Daimler Hire Company Garage- Herbrand Street London

Having arrived in Russell Square just a touch to early for my film screening last night I went exploring up Herbrand Street and found this rather magnificent building.

Daimler Hire Building

Daimler Hire Building

Actually it was a rediscovery. I had first come across the Daimler Hire Company Garage six or seven years ago when I emerged blinking into the sunlight from one of those dreadful corporate “fun days” at the Holiday Inn. Having just endured seemingly endless hours of motivational pep talks about why we should aspire to be like Tesco (what’s so great about pricing every independent retailer off the high street?) and having to role play senior managers masturbatory Dragon’s Den and Apprentice fantasies,

I love a bit of Art Deco

I love a bit of Art Deco

discovering the sparkling white Art Deco building with its sweeping curves and verdigris green painted doors and window frames was an instant relief .

The photographs don’t really do Wallis, Gilbert and Partners 1931 building justice, I only had my little Sony Cyber Shot, it was getting dark and it’s hard to frame such a large structure in a narrow London Street. As the name suggests it was at one time the garage for a prestigious car hire firm that supplied luxury chauffeur driven limousines to wealthy customers including Buckingham Palace. In 1958 it was sold to Hertz and ceased trading under the name of Daimler in 1976. The present occupants of the building are McCann Erikson the advertising agency

On the Curve - present owners McCann

On the Curve – present occupants McCann

Architects Wallis, Gilbert and Partners designed several iconic Art Deco buildings including the Hoover Factory in Perivale and London’s Victoria Coach Station.

The Egyptianate way out

The Egyptianate way out

Without such architectural wonders Poirot would be a dull show indeed.

Nearest Tube: Russell Square


Saturday on the South Bank

London’s South Bank has moved on a long way since I were a lad. Back when everything was in black and white it didn’t really matter that the Brutalist structures of the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth hall and the Hayward Gallery (which were about the only leisure developments on the south side of the river) were a drab grey. It sort of matched the monochrome world of the early sixties. Forget about the Beatles, David Hemmings and the Shrimp, this was the London of decaying warehouses and bomb damage.

It’s much more fun now, so with a few spare hours I took a wander down from Waterloo past the South Bank Centre, the National Theatre and the Oxo Tower to the Tate Modern.

The Tate Modern

The Tate Modern

I have said before that for the architects of the modern era power stations fulfilled the role of the cathedral in terms of grandeur and spectacle. The Bankside Power station that now houses the Tate Modern’s collection is no exception to that, despite being designed as late as the 1950s. Architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott had a bit of previous here, he had designed Liverpool Cathedral and the rather magnificent Battersea Power Station that is finally being redeveloped a bit further down the Thames. Scott who also designed the classic red GPO phone booth, died in 1960 so he didn’t get to see the building he designed finished. Power generation ended here in 1981 and I do think that the idea to convert the old temple of power into a modern temple of art was really quite brilliant.

I was toying with the idea of visiting the Lichtenstein exhibition that had just opened there, but the queues were so massive that I think I will put that off for another day, maybe midweek to avoid the crowds. The galleries were still pretty busy, with Guardianista parents allowing their little Brunos and Kumquats, who are evidently bored stupid, to express themselves  everywhere. Still I had a good wander around enjoying the Dalis, Ernsts and the odd Gilbert and George. I didn’t bother with any photos as the reproductions in art books are so much better, but the view over the Thames from the coffee shop terrace is pretty cool.

St Paul's and the wobbly Bridge from the Tate Modern

St Paul’s and the wobbly Bridge from the Tate Modern

There is a fancy restaurant on the top floor overlooking the Thames which I must try sometime.

Having had my fill of art I wandered back towards the South Bank’s Wahaca to meet, Mab, the Captain and the Powder Monkey. By the National theatre I discovered this bronze statue of Laurence Olivier as Hamlet. Having just written an article about his tempestuous relationship with the lovely Vivien Leigh I had to take a snap despite the poor light.

Laurence Olivier by Connor

Laurence Olivier by Connor

And best of all he didn’t want a fiver unlike the living statues who were frightening the kids further on down the bank.

The South Bank Wahaca has been built out of old shipping containers  and provides a welcome splash of colour against the drab concrete of the National Theatre.

Wahaca South Bank

Wahaca South Bank

The menu is a bit more limited that the branches in Soho, Fitzrovia and Docklands, but we still had a great meal. The only things that let this branch down in my opinion were the lack of the usual tortilla chips and salsa garnish with the main courses and the fact that the Reza Lasagna from the specials board, despite being very tasty came in a positively tiny portion for something that cost over a fiver.

Gants Hill Tube Station – A Bit of Essex Buried Treasure

Many moons ago we lived somewhere between Gants Hill and Barkingside in London’s Essex overspill. Rapidly urbanised between the 20th century’s two World Wars it was ideally situated for London’s commuters and an aspirational destination for East-end boys made good. Still aspirations being what they are. about seventeen years ago we moved on to a part of Essex with access to Epping Forest. Curiously, in the way of people saying ‘Small world isn’t it’ I had to return to our old neighbourhood this week to collect a bathroom fitting from a shop just around he corner from where we used to live. The shop used to be an off-licence where I frequently stopped to chew the fat with manager Bernard, but that’s another story.

One of the things that fuelled the eastward expansion of London was the London Underground’s Central Line and considering what an architectural wasteland Gants Hill is, the tube station below is a little piece of buried Art Deco treasure.

The vaulted ceiling of Gants Hill Tube Station

London Underground began work on the station during the 1930s. The architect was one Charles Holden who aside from his work for London Transport also designed the University of London’s Senate house. Holden had also advised upon the construction of the Moscow Metro , hence the rather marvelous barrel vaulted ceiling of the concourse between the platforms. Hitler disrupted building for a few years when the excavations were used as an air raid shelter and a munitions factory and the station eventually opened up in 1947.

The Art Deco uplighters cast a distinctive halo on the vaulted ceiling

Unlike many of Holden’s very distinctive London Underground stations, like say Arnos Grove or  Southgate, nearly all of the station is beneath the ground including the ticket office, but I think the beauty of the platform concourse makes up for the lack of any external features

Chiswick Park Station

I went to see a designer pal in Chiswick, west London, last week. Naturally I had my trusty Nikon in my bag, just in case I saw anything interesting on my way.

One thing you can’t miss is the tube station.

Where’s the tube station, oh under that!

Thanks to the bloody great tower with the tube roundel on it. The station at Chiswick Park was opened in 1879 serving the old Metropolitan District Railway which is now the London Underground’s District Line (although this bit is over the ground of course) . In the 1930s the station was rebuilt to accommodate extra track for the extension of the Piccadilly Line westward from Hammersmith.

A Piccadilly Line Train hurtles through Chiswick Park

Although the Piccadilly Line trains don’t stop at Chiswick Park the station was rebuilt in the Art Deco style utilised on the Piccadilly Line’s eastbound extension.

Art Deco style tube station at Chiswick Park

Designed by Charles Holden, the station features a tall semi-circular ticket hall with clerestory windows, and was inspired by Krumme Lanke Station in Berlin.

Clerestory Windows at Chiswick Park Station

It’s my opinion that stations took on certain roles of churches for the Art Deco architects of the 1920s and 30s. New clean electric trains were a symbol of the new order of modern life and stations were the gateway to this new age of mass passenger transit that thousands of people passed through daily. It is fitting that they should be places of awe and wonder.

Madeira – Plovers, Gulls and Exotic Fruit

Tucked away in a corner Funchal’s old town was our hotel, the Porto Santa Maria. Right on the seafront, the location could not have been better. Along the way to the shops we’d stop off to watch the plovers on the sea wall.


These little birds were remarkably confident, allowing people to get much closer to them than their British cousins do.

Beyond the sea wall is the beach. One thing that people don’t visit Funchal for is the beach.

Herring Gull Housing Estate

Unless they are herring gulls that is, the freshwater mountain streams that empty into the Atlantic through the black volcanic scree of the beach are just the sort of place to wash that salt out of your feathers.

Right in the centre of Funchal is this amazing huge Art Deco building,

Mercado dos Lavradores

It’s not a cinema, but the Mercado dos Lavradores (Worker’s Market). Now I thought I’d seen most kinds of fruit, but the stall holders had a bewildering array of exotic wares on display

Amazing displays of exotic fruits

There were pomegranates, chilis, bananas, mangoes, guavas, custard apples and several different varieties of passion fruits, but I had never seen these before.

Pineapple Bananas

According to the stall holder they were pineapple bananas and indeed the fruit’s flesh had the texture of banana, but a sharp flavour close to that of pineapple. Incidentally should you find yourself in the Mercado, don’t buy fruit from the stall holders upstairs, for some reason they think it is fun to rip tourists off.

The fish market operates from the back of the Mercado.

Fish Market

The long black fish are a local delicacy, the Black Scabbard Fish, which are often served with locally grown bananas. Handsome beasts aren’t they?

Black Scabbard Fish

The Mercado was designed by the architect Edmundo Tavares and the build completed in 1940. More recent artworks could be found on our way back to our hotel. The 19th century houses of the Rua Santa Maria form a Bohemian enclave of workshops and restaurants. Local artists have painted many of the doors with their own designs.

Half a Turtle

Some reflecting their own concerns about surveillance in society.

Keep Watching the Bag Heads

This one was right at the bottom (groan) of the street.

Painted (rear?) door Rua Santa Maria

A Visit to the Dentist Reveals an Architectural Gem – Newbury Park, Essex

I had the misfortune to break a tooth Thursday evening, it’s now patched up thanks to my marvelous dentist. Now his surgery is close to Newbury Park Underground Station which is a great example of London Transport’s visionary approach to architecture in the capital, even if the project was only part finished.

Bus garage at Newbury Park Station, Essex

The huge concrete arch was designed by Oliver Hill, and opened (if that is what you do with a massive concrete arch) in 1949. It was originally planned to be part of an integrated bus and underground station, but the new Central Line Tube Station got scrapped due to post-war economies and naturally it still hasn’t been spruced up since then over 60 years later. When the Central Line was extended from central London to this part of Essex in 1947 it essentially joined existing suburban railway track and stations to the underground network. Typically the existing British Rail track that linked this station to Ilford was removed and the land sold off for building, demonstrating the remarkable lack of forethought and vision that is just typical of the idiots who run our transport infrastructure.

Another view of the copper sheathed arch at Newbury Park Station, Essex

That being said the bus garage with its copper sheathed roof won an architectural merit award at the 1951 Festival of Britain,

Festival of Britain Plaque

and the blue winner’s plaque is still proudly on display.

Just down the road from this adventurous piece of post World War II design is Ilford War Memorial Gardens, where this rather beautiful statue stands as a memorial to local people who fell during World War I.

Memorial to the fallen of the Great War, Newbury Park

The bronze statue was created by Newbury A Trent and was unveiled in 1922. Remarkable coincidence the sculptor’s first name and the location don’t you think?
To those readers unfamiliar with the local geography, Newbury Park is part of London’s eastern overspill into the neighbouring county of Essex. It’s mostly residential with a bit of light industry and retail parks.

London – There’s More to the Sqaure Mile Than a Bunch of Bankers

I had a couple of meetings in the City yesterday, so rather than waste the hour or so in between appointments I did some exploring.

This is the Monument to the Great Fire of London. appropriately it stands at the junction of Monument Street with Fish Street Hill.

The Monument

Designed by the then Surveyor General Sir Christopher Wren and his assistant, the microscope pioneer Robert Hooke, at 61 metres it’s the tallest isolated stone column in the world. It was built between 1671 and 1677 . At its base there is a bas relief of the destruction of the City by the Great Fire in 1666, by Caius Gabriel Cibber, who also sculpted Soho Square’s statue of Charles II in the West End. Given my dodgy knees and hypertension I passed on the opportunity to climb the 311 stairs to the top and view London from within the suicide cage, that was installed in the mid 19th Century.

I am constantly amazed by what I find out about people like Wren, Hooke and their contemporaries like Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Edmund Halley, they were men of such diverse ability, vision and energy, turning their hands to architecture, astronomy, biology and other sciences. Little wonder the period they ushered in was known as the Enlightenment.

At the bottom of Fish Street Hill is Lower Thames Street and the Church of St Magnus the Martyr.

The Spire of St Magnus the Martyr

There had been a church of this name on the site for hundreds of years before the Great Fire of London cleared much of the area. St Magnus the Martyr was only 300 metres away from the bakery of Thomas Farriner in Pudding Lane, where the fire started. The present church was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and the building was completed around 1676. The interior is quite beautiful but unfortunately the light was too poor to get a decent photograph of the alter or the magnificent pipe organ. I did however get this shot of the window showing St Magnus himself . It’s one of four stained glass windows that were designed by Lawrence Lee and installed between 1949 and 1955 replacing those destroyed by enemy bombing during World War II.

St Magnus the Martyr

St Magnus himself was an Earl of Orkney who was executed after being captured by his cousin in 1116. He had a reputation for being pious and gentle  and was canonised in 1135. there is also quite a sweet wooden ststue of him inside the church, complete with horned Viking  helmet.

Behind St Magnus is the Thames itself where I got a splendid view of HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge.

Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast

Walking back up towards the Monument I found another Wren church St Mary-at-Hill

St Mary-at-Hill

Actually Wren was responsible for the interior and the east wall, seen above. The other three walls are older medieval structures. On entering the church the smell of fish assailed my nostrils, which I thought was a bit odd, until I discovered that the Eucharist of the Harvest of the Sea was being celebrated inside. St Mary-at -Hill was one of the parish churches for the old Billingsgate Fish Market that used to operate from Lower Thames Street. I didn’t want to disturb the congregation by poking around, so I left them to it and continued on to Ledenhall Market in Gracechurch Street

Ledenhall Market

Ledenhall Market, with its ornate wrought iron and glass roof, was designed by Horace Jones who also designed London’s Smithfield and Bilingsgate Markets. It opened in 1881 as a fish, meat and poultry market, but is now mostly full of pubs, sandwich bars and restaurants serving city wage slaves. It also served as Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone. And speaking of things magical I particularly like the Griffins, the symbol of the City of London, that hold the roof up.

City of London Griffin holding up the roof of Ledenhall Market.

If you’d like to see these places the nearest London Underground stations are: Bank on the Northern and Central Lines and Dockland’s Light Railway: and Monument on the District and Circle Lines


Edinburgh – We Do the Dome

Earlier in the year I wrote about how we enjoyed nachos and beer in the garden of the Dome in Edinburgh. On our most recent visit we decided to try out the Dome’s opulent Grill Room for lunch. This of course meant using the rather magnificent entrance on George Street.

The Grill Room, The Dome

The building used the be the HQ of the  Commercial Bank of Scotland, was designed by David Rhind in the Greco-Roman style and opened to the public in 1844.  Commercial Bank was gobbled up by the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1969 and they decided to get rid of the building in 1993. I think you will agree it has since been put to a much better use. The Grill Room, under the majestic dome itself, used to be the banking hall. The present interior dates to 1885 when Sydney Mitchell refaced much of the original masonry with Devonshire marble and laid the mosaic floors. The menu is a bit pricy, but then you do get very good service in a unique surround.

For lunch the student and I opted for the Chili Chicken mayonnaise Sandwich which came with a small mountain of chips all for £7.

Chili Chicken sandwich

It was quite delicious and very filling,  Nick went for the more traditional haggis with neeps and tatties (£12.50), which had been beautified with a sprig of parsley and a few wee chunks of tomato .


Personally I can’t stand offal, but apparently it was very good as was Mab’s Parfait of Chicken (£7.50).

Including drinks and two soups, the total bill came to £52 for four people,  not much more than a decent pub lunch. They also do a very fabulous looking afternoon tea.

The Dome 14 George Street, Edinburgh 0131 624 8624

A Quick Look Around Leeds

It seemed like we had only just got back from Edinburgh before we were back at Kings Cross station waiting to board a train to Leeds. Now I have only been to the city a couple of times for boring stuff like conferences and never really had the opportunity to see much of it, so while my better half did the conference thing this time, I had a nose around. After leaving the station the first thing I noticed was this marvelous equestrian statue of Prince Edward, the Black Prince in the city square.

The Black Prince

This statue by Sir Thomas Brock was a gift to the city by former Lord Mayor of Leeds Colonel Thomas Walter Harding in 1903. Pure coincidence that the King at the time just happened to be called Edward too! Incidentally Brock also designed the Victoria Memorial just outside Buckingham Palace. Nearby are eight rather lovely bronze lamp bearers cast in the inimitable mode of Victorian soft porn. These are the work of Alfred Drury.

Victorian soft porn lamp bearers

Moving further into the city I was impressed by some of the monumental buildings, mostly I suspect the result of newly rich industrial civic pride of the Victorian era.

Here is Leeds Town Hall.

Town Hall Leeds

This was designed by the architect Cuthbert Broderick and completed in 1858.

Next door I found the City Art Gallery and the Henry Moore Institute.  In fact there is so much Henry Moore stuff that it overflows from the Henry Moore Institute into the really rather small art gallery.  Once you get past all the Moore stuff there are a few remarkable Victorian paintings including Holman Hunt’s study of Christ casting the shadow of the cross in his carpentry workshop The Shadow of Death, Elizabeth Thompson’s rather wonderful panorama of the Scots Dragoons charging at Waterloo  Scotland Forever, Waterhouse’s Lady of Shallot, Evelyn de Morgan’s The Valley of Shadows and George William Joy’s huge Death of General Gordon. Moving into the 20th Century there are also some nice works by Percy Wyndham Lewis, Francis Bacon and Paula Rego.

The art gallery took about two hours to see everything so next stop was the Leeds city Museum in Millennium Square. This is quite a small museum which doubles up as a conference centre.  The most interesting part is the second floor gallery which tells the story of Leeds from early settlement right up to the Sisters of Mercy and the Kaiser Chiefs. The temporary exhibition on the Spice Girls (Mel B is from the town) is quite fun too with everything from stage costumes and gold discs to the Pepsi cans and Walkers Crisp packets that were used to market the band. It’s an interesting study of a global phenomenon even if, like me, you hated the music.

Avoid venturing into the basement if you don’t want to see some ancient stuffed animals stuck behind some funky graphics about climate change, but do take a look at the lovely bronze statue of the enchantress Circe in the gift shop. It is another work by Alfred Drury. Again this is a small museum, so two hours is about enough to see everything.

Slightly more substantial is the Royal Armories located in Clarence Dock over the River Aire. I spent the best part of three hours here looking at armour, guns and other weapons (I know but I am a boy). Particularly interesting were the Asian horse armour, the 19th Century revolvers and machine guns, and the exhibition of weapons used by James Bond. Like all the places mentioned so far admission to the Royal Armories is free and I could quite easily have spent longer there, but time can be a harsh mistress.

As I mentioned before Leeds is full of splendid examples of Victorian monumental building and on the way to our hotel I found this rather nice example with Moorish styling in Park Square.

A northern Moorish palace

This is St Paul’s House and it was originally a warehouse and cloth cutting works. It was designed by  Thomas Ambler and completed in 1878. The front entrance is particularly splendid, shame about the bent bit of pipe in front of it though.

Moorish gateway

That evening we discovered a quite fabulous restaurant, more on that later.