Category Archives: The Blog

Michael Fagan and Buckingham Palace

buckingham palace with lifeguardsThere might be red-coated soldiers from the elite Guards regiments standing sentry around it (not to mention large numbers of coppers with Big Guns), but Buckingham Palace isn’t quite as secure as you might think.

Queen Victoria suffered from the attentions of ‘The Boy Jones‘, who broke in on numerous occasions (stealing some of Victoria’s underwear at one point – insert “not amused” gag here). In 1981 three German backpackers, mistaking the palace gardens for Hyde Park, scrambled over the back wall of the gardens and camped out for the night.

But the most significant intrusion of recent times was that of Michael Fagan a 31 year old unemployed painter and decorator, who, in 1982, not only got into the main part of the Palace at least twice, but also managed to find the Queen’s bedroom and woke her up to ask for cigarettes. Continue reading

A sponsored cycle ride – this time it’s personal

prostate cancer uk cycling jerseyOn 30th July – that’s only 3 weeks! away – I’m going to try to cycle 46 miles around London to raise money for Prostate Cancer UK. You can give money here.

Three years ago that wouldn’t have been much of an issue. I did a couple of 100km rides and used to cycle 30-40 miles on an average week; training up to do 46 in an afternoon would have been relatively easy. Continue reading

Instagram #1

I’ve been lax at blog posts this year (there are ones coming on the Tudor Pull, Marlborough St Magistrates Court and Michael Fagan, honest), but as I’m out and about on the Blue Badge Guide stuff I occasionally manage to take some pictures and load them up to instagram.

You can follow what I shoot if you look for ‘donbrowndotlondon’, but here’s a selection of recent images from across the capital.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“Commit no nuisance”

As you wander around London you might see, either on an old sign, or painted up on a wall, the message “commit no nuisance”.  There’s an example below from the sign on the south side of Waterloo Bridge – “2: COMMITTING NUISANCE – no person shall commit any nuisance on any bridge…”

commit no nuisance

Charming, yes? A Victorian injunction to always behave oneself in a pleasant and decorous manner? (The signs and notices are always a good 100 years old.)

Not quite.

What they’re really saying is – “Men, don’t p*** against the wall”

In the days before public toilets (indeed, before proper plumbing in most pubs and houses), the more respectable citizens were frequently up in arms about the ‘lower orders’ relieving themselves in public. You’ll find more about this – and more physical deterrents used to prevent al fresco micturation – in Lee Jackson’s excellent book, Dirty Old London.

beigel-1

The Beigel Bake

Forget your hipster bars and street art tours, single estate coffee and craft beer, upcycled furniture and bleeding edge fashions, the most compelling reason to visit Brick Lane is the Beigel Bake.

beigel-3Open 24 hours and selling 3,000 beigels a day (as well as platzels, rye bread, chollah, cakes and impossibly retro custard slices), it’s been around since 1976 when brothers Asher and Sammy Cohen stopped working for anotheer brother at the Beigel Shop two doors down, and branched out on their own.

(The Beigel Shop is still going, but, although older, doesn’t match the Beigel Bake. It also is the perpetrator of the almost blasphemous ‘rainbow beigel’.)

Continue reading

bar-italia-1-1

Bar Italia

bar-italia-3I’m having a coffee in the last of the Soho coffee bars.

An absurd statement on the face of it; there are probably more places to get a coffee in Soho now than at any time in the past.

But I’m talking about the Bar Italia, a place that justifies the label ‘Soho Institution’ and a world away from your chai lattes and skinny decaffs.

Continue reading

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.