now only 1 mile away, relocated to the Olympic Stadium. Costcutter is now a Nisa. The chippy sells a lot more chicken than fish these days. The former gasworks site to the west of the station is about to be thousands of flats. Now borderline zone 2/3.
Now also change here for: DLR from the former North London line platforms.

Platforms: Much the same as ever. Part of the northbound platform is now overshadowed by scaffolding supporting new footbridge to adjacent development.
Concourse: Currently beset by a year-long one-way system with multiple notices screaming 'Turn left' (many of which point right). Currently afflicted by people ignoring the one-way system because it inconveniences them. New entrance emerging behind blue hoardings.
Ticket Hall: More people interchanging than exiting. Passive aggressive notice advising passengers there are no public toilets inside or outside the station (subtext - piss off).
5 things I found outside this station: BestMate (unexpectedly dropping by for a coffee), the ever-lovely Rial cafe, a dry cleaners that probably makes more money from selling vapes, a boarded-off staircase leading across the tracks towards the new TwelveTrees development, workman grouting the aforementioned staircase.
Nearby: Sales office for new development ("a flourishing new place to call home"), landmark towers, a lowly longstanding local neighbourhood that's about to be usurped.

Silver Jubilee: Stratford

Opened: Thursday 20th June 1839
Jubilee platforms opened: Friday 14th May 1999
Distance from previous station: 1.5 km
Change here for: Central line, Docklands Light Railway, North London line and One (somebody please sack the PR gibbon who thought that name up)
Change here soon for: Eurostar services to St Pancras and Paris, via the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link.
Fact file: Stratford station used to be a bit of a dump. But it was completely rebuilt between 1996 and 1999 and is now a bit of a stunner, although it's still a heck of a long walk out of the station from the Jubilee line platforms. Coming soon, just to the north, Stratford International.
5 things I found outside this station: Meridian Square, a big bus station, a steam engine called Robert, scores of people, my local shopping centre.
Nearby: Stratford Market train depot (formerly a fruit & veg market), the Cultural Quarter (Theatre Royal + Stratford Picturehouse + Stratford Circus).
Nearby (maybe): Olympic Park 2012

Transformed since 2004: Nowhere else in London has changed so much over the last 20 years. Westfield and the Olympics transformed Stratford's fortunes, opening up a whole new hinterland on the north side of the station.
No longer true in 2024: Less of a stunner than it once was due to congestion and overuse. Now borderline zone 2/3. Eurostar never bothered stopping.
Now also change here for: DLR from the former North London line platforms, Elizabeth line to Paddington, Overground to Willesden, Greater Anglia to Norwich and Tottenham Hale.

Platforms: Just the two now that platform 13 is hardly ever used (thus speeding up turnaround and reducing congestion). A mostly-obsolete footbridge. Dozens of passengers dashing to slip in through the back doors of a departing train.
Concourse: Petit Pret. Central stack of Evening Standards (afternoon peak only). Big analogue clock. Ridiculously tiny badly-positioned departure board. New station entrance from Carpenters Road estate nigh ready to open.
Ticket Hall: Still got a Smiths. Majority of ticket machines replaced by advert for Google contactless. Awkwardly intersecting flows of incoming and outgoing passengers.
5 things I found outside this station: Homeless sleeper under dirty duvet. Deano's Continental Foods (selling German sausage and Coffee's), permeable ring of protective bollards, attempts to hand out evangelical literature, relocated taxi rank.
Nearby: All the shops and then some, upthrusted towers, student hutches, glinting fishy scales attempting to hide a multi-storey car park, broken escalators to Westfield, cinemas for rich and poor, 2012's field of dreams.

Happy silver jubilee to the silvery Jubilee line extension.

(this feature will return in September)

 Monday, May 13, 2024

As unexpected street names go, this is right up there.

Stanley Kubrick Road is in Denham in Buckinghamshire.
And there are more where that came from.

n.b. there are four Denhams.
• Denham, the historic posh village just off the A40
• Denham Green, the newer commuter bit near the station
• New Denham, several new streets just north of Uxbridge
• Higher Denham, the separate slice beside the golf club

Specifically Stanley Kubrick Road is in Denham Green.

Three things to see in Denham Green

1) Denham Film Studios

Hungarian-born film director Alexander Korda opened his film studios just north of Denham in 1935. Some of the films made here include Blithe Spirit, In Which We Serve, Goodbye Mr Chips and Brief Encounter (in the latter case, just the interior of the refreshment room). In 1946 a large sound stage opened capable of accommodating the largest of orchestras, and this continued to be popular even after films stopped being made in 1952. Soundtracks recorded here include Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Alien, GoldenEye and the first two Star Wars films (before they were renamed with Roman numerals). Much of the site became a business park in 1981 and this is currently home to Bosch's UK HQ. But the Art Deco main building remained in use until 2014, and has since been converted (and this will not surprise you) into luxury flats.

It never used to say The Denham Film Studios on the front, indeed being old and local I remember when it said Rank Xerox instead. The frontage also never used to have little sun terraces and tiny gardenettes, and although there was always a cinema at the far end it wasn't previously for the exclusive use of residents. In the 2018 sales brochure the flats carved from the interior were given names like The Olivier, The Hamill and The Brosnan, the largest being The Andress and The Shaw. But this is not where the developers made the majority of their money, they also packed the surrounding lot with 100 flats (The Weaver, The Blanchett, The Cruise) and 70 incredibly boxy houses with the blandest of rectangular back gardens (The Lucas, The Spielberg, The Winner).

Being a private development they don't encourage walk-ins, but no signs anywhere said don't so I did. I sat on a bench in the Celluloid Garden, a stark raised area overlooked by stills from Full Metal Jacket and 2001 A Space Odyssey. I then walked round the side of the estate dodging a parcel courier and a reversing resident. And at the back I found Fame Square, a pristine lawn surrounded by umpteen brass plaques inlaid in the pavement each with the name of a locally produced film. Every time I read one I thought 'blimey, seriously, here?', be that Vertigo, ET, The Great Escape or Alien, although I suspect most of these were just a bit of sound production. Supposedly you can check all the backstories on the Weston Homes app, but that seemed an impractical faff so I didn't bother. In a more significant flaw, a lot of residents park their cars on these stripes of paving so Tomorrow Never Dies was mostly hidden under a BMW and The Empire Strikes Back entirely covered by a white van.

But I was really here for the cluster of street names I'd seen on a map, having tasted gold with Ruby Tuesday Drive last week. First up was Stanley Kubrick Road, a name chiselled into the gateposts along with the postcode UB9, as befits the main road which curls round three sides of the development. Only by venturing further off the main road could I catalogue the sideroads and confirm that they exist. First up was Albert Broccoli Road, a square loop where everyone lives in a five bedder, followed by the slightly briefer Celia Johnson Close. Fame Square is to be found in the middle of Noel Coward Avenue, not that I think he'd have been impressed, and up the far end is the slightly less prestigious Greer Garson Road.

If you've ever wanted to pay a premium to live in a brick box close to where they once made part of something you really enjoyed watching, you know where to come.

2) Northmoor Hill Wood Nature Reserve

This is a much less artificial attraction, a remnant of ancient forest to delight those with a love of nature and geology. It's signposted from the A412, first a mile up Denham Green Road then turn right along the lane past Denham Aerodrome. This private airfield was ridiculously busy on Sunday morning with light planes and helicopters taking off at Heathrow-like intervals, and suddenly it made perfect sense why Cilla Black might have chosen to live in a big house up Tilehouse Lane for commuting reasons. But for all the jetset's comings and goings the car park at Northmoor Hill was entirely empty so it looked like I was going to have the woods all to myself. This way for the Rock Route, said the semi-legible information board.

What's special here is the change in soil across a very small area. The Rock Route circuit starts off on boggy clay (with alders) then crosses a timber boardwalk onto better drained sand (with oak and beech). At the foot of the first set of steps is a tiny chalk streamlet which a few feet further on disappears into a swallow hole and excitingly creates a 'blind valley'. And beyond that is a disused quarry, now covered in vegetation, once used for digging out flint for buildings and chalk for use as mortar. These days its multitude of slopes are ideal for trial bikes, hence when I turned up various members of the Hillingdon and Uxbridge Motor Club (or HUX for short) were using it for practice. What with the roar of their engines and the planes taking off overhead it was all less idyllic than it might have been, but still more of a treat than street signs on a housing estate.

3) HS2 Colne Valley Viaduct

The two mile Colne Valley Viaduct will be the longest railway bridge in the UK when it's completed, and crossed by HS2 trains in 40 seconds flat. The controversial lake-skimming section is entirely in London and the massive scar where the bridge touches down is in Hertfordshire, but the intermediate bit's in Buckinghamshire, thus technically in Denham. After crossing the River Colne the viaduct spends much of its time shadowing the A412, then crossing it, where previously would have been nothing but trees and watermeadow.

It looks pretty elegant to be fair, the pre-cast concrete sections gently curved and the piers low to the ground, but it's still a massive visual and environmental imposition. A lot of this unwanted impact is due to the scale of the adjacent worksites, a necessary evil now so that the finished span can be as incongruous as possible later. But it's also made walking the Colne Valley somewhat of a trial, for example at the precise boundary between Bucks and Herts where Old Shire Lane has been transformed from a public bridleway into an inaccessible sculpted gash. If you've not been out this way recently you may not realise how mega the mega-engineering in this project is, nor why HS2 won't be opening for years, but to see is to believe.

Three more things to see in Denham Green

4) Denham Garden Village is a large but compact retirement hideaway, originally opened when the Licensed Victuallers Asylum relocated from the Old Kent Road in the 1950s. Then in 2008 they rebuilt it all again, now with a central restaurant/library/gym complex, the only surviving feature from the original being the statue of Prince Albert on the front lawn.
5) Denham station's nowhere near as special architecturally as Denham Golf Club, but it does have a spooky exit which leads down into a brick arch beneath the platforms where a rural footpath leads off to Denham proper, should commuters want to risk it.
6) Savay Farm is a large timber-framed 12th century farmhouse backing onto the Colne, but terribly private as you'd expect from somewhere Oswald Mosley used to live so don't go looking specially.

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jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

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my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

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flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards