Saturday 22 May 2021

The Saturday List #307 - My top ten London Landmarks

 I'm quite amazed that it has taken me until list #307 to get to this one. If you are hoping for Tower Bridge and St Pauls, I'm afraid you will be disappointed. Not because they are not amazing, but for most of us these are not Landmarks at all, they are destinations. Lets start with a short discussion of what a Landmark means. My Dad was a pilot. He once explained to me that the term Landmark is misused by the general population. It's correct meaning is a mark that you use to navigate, to tell you where you are. It is that moment where you know you are nearly home, where you know you are about to arrive, where your mate Reg tells you that when you see it,  to turn left and it's 100 yards down on the right. For me, these are the joyous sights that alert you to the fact that you are on the right track, going to get somewhere. They are not destinations in themselves.


1. The end of the Northern Line tunnel at Golders Green.  I don't know how many times I've used the Northern Line, it must be thousands and thousands of times. I've used it to commute to work, to get home from nights out, to come back from hospital. There hasn't been a single time when I haven't felt a sense of joyous relief as the train emerges from the tunnel. 

It's probably still fifteen minutes to Burnt Oak, then you get the bus to Mill Hill, so it's the best part of half an hour, but it is the landmark that to me designates arrival in the suburbs and home. 


2. The RAF Museum in Hendon. Just as the end of the Tunnel on the Northern Line is a proper landmark, so is seeing the RAF Museum as you pass on a Thameslink Train. Anyone who has regularly commuted knows that when the train passes the Museum it starts to decelerate to stop at Mill Hill. Very occasionally, I'm sure all regular commuters will have got on the wrong train, which is first stop at St Albans. As you pass the museum, the train starts to speed up, you know that you are in trouble.


3. The CO-OP in Burnt Oak. Just about everyone who is younger than me won't know what I am talking about. It is now Peacocks, but to me will always be The CO-OP. It was the big department store in Burnt Oak. When I was younger I regularly took long journeys on the bus. Buses were cheap and we had time. The 52 went from Mill Hill to Victoria, Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove.

 I'd make many journeys on it, but when you came home and passed the CO-OP you knew you were nearly home.



4. Copthall Stadium (Now StoneX Stadium). Between 1974 and 1978, I had the misfortune of attending FCHS school, before departing for Orange Hill. I hated it. I'd take the 221 bus from Mill Hill to Lullington Garth. FCHS was a boys only school. The Journey home was always the best part of the day. When the bus passed Copthall Stadium on Page St, it was the sign that we were nearly home. An added bonus was that the next stop was where the girls from Copthall Girls School who alighted in Edgware lived. I was mostly too shy to chat to them at the time, but I always looked forward to seeing them.

5.  Selfridges on Oxford St. I had many a night as a callow youth in the West End. We'd take the 113 bus from Mill Hill. The journey would seem like it took forever, but as you passed Selfridges on Oxford St, you knew you were nearly there. For me, whenever I see the building, I think of The Marquee on Wardour St, The 100 club, The Sound and Vision and The Nelly Dean.

6. St Josephs College in Mill Hill. Just as Selfridges marked the point at which you arrived for a night out, the Statue of St Joseph on the former Roman Catholic seminary was the point you knew you were home on the 113. Seeing St Joe reflected in moonlight was a welcome sight. The late night journey home on the 113 was an almost transcendental journey. From Oxford St to the Blue Star Garage where the bus turned off the Finchley Road was a nightmare. Traffic light after traffic light, stop after stop. Then you turn left and the old routemaster bus would become the Starship enterprise travelling at warp speed. It seemed that until Blue Star Garage it would take three hours, then the section to Mill Hill would take five minutes. I would have included the Blue Star Garage in the list, but it's been demolished and will soon be flats. 

corner of Leman St and Tottenham Court Road. It was a grand old pub, full of orignal features. Whilst I was working there, it was rebranded as Presleys, a tribute to Elvis. They destroyed much of the original pub and turned it into a lousy bar serving overpriced lager. I hated it. It was converted back to The Rising Sun after a couple of years. The management would tell visitors to get off the Tube at Tottenham Court Road and turn left at The Rising Sun. We used to drink at The White Hart, which was just down the road and not so full of tourists. 

8. Battersea Power Station. When I was a kid, my Dad would take me on Pilgrimmage with him to Lourdes every year. He was a devout Roman Catholic. This meant mass twice a day and lots of processions. With anyone else apart from my Dad, this would have been hell, but these were simply intermissions between a week of drinking in bars, eating ice cream, peaches and waffles with maple syrup. Lourdes was full of people from all across the world. Dad being a former pilot, spoke many languages (mostly quite badly) and loved just chatting. It was wonderful. The one which sticks out most were the Dutch miners pilgrimmage. They'd where their safety gear and seemed awesome. When they learned Dad was a former bomber pilot and he'd bombed Germans, they'd buy us drinks all night. We'd always fly from Gatwick. That meant a train from Victoria. On the way back, we'd pass Battersea Power Station and Dad would always point it out and say "we are really home now".

9. The Regents Canal in Camden Town. I've had many a night in Camden Town. Dingwalls was one of my favourite venues to see bands before it was redeveloped (I find it a bit soulless now, even though I'm glad it's still a venue). We'd take the Northern Line from Burnt Oak to Camden Town, walk up the road and turn left by the canal into Dingwalls. I then discovered that it took roughly the same amount of time to get Thameslink to St Pancras and walk along the Regents Canal. It was a far more pleasant trip on a nice day. Apart from the River Thames, that stretch of water is my favourite in London.

10. The Shard. I had to mention the Shard. Of all the buildings put up in London over the last 50 years, as a Landmark, only The Shard is worth discussing. It is one of the few buildings that genuinely excites me when I see it. You can even see it from The Totteridge Valley on a good day. But as a Landmark, it is actually rubbish. Because it is so humungous, you can see it from all sorts of places. Quite often, you go around a corner and there it is, when you are least expecting it. It is in the South East of London, but seems to move around as you view it. If you are going to put up towers of glass, the Shard is a pretty good model. I watched it being constructed from my office window. It seemed to rise and rise and rise. If I'd had my wits about me, I'd have taken a picture of it every day as it rose, but hey ho, another one for the box marked 'regrets'.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Interesting list.

Re: Golders Green tunnels
For the past ten years (until recently) I lived in Finchley Central and had a similar reaction on emerging from the Tunnels at East Finchley and going past the archer (ahh, nearly home):

Re: Regents Canal from St Pancras
I used to work in Angel and spent many happy summer evenings over the past ten years walking home from Angel along the canal to Camden (very relaxing after being stuck in an office all day) then up to Gospel Oak (not such a pretty stretch) then over Parliament Hill/Hampstead Heath+Extension and via the Doris Valley Green Walk to Finchley. I miss that walk!