Saturday, 6 November 2010

"Freedom to stencil"

The ever changing walls of Hoxton include a Banksy and others.

This is a long gone Banksy in Leake Street

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Sunday, 31 October 2010

Tower Bridge chimney

On the Northern approach to Tower Bridge stands a cast iron fixture that looks like a lamp standard with the light missing. It is in fact a chimney and connected to a fireplace that warmed a guardroom used by officials of the Tower of London.

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Sunday, 17 October 2010

Alfred Salter

Alfred Salter was born on 16th June 1873 in South Street, Greenwich to parents belonging to the Plymouth Brethren. At the age of 9 he joined The Band of Hope, a temperance movement for working class children. Members, as young as 6, met once a week to listen to lectures on the evils of drink.
(The Greenwich birthplace of Alfred Salter)

Salter studied medicine at Guys Hospital after winning a three year scholarship worth £50 a year. After graduating he became interested in politics and soon became a committed socialist, joining the Fabian Society in 1890. It believed that capitalism was unjust and inefficient and that a new socialist society should be created in accordance with high moral principles. As a student Salter visited working class homes in Bermondsey, which reinforced his socialist commitment.

Trade and industry started to flourish in Bermondsey at the end of the 19th century and the population increased from 27,500 in 1851 to 136,000 in 1891. There were few places to live with conditions so bad that people were known to sleep nine to a room with one tap severing as many as 25 houses. The tap was ‘on’ for only two hours a day though never on a Sunday. People worked long hours for low pay in the local docks and tanneries but regular work was uncertain. A lack of sanitation and nourishing food caused diseases from which many died.

Salter went to live in the Bermondsey Settlement which was created by Rev John Scott Lidgett in 1891. (Dr Lidgett resigned from his post as Bermondsey Settlement warden in 1949 at the ripe old age of 95). It provided a home for Methodists from where they could share their lives with people in this deprived area. It was a community of like minded people concerned with the well being of the local neighbourhood. Other philanthropists and social commentators were attracted to the area. A group of ‘Oxbridge’ men started youth work creating the Oxford & Bermondsey Club. Like missionary’s exploring the Dark Continent they created medical missions with Dr Selina Fox opening the Bermondsey Medical Mission for Women in 1904 and the Oxford Medical Mission opening in 1906. The Cambridge University Mission (C.U.M. as it’s known) was founded in 1907 as a medical mission and residential home. Other institutions included the South London Mission that provided free breakfasts and the Gedling Mission offering a soup kitchen.

While working at the Bermondsey Settlement, Salter met Ada Brown, a devote Christian (Salter was agnostic but later converted under Ada’s influence) who he married on 22 August 1900. As socialists and Christians they decided to devote their lives to helping the poor. On his way home one night by tram Salter spotted a vacant shop on the corner of Keetons Road and Jamaica Road. He instantly rented the shop to act as his surgery using the rooms above as his home. They created a medical practice that soon became so popular that four more doctors, all sharing the same Christian, socialist beliefs were recruited. The low costs, sixpence but only if a patient could spare it and an insistence that hospital beds were made available for urgent cases, made Salter very popular. By 1918 the medical centre had over 12,000 names on its books. Despite this Alfred and Ada realised that to really help the poor they should create change and both decided to join local Government.

Ada became London’s first female Lord Mayor in 1910 but refused to wear the robes and chain of office. She created the Beautification Committee and employed Borough Garden Superintendents to plant tress in every street to improve the air quality and to plant flowers in every vacant spot. Nine thousand tress were planted in just two years and locals were given bulbs with which to start their own window boxes. This became a Bermondsey revolution and stated to improve the lives of ordinary working class people. Ada also created the Rose Garden in Southwark Park as a place for pregnant women and the elderly to sit and enjoy the fresh air.

Alfred Salter joined the Liberal Party and was elected to the Bermondsey Borough Council in 1903 and two years later became a member of the London County Council. In May 1908 he joined the Labour Party under the leadership of Keir Hardy. In 1922 he became MP for Bermondsey West.

Salter was very much his own man. As a pacifist he was opposed to the First World War and in August 1914 published a pamphlet entitled “Faith of a Pacifist”. It sold over a million copies. It was translated into several languages and clandestinely distributed in Germany. The pamphlet reached Asia and China and over 80 people were sent to prison for its distribution in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. He came under suspicion of being pro German but the people of Bermondsey came to his defence. Their affection for the ‘Good Doctor’ was more important than his view on the war, which the vast majority of the local population disagreed with, sometimes violently. At the time of publication he had no idea what the consequences might be for actively opposing the war but he was never one to hide his convictions.
Though a devout Christian he disagreed with the state providing single faith schools on the grounds that an atheist should not have to contribute to the running of Christian run schools.

Ada and Alfred bought Fairby Grange in Kent in 1917 and turned it into a nursing home for mothers and babies, a convalescent home for the sick and a home for WW1 conscientious objectors who had been physically and mentally broken by imprisonment. The 11 acres of ground were used to grow trees and flowers for the beautification of Bermondsey and became a holiday camp for boys during the summer months. As a convalescent home it never charged a fee.

The labour council became so popular that it created a national record by winning all the seats on the Borough council. A 1905 inquiry estimated that of the 19,000 houses in Bermondsey only 113 had a bath and these were in the homes of the clergy, doctors and publicans. By 1927 little had changed and  as a response the council created a ‘Palace of Baths’. This included public baths, a laundry, Turkish and Russian vapour baths and 1st and 2nd class swimming pools with people queuing in the streets to use these facilities that were regarded as the finest in England and possibly Europe. A solarium was also created to cure children of tuberculosis due to the lack of natural sunlight, smog and air pollution. Some children were even sent to recuperate in Switzerland as the fresh mountain air aided their recovery. In 1926 Salter was sent to Switzerland to recover from exhaustion but quickly returned to show support for the General Strike.

(Bermondsey Medical Centre, better known to locals as the Solarium)

Salter’s treatment became so successful that the infant mortality rate between 1911 and 1935 fell from 160 to 69 and in 1935 not one mother died in childbirth despite 1,487 births.

The labour council decided to replace the Union Jack flying from the top of the town hall with a predominately red flag that caused outrage in the press. The flag included the borough coat of arms, a lion carrying an abbot's crozier, a ship and a battle axe and crown of St Olaf the warrior king that gave his name to the old parish of St Olave's. The Tory press were furious that a 'Red Flag', the colour of revolution, should replace the Union Jack but Salter claimed that it did not represent blood spilled in revolution but the blood that flows trough the veins of all men and women.

Salter always cycled to the House of Commons. The St James Church Magazine wrote "When the Rolls Royces glide into Palace Yard to deposit our MP's there comes, too, a push bike of prehistoric make - nothing like it can now be seen outside the British Museum. It is the Member for West Bermondsey arriving to renew the fight for the causes he loves"

In the 1929 General Election Salter increased his majority but made it clear to Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald that he should not be considered for a Ministerial post due to his pacifist principles and that he would not bow his knee to anyone except his maker. In 1930 Alfred and Ada joined the newly formed Socialist Medical Association that believed that medical service should be provided free to all that needed it. This was a full 18 years before the launch of the NHS by Aneurin Bevin in July 1948.

As a member of the Peace Pledge Union Alfred Salter toured the USA with George Landsbury addressing large crowds and met with President Roosevelt. He was opposed to Hitler but did not believe that it was worth the blood of millions of lives fighting him. Bermondsey refused to have an ARP committee as late as 1937 until it was finally made compulsory. When war broke out he became physically ill having believed that Hitler would never attack. Despite his own home at 5 Storks Road, where he had lived since January 1906, being bombed during the blitz he remained an opponent of the bombing of Nazi Germany.

The great man passed away in 1945 three years after Ada who died in 1942.

"I regard the work which he did in Bermondsey as among the greatest personal contribution to social progress in this century" wrote Fenner Brockway in the biography of Alfred Salter, "The Bermondsey Story".

Bermondsey Station

This is very much a work in progress and would appreciate any contributions readers may have to shed more light on this remarkable man.

New Bermondsey Salter statues unveiled after theft - BBC News 30th November 2014

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Saturday, 16 October 2010

Venitas - The Transience of Earthly Pleasures

Held in the glorious surroundings of the former Sierra Leone embassy at 33 Portland Place this is a must see event. The building is almost as interesting as the art.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Sculpture Park . Frieze Art Fair, Regents Park

Gavin Turk - Oeuvre (Goose) and Oeuvre (Guinea Foul)

This years Sculpture Park, as part of the Frieze Art Fair, is once again held in the English Garden in Regents Park. Artists take a real risk exposing their work to the general public in such a public space. If exhibiting in a gallery an artist will know that whoever is looking at their work must have an interest in art to have entered the gallery. In the park it is open to all and sundry to enjoy or ridicule.

Gavin Turk- Les Bikes de Bois Rond

Artist Gavin Turk gives instructions to a man in a blue coat about the 15 art bicycles that are available to visitors at the Sculpture Park. The blue coated men escort the cyclist to the Inner Circle (there are strict rules about cycling in the Royal Park) where he is set free to cycle in a circle and return to collect a signed certificate by Turk declaring them an authentic work of art. This would work fine if it wasn't for the Health and Safety paranoia of men in blue coats and restrictions on where you can and can't ride the bike.
Daniel Silver - The Smoking Silver Father Figures

Jeppe Hein - 1 Dimensional Mirror Mobile

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Saturday, 11 September 2010

Brick Lane Market

You can buy most things in Brick Lane market. From fruit and veg to wire hangers and broken records. Not scratched but broken. If your bike ever gets nicked it's a sure bet that you will be able to buy it back down Brick Lane

Blackmans is just off of Brick Lane and sell a fine selection of Doctor Martins and other industrial boots and shoes. A favorite haunt of 70's skinheads this shop now specialise in 'plimsoles'.

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Saturday, 28 August 2010


This blog once bemoaned the fact that there are no great songs about London to compare with Jay-Z’s, Empire State of Mind and I guess this clip proves the point. But could Alicia Keys belt out an opening line with as much gusto as Sid James “Oh, Oh, Oh....”. Tony may have left his heart in San Francisco and Frank wanted to make it in New York but it’s the happy, laughing, razor slashed faces of the people of Bermondsey that tug at Sid’s heart strings. The clip also provides a small glimpse of a fully working dock in the Pool of London that has now disappeared.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Saturday, 7 August 2010

The Shard from the Mayflower

These pictures are taken from the jetty of the Mayflower pub in Rotherhithe. The Shard keeps growing but is still only a third of it's eventual height. It is starting to impose itself on old familiar skylines such as this from the Mayflower.

A Thames barge sails past heading east to the sea.

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Columbia Market

Columbia Flower Market is in the East End of London on Columbia Road.

Originally built as a Victorian gothic folly by the banking heiress Angela Burdett-Coutts in 1869 it opened as a fish market. It was never popular with the costermongers as she imposed rules on working on Sunday and expected them to “be sober, be vigilant, be pitiful, be courteous”. It was never going to work and they started trading in the street. The building was demolished in 1958.

The East Ends interest in flowers is thought to stem from the immigrant Huguenot community. They were also fascinated with bird song and there is a pub in Columbia Road called The Birdcage.

The market originally opened on a Saturday but this changed to Sunday due to the growing Jewish population. This allowed Covent Garden and Spitalfield traders to use the market to sell off their left over’s. The area went into decline during the war as food production took priority and the area was due for demolition in the 70’s. Fortunately it was saved by the local’s and is once again a thriving Sunday market.

The Victorian houses and shops are now home to a diverse range of traders that include coffee shops, vintage clothing shops and art galleries.

This must be the only place in London where you can buy lavender for a “fiver with free bees thrown in”.

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Sunday, 1 August 2010

St Alfege’s, Greenwich

St Alfege’s Church was built by Nicholas Hawksmoor in 1711 – 1718 to replace the previous church that had been destroyed by a storm in 1710. It was the christening place of Henry VIII in 1491 and stands on the spot where St Alfege, appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1005, was murdered by Danish invaders for refusing to pay ransom money that would have saved his life.

The interior of the church was destroyed by German bombing in 1941 during the Blitz and restored in 1952 by Albert Richardson. I’m sure the restoration work is a faithful imitation of the original but the interior feels new and at odd’s with its exterior.

The church has been turned back to front. The east end, where these cherubs stand, slowing being destroyed by the pollution from Greenwich High Road, was originally the front entrance but access to St Alfege's is now from the west.

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Sunday, 25 July 2010

Woolwich Ferry

The Woolwich Ferry operates between Woolwich, on the South bank of the Thames in the Borough of Greenwich and North Woolwich in the Borough of Newham. It acts as a link between London’s orbital road’s the North and South Circular. A ferry service has operated across the Thames at Woolwich since the fourteenth century but the current, free ferry service, officially opened on 23 March 1889, created by Sir Joseph Bazalgette. In the middle of the twentieth century people preferred to use the Woolwich pedestrian tunnel rather than confront the stink churned up by the four paddle steamers that came into operation in 1923. This was a time when poisons in the Thames could eat and rot the propellers of river boats.

The current three vessels were all built in Dundee in 1963 by the Caledon Shipbuilding and Engineering Company and replaced the previous four paddle steamers. They are each named after prominent local politicians and staunch socialists, John Burns, Ernest Bevin and James Newman former Mayor of Woolwich. This continues the practice which saw one of the previous paddle steamers named the John Benn, grandfather of former LabourMP Tony Benn. The diesel powered ships are 185 feet long and can carry 500 passengers and 200 to ns of vehicles. The ships have two propellers, one at each end, to add maneuverability and allow movement away from the terminals whatever the power of the tide.

The service has out lived its various masters, the London County Council (LCC) and the Greater London Council (GLC) and is now part of Transport for London (TFL).

This is not a very good picture of the Thames barrier (it’s there.... honest) but it’s taken from the Woolwich Ferry crossing and shows the Thames, the barrier and the darkening sky over Canary Wharf.
The Thames Barrier was completed in 1983 and built to hold back the 50 thousand tons of water, which can pass through the barrier each second, for maybe three or four times a year. By 2001 it was used fourteen times between January and April and in January 2003 the barrier was raised eighteen times to protect London from flooding. A combination of the tide rising by two feet per century and London sinking at a rate of eight inches per century could result in the Thames barrier being redundant by as early as 2030.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010