Doorways and Alleyways of East London

Dragged the family out for a wander around the vicinity of Brick Lane.

The boys weren’t that enthusiastic but I promised them some kind of adventure.

The usual parental instruction to ‘stay close’ and ‘hold my hand’ was loaded with the added tale that these streets were known to consume people, that you could stop to tie your laces, your friend would wander into one of these lanes and alleys never to be seen again.

Cock Hill

‘Where do they go?’, the boys asked
‘They’re devoured by the city itself’, I said
‘That’s just nonsense’, the eldest retorted
‘Yeah, just stupid’, added the little one.

We have a set of Bob and Roberta Smith letter blocks at home.
Heidi and the boys admired this mural and concluded that it would have been better if Bob had done it.

Commercial Street

There was an absence of graffiti tourists today – no lumbering parties touring early Banksy’s and derivatives.
We had the walls to ourselves.

The C18th Huguenot doorways of Fournier and Princelet Streets kept them occupied.

There was a big bonfire out the back of Christ Church Spitalfields sending great plumes of smoke over the rooftops.

We grab bagels in Brick Lane then walk down Bethnal Green Road under a full moon to the tube station.

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Lea Valley in 2005 before the Olympic Blitz

Bob Stanley presents this great look at the urban wilderness of the lower Lea Valley for the Culture Show before work on the Olympic site and the big shopping centre began – includes interviews with Iain Sinclair and Richard Wentworth.

It’s well worth seeking out Stanley and Paul Kelly’s film, What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day? set around the locations in this video – it’s a real gem and brilliantly captures the area at a moment of transition.

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Walk from Whitechapel to Leytonstone

I dropped off a screener of my documentary Make Your Own Damn Art and decided to take advantage of the spring evening and wander back home from Brick Lane to Leytonstone.

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Mile End Road

Although this is the first part of London I came to as a callow 18-year old  and have been drifting around the city ever since, tonight I discovered parts of East London I’d never seen before.

Bancroft Road – the birds were singing loud and proud

Jewish Cemetery Bancroft Road. It belonged to the synagogue in Maiden Lane Covent Garden and opened in 1811. It was badly bombed in WW2 

Meath Gardens E3 – formerly the private Victoria Park Cemetery est. 1842
Meath Gardens

Yuppie gulag rising on the banks of the Regent’s Canal – redevelopment often seems to shadow cemeteries and asylums

I read somewhere that the Regent’s Canal was named to curry Royal favour and get planning permission – little changes

St. Barnabas Church E3 – affiliated with the Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement

Munching chips from Roman Road I asked two young women in hajibs the way to the Olympic Stadium – they directed me to this bridge over the A12. This must be the continuation of the old Roman Road to Essex.

Crown Close Bow, still hanging on in there

For some reason I had The The’s Heartland playing in my head as I walked this way

 Local artists make their feelings about the coming Olympics known 

Crossing the Lea at sunset
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The Book Genie

I like to imagine there is a spirit that guides my fugues at times – that rewards me for surrendering to its lure. The rewards come in the shape of stumbling into unexpected corners of the city at the end of unpromising schleps. But sometimes they come in the form of books. Today I succumbed to the fugue and found these four books virtually side by side on the same charity shop shelf.

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Rising in the East (1996) unlocked the door. A book of essays on East End regeneration written in a pre-Cool Britannia London – when to talk of a renaissance of the East may still have sounded optimistic or opportunistic. The first eager read turned up an essay on the importance of the North London Line Overground train at a time when it was fighting for its life. I skimmed the first few pages of this thesis as I glided eastwards from Haringey to Leyton on one of the brand new trains running on the 160- year old line. ‘Traversing the Great Divide: The North London Line and East London’ the essay is grandly titled, by Bruce Jerram and Richard Wells, and such is their passion apparent for the NLL that they produced this brilliant diagram demonstrating how it arcs West – East across the capital, or as it was viewed at the time from “a rich desirable west to a poor, dull, possibly dangerous east”. With the stations being upgraded, gleaming pre-graffiti trains and the East London Olympics at the end of the North London Line, it looks like they won their argument.

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The Romance of London from 1910. The first pages pouring cold water of talk of the myth of King Lud but all the same acknowledging Tacitus’s observations that in AD61 he finds London “celebrated for the gathering of dealers and commodities”. A Roman refuting the idea that the Romans founded our city.
A guide to Camden written at the height of Britpop and an archeological examination of the relationship between town and country in Roman Britain (wonder whether urban sprawl was an issue back then?)