Open Queue


Sweet Thames flow softly copyright Cherry Potts 2011

It’s day two of London Open House and we’re off to Crossness Pumping Station.  This has been a long-held ambition, but with so much to choose from over the weekend it has taken, ooh, six years? to get here.  The instigator of this sudden resolve is our friend J who phoned and said:

I’m going, come with?

cobwebs copyright Cherry Potts 2011

So we did.  Trying to avoid using the car and with the promise of a special bus to meet the train, we meet J and C at Lewisham and get the train to Abbey Wood.  There is a bus … a minibus that seats 12.  I count the queue.  The bus takes half an hour to make its round trip… We are going to be here two hours.  We rebel and get a mini cab to the gates. We walk up to the back of the queue for the door, which is moving very slowly indeed. There is a distinct smell of drains, and I find myself absentmindedly humming Sweet Thames Flow Softly which we learnt over the summer.

Overwhelming Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Forty minutes later, we arrive at the door, and are given our tickets for the engine house.  We enter, and there is another queue.  We join it with dread, but it only takes another twenty minutes to finally reach the sacred portal and to be handed our hard hats.

Now.  Why would I be prepared to put myself through this?  I am not a patient kind of gal.  And visiting a sewage works isn’t your average glamorous London day out.  Well, the several thousand people who have visited Crossness will be grinning just now.

OTT painted ironwork copyright Cherry Potts 2011

It

Is

STUNNING.

Overwhelming, over the top, Ro-co-co (except it isn’t) Byzantine, laughter inducing mayhem.  The outside gives no clue to the interior.  The austere if decorative brickwork could be any typical Victorian engine shed – railway architecture at its best – Lombardy arcading, arched windows, bah blah.

floor copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Inside the first hall where the queue is, it is airy, spacious and light… and then, hat on head you enter the inner sanctum, and the dazzle and razzmatazz of the theatre takes over – every surface is moulded or filigreed, even the floors.  There is a feel of Moorish palace, except that the colours are wrong, and then there is the noise.

Flywheel at full tilt copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The beam engine is steady, regular, almost relaxed and surprisingly quiet, a sort of sigh and knock and hiss as it slides up and down, and the flywheel spins.  it is awesome in its grandeur.  There are four of these gracious monsters, but only one has been restored.  And only part of the engine house is painted back to its former glory, about which I am glad – I hope they don’t restore it completely, the ironwork is magnificent and the paint is garish, and whilst amusing, once painted the true skill of the iron casting is hidden.

And the still, silent end of the hall, is magnificent in its cathedral-like space.

Cathedral-like spaces copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Up the stairs, (also pierced into a pattern) there is yet more filigree floor, which is humming ever so gently.  I find this rather unnerving.  In fact it brings me out in a cold sweat.  I am quite relieved to get down again.

Stunning ironwork copyright Cherry Potts 2011

And yes, there is another queue to get into the basement.  The basement is very different dark, dusty and cramped.

Basement Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

I’m not surprised the queue is so long, as we spend ages going round, and they can only let people in with a hard hat.

After a cup of tea and a bit of cake, we take advantage of the fact that there is a gate onto the Thames path (not normally open) and walk back to Woolwich along the river.

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Thames path near Thamesmead copyright Cherry Potts 2011

London is Open


Mary Wollstonecraft's pew copyright Cherry Potts

Every year in September, buildings of historic, architectural and ecological note open for the public for free.  In London Open House is in full swing. Take a look at the overwhelming website – it’s all going on tomorrow as well.

Most years I go and feast my eyes and wear out my feet: holidays are planned around Open House we have to be in London the right weekend!  Fortunately, Heritage Open Days  which is similar but nationwide, is usually the weekend prior so some years we’ve managed both, although for the forseeable future we will be Singing for Water over H-O-D weekend.

So, A is busy with a family wedding, and I’m on my tod, and decide to take full advantage of the lovely Overground and quarter the borough of Hackney. I set off with my ‘favourites’ list and Transport For London maps, full of purpose and enthusiasm.

Graeae exterior copyright Cherry Potts 2011

First stop Hoxton.  I’ve been to the Geffreye Museum recently so I bypass it and head for Graeae Theatre’s offices and rehearsal space, right next door.  I bump into R, who I know from BSL classes and who works there, so I get a personal tour.  The building started life as a Tram depot and stables and has great arches all along the front which make for excellent natural light and a showcase for the sculptural logo that runs the entire length of the building.

Graeae rehearsal space copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The rehearsal space is particularly fine, with a sprung floor, and sophisticated lighting rig, all of which can be accessed and controlled from ground level.  The whole building has been thought out very carefully for access issues with textured flooring, good adaptable lighting, plenty of circulation space, induction loops… And according to R it really is a pleasure to work in.

Hoxton Hall detail copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Galvanised by this first venue, I toddle round the corner to Hoxton Hall, which is a very different kettle of fish – still with a drama theme – HH is a tiny musical hall.  It has done time as a temperance hall, a Quaker meeting-house and various other things, and is typical of theatres of its time in being seriously uncomfortable!  I notice a pile of patchwork cushions in the gallery, I’m sure they are needed.

Hoxton Hall performers copyright Cherry Potts

The Hall is being brought to life by a couple of performers, singing about wanting their beer and not getting it.  Disconcertingly they are flanked by a couple of headless dummies in theatrical costume, which in the dim lighting are a bit on the sinister side!

Newington Green Unitarian Church exterior copyright Cherry Potts

Back to the station and a short hop to Canonbury and then a stroll up to Newington Green for the Unitarian Church, at over 300 years old it is the oldest dissenting church in London that is still in use. Built when religious dissenters were still breaking the law ,and expanded since, it isn’t a particularly beautiful building, though it has a peaceful, open atmosphere (they were positively encouraging a young child to play the organ) and apparently the ball-hinges on the pew doors are rare… but it is its history that matters, both in terms of religious dissent, and in terms of feminism.  Mary Wollstonecraft worshipped here (pew 19), and I have a soft spot for her.

I am struck as I have been before, by the similarity of layout in religious buildings of this period, and the musical hall I have just come from.  Something about the galleries…

Newington Green Unitarian Church ball hinge copyright Cherry Potts 2011

I have a long list of other places I could go – a tower off Mare Street, The Hackney Empire, another theatre at Dalston (in the old Reeves paint factory), a tour of the East London Line stations… But I’m hungry and its trying to rain, and we are doing Crossness Pumping Station tomorrow, so back to Canonbury station and the train all the way home with no changes.  I love the Overground!

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011