Suburb-hunting in Modernist Metroland

SPB Mais

“To the believer in the influence of the environment – and I am certainly one – it comes as something of a shock to discover that what we are pleased to call the suburban outlook – that is, the narrow outlook of the stereotyped – is shared by the owners of castles in the Cheviots and studios in Chelsea, and is actually rather rare in the suburbs which are supposed to engender it. The truth, I thought, must be that the suburbs are not quite so uniform in character as they are made out to be.”

This is the opening to a chapter on the London suburbs in England’s Character by SPB Mais (1937). I keep coming back to Mais – I think he is one of the most resonant forebares of this art of wandering around and recording your thoughts about what you have seen. That must have been why I took this book down off the shelf this evening.

Mais’ ‘suburb-hunting’ started out in Harrow with its gasometers and he praises North Harrow for a “surprising moment of courage in building a series of dazzling white flats with green tiles, recessed balconies, multitudinous glass, and terraces fronting a communal public unfenced garden.” Sounds like he’s describing the now Grade-II listed Pinner Court designed by local architect HJ Mark and completed in 1936 at the time Mais would have been writing the book.

Pinner: Pinner Court, Pinner Road (Nigel Cox) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Large chunks of Pinner and Rayners Lane have now been placed in a conservation area to protect its modernist and art deco inspired buildings and streetscapes – and it seems that HJ Mark was at the centre of this suburban Bauhausian outpost, particularly in Eastcote Town Centre.

This makes me wonder whether Mais, a self-professed ‘man of the hills’, was in fact a closet modernist, further evidenced by his belief in the influence of the environment it re-enforces my vision of this tweedy BBC radio presenter of Microphone At Large as a proto-psychogeographer. Was he drawn out to Harrow to discuss the modernist project with Mark and take a topographical ramble through the dreamscape that Marks had created in the Harrows and the Weald.

More modernist wonders of the suburbs can be seen on the brilliant Modernism in Metroland website.

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Swandown

Iain Sinclair Andrew Kotting Swandown

My sister Cathy Rogers took this photo of Andrew Kotting and Iain Sinclair enjoying a well-earned pint beside the river Medway as they make their way along a series of inland waterways from Hastings to Angel Islington in a Swan shaped Pedalo. The project is called Swandown and had already began to garner a mythic status before they plonked their vessell in the water in late September – two of our great topographers on an epic crazed quest – I’m just waiting for Joblard to emerge from the Medway mist.

There’s more info, pictures and video on the Swandown website http://swandown.info/

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The London Perambulator in full

John Rogers, Iain Sinclair, Will Self

Here’s the full-cut of The London Perambulator that I’ve decided to release online after two years on the festival circuit. The film is not just a profile of enigmatic cult writer Nick Papadimitriou but about the lure of the edgelands of the city, the idea of psychogeography and Nick’s very own Deep Topography.

When I made my first video with Nick in 2005 I remember Googling ‘deep topography’ and there was nothing. Now it has been discussed at academic conferences, cited in national newspapers, mentioned on Radio 4 and even been the subject of an item on Newsnight. To cap it all Nick landed a publishing deal with a top London publisher to write the definitive deep topographic text which is due out next year.

I’m not sure we knew what to expect when we premiered the film at The Whitechapel Gallery in the East End Film Festival, April 2009. When you perambulate the margins as we do, schlepping round the fringes of industrial estates and tromping through the ‘acoustic footprint’ of the North Circular, you develop a natural scepticism about how your endeavours will be received. But the screening sold out that night. The film was discussed by a panel that included Iain Sinclair, Will Self, myself and was chaired by Dr Andrea Philips from Goldsmiths – and seemed to go down well.

More screenings followed, including The London International Documentary Festival, Cine City Brighton Film Festival and Doc Days at Curzon Soho.  A few years ago I’d been inspired by seeing Jem Cohen’s Chain at the Curzon and here now was our film playing on the same screen. That was a good moment, but there have been loads.

Putting it up Youtube now feels like a homecoming of sorts – that was where we uploaded our first videos and you could, if you wished, chart the progress of the project through to its conclusion with The London Perambulator.

Although is that the conclusion? We continue our work together with our radio show on Resonance fm (that was a product of the film) and I’ve inevitably filmed Nick on walks. Who knows, maybe there’ll be ‘Scarp – the movie’.

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Ventures & Adventures field recordings

We’re starting to think about another series of Ventures and Adventures in Topography on Resonance fm so I’ve been sorting through some of the field recordings from walks from the first two series.
The first recording here is a reading from the introduction to The Fringe of London – this is the credo that inspired our walks. 
The complete podcasts can be downloaded here

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Afoot Round London

“Exploration, I hope no-one has said this before, begins at home. Now that the North Pole has been reached and Cook’s tourists penetrate to Patagonia there is very little undiscovered country left outside England for the roving adventurous individual to explore. But in England and especially within an hours ride from London there are vast tracts of terra incognita still left. It would take a long investigation to determine why in the last 40 years these formerly traveled districts have ceased to attract the foot of the wayfarer and explorer”.

Pathfinder – Afoot Round London, 1911

Posted via email from fugueur’s posterous

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High Wycombe’s ‘Nodules of Energy’ Walk

I dug out a miniDV tape the other day from a walk I did in May 2005 for the Remapping High Wycombe project. I’d never watched it back – the walk (and therefore the tape) had served its purpose – I’d mapped out the final points in what we were calling the ‘nodules of energy’ of the town. I’d borrowed this term from a talk Iain Sinclair had given with Will Self at Hawksmoor’s St. Luke’s Church in Old Street. He’d used it in reference to the church itself, William Blake’s burial site in nearby Bunhill Fields. We transposed this idea onto High Wycombe and came up with our own ‘nodules of energy’ for the town.

The walk in the video documents the final stretch of these – Ivor Gurney’s lodgings, Malmer’s Well ancient British fortification, the old straight Bronze Age track of Coffin Walk, Harrison’s Stamp Factory, Disraeli Monument, Tinker’s Wood (the home of Bodgers and Bandits) and Compair Broome and Wade.
I’m using the camcorder to scribble down video notation – haphazard, rough, the sounds of scuffed feet and birdsong. Watching it back I could almost remember every step of the way.

I sought out this tape and hastily hacked this video because now my mind is turning back to the walks we planned that never embarked upon. Out beyond the Hughenden Valley, breaking free of the Chilterns escarpment and into open country.

There’s more about this walk here

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Merlin’s Cave, Penton Mound

I recently remembered that we didn’t play the whole of this field recording from the walk Nick and I did around the Wells, Springs and Pleasure Gardens of Islington and Pentonvile – so here it is. One of my favourite walks this one – on a cold January Sunday night starting as we pass Merlin’s Cave on Penton Mound.
You can read more about the walk and the pleasure gardens here on the Ventures and Adventures blog.

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