Shrubhill House

Halfway up Leith Walk (or halfway down, I suppose) opposite Albert Street there is an eyesore of a remarkable standard. It is called Shrubhill House. It was built in the sixties and housed the City of Edinburgh’s social work department. It has been owned by UNITE (which isn’t Unite the Union but a company that provides student accommodation) since 2006 and it is a shocking example of how companies can get away with blighting an area with no apparent consequence. It reminds me of the situation in Ealing where the company Empire was allowed to demolish a fine if tatty cinema and then leave the site rotting.

Shrubhill House is an eyesore but on a nice sunny winter’s morning to this non-resident it looked rather photogenic.

Shrubhill House

Shrubhill House

Shrubhill House

Shrubhill House

Shrubhill House

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Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1931)

I saw this at the BFI on Friday 10th January after a gap of (at a guess) 30 years since I first saw it. My tolerance for the depiction of domestic violence and sadism is much, much lower than it was then. And this film has lashings of that making it a thoroughly unpleasant watch. However, to counter that there were the sensational special effects (I wish they had toned down the teeth which mars the believability of Hyde) and the even more astonishing screen presence of Miriam Hopkins.

This may have been the film that made me a fan but it could equally have been Old Acquaintance or These Three or even The Heiress. She is so underrated and unjustly forgotten or, if remembered, it is as a footnote in the career of Bette Davis. I blame the words and reputation of Davis for the unattractive idea that people have of Hopkins. The idea of her being so unpopular that the crew came to clap Davis shaking the hell of her on Old Acquaintance even suffuses reviews of her role in The Smiling Lieutenant in which somebody can write complete nonsense about her on set demands when the evidence on screen doesn’t support it.

Anyway, there is not a single second that she is on screen in this film that she isn’t mesmerising and utterly convincing. Even her Cockney accent sounds all right at a distance of eighty years, after all, I think Joyce Carey sounds fake in Brief Encounter.

Frederic March is pretty good too.

While browsing I came across this still which is hilarious. He looks like he is in blackface while she looks like a ridiculous ham. Honestly, the film is much, much better than this.

It is amazing what a poor still or trailer can do for a film: before Jekyll we were treated to the trailer for The Innocents which is just so inappropriately awful and gives everything away.

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Seven women

I thoroughly enjoyed Halbwelt Kultur at the Jermyn Street Theatre but I was disappointed by the lack of information about the women portrayed by the seven fine performers. The official website mentions who plays who but there isn’t any biographical detail. So I thought I would pull together a decent link for each of them along with a photograph.

Anita Berber was a dancer and drug addict who died aged 29.

Marlene Dietrich was an actress and a bit of a legend.

Blandine Ebinger was a chanteuse and actress.

Valeska Gert was a performance artist.

Rosa Luxemburg was a revolutionary and feminist murdered in 1919.

Gabriele Tergit was a journalist and writer.

Claire Waldoff was a singer and lesbian.

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The renamed streets of London

Walking around Primrose Hill in the former borough of St Pancras I came across this lovely example of a renamed street which naturally made me ask why would you do that?

This fascinating article about fireman Fred Rayment explains all: essentially London County Council found itself with too many streets with the same name so decided to rename them.

Chalcot Road/St George's Road

ETA: Actually, there is a bit more to the name changing than the London County Council which you can read about here.

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The wonders of tobacco

The words Mornington Crescent generally make me cringe, and maybe that’s why I have never visited the area before.

The Carreras factory was completed in 1928 and made cigarettes. It is now is the home of the British Heart Foundation.


I loved the repeated black cat heads. Some had poo on their foreheads but this one didn’t.

Black cat

The star attraction are the Bastet cats guarding the entrance. They are cool.

Big black cats

The building even looks great around the back which really is Mornington Crescent.


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A Victorian post box

Victorian pillar box

On St Pancras Way – a Penfold hexagonal pillar box.

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River Fleet walk



Andy and I went on a guided walk along the route of the “mighty river Fleet” from its rising on Hampstead Heath, down its route through Camden, and into the City to its outfall under Blackfriars Bridge. Our two guides (Jenni and Rob) were excellent – very knowledgeable and friendly.

There were areas along the walk that I very interested in exploring again – Hampstead itself and Kings Cross which I have no photographs of because it was dark when we got there!


Willow Road NW3

My favourite thing about the heath was when we were shown a spring. To the untrained eye (i.e. me) it just looked like a puddle but when I looked closer it was obvious that the puddle was on a slope and the water was moving slowly. Hampstead has iron rich waters (with the marvellous name of chalybeate) which were popular with the health conscious Georgians and Victorians. This fountain with its red and orange rust is beautiful.

Iron water

Essentially the waters of the Fleet are invisible after the heath but the evidence of its existence is there in the landscape particularly when walking along a street laid out on top of it and looking upwards at the sloping side streets. There are also architectural remains such as the Georgian house on Hawley Road which apparently used to be on the banks of the Fleet but now stands in all its deteriorated glory on a busy street.

House on Hawley Road

This engraving shows people on the banks of the Fleet near St Pancras Old Church (presumably it wasn’t actually called that then).

The Fleet is above ground at this point where it goes over the Tottenham and Hampstead Junction Railway (now part of the Gospel Oak to Barking Line). I think this powerfully illustrates the enormous impact the railways have had on the landscape. A river is going over a railway line.

The River Fleet

As much as I enjoyed the reason why we were on the walk, it was also a great opportunity to walk the streets of areas I rarely or never visit.

Organisations like Jews for Jesus do my head in. They do have a snappy name.

Jews for Jesus

Sadly I never saw a film at this magnificent J. Stanley Beard & Clare cinema (although I did see several at its sister cinema in Ealing) but I do know that I saw Bjorn Again there when the Forum was called the Town and Country Club.

The Forum

As I said it was dark by the time we got to Kings Cross so there are many things we saw and learned about that I will have to document another day: the wall at Mount Pleasant, Lenin’s chip shop, Little Italy, etc.

The walk down Farringdon Street which was built over the Fleet was certainly downhill all the way with fascinating and telling side roads: Turnagain Lane, Old Fleet Lane and Old Seacoal Lane.

The outfall under Blackfriars Bridge was a little disappointing in its lack of mightiness: it wasn’t very wide. It was also hard to see. You needed to know the right place to lean over the Victorian Embankment wall to spot the place marked with a green light and an access ladder.

Not what we saw! (via Paul Talling’s London’s Lost Rivers)

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A Place of Safety

A place of safety on the Central Line in White City.

A place of safety

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42 York Street, Twickenham

42 York Street

This magnificent building on the corner of York Street and Arragon Road in Twickenham has a surprisingly poor internet trail. Our first thought was that it might have been a telephone exchange but I rejected that because it isn’t ugly enough* (or at all really).

Further inspection revealed some really lovely reliefs depicting electricity which means I am inclined to accept Edith’s assertion (on the rather good Edith’s Streets blog) that it used to belong to the South Eastern Electricity Board. It definitely now belongs to Richmond upon Thames Council.
Light bulb

*I have never seen an attractive telephone exchange. (Any exceptions gratefully received.)

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Brentford, Mortlake and Barnes

It was a long weekend at the tail end of August and, since, otherwise we would do b-all, Andy and I decided to get a bus to Brentford and then walk from there to Mortlake Crematorium. (We ended up at Barnes; the album is on Ipernity.)

On the way through Brentford, we walked through the Green Dragon Lane estate which was built on the site of waterworks. This apple tree was in the grounds of the Green Dragon primary school.

Apples and the Green Dragon Estate

Crossing the Kew Road to the west side I noticed this well-worn manhole cover with wooden inserts. I wonder how many of them there are? I imagine that it won’t be replaced like for like when the time comes. My guess is that wooden inserts saved on money but that is just a guess.

A manhole cover with wooden inserts on Kew Bridge Road

In all my twenty five years in London I realised that I had never touched the water of the Thames and had only once briefly ventured onto the foreshore. When we saw this view from Kew Bridge with Strand on the Green living up to its name, I knew it was my chance to have a good look.

Outlet at Strand on the Green

I soon discovered that bricks make up a significant part of the foreshore along with mud which dries to a dingy colour.



I had this idea that Mortlake Crematorium would be interesting because there were so many famous people cremated there but I should have learnt my lesson from Golders Green that cremation is not that interesting to the disinterested. There are no poignant gravestones in atmospheric verdant surroundings but instead there are rows of plaques and beautiful restrained gardens.

I then thought that we should visit Old Mortlake Cemetery which turned out to be an odd place of very little atmosphere. However, while I was wandering around there I remembered that Sir Richard Burton’s tomb was around there too. Thank goodness for smartphones and a vague memory that the tomb in St Mary Magdalen Church might be worth a visit. What a treat! The sun was low and, since the tomb faces the west, the building became golden and the star shone in a quite gorgeous way.

Sir Richard and Lady Burton's tent


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