A weekend of two halves - Saturday night at the glorious Shepherd's Bush Empire for Family's 'Last Orders Please' tour, their farewells concerts after fifty years ... replete with 'In My Own Time', 'Weaver's Answer' and 'Burlesque'. The no-long-demonic (though distinctly ill tempered) Edgar Broughton was the support act.
And Sunday night at my local. the spruced-up Lord Palmerston - where the bar staff now all wear matching aprons! - for a carol concert and singalong, including such seasonal delights as the Gloucestershire Wassail and another ditty which lingered persistently on the issue of figgy pudding.
A few days ago, I left the BBC for the second time. More quietly this time round, I've spent the last four months or so as the head of editorial development at BBC Media Action, the excellent (and separately funded) development communications charity within the BBC.
This blog is not about the job, but about the office. Media Action is based in Ibex House, a forbiddingly splendid Art Deco palace on Minories, where the City of London shades into the East End.
The quaintest touch about Ibex House is the internal decor in the lobby - the retro clock, currently hidden behind the Christmas Tree, and the even more retro and charming lift indicators.
Ibex House is vast - like an ocean liner (in more ways than one) - and has been described by Londonist as an 'Art Deco masterpiece'. It dates from 1937 and is an example of the Streamline Moderne style most famously on display in the Daily Express building on Fleet Street. It's listed - but only grade two.
The Morning Post closed in - yes - 1937. Almost eighty years later, Ibex House is still going strong.
If you look around, it's amazing how many shop signboards you can see which still sport the old '01' London dialling code. '01' for London was introduced from 1959 and by the mid-sixties had replaced the old 'TER' style letter-based area codes. 01 was itself replaced in 1990 by 071 or, for less central districts, 081.
I've blogged on this once or twice before - but have since come across two businesses nearby which stll seem caught in a timewarp: one is the excellent electrics shop on Junction Road, and the other the dry cleaners on Chetwynd Road. There must be many more - keep your eyes skinned!
One-hundred years ago yesterday, the last Morley man (alright, the only Morley man) to become Prime Minister lost office. Herbert Henry Asquith was also the last man to lead a single party Liberal government. The photograph above shows Asquith opening Morley's distinctly grand Town Hall in October 1895 - by which time he had already held the office of Home Secretary.
To tell the truth, Asquith's links with Morley were fairly tenuous. He was born in September 1852, and his childhood home was Croft House, which still stands. It's a 'solidly built dwelling of dark Yorkshire stone', in the words of Roy Jenkins, Asquith's biographer. His father was 'a minor employer' in the local woollen industry - he inherited Gillroyd Mill, it seems - but died in his mid-thirties, leaving four young children. The family were Congregationalists and regular attenders at the Rehoboth Chapel which stood close to Morley Hall.
The young Asquith only spent a few years of his life in Morley - he was six or seven when the family moved, shortly before his father's death. He had only the vaguest memories of the place: attending chapel stiffly attired, and leading a children's procession around town to mark the end of the Crimean War.
His association with Morley was sufficient to make him guest of honor at the opening of the Town Hall. There's a primary school named after him. And the first big road project of Morley Borough Council - between Morley and Gildersome - was named Asquith Avenue.
The Liberal tradition he represented still finds a foothold in some corners of the West Riding - but not Morley. This was the constituency which Ed Balls contrived to lose (to the Tories) in the last election.
Below is Gillroyd Mill in Morley as Asquith would have seen. The mill dated from the 1830s and was rebuilt over five storeys in 1860 - this drawing shows the new mill a few years after it opened. Gillroyd Mill closed in 1966 and has now been demolished.
The Rehoboth Chapel on Dawson's Hill had a similar history - built in the 1830s, with the last services in the 1960s. It too is now demolished, though the graveyard survives - it's where Asquith's mother and some of his siblings are buried.
The City of London is awash with ancient churches - but they don't get any better than St Olave's on Hart Street, at the junction with the wonderfully named Seething Lane. The old Navy Office where Samuel Pepys worked was on Seething Lane; he lived on this lane; this was his local church - 'our own church' as he described it in his diary; it's where he was buried.
The church contains memorials to Samuel and to his wife Elizabeth. Indeed, it's almost as if they are looking into each other's eyes from opposite sides of the church nave.
St Olave's was one of the few City churches to survive the Great Fire of 1666, of which Pepys was such a telling chronicler. It didn't fare as well during the Blitz but was magnificently restored in the 1950s, with the help of the Norwegian government. St Olave (or Olaf) is the patron saint of Norway - king as well as saint, in the tradition of the martyr monarchs of that period. He and his troops fought alongside Ethelred the Unready and in 1014 succeeded in evicting the Danish army from London. He eventually was overthrown as King of Norway and died in battle in 1030.
This church was established within decades of Olave's death, and the current building dates back to the fifteenth century. It's much cosier than most City churches, and has a fine array of wood sculpted memorials, as well as a small crypt.
The churchyard attracted the attention of Charles Dickens - he writes of it in The Uncommercial Traveller:
One of my best beloved churchyards, I call the churchyard of St Ghastly Grim. ... It lies at the heart of the City, and the Blackwall Railway shrieks at it daily. It has a small, small churchyard with a ferocious strong spiked iron gate, like a jail. The gate is ornamented with skulls and crossbones larger than the life, wrought in stone; but it likewise came into the mind of Saint Ghastly Grim, that to stick iron spikes atop of the stone skulls, as though they were impaled, would be a pleasant device. Therefore the skulls grin aloft horribly, thrust through and through with iron spears.
And there they are still, fronting Pepys's Seething Lane, much as Dickens described them.
There's something a little louche about the hidden corners of the eastern City - which is nothing like as uniformly dull as the area around the Bank. And the street names - gorgeous, resonant, bewitching.
This is French Ordinary Court, a cavernous undercroft beneath the rail lines leading to Fenchurch Street station, It's a turning off Crutched Friars (yes, that's what the street is called). The court looks at first glance as if it is a cul-de-sac. Not quite. There's a winding footpath at the far end, slaloming between buildings ancient and modern and leading God knows where.
And the name? French Ordinary Court? Well, it seems that 42 Crutched Friars - now the Lloyds Club - was once, centuries ago, the official residence of the French ambassador. And he allowed Huguenots to sell coffee and pastries in the court, which was basically his backyard.
As it heads west, Crutched Friars becomes Hart Street, home to quite the most wonderful of the City churches to survive the Fire. This is Pepy's local church, St Olave's. More about that in my next post.
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