Normally I cycle between Euston and Liverpool Street stations, so between having taxis breathing down my neck and pedestrians darting out in front of me I don’t have much chance to look around. Today I walked and was able to have a good look at anything that caught my eye.
First up was the Yannedis brass foundry on the corner of Red Lion Street and Theobald’s Road. A Greek-owned foundry in London? But why not. After all, Cavafy spent a few years in Liverpool, which still seems bizarre to me. (“Have youse seen any barbarians, pal?”) But no more bizarre than that just-visible cricket wicket in Corfu town I saw 20-odd years ago.
Next was the Dutch house in High Holborn, a 1950s 9-storey building. Is it really Dutch? The bricks on the ground floor are the right size to be so. I particularly liked the grey-blue panels that divide the windows.
Then Smithfield meat market and the Central Cold Store, which (thank you, Google) I know is now a combined heat and power plant. The nightclub close by was ushering out its customers at lunchtime.
In Charterhouse Street I passed the Fox and Anchor pub (1898) with its tiled art nouveau front.
I think I prefer the individual elements of the decoration to the overall effect. The tiling is too intrusive. The peacock really ticks the art nouveau box, though:
and the gargoyle thing is amusing. The woman’s face is straight out of Alphonse Mucha if you don’t look too closely.
Charterhouse Square is dominated not so much by the old Charterhouse Hospital as by Florin Court.
The curve of the bay is just delightful, and the plain facade is lightly patterned with brick projections.
And then it was the Barbican. I worked next door to the Museum of London for a few months in 1979 and rather took the whole estate for granted. I looked at the Roman dig nearby in my lunch hour because that was History, but a maze of buildings built within my own lifetime . . . well, that was just part of my surroundings. Obviously I think differently now. It’s a pleasure to be able to walk around above the roads and look down on gardens, tennis courts and stray ruins of an earlier London. I like the concrete and I love the upward curves of the balconies. (Who did that first – the Barbican or Preston bus station?)
It was a nasty jolt to discover that the Barbican is being vandalised and its walkways amputated. I was heading towards Moorgate underground station – retracing my daily steps of 36 years ago – when I was stopped dead in my tracks by some stripey-columned postmodern shite. And what has happened to London Wall? It’s a real rather than a nominal one now – a towering glass wall. Its ghastliness highlights what a tremendous and coherent complex the Barbican is. Splashes of colour and eclectic decoration on newer buildings around the edge end up looking childish and inelegant next to their all-conquering neighbour.
But I’m not completely daft. If the Barbican weren’t so expensive and coveted by rich people it could be going the way of the so-called sink estates that the government wants to demolish. I wouldn’t have wandered around the walkways so insouciantly (apart from underfoot slipperiness; note to the City of London – get it sorted) had it had a bad reputation. Life just isn’t fair sometimes.
There is social housing too at the Golden Lane estate, built shortly before the Barbican itself. While not so grandiose, it still looks impressive.
On the way back, passing on the other side of Smithfield market, I stopped at this building:
I returned to Holborn via Cowcross Street and came across Denmark House. It isn’t Danish – it was built as a warehouse in 1878-9 – but it was occupied for many years by the Danish Bacon Co. I liked the coloured brickwork on the piers and the details above the arch.
And things that I thought about?
A little bit of “Où sont les banques d’antan?” as I recalled places I’d worked at. The bank next to the London Museum had been Libra Bank. Long gone. Texas Commerce Bank? Anglo-Rumanian Bank, anyone?
Beards are still fashionable with young men, and some beards are truly magnificent. But . . . I can only assume that no one under 50 has ever seen the illustrations in “The Diary of a Nobody” and hence Mr Pooter never springs to mind.
And finally. Having a sandwich in Lamb’s Conduit Street, I overheard bits of a conversation between two young men. Both articulate, good-humoured and intelligent, they were discussing earnestly how to devise an app that would enable people to rate eating places. Like Tripadvisor but not Tripadvisor. They even seemed to think that the government would welcome such an initiative because it would increase consumer choice. Well, I don’t know. I probably just misunderstood. But, honestly . . . with all those brain cells at their fingertips (yeah, anatomy’s not my thing), couldn’t they be reversing climate change or something?