The Underground 150 Game From Hostelbookers – How Will You Score?

You can’t fail to have seen all the festivities around the London Underground’s 150th anniversary which have been taking place in the last week (even including a steam-driven journey that some people were lucky enough to take along the system’s earliest section).

To mark the occasion Hostelbookers have devised an amusing little game, which I’ve reproduced below. If like me you’re a regular traveller you’ll have experienced both sides of this chart from top to bottom, although my personal view is that the last one on the right is the most unpleasant – particularly on the Victoria and Central lines during the height of the summer. Which one really gets your goat? …

Continue Reading →

The Wonders Of Wandsworth Common

On Saturday I was planning to take part in a tour of Wandsworth Prison – I’m a member of the London Historians group and one of the members is a serving officer there. Unfortunately, although I’d packed all the other things that I would need for the day I forgot my ID so was unable to participate – understandably they don’t let just anyone wander around one of the country’s Category B penal institutions.

There’s no doubt that the prison will feature on the Londoneer in the near future, but I did take the opportunity to have a look around the area that’s just down the road from the prison itself – Wandsworth Common. This particular stretch of London’s common land has an interesting history – as early as 1871 local people sought to protect it from the urban sprawl that was already beginning to encroach on the area, and for many years the common was home to the 85 foot long ‘scope‘ – built by the Reverend John Craig and supported by a tall brick tower in the middle of the common, it was once the largest astronomical instrument in the world.

Wandsworth Common’s other notable feature is the building that sits on its western edge – the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building. This handsome mid-Victorian structure was built in 1859 as an asylum for girls who were orphaned during the Crimean War of 1853-1856. While it operated as a school well into the 20th century, during World War II it was used as an interrogation centre by the Secret Intelligence Service (or MI6). Today the buildings in the complex house the Academy of Live & Recorded Arts, posh flats and the ‘Le Gothique’ restaurant. The exterior is easily accessible if you would like to take a look around, but a good opportunity to check out the interior of the building comes twice a year, when it hosts the annual Wandsworth Common Beer Festival (unfortunately you’ve missed the 2013 outing, which took place in March).

One of the other surprising discoveries I made about Wandsworth Common is how incredibly popular it is with dog-owners – I’ve never seen so many pooches in one place at the same time. Popping into the coffee bar outlet near Wandsworth Common railway station I was one of the few people there without a canine in tow – odd!…

Continue Reading →

Whatever Happened To The London Pleasure Gardens?

Sittting on the southern side of the Royal Victoria Dock is the site of the now defunct London Pleasure Gardens.

Intended to be an outdoor festival venue for the London 2012 Olympic Games and beyond, with the organisers given a three-year licence to run the site, the London Pleasure Garden’s problems got off to an early start. A week after opening to great fanfare, the Pleasure Gardens hosted the two day Bloc dance festival, but this was cancelled after problems on its first night with many people reporting that they were unable to enter the site and, for those who did get in, tales of massive queues building up inside. Visitors noted that many of the promised attractions on the site had not materialised either, and basic necessities such as seating or even the tiniest patch of grass to sit on were also noticeable by their absence (despite the artists’ impressions which you can see in this piece over at The Quietus). Clearly, the site was opened well before completion – one wonders whether they would have fared better if they had delayed the opening until all of the components of the site were in place.

Shortly after the incident with Bloc, the stated capacity of the London Pleasure Gardens was slashed by 8,000 to 17,000. Reading warning signs, this prompted the organisers of the one of the upcoming music festivals, Secretsundaze, to withdraw their offer to use the site, stating that their festival would continue elsewhere (Secretsundaze GoBang will now take place at Camden’s Roundhouse on 26 August). Big visitor numbers were anticipated throughout the London 2012 Olympic Games because of the proximity of the ExCeL London conference centre, which was hosting seven sports in total, including the boxing, judo and table tennis events. These large crowds failed to materialise, and anyone with an understanding of the local geography of the area could tell you why. The London Pleasure Gardens site is located on the opposite side of the Royal Victoria Docks from ExCeL, and the only feasible route between them is to use the limited capacity bridge suspended high above the dock and then take a fairly lengthy walk along a main road until you reach the site entrance opposite the Pontoon Dock DLR station. No doubt faced with the prospect of a long walk to the festival site, and then having to negotiate an entirely different branch of the DLR to get back home afterwards, people simply got back on at Custom House or Prince Regent after watching the sport and went on about their business.

Unable to surmount these early issues, the London Pleasure Gardens laid off its largely idle waiting staff on Tuesday 30 July, and then went into voluntary administration three days later on Friday 3 August, less than five weeks after it first opened to the public. Many staff were left unpaid, and taxpayers are now out of pocket to the tune of over £3 million because the London Borough of Newham gave …

Continue Reading →

The Most Peculiar Of The Peculiars – The Queen’s Chapel Of The Savoy

Tucked away behind London’s Savoy Hotel is one of the country’s most unusual churches – The Queen’s Chapel Of The Savoy. This 16th century building (the last remnant of a hospital established by Henry VII for the homeless) has a unique status as, unlike its compatriots in the surrounding streets, it does not belong to the parish and diocese system of the Church of England – it is directly owned and controlled by the Queen in her capacity as Duke of Lancaster. She personally appoints the priest, a post currently taken up by the Reverend Professor Peter Galloway OBE who is a noted historian and educator, and directly funds the upkeep of the building.

As you might expect, the chapel has myriads of royal connections. For example, it houses two thrones at the rear which, while they’re not used by the Queen (she usually sits on a throne near the altar) have seen their fair share of royal bums on seats over the years – most recently by Michael, King of Romania, and his daughter who attended a service here towards the end of 2012. The stained glass windows also reward close examination, in particular the windows over the altar which mark the Second World War and the contribution of the Armed Forces, and the most recent addition – a glorious installation marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

This was designed by Scottish artist Douglas Hogg and was installed in November of last year – look closely and you’ll even discover corgis and a scene showing the Queen on horseback. In my opinion, the soon-to-be-installed window at the Palace of Westminster, made for the same purpose and funded by contributions from members of both Houses of Parliament, isn’t a patch on this one!…

Continue Reading →

Visiting The Manor House @ Boston Manor

Have you ever wondered what significance the name of the tube station between Osterley and Northfields on the route down to Heathrow holds? Boston Manor takes its name from the large country house which still sits a few hundred yards away from the station. Originally built in 1622 for Dame Mary Reade (who, when she remarried would enter the Spencer family), it is a fine example of a red brick manor house with a range and stable block to one side, and is set within attractive grounds which are now known as Boston Manor Park.

Boston Manor House has been owned by the local council since the 1920s and has recently been reopened to the public, although opening hours are restricted to weekends at the moment. The house has partially refurbished rooms on the ground floor – the best feature is the fine multi-coloured ceiling moulding in the large reception room at the rear of the building, and you’ll also find a fine fireplace and information displays in the dining room. The most interesting parts of the house, however, are on the upper floors – pass through the imposing wooden screen in the reception area and climb the stairs (noting the French trompe l’oeil design on the wall echoing the ballustrades on the other side – a very rare feature in a British house) and you’ll find yourself in the State Drawing Room. This room features some of the most extravagant ceiling mouldings in London – geometric patterns inset with maidens representing the elements and the virtues. It also has one of the capital’s most breathtaking fireplaces, allthough perhaps more suited to a grand palace than a fairly modest manor house!

The finds don’t end here either – while the upper part of the building is mostly closed off to the public, you can climb up to the next landing and examine the surviving fragment of the exquisite wallpaper that would once have lined the entire staircase. Dating from the early 1700s it depicts imagined scenes of classic Greece or Italy – the wallpaper would have been hand-painted on large sheets off-site and then brought to the manor house to be assembled and set in place.

Boston Manor House is just a few hundred yards from the tube station of the same name – the grounds are open every day and you can visit the house from 12pm until 5pm on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays. I recommend a visit, not least because of the extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteers that you’ll meet. There’s more information about Boston Manor House on the Friends of Boston Manor website, and you can find the remaining photographs of my visit here.…

Continue Reading →

On The Trail Of The Queen’s Silver Jubilee In London

As the 60th Anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation has been celebrated in the last few days, I thought it might be fun to wind the clock back to 1977, don our denim flares and our flowery shirts and take a look at what physical remnants of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee can be found in London…

Paul Fitzgerald’s 1977 official portrait of the Queen

Given how much London’s physical and cultural landscape can change in just a year or two, I think you’ll be surprised at exactly how much has survived the intervening three and a half decades, but lets start with the biggest of the tributes to Her Majesty – the Jubilee Line. Originally planned as the Fleet Line (named for the Thames tributary which gives Fleet Street it’s name) the name and colour change came as the result of an election pledge made by the Conservative members of the Great London Council. The line’s original battleship grey colour was swapped for a lighter silvery hue and two years after the Jubilee, on 30 April 1979, the line was formally opened by the Prince Of Wales.

The event of the Silver Jubilee itself was marked by over four thousand street parties in the capital on 6 June, and very soon afterwards one of the most well-known of the London tributes was unveiled by the Queen herself – the Jubilee Walkway. Unveiled on 9 June 1977 it connects just about all of central London’s tourist sites, with the route marked out by crowns set at intervals into the pavement – a popular way to take a walking tour of the centre of town, it has been added to in the intervening years. Several more miles of walking routes were added to mark both the Golden Jubilee and the recent Diamond Jubilee…

One of London’s most well-known engineering marvels also owes a debt of gratitude to the Silver Jubilee – painted up until that point in a rather drab greenish-blue, Tower Bridge owes its present patriotic red, white and blue colour scheme to the occasion. Just on the northern side of Tower Bridge is another tribute – the Coronarium Chapel. This multi-faith religious building can be found in the middle of St Katharine Docks, although time has definitely taken its toll here – for the last few years this unusual circular building has housed a branch of Starbucks. Ian Visits has written an interesting article on the sorry fate of this piece of 1970s architecture.

Of course the fine art world made a contribution to the Silver Jubilee, with the Queen’s only official portrait of that year being painted by celebrated Australian artist Paul Fitzgerald. This  beautiful work, which shows the Queen wearing a tiara and a blue cloak decorated with some of her regalia, can be found at London’s Commonwealth Institute which occupies Marlborough House on the Mall, just a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace.

With all of these very grand gestures it’s nice to find that a much more modest …

Continue Reading →

All Aboard The HMS Belfast

Moored near to Tower Bridge on the Thames in Central London, the Royal Navy’s light cruiser HMS Belfast was in active service with from 1939 until 1963, seeing action in the North Sea, the Arctic and the East China Sea, the latter during the Korean War. She has been at her current berth since 1971, and is now part of the Imperial War Museum’s collection.

A visit to this floating museum will allow you to access almost all areas over nine decks, from the magazines storing the shells for the ship’s main guns (heavily armoured boxes well below the waterline for safety), to the bridge with its commanding view of Tower Bridge just up the river. You can visit compartments throughout the ship, many of which have tableaus showing what activities would have taken place there – ratings peeling potatoes in the galley all the way through to the ship’s surgeon carrying out an operation in the sick bay. Most of the deck is also accessible, allowing you to examine the decks and to climb inside one of the gun turrets. Worryingly, the displays inside indicate that the ship’s bank of 12 6″ main guns are currently trained on the motorway service area at Scratchwood in Hertfordshire – a distance they could hit accurately even though, as the crow flies,  this is over 20 miles away from the ship’s berth on the Thames!

Two of HMS Belfast’s most interesting exhibits can be found on the two decks below the bridge. As well as containing banks of radar displays and other tactical equipment, visitors to the operations room can take part in simulated naval exercises using several large touch-sensitive  ‘tables’ (which I think are examples of the ‘Microsoft Surface’, but I can’t be certain). You can also visit the radio room, which contains lots of old equipment as well as some newer gear which is still in operation – that’s because the radio room is actually home to the very active GB3RN ham radio club. Ham radio enthusiasts may be interested to know that during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee River Pageant this Sunday the radio room will be fully staffed, and will be operating under the special call-sign GB60QE. It was manned when I visited on Sunday, and as a licensed operator I was invited to use the equipment – in fact, I had a lengthy contact with a radio amateur all the way over in the USA, who had trouble believing where I was transmitting from!

Due to a botched repair job, in November of last year HMS Belfast’s gangway collapsed, however it has was reopened to the public after the repairs were completed on 18 May. I’m assured that the newly-engineered gangway is much safer than its predecessor so you should have no worries when boarding. The ship is open from 10am until 6pm every day and tickets for adults are priced at £14, but note that for security reasons she will be closed on Sunday 3 June.  I …

Continue Reading →

London Transport 150 At The Buckinghamshire Railway Centre

Although it’s some time away, I thought it might be useful to fill you in on a steam-related event coming up in early August – a London Transport 150 event organised by the London Transport Museum and the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre.

Of all the celebrations taking place as part of the network’s 150th Anniversary celebrations, this has to be the biggest in the calendar, taking place at the Quainton Road station in Aylesbury on Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 August and the following Wednesday – if you’re wondering about the connection, Quainton Road was a Metropolitan Line station up until 1936 and has been .

The highlight of the weekend will be the opportunity to take trips on several vintage carriages pulled by Victorian steam trains. Vehicles that will be put to use include the now-restored Metropolitan Steam Locomotive No. 1 and the Metropolitan Jubilee Carriage 353 which was built in 1892 and fully restored last year, as well as the ‘Milk Van’ – this train transported milk from the dairies of Buckinghamshire and returned with a full load of horse manure!

There will lots of activities to keep the kids occupied, including trips on the 1km long miniature railway that the Vale of Aylesbury Model Engineering Society (VAMES) operates, plus story-telling with Pluto (a puppet version of an early Underground train) and a Family Trail around the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre and Quainton Road station.

Amongst the classic vehicles on static display will be the Brill Tramway ‘tram’ from 1872 alongside a Metropolitan Railway Open Wagon which dates from the era when the Underground also carried freight, and a First Class dining carriage from 1901 which was used on services out of Euston, and then pressed into use as the equerries dining car on the Royal Train of all things.

Another rather special carriage to visit will be Queen Mary’s 1940 Royal Carriage which has particular significance in the context of the Second World War – it was used by Churchill and Eisenhower as a discreet place to meet to discuss war planning in the run up to D-Day. You’ll also be able to try your hand at being a postman with several Post Office carriages, which up until 2004 were used to sort mail throughout the night between large cities on the rail network.

Several documentary films will be screened throughout the London Transport 150 weekend, the most interesting being Sir John Betjemen’s 1973 ‘Metroland’ where he mused about the way that the Underground had spurned the development of London’s leafy suburbia. It’s really worth seeing – a very thoughtful snapshot of life in 1970s London.

Tickets for this event cost £10 in advance for adults and £7 for children (£9 concessions and senior citizens £9). If this sounds appealing I would get your tickets booked quickly – given the number of railway and transport fans around it’s bound to be wildly popular!…

Continue Reading →

Two Foodie Events – Ben & Jerry’s and Free Bagels

First is the annual Ben & Jerry’s Double Scoop Sundae Festival, which takes place on Clapham Common on the weekend of the 23rd and 24th July. 15,000 tickets are available on each day and this year’s festival is being headlined by Maxïmo Park and Ocean Colour Scene. Maxïmo Park will be supported on Saturday by Ash, Fun Lovin Criminals and others, while on Sunday Gary Numan, The Duke & The King, Little Comets and Sound Of Rum will be adding to the atmosphere for headliners Ocean Colour Scene.

You’ll also be able to visit the staple of Ben & Jerry’s festivals, a petting zoo, and there’ll also be a fairground and bare toe wrestling competitions… Unsigned bands are also being invited to take up slots on the main stage through a competition called ‘Be Herd’. Acts can submit music and video at the festival site and also be in line for a cool £1000 prize to the overall winners. Tickets are now on sale at £17, but as this is a decidedly family-friendly festival children 5 years or under are admitted free (as long as they’re with an ice-cream loving responsible adult of course!). Keep an eye on Ben & Jerry’s Facebook and Twitter for further announcements regarding acts that will be appearing on stage.


Secondly, there’s a freebie coming up in the form of free bagels from the New York Bakery Co. who are celebrating American Independence Day on 4 July. Head over to Canvey Street, behind the Tate Modern, from 12 lunchtime and you’ll be able to sample one of their bagels, but don’t wait too long otherwise the bagels will run out!…

Continue Reading →

The Yvonne Fletcher Memorial @ St James Square

With the end of Gadaffi’s regime in Libya I thought it would be appropriate to revisit the event which had a direct impact on London itself, back in the 1980s. Tucked away in a leafy corner of the pretty St James Square, just down the street from the royal residences of St James Palace and Clarence House, you’ll find a modest memorial to a brave policewoman. WPC Yvonne Fletcher was gunned down in cold blood on 17 April 1984 as she was policing a peaceful protest outside the then Libyan Embassy. Fletcher’s murder by an unknown assailant resulted in the cutting of diplomatic relations with Libya for over 15 years, and to date her killer has not been brought to justice. I wonder, with the death of Gadaffi and many of the senior officials surrounding him, whether we’ve now lost any opportunity to find out the truth of what happened on that day…

If you’d like to visit the memorial and perhaps pay your respects, you can find it here:…

Continue Reading →