Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Unless you ride a bike up the A11, you may not realise that the Cycle Superhighway 2 upgrade is complete. Normally when TfL complete a project of this magnitude they shout about it from the rooftops, but not this time. There's been no press release, no celebratory announcement, merely a single tweet stating that "The last signals... have been switched on for the route to fully open". My best hunch is that the timing was unfortunate, with the last tweaks made as the Mayoral election campaign was drawing to a close, hence purdah prevented any undue celebration. Boris took advantage of his final day in office to crow, quite rightly, about the two Cycle Superhighways he's delivered through central London. By comparison CS2 was a mere trifle, so was overlooked, but the upgrade's webpage confirms that this 14-month mega-project is now over.
So you'll obviously be wanting an update on the status of Bus Stop M. Last time we spoke the bus stop bypass lane was complete but blocked, as it had been for months, by a sandbagged orange plastic barrier. This forced cyclists out into the main flow of traffic on Bow Road, now squished into one lane plus a bus stop rather than two as before. Now at last cyclists can pass safely behind, so long as bus passengers aren't wandering blindly across the blue channel, which they only do most of the time. Interestingly this realigned layout makes it much harder for cyclists to pull out and use the flyover to cross the Bow Roundabout, so several still choose to stay in the road, manoeuvre around any buses and continue up and over as before.
Something exciting has happened in the bus shelter. We've got our Countdown display back, or rather we've got a new one. Ten months ago the Countdown display at neighbouring Bus Stop E was removed, as was the bus stop itself, and it's taken until May for the facility to be returned. A digital box is much more useful here, too. At Bus Stop E it only reported on a bus service pinging regularly out of Bow Bus Garage and another service two stops from its terminus. At Bus Stop M it provides details of six different services plus a nightbus, a genuinely useful function, although the positioning of the bus shelter at the pointy end of the bus stop island means that only those standing inside can read it.
I'm also pleased to report that the lamppost overlooking Bus Stop M has been plugged in, after nine months of relative darkness, and now sheds light on all and sundry during the hours of darkness. It seems likely that both the lamppost and the Countdown display are the result of the electricity supply finally being reconnected hereabouts, which must have been one of the last bits of tidying up TfL's contractors had to do. And with their proper installation a couple of weeks ago I really should have been happy with the final layout of my local bus stop. Except I'm not. I wonder if you've spotted in the photos what's gone wrong?
The bus stop at Bus Stop M has disappeared. Although the pole had been there since last summer with the letter M on top, abruptly it has vanished, seemingly at the same time as the other facilities were updated. I wondered whether a vehicle had perhaps mounted the kerb and destroyed it, but the surface of the pavement is too flat, so it seems as if a proper removal job has been done. This is a shame, not least because all the timetables at the bus stop were finally correct, following another adjustment of the 25's to show the correct location on its diagrammatic map. At least someone has since come along and slapped a roundel sticker on the shelter itself, to confirm to passengers that this is indeed a bus stop. But nobody knows it's Bus Stop M any more, nor any of the information that should be on the pole, as this unfortunate saga drags on into its twelfth month.
Update: Blimey, Alex grabbed the money shot of Bus Stop M being carted away on the back of a lorry!
posted 07:00 :
Monday, May 30, 20167 Amazing things to do in South London
(by which I don't mean Elephant & Castle, I mean the very furthest south that Greater London goes)
1) Stand at the southernmost point in Greater London: Your target is a bend in a country lane, five miles south of Croydon. That's Ditches Lane, a narrow rat-run with passing places which links Coulsdon (in London) to the village of Chaldon (in Surrey). The precise spot is the inside of the first bend north of the church, by the first passing place, where the treeline opens up to reveal a field beyond. It used to be really obvious, because Croydon's municipal transport division had painted a white line down either side of the road whereas Surrey's had not. Now that white line has faded, or been covered over by gravel, or possibly both. But there is still a clue because the Croydon side has a kerb and the Surrey side doesn't, so track down the very last narrow paving block, and that's as far south in London as you can go. Why not take a selfie and post it to all your friends?
2) Hail a cab: It's a well known fact, in certain circles, that no taxi driver will ever take you south of the Thames. How hilarious, then, to stand as far south in London as you possibly can go and flag one down. To be fair you could be waiting some time, as we are over fifteen miles south of Waterloo Bridge at this point, so it's unlikely one will go randomly pootling by. But in this ages of technological advance, remember that you can now summon an Uber, or even an appropriately enabled black cab, from any roadside location you happen to be. Enjoy the driver's scowling face when you announce you've dragged him out to the most extreme point in South London, just because you could. And enjoy the driver's happy face when he reveals quite how much it's going to cost you to get back into town.
3) Stand in the southernmost field in Greater London: Whilst obviously not quite as exciting as standing at the southernmost point in Greater London, the border drifts only very slightly northwards as it cuts through the adjacent field. And it's a lovely field, irregular in shape and tumbling gently downhill with views of Chaldon village at its foot. To either side are woods with notices warning they're Private Property if you get too close, because you wouldn't want to get shot. And a footpath cuts diagonally across, leaving the lane fractionally into Surrey and climbing between early green shoots of something arable. We asked this nice rambler to pose at the point on the path where London ends, and he very kindly obliged.
4) Walk the Downlands Circular Walk: That footpath down that field features as part of this six mile waymarked walk around the local area. It kicks off at the car park on Farthing Downs, and spends about half its time in London and half its time in Surrey. The Surrey half skirts the village of Chaldon to head for the finest vantage point hereabouts on the rim of the North Downs. There is a spot where the hedgerow breaks allowing access to a trig point where a broad green panorama can be enjoyed across Redhill, Reigate and that quarry Dr Who used to run around every other week. If this is your kind of stroll, a map and instructions are here, and another map here.
5) Enjoy Happy Valley: Nobody lives in the southernmost square kilometre of Greater London, which is good news because it's ideal walking country. The finest part is Happy Valley, formerly Happy Valley Park, previously the Coulsdon Greenbelt Lands. A steep-sided dry chalk valley is its centrepiece, at this time of year a verdant scoop of downland grass scattered liberally with buttercups. It's glorious, as dozens of dog owners and local mini-ramblers already know. Look carefully in the grass to spot the orchids, and if the time is right the greater yellow-rattle, one of the rarest plants in Britain. It's hard to think of a finer council park anywhere in London.
6) Down a pint at The Fox: The southernmost pub in London (and very nearly the southernmost building) sits on the edge of Coulsdon Common, an expanse still under the tenure of the City of London. There's been a pub here since at least 1720 - this isn't called Old Coulsdon for nothing - and the current owners, somewhat appropriately, are Vintage Inns. The Fox is a cask ales and log fire kind of joint, but with a definite nudge towards "Would you like some food?", and a menu that stretches from the ubiquitous Hunter's chicken to courgette, carrot and chickpea burger in a brioche bun. Their car park's extremely popular as a Happy Valley departure point, or you can get the bus.
7) See the oldest wall painting in England: Back on Ditches Lane, and fractionally on the Surrey side of the border, the church of St Peter and St Paul hides a massive treasure. Parts of the structure are pre-Norman, the south aisle 12th century, and the pulpit a rare installation from the time of Cromwell. But the 'wow' moment is on the flint wall at the back of the nave, a huge mural depicting The Purgatorial Ladder which is believed to have been completed around 1200. In the lower half, depicting Hell, various devils torture and frustrate departed human souls, castigating them for each of the seven deadly sins. A ladder rises up the centre of the painting, from which demons pluck the unworthy, while the chosen few reach potential redemption in Heaven. It's thought the artist was a travelling monk with a talent for story telling, and what truly captivates is the excruciating detail of each tableau within the greater whole. There's nothing else like it, nor so old, and to stand alone in the church facing this parable of existence can be an unexpectedly spiritual experience. Truly amazing, if you're ever down South London way with a soul to thrill.
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, May 29, 2016To recap, the first section of The Line takes an hour to walk, and there are only three sculptures on it. There are easier ways to see art.
Having said that, we've already passed two of the three best sculptures, and the next bit isn't a walk at all, so you could ask, why go on?
The Line skips Canning Town, where there's neither art nor anywhere to put it, and takes a ride on the DLR instead. Last year when the trail was inaugurated the alighting point was Royal Victoria, but now you get to ride one stop more to Custom House. And this is because the organisers have added a new work, the first to be specifically commissioned, which merits a slightly longer dockside stroll. Whether it's been worth the wait you'll have to judge when you see it.
Because the gateway station is different to before, be warned there aren't yet any obvious signs directing would-be visitors to the newly-installed location. Don't be fooled into thinking the giant cranes are part of the art show, they're not, they're the last remnants of heritage from when this area was the Royal Docks. Instead head down to the sleek white cruise ship moored up by the water's edge (it's a hotel, obviously) and turn right. You're about to pass four Line pieces in less than ten minutes - a considerably better strike ratio than before, but in a considerably more sanitised environment.
Inhibition Point - James Balmforth (2015, Corten and stainless steel, 300×39×39cm): This one's meant to "confront the viewer with the realities of force, gravity, balance and duration", whereas in reality it's a metal post with a big bite missing, just small enough to inhibit collapse. It wasn't really worth an excitable article in the Evening Standard last Monday. [photo]
Vulcan - Eduardo Paolozzi (1999, Bronze, 800×300×300cm): This one's impressive, a monumental statue of the god of fire, part man and part machine, revealing surrealist and cubist influences. What the clientèle of the neighbouring superbland restaurant make of it, I couldn't guess. [photo]
Work No. 800 - Martin Creed (2007, Steel I-beams, 145×29×1200cm): Martin presents us with a stack of three girders, a small one on a medium one on a large one. You could easily mistake it for somewhere to rest your coffee or your hot dog, purchased from the cluster of stalls alongside which exist to prey on cablecar customers wondering what on earth to do here. [photo]
Consolidator #654321 - Sterling Ruby (2009, Aluminium, 175×234×643cm): Is it a cannon or is it a coffin? That's the playful choice the sculptor is leaving with us here. And if you're wondering about the six-digit number, that's the hexadecimal code for the colour of the paint. [photo]
The Line's emphasis has fundamentally shifted here, being more about sculpture than about the trail. Also the majority of the Royal Docks quartet are geometric, hence perhaps less interesting, but crucially more resilient. This is a much busier location than the wilds of the Lea Valley, hence the need to locate artworks than can best resist vandalism, as well as the perils of small children attempting to climb all over them. Martin's girders have some graffiti chalked on them, which I'm fairly certain isn't part of the piece, and hints at the difficulties of curating an outdoor sculpture collection.
But for me the question has to be "why are we here?" The Greenwich Meridian, which we're purporting to be following, is a mile away, and the trail, such as it is, runs perpendicular. We've only got here by catching public transport, and we've got to catch a more expensive form of public transport to proceed. It would make more sense to position these four artworks on a longer trail down the Lea, except this doesn't yet exist. What the Royal Docks does have is waterside and public space, and authorities attempting to build a sense of place. And it also has the cablecar, which is the best way to reach the third section of The Line across the Thames. It's true, the cablecar is genuinely the best way to continue, but only because The Line's been specifically constructed like that.
If I might be heretical, I'd suggest you can skip that middle section of The Line, and take the train direct from Star Lane to North Greenwich. You'll only miss four bits of metal, and a brief not-very-interesting walk, and you'll save £3.50 in the process. Or take the cablecar anyway, I bet it's been ages since you last tried it.
The final section of The Line is a curve, indeed almost a full circle, around the tip of the Greenwich Peninsula. I've loved this walk for ages too, a mile-long jaunt round the back of the Dome looking out across the Thames, its traffic and its wildlife. Initially you'd meet very few people, but it's more popular these days, especially with imaginative cyclists. The Line's organisers have been economic/cunning here, incorporating two existing mega-sculptures into their walk and adding only two of their own, then adopting a third funded by the local development company. All of which means this section brings the most balanced reward - plenty of art, and plenty to see. Starting at the Thames Clippers pier...
Quantum Cloud - Antony Gormley (2000, Galvanised steel, 29×16×10m): One of the existing pieces, commissioned to deliver the Dome some millennial oomph, thousands of connected metal shards form the body of a man within an aura of uncertainty. It's great, but if you haven't seen this one before, where have you been? [photo]
Liberty Grip - Gary Hume (2008, Patinated and painted bronze and railway sleepers, 553×297×190cm): Installed for The Line, and not present in time for the grand opening last year, what we have here is three limbs cast in bronze with a bit of pink paint slapped on the severed bit. [photo]
A Slice of Reality - Richard Wilson (2000, Sliced vertical section of a Sand Dredger, 21×11×9m): Another turn-of-the-century favourite, this cross-section of ship doubles up as the artist's studio. Having been fortunate enough to clamber aboard during Open House, it's a most intriguing private hideaway. [photo]
Here - Thomson & Craighead (2013, Custom Signpost, 264×82×12cm):
It's been an hour since we last crossed the meridian, and here it is again, marked by a signpost indicating it's 24859 miles around the world and back again. Simple, but effective. [photo]
There is another large artwork here, specifically meridian-related, which sadly doesn't get a mention. It's been trapped behind a fence since the Millennium Dome closed, unloved and overlooked, and only very recently restored to public access. It's called Living On The Line, a clever concept uniting cultures through geography and poetry. Each of the countries along the zero degrees line of longitude (and there are only eight) is represented by a verse or two etched into a circular granite slab in the ground, on either side of a paved line marking the meridian. A Simon Armitage stanza kicks things off for the United Kingdom, then it's France and Spain, and then a handful of African countries before the line hits the South Atlantic. The poems are mixed and varied, sometimes in their native language and sometimes in translation, and it's great to see minor nations like Mali and Togo given due representation.
Your breath was warm against my faceI think this millennial project deserves much wider attention, but it's had the misfortune to end up on the wrong side of a security divide and in the possession of a smothering owner. The Intercontinental Hotel opened here last Christmas, a pile of pallid towers facing the waterfront, and Living The Line now lies beyond the far side of its car park. It is possible to slip in past the barrier and wander across the turning circle, there's no sign denying admittance, but non-guests entering do so with a feeling of implied rebuttal. So I ignored that, and came to inspect the poetic panels and to stand astride the Dome's meridian, as I've ached to do since 2001. I think this would make a brilliant addition to The Line, it's so totally on the nail, but I can't imagine public access ever getting permission. The hotel seems obsessed by its security fence, which would need an additional pedestrian entrance cut through from the waterfront, but if you are one of the organisers, I'd urge you to give it a try. [10 photos]
and suddenly I grew frightened
You whispered tenderly in my ear
and I knew the hour had come.
I dug my hands into my pockets
I dug on my heels
and walked and walked and walked...
like a little dog
he won't catch me again:
I lost him
in the naked streets of Algiers.
Méziane Ourad b. 1956
Instead The Line ebbs out with one final artwork, and a startling one. It's easy to see from a distance but hard to reach, thanks again to the surfeit of security fences hereabouts. You need to wander off the marked trail, up a backroad, and spot the portal in the metal wall you might or might not be allowed through. One day it'll be flats, but for now...
A Bullet from a Shooting Star - Alex Chinneck (2015, Galvanised steel, height 35m): An upturned electricity pylon jammed into the earth, that's pretty spectacular. Paid for with developer money, and not here when The Line opened, but recently appropriated. [photo]
So that's The Line. It's not perfect and it's not always exciting, but it is a great excuse to walk parts of East London you may not have seen, and some of it is proper amazing. May it thrive and grow.
Stratford High Street → Star Lane: 3 artworks, 1 hour
Star Lane → Custom House: 10 minutes, £1.50
Custom House → Dangleway Royal Docks: 4 artworks, 10 minutes
Dangleway Royal Docks → Dangleway North Greenwich: 10 minutes, £3.50
Dangleway North Greenwich → North Greenwich: 5 artworks, 30 minutes
My gallery of 'The Line'
There are 60 photos altogether [slideshow]
posted 01:00 :
Saturday, May 28, 2016Broadband cannot be regained before Monday... that's Monday week.
In the meantime, a neighbour is leaking an unsecured trickle.
posted 23:00 :
Apparently nobody's ever asked for the key before.
If there is one, an off-site contractor has it.
posted 07:00 :
Friday, May 27, 2016The engineer needs to look inside a locked communal cupboard.
No key is forthcoming.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, May 26, 2016It's still not working.
An engineer has been summoned.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, May 25, 2016So my internet connection failed twelve hours ago.
Which is awkward.
posted 10:07 :
Tuesday, May 24, 2016Yesterday was the first anniversary of The Line, "London's first dedicated modern and contemporary art walk".
The route runs "between the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and The O2", although by the former they mean Stratford High Street because nobody's got round to reopening the footpaths out of the Park yet. It "follows the waterways and the line of the Meridian", although for a lot of the time it doesn't follow any waterway at all, and it only crosses the Meridian twice and at one point is over a mile away. They call it a "Line", but in reality it's two clusters of sculpture at either end of the cablecar, plus a disjoint section reached by DLR. Such are the perils of an attempted recreational route down the Lower Lea Valley, where there isn't yet a footpath all the way, although they're working on it. [map]
To encourage you to visit, the organisers have written this.
You discover who you are when you journey. So travel the Meridian with us and along the path of those before you. We've inscribed the land with totems. Works of art that act as a marker to where we are. See the layers of East London. The very old song of its waters. The towering of its ambition. The democracy of a single sky. People have been journeying for millennia. Feet in ancient times finding paths through a changing landscape to tell or untell a story. Works of art singing us along. Pack your thoughtfulness. Walk The Line.Please don't let that put you off. All they really mean is that they've installed a dozen artworks along a five mile walk, adding a little extra to make the environment even more interesting than it already is. Allow me to show you.
The middle of Stratford High Street isn't a great place to begin a walk, but it's better than ending here, so I always do The Line from north to south. This means following the blue signs, not the red ones - a waymarking system that's been improved of late, so you're less likely to get lost along the way. The route kicks off alongside the River Lea, or the Three Mills Wall River as it's called round here. To your left is a tongue of prewar housing, while across the water an entire industrial estate is being knocked down - listed buildings excepted - to create the Sugar House Lane development. This monster project has been on the drawing board for years, but only now is the ground being levelled and the last warehouses removed, as dense housing once again trumps sparse job opportunities.
Network - Thomas J Price (2013, Silicone bronze, 274×100×92cm): A larger than life youth in a puffa jacket is checking his phone. If you stop to take a photo, who then is the art and who the model? [photo]
A deep breath now, because it'll be another half an hour before you reach the next artwork on The Line. There was a video installation at Three Mills when the route opened last year, and a good one too, but it appears this was a one-off so instead there's nothing to view. Instead admire the historic mill as you go by, or perhaps go in for a cuppa and a tour if it's open, to enjoy one of East London's most unsung historic attractions. And get the right mill too - the pointy-topped Clock Mill opposite is now a free school, and they won't take kindly to you interrupting. The route continues along an increasingly thin grassy strip between the tidal and non-tidal Lea, past moored-up narrowboats and their characterful crews. All this you'll know if you've heard me mumbling on before, but the next bit is something excitingly new.
There's currently a serious problem with the Lea Valley Walk in that it can't reach the end of the River Lea so diverts off, here, down the Limehouse Cut. Neither is there a connection between the two banks at Bow Locks, forcing The Line to overshoot past the canal, double back up the busy Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road, cross via the Twelvetrees bridge and then double back to the waterside. It kind of wrecks the ambience. So the great news is that, after years of undelivered action, the long-promised link from below to above IS NOW BEING BUILT! The Twelvetrees Ramp Project will connect the central towpath to the bridge above via a fairly precipitous slope, if the artist's impression on the hoarding is anything to go by. I don't think it's steps, although the illustration is ambiguous in that respect, and it's definitely not a lift - which was the over-expensive first solution to creating step-free access here.
Come the autumn you should be able to nip up the ramp and down a set of steps on the other side, bypassing ten whole minutes of unnecessary detour. For now you need to spot the temporary pedestrian walkway alongside the worksite by the recycling depot, and amble down to the far side of the river. I love this stretch of the walk, as I've mentioned too many times, for its pristine isolation. Newham council forced the local private industrial estate to create a walkway along the river, with lamps and lifebuoys and regularly mown verges, even though at the time it didn't lead anywhere. And now it almost does, and soon it very much will, and eventually the crowds will come. For now it's ridiculously peaceful, just you and the ducks and some fagbreak workmen from the Amazon warehouse, and all the better for it.
DNA DL90 - Abigail Fallis (2003, Trolleys and steel, 939×300×300cm): A double helix of supermarket trolleys rises into the sky, in sharp contrast to the way they're usually to be found half buried in mud along the river's edge. This stack is built for Instagram, if that's where your digital kudos lies. [photo]
The backwater path continues between the back of a new Sainsbury's grocery depot and the (much more interesting) industrial bank of the Lea. Here scrap merchants stack bits of used car, and empty skips line up beside undriven vans, while a yellow digger squats on top of a pile of something it has dumped. In the background are the gleaming spires of Docklands, and the brutalist wedge of the Balfron Tower, creating a surreal backdrop to the scene. At low tide birds potter and peck in the mud, or swoop above the gasholder, and almost nobody notices. But in the last year or so a single ten storey block of flats has arisen on the bend in Bow Creek, and this surely is the ultimate destiny of this entire forsaken stretch.
Sensation - Damien Hirst (2003, Painted bronze, 198×318×165cm): Yes, there's actually a Damien Hirst out here, watched over by a CCTV sentinel. It could be a slab of fruit-packed blancmange, except it has hairs, and is in fact an anatomical model of a thin section of human skin. As art, it strangely works. [photo]
We've reached Cody Dock, five years ago a derelict inlet (and dead end), now a thriving communal hub (and gateway). It's a triumph for social entrepreneur Simon Myers, who's coerced funding and people power to create a somewhere out of nowhere. In 2016 you'll find houseboats and a sensory garden, studios and workshop space, a boat masquerading as a community centre, rows of volunteer-tilled planters, and probably Simon himself wandering around. There's also a cafe, now open daily, from early, and surprisingly busy when I wandered by. What there isn't is a decent exit.
The plan is for the footpath to continue to the south, towards Canning Town, but there are working wharves in the way, and no sign yet of public access. The plan is also for a footbridge to span Bow Creek at this point, linking to a newly created Poplar River Park, but you can imagine the expense so that's for the long term. The plan is called the Leaway, the new name for what was once the Fatwalk, an aspiration to complete the Lea Valley Regional Park all the way to the Thames. Phase 1 includes the ramp at Twelvetrees, and much improved signage and facilities, and some interim routeing through via the Silvertown viaduct. Phase 2 is a direct connection, and also includes turning the site of the first Big Brother house into a park, once Thames Water have finished their mega-sewer. It may just happen, one day. [actual thought-out detailed project plans] [huge pdf]
Until then, The Line departs via the vehicle exit into the local trading estate, imperilled by reversing lorries and waste-dump smells. Car depots, electricity substations and meat wholesalers probably aren't what those tempted here by project's marketing collateral were expecting, but this is very much what they get. They also get the Greenwich Meridian, which is crossed without fanfare a few yards out of the gate, past the entrance to Orion Support Services. Unwilling to subject its patrons to more than five minutes of this kind of thing, The Line coerces its travellers onto the DLR at Star Lane station, and invites them to ride all the way to Custom House. And that's a disjoint leap, so we'll recommence there in the next part of this travelogue.
» My Flickr gallery of The Line (60 photos altogether) [slideshow]
posted 07:00 :
Monday, May 23, 2016Beyond London (12): Hertsmere (part 2)
Somewhere historic: de Havilland Aircraft Museum
Britain's oldest aircraft museum is to be found in fields close to Junction 24 of the M25, just south of London Colney. The location is important. If you're not driving it's best to take the bus, specifically the 84 from Potters Bar or St Albans, and get the driver to drop you off at a godforsaken stop beneath the motorway embankment. From here it's a short walk down the drive of Salisbury Hall, a moated medieval manor last substantially upgraded in 1690, to which Charles II was a regular visitor (and Nell Gwynne lived in a cottage by the bridge). In the 1930s its owner was Sir Nigel Gresley, the esteemed steam loco engineer and designer of Mallard (which it's said got its name from the ducks in the moat). And in 1939 the Hall was requisitioned for a top secret wartime project, the creation of an ergonomic high speed bomber, hidden away inside a hangar disguised as a barn.
That aeroplane was the de Havilland Mosquito, one of the most successful Allied planes, fast and high-flying and thus hard for the enemy to shoot down. Although unarmed it could deliver a substantial payload, and its aerodynamic shape made it ideal for long-range reconnaissance. Crucially it was made mostly of wood, which was both light and very easy to come by, unlike the aluminium required for more traditional bombers. Development took a couple of years, building on Geoffrey de Havilland's considerable experience in the aeronautics industry just up the road in Hatfield, and mass production began in 1941. All sorts of industrial premises could be used to make and assemble the necessary parts, and the ubiquity of production eventually led to over 8000 Mosquitos being built.
The first prototype Mosquito has pride of place at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum, a cluster of hangars and sheds round the back of Salisbury Hall. There are only two hangars at present, but the foundations of a third are laid, which'll help get some of the larger aircraft out of the elements and under cover, thereby preserving their life. Some are shorn of tail and wings, else they'd be too unwieldy to keep, but all are from the de Havilland lineage, which has a mighty impressive pedigree. That means a Tiger Moth, a couple of proper Mosquitos and a Horsa glider used to land troops behind enemy lines. Moving into the jet age there are two Vampires and a Sea Vixen, and then my personal favourites, the passenger airliners.
The Comet was supposed to herald a golden age of jet travel, until two of the first planes fell out of the sky with metal fatigue prompting a major rethink. The museum has the full fuselage of a French Comet 1A, plus the cockpit of a Comet 4 you can climb up into and marvel at the array of knobs and dials and switches. I enjoyed clambering into a Heron, once used to fly to the Highlands and Islands and with almost no aisle whatsoever between its allegedly comfy seats. But most evocative of all was entering the first class section of a Trident, with 'Club' antimacassars draped over orange upholstery, and the original laminated safety cards poked in down the back, A nice touch is the selection of BEA flight goodies, from crockery and toiletries to a boxed Benson and Hedges cigarette, plus a (hell yes, I had one of those) Junior Jet Club log-book. If all this evoked a golden age of travel, one look at the screen-less flight deck soon tugged me back to reality.
As well as entertaining dozens of members of the public, young and old, the museum is clearly a place of pilgrimage for its many volunteers. They wander round in overalls giving the planes care and attention, and fix bits in a corner of the main hangar, as well as working on the restoration of a Dragon Rapide in a sealed workshop. If you have a penchant for aviation you could join them, or simply come for a look round (and inside) the collection. The museum's open five days a week, plus bank holidays, the shop is particularly well stocked, and entrance is a tenner.
by bus: 84, 84A
Somewhere pretty: Bushey Rose Garden
All rose gardens are bushy, but Bushey Rose Garden is one of a kind. It owes its existence to a Bavarian named Hubert Von Herkomer, whose lowly family migrated to England in 1857 when he was just eight years old. Initially they struggled, but Hubert developed a prodigious artistic talent which elevated him first to the Royal Academy and later to a knighthood. He moved to Bushey in 1873, later setting up an art school on the high street which grew to worldwide fame. He was also a big name in early motorsport and cinematography. No, I'd never heard of him either.
In 1894 Hubert and his wife moved into a turreted Romanesque mansion in Melbourne Road, named Lululaund after his second wife, and with an interior as florid as its title. Then in 1912 his art school moved elsewhere, so he demolished it and invited one of the finest landscape gardeners of his day to create a Rose Garden. Thomas Mawson designed a splendid sunken garden with pergola, gabled summerhouse and four-way fountain, for which he was paid the princely sum of "one portrait". Regrettably Sir Hubert died before the garden's first summer, but his widow lived to see many more and loved the displays of roses that bloomed forth each year.
To wrap up the history bit, the house (now derelict) was offered to the council in 1938 but they couldn't afford the maintenance costs so it was almost entirely demolished. Instead they took over the rose garden, and the Royal British Legion built a clubhouse on the site of Lululaund, preserving only the porch. Under civic ownership the garden became neglected, and was repeatedly vandalised, before an injection of lottery cash helped bring about about a full restoration in 2010. More recently the clubhouse has been knocked down and replaced by eight luxury flats, with the developers making full marketing capital out of Herkomer's red sandstone porch tacked onto the front.
The restored rose garden is gorgeous, and not yet at its seasonal peak. A path winds in from a gate on the high street leading to a terrace around the sunken garden. Step down to inspect the tall dribbling fountain, or cross to enjoy the pergola draped with climbing rose and clematis. At the end is a seven foot classical bronze plaque from Lululaund, or rather a convincing copy because the original was nicked in 1967. If you're lucky the summer house should be open, inside which is a comprehensive history of the great man and his garden project, along with a visitors book and leaflets inviting you join the Friends. They run several events, including yoga on the back lawn when the weather's decent. Even Gardeners' Question Time were here last month, and highly appreciative.
And despite the beauty, and copious benches throughout, I had the entire Rose Garden to myself. Presumably the people of Bushey have better things to do on a Saturday afternoon than enjoy their finest civic space, like dashing round Spar for provisions, or playing a round at the Country Club. To be fair the rest of Bushey's quite nice, or rather "stylish and affluent with an exclusive ‘village’ atmosphere" as the marketing collateral has it. Three separate clusters of cottages along the ridgetop high street give the place some pre-Georgian heritage, and even the suburban sprawl down the hillside comes with sweeping views.
For more on the area's history, be sure to drop into Bushey Museum (round the corner, beside the fire station). This hits well above its weight, both in terms of size and thanks to its formidable army of volunteers. Downstairs are the local heritage galleries, including that portrait of Herkomer, a tube map with Bushey Heath marked on it, and a VHS of Wham's greatest hits performed by Bushey Meads School's most famous pupils. Upstairs is the art, in more galleries than you'd expect, but then the museum does have a renowned and extensive collection. As well as the Herkomer-specific room, and another for his art schoolmistress, I particularly enjoyed the temporary exhibition of locally sourced book illustrations (and less so the overdose of cutesy animal pictures nextdoor). Expect to have a fistful of leaflets thrust into your hand before you leave, but seriously, Bushey puts several London borough museums to shame.
by train: Bushey by bus: 142, 258
So far: Dartford, Sevenoaks, Tandridge, Reigate & Banstead, Epsom & Ewell, Mole Valley, Elmbridge, Spelthorne, Slough, South Bucks, Three Rivers, Hertsmere
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, May 22, 2016Beyond London (12): Hertsmere (part 1)
The Greater London boundary skips Watford to reach Hertsmere, a 1970s construct to the northwest of the capital. Its forty square miles are mostly Green Belt, and mostly inside the M25, from Bushey in the west to Potters Bar in the east. It's pleasant enough, although you wouldn't come for the scenery, Hertsmere's more the kind of place you travel through. And you wouldn't come for a day trip either, so I did exactly that, to search out four of the more interesting corners. [14 photos]
Somewhere famous: Elstree Studios
So many famous films have been made at Elstree, from Blackmail to Star Wars, and a heck of a lot of top drawer television too. But not actually in Elstree, the action's all been in neighbouring Borehamwood, it's just that Borehamwood wasn't particularly large or important 100 years ago. The Neptune Film Studios opened here in 1914, on cheap land well connected to central London, but far enough out to be unpolluted. Its purpose-built facilities were bought out a number of times over the years, and impressed enough to be nicknamed Britain's Hollywood, attracting a number of other players to set up close by. Some made blockbusters, others made B movies, with Elstree's film heyday lasting from the introduction of the talkies until the Fifties, when television nudged in and shared the honours. And while a lot of the old studios have now been built over, this is still where the recent Paddington Bear movie was made, and where you come to sit in the audience for Pointless.
Recognising their nationwide claim to fame, Elstree and Borehamwood council have set up a Film and Television Heritage Trail along the high street and beyond. What they haven't done is make it easy to follow, but if you walk through the town you can't fail to stumble upon several informative plaques. They kick off outside the railway station, close to the former site of Gate Studios, with a summative black and white mural (and a useful map if you think to walk round the back). The first plaque is for Barbara Windsor MBE, whose Borehamwood film credentials are embarrassingly sparse, but nevertheless her cockney landlady persona came along a few years back to launch the trail. An eclectic collection of big star names follow, from Sir Cliff to Sir Christopher Lee, scattered outside the shops or by some former place of work.
Perhaps the oddest pairing is outside Elstree Studios themselves, in a small garden paid for by the local Rotary Club, where Sir Roger Moore KBE sidles up to Simon Cowell. Roger is here not for Bond but The Saint, while Simon turns out to be the only local boy in this Hall of Fame, having grown up down the road on Barnet Lane and getting his first showbiz job here as a runner. Elstree Studios isn't much to see from the road, more a series of offices and sheds. It used to be considerably bigger, but the backlot where Star Wars was filmed was sold off to Tesco in 1988, and now forms the focal point of retail activity hereabouts. While the George Lucas Stage still looms over the car park, the majority of what remains is mostly screened behind a hedge, with the Big Brother House right at the back where only housemates and eviction audiences get to see it. But a couple of Oscar-type statuettes can be spotted on one front roof, while outside (by the litter bin) is the legendary "All Audience To Start Queue From Here" sign where the Strictly crowds assemble.
The other survivor is on the other side of the high street, up Clarendon Road. Still on the original 1914 site, these are now the BBC Elstree Studios, and you won't be getting in. A watchful security presence exists at each gate, with barriers and 'No photography' signs, should you wish to enter the island site. But stare down towards the end of the terrace and you'll spot a railway bridge that shouldn't be there, and a short row of houses that have a front but no back. This is the outdoor set for Albert Square, or at least one corner of it, tucked away at the far end of Auntie's lot. A ten minute hike via the Borehamwood Shopping Park will get you round to the other side (who knew there was an M&S Food Hall quite so close to the Minute Mart?), confirming that no, you really can't see much from over here either. But a few fake chimneypots, hollow roofs and sham terraces are vaguely visible, and I wonder whether those with adjoining gardens ever catch wind of any EastEnders plot twists before the rest of us.
For a less happy ending, head east towards the drably commercial end of Borehamwood. Pizza Hut and the Jehovah's Witnesses are amongst those with an administrative base behind drab façades along Elstree Way, and one more recent development means there's still (thank goodness) a big cinema in town. Another commemorative plaque points out the location of MGM British Studios, a big player between 1937 and 1970, where Where Eagles Dare, The Dirty Dozen and The Prisoner were filmed. It's said that Stanley Kubrick took so long to make 2001: A Space Odyssey that he bankrupted the place, and the entire facility was swiftly demolished (although the white clocktower survived until 1987). A road called Studio Way now curves through the site, mostly covered by housing along cul-de-sacs with appropriately cinematographic names. They're still squeezing new homes in where possible, and in perhaps the ultimate ignominy a Travelodge and Toby Carvery form the major entertainment option on site. Bring your tablet and you can stream a classic.
by train: Elstree and Borehamwood by bus: 107, 292
While in town, make sure you pop into the Elstree and Borehamwood Museum on the main high street. You'll find it at number 96, a "new, iconic, multi-purpose community centre", which is basically a modern take on a library. The museum hasn't been given much room, indeed the tiny circulation space on the second floor looks like it's only the foyer until you realise nothing else leads off from it. And only a fraction of this is the permanent display, a rattle-through the history of the town and its neighbouring village, while the majority is given over to temporary exhibitions, generally an excuse to display a tiny fraction of the collection the museum has amassed over the years. Currently that's photography, which means lots of old cameras and a snappy history of imagery, but soon they'll be switching over to shops, reminiscing over the days when Shenley Road wasn't a string of salons, cafes and charity shops. For best value, talk to the volunteers on the desk, they have the best stuff tucked away out of sight.
Somewhere random: Aldenham
Aldenham is a tiny village slightly to the east of Junction 5 on the M1. It's lovely, I went through it on the bus. A leafy lane bends off the main road, curling up to and around 13th century St John's church, linking various listed buildings to the golf club and the village green. But Aldenham hits well above its weight, by merit of being the oldest settlement hereabouts, so has somehow managed to give its name to several features some distance away. For example its parish is now so dominated by the commuter town of Radlett that it's had to be split into two administrative regions, with Aldenham East reputedly the least deprived ward in the whole of England. I went through that on the bus too, and although it's no Little Chalfont or Ascot, I can see what they mean.
Then there's Aldenham Reservoir, an unexpectedly old affair, built by French prisoners in the 1790s to help keep the River Colne and Grand Union Canal topped up. That's a couple of miles from the village, considerably closer to Elstree, and now surrounded by Aldenham Country Park. This is the main recreational bolthole for Hertsmere West, particularly for anyone with a dog or small child to exercise, or a boat to sail. The path round the edge of the reservoir is the perfect length for a minor stroll, allegedly "a leisurely hour", although definitely possible in a concerted thirty minutes. Most of it's in woodland, with occasional breaks to see water lapping against the shore, and one long section (with ducks and swans) along the top of a dam. The park has gone all out to attract young visitors, with a small farm to visit and proper pony rides, each for a fee. Or for nothing there's the excellently realised '100 Aker Wood', where the world of AA Milne can brought to life using a bit of imagination. Cut-outs of Winnie the Pooh point the way around a special trail, passing simple wooden constructions cleverly labelled, including a heffalump trap, the North Pole, Pooh's Bridge, and the houses of Rabbit, Piglet and Wol. Older visitors may prefer the Aldenham Sailing Club, the reservoir's dinghy racing collective (who are holding their annual introductory session for novices this afternoon).
To the south of the reservoir, now more than two miles from the village of the same name, there's Aldenham Works. This was London Buses' overhaul centre, a vast steel shed on an industrial scale which used to strip and refit 50 buses a week. You'll know it best from the film Summer Holiday - Cliff Richard and his friends were supposedly employees here - and the opening scenes that show them busy at work were filmed during the Works' summer break. Of course it no longer exists, the operation lasted only from 1956 to 1986, with the decaying building completely demolished ten years later. In its place is Centennial Park, a sanitised collection of sixty-or-so business units behind a security gateline, plus a hotel/gym/spa complex to feed the needs of upmarket leisure users. It's unwelcoming and bland, but busy, and I did spot the Leicester Tigers team coach slipping out yesterday on its way to a Saracens thrashing.
The reason Aldenham Works existed is a fascinating one. The site had been intended as sidings for an expansion of the Northern line, the plan being to push out beyond Edgware to kickstart house-building up the A5 corridor. Three new stations were planned, the first at Brockley Hill, then Elstree South and finally Bushey Heath, each surrounded by large areas of undeveloped land that might swiftly be turned into suburbs. Elstree South, as the name suggested, would have been just to the south of Elstree, pretty much exactly where the entrance to Centennial Park now stands. The terminus at Bushey Heath would have been one road junction further west, approximately parallel to what's now the M1 motorway, where the A41 crosses Elstree Road. And of course none of this got built, because WW2 intervened and then the Green Belt was imposed, which means the entire area remains mostly fields. Today horses graze the intended site of Bushey Heath station, beside a busy roundabout barely troubled by pedestrians, and only the clientèle of the neighbouring luxury dog hotel and grooming spa are truly missing out. It's too late to complete the extension now, because houses cover the intended line through Edgware. But in a world of "what if", this rural backwater could easily be home to fifty thousand people, with shops and schools and employment opportunities around three glorious Charles Holden station buildings, up the Aldenham branch of the Northern line.
by tube: Bushey Heath, Elstree South by bus: 107, 306, 602
(part 2 tomorrow)
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, May 21, 2016The busiest time at every tube station on the London Underground
07:30 - 08:00 Monday-Friday: Amersham, Chalfont & Latimer, Chorleywood, Epping, Theydon Bois, Watford
07:30 - 08:15 Monday-Friday: Croxley, Pinner
07:45 - 08:00 Monday-Friday: Chesham, Mill Hill East
The stations with a rush hour that peaks before 8am are at the extremes of the network. Far out on the Metropolitan line in Herts and Bucks, and at the tip of the Central line in Essex, commuters set off early. Pinner's a slight oddity, although all its neighbours are coming up in the next list.
07:45 - 08:15 Monday-Friday: Becontree, Canons Park, Chigwell, Chiswick Park, Cockfosters, Dagenham East, Dagenham Heathway, Debden, Eastcote, Elm Park, Fairlop, Finchley Central, Grange Hill, Hainault, High Barnet, Hillingdon, Hornchurch, Hounslow West, Ickenham, Kew Gardens, Loughton, Moor Park, North Harrow, Northolt, Northwood, Northwood Hills, Oakwood, Queensbury, Rickmansworth, Roding Valley, Ruislip, Ruislip Gardens, Ruislip Manor, South Ealing, South Kenton, South Ruislip, Stanmore, Totteridge & Whetstone, Upminster Bridge, West Brompton, West Ruislip, Wimbledon, Wimbledon Park, Woodford, Woodside Park
07:45 - 08:30 Monday-Friday: Buckhurst Hill, Edgware, Harrow-on-the-Hill, Hounslow East, Southfields, Southgate
That'll be zones 4, 5 and 6 starting their morning journeys into town, before eight o'clock, along with (for some reason) half the Wimbledon branch of the District line.
08:00 - 08:15 Monday-Friday: Greenford, Kenton, Morden, Newbury Park, Osterley, Stamford Brook, Stonebridge Park, Sudbury Hill, Upney
08:00 - 08:30 Monday-Friday: Alperton, Arnos Grove, Balham, Barking, Barkingside, Blackhorse Road, Boston Manor, Bounds Green, Burnt Oak, Clapham Common, Colindale, Colliers Wood, Dollis Hill, Ealing Broadway, Ealing Common, East Acton, East Finchley, East Ham, East Putney, Finsbury Park , Fulham Broadway, Gants Hill, Goldhawk Road, Hanger Lane, Hendon Central, Hounslow Central, Kingsbury, Leytonstone, Neasden, North Ealing, North Wembley, Northfields, Northwick Park, Parsons Green, Plaistow, Preston Road, Putney Bridge, Ravenscourt Park, Rayners Lane, Redbridge, Seven Sisters, Shepherd's Bush Market, Snaresbrook, South Harrow, South Wimbledon, South Woodford, Sudbury Town, Tooting Bec, Tooting Broadway, Tottenham Hale, Turnham Green, Turnpike Lane, Upton Park, Walthamstow Central, Wanstead, Wembley Central, Wembley Park, West Acton, West Finchley, West Harrow, Westbourne Park, Willesden Green, Wood Green
A quarter of all tube station appear here, mostly in zones 3 and 4, along with a smattering of zone 2s (generally from the west of London).
08:00 - 08:45 Monday-Friday: Acton Town, Bromley-by-Bow, Clapham North, Clapham South, Golders Green, Harrow & Wealdstone, Highgate, Kensal Green, Kilburn, Marylebone, West Kensington
08:15 - 08:30 Monday-Friday: Leyton
Even closer to the centre now, although Harrow & Wealdstone is a last late straggler from zone 5. Meanwhile Marylebone is the first zone 1 appearance, as Chiltern commuters flood off their morning trains.
08:15 - 08:45 Monday-Friday: Archway, Arsenal, Belsize Park, Bermondsey, Bethnal Green, Bow Road, Brent Cross, Brixton, Caledonian Road, Canning Town, Chalk Farm, Earl's Court, Finchley Road, Hammersmith (H&C), Highbury & Islington, Holloway Road, Kennington, Kilburn Park, Lancaster Gate, Maida Vale, Manor House, Mile End, North Greenwich, Oval, Paddington, Queen's Park, Richmond, Royal Oak, Stepney Green, Stockwell, Stratford, Swiss Cottage, Tufnell Park, Warwick Avenue, West Hampstead
The 'around half eight' list is almost entirely from zone 2, with Richmond (in zone 4) a glaring outlier. Paddington (and neighbouring Lancaster Gate) are further evidence of commuters pouring into town from the west.
08:00 - 09:00 Monday-Friday: Canada Water, Victoria
08:15 - 09:00 Monday-Friday: Baker Street, Euston, Euston Square, Hampstead, Kentish Town, King's Cross St. Pancras, Liverpool Street, London Bridge, Queensway, Vauxhall, Waterloo
08:30 - 09:00 Monday-Friday: Cannon Street
The rush hour continues until nine o'clock at all of these stations, the majority of which are at central London rail termini. Hampstead is the sole zone 3 late runner.
09:30 - 10:00 Monday-Friday: Bayswater
Bayswater is a true oddity, its busiest time well after the rush hour has died down elsewhere, presumably because it's chucking out time in the local hotels.
AND NOW TO THE FLIPSIDE - STATIONS BUSIER IN THE EVENING THAN IN THE MORNING
17:00 - 17:15 Monday-Friday: Holland Park
17:00 - 17:30 Monday-Friday: Harlesden, Ladbroke Grove, Russell Square, St. John's Wood, Whitechapel
17:00 - 17:45 Monday-Friday: Hyde Park Corner, South Kensington, Uxbridge
The hometime rush starts at five o'clock in these mostly central stations... plus, for some reason, Harlesden amd Uxbridge are emptying out.
17:15 - 17:45 Monday-Friday: Angel, Lambeth North, Park Royal, Regent's Park, St. James's Park, Willesden Junction
17:15 - 18:00 Monday-Friday: Aldgate, Aldgate East, Borough, Canary Wharf, Hatton Cross, West Ham
This lot are mostly central but minor. Elsewhere the Park Royal Trading Estate is clearing out, airline staff are departing Hatton Cross and the trading floors at Canary Wharf have closed.
17:30 - 18:00 Monday-Friday: Barbican, Barons Court
Chancery Lane, Charing Cross, Edgware Road, Edgware Road, Gunnersbury , Hammersmith (Dis), Latimer Road, Moorgate, Mornington Crescent, Pimlico, Southwark, St. Paul's, Tower Hill, Westminster, White City, Wood Lane
17:30 - 18:15 Monday-Friday: Bank & Monument, Blackfriars, Embankment, Great Portland Street, Green Park, Holborn, Mansion House, North Acton, Warren Street
With the working day over, a lot of key inner London stations (plus a few around Hammersmith) are busiest after five thirty.
17:30 - 18:30 Monday-Friday: Covent Garden, Oxford Circus
17:45 - 18:45 Monday-Friday: Leicester Square
That's a very specific West End cluster, where the evening rush lasts a full hour.
17:45 - 18:15 Monday-Friday: Bond Street, Farringdon, Goodge Street, High Street Kensington, Knightsbridge, Marble Arch, Notting Hill Gate, Old Street, Perivale, Piccadilly Circus, Temple, Tottenham Court Road, Upminster
17:45 - 18:30 Monday-Friday: Camden Town, Shepherd's Bush
A near-final batch of zone 1 stations don't peak until quarter to six. Standing out like sore thumbs in this list are Perivale (zone 4) and Upminster (zone 6).
18:00 - 18:15 Monday-Friday: Gloucester Road, Sloane Square
Only in the poshest part of town does the rush hour start as late as six o'clock.
no data: Heathrow Terminals 2&3, Heathrow Terminal 4, Heathrow Terminal 5, Elephant & Castle, Kensington (Olympia)
posted 07:00 :
Friday, May 20, 2016When's the busiest time at your local tube station? TfL are keen to let you know. You may have seen a poster in the ticket hall advising you of the busiest period of the day, the hope being that it might just nudge you to travel at a different time. Leave home a little earlier, or later, and you might have a less frenetic commute. And you changing your plans might mean everyone else has a less crushed journey too, so it cuts both ways.
This is the poster in the ticket hall at Bank station. The bar chart displays a wealth of data, in fifteen minute chunks, showing the pattern of congestion across the evening peak. The graph even has numbers up the vertical axis, so we know there are about 6000 passengers using the station at 4.30pm, and twice as many an hour later. The busy period, with the darker bars, is from about 5.15pm to 6.30pm. But in the headline above the graph TfL have chosen to highlight the really busy bit, which is from 5.30pm to 6.15pm. Stay away after work if you can, is the unspoken message, and try not to pass through if you don't have to. All fine and good.
But TfL are also trying to dispense this crowding information through their website. They've added it in several places in the hope you'll use it to plan better travel, and thereby help ease congestion across the network. The only problem is that they haven't necessarily added it usefully, conveniently, obviously, sensibly, comprehensively or indeed always correctly.
Here's the crowding information for Oxford Circus.
The busiest time at Oxford Circus is half an hour either side of 6pm, in the evening rush hour, when the throng attempting to get down to the platforms is at its greatest. Sometimes the volume of people is so great that the entrances have to be closed off, and then you might wish you'd planned ahead and tried to enter the network elsewhere. This is genuinely useful information.
This is not genuinely useful information.
Roding Valley is the quietest station on the London Underground. It lurks on the farthest reaches of the Hainault Loop. There are no ticket barriers. Trains run only every 20 minutes. On a typical weekday the station has only 517 passengers. There is no crowding issue at Roding Valley, none whatsoever.
But the TfL website still recommends you avoid Roding Valley for half an hour in the morning, because the TfL website is fuelled by a database. No human has stopped and thought "hang on, is this sensible?" Instead they've thought "it would be useful for our passengers to know the busiest time at every station, and then we'll add exactly the same advisory message whether it's needed or not."
So there are suggestions you could have a quicker journey from Croxley if you avoid 7.30am to 8.15am, and that your journey from Hatton Cross might somehow be more comfortable if you dodge 5.15pm to 6.00pm. There's a recommendation to avoid Upminster between 5.45pm and 6.15pm, but neighbouring Upminster Bridge between 7.45am and 8.15am. The busiest time at Arsenal is surely when there's a football match on, but these don't happen at regular times so the website says between 7.45am and 8.15am instead. Holborn is busiest between 5.30pm and 6.15pm, and that's very true if you're trying to get in, but there's no mention whatsoever of the morning crush (getting out) which has inspired the escalator standing trial. And if you're an end-of-the-line commuter at Cockfosters you're bound to get a seat whenever, but the advice is still that 7.45am to 8.15am may not be good, without the qualification that this is only relatively worse. This is valid data used badly, without thinking what the website will display.
But there are also nudges not to arrive at Victoria between 8am and 9am, at Clapham Common or Colliers Wood between 8am and 8.30am, and Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road or Knightsbridge between 5.45pm and 6.15pm, and these are considerably more useful. It's dead helpful for me to know that Bow Road is busiest between 8.15am and 8.45am, for example, so I can avoid starting my journey at these times. And it's fascinating to see that Bayswater is busiest between 9.30am and 10am, after the rush hour everywhere else has dwindled away, presumably because it's chucking out time in the local hotels. This is useful and interesting data, indeed a lot of it is, but in amongst all the other stuff that isn't.
Then there's a problem with the presentation of the data.
The busiest time at each station doesn't immediately appear on the station's webpage, it's been hidden away. And it's been hidden away behind a particularly thoughtless label. Head to the Oxford Circus page, for example, and you'll see this alert part-way down.
What might these purported 'access issues' be? A faulty escalator perhaps, or a broken lift? Well, if there is one, then yes. But generally there isn't, and on clicking-through the only information revealed is mention of the busiest time at the station.
Surely this isn't an "access issue", it's advice. This is badly labelled, pointlessly hidden, information. What's worse is that it disguises genuine access problems should one come up. Every single tube station* on the network now has "reported access issues", all the time, so if a lift does ever develop a fault or an escalator goes wrong, you'll never know to click through and find out. What's more, if you check the individual tube lines on the TfL website, every single tube station* appears with a yellow exclamation mark symbol next to it, insinuating there's a problem, when in reality there probably isn't.
* Actually it's not quite every tube station, they've missed five out. Three of these are at Heathrow, which is fair enough because these are special cases, and nobody really has a choice about when they arrive. Another is Kensington (Olympia), another special case, thus absolutely best ignored. But the fifth appears to be a genuine omission, or not uploaded from the database, and it's a fairly busy station too. I wonder how it got entirely overlooked?
And then there's a problem with the Journey Planner.
Somebody thought it would be useful to add information about busy times at stations to the results you get when you use the Journey Planner. Somebody may not quite have thought it through. Take this lunchtime trip from Edgware to Mornington Crescent, for example.
When the results come up, a blue circle now announces that "This journey has additional information". Click through and you'll discover that this is "Crowding information", and click again to find out what that is.
We're told that the busiest time at Edgware station is 7.45am to 8.30am, and that the busiest time at Mornington Crescent is 5.30pm to 6pm, and advised it might be best to travel outside this time. But we are travelling outside this time! The website knows we're travelling at lunchtime, but still insists on making a fuss about something that's only an issue four hours earlier and five hours later. We're not making a trip at the busiest time, so we don't need to be warned not to! The same thing happens at weekends too. No station is busiest at weekends, according to TfL's crowding data, but if you plan a journey on a Saturday or Sunday the crowding information appears all the same.
Thinking back to that graph displayed at Bank at the the beginning of the post, TfL clearly have in-depth data by the quarter hour, indeed they have had for years. You can get some idea of its richness by digging through this 2010 visualisation, but there's no official public version for 2016, it seems, only a single headline figure for each station. Having simplified the data in this way it's then been served up in a variety of inflexible situations, dispersed across the website, without considering whether this is always appropriate.
TfL's summarised and spoonfed data may not be perfect, but it's a lot better than no crowding information at all. So let's hope this innovation helps us to make better decisions about our peak time journeys, because by travelling smarter we can make everyone's journeys that little bit easier.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, May 19, 2016The writer Will Self is a big fan of walking out of London. He's walked out several times, from somewhere in the centre to somewhere on the edge, attaining "a sense of enlightenment" along the way. But, as he recognises, it's not an easy thing to do, hence only a tiny number of Londoners have ever followed suit.
"The writer Cyril Connolly once remarked: 'No city should be so large that someone can’t walk out of it in a morning.' But London is so vast a city that you need to leave early on a summer morning and promenade until dusk in order to find yourself in greenish fields. So there's this major obstacle — and then there's the problem of the intolerable monotony of trudging along successive, increasingly suburban, streets — or so people think. In fact, the much vaunted open-ness of our great city is never more evident than when you plan a long walk across it."I thought I'd give walking out of London a try. I've done it from home, but I wanted to do it properly, so I kicked off at the very centre of the capital. That's the historical centre, at the statue of Charles I in Trafalgar Square, the point from which all distances are measured. And having confirmed my starting point, I wanted to walk the shortest possible distance, so I referred to a particularly helpful map that Oliver O'Brien put together back in 2014, which confirmed I needed to head towards a pub in Worcester Park. I drew a straight line from Charing Cross to the beer garden, a distance of almost exactly ten miles, on a bearing of approximately 208°. Then I drew in the actual route I'd have to take, because buildings and rivers and railways get in the way somewhat, whilst still trying to stick as closely as possible to my target route. And then I walked it. Thankfully it didn't take anywhere near as long as Will had suggested, but he was right about the important thing, how fascinating it would be. [my map] [12 photos]
TO THE EDGE OF LONDON
Trafalgar Square → Battersea → Wimbledon → Worcester Park
10 miles as the crow flies, 13½ miles on foot (4½ hours)
It's ten o'clock as I commence my radial safari, setting forth from a traffic island beneath the raised hoof of a bronze horse. It's two minutes past by the time I manage to escape the ring of circling vehicles, stepping off down The Mall as the tourist buzz begins to build. Already I've had to veer off the direct line to my destination, with the top of Whitehall and then the lake in St James's Park getting in the way, but no complaints, this is a delightful way to begin. I pass the weather station that's sometimes the warmest place in the country, and a kiosk owner unloading a box of muffins from a truck, before greeting the wildfowl by the water's edge. From the centre of the footbridge I can see both the London Eye and Buckingham Palace, which are as far as many tourists get, but I'm going so much further.
My brief green sojourn ends at Queen Anne's Gate, heading down towards the Art Deco façade of 55 Broadway. There follows a wiggly walk through Victoria, past the civil service caffeine-clutchers late to their desks, before diving off into the residential hinterland beyond. Beneath a brown and cream-striped mansion block an old lady with splayed crutches walks her small dog back home, a packet of biscuits dangling from her arm in an Argos carrier bag. I'm impressed, my straight line has already brought me to a series of streets I've never walked before, and we're barely a mile in. I get to walk the entire length of Cambridge Street, a prime Pimlico bolthole, with stucco frontage and pillared porches, plus a Westminster City Council plaque for Laura Ashley partway down.
It's fortunate that my straight line delivers me almost precisely to Chelsea Bridge, else I'd require a significant diversion to cross the Thames. Less fortunately, this location delivers the greatest concentration of new building work anywhere along my walk, specifically the glass shroud currently springing up around Battersea Power Station, and the completed apartments at Chelsea Gate alongside (which it must be better looking out of than looking at).
It's a relief then to slip into Battersea Park, and a goodly crossing thereof, the direct route again thwarted by a lake. Numerous truck drivers are parked up along North Carriage Drive, one cooing from his cab to an adoring crowd of crows on the tarmac, or so it seems. Two very different sides of London are visible on the way through - a local school holding a mass athletics event at the Millennium Stadium, and a huge speculative events space hosting a "designer bridal show", its customers arriving by cab and chauffeur to be ushered inside. Two herons are the highlight on the boating lake shore, while the grass on the bowling green is being given a striped manicure by two gents with rotary mowers. On a different bearing I could be in Paddington, Hoxton or Bermondsey by now, and I think I've struck lucky.
Into Battersea proper, where artisans travail in backstreet workshops to bring hand-blown lamps to drawing room tables, and fireplace merchants stock bespoke wood-boilers for that perfect finishing touch. Just when I'm despairing of ever passing through anywhere council-built, I stumble upon the Latchmere Estate. A plaque dates it to 1903, indeed it turns out this is the very first council estate in the country, and it's gorgeous. 315 high-quality Municipal Dwellings were laid out in parallel streets, with novel features such as baths and gardens... and needless to say they've all been snapped up by folks with (and who no longer need) mortgages, who maintain the stock brick terraces in near perfect condition.
A triangle of railway viaducts now intrudes, because here comes Clapham Junction. This means negotiating the car park in front of the 24 hour Asda (ideal for a toilet break, should you need one after 90 minutes on the road). There follows one of the most bustling sections of the entire walk, down to the Falcon and back up to the station entrance, where I get stuck behind a group of oblivious mummies and their offspring walking seven abreast, then accosted by a beaming chugger. The ominously-named Severus Road kicks off a backstreet chicane of three-storey beauties, before emerging onto Battersea Rise, where a procession of three genuine Routemasters appears bearing a cargo of Scandinavian party-goers.
A spatial coincidence now allows me to switch off for a bit. That straight line I drew from Charing Cross to the edge of London coincides almost perfectly with the main railway line from Clapham Junction down to Wimbledon - a good hour's walk - and for the next mile and a half there's a perfectly parallel road. The Daily Telegraph describes Spencer Park as the millionaires row of Nappy Valley, an enclave of small mansions with big gardens, overlooking its proximity to the Clapham Rail Disaster Memorial. At Wandsworth Common it changes to Windmill Road, named after a smock mill built to pump water out of the railway cutting into an ornamental lake, and whose wooden body still stands behind protective railings. And then the name switches to Earlsfield Road, a long slow straight descent to the suburb of the same name, whose sideroads are so snobbish that they all have "no public service vehicles" warning signs at the end. Again the houses are late Victorian delight - high, brick and gabled - plus one solitary whitewashed newsagent, because nobody gets their papers delivered any more.
In good news, reaching Earlsfield means I'm now halfway to my destination. From here it would be nice to follow the River Wandle south - it runs parallel to my desire line, and Will Self once walked this way on another trip out of town. But I must stick to the other side of the railway to avoid an enormous detour later on, which means a mile of déjà vu. I didn't plan it this way, but my route from Earlsfield to Wimbledon Park exactly follows the end of Capital Ring section 5. I recognise the bridge over twin concrete channels, and the corner shop where Wandsworth turns into Merton, and the brief deviation through a recreation ground full of cherry blossom, and the everydayness of the local mosque, and the semi-exclusive shopping parade leading up to the tube station. But at least I got to see a BMW with numberplate M16 GAG parked outside a bistro, so it wasn't all a repeat.
The avenues north of Wimbledon are sylvan suburbia, and I'm fortunate that my route leads me along a couple. Kenilworth Avenue is part conservation area, for the consistency of its semis, which boast lintels carved with foliage, stone bracket detailing and ornate ridge tiles. Daytime activity hereabouts consists mostly of workmen spending the owners' money - positioning tiles, bitumening paths, traipsing patio debris through the hallway and hoisting scaffolding poles up above potential loft extensions. In the second street, Woodside, a plaque announces that the romantic novelist Georgette Heyer was born here, and drooping boughs on various frontages hint that Peak Wisteria has just been and gone.
The centre of Wimbledon is the ugliest point on my walk, courtesy of the late 20th century. All the buildings around the crossroads to the west of the station were built for commercial convenience rather than architectural merit, and the brief strip of high street I get to follow is little more than somewhere shoppers sup and graze. The rest of the town centre's nicer, but I'm bearing off down the side of Little Waitrose, along an alleyway I'd not realised existed before. This is Railway Path, a mile of path alongside the railway, so well-named. It's popular too, the ideal route for residents of several dead end streets to reach the shops, or head to yoga, or cycle to Raynes Park, or be pushed home from nursery. I walk about halfway down, pursued by a postman with a large red trolley, before vaulting the tracks via a trellised footbridge.
On Toynbee Road a lost stuffed puppy sits smiling atop a junction box. I do hope it's not still there.
Were it not for my desire to walk a straight line, I'd never have considered walking down, or even near, Dennis Park Crescent. I wonder initially if it might be the first patch of genuine council housing on my route, but no, the houses are too varied. Indeed quite the opposite, this turns out to be another of Merton's conservation areas, this time backed by a 24-page planning document praising the housing layout, the mature treescape and the central island of open space beneath a spreading plane. Dating from 1921, no housing developer builds anything vaguely like this any more, nor alas is allowed to.
I next stride down Bronson Road, one rung of a ladder of 20 parallel residential streets, and one of 19 to be sealed off at one end. The council appear to have been particularly vigorous in deterring through traffic hereabouts, an area romantically named Wimbledon Chase. A cut-through at the end of Whatley Avenue leads to the first decent expanse of greenspace since Battersea, Prince George's Playing Field, where two hoodied adolescents nuzzle by a rusting goalpost. A fence erected by the local football club forces me quarter of a mile off-line, the largest deviation of the walk, before eventually returning down Grand Drive past a succession of toppled empty food waste buckets. It must have been bin day.
Tennyson Avenue (in West Barnes) might easily have been the actual street on Reggie Perrin's daily commute, if only there were a Coleridge Close leading off, or indeed any other poet-themed thoroughfare on the walk to the station. Its visible daytime residents are mowing the front lawn, or watering the lupins, or cleaning out the back of the car with a Henry. Meanwhile, according to the notices affixed to a depressingly large number of trees and lampposts, at least one homeowner is desperately seeking a lost cat called Archie (quite small, black and white, neutered, micro-chipped, please check your sheds and garages).
I've never explored the Motspur Park area before, so it's a pleasure to discover Sir Joseph Hood Playing Fields - the only playing field round here that doesn't belong to a posh school. The main focus is a footballing expanse with buttercup corners, overlooked by three large (and presumably doomed) gasholders. One overkeen athlete in sing-along headphones is jogging all around the perimeter, stopping off at every item of outdoor gym equipment to do press-ups, sit-ups, whatever, before sweating home. And to the south is a fenced-off track between fields of horses, in one of which a grey pony is gambolling merrily, bringing joy to a small child and her mother walking by. Suburban living is under-rated.
The final fifteen minutes of the walk crosses the top left corner of the borough of Sutton, as you can tell because the bins have changed colour. Green Lane crosses and is then bordered by the Beverley Brook, a very minor stream at this point, running in wooden-edge channel round the local sports club. With barely 200 metres left I finally spot what might have been actual council housing, two symmetrical loops of pebbledash semis, although I might be wrong, in which case I have somehow managed to exit the capital without passing through any less-than-desirable residential area. When you consider how much of London is nasty, modern, dull, squashed, over-commercial or simply bland, the entire 208° radial route is somehow a triumph of pre-war survival.
My ultimate target is the fence below the railway embankment at the back of the car park of The Brook public house in Worcester Park. It's private land, so I get funny looks from the couple finishing off their lunchtime drinks at the tables alongside. And annoyingly I can only waggle my fingers into Surrey, which doesn't really count, so I have one last detour to make, beneath the railway bridge and back up The Avenue on the other side. The boundary runs diagonally across the street just past the Baptist church, where I'm chuffed to have confirmation of this invisible line from an official marker inclined at the edge of the pavement. I slump on Mrs I. M. Carr's memorial bench ("who in her later years enjoyed the rest and company provided by seats like this"), somewhat drained after a four and half hour walk, but achievement unlocked.
When Will Self walks out of London he carries on until he reaches open fields. I got none of that in Worcester Park, a peripheral anomaly that's still in Zone 4, with the built-up streets of Epsom and Ewell spread out beyond. But I can now say I've walked from the centre of London to the edge, and yes I am tempted to do it again. A small nudge in my starting position would have yielded very different endpoints - from the other end of the Strand the most direct route out is to Woodford, while from Oxford Circus the fastest exit is at Stirling Corner. Or I could instead put my phone away and stop trying to follow an artificially straight line on a map, and just walk. There's no better way to know and understand the city we live in.
"Perhaps that’s why I keep walking across and out of London; after all, native or incomer, lots of us feel disoriented and powerless in this mighty metropolis, but by continually measuring the city’s true extent, using my own body as the yardstick, I don’t just feel more at home in the brick canyons and concrete wastes — I own them. Try it for yourself. I truly feel that if all Londoners walked out of the city once a year, it would do more for our sense of civic pride than any number of mayoral or local governmental initiatives. What’s more, it wouldn’t cost the proverbial penny."
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