A Bard’s close shave

The summer solstice had just passed and on a glorious sunny June day theatre goers keen for an afternoon’s entertainment crossed the River Thames to a theatre part-owned by one of London’s most popular playwrights of the day–William Shakespeare.

Four hundred years ago this week on the 29th June 1613 during the first act of All This is True a fire destroyed the original Globe Theatre.

[C]ompetition amongst the theatres on the Southbank was fierce and their owners would be always trying to produce new plays and dream up spectacular effects to produce them; dramatic battle scenes, trap-doors and rigging which allowed for flying entrances were all put in the mix.

The Globe was built in just six months between 1597 and 1598 from materials salvaged from a theatre in Shoreditch of a similar design called imaginatively – The Theatre.

GlobeBecause of a long-standing dispute the owners dismantled The Theatre in the dead of night and carried the timbers over the River and rebuilt and renamed it The Globe. This reconstructed building was used as the open-air amphitheatre venue for The Chamberlain’s men for their summer productions; one of their company was William Shakespeare who was not present on that day having retired to Stratford-upon-Avon.

Three stories high and a 20-sided polygon approximately 100 feet in diameter the theatre was a huge thatched building made of timber accommodating an audience of up to 3,000.

Some of the audience would be Goundlings having paid one penny (almost an entire day’s wage) to stand in front of the stage, while the richer patrons would sit in the covered galleries, paying as much as half a crown (30 times as much) for their more comfortable seats. At the very top of the theatre going fraternity would be those wealthy and privileged enough to actually sit on the stage during the production. The monies for every production were collected in a box from which we get today the modern box office at a theatre’s door.

Shakespeare’s audience was far more boisterous than today. Composed of butchers, servants, shopkeepers, wig-makers and countless other tradesmen they were loud and hot-tempered and as interested in the happenings off stage as on.

The ceiling of the stage was painted with clouds and sky – The ‘Heavens’ – in close proximity to the thatched roof and some bright spark had suggested that cannon be situated here. This had been used successfully in the past to great dramatic effect to herald a grand entrance. The play that day which historians now believe to be re-named Henry VIII had his Majesty attending a masque at Cardinal Wolsey’s house and cannons being shot off at the Sovereign’s entry.

The cover for the muzzle of the cannon used to keep out dust and moisture was called a tampin and this it is believed set the thatched roof on fire. At first the audience ignored the fire, believing it was just smoke from the cannon, but as with thatched timber-framed buildings the fire soon took hold running round the roof like a train, consuming the whole theatre in less than an hour.

Only two narrow doors allowed for evacuation and those sitting beneath the thatched roof would have to scramble behind wooden benches and down through each of the galleries to access the stairs. Incredibly no deaths or serious injuries were recorded but one man had his breeches set on fire which he put out with the help of a bottle of ale.

The Globe was rebuilt by the following year but like all other theatres in London it was closed down by the Puritans in 1642 and was probably pulled down two years later.

London’s Lighthouse

With its sinuous curves and gentle
shoreline an aid for stricken mariners is not what you would expect to find beside the Thames.

Alan Kean from the website Isle of Dogs Life has written a guest post of his visit to
Trinity Buoy Wharf, London’s only
lighthouse which is now bizarrely home
to an art installation set to last until the end
of this century.

London’s Lighthouse – The Mysterious World of Trinity Buoy Wharf

[T]here are few stranger places in London than Trinity Buoy Wharf, still a part of the Isle of Dogs it gives the impression of isolation but is only a couple of miles away from Canary Wharf or Canning Town. It’s location at the eastern tip of Orchard Place is reached by walking up a road flanked by Industrial units.

industrial units

The walk gives no indication of what you will find at your destination except for the odd buoy, although the information boards dotted along the road give an interesting history lesson.

history lesson

There are a few oddities along the way.

along the way

When you arrive at the Wharf, surprises come thick and fast where nothing is quite what it seems to be.

what is seems to be

The first surprise is there is a Lighthouse, and it turns out that both the Lighthouse and Wharf have quite an history.

quite a history

For nearly two centuries the Corporation of Trinity House occupied this site from 1803 to 1988, but even before then in 1760s Trinity House were storing buoys in nearby Blackwall.

The site was mainly used for storing buoys and other marine equipment but gradually workshops were added for testing, repairing and making equipment.

The Lighthouse was not built to aid the Thames river traffic but was an Experimental Lighthouse which was designed by James Douglass, the one still standing was not the first one however there was another experimental lantern nearby built in the 1850s in which the famous scientist Michael Faraday carried out tests in electric lighting for lighthouses.

The present lighthouse was constructed in 1864 and was used to experiment with electric light and different coloured lights the results being checked at Charlton across the river. After the second world war the lighthouse was used for the training of lighthouse keepers.

The workshops were greatly altered over time until they were finally closed in 1988.

There are no lighthouses keepers but there is plenty of noise because the lighthouse now houses a sound installation called Longplayer that will not stop until 2999.

not stop until 2999

Outside the warehouse in memory of the work of Michael Faraday is a small shed called the Faraday Effect.

Faraday Effect

Lined up against the jetty is an old Trinity lighthouse ship which has been turned into a Music Recording Studio.

The old workshops no longer have the clang of metal on metal but the dancing feet of various dance groups or the raised voices of a theatre or opera company.

Opera company

Old shipping containers have been painted and made into office blocks called Container City.

Container City

But perhaps the last thing you would expect to find in such a place is the Fatboy’s Diner, a genuine 1940s American Diner from New Jersey that was bought over from the States then had a few short stays in different parts of London before finding its present site. The Diner itself is a bit of a celebrity featuring in the film Sliding Doors, music videos and magazines.

The concentration of Arts and Culture facilities is part of the legacy handed to Urban Space management to develop an Arts Quarter. This has yet to fully developed but if you want a great view of the Thames and the O2 whilst drinking a milkshake at an original American Diner opposite a lighthouse this is the place for you.

The Lighthouse and Longplayer are open on the first weekend of every month from 11am to 5pm (until 4pm from December – March) and entrance is free. For more information visit the Trinity Buoy Wharf website or the Longplayer website.

The London Grill: Cindy Eve

We challenge our contributor 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 will face the same questions that range from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out just what Londoners really think about their city. The questions might be the same but the answers vary wildly.

Cindy Eve

[C]indy Eve was born in South Africa but now resides in the United Kingdom and is passionate about travelling and exploring new and exciting places. An enthusiastic photographer (still learning), adrenaline sports lunatic, ex-personal development junkie, and all round lover of life. She has published two books, written poetry (published) and is a voracious reader of poetry and biographies of interesting people, Richard Branson and Nelson Mandela among others. She claims to be 90 per cent vegetarian and loves cats, and in between all that runs the 3 days in London website.

What’s your secret London tip?

Look up! London’s buildings have some of the most amazing artwork: on the façade, the roof and above doorways, sometimes small, many times large, some of which is just outstandingly beautiful.

What’s your secret London place?

Museum of London. Totally under-rated, in my opinion it is way better than the British Museum. One of my most delightful discoveries, I visit whenever I am on one of my #walkabout jaunts. A fabulous place, with oodles of London history.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?

Rubbish in the streets. I mean seriously people, let’s get real here. There are plenty of bins for rubbish, toss it in the bin not on the ground…especially cigarette butts; totally unsightly.

Cindy St. Pauls-1What’s your favourite building?

Oh definitely and without a doubt it has to be St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is a truly magical building and appears to float in the air at night. The interior is exquisite and the views of London from the galleries are hard to beat.

What’s your most hated building?

Gosh! I am not sure really. I don’t particularly like the current crop of new buildings going up in the City of London, they spoilt the skyline, but I don’t think I have a particular hate.

What’s the best view in London?

Standing on either side of the Hungerford/Golden Jubilee bridges . . . the view from either side is phenomenal and the river is just beautiful.

What’s your personal London landmark?

Oooo! Difficult, but the one that has impressed me the most has to be The Shard. It is the only building I have watched grow from a stubby concrete block into the most beautiful and elegant shard of glass. It’s been a hate/love relationship. I was totally against it to start, but oh my gosh once the glass panels went on . . . I kinda changed my mind J Now I take a photo every time I see it and then some!

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

Mary Poppins. Not sure if that qualifies as a London film, but it is due to this film that I fell in love with London. I have seen the film about 50 times+ and on my first day in London when I saw the chimney pots from the tube I just fell in love, a passion that has not yet waned in the slightest. It gives me a thrill each time when I sit on the steps at St. Paul’s in the exact spot where the old lady sat when she sang “feed the birds”. Always brings a lump to my throat & a tear to my eye. J

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?

Ahh! Without a doubt that would be Sweetie Pies Boutique Bakery in Twickenham. Fab.u.lous darlings . . . Craig would say. Best cupcakes in town and scones just like my mother used to make them . . . no other place will suffice.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?

There is nothing I love more than to go #walkabout through the streets, especially the City of London, wandering here and there, finding previously unknown streets and alleyways, popping into churches and gasping at the hidden treasures that reveal themselves and taking as many photos as my camera can cope with. What a privilege to live in this fabulous city, a never-ending ‘City of delights’.

This ‘Grill’ was first posted on the Radio Taxis blog.

Manners maketh man

[L]ondon’s cabbies, it would seem, have the undeserved reputation of being self opinionated and lacking manners. Driving all day on London’s roads it can hardly be surprising that common courtesies are not always observed; many times a customer has said that they couldn’t drive all day in London.

Keep CalmThe capital’s congested roads, riders wobbly around on Boris bikes and vans trying to squeeze past you on the inside might be a contributing factor to a recent YouGov Poll in which 52 per cent of Londoners said they would prefer to live elsewhere.

Gratuitous use of car horns, I’ve even witnessed a driver tell a pedestrian to get off a crossing when the amber light was still flashing; passengers incapable of stopping taking on their mobile to tell me their destination, working all day in London we seem to have become inured to our brash and discourteous ways.

So it came somewhat as a surprise when in Dorset recently that while walking my dog a complete stranger greeted me with a jovial “Good Morning”, which clearly it wasn’t as rain was just staring to fall. Before I had time to reply we have passed like ships in the night.

On buying my morning paper instead of the ubiquitous ‘no dogs allowed’ sign on the door, not only are mutts permitted, but receive a biscuit.

The trend nowadays for shop assistants to reply “No problem” to the simplest request, implying that some other shops would be less tolerant of my request as this would most certainly have been a problem, just hasn’t entered their lexicon.

In London I’ve had queue jumpers at garages going ahead of a dozen people carrying groceries to tender their exact money for petrol leaving everybody seething standing patiently in the queue. While in Dorset a trip to the petrol station is treated as a social occasion and every purchase of fuel is accompanied by four minutes of banter from behind the counter leading to long queues at the pumps.

The dictatorship of the mobile phone which drowns out all other conversation on trains in London, here in Dorset is benign, mainly due to the fact that the signal can best be described as contrary.

This little anachronism from a gentler age is a mere 90 minutes from London but seems half a century away. But I have to say when returning to the capital it was a relief to be not asked at a petrol station “Have you come far today?”

Parks: A perk of London life

Unlike many cities, due in many cases to our Victorian forebears, London is blessed with vast tracts of green open spaces; incredibly 20 per cent of the capital’s total area is given over to the public recreation.

For this Guest Post Eve Pearce writes that without the strict management of the London’s parks its green spaces could become an unsafe environment which places other users at risk.

[T]his happened to London’s earliest cabbies, despite being licensed they failed to attract the right sort of passenger, so extreme was it that in 1694 a bevy of females in one cab reportedly behaved so badly in the environs of Hyde Park that the authorities responded by banning hired cabs from the park for the next 230 years.

A perk of London Life
London is the most heavily populated city in the United Kingdom with over seven million people registered as living in the city within the Greater London region. The city is constantly evolving and new records are set in construction each year, an example being the newly constructed tower, The Shard, which offers the highest viewing platform in Europe at two hundred and forty four metres. Thousands of visitors have climbed the tower to take in views of London which extend forty miles, such is the height of the building. Despite the bustle of London as a city, it has some reassuring constants that inspire many inhabitants and visitors. One of those constants is the London cab and another is the Royal Parks which for years have offered Londoners a place to relax, exercise and escape the pressures of city life.

History of Royal Parks
The Royal Parks are actually an agency run by the government Department for Culture, Media and Sport and they manage over five thousand acres of prime parkland in and around the city of London. This space is spread across eight separate parks incorporating scenes that are synonymous with London life. Hyde Park contains Speakers Corner, traditionally associated with free speech and some of the finest political orators in history, whilst Kensington Gardens is the home of the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground. The parks are a vital lifeline for Londoners who are often housed in accommodation which does not provide a garden yet are still able to enjoy fine horticultural surroundings without venturing far from home. Cab drivers are proud when hearing the comments of the many visitors to London who wish they had such abundant spaces in their own overcrowded neighbourhoods. In many areas of the country, parks are a byword for neglect and under investment but in London the parks are beacons of excellence and a magnet for those who wish to live healthily whilst living in London or enjoy sport, entertainment or a picnic in beautiful surroundings.

London’s Green Spaces
London's parks

Other London Spaces
In addition to the Royal Parks London is blessed with other large open spaces such as Hampstead Heath which is the home to Kenwood House, a stately home renowned for hosting huge outdoor concerts in the summer months. Local areas such as Notting Hill and Kensington have their own green spaces which are managed by local residents but many small spaces are accessible for all visitors during daylight hours. Just as cab drivers are urged to evolve and become greener, those who look after our green spaces are looking at their impact on the environment. Parks are now managed with biodiversity in mind and planting schemes are sustainable.

Park Users
The Royal Parks team are aware of their responsibilities to the diverse group of park users. From commercial dog walkers requiring a license through to keep fit classes, each user is considered by the park managers along with their impact on other park users. It is crucial that all groups are considered because the spaces that provide an escape for so many Londoners are in effect owned and paid for by those individuals. The parks can generate commercial revenue through the hosting of events and provision of catering but they are very much a public resource and a national institution. The commitment of the Royal Parks to permit dog walkers but to demand a licence from commercial dog walkers creates a covenant between that user group and the park managers. Without it the management of the parks could be accused of allowing an unsafe environment which places other users at risk. Cab drivers have a responsibility to their users who expect a safe and comfortable journey and to be delivered to their destination using the most effective route. Cab drivers must ensure that their visitor experience is undiminished by the impact of other visitors and this includes the clearance of litter and ensuring that they are protected in the event of accidents. A group returning from a raucous night out will have a different impact on a cab to an individual seeking a lift to a national museum, and pose different risks, but each user group is treated with respect and monitored to ensure that the experience of one does not impact on the other. Parks may have many different user groups sharing the same space at the same time whilst it is less common for people to share taxis unless a coincidence occurs and a common destination is established.

London Life
A growing population and shrinking land bank for new development means the role of those guarding the green spaces in London is increasingly important. All individuals need a comfortable and attractive environment in which they can relax and develop a side of their personality that may not receive much nurturing in such a busy environment. Like London cabs they are a feature on the London landscape that many could not be without and it is essential that they are preserved for future generations. The historic spaces of London are in safe hands and are well protected against development. They are being made more accessible and relevant to those who use them and this can only be of benefit to future generations who are likely to need the same venues to provide an escape from an increasingly busy city.