Somers Town

[M]ost people have probably not heard of this area which has as its borders; Hampstead Road, Crowndale Road and Euston Road. But the Victorians certainly favoured it when building their termini for railways bound for the north, first building Euston Station (1837), King’s Cross Station (1852) closely followed by St. Pancras Station (1868). Once completed they then left the buildings to gather dust for 100 years.

Apart from a small excursion into modernity in the 1960s which proposed demolishing St. Pancras Station (saved at the 11th hour by John Betjeman); an early use for MDF to cover King’s Cross façade providing prostitutes and drug addicts shelter from the rain; and completing this hat trick by removing Euston Arch from the front of the station.The arch was in its time the largest Doric column ever built.

After that spate of vandalism they all sat down to rest and leave London’s stations alone for another 30 years.

300px-Kings_Cross_ILN_1852 This 1852 illustration shows King’s Cross Station after opening. It was constructed on the site of a smallpox hospital.

Thomas Cubitt’s original facade will soon be visible without the concourse extension, which is currently scheduled to be removed.

Now after another decade of development and an unprecedented level of investment, which has provided the finest fleet of shuttle buses in the Northern Hemisphere, this Sunday on the 29th November the Northern ticket hall to the west of King’s Cross mainline station will open. Quite why you call a ticket hall situated on the west flank of the station, the Northern ticket hall eludes me.

The old Great Northern Hotel is expected to reopen its 100 rooms to guests in 2012.

The old gasometers to the rear of King’s Cross Station will be re-erected and the King’s Cross Central development team, have set aside £2.4 million to create a new public space around Gasholder No. 8.

Central Saint Martins Art School has revealed it also has plans to move to a purpose built complex at Kings Cross in 2011. The move will create one college site thereby unifying the five schools at one location.

Exciting times for the area, unless that it, you’re a working girl looking for punters trying to shelter from the rain.

Cabinet of Curiosities

[A]ll men like to collect and catalogue ‘stuff’ and Victorian gentlemen were no different from today’s men. Amongst their collections could be found animal skulls, fossils, shells, a miniature book or maybe a small timepiece. They would display their finds in a cabinet , a cabinet of curiosities. In the same spirit of inquiry CabbieBlog gives you its London Cabinet of Curiosities.

Rose Square A pastiche of a pastiche
In Rose Square on the Fulham Road all is not what it seems. When these very smart apartments are finally pulled down, it will reveal a 21st century re-working of a mid 19th century re-creation of a Tudor college or cloister. It was built originally for a hospital for consumptives in 1844 by architect F. J. Francis who promptly vanished into Victorian obscurity.

Ely Place The Holborn Fens
Ely Place is the archetypal London street, tall, prosperous Georgian buildings, solid trustworthy, elegant and private, it’s even gate and guarded by a beadle. His tiny one-roomed lodge is nothing more than a door, a window, a fireplace and a chimney which is curiously supported by the window. This quiet cul-de-sac was the site of the Palace of the Bishops of Ely in Cambridgeshire, and therefore out of the jurisdiction of London.

1561712927_d09325835c Elizabethan Toolshed
This octagonal building was designed as a summer house to form part of a £200 improvement in 1886 of what was then a private square. It is now one of the most picturesque garden sheds you will find in London. A fountain previously stood on the site with four jets, representing the Thames, Severn, Tyne and Humber rivers, but has vanished just as have Centre Point’s fountains nearby.

Old Curiosity Shop The Old Curiosity Shop
This charming one-bay, two-story, 17th century shop with an overhanging upper story is conspicuously picturesque but obliterated by the dull buildings towering around it. In Dicken’s story of the same name, Little Nell and her grandfather fled the shop leaving it in the hands of the evil dwarf Quilp. Dickens described the shop as ‘the old house was a patch of darkness among its gaily lit neighbours’. Today the roles are reversed, Portsmouth Street where it stands, is one of the bleakest, most anonymous byways in central London.

Capt. Jack Sparrow FM

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to write about this, but I suppose this is something we in London stoically accept, it’s a distraction when driving, illegal and costs industry money.

Travelling through a less than salubrious district of London and listening to LBC James Whale’s radio show recently the signal disintegrated into a jumble of voices and music.

[U]nlike many of my colleagues I don’t listen to the strong signal provided by Capital Gold (how many times can you listen to the same 20 songs?), preferring rather to listen to talk only stations. With the notable exception of Radio 4, the problem is that these commercial radio stations have a weak signal.

The manufacturers of the ‘iconic’ London taxi, when redesigning the latest vehicle decided to keep the nostalgia of the taxi we remember from our childhood. Unfortunately they were over enthusiastic and kept the poor brakes (without ABS), leaking bodywork and yes, a radio straight out of 1950’s. Some days I turn on the radio expecting to hear Worker’s Playtime amongst the static.

So why should I, just because I haven’t got a digital radio, have to listen to Dizzee Rascal or advertisements from a Caribbean greengrocer?

Pirate interference is a serious problem in London. These stations interfere with licensed broadcasters and make listening to the radio in some areas almost intolerable. The law claims to offer harsh sanctions for those convicted of illegal broadcasting. In 2005 Ofcom seized the transmitter of a West London illegal station as it was causing interference. The station manager was later convicted at Acton Magistrates Court of theft of a transmitter, and of rendering a service to an illegal station. He was fined £250 on each count.

The real world of pirate radio stations nowadays is very different from the romantic and nostalgic picture of the 1960s. The reality is that illegal stations do real harm to the communities they purport to serve. They are operated with wanton disregard for the health and safety of others and, in many cases, are highly profitable operations that feed other criminal activities.

They cause significant disruption and damage to legitimate businesses that have paid significant sums to the Government in licence fees for radio frequencies that are in large part unusable. Many illegal stations are tied to the drugs trade and are used to promote events where drugs can be bought or sold.

A report in the The Times last year summarised the position well when it said:

There are more than 150 illegal stations across the country, a third of which are said to be run by criminal gangs who use them as a front to sell drugs. Previous raids have found drugs, guns and ammunition among the piles of CDs. Drug dealers within earshot of some stations keep tuned to wait for a particular song to be played or a phrase to be uttered, knowing that it is the signal that their next shipment is ready for collection.

There you have it from The Thunder no less, and all I want to do is listen to some London news . . . and drive a cab that been designed for the 21st century without listening to Marconi’s original radio.

Whingeing Smörgåsbord

[A] diversion from our usual bill of fare, mainly because I couldn’t be bothered haven’t written a more considered and longer post, I give you today a veritable smörgåsbord feast of whinges.

Sitting in my mobile tin box, I’m rarely accosted by these salesmen. They of course have no interest in the charity they purpose to represent, their sole purpose is to get you to sign on the dotted line and earn their commission. Who in their right mind would tell a complete stranger with a clipboard and wearing a dubious jacket their bank details? Are you going to give that information to a Nigerian who tells you via the internet he has won a fortune – well maybe you have.

Hands Free
No, that isn’t the name of a gay German rock band, it’s what every driver should have in their vehicle in London. It’s hard enough negotiating around all the hazards thrown up at you as you drive in London, without trying to steer with one hand while holding a phone in the other. White van man please note, your company should provide a hands free device if they want to contact you at work.

Electric Cars
359123912_3b568797d0 Uncharacteristically for me, but I’m beginning to get irritated at the sight of these miniature milk floats being driven around town. It’s occupants usually have a permanent smug look on their faces suggesting ‘look how green and clever we are’.

And have you noticed the free plug and park bays also have green lights on them when charging, just to show off their environmental credentials? Well it’s about time that they paid to drive in London like everyone else.

Women Gondoliers
Venice the waterborne city is undergoing a sea change (sorry about that). First it was adverts in St. Mark’s Square, followed by plastic striped mooring poles replacing the traditional wooden one. Now they are allowing women gondoliers, is nothing sacred?
The next thing London will follow suit with female cabbies; cabs with adverts; post offices closing; no bobbies on the beat; Routemaster buses withdrawn and no conductors; Mercedes vans purporting to be licensed taxis; allowing 400 rickshaws to ply for hire; and put 44 foot long bendy buses on London’s streets.

I’m getting indigestion just thinking about it.

A journey to the Mystic East

‘Olympic Route Network’, the phrase just conjures up a route for graceful athletics to compete on.

The Greeks would have given the road from Marathon to Athens an appropriately romantic title.

As predicted by CabbieBlog priority lanes are proposed for exclusive use of Olympic officials between their West End hotels and the Olympic Park.

[T]he Olympic Committee has argued that the distance and time taken necessitates giving Olympic officials and organisers a dedicated priority lane on London’s already overcrowded roads.

So while anybody foolish enough to drive in London during the 2012 Olympics sits in a traffic jam, the Olympic Lane will be quieter than the London Mayor’s Cycle Fridays, which aimed at encouraging commuting by bike. Unfortunately some days only two bikers showed up at a cost of £68.80 each. Olympics officials wouldn’t get out of bed if a derisory amount like that was going to be wasted on them.

But the reason that the Olympic organisers are staying in the West End and not the myriad of decent hotels built in London’s Docklands is simple: Wives; their husbands idea of a perfect day might be to watch men throwing spears or hammers, but the wives want to shop. And while all the hotel chains have 5-star hotels near the Olympic Park there is no Harrods or Harvey Nichols.

While we are constantly being told that 2012 is going to be the greenest Olympics in history, its organisers intend to gridlock large parts of central London with stationery traffic pumping out high levels of fumes by taking away 50 per cent of the road capacity. And if you have the temerity to venture into these acres of empty tarmac you will get, courtesy of Transport for London, a fine of £5,000.

All this to enable a favoured few to drive 16 miles every day back and forth to their hotels unimpeded.

As they say ‘it’s not the winning that counts, but the taking part’. Unless that is, you are trying to work in London to pay for their ‘taking part’.