A Little More Lambeth…

There really is so much in just this borough of London, and as I was born here I had to mention these places to you! I was very young when we moved up to Whittlesey, near Peterborough and that was primarily for the health of my dear mother, not to mention me as I was less than a year old at the time. We still had family in London, so we visited as often as possible or they came up to see us. They would talk about various places and I did get to see some of the following locations, but not all. Some areas have changed quite a bit since I left there in 1953, but others have not. So I hope you find the following just as interesting as I have in learning about them.

Brixton market.

Brixton Market comprises a street market in the centre of Brixton and the adjacent covered market areas in nearby Reliance Arcade, Market Row and Granville Arcade which was recently rebranded as ‘Brixton Village’. The market sells a wide range of foods and goods but is best known for its African and Caribbean produce, which reflect the diverse community of Brixton and surrounding areas of Lambeth. The Street Market is managed by the London Borough of Lambeth, the covered arcades have always been in private ownership although substantial public funding was provided for their refurbishment under the Brixton Challenge grant scheme. The Market began on Atlantic Road in the 1870s and subsequently spread to Brixton Road which had a very wide footway. Brixton then was a rapidly expanding London railway suburb with newly opening shops, including the first London branch of David Greig at 54-58 Atlantic Road in 1870, and London’s first purpose-built department store, Bon Marché, on Brixton Road in 1877. The market was a popular attraction, with shoppers being entertained by street musicians. Electric Avenue, which is now part of the street market, was built in the 1880s and was one of the first streets to have electric light. Glazed iron canopies covered the footpath, but these were significantly damaged by World War II bombs, and finally removed in the 1980s. The song ‘Electric Avenue’ was written by Eddy Grant in 1983 and referring to this area of the market. In 2016, Electric Avenue was refurbished with funding from the Mayor of London’s High Street Fund, Lambeth Council, Transport for London and the Heritage Lottery fund to include an illuminated sign celebrating the area’s history. The Station Road street market is open on weekdays for street food and general stalls, and there are colourful themed markets on Saturdays, such as a flea market and makers’ market.

Brixton Windmill.

Who would expect to find an over 200-year old, 15 metre high windmill in Brixton? The windmill was built in 1816 when the area was open fields and it was leased to the Ashby family the following year. They were millers producing stoneground wholemeal flour and the mill became known as Ashby’s Mill for the whole of its working life. During the 1850s, as the sprawling metropolis of London reached Brixton, the cornfields surrounding the mill were replaced by houses. As a result, much of the wind necessary for turning the sails was prevented from reaching the mill. In 1862 the Ashby family decided to move their business to a watermill on the River Wandle. The sails were removed from the windmill and it was used for storage. The family’s lease on the watermill ran out in 1902, so at this point Joshua Ashby decided to return the milling business to Brixton. He installed another set of millstones in the windmill, first powered by steam and later by gas, so that he could grind flour without wind power but he closed the business in 1934, as industrially produced bread had become the norm. He died a year later, and the mill became derelict. Then in 1957 London County Council (LCC) bought the land, the windmill and the associated buildings. They decided to turn the 2.5 acres of land into a public open space named Windmill Gardens and by the early 1960s the bakery, outbuildings, Mill House and Mill Cottage had all been demolished to make space for the public gardens. Then in 1964, over four months the windmill was restored. New sails were made from imported pine timber and much of the wind-driven equipment installed inside the mill was brought from a derelict windmill in Lincolnshire. The windmill opened to the public at Easter 1968 and for several years it was open each weekend during the summer. Lambeth Council took ownership in 1971, but over the next thirty years the windmill fell into a cycle of restoration and refurbishment followed sadly by vandalism and neglect. Then in 2002 the windmill was placed on English Heritage’s Buildings at Risk register. The following year, several local residents formed the Friends of Windmill Gardens and started campaigning for the windmill to be restored. It was in 2010 that the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded a grant to Lambeth Council and the Friends of Windmill Gardens to restore the windmill. Work began in October and took several months to complete. The sails, cap and tower were all restored, and the 1902 millstones were converted to run on electrical power and the windmill finally reopened to the public with a celebratory parade and festival, attended by up to 2,000 people, in May 2011. Volunteers from Friends of Windmill Gardens opened the mill for guided tours at least once a month during the summer, and initiated an education programme for local schoolchildren. The Friends of Windmill Gardens won the Museums and Heritage Award for restoring an industrial building and they started grinding flour in 2014, training volunteer millers. The flour is now sold on open days and also through local retailers. They celebrated its bicentenary in 2016 with a series of special events, including the first Brixton Beer & Bread Festival, an open-air film night, and the first annual Windmill Lecture. Back in 2015 the Friends had run a high-profile campaign to build an education centre in Windmill Gardens.  A year later, Lambeth Council approved plans for the construction of an education centre and planning permission was granted in March 2017. In summer 2018 the Friends ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to kit out the building and after several delays, construction work started in December 2018. The Brixton Windmill Centre was finally completed in July 2020 and the Friends signed the lease and moved in.

Clapham Picturehouse.

In 1910 the Electric Picture Palace opened on the site of former stables in Venn Street, Clapham. This was followed in 1919 with plans for a much grander venue, The Coliseum, with an entrance directly onto Clapham High Street. Unfortunately the company ran into financial difficulties and the cinema never opened. However, the façade of the 1919 rebuild survived and can still be seen on the corner of Clapham High Street and Venn Street.  The site was turned into a snooker hall and remained so until 1992, when the three-screen Clapham Picturehouse opened – the first new-build venue in the group. The opening coincided with a resurgence of cinema, and the Picturehouse quickly became a cultural and social landmark in the area. In 2003 a fourth screen was added and the bar was extended. Today Venn Street and the Picturehouse are at the heart of a bright, bustling and vibrant Clapham community.

Streatham Space Project.

Now for a more modern item. Streatham Space Project is not perhaps what its name suggests, but is a Theatre, Music & Comedy venue, aiming to bring the best live performance to South London. Set up by a team of Streatham-based arts professionals in June 2018, they say that their aim is to use live events to reach the different corners of their neighbourhood and bring people together. They have hosted events with artists like David Harewood, Kae Tempest, David Baddiel & Dane Baptiste, hosted events based in Ghanaian, Polish & Yoruba culture, offered support for artists at the beginning of their career and hosted charitable organisations like Age UK, Institute of Imagination and The Prince’s Trust. To date they’ve had over 30,000 visitors through their doors to rehearse, to film, to celebrate, or to experience live theatre, music, comedy or art. However in March 2020 they closed temporarily for public events and from May to June they operated as a depot for packages to be delivered to vulnerable people in their area, whilst streaming hip-hop, spoken word and storytelling content for their audiences. Autumn 2020 saw some socially distanced Theatre and Music and following another period working on filming, rehearsing and R&D with some incredible creatives in our space (ITV, BBC, theatre and education companies) they invited live audiences back from the summer of 2021. The main theatre space has room for an audience of 120 and there’s a second room that’s used for smaller performances, workshops, etc. The bar and café is a nice area with local artists’ work on the walls and live music some days too.

Sea Life London Aquarium Shark Walk.
Photo by pawopa3336/ Deposit Photos.

The Sea Life London Aquarium is located on the ground floor of County Hall on the South Bank near the London Eye. It opened in March 1997 as the London Aquarium and hosts about one million visitors each year. In 2005, the aquarium displayed three robotic Fish created by the computer science department at the University of Essex. The fish were designed to be autonomous, swimming around and avoiding obstacles like real fish. Their creator claimed that he was trying to combine “the speed of tuna, the acceleration of a pike and the navigating skills of an eel.” In April 2008 the aquarium was purchased by Merlin Entertainments for an undisclosed sum. The facility was closed for a £5 million refurbishment, which was completed in April 2009. The additions included a new underwater tunnel, Shark Walk, a revamped Pacific Ocean tank and a complete rerouting of the exhibit. The attraction officially became a Sea Life Centre when it reopened in April 2009. Then in May 2011, the aquarium opened a new penguin exhibit with ten gentoo penguins transferred from the Edinburgh Zoo. In 2015, the aquarium was moved to a different location in County Hall due to the opening of Shrek’s Adventure! London. The aquarium includes two classrooms themed around the conservation campaigns which the zoo supports, which host up to 40,000 schoolchildren each year and are open to the public when not in use by the education program. It is involved in several breeding programs including the Cuban crocodile, seahorses, jellyfish and one I had never heard of before, the butterfly splitfin, a bony fish which was formerly found throughout the Ameca River in Mexico. The species was only ever found in an area about 10 miles (15km) in diameter. Rated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a remnant population of the species has been found to persist in El Rincón waterpark near the town of Ameca. It may also exist in a feral state in the United States as individuals apparently derived from escaped or introduced captive stock were met with in southeastern Nevada. It was a popular fish for some time among aquarists, but hobbyist stocks have declined recently, thus placing its survival in jeopardy. Work continues at the aquarium with many conservation organisations including the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Save Our Seas and the Shark Trust.

The London Dungeon.
Photo by claudiocaridi.libero.it2/Deposit Photos.

London is known worldwide for its centuries of history and a fair bit of that history is also quite dark and gruesome. The London Dungeon recreates various gory and macabre historical events in a gallows humour style with the use of live actors and special effects. Due to its dark side The London Dungeons are suitable for older children and adults, all of whom are guided through 19 live shows and 2 thrilling rides, where they learn about everything from The Plague to Jack The Ripper. Here you will meet frightening historical figures, getting face to face with some of the grisliest criminals of London’s past such as Sweeney Todd, Guy Fawkes and, of course, Jack the Ripper. Visitors can go on the ‘Tyrant’s’ boat ride enabling you to follow in the footsteps of one of Henry VIII’s many victims, by going on a boat ride to the Tower of London to meet your fate – just as political prisoners did during his reign of terror. You can also learn about London’s Great Plague, stepping back in time to perhaps the most frightening and deadly era in which to live in London – the time of the Black Death. You can also feel the horror of Jack the Ripper, walking the same dark alleys where he once preyed on his hapless victims. One item not for the faint-hearted is taking a spine-chilling stroll past the grisly torture chamber and there is also the nerve-wracking ‘Drop Dead’ Drop Ride, where you can get your photo taken during the ‘Sudden Drop’ as this ride plummets you eight metres into the pits of darkness. After that, you can make merry in a Victorian pub, because once you’ve finished exploring the Dungeons, there is an atmospheric Tavern which awaits you at the end of your adventure. Have a few drinks at this 19th-century Victorian pub and meet some East-end Victorian characters, such as the loud landlady and landlord. Gather round the ‘old Joanna’ for an authentic pub singalong. Play some card games – but watch out for card sharps and listen to spooky stories as you sit at the tables.

A little about the history of the site. The London Dungeon first opened in 1974 under the railway arches of Tooley Street, near London Bridge. It was originally a waxwork exhibition of gory history with models of Boadicea and Thomas a Becket. Then in the 1990s the exhibition was owned by the Kunick Leisure Group. It evolved to feature walkthrough theatrical shows, such as Jack the Ripper and the Great Fire of London. In 1992 the London Dungeon attraction was acquired by Vardon Attractions (later Merlin Entertainments) headed by Nick Varney. The Dungeon was rebranded as an interactive horror attraction. In 2011, workers at the museum were surprised to discover that one of the skeletons on display at the original London Dungeon was a genuine human skeleton, not a model as they assumed. The human remains had been on display since the attraction first opened. Then in 2013, the London Dungeon moved to the County Hall South Bank. When it departed its first home, many props (model rats, axes, instruments of torture) were sold at a car boot sale in nearby Pimlico. The new building was designed by architect Ralph Knott and was influenced by Baroque-style art and is located directly opposite the Houses of Parliament – the same buildings Guy Fawkes tried to blow up with gunpowder in 1605. The move brought the opportunity to reinvigorate the Dungeon and lots of new and exciting things to do, but rebuilding the house of horrors took an entire year and a budget of £20 million! The London Dungeon uses professionally trained and highly skilled make-up artists to design the wounds, bruises, and blisters to look authentically gruesome whenever a new personality is brought into the famous attraction, but it doesn’t contain any spiritual characters as many believe. Elements of the tour are regularly updated and refreshed, but you won’t see a ghost. You might sit in on a spooky séance, but the London Dungeon is all about the truth. The place caters those with disabilities, there is limited access for wheelchair users with one person using a wheelchair permitted to enter per hour. It is therefore advisable to book in advance. The place is a 90 to 110-minute walking experience, and guests will need to stand for most of it, also priority seating cannot be guaranteed. For people with autism and other neuro-diverse conditions, the London Dungeon is not a scare attraction or a horror maze. It is specifically designed to be a highly sensory experience with dark spaces, loud noises, flashing/strobe lights, pungent smells and jump scares. Staff can identify the Hidden Disabilities sunflower lanyards and ear defenders are available. Please seek help from a member of the team at any point during the tour if you feel the need.

The Young Vic Theatre.
Photo by BasPhoto/Deposit Photos.

In the period after World War II, a Young Vic Company was formed in 1946 by director George Devine as an offshoot of the Old Vic Theatre School for the purpose of performing classic plays for audiences aged nine to fifteen.
This was discontinued in 1948 when Devine and the entire faculty resigned from the Old Vic, but in 1969 Frank Dunlop became founder-director of The Young Vic theatre with ‘Scapino’, his free adaptation of Molière’s The Cheats of Scapin, presented at the new venue as a National Theatre production, opening on 11 September 1970 and starring Jim Dale in the title role with designs by Carl Toms (decor) and Maria Björnson (costumes). Initially part of the National Theatre, the Young Vic Theatre became an independent body in 1974. In the words of Laurence Olivier, then director of the National Theatre, “Here we think to develop plays for young audiences, an experimental workshop for authors, actors and producers.” The aim was to create an accessible theatre which offered high quality at low cost in an informal environment. The aim was to appeal to young audiences, but this time not specifically to children. So the Young Vic continues to be an important theatre for aspiring young performers and directors.

The Royal National Theatre.

The Royal National Theatre in London, commonly known as the National Theatre, is one of the United Kingdom’s three most prominent publicly funded performing arts venues, alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Opera House. Internationally, it is known as the National Theatre of Great Britain. Since it was founded in 1963 by Laurence Olivier, many well-known actors have performed here. Until 1976, the company was based at The Old Vic theatre in Waterloo. The current building is located next to the Thames in the South Bank area of central London. In addition to performances at their building, the National Theatre tour their productions at theatres across the United Kingdom. The theatre has also transferred numerous productions to Broadway and toured some as far as China, Australia and New Zealand. However, touring productions to European cities was suspended in February 2021 over concerns about uncertainty over work permits, additional costs and delays because of Brexit. Permission to add the “Royal” prefix to the name of the theatre was given in 1988, but the full title is rarely used. The theatre presents a varied programme, including Shakespeare, other international classic drama, and new plays by contemporary playwrights. Each auditorium in the theatre can run up to three shows in repertoire, thus further widening the number of plays which can be put on during any one season. In June 2009, the theatre began ‘National Theatre Live’, a programme of simulcasts of live productions to cinemas, first in the United Kingdom and then internationally. The programme began with a production of Phèdre, which was screened live in seventy cinemas across the UK. Their productions have since been broadcast to over 2,500 venues in 60 countries around the world. In November 2020, ‘National Theatre at Home’ was announced. It is a video on demand streaming service, specifically created for National Theatre Live recordings. Videos of plays are added every month, and can be “rented” for temporary viewing, or unlimited recordings can be watched through a monthly or yearly subscription programme. The National Theatre is now world-renowned and stages a diverse range of performances within its three auditoriums. Since its opening night in 1963, it has put on world-class plays with world-class actors. It continues to support and encourage emerging talent from all backgrounds. From the gallery level, the Sherling Backstage Walkway provides visitors with behind the scene views down on to the production workshops. Theatre tours also show you around areas previously graced by the likes of Sir Laurence Olivier, letting you in on the secrets behind staging a show. All these things, just in the borough of Lambeth. I hope to detail more about different areas of London in the future.

This week:
I am in a lovely Care Home, so for a change and as a bit of fun here is a Yorkshire guide to just a few medical terms…

Bacteria – Back door to cafeteria.
Benign – What you be after you be eight.
Cat scan – Searching for kitty.
Cauterise – Made eye contact with her.
Fester – Quicker than someone else.
Fibula – A small lie.
Impotent – Well known.
Labour pain – Getting hurt at work.
Medical staff – A Doctor’s cane.
Nitrates – Higher rates of pay for night working.
Node – I knew it.
Outpatient – A person who has fainted.
Post-operative – A letter carrier.
Recovery room – Place to do upholstery.
Secretion – Hide something.
Tablet – A small table.

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