A London Miscellany

London

Du Caine Court in Balham (a place readers of a certain age may find themselves pronouncing as ‘Bal-Ham’ in an American accent; somebody please explain) has more than a touch of Albert Speer about its design. Monumental, inhuman and very tidy, it supposedly acted as a guide-post for Nazi aircraft during WWII. Senate House in Bloomsbury, to which it bears a distinct resemblance, was also a handy marker for approaching bombers. Hitler supposedly had spies planted within Du Cane Court and planned to live there (and in Senate House) after his Nigel Farage-like retro-fantasy had reached fruition.

There was talk of giving the top of the building a shape like a swastika, but here the truth and the legends merge. Both buildings remain, unlike the tower of the Crystal Palace, which was dynamited to prevent it from being used as a navigation point, although it may have been the tower’s steel structure that attracted the war-effort metal collectors.

There’s hardly an old building in London that does not have a legend attached to it. Back in wartime, the Daily Mail had one of its periodic screeching fits over buildings and tennis courts made of concrete, which they were convinced were secret Nazi gun placements. They also suspected a car factory in Woolwich of manufacturing gun turrets for Nazi planes. Quite how they were to get from there to Germany was never explained.

Buildings are never quite what you think they are. In 1951 221B Baker Street was occupied by the Abbey National Building Society and as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations their HQ was turned into a recreation of Sherlock Holmes’s home, and his gaslit study was laid out with scientific apparatus and fresh crumpets complete with toothmarks, supplied each day by a local baker. In 1957 the Northumberland Arms was refurbished and renamed The Sherlock Holmes. They acquired the exhibition which can be seen on the pub’s first floor, and now tourists believe that this is the real home of a fictional character.

Only one other building has any designs left from the Festival of Britain and that’s number 219 Oxford Street, which was the first new commercial building to be erected after the war. Along the higher floors are the Festival logo, the Skylon and the Dome of Discovery.

There’s one Festival of Britain building that has remained from the exhibition’s birth through to today – the much-loved Royal Festival Hall, in my opinion the most welcoming building in London. As much as the city changes, this crowd-pleaser will remain.

Others disappear all the time; the Upside Down House on Blackfriars Road has gone – I think, I can’t find later reference after 2015 – the premises of WH Wilcox & Co is not actually a house but a 1780s storage depot for horses and carriages.

 

48 comments on “A London Miscellany”

  1. Debra Matheney says:

    Upside down house. We live in an upside down world

  2. Dave Kearns says:

    Google Streetview shows some glass abomination at 20 Blackfriars Rd, where the upside-down house was located. THere’s plenty of references to planning, drawing, and proposals for building at that location but I can’t seem to find anything definitive.

  3. snowy says:

    The Upsidedown house was an Art installation by Alex Chinneck, not a real building.

    Developers had bought the land in 2007, the art piece was created in 2013-ish and was removed 2 years latter. [Better a bit of art than an ugly hoarding covered in naff corporate graphics.]

    [Bal-Ham: for anybody not quite sure what on earth is going on.

    “Balham, Gateway to the South” is a comedy sketch parodying a short travel documentary in the style of American newsreel-travelogue host James A. Fitzpatrick, on the 1958 Parlophone record The Best of Sellers, produced by George Martin. (Can be heard on a well known video streaming platform.)]

  4. Jan says:

    Oh Chris what are you doing to me……you know I get obsessional about this sort of stuff

    The Royal festival hall may be a lone survivor of the fifties festival of Britain but there’s a perfume shop in Westminster I think it’s probably Floris in St James Street SW1 (but would stand correcting as my memory isn’t quite what it was) which contains display cabinets which were first used in the Great Exhibition in the 19C in Hyde Park.

    If you walk through South Ken past Chelsea barracks to your left, to your nearside, along towards the Queen Mother Gate and Mayfair as you approach 1 London with the park to your immediate left you will see a small group of quite spindly looking trees.a good few yards into Hyde Park These mature trees are a bit different from others nearby not quite as sturdy you can see that clearly. These are the actual trees which were growing INSIDE the Great Exhibition Hall – later upon transfer to SE London the Crystal Palace. Apparently the Great Exhibition hall contained more than its fair share of bird droppings due to the birds perched up in.these trees!

    Now I ‘ve started to think on this subject I’ll probably wake up at about 4 a.m. with some other mad contribution.

    Senate House is a bloody well weird place a mate of mine did a course at Birkbeck and I spent a few days in the library at Senate house with him. Funny set up altogether odd angles inside. The basement and sub basement were for some reason lined with glossy shiny white tiling. Like being in the Underground so it was. Dunno what that was all about. Maybe a tributary to a lost river ran beneath the basement.
    After flooding made it easier to clean perhaps?

    Senate House stood in for NY quite a lot wasn’t a Christopher Reid ‘Superman’ flying scene filmed there?

    Right I’ve actually got a days work tomorrow and Tuesday so if I wake up at some ungodly hour with another contribution then kip in and don’t make this patient escort it’s all your fault Fowler!

  5. Liz Thompson says:

    Bal-ham gateway to the south was on a LP which included Aunty Rotter and other gems. The Aunt and Uncle who introduced me to this recording at the age of 10, also had all the Tom Lehrer records, with the immortal We shall All go Together when we go. Present MPs, American President and assorted megalomaniacs, please note: it is still sadly current.

  6. Ken Mann says:

    Any Paddy Roberts in their collection?

  7. Brian Evans says:

    It’s a few years now since I have been to the Royal Festival Hall, but I agree, it is the most welcoming building in London. The Ealing Film “The Long Arm” a Jack Hawkins “copper” film (or what would now be called a police procedural) made in 1955/6 has a lot of the action taking place around the South Bank and Fest Hall while it was still being developed and is fascinating to see. It’s also a rattling good picture.

    What about the false façade of that sort of Regency row of houses/flats around Paddington? A few had to be knocked down for the Underground and the gap was filled in by a replica frontage. I admit to being a bit vague about it but I’m sure someone could explain it better.

  8. Roger says:

    Queen Victoria consulted the Duke of Wellington about how to deal with the birds – sparrows – inside the Great Exhibition Hall.
    “Sparrowhawks, Ma’am.” he answered. It worked.

    Senate House was the inspiration of the Ministry of Truth (No, it wasn’t Resident Rump who thought of it) in 1984.

    Besides Bal-ham, Gateway to the South (said to be inspired by a 1930s railway poster – who wrote the script?) the LP I came across it on (grammar?) also had A Hard Day’s Night done in the style of Olivier as Richard III.
    Our chemistry class at school enthusiastically sang Lehrer’s list of the chemical elements at the beginning of every lesson. It alsu affected our enthusiasm for the subject – we had a much higher than average pass rate.

  9. John Griffin says:

    I ache for the touch of your lips, dear
    But much more for the touch of your whips, dear
    You can raise welts
    Like nobody else
    As we dance to the Masochism Tango
    Let our love be a flame, not an ember
    Say it’s me that you want to dismember
    Blacken my eye
    Set fire to my tie
    As we dance to the Masochism Tango
    At your command
    Before you here I stand
    My heart is in my hand . . .
    (Yeechh!)
    It’s here that I must be
    My heart entreats
    Just hear those savage beats
    And go…

    They don’t write them like that any more.
    Pity.
    I loved Tom Lehrer’s songs. We had our own Bard of the Strange in Jake Thackray.

  10. snowy says:

    Brian, might you be thinking of 23&24 Leinster Gardens? [There are others but this is probably the most well known.]

    [ Background

    Before electrification the Underground used steam engines, burning coal. To avoid suffocating the passengers the smoke from the engine had to be dealt with. It was vented out with sections of line open to the surface, hidden in various ways including false fronts.

    Engineers wrestled with this problem for years including one Sir John Fowler, 1st Baronet, KCMG, LLD, FRSE, who built a machine known as ‘Fowler’s Ghost’. [It didn’t work very well and kept threatening to blow itself up.] A workable solution was found eventually with the condensing steam engine.]

  11. snowy says:

    To pick up on Jan’s love for things from the Great Exhibition.

    One of the things to be awarded a medal at The Exhibition was “Prince Albert’s Model Cottage”.

    This was slightly surprising given that the Commissioners didn’t initially want it to be included in the exhibits, but Bert stuck up for it and had his way, [a state of affairs that usually caused Vicky to get a grin on]. Well he almost got it in, [stop sniggering at the back!], it was eventually built close by at the Knightsbridge Cavalry Barracks.

    One reason why they were so picky might be explained by the politics of the time, the ‘cottage*’ was the work of the ‘Society for Improving the Conditions of the Labouring Classes’. [They might have thought it too luxurious for the working classes and if it were seen it might provoke demands for better conditions.]

    [If you showed most people the floorplan** they wouldn’t believe it was Victorian.]

    It still exists, it was taken apart and moved to Kennington Park.†


    * ‘Cottage’ was then a commonplace term for a particular ‘class’ of house, smaller than a ‘villa’. To further add to the confusion the building itself was just the top and bottom floors of what would be a block of flats, with a better space allocation than most of Du Cane Court.

    ** Link above, courtesy of thelondonphile, a blog that appears to be resting, but has much worth reading if you like built+twiddley, Try the Quirky London section for a moving mausoleum and a statue made of soap.

    † Kennington Park has its own interesting history, anti-slavery meetings, public executions, bombed in both World Wars – 50 casualties from the Second War could not be safely recovered and remain in the ground today.

  12. John Howard says:

    I think we can find an American accented “Bal-Ham” a bit closer to home. If memory serves me correctly it was on a Peter Sellers record. The track was ‘Bal-Ham; Gateway to the South’. A mock travelogue. Produced by George Martin and for some reason I think it was written by Frank Muir and Denis Norden.
    I may be paraphrasing here but the line about the ‘twinkling lights changing from green, to amber, to red and back again’ has stayed with me for, oh, about 50 years.

  13. Andrew Holme says:

    My Dad had ‘Bal-ham; Gateway to the South on an ep. I can’t for the life of me remeber the other three tracks, though I played it to death in the early Seventies. Did Muir and Norden write it specifically for Peter Sellers, or was it – as I suspect – his take on an older sketch?

  14. Liz Thompson says:

    Replying to Ken Mann, no, I don’t recall Paddy Roberts. Just checked on Amazon, and see it would have been quite in character for them though!

  15. admin says:

    ‘The toothbrush holes are put in manually – that is to say, once a year.’
    Much of the album is still funny. We still refer to the El Morocco Tea Rooms.

  16. Brian Evans says:

    Thanks snowy for explaining and thanks to you I remember the address now-Leinster Gardens. I was shown it by a friend who at the time lived (mid 70s) in Bayswater. No, he wasn’t rolling in it-it was a council flat. I have walked passed it a few times since.

  17. Ruaridh says:

    Speaking of London Miscellany: this is the 1st sign I’ve seen of a chance to post anything, so:
    Christopher Fowler, in default of taking more care himself, really must get a good proof-reader. Maybe whoever he currently uses took offence at the crack in chapter 21 about “half-cut proofreaders poring over drink-dampened MSS”?
    He seems to use “Holborn” as a place-marker to be returned to and replaced with an appropriate location later, only he never gets round to doing that.
    In chapter 1, service in the Seven Stars is provided by an ‘adorable boy’ barman (unlikely as that seems – I’ve never seen any but female bar-staff in there), yet in chapter 20 Banbury is questioning ‘the barmaid who served Naomi Curtis’.
    Ch 20: Sir Cloudesley Shovell the original owner of this boozer? Unlikely for Admiral of the Fleet! I think the place was just named after him after he’d wrecked his ships on Scilly.
    Ch 22:
    Alexander Litvinenko was fatally dosed with polonium, not “radioactive thallium” (Ch 42).
    Ch 22: The Old (Dr?) Butler’s Head is not on London Wall. It is, however, in Mason’s Avenue (Ch 26).
    Ch 27:
    Fry’s Five Fruit Chocolate? Surely Fry’s Five Boys??
    Ch 27: if Otford’s in East Kent (Ch 26) then West Kent must be minuscule.
    Ch 38:
    Can’t spell Hemel Hempstead.
    Ch 45:
    Ely Place may or may not be in Cambridgeshire, but if not, it certainly would not fall under the jurisdiction of the City of London Police, whose boundary runs along Charterhouse Street.
    Ch 47:
    “as much as he wanted to blame Theseus” S/B “much as he wanted” – slipping standards among the half-cut proof-readers.

    Off the Rails:
    Has Fowler actually lived in London for long? He hasn’t picked up much about the Tube system: practically down to Dan Brown standards.
    Ch 21, 29: Heathrow may have 5 airline terminals, but the Tube doesn’t have a stop for each of them.

    Chs 6, 42, 46: trainee policemen do not train at Henley, but at Hendon (as per Ch 25).

    Ch 32: the Lutine Bell is NOT in Lloyds Bank, it’s in Lloyd’s, the place where the insurance syndicates do business – notably to insure shipping. The tradition of ringing it (until the crack in it developed some time after the war) was to mark not general bad news, but news related to ship losses.

    Ch 38: the Underground now reaches down into South London, does it? Rather the reverse – there’s less of the Underground in S.London since the Metropolitan/East London line to New Cross/Gate got pinched to contribute to the “London Overground”. Could this really be about the DLR, which does now reach down through Greenwich to Lewisham?

    Seventy-Seven Clocks:
    Ch 15: Blackfriar’s Lane? Just the one Blackfriar?
    Ch 18: John May says “the likes of you and I”?? – he’s an educated man – slipping standards here.
    Ch 24: Sarson’s old vinegar factory is just outside London Bridge Station on Tower Bridge Road. At Vauxhall was Beaufoy’s vinegar factory, attributed to Sarson’s by an estate-agent’s inaccuracy when it had been converted into des. res.
    Ch 32: Bryant says “whom you presume was killed” – he too is educated – partially at least.
    Pl
    I don’t think Fowler (or his proof-reader(s)) know the difference between disinterested & uninterested.

  18. Ian Luck says:

    A river of sorts does run under the Senate House, and a lot of time and money has been spent on trying to find out from where it flows and to where it goes. There was a feature in Fortean Times some time ago about it. The water runs through a sub-basement, and duckboards are put down to allow staff access. It’s really rather odd.

  19. admin says:

    Hi Ruaridh,
    You don’t have to use third person, I’m here reading! At the risk of stating the obvious, I hope you appreciate that fiction requires some facts to be changed. A few of the more obvious points should be mentioned.

    Chap 1. Pubs have more than one bar-person.

    Ch20 – Sir Cloudesley Shovell – we’re dealing with London legends here, and the myths are presented as such.Of course he didn’t own the pub, but the pub is presented as if there is a connection to him; there isn’t. All London history is exaggerated or partly false.

    Fry’s Fruit Chocolate was a real thing. It was very odd, like a rainbow chocolate cream.

    Ely Place most certainly was under the jurisdiction of Cambridge, which is crazy, I know. Look it up. It only ceased to be so about 15 years ago.

    The Henley / Hendon switch is deliberate; the books are not intended to be documentaries. I just preferred Henley.

    The Lutine Bell – the word ‘bank’ slipped in and I took it out, but it was missed in the proof.

    Bryant is educated enough to play with words and – you must surely have noticed – deliberately misuses language to annoy people. As for May’s ‘the likes of you and I/me’ – it’s like that because I think ‘me’ sounds clumsy.

    Presumably you’re a proof reader. If so, thank God for them, although many only see the words, never the overall intention.
    I’ll address this in a future column.

    PS It’s kind of insulting to call me Dan Brown. Take that back.

  20. Peter Tromans says:

    Anoraks at dawn?

    Hall of mirrors:

    While we are in the mode, I’ll mention that it is impossible (effectively) to anodise iron and steel. That’s because rust (the oxide formed on the surface of the metal) has a much greater volume than the iron, is flakey and porous, and fails to form a protective barrier.

    However, case for the defence, in popular parlance, it’s not uncommon to refer to other surface treatments of steel, such as blacking or galvanising, as anodised.

  21. Roger says:

    Ruaridh is a fact-checker rather than a proof-reader, I think. One factual error however, quite a lot of the Underground does go south of the river: its most Southerly point is Morden, on the Northern Line.

  22. Liz Thompson says:

    As a trained proof-reader, I find all sorts of gems in books, newspapers, and official documents. One of my favourites was a staff circular issued to members of what was then the DHSS. It was headed ‘ Anti- natal classes’, and apparently was giving permission for staff to take time off to attend them. I always thought Management and DHSS HQ would have much preferred ANTI natal classes, to the more normal ante-natal ones, the mess they made over staffing levels.
    Incidentally, proof-readers develop an eye for the print errors, and invariably spot them instead of reading what the text intended to say. It’s the copy-editors who look for the factual stuff, or at least it was when I was doing it.

  23. Liz Thompson says:

    And Fry’s 5 fruit flavours really did exist, I too remember buying and enjoying them.

  24. Helen Martin says:

    Liz, I wish they still did as they sound like a particular pleasure.
    My copies of the books are full of all sorts of annotations but none of them are of enough significance for me to mention publicly. Of course, if they added up to enough irritation I might well erupt. Guaranteed never to happen.

  25. snowy says:

    Did I get so massively pissed last night, that it somehow unleashed my innermost nit-picker and I decided to post a whole list of stuff, under a false name derived from some fever dream about the Irish High Kings?

    *Checks log files*

    No not me, phew!

    Ruaridh, in your first sentence, you used ‘1st’ – an ordinal where ‘first’: synonym for earliest – adverb, would have been more apropos. Then you missed out the name of the first book in your list and hence the one piece of information that is vital for anybody who wants to find them in the original text. And… And… I won’t go on, because it is just so very easy to pick holes in other peoples writing, [especially mine which is absolute rubbish.]

    I always rather enjoy finding the “Fowler’s Howlers™”, there are at least one or two, [three, four… pick any integer!] in each book. They are just works of fiction and not instructions on how to defuse a bomb, who cares that much?

    PS
    You could find a Police Constable that had trained in Henley, just about/sort of. Transfered in from MOD Plod? One for Jan, I think?

    Oh! Oh! Fry’s multi flavour thing was absolute mank, they sort of bled into each other. [Never ever saw a Five Boy’s, [solid choc throughout], rather wish I had now.]

  26. Ian Luck says:

    Sir Cloudsley Shovell – what a superb name – died when the HMS Association ran aground on the Scilly Islands during a storm. He was washed ashore barely alive, and was killed by a Scillonian woman who stripped him of all the jewellery on him, including a large gemstone set into a ring. It is said that the name of his murderer was known, even until recently, but kept quiet by the islanders.

  27. Brian Evans says:

    The trouble with Fry’s Five Centre was out of seven pieces to break off, 2 were strawberry flavour, 2 were raspberry, one lemon, one lime, and one orange so if you were a bit OCD it was unevenly balanced as four were both almost the same colour and almost tasted the same.

    Imagine these days if a company brought out “Fry’s Five Boys Chocolate”. No-one would buy it due to fear of being labelled a paedophile.

  28. Ian Luck says:

    One dreads to think of the slogans: ‘Get Your Teeth Into Five Boys’, for example – of interest only to someone like Fritz Haarman. Look him up; he was an ‘interesting’ guy.

  29. John Howard says:

    Extremely insulting to call you Dan Brown. You are a writer. Poor Ruaridh. I hope he bought all those books he dissed and didn’t just proof read them at your publishers.

  30. Jo W says:

    I’ve had a busy few days and just catching up with this blog. Nothing to add to the discussion of nit-picking,but when reminded of Fry’s five fruit choc bars and Fry’s five boys then my attention was grabbed.
    Yes I’m old enough to remember enjoying those. It was was easier to separate the different fruit creams in cold weather and not get them mushing together.

  31. Jan says:

    Yes Brian is thinking of Leinster Gardens. These “fake” house are really smashing rep!icas of the stucco homes which surround them.

    They are obvious only in that due to relatively recent cutbacks they are not decorated to the standard of the surrounding properties and in the previous era of steam on this Overground section of the underground steam could be seen emerging from the Houses which resulted in passersby and non cogniscent neighbours phoning LFB.

    Also the Houses were frequently visited by unsuspecting probationary LFB officers and Met Police officers sent by their colleagues on non existent emergency calls, fire prevention visits, bail enquiries and the like. London Ambulance service probably played similar merry japes on newbie ambulance staff. The houses presented opportunities too good to miss.

    I think the Leinster Gardens Houses might have features in one of Bendict Cucumberpatches
    “Sherlock.Holmes” episodes!

    Which brings me to my own little question ……221b Baker Street is th e famous HA of Sherlock.Holmes does any one know the location of his Business Address? Not a trick ?
    This place does exist in central London – it is rather less well known.

  32. Jan says:

    Jo I never really took to the Frys mint chocolate bars but the assorted fruit flavoured fondant covered with dark chocolate which were still kicking about when I were a lass were bloody wonderful things. Raspberry, pineapple orange – magical.
    Heard about Five boys seen pictures but never remember buying them though. B4 my time.

    In the same way Polo mints were never a favourite of mine but assorted Polo fruits were the business. As were the tubes of assorted – often fruit flavoured – Toffo caramels. Do they still make Toffos? They were nice. Really nice.

  33. Jan says:

    Snowy yes you are quite right about the cottage and Kennington Park. Kenniington Park is quite interesting in itself.

    Doesn’t Kennington Park also contain a prehistoric tumulus (mound) or bank (or similar.)? If not within the park nearby.

    Potters Field is also a very interesting South London spot which merits a place in a Bryant + May outing. If memory serves lots of demonstrations + or Unions marches started or ended there.

    The Camberwell Beauty – a butterfly- a lovely replica of said butterfly used to feature outside the local library also deserves to make its mark in a Bryant and May. There’s also a REALLY interesting guy whose written a lot about an ancient well and the roads in CamberWELL (Geddit?) Who remarks that what is frequently taken as being Medieval is often in fact prehistoric.
    Hes really gone into this topic and it’s truly fascinating. Wonderful stuff.

  34. snowy says:

    Hmm.. Mounds, well they exist, but what they were is a bit more difficult to pin down: odd bits from glacial moraines too big to be scavanged for building materials, spoil tips from flint mining, medieval middens, construction spoil/overburden: from house building and landscaping, piles of cobb, spontaneous natural features. There could be hundreds of reasons why they exist, none particularly mystical.

    Around the time Eygptomania hit Europe again in the 18C, because of Napoleon I think? People went off to find Englands ‘Buried Kings’. And sort of invented stories about mysterious ‘burial chambers’, some were real, cyst graves for example, but most were wishfull thinking.

    Were some [Wo]Man made? Possibly, they could just be a build up of detritus left on the floor of human dwelling places, [mucky lot our ancestors, never picked up after themselves, barbarians.]

    Or they might just have got bloody tired of their new rabbitskin mules getting soaking wet everytime they stepped off their sleeping platform onto the damp earth floor and raised it up higher, [I think it’s called something like mound and drain, bit hazy… you dug a ‘moat’ to drain the water out and put the spoil in the middle to lift the floor level? It’s not… coming back to me..]


    Toffos available? Yes, but expect a disapointingly small package. [No, not doing that joke.]

  35. Jan says:

    No nothing particularly mystical here Snowy. There are prehistoric tumuli on Hampstead Heath, Primrose Hill and I think on Wimbledon common.

    Also at Greenwich where there are caverns (no longer accessible) thought to have been created in prehistoric times and I believe a number of tumuli not that far from the present Meridian line.

    It’s also very interesting looking at the layout of the One tree Hills of Greater London which were possibly modified at some early stage in mankind’s history.

    Greater London – even the central districts – are at the end of the day just part of a country featuring many very ancient landscape features. When you factor in that some of the Motte and Bailey mounds originally considered to be Norman turn out in fact to be prehistoric things become even more interesting. The mound at Marlborough school in Wilts which is a bloody enormous thing – much modified in later centuries – is in fact prehistoric as it is suspected the mound at the Tower of London could be.

  36. Helen Martin says:

    But, Jan, if there is a Norman structure in a place then it’s Norman, yes? If those Normans used a prehistoric site (for the same reasons, probably, as the pre historicans did) then it’s a Norman site on a prehistoric base, or a prehistoric site underlying a Norman structure depending on the context of the writing. If you’re writing about the original human use of a site or the ongoing nature of a site’s use then everything gets mentioned.
    Given the amount of structure on the site would anyone be able to determine the original use of the Tower site?

  37. Jan says:

    It’s how the mounds were originally constructed H this is what gives them away – thats their prehistory. Their prehistoric base of you like. A prehistoric structure can now be readily identified as such.

    I’m not suggesting these sites are powerful within themselves it’s the date of first creation thats what interests me. In Sept I’m hoping to visit a site North of Carlisle which was used both by The Romans and then the Normans and onwards throughout recorded history.

    The mound – + there is one at this site + in all the probability it IS probably prehistoric – and it remains a place that’s stayed important.

    However has that happened? How come it’s evolved stayed important? How? Why?

    What maintains the function of some places and not others?

  38. Ian Luck says:

    Burial mounds, or Barrows, or Tumuli, take your pick, are of many varying types. Long Barrows, such as Wayland’s Smithy, West Kennet, etc., are the oldest, from the Stone age, and often contained many burials. Round Barrows are newer, from the Bronze age, and might only hold one occupant, either as a burial, in a chamber in the centre of the mound, or a cremation in urns in the upper parts of the mound. The barrows are of different types: The Bowl Barrow, a high and wide mound within a banked and ditched enclosure; the Bell Barrow, a wide mound within a ditch and bank; the Disc Barrow, a smaller mound, again within a ditch and bank; the Saucer Barrow, a large flattish mound, in a ditch and bank, and rarest of all, the Pond Barrow – a circular bank enclosing a depressed area under which inhumations were placed. Barrows were often placed on high ground so that they could be seen on the horizon by people passing by. Occasionally, they were placed at a point with a spectacular view – there’s one on the coast of Anglesey, (whose name escapes me), that’s on a high plateau overlooking the sea, and it’s breathtakingly beautiful. I apologise. This is something that has fascinated me since I first visited my local museum when I was about five. There was a model of a Tumulus there in cross section, (on a visit this last April, I was overjoyed to see it was still there), and it grabbed my imagination like nothing before or since. After that, I drove my parents mad with tiny barrows (usually containing an Airfix ‘OO’ (1/76) scale ‘Ancient Briton’ figure) appearing in the flower beds, and amongst the veg growing in the garden – as well as the odd stone circle made from my dad’s rockery. He wasn’t amused.

  39. Jan says:

    Ian As you drive up the A35 from.Bridport towards Dorch on the nearside (left) of the road theres a field where there are a number of barrows including a very rare bell barrow. Your best view of this barrow is from the top deck of the X51 Axminster to Dorch bus! This actual field is about 500 yards be4 a village called Winterbourne Abbas.

    This field also contains a number of small sinkholes, natural depressions in the earth where the land has given away and created small natural dips. The more I visit barrows and there are a great number around the A35 in this area the whole place is (as I’ve very probably said very boringly before) the 2nd most concentrated area of prehistory in England coming in 2nd after Salisbury plain. Well the more of these things I see the more obvious the correlation between the building of the barrows and the positioning of these sinkholes becomes.

    It’s as if early man was in a way mimicking the natural process which formed the sinkholes. As below so above the response to a dip in the earth becomes a mound! Now there are grave goods, burial mounds sure lots of things found within the mounds but I wonder if what kicked the idea of mound building was in fact sinkhole formation?

    It’s a bit like how the idea of a gravestone develops. I’ve often wondered about that how the concept took root – a visit to the Stone rows on Dartmoor are food for thought.

  40. Helen Martin says:

    Why did some places of consequence continue and others not? My husband would suggest it is transportation patterns and that could certainly be a factor. Paths and trails become roads and railroads but only as routes prove convenient. If the gradient is too steep for engines then the roads move out of the way of hills, even though still fine for horses.
    Economics. If the city was a centre for exchange and the products exchanged change then the centre can also change to meet convenience. (That is difficult to wade through.)
    Religion can change things, especially the shift from tribal customs to christian ones. Missionaries co-opted local sites for continuation reasons but if the connections were really undesirable then a new worship centre might be created.
    Regime changes sometimes change importance. Winchester was the ancient capital of saxon Britain until that man changed the coronation site to London – and an abbey church, not even a cathedral. Rheims was the coronation site for Capetian France but Napoleon changed that to Paris. If you want to restore the past you go back to the place, Louis XVIII did, but we can’t go home again as we all know, and the coronation city became important as a centre for champagne production and the site of a stunning cathedral that has no national function. (I’ve been reading about Mme Clicquot lately)

  41. snowy says:

    To get to grave markers you have to go back a few steps further.

    At some point, for some reason in human history, Grandma suddenly ‘falling off the perch’ changed from an unexpected opportunity for a good barbeque to a source of great sorrow. Ie. the sanctity of the physical body.

    This shift brings with it a raft of new problems, mostly around storage, [Tupperware not being an option at that point]. If burial rather than cremation or excarnation is chosen the person now exists not just as a memory but as/at a point in the landscape. But the exact site can be easily lost, particularly if the site is not permanently settled eg. if food depends on following a source that keeps eating all the available grass and then wandering off: eg. deer, cattle. Leaving a marker of some sort is necessary to re-find the exact site next year.

    Stone cairns are easy to create but expensive in time/labour, a field stone boundary laid out around the edge is simpler and unlikely to be mistaken for a natural feature. With stone tools, wood rapidly supplants stone, [except for those of very high status]. Metal tools allow wooden markers to be carved into more and more intricate forms, but they might only last for 50 years.

    Stone monuments were still created over many centuries, keeping pace with the decorations found in and on high status buildings, but only for those with great wealth, Kings and Nobles certainly liked a bit of masonry, though none matched the excesses of the Pharaohs. But most people if they had any marker at all it would be wooden.

    [Wooden markers were still in use in the UK well into the 19th century. You can occasionly pick them out in old photos.

    When photography started it became fashionable to have funerals recorded, much in the same way weddings are today. If you see one of these photos look in the background for ‘gravestones’ side on, that look much, much to thin, they are the wooden ones.

    Social pressure/expectations, [and Funeral Directors out for an up-sell], made stone the norm in the 20th century. Perhaps we will come to our senses one day and realise that a monument that outlasts all those who remember us is just an act of hubris and go back to wood.]


    [I extended my Sunday afternoon stroll, checking the various ‘Jam trees’, to climb atop an ancient mound. Walked around it three times and knocked… nothing happened.]

  42. Ruaridh says:

    There is truly less of the Underground S of the River since the “London Overground” annexed the East London Line.

  43. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – There were once lots of barrows near where I live, and to the east of town, there was once a large barrow cemetery which held a large Saucer Barrow which had the evocative title of ‘The Devil’s Ring’. Alas! Due to agriculture, all but one barrow was mercilessly ploughed out. The remaining tump, a bowl-barrow, is known as ‘Pole Hill Barrow’. It’s pleasingly large, with Scots Pines growing out of it’s top. It also bears the scars of people digging into it over the years, looking for trasure. It does look deliciously sinister in winter or at night, though. I did once convince someone who had never read any Tolkien, that it was well known to be haunted by a Barrow Wight, and dangerous to visit at night. I’m not very proud of that.
    Not that far away is a large road intersection known as ‘Seven Hills’ – and those hills are Tumuli, inaccessibly overgrown, on a long strip, bisected by the A14, and roughly on an East-West alignment. Of course, like most old things prefixed with ‘Seven’, there are more than seven. I tried to check them out in the early 1990’s, but the nature of the overgrowth prevented me from getting too far into the site. Brambles, Nettles, Blackthorn, Dog Roses – when I got home and into the shower, I looked like I’d been flogged. The growth is worse now.
    On the way to Felixstowe, on the N side of the A14, there is a field which contains a large Tumulus. The farmer always works around it, leaving it completely alone. The other striking thing about this tump, is that, across the A14, pointing directly at it, is an old hedge and ditch, now home to a row of Scots Pines. I’m sure that this alignment bears some relationship to the Tumulus. Before the A14 – then the A45, was moved, I wonder if the ditch went all the way to the field boundary in which the tump sits – but nobody seems to know. If you see it, however, it’s striking, the way it points to the mound.

  44. Jan says:

    The earth/ soil changes in South London it was much harder when the deep tubes were going on (not the early cut and cover tubes) to tunnel in parts of the territory South of the river. Tunnelling N of the Thames was just easier. Technology’s have been developed making tunnelling more effective in differing earth now and eventually more deep tube development could be more widespread.

    Now of course commuters are being sucked into and transported into the capital from much further afield. So we have Crossrails 1+ 2. Property prices in London are now forcing many workers to have long commutes from other parts of the country. (More South London tube routes ain’t going to sort that one out.)

    Helen surely part of the reason good transportation routes develop is to serve somewhere of importance isn’t hubbys argument a little bit back to front? Transportation links; tracks and primitive “roads” appeared initially then as time goes on Roman road links, canals, railways and eventually motorways appear to service places that have reached a certain level of development, with complex transportation requirements. The infrastructure doesn’t create a town its more the other way round. The places I am on about here are specific sites which once occupied continue to be of use and importance from prehistory into and through recorded history. Dover castle is a good example. Think the best explanation I can come up with is probably that a site of specific defensive importance just continues to be so.

    Modern development sees areas with transport links originally created for industries which have become non viable repurpose these links to serve new industries and residential developments but not really in the time frame I am wittering on about here.

    Living deep in the countryside I have thought a fair bit about road development as it goes.
    I wonder why some roads continue to develop and achieve “A” or “B” classification whilst others revert back to track / path status. I went to visit an ancient standing stone situated off a trackway which once apparently had been a fairly busy thoroughfare North of where I am towards North Dorset. This stone was situated close to where the trackway divided and it was a really interesting set up. Possibly the stone itself being an ancient marker point signalling that track was about to split.

    Yet the whole thing had degraded from thoroughfare status to now being part of some county footpath set up and the “B” road now serving the villages the ancient trackway had served ran about a mile away. Wonder why that happened. Land ownership – some landowner of an important estate not wanting a developed road on his land? or flooding, site regularly very foggy in winter not suitable five-year round travel?

    It’s quite surprising now how archaeologists can really accurately pinpoint road development there’s a couple of roads near Crewkerne in south Somerset which they have identified one minor road as being originally a Neolithic trackway and the second a 17 C coach route. Really interesting.

    Snowy haven’t read your grave marker treatise thoroughly. Will try later in week if I am not working. Work tomorrow. Metal gravemarkers were in use in the 19C and into early 20C. Oddly enough I took some photos of a metal grave marker quite recently in a small overflow cemetery in a Somerset village. (I know it’s pitiful really but was very interesting honestly)

    I’ll try and forward photos to Chris to pass on to you.

    As you say quite rightly there’s a time when the way the remains of a person were viewed changed .

    Excoriated bodies had been the norm but there comes a change when the remains of a person become special become sacred. At first perhaps just chiefs and people of importance but then everyone.
    As time goes on it becomes important not only to mark the grave but that the grave itself goes into consecrated ground. There’s some really interesting stuff to do with suicides being buried at crossroads which is a sort of side issue. It’s was really important to people to make sure loved ones went into consecrated ground.
    Best get on me way. Early start tomorrow.

  45. Jan says:

    Ian I have Only just seen your post. Will come back to it l8r in the week.

    The Ploughing out of hillforts tumuli and the like is a complete nightmare. Lidar is going to provide some sort of half solution unrecognised hillforts within forests are now being I.Deed.

    Interesting though that farmers who over centuries have happily ploughed out all sorts (and destroyed stuff even more effectively since the mechanization/industrialisation of farming )
    well these same guys more often than not buried stone circles, and individual standing stones deep within their fields because it was considered unlucky to destroy them completely.

    Of course lots of stuff was destroyed and repurposed about half of Aveburys stones must be within it’s cottages now and the wholesale destruction of Shap (which would have been the Avebury of the North) so the railway could go through was tragic.Deep beneath a good few fields there’s lots still to be found. Lidar might also sort that out .

  46. snowy says:

    I skipped metal to save time, as you say, some quite exquisite examples still exist, but relatively rare.

  47. Ruaridh says:

    Off The Rails Ch 29: ” …a Heathrow train, so it stopped at all 5 flight terminals” : How many Terminals has Heathrow is one question; how many stops has the Tube for them is another, to which the answer is only 3:
    one for Terminals 2 & 3,
    one for Terminal 4,
    one for Terminal 5.
    I only mentioned Dan Brown in this context because in some rubbish of his that I read he had some git doing something on Platform 3 of Temple Tube Station, which only has 2 platforms. No other implication in terms of literary ability was meant, and if inadvertently conveyed is withdrawn with apologies.

  48. Helen Martin says:

    Have been thinking about what you say, Jan. Roads do service centres of commerce and that would be how a road is upgraded but how did the centre of commerce come about? We were taught in the simplistic stage of learning that people settled around sources of water. You can’t do anything without it. If that is a river then where on that bank? It tends to be where a crossing is possible, possibly on the “grass is greener” basis. The crossing becomes a focus for roads, etc. Once an industry is located in a place and the infrastructure is there to support it then there is a good basis for a new industry, plus even more in case the first one goes defunct. The roads improve, etc.This is sloppy thinking, I’m afraid but the best I can do at the moment.
    Zinc grave markers were really popular in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. The neat thing about them was twofold: the metal never rusted/degraded and you could build one up from parts. The catalogues had parts lists and you chose one from column B, etc. then had it all put together with bolts and screws. They’re very dignified and quite impressive. In the Netherlands you don’t buy a plot, you rent it and you’re not allowed to have it for much longer than a generation. Don’t remember what happens to the remains when the plot is turned over to a new resident.

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