Barbican’s wildflowers

With the Chelsea Flower Show just ending in the bucolic surrounding area of Wren’s Chelsea Hospital, contrast to this the Barbican’s Brutalist housing complex.

Built in the late 1960s it is now weathering to look more dominant and living up to its aggressive military nomenclature. When first constructed, to contrast with the stark concrete, the flower beds were laid out with lawns, bedding plants, trees and shrubs.

[O]ver time these plantings have become both expensive to maintain, necessitating regular watering, and the trees are now causing structural issues. The whole complex is listed, so re-construction or removing the existing flower beds was a non-starter.

Landscape designer Nigel Dunnett was brought in with a brief to provide a low maintenance scheme which looked good all year, obviated the need for regular watering, was resistant to the high winds experienced at some levels and importantly left the concrete flower beds intact.

He has broken thus down to three distinctive areas:
Steppe areas in sun with shallow planting depths adapted to dry exposed sites.
Shrub-steppe had increased soil depth allowed for shrubs and small trees in low densities to promote wildlife.
Light woodland in areas of shade which had better structural support for trees providing shade for perennial ground cover.

Now as the planting matures self-seeding will subtly change this urban landscape giving all year-round contrast.

A full account of this landscaping can be found on Nigel Dunnett’s site.

Featured image: Nicola at A Ranson Note

London Trivia: Strong Man of Islington

On 28 May 1741, to celebrate the taking of Portobello by Admiral Vernon, Thomas Topham ‘the Strong Man of Islington’ performed at the Apple Tree Inn, formerly opposite Coldbath Fields prison, in the presence of the admiral and numerous spectators. Here, standing on a wooden stage, he raised several inches from the ground three hogsheads of water weighing 1,336 pounds, using for the purpose a strong rope and tackle passing over his shoulders.

On 28 May 1759 Britain’s youngest Prime Minister Pitt the Younger was born. He grew up to be so thin that he was known as the Bottomless Pitt

Serial billiard ball thief Harry Jackson received seven years jail for two convictions – how times have changed

The house numbering in Downing Street used to be different. Number 10 was originally No 5 and did not acquire its present number until 1779

Henry Campbell-Bannerman has been the only British Prime Minister to die at 10 Downing Street. He died there in April 1908

While Cromwell never readmitted Jews a London colony of Sephardic Jews was identified in 1656 and allowed to remain – first time since 1290

In Elizabethan theatre different coloured flags were used to advertise the play’s theme – black flag tragedy, white comedy and red history

Until 1983 women could not be served at the bar in Fleet Street’s El Vino – only when seated at a table served, presumably by a subservient waiter

On 28 May 1742 the Bagnio the first indoor swimming pool opened Lemon Street, Goodman’s Fields, for a guinea gentlemen only could use the 43ft pool

The tallest escalator on the Underground is at the Angel with a length of 197ft (making it the world’s longest) and a vertical rise of 90ft

London Scientist Christopher Merret invented sparkling wine in 1662, Champagne didn’t come on the scene until 1697

17th century diarist John Evelyn proposed moving smoky industries out of London and then encircling with ‘sweet-smelling plants and hedges’

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.

Down Your Alley: Blue Bell Yard

This area should be a hive of activity after the forthcoming General Election if the Torys win by a landslide for the Carlton Club, which was founded in 1832, and renowned as the oldest and most elite Conservative club in London is nearby. Until recently the club allowed women to hold the status of lady associate member but they could not use the gentleman’s bar, nor vote for club officials. All rather embarrassing as there have now been two women Conservative Prime Ministers.

[A] covered access from St James’s Street leads into this wide picturesque yard where many of the buildings are adorned with attractive foliage.

Blue Ball Yard has been here since at least 1680 when it partly consisted of a row of small dwellings, probably housing servants of the aristocracy who loved to boast of their royal neighbours at St James’s Palace.


At that time it was called Stable Yard being the place where carriage horses of the ‘royal neighbours’ were stabled. Its name was changed, probably in memorium, when the Blue Ball Tavern in St James’s Street was demolished in the late 18th century. Still surviving, on the left of the Yard, are some interesting stables of 1741 and above the stables are flats with a balcony supported on wooden brackets. The cobblestones which once served to prevent the horses slipping are now car parking bays for ‘authorised vehicles’.

To the south of Blue Ball Yard, at number 69 St James’s Street, is the Carlton Club. Founded by the Duke of Wellington in 1832, it became the principal establishment for Conservative Party gatherings. The site was once occupied by Arthur’s Club but the Carlton moved here after their premises on Pall Mall were bombed in World War II.

CabbieBlog-cabMuch of the original source material for Down Your Alley has been derived from Ivor Hoole’s GeoCities website. The site is now defunct and it is believed Ivor is no more. Thankfully much of Ivor’s work has been archived by Ian Visits and Phil Gyford.

Royal Albert Hall 150 years old

Last Saturday, the 20th May, marked the Royal Albert Hall’s 150th anniversary when Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone at the commencement of the building’s four-year construction.

Queen Victoria had signed the charter and work began in 1867.

Finished in 1871, it fulfilled Albert’s dream of being the the country’s premiere concert hall.

[H]ere are some fascinating facts of this much-loved venue which, has hosted the BBC Proms since 1942 after the Queen’s Hall in Langham Place was destroyed when a bomb hit the roof, causing a fire.

The foundation stone having been laid by Queen Victoria, and still in mourning for her beloved husband, the Queen renamed the prosaically titled ‘The Central Hall of Arts and Sciences’ to The Royal Albert Hall in honour of her late husband, turning a tribute to a prince into a cultural icon.

Albert, the Prince Consort to Queen Victoria was a great lover of the arts, he wanted to establish more permanent venues for the public to engage in the arts and sciences after the success of the Great Exhibition. Work was still being done on this scheme when Albert died in 1861.

Albertopolis was the provisional name given to the area which has included within it: The Natural History Museum; Imperial College London; The Royal College of Music; The Royal College of Art; The Science Museum; The Victoria and Albert Museum; The Royal Navigation Museum; and The Albert Hall.

The building is not actually circular, but more of an oval shape. The Royal Albert Hall is a Grade I listed building and has been in continuous use since its completion in 1871. Over 350 performances take place at the Royal Albert Hall every year.

Costing £8,000, the Organ, built in 14 months, the largest in England with 9,999 pipes, was once powered by 2 steam engines, if laid end-to-end the pipes would stretch almost 9 miles. The largest measures 2ft 6in in diameter, 42ft high and weighs almost 1 tonne – the smallest as wide as a drinking straw.

Before the dome was placed on top of the hall, it was completely assembled in Manchester to be sure it fit together properly before being dismantled and taken to London. It then was re-assembled, when the props were knocked away it fell 0.08mm precariously dropping into its current position.

The glazed-iron roof of Royal Albert Hall measures 20,000 sq .ft. and was at the time of building the largest unsupported dome in the world. The Royal Albert Hall can currently seat 5,400 people, but when it was first built, it could seat 8,000.

The Royal Albert Hall’s distinct shape may also have spared it from the bombing, as the Luftwaffe reportedly used it as a landmark, although most of the glass panes were bomb damaged. During the First and Second World Wars, the Hall’s roof was used as a navigation point by pilots on the London skyline.

The design of the hall was based on the Coliseum in Rome, the acoustics inside weren’t perfected until 1969, when 135 fiberglass acoustic damping discs were suspended from the ceiling, they have been redesigned and 50 diffusers were removed, the remaining 85 were reconfigured.

A woman’s mosaic class designed the frieze on the top of the building. The first Sumo wrestling tournament in the sport’s 1,500-year history was held in the Royal Albert Hall in 1991. It has a Grade I listed chimney (called ‘The Chimney ‘), still in use today sitting above the steam boilers which heat the Hall

In 1872, the year after the Royal Albert Hall was completed, plans were developed to build a pneumatic railway that would carry visitors from the South Kensington Tube to the Royal Albert Hall by way of The Victoria and Albert Museum. However, the plans went nowhere and the railway was never built.

Featured image: Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Grade I listed building completed in 1871. © Copyright Julian Osley and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-SA 2.0)

London Trivia: One in the eye

On 21 May 1966 Henry Cooper lost to world champ Cassius Clay in the sixth round of a fight to retain the world heavyweight championship. Cooper’s hopes were dashed in the sixth round when the referee stopped the fight – a deep gash over his left eye forced him to concede victory to 24-year-old Clay. 40,000 spectators watched at Arsenal’s football ground as Cooper, aged 32, fought bravely with his big left hooks to battle against Clay’s quick footwork and fast punches.

On 21 May 1827 the Standard was founded, it became the dominant evening newspaper for London and is now the only one published a that time of day

Thief-Taker General Jonathan Wild sent more than 120 men to the gallows but was hanged at Tyburn for running gangs of thieves and highwaymen

When Camden’s Egyptian style cigarette factory opened in 1927 the road was filled with sand and opera singers performed Aida

In 1907 William Whiteley was shot dead in his Bayswater store by a young man claiming to be his illegitimate son

When Napoleon was thinking of invading England his failed attempt was mocked by an unusual ale house sign: ‘My Arse in a Bandbox’

The Grapes, Limehouse was the inspiration for Charles Dickens’ ‘Six Jolly Fellowship Porters’ in Our Mutual Friend

The Chelsea Flower Show (The May Flower Show of the Royal Horticulture Society) has been held at the Royal Hospital since 1913

Queen Victoria’s husband, Albert, saved the Oval cricket ground from closure only six years after it opened, desperate for funds they had considered adding poultry shows to the venue’s activities

Before CrossRail was named the Elizabeth line, Belsize Park was the only part of the London Underground to use a Z in its name

Wall’s Sausages used to be located at 113 Jermyn Street, where the meat for their products was ground by a donkey operating a treadmill

‘Hobson’s Choice’ comes from the livery stable owner Thomas Hobson who would drive from Cambridge to the Bull Inn, Bishopsgate Street

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.