It's amazing the things you discover by chance ... The Inconsolables video for 'I want to go to Borneo' filmed a few years back features a massive guinea pig on the rampage through Kentish Town Road and the tube station.
Or put it another way, one of the band went to an awful lot of trouble to make a scale model of the best bits of NW5. Do take a look - and the song's worth a listen too.
Part of the charm of ghost signs is the slow, ethereal fading away - if the inscription wasn't visibly ageing it wouldn't have that magic about it.
But it's still frustrating when you come across a ghost sign that's no longer fully legible. Take this one, for 'John Hirst, Builder, on the gable end of the house he lived in, in Dartmouth Park. What does it say?
Even the most assiduous of ghost signers has failed to make it out in full. But here's my best attempt:
????? Sanitary Work
If anyone can fill-in the blanks, do let me know. The sign is at the junction of Twisden Road and Chetwynd Road, NW5.
The admirable Kentish Towner has had a good look at the ghost signs at the heart of Dartmouth Park. There's a more detailed, and illustrated, account by M.H. Port, 'Living and Building in Victorian Dartmouth Park', published by the Dartmouth Park Conservation Area Advisory Committee. Many of the streets in Dartmouth Park, especially those on the southern side, bear all the hallmarks of speculative builders. They would buy a small lot of land, cram in a few houses, and the telltale sign is the variegated design - walk down a street such as Spencer Rise, and you get small clumps of houses all with the same design, then a jarring change not just to design detail, but often the number of floors as well.
I've found HOPE - the one I've been looking for. And it was right under my nose. Thanks Simon for the tip off. This one is adjoining the rail bridge over Highgate Road heading north, as you go from Kentish Town towards the Heath. So just a short hop from both the Southampton Arms (closed today, otherwise I might have popped in to celebrate) and Little Green Street.
You can get a sense of this HOPE in its context here (thanks Simon for the photo) - indeed the lettering comes across more boldy from a distance.
Someone has made a fairly determined attempt to remove at least part of it, but HOPE survives.
And searching for this HOPE led me to another one - just fifty yards away ... a smaller inscription on the footpath under the rail lines as you heard north from College Lane - and if you don't know College Lane, parallel to Highgate Road, check it out! Here's a close up and an 'in context' shot:
So that makes eight 'HOPE' inscriptions located, all close to rail lines - plus one that's probably copycat - plus one that's been almost entirely removed. And the Dartmouth Park/Gospel Oak area is clearly the hot spot - this is where four of them have been found (or it could be that I've done much better searching round my home ground!)
If you click here, you'll find all my postings and ravings on the subject.
But what is it all about? If you know, please tell me. Please!!
There's more HOPE - two more found, thanks to readers of this blog. The one above is at the Somers Town end of Midland Road, not far from St Pancras station. The one below is at the northern end of York Way, a couple of hundred yards before the junction with Agar Grove. So that's six HOPE inscriptions located.
But there's more to be discovered. Anyone know where this photo was taken - at the mast head of photographer Simon Di Principe's FB page?
And what was it all about? Who's behind HOPE?
And seeking for HOPE of course sends me exploring round parts of the city where all sorts of architectural delights can be savoured. Camley Street is particularly rich in industrial archaeology - some of which may just survive the area's redevelopment:
A short walk away lies Old St Pancras Church, small, delightful - the current structure largely mid-nineteenth century, but on a site with much more ancient history. Embedded in the altar is an ancient altar stone with crosses engraved, found on the site and believed to date from the sixth century. The centrepiece of the graveyard is the Burdett Coutts sun dial, in remembrance of all those whose garves and gravestones were removed when the area was landscaped. Among the handful of individual graves still marked is that of the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and her partner William Godwin.
As I walked round the church this morning, a passer-by was belting out on the piano a fairly passable version of Elton John's 'Your Song' ... as I was photographing the more macabre aspects of the memorials around the church walls.
This is the script of a piece broadcast on From Our Own Correspondent this week:
CUE: Fifty years ago, in the era of Martin Luther King, black-led Baptist churches were at the heart of the civil rights movement. They played a crucial part in reshaping the United States, and continue to attract millions of African-American adherents. On his first visit to the American south, Andrew Whitehead joined worshippers at what was once Martin Luther King’s church, in Atlanta:
‘Fried green tomatoes – it was a great film, not so great to eat. Catfish is edible only in really spicy breadcrumbs. Avoid grits for breakfast – though shrimp’n’grits is good for lunch. And go to a Baptist service: If you are courteous and friendly you'll be welcomed and it’s truly an astonishing experience.’
A friend’s emailed advice when he heard I was heading to Atlanta, my first experience of America’s deep south. He was right on the shrimp’n’grits – wrong on the fried green tomatoes – and I steered well clear of catfish however cooked.
And going to church? Well, I’m a non-believer, I don’t go to church.
Not entirely true. My wife once said, a touch accusingly: for an atheist, you spend an awful lot of time in churches. They are often so magnificent. Their doors open. Such a good way of communing with the past.
More than that. Faith is so tied up with identity, community, you can’t be interested in today’s world and uninterested in the public expression and private meaning of religious practice.
There’s a personal back story too. In the north of England mill village where I grew up, the Baptist church once loomed large. It was where the mill owners worshipped. A squat Victorian edifice - still black with soot stains.
Both my grandmothers went to church there; my uncle was a deacon; my father attended the Sunday School; my parents married there in the Coronation summer of 1953. There must be a bit of Baptist in me. Strange to say, though I grew up a short stroll away, I entered the church for the first time only a few years ago – as part of my personal communing with the past.
At the time Gildersome’s Baptist church was being built, in the mid-1860s, Atlanta was burned to the ground. The most emphatic aspect of the pro-slavery south’s defeat in the American civil war. Atlanta rose from those ashes. It is now the premier city of the southern states – home of Coca Cola and CNN. The site of the 1996 Olympics - and of the grave of America’s most renowned Baptist, Martin Luther King.
My first morning in Atlanta – jet-lagged and up much earlier than makes sense on a Sunday – I stumbled across the city to the district once known as ‘Sweet Auburn’. City guides say that in the 1930s, when Michael King - as he was born - was growing up here, this was the richest black locality in the world. Solid, respectable, and deeply religious.
The Ebenezer Baptist Church was at the heart of the community. Its founding pastor had been born into slavery. The old church, the one where both King and his father preached, is now largely a tourist attraction. The new church across the road, opened fourteen years ago, is vast and impressive. Where the older churches were a touch dark and enclosed, this one has space and light.
As I walked in the lobby at 9 o’clock on a Sunday morning, it was full of activity. Outreach stalls. Mission stands. A service underway in the main auditorium. I craned through the glass doors. I hadn’t intended to go in – it feels an intrusion if you are not there for worship. But an usher - besuited, bow tied - opened the door and beckoned me in.
It was the early service, the church wasn’t full, though there would have been perhaps four- or five-hundred present. I didn’t spot another white face. The pastor was delivering his sermon – persuasive oratory about the church's new mental health ministry, tackling stigma and providing support.
The choir was magical, even for someone usually unmoved by gospel music. Twenty or so men, middle aged or older - in matching suits, and striking pale yellow ties - swaying as they sang.
If I thought that sitting at the back I could be inconspicuous, that's not how this service works. I want you to turn to the person next to you, said the pastor, and say: have you welcomed Christ into your life? The woman to my right grabbed my wrist, smiled and asked just that. ‘I can’t honestly say I have’, I said, and posed the same question back. "Yes, I have", she replied.
The final hymn, the congregation all held hands, swaying to the rhythm, and in the final verse, we raised our arms aloft. There was an energy, a joyfulness, which I found moving, and humbling.
I can see why the church looms so large in the lives of the congregation. It has helped take them from darkness to a better place, it does that - after a fashion - every Sunday.
This report prompted an email from David Newton, which I post here with his permission:
Fame is such a fleeting thing, but it was nice to get some on last week's From Our Own Correspondent.
I was driving to work yesterday (I commute from Filey to Gildersome 3 days a week) and was listening to the podcast, when you declared yourself to be going to Atlanta.
"Been there." I thought, "Wonder if this guy will get out of the worlds worst airport." (My wife had her bags searched and her toothpaste confiscated before security would let us OUT of the airport)
You made it and were heading to a Baptist Church. "I'm a Baptist." I thought.
You recalled the northern mill town Baptist Churches, "Oh yes we have loads of them up here."
Your grandparents and uncle went to the Baptist church and your parents were married there in 1953. "That makes him about my age."
Then you said it..... "At the time Gildersome’s Baptist church was being built,"
Hey that's us, I'm the minister there. I'm on my way to work there.
So at our church meeting (the time when the members get together and decide what we want to do) last night I played them your clip, thinking they would be pleased to have got a worldwide mention.
Wish I hadn't.
How many 'Whiteheads' do you think they could name - Why is The Vicar of Dibley so accurate?
Anyway, thanks for the mention. Any time you are back in Leeds call again. I don't preach like Martin Luther King, nor his successors, but the people of Gildersome are the friendliest I know, and their good hearts are making the world a better place, step by step.
All credit to the residents of College Lane in Kentish Town ... one of London's most intimate war memorials has been decorated with poppies in tribute to the ten local men listed on the plaque.
They all fought in the First World War. They all died in northern France and Flanders - or from injuries sustained there. There's more here.
All appear to have lived within a hundred yards of the memorial.
Lest we forget!
However remarkable St Martin's, Gospel Oak is today - the back story here - its original appearance was even more outlandish. The tower is now shorn of turret and steeples - largely the result of bomb damage. But this drawing of the original construction - from The Builder in 1866, and republished in the Camden History Society's excellent Streets of Gospel Oak - shows the church in its pristine glory. The brothers Grimm would have felt absolutely at home in late Victorian Gospel Oak.
And the original design is of more than antiquarian interest. The vicar, Chris Brice, tells me that Heritage Lottery Fund money will allow restoration of the tower's stone work - and the restitution of the missing spires (I'm not clear whether the turret will make a return, but no show - I suppose - without this remarkable ecclesiastical punch). The church is keen for any drawings which might give more detail of the original spires - if you know of any, do email the church or add a comment on this posting and I'll pass the information on
Here's the tower as it is today - bereft of late Gothic fancies. You can spot it from the Heath because of its narrow, incomplete, assymetrical appearance - and the St George's flag that flutters atop. A longstanding tradition which the parishioners are keen to cleave to, I'm told.
Parishioners were out in force yesterday evening, St Martin's Day, for the formal installation - technically, it's an institution and induction - of Chris Brice as vicar. He's been priest-in-charge for the past five years, so it was about time to regularise the arrangement.
The bishop was in attendance, replete with collapsible mitre (I always thought they were a bit more substantial) - and the patron - and amid much 'All Gas and Gaiters'-style flummery, which no one seemed to take especially seriously, the archdeacon (there was also a dean in attendance - I didn't refer to 'All Gas and Gaiters' lightly) led the new incumbent off to the (unused) main door, and placed the Rev's hand on the handle, declaring: "By virtue of this mandate, I do induct you into the real, actual and corporeal possession of this church and benefice."
All this happened out of view of a craning and slightly confused congregation - then, as if white smoke at St Peter's, the church bell began to toll. 'Habemus Papem', local C of E style. Chris Brice himself was pulling away at the bell rope 'to signify his taking possession of the Parish church'. Poor man!
And this, by clerical standards, is what's deemed to be low church. If all services were quite so enticing, I might attend more than once a decade.
I've been looking for Hope - big lettered 'HOPE' - across Kentish Town and around. As regular readers of this blog will know, I've found four - faint traces of a fifth - and there are at least a couple more out there. Today I zapped around by train from Upper Holloway to Gospel Oak, Camden Road to Hampstead Heath, to see if there was HOPE to be seen from the tracks - keep reading and you'll find out if I succeeded. And then I walked from Camden Road station to West Kentish Town sticking as close as I could to the rail line, wandering to and fro under bridges - and what a joy!
If you don't know the area - and I thought I did, but didn't really - this map may give you a feel for the streetscape (the photo above is Clarence Way, west of the tracks and facing east):
First of all - do you know Ivor Street? If you don't, then don't waste time - get there before HS2 changes it out of recognition. At the western end near the junction with Prowse Place are three entirely wonderful early nineteenth century cottages (see for yourself below):
I came across one of the residents - these are watercress gatherers' cottages dating from 1836 when the Fleet river ran nearby, I was told. The Fleet certainly flowed very close to here, though I wonder whether watercress workers would have had the status that goes along with these fairly commodious double-fronted cottages. I guess the census records could provide the answer.
Prowse Place, still cobbled and with something of the feel of a film set, has one of the most astonishing arches under a railway bridge that I know of in this part of London. Then it's a matter of zigzagging in pursuit of the rail tracks until you chance upon another wonderful backwater.
Clarence Way - featured at the top of this posting - takes you along to a modern cul-de-sac, Harmood Grove, memorable for the most eye-catching piece of modern art I've seen on the outside wall of a north London home. I've been able to find out nothing more from the 'net - so if you know anything, details please:
Just yards away, on Harmood Street, is one of my favourite second-hand bookshops, Walden Books - the name comes from Thoreau and the stock is in that tradition, so good for politics (particularly libertarian - I've bought lots of great pamphlets here), modern fiction, and above all London. I fell for a Pan edition of Colin Wilson's Adrift in Soho, a book of wartime short stories which includes a piece by John Sommerfield, and a printer's reminiscences about Fleet Street and around in the Victorian era - so that was another £20 or so gone by the time I resurfaced.
Heading north, off the east side of Harmood Street, is Powlett Place - not a road but a path with houses on both sides leading to the dead end of the railway line.
The buildings date from the 1840s, though the name came a few decades later. It's difficult to do justice to the Place from the ground - you can probably get a better view from the tracks. It is, in the words of the Camden History Society, 'a pleasant backwater, with small, boxy two-storey Victorian cottages and well-tended front gardens.'
Weaving back to the eastern side of the tracks, Hadley Street is home to one of the area's best, and least well known, pubs - Tapping the Admiral.
The pub hasn't always gone by that name. For its first hundred years or so, it was the Trafalgar.
So Tapping the Admiral is a return to the original nautical theme after an unfortunate interlude where this fine and friendly pub was known as the Fuzzcock & Firkin. The '80s have a lot to answer for!
Avoiding the temptation of popping in for a quick one, the journey to West Kentish Town was all but done, but there was more temptation in the way. For the arches adjoining the station are now home to the Camden Brewery, and its award winning ales including Hell's Lager - there's a bar there too. From the station platform, you look down directly onto the brewery's loading area:
... but no more 'HOPE' and a denial of HOPE
The wanderings - by rail, and on foot - were a great way of spending a sunny Sunday morning. But alas, no 'HOPE' spotted. Indeed the only news to share is a denial.
One of my co-detectives in pursuit of 'HOPE' suggested that the neat, petite Hope Chapel on Prince of Wales Road might be behind the inscriptions. This is now part of the Churches of Christ - I sent them an email and with great courtesy they replied, saying no, not them, but they had noticed and rather liked the HOPE 'hallmark' around NW5.
'They would say that, wouldn't they', said my co-conspirator, a touch uncharitably.
So, we're still seeking HOPE.
Everybody on every side has been damaged by the Kashmir conflict. Kashmir's youth - their parents - onlookers to violence - the Indian soldiers - the tiny band of mental health professionals who seek to deal with the overwhelming numbers suffering from trauma.
That's the unsettling message of Abhishek Majumdar's 'The Djinns of Eidgah', which has just finished a run at the Royal Court. I saw the final production last night, excellently acted and staged. A really powerful piece of theatre, all the more effective from being staged in the intimate setting of the Jerwood Upstairs.
Djinns are spirits with a touch of the supernatural about them - linked to death, though not quite ghosts. An eidgah is a prayer ground. The eidgah in Srinagar - where some of the play is set - is the martyrs' graveyard, a burial place of those Kashmiris seen as having sacrificed their lives in the struggle for 'azaadi', freedom.
The plot borrows a little from Ashvin Kumar's documentary film, Inshallah Football. At its heart is a hugely talented Kashmiri footballer who doesn't throw stones (or does he?) and is determined to weave his way round all the political and bureaucratic obstacles to get to Brazil. But this play, unlike the film, is dark and forbidding, at times macabre - there's a scene in the hospital morgue. It reminded me of Mirza Waheed's equally chilling novel of modern Kashmir, The Collaborator. Both suggest a more accomplished, and provoking, reflection of Kashmir's current agonies in high culture - and that can only encourage a wider awareness and discussion (we've already seen a bit of that) of how those agonies are best addressed and redressed.
John Cole was a good broadcaster, a great political editor and a thoroughly decent and generous minded man. He spent much of his life in Westminster, and loved the place, but kept his humility - and his accent, and coat, and good nose for humbug and its purveyors.
I got to know John slightly when, towards the end of the Thatcher era, I became the World Service Lobby correspondent. As suited my lowly status, I didn't have a berth in the main BBC office in the Houses of Parliament, but was shunted off to The Dungeon, at the end of the corridor and down a spiral staircase, where there were three exceedingly cramped desks, and a tardis-like studio booth for radio despatches.
I was the only regular incumbent of The Dungeon, which in the evenings was frequently assailed by the overpowering smell of bloaters cooked by the police in their watch room below. BBC Scotland occasionally came down. And so too, after long political lunches, did John, to type up his notes of those encounters while they were fresh in his mind, without interruption and away from the prying eyes of his colleagues.
And sometimes, in expansive mood, he would reprise highlights of those lunchtime conversations. For me, as a newcomer to Westminster, it was a wonderful window into a clouded and close-to-impenetrable world. I still remember John relaying a bit of chat from a lunch he'd just had with John Major - this was political inside track, John didn't 'do' salacious - which I recall very keenly, because it said so much about the man (Major that is), and his strengths and limitations. In deference to John, I will maintain silence - though with the passage of years, it's hardly of more than historical interest.
I once said to John that I hoped he kept good care of these lunch notes because in decades to come, they would be invaluable to political historians. No, he said. These would never be shared. There was a bond of trust with those who spoke to him off the record - he was typing up these notes to ensure he had a reliable record of what had been said, but they would not be seen by anyone else.
That's a more enduring confidentiality than I think politicians deserve or expect, but it says a great deal about John's integrity. He was a very good man, just as he was a very good journalist.
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