New Paddington sculptures

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Some delightful new sculptures popped up recently in Paddington. A short stroll from the revamped canal areas around Paddington Basin, you can find these striking iron depictions of Michael Bond (and his famous creation, Paddington Bear), Alan Turing and Crimean War nurse Mary Seacole. Part of Sustrans’ nationwide Portrait Bench project, these new additions are well worth a quick diversion.

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And after visiting the Paddington Bear statue in Paddington Station, obviously you’ll be wanting more! While all three individuals lived in the area, Paddington creator Michael Bond is still a resident today. The Portrait Bench project sees the creation (along cycling paths) of groups of three life-size characters selected by the local community for the contribution they have made to local life, culture or history. They also provide a wooden bench, so you can stop awhile and admire the pieces.

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This series saw Sylvia Pankhurst, a towpath horse and a footballer immortalised in steel in Mile End Park in 2011, with Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B featuring among the freshly unveiled set outside Finsbury Park station. The sculptures themselves are two-dimensional, and made from Corten steel – the same material used for the Angel of the North – which is designed to rust nicely over time. Their style of outlined features reminds me of some street art, and I found the works often became better defined the further you moved away from them.

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Alan Turing was of course the computer science and artificial intelligence pioneer – generally heralded as the father of the computer – who also worked at Bletchley Park cracking German codes during the second world war. His country rewarded his immense talent by persecuting him for his homosexuality, leading to his suicide in 1954, aged just 41. He poisoned himself with cyanide – thought to be injested via an apple, and the day I visited someone had left several green apples at this feet (you can just make these out in the picture below). It’s fitting to see him immortalised here and standing proud against the ever-expanding skyline of modern London. The Science Museum is also currently holding an exhibition on Turing’s life and work.

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In a somewhat serendipitous moment, I just happened to notice some similar, silhouette-style sculptures across the road – which may soon be lost to London. These two figures below are languishing in a rather lonely state in the former campus of the City of Westminster College, currently a deserted development site. I can only assume they are former campus public art – and it seems a great shame they will probably be destroyed. If you want to see them while they are still there, take a peek through the fence along North Wharf Road, near the corner of Harrow Road. It may be a case of losing one set of sculptures just as we gain a new one…

The Sustrans’ Portrait Bench sculptures can be found in the small park to the east of the church of St Mary, Paddington Green.

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Orleans House Gallery

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If you’ve ever thought about visiting Twickenham’s Orleans House Gallery, now is a great time to go while it is hosting Arcadian Vistas: Richmond’s Landscape Gardens. Given that the English landscape garden movement was first nurtured here along the banks of the Thames, it’s hard to imagine a more fitting locale for this exhibition.

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Neatly divided into sections focusing on some of the more influential gardens, gardeners and garden designers of the movement – including Alexander Pope, Horace Walpole, William Kent, Kew Gardens and Chiswick House – the exhibition features mostly illustrations and paintings from the Richmond Borough Art Collections, nicely supplemented by some loans. A smaller collection of objects is also on show, including John Serles’ guide to Alexander Pope’s garden and grotto, alongside A Description of the Villa of Horace Walpole (describing nearby Strawberry Hill).

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Two large paintings depicting Arcadian Thames – Leonard Knyff’s A View of Hampton Court and Peter Tilleman’s The Thames at Twickenham – are also highlights. Don’t miss the gallery upstairs, where slightly more esoteric topics – follies, Chinoiserie, orangeries, water features and grottos – are featured, accompanied by some lovely examples of blue and white porcelain.

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Sadly, Orleans House’s beautiful Octagon Room, a few adjoining buildings and the Stable block out the back are all that remains of what was once an extensive estate built in the early eighteenth century for James Johnston, Secretary of State for Scotland. The Octagon Room was actually a later addition, designed by James Gibbs (who also designed St Martin-in-the-Fields church) as a separate garden entertainment space for Johnston. The house acquired its name after it was rented to Louis Philippe, Duc d’Orleans, during his exile from France.

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After passing through a number of hands, the main house was finally demolished in the 1920s by a firm of gravel merchants. They failed to find any gravel on the site. Today, Orleans House Gallery and its Octagon Room are worth a visit – their interesting program of exhibitions is free and open to the public on most afternoons except Mondays (check online here, as times vary throughout the year). Marble Hill House and Grotto are just next door, and Ham House is but a scenic ferry ride across the Thames.

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Death in the south west

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Surely the award for most unusual mausoleum in London goes to that of Sir Richard Burton (and wife) in Mortlake. Burton – the 19th century explorer and linguist, not the 20th century actor – has as his final resting place a 12 foot by 18 foot stone replica of a Bedouin tent, in the otherwise sedate graveyard of St Mary Magdalen Church. Burton spent much of his career in the Arab world, and features among his many claims to fame the penetration of the cities of Medina and Mecca, allowing him to secretly draw up plans of the latter’s Great Mosque.

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Hence the tent-like tomb, complete with its frieze of golden crescents and stars. But if that’s still not enough of a draw, step around the back for the big reveal. A metal ladder leads to a window in the mausoleum that allows visitors to see right into the ‘tent’ and take a look at the coffins of Burton and wife Isabelle Arundell in situ among some suitably Arabian artefacts. A mirror on the opposite wall reflects the Christian shrine along the wall directly below you.

St Mary Magdalen’s churchyard is open Monday-Friday 9-3.30, Saturday and Sunday 9-5, closing at dusk during winter. It is located just a few minutes walk from the Mortlake National Rail station.

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Within walking distance of Burton’s tomb is Old Barnes Cemetery, situated within Barnes Common – once a favourite haunt of infamous highwayman Dick Turpin. I can recommend a nice stroll between the two along the Thames Path. Not to be confused with the nearby Wandsworth Cemetery, Old Barnes Cemetery is located near the Rocks Lane Multi Sports Centre. Once described as more desecrated than the battlefield burial grounds at Flanders, it has certainly suffered from years of neglect and vandalism – surely a record number of beheaded angels linger here.

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The cemetery ceased to be used in 1966 when Richmond Borough Council purchased the site from the Church of England, demolished the chapel and lodge, removed the gates and railings, and left the place to fend for itself. I believe it has more recently had a bit of a clean up and is today a very atmospheric and eerie spot that is well worth a look; in some ways its overgrown state actually adds to its character. Due to the lack of fences around both the cemetery and the common, both are effectively open 24/7.

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I hope to bring you another unusual south west London mausoleum later in the year…

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Florin Court

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Forgive me if this post seems at all self-indulgent, but Florin Court is one of my favourite London buildings and I’m yet to write about it. Is it the luscious art deco curves, or the fact that it was home to Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot for much of the television series that draws me to these apartments? Probably a bit of both, to be honest…

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Built in 1936 by Guy Morgan and Partners, Florin Court (better known to Poirot fans as Whitehaven Mansions) is a delightfully modern(e) addition to the mish mash of architectural styles to be found in historic Charterhouse Square. With the Tudor buildings of old Charterhouse along the north of the square, and the Georgian beauties interspersed elsewhere, Florin Court more than holds its own on the eastern side.

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This ten-storey apartment block – composed of 120 flats – is also home to a roof garden, a basement swimming pool (pictured here), a gym and, intriguingly, a small library. Its original incarnation also included a diner and a cocktail bar. Florin Court’s interiors underwent a mostly sympathetic redesign in the 1980s by Hildebrand & Clicker architects. The foyer and staircases are more plain than I expected – though I’m a big fan of the cloud stair rail, a motif which is also seen on railings outside the building.

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The apartments themselves are said to be on the small side. Still, if it’s good enough for Poirot…And speaking of which, I was told while photographing Florin Court that Poirot (and a certain Ariadne Oliver) had recently returned to film some scenes in the entrance way and lobby – so Florin Court looks set for one final fling on the small screen.

Charterhouse Square, EC1M, straddles the divide between the City and Islington, and is located just north of Barbican tube station.

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The Shed

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“All theatres are, in a sense, temporary…The ones I particularly like are less impenetrable monuments, cathedrals of culture, than petri-dishes of ideas and emotions, swirling, expanding universes. They’re built to house performances that will, by their very nature, happen once and then change. No theatrical event is repeatable; that’s what makes live performance so exciting”
– Ben Power, Associate Director, National Theatre

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Anyone passing South Bank recently could hardly fail to notice its latest addition – a bright red, wooden fortress-like building. This is in fact the National Theatre’s latest innovation – a temporary theatre space known as The Shed. Designed by architecture firm Haworth Tompkins, this structure took just 18 weeks to erect and is built to last less than a year.

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Its vibrant red colour creates a strong contrast with the grey, brutalist concrete structure of the main National Theatre venue. With its four chimney stacks reaching into the skies along the river, The Shed immediately reminded me of Battersea Power Station, just up river from here. Its towers are actually an energy-saving mechanism, as the stacks avoid the need for mechanical ventilation by drawing air in naturally from under the seats.

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I’ve been waiting weeks for the unseasonal snow and rain to pass so that I could photograph The Shed in the bright sunlight and blue sky that would set it off to great effect. After keeping one eye on the forecast over the entire Easter weekend, I was finally rewarded with some decent weather around 3pm on the Monday. The clouds present enhanced the power station effect, appearing at times like plumes of smoke from the chimneys. When viewed from Waterloo Bridge, the structure’s almost cuboid shape really comes to the fore. Later, the fortress imagery reasserted itself when editing the photos, as they reminded me of ones of Stoke Newington Pumping Station, the design of which was based on a castle.

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The Shed will play host to a number of experimental theatre productions, priced at only £12 or £20 per ticket. Performances start on April 9th.

http://theshed.nationaltheatre.org.uk/

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Criminal London

Criminal LondonSurely a sign of a good guide book is that it helps you discover new places and inspires you to visit them. And this being the case, Kris and Nina Hollington’s new tome on Criminal London must be a good one indeed as it’s already spurred the Londonphile to set off to explore a new site. And so this is the book review that turned into a blog post…

Criminal London: A Sightseer’s Guide to the Capital of Crime – to be published on March 14th – is an extensive (336 pages!), well-researched guide to the darker side of London, which is well illustrated with strong photographs (and the odd drawing of sites no longer in existence). It includes a nice mix of the historical (Bedlam, King’s Bench Prison), the gruesome (good old Jack and numerous other spillers of blood), and the downright odd (The Murder Bag – actually both gruesome and odd) – with a touch of espionage thrown in for good measure (Litvinenko). Neatly divided into south, east, north and west London, all up 124 sites are covered, along with three extensive walks following in the footsteps of the Krays, Arthur Conan Doyle and Jack the Ripper.

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As soon as I saw number 11 (south) I knew I would be heading off to visit what remains of Southwark’s Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison. Marshalsea is most famously known as the place of incarceration for Charles Dickens’ family when father John could no longer pay the bills, an event which meant a twelve-year-old Charles had to take work in a blacking factory. Dickens’ time visiting his family (who were all staying at the prison, as was the practice) and the lengthy walk he took across London each day to do so, had a lasting impact on the author, to say the very least. These experiences inspired his social conscience and the prison itself features in Little Dorrit. Dickens later secured accommodation closer to his family, in nearby Lant Street, where a plaque commemorates his stay.

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While all that remains of the complex – which closed in 1842 – is the south wall, it is still an evocative place, with its old bricks and lamps (I doubt the authenticity of these as they now light the alleyway leading – rather appropriately – to Southwark Coroner’s Court, but they look good). Two memorials inscribed on the ground in the alley commemorate the site and John Dickens. The wall is today situated within St George’s Churchyard Gardens on Tabard Street – a former burial ground that is now decorated with some of the old gravestones.

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Kris Hollington has been writing on London crime for a number of years – and his expertise really comes through in this guide. It’s already had me out on the streets exploring London’s darker history and will hopefully leave you similarly inspired. Criminal London is published by Aurum Press and will retail at £10.99.

WIN A COPY: And thanks to Aurum I have a copy to give away! Just post a comment below or send a tweet to @londonphile to enter. Competition closes 1pm Saturday 30th March 2013. A winner will be selected randomly and contacted directly.

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Wrapper

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Stand on the platform at Edgware Road tube station (the Circle Line branch that is, not the Bakerloo line), face south, and you can hardly fail to notice WrapperJacqueline Poncelet’s latest work, which literally wraps the building above in 1,500 square metres of vitreous enamel. There’s much to like about this striking work – one aspect I find particularly fascinating is the way in which Poncelet uses patterns and colours to tell a story, a device often found in her work.

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As regular Tube travellers will soon guess, the colours employed in Wrapper reflect those used for various lines on the Tube map, in a nice hat tip to the building’s use. Poncelet’s research into the local area led to the inclusion of numerous references to local history, places, architecture, transport, waterways and people in the work’s patterns. Closer inspection reveals the leaves of Regents Park, water patterns that suggest the Tyburn stream flowing underground and Moorish tiles reflecting nearby Edgware Road.

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Some of the best views of Wrapper are gained from outside the station in Chapel Street. Both the variety of Wrapper’s patterns and the differing contours it follows around the building means that different stories and different views of the work are revealed depending on where the viewer stands. In this way, Poncelet’s design reflects the way in which the building is generally viewed in parts rather than in its entirety.

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Poncelet started her artistic career as a ceramicist but has since branched out. Wrapper’s abstract patterns were actually screenprinted onto the enamel surface. To give some idea of the massive scale of the work, over 700 enamel panels were used across approximately 1,500 square metres, making Wrapper not only Poncelet’s largest work but Europe’s biggest vitreous enamel artwork.

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Thanks to Joanna Moncrieff, City of Westminster Tour Guide and Westminster Walking blogger, who tipped me off about Wrapper after seeing it on one of her walks.

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Museum of the Order of St John

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Anyone who has walked through the Tudor gate on St John’s Lane in Clerkenwell must have wondered just what it is and what treasures it might house. The answer is that – following a number of different incarnations over the years – it is now home to the Museum of the Order of St John and is the property of that order, whose history on this site can be traced back to the eleventh century. And if you visit the museum on a Tuesday, Friday or Saturday at 11am or 2:30pm and take a guided tour, you can gain admittance to the upper chambers and see for yourself what lies above.

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The tours are a must as they also gain you entry into the Norman crypt and priory church across Clerkenwell Road – once part of the monastery that was locked away behind this entrance gate. Once upstairs in the gatehouse you get a good look around the Chapter Hall (pictured below), the Old Chancery and the Council Chamber (which sits in the middle of the gate), before descending a lovely Tudor spiral staircase to the Malta Room.

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Not to take anything away from the fascinating history of the Order of St John, but I was personally more interested in the gate’s (relatively) more recent history and its literary connections. Following the dissolution of the monasteries it served time as Henry VIII’s personal storage unit before becoming the office of the Master of the Revels in the sixteenth century. As no less than 30 of Shakespeare’s plays were licensed here it’s likely that the Great Bard himself was a frequent visitor.

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In the eighteenth century the gatehouse was transformed into a rather idiosyncratic coffee house run by one Richard Hogarth, father of William. His Latin-only rule probably accounts for its fairly swift demise. The gateway also played home to The Gentleman’s Magazine – which gave a young Dr Johnson his first taste of employment – and by the nineteenth century had become the somewhat disreputable Old Jerusalem Tavern, frequented by one Charles Dickens.

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The gateway was bought back by the Order of St John in the late nineteenth century and restored to its former glory. The museum benefitted from a major restoration on 2010. Its new galleries (which are on the ground floor and can be visited for free Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm) are well designed and blend in nicely with the old structure. I highly recommend timing your visit to coincide with one of the guided tours, which are also free though a donation of £5 is suggested.

Museum of the Order of St John

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Stoke Newington Pumping Station

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When I visited Clissold House last year I was surprised to see a medieval-style castle looming over one end of the park. This architectural oddity is in fact the Stoke Newington Pumping Station – a Victorian era water pumping station built in the Scottish Baronial manner. Although it ceased to operate by 1942 – and is now home to a climbing centre – its turrets and battlements remain thrusting into the sky, a testament to the Victorian zeal for industry and development and a love of all things flamboyant.

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The 1852 Metropolis Water Act requiring drinking water to be filtered and covered prompted its construction by the New River Company between 1852 and 1856, at a cost of £81,500. Although the area was composed mostly of fields at this stage, it’s thought that residents were not keen on the idea of an industrial building in the neighbourhood – hence the magnificent castle design by engineer William Chadwell Mylne and architect Robert William Billings. Possibly based on Stirling Castle (Mylne was Scottish and Billings an expert on historic Scottish buildings) – it’s also been suggested that the design might have been inspired by that of nearby Holloway Prison.

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Its superb position is partly due to the fact that it was built on an artificial mound, to give the sense of a castle within a moat. Although its striking towers and turrets appear quite random, they were each designed with a specific practical function – one housing a chimney shaft, another a water tank – while the turret with the conical roof contains a spiral staircase leading to the roof. The three front buttresses are home to a section of the tower’s flywheels. In a nice touch, Mylne’s name and the date 1855 are spelt out on iron plaques on the side of the buildings (see image below).

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The building was saved from demolition in 1971 following an outcry by local residents, and was Grade II listed in 1974. Despite this, it found itself facing an uncertain future yet again by 1988 with the imminent privatisation of the water industries. In 1994, planning permission was approved for redevelopment by its current tenants – the Castle Climbing Centre – under the proviso that the general appearance and character of the building would be retained and any items removed stored safely for future use. I would highly recommend a peak inside – the day I visited (on a weekend) it looked deserted from the outside, but once through the doors you find yourself in another world of brightly coloured walls covered with enthusiastic climbers. The centre’s plans for further redevelopment of the interior are posted on one of the walls along the main staircase.

If you’d like to visit what must surely be one of London’s more unusual buildings, you can find it at 218 Green Lanes, N4 2HA. Manor House is the closest tube station.

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St Paul’s Triforium Tour

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Did you know that you can take a special behind the scenes tour of St Paul’s Cathedral, in which you visit its triforium area? After being whisked like a VIP through a locked door in the staircase that ascends the main dome, you will enter the triforium – an arched gallery that stands above the nave. This area includes a number of interesting sights not normally accessible to the public, including St Paul’s Library, the Geometric Staircase and Wren’s Great Model.

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But first the triforium leads down past some fascinating stone remains of the old St Paul’s – destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. These were excavated in the nineteenth century; their shelves boast unique labels, declaring ‘Norman’, ‘Gothic’ and so on. Next stop is St Paul’s Library, a wonderfully evocative old room, with its wooden bookcases full of beautiful old books. The library dates from 1709, although it was largely empty in its earliest days as most of the collection was lost in the Great Fire. Its holdings focus on theology, church history, classics and medical books (used to help the priests treat illnesses). You can contact the librarian if you wish to arrange to conduct research in these topics in this wonderful environment.

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The tour then takes in the Geometric Staircase, which will be familiar to film fans having featured in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and the 2009 version of Sherlock Holmes. Next is the superb view down the nave from the west balcony – the very same as used by BBC camera operators on special occasions. The final stop is the Trophy Room, where you can see Wren’s Great Model of his favoured plan for the cathedral. This massive model was made in 1673-4 from oak and plaster at a cost of around £600 – which would have bought you a good house in London at the time. If you take the Friday tour you might also catch a glimpse of the cathedral’s seamstresses toiling away in their room next door.

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Tours also include entry to the rest of the cathedral, including the crypt and galleries. They are held on Mondays and Tuesdays at 11:30am and 2pm, and Fridays at 2pm, and cost £20. Given that full price tickets bought on-site cost £15, this seems a good deal. Tours must be booked in advanced and are for groups of five or more only, so round up a few friends. To book contact 020 7246 8357 or email admissions@stpaulscathedral.org.uk

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