One Night In Miami

Donmar Warehouse Theatre Okay, I’m probably the only person on earth that didn’t know that, after becoming World Heavyweight Champion of the World, Cassius Clay spent the rest of the evening in a motel room with three other heavyweights – American football star Jim Brown, soul singer Sam Cooke and activist Malcolm X. I knew…

Churchill’s Spare Secret Bunker

When you’re facing World War II it’s wise to have a secret bunker to retreat to in times of National Emergency. But what if that got bombed or discovered? Better have a spare just in case… Winston Churchill’s spare secret bunker was Paddock Wood, in a part of Dollis Hill in North London so obscure…

Growing Underground

Back in the 1930s they had foresight. London’s population was expanding and capacity was severely limited by surface area for the future. The city’s great and good planned for the future. They just didn’t know which future. The boffins had a great idea. Why not build an express line, a sort of ‘cross-rail’ affair, parallel…

The Last Sewer Gas Destructor Lamp in London

Nip down Carting Lane, dodging the white delivery vans that litter the place day and night, and experience London’s last remaining patent Sewer Gas Destructor Lamp. Once these streetlights, made by J. Webb of Birmingham, had the dual function of lighting Britain’s highways and controlling potentially lethal levels of methane in the sewers below. Hardly any survive…

Nunhead Cemetery

By the 19th century London’s population had grown so much  the churchyards were full, and what to do with the capital’s dead was becoming a serious problem.  So in 1832, an Act of Parliament was passed permitting the creation of private cemeteries, in what was then the suburbs of the city – though of course, they’re…

Unseen City: Martin Parr

There’s a fashion going round art galleries at the moment. I call it the ‘teenage bedroom’ look. Gigantic photographic prints are presented ‘pinned’ to walls like pop star posters, presumably to give the work immediacy, cutting-edge rawness and youthful hipness. I’m not convinced. Especially when that work already has those qualities. Magnum photographer Martin Parr’s work has a freshness, frankness and immediacy that conveys the…

Battle of Britain Bunker

A brand-new housing estate.  Fake-cobble driveways, spindly, just-planted shrubs and shiny front doors. It could be anywhere, save for a curious, battered, facing-the-wrong-way metal sign attached too high up a lamp post. Battle of Britain Bunker. Eh? The Battle of Britain had a bunker? In Uxbridge? Apparently so. Fighter Command No.11’s Group Operations Room was…

Magical Lantern Festival, Chiswick House

Possibly the most surprising event I’ve come across all year, I wasn’t expecting the Magical Lantern Festival at Chiswick house to be anything more than a pleasant wander through the historic grounds at night to the tune of a few fairylights in trees. And to be honest, I’d have been quite pleased with that. Even…

Mail Rail

Who wouldn’t want to ride on a secret underground railway? Over the years I’ve spent some energy trying to get underneath the giant Post Office at Mount Pleasant to see the fabled ‘Mail Rail’; next year anyone will be able to take a ride on it in return for money. The London Post Office Railway was operational…

The River Police Museum

Many of London’s smaller museums may appear to be private but they’re often more than happy to open their doors to the curious. Such is the River Police Museum, still based at a Limehouse wharf, washed by the Thames and occupying a dusty room in the original police station that is still used today. The curator, Robert…

The Flying Coffin of Pinner

My accountant works from a delightful Georgian townhouse in Pinner, to the north west of central London. I’ve been going there for my annual ticking-off for years but this time I passed by the tidy, half-timbered, Georgian and Regency High Street, the cute village green and the ancient pub, on a Quest. The story goes…

The Philpot Lane Mice

How is it possible to miss a sculpture in the middle of the City for over 100 years? For many, many years, no one, apparently, knew London’s smallest outside sculpture was there at all, until somebody noticed a white plaster blob halfway up a nondescript Victorian building wasn’t just a sloppy bit of cornicing. It’s actually a…