Category Archives: Blogging

Bollardian

I first came across John Kennedy’s brilliant Bollards of London blog shortly after he started it two years ago, when I idly googled ‘London bollards’ one evening (that is the sort of thing I do).

I’ve been fascinated by bollards for years, ever since I pretended to be  an art cinema-loving ponce and went to see Ben Hopkins’ weird London demi-classic The Nine Lives Of Tomas Katz at the ICA and was transfixed by a montage scene involving talking bollards.

Many years later I sent M@ from Londonist on a quest to locate London’s top ten bollards, but John has taken this to the extreme and now has over 100 London bollards on his site.

Bollards are great. They are everywhere and they are all different. Here are two I snapped last week, located within metres of each other in Wapping but very different. 

This one is fat, old and very rusty.

This one is new, shiny and very, very short. It barely comes up to my knees and nobody would ever describe me as a giant.

Amazing eh? If you agree, check out John’s site, where he will shortly be presenting my top three London bollards from his collection.

Can you contain yourselves?

London’s underground press: IT and OZ and the psychedelic left

‘IT came out of the Beats – poetry, jazz and art with a bit of lefty politics,’ says Mick Farren. ‘I told them this was fucked up, they weren’t talking about the weird changes going on with The Who, or where The Beatles were coming from. I’d say that with all respect to John Coltrane there’s this black geezer in the Bag O’ Nails who has long hair and plays guitar with his teeth, what are we going to do about that? So they asked me to be music editor.’

The current issue of Uncut magazine contains my feature on the London underground press of the 1960s and 1970s. It includes a number of stupendous quotes like the above from Mick Farren, one of the most colourful figures from the British psychedelic left.

The piece covers the founding of International Times in 1966, the relationship between the underground press and pop stars, the difficulty of publishing, happenings at the Roundhouse and Alexandra Palace, the creation of the UFO Club and the gradual demise of the movement after the dehibilitating OZ trial of 1971. Interviewees included Pete Townshend, Mick Farren, Marianne Faithfull, Robert Wyatt and Jonathon Green. Townshend was particularly reflective on his troubled relationship with the counterculture, and I’ll post the whole thing up here shortly.

There is some great stuff on the internet about both these publications, which in different ways served the needs of London’s young and switched-on population who were not being sufficiently satisfied by either the mainstream newspapers or the pop press. (And does that sound familiar or what?) They covered pot, pop and politics, were revolutionary in their use of colour, design and language and paved the way for later influential print movements like the punk and football fanzines of the 1970s and 1980s.

The entire International Times archive is online, a hugely valuable resource for hippy-watchers. Discover it here. Some of the old IT heads are also collaborating on a blog called The Fanatic.

For those interested in the OZ trial, I recommend the following two-part news clip made for Australian TV at the time of the trial in 1971. It’s a fascinating watch.

Moonlighting

I am going to be blogging current affairs type stuff over at Snipe, in the illustrious company of Adam and Darryl.  

My first post about the Old London Underground Company can be read here.

You can also read more of my stuff over at the Time Travel Explorer blog, which is devoted to maps and history. My latest piece is about the constancy of one London burial ground.

Best books about London

Although I’m late to the party as ever, I see via Chris Fowler that Londonist editor M@ has come up with his personal list of the 15 best non-fiction books about London. It’s a good list, as you would expect, and has prompted me to come up with my own favourite 15.

1 ‘The London Encyclopaedia’ by Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert

The definitive A-Z of London history, fascinating and accessible. I much prefer this to narrative histories like Roy Porter and Peter Ackroyd.

2 ‘In Search of London’ by HV Morton

My single favourite piece of narrative London writing, featuring Morton wandering around the bomb-battered city in 1951, describing what he finds and remembering what it once looked like.

3 ‘Shaping London’ by Terry Farrell

A fascinating look at the tangible forces that have shaped the infrastructure of London, and a welcome antidote to the airy tediousness of so much contemporary psychogeography.

4 ‘The History of London In Maps’ by Felix Barker and Peter Jackson

Excellent and accessible cartographical guide from 1993, divided into sensible sections and well illustrated.

5 ‘Curiosities of London’ by John Timbs

Hefty Victorian guidebook that is an intriguing contemporary reference source.

6 ‘London: The Unique City’ by Steen Eiler Rasmussen

A Danish architect analysis in 1937 why London looks like it does.

7 ‘Subterranean Railway’ by Christian Woolmar

Definitive and readable recent history of the London tube.

8 ‘The Lost Rivers of London’ by Nicholas Barton

The classic guide to the old rivers of London, first published in the 1960s and flawed, but still the best.

9 ‘Violent London’ by Clive Bloom

Superb study of the London Mob through history, recently updated.

10 ‘In Camden Town’ by David Thomson

Gloriously whimsical half-finished diary by a BBC producer from the 1980s, which captures Camden on the brink of gentrification. (See also Jonathan Raban’s ‘Soft City’.)

11 ‘London Under London’ by Richard Trench

To be honest, it’s on a par with the many other subterranean London books, but makes my list because it was written by a bloke called Trench.

12 ‘People Of the abyss’ by Jack London

Wonderful late-Victorian journalism from the destitute East End. I should also include Henry Mayhew’s ‘London Labour And The London Poor’ but shamefully I’ve only ever dipped into it. 

13 ‘Night Haunts’ by Sukhdev Sandhu

Following in HV Morton’s footsteps, Sandhu explores the nocturnal economy of 21st century London.

14 ‘London peculiars’ by Peter Ashley

One of many ‘Secret London’-style books I own, but probably the best looking. See also the fine recent ‘Secret London: An Unusual Guide’,  ‘Eccentric London’ by Tom Quinn and ‘Curious London’ by Robin Cross.

15 ‘The Likes Of Us’ by Michael Collins

A biography of working-class South London.

Apologies…

For lack of blogging this week, my life is currently taken up with:

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and

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But more to come shortly.

Room for improvement

Writer, Londonphile and intimidatingly prolific blogger Christopher Fowler recently noted my post on the London terraced house on his own excellent blog, adding intriguingly that:

‘Looking into the subject a bit more, I found that the terraced rooms and gardens are all percentages of those [9th century] measurements, making everything look neat and tidy even when it’s not.’

His recommended related reading on the subject is Harry Mount‘s ‘A Lust for Window Sills: A Lover’s Guide to British Buildings from Portcullis to Pebble Dash’.

Maps and apps

 

Some months ago, I heard about the Time Travel London Explorer app, a nifty iPhone application that allows you to layer different historical maps of London on top of each other, so you can use GPS to see how the street you are standing in has changed (or not) since 1746.

I was so excited I went out and bought an iPhone in anticipation and wasn’t disappointed when the app was finally completed. It features four different maps – Rocque 1746, Horwood 1799, Greenwood 1830 and Stanford 1862 – as well as lots of easily searchable historical information and photographs of London, along with audio guides. You can read a review here.

It’s a bit like the Museum of London’s Street Museum app only better as fading in from one historic map to another is fun and informative.

The Time Travel Explorer website features a blog about mapping and London history written by myself and M@ from Londonist. If this is the kind of thing that gets you going – and really, how could it not? – go check us out.

Sad news for South London

Jason Cobb, one of south London’s finest bloggers and a hyperlocal hero, is leaving London, defeated by the relentless pace of life in the city and fearful of ‘becoming what I despise – a right wing bigot’.

Just about the only people who will be relieved by his departure will be Lambeth Council, who have regularly been held to rigorous scrutiny by his wonderful Stockwell-based Onion Bag Blog.

Jason was also tremendously helpful and encouraging when I decided to set up my own blog, for which I am forever grateful.

Wivenhoe doesn’t know what’s about to hit it.