london diary

August 2006


my london diary

august i mainly spent away from london, dropping in for the occasional day to download images, wash dirty clothes and catch up on sleep and work. probably in time i'll put some of my images from kent, paris and elsewhere on line, but this isn't the place for them.

my london is a pretty flexible area, and takes in all of the greater london area and everywhere else within the m25, as well as obvious extensions including the area covered by the thames gateway plans for a mega-city covering a much wider area than the present boundaries. one of the growth axes is the high speed rail link from france, with stations at stratford and swanscombe (as well as ashford, close to the tunnel mouth.)

the areas around these stations are both places i've photographed at intervals since the early 1980s, and i made a couple of visits to them again close to the end of the month. swanscombe, best known for the early human remains - swanscombe man - found there, is in the centre of what was a major cement industry (a little of which still remains) with some dramatic landscape formed by quarrying.

i started my visit there at greenhithe, still a thames-side village at its centre, but now dwarfed by new housing developments and the huge shopping centre in a former quarry at bluewater. this time i gave that a miss and took a look at the housing developments on the riverfront. this is a prestige scheme that has retained 'ingres abbey' and the core of its fine grounds, where there is now a heritage walk. The grounds, in a an old chalk quarry with high cliffs, were provided with follies and landscaped in the 18th century by sir william chambers and later by lancelot 'capability' brown, but the 17th century house at their centre was demolished in 1815 when the navy had plans for a huge riverside dockyard. After these plans were dropped, it was sold to a london alderman and barrister, james harman who built a large 'gothic revival' private house there in 1833. harman had hoped to attract other wealthy londoners to develop parts of the extensive grounds for their own villas in this scenic area, hoping it would rival riverside developments as those in chiswick and richmond, but failed to attract any takers. part of the site to the east was later sold for the building of the empire paper mills, and the navy again took an interest in the area, mooring the training ship hms worcester in front of the abbey in 1871, and also acquiring some of the estate. the thames nautical training college continued in use until 1989, and had some large concrete buildings from the 1970s.

harman's dream has been partly completed now by the developers, who have won awards for their handling of this 'brownfield' site. the house and the various follies were listed buildings and have been retained (fortunately for the developers, neither the paper mill nor the training college gained listing.)

although the architecture of the new housing is perhaps pedestrian (although not suburban), the abbey and its surroundings immediate have been restored (although most of brown's parkland is now under housing.) the development is high density, but there are quality touches in the street furniture. the spacious lawn in front of the house ( offices for a high-tech company) has its impressive steps, but the housing is terraced town houses with balconies rather than gardens.

from here i cycled on to the open emptiness of swanscombe marsh. in the distance the heaps of spoil from the channel rail link which burrows under the thames here. the piers now derelict and closed off, used only by a few fishermen. the pilgrims road no longer leads up to the village, cut off by the work on the link.

past the giant pylons carrying the grid across the thames, i came to the saltings on broadness marshes and was rather surprised to see these still in use as moorings. the tide was high as i walked down beside them, and a boat made its way out. another was being worked on near the landward end, but otherwise the place seemed deserted.
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saturday we walked another section of the london loop, from moor park to borehamwood. we walked at least 12 miles, partly because we did get lost at one point in the woods. the book on the london loop is written by someone who has no idea how to give directions, there are plenty (often too many of them) but they are often vague, where a few hints at distances would help. most of this part of the route isn't waymarked, and where it is, some key marks are missing.

if you are thinking of following this route, i'd suggest spending a few hours with a map and straightening out some of the kinks. parts of it have some really silly diversions, one of which means that you miss the most interesting apporach to little stanmore and get treated instead to some rather boring back gardens. another leads along a busy road and means you need to detour to walk the aldenham reservoir dam. but mainly they just pointlessly lengthen the route to take you through yet another stretch of not particularly distinguished home counties woodland or across another golf course.
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sunday morning found me in east ham, where the hindu sri mahalakshmi temple was holding its chariot festival. it was a colourful and friendly event, but i'd soon taken enough pictures. its hard to show the flames when the offerings of food are made to the god, and difficult to catch the colour of the occasion.
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on my way back from east ham i stopped off at bromley-by-bow and walked up to stratford high street and along the rivers there. parts were so thickly covered with bright green growth that they looked as if i could have walked along them. there was another site demolished on the high street, with new housing starting to go up
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but the big event of august is always notting hill carnival, and i was there both on the sunday afternoon for childrens' day and for the main event on the monday, shooting both black and white film and colour digital (though when i'll get round to processing the film is anyone's guess.) perhaps is because i'm getting older, but i didn't get the same buzz from this year's event as in previous years, though most of the same things seemed to be around. perhaps there lies the problem; most of them did seem to be the same, two years on from when i last photographed the event. last year i tried to go, dragging myself to the station with a knee injury, but the pain was too much to continue. this year my knee held out, though i was glad to sink into a seat on the underground at latimer road at the end of the day.
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the last day of the month was the ninth anniversary of diane's death, and her fans, including members of the diana circle, were at kensington palace to mark the event, taping flowers and tributes to the gates and fence. i'd gone to meet dave, who had photographed the scenes in the days immediately following her death.

the fans had come from all over the country, and from germany and elsewhere. father frank gelli, who was curate of st mary abbots just down the road at the time of her death, led prayers at a short memorial service. throughout the day, more people arrived with tributes and flowers. next year on the 10th anniversary there are hopes for a bigger event.

kensington palace has had a bit of a facelift, doubtless benefitting from the diane effect on visitor numbers. however, rather than taking a visit there, we went to visit the elephant and castle, and old press pub, taking a short detour through st mary abbots on our way.
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later in parliament square i got a small badge 'mass lone demonstration 31/8 parliament square'. this was an idea from mark thomas, who had suggested that as many people as possible should give the required one weeks notice to the police that they planned a solo demonstration in parliament square from 6-7pm. i'm not sure how many did, though there were perhaps around 50 with different placards while i was there. if i'd heard about it in time, i would perhaps have applied and arrived with a poster "end police harassment of photographers".

one of the stupidest things that the labour government have done was to try to pass a law to get rid of brian haw, whose continuing protest opposite the houses of parliament was causing minor embarrasment to labour ministers, particularly mr blair. they managed to tag it on to something called socpa, the serious organised crime and police act 2005. the blunt weapon they wielded banned all demonstrations without a weeks notice within a kilometre or so of parliament, and much to their disappointment it has so far failed to get rid of brian. actually he's a reasonable man, and if they had instead done something serious to stop children being killed in iraq he would have been out of the square immediately.

instead they choose to strike at free speech for all of us. it's a law that has so far resulted in some farcial prosecutions (though with serious consequences for those taken to court.) many of the police i've talked to obviously feel the law is an ass, and resent having to try and enforce it. Often they've turned their backs and walked away from illegal events (or even escorted the people carrying them out when they were company directors), but it has also wasted huge amounts of public money when they have been pushed into action.

one of the provisions of the law is that a lone demonstration - one person with a placard - is automatically to be granted permission provided a week's notice is given, although conditions may be attached either when the permission is granted or by a police officer on the spot. it was mark thomas who had the idea that there could be a large number of such demonstrations at the same time and place, and it was made public on several blogs and web sites.

those taking part were encouraged to pick their own subject of protest - serious or silly - and you can see some of these in my pictures. brian haw, who has received limited permission to use a megaphone, was able to do so.
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Greenhithe & Swanscombe Marsh

Friday 25 August, 2006
Greenhithe + Swanscombe Marshes © 2006, Peter Marshall
Moorings in Broadness Salt March and detergent works at South Stifford.
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London Loop: Moor Park to Borehamwood

Sat 26 August, 2006
London Loop: Moor Park to Borehamwood © 2006, Peter Marshall
The lake where W S Gilbert drowned was almost dry.
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Sri Mahalakshmi Temple Chariot Festival

East Ham, London. Sunday August 27th, 2006
Sri Mahalakshmi Temple Chariot Festival © 2006, Peter Marshall
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Lea Navigation and Bow Back Rivers

Stratford, London. Sunday August 27th, 2006
Lea Navigation, Stratford © 2006, Peter Marshall
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Notting Hill Carnival - Childrens Day

Notting Hill, London. Sunday 27 Aug 2006
Notting Hill Carnival: Childrens' Day © 2006, Peter Marshall
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Notting Hill Carnival

Notting Hill, London. Monday 28 Aug 2006

Notting Hill Carnival © 2006, Peter Marshall
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Princess Diane, 9th Anniversary commemoration

Kensington Palace, London Thursday 31 Aug, 2006
Princess Diane, 9th Anniversary commemoration, Kensington Palace © 2006, Peter Marshall
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Mass Lone Demonstration

Parliament Square, London. Thursday 31 Aug, 2006
Mass Lone Demonstration, Parliament Square, 31/08 © 2006, Peter Marshall
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