Category Archives: An urban view

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The Londonist described this out-of-date office block as the world’s biggest broken flight departures board.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of the wrecking ball, with plans to replace the offices with a, er, ‘office-led development’, which sounds itself as out-of-date with many working from home.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

London’s only working toll booth

Driving around London you rarely have to pay any tolls. Yes, we have Congestion Charge and newly-extended ULEZ, look up London toll roads and you won’t find a mention, but there is one place where you do have to pay a specific toll.

No, it’s not a bridge (the QE2 Bridge is outside the capital unless you’re talking to Sadiq Khan), it’s not a ferry (the Woolwich Ferry has always been free) and it isn’t (as yet) a tunnel. It’s College Road, a small road in Dulwich.

The Dulwich Estate has the freehold to a ribbon of land in southeast London between Denmark Hill and Crystal Palace.

The toll road dates back to 1789 and was built by John Morgan who went by the unlikely title of Lord of the Manor of Penge. He lived at the top of Sydenham Hill and wanted an access road north across Dulwich College fields, so they let him, but when the lease expired responsibility passed back to the Dulwich Estate.

They added a tollkeeper’s cottage alongside the gate (still there, now listed) and continued to levy charges even after London’s last turnpikes ceased operation, one of these unused toll booths is to be found next to the Spaniards Inn on the edge of Hampstead Heath.

A quaint octagonal tollbooth sits on its own little island in the centre of the road. Originally the tollkeeper would have taken the money at the window and then raised the barrier himself, but the current set-up is automatic, taking cash, cards, and with a nod to modernity Apple Pay.

Featured image: Toll Booth, College Road, Dulwich by Noel Foster (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Are there any more Jubilees left?

Crossrail, sorry Elizabeth Line is part of a flurry of openings and renamings commemorating regal anniversaries – Big Ben’s tower, streets, schools, hospitals, new housing estates – all finding themselves getting a moniker to mark the Queen’s important day, it is her 70th year as our Monarch after all.

To mark this important point in our history, and as someone who has had to study road names obsessively, CabbieBlog gives you a tour of London ‘Jubilees’.

Jubilee Hall, The Piazza, Covent Garden, built-in 1904, with its Jubilee Market, is probably the most famous of them all.

Jubilee Avenue E4, near Highams Park Underground Station, is handy if you have a need for the North Circular Road very close by.

Jubilee Close NW10 & NW9 off Nicoll Road, Harlesden, is more a street than a close and so long it has two postcodes.

Jubilee Crescent N9, backing Henry Barrass Recreation Ground, Edmonton this thoroughfare at least lives up to its name, being a perfect crescent.

Jubilee Place SW3, running off King’s Road is probably the most expensive ‘Jubilee’ as it is a short walk from Sloane Square.

Jubilee Street E1, off Commercial Road, runs parallel to Sidney Street, made famous when Winston Churchill directed police in the famous siege of 1911.

Jubilee Terrace, Burlington Road SW6, handy if you are a Fulham supporter, Craven Cottage is a two-minute walk away.

Jubilee Way SW19, those living South of the River must be Republicans as this ‘Jubilee’ near South Wimbledon is the only one in London not located in London’s northern environs. It looks quite long on the map, but being down Sarf, I haven’t checked it out.

Where is London’s first flyover?

London’s oldest flyover is not some ugly crumbling concrete edifice, but a much more elegant structure built well before Britain’s first petrol driven motor car was launched onto the streets of Walthamstow in 1894.

There is an apocryphal story which every generation of Knowledge students hears. It relates to an Appearance [oral test] when a Knowledge boy tells the examiner that you could turn right into Farringdon Street from Holborn Viaduct. The salutary lesson to be learned is that if he had just gone to that location he would have discovered there was a 60ft drop onto the road below. The hapless Knowledge boy had relied on his A-Z map and had learned the hard way that maps should not be slavishly followed.

Spanning the Fleet River valley (the river now covered by Farringdon Street), Holborn Viaduct was built between 1863 and 1869 and links Holborn with Newgate Street.

The flyover was designed by City of London surveyor William Heywood. Four bronze statues featuring agriculture and commerce feature on the south side, and depictions of fine arts and science on the north side. There are statues of winged lions, dragons, globe lamps and the City of London’s coat-of-arms.

The buildings containing the stairs each feature a statue of a famous medieval Londoner on the facade: Banker Sir Thomas Gresham, Engineer Sir Hugh Myddelton and Mayors Sir William Walworth and Henry Fitz Ailwin.

Several old buildings and indeed some entire streets had to be demolished before construction could begin and thousands of bodies buried in St Andrew Holborn’s northern churchyard were relocated.

Made of cast iron, the flyover is 1,400 feet long and 80 feet wide and features three spans – the largest in the middle – supported on granite pillars.
Pavilions containing stairs allowing pedestrians to move between levels were built at either end on both sides of the roadway (the two northern buildings are both replacements, as are the globe lamps – the previous versions were demolished after being damaged during the Blitz.

The viaduct was opened by Queen Victoria on 6th November 1869. It was listed as Grade II in 1972.