At first glance, there’s not much to see. At second glance, not much more. There are two hedges either side of a gate, rectangular slabs of green, largely blocking sight of the road beyond. They’re a little raggedy, but provide a popular skulking place for the local Dunnock; especially the hedge on the left, technically forsythia, but mostly serving as a framework for ivy. Though currently, scruffy spears are poking up, dotted with those cheerfully in-your-face lemon yellow flowers.
The day Bristol Museum and Art Gallery’s Chinese Room disappeared, was the day I first realised that places, like people, can change.
To my childhood self, the idea that a place wasn’t fixed, that it wouldn’t necessarily always be the same and might even vanish, came as a shock.
mid-stream on a shit-spattered barge,
cormorants unfold themselves as crosses,
anchored to a Thames, expectant
For a long time it didn’t have a name. It was just the lane that ran along the back of Mum and Dad’s bookshop…Sometimes I’d dare a peek over the top of the wall, but all that could easily be seen was an area thick with buddleia and other wild flowerings.
My imagination was quick to populate the space further with various other unnamed horrors and I’d quickly scramble back down to the ground and in through the door before sliding the bolts back across in delicious relief.
To the left of the hostel, and contrasting with its lime-white walls, the soot darkened, red and yellow bricks of St Alban the Martyr, stretch up and up – in one direction forming the church’s hulking tower, in another eventually tapering into a gabled roof with turrets, topped with a crucifix – and just a little lower down, mammon’s TV aerial.
St Alban’s grand scale crammed into a tight spot, give this half-hidden Neo Gothic edifice an uncomfortably, squeezed appearance; like a fat parochial priest squashed into the corner of a Southern Train vestibule.
It doesn’t take much to make a familiar place unfamiliar. A change in the weather – rain, bright sunshine, or more dramatically, snowfall or fog can all do it. Smells too – who hasn’t found themselves aware of sniffing more consciously than normal when drains are blocked, or there’s a whiff of barbecue, bonfire or worse in the air?
And then of course there are a place’s distinctive sounds.
I recently went in search for an ‘anonymous suburb’.
This is what I discovered.
Norwood is yawning but awake: shopping, grabbing coffee, heading for breakfast, haircuts, workouts, dates. Watching Saturday unfold beyond the cemetery gates, it’s a little difficult to picture a time when almost none of this was there.
In 1837 London was growing rapidly and expanding at the edges. The city had an urgent need for space and not just for its living. Traditional city centre churchyards and dissenters’ burial grounds were full to bursting – the metropolitan dead also needed somewhere to go.
Brandon Hill aside, other hills in Bristol have their own distinctively languid charm and grace, such as Park Street, while a few are simply brutes.
One of these is the short and abrupt St Michael’s Hill, stretching from Upper Maudlin Street to Cotham. The lower slopes are dotted with attractive iron street furniture, step-work and historic buildings – including the pretty Colston Alms Houses – but don’t let these architectural gewgaws deceive you – it’s a bastard.
An ordinary looking grassy field, at the foot of Gipsy Hill in South London, turns out to be anything but…
Not far from where I work in Clerkenwell, a series of large orange and white flags fixed to lampposts line the major thoroughfares running through Holborn, Chancery Lane, Bloomsbury and St Giles. They state blithely that you are InMidtown, before in tiny print, grudgingly acknowledging the actual names of the places they are attempting to reinvent.
Stamford Hill Motors is not the most romantic of destinations, but I always feel a frisson of excitement when I have to go there. I used to live nearby but no longer, so the annual MOT has become an excuse to visit one of my old North London haunts. It also gives me a legitimate reason to simply…
Crystal Palace, geographically at least, is defined by its height: Palace = Hills.
But, hidden beneath busy Crystal Palace Parade, there is something else, a stunningly beautiful place that is usually inaccessible to the public.
I must admit that when I first heard about the campaign to make London the world’s first National Park City, I thought it was a joke.
And yet the more I thought about it, the more interesting the concept became.
It gives me hope a place like this. A small brown sign outside the Queen’s Hotel, Church Road the only local clue. Stambourne Woods this way, down that gravel drive and through the gate. On the house next door another sign gives red framed warning of a moose who isn’t there. This sliver of…
You can tell a lot about a place from the local shops.
Especially on Norwood Road.
Guest post by Abi Gilbert
When I were a lass – growing up alongside the North Yorkshire moors – my daily life was infused with the magical stories which my Dad told me about sprites and fairies.
No trip into Ilkley, tramp up Hebers Ghyll, or mere visit to the shops was left uninhabited by these mythical beings. I was reliably told, and believed absolutely, that they were hiding behind walls and trees and under bridges. I built homes for these friendly folk, and they sometimes visited in the night to collect the food that I left for them, but I never, ever saw them.
Clevedon: the most boring seaside town in all England; filled with dusty, fusty little sepia-tinted shops, selling dull stuff like lacework, horse brasses and pink and blue vintage porcelain salt-and-pepper sets in the shape of Edwardian ladies.
At least that’s what I used to think…
Alongside and beneath its hundreds of miles of railway tracks and arches, there exists another London.
A London of inner city edgelands – liminal spaces that create internal thresholds within the metropolis – including, in North London, a working farm.
The Topping and Company bookshop in Ely is so good it’s almost laughable. This is the kind of shop that you don’t expect to find in real life; only, perhaps, in a lost Penelope Lively children’s book, or there to be sneered at for its too-good-to-be-true perfection in a Richard Curtis film.