Located in the triangular vacuum created by the traffic vortex of Addison Road, the second-rate shopping of Kensington High Street and the splendid rococo weirdness of Holland Park, Melbury Road might be the most discreet tourist attraction in London. There are more commemorative decorations here than living inhabitants, and even they look to be turned into blue plaques sooner rather than later; Michael Winner spent most of his life resident in the Norman Shaw-designed No.31, and not to suggest I have a death wish for Jimmy Page (who owns the Tower House, pictured above, itself once occupied by Aleister Crowley) or anything, but I really do hate Led Zeppelin. Of the dead, notable are painter Luke Fildes, William Hamo Thornycroft, Holman Hunt, Marcus Stone (who illustrated the serialisations of Dickens’s later works) and Michael Powell, a film director who was famous for, uh, making films rather than being rude to restaurant staff and appearing in viral insurance adverts.
Given its decidedly necropolitan character, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to suggest there might be something a little stalkerish about those few sightseers who do venture up the street, even if they are posing as connoisseurs of bravura Victorian architecture or as overspill from the nearby Leighton Museum. The pavements are more often than not deathly quiet, but since January distraught fans of the late Fat Pig Diet author have been holding a stubborn vigil outside his former residence. When last I happened to find myself traversing Melbury Road’s noble concourse (as a keen supporter of the Leighton Museum and, uh, connoisseur of bravura Victorian architecture myself), I couldn’t help but notice this sorry fellow:
The Winner takes it all (forgive me).
Stop what you’re doing and get your wallet out. The second issue of TREMORS magazine is now out in selected shops across London, most of which are fabulous, independent and well worth a visit should you find yourself at a loose end in their respective vicinities. I know it’s terribly unfashionable to, y’know, buy words printed on paper these days, but the new number really is a very fine-looking object- no artfully rumpled tote bag is quite complete without a copy.
Helmed by the ever-stylish Maksymilian Fus Mickiewicz, TREMORS is an independently-published title that focusses on Architecture and Art. Highlights of the new number, which concentrates on “Outsider” forms and architectural teratology, include Maks’s interview with the indestructible Jonathan Meades, Hannah Newell’s analysis of Grayson Perry’s A House for Essex and my own article on Ferdinand Cheval, the eccentric postman who built a palace in his back yard. TREMORS 2 also takes in everything from rebarbative visionary 19th Century literature to post-ironic electronica- and if you’re wondering what either of those things are, buy the magazine, ‘cos I’m giving nothing away.
My friend Lily pointed this out to me a while ago; while I can’t say I’ve ever dared cross its threshold, any place that offers both fried fish and disco music must be worth the risk of food poisoning.
I was born next door to Paddington station, so perhaps it’s no surprise that I’ve ended up arsing around its environs, stroking my chin and taking crap photographs. This post is basically a pun (which, I must say, I’m rather pleased with) in search of a point, but hopefully the buildings look nice enough to justify its existence.
Great Western Hotel, Praed Street: ‘…one of the earliest buildings in England with the marked influence of the French Renaissance and Baroque… a crushingly Victorian programme, in stucco (although stone was intended)’ Pevsner, The Buildings of England, London 3: North West
Paddington Station, I.K. Brunel & Matthew Digby Wyatt, 1850- ‘… this is no ordinary station… It is subtle, unexpectedly allusive, where St Pancras and King’s Cross are grand and straightforward. The plan belongs to a cathedral, not a railway station… it has the same kind of lyric poetry as the best rooms in the Soane Museum; so the result has to be taken all at once and not broken into constituents. It makes the other lines look uncultured and obvious, and by all accounts this was the effect of the pre-War GWR. Buy this Keats sonnet for the price of a platform ticket or see it from the high-level footbridge up at the far end, which takes you almost up to the roof’ Ian Nairn, Nairn’s London
The station, from the Bishop’s Bridge Road
The Hallfield Estate, Tecton, then Drake & Lasdun, 1947-1955:
I’ve always thought this estate looked like a massive pile of Jenga blocks. ‘…(it was) deliberately at odds with the stuccoed streetscape of the neighbourhood. The estate was intended as a radical model for the borough of Paddington’s post-war rehousing programme… it was one of the first post-war estates to include comprehensive communal amenities such as primary schools, shops, laundry etc… Hallfield also made a determined effort to break with the convention in other ways and show that working-class housing should not be merely utilitarian in appearance… the aesthetics of the ten and six-storey slabs are those of abstract art, one of the most confident and rigorous applications of such principles in Britain at the time’. Pevsner, The Buildings of England, London 3: North West
Paddington Fire Station
The Battleship Building, Harrow Road. Built in 1969 as a railway maintenance depot, I will always remember it as the HQ of high street clothes chain Monsoon. Driving into London with my Mother, it was a first landmark that signified the beginning of the city as I then knew it. Built astride the Westway, it has become a topotrope of London-set film and TV, livening up countless in-car scenes in everything from Chris Petit’s Radio On to BBC1′s recent drama Sherlock.
When I was really young, my family lived next door to Joe Strummer. I don’t remember much about this period, but he was, by all accounts, a complete pain in the arse. Perhaps this is why despite quite liking some of their music, I’ve never been able to admit to liking The Clash- or maybe it’s just ‘cos, well, they were a bit fucking silly, weren’t they? Nice songs, shame about the moronically earnest boyscout “politics” and Action Man-meets- The Godfather dresscode. Not a good look.
Anyway, I rather like this slightly rubbish bit of retrospective commemoration. London doesn’t really go in for the whole culture-of-memory thing, which in my books is a bit of a shame. When I’m particularly bored, I like to plan my tube journeys on Simon Patterson’s iconic Great Bear. According to Patterson’s map, I make regular journeys from Vasari, Spinoza and, err, Gary Lineker back to my home station, Robert E Peary. Sounds a lot better than Brixton to West Brompton via Victoria, doesn’t it? In Paris, they name serene Boulevards, elegant Métro stations and triumphal Avenues after their cultural heroes; in London, we celebrate our notables by slapping their names onto dingy pedestrian subways. Whether or not the former John Mellor would’ve approved, we can but speculate…
Not living in Barnes (why else would anyone visit it?), I have precious little reason to cross this rather fine bridge. Designed by Joseph Bazalgette, it was built between 1883 and 1887, replacing an earlier structure, the foundations of which it rests on. As a vehicle crossing, it’s not up to much; a friend of mine from Notting Hill who went to primary school on the Barnes side grew up chanting the nursery rhyme London Bridge with a slightly altered lyric:
Hammersmith Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down
Despite its severe weight restrictions, the bridge was a primary target for the German invasion plan of 1940. Given that it can barely support off-peak traffic, I wonder how it would have coped with a regiment of Panzers rolling over it…
Thankfully, we will never know. For any reader who has ever watched Jules Dassin’s fantastic noir Night and the City, however, Hammersmith Bridge will have sinister connotations for different reasons entirely; the parapet in this photo is where the protagonist, expat lowlife Harry Fabian, meets his end at the hands of burly Maltese gangsters. It’s a bleak conclusion to an unrelentingly crepuscular film- but don’t let that put you off…
This might be my favourite roundabout in Central London; admittedly, that’s not saying a great deal, but it’s nonetheless a great bit of civic planning. Doesn’t that tree/bush thing make it look exotic? The Garden Museum and Lambeth Palace are like an English vernacular version of the minarets of Qom, as seen from the desert.
It’s very inviting- every time I walk past it on the Westminster Embankment, I get powerful urges to cross the river to the strange and alluring lands beyond. What could possibly lie on the other side of this tropical traffic island? Join me, fellow travellers, as I embark on an historic passage to… Kennington.
The romanticism stops here, I suppose, but still it stands out as an accidentally brilliant advert for South London.
Happy Valentine’s… bleughh.