London’s Fifth Plinth

We all know about London’s 4th plinth in Trafalgar square. Kept  free for many years, and today temporarily donned with the infamous Blue Cock.  But did you know about London’s fifth plinth?  Well that’s what I like to call it. Hidden away in a corner of west London, sandwiched between the central line track and the A40 is the Vanguard Storage facility, Perivale.  But as locals will know, it is also home to a delightful array of ever changing displays. Just recently there was a full size Dr Who Tardis (my favourite) and now to commemorate the anniversary of WW1 an authentic Mark IV Tank now sits atop. vanguard 3

Last year they erected a Hawker Hunter WT555 fighter jet (much the excitement of my plane enthusiast visitor, as we whizzed passed on the Central Line). Vanguard2

They’ve also featured a mini Big Ben, a giant Snoopy, and a giant Santa (who had to be taken down once or twice to avoid being blown back to lap land in the gale force winds!). Vanguard’s ‘plinth’ is definitely one of London’s secret gems, a drive up the A40 will take you past, or a trip on the Central Line (look out the window between Hanger Lane  & Perivale – also home to the famous Art Deco Hoover Building, now a Tesco).

Vanguard But if you can’t make the trip out to zone 4, you  can keep up to with their fabulous displays (and the company’s 50th anniversary celebrations) on Instagram and Twitter.

Mayfair Secrets

Between Bond Street and Piccadilly are a series of luscious lanes full of London secrets and treasures.

South Molton Street

From Bond Street Station head down South Molton Street (located in next to One shopping centre) Today south Molton street boasts of classy shops on a lovely pedestrian street, although was originally known as Poverty lane, reflecting the nature of the neighbourhood of the time. At the end you reach Brook Street and you will find here homes of two of the world’s greatest musicians.

Number 25 is home to the genius composer George Handel. German born, this world renowned composer lived here in London in the 1700s, and it was during his time here that he became a British citizen. It was whilst he lived here that he composed some of his most famous operas, including his masterpiece ‘Messiah’, many of which were performed at the nearby Her Majesties Theatre in Haymarket (today the long running home of Phantom of the Opera) as well as the Covent Garden opera houses. He also composed music for Royal coronations..

Handle lived until his 70s when his health declined and he died. Today he lies buried in Westminster Abbey. His house has been turned into a museum dedicated to him, entrance is just £6 and the museum holds regular talks and performances, and is definitely worth a visit.

Just next door to Handel’s home is that of another great performer, look out for the blue plaque marking Jimi Hendrix’s London flat. (23 Brook Street). It is said that Jimi loved living here in the 60s and he described it as the only real home he ever had. Today there is a secret door way adjoining the Handel House and the Hendrix house and whilst it can’t be accessed by the public it is used by the Handel museum as offices and storage.

Just next to these two famous homes you will find two of London’s luscious lanes. One of which is Avery Row, the other Lancashire Court. These twisty turny lanes seem out of place, but actually they follow the route of one of London’s famous lost waterways The Tyburn.

Lancashire Court

Avery Row, still following the Tyburn, the row takes its name from the bricklayer who cleverly paved over the waterway to make the streets. Avery row is a cute cobbled lane full of bespoke shops, cafes and a pub or two. Lancashire Court is delightful and a great little place to grab a classy bite to eat– it looks like a back street to no-where but inside there it’s a maze of cute shops and exclusive restaurants. In the summer it could easily be mistaken for a cutsie cobbled alley in a Mediterranean town, with everyone sat outside enjoying their dinner (a great little spot for to impress a date).

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Abandoned Industry on the Thames

By Ben Pedroche

London’s mighty river holds many secrets. It’s been the final resting place for the crew of many a stricken boat, for scurrilous pirates, and for the victims of countless suicide and murders.

It’s where all of London’s sewage was once dumped (and to a certain degree still is), and below its murky waters is where many of the most incredible feats of Victorian engineering were constructed.

The Thames is also where you can find the relics of London’s industrial heritage. Even in the most popular tourist spots you need only wait for the tide to go out to see what gets washed ashore. There are old tyres, rusting chunks of metal and broken timber, and all manner of detritus from long-lost industries.

You can even find entire structures along the banks of the river, rotting away as time and nature slowly take hold. I’ve always been intrigued by the stories behind these derelict and forgotten sites, but it was only while researching my book that I realised just how many of them there are.

Most of the old timber and metal structures you can still find along the river were once used as jetties where huge boats could be moored while delivering coal from the north. The coal was used to fire the boilers inside London’s many lost power stations and gasworks.

There are some familiar examples still intact today, including the large structure alongside the mighty remains of Battersea Power Station. This can be seen in full glory thanks to the pop-up park currently open at the power station site, including its two cranes. According to the plans, they will be preserved as part of the redevelopment of the power station.

Battersea Power Station Cranes

Others are less well known, but just as big. Follow the Thames Path near to Glaisher Street in Deptford and you’ll find a huge wooden jetty quietly rotting away. This is essentially all that’s now left of Deptford Power Station; London’s first mega-sized power plant and one of its most important. It closed in 1983 and was demolished several years later.

Deptford Power Station Jetty

Further along the river, and easily visible from the Deptford site, you can find a similar disused jetty, this time made of metal. It once helped supply coal to fire the boilers of Greenwich Power Station. Not strictly lost – the power station is used as an emergency back-up facility should there be a major power outage on the London Underground – the jetty has been out of use since the station was converted to run on oil, and later gas.

Greenwich Power Station Jetty

Towards the west, you can find a similar abandoned coaling jetty along the river, near to the up-market Chelsea Harbour/Imperial Wharf development in Sands End, Fulham. It was once used by a fleet of collier ships owned by Fulham Power Station, which closed in 1978.

Fulham Power Station Jetty

Close by is Chelsea Creek, where the shore is awash with spoil and rusted metal from Lots Road Power Station, which powered the Underground from 1905 until being decommissioned in 2002.

Lots Road Power Station

These are just a few of the things you can find when you talk a walk along the Thames. There are many more, in particular around the Greenwich Peninsula area, other parts of the Docklands and in Woolwich.

They propose something of a conundrum for property developers. It’s easy to demolish an industrial site on dry land, but to remove a structure from a river is far more costly and time consuming. Most are left to deteriorate, while others have been turned into nature reserves. For now though they stand tall as a reminder of a London that has largely been forgotten.

All of the sites listed here and many more are included in my book ‘London’s Lost Power Stations and Gasworks’, out now.

RIP BBC TV Centre

I, personally, am so sad to see the end of the White City BBC TV Centre, as it closes its doors next week. Its been a huge part of my life, and is actually the very reason I was born in this great city of London.

My parents moved to London from Birmingham in the 60s when my Dad got a job with the BBC. He worked there his entire working life (my whole life) retiring a few years ago. Starting out at White City he had the glamorous job of setting up for outdoor broadcasts (yes, he was responsible for Live Aid reaching your TV set!). This job, amounted to many happy memories for me, sometimes hanging out in BBC vans all day, watching all the weird dials and connections, to meeting celebs. One particular happy day was at a Live Aid event in Hyde Park, for some reason we had a radio connection to the celebrities’ caravan, and I sat listening to them on their breaks the whole day.

An earlier memory that also sticks firm in my mind was a visit to the TVC itself, eating at the then infamous BBC canteen, and paying a visit to the Blue Peter garden. I remember it well as it was a sunny day and 6 year old me, left my favourite white cardigan in the bp garden, never to be recovered.  I like to think it found its way into a time capsule and will be dug up again in 1000 years, and future generations will think ‘who was this ‘Celeste’ child, and what great things did she achieve to have the honour of inputting into the sacred time capsule?’

Later in my life it remained a significant place to me, passing by time and time again on the Central Line, I will always remember the huge Going Live painting on the side (until the renovations in the late 90s) anyone else remember that one?

And now more recently I spent two years working just a stone’s throw from the TVC, and would often bump into blurry eyed morning news presenters at the bus stop or in Starbucks… as they topped up their caffeine levels after their early shifts.

The Question Mark

The famous question mark was built in 1960 and provided a big boost to west London including the creation of homes for the influx of BBC staff (including my Dad) at nearby Ealing.

Its arrival at White City came at a time when the area was already famed around the world, having made its mark when it held the Olympics last minute in 1908, after hosts Rome dropped out. The area following this, as well as boasting a huge stadium, shared a large famous exhibition site, for the popular great exhibitions which were a regular event in the capital. It was also at this time that it earned its name as the great ‘White City’ after its white cladded exhibition halls. The site was vast, more than 8 times the size of the original Hyde Park exhibition in 1851.

Courtesy of BBCTV

BBC Centre and Stadium

The exhibition site and stadium, had its very own London tube Station Wood Lane, however this closed a year before TVC opened.  In 2008 the station was resurrected, completely rebuilt, one of the newest stations, opening on the same line as its early ancestor and serving  the BBC and nearby Westfield Shopping Centre.

Much of the exhibition site was demolished in the 30s making way first for a housing estate, and then the rest in the 60s for BBC Centre.  The site remained a sporting hotspot for many years entertaining many different sports from athletics, to rugby, and boxing , and even hosted a match in the famed 1966 world cup. However after the arrival of the BBC in the 60s the area went into decline. The stadium itself was eventually closed in 1980s and demolished, the space being bought out by the BBC for the extension of their TV Centre.

The TVC though,  continued to thrive and final renovations took place just a few years ago in the late 2000s when the brand new BBC Media Village was built (between the old question mark, and the A40) This new area includes it’s own post office, Tesco’s and Startbucks.

It’s now been sold off, and the centre of BBC life has moved to the BBC Broadcasting House in very central London, just next to Oxford Circus.

It’s expected that the site will be turned into flats, and a hotel, among other things.

Its an iconic building, and its closure has caused controversy even among celebs and those who have worked there in the past. I’m sure whatever the future holds for it I hope they are able to keep some of the essence and memories that this historic little corner of London created for so many across the world.

bbc tvc

What are your personal memories of BBC TVC, or favourite shows? I’d love to hear your memories and comments in the comments section below.

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