diamond geezer

 Wednesday, September 04, 2019

8 miles from central London

Let's visit the locations that lie eight miles north, east, south and west from the statue of Charles I in Trafalgar Square. One of the locations wasn't even publicly accessible when I blogged seven.

[1 mile], [2 miles], [3 miles], [4 miles], [5 miles], [6 miles], [7 miles], [map]

EIGHT MILES NORTH: Brycedale Crescent, N14
(junction with Arnos Grove)

Long before Arnos Grove was a tube station it was a manor house, originally called Arnoldes Grove, located half a mile uphill from where the Piccadilly line stops today. The house survives today as luxury apartments, but the estate was sold off in the 1920s for housing and to create Arnos Park. The estate's spine road was also called Arnos Grove, just to add one more into the mix, and boasts the grandest houses as it descends from Southgate Green. The uppermost tier is Minchenden Crescent, named after the even older country house nextdoor, but the eight mile point comes one rung lower at Brycedale Crescent. This is a Neighbourhood Watch Area. Kill Your Speed. Road Works Ahead.

These are big chunky semis, far enough out not to have been subdivided into flats, although one postwar pebbledash intruder has been inserted at the head of the street. Front gardens have space for horticulture as well as parking, including crazy-paved roses and longstanding conifers. One resident has a Range Rover designated SWA99A, another a Nissan called B5VVY. The rear alleyway on the odd-numbered side is firmly padlocked. Several gateposts are topped with lanterns, several bay windows augmented by dishes. But the feature which really makes this road stand out is a strip of mixed shrubbery along the edge of the pavement, some of it privet, some alive with purple blooms, some dripping with hips. One mini-hedge has a blue stripe painted up the side and another a red line daubed across the top, because Thames Water are preparing to dig up the road and someone's been overzealous with the coloured aerosols. They'd better not be planning on deforestation.

EIGHT MILES EAST: Royal Albert Dock, E16
(alongside London Design & Technology UTC)

This is the one I couldn't have visited three months ago because the disused northern edge of the Royal Albert Dock was firmly sealed off. As far as Newham's council offices yes, and as far as UEL's library block yes, but the half mile of waterfront inbetween absolutely not. The catalyst is the opening up of the first phase of a 35 acre Chinese-funded commercial neighbourhood alongside Beckton Park DLR. Architecturally it's stunningly bland - four long cuboids divided by a dark canyon called Mandarin Street, and watched over by circulating security. Office units are numbered 14-27, and as yet generally unfilled. Raised beds fill a pristine square beside empty recycling bins. If you want to see what London's turning into, come visit soon.

One day the eight mile spot will be covered with something symmetrically similar, but for now it's a patch of cleared dockside where a row of enormous warehouses once stood. A freshly opened path follows the water's edge, constrained between a wire fence and already-graffitied hoardings. The rail once followed by dockside cranes is still intact, whereas back at ABP it's been replaced by a strip of darker tiles. I had to dodge out of the way of a man with a megaphone on a bike, occasionally yelling encouragement at an eight rowing through the choppy waters. An Alitalia plane taxied up the runway opposite, reversed and revved its engines, sped past the windsock and roared into the sky.

At the end of the path is the big black box on yellow stilts which houses the London Design & Technology UTC. This opened three academic years ago, adjoined to the UEL campus, and isn't somewhere a non-student would have dallied before this new path opened. I was thankful I'd turned up before the start of term, while the ground floor canteen was empty, nobody was playing outdoor table football and the only human presence was a group of cleaners come to wash the windows. A dozen humanoid robots stared out from one ground floor laboratory alongside a glut of mechanical arms, because D&T's moved on a lot since you were at school. Term restarts today, eight miles out.

EIGHT MILES SOUTH: Mitcham Road Cemetery, CR0
(previously Croydon Cemetery)

I wondered how long it'd take this feature to hit a cemetery, and here we are, if not quite dead centre. Croydon Cemetery opened in 1897 as overspill for Queen's Road Cemetery, the other side of Thornton Heath. It's big and it's irregular, having been extended once in 1935 towards Mitcham Common and again in 1937 towards Mitcham Road. 8 Miles South is to be found within the northwestern strip, specifically in section U, just over the wall from Archbishop Lanfranc Academy. Look for the Jamaican flag, then nudge back a bit towards the central lime avenue. Other parts of the cemetery had mourners, shortcutting pedestrians, even learner drivers enjoying off-road practice, but nobody interrupted me here.

The graves hereabouts are a particularly motley assortment, mostly from 1935 but with infill from dates clustered around 1960 and 2014. Older headstones commemorate Alfreds, Louisas and Mildreds, the most recent Luigis, Franciscos and Murildas. Most graves are low-edged and weed-topped, a few sparkle with plastic blooms and it seems only Jane merits real gladioli. A deflated balloon hangs from Margaret's temporary marker. A tennis ball and an empty can of Scrumpy Jack rest in the trimmed grass. Most of the interred had a good innings, notably Major Dorothy Bristow who hit 93, but Skye barely reached 15 and Our Baby Eileen Patricia just 2½. Undoubtedly the saddest tale is that of Cicely Boswell who lost her husband in an accident in May 1939, then her 18 year-old son in an accidental drowning on Easter Day 1949, while she herself lived on until 1998. Here they all lie, the remembered and the forgotten.

EIGHT MILES WEST: Waldemar Avenue, W13
(at the corner of Lyncroft Gardens)

And finally to West Ealing, a stone's throw from Walpole Park, amid a web of bucolic Edwardian avenues. This is prime middle class territory, mixing palm-fronted properties, redbrick villas and 4-bed semis with the twiddliest of external features. An old garage has been left to fall apart behind a broken fence. Gnarled roots erupt repeatedly from the pavement. LED bulbs droop from original fluted lampposts. Number 10 has thrown several chunks of their back garden into a set of skips. The inaugural Ealing Art Trail takes place next weekend, please take a brochure. It's easily the least interesting of my eight mile quartet, but simultaneously the nicest place to live.

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