Friday 30 January 2009

All roads lead to... Kilburn?

I was down in the City of London for the meeting of the management committees of Hampstead Heath , Keats House and Queen's Park when I spied this little gem.

Ye Olde Watling public house
There's a great summary review here
including the much repeated claim that this pub was built on the instruction of Christopher Wren for workers on the St Paul's project...

The picture isn't great quality - I was in a rush and the light was falling and failing, but of course it's also on Watling Street.

The road later (physically and historically), as it heads north, becomes Edgware Road, then Maida Vale, the Kilburn High Road and Shoot Up Hill, Cricklewood Broadway and off into England's shires...

But of course it starts somewhere and as I dashed for my tube to Mansion House I had forgotten that it was in fact here.

Don't worry good readers I didn't delay, but a return visit to the watering hole before emabarking north to Kilburn seems appropriate at some point...

Anyone else want to join me here for a sneaky half one day soon?

Thursday 29 January 2009

Toilets on the tourist trail?

Known, understood, but little spoken of... London's celebrated gay past (is that a contradiction?).

Joe Orton is a sell out playwright, but there is a dark story-ending to his glittering ability (he was murdered by his partner) and the much reported court case of Islington Libraries combine with this public toilet in South End Green, Hampstead (picture right and interior below left).

This is the only toilet still in use that Joe Orton is confirmed as having 'used' and so it enjoys something of a touch of notoriety...

The toilet itself is bizarrely pretty and glamorous and reminds me of those at Stoke-on-Trent Railway Hotel - which of course draw on the potteries tradition.

But the wall to ceiling tiling has a dramatic gleaming effect and combined with the black pediments creates an almost gothic victoriana to them.

I have done a note to the Joe Orton website - link above - asking them to reflect North West London in their photo gallery of associated Orton places and features. We shall see what happens, but pop down to South End green and have a look - a brief look.

Wednesday 28 January 2009

A brief indulgence please....

I try and focus this blog on local historical, architectural and curious features of interest - it's not often I give way to my own very specific preference - besides the genre of the content. :-)

But Louis' cafe - one in Heath Street, Hampstead, and the other on Finchley Road, Swiss Cottage, are great institutions... This is the Hampstead branch.

You haven't been? Get there now!

My other regular haunt is of course the inimitable Wet Fish Cafe on West End Lane - we love it, love it, love it...

Monday 26 January 2009

We've finished with it - remove it!

These cursed phone boxes litter the local area in a very specific limited number of locations and are absolutely impossible to get rid of.

I know of one dogged Brent councillor who managed to get one removed but for the most part they lie on the street, unused, disconnected (for phone calls), increasingly neglected and damaged...

But becuase the firm that put them up doesn't exist there appears to be some kind of arcane reason why they can't be taken down by the Local Authority (in this case Brent).

Well, there's a new way in town and it occurred here on the Kilburn High Road - badly damaged by a passing truck and it was removed as dangerous.

There is one on Station Terrace, Kensal Rise: it is a bit more tricky to run over, but it prob worth a try!


Sunday 25 January 2009

A reminder of the scare of an empty building

I just stumbled across this in my photo file and it reminded me of ther brief period when local residents and traders were worried about the shops laying empty and the nervousness of what was coming.

We are looking here at the shops opposite Hampstead Post Office on the High Street just near the zebra crossing (which I think I'm standing on when I took this picture).

Empty shops can be so devastating and the effect on perception, moral and actual trade so demoralising...

So it's good when the refurb happens and they re-open...

Saturday 24 January 2009

Hanging a cardboard sign up adds confidence - it's true!

It's a good example of how to do highly visible christmas decorations and it's from Seven Dials.

The Seven Dials project which is now several years old is for me a model on how to take a neglected area and, using it's history, transform it into the height of fashion, desirablity whilst retaining it's charm and character.

The effect is then further built upon through innovative, intelligent and niche marketing drawn through in these card (?) christmas advertings that were suspended across the streets.

Yes, I know the buildings are tall and close but there are opportunities elsewhere it is just that too often there is the lack of ambition and vision to actually move an area forward...

More of this sort of this sort of stuff helps a lot I think in the place shaping debate and adds confidence. Could we see this nest year in Hampstead, Belsize, Kilburn, Salusbury Road and Kensal Rise?

Friday 23 January 2009

Two shops merge into one unit

After the scare last year that Sainsbury's or an equivalent was going to move into Hampstead High Street the shops on the High Street were being watched nervously by residents and fellow traders.
In itself this might not be a problem but there was a wider fear that the current small shops would be amalgamated together, thus loosing a retail shop and that it would be a brash chain, thus loosing the local charm.
At a time of recession (official today!) there was a greater fear that shops would lie empty and rot would set in.
This an important little range of shops and they have great character.
Sadly it does look like two shops are becoming one unit, but the question of who it was to be was hanging in the air.
Now we have the answer: Zadig and Voltaire - a pretty exclusive chain which all adds to the local reputation.
Good luck to them as they open for business.
I hope they join NW3 Hampstead - the local traders association. :-)

Wednesday 21 January 2009

31 years old this year - murals from the street

Regular readers of this blog will know my fascination and appreciation of local murals and here is a good 'un!

It's the railway bridge on Abbey Road as it crosses Belsize Road and this is the east side.

It is identified as being "Kids painting summer '78" and is beginning to look a tad tatty but it retains both it's charm, interest and an astonishing level of detail.

It has great artistic qualities - childlike, colourful, bold and varied...

There's a range of others that have been detailed on this site previously - some newish, many of them old:

So here we go - let's show it off in full colour - hopefully the sections can be seen bit by bit as you look along the bridge left to right looking east:

I've tried to paste it up section by section but it proved amusingly difficult:

Does anyone know the then youngsters who painted it - were you there - is it your igloo, monster, house etc?

Get in touch...

Tuesday 20 January 2009

A new future opening up for Kilburn

Well, it was always going to happen at some point - but it's so soon?
I have written before about how the musings, observations and features of this blog would change, alter and in some cases disappear.
I didn't for a minute think that some would be so immediate, dramatic or indeed as visible as Woolies!
But these pics I took deliberately for this very purpose of capturing what was going on over the course of an amazingly fast 2 weeks of the world economy 'melting down' and Woolworths being one of the victims.
The pictures are not high science but they are dramatic illustrators of the phenomena as it affected and now affects our local community. Kilburn has always had a high turnover of shops and traders - it's one of the reasons it is so vibrant and such lively fun - but in an economic downturn we also know that Kilburn risks looking vulnerable.
However, I remain very optimistic - Kilburn has a unique appeal and a diversity that gives it an incredible strength.
It has been a busy trading area with a transitional population for 2,000 years so these things all fit in context .
I am very clear that what now needs to happen is a strong and articulate case for Kilburn will help bring things back onto a more positive keel - i'm struck how that isn't happening now.
One of my hopes for the general Election - beyond the basic and simple political party ambition - is that under the new boundaries there will finally be an elected politician representing all of Kilburn for the first time.
Arguably for the first time since 878 but that's an obscure political point and not one I'm going to push over hard. :-)

Monday 19 January 2009

Get ready at the back - this could be fun...

It's well over a year since the Ruach Church bought the Gaumont State Cinema in Kilburn and now in 2009 it looks like plans will be forthcoming for it to be re-opened this autumn.

Of course it won't be a cinema, it won't be a bingo hall, it will be primarily a place of worship - but I also sense that it will be something else as well.

The Ruach Church is a live, inter-active experience - they place great faith in people, in genuinely recognition of the pressure people face and in supporting families.

I have been to the Ruach Church in Brixton a couple of times now - and was there again on Sunday - and the warmth, sincerity and desire to make this project in Kilburn work is undoubted. (this picture is a small snap of Bishop John Francis in the current Ruach Church in Brixton).

Let me be very clear - I have my own faith, I'm not an evangelical - but the maintainence of the Gaumont State, the role of community, the commitment to the local area is such from the Ruach Church that I have little doubt that there is a bright future here.

Bishop John Francis is quite a powerhouse - of views, opinions and passion. For Kilburn we need to be ready, engaged and open to all - I think there are major gains for outreach work with the young, elderly and some of the most vulnerable by working with Ruach.

Further, I think the opportunities for looking after the Gaumont State, opening it up for public access, working with local schools - there is all to play for... what we now need as a community is a sustained dialogue that articulates a joint vision for what could be.

The prize is a better Kilburn, a stronger community, and more people wanting to make it even better... let's give it a go.

Sunday 18 January 2009

A pub in which to put pen to paper?

The next pub in my sightline is the Sir Richard Steele on Haverstock Hill - I reckon this is one of the most fashionable Belsize pubs and has real charm and character.

But I haven't gone down the route yet of working out what he wrote and reading and appreciating so whilst this a pub that thrives on the atmosphere of the bohemian and the writer I'm not sure the allusion to Sir Richard Steele was intended.
Richard Steele himself was quite a character and has extensive records available on him:

I have previously written on the Kit Cat Club which Sir Richard Steele was a leading member of...

But this pub location is largely rooted in the former house that stood nearby that Richard Steele lived in - it is described as a cottage but I have a sense that that is cottage in the sense of pretty grand place for 18th century england...

This was demolished in 1867 and now we have Steele's Road, Steele's Mews and Steele's Studios.

Time Out is pretty colourful on the pub today:

Sir Richard Steele

"This old boozer oozes battered character: hand-painted Sistine-esque friezes, dripping candles and weird papier-mâché oddities hanging from the ceiling. Suffice to say it's the antithesis of the Hill (see above) across the road. There's real ale - Flowers IPA, Spitfire et al - on tap and a great Sunday roast, as well as the now standard pub Thai food. And since some of the less salubrious locals have been turfed out, the vibe has improved no end. Expect everyone from quietly loaded Belsize Parkers cosying up in the snugs to pint-downing students in the beer garden preparing for a night out in Camden. "
Time Out Bars, Pubs & Clubs Guide 2008/9

Saturday 17 January 2009

Gwan, gwan, gwan - stop and stare

So today we are looking at the The Roebuck Hotel, Pond Street.

Until you pause, step back and look up you don't have a real sense of just how big the damned place it - three stories with a full pediment atop it is truly large and with the landscape of the hill it really takes you by surprise.

It has a pretty long historical pedigree having opened circa 1860.

Nineteenth century directories for NW London list the landlords/licensees as:

1866 - William John Tolladay
1885-7 - G F Dettmer
1874 directory - Paul Paris
1894 - William J Harris

This is just opposite the Royal Free Hospital - it's an old hotel and has a great demeanour - it dominates the street.

The frontage has a pretty impressive stucco polychrome buck at the top of the building - it's well worth a pause to have a proper look...

It has a good reputation for live acts and music generally, but the license hours can be controversial due to the residential nature of the locality.

Well worth popping down to, but don't stay too late and please keep quiet as you leave!

Friday 16 January 2009

Murals to stand and admire

Here we are on Haverstock Hill - in fact just outside the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency boundaries but well within the remit of this blog.

The Haverstock Arms
Should I be slightly aghast at the reinventions as 'The Havers'?

The mural is pretty famous and much admired - it was painted in 1983 (1984?) by John Murray. John is a pretty famous character all of his own and there is a really fond, interesting and full website dedicated to him, his life and work:

This site also details the book Pub Signs by Paul Corballis which features this mural as one of the finest pub signs in the country.

The sign alludes to the old delivery of barrels on the old horse and cart. Things have moved on a shade since then and the CAMRA website is pretty generous in its' praise:

"Glorious in summer with its roof terrace (facing onto the side road), large open picture doors, a large number of outside tables and a veritable panoply of hanging, flowering baskets. Down to earth corner pub, very much a community local. Bare boarded with upholstered settles and a large collection of photos of thespians. See if you can find the “T Heath Improved beer engines and cellar fittings” prints. Food is served seven days a week from 11.00 - 21.00 (19.00 Sun). For those with overseas tastes in beers, there’s a good selection. Live music most Friday and Saturdays excluding the summer months. In addition the pub also features bed and breakfast accommodation, nine rooms all en-suite with TV. Underground: Belsize Park. Bus: C11, 168.
previously Haverstock Arms "

Thursday 15 January 2009

Not sure on the passing trade but hey...

I haven't publicised it too much really, but I have a small YouTube channel on which I've done a few local video's and campaign clips.

A couple of them date back a few years now, but still have some currency.

I'm struck by the extent to which some of the issues have moved on so much and how some are due to come round again to bite. In particular I'm sure that there will be a club application for the site on Finchley Road (formerly The Establishment and previously Barclays Bank).

Here's the simple links
Camden Green Fair:

Granny Drippen Steps:

Just 474 votes to win here in Hampstead and Kilburn:

They can all be found at

Enjoy! And feedback is always appreciated if it's not too cruel :-)

Wednesday 14 January 2009

As design standards go this is pretty good

I've sat through a presentation this morning of a proposed design for a new building in the local area - frankly it was flat, disappointing and timid.

It did nothing to reflect the diversity of the community, the rich heritage of the local area...

So I dipped into my photo file to see something by way of contrast - it wasn't difficult.

Here is the former Horse and Groom pub in Heath Street, Hampstead - tall, impressive, glamorous and bold and adding to the local architecture.

Sure I understand that such a build now might be condemned by local groups and organisations as being too excessive, but the reality is such design courage seems lacking. It's not a premise that designs that shock are wrong - it's a broader issue over design and quality. I'm not talking aesthetic quality but more generally around building materials, built to last and reflecting a community.

When this was built Hampstead was quite literally on the up - buildings were designed to be impressive, intimidiating and designed to show the brazen confidence of the business community.

Ah for such an approach now...

One website reports todays pub in the following way: Closed - converted into Chinese restaurant - then into Room 68 - an upmarket free house/bar restaurant. That didn't last, it's now a French restaurant called J'aime. [Last update: 17/02/2007]

Monday 12 January 2009

The grand alliance

What is the date of this Pub?

Is it really 1815 reflecting the grand alliance between Wellington (England) and Blucher

Or is it a name adopted much later and subsequently.

I do know it's not political! :-)

Oh, btw we're in Mill Lane, West Hampstead, for this picture...