A bell at Byculla railway station

THE RAILWAY LINE between Bombay(Mumbai) and Thane was opened in 1853. Byculla Station was one of its original stations when trains began running along this stretch of track. At first a wooden building, it was soon replaced by the present stone structure, which was ready for use in 1857. This historic station, the oldest surviving railway station in India. was beautifully restored recently.

On platform 1, I spotted an old bell hanging close to one of the station’s offices. It is marked with the initials “GIPR”and the date 1863. The letters are the initials of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway company, which was incorporated in 1849. In contract with the British East India Company, its aim was to link the British Presidencies by rail. The first stretch to be built was that between Bombay and Thane.

The bell carries the name of its manufacture – “Mears & Co. Founders London”. This bell foundry, first established in the 16th century, moved to London’s Whitechapel Road in the very early 18th century. It was where one of the largest bells in St Paul’s Cathedral was made. The Mears family ran the foundry between 1784 until 1873.

The foundry ceased working in 2017. The bell at Byculla Station has by now long outlived the bell foundry in Whitechapel and the British Empire, during whose existence it was manufactured.

Late bloomers in London’s Regents Park

THE BEST TIME to see flowering roses in the Queen Mary’s Garden (‘QMG’) in London’s Regent Park is in the first half of June. At that time most of the 12000 rose plants in the gardens, created in 1934, are likely to be in bloom. So, it was with some trepidation that we took our friends to see the QMG, Although I did not say so, my feeling was that as far as blooms were concerned, this would be a disappointing visit. To my great surprise, it was not such a pointless visit as I had feared. There were a substantial number of rose plants either in bud or in full bloom.

Seeing the roses in bloom in November made me do a little research. I discovered that there are several varieties of rose plants that flower in autumn in the northern hemisphere. These varieties include (according to an American website): Hybrid Tea, Floribunda, Grandiflora, and Climbing Roses. According to another source, some roses have a very long flowering season that can extend into October and November.

I have no idea what kind of roses we saw during our late November visit to the QMG. However, seeing these attractive flowers made me realise that a visit to this garden as late as November need not be a disappointment if seeing flowers is your desire.

A Turkish delight in London’s Dalston

KINGSLAND ROAD AND nearby in London’s Dalston area is rich in restaurants and other eateries serving Turkish food. Early in this century, “Time Out” magazine rated the Mangal Ocakbasi (now called ‘Mangal 1’) restaurant at number 10 Arcola Street as being one of London’s best Turkish restaurants. For those who do not know, ‘ocakbasi’ means ‘fireside’ and ‘mangal’ means ‘barbecue’ or ‘grill’. When we first went to Mangal, and for many years after that, there were tables alongside the long rectangular pit filled hot charcoal, upon which meat and vegetables are grilled. Recently, the restaurant has been redesigned and the grilling area is no longer alongside the tables.

Lokma

The meat served is top quality. It seems far better than that served in the many other Turkish restaurants we have tried in London. Although there is a wide variety of main courses on offer, the range of ‘starter’ dishes on the menu is not as great as at some other restaurants. If it is starters and meze that you are after, the nearby Umut 2000 (on Crossway) is worth visiting. However, their main meat dishes are not nearly as tasty as those at Mangal in Arcola Street. Having said that, Mangal does serve an excellent freshly grilled aubergine hors d’oeuvre. Desserts are not available, but there are plenty of places along Kingsland Road offering a wide range of very sweet but tasty confectionery.

Our favourite dishes at Mangal are lokma, which is grilled rolled fillet of lamb, and yorgutlu Adana, which is pieces of semi-spicy Adana kebab in a yogurt and tomato sauce with lumps of Turkish bread. The lokma and other kebab dishes are served with generous quantities of fresh mixed salad containing many ingredients. As for drinks, you can bring your own alcohol or buy it from the restaurant. If I order a drink apart from water, I always go for Şalgam, which is a purple-coloured drink containing fermented turnip. This has a deliciously sour taste.

We first ate at Mangal in the early 2000s, when we attended a play in which one of my dental patients was acting. The theatre, The Arcola, was across the road from the restaurant, but has now shifted to larger premises on nearby Ashwin Street (close to Dalston Junction station). We loved the food at Mangal from the very first bite. We have been eating there occasionally ever since then, and the quality of the food has never once faltered. We have been there so often that the older members of its staff recognise us, welcome us warmly, and remember what we like eating. Even though this Turkish delight, frequently patronised by the artists Gilbert and George, is far from where we live in Kensington, it is well worth ‘trekking’ across London to get there.

Our local library saved from closure

THE NOTTING HILL GATE public library is close to where we live. It consists of three main rooms. Two of them have beautiful painted stucco ceilings. The third, which might have once had such a ceiling, does not have one now. However, it retains some wood panelling with an upper carved wooden margin. Each of the rooms retains the remnants of fine stucco work on their walls. The library occupies much of the ground floor of a large house at the corner where Pembridge Square meets Pembridge Road.

I asked one of the librarians about the history of the building housing the library. She believed that it had once been a large private residence, which the last owner had given the local authority many years ago. She told me that in addition to the library, the house has fats on its upper floors. Sadly, the ceilings have to be restored often because there are often water leaks from the upper floors.

A few years ago, there was a real risk that this branch library would be closed by the local Council (The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea). Vigorous protests by the branch library’s many users and other locals saved the place from closure. To reduce running costs, the library is not always open, but access is possible at odd times almost every day of the week except Sunday.

A quirky little open space in North Kensington

OVERLOOKED BY GOLDFINGER’S brutalist block of flats and hemmed in by Elkstone Road, Golborne Road, and the tracks of the Great Western Railway, there is a small patch of ground that serves as a little haven. Usually occupied by a few local characters, this space measures about 40 by 13 yards. It is The Elkstone Road Garden Oasis.

A curved wall at its northern end is covered with well painted murals depicting musicians and other figures, who I guess might be portraits of people well-known to those who use the garden. There are plenty of plants in this little oasis. Some of them are plastic artificial flowers picturesquely positioned. Others are real. Some of them have little notices next to them, identifying and explaining something about them. There are also printed notices that contain worthy thoughts about life. Amongst the rather tatty chairs, tables, and a small bookshelf, there is a wooden bench with a label stating that it was donated to a parochial organisation by the Chelsea Physic Garden. An online article published in 2018 (https://communityreporter.net/story/oasis-north-kensington-4-jun-2018-1249) revealed:


“The Elkstone Road Garden Oasis in fact, a small strip of land with a history of being neglected and abused. Originally rescued by the work of MIND volunteers the Oasis is now being managed by the Chelsea Physic Garden, which enjoys a somewhat longer history being created in 1683. Building on the work completed by MIND the Physic Garden, with grants from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Band Trust, City Bridge Trust and Turning Point, seeks to provide the local community with a beautiful space, in which the people who live in this area, adults and children, can enjoy being involved in the world of plants and wildlife. Colville Primary school are already participating in developing the garden, with visits every Thursday by Year three pupils. This is a popular activity and always provides a healthy injection of enthusiasm into the Garden.”

Long before Trellick Tower was constructed in the early 1970s and when Elkstone Road was named ‘Southam Street’, the area now occupied by the open space and that where Trellick Tower now stands was covered with rows of small, terraced houses. Unlike the nearby Meanwhile Garden (running alongside the Grand Union Canal), which is well-documented, the small, rather quirky open space I have described above seems to be slightly ‘off the radar’.

A trade union for actors and actresses

WHILE DRINKING IN the first-floor bar of the Duke of York’s Theatre (‘DOY’) in London’s St Martin’s Lane, I noticed an interesting small commemoration plaque. But before discussing that, first a few words about the theatre.

The DOY was opened in 1892 with the name ‘The Trafalgar Square Theatre’. Later, it was given its present name in honour of the Duke of York, who later became King George V. It was designed by the leading theatre and music hall architect Walter Emden (1847-1913). Amongst the many plays performed in this beautiful fin-de-siecle theatre where JM Barrie’s play, the precursor of his book, “Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up” which was premiered in late 1904. The theatre was bought by the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) in 1992. Since its opening, many successful plays have been performed in it. The play we watched in mid-November 2022 was “The Doctor” by Robert Icke. It was a lively and engaging play that was crammed a bit too full of dilemmas that trouble us today.

The plaque, which I noticed whilst waiting to enter the auditorium was put on the wall of the bar to celebrate that on the 1st of December 1929, a mass meeting of actors and actresses was held in the theatre. Those assembled resolved to form the ‘British Actors Equity Association’. Above this plaque, there is a framed document with many signatures below the words:
“We the undersigned, hereby pledge ourselves that we will not enter into any engagements with Theatre Managers on conditions which would deny our right to refuse to work with non-members of Equity.”


Amongst the signatures on this undated document, I was able to read those of Flora Robson, Hermine Baddeley, Violet and Irene Vanburgh, Marie Burke, Reginald Backs, Robert Donat, Sybil Thorndyke, Leslie Henson, Godfrey Searle, and many others.


This document marked the birth of the actors’ union known as Equity. As the document suggested, and like many other British trade unions, Equity adopted the closed-shop policy. When this was made illegal by Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 1980s, joining the union required evidence of having experience of a sufficient amount of paid professional work.

I must admit that I am not sure whether seeing the memorial to the foundation of Equity was not more exciting for me than watching the play I had come to see.

Body Politics at the Barbican Gallery

AT THE TICKET desk of the Barbican Gallery we were hesitantly asked if we knew about the exhibition of Carolee Schneemann (1939-2019) because it contains some sexually explicit exhibits. We said we knew roughly what we were heading for.

The exhibition is laid out on two floors and visitors are given a suggested route that allows one to see the gradual development of Schneemann’s work from abstract and semi-abstract painting through to highly adventurous installations and happenings (to use a word that assumed a special meaning in the 1960s).

The artist’s earlier works are on the upper floor. Dissatisfied with the relative flatness of painting on canvas, she began adding a third dimension to her paintings. Soon she was producing collections of objects in boxes, rather like the kind of things produced by Joseph Cornell. Unlike Cornell, who filled his boxes and frames with intact objects, Schneemann filled hers with damaged objects, such as rusty musical boxes and fragments of broken glass.

Much of Schneemann’s work became involved with the human body and sexual experiences, as depicted from the female point of view. In many of her creations, she used her own body as a prop. For example, there is a film recording of a ‘happening’ during which she painted glue on her naked body and then applied scraps of paper to herself, creating a human collage. Many of her other works either defy description or if described might disturb the squeamish or prudish reader.

Later in her career, she moved from depicting the body and sexual matters to political comment and protest. Most of these often powerful works are in the form of videos and installations.

I much preferred the earlier works on the upper floor. They were created as timeless artworks that could be looked at whenever. The more adventurous and innovative works on the lower floor are mostly almost static records of events that would have been seen to full and maximum effect when they took place in real life so many years ago. That said, this exhibition was both exciting and interesting.

Glorious detail in a gothic revival church

I HAD PASSED it often, but never entered it until recently when I attended a concert within it. I am talking about a church on Holland Road in West London not far from Shepherds Bush, St John the Baptist. This Anglican church is an exceptional example of gothic revival style. Designed by James Brooks (1825-1901) with John Standen Adkins (an assistant of Brooks), it was constructed between 1872 and 1910.

Although the façade facing Holland Road is not exceptional, the church’s interior is highly breathtakingly decorative. Unlike mediaeval churches, which took centuries to complete, St John the Baptist was constructed in much less time. Yet, its decorative details, which imitate what is best in many older churches, rival those found within the old ones. The workmanship and fine details in St John’s remind one of the best productions of craftsmen, who flourished many centuries earlier. However, unlike the earlier churches, which inspired the designers of St John’s, the interior of the church on Holland Road looks too good to be true. Completed in a relatively short period, the variety that adds to the charm of gothic churches built in earlier times and more slowly is lacking in St John’s and other fine examples of late Victorian gothic revival buildings. What we see at St John’s is the realisation of the architects’ concept of an ideal ‘mediaeval’ church. What was achieved at St John’s is probably something like the results early creators of (mediaeval) churches hoped to create, but never lived long enough to see fully realised.

The attention to detail in the better gothic revival churches, such as St John’s, is marvellous. The result is an ensemble of decorative features rich in meticulously executed intricate details. While I was listening to the concert in St John’s, my eyes took in the details of the church, and I began thinking it was amazing that the elaborate attention to fiddly ornate minutiae was carried out only a few years before architectural trends turned through 180 degrees from excessively decorative to the greater simplicity of much 20th century architecture.