diamond geezer

 Sunday, March 31, 2024

You've probably noticed that Easter Day moves around a lot. Yes, it can fall on any date between 22nd March and 25th April, but it never seems to end up on the same weekend it did last year. And indeed it never can.

This year Easter is quite early, being Sunday 31st March. The matching Sunday next year would be 30th March but Easter Day won't be that, it's jumping ahead three weekends to land on Sunday 20th April.

Let's take a look at how the date jumps around during the 2020s. See how the date never appears in the same column two years running.

Date of Easter Day
 25-31 Mar1-7 Apr8-14 Apr15-21 Aprgap
2020  12 April  
2021 4 April  357 days
2022   17 April378 days
2023  9 April 357 days
202431 March   357 days
2025   20 April385 days
2026 5 April  350 days
202728 March   357 days
2028   16 April385 days
2029 1 April  350 days
2030   21 April385 days

The gap between Easters is never 364 days, only ever 350 days, 357 days, 378 days or 385 days.

In other words Easters are only ever 50, 51, 54 or 55 weeks apart, never 52 or 53.

Let's look at that last column more closely.
Here's a graph which shows the gaps between Easters for the first quarter of the 21st century.



See how the number of days jumps around, always missing 364 days and 371 days. There seems to be no obvious repeating pattern, but 2022 stands out as a bit of an oddity.

In particular some of the gaps seem to occur more frequently than others. So I checked the date of Easter for the whole of the 20th and 21st centuries, that's 200 gaps, and these are the results I found.



If you prefer that as a table...

Gaps between Easters
350 days50 weeks23%
357 days51 weeks41%
378 days54 weeks7%
385 days55 weeks30%

A 51 week gap is most common, i.e. Easter is a week earlier than last year. That's what's happened in 2024.
A 55 week gap occurs about a third of the time, i.e Easter is three weeks later than last year.
A 50 week gap occurs about a quarter of the time, i.e Easter is two weeks earlier than last year.
A 54 week gap only occurs about once every 15 years.

An interesting consequence of this is that next Easter is more likely to be earlier than later.
earlier: 50 weeks + 51 weeks = 64%
later: 54 weeks + 55 weeks = 36%
A lot more likely.

Meanwhile 52 and 53 week gaps never happen.
But why is that?

As usual with Easter it's all because of the Moon.

Specifically it's because full moons occur 29½ days apart (more accurately 29.531 days) and 29½s don't divide exactly into one year. 12 full moons take 354 days and 13 full moons take 384 days, near enough, neither of which are anywhere close to 364 days.

Ecclesiastically speaking, Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. So by the time a year's gone round, the full moon which triggers Easter is always about 10 days earlier or 20 days later, never ever around the same time.

If there are 12 full moons, i.e. 354 days, the gap between Easters will always be 350 or 357 days.
If there are 13 full moons, i.e. 384 days, the gap between Easters will always be 378 or 385 days.
The reason 378 day gaps are rare is because 384 days is a lot closer to 385 than 378.

Looking carefully at the sequence of gaps reveals a few more patterns.

» A 50 week gap is always followed, the next year, by a later Easter.
» A 55 week gap is always followed, the next year, by an earlier Easter.
» Sometimes you get two 51 week gaps in a row, but never three.
» A 54 week gap is always preceded, and followed, by a 51 week gap.

Finally, as you might expect with a 22nd March-25th April window, the date of Easter affects what the next gap is.

If Easter is between 22nd and 28th March, next Easter is always 55 weeks later.
If Easter is between 29th March and 2nd April, next Easter could be 54 or 55 weeks later.
That's us this year, with a 55 week gap until Easter 2025.

If Easter is 3rd, 4th or 5th April, next Easter could be 51, 54 or 55 weeks later.
If Easter is 6th or 7th April, next Easter could be 50, 51 or 54 weeks later.
And if Easter is between 8th and 25th April, next Easter could be 50 or 51 weeks later.

Two conclusions I hope it's been worth waiting for...
If Easter is before 3rd April, next Easter will always be later.
If Easter is after 7th April, next Easter will always be earlier.
And a final corollary which I think is worth knowing.
There can never be two consecutive March Easters.
So we can at least hope next Easter will be a bit warmer.

 Saturday, March 30, 2024

Visiting attractions in Greenwich keeps getting inexorably more expensive. And not just because admission prices have increased but because buildings that used to be free to enter started charging money.

• The Royal Greenwich Observatory had free admission between 2001 and 2011, then slapped on a £10 admission charge. It's currently £20.
• The Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College used to be free to enter, Following significant restoration it reopened in 2019, then slapped on a £12 admission charge. It's currently £15.
• The winning entries from the Astronomy Photographer of the Year used to be displayed for free at the Astronomy Centre, then in 2019 became a paid-for exhibit at the National Maritime Museum. It's normally £10 to visit but, because of building works, charges were waived on 13th March and admission is currently free.

The Cutty Sark has always charged admission. It's currently £20.
The National Maritime Museum, Queen's House and Astronomy Centre remain free to enter.

But another attraction recently went behind a paywall, the Greenwich Visitor Centre down by the riverfront. It opened in 2010 as 'Discover Greenwich', a proper heritage focus in a building that had previously been mostly tourist information, complete with projected map, on-site brewery and terribly useful toilets. The central map soon got replaced by an information desk and the library of free leaflets morphed into a gift shop, but the exhibition was always pretty good for something you could walk into for nothing. And now you can't.



You can still turn left for what's left of tourist information and you can still turn right for Greenwich-related gifts, but to filter any further now requires payment of a fee. "It was introduced last summer," said the lady at the desk, "but we have just opened a new exhibition about chocolate." The barrier to entry is £3, a drop in the ocean for the average tourist 'doing Greenwich' but still enough to discourage entry. I can't believe the charge rakes in much income either but presumably some accountant thought it worthwhile, if only to help pay the wages of the lady at the desk. They haven't yet used the extra dosh to replace the lettering on the front door which says "Free exhibition".

£3's hardly the economic end of the world but it did get me wondering...

What's London's cheapest visitor attraction?

I'm not including free attractions.
I'm not talking attractions you can get into for free if you have specific membership.
I'm not talking attractions you can get into dead cheap with a resident's bonus.
I'm not including attractions that used to cost a penny in the good old days.
I'm not talking attractions you can ride on, like a bus or a miniature train.
I'm not talking attractions that sometimes do special cheaper deals.
I'm not talking reduced entry prices for children or pensioners.
I'm not talking temporary exhibitions or art shows.


Can anything beat the Greenwich Visitor Centre's £3 charge?

» Climbing the Monument costs £6, so not that.
» The Heath Robinson Museum in Pinner is also £6, so not that.
» The Bow Street Police Museum is also £6, so not that.
» The Aquarium at the Horniman Museum is also £6, so not that.
» Upminster Windmill is also £6, so not that.
» A tour of Brixton Windmill is £5, so cheaper but still not that.
» The Fan Museum in Greenwich is also £5, so not that.
» The Ragged School Museum in Mile End Park is also £5, so not that.
» Severndroog Castle used to be £4 but the website is opaque on the current admission price, if any.
» Havering Museum in Romford is £3, so that's a tie with Greenwich.
» Crofton Roman Villa in Orpington was £3 last year but is closed for improvements during 2024.
» The Wandle Industrial Museum used to cost 50p, so would have been a shoo-in, but is now free so it's not that.

I think it's this...

What's London's cheapest visitor attraction?

Carshalton Water Tower (£2)

Location: West Street, Carshalton, SM5 3PN [map]
Open: Sunday afternoons from 2.30pm to 5pm (from 14th April to the end of September)
Admission: Adults £2, Children free



Here's part of my report in September 2014.
It only cost £1 then and was worth every penny.

The tower is merely the ornate top of a high-ceilinged one-storey building, and there's genuine treasure within. The long airy room across the front is the Orangery, within which some of the Friends of Carshalton Water Tower will be waiting to meet and greet and inform. It becomes more obvious why they volunteer once you pass through the door at the end. A sequence of further rooms includes a decorated Saloon, decked out with historical info and memorabilia. The Pump Chamber has recently been restored and includes a Victorian water wheel which used to lift spring water into a cistern at the top of the tower. And then there's the plunge bath, or Bagnio. An 18th century creation, this deep tiled pool was used for private bathing - a luxury in its day - and is an exceptionally rare survivor. It's also possible to go up top...

runners up
Greenwich Visitor Centre (£3)
Crofton Roman Villa (£3)
Havering Museum (£3)

(unless of course you know different)

 Friday, March 29, 2024

GOOD
Friday
hope
doctor
sheep
clocks forward
Sadiq
snow
Creme Egg
BBC2
6 Music
living
food
news
astronomy
ambition
Ukraine
faith
music
health
advice
left
riddance
conscience
brickwork
kittens
ephemera
mint sauce
youth
solitude
cabbies
sustainability
Gates
possibility
tea
invest
stubble
handpicked
apple
sleep
Arsenal
cocktails
probably
therapy
maps
proofreader's
journalism
Barack
horizons
cryptic
indie
woke
treasure
documentaries
democracy
chips
Palestine
Israel
cow
authentic
Gherkin
savings
soil
cookies
badges
Eurovision
progress
housing
Hallowe'en
water
patriotism
heating
Crunchie
humour
colleagues
internet
memes
Bake Off
staycation
water
April
  NOT GOOD
Monday
fear
dentist
geese
clocks back
Susan
frost
egg
ITV2
5 Live
ageing
cuisine
speculation
astrology
greed
Russia
religion
racket
wellness
deception
right
loss
guilt
cladding
dogs
clutter
pesto
inexperience
loneliness
Uber
greenwash
Musk
limitation
coffee
wealthify
beard
curated
banana
insomnia
Chelsea
mocktails
surely
homeopathy
apps
pedant's
clickbait
Donald
limits
quick
R&B
blinkered
hoarding
podcasts
Voter ID
fries
Hamas
Netanyahu
bull
bespoke
gherkin
shrinkflation
mud
cookies
lanyards
Six Nations
chatbots
developers
Halloween
Thames Water
populism
warming
Bounty
bullying
cronies
Outernet
deepfakes
Masterchef
cruise
bottled water
February

 Thursday, March 28, 2024

I visited the new Banksy on Hornsey Road on Day 3, which proved the optimal time.

On Days 1 and 2 it had been rammed with people crowding round the railings, so getting a decent photo was difficult.

On Day 4 someone chucked white paint over part of the artwork closest to the road and the original was scarred.

But on Day 3, i.e. Tuesday of last week, it was pretty much as intended.



A splash of green paint all over the end wall of a four storey building. A small green figure holding a hose, which had supposedly sprayed the aforementioned paint. A heavily pollarded cherry tree at one end of a railinged lawn outside a block of postwar council housing. And a vantage point at the entrance to Christie Court from which it looked like the green paint formed the leaves of the bare tree.

You either like this sort of stuff or you don't, and if you don't then nobody's forcing you to head to Finsbury Park and deliver a sermon on perceived inadequacies. But it's certainly more interesting than the blank wall that was here before and which nobody would have travelled a long distance to see, let alone en masse.

Later on Day 3 Islington council came along and erected metal barriers around the lawn because the railings had proved too easy to clamber over. You could still take photos of the artwork, either up close to the new fence or further away with a grey blur, but the morning of Day 3 was really the optimum time.

On Day 10 a new barrier appeared - a perspex screen covering the majority of the original artwork and entirely wrecking the view. I thought I'd go down and have another look.



It was now Day 11, and improbably yet another barrier was in the process of being added.

This time it was a chipboard screen, specifically around the tree and the area of lawn directly underneath the artwork. Two blokes from Hillingdon Fencing had turned up and were busy nailing together several panels to create a private corral to deter further incursion. They were both coming under intense scrutiny from those watching, some of whom had evidently flown in from abroad, but were also good natured enough to use spectators' cameras to take the occasional photo from their side of the fence.

Because I turned up mid-job I didn't see what the end result looked like. But I've seen reports and the intention is that the gaps in the chipboard wall will be filled with clear plastic panels. What a depressingly obstructive state of affairs.



The perspex across the mural was actually installed by the owner of the wall, a local independent estate agent. People who suddenly inherit Banksys have a tendency to do this to protect their windfall, which could be worth hundreds of thousands, even if this instantly destroys its attraction as an artwork.

In this case the screen's a right mess with a wooden frame as well as clear plastic sheeting, the timbers crossing the artwork once vertically and twice horizontally. Also it doesn't reach to the top of the greenery, so I suspect if you had a bucket of paint and a good aim you could probably still cause significant permanent damage.

The new hoarding on the lawn is courtesy of Islington council, an upgrade to the railings added last week. According to a council spokesperson "The Banksy artwork has attracted huge crowds and there is a need to protect the art and local residents from the impact of visitor numbers. To give people more security and privacy, and to protect the tree, we’re installing a hoarding which will include clear plastic panels to protect the artwork and allow clear views."



It can't be much fun living next to an unexpected Banksy if it's not your building it's been painted on. That's especially true once the initial novelty's died down but the crowds keep on coming, because nobody wants strangers congregating outside their window on a tiny lawn that was never meant for access. As for the need to protect the tree it already looks pretty much savaged by the council pollarder, but a laminated sign saying "Please do not climb" does suggest general marauding has been overintense.

As for the council's idea that large plastic panels will still allow an appreciation of the work, that's plainly laughable. They reflect light, they refract and they get dirty, so will ruin any view or photo you might be intending to take. They're also only in place around part of the hoarding, plus the view from the pavement is already skew and doesn't create the intended illusion of a tree anyway.

Had you stood at the far end of the lawn on Day 2, as sightlines intended, you'd have seen green paint resembling foliage behind a pollarded tree. If you stand in the same place today you first see metal railings, then a chipboard hoarding, then just the top of the tree, then a plastic screen and finally the green paint on the wall, partially splattered. So degraded is the view that it's barely worth turning up to see any more.



It's amazing how often a new Banksy looks like a welcome gift to a rundown neighbourhood but swiftly descends into a wealthgrab by the lucky recipient and a miserably obscured experience. But Islington's great Banksy cover-up is undeniably worse than usual thanks to joint overprotectiveness from both the owner and the council. Always get there by Day 3, never after Day 10.

 Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The best thing about the creation of the Green Link Walk is that it brings the number of Walk London walks to eight.

Because once you have eight of something you can hold a knockout tournament to find the best one.

So let's do it, let's bring on the WORLD CUP OF LONDON WALKS.

The eight walks fall naturally into four pairs, so that's the opening rounds sorted.

Two rivers: Thames Path v Lea Valley Walk
Two greens: Green Chain Walk v Green Link Walk
Two orbitals: Capital Ring v London Loop
Two jubilees: Jubilee Walkway v Jubilee Greenway



Battle of the rivers: Thames Path v Lea Valley Walk

You already know which river's going to win this. Both are impressive waterways, both have lengthy paths and both are brimming with birdlife, but only one is known across the world. The Lea Valley Path very much holds its own, not least because being navigable it has a proper towpath so you can walk alongside the water's edge almost all the way. It evolves along its length from marshy silence to tidal creek and it hits the heights of the Olympic Park along the way. But the Lea also slums it in places and in the Lower Lea Valley briefly fades out because nobody's ever been able to sort access, so it can't really hold a candle to the river it flows into. The Thames Path winds past grand houses and World Heritage Sites, flips from royal meanders to desolate estuary and literally divides the capital in two. It has to be our first winner.
Winner: Thames Path



Battle of the greens: Green Chain Walk v Green Link Walk

This is also a battle of the ages, with the Green Link Walk not yet one month old and the Green Chain Walk having been waymarked as long ago as 1977. What's different about the Green Chain is that it's not one walk, it's 15 segments which join to make a network of paths across southeast London. These are parts of Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley you might never think to visit, and yet they contain glorious woodland, parks and alleyways which the Green Chain helps bring to focus. Some might say it's too diffuse, so less satisfying and much harder to complete, but that's also its strength. I wandered through Oxleas Wood yesterday unworried by maps, simply following the signs on the little brown posts but still sure I'd make it out safely to the other side. The Green Link Walk is less comprehensive, less diverse and (as we've seen) far less green, so cannot be our winner here.
Winner: Green Chain Walk



Battle of the orbitals: Capital Ring v London Loop

But this one's tougher to call. Both are classic circuits, both are carefully constructed and both have tempted thousands of Londoners out into the wilds. The Capital Ring's the accessible one, approximately straddling the border between inner and outer London, with fifteen very different sections to follow. The London Loop is more of a peripheral trek, on a dozen occasions stepping beyond the Greater London boundary, but also a more sensory rural experience that's likely to get your boots muddy. One has Richmond Park, Horsenden Hill and the Parkland Walk, the other Riddlesdown, Bushy Park and the Havering redwoods. Both are well known, both are well signed and both deliver a real sense of satisfaction on completion. How do you pick between the two?

I thought I'd pick the Capital Ring, given it's the only one I've chosen to walk in full twice. I like the fact that whoever devised it had multiple paths through the urban environment to choose from rather than a few sparse rural footpaths, so could come up with a really good route. It's also easier to walk spontaneously, or in winter, without wishing you'd have worn something much more sensible. But the London Loop perhaps has greater merits, being a truly eye-opening tour of the outer suburbs and the fields beyond I might otherwise never have thought to explore. It also has the best section of any Walk London walk, namely Hamsey Green to Coulsdon South, and threads through multiple very different environments. I was still torn.

I turned to data. The Inner London Ramblers annual report reveals that 230,000 people have downloaded its guidance for walking the Capital Ring and only 120,000 that for the London Loop. The Green Chain is way behind with 15,000 downloads, which just goes to show how far ahead these two great circuits are. But maybe this wasn't the best way to judge things either so instead I crowdsourced on Twitter, setting up a poll asking people to select the best London walk. I left it running for 10 hours and it turned out that the result was remarkably close, as if the general public couldn't choose between these circuits either. But in the end the London Loop scored five more votes than the Capital Ring, so on that flimsy evidence I'm calling this battle for the outer orbital.
Winner: London Loop



Battle of the jubilees: Jubilee Walkway v Jubilee Greenway

That's 1977 versus 2012, or Silver versus Diamond if you weren't sure. The Jubilee Walkway is totally tourist friendly, tracing five separate short loops around central London past utterly iconic sites. If you've never thought to walk it that may be because it feels overfamiliar or because it's mostly unpublicised, but it's none the worse for that. The Jubilee Greenway loops out much further because it had to be exactly 60km long, and because 2012 was the year of the London Olympics it also links all the major Games venues. But it also feels like it was concocted on the cheap, piggybacking multiple existing sections of the Capital Ring and Thames Path plus the whole of the Regent's Canal. Of the eight I'd say the JG probably earns the wooden spoon for being the least relevant and the most overlooked, so it can't win here.
Winner: Jubilee Walkway



Semi-final 1: Thames Path v Green Chain

Well that's easy. My apologies to the Green Chain, which is excellent, but the Thames Path is plainly the superior experience.
Winner: Thames Path

Semi-final 2: London Loop v Jubilee Walkway

Well that's even easier. The Jubilee Walkway might have Big Ben and the Tower of London but the London Loop beats it by a country mile.
Winner: London Loop



Final: Thames Path v London Loop

But this is a much closer contest. A stately promenade alongside England's longest river or a 150 mile circuit exploring the diversity of the Green Belt. Do you want hills, fields and variety or the elegance of waterside living? Do you need regular pubs or are you happier near horses? Do you prefer your mud underfoot or revealed at high tide? Do you mind starting in Erith? ... although that's actually both of them so not a helpful divide. One thing the Thames Path definitely has on its side is that it exists on both sides of the river from Kingston to Canning Town so you can walk it twice. And one thing the London Loop definitely has on its side is that it allows you to get totally away from it all amidst nature and much cleaner air. You could argue for both to be the winner here.

So once again I turned to Twitter, indeed exactly the same poll I mentioned earlier. I'd actually offered three options - Capital Ring, London Loop and Thames Path - and the Thames Path comfortably smashed it.



Very roughly it won two-thirds of the public vote and the other two merely shared the rest. There's no guarantee that all these voters had walked the choice they voted for, but I dare say it's a good bet that they had at some time walked beside the Thames in London because pretty much everyone's done that. Not all the way past Barnes and Kew, perhaps, nor way out east to Crossness, but the river is its own best advert and the Thames Path is a proper string of pearls. And so we've finally confirmed the name of the greatest walk in the Walk London portfolio, because a World Cup knockout never lies.
Winner: Thames Path

 Tuesday, March 26, 2024

I've now completed London's newest official walkway, the Green Link Walk, which was launched on 1st March. If you need a map try here, if you need an app try here, if you want 45 pages of walking instructions try here, and if you're reading this several months in the future try here. Here too are my reports on section 1, section 2 and section 3.

Section four is the South London section, the GLW having finally crossed the Thames. It's also the most baffling, because with all of Lambeth and Southwark spread out before us the route's designers have decided to head for Peckham. No other strategic walks go there so we're not linking to anything, and if the intent instead is to "link areas of green space" it barely does that either. Admittedly you can't conjure up green spaces where none exist, but it takes a ridiculous amount of time before this section finally meets some grass and a full two miles before crossing some. The route gets much (much) better later, but the hour before you get to Burgess Park is positively underwhelming.

In good news it's all very well signposted. On the previous three sections I'd have got intermittently lost if I hadn't whipped out some instructions but in this case I walked the entire four miles without once checking a map, instead merely following the green signs. So that's a win.

WALK LONDON
Green Link Walk
[section 4]
Blackfriars to Peckham (4 miles)




If you choose to walk the GLW in sections then section 4 kicks off on the South Bank outside Tate Modern. This spot also has the GLW's strangest sign, a fingerpost saying "Over the Bridge", presumably because the Millennium Bridge is sacrosanct and can't even be stickered. We're not going that way, we're going round the back of the gallery to head deep into the Southwark hinterland. Do make the most of the scruffy waterlogged lawn out front because it's genuinely the last grass-based greenspace you'll be encountering for at least half an hour. As you head round, enjoy the irony that it's incredibly easy to see into the flats at the bottom of the glass towers whose upper residents were so furiously litigious about being overlooked. Come on, there are pavements to be plodded.



To start with we're following the famous orange lampposts, eight of them, before they turn off to link to Southwark tube. Instead we pass deeper down Great Suffolk Street, passing several hotels and boho eateries and underneath a lot of railway viaducts. If these excite you then you should spin off and walk the Low Line instead, a BetterBankside concoction where food, drink and participatory consumerism top the menu. Faced with how best to negotiate the maze of streets ahead, the Green Link Walk instead dodges off and misses them all, bar a tantalising glimpse of a cosy terrace on Glasshill Street. The blossoming fruit trees along Pocock Street currently mitigate the scaffolding in front of the council flats somewhat, but for eleven months of the year this is no scenic route.



Suddenly we're on Blackfriars Road, a busy trafficked artery. This does at least have broad pavements but also a lot of flats, with 19th century social housing facing off across the street against 21st century private glitz. GoJauntly's instructions wax lyrical about the coffee shop here, even namechecking "fun-loving and super friendly barista Eurico!", but you might feel more comfortable in the Tesco Express. Continue to St George's Circus with its fabulous obelisk, note that the former pub on the corner has been absorbed by London South Bank University and prepare to enter student territory. I was a bit surprised to see the GLW sign pointing through the campus but yes, the upcoming ambience is all resource centres, subject blocks, library facilities and (on the day I walked it) dozens of milling lecturegoers. It seems a walking route that deliberately dodges traffic isn't always quiet.



And so we emerge at Elephant & Castle, a throbbing nexus which is rapidly turning into somewhere else entirely. Thankfully we'll only be crossing the first two arms of the ex-gyratory, thus dodging the unashamed upthrust of the former shopping centre. Instead we're aiming for the cohesive community Southwark council previously displaced, namely the Heygate Estate... or as it's now known Elephant Park. For a tiny reflection of the past look under the railway arches - proper coffee, cooked meats, auto repairs - and to see what's replaced it look everywhere else - gelato, sushi, margaritas, dogs. We're stepping into the sanitised space between the towers to enter the actual Elephant Park, the first greenspace of the walk, although you won't be stepping onto the "biodiverse grass" because it's all roped off for winter. Also the Green Link Walk doesn't follow the central paths, it hugs the restaurants, because the route is always drawn with wheels rather than curiosity in mind.



Don't worry, a genuine greenspace lies straight ahead, immediately beyond a patch of 25-storey apartments they haven't built yet. Alas the Victory Recreation Ground has been locked since November for a major revamp, currently at the reseeding stage, and the Green Link Walk has of course been signposted to skirt three sides of the perimeter fence. Come back later in the summer and totally ignore the signs, I say. Balfour Street has some cute flowerbeds and stonking cherry trees draped with blossom, courtesy of more Heygate infill, and Chatham Street pointedly does not. What it did have on my visit were large crowds of mourners waiting for a coffin to emerge from number 67, a mortal jolt confirming that the most memorable part of an urban walk is often the people rather than the places. And then - don't look too shocked - an actual walk through an actual park.



This is Salisbury Row, an irregular park covering the footprint of 100-or-so blitzed homes once deemed slums. It has humps and bumps, a decent playground and pleasant benches, plus the joy of hosting two minutes of the official Green Link Walk. Alas just when it looks like we're going to get all the way to the far side the signs divert to the road at the edge, past the cafe, before ducking past a long row of garages and through an alley underneath Eugene Cotter House. If you were genuinely trying to link as much green as possible you'd have continued to Beckway Street, but maybe that didn't have enough drop kerbs, I don't know. Whatever, best steel yourself for threading through a multitude of council flats intermingled with terraced holdouts, a few streets back from the Old Kent Road, including a community centre so oldschool it still displays a Courage cockerel.



I confess to blinking somewhat when I realised we'd be walking past the back of the Aylesbury Estate, the somewhat notorious 1960s rehousing scheme, whose massive slab blocks now exist in a state of council-aided decay. You're not getting herons and meadows on this walk, sorry, but brutalist walkways, peeling windows and disused garages. I wasn't complaining, I love a concrete bulwark I don't have to live in, but this won't be what anyone on the GLW will be expecting when they set out. Rest assured several adjacent streets are older and some aren't even council, plus there's the benefit of another proper greenspace called Surrey Square Park. I merrily followed the signs through the gate whereas had I followed the written instructions they would again have skirted round the edge in the traditionally tedious manner, and it is perhaps just as well that the walk perks up after decanted Ravenstone.



Hurrah it's Burgess Park, one of south London's largest, a postwar coalescence of former residential streets and industrial land. The GLW could have been out of here in ten minutes had it taken the shortcut footbridge across the lake but no, it doubles that by taking a dogleg diversion almost as far as the butterfly mural. The outward leg offers sweeping green vistas - the first since Walthamstow Marshes ten miles ago - plus probably a lot of dogs, joggers and pushchairs. The return leg follows the disused Surrey Canal which was filled in 50 years ago, and which also explains the gorgeous steel lattice footbridge that now pointlessly spans the path. It's also Cycleway 35 so expect to pass a lot of bikes as you head up a long avenue of trees as far as the wildflower meadow. Greenwise this is the paragraph that finally makes up for the previous seven.



To finish off we're following the Surrey Canal's Peckham arm, a kilometre-long cut dug in the 1820s to double down on commercial opportunities. It too is now a paved path ideal for off-piste walking and cycling, but in this case it meanders somewhat in a way the canal never did. The best bits are the two perfectly preserved 1870s bridges where the trail ducks underneath the road alongside a raised section of actual cobbled towpath. I've blogged all this before, should you crave more detail, but again this is top notch walking territory. What I didn't see last time was the carpet of celandines near the allotments nor, on the very final stretch, two hoodied forms attached at groin level enjoying oral sex in the shrubbery. That was a first for a strategic walk I can tell you.



The end of the canal comes at the former dock basin where you'll now find Peckham's sports centre and elevated library, plus streetfood options, plus the very last green sign because the Green Link Walk terminates here. Personally I'd have carried it on to Peckham Rye Common or Nunhead Cemetery, there to link up with the Green Chain, assuming I could have found a decent backstreet route dodging Rye Lane. Personally I'd have routed a lot of it differently, as aforementioned, in an attempt to thread green spaces properly as opposed to just grazing them. But don't let me discourage you from tackling the capital's newest strategic walk, all 16 over-pavemented miles of it, because the soul of London is more about making links than chasing the green.

 Monday, March 25, 2024

Yesterday I went on a mystery tour round London.
I visited nine places in nine different boroughs.
I travelled between each location on one bus.
All you have to do, collectively, is identify them.

Clues
I've written nine not-necessarily-helpful descriptions of the nine locations.
I've added nine even-less-helpful photos.
I've told you how long each bus journey took.

Notes
The things you need to identify are marked by pink boxes.
At 7am all the pink boxes were answer-less. They may be filled in later.
I will not be answering questions.

Rules
If you leave a comment, please wait 1 hour before leaving another one.
Your comment can include as many guesses as you like, but if any of those guesses are incorrect I'll just write 'No' underneath.

Additional clues
I started and finished at z3/4 stations.
All the boroughs are in Outer London.
I didn't use the Superloop.
Words hidden behind blue strips may be revealed later.



  Hendon station     (Barnet)  
My starting location ticks many transportation boxes. The Hotel is closed. The ticket office is closed. A notice in the window says PLEASE NOT instead of PLEASE NOTE. Two new housing developments are signed in yellow on a lamppost. The parcel locker is green and says Hello. The odd-looking church was built in 1930. Cranes are visible nearby. The blossom's out. The most screamingly obvious thing has been here since the 1970s. The end is nigh. Airports get a mention on the street corner. I have never seen anybody meeting at the Meeting Point. Crossing the road is done by zebra. The digits of the 'A' Road add up to a multiple of 3. You can see a long way from the motorway bridge.

  183   (10 mins)

  Roe Green Park     (Brent)  
As parks go, it's a nice one. The willow trees are already in leaf. Daffodils are scattered all over. The garden won an award in 2018. A sign says Please do not feed the birds but dozens of pigeons are tucking in anyway. A curve in the path marks the point where there used to be a vehicular barrier. Someone's left four pints of milk beside a tree near the entrance. The borough arms have been placed atop a signpost. The manor's vanished, although its house number (288) is still displayed on a post. The Mediterranean restaurant has a sign saying WE ARE OPEN NOW even when they're not. If you drive too fast the THINK! sign lights up. The swimming pool is now tennis courts.

  324   (10 mins)

  Queensbury Circle     (Harrow)  
The shops are from the 1930s. The chippy's been a regional champion (but doesn't mention how long ago). One shop claims, over-reachingly, to be a Shopping Mall. A lone red poppy remains attached to a lamppost. The roundabout is watched over by CCTV, a phone mast and hanging baskets. One of the hanging baskets still urges locals to remember Hands Face Space. The daffodil count is fairly lacklustre. While I watched, a banner advertising an event on 7th April was attached to the safety barriers with cable ties. A cycle path has replaced a lot of previous pavement. You can be fined for drinking in public here. The service station didn't have a Tesco supermarket in the 1950s.

  114   (35 mins)

  South Ruislip (Brackenhill)     (Hillingdon)  
Oh look it's another roundabout. This roundabout is sponsored by a van rental company. For some reason it has a small brick shelter in the middle. The Gas Board (or modern equivalent) are digging up the road and some of the verges alongside. A lot of their barriers have blown over. A banner advertises a local funfair where, it seems, the minimum admission price is £20. Pedestrian crossings would be useful here, rather than further up each arm. The grass outside the retail park has already had its first mowing of the year. Some carpets are currently half price. Casualties on the main road are decreasing. The Post Office is actually in a different borough. The care home has a copper turret.

  282   (15 mins)

  Northolt Clocktower     (Ealing)  
If I mention the most obvious thing here, especially what's on top of it, someone'll guess the location much too quickly. It doesn't say 8. Building works are taking place. Again several of the barriers have fallen over, but only one of the important ones. Again there's a 1930s parade, again with a chippy. Eastern European dumplings are readily available. The spring bulbs are newly planted. The new boundary hedge has yet to be added. According to the official sign, the council are adding layby's and tree's. The board detailing a local walk is currently inaccessible. The sign for the cash and carry is wonderfully anachronistic. The village green is sponsored by an estate agent.

  120   (55 mins)

  Hounslow (behind the Treaty Centre)     (Hounslow)  
The busiest spot yet. What could be a drab traffic island is mainly grass. Only one end has pansies. Two other smaller traffic islands aid pedestrians crossing. The nearby pub is named after something you can see from here. Its chalkboard advertises HOME MADE PIZZA'S. To contact the religious community charity use the secretary's email address provided. The nearby shopping centre presents a wall of recessed brick. Within is a concession selling musk, a lot of snazzy flooring and an underwhelming food space. One homebound shopper is carrying a small mattress and a Wilco carrier bag. The intermittent aerial racket is readily explained. Two similarly-numbered 'A' roads meet here.

  281   (35 mins)

  Teddington (Ferry Road)     (Richmond)  
The nicest spot yet. It looks like there are two churches but only one still is. One's fundamentally Tudor, the other's blatantly Victorian. One has a lovely yard with leaning gravestones, the other's promoting two exhibitions. The hyacinths are pink. The Rubbish Taxi is not a rubbish taxi, it does waste collection. The sensory area has some wonderful tulips. Two police cars are queuing at the lights, followed shortly afterwards by a third. The area's perhaps best known for something that's now flats. Alternatively it's best known for something you could easily see from that bridge. The two pubs are lovely locals. At the road junction are signs for toilets, a cafe and a National Path.

  285   (15 mins)

  Kingston station     (Kingston)  
Busier than number 6. Very much a focal point and hasn't always been pedestrianised. Less about lingering, more about dispersal. The biggest sign on the front of the building has copious pigeon spikes, some diagonal. That tree may be in a planter but it's still in full blossom. The toilets are closed. Explore The Past and Taste World Cuisine. The easiest cuisines to sample nearby would be Turkish, Japanese and Portuguese. An 8-storey lattice of girders is still being constructed. The tallest building is named after its shape. Family Times Good Times (also Milkshakes). It's hard to tell if the dry cleaners are permanently closed or if it's just Sunday. Students live behind the orange clock.

  57   (30 mins)

  South Wimbledon     (Merton)  
One last road junction. Adverts for nights out at Glam and Musik In Motion are tied to a prominent lamppost. Bike racks are available. A girl is filming the yellow box junction using a camera on a big tripod, overseen by someone who looks like her Dad. The local chicken shop has a Texan theme. Sri Lankan and Vietnamese food options might be preferential. The former bank on the corner is now occupied, appropriately, by accountants. The bus lane doesn't operate on Sundays. Somewhere I recently blogged about is signposted 9 minutes walk away. Portland stone is very much in evidence. The upmarket grocery store has vacated Charles Holden's shop, whereas across the road Tesco (est 2013) is still going strong.

I've either made this much too hard or, collectively, much too easy.

 Sunday, March 24, 2024

Some transport news

Central line news

It's well known in tubular circles that the longest direct journey on the Underground is between Epping and West Ruislip on the Central line. It's 54.9km long (34.1 miles), comfortably ahead of Uxbridge to Cockfosters on the Piccadilly line which is 50.9 km (31.6 miles). But this weekend a 60 mile journey is possible, all aboard the same train, thanks to engineering works closing the Central line between Woodford and Epping. In the temporary timetable all trains are running from the far west of the line through central London, round the Hainault loop and then back again.
• West Ruislip → Woodford → Hainault → Newbury Park → West Ruislip
• Ealing Broadway → Newbury Park → Hainault → Woodford → Ealing Broadway
West Ruislip trains are running round the Hainault loop clockwise and Ealing Broadway trains anti-clockwise, cunningly creating a seamless service. And if you catch one of those trains at West Ruislip you get to ride from almost Buckinghamshire to actual Essex and back again, a grand total of 97.1km (60.4 miles). Unbeatable.

caveats
1) On Sunday morning and Sunday evening a few trains are also starting at White City, but otherwise it's stonking great end-to-end loops all the way.
2) If you try travelling from West Ruislip to West Ruislip using Pay As You Go, not only will it take you 2¾ hours but you'll be charged a maximum fare (approximately £7-ish) for lingering too long on the network.
3) Actually you'll be charged two maximum fares because the software'll assume you started a journey you never touched out, then ended a journey you never touched in, so you'll be about £14 out of pocket.
4) Ah but is it a proper unbroken journey? A pedant would argue it's only proper if it says 'West Ruislip' on the front all the way round and obviously it doesn't do that. Also, what if they turf everyone off somewhere on the loop, then it wouldn't be a proper direct journey at all. So I checked.

I didn't do the whole 60.4 miles because I have a life. But I did go from Leytonstone back round to Leytonstone, a journey you can't normally do on one train, on one train.



It was odd seeing every train on the board have Hainault as a destination, alternately via Woodford or via Newbury Park. It was even odder that absolutely no announcements were being made about how unusual this situation was, nor that anyone bound for Epping would need a 'Hainault via Woodford' train to change for the replacement bus. Hainault via Woodford always used to be very rare, even before they made a shuttle of the last bit, and since 2020 it hardly ever happens at all.

It's been an absolutely brilliant weekend for residents of Roding Valley, Chigwell and Grange Hill, Normally they only get a train every 20 minutes and they have to change, but this weekend they have a service every 6 or 7 minutes and it goes straight through central London. Not many of them were out to take advantage.

And as we pulled into Hainault station, dammit, the driver played the 'This train terminates here, all change please' message. This probably negates the 60 mile claim, as does changing the destination from Hainault to West Ruislip. But nobody got turfed off, we didn't hang about, we just picked up fresh passengers and continued towards Newbury Park, so I'm calling that one journey. The entire loop took 35 minutes, if you've ever wondered how long a loopy train would actually take, before continuing all the way back to West Ruislip. If you're not a pedant and can mitigate the possible financial outlay, the tube's longest possible direct journey is rideable again today.

Old Bus news

Every so often the London Bus Museum organises a running day somewhere in the London area at which a heck of a lot of old buses turn out and offer rides for free along current and/or historic routes. They did it yesterday to celebrate the centenary of Barking bus garage, and the two routes chosen for the parade of vintage vehicles were the 62 and 145. Buses ran roughly every ten minutes. It was all extremely well done.



All the usual vintage bus day observations applied:
• All ages were present, but especially over-65s
• All genders were present, but very especially men
• Enthusiasts with big-lensed cameras were everywhere
• Surprised passers-by took almost as many photos as enthusiasts
• Passengers expecting a bogstandard bus were utterly delighted to get an old one (or totally baffled)
• Over-65s were even more delighted to get an old bus than everyone else
• Some bus conductors issued unnecessary paper tickets
• Even the boxy 1970s/80s buses were popular
• There were so so so so many buses
• It was great



Local notes
» The centenary was actually in January, but better to wait until March.
» Barking Bus garage was stuffed with vintage buses and open to the public for a £5 fee. Most visitors took even more photos and many purchased nostalgic bus paraphernalia.
» The people of Barking and Dagenham seemed especially pleased to see the unexpected buses, perhaps because it's not a borough where anything like this normally happens.
» I was extremely lucky and boarded a 145 before its advertised first stop so had the entire top deck to myself for the first four miles. Top decks were a lot busier later.

Dates for your diary
Sunday 9th June: Route 406 Heritage Day (Kingston/Epsom/Reigate/Redhill)
Saturday 14th September: Route 61 Heritage Day (Bromley/Orpington/Chislehurst)

Dangleway news

East London's favourite cablecar is getting a new operator. Since 2012 it's been operated by Mace, the company who built it, but from 28th June it'll be operated by FirstGroup instead. They also run Avanti West Coast, GWR, SWR and a lot of buses, plus the Croydon trams so they're not exactly new to working for TfL. This isn't a change of sponsor, merely a change behind the scenes, so most people will never notice.

Notes
• The contract is for five years with the option to extend for a further three.
• FirstGroup anticipate revenues of £60m over the eight-year period, i.e. about £8m a year.
• They're promising to "improve the service", "develop the customer proposition" and "place the service at the heart of its local community", whatever any of that means.

Overground news

Would you like to read the digital style guide for using the new Overground line names and colours? Here it is. TfL are very keen that dual lines are always used, and that disruptions are displayed with the word 'Overground' as an additional label.



Also if you'd like to know how the £6.3m costs of the renaming process are broken down, an awful lot of curmudgeons have submitted FoI requests asking the same thing. 37% is going on updating all kinds of signage, 18% on changing all kinds of tube maps, 14% on changes to trains, 12% on digital updates, 11% on awareness, 6% on staff costs and less than 2% on the engagement process that came up with the names.

 Saturday, March 23, 2024

A unique opportunity has arisen for creative narration,
Courtesy of medieval charity the City Bridge Foundation,
They seek applications for the post of poet in residence,
The holder has to write a few poems and attend some events.
The fee's ten thousand pounds and the role lasts a year,
Imagine how this opportunity could advance your career.
The subject matter is bridges, the five maintained by them:
Tower, London, Southwark, Blackfriars and Millennium.
If you think it could be you there's one month to apply,
Though you'd be up against me, I'd be great and here's why.




Tower Bridge

It's world-renowned
Goes up and down
Not just iconic
But also Gothic
If there isn't a ship
You can walk over it
But it's not in the City
And that's a pity



London Bridge

Since a Roman pontoon first joined Londinium to the marshes,
Since soldiers passed through on arrow-straight marches,
Since horses and carts tripped across low timber arches,
How many have crossed the river here?

Since medieval masons built a stone span with central chapel,
Since traders drove their livestock to market to sell,
Since Kentish peasants revolted to raise merry hell,
How many have crossed the river here?

Since pilgrims passed through in reverent migration,
Since traitors were spiked for their bold defamation,
Since shops and houses burned in a great conflagration,
How many have crossed the river here?

Since Rennie's five stone arches were added upstream,
Since dockers and lightermen were held in high esteem,
Since bowler hats and omnibuses started to teem,
How many have crossed the river here?

Since the latest replacement with pre-stressed box girders,
Since cycle lanes were fortified to prevent further murders,
Since changing patterns quelled the armies of office workers,
How many will cross the river here?



Southwark Bridge

When City hustle grows too loud
I make my way to the quietest bridge
And stand in my granite pulpit
To watch the river

When boats pass underneath
I stand astride the ploughing waves
And picture their meandering path
Into the grey estuary

When the tide grows low
I step down to the muddy foreshore
And pick my way over glistening rubble
To my arched shelter

When dusk turns to twilight
I return to the illuminated deck
And let lamps cast my triple shadow
Onto the flow of history



Millennium Bridge

She kneels upon the silver blade,
A ragged hump beneath a shawl of blue,
Hunched and motionless in penniless plea,
Her hands outstretched, her cup on view,
They all walk by.

The tourists on their merry way,
Families, sightseers and giggling mates,
They cluster for a well-posed snap,
They've done St Paul's, the Globe awaits,
But all walk by.

Her crooked silhouette never flickers,
Until a string is tugged and one man stops,
He gets no reaction so checks his pockets,
And into her cup some coinage drops,
He didn't walk by.

She never saw her Good Samaritan, only felt.
Her thanks, if muttered, were never heard.
Her hand reaches briefly to grab the alms,
Before she refreezes amid the unseen crowd,
They all walk by.



Blackfriars Bridge

The thing about bridges is they link two sides like a screaming metaphor.
North and South, them and us, here and there, war and peace, rich and poor.
How much better life would be if we were all like bridges, united.

The thing about bridges is they rise above the torrent like a contextual trope.
The sea of misery, the river of nightmares, an emotional kaleidoscope.
How much better life would be if we were all like bridges, elevated.

The thing about bridges is they enable connections like a convenient simile.
Bringing people together, healing the divide, ending divergency.
How much better life would be if we were all like bridges, attached.

The thing about bridges is they stand firm in the flow like a clunking analogy.
Keep the faith, trust your gut, support the weak, have no truck with bigotry.
How much better life would be if we were all like bridges, strong.

The thing about bridges is they're an absolute gift to a wannabe poet.
You can churn out verses on any topic with diversity to show for it.
How much better life would be if I could pontificate about bridges, rewarded.

 Friday, March 22, 2024

After Pentonville Road the next square on the Monopoly board is Jail. It's not assigned a location - the corner squares never are - but I wonder if they had Pentonville Prison in mind when placing Pentonville Road beside the Jail. The two aren't close in real life, Pentonville Prison's a mile north of Pentonville Road, but the nominal disconnect might not have been evident to two Waddingtons employees from Leeds enjoying a day trip to London.

Here's the front of HM Prison Pentonville, facing Caledonian Road.



It's not exactly welcoming, nor is it meant to be, but neither is it entirely obvious it's a prison unless you read the signs outside. 'Serving the community for 175 years' is perhaps not the way I'd have phrased it. Other clues include bars on the windows and a significant number of CCTV cameras, almost all of them pointing in rather than out. The front of the building has visible cracks, which isn't ideal in a prison, which'll be why an £11m project is now underway to renovate the gatehouse and reception area. Much greater problems are highlighted in a recent report which found the prison 'unfit' and 'inhumane' with inmates often sharing tiny cells with open toilets, not to mention issues with water, heating and vermin, but that's underfunded Victorian infrastructure for you.

The footprint of the prison building resembles a gingerbread man sprawled on his back, with the chapel as the head and four long wings extending from the central body. Cells are stacked three-high along open galleries, although all you really see from the outside are the arched windows at the end poking up above additional fortifications. It must be somewhat oppressive to live in one of the townhouses on Wheelwright Street and have as your view a set of railings in front of a high brick wall running the entire length of the street. The wall's plainly not high enough either, because multiple signs warn you not to throw things over the top of it and that a two year prison sentence might follow if you try. Other signs point out that this is a drone-free zone, a modern problem somewhat neutered by the metal netting now draped across the cell windows.



Round the back of the prison at the Roman Way Gate I found a dustcart waiting patiently to enter the compound, so filed that away in case I ever end up writing an unlikely prison escape novel. But the perimeter's not exactly the most welcoming place so I didn't linger long, hence the remainder of today's post will be eight lists relating to London's prisons.

London's prisons
Belmarsh (Thamesmead) (high secure unit) [men]
Brixton (Brixton) [men]
Feltham (Feltham) [young offenders]
Isis (Thamesmead) [young offenders]
Pentonville (Barnsbury) [men]
Thameside (Thamesmead) [men]
Wandsworth (Wandsworth) ([men]
Wormwood Scrubs (White City) [men]

Not quite London's prisons
» Bronzefield* (Ashford, Surrey) [women and young offenders]
» Coldingley* (Bisley, Surrey) [men]
» Downview* (Banstead, Surrey) [women]
» High Down* (Banstead, Surrey) [men]
» Send* (Ripley, Surrey) [women]
» The Mount (Bovingdon, Herts) [men]
* part of the London region

London's prisons by age
1820: Brixton
1842: Pentonville
1851: Wandsworth
1875: Wormwood Scrubs
1910: Feltham
1991: Belmarsh
2010; Isis
2012: Thameside

Ten previous London prisons
1) Tower of London (1100-1952): The original London lock-up, the White Tower being mostly inescapable. Royal prisoners include Henry VI, Edward V, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey and Elizabeth I, additionally Thomas More, Sir Walter Raleigh, Guy Fawkes, Samuel Pepys, Rudolf Hess and the Kray twins.
2) The Clink (1151-1780): On the South Bank serving the Liberty of the Clink, under the control of the Bishop of Winchester, now a tourist attraction I have never felt the need to visit.
3) Newgate (1188-1902): The first prison to house the accused before trial, mixed sex, rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, executions took place outside.
4) Fleet (1197-1844): Catered for the well-off and the poor, you got what you paid for, destroyed during the Great Fire and the Gordon Riots, replaced by Ludgate station.
5) Marshalsea (1373-1842): Private prison in Southwark, particularly used for debtors, best known for Charles Dickens' father being incarcerated here.
6) Bridewell (1556-1855): Henry VIII's palace converted to 'a place of correction for wayward women' and eventually a full-on lock-up.
7) Tothill Fields (1618-1853): Aka the Westminster House of Correction, greatly enlarged in 1834, a prison in circular 'Panopticon' style, site now occupied by Westminster Cathedral.
8) Coldbath Fields (1795-1885): Also known as the Middlesex House of Correction, often used by short stay prisoners and debtors, site now occupied by the Mount Pleasant sorting office.
9) Millbank (1816-1890): Hexagonal fortress with pentagonal petals, near Vauxhall Bridge, often used as a holding depot for convicts prior to transportation, Tate Britain now on site.
10) Holloway (1852-2016): Significant women's prison, once Western Europe's largest, sold to Peabody for housing, redevelopment finally underway, first of 985 homes due to open in 2027.

London's prisons in order of capacity
1) Wandsworth: 1541 inmates
2) Wormwood Scrubs: 1257 inmates
3) Thameside: 1119 inmates
4) Pentonville: 1111 inmates
5) Brixton: 798 inmates
6) Belmarsh: 792 inmates
7) Feltham: 768 inmates
8) Isis: 622 inmates

UK prisons larger than Wandsworth
1) Berwyn* (Wrexham) 2106 inmates [opened 2017]
2) Fosse Way* (Leicester) 1930 inmates [opened 2023]
3) Parc (Bridgend) 1800 inmates [opened 1997]
4) Five Wells* (Wellingborough) 1680 inmates [opened 2022]
* not yet up to capacity

London's prisons by category
A: Belmarsh
B: Pentonville, Thameside, Wandsworth, Wormwood Scrubs
C: Brixton, Isis

Three famous inmates
Belmarsh: Ronnie Biggs, Jeffrey Archer, Julian Assange
Brixton: Oswald Moseley, George Lansbury, Mick Jagger
Feltham: Oliver Postgate. Richard Reid, J Hus
Pentonville: Dr Crippen, George Best, Boy George
Wandsworth: Oscar Wilde, Gary Glitter, Boris Becker
Wormwood Scrubs: John Stonehouse, Leslie Grantham, Pete Doherty

 Thursday, March 21, 2024

 
 

PENTONVILLE
ROAD



£120
 
London's Monopoly Streets

PENTONVILLE ROAD

Colour group: light blue
Purchase price: £120
Rent: £8
Length: ¾ mile
Borough: Islington
Postcode: N1

The last of the light blues connects the other two, namely Euston Road and the Angel Islington. That's because it's another segment of the New Road, London's first bypass, which was driven across fields in the 1740s to help speed livestock to market. It's named Pentonville Road after the 'new town' of Pentonville, an early suburb which grew up in those fields in the 1770s, which in turn was named after the local landowner Henry Penton. It became more industrial in the 1800s, then more mixed, and today it's a not entirely attractive hotchpotch with a few heritage leftovers. A one-way system in the King's Cross area means it's only possible to drive the full length from west to east so I'll be walking it that way too, even though it's uphill.



Pentonville Road kicks off at the major road junction outside King's Cross station under the watchful eye of The Lighthouse. This lead-covered tower sits atop a flatiron-style block of shops built in the 1870s after digging the Metropolitan Railway had messed up the area somewhat. Today the sharp end contains a Five Guys restaurant and the upper floors have recently been gutted to create swish office space with meeting room names like Atari and Abacus, which just goes to show that appearances can be deceptive. The northern side of the road starts with a McDonalds, then an unprepossessing alleyway leads to the first fruits of a major redevelopment called Regent Quarter. I watched as workmen at the former Pompidou Cafe smashed up the floor tiles and ripped out the counter, this because a traditional 'Breakfast Sandwiches Pasta Salads Cakes Coffee Coca-Cola' offering alas has no place in the RQ vision going forward.



The next major landmark is the Scala, originally the King's Cross Cinema when it opened in 1920, which is topped off with a chunky dome. A blue plaque on the wall confirms that Lou Reed and Iggy Pop played their first gigs here in July 1972 and, less obviously, that it's also where their respective album cover photos were taken. In the 1980s the film offering went more leftfield, then went bust, and since 1999 the building's housed a fairly iconic nightclub (where yes I absolutely have). Alongside is the former satellite entrance to King's Cross station which closed 'temporarily' during lockdown, is now fully boarded up and in the absence of cash is unlikely to ever open again. As footfall fades the retail offering starts to decline, now with minimarkets and off licences amid the eateries, although it is still possible for wandering travellers to buy a wide selection of London postcards. And then the climb begins.



A second flatiron building protrudes on the corner of King's Cross Road and is again propped up by a sitdown burger chain. The Ethiopian Christian Fellowship Church merely shows its backside to the street, and has been saving the souls of Ethiopians and Eritreans living in the UK since 1990. Nextdoor the blight of facadism is in full flow, the front and side of a former Victorian terrace propped up with scaffolding so that fresh floors of office space can be concocted behind. It's just another chapter in the story of Pentonville Road's former fabric being sequentially destroyed, indeed it's proved to be a highly replaceable street. Already modernised, across multiple former footprints, are chunky office developments called Malvern House, Caledonia House, York House and something glibly called Chapter, a panelled bulwark where student accommodation is available from, eek, £315 a week. If you're the white-haired man who at this point asked me 'Are you lost?' thanks, but I was merely taking notes.



In good news Pentonville Road has an interesting bit and we've just reached it. It's Joseph Grimaldi Park, a former churchyard where the gravestones have been shifted to create lawns, gardens and recreational space, indeed the local primary school appear to use it for their PE lessons. Joseph Grimaldi's grave has not been cleared but is instead surrounded by ribboned railings and decorated with red roses, creating a point of panto pilgrimage for the famed Regency clown. An odder tribute is a black coffin-shaped panel embedded in the grass closer to the road, which it turns out is made from springy panels with bells underneath, which you're supposed to jump on like a game of musical hopscotch. And the building in the centre isn't the original chapel, merely a 1990s office block designed to resemble it, and which since last summer has been the cutting edge London office of the RNIB. Told you it was interesting.



Back on the main road a brief interlude of multi-storey council housing is followed by a lot more tediously modern commercial development. One's got a Tesco under it, one's occupied by another sensory-based charity and one substantial former warehouse is now used for lockable self-storage. Only one pre-war parade of shops survives and it includes the street's most intriguingly named store, Pentonville Rubber. You may or may not be disappointed to discover it's a proper old-school business specialising in flooring, sheeting and piping, where aproned gents will cut you multiple thicknesses of latex and whose window display is currently promoting different shades of memory foam. Long may it survive. The next turnoff (by the pub) is called Penton Street and was originally a footpath leading from Clerkenwell up towards Highgate before the suburb of Pentonville came along.



The unusual thing about Claremont Square is that it has a reservoir in the middle. Normally it'd be the three sides of pristine Georgian terraces that'd draw the eye but instead the 4m-high grassy mound in the middle is dominant, especially when scattered with daffodils. This conceals a Victorian reservoir capable of holding 16 million litres of water, which itself was built on the site of the Upper Pond added by the New River Company in 1709. The north side of the square on Pentonville Road instead boasts dull prestige flats, plus a DoubleTree hotel I once paid to stay in but then spent the night in an entirely different room. Just before The Castle pub a green road sign points in capital letters towards The NORTH, suggesting you turn off here via White Lion Street (another Pentonville spine road) rather than staying on the ring road until the Angel.



You finally get some idea of Pentonville Road's former glories from the mighty terrace comprising number 25 to 73. This magnificent run of four-storey houses dates back to the 1820s and followed the then-rule that all buildings must be at least 50 feet back from the roadway. Residents have semi-shared front gardens behind a line of iron railings, and judging by the letters ABCD on most front doors must get only one floor of each building to themselves. The chapel opposite has recently been converted for use by the Crafts Council, and I would have gone inside to enjoy their latest exhibition had I not passed by on a day they're closed. As modern architecture re-intrudes, including a particularly horrible grey cuboid that replaced a bike shop, we reach the empty shell of a former Co-op bank. And that's the site of the Angel Islington, the first of the light blue squares I reported on a few weeks' back, so the first side of the board is complete.


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