22 May 2017

Walking London - Pimlico to Westminster

Walk London is a network of walks accessible by public transport, and London's transport organisation, tfl, has a programme of free guided walks on three weekends a year - in May, September, and February. Events book up fast; when I booked, all the "country walks" were already full, so I went on a "city doddle" - and it was ever so interesting.

Guides Ian and Katie gave just enough information at each of the stopping points, and had portable loudspeakers so everyone (there were 40 or so in the group) could hear. The sun was shining, which is a bonus - even on rainy days the turnout is good.

Of course I took a photo at every opportunity - here are a few of the highlights.

At Pimlico, a ventilator shaft by Eduardo Paolozzi (1982), using motifs from the construction of the Victoria Line -
 Pimlico is the only station on the Victoria Line without an interchange.

Nearby, an illustration of building patterns in the 1700s - stucco for the most expensive; brick upper stories for the middling sort; and all brick for the humble dwellings.
The fake windows were not mentioned - was it to make a nice facade, or to avoid window tax?
 The nearby estate, built in the 1980s, follows Cubbitt's designs 150 years previously and is built on land that was derelict since a flood in the 1920s -
 The fountain is reminiscent of the "sturgeon" motif used for lamp posts along the embankment in the 1870s by Vuillamy.

The social housing of Ponsonby Place is intersected by John Islip street - one arm has been privatised and the other, juding from the black door furniture being replaced by brass, and the better upkeep in general, is starting to go that way -
 Round the back you can see the remnants of the moat around the former Millbank Prison -
The prison was built in 1821 and demolished in 1892; street layout of the estate on the site follows the lines of the prison blocks.

Also on the prison site is Tate Britain - here, showing bomb damage from WW2, which cannot be repaired because it's part of the building Grade II listing.
Sir Henry Tate made his sugar fortune, we were told, by buying the patent for making sugar cubes - before that, sugar had to be chipped off a block or cone. He was an art collector and wanted to give 65 of his paintings to the National Gallery, but they said they didn't have room ... so he built his own gallery, which was opened in 1897.

Also Grade II listed is the Millbank Tower - 32 stories, built in the 1960s and now about to be developed as luxury flats and a hotel - with a three-story art gallery space -
Behind it you can see where MI5, the homeland security agency, is based. Trinity House and Noble House were built in the 1920s-30s and mirror each other -
It is said to have an excellent canteen - which keeps the spies and spooks from chatting about work in any outside eateries and being overheard.

From Lambeth bridge you can see the new American Embassy behind the trees on the right, and two enormous towers being built on the site of the (now old) New Covent Garden market, which has moved half a mile down the road.
The "cigarette" building has 50 stories of luxury apartments - a one-bed on the 10th floor will set you back £750K or so. It's been called "a stark symbol of the housing crisis". To its left is MI6 headquarters, which until the 1990s had its HQ  at a "secret" location that was "irredemiably insecure" because of the garage, and its petrol, on the premises.

Across the river, London Fire Brigade's art deco HQ are being redeveloped but will include a fire brigade museum -
White Hart Dock lay derelict for many years until an art installation was added in 2009 -
 Round the corner, the Doulton factory building with its amazing tiles was covered in scaffolding -
Under the railway and round the corner, Newport Street is changing, especially the railway arches, whose rents have quadrupled recently - this is the "last garage in Vauxhall" -
 Across the road is Damian Hirst's large art gallery, once a scenery store - it went in and out the huge door -
 Round another corner, this building is rumoured to be the HQ of the metropolitan police CCTV unit -
 It's not far from Old Paradise Gardens, a former burial ground, back in the day when the now-deserted Lambeth High Street was lined with shops and amenities. The gardens received the new gates in 2013 -
They include inscriptions from gravestones and details of plants found in the park.

On the embankment, the benches show (if you look closely enough, above the back foot) the name of their donor - Henry Doulton -
A memorial to the Special Operations Exective,  agents recruited for their language skills working undercover in WW2, 117 of whom were killed, was unveiled in 2009 -
The bust is of Violette Szabo, "young, brave, and beautiful".

Victoria Tower houses the papers of the House of Lords and is taller than Elizabeth Tower, which houses that most famous bell, Big Ben. A three-year refurbishment of the Houses of Parliament means that Big Ben will be silent for a while -
A question - why was HP sauce (yes, named after the H of P, and with the picture on the label) reputedly known as "handkerchief sauce"? It's not in my notes... but some digging on the internet reveals that the name of the originator was Gartons - read the name backwards...!

Last stop was outside St Thomas's Hospital, where the 1972 fountain, by Naum Gabo ("Mr Strings") is an animated version of one of his linear sculptures -
 Down, down, down (3 escalators) to the Jubilee Line at Westminster station, opened in 1999 -
... thinking ahead to a bit of gardening.

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