diamond geezer

 Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Q East Ham
The borough now known as Newham was formerly two old boroughs, namely West Ham and East Ham. Prior to that it was just Ham, when this was mostly Thamesside marsh, but docks and trade and industrialisation made the area one of the most densely populated in London. So densely populated that the Herbert Commission initially planned to leave the pair as separate boroughs, but instead they were combined and the historic delineation was lost. I've chosen to visit a site that's fractionally on the East Ham side, on the site of Green Street House, a former residence of Anne Boleyn. For over a century it was the home of a football club named after the wrong half of the borough, but that's been vacant since they fled last summer and a very different future is planned. I think a photo essay is in order.

Upton Park after West Ham

No football match has been played at Upton Park since last May, but the platforms at the tube station still indicate which way non-existent fans should head to reach the non-existent ground. All the signage up in the ticket hall has been removed, however, because that wasn't imprinted on permanent vinyl. Sorry, I shouldn't be mentioning the tube station at all, it's on the wrong side of the borough dividing line, and thus lies in West Ham, not East.

Green Street used to be a hive of activity on match days, with burger vans and chippies lined up along the roadside and pubs like the Queens by the market heaving with fans. There are no match days any more, and Ken's is one of the only cafes to remain, still serving fry-ups and sarnies any traditional fan would recognise.

This is what the front of the ground looks like ten months on, still recognisable with its twin turrets and a claret stripe above the main entrance, but barriered off (except to the demolition squad) and with all the lettering around the uppermost tier removed. The famous iron gates have been removed too, and now reside inside the new West Ham Store at the Olympic Stadium - one of not many chunks of historical infrastructure to have made the journey from E13 to E20.

The families who placed permanent tributes within the Memorial Garden by the entrance gates probably never thought the football team would scoot off and abandon them. It's OK, the site's developers have protected the remembrance zone and will allow access during working hours if you ask. But this dense patch of plaques, pots, tubs, shirts and scattered ashes looks increasingly anomalous as the months go by.

Tucked up at the dead end of Castle Street, the West Ham Supporters Club lingers on. Just because the club's recently scarpered doesn't mean the fans have gone too. I don't think they still serve lunches every weekday in their fully licensed restaurant, with Carling on tap, as a fading sign on the rear suggests. But redevelopment plans appear to show that this redbrick facility will survive, and if enough fans buy flats this might once again be their local.

This is the back of the Bobby Moore Stand, now with daylight streaming through and the terraces at the far end part-removed. These undistinguished garages and lock-ups serve a run of shops on the Barking Road, but again appear to be just outside the footprint of the redevelopment maelstrom so won't be indiscriminately razed. Equally this is not a view you'd want from luxury flats, so I bet the block they erect alongside contains most of the affordable housing.

Here's one of the shops round the other side, facing Barking Road, or at least the claret and blue board they plonk out at lunchtime to attract the discriminating fish and chip diner. A few doors down is The Who Shop, with Daleks and furry Tardis boots in the window, and a memorabilia treasure trove inside. But many of the other shops in the parade cater to more subcontinental tastes, now very much in the majority around here, and entirely out of sync with the crowds that once used to converge on match days.

This statue of West Ham's World Cup heroes was supposed to be moving to Stadium Island in the Olympic Park, but Newham councillors were less than happy with its removal from the community it celebrates, and tied West Ham's management in red tape. It might move if money is paid to improve the road junction and an alternative work of art takes its place, but don't count on Bobby Moore and mates shifting any time soon.

The magnificent pub on the opposite corner is The Boleyn, its interior of equally splendid heritage, and an unintended casualty of West Ham's decision to play their matches two miles west. This was once the premier drinking den before and after a game, but fans now frequent lesser pubs in Bow and Stratford instead, and certainly none that are Grade II listed. Don't worry, The Boleyn hasn't closed, and is still advertising event nights and entertainment, but best not imagine the hole in its finances caused by permanent lager migration.

It's only when you reach Priory Road, on the eastern side of the stadium, that the scale of the demolition already undertaken becomes clear. This is the Bobby Moore Stand, or what's left of it, as giant mechanical arms reach out to rip the seating from the terraces. If you look closely you can even see a shower of sparks at the bottom of the upper tier - this is history in the unmaking.

Here's a close-up on the seats, once carefully arrayed in claret and blue to spell out the O and R of MOORE, now damaged and flapping, or poised to tumble over the abyss, with random panels dumped haphazardly on top. In a couple of years this ruined flank will be reborn as part of Upton Gardens, 'an exciting new destination with an impressive sporting heritage'. There's nothing impressive here today.

The West Stand still stands, mostly untouched, so far as anyone walking along the street can tell. But the East Stand is entirely gone - there used to be a colonnade of blue supporting pillars where the lady is walking, and a series of turnstile gates in the claret wall beyond - and the Trevor Brooking Stand is 100% demolished too. At this rate there'll be very little left by the first anniversary of West Ham's departure, as 15 new buildings and 842 homes prepare to arise. Look, there's a picture on the hoarding.

And here's that same artist's impression enlarged so you can get some idea of what'll be replacing the Boleyn Ground. That wasn't exactly architecturally impressive and neither is this, a pretty much bog-standard set of brick cuboids in mid-2010s vernacular. West Ham are making their money from the 75% of 'unaffordable' homes, and a couple of thousand Londoners will find a welcome place to live in their new Barratt box. It's just that nobody else need ever visit, the area's cultural raison d'être torn away, and Upton Park merely a memory.

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