Posts Tagged Bunhill

Fire at Tabernacle Street, EC2

Reports of this major fire down in Bunhill on the City fringe have been coming through all morning.

Richard was diverted on his way to work, texting me to report “Luckily was walking in as City Road closed but still had to double back and divert to get past. They have blocked off a huge area”.

A friend reported smelling smoke from inside the Barbican.

Student journalist John Stevens has lots of frontline reports and photos up on twitter and the Islington Now website.

And now an offcial notice has come from Islington Police:

Islington Police are in attendance at a fire on Tabernacle Street , EC2.
We were notified by LFB at approximately 4:50 this morning (11th March 2010).
It is understood the fire started at the Sosho Restaurant before spreading to neighbouring buildings.
There are no reported injuries at this stage.
It is too early to say re the cause of the fire; however officers from Islington CID will liaise with the LFB Fire Investigation Unit.
A number of roads are closed in the vicinity: -
Tabernacle Street is closed
City Road from Old Street to Finsbury Square is closed.
Worship Street – partial closures are in place.
There are closures in the block around Tabernacle Street , Paul Street and Bonhill.
We understand that the fire is now under control.”

Good news at least that no-one is hurt: bad news for people trying
to navigate the area for a while to come.

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‘Ashes to Ashes’ in Bunhill

Great action day in Bunhill yesterday.

Yes, we had a record number of activists out – so many we had to go into the HQ in shifts. We delivered most of the ward and did so much canvassing we ran out of survey forms. We found lots of new supporters. I visited some of the local London in Bloom winners. But forget all that, the real excitement came when we found ourselves on the edge of a filmset.

Whitecross Street was our base for the day (leaflet distribution from Ruth’s flat, lunch at the Market Cafe, surveying on surrounding estates) but not just ours. South of Banner Street the road was closed off except for some rather elderly cars – and a red Quattro. IMG_1431

The timeless honey-coloured brick of the Peabody buildings, and some suitably re-dressed shop fronts, were the backdrop for an episode of ‘Ashes to Ashes’. It was fascinating to see two lots of police side by side – real ones keeping the street closed, period ones as part of the filming. We even got to see Philip Glenister in character as Gene Hunt.
Ashes

We were also lucky to have Soraya, one of City Uni’s journalism students with us for the day; she was covering the campaign and looking for local stories. I think we delivered!

So look out for our corner of London when the next series of Ashes is broadcast. I’ve not seen all the episodes of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes but I did enjoy the ones I saw very much. Some bits of period detail brought back memories, others really did seem from another planet. I even used the Mars theme in my Grauniad blog.

In Life on Mars, Hunt said “There will never be a woman prime minister as long as I have a hole in my arse.” I doubt he’d ever vote Lib Dem. But I’m sure his canvassing style would have been memorable.

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Honouring the HAC

Yesterday I went to a Council meeting with a difference, to see the Honourable Artillery Company receive the Freedom of the Borough of Islington.

The HAC is often summed up as the TA branch for the City of London, but that is not really a full or fair description. The HAC is a much more ancient organisation than the TA, having been founded by Henry VIII nearly 500 years ago. And while it has many City workers in its ranks, the Company’s HQ – the castle-like barracks on City Road – is in Islington, adjacent to Bunhill Fields (and just opposite the former home of my grandad, next to Wesley’s Chapel).

The HAC members turned out in uniform. And what uniforms! Not just the contemporary camouflage and dress uniforms, but red and white Tudor pikemen’s outfits and the fancy plumes and braids of the C19th light cavalrymen.

The HAC have a long history and rich traditions, but are also keen to serve the local community today. This ranges from providing a base for the emergency mortuary after the 7/7 bombings to neighbourhood open days.

What’s more, there are HAC members on active service in Afghanistan right now, and they have had their losses, including Trooper Jack Sadler. The award was in part the borough’s tribute to all servicemen and women; it was good to see many members of the local Islington Veterans’ Association at the ceremony.

Afterwards I talked to Major General Simon Lalor, head of the UK’s Reserves and Cadets, who was one of the distinguished guests. He was enthusing about the idea of getting a cadet branch of the HAC going for local young people. Whether they go on into the army or not is up to them; but it would provide structured, energetic activities, build self-esteem and teach new skills. I think it’s an excellent idea, and I’ve pledged my support for the scheme. Now we just need to knock some government heads together…..

Speakers at the event praised the Lib Dem Council’s new initiative to give returning forces extra points towards council housing. Liberal Democrats marched against the war in Iraq. We’re critical of the strategy in Afghanistan. But that does not stop us wanting decent treatment for our troops on the ground.

I recently signed up to support the Royal British Legion’s manifesto. And I’m also backing Nick Clegg’s campaign for fair pay for our troops. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the war in Afghanistan, we should support our forces in the field properly or else not send them in the first place. Sending inadequate numbers of inadequately-equipped troops is worst of all worlds.

You can sign up to back Nick’s campaign here.

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A Sunday of Whitbread and Guinness

Not booze but buildings…

Yesterday we had our latest action day, in Bunhill ward. There were moments last week when we wondered if the day would happen at all. The leaflet was a day late from the printer, meaning the sorting and bundling had to be done in half the time. And our hostess, Cllr Donna Boffa, was ill: but nobly let us invade her home for the day all the same.

These action days are a bit like catering for a party where no-one has RSVP’d. You put a lot of effort into getting everything together – leaflets, extra letters, petitions; then you look at it, think you’ve got too much stuff and no-one will come. As more and more boxes of leaflets were unloaded into Donna’s kitchen. she looked understandably concerned if she would ever see her lino again. But with the help of councillors, activists, and Donna’s kids, the leaflets were soon moving out the door.

I headed down to Whitecross Street where Cllr Ruth Polling and I did a delivery/walkabout on the Whitbread estate, catching up with the TA chair and some of the residents as we went round. Whitbread is a hidden gem of an estate. It may be monolithic to the point of invisibility from the outside (it’s the 1980s blocks above Waitrose) but it’s charming inside. To live, that is. The idiosyncratic numbering – one block runs into the next – makes it less idyllic for deliverers. There is an oasis of a communal courtyard garden, plus lots of individual front patios and balconies showing off the residents’ green fingers. There are even lush potted palms near the lifts. So it might surprise some to know it’s an Islington council estate.

The name comes from the Whitbread Brewery based in nearby Chiswell Street and whose stables were formerly on the site: apparently brewery vaults and some narrow gauge railtracks for moving barrels still exist below the carpark, and its history is reflected in the names of the blocks – Shire, Farriers and Cooper.

After a team lunch, off we set again. This time to the Guinness Trust estate on Lever Street. The Trust was founded in 1890, but this is a modern low-rise development around a tranquil courtyard, another lovely estate.

“Oh hello”, said one lady, “you’re not Emily, you’re the other one.” We agreed that I was, indeed, the other one. “Good for you delivering your own leaflets”. I did point out that I don’t actually do them all (that would be impressive), and there were quite a few other people giving up their Sunday to help…

Then there was her neighbour who wanted two copies of the leaflet, one for her, one for her husband – “you’re the one we’re voting for this time”. With just 484 votes in it, every little helps!

Finally it was time to round up the rest of the team, collect in the Council Tax petitions, and head back to HQ. To find that we’d delivered all the unallocated routes: a result.

I’d planned to go home before church, but ended up just sliding into the back pew of St Mary’s as the 6pm service started, box of spare leaflets under one arm, briefcase with clipboards on the other. The theme was the feeding of the 5,000 – miraculous resource management, appropriate for the day.

And I did finally get a glass of the amber nectar before bed.

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Whitecross Street: from monks to markets and makeovers

I’ve blogged before about Whitecross Street’s shops and market.

The street has a fascinating history. John Strype’s 1603 History of London dates the street back to a hospital founded in the reign of Edward I, and given as a monastery house for the Brotherhood of St. Giles by Henry V. There were also almshouses founded by a former Mayor of London, Sir John Gresham.

By the 19th century the street was more residential. In David Hughson’s 1806 History and Description of London it was described as “noble, wide, and well built, inhabited by persons of property.”

One of them, a Samuel Baylis of Whitecross Street, was a founder member of the Radical Club, a fore-runner of the Liberal Party, along such famous names as Daniel O’Connell, Joseph Hume, Francis Place and Sir William Molesworth.

The Guildhall Library’s print collection shows some of the fine buildings on the street, including the Lord Mayor’s stables, Lady Holles’s School House, the Great Northern Railway Goods Depot, and the City Weights and Measures Office. For most of the 19th century the street was best known for the debtor’s prison.

Like much of the area, parts of Whitecross Street were firebombed in the December 1940 blitz. And the southern end has since been transformed by the post-war developments of the Whitbread estate and the Barbican.

In recent years, the street has had a makeover with new lighting and paving. Now the revived market and the great mix of shops, from grocers to galleries, serve a very diverse neighbourhood in Bunhill ward.

One blot on the west side of the street is a run of empty properties opposite the Peabody estate. They have shop units on the ground floor and potential for housing above; the run of shops previously included cafes, a nail salon, and a record shop, but now they are just a semi-derelict eyesore.

Now the local regeneration project EC1 NewDeal and the Council are proposing to take over the properties with a compulsory purchase order, and plan to sell them on to a housing association; and if that isn’t possible, to sell them to a private developer. The Council may actually lose money on such a deal given falling property prices and all the legal costs involved in a CPO; so the partnership with EC1 NewDeal could make all the difference.

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Last chance to vote for Barnard Park!

Today is the last chance to vote for which London park you want to get extra funding from the Mayor of London.

I’m backing Barnard Park. You can do the same here.

Other Islington parks in the running are Elthorne Park (where Lib Dem Cllr Greg Foxsmith is running a lively campaign to get the vote out!) and Bunhill Fields on the City Fringe.

Not sure which park to support? Text ‘parks’ and your full London post code to 62967. This will automatically vote for the nearest shortlisted park in Islington (or whichever borough you’re in).

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Vote for your Islington park

The Mayor of London has put forward extra funding for ten London parks, and it’s down to Londoners to vote for which ones we want to benefit. Islington has three parks on the list – but you only get one vote.

I’m voting for Barnard Park in Barnsbury. It was my local park when I lived on Hemingford Road. Created out a postwar bombsite, it’s home to football pitches, an under 5s group and the adventure playground as well as lots of greenspace. It’s also had problems with anti-social behaviour and vandalism. Local people have wanted to improve it for years, and the Council’s been working with community groups to come up with a masterplan – but it needs funding. Some money has come in from Thames Water, as compensation for their ring main works which saw some of the grass and paths relaid. There was also some income from the development of the old depot site alongside the park – a brownfield site used for housing. But now there’s a chance to get even more investment via this initiative. It’s a fantastic chance to fund the community plans, so well worth a vote.

Bunhill Fields in Finsbury is opposite the site where my Grandpa Ansell (dad’s dad) lived and worked. It’s a unique historic burial yard, attracting visitors from all over the world in pilgrimage to the graves of William Blake, John Bunyan and Daniel Defoe. They were all non-conformists, denied burial in consecrated churchyards, or preferring to be buried elsewhere. Bunhill Fields – a corruption of the word ‘bone hill’ – just outside the city of London boundary, was the ideal spot. Now it’s sandwiched between two historic chapels – Wesley’s Chapel on City Road and the Quaker Meeting House off Bunhill Row. It’s also a lovely oasis from the City bustle, and actually maintained by the Corporation of London.

At the other end of Islington is Elthorne Park at Archway. At one end of St John’s Way, it’s an island site and feels larger than it looks from the outside. In the middle of the park is the peace garden, dedicated to the memory of Nobel prize winner, Philip Noel-Baker. Appropriately, given Noel-Baker’s involvement in sport, Elthorne Park is also home to a boxing club, pitches and a trim trail. Earlier this year, the local councillors unveiled the improved pitch, but there’s more improvements that local people would like to see, including a new wildlife garden. That would fit well with the work of Sunnyside Gardens, an organic community garden just across the road.

Whichever you prefer, do vote for an Islington park! Full details on how to vote are here, and you have until 30 January to make your mind up…..

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Blears forces skyscraper on Bunhill

Controversial plans for a 39 storey tower block at Old Street have been approved by Secretary of State Hazel Blears despite being turned down by Islington Council.

As local Lib Dem councillor Ruth Polling says “the concerns of local people have been completely dismissed by the Labour minister, and now this 39-storey corporate identikit monstrosity will be built anyway.”

Here’s an artist’s impression of the block, looking up City Road from outside Wesley’s Chapel.

The 1950s building on the immediate right of the picture is Oliver House – built on the site of the jewellery shop where my Grandad lived and worked for most of his life. He moved out when he got married, but worked there until it was bombed in the war. There was a 2005 planning application to redevelop that site too: as an apart-hotel that’s a mere six storeys tall….

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Whitecross Street online

Whitecross Street market in Bunhill has launched a new website, promoting the street market and the local shops.

The street had a makeover a couple of years ago, and the market has been on the up ever since. And now TimeOut has rated it the best in London for lunchtime food.

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Swimming into history

The Games are over, but the buildings remain.

The Bird’s Nest stadium will be the iconic building of the Beijing Olympics, but I thought the glow-in-the-dark water cube looked stunning too.

The London 2012 Aquatic Centre is intended to be an iconic design but has already run into budget problems, adding to the headaches for the Games planners.

Meanwhile, if the amazing performances within the cube have tempted you into the water, Islington can get you into swimming history, even if your style is more paddle than medal. Ironmonger Row Baths in Finsbury have been listed by TimeOut magazine as London’s best pool for ‘swimming in history’.

You can even unwind with an authentic Turkish bath, described by the Evening Standard as “the best value-for-money stress-busting technique in town”. So expect Tessa Jowell along any day now….

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