Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Reinventing Kings Cross - 'The Knowledge Quarter'

It is good to be drawn out of your comfort zone. I was invited to be part of the Footprints of London team to walk students from Central America around the Kings Cross development site as an example of regeneration.

I had connections with this massive development site since 1980's when the property developers I worked for created the London Regeneration Consortium and architect Norman Foster created the first of many master plans for the site. The big bang came and went and the project bit the dust. Had it been built, it would of course already be out of date! So every cloud has a silver lining and with new building techniques and innovations the site is said to be  'future proof', it can adapt to growth and easily add future service requirements without much disruption to the existing.

Kings Cross area in 1950s

Where do we start? Kings cross has a 'big' history if a rather shady recent past. The coming of the railways, an intrinsic part of the industrial Revolution, made this area north of London ideal for private companies to build termini and depots for the goods arriving to feed and power London and onward to supply the Empire. The pastures and small villages on what was the outskirts of London, were soon gobbled up by iron and steam.

The first station completed was Lewis Cubitt's Kings Cross in 1852 for the Great Northern Railway Company. A temporary station was built at the top end of the site to assist with crowds arriving for the Great Exhibition of 1851, this is now part of Waitrose and an Ice Cream Parlour. 




St Pancras Station built by George Gilbert Scott for the Midland Railway Company including the Gothic grand hotel built in 1868. A further hotel for the Great Northern Railways was added to cater for the many Victorians travelling in and out of London, journeys were long but getting through the metropolis was no easy task either, so comfortable accommodation was paramount.

By C20th the stations were still in use but the depots and goods yard were underused and the site had become an industrial wasteland. You did not linger in the area, taxi, tube or bus whisked you away, from an area rife with drugs and prostitution. So what changed?

In 1996 the Eurostar arrived at St Pancras and became the catalyst for change. The British Library moved from Bloomsbury next door to St Pancras Hotel (by now also abandoned). Something had to happen to breathe new life into the area.

The site today - under construction

2001 Argent were announced as the developer for the 67 acre site. They in turn formed a consortium with London & Continental Railways and DHL to form Kings Cross Central Partnership. The site was to become a business hub for the C21st and was dubbed 'The Knowledge Quarter'. This was possibly due to the arrival of the British Library in 1967 and the proximity of the Wellcome Institute as well as UCL. 

So the plan included 50 new buildings, 2000 new homes, 20 new streets, 10 new public squares and one new London postcode N1C, a place to live, work and study.


German Gymnasium

The clearing of the site of much of the industrial infrastructure was paramount to provide sufficient tracts of land to build new offices and accommodation. However much of the site required decontamination after years of coal fired fuel and gas being manufactured in the area. Therefore only suitable for business rather than residence in the heart of the development. 

Also Grade II listed buildings pepper the site. The German Gymnasium a fine example of what migrating populations gave to the community in the past. Built by Germans in 1864 it was the first purpose built gym in England! It was the birthplace of the Olympics, then called the British National Olympics, the forerunner of the international Olympiad we enjoy today. Also encouraged and invited women to exercise in the hall.

Beautifully preserved, although truncated to the west, to allow for Eurostar, that end it has been recreated exactly as it was before and now houses a D&D Group restaurant serving, schnitzel, bratwurst and sauerkraut and other central European dishes. A perfect place for a meal at departure or upon arrival. Essential to have support businesses to the station and the offices. The gymnasium had closed down by 1908 and the society moved out of London. The fine oak tree in the piazza was given by Germany as a message of goodwill and celebration.

Pancras Square & Kings Boulevard


Beautifully landscaped square covers the site where the gas holders of the Pancras Gas Company. The current HQ of Google was a great favourite with the student and confirms the intention to create an area of knowledge, who better as an 'anchor' tenant than Google! They are planning a bigger HQ, supposedly as long as the Shard is high, with only 10 floors, (height limitations, to protect the views of St Paul's). This new building will face King's Boulevard. Do notice the new post code above.

The Cor-Ten steel building in the top left is by Eric Parry.

Do go and visit the Viewing Platform - at the top of the Boulevard. This long main street is usually full of pop up food stalls during lunch times, the platform is an ideal spot to view the size and layout of this new quarter, with great visuals to point out famous and infamous buildings of the skyline.


The Granary

Another Grade II listed building on the site which proclaims the integrity and engineering skill of the Victorians, it is still standing strong. A Lewis Cubitt building and completed at the same time as the King Cross Station. An imaginative re-purposing of a major existing structure by architects Stanton Williams. It houses the University of Arts London, and is attached to the new Central St Martins. The architects have kept the grain shute and created an atrium, allowing light into what was the transit area. Ceiling heights are too low for offices so the upper levels have become the library for the University. 


This was once the heart of the multi-modal transport system of Kings Cross, where the supply and distribution of food and power for London was controlled by rail, water and horsepower (the real thing). The building cleverly designed to take rail trucks, barges and haulage carts, all working as one big machine to distribute and unload goods arriving and departing. 

Some of the industrial architecture rail tracks and turning tables have been integrated into the design. Where the canal basin once was is now represented with a fountain display that is reactive to light, on hot sunny days it goes higher on grey days it is lower but lulls us with its watery rhythm. Also there is apparently an app you can download whereby you can create a game with the water spouts called 'Snake'!



West Handy Side Canopy - heavily restored but re-created by the same company who installed it in 1888 to cover over the unloading of fish and perishables. Waitrose has been inserted into one part but the rest is left as a huge events or entertainment space. Workouts happen here, as well as London Fashion Week using it has a never ending cat walk. The studios of Central St Martins open on to it and you can see the young creatives at work. 



The Illustration Gallery, an idea made reality by Quentin Blake is also in a Victorian Building nearby, which also houses the HQ of the Art Fund.

Residential with Camden Council Housing and Private combined
Most of the green spaces, new squares and landscaping is by Dan Pearson.


Waitrose  in the  'temporary station' of 1852 and the West Handyside Canopy

Kings Place, the Knowledge Quarter has many business serviced by excellent restaurants and outlets, and it is not surprising there is also culture to hand. However Kings Place (Architect: Dixon Jones) was there before all the rest. A music charity had the foresight to build a concert hall (the first in London for 30 years) and create culture hub in 2008. It is also the HQ of The Guardian and includes an art gallery in part of a gas holder. So media, art, music and entertainment are also well covered at Kings Cross.

Kings Place

The Regents Canal flows through the site and of course the canal was there before the railways, although somewhat subsumed by them.  It now offers a delightful walk along its banks, plus of course barges are home to some 3,300 residents. Camley Street Nature Park are also nearby, in situ since 1984, reclaiming an abandoned coal drop, which has become a verdant urban oasis.

From the bridge over the canal you can also see the gas holders that had to be moved but could not be disposed of as also listed. The majority were dismantled and sent away for refurbishment and then returned to the north west of the site.  One is now a park and the others are made into high-end apartments. 



The last but one stop is the Francis Crick Institute - a hi-tech bio medical research centre. For the first time connecting researchers, different disciplines, academic institutions and healthcare organisations and businesses under one incredible roof.  The flagship for UK biomedical science. It is a pity I did not take a photograph of it nor the sculpture in front of it, but you will enjoy it all the more when you seek it out. An inspirational addition to the Knowledge Centre. A centre in memory of Alan Turing is coming next.



The final stop is the British Library, moved to the site in 1997, around the same time as the Eurostar. One of the catalysts for change in the area, a perfect location with the Wellcome Trust and UCL nearby. Holds 14 million books, collects all books published in the English language, many rare manuscripts. Also has a digital library that keeps a copy of UK websites, plus a business IP Centre, which can used for free. Plus much more. 

British Library

I hope this has aroused your interest and you will want to explore the Quarter yourself or take a walk with us. 

I would like to acknowledge and thank the original author of this walk Rob Smith for sharing this with us. Please check out  Footprints of London for Rob's regular walks. Miss B will only be doing this walk on special request.







Sunday, 16 April 2017

Catching up with MissB - February - April 2017

Where on earth has the time gone? Already Easter break and then it will be no time at all before we celebrate May Day.

With the best intentions it has been hard to keep up with the blog so I am going to bring you right up to date with a monthly review of what I have been up to starting from February.

February - bleak and cold after my sojourn in the Caribbean. But plenty to do.
Firstly an mini exhibition at the Museum of London about the finds linked to the Walbrook, one of the lost rivers of the City. Each discovery adds to the knowledge of the archaeology and the course of the river, which is technically not a river but a stream, but we will leave it at that for now!




From this exhibition I decided revive my 'Walbrook Where Art Thou' tour which took place on 25th March with a great group of inquisitive and engaged folk. Weather was good and the City at the weekend is quiet. We started from the Museum of London so everyone could view the exhibits. The walk to the start point was interesting because there is a huge development at London Wall, a road that follows, yes, you guessed it, the line of the Roman Wall. I pointed out the ancient ruined church of Elsing 'spital and the reinstatement of the 'streets in the sky' aka pedways, but this time in cor-ten steel, to be festooned with green walls and new gardens below. Soon we will be able to walk from the MoL to Moorgate again above street level.




Also in March I was engaged to create a special birthday treat for a lady from her husband, the brief, history and architecture. So we began at St Paul's Underground and took in Christchurch Greyfriars, Postman's Park, West Smithfield and Charter House for the first segment. It was very cold and Storm Doris was gusting and blowing us about.  We took refuge in the new Charter House museum just opened, small and well presented, we also went to the chapel, just long enough to get warmed up before venturing out again. http://www.thecharterhouse.org/visit-us/ 

We walked through the City covering the financial heart, Bank of England, Royal Exchange, Mansion House, through alleyways to Leadenhall and finally to the 'Walkie Talkie at Fenchurch Street, where the couple had made a reservation for lunch in the Sky Garden.  'Doris' had become much stronger by then we had to hold on to bollards not to be blown into the on-coming traffic! All in a days work ...

February was also special for Georgian Dining Academy a Georgian events group I set up. We staged a glorious Valentine's Day late at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, it was many months in the planning and created to support the Emma Hamilton Exhibition (now ended).  Everyone had a fabulous time and we were thrilled at how well it all came together. You can see photographs and glean further information from the GDA web site.

Miss B & Miss Kitty Pridden at the Seduction Late - 14th February 2017

March

Then into March, which  is also my birthday month and I was lucky enough to be invited to the City of London Distillery, where we had a delicious gin tasting and I treated myself to a bottle of Christopher Wren Gin, the bottle taking the shape of the dome of St Paul's.




March was also the first of Georgian Dining Academy's Suppers at Simpson's Tavern off Cornhill, where we were liberally entertained with samples of, yes, more gin, this time Sacred Gin, distilled in a still in their home! Delicious and went down very well.



As a member of the T S Eliot Society I went to an evening of readings and music titled 'Decadence', actor Simon Callow was one of the readers at King's Place in Kings Cross. My first visit, but was not to be my last, as I soon discovered! A lovely evening and an excellent venue. The Waste Land Walk in the City goes from strength to strength and have planned several over the coming months. They are booked through Footprints of London. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/t-s-eliot-the-waste-land-in-the-city-tickets-31925586288

St Mary Woolnoth
I am also going to be doing the same walk for the London Festival of Architecture, 1st-30th June 2017, T S Eliot will take prominence but I will also elaborate on some of the old and new buildings we see on the tour. Details will be available on the LFA - walks will be listed shortly. 

Miss B in action on King's Cross Regeneration Walk

King's Place featured again this month when I was invited to join the team of Footprints of London Guides to create a walk around the 'Knowledge Quarter' the creative hub that King's Cross has become. Our team of four being trained to take many groups of students from Central America around the site over several days. It was an interesting few weeks of research looking at the site not so much from a historic viewpoint but as a regenerated hub and how the old and the new had been organised to make the most of this 67 acre site. As the walk was one already featured on Footprintscreated by Rob Smith, I will only repeat this walk for private groups. I will post separately to show the route with lots of pictures.

King's Place was one of our stops. This build was one of the earliest projects on the site, it was built in 2008 by Dixon Jones, for a music charity and also houses The Guardian newspaper and includes an art gallery. The first new build concert halls for many years in London and the enhances the site as an access to the arts.  

Google HQ 

Development site in the 1950s

The fabulous Granary today and home to Central St Martins and UAL

My volunteering also kicks off in March when 2 Willow Road opens after its winter rest. You may have read my post on the Winter Clean 2016. always love going back to Erno Goldfinger's house and guiding people around. We will be open now until end of October this year. 

April

So we are in April, which included a visit to the Handel & Hendrix Museum, two musical greats, worlds apart, but ended up choosing to live in the same street, and in adjoining houses! Handel also features big in my life this year. Working on a couple of cultural cruises on the river with Georgian Dining Academy 2016, one of my talks was about Handel's Water Music so with London Historians we have got together to create an event.  

(Please note you are welcome to join London Historians, we are a good humoured and multi-faceted  knowledgeable bunch. If you do, please mention Miss B)

On 17th July 2017 it will 300 years since Handel composed and performed the Water Music for George I on the River Thames. Our group including support from Handel House and Amade Players are all aboard on that day to play this great piece of music live on a boat up and down the river. You can find details here on how to book.



So this is at least some of the things I have been up to, there are a couple of separate posts, one about Kings Cross, plus I want to give an up date of some of the gardens I have been working on or photographing recently. Back soon!




Thursday, 29 December 2016

2 Willow Road - Winter Clean December 2016



The house closes from beginning of November to end of February for essential maintenance and conservation work. It also allows the rooms to be minutely inspected for damage for damp, dust and infestations!

As a regular volunteer the house feels strange all curtained and cloaked, quiet and eerie, furniture carefully stored all the familiar ephemera cleared away.

Work starts immediately, when I arrived for the first clean the house smelt of paint, the stairwell had been painted, it was a dull day but it did look refreshed. The house is always kept cool as possible to protect the furnishings and paintings, we all know to wrap up warm on the cleaning days! Made a coffee and found the biscuit barrel, essential to this type of work.

This year Jen and I will tackle the main bedroom. I am usually on kitchen duty as I proved rather good at dusting empty tins, and working with kitchenware, all of which had to be returned to their exact positions, after hoovering drawers and cupboard. See post here.













The built-in wardrobe we open for visitors is to be decanted and thoroughly cleaned out. I tackled the coat hangers! They are skittish things, like to hook on to each other and lay awkwardly once cleaned with the hog’s hair brush and soft duster. Also, checked the felt linings for any potential moth casings. If coat hangers could speak all these fine specimens would have a story to tell. Some look home-made but the majority are of quality manufacture, from a time when everything was made to last!

Perhaps Mr Goldfinger had carried some of them with him from Hungary to Paris and back to England, or perhaps purchased in Paris in the 1920s. The mechanisms to close in your skirt or trousers are complex constructs, none of the skimpy lightweight things we use today. One or two had names on, we think this might be a boarding school item, perhaps passed from person to person as you went up a year to finally come to the Goldfinger's children and laid rest in Mum and Dad's wardrobe unnoticed until 2016.



Perhaps I should not get started on the shoehorns! A couple of pairs manufactured and some handmade albeit showing wear and tear, as in parts looking like a puzzle. The exciting inspection was of the boot horns in what we assumed were Ursula Goldfinger's riding boots, slim of foot.

It is very likely they are bespoke possibly made for her in her twenties. The workmanship is something you will not find today except of course at the highest end of bespoke bookmakers who still exist in small numbers. We decided to take the horns out to inspect that nothing untoward was going on inside. We managed the two halves but decided against taking out the hinged central piece that went inside the foot of the boot.




A revelation, the boot horns are hand carved with knots of wood plus a sliver or wood inserted to improve the shape and fit. On closer inspection words and numbers, the letters denoted left and right horn in Hungarian, the number probably a reference to Ursula Goldfinger’s template with bookmaker. All items softly polished inside and out and returned to their place in the wardrobe.




An old tweed suit of Erno Goldfinger was quite an emotional piece. Excellent quality material, well-worn to the extent the lining was ripped and strained. The cuffs had leather stitched trim over the frayed ends and leather elbow patches, obviously a favourite. No labels, again a bespoke item we guessed made by a family tailor in Hungary and worn to the end of Erno’s life. I was half hoping it still had the whiff of the cigar, traces of the great man in his suit, sadly not.





Several stylish raincoats belonging to Urusla Goldfinger, one herringbone right up there in the fashion stakes presently, so you see, throw nothing away, or better still buy quality rather than quantity.  All items of clothing gently inspected and then lightly hoovered to remove dust and hang back in the wardrobe to be close to one another once more.




A bundle revealed a shabby duffle coat, could this be navy issue, with a name tag? Pockets full of garden debris, a gardening coat, possible worn by Ursula? We also found a lovely tartan poncho, tartan has made a comeback as has the poncho, both a fashion staple in 2016!




All other items including the skates were wrapped in acid free tissue, a shame as not much will be on view the next time we open the wardrobe door. But we can admire Goldfinger’s attention to detail, everything has its designated place. As time goes by the house may seem to stand still in time but unfortunately the vagaries of exposure to visitors, dust, sunlight hot and cold all have an impact on this protected property so we must do everything we can to ensure all the items at 2 Willow Road remain in good condition for the future.

The Doll’s House, lampshade and under the bed!

On my next visit back in the main bedroom.




The Doll’s House is not always on show at 2 Willow Road, but when it does appear it delights everyone who sees it. A modernist’s creation for his daughter, who, it is said, was not entirely pleased with it! We feel she may have hankered after the 'Tudorbethan' versions some of us enjoyed, black and white detail, red tile roof and flowers growing over the front door! We are left with this lovely toy to take care of.  We start by using the soft brushes to get dust out of the tiny corners, being careful with the doors and their tiny hinges.  Windows are Perspex but still wiped over gently. The roof has a spiral staircase leading up to it.  We then must carefully put it all together and lift it up to the top shelf of the built-in wardrobes.




A box of Christmas decorations are also emptied out and carefully checked for any possible infestations and then carefully put back in the box, sadly never to see any sight of a festive tree ever again.



It was decided to move the bed, especially as there were two of us.  It looks handmade and very simple in design, solid but relatively easy to move out as we needed to check the carpet plus it had been used to store large pictures and posters keeping them flat in the space underneath. Mattress and bedding had to be carefully vacuumed. For the bed-cover, we used a muslin piece over the nozzle before carefully hoovering it all over.  The result was a horrid black matted clump of dust, so worthwhile, if tedious.




My favourite piece of the day was the lampshade from the uplighter. Far more complex in design than I had first realized and not sure the photographs do it justice. The results after cleaning it with damp cotton wool and cotton buds were worth the effort.  We found a maker’s mark and a patent number. I decided to find out if the company still exists, it does! We also found a spare glass shade in one of the other cupboards so comfort in knowing we have a spare!


Holophane  Pat. No. 20222 (?) Made in England


Several leather wallets dusted, and wrapped like presents ... in protective tissue.




Spare tiles floor and wall were discovered as well as lots of signage from long gone exhibitions, plus interesting photographs and posters. All to be carefully cleaned up and then wrapped up.





Old Map of Modernist properties in Hampstead

2 Willow Road opens again beginning of March 2017 https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/2-willow-road