Sunday 2 September 2018

Up North (London)

For a South Londoner who tends to come over funny if he strays too far into North London, I seem to have been spending a lot of time in those northerly latitudes these past few days.
  On Friday I was on an architectural walk around Tottenham, enjoying the streets of late Victorian, Edwardian and later housing built for working-class (and latterly rather more prosperous) tenants. The earlier, less picturesque cottages, laid out in wide terraced streets, still look good, the potential monotony of the layout lent variety and rhythm by different arrangements of porches (mostly paired or shared), by the use of varied gables, occasional ornament and glazed bricks. On the streets developed later, the legendary LCC architects' department were building to a rather higher specification. The two-storey houses (with gardens) are more picturesque, with gables of various shapes and sizes, some tile-hung, others slate-hung, often tall chimneys and a variety of window sizes, all very Arts and Crafts, though with a certain Georgian restraint. The overall effect of these estates is quite delightful, and it's easy to understand why the houses are now so desirable. And yet they were built essentially as 'affordable' workers' housing, back in the long-gone days when, at least in London, talented and idealistic architects put real thought, imagination and attention to detail into building houses for working people. Compared to the gimcrack production-line housing of today, these cottages seem like works of art.
  And then yesterday I was walking on Walthamstow Marshes, on the eastern bank of the River Lea, a corner of London I had never visited before. Much of the area is now a nature reserve, with interpretation boards, signposts and laid-out paths (though it's still possible to get lost). The landscape is of course flat, a wide expanse with cattle grazing and a little woodland around the edges – nothing spectacular, but with the welcome feel of a quiet oasis of genuine countryside amidst one of the most built-up areas of London. When we visited, large numbers of Hassidic Jews – the men in full fig, their wives in their best dresses – were enjoying a Saturday afternoon stroll. It was all very agreeable – if uncomfortably far North for me.
  Although it was sunny and warm, there were few butterflies flying – some whites, the odd speckled wood, and two beautiful small coppers. It seems to be the same everywhere (down in the Southeast at least): after the prodigious abundance of the heatwave months, the butterflies have largely disappeared. Most of them seemed to have gone by mid-August, despite the fact that the warm, sunny weather soon returned after the brief cooler, wetter spell. This feels very odd. Normally there would be plenty of late-summer red admirals, commas, tortoiseshells, peacocks and brimstones flying – but not this year. I wonder what has happened, and what it will mean for next year.

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