The objective of this walk could best be described as an exercise in psychogeography using situationist methodology while allowing the walker to experience life (to some degree) as a flaneur, but from a historians’ perspective. The expectation for the walker is that he or she can make some connections with what is seen in the present to that of the past.
The term psychogeography has various definitions including the act of urban wondering that has an engagement with the hidden and is as much pre-occupied with excavating the past as it is with recording the present (Coverley, 2010,p.14). The experience of psychogeography should be seen as unique to the individual as well to any groups that partake in it (Richardson, 2015,p.3). The Situationists (formed in 1957 – Richardson, 2015,p.1) it could be argued were the first group to use psychogeography to ‘discover’ a city. In particular they attempted to use the idea of the Derive (a French word meaning drift) to aimlessly wonder. Of course this led to a paradox in that if you set out to aimlessly wonder then the experience wouldn’t be aimless at all. The Situationists did try to overcome this paradox by (for example) using maps of one city to get lost in another (Richardson, 2015,p.2). Finally, a flaneur is a French word used to describe someone who is a stroller, a loiterer, someone who ambles without apparent purpose but is secretly attuned to the history of the streets he walks (Edmund White, The Flaneur, 2001).
The walk will start from what I consider to be a point of historic interest close to where I live (different from the first walk). In order to introduce some ‘Derive’, the walk will proceed thus: first right, second left, first right, second left for two hours (unlike the first walk which was first left, second right, first left, second right). T-junctions, cul-de-sacs, crescents and blind alleyways would be dealt with such that the next available turn (within the parameters set) will be taken. No map will be followed. Any points of interest will be noted. Green spaces such as parks will be avoided (unless there is clearly a tarmacked road going through it).
The walk took place on Sunday 20th November 2016 at 12:37. It was a cold, wet miserable day. Fortunately it had just stopped raining. The starting point was this blue plaque on in Clifton Hill, NW8, indicating that the painter W. P. Frith lived here. As can be seen the plaque was put up by the GLC (Greater London Council), which was dissolved in 1986. Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London was its last leader. Ref: The GLC
English Heritage in 1986 took over the London blue plaques scheme. The idea of the scheme is to celebrate the links between notable figures of the past and the buildings in which they lived and worked.
What immediately strikes you about this area is how very prosperous it looks and how individual some of the houses are. Implying that their original owners were so wealthy that could afford to have them built to their specification. A few examples follow.
The walk talks me into Hamilton terrace. Again a very impressive road which is wide enough to accommodate three rows of parked cars. The picture shown doesn’t do it justice as most of the trees are denuded of their leaves.
What I found interesting is that as I walked down Hamilton terrace I noticed a tower block between two of the houses.
The picture is not particularly clear so I decided to talk a slight detour and find out where this tower block was. It turns out this block in on the road parallel to Hamilton terrace which is Maida Vale and there are three of them. In fact it seems that the whole of Maida vale running from Kilburn High road down to the Edgware road has on one side council blocks (no houses whatsoever) and very expensive houses and private blocks on the other. Below are the three blocks of which one is shown above.
Opposite are these houses:
It could be argued from a topographic point of view that the road Maida Vale represents a clear line between the rich and poor.
However it does not have to be all bad news, because if you lived in this house:
Your view would be this:
And the people living here (Edinburgh House, owned by Westminster council) would have these views (especially if they lived on the top floor):
An obvious question to ask is ‘why is this area so wealthy?’ and why has the road Maida Vale been constructed so as to deliberately (it seems) to segregate the rich from the poor?
Anyway back to the walk, which brings me onto Abbey road. As I walk down Abbey road I pass my first place of worship which is the New London Synagogue.
Further on I notice two girls (who are obviously tourists, for they have maps in their in hands) taking photographs of themselves on a crossing. I felt obliged to point out that the crossing they are photographing is in fact not the very famous one further up the road made famous by the Beatles. They are very appreciative. The walk talks me past said crossing and the world famous Abbey road studios which I too feel obliged to photograph.
Abbey road studios. To the left is a green plaque dedicated to Edward Elgar. This is the Green Plaque Scheme run by Westminster council which was launched in 1991 but applies to former Westminster residents only. Westminster Green Plaque scheme
Abbey Road studios: http://www.abbeyroad.com
This wall outside the studios gets whitewashed every week.
The famous road crossing:
I found it fascinating that a band that broke up forty six years ago (1970) still attracts a lot of attention. It could be that the imagery is tangible so that to a certain degree it can be replicated.
The cover featuring the Beatles from their Album of 1969, Abbey Road. Abbey Road Album
Almost opposite is another place of worship. The Abbey Road Baptist Church
The walk brings me into Grove End road and my second blue plaque. Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
Almost opposite is my third blue plaque. Sir Thomas Beecham
Further on down Grove End road I pass another synagogue. That of Saint John’s Wood Synagogue
However, my enthusiasm to get a good photograph attracts the attention of what I later learn to be an Israeli ex-military gentleman who starts taking photographs of my good self; I in turn start taking photographs of him. Seeing that this situation could well get of hand and potentially turn ugly I decide to engage him. I ask him why he is taking photographs of me. He answers that he finds it suspicious that I should be taking photographs of synagogues in todays’ heightened state of security and that he is actively involved in protecting his community. I pointed out that I was not just taking photographs of synagogues but anything that I found interesting on my walk. He wasn’t convinced. I then went on to explain I was a student at Goldsmiths etcetera excreta. After showing him my student card and some other Id’s together with photographs from my previous walk we parted shaking hands. He did give me a word of warning saying that if my walk brought me to the Regents Park Mosque (probably one of the largest in the country with a capacity of 5000+) not too far way, that I should exert utmost discretion.
The closest I got to the mosque was from Saint John’s Wood high street, as can be seen in the distance.
The mosque in its true majesty. http://www.iccuk.org/
(Above image from Wikipedia). London_Central_Mosque
What started out as a convivial stroll through both social and cultural history in terms of where the rich and poor might have lived and whom might comprise them, together with cultural aspects in terms of popular iconography soon turned into an issue of religious significance, and one not without risk to the modern day flaneur. It could therefore be concluded that today’s flaneur is subject to as much risk (albeit different) to that of their forebears.
The maps of the walk (the actual route is in red).
Ackroyd, P London: The concise biography (UK, Vintage Books: 2012)
Coverley M, Psychogeography (UK, Pocket Essentials: 2010)
Richardson, T (Ed.) Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography (USA, Rowman & Littlefield International Ltd: 2015)
Sinclair, I Blake’s London: The Topographic Sublime (UK, The Swedenborg Society: 2012)
Tames, R The City of London book (UK, Historical Publications: 2006)
White, E The Flaneur (London, Bloomsbury Publishing: 2001)