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Saturday, 29 December 2018

Clapham Common Deep Shelter, The Drum and the Balham Station Bombing

The Brothers Hartnall's recent show at the Hammersmith Apollo meant a night in the smoke courtesy of Airbnb in W6. This allowed a lovely wander south of the river around Clapham Common and then a perambulation south to Balham Station on the day after the night before. We're going to have to backtrack here however and begin at the end of my days walk at Balham Underground Station which sits astride Balham High Road and was built in 1926 as part of the extension of the City and South London Railway to a design by Charles Holden, Frank Pick's architect of choice who had previously worked on war cemeteries in France and who brought his simple, modernist style to London Transport infrastructure. Like many of the stations on the Tube network Balham was used by the civilian population as a bomb shelter during World War II. This was initially discouraged by the government who believed that the population would remain in the Tube network after the bombing had ended. At the start of the Blitz however on 8th September 1940 a crowd broke through the locked gates at Liverpool St Station and the day afterwards the Minister for Home Security rescinded the policy and the population sought protection in the relentless bombing thereafter. On the Booking Hall at Balham are two plaques noting the events of 14-15 October 1940, when a 1,400 kg fell on the road above the north end of the platform, leaving a crater into which a double-decker bus crashed providing an iconic image of the Blitz. The tunnel partially collapsed and was filed with earth and water from fractured water and sewage pipes. Sixty-six were killed in an event that was hushed up by the authorities for fear of dissuading the civilian population from seeking shelter in the tube network. The event was used in Ian McEwan's novel Atonement, although the incorrect date is used in both the book and its film adaptation. These issues arelso noted further along the network by a very swish black and white Clapham Society plaque on the corner of Clapham High Street and Clapham Park Road which marks the entrance to Clapham Deep Shelter which was built in late 1942 after the government set up the London Passenger Transport Board who in turn came up with the idea of five deep shelters south of the river at at Clapham South, Clapham Common, Clapham North, Stockwell and Oval – and five to the north. These, it was intended would exist under the existing train tunnels but be connected to the existing Tube stations.The shelters were intended to have twin parallel tunnels 5 metres in diameter and 365 meters long divided into two decks that would accommodate 8000 people. By the time these were finished however the Blitz was all but over and the tunnels were repurposed, first as accommodation for American troops and after the invasion of Europe as a government installation and so was fitted out as offices and an extensive system of teleprinters, telephones and other telecommunications equipment were installed. After the war the Clapham Common shelter was used as an archive for government records until its decommissioning in 1952. This however was not the end of the line so to speak. In 2012 the site was re-employed as a hydroponic farm where produce can be growth for local use without racking up food miles. The Clapham South shelter situated on Balham Hill was used differently firstly as temporary accommodation for some of Britain's first postwar Caribbean immigrants who arrived on the ship MV Empire Windrush in 1948 as well as hotel accommodation for the Festival of Britain in 1951 and for visitors to the Queen’s coronation in 1953.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

The memorialisation problem

It's an interesting one isn't it? Someone - lets call him ooohhhh Cecil Rhodes, puts up a statue to himself with the intent of being remembered in a particular way. As an advancer of civilisation, a visionary, a doer, an all-round good egg. He establishes a scholarship at a prestigious university like Oxford to "promote unity between English speaking nations and instil a sense of civic-minded leadership and moral fortitude in future leaders irrespective of their chosen career paths." His ultimate goal was ""the furtherance of the British Empire, for the bringing of the whole uncivilised world under British rule, for the recovery of the United States, for the making the Anglo-Saxon race but one Empire." The scholarship was taken by (among others) Bill Clinton, Tony Abbott, Bob Hawke and Malcolm Turnbull of Australia,John Turner of Canada, Dom Mintoff of Malta, Norman Manley of Jamaica and Wasim Sajjad of Pakistan. From the beginning the scholarship was contentious: both women and black Africans were excluded from the programme. Black Africans were admitted to the programme after pressure from former scholarship recipients in 1971, women only in 1977, 75 years after the scholarship was established. In 2015 Ntokozo Qwabe, a Rhodes scholar himself called for (among other things) the removal of a statue of Rhodes from Oriel College, Oxford. Rhodes' memory then may not we what he originally envisioned but he IS remembered. This post, however is not about Cecil Rhodes but about John Passmore Edwards. You know? John Passmore Edwards? No? This is man who was described in an obituary in the Times of 24 April 1911 as doing "more good in his time than almost any other of his contemporaries" and rated as "Amongst the late Victorian philanthropists, whose motives [were] beyond reproach [and whose] benefactions expressed deeply held and intelligent convictions about conditions of progress in his society".. A man instrumental in the construction over the space 14 years of hospitals, drinking fountains, libraries,schools, convalescent homes and art galleries. He also contributed to the WEA (Worker's Educational Association) furthering the opportunities available to those lower down the social scale. His home in leafy Hampstead is marked by an English Heritage plaque in 1988. Three of his works in London are also marked: a drinking fountain south of the river in front of Christ Church graveyard on Blackfriars Road and two libraries one in East London on the corner of Gladstone Place and Roman Road, the other recently spotted by Shepherds Bush green erected by the Hammersmith and Fulham Historic Buildings Group. The building on which is it affixed is now the Bush Theatre. The building was designed by Maurice Adams who Edwards used for several of his projects. Edwards' His largesse is even more apparent in the West Country where he established libraries in Newton Abbot in Devon and Bodmin, Camborne, Falmouth, Launceston, Liskeard, Penzance, Redruth, St Ives and Truro in Cornwall. His roots were Cornish, he was born between Redruth and Truro in 1823, the son of a carpentee. He was educated in the village school and became a journalist, later moving to London to take advantage of the nineteenth-century boom in journal publication. He became involved in many social causes: the reform of the Corn Laws, the abolition of capital punishment, the suppression of the opium trade and the abolition of flogging in the services and opposed military action in the Crimea and in South Africa publishing polemical leaflets such as'Intellectual Tollbars' (1854) protesting taxes on paper and newspapers and also 'The War: a Blunder and a Crime' (1855). After several false starts in publishing he eventually bought the Echo newspaper in 1876 which espoused social causes and a liberal philosophy (eventually selling part of his interest to Andrew Carnegie) and became Liberal MP for Salisbury in 1880. He quickly became disenchanted with political life however, doing his utmost to better the world in an extra-parliamentary capacity. It is perhaps sad that his name is not as well known as Rhodes'.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Borough Market

My how the time flies. A full nine months later and here we are again. The latest wander courtesy of Andrew Duncan's Walking London was the Bankside and Southwark walk. A favourite area, revisited after our visit to Crossbones Graveyard last year and one of massive historical interest. Southwark, south of the river provides a counterpoint to the City of London, the city of commerce, the city of labour,the city of money-making. Southwark on the other hand is where purses were emptied. The diversions of the area are perhaps not to the tastes of the present day encompassing as they did animal cruelty; bear baiting and cock fighting, boozing, whoring and perhaps worst of all (at least as far as the Puritans were concerned) -- playhouses. The Globe was transported from Shoreditch by the Lord Chamberlains Men in 1599 led by Charles Burbage and including little known thesp. William Shakespeare. The Rose, constructed in 1587 is also commemorated by a plaque. The part played by Sam Wanamaker in the reconstructed Globe is marked as is several possible sites for the theatre although the site which sis mooted as the most likely is Anchor Terrace on Park Street where archaeological remains of Shakespeare's "wooden O" have been found. The Theatre burned to the ground in 1613 after a spark from a cannon used in a performance set fire to the thatch.Fortunately noone was harmed although one spectator did reportedly have his breeches set on fire, fortunately extinguished with bottled ale. The trip also took in Borough Market, home to Grade A Masala Dosa and pretty good (though not up to Italian standard) gelato -- a big thank you to Frigidarium for ruining me for life as far as Icy Cream goodness is concerned. Borough Market stands in the shadow of Southwark cathedral, originally an Augustinian priory built in 1106 - it retains its Gothic floorplan although its nave dates back only to the late nineteenth century. In fact the structure only became a cathedral in 1905 with the foundation of diocese of Southwark in 1905. The cathedral has links to Southwark's actors, Shakespeare's brother was buried there in 1607, Fletcher and Massinger were buried there. Theres also a local American connection, John Harvard's family ran the Queen's Head Inn on Borough High Street, the main route south and therefore starting point for the pilgrimage to Canterbury as recorded by Chaucer -- "“It happened in that season that one day /In Southwark, at The Tabard, as I lay / Ready to go on pilgrimage and start /For Canterbury, most devout at heart /At night there came into that hostelry / Some nine and twenty in a company /Of sundry folk happening then to fall /In fellowship, and they were pilgrims all /That towards Canterbury meant to ride/ The rooms and stables of the inn were wide / They made us easy, all was of the best.” Equally buried a world away from his roots in Southwark Cathedral Mahomet Weyonomon Sachem of the Mohegans of Connecticut was buried in this churchyard 1736, a rememberance of the fact that London has always been a world city. More recent events were also evidenced sadly. The sight of armed police freaks me out on holiday. To see them on the streets of London was quite a shock -- the area was also in receipt of dozens of remembrance hearts - a project launched through twitter as an answer to the appalling events of 3 June. Happily normalcy seems to have triumphed with Borough thronged with people - gay straight male female black white yellow brown - a living rebuttal of the dicks who seek to divide us.

Sunday, 4 September 2016


After my last little digression I'm minded to talk less about London and more about Londons. All existing alongside each other, on top of each other, under and over each other. Constantly updating itself in order to deal with the changes taking place around itself, sometimes of course initiated within the city itself. Perhaps one of the most important of these changes is marked by a small blue rectangular plaque in a small and obscure sidestreet situated between Cornhill and Lombard Street. The plaque reads "on this street between 1680 and 1778 stood Jonathan's Coffee House, the principal meeting place of the City's stockbrokers". Here it was a little after the Great Fire of London destroyed the old city that new systems of trade and business grew up. These systems have spread across the globe and are now shown in the skylines of the world - the market, modern capitalism started here in this tiny cramped alley. The fact that this was a coffee house is not entirely insignificant. Coffee, one of the commodities that can loosely be bundled together under the title "colonial groceries). These groceries; coffee, tobacco, cotton and most significantly sugar were grown in the West Indies, an area that the powers of the world at the time jealously guarded. The profits to be made from these crops was enormous but the risks were high and the returns not always immediate. What this meant is that a whole raft of ancillary services quickly appeared around these producers; insurance, credit banking and investment houses to share the risk. Underpinning this industry were those who worked and died in enormous numbers in the West Indies, while slavery was a social institution dating back to the classical world however chattel slavery where those subject to the system are effectively treated as just another animal (a belief that was strengthened through pseudo-science), another resource to be exploited. They died throughout misuse, starvation and disease transplanted from Africa as they had no natural immunity to West Indian diseases. While some plantation owners lived in the West Indies many were absentee landlords reaping a reward from their investments. The vast sums made subsidised extravagant lifestyles, they purchased political and social positions. Positions that ensured that they could influence those in power. This also meant hat funds were available for investment in other industries, other trading ventures. Such ventures were orchestrated at places such as Jonathan's Coffee House. Sometimes these were moneymakers. Sometimes, as with the South Sea Bubble... they didn't. In 1748 Jonathan's burnt down. In 1761 a club was formed was formed to trade stocks. In 1773 the club built its on building in Sweetings Alley. This eventually became the institution of upright gentlemen that we call the Stock Exchange

Monday, 8 August 2016

London - City of Change and Moorgate

A thankfully rather cooler day saw me undertake the Clerkenwall walk for Andrew Duncan's excellent Walking London. Its an immensely interesting and historic area with huge chunks of medieval London hidden in plain view. The first of these is St. John's Gate built in 1504 as the Southern entrance to the Priory of St. John - OK so it was heavily restored in the 19th century but hey beggars can't be choosers. The knights of St. John were crusaders - Knights Hospitallers charged with tending with those taken ill on the long journey to Jerusalem, after the expulsion of Christians from the Holy Land they left for Rhodes and later Malta. It was here in 1877 that the St. John's Ambulance Brigade was initiated. After a wander through Smithfield the next stop was the Church of St. Bartholomew the Great - founded in 1123 what remains is roughly half of the original building - demolished as part of the dissolution of the monasteries in 1543. The church was originally part of a priory associated with St. Bartholomew's Hospital -both institutions were initiated by Rahere a mysterious figure sometimes credited as Henry I's jester. The churchs Tudor frontage was erected as part of Richard Rich's restoration of the area, he benefited from the Dissolution by buying up land that used to belong to the church. The church itself is a star of stage and screen well screen having featured in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994),Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Shakespeare in Love, The End of the Affair, Amazing Grace, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Other Boleyn Girl, Sherlock Holmes, Snow White and the Huntsma, and worryingly Avengers: Age of Ultron. The third complex is just the other side of Cloth Fair (no guesses as what used to occur there). Charterhouse was a Carthusian priory for twenty five or so monks founded in 1371 and then dissolved in 1537. This was a traumatic event involving the hanging, drawing and quartering of the Prior and ten monks being transported to Newgate gaol where they either starved or were executed. The impressive remains are typical of "the type of large rambling 16th century mansion that once existed all round London" as Pevsner says. The buildings became an almshouse and school in 1611 endowed by Thomas Sutton, the Master of Ordnance in Northern Parts. His idea was to fund a home for eighty male pensioners ("gentlemen by descent and in poverty, soldiers that have borne arms by sea or land, merchants decayed by piracy or shipwreck, or servants in household to the King or Queens Majesty"), and to educate forty boys. The institution gained a reputation for medical knowledge the institution was one of the original seven english public schools defined by law in 1868. The school was transplanted to Godlaming in Surrey in 1872 the buildings being used first by the Merchant Taylors School and then Barts Medical School. While these remnants remain much of what surrpunded them originally has vanished - a reminder of the transitory nature of urban existance. This also means that plaques such as that to Susanna Annesley sited on Tabernacle Street that I was after is no longer there - in fact its now construction site annoyingly.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Sir Charles Vyner Brooke

As if to emphasise the cosmopolitan nature of Bayswater I've been looking through Lived in London too find rather depressingly that I missed about half the plaques (or at least half of English Heritage's listed plaques in the area). They are an interesting cross-section: an Italian ballet dancer a South African writer, an Austrian singer, a Russian political thinker, and American writer and an Italian scientist not to mention King George Tupou V of Tonga. There is also on Albion Street a plaque to Sir Charles Vyner Brooke, the third and last white Rajah of Sarawak who assumed the title on the death of his father in 1917. He was a Cambridge man. He shared power both with his brother and nephew and devolved many of his powers to his advisor and an administrative body. The country developed public service and legal systems based on the British model. He took a surprisingly modern approach to cultural matters, banning Christian missionaries and encouraging indigenous traditions. Brooke fled when the Japanese invaded, first to Australia and then to London where he spent the rest of his life ceding his power to the British Crown in 1946. This was a contentious issue the transfer being opposed both by his nephew who acted as Rajah Muda (Crown Prince) and by the majority of the Council Negri or Parliament. Sarawak became part of Malaysia shortly after his death. Albion Street is, needless to say a way from rubber plantations and tropical heat and you can't help but think of those who experienced the shrinking of Empire. How do you comprehend these seismic social changes? You're no longer the master of all you survey with an automatic right to dictate to all and sundry on pretty much any aspect of their lives.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

London - City of Shadows and the Czech Government in Exile

Last weekend was a scorcher, we'd already arranged to stay over in leafy Wimbledon so that we could get us to the cricket at Lords in good time and M was working in the charity shop in the morning I bagged an early ticket into Liverpool Street. i was pre-armed with a Bayswater walk from the excellent . I was actually in search of the blue plaque for Hertha Ayrton in Norfolk Square. Bayswater is an interesting area - cosmopolitan area with large Brazilian, French and Greek communities - the latter being marked by the presence of St Sophia's Greek Orthodox cathedral and a blue plaque on Queensborough Terrace dedicated to Constantine Cafavy. The area is littered with some pretty monumental Victorian townhouses - now subdivided or converted into tourist hotels. To the North lies the Hallfield Estate designed by Denys Lasdun and Lindsay Drake necessitated by bombing around Paddington station, its a striking contrast. There are some interesting old / new old terraces marking the point marking bomb damage. Another mark of this dark period is the plaque at 3-8 Porchester Gate facing Hyde Park. It marks the site of the Czech government in exile military intellegence division. The Czech government in exile set up by Edvard Benes was recognised by the allied forces while Czechoslovakia was under German occupation. On our visits to Prague we found in the New Town on Resslova street the squat, dark Church of St. Cyril and Methodius. It's here where Operation Anthropoid, which was formulated all those miles away overlooking the park came to an end. The old crypt has been converted into a museum - in fact the last time we visited there was an armed forces day so plenty of uniforms thereabouts. Operation Anthropoid, the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich aka The Butcher of Prague, The Blond Beast and the Hangman (which gives a flavour of his personality) was botched, a catalogue of errors with Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš being parachuted into the wrong area of what was then the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. The men managed to make their way to Prague and were sheltered by Czech resistance fighters before embarking on their assassination attempt on 27th May 1942. Despite malfunctioning weapons they wounded Heydrich and made their escape. They were eventually tracked down in the Church and knowing what would happen to them if captured fought to the death. Sadly that wasn't the end of it and the German occupiers sought reprisals most notably against the village of Lidice where the population were executed or deported to concentration camps and the village itself was levelled.