diamond geezer

 Sunday, June 13, 2021

I don't know about you but when I'm out and about I often see things I wouldn't have done. Sometimes I sigh, sometimes I tut, and sometimes I just take a photo so I can write a self-righteous blogpost later. Whoever did these things might have had a perfectly good reason for doing them, but I don't know what that reason is so in the absence of background information I assume the perpetrators are idiots. Oh to have the self confidence to be right all the time.



This is the Holly Tree pub in Forest Gate, right on the corner of Wanstead Flats. It's had an external spruce-up of late which included painting smart gold lettering around the rim of the roof Fine Wines & Spirits I can understand. Czech Lager is a bit odd. But Hand Pumped Cellar Cooled Cask Ales is ridiculous. Thousands of pubs across the country store their beer in barrels, thousands store that beer in a cellar to maintain an appropriate temperature and thousands serve that beer through proper pumps. It's really nothing special to do all three. I get that the Holly Tree is trying to signal it's not a tacky pub and that they take their alcohol seriously, no doubt at a premium price. But shouting from the rooftops that you serve Hand Pumped Cellar Cooled Cask Ales is taking the piss. I would never have done that. I fail to understand why they did.



This is a humped footbridge at Republic London, a private office development built in the old East India Dock. It's perhaps best known as the home of Tower Hamlets Town Hall, but they're sensibly moving out next year to save on rent. What concerns me is the sign on the footbridge which I think may be the most risk averse sign I have ever seen. The bridge's hump is minimal, maybe a foot high, as it passes over an ornamental pool. The bridge's width is enormous, easily broad enough for a netball team to cross side by side. And yet a slip hazard sign has been added saying Please Hold The Side Rails At All Times Whilst On The Bridge, and that is absobloodylutely ridiculous. The gradient of the bridge is almost nothing so it'd need extreme weather conditions before this became a death trap. Insisting that you stick to the edges at all times means a huge space in the centre has effectively been made redundant. Even if were icy you'd have to be perversely neurotic to hold onto the rails rather than simply walking a bit further up the waterside and crossing on a flat bridge instead. I should also mention the sheer impracticality of holding on At All Times because that's really really hard, more something you do when climbing a rockface than crossing a pathetic bridge. Being really pernickety, their request to Hold The Side Rails (plural) is physically impossible. Clearly someone's slapped up this sign as a legal get-out clause, so that should anyone ever fall over on slightly-inclined ice the landowner can claim they were told not to. But how utterly stupid for the authorities to stick this absurd sign on a bridge which, had they been genuinely worried, they'd never have built in the first place. I would never have done that. I fail to understand why they did.



This is a 'Travel Safe' poster that's been stuck up at various DLR stations, probably all of them, for the last few months. It lists seven measures introduced To Help Keep You Safe, one of which I reckon is nothing of the sort. Increased messaging, one-way systems and hand sanitiser, fine. Social distancing and face coverings are legally required anyway. The Passenger Service Agent keeping out of your way, sure. But as for introducing cashless payment machines, a measure taken across the network last August, how on earth is that making us safer? For the vast majority of passengers who never use the machines how they operate is irrelevant. And for the minority who were using them, making them cashless doesn't make them safer, only less convenient. Feeding in a £20 note was never dangerous, just a different type of 'contactless' transaction. The DLR's reticence to handle cash is actually about the perceived safety of its backroom staff, not To Help Keep You Safe, if indeed the virus can be transmitted via notes and coins which is debatable anyway. It doesn't deserve to be on this poster. I would never have done that.



This is a fenced-off patch of grass in Victoria Park, close to the gate into Grove Road. It's inaccessible because the grass has been reseeded to allow it to regrow after it was covered over last winter. The culprits were Pines and Needles, a Christmas tree supplier who appropriated this spot to sell the people of Bow and south Hackney hundreds and hundreds of rootless spruces. They paid the council to be here so it was all totally above board, but they left behind a large muddy expanse after they'd gone. Now in June they're making good and the area will As Good As New In A Month Or Two. But then they go on to say they'll be back again this winter, which presumably will kill off all the grass again, which means the revamped corner will only last from August until November when they return. It's all just greenwash, a corner of the park that's only pristine for three months a year so a private company can shamelessly exploit it. I would never have done that, whatever the unknown reason which allowed it to happen.

It's easy to see things and decide they must be wrong. It's easy to wade in and wag a finger when it wasn't you that made the decision. It's easy to jump to conclusions when you assume you know more than the experts. I would never have done that.

 Saturday, June 12, 2021

12 things that happened this week #coronavirus

• δ variant 40% more transmissible than α
• govt open to delaying end of lockdown
• vaccine rolled out to 25-29 year-olds
• holidaymakers rush home from Portugal
• minimise travel in/out of Greater Manchester
• 80% of UK adults now have antibodies
• France & Belgium allow indoor dining
• US to donate 500m vaccines to other countries
• δ variant now 90% of new UK cases
• NHS waiting lists exceed 5m
• Euro 2020 kicks off one year late
• δ variant 60% more transmissible than α

Worldwide deaths: 3,720,000 → 3,790,000
Worldwide cases: 173,000,000 → 175,000,000
UK deaths: 127,836 → 127,896
UK cases: 4,511,669 → 4,558,494
1st vaccinations: 40,124,229 → 41,291,331
2nd vaccinations: 27,160,635 → 29,450,653
FTSE: up 1% (7069 → 7134)

46 records that span the 1980s

(one of these records appears in every UK Top 40 chart during the decade)
(as one exits the chart, the next enters)
(the number in brackets is the number of weeks spent in the Top 40)
(they often overlap)
(this is not the only way to do it)
(1984 was something else)


2 January 1980: Nolans - I'm In The Mood For Dancing (10)
4 March 1980: Liquid Gold - Dance Yourself Dizzy (10)
13 May 1980: Don McLean - Crying (11)
22 July 1980: Sheena Easton - 9 To 5 (11)
16 September 1980: Ottowan - D.I.S.C.O. (11)
2 December 1980: Adam And The Ants - Antmusic (16)
10 March 1981: Landscape - Einstein A Go-Go (10)
6 May 1981: Adam And The Ants - Stand And Deliver (11)
21 July 1981: Duran Duran - Girls on Film (9)
22 September 1981: Dave Stewart with Barbara Gaskin - It's My Party (10)
1 December 1981: Bucks Fizz - The Land Of Make Believe (13)
2 March 1982: ABC - Poison Arrow (8)
27 April 1982: Yazoo - Only You (10)
6 July 1982: Irene Cara - Fame (13)
14 September 1982: Mari Wilson - Just What I Always Wanted (8)
9 November 1982: Wham! - Young Guns (Go For It) (10)
18 January 1983: Kajagoogoo - Too Shy (10)
29 March 1983: F.R. David - Words (11)
14 June 1983: Mike Oldfield - Moonlight Shadow (13)
13 September 1983: Culture Club - Karma Chameleon (17)
3 January 1984: Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Relax (37)
21 August 1984: Stevie Wonder - I Just Called To Say I Love You (21)
15 January 1985: King - Love And Pride (10)
19 March 1985: Phyllis Nelson - Move Closer (15)
11 June 1985: Harold Faltermeyer - Axel F (13)
10 September 1985: Colonel Abrams - Trapped (13)
26 November 1985: Pet Shop Boys - West End Girls (12)
4 February 1986: Diana Ross - Chain Reaction (12)
29 April 1986: Peter Gabriel - Sledgehammer (12)
8 July 1986: Chris De Burgh - The Lady In Red (12)
30 September 1986: Bangles - Walk Like An Egyptian (15)
2 December 1986: Jackie Wilson - Reet Petite (13)
3 March 1987: Mel And Kim - Respectable (13)
19 May 1987: Whitney Houston - I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me) (12)
4 August 1987: Rick Astley - Never Gonna Give You Up (14)
25 October 1987: T'Pau - China In Your Hand (13)
24 January 1988: Kylie Minogue - I Should Be So Lucky (13)
10 April 1988: S Express - Theme From S Express (10)
12 June 1988: Bros - I Owe You Nothing (9)
14 August 1988: Womack and Womack - Teardrops (14)
6 November 1988: INXS - Need You Tonight (10)
8 January 1989: Marc Almond featuring Gene Pitney - Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart (10)
19 March 1989: Bangles - Eternal Flame (13)
28 May 1989: Beautiful South - Song For Whoever (10)
16 July 1989: Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers - Swing The Mood (17)
22 Oct 1989: Lisa Stansfield - All Around The World (11)

Did you know it's free to catch a bus around the perimeter of Heathrow Airport? Well, un-know that fact because as of this morning it's no longer true.



It used to be possible to catch the 482 and 490 round the Southern Perimeter Road to Terminals 4 and 5, the 423 round the the northern side and umpteen buses along the Bath Road and into Terminals 2 and 3 without paying a penny. The idea was to ease traffic flow and make life easier for airport staff and passengers, for example those off to work in the Cargo Area or anyone nipping out of their hotel. But the airport's a lot quieter than usual at present, not least because T4 is closed and T3 only being used for red list countries, so Heathrow have decided to stop funding the Free Travel Zone, perhaps forever or until economic conditions permit.

It's bad news for fare dodgers who used to be able to hop on for nothing at the airport bus station and not get off until they were miles away. Catching a train between terminals thankfully remains free, there being no more convenient way to connect between T5 and the centre of the airport. Just pick up a free ticket before you travel, or swipe your card (which won't be charged), and you can still zip between terminals by your choice of tube, purple train or Heathrow Express. But as of today no longer by bus.

 Friday, June 11, 2021

All the blue plaques in Newham

1) Will Thorne [Trade Union Leader, Politician]
1 Lawrence Road, West Ham, London, E13 0QD

Will Thorne was a pioneer of the Trade Union movement, inspired by being on the sharp end of working practices since he was a child. He moved from Birmingham to London at the age of 25 and took a job at a gasworks, where the introduction of new machinery spurred him to call a meeting which led to the creation of the National Union of Gas Workers and General Labourers. This soon had over 20000 members and Will took the position of General Secretary for the next 35 years. He was later President of the Social Democratic Federation. Mayor of West Ham and for 41 years a local MP. His 94.9% share of the vote in the Plaistow constituency in 1918 has never been exceeded by any other Labour politician. He died of a heart attack at home shortly after stepping down from Parliament, having led a fascinating life.



The house stands on a quiet street corner a few streets west of Upton Park station. This is a pleasant and leafy residential zone, not so far from West Ham Park, rather than amid the close-packed terraces that characterise some other parts of Plaistow. 1 Lawrence Road is relatively substantial, with two sets of bay windows rather than one, and somehow still fully pebbledashed. The front door's actually round the side, with a large handle above the step to aid access for whoever lives inside. I could imagine a retired trade union official living here but not a leading MP, not any more, for what it's worth.

2) Stanley Holloway [Actor, Singer]
25 Albany Road, Manor Park, London, E12 5BE

In contrast, Stanley spent his childhood in Manor Park and then moved away when he became successful. His route out started out via singing in his local church choir, before taking to the boards just before and during the First World War. Stanley found success on the West End stage and became one of BBC Radio's first variety performers. He became famous for his monologues, notably the boy-eating The Lion and Albert, and later moved into film. He appeared in Passport to Pimlico, The Lavender Hill Mob and The Titfield Thunderbolt, but his career peaked with My Fair Lady where his portrayal of Alfred P Doolittle earned an Oscar nomination.



I'd never been to Albany Road before this week because it's tucked away in a dead-end residential wedge between two railway lines. Even though Manor Park (Crossrail) and Woodgrange Park (Overground) stations are very close by, nobody would ever have a need to 'just pass through'. Perhaps because of this it's really pleasant, a street of cosy clustered houses with varied front gardens and lush hedges, and somewhere at least one cabbie chooses to call home. Number 25 has a narrow sloping porch, a small flowerbed and a diminutive parking space given over to two wheelie bins. Stanley'd probably laugh if you told him his 3-bed terrace was now worth half a million.



And that's it, there are only two blue plaques in the London borough of Newham.

I'm talking official English Heritage blue plaques here, not any local scheme (like that operated by Southwark council). Newham have erected a handful, the latest of which is on a wall behind a pharmacy in Woodgrange Road, Forest Gate. It marks the site of the Upper Cut Club, a music venue where Jimi Hendrix played on Boxing Day 1966 and where he wrote Purple Haze while waiting for the gig. That's a fantastic story, and much more interesting than the usual 'lived here', but you can perhaps see why it didn't make the English Heritage cut.



Bexley also only has two blue plaques, one at Red House where William Morris lived and one for Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh. Given that there are 970 blue plaques in Greater London, Bexley and Newham are pitifully represented.

It gets worse. Three boroughs somehow only have one blue plaque.

» Barking & Dagenham has a plaque to footballer Bobby Moore in Waverley Gardens, just off the A13.
» Brent's sole blue plaque is for comedian Arthur Lucan a.k.a. Arthur Towle, Old Mother Riley.
» Sutton's singular plaque is for William Hale White, the novelist Mark Rutherford.



n.b. The City of London has only one official blue plaque, tucked away in Gough Square off Fleet Street. It's for lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson, and what's more it isn't blue it's brown. But it was erected by The Society of Arts in 1876, just before the City Corporation took responsibility for all commemorations within its boundary, and their subsequent blue rectangles don't count as official blue plaques.

It gets worse. Two boroughs have no blue plaques at all, namely Havering and Hillingdon, not because nobody famous ever lived there but because English Heritage's scheme is historically skewed.

To illustrate this skew, the borough of Westminster has an astonishing 316 blue plaques, that's 33% of London's overall total. Kensington & Chelsea is next with 185 blue plaques, that's 19%, followed by Camden with 173 (or 18%). This means Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea have over half the total all by themselves, and Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Camden have 70%. Admittedly these three boroughs were once very much the heart of well-to-do residential London, back when art was being painted, books written and inventions discovered, but it still feels geographically short-sighted.

Only 14 other boroughs' plaques scrape into double figures, and only Richmond, Wandsworth, Lambeth, Hammersmith & Fulham and Tower Hamlets exceed 20. And even these don't reach 30, which would be the borough average if only the glut of plaques in the West End were equalled out. A bit of future diversity wouldn't go amiss, not just regarding who we commemorate but also where.

 Thursday, June 10, 2021

It's solar eclipse day, which means diamondgeezer once again provides you with #solareclipsecontent
Previous #solareclipsecontent
12th October 1996 (51%)
11th August 1999 (97%)
31st May 2003 (52%)
3rd October 2005 (57%)
29th March 2006 (17%)
1st October 2008 (12%)
4th January 2011 (67%)
20th March 2015 (84%)
21st August 2017 (4%)
(that's all the solar eclipses visble from London during the last 25 years)
This morning's solar eclipse

Type: Annular, which means it would have been a total eclipse except either the Moon is slightly too far away or the Sun's slightly too close, which leaves a thin ring of fire visible at the point of maximum eclipse.
Why annular? The Moon's just past apogee, which means it's near the most distant point of its orbit, that's 250,000 miles away rather than the average 240,000.
Path: From northern Canada across the western edge of Greenland through the Arctic Circle to the Siberian coast, scoring a (rare) direct hit on the North Pole.
Maximum: The eclipse peaks off Greenland at 11:43 BST, with 89% of the sun's disc covered.
But: You won't be seeing a ring of fire. Europe sees nothing better than a partial eclipse, which by the time you get as far as the UK mainland is down to 38% coverage. The further south and east you go the less of a bite you'll see, so in Manchester it's 25%, London 20% and Paris more like 13%.
Useful links: one two three four five six seven eight
When: Here in London the eclipse starts at 10:08 BST and ends at 12:22 BST, peaking at 11:13 BST.
What will you see? Nothing, unless you deliberately look, which you shouldn't do with the naked eye. 20% coverage isn't anywhere near enough to dim natural light noticeably (even at 80% you'd never notice unless you knew it was happening).
What will you see? I have eclipse glasses leftover from the 1999 event and they're excellent, so through those I hope to see a sliver of sun missing from the top of the disc.
What will you see? In reality it all depends on cloud cover. Typically after several consecutive sunny days Thursday morning is due to be overcast, so our best hope may be occasional glimpses (or we may be much luckier, or we may see absolutely nothing at all).
What did I see? A cloudy morning with intermittent gaps proved sufficient to be able to watch the partial eclipse partially. I was fortunate that the longest clear slot fell either side of the maximum. The moon nudged in from the right, inexorably, until the Sun appeared to have two small horns. My eclipse glasses worked perfectly but only while the Sun was bright enough to cast shadows, not during lengthier interface moments. Just occasionally a patch of thickish cloud cover proved sufficient for displaying the Sun's silhouette direct, as captured here on my phone. And very gradually the moon edged away, a tinier bite each time I looked, and then it was gone.



Here in London it's not one of the great solar eclipses. 20% coverage is a bit lowly, although it is better than the next solar eclipse on 25th October 2022 (15%) and a lot better than the last solar eclipse om 21st August 2017 (4%). It'll do, while we wait for a big one.

The next bigger eclipse will be on 29th March 2025 (31%) and the next really big eclipse will be on 12th August 2026. That'll be 91% covered in London, which is the greatest extent since 1999 and won't be exceeded until 2081, so for most Londoners the last significant eclipse of their lifetime. Plymouth'll do even better with 95% and the Scillies 96%, but if you can get to Reykjavik or northern Spain you could see the magic 100%. Don't leave it too late to sort your travel plans.

I've already written a post about how rare total solar eclipses are, and how London is due to see only three over the next millennium. But even bog standard partial eclipses don't crop up terribly often, or for terribly long, so every one is an astronomical opportunity to be seized.

I've checked back through solar eclipses visible in southeast England and today's is only the 22nd of my lifetime. Worse than that I reckon it's only the 11th I'll actually have seen, given that I was too young for some or unavoidably indoors or clouded out. I saw most of mine between 1984 and 2008, indeed there have only been three since, only one of which I managed to watch. Solar eclipses are nothing if not a highly irregular phenomenon.

Solar eclipses in London, 1900-2099
(coverage over 80% in red)
31/10/1902
30/08/1905
28/06/1908
17/04/1912
21/08/1914
03/02/1916
22/11/1919
10/11/1920
08/04/1921
28/03/1922
24/01/1925
29/06/1927
12/11/1928
01/11/1929
30/06/1935
19/07/1936
19/04/1939
10/09/1942
25/01/1944
09/07/1945
28/04/1949
01/09/1951
25/02/1952
30/06/1954
02/10/1959
15/02/1961
20/05/1966
22/09/1968
25/02/1971
10/07/1972
24/12/1973
11/05/1975
29/04/1976
20/07/1982
15/12/1982
04/12/1983
30/05/1984
10/05/1994
12/10/1996
11/09/1999
31/05/2003
03/10/2005
29/03/2006
01/08/2008
04/01/2011
20/03/2015
21/08/2017
10/06/2021
25/10/2022
29/03/2025
12/08/2026
02/08/2027
26/01/2028
01/06/2030
21/08/2036
16/01/2037
05/01/2038
02/07/2038
21/06/2039
11/06/2048
14/11/2050
12/09/2053
05/11/2059
30/04/2060
05/02/2065
22/06/2066
21/04/2069
12/09/2072
13/07/2075
26/11/2076
11/05/2078
01/05/2079
13/09/2080
03/09/2081
27/02/2082
02/05/2087
21/04/2088
23/09/2090
18/02/2091
07/02/2092
23/07/2093
11/05/2097

A single point on the Earth normally sees about forty solar eclipses per century, which averages out to four per decade. But some decades see a lot, for example the 1920s when London saw seven, and some see very few, for example the 2040s when there'll only be one. Alas the last four decades have all been average or below, which is one reason I haven't seen a lot of solar eclipses during my lifetime. And brilliantly the next two decades are making up for lost time.

    • Thu 10 June 2021 (11:13 BST) 20%
    • Tue 25 October 2022 (10:59 BST) 15%
    • Sat 29 March 2025 (11:03 GMT) 31%
    • Wed 12 August 2026 (19:13 BST) 91%
    • Mon 2 August 2027 (10:00 BST) 42%
    • Wed 26 January 2028 (16:34 GMT) 51%
    • Sat 1 June 2030 (06:21 BST) 48%
    • Thu 21 Aug 2036 (19:07 BST) 60%
    • Fri 16 January 2037 (09:06 GMT) 46%
    • Tue 5 January 2038 (14:34 GMT) 5%
    • Fri July 2038 (15:03 BST) 8%
    • Tue 21 June 2039 (19:35 BST) 63%

London's due twelve solar eclipses during the next eighteen years, which is more than we've had during the last thirty-five. Admittedly some of them are a bit feeble and those in January rarely impress, but that's generally the case anyway. Plenty will be of a good size, especially in the 2030s, plus there's that absolute cracker in 2026. But notice that six year gap between 2030 and 2036, and indeed this bumper sequence is followed by a nine year gap between 2039 and 2048. The table above confirms there was actually a ten year gap between May 1984 and May 1994. Wherever you are in the world there are droughts and gluts.

England's golden era for solar eclipses will be the 2080s and 2090s when not only are there several but three are highly significant. 2081's is total in the Channel Islands, 2090 is total along most of the south coast and 2093 is annular across Glasgow and Newcastle. What a time to be alive... except most of us won't be so we'll have to make do with the eclipses closer at hand. Watch the skies this morning, assuming you can do so safely, and assuming you can.

 Wednesday, June 09, 2021

The government is attempting to redraw our constituencies again, and this time will succeed. They tried in 2013 but Nick Clegg killed the plans off. They tried again in 2017 but Brexit proved constitutionally more important. This time the government has a large enough majority to sail it through, plus it was in their manifesto, plus it's about time for a reshuffle because populations change.

UK constituencies were last rejigged in time for the 2010 election, before that 1997, before that 1983, before that 1974 and before that 1950. What's different this time is the government's specification that constituencies must all be of roughly equal size. Ignoring islands, the UK's smallest electorate is currently 55,419 in Stoke-On-Trent and the largest is 99,253 in Bristol West. This time the range has to be a lot smaller, with each constituency no more than 5% different from the average, and this enforced constraint necessitates all kinds of changes.

David Cameron's original plan was to cut the overall number of MPs from 650 to 600, back when the expenses row was at its height and everyone thought 'the fewer MPs the better'. One reason the plans stalled is because no MP wanted to be one of the 50 losing out, so Boris has backtracked and is keeping the full 650. This means an average constituency size of 73,392, and the 5% range means electorates must now lie between 69,724 and 77,062.

It all sounds terribly fair, because why should voters in Stoke have considerably more power than those in Bristol? But the limit of 5% is a subjective choice which restricts flexibility for those charged with redrawing boundaries, so they've been forced to make some poor geographical choices which could have been avoided had the range been 6% or greater. It's also a political decision to base constituency sizes on the electorate rather than overall population, which disadvantages areas with more than the average number of children.

A consequence of constitutional significance is that some regions of the UK are about to lose representation in Parliament and others are going to gain. It's fair to say that Labour, Plaid Cymru and the SNP would never have pushed these changes through and the Conservatives are more than happy.

RegionMPschange
South West55 → 58+3
South East84 → 91+7
London73 → 75+2
East Anglia58 → 61+3
East Midlands46 → 47+1
Yorks & Humber54 → 54-
West Midlands59 → 57-2
North East29 → 27-2
North West75 → 73-2
Scotland59 → 57-2
Wales40 → 32-8
Northern Ireland 18 → 18-

It's particularly bad for Wales which'll lose 20% of its MPs and particularly good for the South East region which'll gain seven. The political centre of the United Kingdom is being nudged south and east, because that's where the population is, at the expense of less well-off parts of the country. It's unintentionally the government's "levelling up" agenda in reverse.

Ten years ago a boost in southeastern seats would have been a slamdunk for the Tories but recent elections confirm that's no longer necessarily the case. Similarly a reduction of seats in the north would have been bad news for Labour, but the rise of Conservatism in these parts means a number of 'red wall' seats will now disappear. Overall however this still delivers an electoral boost for the incumbent government, especially the loss of ten seats in Wales and Scotland.

London's constituencies are due to get a significant rejig, and not just because two more are being squeezed in. The requirement to keep electorates within a specific range will cause significant boundary turbulence, as indeed it will across the country. Many of the capital's existing 73 constituencies are already of an appropriate size but only two will be left unchanged, because you can't unpick one bit of the map without a domino effect rippling off elsewhere.

For example Romford's boundary could have stayed the same but the three adjacent constituencies are all too big, so Emerson Park is being brought in and part of Hylands ward is being hived off. The Boundary Commission tried not to split existing council wards but this was sometimes forced because mathematics is now king, not administrative cohesion. You can check your own constituency here, wherever you are in the country, and read a rationale for any proposed change if you dig deeper into the local and national reports.

One of London's extra seats is being added where I live. The 'Newham and Tower Hamlets sub-region' now has a combined electorate of 368,155, entitling it to 5.02 constituencies rather than the four we have now. Currently Tower Hamlets has two and Newham has two, but an extra constituency is being squeezed in to accommodate the extra population delivered by years of newbuild housing. It'll have to span the River Lea, which the Boundary Commission would rather not have had to do, but needs must. And it's going to be called Stratford & Bow, which means I'm going to live in it.



Stratford & Bow will stretch from Victoria Park to the fringes of Wanstead Flats, taking in the Olympic Park, Forest Gate and Upton Park. It lumps in Bow with a swathe of Newham, which feels odd. Only one road crosses from the Tower Hamlets part to the Newham part, such is the severance inflicted by the river Lea, which is less than ideal. But it'll still be a safe Labour seat, much as I live in now, so where I place my cross still won't technically make any difference.

To quell my concern I've looked back at the history of constituency allocation hereabouts and confirmed that the only constant is change. In 1950 Bow was lumped in with Poplar and the Isle of Dogs as part of the Poplar constituency. In 1974 Bow was lumped in with Bethnal Green instead forming Bethnal Green & Bow. In 1983 Bow was switched back to Poplar, forming Bow & Poplar, then returned to Bethnal Green & Bow in 1997. Also Poplar was coupled with Canning Town between 1997 and 2010, creating a precedent for a constituency across the Lea, which makes the upcoming Stratford & Bow less of an anomaly.

The total number of constituencies in Tower Hamlets and Newham has changed several times in line with the size of the local population, so this latest uptick isn't really anything unusual.

 195019741983199720102023
Tower Hamlets3222
Newham4332
Total no. of MPs 755445

At present the Boundary Commission's plans are just proposals subject to further review, so a two month window has opened for the return of feedback. Expect potentially significant changes before a second round of consultation takes place early next year, followed by further tweaks and a third consultation before the whole thing becomes law in late 2023. If Boris waits until May 2024 to hold the next General Election then the new constituencies will apply, but if he manoeuvres to go early then the current ones will still hold sway.

And all this matters because a 'fairer' system could deliver a different balance of power and change the future of the country. Had earlier revamps succeeded then David Cameron would have won a bigger majority in 2015 and maybe not risked Brexit, and Theresa May wouldn't have had to rely on the DUP to prop her up in 2017. It wouldn't have altered Boris's landslide in 2019, only boosted the scale, but it could lock in an electoral advantage from 2024 and perpetuate the Tories' years in power. If you don't like the shape of your constituency feel free to complain, but the 5% limit is coming whatever, giving the opposition an even higher electoral mountain to climb.

 Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Random City of London ward (18): Coleman Street



If they were naming my 18th random ward today they'd probably call it Moorgate, but parallel Coleman Street came first by several centuries so gets the accolade. It slots into the gap between the Barbican and Liverpool Street, is mostly low key commercial and doesn't offer many great reasons to visit. [pdf map]



This is Coleman Street today, a much sanitised version of the medieval thoroughfare which linked Lothbury to the City wall. It is indeed named after incineratory practices, in this case the charcoal burners who plied their trade on open ground by the river Walbrook. These days it's one-way and somewhat of a backwater, the sort of place you'd only come if you worked here, but retains a smidgeon of character at its northern end. Its chief building used to be St Stephen's church, a Wren rebuild with two stone pineapples on the roof and a weathervane commemorating 'La Cokke on the hoop', a local 15th century brewery. Alas the church was never rebuilt after the Blitz and its site is currently occupied by a coffee shop and a Japanese restaurant, but the cockerel lives on as the ward's Nando-esque logo.



A number of short alleys lead off Coleman Street with evocative names like Great Swan Alley, Great Bell Alley and King's Arms Yard. The only one with any character is Mason's Avenue, a narrow curved cut-through with Tudor-style frontages and a selection of hospitality options. Best known of these is The Old Dr Butlers Head, identifiable by the barrels out front, which was established by a quack in 1610 to sell a liquid cure-all that had allegedly eased King James I of his back pain. On weekdays City workers with pints spill out to fill the alleyway, but on Sundays everything's closed so it's the ideal time for a chat with the homeless guy who sleeps outside the opticians.



Great Swan Alley continues across Moorgate where we find Chartered Accountants' Hall, the numbercrunchers HQ. Its lengthy neo-Baroque facade conceals a similarly ornate interior, subsequently mashed together with a Brutalist concrete extension facing Copthall Avenue. A lot of the buildings around here are, or look, Victorian, and are presently occupied by an entirely different institution to that which built them. The home of Zurich's Habib Bank, for example, boasts a fine 3m-high lighthouse carved into one corner because it used to be the offices of the Ocean Accident & Guarantee Corporation. The lantern alas no longer illuminates.



The crossroads where Moorgate crosses London Wall, you won't be surprised to hear, is the location of the former Moorgate entrance to the City of London. It's the only one of the big seven gateways to be added after the Romans left because back then the land on the other side of the wall was marshy fenland fed by the upper reaches of the Walbrook. The gate spanned the road by the Globe pub, a listed hostelry that stands on the site of the Swan and Hoop Inn and Livery Stables. It was here in 1795 that the poet John Keats was born, or is believed to have been given that his grandfather owned the inn and his father was an ostler paid to look after travellers' horses.



Moorfields, beyond the wall, wasn't drained until the 16th century. It became a large open space for recreation, grazing, markets, fairs and the like, and was where most of the City's displaced residents camped out following the Great Fire. The second Bethlem Royal Hospital was built here in 1676, backing onto the Roman wall, and remained until the asylum moved on to what's now the Imperial War Museum in 1815. Around this time Lower Moorfields was transformed into Finsbury Circus, an elliptical greenspace surrounded by two ornate crescents, and which is still the City's largest public park. It used to boast the City's only bowling green but that hasn't been replaced since Crossrail's construction site moved on, and the temporary lawn by the bandstand has yet to be transformed into the promised 'haven for people and wildlife'.



The platforms of Liverpool Street Crossrail station run directly underneath Finsbury Circus, and one day next year you'll be able to descend at the Moorgate end to speed off to Heathrow. The new entrance remains interminably sealed beneath a cliff face of sheathed scaffolding, which will ultimately be Deutsche Bank's new London bolthole, while the empty gash out front has been leased by Aviva for an eight-storey block. The only way curvaceous Moor House was able to avoid the development maelstrom is because Foster & Partners had the nous to build extra deep foundations and a ventilation shaft in the early 2000s, several years before the purple railway officially got the go-ahead.



Many of the streets at the northern end of the ward are flanked by anodyne offices and small lockdown-susceptible shops. Anything a desk jockey might need to nip out for at lunchtime is catered for, from dentists and opticians to sushi and stationery, not to mention greetings cards, paracetamol and tailor-made shirts. Not all of these outlets have survived a year without footfall, and it's notable that several bars and restaurants which'd be thriving in the suburbs still have signs in the window apologising for not reopening yet. Even £4.20 luxury pasta isn't shifting while patrons of Spagbowl continue to work from home.



The tallest building in the ward is Citypoint, a glass tower resembling a hardback book. When it opened in 1967 it was called Britannic House, the new home for British Petroleum, and became infamous as the first City structure to rise higher than St Paul's Cathedral. The British Red Cross have their HQ in a much less glam concrete block on the opposite side of the piazza. A disjoint scrap of Coleman Street ward extends along Silk Street to embrace the last offices before the Barbican kicks in. The chief point of interest here is the former Whitbread Brewery, operational 1750-1976, home to many a barrel and a vault of porter. Today it's part hotel and part conference/events venue, so you probably won't be getting inside unless your company hosts a corporate awayday.



I may have made Coleman Street sound interesting. Don't let that tempt you into making a special trip.

 Monday, June 07, 2021

Santander are closing a lot of branches over the next three months, 111 in total, as they trim their network to match future usage. This cull removes 20% of their existing branches and comes on top of a similar 20% cut in 2019.
Oh, I was hoping for a post about something else today. I'm not really interested in Santander, I don't bank with them.
Like many other banks Santander are out to make savings as customers increasingly move online. They claim branch transactions fell by 33% over the two years before the pandemic and declined by a further 50% in 2020, and also that two thirds of overall transactions are now digital.
I can't remember the last time I went into a bank. There was that time I had to make a physical transaction, and that time I needed face-to-face authorisation, but mostly I just juggle everything online.
The branches being closed are all within three miles of another branch, which Santander have decided is a reasonable travelling distance, plus they've checked there'll always be an ATM and Post Office nearby.
We used to think nothing of queueing for our money, but you'd never get away with that these days. I remember I once went into my local bank with a large bag of halfpennies, it was Williams & Glyn's, anyone remember them?
If you live somewhere like Shrewsbury or Yeovil where there are no other nearby towns, no worries. Elsewhere Margate is closing in favour of Ramsgate, Runcorn's been usurped by Widnes and Bletchley's losing out to Milton Keynes. But the axe is mostly falling within large conurbations... and especially in London where 40 of the 111 closures will take place.
You've also reminded me of cheques! They were amazing, I can't believe we used to rely on small pieces of paper sent through the post, my so-called signature was virtually unintelligible, and we always got the year wrong in January!


I spotted the significance of London's Santander slimdown while on a visit to the City. The branch in Bishopsgate and the branch in Moorgate are both closing, with posters outside advising existing customers to switch to branches in Cheapside or Islington instead. It turns out the unprepossessing branch on Cheapside will in future be Santander's sole outpost in the City of London, which seems extraordinary in what's supposed to be London's financial centre.
Moorgate to Upper Street is easy enough, you take the Northern line there and back, it sounds like a fun adventure. I wouldn't like to do it regularly but like I said I don't go into banks any more so that's fine.
The recommendation to go to Islington surprised me because it's a fair distance away, over two miles. The High Holborn branch is currently closer but that's closing on 8th July. The London Bridge branch is closer but that's closing on 15th July. Even the Bethnal Green branch is closer, but that's also closing on 15th July. Islington's somehow the next nearest left.
There were banks on every street once, there were banks everywhere, you couldn't move for banks. But as someone who's never lived or worked in the City of London these changes all seem perfectly reasonable.
When I was in Barking last week I noticed their branch is closing too. This time the two recommended alternatives are Ilford and East Ham, both within three miles but still not entirely convenient. I see the branch in Dagenham is closing too which'll leave the borough of Barking and Dagenham (population 212,000) in the extraordinary position of having no Santander branches at all.
Other banks exist. Residents of B&D could always switch to Barclays or the Halifax, which I assume will still have branches left, or at least they do now. If Santander want to lose customers who insist on turning up in person I suspect that'll only boost their profits.


This map shows branches staying open (red) and branches closing (black) across north and east London. It's fascinating to see a visual representation of the thinning out of the network... or extremely annoying if you happen to be a customer about to lose their closest branch. Many such people exist, as evidenced by the long queues outside banks and building societies during lockdown. [branch locator map]
It's just some coloured dots scattered across an area I have no interest in. At first glance it looks like there are more red dots than black dots anyway, so surely nobody will be disadvantaged? Santander's accountants know what they're doing.
No other London boroughs will end up with no Santanders, but Harrow, Hounslow, Kingston, Richmond, Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea, Hackney, Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets and Lewisham will now only have one, and Merton only had one anyway. If you think of each of these boroughs as having a population far larger than most provincial towns and cities, it's a significant inconvenience.
What you've forgotten to mention are all the employees who'll be made redundant by these closures. Hire a few more phone monkeys and these awkward salaried pensioned staff are easily dispensed with. Still, at least it keeps my bank charges down.
I suspect this confirms that Santander (and other banks) would love to close a lot more branches, but it's only within densely populated places like London that they can proceed with impunity. Our suburbs are close together by national standards, so we increasingly get to waste our time and money travelling for face-to-face services so that shareholders can prosper.
I don't use banks any more, not unless I absolutely have to, so I genuinely don't see what the problem is. Business has to move with the times.
Anyway, think of Santander's latest closures as a snapshot of the journey to debankification and as an example of the wider digitalisation of society. Most of us have already proved we don't need to go out to get on with our lives. Before long the others may not have much of a choice.

 Sunday, June 06, 2021

A week in photos...

Sunday (SE1)


If you're a Monopoly player, UK version, I thought you might appreciate seeing what the Old Kent Road actually looks like. The whole thing's almost two miles long so I'm giving you a very atypical stretch, especially the dual carriageway vibe, but the street does have two Lidls so at least that's properly representative. Old Kent Road is well known as the cheapest property in Monopoly but prices have moved on since the game was published and £2 would now barely pay for an hour's rent in a typical flat. As for hotels I can only find a drab block with 53 rooms called the Eurotraveller Hotel Premier (Tower Bridge), whose displaced branding confirms that the brown end of the board still lacks prestige.

Monday (IG11)


This is the Charlton Crescent Subway beneath the A13, one of the pedestrian escape routes from the Thames View Estate in Barking. It was given this colourful makeover in 2005 as part of the council's Artscape project (which is also responsible for the landing lights at Lodge Avenue and the witch's nipples at the Goresbrook interchange). The interior's painted cyan at this end, blue in the middle and purple at the far end, interspersed with contrasting concentric rings. The bands of LED lights used to flash like you were stepping into some futuristic launch tube but I fear that effect has been switched off.

Tuesday (E16)


This is not what you expect to see walking along the Thames waterfront. It stopped a few of us in our tracks when we spotted it, a bobbly pink confection pacing along the promenade at Royal Wharf. I did later confirm that the feet belonged to a woman, not to the balloons themselves, but only when she turned the corner into the main body of the estate. I never worked out where she was delivering them, presumably to an apartment hosting a socially distanced party, but it did seem a somewhat extravagant helium flourish.

Wednesday (RM12)


When in Upminster I like to drop in and see how the Underground's largest swastika is getting on. On my first visit of the day a group of TfL staff were having a meeting standing on top of it, like you do, so I returned to Upminster Bridge station later in the day for a clear shot. Alas the tiled design is now despoiled by two socially distanced stickers saying Please Queue Here, on the off chance that passengers at this little used station simultaneously want to purchase tickets. It's worth pointing out that the design was added in 1934, post-Hitler but pre-war, and that the swastika has a much longer religious history.

Thursday (E3)


This empty painted rectangle has appeared outside Bow Road station, heralding the dawn of London's first e-scooter trials. Today it's illegal to ride one on the streets of London but tomorrow the law changes and a select few boroughs will permit hired speed-limited scooters on roads and cycleways. Four are in West London (Richmond, Ealing, Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea), then out east there's the City of London and Canary Wharf. The rest of Tower Hamlets is taking part only as a "ride-through" borough so I'm baffled why Bow Road has a parking space. You shouldn't be able to start or end an e-scooter ride here, and we're hardly on the way from Docklands to the City, so I expect this space'll remain empty. Long may our pavements stay that way.

Friday (E15)


Blimey, it's a Wendy's... in the process of taking over the former Pizza Hut restaurant on Stratford Broadway. Wendy's are the world's third largest chain of burger restaurants, after the obvious two, but closed all their British branches in 2001 and are only now creeping back. Reading got the first this week, and Stratford and Oxford are vying to be second later in the year. I had my first Wendy's at their flagship in Oxford Street in the 1980s and remember being entirely underwhelmed, I suspect because I'd been allowed to select my own ingredients. The latest menu is bacon-obsessed and unlikely to set foodie tastebuds alight, but Stratford may well bolt it down.

Saturday (E14)


This is Sun Pavilion by Morag Myerscough, the latest art installation at Canary Wharf (in Montgomery Square, opposite the other entrance to the tube station). It features striking patterns in vibrant colours, which are very much Morag's thing, plus a few plants and a rack of seating. It certainly dazzled when I walked by, but only because the sun is high enough at this time of year not to be blocked by the surrounding skyscrapers. From one side it's symmetrically Insta-friendly, whereas from other angles it's just somewhere colourful to sit down with a locally-purchased drink. There's invariably an ulterior motive.

 Saturday, June 05, 2021

12 things that happened this week #coronavirus

• hybrid variant detected in Vietnam
• UK could be in early stages of third wave
• ban on evictions comes to an end
• WHO allocates Greek letters to variants
  (α Kent, β South Africa, γ Brazil, δ India)
• Peru trebles its official death toll
• zero deaths reported (but cases rising)
• 75% of UK adults now vaccinated
• 50% of UK adults now fully vaccinated
• school catch-up plans underwhelm
• Portugal moves from green to amber
• lockdown eases across much of Scotland
• infections rise by two-thirds in a week

Worldwide deaths: 3,530,000 → 3,720,000
Worldwide cases: 170,000,000 → 173,000,000
UK deaths: 127,775 → 127,836
UK cases: 4,480,945 → 4,511,669
1st vaccinations: 39,068,346 → 40,124,229
2nd vaccinations: 24,892,416 → 27,160,635
FTSE: up 1% (7022 → 7069)

North Ockendon is one of London's proper villages, i.e. with fields and a parish church, and is also the only place in the capital to lie outside the M25. Its administrative trajectory was set in 1935 when the parish was transferred to Hornchurch Urban District with the expectation that suburban sprawl was imminent. Instead the Green Belt preserved it, then in 1965 this outpost found itself absorbed into Greater London where it remains as a rural anomaly. The village is really two hamlets, one linear and trafficked, the other more characterfully clustered. The M25 despoils the western boundary.



St Mary Magdalene is fundamentally fourteenth century, although there's been a church here considerably longer than that. The exterior is flint and ragstone with dressings of Reigate stone, the tower has diagonal buttresses and the south doorway boasts an intricate Norman arch. Getting inside isn't an option at present, indeed all services are currently suspended, sorry. The noticeboard outside confirms that Choral Communion only takes place on the 5th Sunday of the month, i.e. no more than five times a year, which ought to give you some idea of the importance of the place.

St Mary's holds a special place in scientific history thanks to William Derham, rector of Upminster, who in 1709 made what's generally accepted to be the first successful calculation of the speed of sound. He took his 16 inch telescope up the tower of St Laurence in Upminster, observed the flash of a gunshot from the church tower in North Ockendon and timed the interval before the sound arrived using a half-second pendulum. His calculations suggested the speed of sound was 1072 Parisian feet per second, which equates to 348 metres, impressively close to the actual 343.



In one corner of the churchyard is a small gate leading down to St Cedd's Well, a genuine antiquity. Cedd was a 7th century Northumbrian monk sent to convert the East Saxon kingdom, for which read modern Essex. It's said that he baptised pilgrims in the spring here, but it's also said that the water arose in Kent and gushed forth in Essex so best not take this as gospel. The spring now feeds a well that helps fill the moat of North Ockendon's former manor house, so best step down and soak up the beauty of the spot.

Note that Visitors Who Use The Steps Do So At Their Own Risk, indeed the top couple of blocks are definitely on the wonk. Also note that Deep Water refers to the well itself, a four-foot long brick pool which would definitely be drownworthy, not the adjacent but inaccessible moat. Don't worry, the well house is securely covered by a pitched timber roof, this a bland replacement for a previous incarnation which depicted a cowled lady weeping and a bearded man with a white ruff.



In front of the well is a long cobbled channel with a central gutter leading down towards the moat, plus a pump for drawing the water should you be so inclined. At the height of summer it's a verdant spot, a lovingly-maintained mini-garden with a memorial bench where you can rest awhile and soak in the Saxon vibe. I suspect the well-heeled inhabitants of the adjacent barn conversions enjoy coming down here most often, but anyone can drop in, so it's Cedd.



The first field to the south of the village has been overtaken by a hardhat army doing preliminary work for a major road-building project. The Lower Thames Crossing is coming, a tunnel downstream of Tilbury intended to relieve pressure on the Dartford Crossing. It's been confirmed that one end of the new dual carriageway will break off from the M25 in North Ockendon and this field is directly in the line of fire. I spotted two operatives inspecting a shallow preparatory trench, several piles of earth marking previous attempts and a big yellow digger intent on scraping more. It made me go online and check the plans when I got home.



The hedgerow I stood beside while taking photos of the level crossing will be obliterated by the first sweep of the southbound sliproad. The field on the other side of the level crossing will be bisected by the northbound sliproad just before it tunnels underneath the M25 embankment. That line of blue cones scattered amid the growing crops will one day be the site of hundreds of thousands of overtaking manoeuvres and potentially a fatal accident. And footpath 252, the ill-marked undertrodden right of way I'd struggled even to locate, is to be reborn as a thin bridge above a seething chasm of railway line and speeding vehicles. It's North Ockendon's bad luck to have been selected twice for a major road-building project, narrowly skirted and irretrievably scarred.

Previous North Ockendon content
» M25 30th anniversary visit
» Fen Lane - London's easternmost extreme
» Home Farm Cottage - London's easternmost bus stop
» Route 347, London's least frequent bus

 Friday, June 04, 2021

London has ten public footpath level crossings, just ten, and half of them are in the London Borough of Havering. If you have three hours spare you can walk them all...

Walking Havering's five Public Footpath Level Crossings

1) Osbourne Road (RM11 2BJ)



The first three are on the Romford to Upminster line, because minor foot crossings are most likely to survive on quiet single track backwaters with not many trains. The railway divides one group of leafy residential avenues from another, denying vehicle access for three quarters of a mile so this pedestrian cut-through is very welcome. To start the walk make your way to Osborne Road between Romford and Emerson Park stations (the 193 bus delivers) and look for the broad alleyway between the semis at 125 and 127. At the far end are a swing gate and a volley of notices, one reminding you to keep your dog on a lead and another saying No Trespassing in English, Polish, Romanian, French and Spanish. A decent line of sight down the straight track means it all feels open and safe, and crossing the line takes barely two seconds. I was surprised that Network Rail classify this as the most dangerous of Havering's quintet, this mainly due to the 'large number of users' which turns out to be about 120 a day. I spotted three other users and two dogs. On the far side is a brief stretch of whoppingly high fence to discourage shortcuts, then an alleyway leads off in both directions behind sheds and back gardens. It'd be easier to escape if the end of Courage Close wasn't bricked up. Reassuringly nobody's planning to close this crossing, which is more than can be said for the next two...

Fork right along the alleyway to join Hillview Avenue - a world of well-kept bungalows with Avon catalogues on doorsteps. At Godfrey's Bakery turn right past Emerson Park station and the Hop Inn micropub, then left into Burnway at the Oh My Cod! chippy.

2) Butts Lane (RM11 3NA)



This has a much narrower alleyway, as befits a more minor crossing. It may not bode well that the house on one side is up for sale and the other has already sold, but if you've always wanted a 3-bed semi backing onto a level crossing (and don't mind people using the stile to peer over into your back garden) now's your chance. Again there are signs aplenty on the approach, including the usual Stop Look Listen and a more modern exhortation to put your mobile phone away. Line of sight is again excellent, indeed you can plainly see the end of the platform at Emerson Park in case the half-hourly service is waiting there. Low green railings deter trespass trackside. The path on the far side is shady and doglegged, and emerges beside a massive detached house which appears to be mostly garage.

But the crossing's days are numbered because it's on Network Rail's longlist for closure. Over 100 crossings in the Anglia region were the subject of two rounds of public consultation in 2016, the aim being to improve safety and reduce risk. Results in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk were finally confirmed in 2020, but the orders for 'Essex and Others' await approval from the Secretary of State. The crossing attracts only 30 pedestrians a day and isn't fully accessible thanks to stiles on both sides so Network Rail are happy to divert users to a footbridge quarter of a mile down the road. But their main argument really boils down to "without the closure of the level crossing there is a risk of a future incident at this location", which is essentially a reason for shutting anything.

Footpath 170 emerges at the end of a cul-de-sac, then weaves through pines to a string of bungalows on Woodhall Crescent. Ignore the footbridge leading to St Andrew's Park, pleasant though that is, and keep your eyes peeled for Footpath 172 on the right.

3) Woodhall Crescent (RM11 3ST)



This is the excellent one, the footpath that descends into Hornchurch Cutting where the Pleistocene ice sheets ground to a halt. The change in level means that a zigzag ramp is required on both sides, affording an excellent view on the way down that eventually opens up to reveal a pleasingly straight track. At the foot of the slope is a motley selection of deterrent infrastructure, including three steps, a funnel of wooden fencing and a trackbed of black plastic spikes. The whole thing has a whiff of adventure about it, not to mention the fact it's also a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. Alas Network Rail want to close this one too. There are only two dozen users daily who could easily use the footbridge on nearby Wingletye Lane instead, indeed the crossing's been here since these were fields and increasingly looks like a bypassable anachronism. If you want to experience it for yourself, maybe come soon.

It's the best part of an hour's walk to the next crossing so don't undertake this expedition lightly. You'll pass Upminster Bridge and Upminster stations, probably via the windmill and the high street, before veering around the District line depot to reach the lower middle class suburb of Cranham. Keep going until the end of Nightingale Avenue, where the Green Belt starts, and enter the Brickfields nature reserve. The next crossing is unsignposted behind the row of trees on the right.

4) Brickfields (RM14 1EJ)



Now that we've nudged beyond the extreme of built-up London, this one's a proper footpath that happens to cross a railway. It's also a proper railway this time, the main line to Southend, which means several trains an hour rattling through at up to 75mph. And yet here we are, permitted to stroll across the line unchecked, protected only by a slew of signs and a two-step stile on either side. One of these stiles has a separate gate for dogs, but not the other, and the instruction Cyclists Dismount ignores the fact you couldn't have ridden straight through anyway. And yet despite the obvious risks there are currently no plans to close this crossing, I suspect because there's no nearby alternative, this being the only north-south connection between Cranham and the M25. Network Rail's census again suggests just two dozen users daily, perhaps because the only way out to the south is across a large buttercup meadow where horses graze, and the state of the mud suggests the path is an utter quagmire for much of the year.

It's the best part of an hour's walk to the next crossing, very little of it along roads, so only try this next part if you're superkeen. First follow a private path across Cranham Golf Course, where I watched pudgy Pringled youth mis-hitting tee shots, then enter the realm of the very excellent Thames Chase Forest Centre. Here a cafe and visitor centre cater to families who almost certainly drove here and might perhaps venture out into the surrounding community woodland. A public footpath exits the forest immediately alongside the M25, then you're aiming for the village of North Ockendon and another footpath which crosses the moat beyond the church. Good luck, this corner of London is defiantly and atypically rural.

5) Eve's (RM14 2XH)



Havering's fifth and final foot crossing can be found on the railway line between Upminster and Ockendon a few hundred metres inside the Greater London boundary. This used to be a remote spot, a brief interruption on a barely relevant footpath between North Ockendon and Pea Lane, but then in the 1980s the M25 arrived. It scythed across the landscape on an embankment, deftly dodging the railway beneath, but severed the route of Footpath 252 which was forced to divert alongside the motorway instead. I arrived by following a long hedgerow to a wire fence with a stile - single step this time - and waited for the train to Grays to zip by. This is the least substantial level crossing of the five, and the footpath beyond barely distinguishable along the edge of a dry sprouting field. When Network Rail did a nine-day survey in July 2016 no users were recorded, which I can well believe, so it's no surprise they plan to close this one too. It's probably for the best, another major road project is planned for the vicinity so Eve's crossing would inevitably have been snuffed out anyway.

Even when you reach the edge of the field, civilisation (aka Ockendon station) is still over a mile away. I was forced to dodge traffic along a country lane because the only shortcut across a field was blocked by a wall of shoulder-high nettles. But the walk was absolutely glorious, which I suspect I'm only saying because I haven't done anything similar for well over a year.

• Network Rail's level crossing database is here, including an interactive map and a downloadable spreadsheet.
• My map of London's ten public footpath crossings is here.

London's five other public footpath level crossings are:
» Angerstein (Greenwich) - alleyway across freight line, recently scheduled for closure.
» Trumpers (Ealing) - also across a freight line, see Geoff's video here.
» Golf Links (Enfield) - along a minor footpath up Crews Hill way.
» Lincoln Road (Enfield) - south of Enfield Town, closed to road traffic in 2012.
» Bourneview (Croydon) - almost in Surrey, between Kenley and Whyteleafe.


click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan21  Feb21  Mar21  Apr21  May21  Jun21
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

» my flickr photostream

twenty blogs
853
arseblog
ian visits
londonist
blue witch
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
linkmachinego
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
the ladies who bus
round the rails we go
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel
from the murky depths
exploring urban wastelands

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
Things to do outside London
Inner London toilet map
The DG Tour of Britain
#coronavirus

read the archive
Jun21  May21
Apr21  Mar21  Feb21  Jan21
Dec20  Nov20  Oct20  Sep20
Aug20  Jul20  Jun20  May20
Apr20  Mar20  Feb20  Jan20
Dec19  Nov19  Oct19  Sep19
Aug19  Jul19  Jun19  May19
Apr19  Mar19  Feb19  Jan19
Dec18  Nov18  Oct18  Sep18
Aug18  Jul18  Jun18  May18
Apr18  Mar18  Feb18  Jan18
Dec17  Nov17  Oct17  Sep17
Aug17  Jul17  Jun17  May17
Apr17  Mar17  Feb17  Jan17
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2020 2019 2018 2017 2016
2015 2014 2013 2012 2011
2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
2005 2004 2003 2002

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

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

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

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
thunderbirds
routemaster
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
amsterdam
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
typewriters
doctor who
coronation
comments
blue peter
matchgirls
hurricanes
buzzwords
brookside
monopoly
peter pan
starbucks
feng shui
leap year
manbags
bbc three
vision on
piccadilly
meridian
concorde
wembley
islington
ID cards
bedtime
freeview
beckton
blogads
eclipses
letraset
arsenal
sitcoms
gherkin
calories
everest
muffins
sudoku
camilla
london
ceefax
robbie
becks
dome
BBC2
paris
lotto
118
itv