Ian's quirky guide to cheap events in London updated daily, and regular blog about history, events and geeky interests. Learn about London's heritage, transport, architecture, and offbeat geeky events that are taking place. The more obscure the better.
Most visitors to a grand cathedral are going to want to admire grand monuments, of which St Paul’s is packed full of – but what about the smaller monuments?
Or the smallest.
Here are, which I think are the three smallest monuments inside the mighty and grand St Paul’s Cathedral.
This can be found in the corner of the North Transept.
These two fairly small brass plaques are mounted underneath a much larger and related monument to those who lost their lives in the South African War 1899-1902.
The two brass plaques read:
5th (Militia) Battalion The Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment) 1888-1918 Presented by Field Marshal H.R.H. The Duke of Cambridge at Hounslow 22nd June 1888
6th (Militia) Battalion The Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment) 1890-1918 Presented by Field Marshal H.R.H. The Duke of Cambridge at Hounslow 22nd July 1890
The Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge’s Own) was a line infantry regiment of the British Army in existence from 1881 until 1966. Their nickname, the “Die-hards” was gained the name during the Peninsular War when, at the Battle of Albuera on 16 May 1811 their commander Colonel Inglis had his horse shot from under him, severely wounded and outnumbered by the French he called to his men “Die hard, 57th. Die hard!”
Above both plaques is their crest with the name of Albuera.
The following two — accidentally related — can be found in the South Choir Aisle.
Here, squashed between a box and a wall is a stone plaque with brass knot/bolt and Latin inscription that roughly reads:
LAPIDEM QVI TEMPLO HIEROSOLYMAITANO OLUM INHAREREBAT E TERRA SANCTA REDVX HVC VSQVE ASPORTAVIT H.P. LIDDON. S.T.P. HVJVSCE ECCL. CATH. CANONICVS A.S. MDCCCLXXXVI
Which has been roughly translated as “The stone which was brought from the Temple of Solomon returning it to this sacred earth forever, presented by this ecclesiastical Catholic canon H. P. Liddon in 1886”
Henry Parry Liddon (1829–1890) was an English theologian, who came to fame for his hugely popular sermons at St Paul’s Cathedral in the 1860s. The afternoon sermon, which fell to the canon in residence, had usually been delivered in the choir, but soon after Liddon’s appointment it became necessary to preach the sermon under the dome, where from 3000 to 4000 persons used to gather to hear him.
He later travelled through Palestine and Egypt, where it is presumed he picked up this stone.
…oh, and taking photos of a lump of dark stone squashed in a narrow gap behind a storage cupboard really intrigues tourists who came over to see what I had found, and walked away less than impressed.
And finally, here is a memorial plaque celebrating the betrothal of Jacob Pennethorne to Anna Lidedon with what is described in the Cathedral archive as a bronze carving above it. The carving is said in the archive to be “of a flower and what might be the corner of a lounging chair”.
The Latin reads:
QVAS TEMPLI HIEROSOLYMITANI RELIQVIAS IACOBVSEERGVSSON VIRE PERITISSIMVS IACOBO PENNETHORNE EQVITI OLIM DEDERAT HVIVSCE FILIA ANNA S. LISSON IN HAC ECCL CATH D. PAVLI APOST CONSERVANAS ESSE VOLVIT A.S. MDSCCCLXXXIX
Which has been roughly translated as “The man Jacob Fergusson gave his only remaining daughter Anna S Liddon to the skilled horseman Jacob Pennethorne in this ecclesiastical cathedral of Paul the Apostle made from the Temple of Solomon…”
Jacob Fergusson was a Scottish architect who made his fortune in India and now rich enough dabbled in archeology. Although he did a lot of good work, he also published a rather discredited theory that Solomon’s Temple stood not where the Dome of the Rock is located, but on the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount
He was however eminent enough to be part of the restoration committee at St Paul’s Cathedral in the late 18th century. This memorial was placed here by his daughter three years after his death in 1886.
However, the archive description of the “bronze” may be incorrect, as a report in the Biblical Archeological Society suggests that this stone fragment came from Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, where other similarly decorated stones are known to have been found – and is potentially from King Herod’s second temple.
Which actually makes this hidden away lump of stone really quite significant.
If you head over to Finsbury Square at the moment, you’ll see a very odd sight – of a black steam train surrounded by seating.
This is SmoKing’s BBQ locomotive — and is actually a gigantic barbeque serving up meaty meals for the locals. It makes perfect sense, as steam train firemen have been cooking their fried breakfasts on the coal skittle used to keep real steam engines running ever since the locomotive was invented.
So here in the heart of the city is a modern twist on that old idea.
Obviously, the railway pedants will whinge that it’s an American style locomotive not a British one, but pedantry of that sort is about as much use as a vegan at a meat feast. Regardless of the technicalities, it’s a lovely design, all blackened and bronzed decorations.
It could so easily have been just an industrial decorative object in the style that’s so popular in fashionable bars these days, but that it actually works — in that it cooks your lunch for you — makes it quite delightful.
According to their website, the steam engine will be serving up lunches Mon-Fri 11am-3pm.
They can also take the locomotive to events at other venues — it actually runs on the road — if you fancy having burgers for your summer fete cooked in a steam train.
This is one of those dirty alleys that that overflows with rubbish and mess, but it also has the moon in the midst of its grime and clutter.
The alley seems to appear as a much wider courtyard space between two blocks of houses in around the 16th century as the area was being built up but within a century it had taken on its current very narrow alignment.
To the north side is the Prince of Wales theatre, which was first built on the site in 1884 and given its current name just two years later, after the future Edward VII.
That building was torn down in 1937 and the current art-deco inspired theatre built to cope with increased demand. On 17 June 1937, Gracie Fields sang to the workmen as she laid the foundation stone of the new building.
The southern side had remained a cluster of smaller buildings, including the Pickwick Inn, and famous Stones Chop House, but was badly damaged by bombs in WW2 and largely torn down to be replaced with the 1950s Clareville House — which was occupied by Stones until the 1980s.
The building was recently refurbished internally, and as a condition of the works, Westminster Council required a piece of public art to be provided, and that’s why there’s a rather odd and tired looking fabric circle hanging in the middle of the alley.
It used to look rather more impressive though.
It’s called “La nuit” by the artist Mark Pimlott. When installed in 2009, strings of lights were draped along the alley to mimic the stars that would never be visible from the ground in this part of London.
The orb is the moon, and a nearby lamp would project the actual phases of the moon onto it.
The planning permission granted in 2007 noted that “a good maintenance regime will clearly be important for this proposal. It will look very poor if allowed to slip into neglect”.
Sadly, it seems the planners were right. The strings of stars were recently torn down, and as far as I am aware, the moon phase illumination is also no longer functional. As least it’s never been when I walked past.
Today it’s a curious “thing” hanging in the alley looking rather left over from grander times.
The alley is today pretty much what it has always been, a back access to the main buildings on either side, so filled up with rubbish carts waiting to be taken away and staff popping out for a smoke.
The original hope was that the artwork would turn the alley into a destination in its own right, hence the decision to add local area signs to help tourists admiring the artwork to get back to to the main attractions.
A ride to the Flodden Memorial to commemorate the dead of 1513. Wreaths are laid, a short service held and an oration delivered by a guest speaker. Friday evening sees a torchlight procession and firework display.
The Richard III Society visits Bosworth for its annual commemoration of the Battle. A service is held in Sutton Cheney church to honour the fallen in the battle and is attended by Society members from around the world.
The odd spectacle of watching people race and chase oranges down a steep high street in Totnes, South Devon. The tradition reputedly dates back to the day Sir Francis Drake bumped into a delivery boy, causing him to spill his fast-moving fruit down the hill.
Procession around the local area with a two-wheeled cart filled with rushes, in a slightly conical shape thirteen feet high weighing about two tons to the local Church. Some 150 men pull on the "stangs" fixed to strong rope which, in turn, is fixed to the cart.
The ancient ritual of Burning Bartle takes place every year, when a larger than life figure is paraded down the village main street accompanied by repeated chants of the Bartle doggerel. When Bartle reaches ‘his end’ in Grassgill, he is set alight, accompanied by songs and cheers from the assembled masses.
People traveling along part of the Jubilee line will soon be able to use their mobile phones while still in the tunnels.
When it goes live, smartphones will be able to connect to Wi-Fi services in the platforms, and switch to cellular coverage when passing through the tunnels. The mobile coverage will also be available in the stations, as a back-up for the Wi-Fi, or for people who don’t have access to the Wi-Fi through their phone account.
Equipment supporting mobile phone coverage is currently being added to the tunnels between Westminster and Canning Town and is expected to switch-on next March. The service will also support all three main phone technologies, GSM, 3G and 4G, with 5G to be added later.
The bit some will hate is that it will support voice calls as well as mobile data services, although realistically saying “I’m on the train” isn’t going to be easy in a noisy tube train as it roars through the tunnels.
The first phase that goes live next March will be a trial of the service, and TfL is planning to issue a contract shortly afterwards to expand the service to the rest of the network, with the aim of having the whole tube tunnel network covered by the mid-2020s.
Providing phone coverage underground has been a very long time coming, with many rumours and false-starts over the years. A trial using Huawei hardware and 4G services provided by O2 and Vodafone in the Waterloo and City line in 2017 proved that the technology could be deployed into London’s rather more complicated tunnels infrastructure.
The trigger for the project to go ahead though was thanks to the need to upgrade the existing radio communications network to support the Home Office’s new Emergency Services Network, and when you’re doing that sort of work, adding mobile phone coverage is a modest additional outlay.
Leaky feeder cable installation (c) TfL
Both the emergency services and the mobile phone signals will delivered into the tunnels along long cables known as leaky feeders, essentially a coaxial cable that has small sections of its copper shielding stripped away to allow radio frequency (RF) signals to escape.
However, it’s not as simple as simply running a long cable along the tunnels. Sometimes multiple cables have to be used due to the different frequencies being deployed for the various phone technologies and networks. It’s not just a bundle of cables though, as the arrangement of the cables in the bundle will affect the way the radio signal leaks out into the tunnels.
Leaky feeder cables also tend to be quite bulky and the cable is rather inflexible as a result, making installation in the tunnels a challenge.
Leaky feeder cable installation (c) TfL
Once installed though, not only do unexpected localised inference issues arise, as while the clay surrounding the tunnels generally absorbs the signals, the tunnel walls and impurities in the surrounding clay can cause unexpected partial refractions in the signal and cause interference to build up.
Add in the trains themselves, with their high electricity currents, electrical motors and sensitive electronics, and the environment for a reliable phone network in the tunnels isn’t a pleasant one.
The trial will help iron out problems that are essentially impossible to test for in a laboratory situation.
By installing cabling within tunnels and stations in advance of awarding the concession to the long term provider, TfL said that it can better manage station access, reduce the amount of disruption these works may cause to customers and allow the concessionaire to then quickly utilise infrastructure once the final contract is awarded. TfL has also begun discussions with mobile network operators to ensure they can access the infrastructure for the pilot.
Once fully delivered, more than 2,000 kilometres of cabling are expected to have been installed within tunnels and stations, all of which will need to be fitted outside of operational hours.
TfL should then be able to recover its costs by renting the capacity to the mobile networks, as happens in most other underground railways that offer phone coverage. How each mobile network operator then decides to offer the service to their customers will be a matter for them to decide later.
Some will doubtless bemoan the arrival of phone coverage on the tube, but as many trains are quite noisy, the chances of making a voice call are slim, and even above ground, most people seem to use phones to read stuff than to talk with.
A street in Bermondsey has a car repair shop with a relic of times when horsepower was measured in low digits – two horses heads on the frontage.
This is formally 2a Morocco Street, and used to be a forge and coach house. The rear yard still contains the original white glaze bricks and tethering rings for the horses.
In the early 20th century with the decline of horse driven transport and the rise of the motor car the premises became a garage. The repair and maintenance of road vehicles has been on the site for over 200 hundred years, from the repairs of carriages and horse gear to present day cars.
Although the two horse heads look original, one at least is either a replica, or restoration, as it wasn’t there when this photo was taken in 1969 and still missing when this photo was taken in 1981.
Today it’s RW Autos, and the current owners, looking after mechanical horses, are Patrick and Ian, part of a familiy that has run the company for three generations and started working together when they were 16 and 14 years old respectively. They both took over RW Autos in 1990.
Next to the old building is a road junction leading off to what is today called Leathermarket Street, but used to be plain Market Street, adopting the Leather part of the name long shortly before the leather makers of the area departed. It’s an echo of the time when the whole area was filled with the vile smells and noised of the leather tanners.
Today though, the area is mostly residential, and the ongoing presence of the motor car workshop seems to be causing annoyance to people who moved into the area recently. A planning application to revamp the flats and build a new extension for the owner/occupier threw up an unusually large number of comments from locals, some supportive, and quite a few very much not at all keen.
The planning application was approved — and the old forge will continue servicing mechanical horses for many years to come.
Which makes a pleasant change from the ongoing wave of cafes taking over the place.
A long strip of land next to High Barnet tube station has been earmarked for conversion into a long strip of blocks of flats.
Located half way up Barnet Hill, the station is an important gateway to Chipping Barnet, Underhill and New Barnet. TfL says that despite their prominent location the station and the area around it have poor accessibility.
The land is currently split between a car park for the station, and a range of light-industrial uses and container storage.
Goggle satellite view
TfL says that the site has potential for over 450 new homes instead. 40% of the new homes will be classed as “affordable”. The initial plan calls for the construction of seven blocks of flats.
A pocket park with a widened, and lit footpath, which meanders through the trees could replace the existing narrow walkway off Barnet Hill, and an upgraded station square outside the station buildings are planned. Proposals for the land at the top entrance to the station include the construction of a cycle hub and coffee shop.
Although the light industrial occupants will have to be removed, the plans include building workspaces to help businesses start up and stay in the area. They anticipate that the proposals could directly provide 40 new full-time jobs and create 50 in the wider area.
One aspect that’s not on the plans is that the station entrance is at the end of a road and a footpath down two slopes, whereas moving the station entrance to the end of the road (where TfL’s Abrams House is), would make the station entrance a lot more visible, and for those coming from the south, a shorter journey.
Essentially flipping the station access around — but that would push the costs up.
Local MP, Theresa Villiers has said though that she will fight the plans to build over the car parks as she says they are essential for the local community. At a public meeting, there was also opposition from local residents.
Around a quarter of the car park would be retained, for blue-badge holders.
The project is being managed by a consortium of Transport for London, Taylor Wimpey and Pinnacle Regen.
Self driving cars may seem like a modern invention, but they’re much older than you might realise.
A new exhibition at the Science Museum shows off an early pioneer — a 1960 Citroen DS19 automatically-guided motor car, with its black sleek lines, and very 1960s looking computer in the back seat.
While most of the headlines are about cars, and their long gestation towards commercial opportunities, it’s elsewhere that autonomous vehicles are already in action.
Not featured are the vast army of bots travelling around factories today — but two interesting devices are on show — a mine sweeper and a farming vehicle. The mine sweeper is a reminder that the future will not look like the present — where too often we are lured into bolting on features to familiar shapes.
The farming bot is shown with that most English of products, a bottle of gin made from the harvest it grew.
Talking of totally British approach, here is the Starship — a home delivery robot that can already be found trundling around the streets of Milton Keynes dropping off parcels, and recently added deliveries of piping hot Fish and Chips to its capabilities.
These sorts of delivery vehicles are likely to be the more commonplace autonomous vehicles of the future — replacing the many vans on the streets with small electric bots.
It’s a modest exhibition, but one that shows the variety of vehicles being developed — and the future is likely to be a vast array of specialised devices for different requirements. Away with the standardised “man and a van” delivering parcels, and hello to a fleet of bots trundling, climbing and flying around the urban spaces.
In a way that’ll be a far bigger change than we have ever experienced in locomotion. The transition from horse carriage, to omnibus to motor vehicle has simply been a change in the power supply, it’s always been basically a cart with wheels and an engine — not really a fundamental change in locomotion as a concept.
The winners of the next few decades of automation will be the companies that ask why a delivery machine or robot needs to look like a rectangle on wheels.