The New Kings Cross

I found myself in Kings Cross on Friday and finally made a video documenting some of the new development around the back of the station that has been emerging for a couple of years now. It’s a peculiar new zone of the city that many people seem unaware of, hidden away around the back of St. Pancras International and Kings Cross Stations and off the side of York Way.

Pancras Square Kings Cross

Pancras Square

To remind myself of what it used to look like I skimmed through the Mike Leigh film High Hopes where the main protagonists live in a council flat between the stations in the redevelopment area – their handsome block of flats and the Victorian terraces demolished. Checking an out-of-date A-Z shows that the location used in the film, Stanley Passage is perhaps somewhere beneath the new Google HQ and YouTube Space. Other streets that have disappeared under Pancras Square and Battle Bridge Place include Wellers Court, Clarence Passage, Battle Bridge Road, and Cheney Road.

Stanley Building Kings Cross

fragment of the old Kings Cross

It was hard to look at the tower blocks rising from those fields between Islington and Marylebone and not to think of the lines from Blake’s Jerusalem,

THE FIELDS from Islington to Marybone,

To Primrose Hill and Saint John’s Wood,

Were builded over with pillars of gold;

And there Jerusalem’s pillars stood.

Save Empress Place in Earls Court from demolition

The other week Earls Court Area Action Group laid on a colourful Victorian themed to protest against the planned destruction of Empress Place and two adjacent pubs. Thankfully the Prince of Wales pub has been given ACV listing which should give it some protection but the architecturally and culturally important street of terraced housing in Empress Place is under serious threat. I went along with my camera to make a record of events and help spread the word.

You can learn more about the campaign and how to help save this wedge of vital London heritage here

Return to Tin Pan Alley

It was just over a year ago that I visited Denmark Street with Tim Arnold of the Save Soho campaign. Tim was giving me a tour of venues under threat and those that still give live music a home in the West End. We decided to start outside the 12 Bar Club in Denmark Street – a venue Tim had played many times. As I started filming we noticed crates and boxes leaving the building in a steady stream – the 12 Bar Club had hosted its final gig in Tin Pan Alley, forced out by the Crossrail sponsored destruction of this corner of Central London.

When I met Henry Scott-Irvine of the Save Denmark Street campaign outside the boarded up venue last month, news had just filtered through that the 12 Bar had just closed its doors again at its new home on Holloway Road. As Henry put it – music needs a hub, Denmark Street/ Tin Pan Alley was the beating heart of London’s live music community and when that heart is damaged you can’t expect things to survive out along the arteries (I’m paraphrasing but Henry explains it more eloquently in the video above).

Save Tin Pan Alley

Superficially for now Denmark Street retains the guitar shops and a couple of venues. This is undoubtedly a good thing, particularly when you consider the way that the iconic Astoria was brutally erased from the map with a few swings of a wrecking ball (I couldn’t think of a Miley Cyrus gag there but insert your own).

Andre in Hanks Guitar Shop was upbeat about the situation – thinking that the surrounding developments could bring new trade to the street and lead to a revival of the shops and venues. Although he did sound a note of caution that the developers – who are also the landlords – needed to keep the rents at realistic levels for the traders in Tin Pan Alley. The various music industry offices occupying the upper floors of this historic 17th Century street have already been forced out – gone are the music publishers and agents who brought the music to Denmark Street in the early 20th Century – who invented the music press and the pop charts, then the pop stars and punk rock.

Good news arrived this week that the house where the Sex Pistols lived and daubed graffiti on the walls has been given a Grade II listing. Finally official heritage recognition for at least one chapter of this richly storied thoroughfare. Henry would like to see the London Borough of Camden give it the same protected status for music that Hatton Garden has for its jewelry trade.

Without dogged campaigning the developers could already have destroyed this vital part of London’s heritage – thankfully people such as Henry and Andre are keeping the music alive in Denmark Street and long may Tin Pan Alley rock on.

Bohemia in the London Borough of Barnet

There seems to be a problem in the Rotten Borough of Barnet – the vanguard rogue state of rapacious property development. This time last year I met the residents being turfed out of their homes on the West Hendon Estate as the Council gifted the land to Barratt Homes, Mrs Thatcher’s favourite builders. Then there were the murky goings on at Sweets Way that I still don’t fully understand but it seems that a large ex-military housing estate that had been leased to a housing association was then sold to a private developer for about 99p with a 1000-year lease.

The latest call I heard from the gallant Barnet Bohemians revolved around a Care Home in Church Walk, Child’s Hill bought by a charity for £1 to run as a care home and homeless women’s refuge but two years later sold on by the charity to a private developer for £12 million to demolish and replace with luxury flats.

What the hell is going on in Barnet – why does premium building land command no more than a solitary pound when sold by the local authority or charitable bodies but then miraculously increase by the millions once in private hands?

The positivity of the Bohemians and rainbow people recently crash landed from the Camden Mothership shines a beacon of hope through the gloom. They occupied the building seeking a Meanwhile Lease so they could provide shelter for the cold winter months and food for the hungry both in belly and spirit. They would also use the space for workshops, discussions, artworks. Utilise it as a base to explore an alternative to the rat race consumerism gnawing away at the soul of modern life.

Turns out the charity that still own the building aren’t as keen on actual charity as the sound of 12 million pound coins rattling in the till. They promptly took legal action, even seeking punitive custodial sentences to which the police thankfully gave short shrift. Even so, 3 days after I shot this video the occupants of Church Walk House were evicted by bailiffs.

All is not lost though – they have since landed once again in Barnet, in an abandoned nightclub on Whetstone High Road.

Is this the Future of London?

For a few brief days back in June an exhibition at Red Gallery gave us a glimpse into the horror show about to be unleashed upon London by developers. Reclaim London’s, Ubiquitous Unique simply consisted of a series of architectural elevations submitted to local authority planning committees. Beneath were some of the claims made in support of the schemes:

“Contributes to the enhancement or creation of local distinctiveness”

“The proposals seek to respect the form, scale and grain of the surrounding townscape, and will make a positive contribution to the character of the area.”

Orwellian gobblegook interchangeable between projects, a pick-a-mix of sterile marketing speak completely at odds with the uniformity of what was on offer, buildings that could be just about anywhere from Shanghai to a ring-road in Houston.

Rocking on the rooftops to Save London

Here’s my latest Drift Report – a rooftop protest gig by The Bermondsey Joyriders on top of the old Foyles Building in Charing Cross Road (the same one that had a big display for This Other London in the window) organised by Henry Scott-Irvine of the Save Tin Pan Alley Campaign.

Sign the petition to Save Tin Pan Alley here