Princes and Paupers, A Guided Walk Around Kennington

Next Saturday 6th April let’s hope for blue skies and sunshine for this walk around lovely Kennington.


We’ll meet outside Kennington Tube for 10.45am.
The cost is £9, £7 for over 65s and full-time students, and the walk lasts around two and a half hours.
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Walworth Old Town Hall Three Days After the Fire

When I hopped off the bus at lunch time today and dug my little Olympus out of my pocket to take some photos of the Old Town Hall I didn’t expect to cry, but that’s what I did. I was biting my lip, looking at the ruined roof, the sky visible through the shocked windows. How did people cope with the Blitz? Buildings like old friends burned down night after night. The accumulated sense of loss must have been almost unbearable. I suppose that “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be” mentality got them through at the time, but it is easy to see why the years following the Second World War were in some ways even harder than the war itself.
At first sight, on ground level at least, things don’t look too bad, though the sad half open door and the lingering smell of smoke don’t bode well.

Old Town Hall Main Entrance

Old Town Hall Main Entrance


Those lovely details around the capitals have survived, the brick is still a gentle red. It’s when you look up, or view the building from across the Walworth Road that the truer picture is revealed.
Mansard Roof

Mansard Roof

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Walworth Old Town Hall

Today the scaffolding and hoardings are going up following the dreadful fire on Monday. I am a fan of this building and love its details. Here is a selection of photos I took during last year. Let’s hope Walworth’s Old Town Hall will soon be restored to its former beauty.

The Cuming Collection

You never know what the day will bring. Just this morning I went past the newly stacked portacabins outside the soon to be demolished Heygate Estate and saw that the notices have gone up advertising the Charlie Chaplin Festival next month. Chaplin claimed that he was born in Walworth. It seems plausible, his parents were married here in St John’s Larcom Street, but no records of his birth being registered have ever been found. It’s no secret that Chaplin had a childhood that included periods of great hardship and poverty, and it is tempting to think of Walworth as an area that has always been a bit shabby, down-at-heel, a ducking and diving sort of place, yet there is more to the story.
In the eighteenth century Walworth was developing as a genteel suburb for the well off middle classes. Charles Babbage, father of the modern computer, was born in a comfortable house where the health centre now stands. Only a few examples of the houses that stretched down the Walworth Road remain. The most obvious is John Smith House, once home to the National Labour Party, now a hostel for visitors to London on a budget. Where Mcdonalds is was the site of the Cuming family home. Father and son, Richard and Henry Cuming were avid collectors. They make my own hoarding habits look minimalist. Not only do they seem never to have thrown anything away, even keeping paper bags that bread came in, they bought new collections and items to add to their own. Their interests were wide, and they had the cash to indulge their collecting passion.

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King’s Cross: A Great Arts Centre, and a Homage to Fanvaulting

King’s Cross railway station in London used to have a pretty poor reputation. The area was a byword for prostitution and drug dealing. Much clearing up, local campaigning has led to the attractive and successful arts and education hub, Kings Place. I’ll pay tribute here to an ex-colleague, poet and photographer, Angel Inglis, who was one of the earliest camaigners to keep what was best and create an arts centre that would rival any in London.
The railway station also looks pretty wonderful these days. The concourse has been revamped and the station can now hold its head up high alongside its swanky neighbour St Pancras International. The new roof looks rather like the one by Norman Foster at the British Museum, and maybe both are a homage to fanvaulting, a style of architectural detail peculiar to England. One of the best examples is in the Henry VII chapel in Westminster Abbey. You are not allowed to take photographs inside the abbey, so this image is courtesy of http://www.studyblue.com.
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Lost Rivers and Lost Pubs

I was walking along Brook Drive earlier today. I wasn’t working, although it does feature in my Elephant and Castle walk. Brook Drive is a boundary between Southwark and Lambeth, though the Whytefleete, the brook that gies it its name is underground these days. And, as well as being home to Lembit Ōpik – I think he’s still there anyway – it has an appeal to film makers.
These eagles adorn a pub that has been turned into a block of flats. The pub was the Two Eagles, but there are at least four on the roof.

Two Eagles

Two Eagles


I’ve seen it in a French film whose title I forget, but where London is shown in relentless driving rain day after day. I think it also featured in The Krays, but if you can confirm that or correct me, please do. Continue reading

Regenerating the Elephant

We were so lucky with the weather for the Elephant and Castle walk yesterday. And I was lucky to have such a nice group of people for the walk. Thanks everyone who came along.
It’ll be on again later in the year, see https://londonbyguide.wordpress.com/dates-for-your-diary/ for details.
As some of you know, the Elephant is undergoing regeneration. It is actually the biggest urban regeneration project ever in Europe. Initially Norman Foster was involved. There were plans for low rise terraces, art galleries, piazzas (I call them squares, but there you go), an amphitheatre. All the pictures of the plans showed people sitting outside in sunny weather. Winter was to be banished from the Elephant and Castle for ever. Then the recession struck, and the budget was scaled dowm. The big name architects who promised high quality, imaginative buildings dropped out of sight. Instead we got Strata, aka the Electric Razor, which opened in April 2010 and received the Carbuncle Award later that year.

Strata

Strata

Just up the road the Shard was built.
Shard

Shard

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