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It is very timely to make a visit to the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. On 27th December 1805 Nelson’s body was placed in the Painted Hall, Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich. Over 15,000 people came to to view the body lying in state. Maritime London exhibition at the National Maritime Museum has on display the Daniel Turner painting of Nelson’s Funeral Procession 1807. It is a panoramic view of the the Thames taken from Southwark of over 60 boats that accompany the funeral barge on its journey from Greenwich to Whitehall Stairs. Also on display is Nelson’s uniform and you can see clearly the fatal shot that he received in the left shoulder. The significance of Nelson is captured in another painting on display – The Apotheosis of Nelson by Pierre Nicolas Legrand 1805 which shows Nelson being supported by Neptune as he ascends into the heavens. I was intrigued to learn that neither Lady Nelson nor Emma Hamilton attended the funeral.
As well as the river’s role in pomp and pageantry the exhibition also focuses upon the importance of London as a port and a place for ship building. There is an interesting photographic display of the docks from 1937 to 1997.
Just before Christmas the Government announced that the veterans of the Arctic convoys that supplied Russia with fuel, food and munitions during the Second World War are finally to be awarded a medal after years of campaigning. There is an exhibition of the Arctic Convoys also at the National Maritime museum and which demonstrates why the veterans deserve proper recognition for their bravery.
An exhibition of the landscape photographer Ansel Adams is currently on and is well worth visiting.
As usual, the splendour of the Tower provided a stunning scene, its sweeping curves exuding history and still outshining its sparkling neighbour, the Shard. Designed to resemble sails at the top, this feature was as lost on me as the oil company Q8 (Kuwait) version of this in its petrol stations. This Qatari contribution to the London skyline has many fans as well as those who have deep reservations about an incongruous juxtaposition with its historic companions.
The St Katharine Dock boasts sympathetic renovation and new build to reflect its own history. The old river barges with their millionaire, ostentatious berthfellows alongside the regal splendour of the Queen’s barge, used for her Jubilee trip along the Thames, provided a rich feast for the eyes, the shapes and colours breathtaking. The rents of the businesses surrounding the dock must be colossal. None seemed to have any customers, apart from a tea shop Turkish Mum’s Specialities (does this mean there is only one mother in the whole of Turkey?) The reasonably priced shoe shop had no customers and the dignity of the dock compromised by The Fab Bagel Shop, the medieval banqueting suite with crude, giant replicas of suits of armour either side of its entrance and the art gallery / shop, proud of its ‘proper art’ as judged by the employee / proprietor in attendance. None of the internationally sourced, outrageously priced, production line, impasto palette knife paintings of provocative women, kittens in baskets, the photo-realistic stylised representations of jugs, fruit and books or the blown glass fish seem relevant to the historic docks. Where are the local artists, the skilled interpretations of river views or the built environment? I am flummoxed by how this shop does any trade at all. It was so full of its wares that perhaps it doesn’t. Why would tourists buy the sort of tacky memorabilia usually on sale in their own countries for their own tourist industries?
On the way to the beautifully preserved Dockmaster’s House was a traditional Routemaster decked out as an Honesty Bus. Harking back to a different era of trust and keeping your front door unlocked, I’m sure that better weather would see tourists seeing and using this attraction. The Dockmaster’s house is beautiful but the cold, lonesome security guard must pray for even a slight disturbance to break the chilly and windswept monotony.
The finale of my epic day was to be a late lunch at the Tayyab, a Punjabi restaurant in Whitechapel. The downside to this occurred when I was informed that we would be using the oldest London transport to get there, Shanks’ pony. My usual protestations in these circumstances attract the use of a black cab, but not today so I decided to get on with it and enjoy the scenery. This included the Whitechapel Art gallery, a plethora of cheap clothes shops and side-streets of terraced, old houses, probably worth a fortune nowadays if not part of some landlord’s portfolio of property. The Altab Ali Park encouraged us to halt our walk to explore its history and environment. This used to be the site of the 14th century St Mary Matfelon church which had a white chapel, hence the name of the area. It was renamed in the 1990s after the 1978 murder of a 25 year old Bangladeshi man, killed by 3 teenage racists. It contains an incoherent, ad hoc series of artefacts, which some say refects the diversity of the local community. Re-designed by muf/architecture/art as part of the 2012 High Street improvements from Aldagate to the Olympic Park. Centuries of the Maddock family are tombed alongside seemingly unearthed rocks (on closer inspection, beautifully carved) and tree trunks and terrazzo tiles, possibly marking an unearthed grave. Which are original and which are new is difficult to tell but over all the park has a vaguely apocalyptic appearance. It celebrates the life of Altab Ali and is a strong and clear tribute to the fight against all racism.
Continuing, we passed St Boniface’s German RC church and wondered why there would be a German church here in Tower Hamlets considering its bomber history. As well as the Bangladeshi community here there were also up to 1000 German immigrants in the area, employed by the sugar refinery on the Thames. Almost at our destination now, we passed the old Whitechapel Bell Foundry, its giant bells on full view. Finally to Fieldgate Street and the promise of real food. At 3pm there were still lots of customers. Photographs decorating the walls boasted clients such as Cher and Sade. Warm and comfortable ,we dined on poppadoms, dhal, lamb chops, dried meat, nan bread and lassi. The only concerns were the size of the tables (too small for even a modest feast) and their close proximity to each other but perhaps this reflects the popularity of this restaurant. There is also a large lower ground dining area. Its open kitchen demonstrates the confidence the owners and employees have in their food preparation. I thoroughly enjoyed the meal, very reasonably priced at £24 for two. It is licensed but on this occasion we didn’t partake. This was to be reserved for Searcy’s Champagne Bar at St Pancras after a relaxing, almost door-to-door single bus journey from Whitechapel to King’s Cross.
Guest Post by FMW
The sign welcomed me to Herne Bay a Coastal Leisure Town. The decline of traditional coastal industries in the second half of the 20th century created challenges. Visiting any coastal town in the middle of December is a particular challenge but I was surprised how lively the place was. The fine sunny day attracted many strollers along the front. The pier still manages to dominate the view out to sea. It is distinctive as it is in two sections, the middle section collapsing in a severe storm in January 1978. An off shore wind farm is evidence of new industry in the area.
The sea front is a rich testimony to the town’s history in early tourism. In the nineteenth century no trip to the seaside was complete without a dip in the sea from a bathing machine which looked like beach huts on wheels. The grand late Georgian Houses at Marine Terrace were perfectly positioned so that bathers could be transported to the sea. The terrace is next to the Ship Inn dating back to the late 18th-century inn it served as the focal point for the small shipping and farming community which first inhabited the town. A band stand and Clock Tower complement the scene. The later is believed to be the first freestanding purpose built clock tower in the world.
Reculver Tower which is east of Herne Bay is clearly visible from the sea front. It was here that the bouncing bomb used by the Dam Busters of the 2nd World War was tested. Just east of The Ship Inn there is a statue to the memory of Barnes Wallis its inventor.
There is a Saturday Market on King’s Road Car Park. The stalls were mainly selling cheap goods from China, the kind that you can buy in any pound shop on the high street. I was surprised by one large stall that was selling wool. There would need to be an awful lot of local knitters to make it a worth while enterprise. The main shops are found on the High Street and Mortimer Street. The parallel main streets reveal the town’s Saxon past.
It was refreshing to see that there were no empty shops and there was a surprising number of independent shops. The old cinema is now an antiques emporium Briggsy’s which had some very interesting pieces and a good range of vinyl records which seem to be in demand again. The 40s and 50s background music added to its charm. Ram Collectable Toys had only been open for two weeks and is run by Mark Priest and his father. It had an interesting selection of retro toys for those kids that never grow up. Sew Lovely stock a large range of buttons, fabric, haberdashery and they also run sewing and craft classes. My final destination was back to the front to Makcaris for fish and chips. They were some of the best I have tasted and very reasonable.
Since my visit a storm has erupted, and even made the national news, between the local traders and the council. Traders and local residents have accused the council of providing the worst Christmas lights in the country and described them as an embarrassment. I left before dark so can make no comment.
After my eventful journey on the cable car we arrived at Royal Victoria Docks. My legs were shaking as I disembarked the car and it took the sight of the Boris Bus, parked outside the Crystal to take my mind off the trauma.
The new Routemaster, also known as the NB4L (New Bus for London) at the Royal Victoria Docks embodies the spirit and physique of the former iconic model. Parked by the Siemen’s Crystal tribute to sustainability, it uses hybrid technology to power it. The total bill for these Routemasters will be £160m for 600 buses with eight currently in service travelling from Hackney to the Victoria Docks. It retains a rear platform, though no longer open for hopping on and off for Health and Safety reasons. It boasts two sweeping curved sets of stairs to the upper deck, panoramic views and it’s curved exterior is a very modern interpretation of the original 30’s design. We were told by the two employees showing the bus that it would, at peak times, also have a clippie.
The next stop, adjacent to the NB4L was definitely the stale bread and water ration, the Crystal. Designed to provide a showcase for sustainability, I judged it to be badly designed and boring. The entrance is confusing, the exhibits a cure for insomnia. If Siemens think that school children’s curiosity regarding green issues would be provoked by a visit here they can think again. I believe a unanimous ‘ so what!’ would be audible. The over complexity of the technology promised much and delivered practically nothing. Thankfully, some were broken so that I could cut my visit here short. Even the café provided many contradictions. Why would Siemens choose to serve drinks in paper, recyclable cups while using crockery and cutlery that would need to be washed, presumably in a dishwasher? Wouldn’t there be better sustainability to use solely one or the other? My companion and I ordered a meat pastie and received the cold, vegetarian model. We had to ask for both crockery and cutlery, perhaps this is a sustainability ploy to get customers, mostly Siemens’ employees, to eat straight off the table using only their hands. If it is, it’s not working. The only real contribution to sustainability I could see was customers having to clear their own tables, perhaps an energy saver but also keeping yet someone else out of a job.
A brisk walk to the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) followed the great Crystal escape. This service is very accessible and efficient. It accesses the whole of Docklands to Bank and Tower Gateway, the latter to be our stopping point for the St Katharine Dock. By now I am getting really good value from my one-day Travelcard, a worthy alternative to the Oyster. So far, none of my journeys have been eventless and this one followed suit. The gor’ blimey guard provided entertainment with his running commentary of travel directions, change here for underground, overground etc with final advice, “If you’re travelling to Bank you’re on the wrong train. “ This was certainly good advice, though a little tardy, for several travellers.
Guest Post FMW
Alex was our host for the evening on the Greenwich Meantime Brewery Tour. We were taken up to the marketing suite where we found him wiping down the bar. He explained that he was running late as the earlier tour was two groups of 30 people. In contrast we were a select group of nine. It turned out that the group included three people called James, two Chris, Patrick, Katie, Laura and Hannah. As this was his third tour of the day I am sure Alex thought he was in for a relatively easy time. It soon became apparent, however, that Patrick had a lot of beer savvy and could ask some challenging questions. Alex asked had any one heard about the German beer purity laws to which Patrick responded “Oh the Reinheitsgebot”. The tour starts with beer tasting starting with the weaker beers and progressing to the higher ABVs. Alex was very enthusiastic about the Oktoberfest and explained with some conviction why it cost over £5 a pint. The group, knowing, by now, that Patrick was a regular at the Munich beer festival looked to Patrick for a view. To Alex’s relief, the man from Sweden said it was excellent one of the best he had tasted.
Although, a self confessed non brewer our host conveyed compassionately the principles behind Greenwich Meantime. He compared the beer to a well aged steak and drew on his experience as a former chef often and to good effect. The brewery’s principles are to use the best ingredients and ensure consistency. The price reflects that this is a premium product or as Alex said “ it’s like your Montgomery Cheddar – you get those great flavours that excite your palate”
This was my first brewery tour so I didn’t know what to expect. After about an hour and a half we did the tour of the brewery. I wasn’t that interested in learning about the actual process but did welcome the short respite from the bar. On our return to the bar we tasted the Indian Pale Ale with an ABV of 7.4%. My favourite was Yakima Red 4.1% ABV. It has a deep ruby colour and is made from hops from valley of the same name in Washington State, US.
The brewery is the largest to be opened since the 1930s. It was the brain child of Alastair Hook a local boy who had been inspired by his teacher at Thomas Tallis school. It’s a fine example of local innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. The Classic Tour costs £15 and is available Thursday – Saturday plus a Sunday afternoon tour. On Friday and Saturday they have a Pie and Pint night costing £30. It was a very enjoyable evening and I was assured by Patrick that it is one of the best brewery tours.
It was with trepidation that I accepted an invitation to write a post for this blog. Exiled from London over twenty years ago I felt like a ‘country cousin’, re-visiting old and forgotten haunts. What an adventure and as it transpired, one of various levels of enjoyment, wonder and horror, rather like a Heston Blumenthal multi-course tasting menu. This was to be a mini sampling of several forms of London transport, traditional to innovative, in travelling across the Thames to East London.
Arriving at North Greenwich we walked via the new Ravensbourne College of Art to the cable car terminal. The new college building is stunning. Somehow, Foreign Office Architects have succeeded in celebrating a diversity of cultures and eras. Juxtaposed with the O2 arena, it appears to be a middle eastern jewel in the midst of modernity. I interpreted the porthole-type windows as a tribute to seafaring vessels and the river. Students must be ecstatic at the move from Bromley. Truly an inspiring feat of architectural design and a credit to the built environment.Passing the O2 Arena, I was informed that people now pay to walk over it inside a covered walkway. The 90 minute trek costs £22 and apart from the viewing platform, that attraction will remain a mystery to me.
The next experience for me to savour was cable car at North Greenwich, providing alternative transport to The Royal Victoria Docks. This engineering project, completed for the opening of the London Olympics cost £60m and was sponsored by the Dubai owned Emirates airline. Dubai has recently been bailed out by a neighbouring Emirate, resulting in the tallest building in the world being re-named the Burj Khalifa (previously the Burj Dubai), to reflect the investment of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi. Surely someone has thought through investment against return with this venture, especially in its own economic climate and questionable judgements? Though smart and professional, signage and corporate identity bear no resemblance to the exotic livery of Emirates. The venture was obviously designed as a tourist attraction, but then offered as a method of commuting. It is beyond me as to why anyone would think this would work. Just the walk from the station and car park renders it inefficient. The cable car station was in a state of desolation. To be fair, it was a windy day and we travelled during off peak hours but I wouldn’t have been surprised to see balls of prairie grass blowing around the terminal. My companion and I plus one other, a tourist, provided the sum total of the custom and at approximately £3 for a single ‘flight’, Nelson will get his eye back before Dubai breaks even on this venture. As a frequent flyer myself, I didn’t give a thought to the quality of the flying experience until it became clear to me that I was required to hop in to the cable car while it was still moving, rather like a fairground Waltzer. What ensued then was definitely the Snail Porridge of the day. With a car to ourselves we were advised to sit in the centre of the benches as there may be some turbulence. That was an understatement. Advice that we shouldn’t be alarmed, frequently transmitted throughout the cars served only to make me more anxious. The car slowed down and at one point stopped completely, swaying from side to side without respite. Oncoming, empty cars swayed even more precariously and during one of the brief moments I ventured a peek from behind my hands I was convinced we would be hit by one of them. How was I going to write about the industrial landscape of the Thames 95 feet below when I had my eyes shut for the journey? However, during my more audacious moments I glimpsed the imposing industrial landscape, the Tate and Lyle sugar factory, responsible for the employment many European immigrants, the myriad of sailing vessels used for transporting goods as far as St Katharine Dock and the modernity of the Olympic Park. My legs were shaking as I disembarked the car and it took the sight of the Boris Bus, parked outside the Crystal to take my mind off the trauma. More of which later.
Guest Post by F M W