Sunday, October 24, 2021
This looks like a good idea.
It's a hands-free pedestrian crossing - technically a 'Touch-free Crossing Point' - installed at Canary Wharf.
There's no need to press the button, you just wave your hand close to the sensor to register your presence and the box lights up. No touching is required hence no transfer of germs, either from you to others or from others to you. It's very much the healthy way to cross the road.
You won't set it off by mistake, you have to get quite close. I apologise to passengers on the bus which came round the corner just after I triggered the sensor, but it's important to do these experiments to find out how things work.
The boffins have even thought about blind pedestrians because there's still a button for those who are expecting one and can't read the sign which says they don't need to press it.
These Touch-free Crossing Points have appeared on several different roads through the heart of Canary Wharf including North Colonnade, South Colonnade and Bank Street. They're not part of TfL's pedestrian priority trial, they're independently funded as befits a commercial private estate.
Changing from the DLR to the Jubilee Line at Canary Wharf? Now you can do so without violating the sanctity of your fingertips or dashing willy-nilly through the traffic. It sounds very much like the Covid-safe pedestrian future has arrived.
BUT it's a bit late isn't it? We've been through the worst of the pandemic and then these touch-free crossings turn up the year after. Where were they when we really needed them?
BUT Covid isn't spread by touch even though we've all been hardwired to recoil from touching things. All the scientific evidence now suggests that surface transfer is relatively insignificant compared to airborne transmission, so button-less crossings aren't really going to help.
BUT other diseases like colds and flu are spread by touch, which is the main reason the government jumped on the "sanitise! sanitise!" bandwagon so early in the pandemic, so these crossings aren't just baseless hygiene theatre.
BUT the Canary Wharf estate is riddled with doors, especially if you're trying to walk north-south, so all the benefits of not touching a button are likely to be cancelled out by grasping a handle, pushing a bar or touching a pad.
BUT the crossings don't all seem to work in an identical manner. One set of lights favours traffic even when there isn't any, showing red only when the sensor is triggered, while another shows the green man continuously until a vehicle actually turns up.
BUT I'm basing this apparent behaviour on walking across the estate once, so I may have jumped to incorrect conclusions about signal programming based on insufficient evidence.
BUT even though they've gone to all the effort of installing touch-free crossings this doesn't mean people are using them. For example on South Colonnade neither of the two crossings are on the direct desire line route between the DLR and Jubilee line so people are merrily strolling across the uncontrolled part of the road inbetween. Having to add a sign saying "← Use the appropriate crossing →" is a sure sign that your expensive touch-free solution is a practical failure.
BUT these signals aren't brand new, I'm just depressingly unobservant. I've uncovered a seven-month-old thread on Reddit discussing Touch-free Crossing Points at Canary Wharf so they've been around since at least March. I must have walked past umpteen times but have only just spotted them.
BUT they were being used in other countries like Australia long before 2021. They've cropped up in Pontypridd and Glasgow too. They look like just the sort of thing Singapore would have introduced years ago. I imagine they could be extremely useful on the Sabbath in areas with a devout Jewish population.
BUT they weren't much use yesterday morning because there wasn't much traffic and it was easy to walk across the road anyway. This is often the case on weekdays too. Jaywalking has always been touch-free so this isn't necessarily the amazing innovation it appears to be.
BUT Touch-free Crossing Points are a gamechanger if you're mobility restricted and hygiene-obsessed, and to be frank an excellent idea we could do with seeing more of.
BUT they're also expensive so unlikely to be replacing your local pushbutton box any time soon, so you'll probably need to come down to Canary Wharf if you want to stop the traffic with a wave of your hand.
posted 07:00 :
10 things that happened this week #coronavirus
• Scottish vaccine passports now enforceable
• PM hosted a visitor on Christmas Day
• variant of δ variant spreading in UK
• We need to go to Plan B+ (NHS)
• Plan A is enough for now (PM)
• Tory MPs don't need masks (Rees-Mogg)
• daily cases top 50000
• Australia and Singapore to share travel bubble
• take up of booster shots remains low
• Melbourne ends 260-day lockdown
Worldwide deaths: 4,890,000 → 4,940,000
Worldwide cases: 240,000,000 → 243,000,000
UK deaths: 138,527 → 139,461
UK cases: 8,404,469 → 8,734,934
1st vaccinations: 49,374,505 → 49,606,419
2nd vaccinations: 45,325,489 → 45,489,980
FTSE: down ½% (7234 → 7204)
posted 01:00 :
Saturday, October 23, 2021Yesterday I visited an immersive art experience in the Royal Docks. They should have called it Flyover Shower. Instead they called it Flavour Rainbow.
It's part of an events-packed fortnight at the Royal Docks, a business enterprise zone attempting to boost its economic credibility by rebranding as a Cultural Quarter.
Royal Docks Originals is part of the Royal Docks Cultural Placemaking Strategy, an ambitious vision to make the Royal Docks ‘the cultural engine’ of London - a major new cultural quarter.In reality the Royal Docks is a vast post-industrial development area which remains some way off meeting its full potential so has a lot of large empty spaces available for temporary projects. But let's not get hung up on that, let's talk art.
Multisensory wizards Bompas and Parr are creating the world’s first rainbow you can interact with, with flavours inspired by the Royal Docks' past. And as if that wasn’t enough colour for you, they'll be making a huge rainbow shine over Royal Victoria Dock twice a day (when the sun’s out).Bompas & Parr are two jellymakers who've diversified into experiential design because that's where the money is. They like dark spaces with lights, smells and probably something food related. A flavour rainbow would be just their kind of thing.
Harry Parr of Bompas & Parr Studio says "Flavour and meteorology have always fascinated us; to see them both collide in the Royal Docks is a dream come true."This is the kind of bolx that Bompas & Parr often utter. But I went along anyway.
The location is inbetween the Silvertown Tunnel building site and the new City Hall (also a building site), specifically underneath the Silvertown Viaduct. Meet by the coffee shop next to the Thai restaurant, they said. You're supposed to book in advance but walk-up tickets are often available so I walked up and they let me in. The multi-coloured portal is the only rainbow I ended up seeing.
The two-part installation will introduce Londoners to the world’s first Flavour Rainbow beneath Silvertown Way. Guests will be invited to experience flavours of the rainbow inspired by Royal Docks' commercial history and the imagination of its residents, such as spices from across the world, coffee, flour and sugar.A temporary ramp leads down into the void below the viaduct past a couple of display boards, then under a temporary arch onto a temporary platform. The supposed rainbow is over to the left through a black waterproof curtain. Plastic see-through umbrellas are available unless you prefer to get wet.
Scented water falls from a single line of scaffolding on the far side of the space. Only the central section has jets - six in total - so you may have to wait your turn. The water drains away through a metal grating under your feet. The overall ambience has something of the swimming pool changing room about it.
The installation uses white light refracted through falling moisture that appears multicoloured in the eyes of its viewer, as part of a multisensory experience.Two problems. The water is only vaguely perfumed, so that if you extend your arm into the shower and then hold it to your nose it doesn't smell of anything. I only knew I was supposed to be experiencing blueberry, watermelon and lemon because I'd read to the end of one of the information boards. All I got was a very brief vague whiff of Parma Violets.
More importantly, there was no rainbow. I looked up, I looked down, I even stood back and looked from a distance, but at no point did I see anything resembling prismatic colour. I wondered afterwards if the six nozzles were each lit with a different colour of the rainbow but all I spotted at the time was maybe a yellow one.
What I did enjoy was the opportunity to do something properly unusual in a space you can't normally access. The Silvertown Viaduct is Britain's first flyover, constructed in 1934, so going underneath is pretty special indeed. A forest of thin concrete pillars supports the road above, some illuminated by the artists to add a bit of pizazz. The discarded pipes, triangular 'men at work' signs and toppled wheelbarrow weren't part of the art but they certainly added to the unique ambience.
The second half of the commission will feature a Giant Rainbow built over the Royal Docks, and made visible when the sun shines inspiring its audience to reflect on the pandemic. The installation, like rainbows seen many times before, will be synonymous with hope, prosperity and a sense of community.
Further up the dock I spotted a small boat with a multi-coloured hull and a hose firing a short jet of water. Although I wandered round the waterfront and viewed the boat from several angles I never saw a rainbow of any kind. According to the blurb the rainbow is only visible at 10am and 4pm when the sun's out, which it very much was, but the jet of water generated no special colours whatsoever.
Sam Bompas, Co-Founder of Bompas & Parr studio said: "The Royal Docks is the obvious place to showcase the world's first Flavour Rainbow as we share its history and celebrate its vibrant future as the new cultural engine of London. It’s a joy to be able to create a sense of wonder particularly within the grandeur of Europe’s very first flyover.”I have long suspected that jellymongers Bompas & Parr might be overrated. I saw nothing at the Royal Docks to make me change my mind.
Flavour Rainbow is open Wed, Thur and Sun 10am-6pm; Fri and Sat 11am-9pm until 31st October
posted 07:00 :
Friday, October 22, 2021Over the last few months TfL have been quietly reducing the frequency of numerous bus routes in the central London area. If we're not travelling so much, why run buses quite so often?
Cutting frequencies is a lot easier than cutting routes because TfL don't need to run a lengthy consultation, they can simply pick a date and remove vehicles from the street.
For example back in August route 2 went from every 7-8 minutes to every 8-9 minutes, route 7 went from every 8 minutes to every 12 minutes and route 9 went from every 7-8 minutes to every 10 minutes.
But the cuts aren't just on three routes, as many as 37 different routes have been affected since August (and we're only partway through announcements for November).
Bus frequency cuts since August 2021
Aug: 2, 7, 9, 16, 27, 30, 43, 113, 148, 507, 521, N9
Sep: 11, 22, 29, 49, 59, 253, 254, 277, 436, D7
Oct: 17, 19, 38, 42, 68, 88, 133, 149, 245, A10
Nov: 13, 40, 63, 168, 188
Ten cuts a month is a significant long-term reduction of capacity. It means a longer wait for passengers, imperceptibly on certain routes but much more noticeably on others. It also saves a good few millions from a beleaguered budget.
TfL don't make it easy to keep track of these reductions, announcing them silently on a webpage that regularly overwrites, so I thought I'd try to document them here for posterity's sake. Your next bus may be further away than you think.
posted 18:00 :
Here's a crossword I devised forty years ago.
Fit the eleven words into the grid.
One has been done for you.
Don't reveal the solution, but do tell us how you got on.
posted 08:00 :
Thursday, October 21, 2021I have come up to Norfolk for my Dad's birthday which was yesterday. I came up the day before yesterday so that I would be here yesterday and I am still here today.
I came up on the train which is when the sun finally came out and I met my Dad near the car park they've recently closed. We went to the garden centre where we bought some peat because the bags are heavy and then we went to the supermarket. It took a while to find a jar of sweet and sour sauce but we had more luck with tins of soup and the queues at the till were very long.
The house hadn't changed much since I was last here but the two big trees in the front garden had been cut down so there's now a lot more light in the corner by the gas tank. Round the back the tortoise had come out of her house and was doing circuits because the weather was quite mild. It has been a good autumn for the rudbeckias.
In the afternoon we drove to Norwich to see my brother and on the way my Dad saw a kestrel hovering beside the road and he said "have you seen the kestrel?" and I confirmed that I had seen the kestrel. Later we had lasagne and birthday cake. On the way home it was a lot darker and we saw a barn owl with its huge wings outstretched swooping low above the car because it had been disturbed by our headlights.
We stayed up really late so that we were awake at midnight and I said "Happy birthday" and Dad opened one of his cards. It had been accidentally ripped by the Royal Mail in transit so they had put the two largest pieces in a plastic wrapper with an apology on the front but the smallest piece was missing and we're still not quite sure what the joke on the front of the card said.
The weather yesterday was stormy with wild winds and torrential showers so we decided not to go on a big day out to the coast because we would have got wet. Also we had to meet a journalist for tea. My Dad received 19 birthday cards altogether which is a lot less than his age but more than I normally get. One of the stamps hadn't been franked so that's totally going to get reused sometime.
We took the opportunity to do some clearing out and in one cupboard we found a lot of bobbins. In another was my grandfather's wallet and inside that he'd saved a birthday greeting from my grandmother postmarked August 1931 when she lived in Golders Green and he lived in Edgware. She wanted to come over so she wrote "wait for me if you get home before I am there" which was like the equivalent of a text message in those days. We think the card is from while they were courting which is sweet plus my Dad and I wouldn't be here if they hadn't done that.
We had sausages for lunch from the proper butchers and potatoes from the garden and we opened a can of beans using Dad's new second hand electric tin opener. We found the instruction manual online because the internet is excellent and the tin just hung from the magnet and swivelled round and it's going to be so much easier to use than the old one.
Then we went to the village hall to meet a journalist from a New York magazine who's been researching a story in Buckinghamshire and Norfolk so needed some local background. During the informal meeting she got plenty of leads and a couple of shortbread biscuits and I tagged along because that's what you do when your Dad has a meeting with a journalist on his birthday. Some villages are more interesting than others.
On the way home we went to the country park where there were ducks and empty caravans and half a rainbow and a bush loaded with ripe raspberries. Later we had tea and my aunties rang up by which I mean my Dad's sisters rang up because it was his special day and that's why they rang up.
We didn't have a big party but we did stay in and eat sandwiches and watch The Repair Shop. We also went to the window to look at the full moon rising before the heavy rain arrived again. It may not have been the most exciting of his 83 birthdays but it was still memorable and it was a lot more normal than his 82nd birthday so that was excellent.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, October 20, 2021One of the open datafiles provided by TfL is an Excel database of height restrictions on roads across the capital. They hope that publishing the heights of bridges and tunnels will help developers and fleet operators route vehicles according to their height, reduce collisions and save money in structural repairs.
The data's been available for a couple of years and includes 877 structures within the Greater London boundary. When it was launched they even provided a map.
The database doesn't include precise heights but classifies everything in five bands from "Up to 3.0m" to "Between 4.6m and 5.1m". It also gives a grid reference, borough, road name and (where relevant) road number. I thought I'd go out and visit all the height restrictions in one of the less-challenged boroughs, namely the City of London. While I'm listing them for you pictorially, see if you can guess which borough has the fewest height restrictions (2) and which has the most (88).
All the height restrictions in the City of London (map)
Shoe Lane (4.7m, 15' 5")
Shoe Lane is one of the two roads which passes underneath Holborn Viaduct, the narrower minor one that isn't Farringdon Street. It was here long before the iron span passed overhead in the 1860s simplifying journeys across the Fleet Valley. Not much traffic uses Shoe Lane, especially at the moment because it's blocked with scaffolding for bridge works expected to continue until Christmas. I struggled to get close, and taking a photo of the low bridge sign was nigh impossible, so I was glad I'd accidentally got a decent shot when I blogged the ward of Farringdon Within earlier this year. This is the highest of the height restrictions in the City, just a foot below the maximum the DfT chooses to sign. It's also the only bridge in the list because every subsequent height restriction turns out to be a building.
East Poultry Avenue (4.65m, 15" 3")
The next-highest restriction is nearby in the middle of Smithfield Market. A trio of roads cut through the site, two of which aren't currently drive-through-able, in one case because preliminary building works for the new Museum of London are underway. The one through route is East Poultry Avenue, the most central of the three, which is topped by a high ribbed concrete roof with a lower horizontal bar at each end. Plenty of room is available for refrigerated meat lorries to park underneath, and one or two can often be found here resting up before returning to base. East Poultry Avenue is a one-way street so only has a red triangle at one end, attached alongside a glorious retro DEAD SLOW sign (which is also quite appropriate for somewhere you bring carcasses).
London Wall/Wood Street (between 4.1m and 4.5m)
According to the database this is four separate height restrictions, whereas in real life it's a crossroads with a building on top. That building is a meeting of highwalks on the southern edge of the Barbican Estate, namely Alban Gate, a salmon-coloured postmodern pile which was one of Sir Terry Farrell's first architectural successes. 125 London Wall used to be home to JPMorgan Chase but is now mostly full of Lloyds Bank employees instead. At podium level are two hospitality spaces which fairly recently housed a Pizza Express and a Jamie's restaurant but are currently empty shells with a blank serving counter at the rear. None of the four roads underneath display a low bridge sign, which seems a bit remiss, but the number 76 bus passes easily underneath.
Little Britain (4.11m, 13' 6")
This one threw me because when I got to the precise grid reference there was no low bridge to be seen. What I did eventually spot was a new residential block above a turnoff to one side, part of the Barts Square development, but it was much too high to be restrictive. Only when I got home did I confirm, via Google Streetview, that the previous building above the road was a tad lower. Five years ago a drab concrete floor crossed Bartholomew Close approximately four metres up, as a red triangular sign confirmed. But by the time Google's camera was able to return again last year the luxury apartments of Fenwick House were there instead, and sensibly higher up because nobody wants to pay almost £2m for a flat that could be hit by a lorry. If anyone reading this is responsible for updating TfL's database, this one should no longer appear in it.
Austin Friars (3.7m, 12' 2")
Neither a bridge nor a tunnel but an arch, this is the entrance to the historic double-dogleg of Austin Friars. It's such a constrained cul-de-sac that it boasts four separate entrance restrictions, one for height, one for width, one for parking and one for time of day. I'm not aware if there's also a London-wide database of width restrictions, but at 7' 6" this may be the narrowest vehicular throat in the City of London. It's not the lowest though, we've got two more can beat this.
Gough Square (3.51m, 11' 6")
This is a lovely heritage throwback, a brick arch funnelling a cobbled street beneath a Georgian building. You can almost imagine a coach and horses sweeping through and depositing Dr Johnson outside the first house on the far side, because that's where the great lexicographer lived while he was writing his ground-breaking dictionary. He resided at 17 Gough Square whereas the room above the arch is part of number 1, currently used by the British Arab Centre as part of its mission to promote friendship and good relations with the Arab world. Those on foot can gain access more easily via alleyways from Fleet Street. It's all a lot more characterful than the City's lowest height restriction...
Talbot Court (3.0m, 9' 10")
This one's off Gracechurch Street quite near The Monument and something of a disappointment. A dull postwar office block has a low passage underneath to provide access to a cobbled courtyard and more specifically to a lift entrance for basement parking. The arch doesn't even have a proper red sign, just a couple of generic yellow panels confirming that nothing over 3m should risk it. But its days are numbered because earlier this year the City approved a complete rebuild of 55 Gracechurch Street which will arise as a 36 storey tower rising just to the side of the Walkie Talkie. The 17th century pub on the far side of the cobbles will survive, but the access point with the height restriction is destined to end up as a patch of shrubbery amid a strip of public realm. If there are only six height restrictions in the City today, soon there'll be only five.
Number of height restrictions per borough
Under 10: Barking & Dagenham (2), Islington (7), Kensington & Chelsea (7), Redbridge (7), Harrow (9)
10-19: City of London (10), Havering (10), Merton (10), Hammersmith & Fulham (12), Richmond (13), Enfield (14), Sutton (14), Bexley (15), Greenwich (15), Hounslow (15), Westminster (16), Brent (17), Kingston (19)
20-29: Camden (22), Newham (24), Waltham Forest (24), Croydon (27), Ealing (27), Haringey (27), Bromley (28)
30-39: Hillingdon (31), Lewisham (35), Barnet (38), Wandsworth (38)
40-59: Hackney (45), Southwark (53), Lambeth (54)
Over 60: Tower Hamlets (88)
n.b. These are the number of rows in the database, which is not the same as the number of low bridges. For example the crossroads at London Wall is counted as four when really it's just one.
n.b. I've stripped out all the restrictions which are labelled as "car park access" because those aren't proper low bridges or tunnels. There were 104 of those.
The borough with the fewest height restrictions is Barking & Dagenham. One's beside the old Ford Works and the other's under Ripple Road. Barking & Dagenham is not a railway viaduct kind of borough.
The borough with the most height restrictions, by far, is Tower Hamlets. This is mainly the consequence of railway lines out of Liverpool Street and Fenchurch Street crossing a lot of tightly packed streets. A dozen entrances to modern road tunnels boost the total but Tower Hamlets would still be top without them. Second and third places go to the boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark, again reflecting an extensive network of railway viaducts. The chief barrier to high sided vehicles, it turns out, is generally the train.
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, October 19, 2021In the wake of the awful murder of Sir David Amess, MP for Southend West, comes the news that Southend is to become a city. It's a fitting tribute to a man who campaigned over several decades for his home town to receive city status, or it's a populist kneejerk bauble diminishing a historic civic designation, potentially both.
Whatever, it's not often that an English town is officially elevated to the rank of city. Only six have received the honour during the last 50 years, one each for the Queen's Silver, Ruby, Golden and Diamond Jubilees and two for the Millennium. The last town to be gifted city status simply because it asked was Southampton in 1964.
There are approximately four city-making eras in English history. First were the ancient cathedral cities from 'time immemorial' to 1227. Second came the granting of six letters patent by Henry VIII in the 1540s as part of the Reformation. Third was a response to increasing urbanisation in the 19th and 20th centuries. And fourth is the more recent era of towns bidding for city status on special occasions with the most worthy winning the prize.
English cities, by date of designationn.b. This isn't a 100% definitive list so please don't feel the need to tell us you'd have done it differently. Yes, I know 'time immemorial' has a specific legal meaning. Yes, I know Rochester lost city status in 1998 due to an administrative error. Yes, I know the other home nations have cities too. Yes, officially it should be the City of Southend-on-Sea, not just Southend. Maybe also hold your breath as we dip a toe into the murky definitions of cathedrals and universities.
time immemorial: Canterbury, Durham, Exeter, Hereford, Lichfield, London, Wells, Winchester, Worcester, York
11th century: Lincoln, Chichester, Bath, Norwich
12th century: Coventry, Ely, Carlisle
13th century: Salisbury
16th century: Westminster, Chester, Gloucester, Peterborough, Bristol, Oxford
19th century: Ripon, Manchester, St Albans, Truro, Liverpool, Newcastle, Wakefield, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, Hull, Nottingham
20th century: Leicester, Stoke, Portsmouth, Salford, Plymouth, Lancaster, Cambridge, Southampton, Derby, Sunderland, Brighton & Hove, Wolverhampton
21st century: Preston, Chelmsford, Southend
English cities without cathedrals: Bath, Brighton and Hove, Cambridge, Hull, Lancaster, Leeds, Nottingham, Plymouth, Preston, Salford, Southend, Southampton, Stoke, Sunderland, Westminster, WolverhamptonSouthend joins the ranks of the 16 English cities that don't have Anglican cathedrals. These used to be essential in a city, or perhaps an Abbey which is what Bath and Westminster had instead. The cities of Nottingham, Westminster, Lancaster, Leeds, Plymouth and Salford have Roman Catholic cathedrals but these don't count.
The first cathedral-less town to become a city was Truro, although it gained a newly-built one a few years later. Leeds (which gained city status in 1893) is the oldest city never to have had an Anglican cathedral, probably because it was deemed too close to Wakefield. Four English cathedral towns - Blackburn, Bury St Edmunds, Guildford and Southwell - are still waiting for the call-up to become cities.
English cities without universities: Ely, Hereford, Lichfield, Ripon, St Albans, Salisbury, Truro, Wakefield, WellsAs for what a university is, these days that's even more debatable. For example Southend has been home to a decent-sized campus for the University of Essex since 2013, so perhaps that counts, although the university is really based in Colchester (which isn't a city because there's no logic to any of this).
It's not just the town of Southend that's going to become a city, it's the entire unitary authority. This means city status for Leigh-on-Sea, Westcliff, Eastwood, Prittlewell and Shoeburyness, collectively at least. Thanks to an anomalous boundary only one end of Southend Airport's runway will be inside the city while the terminal remains outside.
Sir David's persistence in demanding city status for Southend is highlighted in the following list of failed bids. An awful lot of English towns have thought they had what it takes, far more than were ever going to be accepted with a single prize at stake. It's always worth a try, but this list showcases a lot of big-headed civic administrations punching above their weight.
Failed attempts to become citiesIt's not yet known which towns will bid for city status in 2022 because the deadline for entries isn't until the start of December. So far Boston, Dudley, Medway, Milton Keynes, Middlesbrough, Swindon, Reading and Newport on the Isle of Wight have all expressed an interest, at least according to media reports. Southend was planning a bid but need no longer bother. Tower Hamlets is no longer run by an egomaniac so won't be trying.
1953: Preston, Southampton, Wolverhampton
1966: Derby, Teesside, Wolverhampton
1977: Blackburn, Brighton, Croydon, Dudley, Sandwell, Sunderland, Wolverhampton
1992: Blackburn, Bolton, Brighton, Chelmsford, Colchester, Croydon, Dudley, Guildford, Ipswich, Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes, Northampton, Preston, Sandwell, Shrewsbury, Southend, Stockport, Telford, Wolverhampton
2000: Blackburn, Blackpool, Bolton, Colchester, Croydon, Doncaster, Dover, Guildford, Ipswich, Luton, Maidstone, Medway, Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes, Northampton, Preston, Shrewsbury, Southend, Southwark, Stockport, Telford, Warrington
2002: Blackburn, Blackpool, Bolton, Chelmsford, Colchester, Croydon, Doncaster, Dover, Greenwich, Guildford, Ipswich, Luton, Maidstone, Medway, Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes, Northampton, Reading, Shrewsbury, Southend, Stockport, Swindon, Telford, Warrington, Wirral
2012: Bolton, Bournemouth, Colchester, Corby, Croydon, Doncaster, Dorchester, Dudley, Gateshead, Goole, Luton, Medway, Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes, Reading, Southend, St Austell, Stockport, Tower Hamlets
Bournemouth is the largest urban area in the UK not to have city status, although as a newly-minted unitary authority 'The City of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole' doesn't really trip off the tongue. Middlesbrough, Birkenhead and Reading aren't far behind, population-wise, with Luton, Medway, Blackpool, Milton Keynes and Northampton nearer the quarter of a million mark. Southend's 180,000 puts it a lot further down the urban significance list.
Note that ten years ago there were no cities in Essex and now there are two. I think it's a fair bet that Southend wouldn't have been the choice for a new city in 2022 because that would sit very badly with a levelling up agenda. Indeed I'd be willing to bet that the new city chosen for the Platinum Jubilee will be somewhere in the north, with Middlesbrough the ridiculously obvious political choice.
Whatever, Southend is about to get the honorary title it's long desired, sadly after the man who most wanted it has passed away. Next time you fancy a City Break, maybe consider the seaside resort 13 miles outside London with the muddy beach and the very long pier.
• Background information
• Further reading
• Proper research
posted 07:00 :
Monday, October 18, 2021There've been some cracking Turbine Hall commissions at Tate Modern over the last two decades, and some stinkers, and a fair few unmemorable middle of the roaders. It's a hard space to fill, being both very long and very high, and a lot of artists have only really bothered with enlivening floor level at one end.
So I've been looking forward to seeing the new one by Anicka Yi in which giant transparent jellyfish bob around and float above your head to demonstrate the creative potential of artificial intelligence. It's got to be an improvement on bunkbeds, sunflower seeds and empty soil trays.
I hadn't been intending to drop in yesterday until I noticed that my walk would take me past Tate Modern just as it opened for the day. When better to check out the aerial spectacle than first thing on a Sunday morning? Two minutes to ten and no sign of a queue at the Thames-side entrance, excellent!
This turned out to be because a one-way system had turned this into an exit, whereas the sole entrance was now down the slope at the very far end. Continuing round the building I found a queue about a hundred strong snaking up the ramp from the main doors. It was well-spaced and polite and looked like it'd move fast so I duly joined the end of it.
It didn't move fast, indeed it took a few minutes to grind into action. A number of people walked straight past and down to the doors, presumably in case we were the slow lane and they could just walk in, but they couldn't and seemed to come straight back. So far so normal.
As the queue crept forward I finally noticed the notice by the entrance that said "All visitors need a timed ticket". I didn't have a timed ticket because I'd turned up on spec, and I assumed several others in the queue must have done too. No, they were now all wielding QR code printouts or firing up their smartphone wallets as we approached the entrance. I considered blagging it but decided that probably wouldn't wash.
I stepped to one side to allow everyone else to enter and attempted to book a timed ticket on my phone. This ought to be easy, I thought, everyone else has managed it. I found Tate Modern's website via Google and clicked on the tab labelled 'Book a ticket'. It was here that I got stuck. All I wanted to do was go inside the building but the website seemed to want me to pick an exhibition to visit, and it took a fair amount of back and forth to spot "Hyundai Commission Anicka Yi In Love with the World" in amongst the rest... and even that wasn't enough.
What I really needed to book was an "All Tate Modern Collections' ticket, but I hadn't internalised that "Collections" was their buzzword for General Admission so ended up faffing around some more. Just take me to a page that'll let me book a ticket, I thought. I've since tried it at home on a laptop and it was quite simple, but on my smartphone I ended up going round and round in circles for several minutes.
Eventually I got to the booking portal where I picked the right date and the first available time. The next page wanted me to pick from three different sizes of donation (£5, £7.50 or £10) with the 'free' option as fourth choice at the bottom. This didn't endear me to the gallery's priorities. And by the time I'd selected all the necessary boxes I got the message TICKETS HAVE JUST SOLD OUT FOR THIS ENTRY TIME and I had to start again.
It was at this point that the queue flowing past me eventually died down and the member of staff who'd been supervising entry turned his attention to me. I told him I was trying to book a ticket but was struggling, and he told me to use the QR code stuck to a wall on the other side of the barrier, and I told him I'd eventually found the booking page thanks but was still floundering.
He pointed to the QR code again and uttered the fateful phrase "it's easy", but I'd already had five minutes experience that it wasn't easy, not even if you were starting in the right place, and our conversation went downhill from there. He was polite and I was polite but when he repeated that it was easy I blew a very quiet fuse and walked away.
These are strange times and Tate Modern are well within their rights to manage visitor numbers by insisting on timed tickets. I'd have noticed this if I'd checked the website before making a planned journey but I'd done the ridiculously 2019 thing of turning up on a whim and been caught out. What then hurt was having to jump through several digital hoops, inadequately signposted, and still having nothing to show for it at the end.
I skulked over to the QR code and it did indeed take me back to the landing page where I'd already been. I picked the earliest timeslot and skipped past the interstitial trying to upsell me Tate publications. I sighed when that slot proved to have sold out too and gave it one more try, this time for entry in one hour's time. The website needed my email address to access Guest Checkout and on the next page demanded name, country, postcode and telephone number too. Stuff this for a laugh, I thought.
I get why Tate Modern don't want everyone turning up at the same time and overwhelming their socially distanced one-way system. I appreciate that the website says "advance booking is recommended but tickets are often available on the door." What grates is the need to work my way through ten successive screens to get an email with an e-ticket, not to mention the assumption that everyone has a smartphone, rather than having actual tickets available on the door.
Imagine turning up on a wet Monday afternoon and finding no queue and a minion with a scanner who knows it's not full inside but still expects you to apply for admission via the screen in your pocket. Imagine being told "it's easy" while you hang around in the rain entering superfluous information. All the emphasis is on the visitor doing the work rather than the gallery, which is great for them and unnecessary hassle for us.
One day it'll be possible to walk up to Tate Modern again and just walk in, faced by nothing worse than a bit of security theatre and a begging notice for a donation. If that day is before 16th January 2022 I might go back and give Anicka Yi's floaty aerobes another try. In the meantime, sorry, my review of this year's Turbine Hall commission is a bit of a blank.
I enjoyed previous years more.
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, October 17, 2021Yorkshire quiz
Each string of three letters appears in the name of a Yorkshire town or city.
For example LES would be MiddLESbrough and LIF would be HaLIFax.
How many can you identify?
n.b. Towns are from the ceremonial counties of West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, North Yorkshire and the East Riding of Yorkshire.
n.b. There are six from each.
n.b. Every town has a population over 10,000.
All answers now in the comments box.
posted 16:00 :
Sorry, this is yet another variation on the "where have I been?" post.
At the front of my diary is a black and white map of Great Britain showing major roads, motorways and principal towns and cities. Every time I visit one of these towns or cities I highlight it to build up an annual map of where I've been. If the town's not on the map I can't colour it in, so trips to places like Bedford, Grantham and Bradford go unrecorded. Also the cartographers over-prioritised coastal towns because their names are easier to slot in, so for example Felixstowe makes the cut but Colchester is omitted.
I mention this because Scarborough was one of the few English towns on the map I'd never visited, and now I have, which means I've only got two more English towns to go. I might even have subconsciously chosen to go to Scarborough just so that I could tick it off, because I am a bit of a geographical completist like that.
Here's a list of all 53 English towns and cities on my diary map and the decade in which I first visited them.
1960s: LondonI can't remember where I was taken in the 1960s, other than London, because I was under 5. I'm quite impressed by how far I travelled with family and friends in the 1970s and 1980s during my trajectory from school to first job. By contrast the 1990s and 2000s were somewhat underwhelming travelwise, but blogging inspired me to explore more widely in the 2010s. Ticking off another three in the pandemic-blasted 2020s feels like a win. And this leaves only Carlisle and Barrow-in-Furness unvisited, both of which are a long way from home so not necessarily easily done in a day.
1970s: Bournemouth, Nottingham, Portsmouth, Brighton, Sheffield, York, Oxford, Folkestone, Salisbury
1980s: Liverpool, Dover, Chester, Manchester, Cambridge, Birmingham, Coventry, Gloucester, Hull, King's Lynn, Penzance, Reading, Norwich, Great Yarmouth
1990s: Northampton, Ipswich, Leicester, Plymouth, Torquay, Lincoln
2000s: Felixstowe, Leeds, Bath, Eastbourne, Ramsgate, Blackpool
2010s: Shrewsbury, Newhaven, Newcastle upon Tyne, Stoke-on-Trent, Bristol, Southampton, Harwich, Wolverhampton, Middlesbrough, Exeter, Derby, Hereford
2020s: Swindon, Grimsby, Scarborough
never been: Carlisle, Barrow-in-Furness
My diary map's snapshot of Wales is all coastal (yes to Caernarfon, Aberystwyth, Swansea and Cardiff, no to Holyhead, Fishguard and Pembroke). As for Scotland many of its 19 mapped towns are quite remote (seriously, Uig?) and I've only been to Glasgow and Edinburgh. I don't feel tempted to tick off the whole of Ryman's Scotland, but I'm quite pleased at completing 96% of England.
Notably, many of the visits I've made in the last 10 years have been because a rail operator made a special offer on tickets. Last week's trip to Scarborough, for example, only happened because LNER offered autumn tickets to York for £10 (which is also why I've been to Peterborough, Grantham and Newark recently). Ditto Grimsby relied on a £7 ticket to Lincoln, Swindon was a GWR offer for a fiver, Exeter set me back only £15 and Middlesbrough was because I could get to Darlington for £10. Rail operators occasionally do these flat fare offers to shift seats, but not very often and invariably at non-touristy times of year when the weather can be a proper lottery.
So what I now need is a West Coast special offer which allows me to get to Lancashire or Cumbria for next to nothing. The normal minimum for a return fare booked two months in advance is more like £80, and could be a washout, so I'm more than happy to wait. It'll be lovely to have visited everywhere on my diary map but there's no need to rush.
posted 07:00 :
10 things that happened this week #coronavirus
• Sydney ends 107-day lockdown
• NHS Covid Pass now compulsory in Wales
• job vacancies at record high
• March 2020 'one of worst ever public health failings'
• London's NYE fireworks cancelled (again)
• NHS Covid app suffers outage
• cheaper travel tests from 24th October
• contactless limit rises to £100
• UK lab wrongly reported 43,000 +ve tests
• US to lift travel ban
Worldwide deaths: 4,850,000 → 4,890,000
Worldwide cases: 237,000,000 → 240,000,000
UK deaths: 137,697 → 138,527
UK cases: 8,120,713 → 8,404,469
1st vaccinations: 49,132,678 → 49,374,505
2nd vaccinations: 45,135,589 → 45,325,489
FTSE: up 2% (7095 → 7234)
posted 01:00 :
Saturday, October 16, 2021More postcards from Scarborough
✉ The railway arrived in Scarborough in 1845 and enabled daytrippers and holidaymakers to reach the spa town from far afield. By 1883 two additional platforms were needed to accommodate much longer trains, now numbered 1 and 2, and on one of these they built a 139m-long bench. No other railway station anywhere else in the world can beat it. If the bench looks in good nick that's because it's recently been given a £14,500 restoration which involved replacing all the nuts and bolts, the seat and the backrest (if nothing else the repainted cast iron supports are original). The bench is long enough to seat over 200 passengers, and would have done in its heyday as revellers waited to travel home, but these days is generally used by absolutely nobody at all. That's because modern trains don't usually use platform 1, and even if they did they'd pull in much further up the platform whereas the bench languishes at the far end. I made a special effort to go out of my way to take a look, and take a seat, and even unscrewed my thermos to enjoy a cup of record-breakingly long tea. The photo above is my arty bench shot but if you'd prefer to enjoy a wider perspective, try here.
✉ The first building you see outside the station is the Stephen Joseph Theatre, a converted Odeon cinema with art deco flourishes. It's unusual for being a theatre in the round - Scarborough had England's first - and famous because its Creative Director used to be Alan Ayckbourn. Most of the prolific playwright's dramas were premiered in Scarborough, including Absurd Person Singular, The Norman Conquests and Bedroom Farce, and his oeuvre remains particularly popular with professional and amdram performers. Sir Alan is unusual in being born in London but making his name in the provinces and still chooses to base himself in Scarborough. I walked along Longwestgate in search of his home address and thought it can't be down here, it's much too common, but at the far end the Old Town kicked in and the properties got nicer and Alan's hideaway is a smart and worthy townhouse. I suspect it's been extended a couple of times because Georgians wouldn't have needed a double garage. I hope it has a hallway with several slammable doors leading off of it.
✉ Scarborough's main street runs from the station to the harbour, with chainstore shopping at the upper end and takeaways and independents further down. Tucked off where the big names stop is the town's chapel-like Victorian Market Hall. Its exterior suggests something old and tired, but the interior has recently had a £2.7m upgrade and looks modern, clean and spacious. A lot of this is because there are hardly any stalls at ground level, the majority of which is taken up by two well groomed greengrocers and a lot of cafe tables, while a lot of dinky boutiques have been elevated around a horseshoe mezzanine. A Yorkshire-baked cinnamon swirl came with a pricetag of only £1.20 so I approved, but nowhere smelt of fish so it didn't feel proper. What's more when I got home and did some research I discovered that the Market Hall is most famous for its basement vaults, whose entrance I never even spotted, and I consider that a criminal signage disaster.
✉ Not all of Scarborough's famous residents have proved welcome. Jimmy Savile had a spacious flat in Wessex Court on the Esplanade just south of the Cliff Bridge - very much a prime location - where he lived for many years with his ageing mother. After his death the council installed a gold memorial plaque on the building and named a nearby footpath Savile's View, but both lasted barely a fortnight before increasing concern about his predatory behaviour saw them quickly removed. For many years you could still see the holes where the plaque was screwed in but I'm pleased to say even those have now been plastered over and you'd never know it'd ever been there. Savile's second floor view was about as good as it gets for Scarborough, his flat perfectly poised at the southern end of the bay, which alas is where being a much-admired eccentric serial abuser gets you.
✉ Half a mile south of the town is an astronomical one-off, the Scarborough Star Disk. It was laid down on the site of an outdoor Bathing Pool in 2006 and consists 42 fibre optic terminals representing the brightest circumpolar stars. Up close it's a disappointment - a few metal strips which form the shapes of Ursa Minor, the Plough and Cassiopeia sprawled across a concrete void. It must look a lot better at dusk or after dark, especially when seen from the gardens above, indeed a special Star Disk viewpoint has been created alongside the putting green. Let's hope it lasts, because the ravine where I clambered back up to the clifftop is the location of Scarborough's notorious hotel-destroying landslide in 1993. A few illuminated constellations would be no match for a million tonnes of glacial till.
✉ Switching to the North Bay from the South, this arresting sculpture can be found opposite the lone cafe on the promenade at Royal Albert Drive. Made from weathering steel it depicts an elderly Yorkshireman in a flat cap portrayed at twice life-size while sitting on a similarly over-proportioned bench. He's actually a former soldier who participated in the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp, hence the sculpture's title is Freddie Gilroy and the Belsen Stragglers. Freddie wasn't local and was chosen to represent ordinary people who participated in extraordinary events, and what's more the sculpture was initially only meant to be here for four weeks. But a local pensioner stumped up £50,000 to buy it so it could stay where it was, and now it's like this giant veteran has been looking out across the waves forever.
✉ Peasholm Park is Scarborough's finest recreational space, an oriental themed pleasure park with smart gardens and a boating lake at its heart. It was created in 1911 by Harry Smith, Scarborough's Borough Engineer, and later augmented by a chain of cascades up Peasholm Glen. The lake's central island with its lanterns and Japanese pagoda can only be accessed via a single footbridge, which is sadly locked out of season, ditto the jetty with the dragon pedalos. But Peasholm's true summer spectacle is the astonishing half hour Historic Naval Battle which takes place on the lake up to three times a week and has done since 1927. A fleet of replica boats, each 20 foot long and with a human crew, takes to the water and fires pyrotechnic potshots in an attempt to recreate the ferocious Battle of The River Plate. I suspect the floating bandstand only gets in the way, but the substantial bank of benches and terraced seating in front of the cafe is the ideal spot to watch it all.
» 20 Scarborough photos on Flickr
posted 07:00 :
Friday, October 15, 2021The North Yorkshire town of Scarborough is right up there on the list of the UK's best seaside resorts. This photo shows one reason why.
The town sits peripherally on the east coast, 200 miles north of London and just south of the Yorkshire Moors. It has broad sweeping bays, plural, being divided in two by a high limestone headland. Its harbour provides refuge from the North Sea, its castle has seen better days, it successfully balances culture and candy floss, its cliff lifts provide a valuable service and there are more than enough places to dine on fish and chips. If only it had a proper pier it'd be the quintessential seaside resort. I very much liked Scarborough and would like to summarise it via a series of mini postcards. [map]
✉ For all your usual seaside experiences the harbourfront suffices. Here are the cafes, bars and gift shops, the penny arcades and the seagulls eagerly hoping you'll spill a chip. The harbour is used less for fishing and more for pleasurecraft these days, although I did watch one trawler returning to port and the lobster pots looked well used. If catching mackerel is your thing several boats offer lengthy sea-angling sessions. The obligatory walk is out to the tip of Vincent Pier - a stone mooring arm within the breakwaters rather than a boardwalk of pleasure. Dodge round the rebuilt lighthouse and you can sit on a bench to take in the full panorama round the bay, or just walk straight back again depending.
✉ Time the tide right and South Bay beach is a good one with acres of sloping sand. At present it feels like the exclusive province of Scarborough's dog owners, what with most of the tourists having gone home and seasonal canine restrictions having been lifted until May. Walk too far and it gets a lot rockpoolier.
✉ Fish and chips is served in a multiplicity of sit down restaurants, invariably with bread and butter. At Caravel the advertised alternative is burger with peas and garnish. At Wackers the formica tables stretch back almost as far as a windowshopper can squint. Punters choosing to dine at Winking Willy's are perhaps prioritising branding over reputation. Takeaway fish and chips is alas less common, perhaps because the seafront is underblessed with outdoor seating.
✉ The building which dominates the town, unexpectedly, is a hotel. The Grand attaches precipitously to St Nicholas Cliff and at time of completion in 1867 was the largest brick building in the world. It was designed to accommodate sophisticated spa-goers and boasted 365 bedrooms, 52 chimneys, 12 floors and 4 towers - you can probably see what the architects did there. The exterior looks spectacular from every angle but the interior hasn't fared so well, indeed the hotel's former chic reputation has declined through multiple changes of ownership. BestMate's parents checked in last weekend for a special anniversary getaway and within hours were checking out, having confronted mucky floors, smashed sockets and dubiously grimy porcelain, not to mention a discarded receipt showing the previous occupants had booked the room for just one hour. Rarely was a hotel so badly named.
✉ The heart of Scarborough is the Old Town on the lumpy limestone ridge that sticks out into the sea. It's where the Normans built their castle although there's not much left, chiefly a curtain wall and half a keep. Reviews suggest the best thing about the castle is the view from the headland, but when I clambered up to the gatehouse everything was misty grey so I gave it a miss. Neighbouring St Mary's church was founded soon after and flaunts that most Yorkshire of attractions, the grave of a Brontë Sister. Here lies Anne, author of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, along with an engraved apology from The Brontë Society that someone got her age wrong on the tombstone.
✉ Scarborough's first attraction was a spa based around springs discovered at the foot of South Cliff. The spa's initial Gothic Saloon has been considerably augmented over the years to include a Grand Hall, a Theatre and a Promenade Lounge - a combination of facilities deemed worthy of the occasional Party Conference. Its most iconic bauble, the outdoor Sun Court, is blessed with chequerboard tiling arrayed with tables if tea is served or deckchairs if genteel orchestral entertainment is underway in the bandstand. After the summer season's over, alas, peering in through the windows is the best you'll manage.
✉ Scarborough is very much a town on two levels - clifftop and beach - so not necessarily an ideal retirement spot. Only in the Old Town is getting from up to down relatively straightforward. Elsewhere it's long steep stairs or that veritable seaside staple, the cliff lift. Only one of these is currently in operation, namely the Victorian Tramway which connects the gardens alongside the Grand down to Foreshore Road. Its fare is £1.20 single, whereas the cliff lift at Scarborough Spa is cannier and charges £1.50 up and £1 down. This is closed at present, however, while the South Cliff Gardens get a makeover, which makes this the first time I have ever seen the timetable for a cliff lift replacement bus service.
✉ The southern seafront is separated from the main town by a deep valley. This sharp dip threatened to diminish footfall to the Spa so in 1827 the cast iron Cliff Bridge was built to provide level access across the divide. It's pedestrians only. It originally had a toll booth (scrapped by the council in 1951). It's both practical and elegant. And yet another cliff lift descends at the northern end, this time disused and repurposed as a cafe where punters can sit and eat cake inside the two original cars.
✉ The best value tourist offer in town is the £3 annual pass to the two municipal museums. The Rotunda Museum is a cylindrical repository of fossils and geological treats purpose-built in 1829 to house the relics of the Scarborough Philosophical Society. Its first floor is a fairly standard display of rocks and dinosaur skeletons, but the second is a stunning domed gallery surrounded by wooden display cabinets stuffed with eclectic exhibits. Think pots, ammonites, busts and cellos to get some idea of the mix. A hand-drawn geological cross section of the Yorkshire coast encircles the upper balcony, alas now inaccessible because have you seen how narrow the staircase is? For the rest of your threequidsworth you need to climb the cliff to the Art Gallery on The Crescent to enjoy a selection of seascapes, portraits and much more modern temporary exhibitions. The big name displayed in pride of place up the staircase is Scarborough-born Lord Leighton, easily one of the most successful painters of the Victorian era but judged to have been overrated ever since. His former birthplace is now lost beneath the Brunswick Shopping Centre, specifically Poundland, so that's him told.
✉ A completely separate Scarborough exists on the other side of the headland, focused around a second sweeping bay of similar size. It boasts better surf when the wind's up and a Blue Flag so can get busy with boarders. North Bay is generally much less developed and is overlooked by a sloping linear park and an arc of big houses including hotels like The Kimberley, The Kenton, The Ramleh and The Paragon. It would have been harder to reach before 1908 when the Marine Parade was opened around the sea-lashed foot of the headland, but now you can hitch a ride on an open-topped bus or join the kagouled retirees stoically trooping round from the harbour for a change of scene.
✉ Keep going to the point where the cliffs eventually fade to nothing and you'll find a cluster of refreshment opportunities and rows of brightly-coloured beach huts. Behind them is Scarborough's famous Open Air Theatre, restored in 2010 after a lengthy mothballing. It's more a bank of seating opposite a removable stage and probably looked more impressive before they covered the lake, but you could have seen Snow Patrol here last month and Lionel Richie is due next summer. October options are limited, but the miniature North Bay Railway will happily whisk you a mile to Scalby Mills until the end of half term.
I've at least another half dozen postcards to write which I'll deliver tomorrow. In the meantime you might spot a few of the extras in my album of 20 Scarborough photos on Flickr.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, October 14, 2021York has long been a chocolate city.
Most tourists experience this by visiting a themed attraction, dropping in on a chocolatier or buying a KitKat. But you can also dig deeper into the history of the Rowntree dynasty by following one of five excellent Rowntree Walks published by the Rowntree Society. These impressively detailed resources are available separately online or in a 48-page booklet (which I had the foresight to pick up from the Tourist Information Centre four years ago). The walks sprawl extensively across the city so aren't do-able in one go, but are also flexibly dip-innable so when I had two hours spare I decided to give them a try. Do the Minster, the Castle and the museums first, obviously.
The Rowntree story starts above a grocer's shop, which is familiar territory, but in 1830s York rather than 1920s Grantham. Joseph Rowntree was born in lodgings above the family business in a street with the unlikely name of Pavement. It's only short but you've probably been because this is the street that iconic shopping alley the Shambles opens out into. The north side is now mostly Marks and Spencer, specifically the Food Hall, but the south side has retained a number of listed buildings including the one we seek. It'd be great if it was the saggy half-timbered beauty at number 12, now occupied by York Gin, but that's the 17th century Sir Thomas Herbert's House. Instead it's the less ostentatious building nextdoor where today we find Pizza Hut, so it still sells food except these days the cocoa options are Triple Chocolate Cookie Dough or a Hot Chocolate Brownie.
In the mid 19th century chocolate was more about drinking than biting off a chunk with a satisfying snap, so early products sold in the Rowntree's grocery shop included Iceland Moss Cocoa and Improved Homeopathic Cocoa. To get some idea of how the area once looked try slipping down the side passage into Lady Pecketts Yard. This narrow alleyway twists and descends toward the river, very much ticking the lamplit and characterful boxes even if it doesn't really go anywhere much. The flats above Pizza Hut are now known as Rowntree House, although its brass knocker has long been superseded by a push-button intercom. My guide booklet tells me that in the early days a dozen chocolate-making apprentices lodged upstairs, and these once included a certain George Cadbury from Birmingham.
It wasn't Joseph who built the first Rowntree's factory but his brother Henry who in 1864 bought up an old foundry ten minutes walk away at Tanners Moat. The business would have folded had Henry stayed in charge because he was more interested in publishing newspapers, but fortuitously after five years he took on Joseph as a partner and the company never looked back. Fruit Pastilles and Fruit Gums were first developed here in the 1880s and are still going strong. Again you've likely walked past the site because it's on the direct route between the station and the city centre - down on the right as you start to cross the River Ouse via Lendal Bridge. There's nothing to see today, the latest building on the site being a postmodern fortress for Aviva's many office minions. A supplementary factory just along the riverbank has become a much more pleasant garden... and includes a handle-free memorial to cholera-busting epidemiologist John Snow who was born across the street.
While we're in town, Walk One also suggests seeking out Rowntree Wharf. It doesn't take long to step behind York's tourist facade (round the back of a multi-storey car park is sufficient) to a secluded spot overlooking the river Foss. The substantial building rising above the cut started out as Leetham's Flour Mill, one of the largest in Europe, and resembles a thin fortification made of brick. In 1935 Rowntree's bought the empty mill to be their Navigation Warehouse, a place where bargefuls of cocoa beans and gum arabic could be unloaded after being shipped direct from Hull Docks. But road transport inexorably took precedence, taking over completely by the 1960s, and in 1989 the building's shell became an early conversion into flats and offices. Current residents can nip out over the private footbridge and be perusing the menu in Pizza Hut in five minutes flat.
But Joseph had moved his factory out of the city centre long before this. In the 1890s he bought up 60 acres on the Haxby Road, a mile north of the Minster, with the intention of creating a state-of-the-art industrial complex. It came with ornamental clocks at the entrances, a library and a gymnasium because Joseph's Quaker roots made him philanthropic towards his employees. Later additions included an open air swimming pool and a theatre... which is still there and putting on family-friendly dance shows and Disney-based offerings. The company even provided a halt on the adjacent railway line to enable long-distance commuting, but that's just a cycleway these days. And look, one of the original manufacturing blocks is still there.
Locals called it the skyscraper when it was built, being all of seven storeys high, but due to its nut-processing function it was officially the Almond Block. Behind it is the Cream Block, this time of 1936 vintage, and behind that the Cream Block Extension. This trio have been empty for many years but are now, as you may have guessed, in the early stages of redevelopment as luxury flats. The development's called The Cocoa Works (because The Chocolate Works was already taken) and two bedroom apartments on the top floor will be selling for £400,000+. Meanwhile the real work of mass-producing confectionery continues behind, since 1988 overseen not by Rowntree's but by Nestlé. Their cluster of labs, offices and factory buildings churns out whatever chocolates and fruit sweets the multinational owners still deign to manufacture in Britain, which probably includes Polos, maybe Aeros but no longer Smarties. We do know that 4½ million KitKats are made here every day, rising to five million once they've automated another stage of the process and laid off 98 workers.
I didn't quite get that far north on my brief visit because I had a train to catch, and the current factory's not much of a looker anyway. I also didn't have time to explore Joseph's retirement home in Clifton [Walk 2], York's first Rowntree-funded public park [Walk 3] or the Garden Village of New Earswick [Walk 5]. But as I started my hike back into town either the wind turned or the factory shift changed and the sweet smell of chocolate entered my nostrils, and it was heaven to be here, and all thanks to the foresight of Joseph Rowntree.
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