Bristol 2011 – Day 1

Saturday, September 3rd 2011

Awoken by the alarm, we finished our last-minute packing (anything forgotten now remains forgotten!) and dragged our luggage to the bus stop. When the 205 came, we found the luggage rack free and the seats next to it unoccupied. The bus terminates at Paddington, our departure station, so we could sit back and relax. Saturday London was slowly waking up and starting the day’s business. Familiar sights and landmarks slid past the windows in dreamy succession.

Sir James Barton
Sir James Barton
Our hotel is in the Haymarket, looking onto a large roundabout called Sir James Barton. The apartment block is called “51’02”, supposedly the latitude and longitude of Bristol

At Paddington we took the escalators to the top floor to the EAT cafe and asked for porridge, croissants and coffee. The porridge wasn’t ready and when it came, it was only lukewarm. We didn’t have time to complain but gulped it down and returned to platform level to study the departure board. Our train was the 0900 to Western-super-Mare, going via Bristol, our destination. As soon as the platform was announced, we hurried to the train. We had reserved seats but we like to choose our own. Also, as luggage space is limited I wanted to make sure of getting space for our bags. We got two "Priority Seats" right beside the luggage rack which was still empty when we arrived. Sorted!

Priory and Priory Church of St James
Priory and Priory Church of St James
A Benedictine foundation near our hotel, today providing
support for people with a substance dependency

We could relax again for a couple of hours until we reached Bristol and there disembarked to go in search of our hotel. So far it is a grey day with overcast sky and no sign of the sun though it isn’t raining. Perhaps it will brighten up later.

We arrived in Bristol around 11 am. Because we had baggage, we decided to take a cab to the hotel. The cab was similar to the older model of London cabs and may have been one recycled. When we asked about our luggage the driver curtly told us to take them inside with us. So, he had not only adopted a London cab but had also adopted London cabbie manners and superglued himself to his seat. If he was expecting a tip he was disappointed. In my book a tip is given for good service and that was not forthcoming, so no tip.

Overshadowed by our hotel
Overshadowed by our hotel
Our hotel overshadows this old church which is now little more
than a wrapper for an office block

Checking-in time at the hotel starts at 2 pm but they were willing to keep our bags for us in the meantime. Freed of our luggage, we set out for a preliminary round of exploration.

The Creation (part)
The Creation (part)
One of a set of panels carved by Walter Ritchie for the new Bristol Eye Hospital building (1986)

By now we were looking for somewhere for lunch. We came to Colston Road and found an intriguing parade of shops.

Faces at the window
Faces at the window
In Colston Street

The shop above seemed to sell all sorts of things but they locked the door and put up the closed sign when we approached. The shop opened again when we went away. Draw your own conclusions…

Violin Shop

We admired the violin shop with its array of musical instruments…

Antiques shop

and the antiques shop with coins and coronation mugs…

Hand-made Shoe Company

and marvelled at the hand-made shoe company shop, surprised that a craftsman can still thrive in such a competitive market.

Alioli
Alioli
An Italo-Spanish cafe. Or is it a Hispano-Italian cafe?

Lunch turned up in the form of this cafe whose menu was written in a strange mixture of Italian and Spanish. They were able to put together a delicious vegetarian meal for us. (Alioli is apparently a Catalan sauce composed of oil and garlic. So now you know.)

John Foster's Almshouses
John Foster’s Almshousese
Founded in 1483 by Foster when he was Mayor of Bristol

Further down, we came to the remarkably fine and well preserved group of almshouses. A plaque on the gate informs us that they were founded in 1483 by John Foster, then Mayor of Bristol.

Forster's Almshouses and Chapel
Forster’s Almshouses and Chapel
John Foster also financed the adjoining chapel

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Above, the left picture shows the elegant design of the wooden spiral staircase providing access to the upper level, while the picture on the right shows the façade of the adjoining Chapel of the Three Kings of Cologne, which John Foster also endowed. The said three kings are shown in effigy on the façade.

I am guessing that the sculpture standing in a niche is a representation of John Foster himself. The corresponding niche on the left remains empty but ought perhaps have been used to display a sculpture of Dr George Owen, Henry VIII’s physician, who added to the endowment in 1553.

Christmas Steps
Christmas Steps
A medieval stepped street

A little further down is a narrow stepped street now known as Christmas Steps. It dates from the medieval period and is lined with small shops though these are 18th century, not medieval. Derivation of the name is uncertain as the street was originally known as Queen Street and there are rival explanations.

(I cheated with this photo. There was something unpleasant on the steps that I did not want to photograph so I have used a photo from a previous visit.)

Colston Hall
Colston Hall
Bristol’s largest concert hall

Colston Hall was built in about 1860 but has been damaged and nearly destroyed and rebuilt several times. It is currently a Grade II listed building. Its history is complex and I won’t try to disentangle it here but if you want to try, you can look at the English Heritage listing and the Wikipedia article.

Bordeaux Quay
Bordeaux Quay
A restaurant and cookery school on the River Avon

Bristol is a city of water and the River Avon runs through it like a shoelace through a shoe. Bordeaux Quay is, as the name suggests, on the edge of the water.

Ferry coming in to dock
Ferry coming in to dock
This one is painted to resemble a snarling dog

I assume that many of the boats moored here are privately owned craft but this is something I didn’t get around to investigating. Here too is a ferry station.

Stepped water feature
Stepped water feature
Pink water runs down a flight of stairs

Nearby is this water feature. It consists of what looks like a flight of stone steps down which runs a cascade of water. The water is pink which, at first sight seems a strange choice but certainly add novelty value and interest.

Drinking pink water
Drinking pink water
Gulls and pigeons quite happily drink the coloured water

I assume the colorant is non-toxic as there is obviously a possibility of it being ingested accidentally or on purpose by people and animals. The gulls and pigeons were quite happy to drink it, which I imagine proves that it is safe.

Refreshed by pink water...
Refreshed by pink water…
… the gull takes off for fresh pastures

This water feature is in fact the last link in a chain of water features forming part of an agreeable park or garden in what is called by the understated name of The Centre (or The City Centre).

The Centre
The Centre
Fountains and a statue of Neptune

The statue of Neptune punctuates this handsome open space and has some unusual features.

Neptune
Neptune
A much travelled sculpture

The statue is lead-covered and was produced in 1723 by a founder called Joseph Rendall. I don’t know who the original artist was. Originally erected on the site of the old reservoir in Temple Street, it was moved to Bear Lane (1787), then to Church Lane (1794), then to the junction of Temple Street and Victoria Street (1872) and, finally, was re-erected at the present site in 1949 (information found on an attached bronze plate).

Sculpted façade
Sculpted façade
The business area abounds in such luxuriant detail

Bristol is one of those cities that once you start exploring them draw you endlessly on, bombarding you with wonders at every turn, such as the intricate carving above. The dark side of this is that the wealth that financed this display was generated by the slave trade.

A nail
A nail
Merchants did business on these tables

The expression “cash on the nail” – meaning immediate payment – refers to these brass tables outside the Exchange. They were called “nails” and on then merchants did business and passed over the money.

Automaton Clock
Automaton Clock
Christ Church with St Ewen

Then there is the famous automaton clock with figures that strike their bells every quarter of an hour. This is built into the façade of a historic church (see here) whose name is rather a mouthful, Christ Church with St Ewen, All Saints and St George.

Patient dogs
Patient dogs
These four attracted the attention of passers-by

This man with three dogs encumbering the pavement attracted some bemused attention from passers-by (and from me) but I never discovered what he was waiting for.

John Wesley's Chapel
John Wesley’s Chapel
His first chapel, opened in 1739

In Horsefair, we came upon John Wesley’s first ever chapel, built in 1739 and rebuilt in 1748. After being used for other purposes for a while it once again came into Methodist ownership in 1930. The courtyard with flower­beds is quite a pleasant place to sit.

The preacher rides out
The preacher rides out
Wesley travelled extensively on horseback

This sculpture in the garden reminds us of how John Wesley travelled far and wide on horseback, preaching along the way. No one knows what the horse thought about it.

Charles Wesley
Charles Wesley
John’s younger brother

In another part of the site we find John’s younger brother Charles, apparently in the middle of a sermon.

Almshouse 1701
Almshouse 1701
Provided for the needy by the Guild of Merchant Tailors

We stopped off for refreshments in this pretty coffee bar and tea room which occupies an old almshouse, built in 1701, and provided for 9 needy inhabitants by the Guild of Merchant Tailors. The glass structure visible behind it is one of Bristol’s many shopping centres, this one called The Galleries Bristol.

Cabot Circus
Cabot Circus
A mall like few others

We afterwards passed through Cabot Circus. I found this an extraordinary construction. It is a huge shopping centre or mall, but not only that. It is also a place where people people meet in the many cafes and restaurants or just in open spaces. Over the whole thing is an immense glass roof, formed of many overlapping sections. Designed by Nayan Kulkarni, it is a wonder in its own right.

Our hotel
Our hotel
Fortunately our room is no higher than the fourth floor

Around 5 pm we returned to the hotel and reclaimed our bags. In this hotel, a Premier Inn, reception has been reduced to a single desk or lectern, attended by one member of staff. Arriving guests are supposed to check themselves in using one of the machines with touch-sensitive screens in the lobby. These are similar to the machines at railway stations from which you buy train tickets. Our room is on the fourth floor (the hotel has at least 16 floors) and when we entered, we found the air-conditioning was running full pelt, making the room feel like a fridge. We switched it off, of course, and I am writing this lying on the bed with my jacket zipped right up. I expect the room will warm up eventually.

Art Deco building, Lewins Mead
Art Deco building, Lewins Mead
I liked the view of this building contrasted with the cattle trough

The first task on arriving in the room was – as you no doubt already guessed – to make tea! British hotels (and some foreign ones now) provide an electric kettle in the room. They also supply a few tea bags and sachets of instant coffee but we bring our own provisions. Tigger has her jar of lemon tea and I have brought some Russian Caravan which can be brewed in a mug with a nylon filter basket for easy disposal of the leaves. It’s almost like being at home!

Drinking fountain 1893
Drinking fountain 1893
Not in honour of Queen Victoria as you might
expect, but to commemorate an Industrial
and Fine Art Exhibition that raised £2,200
for charity

We also brought with us from home those items of food which would have been outdated by the time we returned London. So we made an early supper of these. On the menu were Mozarella Pearls, a packet of Cheddars (small round savoury biscuits) and a packet of Jaffa Cakes. Oh yes, and as starters, two of the small-size Babybel cheeses each. A slightly unconventional meal, though not particularly unusual for us when we are travelling. We have the rest of the year in which to be sensible. (Not that we are, of course…)

Police Van
Police Van
The police maintain a presence in The Centre at night but we saw no trouble

Later we went out for another walk and some night photography. The place was loud with merrymakers. It all seemed good-humoured enough but I preferred the quieter places.

Fountain in The Centre
Fountain in The Centre
This fountain is pink now but I think it was white earlier in the day (or have I missed something?)

We revisited some of the places we had seen earlier in the day, including the gardens in the Centre where I snapped this pink fountain which I think was clear earlier in the day.

Stepped Water feature at night
Stepped Water Feature at night
It matches this water feature at Bordeaux Quay that we photographed in daylight and again after dark

We wandered along, following different sights that emerged out of the darkness to tempt us along until we arrived at Pero’s Bridge.

Dreaming of distant horizons
Dreaming of distant horizons
This bronze commemorates John Cabot’s discovery of America

A plaque explains the the sculpture as follows:

IN MAY 1497 JOHN CABOT SAILED FROM THIS HARBOUR IN THE MATTHEW AND DISCOVERED NORTH AMERICA

THIS STATUE WAS CREATED BY STEPHEN JOYCE FINANCED BY BRISTOL CITY COUNCIL AND ACCES, (MSC). ("Access" mis-spelt on the bronze plate.)

The Avon at night
The Avon at night
The view from Pero’s Bridge

It was around 11 pm when we returned to the hotel and I was glad to arrive. We had covered a lot of ground and it had been a long day. We have visited Bristol before and know that it is a city full of delights for the visitor. Despite familiarity, it has not disappointed us.

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

Posted in Travel | Tagged | 2 Comments

Taking a break

On the way home this afternoon while changing buses at London Bridge we looked up and saw the Goodyear Blimp (as they like to call it) going overhead.

The Blimp
The Blimp
About to disappear behind No 1 London Bridge

We had time to take a couple of snaps before our bus came along and interrupted the proceedings. Here is a close-up view showing more details, though you can’t quite see whether the pilot is waving!

The dirigible or "Blimp"
The dirigible or "Blimp"
Flying over the Thames at London Bridge

This dirigible or airship or “blimp” makes periodic returns to London and is apparently paying us a visit now though I haven’t seen any publicity about it.

Interesting as the airship may be, this post has a different purpose, namely to tell you that tomorrow we depart for a week’s holiday, during which I will not be posting. The reason for the holiday, if a reason be needed, is that my birthday occurs during the week and we always try to go away for our respective birthdays in March and September. I hope to recount our adventures and show you the pictures after our return.

So, where are we going? I will give you two clues, a bridge and a ship. Both are famous and, remarkably, both were designed and built by the same man, one of our most important Victorian engineers.

The Bridge
The Bridge

The total length of the bridge is 1,352 ft (414 m) and the height of the walkway is 245 ft (76 m) above high water. Tour visitors are told the story a Victorian lady in a crinoline dress who fell (or jumped) from the bridge but reached the ground safely, her skirts having performed the role of a parachute. The story is almost certainly apocryphal!

The Ship
The Ship

The ship was of an innovatory design for her day and successfully carried pas­sen­gers on a number of voyages but sadly became derelict and was almost lost before funding could be found to bring her back to her home port, amid celebrations, where she now resides, a charming monument to her designer’s genius.

Those are pretty good clues and I am sure most of you will guess the name of the town, especially if you live there! If you do live there, please say hello in passing.

Poor Freya went off to the cattery this morning (she doesn’t like going and I don’t like taking her…) and I have done my packing but for those needed items that have to be squeezed in at the last minute. All that remains is to get up bright and early tomorrow to go and catch our train.

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

Posted in Travel | 4 Comments

Thanet loop

The August bank holiday is an important date for us. It is the day on which we celebrate our anniversary. We do this because it means that we always have a day off when we can celebrate freely and perhaps go on a trip somewhere. That’s what we did this time.

The original plan was to go to Burnham on Crouch. Why? Well, I don’t think we’ve been there. (Or, if we have, I don’t remember – which comes to the same thing…)

St Pancras
St Pancras
We came back and took the HS1

So, off we went to Liverpool Street station where I bought breakfast while Tigger went off to see about train tickets. When she came back she said that an unusually percipient ticket clerk had explained that because of rail works, we would have a long and arduous journey to get to Burnham and had suggested it wasn’t worth it. We therefore fell back on our second choice, which was to go to Thanet. This meant rushing back to St Pancras and starting our journey from there on the HS1.

Sleeping moth
Sleeping moth
Ashford International station

We took the HS1 to Margate but had to change at Ashford International station. We had some time to spare and so wandered around the station looking at whatever was to be seen. Tigger spotted this moth and we took photos of it. I don’t know what its name is. (Update: I believe this species of moth is called an Angle Shade – see here.)

The station gull
The station gull
Patrolling Margate station

We disembarked at Margate station where we were accosted by the station gull. Gulls are opportunists (like humans) and expert at blagging food from people.

Margate beach
Margate beach
People are out enjoying a sunny bank holiday

Margate’s sandy beach had attracted a lot of people but perhaps not as many as one might have expected for a sunny bank holiday. On show is a lifeboat from the local Lifeboat Station.

Bags of sand?
Bags of sand?
Coming or going?

I was somewhat bemused to see these bags of sand on the promenade. Were they going or coming? Who’s selling sand to whom? Is Margate exporting sand to less well endowed beaches or topping up its own supply? I have not been able to find out though I did hear that a local artist had caused dissent by selling jars of Margate sand.

Victorian Tearooms
Victorian Tearooms
We stopped for a cream tea

This area is known as the Isle of Thanet, but I think these days it is no longer an island, though it once was. The main towns are Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate. They are conveniently connected by a circular bus route called, appropriately, the Thanet Loop. As we had spent time in Margate recently, we soon sped off to Broadstairs, where we stopped for a cream tea at the Victorian Tearooms.

Old Shop
Old Shop
These are a feature of Broadstairs

Broadstairs has a more genteel atmosphere than Margate (not that I am criticising Margate, you understand) and if you keep your eyes open, you will discover many interesting vestiges of the past. Old shop fronts like the above are one of the obvious elements of a previous age.

Transport of the past
Transport of the past
A support for tram powerlines still in place

An easily missed one is to be seen high up on this building. It is a support for tram powerlines and there is a matching one on the facing building. I was quite surprised to see it here as the street is narrow and bends sharply. Trams used to connect the Thanet towns as the Loop bus service does today. The service ran from 1901 until 1937, when it was closed and trams were replaced by buses. How I would have liked to take that tram ride!

Oliver Postgate
Oliver Postgate
Remember The Clangers?

Here is a vestige of more modern history or, at least, what you would consider history if you were a fan of The Clangers. The blue plaque advises that Oliver Postgate (1925-2008), their author, lived here at number 4, Chandos Road, Broadstairs.

Louisa Bay
Louisa Bay
Where tourists and visitors are less likely to come

Visitors are more likely to stay in town and on the nearest beach to town, Viking Bay. Instead, we headed west along the cliff until we were above Louisa Bay, which was relatively lightly populated. On the cliff top, we ran into some sort of fair or festivity.

On the bandstand
On the bandstand…
a group was playing to an audience

The bandstand was occupied by a group making a noise that some people apparently mistook for music. Fortunately, the bandstand is in a slight hollow which absorbed some of the sound.

Stalls and sideshows
Stalls and sideshows
There was plenty of activity and people seemed to be enjoying it

There were plenty of people, visiting the stalls and sideshows, gathering in groups, and so on. A couple of items in particular caught my attention.

Mummery and Fudger
Mummery and Fudger
Watch out for the lady in the big hat…!

The first was the stall of Mummery and Fudger because of their rather striking saleslady. Not that she seemed to be making much of an effort to attract customers…

Dressed to...
Dressed to…
sell sticks of incense!

The name of the product seems strangely appropriate as that face suggests someone who could nag the hind leg off a donkey!

The "Charity Organ"
The “Charity Organ”
A colourful production by Dean Organs of Bristol

The second was this “Charity Organ”, manufactured by Dean Organs of Bristol and displayed by Dignity Caring Funeral Services. I assume it collects money for charity. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear it working. (It might have drowned out the racket from the bandstand.)

Young pigeon
Young pigeon
Who says you never see them?

As we walked along the cliff, I suddenly saw this little face watching me. It was a young pigeon. My stomach turned over because it was perched on a narrow ledge above a deep drop and I wasn’t sure it could fly yet. It watched me intently and I didn’t want to approach too closely in case I frightened it and caused it to fall.

I think that people don’t realize how sensitive birds are to being stared at. Try approaching a pigeon or a gull without looking at it and see how close you get. Then try the same thing while staring at the bird. You will find you cannot get as close.

Ramsgate Harbour
Ramsgate Harbour
A picturesque port full of small ships

We again caught the bus and came from Broadstairs to the third of our towns, Ramsgate. Though they are close neighbours, each town has a distinct character and if you were brought blindfold to any of them, I think you would know from the feel of the place which town you were in.

The Pillar Box
The Pillar Box
This is what we came to see

We had a reason for coming here today. (Well, two reasons,actually, but I’ll tell you the second later.) We had missed it before but now we knew about it, we had to see it. And get the photos, of course. It is the pillar box above. Can you see why?

The reason
The reason
An unusual royal cypher

You may have seen, or at least heard of, the film The King’s Speech. It tells how the man who was to become known as George VI unexpectedly became king. The sceptre was placed in his hands as a result of his brother, known to the world as Edward VIII, abdicated. He had reigned for less than 11 months during the year 1936.

When a new pillar box is commissioned, it bears the cypher of the reigning monarch but the shortness of Edward’s reign meant that relatively few pillar boxes were made incorporating his cypher. It seems that 161 were made (plus 6 wall boxes) but according to some sources, only 130 survive. This means that they are, if not “rare”, at least “uncommon”! Hence our interest in Ramsgate’s Edward VIII pillar box.

"Can I have my coffee now, please?"
“Can I have my coffee now, please?”
or “The thoughtless photographer”

After photographing the pillar box, we went to Cafe Roma for refreshments. We were sitting facing the open front of the cafe and I rather liked the backlighting effects and the silhouettes of the other customers. I took some photos of our coffee cups and then turned my thoughts to other things. Then a little voice beside me asked “Is it all right for me to drink my coffee now, please?” Poor Tigger, I had neglected to tell her I had finished my coffee cup experiments. How she puts up with me, I do not know.

This is not a guard dog
Ceci n’est pas un chien de garde
And he’s chained so you can’t steal him

We now set off to follow up on the second of our reasons for coming here. Along the way we saw this dog sitting in front of a house. He wasn’t a guard dog; in fact, he’s not really a dog at all, being made of ceramic. He’s very lifelike, though, and has been attached with a chain and padlock. Perhaps people have tried to steal him before.

Guildford Lawn
Guildford Lawn
A square of beautiful houses

Our destination was this secluded square of fine houses picturesquely named Guildford Lawn. What is above the door on the left gives a clue to why we came.

Will Hay lived here
Will Hay lived here
A blue plaque has recently been affixed to his house

The Ramsgate Society placed the blue plaque on number 3 Guildford Lawn in July this year. It honours Will Hay, the much loved actor, producer, comedian and serious amateur astronomer who made discoveries with equipment of his own fabrication. Unfortunately, though the references I have seen state that Hay lived in Ramsgate “for a number of years”, none reveal precisely when that was. (See Updates 1 and 2 below.)

Ghost sign
Ghost sign
Once a pub but no more

It was getting late and we thought we should be making tracks but it is difficult to get away from Ramsgate because there are so many interesting things that jump out at you at every turn. Like the ghost sign above, or…

Dispensary
Dispensary
What is its history?

this dispensary about which I know nothing. Was it a charitable foundation? Today it seems to be part of a private accommodation.

Gargoyles
Gargoyles
Chatham House Grammar School

Or these gargoyles on the old building of Chatham House Grammar School. Did they frighten or amuse new pupils?

Townley House
Townley House
Designed by Mary Townley

Or this house, Townley House, designed by a woman architect. She lived, as the plaque tells us, from 1753 to 1839, and Victoria, she who was to become Queen, visited this house while still a princess. And so it goes on: I have many photos, too many to show, but they all deserve to be seen because of their interest, historic or other.

But we had to keep moving on. Our train tickets were for Margate and, in theory at least, we ought to return there to take the train to London, but it seemed wearisome to do so. Could we get the train at Ramsgate instead? Morally, there was nothing wrong with that since the train from Margate would go through Ramsgate on the way to London. We decided to chance it and whether it was allowable or not, no one contested it.

King's Cross
King’s Cross
Seen from the terrace of St Pancras station

When we arrived back at St Pancras, Tigger proposed inviting me to dinner at Carluccio’s – an offer I wasn’t going to refuse! We enjoyed our dinner, served by friendly and helpful staff, and afterwards went onto the terrace of St Pancras station to take some night photos. I didn’t have a tripod with me but put the camera on a handy wall and blocked it as best I could with my fingers. Some photos were blurred but these two came out reasonably well.

The courtyard of St Pancras
The courtyard of St Pancras
Night adds a touch of romantic mystery to this beautiful building

Such was our bank holiday and our anniversary. It was a day full of interest and fun and – best of all – full of one another.

Update 1 August 3rd 2013

Having been reminded by Alf Game (see Comments) that I had not followed up on the dates of Will Hay’s sojourn in Ramsgate, I looked into the matter further but found that, while there were accounts online of Will Hay living in Ramsgate, none were accompanied by actual dates. I therefore got in touch with the Ramsgate Society as it was they who had installed the blue plaque.

All the Society is able to tell me is that Will Hay was resident at Guildford Lawn for two years, then moved to 8 Hollicondane Road for two years and that this was “in the 20’s”. (But see here.)

Perhaps the biography by Graham Rinaldi (Will Hay, ISBN 978-0-9557670-1-2, Tomahawk Press) contains some clues.

Update 2 August 18th 2013

Alf Game has read Will Hay by Graham Rinaldi (see above) and has sent me a succinct account of Hay’s time in Ramsgate, resident successively in Guildford Lawn and Hollicondane Road:

The Hay family moved from Manchester to 3 Guildford Lawn, Ramsgate, in the early part of 1921, and then relocated to 8 Hollicondane Road sometime before September 1923. They then moved to Norbury in 1926. He does seem to have spent a significant part of 1921 not touring and writing new material so he might have actually lived there for a few months. He then spent the first six months of 1922 touring in the UK with a show called Find the Beetle, opened a new show in London called Listening In in July 1922 for two months, then took it on a 12-month UK tour until September 1923. Arrived at Hollicondane Road, stayed for one month and then went off on another short UK tour of The Fourth Form at St Michaels before departing with it to Australia and NZ in in December 1923. He arrived back in August 1924, spent about a month at Hollicondane Road and in London and then took the show on tour in the UK until December when he went into panto in Edinburgh until February 1925. Then after a week long break he resumed touring with The Fourth Form at St Michaels for a short while, then went into rehearsals for another show called Vanity Box, touring with that until December 1925. Then after one week in London he went back out onto the road with The Fourth Form at St Michaels again…… for nearly a year before sailing to America in early 1926. The family was in Norbury by the time he got back.

So it does seem that 3 Guildford Lawn is the best place to put the plaque because although the family occupied Hollicondane Road for longer, Will spent next to no time there at all.

My thanks to Alf for taking time and trouble to find out about Will Hay’s period of residence in Ramsgate and for letting me know the results.

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

Posted in Out and About | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Mile End and Limehouse

It is Sunday and we have to do our weekly shopping and then take it home and store it away. As a reward (can you have a reward before you have done what you are to be rewarded for?) we take ourselves to breakfast at the Glass Works. I have already written about the Glass Works here and here, so I will say no more about it for now.

We did our shopping and took it home, and then… Well, then, we found things to do and sat around until about 2 pm. Tigger fancied going out for lunch so we walked down Pentonville Road towards King’s Cross to see what, if anything, turned up.

Il Casale
Il Casale
An Italian restaurant at Nido

What turned up was Il Casale, an Italian restaurant in the Nido student accommodation block. The ground floor of this huge development is available for businesses and retail.

Light well
Light well
The entrance court is surrounded by blocks but open to the sky

This was the first time I had been close to the Nido blocks. Outside the restaurant you have this dizzying view between blocks as you look up to the sky.

Mile End
Mile End
A path that leads to the canal

We caught a bus to Mile End. We hadn’t been there for a while and it was a sunny afternoon so it seemed a good time to go. We walked down to the canal.

Looks like rubbish...
Looks like rubbish…
…but it’s really a coots’ nest

This may look like various items of rubbish that have been swept into a corner by the current but it is in fact a coots’ nest. The nest is empty which means the young are big enough to go out on the water.

The coot family
The coot family
Parents and four young

We soon saw the whole family – parents and four young – busily searching for food. Tigger caused a flurry of excitement by throwing some seeds into the water.

Duck weed
Duck weed
This year, all bodies of water are infested with duck weed

The canals, streams, rivers, ponds and lakes are infested with duck weed this year. In some places volunteers have been called in to clear the waterways but barely have they done so when the green layer reappears. It is so thick in places that it looks like a solid green carpet.

Sailing through duck weed
Sailing through duck weed
The barge makes a path which then closes again

We watched a barge going through a lock and then sailing off down the canal. Where it passed, it made a broad path of clear water but then the duck weed closed again behind it as though no path had ever been cleared.

Mile End Park
Mile End Park
Created on bombed-out industrial land

We walked through part of Mile End Park, which was created after the war, by transforming land occupied by industry that had been destroyed by World War II bombing. Unusual as such a project is, I think it has been successful in bringing new green space to the area.

Royal Arms
Royal Arms
Gateway to the sports ground in King George’s Fields

We came out through the sports ground in King George’s Fields at the gates that bear the royal arms.

Ragged School Museum
Ragged School Museum
Somewhere to visit when we can fit it in

Nearby is the Ragged School Museum, an establishment that we intend the visit when it is open and we can  find the time. Today it was closed.

The Mission
The Mission
Originally a hostel for sailors

society

We went on down to Limehouse where this striking Art Deco building occupies a prominent corner. Labelled simply “The Mission”, it was also called “The Empire Memorial Hostel” and provided lodgings for sailors coming in from the nearby docks.

High up on the building (a bit beyond the range of my camera lens – click to see a slightly larger version), this badge or roundel tells us that the hostel was built under the auspices of the Sailors’ Society, motto “IN SERVICE FOR THE SAILOR”. This Society, dedicated to the welfare of seafarers and their families throughout the world, still exists.

Foundation stones
Foundation stones
These show that the hostel was completed in two phases

Two foundation stones on the sides of the building indicate that it was built in 1923 and then extended in 1932. Quite prominent people were involved and words such as “devotion” and “energy” suggest that they took a principal role in the founding of the hostel. I do not know any more than that and information seems sparse.

A Kingly figure
A Kingly figure
I am guessing this is Neptune, god and king of the sea

shield

This decorative figure occurs no less than four times on the front of the building. Clearly intended to be venerable and wearing a kingly crown, this is perhaps Neptune, the god and king of the sea, framed by exotic sea plants.

Over the door appears a shield whose dates, 1914 and 1918, can surely only refer to the First World War (though some prefer the dates 1914-1919). I looked for an inscription or other references to the war (I have seen doorways used as war memorials before) but could see none. It would seem to be a mute memorial to seafarers who gave the lives in that conflagration.

Mission doorway and façade
Mission doorway and façade
A certain robust charm

In time, the docks declined in importance as trade went elsewhere. Instead, the housing potential of Limehouse began to be developed. According to the Wikipedia article on Limehouse, “The building subsequently became a run-down hostel for the homeless which became notorious for its squalor” – a sad come-down for a institution founded for such noble ends.

Sailors' Society Sign
Sailors’ Society Sign
Seen in nearby Newell Street

Ironically perhaps, the Mission is today the container for luxury apartments. But, then, why not? Even the rich must have somewhere to live and this usage does at least preserve the outer shell and appearance of an historic building, one that still speaks to us of a part of London’s complex biography and provides a memorial to those of forgotten names and faces who came from all over the world in furtherance of the trade that was its lifeblood.

Limehouse Town Hall
Limehouse Town Hall
Listed but in danger

Just across the road from the Mission stands another historic survival, Limehouse Town Hall. Built in 1879-81 for the Limehouse District Vestry (“vestries” were the forerunners of modern councils), it included offices and an assembly room, in which, in 1909, David Lloyd George made a famous speech attacking the House of Lords.

Beautiful but...
Beautiful but…
…in urgent need of cleaning and maintenance

When Limehouse was absorbed into the Borough of Tower Hamlets in 1965 (a story repeated many times across London), the town hall became surplus to requirements. Listed Grade II in 1973, 30 years later the building was added to English Heritage’s Buildings at Risk register. It still looks in a precarious state to me.

The doors...
The doors…
…will they open again to the public?

The town hall is currently leased to the Limehouse Town Hall Consortium for arts educational and community projects. Perhaps a way can be found to save it and put it to good use. I certainly hope so.

The afternoon had started sunny but, as you might see from the photos, clouds had gathered and a gloomy atmosphere now prevailed. We decided it was time to catch a bus for home, content that we had covered quite some ground in the short time we had been out.

Gloomy sky over Aldgate
Gloomy sky over Aldgate

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

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A look at Chelmsford

Why would we take a trip to Chelmsford? Well, for one thing, because we had never been there and didn’t know anything about it and it therefore seemed worth a look.

According to Domesday Book, Chelmsford then belonged to the Bishop of London and in 1199, the King granted a charter for the holding of a weekly market near the bridge that had been built over the River Can in 1100. Chelmsford’s history, however, goes further back than this. The Romans had a town there called Caesaromagus, but when the legions departed and the Anglo-Saxons colonised the area, they left the Roman town to fall into ruin, creating their own settlement, Ceomaers Ford. This name eventually mutated into modern “Chelmsford”.

Clifton Street
Clifton Street
Quiet on a Saturday

We caught a bus to Finsbury Square and walked through to Liverpool Street station. It was already around 9 am but the City is very quiet on Saturdays as the above picture shows.

Window cleaner
Window cleaner
Like a spider dangling from a thread

About the only life we saw was a window cleaner high up on a building, dangling like a spider from a thread. No flies to catch, though, just grimy windows to scrape clean.

Chelmsford
Chelmsford
It was quiet here too

We reached Chelmsford around 10 am and found that it too was rather quiet. Perhaps people were taking things easy for the bank holiday weekend.

Wood pigeon
Wood pigeon
Not looking for hand-outs

This wood pigeon was out and about and keeping busy, but although he kept a wary eye on us he wasn’t interested in the seeds Tigger offered him.

Old Quaker Meeting House
Old Quaker Meeting House
In use from 1824 to 1957

Anne Knight

From the station we went on a general ramble as is our wont. One of our first discoveries was the old Quaker Meeting House. This was built by the Chelmsford Quakers and used by them from 1824 to 1957, when they sold it to help fund a new building. It now seems to be in a rather sorry condition and I don’t know what use it now serves, if any.

On the wall of the meeting house is a blue plaque in memory of Anne Knight (1786-1862). To my shame, I must admit to never having heard of her before. She was the daughter of a Chelmsford grocer and a tireless worker for emancipation of slaves and for women’s rights, altogether a remarkable and admirable women.

Bricked up
Bricked up
Condemned or mothballed?

In Victoria Road South, we discovered this strange building. Google Street View shows it with a door and windows so it has only fairly recently been bricked up. There is no clue to be gained from the site itself, however. Perhaps it is due to be demolished.

Essex County Hall
Essex County Hall
The Duke Street entrance

In Duke Street is Essex County Hall, a large structure built in 1933, according to an inscription on the corner. From memory I think there is also an older part to the building though I neglected to note the date. The style might be described as “restrained elaborate”: as you see from the photo, there is some intricate carved work but it is limited to small areas.


Side door
Threadneedle Street

County Hall sits in a roughly triangular area limited by Duke Street, Threadneedle Street and Market Road. In that enclave an extension was added in the 1980s. I believe that it was completed in 1987 and opened officially in 1988. A very helpful librarian in the public library supplied the information.

The atrium
The atrium
Provides an entrance for the Central Library
and Council offices

There is an atrium with a high glass ceiling and a light and airy atmosphere. This provides an exhibition or display area, together with the entrance to the Central Library and to some Council offices and services (for examples, there were several wedding parties coming and going). I found the library very impressive though it is so large that staff must walk several miles every working day!

Chelmsford Market
Chelmsford Market
Not open today

The town we know today as Chelmsford grew around its market. The market dates back to at least the Roman period (Caesaromagus apparently means “Caesar’s market”) and I was glad to see that it still has a market and seemingly, a large one. However, we were unable to judge for ourselves as it was fenced off and being worked on.

Cathedral Church
Cathedral Church
Dedicated to St Mary, St Peter and St Cedd

What looks at first sight like a typical parish church, turns out to be the Cathedral. If that surprises you, it surprised us too. Its modest proportions derive from the fact that it did indeed begin as an ordinary church and was promoted to cathedral status only in 1914.

Main door
Main door
Currently closed while refurbishment takes place

There was originally on the site a church dedicated to St Mary. This was altered and repaired in several stages during the 15th, 16th and 19th centuries (and apparently, now also). When the church became a cathedral, St Peter and St Cedd were added as dedicatees.

Sea boots and key
Sea boots and key
That jolly fisherman, St Peter

Blue plaque

This striking figure sits on a corner of the building. As Chelmsford is nowhere near the sea (though two rivers run through it, the Chelmer and the Can), I wondered why he was wearing what appeared to be sea boots and carrying a guitar. Then I realized that the “guitar” is in fact a big key and that this sculpture represents St Peter. That also explains the dubious two-finger salute he is giving.

On the wall, this blue plaque tells us that Thomas Hooker served here as a curate when it was the Church of St Mary, 1626-29. Harassed for his Puritan views, Hooker lost his curacy and later fled to America where, falling out with his brethren in Massachusetts, he went off and founded the colony of Connecticut.

Shire Hall
Shire Hall
That’s the courthouse to you and me

Making our way to the High Street, we encountered this noble building with a façade of Portland stone (recognizable by the colour and by the fossils of sea creatures visible within it). This is Shire Hall, designed by John Johnson and finished in 1791. The three Serco vans parked in front and round the side give the game away: this has always been Chelmsford’s courthouse. It is also the town’s oldest building.

High Street
High Street
Shops and stalls in a pedestrianised street

The High Street, happily, is a pedestrian area so you can wander freely without worrying about traffic. By now the early quietness had come to an end and the place had come alive. There was a definite weekend feel to it.

Bridge over the Can
Bridge over the Can
The seed from which Chelmsford grew

Two rivers, the Chelmer and the Can, meet to form a ‘Y’ shape and Chelmsford grew up between the two branches. There was probably a Roman bridge hereabouts but no traces have been found. The first historic bridge, built of wood, was commissioned by Maurice, Bishop of London and Lord of the Manor of Chelmsford, around 1100. As a result of this opening up of the area to traffic, Chelmsford rapidly gained importance as a market town and a seat for itinerant justices. (As you see from the photo, by the time we reached the bridge, rain had started to fall.)

A sunnier view
A sunnier view
The western side of the bridge

By 1351, however, the bridge was being described as "broken", and in 1372 a new stone bridge of three arches was constructed. This one was to last about 400 years.  At the end of the 18th century, the bridge had fallen into a state of disrepair and needed to be replaced. In 1784, John Johnson, architect of the Shire Hall, was commissioned to design a new bridge, the present one. This was opened in 1788, presumably having taken longer to build than expected as the date incised on the bridge itself is 1787.

The view downriver
The view downriver
Further along, the Can runs into the Chelmer

Johnson took the opportunity to widen the bridge and used Coade stone, renowned for its durability, for parts of the structure, including the balusters. The newly formed County Council took responsibility for the bridge and still maintains it today, having had to repair it more than once after flood damage.

Monk and Centurion
Monk and Centurion
A Janus figure recalling phases in Chelmsford’s history

Beyond the bridge, the road becomes Moulsham Street. Where Baddow Road goes off to the left, we find this Janus-like figure, showing a monk on one side and a Roman centurion on the other. (Again note the different weather conditions!) Of more interest to us at this stage was an establishment in Baddow Road.

Bilash
Bilash
An Indian restaurant called Enjoyment

We had had only a light breakfast and it was now 2 pm, so we were more than ready for lunch. We had the enjoyable task of choosing between the several eateries in Baddow Road, finally deciding on the Indian restaurant Bilash. We asked what the name means and were told it means “enjoyment”. So we sat back and scoffed a vegetable thali, bilash indeed!

Moulsham Jeweller's
Moulsham Jeweller’s
Stepping back in time

Moulsham Street crosses a major road called Parkway and then you find yourself in Moulsham, which has a much older feel to it than the modern shops and shopping precincts of the High Street (though there are some interesting survivals there too). An example is this jeweller’s shop dated 1903.

Local shops
Local shops
This row has a village feel to it

Further along, this little row of shops with their old-style architecture had a village feel to them. In fact, walking further on, we soon found ourselves back in the 19th century!

Village school
Village school
Founded in memory of Thomas Tidboald

Thus we have the school, founded in memory of churchwarden Thomas Tidboald by his widow in 1885…

Hemp Cottage
Hemp Cottage
A reminder of Godfrey’s rope-making business

and this cottage dated 1878, bearing the name Hemp Cottage, recalling Godfrey’s rope-making business that was established near here.

Parish church
Parish church
St John the Evangelist, Moulsham

Or again, Moulsham’s parish church, St John the Evangelist, dating from 1837. Now, once again, it started to rain, so we took refuge across the road in the Star & Garter.

Friends at the bar
Friends at the bar
It seemed a nice friendly place…

It was quite busy and seemed a pleasant, friendly place, except…

The sinister cove in the corner
The sinister cove in the corner
Holding a fiendish device

… except for the sinister cove in the corner who seemed to be pointing a fiendish device (I assume it’s fiendish) at the rest of us. Is it Elton John Playing Mr Pickwick? Thankfully, we’ll never know…

Gray's Brewery
Gray’s Old Brewery
Now shops and restaurants

By the time we emerged, the rain had stopped and the sun was shining but we decided that we had seen enough of Chelmsford for now. We retraced our steps along Moulsham Street and the High Street, had a quick look at the recycled W. Gray & Sons Springfield Brewery (1828),

Not a peace camp
Not a peace camp
Black’s Tent Show and Camping Exhibition

and walked through Bell Meadow & Central Park, where, at first sight, I thought there was a peace camp or protest in progress but it turned out to be outdoor specialist retailer Black’s and their tent and camping exhibition.

Quite a pleasant park
Quite a pleasant park
This too is the River Can

It is quite a pleasant park but a nearby event was playing loud music with a deep throbbing bass that I found quite unpleasant. No matter where we turned, the music seemed to follow us.

Old College
Old College
Dating from 1931 with Art Deco features

We did, however, pause to take a look at this old building, now a building site. I hope they are refurbishing, not demolishing this piece of 1930s Art Deco.

Looking rather sad
Looking rather sad
A dusty beauty

I hope the building will rise again from the dirt and grime and assaults of the building site as it is a good piece of architecture and deserves to survive. Let it not be replaced by another modern monstrosity.

We had not known Chelmsford before this visit. Had our trip been worthwhile? Yes, I think so. We had dis­cov­ered some interesting buildings and other fascinating historical items. Will we return? Hm, I think that’s less likely, though you never know what fate has in store!

Torch of Knowledge
Torch of Knowledge

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

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Much water coming down

Today I went to meet Tigger to have lunch with her sister. We lunched in a cafe we know in Borough High Street and then I returned home. I would have been away for about two hours.

I found a note sellotaped to our front door. It was an apologetic missive from our upstairs neighbour, informing us that his bath had overflowed and that if any damage had been done to our flat his brother (a builder by trade) would sort it out. This was all the more annoying because it is the second time that this has happened. On the first occasion he caught it before any water came into our flat. What about this time, though?

I unlocked the door with trepidation and found there were puddles in the hallway and in the bathroom. Worryingly, water droplets hung from the fuse box for the bathroom fan and the central heating thermostat was showing an incomplete display.

I removed the fuse from the fuse box, hoping that the box could be left to dry out on its own, and set about mopping up the water on the floor. Apart from the details I have mentioned no damage seemed to have been done. It was only later that I realized that the central heating thermostat was malfunctioning. I removed its battery pack and hope that it will start working again once it has dried out, otherwise I will have to call the council to have it repaired. I have kept my neighbour’s note as a confession of responsibility in case there is a charge for repairs.

This experience took me back in memory to a time some years ago when I lived in Hendon, in a purpose-built block of four flats, two up and two down. Our flat was on the bottom left, looking from the front of the house. Above us and beside us lived two elderly ladies who had occupied their flats for many years and would no doubt leave them only when their sojourn on earth came to an end. The fourth flat, diagonally above us, was a different matter. A whole series of tenants occupied it in turn, some of whom I remember well and others whom I only vaguely recall.

There was the cabbie who parked his black cab in front of the house and had fellow cabbies round for animated chats in the front garden; the young woman who drove a Mini adapted as a rally car, though whether she drove it in rallies I do not know; the young couple who while in public showing the enthusiastic affection for one another expected of young couples, often in private engaged in shouted altercations followed by the sound of fist on flesh.

Then there were the Singhs.

The Singh family consisted of Mr Singh, his wife, and their children, a son and daughter in their late teens or early twenties. Mr Singh used to be absent for long periods and the other family members were very quiet and discreet so that we hardly noticed their presence. Until late one night, that is.

I was getting ready for bed when there came a frantic hammering on the front door. I opened it to find Mrs Singh standing there, looking frightened. She pointed upwards and muttered something in fragmentary English about water and the ceiling. I put on my shoes, grabbed a torch and followed her upstairs. She ushered me into the kitchen which was immediately on the left of the front door and I saw that there was indeed water coming down through the ceiling.

Supplying hot water to the sink was an old-fashioned gas geyser and this was roaring away and gushing steaming water into the sink, creating a rather surreal atmosphere. I guess they had turned it on, thinking thus to reduce the pressure on the water coming through the ceiling.

There was nothing for it but to fetch a pair of steps and go into the loft through the hatch in the ceiling on the shared landing. I there discovered that some previous occupant of the flat had had the bright idea of installing central heating and using the loft to install the pipes that ran here and there to serve the rooms beneath. This system was very poor and most of the joints had cracked and were gushing water.

I do not now remember the details but I somehow stanched the flow and returned downstairs. I told the Singhs that they should contact the landlord’s agent to have something done about the problem as it was likely to happen again. Did they understand? I don’t know. I assume so as the two youngsters seemed competent in English even if Mrs Singh was not.

Weeks passed and then, again late at night, there came a furious banging on my door. Again there stood Mrs Singh with her frightened expression. She pointed skywards and announced in a voice of doom “Much water coming down!”

I sighed, put on my shoes, grabbed a torch and went upstairs. In the Singhs’ kitchen, the gas geyser was roaring away, steaming up the place, and the two young people were catching water with pots and pans and emptying them in the sink. Water was pouring from the ceiling and, most worryingly, there was a stream running down the light fitting. Why the electrics didn’t fuse, I have no idea.

Once more into the loft, dear friends, once more…

Somehow I managed once again to cut off the flow, conscious that, as before, I had secured only a temporary damming of the flood. I explained this, again, to the Singhs and urged them, again, to contact the landlord’s agent. Possibly they had done so without obtaining a result. It was a firm that was very loath to take any action that required disbursement of funds, no matter how small.

Tired and wet, I returned to my own abode, hoping that this was the end of the story. Weeks passed and then one day there came a knock upon the front door. A gentle one this time. I opened the door and there stood Mr Singh.

Mr Singh was quite a short gentleman but with his Sikh turban and his beard and mustache twirled and pulled up into his turban in the Sikh manner, he somehow looked larger than he really was. He was dressed in a grey business suit with a shirt and tie. I greeted him affably, preparing to be politely modest in response to his expressions of gratitude for my noble interventions on behalf of his soggy family. My prepared phrases died in my throat, however, for that was not why he had come.

In a lilting Indian accent he said “I have to go to India on business. I shall be away some time.”

“When are you ever here?” I thought to myself. But no matter…

“While I am gone,” continued Mr Singh, “please look after my family.”

He said it in so mater-of-fact a manner, not asking whether I would, but simply instructing me to do so, that I did a double take: was he really appointing me guardian of his family? Well, so it seemed…

Apparently satisfied that he had fulfilled his responsibilities towards his family, and before I could say a word, Mr Singh bade me farewell and departed.

I never learned quite what my duties were with regard to the Singhs as, fortunately, I was never called upon to exercise them. In due course, the Singhs quietly disappeared from the flat on the upper floor and were replaced by other tenants. Whether they returned to India, or whether Mr Singh came back to London to take charge of them, I do not know. I never saw them again. More to the point, I never had to go back into the loft, torch in hand, to battle with the flood waters.

My reveries were interrupted by my neighbour knocking on the door. He was suitably apologetic. I suggested he acquire an alarm clock and set it to go off at intervals of 5 minutes whenever he ran a bath. Did he take this in? I doubt it. My neighbour has a speak-only brain. That is, he speaks and doesn’t seem to take in anything you say in reply. We parted on friendly enough terms but if there is another incident of flooding, relations are likely to become strained.

You may recall that it was water dripping through the bathroom ceiling, and the fact that he had left his mail uncollected, that led me to suspect that the previous tenant had died in his flat, a suspicion that had ultimately been proved correct. That story is recounted, as it happened, in Death of a pigeon fancier.

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More low-light adventures

Following on from a previous outing to do night photography (see As the light fades…), we went on another expedition this evening. We started by taking a bus to Waterloo Bridge.

Theatre Square
Theatre Square
An open space belonging to the National Theatre

The sky was still above the horizon but the shadows were length­en­ing. The golden light is good for photography because it is relativity soft.

The Thames from Waterloo Bridge
The Thames from Waterloo Bridge
Looking downriver towards Blackfriars Bridge

Waterloo Bridge provides a fine view of the Thames. Quite a lot of shipping moves around in the area, adding interest. The next bridge is Blackfriars. There are also several famous buildings in view: on the left bank, the dome of St Paul’s and the bullet-shaped Gherkin; on the right bank, shaped like a water carafe, the (expletive deleted) Shard.

Courtyard, Somerset House
Courtyard, Somerset House
Once a royal palace, now a centre for entertainment and the arts

We walked down to Somerset House and tarried a while in the courtyard. The first building here was a Tudor palace built in 1547 by Edward Seymour, Lord Protector (of the underage Edward VI) and Duke of Somerset. The palace was finished in 1573 but, alas for him, the Duke had already lost his head to the executioner in 1572.

The fountains
The fountains
In the quiet of the evening, the pigeons can come to drink

The present building, beautiful as it is, dates only from 1775. The original building had fallen into such a state of disrepair that the best course was to demolish it and start again. Thus was finally swept away a site with a complex history that had seen crowned heads and powerful statesmen as residents, and repeated phases of expensive rebuilding and decoration. An account of that history will be found here.

A lighted doorway
A lighted doorway
A splash of colour amid grey stone

After enjoying the peaceful surroundings of a courtyard once more restored to its natural state after being cluttered with temporary structures during a recent event, we walked through the arch into the Strand.

Gateway to the Strand
Gateway to the Strand
Lights show off the beauty of the moulded ceiling

In the Strand, we waited for a bus to carry us to the next place that we wanted to photograph. While waiting, I snapped the church of St Mary le Strand, the tip of whose spire was catching the last of the sunlight.

St Mary le Strand
St Mary le Strand
The spire is tipped by the last rays of
sunlight

The bus dropped us off in Whitehall and we walked around the corner to this famous arch.

Admiralty Arch
Admiralty Arch
A monument and also the gateway to the Mall

Admiralty Arch is one of those features of London that we feel has been here for ever but it in fact bears the date of its construction upon it, incorporated in the Latin dedication: In the tenth year of King Edward VII, to Queen Victoria, from most grateful citizens, 1910.

The Admiralty Nose
The Admiralty Nose
Whose nose it is, no one seems to know

The Arch contains a mystery. In the rightmost arch (as seen from Trafalgar Square), about 7 feet from the ground, is a stone nose. Many theories have been proposed but no one seems to know for sure whose nose it is meant to be. Some say that it is that of the Duke of Wellington (known for his large nose) and that mounted guardsmen rub it for good luck as they pass through. Others say it is Napoleon’s, put there to be insulted by passers-by. Still others claim it is a spare nose for Admiral Nelson atop his column but, in that case, why only a nose? Why not other spare body parts as well? The truth is no one knows to whom the nose belongs.

Gagarin
Gagarin
A monument to the first man in space

Just through the Arch is a statue to Yuri Gagarin, unveiled by his daughter Elena, on July 14th 2011, a gift of the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos. Gagarin, as you of course know, was the first man to go into space when his space ship, Vostok, orbited the earth in 1961. The fact that he was a Russian was sufficiently disturbing to the US that it provoked the famous Space Race that led to the landing of American “astronauts” (the Russians, perhaps more ambitiously, preferred the word “cosmonauts”) on the moon.

The ICA
The ICA
A source of light in the darkness of the Mall

As you can see from the above photo, it was now becoming dark. Tigger was in her element taking night photos with her new camera. I am less keen because I have little experience of night photography and didn’t expect to get results I would like. But I had brought a tripod so it seemed worth a try, just see how it turned out.

Looking along the Mall
Looking along the Mall
Buckingham Palace is just visible in the distance

We put tripods on a central refuge and took pictures along the Mall. The one above was taken opposite the ICA looking south-west(ish) towards Buckingham Palace, which can just be glimpsed. Because it is a time exposure, the pedestrian near the car on the right looks like a ghost.

St James's Park
St James’s Park
The lake and illuminated fountain

We then moved into St James’s Park where I took a number of photos, including the above, which shows the lake and the fountain. Maybe if you attach adjectives like “mysterious”, “romantic”, etc., it’ll pass muster…

Tree with lamp
Tree with lamp
Where paths divide

This one is a bit odd. I don’t know why the light seems reddish as I don’t remember it as such though perhaps the brain adapts its vision to colour bias better than the camera does. The blue of the sky glimpsed through the foliage suggests the colour balance is about right. The war memorial is glimpsed to the left.

Parliament Square
Parliament Square
And the famous big clock!

We tarried a while in Parliament Square, where I took this photo of the clock we all know as Big Ben though, strictly speaking, that is the name of the bell that chimes the hours. By compensating for the surrounding darkness, the camera has over-exposed the clock face.

BT Tower
BT Tower
Looking from Hampstead Road

I would call the last 6 photos “interesting” rather than anything else. They demonstrate the difficulty of night photography in the city where the extreme contrast of bright lights in an almost dark environment makes a complete rendering of the scene virtually impossible: you can meter for the lights and black out the rest, or meter for the back­ground and get overspill from the lights. Either way, you need a tripod because no one can hold a camera still enough for the length of exposure required.

This high contrast is perceived as a problem in photography because the eye and the camera look at a scene differently. In the photo, you see the scene as a whole with whatever exposure the camera has adopted for it. When you look with the eye, you view the scene piecemeal. As you look at each little bit, the eye adapts to its level of brightness and the brain makes a composite whole so that you think you see the whole scene, not a collection of correctly "exposed" bits. Until cameras can be designed that see as the eye sees, we will continue to face this problem.

As photographic technology continues to evolve and cameras become virtual miniature computers, perhaps this problem will eventually be solved. One way of coping with the problem at present is called High Dynamic Range (HDR for short). In this technique, you take preferably 3 or more photos of the scene at different exposures (for example, using the exposure bracketing function of your camera if it has this) and then combine them in software. It is possible also the apply HDR techniques to a single frame if you shoot in "RAW" mode but don’t ask me how that works because I haven’t studied it yet (and don’t shoot in RAW, anyway).

Does this work? Yes, it does: just search on "high dynamic range" in your browser and you will find many examples of HDR photos as well as tutorials on the technique. If you have the money (for the software) and also the time and patience to play with your photos, you will get a result in which the correctly exposed parts from the different frames are combined into one picture. However, it is a result that I personally do not find pleasing. To me, HDR pictures look unnatural, rather as if they were scenes of an alien world executed in acrylic paint. There is a dream or nightmare atmosphere about them.

Although I do also edit my photos, I do so relatively lightly and my goal is always to make the photographed scene resemble as closely as possible what I saw with my own eyes, rather than to achieve a technically excellent photo. I may never win any awards in pho­to­graph­ic competitions but that’s how I like my photos – warts and all!

The Mall
The Mall
Looking along the pavement outside the ICA

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