Walking London

Every now and again I will talk about my experiences with walking London – the task my husband and I have given ourselves – to look at what the different areas have to offer and to walk the streets and villages and farms, and gardens, and rivers and canals….and yes London does have villages and farms! Read the London Gardener by Elspeth Thompson and My Garden, the City and Me by Helen Babbs if you don’t believe me.

There are always many things to discover about this city, so many that amaze me. For instance today I went walking with a neighbour to her tennis club up past West Hampstead and on the way she mentioned that there was a reservoir up behind the roads we were walking on and that the new houses they were building were liable to be flooded as a result! I had no idea there was such a reservoir and of course I never realised it was there because it is underground… so I looked it up and here are the details:

Ten things you should know about Gondar Gardens Reservoir

1. The reservoir (decommissioned in 2001) is below ground level, with wonderful Victorian brick arches supporting a grassed-over roof.

2. The site plays host to Camden’s only endangered population of slow worms and is home to many of the “under threat” species in Camden’s Biodiversity Action Plan.

3. It is one of Camden’s few undisturbed sites, providing additional biodiversity value.

4. Over 90% of the site is designated as Private Open Space and a Site of Nature Conservation Importance. Camden’s policy is against development of such sites.

5. Camden’s planning inspector stated that the many private views over the site amount to a public amenity. Camden policy recognises the importance of public views.

6. The reservoir was previously owned by Thames Water who tried and failed to alter planning policy to allow development.

7. Linden Homes and Wates Developments bought the site in January 2010 and within one week had cut down all the trees on the street frontage.

Further information: Gondar and Agamemnon Residents’ Association, info.gara@googlemail.com; http://www.gara-westhampstead.co.uk

Last week we went for a walk in Kingsbury with the leader of our local history group. My husband and I are fascinated by London suburban architecture of which there seems to be little written in a comprehensive form – so many builders and architects with very specific ideas of what should be built and how to build it and decorate it – even down to putting some dragons on the roof tiles – yes several houses near us have these – I wonder why? I shall have to try and find out. Anyway, back to Kingsbury. The walk was enlivened by a discussion of the local history and we found out that for instance, no-one quite knows which king Kingsbury was named after, but it was certainly Saxon or earlier, as there is a church there that is Saxon and the area was well settled by then. It also has what are probably the best preserved medieval fields left in London with the field boundaries still well established in wide hedges which are several hundreds of years old.

We also saw a house which had a lovely walled garden at Roe Green – just by the fields – which is now maintained by volunteers, but is one of the larger walled gardens within London’s boundaries. The house to which it is attached was where John Logie Baird experimented with transmissions from the UK to Germany.

But perhaps most fascinating of all were the thatched cottages set in wooded grounds with black leaded windows and the two castles. Yes, castles in Kingsbury!. You could sort of guess that maybe one or two old farm cottages may have been left as clearly this was once a farming area but these were substantial cottages, even four stories high in places, with the thatch still intact on most of them. Clearly preserved but why so many? And as for the castles… when you got closed you could see that in fact the castles were made of concrete. Something smells you think, and you would be right. All these structures, cottages and all, were built in the early twentieth century by the same architect/builder who had bought substantial plots of what were then fields, and had developed his ‘fantasy’ blocks of dwellings. The architect/builder not only designed but had built several acres of land with different types of dwellings from the cottages to the castles – which in fact each hold 9 flats – and many smaller artisans’ houses similar in style to those of Hampstead Garden Village. EG Trobridge – who was the architect, built in a very specific style because of his religious beliefs. He was a  Swedenborgianism and it may have been his religious beliefs which led him to be interested in domestic architecture for working-class people. He undertook his first major building works in the 1920s, when new homes were needed for ex-servicemen. Bricks, the usual building material for housing, were in short supply so Trobridge used elm timber which was readily available at the time, and built inexpensive timber framed, timber clad, thatch-roofed houses in the London suburb of Kingsbury. These properties were technically highly innovative. The green elm timber was cut in a special way so that shrinkage could be accommodated, and the thatch contained a patent fire extinguishing sprinkler system.

In the thirties bricks became more readily available and the pressure on land around London meant that working-class families needed flats rather than houses. Trobridge developed blocks of flats in the form of romantic cottages, castles and baronial halls, again mostly in Kingsbury. His work often included unusual forms and references to historical building types. castle

White Castle Mansions, Buck Lane, Kingsbury

Trobridge’s working methods were unusual for the time: he employed disabled ex-servicemen and insisted on paying full union rates to all his employees. [this all comes from Wikipedia , but it was what we were told also by our walk leader.]

The New Church (or Swedenborgianism) is the name for a new religious movement developed from the writings of Swedish scientist and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). Swedenborg claimed to have received a new revelation from Jesus Christ through continuous heavenly visions which he experienced over a period of at least twenty-five years. In his writings, he predicted that God would replace the traditional Christian Church, establishing a ‘New Church’, which would worship God in one person: Jesus Christ. The New Church doctrine is that each person must actively cooperate in repentance, reformation, and regeneration of one’s life.

This all chimes of course, with Lutyens’ work and that of Raymond Unwin who developed Hampstead Garden Suburb with a similar idea of providing housing for the disadvantaged poor. The Suburb was in fact the idea of Henrietta Barnett – with whom I am familiar as she founded the secondary school I went to – her other great passion being education for girls. Of course, it is all very Arts and Crafts in style and linked philosophically again to William Morris and the whole Arts and Crafts movement. This movement is linked to the Craftsman houses in North America one of which I was privileged to see on one of my visits there. Beautiful use of wood panelling and hidden cupboards!

Interestingly, the Craftsman movement links back to Northern California  and the architects Bernard Maybeck, with the Swedenborgian Church (San Francisco, California). So we come full circle. craftsman bungalow.

Especially as I live in an Arts and Crafts conservation area of North London myself !

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