The Greening Of England

Great Britain


I live just off the very unlovely Euston Road, one of the most polluted routes in one of Europe’s most polluted cities. It’s horrible to walk down, and quite impossible to do so during rush hour. As someone who has suffered lifelong chest problems, I find myself with permanent hay fever-like symptoms when I’m on it – but you only have to drop two streets back for the air to improve dramatically.

How to cut traffic, though? A survey discovered that most vehicles in the South London area of Brixton were private cars passing through on the way to somewhere else. Most had a single occupant, which makes driving such vehicles in cities selfish, unpleasant and often dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists. Plans to redress the balance have been around for years.

After the collapse of the Thames Vanity Bridge, there have been other more sensible ideas to cut pollution and get people walking again. Now the campaign to have London declared the world’s first city national park is nearing fruition. The proposals would see new buildings in Fleet Street made out of a “modular, living building material” permeated with native wildflower seeds and containing its own irrigation reservoir.

All very nice – but what real chance is there of this happening?

Well, out of anywhere I can think of Fleet Street might just be the best bet. Since the presses moved out it’s been a bit of a dead zone, even though it’s a key link between the West End and the City. That CAD-rendering above may be fanciful, but the greening of London buildings has happened before, for Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887. The plants stayed around for a long time after; here’s the Empire Theatre in Leicester Square.

The Empire Theatre, Leicester Square, London, decorated for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, June 1897

As we know, plants are tough to maintain well. Remember the craze for vertical gardens a few years back? They appeared after the development of computerised waters systems, but how many of them are left now? And what happened to ambitious plans once proposed for Oxford Street that were supposed to make a pedestrianised link between Tottenham Court Road and Hyde Park?

Perhaps Oxford Street was too much of a leap, but Fleet Street is a real possibility. Other ambitious projects have taken off; by 2020 England’s new coastal path will go all the way round the country’s coastline, and a quick look at the map of our island, with its countless inlets, estuaries, wetlands and jagged prongs, shows it has a projected total length of 2,795 miles.

Of course, such ambitious projects can only advance in the city if someone is willing to divert cash to the project. The plans look beautiful, but given our track record on such initiatives, don’t hold your breath.

15 comments on “The Greening Of England”

  1. Brian Evans says:

    We solved the pollution problem when we lived by the Euston Road. We moved. First to Surry Quays-the dockland redevelopment-an oasis of quiet, then to a village in Lancashire. My partner still hankers after London, so we kept our flat on in Judd St-he is there now, but when ever I go back (as little as poss), I tense up as soon as I walk out of Euston Station. It’s not just the pollution, it’s the noise.

    However, Chris, you are a born and bred Londoner, and you would wither away if you had to live in our village. You would willingly walk back to London barefooted over hot cinders to get back to the Euston Road.

  2. Chris Webb says:

    I finished your Book of Forgotten Authors yesterday and thought it deserved a few comments. (Off-topic, sorry!) Glad to see I had not heard of most of the writers – I’d have felt cheated if I had!

    The only Margery Allingham I have read is The Crime at Black Dudley and, not to beat about the bush, I thought it was awful. One of the worst books I have ever read. The storyline was just absurd, and Campion himself seemed capable only of making stupid, facetious and irrelevant comments. You described him as the least annoying detective in crime fiction – I found him the most annoying. Strange how two people can have such differing opinions of the same books.

    Norman Collins’ London Belongs to Me is superb. At that time most fiction was for and about the upper middle classes, with the criminal underclasses brought in to provide a thrill when necessary. The vast majority of “ordinary” people were largely ignored, but London Belongs to Me gives an unpatronising glimpse of life from the point of view of ordinary folk of my grandparent’s generation. The only comparable works I know of are by Patrick Hamilton, most notably his Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky trilogy.

    My father had a copy of a book called Arthur Mee’s London. I never looked at it but always thought it was a scholarly and dry treatise on fine architecture in the Nikolaus Pevsner style, but from your book I see I must have been completely wrong. I think the book went to a charity shop but maybe I’ll try to track down a copy.

    So Maria Lopez wrote more than four thousand books? FOUR THOUSAND? I can’t find anything about her specifically (she’s obviously lost amongst all the other people with the same name). I can probably survive without having ready any of her books though. What genre(s) did she write in?

    Surprised to Arnold Ridley included, although I was aware he had been a playwright and of his distinguished war service. I always thought it was a pity he wasn’t given the same prominence in Dad’s Army as the rest of the seven main characters. He was probably the least able-bodied but I think at least he should have been given more lines. By the way, you didn’t need to tell us Arthur Askey was annoying, we knew that already.

    Tom Robbins is rather obscure here but I have some vague notion that he is still well-known and popular in the US. I’m probably wrong but if there are any Americans reading this maybe they’d like to comment.

    Edgar Wallace had an interesting life didn’t he?, although I am one of the people you mention who have never read any of his books. I only heard of him when Network started putting out the Edgar Wallace Mysteries on DVD. Shortly after I first saw some of the DVDs I happened to walk past the pub. I had no idea that he wrote King Kong.

    I actually like some of William McGonagall’s poems but for all the wrong reasons. Spike Milligan was a fan (for the same wrong reasons!) and appeared in what you might generously call a biopic.

    There is a bit about Dennis Wheatley in Churchill’s Wizards by Nicholas Rankin.

  3. Vivienne says:

    If they ever do something about Oxford Street, they need to install a sort of toy train, running up and down slowly, so people can reach shops.

    I am walking the coast, bit at a time, and find it hard to believe a whole path will be possible – there are many sections, Essex and Kent in particular,where you have to walk inland beside muddy creeks and then creeks off creeks before you get across the original river. But this has its compensations: I have the whole place to myself usually. Lots of bits of path in Yorkshire got washed away a couple of years ago and you can see whole sections of tarmac, caravans and stufff down on the shoreline.

    I like Margery Allingham and think Campion gets more human/normal as the series progressed. I think he and Peter Wimsey (the most annoying in my opinion) were a reaction to the intense scrutiny of the Holmes variety, so that their vacant, disinterested air would lead people to reveal things instead of clamming up.

  4. Jo W says:

    Chris Webb, Hi! I don’t think it is at all strange that two people should have differing opinions of the same book. A cliche here I think- it takes all sorts to make a world -and it would be boring indeed if everyone liked the same thing.
    And,by the way, I can admit to finding Arthur Askey sometimes quite amusing,unlike Mr. Fowler. Also,unlike Mr.Fowler, Norman Wisdom irritates me like prickly heat. Ok, rant over. 😉

  5. Jan says:

    Chris ages ago I think I wrote to you about the City of London stipulating that any new build had to come with (I think) 10 or 15 % green or garden space. That for each development or redevelopment should see quite a significant impact within a few years.

    What you are saying about Fleet street sounds great to me would be appropriate really as you have still got the Holy Well at St Brides still bubbling away there be wonderful if that helped rehabilitate the area back to being a partial green space.

    Isn’t it strange really that tucked away within the 21C city just around the corner from the Euston road you have got the Brill the oldest church in London with its holy well and St. Brides (Or the goddess Bridget) which is by no means the only holy well within the City of London boundaries.

  6. Peter Tromans says:

    A few weeks ago, I spent a week in the area of the Euston Road. Where do all those people come from? And where are they going? Apart from vehicles, the footpaths are full of pedestrians. The calmest places seemed to be inside the buses: most had only a couple of passengers.

    I kept an eye open, hoping to bump into Mr F, but no luck, no doubt recharging in Barcelona.

  7. JILL Q says:

    I’m an American and Tom Robbins does have a bit of a following, especially places like college campuses or book stores and coffee shops where “the hip people” hang out (but these distinctions are less important now with the internet). I put him in a category with Kurt Vonnegut, most people go through a “stage” of reading him.

  8. Graham says:

    I would give Margery Allingham another go Chris Webb. Campion in The Crime at Black Dudley was a bit part and not really a good indication of his character.

  9. admin says:

    Interesting about Robbins – I found him unreadable then, and now – whereas Vonnegut had interesting points to make (although I did read him as a student). But as said here, we all see books differently.

  10. jeanette says:

    I was at a junction waiting to cross over to the Royal Mews and noticed a vertical wall filled with greenery. I think it was actually over a cigar cafe, if that makes any sense. Think I will have to google map to confirm.

  11. admin says:

    Jan, the only Brill church I can find is in Buckinghamshire – you don’t mean St Pancras Old Church?

  12. jeanette says:

    I found it. It is 30 Bressingden Place. The building is listed as bbar, just off Buckingham Palace Road.

  13. Jan says:

    Yes the Brill is its nickname

  14. JeffreyP says:

    I walk from Lisson Grove to Warren Street along the Marylebone Ropad/Euston Road every day and love the noise, pollution, crowds and chaos. Cities are supposed to be dirty, exciting and alive. Once grand plans of covering buildings with plants and pedestrianisation come to pass, cities become theme parks, for tourists and the rich.

    As Robert Elms one said, ‘I never trust air that I cannot see’.

  15. Ian Luck says:

    I’m re-reading Edgar Wallace’s ‘Mr J.G. Reeder’ stories. Very entertaining, and full of early 20th century slang and criminal cant. I can just remember the 1960’s TV series, starring Hugh Burden. Due for a sympathetic resurgence, I reckon. Bill Nighy as Reeder?

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