The Ford on the River Darenth

Dartford, a town eighteen miles to the south east of central London, goes back a long way. Its importance arose because of its intersection of the river Darent with the main Roman road from London to Dover. Originally a market town and with some important industries it has now increasingly become a largely commuter centre for London. It’s also where the M25, London’s orbital motorway, crosses the Thames.

I found myself in Dartford last week on a very hot day (for UK standards, temperature was 28C) and wasn’t expecting too much from this town. I was, however, pleasantly surprised, even in these lockdown days. I had known Dartford from the time my wife had been conducting market research there and the only significant thing I can remember is entering a fine pub and buying a book from a charity shop. It was called ‘The Interrupter general’, the diary of an English language teacher in Italy, which inspired me to try work experience in that country– indeed, live more or less permanently there.

I travelled by train and at Dartford station I found this commemorative plaque on platform two. A promising start to my visit to the town, I thought.

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I soon found myself on an attractive riverside walk (which is nineteen miles in length and leads to the Sevenoak hills) along the Darent River.

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Here the river is near  its outlet into the Thames and, contained between two cemented walls, is a far cry from the Darent I recollect in its idyllic pastoral setting flowing past the sweet village of Eynsford where there is a real ford I’ve traversed on my Honda Transalp motorbike.

Part of the riverside walk leads under an impressive (for the UK) vine. Unfortunately there was still no sign of any grapes on it:

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The riverside walk carries on to the high street which still retains something of its former glory as a market town and has a couple of half-timbered houses.

At one end of the high street is the parish church, of Holy Trinity, originally a 9th-century Saxon structure, but with later Norman additions and Victorian restorations. all overladen with some excellently flint-knapped walls. Its site near the left bank of the Darent is quite  picturesque. I was clearly unable to visit Holy Trinity’s interior so could not see the plaque commemorating Richard Trevithick, the pioneer in steam propulsion who lived and died in Dartford.

The High Street has an impressive mural depicting industries and activities that have formed present day Dartford. Some of the town’s key industries, including brewing, paper-making, flour milling and the manufacture of cement, have unfortunately declined in the twentieth century.

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The purity of the  river Darent’s water,  filtered from its source in the chalk hills, has been very important for the paper-making industry. The name Darent  (often found written ‘Darenth’ in older maps) derives from the Celtic phrase ‘stream where oak-trees (dair) grow’. I thought of how the similar quality of the water from the Lima and Serchio rivers in the Bagni di Lucca region have given rise to their own important paper-making industries.

At the other end of the High Street is the Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel, a pub with an impressive galleried interior.  Some years ago this watering-hole served as the temporary headquarters of my wife’s market search company.

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Unfortunately, as with the church, the ‘Vic and Bull’ remained closed to the public. So both spiritual and secular solace were denied to me on this visit.

We once attended an excruciating production of ‘Jane Eyre’ at Dartford’s Orchard theatre. Hopefully it will be able to offer something superior when it reopens! There’s a ‘Mick Jagger’ cultural centre too. I wonder if the iconic star has since performed here as he did for Lucca’s summer festival in 2017.

I also remember a visit to the Dartford museum and library and seeing a fine exhibition commemorating our prehistoric Neanderthaloid ancestor Swanscombe man (actually it was a woman) whose 400,000 year old skull was uncovered in the nearby chalk pits.

There was also an urban farm we visited at Stone Lodge Farm Park with a lovely collection of animals and ancient tithe barns. Unhappily this has since closed down.

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In the marshes to the north of Dartford were two large hospitals. One of them, the City of London mental hospital, housed the tragic composer and poet Ivor Gurney who was diagnosed as suffering from ‘delusional insanity’. Up to two-thirds of his musical output remains unpublished and unrecorded.

(Ivor Gurney 1890-1937)

In the mid-1970s, the future Princess of Wales did voluntary work at the hospital. The hospital buildings have since either been demolished or converted into luxury flats. Some of the buyers of these have resold as they complained about hearing strange screams and voices within the flats’ walls.

In the village of Gombereto, near Longoio, there is a family who originally lived in Dartford. When I asked the lady of the household why they moved there she replied ‘fancy bringing up kids in Dartford?’ Obviously she knew something about Dartford that I didn’t. However, I did have a very pleasant time in this Kentish town and all those I met were particularly courteous towards  me.

 

Johann Gottfried Müthel

Music has been of great support to me in these rather difficult times. I used to listen a lot to news programmes and BBC’s Radio 4 but it started to become a little obsessive after a while – too much talk about the blasted pandemic! Changing over to a station that broadcasts mainly music can make a real difference to one’s psyche. For me BBC’s Radio 3 gives me solace and strength. No longer the snooty ‘thud’ programme of former days it broadcasts music of all sorts from Kapsperger to Klezmer, from Gamelan to Gounod and from Bach to Björk.

I have Radio 3 on most mornings and the sounds it broadcasts provide a pleasant background to several household activities. However, one morning I was particularly struck by a harpsichord concerto which I mistakenly attributed to J. S. Bach’s son Carl Philip Emmanuel.  Although it turned out to be by someone else I was not far wrong.

Johann Gottfried Müthel (1728-1788) was born in Molln in the Duchy of Lauenberg. His father was an organist and friend of Telemann who, in turn, was chummy with Johann Sebastian Bach. In 1750 Muthel became Johann Sebastian’s last student in Leipzig (Bach was to die the same year) and was present at the great composer’s death bed.

Müthel subsequently travelled a lot and met, among other composers, Bach’s son Carl Philip Emmanuel at Frederick the Great’s court at Potsdam. He then moved to Riga in present day Latvia and was organist at St Peter’s church there. Despite the fact that Riga was a little off the musical map (although Wagner’s tenure at the opera put it back in the nineteenth century) it provided a pleasant environment for Müthel.

Müthel is important for being one of the first to recognize the newly-invented piano (or fortepiano as the early instrument is called) in his compositions and for being an exponent of that turbulent proto-romantic period known as Sturm und Drang’, (Storm and emotional drive) which also affected Haydn’s middle-period symphonies.

A portrait of Müthel has come down to us. It shows a long-haired individual with a placidly intense appearance. In an age of powdered periwigs and stereotyped expressions the likeness is almost romantic in appearance. I can readily imagine him as the writer of storm and stress music.

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Most of Muthel’s music has remained in manuscript but there are some fine recordings now being issued, especially of the keyboard concerti.

Here’s one of them for harpsichord and two bassoons (most prominent in the second movement). See what you think.

 

 

 

 

Green-Robed Senators of the Forests

The sweet or Spanish chestnut tree (Castanea Sativa) was introduced into Europe from Sardis in Turkey. Sardis was one of the richest cities of the ancient world and is famed for having invented the concept of currency. We visited the ruins of the ancient city in 1991, a journey which inspired this sonnet.

 

SARDIS

 

Amid scorched stones, the sordid root sprang here

in heaps of monoliths and pediments,

and drowned a childlike earth in blooded fear,

emasculated priests and bare laments.

 

Where is your gold and silver now, great King?

That burnished stroke has crumbled into dust

the temple votaries no longer sing

and all your treasury is turned to rust.

 

White columns’ tempest-shaken marble staves

against a broken sky, a raven screech

across the ether of uncoded waves:

this is the city wrecked upon a beach.

 

And yet what brilliance shines upon these stones

above dusk graves, beyond the vanished bones.

Sometimes disparagingly called ‘the poor person’s flour’, like the potato in Ireland and oats in Scotland, the chestnut once supported half the population in the hill villages around Lucca. Indeed it has been a staple food in southern Europe, Turkey, and southwestern and eastern Asia for millennia, replacing cereal crops where these were unable to grow well in mountainous Mediterranean areas.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Serchio and Lima valleys. Although unfortunately vast forests of chestnut trees have been largely abandoned since the last war as people have moved to the urban centres in increasing numbers and have replaced chestnut for cereal flour there are still areas with the most wonderful specimens of this noble tree, some of which are hundreds of years old (the Italian word for this is ‘secolare’).

Going beyond Albereta by the Prato Fiorito near Bagni di Lucca and descending into the Scesta valley I came across these stupendous trees with girths exceeding several yards. Some of them had hollowed out trunks into which one could easily enter as you can see!

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I count the Apennine chestnut forest as one of the most beautiful sights to be found on Earth. There is much emphasis and effort now in saving Earth’s rare fauna. I believe that the same emphasis should be given to these stupendous examples of our planet’s flora which should be properly protected against both encroaching disease and the vandal’s axe; they are in all senses of the word irreplaceable.

To the early Christians, chestnuts symbolized chastity. The tree enters into the religious celebrations of several European countries. For example, in France, the marron glacé, a candied chestnut is served at Christmas and New Year’s time. In Tuscany ‘marroni canditi’ are traditionally eaten on Saint Simon’s Day which is the 4th of July.

There is a fine museum at Colognora which illustrates the social and economic history of the sweet chestnut tree which I’ve written about at:

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/old-chestnuts/

There’s also a post I’ve written regarding specialties made from chestnut flour and the local festivals associated with it at:

https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2018/09/21/nuts-about-chestnuts/

There’s more about taking walks in chestnut forests in my post at

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/a-walk-up-the-scesta-valley/

 

 

 

 

 

Garden Centres Re-Open!

From May 13th garden centres in the UK have reopened to the public. (“O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”)

Garden centres had been shut down since March 24th.That’s how late the lockdown was inaugurated in the UK: Italy’s began on 8th March over two weeks before! Meanwhile, Wuhan, where it all started, came out of lockdown on April 8th just over two weeks after the UK entered its own lockdown.

Garden centres reopened in Italy on May 2nd; it’s not surprising, therefore, that these essential delights for the green and not so green fingered UK public have followed so soon after.

We decided to visit our nearest garden centre which is Birchen Grove, next to the Welsh Harp reservoir, (described in my post at https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2019/10/23/i-laghi-di-londra/)

Birchen Grove is one of greater London’s largest garden centres and is placed in idyllic woodland surroundings making it appear that one is in the middle of the countryside although, in fact, Brent Cross shopping centre is just a few minutes away.

The method of entry into Birchen Grove was very civilized with the usual socially distancing queues. We didn’t have to wait more than a quarter of a hour before we were immersed into the panoplies of indoor and outdoor plants, shrubs, trees, garden furniture and tools. The flowers were in particularly good shape after all the hype that they were suffering and would have to be thrown onto the compost heap.

For me, however, the highlight was the fish section. Tanks upon tanks of often minute tropical fish were laid out in long rows.

There were examples of the pig-nosed turtle native to Northern Australia and New Guinea In the larger tanks. These were not, however, for sale for a notice advised the public that they required very specialized conditions and knowledge for their rearing and survival.

The largest tank was actually an indoor pond teeming with koi carp. Nearby was a food dispenser for one to feed the amazingly large and beautifully coloured fish.

These koi are particularly loved by the Japanese who recognize several distinct types. Indeed, the word ‘koi’ in their language means love and friendship so these fish are symbols of deep affection.

On our way back we came across further examples of the off-beat houses designed by Ernest Trobridge in the first half of the last century and to be found in this area of North West London.

They made an interesting contrast to the standard semis which otherwise line Kingsbury’s residential streets:

All in all it was a satisfactory enjoyable excursion in a London which, sadly, still remains the centre of the worst pandemic in any European country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking About The Elysian Fields

Although the first digital camera, developed in the Eastman Kodak laboratories by Steven Sasson, dates from 1975 it wasn’t really until the new millennium that the public ditched analogue film for digital cameras. Today even the market for digital cameras is restricted to those that have truly professional features: for most people point-and-shoot cameras have been replaced by mobile phones’ increasingly sophisticated picture taking features.

My own history of the transition from analogue to digital can be read in my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/04/27/death-of-analogue/

The problem about digital photographs is that one collects too many of them! What wouldn’t I give to have just a few more analogue photos of the time I spent at school and college? I’m, thus, during this strange lockdown time going through my photos and cataloguing  their folders so that I can find (or try to find!) particular people and places.

There are automated processes for organizing photos;for example, image recognition programs can identify anything from plants to people. The one I use is Plantnet which is brilliant for identifying plants from photos of their leaves or flowers. Tagging images can also help. Every photo taken on a cellphone has latitude and longitude coordinates listed under GPS in its properties. These figures can be input into Google Maps and identify the precise location where a photo was taken. However, organizing pictures still remains more difficult than identifying a text or a music file.

One sometimes has to have some emotional strength to identify and organise photos for each image is a monument to a particular stage in one’s life. Things change. Life is an evanescent process and we must all depart at some point. Only the memory remains (if that) and the photographs of departed loved ones are both joyful and painful.

Nature, on the other hand is ever with us, generating both death and rebirth. True, I have photos of forests and meadows that have disappeared, cut down by disease, motorway schemes or sheer vandalism but I rejoice that I have the possibility of returning to a loved place and finding it still there in all its transcendent beauty.

One area which is particularly dear to me are the slopes of the Prato Fiorito, the whale-backed mountain dominating the Lima valley in Tuscany. I was meant to have reached it last April but if I can get to it by September I’ll be happy enough. What I’m, however,  missing out at present are the incredible May flowerings of jonquils on its slopes, a wonder that inspired Shelley’s poetry.

I have written a post of this phenomenon at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/06/07/the-elysian-fields-of-prato-fiorito/ if you want to find out more. For the time being I’ll just display some photos I took on my first visit to this angelic vision in 2006….and label them! Better luck next year…

 

 

 

 

Ernest Trobridge – an Architectural Visionary

A good third of houses in England are semi-detached. Buildings of this type started to be built in the nineteenth century and in the twentieth century, especially during the inter-war years, there was a veritable explosion of semi-detached buildings thanks to the expansion of the London underground and the desire of many families to move away from unhealthy areas of the city centre to the new suburbs arising in the green countryside.

In London’s suburbs such as Harrow, Pinner, and Surbiton, the streets are lined with semi-detached houses from the 1930s, one similar to the other, and built in the style known as ‘tudorbethan’ alluding to sixteenth century fashions.

In the Kingsbury area, however, there are often bizarre variants of this model that deserve an exploration on foot, as we did on a fresh but sunny day last week.

There are two main areas for these discoveries. The first is near Saint Andrew’s church, Kingsbury:

The main area, however, is north of Kingsbury Green, off Buck Lane:

Note how the semis are united with curious and sometimes monumental stairways, and how the facades are a varied ‘tudorbethan’ style with half-timbered gables transmuted by abstruse towers, extravagant walls, and unexpected asymmetries. The clinker-built wooden walls with irregularly finished planks, the occasional use of thatched roofs and the leaded glass windows are further characteristic features.

Who was the architect who provided this impetus against uniformity and, let’s face it, monotony of nineteen-thirties semi-detached streets that characterize so much of the suburban panorama of English cities?

Ernest George Trobridge (1884–1942) was an architect active in the first half of the twentieth century, especially in the north-western outskirts of London. Trobridge was a supporter of the ‘New Church’, based on the thought of the Swedish philosopher and mystic Swedenborg, and it may have been his religious beliefs that led him to be interested in building houses for the working classes.

Trobridge embarked on his first work in the 1920s, when new homes were needed for ex-servicemen returning from the front after a terrible war. Brick was in short supply, so he used elm wood that was readily available at the time and built cheap houses with framed, panelled frames and thatched roofs in the London suburb of Kingsbury and the village of Chaldon in Surrey. These properties were technically very innovative: the green elm was cut in a special way so that it could contain its shrinkage and the straw had a patented fire-proof system.

In the 1930s, bricks became more readily available and the pressure on land around London indicated that the working class needed flats rather than houses. Trobridge developed condominiums with the appearance of romantic ‘cottages’, or baronial castles, most of which were built in Kingsbury. Here are some we spotted at the crossroads between Highfield Avenue and Buck Lane

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Following his socialist beliefs, Trobridge employed disabled employees and insisted on paying union dues to all his employees. In addition, he was a vegetarian and showed an ecological attitude towards the planet reflecting current trends.

For many years Trobridge’s imaginative houses, built for ‘our heroes’, were underestimated by architects and the public alike and could be bought for a minimal sum. In recent years, however, their prices have risen a lot. This house, for example, has recently been sold for over a million pounds.

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Cheaper is this apartment, with four bedrooms and a garden, which was sold for just £ 425,000 the other week.

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It was fun to wander through the otherwise unremarkable streets of Kingsbury and spot a Trobridge-designed house. I doubt that otherwise Kingsbury attracts many tourists.

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Trobridge’s work may not be a major reason for visiting London. However, his architecture has more relevance for those of us who do not live in palaces or castles. Being a tenant of a Trobridgian villa, at least could make us dream of these other residences!

 

Conducting a Bus

John Wagstaff and I go back a long way. We were both pupils at South London’s Dulwich College, often under the same unlucky teachers, and we have always kept in touch since those post-Paleolithic times.

John’s love of the omnibus has been a main theme in his life (apart from his family, of course). He has dedicated his working career, indeed in his youthful words, ‘sacrificed’ it, exclusively to this monarch of the roads. For many years John owned an Exeter number 60 complete with Leyland 0600 diesel engine. His bus collection (viewable to the privileged few upon appointment) is worthy of inclusion in any celebrated transport museum. In 2019, two year after he’d hung up his uniform for the last time, John added another book to the list he’s written (mostly about buses and their crews; for example his volume on the London Country Bus). Titled ‘Are you going straight?’ it’s an autobiography and relates in a perfectly engrossing manner, the threads in which his life has been closely interweaved with that of Flanders’ and Swann’s ‘big six-wheeler, scarlet painted, London transport, diesel engine, ninety-seven horsepower omnibus’.

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The title ‘Are you going straight?’ refers not to the abandonment of any suspicious undercover activity but to a question ‘Does this bus go straight on down this road?’ often asked by passengers (not ‘customers’ as I hasten to refuse to write in defiance of this unfortunate adoption of a word now used for travellers on public transport.) The question reminded me of my stint as a bus conductor many years ago with Eastern Counties which served Cambridge and its environs. In that situation the question asked, which almost became a mantra, was ‘does this bus go down Mill road?’ I don’t know why everyone seemed to want to go down Mill road, there’s nothing particularly fascinating about it apart from the Fish ‘n Chip shop, but evidently it was a preoccupation for many of those waiting at the bus-stop. In his autobiography, a book enhanced by lively and amusing artwork by Ellis Tomkins and Fenella Cardwell, chapter six is dedicated to the author’s six-week spell as a bus conductor, indeed a lightning one.

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(Mill Road, Cambridge)

The references in John’s chapter to Gibson roll-ticket issuing machines, shift patterns and visits by ticket inspectors, who instilled greater fear in me than in any passengers, brought back several memories of an employment which I still regard as a significant episode in my life. At the time I was a post-graduate research student in social anthropology at the university’s King’s college. Although this might have sounded an enviable situation to be in I was increasingly disheartened by it. A second visit to a remote area of the Indian Himalayas where I was studying a village of the Pahari people was fraught (although I managed to send a letter about the ‘Pahari’ postman to the ‘Beckenham Historian’ which John still edits after more than forty years) and my previous confidence in pursuing an academic career became somewhat eroded. Indeed, fast forwards to three years later and I found myself happily married to my teenage heart-throb Sandra and working in Victoria Station and in the Tower (not as an inmate I hasten to say) as an information clerk with the London Tourist Board. (I should add that I did return to the academic world later on as a lecturer, this time in information technology, in a further education college which was part of Greenwich University).

My experience as a bus conductor taught me many invaluable things. There was the discovery of what a full-time working life really was like and how privileged I was in having a Cambridge college as my Alma Mater.  The hammer-head beams of the Great Hall’s gothic splendour were replaced by the less spectacular shabbiness of the bus-crew’s canteen. Gowns were substituted for employee uniforms crowned by that green-edged badge issued by the Metropolitan Traffic commissioners (alas, no longer dispensed) which still remains one of my proudest possessions. The shift system was, as John observes in his book, a perfect alternative to the nine-to-five job most people have. Afternoons off, morning lie-ins and mini-breaks of three days or more enhanced our work routine besides disciplining me to accurate time-time keeping and dependable alarm-clocks!

(Eastern Counties Bus Garage, Hills Road, Cambridge)

Of anecdotes relating to my time on the buses I can still recall a few: the instance when a new driver from Canada took the wrong turning on his first journey out of Hills Road garage and landed me and some confused passengers in the complicated maze of an industrial estate in Cherry Hinton (from which we did eventually find a way out). Then there were the first occasions when I had to work out my waybill at the end of a tiring shift and found that the figures between tickets issued and fares received still did not tally after the third attempt, causing me to be late and hungry getting home. My breakfast on one occasion, having missed my customary meal before setting out, was the egg boiled in the bus’s radiator which the driver offered me after the steep (for Cambridge shire) ascent up Babraham’s Gog Magog hills.  Above all I remember the amazing camaraderie and sense of humour of the bus crews who, often underpaid and under-appreciated, kept up their spirits.  It made such a change from the somewhat stiff and demeaning behaviour of several College dons in those days.

The buses I conducted were all ‘Bristols’.  The Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company started in 1908. In 1955 this part of the business was separated out as Bristol Commercial Vehicles Limited and finally closed in 1983 when production was moved to its then parent company Leyland. I stand corrected by John Wagstaff’s  comprehensive knowledge of these matters but I suspect that the bus I conducted was the the Bristol Lodekka,  a half-cablow-heightstep-free double-decker bus built by Bristol Commercial Vehicles in England. Of interest to the author of a book which describes his work-experience with London Transport’s Unit for Disabled Passengers it was the first operational production bus design to have no step up from the passenger entrance throughout the lower deck in use for passenger service. For me, however, the Lodekka had one slight disadvantage: I would always have to be present on its rear-door platform to manually open the folding doors and then close them again when the bus continued its route. This meant that there was no time for me to dawdle on the top deck when a bus stop was approached.

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In less digitally proficient times I was called upon to announce the arrival of each bus stop as the vehicle approached it. I remember on one occasion a passenger became irate with me because I had not made clear when the bus stop was reached. I replied that I did announce ‘Norwich Street’.  I mentioned this fact to one of the other conductors on my return to the garage. ‘Many of these passengers only know the names of nearby pubs’ he answered. ‘’Next time say ‘Devonshire Arms’. I remembered this valuable piece of advice and decided to memorize all those pubs near to the bus stops, replacing them in place of the street names, in my announcement to the often bemused passengers.

Sadly a lot of these pubs have since vanished and, together with them, the disreputable pub crawls many of us undergraduates would indulge in.

One of the highlights of my career as a semi-lightning conductor was when I had a route that carried me into the pastoral landscapes of Cambridgeshire. I loved to see the fields, thatched cottages and country churches. It was truly what one conductor quipped to me, ‘if you want a job where you can travel and meet people then become a bus conductor.’

On an early shift I would motorbike down to the Hills Road Garage in pitch darkness and often freezing autumnal cold to be greeted by my work colleagues with warm smiles and a joke or two (often at my expense!).  Happy days indeed!

Despite my own prognostications and to the surprise of several of my peers who were engaged on research in their ivory towers I turned out, according to the testimony of the bus drivers, to be an efficient conductor respecting the route timetable and coordinating to a T with the man at the steering wheel. (No Eastern Counties women drivers yet then…)

I conclude that even if I didn’t become the conductor of the London Symphony orchestras – I still harboured this childhood delusion – I remain entirely satisfied to have become for a memorable period of my life a conductor of ‘Eastern Counties’.

 

‘Are you going straight?’(ISBN 978-1-5272-3859-6) is published by Scotforth Books. price £14.95

 

 

Watkin’s Folly and Edward VII Park

We are experiencing a succession of spectacularly sunny days in London. What better time than to head for a park! Which one will it be this time? Let’s go for King Edward VII Park, hardly two miles away. Of course, we’d visited it before and there’s my post on it at:

https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2017/10/30/londons-parks/

Parks, however, change with the seasons and there’s always something new to catch and enchant the eye.

King Edward VII Park’s history is of some interest. The idea of holding a great exhibition in Wembley Park had already been mooted in 1902 but this involved the loss of the pleasure gardens created by railway entrepreneur Sir Edward Watkins in the 1890’s. In compensation, land was bought by the council for a replacement park, opened in 1914 and called King Edward VII Park in memory of the king who had died in 1910.

But who was Sir Edward Watkins and what were his pleasure gardens like?

Sir Edward was a railway magnate and had plans to build London’s own Eiffel Tower, making it even taller than Paris’ famous icon. He bought 280 acres of land in Wembley as part of his grand scheme to build a new community. This was to be connected to central London by the Metropolitan railway (now part of London’s underground) of which he was chairman.

The new community was meant to attract inhabitants from the over-crowded disease-infested streets of inner London and provide them instead with sanitary houses and lots of fresh air. The tower and its surrounding pleasure gardens was meant to be the carrot to attract people to his idyllic vision. In this respect Watkins was a pioneer of the garden city movement and precursor of the extensive suburban metroland of the nineteen hundreds.

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Watkins’ park, which boasted a boating lake, waterfall and sports grounds, was opened in 1894 and soon became very popular. Many thousands of people visited it in its first few months. However, construction of the answer to the Eiffel tower went badly and was halted when the first platform had been built. Moreover, the tower was too far from central London to be a real success. Attractions like the London Eye, for example, would not be quite so popular if they were stuck in Wembley!

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With personal money thrown into the scheme and with the absence of visitors Sir Edward Watkins had to throw in the towel and ‘Watkins’s folly’, as it came to be known, or what was completed of it, was eventually demolished in 1906.

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It is a pity that this attraction was never inaugurated. However, to compensate, the building of Wembley stadium for the Empire exhibition in 1923 assured that Wembley would be firmly placed on the map. Moreover, if one laments the possible views one might have had from the completed Watkins tower then one can more than make up with them by the wonderful panorama of London to be obtained from nearby Harrow-on-the-Hill and Horsenden Hill.

Nothing now remain of Watkin’s tower. Even the nearby pub named ‘Watkin’s Folly’ has changed its name.

King Edward VII Park is bigger than it looks and has a good variety of trees including a ginkgo biloba, or maidenhair tree, the oldest living species of tree (there are others at Bagni di Lucca’s Villa Ada and at Lucca’s botanical gardens, for instance.) There are play and keep fit areas, a disused bowling hut (which almost became London’s only Welsh school (now relocated at Feltham), fine views across to Harrow-on-the-Hill, an elegant entrance stairway and the usual scurry of grey squirrels.

Unfortunately the play and sports areas are closed for the duration. However, we noticed that the tennis courts had been illegally appropriated by some people as shown below (how did they get in?).

We found this more unfair than illegal especially as children had now been excluded from their playground.

The park was moderately full of people. After all, can one entirely blame them on a sunny bank holiday week-end so long into lock-down? Some of the visitors were jogging, others were flying kites and there was even a two-some practicing boxing.

Nowhere has the British lock-down been anywhere as strict as that of many other countries, especially Italy where the population is being kept under strict observation with checks by the police and the army. Only now is it being slightly eased. Most areas of London are, frankly, unpoliceable for infractions to lock-down. In spite of many members of the public informing the authorities, for example, of large groups of people not observing social distancing there just would not be the police resources available(although many thousands of fines have already been issued).

Moreover, there is a cultural reason why Italians have observed government dictates so much more closely than in the UK: it’s their much greater fear of catching something than the brits, who are quite happy to wander about even in winter in shorts. Indeed, Italians have been described as hypochondriac. In Italy talking about one’s complaints of the liver is as common as chatting about the weather in the UK, not to mention illnesses involving ‘la cervical’ (cervical spondylitis) and the ubiquitous ‘colpo d’aria’ (sudden blast of air causing a chill).

Of course, all this means that an ineffectual government will prolong the UK’s exit from the crisis much later than any other European nation. In Italy, the government protects its citizens with a single, strong message (which only now is being slightly eased) whereas in the UK, with all the government mixed messages flying around we have to protect ourselves!

 

Horsenden Hill – Horsa’s Tomb

It was a little over a year ago, in the depth of winter, that we last visited Horsenden Hill. On that occasion we noted, accompanied by our photos, on our facebook page the following:

‘A Sunday walk on a cold but sunny day on Horsenden Hill; (i.e. the hill – dun – of the Anglo-Saxon warrior Horsa) which is located in north-west London. Centuries-old forests and views across four counties to Windsor Castle, with a descent, encountering a strange snake, to the canal that reaches Birmingham.’

We returned to this charmed spot in London last week on a lovely, sunny day. Horsenden Hill is an open space in the London Borough of Ealing close to the boundary with the London Borough of Brent. It is one of the highest spots in our local area and rises to 276 ft. above sea level. and is made up largely of ancient woodland and some meadows and glades.

The views from Horsenden’s top are, therefore, very extensive and fine; they include Harrow on the Hill, Wembley Stadium, and extend to the Home Counties of SurreyBerkshire and Buckinghamshire.

The hill’s summit forms part of the site of an ancient Iron Age hill fort  which, in 1978, was declared an Ancient Scheduled monument. It is also the site of a trig point.

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To the south and east Horsenden hill is bound by the Grand Union Canal, now particularly picturesque with its line of long-boats and shady willows.

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Horsenden Farm on the east side of the hill was unfortunately closed for the duration.

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On our previous visit we enjoyed seeing the goats and sheep. On this occasion we merely encountered this monster carved out of a tree trunk!

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We also met up with several humans all of whom I am glad to say respected the social distancing regulations which, thank goodness, are still in operation.  Yet Etonian craziness is now at its peak! On the day that it’s been announced that the UK has the second highest number (32,000+) of dead from Covid-19 in the world, beating even poor Italy – which was so blamed – BJ is announcing easement of lockdown arrangements. Meanwhile MP Nadia Whittome is sacked as carer after speaking out about PPE. …

I just wish the Govt. was as wise as this fellow we met on our peregrinations on Horsenden Hill…

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One Tree Hill

Every journey we take from our house in Brent in this strange time in our Earth’s history is dictated by necessity. Moreover, they should be as near as possible. Recently some bikers were arrested going two hundred miles to a fish and chip shop. I can’t really believe they couldn’t find one closer; we have a fish and chip shop near us and it’s just a five minute walk. For our allowed exercise walk we can’t allow ourselves to take the train to some beauty spot on the Surrey hills (lucky those people who live there). We are, however, fortunate that there is a wide variety of open spaces surrounding us: from the banks on either side of the river Brent to the wide expanse of Fryent park.

One of the fortuitous advantages of being limited to a relatively small area is that unexpected discoveries can be made in the urban landscape whether they be buildings or open spaces.  Of the open spaces we already know Barham Park, described in our post at:

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/barham-park-sudbu

And Canons Park described in my post at:

https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2019/07/15/il-duca-piu-ricco-dinghilterra/

King Edward VII Park is described here:

https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2017/10/30/londons-parks/

Dollis Hill at:

https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2017/10/31/why-visit-dollis-hill/

The Welsh Harp reservoir and open space at:

https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2019/10/23/i-laghi-di-londra/

And Horsenden Hill.

We have since found several more open spaces in our explorations:

One of them is an attractive walk down the river that gives its name to the borough we’re in, the Brent which supplies water both to the Welsh Harp reservoir and to the Grand Union canal. It’s described in our post at:

https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2020/04/20/a-walk-along-the-brent-river/

Another open space we chanced upon is just off the Ealing road. It’s called One Tree hill and is not to be confused with another One Tree hill I know particularly well as it’s near where I used to live in Forest Hill, South London. That one is described in my post at:

https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2019/07/24/la-collina-dellunico-albero/

Since its origin as a hill with a single tree One Tree Hill Park in Brent, has been landscaped with numerous trees and shrubs. Although not very extensive it’s actually quite hilly with a trig point on its highest spot and with wide views towards Harrow on the Hill, Wembley and central London. It’s been enlarged with the site of a former adjacent allotment and is now a recognized wildlife area.

Pleasing features of the park are the seed beds for wild flora which have or are being been laid across its lawns  as can be seen in this photo:

 

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Here is another bed. The picture also shows the shikaras of the Shri Sanatan temple.

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Many of the beds are now profuse with lovely wild flowers:

The park’s grass is now allowed to grow long and provide a natural habitat. There’s a local volunteers society which last year planted over 250 trees during National Tree Week.  The tree species included English oak, silver birch, beech, hornbeam, and alder.

Incidentally, trees do so much for us every day. They give us oxygen, store carbon, improve air quality, conserve water, preserve soil and support wildlife. They also make our communities more beautiful and improve our wellbeing. Trees need our help now and more than ever need to be championed. By planting many more trees and caring for the ones we already have, we can ensure a green, tree-filled future. Have you planted any trees in your life?

On the other side of One Tree (or rather it should now be called many tree park) under a bridge carrying the Piccadilly tube line there’s a passageway leading to the local cemetery. Although clearly tinged with sadness and loss the garden of rest is pleasant enough.

It contains a beautifully kept war cemetery with characteristic sword emblazoned cross with before it a small number of  graves of the fallen. The names on the gravestones show how many shockingly young died.

We are in the midst of another war at the moment against, this time, an unseen enemy. I wonder if there ever will come a time when each part of London will have a second war memorial, this time dedicated to the NHS staff that have died fighting against it and for its victims.