Category Archives: The Blog

Latest walks and tours

401231By almost popular demand, I’ve added some more dates for some of my walks and tours for February next year.

There’s another trip around ROCK AND ROLL SOHO, a Sunday morning at the BRITISH MUSEUM, a walk around the CITY OF LONDON and two successive Friday evenings at the NATIONAL GALLERY.

For full details and tickets, visit my other website, www.donbrown.london

These do, of course, make IDEAL CHRISTMAS PRESENTS for loved ones, or people you can’t think of anything tangible to buy.

Billingsgate

img_3945It’s five a.m. – 5 o’clock in the morning – in a misty Canary Wharf. You can’t see the top of 1 Canada Square and there are few lights on in the HSBC HQ, but where I am is buzzing with workers and shoppers.

I’m at Billingsgate Fish Market, one of London’s historic wholesale produce markets, the places – like Smithfield, Covent Garden, Spitalfields – that used to feed London.

And, despite the supermarkets and the chain restaurants, they still do to a certain extent. Around Billingsgate you’ll see buyers for fishmongers and restaurants, notebooks in hand, buying boxes of fish that are then loaded onto big steel trolleys by the white-clothed porters and taken out to the buyers’ vans. (“Your legs. Your legs” is the warning shout of the porters as they hurtle down the aisles.) Continue reading

The Development Plan for Greater London

lonsoc-london-plan-e1406632951632Before Abercrombie and Forshaw, with their 1943 and 1944 plans for modernising London , with new ring roads, ‘zoned’ areas and satellite new towns, there was the London Society‘s Development Plan.

Put together between 1914 and 1918 (the coincidence that both plans were the product of wartime is interesting), the Society’s plan grew out of a widespread feeling in the early part of the 20th Century that London had grown too much, too rapidly and without any overall supervision. At the RIBA Town Planning Conference in 1910, William Riley, architect of the London County Council, said that London was “one of the most costly examples of the evils resulting from the lack of proper [planning]”.

From the 1910 conference came the London Society,  its founder members including Riley, Sir Aston Webb (architect of the front of the V+A and the processional route along the Mall), Raymond Unwin (the architect-planner of Hampstead Garden Suburb and Letchworth Garden City) and a wide array of other architects and planners (including the splendidly named Arthur Beresford Pite)., politicians, newspaper moguls and businessmen.

Identifying transport infrastructure as key to the capital (plus ca change) the Society proposed that one body should be responsible for developing the arterial roads into and across the city, and its 1918 plan proposed a whole new network of main roads, by passes, the north and south circular and a new orbital road way that prefigures the M25 by several decades.

Allied to this were proposals for “new parks, parkways and waterside reservations”, connected by belts of green parkways, and the nationalisation of the railways to better control and coordinate the passenger and goods traffic coming into and through London.

The Plan was incredibly influential. In practical terms its concept of the ‘green belt’ was accepted and many of the roads it suggested were built, but more broadly, its idea that the growth of cities could be planned and managed with a view to making these developments better places to live and to work was widely embraced. Further plans and activity followed, and it’s fair to say that this work formed the foundation of Abercrombie’s vision.

You can buy a copy of the original plan, along with descriptive notes and context of the London plans at the London Society website.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Soho Walk

The map below (click the top right corner of it to get full screen) is the plan I’m building up of central London sites associated with (predominantly) ’60s and ’70s rock and pop.

So we have the site of the Beatles’ last live performance (and possibly their first London gig), the flat where Mama Cass Elliot and Keith Moon both died, the pub where Brian Jones auditioned Mick Jagger and Keith Richards for his new band, the club where the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Jimi Hendrix and The Who played, and the offices where Elton John worked.

The blue line is my ‘rock n roll Soho’ walk, taking in many of the places mentioned above, as well as the street where Bowie was photographed for the Ziggy Stardust album, the studios where Bohemian Rhapsody was recorded, and the shop where Eric Clapton (reputedly) bought his first guitar.

If you want to come on this walk one Sunday, click here to put your email address into my newsletter list and I’ll send you the dates as they are scheduled.

Curiocity – a very different type of guidebook

curicoityI’ve just done a review of Curiocity for the London Society (which you can read here).

If you’ve not seen the book, go and do so, because it’s a fantastic piece of work – page after page of stories, trivia, maps and itineraries that take in a huge amount of London’s history, sites, legends and literature. Like the city itself, it’s a place you can be happily lost in for hours, discovering new things and experiences.

The authors describe it as the ‘reimagining of London in 26 ways’. “While some people attempt to hold London still to map it and document it, everyone else is changing the city simply by being part of it.”

Bye bye bonfire night

Over 400 years of tradition is coming to an end in London:- the public celebration of Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night.

Of course there are still some fireworks shows to go to, but these are now (with one or two exceptions) tightly-controlled, ticket-only, paid events. And they are displays of fireworks, disassociated from the ‘gunpowder, treason and plot’ of the rhyme; Guy-less, ahistorical.

Ten years ago one could – and I did – watch the free fireworks on Clapham Common and see in the distance the rockets from Lambeth’s other free shows in Brockwell Park and Tooting Bec. After cutting back these shows from three to one, this year Lambeth have axed the fireworks completely. In Wandsworth the free fireworks across the borough were condensed into the expensive Battersea Park event years ago, and it’s a similar story in Wimbledon and across the rest of the capital. Continue reading

The Lloyd’s Building

outside-columnIn 1978, the year after architect Richard Rogers’ Pompidou Centre opened in Paris, construction started on his first major London project, The Lloyd’s Building in Lime Street.

Built to house the London Insurance Market, this was the first “high tech” building in the UK and there is still nothing quite like it.

The building is “inside out”, with the service functions placed on the exterior. The pipework and air conditioning ducts wrapped around the outside, the glass lifts scooting up the outside walls, the corner staircases like corkscrew metal are all still a delight to behold. But the concept is not decorative per se: it allows for easy replacement and maintenance of the facilities, and it means the inside can be open and flexible, with uninterrupted activity on each level. Rogers has designed other buildings in London since Lloyd’s, but none provoke the same sense of looking at something otherworldly. Continue reading

The Monument

dsc_0100Climb the 311 stairs today to the top of the Monument and the view lays out the 21st century City. To the north the Walkie Talkie seems close enough to touch, and behind that are the Cheesegrater, the Gherkin, Heron Tower and the other towers of skyscraper alley.

To the south the view is dominated by the Shard, but the Elephant and Castle developments are now starting to block that horizon; the east has the packed legoland towers of Canary Wharf.

The west gives some relief with a great view of St Paul’s and down the river to Westminster, but look down into the City and one can see the current building boom with cranes and construction sites all around. Continue reading

Sunday morning walks and tours

img_2152Join me on Sunday mornings in November for a couple of walks and tours that will show you some hidden gems of the capital.

 

 

Rock n Roll Soho: Discover the heart of rock ‘n’ roll London – the places, clubs and venues that were the setting for the music that defined a generation. We’ll see where the Beatles’ did their last gig and the Pistols did their first; where the Stones were formed; the club where Hendrix performed; and the coffee bars that defined 1960s London.

13 November | 1030-1300 | Start at Savile Row W1 | More information and tickets here

 

Sunday Morning at the British Museum: Every visitor to London should see the British Museum, but with tens of thousands of objects on display, just where do you start? Discover the treasures of the British Museum – from over 4000 of human history.

20 November | 1030-1300 | British Museum Great Court | More information and tickets here

And also in November I’ll be looking at the treasures of the NATIONAL GALLERY on Friday evenings. If you want to find out more, email me and I’ll send you more information.

 

 

London in Miniature

IMG_0657They don’t make as big a deal of it as they should, but at the Building Centre in Store Street (off Tottenham Court Road, and just round the corner from the British Museum) there is the most fantastic architectural model of London.

You can see the capital stretch out in front of you, from Stratford in the east right across to Old Oak Common, and from Primrose Hill in the north down to Nine Elms.

There are the clusters of skyscrapers in the City and Canary Wharf, the new developments at Battersea and Paddington. You can take in the ordered streets and quiet squares; notice the Eye, the Orbit, the Post Office (Telecom) Tower and the way the river weaves along, and appreciate the extraordinary amount of green space with which London is blessed. Continue reading