diamond geezer

 Wednesday, June 30, 2021

England v Germany (via ten pubs)

Watching a football match doesn't affect the score, so during yesterday's Euros knockout needle match I went out for a walk. To try to keep tabs on how the game was progressing I tweaked my walk so it passed my ten nearest pubs, a journey which conveniently takes almost exactly two hours. I wondered if I'd be able to work out what the result was, even deduce the score, from the amount (or lack) of cheering I heard on the way round. I also decided to take a photo of all the pubs with an England flag draped outside.

5.00 It's quieter than usual on Bow Road, or at least I think it is, I'm not really sure what normal looks like these days. Perhaps all these drivers, cyclists and bus passengers are busy dashing home.
5.04 The Bow Bells The match is only a few minutes old but the pub is already full, if not exactly buzzing. A few drinkers are even looking in completely the wrong direction, as if they're enjoying the beer more than the football.
5.06 The caretaker at Bow Register Office seems to be in a hurry to lock the car park this evening.
5.08 Rose & Crown No longer a pub, now a chicken grill, so no footie activity.
5.10 Moulders Arms No longer a pub, now a car park.
5.11 The Blue Anchor No longer a pub, now a very new five storey block of flats.
5.12 The Seven Stars Sorry, I could go on and on like this but I'll stop now.
5.17 Only a few people are dribbling out of Bromley-by-Bow tube, but several are heading for Tesco keen to enjoy a quieter than normal shopping experience.
5.21 Galvanisers Union This used to be one of my ten nearest pubs but it closed on 20th March 2020 and has yet to reopen. A dozen pots of flowers are still shrivelling in the window, last spring's menu is still chalked up outside and all the stools are up on the tables. There'll be no football here.
5.22 The barbers at Ace of Fadez have no customers so are sitting back, guzzling crisps and watching the telly.
5.27 The Beehive But this is more like it. I can hear them from fifty metres away, cheering and groaning as the first half plays out. Only two drinkers are sat outside under the Estrella Galicia brollies, the rest are lined up inside intermittently applauding. The way the chairs are set out reminds me of a church hall. It's the liveliest most normal-sounding pub I've heard in ages.
5.29 I pity the poor souls on the plane roaring overhead out of City Airport, they're missing the match. But it turns out they're heading to Edinburgh so they're probably perfectly content.
5.37 The Widow's Son A mixed crowd is spaced out across several tables staring into the corner of the pub, like it's cabaret night, but they're nowhere near as animated as the buzzing crew at The Beehive. Three archetypally ordinary lads are sat closest to the window, one in a red England top, but they seem no more excited than the rest.
5.40 Three mopeds are parked outside Barry's Turkish Fish and Kebab Bar, their drivers ready to speed off with orders that are almost certainly grilled, not fried.
5.44 Someone has opened a new halal burger place called The Munch Plug, and I think that may be the worst name ever for a takeaway. A TV screen is positioned so it can be seen from behind the counter and from out in the street, so I am suddenly informed that the score in the big match is still nil nil. I had a hunch it was.
5.45 The Angel of Bow I cannot comprehend why the door to this pub is locked and the interior dark, but it turns out they don't open on Mondays and Tuesdays, not even for the match of the summer, so more fool them as their potential clientele buys craft beers elsewhere.

Half time coincides with my walk past the demolished Bow Common Gasworks and across Tower Hamlets Cemetery, so that's nice.

6.02 I manage to walk straight across all four lanes of Bow Road, which is normally a Sunday morning or late night thing, not Tuesday peak rush hour.
6.05 The Coborn The second half is now underway and the last smokers are filing back into the pub to take their seats. I can hear a dull blur of commentary, likely a succession of passes, interrupted by one fan yelling the obligatory 'Come On England!'
6.08 Morgan Arms Rather than advertising the football, this pub has a chalkboard outside saying Pimms O'Clock. The crowd inside are young, polite and look like they all have degrees. I bet nobody back in The Beehive was sipping a glass of wine.
6.10 Even the good folk of Tredegar Square are sitting in their drawing rooms watching the football. That is one massive scented candle.
6.13 The Lord Tredegar I think I can hear these pubgoers from the end of the street too, but it turns out to be three flatmates yelling in a bay window across the road. Instead the bar is silent and nigh empty, the barmaid bored and unoccupied. You can be as proud as you like of your jukebox, fireplaces and comfy leather seating but if you don't have a TV screen the fans won't be troubling you mid-tournament.
6.17 The more I walk, the more mopeds and bikes I see delivering mid-match snacks to households glued to their sofas, not their kitchens. You have to feel for the delivery riders who won't be seeing a scrap of the match (only profiting from it).
6.22 Green Goose This pub's crammed every gazebo it can find into its petite rear garden, and was so convinced of filling the place that they're open to walk-ins only. The crowd are loud but more prone to applause than raucous cheering, as if they're more used to watching rugby than association football.
6.28 Roman Road really is quiet. It's a good time to be browsing the aisles of Poundland, as a few women have definitely noticed. The Saucy Kipper has a non-existent queue and lots of fish fried ready for when the game's over.
6.32 From inside a flat on the corner of Old Ford Road I hear a sudden yell so long and loud it could be a frenzied murder, a surprise lottery win or the climax of an orgy. I take it England have scored (and later it turns out indeed they have, it's one nil).
6.39 The Lighthouse This out-of-the-way pub is more crowded than I've ever seen it before, and with a refreshingly diverse clientele. Wild clapping accompanies an England manoeuvre they all approve of, followed by a sharp intake of breath when one doesn't.
6.40 The Shell garage has a pump spare. That's unusual.
6.43 It's deathly quiet on Morville Street, other than three youths sitting in the park singing along to a ditty with the delightful chorus 'I spin that gun'. I'm surprised later to discover that this was when England scored their second goal, because despite being surrounded by flats I heard not a whimper.
6.50 Further shrieks accompany the full time whistle, spread out across several seconds dependent on streaming delay. Someone in a nearby flat yells "Yeah, yeah, game over, game over!" and then adds "England beat Germany!" as if they couldn't believe the result until they said it out loud.
6.52 Car horns have started blaring on Bow Road, like it's Eid or something.
6.54 The Little Driver Damn, I've arrived four minutes too late to experience the beery outburst of joy and its post-whistle aftermath. A bit more injury time and that would have been perfect. A crowd of smokers has spilled out onto the pavement, desperate for a post-match puff, and one paunchy bloke really should have bought a larger replica shirt. Inside the bar all pretence of 'table service' has been abandoned.
7.00 I'm finally back home having not checked the score once and yet I still know we've won. Good, that saved watching it.

Watching a football match doesn't affect the score, so maybe I should go for another two hour walk on Saturday evening to see what it sounds like when Ukraine dump us out.

 Tuesday, June 29, 2021

The Line is a sculpture trail running between the Olympic Park and the Millennium Dome, notionally following the Greenwich Meridian. More accurately it's a public art walk, a transient outdoor exhibition programme with some permanent works and others that come and go. Five artworks have graced The Line since its inception in 2015, several have been added since, and five new ones have just appeared courtesy of an extraordinary local artist.

Madge Gill was born in Walthamstow in 1882, but illegitimately. At the age of eight her mother packed her off to Dr Barnardo's orphanage in Barkingside just to be rid of her, and at the age of 14 they resettled her in Canada as a domestic servant. Most such émigrés never returned but Madge saved up and in 1900 returned to the UK where she took a job as a nurse at Whipps Cross Hospital. She married and gave birth to three sons and a still-born daughter, becoming seriously unwell after the latter and unfortunately losing an eye. At this point she claimed to have been possessed by a 'spirit-guide' called Myrninerest who inspired her to create art of all kinds, especially drawings, often while in a trance state. The Whitechapel Gallery displayed some of Madge's work in the 1930s and 40s but she never sold any, claiming that Myrninerest forbade it, so most of it ended up in the attic. In her later years she became more cantankerous and less prolific, and she died at home in Plashet Grove in 1961. It's quite the life story.



If walking The Line in a southerly direction the first Madge Gill artworks are stashed under the railway line as you exit the Olympic Park. They're enlarged reproductions of postcard-sized black and white drawings, Madge's favoured medium, and mostly feature some kind of floral motif. They're not particularly well illuminated, the railway being wide hereabouts, indeed I think I'd walked past these images at least once without noticing they were there. The intervening blue lights are part of a separate post-Olympic artwork called Streamline, so ignore those. It's an interesting if unthrilling start to The Line's Madge Gill outburst, but does at least plug what used to be a 15 minute art-free gap.



The next addition is at the House Mill, Britain's largest surviving (if non-operational) tidal watermill. More specifically it's been placed in one of the windows of the modern extension round the back because you don't just slap up art on the outside of a Grade I listed building. This one's in a full colour watercolour and depicts a dapper woman in a black robe with a blue headscarf, a figure who appears frequently (in monochrome) in Madge's work. The image has to be viewed from the far side of the millstream so lacks full impact, but my view at this point also included a heron and a little egret so remember, the walk's not just about the art.



Easily the most impactful new intervention comes at Cody Dock where the cross-section of a organic drawing has been emblazoned across an 62m-long arched bridge. It features leaves, petals, abstract forms and what could be spiders' webs (and the full original is pinned up on some nearby railings if you want to see where it came from). You can't get close to the bridge, let alone cross it, because it was built to carry power cables across Bow Creek. But the newly vibrant arc makes a bold statement as you look downriver, perhaps set off by the multi-coloured towers of City Island visible underneath. As a bonus, this is the only art on The Line north of the Thames that actually aligns with the meridian.

Line supremo Megan Piper has knocked up a nice little mini-exhibition here at Cody Dock featuring a short biography, examples of Madge's art, newspaper cuttings and best of all some photos. One shows a long design on calico stretched out across what appears to be Madge's living room, while another has her wearing a startlingly colourful homemade dress made from thick embroidered wool, as if she really didn't give a damn. While you're here check out the longer-standing Line artwork, Joanna Rajkowska's The Hatchling, from which comes the plaintive sound of emerging blackbirds (unless you happen to turn up while an engineer's fixing the innards in which case it's silent). Plus of course Cody Dock has artworks of its own, and a cafe, and is well worth a visit all by itself.



Long-term readers will know that this is where the Lea footpath goes badly wrong, indeed it still doesn't exist, so The Line is forced to take a grim detour through an industrial estate. Previously there was no art to see, but the next Madge Gill installation has been cunningly positioned facing Star Lane DLR station which is the next jumping off point. This one's called Red Women, was originally drawn on a 9m long roll of paper and includes at least 50 impressively intricate faces amid a swirl of filled-in lines. I think it's my favourite, not least because the plot behind is currently a building site so Megan had to get planning permission for new railings as well as for new art.



The fifth and final Madge Gill installation isn't yet in place but should be appearing next month by the Royal Docks Dangleway terminal. Why The Line deviates to the Royal Docks has always been a bit of a mystery, given it's way off the meridian and you're supposed to catch the DLR to get there, indeed its current sculpture total amounts to one tiny birdman on a raft which might be readily skipped. Unless you're keen for a cablecar ride I'd recommend diverting straight to The Line's North Greenwich finale, a loop which inherently isn't a line either.

All that said, the walk down the Lea from the Olympic Park to Cody Dock has long been a favourite of mine for its bleak beauty, and Madge Gill's art only adds to the reasons you should maybe give it a try.

The Line from North to South: Orbit/Madge 1/woman on the phone/Madge 2/spiralling supermarket trolleys/hatching egg/Madge 3/Madge 4/tiny birdman/Madge 5/dangleway audio/millennial Gormley/something limblike/sliced ship/circumnavigational signpost/upturned pylon

 Monday, June 28, 2021

Idea: Let's follow the borough boundary between Lambeth and Southwark, close to the Thames.
Rationale: It follows wiggly insignificant streets, I bet there's a great historical backstory.
Reality: Oh, these are quite dull backstreets, let's just walk the first half mile.
Post-walk research: Ah there is a rationale, and it might just be a lost river...



We start at Old Barge House Stairs, or as you'll more likely know it the western end of Oxo Tower Wharf, which is the precise point where Lambeth merges into Southwark. During Tudor times the monarch's state barge was housed here and the royal barge masters lived alongside. London Bridge was then the only fixed crossing, and a mile downstream, so King and citizens often crossed to Southwark by boat for a bit of theatre, bear-baiting or other activity that wouldn't be tolerated on the northern bank. At low tide you can still see the remains of a stone causeway from which boats once launched, and nip down some steps onto a decent sized patch of scrappy beach.
Ah, although this is where the current boundary is, the Lambeth/Southwark divide used to be a fraction further upstream to encompass the bargehouse site, which was coincident with what's now Bernie Spain Gardens.

Old Barge House Alley lives on as a drab narrow corridor underneath Oxo Tower Wharf lined with fire regulations. This way for further eateries, more design studios and additional exhibition space. A modern arch then leads past a four-storey repurposed warehouse, but do check the opposite wall where an original plaque from Crofoot Court 1722 has been embedded in the brickwork. The road round the back is Upper Ground, named at a time when most of the riverside was marshland but this raised section supported a row of buildings.



The next road is called Broadwall, a sanitised scrap of what was once a much longer street called Broad Wall. This ran south following a narrow artificial drainage channel which once helped protect the land beyond from high tides. It looped inland as far as Surrey Row and was one of the sources for the elusive River Neckinger (which eventually flowed into the Thames in Bermondsey), so there's your lost river connection. A dyke across medieval marshland would also make a pretty good administrative boundary, so there's your underlying rationale for what turned into the Lambeth/Southwark divide.



There's been a fair amount of boundary-fiddling since. Broad Wall once continued beyond Stamford Street, but in the 1960s the London Nautical School moved in and inexorably built additional facilities until all trace of the road was swallowed up. They retained the portico of the former Stamford Street Unitarian Chapel as the entrance to the schoolyard, and the curved wall of buildings beyond makes for a particularly hideous architectural confection. Gregg Wallace was a student, if that helps you get a measure of the place.
The boundary now diverts round the eastern side of the school after the Boundary Commission agreed with Lambeth in the 1990s to unite the entire site in their borough.

Today it's Hatfields not Broad Wall which forms the Lambeth/Southwark boundary. This peculiar street name comes from the historic use of the local fields for drying animal skins before being made into hats, back when London's industry was a lot more basic. I learned this fact from an information board on Hatfields Green, a 'truly relaxing environment' created in the 1960s on the site of a former envelope factory. The Southwark side of the street is a lot more built-up, first with a characterful converted warehouse, then a modern building unsuccessfully mimicking a warehouse and an unapologetically modern slatted apartment block perched on top of the Central School of Ballet.



Just out of sight to the east is Christ Church on Blackfriars Road, whose parish once extended here to the Broad Wall. When the Metropolitan Borough of Southwark was formed in 1900 it took local parishes as the building block, so there's your ecclesiastical connection. And before the church was built this same area was known as the manor of Paris Garden, one of Southwark's three liberties, reputedly named after 14th century Lord of the Manor Robert de Paris. Imagine a marshy landscape with willow trees, a mill and a manor house, which is quite a feat when you're staring at flats, a corner shop and the back of a 1960s BT office block. The road between the church and Hatfields is still called Paris Garden, so there's your medieval liberty connection.

Here's where the railway line at Waterloo East station soars across the street, with the eastern end of the platforms nudging a few metres into Southwark. Conversely the escalators at the western end of Southwark tube station rise underneath Hatfields to land in Lambeth - look, there's the isolated ticket hall that connects to National Rail. The Lambeth side also boasts two stark apartment blocks called Tait and Benson, while the Southwark side offers Jack's Thai snacks, 20 taps of awesome craft beer and some allotments.



The next educational establishment to get in the way is Lewisham Southwark College, which has entirely devoured Marlborough Street. The boundary instead diverts along The Cut, an important commercial street since the 19th century, with the Old Vic at one end and the Young Vic further east where we are. A brief stretch of The Cut - precisely the bit that's the boundary between boroughs - was recently converted into a Low Traffic Neighbourhood with the addition of large tropical planters. It's not especially well signed, which may explain why I watched a Zipcar driver merrily turning into the penalty zone and greatly increasing the cost of her hire.



The modern boundary next follows Short Street, which indeed is. At the next corner an exasperated sign in the window of St Andrew's warns "This is a Church Building, not a public urinal". But ooh, Ufford Street is lovely, with a proper run of Edwardian Arts and Crafts cottages all the way along one side. It's just a shame about the jarring Premier Inn shoehorned in opposite, which I note is on the only stretch of the road under the jurisdiction of Southwark's planning committee.
Neighbouring Chaplin Close, an inlet of sheltered housing, used to be divided in two by the borough boundary until local MP Kate Hoey suggested an administrative tweak and the Boundary Commission obliged. That means of the three changes to the historic boundary introduced in 1994, Lambeth came out the winners every time.



We've reached a road called Boundary Row, which is no coincidence because it still is, and long was. It marks the point where an ancient drainage channel became the edge of a medieval estate became the edge of a Stuart church's parish became the edge of a Victorian borough. On such historic trifles are administrative dividing lines drawn. But whereas Boundary Row bends east here to cross Blackfriars Road the modern boundary breaks off and heads southwest instead, so that's as far as I decided to walk.

Conclusion: Some places are a lot more interesting than they look, but only after you get home and research them properly.

 Sunday, June 27, 2021

It's that time of year when the Office for National Statistics releases its latest population estimates for the UK and its constituent parts. Data always lags behind reality so these figures are an estimate for mid-2020. This means... important caveat... "the estimates only describe some of the impacts of the early part of the pandemic on the UK population." [data here]

I've dipped into the spreadsheet brantub and picked out a few intriguing results. Remember to think twice before jumping to conclusions - population change is always the result of a combination of factors rather than a single cause.

1) The population of the UK just passed 67 million.
It was 66,796,807 when the ONS published their figures this time last year and now it's 67,081,234, an increase of 0.4%. That's the smallest annual increase since 2001, mainly as a result of deaths during the first wave of the pandemic. Births (700,700) still outnumbered deaths (669,200), but only just, while immigration (622,100) comfortably exceeded emigration (374,900). The UK's population passed 40 million in the 1900s, 50 million in the 1950s and 60 million in the 2000s, which is fairly steady growth. I wrote a post about UK population change back in March, so I'll not expound further here.

2) The population of London just passed 9 million.
It was 8,961,989 this time last year and now it's 9,002,488, an increase of 0.5%. The ONS identify three components to this change - one down and two up. First is a net decrease due to migration between London and the rest of the UK (320,000 people moved out of the capital but only 218,000 moved in). This is mostly balanced by a net increase due to international migration (201,000 arrived but only 116,000 left), and further compounded by there being more births (115,735) than deaths (58,812). The number of deaths is normally 20% lower, but it wasn't so high last year that the overall population of the capital fell back.



The population of London has never been as high as 9 million before (even if 9,002,488 is only a marginal scrape). It's also been a lot more variable than the population of the UK, decreasing significantly between 1939 and the 1980s before bouncing strongly back. London's pre-war peak was 8.6 million, a level finally reattained in 2015, and here we are bursting through the 9 million ceiling five years later. Pandemic pressures and post-Brexit emigration may mean 2020 turns out to be a historic highpoint, but we've got a year to wait before the ONS confirms what actually happened next.

3) The five local authority districts with the greatest population increases since last year are all in London.
Top of the growth list is the anomalous City of London whose population increased a massive 12.5% in one year, although that's only an increase of 1200 people, most of which is explained by an influx of residents from abroad. The next four are all adjacent, that's Camden (+3.5%), Westminster (+3.3%), Islington (+2.3%) and Tower Hamlets (+2.2%), with international migration again the most significant factor. Coventry (+2.1%) is the fastest-growing non-London district, marginally ahead of South Bedfordshire. Counterintuitively the UK district with the greatest population decrease is Lambeth (-1.3%), in particular because international and national immigration have both fallen.

4) Tower Hamlets has the highest population density in the UK.
Twenty years ago the UK's densest district was Kensington & Chelsea, with Tower Hamlets in sixth place. Islington took the top spot in 2011, with Tower Hamlets nudging up to second place two years later. The final switcheroo took place in 2019, and Tower Hamlets currently has 16790 people per square km compared to Islington's 16699. To put that in perspective that's more than three times greater than any local authority district outside London, and 100 times more crowded than the counties of Cornwall, Somerset and Norfolk.

5) Tower Hamlets and Islington have the youngest populations in London.
The median age in Tower Hamlets and Islington is just 31.9 years, compared to a national average of 40.4. Five districts outside London are younger, most of them university cities, namely Oxford (28.6), Nottingham (29.7), Cambridge (29.8), Manchester (30.3) and Leicester (31.3). Tower Hamlets was the youngest of all until 2015 so its population is gradually getting older. London's median age is 35.8 years, with only Bromley and Richmond older than the national average. At the other end of the scale the retirement hotspot of North Norfolk has an average age of 54.7. As a 56 year-old I'd be roughly average in North Norfolk, whereas here in Tower Hamlets I'm only a couple of years away from being in the oldest 10% of residents.

Next year's population statistics won't be estimates, they'll be the outcome of this year's Census, and they'll be released in September rather than June. It'll be fascinating to see what the make-up of London and the UK really looked like after twelve months of atypical shutdown. Has the number of new births flatlined, have EU nationals fled and do other foreigners want to stay? These things matter, especially if it turns out London's 9 million and the UK's 67 million were just a peak blip.

12 things that happened this week #coronavirus

• queues for jabs at stadiums
• Scotland bans travel to/from Manchester
• PM hints at the spectre of a rough winter
• Scotland aims to lift restrictions by 9 Aug
• India says δ+ is a variant of concern
• Brazil passes ½ million deaths
• Euro 2020: two England players self-isolating
• more than 2m may have had long Covid
• deaths outnumbered births in 2020
• Balearics, Madeira and Malta added to green list
• Israel reimposes mask-wearing indoors
• Health Secretary resigns after CCTV snog leaked

Worldwide deaths: 3,850,000 → 3,910,000
Worldwide cases: 178,000,000 → 181,000,000
UK deaths: 127,970 → 128,089
UK cases: 4,620,968 → 4,717,811
1st vaccinations: 42,679,268 → 44,078,244
2nd vaccinations: 31,087,325 → 32,244,223
FTSE: up 2% (7017 → 7136)

 Saturday, June 26, 2021

#buscontent #day3

Fifty years ago ITV's top sitcom was called On The Buses. It ran from 1969 to 1973 and featured the exploits of a driver and conductor working for the Luxton and District Motor Traction Company.

The driver was Stan Butler, played by Reg Varney.
The conductor was Jack Harper, played by Bob Grant.
Their nemesis was Inspector Blake, or Blakey, played by Stephen Lewis.
The only surviving lead actor is Anna Karen who played Stan's sister Olive.
The fictional town of Luxton was supposed to be somewhere in Essex.


On The Buses was thinly plotted, culturally suspect and critically panned, but wildly popular. It ran to 74 episodes, attracted a peak audience of 16 million and spawned three spin-off movies.

It was a bit like Mrs Brown's Boys today - either flatly hilarious or insulting tosh.
It's the sort of thing they show on ITV3, though thankfully not recently.
The first movie - On the Buses - was Britain's highest grossing film of 1971.
There's still an On The Buses Fan Club, if you like websites with a 2010 vibe.


I don't remember it at all. We weren't an ITV household so I wouldn't have been plonked in front of it on a Sunday evening.

During the 1970s my brother and I were packaged off on Mondays to stay overnight at my grandmother's house where we were treated to an evening of Thames Television. I could tell you all about Crossroads, Opportunity Knocks, Coronation Street and World In Action because they were Monday night staples, but On The Buses was a London Weekend Television production so totally passed me by.

Stan's regular bus was the number 11 to Cemetery Gates.

Hilarious - a comedic representation of life's journey to the grave.
In the TV series Stan's bus was a Bristol FLF-type Lodekka, and it was green.
In the film it was a Bristol KSW with an Eastern Coach Works body, and it was red.


While I was up in Enfield I went to visit the actual Cemetery Gates used in On The Buses.

This is the entrance to Lavender Hill Cemetery, Cedar Road, EN2.



It's just north of Gordon Hill station, if that helps you place it.
It's across the railway from Chase Farm Hospital, if that helps you place it.
Unless you live in borderline suburbia it's not somewhere you'd ever stumble upon.


The main entrance has stone gate piers and wrought iron gates.

Lavender Hill Cemetery dates back to the 1870s.
It has symmetrically placed Anglican and NonConformist chapels.
It's pleasantly conifered and slopes down towards the Turkey Brook.
I didn't walk very far inside, I didn't have time.


Cedar Road is not on any current bus route.

The W8 passes closes by, and was introduced in the year On The Buses started.

I haven't been able to find a photo of Stan's bus at the Cemetery Gates, so this was not as exciting a visit as it could have been.

Still, I did better than if I'd gone to see the location LWT used for Luxton bus depot, which was the Eastern National garage in Wood Green, because that's long since been replaced by Mecca Bingo.

What I did do was take a photo of London's most northerly Co-Op, which is close by.



I did this to educate the person who left a comment last Saturday saying "Surely the most northerly CoOp isn't Lavender Hill, unless there's another Lavender Hill that isn't in Battersea." There is indeed another Lavender Hill - in Enfield, between Gordon Hill and Chase Side - and it does indeed have a Co-Op. Never risk a surely.

It's a lowly Co-Op, quite small and yet to be upgraded to the new branding.

At least it's doing better than Paula's Petals nextdoor, a previously bijou nook specialising in funeral flowers, which has abandoned its physical shop and now operates from an unnamed location nearby, please ring this number.

On The Buses actor Reg Varney's chief Enfield claim to fame is that he was the first person in the world to use a cashpoint, which he did at Barclays Bank in the town centre in June 1967. There is of course a plaque.

What I didn't know until yesterday afternoon is that Reg Varney was born in Canning Town. This is annoying because I went for a walk through Canning Town yesterday morning and could have stopped to take a photo of his birthplace had I known.

Reg grew up at 7 Addington Road, Canning Town.



I only took one photo in Canning Town yesterday morning, which was when I spotted a random sidestreet with a lot of fluttering England flags. Imagine my astonishment to discover, later, that this was the actual street where Reg Varney grew up. Imagine my further astonishment to discover that I'd been standing right outside his house when I took it.

On the Buses was still rubbish, though.

 Friday, June 25, 2021

Route 456: Crews Hill to North Middlesex Hospital
Location: London north, outer
Length of journey: 10 miles, 55 minutes




London's newest bus route was introduced in March in the midst of lockdown. The 456 runs solely through the London borough of Enfield, from top left to bottom right. It brings a bus service to several suburban roads for the first time. It's really only half new because the northern end was originally route W10, previously London's 2nd least frequent bus service (which ran shopping hours only). It's more a kindness than an essential link, but it supports TfL's agenda of better connecting London's hospitals which is why it got the nod. And I have now finally been for a ride, which means the traditional end-to-end reportage blogpost follows.

Crews Hill is a properly unusual London outpost, a vast complex of garden centres, plant nurseries and related outlets, much favoured by those fancying a home improvement day out. Getting here by train is easy and car park spaces are deliberately abundant, but the main drag lacks a turnaround for buses so has long been unserved. Instead the 456 reverses via a loop of bungalows to the south of the horticultural action, as did the W10 before it, which is linked to the station via a long isolated alleyway.

Officially the start point is Golf Ride, the farthest stretch of road, but the route's all Hail and Ride round here so I have no idea where to stand to flag the bus down. An elderly resident alights on the adjacent street corner, confirming that the bus does indeed perform a useful public service, and then the driver stops again a few metres later to pick me up. As we set off it's fair to say he dawdles, driving exceptionally slowly down Beech Avenue which I put down to strict timetable-keeping rather than trying not to scrape cars. The postman overtakes us at one point.



Eventually we nudge past the Tudorbethan stock in Rosewood Drive and slip out into the traffic on the main road, picking up the pace somewhat. A woman carrying a large flowering plant is waiting on the pavement outside the Wildwood Water Garden Centre and waves exasperatedly as the bus overshoots. "You didn't see me did you? she asks on boarding, without waiting for an answer, settling swiftly in the front seat with her outsized purchase. I'm impressed because I wasn't expecting to see any passengers up here either, and soon we'll have two more.

The hamlet of Clay Hill clusters around St John the Baptist church, which could easily seat the local population several times over, and where the annual flower festival weekend is imminent. A pair of workers from the local livery stables are waiting to flag us down, boarding with an excitable hello for a driver they plainly recognise. They settle into the seats behind me and discuss their Friday plans, which will apparently involve buying a jacket and feeding shrimps to a puffer fish. Briefly a distant pastoral view opens up across the valley of the Cuffley Brook, then disappears behind high hedgerows as we descend. The 300 year-old Rose and Crown at the foot of the hill now has an evening bus service for the first time, as does the first flank of suburban homes on the very edge of the Green Belt.



When this end of the route was operated by the W10 buses had to overshoot Willow Road to turn back at the next roundabout. Enfield council have since remodelled the obstructive traffic island into a bus-only filter with nice flowers, and so we turn seamlessly right. We're now doing what the 456 does best, which is serving Enfield's big backwater semis on a half-hourly basis. And then alas we stop. The journey's barely ten minutes old but it's already time to hear "The driver has been instructed to wait at this bus stop to even out the gaps in the service", suggesting the timetable's been seriously padded out. I get to spend the next three minutes staring at a peeling junction box on a mown verge while listening to my fellow passengers enthusing about their favourite animals ("aww look at my baby puffer fish") ("I like cats but only kittens").

We reach Enfield town centre bang on schedule, which is as far as the W10 previously ventured. It's busy here, more generally off the bus than on it, but a few passengers churn over with a cheery "thank you driver". Enfield's one-way system means we're skipping the High Street and threading instead past car parks, churches, homes and surgeries. Our next stop will be the one outside Lidl, not Iceland, assuming we can negotiate past the other parked buses. Passengerwise we're now a completely different service, the bus now tasked with taking burdened residents home from the shops. We also gain a sporty retiree in perfect Dunlop-branded tennis whites, which set off his reddened sunburnt face a treat. Our first four miles have been so sinuous that it would have been a lot quicker to catch a direct train from Crews Hill down to Enfield Chase, if a quid dearer.



A rollercoastersworth of up and down sections follows, which I shall attempt to convey to readers by means of inserted arrows . The suburb at the foot of the next hill goes by the delightful name of World's End, and the crossing of the Salmon's Brook is known locally as Frog's Bottom . One of our two new passengers is mid phone call, and cackling, while the other has used his Freedom Pass to nip to the paper shop . Three Highlands schoolgirls are posing by the road in a forced attempt to make their black and green uniform look like high fashion, but other students are thankfully engaged with afternoon lessons which prevents our mini bus from being overwhelmed . I see nobody's yet updated the Enfield West spider map to include the 456, even though other maps along the route are suitably endowed.

World's End Lane includes the first stretch of road newly served by the 456, finally linking perverse sections of the W9 and 377, but as it's not long enough to have a single bus stop it doesn't really count. On the far side a bemused soul stops the driver to check whether we're going to Enfield, not realising we've already been . The stream in the dip at the bottom of Eversley Park Road is called the Hounsden Gutter, not that you'd spot it from the bus, nor are you missing anything special. And then we're climbing again towards The Winchmore , a pub with all the external pizazz of a small chain hotel, and one of several establishments to boast serving "the best selection of spirits in North London".



Here begins the 456's properly new stretch comprising almost two miles of roads not previously bussed. You might have hoped TfL would have advertised this to the community with proper new infrastructure but hell no because that would involve commitment and funding. Instead every single new stop is either a temporary metal square affixed to a lamppost or a dolly stop on the pavement, and not one displays a 456 tile or a 456 timetable. Given that three months have already passed since the service started running, prospects for future improvement don't look great. Our switchback ride continues down Church Hill past the back entrance to Grovelands Park, which is due to be taken over by a £15 interactive installation of 50 life-sized animatronic dinosaurs during the summer holidays. What follows is a semi-sylvan climb past weatherboarded cottages as we close in on the smartest section of the entire route.

Winchmore Hill is the kind of suburb that sends estate agents into paroxysms of delight; commutable, quiet, desirable old housing stock and a village green fronted by businesses for those with disposable income. All the seating areas outside the cafes and restaurants, of which there are several, seem to be full of grazing sippers enjoying the sun. The shop nearest the station is a very upmarket florist and the local supermarket specialises in organic products and vegan groceries. Our bus somehow manages to attract a passenger who's done their shopping somewhere less prestigious and exits via a residential road with two local history plaques and a mail sorting office . The northern end of Green Lanes is a lot more ordinary, and familiar, but we're merely nipping straight across.



Residents of Farm Road campaigned against the introduction of the 456, submitting a grumpy nihilist petition citing possible congestion, noise, anti-social behaviour and reduced property prices. As the bus squeezes over the single track bridge crossing the New River I can perhaps see their point. I also spy a double length Bus Stop space painted on the road reducing the amount of local parking, although brilliantly TfL have hoisted their temporary bus stop flag beside a separate stretch of double yellow lines instead. Progress down Firs Lane proves to be a lot more straight-forward, not least because a bus gate allows us to swish through the middle while cars edge between width restrictions to either side.

Firs Lane initially proves green and pleasant, surrounded by extensive playing fields and sports grounds, before an estate of houses eventually delivers potential passengers. It all looks splendidly ordinary, even down to a parade of shops supporting a chippy, a barbers and Dave's DIY, but one of Enfield's blue plaques confirms an intriguing Canadian connection. In the 18th century this was the site of Firs Hall where lived Sir James Winter Lake, Deputy Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, and he turns out to be the man responsible for naming Edmonton, Alberta after Edmonton, Middlesex. And that's it for fresh bus territory because Hedge Lane is also served by the W6, not that anyone's come along to install 456 timetables here either.



It takes us five minutes to negotiate the Great Cambridge Roundabout, with most of that time spent queueing at lights to enter a slip road. Such is the tediousness of living close to the A10 and the North Circular. Then four stops before the end of our journey, on Silver Street, we pause awhile for the changeover of drivers. It takes frustratingly long, not helped by the inclusion of an additional seat-sanitising phase in the changeover rigmarole, and after all that palaver our previous driver stays aboard as a passenger. Confusingly this bus stop is called North Middlesex Hospital because it's the best place to alight for passengers on all other routes, but you'd be a fool to get out and walk if you're on a 456.

Driving to the hospital requires a spin past Pymmes Park, the crossing of the Fore Street underpass just before the Overground station and then a brief spell on the actual dual carriageway but in the opposite direction. Our final stop is round the back on Bridport Road, a short walk from the main entrance and in sight of a dozen bright yellow parked ambulances. It's taken 55 minutes to get here, having traced a giant reverse letter 'S' across the roads of Enfield. During that time I've counted a dozen passengers, plus me, which isn't bad going for a new under-advertised bus service snaking across the outer London suburbs. Whether TfL ever manage to introduce another fresh bus route in an era of government-supported funding remains to be seen.



Route 456: route map
Route 456: route map
Route 456: timetable
Route 456: live route map
Route 456: route consultation
Route 456: Roger's reportage

 Thursday, June 24, 2021

This Freedom of Information request has recently been successful. Very successful.
Dear Transport for London,
Can you Please provide me with a list of all TfL bus routes with both journey lenght im miles and journey time.
Thanks in advance.
What TfL have provided is a whopping 4266-row database listing "scheduled distances (in metres) and scheduled running times (in minutes) of standard, school, mobility and temporary bus routes, grouped by direction and day type" based on data from May 2021.

» For example we discover that the length of route 8 is 10038 metres from Bus Stop M to St Giles High Street (6.24 miles), but 11123 metres in the opposite direction from New Oxford Street to Bow Bus Garage (6.92 miles).
» For example we discover that route 18 runs from Sudbury to Euston 198 times on weekdays, 186 times on Saturdays and 146 on Sundays.
» For example we discover that route 188 is scheduled on a weekday to take a maximum of 112 minutes to get from Russell Square to North Greenwich, a minimum of 52 minutes and an average of 84 minutes.

So, with a proper official database to browse, I can bring you some definitive lists.
(Direction is important, the figures aren't usually identical in the opposite direction)

London's longest bus routes (daytime)
  1) X26 Heathrow → Croydon 24.30 miles
  2) 465 Dorking → Kingston 16.86 miles
  3) 166 Epsom → Croydon 16.60 miles
  4) 111 Heathrow → Kingston 15.99 miles
  5) 358 Orpington → Crystal Palace 15.75 miles
  6) 246 Chartwell → Bromley 15.65 miles
  7) 492 Bluewater → Sidcup 14.83 miles
  8) 490 Richmond → Heathrow T5 14.34 miles
  9) R10 Green Street Green → Orpington 14.32 miles
10) R5 Orpington → Green Street Green 14.32 miles

These are all in south London or around Heathrow. The X26 express is by far London's longest bus route, followed by the Surrey-busting 465 past Box Hill. Only some 166s go all the way to Epsom Hospital - the normal route's six miles shorter. Likewise the 246 in the list is the special summer-Sundays-only Chartwell version - the normal run to Westerham would be in 13th place. Both the R10 and R5 are circulars which TfL measure in two extremely unequal halves (the complete length of one circuit would be 17.03 miles).

The next 10: 314, 463, 407, 232, 331, 229, 607, 455, 216, 969

London's longest night bus routes
 1) N199 Trafalgar Square → St Mary Cray 21.92 miles
 2) N89 Trafalgar Square → Erith 21.33 miles
 3) N9 Heathrow T5 → Aldwych 20.94 miles
 4) N68 New Oxford Street → Old Coulsdon 19.74 miles
 5) N15 Romford → Oxford Circus 18.75 miles

Night bus routes serving central London tend to be a lot longer than their daytime counterparts, with the N199 to St Mary Cray an absolute whopper. Five other night buses exceed 16.86 miles (the N1, N207, N136, N11 and N8), i.e. they'd all be higher than the 465 in my previous list, i.e. a combined Top 10 of day and night buses would consist of the X26 followed by nine nightbuses. As for the shortest night bus routes, the 238 and 271 are both under five miles.

London's shortest bus routes (official)
  1) 389 Western Way → Barnet 1.48 miles*
  2) 327 Waltham Cross → Elsinge Estate 1.70 miles*
  3) R9 Orpington → Tintagel Road 1.83 miles*
  4) 209 Mortlake → Castelnau 1.91 miles
  5) 399 Hadley Wood → Barnet 1.92 miles*
  6) 379 Chingford → Yardley Lane 2.05 miles*
  7) 507 Waterloo → Victoria 2.21 miles
  8) 346 Upminster → Cranham 2.31 miles*
  9) W7 Finsbury Park → Muswell Hill 2.45 miles
10) 378 Putney Bridge → Mortlake 2.58 miles

These are the usual suspects, mainly on small peripheral routes, headed by the piddly 389 in Barnet. The 209 and 378 are both affected by the closure of Hammersmith Bridge so their data's only temporary. Routes with asterisks are circular so again the distances are somewhat arbitrary based on when the driver flips the blind. I prefer to average the two unequal halves to give a more realistic measure, indeed that's how I blogged London's shortest bus routes in January 2019, in which case my Top 10 would be 389, 327, 209, 507, 379, W7, 378, R9, 497, 346.

The next 10: 129, 399, E1, 323, 521, 330, 268, 291, 72, 100

The average London bus route is 8.2 miles long.
Half of London's bus routes are between 6½ and 10 miles long.

London's most frequent bus routes
  1) 38 Hackney Central → Victoria 243 buses per day*
  2) 507 Victoria → Waterloo 216 buses per day
  2) 73 Stoke Newington → Oxford Circus 216 buses per day
  4) 521 Waterloo → London Bridge 214 buses per day
  5) W7 Muswell Hill → Finsbury Park 210 buses per day
  6) 18 Euston → Sudbury 201 buses per day
  7) 29 Trafalgar Square → Wood Green 199 buses per day
  8) 453 Deptford → Marylebone 181 buses per day
  8) 207 Hayes → White City 181 buses per day
10) 390 Archway → Victoria 180 buses per day
10) 149 Edmonton → London Bridge 180 buses per day

The 38 and 73 have long been super-frequent services plugging tube-free gaps in Islington and Hackney, while the 507 and 521 are highly-focused rush hour connectors for officefolk. The 38's figure is complicated on weekdays with only 60% of journeys running all the way to Clapton Pond and 40% stopping short at Hackney Central, but the Saturday total of 219 still beats all the other routes in the list. To me the most surprising absence is the once pre-eminent 25 which was neutered a few years ago and no longer even appears in the Top 40.

The next 10: EL1, 472, W3, 55, 158, 36, 41, 109, 86, 8

London's briefest bus routes
1) R9 Orpington → Tintagel Road 4 minutes*
2) 209 Castelnau → Mortlake 6 minutes
3) 346 Upminster → Cranham 7 minutes*
4) 399 Hadley Wood → Barnet 8 minutes*
5) 327 Waltham Cross → Elsinge Estate 9 minutes*
5) 378 Mortlake → Putney Bridge 9 minutes
5) 379 Chingford → Yardley Lane 9 minutes*

These are fastest timetabled journeys, likely early in the morning or late at night when traffic's at its lightest. Those marked with asterisks are unequal circular routes, so a bit iffy, and the other two routes are Hammersmith Bridge fodder. Top of the heap is the R9 in Orpington which flips its blind just four minutes after setting off so counts as London's briefest journey. In heavy traffic the R9 is timetabled to take 13 minutes to do the same two mile journey, which just goes to show how variable timings on some routes can be.

The average timetabled duration of a London bus is 48 minutes.

London's longest bus routes (duration)
1) X26 Heathrow → Croydon 143 minutes
2) 188 Russell Sq → North Greenwich 112 minutes
3) 111 Heathrow → Kingston 105 minutes
4) 25 Holborn → Ilford 104 minutes
4) 341 Waterloo → Meridian Water 104 minutes

These are slowest timetabled journeys, all of them during peak hours when jams slow the traffic in one particular direction. Other routes which are sometimes scheduled to take more than 100 minutes are the 55 (out of town), the 43, 53 and 176 (into town), the 102 and 425 (eastbound), the 57, 358 and G1. The X26 is the only route to top 100 minutes on most journeys, not just a few of them.

London's slowest bus routes (average speed)
1) 11 Liverpool Street → Fulham 4.5 mph
2) 14 Putney → Russell Square 4.7 mph
3) 22 Oxford Circus → Putney 5.0 mph
3) 58 East Ham → Walthamstow 5.0 mph
5) 8 Bow Church → Tottenham Ct Rd 5.1 mph

These are slowest average speeds at the cloggiest time of day, found by dividing distance by time. The slowest three all crawl between central London and the Chelsea area, which can't be a coincidence. The 58 is unusual because its slowest timetabled speed is on a Saturday, not a weekday. London's fifth slowest bus departs from Bus Stop M at around half past eight in the morning. These are godawful average speeds, although it's not always this bad... for example the 11 gets up to 10mph at the fastest times of day.

The average timetabled speed of a London bus is 10½ miles per hour.

London's fastest bus routes (average speed)
1) R9 Orpington → Tintagel Road 27.4 mph (weekday)
2) R2 Orpington → Biggin Hill 23.3 mph (Saturday)
3) U9 Harefield → Uxbridge 22.9 mph (Sunday)
4) 246 Westerham → Bromley 22.3 mph (not Saturday)
5) 464 Tatsfield → New Addington 21.8 mph (Saturday)
5) 313 Potters Bar → Chingford 21.8 mph (daily)

Ignore the R9, it's being anomalous again (no other route can beat 1.8 miles in 4 minutes). The other speediest buses all have significant rural sections with few people to stop for, so get there quicker. Altogether 25 different bus routes manage an average speed over 20mph at certain times of day (but not normally).

London's newest bus route (3 months)
1) 456 Crews Hill → North Middlesex Hospital 9.7 miles in 52 minutes

 Wednesday, June 23, 2021

It's a special day in the world of banknotes because Alan Turing gets to appear on the new £50 note. It's also the day the Bank of England completes another series of banknotes, that's Series G, finally marking the end of the switch to polymer.

Series D
£1 Isaac Newton (1978-1988)
£5 Duke of Wellington (1971-1991)
£10 Florence Nightingale (1975-1994)
£20 William Shakespeare (1970-1993)    
£50 Christopher Wren (1981-1996)



Series F
£20 Adam Smith (2007-2022)
£50 Boulton and Watt (2011-2022)
Series E
£5 George Stephenson (1990-2003)
£10 Charles Dickens (1992-2003)
£20 Michael Faraday (1991-2001)
£50 John Houblon (1994-2014)
Series G
£5 Winston Churchill (2016-)
£10 Jane Austen (2017-)
£20 JMW Turner (2020-)
£50 Alan Turing (2021-)
Series E (revised)
£5 Elizabeth Fry (2002-2017)
£10 Charles Darwin (2000-2018)
£20 Edward Elgar (1999-2010)

The Bank of England has long been chastised for their lack of diversity in selecting men over women, a mismatch currently running at 16 to 3. But also, as I pointed out in a series of posts fifteen years ago, they're guilty of relentlessly picking Londoners. Back in 2006 only one person who'd appeared on a banknote - that's the entire first column - hadn't lived in Greater London. Now that we've reached another banknote landmark I wondered if Londoners still dominate or whether geographical diversity has improved.

Series D
£1 Isaac Newton: Moved to London aged 53 to take up the role of Master of the Royal Mint. His house at 87 Jermyn Street (1696-1709) has a blue plaque. Died in Kensington aged 84.
£5 Duke of Wellington: Lived at Apsley House, Piccadilly (known as Number One London) from the age of 48. Was Prime Minister a couple of times.
£10 Florence Nightingale: Moved to 10 South Street, Mayfair at the age of 45, and died here at the age of 90.
£20 William Shakespeare: Moved to London in his mid-twenties. Acted and wrote most of his famous plays here. Lived in various parts of the capital. Left to return permanently to Stratford aged 49.
£50 Christopher Wren: Appointed Professor of Astronomy at Gresham College aged 25. Lived on Bankside while St Paul's was being constructed. Also lived in the Surveyor-General's lodgings on Whitehall, and at Old Court House at Hampton Court where he spent his retirement years.
Born in London: 0 / Lived in London: 5 / Died in London: 3

Series E
£5 George Stephenson: The odd one out. Never lived in London. Even his Rocket has been taken back to the North East.
£10 Charles Dickens: Lived in Fitzrovia aged four and Marshalsea Debtors Prison aged 12. Went to school in Camden. Lived in Holborn aged 22, Bloomsbury aged 25 and Marylebone aged 27-39.
£20 Michael Faraday: Born at Newington Butts, Southwark. Lived and worked at the Royal Institution in Mayfair for almost 50 years. Died at Hampton Court.
£50 John Houblon: Born in Threadneedle Street. Became the first ever Governor of the Bank of England aged 62 and Lord Mayor of London aged 63. Died in the City of London. Probably the Londoniest banknotee ever.
Born in London: 2 / Lived in London: 3 / Died in London: 2

Series E (revised)
£5 Elizabeth Fry: Moved from Norwich to the City of London after getting married aged 20. Lived in East Ham aged 29-49, then Forest Gate for another fifteen years.
£10 Charles Darwin: Lived on Gower Street aged 29, then lived at Down House for 40 years until his death aged 73.
£20 Edward Elgar: Four of the composer's 21 residences were in London, including a house in Kensington aged 33, ten years in Hampstead from the age of 55 and (after his wife's death) a flat in St James's.
Born in London: 0 / Lived in London: 3 / Died in London: 1

Series F
£20 Adam Smith: Spent most of his life in Scotland but lived at 27 Suffolk Street (off Pall Mall) for two years while writing his seminal economics book, The Wealth of Nations.
£50 Matthew Boulton and James Watt: Matthew was a confirmed Brummie, but spent a month living in Rotherhithe ('a suitably obscure corner in London') to establish residence in the parish before marrying his dead wife's sister. James was Scottish and later very much Midlands-based, but at the age of 18 spent a year in London training as an apprentice instrument maker.
Born in London: 0 / Lived in London: 3 / Died in London: 0

Series G
£5 Winston Churchill: Really Londony. It was in the capital that he went to school (Harrow, aged 13), sat at Parliament (aged 25-89), married (St Margaret's, Westminster, aged 33), lived with his family (in numerous residences, mostly around Mayfair), served as Prime Minister (twice), coordinated much of the war effort and died (at 28 Hyde Park Gate).
£10 Jane Austen: Jane's life was mainly Hampshire-based but she was a frequent visitor to London because her brother lived here. She took lengthy summer trips to Covent Garden and Knightsbridge in her late 30s, but the plaques out front merely state 'stayed here' so we can't count her as a Londoner.
£20 JMW Turner: Born in Covent Garden, spent some of his childhood in Brentford, bought a house in Harley Street aged 25 which he used as a gallery, moved to the Chelsea Embankment aged 71 and died there five years later. A Londoner through and through.
£50 Alan Turing: Yet another London birth, indeed today would have been Alan's 109th birthday. Let's tell the tale of his arrival properly...
Born in London: 2 / Lived in London: 3 / Died in London: 1



This is 2 Warrington Crescent, Maida Vale, a white stucco residence over five floors. Although it's where Alan Turing was born it isn't the kind of place you'd expect Britain's greatest computer scientist to have grown up, indeed he didn't because it hadn't been a house since Victorian times. The building was knocked together with the house nextdoor to create a boarding school in 1880, and a few years later became the Warrington Lodge Medical and Surgery Home for Ladies. Ethel Turing checked in briefly in June 1912 while her husband was on leave from his position with the Indian Civil Service, and it was here on Sunday 23rd June that baby Alan Mathison Turing was born. The building became a hotel in 1938, first the Esplanade, now the Colonnade, and usually offers 43 rooms to mostly Middle Eastern guests (which is why there's a posh Persian restaurant on the ground floor).

Alan in fact grew up in St Leonard's-on-Sea while his father's Indian commission continued, spending his pre-boarding years in the care of a retired army colonel. He went to school in Dorset and university in Cambridge where he published his seminal paper "On Computable Numbers". WW2 saw him summoned to Bletchley Park where his breakthroughs in codebreaking technology helped crack Germany's impenetrable Enigma machine, shortened the war and kickstarted the first electronic computers. Few 20th century CVs are more impressive. In 1945 Alan moved to Teddington to work on the design of the Automatic Computing Engine at the National Physical Laboratory, lodging in a house in Hampton, which ticks the Greater London box again. But after two years he was off to Manchester via Cambridge, which is where his life came to an untimely end.

Alan's closeted homosexuality came to the notice of the police after his home was burgled. He was convicted of gross indecency, required to submit to hormone therapy and lost his official security clearance ending his work on computers overnight. Two years later his housekeeper found him dead from cyanide poisoning - suicide assumed - at the tragically young age of 41. An official pardon took 55 years, the delay caused more by societal intolerance than national security. But Alan's contribution to the nation is now suitably lauded, and today he ends up on a banknote you'll probably never hold.

Born in London: 4 (21%)
Lived in London: 17 (89%)
Died in London: 7 (41%)


Of the 19 figures thus far featured on our banknotes the vast majority moved to London at some point in their lives and then most moved away. No other region of the country displays this dominance, for mostly historical reasons, but that's no reason to perpetuate the Bank's blinkered focus in the future. Series H is likely some years off, but it's not just gender, race and sexual orientation that deserve a bit more diversity.

 Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Random City of London ward (19): Cripplegate



For my 19th random ward we're going back to the Barbican, the better known half with the arts complex. It's very much the jackpot modern-architecture-wise, which is why I spun off the Golden Lane Estate into a separate post yesterday. It's also probably for the best that it was drizzling throughout my visit otherwise I'd have dawdled round taking hugely more photos. [pdf map] [12 photos]



Cripplegate was the northernmost entrance into the City of London, named for reasons now lost to the mysteries of time. It was located near the top of Wood Street, at the overshadowed crossroads beside the Barbican Dental Practice, where you can read more on plaque 13 of the excellent London Wall Walk. But far better to go in search of plaque 15 which is attached to the remains of a medieval bastion in the garden of Barber Surgeon's Hall, accessed through an overgrown gap in the wall halfway down a parking ramp. In the far corner of the lawn a muddy footpath squeezes between the scheduled monument and a rampant hedge before opening out at the edge of the Barbican's shimmering lake. Ducks scuttle from the undergrowth, a sign warns 'No Fishing' and the Wallside walkway stalks across the pool on lofty concrete stilts. Only Estate residents can access the bench inside the ruined stone tower beyond the locked gate but I love the unexpected isolation of this historic spot.



Across the water is St Giles Cripplegate, one of the City's few surviving medieval churches and the Barbican's sole ancient building. It's been rebuilt a few times, notably after the Cripplegate Fire of 1897 and the Blitz, although the tower and parts of the chancel are 15th century. Oliver Cromwell got married here, John Milton is buried here and William Shakespeare may have attended his nephew's baptism here, which isn't bad as pseudo-history goes. Cripplegate is the most populous of all the 25 City wards so a readymade congregation lives nearby which helps explain why Sung Eucharist was underway when I arrived, the sweet sound of choral music drifting out through the open door. The surrounding podium - St Giles Terrace - felt empty and somewhat cut off, but I suspect perks up enormously when the City of London School for Girls is in full educational flow nextdoor.

A few flats thread in alongside the Roman stonework, notably on The Postern and Wallside (where Norman Tebbit used to live). Front doors here open straight out onto the walkway, a much homelier touch than elsewhere, plus there's no need to stick your surname in a list beside a buzzer. I thought the place had gone downmarket when I heard a football reverberating around the highwalk, but it was just three slightly posh lads come to collect their mate for a proper Sunday morning kickabout.



The chief residential blocks in these parts are Gilbert House (above the bridge across the lake), Andrewes House (to the south), Willoughby House (to the east) and Speed House (to the north). Together they almost form a square circuit of highwalks, perhaps the most familiar part of the Barbican's apocryphal navigational labyrinth. Glass and concrete stairwells pierce the walkways at regular intervals, occasionally entered by well-dressed couples or men clutching reusable Waitrose bags. At one point you can look up into a triangular crevice used by residents for storage purposes, in one case entirely filled by shoes, in others by neatly-stacked family accoutrements. According to the estate agent's cubbyhole in the southeast corner a one-bed flat typically sells for £750,000 and a two-bed maisonette rents for £2250 pcm (other charges apply), so I've regretfully crossed the place off my list of aspirations.



The estate's centrepiece is a long shallow lake, resplendent from above (because the water contains a harmless dye to better reflect the surrounding architecture). The eastern end includes a waterfall resembling an overflowing pipe and a warren of submerged brick crucibles accessible only by residents and their lucky guests. The western end has lush patches of clustered waterlilies and several circular indentations for fountains, each a Health and Safety nightmare. The Lakeside Terrace is the premier place to be, especially as the adjacent arts centre unlocks, although Benugo's outdoor tables don't get much use during prolonged drizzle.



The Barbican Arts and Conference Centre may be iconic but it's also bloody difficult to circumnavigate without going inside. The far end of the terrace is for Guildhall music students only (public access "in an emergency"). A set of moodily-lit ramps climbs to one end of Gilbert Bridge, where access to Frobisher Crescent's useful short cut has been closed off. The gates at the top of the steps into the art gallery are also locked, blocking another route the architects originally intended to smooth pedestrian flow. Trek far enough and you'll eventually reach the highwalk past the conservatory on Level 3 (tickets free, socially-distanced one-way-system in operation, please prebook, entirely sold out for the next week), and finally you're through.



Cromwell Tower erupts from the podium outside the Silk Street entrance, and is the only one of the Barbican's three highrises grounded in Cripplegate ward. Its sawtooth profile rises 42 increasingly-prestigious storeys, although the podium entrance is deceptively low-key. Neighbouring Ben Jonson House is 50% longer than Cromwell Tower is high, indeed it's the longest slab block on the Estate and consists mostly of split level maisonettes. Lurking round the back is Breton House, blessed with an impressively quiet off-piste setting (unless it's playtime at the adjacent Islington primary school when I guess life gets rather noisier). And in amongst the planters on the edge of the podium I found an exit I'd never stumbled upon before, a long ramp down to Golden Lane, which just goes to show you never really know somewhere until you micro-explore it.



Facing off against all this concrete is the Victorian brick of the former Cripplegate Institute, a benevolent institution which once contained reading and reference libraries, classrooms, a theatre and a rifle range. It's currently occupied by UBS (who won't be renewing their lease when it expires this year), and the Cripplegate Foundation has transferred its assets to supporting the disadvantaged and vulnerable across the borough of Islington instead. The police hostel immediately to the north has recently been demolished and replaced by a bulky block of non-affordable housing branded The Denizen, and looks utterly out of place looming above the Jewin Welsh Presbyterian Chapel. But that's City planning for you - former Chief Planner Peter Rees sanctioned the demolition of the Barbican's only unlisted block in 2007 and now lives in a 27th floor flat in The Heron which replaced it.



Which brings us to the Golden Lane Estate, which deserved better than being shoehorned into a final paragraph so got a post all of its own yesterday. It may just be me but I reckon City wards where people live can be a lot more interesting than wards where they merely work.


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