Category Archives: The Blog

Royal Artillery Memorial, Hyde Park Corner

DSC_0047Today I was going to go round Banqueting House, the last properly surviving bit of the old Palace of Whitehall, but when I got there it was closed for an event, so I went off and photographed some war memorials instead.

Of all the memorials in London, the most striking is the Royal Artillery Memorial located on (essentially) the traffic island at Hyde Park Corner. You can see it as you sit on the bus as it heads north, but it’s well worth taking the time to get up close.

Designed by Charles Jagger and Lionel Pearson, the Memorial is a stunning piece of realist sculpture and one of the finest examples of statuary anywhere in London.

There are some pictures below of details from the bronze figures around the monument and from the sculpted friezes, and a broader selection can be found here Continue reading

The Post Office Central Power Station

barge house street

Another door, this time on Barge House Street, in the outer wall of what is now the Oxo Tower complex.

The Royal coat of arms above the door is because prior to being a cold store for the company that made Oxo, the building had been a power station for the Post Office.

From looking at the old maps of the area, we can see the power station was built after 1896. (The map images below are from 1896 and 1919)

According to the Wikipedia entry, much of the power station was demolished in 1928 and the building rebuilt in Art Deco style by Albert Moore, although the river-facing facade was retained. Obviously the Barge House Street facade was also left relatively unchanged.

Reginald Warneford – first destroyer of a Zeppelin

IMG_0113-225x300In Brompton Cemetery stands this wonderful monument to Reginald Warneford, the first man to destroy a Zeppelin in combat, over Belgium on 7 June 1915. He didn’t shoot it down, but dropped bombs on it – the resulting explosion almost killing him in the process.

Warneford’s own account provides lots of colour:

I left Furnes at 1:00 am on 7th June 1915 … under orders to look for Zeppelins and attack the Berchem St Agathe Airship Shed with six 20lb bombs.

On arriving at Dixmude at 1:15 am, I observed a Zeppelin … and proceeded in chase… I arrived at close quarters a few miles past Bruges at 1:50 am and the Airship opened heavy maxim fire, so I retreated to gain height and the Airship turned and followed me. At 2:15 am it stopped firing and 2:25 am I came behind, but well above the Zeppelin; height then 11,000 feet, and switched off my engine to descend on top of him. When close above him at 7,000 feet I dropped my bombs, and … there was an explosion which lifted my machine and turned it over. The aeroplane was out of control for a short period, went into a nose dive, but control was regained. I then saw the Zeppelin was on the ground in flames.”

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Edwin Evans and Battersea Rise

IMG_0290-150x150The closing of a small estate agent’s office in South West London is hardly big news (some might even raise a cheer), but the closure of the Edwin Evans office on Lavender Hill marks a break with a significant piece of Battersea history. 
Because it was the original (Sir) Edwin Evans who bought, demolished and developed Battersea Rise House and its 22 acres of land on the north west corner of Clapham Common. His consortium paid £51,000 for the whole plot and parcelled off lots for development, with 475 houses being built on the land between 1908 and 1915.
Battersea Rise House from the Common, about 1900

Battersea Rise House dated from the early 18th century, but it came to prominence from 1792 when Henry Thornton, a wealthy banker, bought it and moved in with his cousin William Wilberforce. 

Two of Thornton’s brothers owned villas on Clapham Common Southside and Thornton’s aim in buying Battersea Rise House and the land surrounding it was to create a community of like-minded (and high-minded) friends. Two substantial houses, Glenelg and Broomfield were built in the grounds, with Wilberforce moving into Broomfield House when he married in 1797.

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The end of an era – Time Out goes free

Back in the day – and I mean way back, ooh, two decades ago – Time Outruled London. You got your copy on Thursday and planned the weekend and the following week.
It was a great bid doorstop of a magazine, packed full of listings details in dense san serif and, like a lot of indispensable magazines, much of it went unread – the listings that were indispensable to me might be irrelevant to you and vice versa. And it kept getting bigger, adding more and more categories and more and more detail. When City Limits attempted to take it on in the early 1980s they eventually found themselves steamrollered into history by the sheer usefulness of Time Out; it had (it seemed) all of London’s events crammed between its covers.
For over a decade that’s how things stood. If you wanted to do anything, or go anywhere in London, you needed Time Out to help you plan it. And for over a decade Time Out had London to itself. Newspaper supplements came and went, the odd freebie had a crack at stealing some market share, but none of them came close to denting Time Out’s monopoly.
And it all came down to the listings.
But then came the internet and the availability of all sorts of information for free. Want to know what’s on at the pictures? Click, click, click – there it is and, what’s more another couple of clicks will book you the tickets, find out the nearest pub and tell you what bus to catch. Time Out stopped being indispensable. And then came smartphones, and Time Outsuddenly became an anachronism.
So now it’s relaunched, for free, available at a tube station near you. 80 odd pages of features, reviews and recommendations.
But no listings.
So it’s not really Time Out any more, just another freebie to glance at on the commute. One more little shared experience evaporates.

Early morning London

At the beginning of June I did the Nightrider challenge – 100km cycling around London overnight. It was exhausting, tiring, but great fun (a full description is here).

I didn’t get the chance to take too many pictures (have you tried photography while riding a bicycle in the dark?), but here’s a selection of some as we crossed the river. Continue reading

‘Go Gay’ Going

I’ve always loved the sign for this laundrette on the Wandsworth Bridge Road.

It’s lovable partly for the involuntary snigger it always causes, but mainly because it harks back to another era, when laundrettes were new, exciting places suffused with the glamour of the USA.

Just look at the design – it’s a 10/- Las Vegas that shouts ‘modern’ and ‘life’ at the dull world of 1950s South London.

But it now seems to be dead. As I went past on the bus the other evening there was a hoarding all around the front of the shop.

I wonder if I can buy the sign…

The Chislehurst ‘Caves’

chislehurst240 metres or so beneath Chislehurst, a pleasant little suburban village close to Bromley, are the Chislehurst Caves. In fact ‘Caves’ is something of a misnomer, these being some 22 miles of man made tunnels that make up an old chalk mine.

Take the guided tour and you will be treated to tales of druidical sacrifices of women and children on an altar, and be shown a map of the Roman and Saxon areas of the mine, but there seems little historical evidence to back any of these claims.

There is also a little bit of ‘sameness’ about the mine; as the tunnels and spaces are all man made and all hewn through chalk, there is a uniformity to the passageways and a lack of the surprise one gets in natural cave structures – there are no sudden reveals of huge caverns or underground streams, no stalagtites, no different rock strata to give colour and contrast.

What can’t be denied though is the utter blackness of the caves when the guide turns off the light, or the echo, like rolling thunder, that reverberates through 22 miles of tunnels when he loudly hit a drum. Nor can you quite escape that feeling of claustrophobia and fear of the dark.

And notwithstanding the lack of ancient history to the Caves, its modern story is fascinating enough. From being used as an ammunition store in WW1 (I hate to think what would have happened to the pleasant suburban village if 22 miles worth of ordnance had gone up in one bang), to a ’60s concert venue for the likes of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and the Rolling Stones, the Caves have had significant and varied use throughout this century.

The most important and strange of these was as an air raid shelter in WW2. In fact it was not so much a shelter as an underground town, with 16,000 overnight residents at its peak in 1941. You would pay 1d a night (6d a week) for your ‘pitch’ and be crammed into narrow bunks that were themselves crammed into small chambers within the mine. Imagine the smell of 16,000 bodies in the days before deodorant (and with no running water for toilets), or the noise echoing round the tunnels of 16,000 people chattering, snoring and crying.

It’s an interesting place and worth a visit, but take a large pinch of salt for the tour.


Four foot high front door, Chiswick

four foot high front door, Strand on the Green, Chiswick

A picture from a stroll along Strand on the Green in Chiswick yesterday. The tide comes in across the footpath (one could see the tide mark from the previous evening about 3 inches up the garden walls). Obviously the houses used to flood on particularly high tides, so there are is an array of measures in place to try to stop this happening. At this house a rather extreme route was taken with the front door being blocked up to the level of the window sills and the door reduced to around 60% of its original height.

The Tower Hill memorial

The Tower Hill Memorial – picture CWGC

Directly across the road by the Tower of London, hard by the tube station is the Tower Hill Memorial to sailors of the merchant navy and fishing fleets who were killed in the two World Wars and who have ‘no grave but the sea’. (See Google maps.)

There are over 35,000 names inscribed in the Memorial’s two sections; just under 12,000 from the First World War and around 24,000 from the Second. Although overall British casualties in WW2 were substantially lower than in the Great War, the losses of the merchant marine show the dependence of Britain on imported goods and materiel during the conflict, as well as the ferocity of the German U-boat and naval assault on British shipping. Both sides knew that Britain could be defeated if starved of food and resources.

Despite its location, the memorial is not visited much by tourists; walk through the metal gates and you will be in a peaceful enclosed space that seems insulated from much of the traffic and city noise. The original memorial, opened in 1928 by Queen Mary, is quite dark and enclosed, taking the form of a vaulted corridor with 12 bronze plaques on which are listed the names of the dead. Continue reading