Here are a series of photos taken by my wife and I on Christmas Day, 2014. Since it’s the only day of the year public transit is completely shut, it provides a rare opportunity to see the streets (almost) completely empty. Hope you enjoy:
One of the best things about London is discovering hidden gems in places you thought you knew. I’ve walked across Regent’s Park dozens of times, but had no idea it contained a secret waterfall and hidden Japanese island garden, which most people seem to walk right past, until reading this blog post.
Both the waterfall and the Japanese garden are located in the Queen Mary’s Gardens (in Regent’s Park inner circle), most famous for its 12,000 roses. Simply enter enter via the Jubilee Gate and take the first path right and you should be able to find both fairly easily.
While the rest of Regent’s Park was quite busy this weekend, this small section of it was remarkably quiet.
Yesterday, I thought I’d try and give Alex Chinneck’s Floating Covent Garden installation artwork a visit before it was taken down. Given the photo above, you can see I was a little too late. While I’m disappointed I missed it, I have only myself to blame.
These sorts of things come and go so quickly in London, that you have seize the opportunity when it arises.
Fortunately, can still see 3 of Alex’s other installations around London:
For those of you who missed it, last weekend was Open House London 2014, which offered a chance to see inside 800 buildings across the capital that are not normally open to the public.
The most popular options this year included: The Gherkin, The Cheesegrater, The Bank of England, 55 Broadway (London Underground HQ), Houses of Parliament, and 10 Downing Street, among others. As you’d expect, they were incredibly busy, which meant you either needed to get a ticket well in advance, or be prepared to queue for hours.
However, there’s a whole world of interesting building to explore besides the most popular ones. Better yet, you can often see two or three of them in the time it would take you to see one of the others.
Just to give you an idea of the types of buildings you can get access to, here is summary from what I managed to see this year:
As you probably already know I’m quite the fan of walking in London. My personal walking adventures have taken me to the ends of each of London’s 11 tube lines, along several of its Overground routes, the length of the Regent’s Canal and most of the the Thames within London.
And still I find there’s always more to discover! The only problem is deciding where to walk next. Catherine from LondonHiker.com has partially solved this problem by asking 21 locals (myself included) for a recommended walk in her Insider’s Guide To Walking In London (PDF).
These are not step-by-step walking guides, but serve as inspirations for walks you might want to consider. Here are just a few of the types of walks included:
Walking a tube line (mine of course!)
The walk where you don’t have to cross a single road (by Victor Keegan)
Ever wonder why it costs so much more to build in London compared any other city in the world? The video above from The Economist explains why.
A few of the reasons why London is the most expensive include:
Tunnels: London has more tunnels, including sewers, the Tube and Mail Rail, compared to other cities.
Bombs: There are still a worryingly large number of unexploded World War 2 bombs scattered all over London.
Archaeology: The Roman City of Londinium was founded almost 2,000 years ago and has been inhabited off and on ever since. Most major projects in the City require an archaeological dig as part of the building process.
Streets: Narrow streets make it difficult to access building sites and also build buildings with standard 90 degree angles.
The Planning System: To preserve London’s historical character, different levels of government have all sorts of planning rules. These can include anything from conservation areas that specify what colour your front door has to be, to protected views of London’s major sights such as St. Paul’s and The Tower of London. Each restriction adds just that little bit more to the cost.
Despite the high costs I think they’re worth the price of living in London. Given that there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of new buildings going up, I’d say those doing the building agree.
The really important historical trends that shape our lives, such as technological, economic and social change, usually happen at such a gradual pace that we tend not to notice them on a daily basis. Yet in the long run, they often have a more profound impact than any singular event.
Nevertheless, humans seem to have a need to point to an event and say, “That’s when everything changed.” This despite the fact that the event in question may not have seemed all that important at the time.
Take for example the arrival of the MV Empire Windrush to Tillbury on June 22nd, 1948. The boat carried 492 people from the West Indies who were actively encouraged by the British Government of the time, to come to the “mother country” to help fill labour shortages that existed after World War 2.
It is now widely seen as the the event that symbolizes the beginning of mass, non-white immigration to the UK.
However, at the time – as the British Pathé clip below shows – it was seen as less important than the arrival of Ingrid Bergman and Alfred Hitchcock at Heathrow to film the now largely forgotten Under Capricorn.
Skip to 0:47 for the arrival of the Windrush
The video mentions a few interesting things, such as: the fact that the arrivals are mostly ex-servicemen, that they know England (aka the “mother country”) well, and that the Colonial office had to be prodded into giving them a cordial reception.
Yet, the true highlight is the king of calypso, Lord Kitchener singing: “London is the place for me … I’m glad to know my mother country.” Ultimately, Lord Kitchener would return to Trinidad in 1962, but the majority of those who came on the Windrush stayed in Britain.
Today over 1/3rd of Londoners were born outside the UK and over 40% classify themselves as non-White. This makes London one of the world’s most multicultural cities and is arguably it’s greatest strength. You can’t call yourself a global city if you don’t have a significant number of representatives from all over the globe living in it.
Yet, the road from there to here has not always been a smooth one. The 1958 Notting Hill and 1981 Brixton Riots are but two examples of the racial tensions that to some extent still exist in London today.
These tensions were in evidence right from the moment the first workers from the Windrush set down on British soil. While they were invited to come to work in the UK with promises of being part of the British colonial family – they faced discrimination from a local population that was often hostile to their arrival.
London Underground and British Rail are often held up as two of the model employers in the story of immigration to the UK, because they provided many of the first jobs to the new arrivals from the West Indies. Yet, here again the story is a little more complex.
While it’s undeniable that both organisations did provide employment, it was not always a smooth process. Blacks were mostly given the least desirable jobs and that was if they could get them.
This 1956 clip from the BBC’s Panorama shows just how much of an up hill struggle most new immigrants faced in London.
Given the treatment they received, I find it amazing that they decided to stay at all. Fortunately, they and waves of immigrants from all over the world since have. London would be a much worse place if they hadn’t.