Friday, 14 September 2018

The NUMBER 1 Route

Tottenham Court Road to Canada Water Bus Station
Thursday September 13 2018

Though our arrival at Tottenham Court, via the 176, had been disrupted by some kind of ‘event’ further along the Strand, the Number 1 seemed happy in its skin and starting from where it is supposed to.

Firstly a shout out to Costa on New Oxford Street who kindly opened their toilet for us (no purchase necessary but always our preferred choice) and there we were with but a 3 minute wait for our starter bus, this time fully equipped with note books, pens and cameras. (Should we be moving onto tablets?)  Our photography skills as bad as ever, even more so on the move, but lovely sunny September weather made us very happy to be on our way though our combined families think we are deeply deranged. Quite a lot has changed personally since 2009 and the ‘first time round’ : Linda has moved house and borough (Lewisham to Southwark), Jo does lots of voluntary work, and we have between us scored three grandchildren but lost a mother and brother in law, both of whom had joined us as guest passengers the first time round…
But the real changes of course are in London, the city that never stands still. 

So off down Oxford Street the No 1 came in at just under two minutes so then hovered a bit along the way. The first surprise was the standards on the lampposts announcing the arrival of ‘Midtown’ when I thought we were travelling from the end of the West End through Holborn and on. We don’t normally link to the Daily Telegraph and no, we haven’t gone soft in ten years, but I thought this was a suitable summary of what’s happening 

We are all for restoration and upcycling , which is what has happened to Centrepoint (under which this route lurks while it waits) and further along we passed the Post Building
A former sorting office – we wait with baited breath for the affordable homes. If you peer to the left (we were of course on the top deck front seats) you can just see the British Museum – as in our previous Project.

The Number 1 passes alongside Bloomsbury Square past St George’s Church (available for worship and concerts apparently) and the Swedenborg Premises.

From upstairs it is easier to admire the ornamentation on the older buildings and the odd niche statue such as that of John Bunyan in Kingsway where it adorns a chapel. We had of course visited the Baptist Museum. From here on, and right over to the south side of the Thames, there are multiple buildings belonging to King’s College London. Spreading out from their original foundation next to the river by Somerset House they now have premises along Kingsway, round Aldwych, including Bush House, and along the Strand 
They have continued the tradition of putting up posters of famous alumni/ae and clearly have enough to cover a few more blocks!  We weren’t aware of Wellington’s role in the college’s foundation but it seems it was quite a colourful one. Prime Ministers duelling: whatever next?

Jo, who likes to preserve the integrity of London’s cycle lanes, is not very happy with the bollarding (new verb, sorry) of Waterloo and other bridges in the wake of the terrorist attacks as they do push the cyclists further into the roads and mess with the bus stops. When they first appeared, within weeks of the attacks, they were said to be temporary but unless someone comes up with a more cunning alternative, this is how it’s going to be.  The King’s campus adjacent to St John’s, one of the 4 South London Evangelist churches, had a small protest camped outside. It seems the dispute, over unfair working conditions for the privately employed cleaners, ongoing since early 2017, has not been resolved – here’s hoping for some firmer legislation for the benefit of gig economy employees.

The Number 1 follows a well-travelled route past Waterloo Station , the Old Vic ( under new management since we last blogged this way) and actually quite swiftly past the South Bank University, also with new building works behind, to Elephant and Castle. The pavements have been widened to accommodate in part a rather bizarre cycle route and the road layout radically changed to eliminate the notorious double roundabout. Whilst the work was ongoing the traffic was a nightmare: on the whole the new layout works well, but the bus stops along London Road are still a bit challenging – so many buses, so little space… 

‘I want a photograph of the vertical wall’ I said to Jo who promptly replied that all walls are vertical and either I wanted the vertical garden or the green wall which has been lavish throughout the difficult (for plants) summer . It adorns the Bakerloo exit to the Underground. We continued to make good progress to the Bricklayers Arms, now very firmly in Southwark, and in fact the Number 1 skirts the route of the ‘lost river’ Neckinger, which we have both walked. 

After turning off Tower Bridge Road the streets do narrow and the bus options decline rapidly; having said that it was never busy upstairs and for most of the trip we were on our own. Espied from afar the Hartley jam factory is now flats and Bermondsey shows many signs of gentrification – cafes and bike repair shops for example. Densely populated as it is, and with much of its older housing stock, round here Southwark does have its green spaces such as Bermondsey Spa Gardens and then, on past South Bermondsey station, Southwark Park.

I have included a photo of a tree as we must have been thumped by at least four overhanging branches and leaves once we were south of the river, proving perhaps that in spite of its populous nature Southwark is pretty green . As we swept past the Seven islands leisure centre we noticed it had been spruced up and indeed the swimming pool has had a £1m+ refit.  Historic buildings are fewer round the Docks, for that is indeed what Surrey Quays are, but we noted the Dock Offices are still in use re-purposed for Education.
We had, I think, lost most of the passengers through the busier streets of Rotherhithe’s local shops so by the time we pulled into Canada Water Bus Station we were among the small group heading for the   This very handsome station certainly brought housing and commerce to the area and there has been additional building including the rather excellent library. This seemed a good place to finish our first expedition.

We have always had a small but attentive following for which we are grateful – we realise bus enthusiasts are not necessarily the same as museum lovers but hope the latter will give us a chance. 

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Back to the buses

Thursday  13 September 2018

For a number of reasons, we are planning a return to the buses:

  • we have visited pretty well every museum in London.  A few remain, open rarely, or only at weekends; a few are closed for refurbishment; but on the whole the Project is complete.  Some museums have been great; some have been...well...dull, but from now on we shall visit them in a more ordinary way, when there is something we want to see.
  • it's coming up to 10 years since we travelled - and posted - the first of our 549 bus routes
      • many of the routes have changed since then: the building of the Olympic Park (remember that?) diverted several; others have been shortened or altered to adjust traffic flow
      • the buses have changed: some for the better, like the hybrid versions; some very much for the worse, like the grim Roastmasters introduced by a former Mayor of London whose name escapes me, paid for with Londoners' money
      • the infrastructure is changing and affecting bus travel; we shall watch with interest as the West End Project unfolds; if the current Mayor begins to deliver on his election pledges on cycling (come on Sadiq, only 18 months left) we may find the Holborn gyratory being redesigned and the growing Cycling Superhighways are likely to affect bus routes too
      • Then there is the Elizabeth Line.  We had thought we might spend a few outings travelling the line and exploring its new stations; but, unsurprisingly it is not merely over budget, but also delayed for a year, so there will be disruption there too. And HS2 is beginning to affect streets around Euston.
  • We had thought of visiting cemeteries but, as they say in Game of Thrones, winter in coming, and anyway, there are good books about London's cemeteries such as the one by Darren Beach.  The same is true of London's many monuments and memorials.
  • And finally, our logoed hoodies are still in good condition!
We intend, as far as possible, to travel the routes in the other direction this time.The project may be harder to plan, because TfL has abolished its paper bus maps, saying that you can find the information on line.  This is true if you are planning to GO somewhere;  but looking for a bus that will start where another finishes is less straightforward.  Still, we shall do our best, and you can begin by reading about the Number 1 route any day now,

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Croydon Airport

Airport House, Purley Way,
Croydon, CR0 0XZ
Sunday September 2 2018

This is a Museum, run almost entirely by volunteers, which only opens once a month hence our Sunday visit. Linda’s photos were taken by plane enthusiast Roger and we were also joined by Mary J, who has lived in nearby Sutton for all of her life.

The Museum offers both free flow and guided visits and we opted for the latter – our guide had clearly been a plane lover since child hood and spoke with undiminished zest of early air travel in general and this airport in particular.

There are three interlocking strands to this visit: the historic and very decorative buildings, the history of the airfield and the evolution of British Imperial Airways which is closely tied to that of the airfield.
The buildings you see today were completed in 1928 and as such were designed to offer the intrepid traveller an experience somewhere between the luxury values of travelling by liner, and the convenience of going by train. We were told that it was the first PURPOSE BUILT civil airport in the world, pioneer of such now-standard features as the separation of arrivals and departures and of freight and passengers, not to mention a succession of purpose-built control towers. The date of completion reflects the favoured style of the times – ART DECO – though like much of that inter-war construction the materials are not all that they might seem. It is essentially a brick building covered in some kind of composite painted white – not even Coade stone as you might expect. The third storeys were added in later years. At its busiest the airport had several hangars and outbuildings, now demolished. The very presence and success of the airport also generated related industries for Croydon that supported or were part of air travel – this in turn encouraged employment and an expansion in nearby housing – all in an area that was once fields…

I may sound a little dismissive of the building but in fact in late summer sunshine it looked lovely with just enough embellishment to give it a ‘modern but classic’ air. Once inside the Thirties style continues with wooden panelling and a welcoming reception desk. Unlike today’s airports where the emphasis is on encouraging  you to spend money by reducing seating capacity this , the world’s first purpose built airport lounge offered congenial seating and just one kiosk – a prototype WH Smith’s selling what is had always sold.  The original wooden banquettes have been replaced by leather look sofas.

To understand  exactly why it is here we were reminded that during the First World War the Germans were sending over Zeppelins, which could fly at great altitude for up to 20 hours non-stop, enabling them to drop bombs on English targets, though their navigation was not always precise. When bombs from one wandering Zeppelin killed civilians in London, public and Parliament demanded visible countermeasures and the Royal Flying Corps established a presence at Croydon (largely ‘window dressing’ as it took time to develop effective anti-Zeppelin measures). Subsequently, it was recognised that as the threat came from the east Croydon was not the best centre to combat it and the airfield then became a base for training RFC pilots who departed for the front after very few flying lessons, many never to return. There was also an aircraft factory.

Come the end of the conflict, airplanes, and the pilots who survived weren’t going anywhere so the airfield started hosting novelty flights then as peace and commerce re-established themselves civil aviation took off in all senses.  While the fields remained – at that point aircraft took off and landed into the wind on grass – the building went up.   

The Reception area and the stairs are adorned with photographs of the airport at its busiest and most famous. One of the most celebrated pilots was Amy Johnson who flew solo starting from here to Australia.  Less well known is that she attempted to fly West across the Atlantic (previous crossings had all made the passage West to East because of the prevailing winds, and even today the  time difference crossing the Atlantic is significant). There is a telling photo of a failed take off with her short-lived husband looking less than pleased with the resulting plane damage – he was short lived as a husband that is, it having been a case of marry in haste and repent at n leisure...

Another interesting photo shows the line-up of  overseas planes  with their national insignia including  Lufthansa’s swastika tail symbol sitting happily next to a Dutch plane – not so two years later.
From something like 2,000 passengers in the first year of operation numbers rose to over 120,000 by the mid-1930s but transporting mail remained for a long time the most lucrative part of the business. Also the number of passengers could be eclipsed by the number of sight-seers – over 100,000 turned up at the airport to welcome the return of Amy Johnson.

One piece of aviation history that Croydon can NOT claim is the famous ‘Munich’ photo of Neville Chamberlain emerging from an aircraft in 1938 holding aloft his famous piece of paper: that flight landed at Heston airfield.  Heston appears as well as Croydon in ‘The History of Aviation’,  a large mural by William Kempster commissioned for Heathrow and unveiled by the Queen in 1969, which is on loan to Croydon till the end of the year.

Interspersed between the large size photos are a variety of historic advertising and promotional posters offering everything from tea in the air on a jaunt down to Brighton or ‘weekly trips to India & Australia’ – the latter taking three weeks, with multiple overnight stops. These were all the proud boasts of Imperial Airways whose home turf this surely was. Early aircraft were barely-converted bombers left over from the War, and even later purpose-designed biplanes retained features such as open cockpits for the pilots even if passengers travelled in comfortable (?) cabins. Advertisements pointed out that aircraft with 4 engines were naturally safer than those with only two.

As we admired the control tower from the outside m our guide explained  how primitive early aircraft control was… From the pilots’ points of view their navigation was determined but what they could  see  and hopefully recognise from the air – prime landmarks being  the coast, the River Thames  (you’ve gone too far)  and the railway. A favourite route from Europe was to find Brighton and follow the railway line to East Croydon then some-one had helpfully stencilled CROYDON in the grass. Of course this makes night time navigation near impossible and for those pilots heading over deserts they would have to hope for a handy camel trail to guide them.. As for predicting the arrival of any plane as the chaps in the top floor radio room were expected to do, this involved taking three radio bearings and plotting them with string on a map and triangulating the result, by which time of course the plane would have moved on. There is an example of this for you to try.

There was also a flight simulator  but not surprisingly this was being monopolised  by other visitors.
The radio room has been reconstructed and is very atmospheric and on the way back down you can admire (astound at) the rickety nature of the basket weave chairs passengers were seated in. On the other hand the menus were pretty luxurious.

So what happened to bring  Croydon Airport to a halt? Well, not surprisingly 1939 saw an immediate halt to all commercial flying. As Croydon was eventually deemed to be too far south and west for combative flying it again became a training base and remained as such throughout the war.  Fighter Group 11 were however based here for a while and there are suitable tributes to them.

Come 1945 and the new order in Europe and the World: commerce started up again but Croydon was considered too small, with no scope for building the permanent runways now needed for modern long-haul aircraft, so with  more space needed in 1951 Heathrow – then some marshy fields – was set up, and the rest of its story we know. Croydon continued in use for small-scale short-haul flights until 1959 (the last flight by a De Havilland Heron is commemorated by the mascot aircraft in front of the building). Imperial Airways meanwhile morphed into BOAC  (the non-European arm of what was then the national airline)  and flew as such until privatised by Mrs. Thatcher into the British  Airways we have today.

Imperial’s insignia – a winged globe which hangs in the reception / waiting lounge – was removed and only discovered many years later in a dusty hanger corner at Heathrow but was rescued and donated to the Museum where it hangs today.

Pride in early flying and pilots , early aircraft and innovative technology and design and respect for the pioneers are what makes this museum visit  well worth finding the time to  experience.

Saturday, 25 August 2018

The Wernher Collection at the Ranger’s House

Chesterfield Walk, Blackheath
London SE10 8QX
Tuesday August 14th 2018

With Jo still busy being a grandparent Linda & Roger decided to tackle this (pretty local) attraction, most easily reachable by the 53 bus. We had been many years ago – it’s ideal for dark winter Sundays when there’s not much to do, though you need to be alert to its rather restricted opening times. Indeed until recently you could only visit via a booked, guided tour if at all but since July it has reverted to ‘free flow’ access. This we knew from the English Heritage person on duty, and accordingly their visitor numbers have increased. . Our guide book dated from 2002 and gave a much fuller life story for Julius Wernher than that now displayed.

Instead of conventional labelling, each room has several copies of detailed descriptions of that room’s selection from the  many hundred items in the collection. Essentially it was a collection without a home, the previous residences of the Wernhers – Bath House in Mayfair and Luton Hoo in Bedfordshire – having both been demolished or otherwise disposed of.

On the other hand the Ranger’s House was a home without a collection. It was built as a kind of grace-and-favour residence for the ‘Ranger’, which in turn was an honorary position, nominally to oversee the Blackheath and Greenwich Parks but entailing very little real work. There had however been a few interesting post holders, so to speak, but essentially the House was empty when passed to English Heritage so they welcomed a collection which included furniture, pictures and artefacts.

The House was originally part of a much larger complex/estate  named  variously Brunswick House, Chesterfield House and Montagu House. Here you have a clue to one of the former ‘Rangers’, the   4th Earl of Chesterfield  known for his abundant  correspondence  on all topics but especially  letters to his (illegitimate) son containing generally sound and timeless advice , some of which you can find  here.

Some of the letters are on show in the downstairs rooms where information boards include a few details about the other inhabitants of the house, several of them ‘minor royals’  including Prince Arthur during his time at Woolwich learning to be a soldier – a role his father had prepared him for at Osborne (isle of Wight)  by building a toy fort.  By the end of the 19th century there were no more Rangers  and the house passed into public ownership (at one time serving as the changing rooms for the nearby tennis courts) passing through various hands from the London County Council eventually to English Heritage.

During the 1990s the Wernher Collection was looking for a home and was offered The  Ranger’s  House. Because it is essentially a private collection, the restrictions are various – no photos and the objects  arranged  in many cases much as they were in Julius’s time. The displays  are fairly traditional so glass cabinets with numbered items and the text in blue binders.
(The pictures are from the EH website)

The other, largely unacknowledged, issue about this collection is its ‘bloody’ origins. Julius Wernher came from a middle class German Lutheran family in the Frankfurt area (ever the financial centre of the new Germany). He apprenticed to a bank there and moved to Paris  briefly before being recalled for military service and a return to France as an ‘occupying soldier’ . Once free of the Army he moved to London and shortly thereafter, via a former Paris banking contact, was invited to go to South Africa to buy ‘raw diamonds’.  Julius was to spend ten years in South Africa and he developed a real aptitude for spotting the purity and clarity of good gems, a skill he was later to use as he acquired the artefacts on display. Combined with his business skills and some knowledge of engineering (his father had been running the railways) he was soon a major share holder in the burgeoning diamond trade, based round Kimberley where there were also some gold seams.

Now of course we know that his fortune and much of the UK’s were based on the displacement/ occupation/ colonisation and death of many of South Africa’s original inhabitants and the industries and management left a legacy of continuing exploitation and apartheid. These were the infamous ‘Randlords’.
It also meant Wernher was one of the richest men in London and with wealth came marriage, family, social climbing and two grand houses  and the ability and skill to collect, though another uncomfortable aspect of the collection (to modern eyes) is that two cabinets at least contain ivory works and artefacts made from rhino horn.

The visitor is directed upstairs where the first ‘Red’ Room is an echo of the drawing room from the Wernhers’ London home. The collection is grouped both chronologically and by type of artefact so a small side room is the jewellery vault with large intricate pieces with equally large precious stones – rubies and emeralds as presumably Julius regarded diamonds as ’work’  rather than pleasure.
Room 3 has a range of religious artefacts – small exquisitely carved ivory devotional objects. It was originally thought these were to convey the Bible’s stories to the illiterate but much more likely handy devotional (and very covetable) items for the wealthy. 

Rooms 4 & 5 are my personal favourites as they have a really colourful display of small chiefly 15th century enamels mainly from Limoges. Clearly I am not alone in admiring these but will have to remain satisfied with admiring them in museums.

The same could be said of the Renaissance ceramics with those from the Iznik Pottery in Anatolia taking pride of place. More controversial (yes, yet more un PC exhibits!) are the couple of works from Palissy, a French Renaissance potter/craftsman. His colours and glazes have no equal but sadly the animals – mainly reptiles – that adorn his (only for ornament) plates were indeed harmed in the production as the link here explains. On the Italian side there are equally colourful works using myths and legends as their narrative base.

Staying with the Renaissance there is a room of smaller  bronzes; downstairs is a more interesting bronze of St Sebastian  shown in agony (?ecstasy) but without arrows.
After the rather intense experience of  the upstairs displays you can go downstairs where the reception rooms retain some of the Wernhers’  furniture and  pictures – there are some good pieces: a lovely Lippi and a rather dingy de Hooch alongside some other works from the Dutch Golden Age  so a lovely Ruysdael . One room has four different clocks – you get the picture.

The long Gallery is an impressive space and is hung with some interesting Beauvais tapestries  depicting scenes from the life of a Chinese Emperor (as imagined by Europeans)  while the last room of the tour looks at the range of Rangers emphasizing  Lord Chesterfield.

We approached by a sort of sideways drive but you can exit round the side and back into a rose garden. This area formed part of the previous larger residences of which there remains only the walls and a ceremonial bath with steps – this was the sort of bath we saw at Carshalton and was designed more for show than cleanliness, This  one was the pride of Princess Caroline.
Unlike many houses nowadays little attention is paid to the role of the servants in keeping everything going ( ? and dusted) but one such is remembered out in the garden..

I may have given more reasons not to visit this property – that would be wrong as there are some gems. I suspect if English Heritage had full access to the collection they would display it differently and certainly offer a more child-friendly experience.  As it is the visit will appeal to those who enjoy browsing the well-chosen beautifully crafted artefacts that serious money can buy in a calm and often uncrowded  space.  

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Royal Academy of Arts (2)

Piccadilly W1J 0BD
Friday August 10  2018

More return visits? Yes and no. We included the Royal Academy three years ago – it is of course an institution which holds ‘special exhibitions’, often two at a time, based on single  artists or themed  by country or materials –‘bronze ‘  for e.g.  Probably it is most famous for the annually held ‘Summer Exhibitions’  and  that is what we posted last time

Three years down the line we decided to take a look at this year’s offerings but also to take the opportunity to visit the Royal Academy’s new and newly opened  extension

 This year’s show  was co-ordinated by Grayson Perry (everyone’s favourite modern potter and commentator) and he asked several of his fellow academicians to curate or co-curate each of the rooms. Inevitably they choose each other’s works so instead of the usual habit of clustering the recent works of say Ken Howard in one place they are scattered throughout. Each room is a glorious and colourful mixture of works and mediums (media?) from traditional oils and pencil sketches through to installations, videos and what one might loosely term sculptures. There is the usual room of architectural models both projects and familiar completed works. 

The downstairs of the Academy building has nine (?) large galleries grouped round a central octagonal room with several openings.  Upstairs were later opened the newer Sackler galleries – a more intimate space for smaller works and exhibitions. During the summer show this is largely for the open submissions – that is works sent in by the general public. To be honest the ‘hang’ (‘When did this become a noun?’ asked my linguist friend) is so dense it is somewhat off-putting and you would need to know what you were looking for to linger here…

The ‘new’ building is what I remember from the dim and distant past as the ethnographic and anthropological collections from the British museum. The only visit we made was on a rainy Sunday in winter when you could still park free and we plus two small children had an underwhelming and forgettable afternoon. Evidently the British Museum closed its ‘branch’ down and the building stood empty for some time.

The Royal Academy has therefore acquired a vast space, which must more than double its capacity.

Obviously there is additional space for toilets cafes, shops and meeting rooms for the Academicians and an impressive lecture hall. The staircase and stairwell is the size of a not so modest house.  The exterior has been cleaned and this work was still in progress. It will be interesting to see how the spaces will be used.  

The two buildings are connected by a tunnel and a bridge (lifts are provided for the short flights needed here) and the underground space – very crypt-like – is now cleaned exposed brick.  Currently this tunnel/corridor displays  the various statues and bodies ( some of them ‘flayed’ to expose the underlying musculature)  that the academy’s School has  used to teach ‘Life Drawing’. There will also be a space for the current students to display their work.

As you cross over you pass over a small bridge over a courtyard and enter into the next gallery so as to minimise the ‘break in continuity of the viewing experience.  If you then go down you can appreciate the full size of   the new acquisition.

So there you have it – a new museum/gallery for London.

The photos include some from the building and a very few of the most eye-catching pieces from the Summer Show – this year’s has been a good visit (it closes this weekend) as ‘there is something for everyone’ especially children as it offers variety rather than a serious themed contextualised educational offering.  Let’s hope the RA follows Perry’s example in future  Summer shows.