Category Archives: An urban view

It felt like I had woken up in 1963

I was happily beavering away at the wordface, trying to bang out a post about Uber when I noticed that a red phonebox had been featured on my newsfeed from the dependable ianVisits.

On a corner to the exit of St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, this phonebox isn’t decorated with adverts for dubious ‘services’, nor has it been used as a urinal.

Oh, No! The Building Centre has restored it to its 1930s heyday with replicas of a 1930s phone, it has the original ‘Press Button A’ or to retrieve your 4d by very firmly pressing button B, resplendent with phone books and wartime posters, completes this nod to yesteryear.

Located on the very busy Euston Road continually grid-locked with London’s traffic, with people rushing past, why of all the unloved red phoneboxes in the capital was this one singled out?

The clue is its location. The K6 telephone box is part of BT’s Adopt A Kiosk scheme. The intention here of returning the telephone box to the way it would have been when it was designed for King George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935, and going into production in 1936.

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the first President of the Building Centre from 1940 to 1960, designed the familiar phone box and this phone box sits outside the former Midland Hotel, designed by Giles Gilbert Scott’s grandfather, George Gilbert Scott.

Have they lost the plot?

Once, just a major route through East London, Great Eastern Street is now at the heart of Shoreditch, filled with vibrant nightlife, a trendy hotel, quirky pubs, and pricy restaurants. And did I mention the pair of tube carriages mounted on the opposite roof? The road forms one side of the ‘Silicon Triangle’ a hub for internet entrepreneurs which makes the area a desirable spot for many.

Slap bang in the middle of this trendy neighbourhood is the redundant NCP Great Eastern Street car park which is permanently closed and now stands derelict.

So far, now with fewer commuters travelling by car, nothing unusual.

The grandly named American Car Wash Company occupies the ground floor and the forecourt. Although how Americans wash their automobiles differently from us is not explained.

The rest of the tower remains unused and has now been filled with graffiti, and the derelict building looks run down and uncared for in the heart of this trendy part of London.

The Londonist dubbed it as one of the capital’s ‘ugliest’ buildings, surely with all the competition around London, quite an accolade.

Given its prime location, it’s not hard to imagine that the premium spot will be snapped up, ripe for more ‘executive’ apartments.

If this 10-storey edifice was in leafy Kensington, the wrecking ball would already be at work. But here in ‘edgy’ Shoreditch, some are advocating its preservation.

Some time ago the roof was used for a fashion shoot: Romantic Poverty. Rhiannon Jones sent out models in her label Bol$hi.

According to one Google review from five years ago said: “Little bit run down looking but is full of the London spirit. Buzzy and lively. Even though it may need a bit of attention from the council, it has its own charm that I find great when visiting London.”

Featured image: Shoreditch: Multi-storey Carp Park on Great Eastern Street in Shoreditch by Peter McDermott (CC BY-SA 2.0).

A work of sublime beauty

I used to run a series of posts titled ‘Site Unseen’, and it would appear that I’ve not ‘seen’ a sight which I’ve used on countless occasions for years.

Matt Brown, Editor-at-Large at the Londonist recently started a post with: ‘Look me in the eye and tell me that this isn’t a work of sublime beauty’.

The ‘beautiful’ building was the exit ramp in a Romford car park.

In 1993 Romford’s Star Brewery was closed, and with it went the smell on Monday brew day of mashing grains and boiling wort. The brewery’s 165ft high chimney was repaired, re-clad and utilised as a fulcrum for the wraparound spiralling sculpture car park’s entry ramp.

And the object of Matt’s admiration? The exit ramp, a Brutalist concrete perfect spiral, and something of a rarity, London has only one other in Uxbridge, which lacks the symmetry of Romford’s beauty.

Featured image: Romford: The Brewery Development car park access ramp. This spiral car park access ramp is in the south-eastern corner of the development. Havana Close is the road in the foreground. By Nigel Cox (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Romford Brewery car park ramp and brewery chimney. The brewery chimney and Romford Brewery car park ramp. By Snidge (CC BYSA 2.0).

Is this London’s ugliest building …and should it be saved?

Bastion House, looking like a backdrop to a dystopian television drama, was built between 1972-77 as part of the Barbican development. Supported on stilts over the current Museum of London, it appears as if it will come crashing down on the beleaguered citizens of the evil regime.

The Londonist described this out-of-date office block as the world’s biggest broken flight departures board. It now faces the wrath of the wrecking ball, with plans to replace the offices with a, er, ‘office-led development’, which sounds itself as out-of-date with many working from home.

The Barbican’s Tenants Association conducted a tenants’ online poll with 88 per cent of respondents saying they’d rather see Bastion House, and the Museum of London, repurposed, rather than snuffed out altogether.

Face-to-face residents’ meetings, discussing the fate of this Powell and Moya-designed office block rallied for its salvation. “It may be too late,” says the Barbican Association “but we should question the desirability of demolishing Bastion House and the Museum of London and replacing them…”.

One person’s idea of beauty isn’t necessarily how others would view this Brutalist seventeen-storey slab, but it is the only survivor of five skyscrapers that were built along London Wall’s stretch of road as part of the South Barbican plan.

Bastion House might not be everyone’s choice to save from demolition, but Bracken House at the junction of Friday Street and Queen Victoria Street, built about the same time, has been given Grade II* status with the Financial Times returning to make it their headquarters (after previously vacating it for another building). If the FT can repurpose an old structure, surely they could find a use for Bastion House and the old Museum of London.

Watercolour image of Bastion House by Jane Northcote. The line of red brick, and what looks like chimneys, in the foreground are the rooftops of a part of the Barbican, ‘The Postern’. Behind them is the Barber-Surgeons’ Hall on Monkwell Square. The curved green building on the left is on the other side of London Wall. It is ‘One London Wall’ near the Museum of London Rotunda: multi-use office space. Copyright Jane Northcote, her paintings of London can be found at, @janenorthcote on Instagram.

Featured image: Google Streetview.

London’s oldest bridge

Ask any cabbie and he’ll be able to name the bridges spanning the Thames, to help we even have three adjacent crossings conveniently spelling CAB: Chelsea, Albert and Battersea bridges.

Most bridges are fairly modern, the current incarnation of London Bridge opened in the 1970s, although previous versions go back much further, Tower Bridge dates back to 1894, and our three CAB bridges only date back a few years: Chelsea 1937, Albert 1859, Battersea 1890.

So which is London’s oldest bridge?

The little-known Clattern Bridge, built-in 1293 holds the record. Named because of the noise of horse’s hoofs would make as they crossed. This bridge is still functioning, although these days the structure is driven or walked, rather than ridden, over.

Unlike the others, technically the bridge doesn’t cross the Thames. The Clattern Bridge crosses the River Hogsmill a tributary of the Thames, in Kingston, just before it joins the mighty Thames.

There is a bright blue badge on the central span of Clattern Bridge, featuring the coat of arms of Kingston, itself dating from 1623, recognisable from the three salmon on a blue background. The Domesday Book entry for Kingston mentions three salmon fisheries in the Thames, hence their inclusion of them on the county’s badge.

To prove how robust was its construction, the bridge is part of Kingston High Street, and still in use, unlike Hammersmith Bridge with less than 135 years of use.

Featured image: The Clattern Bridge is a bridge over the Hogsmill River in Kingston upon Thames. It was built around 1175 and is thus one of the oldest intact bridges in England. It replaced an older Saxon bridge which was known as the Clatrung Bridge. Its various names, such as the Clateryngbrugge, are thought to derive from the clattering of horses’ hooves as they crossed the bridge. The bridge still carries a full load of modern vehicle traffic. Up to the 18th century, the bridge was used as a site for the ducking of scolds with a cucking stool. The bridge also featured in the traditional game of football held in the centre of Kingston each year on Shrove Tuesday. It was the goal for one of the teams, while the nearby Kingston Bridge was the other goal, by Loco Steve (CC BY-NC 2.0).