Saturday, October 22nd 2016
We caught a bus in Upper Street and I took this (stitched) photo from the bus stop. Upper Street is Islington’s main shopping street and was also anciently the road north. Much traffic would have come this way, including stage coaches heading to their terminus at the Angel Inn (passengers had to make their own way from there to the centre of the city) and cattle being driven to their fateful terminus at Smithfield Market. You can perhaps see the woven metal halo marking the Upper Street entrance to what now goes by the inelegant name of Angel Central Shopping Centre (once better known as the N1 Centre), with shops, restaurants and a cinema gathered around an open-air space.
We progressed to Millbank, a district that lies within the boundaries of the City of Westminster. Whereas the administrative divisions of the capital are usually called London Boroughs (e.g. the London Borough of Islington), Westminster has city status. This derives originally from 1541 when Henry VIII created the short-lived diocese of Westminster. Although this diocese was suppressed in 1550, Westminster continued to be known as the city, albeit informally. It was in its early days quite distinct from the City of London to its east. In 1900, a royal charter formally reinstated Westminster’s city status and since then what is in all other senses a London Borough, is called the City of Westminster.
One of Westminster’s more notable landmarks is the art gallery now known as the Tate Britain. It was opened in 1897 as the National Gallery of British Art. It had been funded by sugar magnate Henry Tate and in 1932 the name was changed to the Tate Gallery in recognition of this. The Tate ‘family’ was expanded with the creation of the Tate Liverpool (1988), the Tate St Ives (1993) and the Tate Modern (2000), the opening of which prompted a name change from the Tate Gallery to the Tate Britain.
Since 1897, the Tate Britain has been modified and expanded and is now a complex set of galleries. We went inside briefly, thinking we might visit the Turner Prize 2016 exhibition but we were put off by the price of tickets (£12 with Gift Aid donation, £10.90 without).
We walked along by the park called Millbank Gardens and in St Oswulf Street I took the above photo showing Rossetti House (left) and Ruskin House (right), two of the 15 ‘houses’ (apartment blocks) comprising the Millbank Estate.
This pleasant tree-lined avenue, called Erasmus Street, runs through the Millbank Estate. The Estate was built between 1897 and 1900 and was a project by the London County Council to provide working class flats for 4,430 people. The design is largely Arts & Crafts but with other styling elements. The idea was to provide working people with accommodation at affordable prices away from the cut-throat market of private landlords. The buildings were aesthetically pleasing and well spaced with open courts. The flats themselves were provided with modern conveniences. Because of their quality and historic interest, all the buildings of the estate have all been given Grade II listed status.
Unfortunately, Westminster Council has been an enthusiastic adopter of Margaret Thatcher’s Right to Buy policy and so many of the flats are now privately owned. Worse still, these are increasingly falling into the hands of private landlords to be let at high rents, thus completely reversing the original aim and intention of the Estate’s creation and turning a valuable public asset into rich pickings for profiteers.
Further along Erasmus Street is this pretty school building. It dates from 1901 when it was built as the Millbank Primary School, serving the Estate of the same name. It is Grade II listed but I think that it is today known as Millbank Academy.
Millbank is a strange place. It contains a mixture of office blocks and government buildings and some apartment blocks but it seems without character and there is a vacant air about it. Perhaps that’s because the area virtually closes down over the weekend when all the office workers go home.
There are plenty of new buildings but they don’t add any character to the area. Does anyone actually live here? I suppose there must be some as there is a Sainsbury’s Local store there and there were people going in and out.
At number 2 Marsham Street is the government’s Home Office or perhaps, more accurately, one of the Home Office’s buildings. The only sign of life was half a dozen people waiting at the bus stop in front of it.
Opposite we found a branch of Caffè Nero which provided a good place to rest and take refreshment before undertaking the journey home.