Johnson’s London Dictionary: Trafalgar Square

TRAFALGAR SQUARE (n.) Large piazza that doth remind gallic peoples just who once ruled the waves.

Dr. Johnson’s London Dictionary for publick consumption in the twenty-first century avail yourself on Twitter @JohnsonsLondon

The London Grill: Adrian Brune

We challenge our contributors to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat they will face the same questions ranging from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out what Londoners think about their city. The questions are the same but the answers vary wildly.

Since 2001, A.M. Brune has reported and written hundreds of freelance newspaper, magazine and website articles – from pitch to print – for publications, such as the New Yorker, The Guardian, Air Mail, the Spectator and others on a variety of topics, including world affairs and culture and social justice. She moved to London in 2021 after 20 years in New York. On Substack she regularly writes A Letter from London, she also be found on her website.

What’s your secret London tip?

Buy an electric bicycle. It is so much faster and easier than public transport, Uber and — am sorry, Black cabbies, who are the oracles of the city — Black cabs.

What’s your secret London place?

I love strolling down the London canals in Islington and Hackney. It’s so cool to see all the floating homes.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?

When people from other places say “wow, you live in London — must be overwhelming,” I want to reply, “People, I lived in New York City for 20 years!” London, as busy as it may be, has nothing on New York. London is civility; New York is chaos.

What’s your favourite building?

The original Twinings Tea Shop on Strand, or the Michelin House restaurant on Fulham Road. Can’t beat the Art Deco and Nouveau architecture.

What’s your most hated building?

The Tate Modern. Such an ugly building on the outside and so annoyingly confusing inside.

What’s the best view in London?

Greenwich Park.

What’s your personal London landmark?

The All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. I always dreamt of playing tennis there as a kid and I am always in awe visiting every tournament.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?

Film: Notes on a Scandal; Book: Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending; Documentary: Amy because it showed Camden in its heyday.

What’s your favourite restaurant?

Lusin, Mayfair. It’s an Armenian restaurant in the heart of “fancy” Kensington.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?

First, brunch at a local Islington restaurant on Upper Street, where I live, then a visit to Broadway, Columbia Road or Portobello Road markets for antiques. Afterwards, I might see something at the Tate Britain if it’s rainy or walk down the Embankment, photographing pub signs around Covent Garden or Knightsbridge. I would wrap the day with an aperitivo at my local, the Angelic, and a play at the Almeida Theatre or a movie at the Castle Cinema in Hackney.

London in Quotations: Richard Steele

The Hours of the Day and Night are taken up in the Cities of London and Westminster by Peoples as different from each other as those who are born in different parts centuries.

Richard Steele (1672-1729)

London Trivia: Blocked drains

On 5 February 1983 DynoRod were called out to a blocked drain near 23 Cranley Gardens, Muswell Hill. To the engineer the blockage looked suspiciously like human remains. When the police popped round the following day Dennis Nilsen confessed that 15 or 16 others had met the same fate since 1978. Nilsen became known as the Muswell Hill Murderer, sentenced to life imprisonment on 4 November 1983, with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of 25 years.

On 5 February 1924 the BBC broadcast the time check ‘pips’, a series of six short tones broadcast at one-second intervals, from Greenwich Observatory for the first time

During World War II HMP Wormwood Scrubs was used to store 26 drums of heavy water, which were to be used to make a nuclear bomb

Leadenhall Market stands on the site of a Roman Basilica, a building used for public administration. It first opened in the 14th century

Christopher Wren in a black marble sarcophagus that was originally made for Cardinal Wolsey, Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington are all buried in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral

Fitzrovia is named after landowner Henry Fitzroy illegitimate son of King Charles II. The name comes from French ‘fils du roi’/son of the king

The only true home shared by all four Beatles was a flat at 57 Green Street near Hyde Park where they lived in the autumn of 1963

Thomas Carlyle lived at 5 Cheyne Row (now no. 24) Chelsea in 1834 where he entertained Browning, Dickens and Tennyson. He died there in 1881

An embankment behind Arsenal’s east stand gave the expression ‘spion kop’ (lookout in Afrikaan) from where 243 British troops had died so kop for terrace entered football’s lexicon

The eastbound and westbound lines on the Central Line are built above and below each other for much of the line

The Observer newspaper was founded in 1791 at 396 Strand by WS Bourne on the premise that “the establishment of a Sunday newspaper would obtain him a rapid fortune” is the world’s oldest Sunday

In 1610 Dame Alice Owen founded almshouses and a school on the Islington site where she narrowly missed being killed by an arrow

CabbieBlog-cab.gifTrivial Matter: London in 140 characters is taken from the daily Twitter feed @cabbieblog.
A guide to the symbols used here and source material can be found on the Trivial Matter page.

Previously Posted: Weather we care

For those new to CabbieBlog or readers who are slightly forgetful, on Saturdays I’m republishing posts, many going back over a decade. Some will still be very relevant while others have become dated over time. Just think of this post as your weekend paper supplement.

Weather we care (15.01.2010)

They must have done something at the recent Copenhagen Conference to prevent global warming for since then it hasn’t stopped snowing and with London temperatures dropping to levels not seen for over 20 years you have to feel sorry for those sleeping rough on the streets of London.

It was when I started the Knowledge of London that first I noticed, with shock, the number of people sleeping rough, it was, I suppose when trying to be more observant to increase my knowledge that I then noticed just how many people were to be found in shop doorways at night.

London has always had a homelessness problem, William the Conqueror forbade anyone to leave the land where they worked, if by so doing they effectively made themselves homeless, and as far back as the 7th Century, laws were passed laws to punish vagrants. In the 13th Century Edward I (he of Braveheart fame) ordered weekly searches to round up vagrants.

The Unilever building at the north end of Blackfriars Bridge stands on the site of Bridewell Palace. First built by Henry VIII and later leased to the French Ambassador at which time the interior was used by Holbein for his painting The Ambassadors. By the time Edward VI took possession the palace was in a state of disrepair and he gave it to the City for the reception of vagrants and homeless children. Later becoming a prison, the name Bridewell became synonymous with an institution providing unsanitary conditions and cruelty for the poor and homeless, but it was here in the 16th Century that the State first tried to house vagrants rather than punish them. It began introducing Bridewells, places meant to take vagrants in and train them for a profession, and in 1788 prisoners were given straw for their beds (other prisons had neither beds nor straw) but in reality Bridewells were dirty and brutal places.

By the 18th Century workhouses had replaced the Bridewells, but these were intended to discourage over-reliance on state help. At best they were spartan places with meagre food and sparse furnishings – at worst they were unsanitary and uncaring. By 1863 the building which started Bridewell prison was demolished, after transferring prisoners to Holloway, and now only the gateway built in 1802 remains (pictured), it can be seen at No. 14 New Bridge Street.

The numbers of vagrants has risen and fallen, and precise figures are hard to come by the 1930s eighty were found sleeping rough during a street count in London, but after the Second World War in 1949 a low of only six people were found sleeping rough in London.

Street counts provide a useful snapshot of the number of people sleeping rough on a single night but are best regarded as indicators of trends, rather than exact numbers of men and women who sleep rough. The annual estimate of the numbers sleeping out in England on any single night is published in September each year. The 2007 annual estimate found there were 248 people sleeping rough in London on a single night, which equates to around 3,000 people sleeping rough in London each year, while the 2008 figure was no better at 4,077.

This year homelessness has jumped by 15 per cent with Eastern Europeans, who have lost jobs and have fewer means of social support, now constitute nearly one in seven of those living without permanent shelter. The annual returns, compiled by the charity Broadway on behalf of the Government, show that 4,672 rough sleepers were counted in the capital and only around 60 per cent were UK nationals.

The Government’s target of ending rough sleeping in the capital by 2012 is unlikely to be achieved unless more is done to break the link between mental health problems and homelessness.

I now return, like any good Englishman, to talk about the weather. Why is it that every year at Christmas we open, to great publicity on television, makeshift shelters for the homeless only to close them after the holiday at a time when London’s temperature starts to fall? Even in 1788 vagrants were given straw to sleep upon?

Taxi Talk Without Tipping

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