Friday, June 30, 2023
30 unblogged things I did in June
Thu 1: My National Trust magazine arrived in a compostable potato starch wrapper printed with the request "Please don't put this in your plastic recycling bin or with your general domestic waste." Instead it informs me of three methods of disposal. "Add to a compost heap" but I don't have a compost heap. "Place in your garden waste" but I don't have a garden. "Use to line your food waste caddy" but this is Tower Hamlets and we don't have food waste caddies. I now feel somewhat insufficiently middle class. The magazine ended up in the recycling and the wrapper ended up in the bin.
Fri 2: I thought I'd buy six Magnum ice creams at Tesco because the label on the shelf said the Clubcard price was £1.60. but at the till I was charged £5.75 because I'd picked up the wrong box, indeed I suspect there weren't any of the right box left.
Sat 3: Last week British Gas sent me a letter saying that even though I'd just had a bill they needed to send me a new one because they'd transferred me to a new billing system. Today it arrived and it's for the period 1st May to 2nd May, and I fear they spent more on postage than I did on energy.
Sun 4: When I wrote about Coronation clocktowers last month I unintentionally overlooked the tower in Crayford erected to commemorate the coronation of Edward VII, sorry, so I hope this photo I slogged across Bexley to take makes good of that omission.
Mon 5: Five weeks ago I blogged about Tower Hamlets' intention to introduce 'No Loading' restrictions on the last double yellow lines near my house. Today I see they've painted them already - fresh paired stripes on the kerb outside Bow Baptist Church - which seems like very fast work. Deliveries and red routes really don't mix.
Tue 6: Today, as temperatures soared, I was privileged to be in attendance at London's annual Please Carry Water With You In Hot Weather ceremony. Two members of TfL staff appeared at the far end of the Central line platform at Holborn station, the junior acolyte clutching freshly-printed rolled-up posters. The elder used his radio device to alert staff further up the line that the religious objects were ready, then handed them to a train driver for safe transfer to the next two stations. I missed the unloading ritual at Chancery Lane but at St Paul's a member of staff graciously accepted the offering, checked that it had the sacred text "St Paul's" scrawled on the back in pen, then processed serenely up two sets of escalators and delivered it to the control room. I imagine a prayer was said and the poster splashed with holy water, and when I came back a few hours later it was on proud display in the ticket hall.
Wed 7: The new big thing at Canary Wharf appears to be large communal entertainment spaces with streetfood and alcohol concessions designed to keep groups of friends busy while parting them from their cash. The Market Halls space feels a bit like Boxpark but with glass walls and better cocktails, while Fairgame is a faux-funfair for adults where you get to play nine games for £15 and might walk away with a teddy.
Thu 8: Radio 6 Music's new evening schedule has been going for a week now, and sorry but two hours of New Music Fix is overdoing the unfamiliar, but I am enjoying Riley and Coe later on. The pair banter well and it does feel like appointment radio, but with all the talking the proportion of music being played is much lower so I still prefer the solo shows on Mondays and Thursdays.
Fri 9: The 20000th Archers episode was a bit of a letdown, given the expectation for secret mystery guests or shocking drama-busting plotlines, but perhaps it was for the best that the dialogue focused on the minutiae of pig husbandry because that's truer to the show's roots (and maybe the hotheaded Tom/Lee decision will later turn out to be absolutely pivotal).
Sat 10: It is astonishing that Shaun Bailey has been ennobled in Boris's resignation honours list, partly because his campaign team is at the heart of the latest Partygate accusations but mainly because he's not the sharpest tool in the box as his Mayoral campaign proved, and it turns out it's not what you know it's who you know.
Sun 11: Today I headed across town to enjoy the Route 65 and 71 Heritage Event organised by the London Bus Museum. A heck of a lot of old vehicles plied the streets between Ealing and Chessington, all for free, bringing smiles to the faces of passengers and unintentional spectators alike. I rode a 70-year-old RT from Ealing to Kingston, crammed up top with the enthusiastic gentlemen, the serial-number-tickers, the nostalgic grandparents, the bubbling families, the silent documenters, the portly throwbacks and the excitable tip of the autistic spectrum. We made slow progress due to roadworks, congestion and limited acceleration, but still stuck to timetable. The best bit, retrospectively, was stopping outside South Ealing station just as the London Transport Museum's red 1938 tube train passed directly underneath.
Mon 12: Route 108 is about to get new electric vehicles transferred from redundant routes 507 and 521, indeed the first arrived on the route today. I hope they add some seats in the huge gap where City commuters used to straphang, because these cavernous cattletrucks may be swish but they're not yet fit for purpose.
Tue 13: Sometimes it's fun to just walk round Harrods and treat it like a sightseeing trip. On the second floor I discovered the home fragrance department, a lot of sales assistants with nothing to do, a £50,000 piano that plays itself and a tiny exhibition of Bob Dylan artworks. I very briefly got my hopes up but no, not 'my' painting.
Wed 14: An exhibition you might enjoy: At the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow they warn you that the 'Ashish' exhibition might not be suitable for children. Ashish Gupta is a flamboyant clothes designer and I thought the roomful of mannequins was pretty innocuous until I actually read the slogans on some of his glittery sequinned tops. They are subversively gorgeous though. You can also enjoy a separate film explaining Ashish's creative journey (Esme from the Sewing Bee is in it). Until 10th September.
Thu 15: Netflix haven't castrated BestMate's piggybacked access yet, so we sat down and enjoyed the first episode of the new season of Black Mirror, Joan is Awful, and the other four have a lot to live up to.
Fri 16: News from Ealing: I went back to the junction of The Ridings and Audley Road, which was called Wordsworth Drive when Reggie Perrin used to walk past it daily, and the owners of the house on the corner have built a new extension and a new wall and suddenly it doesn't look very 1970s any more.
Sat 17: Shortly after arriving in Wivenhoe I was walking up the high street when I spotted someone I thought I recognised coming out of a coffee shop. "That looks very much like the lady who made me redundant from my last job," I thought, "right down to her haircut, her height and her choice of clothing, but what are the chances of her living here?" I kept out of the way in the churchyard because I didn't want to have words and it probably wasn't her anyway. But then a member of the local community recognised her too and addressed her cheerily by name, and I thought "My God it is!" plus some rude words I won't write here. I kept well out of the way until she'd driven off, seemingly heading safely out of town, and it took the best part of an hour for me to fully recover.
Sun 18: I finally worked out where the flies were coming from, and sometimes that's worse than not finding out where the flies are coming from.
Mon 19: Today I found a bus map on a tube platform dated November 2007. I won't mention where it is lest it be removed, because even an out-of-date bus map is better than the current default which is no map at all.
Tue 20: The first wasp of the season blundered in through my french windows today and then utterly failed to locate any of the multiple exit routes I kindly provided, and how can they get so close to an open window on so many occasions but always miss it?
Wed 21: Today I wrote about Tower Hamlets Road E17, and in a week's time a former resident will leave this comment hardly anyone will read: "That 'really smart detached gabled villa' is actually a pair of charming but pokey semi-detached cottages, similar to the ones in Eden Road in Walthamstow Village. I know because we used to live in one of them, but moved to a less entrancing but rather more practical house about 25 years ago. I think the estate agent said 'bijou' when we sold it. We used to get quite a bit of post for the same street number in Tower Hamlets Road E7, and on one occasion a taxi-full of merry partygoers."
Thu 22: An exhibition you might enjoy: I dropped into the Whitechapel Gallery for some art because the main galleries are free at the moment. The big exhibition is called Life Is More Important Than Art That's Why Art Is Important. I could have happily enjoyed a roomful of Janette Paris's graphic histories, not just eight. I sat through 5 minutes of John Smith's Citadel before I realised it was about lockdown. Susan Hiller's J Street Project is an ingenious geographic slant on attitudes to the Holocaust featuring 300 German street names. Until 17th September.
Fri 23: In 2009 the Kings Arms pub on Bow Road was turned into a tacky B&B and in 2012 they painted it a ghastly shade of grey. It's currently off-white... except the owners have just had scaffolding erected and are busy hacking off the cladding in great lumps in what appears to be a very unprofessional manner. A tiny scrap of old 'Ind Coope' sign was revealed but they've since painted over that, and I hate to think what look they're eventually aiming for.
Sat 24: Rick Astley basically ruled Glastonbury and his elevation to National Treasure may now be complete.
Sun 25: I resisted bringing you a 40th anniversary blogpost but some days are important - who knew my last ever A Level exam would be the trigger? - and rest assured celebrations were undertaken.
Mon 26: The fact the new TV version of Popmaster is on More 4, not Channel 4, suggests they know it doesn't really work.
Tue 27: A large East End funeral descended on my local Roman Catholic Church this lunchtime, attended by an extended blond family who looked like they'd spawned home from Essex. The deceased lay in a white carriage drawn by four pink-feathered horses, topped off by floral tributes in the shape of a can of cola and a packet of Mayfair cigarettes. I hurried home before the bagpiper started.
Wed 28: TfL's Pride poster campaign includes a fabulous map of London's lost rivers, so I tweeted that and it went totally viral, but I also got 43 people telling me their local river wasn't actually lost and that took the shine off somewhat.
Thu 29: I'm increasingly convinced that I might now be wasting my time.
Fri 30: Let's see how this year's annual counts are going...
• Number of London boroughs visited: all of them (at least 18 times each)
• Number of London postcode areas visited: 250 (which is 100% of the total)
• Number of London bus routes ridden: all 546 (100%)
• Number of Z1-3 stations used: all 380-odd (100%)
• Number of Z4-6 stations used: still only 3 (1%)
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, June 29, 2023London's monthly transport news (June 2023)
I know I sometimes misbehave and tell you transport news off my own bat, but the only genuine transport news in the capital is that pumped out by the TfL press office. I'm therefore pleased to bring you this monthly round-up of London's transport news compiled exclusively from every press release TfL released in June and no independent agenda-setting whatsoever. Just in case you missed everyone else covering it.
06 Jun 2023: 4G and 5G mobile coverage now available to customers at Camden Town station
I discovered this for myself earlier in the week when I boarded a Northern line train at Tufnell Park and sat next to a woman who appeared to be making a phone call. "You can't do that down here," I thought, then remembered they've started introducing 4G underground along the High Barnet branch of the Northern line. She really had to struggle to be heard as the train approached the new 4G nexus at Camden Town because the screechy track noise along that stretch is appalling. But she battled on anyway, to my increasing annoyance, until the signal suddenly cut out halfway to Euston because they haven't enabled that bit yet. And it's not just good for phone calls, I was able to use the 4G between stations when I thought I spotted actor Jim Broadbent sitting in the seat opposite. Until now going online was impossible but I was able to bring up Google Image Search on my phone browser and reference a few key facial features and ultimately decided that no, on the balance of probabilities it wasn't Jim Broadbent, and my apologies if it actually was.
07 Jun 2023: Andy Lord confirmed as London’s Transport Commissioner
Well done Andy.
09 Jun 2023: TfL invites people to have their say on proposals for the next new section of the Superloop, connecting North Finchley and Walthamstow
Last month TfL dangled the X183 in front of us and now it's the turn of the X34, a proposed express route linking North Finchley with Walthamstow. "Game-changing", the press release calls it, as well as lots of duller worthy words ideal for cut and pasting directly into a news story. The official version mentions that the X34 will run every 12 minutes but not that the 34 will simultaneously be reduced in frequency (from 8 buses an hour to 6) to make up for it. It also says that this is "to strengthen and improve public transport options in line with the London-wide ULEZ expansion" but chooses not to mention that the majority of the X34's route runs either along the edge of the current ULEZ or inside it so won't help much. But do have your say, you've got until 21st July.
12 Jun 2023: Strike action due to affect buses in north London for four days in June
The problem with doing a monthly retrospective is that sometimes the event has already happened, as here where the final day of disruption was supposed to be yesterday. Also the strike action was withdrawn a week later and never corrected by any subsequent press release, so this has been an entirely pointless mention.
13 Jun 2023: Explore the Science Museum for less with a new Transport for London offer
You can of course explore the Science Museum for nothing because that's how London's free museum offer works. What TfL are actually doing here is offering money off some of the expensive add-ons like paid exhibitions and experiences, and only if you've downloaded the right app on your phone. You can now get 50% off Science Fiction: Voyage to the Edge of Imagination (saving £7.50), 25% off an annual pass at Wonderlab (saving £4.25) or 20% off an IMAX 3D documentary (saving £2.40), although IMAX 3D films are specifically excluded. You also have to show proof of travel on the day you visit by waving the TfL Oyster and Contactless app at someone on the front desk, which quite frankly is just another layer of unnecessary friction at what is already London's faffiest museum, so maybe don't bother.
13 Jun 2023: TfL and London Councils progress plans to further improve lorry safety in London
This is important but dull, which may be why none of the usual media outlets leapt on it and wrote up the story. I too have struggled to find a nugget of broader interest in "a report on a consultation to build on and improve the existing HGV safety permit scheme with 55% of respondents supportive of the principles of the Direct Vision Standard, the HGV Safety Permits Scheme and the Safe System progressing", but if this interests you fear not you can read about it yourself.
13 Jun 2023: TfL moves forwards with plans to make the Battersea Bridge area safer for people walking and cycling
A problem with a lot of press releases is that you don't really get a full sense of what's going on, just a lot of plain text and summary bullet points. If all the detailed explanatory information and maps are tucked elsewhere on a separate website, as here, a busy journo is unlikely to have the time to dig deeper. I have looked at the maps but I don't really have enough local knowledge to be able to judge the plans for myself, other than to say that yes, a new pedestrian crossing just south of Battersea Bridge would be desperately useful.
15 Jun 2023: TfL sets out vision to further boost cycling by making it more diverse than ever
There's a lot more to boosting cycling than diversity if you read the press release, and a heck of a lot more to it if you ever get as far as reading the new Cycling Action Plan. I found it fascinating and I'm not even a cyclist, I'm one of the refuseniks debated between pages 17 and 28. "Reducing road danger on its own may not be sufficient to achieve a cycling population reflective of London’s diverse communities," it says, "a range of barriers prevent people from cycling such as concerns over air pollution, lack of cycle parking, not being able to afford a cycle, fear of harassment, or the perception that ‘cycling is not for people like me’. Another big issue is not having a broad enough network (for example six outer London boroughs still have no TfL cycleways and four have none planned), and it'll be a slow expensive process trying to improve that. Watch this space.
15 Jun 2023: Upcoming weekend closures for southbound traffic through Blackwall Tunnel
I'm too late for this one too because the two weekend closures have just completed. They were for the removal of a 1960s footbridge over the southern approach road as part of works to connect up the Silvertown Tunnel (and yes they'll be replacing the bridge later with a more accessible one). Apparently one further closure will be required for drainage reasons, possibly 8-10 July but there hasn't been a press release to confirm that yet.
16 Jun 2023: TfL and partners progress public transport proposals to unlock Thamesmead and Beckton Riverside
This is exciting, this is a possible new DLR extension creating a fresh link across the Thames. It'll bear off near Gallions Reach before tunnelling east to Thamesmead with one intermediate stop amid the ex-gasworks at Beckton. But it's not to benefit existing residents, it's to boost accessibility for tens of thousands of homes as yet unbuilt and which will likely remain unbuilt unless the new spur appears. If you get your news from MyLondon you'll be expecting the new link 'soon', because they don't read press releases carefully so missed the crucial detail that it's maybe 10 years away if we're lucky. As yet there's no funding nor any detailed plans, we've merely reached the feasibility study stage, and it might just end up being improved bus routes instead.
16 Jun 2023: REMINDER: Kentish Town Tube station to close for improvements from Monday 26 June
This has already happened, the escalators at Kentish Town station having been deemed so unreliable that the entire tube station has been closed until they've been replaced which might take a year. The Thameslink station remains open but can now only be accessed via the side passage. I dropped by earlier this week and despite an absolute mountain of signage outside the station a baffled woman still felt the need to ask me where the way in was. Also the logo they've used to represent the escalator upgrade looks unnervingly like two tumescent male reproductive organs, or if I'm feeling charitable a pair of radioactive raspberry eclairs.
22 Jun 2023: TfL launches limited edition Oyster card to celebrate 20 years of the iconic smartcard
The iconic Oyster card is now 20 years old, in fact it's 20 years old tomorrow, so TfL are celebrating by printing a limited edition with a special design on the front. They're only available at zone 1 stations, only 300,000 have been produced and they don't have any special benefits other than looking nice. But because you no longer get your deposit back and the charge for getting a card has increased from £5 to £7, if TfL manage to persuade 300,000 tubenerds to dash out and get one they'll have raised two million quid by doing very little. In good news, the press release confirms that TfL have no plans to withdraw the Oyster card because it's a crucial part of an inclusive travel offer.
23 Jun 2023: TfL publishes new data on London’s e-scooter rental trial as it celebrates its second anniversary
The press office loves a birthday, indeed they showed considerable restraint yesterday by failing to publish a press release to celebrate the Dangleway's 11th. In this case the somewhat weak reason for an official communication is that an e-scooter factsheet has been produced, which mainly focuses on the fact that this remains a trial so they're still gathering information. We learn that "the majority of customers were white (77%), male (78%) and under the age of 35 (59%) but also that "customers on low incomes and from ethnic minority groups were more likely to be frequent e-scooter users." One key statistic is that nobody's been killed yet, indeed less than 0.01% of trips resulted in serious injury, but also the average number of rides per scooter per day is only 1.3 which suggests this really hasn't taken off in any significant way whatsoever.
26 Jun 2023: LGBTQ+ community stories told on the TfL network to mark Pride 2023
It's Pride month again so TfL have wrapped three trains and a bus in rainbow colours to celebrate. But more importantly they're standing up in solidarity with LGBTQ+ Londoners loud and proud, because in the current climate that level of support isn't always a given. Several "prominent personalities" are sharing their stories in posters at stations - mainly at Green Park and Victoria if you're trying to track them down. More visibly most station whiteboards across the network currently feature bold quotes from a couple of books featured in this month's TfL Book Club selection, including some that that might make blinkered gender-obsessed bigots feel uncomfortable. The best summary of the campaign is on the TfL blog, including some excellent staff-generated posters, so maybe start there rather than the press release. Just don't go looking for the rainbow Crossrail train yet because it launches tomorrow.
Please forgive me for mentioning any other transport news during the month of June, and remember to only get your transport news from approved sources and top-down agendas.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, June 28, 2023Anorak Corner (the annual update) [tube edition]
Hurrah, it's that time of year again when TfL silently updates its spreadsheet of annual passenger entry/exit totals at every tube station.
Actually they haven't, not yet, but what they have done is upload five massive spreadsheets of data from which all the necessary orderings can be calculated. There's a Monday spreadsheet, a Tuesday-Thursday spreadsheet, a Friday spreadsheet, a Saturday spreadsheet and a Sunday spreadsheet (because weekdays no longer have the uniform travel patterns they once did). All of these have been surveyed from a typical week in autumn 2022 (so we're finally past the pandemic data-blip and into the new normal, plus Crossrail is now up and running). I've added all of these spreadsheets together.
So what follows is weekly passenger data not annual passenger data.
(which shouldn't make any overall difference to the rankings because the annual figures have always been 'one typical week multipled by 52' anyway)
London's busiest tube lines (journeys 2022)
1) Northern 5,910,200
2) Victoria 4,523,000
3) Jubilee 4,461,700
4) Central 4,449,900
5) District 4,045,700
6) Piccadilly 3,357,900
7) H&C and Circle 2,272,600
8) Bakerloo 1,841,000
9) Metropolitan 1,546,300
10) Waterloo & City 329,400
The Northern line is comfortably the busiest tube line, but it's a much closer battle for second place between the Victoria, Jubilee and Central lines. A fantastic fact is that the Central line comes second on Mondays, the Victoria line comes second on the other weekdays and the Jubilee line comes second at weekends.
TfL don't distinguish between the Hammersmith & City and Circle lines, they bundle them in together, but we might assume both have just over a million passengers each. So although the bottom 3 are technically the Bakerloo, Metropolitan and Waterloo & City, in reality the bottom 3 are the Hammersmith & City, Circle and Waterloo & City.
If Crossrail were a tube line, which it isn't, it'd slot in between the District and Piccadilly lines with 3,512,000 weekly journeys. The Overground has slightly more passengers (3,723,000) and the DLR rather fewer (2,035,000).
London's ten busiest tube stations (entries/exits 2022)
1) Waterloo 1,668,000
2) King's Cross St Pancras 1,509,000
3) Liverpool Street 1,410,000
4) Victoria 1,265,000
5) London Bridge 1,259,000
6) Paddington 1,195,000
7) Stratford 1,185,000
8) Oxford Circus 1,151,000
9) Tottenham Court Road 1,139,000
10) Bond Street 806,000
Again these are weekly totals, not annual, so Waterloo's figure equates to about 87m passengers a year. The top six are all major rail termini, the same six that topped the list before the pandemic but in a somewhat different order. Oxford Circus is the busiest tube-only station. Stratford is still the busiest tube station outside zone 1. A lot of Elizabeth line stations appear because interchanging with Crossrail counts as a tube entry or exit.
The next 10: Bank/Monument, Farringdon, Canary Wharf, Leicester Square, Green Park, Euston, Piccadilly Circus, Moorgate, South Kensington, Finsbury Park
London's ten busiest tube stations that are only on one line: Canary Wharf, North Greenwich, Vauxhall, Brixton, Wimbledon, Camden Town, Seven Sisters, Old Street, Highbury & Islington, Knightsbridge
The busiest tube station in zone 3 is Wimbledon (396,000), the busiest tube station in zone 4 is Wembley Park (319,000), the busiest tube station in zone 5 is Harrow-on-the-Hill (175,000) and the busiest tube station in zone 6 is Heathrow Terminals 2&3 (129,000).
The least used tube stations in zone 1: Regent's Park (46000), Lambeth North, Bayswater, Nine Elms, Edgware Road (76000)
This is still my favourite list of the year...
London's 10 least busy tube stations (entries/exits 2022)
1) Kensington (Olympia) 2610
2) Roding Valley 5790
3) Chigwell 6890
4) Grange Hill 7990
5) North Ealing 12370
6) Theydon Bois 14950
7) Moor Park 15780
8) Upminster Bridge 15900
9) Ruislip Gardens 16250
10) Croxley 17200
This is exactly the same top 10 as last year except Croxley and Ruislip Gardens have swapped places. Least used stations tend to stay least used stations even when overall travel patterns are disrupted.
Kensington (Olympia) remains least used overall now that TfL have finally split its tube passengers from the vastly more frequent Overground service. The Essex end of the Central line has a very strong showing including all three stops on the Hainault shuttle, as per usual. An interesting statistic is that Kensington Olympia ↔ Earl's Court and Grange Hill ↔ Hainault are the least travelled sections of track anywhere on the Underground.
The next ten least busy stations: Ickenham, Chesham, Fairlop, West Harrow, South Kenton, West Acton, West Ruislip, Barkingside, West Finchley, North Wembley
And while we're here...
DLR Top 5: Canning Town, Bank, Stratford, Canary Wharf, Woolwich Arsenal
DLR Bottom 5: Beckton Park (11000), Poplar, Elverson Road, Stratford High Street, Blackwall (26300)
Beckton Park remains Tumbleweed Central after the neighbouring office development stalled. Poplar's a busy station but not many people enter or exit. Pudding Mill Lane used to be in the Bottom 5 but thanks to ABBA it's no longer even in the Bottom 10.
Overground Top 5: Highbury & Islington/Stratford/Whitechapel/Liverpool Street/Clapham Junction (in some order)
Overground Bottom 6: Emerson Park (8000), South Hampstead, Penge West, Headstone Lane, Theobalds Grove, Barking Riverside (13400)
I've stretched this to a Bottom Six to show that the Barking Riverside extension is so far a commercial failure. That's fine, it was only built to enable the building of thousands more homes and until they're built it'll never be busy. But even a year after opening it's still averaging only 15 passengers per train, that's enough to half-fill a single decker bus, because such are the costs of sending the trains before the people.
Crossrail Top 5: Canary Wharf (338,000), Woolwich, Custom House, Ilford, Hayes & Harlington
Crossrail Bottom 5: Iver (8600), Taplow, Heathrow Terminal 4, Langley, Hanwell (33900)
The Top 5 is just taken from stations with a separate gateline. Obviously Tottenham Court Road and several of the central stations are busier but alas these spreadsheets don't allow you to strip out purple and non-purple passengers. Such are the dangers of reading too much into the available data. But the Bottom 5 is pretty definitive, indeed look here's Iver sitting comfortably amidst the least used of all TfL stations.
TfL's 10 least busy stations (entries/exits 2022)
1) Kensington (Olympia) 2610
2) Roding Valley 5790
3) Chigwell 6890
4) Grange Hill 7990
5) Emerson Park 8120
6) Iver 8560
7) Beckton Park 10840
8) South Hampstead 12210
9) North Ealing 12370
10) Penge West 12410
And let's finish with this list because it's always good to learn something new.
The busiest Overground lines (journeys 2022)
1) East London 1,281,000
2) North London 1,271,000
3) West Anglia 694,000
4) Watford-Euston 237,000
5) Gospel Oak-Barking 224,000
6) Romford–Upminster 16,000
The two original Overground lines remain the busiest on the network, with each carrying about one-third of all Overground passengers. Next comes West Anglia, that's the lines out of Liverpool Street, with the Watford branch and Goblin roughly balanced behind. Propping up the lot is the runty Emerson Park line which carries just 0.4% of all Overground traffic, and quite frankly I'm surprised it's that much.
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, June 27, 2023Peripheral Postcodes: KT10, RM19, SL0, SL3 & WD19
Last week I finished visiting every postcode district in London. But, as I explained, that was just the 244 postcode districts with addresses. Another five merely contain "addressable locations", like ponds, bridges and pylons, and my rules said I didn't have to go to those. But a question mark arose over WD19 where one particular electricity substation in outer London can only be accessed from Hertfordshire, and although it appears to have the right postcode it might not be current, and basically does it marginally count or doesn't it? So I decided the easiest thing to do was to go anyway, then it didn't matter if it counted or not because I'd definitely been. And then I decided to go to the other four as well just to put the entire project unequivocally to bed.
Here then are my reports from London's five most marginal postcode districts, where absolutely nobody lives, in a lengthy blogpost that's as peripheral as peripheral gets. [map]
This overlap amounts to half a footpath and probably the field nextdoor, in the dangly bulge of Kingston that pokes out like a tongue into Surrey. To get here take the train to Chessington South, or better still the K4 bus to Mansfield Park, and locate the alleyway off Merritt Gardens with the amateurish Pooh Bear sign. This is not the footpath we seek, more a suburban escape valve leading past thickety hedges, electric fences and flowery paddocks labelled Do Not Feed The Horses. But eventually you'll reach a fingerposted junction and this, or some adjacent invisible object with the appropriate designation, is one of the two addressable objects in London to have a KT10 postcode.
The other is 200m up the path with the warning triangle, a shady oaken bridleway with dollops of dried manure confirming yes, you should indeed slow down and watch for horses. Through one fence is what was once RAF Chessington, first a base for barrage balloons and later a medical rehabilitation unit, most of which has been turned into that housing estate we were on earlier. Across the other fence is a hay meadow which on my visit looked like it had just been cut and which was alive with a bountiful bustle of butterflies - the longer I looked the more I saw. And beyond that is the A3 Esher Bypass, a dual carriageway which has been providing all the background noise in the vicinity since 1976.
A separate footpath winds west towards the A3, flipping into Surrey just as it descends into Stygian gloom to pass beneath the roadway through a grimly engineered subway. That leads to the village of Claygate and proper KT10, whereas the path in the London sliver bends back past nettles and dogroses before rapidly hitting KT9. It's more Hook than Chessington around here if you're keeping notes. A bike-proof gate then leads into a small park formed from RAF remnants, whereas if you continue along the path you may meet a member of staff from the nearby primary school grabbing an offduty cigarette and wondering what on earth anyone else is doing here. And if none of this is ringing any bells whatsoever I'm not surprised because nobody wanders into London KT10 without good reason.
In sharp contrast let's shift to the estuarine Thames, specifically the marshy nomansland between Rainham and Purfleet. Nobody lives within a mile of here so it's frankly strange that any postcodes were ever allocated, but one drainage pond on the Havering side of the boundary has been designated RM19 1SZ and that's what brought me here. If you've ever walked the last section of the London Loop you'll know how bleakly remote it is round here but that particular route hugs the waterfront so you won't quite have seen the pond inland. Instead you need to follow Coldharbour Lane, the ancient track since converted into a lengthy curve around two sides of a massive landfill site plied only by a steady stream of trucks and lorries. The adjacent footpath passes numerous numbered ventilation outlets, crosses the main road at the Rainham Silt Lagoons, dodges the turnoff for "Landfill, Compost and Road Sweepings" and plods on towards the Veolia Plastics Recycling Centre. If it sounds like I'm not selling the experience, this is deliberate.
The path eventually starts to climb, admittedly only gradually but in an estuarine setting that's all you need for a sweeping view across the marshes. Long creeky fingers spread across a landscape of long grasses dotted by the occasional bush and stretching off to a line of pylons on the horizon. It's a marvellous habitat for birdlife, especially when waterfowl are migrating, but their song will provide the backdrop to your visit at any time of year. At the top of the slope a small path breaks away to a proper viewpoint with a bench, though if you sit down the best of the vista diminishes so it's probably best used for resting a rucksack or a long lens camera. And hurrah, this spot is precisely above the pond with the RM19 postcode, and ooh look a trampled track descends almost to the water's edge, and it turns out this is an addressable object you can actually address.
The mound here isn't natural, it's the edge of a shelf of landfill established here when William Cunis established a dredging company at Coldharbour Point in 1906. Gravel and ballast headed upriver to assist with construction works and in its place came rubble and ash from burning coal mixed with food waste and other organic matter. Where that slope stops The Great Salting begins, a sprawling marsh on the line of the former Wennington Creek, and beyond that the public half of the RSPB reserve at Rainham Marshes. But that's in Thurrock, the edge of the capital being an invisible line weaving down to the river's edge at Aveley Bay (which is the 'beach' I mentioned and pictured in Sunday's post). It's a right trek to get to but for those of an ornithological bent, usually worth the effort.
Next we switch to the diametrically opposite side of London along the Colne Valley between Hillingdon and Bucks. The edge of the capital follows the river, or at least some braid of it, all the way from Rickmansworth to the M4 and here near Yiewsley the Royal Mail's boundary very nearly matches. But postcode district SL0 bleeds just across the Colne to three bits of infrastructure on the London side, all of which by chance are part of London Loop section 11. The first is on the Slough Arm of the Grand Union Canal, a lengthy but serene dead end that now hosts anglers, ramblers and a pair of quite angry-looking swans. Just before the border comes a iron footbridge, originally for carts, which carries an old track called Trout Lane across the water. This offers an excellent view down the channel, if what you like is arrow-straight algae, and is scrawled with minor graffiti including the frankly baffling Capitalism Is Pog.
Trout Lane's lovely at this time of year, a cyclepath bordered by buttercups and butterflies, and before long leads to the car park which is the second addressable object in London SL0. It's only small so you may not get a space, but if you're a particularly lazy parent you need only to walk a few steps to the river where your children can paddle excitedly in the shallow water. Officially this is the car park for Little Britain Lake, a body of water supposedly named because it's a similar shape to the British Isles as seen from the air, but in fact the local hamlet had that name long before its fields were flooded so that's an urban myth.
Meanwhile that paddling spot is actually a former ford on a country lane between Yiewsley and Iver, named on one side as Ford Road and on the other as Packetboat Lane. Those on foot were instead diverted to a convenient footbridge a short distance upstream... and that's addressable object number three (but only eastern half because the county changes midstream). It may be SL0 but there's not quite zero here, not quite.
SL3 is the largest postcode district to overlap Greater London without containing any buildings or houses. Two reasons. The first is that it's not advisable to build on the floodplain of the Colne, which is where we now are, being a bit further downstream than the previous SL0. And the second is that the M25 didn't exist when postcode districts came into existence a century ago but the Greater London boundary has subsequently shifted from the river to the motorway. This means several meadows that were once just outside the capital are now just inside, and they tend to have become Ballardian landscapes adjacent to sliproads, hard shoulders and concrete viaducts.
Here's just one of the 14 addressable locations, namely the point where the old Bath Road crosses the eleven lane span of the M25. It's the only place in today's post I haven't visited in the last week because I accidentally went last month on my trip to the Heathrow Biodiversity Site. Thankfully I took this photo as a plane thundered across on final approach, little realising that the far side of the bridge would tick off one of my questionable postcode boxes. A particularly strange fact is that SL is the only postcode area to enter Greater London without anybody living in the overlap, i.e. a total technicality, and that's with two different postcode districts crossing the line.
Finally to Hertfordshire and the stripe of Green Belt that separates Hatch End from South Oxhey. It's quite a definitive break with no housing or indeed roads to span the grassy gap, just a few footpaths (and the London to Manchester mainline railway). The easiest way in from the London side is via the Sylvia Avenue Open Space, a scrubby patch of barbecue-friendly woodland serving residents at the most isolated tip of Hatch End. Aim for the electricity pylon on the far side of the meadow, indeed it might be the pylon that's the crucial addressable object or it might be the gate alongside because that's slap bang on the border.
The pylon is one of several feeding into Hatch End Grid Substation, the infrastructural anomaly which triggered my need to visit WD19. Apparently it can transform power from 132kV to 33kV to 11kV as required, and probably back again, and is located liminally on the inside edge of the capital. The big clue is the fact it's named after Hatch End, despite abutting South Oxhey and only being accessible from South Oxhey which is how it got its WD19 postcode. But if you check UPRN 10025291166 the subtext says "This appears to be a deprecated UPRN. It was not included in the most recent OS Open UPRN database update." which suggests it isn't in WD19 6XA any more, indeed it may no longer be a functional place. I had to walk round via the mean streets of South Oxhey to reach its securely locked gate, but walk round I did and got no further clues from the exterior.
The only other accessible addressable location is a complex junction of multiple footpaths a tad to the west. One links to the power station, one to Heysham Drive and one crosses a sleepy paddock rife with windblown grasses. The other two are part of London Loop section 14, first sweeping in from Oxhey Woods across a dung-splattered field and then bearing off towards the elite breeding zone of Pinnerwood Stud. The aspect facing the greatest immediate threat is the sleepy paddock which Watford Community Housing Trust plan to transform into an estate of 53 homes, all either shared ownership or affordable rented. Local owner occupiers are aghast, having assumed that their gardens backed onto protected green belt in perpetuity, but apparently "the Site will achieve a 31.21% biodiversity net gain" because even greenwash comes to two decimal places these days.
...and with my trip to WD19 yesterday that's all of London's 249 postcode districts visited, even if you include the five districts where nobody lives. To be on the safe side I also dropped in on KT7, i.e. Thames Ditton, which is entirely outside London apart from three postcodes based at the main sorting office in Kingston. I did say non-geographic postcode districts don't count, and I stick by that, but KT7 appears to be the only Home Counties district which includes non-geographic postcodes inside London so I ventured up to the Customer Service Point in Hogsmill Lane anyway.
Belt and braces, better safe than sorry, no arguments, no ambiguity, done the lot. And not just all 250 postcode districts this year but all 250 in six months flat. I stick by my contention that nobody else has ever done this, not ever, the spread of minor peripheral overlaps being far too unlikely to achieve by chance.
It sounded such a simple idea when I started tallying back in January, but my word it's taken me to the extremes. Let us never speak of it again.
posted 07:00 :
Monday, June 26, 2023Time was when a by-election was a national event. Vincent Hanna would be despatched to provide on-the-spot coverage, Newsnight would have a journalist in the constituency pretty much full-time and even Nationwide would make regular visits to take the political temperature in cheery voxpops. But not any more. These days by-elections are minor sideshows that burst briefly into public consciousness the morning after the count when the Lib Dems smash a stack of yellow bricks, rather than a totemic indicator that the national zeitgeist has shifted. You show the average millennial the Dunny-on-the-Wold episode of Blackadder 3 and they'll just stare at you.
Well there's a by-election coming up next month, indeed there are three, indeed there ought to be four but one's been delayed because the MP hasn't officially resigned yet. Say what you like about thwarted novelists but they sure know how to plot a cliffhanger for maximum dramatic effect. And one of these by-elections is a proper rarity because it's in London for once and you don't get many of those, other than Old Bexley and Sidcup in 2021, Lewisham East in 2018, Richmond Park and Tooting in 2016, Croydon North in 2012 and Feltham and Heston in 2011, not many at all.
The big London by-election will be in Uxbridge and South Ruislip on 20th July. It's been caused because the man who won the seat last time, simultaneously achieving the largest Tory majority in the Commons since Margaret Thatcher, resigned like a coward before his term was up rather than face the consequences of the 90-day suspension proposed by a Commons Privileges Committee report. No other victorious Prime Minister has quit their seat so soon after a big win since David Cameron, and he hadn't been accused of being a shameless barefaced liar.
Boris Johnson's ignominious departure puts the spotlight firmly on the northwest London constituency he parachuted into while still playing out his last year as Mayor of London. Uxbridge and South Ruislip has been Conservative-held ever since it was created, which admittedly is only four general elections ago, but even if you look at the previous constituencies of Uxbridge and Ruislip-Northwood it's been full-on true blue since 1970. This ought to be a safe Tory seat except in truly exceptional circumstances, such as for example the charismatic leadership of Harold Wilson or the sense of national shame brought about by having elected a discredited tousle-haired truthbending sleazebag.
A total of seventeen candidates have put themselves forward for the upcoming byelection because nothing quite brings the nutters out of the woodwork like the possibility of recapturing a charlatan's empire in a constituency located conveniently close to Westminster.
Danny Beales* (Labour)
Steve Tuckwell* (Conservative)
Blaise Baquiche (Liberal Democrats)
Steve Gardner* (SDP)
Sarah Green* (Green)
Richard Hamilton (Rejoin EU)
Piers Corbyn (Let London Live)
Laurence Fox (Reclaim)
Ed Gemmell (Climate)
Rebecca Jane (UKIP)
Cameron Bell* Enomfon Ntefon*
Count Binface Howling Laud Hope
Kingsley Anti-Ulez 77 Joseph
No-Ulez Leo Phaure*
Only the asterisked candidates live in the constituency, the rest are chancing it.
At the last election Boris got 53% of the vote, Labour got 38% and everyone else was pretty much nowhere. That's pretty much ballpark for how the main parties have fared in the constituency over the last decade, but these are not normal times and Labour's huge national poll lead should translate into a much tighter contest, even an expectation that the man with the red rosette will walk it. He's Danny Beales, a 34-year-old Ruislip-raised redhead who until very very recently was a councillor in Camden. I didn't see him in Uxbridge town centre yesterday but I did see a small army of Labour campaigners preparing to launch themselves at the electorate.
You could tell it was a professional campaign from the size of the collateral piled up outside Pret A Manger - seven large plastic boxes brimful with clipboards and folders plus a few ripped-open boxes of campaign leaflets. They were red clipboards and red folders too, with a very generic 'Vote Labour' label on the back, as if stashed away at Head Office ready for just such a purpose as this. What's more the folders were ring binders with hole-punched printed pages inside, just as might have graced a campaign forty years ago, almost as if New Labour never happened. Multiple party members were mustering to collect their allotted haul, all upbeat and duly stickered, but I wasn't around long enough to see anybody actually using them, only sneaking off for a pre-canvass lunch.
Just one party was attempting to press the flesh with the electorate in the High Street yesterday lunchtime and that was UKIP. They'd set up a table beside the gold pillarbox and bedecked the phone boxes behind with mini-banners. I'm pretty sure the bloke leading this one-man operation wasn't their candidate because her name's Rebecca Jane, but he had come dressed in a maroon shirt which matched the cloth on the table. "Who Speaks Up For Britain?" asked the leaflets spread out in front of him, which is a good question to ask of a party that's had seven leaders in seven years. I didn't see anyone take a badge, indeed I couldn't tell if any of those going over were supporters or just there to harangue, but as the only party to have attempted engagement at least UKIP were giving the political process a go.
I didn't see any Conservatives in Uxbridge town centre attempting to save the seat, but maybe they were elsewhere focused on doorknocking rather than busy shoppers. It's also a big constituency so they could have been anywhere, indeed as I was walking down the canal towpath in far-off Yiewsley I came across this double-sided leaflet.
Ah, it's that by-election staple, the suspect campaign missive. One side claims a Labour vote risks unacceptable building targets and Green Belt desecration, the other that the Conservatives will prevent local sprawl and preserve the countryside. It is of course a Conservative communication as you can tell if you read the smallprint at the bottom, the hope being that you won't until you've clicked through to KeepTheGreenBelt.co.uk. This isn't a real website, the URL instead feeding through to a Conservative campaign page where the content further conflates the idea that housing targets are somehow inextricably tied to Green Belt survival.
As a discerning consumer of the news you may be aware that what Sir Keir Starmer actually proposed was "giving councils and residents the power to build on certain areas of green belt land if they wish", not a general bulldozering, which is precisely the "local people deciding on housing needs" policy claimed by the Tories. Voters who pay scant regard to news and truth may be much easier to persuade. Also note that all these newspaper headlines are cut off halfway through, and if you go searching you'll find what they actually say is this.
• Sir Keir Starmer vows to build more homes on Green Belt to fix housing crisis (Evening Standard)
• Labour would build on green belt to boost housing, says Starmer (BBC)
• Sunak rules out building on green belt after Starmer warns of housing crisis (The Independent)
In conclusion, even if you don't live in Uxbridge and South Ruislip rest assured that all the usual by-election stuff is happening, be that earnest canvassers, over-optimistic also-rans or dubious printed claims. With four weeks to go there's still plenty of time for the campaign to ramp up, evolve further and maybe even merit a couple of minutes in the national media. Who knows, the people of Hillingdon may choose to stick with Boris's party or they may swing his 7000 majority the other way and send a gesture to the government and its disgraced former leader. Imagine the hubris of throwing away your seat because a lifetime of lies finally caught up with you, taking your party down with it, and perhaps Uxbridge and South Ruislip will be a portent of far greater change coming to a ballot box near you soon.
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, June 25, 2023I saw this advert on a wall in Deptford asking about the "closest beach to London".
"I bet I disagree with their answer", I thought.
The advert in question is for Which, the consumer portal, and if you click through via the QR code here's their answer.
"Ignoring the small tidal beaches of the Thames and Thorney Bay on Canvey Island (because it takes longer to reach by public transport), the closest beach to London for most residents is Southend-on-Sea, in Essex."There's a lot to unpack here and I'm not sure I agree with their conclusion.
In the end it all comes down to what you mean by a beach, what you mean by closest and what you mean by London.
Some would argue there are beaches inside London so there's no need to look beyond its borders.
Ruislip Lido's beach, for example, has a perfect patch of sand ideal for towels and toddling. But the water it backs onto is a reservoir, the sand has been carted in from elsewhere and the whole thing's probably too artificial to be counted, so let's move on.
What of beaches along the Thames instead? This photo shows the waterfront at Barnes with tiny locals ambling around below the shoreline, but I could have shown you any number of places where riverbed access is possible as the tide falls. One of the most central is the foreshore outside the Royal Festival Hall which definitely has a bit of sand in it so should that count? The waterfront below the Tower of London opened as Tower Foreshore in 1934 for the benefit of scruffy East Enders seeking beach-type activities, but that closed in 1971 so let's cross that off. Folly House Beach on the eastern side of the Isle of Dogs is a strong contender, and will have seen many 'beachgoers' during this recent hot spell, although that's a converted dock so probably doesn't tick the right boxes. But if everything below Teddington Lock is tidal so technically the coast, arguably London has dozens of Thamesside beaches.
As you head downstream, or rather downestuary, the claim that these are beaches gets stronger. This photo shows Aveley Bay - an actual bay for heaven's sake - amid the marshes between Rainham and Purfleet. There are admittedly signs onshore saying Danger Soft Mud so a game of beach cricket would be ill-advised, but the river's edge is certainly rubbly enough to support a picnic blanket. What's more the Greater London boundary actually divides this bay in half so the closest beach to London could be infinitesimally close, in Thurrock.
If I consult my Ordnance Survey Explorer map of the estuary all of this so-called 'beach' is coloured beigey-grey, meaning mud, and the first thin patch of yellow for 'sand and shingle' doesn't appear until you reach Gravesend. I can't confirm this in real life, alas, because it's been high tide every time I've visited. Also Gravesend's official tourist portal makes no mention of a beach, golden or otherwise, so I suspect this may be cartographically far-fetched. It's another 10 miles before any more yellow intrudes.
Ah yes, All-Hallows-On-Sea, the wannabe seaside resort on the Isle of Grain. This is a proper beach at last and closer to the capital than Southend, which is why the Southern Railway built a railway spur here in 1932 hoping to swipe some of the daytripper trade. But All Hallows never caught on, then WW2 snuffed out all further dreams of expansion, and today the footprint of the station is a caravan park jealously protecting the golden sands from anyone attempting to drive in. At 33 miles from Charing Cross it could perhaps be the closest sandy beach to London... were it not for a contender on the opposite shore that's only 30 miles distant.
Welcome to Canvey Island, specifically Thorney Bay, a horseshoe indent in the sea wall close to the Leisure Island Fun Park. I can confirm it has a sandy rim because I've seen it, a long steepish yellow bank where sandcastles are perfectly possible, and a texture underfoot that the burghers of Brighton and Hove can only dream of. This is the beach that Which mentioned but dismissed, if you remember, and I can see why they did because it's hardly the ideal target for a great day out. But that's not the question they originally asked, they just wanted the closest beach to London, which suggests Thorney Bay ought to be the true answer.
The closest Blue Flag beach to London is on the Southend Riviera, specifically Westcliff-on-Sea, which is described in the Blue Flag citation as "a gently sloping stretch of golden sand and shingle." This has the added bonus of being just beyond the official end of the Thames Estuary, the Crow Stone, adding authenticity as a beach genuinely lapped by waves from the sea. Shoebury's beach is better and Southend's is busier, but the Leigh/Chalkwell/Westcliff end (50 minutes from Fenchurch Street, or just 30 from Upminster) has the benefit of being closest to London by rail.
Of course Which weren't happy with Southend, of course they weren't.
"Southend's long stretches of beach are mostly a mix of shingle and sand, although you can find sandier stretches. Unfortunately, the town was rated poorly by visitors in our survey of the UK’s best and worst seaside towns. Of more than 100 destinations rated, Southend finished fifth from bottom with an overall destination score of 56%. Visitors rated the beach and seafront just two stars. Luckily, it’s not much harder to get to the best beach near London. Frinton-on-Sea, also in Essex, was ranked in the top ten seaside destinations in the UK with a score of 78% and, crucially, visitors gave its beach five stars."But Frinton's an hour and a half away by rail, for heaven's sake, and more than 60 miles if you choose to drive. It's definitely not the closest beach to London which I'd say is Thorney Bay on Canvey Island, but in the end it all comes down to a matter of definition.
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, June 24, 2023The National Portrait Gallery reopened this week after a three year refurb.
They've changed things and it's good.
The entrance is somewhere new and much bigger.
Tracey Emin's bronzes are best seen when the doors are closed.
It's only a bag search, not a full-on authoritarian slapdown.
It looks a bit empty to start with but it gets better.
The main hall is underportraited.
It's all still free other than two exhibitions, one of which is Beatly and the other Voguey.
If you want to do it chronologically start at the top and work down.
The mega escalator is megaunderstimulating.
Nothing really happened before the Tudors.
All the famous portraits are here, like the regal pasty one of Elizabeth I.
It's not always obvious which way the timeline continues.
Everything pre-1850 is on one floor, everything post-1850 on two.
The hang is a lot more genderbalanced and diverse than it used to be.
There didn't used to be displays called "Portraying Colonial Power and Expansion", "Empire and Resistance" and "Dismantling the British Empire after 1945".
The Chevalier d'Éon and Malala Yousafzai tick several boxes.
Yes there are a lot of old men in wigs but they don't count.
Things ramp up after photography gets invented.
War and politics are thoughtfully diluted by arts and sciences.
If you haven't heard of all the people before, maybe that's the point.
The old gentle staircase is the best staircase.
It's both rammed and extremely selective.
It's like a cultural history tour.
Victoria Wood hangs beside Princess Di and Margaret Thatcher beside Arthur Scargill.
Bananarama make the cut.
Shop/cafe/restaurant yeah all that.
For the 60 minute audio tour, download the sponsored app.
If you only have 30 minutes for a visit, the guide suggests looking at one display, having a drink and buying a souvenir.
Much better just to go for a circuitous arty wander.
I lost track of which bits were new, which suggests successful integration.
The 21st century just fades out by some lifts.
I don't think I saw everything despite the free map.
Come and mingle amongst the middle classes.
posted 07:00 :
Friday, June 23, 2023St Bart's is celebrating its 900th birthday this year.
One of Henry I's courtiers founded the place after making a pilgrimage to Rome, falling sick and pledging to start a hospital if he recovered. St Bartholomew then appeared in a vision and told him to build it "in the suburb of Smithfield" so he did, and 900 years later his church still does Evensong and his hospital still tends to the sick.
St Bartholomew The Great
St Bart's is the oldest parish church in the City of London, having had the good fortune to be built beyond the burnline of the Great Fire of London. In scale it's less a church and more half a cathedral, the nave having been lost after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Sir John Betjeman considered it to have the finest Norman interior in the capital, and for many years lived in a flat just across the street. The interior appeared in Four Weddings and a Funeral, Shakespeare in Love and Avengers Age of Ultron because maintaining very old buildings requires significant income. And although it used to charge an entrance fee they've scrapped that and you can now swan in for free, or of course come for a service if you want to experience it properly.
Once you've ducked under the organ (or nipped round the sides) expect the architecture to impress, not least the age and the height. The heart of the interior is The Quire, which is where any congregation now sits, with a couple of brief transepts bolted onto either side. Look left to see the founder's tomb, look down to admire chequered tiles and look up see the Oriel Window through which the prior once looked down to check his monks were on task. At the rear is the Lady Chapel which has a double claim to fame, one of which is that Benjamin Franklin worked there as a typesetter when it doubled up as a print shop and the other is that it's the site of the Virgin Mary's only acknowledged Visitation in the capital. She supposedly appeared in front of a canon to encourage everyone to worship harder, and you could choose to believe this or you could muse upon the institutionalised gullibility of medieval society.
A lot of the most interesting stuff is dotted around the outer walls. The elaborately decorated tomb of two Tudor puritans. The banner of the Worshipful Company of Butchers and the Royal Charter of Incorporation of the Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers. The sole window with stained glass, which couldn't be described as a stained glass window. The 600 year-old font in which William Hogarth was baptised. A lot of semi-challenging works of art, including a saint whose peeled-off skin hangs over his arm and a blurry glimpse of Jesus's penis. And a sidedoor off to the Cloister, although that was closed for building works during my visit and all I could hear through it was someone singing along to Cyndi Lauper on commercial radio.
You've missed the actual 900th birthday because that was 25th March, but better late than never.
St Bartholomew The Less
If there's a Great then yes there's also going to be a Less. It's mainly tower and chapel so Less in size, and fundamentally early 15th century so Fewer in years. For most of its life it was an independent parish church but in 2015 got merged with its Greater neighbour and they now share services, with a Family Communion being held here every Sunday and a Hospital Eucharist every Tuesday. A poke inside won't detain you long, but the octagonal Gothic interior is a welcome contrast to its perpendicular Norman neighbour.
St Bart's Hospital Museum
Not the Pathology Museum because that's only for medical students, but the public-facing museum in the North Wing which opened in 1997. It's free so just rock up (but not weekends, not Mondays, not before 10 and not after 4). Ask nicely and you can watch the short introductory film in which a beaming monk praises the founder, then set off round the display cases and discover the history of medicine on this site. There wasn't any in 1123, this being more a place for rest and spiritual comfort, and even when doctors started to outnumber religious folk it was more like your local GP practice than somewhere which undertook operations. Arguably St Bart's' greatest contribution to medicine came in 1628 when Physician-in-Charge William Harvey published the first theories on blood circulation, and today the hospital is at the forefront of cardiac care.
Halfway round the displays there's a door to pop out of and blimey wow won't you look at that, it's an entire staircase painted by William Hogarth. He lived locally and kindly offered to decorate the walls for free, a three year task during which time he painted two huge biblical scenes. They're damned impressive, and also roped-off because this part of the hospital is still used for archival storage so you might see a student or a researcher passing by. Upstairs is the Great Hall which is off-limits except on special tours and which is also in desperate need of repair with restoration works starting soon. And that means the museum needs to close in September - this because its chief fire exit is being closed - so if you want to visit you need to get here by the end of August or wait until early 2025.
St Bartholomew's Hospital
Ideally you don't want to find yourself here but rest assured you'll get excellent care if you do.
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