Monday 31 December 2007

Kilburn State Cinema - end of year developments

I have earlier posted about the future of the Kilburn State cinema venue on the Kilburn High Road [] - two major developments have since occurred.

The first is the emergence of a group of residents up for pushing forward a positive agenda for the venue - mindful of its historical and architectural significance to the High Road and locality - but also wanting to see the building back in use and accessible to the public.

To that end we held a vigil on the 70th anniversary of the building being opening on 20th December 1937 - just in time for Christmas.
The was held at short notice but was brilliantly well supported.
Thanks to Councillors Anthony Dunn, Derek Jackson, Janet Grauberg, James King, David Abrahams and Russell Eagling for attending and helping.
A special thanks to Oliver Curry who set up and who sent round an email highlighting the vigil. Also heartfelt thanks to the residents and traders who came along - it was cold and windy!

After some discussion we have now resolved to formalise a group of residents and traders passionate about the buildings significance to establish a clear vision for the future.

The next major development however, is the news that the Kilburn State has been sold by Rank Mecca to the Ruach Inspirational Church of God - based in the UK in Brixton. The good news of this is that it isn't a property developer determined to make proft through exploitation of the site, but it raises a whole load of additional questions.

We will be working with Brent and Camden Councils to try and get a real meaningful dialogue with the new owners and secure some good access for the community - there are lots of ideas - we just now need to get the talking going and the action identified...

Sunday 23 December 2007

'The Pavement' on Mill Lane

Some roads you think you know so well and then 'bingo' you notice a feature for the first time. Yesterday was one of those.

I have been up and down, onto and across Mill Lane, West Hampstead, more often than I can remember and yet I had never noticed this sign that identified 'The Pavement 1888'. Now of course, this range of shops running from 41-83 Mill Lane on the North side are a great little run - inlcuding the famous Mill Lane Post Office.

So a bit of digging in the books at home and the best insights I can currently find is in 'Kilburn and West Hampstead, Weindling and Colloms' which references actor Joss Ackland as saying:

"I remember the little row of shops [The Pavement] around the corner. The sweet shop with liquorice bootlaces - all different colours; Mickey Mouse toffees - twopence a quarter; packets of Imps - tiny sweets made from liquorice with menthol, with the kick of a mule; pennyslabs of choclate - brown and white; packets of sherbet with liquorice straws; bottles of Tizer and fizzy tablets that exploded in the mouth.

"There was a chemist that smelt of camphor and a grocer where the salty rashers of bacon blended with the sweet icing smell of biscuit animals, and a hardware store with bundles of wood to light fires and the smell of parafin lamps, and of course, the newsagent and toy shop with copies of the Buzzer, Magnet, Gem, Champion and Film Fun and many others, sometimes with magnificent free gifts - water pistols, Japanese flowers that erupted from the shells when put in water and divers that bobbed up and down in the bath.

"And there were the soldiers and the cowboys were of lead - penny ones that stood; twopenny ones on horseback and sixpenny knights with removable swords - mounted magnificent and unobtainable."

The row is still a busy parade of shops and of course includes the popular Mill Lane Post Office. The picture here is taken from Mill Lane, where Aldred Road drops down onto it - for reference this is just opposite the top of Holmdale Road.

Monday 17 December 2007

Granny Dripping's Stairs - West Hampstead

There is small footbridge in West Hampstead from where Priory Road meets Broadhurst Gardens. It's just an old railway bridge, but there is something of a story hidden behind it all - the reason why this arouses such comment at all is that it has as a route, gained a lot of traffic since the growth of the O2 Centre on Finchley Road and yet it has lain uncared for and increasingly unpleasant.

Locally the steps are known as Granny Dripping Steps [Granny's Stairs and also Granny Drippen's Stairs/Steps - apparently named from her bread and dripping sandwhiches] - named after the crossing sweeper who at the turn of the 19th/20th Century swept the stairs. The historical suggestion is that she was old ["looking for all the world like the witch in Hansel and Gretel"] and relatively ineffective at clearing the mud and muck that accumulated.

Now we have a need for Granny Dripping to return - in short the stairs are neglected and are a really unpleasant mess - graffiti, overhead wire meshing, broken bottles, litter under the steps and often dog mess... But of course no-one is clear who owns or maintains the steps. The network of rail companies makes for a labrynth of avenues.

So it's a cause that we have agreed to take up - working with Cllr David Abrahams we have started the task of unpicking the various responsibilities and seeing if we can allocate some direct and sustained improvements...

Local resident Jean Austin joined David and I when we looked at the steps and the need for a serious clean-up is pretty self evident - we'll keep you informed.

Friday 14 December 2007

It was cold in West Hampstead last night!

I know it's one of the great British conversation pieces - but blooming heck it was nippy last night.

A pretty hectic round of events, AGMs, christmas drinks and meetings meant I was rushing from location to location.

The new coat was warm but it didn;t cover my ears and I hadn't got gloves so I got the full benefit of the 'chill'.

Just browsing through my computer files this morning, I noticed this (pic left) engraving from Robert Bloomfield's Farmer's Boy first edition (1801) of the winter scene - the attraction of the open fire and it's camaraderie that goes with that I think has just served to remind me of just how cold it was.

In terms of events and activities a huge well done to UCS for the Centenary Carol Service at St John's Parish Church, Hampstead - Poulenc, Rutter and JB (Junior Boys School) singing 'Little Donkey' - what more could you want at Christmas to set the seasonal cheer. :-) You really get a sense that UCS is a learning community - strong, confident, fun, but crucially inquisitive and challenging and it is this that I find impressive.

And Queen's Park Residents Association (also last night) - a very impressive RA and truly with a clear idea of what they should do, how they fight on local issues and keep a really active watching brief over the local area. Cllr Mark Cummins and Emily Tancred were there - I'm always impressed and amazed at just how assiduous and hard working they both are for their area and residents.

I also had some appointments with residents on very specific topics, some considerable number of letters to sign and then the attendant emails and post for the day...

Thursday 13 December 2007

Yep, I like actually handwriting letters...

The now perennial, season and annual debate on the design of our end of year psued Christmas Card was less painful than usual due to a tight timetable - but I'm appending here the main artwork design background for Hampstead and Kilburn Liberal Democrats this year.

I still like Christmas Cards - it feels old fashioned but I have an ink pen, I like writing letters - for me the personal thoughts, news and greetings is a relaxation that reminds me of friends and family of whom I see too little. So the coming week is a joyous prospect of letter and letter and letter again - to the scatter of family and friends - often it's something I allow to spill over into the post Christmas, pre-New Year period... this year, mainly because of the threat of a General Election I have missed too many birthdays so the annual letter write-fest that is Christmas for me will be especially heavy. :-)

When is it too late to try?

Steele's the butchers in Hampstead is to close.
Joe is retiring after a lifetime and so it will cease trading in the near future.

I'm not close to Joe at all - I pop in there occasionally, grateful and delighted to have a local independent butcher - I was in there last week to buy my copy of the Hampstead meat cook book, but is this the sort of thing you try and 'save'?

Linda Chung, the energetic Hampstead village campaigner, hit the nail on the head when she was reported in the Ham and High as saying there should be some kind of planning definition that replaces like-with-like. A formal planning guidance note that stops everything becoming a national/international coffee chain or mobile phone shop... that enables a local council, under request from the community to designate certain shops and locations to certain uses and identities.

There is talk in the village of some residents investing in the butchers (buying it?) and trying to keep it as a going concern, but there are also rumours that it is sold already and will become an office/shop front for a parking enforcement company...

Either way doesn't fill you with huge amount of hope, and I suspect there is more to it all than meets the eye. What I do know is that I care passionately for Hampstead, I love its village atmosphere, the area is the better for independent shops and Flask Walk is one of the most valuable illustrations of this.

'Something must be done' is the easy cry - but the fact is local planning laws are not flexible enough, it would require a Government amendment and no Labour or Tory Government has been prepared to countenance such devolved power... I fear this one will just slip past us and we will all be there to watch and regret it, powerless and sad.

Tuesday 11 December 2007

"Live differently" - living life as a Blakean

I have an interest in romantic 19th century poet Robert Bloomfield. Such an obscure poet (he was the best selling poet of his lifetime and indeed one of the best selling of the entire Victorian period) means you end up referencing your interest by the 'other' more household names.

In the case of Robert Bloomfield these are John Clare and William Blake. Clare was the great articulation of rural england and his reputation is increasingly being restored to public attention - Blake has enjoyed long recognition as illustrator, artist, poet and of course the author of 'jerusalem'. But of course, Blake has acted as an inspiration to many and some, try and lead lives that are actively Blakean...

All three poets have a respective society, but one of the leading champions of William Blake, his work, his lifestyle and beliefs, Peter Cadogan, has passed away:

Here is what others said about him:

And for more on William Blake - this is a good start:

and this is of contemporary interest in placing Blake in context:

Monday 10 December 2007

Libraries - old fashioned, crucial or both?

I have always been a fan of libraries, in fact I'm a lover of books. I have just brought together my whole book collection and it currently occupies more than a square cubit and I can't deny being a little worried for the weight of the floor/flat!

When I was younger libraries were a key part of family life - every wednesday (late night opening to 7.30pm where I grew up) was a trip to the library with my mum and sister and it was just a feature of the week. As a result I have always read a huge amount and just enjoy the book world.
But of course the world has changed and the age of the computer has arrived. So it raises the question - is the age of the library over? Well, judging by the volume of computers in a good modern library then the answer is pretty clear... both live side by side.

There had been some concerns over the future of libraries in both Camden and Brent with the change of political administrations, but it's great to see that in fact there is a rennaissance taking place in Brent. £1.4million in lottery grant for Harlesden Library and a further £300,000 for libraries within the Council budget itself.

I'm very pleased and my committment at least to libraries, books and of course the requisite computers remains. :-)

Overground improvements needed and quickly

The North London Line (now Overground) is for me one of the most impressive bits of London transport links - it goes across London (everything else runs up and down, in and out of the City), it stops in useful places (residential as well as shopping and commercial), it's pretty quick and efficient and for me [sentimental] it feels like a good old fashioned railway line. (Pic of Brondesbury Park station to right)

This is not to say that it is without problems - tatty, neglected, poorly staffed, vulnerable to graffiti and slightly shambolic. But it needs investment and attention and we 'users' need it to work better.

I'm especially keen that the anomaly that is Hampstead Heath in zone 3 should be removed and placed back into zone 2 - Mayor Ken Livingstone has promised it but is now enforcing zone 3 fares (another broken promise?)...

Most of all I think we users need a sustained dialogue with Overground (used to be Silverlink) and so if anyone wants to help with that then drop me a line at or start the debate below in the coments section.

Sunday 9 December 2007

St Pancras's architectural brilliance

I was just re-reading St Pancras Station by Simon Bradley and I was reminded of a tour I organised round the old station hotel buildings before it closed for the full refurbishment that is currently taking place.

It would be a shame not to share these here - St Pancras Station is one of the most dominant buildings of London - an amazing level of detail, quality confirmed by a total sense of place.

The history is that in May 1865 - with the railway station already being constructed - Midland Railway Company launched a competition for the design of a 150 bed hotel.

Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878), put in a grand plan bigger and far more expensive than the specification. But audacity paid off and he was awarded the contract and by 1876 it was open. Cost and scale were lavish:

  • decoration and fittings £49,000
  • furnishings £84,000
  • A toal consturction cost of £437,335
  • The building had 60 million bricks
  • 9,000 tons of ironwork
  • polished columns of fourteen different British granites and limestones.
  • 300-room hotel, charging 14 shillings (70p) a night in 1879 - only six pence (2.5p) more than the famed Langham in Portland Place, W1.
  • Fixtures and fittings in the hotel were to a high standard
  • Special 'new' features including hydraulic 'ascending chambers'
  • concrete floors
  • revolving doors
  • fireproof floor construction

We're now not far from being able to see it all restored to a new and exciting glory - whether it will quite have the army of servants that previously serviced the hotel will remain to be seen...

Thursday 6 December 2007

Promotional adverts for smoking, cigarettes and matches...

After my previous post I have been contacted by several people pointing out old wall adverts that can be seen on and around local streets in Camden.

This advert for matches and cigarettes is on the end of terrace wall on Messina Avenue as it joins the Kilburn High Road, NW6. Of course the location is the key to this being picked back when and to it's surviving now.

The location is highly visible, it's passed every day by thousands, but now of course is there just largely un-noticed. In it's day key advertising location and pre-billboard...

The other element is of course the unfashionable nature today of advertising. It's worth noting that this one has changed and you can see the older advert underneath the current one. Of course, such advertsing for smoking now is just so frowned-upon and indeed limited and restricted.

I'm not an obsessive 'save everything' person and there's not much you would do to preserve this any more than has already survivied but as a small insight of history it is attractive in the most unlikely way...

Tuesday 4 December 2007

Yep, I've fallen in love...

Sierra Leone is perhaps the most amazing place I have ever been to. Friendly, warm, positive... And yet it is racked by the most endemic poverty, corruption and lowest wage levels I have seen.

In terms of all international indices and assessments Sierra Leone is near the bottom of the chart and yet when you are there it doesn't feel like that.

Don't get me wrong - the poverty is highly visible - and indeed I went down the back streets, into the slums and it is truly upsetting and stark. But people are positive, engaging and amazingly positive.

I was first there before the election had really started, but then returned to see the country during the election - few places are so political, seeing politics as a solution, engaging with the process.

Of course, Sierra Leone has a positive relationship with the UK massively enhanced by our role during the war and in particular in taking on the West Side Boys in 2001, but I can honestly say that in our own small way, we as a delegation felt useful.

The work was coordinated by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and we appear to be the only group working directly with the political parties.

There are essentially three large parties now - SLPP (Sierra Leone People's Party), APC (All People's Congress) and the PMDC (Peoples Movement for Democratic Change). The latter - the PMDC - are a new party led by Charles Margai and they eventually led the campaign for change - SLPP have been in power - and amazingly Sierra Leone has voted for change. There is now a coalition of APC and PMDC and the transition of power has been largely peaceful.

The new president Ernest Bai Koroma has a huge responsibility driving forwards change, but he seems to be up for the task and a great advocate for the country to enable them to move forward.

Quite what happens next precisely however is the unknown bit - can the new government tackle the endemic corruption, can living standards increase, can the tax and administrative mechanisms be embedded..? All is possible and there is great optimism, I just hope that it works.

Of course, the other (often unspoken) element is that there is a vast diaspora from Sierra Leone, especially here in London and so much hinges on their reactions and impressions.

The potential for international investment is huge, and I noticed China the other week formalising links with the new Government.

It's a country I want to keep in touch with and am planning a holiday trip sometime in the New Year... Having been around the major population centres (Freetown, Bo, Makeni and Kenema) I now want to see something of the rural areas especially in the deep south and the islands around Bonthe if possible.

For an introduction to Sierra Leone I started on Ismail Beah's memoirs of a boy soldier - it's tough and in places harrowing, but probably the best all round view of what the country has gone through - and yet still retains it's optimism.

Monday 3 December 2007

Trees - our London lifeblood

When I moved back to London I was really struck by the variation in certain areas which had massive amounts of trees and some that just had too few. It seems to me like a bit of a no-brainer really - you just can't have too many trees.

Trees provide us with the oxygen we need to live and sustain life. They clean the air and offer us shade and protection. They provide shelter to an enormous array of wildlife. And most convincing for me - they were here before we were.

So I was more than delighted to see that some re-planting (albeit small scale) had taken placed down Reddington Road and was particularly pleased to see these little notices have been appended on the supportive stake next to each tree:

"Please help water me

"When the weather is dry I will require extra water (dish/bath/vegetable/rain water) over the next few months

"Please water me first thing in the morning at at dusk

"I am watered by contractors but I will need extra help throughout the year"

Replaced by Camden, it reveals the love and affection and professional pride in this planting by the staff and on the back of considerable support for trees and planting across this part of London

London is now every built up, and I have sat through too many discussions where it is explained that trees can't be replaced because of their roots and gorwth interferring with cables, underground etc etc. It seems to me really sad, for example, that the Finchley Road once had trees down the middle of it but now they are a distant memory sacrificed to the development of the car and traffic. Is it too late to bring them back?

I have served on the Hampstead Heath Management Committee for the last two years and have been more than struck at the issues surrounding trees - the way they are nutured and loved, maintained and assisted by the Heath staff who care for them. There are times when we see trees that have been cut back or pollarded and the effect is dramatic (and you tend to assume the nagative) but in fact the work is remedial or medium term and the following year the tree is flourishing again - it's been a real education for me.

Revealing something of my own childhood reading habits, it has certainly brough home to me the significance and depth of Tolkien's chapters on the Tree Ents in Lord of the Rings... an environmental concern at a time when change could have been achieved for the better if more people had understood what we know know about climate, nature and the fragile globe on which we live.

Sunday 2 December 2007

Street furniture you can get excited about?

It's true - you can get excited about street furniture. It's a fake, adopted, sort of local government term - "street furniture", but it applies to basically anything that adds to a street scene (sic) and usually covers benches, lamp-posts, water fountains, bike racks etc.

Most of it tends to be pretty hum-drum and lacking imagination, and you often see stuff that is so terrible that you tut or just have an internal sinking feeling. But just occasionally you see some that is, well, good to excellent...

So this on Station Approach, Kensal Rise was a really pleasant find...

Friday 30 November 2007

Sarah Teather's profile is so strong

I've just had a constituent on the phone - from Swiss Cottage ward - they have rarely voted in elections, they usually watch Question Time and last night they did again. Sarah Teather MP was the Lib Dem on the panel and the constituent says Sarah was truly inspirational. Her clarity, straight answers and plain speaking stood out from the rest of the panel.

It's true of course, Sarah is one of our most articulate, impressive and conscientious MPs and an astonishingly effective media performer, but it is good when people take the time to ring and express it.

I didn't see Question Time (I was at the Camden police meeting - see previous posting), but will be taking time to see it on 'listen again'.
Well done Sarah, keep up the good work.

Wednesday 28 November 2007

When is a police station closure not a closure but an enhanced service?

So, the Asset Management Plan for the London Borough of Camden has been issued by the Metropolitan Police Authority.

It's a genuine, open, transparent process in which local people will fully participate. Ok, ok I'm being a bit cynical but after a two and a half year battle to get some of this stuff into the public domain I think I can be a teeny weeny bit cynical... but it is all deadly serious. The first meeting to discuss this will be on Thursday at 7pm at Camden Town Hall - anyone can come along and see if the police are listening... I'll be there.

I do hope that the consultation is genuine and that a real dialogue can happen - and that the this can comprise the community (genuinely and not a traditional police tokenistic approach), the London Borough of Camden (who are property asset rich and also need strong visible community presence), the Corporation of London (who have the Hampstead Heath Constabulary locally), the Royal Free Hospital and the University College London Hospital (the hospitals have some of the highest crime rates) and the CPCCG (Camden Policy Consultative Community Group).

The bottom line of the Plan is that the Police are about to change the nature of policing in the local area. What are the changes?
  1. There will at last be a new state-of-the-art custody suite to tackle finally the disgrace that currently exists across the Borough

  2. There will be high street shop fronts occupied by Safer Neighbourhoods Team (this will be the preference over old stuffy traditional police station counters)

  3. Patrol Police will be moved out of all (including West Hampstead and Hampstead - pictured) Police Stations and placed in a central warehouse building (yet to be identified) in central Camden.

  4. Two of the six current police stations (Hampstead and Kentish Town) will cease to fulfill that function in the lifespan of the current plan (3-5 years).

  5. Hampstead Police Station (a significant site for which the police own the freehold valued at £10-14million) will be disposed of.

So what's the problem?

No-one doubts the need for custody suites - the current situation is disgraceful and has led to tragedy and legitimate accusations of neglect by the police. But this has been used against the host of current buildings as a whole. The failings in custody have been used to condemn all the current police facilities and that doesn't seem quite right. I believe that the case for custody suite improvements should not be held up by wider debate, but as so often the case with law reform and unfashionable causes the facilities for the accused slip off the agenda unless trumpeted by the brave (often the few).

The Plan talks variously about pre-1935 and pre-1940 buildings as though they are of their nature all flawed. This ignores the failure of the Police Estates Team to maintain and develop their buildings and reflects what has been outright neglect of the buildings they hold in trust for the community. This is further exacerbated when you realise that any sale of any land asset will not go to the respective Borough but into the MPA central London-wide coffers. The fact is old buildings can be modernised. If they sold, for example Hampstead Police Station, are they suggesting that the developer would replicate the small rooms, disconnected by corridors etc? The reality of course is that any developer would open the building up into real space that can be used, indeed probably even lived in or dined in! Why don't the police do that and make it operational space again?

The Police are reassuring us that they will replace like for like, and indeed it will often be better facilities. But of course the foundations they are constructing are incredibly flimsy. Safer Neighbourhoods is new, barely conceived, let alone tested, and to take front line counter services out of freehold owned Police Stations and place them into leasehold rented shop-fronts creates a risk. It will expose much of our policing resource to the annual battles and strains of budgets and cuts in the future - I don't think policing should be put in that position.

Patrol Police - this is the most interesting. As well all know there is some truth to the adage that 'everything is local' but with policing this is especially the case. One of the reasons the public feel reassured by local police stations that have stood the test of time is that the police based in them know the local area. They know what is and isn't a one way street in Hampstead, they know which roads you can turn right off of on the Finchley Road, they know the boundaries and railway bridges on the Kilburn High Road etc etc. By creating a central command centre (which the police describe as a Patrol Base) then there will be none of this familiarity, none of the attachment and loyalty and areas will legitimately risk feeling like they are nelegected by the reduced sustained visibility.

It is this last point that is the most objectionable. I believe that the withdrawal of these uniformed police from West Hampstead and Hampstead Police Stations is a major conundrum for Fortune Green, West Hampstead, Frognal, Hampstead, South End Green, Belsize. In short, many areas, often outlying (often places close to Borough boundaries), will see fewer police on the streets, we will find there is a lower level of police knowledge and it will lead to a lower standard of crime fighting than we deserve. It will be too easy to neglect residential areas in favour of commercial areas, teams will be swapped around, the traditional police base will be miles away from the boundaries of the Borough and we will see the effects through absence rather than activity.

Further, and crucially I do not believe that there will be anything like the commitment to the shop front strategy from the 'operational police' who will regard it as the remit of the 'Safer Neighbourhood Teams'.

This latter point has particular credence if you read any of the police trade press or follow the debate on Community Police Support Officers versus fully fledged Police Officers (the difference strikes me as a bit strained and narrow, but it is a fact that there is a divide and it's a current debate. This is not dissimilar between the debate of teachers versus teaching assistants).

So, the Borough Commander (Mark Heath) has promised that the consultation is genuine, and open and transparent - indeed he has to his credit asked for extra time for the consultation as it's happening over the christmas new year period, but I have significant doubts. Why do I doubt his word?

Well, the following pages in the report have assumptions that the report is fixed in stone and will be implemented in due course once the consultation is over!

  • Page 4, last line "This document... gives details of the changes and developments planned over the next three years"

  • Page 5 penultimate para "We will start to implement the proposals in this plan at the earliest opportunity"

  • Page 9 "Over the next 5 sections we will introduce to you the key parts of the future Met police Estate for the borough and explain why these facilities are needed"

  • Page 11 "It is our intention to move these teams to permanent bases... as soon as suitable bases become available."

  • Page 13 "This would be a new style of police base... Potential sites are now being sought for this facility".

As I said, the first meeting to discuss this will be on Thursday at 7pm at Camden Town Hall - anyone can come along and see if the police are listening... I'll be there.

Save the old visible painted wall adverts!

There's quite a few old visible painted wall adverts round here in North West London and I'm taking pictures as I go - and it seemed worth sharing them.

On the side of walls, usually in commercial shopping areas, there are quite a few old painted wall adverts that are still visible. Clearly fading, but not yet obscured, they are left to brave the elements.
I noticed that one in West Hampstead had been cleaned away recently and also on the Finchley Road, but this nice old from from West Hampstead Mews has hung on... There's another really good one on the Kilburn High Road which I'll try and capture in the next few days when I pass it next.

I just think it adds some real character to the area. A mate of mine commented that they have the same definition of old medieval paintings that are sometimes uncovered in churches - I'm not sure I'd go that far, but you get the idea...

Monday 26 November 2007

NW3 Hampstead triumph

That's the end of the year then! The christmas lights have been switched on in Hampstead village - to my mind there is no surer sign that the year is coming to a close, the nights are so drawn in as to be closed and I've not done all the shopping I need to do.

So it's a huge well done to NW3Hampstead - the traders association for Hampstead village. Driven by the amazingly energetic Linda Chung with the help of a host of local shopkeepers and managers, it's a genuine effort to raise the profile and raise some good seasonal cheer. The musicians pictured above were just great and played for hours in what was pretty cold weather.

Gail Porter brilliantly hosted the Hampstead Christmas Show from 1pm and at 4.15pm Jon Culshaw did the actual deed of switching on the lights.

It's well done all round - the musicians who played all day, The William IV, Tesco, Mirage, the Ham and High, Keith Winn of Photo Craft, Jonathan Bergman of Amberden Estates, the various stewards (including the hat Chris Mason was wearing) - everyone who took part, joined in, came along and expecially those of you who gave to the charities.

And of course, thanks to Santa Claus for being there.

Friday 23 November 2007

Well done Sarah Ludford and Jonathan Fryer

Well it's good news for residents in Hampstead and Kilburn that Sarah Ludford and Joanthan Fryer have been selected as our first and second placed candidates for Members of the European Parliament for London.

Sarah is currently the MEP for London and Jonathan missed out on winning the second seat last time by a very narrow margin of votes.

Sarah has been very supportive with our campaign to save the Kilburn State and Jonathan works in Camden and was my running mate in Hampstead Town ward in 2006 local elections.

Pic one is Sarah signing the Kilburn State petition with Nick Russell, Cllr James King, me and Cllr Anthony Dunn.

Pic two is me, Linda Chung and Jonathan - the local Town and Around Team for Hampstead.

Thursday 22 November 2007

West End, West Hampstead, Fortune Green

The top corner of Camden is the ward of Fortune Green, previously the ward of West End - it's a lovely part of the borough and in broad terms the area is framed by Cricklewood, Kilburn High Road/Shoot Up Hill and Finchley Road.

It's represented by Lib Dem Cllrs Flick Rea, Russell Eagling and Jane Schopflin and is home to Hampstead School (of which I am a Governor), Hampstead Cemetery (the early 19th century overflow from Hampstead Parish Church), West Hampstead Community Centre, the UCS playing fields and Fortune Green itself.

The Green running along Fortune Green Road is a great open space with a play area which hosts the Jester festival each year. A group of residents wanting to get improvements in the local area have called a small meeting to push for local improvements. I think it's a really good initiative and can only enhance what is great open space.

Flick and I have met on several occasions to discuss small improvements and indeed further down Fortune Green Road, on the corner of West End Lane and Mill Lane there is another green space with a lovely old water fountain just by Emmanuel Church, Lyncroft Gardens (Flick and I pictured talking about one of the many clean-ups we have pushed for).

I'm a member of the Friends of Hampstead Cemetery - it's a great place to wander around, serene, peaceful and curiously amusing: I particularly like the gravestone of Charles Cowper Ross, which reads:
What will be said,
When I am dead,
Of what I used to do?
They liked my smile?
I failed with style?
Or, more than likely, "Who?"

And of course the actress Gladys Cooper is buried there which is a particular interest of mine...

Tuesday 20 November 2007

North End or Bull and Bush Tube station anyone?

It's hard to appreciate that the tube lines servicing Hampstead (pictured) and Belsize are 100 years old this year - opened in 1907 by David Lloyd George (the Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway) the Northern Line was a major link between 'rural' and inner London.

Hampstead as an village started to expand following the opening of the North London Railway in the 1860s (now the North London Line previously operated by Silverlink and now Overground) and expanded further after the Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway opened in 1907 (now part of the Northern Line) and provided fast travel to central London.

There are three elements that I find interesting:
  • Hampstead is supposed to be the deepest tube on the tube network - caused mainly by the tube being build deep into what is actually a very deep hill. But you can still get mobile phone signal at the bottom of the lift shaft!

  • Belsize has a second world war deep bunker which is still in part visible from the street.

  • A further tube station was started for construction at North End but never completed.

I'm fascinated by the history of the North End station. Apparently the station was designed to serve the top of the heath, up near Jack Straw's Castle. It had been planned by Yerkes but opposed both by key dignitaries in Hampstead and the local preservationists. Accordingly plans were changed so that the location was moved to a point just across the borough boundary. On this basis platforms, but not access shafts, were actually constructed for a station.

It was at this point that the intended name for the tube stop was changed from North End to Bull and Bush. The station, which never opened, was used for storage of archives in the First and Second World Wars.

Anyone out there know any more? I sense a long walk around North End to locate any vestige of this construction...

On the Belsize bunker (pictured) it goes something like this: after heavy bombing in mid-1940, it was decided to build deep shelters in October. Eight shelters were commissioned and completed in 1942 beneath existing underground stations. Of these seven were on the Northern Line. They consisted of two parallel tunnels about 1200 feet long, divided into two floors. Each 100ft underground and contained 8000 bunks, canteen and hospital facilities. Now you can still see the bunkers...

There's more on the development of Belsize, Hampstead and the local area here:

Part of Kilburn has passed away...

I have posted below a notice and tribute to a local resident Peter Cadogan who has died.

I only knew Peter for the last three years, but if anyone could claim to be "Mr Kilburn" then it was him. He had a great line about a 13th century Abbot of St Albans failing to take the chance to re-unite Kilburn into one parish and that explained why it was still administratively split between Camden and Brent. He would then go on to lament the lack of investment and opportunity that flowed from that false but ancient administrative dividing line.

He contacted me in the run-up to the 2005 General Election to urge me to understand Kilburn better and he showed me around some of the local estates, he supported our campaign that residents be heard before the reconstruction of the main railway bridge - he was a regular responder to the FOCUS grumble sheet...

He cared for the community he lived in and he will be sorely missed. A part of Kilburn has passed away.



It is with great sorrow that I have to inform you that Peter Cadogan died in his sleep early on Sunday 18th November. His daughter, Clare, was with him and his brother, Jack, had visited him the previous evening. Peter’s will to live shone through as the inevitable approached: he kept sinking and then recovering, sleeping then wide awake. His mind was alert but his breathing was difficult and, of course, he slept a lot. There must have been at least 70 people who came to see him during those 10 days in St Mary’s and, except for the last few, he recognised everyone. He and I sorted out the key papers for an anthology, Clare and Jack discussed the Memorial planned for St James Piccadilly, and grand-daughter, nieces and nephews read the cards, telephone and email messages from those people who could not make it. He even recited some Blake poems and spoke movingly of Blake’s Jerusalem on Plate 99 which the moving force of the Society, Tim Heath, brought in for him to see once more. He seemed to enjoy the lively debates that sprung up between a bewildering procession of friends and admirers gathered around his bed. He was told by, choosing a few at random, Professor Kevin Morgan, John Rather of The New Ireland Group, James Robertson, former colleagues in South Place Ethical Society, those in Values and Visions, Kilburn Councillors, former comrades and activists on the left of their love and appreciation of his life’s work. He was the most expelled man from leftwing groups in the land but kept the admiration, love and friendship of all those with whom he disagreed.

What a Man!

John Rowley

The Kilburn State - the final closing days

I've put in here some of my pics of the Kilburn State: the alabaster cornices, the second foyer staircase chandelier, the main foyer in all it's carved marble glory and the old bingo score board.
This last pic is how most local people will have known the Kilburn Gaumont State - as a bingo hall.

Mecca Bingo have been in the State cinema building since the 1980's and have actually maintained the interior really well. This picture just reflects the state on the very last day as the fixtures were being taken down and the building was being cleared for final closure.

I was fortunate enough to get in with my camera and grab a few pictures...

Monday 19 November 2007

Kilburn - the closer you live, the better it gets...

The slogan is "Kilburn High Road (KHR) the closer you look the better it gets". Now I have moved proper I get greater immediate access to Kilburn and it's communities.

It's an amazing place and one that has a depth and a richness few have appreciated. To the communities who live on it and off of it, it has a variety and an atmosphere that is almost enchanting.

Coming out of Kilburn Tube station at the foot of Shoot Up Hill you have the amazing railway bridge mural with the allusions to HG Wells, the irish traditions andGeorge Orwell. Moving down the High Road you see rising up either side the raft of multi-occ houses that have been the basis for the transitional community - first and dominantly the Irish, subsequently younger people ('cos it's low cost) and now a rich variety of european and migrant workers. There are still some vestiges of the old 50's/60's/70's room-to-let culture if you look up and spot the old VACANCY signs - including the "DHSS accepted".

Brondesbury Station on the North London Line is one of the most neglected stations around - roll on the Overground re-vamp - but many will be interested to know that it was once called Edgware Road and only later re-named.

Of course the big issue for Kilburn is it's sheer accessibility - it's the old Watling Street of the Roman Empire - the first british motorway from Londinium (London) to Verulamium (St Albans). First for the Romans - subsequently the boundary for the Danelaw and Wessex and then the pilgrimage route to St Albans - often from Canterbury.

The Tricycle Theatre has become a jewel in Kilburn's crown with it's tradition of Irish and subsequently Black cultures. It was first the home for English photographer William Friese Greene in the 1880's. He was identified as the 'father of the motion picture' by British film-makers before Thomas edison took all the credit. :-)

The Kilburn Gaumont State is one of the most iconic landmarks of the High Road - built in 1937 it was the largest cinema in Europe seating 4,004 people (and had standing room for the next film showing for a further 4,000 people!). The State became a live music venue and had most of the greats of the 60's and 70's inclduing The Stones, Beatles and Frank Sinatra. Since 1980's it has been a cinema but has now sadly closed with an uncertain future. If you have been in you will know what a gem it is and the foyer itself is truly amazing...

Kilburn Grange Park is just great space and sits behind The Black Lion (stunning pub architecture inside and out) and also the Sir Colin Campbell - a long standing 'Irish' pub that still retains its character.

Kilburn Market - constructed on the Wessex side of the road- so taxes didn't have to be paid in Danelaw! - is a rich tapestry of virtually everything and still has the hussle and bussle atmosphere. It need an overhaul and some investment but is crucial part of Kilburn today.

And finally just off the Kilburn High Road Bridge you have the actual physical remains of the old roman walls of what was a fort (prob 1st century) and also of Kilburn Priory - originally run by Nuns and mentioned in 1134 and subsequently sold and demolished following the Henry VIII dissolution. But the physical remains are visible to see, but lie largely unknown and un-noticed.

For me today the real issue is that for too long this great trading route - Kilburn High Road - which has created such a vibrant attitude has been a great divider. Not so much drawing the community together but acting as a barrier to the development and improvement. This is most starkly brought together today when you learn that the east side is in Camden and the west side is in Brent. In fact the south is then in Westminster and the north then in Barnet. few places have been so split by local government boundaries.

The new parliamentary constituency - which melds together part of Sarah Teather's Brent East and Glenda Jackson's Hampstead & Highgate to create a new constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn provides a chance to draw together all of the respective strengths of an amazing community and set of traditions and place them all within the community of Kilburn. it's a development I intend to play a small part in - Kilburn deserves it and local residents will benefit from it.

I've watched, read, commented - time to post

Ok ok
It's been a while and I have waited and held back
But I have now given in and agreed to post a blog
I read several of you over the years and have been drawn to it but held off - having too much already to do
However, now seems as good a time as any and every long journey, small step etc etc.
Lib Dem PPC Hampstead and Kilburn
Some time local government activist