Wild Urban Growth


This is what took root in the mud patch in front on my flat on a council estate. Dandilions, bluebells, lime, daisies, serviced by a burgeoning colony of slugs, snails, beetles, and worns. It’s a vision of what the city could become if we just left it alone.

Just as well I photographed it because two days later some of the kids trampled the lot down. Nevermind, it’ll be back next year.

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Black Mary’s Hole

I decide to go back into Black Mary’s Hole to take some photos. I enter from Grays Inn Road via Elm Street and discover that the ominous looking block sprouting military sized satellite dishes on the roof is in fact the offices of the Serious Fraud Squad (a building they appear to share with ITN). The offices are illuminated by strip lights, a swivel chair turned to face the window with a bulging folder sat half open. I wonder if this is the infamous George Galloway file.

Luckily the basement office stacked high with old IT gear belongs to the neighbouring building. Two fellas are sat there feet up. I move along a little down Gough Street, flash off, too far away to get a good picture. It’s freezing. A guy walks down the middle of the street with two dogs. This is a desolate dark lane. The office that I snap has a semi-deserted carpark beneath – a skip full of broken office furniture. It doesn’t take a wild leap of the imagination to see the murder of John Etheridge that took place here in 1766. Etheridge was driving cattle through the area and one of his bullocks strayed into a field belonging to William Floyd. Thomas Plymmer came out of the smith’s shop, struck him once on the nose, he collapsed and died.

From the top of Phoenix Place I look out over the lights of the huge carpark that house the post office vans of the Mount Pleasant sorting office. My great aunts Edie and Ethel worked here when they returned from South Africa in the 1920’s. The tower blocks on St John’s Street Goswell Road shimmer in the background, roughly on the spot of the old madhouse, the historic symmetry is instructive.

This dark pit between Calthorpe Street, Kings Cross Road, Farringdon Road, Grays Inn and down to Clerkenwell Road keeps drawing me in, night and day. It retains a medieval feel, even after William Floyd’s fields have given way to a roughly surfaced carpark and the sorting office has been dropped on Sir John Oldcastle’s orchard. C20th street lighting fails to illuminate the damp blackness that rises from the Fleet beneath the pavement. Alleys and lanes proliferate. There is an absence of people on the street after dark, you earn your passage through here and it stays with you.


The scene in Muratori on Kings Cross Road is one to catch. Faces alive. The waitress has the floor, animated, arms waving, she’s holding court, all the blokes in post office drag having their hearty dinners laughing. It’s like an Edward Hopper painting injected with mirth.

This morning, going up Mount Pleasant the covers start to come off the back of the infamous Grays Inn Buildings. It’s starting to look like just another block of luxury flats, a long way from it’s days as a notorious den of drugs and anarchists.

Climbing St. Brides

I tried to climb the spire of Wren’s St Brides Church Fleet Street today and failed. I’d read in ‘Lights Out for the Territory’ by Iain Sinclair how he’d managed to find a small unlocked door that led up the spire, which is the second tallest after St Paul’s. Today the door was locked. I tried to speak to the church warden through an intercom but he simply said, “It isn’t safe”. So I was denied one of the great views of the city and headed down into the crypt instead.

I’m doing a vague mapping of the area using William Kent’s ‘Lost Treasures of London’ (1946) as my guide. Kent’s book is an inventory of World War II bomb damage to the city, a sad list of loss and destruction. It’s my aim to see what else has fallen to the peacetime blitz of urban planning.

I’ll be posting more here as I go along.

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