From Barbican to Paddington Green



It’s a Saturday and I’m going up to the Barbican Library. I can drive to Oakwood and park on the street on a Saturday. I get the Piccadilly line train as far as Finsbury park. The train has a window that is not locked and its swinging about in front of me. It interesting watching people sit next to it, discover its swinging as the train goes over the bumps, and then try to close it. It’s all to exciting and I swap trains at Finsbury park and get the Victoria Line to Kings cross. I forget where I am and get the Circle Line in the wrong direction. A quick swap around and I get to Barbican station. It’s very quiet all around. I walk past the offices of the Barbican centre. usually bustling on a Friday, they are silent, except for a solitary man working in the last one. I wonder if he has extra duties, or just hasn’t worked hard all week and needs to catch up.

I’m in the London section. Someone working on the computers dares to talk to someone on another computer. A man wearing a hat shouts loudly telling him to be quiet

“ Don’t you know this is a Library?” he shouts.

The chatty guy ignores him.

The hat guy calls him names.

I leave with a book about Victoria Park in Hackney.

After browsing around for a while, I leave the way I came. The laundrette is still offering service washes. The greengrocer doesn’t open on a Saturday. Clerkenwell is quiet. It’s funny to see London like this. It’s Local London for Local people. A cable company takes advantage of the quiet streets and weaves fibre optical wires with the precision of someone crocheting. I branch off toward Chancery Lance. A young couple walk in front of me. The woman is in a brides dress with veil. The man is wearing one too although he can’t get it to zip up at the back. No one bats an eyelid as they pass by. Both are wearing DM’s

It’s starting to rain. I pass an Eat sandwich shop but its empty. I don’t like to go in. And its a bit early for Lunch anyway.

I’m on a mission. I want to buy a Kindle and I’m thinking John Lewis might be a good place to go. I do need to walk along Oxford Street which, on a Saturday is not pleasant. At Holborn, I pass a London souvenir shop. As its belting down with rain, the owners are getting black umbrellas out of a box and putting them on display outside the door. No one is dropping by. On the opposite side of the road is James Smith and son, ancient umbrella store. Its full.

At John Lewis, I skirt through the handbag and leotard department (as Victoria Wood might have said) and take a lift up to the fifth floor. I wait to be served but the guy tells me he has a White Kindle that I’m after, reduced as the box is damaged. £20 off sounds good and he takes it to the till and instructs a young guy behind the till to open it and let me check it over. It looks great and I take it before they change their minds. You might wonder why I’m after a Kindle but, my eyes like large print and this one is back-lit when I need it.

I’ve given up on the idea of eating at Eat and head for Marks and Sparks. A Pot of Tea, Bacon Roll and an Iced bun and I’m refreshed. On the table next to me and old lady sups a large glass of red wine. She is picking the ham out of a baguette with a fork leaving the bread like some organic plate. She’s finding the wine far more interesting. I wait ages for the lift to go down. We all seem genuinely excited when it arrives.

Kindle in Hand, I’m no longer on a mission and the days my own. I’m near Marble Arch so I decide to revisit an old haunt from 20 years ago.

I find the Edgeware Road. The cinema on the corner has been demolished but the rest seems. Familiar. In 1997 I used to come to meet someone on a Saturday for a romantic lunch on Paddington Green. It was all rather lovely. This person worked in the Edgeware Road Marks and Spencer’s which at the time was mainly food with a few knickers and socks at the front. I’d get the train from Gordon Hill to Kings Cross and traverse the circle line to Edgeware Road with its indoor planters and gnomes. On arrival I would find out what time their lunch hour was. Often I’d have several hours to kill. I’d walk along the Edgeware Road and find the huge branch of Woolworth’s and hang out in there. I remember “Its such a Perfect Day” playing for Children in Need. I think I bought a copy. These Saturdays did seem perfect. When it was finally lunch time, we’d take a sandwich from the sandwich shop, bought with staff discount, and sit on Paddington Green with the flyover as our back drop. Once I saw Wendy Richard walk past. I didn’t like to say hello. She lived near by and someone pointed out her house to me with a green frog on the wall. At the time, there was a fly on the wall documentary about Paddington Green. I felt part of it.

img_2945img_2946As I walk along the Edgeware Road I am jolted back to reality. Woolworth’s has gone of course. It is now Waitrose but it doesn’t have the same appeal. I try to find Wendy Richards house but I’ve forgotten where it was. I arrive outside the Edgeware Road station and find the statue of the Window Cleaner which I always found a bit random.

I walk through the Marks and Spencer’s. Theres a Coffee Shop in there now. That would have been nice to wait in years ago. There seems to be less food now and more clothes. I’m half expecting my friend to pop out from behind a clothes rail but it’s not to be.

img_2948Paddington Green lies over a busy road junction. I dare myself to walk through the Joe Strummer Subway. I don’t know who he is but find out the he was a singer with The Clash and used to busk here. Twenty years ago this was a bustling subway with two shops in it, one of which was a cobblers and key cutters. In latter years they had art installed in them. Now, it smells of Urine and I walk swiftly past the guy sleeping rough in there. I make a note to walk over the road at street level going back. I’m singing Polly Perkins as I walk over the green which, since the building of the West Way and Fly over is cut off from Paddington station.


img_2954There is a statue to the actress Sarah Siddons and |I think to my self what a dreadful out look she now has. Next to the green is St Marys Church and the churchyard which since the late 1800’s has been a park. I walk right around the path remembering the walks I did all those years ago. I find Sarah Siddons Grave, one of the few left in its original location. The other headstone are lined up along the side. Someone is edging the path, keeping it neat.

img_2982I read the signs and find mention of a cold war defence building that was put up on the green in fifties. It’s still here when I look in the bushes. I wonder if this has anything now to do with the Top Security Police Station along the road. My mind wanders into fantasy of subterranean passages and tunnels. If only I could open the door.

I’m riding a wave on nostalgia but decide to explore further. I remember hearing about a Church street market. I walk past a fenced off area next to the Green announcing new homes. West End Gate. Probably going to cost a fortune. On the other side of the road, a hen party, wearing pink with suitcases on wheels, buzz at a door beside the shops trying to make themselves heard. Church Street market is longer than expected. Lots of stalls selling Gold and fruit and Veg. I find Alfie’s Antiques which I wrongly think has a River running through it. A quick walk round and its obvious this was once a department store. Jordans to be exact. One Lady stands there bemoaning the fact that things aren’t what they used to be.

“Keep yourself well” she pleads with him.  ” You’re the only one he listens to”

I buy a big bowl of strawberries for a pound, which I’m given in a paper bag. I like to think I’ve given something to the local economy. Then I head back, crossing at street level, to the station to head home.

It’s good to revisit places that mean something to you. They may change, but there are still things to trigger a memory.



From the Waterloo Tatooist to Charlie Brown’s Roundabout.

My trip up to Barbican Library often starts at South Woodford where my parents live, near to Charlie Browns roundabout on the A406. This is not particularly exciting but its relevance will be seen as we go along.

One of the books from my last visit to Barbican Library has again proved fascinating. A Camera on Unknown London by E O Hoppe was published in 1936 but this edition proudly displays Reissued at a cheaper price 1937. Its a collection of photographs of unusual London curiosities. The book has a feeling that I should know all these places but they all seem to need further exploration to see if they are still there. Mr Burchett the Tattooist at 72 Waterloo road. The Smugglers jugs in the cellars of the Hoop and Grapes in Aldgate. The shop selling imported skeletons for artists drawings and medical students at 18 Fitzroy street. I can seem me referring back to this book again for some further jaunts to explore the stories.

However, one entry caught my eye. A Tavern Museum. This Public House at the time of the book was known as Charlie Brown’s but had started out as The Railway Tavern  which stood on the corner of Garford Street and 114-116 West India Dock Road. The original Charlie Brown, who had been a boxer, was a successful landlord of The Railway Tavern from 1892 until his death in 1932. His funeral was a grand affair with his burial at Bow cemetery said to be attended by 16,000 people. During his time as Landlord, he’d built up a collection of curios which he displayed. People say he’d collected them from sailors and dockworkers who’d frequented the pub but actually, he was a shrewd collector who had sourced the items from dealers and built up his collection with pieces he liked. On his death, the collection was split between his son, Charlie Brown Junior and daughter, Ethel Chandler. It was Ethel who kept on The Railway Tavern with her husband Tom, displaying her half of the curios and  the name Charlie Browns. Charlie Brown Junior took his half of the curios over the road to the Blue Posts pub and opened his Charlie Browns. Confusing I know.

charliebrownsThe book gives directions to The Railways Tavern and shows this picture. I’m thinking it might be Ethel among the curios rather than over the road at the Blue Posts where Charlie was host. It gives an idea of what the place might have looked like.

In 1938, Just after the book was written, Charlie Brown Junior moved to The Roundabout Public House at Woodford. Those who know the area or Travel the A406 will see the link. On the Corner, near Raven Road, this large pub quickly became Charlie Browns and was distinctive for the Model Roundabout outside on a pole. In 1972, the Pub was demolished along with much of the area, to widen the roundabout and Southend Road as well as the flyovers for the M11.

The Railway Tavern survived a little longer but was demolished in 1989 to make way for  Westferry station on the Docklands Light Railway and the construction of the Limehouse Link Tunnel. They say that the funeral in 1932 of Charlie Brown senior has never been exceeded except for Ronnie Kray.And that gets me thinking about the rumours of a body, disposed of in the concrete pillars of the M11. Maybe I’ll walk a little faster as I walk under the subway to cross Charlie Browns.

Below is a film clip showing the area at the time. Fascinating.

The Seagull and the Harmonium

I told you in my last post that I had a half remembered story about a Harmonium and here it is. You couldn’t make it up. I had to ask my Dad for the details and here they are such as we can remember. It concerns Ivor Cutler, Scottish poet, songwriter and humourist. My Dad had always told me that the Harmonium that Ivor Cutler accompanied himself with on several recordings was his.A bold claim and one worth investigating.

Me: Dad, how is it that Ivor Cutler ended up with your Harmonium?

Dad: Well, I had a tubular bell, but I swapped it with the lady with the performing seagull for the harmonium.

Me: Why did the lady with the seagull want the tubular bell?

Dad: Well the seagull couldn’t play the harmonium.

You couldn’t make it up. It seems that in Leytonstone in the 1950’s, there lived a theatrical family. The trained seagull, called Peter after their son who died, had star roles in films. My Dad did mention Kes, but I can’t see a seagull having the acting skills to play a Kestrel with any conviction. She also had a crocodile, or so we are told.The husband was a ventriloquist who never got other the death of his son, replacing him with the dummy but I know no more than that. My Dad swapped his tubular bells (origin unknown) for this family’s harmonium. Had he kept his Tubular Bells, he might have been on Mike Oldfield’s Records. I’m guessing that the harmonium proved too much for Beachcroft Road. A friend of Dad’s, also in the film business heard that Ivor Cutler was on the hunt for a Harmonium and the deal was done.

All of this sounds rather fantastic, in the true sense of the word, but there are several things that make this sound plausible. Firstly, my mum had Ivor Cutler records in her box of singles. Secondly, as children, we were all brought up at bath time singing “I am the boo boo bird” which features on Ivor Cutler of Y’Hup released in January 1959. This was usually accompanied by drying our  parts that the bird mentions in the song, with a towel while standing on the toilet lid. When singing “I’m Invisible”, we covered ourselves completely in the towel, and for some reason added the line “They all dropped off”

If you want to listen to the Boo Boo bird and hear the Harmonium, the clip is below. I’ve emailed my aunt for more details. Did the crocodile have any parts in films or was the Seagull the bread-winner?