A wonderful relief bust of the Belgian King - a tribute to his memory from 'the Belgian colony in Great Britain'. It's in a side chapel of a Catholic church - and by design or good fortune, the natural light from the roof fell on the bust as I was taking this photograph. And Belgium's colours are proudly, and touchingly, on display.
It's almost entirely forgotten now - but the influx of Belgians during the First World War, 250,000 of them, was perhaps the biggest torrent of refugees Britain has ever accommodated. Most went back - indeed were fairly forcefully told to go back - in the months after the war's end. And while here, many Belgians lived in separate colonies - where Belgian money was used, and in some cases directly under Belgian authority.
This bust of King Albert is in the Belgian church in Camden Town - a church whose links to Belgium persisted until just a few years ago. A Belgian missionary order, the Scheut fathers, moved to London a century ago - and after the war, the priests who remained in London wanted to establish a church which both served a local need and could be a focus for the Belgian Catholic community in London.
That's how Our Lady of Hal (named after a much venerated shrine in Belgium) came to be established in Camden - and it remains a well used, and much loved church, with a cosmopolitan congregation (though no longer any Belgians).
And in the chapel which houses a replica of the wooden Our Lady in Hal is this marvellous bust. There will be more about the church in Curious Camden Town, which I am co-authoring with Martin Plaut, to be published later this year.
It must surely be a strong contender ... And where is Emerald Court? In that strange no-man's-land where Bloomsbury edges into Holborn, just to the east of Lamb's Conduit Street. Go check it out!
For the first time, as far as I can recall, I am now a member of a club - not a stamp club, or a chess club, but a club of the sort that has premises of its own. The Mildmay Club. A wonderful old pile on Newington Green which I've blogged about before - established towards the close of the nineteenth century as the Mildmay Radical Club (that middle word was dropped, sadly, in the 1930s).
I popped in last night to collect my membership card - and a rule book - and a rather curious Club and Institute Union Card (see above) - a smaller version which seems to fulfil the same purpose - a key card so I can actually get into the club - and a receipt. Phew! And that membership card is 'No. 8'. Quite a kerfuffle getting this far - having to be nominated by two current members during a fairly short window for new applications, and then being interviewed (OK, so there were no awkward moments - apart from a rather poor reception to my suggestion that jazz nights might usefully supplement the Saturday evening line dancing sessions). Anyway, as you see, I seem to have passed.
Though Sunday evening is clearly not the highlight of the week at the Mildmay. At 9 in the evening, I was the only soul there - apart from the barmaid, and a cat asleep on the comfiest chair in the bar. And I could have any draught beer I wanted - as long as it was John Smith's.
And to think, I joined to give a new edge to my social life!
Almost twenty years in NW5, and the area still springs surprises. Today I went along to an open day at a nature reserve I didn't know existed. It's squeezed beside the railway line at Gospel Oak - at the back of Mortimer Terrace, a development which is itself hidden away off Wesleyan Terrace, at the back of the Southampton Arms on Highgate Road. Hope you've got that?!!
It's a handful of acres, wooded, on a sloping railway embankment. There's a pond - which a couple of local primary schools visit regularly. And a remarkable shed - a water capture mechanism - and a bit of a clearing where volunteers and visitors gathered on this glorious summer Sunday.
An aerial photo of the Mortimer Terrace nature reserve, which is just to the north of the railway lines. The big building in the middle is Heathview, a 1930s block of flats which is now a housing co-op. On the other side of Gordon House Road is Kwikfit. Gospel Oak station is just out of shot to the left. You can just see part of Mortimer Terrace development on the upper right.
The land is owned by a construction company, but they have said they are withdrawing the licence in August - though given that there's nothing even approaching vehicular access, it's difficult to see what they could do with the site. The London Wildlife Trust has said it hasn't the resources to continue to support this small, but splendid, nature reserve. So its future is in doubt.
The volunteers and those who live near by are clearly determined to save this special, hidden spot - let's hope they succeed.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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