Category Archives: Waterloo and Southwark

What’s for dinner, Tom?

I have a special little end-of-the-week ritual that I’d like to tell you about. You know how it is on a Friday – you’re running out of food in the house, you’re tired, you can’t really be arsed to cook. In my case, as I don’t even do a weekly shop to speak of, and am a terrible cook, these issues are particularly troublesome.

Fortunately, if you’re in the Waterloo area, help is at hand. I like to make a detour on my way home to the South Bank, where every weekend,  just in front of the Royal Festival Hall (or behind, if you’re approaching from the West End) is the Real Food Market. This varies from week to week, but it’s basically a place where independent food producers can sell their wares. Many of them will do you a nice takeaway, and there’s a seating area where you can munch on your purchases. I’ve been introduced here to Malaysian, Ghanaian and Polish food. Some of my favourite food people, including Outsider Tart and Jaz & Jul’s, are often there and so tend to be favoured ports of call. Sometimes it’ll be themed (e.g. “Free From,” chocolate) but you are always guaranteed to find something utterly delicious.

Unlike Becky B and the Hungry Sparrow, whose blogs may be found to the right, I’m not much of a foodie, but I know a good thing when I find it. What’s more, it’s a great place whether I’m on my way home or heading into town for a Friday night shindig – why line my stomach with toast when I could line it with bigos or chilli? And it beats the pants off a greasy kebab for a Friday night takeaway.

This week, I found myself enjoying a bit of a nostalgia trip. One of the retailers there this week was What the Dickens? Their thing is not, as you might have thought, unidentifiable and frightening food that causes one to utter their company name (those £5 buffets around Chinatown are far better for that sort of thing). Rather, they specialise in old-fashioned dishes that have been unjustly neglected. On their stand, these delightfully vintage-clothed gentlemen were serving bacon and scallop rolls (had one yesterday, a delicious variation on the bacon sandwich) and kedgeree.

Oh man, kedgeree. This is a slightly unfashionable dish that has never quite disappeared, but which I absolutely love. It’s a lightly-spiced rice dish containing smoked haddock, onion and hard-boiled egg, often served for breakfast but equally splendid at any time of the day. It’s one of my ma’s specialities and also one of the few dishes I can cook myself and happily serve to others. It can be eaten hot or cold, is very filling and is an excellent hangover cure, not being too heavy. There are various recipes – it’s very hard to mess up, so experimentation is fine.

Its origins are uncertain, as is the case with so many foods. But the most common explanation is that it came along during the days of the British empire in India and started out as an Anglicised form of khichri. The chaps on the stall said it originated with the Scottish regiments – certainly the addition of smoked fish is quite a Caledonian thing, and the name of the dish does have a Scotch ring to it. Some versions of the origin even go so far as to say that the dish originated in Scotland and was merely popularised in India. I suspect, given the flexible nature of the recipe, every explanation has some truth to it.

So anyway, sampling What the Dickens?’ version was a must for me. Particularly as we’d had doughnuts and chocolate in the office and I badly needed something savoury to prevent a sugar coma. The stall was shortly due to close up as I arrived. The fellow serving gave it to me for half price, as they were soon closing and the rice had started to go a bit crispy in the pan (which didn’t bother me, I’m not a remotely fussy eater). They also complimented me on my raincoat, which was praise indeed given the nature of their own vintage outfits.

In conclusion, kedgeree is great.



Filed under 19th century, Food, History, London, Markets, Waterloo and Southwark

The Necropolitan Line

As I’ve said before, Waterloo Station is a bit of a sprawling mess. You’ve got the main station, then you’ve got the Underground station, then you’ve got Waterloo East, and then you’ve got the abandoned station – sorry, did I not mention the abandoned station until now? Well, now, that’s an interesting one.

Come out of Waterloo Station, on to Westminster Bridge Road, and you’ll the entrance to it, pictured left. If you get a train out of Waterloo heading towards Wimbledon, and you look outside of the left-hand window, you can see where the railway branched off the main line to serve this station.

So what was the point of this station? Why was it kept separate? Why was it abandoned? Well, the traffic this station was designed for was, how can I put this? One-way. This was the London terminus of the Brookwood Necropolis Railway, the first regular train service for the dead. Yes, it’s another entry on the thorny subject of death in London! Hurrah!

As I mentioned in the entries above, 19th century Londoners were rather preoccupied with the subject of death and burial – not out of some morbid streak (although there was that too), but out of practicality. The fina, once-and-for-all solution to the burial issue was proposed by Richard Sprye and Sir Richard Broun – the creation of a 500-acre site at Woking, out in leafy Surrey. This was to be the Brookwood Necropolis, and it was envisioned to not only take care of all London’s corpse-disposal needs at the time, but to provide dying space for the entire city, forever.

And so in 1852, the London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company was set up – Broun and Sprye weren’t involved. However, the London and South Western Railway were. That company served Woking on their line to Portsmouth, and so they backed the concept on the grounds that they could make a pretty penny running funeral trains. Actually, they reckoned £40,000 a year was a sensible estimate.

The Necropolis was opened in 1854, despite objections from the people of Woking and Waterloo. The LSWR built a branch running off the main line into the cemetery, with two stations – one for those belonging to the Church of England and the other for Nonconformists. The station at Waterloo was originally built in York Road, a single-platform affair privately owned by the London Necropolis Company. The Lost Property office doesn’t bear thinking about.

The LSWR originally anticipated three trains each way, even building special hearse vans to carry the bodies (neatly side-stepping the question of whether they should be classed as passengers or freight). As it happened, they only ran one per day. Philosophers might claim that death is the Great Leveller, but railway executives think rather differently. Therefore, each train was divided into First, Second and Third Class segments, as well as separate accommodation for Anglicans and Nonconformists. And yes, the segregation by class was carried over into the hearse vans. I can’t speak for the Victorians, but it seems to me that if you’re in a position to worry about the class your coffin is riding as you make your way to your funeral, you probably have other things on your mind.

Waterloo Station was rebuilt at the beginning of the 20th century, and that most terminal of termini was demolished to make way. The presently-surviving terminus at 121 Westminster Bridge Road was built in its place, larger than the old one to enable coffins to be loaded on to trains away from the eyes of the funeral party. It also incorporated state-of-the-art hydraulic lifts and fancy decor befitting this most solemn service. Not befitting the solemnity was the fact that railwaymen had bestowed the nickname of “The Stiffs Express” on the trains, one hopes out of earshot of mourners.

Oddly enough, though people in London were no closer to immortality, demand for the service dropped as the years went on, and by the 1930s there were only a couple of trains running per week. In 1941, a German bomb took out the station, and it was decided that it wasn’t worth rebuilding. The service was brought to an end, with funeral parties (and coffins) from then on travelling on regular trains to the main station at Brookwood.

Thus came to an end to what might have been the strangest train service in London. Perhaps the vision of Broun and Sprye was never quite realised as they had hoped, but at least some part of the old station survives. A monument to the deceased, as it were.


Filed under 19th century, 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, Commuter belt, History, London, London's Termini, Transport, Waterloo and Southwark

Seen in Waterloo

The current semi-hiatus continues (although if you can’t stand a week without me, why not come and see the play I’m in?). In the meantime, here is Tron’s cement mixer.

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Filed under Current events, Film and TV, London, Photos, Theatre, Waterloo and Southwark

Fame, of a sort

You know, one of those odd things that always surprises me is how often I get recognised. I don’t mean this in a big-headed way, though inevitably it’s going to come across as such.

Allow me to explain. Now, I’m fairly distinctive, visually speaking. I don’t know what it is – I don’t think I’m outstandingly handsome, but nor to I think I’m memorably ugly. I do have distinctive hair and fairly distinctive clothes, but I get recognised even when dressed normally and when my hair is short. I’m not exactly in the public eye, despite the popular perception that the life of us bloggers is an endless round of parties, soirees and women throwing themselves at us demanding sexual favours (in reality, that sort of thing is mostly restricted to weekends).

Yet I am always recognised. And I don’t mean by former work colleagues or friends-of-friends. I mean by everybody. People I’ve met maybe once at a party for a minute or two. People I’ve walked past. I’ve even had people treat me with great suspicion because they felt sure we’d met, though I denied it (in this case, the person in question was up to something semi-legal at best, so perhaps suspicion was justified). I am at a loss to explain this.

For example, take the other day. I was on the South Bank, where there was a rather good food festival on. The previous day I’d stopped by on my way to rehearsals (did I mention I’m in a play next week? You should totally come and see it) and got a pork and apple burger that was utter heaven. That day, I was pleased to note that Jaz and Juls had a stall there.

Jaz and Juls, if you’re not familiar with them, are a company that produces organic hot chocolate. Now, as you know, I’m a complete monster who cares little for the environment – I devised a braking system for cars recently that worked by choking the wheels with dead kittens. However, I do enjoy good chocolate, and Jaz and Juls produce very good chocolate.

One of these days, I'm going to fire that picture researcher.

See, one of the problems I have with hot chocolate is that it can be a little bland – too watery or just plain flavourless. For this reason I have little truck with instant hot chocolate. Jaz and Juls has the advantage of actually tasting like it’s made out of chocolate. There are several winsomely-named flavours – I’m somewhat limited in the ones I can pick due to my inability to say the word “choccy” in a non-sarcastic tone of voice. However, I recommend “Orangey Tang.” although “Gingerbread, Man” and “Chilli con Choccy” are also very enjoyable. Enjoyable for everyone else is my inability to drink it without spilling it down my shirt.

Anyway, so I went up to the stand, and was instantly greeted with a “How are you?” of recognition from the young lady manning the place. Womanning the place? I forget whether militant feminism is still a thing. Which was a little unexpected. I mean, yes, I’d bought hot chocolate from these people before, but that was a while back in Camden. Unless I’m their only customer, I was a little freaked out at being remembered. Not unpleasantly so. I did briefly try claiming that I was actually one of a number of identical Toms produced by a factory, and she offered the alternative explanation that I may in fact be a Terminator.

Damn that researcher. Damn him.

This led on to a discussion about how the T-1000 never has to worry about forgetting his keys, and the difficulty of finding one’s glasses when one is already wearing them. It was all rather jolly. Maybe you had to be there.

Then I spilt hot chocolate down my shirt.

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Filed under Current events, Food, London, Markets, Meta, Waterloo and Southwark, Weird shops

… And did I mention it’s free?

One of the big complaints I hear about London is how expensive it is. I think this is highly debatable – I manage to live quite comfortably on very little money. And it’s quite surprising what you can do in this city for no money at all.

Take yesterday. I was supposed to be going to a Christmas party, an annual tradition among my chums, but thanks to the bastard snow this was called off (due to the impossibility of getting to our hosts’ house out in Oxfordshire). Fortunately, Izzi came to the rescue with an invite to a magic show by Penn and Teller hosted by Jonathan Ross. Well, that sounded like just the thing – how much would I owe her? Nothing. By Jove, that’s most generous, but – you mean the tickets cost nothing? By Jove.

Messrs. Penn Gillette and Teller

The catch was that this wasn’t a conventional show. It was actually the filming of a special at the London Studios in Southwark. We were to be a studio audience. There are companies, you see, whose function is basically to procure audiences for studio-based programmes. You go on a mailing list and you get your invite and off you go. Granted, it’s on a first-come first-served basis and so not everyone who wants a ticket can get one (Izzi tells me that QI has a three-year waiting list), but considering that it’s free, it’s a pretty sweet deal.

And so Izzi and I met up at Waterloo and took a stroll over to the London Studios. I’d been here once before – I was interviewed back in 2000 on London Today because I was in a play and it was all terribly exciting. No such VIP treatment this time, sadly, there was quite a bit of waiting around. Most of it inside, though, for which we were grateful.

Once we were actually in and settled in our seats, a warm-up act came on – a stand-up comedian named Stuart Goldsmith whose job was to get us all enthusiastic for the big show. At one point Yr. Humble Chronicler was singled out for having “fabulous hair” and a look that was described as “the Kings of Leon teaching geography.” If I ever do something that merits a poster, that quote’s going on there.

Above: Kings of Leon. Not pictured: geography.

Then the show itself began. Now, I don’t want to give too much away, as I suspect the producers would get upset. Also, it’s a little unfair to make judgments on a show that hasn’t even been edited.

Essentially, Penn and Teller were looking for a new opener for their Las Vegas show. Penn and Teller, if you aren’t familiar with them, are hugely popular magicians in America, also known as skeptics and debunkers. Their show is very comedy-based. Penn is the talky one, Teller is the quiet one (i.e. he literally doesn’t speak). Their act is highly entertaining, and I’d recommend it to all.

Magic is one of those things that’s not very fashionable these days, at least in Britain. I recall when I was a kid it was on TV all the time – Paul Daniels was probably the most well-known, but there were plenty of others. These days, the only regular on our screens would appear to be Derren Brown. However, Izzi is something of an enthusiast, and gave me a brief lowdown on the scene as it stands.

This show is a one-off special called Fool Us, in which Penn and Teller, longstanding veterans of the stage magic scene, search for someone who can show them a trick that they cannot explain. With that in mind, several magicians (who, Izzi informs me, are highly respected in the magic world) showed us their tricks.

I won’t go into any real detail, suffice it to say that the results will surprise you (they certainly seemed to surprise Penn and Teller). What I was impressed by was the sheer range of performance styles – one was quite traditional, another went for a dance-based routine, a third put on a slick-and-cocky persona and a couple played it all for laughs. Every one was different and distinctive. As I say, Jonathan Ross was the Master of Ceremonies for the night. I used to be fairly neutral about him, but now I’ve seen how much he upsets the Daily Mail, I think I quite like him. Penn and Teller did a few tricks themselves, and in the first one (the phone one, if they’ve edited them around) you should be able to see Yr. Humble Chronicler and Izzi in the audience. I’m the one who looks like the Kings of Leon teaching geography.

What this did highlight for me, though, was how few new tricks there really are. If you’re interested in magic, I’d recommend Jim Steinmeyer’s Hiding the Elephant, which is a history of the great tricks and how they’ve evolved over the years. But most of what looks like a new, contemporary trick is almost always a very venerable illusion spruced up for the modern audience. One of the tricks we saw actually dated back to ancient Egypt. That’s not to say they weren’t enjoyable – the way a routine is carried out is often what makes the difference, and it has to be said that not a single one of the acts we saw was less than entertaining.

It has to be said that the magic of television is a little exhausting – we were stuck there for about four hours with retakes, pauses and waiting around, and my hands ached from clapping by the end. But it was totally worth it.

Then today I got another call from Izzi saying they were filming a show with Bill Bailey today and – but that’s another story.

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Filed under Film and TV, Geography, London, Waterloo and Southwark

I should cocoa

Yesterday, Izzi drew my attention to a chocolate festival on the South Bank this weekend. As Christmas is approaching, we believed that we could probably find some suitable presents there. Therefore, in a spirit of pure and almost saintly altruism, we went to a place with heinous amounts of luxury chocolate.

These are all made of chocolate.

Just about every variant on the sinful bean was present at this event, which was held behind the Royal Festival Hall. Chocolate bars, chocolate cakes, hot chocolate, brownies, fudge, shortbread, lollipops, churros, chilli – even elaborate sculptures. And there were luxury chocolatiers, fair trade vendors, preachers of the gospel of the organic (although if your chocolate contains organs then something has gone badly wrong), right down to the small-scale snack sellers. In short, it was a hair shirt for the dieter. Actually, we were quite good – I personally limited myself to a cup of chilli hot chocolate and a Belgian chocolate tart. Plus some free samples, which of course do not count.

What's really sad is that I can identify the class of this locomotive. It's a Gresley A3. I shall hang my head in shame.

Chocolate has a long and ancient history in the Americas. While the Romans were conquering Britain, the people of Central and South America had been partaking for a thousand years. Under the Aztecs, cocoa beans were used as currency, while the drink itself (the solid form being unknown at the time) was a luxury beverage, enjoyed by the most high in society. It was used for medicinal and ceremonial purposes, particularly religious rituals – I’ve even come across the suggestion that it was mixed with the blood of sacrificial victims, though I suspect the author was using a little dramatic licence. At that time, it was mixed with chilli, a flavouring that has only recently come into fashion in Europe.

Indeed, in the 16th century, when it was first brought to Europe by the Spanish, it was not immediately popular. Chocolate was considered too bitter and spicy for most, and so did not become popular until chilli was removed from the recipe and milk and sugar added. In this form, it became a hit among the smart set. Casanova would later complain that “the Spanish offer visitors chocolate so frequently at all hours that if one accepted, one would be choked.”

Mr Casanova’s fellow countrymen disagreed, and Italy enthusiastically took up drinking chocolate. So too did Germany and Switzerland, both noted for their enthusiasm for the stuff to this day.

It came to Britain in the 1650s, and strangely became associated with radical politics – chocolate houses, i.e, shops where drinking chocolate was sold, were popular meeting places. Indeed, they were the direct and immediate ancestors of the coffee houses which, as I have previously described within these pages, were basically the foundation of modern London. Sir Hans Sloane, pictured left, introduced a supposedly medicinal form of the drink in 1689. He also invented the British Museum or something.

Of course, the moral guardians of the nation were quick to point out how evil chocolate must be. I think the normal train of thought among such killjoys is to condemn whatever it is that people are enjoying at the moment and then to figure out what’s wrong with it. One Dr Daniel Duncan cautioned in 1712 that drinking of hot beverages like chocolate would damage the delicate tissue of the stomach, and that sugar rendered such drinks “poison.” Pamphlets were even published warning that excessive consumption of the drink would lead to women giving birth to “blackamoor” babies – this rather nutty idea seems to have originated with Madame de Sevigne of Paris, who wrote that the Marquise de Coetlogon had experienced this side effect personally. Not being a cynic, it hasn’t even crossed my mind to say “or at least, that was her story.”

Harry Potter, prior to another chocolate-fuelled rampage.

King Charles II, despite being one of the pimpingest monarchs in the history of Britain, wanted to see chocolate (and coffee) banned, mostly for the aforementioned association with radical politics. The Church, too, was strongly against this joyous substance, condemning it as “the damnable agent of necromancers and sorcerors,” which I think is perhaps going a bit far.

That being said, it can’t be denied that there is a strong association between chocolate and sin. Chocolate, particularly the high-end luxury stuff, is invariably marketed as something sexual, as the unsubtle advert on the left shows. In 1772, the Marquis de Sade was imprisoned after spiking chocolate pastilles at a party with Spanish fly, resulting in a riotous orgy. The old perv also once requested a chocolate cake “as black inside from chocolate as the Devil’s arse is black from smoke.”

In the 19th century, it lost some of its lustre in Britain, perhaps in part due to the adulteration of chocolate powder with potato starch, brick dust or whatever else was to hand (see the link below for more details of his practice). Indeed, it became positively respectable, and by the 1850s the Moral Guardians had decided that actually, chocolate was okay because it wasn’t alcohol. At around this time, solid “eating” chocolate became available, and a reduction in the duties levied on cocoa made it affordable to all.

Now, of course, it’s enjoyed by everyone. Well, actually, that’s a lie – in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, where 80% of the world’s cocoa originates, the cheapest way to get those beans harvested is by the use of child slavery. Despite the best efforts of campaigners, the position remains grim – in part, because the process of selling cocoa beans is so complex that by the time they get to the factory, it’s difficult to tell where your beans actually came from. US Congressman Eliot Engel proposed in 2001 that a new labelling system be introduced whereby chocolate that could be proven untainted by forced labour would be entitled to the label “slave free.” Perhaps predictably, the chocolate manufacturers resisted this. If some chocolate is labelled “slave free,” that rather implies that the rest is not, which is not exactly in line with the luxury marketing. It’s enough to put you off your Snickers.

Further reading – Food adulteration for beginners. – The coffee houses and their role in the shaping of Our Fair Metropolis.


Filed under 18th century, 19th century, Current events, Fashion and trends, Food, History, Only loosely about London, Stuart London, Waterloo and Southwark

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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Filed under 19th century, 20th Century, Canals and Waterways, Current events, Disasters, East End and Docklands, Geography, History, Islington, Kingston, London, london bridge, Rambling on and on, Randomness, Rivers, Sports and Recreation, Suburbia, Thames, Transport, Waterloo and Southwark, Windsor and Eton