A Travellerspoint blog

ENJOY ART AND NATURE IN CANONBURY

Canonbury: a door

Canonbury: a door

I have been visiting Upper Street in Islington ever since I was quite young. When I was a child, my parents used to take me to performances of opera in English by the Sadlers Wells Company, which performed in a theatre (one of the many reincarnations of today’s Sadlers Wells Theatre) near to Upper Street. Before the performances, we often ate a dinner in a no longer existing Italian restaurant in Camden Passage which runs parallel to Upper Street. Since then, I have made many visits to the Upper Street part of Islington to eat, to see theatrical performances (at the Almeida,The Old Red Lion, and The Kings Head), hear a concert at the Union Chapel, and watch films (at The Screen on the Green). Yet, I have never liked this bustling, and now quite trendy, part of Islington. On the other hand, nearby Canonbury delights me.

In the middle of Upper Street, there is a statue of Hugh Myddelton, a seventeenth century worthy to whom I shall return below. It stands at the southern end of Essex Road that heads straight in a north-easterly direction.

CANONBURY today

CANONBURY today

Both Upper Street and Essex Road eventually intersect St Pauls Road. The three thoroughfares enclose a roughly triangular area of London that is known as ‘Canonbury’. This tranquil, attractive, largely residential area is the subject of this essay.

Canonbury: doors

Canonbury: doors

Until the 18th century, there were very few buildings in Canonbury except for Canonbury House, which existed in the 14th century and the Canonbury Tavern with its popular tea gardens, which was already in place by 1730. It was a largely rural area. The name of the area derives from the fact that it was land granted to the canons of the Priory of St Bartholomew’s Priory (in Smithfield) in about 1250.

CANONBURY in 1850

CANONBURY in 1850

A map (stored in the British Library) shows that by 1850, Canonbury was becoming urbanised. Although much of it was still rural, new streets were being laid out and buildings were being erected. This urbanisation began at the beginning of the 19th century. For example, by 1805 building plots were being let around what is now Canonbury Square. By the middle of the second half of the 19th century, Canonbury had become a largely urban (as opposed to rural) area. Its convenient proximity to the City and other parts of central London made it a desirable suburb.

The houses in the streets surrounding the Gardens (and, also, many others in Canonbury) often have picturesque front doors, many of them painted in different colours. One of the joys of walking about Canonbury is looking at the wonderful variety of front doors of the houses lining the streets. Many of these doors look to me as if they were the originals installed when these 19th century homes were built.

Canonbury: a door

Canonbury: a door

“A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 8, Islington and Stoke Newington Parishes”. published by Victoria County History, London, 1985, mentions some of Canonbury’s now famous culturally inclined residents:
“Canonbury Square and Place had several residents prominent in literary and artistic spheres between and after the World Wars, including Evelyn Waugh in 1928, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, and Eric Blair (George Orwell) 1944-5.” The architect Basil Spence also lived on this square, as will be described later.

According to the above-mentioned source, the ‘gentrification’ of the area (Canonbury/Islington) commenced in about 1960; it became populated by professional and other higher earning people.

Canonbury Gardens

Canonbury Gardens

One of my mother’s cousins was amongst the first of the ‘gentry’ to live in Islington. His family was the first of the ‘pioneering’ higher income families to live in a street whose name I never knew. Their house was close to a pub. On many occasions, the locals threw stones at the windows of their ‘posh’ neighbour on their way home from the pub. This upset my mother’s cousin’s family so much that they felt forced to leave Islington and buy a home somewhere more genteel. Today, most of Canonbury’s residents would be classifiable as ‘posh’ enough to be able to afford their homes in the area.

Gracepoint, formerly Carlton Cinema

Gracepoint, formerly Carlton Cinema

This exploration of Canonbury begins on Essex Road, at a building with a fantastic art-deco façade. Today, it houses ‘Gracepoint’.

Gracepoint: pillars

Gracepoint: pillars

A number of former cinemas in London have been renovated and re-used as venues for religious meetings or other purposes. The old Coronet Cinema in Notting Hill Gate and Gateway House in Woolwich are fine examples of this. For years, the Coronet was a cinema, then it became a church meeting hall as well as a cinema, and now it is a theatre again (it was originally built as a theatre before it became a cinema!). Gracepoint is yet another former cinema that has been converted to a new use.

Gracepoint

Gracepoint

The facade of Gracepoint on Essex Road is a fine example of art-deco neo-Egyptian architecture. Built in the 1920s, designed by the architect George COLES, it was formerly the Carlton Cinema. After being abandoned for a while, it has been fully restored and is used both as a religious meeting place and a 'venue' for hiring. I was not able to enter, but I have seen photos of the interior, which has been restored to its former glory. It is worth stopping to look at!

St Stephens Canonbury:  rear

St Stephens Canonbury: rear

Leaving Gracepoint, River Place leads away from Essex Road towards the small Canonbury Gardens. Along this street, one can see the rear (eastern) end of St Stephens Church. From this vantage point, the church looks as if it has been converted to some new use, maybe apartments. This is misleading, because the church is still being used for worship. The modern bit is part of a new extension to provide space for church and community events. The church was built between 1837 and 1839 to the designs of Messrs Inwood and Clifton. It was erected at the same time as Canonbury was becoming urbanised. The main façade of the church is on Canonbury Road.

St Stephens Canonbury: front

St Stephens Canonbury: front

Canonbury Gardens, a small almost triangular park is built above a section of the New River, where it begins flowing underground.

NEW RIVER WALK: map

NEW RIVER WALK: map

For me, the New River is the ‘star’ amongst Canonbury’s attractions. It is a wonderful surprise for first-time visitors, and a joy to return there. Here, you can escape from urban life without ever being more than a few metres from it.

NEW RIVER WALK: view with a duck

NEW RIVER WALK: view with a duck

Surrounded by houses (mostly residential), you can almost imagine that you are in the heart of the countryside. Between St Pauls Road and Canonbury Gardens, the waterway runs in the open-air, and is lined by luxuriously planted parkland. A pathway alongside the stream, the ‘New River Walk’, for walkers (no cyclists) was opened in the 1950s.

NEW RIVER WALK: foliage, path, and  bench

NEW RIVER WALK: foliage, path, and bench

The New River is neither new nor a river. Created at the instigation of Hugh Myddelton (1560-1631), whose statue stands where Essex Road and Upper Street (Islington) part company, this canal was opened in 1613. The canal was constructed to bring fresh water for drinking into London from various sources such as the River Lea and springs along its course. A walk has been designated along the New River from its ‘source’ in Hertfordshire to where it terminates in Islington. Full mapping of the walk is available at: http://www.shelford.org/walks/newriver.pdf. The New River walk in Canonbury is a part of it.

New River Walk: memorial to  Herbert Morrison

New River Walk: memorial to Herbert Morrison

The waterside gardens along the Islington/Canonbury section of the New River were first laid out in the 1950s. If you look carefully, you can find a small plaque commemorating their opening by the Labour Party politician, Herbert Morrison(1888-1965) in May 1954.

NEW RIVER WALK: watchmans hut

NEW RIVER WALK: watchmans hut

The New River has undergone many changes in its course over the years. One original section remains in the gardens in Canonbury. It is the short curve that runs around a small brick watchman’s hut, which was built in about 1820. The watchman’s job was to prevent fishing and swimming in water that was destined to become drinking water.

NEW RIVER WALK: rocks

NEW RIVER WALK: rocks

The Walk winds its way along the gently curving stretch of the New River. Weeping willows dangle their foliage in the water, ducks and moorhens swim past, local people walk their children and dogs, and an air of peace prevails.

NEW RIVER WALK: Walkers and willows

NEW RIVER WALK: Walkers and willows

The gardens along the water's edge are beautiful, containing a wide variety of different plants. In spring, the blossoms add to the charm of this wonderful place. This is a park worth going far out of your way to see and enjoy.

Canonbury: MARQUESS TAVERN

Canonbury: MARQUESS TAVERN

NEW RIVER WALK:  curved bridge near Marquess Tavern

NEW RIVER WALK: curved bridge near Marquess Tavern

If you get hungry or thirsty, I would recommend popping into the excellent MARQUESS TAVERN. I have visited Islington too many times to remember, and never eaten a memorably good meal (only one exception: Ottolenghi) or even enjoyed the ambience of any of its eateries. At last, I have found a place, The Marquess, that I like. Located at the Canonbury Road and Douglas Road, very close to the New River Walk, the pub was built and opened in 1850. It is not far from Marquess Road, and its construction coincided with the building of new ‘villas’ in the neighbourhood. I am not sure to which if any marquess the name of the pub refers. It is now the only pub named ‘Marquess’ in the area. However, there used to be a pub, which was built in the 1970s, called ‘The Marquess’ on the nearby Marquess Estate, but this closed at least ten years ago.

NEW RIVER WALK: Trunk and duck

NEW RIVER WALK: Trunk and duck

The pub is beautifully and somewhat quirkily decorated. Look up at the lampshades, for example. On one cluster of lamps, the shades were made to look like the horn-shaped speakers that emitted sound on old-fashioned clockwork gramophones. The pub is spacious with plenty of places to sit down inside, and also outside in the garden. There was a small range of beers and lagers on offer, and a good range of harder drinks including sloe gin. The menu offers a wide range of food including vegetarian dishes. Not being particularly hungry, we ordered starters only: mussels in creamy white wine sauce and wild mushrooms with poached egg. Both dishes were top-class. We intend returning to try some of the other tempting things on the menu.

Canonbury Square

Canonbury Square

Canonbury Square was our next destination in Canonbury. Ill-named like the New River, it is not really a square, but an elongated rectangle. Although building began around it in about 1805, it was not fully surrounded by buildings until the early 1820s. Amongst the many fine buildings around the ‘square’, I will focus on Northumberland Lodge.

ESTORICK: view from Canonbury Square

ESTORICK: view from Canonbury Square

Once the home of Basil Spence (1907-1976), the architect of Coventry Cathedral, and the less successful (in terms of aesthetics) Hyde Park Barracks, the Lodge now housed The Estorick Collection.

ESTORICK: Luigi Russolo detail

ESTORICK: Luigi Russolo detail

This contains a wonderful collection of artworks created by Italian artists in the early to mid-twentieth century. It is a must for those interested in this body of work, but of scant interest if Italian twentieth century art means little to you. Of course, if you are undecided about it or know little about it, the collection provides a superb opportunity to help you explore it.

ESTORICK: a downstairs gallery

ESTORICK: a downstairs gallery

Eric Estorick (1913-1993) married his wife Salome (née Dessau) in 1947. They met, and became engaged while crossing the Atlantic in the “Queen Elizabeth” liner. Salome was artistically inclined, an art student daughter of a Nottingham textile manufacturer. During their honeymoon in Switzerland, Estorick discovered a book by the Italian futurist Boccioni, and this helped to trigger his fascination with modern Italian art. According to an article in “The Independent” newspaper, dated 25th February 1996 :
“A former teacher at the Bauhaus, Arturo Bryks, introduced to the young couple by Stafford Cripps’s daughter Peggy, gave them the idea of visiting Milan and meeting contemporary artists. Estorick became a friend of Sironi, Campigli, Morandi and de Chirico.
Two years after the war, Italian paintings still carried a taint of fascism, so they cost little. With Salome's help, Estorick was able to buy on a significant scale.”

ESTORICK: an upstairs gallery

ESTORICK: an upstairs gallery

Incidentally, Eric published two books about Sir Stafford Cripps (1889-1952), whom Churchill sent to India in 1942 to try to gain Indian cooperation in the Allied war effort. Eventually, the Estoricks settled in London. Eric began collecting art just after WW2, when he was already a dealer. He and his wife settled in London, where they founded the still extant Grosvenor Gallery.

ESTORICK: art works in permanent collection

ESTORICK: art works in permanent collection

The Estoricks, whilst carrying on their business of art dealing, collected the works of twentieth century Italian artists, and this became the collection, some of which is on display at the gallery/museum in Canonbury. There are two galleries on the ground floor. These are dedicated to temporary exhibitions, often containing artworks not in the Estorick Collection. There is also a café and a gift/book shop on the ground floor.

Steep steps lead up to the first and second floors where works from the Estoricks’ collection may be viewed. And, these paintings, prints, and sculptures are very fine. As the Collection’s website explains, the Estorick Collection:
“...brings together some of the finest and most important works created by Italian artists during the first half of the twentieth century, and is Britain’s only museum devoted to modern Italian art.”
This is no exaggeration.

This place is a must for lovers of twentieth century ‘modern art’, and especially for those who are interested in the Italian Futurist Movement. While the Estorick is more esoteric than, say, the Tate Modern, its collection though small certainly rivals it in quality.

ESTORICK: cafe

ESTORICK: cafe

The Estorick is close to bus stops on the route number 271, which will take you to a variety of useful transport nodes including Highbury and Islington station and Old Street station. As its route transverses Canonbury, this is a useful way to reach places mentioned above in order to begin your own exploration of this delightful area.

NEW RIVER WALK: foliage

NEW RIVER WALK: foliage

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 10:43 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london islington canonbury Comments (2)

BARBICAN BLUES

Some brutalist architecture in the centre of the City of London

Approaching the BARBICAN from the north along Goswell Road

Approaching the BARBICAN from the north along Goswell Road

We have the hostilities between Germany and Britain during the 1940s to thank (or to blame) for the existence of the Barbican development just northeast of St Pauls Cathedral.

BARBICAN: map showing area in the 1880s with approximate outlines of modern Barbican superimposed.

BARBICAN: map showing area in the 1880s with approximate outlines of modern Barbican superimposed.

The present Barbican development (or urban complex) is bounded (approximately) by: London Wall to its south; Goswell Road (that becomes Aldersgate Street) to its west; a series of small streets (including, for example, Fann Street and Criplegate Street) to its north; and Moor Lane to its east. Prior to WW2, this area was a maze of small streets through which a section of the Metropolitan Railway line ran above ground. This section of the line now runs underground between Barbican and Moorgate Stations.

Barbican: a skyscraper

Barbican: a skyscraper

The name ‘Barbican’ derives from a Latin word ‘barbecana’ which meant ‘fortified gateway’. This gateway in the wall surrounding Roman London stood roughly where the Museum of London stands today. Before WW2, there was a street, which no longer exists, in the area called ‘Red Cross Street’. The northern end of this was the site of the Roman gateway with its watchtower. The gateway was used as a castle in the 13th century by King Edward the First, but it was destroyed in 1251. Later, it was restored, but by the 17th century all traces of it had disappeared. It became the site of the former Willoughby House, also now non-existent. In its memory, one of the buildings in the current Barbican complex is named after it.

Barbican: at night

Barbican: at night

The Barbican complex built in the district (most of the Ward of Cripplegate) that had suffered so much bomb damage was constructed between 1965 and 1976. The development consists of both high rise and lower residential buildings as well as the Barbican Centre, which is one of London’s major cultural venues. One might say that it’s the City of London’s counterpart of the Thames-side cultural complex, the South Bank Centre.

Barbican: view of St Giles Cripplegate  from Centre

Barbican: view of St Giles Cripplegate from Centre

I suppose that it was hoped that the creation of the Barbican would give rise to another lively neighbourhood in the city. I believe that it has failed, rather like Canary Wharf and some of the other Dockland redevelopments. These places become lively at certain times, but otherwise seem deserted. For example, Canary Wharf is a hive of activity during office hours, but almost a ghost town the rest of the time. Likewise, when there are events at the Barbican Centre, there are swarms of people, but the rest of the time it feels as one has the Barbican area to oneself. It takes more than construction to produce a real, vibrant neighbourhood. Maybe, given enough time, the Barbican will become like, for example Covent Garden, a place that people like to love linger.

Barbican: piazza and 'pond'

Barbican: piazza and 'pond'

The architecture of the Barbican area, including the Centre, is uncompromisingly harsh, unfeeling. It is a brutalist architect’s paradise. The few open spaces and water features that punctuate this mass of concrete do little to alleviate its inhuman feeling, yet it is home to many who wish to live close to the heart of the city. I have never met anyone who lives there, so I cannot say whether my antipathy to the place is shared by its residents.

Barbican Centre from outside

Barbican Centre from outside

Apart from residential buildings, there are others with different purposes including the Centre, City of London School for Girls, The Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and the Church of St Giles Cripplegate (which more, rather than less, survived the ‘Blitz’). The rest of this essay concerns the Barbican Centre.

Barbican:  tunnel

Barbican: tunnel

A long tunnel containing Beech Street, which existed before WW2, runs under the Barbican from Goswell Street to Silk Street that leads south to the main entrance of the Centre. The tunnel carries both vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Pedestrians may avoid the tunnel by walking along a series of walkways that weave between the brutalist architectural blocks above the tunnel before descending via a stairway to the ‘piazza’, the Barbican Lake Terrace, that runs between the Centre and a body of water with fountains.

Barbican: a  foyer or lobby

Barbican: a foyer or lobby

Barbican: stairs

Barbican: stairs

The common parts, the lobbies, waiting areas, and staircases, of the Centre are a disaster. Whoever designed it must have been determined to make it as difficult as possible for, even regular, visitors to find their way around. To get from A to B, the visitor is forced to go up one set of stairs and down another even if A and B are actually on the same level.

Barbican: yet more stairs

Barbican: yet more stairs

Signposting is terrible. So, it is lucky that there are plenty of staff members to ask for directions. On top of that, the interior design is ugly. Parts of the building bring to my mind some of the sets of Fritz Lang’s 1927 film “Metropolis”, the rest is non-descript. The only thing that I like in the common parts is an expanse of flooring made from wooden rectangles, rather like parquet flooring.

Barbican: wooden floor

Barbican: wooden floor

Entering the Barbican Concert Hall from the common parts of the Centre is a delightful relief. This spacious hall is beautiful with its walls lined with wood panels and its ceiling with curved metal sheets. The seats are comfortable and well-spaced so that people may walk along a row without having to ask seated people to stand up to let them pass. Every seat has a good view of the stage. This is also the case with the Barbican Centre’s magnificent theatre. Even sitting in the back rows of the hall furthest from the stage, there is no problem hearing even the quietest sound produced by the performers. The acoustics of the hall are near perfect. This hall is a wonderful place to hear music – whether it be performed by a soloist or a full orchestra. It is worth suffering the hideous, badly designed waiting areas to enter this hall.

Barbican Barbican Hall: inside the auditorium

Barbican Barbican Hall: inside the auditorium

Although I used to admire the brutalist architecture in London when I was a vaguely rebellious teenager with ideas of studying architecture (quickly abandoned) in the 1960s, now it often gives me the ‘blues’.

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 07:06 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london germany blitz bombing britain barbican brutalist Comments (4)

TO THE LIGHT HOUSE, with apologies to Virginia Woolf!

East India Dock Basin, London City Island, and Trinity Buoy Wharf.

Trinity Buoy Lighthouse lantern

Trinity Buoy Lighthouse lantern

For those literary types, who are hoping that this about Virginia Woolf, please forgive me because it is not. I thought that her 1927 novel's title would make a great heading for this essay, which is, in case you are becoming worried about its relevance, about a lighthouse - the only such structure on the River Thames. First, let me set the scene!

Bow Creek  today: map

Bow Creek today: map

The River Lea is a tributary of the River Thames. Rising in the Chiltern Hills northwest of London, it winds its way southeast into Hertfordshire, and then southwards through east London. It joins the Thames in Poplar. At the point where the Lea enters the Thames, stands the only lighthouse on the River Thames. Erected in 1864-66, it stands in an area known as ‘Trinity Buoy Wharf’.

The River Lea makes two sharp turns just before it joins the Thames. Here, the Lea is called ‘Bow Creek’. Each of the curves flow around finger-like peninsulas of land, each of them almost an island. It is the last of these two peninsulas, which is the subject of this essay.

The reason I visited this area was to visit Trinity Buoy Wharf. Following instructions on the Wharf’s website, I disembarked from a DLR train at Canning Town Station, and headed for the new, bright red pedestrian footbridge that crosses Bow Creek onto a part of the peninsula that is being re-developed to become London City Island – a mini-Manhattan that will eventually consist of high-rise apartment blocks. Currently, it is a gigantic building site around which Bow Creek flows silently. When it is completed, I fear that like so many of the riverside estates east of Tower Bridge it will become yet another sterile dormitory area that only comes to life when its residents scurry to and from their jobs in the City.

Bridge across the Lea (Bow Creek) near Canning Town

Bridge across the Lea (Bow Creek) near Canning Town

The tide was out. The sun was low in the sky, highlighting the folds in the mudflats.

Bow Creek at low tide

Bow Creek at low tide

I was curious to know what existed before the developers of London City Island moved on to this peninsula almost completely surrounded by Bow Creek. An essay in The Survey of London (Vols. 43 & 44, published by London County Council in 1994) provides a good detailed history, which I will attempt to summarise.

London City Island map: under construction

London City Island map: under construction

The peninsula was one of the least accessible parts of Poplar by road. With the construction of the East India Dock Basin in 1803-6 at the base of the peninsula, it became even more isolated. At the end of the 18th century the peninsula consisted of two freehold estates: Orchard House and Good Luck Hope. The former, nearer the Thames, included what was to become Trinity Buoy Wharf; the latter to its north is where London City Island is being put up.

CITY ISLAND: Map showing old estates: Good Luck Hope and Orchard House

CITY ISLAND: Map showing old estates: Good Luck Hope and Orchard House

The former Good Luck Hope estate is that part of the peninsula onto which I stepped after crossing the slender new red footbridge. Its name goes back to at least the 14th century, when it was called ‘Godelockehope’ or ‘Godluckhope’. This ancient name persists in the existence of Hope Street that runs through what will be the new London City Island. At its southern end, Hope Street becomes Orchard Place, a street whose name recalls the Orchard House estate. In the 15th century, the land on the Hope was used for farming and fishery. By 1804, after a few changes of ownership, the Hope had been acquired by the East India merchant Sir Robert Wigram (1744-1830). He was a shipbuilder, businessman, and a Member of Parliament (for a few years). Later at the beginning of the 19th century, Wigram bought several pieces of the neighbouring Orchard House Estate. Until the 19th century, the Hope remained largely undeveloped. Thereafter, various industrial buildings were erected on it.

GOODLUCK HOPE in 1867: map in Nat. Liby. Scotland

GOODLUCK HOPE in 1867: map in Nat. Liby. Scotland

An Ordnance Survey map dated 1867-9, reproduced in the Survey and is also accessible on the Internet (http://maps.nls.uk), shows that these included a plate glass factory, an iron foundry, and an oil mill. All of this has disappeared, and is now being replaced by the new housing estate.

The Orchard House Estate, whose southern limit was the bank of the Thames, was located to the south of the Hope. This plot of land was also known as ‘Leamouth’. During the 16th century, this plot of land contained a moated property on which Orchard House and its orchard stood. Orchard House is believed to have been a public house (a ‘pub’) between the 18th century and the 1860s. The moat survived until the early 19th century. The name of the house that it surrounded has survived the destruction of the building (in the 1870s) and the passing of time. The street names Orchard Place and Street attest this.

BOW CREEK:  OS map 1870 to 1872

BOW CREEK: OS map 1870 to 1872

During the 19th century, the Orchard House Estate, like the Hope to its north, became used for industrial purposes including coopering. To its west, stands the former East India Dock Basin (see later). The eastern most part of the former Orchard House Estate is now the Trinity Buoy Wharf area. A lighthouse was built there first in 1852, and then demolished in the late 1920s. The surviving lighthouse was built between 1862 and 1864 for Trinity House (a corporation chartered by the Crown), which maintains all of Britain’s lighthouses. This one was used mainly to test developments in lighthouse technology. The two lighthouses were also used to train lighthouse personnel. Trinity House continued using the existing lighthouse for training purposes until 1988, when it shifted its operations to Harwich.

View from 'City Island' westwards across Bow Creek

View from 'City Island' westwards across Bow Creek

The scientist Michael Faraday (1791-1867) conducted experiments at Trinity Buoy Wharf. He had a great interest in the construction and operation of lighthouses, and conducted experiments at Trinity Buoy Wharf. His workshop, where he did experiments to develop electric lighting for lighthouse, was above the Cable and Buoy Store and still still exists. Faraday was appointed as Scientific Advisor to Trinity House in 1836, a position that he held for 30 years. According to an article (http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/london/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8516000/8516036.stm) on the internet, Faraday:
“… worked on the optical adjustments of lighthouse lenses, ventilation and improvements. He invented a new form of chimney for lighthouses which would prevent the products of combustion settling on the glass of the lantern. The result proved so successful that it was installed in all lighthouses run by Trinity House. This was the only invention of Faraday's ever to be patented.”

The reason for the wharf’s name is that in 1803 Trinity House set up a workshop for making and repairing wooden buoys. Later, iron buoys were both developed and repaired here. By 1910, the workshop employed 150 workers. Today, in 2017, many of the original buildings remain at Trinity Buoy Wharf, but alongside some exciting new additions, which I will describe later. No longer is this place a centre for maritime safety. Now it has been given a new lease of life. It has become an active creative arts zone.

I crossed Bow Creek by means of the new red bridge. Then, I walked along a path that threaded its way between the building construction sites on what was once Good Luck Hope. I was reminded of my only visit to New York’s Roosevelt Island, a strip of land parallel to Manhattan but quite peaceful in comparison to it because it consisted mainly of residential high rise buildings by the water’s edge and it was devoid of crowds. At the southern end of the future London City Island development, where Hope Street changes direction and becomes Orchard Place, I noticed two things of interest. One of them is an entrance to what remains of the East India Dock Basin, which I will describe later. The other is a curious sculpture.

Taxi/tree sculpture

Taxi/tree sculpture

This consists of a traditional London taxi (‘Black Cab’) which appears to have a tree growing up through its roof. The tree is an artificial sculptural construction made of metal. It was made by the artist Andrew Baldwin, who spent many years training as a master blacksmith and welder. The taxi/tree sculpture is a good example of Baldwin’s witty approach to artworks. There are some more of his unusual and original metal sculptures to be seen in the Trinity Buoy Wharf.

Beyond the sculpture, Orchard Place heads towards the wharf area, passing between industrial buildings some of which are still in use. Baldwin’s taxi piece is the first of many artistic visual delights lining the rest of Orchard Place.

Buoy and girl

Buoy and girl

One of the first is a giant metal buoy painted with the words ‘Trinty Buoy Wharf’. Behind it there is a large mural showing a woman’s face. On the same side of the road, there is a large mural depicting maritime creatures on a blue background.

Wall painting

Wall painting

This was painted by the artist Bruce Mahalski. A tree was growing through part of it. Further along the road, there are more entertaining art works to be seen. These include a huge model of a white fish suspended between two neighbouring buildings.

Suspended fish

Suspended fish

High above the road, a pair of shoes was suspended from a wire that crossed from one side of the road to another. I am not sure whether that was an artwork or someone’s idea of a joke.

Suspended shoes

Suspended shoes

Further along from this, I spotted a large, battered, spherical metal buoy that was suspended next to a wooden door, decoratively painted.

Painted door and spherical buoy

Painted door and spherical buoy

Finally, I reached the entrance to Trinity Buoy Wharf. To one side of it, there is another large buoy like that next to the wall painting of the woman’s face at the far end of Orchard Place. There is so much to see in Trinity Buoy Wharf that at least several visits are needed to do it justice. But, let me tell you my first impressions of the place having spent almost two hours there.

THE LIGHTHOUSE!

THE LIGHTHOUSE!

The whole place is dominated by the brick-built lighthouse that is attached to a warehouse like brick building. It is right next to an American-style metal and glass ‘diner’ called ‘Fatboy’s Diner’. Maybe, ‘Fat Buoy’s Diner’ would have been a more appropriate name!

Fat Boy Diner

Fat Boy Diner

Moored in Bow Creek opposite the diner and lighthouse, there is a red painted lightship, which is now the home of a recording studio.

Lightship used as studio

Lightship used as studio

The lighthouse overlooks an open space containing a car park and an artwork that emits sounds according to the state of the tide.

Tidal artwork and Canary Wharf  skyline

Tidal artwork and Canary Wharf skyline

Parallel to the lightship but on terra firma, there is a café, the ‘Bow Creek Café’, which faces the diner across the open space. A modern building housing the Royal School of Drawing also fronts the open space. Behind it, stands the Faraday School, a small independent primary school (for children aged 4 to 11 years) that was founded in 2009.

Royal Drawing School

Royal Drawing School

Trinity Buoy Wharf, a square-ish plot of land, is surrounded on three sides by water: to the north and east by Bow Creek, and to the south by the Thames. The views across the Thames are spectacular. The Millennium Dome can be seen in all its splendour. Beyond it, the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf rise from the horizon. In another direction, downstream, the cabins of the Emirate Airlines cable-car drift past from north to south and vice-versa.

Faraday  Effect hut

Faraday Effect hut

Close to the warehouse, to which the lighthouse is attached, there is what looks like a garden shed. There is a sign above its door that reads ‘The Faraday Effect’. This has little to do with the scientific phenomenon that bears this name, but rather more with what Faraday did to enlarge scientific knowledge. The inside of the shed is furnished with various objects and papers that are supposed to document the life and times of the great scientist who worked a few feet from this shed. I did not spend enough time in it to gain any insight into what Faraday contributed to the world.

Inside the Faraday exhibit

Inside the Faraday exhibit

The shed is next to a large warehouse, in which several artists (sculptors, I think) were working and chatting. This building used to be the Chain Store. It is attached to another building that contains spaces for performance art and training. These buildings characterise the present purpose of Trinity Buoy Wharf: an area dedicated to artistic pursuits.

Quirky sculpture

Quirky sculpture

A sign made with Lego bricks

A sign made with Lego bricks

Amongst the amazing things to be seen at the Wharf is what is known as ‘container city’. Enormous shipping containers have been put together and piled on top of one another to create buildings. Windows and doors have been cut into the containers to create offices and workshops. There are at least three of these container constructions. Many of the ends of the containers have been modified to create balconies.

'Container City': offices

'Container City': offices

Container City: view

Container City: view

Container City: another view

Container City: another view

Container City: balconies

Container City: balconies


Trinity Buoy Wharf is well supplied with sculptures. Many of these are by Andrew Baldwin.

A couple of lifelike human figure sculptures made in metal are suspended from the walls of a building, Trinity Art Studios, that faces the Bow Creek Café.

Staircase with sculptural figures

Staircase with sculptural figures

These figures, a woman and a man, appear to be holding up an outdoors staircase with their outstretched arms. I am not sure whether these figures are permanent or on temporary display, but they looked most impressive.

BOW CREEK CAFE

BOW CREEK CAFE

Of the two refreshment places in the wharf area, I chose to try the Bow Creek Café. I will save Fatboys Diner for a future visit. Bow Creek is housed in a shoe-box shaped building of contemporary design with huge plate glass windows looking out across the parking area. The café sits on the bank of the River Lea a few feet from where it merges with the River Thames.

Inside BOW CREEK CAFE

Inside BOW CREEK CAFE

Quirkily decorated inside, there are tables with chairs and a few really comfortable armchairs. A wide range of savoury snacks is available as well as hot and cold beverages. If you fancy something more substantial than a snack, then heartier dishes are on the menu. It is a lovely place to ‘chill out’.

Inside  BOW CREEK CAFE

Inside BOW CREEK CAFE

My first visit to Trinity Buoy Wharf was made on a weekday. A security man at the gatehouse told me that the best time to visit is in the weekends, when the place really lives up, and also it is possible to climb up the staircase in the lighthouse. Well, my first visit to the wharf, albeit on a quiet weekday, has whet my appetite for many more visits.

Trinity Buoy Wharf:  Trinity House crest

Trinity Buoy Wharf: Trinity House crest

I retraced my steps along Orchard Place until I reached the entrance to the East India Dock Basin. This entrance has curious looking gates, which I photographed. They are called the ‘Salome Gates’. It was only much later that I realised how special these gates are, and that I have a very vague connection with the artist, who made them.

East India Dock Basin: Salome Gates

East India Dock Basin: Salome Gates

My late mother was a sculptor. For a while, she worked at the Saint Martin School of Art in its sculpture department. While she was there, she worked alongside the late Sir Anthony Caro (1924-2013). I believe that Caro was one of the people who taught my mother how to weld metal. It was Caro, who created the ‘Salome Gates’, and when you look at them, it is easy to see that they are typical of his sculptural woks, most of which I admire.

East India Dock Basin:  looking west

East India Dock Basin: looking west

The East India Docks were built between 1803 and 1806 to allow docking of the large East Indiamen vessels, the largest ships in Britain’s merchant navy at the end of the 18th century.

East India Docks Basin:  Birds and DLR train

East India Docks Basin: Birds and DLR train

The East India Dock Basin was connected to the River Thames by a series of lock gates, which have recently been carefully restored. Separate short canals connected the Basin to each of two docks: The Export Dock and the larger Import Dock.

East India Docks Basin:   bird tracks in the mud

East India Docks Basin: bird tracks in the mud

During WW2, the Import Dock was drained for the construction of Mulberry floating harbours (used to disembark men and materials during the invasion of Normandy in 1944). It was never re-used as a dock. During that war, the Export Dock was badly damaged by bombs. Despite the damage inflicted by bombing, the East India Docks (Basin and Export Dock) continued to be used until the late 1960s.

East India Docks Basin: outer  lock gates

East India Docks Basin: outer lock gates

Now, all that remains is the Basin and a short stretch of the wall of an original building on the west side of the basin. This may be closely approached by walking along Newport Avenue in the housing estate west of the Basin. Today, the Basin, which has been tidied up with footpaths and lawns, has become a wildlife sanctuary. When I visited it, I saw some waterfowl, but, apparently, there is a great range of flora and fauna that can be observed by someone who knows what they are looking at!

By the time that I had looked at the Basin, I was becoming weary, but was a long way from any public transport. I could have retraced my steps to Canning Town, but instead I walked a short way upstream along the Thames Path until I reached what little remains, a mere memory, of Virginia Quay. It was from near here in December the year 1606 that 105 intrepid settlers set sail for Virginia in what is now the USA. They departed in two ships, ‘The Susan Constant’ and the ‘Godspeed’, to start new lives, and to make their fortunes, in Virginia. They arrived in America in April and May 1607.

Virginia Quay: Monument to the settlers in Virginia

Virginia Quay: Monument to the settlers in Virginia

There is an attractive monument, made of granite and metal, to commemorate these enterprising souls. Sadly, it stands against a background of soulless, drab new residential dwellings. The view from the monument across the Thames to the Millennium Dome compensates for the dreary backdrop. Virginia Wharf is a short walk from East India DLR station, from where I returned to central London.

Although my essay has had nothing to do with Virginia Woolf and her lighthouse, it is about a lighthouse and Virginia, but not Woolf.

I am indebted to my friend Sue Dossa, who recommended that I took a look at Trinity Buoy Wharf. I hope that many others will want to follow her advice, having now read my article!

Trinity Buoy Wharf: view of Millennium Dome

Trinity Buoy Wharf: view of Millennium Dome

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 12:37 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london lighthouse thames docklands east-end lea Comments (4)

WALKING IN AND AROUND WAPPING

Interesting aspects of a part of London's East End

An alley leading to the River Thames at Wapping

An alley leading to the River Thames at Wapping

I thought that I knew all about Wapping until I met Fergy. He spent a sunny day with me showing me many historical places that I had not known about. When he offered to show me around that area, I was worried that he would insist on going to the one pub in Wapping that I have visited, the very crowded and tourist ‘infested’ ‘Prospect of Whitby close to Shadwell Basin. I need not have been concerned.

Wapping is now part of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. It stretches along the northern shore (left bank) of the Thames east of the Tower of London, and inland to the Highway (the A 1203). The name Wapping derives from the group Saxon people, the ‘Waeppa’, who lived in the area. Until recent decades, Wapping, being so near the Thames, was intimately involved in all aspects of maritime life – both good and bad!

We began our walk at the Tower of London. After passing through the now very ‘glitzy’ redeveloped St Katharine Dock, filled with luxury yachts and cruisers, we began walking along the long winding Wapping High Street that follows the shoreline of the Thames.

Hermitage Riverside Memorial Garden

Hermitage Riverside Memorial Garden

We came across a grassy open space. This green riverside park, the Hermitage Riverside Memorial Garden, is surrounded by blandly designed, unexciting modern apartment blocks. They stand where many decades ago the homes and workplaces of many east Londoners once stood.

Blitz Memorial

Blitz Memorial

Between September 1940 and May 1941, London was heavily bombed by German warplanes. The so-called ‘Blitzkrieg’ was designed to demoralise the population of London, but failed to do so. However, it left much destruction of buildings and many human casualties. A monument in the gardens commemorates the civilians killed during the Blitz. The monument is a rectangular metal slab in which a dove-shaped window has been cut. It was designed by Wendy Taylor.

Blitz Memorial: plaque

Blitz Memorial: plaque

The park and its waterfront provide an excellent place from which to view both Tower Bridge and the new 'Shard' skyscraper.

Town of Ramsgate pub

Town of Ramsgate pub

Our next stop on that warm sunny day, the ‘Town of Ramsgate’ pub, was for refreshment.

Town of Ramsgate pub

Town of Ramsgate pub

Long and narrow, stretching from the street to the waterside of the River Thames, this pub has an association with the notorious ‘Hanging Judge’, Judge Jeffreys. Just after King James II fled from Britain (in 1688) and when William of Orange (William III) was approaching London, Jeffreys tried to flee in order to follow the King abroad.

Town of Ramsgate: Judge Jeffries plaque

Town of Ramsgate: Judge Jeffries plaque

Having entered the ‘Town of Ramsgate’ in disguise, he was recognised by someone whom he had condemned, but had been later reprieved. A mob tried to lynch Jeffreys, but instead were persuaded to deliver him into the ‘protection’ of the Lord Mayor of London, who secured him in the Tower of London where he died of kidney disease. A small plaque in the pub records this story briefly.

Unlike its busy neighbour the ‘Prospect of Whitby’, this is still a ‘genuine’ local pub, not a ‘tourist trap’. It offers a good range of drinks as well as good food. The chicken curry that I ordered was not only tasty, but also it had been made from scratch in the pub’s kitchen rather than been brought in from an outside source and rewarmed.

Sadly, the small waterfront garden was cluttered with scaffolding connected with building works that were being carried out on its much larger neighbouring building, a converted warehouse (formerly ‘Oliver’s Wharf’). Once this building material disappears, this charming little garden will be a nice place to sit in decent weather.

St Johns Churchyard Wapping

St Johns Churchyard Wapping

Opposite the pub, there is a grassy open space with trees and a few old gravestones around the edges. This was the graveyard of St John’s Church, which stands on Scandrett Street that runs along the eastern edge of the graveyard. St Johns was built in 1756, but it was badly damaged by bombing in 1940 and most of the church had to be demolished. Today, the lovely tower of the church can be seen, and its ‘shell’ has been filled with a new building used secular purposes.

St Johns Churchyard Wapping: former church

St Johns Churchyard Wapping: former church

Next to the church on Scandrett Street (‘Church Street’ in the 1870s), you can see the facade of the former St John’s Old School, also now used for purposes other than that for which it was built.

St Johns Churchyard Wapping: former school

St Johns Churchyard Wapping: former school

Founded in 1695, the present buildings date back to 1765. Two attractive ‘Bluecoat’ figures (sculptures), a boy and a girl, are placed above the separate entrances that were used by the fifty girl pupils and the sixty boy pupils, who attended it.

St Johns Churchyard Wapping:  school detail - Bluecoat uniforms

St Johns Churchyard Wapping: school detail - Bluecoat uniforms

The children who attended Bluecoat Charity Schools wore blue uniforms like those displayed on the school in Wapping.
According to one source - http://www.secret-london.co.uk:
“Blue was used for charity school children because it was the cheapest dye available for clothing. Socks were dyed in saffron as that was thought to stop rats nibbling the pupils’ ankles.”

St Johns Churchyard Wapping: school windows

St Johns Churchyard Wapping: school windows

Another source (https://web.archive.org/web/20130707041720/http://www.bluecoatschoolliverpool.org.uk:80/school/index.asp) provides another explanation of the blue uniforms:
“Blue is not a royal colour - that is purple; it is, however, the colour of alms-giving and Charity. It was the common colour for clothes in Tudor times, and so the charity children were dressed in blue Tudor frock coats, yellow stockings and white bands.”
In any case, the Bluecoat School standing on Scandrett Street has been closed for a long time.

St Johns Churchyard Wapping: school - detail

St Johns Churchyard Wapping: school - detail

Although the original beautiful façades, which are well-worth seeing, have been preserved, it is used for non-scholastic purposes now.

Marine Policing Unit

Marine Policing Unit

Moving east along Wapping High Street, we arrived at the site of Britain’s oldest police station. It is a few steps from the Town of Ramsgate pub, where Judge Jeffries, the ‘Hanging Judge’, was ‘arrested’ by an angry mob in the 17th century. Today, a newer police station stands on the site of the original one. Entering this historic police station is something that should be avoided unless you are in big trouble!

Marine Policing Station: facade on Wapping High Street

Marine Policing Station: facade on Wapping High Street

The Metropolitan Police, which now runs this police station, dates back to 1829. However, this police station (or, to be precise, the construction of an earlier police station on this site) predates this. There has been a police station here since 1798. This is recorded by a small circular plaque on its façade. In that year, Magistrate Patrick Colquhoun and Master Mariner John Harriott, founded the Marine Police Force, London’s first ever police force, to counter the epidemic of thieving from ships moored in the port of London. Therefore, this police station stands on the site of the oldest police station in the UK, if not in the world!

Marine Policing Unit: jetty

Marine Policing Unit: jetty

A narrow alley leads from the street to some rickety waterside steps. From here, you can see the Police landing stage, where, I am told, any corpse dredged up from the Thames is landed before being investigated. Beyond the landing stage and across the river, you can see Rotherhithe clearly. It was from here that the “Mayflower” set forth for New England in 1620.

Marine Policing Unit; view towards Rotherhithe

Marine Policing Unit; view towards Rotherhithe

We walked away from the river towards the ‘White Swan and Cuckoo’ pub on Wapping Lane, which until about 1900 was known as ‘Old Gravel Lane’. The pub was built in about 1850 and occupies a corner plot. Sunlight flooded into it. There were a few other customers, one of whom was sitting upright fast asleep during the whole time we were in there (about 45 minutes).

Turners Old Star pub

Turners Old Star pub


After a mid-afternoon drink, we headed to another pub, nearby, which was closed, but interesting nevertheless. This is now called ‘Turner’s Old Star’. I would have loved to have entered the building because it was where the well-known artist, and in my view one of the best ever painters, Joseph Turner (1775-1851) spent many a day and night. Turner, who was fascinated by ships, sea, and water, loved being close to the River Thames. In 1833, Turner, who never married but fathered several illegitimate children, met the widowed Sophie Booth, who was to become his mistress until he died. To maintain his relationship with her a secret, he used the name ‘Puggy Booth’ whenever he was with her. When Turner inherited two cottages in Wapping, he remodelled them into a tavern, which he named ‘The Old Star’. Turner installed Sophie as its landlady, and enjoyed visiting her here to continue their romantic affair. In 1987, the ‘Old Star’ was renamed ‘Turner’s Old Star’. A plaque on the pub describes its connection with Turner.

Turners Old Star: Turner plaque

Turners Old Star: Turner plaque

Another plaque records the memory of Lydia Rogers. She was an Anabaptist who was accused of witchcraft in the 17th century, in 1658. Lydia was a mother of two and was married to a carpenter, John Rogers. I wondered why her memorial is attached to the pub. She lived in Pump alley in Wapping, which according to an 18th century list of London's streets was off Red Lion Street in Wapping Docks. Today, what was Red Lion Street is now part of Tench Street, which is close to ‘Turner’s Old Star’ pub.

Turners Old Star:  Lydia Rogers plaque

Turners Old Star: Lydia Rogers plaque

Professor Malcolm Gaskill (University of East Anglia) suggests that Pump Alley might have been the modern Meeting House Alley on which one side of the pub faces (see: https://innerlives.org/2016/10/14/hex-and-the-city-accused-witches-in-early-modern-london/). He wrote of Lydia:
“This woman was accused of making a blood pact with Satan, a typical kind of diabolic union that one finds in the records, especially from the mid-seventeenth century. The devil cut a vein in her right hand to obtain the blood to use as ink for the contract. Rogers’s motive, it was said, was a lust for money. This meeting was alleged to have occurred late at night on 22 March 1658. Subsequently the minister of Wapping, Mr Johnson, spent time with her, as she lay in a diminished state, confessing to her grievous sin. She showed him the mark where the devil had drawn blood. He prayed with her, and she suffered a raving fit as the devil in her was tormented, so much so that people present in the room had to hold her down. The source for the story is “The Snare of the Devil” (1658).”

From Turner’s pub, we walked past the restored Tobacco Dock towards the border of Wapping at The Highway. Tobacco Dock was constructed in about 1811 to store tobacco. In the 1990s, it was redeveloped, hoping to make it into a recreation area, the ‘Covent Garden’ of east London. It never really ‘took off’, and has being lying largely disused since the 1990s.

We crossed The Highway to visit what Fergy aptly described as “a church within a church”.

St George in the East: Hawksmoor's church

St George in the East: Hawksmoor's church

From afar, this looks just like an ordinary church, albeit an elegant one. And, so it should be considered, because it was one of the six fine churches in London designed by the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736), a clerk and student of the great Sir Christopher Wren.

St George in the East: Hawksmoor's tower

St George in the East: Hawksmoor's tower

Enter the church, and then you will discover something unusual. The Hawksmoor church contains a much newer church.

St George in the East: a church within a church

St George in the East: a church within a church

The reason for this Russian doll arrangement is that during the Second World War, Hawksmoor’s church was bombed in 1941. All that remained was the outer shell and some of the towers attached. In 1964, a new church was built within the shell of Hawksmoor’s original building.

St George in the East; apse ceiling

St George in the East; apse ceiling

The apse of the new church is a replica of that which existed before the bombing. For a very detailed history, see: http://www.stgitehistory.org.uk/churchch.html#andnow.

Cable Street: street sign

Cable Street: street sign

The last stop on our wanderings was a place of great historical interest that I had heard about, but had never visited before. It was Cable Street, which is also a little way beyond the old boundary of Wapping.

Cable Street: a pub, now a B&B

Cable Street: a pub, now a B&B

Cable Street, near to the London Docks, was where hemp ropes were laid out and twisted into ships' cables. But, this is not what makes it so famous.

The street was a very impoverished part of London with cheap lodgings, opium dens, drinking holes, brothels, and so on. Many poor people and immigrants lived there, including a good number of Jewish people.

Cable Street mural

Cable Street mural

On the 4th of October 1936, the anti-Semitic British fascist leader and admirer of Hitler and Mussolini, Oswald Mosely, decided to organise a march of his British Union of Fascists (the ‘Blackshirts’) through the East End. Provocatively, he included the very Jewish Cable Street on his route. Attempts were made to ban the march, but it was allowed to proceed and was given police protection. The locals and many mostly left-wing sympathisers from all over London decided that Mosely and his mob were not going to be allowed to pass along Cable Street unopposed. Mosely’s opponents barricaded Cable Street, and a huge battle broke out between them and Mosely's mob. The resistance was successful. The Battle of Cable Street prevented the fascists from achieving their aims that day.

Cable Street mural:  detail

Cable Street mural: detail

The Battle has been commemorated by a wonderful mural created on one wall of St Georges Town Hall, which is on Cable Street. It was painted between 1976 and 1982 by artists including: Dave Binnington, Paul Butler, Desmond Rochford and Ray Walker. This vibrant work of art is full of symbolism, and deserves careful studying.

Cable Street: St Georges Town Hall: Civil War  plaque

Cable Street: St Georges Town Hall: Civil War plaque

Most of the original buildings in Cable Street have gone. It is worth looking at the Town Hall upon whose wall is attached a memorial celebrating people from Tower Hamlets, who fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War.

Cable Street: mural detail

Cable Street: mural detail

Shadwell Station, served by London’s Overground, is on Cable Street, and it was there that Fergy and I ended our wonderful walk around and about Wapping.

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 12:01 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london east-end wapping Comments (4)

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)

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