#53: Brixton – 28/05/2019

Brixton is a vibrant collection of people from different cultures and nationalities. Whilst predominantly associated with the Carribean culture, as I walk around and dig into the corners, there are surprisingly many other cultures present too. Don’t just take my word for it, go and have a look for yourselves.

The Station

This is the southerly end of the Victoria line and my visit today completes my exploration of this line. Nothing unusual or spectacular about the station, but I sense an air of expectation as the visitors alight and make their way to the surface. At platform level, the walls are adorned with tiled murals bringing some colourful relief to the otherwise drab creamy facade.

But as I make my way to the surface, I look behind as I exit into the daylight and enjoy the recently revealed mural created by Aliza Nisenbaum and commissioned by the ‘Art on the Underground’ movement. The mural will remain on view until September 2019, so get along soon to enjoy it.

The artist has included a self portrait within an image of a small circular mirror found at the end of the platform (top right hand corner), and bizarrely just before I exited the station, I had done something similar whilst trying to capture some movement at platform level. Spooky or what?

Markets, Markets and Markets

Within a short walk from the station, my senses are bombarded by all things Caribbean as I wander through Electric Avenue, Pope Street and Brixton’s collection of Markets. The link explains how Electric Avenue established itself as a part of London culture and gained notoriety within Britain’s social history and subsequently immortalised by Eddy Grant in his song in the 1980’s.

I can’t begin to do justice to the sights, the smells and the colours on display throughout Brixton Market and Brixton Village Market, so go and have a look and lose yourselves in the maze of shops and stalls. You’ll see some curious foods on display and wonder what on earth they are. Even the invitation to try some coconut milk as the cure all for all ills from a street vendor added to the sensory experience.

Pop Brixton

This venue is made up of local independent traders, priding themselves on having a strong charitable commitment and a close community spirit which was evident in abundance when I chatted with the gardener caring for the Pop Farm. I shared my own experiences of cultivating a veg patch with him and we exchanged our own gardening secrets too.

It’s also the home of the local radio station, Reprezent, and hoping to speak to those working I made my way up to their studio, but alas I was asked to leave as it seemed I wandered into a private area – oops.

I’m also in awe of two young gents, Raj and Sandeep, who have opened a Pizza store called Share a Slice. Not unusual or uncommon you might think, but when I stopped to take some pics and they invited me in to chat, I learnt of their passion for making pizzas, having spent time in Napoli learning their craft.

But most importantly they shared their desire to help the homeless as they have undertaken to match the number of pizzas they sell during the week and donate them to the homeless. Today, being a Tuesday, is their ‘closed day’ for doing just that and they were busy weighing out the dough for the pizzas they were about to bake and deliver to their linked charities later in the day. A truly moving story, and if their pizzas are anything like their passion and enthusiasm, then they’d be well worth tasting.

Social History

The following is an eclectic mix of places I walked past that I felt drawn to; and there’s a story behind each, thus making up a part of Brixton’s colourful history. So here goes…

Southwyck House – looking vastly like a prison with a concrete zigzag to delineate the frontage with its co-joining staircase looking like a caged pen to keep the inmates in. A housing complex built in the 1970’s in anticipation of a motorway flyover which was never built. One commentator records that it is known locally as ‘Barrier Block’ as indeed that was its design purpose. Hideous to think that this social housing was considered acceptable enough to be built. The architectural design whilst creating some features, does nothing to uplift the feeling of isolation and incarceration the building exudes.

Walton Lodge: Sanitary Steam Laundry – across the road from Southwyck House, this building’s name describes clearly what went on here. For 119 years up to 2014, it provided the home for a thriving business until its location and other competition factors conspired against its continued success. Now converted into fashionable commercial and residential properties befitting the Brixton of the 21st Century.

A memorial at Windrush Square – the memorial is to those service men and women from Africa and the Caribbean who served alongside the forces of the British Commonwealth and her allies during the two World Wars. The popularised ‘Windrush’ name comes from the arrival of the Empire Windrush from Jamaica on 22 June 1948; the ship docking at Tilbury from the Caribbean carrying 492 immigrants and, for many, symbolises the beginnings of modern British multicultural society. The open square now overlooks the Black Cultural Archives, the only national heritage centre dedicated to collecting, preserving and celebrating the histories of African and Caribbean people in Britain.

St Matthew’s Brixton – built in the early part of the 19th Century, this grand Doric style building has over the last 40 years fallen on hard times. Its grandeur, once celebrating the wedding of former Prime Minister John Major to his wife Norma, has had many an internal change with much of its space now being used as community and office space. I was taken aback when I walked inside expecting to see an ornate and decorated church, but I found what I can only best describe as a ‘reverse Tardis’…a small church inside a monolith of a building.

Universal Pentecostal Church – few words here as I feel the picture speaks for itself. I felt compelled to take this picture as the sight of the sleeping vagrant seeking solace on the steps of this church epitomised the meaning of ‘hope’ (or maybe ‘desperation’).

Brixton Rail Station

But I close this chapter with a sculpture of Peter Lloyd, a young man who has been immortalised in Bronze and is believed to be the very first bronze statue of a black man in the UK when it was created in the 1980’s. It stands, somewhat eerily, but proudly on the westerly Platform – No 1, and I think the story behind the sculpture deserves to be told more widely. Please read and share…

Journey’s end which neatly concludes in a manner to that at the start of this visit, with a mural adorning the entrance to one of the platforms.

Picture of the Day

This was a tricky shot and is one of a sequence taken to get the right composure. I’m standing under the main railway bridge, on the west side of the road looking at the ‘BRIXTON’ mural on the wall on the east side. Traffic is coming from both directions and people walking by from the mainline station and underground. As the traffic lights turned red, there’s a double decker bus just out of shot on the left hand side – you can just make out its yellow wing mirror above the ‘B’. And I was trying to line up people walking by making the upright of the letters.

Judging the timing was crucial to get that juxtaposition, and as I saw the girl in the green top, she was ideal to colour complement the mural. Some shots got quite busy with people walking in different shapes to the letters, but this one was perfect. There are three people whose movements coincide with an upright part of a letter. The lady on the left just entering the ‘B’’; the guy on the right making the ‘N’ and partly hidden by the traffic light post, and the lady in green making a perfect centrepiece forming the upright of the ‘T’. I think it works…

Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ/4.5; Shutter Speed – 1/100; Focal Length – 32mm; Film Speed – ISO200

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