building of my life…..

I’ve mentioned Peter Ackroyd before haven’t I?  Well I remember him talking once about growing up in Acton and how he thinks that being slightly removed from the centre of London helped make him the London obsessive that he is.  As if being on the edge of the city made it seem that little bit more alluring and exciting.  Well having spent the majority of my childhood in Morden, a place that couldn’t be more boring & nondescript, I understand exactly what he means.  Not that Morden was completely bereft of interest, oh no.  Morden was the location of the first fixed fare bus route in London (the M1), a route that took you on a strange loop from Morden town centre to Raynes Park for 5p single & 10p return.  But going to Morden held no real interest for me as there is, after all, only so many circular sausages you can eat in Wimpy’s.  As soon as I could I would try & venture further afield, and if you lived in that part of SW London, then your arrival point in the city would invariably be Waterloo and the Southbank.

And this is where we come to the building I want to talk about.  Not that there’s much to say about the Shell Centre.  For an impressionable young boy from suburbia, the Shell Centre WAS London.  It was big, seemed to almost be the middle of the city and , excuse the slightly crass description, was absolutely cool as fuck.  Well it was to me, as a 12 year average boy from Morden.  It just seems to sit there, knowing that it’s pretty cool as well.  Perfectly at ease with itself and it’s place in the city, unlike the 12 year old boy that admired it so much back then, the 12 year old who didn’t know his place in the city.  And 30 years later I don’t think my opinion of the Shell Centre as a building has really changed much.  If you look hard enough, it’s slightly tatty around the edges, but who isn’t after 30 years of aging?  And perhaps I take it a bit more for granted than I used to, I see it so often it’d be hard not to get complacent, and I’ve even seen a bit more of the inner workings of the complex by picking up account jobs from the underground car park.  But when I do stop to look at it, as I did the other weekend to take some photos, it still has a very special place in my heart.  And when Robert Elms has me on his show as a Listed Londoner (I’m expecting the call any week now), it’ll definitely be my favourite building, even beating St Paul’s Cathedral.  High praise indeed, I think you’ll agree.


building of the week #10, Blewcoat School, SW1

blewcoat schoolJust off Victoria Street, tucked away behind Transport for London HQ and just minding it’s own business amongst the modern office blocks, is Blewcoat School.  Well, what was Blewcoat School anyway – established in 1709 but now, and I don’t know why I find this so disappointing but I do, the National Trust’s main London shop.  It says a lot about the Heritage Industry, as surely that is what The National Trust & English Heritage have become, that they have a building that you don’t actually visit to look around, you visit it to do some shopping.  I’m not knocking The National Trust, heaven forbid I am close to ‘that’ age when membership becomes compulsory, and I like a good Castle/Tea Room/Stately Home along with most people.  But having a historic building as a dedicated shop just feels slightly wrong to me, it’s not something I’ll lose a lot of sleep over or will move me to picket National Trust HQ, but it just irritates me.

But it is a lovely little building, all the more so because of it’s position in what is not one of London’s prettiest corners.  Hemmed in by a fair few shit modern office blocks, including one that houses the Korean Embassy in Buckingham Gate, Blewcoat School offers a bit of light relief as you recover from the horrendousness that is the modern extension of Wellington Barracks.

It’s only a wee building, so there isn’t much left to say, read more about the history of the school by clicking the highlighted link above, or just have a wander by if you are in the area.  Or, of course, if you have a desperate need for a National Trust Green Welly Pencil Pot you now know where to go.

blewcoat school IIblewcoat school III

building(s) of the week #8, Trinity Church Square, SE1

Next time you visit Borough Market, take the time to walk further south towards Elephant & Castle (don’t panic, you don’t have to actually go to E&C) and take in the delights of Trinity Church Square. Improbably built by Trinity House, the body responsible for inshore navigation & safety in the 1820’s, it has to be the most complete and impressive square in South London, if not the whole of London. Most of the properties in the square, are still owned by Trinity House and it’s fairly difficult to find a complete house for sale on freehold. I guess this explains the price of the odd one that does come up for sale. But without question, if I had a spare £1.9m knocking around, I would buy a house here. Imposing town houses in a relatively untouched early 19th century square are pretty rare, and being so close to Borough & London Bridge would be more then handy for a cabbie – don’t you think? So below are some of the photos I took on our visit, as with most of my posts there are more photos on my Flickr photostream.

For some more info on the square;

Trinity Newington Residents Assoc.

Suburbia In Focus

building of the week, year, century, millennium

18-folgate-street3You have to go with the flow sometimes, make plans (for Nigel) by all means but also be prepared to think on your feet.  So after perusing the queue for the New Globe, and bizarrely missing Mr Onionbagblogger by just a few minutes, the Cabbie Family decided to head further east for lunch.  Over beigel’s from the legendary Beigel Bake in Brick Lane, it was decided that we would try “that house in Spitalfields” that I’d been mentioning on or off to the family for months.  Not sure if it would be open, or even exactly where it was, a quick Google search for “historic spitalfields house” came to the rescue.  Beigel’s consumed and a couple of photo’s of Arnold Circus taken we walked the short distance to 18 Folgate Street.  Being the London bore obsessive that I am, I’d heard a lot about this place, about how an American artist had found this Huguenot Weavers’ house and recreated the interior to match how he thought it’s previous occupiers would have lived.  But nothing can quite prepare you for what lies behind this grand looking front door. The only images you’ll see here show the exterior of the house, they don’t allow photography inside anyway, as there is little point just seeing what lies inside this amazing house out of context.

18-folgate-street-exterior2My daughter had been asking my wife & I earlier in the day what one wish we’d like to have come true.  After she disallowed anything altruistic and insisted that the wish be self indulgent in some way, wifey & I had opted for either teleportation (wifey) or time travel (me).  Little did we realise, that in a rather magnificent way, we would be able to do our own bit of time travel just a short while later.  From the outside anyway, 18 Folgate Street is not that unusual in and around the streets of Spitalfields, but this is only because of people like Dennis Severs.  Late 1970’s London was in danger of letting places like this be either knocked down or just fall into disrepair.  Luckily for those of us who care about these things now, London ran out of money to redevelop everything it wanted to (Tredegar Square still stands because they couldn’t afford the planned development), then the right sort of people bought and protected some of what was left.  Dennis Severs was certainly one of these people and after living in London since the mid to late 1960’s he found and bought 18 Folgate Street in the late 1970’s.  After spending many years living in and absorbing the atmosphere of the house, he then set about transforming it into it’s current state.  And what a state it’s in.
18-folgate-street-lamp2It’s tricky to really tell you what 18 Folgate Street is.  I can certainly tell you what it isn’t – it isn’t a museum, that’s absolutely clear from the talk (lecture?) you get from the man who takes your money.  But I am now, finally, going to try and explain what entering this house was like for me.  They ask you to be silent, partly because there is a soundtrack played throughout the house, partly to force you to contemplate what you are seeing. And this does help add to the atmosphere as you find your way around.  Walking into the  hallway, there is a immediate sense of stepping into another world.  This is taken to the extreme as you enter the first room on the ground floor which is full of the sounds, smells and sights of an 18th century family home. I was absolutely blown away to be standing their amongst what appeared to be a fully intact Huguenot family home, with birds singing, the families meal half eaten on the table and the sounds of the family moving about surrounding you.  This may sound stupid to many of you but it was such an intense feeling that I almost found myself welling up.  As you move around the rest of the house, the intensity doesn’t really let up. You see the house as it would have been at various stages from the early 18th Century to the mid Victorian era, all staged as though you have stumbled into each room just as the original occupants have got up and moved to another part of the house.  There are small personal items of Dennis Severs himself in the house, a baseball hat, the ashes to his beloved cat Madge (Madge III now lives in the house and was a particular star) but they are as much an integral part of the house’s history as anything else.  The overriding sense you get here is that Dennis Severs lived & breathed this house, absorbed it’s history and from that produced this magnificent monument to London history.  It has immediately gone to the top of my favourite London places (sorry @savewiltons) and I will now do my best to make sure that as many people as possible visit this amazing place.

If you do want a sneak preview to what the house has in store, click on the link below, but nothing will prepare you for the experience of visiting the house itself.  So, no excuses on this one; get your lazy ‘arris down there pronto.

Dennis Severs House, 18 Folgate Street, London, E1 6BX – go there soon.

building of the week #7, Wembley Stadium, HA9 (aka The Foul Throw Stadium)


the shopping basket handle, er, arch

I’m cheating I know, mixing up posts and all sorts.  I’m also leading this building of the week thread down a distinctly footballing alley.  I make no apologies for this though.  Wembley Stadium is a building isn’t it?  A blinking expensive one, and one that is still finding it’s feet as the new “home of football” most certainly.  But you cannot deny that it is a building and a mightily impressive one at that.  And so I turn this building of the week piece into a multiple threaded post covering Selfridges, foul throws, Gordon Ramsay ploughman’s lunches and England’s slightly painful victory over Ukraine.

My day actually started at the Star Cafe in Mitcham, venue for my now bi-weekly breakfasts with my ex knowledge buddie and occasional cab driver, Gary.  Suitably loaded up with carbs, I picked up BEM (Best England Mate) in South Wimbledon, and so started our quest for the new England shirt.  Having made the decision a few days earlier that despite, or is that because of, Alan Green’s bluster about how ridiculous the new shirt was we wanted it.  It’s becoming part of the ritual isn’t it, isn’t it?  First stop was no good as BEM only deals with long sleeves, so the decision was made to head for Oxford Circus to get the shirts.  There’s loads of sports shops around there aren’t there?  Not if you head west from Oxford Circus there aren’t.  Nearly at Marble Arch, our need for refreshment was beginning to overtake our need for the new shirt.  A quick google on the phone didn’t help much, but then there stood Selfridges in front of us and in we went.  Surely they don’t sell footy shirts?  Well, for future reference everyone, they do.  And long sleeved ones at that.  So a quick rush into the changing rooms to compare bellies & breasts (copyright BEM for that line), quick chat with very friendly assistants (why do I always have to deal with Spurs fans in these circumstances?) and we were sorted.


ooh, lovely tiling

So now, those bellies required filling and The Warrington Hotel beckoned.  Arriving at about 3pm after a slight detour, those roads never look the same from a bus or on foot – don’t assume a cab driver can get lost, that would never happen, we entered the Warrington to the sight of a completely empty bar.  The sun was shining outside, we had 3 hours minimum before we needed to leave for the football, can life get any better?  Drinks were drunk, food was eaten and nonsense was, almost certainly, talked.  Keeping me amused through all of this was BEM’s ongoing crisis over being booked to go and visit the Taj Mahal on the only day that it’s shut.  What

one lion on the wall

one lion on the wall

about the food at this Gordon Ramsay outpost then?  Well the ‘proper’ food didn’t start until 6pm so we went with a bit of this & that from the bar snacks menu.  Pork & Veal pie, ploughman’s and some pickled cockles kept the wolf from the door.  Not too pricey (£6.50 each for the pie & ploughman’s) and all very tastey, all with very nice pickles – you can’t beat a good pickle.


trying using the whole pitch lads

After missing the first 10 minutes of the last England game we went to, we weren’t going to make the same mistake again, oh no – no way.  Leaving in plenty of time, we were only 7 stops from Wembley Central for god’s sake, we hopped on a tube that almost seemed to be waiting for us.  Perfect, we’ll have time to spare at this rate.  But no, tube only went to Queen’s Park as did the next 2 tubes to arrive.  Rumours circulated than an overground train would soon take us up to Wembley Central but the station staff seemed more concerned about getting some posters up to Wembley, than telling us what was going on.  I mean, there’s only 90,000 people trying to get to Wembley, stopping tube after tube really helps doesn’t it?  Don’t panic though, a tube did appear and off we finally went.  After a slightly panicked walk and an assumption that we had actually missed the start of the game, we were delighted to find that we actually saw the KO and had excellent seats only 10 rows from the front.  Within seconds of the game starting it became apprarant that I was sitting next to yet another numpty.  “Foul frooooww ref” was his only comment on the game the whole way through.  When a foul throw was given in the 2nd half he couldn’t have been more pleased if he’d just won the lottery.  But overall,the atmosphere seemed quite lively and England played pretty well in the first half,

beckham free-kick goes,er, wide

beckham free-kick goes,er, wide

without really taking the game by the throat.  I won’t bore you anymore with game, but England made hard work of winning and even fucking Shevchenko managed to score against us – jesus.  A win is a win though and a great day was rounded off by a couple more pints, a massively long journey home on the tube, being told by a chinese man that my flies were undone, a KFC and 2 cans of Kronenberg just to finish things, and me, off.  Bed at 2am and most of Thursday written off, marvellous.

building of the week #6, Mary Ward House, 5-7 Tavistock Place, WC1


Built in the late 19th century, there are clues to the exact date in the pictures below, this marvellous building was financed by John Passmore Edwards but the inspiration behind the building and it’s use came from novelist & social reformer, Mary Ward.  Only named Mary Ward House after her death in 1921 this building was a pioneering education centre and included the first classrooms equipped for children with disabilities.

I don’t really think there’s much point me trying to tell you too much about the building as there are much better efforts out there on t’interweb. (see links below)  All I will say is that it is currently a conference centre and, according to their website, a regular bit part player in films & TV shows.  As with all my buildings, I thoroughly recommend a visit.


The Mary Ward House Trust

English Buildings Blog

building of the week #5, Champion Hill Stadium, SE22

champion-hillWhen I lived in Camberwell from 1993-1996 (I think those dates are right, my memory of that period is somewhat hazy) I spent a lot of time at Dulwich Hamlet FC.  It was a 10 minute walk from my flat and they had a decent team back then, even threatening to make it into the Conference one season.  So it was a real pleasure to return to Champion Hill, thanks to the suggestion and in the company of, Mr Onionbagblogger, Season Ticket holder at DHFC and all round Sarf London good egg.

Champion Hill is a decent little ground thanks to Sainsbury’s building it for them as part of the deal that allowed them to plonk themselves next door.  The fact that it’s called Champion Hill is a bit confusing though, as the address is Edgar Kail Way, Dog Kennel Hill, SE22.  I assume it’s because the original ground was a little bit further north where Champion Hill the road actually is.  It’s a typical London thing that the same hill has more than one name.  On the east side it’s called Dog Kennel Hill and on the north side, Champion Hill and then to the west it turns into Denmark Hill.  Unless I really am going mad there aren’t 3 different hills in that bit of London.  As the ground sits in the middle of this hill triumvirate, you can’t blame them for choosing Champion Hill over the alternatives can you?  I think we’d all do the same.

I will briefly mention the football but will give it the same attention that Mr Onionbagblogger and I gave it at the time; about 5 seconds worth.  You shouldn’t expect much at this level and it didn’t disappoint, but there where a couple of good goals (one a dazzling volley from the edge of the box from the Hamlet) in a 2-2 draw and I came away thinking that it had been £8 well spent.  If my threat to ditch the Chelsea Season Ticket is followed through, I may even find myself back at Champion Hill a few more times.  Watching football at this level really does have it’s charms.  Any ground where you have to walk through a car wash to get to the turnstile can’t be all bad.  And when one supporter (out of the 288 total) can chase the ref all the way from the corner flag to the half way line to make his very well argued point, you know that you are in for some fun.

For a full tour of the ground, if you can’t resist, then go to the excellent Grounds for Concern.  For more information on the club itself, which by the way, has a fantastic history, or if you want to know why Edgar Kail was so important that they named a road after him, then go to the Dulwich Hamlet FC official site.

My thanks to Dulwich Hamlet, Mr Onionbagblogger and the weather, for an excellent afternoon out.