Peace And Light In Long Eaton

I recently satisfied a long-nursed curiosity by visiting Long Eaton.  I don’t know about you, but I find that, if I hear an announcement about where a stopping train is going to stop often enough, I develop a growing urge to visit that place : I hear about Long Eaton several times a day – “Passengers for Langley Mill, Alfreton, Long Eaton and Derby change at Beeston …”.

I wasn’t there for very long (I managed to combine this trip with a visit to that other faraway place with a strange-sounding name East Midlands Parkway) but long enough to get the gist of the place, as it were.

The main thing to note about Long Eaton is that it is very long.  One very long road running alongside a canal with houses strung out alongside it.  The walk from the station to the centre of town took about half an hour, but, by happy chance, it took me past what I think it’s safe to assume is the town’s Jewel in the Crown.

I’m pleased to say that it’s the Library.  Just look at this –

Long Eaton Library 2

Pax and Lux – not, as you might think, advertisements for stuffing and beauty soap, but Peace and Light – and I think that all of us, in these oafishly disagreeable times, and not just the good folk of Long Eaton, could do with a stiff dose of both.

The interior lives up to the promise of the entrance with this stained glass window, apparently the work of one Andrew Stoddart of Nottingham (not the cricketer of the same name), depicting four muses of literature, poetry, music and painting –

Long Eaton Library Window 1

and I was particularly taken with this, which is almost a quotation from Sir Francis Bacon (“Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.”) 

Long Eaton Library Window 2

I think, if I were in charge of the internet, I would make it compulsory to display this at the top of every blog, forum and website in the land (or perhaps only the Guardian’s Comment is Free).

The Library is a Grade II listed building, and a more technical description (“The pediment has small dentillations and a mosaiced tympanum“, apparently) may be found here.

Illusions of Grandeur

Back in the Spring, I observed the imaginative solution adopted by Kettering Borough Council to the problem of having a Restaurant Quarter with no restaurants, only empty shops – (Facades) 

Now I see the practice seems to be spreading to London.

Exit St. Pancras and see how the works at King’s Cross are hidden from view by this lovely verdant hedge, a little piece of suburbia in urbe.

The trompe l’oeuil artist at work again.  Is it not somehow greener, lusher, more real than this genuine hedge in Market Harborough?

I do wonder whether this might not be extended to larger projects?  I’ve already a suspicion that – given the speed at which it’s going up – the Shard is made out of chicken wire and papier-mache.  Given that the purpose of these buildings seems to be to create a striking skyline when seen at a distance, from some imaginary vantage point –

rather than serving any useful purpose, I propose future high-rise buildings should be constructed at minimal cost using balsa wood, or possibly simple two-dimensional constructions in hardboard cut into interesting shapes and painted to look like prestige developments.

The only limit would the limit of the “architect”‘s imagination, and – if people didn’t like it – it could simply be removed and replaced with something else.  Perhaps – as a little jeux d’esprit to entertain and welcome our Olympic visitors – a hardboard Eiffel Tower or pop-up Taj Mahal could be made to appear on the horizon overnight?

In these straightened times, I feel all solutions – however outlandish they may appear – should be given serious consideration.  We must all think the unthinkable – however meaningless and impossible that might be.

I shall forward my proposal to the Mayor of London forthwith.

Fine Energies : Demolition at Moorgate

I’m afraid that circumstances have conspired to prevent me bringing you a full account of Leicestershire’s defeat on Sunday against Warwickshire in the 40 over league.  But I think this is an accurate graphic illustration of where the Foxes’  hopes lie at the half-way stage in the competition.

A row of shops opposite the entrance to Moorgate Station being demolished in connection with the Crossrail project (the white building in the background is part of London Metropolitan University).  Two or three doors away is the site of the inn where John Keats grew up (and may have been born) – now another, later, pub.

Keats wrote of a quarrel in the street that it was “a thing to be hated, but the energies displayed in it are fine” – which, I think, applies rather to this demolition (close- to it is an extraordinary sight and sound).  Also, I suppose, Leicestershire’s record in the CB40.

And Warwickshire’s hopes?  More like this – the soaring – if unfinished – riverside Shard  (snapped from a train window as I was on my way to some high-level talks in Bromley).

White Buildings … : Foster’s Mill, Cambridge


These are the remains of a large and imposing white building that stood directly opposite, and rather overshadowed, Cambridge Railway Station.  From 1898 until last year it would have been the first thing that confronted anyone arriving at Cambridge by train.  I always thought it seemed somehow disproportionate to its surroundings and slightly  forbidding (not dark, but faintly Satanic) but it never occurred to me to find out what it was.

Apparently it was the Foster’s (Flour) Mill, built as close to the station as possible after the University had refused the company permission to build its own railway lines to their other mills.  They also owned a bank in the City.

It is some time since the building has been used for milling.  The intention was to demolish some new additions and convert the older parts into flats.  This plan was overtaken by a serious fire in March last year.

The fanciful turret makes it look like a ruin dreamed up by Horace Walpole.

The Many Faces of Kettering : Northampton House and Station Road in Transition


 The longer this blog goes on, the more chances it offers to revisit the recent past and observe the processes of change (and sometimes decay).  It was about a year ago that I began taking photographs, and I see that one of the first things I snapped were a pair of buildings at the end of Station Road, Kettering.  I must have passed these innumerable times now in the course of the last fifty years. 

One of these used to be the Kettering Centre for the Unemployed, and the other was most recently used by the body that conducts driving tests.  In 2006 it was announced that the buildings were to be redeveloped, and a “competition” was launched to find the best design (the brief is here – \”Design brief\”).

The winning design involved demolishing the existing buildings and erecting a grandiose-looking set of offices.  Amongst others, the Victorian Society objected to this proposal (Don\’t demolish Kettering\’s Edwardian heritage say Victorian Society) (oddly, the Society think the buildings were built in 1910, whereas the Council  think they are ca. 1873).

For a while there was a sort of artist’s impression of the new development at the end of the street – with much use of the word “Gateway” (and quite possibly Beacons and Flagships too – there was a lot of that around in those days).

By the time I photographed it first (I think it was April last year) that hoarding had come down and it looked like this –

and the entrance like this (the remains of the winning design hoarding are visible – note the word Gateway) –

 I think if I were directing a film in years to come and trying to establish that it was set somewhere in the second half of the first decade of this century I’d go for something like this – a facade of happy smiling multicultural children’s artwork (the Many Faces of Kettering)  obscuring the debris of a stalled regeneration project.  

And if I were trying to establish that we had moved into a new decade?  Well, again, I think this is perfect.

Steel shutters and the kind of political graffiti that I haven’t seen in many a long year – “People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people” (good to see the comma in there, incidentally – obviously written by a student).

And here are some other views : 6, Station Road from the side (I’ve a suspicion that cloud that Tigger has his nose stuck in is an addition by a later artist) –

from the rear of Northampton House (that Social Security sign really must be ancient) –

an interior view of 6, Station Road-

and the interior of the entrance to Northampton House (curiously, as you can just about make out, they seem to have left behind a couple of rather attractive high-backed wooden chairs and a bookcase – possibly original Edwardian (or Victorian) features) –

(If you enjoyed looking at these photographs, incidentally, you might also enjoy Marchand and Meffre’s pictures of the Ruins of Detroit – something similar, but on a sublime scale …)

A Cloud-capp’d Tower




The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind: We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Actually, the recently completed Heron Tower in Bishopsgate, decently obscured by clouds yesterday morning at about 8.40.  No sign of herons.

Daffodils and a vanished church : St Mary Aldermanbury

I believe it’s a contractual obligation for any blogger to provide at least one picture of daffodils to record the coming of Spring.  I can’t wait for the dozy articles in my back yard to get their act together, so here is a display of daffs from another Garden Where I Sometimes Eat My Lunch.  This was described by Arthur Mee in the 1937 edition of London : Heart of the Empire and Wonder of the World as “a place which should stir the imagination of every Englishman … the church of St Mary Aldermanbury with its gleaming tower …”.  Except, of course, that it isn’t any more.  It was all but destroyed in the Blitz, though, curiously, what was left was tranported to Missouri and reconstructed there.  You can just about see what’s left of it – the stumps of its pillars – in the photograph.

Daffodils - St Mary Aldermanbury


Before the Great Fire there were 97 parish churches in the City of London.  As  an indication of how tightly-packed they must have been there was another church between the end of St Mary (where the red van is) and the tall white building in the background, and another about 100 yards to the rear of where I was standing.  35 of these were not rebuilt after the Great Fire, and another 11 were not rebuilt after being damaged or destroyed by the Luftwaffe.

What is often forgotten, though, is how many churches were simply demolished between the Fire and the Blitz – 26 of them between 1782 and 1939, 19 of them Wren churches.  With a lack of sentiment we would now find astonishing, the Victorian C of E reasoned that by selling churches in the City, where the residential population was dwindling, they could afford to build new churches in the expanding suburbs.

J. Betjeman (who was a far from uncritical lover of Victoriana) commented –

“The serious medievalism of the mid-Victorians and the craze for surpliced choirs in stalls in the chancel, and for stained glass giving a dim religious light, made a double assault on the City churches from the 1850s onwards.  First Wren’s Classical style was regarded as pagan and this furnished an excuse for destroying so many of his churches.  Clumsy attempt were made to give the rest ‘Christian’ furnishings.”   

No doubt it would have seemed to the Victorian church that there were sound practical arguments for this orgy of demolition, but I must admit that I’m never sure that sound practical arguments are a good enough reason for destroying anything irreplacable.

(I should point out, incidentally, that I risked arrest to bring you this picture, as I was leaning against a police station when I took it.)

Ashes to Ashes : Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent and a moveable feast (not the same thing as a takeaway).

Traditionally the day (and the worshippers) are marked by the Imposition of Ashes.  The priest marks the forehead of the penitent with a sign of the cross made from the ashes of the palm fronds from the previous year’s Easter, while saying the words “Remember, O man, dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return”.  This does make the penitents look rather as though they’ve fallen asleep with their foreheads resting in ashtrays.

When I first fell back into the arms of mother church, as it were, in 2001, I used to attend a very high church in North London which offered the imposition of ashes.  The building was very modern, built in the 1980s on the site of an older, Victorian church.  The new church was plain, even ugly, to my eyes, on the outside, but luminously beautiful on the inside.  Its architects sought to promote a sense of the numinous and it certainly had that effect on me.  It was also, I think, designed to reflect what was, at the time it was built, the predominantly Greek Cypriot character of the surrounding area, although the congregation was, in fact, almost entirely Caribbean in origin by the time I first attended a service there.

The older church burnt to the ground on Ash Wednesday.  The fire was apparently caused by “careless workmen” , although I believe it did also coincide with the rather elderly priest dozing off while burning the palm fronds in preparation for that evening’s service – he woke up to find the church was on fire. 

There may be some meaning in these events somewhere.  Perhaps, as I’m sure my daughter would point out, that it’s important to check one’s smoke detector on a regular basis.

An article about the church from the Independent is here – S Paul the Apostle and further info here – More about S Paul\’s  (the pictures here don’t really do the interior justice, by the way).

The Automatic Vending Association and a mariachi band

To the NEC in Birmingham.  Coming out of the station into the Centre, the first thing I see is a spaniel dancing around a heap of handbags,  surrounded by admiring women.  Think this must be some sort of dog act (as seen on TV) but turns out to be a random bag search – presumably sniffing out drugs and explosives.  After that – what else?  – a Mariachi band.

Asked by one of the greeters if I’m looking for the AVEX exhibition : this turns out to be the International Vending and Water Exhibition, organised by the Automatic Vending Association.  Do I look like someone interested in automatic vending, I wonder?  Are automatic vending executives particularly prone to carrying drugs and explosives in their handbags?

Like other buildings in Birmingham (the new Bullring shopping centre, the Town Hall, the yet-to-be-built Central Library, New Street Station) the NEC is built on a gargantuan scale : when you’re the second city you have to try harder?