The London Grill: London at dawn

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.

Discover London at Dawn and its unusual history whilst receiving professional photo training on the move. Taking intrepid photographers to meander the early morning streets, photographer Anthony Epes and Nick the Cabbie will help you rediscover this amazing city. @londonatdawn


[N]ick Mortimore has been a London black cabbie for over 25 years. He is a passionate Londoner, growing up in Brixton and living around South London ever since. In 2005 became a certified tour guide, passionate about sharing his knowledge and love for London – and can certainly give you insights and amazing facts about the city that only a cabbie would know! Nick is also a great writer and storyteller – and is frequently found sharing stories on various radio shows, story telling nights and of course with his tour participants.

What’s your secret London tip?
Look up! We have some beautiful architecture in London often not noticed because of time restraints or even because we only notice things at eye level. Take Oxford Street as an example – the eastern end is a rather dowdy collection of pile it high sell it cheap short lease shops, but if you look above the gaudy and tatty facades there are some great looking buildings. St. Pancras takes all the plaudits as a work of neo gothic delight but if you look above the awful green canopy of Kings Cross there is a lovely, understated, handsome buildings.

What’s your secret London place?
It was really hard to pin this down to just one but I’m going for the churchyard of St. Pancras Old Church. This site has been home to some form of Christian worship since the early 4th century and is a little haven of peace among some of the busiest roads in London. There is a real atmosphere about the place and you can see why Dickens chose it as a location for the grave robbing scene in “a Tale of Two Cities.” Sir John Soane is buried here in a tomb he designed for him and his wife and is immediately recognisable as the inspiration for Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s red telephone box. It’s also home to one of London’s quirkiest monuments; the Thomas Hardy tree grows through headstones he rather hastily moved whilst working as a trainee architect for the newly formed Midland railway.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
The falling standards when it comes to road management. I’ll cite just one example; no cab driver who worked the Sunday of the cycle race along the Fulham Road last year will forget the appalling shambles we were subject to. There was absolutely no access heading north once you were west of Whitehall but with absolutely no warning. This resulted in hundreds of thousands of people totally bemused as to how to proceed. At every side road that connected the Fulham Road was a man in a hi-viz yellow jacket armed with a walkie – talkie and completely clueless as to where the route went or what time it finished. So in reality their job was exactly the same as the orange cones they stood in front of. Is it too much to ask to give these poor sods a photostat of the route so they can at least be of some assistance to a frustrated public. Ahh that feels better, thanks for that- if only that was a one off though.

What’s your favourite building?
The Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank. I find it elegant and beautiful and still for me retains the spirit of optimism that London felt around the time of the Festival of Britain. I’ve also seen some great music performed here from Solomon Burke to the New York Dolls and is one of the great civic spaces to while away an afternoon.

What’s your most hated building?
The 70s building on the east side of Arundel Street takes some beating. Who thought I know what can connect the lovely sweep of Temple Place to the Aldwych – this awful, empty eyesore? If I were mayor I would insist on a plaque on every building stating the name of the architect so we can either praise or deride them.

What’s the best view in London?
Greenwich Park in spring, at dawn. Anthony and I have seen some spectacular views through running London at Dawn but I can’t think of any that have beaten this. Spectacular and life affirming, though Brushfield Street watching the dawn light up Hawksmoor’s Christ Church pushes it close.

What’s your personal London landmark?
The South Bank lion on the east side of Westminster Bridge. As a Brixton boy born and bred it always lets me know I’m back home in Lambeth. It used to be painted red and was the sign of the Red Lion brewery which stood where the Royal Festival Hall now stands.

What’s your favourite London film, book or documentary?
The London nobody knows. This had a big impact on me when I first saw it as a young boy and has never left me. In this documentary filmed in the late 60s James Mason wanders through a London that no longer exists telling stories of London’s past, which is something I try to emulate on our tours.

What’s your favourite London bar, pub or restaurant?
I’ve never had the money to try many of the capital’s finest restaurants so I’m going to choose a bar – Gordon’s in Villier street. Most of the best nights I’ve had in London include a stop off here- either to start the night or finish it with a tumbler of port. I love its timeless quality and feel truly blessed if I get a table. Samuel Pepys once lived here and the atmosphere is unique.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
Morning strolling along the South Bank popping in to the Festival Hall, a quick pint in the new BFI bar before watching an old film noir classic. Then I think we’d cross the Hungerford Bridge before having lunch at Joe Allens. If we had time I’d wander round the Sir John Soane’s museum before having a livener in Gordon’s. Then onto the District Line to Fulham Broadway to see Chelsea thump Barcelona to reach the Champions League final. Yes that would do me.


[A]nthony Epes is a fine art and commercial photographer from California, based in London since 2000 when he came to photograph the city for his book London at Dawn (Metro 2003/3). He has exhibited widely both in London and abroad. Anthony is a judge on the Environmental Photographer of the Year Award, a founding member of the Environmental Photographers Association and a Member of the Courvoisier Future 500. Holding a great passion for the wild landscapes of his native state, Anthony’s work often focuses on where the natural and urban worlds collide, bringing a new vision of what is often right there on your doorstep. Anthony is currently developing a series of books of other Cities at Dawn, starting with Paris.

What’s your secret London tip?
To avoid the crowds – get out early and see London at its best.

What’s your secret London place?
Lower Marsh – it’s the best street in London. The market, the shops, the people.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
Not enough pedestrianised streets – I’m a cyclist so I’d love less cars (sorry cabbies. My best friends a cabby, nothing personal!)

What’s your favourite building?
The Gherkin – it makes wicked reflections on its surroundings in the morning. The light way the light hits it is beautiful.

What’s your most hated building?
The Hayward Gallery – it’s a concrete monstrosity. Looks great in the dark!

What’s the best view in London?
Waterloo Bridge. Great views from either side.

What’s your personal London landmark?
St. Pauls. I photographed it from Ludgate Hill at dawn when I first arrived here from Los Angeles. It gave me chills – the combination of the history and the beauty of the city. I knew then I would love it here and have lived here now for 12 years.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
Withnail and I – the funniest film I’ve ever seen and I didn’t even understand the English then!

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
Buen Porbecho – the Mexican food stall on Lower Marsh. I grew up on Mexican food and these are best tacos in London. A taste of home.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
I love walking around London with my family.

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