I can hear you all choking on your cornflakes or spluttering on you morning cuppa, but bear with me on this one. I’m not talking about THAT bit of London Wall at the eastern end that goes from Wormwood Street to Moorgate and always seems to be busy. Certainly at the moment it is as there appears to have been roadworks on that stretch since God was a boy. But London Wall has always been, certainly since I worked around here nearly 15 years ago, a road of two halves, one with a split personality, a schizoid thoroughfare. Because once you get to the bit west of Moorgate, you suddenly appear to be on an inner-city super highway that whisks you to The Rotunda (junction of St Martin’s Le Grand, Montague St and Aldersgate St), where you can then choose whether to head for the traffic chaos of Aldersgate Street heading north, or Newgate Street heading west. But for that glorius half a mile, you can get out of 2nd gear and even, possibly, threaten to reach the speed limit. See the photos for proof of how quiet this stretch of road really can be.
Mayfair, as those of you that follow me on Twitter may already have deduced, is fast becoming my second home. Not because I’m so loaded that I have a little pied a terre there, or that I fill my days with long lunches at The Connaught Hotel or sleb hangout Cecconi’s. No such luck, it’s just that with work being thin on the ground and my general reluctance to joining the ever increasing queues of cabs at the major rail termini, my default setting is now to head for Mayfair. Too often I can end up traveling all the way back from a job in the city without even a sniff of a job on the journey back west. At least in Mayfair you can get in the queue for the possibility of an all too rare account job, or maybe rank up in Berkeley Square or outside one of the big Hotels. And occasionally, if the wind is blowing in the right direction, you can quite literally smell the money around Mayfair.
But enough of my mild whingeing. All this time spent in Mayfair has led to me to become very familiar with all it’s various charms. But there are always little bits that you haven’t seen before or just haven’t paid attention too properly. So there I was last week minding my own business, trying to be patient about the lack of a job. All of a sudden my Dial-A-Cab terminal springs into life and offers me a job – Bourdon St to Euston booked for about 15 minutes time. Excellent. Not a prime job, but a job is a job, n’est pas? For those of you a bit geographically challenged when it comes to Mayfair, Bourdon St is to the north of Berkeley Square, part of a little network of streets between Davies Street, Grosvenor Street and New Bond Street. Turn right by the Alfred Dunhill Home Store, which was formerly Bourdon House – home to the 2nd Duke of Westminster, and suddenly you are in a street that is not only very quiet but is home to 2 quite large blocks of flats tucked away from public view. It doesn’t go anywhere of any real use, unless you need the very eastern end of Grosvenor Street , and so retains an air of being forgotten about and rather neglected. Both of which are qualities which make it interesting and not a little splendid in my eyes.
Don’t say I don’t try to give you a bit of value for money. Not content with giving you 2 roads in my last “least used roads” edition, I’ve upped the anti and provided you with 5 roads this time. AND, look up there at the top of this post, an interactive Google Map of the area I’m talking about. How good is that? Only problem is the big “Whitehall Court” marker coming up in the middle of it which makes the map go slightly off centre. I’m sure you guys are more than capable of moving the map around yourselves, you could even say that this post is “user definable” if I knew what that meant. And, no, it isn’t really a triangle as such, more a slightly mis-shapen pentagon. Someone will tell me the correct term I’m sure.
Enough basking in the glow of my marvelous technological achievement and time to get to the nitty gritty. Here we are in the absolute heart of London, just yards from Charing Cross, the epicentre of the city. And yet these roads are almost completely forgotten about and ignored, not helped by some baffling traffic restrictions that make getting to Whitehall Court itself rather difficult. Great Scotland Yard, Scotland Place, Whitehall Place, Whitehall Court and Horseguards Avenue fill up the bit of land between Whitehall and the river where the once mighty Whitehall Palace stood. As an aside, Banqueting House on the corner of Whitehall & Horseguards Avenue, is the only surviving building of the palace. Built in 1622, it’s decoration was completed by Charles I, a little ironic as this is where he was beheaded.
But what do we find there now? Massive governement buidlings are most prominent, although many of the ones around Scotland Place appear to be empty. But there are things in these roads that people use, just seems that they don’t use them very often. In Great Scotland Yard you have the Civil Service Club which advertises itself as a private members club but looks from the outside like it’s open to all. Whitehall Place, on initial inspection seems to be a car park for buses and that’s it. But look a bit harder and there is The Savage Club at No. 1 and The National Liberal Club, both of which appear to be in the same building. After a bit more digging, I found out that the Royal Horseguards Hotel (formerly Thistle, now Guoman) has taken over a bit of No1 as part of a recent refrubishment. All very confusing. But the Hotel is there in Whitehall Court with it’s confusingly named new restaurant One Twenty One Two, named after the old Scotland Yard phone number; Whitehall 1212. Why it’s not called One Two One Two then I don’t know. Last place of note in Whitehall Court is The Farmers Club, at No. 3, catering for the city needs of Farmers since 1842. I’m sure all these places have regular visitors and are very busy, I just haven’t seen many people go there and taken fewer there in my cab. The fact that you can only enter Whitehall Court from Whitehall Place and that Whitehall Place itself is only accessible from Great Scotland Yard or (heading south) from Whitehall can’t help things. And then you’re at Horseguards Avenue, the 2 lane road that looks a lot more important than it really is. Only useful if you are heading west or if Whitehall traffic going north is so bad you want to bail out and get to Victoria Embankment.
Amazing really, that so close to the heart of such a major city there are roads that are so deserted. But they are, and here is my collection of photos to prove it.
In these troubled times even bloggers are forced into desperate attempts to get people in the door to buy read their shite. Therefore in the spirit of the January sales that started, it seems, back in August, I give you two “least used” roads for the price of one. And they really do come as a complimentary pair, running parallel to each other and one way in opposite directions. With the recession biting ever deeper, there must be a real possibility that these roads could be merged to form the mightiest least used road in the whole of London. The Lloyds TSB and HBOS of the forgotten roads of London sector. I’m not sure which road would be considered senior partner in the merger, although my money would be on Royal College Street, but perhaps it could end up being called RCSSPW or Royal Pancras SW. Camden could then run a Norwich Union/Aviva style campaign to make sure all those people that don’t use the roads at the moment, carry on not using them. The possibilities seem endless.
But let me at least talk to you for a bit about the roads themselves. Just to the north of Kings Cross & St Pancras Stations (and those nasty queues of cabs) the roads start life together. Only split by Goldington Buildings, they spring from the junction of Pancras Road & Crowndale Road in the south, then merge together again at the junction of Kentish Town Road in the north. In fact,when you look at an A-Z, you wonder why the two roads were ever built so close together. I assume it was something to do with the canal or railways, or both. In fact, I haven’t got a clue so please someone, enlighten me. Royal College St will take you north, St Pancras Way back to the safety of the south. The photos I took have had no cars cut out of them (I wouldn’t know how to) and were taken at lunchtime on a Friday, so I think they give a good idea of how few cars are using these roads. But, unlike least used London road #1, these 2 roads do get used a lot by us cabbies, just not by many other people it seems. So when you see Bruce Willis and Ringo Starr telling you how roads need to adapt with the times and get hip new names, you’ll know that one or the other of these great roads might be for the chop.
And you can see more of the photos I took here; Flickr.
I learnt a lot of stuff doing the knowledge. 10,000+ “points of interest“, 700+ separate routes crossing the Capital, then thousands of “point to point“ questions until you finally get that map of London lodged in your head and a nice shiny green badge from the PCO. Much of that vital information (Burton Tailor Mosaic, E14?) has sadly been lost from my brain, “if you don’t use it you lose it”, pretty much sums up what happens once you get out there and do the job. But what I do remember from all those miles on a moped, are the areas of London I’d never visited before, and certain roads that just seemed to be forgotten about and nearly empty. I ended up in places called De Beavoir Town, Hornsey Vale and Brownswood Park, none of which had registered during my previous 34 years of living in London.
So today, I am taking you to Queensbridge Road, E8. It’s a great road, and will take you from Hackney Road to Dalston Lane in about 30 seconds flat. Running parralel, and to the east of, Kingsland Road (in itself a mighty thorourfare that is underused) it even forms part of a knowledge Blue Book run, Church Road, E10 to Dunloe St, E2. But every time I’ve been back that way since it’s always empty. Admittedly cab journeys to the Hackney and/or Dalston direction are rarer than a Flaurent Malouda tackle, so I can’t admit to seeing the road at all times of the day and night. But the photos I took yesterday morning should give you some idea of how quiet Queensbridge Road normally is. But this is not meant as a slight on Queensbridge Roads pedigree, far from it. To my eyes it is a gem of a road that not only does it’s job very well, but has a little bit of something about it too. You can access the eastern stretch of the Regent’s Canal from here and follow it all the way down to Limehouse, where you see stuff like this;
Follow the road north and you get to Dalston where, tucked away in Ashwin St, E8 is one of my favourite buidlings. The link will take you to my Flickr page with more photos, but below is one of the Reeves & Sons building. At the risk of increasing Queensbridge Roads popularity to the point where cars might actually drive down it, I heartily recommend a visit, if only for the joy of getting out of second gear on a London road.