A disappointing breakfast and a fine museum

We started the day by taking the bus to Camden Town for breakfast. The plan was to go to Bar Solo in Inverness Street, as we have often enjoyed their excellent breakfasts and hadn’t been there for a while. Naturally, we dawdled along the way…

Gray's Auction Rooms, Camden Town
Gray’s Auction Rooms, Camden Town

Camden Town is an amazing place and now known worldwide for its markets. Specializing in modern and alternative, it is flexible enough to deal in antiques too.

Camden Market
Camden Market

While Camden Market is an obvious target for the market lover, there are others.

Inverness Street
Inverness Street

There is Inverness Street, smaller, but with an interesting range of clothes and other goods, as well as a string of cafes with distinct personalities – which is where we find Bar Solo.

Camden Lock
Camden Lock

Then there is Camden Lock, beside the Regent’s Canal, as big as some town centres, selling everything from second-hand books through jewellery and clothes to all sorts of exotic items, and with cafes, bars and restaurants and open-air food stalls if you need rest and refreshment.

Camden Town High Street
Camden High Street

Apart from these markets, the whole of the upper end of Camden High Street is one big market, with open-fronted shops rather than stalls. The crowds testify to its popularity. Just take care crossing the road…

Alternative fashions in Camden Town
Alternative fashions in Camden Town

There are more fads and fashions on display in Camden Town than you could shake a copy of Vogue at. The emphasis is on youth and alternative.

Town Crier
Town Crier

On the bridge over the canal, there was even a town crier today, who with the aid of bell and bugle, cried out his announcements and posed for photographs.

Bar Solo
Bar Solo

When we reached Bar Solo, we found it altered. The decor was different and the atmosphere had changed. The breakfast was similar to what it used to be, but seemed like an imitation rather than the genuine article. Sadly, I don’t think we shall return.

Arlington House Beautiful doorway
Arlington House, one of the Rowton Houses

After breakfast, we passed Arlington House, a huge building with a beautiful doorway. Built in 1905, this was one of the Rowton Houses, a set of hostels for homeless men, created by the philanthropist, Montagu William Lowry, Lord Rowton. This is the last Rowton House still operating as a hostel and it has a remarkable history behind it.

Hanged bear

Along the way, we suddenly came upon a gruesome sight: an execution by hanging!

Further inspection revealed that the victim was a large teddy bear. Even so, I imagine that could be quite an upsetting sight to a child.

Once the Devonshire Arms
Once the Devonshire Arms

The site of the “execution” is a pub once called the Devonshire Arms (the original sign is still in place), which became a famous Goth pub for a number of years. I am told it has moved on since then and become more “alternative”, whatever that means exactly. Probably not a place to go if you happen to be a teddy bear.

The Barbican Estate
The Barbican Estate

Next, we went to the Barbican to visit the Museum of London, which is always an entertaining place to go. The site includes the residential Barbican Estate, the Barbican Arts Centre and the Museum. You access the Museum along a first-floor walkway which offers views of the inner courtyard of the estate and of the 1920s Ironmongers’ Hall, sadly squeezed by the proximity of new building.

Ironmongers' Hall
Ironmongers’ Hall seen from the Barbican walkway

The Worshipful Company of Ironmongers is one of the Livery Companies of the City of London. Known originally as the Ferroners, the Ironmongers received their Royal Charter in 1463.

Look - no glass case!
Look – no glass case!

The Museum of London, in which photography (without flash) is allowed, is a wonderful place to visit. It has all sorts of exhibits from the glass-case kind through models and mock-ups to free standing objects like the above clock.

Handsomely decorated musical clock, London  c1760
Handsomely decorated musical clock, London c1760

In the museum, you can follow a theme – such as Roman Britain or Social and Working History – or you can browse and look at whatever catches your eye. The following photos show a few of those that caught mine.

Gerard the Giant
Gerard the Giant c1670

This figure, from a niche on the front of Basing Hall, represents Gerard the Giant, said to have dwelt therein. John Strype, the 18th century historian, reports being shown a pole 40 feet long and 15 inches in girth as the Giant’s jousting staff. He not unnaturally regarded this assertion with some scepticism.

Using the interactive displays
Using the interactive displays

Interactive displays, which are touch sensitive, prove an excellent way of communicating information with text and pictures. Users can choose their own path through the data and study the topic deeply or briefly.

Model of a street of houses
Model of a street of houses

This model provides a scale reproduction of a street of houses in exquisite detail. (There is inevitably some reflection off the protective Perspex screen.

A translucent model showing St Paul's Cathedral as of 1710
A translucent model showing St Paul’s Cathedral as of 1710

Wren’s St Paul’s was completed in 1710, after considerable discussion, not to say argument, over possible designs. In semi-darkness, this model floated into view like a ghost.

Lord Mayor's ceremonial coach
Coach - rear view Coach - right side

On show too, is this luxurious and magnificent coach, dating from 1765, that is still used by the Lord Mayor of the City of London for ceremonial occasions, notably during the procession associated with the annual Lord Mayor’s Show. The coach was paid for by the aldermen of the City and cost £1,065, about £120,000 in today’s value.

In November (see A Saturday Walk), I reported seeing and photographing the coach in action.

Before returning home, we took tea in the museum cafe and had a good rummage in the museum shop which, among other things, sells a very good range of books on the history of London.

Paint your wagon - a decorated van, Camden Town
Paint your wagon – a decorated van, Camden Town

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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A look at Wilmington Square

This morning I had to go to the surgery to have my blocked ear syringed, a frequent problem of mine. You probably didn’t want to know that but I add it as a personal touch. Afterwards, even though it was bitterly cold out and I didn’t feel like dawdling, I took my camera for a little walk down to Wilmington Square, which has in the centre a public garden or park.

Wilmington Square Gardens
Wilmington Square Gardens

I have been there before in my rambles but there was a stronger motive for my visit this time. You may recall that in a recent article (Around Clerkenwell) I wrote about Northampton Square and said that the philanthropist, Charles Clement Walker, who paid for the central garden to be laid out for public use was similarly responsible for the public garden in Wilmington Square. I decided to follow that up with a visit.

Commemorative drinking fountain
Commemorative drinking fountain

Wilmington Square, then, is Walker’s “other garden”, though today it is owned and maintained by Islington Council. Like the garden in Northampton Square, this one has a commemorative drinking fountain of much the same design. Unfortunately, it is in a worse condition than its opposite number. There is no tap and no water and almost all the lettering has fallen off.

The inscription is now illegible
The inscription is now illegible

Sadly, the inscription is now illegible, though I can just about make out the name “Charles Clement Walker” – because I know that it’s there – the rest is indecipherable.

Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association's gift to the garden
Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association’s
gift to the garden

There is also a later drinking fountain (non-functioning, alas) installed by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association, the charitable organization founded in 1859 that was responsible for bringing clean drinking water to the public and for placing drinking troughs at strategic places in town for thirsty cattle being driven into London and for the horses which then powered all vehicular road traffic. This historic and noble society still exists today under the slightly different name of The Drinking Fountain Association.

Shelter with seating
Shelter with seating

The garden is smaller than that in Northampton Square but nonetheless offers the pleasures of strolling or sitting in a green setting with flowers and ancient trees. Instead of a bandstand, Wilmington Square boasts a shelter with a long bench running along either wall inside. This structure dates from the 19th century but I am not sure whether it was present when the gardens opened or is a later addition.

Got anything for me?
Got anything for me?

The garden provides a home to a flock of pigeons and some squirrels. As I arrived, an elderly gent who had obviously been feeding the animals, as witness a flock of busy pigeons around a bench, quickly left the park without making eye-contact. He was not to know that I would not have have complained or blamed him. While I was taking photos, this squirrel came up close to see what I had to offer. Unfortunately, I had nothing with me.

Houses are separated from the garden by a road
Houses are separated from the garden by a road

The square itself was built in the 1820s by a builder called John Wilson, on land originally owned by the Marquess of Northampton (spot the connection). It has houses on all four sides and on three sides, a road separates the houses from the garden.

Houses with pedestrian walkway
Houses with pedestrian walkway

Not so on the north-west side, however. Wilson ran out of money and needed to complete the project quickly and cheaply, so on this side there is only an elevated walkway between the front doors and the iron railings of the garden. Though this may be a disadvantage if you own a car, if you do not then the proximity of the park is an agreeable feature.

View from the front door
View from the front door

When first built, these houses would each have been occupied by a single family with servants. Today most have been divided into flats, the greater number owned and rented out by Islington Council. As I walked along here, I spotted another kind of multi-occupancy home: a “bug hotel”, no doubt built by the gardeners to encourage the smaller members of the environment.

A "bug hotel"
A “bug hotel”

plaque

In kinder weather I might have wandered further afield but it was so cold that I preferred now to go home.

I passed along Amwell Street where I spotted a plaque on a house. This one tells us that George Cruikshank lived here during the years 1824 to 1829. The house has an intricately worked balcony railway of wrought iron (see below) while a nearby road has been named after the illustrious artist.

Cruikshank was an early illustrator of Charles Dickens’s work, notably Oliver Twist in 1838. It is interesting to think of him living in this very house while carrying out that work.

George Cruikshank lived here
George Cruikshank lived here

Like most houses in this area, what was once George Cruikshanks’s residence is today divided into flats. I wonder whether any traces of the great illustrator remain hidden and as yet to be discovered.

Cruikshank Street, top end
Cruikshank Street, top end

Cruikshank Street looks somewhat unprepossessing seen from here and I ought perhaps to have photographed it from farther down where the terrace houses give it a pleasanter look but I was cold and in a hurry to get home!

Wrought iron balcony railings
Wrought iron balcony railings

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Out and About | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Conway or Conwey?

You may recall that on Tuesday, Jan 18th, Tigger and I went for a little walk around Fitzrovia – see Fitzrovia. That walk produced a little mystery that I proposed to clear up if I could.

Fitzroy Square and Conway Street

Conway Street runs from the Euston Road down to Maple Street but is in two parts, roughly north and south of Fitzroy Square, respectively. There is nothing unusual about that and I would probably have taken no further notice, given that “two-part streets” are not all that uncommon in London.

However, my attention was drawn to a sign on the side of a house which indicated access to its basement.

Conwey Street

This sign spelt the name of the street with an ‘e’ instead of an ‘a’. That is not a very significant matter, you might think, and I would incline to agree with you. Nonetheless, it set me thinking: was this a mistake or was the name of the street previously spelt with an ‘e’? As one commentator pointed out, the name comes from the Welsh Conwy for which there might be more than one transliteration into English. Just for fun, I thought I would look into it.

If I thought I would resolve the matter in a few minutes by searching online, I was soon proved wrong. Or rather, what happened was what often happens with historical research: it’s like a pool that the further you go in, the deeper it becomes. I soon found out that Conway Street had previously been called something else. That was easy. Less easy was the what, when and why. I still have not resolved all the questions to my satisfaction.

I limited my search to online sources and any books or maps that I had to hand. It is clear that in order to resolve the matter completely (assuming that this is even possible), I need access to more detailed sources, whether scholarly books or council records remains to be seen.

I have, with a valuable suggestion from Tigger, formed a tentative conclusion to “The Conwey Mystery”. That is trivial; what is interesting is the by-ways that my search led me into.

Following Tigger’s suggestion, I now think the sign with the spelling “Conwey” is in error. I guess that either the householder who commissioned the sign or the sign maker got the spelling wrong. Most likely it was the former as otherwise, the sign maker would surely have had to correct the error at no cost to the customer. Perhaps the customer’s handwriting was unclear and the sign maker refused to correct the error. Either way, we deduce that  the sign reading “CONWEY ST.” is nothing more than a red herring!

If you are happy with that, then read no further, for what follows is irrelevant except perhaps for the enquiring mind with a passion for historical investigation.

I am not giving references, as a good historian should, because most of those I have used are secondary sources which often do not say where they obtained their information. Everything is therefore subject to verification, though I am persuaded of the general correctness of the story I am outlining.

For ease of reference, I will refer to the two parts of what is today Conway Street as CS(north) and CS(south).

I soon discovered that by the 1850s at the latest, and probably a lot earlier, CS(north) was called Southampton Street and that CS(south) was called Hampstead Street. Were they always called that? I am tempted to think so except for a passing remark in an academic online site which I think is trustworthy. It said that CS(north) was called Southampton Street “in the interim”. Surely that implies that it was called something else before and something else afterwards. Unfortunately, there is no further information about that on the site as far as I can ascertain. I also came across another tantalising but indirect remark that suggested that CS(north) was previously called Hampstead Street. If so, then the whole of modern Conway Street would originally have been called been Hampstead Street, not just the southern part.

The change seems to have come about in 1912 (subject to verification), when CS(north) and CS(south) were jointly renamed Conway Street, a name that has remained until now.

Why the change? Unfortunately, I cannot say for certain, though one possibility occurs to me. The name might have been in commemoration of the American abolitionist and supporter of women’s suffrage, Moncure Daniel Conway, who came to live in London and who, among other things, help to found the nearby South Place Ethical Society, also known as Conway Hall in his honour.

Any journey to a destination can lead to interesting discoveries along the way. That has been the case here for me. Digging into the past has thrown up all kinds of details about our ever-changing city. For example, in Wyclif Street, we discovered a house that declared itself to be the vicarage of St Peter’s. St Peter’s? There is no St Peter’s Church in the area. However, Tigger has now found an old map showing the location of St Peter’s Church, right beside the vicarage! I believe it was demolished sometime around WWII.

A more general discovery concerns street names. We are apt to take these for granted and to think them an unchanging feature of the landscape. After all, haven’t names like Baker Street, Tottenham Court Road and City Road always been there?

The short answer is no. Viewing from a historical perspective – that is, a time span somewhat longer than the average human lifetime – we see that streets change their names with bewildering frequency. Sometimes this is because new streets replace old or because old streets disappear, are lengthened or shortened or otherwise remodelled. Equally often, changes arise on the whims of local authorities, perhaps wishing to commemorate events (Coronation Road NW10, Jubilee Street E1), famous people (Mandela Street NW1, Nelson Square SE1), or benefactors (Northampton Square SE1, Harvard Road SE13). Sometimes, reasons for changes, especially long after the event, are obscure to us and we can only guess at the inspiration for them.

If like me you found history a boring subject at school and gave it up as soon as possible, it may come as a surprise to you, as it did to me, to discover that “history on the ground”, where you walk among the very buildings and objects about which history weaves its fascinating tales, is an altogether more addictive and enjoyable sport!

Update Feb 2nd 2011

I have investigated further the name changes of what is today Conway Street in Fitzrovia. See It’s Conway Street – Oh no, it isn’t – Oh yes, it is!

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Investigations | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Brewers and beer engines

My walk today started where two roads meet. On the left in the photo is the famous City Road, immortalized in the rhyme1, and on the right, the less famous but equally important Goswell Road.

The latter road takes its name from a garden once owned hereabouts by Robert de Ufford, Earl of Suffolk, which was called Goswelle or Goderell. That name itself is said to be derived from “God’s Well”, which referred to one of the many wells in this area known for its spa waters. (Nearby Spa Fields and Sadler’s Wells are further reminders of this property of the locality.)

Where two roads meet
Where two roads meet

On the right of the photo, above the vans waiting at the traffic lights, you can just see a Georgian House, an end of terrace building.

Dalby House
Dalby House

The area where Goswell Road and City Road meet was anciently common land that was used for, among other things, prize fighting and executions. Housing development ended that use and in 1803, Dalby Terrace (or “Dalby Tarrace”, according to the original ceramic name plate, still in place) was built by a certain Mr Dalby (first name unknown), who retained the end house, suitably named Dalby House, for his own use. Mr Dalby was a manufacturer, who was credited with the invention of a successful beer pump.

Derelict
Derelict

On a previous ramble around here (see A stroll along Goswell Road), I showed you this sad and neglected building on another corner. Shortly after I photographed it, the bulldozers moved in and it disappeared for ever, along with any memories people may have retained of it.

Derwent Point, apparently
Derwent Point, apparently

This is what has replaced it, something apparently called Derwent Point. Is it any better? Doubtless it is, according to the developers at least, who would have made a handsome profit on it. And probably there is an architect somewhere congratulating himself on his innovatory design, having forgotten that he played with building bricks when he was a child.

Angel Gate, Islington
Angel Gate, Islington

At one stage, I conceived the notion of collecting “Angels”, that is, of photographing all buildings, premises, pubs, etc. with “Angel” in the name. The above Angel Gate was an early candidate. However, it turned out that there are so many “Angels”, not only in Islington but throughout London, where it is one of the most popular names, that I soon abandoned the idea. The place is littered with “Angels”.

Fireplaces left from rooms long gone
Fireplaces left from rooms long gone

I don’t know whether this is bomb damage left over from WWII or the remains of a more recent demolition. Either way, it is strange to think that fires once burned in those grates and people sat comfortably in front of them, perhaps reading or listening to the radio.

The Hat and Feathers
The Hat and Feathers

Whenever I pass this way, I stop to admire this handsome Victorian pub, the Hat and Feathers. Note the statues on the upper level. This site has been declared a development area but the pub is a listed building and will be preserved. There are plans to incorporate it into a hotel complex.

Perhaps once a warehouse
Perhaps once a warehouse

decoration

Across from the pub is this large and intriguing building. I know nothing about it but suspect it was once a warehouse because at the side one can still see the hoist for lifting goods and the loading doors with their drop-down landing platforms, a design commonly seen along the Thames in the old wharfs. That this was once a proud building on which money was lavished can be seen from the surviving decorations.

Northburgh Street Northburgh Street
Startling new building in Northburgh Street

Leaving the beaten track, I entered Berry Street and then Northburgh Street. Here, I discovered this rather startling building being put up. It’s a pretty bold design with a rather whimsical flower decoration.

A glimpse...
A glimpse…

I turned around and caught a glimpse of this building. At this point, I had lost track of where I was but then realized: I had stumbled on the Cannon Brewery (see Around Clerkenwell) from behind!

Cannon Brewery yard
Cannon Brewery yard

The brewery yard, where the drays would have turned and been loaded, is now occupied by a garden in a huge concrete planter, making it necessary to photograph the building from an awkward angle. You can see the arched street entrance and the clock, unfortunately not working, that proudly proclaims the date of 1875.

The brewery door
The brewery door

Hop decoration

The building is fairly plain and functional but this is offset by a very fine doorway – the one no doubt used by the management. It has pillars, an elegant arch, and sculpted decorations representing hops (see right). I don’t know whether the lamps are original but they look to me as though they could once have been lit by gas.

Although this building has been preserved (I heard it had changed hands for £4m), the area seems to be under intensive development.

Not a furniture shop, then
Not a furniture shop, then

This is an example of the dull, boring, out-of-a-box architecture that is becoming ever more common in the area where businesses display descriptions using terms like “ergonomics” and “design” but not, strangely enough, “furniture”, which is what they sell.

Churchyard of St John's
Churchyard of St John’s

Another big influence in the area is that of the Knights of St John, also known as the Knights Hospitallers. Nearby St John’s Gate is the headquarters of the modern incarnation of the order, the St John Ambulance.

blackbird
Caption

Opposite the Cannon Brewery is this diminutive churchyard, perhaps a frag­ment of the original, belonging to the priory church of St John, and now a tiny park. Here I met a blackbird who, while attentive to my movements, seemed singularly unafraid, perhaps used to being fed by workers eating their lunchtime sandwiches here in better weather. I had nothing with me: another time, perhaps.

It had been interesting to experience an unexpected encounter with a familiar building and to meditate briefly on the depth of the history of this area with which I am still only slowly getting to grips. Now, though, it was time to go home and warm up with a good cup of coffee!

The brewery clock: will it ever tell the time again?
The brewery clock: will it ever tell the time again?


1Up and down the City Road,
In and out the Eagle,
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Out and About | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Puzzling

I have never been one for puzzles. I usually find them either annoying (if I can’t solve them) or tedious (if I can). I remember as a child entering a competition in a comic. You had to match famous exploits with the names of the people who had performed them. I knew that I had all the correct answers and was excited because the prize was a Jetex engine for powering model aircraft. I felt I was sure to win and was therefore disappointed never to receive a prize – the available prizes were no doubt all used up before they got to my entry.

That may seem a trivial setback but in a sense it marked me for life, convincing me that puzzles and competitions were not worth the effort, worthy neither in themselves nor for the results they produced.

An exception to this was Mahjongg. I am not talking about the game played by several players, possibly for money, but the solitaire version developed for computers. You know the sort of thing: the program generates the graphical representation of a heap of Mahjongg tiles and you have to remove them all by eliminating them in pairs. It is not at all easy to complete the puzzle but, equally, it is not at all intellectually demanding. In fact, it soon becomes pretty boring.

Despite this, there were times in my life when I played Mahjongg solitaire a lot, perhaps for hours at a time. I think this was when I was stressed or worried about something. I would plink away at the tiles despite knowing, in the back of my mind, that there were more important things I ought to be doing. That is perhaps the clue: Mahjongg for the moment pushed my worries to the back of my mind and gave me some hours of quasi peace.

When I moved to Islington and acquired a new computer, it did not have Mahjongg on it and I never bothered to install the game. Perhaps I no longer had need of it.

Then, through Tigger, I discovered Sudoku. At first, I was as reluctant to try this, especially as, at first sight, it seemed difficult. However, by dint of perseverance, I soon discovered patterns and short cuts and became, if not an addict, something that closely resembled it. I collected all the Sudoku puzzles I could find and dispatched them, almost as if this was now my role in life. I would write in pencil so that if the puzzle went wrong, I could rub out the numbers and start again.

After several months of Sudokuphilia, my passion cooled to more reasonable levels. I still do Sudoku, and still do them in pencil, but not so voraciously as I once did. I do about 10 a week, that is, I do those in the Metro and the City AM free newspapers.

I usually take the City AM Sudoku to bed with me. It’s a race between completing the puzzle or falling asleep. As a result, one puzzle may last me two or even three bedtimes. The City AM Sudoku is usually not difficult but is just about right for bedtime as it can be solved logically and requires no extra-logical explorations.

Rather different is the Sudoku in the Metro. In fact, there are three in this paper, rated easy, medium, and difficult, respectively. The easy and medium are too easy and I don’t bother with them. The difficult one is something else. I think I succeed in completing about one in ten of them. Any sensible person contemplating those odds would give up but, then, I never was particularly sensible. I suppose too that the satisfaction that comes from the occasional success is all the greater because of the frustration of failing so often. Maybe I have masochistic tendencies.

I once wrote a post entitled Life as sudoku where I said that "It occurred to me the other day that life is a lot like sudoku". Is that true? Or was I making it up? Perhaps you should read the article and decide for yourself. I possibly then considered Sudoku to be more interesting than I do now.

One reason why I do Sudoku puzzles is because it’s easy. Not easy to solve, necessarily, but an easy thing to spend time on. It doesn’t require much thought, not as much as that required for following the argument in an interesting book, for example. Got a few minutes to spare and don’t want to sit staring at the wall? Sudoku is the easy option. Also, as I explained, it seems to possess potent soporific powers too. I therefore sometimes feel a little guilty that I am wasting time on Sudoku when I could be doing something more interesting and useful – like reading one of those books in the stack of books-to-be-read that never seems to decrease in size.

And that’s what I have against puzzles, not just Sudoku, but all puzzles in general: they are a complete waste of time. Fun maybe, but a waste of time nonetheless. For consider: what do you have at the end of your puzzling? More knowledge? More riches? A happier life? A sense of greater wellbeing? Something constructive to show for your efforts? Hardly.

That is why I regard the proliferation of games, and especially electronic games, with a jaundiced eye. I hear about – and see – young people spending hours every day poring over their electronic toys, oblivious to what is going on around them and barely responding with a grunt when spoken to. Queues form outside shops for the midnight launch of some new games device or game. It seems that a certain section of the population hasn’t got enough to do and needs to distract itself from the long boring hours of life with ersatz experience.

It’s not only hand-held games, of course. Computer games and online multiplayer games also proliferate. Look over the shoulders of people in offices apparently beavering away at company business and you will see that many of them are in fact playing games, whether free-standing games or the online variety where players from all over the world are trying to outwit and outgun one another. Isn’t there something rather depressing about this?

I don’t ignore the need for relaxation and recreation, of course. If you have a few minutes to spare and fancy some light entertainment, a game is probably no more of a time-waster than leafing through one of the dreary fashion or "lifestyle" magazines that grace newsagents’ shelves. As with my escapades with Mahjongg solitaire, I can understand the occasional need to seek refuge in trivial pursuits, something to temporarily lift the mind out of the tangled web of work and responsibility. The keyword there, though, is "temporarily". As they become ever more realistic and addictive, games risk becoming a way of life for some people.

One reason why I rarely read fiction is because I find reality far more intriguing, enchanting and fascinating. No work of fiction – narrative or computer game – ever came anywhere near real life for sheer gripping interest. For the same reason, I am not one of those alienated souls who goes everywhere wearing headphones that blast the ear drums into near insensibility with the nerve destroying racket that today passes for music. Much as I love Beethoven, I would not want the sounds of the real world blotted out even by one of his symphonies. There is, it seems to me, something wrong with a society in which, when you try to speak to someone, he needs first, and with an expression of deep reluctance, to pull out his earplugs in order to hear what you are saying.

That has taken us away from the original subject of this post, puzzles and games, but I think there is a connection. T.S. Eliot once wrote that "Human kind cannot bear very much reality", and it seems that the amount it can bear is decreasing, at least in some quarters, and that people are increasingly making an effort to ignore it or at least to cushion themselves from it with artificial experience.

Am I exaggerating? Possibly, but you can only exaggerate something that exists, not something that doesn’t. I think there is at least an element of truth in my argument.

Not that it will stop me doing my Sudoku puzzles, of course. They amuse me but I am also amused by the fact that I like doing them. This is because my attraction to Sudoku very definitely says something about me, the sort of person I am. That is a very logical and systematic person, not at all intuitive or artistic. If I were to to try to draw an elephant you might easily mistake it for a hamster or a sausage roll. I like things you can measure or weigh, that respond to mathematical calculation. Sudoku, of course, despite being a game of numbers is not at all mathematical – it works just as well if you replace the numbers with letters or the faces of Disney cartoon characters – but it is logical. If I fail to complete one I never think its creator made it too hard; I always blame myself for not seeing the way to the solution. There is something about the nature of Sudoku that suits my temperament.

Equally, I have learned not to spend too long on them. A Sudoku puzzle is a game, a piece of fun, a moment’s entertainment, and nothing more. Solve it, or fail to solve it: it doesn’t matter. The thing is to have a moment’s fun, not to make a career out of it.

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Thoughts and Ideas | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Around Clerkenwell

After breakfast at the Angel Inn (which is actually a cafe, not an inn), we went for a walk, starting by continuing down St John Street.

Once the Crown and Woolpack
Once the Crown and Woolpack

Pub mosaic
Pub mosaic

This building looks like a Victorian pub and it was indeed a Victorian pub, but today it is occupied by a beauty salon. At the side entrance, this mosaic identifies it as the Crown and Woolpack. In recent years many pubs have gone out of business.

Once the Empress of Russia
Once the Empress of Russia

Not very far away is “The Fish Shop on St John Street”, a fish restaurant, which was once the Empress of Russia, another dead pub, known as a venue for folk music in its day.

Window with decorative face
Window with decorative face

Much of the housing hereabouts consists of Georgian terraces, once town houses for families but nowadays mostly divided into flats or offices. Despite the similarity of design of groups of houses, many sport individual features and decorations, like the face above the window shown above.

This is not a park
This is not a park

In Hermit Street is this strange triangular space. It is not a park and not a garden, yet is does have some trees, ensconced behind railings and a locked gate. Perhaps it is opened in summer when it might be pleasant to sit under the trees.

Don't bother me - I'm busy
Don’t bother me – I’m busy

There, too, we met this black and white cat who was apparently happy to sit outside despite the cold and showed no interest in our invitations to make friends.

Coat of arms
Newer part Older part
Brewers Buildings, Rawstorne Street

This apartment block in Rawstorne Street, probably provided for workers, was built in three phases, 1871, 1876 and 1882, the later part in the photo on the left – one notices a simpler design of window gratings.

The old Gordon's Gin factory
The old Gordon’s Gin factory

This is the old Gordon’s Gin factory in Goswell Road. It’s huge size is testimony to Londoners’ (and, indeed, a worldwide) thirst for gin. Today it houses offices and I know nothing of its history or when it ceased producing gin – a little research project for later, perhaps. (Update May 13th 2013: See the helpful comment below.)

Spencer Place Baptist Chapel
Spencer Place Baptist Chapel

According to the somewhat worn plaque, the foundation stone of this demure little building in Spencer Place was laid in 1868. Its founders perhaps expected it to endure until Judgement Day, but it is no longer a church. It has been turned to business use with a flat at the top, no doubt a more recent extension. It retains the quiet dignity of its Victorian design.

The bandstand, Northampton Square
The bandstand, Northampton Square

On a damp and very cold day like today, it is not surprising to find the parks, and even the streets, deserted. This garden is in Northampton Square.

Memorial drinking fountain
Memorial drinking fountain

This somewhat battered drinking fountain may not look much (though the tap produces water) but it in fact tells us the origins of the garden. The face you can see in the photo states that the garden was opened “for the use of the public” in 1885 by Lady Margaret Georgiana Graham, the daughter of the Marquess of Northampton.

Memorial to Charles Clement Walker
Memorial to Charles Clement Walker

Of more interest, perhaps, is the inscription on the other side of the fountain. It is now hard to decipher but reads as follows:

This public garden has been laid out and completed at the sole cost of Charles Clement Walker Esquire: of Lilleshall Old Hall Shropshire:
One of Her Majesty’s Justices of the Peace for the Counties of Salop and Stafford, a native of the Parish of Clerkenwell, for the free use of the inhabitants thereof for health, recreation and enjoyment.
And in affectionate remembrance of his mother Agnes Walker, long resident in the parish.
1885.

Having enriched himself through industry begun in his native Clerkenwell, Walker gave money to charity and public works. He also laid out Wilmington Gardens.

Old Middlesex Sessions House
Old Middlesex Sessions House, Clerkenwell Green

Justice
Justice

If you didn’t know the purpose of this building, the round cartouche containing the beautifully sculpted representation of Justice would afford you a pretty strong clue. It was once the Middlesex Sessions House, a busy court, which included accommodation for resident judges and cells for prisoners awaiting trial. Today it is a conference centre.

Holborn Union Offices 1886
Holborn Union Offices 1886

This recalls one of the unhappier memories of the Victorian era. “Union” was often a synonym for the workhouse, where destitute unemployed debtors worked hard for their keep in conditions that we might today consider unnecessarily harsh. I am not sure whether this building actually was a workhouse itself, or just offices for the Holborn Union that ran a number of such establishments. We should be happy that the workhouse, along with the debtors’ prison, is now a thing of the past.

Cannon Brewery
Cannon Brewery

It was cold and my hands were beginning to ache, so we decided to catch the 153 at the stop opposite the Cannon Brewery in St John Street. In the 19th century this was one of the busiest breweries in the country and, if you look at the road surface under the archway, you will see traces of the ruts worn by the horse-drawn drays.

The Clerkenwell area contains many interesting sights, buildings and artifacts. We find new things every time we explore. I have shown only a fraction of the photos I took today, thinking this account already long enough!

Dancing among rubbish, Coman House, Finsbury Estate
Dancing among rubbish, Coman House, Finsbury Estate

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger, http://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Out and About | Tagged | 6 Comments

Sheffield and Heeley

As usual, Tigger has taken the early train, leaving me to catch up later with my off-peak ticket. We keep in touch via the IM (instant messenger) function on our Blackberry phones. Thus, as my train sets out from St Panras, I know that Tigger has left Derby and will soon reach Sheffield. I am due there myself at 11:52.

I left home with time to walk to the station but checked the indicator at the bus stop and waited for the 214 which dropped me in front of the station with 20 minutes to spare.

Sheffield trains leave from the upper level of St Pancras
Sheffield trains leave from the upper level of St Pancras

Sheffield trains leave from the upper level of St Pancras which is also where the Eurostar platforms are. The Eurostar service is self-contained and segregated from the rest but we often encounter francophone train staff in their characteristic navy blue costume with the yellow Eurostar logo emblazoned on it. We also meet them in the local cafes enjoying a “full English breakfast”!


My train has left on time. Reserved seats are obligatory on this service and an announcement instructed us to sit in our assigned seats. I preferred an unreserved seat at the end of the carriage, however, and the ticket inspector has not remarked on the fact.

A pause at Loughborough
A pause at Loughborough

The weather is dull and the sky overcast but it is not raining at least. Strange how a few drops of water can conspire to spoil an outing. Knowing that temperatures are likely to be lower in the north (and having read of snow on blogs in the region), I have reverted to my winter wear: longjohns and my thick red fleece jerkin. I have also swapped my scarf for my “ninja”, as Tigger calls it, a sort of double-layed fleece collar that covers my neck and can be pulled up to cover my mouth.

The curved entry into Derby station
The curved entry into Derby station

As I am writing these words, we run out from under the heavy overcast into a region of lighter clouds with patches of blue sky between them. There is even a pale sunlight in places.


By the time we speed through Wellingborough, the sun is shining steadily and the sky is blue with only light cloud cover but Tigger, by now waiting for the FreeBee free bus in Sheffield, tells me it is freezing cold there. I was right to dress warmly.

Arriving at Chesterfield with its twisted spire
Arriving at Chesterfield with its twisted spire

At 10:23, Tigger tells me the job is done. She can go sightseeing until my train arrives at 11:52. I note that as we progress northwards, though the sun is still shining, patches of frost are becoming more common. The land is waterlogged too.


Sheffield's famous water feature, frozen in places
Sheffield’s famous water feature, frozen in places

When I rejoined Tigger at Sheffield, the sun was shining brightly but it was freezing cold, as she had told me. Literally, as it happens: parts of the famous water feature were frozen solid.

It used to be said that Sheffield was a “mucky picture in a golden frame”, meaning that the grimy industrial city was set in beautiful countryside. The beautiful countryside is still there but Sheffield itself is no longer mucky. Today it is a clean and handsome city.

Looking down Howard Street to the Cholera Monument on the hill
Looking down Howard Street to the Cholera Monument on the hill

Walking up Howards Street from the station, look back and you can see the Cholera Monument, commemorating the cholera outbreak of 1832 when at least 400 people died. The Duke of Norfolk provided land needed for burials and that that is where the memorial stands.

Sheffield's Millennium Gallery
Sheffield’s Millennium Gallery

As usual, our first call was at the cafe-restaurant in the Millennium Museum Gallery for a lunch of vegetarian fish and chips. (The “fish” is deep fried halloumi cheese – delicious!) After lunch, we set out for the bus station but a couple of sights caught our attention along the way.

"Heavy Plant" (1988) by David Kemp
“Heavy Plant” (1988) by David Kemp

In a car park, we came across this structure and, of course, went for a look. Knowing my opinion of much modern “art” you may be expecting some pejorative comments but I was intrigued by this piece perhaps because it contained some recognizable items. It is “Heavy Plant” by David Kemp.

Elements-Fire-Steel (1965) by Brian Asquith
“Elements-Fire-Steel” (1965) by Brian Asquith

Another piece, which seems like a strange logo or hieroglyph written by an alien race, is today sited on a wall of the Sheffield Hallam University. The direct sunlight somehow increased its appeal. (Did I say “appeal”? I must be becoming mellow in my old age!) It is “Elements-Fire-Steel” by Brian Asquith.

Towers and skyroglyphs
Towers and skyroglyphs

I also noticed that the beautiful blue winter sky was serving as a canvas for aircraft to write their own kind of hieroglyphs – or perhaps “skyroglyphs”?

Sheffield Bus Station
Sheffield Bus Station

Despite these distractions, we at last reached the bus station where Tigger scanned the timetables to find which bus would take us to Heeley. On her last visit, she had noticed that there was something at Heeley that she thought I would like to see. So off we went.

Heeley, welcoming... but freezing
Heeley, welcoming but freezing

Heeley was welcoming enough but was freezing cold, colder even than the city. There were stretches of frosty ground and most of the water we encountered was frozen. Nothing daunted, however, we pressed on.

Sheep, Heeley City Farm
Sheep, Heeley City Farm

We had come to see the Heeley City Farm, which also includes an environmental visitor centre. The young man we spoke to seemed disappointed that we didn’t want to see the environmental exhibits but – well, sorry – I had come to see the animals!

Brown goat

I am somewhat equivocal about city farms, which are often run in cramped conditions, but I think that a well run one can be a valuable asset to education, especially in an era when we hear that many school children apparently do not even know where milk comes from.

Charlie

There were people about, but they seemed to be youngsters drafted in to help with the work. No one bothered us but, equally, no one offered to show us around or tell where things were. There was no sign of the advertised cafe.

Curiosity

I was glad to see that the inmates seemed comfortable and well fed. They were alert and curious, which is always a good sign. The goat on the right in the above photo took a determined lick at my handbag just to see what it tasted like!

Portrait

There were not only sheep and goats, of course. We saw cows, horses, pigs and some chicks in a heated incubator.

Heifers

The problem was that the lighting was poor and the animals active so it was hard to get photos that weren’t blurred, as you can see from the slightly blurred heifers above. I was not going to use flash and risk dazzling them.

Vegetable garden

There was also a vegetable garden though there was not much to see in it – not surprising, given the time of year.

A view from Myrtle Road, Heeley
A view from Myrtle Road, Heeley

We caught a bus in Myrtle Road, and this took us back to the centre of Sheffield. We were booked on the 15:47 train to St Pancras and had a little time to fill in before returning to the station.

Sun worshipper
Sun worshipper

A visit to the Graves Gallery in the Central Library building is usually a good way to spend some time but today it was closed. We went all the way up in the lift until we thought to read the notices posted everywhere! At least I had a chance to scare myself by looking down the deep stair well! (See Not the best way to go to Sheffield.) We made do with photographing this mysterious but attractive sculpture on the front of the building.

Tudor Square
Tudor Square

So we walked back up to Tudor Square and entered a certain coffee-vending establishment which you can no doubt make out in the photo. The elegant towers you can also see belong to the handsome Sheffield Town Hall.

Mirror with spoon frame
Mirror with spoon frame

In the coffee shop is this unusual mirror with a frame of spoons, made by Adhocmetal.co.uk and referring to Sheffield’s proud history as a city of steel and cutlery.

Having partaken of a beverage, we returned down the hill again via Howard Street to the station. As usual (because we have to buy tickets separately), our reserved seats were not together, but, as usual, we found a pair of unreserved ones and settled in comfortably for our journey back to St Pancras.

Modern Sheffield is a delightful city and I enjoy my visits there, finding that memories of the past are being enhanced by new discoveries and happy experiences in the present. Today’s highlight was seeing, photographing and touching the animals on the city farm but future visits will, I am sure, produce their own highlights.

Contented

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