diamond geezer

 Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Some more things I walked past recently
(because that's what this blog's increasingly become)

Something I walked past recently (Islington edition)

I can't believe it's now fifteen years since I walked the length of the River Fleet and blogged the lot. One of the few places the river puts in an almost-appearance is Ray Street, a short distance north of Farringdon station. In 2005 this road dropped down past The Guardian's offices to a pub called the Coach and Horses, outside which was a drain cover through which the waters of the Fleet could be heard. You had to stand in the middle of the street to hear it properly, but that was generally fine because Ray Street was a brief narrow backroad with very little traffic. Today it's a lot safer because TfL have unexpectedly extended the pavement to surround the grating.

The transformation is thanks to Cycle Superhighway 6, the North-South Cycle Superhighway, Cycleway 6 or whatever nomenclature they're using these days. This is the spot where north- and south-bound routes diverge, one riding in up Saffron Hill, the other riding out up Ray Street. TfL have made the latter one-way for vehicles to squeeze in a contraflow cycle lane - entirely unnecessarily according to normal levels of traffic but you can't be too careful. Officially the footpath widening outside the pub is "to reduce vehicles speeds and create more space for pedestrians", but it does feel like a Lost River aficionado had a hand in it.

The pub's changed its name since 2005, dropping its & Horses and keeping The Coach. It looks a lot smarter than it used to, perhaps because The Guardian's HQ is now flats so it's no longer a journalists' bolthole. The Coach is currently offering posh part-cooked takeaways on Sundays, including 45 Day-Aged Hereford Sirloin and Seven Hour Braised Shoulder of Cotswold Lamb (with duck fat roasties). They had no takers while I was there, which left bar staff free to watch a strange man hanging around outside while trying to record the sound emanating from a drain cover. Decent rainfall the day before meant I'd never heard it so loud... nor so safely.

Something I walked past recently (Hackney edition)

When the Geffrye Museum closed for major rebuilding works in January 2018 they expected to reopen at Christmas 2019. This did not happen. It's complicated work repurposing a cramped row of 18th century almshouses, adding a library, opening up basements and pivoting the whole thing around a new cafe. Summer 2020 was the next deadline, so you can guess how that turned out, and signs outside the building currently say "early in 2021". The website suggests coronaviral impact may have delayed things even further so "We will announce a reopening date soon". It's now three years since I last shuffled along the main corridor to admire the period festive decorations, room by room, and it'll likely be another twelve months before I can reacquaint myself with the marzipan eggs and Twelfth Night cake again.

But much has happened during the rebuild, not least the swinging around of the main entrance to face the Overground station rather than the Kingsland Road. Know your audience. A thick metal gate faces the ticket hall, with the museum's name displayed above in a suspiciously familiar orange. When finally unlocked it'll permit improved access to the main attraction via its gardens, while a ramp points left towards refreshment. The museum's trustees were finally persuaded to reutilise the pub on the corner rather than knocking it down, although peering in through the window it's clear that every last wall and fixture has been gutted so that only the facade remains. Today is the last day to make representations to the licensing authority if you don't want Molly's Cafe to move in.

The other big thing the museum's done is change its name. It's always awkward when your founding father earned his wealth from the slave trade, so the trustees had already taken the decision to become The Museum of The Home before the latest furore blew up. Black Lives Matter caused them to think again about the statue of Robert Geffrye which adorns the exterior, so they ran a consultation which attracted considerable feedback. I feel negative about this, said 78%. Take it down, said 71%. Not so fast, said culture secretary Oliver Dowden, remember who funds you and leave it in place. The museum have therefore decided to leave it in place, somewhat uncomfortably, "along with better interpretation and conversation". Come see for yourself, hopefully, next year.

Something I walked past recently (City edition)

Smithfield Market doesn't change, at least not of late. A Victorian shell surrounding cold stores and wholesale traders, split in two by a public arcade blessed with some of the most photogenic phoneboxes in the country. Even at the weekend when the market's closed the whiff of butchered meat drifts out through the plastic curtains, causing any passing vegetarians to quicken their pace. But it will change utterly if the City of London gets their way, relocating operations for the first time in eight centuries to, erm, Barking and Dagenham. You're too late to contribute to the consultation but, blimey, the intention is for Billingsgate and New Spitalfields to co-locate there too.

A quick summary
The new site: 42 acres of industrial land, formerly Barking Reach Power station, located between Dagenham Dock station and the river Thames. Also just south of the A13 so has excellent transport connections. Expect three state-of-the-art mega-sheds, one for meat, one for fish and one for fruit and veg. Target date 2026.
Smithfield: The current market on the City fringe would be cut back to its iron skeleton creating four huge flexible covered spaces. It's early days for deciding what follows, but the general aim is to focus on sustainable food production, preparation and consumption and also to support the creative industries.
Billingsgate: Since 1982 the fish market has nudged up against Canary Wharf, but the land would be hugely more profitable as a mixed-use development providing new homes, office space, hotels and retail (i.e. all the usual).
New Spitalfields: Meanwhile out at Leyton, where fruit and veg have been traded since 1991, the plan is for most of the 31 acre site to become an awful lot of housing (and a bit of workspace). Good spot for it too, eventually.

(expect more things I walked past recently soon)

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