diamond geezer

 Monday, September 30, 2019

Seven Kings Water
Hainault → Fairlop → Little Heath → Seven Kings (5 miles)
[Seven Kings Water → Loxford Water → Roding → Thames]

Here's a London river you'd hardly notice even if you knew where it was. The Seven Kings Water drains much of northeast Redbridge, including Hainault Forest Country Park, the arable wastes of Little Heath and somewhere called Happy Valley, not to mention Seven Kings itself. It doesn't make for a great walk, but that didn't stop me trying. [Google map] [1898 OS map]

The Seven Kings Water rises just outside London, by barely the length of a football pitch, on the northern slopes of Hainault Forest Country Park. The village of Chigwell Row runs along the ridgetop, and below that a pool called the Sheep Pond, and partway down the wooded hillside the Essex/Redbridge boundary. I found only dry trenches in the trees, even after all this rain we've been having, so I'm calling the source as the boating lake instead. This was added in the early 20th century after the London County Council bought up Fox Burrows Farm and some surrounding forest for recreational purposes. I was pleased to discover the lake ringed with Michaelmas daisies, given what the date was yesterday, but the end of September is also the cue for Jeff's rowing boats to pack up for the winter.

Across the busy Romford Road, now in Hainault proper, the Seven Kings Water still follows the same angled course as it did when it was a brook across a field. On one side is the Hainault Business Park, a warehouse cluster so forward-looking that it has its own app, and so paranoid that it flashes your car's registration number up on an electronic display as you enter. I was particularly excited to discover DG Solutions, purveyors of Amazing Double Glazing, although I'm unlikely ever to require their conservatory expertise. The other side of Peregrine Road is postwar housing, which anywhere else would be bogstandard, but because this is almost-Essex a surprising number of Land Rovers are parked outside. High green railings keep residents out of the riverside strip, but haven't stopped a spate of litter getting in.

Up next is the Seven Kings Water's finest hour as the centrepiece of the Gardens of Peace cemetery. This is exclusively for Muslim burials, and much in demand because Islam forbids cremation, packed with rows of identical unpretentious mounds aligned towards Mecca. It's also been filling up steadily since 2009 so an extension has had to be opened up at Five Oaks Lane, coincidentally where another tributary of the Seven Kings Water begins. The main branch continues beneath two recreation grounds to Fairlop Waters, and runs down the eastern side between the main boating lake and the angling lake. You won't see it, it was culverted beneath the runway of RAF Fairlop in 1940, the area since used for gravel extraction and now a very popular country park.

The enormous wedge of farmland between Hainault and the A12 is some of London's most inexplicable Green Belt. The Seven Kings Water runs through it, as does lonely Hainault Road, plus a single public footpath I've never managed to follow. An area of fields and landfill the size of three Olympic Parks could make way for an entire new suburb with several thousand homes, but isn't even on Redbridge's radar because they're not allowed to touch it. The aforementioned tributary meets up with the main river just south of Hainault Farm, nowhere publicly accessible, and the combined flow can only be glimpsed through a fence along the godforsaken ratrun of Painters Road. I risked the pavementless verge, stepped over detritus chucked from cars (including McDonalds cups and a Pure Speed Garage CD), and barely spotted the 7KW below a temporary bridge providing access for tipper trucks. Redevelop it, I say, redevelop it all.

Civilisation is briefly regained at the A12 Eastern Avenue, after which the Seven Kings Water continues south between private playing fields and the grounds of King George Hospital. The nature reserve on the hospital side is called Happy Valley, which is a dreadful name for several reasons. The river's fenced off, so can't be reached, let alone seen. The so-called valley is almost flat. The path skirts the outer edge of the car park, with the smashed windows of the original Goodmayes (mental) Hospital on the far side. Patients are invited to head out this way as part of 'King George's Healthy Hike', a mile-long wellness circuit, but I didn't see any. The path eventually dips into woodland overshadowed by an excessive number of floodlights. I was happy to emerge at the far end into another sports ground and finally cross the river.

Seven Kings Park is the prime recreational facility for folk living near Newbury Park station. Most won't reach the far eastern edge, where the playground and skatepark are, and even fewer'll look beyond the trees to see the Seven Kings Water shrouded behind. The river's only a proper feature in the farthest corner, where access is currently part-restricted behind a taped-off oak tree surrounded by fallen branches. This is the only place I managed to stand beside the stream in anything approaching a natural state, although I was also accompanied by all the summer litter that autumn winds had blown to the perimeter, including a Warburton's bag, a bottle of Highland Spring and a ripped sachet of Pasante Silky TLC.

Finally I'd reached built-up streets, in an area rapidly developed after Seven Kings station opened in 1899. It's not far to Westwood Recreation Ground, optimistically described on its noticeboard as "a rolling parkland", and awkwardly bisected by the culverted Seven Kings Water. The river makes a pleasant backdrop to the playground, but the ornamental pond has been entirely screened off - allowing flocks of waterfowl to flap in peace - and its dammed waters tumble over a weir to return underground. I looked across to where the tennis courts had been ripped out, and the bleak concrete cricket slab which replaced the model yachting pool, and wasn't entirely surprised how empty the place was.

There is a legend that in Saxon times seven kings met at a cool, clear stream while out hunting, where they let their horses drink and then moved on, leaving the name Seven Kings behind them. Looking at the busy High Road today, a magnet for those who like driving cars, parking cars, repairing cars and eating chicken, other explanations seem massively more likely. The culverted Seven Kings Water passes down the side of the McDonald's drive-through, then zigzags beneath and beyond the railway before eventually reemerging beyond Green Lane to fill the lake in South Park. Which is where the Loxford Water begins, and where yesterday's post kicked off. If you want to see London as it really is, follow a river.

 Sunday, September 29, 2019

Loxford Water
Seven Kings → Ilford → Loxford → Barking (2 miles)
[Loxford Water → Roding → Thames]

Loxford is the minor suburb between Ilford and Barking. Loxford Water is the minor waterway between the River Roding and the Mayes Brook, and drains into the former. A rather longer river feeds it, the Seven Kings Water, but more of that tomorrow. [Google map] [1898 OS map]

I'm going down to South Park, gonna have myself a time.

This particular South Park is a green space to the east of Ilford town centre, preserved when Loxford Hall's estate was sold off for housing in 1899. Surveyors took advantage of the river through the middle by creating an ornamental lake, fed from a culvert under South Park Crescent (not that me dropping in these street names is going to help you much, sorry). It was quite the place for a promenade. Today it's somewhat less so, indeed I was struck by the absence of humanity other than two lads throwing a ball for an alsatian, a man shouting into a phone and a newlywed couple in full Sikh dress posing for photographers while wielding a huge gold sword. Two fading bouquets were tied to a No Fishing sign. A Greylag goose approached me with menace. The doors to the Wildlife Centre were firmly locked.

A small stream overflows a weir at the south end of the lake, ducks beneath South Park Terrace and disappears behind the back gardens on South Park Road. At Staines Road the river reappears and, unexpectedly, runs along the side of the pavement for several hundred metres. It's fenced off and deep in a concrete trench, so not exactly picturesque, but a welcome reminder of sylvan days when this was a rural backwater called Water Lane. A couple of inches of water flow over gravel, weed, reusable plastic bags, half bricks and upturned china plates. I stopped to take another photo.

"What are you taking photos of?" asked a grey haired lady approaching up Loxford Lane. I was uncertain whether she was genuinely interested or fired up on a Neighbourhood Watch crusade, so I told her I was just taking photos of the river. "Are you going to complain about the rubbish?" she said. Before long she was recounting how she remembered the stream in the 1940s, and how there were houses further along you could only enter across small individual bridges, and how at Green Lane they built other houses right over the top, and of course you know it feeds the lake in South Park, and I think I got away with that.

At the next bend is a small pointy-topped boundary stone, with Borough of Ilford on one side and Borough of Barking on the other. For the next half mile the Loxford Water forms the dividing line between Redbridge and Barking & Dagenham, because there's often a rivery reason for these things. Barking Park follows the same alignment, its eastern entrance tucked between a car park and some allotments. This is one of the rare spots where you can follow Loxford Water up close, now an artificial wiggle with a much higher concrete bank on the Redbridge side. The sewage works behind has been replaced by Loxford School of Science and Technology. A purple plastic bottle bobbed in the water at the foot of a shallow weir. A squirrel scarpered. What might have been a riverside footpath then promptly petered out.

Barking Park was the council's first park, and is still its finest. Its most prominent feature is a 910m-long boating lake formed by damming the Loxford Water, dug out by an army of 100 workmen in 1898. The river runs in a separate channel out of sight behind. In 1953 a mock paddlesteamer called Phoenix II made its debut on the lake, along with hireable motorboats, but these days your sole option is a fleet of self-powered boats for £15 per half hour from the pontoon by the cafe. I think I saw the owners stashing their surplus stock amongst the trees on the far side of the lake as the season draws to a close. A heron padded across the shallows. A flock of seagulls landed where three ladies had chucked a bag of breadcrumbs. The gate onto Ilford Lane was guarded by an entire battalion of geese and pigeons. I stepped carefully.

The next stretch of Loxford Water has been fenced off by the Environment Agency - they call it Loxford Sluices. It runs in a filtered trench alongside the mosque, on past the warehouses on Tanner Street, then between some modern infill flats. Eventually it vanishes into Loxford Road pumping station, beneath a bridge you'd never notice were it not for the Weak Bridge sign at the top of the road. It's here we hit a slew of railway lines, just west of Barking station. The river's been diverted along the side of the Overground, whereas crossing on foot requires ascending a grim lofty footbridge, high enough to make sure it just scrapes over the top of the westbound District line flyover.

We're very nearly at the River Roding, where this river terminates. Before modern redevelopment Loxford Water splayed out along numerous marshy channels, the main one veering left behind North Street. In the early 20th century a swathe of factories intruded, then in 1971 the Harts Lane estate replaced them, now a none-too-desirable dead end of assorted flats. Residents still hang their laundry from communal washing lines. Signs warn 'No Games'. Fat dogs trot off leash in front of their owners. Road builders used the approximate line of the former Loxford Water for the Barking Northern Relief Road. The river finally entered the Roding on the other side of London Road, just below Barking Abbey, where Barking Retail Park is about to metamorphose into the massive Abbey Quays 'urban village'.

Oh my God, they killed Barking.

 Saturday, September 28, 2019

Every 10 years, major crises notwithstanding, the UK government organises a national census. The last was in 2011 and the next is scheduled for 21st March 2021. But the next census won't be exactly the same as the last, so there are all sorts of things to test before the whole thing goes live with the entire population. Four diverse areas of Britain are being used at testbeds for a Census Rehearsal which is taking place between now and mid-November. One is Carlisle, another is Ceredigion in Wales, and the others are both in east London - Hackney and Tower Hamlets. Which is why I got an invitation in the post to take part, and why I've just completed the new census form eighteen months ahead of you.

The first big thing about Census 2021 is that it'll be digital first. You will be able to complete it on paper but they'd prefer you didn't, mainly because it saves money and speeds up the efficient collection of data. Last time less than 20% of households received a form but chose to complete the census online. The target for 2021 is that 75% of households complete online. That's why all the nudging on my census rehearsal form is towards the website, not the phone number for requesting a paper questionnaire. A private organisation has been contracted to provide Census Online Support Centres in the community for the digitally-excluded who need help completing the form online. Good luck with that.

I entered my 16-character access code, as requested, and completed my form online. The opening screen reassured me that my data would be kept confidential, but I wonder how many people will be put off by fears over digital privacy. It all looks quite smartphone-friendly, which is a measure of the strides our online lives have taken since 2011. The algorithm asked me to confirm where I lived and to enter details of all the people who'd be here on the chosen date, which is Sunday 13th October. I could already see that completing the form online was going to be simpler than filling it in on paper, with all the "Now go to question 9" branching safely hidden within the programming.

Section 1 is People who live here, Section 2 is Household accommodation and Section 3 is Personal information. Section 3 takes by far the longest to fill in. It's also where the new questions are, and these new questions are another reason why the government has been so keen to hold a census rehearsal.
Veteran status: whether the respondent has ever served in the UK Armed Forces.
Sexual orientation: whether the respondent identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, or some other sexual orientation. This question will be voluntary and only asked of respondents aged 16 and over.
Gender identity: whether the respondent’s gender is different from the sex they were registered as at birth. This question will also be voluntary and limited to respondents aged 16 and over.
The Armed Forces question is because "there is a need from central government, local authorities and charities for better data to monitor their performance under the Armed Forces Covenant." The sexual orientation question is to provide robust estimates to inform policy-making and service provision, particularly for small areas, and for monitoring equality duties. As for the gender identity question, that's particularly zeitgeist at the moment. The Government Equalities Office reckons there may be 200000 to 500000 transgender people in the UK, but doesn't know the true population because of lack of data.

First up comes the normal question about sex. The ONS are keen to maintain statistical continuity year on year, so have avoided a single multi-option question that might skew the data. They've also added a caveat that a gender identity question will follow the sex question, because preliminary research confirmed that this made the question more acceptable to non-binary and transgender people. You can read more about that research, and how they came up with the proposed online guidance, here. The gender question appears several screens later, and it's this.

Initially it's just a yes/no question, which'll send most of the population scooting by. Again there's a caveat, ensuring nobody assumes their precise identity is about to be ignored. I ticked Yes, so didn't get to see what the No option leads to, but the current intention is to provide a write-in section rather than a list of options. If you want to describe yourself as intersex, non-binary, transmale or genderqueer, then you can. I hope the LGBTIQ+ community will find that reassuring. Further refinement will be carried out after this census rehearsal to see if any questions or associated guidance need to be amended, and then the wider population will be asked to volunteer their gender in 2021.

I didn't find the online census form too onerous to fill in. It was easier than finding an approved black or blue pen, filling in a paper questionnaire, popping it into a pre-paid envelope and taking it to a postbox. It'll certainly have been cheaper. I'm told that certain Tower Hamlets residents have been sent a paper questionnaire outright, to help compare their data with us digital respondents. If you live in Hackney, Carlisle or Ceredigion you might have been invited too. And the rest of you should get the opportunity to join in and tell the government all about yourself in eighteen months time (whoever that government might be).

n.b. Most of the questions you might have about the 2021 census are answered in this 34 page House of Commons briefing paper.

 Friday, September 27, 2019

Yesterday TfL announced that one part of Crossrail will be on time... they will be taking over the line from Paddington to Reading on 15th December 2019. It'll still be branded TfL Rail, because best not attach the Queen's name to an engineering fiasco, but the acquisition will add welcome fares income to the Mayor's coffers.

Not only will this bring central Berkshire onto the tube map, it'll also increase the number of stations Londoners can travel to using Pay As You Go. However, Oyster users will be missing out, as fares to the eight stations from Iver to Reading will be payable by contactless only. It's part of a fresh innovation introduced just four weeks ago, as a National Rail station in Hertfordshire became the first addition to the Contactless-But-Not-Oyster list.

Things were simpler in 2003 when Oyster was introduced. Every London station fell somewhere in zones 1 to 6, and the Herts/Bucks end of the Metropolitan line used zones A, B, C and D, making a total of ten. Those who programmed the system allocated four bits of electronic storage, which in hexadecimal would allow a maximum of 15 zones, hoping that this might be sufficient for the future. It was not. Hence the latest fare zone extension has had to be contactless only, because contactless fares are totted up by TfL overnight so the system can cope with pretty much anything.

Here's a list of all the PAYG stations in all the extra zones currently in use, above and beyond the original 1-6.
Zone 7: Croxley, Watford, Rickmansworth, Chorleywood; Carpenders Park; Theobalds Grove; Waltham Cross
Zone 8: Chalfont & Latimer; Bushey, Watford High Street; Cheshunt; Dartford, Swanley
Zone 9: Amersham, Chesham; Brentwood; Epsom; Cuffley
Zone W: Watford Junction
Zone G: Purfleet, Grays, Chafford Hundred, Ockendon
Zone B: Broxbourne, Rye House, St Margarets, Ware, Hertford East; Potters Bar, Radlett; Bayford, Hertford North
Zone C: Shenfield
Zone D: Merstham, Redhill, Earlswood, Salfords, Horley
Zone E: Gatwick Airport
You won't see Epsom in zone 9 on public-facing rail maps, because a fare anomaly means its actually cheaper to buy a ticket than use Oyster. Neither will you see any of these lettered zones on the tube map, where they tend to be labelled 'Special fares apply' (or left blank). But they do appear on TfL's in-house PAYG map, the May 2019 version of which is available via an FoI request here.

Officially zone W (Watford) and zone G (Grays) are both part of zone A, creating a proper alphabetical sequence from A to E. Meanwhile the underlying electronics assumes that zone A is 10, zone B is 11, zone C is 12, zone D is 13 and zone E is 14, creating a proper hexadecimal sequence from 1 to E.

There is space on an Oyster card for one more zone - that's zone 15, or zone F. It was TfL's intention to reserve this zone for Crossrail stations out to Reading. They said so in an internal ticketing newsletter circulated this time last year (see pages 10 and 11 for lots more background information), but a later edition suggested this might no longer be the case (page 2), and now we know it won't.

Which brings us to TfL's most recent innovation, stations which aren't in any specific zone because you can't use Oyster, only contactless. The first of these was Brookmans Park on 29th August 2019. Radlett and Potters Bar were added to the PAYG list on the same day, Oyster included, but Brookmans Park (one stop beyond Potters Bar) got to be contactless only. TfL would much rather passengers used contactless than Oyster anyway, because the electronic transaction costs them less, so expect this to be the future direction of travel.

St Albans, Harpenden and Luton Airport Parkway have been lined up to go contactless before the end of the year, maybe in October, followed by Welham Green, Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City in November, although no dates have yet been confirmed. It's long been suggested that Kempton Park, Sunbury, Upper Halliford and Shepperton should be included, being only just outside Greater London, and Reigate too, given that Redhill is already included.

There's substantial scope to extend Contactless Only to other Home Counties stations, if only rail operators were interested and willing. But for now it's only Brookmans Park in the Contactless Only zone, then a few more Hertfordshire stations, and from 2nd January eight Crossrail stations out to Reading. Get ready, those purple trains really are coming. Just don't take your Oyster with you.

Stations outside Greater London but accessible by PAYG (by county)

4Grange Hill, Chigwell, Roding Valley    
5Buckhurst Hill  Stoneleigh 
6Loughton, Debden, Theydon Bois, EppingMoor Park; Elstree & Borehamwood Thames Ditton, Hampton Court; Ewell West; Ewell East; Banstead, Epsom Downs; Chipstead, Kingswood, Tadworth, Tattenham Corner; Whyteleafe; Whyteleafe South, Caterham; Upper Warlingham 
7 Croxley, Watford, Rickmansworth, Chorleywood; Carpenders Park; Theobalds Grove; Waltham Cross   
8 Bushey, Watford High Street; CheshuntChalfont & Latimer Dartford; Swanley
9BrentwoodCuffleyAmersham, CheshamEpsom 
10 (A)
Purfleet, Grays, Chafford Hundred, OckendonWatford Junction   
11 (B) Radlett; Potters Bar; Bayford, Hertford North; Broxbourne, Rye House, St Margarets, Ware, Hertford East   
12 (C)Shenfield    
13 (D) Merstham, Redhill, Earlswood, Salfords, Horley 
14 (E)   Gatwick Airport (W Sussex) 
 Brookmans Park; St Albans, Harpenden, Luton Airport Parkway; Welham Green, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden CityIver, Langley, Slough, Burnham, Taplow, Maidenhead, Twyford, Reading  

 Thursday, September 26, 2019

One day, unless climate change is reversed or our flood defences are improved, much of riverside London will be submerged. Several historic and highly populated areas of the capital are at risk, being not far above current sea level, which ultimately may not be enough to hold back the tide.

So I thought I'd have a look on an Ordnance Survey map to see just how low certain parts of London are. I'm using spot heights, precise locations at which height above sea level is stated. They're fairly rare on the map, but they're more accurate than contours. Here are the really low ones.

1m above sea level: Wennington Marshes

On the eastern edge of London, where the A13 makes a break for Thurrock, London is only one metre above sea level. The precise spot is beside an electricity pylon at the point where the A13 viaduct swings across the Chunnel-bound railway. If this area ever flooded road traffic would continue to flow but High Speed One might be in trouble. Wennington Marshes are of course unpopulated, other than by a bird reserve, with the village of Wennington sensibly set back along the 5m contour a few hundred metres beyond. But even a one metre rise in sea level, unchecked, would start to shrink London's land area as the Thames marshes inexorably widened.

Also 1m: I can only find two other places in London with a spot height of 1m, both near Erith. One's on the Belvedere Industrial Estate, where several livelihoods would be affected (but no homes). Crucially the river wall is higher than this (a spot height beside Crossness Pumping Station reads 6m). The other's on the Darent Industrial Park, near Crayford Ness (behind the Darent Flood Barrier).

2m above sea level: 10 Downing Street

Well that got very serious very quickly. A spot height on the Ordnance Survey map shows that Downing Street is only 2m above sea level at its junction with Horse Guards Road, just behind the Foreign Office. Horseguards Parade is just up the road. St James's Park is immediately opposite (with a lake that one day risks becoming rather larger). Whitehall is clearly an area that the UK government would protect at all costs against the onslaught of rising sea level, but this gives some idea of the scale of the problem London might be up against.
n.b. Buckingham Palace is above the 5m contour, and Hyde Park Corner is at 13m, while Piccadilly Circus and St Paul's Cathedral are comfortably above 30m. Almost all of the City and most of the West End is perfectly safe, but low-lying Westminster is not.

Also 2m: Industrial estates on Ferry Lane, Rainham, beside Rainham Marshes
Also 2m: Entrance to the former Ford motor works, Dagenham, off Ripple Road
Also 2m: The Thames View estate, Barking Riverside, at the junction with River Road
Also 2m: Barking Road, East Ham, near the North Circular (a mile and a half from the Thames, courtesy of the River Roding)
Also 2m: The shopping centre on Pier Road, North Woolwich, near King George V station
Also 2m: North Woolwich Road through Silvertown, close to Pontoon Dock station
Also 2m: Freemasons Road, Canning Town, close to the A13 (a full mile from the Thames, because south Newham is really floodable)
Also 2m: Beside the Twelvetrees gasholders, to the west of West Ham station (much of the Newham side of the Lea is low-lying)
Also 2m: Thames Barrier Control Centre, Charlton (reassuringly)
Also 2m: Thames Road, Barnes Cray, where the railway to Dartford crosses the road to Dartford

Nervous yet?

3m above sea level: Abbey Road, Thamesmead

You might expect Thamesmead to be low-lying, given it was built across the Plumstead and Erith marshes, a huge estuary-side expanse previously uninhabited. But low-lying Abbey Road lies on its southern edge, fairly near Abbey Wood station, with well over a mile of densely populated housing between the spot height and the river. Thamesmead's flood defences are of course substantial, because the GLC wouldn't have built an enormous housing estate here otherwise, but tens of thousands of people live here only a few metres above sea level. The monks knew what they were doing when they established Lesnes Abbey on the steep ridge immediately behind.

Also 3m: The Oval, Kennington. Yes, that is the cricket ground in south London, the 3m spot height specifically amid the clump of gasholders at the Vauxhall End. The largest flood risk zone in central London covers much of northern Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham, with Bermondsey one of the areas to suffer most the last time the Thames broke its banks. It's a shame the OS have no other spot heights across this contour-free zone, but it spreads a lot further than you might think.

4m above sea level: South Park, Parsons Green

I wasn't expecting to find a 4m spot height as far upriver as this, but there it is on Peterborough Road between the Hurlingham Club and Wandsworth Bridge. Even Fulham Palace Road only gets a 6, and there are two other 6m spot heights even further inland at Turnham Green and Acton Green. Fulham and Chiswick are unexpected suburbs to be at genuine risk of flooding, given that so many downriver are not, but borough evacuation plans confirm the local peril.

Also 4m: The badly-named Upper Ground, behind the National Theatre on the South Bank
Also 4m: Rotherhithe Street, Rotherhithe
Also 4m: Dovers Corner (the roundabout near Tesco's), Rainham
Also 4m: Manor Road, Erith

I can't find any 5m spot heights on the current Ordnance Survey map, but 5m contours run through such spots as Stratford town centre, the Millennium Dome, Camberwell Church Street and Wandsworth Road station. We may be centuries off those being submerged, or they may already be in their last hundred years as physical locations above the waterline. Best take climate change seriously, else large parts of London may require cripplingly expensive protection or be irretrievably lost.

 Wednesday, September 25, 2019

My BBC iPlayer Radio app was killed off yesterday, and I had to download BBC Sounds instead. I'm not best pleased.

Here's a comments box solely for discussing BBC Sounds.
Today's post continues below.

One of the things I don't like about BBC Sounds is its insistence on recommending things. It thinks it knows what I'd like to listen to, and prioritises that, but generally it thinks wrong. I'd prefer the ability to tell the app what I'm interested in, but instead an algorithm insists on deciding for me, and it's less good at knowing my mind than I am.

Several other digital services use recommendations to get us to interact more. YouTube, for example, throws up a whole load of suggestions every time you watch a video, and autoplays the top one unless you tell it not to. I quite enjoy going down the list and clicking on 'Not interested', just to confuse the algorithm, but seemingly it never forgets. Even if I only ever watched a particular genre of video once, because it turned out not to be very interesting, it still keeps popping up and I can't make it go away.

TV streaming services are also particularly keen on recommendations. As soon as one programme finishes, or nearly finishes, they chip in with what they think you should watch next, and hey presto up it comes unless you deliberately act to stop it. Usually it's the next programme in the series, which makes sense, but it is still a broad assumption that you want more of the same, or a desperate attempt to keep your attention, or both.

Spotify would rather serve you playlists than albums, a stream of daily listening selected by an unseen algorithm. My iPlayer homepage has a string of TV recommendations, most of which I know I've already watched, or else know I have no intention of ever doing so. Twitter and Facebook prefer to replace chronological order with content they think you'll like instead, and make it damned hard to switch such tampering off. And Google often precedes its search results with recommendations of its own, for which read paid-for advertising, as those with money seek to skew your agenda.

Train an algorithm well and maybe it does deliver more of what you're actually interested in. Sometimes a recommendation can throw up something you might never have realised you really wanted to experience. If there are jewels out that there millions of other people have loved, might you not enjoy them too? Many of your favourite bands, books, podcasts, programmes, whatever, may first have popped up in someone else's recommendations. But those recommendations probably had a human hand behind them, rather than automated crowd-sourced advice.

I like to be my own curator. I don't go on YouTube with the intention of sitting in front of it for two hours while it plays whatever it wants. I find it quite unnerving that people do, especially when what's served up probably includes paid-for content, and has been known to feature extremist political material. I go to the television to watch my choice of what's available, not to pick one of the three most heavily-promoted options. Although the full range of content is always there underneath, it's increasingly hidden beneath layers of Now Watch This.

Recommendations are nothing new, of course. The Britannia Music Club spent decades sending subscribers an album of the month unless they chipped in and stopped it. Readers Digest did something very similar with books. Newspapers have always been an editor's choice of news and features, not your own. And what are traditional TV and radio anyway, other than a stream of recommended content strung out in linear fashion over which you have no control whatsoever, other than to turn them off.

Our online lives are increasing blighted by recommendations, most of it algorithmic, much of it advertising masquerading as content. It's getting harder to be shown everything and make your own selection, rather than nudged off down a path of somebody else's choosing. How long before we lose control altogether and find our choices being constrained solely by what others recommend? And if you've enjoyed today's post please don't leave me, perhaps you'd enjoy reading one of these fascinating old stories next instead.

 Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Open House: Monier Road

Since the Olympics, irresistible forces have at work in Hackney Wick and Fish Island replacing employment with accommodation. Where once were warehouses, factories and workshops now stand large brick cuboids packed with flats. What once were edgy quarters beloved by Time Out are becoming dense dormitory suburbs lauded by Foxtons. So Saturday was a chance to meet some of the architects responsible for this increasing conformity, and to look behind the facades to see if it was just as bland back there. It wasn't quite.

Monier Road, the development, is at the tip of Monier Road, the road, on Fish Island immediately opposite the Carlton chimney. That new road bridge from the Olympic Park, replacing the old footbridge, is being prepared close by. According to the architects' blurb "the vertically articulated brick building is reminiscent of warehouse buildings found in the local area", which is utter guff, but empty words get projects moving. You could have guessed what it looked like without me showing you a photo, so ubiquitous are gridded windows and recessed balconies these days. In this case the ground floor has been divided up into seven units for start-up fashion brands, but they're all empty at present while the flats above are all full.

For those blessed with an electronic key, the interior of the block looks rather finer. Most of the flats are arranged on six floors around a horseshoe atrium, with full-on deck access and a spiralling central staircase for anyone who doesn't fancy taking the lift. The ground floor flower bed is looking a little unloved, thanks to minimal sunlight, but on higher levels things do get rather brighter. Family accommodation has been provided in two lower wings, already with trampoline-filled back gardens, the architect pleased to pass on how they repurposed unnecessary staircases to increase overall living space. He was less impressed by certain cost-saving tweaks the developers have made to the original design, but I doubt that many of the residents have noticed.

We also got to go inside a two bedroom flat thanks to some kindly residents. The main living space had a bright dual aspect, with a sliver of Olympic Park visible between the buildings opposite. The balcony linked the two ends of the apartment creating a practical outdoor asset. The gas boiler will one day be redundant once a pipe can be laid across the Lea from the Energy Centre, a delayed project which should one day service most of Fish Island. And although the general impression was "quite spacious", any of you who live in semi-detached houses or far beyond the capital would laugh at the extortionately poor value such flats command, but that's the price we Londoners pay.

Open House: SPAB

It's only right that the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings should be housed in an ancient building. Since 1980 they've been based in an early 18th century silk merchant's house in Spitalfields, almost surrounded by the destructively redeveloped. When they moved in it was run down and in need of rescue, but they've since stabilised and repaired the structure, which is just as well given much of their role is to advise others how to do the same. Staff were out in force to show us round, from the librarian to the director, and a delightful little booklet helped us spot the original balusters on the staircase and the lead water cistern in the back yard. Small, but spabulous.

Open House: Royal College of Pathologists

The study of disease has long merited its own professional organisation, especially for sharing good practice and overseeing training. They were previously settled in the West End, but this summer the Royal College relocated to a brand new building on the Aldgate fringe, which they were only too happy to show off for Open House. It's quite bricky, because most buildings are these days, in this case stretching to various internal walls and features. We got to explore the Meet, Socialise and Touchdown spaces, specifically the lower three and uppermost floors. These are very spacious, very skeletal and very brown, featuring multiple slabs and open timber staircases, with portraits of all the former Presidents arrayed around a central void.

The sixth floor has two outdoor terraces, one facing the City and the other Whitechapel. The view from the latter isn't that exciting, and the view from the former isn't as exciting as you'd think (because everybody else's upper floors get in the way, tarnishing that key Cheesegrater/Gherkin alignment). But with its row of shrubs and mini tables, and conveniently-located adjacent function space, it's really part of the strategy to make the building totally events-friendly. To stay solvent in this day and age your new college building has to double up as somewhere for others to hold meetings, host conferences and generally "provide excellence and innovation in hospitality". The one disease the Royal College of Pathologists couldn't keep at bay, it turns out, is financial viability.

Not Open House: South Grove Workhouse

Not officially part of Open House, but piggybacking on the success of the day, Tower Hamlets decided to open up a former workhouse near Mile End station for public view. The South Grove Workhouse opened in 1871 as the second such facility in the Whitechapel area, with dormitories on three storeys accessed off long central corridors. It could accommodate over 800 inmates, one wing male, one wing female, with a twin-gabled entrance block in the centre. The facility survived as an institution, then a residential lodge, for almost a century before being taken over by the council and used as offices. It's been empty since 2006. A much fuller description of its history can be found here.

You could tell it was a council-organised open day because all the instructions about hard hats, closed toe footwear and bringing a bottle of water were just a fraction too earnest. That said, I did bump my head almost as soon as we entered the basement, so maybe they had a point. The basement corridor was a gloomy affair, and climbing up to ground floor level not much brighter. Most of the rooms had been sealed off with tape, including one that was half full of leaves and others amok with trunked cables. The most impressive space was a double-sized annexe tacked on to act as a canteen, for which think council employees ladling out lunch rather than Oliver Twist asking for more.

We got to see an impressive amount of the building, notably the full length of the second floor and its former dormitories, since subdivided into offices, with the occasional safe left lying around. It was hard to look beyond recent municipal use to picture how the building might have functioned as a workhouse, and easier to look forward to potential future transformation. The site has been pencilled in for housing, current plans suggesting 36 market rent homes within the workhouse itself, and a taller block of 50 affordable rented homes replacing the adjacent 1980s Veolia office building. In a reversal of fortunes it'll be the rich moving into the workhouse, because they can afford to pay for its upkeep, and the deserving poor stacked up outside.

 Monday, September 23, 2019

Open House: Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability

The Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability is a much better name than The Hospital for Incurables, which is how this place started out in 1854. It's less a hospital, more a turbo-charged convalescent home for those whose brain injuries mean they may never lead an ordinary life. A bad traffic accident might bring you here, or a neurological condition like multiple sclerosis, but the rehabilitation you'd get here in Putney is as good as ever. It's still a charity too, so was never absorbed into the NHS, which is why a lady in a mouth-operated wheelchair might be waiting in reception with a collecting tin.

The hospital faces a substantial portion of West Hill near Putney Haath, and has been sympathetically extended several times. Reception is the original Georgian mansion, with its classical reliefs, ionic columns and hand sanitiser dispensers. Additional wings were added in 1868 and 1879, with long institutional corridors and hand-cranked lifts, and the Queen opened a new block with the latest facilities in 1985. Having a hairdresser and dental surgery on site, for example, enhances patient wellbeing and helps keep transport costs down.

Chris the archivist was the driving force behind opening up the building for Open House. He laid out a selection of historical treats in the De Lancey Lowe Room, including a letter from Florence Nightingale and a Royal Charter with a whopping great red seal, then attempted to lead us around the ground floor and across the garden. We popped into the canteen. We admired the facilities in the art therapy room. We walked amongst the raised beds where patients in wheelchairs enjoy high-level gardening. We saw a 500 year old oak tree. But mainly, we just got in the way.

The RHN remains operational even on a Sunday morning, so two dozen tourgoers blocking a corridor to look at some stained glass windows isn't ideal. Staff pushing patients to church in the Assembly Hall waited patiently while we shuffled over, while a latecomer squeezed through so he could start his shift cleaning the floors. In one of the dayrooms we disturbed a family come to visit mum, so she wheeled out to the verandah (where we interrupted them again quarter of an hour later). I don't like to stare, but I couldn't help but be impressed by the care, the technology and the stoicism that was in evidence for these very special patients. Sometimes it's less about the buildings and more about the people, and my trip to Putney has left an indelible mark.

Open House: The White House

I couldn't describe Park View Road in North Ealing as a typical suburban street because the houses are mostly on the larger side, but number 46 is in a totally different league. It's called the White House, and it gleams, and it was built here by a self-made Polish businessman as a blinging tribute to his parents. That's not even the house you can see from the road, that's a massive entrance arch topped off by classical statues with a driveway through the centre.

The house itself is supposedly a recreation of the palace outside Warsaw where 'Prince' John Zylinski's family lived until the start of WW2. It took seven years to build, not least because the decoration is so ornate, with gold leaf on the walls and ceilings, polished birchwood for the internal doors and marble all the way up the stairs. The salon has a Steinway piano painted gold to match the decor. The dining room seats more people than might ever need to be simultaneously impressed. Britney Spears once filmed a video in the bathroom with the forest-effect marble, not the bathroom with the alarmingly angled mirrors. Ask nicely and the White House might be available as a wedding venue.

I think it's fair to say that yesterday's visitors were impressed, or at the very least amazed. A lot of jockeying for prime photographic positioning was taking place, and one family went round taking repeated selfies against increasingly glitzy backgrounds. Those present at 2pm would have been treated to a self-indulgent snatch of Swan Lake performed by John's ballet-dancing partner, so keen are the couple to showcase their artistic talents. But the view from the library balcony is irrevocably of lowly Acton, and just over the fence is a bland grass-topped covered reservoir, so the sumptuous ambience doesn't really stretch beyond the house.

If you voted in the last London Mayoral elections, John was one of the outsider independent candidates, indeed he limped home in 11th place. Having experienced his house, and been dazzled by his ego, his 2016 candidature suddenly makes perfect sense.

Open House: St Mary's Perivale

Once upon a time, for which read 100 years ago, Perivale was a tiny hamlet beside the River Brent with a 12th century church. Then Western Avenue was built, inspiring much suburban development but all on the wrong side of a roaring dual carriageway, and St Mary's became superfluous to demand. In 1972 its parish was disbanded, leaving vacant a Grade I listed building, after which a group of volunteers took over and transformed it into the West London Arts Centre. It still looks and feels very much like a church, admittedly a very small one, but it now has a grand piano in the chancel and a sound mixing desk up the tower.

The volunteers are just as devoted, as I discovered when I popped in, be that to preserving the history of the building or promoting the series of regular concerts that takes place within. Had I been local and/or with a penchant for classical music, I would have been hard pressed into attending future recitals. Thank you, I said, but I see you livestream many of them on YouTube so I shall obviously check in there starting this Tuesday afternoon.

Another volunteer showed me a brass in the nave dated February 1500, also the tiny leper window, then invited me up the stairs to see her exhibition. A few cases of ecclesiastical ephemera fill a small space in the tower, along with various paintings of the church in its former sylvan setting. Today the churchyard abuts a golf course, immediately alongside the 12th tee, where you might find a lost golf ball amongst the graves and winged memorials. I was also invited to ring one of the bells, from a peal of three installed after the war, and proved impressively inept at getting the rhythm right. The music will be a lot better tomorrow.

 Sunday, September 22, 2019

Open House: Page High

When Open House weekend comes round, it's always a treat to visit a housing estate. It's even more of a treat to visit a housing estate that still thrives, that Right To Buy never touched and whose residents clearly think the world of it. And when that housing estate is hidden in plain sight in the midst of a town centre, high above Sainsbury's and a multi-storey car park, even better. That'll be Page High.

We're in Wood Green, where in the mid 1970s Haringey Council decided to create a neighbourhood centre worthy of their new borough. They built The Mall, then called Wood Green Shopping City, and developed a penchant for 'layer cake' development - building things on top of other things. The Mall got Sky City plonked on top, a village of 201 pitched-roofed houses and flats, while a separate project stepped back from the High Road on the eastern side. Sainsbury's and Woolworths joined the consortium which saw two layers of public car park built above the shops, then above that a secluded "street in the air". That'll be Page High.

The entrance isn't over-promising - a doorway up a sidestreet beside a Matalan Clearance Store opposite a Lidl. There are stairs, but once you've been living here a while you know to plump for the lift. And this brings you out at one end of a long street lined by 92 flats and maisonettes, but not a street any car will ever drive down, more a shared community walkway. The irregular redbrick construction is appealing. The chimney for the communal heating system draws the eye. But what immediately impressed yesterday's first-time visitors was how impossible it was to tell that the whole thing was somehow six storeys above ground level.

A posse of Page High residents showed us round, their enthusiasm palpable. They recounted the day in 1975 the Duke of Edinburgh came to open the place, his royal visit fulsomely reported in the Hornsey Express. They smiled as they told how concerted action had fought off the threat of the council's recent Wood Green Area Action Plan, which would have seen the entire site redeveloped and residents decanted elsewhere. They promised to show us inside one of their flats so we could see how spacious it is, and delivered. And they bemoaned their regular battles with the housing company who manage the site, often doing too little but sometimes blundering in and doing too much.

A lot of the signage is fabulously retro, for which read utterly authentic.

These house numbers, for example, are written in a splendidly outmoded typeface on a bright orange background.

This map of the estate, with its bold black arrows, resembles a prop from a Gerry Anderson animation.

And if you step down into the car park, it seems every iteration of Haringey's logo appears somewhere.

Only on level 2 of the car park do you get a proper idea of how the architects put Page High together.

All the flats and the central street are supported on a long linear deck hoisted straight down the middle of the car park. Additional parking spaces are aligned along each side. Pipes extrude, and sometimes leak, forming large puddles on the concrete. A back staircase provides additional access for residents, because in 1975 it was crucially important that everyone had somewhere to park their vehicle. These days the car park's upper level is woefully empty, even on a Saturday afternoon, and you can see why the council might have thought this was an inefficient use of space.

And the views from the balconies are splendid. Depending on which way your flat faces you might see Alexandra Palace, or Docklands, or the City, or the chimneypots of the Noel Park estate stretching off past the courthouse towards the foothills of Essex. Little of the rest of Haringey is highrise, so the panorama rolls on in all directions. But on that central secluded street none of this is visible, just the sense of a focused community strengthened by living together, and long may it remain.

Open House 2019 (Saturday)

» The posterless one (where nothing seemed to be open, and maybe that was the intention)
» The unplanned one (which I pre-booked half an hour before the tour set off)
» The take your shoes off one (where I was the only person who wasn't an architect)
» The very new one (which I conveniently scheduled as a toilet stop)
» The very old one (with the loveliest staff, and most irregular staircases)
» The minimal one (oh, just the foyer, and then be off with you)
» The hard to find one (which turned out to be right alongside the previous one)
» The financial one (where everyone needed a pass, solely so they could give it back again)
» The elusive one (where a tour would have taken 10 minutes longer than I had, dammit)
» The pointless one (because these buildings are always open, so why bother?)
» The eye-opening one (where I sidled up to one of my readers and said hello)

Open House 2019 (Sunday)

» The hourly tour one (but scheduled on the half hour, so I got up too early)
» The blingtastic one (where I hid from the rain amid the gold leaf)
» The early medieval one (where they let me ring the church bell)
» The I'll never make it one (ah well, best head home, maybe next year)

 Saturday, September 21, 2019

Is it autumn yet?

The answer to this question depends on what you mean by autumn.
(and which hemisphere you're in, but let's take that as read).
Autumn always used to start at the autumn equinox, a true astronomical definition based on orbits, planetary tilt and daylight totals.
The autumn equinox is the precise moment the Sun appears to cross the celestial equator, the point at which the northern hemisphere begins to tilt away from the Sun resulting in less direct sunlight and cooling temperatures. It's also the day the sun rises due east and sets due west, wherever you happen to be in the world.
But that's a difficult concept to get your head round, not least because the first day changes year on year.
Possible dates of the autumn equinox (London, BST)
23rd September or 24th September
1808-1839: 23rd September only
1840-1899: 22nd September or 23rd September
1900-1935: 23rd September or 24th September
1936-1975: 23rd September only
1976-2063: 22nd September or 23rd September
2064-2095: 22nd September only
2096: 21st September
2097-2199: 22nd September or 23rd September
[cycle repeats every 400 years, approximately]
Generally it's always either 22nd September or 23rd September.
Very rarely, in years before leap years at the start of certain centuries, it's 24th September (most recently 1803, 1807, 1903, 1907, 1911, 1915, 1919, 1923, 1927, 1931 and 1935). Exceptionally rarely, in leap years just before an end of century non-leap year, it can be 21st September (next occurrence, 2096).
This year it's 23rd September, at 8.50am BST.
But it'll still be 22nd September in Hawaii. An autumn equinox on 21st September is a lot more likely in Hawaii, and an autumn equinox on 24th September is a lot more likely in New Zealand
So officially, no, it's not autumn until Monday.
The first day of autumn always falls later in the month than the first day of the other seasons - the 22nd or 23rd, rather than the 20th, 21st or 22nd. This is because our seasons are of different lengths, because the Earth's orbit around the sun is an ellipse not a circle. The Earth is furthest from the Sun in July. Summer is therefore our longest season, at 93 days, 15 hours and 31 minutes (timed between solstice and equinox), which nudges the autumn equinox later in the month. Meanwhile autumn is only 89 days, 20 hours and 4 minutes long, which nudges the winter solstice back towards the 21st of the month.
But these days a lot of people prefer to use meteorological autumn instead.
Meteorologists don't like seasons that start on different dates each year, because that makes comparing data harder. Instead they choose to use periods of three complete months, based on average monthly temperatures, with summer as the warmest (June/July/August) and winter as the coldest (December/January/February).
And meteorological autumn started on 1st September.
Meteorological seasons run about three weeks ahead of astronomical seasons, prioritising the first day of an arbitrary calendar month over the phenomenon of an equinox or solstice. It makes sense if you're a meteorologist.
It seems the wider world, particularly the media, has started to embrace meteorological autumn because it's a lot easier to understand.
In the first week of September the internet was awash with chirpy press releases praising autumn activities, and social media bluster invoking misty mornings, icy windscreens and crunching brown leaves underfoot. No matter that temperatures at the start of September were in the 20°s, and nature's leafy carpet won't be with us before October, the PR calendar decreed open season on autumnal imagery and off they fired. Nobody looked out of the window, they just read the calendar.
But is it right to be counting the first three weeks of September as autumn instead of summer?
That's a very interesting question, which boils down to asking whether summer should include the first three weeks of September or the first three weeks of June. The evenings are always lighter in June. The sea is always warmer in September. Daytime temperatures are often quite similar. Overnight temperatures are surprisingly similar too. It's not so much of a done deal as you might think.
Another way of judging the seasons is by observing natural phenomena... so-called phenological indicators.
These cover a range of ecological and biological signs such as the leaves falling off the trees and the migration of birds to warmer climates.
The Woodland Trust has produced a fascinating calendar to show when events like this normally happen.
The last swallows disappear between the end of August and the start of October. Ash trees start to change colour, and holly berries appear, in September or October. Oak leaves fall between the end of September and the end of November. Horse chestnuts become bare trees in November. Generally speaking.
But watching nature is not the most reliable way of determining a definite start date for the autumn season.
The Woodland Trust use 2007 as their reference year, because it had the most average conditions in recent years. Natural events are greatly influenced by weather and climate, causing autumn to start earlier or later than the standard astronomical or meteorological definitions, and climate change will only accelerate the variations.
Hence the need for a more reliable start date, be that 1st September or the autumn equinox.
And 1st September is inexorably taking over, because it doesn't require much thought, and modern social media very much appreciates the simple. What we're seeing is the realignment of the start of autumn, the dumbing down of the autumn equinox, as society embraces a decision meteorologists only made to improve the reliability of their data.
n.b. The equinox isn't even the day on which day and night are the same length...
At the equinoxes, the geometric centre of the Sun is above the horizon for exactly 12 hours. But sunrise is defined as the moment the upper edge of the sun's disc becomes visible above the horizon, and sunset refers to the moment the Sun's upper edge disappears below the horizon. The time it takes for the sun to fully rise and set, which is several minutes, has to be added to the day and subtracted from the night, and therefore the equinox day lasts a little longer than 12 hours.
...that's Wednesday...
It's Wednesday for those who live between 45° and 60° North - that's the whole of the UK. It's Thursday at 40°N, Friday at 30°N and Saturday at 20°N.
...because the sun takes a finite time to set.
Here's the maths. The Sun's diameter is approximately ½ degree out of 360°, which equates to 1/720th of a day, or two minutes, which is how roughly long the sun takes to set at the equator. The duration of sunset increases as you get closer to the poles, where sometimes it never sets.

At the autumn equinox the setting sun hits the horizon at its steepest possible angle, and the duration of sunset can be calculated according to the formula 128/cosφ seconds (where φ is the latitude). Here in London, this particular weekend, the sun takes 3 minutes 26 seconds to set. It takes 3m20s in Plymouth, 3m30s in Birmingham, 3m40s in the Lake District, 3m50s in Edinburgh and 4m in Inverness.

At the summer solstice the sun descends at a shallower angle, so London's sunset takes 4 minutes 33 seconds. The formula for this is 142/cos(1.14φ), near enough, so long as you stay away from the poles.
Maybe there is good reason why the astronomical equinox is being overtaken by the meteorological.
Or maybe we're just lazy.
Whatever, we're still in the good half of the year until Monday, so get out there and enjoy today's late summer/early autumn heatwave.

 Friday, September 20, 2019

UnFlickrd London: Bickley and Southborough

My final UnFlickrd zone lies to the southeast of the capital between Bromley and Petts Wood, specifically around Bickley and Southborough. Neither of these were places I was familiar with, not even through the windows of a bus, neither did their reputation precede them. But I went and had a good wander round anyway, and tried to grab you ten decent photos, even though the area was mostly a lot of houses.

New photo: Bickley station lies one stop east of Bromley South, just before the lines split for Orpington or for Sevenoaks, so is a pretty convenient place to start your daily commute. Two island platforms lead up to an ungated concourse, where the ticket office shutters come down every lunchtime and staff disperse elsewhere. The only facility is a small shop called...
New photo: Bickley Express. It doesn't have to try too hard, because it's the only stockist in the immediate vicinity with newspapers, kitchen roll, greetings cards and OXO cubes. Bickley's never been well blessed with shops. It also sells coffees from a machine, but for exactly the same price as the tiny cafe outside and that looks by far your better bet.
New photo: Bickley station sits at the top of Southborough Road, along the one short stretch buses don't serve. Maybe that's why the biggest unit outside is taken by a minicab company. Lesser spaces are occupied by an estate agent, a dry cleaners, a hair salon, a florist and the aforementioned cafe, because such are the basic needs of Mid-Bromley.

New photo: Bickley Park was once just that, a deer park surrounding the mansion at Bickley Hall. Its first owner was Deptford shipbuilder John Wells, whose family later sold up to international railway engineer George Wythes. He started the sale of land for houses in the 1860s, each set in several acres of land, and although garden size has reduced over the years it's still very much on the generous size. I fear it's no coincidence that the estate's new church got named St George's. Today a sparse network of private roads spreads north of the railway line, many of them potholed, which at least gives the 4×4s some challenging terrain to tackle.
New photo: Pines Road is just one of the millionaire highways, named after the single original house whose conifered gardens were subdivided to create half a dozen more. Viewed through a 21st century lens, the use of space is scandalously inefficient. Homes have names like Something Court or Something Lodge. Electronic gates swing closed after the BMW with the personalised plates drives in. The contracted gardener is hard at work with his hedge clippers. And don't even think of walking your dog on the verges without due care and attention.
New photo: Ladies and Gentlemen, says the sign, Will Not Allow Their Dogs To Foul These Footpaths And Areas. Others Must Not. The last sentence is underlined.

New photo: Whitehall Recreation Ground, off Southborough Road, is the prime destination for dogwalkers south of the railway line. It was put together from three fields in the 1900s, and opened by the Mayor of Bromley with musical support from the Bickley Brass band. There was an ornamental water fountain, but that's been unplumbed. There was a cricket pavilion, but that's been demolished. There was a boating pool, but that got filled in to create a small playground. And there was originally a small river, the East Ravensbourne, but that got filled in too. At least the original bowling club survives, and today a wiggly diagonal path lined with shrubbery helps provide the open space with a bit of much-needed character.
New photo: I followed the East Ravensbourne from the edge of Whitehall Rec down to Southborough Lane. Maps from Victorian times show a narrow brook trickling between a large orchard and fields belonging to Turpington Farm. By the 1930s hundreds of houses had been built on either side, but the stream still ran behind fences at the bottom of their gardens. In the 1960s the whole lot was culverted and topped with a footpath, linking to the outside world at the banjo end of Brooklyn Road. Its meandering blocks line of sight, so I was unnerved when two potentially unsavoury characters appeared round one bend and walked towards me. We passed without incident. I breathed out, then breathed back in again when I heard the pair yelling after me from behind. "Hey, does this lead to the park?" they asked. As the newly-educated local expert I assured them that it was, and off they went, and I chastised myself for having assumed the worst.

New photo: The Chequers was one of the few buildings on Southborough Lane 100 years ago, back when every tiny hamlet had a pub, and is the sole local historic remnant. Its weatherboarded walls overflow with unseasonably abundant hanging baskets. I checked online and apparently it's rumoured Dick Turpin once drank here, but every pub over a certain age claims that, and I bet he never quaffed Greene King over a Lunch Club sandwich.
New photo: Southborough Lane has all the shops, from a butchers called Carnivore to a Harvester once hit by a V2 rocket. The majority twist fill two L-shaped parades, hemmed in behind lush tree cover and inadequate parking, in true Thirties faux-rustic style. One's a cafe called Mustard, one's devoted to "girls and boys beauty", and one's empty in case you want to give the kitchen designers some competition. Exactly the same age as the Rosehill estate in Sutton, but an economic world away.

My UnFlickrd gallery
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my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
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diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards