St Pancras Old Church and the Hardy Tree.

February 19 2016 – London.

Last weekend, and over far too many glasses of red wine for a Sunday night a friend told me about St Pancras Old Church and its small cemetery. I had not heard of it before, and it sounded like just the sort of place I would like to visit. One of the things I love about London is hearing about, or finding for myself, places of interest that just seem to be lost to the general public and hidden from the main tourist trail. Places that have a long history or are a small, yet key chapter in the tale of London, the UK or further afield. I am sure this is true for all cities and large towns, there are stories there to be found, if you look in the right places.

St Pancras Old Church is hardly hidden from view. It is right next to St Pancras station, one of the busiest train stations in London, but it is way past the entrance to the station, and as we well know, most folk just walk the popular busy routes. Straying up side streets is too slow – or maybe just too dangerous (sorry for the additional drama – I have been reading Steven King !).

St Pancras Old Church can be found on St Pancras Road, it is believed to be one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in England, and is dedicated to the martyr St Pancras. St Pancras was a very early Roman Christian and was beheaded at the age of 14 in 304 – his skull remains in St Pancras church, but the one in Rome.



The church’s history remains a bit murky, with conflicting versions of when the site was first used for worship. One version suggests that this was consecrated ground as far back as 314, while another suggests the ninth century. Whatever its origins the church and the surrounding area were largely left deserted in the 14th century when the population moved up to what is now Kentish Town due to flooding from the River Fleet. The church was left in a state of disrepair and was only occasionally used until it was renovated in the 19th century.


To add to its mystery, due to its state of disrepair it was one of last churches to hold a Catholic mass after the dissolution of the monasteries in the late 1530s and it is said to be one of the last places in England to toll a bell for mass. It was also one of the few places in London were Catholics were buried, with the son of composer Johan Sebastian Bach being buried here. I did not find his grave.I did find others though.



The grounds of the church are as interesting as the history of the site. The tomb of architect John Sloane was the inspiration for one of Britain’s most loved and well known icons – the red telephone box, which were designed by architect Giles Scott once he had become the patron of the John Sloane Museum. It is one of a very small number of grade 1 listed monuments in the UK.


Burials were stopped in the churchyard in 1854 when construction started on the new St Pancras station. In the mid 1860s a young architect by the name of Thomas Hardy (THAT Thomas Hardy – he wasn’t born an author !) was placed in charge of the moving of a number of those buried and the Hardy Tree still remains. This was the attraction that drew me to visit, though I have to say that being made to read all ten gazillion pages of Tess of the bloody D’Urbervilles at age 16 was one of my most painful memories of high school and I swore I would never have anything to do with Hardy ever again. This small section of the churchyard is quite remarkable and something I have not seen before.




I took a slow stroll around the churchyard, the grounds are in a nice area for this part of London and there were a few people around, walking dogs and at least one other visitor taking photos, I guess it is not that secret Smile

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Eventually I made my way inside the church building, it has a very plain and simple interior, mostly from the renovation in the 19th century. I do not know anything about this triptych.


As it was Friday and a day off work and as it was also gloriously sunny I had decided to walk from St Pancras to Liverpool St Station via Somerset House on the north bank of the Thames. I love Somerset House, but we have not been there for ages, it does have a really nice cafe in Fernandez and Wells and it was here I went to for coffee and eggs on toast – for a very late, and well earned breakfast. Surprisingly there were no free exhibitions on, so after lunch I carried on my journey to the station and caught the train home.

I love finding different places, in and around London; there are so many to find, if you look hard enough. What I particularly liked about St Pancras Old Church was it had links to so many historical figures, so not just a nice place to visit, but an education as well.

A quick visit to the Imperial War Museum

February 07 2016 – London.

One of the many topics discussed over a very long new years day lunch was the pending exhibition of photos from Lee Miller at the Imperial War Museum, ‘A woman’s war’. The exhibition was showing a series of photos that acclaimed model, Vogue photographer and then war photographer, Lee Miller took during the second world war. A number of us were interested in going, so using the power of BookFace I organised a group outing, and today was the day.

A group of us met at Walthamstow Central, in a bitterly cold wind, to take a couple of tube trains under London and the Thames to Lambeth North. I love the Imperial War Museum, and have done since I was a child, though I have only visited a couple of times since I have been back in London.


Lee Miller started her career as a model in New York in the 1920s before moving to Paris to study photography under the tutelage of Man Ray. While in Paris she got to hang out with some very influential and interesting people, including Picasso and Cocteau, who she modelled for. At the outbreak of WWII Miller was living in London and became a photojournalist for Vogue, documenting life in London during the blitz – where a lot of the images in the exhibition were from. Working for Conde Nast, she was the first woman photographer to arrive in Normandy soon after the allies landed in June 1944 and spent much of the next few years documenting Europe to and beyond the end of the war. She visited and documented Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps soon after they were liberated, which led to what is now called post traumatic stress disorder which affected to some degree her for the rest of her life. She passed away in 1977.

The exhibition was fantastic, some wonderful photos of life for women in London and its surrounds during the war, as well as images taken in Normandy and Europe. This was not a celebration of war, but a record of the tough conditions that women lived and worked in under during the war, and how they managed to enjoy what time they could. Like so many exhibitions I have been to, it was really well done and thoroughly interesting.

We did not linger in the museum after visiting the exhibition, I will have to visit again, but I did take a couple of photos as we were regrouping.



Lee Miller spent a lot of time driving around Europe in a Jeep, during and immediately after the war. I bet she would have liked one of these !


On the way out we were talking about the number of V1 and V2 missiles that landed in London during the war, a number landed in Walthamstow. There is an alley in our street that was formed when a V1 landed on, and destroyed, a house that was in the middle of a terrace.


As we were talking one of the museum staff came up to offer his help in our discussion and we had quite an interesting chat about the missiles that were launched at London. Informed, helpful and friendly staff – nice one Imperial War Museum!

Both my father and I worked on the Harrier jump jet. My dad’s time was way back in the late 60s working as a coppersmith for Hawker Siddeley in Kingston on the aircraft prototypes. In 1986 I worked in the same factory as him; surprisingly, with some of his old colleagues, but under British Aerospace. My job was less exciting than his and for some of my short time there I fitted the rotating vertical take off nozzles under the plane. It was a horrible and under paid job and I left after six months. I still have a soft spot for the aircraft though, and it is nice to have another connection to my dad.



The museum is very popular, which is great, and the cafe; even more so. Not so great when you are a group of nine. We decided to walk towards Waterloo Station and look for coffee and then some lunch. It was a lovely day outside, but the wind was biting and out of the sun it was quite cold.



After stopping for a warming coffee we decided to carry on walking and El had a spot she wanted to take us to near Waterloo Station. I loved this building and it’s London phone box that we passed on the way.


Roupell Street is a beautifully preserved street of terraced houses from the 1830s and is used in many TV shows and movies, it is a lovely small part of London, yet to be uglified by modernity. Long may it remain so! The sub-purpose of visiting the street was to stop for a drink in the Kings Arms, a pub El used to visit when she worked in the area. They had my new favourite pint on tap as well – Cwtch, a Welsh red ale that I discovered on Thursday night. The pub was great, a proper boozer, but with decent beer. There were too many parked cars to take a decent photo, so I took one of an equally lovely side street, and one of the top half of the terraces, trying to avoid satellite dishes and alarm boxes !



We just carried on walking after the drink, in the end all the way back to Liverpool Street station. We walked along the Southbank for a short while, I stopped to take a few photos of St Paul’s through the bubble blowers bubbles.


Along with a quick snap of the group amongst the tourists crossing the Millennium Bridge.


I was a really good afternoon out, I loved the exhibition and it was a thoroughly enjoyable walk through the city to the station. I look forward to the next group outing.

Flat Hunting–the mission continues.

February 06 2016 – Folkestone.

I have made two further trips to Folkestone since I last wrote about flat hunting reconnaissance missions on January 15. Sadly the weather did not play ball on either of those occasions and that crisp blue sky day was not to be repeated.

My first visit was on the 22nd Jan, it was grey and miserable, the cloud was really low and there was no view at all. In a way it was good to visit on such a day, get an understanding of what an area feels like when it is all a bit crap outside. It actually wasn’t too bad, there were still people walking dogs on the cliff tops, I expect some of the walkers out and about were also visitors like myself.



The high street is a bit grim and uninspiring at the best of times, so I pretty much avoided that, but I did do a circuit of the Creative Quarter and there were a few folk looking into shop windows, and all the cafes were busy enough. I took that as a good sign for such a rubbish day.

I had arranged to see a couple of flats, they were both in the same block and were both vacant. I didn’t like either of them. I also hated the block. It looks OK on the outside, but it stank of cigarette smoke in the hallways, and had that air of tenanted neglect in the foyer. I left feeling pretty miserable about the whole thing. My worst fears were met. I might find a great flat but the building and the other residents may ruin that good will.

I am also having second thoughts about my chosen area due to the number of cheap hotels now acting as boarding houses for the homeless, or temporary accommodation for those who have been kicked out of, or otherwise left, council housing. It is a complex emotion and situation, I firmly believe everyone has a right to a roof over their head, to be safe and to be warm and dry, but I am also a bit NIMBY as well. I am investing most of my money, I have to make sure it is a wise investment, plus I also want to live there and sadly some of those residents bring baggage or have ideas and lifestyles that do not gel with mine.

I went back to London confused and a bit down on it all.

The good thing was I was not totally put off, I am slightly more resilient than that! What is scaring me off buying is the state of the economy, and specifically the impact it is having on my employer. I work for a language school and we are being severely impacted by the high value of the British pound against other currencies and also by the UK Govt making it harder to get a visa to come to the UK study. It is a tough time to be trading with Europe at the moment. It is not really mentioned but I am sure all the xenophobic comments coming out of the UK are detracting potential visitors as well.

Not wanting to quit before I really got started I have kept my eye on the market and earlier this week arranged to see three more flats today, all in the same area as the flats I saw two weeks ago. It is the area I want to buy in.

I finally got around to buying myself a Network Rail Card today, it cost £30 and saved me £10 on my return journey to Folkestone. If had bought one when I first decided to last year, I would already be saving money. I have been really slack lately, and have now promised myself to be more organised and committed to doing the things I need to do, when I need to do them. Less procrastinating !

I actually quite like the ride to Folkestone from St Pancras, on the high speed train it takes just under an hour, it doesn’t stop much and the scenery is not terrible. I do like the Dartford Bridge.


I arrived in a grey old Folkestone an hour and a half before my first viewing was due, I wanted to do a bit more of a walk around, and check out the near-eastern cliffs. As I have said before, one of the things I like about the town is its proximity to the countryside, and right outside the station is a sign advertising it. IMG_3122

I had seen some photos of the Foord Viaduct, and had thought about trying to find it, but it all looked a bit surrounded by dull suburbia so I had not bothered to work out its location. Stumbling up on it, was I suppose, inevitable, Folkestone is hardly big. I was very impressed, it is really cool up close! Built in 1843 in under 6 months, it is comprised of 19 arches, with the highest at over 100ft. It is the tallest arched viaduct in the world. I must say I would not want to live too close !



After my slight detour to walk under the viaduct I walked down to the sea front, and to Sunny Beach, which I believe is man made?, well the sand part anyway. I took a photo of the Folkestone Mermaid when El and I came here a few weeks ago, it was created for the triennial in 2011 by Cornelia Parker. I decided to take another photo as I like it.


It is really windy today, really really windy, so there was a bit of a swell going and I was surprised to see surfers out, I did not picture Folkestone as a surfing town, but you learn something new every day, another positive.


I walked along the wall above Sunny Beach, and then up the stairs to the cliff top. I am not sure if the sign or the seat was first….




At the top there are a few second world war pill boxes or coast watch buildings one of which is still being used not sure if it by the coast card or the RNLI, but I like the way it is all hunkered down in the cliff top, It needed to be in this wind.


With its proximity to France this section of coast has long had a military presence, with small forts and large castles like Dover dotted all around. There is also a long string of Martello Towers, small 19th century coastal forts, in between the large forts all along the coast here.


The view up and down the coast from here was nice, and one day I could see myself exploring up and down those cliff tops !



It was drawing close to time for the first viewing so, I headed back the way I came, and once off the water front, decided to wander up through the Creative Quarter, which was really busy again.


I just happened to pass by Salvation Records and had to go in, and this time was forced into buying couple of things. When I come back, I must try and stay clear, or stay strong if I do visit ! To be fair to myself, I have wanted that second Telescopes LP for a while and it was on sale…

My first viewing was a real let down, it was a basement flat, which I will admit I was not interested in anyway, wanting to be at least first floor, but it was in a real state. It would need tens of thousands to sort out, I was wondering why it was so cheap! I was informed by the real estate agent that the second viewing was off as the sellers had taken the property off the market. This was not working out well at all. The second viewing was the ground floor in this building.


There was another guy looking at the basement flat while I was there. He wasn’t interested either, but he did live in the street, and has been renting for a year and is now looking to buy. He loves the street, he said the low rent hotels do not cause any real issues, and he is keen to buy there. This was great news and made me feel a whole lot better about my choice of location. We had quite a good chat and compared notes on our experiences with agents and areas. It was very worthwhile.

After a break for coffee and cake I met the agent for the last viewing and quite liked the flat, clearly the best I have seen and well within my price range. It needs some work, decorating and a shower fitted, nothing major and is in a nice spot, with a view out to sea of you look sideways out the bay window. It is a Victorian conversion so has some of those nice Victorian features, like high ceilings and a fireplace. To be considered.

I went home feeling a lot better about the experience. As this was my fourth (fifth ?) visit to the town, I am more familiar with the streets, and with knowledge comes some comfort, I felt less like it was an alien place.

I will organise myself some more viewings now, and maybe a follow visit to the one I sort of liked, this time with El.