19 February, 2012

Croydon on a fine day

A visit to Croydon to fill in a gap on my London photograph map. It's not easy to get pictures of Croydon because of the crowds, and there are few historic buildings, but some striking skyscrapers. Croydon Parish church houses the tomb of John Whitgift, former Archbishop of Canterbury, who endowed the Hospital of the Holy Trinity, better known as the Whitgift Almshouses. The residents of the Hospital must be over the age of sixty, of modest circumstances, communicant members of the Church of England and come from either the parishes of Lambeth or Croydon or the County of Kent to comply with the terms of Whitgift's will.

Croydon was extensively redeveloped in the 1960s and the oldest building in the Town centre is the Kentucky Fried Chicken, which dates from even before the alms houses. There's no picture because it looks like a nineteenth century pastiche but you eat your fried chicken in a medieval hall.
The electricity and gas companies both had imposing offices now used for different purposes

and the college carries sculptures of both Minerva (goddess of learning) and Vulcan (god of fire).

Culture is not neglected and the Fairfield Halls provide entertainment and recreation to Croydoners and others, I used to go there for co-operative meetings and it is a fine venue with two theatres and lots of committee rooms.

There are still one or two firms who find Croydon convenient as a place to work

but the council must also take the credit for a skyscraper - Taberner House which was built between 1964 and 1967. Croydon took in Coulsdon and Purley Urban District Council in 1965 so new accommodation would be needed. The 19-storey building has its elegant upper slab block narrowing towards both ends. I think it looks quite elegant.

Not easy to get a picture of though.
Croydon council, in years gone by at least, put religion at the centre as this plaque over the door to the library shows.

18 February, 2012

Extrarordinary houses in an ordinary suburb - Kingsbury

I have always thought that strange things go on behind the twitching lace curtains of suburbia. And if you are going to do some strange things then you might as well have a strange house to do them in. I have been meaning to do the Ernest George Trobridge walk in Kingsbury for a long time since I saw the Trobridge exhibition in Brent Museum in 2010. Unfortunately I did the walk on a dull day but got two housing estates for the price of one.
Trobridge was a Swedenborgian, and whether this influenced his architecture or not I don't know, however his architecture is unsymetrical. The mail once had a seies of articles about houses that looked like Adolf Hitler, and the first block of flats I saw would have certainly have qualified. I'm sure that would not be a tenet of the Swedenborgian faith.

These pictures show some of the rather fun entrances to some other blocks of flats in the area. A definite play on the Englishman's house being his castle.

Immediately after the first world war both building materials such as brick and tile were in short supply. Worse, skilled labour was short too. Trobridge solved the problem by building thatched houses with compressed elm, a timber that was then plentiful in England. Elm has a tendency to twist when seasoned but compression overcame this as is witnessed by the houses still standing today. They are interesting and again, unsymetrical. although fireproofed with roof sprinklers.

Roe Green village was built during the first world war for workers in the nearby aircraft factory. Designed by Sir Frank Baines it lacks the variety that could be seen at the Well Hall Estate built for the workers at the Royal Arsenal. The garden suburb here has some brick houses and rendered houses with greenish slates hung down, slates being cheaper than brick for building. It still looks good after nearly 100 years. It was considered cheaper to build permanent houses for temporary war workers. After the first world war good quality housing was considered to be the preservative against armed revolution when the revolutionaries would be better trained than the police. A recruiting poster of the period asks 'Is your home worth fighting for?' The trouble was that in many cases the answer was a resounding NO! I think these homes would be worth fighting for...

My journey to Kingsbury (Charles Dickens is 200)

(Skip this if you want as it's going to be tedious - or light a cigarette - we have dickensian day and night service and only 10p a packet)

I arrived at a smoke blackened building, that once fulfilled the function of a public library in a mean part of that London district known as Whitechapel. There, leading down into the station, was a set of concrete steps which I proceeded to descend by placing one foot on the top step and the other foot on the step below. I repeated this procedure until I came to a set of stainless steel and plastic barrier gates with a yellow cone atop them. Having been used to this procedure I removed my blue 'oyster' card from my waistcoat ticket pocket and held it momentarily to the yellow cone. In a trice the portal opened to me to accommodate my passage and allow me to proceed down some more stairs to the crowded platform. An electric powered dot matrix indicator board advised me that a train to my destination was scheduled to arrive in two minutes and that what the Company calls, but most passengers do not consider, a 'good service' was running on all other lines. I attended on the station platform for around three minutes until a red white and blue painted train arrived at the station I was instructed by a disembodied voice to 'mind the gap' and to 'allow passengers off the train first'. I made sure that I did so and boarded the train along with the other surge of humanity and animals that also wished to take this particular conveyance away from the station.

(That's enough Dickens...Ed)

05 February, 2012

Oxford The Pitt Rivers Collection

So I'm now being gawped at by a London Blogger. Hmph as if it wasn't bad enough being in a glass case surrounded by other articles and labelled 'sympathetic magic'.Oh yes, me, Elizabeth Lawrence in the Oxford University Pitt Rivers collection of anthropology confined in a little silvered bottle. So how come I ended up here and not burned at the stake? Well forget burning- if you were a witch when I was, 4, maybe 5 hundred years ago- time means little to me now - they didn't burn you they just said you didn't exist. Unless of course you were a threat to the state and breaching the King's peace, like old chatterbox up in Lancashire did. Then the authorities really came down on you, and you were hanged. I was just a threat to my neighbours. And I was good at it too. You can achieve such a lot with gossip and what you can't achieve with gossip you can achieve with sickness. Rarely you can poison. But it's all poison really. And when you have lived as long as I have you get to know a lot about poison. When I was handed over in this bottle to Margaret Murray, who sometimes cast spells for a laugh, the old woman who handed me over stated: "They do say there is a witch in it, and if you let 'un out there'll be a peck o' trouble." Yes and there would be too! All I've been able to do in here is brood and plot and my revenge will be vile.

I began my career of destruction (and incidentally the accumulation of property and chattels) when I was fifteen. The squire had a daughter, old squire Blackthorne was hard up so he needed to make a good marriage. Except the daughter was an ugly b****, and with a nasty temper, but what she certainly was was a virgin - well looking like that what else could she be? I let it drop to some of the right people that she had known several of the village peasants and one was particularly persistent. Course nobody would have cared if it was the other way round but the man she was about to marry who had land and money, and was in the next village too, certainly did care. He called off the wedding on the basis of the rumours I'd spread. When the squire died the girl all hope of marriage gone, went into a convent. I just happened to have a few sheep then and started to graze them on the land they vacated. And everybody forgot the old squire and his daughter and just assumed the land was mine. Victory one. But there's no end to the havoc you can cause in an English village with a quiet insinuation. When a good wife becomes pregnant, as they often do, a quiet word to imply it's not her husband's can wreck many a marriage. Yes indeed some of my wrecking was done just for fun. Did I live up to the stereotype of a witch knowing herbal lore and helping people? Sometimes I helped them on their way to meet their maker! Only peasants of course but still if the King knew about it is still murder. Not that they weren't well on their way anyway when I did them in but a helping hand never came without its profit. It's a myth that peasant's have nothing worth stealing. Some of the people had gold, others had some fine cloth. I'd never take anything that they boasted about. Other people might then wonder why it was missing. But something they never talked about - like a guilty secret - such as some silver or the like I could easily purloin if the owner was hastened away. I sold the articles well away from Sussex and used the money for more land and stock. Always useful. My career continued - reputations ruined, peasants murdered and robbed, and if someone died and all their relatives were gone nobody really stopped me taking their land, they just forgot it. I hardly ever resorted to spells but fear and intimidation were my stock in trade. But one day it all changed. A woman from a family of tinkers moved into the village. We'd never had a tinker before so people were able to get their pots and pans repaired. She also brought some bottles with her. Often the tinker is itinerant and goes round different places but sometimes they settle and this one did. I knew from the start she could see right through me. She probably had done the same as I had and things became too hot for her for some reason. So one day I was on my rounds making my insinuations and gossiping as usual when she confronted me in the high street near the ale house. She told me I'd spoken a pack of lies and I'd get my comeuppance one day. I let forth a string of invective as I wasn't prepared to have my business taken away - or more likely usurped - by this newcomer. Oh yes she was out for my trade all right.
The next day she says to me 'Lizzie, don't take it too hard what I said yesterday, why don't we have some ale together and be friends'. She poured the ale and I didn't look closely while she was doing it. It was dark in the tinker's cottage too. Then she brought out some of her wares including the glass bottle that's being gawped at right now. Well the ale was drugged and she cast a shrinking spell on me. I was helpless and couldn't resist as she picked me up and popped me into the bottle. She then told me that my lies and scandals would no longer do any harm and sealed me up. And here I remain. Lets hope nobody drops the bottle.

I've just been to the Pitt Rivers Museum where there was allegedly a witch in a bottle. I am always amazed by the sheer credulity of peasants of old. How could they possibly believe things like that?