Wednesday 31 December 2008

Hope in 2009?

This blog started on the back of a trip to Sierra Leone as part of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) - and earlier this year I went back to West Africa to The Gambia.

It's a part of the world I find myself fascinated by - geography, climate, history - and the people I've met are just stunning, optimistic and charming in the extreme...

So the closing of 2008 and the opening of 2009 brings for me the chance to hope and pray for better living standards - Africa remains one of the great issues facing any developed nation, this year will be no different.

Monday 29 December 2008

Lets get on our bikes this coming year

It's simple and it should epitomise London yet somehow the joy of cycling has not been embraced here yet.

This picture is from West End Lane of a bike scheme little rolled out across London. When I was in Spain(Valencia) and France (Paris) it's obvious that cycle schemes are supported and encouraged and they are not just tourist playthings.

The fact is this should be a cultural shift and I hope that this coming year will see Camden moving forward.

There has been a sudden rush of cycle lock up point across the boroughs of Brent and Camden - many of them in slightly illogical locations - but nevertheless welcome. It would be good if this process of making the committment to cycling can now be followed by an overt desire to engage with residents over this.

What could be done?
- public multi bike storage areas at all railway and tube stations (working with TfL and all user groups)
- all residents blocks to be offered bike lock-up points (eve of that means it effectively is located on private property)
- all area committees and public forums con-ordinated by the council to be on a constant hunt for suitable locations for cycle rack and bike lane facilities

There simple steps that would help instill a culture that encourages cycling...

Sunday 28 December 2008

Let them eat bread?

Who would have thought that the culture of an area could be determined by bread, but it is true...

One of the more dominant features in the commercial development of Hampstead over the last two years has been the growth of bread shops.

It sounds flippant but this has enhanced an atmosphere which is welcoming - it has moved forward a cafe culture, has made the tourist options for Hampstead more visible (even in these winter months) and gives the perception of optimism and confidence in the local community.

When it comes to bread shops I say bring them in... Hampstead seems to be able to sustain them and the residents love them - there are few things better than fresh bread - and the visible effect is great.

Saturday 27 December 2008

It this one of the best local buildings we have?

We're on Heath Street/Fitzjohn's Avenue and we have one of the most striking buildings in NW3 - now Munro House.

I've given some of the flavour of the early Victorian history of the buiolding, but would be keen to learn more from anyone out there who has an understanding of the more modern uses of the building... please post in the comment section or email me on

Here goes for some of the history...

The National Gazeteer for 1868 mentions the "Sailors' Orphan Home for girls, situated in Frognal"

Founded by a Major Powys the home provided domestic training for the orphans of sailors and also those childrens whose fathers were on active and foreign service. Part of the funding for the home came from the Regimental Scholarship Fund which sponsored children (girls) in the home.

In 1878 the following description is listed in 'Hampstead: Rosslyn Hill', Old and New London: Volume 5'

" at the corner of Greenhill Road and Church Lane, a large and handsome brick building, with slightly projecting wings, gables, and a cupola turret. This is the Sailors' Orphan Girls' School and Home, which was originally established in 1829, in Frognal House, on the west side of the parish church.

"The present building was erected in 1869, from the designs of Mr. Ellis. The objects of the institution are the "maintenance, clothing, and education of orphan daughters of sailors and marines, and the providing of a home for them after leaving, when out of situations."

"The number of inmates is about one hundred, and the children look healthy and cheerful. Its annual income averages about £2,000. This institution was opened by Prince Arthur, now Duke of Connaught, in whose honour the road between it and the Greenhill is named Prince Arthur's Road."

By 1881 the home had had over 800 children through of whome 146 were orphans and 465 were fatherless.

The papers for the home are stored at London Metropolitan Archives

A/FWA/C/D/122/001Sailors' Orphan Girls School and Home, later Royal Sailors Daughters School and Home (case 7313 or 4/1881):
correspondence and papers
Creation dates: 1881-1946
Scope and Content
116 Fitzjohns Avenue Hampstead

Friday 26 December 2008

Swiss Cottage and the sculpture

This is one of those things that you walk past and don't really notice - I know I have passed it on literally hundreds of occasions - so I stopped and had a read.

The inscription reads:
"The Hampstead Figure
F E McWilliam 1964"

I'm not sure that I appreciated that it is in fact an abstracted female figure on a plinth!

So I undertook some digging and discovered that F.E. McWilliam (1909-1992) was an Irish sculptor from Banbridge, County Down.

A student at Belfast School of Art and Slade School of Fine Art in London. Intially he studied painting by soon turned to sculpture.

At fiurst he sculpted in wood and drew heavily on African art with primitive and simple forms. He then moved to surrealist forms and drew on the notion of exploring fragments and a sarcasm and a wit that was sometimes shocking.

His commisions are many and include:
  • The Four Seasons for the Festival of Britain, 1951
  • Father Courage for Kent University at Canterbury, New Zealand, 1960
  • Hampstead Figure at Swiss Cottage, London, 1964.

He saw active service in India in the Second World War but returned to teach at Chelsea School of Art and at the Slade. He joined the London Group in 1949, RBA in 1950 and was elected an RA associate in 1959, resigning four years later.

His work is represented in many major national collections including the Tate Gallery, London and Museum of Modern Art, New York. Retrospectives held at Arts Council of Northern Ireland, 1981 and Tate Gallery, 1989. Lived and worked in London.

It's worth noting that this is listed:

Location: (East side)
'The Hampstead Figure', Sculpture to north of Swiss Cottage LibraryStreet: Avenue Road
Grade: II
Reference No: 798-1-1007461
Date of listing: Aug 6 1999 12:00AM

Reclining abstracted female figure on plinth. 1964 by F E McWilliam. Bronze. Inscribed 'The Hampstead Figure, 1964' and signed. Commissioned as part of the group of civic buildings for the borough of Hampstead by Sir Basil Spence, Bonnington and Collins, with which it forms a close and complementery grouping. F E McWilliam (1909-92) was a noted and prolific British sculpture, whose public works have not survived well.

Wednesday 24 December 2008

Wow, these bits of architecture just litter the street...

It is pretty impressive, but the briefest stroll down Eton Avenue, NW3 is a joyful wander through architectural excellence.

There is something about the work that is almost casual - I think it derives from the fact that almost every building is adorned with the details and brickwork sufficient to please any home - unless you want minimalism.

Each doorway is different, each architrave has it's own distinction - it's as though each individual building has it's own specification.

Perhaps that was precisely what happened - you agreed to buy a house, a plot and you then sat down and from a catalogue you picked the brick work and style you wanted?

I have noticed that the same builders were often used in the local area and in fact the architect for Eton Avenue in Belsize is also the architect for Lyndhurst Gardens in Hampstead.

Many are dated, have signature plaques, have shiedls and coats of arms as well as small features of bronze, copper and moulded brick work.

It's truly remarkable and almost worthy of it's own detailed street study.

Much has been written about the development of the local area, but I'm not aware of a survey of each building. No doubt where there is listing, and we are after all in a conservation area, there is a record - but are the specific features captured, appreciated and catalogued?

I realise that it's not just the brickwork - but also the clever use of light, glass and the number of almost elevated conservatories really adds to the sense of spece in what is a very developed and built up area.

I've posted on the genre and the impact before:

I'm told that part of the archtectural development of the area was driven by the desire to achieve quality in the light of the Eton College connections - this is simply reflected in the naming of the roads of the area, but I'm not aware of direct eveidence linking the architecture to this heritage:
Eton Road
Eton Avenue
Kings Colleg Road
Merton Rise
Eton College Road
Fellows Road

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Tesco's hand-me-downs sound a tad hollow

For months the residents of South Hampstead and Swiss Cottage have been plagued by an ongoing battle with Tesco over the threatened planning application at the Loudoun Road roundabout for a new store. That battle is now drawing to close as there is a planning application aprroved and they have a licence - but there are conditions attached and they need to be respected.

For some people this is a real and immediate issue as they quite literally live above it, but now the building works are in full steam.

I noticed yesterday as I went past the sign up saying that Tesco wants to work with the community.

It's a great sign and a great claim, but it is now incumbent for them to actually prove that this isn't just a coporate hand-me-down and is in fact a real commitment.

One of the things they could do is have a real and genuine dialogue with the residents of Sheridan Court, they could make some reference to the previous uses of the site by saving for example the pub sign from the Britannia Pub that stood there until a week or so ago, and they could work with other local traders to ensure that in opening their shop they don't create a major hole in the immediately local market.

There could even by a discussion with TfL about having some refurbishment o the South Hampstead Railway station and providing some community notice boards and enhancements there...

Come on Tesco, don't play words with the community - be proactive and prove your worth.

To date it's been a bit lacking, perhaps this is the time to turn over a new leaf for South Hampstead.

Friday 19 December 2008

The blog as somewhere that captures the moment

One of the merits of blogs as I understand it is the ability to capture the current thought, the reaction, the precise event almost coterminus.

So it seems with this little quirky local community blog...

I take pictures all the time as I am out and about on the patch and it is scary just how quickly those pictures become the record.

Often I pop back to get a better picture and find that a building has gone, a tree been pruned, the cars almost certainly have changed and so you can't actually recreate the moment... and so now also with the Screen on the Hill.

I took these pictures a little while back meaning to do a posting about it and of course now time has overtaken me with the advent of Everyman II.

I'm not regretting the change in this instance, just observing it. I didn't go to Screen on the Hill but can confess to being a devotee of the Everyoman in Holly Hill for pure relaxing luxury... I just hope this one on Haverstock Hill (opposite Belsize Tube) achieves the same standards and appreciation.

Thursday 18 December 2008

The many faces of Cricklewood

I've been fascinated by this one for ages and it has taken me a while to get the necessary pictures but here we are...

It's not all of the faces, but it's a pretty good spread.

On the buildings of the victorian Cricklewood, on the building pillars - between each shop front - there is a ornate 'top' facade - usually corinthian or doric columns, these are topped by a face.

These are drawn from a gothic almost rustic tradition and involve leaves and flowing water swirls.

Many of them appear to draw on the 'greene man' tradition of olde england.

Carvings of the Greene Man are known in architecture as foliate heads or foliate masks, some are naturalistic but in this instance they are just decorative.

Traditionally the simplest show a man's face peering out of dense foliage (they are usually of a man and rarely of a woman).

Some have leaves for hair, often with a leafy beard.

In this instance in North London we have the development of a whole family - very young, old and indeed including a women - it is a further exploration of the idea that this might be the depiction of a family of the architect, builder...

This part of London (Cricklewood) build up very quickly following the arrival of the railway in 1868 - from 1880 the building locally went up apace and so it is to this era that these carvng belong. Perhaps it is the family - I suspect we will never know.

One thing it does confirm for me however, was the extent to which two or three maybe six or seven building firms dominated the massive growth of building here in north west london. There are three really distinct building styles - that employed in Belsize and Hampstead, that of Swiss Cottage and South Hampstead and this of West Hampstead and Cricklewood.

This part of north west london certainly saw massive growth with the advent of the railway and the need for mass accommodation - it certainly did seem obvious that it might be so personalised...

It's worth daying that if any reader wants and they double click on the pictures then the site should enable each picture to open up large and then you can see the individual faces better and clearer.

Monday 15 December 2008

It's here already, can't you see it?

I'm using this month to draw together threads from having done this blog over a sustained period of time (a year) and really getting into the habit of seeing things and taking the pictures necessary.

However, it is clear to me that this has become more then just a photo insight into the local area. What I have tried to convey and distill into this webpage is a sense of the area.

It has been described as quirky, interesting, historical and indeed boring. I hope it covers all of those things - some of it is superficial in as far as it simply gets to what a photograph can capture - some becomes more of a historical contextual insight.

The coverage of Kilburn has been the most interesting for me - not the most historical place and yet in many ways the area of the constituency with the most to say:

But it is also the case that there is so much to draw out in, for example, Hampstead that it's fun to draw out the places that are less than obvious:

More than anything else I have sought to give an insight into what I think is all around us and so totally affects our area. On Kilburn itself I have more aggressive in asserting that this is a much better and more interesting place than it is treated. Because other parts of town have a higher property value and a greater economic expectation, so Kilburn is often down-graded in the way it is treated. So too the boundary of the High Road has led to a division in the way it is considered. In fact the history, the vibrancy and the diversity all demand a greater level of attention - not least because the rewards for getting this right would be so high and visible.

With regards to Hampstead, Belsize and Frognal I have come to understand something else. I serve on the Hampstead Heath Management Committee (Corporation of London) and now know that for something such as the Heath to exist and thrive it has had to be managed. At the moment we are engaged on a process of naturalising some of the areas around Parliament Hill and making sure they have less of a feel of a park and more like a wilder, rustic heath. So it is with the architecture - Flask Walk, Englands Lane and indeed The Pavement (West Hampstead) need to be nourished, assisted and where appropriate nudged. For these areas to be special, look special and remain special they need a real understanding of the place.

It's an old carnard that someting with no past has no future - but increasingly as I look around me I find it to be a simple fact of life. Hopefully this blog, quirky, boring or interesting has developed the process of tapping into that notion and articulating it for all to see - residents, opinion formers and decision makers alike.

Ed Fordham

Saturday 13 December 2008

Ian Dury and Woolworths on the High Road

One of the iconic features of the Kilburn High Road is Woolworths - it's true for many high streets and shopping areas but for Kilburn there is an added poignancy.

Ian Dury started off in Kilburn, he went to the Kilburn State as a boy and one of his first ever albums shows him photographed in front of the Kilburn High Road Woolworths. His first band was Kilburn and the High Roads and the first album for the Blockheads featured Woolies...

Now the demise looks likely we lose more than just Woolworths.

The BBC sites was today reporting this:

"In the Kilburn High Road store in north London, an ageing clientele were urgently fingering the final crockery and deciding that a remote-controlled plastic Tarantula was still not a sufficient bargain at £24.99, even at Christmas."

"The aisles looked like the final minutes of a hectic jumble sale, with two rival queues snaking up and down, customers stepping gingerly over the children's clothes scattered across the floor. Many eyed the likely wait and decided not to bother. "It's not worth it," one young woman was telling a friend on her mobile as she made for the door."

Wednesday 10 December 2008

The small things count

There is a wide-ranging debate going on in local goverment, sadly often not within communities, about place shaping. What is it? What does it mean? How much does it cost?

I have an increasingly clear view that it is about small things of interest, curio's, oddities and objects of distinction.
So here is an example of what I mean and why.
Just off of Elm Row in Hampstead is a small footpath that leads down to New End - it's easy to pass it and not notice it...
But in terms of making the area one of the nicest you have come across rather than a grim dark alleyway, it has a number of features.
First the use of york stone rather than concrete slabs. This means that if they crack they gain character rather than crumbling if they break.
Second is the use of old metal bollards rather than cheaper plastic or equivalents. The objective is to prevent abuse of the alley by bikes etc whilst preserving the charm.
Third is the cobblestones after the steps down to New End.
And fourth, almost forgotten is this charming and slightly unlikely plaque in the wall on the right hand side looking south east
"Three feet west from this wall is private property".
A great little feature - presumably a hangover from the days of the importance of insurance from fire damage, but a great plaque none-the-less.
And so that leads me to the definition of the place-shaping malarky - its the objects that you notice, value and appreciate in a way that is subliminal and high quality. Residents like it and it's really really good for the local area - 'bring it on, more, more' they cry.

Tuesday 9 December 2008


So what's the claim to fame here in sunny Kilburn - lots of people seem to think that the fading Irish tradition of kilburn, currently being replaced by an amazing multi-cultural character is the history of Kilburn.

In fact it is one of the oldest communities in London - dating from when the Roman Emperor Claudius invaded and conquered Britain in AD 43 and build Watling Street in AD 44.

This bust here is from the statue of Claudius that was destroyed in the sacking by Boudicca during her rebellion against the empire.

So is there any real reason why we don't celebrate the history of our area?

Lots of smaller market towns have plaques saying "Queen Victoria stayed here" and the like - why don't we have plaques and statues to the Emperors of Rome who we know marched up and down the High Road (the Watling Street)?

More Roman Imperial visitors to come... watch this space

Monday 8 December 2008

Disruption to service - apologies

I'm sorry I've been off line for a couple of weeks - everything was pretty busy, I had fallen behind on my postings and then total disaster struck.

One of my closest friends Councillor Neil Trafford (Manchester City Council) was killed in a car crash. The effect has been devestating and it has created a huge hole.

I'm delighted to say that the funeral and memorial celebration were both very special and appropriate with the right balance of laughter and tears, but there is still a gaping hole where once Neil shone.

But I thought I should explain why there has been a gap in service...