diamond geezer

 Sunday, December 22, 2019

Stables Way SE11

I knew nothing about Stables Way before I turned up, only that it had a nativity-related name and was in Kennington. I failed to spot it on my first walkabout, striding straight past because its street sign wasn't obvious, and when I did finally head through I was deeply unimpressed. The adjacent streets were gorgeous, Cardigan Street especially so, with its neo-Regency terraced cottages and white ironwork porches. But Stables Way was just a dozen unimpressive flats, a row of garages and the rear of an office block, with intermittent pavement, and I thought I'd drawn the short straw. Incorrect. [1895 map] [2019 map]

One end of Stables Way is more alleyway than street, and gets used for parking motorbikes and somebody's vintage vehicle. The only street signs are etched in slate, rather than properly municipal. On the bend a jarring office development intrudes, with a clear view of desks and clutter I guess nobody normally walks past. The flats on the western side overhang across three storeys but are otherwise undistinguished, flanked by bin stores, bollards and warnings about flytipping. I know there are 13 flats because I counted the garages opposite, each ungraffitied and painted in uniformly tedious beige. Behind them is the backside of a church, which'll be St Anselm's, and the street ends with a skip in a flooded parking bay.

I wasn't sure how I'd get past two paragraphs. But then I found an unexpected plaque on the front of the office block, and blimey, this site is anything but dull.

In 1337 Edward III granted the manor of Kennington to his son, the Black Prince, who set about building a royal palace here. Its main features were a Great Hall and a Prince's Chamber, the former supported on a stone-vaulted undercroft, the latter 30 yards long and three storeys high. Linking the two was an enclosed staircase with garderobe facilities, and close by a kitchen, larder, bakehouse and stables. Richard II spent much of his childhood here, and as king used Kennington Palace as a convenient suburban bolthole. It was only demolished, in its entirety, when Henry VIII cannibalised its stone for the construction of Whitehall Palace. But the triangle of land bounded by Kennington Lane, Cardigan Street and Sancroft Street remains under the control of the Duchy of Cornwall to this day, and Stables Way runs right across the middle.

A great deal of archaeology was carried out on site in 1965, after which Stables Way was built on top. The name of the street suggests which part of the palace site they think this is, although having seen a map I reckon the middle of the row of flats clips one corner of the great hall. Pevsner liked the architecture, describing the flats as "yellow brick, blending well with the older cottages". The authors of Lambeth's Kennington Conservation Area statement are less enthralled, describing them as "of particularly utilitarian appearance", while Stables Way itself is "a particularly degraded and unwelcoming environment." I wonder what the Prince of Wales thinks, given that Stables Way SE11 is officially his.

Manger Road N7

Here's another tale of unexpected genesis, although again there's a slight clue in the street name. We're not far north of King's Cross, between York Way and Caledonian Road, where the East Coast mainline emerges from its first tunnel. It was here in 1852 that the City of London Corporation bought up 75 acres of land to replace its cattle market at Smithfield. Architect James Bunstone Bunning designed a state of the art facility with pens to accommodate 7000 cattle and 35000 sheep, its vitrified brick surfaces easily sluiced down, and in the centre erected a seven storey clocktower. Trade soon diversified into fresh food, clothes, hardware, etc - reputedly "everything" - and the resulting livestock/flea market hybrid became one of the most famous/largest/busiest markets in the world. [1897 map] [1953 map] [2019 map]

In 1939 the outbreak of war brought trading to a sudden close, and the market alas never reopened afterwards. The City of London and Islington Council argued for years over what to do with the mothballed site, with the City wanting to use it for storage and councillors for social housing, and only in 1964 did the residential option win out. Closest to the tower the Market Estate was built, its interconnected monolithic blocks entirely replaced in 2010 by something more lowrise and liveable. Manger Road lies slightly to the east, in an area formerly covered by abattoirs, so has only been redeveloped once. It's amazing what you can turn an area of slaughterhouses into.

Manger Road is the spine road of the Shearling Way Estate, a deliberately irregular development of 1970s flats and angled terraces. It's connected to Ewe Close, Fleece Walk and Yoke Close, an unavowedly sheepish theme having been adopted throughout. One of its pavements is repeatedly bollarded, it being more important to stop people parking than being able to walk down it. The road surface is herringbone-paved. Kerbs slope. Minor patches of grass are generally walled off, with dogs banned but grazing sheep not specifically referenced. It's all oddly retro, and by no means typical Islington.

Should you manage to weave your way up the right cul-de-sac branch, past a resolutely locked basketball court, an alleyway leads to Caledonian Road proper, the tube station and escape. Alternatively there's always the park to enjoy, laid out on the footprint of the southern half of the market. Its heritage gates are splendidly illustrated, and its new cafe will reopen in the new year assuming they can find some staff (please apply with CV). Or there's the clocktower to climb, freshly restored, if you can stomach a 220-step vertiginous ascent to the open platform. Don't all flock.

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