diamond geezer

 Friday, May 07, 2021

Anorak 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.

However, and it is a very big however, 2020's figures are perverse. The figures are calculated for a typical week in autumn then multiplied up to a full year, as usual, but for 2020 this means "the sample window is the period of the UK Government's second national lockdown". Overall ridership is therefore down to 35% of what it was in 2019, so absolutely none of what follows is either normal or consequential.


London's ten busiest tube stations (2020) (with changes since 2019)
  1)   ↑6    Stratford (25.1m)
  2)   ↑3    London Bridge (24.7m)
  3)   ↓1    Victoria (23.0m)
  4)   ↓3    King's Cross St Pancras (18.8m)
  5)   ↓2    Waterloo (16.6m)
  6)   --    Liverpool Street (16.3m)
  7)  ↑10   Finsbury Park (15.8m)
  8)  ↑11   Vauxhall (15.5m)
  9)   ↓5    Oxford Circus (14.6m)
10)  ↑29   Barking (14.3m)

This is eye-popping stuff. London's busiest tube station is officially Stratford, not one of the normal big-hitters in central London. During lockdown a lot of people were still using Stratford station to get around, especially those with essential non-office-based jobs. Stratford's total is only 40% of what it normally is, but Waterloo and Oxford Circus only managed 20% allowing East London to leapfrog past. Other non-central railheads performed strongly, for example Finsbury Park and Vauxhall. I confess I never ever expected to see Barking in the top 10 busiest tube stations. London Bridge is the top-performing rail terminus (it's more normally third). The biggest tumble out of the top 10 belongs to Bank/Monument which plummeted from 8th place to 47th.

The next 10: Canary Wharf, Brixton, Paddington, Canning Town, Walthamstow Central, Seven Sisters, Hammersmith (District), South Kensington, Bond Street, North Greenwich
These are mostly stations in zones 2 and 3, whereas normally they'd be stations in zone 1.

London's ten busiest tube stations outside Zone 2 (2020)
  1)   ↑1   Barking (14.3m)
  2)   ↓1   Walthamstow Central (10.4m)
  3)   --   Seven Sisters (10.0m)
  4)   ↑5   East Ham (8.5m)
  5)   ↑1   Wembley Park (8.3m)
  6)   ↑1   Tooting Broadway (8.1m)
  7)   ↓3   Ealing Broadway (7.7m)
  8)   ↑4   Leyton (7.3m)
  9)   ↓2   Tottenham Hale (7.2m)
10)   --   Wimbledon (7.0m)

It's also all change beyond zone 2, but the reshuffle isn't quite as extreme as in the centre of town. Again it's tube stations with rail connections that do particularly well, with East Ham, Wembley Park, Tooting Broadway and Leyton the exceptions. Northeast London has a particularly strong showing, which correlates well with TfL's warnings about busy stations during the pandemic. If the list were to continue then Harrow-on-the-Hill (6m) would be the highest performing station in Zone 5 and Uxbridge (4m) the busiest in Zone 6.

The smallest decreases in passenger numbers compared to last year
  1) Dagenham East ↓16%
  2) Kenton ↓17%
  3) Stonebridge Park ↓18%
  4) Harlesden ↓19%
  5) Becontree ↓20%
  6) Barking ↓21%
  7) North Wembley ↓22%
  8) Willesden Junction ↓22%
  9) Dagenham Heathway ↓22%
10) Sudbury Hill ↓24%

You'd expect passenger numbers to have decreased significantly during lockdown but two stretches of two lines have bucked the trend. One's the eastern end of the District line (i.e. Barking & Dagenham) and the other's the northern end of the Bakerloo line (i.e. Brent) where passengers just kept on travelling. Not so many home workers out here, I suspect, and rather more with jobs they needed to travel to.

The largest decreases in passenger numbers compared to last year
  1) Heathrow Terminal 4 ↓100%
  2) Covent Garden ↓90%
  3) Piccadilly Circus ↓89%
  4) Bank/Monument ↓89%
  5) Leicester Square ↓89%
  6) Tottenham Court Road ↓86%
  7) Temple ↓85%
  8) Mansion House ↓84%
  9) Charing Cross ↓83%
10) Blackfriars ↓81%

Blimey, this is savage. Heathrow Terminal 4's big fat zero is because it's been closed to passengers since last May (and the data is based on autumn travel). All the rest of the top 10 decreases are in zone 1, with passenger numbers in the West End utterly diminished compared to normal. Lack of tourists and lack of shoppers have contributed to killing off traffic, not just people staying away from the office. Astonishingly zone 1 and Heathrow account for the entire Top 50 biggest decreases, a sequence eventually broken by Richmond (↓73%) in 52nd place.

Let's see what all this has done to my favourite list of the year...

London's 10 least busy tube stations (2020)
  1)         Kensington (Olympia) (35000)
  2)         Roding Valley (190000)
  3)         Chigwell (247000)
  4)         Grange Hill (297000)
  5)   ↑1   Theydon Bois (493000)
  6)   ↓1   North Ealing (507000)
  7)   ↑4   Croxley (515000)
  8)         Ruislip Gardens (549000)
  9)   ↑1   Ickenham (555000)
10)   ↓3   Moor Park (593000)

Discounting Heathrow T4, the least used station on the Underground remains poor old Kensington (Olympia), because that's what weekend-only trains (and a tiny handful of weekday-ers) does for you. It has a pitiful total... less than a fifth of the passengers at the second least used station, which continues to be Roding Valley. The Essex end of the Central line has a very strong showing including all three stops on the Hainault shuttle, as per usual. Passenger numbers may have tumbled here, as everywhere else, but a lesser used station will always be a lesser used station.

The next ten least busy stations: Chesham, West Finchley, Fairlop, West Harrow, West Ruislip, Chorleywood, Upminster Bridge, Mill Hill East, Chalfont & Latimer, West Acton

And while we're here...

DLR Top 5: Canning Town (11m), Stratford, Bank, Woolwich Arsenal, Lewisham
DLR Bottom 5: Beckton Park (166000), West India Quay, Pudding Mill Lane, Royal Albert, Custom House

Overground Top 5: Stratford (11m), Clapham Junction, Canada Water, Highbury & Islington, Willesden Junction
Overground Bottom 5: Emerson Park (120000), Cheshunt, Upminster, Bushey, South Kenton

TfL Rail Top 5: Liverpool Street (9m), Stratford, Paddington, Romford, Ilford
TfL Rail Bottom 5: Heathrow Terminal 4 (0), Twyford (13000), Taplow, Iver, Langley

 Thursday, May 06, 2021

As well as voting for London's next Mayor and members of the Greater London Authority today, we here in Tower Hamlets are also voting in a referendum on how the council is run. I doubt that many residents have noticed, let alone taken all the issues on board, so will likely be surprised later today when faced by a voting slip with a question they've not previously considered.

It's not a catchy question because the wording is fixed by legislation and can't be tweaked. But essentially it's do you want a Mayor or do you want a leader? Quick, make your mind up based on zero background knowledge and put a cross in a box.



The vast majority of local councils are run by a leader elected by the other elected councillors. The role of Mayor exists but is mostly ceremonial, often taken in turns according to party and longevity. Day-to-day control rests with a single person voted for by councillors and not directly by the public.

This was how things used to be in Tower Hamlets until 2010 when a campaign to switch from leader to Mayor was unexpectedly successful. It was driven by former council leader Lutfur Rahman, now disgraced, who managed to cobble together enough signatures to trigger a previous referendum and then persuade enough of the electorate they wanted a Mayoral system. The subsequent election saw Rahman elevated to the Mayoralty as an independent, bypassing Labour's 63% share of councillors, and he then proceeded to bleed our coffers dry. 2021 is the first legal opportunity to switch the system back.

What's concerning is the almost complete lack of referendum debate and discussion that's permeated through to the wider community. I've had nothing through my door presenting arguments one way or the other, nor seen any posters in windows... whereas in neighbouring Newham who are having a similar debate I've seen loads.



It's only while researching this post that I've discovered the current Mayor, John Biggs, is keen to abandon the Mayoral system and so remove his direct route to power. I've also spotted that Lutfur Rahman really wants to keep it, and both of these seem excellent reasons to put a cross in the second box. I suspect this makes me better informed than 90% of Tower Hamlets residents who are essentially going to pick an outcome at random (or pick Mayor - no change - because it sounds more familiar than the alternative).

It's also why I think referendums on anything other than major national issues are dangerous. An ill-informed public selecting options on a whim - essentially a coin toss - risks accidentally introducing appalling policies which then affect thousands. It also encourages those who can spend the most money on promotion ("Vote Yes on Proposition 46!") to get their opinions rubberstamped in law, and that rarely ends well.

If today's referendum confirms a switch then next year's Tower Hamlets council elections will be run on the old model and we won't be asked to vote for a Mayor again. It makes a lot of sense, but I fear not enough Tower Hamlets residents understand what's at stake and will sleepwalk into retaining the status quo.

When in Elephant & Castle you should obviously go and look at the famous shopping centre, which is alas now the famous ex-shopping centre. It closed in September after 55 years, to the dismay of those who frequented its eclectic and cosmopolitan collection of shops across three austere levels. Vacated and fenced off, the building's days are very much numbered. I only took this photo on Sunday and by Tuesday a giant excavator had smashed the blue wall into rubble.



Walking around the perimeter, where the subways used to be and the roundabout no longer is, the stacked boxes all look somewhat forlorn. I particularly missed the elephant-with-a-castle-on-its-back statue, removed from its podium in January. Apparently it's off being 'pampered' and is due to reappear in Castle Square later in the year, in an attempt to placemake the pop-up units at Elephant Park (as mentioned yesterday). This is also where many of the traders evicted from the shopping centre have ended up, although only a minority and with much lower footfall and basically good luck to them.



What's coming when it's gone is towers and 461 flats, a quarter for social rent. What's coming when it's gone is smarter shops, restaurants and leisure facilities. What's coming when it's gone is a fresh hub for the London College of Communications. What's coming when it's gone is a new station entrance with step-free access to the Underground and Thameslink. What's not coming back is a diverse inexpensive shopping centre housed in a 60s wormhole, because you don't gentrify a neighbourhood by catering to those who already live here.

 Wednesday, May 05, 2021

(something new has happened somewhere I haven't been recently, so it may not be particularly new but it's new to me)

Welcome to Elephant Park.



Alas it's not a safari park, it's a new enormous housing estate at Elephant & Castle. And yes, it looks exactly how you'd expect a new enormous housing estate to look.



It's big, around 25 acres in size, and will have around 3000 homes when it's complete, which it isn't yet. Several apartment blocks are finished and occupied, a few plots are still building sites and many areas remain empty. But ten years ago it used to look like this.



This was the Heygate Estate, one of Southwark's largest, built in Brutalist style in the early 1970s. Long slab blocks faced off towards Walworth Road and New Kent Road with a scattering of smaller flats inbetween, all linked by raised concrete walkways. Fifty years ago it was desirable and visionary, but before long bleak and uninviting, and eventually shady and shunned. It was an evocative place to walk through but perhaps not to live.



The council plumped for regeneration in conjunction with a major developer and agreed a financially disadvantageous deal, spending more on planning and demolition than the paltry £50m they received. Tenants were decanted before alternative accommodation was available, with no intention of them ever coming back, although a few held on amid boarded-up desolation. And then in 2013 the site was sealed off, a few mature trees preserved in the centre and all the rest sequentially knocked down. Cue Elephant Park.



The flats look very different now, less monolithic and with stairwells instead of communal balconies. Whereas ground level was previously given over to endless rows of garages they now host commercial units, or will do if they ever rent them all out, and the obligatory car parking is concealed underneath. Previous residents got a concrete community centre and a rundown parade of essential shops and services. The new lot get a cinema room, gym, co-working space and roof terrace, because the new lot very much aren't council tenants.



The developers have made a big thing of the site's central park, even conscripting it into the site's new name. It takes advantage of a few retained mature trees but is otherwise is mostly lawn (sorry, "newly laid biodiverse grass") and roped-off playground. The park's smaller than it was due to be in the initial plans and isn't yet fully shadowed by residential towers. Marketing collateral makes a big thing of the fact it'll have a nature trail, which is about as cheap as environmental greenwash gets. Most of the flats in Park Central West and Park Central East either aren't adjacent to the park or look the wrong way.



One thing that's already up and running is Elephant Park's foodie destination, which is Sayer Street. One side is all cafes and restaurants, sequentially 'small plates & grill', Italian, Japanese, Ecuador/Spanish, Lebanese, Caribbean, Taiwanese and 'vacant'. A fried breakfast at the first of these will set you back £11 because this is no longer an impoverished estate, more somewhere to graze and brunch. On the opposite side of the street are three Insta-friendly sheds, or rather 'maker spaces', to temporarily boost the cultural credentials of the site. A garden centre, an art exchange and a podcast studio are the current lucky incumbents.



The marketing team at Elephant Park have gone big on elephants, assembling a cluster of glittery silver and gold-trunked sculptures in the piazza to the west of the park. I wasn't sure if the private security guard standing nearby was watching them or watching the rest of us - I suspect the latter. The marketing team also love their ampersands, dotting around various slogans like 'Live & Breathe', 'Green & Active' and 'Flavour & Energy'. They've not gone quite so overboard on Castles but there is a Castle Square, which thus far resembles a Boxpark but in ribbed timber.



Its two storeys are given over to micro retail units housing such delights as beauty salons, sweet shops and mobile phone emporia. One nice touch is the view over the park from the upper deck, although you have to be careful not to block the entrance to the lift in the process. Another nice touch is the provision of free public toilets, because these days developers have the wherewithal and the money in a way that councils have long since abandoned. And as a bonus the whole structure looks to be just temporary enough that it could be removed at a later date to provide a proper gateway to the estate from Elephant & Castle station.



It is essentially all change, but then it's all change all around Elephant & Castle at the moment. Some might call it much-needed redevelopment, others characterless gentrification, but the end result continues to be wholesale displacement. Elephant Park is certainly an attractive hotspot for incomers seeking convenience and lifestyle but the people I saw living in the Heygate a decade ago are long gone, maybe even to somewhere with a chippie.

 Tuesday, May 04, 2021

It being a bank holiday yesterday I fancied a bit of bluebelling. I've seen a fair few this year beside roads, in the odd corner of the Olympic Park and scattered across Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. But what I'd thus far missed was a proper carpet of blue, the kind of thing I'd normally head to the North Downs or the Chilterns for, or perhaps make do with Highgate or Bexley. So I walked to Wanstead and that did me just fine.



Wanstead Park is always a delight, blessed with a leftover landscape from a Georgian mansion and carefully tended by the City of London. But it's particularly delightful at this time of year so long as you leave the lakeside, step off the grass and walk into the woodland.



The place to be is Chalet Wood, a leafy triangle to the north of The Temple. You could easily miss it if you didn't know it contained a springtime treasure, but the steady flow of people ought to be a hint that something special lies within. I made sure I got there early before the throng of bank holiday bluebellers descended.



The clearing was larger than I was expecting although still with very tightly defined horizons. A five-minutes-to-walk-around floral showpiece, although with dawdling to admire the spectacle expect to take rather longer. And with a proper shimmer of blue from proper bluebells, that's Hyacinthoides non-scripta, it delivers the full-on carpet experience.



Originally it was good enough to look at them, or maybe point your lens across the clearing for a dazzling shot. Now the key thing is to take a selfie with the bluebells in the background or plonk your family in front and upload the best image. Prepare to wait your turn.



The springtime onslaught used to result in thoughtless trampling, so for protection's sake the park wardens have laid down logs to define the edges of paths. Nothing's really stopping anyone stepping over, but they seem to do the trick. So too do signs pinned up advising folk not to walk on the bluebells, and allegedly the one-way arrows help too.



I found myself in the middle of the wood before I found my first arrow, having walked what turned out to be the wrong way down a narrow path. A nearby mother promptly turned to her two toddlers and read out the notice ("Please follow the one way arrows so that everyone can enjoy the bluebells safely"). Initially I thought she was educating them, but I swiftly deduced she was passive-aggressively lambasting me.



It was lovely to be amidst the spectacle, indeed I was chuffed just to be walking through woodland again because there's precious little of that near me. And then I headed off north towards Warren Road past an increasing stream of people walking the other way. They clutched children and cups, they chatted to friends and partners, and they converged inexorably on the springtime delights in the shadowy clearing. If you can't get your bluebell fix in the countryside this year, there's always Chalet Wood.

 Monday, May 03, 2021

There's a new long distance walking network in town... and in the city and in villages and snaking across the countryside. Wherever you are in Britain it ought to be somewhere near you.

It's called Slow Ways - an initiative to connect the nation via a web of interconnected walking routes. It was originally proposed by Daniel Raven-Ellison, perhaps better known as the man who dreamt up the dubious concept of National Park Cities (and, more impressively, convinced Sadiq Khan that London was one).



For the Slow Ways project hundreds of nodes were selected marking centres of population, usually at accessible locations like railway or bus stations. These were then connected by straight lines to create a lattice of routes across the country - approximately 7500 connections altogether. The idea was to find a decent walking route for each of these connections, not necessarily direct but pleasant and broadly accessible, via a major crowdsourcing challenge.

Over the last year thousands of people have explored their localities to suggest possible routes and these are now available on the Slow Ways website (free of charge, no logging in required). The next stage of the project is to review each route and provide some background information to provide confidence that the routes selected are appropriate. What's the geography like, are the paths of a reasonable quality, is there a better way to go, that kind of thing.



Each Slow Ways node has about half a dozen connections depending on local topography. Here's the node for Rochdale which links to seven towns and villages up to six miles distant. Longer walks can be created by chaining together individual routes, so for example Manchester is two links away (via Middleton). To review each section and confirm it's better than potential alternatives will require a lot of additional input, but it only requires a few Rochdale residents to take an interest and hey presto, a verified interconnected pedestrian highway.

Some Slow Ways cross fields, others traverse hills, some follow the coast and a lot wend through suburbs. But I don't have that luxury of landscape here in East London, so for my trial run I've chosen to follow a Slow Way that's rather more mundane.



This is Dalbet, so called because it runs between Dalston and Bethnal Green. It's just two miles long, very much at the short end of the Slow Ways oeuvre, and involves only 12 metres of ascent so is hardly tiring. But it's still a good choice for me to investigate because there isn't an obvious direct route, indeed I bet most Londoners would plump for private or public transport every time rather than try to negotiate the intermediate area on foot.

I started at Bethnal Green tube station and headed north. I immediately wanted to take a shortcut through Museum Gardens, which was considerably more verdant and blossomtastic than the 'official' route up busy Cambridge Heath Road and would also have cut the corner off. I suspect this is the kind of feedback the Slow Ways team wants to hear because at present Dalbet is simply one person's submission with no reviews as yet.



I had a lot more trouble when it came to taking the turning off Old Ford Road, because there wasn't one. The line drawn alluringly on the map instead passed through some railings leaving me to take a diversion round the foot of a tower block. I suspect this is the kind of feedback the Slow Ways team not only wants but needs. Things got better after that, following quiet backstreets and with a zebra crossing in just the right place to traverse one burst of traffic. It wasn't especially picturesque, nudging into a light industrial zone past taxi repair yards, but I wasn't complaining.

Next a problem of scale. It wasn't clear from the line on the map whether I was supposed to follow the Regent's Canal towpath or the parallel (quiet) street. This was partly because I couldn't zoom in close enough to distinguish between the two but mainly because someone had drawn the line much too approximately. This shouldn't be a big problem in urban Bethnal Green but a badly-drawn line could leave you badly adrift in a Bedfordshire field or the Brecon Beacons. The canal was lovely whicheverway.



The next section involved walking the full length of Broadway Market with its artisan cafes and bijou shops - precisely the kind of jewel you might have missed if you'd chosen the route yourself. Then came the full length of London Fields, zigzagging across the grass in a Way that was definitely Slow, and all the more pleasant for it. I was impressed that this Slow Way had now managed to be off-road for nigh on one mile (canal/pedestrianised street/park) which is quite an achievement for inner London.

Finally it was time to head west along Forest Road, a long residential backstreet which was appropriately quiet and required no additional navigation for the next ten minutes. I only had to remember to turn right just before the end into a long pedestrianised piazza and I'd reached my destination at Dalston Junction station. It felt like forty-five minutes that someone had thoughtfully curated rather than simply thrown together, so I'd chalk that up as a Slow Ways win.



I don't really need a Slow Ways network to find my way around East London but I imagine it could be very useful elsewhere in the country where I'm less familiar with the landscape. It could also encourage me, or you, to take an interesting route from A to B rather than hopping onto some less sustainable form of transport. But it all relies on input and accuracy, so there's a lot of work to be done before I could be sure that a Slow Way wouldn't leave me adrift and unable to continue.

Imagine if this really took off and a detailed network of Slow Ways crisscrossed the entire country. In the meantime the beta website is well worth an explore, and if you dipped in and offered some feedback it might be even better.

 Sunday, May 02, 2021

A lot more people are out and about now that non-essential shops and outdoor hospitality are open. Roads are busier, public transport fuller and pavements generally bustlier. But do you know what the government's official travel guidance says? It still says this.



This guidance is unchanged since the Stay At Home order was withdrawn at the end of March. We are still advised to minimise travel and avoid making unnecesary trips. And yet simultaneously pub terraces are open, dining in the street is legal and shopping for any old tat is fine, despite not being in any way essential. If you only pop down to your local high street fine, no conflict. But what about travelling several miles for a beer with friends, shopping in a neighbouring county, going for a long walk in the countryside or taking a daytrip to the seaside?

It makes sense that travel within the UK is opening up again now that cases are so low. It makes sense that the government would prefer us to go out and boost the economy rather than confine us to our locality. But it hasn't put this into words by updating its travel guidance and is instead relying on us to follow unspoken rules, as has been the case throughout most of the pandemic. It seems our boundaries are now defined by what's open, not how far away it is and how we get there, despite official advice to the contrary.

The May bank holiday weekend is usually an excellent time to go travelling, say to the seaside. It's not such a good time to go to the seaside this year because there's a pandemic and also the weather forecast is poor. But I wondered anyway how much a trip to the seaside costs, mainly for future reference, and in case it's useful for anyone else.

I've assumed...
a) a return
b) day trip
c) from London
d) by train
e) travelling on Bank Holiday Monday, i.e. off peak
f) without a railcard

I've picked twelve coastal resorts and rounded fares to the nearest £.

   Off-peak  Cheaper tweak 
Gt Yarmouth  2¾h£61£40 (split at Colchester)
Clacton1½h£36£30 (advance ticket)
Southend1h£15-
Whitstable1¼h£26-
Margate1½h£27-
Folkestone1h£29-
Hastings1½h£32-
Eastbourne1½h£36-
Brighton1h£13-
Bognor Regis1¾h£33-
Southsea2h£33£20 (advance ticket)
 Bournemouth 2h£53£46 (advance ticket)

Forget Great Yarmouth, both for reasons of time and cost. Bournemouth's also a long and expensive journey so probably not there either. A return ticket to most of the resorts inbetween costs about £30 (and would be more like £20 if you had a railcard). Portsmouth & Southsea's surprisingly good value so long as you take the right train. But there are two much cheaper ways to get to the seaside and they are Southend (£15) and Brighton (£13). Southend's cheap because c2c fares have always been excellent value, and Brighton's astonishingly cheap so long as you travel by Thameslink at the weekend (or on a bank holiday). The catch with both is a lack of sand, but the beach isn't always the main reason people go to the seaside.

The May bank holiday weekend is also an excellent time to go bluebelling.



Here are four places you might go for a splash of blue.

   Off-peak 
Tring  35m£21
Wendover50m£14
Box Hill45m£10
 Sevenoaks 40m£14

It's cheaper to get to the hills around London than to get to the seaside. A tenner (or just over) should cover it. Box Hill's cheaper than Sevenoaks despite being the same distance from central London. The outlier is Tring, which is barely four miles from Wendover but costs a lot more to get to because it's on a completely different line. Pick your bluebelling target carefully.

And now, because this is my blog, this is how much it would cost me to go to these four places.

  before  now 
Tring£14£26
Wendover£9£19
Box Hill£7£15
 Sevenoaks £6£12

The first column is how much I would have paid when I had an annual Z1-3 Travelcard with a Gold Card offering 1/3 discount on rail fares. The second column is how much I'd have to pay now that I don't have one. Journeys are from Bow rather than from central London.

The price is now much higher because I no longer have my 1/3 discount and I'd have to pay for the tube journey to and from the railway terminus. Overall it's about twice as much as the previous fare, which is an interesting financial deterrent compared to what I'm used to. Obviously my annual Travelcard was a substantial investment up front so these figures aren't entirely comparable, but it's going to take me some time to get used to how expensive fares really are.

This May bank holiday I intend to go see some bluebells on foot instead, hopefully dodging any heavy showers. The seaside will have to wait.

12 things that happened this week #coronavirus

• oxygen amongst aid sent to India
• shops and pubs finally reopen in Scotland
• PM preferred "bodies piled high" to 3rd lockdown
• US will export 60m unused Oxford doses
• 1st jab halves transmission of virus
• 60m Pfizer jabs ordered for winter booster
• Turkey goes into first lockdown
• vaccine age limit lowered to 40
• Brazil passes 400,000 deaths
• UK infections 20 times lower than January
• 1 in 7 high street shops empty
• 3000 clubbers attend test event in Liverpool

Worldwide deaths: 3,090,000 → 3,180,000
Worldwide cases: 146,000,000 → 152,000,000
UK deaths: 127,417 → 127,524
UK cases: 4,403,170 → 4,418,530
Vaccinations: 33,508,590 → 34,346,273
FTSE: up ½% (6938 → 6969)

 Saturday, May 01, 2021

30 unblogged things I did in April

Thu 1: Walked past the fenced-off area on Wanstead Flats and listened to the skylarks singing, confirming that the fenced-off area works.
Fri 2: The sick-looking history tree in Temple Mills Lane has been cut down and replaced by a new mature specimen (which as yet doesn't have a large steel ring attached).



Sat 3: I hoped the special prize cryptic crossword would keep me occupied for a substantial portion of the weekend but instead I had it polished off by 6pm, an hour earlier than last Easter. This never normally happens.
Sun 4: The Gentle Author has written a history of St Mary's Church in Bow (and the surrounding locality) that's so good, and so detailed, that nobody else need ever bother.
Mon 5: Today's highlight was crossing Walthamstow Marshes in the snow, which was highly unusual for Easter Monday (not the weather, which happens more often than you'd think, but the fact I hadn't gone on a big long trip somewhere outside London).
Tue 6: Used my last three recycling bags to dispose of monthsworth of boxes, bottles and paper (and am now waiting for libraries to reopen so I can collect more bags, because Tower Hamlets council don't like to make recycling easy).
Wed 7: Celebrated 20 years of knowing BestMate by doing the same walk we first made in April 2001, spotting herons and opening two bags of Mini Cheddars.



Thu 8: Things you find up a random street in Canonbury - a brick substation for the former Islington Electricity Department.
Fri 9: I would tell you about the unexpected but uplifting out-of-comfort-zone morning I had, but Prince Philip's death was announced a few minutes afterwards so all normal exposition is on pause as a mark of respect.
Sat 10: There's been a lot of fuss about the history wall fronting the Crossrail tracks in North Woolwich, which has led to the panel casually referencing local murders to be removed, so it's reassuring to see the panels about diphtheria, mugging and bodies being flung out of tower blocks after gas explosions are still in situ.



Sun 11: Randomly bumped into a former date (and their subsequent partner) outside Borough Market and stopped for a nice catch-up chat. Discovered they'd lost their job and are no longer local, so unless something equally random happens in the future I doubt I'll ever see them again.
Mon 12: Impressed by the number of people sat at small tables outside Westfield in temperatures below ten degrees grimly sipping an alcoholic drink, purely because they now can.
Tue 13: Work is finally underway to turn The Crystal into London's new City Hall, which thus far seems to stretch to removing the Royal Docks exhibition, obscuring the windows with sheeting and setting up a works compound outside.
Wed 14: busatlas.uk is a wonderful attempt at mapping the UK's principal inter-urban and rural bus services, such as they still are. Thus far the project has ticked off most of the counties along the south and east coast of England plus some of the Midlands. Here are Sussex and Suffolk, for example.



Thu 15: Bethnal Green's independent natural history gift and concept lifestyle store has reopened, or at least its door is open should anyone consider walking inside, and if that isn't a sign of creeping gentrification I don't know what is.
Fri 16: Shot five seconds of a top-performing YouTube video.
Sat 17: The years showcased on Pick of the Pops have been nudging later recently and are now generally from the range 1976-1996. Years before 1976 have only featured twice in the last six months, whereas the 21st century has popped up five times (usually with a fairly lacklustre musical selection).
Sun 18: Other things I saw in Bermondsey - a blue plaque on a closed pub because Paul McCartney once filmed a video inside, a bronze cat on a river wall and six pigtails for £9.



Mon 19: Birdwatching update: I spotted the allegedly elusive kingfisher skimming low over the Lea at the end of Channelsea Creek, which does seem to be a hotspot. And then two hours later I spotted another, or possibly the same bird, beyond the Park limits in the much quieter waters just upstream of Eastway and the A12. Twice in one day is ridiculously brilliant. [map of sightings]
Tue 20: A few weeks late, but they've finally refilled the Hertford Union Canal. Dozens of narrowboats have already dashed back to grab a coveted mooring space.
Wed 21: It's a shame Count Binface didn't use his page in the London Mayoral booklet to promote his manifesto because some of his policies are rather good (No shop to be allowed to sell a croissant for more than £1) (The hand dryer in the gents toilet at the Crown & Treaty, Uxbridge, to be moved to a more sensible position) (Ceefax to be brought back for all households within the M25)
Thu 22: I'm using lockdown to catch up on classic films I really should have watched before. Today Evil Under The Sun, yesterday Death On The Nile and the day before Westworld.
Fri 23: Radio 1 has launched another streaming-only Sounds-exclusive variant called Radio 1 relax, which is refreshingly pop-free and quite good as background music so long as you avoid the wellness hours.



Sat 24: A swish new poster has gone up at Dangleway North promoting the Private Cabin Experience, cost £90, despite the fact that every group of travellers gets its own cabin at the moment for social distancing reasons.
Sun 25: Londonist continues to have a very muted pandemic. Over the last week it's only published five posts, one of which was 'The Best of Londonist' (which simply listed the other four). Meanwhile Time Out managed 13, mostly promoting venues coming out of lockdown, and marketing cannon Secret London spaffed 30.
Mon 26: The new series of Just A Minute featured ten different chairs, presumably as an audition for taking over Nicholas Parsons' role permanently. Of the final four Jo Brand wasn't strict enough, Julian Clary's natural waspishness was wasted, Tom Allen felt unfamiliarly modern and Stephen Fry was effortlessly excellent (but I suspect wouldn't always be available as a regular host).
Tue 27: Found a plaque in Central Park, East Ham, commemorating the miniature railway that operated here for "3 glorious years". A 1940s Pathé newsreel answered all my questions.



Wed 28: The Blossom Garden in the Olympic Park is nearly complete, now with a proper walkway, tidied lawn and several benches. Many of the 33 trees are in full fruity blossom at the moment, but I fear the garden can't be officially opened until after the Mayoral election and all the white and pink will have dropped by then.
Thu 29: For those of you wanting an update on my numberplate-spotting, in the last fortnight my second attempt at Full Reverse Chronological has sped through 21 to 51, then prefix Y to prefix A, then suffix Y to suffix S, so only 15 more to go. Meanwhile my attempt to spot all 420 personalised registrations from A1 to Y20 is going really well and after two months I only have seventeen more to tick off. The sole missing single-digit pair is P3. The only other absence below the teens is L10. Y is proving the most elusive letter (I still need Y13, Y14, Y16 and Y17).
Fri 30: For those of you not wanting an update on my numberplate-spotting, I can instead offer you five items from today's Tesco receipt: gammon joint, whole cucumber, raspberry cheesecake, low quality scones, reduced-salt ketchup.

 Friday, April 30, 2021

One thing about getting older is that your body works less well. Little things, mostly, that mount up over time to maybe something significant. Bits of you stop functioning properly or get damaged or break, and other bits work less well than they used to, and some things might be wrong but you can't easily tell, and before you know where you are your conversation is peppered with endless references to aches and pains.

I'm fine, thanks for asking, but still afflicted by bodily degradation, everyday niggles and potential poorliness.

So I thought I'd make a list of the most obvious ways my body's going wrong, or might be going wrong, in the hope it'll be cathartic rather than hypochondriac.
» I intend to be quite vague in what follows.
» For reasons of privacy I'm not telling you precisely what the various niggles are so have numbered them.
» The list is in a random order rather than juggled by potential seriousness.
» Some of the afflictions occur more than once but I've numbered them separately every time, just to throw you off the scent.
» I'm fine, thanks.
Don't waste your time trying to guess what the niggles are as I won't be confirming anything. And please don't offer advice based on your assumptions because I'll just roll my eyes at how completely wrong you are.

• For several years I've been a bit concerned about [Niggle 1]. It used to ache on and off, often for months, but then it would suddenly stop aching and be perfectly OK for ages. Thankfully it's been perfectly OK for at least a year so I've stopped being concerned about it... but I did once show it to a doctor and he said it's probably a sign of eventual [Affliction 1] and that wouldn't be great.
• I know it happens to everyone eventually, and it was due to happen to me earlier than most, but it's still unnerving to see [Niggle 2] because the change is only ever one-way.
[Niggle 3] is mildly noticeable and started in March. It might be linked to [Niggle 4] but as yet I haven't distinguished any obvious deeper issues.
[Niggle 5] has been there for absolutely ages, long enough for me no longer to be concerned about what it might be a signal of, because it clearly isn't.
• I've often thought [Niggle 6] would turn out to be an issue, especially the longer time's gone on, and I'm more convinced right now than I've ever been, but in a smaller way than I'd been expecting.
• Associated with [Niggle 7], a nearby part of the body also used to ache in a minor but prolonged way, and it was never really annoying but I'm pleased it doesn't do it any more (and hasn't for ages) because it could be a symptom of [Affliction 2].
• I've only recently spotted [Niggle 8] and it's totally minor but also definitely shouldn't be there.
• I'm forever waiting to get symptoms of [Affliction 3] or the related [Affliction 4] because it runs in the family, but thankfully there's nothing yet and may never be, but then my Dad would have said that at my age.
• I came to terms with having [Niggle 9] quite early in life, which is just as well because otherwise I might have lost all confidence in social situations. But it does also mean I have to be a little bit wary, especially in conjunction with [Niggle 10], just in case.
• Previously they'd been perfect but then [Niggle 11] came along, very much accelerated by lockdown. Thankfully I've rolled back the worst of it through careful choice of clothing.
• I'm not as concerned about [Affliction 5] as a doctor suggested I ought to be, and I have definitely let things slip during lockdown because I've had different priorities, but I suspect I could probably pull things back if necessary.
• It's about time I got [Niggle 12] sorted because I really should have done by now, in fact I was convinced it was going to be sorted last time. But I'm getting by OK and I have a cheap workaround for when it gets really awkward, which thankfully isn't very often, especially in summer.
[Niggle 13] is mildly noticeable and started in February. It might be linked to [Niggle 14] but as yet I haven't distinguished any obvious deeper issues.
[Niggle 15] is something I might once have laughed at in older people and here it is happening to me, but thus far in a wholly manageable and not too wildly awkward way.
• My [Niggle 16] definitely shouldn't be that colour. There was a point where I thought it might be something serious but I think it's probably a one-off and it seems to be growing out.
• I had a real shock earlier this month when [Niggle 17] suddenly appeared. It was actually enough to make me go and get it checked out by a professional, but apparently it's not a problem and I can continue with my life unchecked so that's brilliant.
• I already have a fairly good idea of the most likely thing that'll kill me, and just very occasionally [Niggle 18] happens and I wonder... but so far I've wondered unnecessarily.
• I never understood [Niggle 19] until it happened to me a couple of years ago, and now it's a fairly permanent daily fixture. It became much easier to deal with once I relocated it.
• I remember my grandmother suffered from [Niggle 20], not that suffer is quite the right word, but it is unnerving to see it inexorably emerging.

Three of these niggles are niggling me more at present than the others. [Niggle A] and [Niggle B] occasionally raise their heads and remind me they're there, independently, which I'd rather they didn't. Both are probably just inconveniences but there is an outside chance they're not, indeed they might potentially be connected, although I know that's just my brain running ahead of my common sense. [Niggle C] only emerged last week, annoyingly, and has proven capable of disturbing my sleep even though I'd rather not be thinking about it. Logically it cannot possibly be anything bad, but I suspect it is and am struggling with the disconnect between these contradictory positions.

You know how it is with niggles, they often come and go. A few years ago I was most concerned about [Niggle D] which I had bad feelings about, but then it totally went away. [Niggle E] looked chronic for a while but then disappeared of its own accord for reasons I have never understood, but could just as easily come back. [Niggle F] suddenly limited my existence over the winter and I thought it was going to be permanent but then just as suddenly went back to normal. I spent a few years peeved by [Niggle G] until I went along to the doctors' and they totally sorted it, removing it from my list.

It's so hard to be certain which current niggle is going to hang around for the rest of your life and which is merely a temporary annoyance. I'm hoping for the latter.

 Thursday, April 29, 2021

This was Clarnico Lane in the Olympic Park. It was a road on Monday. It's not a road any more.



It had been a road for the best part of 100 years, conveniently carrying traffic over the North London Line railway . For most of its life it was the southern end of Waterden Road, the spine road of a backwater industrial estate in Hackney Wick. When the Olympics arrived it was remodelled slightly to bend more sharply, and also renamed Clarnico Lane after the former sweet factory which made peppermint creams alongside. But the alignment of the curve down from the railway bridge survived 2012 unscathed and has been a key part of the QEOP road network ever since. Until this week.



A parallel road has been built which extends across the railway line but then continues towards the stadium without curving down. If you came here during the Olympics or have been since you'll remember it as the central walkway linking the northern and southern halves of the Park. As of this week it's no longer just for pedestrians, it has a segregated cycle lane and a brand new roadway with actual traffic. It's called Marshgate Terrace and it joins Waterden Road to Marshgate Lane.



It's part of a remodelling of the road network designed to service Sweetwater, a new Olympic neighbourhood which as yet has no residents nor building sites, just roads. It's also designed to connect to a new road bridge onto Fish Island, the sorry tale of which I told two years ago when construction began. I thought they'd wait until this bridge was open before closing Clarnico Lane and opening the new road but that's still some weeks off. Instead traffic heading for Hackney Wick gets to weave in a horseshoe through a non-existent neighbourhood, and the direct pedestrian/cycle connection's been lost too.



I've watched the new road being built, oh so slowly, throughout lockdown. It's kept dozens employed adding carriageway, laying cycle lanes, perfecting paving, tweaking signage, shifting barriers, installing lampposts, remodelling junctions, painting lines on tarmac, digging trenches, planting trees and generally standing back and admiring the results. Posters originally suggested the work would be complete by summer 2020, but in fact it's taken until spring 2021. Still, here it is and there's no going back now.



The new road opened at 10am on Tuesday morning. Its first hours unfortunately coincided with a closure of the A12, bringing unexpected queues of traffic down previously uncharted streets while the Balfour Beatty workforce stood around and looked on. It's quietened down since but a significant number of vehicles now find themselves diverting round the back of the Olympic Stadium and trying to find their way out. Directional signage is at best vague, with several signs featuring the unhelpful phrase 'All other routes'. The biggest faux pas is for northbound traffic where a recently-planted tree partly obscures the main sign (and will completely obscure it after its leaves unfurl).



My other favourite "what on earth were they thinking?" moment is the entirely unnecessary kink in the segregated cycle lane. It bends to avoid a bus stop, or at least where a bus stop is intended to be according to the yellow letters painted on the road. But there is no stop or shelter, nor indeed any scheduled bus route intended to come this way, so the lane squishes the pedestrian gap to a bare minimum for no good reason whatsoever. I've already watched one elderly cyclist ignore the bend and carry on straight ahead regardless, and a father and son ignoring the restrictive lines on the tarmac altogether.



The biggest transformation is the remodelled T-junction in the centre of the Park. With Clarnico Lane closed off and the new sidestreet opened all the traffic lights have had to be nudged a few metres east, bringing the heart of the crossing much closer to the pedestrian desire line. The left filter lane has yet to be unblocked so we're not yet in final mode, but I was impressed by the speed with which the lights changed in reaction to gaps in the traffic. What I didn't enjoy, as a pedestrian, was the sensation that I was now crossing a busy tarmac chasm where previously it'd felt more like crossing one road. Indeed I'd say this is the week when QEOP feels like it's shifted from being a park of two halves to two parks connected by a road.



And that's it for Clarnico Lane, formerly Waterden Road, which is now sealed off at both ends. Its destiny if you hadn't already guessed is to become flats, as a fair chunk of Sweetwater's residential massing replaces its gentle slope. Best not mourn too loudly as pretty much everything else that was here pre-Olympics has already been destroyed. But I expect to be mildly annoyed every time I can't go this way and have to follow the swish new road over the bridge instead.

 Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Here's what the City skyline looked like at the end of last year, as viewed from the Isle of Dogs.



From left to right the tallest buildings are the Scalpel, the Cheesegrater, 22 Bishopsgate, Tower 42, the Gherkin, 100 Bishopsgate and Heron Tower. The Walkie Talkie is some way off to the left and the Broadgate Tower some way off to the right.
» Walkie Talkie (160m, 37 floors, 2014)
» Scalpel (190m, 39 floors, 2018)
» Cheesegrater (225m, 46 floors, 2014)
» 22 Bishopsgate (272m, 62 floors, 2019)
» Tower 42 (183m, 47 floors, 1980)
» Gherkin (180m, 40 floors, 2003)
» 100 Bishopsgate (172m, 40 floors, 2019)
» Heron Tower (230m, 46 floors, 2011)
» Broadgate Tower (164m, 35 floors, 2008)
And here's a striking image of "the future City skyline" according to The Square Mile: Future City, a five year action plan published earlier this week by the City of London. It's getting crowded up there.



The image includes eight new tall buildings "that are under construction, consented or with permission pending, but not yet built". Only three are currently building sites. Note how the City's skyscraper cluster is getting more dense and more defined. Also note how the poor old Gherkin is increasingly being surrounded and disappearing from view.

Here's my attempt at showing these locations on a map. Existing towers higher than 150m are in blue and the eight new buildings in red.



And here's a list of the eight proposed skyscrapers and how they're progressing.

1) 8 Bishopsgate (204m, 51 floors)
This one's already going up on the corner of Leadenhall Street and Bishopsgate. Last time I looked it had passed the 20 storeys mark. The design consists of four stacked blocks, the top two narrower than the lower two. Reminds me of a cassette rack on a cereal packet on a fencepost. Will contain 86,000m² of office space because this was deemed economic when planning permission was granted. Designed by the same architects who are hiding Battersea Power Station.
Public access: A rooftop pavilion on floor 50
Developerbolx: "The skyscraper will accent the nearby Leadenhall Building and add to the area's dramatic contemporary architecture"
Planning permission: 2017 | Broke ground: 2019 | Completion: 2022?


2) 1 Leadenhall Street (165m, 37 floors)
This one's on the opposite side of Leadenhall Street immediately adjacent to Grade II-listed Leadenhall Market. The Victorian Society have denounced it as "a glass lump". The existing buildings on site are undergoing demolition - they were making a heck of a racket knocking stuff down on Sunday. The design consists of a four storey block topped by three very lofty 'blades'. Will contain 40,000m² of office space.
Public access: A public terrace on the 4th floor (overlooking the market roof)
Developerbolx: "A vertical architectural composition that provides a singular, distinctive elegant identity on the skyline"
Planning permission: 2017 | Broke ground: 2021 | Completion: 2024?


3) 70 Gracechurch Street (155m, 33 floors)
This one'll be on the corner of Fenchurch Street where Marks and Spencer is now. It's only just received planning permission. The design consists of a trio of squished skyscrapers linked by vertical planters and looks rather odd. The entrance lobby will be on the second floor, opening up a large area of public realm at ground level. Replaces a building opened in 2002. Will contain 73,000m² of office space. The Walkie Talkie will no longer be out on a limb when this goes up.
Public access: A public gallery and winter garden at levels 29 and 30 offering views across London
Developerbolx: "The development creates a unique and dynamic silhouette without dominating the City skyline and showcases sustainability measures to promote health and wellbeing"
Planning permission: Feb 2021 | Completion: 202x?


4) 55 Gracechurch Street (150m, 36 floors)
The first tall building to be approved this year. Immediately adjacent to the Walkie Talkie. Its rectangular tower has two distinct parts - one silvery, one black - on top of a six-storey podium. Architects are making a big thing of 'vertical greening'. Not an especially unusual shape (or memorable design). Will replace an (existing) 8-storey building and contain 34,000m² of office space.
Public access: 6th floor roof garden
Developerbolx: "An exemplar in a new generation of office-led buildings, embracing sustainability and innovation and seeking to diversify the occupier base of the City of London"
Planning permission: Jan 2021 | Completion: 202x?


5) 1 Undershaft (the Trellis) (290m, 73 floors)
Second attempt at replacing St Helen's (formerly the Aviva Tower). Will be the second tallest building in the country, 20m shorter than the Shard, forming the highest point in the City skyscraper cluster. The core needs to be off centre to create public space underneath, hence the diamond-shaped cross-bracing that inspires the nickname. Will contain 93,000m² of office space. The existing building is still in use so it'll be at least five years before this could possibly be finished.
Public access: Free top level viewing gallery (which could include a museum).
Developerbolx: "While the quality of building will continue improving, new voices can join the dialogue and offer a direction to its actual development"
Planning permission: 2016 | Completion: 202x?


6) 100 Leadenhall Street (the Diamond) (263m, 56 floors)
Should be the third tallest building in the City. Will be immediately to the south of the Gherkin. The design is roughly wedge shaped, hence it's also been nicknamed Cheesegrater 2. A hexagonal cross-section rises from a limestone podium and tapers to a four-sided crown. The facade will have a 3D pattern of interlocking diamonds in an attempt to make it interesting. Will have 102,000m² of office space. The existing buildings have not yet been demolished.
Public access: The two uppermost floors (used for hospitality outside viewing times)
Developerbolx: "More than a landmark on the skyline, the tower is designed to respect the city's historic and contemporary urban context"
Planning permission: 2018 | Break ground: 2023? | Completion: 2028?


7) 40 Leadenhall Street (155m, 34 floors)
A slow burner. Demolition started in 2018 and has opened up a big gap between Leadenhall Street and Fenchurch Street. Central cores now rising. The design is made up of several stepped blocks, terracing down to the south to remain out of sight from Fleet Street. Has been nicknamed Gotham City (or The Toast Rack). Will have 125,000m² of office space. Site currently hosts the City's tallest crane.
Public access: maybe not
Developerbolx: "A well-thought-out confluence of architecture, townscape and commercial need"
Planning permission: 2014 | Broke ground: 2020 | Completion: 2023?


8) 50 Fenchurch Street (150m, 36 floors)
The Clothworkers' Company have been on this site since 1528, but the current postwar livery hall "is not fit for purpose". It'll be rebuilt underground with a massive tower on top, gifting a philanthropic windfall for the Clothworkers. The building will include a vertical green wall and 88,000m² of office space. The tower of All Hallows Staining will be blended into a new piazza. Dan Cruickshank hates it for encroaching on views of the Tower of London World Heritage Site. For now, Sainsburys, Halifax and Superdrug continue trading.
Public access: 10th floor terrace with 360° views (plus a double-height wintergarden)
Developerbolx: "The design journey of this urban proposition has been one of the most remarkable alignments between commerce, culture and the public realm that I have experienced."
Planning permission: 2020 | Completion: 202x?

 Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Random City of London ward (15): Farringdon Without



My 15th random ward is the largest and also the furthest from home, so a bit of a challenge to cover. I haven't coloured it in wrong on the map, it really is in two parts (technically linked by the westbound carriageway of High Holborn outside Sainsbury's Head Office). Farringdon Without contains a lot of the City's historic legal activity, the whole of Smithfield Market and the medical heartland of St Barts. I can't possibly do it justice in a single post so expect considerable skating about. [pdf map]

First a word about the name of the ward. It's named after Sir Nicholas de Faringdon, the ward's alderman in the early 14th century and four-time mayor of London. In 1394 it was split into the part inside the City wall (Farringdon Within) and the much larger part outside (Farringdon Without). Neither ward contains Farringdon station, which was instead named after Farringdon Street, now Farringdon Road. The City's idiosyncratic boundary changes in 2003 recast Farringdon Without into two smaller segments, neither of which aligns with the old City wall. None of this is especially satisfying, sorry.



Let's start on the Victoria Embankment where a dragon guards the southwesternmost entrance to the City. It's also where you'll find the National Submarine War Memorial, an elaborate bronze commemorating 50 craft lost during WW1 and another 82 from WW2. Facing the Thames here is what's colloquially known as the Temple, more precisely two of the City's four Inns of Court called the Inner Temple and Middle Temple. They've been here on this site since medieval times and are officially outside the jurisdiction of the City of London despite being inside their boundary. Entrance is via the steps on Middle Temple Lane... unless it's Sunday in which case the enclave is closed and the iron gates are firmly locked.



I chanced my luck and asked the security guard at the Tudor Street gate whether I could come in "for a look round". He surprisingly agreed so I got to walk round the utterly empty interior of this legal fortress, a veritable labyrinth of courtyards and passages. At its heart is Temple Church, founded in 1185 by the Knights Templar, which boasts a rare circular nave and several chivalrous effigies. I was a tad early for Choral Communion, but the service is up on YouTube if you want to see what I missed. Elsewhere are numerous legal chambers (the names of their barristers neatly listed in the doorway), plus Georgian corners they hire out to film costume dramas, plus extensive splendid gardens (normally open to the public 12.30-3pm on weekdays), and what a treat to be able to wander round in peace. The security guard appeared to be asleep when I walked out.



Administrative normality is restored along Fleet Street, or at least the short stretch from Gino D'Acampo's pasta restaurant to where Temple Bar used to be. Among the buildings of note are Prince Henry's Room (one of the City's handful of Jacobean buildings, no longer open to the public), St Dunstan-in-the-West (an octagonal church whose clock gives off Trumpton vibes) and publisher DC Thompson's offices (a narrow block emblazoned with the names of classic Scottish titles).



Heading north the ward follows Chancery Lane (east side) and Fetter Lane (west side). Sandwiched inbetween is Cliffords Inn, oldest of the Inns of Chancery, or at least its gatehouse because the rest was demolished in 1934. More substantially unmissable is the Maughan Library, Kings College's neo-Gothic research fortress, which was originally the headquarters of the Public Record Office. Don't expect to gain entrance at present without a reader's card and a good reason why you can't study at home. The triple point where Westminster meets Camden meets the City is immediately outside.



It's taken several paragraphs but we've finally reached some bogstandard minor backstreets. Many are lined with anonymous newbuilds, one hosts the drab-but-officious Upper Tribunal Immigration & Asylum Chamber and one has an ex- churchyard sucked dry of heritage and transformed into a public garden. Of genuine interest are the London Silver Vaults, a quirky market consisting of 30 strongrooms off two underground corridors, very much the kind of place that London-based media revel in describing as 'secret'. As for the timber-fronted Tudor building facing High Holborn that's Staple Inn, the last surviving Inn of Chancery, though now crawling with actuaries rather than wool-taxers.



It's time to cross to the other half of the ward via the five-way junction at Holborn Circus. The church here is St Andrew Holborn, founded over 1000 years ago on a small hill above the river Fleet (hence named after the patron saint of fishermen). It survived the Great Fire but was in such a bad state that Wren rebuilt it anyway. Much of its churchyard was swept away by the building of Holborn Viaduct, which you can still duck under if you follow Shoe Lane round the back of the Vicarage.



Smithfield's famous meat market is divided into five buildings in varying states of decay. The General Market faces Farringdon Street, where the dragon is, and links to the smaller (triangular) Fish Market and larger (rectangular) Poultry Market. These three are being transformed into the new Museum of London, as sheaths of scaffolding confirm, although it's a complex job so the completion date (2021) keeps (2022) slipping (2024). Black wooden barriers were recently erected along one side of West Poultry Avenue, shielding decrepit butcheries from view, and it's going to be a long expensive haul prettifying this for the masses.



Business continues in the West and East Market Buildings, as the general whiff of slaughtered animal confirms. Huge refrigerated lorries park up outside, their cargoes trolleyed into the building between dangling plastic strips. The noticeboard in Grand Avenue has vacancies for lamb cutters, experienced butchers and multi-drop delivery drivers. It also reminds wholesalers that the City plans to relocate all its food markets to Dagenham in a few years time, with the vacated market halls subsequently converted into a tourist-magnet food campus. I expect it'll have all the appeal of the upgraded Spitalfields Market, for good and for bad, so get down and admire the genuine Smithfield while you still have a chance.



I've already blogged about the garden inside the market's spiral ramp, the end of the number 56 bus route and the incline of Snow Hill, so I'll skip describing those here. Instead let's turn to the naked cherub hung on the wall at the top, appropriately, of Cock Lane. This is the Golden Boy of Pye Corner, erected outside a pub in the late 17th century to mark the point where the Great Fire of London finally spluttered out. His chubby form represents the sin of gluttony, given that the conflagration started at a bakery on the other side of the city in Pudding Lane, as the inscription underneath confirms.



Across the street is St Barts, the famous 898 year-old hospital. It covers a vast site, part of which is Georgian and surrounds a large leafy quadrangle and part of which is a very modern redevelopment. The museum's just off the former. Hanging around outside you're likely to find patients in wheelchairs and/or dressing gowns, plus various members of staff, all of whom have crept out for a much-needed cigarette. Please don't throw butts in the planters, several signs warn. Inside it's very much a specialist heart hub, mainly thanks to A&E services being relocated in 1995 and the trust needing to do something useful with the building.

And St Barts is also the point where Farringdon Without splits Farringdon Within in two, because neither Farringdon ward is in any way geometrically straightforward. We'll be back here later.


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my special London features
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ten of my favourite posts
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my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
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chemical attraction
quality & risk
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single life
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april fool

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