No Pasaran! The Jubilee Gardens Memorial

no pasaran the international brigades memorial in jubilee gardens london

The British and other foreign fighters travelling to Ukraine to resist Putin’s invasion are an echo of 85 years ago, some 35,000 non-Spaniards (2,500 from Britain) joined the ‘International Brigades’ to go to Spain to fight for the Republican forces against Franco’s Nationalist rebels in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).

Some 50 years later, in October 1985, a memorial to the British members of the International Brigade was unveiled in Jubilee Gardens on the South Bank by the then Labour Party leader Michael Foot.

Called ‘No Pasaran’ (“they shall not pass”, the call to arms in a speech at the start of the Battle of Madrid in 1936) it is a bronze by the sculptor Ian Walter. On one face of the plinth is an inscription honouring “The 2100 men and women who left … to fight side by side with the Spanish people” (526 of these were killed) and on another  “they went because their open eyes could see no other way”, and adaption of a line from Cecil Day Lewis’s poem ‘The Volunteer’. 

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Stockwell’s concrete cathedral for buses

stockwell bus garage interior

Fall asleep on a Go-Ahead bus and you might just be lucky enough to wake up in the depot – the soaring, concrete cathedral that is Stockwell Bus Garage. (It’s 100m or so from Stockwell station.)

Opened in 1952, at the time it had Europe’s largest unsupported roof span, the vast space inside (6,800 sq metres, or roughly ten football pitches) able to house 200 buses.

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The Chapel of St John the Evangelist

One of the loveliest and most peaceful spaces in London is literally in the centre of one of the busiest. The Tower of London gets some two million visitors a year, and in high season one can wait several hours to shuffle past the Crown Jewels, and the space in the White Tower around the armour of Henry VIII and Charles I is as jammed as Selfridges on the first day of the sale.

But walk up to the next level of the Tower and you go through an absolute architectural gem – the Chapel of St John the Evangelist – which manages to be utterly tranquil despite the hordes.

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National Covid Memorial Wall

Along the Albert Embankment wall of St Thomas’ Hospital, directly over the Thames to the Houses of Parliament is an incredible piece of public guerrilla art.

Hand painted on the wall are thousands upon thousands of red and pink hearts, each one representing a victim of the Covid pandemic. Some have the names of individuals written in, there are other hearts drawn by family members, messages have been appended.

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The House Where Churchill Died

Hyde Park Gate is a cul de sac off the Kensington Road, a stone’s throw from the Albert Hall and Albert Memorial. It’s a mix of houses from the second quarter of the 19th century and some fairly dreadful modern additions.

Wander down the street and you’ll pass blue plaques to Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout movement, to the author Enid Bagnold, Sir Leslie Stephen (father of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, both of whom were born here) and the sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein*.

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Ghost stories! Spooky London tales for Hallowe’en

Another free online talk for you. Me and the rest of the gang at UKToursOnline did one of our ‘chats’ yesterday evening where we talked ghosts, witches, the supernatural and other bits of London lore and legends.

You can see me discussing the Battersea Poltergeist, Tim Barron talks about haunted theatres, Rachel Pearson looks at witches, Emma Matthews visits haunted pubs and Leo Heaton introduces us to the Black Dog of Newgate.

For more like this, follow UKToursOnline on our Facebook page.

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Love Letters to London

The London Society has a free to enter writing competition called ‘Love Letters to London‘. Write up to 500 words (or a poem) about the city on the theme of ‘recovery and resilience’ and you could win up to £900.

There are full details here, and I’ve had a bash below (as I’m the Director of the Society I can’t enter the competition proper).

If you’re on social media, look for the hashtag #LoveLettersToLondon

If you think you can do better – and I’m sure you can – you’ve got until 30 November to get your entry in. So get writing!

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Going Up to London

“When are you next up in town?” I ask my colleague who lives in the north of England.

“Down,” she says, “Look at the map. You come down to London, not up.”

But it’s always been coming ‘up’ to London, no matter where in the country one lives. (A similar thing pertains in Oxford – you go ‘up’ to College, and you can be ‘sent down’ (expelled) from the University.) Is this simply London’s sense of self-importance, or is there another reason?

Today, reading Judith Flanders’ “The Victorian City”, (a very good book – recommended) all became clear. In the early days of the railways as the companies planned their routes and schedules, they needed to distinguish the primary direction on each stretch of track. Hence ‘up’ lines – going towards London – and ‘down’ lines – going away. 

This was so all-pervasive (it lasted until at least after WW2) that it’s stayed fixed in many minds – so we still go ‘up west’, or ‘up to town’ (the centre of the city) regardless of the actual direction of travel.

The Ascent of W1: the Marble Arch Mound

I actually thought it might be a good idea. It was certainly an idea worth exploring, and perhaps wacky/left field enough to work; plant a hill in the centre of the city, with flowers and trees. Bring a spot of the old rus to the very urbe Oxford Street. Give Nash’s poor, lost, isolated Marble Arch a bit of company.

Mind you, I thought it was going to be an actual hill – several thousand tons of soil compacted into a new knoll/tor/hillock. I didn’t think it would be just a web of scaffolding covered in rolls of sedum and sparse saplings. Nor did I know that the budgeted cost was £2 million (with an actual cost of £6 million: Six. Million. Quid).

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