diamond geezer

 Thursday, November 30, 2017

Yesterday the Mayor launched the latest Draft London Plan. After consultation, if ratified, it will form the basis of long-term planning in all aspects of service provision from 2019 onwards, with a notional end date of 2041. It's a meaty 500-page document, available in one huge chunk or in several downloadable chapters, and proposes "a blueprint for future development and sustainable, inclusive growth". It also contains a number of maps, and we like maps, so here are half a dozen of them to give you a flavour.

This is The Key Diagram.

It shows the overall spatial vision, so is wildly complex and here quite small, which is why you can't read any of it. A more legible version can be found at the start of Chapter 2. It shows 47 Ongoing Opportunity Areas, from Heathrow in the west to Romford in the east. It shows key rail connections to the Wider South East, especially airports, and to Europe. But in particular it shows eight Growth Corridors, each aligned to a key rail route, where development may be increased. Both arms of Crossrail form such zones, ditto Crossrail 2 and the upgraded Thameslink network. The Bakerloo line extension gets its own corridor, notionally extended to Bromley, and another is the long-promoted Thames Estuary. The eighth corridor has been nicknamed the Trams Triangle and covers Croydon and Sutton, because it wouldn't do to miss South London out. The Key Diagram also gives prominence to the Green Belt, because there are still no plans to start building on that, but elsewhere transport + opportunity = growth.

This is a Town Centre map, specifically Future Potential Changes to Town Centre Network.

I blogged about Town Centres last week, so hopefully terms like International or Major centres make some sense. The Draft London Plan recognises that the importance of commercial hubs changes over time, and this is a map of the locations deemed to be on the up. Shepherd's Bush and Stratford may be upgraded to International centres during the timespan of the plan, on account of them having a Westfield, however ridiculous the idea of someone flying in to visit might sound. Brent Cross, Camden Town, Lewisham and Woolwich could be bumped up to Metropolitan centres, whilst Old Oak, Canada Water and Gallions Reach should earn the right to be Major. Meanwhile those two yellow circles by the river are potential new Retail Clusters in the Central Activities Zone, one in Vauxhall and the other at Battersea Power Station. You can find this map, and the full updated list of Town Centres, in Annex 1.

This is a map showing Proximity To Town Centres.

Each green blob shows areas within 800m walk of a town centre - essentially everywhere within half a mile of a decent set of shops. The blue circles show everywhere within similar walking distance of a station (according to the key blue means "800m distance to a London Underground Station", but that's clearly wrong as stations in Bromley, Kingston and Sutton are included). A pdf version of the map can be found in Chapter 4. Its key strategic importance is showing where in London it's easy to get by without a car, and thus to suggest locations primed for housing intensification. Almost all of central London is blobby, apart from a bit of Southwark where the Bakerloo line extension's going and the non-power-station bit of Battersea. Further out, nobody lives in Richmond Park, so that gaping hole isn't important. But significant swathes of residential Hillingdon, Havering and Bromley aren't so easily accessible, which could seriously dent the Mayor's aspiration of increasing the number of sustainable journeys by 2041.

This map shows the Mayor's 10 Year Housing Targets.

A list in Chapter 4 sets out a borough-by-borough target for Net Completion of new housing, totalling two-thirds of a million extra homes by 2029. Newham, Tower Hamlets and Greenwich have the highest targets, reflecting the importance of the Lower Lea Valley and the Thames corridor in previous versions of the London Plan. Barnet and Croydon have high totals because they already have the highest populations, and are closely followed by Ealing and Brent. Meanwhile certain other areas appear to be getting away with minimal house-building targets - three inner city boroughs because they're already particularly dense, but why excuse Richmond and Sutton (unless their Green Belt truly hems them in)?

Have you spotted on the map that two of the designated areas aren't actually London boroughs, but key opportunity zones overseen by their own planning bodies? One is the recently launched development corporation at Old Oak and Park Royal, nabbing land from Hammersmith & Fulham, Ealing and Brent, and the other is the London Legacy Development Corporation's domain around Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. These zones have particularly challenging targets for their size, but also the infrastructure and investment to cope with high-density transformation. Did you also spot the glaring error in the key, specifically the upper bound for the lowest category... a reminder that this is still very much a draft London Plan.

Here's something people always find fascinating, a map of Designated Strategic Views.

These are views which "make a significant contribution to the image and character of London at the strategic level", either from a distance or as part of a river prospect, and where particularly intrusive development can be restricted. The first six are London Panoramas, specifically from Alexandra Palace, Parliament Hill, Kenwood, Primrose Hill, Greenwich Park and Blackheath Point. The next three are Linear Views each with their own with Landmark Viewing Corridor, namely The Mall to Buckingham Palace, Westminster Pier to St Paul's Cathedral and King Henry VIII's Mound, Richmond to St Paul's Cathedral. Next come a dozen River Prospects, from Tower Bridge down to Lambeth Bridge, and finally five Townscape Views, including from the bridge over the Serpentine and from the tip of the Isle of Dogs to the Royal Naval College. You can learn more about protected views in Chapter 7, or read considerably more detailed guidance here (last updated in 2012).

And finally, just to show it's not all about development, a map of London's waterways.

Actually it's a combined map of London’s Waterways and Registered Parks and Gardens (which is a shame because the green bits get in the way, and although there is a separate waterways map in Chapter 9 this has blobs all over it so is less clear). What you can see here are 18 rivers and four manmade channels, the artificial quartet being the Grand Union Canal, Regents Canal, Lea Navigation and New River. For some reason the map also includes the lost river Westbourne winding down to Westminster, and the wilfully obscure River Wogebourne between Shooters Hill and Thamesmead. I like how the map shows up the complete lack of rivers across much of Sutton, Croydon and Bromley (for geological reasons), but in particular for its overview of a key landscape function most Londoners overlook. If you know which blue lines are the Pinn, the Ingrebourne and the Quaggy, award yourself three bonus points.

Other maps I enjoyed were Public Transport Access Levels in Chapter 4, Strategic Industrial Locations in Chapter 6, Listed Buildings, Scheduled Monuments and World Heritage Sites and the Outline Character Map of London in Chapter 7 and Broadband speed in chapter 9. But the Draft London Plan isn't really a report about maps, it's a proposal for our futures, from where the tallest buildings ought to go to how easy it is to find a public toilet. You'll be able to comment on the plan online from next week, and there are then three months to make your voice heard. If there's something you don't (or do) like, say so, else we'll all get to live with the consequences.

 Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Royal engagement media masterclass

Ever fancied a job in the modern news media? Then you'll need to know how best to enhance headline clickthrough when a member of the royal family announces their engagement. Learn from the experts...

The Evening Standard published all of these stories on their website on Monday.

» Meghan Markle and Prince Harry announce their engagement [buckle down, here we go...]
» 7 things you didn't know about Meghan Markle [straight in with an odd-numbered list]
» Meghan Markle's wedding dress: which designer will Prince Harry's fiancée choose? [spoiler - nobody knows]
» Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are engaged! Is this what their royal wedding will be like? [a perfect slice of mindless speculation]
» Meghan Markle's parents wish daughter and Prince Harry 'a lifetime of happiness' [of course they do]
» The best engagement rings to buy this winter [hey up, an excuse to flog jewellery]
» 4 weird royal wedding traditions Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will be expected to follow [we researched this on Wikipedia]
» Prince Harry and Meghan Markle engagement: World reacts with joy to royal wedding news [we've cut and pasted some tweets]
» Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to marry in Spring 2018 as royals say they are 'delighted' for US actress to join the family [mishmash summary of previous stories]
» Meghan Markle's new official title after marrying Prince Harry: what the Suits star will be called [more mindless speculation]
» Meghan Markle and Prince Harry engagement: Bookies odds on when the royal wedding will take place and where it will be held [a bit of Googling sorted this]
» Piers Morgan turns on the charm as he begs for invitation to 'friend' Meghan Markle's wedding to Prince Harry [we saw this on Twitter]
» Evening Standard comment: Congratulations to a very Modern Family [top toadying editorial]
» Meghan Markle engagement ring: what style did Prince Harry choose for his new fiancée? [the first of several ring stories]
» Inside Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's London home [there's always a property angle]
» Londoner's Diary: Wedding fever? It's just another dress and hat... [we dashed this off in minutes]
» Will we get a Bank Holiday for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's royal wedding? [spoiler - we know no more than you]
» The life of Meghan Markle: A closer look at Prince Harry's new fiancée [we prepared this one earlier]
» Prince Harry is engaged: take a look back through his early years [we prepared this one earlier too]
» Meghan Markle royal engagement: The most Prince Harry places for an engagement party in London [we trawled our diary archive for this]
» Jeremy Corbyn 'admires Prince Harry and Hezbollah' in BBC subtitles blunder [other news outlets are also news]
» Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's royal wedding: what happens next now the engagement announcement's out the way? [spoiler - we're just making this up]
» Prince Harry and Meghan Markle royal engagement is just the shot in the arm we all need [always assume readers are monarchists]
» Why now's a great time to buy near Harry and Meghan's palace home [always assume readers are very rich]
» Prince Harry's fiancé Meghan Markle earned this small British brand £20,000 overnight [always use Meghan's surname to maximise SEO]
» Meghan Markle's 5 best TV moments [our picture gallery is cobbled together off YouTube]
» Meghan Markle shows off her engagement ring with Prince Harry after couple announce royal wedding is to take place next Spring [finally something new has happened]
» Meghan Markle's engagement ring is a sparkling 3-stone masterpiece designed by Prince Harry [another excuse to flaunt a grainy close-up photo]
» Meghan Markle's London: Where the new royal loves to hang out [our highbrow gossip column has its uses]
» Meghan Markle's bridal-inspired coat crashes Canadian brand's website seconds after engagement announcement with Prince Harry [always upsell the fashion angle]
» BBC News presenter Simon McCoy amuses viewers with typically lacklustre Royal engagement news [finally, a story for republicans to click]
» When will the Prince Harry and Meghan Markle engagement interview air on TV? Time, channel and everything else you need to know [not actually "everything else you need to know"]
» No Bank Holiday planned for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding day [dammit, reality crashes the party]
» Prince Harry Meghan Markle engagement: The best places to propose in London [always label any cobbled-together list "The best..."]
» 'She said she was going out for milk': Meghan Markle's on-screen fiancé Patrick J Adams has hilarious response to Royal engagement [not actually hilarious, but make the claim anyway]
» Royals fans and tourists elated by news of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's engagement [all non-ecstatic vox pops were spiked]
» The best engagement gifts fit for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle [another opportunity to plug favoured brands]
» Meghan Markle and Prince Harry reveal he proposed during a 'typical night in' at their cottage at Kensington Palace [the word 'cottage' is used without irony]
» Prince Harry says Meghan Markle and Princess Diana 'would have been thick as thieves' in first engagement interview [first appearance of clickbait magnet Princess Di]
» Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's first TV interview in full after revealing engagement [don't mention the BBC got the exclusive]
» Prince Harry reveals how he designed Meghan Markle's engagement ring with stones from Botswana and Princess Diana's collection [gratuitous second appearance of aforementioned clickbait goddess]

The Evening Standard then published all of these stories on their website on Tuesday.

» Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's royal wedding: When, where and who's picking up the bill? [nobody actually knows yet]
» Barack Obama congratulates Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on royal wedding but Donald Trump remains silent [perhaps he's not interested]
» In full: Prince Harry's first interview with fiancée Meghan Markle after the couple announced their engagement [includes annoying auto-start video]
» Barack Obama likely to get invitation to Prince Harry's wedding to Meghan Markle... but Trump 'almost certain to face snub' [rehash of earlier story]
» Meghan Markle's half-sister shares joy over engagement to Prince Harry with moving personal message [entice readers with 'half-sister' teaser]
» EastEnders fans left baffled after show airs scene about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's engagement 9 hours after announcement [this is just several cut and pasted tweets]
» Meghan Markle and Prince Harry royal wedding news live: Latest updates on engagement, interview and big day next Spring [we just keep bashing this stuff out]
» Why Meghan Markle is likely to opt for a low-key, cool designer to create her wedding dress [spoiler - we know nothing]
» Inside Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's Botswana: the luxury tented camp where the loved-up pair stay [bet they'll be sold out for years]
» 'Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's wedding day should be Bank Holiday', MPs tell Theresa May [always pretend you're on the side of the proletariat]
» Buy Meghan Markle's engagement ring: 6 affordable three-stone alternatives [QVC run entire hours of this kind of thing]
» Meghan Markle and Prince Harry shown larking around in behind-the-scenes engagement interview footage [more video stills we grabbed off the iPlayer]
» Prince Harry and Meghan Markle wedding sparks hope of £100m spending bonanza [nobody you know will be gaining]
» Londoner's Diary: Meghan's new role means no time for politics [stating the obvious fills column inches]
» Pregnant Duchess of Cambridge 'thrilled' at brother-in-law Prince Harry's engagement to Meghan Markle [finally, the pregnant princess angle]
» Here's why the Queen might not attend Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding [technically she might be dead by May]
» Let Meghan mania begin — and that means the right 'big day' for this very modern bride [posh froth aimed at the Putney readership]
» 6 things you need to know if you want to date a royal [1) We'll be trawling your entire online history]
» Tom Bradby: For country, royals and Prince Harry, Meghan Markle is the perfect choice [it's bread and circuses, innit?]
» 'Matchmakers' Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid joke they 'set up' Prince Harry and Meghan Markle [note careful use of two sets of inverted commas]
» Meghan Markle's potential bridesmaids: who could grace her royal wedding to Prince Harry? [sigh, a line-up of young female royals]
» Pregnant Kate Middleton steps out in a new stylish ensemble one day after the royal engagement announcement [technically 'Woman wears dress']
» Meghan Markle's engagement ring: how big is it, how much does it cost and who helped Harry design it? [always rehash your most popular content]
» St George's Chapel is venue for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's royal wedding: Pair will marry in historic Windsor Castle landmark [damn, not a proper abbey]
» Where is St. George's Chapel? The history behind Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's royal wedding venue [see how SEO-friendly this wording is]
» Meghan Markle leaves one of her two rescue dogs behind in move to UK to marry Prince Harry [our newsroom whooped for joy on learning there was a canine angle]
» Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's first royal engagement to take place in Nottingham on Friday [note cunning double meaning of 'engagement']
» This is why Meghan Markle will need to be baptised before she marries Prince Harry [actually it's empty waffle, but please click anyway]
» Duchess of Cornwall Camilla on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle wedding: America's loss is our gain [every time royalty speaks, we post another story]
» Meghan Markle to give up charitable roles at the UN and World Vision Canada to start her royal life with a 'clean slate' [technically 'Successful woman abandons career', but we'd never write that]
» Theresa May dashes hopes of a royal wedding Bank Holiday despite calls from MPs [oh yes, our editor truly hates her]

Watch and learn, and you too could be ready to report on Prince George's engagement in 30 years time.

 Tuesday, November 28, 2017

4 Islington
Specifically that's the former Metropolitan borough, not the current borough (which also includes Finsbury, south of the City Road). It's also my last inner London borough, and my final club, as this year-long playing card project draws to a close. For today's post I'm taking a two mile walk along a main road I've somehow managed never to visit before, other than the footbally bit at the southern end. If Time Out can write about the unexpected pleasures of Hornsey Road, then so can I. [Islington's history] [Islington's streets]

Up the Hornsey Road

Hornsey Road runs north from Holloway to almost Crouch Hill, and has for many centuries. Two hundred years ago there were only three houses along its length, plus Elizabeth Duke's waterproofing factory which treated army clothing. Today it's considerably more built up, a gritty artery which rarely attains the cachet of its feeder streets. It'd give you a mild workout on a bike. Cyclist Jeremy Corbyn very sensibly lives near the bottom of the hilly bit.

Hornsey Road veers off the Holloway Road close to the tube station, at a junction hemmed in by bits of London Metropolitan University. A tiny newsagents somehow survives on an unredeveloped corner, but maybe not for long. The first stretch of pavement is wider than you'd expect it to be, for crowd-marshalling reasons. The owner of the first convenience shop has devoted a very high proportion of his shelf space to crisps and drinks, having correctly deduced that this is what most local bedsitters truly need. Bergkamp and Henry's red and white shirts blaze out from The Match Day shop when its shutters are down to remind fans that memorabilia is still available online.

What utterly dominates the southern end of Hornsey Road is Arsenal's decade-old football stadium, a silver bowl wrapped within a concrete podium. Children scramble over the cannons out front, while proud dads try to line their phones up properly so that the backdrop doesn't read ARSE. To either side of the shop, allegedly ideal for Christmas gifts, two colossal staircases funnel occasional hordes in and out of matches. Iconic manager Herbert Chapman has been commemorated with his own refreshment kiosk selling teas and coffees, paninis and "a range of deserts". Across the street a man with a pushchair bashes on the door of a very humble bedsit, screaming at his wife to let him back inside.

The footballing vibe fades the moment you pass through the dark arches beneath the railway. On the left is a very-Islington terrace, four-storeys tall, and on the right the Harvist Estate and four stark 1970s towers. Its somewhat space-age shopping parade is bookended by Wolkite, a "buzzing Ethiopian eatery", and a Dominos for the less adventurous eater. A road sign by the Chinese takeaway reminds drivers they're on the A103. At the next main junction is the Sobell Leisure Centre, opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1973, and about to launch its first Extreme Trampoline Park. More famously there's The Tollington Arms, a cavernous Gooner bolthole, which on non-matchdays attempts to whip up trade with Thai fusion and Sky Sports.

I deviated here to visit the parallel street where the Leader of the Opposition lives. Even if you don't know the number, his house is easy to spot. Everyone else in the street lives in terraced villas typical of the locale, but Jeremy and his neighbours live in a redeveloped gap filled by five flat-roofed 1960s townhouses. The central house has been spruced up with Cotswold tiles and sleek windows, and recently sold for almost a million, but Jezza lives nextdoor behind a picket fence and a screen of foliage. His house has net curtains in the windows, plus a few small ornaments and potted plants, but no Vote Labour poster as some of those elsewhere in the street still do.

Back on Hornsey Road, this is the busy section cut-through by the Seven Sisters Road one-way system. Time Out thought Kitchen @149 was brunch heaven, but overlooked the One Stop Dreadlock salon, as well as Reid's Stout and Watney's Ales picked out in gold lettering across The Eaglet. The road's most esteemed landmark lies ahead, the former Hornsey Baths, once the largest washhouse facility in the country but closed in 1991. It took several years before the building was rescued by the council as offices, flats and an arts centre, and today a neon lady dives repeatedly down the wall of the gatehouse as a symbol of regeneration.

The next bit of Hornsey Road's all modern, lined by stacked terrace flats and a hub for the emergency services. Here's that mirror shop which Time Out rates, and that guitar emporium, and what they mysteriously describe as a high-end tattooist. Tucked inbetween are more mundane businesses, like tailoring and minicabs, plus a string of takeaways proudly flying the Just Eat banner. A pub nobody wants to drink in any more has become offices. Another pub nobody wants to drink in any more has become a mosque. A factory which no longer makes anything has become a Private Gym and Wellbeing Centre. There are many hints that this is an area in slow transition.

Last year a tribe of yellow plastic men suddenly appeared around the junction with Grenville Road. They clung to lampposts, perched on walls and performed handstands on belisha beacons, and brought a smile to all those who passed. Each stickman had been created by an anonymous artist from polystyrene pipe cladding, chopped up and stuck together with humour and glue. Alas the elements and/or the local population have not been kind, and all I found was a lone survivor in the window of Deti's Deli Cafe, and a torso and a dangling leg hanging somewhat bereft halfway up a lamppost.

Beyond the railway is Hornsey Road's proper shopping parade, a broad retail canyon on a gentle bend. At one end is the Hornsey Cafe - I turned up a week too late to see Terry Pratchett's Good Omens being filmed outside. In the centre is W. Plumb, an art nouveau Edwardian butchers which only opens up for Open House. Still trading are all the dry cleaners, nail spas and betting shops a neighbourhood like this needs. And at the top end is The Shaftesbury Tavern, a restored Victorian boozer with, oh look, one last yellow man hanging by his foot in front of an etched window. This gastropub's also number 534 Hornsey Road, and the last building before the street morphs into Hornsey Rise.

As the steepest ascent begins the houses become briefly grand, before some rather more compact Islington council estates take control. Across the road is Elthorne Park, a former recreational backwater gifted a peace garden by the GLC and a caged footie pitch by Johan Cruyff. The last roses of the summer are dropping their petals beside the reflective pool, and a bunch of drunks may be raising a rumpus on the bench by the boxing club. The boundary between Islington and Haringey comes at the top of the hill, just past the BP Garage and a bunch of villas large enough to be converted into doctors' surgeries. Grab the bus back down for a brief but splendid view of Docklands from the upper deck, and the Tollington's only ten minutes away.

 Monday, November 27, 2017

I like this.

It's a simple diagrammatic map of London's boroughs, based on a template knocked up by datafolk at the Greater London Assembly.

It even has the river in the right place.

If you don't like the template, and you would have set the squares out differently, or used different three-letter codes, here's a special comments box for you. Your grumbles won't have any effect, and are ultimately pointless, but I know some of you like to get these things off your chest. comments:

The really clever bit is a special Excel spreadsheet which allows anyone to create a map using any data they like, with colours to match.

Here's a map I've created showing the estimated population of London's boroughs in 2017.

If you think the population information is quite interesting, here's a comments box for that. comments:

And here's a version I've drawn up with the borough names extra-big.

So let's have a puzzle.

Can you trace a path through all 33 boroughs, edge to edge, without visiting any of them twice?

I'm sure you can see clearly where you'd have to start and where you'd have to end.

I tackled the problem by copying the jpg to a Paint program and drawing a line on it.
You might prefer using this ticky-box version.
Without revealing too much, tell us how you get on. comments:

9am update: Before you get too engrossed, alas, I can tell you that it's not possible.

If you think you can prove it's impossible, here's a comments box for you. comments:

But it is possible to pass through 32 boroughs without a repeat.

Next question, which borough gets missed out?

For example, it is possible to pass through all the boroughs except Sutton.
See if you can manage that.

And I think there are three other boroughs you can skip, and still visit the other 32. Which three? comments:

Noon update: Finally, here's a slightly tweaked map.

I've used full borough names, rather than abbreviations, just for a change.

I've deleted the City of London, because that's not officially a London borough.

And I've nudged Sutton into the row above, because
a) it's not the southernmost borough in London
b) it makes for a better puzzle

Can you trace a path through all 32 boroughs, edge to edge, without visiting any of them twice?

Here's a ticky-box version, if that helps.
This time it is possible, starting (obviously) in Enfield.

But where do you end up? (there are five possible endpoints)

 Sunday, November 26, 2017

I need to make today's post sound interesting...

Where can you walk a disused railway to the 11th oldest church in England?

...or perhaps this will do it...

The inventor of what weapon is buried here, and what's his connection to The Sound Of Music?

...because if I'd said at the beginning that this was a post about Crawley, I fear you might have switched off.

The Worth Way runs from Three Bridges to East Grinstead in West Sussex, and follows a disused railway track. The line opened in 1855 and initially thrived, but subsequent connections rendered it commercially obsolete and it was closed in 1967. I'd best mention Dr Beeching, or else somebody will in the comments, because he actually lived in East Grinstead but killed off three of its four railway lines.

The trackbed is now bike-and-rambler-friendly, and runs for seven straight-ish miles with stations at both ends, making this a walk it's easy to tackle even in the winter. Here's a website, here's a leaflet, here's a map, here's a Wikpedia page, here's a blogpost and here's a video.

I started at the East Grinstead end so that the walk would end in Crawley, which may not be the optimal direction. The Worth Way starts in a car park, which used to be the station, and heads west in a deep cutting with commuter avenues to either side. A couple of bridges spanning high overhead make it clear you could only be walking along a former railway, and the screen of trees makes it hard to spot when open countryside is reached. Yes, it's a favourite dogwalking route, the number of hounds decreasing as the town slowly recedes.

After a long spell on a woody embankment the Worth Way meets Crawley Down, a village very much disconnected from the town of almost the same name. In the 70s the area around the former railway line was swallowed by housing, obliterating the trackbed, so walkers and cyclists now get to weave through grassy suburban avenues for half a mile instead. A tiny collection of shops has replaced the station, near what used to be the village's only pub but might never be again. And at the top of Old Station Close the footpath suddenly restarts, descending into cutting and out through Hundred Acres Wood.

The only other station on the line was at Rowfant, one of those peculiar halts built solely to appease the original landowner, hence serving almost no population except the manor house of the same name. The station building still stands, but walkers can only divert round the back because a road maintenance company now store machinery on the trackbed and in the former goods yard behind. Then it's on through more woods, dodging the occasional cyclist, and don't worry the Sound Of Music paragraph will be along soon.

At Turners Hill Road the original route disappears, again, because someone built a landfill site, so a diversion is required along the edge of Worthlodge Forest. Another barrier blocking the former railway is the M23, here crossed by a footbridge, and this motorway marks the edge of Crawley proper. A sidetrack finally returns travellers to the railway cutting, then onto an embankment between the new town neighbourhoods of Maidenbower and Pound Hill, ultimate destination Three Bridges station. But if you don't take that sidetrack, and double back into the Worth conservation area, you'll find an unexpected Saxon church.

St Nicholas' has been dated to the mid-10th century, and has a spacious cruciform footprint. It doesn't look its age inside, but that's because of an unfortunate incident in 1986 when workmen repairing the nave accidentally started a fire. The Victorian roof had to be completely replaced, new pews had to be installed, and the walls lengthily redecorated. But the underlying structure remains firm, with glorious stone arches to front and side, and the lofty swoop over the chancel is thought to be one of the largest Saxon arches in existence anywhere.

Look around to find Norman stained glass windows, plaster tombs and a medieval font, plus a Stuart gallery where the organ sits. But this is also very much a working church, its congregation greatly boosted when planners had the forethought to build a new town outside. The rector leads three Sunday morning services - one said, one massy, one messy - and would love to see some fresh blood in the choirstalls. A particularly nice idea is that the parish magazine is printed in handbag size and also enlarged to A4, for those with dodgier eyesight, as are the weekly pewsheets. A full colour history of the church, also in booklet form, is yours for a quid.

And to finally answer my question, that grave outside is the last resting place of Robert Whitehead, inventor of the self-propelled torpedo. In the 1850s he was working in what's now Croatia, on behalf of the Austrian Navy, and impressed everyone with his explosive 11-foot weapon. Without the Whitehead torpedo, early submarines would have had nothing to do. Robert left his fortune to his granddaughter Agathe, who ended up marrying naval officer Georg von Trapp, but she died of scarlet fever and left him rattling around a big house in Salzburg with seven children. 1965's highest-grossing film would never have been made were it not for the man buried by the west door of the 11th oldest church in England.

 Saturday, November 25, 2017

TfL published their new Business Plan yesterday. It features news of many big transport projects planned in the next five years, and their financial implications, but doesn't contain much news that's actually new. Please go out and enjoy your weekend.

For those of you still reading, here are ten things that are in it.
1) Contactless payment is now used for 43% of pay as you go journeys. We expect this figure to grow as more customers adopt mobile payment as it is progressively enhanced by the payment providers.
That's a heck of a high percentage for a method of payment which was only introduced a few years ago. TfL must be delighted, because that's 43% of passengers who aren't using Oyster, which means less processing costs for them to bear.
2) We have seen lower growth in demand for our services than previously forecast for this year, largely owing to economic factors affecting the whole of the UK, including the uncertainty of Brexit. Early indications are that the Mayor’s policy of keeping fares affordable has helped to dampen the effect of these negative economic factors.
Fewer passengers are using public transport in London, thanks to national political decisions, but the Mayor's fare freeze has retained some passengers who might otherwise have been lost. Basically, could have been worse. But figures elsewhere in the report suggest TfL's total income will be 4% lower this year than last year, so that's not good.
3) A significant proportion of our expected revenue growth will come from the opening of Crossrail. In particular, the final opening phases from 2019 will bring new passengers from outside London onto our services.
That's useful. Commuters from Maidenhead, Southall and Abbey Wood are about to start giving their fares to TfL rather than the existing rail operators.
4a) We need to reconfigure bus services to match changing patterns of demand in specific locations.
4b) We are reducing services in central/inner London, matching demand while still supporting excellent access and complementing wider schemes, such as the transformation of Oxford Street. Capacity in suburban areas is being improved, within funding constraints, particularly to support housing growth and associated travel.
A separate table reveals that TfL expect buses to cover only 456 million km in 2019/20, compared to 486 million km this financial year. That's a 6% cut in service volume in just two years. That's a lot fewer buses. Indeed in the last six months as many as 46 London bus routes have had their daytime frequency cut - that's around 10% of the total. And whilst TfL claim capacity in suburban areas is being improved, only one bus route has had its daytime frequency increased over the same period. It's all looking a bit one-sided at the moment.
5) Technology is allowing us to update our advertising estate, and boost commercial revenues. We will install more than 750 digital screens on the Tube and Crossrail, along with 120 cross-track projection screens. This will mean our advertisers can reach their target audience with even greater impact.
Oh joy.
6a) By 2041, 80% of journeys will be made by walking, cycling and public transport compared with around 65% today.
6b) The growth of the capital’s population – towards 10.5 million by 2041 – could put increasing strain on transport networks.
That's an interesting pair of statements (from separate pages of the document). London's population is currently 8.8 million, and is expected to be 20% higher by 2041. That suggests 20% more journeys by 2041... but TfL's target also requires 15% more journeys to be sustainable. Bashing the percentages, this would mean 47% more journeys made by walking, cycling and public transport than there are today. That's a hell of an increase. Even with planned capacity upgrades, and more people working from home, could our transport network cope?
7) Activities to reduce costs include consolidating our head office accommodation, vacating older buildings and co-locating staff to our new hub in Stratford, saving more than £0.1bn by 2022/23. This will also improve collaboration and enable smarter, more flexible working.
There we go. I was wondering last weekend when they were going to get round to mentioning that.
8a) From 2021, the £500m raised every year from Londoners paying Vehicle Excise Duty will be collected by central Government and only invested in roads outside the capital.
8b) The net operating costs of London’s roads and the cost of renewing these roads are effectively being cross subsidised from fare-paying public transport users. This is neither sustainable nor equitable.
London's drivers aren't paying for London's roads, London's public transport users are. That's either scaremongering or it's appalling. I fear it's appalling.
9) Our £550m Growth Fund will finance transport infrastructure schemes that lead to tens of thousands more homes and jobs, and unlock development and regeneration opportunities in some of London’s most important growth areas. Over the next five years, schemes include funding for new stations and road schemes; and larger projects such as the new Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf crossing and an extension of the tram network in Sutton.
As last year, and for reasons now fully confessed, the Metropolitan line extension doesn't get a mention anywhere in the document.

This one's intriguing. It looks like the cablecar's passenger numbers will be stable until 2022, and then suddenly double. But that's not what the data really says, that's an illusion caused by rounding to the nearest million. Last year the cablecar had 1,490,000 passengers, which is very very nearly one and a half million, but still rounds down to one. The previous year it was 1,540,000, which is only just over one and a half million, but rounds up to two. What TfL's projection says is that cablecar numbers are going to stay below 1.5 million for the next four years, and hopefully nudge a bit above in the fifth. This is not a transport connection that's going places.

If you do feel the need to comment on today's post, please start with the number 1)-10) of the bit you're talking about.

 Friday, November 24, 2017

The London Plan is the Mayor's top-level planning document for the Greater London area, a spatial strategy to guide development for the next 20 years, and regularly updated. Within the document is an official hierarchical list of 200 'town centres' outside the central zone, each classified according to role and function, to aid future decisions on what ought to be built where. Here's a map showing how erratically London's town centres are scattered.

I've been out to visit an example of each tier, from International Centre downwards, with a field study focus on the London borough of Hounslow.

1) INTERNATIONAL CENTRES are London’s globally renowned retail destinations with a wide range of high-order comparison and specialist shopping with excellent levels of public transport accessibility.
Total number: 2
Specifically: West End, Knightsbridge
n.b. It may be that Stratford and Shepherd's Bush join this list by 2036

Case study: Knightsbridge

They've heard of Knightsbridge overseas, and the weak pound entices even more to visit. A small cluster of high-end stores froths and bubbles to the south of Hyde Park, pivoted around Harvey Nicks at the top of Sloane Street. The big draw is obviously Harrods, once part of House of Fraser and now owned by sheikhs, which smothers an entire city block on the Brompton Road. Doormen in peaked caps welcome taxifuls of bounty hunters, beckoning them into an ornate warren of 330 departments selling luxuries with an appropriately elevated pricetag. To walk through its salon de parfum when you're clearly not part of the target audience is to experience an exquisite form of collective snubbery. Shops devoted to individual luxury brands nudge up on roads close by, from Rolex to Lacoste and from Gucci to Dior. Those thronging the pavements are immaculately turned out with sparkling teeth and tans, and only the finest outerwear, whether just flown in or dropping by from their Belgravia townhouse.

2) METROPOLITAN CENTRES typically contain at least 100,000 sq.m of retail, leisure and service floorspace with a significant proportion of high-order comparison goods relative to convenience goods. They have very good accessibility and significant employment, service and leisure functions, and generally serve wide catchments.
Total number: 13
Specifically: Bromley, Croydon, Ealing, Harrow, Hounslow, Ilford, Kingston, Romford, Shepherds Bush, Stratford, Sutton, Uxbridge, Wood Green
n.b. It may be that Brent Cross, Canary Wharf and Woolwich join this list by 2036

Case study: Hounslow

A former staging post on the Bath Road, this market town remains far enough from Westminster to exert its own pull on the surrounding suburbs. It's possible to buy pretty much anything here, either along the pedestrianised High Street or in the shopping mall plonked alongside. The halo of smaller shops on the periphery reflects the cosmopolitan nature of the borough's residents, showcasing exotic fruits and Eastern European imports. But edge in closer to the centre and here nationwide chains predominate, including Mothercare, Moss Bros and one of west London's half dozen Primarks. Hounslow's bustling enough to have chuggers, but not so exclusive that it can't boast two Greggs and a McDonalds. All the biggest names are in the Treaty Centre, where Debenhams retains a traditional department store stacked with Black Friday tickets, the library is being replaced by a Job Centre, and the food court caters for unadventurous diners. Meanwhile a colossal Asda, plus offices, now rises beyond a building site beneath the railway. No out-of-town alternative has yet extinguished Hounslow's hub of retail opportunity.

3) MAJOR CENTRES have a borough-wide catchment, and generally contain over 50,000 sq.m of retail, leisure and service floorspace with a relatively high proportion of comparison goods relative to convenience goods. They may also have significant employment, leisure, service and civic functions.
Total number: 34
Specifically: Angel, Barking, Bexleyheath, Brixton, Camden Town, Canary Wharf, Catford, Chiswick, Clapham Junction, Dalston, East Ham, Edgware, Eltham, Enfeld Town, Fulham, Hammersmith, Kensington High Street, Kilburn, King’s Road East, Lewisham, Nags Head, Orpington, Peckham, Putney, Queensway/Westbourne Grove, Richmond, Southall, Streatham, Tooting, Walthamstow, Wandsworth, Wembley, Wimbledon, Woolwich
n.b. It may be that Canada Water and Elephant & Castle/Walworth Road join this list by 2036

Case study: Chiswick

Chiswick's high street stretches for a full retail mile, lined by smart shops and numerous refreshment vendors. It serves the more upmarket end of Hounslow, beyond the pull of Hammersmith, its commercial offering inclusive of daytime and evening hours. Drop by for fired tiles, rare books or a futon, search for a bargain in one of the carefully curated charity shops, or delve into Poundland for confirmation that not everything in the neighbourhood is necessarily rosy. The council kindly permits a string of off-street parking spaces between the Hogarth statue and the police station to cater for those who wouldn't come if they couldn't drive. For food grab a table at a bistro-cum-brasserie, or something from the fruity stalls outside Le Pain Quotidien, or there's always bone broth from the organic cafe. At first glance the only supermarkets appear to be a Waitrose and an M&S Food Hall, but a whopping Sainsbury's is hidden out of sight behind the empty shell of Blockbuster Video Express, which will soon be flats.

4) DISTRICT CENTRES are distributed more widely than the Metropolitan and Major centres, providing convenience goods and services for more local communities and accessible by public transport, walking and cycling. Typically they contain 10,000–50,000 sq.m of retail, leisure and service floorspace.
Total number: 151
n.b. Bromley by Bow, Colliers Wood, Crossharbour, Hackbridge, North Greenwich and Tottenham Hale may join this list by 2036

Case study: Brentford

How the mighty have fallen. The former county town of Middlesex currently boasts nothing more than a minor high street, set against a backdrop of run-down industrial wharves at the mouth of the river Brent. The splendidly classical Magistrates Court has been turned into a cafe/bar/diner at the heart of a scrubbed up market square, surrounded by surely-1970s flats whose ground floor retail units have yet to escape the 20th century. Here are shops selling fibreglass and interior design goodies, but also kebabs and cigarettes, plus a home furnishings stalwart at Goddards Corner. I hunted for a bakery but only found a Greggs, thronged with residents hunting down a cheap pastry-based lunch. The south side of the street includes an original Victorian Nat West bank and the once smart frontage of County Parade, all of which are due to be swept away in a massive waterfront regeneration which is currently at the compulsory purchase stage. "New retail with a mix of leisure, entertainment and cultural uses" is on its way, which is the London Plan in action, and another triumph for anodyne homogeneity.

5) NEIGHBOURHOOD CENTRES typically serve a localised catchment often most accessible by walking and cycling and include local parades and small clusters of shops, mostly for convenience goods and other services. They may include a small supermarket, sub-post office, pharmacy, launderette and other useful local services.
Total number: hundreds

Case study: Heston

A medieval village swallowed up by encroaching suburbs, the heart of Heston is still identifiable around the war memorial and St Leonard's Church. Its retail offer is limited, but greater than originally anticipated when the curving shopping parade was opened between the wars. I only recognised two high street names - Ladbrokes and Paddy Power - maybe three if you'll accept Mace. Elsewhere the off licence doubles up as a Polish shop, the bakery specialises in eggless cakes, and the launderette is proud to be "Speed Queen equipped". At Favorite Chicken most of the seated clientele are wearing turbans, and the menu includes a special £1 poultry bap to cater for the after-school rush. Only a black-fronted florist raises the tone, its interior currently overflowing with silver baubles, with a sophisticated style neither of the two hairdressing salons can match. But so long as Hounslow town centre remains just that bit too far away to be convenient, Heston's local offering will always be the first everyday port of call.

 Thursday, November 23, 2017

Here's a question for you about the Hopper bus fare.
The Hopper allows you to make a second bus journey for free up to X minutes after the first.

What number is X?
If you said 60 minutes, you'd be wrong.

TfL are slightly kinder than that, and actually allow 70 minutes for a free transfer.

I know, I was surprised too.

Here's what they said in a recent Freedom of Information request.
The system is set up to allow a customer 70 minutes to be given the free second bus journey, so the grace period is 10 minutes.
The extra 10 minutes is to make up for the fact that life doesn't always run smoothly. Your bus might run late, the bus you're connecting onto might run late, the traffic might be bad, your watch might be slow, all sorts of reasons. So, just to be on the safe side, TfL's software permits an interval of 70 minutes rather than an hour for that free second journey. That's very kind of them.

Previously I assumed that if you caught a bus at 10:30, you had to catch the second by 11:30 to get it for free. But no, it turns out you'll still get it free all the way up to 11:40.

Thanks to clever wording, what it says on the TfL website is technically true.
Make a journey using pay as you go on a bus or tram, and you can make a second bus or tram journey for free within one hour of touching in on the first bus or tram.
But in fact you have 70 minutes, thanks to TfL's grace period, which might be an unexpected treat... or might even stop you running madly down the street to catch your next bus.

Even better, when the Hopper is extended next year to cover unlimited changes, the 'free hour' should still stretch to 70 minutes. As many buses as you like, in 17% more time than you thought you had, sounds like an absolute bargain.

Here's a question for you about off-peak travel.
When touching in on a weekday morning, at what time do TfL start charging off-peak fares?
If you said 09:30, you'd be wrong.

TfL are slightly kinder than that, allowing a three minute grace period, which means off-peak fares are actually charged from 09:27.

The extra three minutes is to make up for the fact that life doesn't always run smoothly. Your watch might be fast, meaning you thought it was after half past nine when it wasn't, or the off-peak train you need to catch might be scheduled to leave so soon after nine thirty that you couldn't possibly dash down to the platform in time.

So, to avoid passengers claiming they've been over-charged, TfL's software kicks off the off-peak period three minutes early. That's very kind of them.

Only last week you could have found me hanging around outside Lewisham station waiting for 09:31, just to be on the safe side, in order to save myself £1.30. It turns out I needn't have been so cautious!

So, another question for you.
When touching in on a weekday afternoon, at what time do TfL start charging peak fares?
If you said 16:00, you'd be wrong.

And if you thought, aha, there's a three minute grace period, so it must be 16:03, you'd also be wrong.

TfL are slightly kinder than that, allowing a five minute grace period, which means peak fares are actually charged from 16:05.

The extra five minutes is to make up for the fact that life doesn't always run smoothly. Your watch might be slow, meaning you thought it was before four o'clock when it wasn't, or the bus you'd caught on the way to the station might have got stuck in traffic. So, to avoid passengers claiming they've been over-charged, TfL's software kicks off the peak period five minutes late. That's extremely kind of them.

Here's what they said in a recent Freedom of Information request.
AM peak starts at 06.35.
Off-peak starts at 09.27.
PM peak starts at 16.05.
Off-peak starts at 18.57.

Please note that the grace times quoted above apply for both Oyster and Contactless. The quoted times are as set at the particular validation devices and these may sometimes vary from true time; the grace times are therefore not guaranteed to apply from the perception of the user.
So TfL can't 100% guarantee these wider intervals, because devices aren't always synchronised properly, but by adding these grace periods they can ensure that passengers are never overcharged.

I note that the TfL website still says this.
Peak fares apply Monday to Friday (not on public holidays) between 06:30 and 09:30, and between 16:00 and 19:00.
But in fact peak fares are only charged if you touch in between 06:35 and 09:27, or between 16:05 and 18:57. Two late starts and two early finishes mean peak periods are actually 16 minutes a day shorter than TfL told us they were. Who knew?

And if this information prevents you from hanging around outside a station until half past nine in the morning when you could have touched in at 09:27, the time saved could add up to 12 hours a year.

I wonder how much revenue TfL loses as a result of this pragmatic and magnanimous decision. Perhaps someone could put in a Freedom of information request and find out.

 Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Winter Wonderland is celebrating its 10th birthday in Hyde Park. Hordes will fill its festive enclosure at weekends and after dark until New Year's Day. But what's it like on a weekday morning in November? Not as quiet as you might expect...

I wasn't expecting queues, not on an autumnal weekday morning. But when I turned up at the gate closest to Hyde Park Corner I had to wait in line for six minutes while the jobsworths ahead checked over those hoping to get inside. Anyone with a bag had it scrutinised, not just for anything bomb-sized but a proper poke/squeeze/empty in the search for liquid contraband. Bottles of half-drunk water were located and chucked unceremoniously into a bin. Men without bags were asked to stand with their arms outstretched for a pat down, at least in the line I ended up in, and I felt more humiliated than festive by the end of it. I walked round later and observed that procedures at the other two entrance gates were less draconian - bags checked, but everyone else waved straight through without the need for prodding. The inconsistency of approach was irritating, and suggested that the prime purpose of the 'security' perimeter is to ensure quarantine for the drinks-peddlers inside.

Whoa it's big! An attraction which started out as a few stalls along a path has mushroomed into a full-blown entertainment corral covering 350 acres, and walking round the perimeter took absolutely ages. I was quite convinced at one point I must be nearly back to where I started but I was barely halfway, as a quick check of the map confirmed. Do pick up a map from one of the kiosks, they're free, and it's only with one that I managed to gain any sense of how the sprawl of paths and attractions was laid out. But it's pretty much the same layout as last year, if that helps.

Who are the people who come to Winter Wonderland on a Tuesday morning in November? Students, rather than schoolkids. Young-ish tourists. Retired couples. Groups of mates with the day off work. Mums with pre-schoolers in strollers. Pickpockets. And yes, redundant bloggers.

What I genuinely wasn't expecting is that, even on a Tuesday morning in November, the whole place is open. Every burrito stall, every hook-a-duck, every MDF chalet serving themed drinks, the lot. Even when there was no hope of sufficient punters turning up, bratwurst still sizzled on oversized grills, innumerable lights flashed on silent rides and staff behind makeshift counters waited to pull unwanted pints. The whole complex is vastly over-resourced during daylight hours, simply so that it's primed for an evening bombardment. And this is why a weekday daytime is the best time to come, assuming that you're coming to have a go at things, and not simply for the social experience.

Winter Wonderland is stacked high with three kinds of things - experiences, refreshment and merchandise. There's a heck of a lot of each. But essentially you're walking round a giant fairground, which I suspect is why the whole place works. Travelling fairs visit most other big towns and cities during the rest of the year, but central London sees nothing comparable until WW turns up for a six week blowout before Christmas. Where else, and when else are you going to get your house of mirrors, ghost train and rollercoaster fix? No wonder people come.

Bring cash, assuming you intend to spend money (and there's not much to do here if you don't). This isn't an especially card- or contactless-friendly environment, being in the middle of a Royal Park, so assume it's still 2007 and stock up on coins and notes appropriately. Cash machines are provided, but they all charge £2.95 per transaction, and you could nearly buy a tray of chips for that.

Ah, the smell of the blazing brazier, how evocative is that? Just don't huddle up with your mulled wine too close for too long, else you'll get back to the tube smelling like a bonfire.

The paid-for attractions are the real moneyspinners for the organisers. Turn up on spec at the weekend and they'll likely be booked out, which forces people to pre-purchase online and fork out at least £3 extra for the privilege. But turn up on a weekday daytime in November and you can walk onto the observation wheel, have the ice rink almost to yourself, and dine alone in the vast Bavarian bierkeller. The amazing Munich Looping in the centre of the site - the world's largest transportable rollercoaster - only runs once it's gathered enough squealing punters, which was yesterday was only three or four times an hour. And over at Bar Hutte they're standing outside almost begging groups to come inside to try the karaoke chalets, at least before the office crews turn up after work for a blast.

Food's not cheap, but neither is it ridiculously expensive, at least as fairground fare goes. Eight quid's a lot for a cheesy hotdog, but not unheard of in the world of event hospitality, while most pubs in Soho also charge a fiver a pint. It all adds up though, especially if there's a lot of you and you end up on the beer plus associated snacks. The food choice is, if anything, too wide. Tucked in amongst the more generic meatshacks and sweet vendors are genuine streetfood vans, vegetarian burgers, halal options and fish and chips, for starters, so it could take some time to decide which one 'main meal' option is going to be your choice. You couldn't possibly eat even a fraction of what's on offer, although when it comes to churros, waffles, iced doughnuts, giant pretzels, mini pancakes and Haribo, some attendees are clearly up for giving it a good go.

The most astonishing food offer I found was on a faded menu pinned up outside a VIP restaurant at the back of the Bavarian Village. Sausage and cheese starter for four, £44. Wild goulash ragout, £38. Steak, £65, or £155 to maybe share. Red berry compote, £12. Glass of rosé, £250. Bottle of Dom Perignon, £1500. I never expected to find the Knightsbridge audience living it up in wintry Hyde Park, or maybe this is where bankers come after work before getting blokey on the coasters.

It's amazing how many ways there are to dress up a bar. One looks like a windmill, one looks like a Viking hideaway, one looks like a circus tent, one is topped with a statuesque pyramid, two rotate like a carousel, and one is even an attempted recreation of an East End boozer. It's almost a licensed Las Vegas in plywood. And it works. The rotund blokes plonk down outside Santa's pub, the Netflix couples hunker down in the Viking tent, and the late teens stop at the one with the loudest music. Every gimmick to make you swap your cash for alcohol is being tried.

You do not need a floral coinbag, a Santa hat with antlers or a glittery candelabra, but these are all amongst the bling available in the Angels Christmas Market. Many's the December 25th that'll feature some unwanted gift purchased here in a burst of festive fervour.

Do come if you like Instagramming misplaced apostrophes, you'll be spoilt for choice.

I watched one man win a giant Mickey Mouse on a ball-chucking stall by perfectly slamdunking five footballs past the shifting ice hockey goalies. But as the toy in a bag was hooked down, and handed over to his girlfriend, the lad on the stall picked up a small poster which read "Only 1 Jumbo per person" and held it up silently to prevent him from winning again.

Rather than diving in and embracing the experience I merely walked round agog, without spending a penny. No stallholders bothered me because I was a lone bloke, and Winter Wonderland is plainly for pairs, families and groups. But remember that having collective fun at Christmas can be totally unnecessarily wallet-emptying, if you allow it to be. And if you do fancy a trip to Winter Wonderland, and prefer activity to queueing, maybe try coming during the day, rather than evenings or weekends.

 Tuesday, November 21, 2017

J Barking/Dagenham
In 1965 the Municipal Borough of Barking and the Municipal Borough of Dagenham were combined to form the London borough of Barking. Residents of Dagenham were quite put out by their nominal omission, and cheered when the borough was renamed Barking and Dagenham in 1980. I've blogged about the place extensively before, including an entire week of jamjar posts in 2012, but for this report I've chosen to go back as a tourist. Is it possible to have a grand day out in Barking and Dagenham? Absolutely.

Visit Barking and Dagenham

a) Eastbury Manor House

Only one-third of London boroughs can boast a National Trust property, and Barking and Dagenham is one of the lucky few. You could drive around all day and never see it, though, unless you happened to be looking down the right sidestreet off Ripple Road and spotted the twisty chimneys. Clement Sisley's manor house on the Thames marshes is a wholly unexpected survivor from Tudor times, lingering on as a farmstead, then swallowed up four centuries later within a large housing estate. A square ring of tarmac was drawn around the house and its walled garden, and today prewar semis and parked cars hem it in on every side.

Always take up the offer of a tour if one's on offer, but the guide hadn't turned up on the day I visited, so I was left to my own devices to look around. Eastbury Manor House has three floors to explore, with the more interesting historical interpretations on the upper level, and wood panelled rooms ideal for weddings, functions and meetings downstairs. Only one of the original fireplaces remains, plus a couple of incomplete frescos, but you do get a sense of Eastbury's charm and function elsewhere, particularly in the creakier eaves. The most extraordinary feature is probably the Turret Stairs, a helix of wooden slats which climb to a small landing at almost chimney level, opening up panoramic views as far as Barking and Docklands.

The building's great, but the full experience is all down to its staff. Several were out keeping the garden in pristine condition, raking and trimming, while others readied themselves for service in the cafe. This isn't National Trust-run but is certainly up to scratch, with apple crumble crunch and squidgy dolloped cheesecake to enjoy along with a pot of tea, if not the local clientele to bring the place to life. Admission to Eastbury Manor House costs a mere £4, which is a total bargain, and only £3 if you can prove you're a B&D resident. Be aware that the house is only open on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays at present, and closes from Christmas to Easter, but several craftsy classes and events take place throughout the year. For a full review of a proper visit to this hidden gem, check out my five-paragrapher from 2012.

b) Valence House

Valence House is named after a 13th century granddaughter of King John, although the current manor house dates back no further than the 1400s. It has the look of a rambling farmhouse, with a ginkgo tree currently shedding gorgeous leaves above an old coal tax post planted outside. One gallery on the ground floor tells the story of the house, but the majority of the interior is given over to the history of the borough, which is unexpectedly fantastically diverse. One highlight is the Dagenham Idol, a naked humanoid in Scots pine (and one of the oldest wooden statues ever to be unearthed), but I was also impressed by chunks of stonework from the attraction I'd be visiting next.

How many of the borough's current residents realise that Barking was once one of England's most important fishing ports, while Dagenham was barely a medieval village? The Becontree Estate turned everything around, the LCC's largest overspill project, and an armchair tableau depicts how the first residents of the nearby avenues would have lived. Ford workers get their space, as do the panoply of famous faces who grew up in the borough, and there's even a cabinet revealing the secrets of the Dagenham Girl Pipers. Watch some old Co-Op films, and see the giant tusks which gave their name to, and once stood over, Whalebone Lane. There always seems to be another room of stuff to explore, and another local nugget to uncover.

To find the cafe and the toilets, cross the courtyard and enter the modern lowrise building where the borough's Archives and Local Studies Centre is also housed. This cafe's a lot less cake trolley and a bit more soup and panini, but pitched better towards what most nearby residents actually want. It's also open five days a week (avoid Sundays and Mondays), and as free to enter as the museum, in case you're ever out this way. If your tourism limit is Zone 1 and maybe Greenwich and Richmond, open your eyes to the suburbs.

c) Barking Abbey

Barking, yes Barking, used to boast an abbey to compare to the finest in the land. It was founded in 666AD, razed by the Vikings and rebuilt as a nunnery. Once William the Conqueror gave it a royal charter its pre-eminence was assured - to be abbess at Barking was to hold one of the most important female roles in the country. Alas all of the abbey's land was lost at the Dissolution, and almost all of the buildings save the Curfew Tower and the parish church alongside, with the stone carted off to build palaces at Greenwich and Dartford.

The remains of the abbey were excavated around 100 years ago, and a series of paths laid out around a few surviving snaking walls. It's now a Scheduled Ancient Monument, a grassy dip that's locked at night, but during the day acts as a public park for skateboarding, spliffing or downing several cans of alcohol, depending. Find a bench and reflect on the religious significance of this unlikely spot by the ring road, then maybe afterwards pop down to the Town Quay on the River Roding and try to imagine the fishing fleet in port. Outer London is full of surprises.

d) Borough of Culture - Back The Bid

This summer Sadiq Khan launched a competition to name a London Borough of Culture, one for 2019 and one for 2020. Most councils are trying to jump on the bandwagon, and Barking and Dagenham are right up there with them. What's more I can tell you all about their plans, because I turned up in the Town Square just as their bid was being launched. A group of local dignitaries had gathered on the raised podium, two stiltwalkers were waving coloured flags outside the library, several council staff had turned up to swell the numbers, and a few classes of schoolchildren had been invited along to make sure the gathering was of a decent size.

The leader of the council, whose name is Darren, was acting as MC and winding up the crowd, complete with a strand of tinsel wrapped around his neck. He introduced the local MP, that's Margaret Hodge, who gave a stirring speech confirming that B&D is definitely the best borough in London. Darren then cajoled the crowd to form a conga and to dance around the square, paying special attention to staying within the range of the camera on the balcony. The DJ in the tent played Black Lace until there was enough footage for a pinned tweet on social media, and suddenly the reason for inviting all those excitable children had become clear.

There was a serious bit, where Dazzer outlined all the wonderful things that a successful bid could mean for the borough, and then he rounded off by urging everyone to raise the banners they'd made and face the camera again. Not everyone was looking the right way when the glitter cannon exploded, so that image hasn't appeared quite so frequently on Twitter as the ubiquitous #CongaForCulture. The launch event was rounded off by some dancing, a prolonged period of gyration and bodypopping by some lads in trackies, which wouldn't have been what Bexley would have done, but the young audience lapped it up. Meanwhile Darren rushed around pressing flesh, smiling at journalists and grinning through a branded cardboard frame, before disappearing up the Town Hall steps before the dancers had finished.

I see Barking and Dagenham very much as the Hull of the competition, the wild card outlier, and a borough that very much believes it needs to win. They'd probably run a very different Year of Culture to most of the other applicants, more community based, more inclusive, and wholly unashamed to organise a conga if that's what its residents enjoy. We'll find out in February whether they've been successful, and in 2019 the rest of London may finally come and experience the cultural delights of the borough. In the meantime a National Trust house, a medieval manor and a 7th century abbey should be enough to be getting on with.

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jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

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my special London features
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ten of my favourite posts
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quality & risk
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ten sets of lovely photos
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war of the worlds
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