Yes I have got my keys. I'll check the post on my way home. That's a biting wind. It's not especially busy out. How can two people take up such width of pavement? Come on lights, change. Yes, that newspaper thanks, I've brought the right coins. She looks really pissed off the station's closed this weekend. Catching the replacement bus would have been fractionally quicker than walking. Damn, just missed one. They don't normally tie off the adjacent platform quite as prettily as that.
🚆 I'll read the smaller bits of the newspaper first. Come on wifi, kick in. And again. And again. And again.
🚆 Now for the magazine. That's a very clever cartoon today.
They show no sign of finishing the rebuilding here. Could the four of you walk any slower? Oh, there are no bus stops along here. That shop window scared the willies out of me. I'm not sensing Christmas properly here yet. The sun is really weak today.
🚌 Yay, front seat. I'm not sure why there are 3-way traffic lights here because the coned off area is empty. The traffic the other way looks really bad. Sigh, I'm here again, but getting off by the bridge will be new.
I bet that McDonalds used to be a pub. These offices will make way for a lot of flats. So, this is where people with cars and houses go at the weekend. I'm sure security won't mind me taking photos. Nice elephants. I used to drive a forklift truck once. Some big planes fly out of Heathrow these days.
You cannot simply walk one lane at a time across a dual carriageway and expect the traffic to stop for you, you pair of selfish idiots, except obviously this is what you're doing, which I fear only goes to show that being a greedy arrogant egomaniac generally brings success in our modern society... except ha, the bus driver didn't wait for you, so there is some karma after all.
🚌 Some days a bus lane is really, really welcome. The river's surprisingly low given how much rain we've been having. I don't remember that micropub being here last month. Put some headphones on will you? It's always further down here than I think. Of course everybody's getting off at the station.
I need to top up my Oyster. Sorry I am not using the gents if it costs. I think I'll wait for the next train, it's got to be emptier. Good, it is.
🚆 No, you push aboard first. I'm going to sit next to you, though, for the two seconds before you go and sit somewhere else. Let's see how long the main body of the newspaper lasts. Were the knees ripped before you bought those trousers? Movember is not going well for you, sir. Oh thank goodness they've finished my quiz at last, let me post the answers. Daylight again... but the sun's gone in now, typical.
I don't think I've ever used this tube station before, which when you're me is quite something. It's looking good. It has quite the range of shops too. That's right, you throw your Greggs wrapper out of the car window. I love the typeface on the launderette. I should have crossed the road back at the pelican. And here we are, near enough. Oh thank goodness, there really is a footpath even though it doesn't appear on the map. That apple tree is loaded. You can tell from the oddly coloured 'mud' that it's a bridleway. I'm glad I wore my boots. My afternoon will be a lot better once I've paused behind this tree for twenty seconds.
Well this is unexpectedly pleasant, and hardly very Londony at all. As parks go, it's cracking. Autumn is doing its best yellows and oranges at the moment. Ah, spoke too soon, here's the edge of the new housing estate they're building. They should have used a lot more bark mulch on this temporary path. Blimey, this place has utterly changed since I was last here, and not in a good way. I'll skip the sales and marketing suite thanks. Of course it gets busier near the car park. So many dogs, and couples, and families, are out for a bit of exercise. I should come back when the weather's better.
Damn, that's the bus I wanted.
🚌 Thanks for waiting. No I didn't see the bus stop. If I open this thermos of tea I've brought with me, does it make me look borderline late-middle-aged? I miss that museum. Yes I know I could have caught the tube here, but this is cheaper.
🚌 And no, I wouldn't have needed this second bus either. Central London looks fabulous from the top edge of the park. I should have the sudoku completed imminently. Those are cheap-looking Christmas lights hanging above the high street. Blimey, you really can't see the street from down here. Damn, got off one stop early.
🚆 Now how quickly can I get home? I don't want to go into central London if I can avoid it.
🚆 A quick shuffle should do it.
🚆 Dammit, I should have checked the engineering works more carefully.
🚆 I can't get home direct from here either.
🚆 And this train isn't quite going the right way.
🚆 So I need one stop on this.
🚆 Finally. I have at least finished a lot of the crossword.
How is it dark already? Nearly home. The only 'post' is some religious propaganda masquerading as a newspaper. I'm not convinced that was the best use of a Saturday. Kettle on. I shall have to write this up later.
As the General Election approaches, only six candidates have put their names forward for the Bethnal Greenand Bow constituency, fighting for the honour of being its last MP. In alphabetical order, here's the choice I face locally.
• Rushanara Ali(Labour) - The sitting MP (until Parliament was dissolved), Rushanara took back the seat for Labour in 2010 after George Galloway buggered off elsewhere. She's Britain's first MP of Bangladeshi origin, and grew up round here (although she currently lives in the West Ham constituency). In 2014 she resigned as a shadow minister over Iraq, in 2015 she nominated Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour party leadership, in 2016 she called on him to step down, and in 2017 she defied the party whip over the triggering of Article 50. She's also the only candidate to have stood for election in this constituency before. [website][Twitter]
• Shahrar Ali(Green) Shahrar is one of the Green Party's fifteen national spokespeople, his portfolio being Home Affairs. He joined the Greens in 2002, fresh from working as a researcher in the European Parliament, and has been one of the party's Deputy Leaders since 2014. His PhD focused on the morality of lying and deception, though from a philosophical rather than political viewpoint. He stood for the London Assembly in 2016, but was third on the Green Party's list from which only the top two were elected. [website][Twitter][Facebook]
• David Axe(Brexit) - David was pencilled in to fight Chingford and Woodford Green, where he lives, but Nigel's decision not to contest Tory-held seats means he's been parachuted into Bethnal Green and Bow instead. He's on the steering committee of Invoke Democracy Now – an umbrella campaign seeking to uphold the "democratic mandate" to leave the EU. David doesn't tweet much in a personal capacity, but does retweet a lot of other people's content. He supports Arsenal and Smoker's Rights. [Twitter]
• Josh Babarinde(Liberal Democrat) - Josh is a social entrepreneur in his mid 20s and the founder of Cracked It, a social enterprise whereby young ex-offenders pop round to your workplace to fix broken phone screens. It's intended as a heavy nudge away from crime and towards employment, has had some goodpress and is based in Dalston. Josh is a rising Lib Dem activist who fronts rallies and has appeared on BBC2 Politics Live, and was selected as BG&B's candidate in September. He lives in Highbury. [Twitter][Facebook]
• Vanessa Hudson(Animal Welfare Party) - Vanessa is the leader of the AWP, a party prioritising animal welfare and a sustainable lifestyle. She's the only one of the six candidates who lives in the constituency, and the only one without a social media account. In the last General Election Vanessa stood as MP for the neighbouring constituency of Hackney South and Shoreditch where she came fifth with 226 votes. This year the AWP have six candidates nationwide thanks to crowdfunded deposits. Vanessa's day job is as a director of commercials and factual/corporate/digital content. She also helped set up Vegan Runners, a UK-wide athletics club.
• Nick Stovold(Conservative) - Nick is Conservative Party Area Chairman for Wiltshire and Swindon, and stood in the 2017 Wiltshire council local election as Tory candidate for Westbury West (where an Independent beat him by 49 votes). He's a shipbroker with City firm Howe Robinson Partners and the father of twins. While working in London Nick lives in Tower Hamlets, but in the Poplar and Limehouse constituency nextdoor. Thus far Nick hasn't been mentioned on either the BG&B Conservative website or their Facebook account, perhaps because he was only adopted as a candidate on Monday. [Twitter]
» Wherever you are in the country, you can find out more about your General Election candidates at whocanivotefor.co.uk.
» I've also made a special Twitter list of the Bethnal Green and Bow candidates here, if you're local and would like to subscribe.
The latest exhibition at Tate Britain, running down the centre of the building, is called Year 3.
Steve McQueen's underlying concept, to photograph every Year 3 class in London, is both brilliantly simple and fiendishly complex to complete. Realistically they hoped for 25% participation. In fact they managed 70%.
First they had to hope schools would be interested, then they had to get all the necessary permissions and then they had to send an official photographer round. Seven and eight year-olds sometimes need to be cajoled into doing what they're asked, so producing resolutely uniform photographs was quite a challenge. Four symmetrical rows of children, front row seated, back row standing, teacher positioned in the centre, and everybody smile. The final results are an absolute delight.
Enlarged photos have been pasted up at several tube stations by creative gurus Artangel. The southbound platform at Pimlico, the closest station to Tate Britain, has 15 giant class photographs in place of advertising posters along its entire length.
Elsewhere posters featuring enlarged photographs have been used on billboards across every single borough in the capital. Here's one I spotted in Brent, on the Harrow Road. You can see a map of all the locations here.
But they're not up for long. The tube station posters started being taken down yesterday and will all be gone by next Thursday, whereas the roadside billboards all disappear during next week. This is a shame, because megasized is the best way to appreciate the cheeky grins, the diversity and the fizzing positivity.
In better news, the full set of all 3128 photographs will be on show at Tate Britain until May. But they're a lot smaller, i.e. more-normal-class-photo-sized, and displayed in banks twelve deep. The impact is much more about volume than detail, as a future generation stares back at you from the walls.
Schools have been told where their individual photos are, but not the public, so don't expect to be able to identify where your local Year 3 classes have been positioned. But classes from individual schools have been laid out together, usually in twos or threes, identifiable by similar backdrops and identical uniforms. A heck of a lot of photos have been taken in front of a very specific brand of wallbars, but other backgrounds include stage curtains, jungle collages, serving hatches and House Point noticeboards.
Also, don't the teachers look young.
The breadth of cultures represented across the capital is immediately plain, but also the diversity of their educational experience. Most classes are of a similar size but others are somewhat smaller - the uniforms suggest these might be private. Here and there a pupil referral unit or special needs class is pictured, generally with only a handful of children, sometimes all in wheelchairs. And while many classes are racially mixed others are are mostly monocultural, be that white, black or brown, reflecting the individual pockets of London that they serve.
One issue with the photographs being stacked so high is that you can't easily see any of the top ones. My eyes were only level with the fourth row from the bottom, and a typical Year 3 pupil would only come up to row two or three. But they've thought about this, because if you do have a particular elevated photo you really want to see then a giant lens can be wheeled over. It works too, not perfectly, but well enough for an eight year-old to go wow, that's me.
And there are a lot of eight year-olds in the gallery at the moment. Tate Britain has taken the opportunity to engage in a significant outreach programme while the exhibition is running, inviting hundreds of classes to attend and engage in educational activities. The photography project took place during the last school year, so the children involved are now in Year 4, but that doesn't lessen the impact of walking into a major art gallery and knowing that somewhere up there on the wall is you.
I visited at the same time as a grey-blazered prep school, their pupils busily engaged with sketchbooks (or less engaged without). They were plainly enjoying the opportunity to explore photographs of similarly-aged children, as well as hunting for themselves, and were perhaps having their horizons broadened at the same time. That said I did spot a couple of boys beckoning their classmates over to a photo they'd spotted of a physically disabled group, in order to enjoy a laugh at their expense, so there's much education still to do.
Weekends should be class-free, if you prefer to view the art without its anthropological setting.
Year 3 continues in the Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain until 3rd May 2020. At the end of the exhibition all the individual photographs will be sent back to the schools in which they were taken, and this cohort of children will continue their educational advancement. See them at the Tate, or meet them in your future.
Tower Hamlets is ploughing on with its Liveable Streets initiative, and yesterday introduced a 'Bus gate' in Wapping. After a disastrous launch in Bow earlier this summer, which had to be abandoned on Day One, would Wapping's less ambitious scheme work any better? Well, yes, and yet no.
The main problem to be solved in Wapping is ratrunning. Certain vehicles are keen to avoid jams on The Highway so nip off round Wapping High Street, despite this being a narrow, twisty, part-cobbled road. The introduction of a bus gate at the junction with Sampson Street should prevent this by magically dividing Wapping in two mutually inaccessible halves (unless you're on a bus, on a bike or on foot). Also the bus gate only applies during peak hours, specifically 5.30am-10.30am & 4pm-7pm, so at all other times Wapping residents, taxis and delivery vehicles can drive through to their heart's content.
Here's a sign announcing the restrictions ahead.
Oh, I thought when I saw that yesterday morning, they haven't introduced the bus gate yet. Then I saw this.
Oh, I thought, maybe they have. Then I saw this part-covered sign.
I was now really quite confused. Fortunately I wasn't driving.
What I hadn't spotted is that I had now reached the bus gate... because there isn't an actual gate. Neither are there any barriers, nor any special markings on the road, just a pair of No Motor Vehicles signs and a digital camera pointing at the gap inbetween. The Wapping Bus Gate doesn't physically exist, so unsurprisingly a lot of other people didn't spot it either.
The couple I was sitting behind on the number 100 bus didn't spot it, even though they were deliberately looking. The lady waiting at the nearby bus stop didn't spot it, and didn't seem convinced it was switched on. And a whole stream of traffic didn't spot it either, not until drivers had it pointed out to them.
All of Wapping has been leafletted explaining the changes, and signs have supposedly been erected at on all the roads leading off the Highway. But on the first morning a lot of traffic was still heading merrily towards the bus gate, oblivious, and risking a mighty £130 fine. Local residents were very keen that nobody got caught, so a well-meaning posse flagged down approaching drivers to warn them of the penalty if they continued. Every driver then turned round and drove back again, after some somewhat awkward manoeuvring, doubling up the amount of traffic rather than reducing it as intended.
It's only a trial at present, officially for eighteen months with a review after six. Maybe that's why no expensive infrastructure has been introduced as yet. But it was astonishing yesterday to see Wapping residents out on the streets policing a traffic calming measure they don't believe in, purely to prevent drivers being unfairly penalised.
Day One on a project like this is always going to be problematic, and a lot of these drivers will know not to come this way next time, problem sorted. But I was still staggered that nobody from Tower Hamlets council was (obviously) present by the gate to provide information, warn drivers or whatever. Maybe that's because, apparently, nobody's being fined for the first two weeks of operation, only sent a letter warning them not to do it again.
But mostly I was wholly unimpressed that the phrase 'Bus gate' was being used to describe something that isn't a gate. Call it something else if you have to, but don't use deceptive jargon that members of the public won't understand, so are likely to drive straight through.
Postman's Park lies a few streets north of St Paul's Cathedral, close to the Museum of London. It earned its name by being just around the corner from GPO national headquarters, which meant postal staff were its most frequent users. These days it's a convenient space for local office workers, especially those with cigarettes to smoke or lunches to eat. I counted 23 benches altogether, which is a lot of seating in a fairly small space, although technically Postman's Park is one of the largest public spaces in the City.
The park comprises three former churchyards, surplus to requirements in the mid 18th century after burials in built-up London were prohibited. Only St Botolph Without Aldersgate survives, the other two churches having been destroyed in the Great Fire and/or the Blitz. Churchwardens took many years to clear the gravestones, and the park opened sequentially between 1880 and 1890. But one strip of land beside Little Britain proved overly tempting for development, and in 1896 St Botolph's was forced to try to raise £12000 to retain it as open space. They struggled.
Enter painter George Frederic Watts with a project he hoped would inspire the public to donate more. He'd long wanted to build a monument to commemorate ‘heroism in every-day life’, but had nowhere to put it, until finally St Botolph's vicar stepped in gratefully to offer a location. Watts originally hoped for a three-sided cloister, but scaled down his plans to fit the space and ended up building a single wooden loggia against the wall of an adjacent building. All he needed now were tiles to commemorate the exploits of the brave folk whose stories he'd been cutting out of the newspapers for years.
The Wall of Heroes, or the The Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice, was opened with great ceremony on 30th July 1900. Alas George was now an old man and too ill to attend, and only four of the proposed 120 tiles were ready in time. They'd been produced by the master designer William De Morgan, who didn't come cheap, and the cost of the project was spiralling out of control. By the time George died in 1904 only 13 tiles had been installed, forming a single line across the centre, including "In A Boiler Explosion At A Battersea Sugar Refinery Was Fatally Scalded In Returning To Search For His Mate" and " Died Of Injuries Received In Trying To Save A Child From A Runaway Horse". These were truly extraordinary acts.
George's wife Mary then took over the project, in conjunction with the Heroic Self Sacrifice Memorial Committee. By December 1905 the first of five rows was finally complete, then in 1908 a second row appeared underneath. Here we find such gems as "Saved A Lunatic Woman From Suicide At Woolwich Arsenal Station But Was Himself Run Over By The Train", "Died Of Terrible Injuries Received When Attempting In Her Inflammable Dress To Extinguish The flames Which Had Enveloped Her Companion", and "Risked Poison For Himself Rather Than Lessen Any Chance Of Saving A Child's Life And Died". This time the tiles were by Royal Doulton, and not quite so impressive, indeed you can still see the creative disconnect if you compare the rows on the memorial today.
Mary soon lost interest in the project so it took over ten years for the next tile to appear, this time by public subscription to commemorate a policeman killed during a German air raid. The next three tiles took another decade to appear, again commemorating dead police officers, including "Voluntarily Descended High-tension Chamber At Kensington To Rescue Two Workmen Overcome By Poisonous Gas". One further tile was added in 1931 to fill a gap created by the earlier removal of a design with a factual mistake (the Sewage Pumping Works is in East, not West, Ham, as every pedant knows). And then the memorial went into hibernation, with only 53 of the 120 intended spaces filled. [Paul's Flickr album]
Suddenly in 2009 a 54th tile was added. The colleague of a drowned print technician thought his self-sacrifice would be an appropriate addition to the wall, and the Diocese of London agreed, so "Saved A Drowning Boy From The Canal At Thamesmead, But Sadly Was Unable To Save Himself" now appears on the top row. That's the top row which was meant to be the second row, except the first row was never added and neither was the fifth, if you're following this. No further tiles have followed, so Leigh Pitt stands out somewhat as the sole representative of the last eighty years.
Until and unless Watts' vision is ever completed, The Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice remains incomplete and generally overlooked. Most of those who visit come to sit down, eat, smoke or fiddle with their phones facing in entirely the wrong direction to be inspired by any of the stirring tales behind them. This also makes it difficult for those of us who'd like to admire the tiling to get up close, for fear of invading the personal space of office workers enjoying some time alone. I turned up at ten on a weekday morning to find a single interloper eating breakfast from a plastic tub in front of "By Intrepid Conduct Saved 3 Children From A Burning House At The Cost Of Her Own Young Life", and when I came back an hour later she was still there. If paying your respects, time your visit carefully.
This post is from an occasional series of things you probably already knew, but that I hadn't properly blogged about before. I gave Postman's Park fairly short shrift back in 2004, because blogging was a lot briefer back then, so this time I thought I'd do it justice. Sorry if you thought you'd heard it all before. But it strikes me that sometimes it's important to blog the obvious stuff, rather than forever chasing the increasingly obscure, because there'll always be people to whom the 'well-known' is fresh and original.
Leinster Gardens looks like any other Bayswater street, with its long sweeping mid-Victorian terraces. But all is not as it seems, indeed two of the houses secretly aren't there at all.
The terrace on the left was built around 1855, a wall of white stucco five storeys high. At ground level the houses have projecting porches, each paired with a neighbour, supported by Ionic columns. The first floor windows are flanked by fluted columns topped with a shallow pediment, and set behind a continuous balustraded balcony. The upper floors have smaller balconies, and progressively less decoration, but the overall effect is of a seamless architectural whole. This is very much not the case.
At numbers 23 and 24 the doors don't open, and for very good reason. The downstairs windows are completely absent, merely white panels somebody hoped you wouldn't notice. None of the upstairs windows have glass in them, just grey paint, the telltale reflections from their neighbours betraying the deception. And although the other houses in the terrace have an extra extension set back atop the mansard roof, numbers 23 and 24 have nothing. And that's because they're not really there.
Initially this was a quiet part of town, as well as well-to-do. But then the railways came, specifically the newfangled Underground railway which burst into action between Paddington and Farringdon in 1863. It was so successful that additional westbound extensions were built almost immediately, the first above ground to Hammersmith, the second below ground to South Kensington. This veered off from the original line after Edgware Road, first stop Paddington Praed Street, second stop Bayswater. Leinster Gardens' misfortune was to lie on the path inbetween. [map 1868][map 1896]
Digging an underground railway was a messy disruptive business in the 1860s. Cut and cover methods had to be used, which involved digging a very big trench, adding a railway and then covering over the top. The 1863 railway had followed main roads, so only disrupted traffic, but here in Bayswater the line was forced to duck beneath a residential neighbourhood. A photograph in the LT collection shows digging underway at Craven Hill, one street before Leinster Gardens, the road thick with mud, a deep trench to one side and access to neighbouring houses seriously compromised.
At Leinster Gardens engineers took drastic action to cross the terrace and demolished numbers 23 and 24 entirely. Rather than rebuilding after construction they left the railway open to the sky, because in those days steam trains needed intermittent ventilation and this was an ideal spot. But because wealthy local residents would have complained if the gap in their terrace had been left empty, a false facade was built recreating the two missing houses, front view only. It remains unnecessarily impressively convincing.
But if you head round the back, via a convenient alley, the secret is revealed. Porchester Terrace does have a house-less break in it, through which can be seen the backs of the real houses in Leinster Gardens and the gap inbetween. Both sides have to be supported by girders to prevent collapse. The brick parapet in front of the cutting is quite high, so the best view is probably from across the pavement, but a camera waved over the wall reveals the deeper panorama down to the tracks below. Time it right and you might even catch a train passing through.
Yet from the front you might never know, indeed there are tales of modern residents in flats to either side having no idea that their neighbours didn't exist. The 'houses' at numbers 23 and 24 Leinster Gardens may be Grade II listed but in reality are only a few feet thick, and one of the more delightfully quirky corners of London's Underground network.
This post is from an occasional series of things you probably already knew, but that I hadn't properly blogged about before. I gave Leinster Gardens fairly short shrift back in 2010, as a subsection of a subsection of a broader post, so this time I thought I'd do it justice. Sorry if you thought you'd heard it all before. But it strikes me that sometimes it's important to blog the obvious stuff, rather than forever chasing the increasingly obscure, because there'll always be people to whom the 'well-known' is fresh and original.
The 50p was introduced in advance of decimalisation to help ready the population for changes ahead. It replaced the ten shilling note. Its shape was ground-breaking - heptagonal to ensure it was instantly recognisable and of constant width so it could roll freely through a machine. In 1969 a 50p coin was worth the equivalent of £8 today. At the time it was the world's most valuable coin in general circulation.
Over 2 billion 50p coins have been minted. 1.3 billion are still legal tender.
The first special 50p coin appeared in 1973 to commemorate Britain's entry into the European Economic Community. It featured nine hands to symbolise the nine members. 90 million of these nine-handed coins were minted, a far greater number than any subsequent variant 50p design.
The next special 50p design didn't appear until 1992. It too represented our European partners, in this case the EU Single Market. Only 109,000 were minted, making this the rarest of all 50p coins. If you have one it may be worth £50. The only other large commemorative 50p coin was minted in 1994 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of D-Day, and there were 6,705,520 of those.
By 1996, 806 million original-sized 50p coins had been minted. 88% of these depicted Britannia, 11% the nine hands, 0.8% D-Day and just 0.014% the Single Market. That's how rare the Single Market coin was.
In 1997 the Royal Mint slimmed down the 50p following a government review. The new coin was thinner and of smaller diameter, making it less heavy on the pocket (8g rather than 13½g). The first smaller 50p coins entered circulation in September 1997 and the old 50p coins were withdrawn six months later. 806 million new of these new coins would be issued across the following decade.
In 2008 the Royal Shield replaced Britannia as part of a revamp to the entire range of decimal coins. 23 million of these redesigned 50p coins were minted in the first year, and another 153 million have been minted since. Of all the 'ordinary' 50p coins currently in circulation, there are five Britannias to every one Royal Shield.
As for commemorative 50ps, the next pair arrived in 1998. One celebrated the 50th anniversary of the NHS and the other the 25th anniversary of joining the EU. 5 million of each were minted. In 2000, somewhat quirkily, a coin was issued to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Public Libraries Act. There were 11 million of those.
From 2003 anniversary coins generally appeared once a year, because it seems there was always something worth celebrating.
2003: 100th Anniversary of the formation of the Women's Social and Political Union (3.1 million) 2004: 50th Anniversary of the first four-minute mile by Roger Bannister (9 million) 2005: 250th Anniversary of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language (17.7 million) 2006: 150th Anniversary of the institution of the Victoria Cross (12 million) (10 million) 2007: 100th Anniversary of the Foundation of the Scouting Movement (7.7 million) 2008: 2009: 250th anniversary of the foundation of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (210,000) 2010: 100 Years of Girlguiding UK (7.4 million) 2011: 50 years of the work of the World Wide Fund for Nature (3.4 million) 2012: 2013: 100th Anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Britten/Christopher Ironside (5.3 million) (7 million) 2014: 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (6.5 million) 2015: 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain (5.9 million) 2016: 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings (6.7 million) 2017: 300th Anniversary of Sir Isaac Newton's Gold-Standard Report (1.8 million) 2018: 100th Anniversary of the Representation of the People Act (9 million)
Circulation figures varied greatly year by year. 18 million Samuel Johnson dictionaries were minted, more than any other commemorative 50p, which is why I have one in my collection. But only 210,000 Kew Gardens pagodas were minted, so they're very rare indeed, and should you ever find one you could sell it for 100 times its face value.
Note that in 2006 there were two different Victoria Cross designs, and in 2013 two different 100th birthdays were celebrated. No special 50p coins were introduced in 2008 because that was the year the main design changed. And 2012 was another fallow year because of these...
29 different Olympic designs were minted, all of them in 2011, as the Royal Mint hurled a volley of special coins into circulation. They immediately became very collectable, but their scarcity made collecting them difficult, indeed I've only just this weekend found my 11th. The 'easiest' one to find is Archery, because there were 3,345,500 of those, and the hardest to find is Football with just 1,125,500. Like so.
It's often quite hard to know what sport is being depicted without checking against an official list. The rarest Olympic coin in my collection is a Tennis 50p, which sometimes sells on eBay for £4.
Perhaps emboldened by the success of the Olympic collection, the Royal Mint have been firing out numerous Beatrix Potter inspired designs over the last few years.
2016: Peter Rabbit (9.7m), Jemima Puddle-Duck (2.1m), Squirrel Nutkin (5m), Mrs Tiggy-Winkle (8.8m), Beatrix Potter Portrait (6.9m) 2017: Peter Rabbit (19.9m), Benjamin Bunny (25m), Tom Kitten (9.5m), Jeremy Fisher (9.9m) 2018: Peter Rabbit (1.4m), Flopsy Bunny (1.4m), Tailor of Gloucester (3.9m), Mrs Tittlemouse (1.7m)
The most common design, by far, is Benjamin Bunny - there are 25 million of him. A different Peter Rabbit design was minted each year, peaking in 2017. Between them, Benjamin and Peter make up over 50% of all the Beatrix Potter coins in circulation. If you have a Flopsy Bunny in your pocket, that's the rarest in the collection (joint equal with a 2018 Peter Rabbit).
And then, presumably because they sold well to private collectors, the Royal Mint started featuring children's characters willy-nilly.
2018: Paddington at the Palace (5.9m), Paddington at the Station (5m), The Snowman 2019: Paddington at the Tower of London, Paddington at St Paul's Cathedral, The Gruffalo, Gruffalo and the Mouse, Wallace & Gromit, Sherlock Holmes, Stephen Hawking
Agreed, Steven Hawking isn't a children's character, Also, not all of these weird designs are destined for public circulation, most are only available as proof coins or in presentation packs. But the Royal Mint's output has a much more commercial edge these days, even if that means putting Wallace & Gromit and the Gruffalo on our currency. Watch out for those elusive Brexit coins in 2020, perhaps.
And finally, here's what I really wanted to find out from doing all this 50p research. What proportion of all the 1.3 billion 50p coins currently in circulation are of which type?
If a shopkeeper hands you a random 50p in your change, it'll probably have Britannia on it. Only one in seven 50p coins ought to have the newer Royal Shield design. One in 12 should be a Beatrix Potter, which is a lot more common than I was expecting. And one in 25 should be Olympic... except collectors have already whipped most of these out of circulation so in reality they're a lot rarer than that, so don't get your hopes up.
Next month's General Election will define the future for a generation or leave us trapped in political stalemate, depending. How the nation votes is crucial.
But my vote isn't. I live in one of the safest constituencies in the country which is going to return a Labour MP no matter what. Other than a brief aberration when George Galloway got in instead, Bethnal Green and Bow's Labour candidate has always polled more than twice as many votes as their nearest contender. And we're by no means London's only one horse race.
This map shows the constituencies in which the winning candidate at the last General Election polled over 70% of the vote.
16 of London's 73 constituencies fall into this category, that's just over 20%. Most lie within an East End/Lea Valley cluster, plus others in Ealing, Brent, Southwark, Lewisham and Croydon. All 17 are Labour held. In the three constituencies of East Ham, Tottenham and Walthamstow the percentage was actually over 80%. Other parties won't be wasting their time bringing in their big names to campaign here.
Across the whole of the UK there are 37 constituencies in which the winning candidate polled over 70% of the vote. Almost half of them are in London. Of the others, nine are in Liverpool, four in Manchester and three in Birmingham. Leeds, Leicester, Nottingham, Runcorn and Sheffield have one each. Again all are Labour held. The highest Conservative share of the vote was 69.9%, in South Holland and the Deepings in southeast Lincolnshire.
This map shows the constituencies in which the winning candidate at the last General Election polled over 60% of the vote.
36 of London's 73 constituencies fall into this category, that's roughly half. The Labour zone includes a solid northeastern block, a broad swathe of the inner southeast and an outer western band. Three Conservative constituencies also feature, each along the eastern edge of the capital. It's not inconceivable for these 36 constituencies to change hands at the forthcoming election, but each party starts off with over 60% of the vote so they probably won't.
Across the whole of the UK there are 204 constituencies in which the winning candidate polled over 60% of the vote. That's about 30% of the national total. Just over half of these constituencies returned a Labour MP and just under half returned a Conservative. London has a higher proportion of these safe seats than the wider population.
This map shows the constituencies in which the winning candidate at the last General Election polled less than half of the vote.
There are only 13 London constituencies in this category, one sixth of the overall total. Most are in outer London. Most are Conservative held. In Harrow and Barnet Labour are the main challenger, while in southwest London it's the Liberal Democrats. These are the constituencies the campaign will target, with their soft sub-5000 majorities, where every vote does potentially count. It's worth noting that Boris Johnson's constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip is very nearly one of them, he polled 50.8%.
Across the whole of the UK there are 172 constituencies in which the winning candidate polled less than half of the vote. That's about a quarter of the national total. These are the constituencies in which the winning candidate could have been beaten if everybody else had voted tactically. All but two of the constituencies in Scotland fall into this category. If you live in one of these potential marginals, all the might of the campaign and the corresponding advertising spend is focused on you.
The upcoming election is volatile enough that some parties may do a lot worse, or a lot better, than last time round. Past performance is no guarantee of future success. But I live in a 72% Labour constituency where my vote is technically irrelevant. The rest of you, for God's sake don't fcuk it up.
And they stuck to this December 2018 deadline for the next four years, at least in public, with no hints that anything might be awry.
Then in August 2018, one hundred days before the intended opening date, the truth emerged. Problems with signalling and station construction required a delay until "autumn 2019", which of course it now is, so that was an inaccurate prediction too.
This week's announcement is delay number four, like so...
Previously we had a six month window centred on the end of 2020. Now we have a twelve month window centred on the middle of 2021. At the very best that's 1st January 2021, but the direction of travel suggests it'll be a lot later in the year than that.
Crossrail is therefore on track to be at least two, maybe three years late. To put it another way, a railway line which should have opened 11 months ago won't be opening for at least another 14 months, and maybe 25.
Signalling is difficult when new trains are trying to interface with existing lines and fresh infrastructure. Numerous software versions haven't quite delivered, so have needed significant tweaks, and each period of rewriting slows things down. Version 10 was installed in October, but still doesn't tick all boxes so version 11 is intended to go live next month. If version 11 works then Trial Running will begin "at the earliest possible opportunity in 2020". If it doesn't work then the next stages of testing a fully operational railway will have to be delayed again while we wait for version 12. Let's hope it doesn't take 13.
As for stations, they're all behind schedule too. It is astonishing that not one of the nine new underground Crossrail stations is yet fully complete, even though they were once supposed to be receiving passengers last year.
Complete by the end of 2019
Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Custom House
"Substantially complete by the
end of the first quarter in 2020"
Paddington, Liverpool Street, Canary Wharf, Woolwich
Complete heaven knows when
Bond Street, Whitechapel
Over the last few months Crossrail have released short progress videos on YouTube for all of these stations.
Even once stations are structurally complete, a lengthy programme of safety testing needs to be carried out and this takes many months. Often safety testing can't take place at the same time as test trains are running through the station, and this division of time slows down progress even more.
Bond Street is a real problem because it's so far behind. It needs to be certified safe as an evacuation route before the operational railway can begin, but the testing phase can't begin until construction is complete. Even if every other bit of Crossrail were ready, passenger trains still wouldn't be allowed to operate until Bond Street was available as a potential escape route.
Crossrail is therefore at least One Million Minutes Late, which could stretch to One And A Half Million if the opening date turns out to be at the end of 2021.
We're told that a better estimate of the opening date will be given "early in 2020", once upgraded software finally permits Trial Running to take place. Hopefully they'll confirm that services between Paddington and Abbey Wood will commence in 2021, but I wouldn't bet against the window nudging into 2022.
A Grand Day Out: The Historic Dockyard, Chatham Location: Chatham, Kent, ME4 4TZ [map] Open: from 10am (closed December, January) Admission: £25.00 (free with an Art Pass) 5-word summary: four centuries of maritime history Website:thedockyard.co.uk Time to set aside: a day
In Tudor times Chatham was home to the largest dockyard in the country, and the Medway estuary became the hub of Britain's naval strength. Chatham's influence declined steadily as ships grew larger, although ship building and maintenance continued here for centuries until a final post-Falklands hurrah in 1984. Today the Chatham Historic Dockyard houses a most impressive collection of sea-going craft, historic buildings and industrial archaeology across an extensive site. There's tons to see, not just a bunch of old sailing ships, and November's a particularly quiet time to visit.
A lot of extra stuff has opened since I was last here in 2007, thanks to a generous Lottery grant, including a much spruced-up entrance building. Now your welcome includes barcode-operated entry gates, a ramp down to a tour-booking desk and a series of spacious interactive galleries. One gallery looks at general maritime dominance stuff, another lets you try your hand at dockside skills and a third celebrates the evocative ship's timbers they found under some floorboards. Fiona Bruce narrates throughout. A costumed lady tried to nudge me inside Hearts of Oak, an extensive audio-visual adventure, but I didn't have the requisite half an hour to spare.
At the heart of the site, within the dry docks, are three historic warships. One's a sailing ship, HMS Gannet, not especially overdressed but worth an explore. I was much more intrigued by HMS Cavalier, a naval destroyer launched just in time for the end of World War 2. It ended up here after being decommissioned in 1972, so below decks still has the feel of life afloat in a lightly-technological era. Wandering the corridors I eventually found the radio room, the galley, the captain's quarters and some fairly basic urinals. Most exciting was the Naafi, stocked with Imperial Leather, Golden Virginia and tins of creamed chicken soup. Checking the pricelist outside I can confirm that in 1972 a finger of Fudge cost 1½p, a packet of Spangles 2p and a Cadbury's Bar Six 4p.
But the most amazing of the trio is HMS Ocelot, a Cold War era submarine, and the last ship to be built here at Chatham. You don't often get to see a giant black tube out of the water, let alone the chance to climb through its hatch down into the bowels. An informative tour leads you from the torpedo deck to the silent engines, and along the way you get to swing yourself through the hatches like a pro. There are switches and dials everywhere, and bunks tucked in wherever possible, and I can confirm that the attack periscope works because I looked through and spotted Chatham. I cannot imagine how a crew of 69 men spent months aboard without resurfacing, or shower facilities, but I loved my half an hour below.
Alongside are the covered slips, giant sheds within which ships could be built or repaired in the dry. The finest is No 3 Slip, in 1838 the largest wide-span timber structure in Europe, which resembles an upturned hull with chequerboard skylights. Ground level is covered by oversized military machinery, but the real treat is to climb up (and up) to a suspended timber platform where boats were once stored, and admire the intricate roof close up. In the slip nextdoor is the RNLI's historic lifeboat collection, which contains a greater variety of lifesaving craft than you ever dreamed possible, one of which is an actual Blue Peter lifeboat your unwanted paperbacks might have paid for. My favourite RNLI anecdote is that the organisation was originally called the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck, an acronym that definitely needed changing.
The Dockyard's other great treasure is the quarter-mile-long Ropery, at time of construction Europe's longest brick-built building. It was here that men spun and wound the ropes for great ships like the Victory, which needed 31 miles of the stuff, making this a crucial Empire-building trade. A fascinating tour of the building runs every day just after noon, and if you come on a weekday you get to watch a modern ropemaking company using the old machinery. They ride the full length of the gallery aboard a machine which braids the three threads together, tar each end to seal it then coil the resulting 220m rope ready for sale. If your tall ship, theatre or gymnasium needs ropes, Chatham can still provide.
Other things to visit within the Dockyard include a museum (Steam, Steel and Submarines), a fine collection of Georgian residential buildings (Call The Midwife often films here) and a store of hundreds of model ships loaned by the Imperial War Museum. The latter looked like it was going to be much more interesting than it turned out to be. Food is taken care of in the Wagon Stop canteen, which doubles up as a diner for the students and office workers stationed across the site, or in the more substantial Mess Deck back at the entrance. And it really does take all day to look around properly, hence the fairly steep entrance fee. You have another two weeks to get here before the dockyard closes for the winter.
» Getting here: I took a High Speed train from Stratford in just half an hour, then spent another half hour traipsing across Chatham to the Dockyard entrance. Alternatively the M2 coach runs direct from North Greenwich in 40 minutes (£13.50 return). In reality everyone drives.
» What's close by: Across the car park is Dockside, a large retail outlet mall with the Kentish consumer in mind. I've seen outlettier.
» What's nearby: The Royal Engineers Museum (£9.20) and Napoleonic Fort Amherst (free), but you probably won't have time to see either of those.
London gained a new river pier last month, at Royal Wharf, from which you can catch Thames Clipper services into central London.
That's Royal Wharf, the major new residential neighbourhood at Silvertown in Newham, which when complete next year should have 10000 residents. Those residents already have a DLR station at Pontoon Dock to link them to Canning Town, and now they have a river boat service from a brand new pier jutting out into the Thames. It's a long pier too, the first arm launching off at an angle towards a jagged platform, the second stretching further via a covered walkway to a floating jetty. I think it's the longest publicly accessible pier anywhere in London.
The Thames Clipper service runs every half hour, roughly speaking, except between 10am and 5pm on weekdays when it doesn't operate at all. It's essentially the same service that Woolwich gets, Royal Wharf being an extra stop (which means commuting from the Royal Arsenal now takes two minutes longer). Alas I visited during the day when there were no boats and found the entire pier locked shut, presumably to prevent high jinks, which was a shame because it looked like there was a seating area halfway out with fine river views. So I went back again after dark.
The riverside at Royal Wharf is a lonely place at night. Much of the western half of the site is still a building site so you can only approach from the east, and the entrance to the jetty is tucked away in an unfinished corner. No large obvious sign has been placed by the riverside, only an information board (with times and fares) plonked on the tarmac and a machine for buying tickets. But I did now have access to a blade of light stretching off above the river, the slats along each side blazing red, and somewhere beyond maybe a boat.
I decided against taking a seat on the illuminated triangle halfway down, it being a bit drizzly, but if I had I could have enjoyed views downstream towards the Thames Barrier. I can also confirm that the grimmer flank of industrial Greenwich looks prettier after dark. It's here at the halfway point that the River roundel appears, plain enough above the entrance to the covered walkway, but from onshore it's distant, small and easily overlooked.
The platform at the foot of the ramp is an unexpectedly impressive structure. A terrace of wooden seating faces the river, protected behind a large pane of glass in case of inclement weather, almost as if this were somewhere to put on a performance rather than somewhere to wait for a boat. Another ticket machine is available, plus a Next Boat Indicator which is supposed to tell you if anything's coming during the next 30 minutes. I learned not to trust it.
Being so far out into the river it was now possible to see the full sweep of North Greenwich on the western horizon and beyond that Canary Wharf, which is a panorama tenants at Royal Wharf alas don't get. A boat did eventually arrive from central London and disgorged just three passengers, suggesting the service has yet to take off with its target audience. After it sped away I was left alone in the middle of the Thames, no more than a metre above the waves, exploring the various nooks and crannies and enjoying a rare spell of midriver solitude. And then I walked back up the ramp.
I didn't get on the boat because travelling by Thames Clipper from Royal Wharf isn't cheap. A journey upstream to North Greenwich or Canary Wharf costs £4.40 with Oyster, this being the flat fare for the 'East' zone, and if commuting into Central London the fare is £7.30. Indeed the boat journey costs more than twice as much as travelling via DLR and Jubilee line, and it takes more than twice as long. If you hate battling the crowds on the tube and have time and money to spare then the Thames Clipper option may be for you, but otherwise it's hard to see the benefit.
Here's what Thames Clippers said when the service started, not entirely truthfully.
Firstly the new pier is only convenient if you happen to live at Royal Wharf. The Royal Docks are vast, so most of its residents don't live anywhere near a single jetty in Silvertown. Secondly anyone travelling this way to get to ExCel is a fool because that's the other side of Royal Victoria Dock and requires an additional 15 minute walk via a lofty footbridge. And thirdly City Airport is even further away than that, so anyone with luggage really ought to have caught the DLR instead.
Meanwhile here are some highly misleading travel times from the Royal Wharf developers' website.
The DLR times are from Pontoon Dock, which is fair enough because that is one minute's walk from the edge of the estate, but the Underground times are from Canning Town so look much better than they really are. As for those Crossrail times, not only did the purple line not open last year but getting to Custom House will require a lengthy hike across the aforementioned footbridge. There are no direct buses. Even the riverboat times are wrong, based on some fantasy timetable the marketing team dreamed up rather than real life.
Here's what the times should have been, assuming an optimum start point on the very edge of the Royal Wharf estate.
I wonder how many new residents were tempted in by the effortlessly short journey times, only to realise later they're not that good.
I hope they enjoy living in their stacky boxes, most without any kind of river view, on a densely packed estate served by three coffee shops, a Sainsbury's, two letting agents, a pharmacy and a nail bar.