Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Festival Gardens and more

A strange thing happened on Monday, something which hasn't happened for a few years now - we had a warm and sunny August Bank Holiday in London! I can vividly remember the same day three years ago when I helped on two guided walks on what must have been the wettest day of the year.

On this glorious Monday my partner asked me where I fancied going to explore. This is a question that he asks me most weekends and usually we are able to think of somewhere one or neither of us has been to in or around London. My answer on Monday was Battersea Park. I've seen it from 'my' side of the Thames and even walked a little way along the bit by the river but I didn't really know that much about it or know how large it is.

What I did know was that it had been the Festival Gardens for the Festival of Britain in 1951 and that some of the site was still there, although restored or changed. I was also aware of the Buddhist Peace Temple.

Battersea Park was almost 20 years in the making and was officially opened in 1858, the same year that Chelsea Bridge opened. At the time of opening it still had six years before it was complete. The park is 220 acres of green space that at times feels a long way from the centre of  London or even the Thames.

We wandered without much prior knowledge but found the information boards scattered around very useful. It was looking at one of these that we realised that there was not only a Barbara Hepworth sculpture in the park but a Henry Moore as well.

There are big open spaces, a fun fair, lakes and ponds, an old English garden as well as adventure play areas, boats and lakeside cafes. There is also Battersea Park Children's Zoo for which there is an entry fee.

The Peace Pagoda has been part of the park since 1985 and is a gift of the Japanese Buddhist movement. It is very close to the river and can be clearly seen from the embankment.

Just off of the North Carriage Drive are the fountains and the Grand Vista, the remains of the Festival of Britain Pleasure Gardens from 1951. We saw the fountains working from a distance but these had stopped by the time that we had got close enough to see them properly. I understand that they are only 'live' about once every hour. The area has a feel of the Festival although looking at pictures afterwards there have been some refurbishments by Wandsworth Council that are not entirely true to the original.This area was designed by John Piper and Osbert Lancaster and on this extremely hot August day the pools were being used by many people to cool off.

I loved Battersea Park and wished we had joined the many other people who were enjoying picnics in the sunny expanses or in the shaded areas, next time perhaps.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Happy 70th Birthday Harlow New Town

Wow Harlow you are 70! Harlow New Town received its designation 70 years ago today although building didn't start until 1949.

My first memory of Harlow goes back to the late 1960’s when my dad was General Manager of a car dealership in The Pinnacles. It was a modern, light showroom and I remember that on a Saturday if I went into work with him I was allowed to work the switchboard which was not easy back then…lots of cords and holes ..... 

There were family events for the staff including Bonfire Night fireworks with sausages and jacket potatoes on the wasteland at the back of the dealership. We would also shop in Harlow with its still new Town Square and a very large CO OP that sold clothes. The Pinnacles itself is a wide road flanked on each side with factories and light industry and I distinctly remember the Sandeman's port factory as well as a large biscuit manufacturer.

That was the Harlow I remember from my childhood and a place I didn’t really explore again until my eldest son started sixth form college there in 2007. I didn’t realise how young Harlow was when I first went there and how innovative a scheme it was.

Harlow New Town was created out of necessity after WW2 to provide homes and work for people whose homes and places of work had been destroyed by bombings. The Master Plan was drawn up in 1947 by Sir Frederick Gibberd who became a resident of Harlow. His garden can be visited between April and September. 

Gibberd encouraged up and coming architects to submit plans to the Harlow Development Corporation for this scheme and names such as Powell, Moya, Fry and Drew made their mark. Gibberd himself designed The Lawn in 1951 which was the first residential tower block in the United Kingdom. Harlow was designed in a series of neighbourhoods which provided schools, shops, places of worship and healthcare.

Companies such as Gilbey’s Gin moved their operations and a majority of their workforce out to this shiny New Town in the early 1960’s. Gilbey’s a centuries old company had previously been in Camden on a site that covered over 20 acres.  

What I hadn’t appreciated back then was that Harlow was also known as sculpture town as it had over 70 pieces by leading sculptors on public display. Not many towns can boast having pieces Henry Moore alongside Elisabeth Frink, Barbara Hepworth, William Mitchell and Auguste Rodin.
My favourite piece is by Willi Soukop and is simply called Donkey. He is tiny and hidden on a grassy patch between two rows of houses.   

A very Happy Birthday to the Harlow Not So New Town     

Saturday, 21 January 2017

The National Jazz Archive

Despite having worked next door to this archive for the last 12 years I am ashamed to say that this week I visited the National Jazz Archive for the first time. I had seen various displays of their items as they have a permanent exhibition over several cases on the first floor at Loughton Library in Traps Hill. The National Jazz Archive is itself in Loughton Library on the edge of Epping Forest at the far end of the Central Line.

Located on the first floor in a large side room the archive is run by a part-time archivist, David Nathan and several volunteers. David started at the archive after retiring some 19 years ago so knows the collection inside out. The Reading Room has a large tabled area in the middle for research work. It was founded in 1988 by trumpeter Digby Fairweather to “ensure that the rich tangible cultural heritage of jazz is safeguarded for future generations of enthusiasts, professionals and researchers.” Throughout its existence the archive has been supported by Essex County Council and latterly by grants for specific projects from the Heritage Lottery Fund. They also have several fundraisers each year which has meant that many greats from the world of jazz have played to a select audience at the Loughton Methodist Church on a Saturday afternoon. 

The archive holds the UK's largest collection of printed, written and visual material for jazz, blues and related music from the 1920's to present day. The collection runs to 4,000 books, 700 journals and periodicals, photographs, drawings, paintings, concert and festival programmes as well as posters. Some items are available from shelves although posters and photographs are in a store room. The Lottery Funding that they have received has meant that much of the collection has now been digistised and is available for all to view on the National Jazz Archive website. Posters are mentioned on the website but as yet are not all are photographed although it was looking through the site that I discovered that the posters for the annual Soho Jazz Festival which began in 1986 and finished in 2001 were designed by Eduardo Paolozzi. There is an excellent documentary on YouTube which gives a good snapshot of Soho in the 80's as well as the people behind the festival called 10 Days that Shook Soho.

Their latest Heritage Lottery Fund project is based on oral histories and is called ‘Inergenerational Jazz Reminiscence’ which runs until mid 2017.

I spoke to David Nathan at some length about the collection and looked around the reading room for some time at various items of interest. He is very enthusiastic about the material the archive holds and the artists that they are able to showcase. He showed me a fabulous book of caricatures of jazz artists as well as some photographs that happened to have been given to the archive by a friend of my family.

We spoke about one particular fundraiser only a few years ago, which I was unable to get a ticket for by American singer Buddy Greco and his wife Lezlie. It was sold out and Greco, who died in early January aged 90, put on an amazing afternoon despite being quite frail. I told him that seeing the posters for this event had made me purchase some of his music at the time.

The next fundraiser is on February 11th at Loughton Methodist Church by the Simon Spillett Quartet whose members are Simon, Alec Dankworth, Clark Tracey and John Critchinson.

Patrons of the archive include Courtney Pine, Baroness Amos, Clare Teal, Sir Michael Parkinson and Dame Cleo Laine. At the moment they are also looking for a Trustee.

I will certainly be visiting again but will know what I want to look for next time, having a look through their many boxes of journals may be a starting point. They are open to the public Monday, Tuesday Wednesday and Friday 10am till 1pm. Appointments can be made on a Wednesday afternoon between 1pm and 5pm by calling 020 8502 4701.