London walk 28th December

Old Red Lion pub

It’s become a tradition of mine of over the last 15 years or more to head into Central London late in the afternoon one day between Christmas and New Year to wander the streets around Holborn and Bloomsbury. I started at Chancery Lane and was drawn along Red Lion Street, not noticing before the many times I’d passed this way, that the Old Red Lion pub was the place where the exhumed body of Oliver Cromwell had been stored before his rotting corpse was executed at Tyburn 2 years after his actual death. I can imagine business at the pub was slow during the period that his cadaver would have stunk the place out.

Old Red Lion Cromwell

Orde Hall Street WC1

Orde Hall Street WC1

I turned off Lamb’s Conduit Street into Dombey Street and then followed the curvature of Orde Hall Street. According to UCL’s Bloomsbury Project this parcel of land had originally belonged to Rugby School since the 16th Century and had gradually been developed over the ensuing centuries.

“It was built in 1882 and replaced the former slums of Little Ormond Yard, purchased by the Metropolitan Board of Works to improve housing in the area
It was named after John Orde Hall, member of the Holborn District Board of the Metropolitan Board of Works
It was designed for respectable working people.”

Orde Hall Street

Orde Hall Street Camden Council Estate

Queen Square

Queen Square

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Queen Square

Queen Square always makes me think of Geoffrey Fletcher who I’m sure drew the gas lamp above although I can’t find the reference right now. The square was built in the early 18th Century and is notable for the various medical institutions that surround it, the most interesting to me being the elaborate Italian Hospital which closed in 1990.

Queen Square

Queen Square

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The British Museum

I wanted to visit the British Museum to look at the Romano-British burial urns and grave goods for a video I was in the process of editing. The extra security checks now mean that the queues to enter stretch back along Great Russell Street.

Anglo Saxon jewelry

Anglo Saxon jewelry

Despite my focus on the Roman Britain rooms I can’t help being drawn in by the Anglo Saxon artefacts. We visited Sutton Hoo at exactly this time 3 years ago and the impression has never left me. The intricacy and beauty of even everyday objects seems so at odds with the Victorian image of the Anglo-Saxon era as dark and barbaric.

Supreme Store Soho

Supreme Store Soho

I passed through Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia and crossed into Soho. The spectacle of the queues outside the Supreme Store have become one of the tourist sights of London gauging by the twenty or so people stood opposite taking pictures.

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I then traversed Leicester Square and crossed Charing Cross Road to Cecil Court where the shops were all shut, which is just as well as I may have been tempted to part with too much money for this lovely copy of Colin Wilson’s Adrift in Soho, a story of London’s Beat Generation.

Brydges Place

Brydges Place

I couldn’t resist being drawn along Brydges Place despite the foul stench of urine, accumulated over centuries. It delivered me to the rear of The Harp, one of central London’s finest real ale pubs, where the drinkers gathered in the alley and out the front. It was the perfect end to this winter wander.

 

 

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

‘Art as a Weapon’ / National Gallery Strike against Privatisation – Drift Report

Last week staff at the National Gallery, London held a 5-day strike against privatisation of 400 gallery staff. This is a report I made about the Day of Action against heir to the Getty family fortune Mark Getty, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Gallery who has steadfastly refused to meet with staff and PCS Trade Union representatives. The day started with a rally outside the Sainsbury Wing of the Gallery, currently staffed by a private security firm, followed by a loud and colourful march across Leicester Square, through China Town and Soho, along Oxford Street to the Getty Images Gallery in Eastcastle Street.
The protest in the driving rain was also in support of National Gallery Trade Union Rep Candy Udwin who was suspended by the gallery on trumped up charges merely because she asked how much it had cost to bring in private security firm CIS to the Sainsbury wing of the National Gallery.

 


Shot and edited by John Rogers
Title sequence and channel artwork by Danny Kairos
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Save Soho and the Battle for Tin Pan Alley

It was when I was walking round Soho with Geoff Lloyd recording for his Absolute Radio show that I noticed the closure of Madame JoJo’s, that great icon of Soho nightlife to the extent that closing it could be as catastrophic as releasing the ravens from the Tower of London.

I later connected with Soho resident and musician, Tim Arnold, one of the co-ordinators of the Save Soho campaign that includes local residents, small businesses and luminaries such as Stephen Fry and Benedict Cumberbatch. Tim offered to take me round some of the venues under threat and also the ones needing to be preserved if the Spirit of Soho was to survive.

Although not actually in Soho we decided to start outside the 12 Bar Club in Denmark Street and were there the day it closed. Almost immediately afterwards it was squatted and occupied by the Soho Bohemians so again I went along with a camera to capture the moment.

Denmark Street (known as Tin Pan Alley) is the historic heart of the music industry in London (and indeed Britain). It was where the early sheet music publishers were based, the music press, management companies – it gave us rock’n’roll and pop music, the Top 40 and the Sex Pistols. It’s probably more famous now for the guitar shops. Many of the buildings date from the 18th Century with the street plan being older still.

But this all now risks being swept away by development, driven by the destructive force of Crossrail and that fact that it sits in the heart of a parcel of land worth around £980million.

If action isn’t taken now a precious ancient district of London will be erased from the map and replaced with a characterless complex of steel and glass blocks. The soul of Central London is being squeezed in the talons of rapacious development.

Sign the petition to Save Tin Pan Alley

 

Urban Ramble on Absolute Radio with Geoff Lloyd

The other week I took Geoff Lloyd for an urban ramble round Soho for his show on Absolute Radio and chatted about psychogeography, topography, old maps, and the fate of Madame Jo Jo’s.

 

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