London River Walk – from the Ravensbourne to the Beck

The idea was Iain’s, noticing that I rarely ventured south of the river he suggested a walk through his manor, Beckenham, following the River Beck. In the course of deciding where to start we somehow settled on the mouth of the River Ravensbourne at Deptford Creek.

River Ravensbourne

River Ravensbourne

We worked our way South through morning Greenwich and over Deptford Bridge, through Brookmill Park to Lewisham, where we gave a nod to the River Quaggy. The passage through Ladywell took me back to the walk I did for This Other London in autumn 2012 to Herne Hill Velodrome that passed this way over Ladywell Fields. Where I peeled off that day over Blythe Hill, Iain and I carried on beside the waters of the Ravensbourne across Catford Bridge to the Linear Park where the Ravensbourne departs and we followed the Pool River to Bellingham.

confluence of The Beck and the Chaffinch Brook

confluence of The Beck and the Chaffinch Brook

In Cator Park, Beckenham (after a David Bowie detour) we find the confluence of the Pool and the Beck (and also see the Chaffinch Brook) and from this point, entering early evening and pushing on for 15 miles for the day, we are now fixed on the source of The Beck.

Families are out in force perambulating around the broad waters of Kelsey Park, it’s a good time to stop for ice cream. It gives us the legs to push on through outer suburbia bound for Shirley.

source of the River Beck

source of the River Beck

I won’t spoil the end of the video, but the moment of finding the source, not quite where we expected, was a moment of mild euphoria. 21-miles river walking through South London, two middle-aged men gazed with love and amazement at a trickle of water dribbling from a pipe in a narrow strip of woodland in Shirley.

 

By the Mulberry Tree at Charlton House with Iain Sinclair

John Rogers and Iain Sinclair in Charlton Park

The mirror by the Mulberry Tree at Charlton House made this shot impossible to resist. Being with Iain Sinclair by a Mulberry Tree made me think of the detailed description of the silk trade in WG Sebald’s Rings of Saturn, silk worms feed on mulberry leaves. I’ve just read the chapter in Iain’s forthcoming book The Last London where he retraces an East End perambulation from Austerlitz with Sebald’s friend, the poet Stephen Watts.

This black mulberry is believed to be around 400 years old, just marginally younger than Charlton House, built in 1607. But unlike the bricks and mortar of the grand Jacobean mansion the mulberry tree is a living being, arms reaching out into the park and the fine public convenience behind by the road.

We were passing through the park filming a thread coming off the Watling Street project, a tributary running off Shooters Hill, another film now taking shape to be presented in the autumn.

Walking Roman Watling Street with Iain Sinclair, Andrew Kotting and Anne Caron-Delion

Iain Sinclair Andrew Kotting Old Kent Road

Out along Roman Watling Street yesterday with Iain Sinclair, Andrew Kotting, and Anne Caron-Delion – walking from Shooter’s Hill to Westminster. The image above was taken in front of the fantastic ‘History of the Old Kent Road’ Mural on the old North Peckham Civic Centre. The mural, by Adam Kossowski (1966), tells the story of all the epic journeys that have taken in the road over its long history.

Iain asked me to pose in front of the figure of Jack Cade, who led a revolt against the King in 1450, as he saw a resemblance – must have been my beard and nose. Earlier we had passed over Blackheath where both Cade, and earlier Wat Tyler in the Peasants Revolt of 1381, had rallied their forces for an assault on the City.

Anne Caron-Delion Iain Sinclair John Rogers

Anne Caron-Delion, Iain Sinclair, John Rogers – photo by Andrew Kotting

Anne, an academic from UCA, lives near Watling Street and was a great source of local lore – leading us across Blackheath, pointing out relevant and interesting heritage. She was also channeling info garnered from spending time living intermittently with a Watling Street obsessive; David Aylward and as well as drumming for Ted Milton’s BLURT, some refer to as the King of Deptford. David was one of Andrew’s troupe of Mummers who passed across Blackheath for the film Edith Walks, and was memorably acousted by the Police for drumming on the site of ancient (some say neolithic) tumuli. Either Anne or Andrew mentioned being on the spot with Julian Cope during the writing of his epic book The Modern Antiquarian but my memory is muddled on this point.

I captured some footage along the way that will form a silent backdrop to the event Iain’s doing in Brighton with Alan Moore and John Higgs on 24th May, The Ghosts of Watling Street

“Three visionary authors – Alan Moore, Iain Sinclair and John Higgs – gather under one roof to take an epic journey through Britain’s hidden history, geography, myth and culture, as they travel west along one of Britain’s oldest roads – Watling Street – from Dover to Wales, via London and Northampton. Along the way Moore, Higgs and Sinclair reveal a country haunted by John Crow, St Alban, William Blake, Rod Hull and Emu, James Bond and stranger ghosts of its past – as they unearth an identity of Britain that transcends our current Brexit divisions.”

John Rogers Iain Sinclair Andrew Kotting

I also shot some great footage with Iain and Andrew that will form a video on my YouTube channel in the coming weeks. Filming them yomping along the busy road, stopping to attempt to gather cutaways then jogging along to catch them up, took me back to the filming of London Overground which Iain recounts in his forthcoming book The Last London. It’s always a real joy to go out on the road with these two great gentlemen.

***

Andrew Kotting’s latest film, Edith Walks (for which I shot some footage), is screening across the UK in the summer. There are two special events coming up in London that are not to be missed:

23rd June 2017 – ICA with Readings and Q&A

2nd July 2017 – Curzon Aldgate with musical performance and Q&A

Also screening at:

07/07/17 Showroom, Sheffield

09/07/17 Watershed, Bristol

20/7/17 Filmhouse, Edinburgh

19/7/17 Glasgow Film Theatre, Glasgow

23/6/17 Tyneside, Newcastle

The sound of: Plumstead covered market

This is a short field recording I made whilst wandering around Plumstead covered market on the walk from Woolwich around Crayford Ness for chapter 3 of This Other London

Here’s a snippet from the book:

Moving up along Plumstead Road my momentum is broken by the covered market. There’s been a market on the site since the 1600s – the poor forgotten cousin of the more famous Covent Garden. Thursday is early closing, which probably accounts for the lack of activity. It must be a hard life grinding a living out of the stalls here. The Gurkha Café has a few punters sup- ping tea on its outside tables. I do circuits, soaking in the atmos- phere: the narrow ways between units, the coloured lettering all around, pulsing reggae music bouncing back off the glass ceiling. There are echoes of Grand Central Market in Los Angeles that provided the inspiration for scenes in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic Blade Runner. A mash-up of ethnic influences coming together into a hybrid street culture, a Himalayan- Afro-Caribbean-Indian-Jutish cocktail.”This Other London – adventures in the overlooked city

Brandon Estate Cine Club

Diving into the goldmine of the London Screen Archives Youtube channel the other day turned up this precious nugget – the archives of the Brandon Estate Cine Club.

The Brandon Estate was built in the late 50’s in Kennington, South London. The Club made Super 8 films of events on the estate organised by the social club – using a camera bought by 17-year old Brian Waterman with his first pay-packet from his job on the Underground. There’s more about the Cine Club on the Film London website and how the members of the club were recently reunited for a special screening of the films.

The first thing that struck me when I watched the footage of the estate in 1961 with the concrete still fresh was the opening credits of Sean Lock’s classic sitcom 15 Storeys High which used the Brandon Estate for the exterior locations.

Screen shot 2014-02-07 at 13.06.41

The episode where Vince has to return a plough that he drunkenly stole from a pub is a great example of how the estate was used in the series. The Brandon Estate Cine Club footage and 15 Storeys High complement each other beautifully, positive views of life on a south London estate – summer fetes, kids Christmas parties, day trips to Canvey Island, trying to get a sofa up in the lift. I can imagine Vince going along to the screening that was organised on the estate and getting into some sort of light-hearted bother.

 

Modernism in Lewisham?

First off I’m not entirely sure that ‘modernist’ is the correct term to describe these three buildings in Lewisham High Street that caught my eye when I was down there the other week. But it’s the word that pops into my befuddled brain when I look at them.

Nikolaus Pevsner was fairly dismissive of Lewisham, writing in 1952 that it was, ‘A large borough, but little to see’. Although he knew his modernism from his art-deco, I am compelled to disagree.
The building above however is the only one I’ve found any info on – it was a 1960s department store, but I haven’t yet found out its original name.

The past life and former glories of this branch of Currys eludes me though. It’s a magnficient building worthy of more than being shared between cheap electronics and nail varnish remover.

The detail on the facade was clearly the product of an age that took its retail architecture seriously. This building seems slightly embarrassed by what has become of it, skulking back behind its tacky plastic frontage.
I wonder if it’s a survivor of the V1 attack on Lewisham Market in July 1944 that devastated the town centre

Ok this Primark isn’t quite so grand but still recalls a Grace Brothers age of High Street glamour and civic dignity.
I didn’t glide down to Lewisham on the DLR to study retail behemoths but I can’t seem to get these buildings out of my head. Just need to find out the correct word to describe them now.

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