Love It, Loathe It, Leave it.


Old Leadenhall

There’s a lot of talk in the press this week about the sterilisation of London, how glass boxes and ‘retail experiences’ are replacing entire scruffy streets to cause the greatest overall change since WWII at incredible speed. The fear is that the core of the city will vanish and it will cease to be London as we know it – but is this true?

We notice when bad things appear; the 02 is still a lousy venue with bad sightlines and a ringroad of rubbish junk-food outlets, but it was built on the site of a gasworks. Westfield is probably the most mind-numbing retail destination in London, but there was nothing much on that site, either. Sadder are the losses of Camden Lock, turned into a tourist graveyard by rapacious developers and Camden Council, the destruction of Leicester Square, Spitalfields and now Portobello, but there are plenty of less obvious sites left.

The South Bank is still bearable (only just, on a summer’s day), the parks are mostly intact except when corporate tents are erected in them as a way of monetising them. Covent Garden seems fine, just busy, and Holborn is better than it was. So do you go with the flow and mark it down to the evolving metropolis, or do you lament what’s being lost?

For me the biggest change is the loss of my closest friends as they move out one by one, heading for coastal areas. London has simply priced them out. And the move has proved less than idyllic for some. One friend left a great job and now works in a call centre as jobs are harder to come by near his new home.

I delight in keeping a roster of affordable, fun places that don’t get too crowded where I can catch up with my remaining friends. Writing about the new London is a challenge because well, there’s simply less to write about. Who needs to know about the corporate boxes lining the City Road, or so-called Silicone Roundabout? It’s easy to blame London architects for being such dullards, but they’re only responding to developers who don’t consider the overall impact of their buildings.

Maybe it’s time to explore the suburbs of the city, which have been overlooked for decades…

NB at the top, old Leadenhall Market. At the bottom, the new Leadenhall Square.


7 comments on “Love It, Loathe It, Leave it.”

  1. snowy says:

    It has been ever thus, the O2 once briefly fashionable but badly thought out and only built as a temporary exhibition space, had this never happened before? What was the name of that funny giant greenhouse thing?

    Westfield? Bond Street, Burlington Arcade and Saville Row were all a bit dull if you were not in the market for their particular goods.

    I don’t know quite how bad Camden Lock has got but it was always a bit meh, save for the secondhand record shops. But even then it was living on a reputation that had long gone.

    L Sq had been turned from a grand square into a conduit to funnel punters around various entertaniment venues in the 19C, it has just got louder and brighter ever since as advertisers try to shout over each other.

    The markets were once dead spaces in the city, a semi-closed world that operated in the pre-dawn to service the population and at sunrise would disappear. A person could live a fairly louche life and never know what happened in these spaces. Should anybody hanker for some big sheds full of meat and veg? They are still around, clustered about the M1 under the rather dull titles of Central Distribution Warehouses. CG only became a place of interest once the cabbage boys left about 30 years ago.

    The South Bank has always been a somewhat unlovely place, who would have thought that positioning thumping great concrete lumps, between the sun and the river would pitch the banks into a sort of perpetual gloom for three quarters of the year. [Who would have thought that the LCC hadn’t yet caught up with Copernican heliocentrism, well it had only been four centuries, bless them.]

    *skips down a bit*

    It’s ‘Silicon’ not ‘Silicone’ unless the British Association of Aesthetic and Plastic Surgeons* have suddenly announced plans we were heretofore unaware of.

    [There are some interesting places in the suburbs, but the transport is rubbish and everything shuts at half-past ten. Half-five on Sundays, and lunchtme on Thursdays.]

    [Deep English Explanation.]
    [*Yes, the hawkers of false breasts do refer to themselves collectively as BAAPS, they think it’s rather amusing. The rest of us think it is tiresome and juvenile.]

  2. Vivienne says:

    I disagree about CG – I recall wandering around there when it was the proper fruit and veg place and it was a proper working place, and you could also buy stuff if you wanted it. Same with Smithfield: quite bizarre. The traders would nail various animal genitalia around, whiich was no doubt designed to put off the general public. Not sure the new places would have the same atmosphere. On the whole though, I think London will remain recognisable – there are loads of local plaques everywhere these days, which makes me feel people are valuing the bistory still left round them, whereas at one time I’d have thought a lot of people wouldn’t have cared if Leadenhall Market had gone. I’d find it hard to leave for good – just leaving for a few days in Tokyo, so will shut up now.

  3. snowy says:

    Not a point that I can in all honesty dis-avow as I never saw them in their hey-day, but outside opening hours were they not just empty, still ghostly places?

    [Bon Voyage, V. Insanely jealous moi? …well just a bit. 🙂 ]

  4. admin says:

    Wish I was headed back to Tokyo with you Vivienne, although I did find the retail pressure somewhat exhausting there. I’m still in Barcelona thanks to the Frogs, whose air traffic controllers are on strike again.

  5. jan says:

    the point about all these unlovely sheds selling vast amounts of fruit veg and meat is that they all still have bars attached to them which open at ungodly hours! i can remember going drinking near Heathrow at some veg market place after nights and again at Smithfield drinking at 3a.m. through till 7 or 8 when i would stagger onto the tube the only drunk amoungst the commuters travelling opposite route to most and inevitably falling fast asleep and snoring

  6. Alan Morgan says:

    Aw hell, I get lost in being given directions* before meeting anyone down there now. ‘Is that near the Town and Country?’ I once asked, and that changed name twenty years ago.

    *Which is fine, people don’t understand why I need to ask. Then they get to peer at my phone in wonder as if it were some fascinating fossil.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    Phone? How could your phone help you find a place? Unless you know someone you could call and ask for directions. *sigh*

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