A stroll with naked ears

I decided that it was time to get my hair cut and set out around 9 am to visit my barber. As I have to remove my “dolbies” (my hearing aids) while the barber is at work, I decided that I might as well simply leave them at home and go out with “naked ears”.

Saddlers Wells Barber Shop
Saddlers Wells Barber Shop
A good old-fashioned barber’s without frills

My barber’s is in Rosebery Avenue, within a stone’s throw of the Saddler’s Wells theatre. It’s old-fashioned and basic, the sort of barber’s shop your dad and grandad would find familiar. No fuss, no pampering, just a good haircut at a good price.

It’s easy to overlook barbers, because they are just there, doing their job without fuss, like postmen, say, or the milkman. But barbers are highly skilled and a good one is a joy to watch. Mine doesn’t measure the length of my hair with his fingers or use any other tricks: he simply cuts my hair free-hand and in less time than it takes to start a good conversation.

On one visit, I met an old gent who told me that his dad used to take him to a barber’s further down Rosebery Avenue and when that barber moved to these premises, they had followed him. His dad was long gone, and so was the original barber, but he continued coming here. Such customer loyalty is becoming rare in our restless world.

Grasshopper
Grasshopper
Unusual window decoration

The shop next door to the barber’s has reverted to a dwelling or perhaps a private studio or workshop. I was intrigued by this window covering bearing a gigantic grasshopper. Unusual and rather nice. Note the boot scraper at bottom right. Many older buildings in London still have these, though not always in good condition. They help date the building and they look back to a time when London’s streets were famous for their mud and dirt. The crossing sweeper was for this reason a familiar sight in Victorian times.

Angel of Peace
Angel of Peace
She tops the war memorial in Spa Green

I was enjoying the relative quietness resulting from not wearing my dolbies so I went for a walk, first entering the little park of Spa Green. One end of it is dominated by the war memorial on which stands what I take to be the Angel of Peace. She looks as if she is throwing a frisbee but I think she is supposed to be offering a laurel crown to the heroes of war. Her main purpose these days is to provide a perch for the local pigeons.

At the feet of Peace
At the feet of Peace
Spa Green pigeons enjoying the sunshine

If the dove is considered a symbol of peace, then I cannot see why the rock dove, alias the feral or street pigeon, should not equally be considered a symbol of peace. Peaceable they are, enduring difficult lives with fortitude.

Peace adorned
Peace adorned
with peaceful pigeons

If you cross over Rosebery Avenue and follow Arlington Way beside the Saddler’s Wells Theatre, you come to a pub called The Shakespeare’s Head, beside which there is an alley called Myddelton Passage. (If you want to follow this on a map you will find one here.) There are lots of streets and other local features in Islington bearing the name Myddelton and for a reason.

Map of the New River
Map of the New River
The path to the viewing platform

Myddelton Passage broadens and then turns sharp right and in that corner there is a gate. If you go through it, you see a map etched on the path. This is a map of Sir Hugh Myddelton’s New River, with which he brought much needed water to this part of London in 1613. The New River ends here, at what was called (and is still called) New River Head.

New River Head
New River Head
As you might have seen in 1752

The path leads to a viewing platform of New River Head though, today, there is not much to see anymore. In 1752 you would have had a much more interesting sight as the information board shows.

Fountain
Fountain
The garden of what is now a residential estate

These days, the only water you can see comes out of this fountain in the gardens of what was once offices of the water company but is now a residential estate. You can still see some of the buildings associated with the water supply but you need to crane your neck and look to the right.

The Ring Main
The Ring Main
This houses the shaft from which water is pumped from the Ring Main

The water is now all underground. The site is today owned and run by Thames Water and is connected to the Ring Main that circles London. The visible sign of that is this big circular housing over a deep shaft that connects with the Ring.

Traces do exist of the long history of New River Head but they are not easy to see as the whole site is understandably fenced off. Two of the more obvious features are best seen by leaving Myddelton Passage and turning left into into River Street and then left again into Amwell Street. This street takes its name from the Amwell Springs near Great Amwell near Hertford which were one of the sources of water for the New River.

Windmill Pump House
Windmill Pump House
Remains of the original windmill building

Photographed by poking the camera through the railings, the first is this round building (listed, Grade II) which incorporates the remains of the original windmill pump. It was built in 1708 to send water up to the “Upper Pond” (where the Claremont Square reservoir stands today), the idea being that the higher up the position of your pond, the greater the area that it could serve with water.

Claremont Square
Claremont Square
A corner of the reservoir photographed last December

In 1720, as the demand for water increased, wind power was supplemented by horse-driven pumps and later completely displaced by horses. Ultimately, of course, that did not suffice, either.

Engine and Pump House
Engine and Pump House
This was built to replace wind and horses with steam power

The second is best seen by walking around Charles Allen House to its car park where this view can be obtained. This Grade II listed building (which originally also included a tall chimney, taken down in 1954) is the Engine and Pump House constructed in 1768. I believe (subject to correction) that horses were still being used at this point because atmospheric steam engines were not introduced until 1786, finally displacing horse power.

Owned!
Owned!
Today, New River Head belongs to
you-know-who

The Pump House was extended in 1812 and the steam engines were replaced by more efficient models at least twice until electric pumps were introduced in 1950.

A residential estate
A residential estate
Surviving buildings, including laboratories have been converted into
apartments

Today, much of the New River is covered over though there may be indications as to its path. For example, between Duncan Terrace and Colebrooke Row there is now a park that is pleasant but suspiciously narrow! Further along, the water breaks the surface again. Thames Water supplies a booklet detailing the New River Walk, allowing enthusiasts to follow the whole route from Islington to the source at Chadwell between Hertford and Ware.

Site map Features
Site Map
From an on-site display

It was time for me to take my naked ears home and reward myself with a cup of coffee. Later, when I went out to meet Tigger from work, I put my dolbies on and my ears were again bombarded by the din of the streets. I must say I prefer the gentler version of the world provided by my natural ears.

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

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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4 Responses to A stroll with naked ears

  1. Sue says:

    Great blog. I’ve one for you re barbers (well hairdressers actually). Aunt of mine who is 92 who lived in Amwell Street, went to a hairdresser in Caledonian Road back in the 1950’s. Although said hairdresser is now in his 70;s and retired to Kent, Aunt who now also lives in Kent STILL goes to him to get her hair done!! I work it out that she’s been a customer for 56 years!! Is that a record?

    • SilverTiger says:

      If it isn’t a record, then there cannot be many claims to beat it!

      I always like to hear of people who enjoy their jobs or profession so much that they carry them on long after they would be able to retire.

  2. WOL says:

    My mom has been going to the same beauty shop since the 1950’s. The shop has changed owners and beauticians over the years, though it has kept the same name. Her first “standing appointment” was for Saturday morning, back when she was working. After she retired, her “standing appointment” went to Friday morning. I rarely get my hair cut — I haven’t had it cut since 2009, and had the ends trimmed last year. I usually go to one that is near by whose operators do both men’s and women’s cuts.

    That grasshopper in the window is very interesting. I can’t work out whether it’s backed with canvas or paper.

    • SilverTiger says:

      If you receive good service in a particular establishment, why change? When a business come under new ownership it often changes, either for better or for worse. One that remain satisfactory despite new management is worth holding onto!

      The grasshopper is on paper. I speculate that is was made for some other purpose and has been recycled as a window covering – perhaps it is a section from a large billboard advertisement.

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