Saturday, May 4th 2013
After viewing the Graffiti Tunnel, also known as Leake Street, we set off down Westminster Bridge Road in the direction of Lambeth. We soon came to a stern-looking building that today goes by the name of Westminster Bridge House and is currently the offices of Transmarine Shipping Agencies Ltd, Shipbrokers.
Built in 1900 and with later alterations, this listed building is all that remains of the complex that was once the head office and railway terminus of the London Necropolis Company. The history of this company is well known – though no less interesting for that – and I will not go into it here as there are plenty of online references to consult. Suffice it to say that when London’s in-town cemeteries were closed in the 1850s, numerous schemes for burying the dead were proposed. Among the most radical was that planned by London Necropolis Company which hoped to bury its customers in a huge swathe of land that it bought in Brookwood, Surrey, and to transport them thither by means of a dedicated railway line. The first office and railway terminal was near Waterloo Station but expansion of the latter forced a move to this site. Unfortunately for the LNC, competition and problems of a financial nature meant that the expected volume of trade was never realized. The railway line ceased to operate after being damaged by bombing in 1941 and though the company continued operating after that, it came to an end with a takeover in 1959. For more information see, for example, Wikipedia’s London Necropolis Company.
What caught my eye next was the shapely tower of a church standing at the junction of Westminster Bridge Road with Kennington Road. I thought that the top was conical but it is actually hexagonal. Today it is known as Christ Church and Upton Chapel and, though founded originally in 1870, it was rebuilt in the 1950s after being damaged by bombing in the Second World War. The odd, unecclesiastical shape of the building is explained by the fact that it combines a church and an office block.
Another unusual feature is the church entrance. The door is set in a panel or screen that combines the roles of wall and windows and is designed in an organic interwoven pattern that reminds me somewhat of the designs of the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. As the board advertises that the church has a cafe we thought of going in but found that it was closed.
Continuing down Kennington Road to a place known as Kennington Cross, I was able to “collect” another cattle trough by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association. This one bears neither a date nor a dedication and its standard design gives nothing away regarding its age but it is thought to date from the 1880s.
We crossed Lambeth Road and entered a street named Lambeth Walk. That provides a flimsy excuse for the title of this post because the name of the street will be familiar to many people from the song “Doing the Lambeth Walk” which was first heard in 1937 in the musical “Me and my Girl”. A further justification, if one be needed, is that what I am describing is indeed a Lambeth walk because it took place in Lambeth which is both a borough and a well known district of London.
In Lambeth Walk we saw one end of the China Walk Estate whose Chandler Community Hall is in this street. I am not sure how it got its name but I later wondered whether it had anything to do with another discovery that we made that I will describe later.
On the wall of the Chandler Community Hall are mosaic plaques recalling a famous son of Lambeth, Charlie Chaplin. Inventor of the tramp figure with his bowler hat and bendy cane walking stick, Charlie came from here, lived his early life here in poverty before emigrating to the US to become the first million-dollar performer. There are four plaques in all and they are by Southbank Mosaics whom I’ve already mentioned in connection with their mosaic of Dave Squires at Waterloo.
Further along the street we found this quaint survival from more religious times originally called the Pelham Mission Hall. Lettering over the door tells us that it is “in connection with Lambeth Old Parish Church”, while the foundation stone (visible in the picture on the left) informs us that the stone was laid in 1910 by no less a personage than the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Thomas. Unusually, perhaps, for so small a church, it sports an outdoor pulpit and there are stories of sermons pronounced here being listened to by large crowds. Today, however, the hot air is provided more efficiently by the outlet of the heating system and the building has been put to better use as the Henry Moore Sculpture Studio.
My felinophile eyes spotted a cat sitting under a tree on the other side of the road. Naturally, we went to see whether she was friendly. She was, and rolled about becomingly on the ground for us to stroke her. (And yes, that is the toe of one of Tigger’s shoes at the top of the right-hand picture.)
Here too there was what looked as if it might have been intended as a market square though today it was empty and the shops all closed. The walls were decorated with painted boards that might once have presented a lively appearance but that were now fading and flaking. This one echoes the title of my post, being called Do’in [sic] the Lambeth Walk. Sadly, the fading murals reflect the fading fortunes of the street which was once part of a lively and flourishing community with a busy market. The decline started with the Second World War and now seems irreversible. (See this BBC article.)
From Lambeth Walk we entered Black Prince Road but momentarily diverted up Newport Street, hoping to take a look at the Ragged School there. The ragged schools were free schools that accepted as pupils poor and vagrant children, providing them with basic education to enable them eventually to find work. As well as lessons, food was often also given. This school dates from 1851 and was established by Henry Benjamin Hanbury Beaufoy, whose name it took as the Beaufoy Ragged School (later, the Beaufoy Institute). Today it is the home of Beaconsfield, which combines an art “laboratory” with an art gallery. There is also a “Ragged Canteen” but it was unfortunately closed, as was the whole building, so we had to be content with looking at it from outside the walls.
Back in Black Prince Road, we found, under a railway viaduct, some more work by Southbank Mosaics. These included both mosaics and ceramics. The mosaics were on the theme of the Black Prince, while the ceramics led us to a local industry, one that was possibly referred to in the name of the China Walk Estate.
The ceramic plaques, two of which I show above, finally give the game away: further along the road we shall find the old works of the Doulton company which has produced world famous china and ceramic wares from early Victorian times to the present day. (It changed its name to Royal Doulton when it received a Royal Warrant in 1901.)
The old Doulton works stand on the corner of Black Prince Road and Lambeth High Street. The business was started in Lambeth, taking the Doulton name in 1853. This building which, unsurprisingly, is listed Grade II, was built in 1878. We were not able to see inside but I think the actual works are at the back and that the part I have photographed would have been the offices and perhaps the showrooms. The façade is lavishly – or even exuberantly – decorated. The Doulton company obviously wanted the building to impress visitors and reflect the detail and quality of the decorative work used in their wares. It is certainly impressive.
Above the door is a “turret feature” which is so decorated that it is almost like a giant piece of jewellery. According to the listing text, the decorative elements are made of pink and beige terracotta. However, I think that in addition there are also ceramic components, for example the window trim:
Above the door lintel is a modelled scene from the factory.
Three employees, two men and a woman, are matched by three gentlemen in suits. Is the seated gentleman a customer being shown the wares and how they are made? One gentleman is watching intently as the female employee, an artist, is applying the decoration to a pot. The work is lively and full of movement. Note the details, such as the woman’s footrest and the cat sitting contently under her stool.
The factory was closed in 1956 and the company moved to the Potteries.
We then walked along the Thames. The great river is beautiful and interesting on its own account but it also opens up the sky and brings a welcome feeling of openness and air. In a city whose skyline is being built up and whose sky is being stolen by tall buildings, this is a valuable resource.
Seen from the south bank in Lambeth, the Palace of Westminster, as the Houses of Parliament are also known, presents a dramatic picture, especially on a day like today when the sun shines intermittently from between stormy clouds.
War memorials abound and nearly every community has its own. Some are general memorials to those who died in war and others record the specific contribution of different fighting services or even regiments. Understandably, perhaps, because it was a secret service about which little was known, there are relatively few memorials to the SOE, or Special Operations Executive. During the Second World War, the SOE trained agents and sent them covertly across the Channel to join resistance fighter in France in sabotage and information gathering. Many lost their lives either in fighting or as a result of being captured, tortured and executed. Their contribution was great, their courage admirable and their deaths tragic.
The bust represents Violette Szabo, née Bushell, a Franco-British woman, widow of a French soldier and mother of a daughter. She joined the SOE cohort, was trained and sent to France on two missions. The first was successful and she returned safely to Britain afterwards. During her second mission, Violette was captured by the Germans and interrogated, first by the SS and then by the Gestapo. During her interrogation she was tortured. Sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, Violette was subjected to forced labour and then executed by firing squad. Her story has been told in the film Carve her Name with Pride.
We are so used to seeing ducks paddling about in the water and standing on the edges of ponds and rivers that we find it easy to forget that they are birds and as such able to fly. Flying ducks nearly always catch me by surprise, especially in town, and so I don’t often manage to get a photo of them. The above is not a good photo; I saw the ducks and made a desperate attempt to snap them. They usually fly in groups, like these three, and once airborne seem to fly quite strongly.
The weather kept changing, first sunshine, then clouds threatening rain, then shafts of sunlight between clouds. The above picture was taken at one of those dull moments and the air seemed hazy, softening outlines and details. London’s most famous clock stands beside the Thames and looks out across the city, the river and Westminster Bridge. What is the clock’s name? Most of us know it as Big Ben though in reality, Big Ben is the name of the great bell on which the hours are struck. Since the Queen’s Jubilee, the clock’s tower is officially called the Elizabeth Tower. I doubt whether many people will ever refer to it as such. It has always been the tower of Big Ben and why do we need to change it now? In my view, naming things after monarchs (who die and disappear like the rest of us) is a form of graffiti, putting names on things that do not need such names, having perfectly good names of their own.
We continued wandering along the Thames in an easterly direction, finally reaching the Southbank Centre, which was, as you might expect, crowded, and had lunch there. Then we took a bus to Covent Garden.
The sun was shining merrily on the terra cotta drinking fountain erected in honour of Augustus Harris, whose bust of bronze appears within it. The fountain was erected in 1897 and is set in the wall of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. (These days, the theatre only backs onto Drury Lane, its main entrance being in Catherine Street and the stage door in Russell Street.) Augustus Harris (1852-96) ran the theatre from 1873 until his death, said to be the result of exhaustion. He was what we would today call “multi-talented”, being at various times an actor, a playwright and an impresario and was active in local politics as a councillor and sheriff. A string of successful stage productions led to him receiving the soubriquets “Father of the Pantomime” and “Augustus Druriolanus”.
At number 18 Wellington Street, I was intrigued by this ornate doorway with a nicely delineated moulding of a horse’s head. I know nothing about the building, though. Today it is the premises of Christopher’s American Bar & Grill but I imagine it was once the headquarters of an affluent business, perhaps a bank.
We were now beginning to run out of steam and to think of returning home. Accordingly we cut through to the Strand and Aldwych, where we could catch a bus to the Angel. This is theatre country and at every turn you come upon a famous theatrical name advertising a well known play or show. This is the Novello Theatre and on the front of it you can see the goofy-looking woman with a toothy smile who, for some unaccountable reason, has become the universal icon for the show Mamma Mia.