From Leake Street to Hounslow and Bethnal Green

Saturday, May 14th 2016

As we had no fixed plan for today, we could afford to follow up on whatever ideas came to mind as they occurred to us. The first idea was Waterloo and breakfast. Near Waterloo Station, in a street quaintly named Lower Marsh, is Marie’s Cafe which leads a slightly schizophrenic, but seemingly harmonious, existence as a Thai restaurant in the evening and an English greasy-spoon cafe by day. There we  breakfasted and, thus fortified, set out to see what we might see next.

Finding ourselves in Waterloo, we were of course irresistibly drawn to Leake Street, that curious passage that was once a thoroughfare but is now closed to traffic and has found a new destiny as the Graffiti Tunnel, a place where street artists may freely practise their art. We went down to see whether there was anything new. Here, below, is a selection of what we saw. I have given the artists’ names where I know them.

Airborne Mark (left) and Olivier Roubieux

This piece of wall is shared by two artists. On the left is a pistol fashioned from US banknotes by Airborne Mark who tends to include the tag ‘Origami Riots’ in his paintings, while on the right is a work by Olivier Roubieu, famous for his lyrical portraits of women.

Jane Mutiny aka Jane Laurie

In this painting  the word ‘LOVE’ is spelt with letters containing animals. It is by Jane Mutiny aka Jane Laurie, who tags her works with the phrase ‘LOVE WILDLIFE’ to remind us of the chronic danger of wildlife caused by our inconsiderate treatment of the environment.

Ceiling painting by unknown artist

I don’t know the name of the artist who painted this picture of two male figures on the ceiling of the tunnel. It was awkward enough photographing them and I shudder to think how uncomfortable it must have been to actually paint them.

Wall painting by unknown artist

This compact but flowing monochrome was painted by an artist unknown to me.

Painting by ELNO

This striking and colourful face with a somewhat hypnotic gaze is by ELNO, a Spanish artist currently resident in London.

Black Book by unknown

This humorously sinister face, decorated with a skull, is by an artist whose name I do not know. The painting in tagged ‘Black Book’, the term given to the sketchbook in which an artist draws the preliminary designs for a work.

Portrait by Keshone

The above dramatic portrait is by Keshone (which, I think, should be pronounced as though the second syllable is the numeral ‘one’) who, with Wilbo, forms the Krooked Heroes.

Ceramic by Chinagirl Tile

Chinagirl Tile is unusual among the street art throng in that she uses ceramic rather than paint. Her works often feature an animal accompanied by an object that contrasts with it, perhaps dramatically in some cases as here with the rabbit sitting beside a hand grenade.

Having finished our exploration of Leake Street, we reflected on where to go next. Somehow the idea of going to Hounslow presented itself. An advantage of this choice was that we could take a train there from Waterloo Station. So that’s what we did.

Hounslow is to the west of Greater London, of which it forms a part. The name is pronounced as you would expect from the way it is spelt, and is thought to derive from the Anglo-Saxon words hundes and lawe. The word lawe means a rise or mound, while hundes refers to dogs (‘hounds’). The name could therefore mean ‘mound/rise of dogs’ but some speculate that it could also refer to a man called Hund, whether this was his real name or a nickname. In that case, Hundeslawe would mean ‘Hund’s mound’. If so, what was his connection with the mound? Did he farm it? Or was it perhaps his burial mound? We can only speculate.

What did we find in Hounslow? If I am honest, not much. I don’t doubt that the citizens of Hounslow are fond of their town and know more about it than we could glean in a short visit. Perhaps too, we missed all the best bits. On the day, though, we found little to detain us. Here below are a few things I noticed.

Early 19th-century house
Early 19th-century house

Notice on the gate

According to lettering on its front door, this house is at number 1 Whitton Road. If that is correct, then, together with number 3 (not visible in the photo), it is a Grade II listed building and is described by Historic England as dating from the early 19th century. It is a sober though comely house. Currently residential, it was at some point the offices of a firm of solicitors, to judge from the somewhat tetchy notice posted on the gate. (See left.) Enter who dares.

Parish Church of the Holy Trinity
Parish Church of the Holy Trinity

We discovered the parish church, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, with the war memorial beside it. The church management claims that the church’s history dates back to 1211 but this is a little misleading. What was built in 1211 was the chapel of the Holy Trinity Priory which would, of course, have been Catholic. After the Reformation, the chapel became the property of the  manor who allowed for limited use of it by parishioners of Isleworth and Heston who lived locally. In 1816, it was bought by the vicar of Heston who rebuilt it in 1828. It became the church of the parish of Hounslow when this was created in 1835. The present church was built in 1983 after the vicar of Heston’s church was burned down, apparently by two schoolboys.

Angels over the door
Angels over the door

Over the door of the church is a large sculpture of two angels who appear to be dancing. The design is rather modern and stylized (in harmony with the general design of the church) but it seems to have suffered somewhat from weathering. I can find no reference to the sculptor though there must have been one.

Treaty Centre
Treaty Centre

What rejoices in the rather unusual name of Treaty Centre is in fact the local shopping complex. I have not been able to find out the origin of the name and it intrigues me. The façade of the centre is boldly and unashamedly Mock Tudor (or even Mock Mock-Tudor) but it could have been worse if certain modern architects had been let loose on it.

Bath Road Gospel Hall
Bath Road Gospel Hall

My last Hounslow photo is of this sweet little building, called the Bath Road Gospel Hall. I have no idea what flavour of religion it supports or what activities take place here but it seems well looked after and in good order. I haven’t found any historical information on it and though it is referred to the local council’s Bath Road Car Park Planning Brief, the authors seem confused as to its origins, assigning it on one occasion to the late 19th century and on another to the early 20th century. Happily, it seems that there are no plans to demolish it.

Bethnal Green Fire Station
Bethnal Green Fire Station

Our next idea carried us by bus to Bethnal Green. The London Fire Service  station in Roman Road was having an open day and members of the public could freely enter, look around at the exhibits, and be told interesting facts and stories by the firefighters on site.

Wrecked car
Wrecked car

On show were vehicles, protective suits and various kinds of equipment. There were a couple of wrecked cars on show as reminders that fire crews not only put out fires but also have a role in search and rescue when people are trapped in collapsed buildings or damaged vehicles.

The fire dog
The fire dog

Perhaps my favourite ‘exhibit’ was the ‘fire dog’. He was young, energetic and full of fun and enthusiasm. According to his handler, he loves working and gets excited when they put on his special boots whose purpose is to protect his feet from broken glass and other sharp hazards found on the site of a fire. Dogs have an investigatory role in the fire service because their highly developed sense of smell allows them to detect the presence of substances that it would take much longer to find using other means. For example, a dog can quickly discover the presence of accelerants – indicating that the fire had been started deliberately.

Like many districts of London, Bethnal Green was once a rural village that was later swallowed by the expanding metropolis. In the earliest known records, the name appears as variations on Blithehale and this has suggested a derivation from the Anglo-Saxon words healh and blíð. The latter means ‘happy’ (‘blithe’) or possibly refers the personal name Blida, while healh is a word of somewhat uncertain meaning, possibly signifying ‘hall’ or a building of some kind. This has led to suggested renderings of the name such as ‘Happy place’ and ‘Blida’s Hall’. We cannot be more certain than that.

Church of St John on Bethnal Green
Church of St John on Bethnal Green

Where Roman Road meets an important thoroughfare called Cambridge Heath, stands the Church of St John on Bethnal Green. We had seen it from the outside on numerous occasions and today decided to take a look inside.

Interior of St John's Church
Interior of St John’s Church

This Grade I listed church was built in 1824-5 (Historic England) or 1826-8 (the church’s own Website) to a design by Sir John Soane, though with later additions. It features galleries on either side of the nave, presumably as a means of separating the rich from the poor.

Virgin and Child
Virgin and Child

St John’s seems comparatively ‘high church’ to judge from signs such as this colourful effigy of the Virgin and Child, complete with candle rack, and the recently commissioned set of Stations of the Cross painted by Chris Gollon.

In the tower
In the tower

As the staircase to the tower was open to the public, we decided to go up. We reached the first level where there is what I might describe as an exhibition space. That was the end of our journey because, to go any further…

Ladder to the tower
Ladder to the tower

…we would have had to climb up this ladder, something we preferred not to do. In any case, it was probably not open to the public, anyway.

Pro-Consul (John Negroponte)
Pro-Consul (John Negroponte)
May Ayres

At the bottom of the staircase we found this sculpture by May Ayres. Its official title is Pro-Consul but it portrays the American envoy and ambassador, John Negroponte. If you think the representation is somewhat sinister, then you are right because that is intentional. Negroponte is, shall we say, a controversial figure to human rights supporters. Affixed to the wall behind the sculpture is a printed sheet describing the work and providing background information. I will quote just the first paragraph:

(School of the Americas)

The seated figure is John Negroponte who served as US ambassador to Honduras in the 1980’s and earned a reputation for ignoring widespread human rights abuses and campaigns of terror in Honduras. Negroponte was known in Honduras as the Pro-Consul, a title given to powerful administrators in colonial times.
He was appointed US ambassador to Iraq in 2004 following the 2003 invasion of that country and presided over the largest US embassy in the world, manned by thousands of employees, fortified within the Green Zone in Bagdad.

The columns themselves depict victims of empire, most;y unnamed and unknown but include Margaret Hassan, Archbishop Oscar Romero, and Sister Dianne Ortiz.

There are plenty of references to John Negroponte online if you wish to form your own assessment of the man and his role in world affairs.

On this sombre note, our outing concluded and we found a bus to take us home.

Copyright © 2016 SilverTiger,, 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 From Leake Street to Hounslow and Bethnal Green

  1. WOL says:

    I like the interesting rafter treatment in the Church of St. John.

    • SilverTiger says:

      The rafters tend not to be noticed by eyes drawn to the lights around the altar but they are one of the more important features of the church, both structurally and aesthetically.

  2. Shannon says:

    Beautiful photos, as always!

    Can’t say I blame you for not wanting to climb that ladder in St. John’s. I’m not overly fond of heights or confined spaces.

    I love the art by Jane Laurie you captured there at Leake Street. The macaque in the L has some seriously impressive detail in the face, in particular.

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