DURING A RECENT VISIT to the Wellcome Collection in London’s Euston Road, I saw some artworks that both captured my imagination and were aesthetically pleasing. It was an exhibit by the Moroccan artist Batoul S’Himi (born 1974). Her work in the Wellcome Collection, THE WORLD UNDER PRESSURE, consists of two gas cylinders like those that are used in kitchens around the world, and a commonly used cooking utensil – a pressure cooker. Each of the three objects is empty, and each of them have bits shaped like the map of the continents of the world carefully cut out of them.
According to the label beside the exhibit: “Common yet dangerous objects in Moroccan kitchens, these gas cylinders and pressure cooker are carved with a map of the world. Here, global anxiety intrudes into the home. The artist’s use of domestic objects hints at the unequal burden of climate breakdown, hitting vulnerable people hardest, including women and children. But perhaps there is also hope, as families start to recognise their global impact.” This is what the artist is portraying, but I believe that along with its title, the artwork, which uses containers designed to withstand high pressures, is a great visual metaphor for the myriad of pressures the world faces today. Simple though it is, Ms S’Himi’s work is highly effective and beautifully concise in its messaging.
KNOLE HOUSE IN KENT is filled with marvellous things for the visitor to enjoy. The orangery contains an item that at first sight did not seem to be of great interest. It is a tall, bulky black iron heating stove. Undoubtedly impressive in both size and appearance, it was its inventor that interested me.
The stove, which used to heat Knole’s Great Hall, was patented by its inventor in 1765. The example at Knole was manufactured in 1774. The man who invented this kind of stove was Abraham Buzaglo (1710-1782), born in Mogador (Morocco), son of a rabbi who served in that town. In 1762 after many years travelling, Abraham settled in England.
Buzaglo’s stoves were multi-tiered devices, suitable for heating large spaces. He may have got the idea for his design having seen similar stoves whilst travelling on mainland Europe, particularly in Germany where multi-tier heating stoves were in widespread use. Coal was burnt in the bottom tier of the stove and a vent with a pipe conducted smoke and any fumes and smoke away from the oven without allowing them to enter the room where it was being used. How Buzaglo’s invention differed from earlier multi-tier stoves, I have not yet discovered. However, his stoves were in great demand. One of his trade cards, kept in the British Museum, reads as follows:
“Buzaglo Patent Warming Machine Maker To Their Majesties, Strand, London. N.B. Lately finished, a very Large and Elegant Warming Machine, with one fire only will agreeably Warm the Largest Church Hall, &c. and render any new Edifice immediately habitable, with a variety of others.”
Following the invention of his heating system, Buzaglo invented a therapeutic method that made use of the heat emitted. Patients waited near a stove until they were sweating profusely, and then undertook muscular exercise. This therapy, it was suggested, was especially good for alleviating the symptoms of gout. Buzaglo also invented a heater to warm carriages.
The Buzaglo stove at Knole was in use until the 19th century, when it was moved to be stored in the orangery. Apart from being an attractive bit of ironmongery, this rare example of a surviving Buzaglo heater introduced me to an 18th century inventor, whom I had never heard of before.
FOR SEVEN YEARS, between 1994 and 2001, I treated dental problems at a dental practice in Golborne Road in North Kensington. The place was like a United Nations of bad teeth. My patients hailed from places including Brazil, the Caribbean, Spain, Zimbabwe, Ireland, England, Uganda, Portugal, St Helena, Italy, the USA, and North Africa. Most of the North Africans were from Morocco because many people from that country live in the housing estates that are close to Golborne Road. Although I used to make good use of the lovely shops and eateries on that road and nearby Portobello Road, I never bothered to walk northwest along Golborne beyond Trellick Tower (designed by Ernő Goldfinger and built in 1972), in whose shadow the road lies. Trellick Tower stands next to the Paddington Arm (branch) of the Grand Union Canal. At its base and running along about 450 yards of the west side of the canal, is the Meanwhile Gardens, which we visited for the first time last year, almost 20 years since I stopped working at Golborne Road.
Since the worsening of the covid19 pandemic in December 2020/January 2021, we have been on the lookout for shops where there are few other customers and there is plenty of space to avoid them. We have discovered that the Ladbroke Grove branch of Sainsburys, which is next to the canal towpath a few feet west of the bridge carrying Ladbroke Grove over the canal, is such a place. I have never been in a supermarket with such wide aisles; they are about 15 feet in width. It is also well-stocked, and the staff are helpful. The check-out area looks as if it has been designed with efficient ‘socialdistancing’ in mind. In addition, the large car park allows drivers to leave their vehicles free-of-charge for up to three hours. Do not worry, I do not have shares in Sainsburys.
After a spell of shopping, we tend to walk along the towpath that runs past the supermarket. Apart from joggers, who often feel (sometimes aggressively) that they have right of way over other pedestrians, and (usually considerate) cyclists, this path affords a pleasant and visually varied place to stretch one’s legs. Walking east from Sainsburys, soon the towpath runs alongside Meanwhile Gardens. There are several apertures through which one can enter the gardens from the towpath, and you can also gain access to the place from the streets that surround it.
The Meanwhile Gardens were conceived as a green space for the local, then generally low-income, mixed race community, in 1976 by Jamie McCollough, an artist and engineer (https://meanwhile-gardens.org.uk/history/16). They were laid out on a strip of derelict land, which once had terraced housing and other buildings before WW1, with financial assistance from the Gulbenkian Foundation and other organisations. They were, according to circular plaques embedded in the ground, “improved 2000”.
The gardens and the Sainsbury supermarket are in a part of London that used to be known as ‘Kensal Town’. Where the supermarket is now was part of an extensive gasworks, the remains of which can be seen nearby in the form of a disused gasometer. Residential buildings began appearing in the 1850s and many local people were employed in laundry work and at the gasworks of the Western Gas Company that was opened in 1845 (www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol37/pp333-339). In the 1860s and ‘70s, there was much housebuilding in and around the area now occupied by Meanwhile Gardens. Golborne Road was extended to reach this area in the 1880s. Many of its inhabitants were railway workers and migrants whose homes in central London had been demolished. The area was severely overcrowded and extremely poor. Few houses had gardens and the population density was high. After WW2, many of these dwellings were demolished and replaced by blocks of flats, including Trellick Tower, and smaller but salubrious shared dwellings. These residential streets contain the homes of many of my former dental patients.
A winding path links the various lovely parts of the garden including a sloping open space; a concrete skate park; a children’s play area; several sculptures; small, wooded areas; some interlinked ponds with a wooden viewing platform; plenty of bushes and shrubs; bridges; and a walled garden that acts as a suntrap. Near the latter, there is a tall brick chimney, the remains of a factory. The chimney was built in 1927 near to the former Severn Valley Pure Milk Company and the Meadowland Dairy. It was the last chimney of its kind to be built along the Paddington Arm canal and is completely dwarfed by the nearby Trellick Tower.
The Morroccan Garden, an exquisite part of the Meanwhile Gardens, was opened by Councillor Victoria Borwick on behalf of the local Moroccan community in 2007. It celebrates the achievements of that community and is open for all to enjoy. A straight path of patterned black and white tiling leads from the main path across a small lawn to a wall. A colourful mosaic with geometric patterning and a small fountain is attached to the wall, creating the illusion that a tiny part of Morocco has been transported into the Meanwhile Gardens. Nearby, there are a few seats for visitors to enjoy this tiny enclave in the gardens.
Words are insufficient to fully convey the charm of the Meanwhile Gardens, one of London’s many little gems. If you can, you should come to experience this leafy oasis so near the busy Harrow Road. In addition, a stroll along the canal tow path, where you can see an amazing variety of houseboats and plenty of waterfowl, is bound to be rewarding.