NW2: Life’s not Hollywood …

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“Life’s not Hollywood, it’s Cricklewood” is a quote from comedian Eric Morecambe and was used as the subtitle of a 2004 biography of Eric Morecambe by his son Gary. It kind of sums up the ordinariness of Cricklewood, NW2.

It is a very workaday kind of place which interestingly has two famous companies called Smith associated with it. What else could they be called?

Smith’s Crisps started life in Cricklewood as we shall see and Smiths Instruments had a major factory here which I believe was on Edgware Road near the bus garage. They started life in clocks and moved on to all sorts of bits and pieces for cars and then on to medical devises and much more. Sadly though they no longer seem to have a connection with NW2.

We start our walk at the Post Office at 193 Cricklewood Broadway, right in what passes for the centre of Cricklewood. Turn left out of the Post Office and cross when convenient. Our first stop is a little way along on the right where just past Kara Way there is a little undeveloped strip by the main road, with a milepost.

Stop 1: Cricklewood Milepost

This says London is 4 miles away.

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And yet it feels further. So I did a quick check and found that if you measure from Charing Cross (which is usually used as the centre of London for measurement) it is about 6 miles from there. And if you were to measure from the City – eg the Royal Exchange, you would be looking at about 8 miles. So where is 4 miles away. Well head down the main road (which is in effect the route of an old roman road – Watling Street) and you find that after 4 miles you would be at Marble Arch (or Tyburn Tree), which is not exactly the centre of London.

The other way it says Watford is 10 miles away, which even in a straight line is stretching it a bit. So the weary travellers of yesteryear were perhaps somewhat mislead by this particular mile post.

Walk past the row of shops and then another section of green. Opposite Temple Road you will see some steps on your right. Go up these.

Stop 2: The Railway Terraces

You first come to Gratton Terrace running at right angles to the steps. At first glance you could be in an industrial midland or northern town. Unusually for London these houses go straight onto the street with not even the tiniest strip of garden in front.

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The street ahead of you is Needham Terrace and walking along this you will see there is an alleyway parallel to Gratton Terrace. This looks even more like the industrial north, with tiny yards and little outbuildings which originally housed toilets.

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This alley is called Midland Terrace which kind of gives the game away.

We are directly south of the Midland Railway who had their main London depot at Cricklewood. They built these terraces as housing for railway workers starting in the late 1860s. There are five terraces in all; Gratton Terrace, facing Edgware Road, and Midland, Johnston, Needham and Campion Terraces behind. The streets, other than Midland, were named after prominent railway officials of the time.

According to Barnet Council, it would appear that Gratton, Midland and Needham Terraces were the first to be built with Johnstone Terrace being added by the 1890s and Campian Terrace being built at a later date. There are gradations of house size as well with Gratton having the largest houses. They were apparently allocated according to job, so the drivers and firemen got bigger houses than the porters.

Keep walking and you find the houses that back on to Midland Terrace do not have their fronts facing a street. No they face a communal garden.

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Then there is another row of houses and another alley (Johnstone Terrace), which is presumably the address of the houses on the north side of the gardens, whilst Midland Terrace is the address for the other side of the garden.

Again according to Barnet Council at some time before 1962 the green between Midland and Johnston Terrace was divided into individual garden plots, possibly during the Second World War as part of the war effort to grow food. In 1969 the Terraces were sold to Bradford Property Trust and residents voted on whether or not to keep the individual garden spaces. As a result a communal garden was established.

This knot of street is is now a conservation area.

Now return to the main road and turn right, going past Wickes and under the railway.

Stop 3: Cricklewood Bus Garage

Ahead on the left is a bus garage which although modern has a long history.

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Cricklewood Bus Garage opened for service in May 1905 and was originally called Dollis Hill. It was an early motorised bus depot of the London General Omnibus Company but what we see today dates from 2009/2010. It is now a depot for Metroline Buses.

Metroline was one of 12 operating subsidiaries created in 1998 by London Buses which were then sold off. In October 1994 Metroline was sold again to MTL and in March 2000 to ComfortDelGro – a company based in Singapore and operating over 46,000 vehicles in seven countries. (note I got this slightly wrong – see comment from Stephen Bird below. Thanks, Stephen for the correction)

Fascinating fact:  ComfortDelGro also owns Computer Cab which is one of the largest (if not the largest) Black Cab company in London

Now retrace your steps along Edgware Road (Cricklewood Broadway) past the post office and stopping just beyond Cricklewood Lane, where you will see our next stop on the left.

Stop 4: The Crown

The Crown Pub is an impressive solid looking late Victorian building – built in 1899.

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It was fully restored in 2003, and reopened as The Crown Moran Hotel and with the addition of a 152 room 4 star hotel and restaurant. Moran Hotels is a small Irish Hotel company. We are not a million miles away from Kilburn which is of course known for its Irish connections.

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I am told that Smith’s Crisps started off life in a yard behind the Crown, before moving to a factory in Brentford in 1927. So to celebrate, I had a pint and a packet of crisps in the Crown.

Sadly the brand of Smith’s no longer exists in the UK for crisps so I had to make do with what they had, which was an Irish brand called Tayto. (Well, the pub is run by an Irish hotel chain)

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This is a comfortable pub with some original features, and I guess having the modern hotel alongside gives it some purpose (and business) which it might not otherwise have.

Return back up the main road and turn right into Cricklewood Lane. Our next stop is almost immediately on your left.

Stop 5: Number 3 Cricklewood Lane (site of the Gaumont Cricklewood)

Today there is a Co-operative food store but once there was a cinema here.

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This was initially called the Queen’s Hall Cinema. It was opened in December 1920 by an independent company but was taken over by Gaumont in 1928. It seems to have had a fairly uneventful life.  It was renamed Gaumont in 1949, and had CinemaScope fitted in 1955. It finally closed in January 1960 and was demolished to be replaced by a supermarket, which has gone through a number of owners including Kwiksave and Somerfield.

Walk along Cricklewood Lane going under the railway, our next stop is past Claremont Road on the right.

Stop 6: Number 110, Cricklewood Lane

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The Handley Page Aircraft Company had a factory here from 1912 until 1917. Then they moved to Claremont Road, which is the road we just passed running off Cricklewood Lane on the left just after the railway. The Cricklewood Aerodrome was adjacent to their factory. The aerodrome closed in 1929 and the Golders Green Estate was built by John Laing & Co on the site of the Handley Page factory and aerodrome. This private housing development is a little way up Claremont Road bounded by Cotswold Gardens and Cheviot Gardens.

Back to Number 110, this was Clang’s electrical from 1929 to the mid 1970s. It then became something called the Production Village, a mini film studios owned by Samuelsons, which apparently included a pub and village green (!).

Here is a fascinating link which includes an advert from 1979 explaining the facilities.

http://www.thestudiotour.com/productionvillage/index.php

Production Village was demolished in 2000, and is now a Virgin Active gym.

A little further up the hill was the factory that manufactured the revolutionary Stylophone handheld “music” device of the late 1960s to early 1970s – as demonstrated by Rolf Harris. Not exactly sure which building that was or even if it still stands. But could well be this one.

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Now retrace your steps back down Cricklewood Lane and take a left into Lichfield Road. After some victorian terraces, you will see a housing estate on the left.

Stop 7: Westcroft Estate

Now at first glance this looks a typical housing development of the 1950s, but no, it turns out to be much earlier. 1934 in fact.

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And there are two stone plaques to prove it. The first says

“Hampstead Boro (sic) Council Westcroft Estate 1934”

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The second says:

“Metropolitan Borough of Hampstead Westcroft Housing Estate Declared open by HRH the Duke of Kent KG GCMG GCVO Tuesday 29th October 1935

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The Duke of Kent was the fourth son of King George V. Confusingly he was called Prince George until the Dukedom of Kent was recreated in October 1934. I guess this was convenient later when his brother (Albert Frederick Arthur George) unexpectedly took the throne in 1936. It would have been a bit odd for him to take the name George as king if his brother was still known as Prince George.

This first Duke of Kent died in 1942 and his son inherited the title. He was only about 7 at the time.  He was called Prince Edward but then became the second Duke of Kent (and he still is).

Continue a little further along the road which has now become Westbere Road. 

Stop 8: Hampstead School

Just here on the left is our next stop – a substantial school, today called rather confusingly Hampstead School. This is nowhere near Hampstead – it is not even West Hampstead!

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And here on the main building is an interesting stone plaque.

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This explains that this was Haberdashers Aske’s Boys school founded by Robert Aske in 1692. The stone was moved here in 1902 when the school itself moved from Hoxton.

Now I had always wondered about the name Haberdashers Aske’s as it seemed an odd combination of a trade with a person’s name.  The Haberdasher’s Company is one of the oldest livery companies in the City of London. It  received a Royal Charter in 1448 and has records dating back to 1371. Robert Aske left the Company £20,000 in 1690 to set up a hospital and home for 20 elderly men and a school for 20 boys at Hoxton. So that is why the names are linked.

The school really took off in the 19th century. There was reorganisation in 1873 and separate boys and girls schools were established at Hoxton and at Hatcham, New Cross in south east London.

The schools north and south of the river went on different paths with the boys school at Hoxton moving here at the turn of the twentieth century. Then in 1961 it moved again to Elstree, Hertfordshire and became an independent school. The south London ones stayed as local schools, then became a City Technology College and there is now an academy group, although still it seems with connections to the Haberdashers Company.

More of the history at http://www.haberdashers.co.uk/index.php?p=schoolsElstree

But now these buildings house Hampstead School.

One of the school’s most famous alumni is the writer Zadie Smith, who grew up a little further south from here and apparently still has a house in the Queen’s Park area. Another Smith!

We could not really come to north west London without mentioning her as she is so associated with this quadrant of London.  Her last novel was even called NW.

Apparently she was known as Sadie Smith as a child but at age 14 decided to be called Zadie. As a name, Sadie is a bit unusual but Zadie really stands out. Brilliant as only a fourteen year old can be!

Now the next final stops are a bit of a trek. Go past the school buildings and take a left into Menelik Road. Just opposite Somali Road is a little footpath. Take this. Hampstead School is on your left hidden away behind a fence and hedge. But on your right is a playing field, not surprisingly part of Hampstead School but belonging to another school – University College School.

Stop 9: University College School Playing fields

University College School is an independent fee paying school originally set up by University College London in 1830. The school itself is in Frognal in Hampstead, so over the border in NW3. But the playing fields with its pavilion are accessed from the other side from where you are standing, in Ranulf Road which is in NW2.

This field is used for Rugby, Football, Cricket, Athletics, Tennis and Hockey. There are some really well known alumni of the school including the runner Sir Roger Bannister, who in 1954 was first to be recorded as running run a mile in under 4 minutes. I guess he must have spent a bit of time on these fields whilst at school. Other famous old boys include Dirk Bogarde, Hugh Dennis and Will Self – I imagine the latter might have been more at home lurking behind the pavilion smoking.

Keep walking to the end of the path. At the end turn left into Farm Avenue, and then left again into Harman Drive

Stop 10: Number 38, Harman Drive 

This was clearly an up market inter-war development, with large semi-detached houses – most with garages. Quite a change from Cricklewood proper.

Number 38 has a blue plaque to the dance band leader, Henry Hall (1898 – 1989).

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Henry Hall was a dance band leader who performed regularly on BBC Radio during the 1920s and 1930s. He was still performing into the 1960s. He lived in this house from 1932 to 1959. As it happens 1932 was the year his career really took off when he became leader of the BBC Dance Orchestra.

Now retrace your steps to Farm Avenue and turn right follow this road as it turns left and becomes Hocroft Road. At the end of Hocroft Avenue you will find a busy dual carriageway – the A41 Hendon Way. Turn right here and soon on your right you will find our next stop.

Stop 11: Vernon Court

This is a substantial block of flats. To get the scale of the place, you really have to be on the other side of the road.

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And the interest here is that this was the home of the pioneer aviator, Amy Johnson

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Amy Johnson set numerous long-distance aviation records during the 1930s either flying solo or with her husband Jim Mollison. She flew in the Second World War as a part of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). She died during an ATA flight from Blackpool to Oxfordshire. The weather conditions were poor and she ended up over the Thames estuary, where she went down.

There is some mystery about the accident. The exact reason for the flight is still a government secret. And it has been said that her plane was actually shot down by British forces.

According to Wikipedia, in 1999 it was reported that Tom Mitchell, from Crowborough, Sussex, claimed to have shot Johnson down when she twice failed to give the correct identification code during the flight. He said: “The reason Amy was shot down was because she gave the wrong colour of the day [a signal to identify aircraft known by all British forces] over radio.” Mr. Mitchell explained how the aircraft was sighted and contacted by radio. A request was made for the signal. She gave the wrong one twice. “Sixteen rounds of shells were fired and the plane dived into the Thames Estuary. We all thought it was an enemy plane until the next day when we read the papers and discovered it was Amy. The officers told us never to tell anyone what happened.

Well that brings us to the end of our NW2 walk. Starting in workaday Cricklewood with its Smiths connections, passing a mini film studios, two school premises with famous ex pupils and ending up in real suburbia with the homes of a radio dance band leader and a pioneer aviator. So I guess there is a tiny bit of “Hollywood” stardust even in little old Cricklewood.

Now we are a bit in between places here. But you can get buses to Golders Green (nos 13, 82 and 328), Finchley Road (nos 13, 82 and 113) or West Hampstead (no 328) stations from here.

 

 

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NW1: Spirits move me …

NW1 is Marylebone, Regent’s Park, Euston and of course Camden Town. There is so much here, and I cannot possibly cover it all. So I will forego the delights of the first three and concentrate on the gritty reality that is Camden Town.

We start our walk a Camden Town’s main Post Office which is at 112-114 Camden High Street.

Turn right out of the Post Office and soon across the road you will see a modern building which houses the local job centre. This is our first stop.

Stop 1: Number 93 – 95  Camden High Street (site of Bedford Music Hall)

Today there are hosts of people milling around outside the job centre but once this was the location of the Bedford Music Hall – this was a haunt of the painter Walter Sickert, more of whom anon.

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The first theatre was built on this site in 1861 but was replaced in 1898 by a grander building by a young Bertie Crewe, who went on to design many theatres in the early years of the 20th century (many of which are no longer with us) plus a few cinemas.

The Bedford spent most of its life as a variety theatre. As ever the wonderful Arthur Lloyd site has a fantastic spread on this lost world:

http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/Bedford.htm

This has a great story about Peter Sellers. Around 1929/1930 Peter Sellers lived with his mother and grandmother in rented quarters upstairs at the Bedford. His mother was performing there in a revue called ‘Ha!Ha!!Ha!!!’ along with his father. When the revue finished, Peter’s father Bill abandoned Peter, his mother, and grandmother to fend for themselves. They carried on living upstairs at the Bedford Theatre for a short time after he departed.

The theatre closed in 1959 and was eventually demolished ten years later to be replaced with this dull looking block. It seems kind of fitting that this is the job centre given how precarious making a living on the stage can be.

Keep walking along the High Street. you will see Mornington Crescent station up ahead and on the left hand side of the road, is our next stop.

Stop 2: KOKO (former Camden Theatre/Camden Hippodrome Theatre)

Now this is a historic theatre that against all the odds has survived.

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This theatre opened as the Camden Theatre on Boxing Day 1900 by the famous actress Ellen Terry who had lived in nearby Stanhope Street as a child. It was designed by the prolific W G R Sprague – a contemporary of Crewe, he was also responsible for amongst others the Coronet in Notting Hill which still stands in W11 and the Royal Duchess Theatre in Balham which we did not see in SW12 as it was bombed and finally demolished in the 1960s.

It became a variety theatre in 1909 and was renamed the Camden Hippodrome Theatre. By 1911 films were being presented as part of the programme and in January 1913 it became a cinema known as the Camden Hippodrome Picture Theatre. In 1928, it was taken over by the Gaumont British cinema circuit. Closed during WWII, it became a BBC radio studio in 1945 and this lasted until 1972, in effect allowing the building to survive.

Since then it has been a music venue with various names, most recently following a major refurbishment in 2004 it has been known as KOKO.

Before we leave here I should point out the statue in the middle of the road.

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This is of Richard Cobden, who was a supporter of free trade and in the 1840s campaigned to abolish the Corn Law which imposed a tariff on imported wheat. He also campaigned for closer trade with France which led to the Cobden-Chevalier Treaty. This statue was funded by public subscription and one of the principal contributors was the french ruler of the time Napoleon III.

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Fascinating fact: Napoleon III was both the first elected president and the last monarch of France, but he was monarch after he was president!

Whilst here, I should also mention the little matter of Mornington Crescent, the game played on the radio 4 comedy series, I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue. It is a totally mad panel game with the rules (such as they are) seemingly being made up as they go along. Funny but unintelligible, and rather fitting for something in a show called I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue.

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Amazingly this programme started in 1972 and has so far had over 400 episodes in 60 series, even surviving the death of its host Humphrey Lyttleton.

Now immediately opposite Mornington Crescent station is our next stop:

Stop 3: Greater London House (former Carreras Cigarette factory)

This wonderful Art Deco building is was constructed as the Arcadia works for the Carreras Tobacco Company in the late 1920s.

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It was built on the communal gardens in the middle of Mornington Crescent, which the borough council had sold off. The building’s distinctive Egyptian style ornamentation originally included two gigantic black cat statues and colourful painted details plus above the door was a carved Horus of Behdet, a symbol of the winged disk of the Sun.

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During World War II it was felt that this symbol resembled too closely the eagle imagery of the Third Reich and it was covered up. When the factory was converted into offices in 1961 the Egyptian detailing was removed. However the building was restored during a renovation in the late 1990s. Replicas of the cats were put outside the entrance but the sun disk was not replaced.

Walk the full length of the frontage and take the first turning on the right. This is the actual street called Mornington Crescent. which loops behind the former factory.

It must have been quite a shock to the 1920s residents of Mornington Crescent to discover that their local council had not just sold their crescent garden for development, but sold it for a huge factory. Worst of all, the delightful facade fronts on to Hampstead Road and the crescent just gets the dull backside of the factory.

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Stop 4: Number 6 Mornington Crescent

Going along the Crescent, you will soon see a house with a blue plaque.

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This was one of many homes of artist Walter Sickert. He founded, with other artists, the Camden Town Group of British painters. This group had been meeting informally since 1905, but was officially established in 1911. It was influenced by Post-Impressionism and Expressionism, but concentrated on scenes of often drab suburban life. Sickert himself said he preferred the kitchen to the drawing room as a scene for paintings.

And he also painted a number of scenes at the local Bedford Music hall. there is an interesting article on the V & A site: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/w/walter-sickert-and-the-bedford-music-hall/

He married three times – his first wife from 1885 until their divorce in 1899 was Ellen Cobden, a daughter of Richard Cobden, whose statue we have just seen.

Now this part of the crescent actually backs on to the main railway line into Euston, which is in a cutting here. This is where the new high speed rail line HS2 will go through.

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Interestingly, Number 6 sports a “bin HS2” sticker in the window but this was the only one I spotted in the windows hereabouts. I wondered why given how close this is to the route. I had a quick check and it would seem most of the devastation will be on the other side of the current line, so maybe that is why there does not seem to be a mass of protest posters hereabouts.

Take the first left (Clarkson Row) and follow this round as it parallels the railway on the other side of a high wall. This then becomes Mornington Terrace. I guess this street was built after the railway as the houses are just on one side and the numbers are sequential rather than just odd or even.

Stop 5: Number 54 Delancey Street

At the junction with Delancey Street, there is a lovely pub with garden sporting the eccentrically spelt name of “the Edinboro Castle”.

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And within sight of the pub’s front door, across Delancey Street is a blue plaque to say that Dylan Thomas lived here.

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One wonders whether the spirits moved him and he supped the odd whiskey in this pub when he stayed hereabouts.

We have been a bit Dylan Thomas-ed out just recently as it is the centenary of his birth this year. He famously settled in a small Welsh village called Laugharne (which I learned from the various television programmes is pronounced something like “lawn”). I am not sure exactly when he was in Camden Town.

Now ahead is a big road junction which actually lies over the railway. You want to go straight ahead past Foxton’s estate agents and then after a little way take the first right (which is Gloucester Crescent)

Stop 6: Alan Bennett (Gloucester Crescent)

Gloucester Crescent was for many, many years the home of writer (and reluctant national treasure) Alan Bennett. Not sure exactly which one was his home. But I have seen his house described as “Bennett Towers” and we know from his play “The Lady in the Van” that he has a driveway, so it is possible to speculate on which house may have been his.

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We may yet find out when they film “The Lady in the Van”, as it is said that the BBC will use his actual house.

Now walk along Gloucester Crescent, taking the first right (Inverness Street) and then go right into Arlington Road.

Stop 7: Odeon cinema/Mecca Bingo Hall

Ahead you can see the side of what was a massive Odeon cinema. This was built as the Gaumont Palace and opened in January 1937, with its main entrance round the corner on Parkway. It was a large cinema with over 2,700 seats and full stage facilities, although these do not seem to have been used much.

It was renamed Odeon in 1964 and remodelled in 1968 when a bingo hall was created in the stalls with a separate side entrance (you can see today) and the circle became a new 1,198 seat cinema, with the entrance still on Parkway.

Closed by Odeon in 1979, it was leased out to independent operators for many years. Odeon took back the building and reopened it as a five screen cinema in 1997, which it remains today, with bingo still going on downstairs.

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Now whilst we are here, I have to point out this rather quirky shop front just a little back from the Odeon on the opposite side of Parkway past the junction. This is now an specialist tea shop, but was once a pet shop, as can be seen from the unusual signage – monkeys, talking parrots ….

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Now walk back along Parkway to the end and ahead across the road you will see Camden Town station (do not cross over)

Stop 8: Camden Town Station/Electric Ballroom

This station was first opened in 1907 by Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway (CCE & HR) and from the start was a junction where the lines to Golders Green and Archway met.

The station platforms formed a V. The line to Golders Green is under Camden High Street; the line to Archway is under Kentish Town Road. To avoid paying compensation to landowners during construction, the tunnels were kept under the road so on both lines the northbound platform is above the southbound one.

In the 1920s the CCE & HR was linked up with the City and South London Railway (both companies were by now owned by the Underground Electric Railways of London)  and extended to form what we now know as the Northern line.

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This station is woefully inadequate for the traffic that goes through and the station is exit only on Sundays to prevent overcrowding.

In 2004 following a public enquiry the then deputy prime minister John Prescott threw out a hugely controversial makeover, which would have led to the demolition of the Electric Ballroom nightclub, the United Trinity Reform Church and Buck Street market, amongst other buildings.

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But last September, TfL announced plans for a rebuild starting in 2017/18 and due to open in 2024/25 – only ten more years of weekend access restrictions then.

Now walk a little way along Camden High Street – our next stop is on the left

Stop 9:Number 211 Camden High Street (Site of Plaza cinema) 

The building was originally a bakery and was converted into a cinema – the Electric Theatre – in 1909. After a couple of renames, it was reconstructed in 1937 and reopened as the Plaza. It became part of the Odeon group in 1942 but in 1969 they leased it out to an independent operator and this cinema began its life as an art house cinema. Rent increases forced closure in 1994. the building was gutted to form an indoor market.

Now this is an Urban Outfitters shop and there is virtually nothing left of the old Plaza cinema. Just a little flooring in the entrance way to the shop. But if you go in there is this huge space where I guess the auditorium used to be, but any decorative features are long gone.

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Now up ahead on the left is Camden Lock Market, but we must forego this pleasure as they are other interesting things to see.

Just take the first right (Hawley Crescent) and you will see our next stop.

Stop 10: MTV studios, Hawley Crescent

This is an interesting looking building with coloured fins that goes from red through orange to yellow/green looking one way and then green to blue looking from the other direction.

This is now the London studios of MTV. However it has a place in UK television history as the birthplace of TV-am and breakfast television. They broadcast from here between 1 February 1983 and  31 December 1992. However much of the studio complex was redeveloped in 2012/13 and so it looks very different now from its TV-am heyday.

Although there is not much to remind us this history on the road frontage, if you go round the back and walk along the canal, you can still see the egg decorative features at the rear.

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It is probably easier to continue to walk along the canal tow path, leaving at the steps by a Costa Coffee shop.

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At the top of these steps, turn left and go along Camden Road.

As we walk along Camden Road we go under the railway bridge by Camden Road Overground station. The bridge here is painted a lovely blue with the words  Camden Town on it and having gone under it, looking back you see it is there as a mirror image as well.

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Having crossed St Pancras Way, take the first turning on the right. Our next stop is soon on the left.

Stop 11: Rochester Square Spiritualist Temple

I was strangely drawn to this building. I always love to read the foundation on these kind of buildings. It is a glimpse into a long forgotten world – one where we just have the fragment of an event in the life of a building and a group of dedicated people, whose cause today is often also forgotten.

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Well, this modest building calls itself the Rochester Square Spiritualist Temple, although it is not very grand. But it does have an interesting foundation stone, laid by none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1926.

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He was famously a great supporter of the spiritualist movement and so I guess it is kind of logical to find this here.

Mention of Conan Doyle also gives me a chance to tell a story about another part of NW1 which is just too far a way to visit – Baker Street, home of Conan Doyle’s most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes.

Now as you probably know number 221b Baker Street is not a real address. But what you may not know is that when Conan Doyle wrote his books, the numbering on Baker Street only went up to 85. The street continued as York Place and Upper Baker Street. When the Metropolitan Railway opened in 1863, it called its station Baker Street even though it was at the corner of Upper Baker Street.

In the 1930s, the numbering was changed so that York Place and Upper Baker Street became Baker Street, and thus it was possible to work out where 221b would have been. This turned out to be the offices of the Abbey National Building Society, which were at 215 – 229.

And as soon as this numbering change happened the Post Office started delivering mail for Sherlock Homes to the Abbey National. One wonders where it had gone before that!. The volume was such that the Abbey National appointed a staff member to handle the post.

In 1990 the Sherlock Holmes Museum opened further up Baker Street. With the support of Westminster Council (whose leader Shirley Porter opened the museum) they laid claim to the post, by renumbering 239 Baker Street as 221b! Abbey National were not keen on giving up their guardianship of the Sherlock Holmes mail, and insisted they should have the post. But once they moved out of Baker Street in 2005, the Sherlock Holmes Museum got it!

Now keep walking along Rochester Square, past the Square’s gardens and follow the road as it turns to the left and becomes Stratford Villas. Go to the end and cross over ahead is Camden Square, where our final stop is almost at the end on the right hand side. 

Stop 12: Number 30 Camden Square

At first glance, the former home of singer Amy Winehouse is not obvious.

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Unlike say Freddie Mercury’s former home in W8, there is no mini shrine at the gate. It has been cleared away. But if you cross the road from Number 30 you will see some trees which have that fine cane screening wrapped around them. And on this are various pieces of paper, a couple of cigarette packets and some drinking straws.

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No actual booze as far as I could see! But maybe local street drinkers come and tidy this up.

So if you want to raise a toast to the late great Amy, why not have what is said to be her favourite drink. It is called Rickstacy and consists of Southern Comfort, Vodka, Baileys and Banana Liqueur. Sounds disgusting but if you really want to try it, here is the recipe: https://www.cocktail.uk.com/cocktails/rickstasy

Now for some reason, I have got this song “Could it be Magic” running through my head – it starts with the words “Spirits move me…”

Or does it? There are actually three well known versions. The 1975 one is by Barry Manilow, who wrote the music (or rather adapted a bit of Chopin). Then there is a 1976 cover by Donna Summer and a later cover by Take That from 1992. Strange to say the words they sing are all slightly different with Barry opening with “Spirit move me” whilst Donna and Take That say “Spirits move me”. Plus there is a name check by Barry for sweet Melissa (that was apparently singer Melissa Manchester) but Donna sings to Peter and the Take That boys don’t name check anyone!

So that brings to the end of our NW1 walk with the ghosts of some old theatres and cinemas, the haunts of some well known drinkers, an artist’s home opposite an Art Deco masterpiece plus an unexpected foundation stone.

For onward travel retrace your steps to the main road for local buses or else there is Camden Road station or walking back a little further will get you to Camden Town station.

W14: Welcome to the Pleasure Dome

W14 is West Kensington – home to many artists and musicians,  the location of a major exhibition centre, the stores of some of our major Museums and the site of a major food factory which was also oddly home to the first computer used by a commercial business.

We start our walk at the Post Office at 8 – 10 North End Road, W14. Turn left out of the Post Office and at the end of the road cross over the main road and turn to your left.

Stop 1: Number 66 Hammersmith Road

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This modern office block half hidden by gardens along with the neighbouring office buildings was the site of the headquarters of tea shop and food manufacturer J Lyons and Company.

This collection of buildings was called Cadby Hall. This had been the location of a piano manufacturer called Charles Cadby. When he died in 1884, the site was sold and amongst the new occupiers in the 1890s were the Kensington Co-operative Society and Schweppes, the carbonated drinks company.

The J Lyons company purchased property near Cadby Hall at Number 62 Hammersmith Road and they expanded gradualy by taking over the Hall and adjoining sites itself. They retained the name, although the official address of Cadby Hall was 66 Hammersmith Road. This complex became one of the largest food factories in the United Kingdom, growing to cover an area of more than 13 acres – and employing 30,000 people.

There is a fascinating link to the history of this site here: http://www.kzwp.com/lyons/cadbyhall.htm

J Lyons and Co went into decline in the 1970s and the site was redeveloped in the early 1980s. As far as I can see there is no physical evidence of the existence of Cadby Hall but there is a little reminder of the company in that the pedestrianised way which runs down the right hand side of 66 Hammersmith Road is called Lyons Walk.

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Fascinating fact: Cadby Hall has a place in history as the location of the first ever business computer, LEO – the Lyons Electronic Office. This was developed by Lyons between 1949-1951 to automate its clerical and administrative tasks.

I included this in a quiz I set recently and although a couple of teams got it right, most of the room thought the business innovation introduced by Lyons in 1951 was the teabag! (that of course is a much older invention  – first commercial teabags date from around 1904 – and they came from New York of all places!)

Now walk down Lyons Walk and at the end turn right into Blythe Road. Almost immediately ahead on the left is our next stop.

Stop 2: Blythe House, Number 23 Blythe Road

This was originally built as the headquarters of the Post Office Savings Bank between 1899 and 1903 and then extended in the 1920s.

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Architectural historian Pevsner was not impressed –  saying “its vast bulk not very convincingly dressed up with Wrenaissance trimmings.”

The bank headquarters was moved to Glasgow as part of the dispersal of civil service jobs in the 1960s and the bank finally completely moved out in the 1970s. Somehow it survived demolition and found a new use as a store and archive by three major London museums – Victoria and Albert, Science and British Museums.

So from being a workaday civil service building, it is now home to assorted treasures of some of our great national institutions. There must be some amazing stuff in here which rarely sees the light of day.

Fascinating fact: This building featured extensively as the fictional headquarters of MI6 in the 2011 film Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Retrace your steps to Lyons Walk and then at the end turn left into Hammersmith Road

Stop 3: Olympia

You are walking alongside the 1930s section of the Olympia exhibition centre. This site started life as the National Agricultural Hall in 1884, but soon changed its name to Olympia, as it was aiming not just for agricultural shows.

The inaugural event in 1886 was the winter show of the Paris Hippodrome Circus. It became a major venue for shows and exhibitions. It was home to the Ideal Home Show for its first 70 years until 1978. But it has housed shows of various kinds, most significantly it was home to the Royal Tournament from the early years of the 20th century to 1950.

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There are 7 different venues on this site, but the one that is least well known is the magnificent Pillar Hall which is a classical room, with ornate fittings and Corinthian pillars

Walk along the Hammersmith Road in front of Olympia, crossing the main road when convenient. Soon you will see a turning on the right called Avonmore Road. Go down here and as it bends to the right take a left turn into Lysgar Terrace. On the right hand side there is a modern block which is our next stop.

Stop 4: site of the Grange

This building proclaims itself as “The Grange” and it is in fact the site of  an 18th century house to which Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones and his family moved in 1867 from Kensington Square – we saw that house in W8.

Not sure when the house was replaced but all there is to remind us of the house and its famous occupier is the name of this building plus another block on the same estate called Burne-Jones House. This is just around the corner and faces North End Crescent.

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Continue along Lysgar Terrace and then turn left into Matheson Road. At the end you are back in Avonmore road. Here turn right. Our next stop is at the end.

Stop 5: Kensington Village

Avonmore Road terminates at some gates with an archway. On the pediment is a sign which says “Kensington Village”.

In fact Kensington Village was built in the 1880s as for department store William Whiteley, and the initials W W can be seen in the gates. This was the Furniture Depository, laundry and stables.  Originally the building now known as the Warwick Building was used to store furnishings for families who were spending time in the colonies.

Now the imposing warehouse buildings have found new uses as offices and apartments. As you can see from the pictures, these buildings look like they could have escaped from somewhere like Wapping – not what you expect to find on the borders of Kensington.

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Now retrace your steps along Avondale Road. Our next stop is past Matheson Road on the left hand side.

Stop 6: Number 53 Avondale Road

This was the home of Sir Edward Elgar (1857 – 1934) – that quintessentially English composer. His best-known compositions include the Enigma Variations and the Pomp and Circumstance Marches and various choral works, including The Dream of Gerontius.

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Elgar had only one important commission while in London and this came from his home city, Worcester. The Worcester Festival invited him to compose a short orchestral work for the 1890 Three Choirs Festival. This was called Froissart, and was inspired by the chronicles of the 14th century French writer of the same name.

Elgar only briefly lived in this location in 1890/1891  It seems he moved because he could not find enough work in London and so he and his family went to live in Great Malvern, which was his wife’s home town. There it seems he could earn a living conducting local musical ensembles and teaching.

Elgar was one of the first composers to take the gramophone seriously. After 1914, he conducted recordings of most of his works. And of course as we heard when we were in W1, it was the great man himself who opened the original HMV shop at 363 Oxford Street in July 1921.

Continue back along Avondale Road until the end and then turn right into Hammersmith Road. Then take the first right.

Stop 7: Number 7, Addison Bridge Place.

This street only has houses on the right hand side as the West London railway line lies in a cutting on the left. This line was quite an early line which was authorised by Parliament in 1836 but because of money troubles only opened in 1844. It ran from Harlesden to a station just south of here. Beyond the station was a canal basin from which a canal ran to the Thames. The canal was built in 1828 and was supposed to go on further north to reach what we would now call the Grand Union Canal, but it proved too difficult and expensive and so it stopped short on the edge of Kensington.

But the railway came along and the idea was that this would be a way to access the London docks, with goods being transshipped between the railway and the docks via the canal and the Thames. Neither the canal nor the railway were a commercial success.

In the end the obvious thing was done, the canal was filled in and the railway was extended southwards on its alignment, then it went over the Thames to connect with the various lines south of the river. This opened in 1863 and although there were huge possibilities to run through trains, only a few actually operated and the train companies concentrated on running trains to and from their own London terminals.

This line was well used by freight but passenger services virtually ceased after the Second World war with just a minimal unadvertised peak hour passenger service between Clapham Junction and Olympia – largely put on for the staff of the Post Office Savings bank.

In the 1990s the worth of this orbital line was recognised and today it is now part of the London Overground with a train every 15 minutes, plus the odd through train running between East Croydon and Milton Keynes.

As you go along Addison Bridge Place, you will see a couple of blue plaques – the first is for political theorist Harold Laski and the second at Number 7 is for poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 – 1834).

 

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Not sure exactly when Coleridge lived here but it must have been very different before the railway sliced though (and presumably resulted in the demolition of the houses on the other side of the road). He travelled a lot but seems to have been based in London from 1810, although from 1817 onwards he was living in Highgate, so I guess he was here during the period 1810 to 1817.

Coleridge most famous poems are The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan. The latter was (according to Coleridge’s Preface to Kubla Khan) composed one night after he experienced an opium-influenced dream whilst he was staying in Somerset. He had been reading a work describing Xanadu, the summer palace of the Mongol ruler and Emperor of China Kublai Khan (not sure why he chose to spell it Kubla rather than Kublai). Upon waking, he set about writing lines of poetry that came to him from the dream until he was interrupted. He never did finish the poem. Hence its subtitle “Or, A Vision in a Dream. A Fragment”. It was only finally published in 1816, some 19 years after it was written.

The opening lines are:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree

This was misquoted in the 1984 Frankie Goes to Hollywood song “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” where they say “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a pleasure dome erect”. It is odd because the Frankie version does sound plausible.

Now retrace your steps back to the main road and there turn right and go over the railway. Our next stop is across the road at the corner of Holland Road.

Stop 8: Universal Music offices, Numbers 364 – 366 Kensington High Street

This unassuming building turns out to be the offices of Universal Music for most of the world outside of the US. Universal is apparently the largest music corporation in the world and although French owned, it is headquartered in the US.

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It has some of the most famous labels in its roster, including Capital, Deutsche Gramophon, Decca, Island and Virgin, and some very big selling artistes, from Abba to Take That.

Amongst the current big names signed to Universal are Mumford and Sons. Their second album babel (released in september 2012) includes a song called Holland Road. This is apparently a name check for the road here. It may be about a personal relationship but it could be read as a critique on the music industry as represented by Universal Music which lives here at the corner of Holland Road.

Useless fact: Although Frankie Goes to Hollywood records were released on the ZTT label, they were on Island Records in the US.

Now go up Holland Road (for quite a long way)

Stop 9: Number 100 Holland Road

Eventually you will get to Number 100, on the right hand side.  Freddie Mercury wrote the classic Bohemian Rhapsody whilst living at 100 Holland Road in the 1970s.

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Of course Freddie did not hang around here once he became rich and famous.  But he settled down not too far away in Logan Place W8 and he used this as his London home until his death in 1991.  Although this is over the border in W8 and not on our route today, I have to include a photo of the entrance. It has a strange shrine around the door which consists of clear plastic sheeting where people can pop in a picture or a poem.

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Now retrace your steps  until you get to Addison Crescent and follow this as it sweeps off to the left. Then follow the main traffic as it turns right into Addison Road. Continue along Addison Road until the left turn before Kensington High Street. Take this turning (Holland Park Road) 

Stop 10: Number 20 Holland Park Road

Soon on the left hand side you will come across the first of two blue plaques in this street. This is for a man called Phil May.

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I have to confess, I did not know the name – and I have to say I did found it odd that a man who lived mostly in the 19th Century should be called Phil. It just seems much more modern to shorten the name Philip to Phil.

I tracked down some of his work and although the plaque describes him as an artist, he was best known as a cartoonist. Here is a link to an interesting book (open it as HTML)

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/37767/37767-h/37767-h.htm

This includes a series called “On the Brain”. These have various famous people of the day with the top of their head hinged off and a suitable image or images to indicate what might be going on in their head.

And then there is a great one where a woman is trying to get into what is described as “a Provincial Banquet” and this is the conversation:

AT A PROVINCIAL BANQUET

Flunkey: “Excuse me, mum, but the banquet has commenced, and I can’t admit you. Them’s my orders.”
She: “But the Mayor is here, isn’t he?”
Flunkey: “Oh, yes, he’s here right enough.”
She: “Well, but I’m his lady.”
Flunkey: “It makes no difference, mum; I couldn’t admit you if you were his wife.”

Classic stuff.

Stop 11: Leighton House, Number 12 Holland Park Road

Then just a little further along is Leighton House – the former home of Frederick, Lord Leighton (1830 – 1896) and now a gallery/museum run by Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

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To be honest, this is not the most attractive building. It is very boxy with limited ornamentation, and strange proportions. But inside there is a real treasure – the two storey Arab Hall, built in the late 1870s to house Leighton’s collection of tiles collected during visits to the Middle East. Leighton’s very own little pleasure dome.

And there is permanent display works of art by various well known victorian painters including John Everett Millais, Edward Burne-Jones and George Frederick Watts and of course over 80 oil paintings by Leighton himself. Well worth a visit.

Now walk to the end of the street and turn left into Melbury Road.

Stop 12: Number 18 Melbury Road

Melbury Road was the location of Little Holland House which was where George Frederick Watts (1817 – 1904) lived from 1876 until he died. Unfortunately the house was destroyed in a Second World War bombing raid. I have not been able to establish exactly where it might have been.

But Number 18, which still stands, was the home of another artist – the pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman Hunt (1827 – 1910) lived and died here.

 

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Holman Hunt was one of the original three members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, along with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais. This was in 1848 and at the time he and Millais were still students at the Royal Academy of Arts.

He was not initially successful but he became well known for his religious paintings, in particular The Light of the World (1851–1853) which is now in the chapel at Keble College, Oxford. In 1900, he painted another version which toured the world and eventually found a home in St Paul’s Cathedral.

Curiously this house also has another blue plaque – to Cetshwayo. (1832? – 1884). He was the King of the Zulu Kingdom from 1872 to 1879 and their leader during the 1979 Zulu War.  He led the Zulu nation to victory against the British in the Battle of Isandlwana but then he lost a subsequent battle (at Ulundi) in July 1879.

After this he was deposed and exiled first to Cape Town and then to London. He stopped at this house in 1882. The British then allowed him back to Zululand in 1883 but he was dead within a year or so.

Now we have reached the end of our W14 walk – well almost. I thought I would add a post script.

Postscript: Kyoto Garden, Holland Park

This walk has been largely about pleasure (!) – what with all those luscious Victorian painters, musicians such as Edward Elgar, Frankie goes to Hollywood, Freddie Mercury and Mumford and Sons plus a museum store, not to mention an exhibition centre and a former food factory.

But to wind up I suggest you visit Holland Park itself. Holland Park is in fact the grounds of a 17th Century house,. Holland House. The house was badly damaged during the Second World War. One wing was saved and is used as a youth hostel. A remaining section of the front terrace is now used as a backdrop for open air theatre productions and classical concerts in the summer.

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But I think the best bit is the Kyoto Garden. This was donated by the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce in 1991 as was part of a Japanese Festival in 1992. It is very peaceful and when I was there, there was a heron looking longingly at the fish in the pool.

 

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To get there go back down Melbury Road and turn left into Ilchester Place which has a gate into the park. The Kyoto Garden is to the left of the main buildings.

For onward travel return to High Street Kensington where there are various buses. Or else turn right when you get to the High Street and head back down to Kensington Olympia Station which has regular Overground trains and the occasional District Line train (weekends and special events only)