Category Archives: history

Weekly Links

London Links

Happy August! Here is the Olympics edition of London links:

Urban Farms in London

I wrote a guest post for the wonderful Polis blog last week, please support me and take a look on their site! A small taste is below:

Recently I’ve noticed that London embraces urban farming in a way I haven’t seen in other cities. Last month I attended the Oxford-Cambridge Goat Race at Spitalfields City Farm in East London, a popular annual event that raises money for the farm. It is housed on a side street off the trendy and boisterous Brick Lane, and like many other city farms in London, offers a study in how to effectively utilise small amounts of urban space.

Spitalfields City Farm resides alongside a small park and a residential area, including council flats and primary schools. Ever present is the sound of the Overground as trains rush past, visible behind the small playground and vegetable patches. It is a farm that is connected to its community and surroundings. Contained within the farm is a small menagerie of rare breeds, a weekend community market as well as allotments and a greenhouse. Throughout the week, people can easily buy a range of eggs, plants and compost, as well as other locally made goods. Most of the other urban farms around London follow this same template, acting as hubs of community activity and knowledge exchange across central and greater London.

For the rest of the article, please go to Polis blog.

Protect Brick Lane

Taken from Wikipedia

If you are a Londoner or have ever paid a visit to Brick Lane, please sign this petition to stop Tower Hamlets from tarmacking Brick Lane for the Olympics. I really hate how the Olympics have provided impetus  for various councils and companies to dismantle parts of London, disrupt people’s lives and create harmful/unnecessary measures that we as taxpayers have to pay for. I dislike this idea of coming together for one sports event whilst entire communities are being harmed and destroyed by forced austerity measures.  I know that protecting Brick Lane is a small thing, but it is indicative of a greater lack of care and respect for areas that are historically (and presently) significant, especially to marginalised communities. Please take a minute of your time to sign the petition. Here is my comment:

The Olympics will only be in London for a finite period, but Brick Lane will still remain once it’s gone.  Homogenising such a historic and important part of London for the Olympics would be a terrible idea. If you want to smarten up Brick Lane, help support more local businesses, organisations and initiatives in order to ensure that it remains a thriving area that fosters creativity and new opportunities for Tower Hamlet residents, Londoners and tourists. Please respect an important part of London heritage and leave Brick Lane alone.

London Links

Interesting stories about London:

Love Song

(note: it took three years to gather my thoughts enough to write this post.)

I was watching a series about Perfume a few days ago on BBC4 and the most intriguing idea was discussed. Christopher Brosius, an ‘alternative perfumier’ was making a custom perfume for an Anglophile designer who wanted the smell of England (from his apartment, it was clear that this meant Victorian/ Edwardian). He highlighted the smells of wet tweed (pungent due to the urine traditionally used to make it softer), whiskey and scotch, pipe tobacco, cobblestones and old books. Brosius then travelled to London in order to find the scents that would be recreated in perfume form. He was dismayed to find that the London he loved as a young man had disappeared; all the familiar smells of pub smoke, worn taxi leather and phone books in phone booths had vanished. Only a few recognisable scents remained that hinted at “England’s sense of eternity”. For Brosius, his memories of the city all revolved around scent.

It made me think about how we process our memories of urban space and cities. My memories of London (and England as a whole) are visual and auditory. For me, music is how I recognise and remember London. There are songs that represent London as I first witnessed it, when it was both new and achingly familiar. The Clash reminds me of 2003, when I was a college freshman in my dream city for the first time, in a Dead Kennedys shirt with Walkman in hand. Music acts as personal memory and archive. Blur’s ‘Oily Water’ symbolises my first trip alone on a London bus, seeing South Kensington for the first time in 2005. Entire albums and oeuvres act as representatives for certain periods in London, and my past can be charted through track listings and now obsolete audio devices. My personal London could even be divided into the Walkman/CD era (2003- early 2006), with music that was mostly Anglo-American and 1970s-90s inclined— and the MP3 era (late 2006 onwards), which represented an explosion in how I experienced music and the city. The act of hearing the scratchiness and skips of songs taken from LPs also were important parts of the urban soundscape for me, lending an air of the cinematic and creating an optimistic feeling that this was the day that everything I knew to be true could change forever. Music also allowed me to experience London when I wasn’t in it. Through familiar sounds, the sites that I held dear were transported to my local surroundings. There were times were I felt the presence of London so strongly whilst listening to something in Maryland or Philly that it felt physical; the clarity made me feel like I was hallucinating.

I also trace the histories of streets and neighbourhoods with music; New Cross and Lewisham are mapped by post-punk and Northern Soul. Through these sounds I see an area rebuilt after the destruction of WWII, hear echoes of melodies in buildings that have been transformed over and over again for each successive generation. Through music that combines English and Caribbean rebellion I see the resistance of communities and activists against the National Front and racist authorities in the 70s and 80s. Listening to certain music from the 50s and 60s allows me to think of a country in flux, where 50s rationing gave way to new ideas of social housing and architecture, and how Britain changed with the coming of high rises and estates. Music allows me to walk through these varied timelines; to understand the shadows of these changing geographies as they coexist, like translucent map overlays. With music I am an urban flâneur attempting to understand the soul of London and other cities, towns and villages across the country. English pop music is extraordinary in its geographical abilities; streets, architecture and various mundane artefacts of modern living are described in anthropological detail through pop songs. Riots, subcultures, people and histories can be understood through albums, making listeners into historians. My archives are vast, with England existing in every scratched LP, cassette tape and CD I own. It is even digitised, with music folders on my computer carefully labelled with the places and years that I first heard tracks.

The most interesting aspect of having music assist memory is that places are constantly revisited in a way that sidesteps nostalgia. Memories and areas already seen are deepened by a steady flow of new music that reminds me of barely remembered details that are then given a new significance. London is a series of physical, social and intellectual spaces that constantly change and expand, and I consider myself quite fortunate that music will always be there to help me find my way.

Apologies and walking with the past

Sorry that there’s been such a long hiatus on this trusty blog. My life has sped up recently and my thoughts have been scattered to the wind. I’ve become gainfully employed at a nice publishing company and have actually been able to enjoy a bit of London again. I also went to York for a weekend jaunt, where I braved the bitter cold and attended a vintage fair. If there’s one thing that York always brings to mind, it’s how old it is. As an American I never grew up with immediate, local examples of extremely old history. My state was historical, but it only spans about four centuries. When settlers were reaching my shores, York had already existed for more than a thousand years. Its history is a entity that cohabits peacefully with its citizens, making sure that it is known. To a less extreme degree, the same happens in London every day. The past is constantly enveloping the present. Not satisfied to remain in museums behind glass with limiting descriptions, it creeps in where you least expect it, daring you to try and forget.

When I speak of the past, of these overlapping urban histories, I don’t mean the obvious attractions of war memorials, tourist attractions and well scrubbed stately homes. The past that I encounter regularly appears in new pubs that still have signs high above that state that there once existed a half-way house. Ghost stations which sit quietly on side streets in the night, with lights from the street lamps reflecting off their red tiles. Chicken, kebab and corner shops whose fading and peeling stonework reveal that Hawkins worked there as a grocery and provisions merchant. Tesco shops that reside in interwar, art deco factories. These histories jostle each other in order to be seen, forcing an unsuspecting audience to ponder how they reached this point. Areas all over London still bear witness to the stream of immigrants and working families that made the city their homes, creating neighbourhoods whose ghosts still reach out, waiting to be discovered. It is a heady experience to walk through the past so frequently and stumble back into the present, dazed and full of wonder.