I've worked in the same building in central London for the most part of thirty years. But I'm still finding new things within a three minute stroll of my workplace.
This is an old parish watch house straddling what was a lane dividing two ancient parishes, but is now a pedesrtian only dead end, best accessed through a rather bleak set of stairs.
The lane has a resonant name (as do the stairs), and on it - as well as this rather wonderful watch house - is a small property owned by the National Trust - you can just get a glimpse of it on the right in the photo above.
Anyone know where we are?
Our new view
The previous blog showed the view from my window as it was until this morning - now it's what you see above.
Thames Water certainly didn't waste any time levelling everything in sight. And now the pastoral reservoir bank looks like a newly cleared copse - or a bit of the Amazon rain forest being converted into beef burger grazing.
Two men, well under a day's work, and a few decades worth of natural growth is gone.
So what can we still see from our bedroom?
Well, the view's not bad - indeed it has a bit of a 'wow' factor. On my tinny point and shoot, you don't get the full majesty of the evening sun catching Canary Wharf. The human eye picks it up much better.
But the wide vista to the east and south-east is really enticing.
And to the right you can see, little more than a mile away, Arsenal's Emirates Stadium - often floodlit in the evenings. A compelling piece of modern architecture.
And below you can see our glimpse of the City skyscrapers including, lurking behind some stray branches, the Gherkin - another mpiece of the modern that really works on the London skyline.
Our green and pleasant view
I live next to a covered reservoir, the Maiden Lane reservoir, which gives a heartlifting pastoral aspect to this crowded corner of north London. You can see for yourself - the photo above is the view from my bedroom window (which also takes in the Emirates Stadium, Canary Wharf and quite a few of the City skyscrapers). You can just see the top of the reservoir, and the fenced off banks are home to foxes, woodpeckers, finches - a decent array of inner city wildlife.
There's a network of covered reservoirs across north London - at Highgate, Hornsey Rise, Stroud Green and Claremont Square and I'm sure many other locations as well. Most date from the mid-Victorian era when there was an acute need to provide water to a rapidly expanding city.
It's only when repair work started on the reservoir that I was reminded of its name. Maiden Lane was the ancient name for the route from King's Cross to Highgate, now fallen into disuse. The northern part of the lane was renamed Dartmouth Park Hill as long ago as the 1870s.
Sometimes in my more lurid imaginings, I fear that the reservoir is about to burst and sweep us all away down the hill, following - no doubt - the route of the former Fleet River. So I suppose I should be grateful that Thames Water has of late been conspicuous in carrying out repairs.
A few years ago, they rooted out the trees fronting Dartmouth Park Hill, without much of a by your leave, to ensure the integrity of the reservoir. Now another round of inspection and repair appears to have revealed a small crack in the reservoir lining. This means the impending loss of all the trees in the photos above and below, and the driving of massive concrete piles to ensure the reservoir remains stable.
I suppose it's better than losing the space altogether - not that the reservoir and banks are accessible to the public (I've lived alongside for fifteen years without setting foot in it, though the area on the far side of the rails constitutes the windswept and rarely visited Dartmouth Park). But it would be nice to keep the reservoir in one piece - and the trees and bushes and the wildlife they harbour. Is that asking too much?
The Whittington hospital in north London is much improved. The new wing is light and spacious. The A+E is as friendly and efficient as an inner city casualty ward can be. But spending a Sunday morning at the Whittington isn't anyone's idea of fun.
The saving grace is the wonderful architecture hidden within the hospital grounds.
And above all, there's the majesty of the double-fronted Smallpox and Vaccination Hospital - not visible from the road, but well worth a wander through the maze of Whittington buildings.
The Smallpox and Vaccination Hospital dates from 1848-50 - an Italianate design by Samuel Dawkes (that information lifted from the Camden History Society's excellent Streets of Highgate). The hospital was earlier at Kings Cross, but was displaced by the building of the station.
Two workhouse infirmaries were later built in the same area - one, an equally splendid design just across Dartmouth Park Hill, is now the Highgate Mental Health Centre. You can get a good view of the main infirmary building from Waterlow Park, next door. Highgate cemetery is also very close at hand.
The Whittington was created at the time of the birth of the NHS in 1948 - bringing together Highgate Hospital, on the current main site and including the Smallpox and Vaccination Hospital, with the two former workhouse infirmaries.
This distinctly dated photo of the Smallpox Hospital - used for many decades as a nurses' home - is from the history page of the Whittington's website.
The name of course comes from the Dick Whittington legend. The Whittington stone, where young Dick was prompted to 'turn, turn and turn again' back to London, is nearby on Highgate Hill.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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