News (and stuff) from London E3

Saturday 7 May 2011

Memorial, She Attended

If you'd been standing by the bus stop opposite Bow Church this afternoon, you might have spotted a larger than normal car pulling up between two bendy buses. You might then have noticed four people getting out, one of them an 85 year old woman. You'd have seen she was dressed impeccably, in a navy jacket with cream slacks, and that her hair was a lightly sculpted grey. You'd have noted that she was a little unsteady on her feet as she walked, supported, to the nearby pedestrian crossing. You'd have watched her party cross and enter the churchyard gates, then walk down the long path to St Mary's door. And you might well have thought "hang on, I recognise that face from somewhere, but was it from the golden age of Hollywood or just some actress who did daytime TV?" And unless you knew what was going on, you'd probably have wandered off none the wiser. But yes, there really was a celebrity in E3's midst on Saturday - none other than screen legend Angela Lansbury.

Never fear, Angela wasn't here in her role as Jessica Fletcher, so there was no sudden unexpected outbreak of murders for her keen eye to investigate. Instead she'd flown over specially from Los Angeles to attend a memorial service for her grandfather, George Lansbury, who died on this day in 1940. The East End adored George, who became Poplar's Mayor, its local MP and ultimately the leader of the Labour Party. He never quite made it to be Prime Minister because Stanley Baldwin got the nod instead, and was edged out of politics in the late 1930s when his pacifism failed to capture the national mood. And he worshipped weekly at St Mary's, hence the special service this weekend. It's just the sort of event that Bow's latest rector liked to organise, and he'll have been instrumental in inviting Angela across the Atlantic to unveil a plaque to her grandfather's memory. Alas the Reverend Michael Peet died last month, following a recurrence of cancer, and his funeral was held at the church two days before George's memorial service. He'll be a hard act to follow - one of nature's natural campaigners, founder member of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Move­ment and a much-loved member of the community. St Mary's is celebrating its 700th anniversary this November, and Michael had a whole series of special events planned which will go ahead in his honour. But hereabouts 2011 is more likely to be remembered for the two commemorations of the first week of May. From Hollywood to Bow, they will not be forgotten.

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Local news for local people

Bow Riverside: If you've looked down into the River Lea from the Bow Flyover recently, you'll have noticed a metal armada has invaded. The entire river's now blocked to traffic, unless you're kayak sized, brushed aside by a platform of flat barges topped off with tall metal pipes. These'll be here for five months during the construction of a new footbridge across the Lea, plus a floating towpath which'll finally allow cyclists and ramblers to cross the Bow Interchange in safety. This will be similar to the floating towpath on the Limehouse Cut only prettier, if this design mockup is to be believed. I've also found a model of what the final scheme's meant to look like, and there's rather more being built here than I expected. The eastern riverbank is being artificially widened where the new footbridge lands, while opposite a new zigzag path will be driven up to road level through a "complimentary waterside habitat" (as the dyslexic press release has it). And the whole thing looks to be one link too excessive, to be honest, because this extra exit emerges a few yards from the existing ramp on the same side of the road, thereby providing no useful additional crossing of either river or roundabout. The floating towpath will be fantastic for those following the River Lea Walk, and about time too, but it's bugger all practical use to us locals who want to cross the roundabout without being mowed down by traffic. This is a High Street 2012 project, in conjunction with British Waterways and the Thames Gateway Development Corporation, and their £2.5m investment in my local area is to be applauded. But as for their laughable suggestion that the Bow Riverside project "will reconnect communities", I can guarantee that nobody who lives around here wrote that. [photo]

Water Chariots: While we're talking local Lea, you've probably heard that there are plans for a waterbus service to the Olympic Park during the 2012 Games. What you probably haven't seen is the company's website. They're promising a ferry service to Old Ford Lock every twenty minutes, from either Tottenham Hale or Limehouse, the latter of which seems a perversely inaccessible launching-off point. A return trip will set you back all of £20, which sounds like somebody's jumping on the profiteering Olympic bandwagon. Or maybe you'd prefer to take one of the company's pleasure cruises to Victoria Park, price unspecified, during the months leading up to the Games. A canal trip's always lovely, except that the Limehouse Cut perhaps isn't the loveliest of waterways for sightseeing purposes. According to the blurb, the route involves "cruising serenely under the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road" (you what?), then passing Three Mills, "an area of exceptional beauty, right in the heart of the city" (apart from the giant Tesco on the west bank, sure). The boat trips are "due to start in March 2011", apparently, although the blockage I mentioned in the paragraph above means there couldn't possibly be any cruises before July. I'd love to see a local waterbus float, but if this business model survives eighteen months without sinking I'll be amazed.

High Street 2012: Even more pre-Olympic money is being thrown at a cluster of buildings around Bow Church to spruce them up and reverse years of neglect. About a dozen historic buildings between 161 and 205 Bow Road are benefiting from restoration work, with a special emphasis on "crumbling pointing, peeling paintwork, cracked render and eroded brickwork." The scaffolding's been erected only just in time to preserve number 199, which is on English Heritage's At Risk register, and until recently looked more like a slum clearance than a 17th century shop. Up the road I'm dying to see what enforced renovation will look like at the King's Arms, once the local pub, now a tawdry guest house with the most ghastly unprofessional stickyback-plastic lettering flapping across the front. Repairs continue until November, in line with long-planned restoration deadlines. And by Olympic Marathon Sunday the scrubbed-up heart of Bow should be ready to face the world's TV cameras... if only any of them were passing by.

Cycle Superhighway 2: Aren't they making a mess trying to drive a blue bikelane along the A11? Weeks of digging up pavements, merely to make the road one metre wider. Traffic lights disassembled, fractionally shifted and realigned. Paving slabs relaid so that the surface level is no longer flat. Titchy strips of off-street cycle lane that'll improve rider safety for approximately six seconds. Etc etc etc. Next week a month and a half of reconfiguring starts on the Bow Roundabout, and I for one am fearing the worst. Expect a much longer post on this subject when managers finally claim the project to be complete.

Saturday 15 January 2011

Mmm, local Bow news:
• The Olympic Marathon's still not coming to Bow, despite much protest. On a similar theme, but much smaller scale, one of London 2012's directors took his team for a jog around Bow last week. Past the Bromley-by-Bow Centre, along Roman Road and around Vicky Park, before returning down the Greenway to Three Mills. And he enjoyed running around Bow so much that he blogged about it, at length. Brilliant local stuff. And yet, in praising the wonderfulness of the area for running, simultaneously incredibly bloody tactless.
• Keen-eyed viewers of Thursday's EastEnders will have spotted the platforms at Walford East making their very first on-screen appearance as Charlie Slater made his farewell from the series. Keen-eared viewers will have heard "The next station is Bow Road", which seemed finally to confirm the long-held understanding that fictional Walford East takes the place of Bromley-by-Bow on the District line. However, even keener-eyed viewers will have been disappointed to spot a Northern line train rolling into the platform. Alas it seems that all the scenes were filmed at East Finchley, umpteen miles away from E3.
• TfL have finally got round to publishing the implementation programme for the installation of Cycle Superhighway 2 between Aldgate and Bow. Worryingly it appears they think they've finished the stretch between Mile End and Bow Road stations (apart from a replacement toucan crossing to be installed next month). Sorry, but if that intermittent unsafe blue strip is supposed to be be finished, then the project's a complete joke. Work from Campbell Road to the Bow Roundabout starts on March 10th (sheesh, for 66 days), and at the roundabout itself on March 29th (for 25). No details of these final two construction packages are yet available, but I hope they're a damned sight more practical than the last attempt.
• DLR users between Bow Church and Stratford should be aware the railway will be shut next weekend, and the Sunday after, and the first two Sundays in March, and the following weekend, and the first Sunday in April, and the following weekend, and the whole of the Easter weekend, and the long May Day bank holiday weekend [full dates]. All of this is "due to Crossrail engineering works", more specifically construction of the Pudding Mill Lane Portal, so expect further regular closures between now and September 2013. In better news, Crossrail works will no longer require the diversion of two sewers in Wick Lane, meaning that Grove Hall Park will no longer need to be hijacked as as a construction site.

Friday 7 January 2011

The Balfron project

West London's Trellick Tower has a less famous older brother on the other side of the capital. That's the Balfron Tower - a Brutalist 27-storey apartment block, located just north of the Blackwall Tunnel. Both have a similar silhouette, both were designed by Erno Goldfinger, and both are admired from the outside by people who'd probably never dream of living on the inside. The architect himself was an exception. Goldfinger and his wife moved into the Balfron Tower soon after it was built, and spent a couple of months living in flat 130 on the top floor to find out what living here was like.

The latest creative type to move in is Australian artist Simon Terrill. He spends his time visiting communities, gaining their trust and then taking a giant photograph. He's been able to do that here in Poplar courtesy of the Bow Arts Trust, who moved him in as artist in residence and enabled the realisation of his project. The Balfron Project.

The key date: Thursday 18th November 2010. Simon encouraged residents at the tower to be at home around 6pm, then to come out on their balconies (or wherever) for an hour while the event took place. He set up cameras and catering outside, and illuminated the entire front of the building with bright spotlights. Then he stood on a nearby rooftop taking photographs approximately five minutes apart - ten separate images in total. And from these he eventually picked one picture that best represented the people of Balfron and their beguiling building. This single image has now been printed out, on the rather-large side, and forms the culmination of the entire undertaking.

That photograph is currently on view at the Nunnery Studios on Bow Road. This is the public face of the project, for the next three weekends, so that residents (and the rest of us) can drop in and see what they looked like.
The Balfron Project
Gallery Event
06 Jan 2011 - 23 Jan 2011
Opening times: Friday - Sunday: 1 - 5 pm
It's not the most inviting gallery, the Nunnery, from the outside. Hidden up a side alley near Bow Church, rarely signposted to catch passing footfall, and requiring a ring on the doorbell to gain entry. But things are more welcoming within. Three rooms in total, the first with a language-mangled Tower of Babel theme. Someone's had fun jumbling up various literary forms, from email to poetry, although the impenetrability wears a little thin after the first couple of sheets. Other than that, the entire exhibit's text free. If you don't ask the curator, or if you haven't read up in advance, you won't have a clue what's going on.

Next up, rather wonderfully, a timelapse film of the entire recording session viewed from afar. It starts in daylight, with late afternoon rain splotching against the camera until eventually (thankfully) it dries up. Clouds rush past as dusk falls, and the traffic on the A12 transforms into a stream of headlamps. At this scale the residents look really tiny, but some are visible as they wave to the camera, and there's definitely a disco underway in one of the flats on a halfway floor. The hour of official illumination speeds by, then the lightshow fades and the Balfron returns to peaceful night. Throw in a slideshow at the other end of the gallery showing the residents out and about and dressed up on the day, and you get a real flavour of what fun the photoshoot must have been.

Finally, with the third gallery to itself, Simon's photograph. The tower's six foot tall at this scale, easily large enough to pick out what's going on in some of the flats and balconies (yes, definitely a disco). A family group peers out from one of the windows in the liftblock walkways. There's a premature Christmas decoration top left, and three great lights blaring out from the roof. Some of the residents didn't play ball, and their flats are dim, or maybe they belong to the people standing out front at ground level in warm winter woolies. The mural invites close examination, maybe even to reveal "ooh look, that's me!"

Don't come specially from the other side of town - you may take longer walking from Bow Road station than you'll spend inside the gallery. But what a great idea to take a snapshot of a building and its community and to exhibit it with pride. The most unusual fraction of a second in the life of the Balfron, forever captured.