The Last London – in conversation with Iain Sinclair

Last week at the Wanstead Tap I had the great pleasure to talk to Iain Sinclair about his new book The Last London.

He read a passage about a walk along the Barking to Gospel Oak branch of the London Overground, a walk that I accompanied him on for a short section through Leytonstone, on the morning of Donald Trump’s US election victory.

“My theories at the time of Lud Heat, deriving from E.O Gordon, Alfred Watkins, John Michell, Nigel Pennick, were about lines of force connecting the churches, making patterns, and provoking crimes, rituals visitations, within an unregistered sphere of influence. What I now understood, in steady rain, on this morning of political madness, tracking an inoperative railway to a place nobody wants to go, is that the walks we are compelled to make are the only story. Walks are autobiography with author.”

Iain Sinclair the Last London

photo by Keith kandrphoto.com

Iain Sinclair’s work has had such a profound influence on London writing over the last 30 years at least, an influence that has stretched into film and visual arts. He synthesised a way of understanding the city and helped codify a new form psychogeography, distinct from its intellectual French roots. He expanded on the background to his hugely influential book Lud Heat:

“There was a period when you were able to absorb so many eccentric influences from all over and it goes back for me to a kind of collision for me between cinema and poetry which were my twin obsessives when I was very young and coming to London to be in film school and beginning to do long rambles and wanders and generally just to find one cinema to the next, whatever it was, and later as a gardener realising that the structure of these churches were enormously powerful and were in some ways, if you looked from the top of Greenwich Hill, connected. London was an irrational city but with rational plans put on top of it at various times generally doomed to fail in their own way but to become part of the story of the city.

I got very intrigued by that and from those kind of interests emerged a hybrid form of writing that was live day-to-day reportage of what I was doing as a gardener in an exciting part of London that I was only beginning to discover. And secondly then having the time to research the churches and their history in places like the Bancroft Road Library, which is sort of more or less gone now, which is a huge resource of local history and the librarians were so knowledgeable, they’d open up dusty boxes and show you all this stuff. It all fused together into a kind of writing that combined wild speculations, satires to do with the awful way the workers were treated down there and the idea that these jobs would disappear and that the landscape itself would disappear because we were treading on the ghosts of the future Docklands, ghosts come from both sides you know, ghosts of the things you find in the past, the ‘scarlet tracings’, but there were also ghosts of the future and they met in that landscape.”

Listen to the full audio of the conversation above.

Iain Sinclair and John Rogers

photo by Keith kandrphoto.com

 

Photos by Keith Event photos by Keith www.kandrphoto.com
https://www.facebook.com/kjmartin88

East to West Ham – through Forest Gate to Upton Park

It was a tweet I saw at breakfast showing the beginnings of the demolition of Upton Park, the Boleyn Ground, that set me off across Wanstead Flats to take a final look at the iconic home of West Ham United before it was gone forever. I’m not a Hammers fan but have been to West Ham a few times, first when I lived just up the road as a student and they would let you in at half-time for a couple of quid, which was more or less the time I got out of bed on a Saturday so it worked out quite nicely. I remember one game – Frank Mcavennie up front for West Ham, Tottenham legend Graham Roberts playing Centre Half for West Brom.

Old Spotted Dog Forest Gate

On the way I wanted to check the state of the great Old Spotted Dog Pub in Forest Gate where the London Stock Exchange moved during the Great Fire of London and we drank regularly in those student days 1990-91. It’s boarded up now – future in the balance, over 400 years of history in the hands of the Newham Council Planning Committee and some property developers – a desperately sad sight.

Queens Market Green Street

Queens Market on Green Street seems to have survived the grip of the developer and was a hub of activity – everything you can imagine is on sale beneath is murky roof – a cornucopia of wonders. A fella selling fruit and veg spotted my camera and auditioned for the role as the new “£1 Fish” star – he did a pretty decent job – have a look at the video above. His performance inspired me to buy two huge mangoes and four pomegranate.

Upton Park West Ham demolition

Outwardly West Ham seemed intact with only the carpark dug up, but peering through a crack the huge security doors at the side of the ground I could see the diggers at work tearing up the turf, the seats piled up around the pitch, the Trevor Brooking Stand starting to be dismantled. Can the Hammers import all this history over to the Olympic Park at Stratford (in actual West Ham rather than East Ham where the old ground is) – or will the club’s heritage be buried beneath the blocks of luxury flats built on the once hallowed ground.

Lost Pavilion – eastern mysteries of Plashet and Little Ilford

It wasn’t my intention to go for a walk, merely to try a new breakfast spot that opened recently near the Jubilee Pond on Wanstead Flats. But perhaps starting my day by crossing that first section of open ground triggered something in my noggin because as soon as I’d digested my croissant I was off.

Plashet Park

Plashet Park

I dropped by the Wanstead Tap but it was too early and the shutters were down, so I thought I’d take a look at what some gentrifiers are trying to brand Forest ‘Great’ (I kid you not, soon to be as galling as ‘Awesomestow’). Forest Gate was the first place I lived in London as a callow bumpkin of 18 and I loved it straight away, although that was on the other side of Romford Road near West Ham Park. The Woodgrange Road hub was a slightly obscure adjunct, particularly with Stratford equidistant.

I counted 4 posh coffee shops but otherwise the area looks little changed from other recent visits. When recounting this to a friend who lives near the Flats they told me the new bakery with its mortgageable loaves of artisan bread had been the focus of Cereal Killer Cafe style anti-gentrification protests, which on further research (i.e asking facebook friends who live in the area) manifested itself as some graffiti spray painted on the windows at night.

IMG_7756

After crossing Romford Road and discovering that I’d superglued the zoom rocker on my camera I decided to walk in a straight line to Ilford – sort of in protest at my own stupidity and to finally spend a Waterstones voucher I’d had in my wallet for a year.

I soon found myself wandering through the gates of Plashet Park where a strong gale battered the trees and bushes. Undergrowth that a couple of years ago was found to be harbouring a couple of adult boa constrictors.

Passmore Edwards Library East Ham

On the far side of the park is the majestic Passmore Edwards Public Library, today used as the Newham Registry Office. The foundation stone was laid in 1898 and the mosiac flooring at the entrance still radiates civic pride.

Sri Mahalakshmi Temple East Ham

Sri Mahalakshmi Temple

The Sri Mahalakshmi Temple on East Ham High Street North is an unavoidable beacon that lit up my eastward alignment to Ilford. Not far away by Little Ilford School stands an even grander Hindu place of pooja – Sri Murugan Temple.

Sri Murugan Temple

Sri Murugan Temple

Music wafted out onto the street, I loitered by the door for a bit before kicking off my trainers near the steps and tentatively going inside. Various forms of worship were taking place in the huge space, some people just sat cross-legged on the floor praying-meditating, there was a feeling of total peace. Sadly my messed up knees prevent me from sitting on the floor so I sat on one of the scooped plastic school chairs placed by the wall for old people, and soaked up some of the good vibrations.

Little Ilford Church

Little Ilford Church

Continuing along the straight track brought me to the door of the ancient church of St. Mary the Virgin Little Ilford. The stone church dates from the 12 Century but replaced an older timber church that could have been established in the pre-Conquest period. It was at this point I realised I was accidentally following a route I’d planned for This Other London Book 2 – a work still in progress – but had shelved when other avenues appeared. My interest in Little Ilford had been sparked by reading about the 18th Century antiquarian Smart Lethieullier who is buried somewhere in the church.

Lethieullier was descended from wealthy French Huguenot refugees who’d settled in nearby Aldersbrook. Lethieullier carried out some of the first surveys of the Roman villa at Wanstead Park and recorded explorations of the Ambresbury Banks earthwork in Epping Forest.

Little Ilford Park

Little Ilford Park

The gale force winds now brought a smattering of freezing rain along for the ride as I entered Little Ilford Park – an odd pear shaped open space with pylons hugging the border with the North Circular Road. I toyed with finding a crossing to the River Roding and working my way down to Barking, as per the itinerary I now recalled planning 2 years ago, but Little Ilford Park is reluctant to let those who enter leave.

Little Ilford Park pavilion

This squat concrete pavilion seems to have been inspired by Soviet bus stop design – or maybe it was the other way round in the manner that the Moscow Metro was inspired by Charles Holden’s Piccadilly Circus station with Holden returning the favour with his Russian influenced station at Gants Hill.

I watched the rain for a bit from the shelter of the pavilion trying to imagine playing any kind of cricket on whatever pitch lay beneath the thick clumps of grass before walking the length of the park and exiting for Ilford High Street beneath the grand North Circular fly-over.

That original exploration could now be back on the itinerary.

The Glories of Forest Gate

Wooden carvings on the old Eagle and Child Pub – now Woodgrange Pharmacy

I’d passed the Eagle and Child on my way to the brilliant Coffee7 on Sebert Road, any coffee shop with a bookshelf like this has got to be good.

Aside from serving great coffee they operate a ‘Suspended Coffee’ scheme where you can pay for a coffee for somebody else who can’t afford one. They can just walk in a claim a free coffee. What a fantastic scheme – I’ve never been so happy to pay for a coffee that I didn’t drink.

Coffee7 was featured in this BBC News item about ‘Suspended Coffee’.

london