#81: Barking Riverside – 10/03/2020

Regenerating a landscape on an industrial scale…This is my final of three bonus ‘end of the line’ stations that have yet to be built or commissioned, and brings to a close my first series of travel blogs around London….phew!

The Station

In 2014 the Chancellor announced, in his budget, that the Overground line would be extended to Barking Riverside. This was in preference to previous plans to extend the Docklands Light Railway; and works began in 2017 to construct this station which is currently scheduled for completion in December 2021.

But first, my thanks to another travel blog by Ian Visits, who wrote recently about the station’s progress, challenges, and included current pictures of the building site. So I don’t need to repeat things here, so please visit this site for the details.

The only picture I’ll add to the mix is this one, which is literally the end of the line! I know…it’s a concrete wall…but it is the end of the construction site that forms the raised station of what will be the Overground stop….that is if/or until the line is further extended across the Thames to Thamsemead as is currently planned – although there is no date set for when this will happen.

Barking Riverside London (BRL)

This scheme will bring together nearly 11,000 homes to a former marsh land and brownfield site once occupied by the Barking power stations. The land was sold off to developers in the late 20th Century and the site is currently being developed by the L&Q Group.

As with all developments, L&Q are building in phases and the first to be open for occupation is an area named Parklands (see Picture of the Day below). But the infrastructure for other parts are well evidenced even though not yet accessible.

But buyer beware, remember that the developer’s marketing material is full of impressive images of how the place will look; but go take a look yourselves, it’s still very much a building site and will be for years to come. Nevertheless the long term vision is impressive.

The development includes an exciting waste disposal system where waste will be deposited through surface mounted waste collection centres. These will chanel the waste underground via an automated Envac system: ingenious in its design.

Whilst roaming around by some of the properties being fitted out, I chatted with a couple of carpet fitters who were in the midst of carpeting an entire block that day. One explained the history of the area and remarked about how, during the Second World War, the area was heavily bombed, and jokingly remarked how he hoped that all the unexploded bombs had been identified and removed. I have no doubt that this has been done.

Walking past the BRL project office, which sits beside the Thames with a commanding view of the river, I come to Footpath 47. This is a short riverside footpath that runs along the river bank and connects with Choats Road along The Gores. In case you’re planning to walk the path, there are, thankfully, helpful warning signs on what to do in the event you spot anyone in distress in the river or in the mud.

The river, as ever, is busy with passing ships, but what attracts my attention is the derelict pier and mooring point which I suspect are a legacy of the days when coal was once delivered to the nearby power stations. 

There’s also one unexplained waterside marking which I’m struggling to identify. My early thought is that it’s a navigation aid, but not one I can readily identify. I wonder if it’s a high tide water mark, and if so it doesn’t bode well for the new development?

As part of the BRL’s project office site, there’s a ‘nod’ to wildlife conservation with the creation of a small water feature and bug house. Sadly, not well maintained and now looking a little tired and lost, with no sign of any water borne or land based insects in residence. 

River Road

This is a loop road, joining with Renwick Road, from the A13 and comprises mostly of heavy and light industrial business where the road is potted with parked lorries and an unforgiving footpath. The road now also feeds the area into what is becoming Barking Riverside, where in contrast the road is more manicured and serviced.

The road reflects its home for electricity production/distribution sites, container storage centres and car dismantlers & spares outlets, and one of its notable occupants is the Dagenham Sunday Market. The market occupies an expanse of unused waste industrial land, and attracts visitors from far and wide, and despite being closed, its colourful Helter Skelter and other fun fair rides can be seen quite clearly from a distance.

My days visit can’t go unfinished without a reference to the industrial heritage of the area: that of the power stations, or more precisely the generation and distribution of electricity as the original electricity producing power stations closed many decades ago.

However the National Grid has a significant presence in the area with several high security fenced buildings nearby, and of course the ever present pylons carrying the power to/from their distribution centres.

…and finally…

… whilst strolling around the pond near the Rivergate Centre, I had a chance conversation with Jill, from the Swan Sanctuary. She had come to check on the pond’s water quality after a concern had been raised a few years previously that the conditions were unhealthy and not conducive to attracting wild fowl. The pond has since had a fountain installed which now helps with water aeration and reducing stagnation, but alas there were no swans to be seen today.

However a pair of Canada geese, ducks and coots were happy to take advantage of the feed being thrown at them and Jill explained their behaviour: that the males were letting the females eat first in preparation for their nesting and brooding days as mating season approaches.

Picture of the Day

For this my final Picture of the Day from this first series of travels, choosing a picture to remember the day has been a struggle. Mainly because the sky was dull and grey which tended to flattened the pictures I’m taking, and because the landscape I’ve walked through is predominantly industrial. 

But nevertheless, today’s picture brings about a merger of the old and new industries. The setting is that of the fast developing Barking Riverside housing development:  once a marsh land and a brownfield site occupied by the Barking Power Station.

This is a view of the ‘almost complete’ Parklands development at the eastern end of Fielders Crescent (a new road) which I’m looking at in a westerly direction. The symmetry of the design and the harshness of the brickwork, which has now almost become the standard brick used across London for such developments (well that’s my opinion), lends itself to being taken in Black and White. The monochrome view helps to strengthen the qualities of the picture.

Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/640; Focal Length – 170mm; Film Speed – ISO1000; Google Photo Filter – Vista

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#80: NOW Gallery, North Greenwich – 05/03/2020

This is a short occasional blog, my second with an art theme; this time from the Now Gallery in North Greenwich which I had occasion to pass recently when I was at the Emirates Royal Docks. I saw an intriguing art installation being created and vowed to return. Here’s what I found…

The Gallery

This unassuming gallery is situated just on the right hand side of the concourse as you exit North Greenwich Underground station headed towards the O2. It’s easy to pass by but my recommendation is don’t, as you’ll undoubtedly miss something thought provoking.

During the two years I’ve been travelling around London, I’ve been amazed and delighted by the growing number of public artworks. Some commissioned by galleries and others by building developers; but they all have one thing in common – to draw you in, challenge your thinking or simply make you stand in awe. Today’s exhibition does all three.

The artist, Emmanuelle Moureaux, has a strong history of showcasing 100 colours as her expressive theme, a theme inspired by the Tokyo street scene, and a place where she’s been the Associate Professor at Tohoku University of Art and Design since 2008. Her work has been commissioned by many prestigious companies and displayed worldwide.

The Slices of Time exhibition is simple in it’s format, but beautiful to admire and walk around. It’s made up of two collections of suspended numbers; each in a globe shape. Let me try and explain…

The first is representative of the artist’s 100 colour theme with the globe made up of layers of suspended numbers. Each slice of the layer is made up of numbers suspended from the top and anchored on the ground. That’s the simple bit, but the artistry is created by the way each slice/layer is precisely positioned to complement its neighbour; so when you look through the installation, you see the symmetry of what’s been created and marvel at the geometric designs that you eye creates for you.

At the lower level, about a foot off the ground, is a smaller collection of numbers running the length of the exhibit. The thought provoking bit? Well you’re invited to write down a memorable moment/time and post it on the surrounding walls.

The larger couloured globe is then counterbalanced by a smaller (but still large) white globe. The concept and design is the same as its coloured partner, but the shapes created seem cleaner and more linear.

I may not do justice to this work, so do go and see it for yourself, and whilst you can walk-in as I did, pre-booked sessions are also available for busy times.

Welcome to New London

The gallery also shares floor space with The Greenwich Peninsula development company who use their space to promote the benefits of what the Greenwich Peninsula has to offer. Primarily to encourage you to buy/rent property in their scheme, but also to encourage businesses to consider North Greenwich as a base.

There’s an interesting tableau, composed of perspex (?) blocks, representing the peninsula, which when lit up by a wall mounted display, brings the tableau to a colourful life. And in doing so, complements the colour scape with the gallery exhibition nearby.

Picture of the Day

Ah! A difficult choice as most of the pictures I took are of numbers, but I think this one reflects the mood of the piece best for me as it portrays the colour palette, symmetry and precise intricacy in one shot.

Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ4.5; Shutter Speed – 1/125; Focal Length – 33mm; Film Speed – ISO2500; Google Photo Filter – Blush

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#79: Abbey Wood – 18/02/2020

This is the second of three bonus ‘end of the line’ stations that have yet to be built or commissioned. 

The Station

In the case of Abbey Wood, the station was refurbished and reopened in its current state in 2017, in preparation for the initial opening of the Elizabeth Line. But because of the line’s repeated delays, the TflRail platforms are currently mothballed and fenced off. Tfl’s latest plans for operating the line is in 2020/21, but who knows? Simultaneously, Tfl took over responsibility for the station and ironically, it does not yet operate any services through the station.

Currently, only Network Rail services, operated by Southeastern and Thameslink run through the station serving South East London and Kent. Although as I look closely at the two TflRail platforms, there’s evidence that a full service is operating; but clearly the displays are for ‘display purposes only’ as nothing is moving.

The station has had an attractive makeover, with new stairwells, decorative concourse, lifts and external walkways, and whilst chatting to the TflRail station staff on duty, they explained that even they are not allowed to access the Elizabeth Line platforms which are shuttered closed at all levels. Nevertheless, the station staff and security guards are extremely helpful to all those who pass through with some passengers being referred to by their first name; great customer service.

There’s also an obligatory piano to entice budding musicians to have a go, as one accomplished musician demonstrated whilst I was there cowering from a sudden hailstorm.

The surrounding entrances, closed to all except those engineers in high vis jackets, was a little eerie, and it all had a rather ghost station feeling to it: everything in its place, but nothing moving.

Harrow Manor Way

I’ve taken a while to mull over how best to depict this walk and I can only be honest, but in doing so I’ll try and be as objective as I can. The area north of the station is at best intimidating, but it’s clearly going through a massive regeneration programme. Most of the work seems to be being undertaken by the Peabody Trust who are making a significant investment in clearing outdated concrete high rise estates with more modern living accommodation. This is a programme of works that will take many many years to complete, so the area is at best a confusing mix of properties at the moment.

Along Harrow Manor Way, there is a cordoned off part of the Lesnes Estate labelled Caroline Walk, and it’s difficult to determine, initially, whether the barriers are an attempt to keep people in or out. The existence of razor wire helps me conclude that the area is cordoned off to prevent unwanted squatting as it is primed for demolition.

Nevertheless, walking around and through the area gives me an uneasy feeling because of it’s stark and grey surroundings with a somewhat decaying urban look, and with little human contact, I hasten to want to return to the ‘relative safety’ of the main road.

I have no doubt that those living in and around the area are warm and welcoming as there’s some evidence that within the estate, properties are being cared for as some have been decorated in a modern style. But there’s no hiding the fact that these are few and far between, and attempts to brighten up communal areas with artwork seem forgotten and faded.

I continue walking as far as SouthMere lake and Lower Thamesmead and onto The Ridgeway and cross over the almost deserted Eastern Way into the fringes of Crossway Park.

I see very few people, and other than a small collection of teenagers, possibly making their way to/from The Gym and/or The Link I feel isolated and somewhat vulnerable and maybe a little guilty for not exploring a little further.

Walking past the fenced off Lakeside Events Centre, I later learn this is itself undergoing redevelopment as an arts centre, and it’s description as having an ‘…iconic Brutalist architecture, and stunning views of SouthMere Lake and the area’s famous skyline, is a Thamesmead landmark…’ is quite telling. I guess I would liken it to the Marmite sensation that is The South Bank Centre in terms of architectural design – concrete on concrete on concrete – you either love it or hate it!

I skirt around the fringes of the SouthMere lake and amble along part of the Green Chain Walk that runs alongside the lake and back towards Abbey Wood station. Work on redeveloping the lakeside tower blocks is evident, as is the dredging of the lake to transform and return it to its former glory as one of the jewels in Thamsemead’s crown. I have to admit though, on this cold wintry and blustery day, it feels far from being a jewel.

Although there aren’t many people about, there is one jogger, one dog walker and one cyclist, but it’s hard to mask the fact that the greenway walk is merely an attempt to break up the array of 1970’s concrete tower blocks with uninviting communal stairs and walkways. 

As I cross over the railway bridge into the area south of Abbey Wood station, it seems like I’ve entered a different time zone as the building and architecture becomes more mid 1930’s London bricked terraced houses. And in some way quietly marks the obvious contrast with the more modernist concrete jungle style that began to emerge during the 1950’s.

My journey ends here, but who knows I may return one day to explore the much promoted Lesnes Abbey or indeed return and explore, with more confidence, the grittiness of the surrounding concrete estates.

Picture of the Day

This is one of two graffiti/murals on the wall opposite the station lift entrance in Gayton Road, which being so striking it grabs my attention. The original is in colour, but to be honest, the colour palette is marginal as the majority of the artwork is in black and white. So I’ve applied a Vogue black and white filter to emphasise the quality of this bold piece. The detail is fine and the eyes follow you, which provides a somewhat haunting feature.

And interestingly, if you look closely, the work has other graffiti etched across the cheeks too. In some way adding to the beauty of the piece.

The artist, ‘astek-London’, has signed his presence and he’s clearly keen to promote his work, so go and have a look at his Instagram page for other examples of his skills and talent.

Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ5; Shutter Speed – 1/200; Focal Length – 54mm; Film Speed – ISO125; Google Photo Filter – Vogue

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#77: Reading – 04/02/2020

Today, I stretch the boundaries of my Freedom Pass to its limits as I travel from Gidea Park to Reading for free. This will be an uninterrupted route courtesy of the Elizabeth Line, once it starts operating, but today, I have to change at Liverpool Street and Paddington.

Nevertheless, hats off to London Councils and Tfl for this great experience.

The Station

I have ‘fond?!’ memories of Reading Station as I travelled through here during different stages of my life. In my early working career I spent 6 weeks in Reading so the weekend commute to/from my home in Aberystwyth was always a challenge. And again, some 30 years ago, I passed through the station on my weekend visits back to Cardiff as I waited to move my family up to London. And more recently as I visited nearby IT and Telecoms providers in Newbury, picking up connecting services here.

Over the years, I’ve seen the station change, and I have to say its current incarnation is a significant improvement on what was once a severe bottleneck for the weary traveller. The station was remodelled in 2015 and it now boasts 15 platforms serving four train operating companies: Great Western Railway (GWR), South Western Railway, Cross Country (by Arriva), and Tfl.

I’m no train geek when it comes to spotting trains, but being one of the top 10 busiest stations across the country, this is an ideal location to see the variety of trains passing through. Some of today’s trains include: the sleek bullet shaped electric trains recently introduced by GWR, the stylish electric Tfl Rail trains introduced as part of the Elizabeth Line; the familiar South Western electric trains; and the more laboured Cross Country (diesel?) trains.

Alongside the 15 platforms, there’s a new inter-platform walkway, complete with shopping experiences and wide covered stairs and escalators to each platform (there are lifts too). All colour coordinated throughout in a ‘pleasing to the eye’ themed blue and grey. 

It’s a bitter cold day and even though the inter-platform walkway is covered, access to the platforms and stairs/escalators is open to the elements. So as I crouch down taking a few shots, I’m approached by a very pleasant and chatty Interserve supervisor who’s intrigued by what I’m doing, so we chat for a while. She’s an Irish girl quite used to the cold, but a little surprised when I tell her tales of having to scrape the ice from inside my bedroom window when I was growing up. As we part company I remark on her cold hands, to which she responds…’ah but I have a warm heart…’

Passengers come and go, with little regard to their surroundings as they work out which platform to head to. But their heads popping into shot through the angular structures makes for an interesting collection of pictures. I wonder what they’re thinking?

Before leaving the station, I notice that the Tfl Rail returning destination shows Ealing Broadway, even though the scheduled destination is Paddington. I’m intrigued and when I ask a Tfl platform guard, she helpfully explains that it’s done to prevent those journeying through the station thinking that it might be a fast service to Paddington. I speculate this may have been the case when this service was first introduced just before Christmas.

As it’s been a bitterly cold morning, I decide a short respite in The Three Guineas pub which backs onto the station is called for. I rest my feet whilst enjoying a coffe and as I leave I try to work out what’s the time?

Out of the station, heading to the river, I pass under the brightly coloured railway bridge with repeating geometric shapes that are formed from the girders spanning the road. A combination of having a back-lit footpath on the opposite side and pedestrians from a nearby building site  wearing high-vis jackets helps to make this picture. I also notice a couple of stranded birds roosting up above too.

The River Thames

A walk along the south and north banks brings a different Reading into perspective, and here are a few of my highlights.

Thames Water Property Searches: not necessarily everyone’s idea of a landmark, but this open circular building has some interestingly shaped access stairs. No doubt purposely designed to reflect the circular shape of the building, but in my mind also mirroring an Archimedes Screw designed to move water, and now used in some hydropower schemes.

Christchurch Bridge: this is a relatively new foot and cycle bridge built in 2015 to connect Reading and Caversham through Christchurch Meadows. A cable-stayed bridge with one mast and 14 pairs of cable in a fan style. I’m sure this looks very attractive at night time lit by its 234 LED’s, but this monochromic shot helps to show off its simplistic beauty.

Caversham Weir and Lock: continuing along the north bank I return via Heron Island and View Island, a once derelict boatyard now converted into a wildlife haven. There’s a footpath running through it which brings me out at the Weir. An impressive water feature used to manage the water flow at this point on The Thames, and with the sluices wide open, the water flows rather fiercely.

The footpath across the weir is quite popular, and standing in the middle peering over the edge, I get a strong sense of the water’s power. And I can understand why the local community has successfully lobbied to build an environmentally friendly hydropower scheme utilising two Archimedean screw turbines here.

The Thames Path: I only cover a minute part of the 215 mile path, which at Reading runs along the south bank from Caversham Bridge, under Reading Bridge and past Caversham lock and weir before meandering easterly towards Henley-on-Thames. There’s one peculiar river boat moored along the path and as I say farewell to Reading, I reflect on the achievements of my sister-in-law and her sister who both completed the Thames Path challenge recently. Well done ladies…

Birdlife

A few birds catch my attention as I walk along the riverbank. On the Caversham side walking through Christchurch Meadows I pass a small copse and hear some rustling in the undergrowth. I assume it to be a squirrel so I decided to ignore it, but the sound seems to follow me. Looking around, I could just make out a bird ground feeding around the copse. It’s unperturbed by my presence, although I did keep my distance, and this short animation captures its movements. I didn’t recognise the bird instantly, but my suspicion was confirmed once I looked up the RSPB Identify a Bird site. Some of you will recognise it instantly as a Redwing.

Further along I arrive at Heron Island, and no guesses what I see here.

And in the middle of the river, there’s a trio of Seagulls perched on a rather faded Danger sign, no doubt placed to warn anyone approaching of the nearby weir and reminding boaters to keep right towards Caversham Lock.

Picture of the Day

This is a view of the footpath over Caversham Weir. I waited for some cyclists and pedestrians to pass by and crouched down to get the low view shot. The railings on either side help to guide you through the picture and the Vista filter adds strength and starkness.

Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ4.5; Shutter Speed – 1/100; Focal Length – 28mm; Film Speed – ISO125; Google Photo Filter – Vista

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#76: Emirates Royal Docks – 28/01/2020

My penultimate end of the line: what am I to do afterwards? Suggestions on a postcard please.

Today’s wintry cold yet bright day sees me heading to the northern end of the Emirates Air Line at Royal Docks London and/or London’s Royal Docks alighting from the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) at Royal Victoria.

The route I take is a fairly simple one: twice around the westerly part of the docks from The Emirates Royal Docks station in an anti-clockwise direction over the Royal Victoria Bridge and back. Once in the daylight and once at night time.

I also ‘fly’ in the Emirates Air Line to North Woolwich and back to enjoy the experience and daytime and nighttime views which shows the Dockland’s continuing development.

The Station

Commissioned, built and opened just before the London Olympics in 2012, the ‘air line’ has  a capacity of 2,500 passengers per hour travelling at five miles per hour and taking three minutes to complete the crossing.

On my outward flight, I’m joined in the gondola by VeJay, a resident from Australia who’s visiting friends in London for a couple of months. We both remark on the rocking motion of the gondola as it’s battered by the winds when at the highest point of the journey, but thankfully, the structure is designed to withstand such winds. I spot some of London’s distant landmarks and observe the waterline’s tidy array of yachts some 80 metres below.

This night time shot of the North Greenwich station is quite striking as the Moon and the planet Venus shine brightly against the cloudfree sky.

Reflections

Nearby to the station is The Crystal, a conference centre designed and built with sustainability at its core generating its own electricity needs through 1,580 m² of solar panels. Despite being closed for refurbishment, the conference centre boasts a daily average visitor attendance of 1,000, but today, it’s the exterior that grabs my attention as its glass fronted surface offers an opportunity to capture some reflective moments.

Nearby water puddles, which shimmer slightly in the breeze, also provide a similar opportunity by creating a fuzzy view of the neighbouring residential block.

And into the night, the low lit footpath along the southern end of the dock casts a colourful display on the water’s surface transforming an otherwise drab vista into an almost Meditaranean one – oh if it were only 20 degrees warmer…

Historic Docks

Constructed in the mid 19th Century, the docks were an instant commercial success as they could easily accommodate all but the largest steamships; and despite being badly damaged in the Second World War, the docks remained a viable hub until the 1960’s. With the onset of containerisation, shipping throughout the London docks migrated easterly towards Tilbury where the larger ships could more easily be managed, and consequently by the 1980’s, the Royal Docks closed to commercial shipping traffic.

The docks have been sympathetically restored with obvious reminders, here and here, of their heydays on display as the docks are surrounded by a display of cranes and derricks, as if ‘on guard’ for what has now become a fashionable residential and leisure area.

On the northern bank and just outside the entrance to the ExCel Centre is a poignant statue created by Les Johnson entitled ‘Landed’. Commissioned by the Royal Docks Trust, it has been erected as a tribute to the history of the communities of the Royal Docks and the men and women who worked there between 1855 and 1983.

Leisure

The docks are now a hub for a variety of conferencing, entertainment and leisure industries, although as it’s the middle of winter, all of the water borne leisure facilities are closed. There are few people milling around although there is a steady stream of visitors making their way into the Sunborn Yacht Hotel which is permanently moored by the ExCel Centre. This shot is taken through the legs of one of the cranes on the opposite side of the dock.

The docks is also the home of Lightship 93, a former Trinity House light vessel, now repurposed as a photographic studio and location. And looking east, about one kilometre away is London Docklands Airport with planes landing and taking off at regular intervals.

I end my day where I started, but spend a little time reflecting on the moody lighting which casts a soft shadowy glow on the footpath as a few revelers head for the DLR or to one of the nearby hotels. The overhead gondolas continue to pass robotically by, regardless of whether they carry any passengers, and I decide it’s time to get back into the warm…so it’s homeward bound for me too.

Picture of the Day

This shot is taken on the Royal Victoria Bridge looking straight into the low lying sun and I’ve positioned myself so that the vertical and horizontal struts of the bridge support are dissected by the sun. The shot is unfiltered as the stark sunlight adds to the shadowy black and white effect I’m trying to create, and highlights the white wispy clouds against an otherwise clear sky…

Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ13; Shutter Speed – 1/800; Focal Length – 18mm; Film Speed – ISO100

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#75: High Barnet – 23/01/2020

‘…On the 14th April 1471, a very foggy Easter Sunday, two armies faced each other across a plain just north of the market town of Barnet. The War of the Roses had arrived in Barnet…’

I arrive on a bright crisp wintry day, and alight at my fifth and final Northern Line terminus; a somewhat different day and means of transport to those fighting the war 549 years earlier..

The Station

Some commentators declare that the station has been built in the wrong place, and that the entrance is also misaligned. The purists believe that the entrance/exit should be at the end of the line, but this is not so as in High Barnet as it’s on the side of the station. I’ve thought about this and reflected on all the stations I’ve visited, and there are several stations where the entrance/exit isn’t as the purists would have. I guess ultimately the location is determined by the surrounding landscape.

High Barnet station is at the bottom of a dip about one kilometre away from the main shopping area with a two hundred metre steep climb out of the station to road level. Even for the able bodied, this can be arduous, but for those less able, the three grab rails along the length of the footbath are a must as I observed at least two senior citizens struggle to make it to the top. The lady on the right of this picture stopped several times and she didn’t have a kind word to say about the footpath when she stopped to catch her breath besides me.

Chipping Barnet

Chipping Barnet: High Barnet: or simply Barnet – Not confusing at all, just three names for the same place. The reference to ‘Chipping’ donates the presence of a market, this one established by Royal Charter in the 12th Century. Today’s not a Wednesday of Saturday, so I miss the spectacle, but as I walk up Barnet Hill and the HIgh Street, I can’t miss the imposing church of St John the Baptist Barnet which dominates the centre of the road as it splits heading west and north. The church has impressively decorated flint walls and a bell tower with dominant gargoyles pointing out towards the four main cardinal directions.

Heading into town, I’m a little underwhelmed, as despite its historic connections, I find little of architectural interest along the main street, or as I meander into the side streets. However, the town does much to promote its historical association with The Battle of Barnet; as I stop to read one of the several elaborately painted notices referencing the battle between the Lancastrians led by The Earl of Warwick and the Yorkists led by King Edward IV. More later…

On one of the painted displays, attention is drawn to five historical coaching inns which served the 150 coaches that would pass through Barnet each day. Imagine: if each coach is driven by at least four horses; that would be 600 horses a day, 3,000 a week and at a guess 120,000 a year. Some gardner’s would no doubt have been happy? The The Red Lion is one of these former coaching inns, and it is the first of the five I notice as I make my way into town.

Barnet Museum

The museum sits opposite the Church and it is well worth a visit, especially as it’s free to enter. It’s located in a townhouse that has dedicated it’s basement, ground and first floors to local memorabilia and a dedicated space for the Battle of Barnet. Some of the heraldic banners associated with the Battle are also on display whilst they undergo some decorative ‘touching up’ in preparation for their annual airing throughout the town each April. These three represent the Yorkists Houses of Gloucester and Woodhouse, and the Lancastrian House of Mauleverer.

I’ll not be able to do justice to the museum’s entire collection as there’s too much to see and enjoy, but here are a few of my highlights:

Domestic Life: this collage depicts several items you’d no longer find in the modern home. The first is a cork shaper used for compressing and shaping corks for sealing bottles and jars. The second is a door vent in a Victorian/Edwardian kitchen cabinet, and the third a rather attractive and elegant decorative clock.

Pearly King, Queen and Princess for Barnet: In the basement, amongst a display of Victorian and Edwardian dresses are the Pearly suits once worn by Mr Jack Hammond, his wife Brenda and daughters Lisa and Tracey. Jack was awarded the title of Pearly King of Barnet in honour of his fundraising for charity in 1962 by the Association of Pearly Kings and Queens who appoint all ‘the regents’ for all the London Boroughs. Jack sewed each mother-of-pearl button onto their outfits and the approximate cost (at 1976 prices) at £0.60 a button was £4,000. The King’s suit weighed 14.5Kilogrammes (32 pounds).

A moving Tribute: I find upstairs to be quite evocative, as there’s a display of artifacts from Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum, known more recently as Friern Hospital which closed in 1993. The fact that it’s been converted into a luxury housing development takes none of the reminders away of how those with a mental illness used to be treated. Examples of straight  jackets are prominently displayed as is this padded cell door.

And whilst walking around the first floor, there’s a haunting rendition of early 20th Century music being played to complement the exhibits of the two World Wars. I’m moved by this copy of a handwritten poem by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD – ‘In Flanders Fields

Back to the Station

Almost adjacent to the museum is Barnet Southgate College, which now incorporates an Elizabethan Tudor Hall. This is where the original Queen Elizabeth’s School was founded following its being granted a charter by Queen Elizabeth I in 1573. It’s now used as a banqueting hall and small conference space.

Further down the road, I stop outside The Sound Garden music shop and take in the Fender guitar maker’s sign which glows quite brightly in the gloomy afternoon.

And finally, as I pass Papa John’s take away Pizza shop, I’m beckoned by a gent from inside to take his picture as he sees me walking by with my camera in hand. Never wanting to miss an opportunity, I oblige and then move into the shop and meet Stargy, a budding musician. Nice to meet you Stargy…

Picture of the Day

I’ve struggled with my picture of the day today, but selected this one to highlight the gradient from the station entrance and cropped the picture vertically using the three handrails to accentuate the descent. Applying a deep Black & White filter (Vista) also helps to highlight the horizontal sunbeams hitting the middle railing and ground as the sun shines through an out of shot fence on the right.

Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ4; Shutter Speed – 1/80; Focal Length – 18mm; Film Speed – ISO100; Google filter – Vista

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#74: Aldgate – 16/01/2020

Aldgate is the last of the five terminal Metropolitan stations to visit, a line that changed the face of travelling for Londoners. In 1863, the Metropolitan Line opened the first underground service between Paddington and Farringdon…That’s enough of the history but read here for more details.

I’ve left visiting Aldgate towards the end of my travels as it was here I last worked before retiring almost two years ago. One of my final acts when working with the Government Digital Service (GDS) was to secure a suitable location and manage the transition from our previous residency in Holborn, and this I achieved in 2016. So you see, I have an affinity with the area which I got to know quite well, and I wanted to put as much time behind me before returning and studying the area objectively.

The area is an eclectic and diverse one which merges many cultures and industries and offers a wealth of history, colour and architecture. Here’s my view which takes me into Whitechapel, Spitalfields, Shadwell and down towards the river at Wapping. It’s hard to discern where the boundaries for these areas lie, although I’ve no doubt there’s a map somewhere depicting them. That really isn’t important, but what is interesting and exciting is that wandering as I do, I’m always amazed at some of the sights I see that are either hidden or forgotten. Hidden in the streets are murals and buildings with architectural significance in full sight of everyone, but no one sees them. And forgotten in the sense that their importance, and/or value, are no longer considered relevant. I’ll try and rekindle some of them here.

The Station

Serving both the Met and Circle lines, the station is on the edge of The City and in easy reach of main line stations at Liverpool Street and Fenchurch Street; so great for commuters. As with all of the Met line, it was created using a ‘cut and over’ method rather than tunnelling, and this can be seen quite well when I’m in the station.

The platforms cuts quite a large arc to accommodate the Circle line trains as they route south westerly to join the District line headed towards Westminster and Victoria, and this is quite noticeable as trains stop at this busy interchange between The City and suburban London to the East.

There’s also a busy terminal bus station directly across the road, thus making the area an excellent commuting hub; and plenty going on to entertain the casual observer too as this lonely figure from across the station suggests. Not quite the Woman in the Window, but maybe there’s a sequel to be written? – the Man in the Window?

And adjacent to the station in Aldgate Square, there’s a coffee shop with an  interesting design: it has a fan like roof as if capturing, or even embracing the surrounding office buildings.

Spitalfields

Today’s association is maybe with the Old Spitalfields Market, but the area is steeped in historical changes. In the 17th and 18th Centuries, the area was occupied by Irish and Huguenot immigrants who immersed themselves in the silk industry until its demise in the mid 1700’s followed by an influx from the Jewish Community who set up a textile industry here.

Alas, by the Victorian era, Spitalfields was synonymous with deprivation, slum dwellings, criminality and prostitution, and was the scene of a brutal killing of a young woman by the serial killer Jack the Ripper.

During the 20th Century, there was an influx of Bangladeshi immigrants who worked in the textile industry, and made Brick Lane famous as the curry capital of London. And this sculpture by Spitalfields Market in some way aims to reflect the area’s rich history of providing shelter for successive waves of immigrants. This piece is by the Greek sculptor Kalliopi Lemos

Petticoat Lane Market is an area made up predominantly of Wentworth Street and Middlesex Street and famous for its street stalls selling cheap clothes. But nowadays, as with many markets, equally noted for its food stalls which attracts crowds of near-by office workers each lunch time who come to sample and enjoy the variety of flavours on offer.

The market stands in the shadows of and within spitting distance of The City, with The Gherkin being the most notable skyline companion. And close by is the Sir John Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design, part of the London Metropolitan University.

Wentworth Street crosses Commercial Street where I find an interesting arch leading into the housing complex through Flower and Dean Walk. The inscription on the arch serves as a reminder of the slum days and efforts by the philanthropist Nathaniel, the 1st Lord Rosthschild, to change the living conditions for the Jewish Community by setting up the Four Percent Industrial Dwelling Company Ltd.

And across the road, there’s a brief glimpse at the cobbled streets of London, but alas now bastardised by the blight of the ever present yellow line.

Whitechapel Gallery, on the HIgh Street, offers an eclectic mix of exhibitions, but I hadn’t realised that there’s a tiny alleyway on its left: Angel Alley. It doesn’t go far but towards the end is an unassuming ‘bookshop’ with this interesting mural on its wall. It’s only now as I research this bookshop I realise its social significance. The Freedom Press has had its place in the (troubled) anarchist movement for over 140 years. This summary is well worth a read, and I now understand that the mural depicts 38 individuals who may have been sympathetic, at one time or another, to the Freedom Press.

Brick Lane: if you have never visited, then put it on your list of places to go. But be warned, if you go on a market day, be prepared to get squashed and pushed around as it’s a hive of like minded folk wandering around gawping at the colours on display. Don’t let that put you off, but if you fancy a more leisurely look at the area…go on a non-market day.

I roam aimlessly admiring the abundance of wall art. In fact there are few walls that haven’t been decorated. Some are clearly artistry and no doubt have been commissioned or painted with permission, and some are random acts of graffitti, but to be honest, not out of place. Here’s a sample of some of my finds whilst poking my nose into discrete alleys. I can guarantee, if you go visit, you’ll find your own favourites.

My wanderings take me in and out of several side streets where I stumble across Links Yard. What was once probably a remnant of the textile industry, the abandoned workshops have been craftily redeveloped as part of a wider community effort to regenerate the Brick Lane area by the Spitalfields Small Business Association

I eventually end up at the new Shoreditch Overground station, in awe of the wealth of artistic talent that surrounds the area. But there are still reminders of modern day poverty and homelessness; as I walk under the railway arches, there’s at least one homeless woman who’s clearly made this place her own.

Whitechapel

Whitechapel’s heart is Whitechapel High Street, extending further east into Whitechapel Road forming part of the A11 road. In the past this was the initial part of the Roman road between the City of London and Colchester, exiting the city at Aldgate, but today’s modern day travelling is no doubt significantly different; as indeed is the City’s skyline. 

And although the main road was not squalid, the surrounding side streets had very much evolved into classic Dickensian with problems of poverty, overcrowding and deprivation during the Victorian era. Thus, Temperance, Salvation and Alms can be found aplenty along Whitechapel Road; being born out of the determination of several individuals to improve the plight of the poor and homeless in the East End of London. 

Trinity Green, a small conclave of Almshouses along the Whitechapel Road were built by the Corporation of Trinity House on ground given by Captain Henry Mudd for mariners. If you pass, look up at the roof line of the gatehouses where you’ll see these ships.

Next door is the Tower Hamlets Mission set up by Frederick Charrington, the son and heir of the brewing empire, in the late 19th Century.

And of course, no reference to the East End is complete without a mention to the 19th Century work of the Christian Revival Society set up nearby by William Booth and his wife Catherine. Now known as the Salvation Army. Statues of the two stand proudly outside the Almshouses and Mission.

On the south side of the road, and opposite Whitechapel underground station is the renowned Royal London Hospital. Now a modern hospital standing just behind the original, demolished, brick building. It’s facade still erect, and I think this view of the new through the old is quite striking.

Shadwell

Heading south from Whitechapel HIgh Street, I meander through Shadwell, and stumble upon Watney Street Market; one of many localised markets throughout the borough of Tower Hamlets. The market offers a cut through from the main A13 Commercial Road to Shadwell Overground station, and it’s a busy market day offering a glimpse of the borough’s diverse range of residents. At the southern end of the market there’s a collection of large flat slabs set in a straight line upon which I’m invited to sit on. And as I do, I see there’s a historical theme engraved on them, with references to the area’s shady past. If anyone has any knowledge of these slabs, please drop me a line.

Onward into Cable Street, the street’s name states simply what its purpose was; that of a straight path along which hemp ropes were twisted into ships’ cables. I have some familiarity with such a place name as in my home town of Aberystwyth, I lived near ‘Rope Walk’ which has a similar historical origin. Walking along to the entrance to St George’s Gardens and I find I’m  immersed, through a very large mural, in the story of the Battle of Cable Street. 4th October 1936 saw a hand to hand battle between the fascist supporters of Oswald Mosley and local residents and the Metropolitan Police. Go take a look, as both the mural and the story are well worth seeing and reading about.

Leaving Shadwell through St George’s Gardens, and before crossing The Highway heading into Wapping, I’m acquainted with former residents through their memorials, epitaphs and gravestones. Prominence is given to Henry Raine; a wealthy man who built a school for poor children. But my attention is piqued by the gravestone of Mr Alexander Wyle (?) who died on the 4th December 1741 and whose remains are buried here.

Wapping

Synonymous with the maritime trade, the area is famed for its wharves, docks and marine trades. The area was badly affected in the Second World War blitz, and it further declined into dereliction as a consequence of the post war closure of the docks.

The area’s fortunes changed during the 1980’s when redevelopment and regeneration saw many of the empty wharf buildings converted into fashionable riverside apartments. A trend that has since been adopted right along the Thames shoreline.

I pass Tobacco Dock, a destination I’d seen heavily advertised over the years as I drove through The Highway, so I was keen to see what’s here. But as I arrive, I’m disappointed as it’s a cordoned off events centre. There are no events today, so it has a derelict feel to it, although there’s some maritime interest as I explore the two ships moored in the dry docks in front of the centre. The docks name gives a clue to its purpose in its heyday.

Further down Wapping Lane, I pass St Peter’s London Docklands Church, and admire its gaunt frontage which was built as a memorial to its founder, Father Lowder.

A little further down, there’s a small parade of shops and my attention is drawn to P&J Bakers. This is partly because of its delightful window display of home baked breads and cakes, and partly because of the intriguing black metal doors on the side and rear of the bakery. At a guess, they may have been old oven doors for the bakery but when I asked inside, no one was able to give me an explanation of their history. Maybe you do…drop me a line.

Waterman’s Stairs and Mudlarking

Approaching Wapping HIgh Street, the overground station is directly ahead and as I turn right, I’m confronted with an array of repurposed Wharves. They include Gun Wharf, King Henry’s Wharf, Phoenix Wharf, St John’s Wharf, Aberdeen Wharf, Pierhead Wharf and Oliver’s Wharf: all within 400 meters of each other.

The walk is somewhat unexciting, until I realise the real gem is when I explore the little alleyways in between the wharves which lead to the water’s edge and I discover the Watermen’s stairs. These were used historically as access points to ferry people along and across the Thames, or even to bring ashore the cargo for ships moored in the Thames. The stairs would provide access to the ferry boats at high tide and at low tide the ferry boats would use the adjoining causeways.

This helpful guide lists all the stairs along the Thames (for Wapping, go to page 31). Some of the stairs are in good condition and others less so, even if you can access them through locked gates. 

The ones I explore are Wapping Dock Stairs, King Henry’s Stairs and I access the shoreline down Wapping Old Stairs where I meet Norman, a mudlarker. He explains that mudlarking requires a permit which grants permission to dig up to 7.5 cms beneath the surface (3” in imperial measurement), and after three years you can apply for a permit to dig deeper. He proudly shows me his find of the day, and along with another mudlarker who happens along, they determine it may well be a vintage lace bobbin.

A little further along the shoreline, I meet Christopher, a like minded photographer with whom I share my ‘endoftheline’ story and reminisce about the early days of black and white film photography. Here is one of Christopher’s photos, which he has kindly agreed that I can publish. This one is taken under Oliver’s Wharf looking west towards Wapping Old Stairs.

Wapping is the home for the Metropolitan Police Marine Unit and Boatyard, and I spot a couple resting their feet in Waterside Gardens, which sits in between the two buildings. They seem to be enjoying the riverside view of working and pleasure boats moving up and down stream.

And no riverside is complete without a pub, and it’s at the nearby Captain Kidd I meet a group of gentlemen enjoying the view from the open terrace. They are all from the Greater Anglia Control Centre in Romford enjoying a social afternoon sampling the local ale and taking in the views.

Returning to the City

I’m back on familiar ground now as I approach St Katherine’s Dock. I’ve covered these docks in an earlier blog, but there’s an interesting side note about the nearby Ornamental Canal, which is now a popular route for joggers, keep fit enthusiasts and serious runners alike. Did you know that it was once a location for the filming for the 1999 James Bond film ‘The World Is Not Enough’?

My travels around Aldgate come to an end as I reflect on how two towering Grade II listed buildings have been sympathetically restored. The first in Back Church Lane, within earshot of the mainline rail service into Fenchurch Street, is Wool House. No guesses for working out its original purpose in the Victorian era, but now it’s a multi-tenanted office and residential space. I walk around the building and count 12 hoisting stations, an indication of how busy it would have been at the height of the wool trade in London. But here’s an interesting fact – the second series of the BBC television series, Dragon’s Den was filmed here.

The second is of the HULT International Business School sitting on the corner of Commercial Road and White Church Lane and directly opposite the home of The Worshipful Company of Gunmakers. This Grade II listed building was once the St George’s Brewery, Whitechapel, but there’s very little information to be found other than this architect’s journal

Time for home to rest my weary legs…

Picture of the Day

This picture was taken in the food market in Goulston Street, just off Wentworth Street, and is one of a series taken whilst studying lunch-time office workers deciding on their food choice of the day. The street is lined with open air pop-up food stalls, and their menus and price guide erected high up on their stalls so that potential customers can see what’s on offer whilst they move around the crowds.

I’m standing amidst the crowds and slightly elevated when taking this shot, and I notice that those queuing to be served are all studying the menu board intently, oblivious to their surroundings. Presenting this in black & white helps to strengthen the observation, and I believe it also helps to focus attention on the three main subject’s gaze. The individual in the centrepiece has a simple ruggedness to him which playfully offsets the more traditional office gent on the right.

Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/640; Focal Length – 200mm; Film Speed – ISO2000; Google filter – Vista

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