A Travellerspoint blog

March 2017

AN OASIS NEAR OXFORD STREET

RETAIL RESPITE: An oasis a few yards from busy Oxford Street, a stone's throw from Selfridges

I have often walked south from Oxford Street along Duke Street, and always noticed the raised pavilion with a dome on the right. It stands in what appears to have once been a square. The dome surmounts four neoclassical porticos each supported by a pair of columns with florid capitals. I have always wondered about it, but until recently did nothing about researching it. It was only lately that I explored it and its companion on Balderton Street, which runs parallel to Duke Street.

Pavilion on Brown Hart Gardens

Pavilion on Brown Hart Gardens

We had arrived early in Balderton Street, where we were meeting foreign guests at their hotel, the Beaumont. With time to spare, we took a closer look at these pavilions. Staircases on either side of both pavilions lead from street level to a raised or elevated roof garden, which is about twelve to fifteen feet above street level. There is also a lift. The garden looked recently designed, and at the Balderton Street end there is a modern café that looks like an elegant glass shoe box.

Brown Hart Gardens: roof-top garden

Brown Hart Gardens: roof-top garden

The raised structure with its roof garden, café, and pavilions occupies the centre of a rectangular ‘square’ surrounded by mostly residential blocks on three sides and the aforementioned hotel on its fourth. It occupies the space that would usually contain a garden in London squares.

The garden and the building upon which it stands form the centre-piece of Brown Hart Gardens.

Duke Street, which runs along the eastern edge of Brown Hart Gardens was laid out on the Grosvenor Estate in the early 18th century. It was extensively re-developed in the 1870s. The Duke Street Gardens, as Brown Hart Gardens was originally named, were laid out in in the 1880s. The blocks of flats built around the gardens date from this period.

From “Survey of London: Volume 40, the Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair, Part 2 (The Buildings)”, we learn that:

“…plans were in preparation for the complete rebuilding of Duke Street and for the blocks of industrial dwellings that were to be built around Brown Hart Gardens in 1886–8. The new Duke Street appears to have been conceived as a street of shops with somewhat better-class flats over, acting as an intermediate zone between the blocks round Brown Hart Gardens to the west…”

When the gardens and its surrounding buildings were being planned, The Duke of Grosvenor, the landlord of the Grosvenor Estate, wanted (according to the Survey, quoted above):

“… to have a ‘cocoa house’ or coffee tavern and a public garden. The coffee tavern was dropped for want of an applicant, but the I.I.D.C.'s contract included an undertaking to clear a space and provide a communal garden on the site between Brown Street and Hart Street. The Duke soon took over the garden scheme except for the surrounding railings, and in 1889 it was constructed to the layout of Joseph Meston …”

The same source adds:

“…The simple garden included a small drinking fountain at the east end, a urinal at the west end and a shelter in the centre; trees were also planted. None of these features was to survive long…”

Brown Hart Gardens: GARDEN CAFE

Brown Hart Gardens: GARDEN CAFE

These features disappeared as did the garden itself. For, in 1902 the street level gardens were cleared away to make way for the construction of the Duke Street Electricity Substation. Partly above ground and partly below, this electrical facility was completed in 1906. It was built for the Westminster Electric Supply Corporation to the designs of C. Stanley Peach (a leading architect of electrical installations), with C. H. Reilly as assistant. The domed pavilions at either end of it were part of the original design. The Survey describes the building well:

“As built, the sub-station rose to a greater height than had been contemplated but retained Peach's original layout, with a tall 'kiosk' or pavilion and steps at either end, a balustrade all round, and Diocletian windows along the sides to light the galleries of the engine rooms, which occupied deep basements.”

The company had managed to persuade the Grosvenor Estate to demolish the gardens because they said that they were being used by disreputable types. Of course, the presence of the new electricity building deprived the residents of the square of their garden.

The residents protested. The electricity company laid out a garden on the roof of the substation, using trees planted in tubs. According to the Survey (quoted above):

“…the 'garden' is perhaps the only place in London where quarrelling is specifically forbidden by law.”
The garden survived until the early 1980s, when the then lessees of the plot, the London Electricity Board, closed it to the public.

In late 2007, the City of Westminster decided to spend money on improving public spaces. On the 7th of December 2007, its Press Department issued a release that included the following:

“Brown Hart Gardens, which has a closed off elevated 10,000 sq foot stone deck with two listed early 20th century domed features - is one of three schemes set to benefit from a proposed multi-million renewal of the open spaces and streets surrounding three of Grosvenor's sites across Westminster….
… The proposals could see Brown Hart Gardens become a distinctive destination, opening up the square for the first time in two decades and possibly adding some much needed greenery to the area.”

The gardens were re-opened to the public after more than twenty years.

In 2012, the gardens were closed once again, but this time for a short period. They opened again in 2013, having been fully and beautifully refurbished by the Grosvenor Estate.

Brown Hart Gardens: GARDEN CAFE

Brown Hart Gardens: GARDEN CAFE

The restored roof garden contains a café, currently managed by the Benugo chain. This contemporarily designed café is almost entirely surrounded by huge glass windows, making the place feel light and airy. Situated at one end of the Brown Hart Gardens roof garden, this place offers a lovely view of this horticultural oasis. So, finally, the former Duke of Grosvenor’s desire to have a café in his square has been realised.

Brown Hart Gardens water feature

Brown Hart Gardens water feature

The garden also contains a water feature designed by Andrew Ewing. The numerous planters (plant pots) and benches can be moved around to change the layout of this pleasant garden.

West of the gardens, there stands the Beaumont Hotel. I have not stayed here, but some friends, who were, showed us around the place, including their suite of rooms.

Beaumont Hotel: bar

Beaumont Hotel: bar

Stepping into the lobby is like walking out of the 21st century and right back into the 1920s. The whole hotel is decorated in the art deco style, but it is all recently built - the hotel only opened in 2014. So, what you see is 'neo-Art Deco'. But, its brilliantly done.

Beaumont Hotel: dining room

Beaumont Hotel: dining room

Beaumont Hotel: a landing

Beaumont Hotel: a landing

Our friends' suite of rooms was also decorated in the 1920s style. It was immaculately equipped with a comfortable bed, spacious cupboards and dressing rooms, a range of magazines, a bookshelf filled with recently published books, drawers full of luxurious snacks, a coffee-maker, and so on. The en-suite bathroom was spacious and superbly equipped.

Beaumont Hotel: a hallway

Beaumont Hotel: a hallway

This is a hotel to head for if money is no problem.

Brown Hart Gardens is only a few yards away from Selfridges and busy, crowded Oxford Street. Yet, when you reach this square, you feel as if you are miles away from the commercial chaos of London’s West End, possibly even in the heart of the countryside.

Brown Hart Gardens: view of Selfridges from Brown Hart Gardens along Balderton Street

Brown Hart Gardens: view of Selfridges from Brown Hart Gardens along Balderton Street

Brown Hart Gardens provides a welcome respite from retail hustle and bustle. According to the people working in the café, few realise that it exists and it is quiet for most of the day apart from lunch time.

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 11:29 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged gardens oasis peace selfridges hart brown Comments (2)

WOOLWICH - above and below

Retired cinemas, a ferry, a station, and a tunnel

My wife is a legal professional. Her work takes her to courts all over Greater London. When I am not working, I often meet her near a court, where she is working, for lunch or a snack. Recently, she was working at Woolwich County Court, near which I met her for lunch (at the good Granier Cafë in Powis Street). After lunch, I headed north a short distance to wards the River Thames.

The name Woolwich might be derived from the Anglo-Saxon words meaning 'place for trading wool'. What was once a small town used to be in the County of Kent, but is now part of the London Borough of Greenwich.

Gateway House

Gateway House

Within a few yards of the Thames bank and several feet above it there stands Gateway House. This magnificent art-deco building designed by George Coles and built in 1937, used to be the Odeon Cinema of Woolwich. Since about 2001, it has been used both as a conference centre and a religious centre.

Gateway House detail

Gateway House detail

Across the road from Gateway House, there stands a brick building that calls itself 'The Cathedral', or CFT Cathedral (Ebenezer Building).
Formerly, this building housed the Grenada Cinema. It was opened four months before the Odeon, which it faces, and it could seat an audience of almost 2500. Designed by a team that included Cecil Massey, Reginal Uren, and Theodore Komisarjevsky, it is now used and maintained by the Christian Faith Tabernacle. This organisation also restored what had once been a luxurious cinema to its former glory.

Theodore Komisarjevsky (1882-1954) was Russian but born in Venice (Italy). Apart from being a noted theatre director and designer, Theodore is also famous for having taught the influential Russian theatre director Konstantin Stanislavsky. In London, he designed a number of theatre and cinema interiors, of wihich the Grenada in Woolwich is a fine example.

CFT  Cathedral

CFT Cathedral

.

These two ex-cinemas were not actually where I was heading, but they caught my attention, and have proved to be of interest. Sadly, i was unable to enter them. My aim was to reach the nearby WOOLWICH FREE FERRY.

Woolwich Free Ferry loading at North Woolwich

Woolwich Free Ferry loading at North Woolwich

There has been a ferry across the River Thames at Woolwich since the 14th century, if not before. Various ferry services crossed the river hera at woolwich between the 14th and the 19th centuries. In the same year as the Eiffel Tower was completed, 1889, the 'modern' ferry service was inaugurated using a paddle steamer. As motor traffic increased during the ealy 20th century, the idea of a bridge from Shooters' Hill to East Ham was discussed, and rejected, in the House of Commons. During the 1960s the ferry service was improved to handle the large volume of traffic more efficiently.

Woolwich Free Ferry fully loaded

Woolwich Free Ferry fully loaded

In 2015, more than two million passengers (foot-passengers, vehicle drivers, and vehicle passengers) used the ferry service. Of late, pedestrian usage has decreased, but there has been no diminution of vehicle users. To this day, the ferry is FREE OF CHARGE for both vehicle users and footpassengers. This is in common with the nearby Blackwall Tunnel. Further downstream, the newer Dartford Crossings attract an ever increasing toll payment.

Woolwich Free Ferry: view of Canary Wharf and Thames Barrier

Woolwich Free Ferry: view of Canary Wharf and Thames Barrier

I walked down to the embarcation pier. Looking across the river you can see the northern terminal of the ferry, and also watch 'planes landing and taking off from nearbt london City Airport. Looking upstream, you get most wonderful views of the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, and in front of them the sections of the Thames Barrier that operate the barrage gates.

Two ferry boats operate simultaneously: one leaving the north terminal at about the same time as the other leaves the southern one. I waited at the pedestrian gangplank until the ferry was ready to board.

Woolwich Free Ferry: Passenger 'gangplank' at South Woolwich

Woolwich Free Ferry: Passenger 'gangplank' at South Woolwich

Passengers travel under cover below the car deck, which is open air.

Woolwich Free Ferry: Vehicle deck

Woolwich Free Ferry: Vehicle deck

The passenger accomodation is spacious, but a little bit 'spartan'. There are plenty of benches on which to rest during the less than five minute long voyage.

Woolwich Free Ferry passenger deck

Woolwich Free Ferry passenger deck

From the passenger deck, views are somewhat restricted because there are limited openings through which to see what is outside.

Woolwich Free Ferry Ferry and Canary Wharf

Woolwich Free Ferry Ferry and Canary Wharf

The observant ferry user will not miss noticing that close to each terminal of the ferry there is a small circular building made out of red bricks.

Woolwich Free Ferry Ferry and small round, red building near southern ferry terminal

Woolwich Free Ferry Ferry and small round, red building near southern ferry terminal

These two small, round, red brick buildings with conical roofs mark the northern and southern access points to another way of traversing the river Thames: THE WOOLWICH FOOT TUNNEL. Like the ferry, the use of this tunnel is free of charge. It is for use of pedestrians only, not cyclists.

Woolwich Foot Tunnel

Woolwich Foot Tunnel

Opened in 1912, the tunnel is 504 metres long, and about 3 metres below the river bed. It is fitted with a system that allows mobile telephone users to use their phones whilst in the tunnel. There are two ways of reaching the tunnel from the surface:

by stairs

Woolwich Foot Tunnel: North staircase

Woolwich Foot Tunnel: North staircase

Or by lift:

Woolwich Foot Tunnel:   Lift entrance below ground

Woolwich Foot Tunnel: Lift entrance below ground

Woolwich Foot Tunnel:   inside the lift

Woolwich Foot Tunnel: inside the lift

The tunnel is for the more energetic traveller or for those who get seasick easily. It also 'operates' when the Woolwich Free Ferry is not working.

Woolwich Foot Tunnel: North Woolwich entrance

Woolwich Foot Tunnel: North Woolwich entrance

Beyond the northern terminal of the ferry at North Woolwich, I came across the OLD NORTH WOOLWICH STATION

North Woolwich Old Station

North Woolwich Old Station

Its windows are boarded up, and from what one could see through the railings surrounding its rear, it is falling to pieces. This was once North Woolwich railway station. The lovely red bricked building that dates back to 1854 served as the ticket office until 1979.

North Woolwich Old Station: view of interior

North Woolwich Old Station: view of interior

Between 1984 and 2008, this disused station was used to house a museum. It has been closed for years. I have no idea what the future holds for this fine example of station architecture. I hope that it will not be demolished.

North Woolwich Old Station

North Woolwich Old Station

So, what started out as being my desire to travel on the Woolwich Free Ferry has ended up as being an excursion filled with interest.

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 07:04 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london river tunnel thames ferry woolwich Comments (1)

VERDANT VAUXHALL

Some surprising sights in Vauxhall, London

Bonnington Square Gardens entrance detail

Bonnington Square Gardens entrance detail

Vauxhall is a district of south-west London on the right bank of the River Thames. It is said that a Russian word вокзал (pronounced 'voksal', and meaning meaning 'railway station' ) is derived from the place name Vauxhall. For two centuries, from the mid-17th to the mid-19th, Londoners enjoyed themselves in the pleasure gardens at Vauxhall. Today, a monument stands to commemorate its existence(see image below).

Monument recalling Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

Monument recalling Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

I am very grateful to my good friend Sue D for introducing us to to fairly unknown modern pleasure gardens in Vauxhall: The Bonnington Square Gardens and the Harleyford Road Community Garden. Bot of these are close to the site of the original Vauxhall Pleasure Garden, with which the diarist Samuel Pepys was familiar.

BONNINGTON SQUARE GARDENS

Bonnington Square was built in the 1870s to house railway workers. During the 1980s when it had become disused and deserted, its buildings were occupied illegally by squatters. They successfully negotiated with the rlevant local authorities to prevent the square from being demolished, and to use it again as a residential district.

Bonnington Square Gardens

Bonnington Square Gardens

There was a bombsite left over from WW2 in the heart of Bonnington Square. By the end of the 1980s, there was a risk that developers would build on this vacant plot. Dan Pearson, a resident in the square, writing in the Guardian newspaper dated 8th of June 2008, informs us:
"Fast as lightning, Evan English, one of my neighbours, proposed that the site should be turned into a community garden. With a core group of residents behind him, he struck lucky with a local councillor who had one of the last GLC grants to give out to such a project. So, with just over £20,000 in our pockets and a team of council-appointed landscape architects, we put in the bones of the new garden."

Bonnington Square Gardens heroes of gardening

Bonnington Square Gardens heroes of gardening

In a short time, a wonderful garden began growing where redevelopment had been threatened. This lush garden is an oasis of greenery overlooked by distant high-rise buildings.

Bonnington Square Gardens view

Bonnington Square Gardens view

At one end of the gardens, you can see Vine Lodge An official report recorded the following information about this distinctive building:

"Bonnington Square and Vauxhall Grove are built on land which was part of the Hawbey Estate,
which included much of the Manor of Kennington. From the mid 19th Century building leases were
granted for various parcels of the estate, although the 1871 map of the area shows Vauxhall Grove was
then a lane called 'The Grove', lined with cottages, and leading to gardens, the boundary of which
matches the present boundary of this smaller square. Bonnington Square was a nursery garden at the
end of Langley Lane, with a house called 'The Vinery'. This detached house, now called ‘Vine Lodge',
remains today at the entrance to Bonnington square
."

[from: www.lambeth.gov.uk/sites/default/files/CA32VauxhallExtensionReport1984.pdf]

Bonnington Square Gardens: Vine Lodge

Bonnington Square Gardens: Vine Lodge

At the far end of the rectangular garden from Vine Lodge, there is a relic of the industrial activity that used to exist in this district. It is a huge metal wheel with cups around its circumference. Dating from the 1860s, thsi wheel was rescued from a nearby marblecutting works, which was being demolished whilst the gardens were being constructed.

Bonnington Square Gardens Industral archaeology

Bonnington Square Gardens Industral archaeology

Bonnington Square Gardens with the wheel on the left side of the image

Bonnington Square Gardens with the wheel on the left side of the image

A notice by the entrance to the gardens provides a useful history of the place. Near to the entrance,

Bonnington Square Gardens: a history

Bonnington Square Gardens: a history

There are a couple of eateries: the ITALO - a café-cum-delicatessen & the BONNINGTON CAFE, which is not a cafë but a purely vegetarian restaurant. The latter has been a feature of the square since the squatters moved in long ago.

Bonnington Square Gardens entrance gate

Bonnington Square Gardens entrance gate

At one end of the square an archway in the corner leads through the houses at that end of the square to:

Harleyford Road Community Gardens

Harleyford Road Community Gardens

HARLEYFORD ROAD COMMUNITY GARDEN

This delightful garden area is bang next to the busy Harleyford Road that connects Vauxhall Station to the Oval Cricket Ground. This garden pre-dates the Bonnington Square Garden. It was begun in the 1980s, and is gardened by local rsident volunteers.

Harleyford Road Community Gardens: Harleyford Road entrance

Harleyford Road Community Gardens: Harleyford Road entrance

A narrow path with occasional inlaid mosaic tiling wends throuh the gardens.

Harleyford Road Community Gardens bench and path decorations

Harleyford Road Community Gardens bench and path decorations

Walk slowly through this lovely place so as not to miss little details that have been added to this creation.

Harleyford Road Community Gardens crocuses and terracotta tiles

Harleyford Road Community Gardens crocuses and terracotta tiles


I hope that this short blog will encourage more of you to leave the 'beaten track' to discover London's hidden gems.

Harleyford Road Community Gardens: a  mosaic

Harleyford Road Community Gardens: a mosaic

Harleyford Road Community Gardens: exit to Bonnington Square

Harleyford Road Community Gardens: exit to Bonnington Square


Posted by ADAMYAMEY 10:17 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london vauxhall Comments (1)

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