I’m out on another Barbican Library ramble and I’m feeling guilty. I have so much I should be doing for work but ive decided these days out to observe and learn things are as important. I’m also feeling a little guilty over something that happened on my last ramble and I failed to report. It started on the Hammersmith and City Line Train just after Mile End. A young man came along the carriage and put something on the seats next to me. He didn’t look, I looked away. I noticed that it was a small packet of Kleenex tissues with a note. I glanced down and the handwritten note said that his friend was starving and he was trying to get some money together to help him. I watched him carry along the carriage, placing tissues, not looking, just staring. I saw a lady open her purse and give him some change. He took his note off of the tissues and gave her the packet. He then doubled back, picking up the tissues and moving on. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to be the only one who gave him some money. I ignored him. Over the next weeks I thought more about it. I actually applauded the way he was trying to do something without begging. Offering something in return for some money. The tissues were not important. The gesture was. Today as I get on the train I’m hoping he will come along again so I can carry out my well practised routine. But of course, it doesn’t happen.
The Library is noisy today. There is some experimental workshop somewhere in the building with chanting, wailing and percussion. The man next to me in the Music Library study area is playing his laptop as if he is giving a piano recital. I glare but he is engrossed. I’m pleased to see there is a new issue of What’s New: The magazine published by Barbican Library and given away free. I love a library taking the time and effort to produce something like this. It reminds me why I travel up to town to visit. I get out several books including one on Victorian Parlour Songs and another on Trades for London Boys 1912. Maybe a change of job is on the cards!
I come out of a different exit from the High Walk way and find myself passing the Barbican Laundrette which is proclaiming that they use Soft water. There is one young man in there and it all looks very familiar. More My Beautiful Laundrette than EastEnders. I carry on past the Shakespeare Pub with its sign saying 1964 and come across the Barbican Greengrocers and Fruiterers which still has its CLE code for the telephone number. A quick look up on google confirms it was the code for Clerkenwell just around the corner. I pass The Italia Conti Drama School in what looks like a modern office block and turn the corner. Clerkenwell feels like a village and should be applauded for its independent shops.
Eventually I come to University Land and cross paths with a Professor, swaying slightly, who’s leather bag has come undone to reveal a bottle of Gin and a bottle Tonic amongst the papers. What. No Ice and a Lemon?
It’s the First of May and I’m off up to the Barbican Library to change my books. Something is definitely in the air. I’m sure I can hear the music from Carousel as I pass Charlie Brown’s Roundabout. It seems to know about my last post. The journey is made better by meeting someone I know to talk to. Barbican station has sprouted planters to make the disused platform more presentable. Only for a few months before Crossrail work starts, but welcome all the same. I stop to take a photo with my new Telephoto Instlens. This little lens fits on to my iPhone and gets me closer to the action without stepping on the rails.
On leaving the station, the High Walk, which has had building work disruptions on all my visits so far, has been planted up. Spring has arrived. But its cold. Not like last time I came. I’ve got a song about a Magic Porridge Pot stuck in my head. When you teach Primary School music, these things happen. Anyone using the new Music Express by A and C Black will know what I mean. “Cook, Little Pot, Cook”
The Library is quite busy today. Staff are dealing with others so I return my books in the machine. There’s a touch of Sci-fi about its purple glow. I’m intrigued to see that there are people listening to music on impressive looking CD players in the Carrel study area’s. There’s something to try another time. My choice of book today includes the score for “No No Nanette” by Vincent Youmans and a Biography of “Little Titch” And I couldn’t resist “Tavern Anecdotes”
My wanderings have taken me to The Strand where I come across a May Day Demo which appears to be against capitalism. Most of the groups passing by me have banners in a foreign language but the Russians have nice Red Flags. I was surprised to see a Narrow Boat association. It seems to have been organised by the T.U.C. I move swiftly on to Covent Garden where the Capitalists are going about their business oblivious.
And now I’m in the bowels of the Earth. Waterstones in Gower Street is my favourite Branch at the moment. It has more atmosphere than the Piccadilly branch even if it’s building is not as grand as the Simpsons building. I’m deep underground in the Costa having a Flat White and a Raspberry Fancy amid the bright young things of academia. The Barista didn’t ask me if I was a student so as I could have a discount. She can tell.
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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.
The 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.
I”m loving my trips to Barbican Station when visiting the library. The Hammersmith And City trains seem never-ending. I’m sure I could walk along it from station to station without it moving. Here at Barbican, the Underground is Overground, Well you can see daylight anyway if nothing else. Opening in 1865 as Aldersgate Street, its name has changed several times, through Aldersgate, Aldersgate and Barbican to the now familiar Barbican in 1968 I’m a little worried now. In 1866, three passengers were killed,a guard seriously injured and a passenger suffered severe shock after a girder fell on a train at the station. Perhaps I’ll walk a little faster