Category Archives: The Blog

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.

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“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…”

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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.

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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 another 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

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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

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.

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