Category Archives: East End and Docklands

Beneath the Grave – Ghosts of the Central Line

Good evening, fright-fans, it is I, Tom, your extravagantly-cleavaged Master of the Dark [picture inadmissable]. As Halloween approaches with the inevitability of death, I thought an appropriately-themed entry might be in order. As last year’s entry on the ghosts haunting the Northern Line was so popular, I figured I might continue the theme with the hauntings on the old Central London Railway or, as the kids call it nowadays, the Central Line. Mind the gap…

Northolt

You’ve all heard of the Beast of Bodmin, but did you know there was a Beast of Northolt? In the early 1990s, there were several sightings of a big cat alongside the Central Line between Northolt and Greenford. Accounts vary as to the species of cat, although most seem to settle on “puma.” Whence it came and how it got to Northolt without being noticed remain to be explained.

Marble Arch

If you should find yourself leaving Marble Arch late at night, when the station is quiet, you may find yourself being followed up the escalator. Several people have reported a sinister man in 1940s clothing who they sense close behind them on the escalator and see out of the corner of their eye. Upon turning around completely, the man vanishes. Again, no explanation has been offered as to who this restless spirit might be.

British Museum

Perhaps the most unlikely ghost out of the many on the Underground was sighted at this now-closed station. The ghost would, so the story goes, appear at one end of the platform and walk to the other, wailing mournfully. What marked this particular spectre out, however, was the fact that he was dressed in the clobber of an Ancient Egyptian. Being the intelligent and probably very sexy reader that you are, you’ve no doubt figured out why there might be an Ancient Egyptian haunting British Museum Station. To be more specific, the Egyptian is said to have some sort of link to the so-called Unlucky Mummy (pictured right), a sarcophagus lid in the Museum that is said to be cursed. This is just one of many legends attached to it, the most interesting of which says that it was responsible for sinking the Titanic.

Even bearing in mind that I’m a sceptic, I’m inclined to take this one with a pinch of salt. The accounts are lacking in detail and only emerged shortly before the station was closed down. I’m inclined to believe it was the invention of a journalist looking for a spooky story. Nevertheless, the story persists, albeit with the ghost now haunting Holborn. Why Holborn and not the closer Russell Square or Tottenham Court Road stations? It is a mystery.

Chancery Lane

Chancery Lane has plenty of secrets of its own, but in the tunnels between here and Holborn, there’s said to be one more surprise. During the 1960s,drivers stopping at signals here would often be freaked out by the appearance of a man standing next to them in the cab. Apparently some sort of fellow crewman, he would be staring straight ahead, and would vanish as soon as the train pulled away.

Bank

I covered the manife-stations (see what I did there) at this stop in last year’s entry, but I thought I’d mention that it’s a haunted station on the Central Line for those pedants who’ll leave comments if I don’t.

Liverpool Street

This terminus is built on the site of a plague pit and one of the several incarnations of the notorious Bedlam. The building of this and neighbouring Broad Street Station involved the disturbance of many final resting places, so really it would be surprising if there were no hauntings here. Sure enough, Liverpool Street and environs are said to be haunted by the ghastly screams of a woman.

The most popular suggestion for the screamer is one Rebecca Griffiths, an inmate at Bedlam in the late 18th century whose illness included a compulsive need to hold on to a particular coin. Upon her death, one of the staff (who were not known for their selflessness) stole it from her lifeless fingers and Rebecca’s inconsolable spirit searches for it still.

More recently, in 2000, the Line Controller sighted a man in white overalls in the tunnels who should not have been there. He sent the Station Supervisor to investigate, who found nothing. What made this particularly peculiar was that the Supervisor found no man down there – even though the Controller could see the man on the CCTV screen right next to him.

Bethnal Green

I’ll finish with the Easternmost of the haunted Central Line stations that I’m aware of, and one of the most frightening hauntings. This one is traceable to a specific incident that took place on 3rd March 1943. As often happened in the East End at that time, when the air raid siren sounded, the local people made for the Tube station. Unfortunately, on this night it had been decided to carry out a test-firing of an experimental new type of rocket in nearby Victoria Park. Panicked by what sounded like a very nearby explosion, the crowds surged forward. A woman on the stairs lost her footing and fell, taking several others with her and causing further panic, which in turn worsened the stampede and the crush inside the station. 173 people were killed in the disaster, crushed or asphyxiated. For reasons of morale, the Bethnal Green incident was covered up until 1946.

From 1981 onwards, however, there were reports of an extremely unnerving nature from the station. Staff working late at night spoke of hearing screams – at first one or two, then more and more, clearly identifiable as women and children. These screams would go on for up to fifteen minutes before dying down.

There you have it, readers. I hope you enjoy your Halloween this year and whatever you do, don’t have nightmares…

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Filed under 18th century, 19th century, 20th Century, Bloomsbury, Disasters, East End and Docklands, Flora and Fauna, Hackney, History, London, London Underground, Museums, Occult, Paranormal, Suburbia, The City, Transport, West End

Give my regards to Broad Street

As regular readers will know, I’m fascinated by abandoned railway stations. Almost as fascinating, though, are the dilapidated ones, the ones that haven’t changed since some time in the early 1980s, shabby, echoey and grubby. Trains are few and far between, as are passengers. I don’t know why I love them so much, maybe it’s because such places feel undisturbed, like I have some sort of privileged access to them. Or maybe it’s just because I’m unbelievably strange and perverted.

For these reasons and more, I wish I’d had the opportunity to visit the terminus at Broad Street. Poor, poor Broad Street. If the London termini were people, Broad Street would be a pitiful drunk sitting in a bar telling everyone how he “used to be somebody.”

It started out so well. Broad Street was originally built by the cumbersomely-named East & West India Docks & Birmingham Junction Railway. The aim of this company was, as its name suggests, basically to make its fortune transporting goods from the Docklands to the London & Birmingham Railway. In this, it succeeded admirably. An early amendment was to change its name to the snappier “North London Railway.”

Commuter traffic was initially a secondary consideration for the NLR – they ran passenger trains fo’ sho’, but this was more of a “we might as well” measure than anything else.  To the surprise of the company directors, though, it turned out that their passenger trains into Fenchurch Street (run by arrangement with the London and Blackwall Railway, who owned that terminus) were very popular indeed. This despite the fact that the NLR took a ridiculously circuitous route around London before reaching Fenchurch Street, no less than 44 miles.

It was therefore decided that the NLR could afford to take a gamble on getting more direct access to the City. Particularly since the London and North Western Railway (of which the aforementioned London & Birmingham Railway was now part) offered to stump up much of the cost in exchange for use of such an extension.  The LNWR also supplied a designer, their own engineer, William Baker. The site of the new terminus was to be at the end of a branch from Kingsland, on the junction of Liverpool Street and Broad Street.

Construction was not without its difficulties. Building through crowded East London necessitated the demolition of many crowded streets – the NLR undertook to provide a cheap workers’ train from Dalston, but those forced out decided they’d rather walk and just moved to the neighbouring streets, making them yet more crowded. Excavation revealed some sort of medieval mass grave whose origins were not known – one theory had it that, as one of Bedlam’s several incarnations was nearby, this had been where its dead were buried.

Nevertheless, in 1865 the station opened. Alan A. Jackson describes the architectural style as “really rather horrid,” which I think is perhaps going a bit too far. The Illustrated London News was more charitable, describing the style as “mixed Italian.” Perhaps it is a bit over-elaborate for the size of the terminus. Oddly, we don’t know who the architect was – presumably William Baker had assistance, but from whom is unrecorded.

One ingenious feature to make the most of the very expensive land was to build the goods depot requested by the LNWR under the station, with wagons lowered by a hydraulic lift. As a result, whatever architectural merits the station may have lacked, it was undeniably an efficient use of space, taking up a mere 2½ acres in total.

The NLR nicknamed the station its “happy afterthought,” for it was immediately popular with commuters and rapidly became the third-busiest terminus in London. At the beginning of the 20th century, more than one train a minute left the station, serving such varied destinations as Richmond, Chalk Farm, Bow, Watford, Kingston, High Barnet, Kew, Potters Bar, Mansion House, Kensington Olympia and even Birmingham.

Unfortunately, this prosperity was not to last. As it turned out, the success of Broad Street was largely based on the fact that it had a monopoly on fast commuter trains. As the Tube, tram and bus networks expanded, so people turned to those instead. The NLR desperately advertised their service as “the open-air route,” but no one fell for it.

In 1911, when passenger numbers reached their lowest since the station’s opening, the LNWR decided that electrification was in order – as has been mentioned before, this was seen as terribly clean and modern. This did seem to slow the decline considerably, but services never entirely recovered.

During the Second World War, many of the East London stations were severely damaged by enemy action, and it was decided after the end of the conflict that it wasn’t worth fixing them up again. The service to Poplar (which was rather unPoplar with passengers) was cut altogether. Broad Street itself had been hit, and again, it was not considered worth repairing.

The main station building was abandoned altogether in the 1950s and replaced by a couple of smaller buildings on the concourse. Traffic at this stage was so poor that only two staff were needed for the entire terminus.

In 1963 British Railways declared their intention to close the place altogether, but were thwarted by local opinion. Instead, BR carried out what is known in railway circles as “closure by stealth,” i.e. not officially closing the station but instead making the station so useless as to render it undesirable to keep open. To this end, services were diverted or cut altogether and maintenance was cut to the bare minimum. Part of the overall roof was removed in 1967 which, as you can see above left, gave the station a half-complete look. By the 1980s, only one platform was needed to accommodate the pathetically small number of passengers. Demolition of the rest began in 1985 and final closure came in 1986.

Although the North London Railway mostly survives as part of the Overground and Docklands Light Railways, nothing remains of old Broad Street. The Broadgate Estate was built on top of it, so it couldn’t be reopened even if anyone wanted to (and they don’t).

And it showed such promise.

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Filed under 19th century, 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, East End and Docklands, Geography, History, London, London's Termini, Politics, Shoreditch, The City, Transport

Good Friday? I’ll say!

Happy Easter, chums. I hope the weekend finds you well. I am fine. At the time of writing, it’s Good Friday and I’ve just come back from a rather unexpectedly pleasant day out which was, I feel, in the true spirit of psychogeography.

I mean, it was a lovely sunny day outside, and as it was a four-day weekend, I was feeling rather chipper. I wasn’t at all sure what I wanted to do, so I thought I’d explore the canals around Limehouse a bit more. Alas, when I got to Bank, I discovered that the Docklands Light Railway wasn’t running. Yes, I know, I know, could have seen that when I started the journey, but that’s not how I roll.

So, vaguely at a loss, I decided to just go for a wander. I broke the surface (not literally) and wandered vaguely North-East through Leadenhall Market. This place, pictured right, is an absolutely gorgeous Victorian shopping arcade. During the week it houses a food market, but at weekends is rather peaceful – I have yet to sample the weekday wares, alas. You may know it from the film of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, in which it appeared as the area around Diagon Alley. I got the impression Chris Columbus was going for the Bridget Jones’ Diary school of London film making, in which London is a magical place that hasn’t quite moved out of the Victorian era.

Heading out beyond Liverpool Street, I came upon Petticoat Lane market. I’ve never been here before, and I must admit that I’d never really thought about going there before. I’d heard of it, but had no especial desire to visit. It’s not one of the top tourist destinations, and as such doesn’t cater to tourists. It’s primarily a clothing market, which is great if you are me. However, I do have to say that there’s a lot of duplication between stalls – if you’ve seen one selection of shirts, you’ve seen them all. The market has historically been a place of dubious legality, only becoming official in 1936, but despite this and the lack of tourism, it remains a firm local institution. While I wouldn’t go out of my way for it personally, it’s worth a look if, like me, you get stupidly excited about clothes.

Speaking of places where one can get stupidly excited about clothes, Brick Lane is very nearby, and so I made a beeline that way. With it being a bank holiday and thus less crowded than usual, and with the sun out, it was an utterly delightful experience. Sadly, at present, I find myself having to hold the purse strings – I’m moving house shortly, you see. And so it makes perfect sense that the universe should choose this point to taunt me with an incredible stripy blazer in black, red and grey (which I could totally pull off, I’m telling you) and a pair of Chelsea boots in exactly the style I’ve been looking for. Sadly, I could afford neither of these. Not even in the “can but shouldn’t” way. Instead, I consoled myself with a bagel, and now my fingers smell indelibly of chopped herring.

It was at this point that a teenager told me to get a haircut. I have thus out-fabuloused both the teens and the Shoreditch kids, which I believe is what is termed “bi-winning.”

This being done, I decided to finish my journey by walking up City Road to Islington. Wandering around Camden Passage, I came across one of the most amazing canes I have ever seen. It had a silver skull-shaped handle with a jawbone that doubled as a cigar cutter. But sadly it was £150, which I really, really, really cannot afford. Finally, I know the pain of unrequited love.

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Filed under Current events, East End and Docklands, Fashion and trends, Geography, Islington, London, Markets, Photos, Psychogeography, Shopping, Shoreditch, The City, tourism, Weird shops

A seat by the fire

The Great Fire of London. Or at least, one of them.

London is no stranger to blazes. Even prior to the now-legendary Great Fire of London of 1666, there had been at least twelve major conflagrations that had destroyed or at least very seriously damaged the city.

This was something of an occupational hazard in a city so crowded and crammed together, and it wasn’t helped by the fact that regulations were so poorly enforced. In theory, it was illegal to build a house out of wood with a thatched roof. In theory, businesses that were a fire hazard were illegal within the city walls (hence the East End, where those things could legally be put). In practice, as you might imagine by my sneering italics, neither of those laws were enforced with any great enthusiasm.

There were firefighting provisions of a sort. Watchmen, employed by the parishes, were expected to keep an eye out for blazes. However, as I have previously mentioned, those chaps weren’t exactly the most dynamic of fellows. Similarly, citizens were expected to form impromptu fire brigades, which were generally pretty effective in the case of small fires – the prospect of losing your house is a great motivator. The favoured method was to use hand-powered fire pumps (such as the one modelled above left) or, where that failed, to demolish houses and thus create firebreaks. If your chimney was on fire, the most common advice was to fire a gun up it. For some people, that’s the solution to everything.

What the Great Fire highlighted was what King Charles II (seen on the right) had been saying for years – that this sort of thing was all very well in the case of small blazes, but in the case of larger ones it was utterly useless. Indeed, during the fire, Rev. Thomas Vincent complained that “London, so famous for its wisdom and dexterity, can now find neither brains nor hands to prevent its ruin.”

Charles, despite being a well-known playa, was not without wisdom when it came to firefighting. He had been one of the louder voices prior to the fire calling for the stricter enforcement of building regulations. During the conflagration, he overruled the rather useless Lord Mayor  and placed fellow firefighting nerd the Duke of York in charge. He himself took a major part in both directing operations and dousing the flames. I presume he wasn’t dressed like he is in that picture, but it would be funny if he was. Following the fire (and indeed, during it), he arranged for operations to temporarily accommodate displaced inhabitants of the city and to bring food to the ruins. Admittedly this was in no small part due to the fear of riot – Charles was pro-Catholic, which had made him a lot of enemies in Protestant London, and there were plenty of people eager to blame the blaze on Catholic conspirators (so much so that when the Duke of York later converted to Catholicism, records of his own heroic efforts were deliberately distorted to make him look like one of the arsonists).

Oddly enough, though, it wasn’t Charles’ firefighting enthusiasm that led to the beginnings of the modern fire brigade, but the commercial incentive. Isn’t that so often the way?

Nobody is entirely sure who invented fire insurance, but the most likely candidate was Nicholas If-Christ-Had-Not-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barbon (remember what I said about how London was a Protestant city?). What Barbon offered was a service whereby if you bought insurance with him, his men would fight any fires that broke out on your property and, if they failed to save it, would rebuild it. The idea was eagerly embraced, and soon there were several other companies offering the service. Homeowners so covered would hang a plaque (like the one above) on the wall in the event of fire.

This was in theory a great idea, but the problem was that insurance companies would only fight fires in buildings that they covered. So if No. 2 was covered, but No. 4 wasn’t (not that houses would have been numbered back then, but you know), the street might still burn down. So in the 18th century, the insurance companies cooperated to bring in a new system. The first fire brigade to arrive and quench the flames would get a reward. Good idea, yes? Well, in practice what it led to was a lot of punch-ups between fire brigades over who got there first, to the detriment of property in the vicinity. There were even instances of rival fire brigades deliberately sabotaging each other’s equipment in order to prevent their enemies claiming the cash.

In 1833, eventually some semblance of order was achieved with the foundation of the London Fire Engine Establishment under James Braidwood, an Edinburgh gentleman who agitated for the founding of a proper civic fire brigade (such as the one he had headed in Edinburgh, in fact). The LFEE played a prominent role in attempting to save the Houses of Parliament the following year, despite the fact that, as Braidwood pointed out, they were under no obligation to save the uninsured Parliament buildings. The Duke of Wellington, who was undoubtedly a great military commander but as a politician was a bit of a dick, opposed the concept of a proper fire brigade on the grounds that it would reduce public vigilance. The same man also opposed mixed-race marriages in India and believed railways should be discouraged because they allowed working class people to move about.

Braidwood was killed in the line of duty on 22nd June 1861, when a fire broke out on Tooley Street. This blaze would engulf the waterfront from London Bridge to where Tower Bridge now stands, and was the largest blaze the city had seen since 1666. Like Charles II, Braidwood believed in strategic firefighting, and so to that end advised that getting to the heart of the fire. In so doing, Braidwood was crushed by a falling warehouse.

His death was, however, not in vain. His passing was the cause of national mourning, and led to renewed demands for a civic-funded fire brigade. The loudest calls for reform came from the insurance companies, who under the LFEE’s policies had to fight fires regardless of whether the property was insured or not, and were thus effectively paying for everyone else’s safety. At last reason prevailed, and London got its fire brigade on January 1, 1866. Took us long enough – Liverpool, Manchester, Cardiff and the aforementioned Edinburgh already had brigades in place. Still, we got there in the end.

Anyone for toast?

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Filed under 18th century, 19th century, Buildings and architecture, Disasters, East End and Docklands, Geography, History, London, london bridge, Medieval London, Notable Londoners, Politics, Stuart London, The City, Westminster

Holey Ship

Now, a couple of entries ago, I used this photograph wot I did take on the Greenwich Peninsula:

I must come clean. In my description, I must confess that I was perhaps not entirely truthful with you. I do not, in fact, own this thing. I know, you’re no doubt horrified that I might lead you astray with such an untruth, given my usual devotion to purest honesty which shineth forth like a beacon &c, &c. But you see, I think the real story behind this rather bizarre thing is worth an entry in itself.

It’s actually a sculpture entitled Slice of Reality, created by Richard Wilson. Wilson’s work is generally rather large scale and architectural in subject matter. He is, according to Wikipedia, interested in “unsettl[ing] or break[ing] people’s perception of space, what they think space might be.” Well, that’s pretty psychogeographical, now, isn’t it? I mean, that’s a lot of what psychogeography is about, perception of spaces and shit.

Perhaps Wilson’s most famous work is 20:50. This consists of a room filled with used sump oil. One walks through the room, looking down on the oil and into the upside-down reflection of the space you’re in.

Another, which I rather like, is Turning the Place Over. Wilson’s taken a nondescript building in Liverpool, one of those terminally boring blocks that appeared in the 1960s when Britain’s architects took a collective twenty-year holiday, and cut a hole in it. He’s motorised the bit he cut out so it spins around – effectively turning that section inside-out. Suddenly, a boring building becomes really interesting. Brilliant, eh?

So, what’s the story behind A Slice of Reality? I’m glad you asked, metaphorical literary device. You may remember the almighty balls-up that was the Millennium Dome, which I think we’re all keen to forget (seriously, it’s just a huge bloody marquee). It wasn’t that it was a bad idea per se, just really poorly executed and overall giving the impression that it had been thrown together the week before the opening with whatever they had to hand. Much like my school projects, in fact.

Anyway, one of the ideas had at the time was a collection of public art to be dotted around the Greenwich Peninsula, celebrating and commemorating the area. My suggestion (“Dump a load of toxic waste there!”) was not one of the ideas chosen, even though it would both have celebrated the history of the area and saved me a lot of bother later on.

Wilson’s interpretation of this was a section of a ship on the line of the Greenwich Meridian. This would have celebrated what Greenwich is most famous for, and would also have been a memorial to the ships that once used this area. Ironically, as I mentioned in my previous entry, this is probably one of the few areas of the Port of London that could still be called industrial, but then, what do I know? Not enough to build an installation reminding us of our obligation to the environment in past and future – okay, I’ll stop.

The vessel is, according to Mr Wilson’s website, an ocean-going sand dredger that has been cut down by 85%, leaving only the interesting bit with the cabins and engine room. The whole thing is, as you can see, pretty open to the elements, and up close it’s rather rusty and battered. Nevertheless, from certain angles it takes on a distinctly surreal quality – there’s a side-on photo on Wilson’s website that actually looks like it’s been badly Photoshopped, but is entirely unaltered.

It’s the only sculpture from the Millennium Experience to survive in situ, and for rather interesting reasons. You see, it was supposed to be taken down at the end of 2000, but for a technicality. According to the law, the river is not actually part of the Peninsula – it’s part of the Port. So Mr Wilson was able to take advantage of this nice little loophole of maritime law. As 15% of a ship is still a ship, he got the mooring permit and now he uses it as a studio. Which I think is just grand, especially as he opens it to the public on Open House weekends. Drink three bottles of red before going on board to simulate the motion of the waves.

Incidentally

This isn’t the only grounded vessel to serve as artists’ quarters – there’s a tugboat cabin on Eel Pie Island that does the same. Remind me to show you sometime.

Further Reading

http://www.richardwilsonsculptor.com/projects/slice%20of%20reality.html – Richard Wilson’s site.

http://diamondgeezer.blogspot.com/2010/09/slice-of-reality.html – Diamond Geezer’s entry on the subject, from which I have shamelessly swiped a lot of information. Nobody will ever know, as long as I don’t write about the plagiarism in my blog or something.

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Filed under 20th Century, Arts, Buildings and architecture, Canals and Waterways, East End and Docklands, Geography, History, London, Politics, Port of London, Psychogeography, Rivers, Sports and Recreation, Thames, tourism, Transport

Peninsula Envy

I had Tuesday off, and like most people, I decided to take advantage of this time by exploring desolate post-industrial wasteland. I invested in a shipping venture last year from Anatoly “Nickname” Chugarov (I think I mentioned that in the previous entry). Anyway, the whole thing seemed a bit dodgy to me, so I decided to pull out and asked Anatoly to give me my 5% of the venture now. I’ll admit I’m not too hot on this investment lark. Anatoly said he’d meet me on the Greenwich Peninsula with my share, so I thought I’d take advantage of this to kill two birds with one stone.

I don’t know why, but I’ve always been fascinated by industrial urban desolation. This might explain why I find Amy Winehouse strangely attractive. The Greenwich Peninsula has long been known for these qualities, as I discovered myself when I ended up here by accident some years ago (put it this way – the Dome hadn’t yet opened). I was curious to see how it had changed in the intervening time.

As you can see in the photo above, it’s what we psychogeographer-types call “hostile.” Once you step out of North Greenwich Tube Station, you’ve basically got lots of roads, fences and barriers on all sides – not exactly hospitable to pedestrians. Once you finally get down to the river, you can see that this far east, London is still a working port.

On the right you can see Trinity Buoy Wharf, one of the oddities of London. Circled in purple are a couple of lightships, what they’re doing there I have no idea. Circled in green is the Bow Creek Lighthouse, the only inland lighthouse in the United Kingdom. I really wish I could have got a bit closer. Some other time, maybe.

On the left you can see a contrast between old and new Docklands. In the background, the Canary Wharf development is very visible. In the foreground, an old pier used for loading barges. This has been turned into a sort of wildlife preserve , part of a general policy to bring the area back to nature. After a century and a half of pollution, this is a motion I applaud. An interesting scheme in place elsewhere on the peninsula is to resist erosion by binding the mud with naturally-occurring plant life rather than artificial walls.

There was something unutterably surreal about the view on the right, almost post-apocalyptic. Although many industries have occupied the Peninsula, and several still do, the big one was gasworks – more gas was produced here in the mid-twentieth century than anywhere else in the world (insert fart joke if required). When North Sea gas was discovered, the gasworks were rendered obsolete. Though there are a few remnants here and there, most of the ground has been built over or – as here – cleared in anticipation of new development. This is another of those transitional things that I think is quite important to capture.

Now, this is taking psychogeographical hostility to the limit. You see that flooded road between the heaps of sand there? Yeah, that’s the footpath. I’m not joking. It was at this point that I began to get heartily sick of post-industrial wasteland. No, wait, I tell a lie…

this was when I got heartily sick of post-industrial wasteland. Readers may note the highly unsuitable choice of trousers. Consider also that this was actually quite early on in the scramble through floodwater/over sandbanks. By the end I was considering suicide, or at least buying a decent pair of boots.

On the right is an aggregate… tower… loading… thing. I don’t know what it is, if I’m honest. It has a conveyor belt. By this stage I was starting to go a little bit mad, I think. God only knows why I took a picture here.

In fact, I think I’m going to skip the next few photos. They mostly consist of mud and concrete. I found some rails where a crane once went, that was about it.

However, I did eventually find something more interesting, for a given value of “interesting.”

And here it is. These strange steel structures are on Enderby’s Wharf, once the location of a submarine cable works. Which made cables, you see, for going underwater. It’s quite interesting. I think, anyway.

The wharf is preserved now, but was locked up when I was passing. The actual works buildings are boarded up, which is lame.

Here is a breaker’s yard for boats. Again, not sure exactly what my thinking was in taking a photo here. This is actually one of the nicer photos.

I think I might have photographed this because it was a landmark I remembered from the previous visit. I also recall a chemical plant, which seemed to have closed down since then. I remember passing under some sort of loading-pipe-rig-type thing that was no longer there.

This is another of those “observe the contrast between the old Docklands and the new” photos. On one side of the road, grotty industry. On the other, shiny new flats. It makes you think. Specifically, it makes you think, “Christ, imagine having to look at that grotty industry every morning.”

Ah, now, this is interesting. This is Greenwich Power Station, built to supply electricity to the London Underground and London County Council Tramways from 1910. Despite its antiquated nature, it is still used as a backup supply. Architecturally, I think the main body of the plant is actually quite pleasant. Certainly compared to some of the eyesores I saw earlier (“eyesores I saw”… dear me).

And here we are at historic Maritime Greenwich. Incidentally, if you wondered how I came to be on the Greenwich Peninsula back in 1999, the simple answer was that I wanted to get here, and figured that North Greenwich wouldn’t be too far away. As the crow flies, it’s not. But when it’s cold and bleak and the path is muddy and the route winds around many huge obstacles, well, let’s just say it wasn’t worth avoiding the change of trains. And here endeth the lesson.

Oh, wait, the investment thing. Well, Anatoly was as good as his word, and did indeed give me my 5% share.

Son of a bitch.

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Filed under 19th century, 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, East End and Docklands, Flora and Fauna, Geography, History, Lies, London, London Underground, Photos, Port of London, Psychogeography, Rambling on and on, Randomness, Rivers, Thames, Transport

Ice, Ice Baby

Winter, it would seem, is well and truly here. I am basing this purely on the heinous amount of snow outside. Of course, this isn’t entirely unexpected – it’s been brass-monkeys cold for a while now. I’m not a religious guy, but on Saturday, with my hands purple and aching with cold, I had cause to thank God for Primark and their inexpensive gloves. Later that day I took the terrible photo above, showing that City Road Basin in Islington was partially frozen.

Back in “The Day,” (i.e. up until about the mid-20th century) frozen canals and rivers were a serious issue. Canals in particular, which don’t flow like a river, were vulnerable to icing up. This had obvious economic consequences for trade, particularly before the advent of decent roads and railways. The low-tech but cunning solution was to apply brute force and a certain amount of wiggling. This was achieved using the canal icebreaker, or “rocker,” as they were known in the business.

The rocker was like a shortened narrowboat, but instead of a cargo area, it simply had a long bar. The bow sloped upwards. A team of men would stand either side, holding on to the bar. When the rocker came to ice, the bow would ride up on top of the ice and the men would rock back and forth to break it (hence the vessel’s nickname). This was usually sufficient for all but the most Arctic conditions in London.

[PARENTHESIS: Did you know that the word “Arctic” comes from the Latin word for polar bear, “arcta.” Arctic literally means “place where there are polar bears.” Antarctic means “place where there are no polar bears.” Now you know.]

Now, earlier this year I wrote about the frost fairs that were held on the Thames when it froze over in winter. The idea of the river freezing over sounds like the sort of thing that went out with breeches and snufftaking. In fact, the end of the frozen Thames can be put down to several factors. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the river flows that much faster these days. The construction of the Embankments north and south of the river has constrained it, which, if you recall your school physics lessons, speeds the flow up. The old London Bridge, which had lots of arches and waterwheels to slow things down, has been demolished and replaced twice – the new one allowing freer flow and also, interestingly, possessing heating elements for the road over it.

Industry since the dawn of the steam age has discharged a lot of hot water – and other products – into the Thames, raising the overall temperature. I would imagine residential and commercial premises, with their heating and lighting, are contributing factors as well – but I’m no scientist.

And down in South London, the draining of the Lambeth marshes (commemorated with the street called Lower Marsh in Waterloo) has meant that ice no longer forms along the banks there, preventing the freeze from getting a foothold, or whatever it is that freezes do.

That being said, I was surprised to learn how recent the last big freeze was. In fact, it was 1963. This was the coldest winter since 1740. Roads and railways were, as you might imagine, choked up. Rivers fared little better, and even the sea was frozen at Margate and Chatham (the Navy employed an icebreaker at the latter). The Thames, as you can see above in this view at Windsor, was no exception. At Oxford, one chap managed to drive a car across the river. The docks in London iced up like many others, driving prices of imported goods up. Kingston saw ice skating on the river, and bicycle races were held at Hampton. Below right may be seen boas iced up near Hampton Wick.

Will climate change result in us seeing another freeze like 1963, or are such sights finally confined to the history books? Well I don’t know.

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