Monday, March 27, 2023
20 years ago, when this blog was in its infancy, my posts were mostly about news, popular culture and the minutiae of life. The blogosphere in those days was all about personal commentary and links to other sites, hence you might have read screeds about last night's TV, troublesome parcel deliveries, a trip to the cinema, electroclash, the Iraq War or the joys of digital watches. What I hadn't yet started doing was going to places solely so I could come back and write about them, mainly because I didn't have time. But then BestMate emigrated to America and I suddenly had a lot more empty weekends on my hands, so two weeks before Easter I used a dice to pick somewhere random to visit.
1) a walk along the Greenwich MeridianI threw a 6 so headed off to experience the Boat Race in person for the first time. And then I came home and wrote about it.
2) a walk along the Thames west from Docklands
3) a randomly chosen museum from this list
4) a randomly chosen art gallery from this list
5) a random dice-controlled journey on the Underground
6) a trip to the Boat Race
I reached Putney Bridge with five minutes to spare before the reserve race began. The whole area was full of tourists looking lost, families looking bored and yuppies looking drunk. I made my way down to the river, pushing past the acres of pushchairs, and tried to see if anything was happening. I was glad I'd remembered to wear the right colour blue. The crowds were one-deep, looking out across the river towards the boathouses in case anything was actually happening. The sensible amongst them had brought radios to find out what was going on, thermos flasks to keep them warm and a football to keep the kids occupied. The less sensible had brought cold meat picnics and grandma. There were a lot of twenty-somethings in the crowd, a lot of courting couples, and a high proportion of students using the race as a social opportunity to meet up with their jolly good mates during the Easter break. The BBC were blocking the towpath, making sure that six million TV viewers could watch the event even if we couldn't. The reserve race kicked off at 4pm to muted cheers, at which point a number of people left and went home thinking they'd just seen the main event.By complete coincidence I found myself down by the river in Putney yesterday afternoon, a few hours before the Boat Race was about to kick off.
The weather was wetter than 20 years ago but people were still milling around, many of them looking for somewhere to drink with their jolly good mates before the main event. The BBC had already bagsied their spots along the riverbank, not that six million viewers would be watching. A lot of green jackets, smart shoes and boatcrew badges were in evidence, suggesting the Boat Race remains a draw for those who enjoyed a paid-for education. A hospitality company dressed in black tie were unloading supplies from a van on the quayside and hurrying it aboard Oxford's HQ cruiser. I noticed rather more police officers than there'd been in 2003 but times change, plus there is a heck of a lot of potentially mischievous riverbank to keep an eye on.
I wandered upstream, trying to get to Hammersmith Bridge before the proper race arrived half an hour later. I was forced to make a detour inland around Mr Al Fayed's football ground at Craven Cottage, after which the riverside was noticeably less crowded. The spectators here tended to be families, and very middle class in the same way that nobody in East London is. Some people looked like they'd not been anywhere near London since the Countryside Alliance march last year, and weren't planning on coming back until they needed their Barbour jacket re-tailored. The Boat Race also appeared to signal the beginning of the UK barbecue season, even when the temperature was only ten degrees Celsius, and the smell of burnt sausages drifted across from gardens backing onto the river. The residents of an old people's home were having a Boat Race party, beaming broadly beneath blue-ribboned bonnets. The crowds were thickest within fifty feet of the few riverside pubs. The event's sponsors should consider replacing their logo with a plastic lager glass, as this seems to best represent why most spectators turn up.This year's holding pen for earlybirds was the Fulham Fun Park in Bishop's Park. I don't think they had such fripperies twenty years ago, let alone screens large enough to be visible to a large crowd. Visitors could enjoy drinks provided by two of the race's chief sponsors, be that an £8 goblet of English sparkling wine or a variety of Kentish lagers, suggesting the organisers had taken my advice regarding plastic glasses. Other sponsors had their own stalls for attendees to browse, suggesting a fairly limited definition of 'Fun'. Greater joy was evident beside Putney's war memorial where the local independent radio station had set up a stage upon which six girls were performing a dance that might well have been rehearsed in their bedrooms. Proud parents beamed. Meanwhile a lorry turned up to cone off one of the lanes on Putney Bridge, thereby making the lengthy jams attempting to cross the river even jammier.
I stopped in sight of Hammersmith Bridge, which the police had helpfully closed just in case anyone might get a decent view. Trees on the opposite bank were bursting into leaf, although the sun was defiantly not shining. Somewhere in the distance came the welcome sight of two tiny boats edging closer upstream, a helicopter buzzing overhead marking their position. We waited for the action to draw nearer. Eventually the two boats swept past, neck and neck, or maybe the yellow boat was just ahead of the yellow boat, it was hard to tell. The two teams were followed by a flotilla of champagne-fuelled launches, spread out across the river, making the most of their eighteen minute chase. I made the mistake of whipping out my digital camera to record the spectacle so ended up concentrating more on the camera than the boats at the crucial moment. And then, as fast as they came, the boats disappeared off under the bridge, round the bend and out of sight. The small crowd turned to look at one other, shrugged and headed back to the nearest pub.That's the only photograph I have of the 2003 Boat Race because time has not been kind. I only uploaded one photo to the blog because image storage was awkward and potentially costly. It's tiny because bandwidth and screen sizes dictated miniature images back then, and it's blurry because my processing capability was poor. Then a few years later my hard drive corrupted and I lost almost every digital image I'd previously taken, so I can't even go back and make my original better. But from what I saw on TV this year the object of the image hasn't changed much - still two yellowish boats and eight oarsmen apiece powering their way upstream. Because I didn't hang around to watch the 2023 race go by, I'd learnt my lesson on that first visit.
It struck me that, by attending the Boat Race in real life, I had completely failed to experience it. From the riverside it was impossible to tell who was winning and, ultimately, which team was the winner. By the time the race ended I was already descending into Hammersmith station to start my journey home, totally oblivious of the result. I eventually got back to watch the whole thing 'properly' on video from earlier in the afternoon. Only then did I discover how exciting the race apparently was, how close it had been all the way through, and how the whole thing came down to a breathtaking photo finish. The two teams differed by just one foot after four and a quarter miles. Outstanding, record-breaking, even epic, apparently. And I missed it because I was there. Next year I shall stay at home and watch the race on television. Or maybe just check the result in the paper on Monday morning.So much in that final paragraph has changed over the last two decades in ways we now take for granted. In 2003 my phone was not smart so was incapable of acquiring real-time updates on how the race was going, let alone the identity of the winner. I only got to watch the full race because I'd set my VHS recorder before I left the house, there being no streaming service or catch-up TV back then. And the idea that anyone would discover the result in a morning newspaper now seems ridiculous - not that sport was secret back then, the BBC News website was in full flow, more that a significant proportion of the population still bought a daily newspaper and devoured it. These days if I wanted I could stand beside the river and watch the whole of the race on my phone, pausing only to look up when the real thing rowed by.
A week after writing about the Boat Race I was out blogging the London Marathon, that being the year Paula Radcliffe smashed the record. I was soon out blogging Big Brother locations, then some pioneering flashmobs, and in August I kicked off my first Local History Month. These days you think nothing of reading my in-depth reports from central museums, suburban parks, peripheral postcodes, waterside walks or far-flung county towns. But arguably it all started 20 years ago when I rolled a dice and threw a six, and what a fortunate outcome that was.
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, March 26, 2023Having visited Gloucester and written up my trip, I smiled and thought "that's another county town blogged."
And then I wondered how many county towns I'd blogged.
And then I wondered how many county towns I'd visited.
And then I wondered what a county town actually is.
And then I realised I'd opened a can of worms.
Wikipedia has a list, as you'd expect, and also an attempted definition.
A county town is the most important town or city in a county. It is usually the location of administrative or judicial functions within a county. Following the establishment of the English county councils in 1889, the headquarters of the new councils were usually located in the county town of each county. However, the concept of a county town pre-dates the establishment of these councils.County towns are historic but also administrative, probably of longstanding cultural significance and based on counties that may or may not still exist. In particular...
The concept of a county town is ill-defined and unofficial.You can sense this if you switch to the 'Talk' tab where Wikipedia's nitpickers have been debating the subject at length.
» Is it fair to say that pre-1832, at least, the main test was location where Knights of the Shire were elected?Other lists of county towns are available, the only constant being the inconsistency.
» This raises the prospect that there may be "traditional" County Towns and current administrative HQs that do not correspond.
» Done some checking and in addition to Leicestershire's being Glenfield, Derbyshire's is in Matlock. (Nottinghamshire's is (extraterritorially now) in Nottingham). So it's either erroneous or a list of historical county towns, which needs stating.
» It would be neat if we could find some historical gazetteers actually defining county town as a general term rather than just giving examples of them, which we have no shortage of!
» Well this article is a bit of a shambles, as county town seems to mean different things at different times (and to different people).
So let's attempt to list England's county towns in descreasing order of controversy. These are the "obviouslys".
Obviously the county town
County Durham: Durham
Lincolnshire : Lincoln
Good, that's half of them dealt with.
...although York is debatable, depending on whether you treat Yorkshire as one county or three ridings. If the latter then the county towns are Northallerton for the North Riding, Wakefield for the West Riding and Beverley for the East Riding, but these days we also have South Yorkshire and its county town is apparently Barnsley, so you can see why this is a mess. Of those I've only blogged Wakefield and Beverley, for what it's worth.
Acknowledged as the county town
If you're sitting there thinking "Ah but the county town of Surrey is Kingston and that's not even in Surrey any more" please note they moved their administrative centre to Reigate in January 2021 (and the historic county town has always been Guildford). Also these days Sussex is split into West and East, so you might expect Chichester to be West Sussex's county town but apparently Lewes trumps it.
Historically the county town
These counties arguably no longer exist, with Huntingdonshire part of Cambridgeshire and Cumberland and Westmorland part of Cumbria. However Cumbria has less than a week left because next Saturday it's being replaced by two unitary councils called Cumberland and Westmorland and Furness. They're almost the same as the historic counties, bar the Furness bit. Cumberland's administrative seat will be in Carlisle, as before, but County Hall for Westmorland and Furness will be in Kendal which muddies the waters further.
Apparently the county town
Historically Abingdon was the county town of Berkshire but that's now in Oxfordshire so Reading is a slamdunk for the modern county town, not that the county exists any more. Buckinghamshire's odd because you'd expect the county town to be Buckingham but no, Aylesbury's been the county town since 1549. Northumberland properly exercised Wikipedia's pedants because the county gaol was in Morpeth and its assizes were mainly held in Newcastle, but the general view is that the historic county town is Alnwick. As for Wiltshire you'd expect it to be Salisbury but the historic county town was Wilton, just outside, until 1889 when the county council shifted its allegiance to Trowbridge.
What even is a county town anyway?
I hand you over to Wikipedia.Middlesex arguably never, and certainly not since 1789, had a single, established county town. The City of London could be regarded as its county town for most purposes and provided different locations for the various, mostly judicial, county purposes. The county assizes for Middlesex were held at the Old Bailey in the City of London. The sessions house for the Middlesex Quarter Sessions was in Clerkenwell from 1612 to 1921. The quarter sessions performed most of the limited administration on a county level prior to the creation of Middlesex County Council in 1889. This was based at the Guildhall in Westminster which became the Middlesex Guildhall. New Brentford was first promulgated as the county town in 1789 on the basis that it was where elections of knights of the shire (or Members of Parliament) were held.So Middlesex's county town could be the City, could be Clerkenwell, could be Westminster and/or could be Brentford. More likely it's none of these. And thankfully it doesn't matter because my original question was "how many county towns have I blogged?" and I've blogged the whole of London, so wherever Middlesex's county town is I've covered it.
However you define it, I have a lot more county towns to go.
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, March 25, 20231933
Thank you for your map Mr Beck.
We don't much like it but we'll give it a try.
Lines, stations, interchanges and the river, is that all?
It seems to be lacking somewhat in information.
You know what this map needs? An escalator connection.
Bank and Monument are essentially one station with two different names so it's important to tell people they can interchange here. We'll add it as a dashed line, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
You know what this map needs? Unbuilt railways.
People should know what's coming even if they can't travel on it yet. We'll call then Authorised Extensions. We'll add them as a dashed line, they won't be intrusive, they'll be useful.
And the Waterloo & City Railway.
We'll add it as a separate uncoloured line, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
You know what this map needs? Interchange connectors.
It wasn't previously explicit what was interchanging with what. Now we've linked the circles there'll be no confusion, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
You know what this map needs? A grid of squares.
We'll go from A to Q in one direction and 1 to 11 in the other. It'll help people locate stations via an index, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
You know what this map needs? Daggers.
We'll use them to indicate stations that are open during weekday rush hours only. There are only two such stations, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
We'll use them to indicate stations that are closed on Sundays. There are only eight, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
And dashed lines for occasional services.
We can't have people thinking trains go to Kensington Olympia all the time. We'll label it Exhibition Service, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
And BR interchanges.
We already have circles for Underground interchanges. Let's introduces squares for interchanges with British Railways, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
You know what this map needs? Little red British Rail symbols.
We'll add them beside stations that are interchanges with British Rail. It'll be better than using a different shaped station blob, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
And unfilled tramlines for lines that are part of other lines.
Specifically purple tramlines for the East London section of the Metropolitan line and black tramlines for the Highbury branch of the Northern line. It won't be distracting, it'll be useful.
You know what this map needs? Asterisks in boxes.
We need them to distinguish between stations that are closed on Saturdays and Sundays and stations that are only closed on Sundays, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
You know what this map needs? Crossed-out station names.
Strand is closed for rebuilding in readiness for the Fleet line so we need to show that. We'll use a big red cross, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
You know what this map needs? Aeroplanes.
We're extending the Piccadilly line to Heathrow Airport and we really ought to celebrate that, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
And red triangles.
We need it to show that Turnham Green only gets Piccadilly line services at certain times. It's only one station, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
And red circles.
They'll show the nearest stations to the Round London Sightseeing Tour. If we're running a special service for tourists we really ought to show it on the map, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
And Travel Information Centres, ditto.
And the North London Line.
We'll show it as black tramlines between Richmond and Broad Street. It's not part of the tube but it is a potentially useful connection, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
And interchanges within walking distance.
It's just Fenchurch Street really. It doesn't have a tube station but you can easily walk there. We'll draw a box around the name, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
You know what this map needs? A key to explain the daggers.
We have 14 stations with irregular opening times but they vary a lot and it's not practical to use a dozen different symbols. Just a dagger will do, but we'll need a big list beside the map to explain everything, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
You know what this map needs? The Docklands Light Railway.
It's not the Underground but it's new, it's brilliant and it's ours. We'll use blue tramlines, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
And the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.
Island Gardens is a pretty useless station otherwise, but if we mention you can walk through to Greenwich people'll flock there. We'll use a dashed line, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
We'll just show the section from Kentish Town to Elephant and Castle because that's dead useful. We'll use a light yellow colour, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
You know what this map needs? Fare zones.
People need to know how much their journeys cost so adding these ten fare zones is essential. We'll use very light shading, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
You know what this map needs? Little trams.
Now Croydon has Tramlink we should point out where it interchanges with the tube. It's only at Wimbledon, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
You know what this map needs? Little boats.
The Thames has all these riverboat services on it. We should add a special symbol to show where you can interchange to a river pier, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
You know what this map needs? Replacement bus services.
It's only while Heathrow Terminal 4's closed... and OK maybe later when we close the East London line, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
You know what this map needs? Wheelchair blobs.
With more and more stations going step-free and in the interests of inclusivity, let's add a whopping blue blob at every station with step-free access. To be really literal we'll draw a wheelchair inside every one. These blobs aren't yet wildly intrusive, except on the DLR, but ultimately we intend to smother the map with them because it's the right thing to do.
You know what this map needs? The Overground.
Let's smash a huge tangerine octopus onto the map to show off our wonderful new Overground services. We'll use unfilled tramlines, it won't be intrusive, but we have big ambitions so it might intrusive be later.
You know what this map needs? Different-coloured wheelchair blobs.
It's important to know whether a station has access from street to train or just street to platform. If it's the less good option we'll use white blobs to show we're getting there, it won't be confusing or intrusive, it'll be useful.
You know what this map needs? A cablecar.
It isn't genuinely useful, it's essentially a tourist attraction, but the Mayor loves it and the sponsors have paid millions so obviously it's going on the map, silly name and all.
You know what this map needs? Crossrail.
It's still three years off opening so we can't call it that yet, we'll brand it TfL Rail instead. We'll use the same blue as the Piccadilly line but not a solid filled line. It'll all end up purple eventually but it won't be intrusive, it'll be fantastically useful.
You know what this map needs? A zone 2/3 overlap.
We've had zone overlaps before but only at individual stations whereas this is a full-on ten-station mess. We've had to find a slightly different shade of grey but if you don't look at it too carefully it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
And the Trams.
They've been running for sixteen years but we suddenly thought it'd be a good idea to acknowledge that south London exists. It won't be intrusive, it'll just fill that empty space at the bottom of the map.
And Victoria Coach station.
Because what the hell, we haven't added coach travel yet.
And different coloured daggers.
We can't be bothered to tell you what all the blue daggers mean any more so when we use a red one we want you to go and look it up on the internet instead. It's much less useful but it undeniably less intrusive.
You know what this map needs? Walking connections.
We've decided to add dotted lines to show that stations are within walking distance, specifically "under a 10 minute walk". We haven't added all the possible walks, that would be super-intrusive, but hopefully the 23 dotted lines we've added will be useful.
You know what this map needs? Riverboat circles.
Once we'd added walking connections between stations the next obvious thing was walking connections to riverboat piers. It won't be intrusive, there are now so many extra bits on the map that a few more can't do much damage.
You know what this map needs? Thameslink.
We tried adding a bit of it before but now let's bung the whole lot on. We'll use as many twists and bends as possible however much of an utter mess it makes. There's a pandemic on, it'll help social distancing, plus you just know it'll never be coming off the map once it's on.
You know what this map needs? IKEA.
We no longer mind sacrificing all our principles for cash so let's add a blue and yellow rectangle somewhere vaguely near to London's IKEA stores. It will be intrusive, that's the whole point of advertising, and who cares if it's useful?
You know what this map needs? Differently-branded Overground lines.
This was explicit in the Mayor's manifesto but it's taken two years to get round to thinking about doing it. We might need five additional colours to split the Overground beast into its constituent parts, or perhaps some other devious way of distinguishing between the routes, but whatever happens it's bound to make the map look even busier than it already is. Cumulatively useful ultimately means cumulatively intrusive.
posted 07:00 :
Friday, March 24, 2023Gadabout: ... and GLOUCESTER
Gloucester is a bit larger than Cheltenham, a tad further west and a lot older. It was founded by the Romans at a key strategic location, the lowest crossing point on the Severn, and for centuries much of what happened here was river-related. It has a broad spread of attractions, a large number of historical buildings and an increasing amount of modern infill. If you were intending to be touristy you'd come here rather than Cheltenham, but I crammed both into my day out courtesy of a zippy express bus across the M5. [Visit Gloucester] [15 photos]
Very little remains of Glevum, the Roman citadel, but the crossroads at the heart of their walled town is still the indisputable city centre. The four roads meeting here (between two phone shops and a bank) are called Northgate Street, Eastgate Street, Southgate Street and Westgate Street because that's what they used to lead to. The remnants of the foundations of the East Gate, in several incarnations, can be found outside Boots under a protective layer of thickened glass. Many of the shops lining these four streets inhabit old buildings, which is ideal if you've ever fancied a Tudor coffee or a Georgian vape, but the majority have the indelible stamp of the 20th century. You'd never find a fast food van called the Potato Palace in Cheltenham, but equally neither a half-timbered jewellers, the two towns being chalk and cheese.
The main place Gloucester's tourists head is the cathedral which is about as early Norman as Norman gets. It rises from a quiet close behind the shops and ticks off more treats than your average provincial cathedral. It's also free to enter, although smiling ladies will remind you about the possibility of donation on the way in and on the way out. For your first "ooh" head to the chancel to face what in 1350 was the world's largest window, or gaze up in awe at the complexity of the vaulted ceiling above the quire. It's Gloucester's turn to host the Three Choirs Festival this year so if you attend you can gawp to your heart's content. One of the stained glass windows commemorates the coronation of Henry III, our longest serving medieval king, while the royal resident still in situ is Edward II who's enshrined beside the high altar after his reputed disembowelment at nearby Berkeley Castle. For an unusual view down across the nave try the 43 step ascent which brings you, via a spiralling one-way system, to the elevated Tribune Gallery. But the truly jawdropping bit is tacked on outside...
The Cloisters are huge and magnificent, specifically the fan-vaulted ceilings which Pevsner described as "the most memorable in England". They're also the oldest surviving example of fan-vaulting anywhere and span the entire roof around all four sides of the quadrangle in intricate detail. Unsurprisingly Harry Potter dropped in to film here, the cloisters doubling as Hogwarts corridors and the entrance to Gryffindor's common room and Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. After the second film the crew had enough dosh to build their own sets in Hertfordshire so left Gloucester alone, but that doesn't stop visiting fans from boosting the cloisters' throughflow. However on a grey day in March, hurrah, you can get the circuit pretty much to yourself. It's a shame about the intrusive signs to the Monk's Kitchen cafe at the far end of the western side, but otherwise I was able to take my time and snap every possible desirable angle to my heart's content.
The Museum of Gloucester grew out of a private Victorian collection and can be found behind the Eastgate mall beside the library. It kicks off with rocks and dinosaurs, especially the latter, before attempting to give an overview of the history of the city. The largest section focuses on Roman artefacts found locally including a chance to see a bit of the city's Roman wall in situ, behind and below those railings just down there. One prized possession is the Gloucester Tables Set, an 11th century predecessor of backgammon including board and 30 carved bone playing pieces dug up in 1983. Upstairs the Civil War gets a necessary mention and the rest of the city's history is skated through before the focus shifts to art, and that's the special £5 exhibition I skipped. The museum felt somewhat dated, despite a 2011 refresh, and I thought they could have packed a lot more in.
• The Folk of Gloucester (formerly Gloucester Life, formerly Gloucester Folk Museum): This one's all about the city's people so doubles up as a place to meet, sing, share and celebrate. It's housed in a striking Tudor building on Westgate Street but only opens to the public three days a week (on days annoyingly unspecified on their website) so all I got to do was peer in through the window.
• The Tailor of Gloucester: This one's Beatrix Potter related, not because she lived here but because her tale about a waistcoated mouse was set in this small shop facing the cathedral. Originally the attraction was owned and operated by Potter's publishers but since 2007 it's been volunteer run... memorabilia upstairs and gift shop down.
• Soldiers of Gloucestershire: I dare say you already know whether you'd find a museum in which you can "discover the lives of Gloucestershire soldiers from the last 300 years" interesting. If they mention the £5 admission charge on their website I confess I missed it.
...but I absolutely did head to the National Waterways Museum by the dockside. I'd been to its counterpart in Ellesmere Port and that was excellent so I had high hopes for the Gloucester version, despite its unusual opening times. According to its website the museum closes its doors at 3pm and I wondered if that was just the last entry but no, the cleaner really does turn up at half past two pre-chucking out. I was also expecting to pay £8.50 as advertised but the lady at the desk sold me a special £5 day ticket, which I would later consider to be overcharging. I had two floors to look round, part-packed with well-spaced canal-based items, many very specific to the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. A lot of the captions were top-level descriptions and light on detail. Of the two boardable boats moored by the quayside one was closed and the other was mostly featureless inside. I just about stretched my visit to half an hour and left wondering what on earth was housed in the upper five floors of the warehouse. In short, of the Canal & River Trust's two sister museums I'd recommend Cheshire every time.
Gloucester Docks were built in the 1820s to connect the Severn to the inland waterway network, bypassing Bristol. Most of the 15 very-tall warehouses surround the older of the two docks and have since been repurposed as offices, flats, distilleries and underwhelming waterways museums. Dockside activities still have a maritime slant along certain sections but are somewhat sanitised in others, this being where Gloucester's chain restaurants and after-hours bars have ended up. The largest modern addition is Gloucester Quays, a shopping mall targeted at the upmarket and outlet crowd so the ideal day out for those who prefer consumption over culture. If you think to cross the narrow footbridge by the Lock House you might spot the Severn, or at least an eastern channel, but otherwise it's pretty well hidden.
Until the Severn Bridge was built Gloucester was the lowest bridging point on the river, and still boasts the lowest bridge that isn't a motorway. But it isn't in the city centre, which was sensibly built somewhere that didn't flood too often, it's a mile outside. You can walk there via Alney Island but that looked potentially damp underfoot so instead I followed the main road west out of town (which doesn't appear to be something many pedestrians try). My target was the village of Over, which it has to be said is exactly the right name for a village at a crossing point. Today a modern dual carriageway carries the A40 across the Severn's broad western channel but Thomas Telford's original single-arch span still runs parallel and that's the Over Bridge.
It's now entirely disconnected from the road network but a footpath allows those on foot to bear off and walk over it, and indeed under it on both sides. I found it a little eerie imagining all the Wales-bound traffic that's crossed Telford's stone bridge over the years, specifically 1830-1974, there being no easy alternative. Looking south there's a great view of the swirling waters of the Severn, which would be even better had a dead ordinary railway bridge not been added sixty metres downstream. And should you be here at 10.17am this morning you should see the Severn Bore surging up from the estuary, Over Bridge being approximately where this amazing spring tide phenomenon peters out. You'd have seen an even better 4* bore yesterday morning, but this year's sole 5* spectacle alas occurs well after dark at the very end of September. Visits to the Severn need to be timed very carefully, and for 2023 the good stuff's Over.
» 25 photos of Cheltenham and Gloucester (Cheltenham 10) (Gloucester 15)
» My previous visit to the Severn Bore (February 2014)
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, March 23, 2023Gadabout: CHELTENHAM
Cheltenham is a well-to-do market town on the edge of the Cotswolds and home to over 100,000 people. It owes its growth and character to the discovery of health-giving springs in the 18th century. It boasts copious streets of fine Regency architecture. Its largest employer shuns the spotlight while engaging in surveillance activities on an international scale. And it grabs the spotlight in March each year when racegoers flock to attend the annual Cheltenham Festival, an event I carefully avoided when timing my visit. All I saw was the aftermath. [Visit Cheltenham] [10 photos]
This is the Montpellier Spa, Cheltenham's first Georgian pumproom, which replaced a wooden structure on the same site when it became clear there was a lot of money to be made from wellness. The exterior features a colonnade of doric columns and a domed rotunda added in 1824 to top off a new ballroom. The great and good came flocking, and to walk in Montpellier Pleasure Gardens after taking the waters, at least until the fad for spa-going faded in Victorian times. By the turn of our century this splendid building had become a mere branch of Lloyds Bank and since 2017 has been a brasserie for The Ivy, so is catering ostensibly to the original clientele. The small Co-op tucked in alongside lowers the tone somewhat, but elsewhere along Montpellier Street it's designer shops and luxury items all the way.
The premier road through Cheltenham town centre is called Promenade and is faced by impressively ostentatious buildings including several hotels and the town council offices. I wasn't sure if the gazebos outside Clarence House were a temporary feature to accommodate Festival hospitality overflow or a permanent amenity for Gloucestershire's ladies who lunch. Up the road the Neptune Fountain was sadly waterless, which may just have been to stop racegoers making merry but left the sea god and his shell-chariot looking somewhat marooned. This Italianate fountain is fed by the local river, unsurprisingly called the Chelt, which runs in a culvert under the heart of the town. Close by is the turrety bulk of Cheltenham Ladies College, one of Britain's most prestigious boarding schools, which was built on the site of the town's first mineral springs. Water is never far away from the history of central Cheltenham even if it's turned off.
Because I was following the Historical Cheltenham self-guided tour I'd thus far only seen a rather splendid side to the town centre and wondered whether ordinary people also shopped here. The High Street answered that question with its Primark, John Lewis and M&S, plus if you walked far enough eventually an Iceland, Millets and Betfred. I wondered why Superdry had been included in the tour itinerary but it turned out to be because the brand was first established here in 2003, growing out of a clothing stall on Cheltenham market. Another locally-sourced business was the Cheltenham & Gloucester Building Society, inaugurated in the town in 1850 and finally dissipating under the weight of its ambition in 2009. As for modern malls the biggie is the Regent Arcade which contains what's thought to be the world's tallest mechanical timepiece, the Wishing Fish Clock. It was designed by Masquerade author Kit Williams and features a goose that lays golden eggs and a fish that blows bubbles every 30 minutes... but is alas currently undergoing essential maintenance. Visiting Cheltenham is all in the timing.
I also messed up visiting the local celebrity's museum. That'd be composer Gustav Holst who was born in a middle class townhouse on Clarence Street in 1874 that's now open to the public. It includes the piano on which he composed The Planets, not that he did that here, having left Cheltenham for London before he was 20. It also includes a Regency Sitting Room decked out as if his grandfather were giving piano lessons, not that he ever did that here either. Unfortunately Holst Victorian House closed at the end of February for a few weeks of "exciting redevelopment work" so I missed out on getting inside, indeed I'd never have guessed from the exterior that it was a museum at all. Instead I made do with looking at his statue in Imperial Gardens, a bespectacled man with arms and baton aloft surrounded by yet another safely-drained fountain.
The town's chief cultural attraction is The Wilson, an art gallery-slash-museum named after polar explorer Edward Wilson (one of Captain Scott's final tentmates). It's recently been extended via a modern glass slice, RIBA-approved, with a central staircase linking to an impressively varied selection of galleries. One has a nationally renowned collection of Arts & Crafts goods and locally-inspired furniture (like a micro V&A). Another does local history through art (though not in much depth). Other galleries host works by contemporary local artists, including a whopping textile swoosh and that witchy ceramic I showed you yesterday. There's usually a visiting exhibition - currently on the theme of Print with works by Picasso, Hockney, Yinka Shonibare and another chance to see Simon Patterson's The Great Bear. Just don't be put off by the fact the entire ground floor appears to be a cafe, the real nourishment is to be found upstairs.
I wonder how first time racegoers cope with Cheltenham's geography. The station lies adrift in the suburbs a good mile to the west of the town centre while the racecourse is another mile and a bit to the north. Getting to the Festival is a bit like being dropped off at Paddington and expected to walk to Camden Town. Near the end of the climb comes the Pittville estate, a mid 19th century new town comprising giant spacious homes in Greek revival style built to take advantage of Cheltenham's spa status. Pittville Park adds a stripe of formal greenery, much wandered, and above the ornamental lake sits the majestic pillared Pittville Pump Room. This housed the town's last and largest pumproom and still dispenses mineral waters, should it be open, but more likely you'll have to make do with bottled water from the Orangery cafe alongside.
The racecourse itself is on the very edge of town off the Evesham Road. It hosts regular Jump meetings between October and May, the next being mid-April, but the big one was last week when an avalanche of equinefolk, gamblers, drinkers and the Irish descended. A heck of a lot of additional infrastructure was required, including a ticket office they haven't taken down yet, assorted broadcasting equipment being taken away by the truckful and a footbridge I watched being disassembled. Annoyingly some of this stuff continues to block the public footpath that runs along the edge of the course, which remains closed, so I never actually saw the circuit where the Gold Cup is run. The backdrop of Cleeve Hill and the rim of the Cotswolds looked pretty impressive though.
In Benhall, another suburb on pretty much the other side of town, lies the circular headquarters of mastersnoopers GCHQ. 'The Doughnut' was opened in 2003 to consolidate the workforce and is surrounded by a protective ring of security fencing and cul-de-sacs. You get some idea of the scale of the workforce from the size of the car parks, one around the building and a separate enormous compound across the road, plus the fact the local bus company runs a regular service terminating at the gates. Among the staff I saw arriving for a shift at the cyberface were youngsters with lanyards, middle-aged men in suits and white-haired professor-types with improbable headgear, all candidate characters for some fictional spy drama except this was the real thing. And even though the complex rubs up against some very ordinary roads, a ring of cameras is keeping a beady eye on everything and numerous signs warn 'No Photography', so it did feel a bit uncomfortable contriving to walk by. I don't think they have a rule outlawing snaps from the top deck of a passing bus, which is where I took mine later, but I bet I'd been added to their database long before I got that far.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, March 22, 2023A grand day out (at hourly intervals)
5am: I knew I'd wake up before my alarm went off.
6am: Radio 1 really is very poor before Greg James starts. I need to boil the kettle for my thermos. I think I can get away without a rainproof jacket. I must not forget my tickets.
7am: I had assumed she was asleep on her boyfriend's shoulder, but when he got off the train she just slumped onto the empty seat and carried on sleeping. Much respect to the bloke for enduring that.
8am: Our trolley attendant this morning is hugely apologetic that he hasn't been able to start the at-seat service yet because he's got stock checks and temperature checks to do. He only wants to bring us the coldest freshest juices, apparently, but if he stopped updating us repeatedly maybe some passengers might get a drink quicker.
9am: The trolley has finally arrived just as we're pulling into the provincial station most passengers want to alight at. The bloke opposite me pays £2.70 for a coffee and almost immediately stands up to disembark. Nobody is ordering Wolfy's Vegan Porridge or Mr Pullen's Fruit Cake Slice. I'm a bit peeved because I've arrived an hour late for the thing I hadn't realised was happening today.
10am: I really shouldn't have taken a photo of that building. I'll be worried all day now.
11am: I've never been here before. A lot of the people out shopping look like they know their way round a horse. The man on the plinth looks like an accountant. The fountains look bereft without water. I'm glad the sun's out because I booked this trip a long time ago.
12 noon: Damn, I hoped it'd all be cleared up by now but the public footpath is still closed.
1pm: I keep treating the pedestrian crossings like a Londoner and dashing across the road on red. You can still get wheelchairs onto buses here but the driver has to get out and unfold a ramp and it's quite steep.
2pm: I can see now why the museum offered me a cut-price ticket, it's nowhere near as extensive as I was expecting.
3pm: OK, this square is just as impressive as I remember, and all the better because it's nigh empty so I can get all the photos I could ever want. Shame about the signs to the cafe halfway round though.
4pm: No I haven't come to see the special exhibition. I'd be surprised if many people come to see the special exhibition. I bet your day's wages are higher than you'll be taking today for the special exhibition. Sorry, I didn't realise that was the way to the special exhibition, I'll just go back downstairs.
5pm: I have reached the special place, which today is doubly special but alas not while I'm here. It's further out of town than I'd have liked. I was considering walking back the scenic way by the river but then I noticed a) mud b) flooded meadows c) bulls so I'm slogging back via the main road again.
6pm: I appear to have taken over 300 photos. I also appear to have walked 40000 steps. The supervisor from the station office has just asked the barista at Costa if he'll wind his shutters up again so she can buy a sandwich.
7pm: Return journeys after dark are never as interesting. The girl sitting in the seat opposite has just picked up her bag of cruelty-free beauty products and settled into the seat immediately behind me.
8pm: I wasn't expecting the gate to spit my ticket out because the ticket for my outbound journey was retained, but that's good because I can add it to my longstanding collection of used train tickets. I wish there was somewhere to chuck a magazine after you've finished with it.
9pm: I have made tea and toast and sliced some cheese. Now to rewind Tim Dunn.
10pm: I'm knackered but I need to write something for the blog tomorrow otherwise nothing will appear and someone will leave a comment saying "Oh I thought you might be dead".
11pm: Well that'll do. I will sleep well tonight.
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, March 21, 2023London's most Londony London Something
(an entirely subjective listicle which nonetheless concludes with the correct answer)
Lots of things in London are called London Something. One of the biggest is the London Eye.
At 135m tall it has a good claim to be London's most Londony London Something. It was the world's largest cantilevered observation wheel when it opened and attracts millions of paying passengers each year. Its silhouette is so iconic it's often an integral part of any graphic London skyline. But it's not really called the London Eye, it started out as the Millennium Wheel, plus it's had multiple sponsors over the years. First it was the British Airways London Eye, then the Merlin Entertainments London Eye, then the EDF Energy London Eye, then the Coca-Cola London Eye, and since 2020 the faintly ridiculous lastminute.com London Eye. All of which means it's always been the Something London Eye, not a proper London Something, so we can discount its title chances.
London Airport is even larger, indeed at five square miles it exceeds mighty Richmond Park.
People all around the world know London Airport, even those who've never flown. Again the problem is it's not really called that, not since 1966 when London Airport officially became Heathrow. These days it's officially London Heathrow Airport owned by Heathrow Airport Holdings Limited and is one of six constituent parts of the London Airport system. This also includes London City Airport, London Gatwick Airport, London Luton Airport, London Stansted Airport and London Southend Airport, only the first of which is actually in London, plus additionally London Biggin Hill Airport (which is) and London Ashford Airport and London Oxford Airport (which aren't). London Airport is more nominal rabbithole than actual London Something, and so we move on.
How about the London Underground?
London's tube network is iconic, a proper global brand. The umbrella name emerged in 1933 with the dawn of London Transport, the unified public body, which in itself can no longer be the most Londony London Something because it's become Transport for London. The London Underground could well be Number One, its sprawling network used by millions and connecting multiple corners of the capital. I wanted to check if London Underground was the official name so I headed to the TfL website but there it seems to be called the Tube. I did eventually dig up a heritage page called 'London Underground' but that's mainly about the histories of the eleven individual lines instead.
The best place to check, I decided, would be the TfL editorial style guide. But that doesn't have an entry for London Underground, only London Buses (do not use 'Buses'), London Overground (do not refer to as 'Overground') and London Trams (not London Tramlink). It is clearly the proper name, as the entry for Tube makes clear...
'The Tube' (with a capital T) is acceptable colloquial shorthand for the London Underground....but the waters are somewhat muddied here.
London Wall is the oldest surviving London Something. It's part of the original Roman walls of the city, even if these days only chunks remain around the edge of the city. One of these chunks sits alongside the road called London Wall, or more accurately London Wall sits alongside one of these chunks. Impressive though its survival is, arguably it should be called Londinium Wall, or better Londinium Murum, or better still Murus Londinensis, and that takes it right off this London Something list.
London Zoo is back to being called London Zoo again, having previously been known as Regent's Park Zoo, London Zoological Gardens and ZSL London Zoo. It's now 197 years old, which is damned good going, and welcomed 1,045,289 visitors last year. It's undoubtedly in the Top Ten London Somethings but it's not top of the pile.
How about London Road? There are dozens of these, mostly outside London because it only makes sense to have a London Road if it leads towards the capital. But the boundaries of London have grown over the years so London Roads also exist in Barking, Brentford, Bromley, Croydon, Enfield, Feltham, Forest Hill, Harrow, Hounslow, Kingston, Mitcham, Romford, Stanmore, Sutton, Twickenham and Wembley. Paddington has a London Street, Hackney has a London Lane and there's even a Londons Close just south of Upminster. This is ironic because Londons Close is about as far from central London as London gets, but also true because Upminster's in London so London's very close indeed.
Not many neighbourhoods within London are called London Something. The chief exception is London Fields, the surroundings of former commonland in Hackney, but that's far too lowly to make inroads on a London Something list.
London Fields is also one of only two stations in London called London Something. Technically there are a dozen more if you include London Blackfriars, London Cannon Street, London Charing Cross, London Euston, London Fenchurch Street, London Kings Cross, London Liverpool Street, London Marylebone, London Paddington, London St Pancras International, London Victoria, London Waterloo and London Waterloo East but I'd rather not. The terminus that breaks the rule, the only one which doesn't need an extra London because it already has one, is London Bridge. And London Bridge, I'd argue, is the most Londony London Something of all.
London is only here because of London Bridge, indeed it was the spannableness of the Thames which drew the first important settlement to these banks. For centuries it was the capital's only bridge making it even more important, the sole fixed link between north and south. After several rebuilds it's still a key connection between Southwark and the City, being more resilient than Tower Bridge, plus it has that important station named after it. Of its many manifestations the current bridge is precisely 50 years old this month having been opened by the Queen on 16th March 1973, indeed I now wish I'd run today's post last Thursday.
London's most Londony London Something is London Bridge, no argument.
posted 07:00 :
Monday, March 20, 2023In five weeks' time the Government intends to send an emergency alert to every mobile phone in the country.
It's a test of a new public warning system designed to alert the population to life-threatening situations in their locality. It'll set off a siren-like noise on your phone or tablet, even if it's on silent, and send a message to your homescreen which needs to be acknowledged. It's due to be sent out "early evening on Sunday 23rd April 2023".
This made me think "Why?" "How?" "But..." "What?" and "When?"
But mostly it make me think "Wow, this is going to be quite the event!"
And also "How do they plan on alerting the UK population beforehand?"
And "Sigh, ssssh."
Should there be a life threatening risk in your locality it would be useful to know. The chance to take evasive action in advance of a potentially catastrophic event could save lives. Other countries have implemented similar systems, e.g. the US, Japan and The Netherlands, so we're merely following good practice.
The alerts are sent to all phones within range of a specific mast or transmitter. This means the authorities don't need your phone number, they just send the same message to everyone. This also means that citizens in Bristol aren't going to be interrupted to be told about an imminent incident in Nottingham, or indeed Bath.
Obviously the alert will only work if your phone is on. More importantly it'll only work if your phone is connected to 4G or 5G, so nothing will happen if you're only on wi-fi or are in Airplane mode. If you're not connected at the time it's not clear whether the test alert will sound later when you connect or whether you've permanently missed it.
Initially at least, the plan is only to use the Emergency Alert system for weather-related emergencies like flooding or wildfires. Later they say they might use it for terrorist-related scenarios. It's not going to be like BBC Breaking News alerts that flash up to tell you a dog in Bolton has a sick paw. The expectation is that most UK citizens will never see an emergency alert, they're for extreme events only.
So far they've only said the test alert will be sent "early evening on Sunday 23rd April 2023". That tends to be one of the quieter times of the week when most people are at home, but millions will still be out and about, maybe driving, maybe attending an event, maybe at Evensong, maybe at the cinema, maybe in the middle of some family crisis, maybe asleep between shifts, and a blaring red flashing message is going to be one hell of a distraction.
"Wow, this is going to be quite the event!"
I think it's highly likely that The Test Alert will be the major national talking point on April 23rd, and maybe beforehand too. Imagine the anticipation as it approaches. Imagine the massive kerfuffle as it occurs. Imagine the deluge as people take to social media to tell their "You'll never guess what I was doing..." anecdotes, or to moan about the noise, or to complain they never got one, or to ask "what the hell was that?"
"How do they plan on alerting the UK population beforehand?"
I am fascinated by the publicity campaign the Cabinet Office is having to undertake to tell the population that a test message is being sent. The alert itself needs an alert, a warning in advance to tell people what's happening. It's important that as many people as possible are expecting the flashing siren on their phone lest they interpret it in a shocked, frightened or overblown way. Someone's had to draw up a publicity plan and that plan is now being put into operation.
The first announcements about the test alert were embargoed until just after midnight on Sunday 19th March, five weeks in advance, which is quite the run-up. The announcement wasn't in the midnight news broadcast but it did appear on the BBC website minutes later and was included in TV and radio news broadcasts over breakfast. I tweeted about it before 8am and got quite a bit of early traction, but that soon died down as I suspect people heard about the test alert via other channels.
So a fair proportion of the UK population learned about the upcoming test on Day 1, but I'd say maybe only about 30% because not everyone's as switched on as we earnest news-watchers. If today's blogpost is the first you've heard of it, you weren't paying as much attention yesterday as you could have been. A lot more people will read about the test alert in their newspapers today but it'll still have reached a minority of the population. This doesn't matter five weeks in advance, indeed it's a good start, and I suspect the campaign will start to ramp up as April 23rd approaches.
On the day itself you'd expect the news buzz to be so high that even the usual blinkered off-gridders will have noticed. But those who spend all their time consuming amusing videos, international channels, sporting wormholes, videogames or indeed no media at all could still be none the wiser, ditto those unaccustomed to the acquisition of information because their lives are quite busy enough thanks. A number of you chirped up on Friday to say you hadn't realised it was Red Nose Day, and if you can miss that then millions could miss this.
One thing I have already spotted, in part in reaction to official tweets, is that a number of people are depressingly pessimistic about this emergency alert test which they see as yet another example of oppressive government.
» This continual interference in our lives is absolutely exhausting.
» Project fear continues! Another way for our govs to create chaos and panic.
» You didn't listen to us about the various emergency's why should we listen to you?
» A jingoistic St George’s Day, UK-wide test like this is totally unnecessary.
» Will you be harvesting data from our phones? Who will get that info?
» The introduction of this system has war prep written all over it.
» How much more money have you wasted on this rubbish.
» A scared public is easier to subdue.
» Where do I opt out?
This is a risk-based alert system based on physical danger, more likely to be triggered by experts and the emergency services than scheming ministers. And yet a lot of people seem unable to decouple their dislike of politicians from the actions of government, seeing conspiracy in everything because blinkered opinions are easier than rational thought.
You can of course disable emergency missives on your phone by going to Settings and opting out of Extreme and/or Severe Alerts. That means you won't be jolted out of your seat by a sudden siren on St George's Day, but it also means that one day maybe you won't be told about a potential disaster evolving in your vicinity. If a killer hurricane or unexpected flood takes the life of an authority-hating refusenik, that might only serve them right.
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, March 19, 2023Peripheral Postcodes: EN6, EN7, EN8 & EN9
In my quest to visit every postcode district in Greater London this year, let's investigate the challenge that is Enfield.
The M25 precisely marks the northernmost edge of the London borough of Enfield. The motorway and all points south are in London, which is where we find postcode districts EN1 to EN5. I've been to all of those. Meanwhile everything to the north of the M25 is in Hertfordshire, which is where we find EN6 to EN8 (plus EN9 in Essex).
not London EN6 EN7 EN8 EN9 London M25 EN5 EN4 EN2 EN1 EN3
But the postcode district boundaries are a tad more approximate because they were drawn long before the motorway was driven through. My quest today is therefore to work out if any bits of EN6, 7, 8 and 9 dribble into Greater London, and if so to visit them.
i) EN6: The Ridgeway
The Ridgeway is a magnificent rural road, unsurprisingly along a ridgetop, running four miles from Enfield town centre to the edge of Potters Bar. The land to either side undulates with wide open fields and paddocks enjoying long distance views across valleys carved by tiny streams, and every time I come up here I'm amazed this is part of our global city. Almost all the addresses along The Ridgeway are in EN2 apart from those in the last half mile - essentially everything after the pylons. But Hertfordshire doesn't start until the last quarter mile, meaning a very short stretch manages to be in both EN6 and Greater London. It's pretty isolated and I think contains just four addresses.
• 501 The Ridgeway is a big twin-gabled detached house with a sturdy front fence and gates. This is just as well because a mastiff and a retriever appear should anyone walk past, which I guess is rare, and bark a lot until you go away. The owners have planted a shrubbery and a fir tree directly in front of their front door for maximum privacy, and also affixed a Jehovah's Witness logo to the fence for maximum publicity.
• St John's Prep School is the junior part of the main Senior School up the road. That's in EN2 but this is in EN6, its top notch facilities shielded up a long drive behind another set of gates. Nobody here sneaks down to the chicken shop at lunchtime, partly because lunches come free with your £12000pa fees but mainly because there are no shops of any kind anywhere near.
• New Cottage Farm is tucked behind the prep school and accessed up another drive behind yet more gates. From what I can tell it's more a 'diggers for groundworks' yard than an agricultural hub. It's also what the local bus stop is named after, indeed this is the northernmost bus stop in the whole of Greater London which is the only reason I'd ever been here before. I'm willing to bet you haven't.
• Botany Bay Water Tower was converted to residential use twenty years back, because who wouldn't want to live in a four-bed brick turret with a roof terrace offering commanding views. It's looking less lived-in at present, however, as if building works got so far and the cash ran out, so that's one less address to deliver post to.
ii) EN7: Capel Manor
According to various postcode maps EN7 crosses the M25 to encircle Capel Manor. This environmental college campus is a top place to study if you're the outdoorsy type, or to visit if you like wandering around the handiwork of horticultural students. As well as the show gardens they also have a little zoo, a cafe and one of London's largest hedge mazes, should you ever fancy a genteel green day out. But Capel Manor's postcode is EN1 4RQ and no constituent part or adjacent building appears to have an EN7 address in which case I don't need to visit this one, EN7's not in London.
iii) EN8: Bullsmoor
This one's a relatively big overlap, EN-wise, in that it consists of eight streets rather than isolated outliers. Once again we're on the northern edge of Enfield, this time very nearly in Waltham Cross, along a thin strip of land once occupied by greenhouses. Bullsmoor Lane was then a minor lane and the houses built along it were designated EN1, but when infill started on the land behind this was appointed to EN8 instead. Here we find interwar pebbledash semis, postwar townhouses and lowly flats arrayed along minor roads and cul-de-sacs making the most of the narrow site. But it's the stripe of green facing Holmesdale that's the chief point of interest because this is the roof of a motorway tunnel and the M25 runs directly underneath.
The Holmesdale Tunnel was dug in 1983, a deep trench covered by a 670m-long concrete slab, acting both as an underpass and as part of junction 25. At the time it was the most expensive stretch of road in Britain, not that £30m would buy you much today, not even all the houses on the adjacent estate. The tunnel takes some looking after, hence the bunker-like control room at one end of Holmesdale and the substation at the other, both unseen by passing traffic. I wrote a full post about the Holmesdale Tunnel a few years back so you should go and read that if you want to know more. I'm not sure I'd want to live alongside this Ballardian mirage, but how fortunate that this narrow gap existed between London and Hertfordshire allowing the M25 to be squeezed through.
iv) EN9: Rammey Marsh
Only one house manages to be both in Greater London and in EN9 and it's a lockkeeper's cottage. It sits alongside Rammey Marsh Lock, the first lock south of Waltham Abbey on the Lee Navigation, and still feels like it's in the middle of nowhere. If the county boundary ran down the main river the cottage would be in Essex but instead the divide runs down the parallel flood channel so it lies marginally in London. Road access is over a humped bridge and along a pitted waterside track, which crucially comes in from the north so postal-wise the cottage is part of EN9 rather than EN3. And not very far along that pitted track the M25 goes swooshing over the river on concrete pillars, indeed this is the magic triple point where Greater London meets Hertfordshire meets Essex.
The lock was rebuilt in 1864 and if you look immediately beneath the bridge you'll see several blocks of Portland stone from the actual Old Westminster Bridge which had just been demolished. Alas the lockkeeper's cottage has also been rebuilt and in 1973 become a rather ordinarier bungalow, complete with attic rooms, PVC windows and Homebase lanterns. It's not the only property in EN9 1AL however, the tally also includes the Rammey Marsh Cruising Club, several moored houseboats and a cafe that I think now survives only in defunct advertising. It looked to me like some kind of community now exists on the cafe site behind chained gates but I didn't get too close because occupants were passing through, and because it was chucking it down with rain and I was a very long way from shelter.
In conclusion yes, EN6, EN8 and EN9 all sneak into London and no, EN7 does not. So if you've ever wondered whether or not you've been to all the postcode districts in London, unless you've been to New Cottage Farm and Rammey Marsh Lock no, you have not.
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