Wednesday 30 January 2008

The things you see and take for granted

I found time to pause and look up along the Kilburn High Road the other day and have now sorted out and picked out what I think are this illuminating set of pics - nothing much, but just little insights into the vibrancy and history of the area.

Picture 1:
GW & AE Thomson Ltd
It's a great old metal sign from an age now slipping out of view - magnificently the shop beneath is still a jewellers - I do think that this needs either the building owner to leave the sign up or to take it down now and put it in the Museum of Kilburn (whenever that comes about! - perhaps Kilburn Library or one of the archive offices should take the sign now with the owners agreement?)

Picture 2:
The Tricyle Cinema and Theatre has a landmark status now for the area leading on Irish and Black traditions, drama and culture. The Theatre opened in 1980 in the old Forresters Hall (the Forresters shop front still survives in full operational status) before being burnt down in 1987 and rebuilt opening in 1998. The sign on the KHR is just great and I love the tricycle mechanism just inside this open hallway also (well worth a look if passing) - and has a great little coffee bar inside.

Picture 3:
The Black Lion Pub is just an architectural masterpiece of it's type - great street presence, well maintained, and inside - well, it just takes our breath away. It has the best of pub architecture and probably my best and favourite pub for aesthetics. I have other critieria such as atmosphere, beer quality, fond memories etc. that put other pubs high up my list. But the long and short is if you haven't been in this pub you are really missing something.

Pic 4:
Vacancy board on the High Road. This dates back to a time when the High Road was identified as the heart land of temporary and indeed very packed bed and breakfast boarding. I suspect that it was areas such as this that generated the definition of 'garret' in old parlance. I'm told that this sign is the last one of what used to be one on every building advertising vancies - the Old Bell used to have boards showing vacancies and that this little sign is one of the last vestiges of the need for hundreds of rooms for rent from the days of the thousands of Irish workers who moved into the area and were very mobile and transient when they first got here...

Picture 5:
The old sign advertising the newspaper of record: THE KILBURN TIMES. Founded in 1867 the Kilburn Times has outlived all of the other newspapers of Kilburn and area. papers it has seen off have included Kilburn & Queen's Park Post, Kilburn Free Press, and Kilburn News and the Kilburn Post. I'm told that this sign dates from the 1970's and has been updated at various times.

Picture 6:
My favourite: the old cigarette wall painting advert - previously covered in the blog and reproduced here because it is my favourite picture.

Tuesday 29 January 2008

The high cost of restoration

The TV programme Restoration has raised the profile, expectation and indeed raised the bar on restoration projects. These are usually buildings and usually have a strong architectural draw - as I understand it the communities who lead the campaigns have two main strands - local people who know and love and those who gained a benefit years previously.

In this part of London one of the most famous and to my mind impressive restoration projects around is St Stephen's Church, Pond Street, NW3.

It's featured on this excellent website: under churches. You also get a great sense of the grandeur under

The trust driving the restoration camapign deserve high praise and can be contacted on

In brief the trust exists to repair and restore St Stephens Church, Rosslyn Hill, NW3. The first stage of the works has been completed, including underpinning, a new floor structure and windows repaired and replaced.

The second stage began at the end of 2006, to install a Lifelong Learning Centre and lettable space into the lower ground floor, the space being let to a local school. The income from the lettable space will ensure the survival of the building but further funding and donations are still being sought.

I have attended a few plays in the church, been round the markets and open days - it's well worth supporting as a restoration project - I'd recommend it. There's no other way the high cost can be met.

Friday 25 January 2008

The Spotlight record of "all year round and certainly not just at election time"

The Spotlight Team all year round and not just at election time is a mantra we know and love in Fortune Green and West Hampstead.

The main reason it is so good is that it is true - for 32 years the Liberal Democrats (and the predecessor parties) have produced and delivered the Spotlight newsletter month after month, year after year.

And it's not a propaganda piece - it deals with real street and resident issues. Over the years it has dealt with virtually every possible topic.

So, with the by-election date set for 21st February Nancy Jirira is putting herself forward to be the new member of the local Lib Dem Spotlight Team. Flick Rea leads the team and is backing Nancy to win in the election.

Nancy herself is no stranger to Spotlight - having lived in the area for 30 years it's a publication she knows well.

So what's the significance of the leaflets? In short it is one of the core beliefs and approaches for liberal and democrats - that elected politicians should keep in touch, that they are better representatives from such interactions and that if you seek to represent residents you should give them a chance to know what you are doing and feedback comments, suggestions and more. The belief in community politics as a philosophy was articulated in the Liberal party in the 1970's and has taken root up and down the country - Fortune Green ward (and before that West End ward) has been a beneficiary from those early days... and with the support of local residents, many many more to come.

Thursday 24 January 2008

It's so good when you have an amazing candidate

The Fortune Green by-election has been set for Thursday 21st February and the Lib Dem candidate will be Nancy Jirira. Nancy works in health care, know the local area really well, lives in Sarre Road in the middle of the ward and is just really enthusiastic to work with the community.

I can genuinely say that Nancy would be a superb councillor for the local area - she know the patch, she get's on really well with Flick Rea and Russell Eagling (the other two ward councillors) and anyone meeting her will sense her charm and energy.

More to follow, but hey - I'm really pleased and excited...

Wednesday 23 January 2008

Queen's Park squirrels with demon eyes

I loves this pic of what was an incredibly tame squirrel - I just clicked my teeth and it came hopping over to me...

So some definition of what we are looking at from wikipaedia:

Squirrels are generally clever and persistent animals. In residential neighborhoods, they are notorious for eating out of bird feeders, digging in potted plants either to bury or recover seeds, and for inhabiting sheltered areas. While many companies sell bird feeders which are supposedly "squirrel-proof", very few of them really are. Although expert climbers, squirrels also thrive in urban environments that are largely free of trees.

Squirrels are sometimes considered pests because of their propensity to chew on various edible and inedible objects. This characteristic trait aids in maintaining sharp teeth, and because their teeth grow continuously, prevents over-growth. Homeowners in areas with a heavy squirrel population must keep attics and basements carefully sealed to prevent property damage caused by nesting squirrels. (A squirrel nest is known as a "drey", especially in Britain.) Fake owls and scarecrows are generally ignored by the animals, and the best way to prevent chewing on an object is to coat it with something to make it undesirable.

Squirrels can be trained to be hand-fed. Because they are able to cache surplus food, they will take as much food as is available. Squirrels living in parks and in cities have learned that humans are typically a ready source of food. Hand feeding is not recommended, however, because squirrels may carry animal-borne diseases. Even if they do not carry disease, they often have a hard time telling fingertips from food, and bites are painful. Squirrels are occasionally kept as household pets, provided they are selected young enough and are hand raised in a proper fashion.

They can be taught to do tricks, and are said to be as intelligent as dogs in their ability to learn behaviors. In these cases, a large cage with ample access to water and a balanced diet with good variety will keep a pet squirrel healthy and happy. As a pet, the owner must be aware of "spring fever" at which time a female pet squirrel will become very defensive of her cage, thinking of it as her nest, and will become somewhat aggressive to defend the area.

Urban squirrels have learned to get a great deal of food from over-generous humans. One of the more common and inexpensive foods fed to squirrels is peanuts. Recent studies however have shown that raw peanuts contain an inhibitor that prevents the absorption of protein in the intestine.
So there we go then...

Sunday 20 January 2008

Stucco patterns and the skill of pargeting!

I found the most amazing visage when I was down Clifford Gardens before christmas and finally today was down there with my camera. In short, every single house has a decorative feature on the front gable end - it looks like just floral decoration - and that I thought was that.

But in fact on closer inspection you realise that every single gable is different. Most are indeed floral, many are psuede gothic - others are very contemporary and date the street (1896). One of them depicts two scouts playing cricket with their tent pitched up.

According to my local history they were built by Charles Langler (sic Langler Road) and Charles Pinkham (sic Pinkham Way on the North Circular) and they in turn employed local firms to decorate the houses with stucco patterns.

The technique is known as pargeting and makes the street incredibly distinctive. Take the time and have a walk down there - not least cos when you do you will be walking across the site of what used to be the National Athletic Ground - Queens Park Rangers early ground (one of many) - opened in 1890

Friday 18 January 2008

Why Overground need to listen to a Users Group for the North London Line

The North London Line (I assume it is still called the North London Line even though it's part of Overground) is being gradually tidied up - or at least new signs are going up and handrails are being painted.

But frankly I'm looking for a bigger shift than just the paint colour. Now we do have the security guards, but there's a bit of work needed on some of the customer service based on my experience - and I'm using about 4-5 different stations a week - and some fixture repairs are going on.

My picture here is of a dumping area at Kensal Rise that needs cleaning up - it's pretty grim, use an area used for putting full bin bags and is generally being used as a storage space for rubbish and becoming an eyesore. it's not the only one - it is just one example I saw when i had the camera.
But there is a still a further catalogue of repairs and enhancements that are needed:
- the graffiti at Brondesbury
- the awful awful wire security fence at Finchley Road and Frognal
- the bike rack in the wrong place at Hampstead Heath

- the lack of screens in the various ticket halls which mean you have to swipe your oyster card to go in and find out if a train is due (yes, I know there is a printed timetable, but trains on this line are frequently late and the screen is the only way of finding out actually likely departure times).
Oh, and when the trains are cancelled I hope that there is a better system in future than this one I caught on a recent sunday...
Yes, the piece of flip chart paper says "NO TRAINS FROM THIS STATION 12.30 TODAY
02/12/07 Sunday"
And the even more amusing piece of tape over the Oyster swipe card point says "NO TRAINS TODAY."
To be fair these were put up by a member of staff who 'happened to be there' and who was trying to be helpful - but it didn't feel very professional and did nothing to assist the people who had bought tickets cos the machine is separate from the swipe point or the stairs to the platforms...
For these reasons and more I'm very keen to accelerate setting up a Users Group for the 6 affected stations - please do get in touch. I'm hoping to get a meeting sorted in the next week or so and will let everyone know.

Thursday 17 January 2008

A Users Group for the North London Line?

For too long the North London Line has sat neglected and tatty. It is without a doubt one of the most useful lines of transport in London - for starters it goes across London (east west) rather than the perennial north south, second it stops in places people live in rather than just shopping centres (such as Brondesbury Park) and third it goes to really useful places (connecting at Willesden Junction, down to both Stratford and Kew).

However, for a long time now it has felt low grade - unstaffed at night, poorly lit, subject to a lot of graffiti - a general air of neglect.

The North London Line is now being transformed in reputation as part of Overground - there are staff (albeit a bit security led - there's some need for some customer service training in places) and ticket barriers and with these elements the re-paint jobs.

The effect is to restore some confidence and tackle the back-log of works.

With that end in mind there has been an ongoing conversation with the regional station manager about setting up a users group for the 6 stattions along the bit of the line that runs from Kensal Rise to Hampstead Heath (Kensal Rise, Brondesbury Park, Brondesbury, West Hampstead, Finchley Road & Frognal, Hampstead Heath). If you're intersted and up for this then please do drop me a line - it's hoped to have a a meeting in the next few weeks to get a group going - it's not rocket science, we don't want to to make it too onerous, but just a chance to be the eyes and ears on the line, making things better, giving suggestions and where useful working with TfL and Overground to push forward enhancements.

Please do get in touch.

Tuesday 15 January 2008

The ongoing saga of the wall advert murals in North West London

I was quite happily out and about when I was caught by a reader of this website/blog who wanted to show me another wall mural they were aware of.

They were quite pleased cos when the tree is in full leaf then the mural is barely visible - as you can see from this picture it's pretty faded. After much squinting I think the first line is A S ***TINY. I suspect that it's something that will be more legible in different weathers - this was a pretty grey and overcast day last week.

There is one other factor that I have an obligation to draw attention to officionadoes of this blog and that is that it is on College Road, Queen's Park. Strictly speaking this falls outside of my purview. the nature of ward and constituency boundaries means that this falls into Kensal Rise ward but nonetheless I think it qualifies.

Oh, and to the reader who has pointed out that I have missed the wall advert mural in West Hampstead Mews - you're right and you are the second person to point it out to me - there is indeed another wall mural on the other side of the road and I missed it first time round with the camera - so watch this space...

Monday 14 January 2008

The extra pavement on Minster Road

The road works on the bridge on Minster Road have been done - all fine and dandy.

And crucially the bit on the left hand side (travelling from Kilburn high Road/Cricklewood Boradway) has had the pathway built out to enable people parking (mainly residents) to open their door and get out.

It might be very common, but I hadn't seen such a measure before and I thought it was dead good - meant the railings didn't intrude etc etc.

A small, but helpful measure.

Saturday 12 January 2008

Estate Agent boards as a blight?

In some parts of Camden (mainly conservation areas) estate agent boards have been banned.

The view is held that they are a blight - they run the area down, it let's people know that lots of people want to move out, that properties are not selling - it's a host of mixed messages, largely negative ones.

I think estate agents are increasingly high street blights in their own right. Further, I am increasingly of the view that their boards can go - that in an area of mansion blocks, flats and multi-occ houses, they are unecessary, excessive and unsightly.

This picture is in fact taken in Brondesbury, in Brent, and I'm inclined to start the conversations with local councillors to see what can be done for the better. It's very true that images such as this are not helpful, do nothing to entice people to an area and nothing to actually sell houses or flats.

Friday 11 January 2008

Where will the Post Office axe fall?

After months of threats, secret lists and local community fears, so the Labour Government is about to unveil the list of local Post Offices that they will be putting forward for possible closure [also called Operation Reinvention!].

They have of course sought to suggest that it will be a consultation - it will more likely, be a battle. There are no Post Offices locally across Hampstead and Kilburn constituency that people will be content to see closed.

The Government have confirmed that there will be 2.500 closures across England, specifically there will be 150 closures across London.

That means about 6 Post Offices per borough will close. So which 6 in Camden and Brent - right now it doesn't feel like there is a single Post Office that the community would support a closure plan on. Of course the Government and Royal Mail tell us not to worry, yet...

In fact we have the bizarre irony that the Royal Mail have promised to re-open a Post Office in Belsize but have failed on any level to meet their promise.

Why should we trust either the Labour Government or Royal Mail on this issue now?

Wednesday 9 January 2008

Where is the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association today?

[The Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association]

When was such a association established and when was it wound up? Or is todays Council a successor body from the association, to alderman, to the GLC etc etc down the decades? Any clues?

Why are old signs better?

I've been noticing just how much better, more attractive, more stylish the old features of the local area are - it's really curious - I saw an old picture of the first Ian Drury and the Blockheads first album cover (apparently taken outside Woolworths on the Kilburn High Road) and even that makes the shop look better than it does now!

So I caught these two images - one is a small label road sign above a road name in Hampstead and the other is a old street frontage from Kilburn Lane, Brent.

The first (first pic) is a stret sign pre 1964 (i.e. before the creation of Camden) when Hampstead was it's own Borough.
The lettering is old fashioned, perhaps it is out of date, but to me there is something that is inherently attractive about it and that adds to a locality. If I recollect correctly it's Rosecroft Avenue (Frognal and Fitzjohn's ward).
The sense of detail and the individual lettering gives residents a real sense of pride, that their Borough matters and that their Council cares. It's good that Camden still repairs and restores these old signs, but perhaps more of a shame that where new signs go in they are the standard metal formulaic signage.

The second is taken at the other end of the constituency on Kilburn Lane (where it meets Chamberlayne Road) in Queen's Park ward. It's an old shop front - lying empty and there is this old mosaic from when the shop was Craven Laundry.

The more I find things like this I can't help but think there should be some kind of historic audit of an area that seeks to save, enhance, promote these sorts of features.
Perhaps this is one of things that residents associations could be mobilised for? I spent much of tonight in a residents association and one of the discussions was about the formal role - maybe there should be a remit of environmental responsibility - identifying features, assets and historic hangovers.

Oh, and just to make my point even better the shop front (albeit closed) has the old mosaic protected by a set of old railings (granted, they are prob post WWII) but they do add character and charm.

Monday 7 January 2008

Twelfth Night or 2nd February?

In former times people would leave their decorations up until 40 days after Jesus's birth - i.e. 2nd Feb.

It was the Victorian traditions that settled on 12th Night as the definitive end of christmas decor.

Tradition now says twelfth day is the last day for decorations to be taken down. It thought bad luck to take decorations down after this date, though decorations may be kept up until the next Christmas to avoid this bad luck.
Those who forget to take down their decorations before the twelfth day never keep them up all year round.
I spent a slightly sad night taking down our decorations tonight - having a real tree with the lights and baubles has been really good - I realised tonight just how much I love the Christmas celebrations and when the weather is as bright, crisp and clear as it was this morning I realised how much I love the season itself.

To ease the taking down of decorations and in line with the green agenda here in Camden we have places around the borough where you can take your old christmas tree - one such much used and appreciated in on Fortune Green in West Hampstead (pic above left).
It's pretty busy on twelfth night and councillors Russell Eagling (pic left) and Flick Rea are pretty proud of the service...

Friday 4 January 2008

Westbere Copse - an idyllic spot worth pausing in...

Hidden away - it's not that hidden, but it naturally lies along Westbere Road - is Westbere Copse.

At one time the land was farmed, but in the 1860's the arrival of the Midland Railway changed the landscape for good.

Over the years the site has been used for a railway signal box, public toilets and allotments - but since 1988 it has been a local nature reserve.

There is a nice pathway through the site and it's great for photography of nature and especially to capture trees and leaves. It is laden with wildlife - especially bird, insects, frogs and foxes and has a lot of fungi and natural tree growths.

When I popped down there the other day - I pass the site a lot as I'm a governor at Hampstead School just along the road - there was a lovely big hedgehog negotiating the steps. It was a beautiful moment to pause and watch - a great part of North London...

Collapse of the cemetery wall

The collapse of the cemetery wall on Harrow Road is causing a stir, so I popped down at the weekend to have a look around with one of the local residents. It looks very dramatic but it is clear that the cemetery authorities have the matter in hand and indeed I have subsequently learnt that the residents association are on top of the issues.

They can be looked up on their pretty impressive residents association site: Kensal Triangle Residents Association.

This bit of Brent and indeed of Hampstread and Kilburn is right on the border - but for me that makes it all the more interesting. So I headed into the William IV pub (great food!) and sure enough it is named after the King which broadly co-incides with the opening of the cemetary - and the pub is reputed to have been the drinking hostelry for the cemetary construction workers.

However, I was struck by some of the adjoining street names: Pember Road, Warfield Road, Berens Road and so when home dived into my local history books...

William Warfield was the landlord of the William IV from 1895-1901, he extended the site of the pub, and so the road next to it bears his name... it's pretty appropriate therefore that the KTRA gathers in an upstairs roon there for it's meetings. Yet to work out Pember and Berens...

Thursday 3 January 2008

Sad passing of Councillor Jane Schopflin

Today I attended the cremation service for councillor Jane Schopflin - it was beautifully done by her three daughters. I was able to visit Jane just before she passed away and today was a lovely send off for her. A fuller tribute service will be organised later in the spring. This obituary is drawn from the illuminating and eloquent tribute given by Jane's eldest daughter Julia:

Jane Schopflin (1936-2007)

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Fortune Green WardJane Schopflin sadly passed away in the Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead, on the morning on Sunday 30th December after a long battle with illness.

An only child, Jane came from humble origins in Glasgow: her father, a committed Communist, had worked in the Clyde shipyards and her mother was a seamstress. She won a scholarship to the prestigious Hutchesons Girls Grammar school. At a time when most girls left school at 15, her teachers encouraged her to stay on and take her higher exams. Her parents agreed, she always said that if she’d had brothers, she’d never have had this opportunity.She went on to win a place at the University of Glasgow - again on a scholarship.

She was involved in the debating society, which was - and still is - taken very seriously at Glasgow University. She was also active in the Labour students’ society, where she was a contemporary of the late John Smith and Donald Dewar.After graduation, she trained as a journalist at the Glasgow Herald, before moving to London working as a researcher at the Labour Party HQ, Transport House, and then joining the BBC as a radio news producer.

Jane developed an interest in housing, from her time at Transport House. In many ways, it became her life’s work, writing and consulting about housing for - amongst others - New Society magazine, Local Government News, the Joseph Rowntree Memorial Trust, the housing charity Shelter, the Personal Social Services Council and the GLC.

After a brief time in Surbiton, she moved to a flat in Strathray Gardens in Swiss Cottage before moving to Chester Road, Highgate in 1967.

Always politically active Jane canvassed for Labour in the two elections of 1974 (with her eldest daughter in tow). She campaigned for a yes vote to EEC membership in 1975 and although no fan of Conservative politics, raised a glass to Margaret Thatcher as the first woman prime minister. However, she became increasingly disenchanted with the politics of the Labour Party and became a founder member of the Social Democratic Party in 1982. As she became more involved with the SDP and then the merged Liberal Democrats she took the step of putting herself forward for election to Camden Council.

In 1990 she joined Flick Rea as the second Liberal Democrat councillor in Camden, both representing Fortune Green ward. Jane used to say that Flick was Group Leader and she was Deputy Leader and Chief Whip. A Labour councillor suggested that she and Flick should hold Group meetings in a phone box, She had the last laugh: she saw the Liberal Democrat numbers grow , culminating with the party’s becoming the largest group on the Council in 2006 and taking the Leadership of the Borough.

Jane had an unfaltering belief in the old fashioned concepts of public service and the welfare state. She loved being a councillor for the opportunities it gave her to help those less fortunate than herself. She took great pleasure if she helped re-house a constituent and was devastated if she was unable to stop someone being evicted. With the Liberal Democrats in power she hoped to play a greater role in the Council’s housing decisions when her health improved.

Jane is survived by her 3 daughters, Julia, Sophie and Katherine and 2 grandchildren Max and Zoe.

Tuesday 1 January 2008

More advertising walls - by popular demand...

Who would of thought that this would trigger so much traffic on the issue of old local wall advertising - not the bill board type, but the old painted wall adverts.

It was kicked off with this one in West Hampstead

followed up with this one in Kilburn, on the High Road

I've now been contacted by a local residents in Dyne Road pointing out that there is in fact another hiding on Kilburn High Road, literally next to the Black Lion... (pic left - not the Leftovers advert!)

Part of me likes the neatness of the grey concrete skim, more of me is hoping that the cold weather will lead to more of the skim cracking, falling off to reveal the old advert - smoking or matches I assume :-)

This is perhaps the most intriguing so far and is the one that of course raises the question about whether these old adverts merit 'saving' - my instinct is that they should not be consciously saved, but that a dialogue with land-owners about not deliverately removing them and obliterating them as they contribute to the ambiance of an area is a dialogue that would be worth having...

But more intriguingly, but much less colourful, and I'm grateful to the resident on Harrow Road who contacted me on this one, is this washed out ghost of an advert (pic right).

At first glance I thought it was in fact just the shadow from where a board had once hung, but as the resident points out "I reckon it must have been a painting, first is the shading on the white wash which you can just see, and second is the bevel indent corners which show that it was a design feature of the advert."

The resident goes on to tell me that they have looked for old postcards of this bit of Harrow Road (Queen's Park) but have not so far come up with anything. Any leads appreciated...

Tomorrow sees me exploring another tip off I have had from a reader - an advert that has apparently been staring me in the face and I have missed! More to follow.

West End Green at Christmas

What is it about Christmas lights? They illuminate, they cheer, they sparkle and they just make an area look great.

And this year on West End Green is no exception. At the junction of West End Lane, Lyncroft Gardens, Mill Lane and Fortune Green Road this little green is really charming.

Well done to councillors Flick Rea, Keith Moffitt and Janet Grauberg who have made sure this sort of thing happens and is considered important - shame my camera (or use of it) isn't better able to capture the image - though I do think this captures the sparkle!