As someone who loves to travel I have to say that at times the experience has been tinged with great disappointment and discomfort. I would spend a whole year saving up for and paying for a much longed for holiday only to find that my enjoyment of the trip when travelling by coach/bus was often marred by low to medium grade nausea caused by motion sickness. As fellow sufferers will know, the effects of this unpleasant condition cannot be under-estimated. Often beginning with a mild dizziness and progressing to cold sweats, nausea and (worst case scenario) vomiting. In my case, the condition has improved since my struggles with it as a young child (when I could virtually guarantee that I would suffer on any car journey over half an hour/45 minutes in duration) but, as an adult, I still find that I am liable to be affected on any long bumpy bus ride with windy roads or a car journey sat in the back seat with a poor view of the road.
Motion sickness is caused by mixed signals received by the brain from the body’s balance receptors – the inner ears (vestibular system), the eyes (visual system) and the muscles down the back all the way to the feet (proprioceptive system). When travelling these receptors sense that you are moving but your eyes say that you are not because your body is motionless in relation to its immediate surroundings. The result of this is that your brain gets confused as you start to feel nauseous.
Over the years, I’ve tried a range of solutions from travel bands – not a reliable method as they are inclined to move around on your slip down your wrist, to chewing sweets such as barley sugar (didn’t work at all for me!) to Stugeron 15 (containing cinnarizine) an anti-histamine which did work but caused such drowsiness that I felt zoned out and missed parts of the guided bus commentary on many a trip.
Luckily for me I do seem to be able to travel by plane and train without any problems but I am often on the look-out for solutions for long bus/car journeys. Therefore, I was really excited, when doing some research recently, to discover TravelShades.
My glasses arrived very quickly in the post and came with full instructions on use, a sturdy protective case and cleaning cloth.
TravelShades look like regular sunglasses but have a special occulating lens which blocks the ability of one eye to track movement. The special covered lens allows light to pass through so the eye may still be able to see an image and can relay a message to the brain with no indication of movement. As a result, the brain is less confused – providing relief of and/or eliminating nausea.
Whilst I hadn’t got any long haul trips planned I decided to test my Travelshades on a longish suburban Middlesex bus journey (of 50+ minutes).
The route chosen was notorious for congested roads resulting in a trip with lots of stop, start, jerky movements – guaranteed to cause problems. I purposely decided to go to my least favourite seat on the bus – namely upstairs and towards the back where the view was poor.
I must admit that I was prepared for Travelshades not to work and half expected to have to move seats to improve my view half way through the journey. However, I was overjoyed to find that I lasted the full 50 minutes (and for the 50 minute return journey) with no ill effects and wonderfully without the drowsiness and dry mouth caused by antihistamines that I would have normally taken.
At first, it did feel a little odd to have one eye covered as well as to be wearing sun-glasses like lenses on a dull day and a bit tricky to remember flip the symmetrically designed glasses at regular intervals as recommended (to vary which eye is covered). However, any initial self consciousness diminished (perhaps due to my excitement as the glasses’ effectiveness) and I started got into the habit of regular flipping. By the end of my test journeys, I feel that I was becoming a little more comfortable having one eye covered and I’m hopeful that with a little more use I shall start to feel more accustomed to this.
An independent trial conducted by Leeds Beckett University Retail Institute in 2015 found that TravelShades were effective in relieving motion sickness during a highly challenging journey in 89% of cases. So whilst these glasses may not work for everyone, I think that they are well worth a try if you are keen to find a drug free solution to your travel woes.
I am looking forward to testing TravelShades a little more extensively on longer bus journeys but I have to say that the results of my road tests are very encouraging.
I’m grateful to have found Travelshades and to know that future bus travel will no longer hold any fears. I am sure that these lenses have the potential to help a wide range of people affected by motion sickness. From business travellers who need to arrive at their destination fresh and ready to attend meetings to children (including those under 9 after an eye test) who may get some relief from this condition which is often at it’s worst at a young age and liable to knock their confidence when going into any travel situation. I certainly wish they had been around when I was struggling with this as a youngster!
Listening to the roar of traffic on the A4127, I wondered just how many drivers were aware that they were passing over a major engineering achievement of the 19th century. I had parked my car in the Great Western Industrial park just off Windmill Lane, Southall. Continuing on foot, turning right out the park and just a short 5 minute walk along an anonymous stretch of suburban road I found myself at the junction of Windmill Lane and Tenterden Road facing this sign announcing a miracle of the Victorian era – The Three Bridges.
Three Bridges (scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979) is a wonderful example of a transportation rarity known as a Triple Bypass – three transport routes built directly on top of each other. As you pass over the top of the intersection by road and you look down immediately underneath you see the Hanwell section of the Grand Union Canal and further below the canal the Great Western & Brentford Railway Line. Despite the name, in fact there are only two bridges – the road and canal aqueduct!
Windmill Lane takes it’s name from the painting made in 1806 by Brentford Artist J W Turner of Southall Mill next to the Grand Junction Canal completed in 1794 (now called the Grand Union Canal) which stood on the south western side of the original canal bridge.
By the mid-19th century, commercial pressures for quick transportation of goods by rail, meant that his peaceful rural idyll and the views from nearby Osterley Park – at that time owned by the Jersey family (and comprising 100 acres of parkland and lakes surrounded by 200 acres of active farmland) were under threat. A solution needed to be found.
The Creation of 3 Bridges
Engineering genius Isambard Kingdom Brunel (born 9 April 1806) was commissioned by Great Western & Brentford Railway to survey where and how the railway should pass beneath the canal. Brunel decided on the location at the intersection of the road and canal. Work began in 1856 and completed in 1859. The Brentford Spur Railway connecting the Great Western main line to the new Brentford Docks was opened in the same year.
Herapath’s Railway Journal describes the construction as follows “The canal had to be diverted by means of a cast iron trough 8 foot in depth. The towing path consisted of cast iron roadway plates bracketed out from the side of this trough. The whole structure was borne upon powerful brickwork abutments, supported in the middle of a central pier. 140 tons of cast ironwork were used in this work and the cost of it’s construction was about £5000”.
In those days the canal network was still of vital importance – transporting goods such as coal, building materials, hay and pottery – so the railway company had to agree to pay a £10 per hour fine should the canal network become out of commission.
The Railway Company were taking a huge risk on the success of 3 Bridges which should have worried Brunel but perhaps the fact that he had come within an inch of losing his own life on a previous project and the inspiration and passion he took from his French engineer father was enough to keep him going through the inevitable challenges ahead.
Marc Brunel was a great engineer but financial pressures caused by a number of ill advised projects and his insistence on sending Isambard to boarding school and then to university in France, led to him spending three months in a debtor’s prison. However, the British government recognised Marc Brunel’s engineering potential and agreed to release him from his debts and jail. Brunel returned to England in 1822 and joined forces with his father professionally creating an underground passage which would run under the Thames riverbed between Wapping and Rotherhithe. This was the first tunnel in the world to run under a river and workers were placed in sometimes dangerous conditions being exposed to raw sewage, occasional flames from ignited methane gas and flooding. They were offered some protection from a tunnelling shield devised by Marc Brunel. However on one Saturday 12 January 1828 disaster struck. The tunnel flooded. Six men were swept to their deaths in a tidal wave of sewage, debris and water. The 22 year old Isambard Brunel should have joined them. But his assistant managed to pull Brunel’s unconscious body from the water.
It seems likely that if Brunel had not survived the Thames Tunnel incident, the 3 Bridges area of modern Middlesex might look completely different today. Brunel went on to create his most famous design the Bristol Clifton Suspension Bridge as well as 25 railway lines, 8 piers and docks 129 other bridges (of which 4 were suspension). He also built 3 ships – SS Great Britain (completed in 1843) – the first large iron steamship, the Great Eastern (built in 1858) – the largest ship ever built at that time and the SS Great Western (1838) – the largest passenger ship in the world for four years.
The Brentford Spur has been in recent use twice a day by freight trains delivering crushed stone to and removing rubbish from local depots in Brentford.
The Thames Tunnel that Isambard built with his father was incorporated into the London Underground system as the East London Line and is now part of the London Overground reducing journey times and congestion in the centre of the city.
Brunel’s iron bridge at Southall and Clifton Suspension Bridge are still going strong and handling increased volumes of modern traffic.
Planning Your Visit
If you’re happy to combine your visit with a bit of shopping, you can park in Great Western Industrial park for up for 4 hours. By public transport, the nearest station in Southall (mainline) or check local bus services via https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/buses/
You can combine your visit with a canal walk. Just cross over to the opposite site of the road (from the 3 Bridges sign) and you will see a foot path down to the tow path. You can turn right to explore Glade Lane Canal Side Park or left to view the series of locks in this area and the bricked up entrance to Hanwell Asylum where – in times past – boats would enter to deliver goods such as coal and take away produce – such as fruit and vegetables grown by the patients.
View of the Canal from the road bridge
GWR Southall Steam Train Passing Under Brunel’s Three Bridges
Mothering Sunday heralds the beginning of Spring with many people treating their mums to a bouquet of flowers or a meal out on this day. The shops are also packed with numerous gift ideas. However, it’s interesting to delve back in time to discover something about the origins of Mother’s Day and how it was celebrated before the days of rampant commercialism.
– In the 1600s Mothering Sunday took place on the 4th Sunday of Lent. On this day people would visit their “mother” church for a prayer service in honour of the Virgin Mary. This was an occasion for honouring mothers and giving them gifts. Daughters who were working as domestic servants were given the day off to visit their families. As they walked home along country lanes, wild flowers were picked to give to their mother.
– Simnell Cake has been eaten on Mothering Sunday since Medieval times. This is a type of fruit cake with two layers of almond paste. There’s a legend that a man called Simon and his wife Nell argued over whether the cake for Mothering Sunday should be baked or boiled. In the end they did both, so the cake was named after them – SIM-NELL.
– Motherhood was thought to be celebrated in Ancient Greece. According to Greek Mythology, Spring Festivals were held in honour of the maternal goddess called Rhea – who was the wife of Cronus (God of Time) and believed to be the mother of many deities.
– In 250 BC The Romans celebrated a Spring Festival called Hilara. This was dedicated to a mother goddess called Cybele. During a 3 day festival, her followers would make offerings at the temple, hold parades, play games and also have masquerades.
– It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that a push was made for official recognition of Mothers Day. Constance Smith, a vicar’s daughter from Nottinghamshire, was inspired to start a Mothering Day Movement after reading an article on Anna Jarvis and her campaign for an official day to honour mothers in the US. Smith publicised her cause through a leaflet about the day and its traditional observance throughout the UK entitled – The Revival Of Mothering Sunday – published in 1920. The movement succeeded in establishing Mothering Sunday which was widely celebrated throughout the British Empire.
– Apart from Mother’s Day and Mothering Sunday – it has also been known as Laetare Sunday, Refreshment Sunday, Rose Sunday and the Sunday of the Five Loaves.
– Other Worldwide Celebrations: Japan has its festival of the Empress Kojun’s birthday – know as Haha No Hi – which has become just as commercialised as Mother’s Day in the West. Spain and Portugal celebrate on 8th December by honouring both the Virgin Mary and their own mothers. In Mexico on 10th May, Dias de las Madres, it is customary for mothers to be serenaded with a song “Las Manaitas” often with a mariachi band. Hindus in India celebrate the goddess Durga, or Divine Mother, during a 10 day festival called Durga Puja in October. In Ethiopia, Mother’s Day is celebrated at the end of the rainy season as part of a three day Antrosht Festival, dedicated to mums. In Serbia, Mother’s Day takes place in December and is part of a series of national holidays including Children’s Day and Father’s Day.
There was a time when I would have done almost anything to avoid being in or around a UK train station. As a regular commuter I would dread the daily grind of squeezing onto packed trains. The lack of fresh air, heat, claustrophobia, smell of stale sweat and second hand takeaways were always fresh in my mind. Stations were mostly something to be negotiated and got through as quickly as possible.
Despite my antipathy towards localised commuter train travel, I had been lucky enough to enjoy some wonderful train journeys on some of my holiday travels overseas. From these experiences, a part of me grew to understand that excitement of being able to sit back and watch the world go by. On these journeys, I felt the anticipation of discovering a new town, languished in the lack of responsibility (beyond being on time for my train and having my ticket ready for checking) and loved taking time to observe the people around me – wondering where they were from, who they were and where they were travelling to.
If I had not allowed my experiences on my daily commute to cloud my opinion of train travel, I might have taken time to look around St Pancras and Kings Cross Stations a few years ago. So I decided to put my negative commuting experiences behind me for a day. With the aim of recapturing some of the excitement/romance of my holiday train train travel – without jumping on a train – and the promise of some stunning architecture, I decided to take a leisurely look around these stations just a few days ago.
Exploring St Pancras Station
On a cold, wet Saturday, St Pancras station was busy and bustling with people with dripping umbrellas but taking my eyes away from the crowd and looking up I was confronted with an amazing view of the station roof. The photos below do not do it justice and only show sections of this so you really need to go there to see it for yourself.
The station Clock
The roof is made up of a series of wrought iron ribs resulting in a space 100ft high, 240ft wide and 700ft long. When the station was opened on a wave of Victorian optimism in 1868, this was the largest single spanned roof in the world and its design was copied across the world. It is said to be the inspiration for the design of Grand Central Station in New York.
The construction project chief engineer was William Henry Barlow (responsible for the design of the train shed and overall layout of the site) and the architect responsible for the attached Midland Grand Hotel (now called The St Pancras Renaissance) was George Gilbert Scott. The station’s name, which it shares with the nearby St Pancras neighbourhood, originates from the fourth-century Christian boy martyr Pancras of Rome who was beheaded by the Roman Emperor Diocleation in 304 AD for refusing to renounce his Christian faith.
In its early days, St Pancras station mainly received commodities such as coal, milk, fish and potatoes. Three beer trains per day also arrived at St Pancras from Burton-on-Trent. The wagons containing the beer were lowered from platform level by hydraulic lift, onto tracks and into the main storage area of the undercroft. Services eventually expanded to include passenger rail travel to major cities such as Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Bradford. The first Pullman service in the UK – with a restaurant car and sleeping compartments – left the station in 1874 to Bedford and by 1878 was running all the way to Wick in Northern Scotland.
At the time of my visit, in the on-platform bar, couples sat enjoying a nicely chilled pre-journey glass or two of Champagne with a view down towards the station clock (a copy of the original which was broken into thousands of pieces upon removal in the 1970s) and the imposing 20 tonne Paul Day bronze statue known as ‘The Meeting Place’.
The Meeting Place statue – shown above – cost £1 million and aims to reflect the romantic nature of train travel by reminding travellers of the iconic scene from the classic film ‘Brief Encounter’.
The bronze reliefs (some of which are shown below) carved under the main Meeting Place figures perhaps evoke darker feelings associated with travel and are definately worth close viewing.
I wondered about the lives of the people around me ready to board the trains to international destinations of romance such as a City of Love – Paris or of culture such as Brussels. Were they couples on long planned St Valentine’s weekend breaks or lovers grabbing the chance of a few days together? Whatever the answer, it would seem likely that most of these trips were planned in advance.
Chance meetings of the type depicted by ‘Brief Encounter’ would perhaps be more likely to be ignited in a run of the mill commuter/rail traveller type station such as St Pancras’s near neighbour Kings Cross and I decided to make my way over to absorb the atmosphere of this terminal. However, not before I had had a chance to pay homage to one of Middlesex’s loyal supporters poet Sir John Betjeman (see poem ‘Middlesex’) whose statue (by Martin Jennings) is another dominant feature of the St Pancras Station concourse.
The above statue depicts him walking into the new station for the first time. He is looking up towards the roof of the train shed, leaning back and holding onto his hat, his coat tails billowing out behind him. Around him discs carved with some of his writings are displayed at floor level.
St Pancras Station was bombed during both World Wars 1 and 2. The station became run down in the post war years being threatened with closure during 1921 and 1966. By the 1960s, as road transportation became a more popular way to transport goods and with the review of the nation’s rail network by Dr Beeching (resulting in closure of many lines), St Pancras’s future was uncertain.
Following campaigns by John Betjeman, historian Niklaus Pevsner and Jane Hughes Fawcett (of the Victorian Society), the station eventually became grade 1 listed in November 1967. It seems unlikely that St Pancras would have survived without the huge efforts of these people to fight its corner.
Although this neo-Gothic gem had been saved for future generations to admire, the building always seemed slightly unloved in the 1970s/80s. Hope for a positive future for the building arrived in the early 90s with the opening of the Channel Tunnel. Originally trains were only able to reach their full speed on the French side. In order to develop a high speed line in the UK a new terminus needed to be found. The obvious solution lay in redeveloping St Pancras as an international transport hub.
During redevelopment Barlow’s original train shed roof was restored to its full glory and the iron girders stripped and repainted in their original pale blue. An additional train shed to the rear of Barlow’s original was designed by Foster & Partners. New Oak doors were made for the main entrances and the west wall of the station was rebuilt using 16 million bricks manufactured identically to the originals. St Pancras was reopened in November 2007.
Interestingly, for such a busy place, St Pancras International’s roof is home to several beehives which are owned by Fortnum and Mason who opened their first spin-off store in 300 years at the station in 2013. It is said that the honey is “a lovely pale, toffee colour with a soft consistency”.
Moving downstairs to the lower concourse, I met this lively gentleman clearly enjoying use of the station piano and chatting to fellow rail travellers and visitors. I was reminded that travelling through an international station such as St Pancras is a great opportunity to meet people from around the world for conversation and friendship. The pianos – which have been in the station since 2012 – are open for anyone to play. Apparently, one – a Yamaha – was donated by Sir Elton John in Spring 2016 who gave an impromptu performance during the morning rush hour – though I do not know if the piano shown is the one he donated.
Kings Cross Station
Queen Victoria herself was one of the first passengers to depart from here for Scotland in 1851. The architect, Lewis Cubitt was responsible for the detailed design for this station and it officially opened with just 2 platforms in 1852.
This building was also redeveloped in recent times and the semi-circular departures Concourse (designed by John McAslan and built by Vinci) – shown below – was opened in time for the Olympics in 2012 with the original Victorian entrance restored and opened in 2013.
Since redevelopment the station can handle increased passenger flows and provides greater integration between the intercity, suburban and underground sections. The roof (shown in the photos above) is said to be the longest single-span station structure in Europe. The semi-circular structure has a radius of 59 yards (54 m) and more than 2,000 triangular roof panels, half of which are glass.
Kings Cross Station gives the impression of being a much busier and more chaotic place than St Pancras. I had been hoping to catch a glimpse of weepy lovers’ departures or brief encounters for this St Valentine’s Day article but found that much of the action seemed to be centred about the excited crowds queuing to visit the Harry Potter Shop at Platform 9 ¾. Of course, the actual platform 9 ¾ exists only in the fiction of Harry Potter creator J K Rowling being the platform that students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry boarded the train to get to their school in the north of Scotland. However, there is a sign for the platform in honour of the stories shown left.
Planning A Visit To St Pancras/Kings Cross Stations
Whilst there is no museum to visit specifically on the stations’ history, there are information boards giving a short history of St Pancras station in the upper concourse situated close to The Meeting Place and John Betjeman statues. Architecturally both St Pancras and King’s Cross are certainly impressive and definately worth a look around for half an hour to an hour (or more if you are a railway enthusiast). There are also many eating/drinking places in both stations if you are in need of refreshment. I have listed below some other attractions that are not too far away that you could also combine with your visit.
Watch the following clip to find out more about the brewing history of St Pancras Station:-
Take a walk through the King’s Cross Station of the 1950s:-
Learn more by visiting:-
St Pancras Station, Euston Rd, Kings Cross, London N1C 4QP
The Canal Museum is very close to St Pancras and a great place to learn about the history of the waterways of the surrounding area and their importance to the ice industry.
Address: 12-13 New Wharf Rd, London N1 9RT
The London Transport Museum, in Covent Garden, is also a good option for anyone interested in the history and development of the capital’s transport system.
The British Library – The national library of the United Kingdom and the second largest library in the world by number of items catalogued. The library has a regular exhibition areas and other exhibitions on an ongoing basis through the year.
I’ve had my second hand Nikon D40 digital SLR for a good few months now, with the aim to learn the basics of photography, get better shots on my travels and hopefully better pics for this blog and the @middlesaxons Facebook page. However, despite purchasing two camera books and watching numerous You Tube photography tutorials, the journey to understanding the workings of the holy grail of the exposure triangle of camera aperture, shutter and ISO has not been easy. So it’s just as well that I’ve discovered Photo Coach Paul Hames. Having recently attended his Beginners Workshop, I’ve gained the confidence to finally venture into the world manual photography and, whilst I am still learning and trying to get to grips with this, I am eager to increase my knowledge whenever I can. So when I learnt that Paul was running a Street Photography Workshop, I decided that now was as good a time as any to dip my toe in the water.
The morning of the workshop dawned cold, wet and drizzly in Shoreditch but this didn’t dampen Paul’s enthusiasm. As he explained to our group over a relaxed cup of pre-shooting coffee, street photography is all about capturing a slice of life or in the words of the photography genius Henri Cartier Bresson – ‘That Decisive Moment’. Inclement weather just presents different photographic opportunities such as people struggling with umbrellas or jumping over puddles. Our job as photographers is becoming attuned to anticipating these moments and being ready with the camera to capture them. Street photography is as much about being mentally prepared to capture an unusual or interesting image when the opportunity presents itself as it is about camera settings.
For portrait shots, it’s also about being brave enough to request to take someone’s photo on the street. A daunting task for someone like myself who is more used to hiding behind a lap-top than to risk rejection or even possibly ridicule in this activity.
Fortunately, Paul has a way of equipping DSLR newbies such as myself with enough confidence to just get started. Breaking street photography down to the basics, we spent time covering exposure settings, composition tactics, how to approach people and even a useful tip to capture photos inconspicuously by holding the camera by the strap (at the hip) rather than round your neck. Having had plenty of opportunity to ask as many questions as we wanted (and in my case some fairly basic beginners queries) to the unfailingly patient Paul, our small group was finally ready to take to the street for some photographic action.
Upon leaving the coffee shop, a likely image soon zoomed into focus in the form of two motorcyclists who had stopped mid-road for a quick chat on their bikes. Pulling the camera view finder quickly to my eyes, despite catching a couple of photos, I had the feeling that I had already missed the opportunity of a good shot by being a bit too relaxed about what was going on around me.
Resolving to do better, I made my way to the next challenge which came in the form of a common enough piece of street furniture – a bike rack. Pools of water glistened on the metallic structure of the rack and the bikes stacked up against it. Paul advised us to focus on an interesting section rather than trying to capture the whole thing.
Our group then moved onto nearby Spitalfields Market – a place with some excellent scope for street photography – the surrounding areas are well known for street art and home to a range of quirky shops and trendy bars as well as colourful stalls selling all sorts of world foods. We had half an hour to explore and photograph – with the challenge set by Paul (who is always there to help with our queries) to come away from some Portrait shots.
After wandering around for a while capturing a few candid shots then bottling out a couple of times, I decide to bite the bullet and ask if I could take someone’s portrait. My first subjects are a father and son out for lunch at one of the noodle stalls who seem happy enough to be photographed. So far, so good. Suddenly feeling enboldened, I determined to photograph whoever I thought looked interesting and was of course happy to have their photo taken. Several more photos followed, including one gentleman with a spectacular beard (perhaps not so uncommon in the popular hipster haunt of Spitalfields) and two friendly smiling ladies before I finally – perhaps more by luck than judgement – landed upon what I thought is a reasonably good attempt for a novice like me – of course, more than likely helped by the naturally beautiful face of the subject.
We then continued with a walk through the surrounding streets. Here I began to learn just how much patience is involved in capturing these images as I waited on a wet steamy street for a suitable subject with an umbrella to pass by only to capture groups of people who had left home without their brollies and this gentleman walking by with his case.
The final part of the workshop was spent capturing some of the fascinating street art which always seems to be in a constant state of evolution in this area. All in all, it had been a really interesting and fun few hours during which I began to feel the confidence to make a start with street photography. I’m aware that there’s still a very long way for me to go before I can say that I’m a reasonably competent photographer, but with people like Paul to support me I’m hopeful that I stand a better chance of getting there and enjoying the learning process along the way.
Paul Hames (the Photo Coach) http://www.paulhames.com
Signs of Spitalfields’ links to the County of Middlesex can be found in the most unlikely of places – as I discovered last weekend.
The name “Spitalfields” is thought to originate from the hospital or priory of St Mary Spital built on the east side of Bishopsgate in 1197.
The earliest recorded use of the area – which was once mainly open fields/nursery gardens – was as a Roman cemetery. From 1670 to 1710 French Huguenots sought sanctuary for religious persecution building a community in Spitalfields and making use of their weaving skills to create rapid expansion of the area’s silk industry. Spitalfields became known as “Weaver Town”. During the 19th and 20th centuries, Irish (working in the docks), Jewish (tailoring/dress-making) and Bangladeshi communities (textiles/restaurant trade) were established – all of which have left their mark in this distinctive area.
The Parish of Christchurch, Spitalfields, Middlesex
In 1729 Spitalfields was detached from the parish of Stepney and became a civil parish divided into two ecclesiastical subdivisions – Christchurch, Spitalfields and St. Stephen’s Spitalfields.
The boundary for Christchurch, Spitalfields is inconspicuously marked by a sign reading “Christchurch, Middlesex. Boundary 1871. Church Wardens R A Cole and W Roach”. This sign can be found above the shop fronts for Whistles and A Gold at No 42 Brushfield Street.
The history of Christ-Church, Spitalfields goes back to around 1711 when the 50 New Churches Act. This Act was passed by Parliament response to the fear at that time of lack of churches in certain parts of the country and other faiths being worshipped by incoming communities. Christchurch was one of the the 50 new churches built. As part of the initiative, all the new churches had to have spires higher than any of the nearby non-conformist places of worship. Built between 1714 and 1729 (by Nicholas Hawksmoor) the spire of Christ Church is about 62m in height so must have fitted the bill – being something of the sky-scrapper – at that time.
View of Christchurch from Brushfield Street
After centuries of worship in its local community, Christ Church became extremely run-down. In the late 1950s, it was deemed derelict and unsuitable to hold services.
For a while, it was believed that it was likely to be demolished but for the efforts of a committee which included writer, John Betjeman (a passionate observer of Middlesex life in his poem entitled “Middlesex” written in 1954) who successfully fought to save it. In Collin’s Guide to English Parish Churches, Betjeman described Christ Church as ‘A huge, heavy galleon of white Portland stone anchored among the red-brick Queen Anne houses of the weavers.’ It took decades to raise the money for the full restoration that has finally returned one of the capital’s most stunning churches to its full glory.
Above – Christ-Church, Spitalfields
Look Up To The Old Shop/Business Signage To Tap Into The Past
A number of old business frontages from times past still exist in the Spitalfields area, just adding to the feel of stepping back in time as you explore the surrounding streets.
The shop A Gold, at 42 Brushfield Street, below the Christchurch, Middlesex boundary sign – was owned by Amelia Gold a Hungarian Jew who ran a French millinery business from the premises in the 1880s. Her original shop sign still survives but the business is now known as Cundall & Garcia who supply lunch to the army of city workers in the area. 42 Brushfield Street is located inside what used to be Henry VIII’s artillery ground where soldiers once practised archery and musketry.
Donovan Bros (who sold packaging, paper bags and coloured papers) – below – can be found in Crispin Street.
Above – S Schwartz – Entrance to Worrell’s yard and dwelling house – Fournier St
The Anomaly of Fournier Street
Fournier Street also contains the unusual feature of having both a House No 11 and 11 and a half (rather than 11a and 11b)! I’ve not seen this strange numbering anywhere else – but if anyone has please comment below this article.
The Street With The County’s Name
Just a few hundred yards south of Spitalfields, another reminder of the County, is found in the form of Middlesex Street. In Tudor times, this street was known as Hogs Lane as it was thought that city bakers were allowed to keep pigs in the lane outside the city wall. Another theory is that the street was used as an ancient droving trail. By 1608, the area became a commercial district for second hand clothes and bric-a-brac known as Petticoat Lane. From the mid 18th century it became a centre of clothes manufacturing and sale of new garments. In about 1830, its name changed from Petticoat Lane to Middlesex Street (supposedly the Victorians were offended by a street with the same name as a ladies’ undergarment) but the old name continues to be used and associated with the market in the area.
Video Tours Of Middlesex Street
Watch the following clip to take a tour of modern day Middlesex Street.
or travel back in time to 1903 to take a stroll through the Sunday Market.
Summary Of Things To Do In Spitalfields
Immerse yourself in the life and times of a Huguenot family in Spitalfields in a visit to Denis Severs House at 18 Folgate Street.
It’s not often that I’m glad about bad weather but if the sun had been shining I might never have discovered one of Camden Town’s cultural gems – more of which later.
It’s been ages since I’ve visited Camden and I’d forgotten all about the crazy in your face vibe that seeps into your consciousness when visiting this part of Middlesex. Bold, brash and constantly evolving, Camden Town was made famous by films such as Withnail & I as well pop legends Amy Winehouse and Madness. However, the area had slightly more demure beginnings.
Until 1780 it was a small hamlet at the fork where the roads northward to Hampstead and Highgate diverged, known as the ‘Village of Mother Red Cap’ after its best-known public house which later became known as The World’s End (which was on the same site as the modern day pub from the late 18th century).
The area gained it’s name from Charles Pratt, 1st Earl of Camden in 1795 whose earldom was styled after his estate, Camden Palace near Chiselhurst in Kent and who began developing the area as a residential district from around 1791.
In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Camden like this: “Camden Town, a suburb of London, a sub-district, and three chapelries in St. Pancras parish and district, Middlesex. The suburb adjoins the north-east side of Regent’s Park, 3½ miles NW of St. Paul’s; is intersected by the Regent’s canal and by the North London and Northwestern railways; and has a railway station of Camden with telegraph, a railway station of Camden-Road, and three post offices, Camden-Town-High-street, Camden-Town-Park-street, and Camden-Road…”
The area continued to grow becoming a centre for the piano, organ and furniture industries. The 19th century saw development of an industrial site of distilleries and warehouses which produced world renowned gin!
The Regents Canal fed goods up to seagoing ships at the Limehouse basin for transportation to over parts of the UK and overseas.
However, the continued development of the railways and roads eventually made transportation by canal uneconomic. The warehouses overlooking the canal began to close down and the lock area fell into decline until the early 1970s when Dr Bill Fulford and Peter Wheeler bought what was then a run-down timber yard belonging to T E Dingwalls and, beginning with just 16 stalls, transformed the area into what is now known as Camden Lock Market
Many people think of Camden Market as just one destination, but there are at least 6 markets in the area – Camden Lock (probably the best known), Camden Stables Market, Canal Market, Buck Street Market, Inverness Market and one inside Electric Ballroom.
The walk up to Camden Lock Market along Chalk Farm Road from the station makes a good introduction to the general wackiness of the area. If you look up you’ll see some of the unusual facades on the buildings above the shops.
I tried a taster of some of these lovely gooey deserts at Inverness Street Market which you’ll pass on the way – definately worth a stop to indulge.
In the market itself, you’ll find a big selection of street food from all over the world. Just a shame that the weather was so wet so standing outdoors was not a comfortable experience and I didn’t see too many places where you could sit under cover.
After a bite to eat I spent the rest of my time wandering around the different stalls. If you’re a fan of arts, crafts, music and fashion you’ll find plenty to keep you interested.
The market has a sculpture of Amy Winehouse who used to work at Camden Market in the days before her fame.
Many of the streets in the area are also great for street art.
By the afternoon, the cold and damp started to get a bit much so I decided to get under cover and head over to Albert Street. Albert Street itself has a couple of Blue Plaques marking the former residences of notable people – namely for John Desmond Bernal a scientist who pioneered the use of X-ray crystallography (a technique for determining the atomic and molecular structure of a crystal) and George MacDonald, Scottish poet and author of fantasy literature whose writings were said to have influenced well known authors, such as W H Auden, C S Lewis & T R R Tolkien.
129-131 Albert Street is also the home of the Jewish Museum. At this point I was glad to get somewhere warm and dry.
Having been outside for a while my hands were starting to turn numb. Fortunately, the Jewish Museum has a nice little cafe where I could warm up with a hot chocolate. The museum is a fantastic place to spend a couple of hours learning about the Jewish faith.
Here you learn information such as the background to regular rituals like the Sabath (Judaism’s day of rest and seventh day of the week, holy days such as Yom Kippur (atonement and reconciliation through fasting) and the festival of Purim ( the saving of the Jewish people from Haman, who was planning to kill all the Jews). You’ll hear the stories of people from the earliest East End Jewish communities and details of their day to day lives and work. You’ll also view some beautiful items of Jewish ceremonial art.
At the time of my visit, there was also a very moving exhibition charting the experiences of Leon Greenman and his family who (despite their British nationality) were deported to the Nazi concentration camp of Aschwitz-Birkenau in 1943.
Table Top (1850) with Picture of the New Synagogue, Bishopsgate
It was still raining when I left the museum just before closing at 5pm but I had had a really satisfying afternoon here. The Jewish Museum isn’t the best known of attractions in Camden but I’m so glad to have spent some time here. It’s great to know that even for a been there, done that local, such as myself, there are still fascinating museums like this waiting to be discovered. I would go so far as to say that this museum should be on every Camden visitor’s list of places to see being as much a reflection of this colourful community as some of the more expected pulls such as the market and pubs/clubs.
Jewish Museum London
Raymond Burton House
129-131 Albert Street
+44 (0)20 7284 7384 – Open Monday to Sunday 10am-5pm
Nearest Tube Station: Camden Town, Northern Line
Camden Lock Pl, NW1 8AF – Open Monday to Sunday 10am-7pm
Watch this short You Tube clip to learn more about The Jewish Museum.
Adam Street rather than Downing! This road can be found just round the back of The Strand. No 10 Adam Street, WC2 has become something of a tourist hot-spot for photos due to its similarity to a certain famous address.
This area is known as the Adelphi district (Adelphi from the Greek adelphoi meaning “brothers”). The names of some streets in this area such as Adam Street, Robert Street and John Adam Street are dedicated to the Adam brothers, constructors of the original Georgian houses on the site.
Robert Adams’ inspiration for the buildings was the ruined palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian at Sapalto (modern day Split in Croatia) which he surveyed in 1755 as part of his Grand Tour.
Looking right from No 10 you get a view up towards The Strand towards the grade II listed Adelphi Theatre. The first theatre on this site was opened in 1806 and called The Sans Pareil. It was built by John Scott a local businessman who made his fortune from a laundry product called ‘True Blue’. The theatre was built for his daughter to display her many talents and act as Theatre Manager. The Sans Pareil changed its name to the Adelphi in 1829. The current building was opened is the fourth on this site and was opened in 1930.
Turing left from No 10 you come to No 8 Adam Street which was the home of inventor of the spinning-frame and industrialist Richard Arkwright from 1732-1792 who was described by the writer Thomas Carlyle as “a plain, almost gross, bag-cheeked, pot-bellied Lancashire man, with an air of painful reflection.” Arkwright began his working life apprenticed to a barber in Bolton eventually progressing to the trade of hair buyer (after his discovery of a method of preparing and dyeing hair for a wig-maker). Through his hair buying activities in cotton spinning districts he became aware of talk of the need for a more efficient means of spinning and it is said that on his travels he saw a spinning jenny that could spin 8 threads at once and decided to adapt the process to cotton. He became the first manufacturer of cotton goods on a large scale through the use of water power and later of steam.
Continuing down Adam Street on the right you can see a side view of the art deco Portland stone Adelphi Building completed in 1938 and refurbished in 2015 (now office space). The building was constructed on the site of the great riverfront terrace of Adelphi (constructed by the Adams brothers) which was demolished to make way for the building. Photos show carved coats of arms of various UK cities. The end of Adam street runs down to Adelphi Terrace.
Walking back up Adam Street and turning left into John Adam Street there are more impressive views of the Adelphi building.
The artist and caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson who lived a house on the site of no 16. Rowlandson studied at the Royal Academy and in Paris. He was described as a promising student but inherited £7,000 after upon the death of his Aunt and embarked upon a gambling frenzy sometimes sitting for 36 hours at a time at the table. Falling into a life of poverty, Rowlandson took to caricature to fill an empty wallet. Maybe the people he met at this time were an inspiration for his work as he created many memorable comedic street life characters such as the antiquarian, the blowsy barmaid, the Grub Street hack and was said to be responsible for the development of the personification of the United Kingdom into the character of John Bull (also depicted by other caricaturists at the time).
Rowlandson’s patron and friend Matthew Michell collected hundreds of his paintings which Michell displayed at his country residence, Grove House in Enfield, Middlesex. After Michell’s death his nephew, Sir Henry Onslow, sold the contents of Grove House at an eight-day sale in November 1818.
Turning left into Buckingham Street at the end of the road you can find the site of a house lived in by The Father of Geology – William Smith – who created the first nationwide geological map.
Smith was a man of humble education who became a surveyor involved in the construction of canals up and down the UK. From his studies as a surveyor, Smith was able to put together a record of where certain minerals/rocks and soil – such as coal, iron and clay – could be found. Invaluable information to fuel the age of the industrial revolution!
At 0:41 of the video below showing a sketch of the 19th century map you can see clearly see The County of Middlesex. Perhaps the green shown on the surrounding counties represents the chalk deposits in the soil of these regions?
Through the ages, a succession of notable people lived on the site opposite William Smith’s House including diarist Samuel Pepys from 1633-1703 (who lived at no 12 and then at no 14). A blurred, smiling Pepys ghost was claimed to have been seen several times on the staircase of this building in 1953.
At first glance the new hi-tech Bloomsburg HQ looked like an unlikely place to discover the remains of a building from the days of the Roman Empire.
Just a short stroll from Bank Tube Station at No 12 Walbrook (across the street from Starbucks) the London Mithraeum, one of the city’s newest museums, is located within this HQ building and is the home of the ancient Roman Temple of Mithras.
A vibrant tapestry and steel sculpture by artist Isabel Nolan, although interesting in its own right, might have been more appropriate at Tate Modern and felt a little unexpected at the entrance to this ancient place of worship.
Nevertheless, I was very curious to see what delights this slice of Roman Britain which had been described in it’s publicity material as an ‘immersive experience’, had to offer.
The Temple of Mithras has had a rather unfortunate time since its discovery on this site back in 1954 during post World War 2 excavations. Initially it was a huge attraction, capturing the imagination of the public and bringing an estimated 400,000 visitors to this part of the city. However, due to planned reconstruction of the area, it was decided that the temple should be dismantled. Sadly, for some years, this remarkable find languished in a builder’s yard. It was then reconstructed in 1962 on a street level roof of a car park on Queen Victoria Street where it remained unceremoniously sandwiched between ugly crazy paving.
As part of the terms for redevelopment of the site, Bloomsburg agreed to re-incorporate the Temple and happily it has again been reconstructed and returned to it’s original home on the banks of one of London’s lost rivers – the Walbrook.
For the purposes of this post, I’ve divided into the London Mithraeum exhibition into 3 areas and I shall explain a bit about my experience visiting each in the sections below.
Area One: Cabinet of Finds
Upon arrival, I received a short verbal introduction to the project with a small group of other visitors. I then had the opportunity to explore an amazing collection of artefacts which had been excavated in a large glass fronted cabinet. At this stage, each person is handed an i-pad which you use to click on the shape of each find to obtain more detailed information. Here are photos of just a few of the items that you can view in this display.
Area 2: Exploring The Beliefs And Rituals of Mithraism
It is believed that followers would wait in a separate darkened chamber before climbing down some steps to enter the temple and this area of the exhibition has recreated this atmosphere.
Information is obtained through 3 touch screen pedestals and recorded commentary by actress/presenter Joanna Lumley.
As the space is limited, your admission to the temple has to be in a timed slot, so you have the opportunity to take some time here to learn a bit about what you’re going to see until you’re given the go-ahead to enter the temple by the member of staff supervising the entrance.
The Cult of Mithras first appeared in Rome in the 1st century AD. Only men were permitted to join the Cult which mainly attracted merchants, soldiers and imperial administrators. Temples were often below ground, secluded, dark and windowless places. The iconic sculpture of the God Mithras killing a sacred bull – is known as the ‘Tauroctony’ (discovered in 1889) and is at the heart of the Cult (however, experts don’t believe that a bull was ever slayed in this particular temple). The 12 signs of the Zodiac encircle the central scene of Mithras slaying the bull and represent the cycle of a full year.
The men who met here made offerings to Mithras which they believed could assist them in their everyday lives. Initiation rituals and feasts gave the members a shared sense of identity and their own unique understanding of the world. The sculpted head of the God Mithras from AD200 was discovered during excavations in 1954. This find confirmed that a Mithraeum once stood on this site. The head was once part of a life-sized bull slaying scene which formed the focal point of the temple. Mithras (wearing a distinctive soft cap) is shown gazing away to the right of the bull and some scholars think that he may have been looking up to Sol, the Sun God, in search of approval or direction. Both the Tauroctony and the Sculpted Head of Mithras can be viewed in the Roman Gallery of the Museum of London.
Area 3: The Temple of Mithras
You enter the Temple area through some heavy curtains and it’s quite dark and hard to see at first. The room then gets slightly lighter, a back-lit representation of Mithras slaying the bull appears and in the background audio you can hear voices and Latin chanting. Cult members would have sat on timber benches on the higher side of the aisles enabling them to view the rituals being performed. The best view for visitors may be had on the raised platform near the entrance if you do not have too many people in front of you.
You are allowed to take photos without using a flash. Below are a few pics of the temple area.
Planning Your Visit and Pros/Cons
It is advisable to book your visit in advance online as slots are timed and there is no guarantee you will get in if you just turn up. Click here to make your booking. Tickets are FREE of charge.
London Mithraeum is more of an experience for the senses rather than a traditional museum. There are not loads of cabinets or information that you spend hours browsing – I only spent about an hour there altogether. You have a limited amount of time (approx 15 minutes) in the temple itself as your slot is timed, so it’s probably best to relax and try take in the atmosphere imagining what it would have been like to be a visitor to the temple in Roman times.
It’s well worth visiting but if you’re in London for the day, you could think about combining this activity with something else. A good idea might be to visit to The Museum of London – Roman Gallery (also FREE admission) where you can view some of the original sculptures which were found on the London Mithraeum site – Head of Serapis (God of the Underworld), Head of Minerva (Goddess of Wisdom), Neptune/River God, Roman God/Genius. I’ve posted some pics of these sculptures today on my Facebook page @middlesaxons.
In Area 2, at the time of my visit, I found it quite busy around the pedestals with everyone trying to get information on the temple at the same time, so found it better to sit on the long bench and listen to the commentary and then look more fully at the on-screen information in my own time after viewing the temple. If you decide to do this too, the disadvantage is that you won’t have such a broad overview of what you’re about to see so you might like to do a little research before your visit to get some background information.
If you would like to explore the story of the Roman occupation of Britain in a bit more detail, you might also like to take a day trip to the town of Colchester (known in Roman times as Camulodunum – which was the Roman capital of Britain).
Here you can walk around the Roman walls and visit Colchester Castle which was constructed on the foundations of the Roman Temple of Claudius. You can view the foundations of the temple on a guided tour of the Castle. In the Castle Museum you can learn more about the Roman occupation of the town and view their collection of finds from in and around the area – including the Colchester Mercury – see pic below.
Colchester is about an hour’s train journey from London Liverpool Street Station. You can book your train tickets in advance and get timetable details via National Rail Enquiries. The Visit Colchester website is a good source of information on the town and the Castle Museum website can provide details on tickets and opening hours.
Learn more about the London Mithraeum from this short You Tube Clip.
Today marks marks the start of the festive season of Christmas and in the coming weeks many of us will be sending cards featuring a rotund bearded man dressed in a red suit. The image of Father Christmas seems to have been around forever but it is a lesser known fact that this character actually originated from the legend of St Nicholas.
As today is St Nicholas Day, in honour of this special saint, here are 8 things you may not know about this day and how his legend merged with that of the more familiar figure of Father Christmas:
– St Nicholas is known as The Bringer of Gifts.
– He was born in Patara, a land that is part of present-day Turkey around AD 280.
– His parents were very wealthy but died in an epidemic when he was still young. Nicholas used his whole inheritance to help the needy, the sick, and the suffering.
– One of the best known stories which surrounds Nicholas concerns that of a poor man who couldn’t afford a dowry for his daughters. Without this payment the daughters would not have been able to marry and would likely have ended up as prostitutes so Nicholas threw 3 bags of gold coins through his window overnight saving them from this fate. Many people believe that the three gold balls in pawn brokers’ windows symbolise the bags of coins and St Nicholas is still known as the Patron Saint of Pawn Brokers.
– St Nicholas is also the patron saint of sailors. According to legend when a ship full of wheat made port in his town, he asked the sailors to give half their supply so he could feed the poor, promising they’d still have the same amount in their stock. The sailors did as instructed, and as the story goes, they still had the same amount of wheat in their ship by the time they made port in Constantinople.
– Nicholas was known as a passionate and defiant defender of church doctrine during the “Great Persecution,” when Bibles were burnt and priests made to renounce Christianity or face execution. His defiance led to him spending many years in prison.
– After the reformation in the 16th century (separation of the Protestant and Catholic churches), the stories and traditions about St Nicholas became unpopular but someone still had to deliver presents to children at Christmas, so in the UK and particularly in England, he became ‘Father Christmas’ or ‘Old Man Christmas’ – an old character from some stories/plays from the middle ages.
– St Nicholas Day is celebrated in many European countries today such as Germany, Belgium, Czech Republic and the Netherlands. Children leave their shoes out overnight on 5th December and awaken to find them filled with presents the next day.
Below – Father Christmas unable to find his reindeer so having to get the bus instead!