Monday, 13 June 2016

London's Roman Baths



Not to be confused with the 'Roman' baths off Strand, Billingsgate Roman baths are very much the real thing, and come attached to a house. Discovered in 1848, they were soon covered by the Coal Exchange, and today are beneath an office block, but can now be accessed on regular Museum of London tours


Entering the basement, one first sees the home. At first, it looks like a jumble of rubble, but a closer look and the guide's expertise make sense of the bricks and stones. The concrete pillars, however, are 1970s additions - and pose their own conservation challenges as they bring moisture and salts into the area. 


This complex was constructed relatively late in Londinium's history, replacing two separate buildings with one larger one. It may have been the villa of a wealthy family, or a mansio (a sort of inn): certainly, the owners could afford a costly hypocaust system to carry heated air from a furnace through tunnels under the floors. 

Channels for hot air and square stacks to raise the floor

The hypocaust's hot air channels

Intriguingly, this expensive under-floor heating system was blocked up at some point. A later replacement is much shoddier, with uneven walls, and too small to clean: was this the work of cowboy builders, or a reflection of dying expertise? 

Tidy stone on the left, later subsiding rubble wall to the right

If the central heating was a luxury, perhaps an even greater one was the private bath house. It offers the typical amenities for Roman bathing: two heated rooms (the warm tepidarium and the hot caldarium) as well as a frigidarium, or cold room. The latter would usually have a plunge pool, but for some reason this one - despite being disproportionately large - did not. Instead, there was a small cistern holding river water at the end. It would have been unpleasantly stagnant, as well as very small: not the nicest way to end a bath! 

Caldarium, with entrance and tepidarium beyond

A model brings the baths to life. Note the poor man shivering in the cold water tank at the back.  


The Roman remains are an active archaeological site as well as a scheduled monument. They also make up one of the very finest - and yet little-known - Roman sites in the city. Take advantage of that, and go on a tour while they are still easy to book: a visit is highly recommended.



Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Old chapel, new context

The Middlesex Hospital chapel survived alone when the surrounding hospital was demolished. 


After some time in sad isolation, the chapel was recently restored and a development built up around it. Last year, there was a first chance to see the newly-splendid interior. (If you'd like to take a look, it now has fairly regular opening times.)


Work was still being done outside the chapel, but it's now complete. However, the fully-visible exterior looks less than comfortable in its new surroundings.




Equally incongruous is the renaming of the chapel. Despite the objections of many, its hospital history has been obscured by a new title: Fitzrovia Chapel.



Monday, 30 May 2016

Stuck on 1962


Two lost Underground stations, connected by tunnels now empty of passengers: Euston is full of secrets. When the old station and its famous Doric arch were replaced with the current building, access to the Tube was also updated and on 29 April 1962, the old passages were closed to the public. With no reason to change the advertising, these posters - many torn and ragged - were left behind as a sort of time capsule. 



 





The passage was originally built to link the City & South London Railway's station (on what is now the Bank branch of the Northern Line) to the Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway's (now the Northern Line's Charing Cross branch). The C&SLR had opened their building on Eversholt Street in May 1907; it was lost in the 1960s demolitions. The CCE&HR's Leslie Green building can still be seen on the corner of Drummond Street and Melton Street, although it now houses ventilation equipment for the Victoria Line. 



A few remnants of the original decor remain. This tiled frieze has been painted over, but the distinctive green colour shows through here and there.

The tunnel joining the two stations below ground could be entered from the mainline station by lift. The lift shaft is now empty. 


However, traces of the ticket office still remain.
I visited the passages on one of the London Transport Museum's Hidden London events. All current tours of Euston are sold out, but there are still a few places on visits to Clapham South and Down Street. Maybe one day, they will offer visits to another advertising time capsule?

A London Inheritance and IanVisits also took the tour. 



Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Back in Acton


The London Transport Museum throws open the doors of its Acton Depot twice a year. On those weekends, you can explore the bits that haven't made it to Covent Garden, the items still to be catalogued or conserved, the strange and scruffy pieces. Irresistible! This wasn't my first visit, and I'll probably be back next time










Thursday, 19 May 2016

Ideal House, London Art Deco


This dark, stern Art Deco building with its colourful touches of enamel decoration is a real contrast to the Arts and Crafts half-timbering of Liberty across the road. It's all the more striking since they were built only five years apart, with the Deco block completed in 1929. This sleek, shiny office building is Ideal House, originally the British headquarters of the National Radiator Company


The company was in fact American, and their rather incongruous London home was designed by the same architect as the parent company's Manhattan building. Raymond Hood was working on a very different scale here, though, and with a different partner: British architect Gordon Jeeves, who worked on many other London buildings including Earl's Court Exhibition Centre and Dolphin Square. Their version is not only smaller but rather less Gothic and more Egyptian in inspiration than its New York counterpart. 

American Radiator Building, New York City
The choice of black and gold matched the company's colours, although black granite also had practical advantages in the polluted city. 

Ideal House was part of the company's expansion in Europe; they had a factory in Hull from 1906 and also had subsidiaries in France and Germany. In 1934, the British division of the company became known as Ideal Boilers & Radiators; in 1953 it became Ideal Standard. 


Today it's known as Palladium House, and the former ground floor showrooms are home to an Italian restaurant. Grade II listing should ensure that it's here to surprise us for some time to come. 



Sunday, 15 May 2016

Future history

What traces of our lives will the mudlarkers and archaeologists of the future find on the Thames foreshore? There are some clues here. 



Less predictable is what they will think of them. After all, who would have thought 200 years ago that their discarded smoking paraphernalia would one day become jewellery



Friday, 6 May 2016

Quantocks light and dark

The Quantock Hills in Somerset are both beautiful and accessible: a few short walks were enough for these pictures. The changeable British weather ensured we went from freezing cold and hail to bright, warm sunshine in less than a day!




Dusk is a good time to see deer and other wildlife (we spotted a herd, but not when my camera was to hand...). By daylight, the views look very different and more domesticated animals appear. 


The hills were the first area in Britain to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in 1956. However, they had long had their admirers: poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived for several years in Nether Stowey, on the edge of the Quantocks. While there, he wrote the Rime of the Ancient Mariner and the famously-incomplete Kubla Khan: by his own account, he dreamed the poem and
On awakening he appeared to himself to have a distinct recollection of the whole, and taking his pen, ink, and paper, instantly and eagerly wrote down the lines that are here preserved. At this moment he was unfortunately called out by a person on business from Porlock, and detained by him above an hour, and on his return to his room, found, to his no small surprise and mortification, that though he still retained some vague and dim recollection of the general purport of the vision, yet, with the exception of some eight or ten scattered lines and images, all the rest had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into which a stone has been cast, but, alas! without the after restoration of the latter!


On the hills today, an interruption from a greedy Quantock pony is more likely. These horses are owned by the Quantock Pony Commoners, and about 50 of them graze the hills.  They have been living there since the 1950s, and are mixed-breed of mainly native pony descent. However, the habits of some have changed recently - visitors feeding them sugary treats have encouraged the wild ponies to come to the car parks seeking food. Since they see cars as mobile treat-dispensers, there have been some unfortunate incidents when their demands have become rather aggressive!


 The sheep, thankfully, seem more docile (they are more likely to be the victims of visitors' dogs). The Quantocks have been used for sheep-grazing since the middle ages or earlier, and landowners had large herds here by the fifteenth century when the wool trade was flourishing.






Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Ironmongers' mythical menagerie

Ironmongers' Hall is perhaps the most incongruous of City livery halls, tucked among the brutalism of the Barbican. After it survived the bombing which destroyed most of the area during World War II, the Ironmongers' Company resisted encouragements and inducements to move their home away from the new development. After aerial bomb damage from the First World War had already led them to move from Fenchurch Street to this site in 1925, the thought of uprooting again - and from a building which had withstood bombardment - can't have held much appeal. 


In consequence, this lovely building offers a faux-Tudor counterpoint to its neighbours - and hides more delights within. I was fortunate to enjoy lunch and a tour of the usually-inaccessible Hall thanks to London Historians, and found a surfeit of salamanders and a metal-munching ostrich! 


The Ironmongers were not, as their name might suggest, keepers of hardware stores. Rather, they were involved in the trading and manufacture of ferrous metals, and there are references to that business scattered throughout the hall, often more straightforward than the symbolic beasts.


The ostrich (known when carved in 1629 as an 'estridge') perhaps seems a particularly unlikely representative of ironmongery, in whatever form. However, it had a reputation for being able to digest iron: hence this estridge's appearance chewing metal during the Lord Mayor's Pageant. 


As for the salamanders, a pair of them appear on the Company crest, chosen for their mythical ability to withstand fire. Long associated with the Ironmongers, they were formally added as supporters in 1923, just before this Hall was completed - which perhaps explains the enthusiasm with which they are depicted everywhere...


on the staircases...


on the furniture...


in silverware...



glassware...


and even the ceiling.




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