West Hampstead Christmas survival guide

Christmas day is nearly upon us, so just in the (St) Nick of time, here are a few helpful tips to make everything go smoothly.

St. Lukes Church’s stained glass

When are the local church services?

At Emmanuel Church things kick off with carols on West End Green at 4pm on Saturday 23rd, followed by mulled wine in the Church. Christmas Eve has regular services in the morning, with a 6pm children’s crib service and at 11pm a midnight mass. On Christmas day there is an ‘all-age’ eucharist at 10am, where children are invited to bring an unopened present to open during the service.

At St.Lukes in Kidderpore Avenue, technically not in West Hampstead although the parish covers the top part, they are offering carols round the tree at 3pm on Sunday, a midnight mass at 11pm and a morning eucharist on Christmas day at 11am.

unfortunately, St. James (on Sheriff Road) and St. Mary’s All Souls haven’t got their details available at the moment.

What time are the pubs open?

The Black Lion is open on Christmas Eve from 10am to 11pm, on Christmas Day from 12pm to 5pm (drinks only, unless you have booked lunch (£55 and needs to be pre-booked)), on Boxing Day from 12pm to 11pm.

The Railway is open Christmas Eve from 11am to 11pm, on Christmas Day from 12pm to 5pm (drinks only, unless you have booked lunch (£49.99 and needs to be pre-booked)), on Boxing Day from 11pm to 11pm .

The Alice House is open too and has slightly longer hours as it is open Christmas Eve from 9:30am to 12:30am, on Christmas Day from 12pm to 6pm (drinks only, unless you have booked lunch which needs to be pre-booked)), on Boxing day from 10am to 1am.

When will my rubbish be collected?

For Christmas week, rubbish collections will be two days later than normal, and for New Year’s week one day later. You can check for yourself, here.

How can I recycle my Christmas tree?

The Council iw providing a free recycling service for Christmas trees from 2nd January to the 12th. There will be the usual collection points at the bottom of Fortune Green and the Messina Avenue end of Kilburn Grange Park.

Can I expect any disruption to travel?

In an nutshell, yes quite a lot. All services at closed on Christmas Day with a reduced service on Boxing Day. But to complicate matters further there are quite a few disruptions to service beyond that.

Thameslink has engineering works over the Christmas break. Services will be shutting down from 8pm on the 24th, there will be no service on Monday 25th AND Tuesday 26th (nor any Gatwick Express for those of you trying to get to Gatwick) but there will be a limited bus service to Gatwick.

Aside from Christmas and Boxing Day disruption there will be no cross London services on Thameslink either, as trains will be terminating at St. Pancras from the 23rd December to the 1st January. However, from St. Pancras you can get the tube to London Bridge and connect to Thameslink services south from there.

London Overground is also undergoing engineering works and there will be no service from Highbury and Islington to Dalston Junction (until Sat 30th), nor any service between Camden Road and Stratford (also until the 30th) There will be a bus replacement service but you might want to consider other routes.

What will be open…?

Apart from the churches and the pubs, the ice rink at JW3 will be open, even on Christmas Day… a different way to work off the Christmas dinner, some tickets are still available for Christmas Day but please book in advance.

The Railwayman: Life and times of George Tombs

Old Black Lion (Camden Local History Archive)

Old Black Lion (Camden Local History Archive)

George Tombs was the station master at the Midland Railway station on Iverson Road. When it opened in 1871 the halt was called ‘West End’, the original name for the neighbourhood before ‘West Hampstead’ was adopted.

The station stood roughly where the garden centre and tyre workshops once traded, adapted from one of three large villas built before the railway was constructed. George married Ruth Simpson in 1869 and they had several children. At the outset the couple lived in Marylebone before moving to Bakewell shortly before the 1871 census, when George was working as a Midland Railway porter. He made a significant step up the career ladder when he was promoted to West End’s station master.

The birth of son Harry in 1874 shows the couple still living in Derbyshire but the family moved to West End shortly after. In August 1881, eight year old Harry was killed in a tragic accident. Two Watney’s drays, each drawn by three horses, were delivering beer to the Old Black Lion pub near West End Green. Several boys were playing nearby and a witness said he saw one of them give the driver apples in return for a ride. A few of the boys climbed onto the drays while others ran behind, as the wagons went off at a trot down West End Lane. Harry was swinging on a chain at the back of the first cart when he dropped his school slate. He tried to pick it up but fell onto the road and the wheels of the second dray went over him, crushing his head and stomach.

George Tombs was in his garden when he heard shouting. Poor man, he picked up his son and took him home. Harry died the next morning but not before he’d told his father he could have got out of the way, but had wanted to save his slate, which had a lesson written on it. The driver of the dray, 25 year old Robert Coulsey, was charged at Marylebone Court with causing the death of Harry Tombs.

The inquest jury at the Railway Hotel pub in West End Lane decided it was an accidental death and Cousley was released. In his turn, George Tombs was called to give evidence at inquests investigating railway deaths. In 1895, the decapitated body of 18 year old Arthur Edward Hudson, son of a Hampstead builder, had been found by the Midland tracks. Tombs told the court that the young man had ‘evidently knelt before an advancing train, as there were mud stains on the knees of his trousers. His hands were clasped.’ A verdict of ‘suicide during temporary insanity’ was returned.

The 1891 census shows two of George’s children employed by local industries. 22-year-old Lucy was a ‘wick cutter in a night light factory’: Samuel Clarkes’ pyramid night light factory was just a short walk away on Cricklewood Lane. Leonard, 14, worked as a ‘pianoforte stringer’, probably in Kentish or Camden Town, both centres for piano manufacture. As told by his father, Leonard was also a member of a cricket club who played on Fortune Green. In 1895, George gave evidence at an enquiry to determine the status of the open space. The locals claimed it as common land, a long established venue for games played by West End residents. Tombs said he’d been station master for twenty-one years and had known Fortune Green for thirty five. He used to walk up to the Green, ‘in former years every night during the summer to see the cricket. Quoits and rounders were also played.’

Then living in Sumatra Road, George died in June 1899, his wife Sarah died the following October. The couple are buried at Hampstead Cemetery Fortune Green, in the same grave as three of their sons.

Tom drinks in The Black Lion atmosphere

I had dinner and wine with @WhampChef in The Black Lion, West End Lane on a recent Sunday evening; I’d not had grub there for a little while and had a good reason for not cooking anything at home: laziness.

Having been blown away by the brilliant fish and chips last time, I zoned-in on sea bass on a bed of wilted kale, with roasted salsify and a sorrel & mussel cream. I say ‘zoned-in’, but in reality I take ludicrously long choosing, though on this occasion a bottle of very good Pinot Grigio helped things along.

Excellent sea bass; all the things you want – well-seasoned, perfectly cooked, with a crisp skin. And, just as importantly, a decent sized fillet it was too. Along with the cheerful, fresh-tasting chips, the dish proved a sizeable portion, illustrating that high-level pub food doesn’t have to be lightweight. The mussel cream seemed more like a hollandaise to me; but perhaps my judgement was tainted by then, as we’d pretty much merrily tanned our second bottle (a pleasing Argentine Cab Sav).

Credit too for the Lion for plenty of kale, which I love. Wasn’t quite as convinced by the salsify; the little slithers perhaps a touch underdone, though all were consumed.

@Whampchef ordered lamb, then confusion arose when beef was delivered; we sensed the waitress wasn’t sure herself, having brought along both horseradish and mint sauces! Still – no harm done, and the beef was swiftly devoured.

As with its sister pub, The North London Tavern, the Black Lion does a roaring trade (ha ha!) even on a Sunday, which makes it an uplifting location to round out a weekend. The wine list is splendid, the atmosphere lively, and it’s just a great place to have within walking distance of home.

Right, I’ve run out of stupid one-liners, so I’ll disappear now and pour myself another one of this excellent Viognier. You can’t get too much of a good thing – especially when served with plenty of piping hot chips on a cold Winter evening..

Enjoy your Christmas shopping, everyone.. Mine takes place, glass in hand, on Amazon High Street!

RNIB pub quiz at The Black Lion

The Royal National Institute for the Blind’s (RNIB) campaign to promote reading, Read For RNIB Day, is having its biggest nationwide event on 11th October. As part of this campaign, some local residents are taking over the normal Black Lion pub quiz on Sunday 13 October to raise money for RNIB.

The popular Sunday night quiz at the West Hampstead pub will still be hosted by the pub’s usual quizmaster Gareth, with special literary themed questions and exciting prizes thrown in too. Come along, join in, and test your knowledge!

The Black Lion will be donating all the quiz entry money to RNIB and local estate agent Paramount has offered to match whatever the pub raises.

As the usual cash prize will go to charity, other prizes for teams have been generously donated from local businesses. These will be announced during the evening but we can reveal they include signed copies of books, a brewery tour, vouchers for local restaurants and some food and wine goodies.

Local resident Brie has organised the event with Carla, from Paramount. As a literary agent, Brie is naturally an evangelist for reading, and the Read for RNIB Day caught her attention when she discovered that only 7% of books are available for those who can’t read print. Discussing the RNIB campaign with Carla, they decided they would do something fun to raise money and highlight the campaign more broadly.

To learn more about the RNIB’s work and its campaigns head to the Read for RNIB website.

Sunday 13 October 2013, 7.30pm-9.00pm

The Black Lion, 292 West End Lane, West Hampstead

Event details here.

Tom’s wowed by “potatoey” chips

A jolly good time was had by all in the Black Lion in Kilburn, for a friend’s birthday last week. It’s a pub I find particularly welcoming and relaxing; spacious, combined with many leather sofas to chill out on, and the gorgeous decor and opulent ceiling-work.

Sticking with a sauvignon blanc all evening to avoid a school-night hangover (didn’t work, but the wine was lovely), I launched into a haddock and chips, which whilst not matching the grandness of The (West Hampstead) Black Lion’s version in terms of big, crispy batter, this was still pretty good.

Special mention goes to the most flavoursome mushy peas I’ve had for ages – really nice to see extra attention to such a simple thing. My watercress salad came with shaved parmesan, and we all enjoyed the wonderful olives as well. (I do love good quality olives; was delighted to stumble upon pick & mix options in the grocery at the top of the KHR recently, opposite the now-closed Angeles restaurant – another successful, booze-fuelled, midnight Kilburn shopping jaunt).

A word about the very fine chips, too. I like that one can get different variants of chips these days; who doesn’t enjoy the marvellous textures of triple-cooked ones, for example? But the Black Lion’s have their own character too, being – for want of a better word – highly potatoey, with a more subtle outer texture to the skin rather than all-out crispness, and splendid colour. Really, with some bread and tomato ketchup, a dish on their own.

Other plates happily demolished included asparagus and blue cheese risotto, burgers, chargrilled sirloin with chips, pickled schimichi mushrooms and garlic butter, and a very impressive-looking pan-fried duck breast with sautéed truffle potatoes, wilted baby spinach, spicy mango and chilli tartare, plus summer berry sauce!

The staff looked after us, bringing out the birthday cake as planned, and just in time, too – I’d forgotten and was about to order dessert.

Summer’s out, and the weather’s getting annoying again, we’ll be needing shelter inside warm, inviting, uplifting pubs like The Black Lion. Line me up a nice, comforting Rioja please…

Tom swoons in The Black Lion

Stopped off for a jolly good Sunday evening bite to eat in The Black Lion the other week (the West Hampstead one, not the splendid pub in Kilburn which I’m also very fond of).

I was intrigued to try the leek and wild mushroom starter, a little baked pot of warming cheer, topped off with a hen’s egg. On the other side of “The Captain’s Table” (I can adopt this as my own now that Birds Eye has got itself into this insane horsemeat scandal), some sautéed chicken livers in a port reduction, on ciabatta, were going down a storm. I had a bite myself, and whilst I wouldn’t usually order offal, they were absolutely brilliant. Tender and rich, with a sauce of real depth.

Now, if a pub serves fish and chips, you hope it will be good, and when it is, it deserves a mention. I’m pleased to report that The Black Lion’s battered haddock and chips were really excellent. A grand portion of delightfully fine, flaky fish, in a crispy, golden batter, with great chips – fantastic. It’s a pleasure to eat a classic like this and find it treated with such skill and respect!

I didn’t opt for dessert on this occasion (don’t worry, I’m fine – honestly, I’m fine), but the options were tempting, so looking forward to next time.

As with most pubs in the area doing quality food, it does dent your wallet a little to enjoy a slap-up in The Black Lion. But if standards remain high, and you can enjoy really good food to bash that pre-Monday feeling, then I’d rather enjoy myself now, and resign myself to supermarket budget meals in my retirement. Let’s just say it won’t be via Tesco or Findus “beef” lasagne though!

Whampgather IX: Sunday lunch

It’s been a couple of weeks now since the ninth edition of the local get-together known as #whampgather.

Fifty of us took over the front half of The Black Lion on West End Lane while a sudden, if brief, monsoon arrived in West Hampstead.

The afternoon went well – it was great to see so many familiar faces and welcome lots of newcomers to their first whampevent. It’s the first time we’ve had so many people at a sit-down gathering, and thanks are definitely due to Martyn and the staff at The Black Lion for looking after us.

A smattering of folks hung around for more drinks until we got booted out as those who’d reserved tables to watch Italy beat England arrived.

I’ve said it before, but it feels like a long time since the very first whampgather when I wasn’t sure if anyone would turn up. Now, we’re heading inexorably towards the 10th, which will be sometime in the autumn. We’ll be returning to the usual Thursday evening drinks & music format and I’d recommend booking the next day off work.

In the meantime, here are some ropey pictures of Whampgather IX by me, and some better ones of the food by Anthony.

Sunday lunch at The Black Lion

When we did our initial Sunday lunch crawl through West Hampstead, the Lion – as it was then – was on the brink of shutting up shop for a while in order to be refurbed, rebranded, reimagined and reinvigorated. We therefore decided that it wouldn’t be fair to include it in the roast beef round-up and we’d return once it was up and running in its new incarnation.

Which is exactly what we did on that blisteringly hot Sunday a couple of weeks ago. You know the one. It will be remembered as “That hot Sunday in 2012”.

We were able to sit outside on the terrace of the newly refitted The Black Lion. Our table was hot enough for some benihana style Japanese cooking, and we lathered on the sun cream as we looked at the menu. After 15 Sunday lunches of sharing plates, his time we had the luxury at least of having our own meals all to ourselves.

A selection of the Sunday main course options

For starters we should have had gazpacho (which happens to be the oddest heckle I’ve ever heard at a comedy gig), but instead we all went for either the grilled asparagus, or the cured salmon. Both very good – although this is the second time I’ve had the salmon there and it was thinner and more delicate the first time.

Then came the mains. Obviously at least some of us had to have beef – in this case it’s Dexter beef (although the menu doesn’t specify which cut). Tom had fish & chips and Claire tried out the veggie option of roast butternut squash, wild mushroom and almond pancakes with a red pepper sauce.

Beef (and Dom’s arm)

The beef was good – i think they might have got their mediums and their medium rares mixed up, but no big deal. Portion size was impressive, the Yorkshires teetered precariously on top like some limestone rock formation, and the bed of vegetables were all properly cooked (in fact they were slightly over rather than very under as we had had elsewhere).

Tom seemed pleased with his fish & chips, which looked… well, it looked like fish & chips. Claire claimed her pancakes were a good vegetarian option; a change from risotto or the ubiquitous nut roast.

I thought the roast potatoes were good, but it took a long time to get Dom – the arbiter of all things tuber – to pass judgement, and even when he did he was a bit non-committal.

My only criticisms were that there wasn’t enough gravy (though I’m sure we could have asked for more), and it looked like mine had split. No complaints with the flavour though.

Deep bowl for Tom’s deep appetite

We managed to squeeze in desserts: cheesecake, cheese, and a sticky toffee pudding for Anna – a recent convert to the delights of stickiness and toffeeness. All were good – and the cheeseboard came with an extra menu with lengthy descriptions of the cheeses. A nice touch.

Dom and the girls blitzed their way through rather a lot of prosecco, while Tom and I demolished a really good Palestra from the Douro – excellent value as most Portuguese reds are at the moment.

There is no doubt that The Black Lion is an excellent addition to the eating options in West Hampstead. The prices are reasonable, if not cheap, but the service is good and there’s a sense that they are really trying hard to make it work. There are plans for a full-size barbecue on the terrace, which people might find more appealing than the one at the Alice House, which on that particular day was on the street outside the front door in line with the exhaust fumes of the 139 and 328 buses.

Of course lots of us will be trying out The Black Lion for Sunday lunch very soon at Whampgather IX – lets hope we all get as good a meal then as Team Roast did on our very very final Sunday lunch tasting. I’ve added the scores to the spreadsheet you can find here.

Roast beef: £14.50
Yorkshire pudding score: 8
Roast potato score: 7
Sets the bar high for West End Lane.

Whampgather IX – Summer Sunday

Bring me sunshine, bring me joy, bring me another edition of the local party that everyone loves… bring me #whampgather!

Summer finally seems to have arrived, so I figured it was time for the NINTH installment of #whampgather.

The summer whampgather will be a bit different. The newly-refurbed Black Lion on West End Lane* does a cracking Sunday lunch, and as many of you expressed an interest in joining my own recent Sunday lunch escapades, this seemed like the perfect solution. It’s a Summer Sunday Whampgather! Read the details below, then sign up here.

What’s the deal?
There is room for 50 of us (just 50 – eek) at The Black Lion. We’re going to get a limited menu (with a choice of three starters, four mains, and three desserts – all priced as per the normal menu). In addition, we’ve got 1/3 off Bloody Mary’s (and a discount on house wine by the glass if you’re not a bloody mary fan).

Two important things:
Cost – I’m afraid I need to lock you in for this one, so I need a deposit. It’s a £10 deposit, plus 90p fees (which goes to the ticketing company, not me). You can pay via PayPal. If you really have a problem then e-mail me. The final bill will be calculated per table as at whampreviews, with your deposits knocked off obviously. It’s up to you how you split the bills.

Timing – So that we don’t break the kitchen at The Black Lion on what’s likely to be a busy Sunday for them anyway, we need to be there fairly early (hence the Bloody Mary to kick start the day). The first tables will be seated at midday, the last at about 12.30. I will send everyone a text message with the time you need to be there. Please please please be on time (the pub has really stressed this).

One less important thing:
A bit like at whampreviews, I’ll allocate everyone to a table. We have roughly the front half of the pub just for us – it’s mostly tables for 6, with one table for 8. If you book more than one ticket, let me know if it’s essential that you sit together (bearing in mind that one of the ideas of this is to meet new people.. *hint hint*). Obviously if you want to bring kids that’s more than alright.

For background on previous whampgathers, read this overview.

*Anyone who ends up at The Black Lion on the Kilburn High Road by mistake will be mocked for the rest of their lives.

A Tale of Two Lions

The Old Black Lion on West End Lane was established in 1751. It was a beerhouse not a tavern, meaning it could sell only beer.

The Black Lion on Kilburn High Road is older. It dates back to 1666. (The Red Lion on Kilburn High Road dates back to 1444! Thankfully now it’s called The Westbury).

Both pubs were rebuilt around the start of the 20th century. The Black Lion in 1898 and The Old Black Lion in 1912.

Click for full-size, taken from The Streets of West Hampstead, Camden History Society

When I first moved to Kilburn, the Old Black Lion was a Rat and Carrot. Yes, carrot. The Railway was a Rat & Parrot. The Rat & Carrot chain was fairly short-lived if I recall. It reverted to being the Old Black Lion.

Only a few years ago, the Old Black Lion underwent a transformation from fairly straightforward pub showing sport to The Lion – which always reminded me a bit too much of an All Bar One.

The Black Lion meanwhile became very popular, and I believe its ceiling is actually listed – if you can list a ceiling.

A few months ago, rumours were flying around West Hampstead that The Lion was closing and being sold. I contacted Greene King, the owners, who assured me this was not the case. It was being refurbed and would be all new and shiny and exciting. It took a while for that to actually get started but the refurb is taking place at the moment.

Then today I was followed on Twitter by @TheBlackLionNW6. Its bio clearly says it is in West Hampstead. The Black Lion in Kilburn (also in NW6) tweets – albeit rarely – under @BlackLionLondon (which might have pissed off some of the other Black Lions within the M25).

“Black Lion” search in Google Maps. “B” is Kilburn’s. West Hampstead’s isn’t there yet

This afternoon, The Black Lion (West Hampstead), tweeted a couple of photos of its dinner and lunch menus. They look quite expensive – it’s competition for The Alice House, not The Railway. At the bottom of the menus (very sensibly) is a website address: Don’t confuse this with The Black Lion’s (Kilburn) website:

I visited the website (of the Black Lion West Hampstead). It’s obviously not quite fully fledged yet, but it does have a contact page, giving its address (295 West End Lane) and a handy Google map. Which shows the location of The Black Lion in Kilburn.

West End Lane is suddenly the Kilburn High Road

With a degree of irritation, I pointed this out to the good people at the new (Old) Black Lion who said that that was indeed a mistake and they’d correct it asap. Hurrah.

In the meantime, the pub opens on April 26th. I am prepared to spend a lot of time explaining to people that there are two Black Lions (like there used to be) on two different roads but in the same postcode area. Before the internet this clearly wasn’t a problem as both coexisted for about 250 years. Now, everyone needs a unique identifier and perhaps “NW6” wasn’t the best one to pick. For a start why not go back to The Old Black Lion, or even call it “The New Black Lion”.

I shall leave the last word to Shannon, whose common sense could have saved the day.