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Mt Rushmore

From Kilburn to Mount Rushmore: The story of Gutzon Borglum

Mt Rushmore

Mount Rushmore: Photo by Brian Sandoval on Unsplash

It’s Thanksgiving in America, so what better time to dig into the link between Kilburn and the man behind one of the most iconic landmarks in the US.

American artist and sculptor Gutzon Borglum lived and worked at Harlestone Villa in Mortimer Road, Kilburn from about 1897 to 1902. The property was later renumbered as 6 Mortimer Place but was damaged in 1944 by the V1 flying bomb which destroyed North Hall, the house next door. Both buildings were demolished and today the site is covered by Halliwell House on the Kilburn Gate estate.

While at Harlestone Villa, Borglum painted murals for private homes but he is best known as the sculptor who produced the giant heads of US presidents carved into the summit of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

Gutzon Borglum in 1919

Born in a frontier town in Idaho in 1867, Borglum was of Danish extraction. His father was a Mormon with two wives who were sisters. Borglum ran away from home to study art in California, and at the Julien Academy and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris where he was influenced by Rodin.

He arrived in London in 1896 and rented a studio in West Kensington before moving to Kilburn. Although gaining recognition as an artist he was not earning a lot of money. He said, “I have had the disturbing pleasure of being called Master by the French critics and some Americans, yet at the moment I cannot spend sixpence without wondering where the next one will come from.”

In 1901, the daughter of a Californian friend came to stay at Harlestone Villa. Her name was Isadora Duncan and at a party she danced for Borglum on the villa’s large lawn, scattering rose petals behind her.

Borglum received a commission for twelve painted panels to be installed in the Midland Railway Company’s new hotel in Manchester. The fee was five thousand guineas (today worth about £550,000). In 1903 he supervised installation of the panels which were made in America. They depicted scenes from ‘A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream’ and the court of King Arthur.

Returning to America, Borglum became a very successful sculptor. His politics were crude; he was anti-immigrant and a racist. He criticised other artists and even called for the destruction of a public statue. Borglum courted the press and they loved him. In 1915 he put his reputation on the line and promised to make a huge monument to Southern Confederacy at Stone Mountain in Georgia. His patrons, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, did not have sufficient funds so he mortgaged his 500-acre estate in Connecticut. But after ten years he had completed less than a tenth of the carving and was fired by the Stone Mountain Association, accused of wasteful expenditure and having an ungovernable temper. The Association claimed ownership of his models and put out a warrant for Borglum’s arrest. He destroyed the models and became a fugitive, deeply in debt and publicly humiliated.

Doane Robinson, a South Dakota historian, had read about the large numbers of people travelling to Georgia just to watch Borglum at work. He believed that a mountain carving could put the little known South Dakota on the map. He wrote to Borglum suggesting a project in the Black Hills, perhaps carvings of the western explorers Lewis and Clark, Buffalo Bill and Chief Red Cloud. Borglum replied that national heroes would be better and it should be the Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt (a personal friend of Borglum). But the attempt to raise $50,000 as seed money from the public only realised $5,000. The project became a joke. One paper said, “Borglum is about to destroy another mountain, thank God it is in South Dakota where no one will ever see it.”

President Calvin Coolidge was persuaded to spend a summer holiday in South Dakota and this helped raise the total to $42,000. Coolidge pledged the government would provide additional funds. In 1929, Borglum began work with only about a tenth of the money he needed. He didn’t even know if the project was feasible as it was 500 feet to the top of Mount Rushmore and the weather in winter would make work impossible. Using jack hammers and dynamite Borglum thought the figures would take four years to complete. But money ran out and work slowed down.

In 1931 the Rushmore Association was in debt with little chance of raising any further funds during the Depression. Worse was to follow, after a severe drought created the Dustbowl. People left the state in droves and work stopped completely in 1932. Borglum and Senator Peter Norbeck persuaded influential contacts to obtain federal funds from the National Park Service and work recommenced after a year’s delay. Borglum’s 21 year old son Lincoln, who was very popular with the 400 workmen, was the site supervisor when his father was away.

In March 1941, just as he was completing the sculptures, Gutzon Borglum died suddenly from complications after surgery. He was 73. Congress stopped all funding as the United States joined the Second Wolrd War that December but Borglum’s son Lincoln finished the project, which had taken 14 years and involved removing half a million tons of granite to form the four 60-feet high figures.

Here is a film showing Gutzon Borglum working on the mountain:

Good Ship Comedy sets sail for new home in Camden

Sad times on Monday night in Kilburn as the Good Ship hosted its final Monday-night comedy gig. The Good Ship closes this weekend after changes to its licence has made it unprofitable and forced owner John McCooke to sell.

Monday night comedy was a core part of the formative years  of the West Hampstead community initiative I began in 2009. Thus it seemed fitting for a few of us to return on Monday to say farewell. It was a busy night. A great line up kicked off by Matt Winning (if you don’t know him – go see him), with local favourite Jay Foreman on the bill as well as one-time hosts Jonny & the Baptists. Angela Barnes will go down in comedy history as the woman who closed the final night – and she did a storming set.

Angela Barnes headlines the last night of Monday night comedy

The Good Ship always had a special place in my West Hampstead heart. For a couple of years around 2011/2012, a constantly evolving group of locals – initially loosely coordinated by me, but increasingly just turning up because they’d know someone there – would head along for an evening of (mostly) high-quality comedy hosted then by the irrepressible Juliet Stephens.

The Good Ship was a different sort of comedy night: low-key, friendly, light on the heckling, rich on the applause – and it even had a weekly raffle, free with your ticket entry. It attracted a mixed crowd. At just £4, it was well within the reach of most, so students from the Central School of Speech & Drama in Swiss Cottage were always well represented. But there were also some older people for whom it was clearly a friendly escape.

There were characters like Freddy, who some of you will remember from his stints as our doorman at whampgathers; there were running jokes about Fisk (look it up) and the bag of shit from the poundshop. But newcomers were always warmly welcomed and even the quieter nights were good fun, while the buzzy nights could be a pounding success with laughs reverberating around the pit. It was an integral part of creating a community.

Jay Foreman with his astonishing tube station song

Comedians themselves liked The Good Ship. It was a safe space to try out some new material – on one of my very first visits there Ed Byrne popped in to do 5 minutes – and the Edinburgh preview shows were a ridiculously good value way to see top stand-ups deliver full shows for a fraction of the price you’d pay once they reached Scotland.

Juliet finally moved on and after a few different interim hosts, her place at the helm was confidently taken by Ben Van der Velde, who has masterfully steered the Good Ship Comedy for the past few years. Ben has rebuilt the momentum of the club and kept that friendly vibe. Wonderful news therefore, that even as we mourn the end of the Good Ship, the comedy night will continue from November 6th at a new venue. The Colonel Fawcett pub in Camden will host; the name will remain (hopefully in perpetuity – no-one wants to see “Unfawced Laughter”) and (eek) the price will go up. By £1. Details and tickets here.

It’s going to be a a challenge to rebuild in a new venue, so do go along and support it if you can. The pub is really close to Camden Road overground station, so it’s really no big deal to get there from West Hampstead or Kilburn. The line-ups are just as good but any comedy night is really only as good as its audiences. The Good Ship’s always had one of the best. Long may it sail.

Crime on the rise in West Hampstead

Is crime in West Hampstead on the rise, or are we just made more aware of it through social media? And through the rare but higher-profile crimes such as moped-based thefts or the recent acid attack. WHL met up with Sergeant Mark Townsend to discuss.

Certainly there is a sense that our relatively quiet part of north-west London has seen more crime of late, but do the statistics back that up? And what are the police doing about it?

Crime stats are available from the College of Policing website and are broken down by wards: Fortune Green, West Hampstead, plus parts of Swiss Cottage and Kilburn that make up ‘West Hampstead’. The numbers are a couple of months behind with the most recent figures being for June. Given that crime levels are generally relatively low, increases can be seasonal or statistically not significant, however, the data does suggest a rise in crime.

monthly Reported crime

As you can see from the chart, across the previous few months, monthly crime levels are actually fairly stable, with the exception of Kilburn, where crime is somewhat higher overall. However if you compare it with the same period last year it’s clearer that the trend is upwards. There is an average rise of 15% for the wards and a startling 50% jump in Fortune Green, confirming anecdotal (or tweetendotal) evidence that crime is on the up.

Crime 2016 vs 2017

Crime in Fortune Green up by 50%

Of course it’s important to know what types of crime are causing the increase. In Fortune Green, it’s largely a rise in burglaries and thefts from cars. From April to Jun 2016 (2Q) there were 31 burglaries in Fortune Green, but that had nearly doubled to 55 in 2017. Likewise from April to June  2016 there were 43 theft from cars, but in 2017 that rose to 78.

Fortune Green ward; breakdown of crimes

Fortune Green ward; breakdown of crimes

Here is a breakdown of which crimes make up the total. It is important to point out that West Hampstead is still relatively safe, but not as safe as it was. It is now about average for London, although still safer than Camden overall.

FG ward's relative position in the crime tables.

FG ward’s relative position in the crime tables.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These monthly stats are important because they alert the police to any hot spots and allow the Safer Neighbourhoods ward panels to decide crime priorities. Its is really important that you let the police know if you are victim of crime.

How can the police make our neighbourhood safer?

Sgt Mark Townsend has been at West Hampstead for two years and in the force for 13 years. He is in charge of three Safer Neighbourhood teams: Fortune Green, West Hampstead and Kilburn. Although the teams are separate, they do support for each other and coordinate on problems at the ward boundaries. West Hampstead and Fortune Green have two PCs each and one PCSO. Kilburn, with its higher crime rate, has four PCs and one PCSO. Alongside the Safer Neighbourhoods Teams there are response teams (these are the officers who respond to and investigate crimes) based at Kentish Town police station.

There are more changes in the pipeline as earlier this year Camden’s force merged with Islington. This merger is one of two pilots in London – the other is a merger of three east London boroughs. The aim is to turn what thirty London borough forces into 16 policing areas. Therefore further mergers are on the cards as are cuts to police numbers. Numbers are down already. In March 2010, there were 33,367 full-time officers in London. This had fallen to 31,782 in by March 2016 (both numbers include long-term absentees, currently about 1,000 officers).

With burglary and theft from cars on the rise, residents can play their part in making it harder for criminals. Sgt Townsend said that one of his biggest problems is people being lax with their own security. Car doors should always be locked (and anything valuable hidden out of sight), and mopeds should have a disk lock and be secured to the ground. All the oft-repeated advice about securing lower-ground floor flats and being careful not to leave communal doors open or letting in random people to communal flats without checking naturally apply too.

How to report a crime

If you are the victim of a crime, what’s the correct procedure? If it is urgent, call 999, but for less urgent matters call 101, which can take a minute or two to connect. If you are not sure on the level of urgency, Sgt Townsend said call 999 and they will direct your call as appropriate

If anyone wants to report something suspicious they can also call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 – or do it anonymously online, though this means you’ll have no follow up and the police can’t ask for more details. You can also report it directly the Safer Neighbourhoods teams where they can follow up.

Nevertheless, it is important to report a crime, and today the best way to do this is online, although there can be an urge to talk to a real person straight away. Four out of five crimes can now be reported online, even car collisions. The reasons to report all crime, apart from having it investigated, is that it then gets included in those crime stats, which themselves shape the police force’s priorities. Those priorities are updated on the police college site, and the Metropolitan Police pages for each ward’s Safer Neighbourhood Teams (Fortune Green , West Hampstead and Kilburn).

The Met’s site is still in beta, and could be more user-friendly, for example with photos of team members, which would make it more personable, though there are other attempts to modernise the service and make policing more visible. Kilburn Safer Neighbourhood team got smartphones about a year ago and have been tweeting more and more actively . Initially, Sgt Townsend said the team was unsure about this, but they have grown more comfortable with the idea and now eagerly report their successes and ward rounds. There are also Twitter account for Fortune Green and West Hampstead, but they are less achieve and specific than Kilburn, but with time should be more informative.

Safer Neighbourhood Panels

The crime stats are supposed to help the police together with the Safer Neighbourhood Panels (SNP)  decide what the crime priorities are for the area. Recently this has been drifting due to a change in personnel, however, earlier this year local activist Miles Seaman has taken over.  He has been working at reactivating the SNP by ensuring the the meetings are more regular and issues are raised in an orderly fashion. Confusingly, the police also ask for input about which crime priorities on the Safer Neighbourhoods website, but with only 4 votes last month it’s not very democratic.

What next?

So crime indeed has been on the rise in the area.  The question is what to do now?  Firstly, Sgt Townsend says please take personal responsibility, it is astonishing that the number of thefts that take place from unlocked cars. Given that we are facing continued cuts in police numbers this is all the more important. The Safer Neighbourhood Team numbers are safe.  For the moment.  But WHL thinks the police can also do their bit – they have been very slow to take up social media and their websites are – to say the least – clunky. A lot of local policing is know the faces of the bobbies (or PCSOs) on the beat but all we have are grey boxes, nor are their links to the email addresses or a phone number to contact the teams.

The Safer Neighbourhoods panel should hopefully be more pro-active under new chairmanship. Likewise we also haven’t seen much activity from our local councillors (or indeed from the local opposition), but we are happy to be corrected on this.

There is concern about releasing CCTV footage when crimes are committed. WHL has his wallet stolen in Costa coffee (doing an interview about crime, how’s that for irony) but Costa refused to release the footage even though the thief was caught on camera. Sgt Townsend thinks it is time to take a more sensible approach because the police don’t have the resources to follow up.

One example over the past year of everyone pulling together (including WHL) was on improving the Black Path and Billy Fury Way. Both paths had become overgrown and felt unsafe, this resulted in a few incidents. Last August WHL and a number of locals turned out to start cutting it back  and this galvanised Network Rail into action, thanks to help of the Police and local councillors. The overgrown foliage has been cut back, the lighting is improved, the path resurfaced and, that bit at least, is now a safer part of the neighbourhood.

And finally, here is some simple crime prevention advice from the Safer Neighbourhoods Team.  Stay safe West Hampstead.

Crime prevention

Tom’s talking Italian at Quartieri

The latest Whampdinner took us down the KHR and (via the ever-splendid Black Lion) into Quartieri, to see what all the fuss was about regarding apparently authentic Italian pizzas…

It’s cheery inside, smart but laid-back, with one wall housing a remarkable array of herbs and chilis, quite a sight, and wonderful to know they’re going straight into the dishes.

Quartieri herb garden

Browsing the menu in advance I immediately got the impression these were ‘serious’ pizzas, as many appeared simple, without too many toppings, and no additional ones (though there were some less-standard choices available, and a special, a lemon-based one which sounded intriguing).

My table quickly devoured a charcuterie board, and looking across the room I noted an elegantly presented salad indicating care and attention. This seemed to have what looked like crisps placed on top; Mark noted several comments on these, in some cases accompanied by quirky Italian terminologies for fried this or that, but I think we’re all in agreement that yes, those were crisps!

Quartieri charctuerie

The bruschetta was good, as was the gnocchi (we tried some as a bonus starter) – somehow light yet rich, with a tantalising softness to it and just a little ‘edge’ as well. For both these dishes, I’d have liked a touch more salt, but then I’ve probably mashed my tastebuds due to decades of, well, getting mashed.

Quartieri Bruschetta

Quartieri gnocchi

I selected the Puttanesca pizza. With simple pizzas there’s nowhere to hide, so there has to be seasoning and taste; and indeed this was delicious, with strong flavours and satisfying dough. For sure, it had a touch of class and confidence to it, which I think is is what we were hoping for with this type of venture.

I was puzzled by all the toppings being in the centre (from the menu: Agerola fior di latte, slow food capers, and Caiazza black olives from Selanova), and although I admired the intention of these dark, intense olives being unpitted, this did inevitably mean it wasn’t easy to get a taste of everything in one bite. More puzzling was the omission of the stated Casa Marazzo organic tomatoes, especially as the whole menu sings-out “tomatoes!” throughout. The bonus addition of basil added a nice dimension though. Whatever, I’d happily have been back to try other options at 8am for breakfast given the opportunity. (Well perhaps 10am).

Quartieri pizza puttanesca

Service, via the friendly but professional Luka, was efficient, and we enjoyed a chat with the effusive founder, Tony, who seemed to be an exact 50-50 Italian / English mix. Us simpletons were amused and confused in equal measure initially, when Tony read menu options in vibrant Italian before sounding like a Kilburn pub landlord moments later.

We tried two reds: Aglianico Quartieri 17 – “savoury, meaty notes and plum fruit characterise this dry house red” – indeed it was dry, quite a refreshing wine to start off with, then Piedirosso Pompeiano 20 – “a medium bodied red with hints of strawberry on the nose and strawberry & blackcurrant on the palette” – a similar lightness (12.5% ABV) but with rather more to it, to match up against the grub.

A note about the chili oil – it was excellent. That sort of heat which creeps up, transpiring to be far more complex and indeed spicier than expected. Now, I tried to stitch-up poor old Goetz on my table, by assuming a nonchalant manner and suggesting “put tons of it on, it’s very mild” – however, as Goetz already knows I’m an idiot, he saw through my devious plan immediately – dismissing it with a chuckle and a bite of his calzone. Doh!

High quality pizzas, then lounging about in The Black Lion a couple of doors down – sounds like a sensible Kilburn-based evening, does it not? Welcome, Quartieri – we look forward to next time.

Tracking down Kilburn’s misplaced cinema

Many buildings in Kilburn have interesting stories, but few can match 248 Kilburn High Road. The site, now demolished, has recently been given permission for two new-build blocks of flats. Residents will be living on top of a slice of media history.

In October 1908, American-born George Washington Grant and two partners formed the Biograph Theatre Company. They saw cinema as the growing medium and opened two Biograph cinemas in the Holloway Road and Peckham in 1909. The busy working-class area of Kilburn was a good place for their next venture. The partners approached Madame Goubert of 65a Brondesbury Villas (who owned several plant nurseries in Kilburn), and suggested opening a cinema and adjoining skating rink on her nursery ground behind Brondesbury Villas and the High Road. An application was made in her name on 19 November 1909, but it was refused by Willesden Council. Biograph persevered and in May 1910, The Biograph Theatre with 600 seats opened on the other side of the Kilburn High Road at No.236. The trade newspaper, Era, said, ‘It is doing remarkably well and is prettily decorated in brown and gold and is very cosy.’

By then the group had a chain of nine small cinemas in London. Unusually, the manager of the Kilburn branch was a woman, Mrs McCullah. However, the cinema had a short life and closed in 1917, unable to compete with the nearby Oswald Stoll-owned Grange Cinema. This had opened at the end of July 1914 with more than 2,000 seats, making it the largest purpose-built cinema in England. It was superseded in December 1937 when the iconic Gaumont State opened across the High Road with more than 4,000 seats. Biograph found it difficult to keep its chain profitable, and in 1922 the partners voted to voluntarily wind up the company.

Initial researchers of early cinema believed that the Biograph was situated behind today’s Speedy Noodle restaurant at 236 Kilburn High Road, on the corner of Grangeway. However, Grangeway was built after 1914. After the Biograph closed, 236 is not shown in the street directories until 1921 when Gerrard Costumiers opened there. The costumiers appeared again the following year, but in 1923 it appeared to have moved to 248 Kilburn High Road. In fact, it hadn’t moved at all – but this section of the High Road had been renumbered. The correct position of the original Biograph cinema is opposite Buckley Road, (near today’s Tricycle Cinema). Access was from the present day 248, with the cinema building reaching back behind the narrow shop front, almost as far as Grange Park. Several buildings lay behind the shop fronts.

From 1926, the cinema building was for many years a billiard hall run by W. Jelks and Sons. They made billiard tables in their Holloway Road factory and ran halls around London. The numbering of the building changed several times and was shown at various times as 246, 246a and 248.

Sadly, no photos of the old cinema seem to exist and all we have of this section of the High Road is one taken in 1979. This shows Mobile Press Photos who were at No.248 from about 1951 to the early 1980s. The long wall of the building behind the shop originally housed the old cinema.

Mobile Press Photos at 248 Kilburn High Road by Jean Smith, 1979

Mobile Press Photos at 248 Kilburn High Road by Jean Smith, 1979

In 1931, Joseph Littman, who became a millionaire property speculator, bought the shop at 248 for his wife Evelyn as a gown and costumiers. Joseph had been born into a poor peasant family in Poland in 1898, had no schooling and had difficulty reading and writing. But he had a very good memory for figures and knew how to deal with people. The family first migrated to New York and Joe Littman came to London in the early 1920s. He married Evelyn Gold in 1925 in Paddington and was naturalised as a British citizen in 1935. Over the years he acquired large numbers of properties on the High Road and elsewhere in Kilburn. Then he bought properties in Oxford Street and the West End. Modestly, Littman said, ‘I have done pretty well for myself in ten years, but I would have still been keeping shop if I had not been willing to take the risk.’

He pioneered a funding technique of sale and leaseback that is widely used today, known as the ‘Littman Cocktail’. He sold the property to a large financial institution such as a building society, leased it back on a long-term lease of 99 or 999 years, and then sublet it to the occupier on a short lease. That way he made money as the property increased in value over time.

Joe was a modest man who lived a simple life dedicated to his family and friends. Towards the end of his life he suffered from poor health and died of lung cancer in one of his hotels, the Palace Court Bournemouth, on 20 August 1953, aged 55. He left £3.2 million, worth about £82 million today.

Fast-forwarding 50 years, in January 1986, Steve Flood and Stuart Colman opened Master Rock Studios at 248 in the old cinema building. Stuart Colman was a musician who produced hits for Shakin’ Stevens, The Shadows, Kim Wilde, and Alvin Stardust. He also worked as a presenter at the BBC before opening Master Rock Studios. Flood and Colman were soon joined by studio manager Robyn Sansone who came from New York. An amazing number of musicians recorded, or had their albums mastered here including Elton John, Jeff Beck, U2, Eric Clapton, Roxy Music, Simply Red, Oasis, Robbie Williams and Suede.

Flood and Coleman wanted the very best quality mixing and recording equipment so they bought a Focusrite console. Focusrite was founded in 1985 with the aim of producing the highest-quality recording console available at the time, regardless of cost. The prohibitively expensive design, however, limited production to just two units. One console was delivered to Master Rock Studios in Kilburn and the other to the Electric Lady Studio that Jimi Hendrix had built in New York.

Bernard Butler, the guitarist with Suede, who recorded at Master Rock said, “Master Rock Studios was originally haunted by buying one of the only custom-made Focusrite consoles. It arrived several months late so left them without business for a long time and despite being used on everything after it arrived, I don’t think they recovered.”

Despite being busy, the studio had financial problems and in 1991 the business was put up for sale, eventually closing in March 2000.

248 High Road by Dick Weindling, September 2013

248 High Road by Dick Weindling, September 2013

Did the Kilburn sun shine on Summers dining?

There been a ‘pop-up’ take-over of our usual food reviewer’s spot, Tom’s Diner, as WHL pulled rank to review Summer’s dining.

As we reported a couple of weeks ago, three young guys have taken over the Sir Colin Campbell on Kilburn High Road and are collaborating with Ruairidh Summers, an ex-St. John’s chef on his first solo venture. Perhaps we were too enthusiastic in promoting it because when we tried to book a table in the restaurant there was only room downstairs in the bar, but by time we arrived a table had become available upstairs.

WHL had some friends over from Neukolln in Berlin (it’s where people from Hackney move now that Hackney has been come too gentrified and expensive). How did they find Summers?

They certainly felt at home with the decor which had East End/Berlin/Williamsburg distressed paintwork furnished with simple chairs and tables plus an extensive gin menu and choice of beer and cider. No Hoxton cider though, as it was out of stock.

Kilburn via Hackney/Williamsburg/Berlin

Kilburn via Hackney/Williamsburg/Berlin

When it came to ordering food, the suggestion is that dishes are ordered ‘for sharing’. Ruairidh is Irish, so appropriately – for a pub in Kilburn – there is an Irish flavour to the menu, with crubeens (deep fried pigs trotters) as one of the starters. We also ordered asparagus (nice and seasonal) with whipped cod’s roe, which had a slight flavour of bacon, and rabbit terrine with pickles. Oh and the spouting broccoli too. Plus home baked sourdough bread. Monika wasn’t a great fan of the cod’s roe but I loved it. And we polished off the lot.

For mains it was pork belly with carrots, brill with samphire and clams, plus a side of colcannon. I meant to order the pearl barley, wild garlic and goats curd as well but though we were told we had ordered it, it turned out we hadn’t.

Mains are always the most difficult part of the menu to get right, you don’t want to be kept waiting too long after the starters have been cleared away, but not rushed either and they are the most complex dishes to cook. Summers was still in the soft opening period and could harden this aspect up a little for the next visit. Also on the menu was a beef shin and Guinness pie, which looked really good – and I don’t eat beef – and as it comes for two is truly a dish for sharing.

Haven't had a carrot this good since Noma.

Haven’t had a carrot this good since Noma.

Service was from two young waitresses who were a little nervous and still getting to grips with menu and space. However, they needn’t have worried quite so much, they were charming and did a fine job. When a restaurant has certain buzz it adds to the enjoyment the meal, and Summers had it. The room was full of 20-30somethings enjoying their meals, with a gentle backdrop of 80s Indie music, shared with the pub downstairs.

Mmmm. Desserts went down rather well.

Mmmm. Desserts went down rather well.

After mains it was into the home stretch of desserts – we shared an apple crumble and rice pudding with rhubarb. Not being a huge fan of rice pudding I took a cautious bite, and then another one and another one – I might not have been a huge fan before, but I am now.

There are subtle changes to the menu each night, so you might not get the same starters or desserts we had, but I’m pretty sure they will be just as good. And how did our Berlin friends like it? Sehr, sehr gut.

The Good Ship late licence at risk

The late license of Kilburn’s popular music/comedy venue, The Good Ship, will be reviewed this Thursday. At the moment, it opens until 3am, but if the licensing committee rules follows the wishes of the police, it will be required to close at 2am – crucially with the last entry at midnight.

You could be barred from entry after midnight

You could be barred from entry after midnight

Owner John McCooke says that a very significant percentage of the venue’s revenue is generated between midnight and 3am so the suggested measures would “effectively closes the venue at midnight, making the business unviable”.

If you don’t know The Good Ship, it’s a bar with a friendly stage that hosts an astounding number of bands, comedians, DJs, charity and community nights. Music ranges across all the genres from math rock to REM cover bands to jazz funk. It provides a valuable opportunity for new acts to get exposure and more established acts to practice new material – it’s pretty common to turn up for the comedy on a Monday night and see a household name added to the bill.

This decision is happening in the same month that a London night tsar has been appointed to champion late-night culture. Amy Lamé, who is the first person to fill the role, told the BBC ‘We need to stem the flow of those closures [of clubs and venues across London]. Long-time locals may remember the sad closure of Kilburn’s The Luminaire in 2010. This was a huge loss to the west London music scene, which began its inexorable march east.

There is inevitably some dispute about whether the Ship’s opening hours are contributing to antsocial behaviour. In the Kilburn Times, McCooke says reports of bad behaviour are exaggerated. My personal experience, and that of local friends, has always been that The Good Ship offers a fun night out and it’s certainly an important, vibrant contributor to London’s arts culture. How many more pubs and venues will be turned into coffee shops, bakeries and luxury flats? We wish John and team all the best of luck on Thursday.

Kilburn butcher who saved two lives

West Hampstead Life is less local than you might think. One of our Australian readers, Barry York has been in touch to ask if we could help find any descendants of George Ross Huckstepp.

Apart from having a great surname, Mr Huckstepp was a butcher in Kilburn in the 1940s and 50s. He lived at 2e Dyne Road. He also saved Barry’s life.

Barry’s mother Olive did not have a happy marriage. She married in 1947 but by 1952, when Barry was just a baby, she had reached a depth of depression that made her suicidal.

Mother and son. Image credit: B. York

Mother and son. Image credit: B. York

Forty years later, Olive told Barry how, when he was a baby, she took him with her to a bus stop opposite the local butcher’s shop (in Dyne Road/the Kilburn High Road) and stood there waiting for the bus; not to catch the bus, but to jump under it. With him. What saved her life, and Barry’s, was the kindness of the butcher, Mr. Huckstepp, who knew her as a customer. On seeing her standing there in a distressed state, he read the situation, and quickly came out of the shop.

As his mother recalled “He saved me from killing you and suiciding myself. He came out and said ‘What is the matter?’ and he said ‘You go for a walk, a short walk. Then come back and I’ll give you two ounces of liver’. The thought of that was in my mind and I thought ‘Oh, liver, how lovely, two ounces off my ration book’. I went back and he gave me a good talking to and he said ‘You go back home and you cook that liver’.”

She returned home, cooked the liver as instructed and shortly afterwards emigrated with her family to Australia. “It’s funny how life can turn out” pondered Barry. He’s trying to track down more information about the kind butcher. All he knows is that George Huckstepp was born in Kilburn in September 1900 and died in 1967 at ‘Plovers’, Sandhurst, Hawkhurst, Kent. He and his wife, Kathleen, retired from the butcher’s shop around 1960.

Does anyone remember him? Are any of his descendants out there? Apparently George Huckstepp had a son and a daughter. Barry would like to thank them for saving his life. If you do have any information please email Barry.

Tricycle’s theatre to close for a year in multi-million pound revamp

Last Thursday, the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn held an open day to show off its plans for the “Tricycle transformed“. We learned that the Tricycle really will be transformed. The theatre will close on July 2nd, at the end of the current show (The Invisible Hand), and will remain closed “for about a year”. Fear not, film fans, the cinema will remain open.

Better sightlines and more seats as "scaffolding" style replaced. Image via Chapman Waterworth

Better sightlines and more seats as “scaffolding” style replaced. Image via Chapman Waterworth

The project has two main goals. The first is to open up the entrance on the Kilburn High Road and completely renovate the theatre. To make it easier to understand — a quick history lesson. The Tricycle Theatre was originally the Foresters Hall, but was acquired by Brent Council in 1980 as a permanent home for the Wakefield Tricycle Touring Theatre Company (so that’s why it’s called the Tricycle). Recently Brent/the theatre also acquired a long lease on the Order of Foresters shop, next door to the current entrance. The plan is to put a café there and so make the Kilburn High Road entrance much more prominent.

The second, and arguably more significant change, is the complete transformation of the theatre. Out goes the 1980s scaffolding seating arrangement, down goes the floor level to allow step free access for disabled theatre-goers (and the number of wheelchair places will rise from two to up to eight), and up goes the number of seats overall, by 50 to 290, with improved sightlines. Not to mention there will be more, and better, loos. Plus, the stage will be enlarged and the original Order of Foresters hall proscenium arch will be more visible.

Overall my impression was it had been well thought through and it will tie the theatre and cinema sides of the Tricycle together. The one controversial issue that arose during the discussions: whether or not to keep the Tricycle carpet. Locals were keen on keeping it, the architects less so … We’re running a poll on Twitter to see what you think.

Should it stay or should it go?

Should it stay or should it go?

All this work doesn’t come cheap, but the Tricycle’s fundraisers have already got an impressive £5.5 million (£2.5 million from the Arts Council and the rest from trusts and donors). They still have a further £750,000 to raise; if you have some spare cash in search of a good cause there are ways to support the project on the website, such as dropping a grand to name a seat.

The Mouseman of Kilburn – No, not that one!

Many people know about Robert Thompson, the furniture maker known as the Mouseman of Kilburn. But he lived in Kilburn, North Yorkshire. But it’s a fair bet hardly anyone knows that Kilburn in North West London had its own Mouseman.

Thompson, born in 1876, dedicated his life to the craft of carving and joinery in English Oak, and after hearing one of his craftsmen say that they were, “All as poor as church mice.” he carved a mouse on the church screen he was working on. The mouse became his company’s trademark and survives to this day.

Kilburn London’s Mouseman was interviewed by a reporter for the Willesden Illustrated Monthly at his lodging house in Kilburn in 1937. He was well known locally as he had spent years in Kilburn and Willesden exhibiting his ‘mouse circus’ in the streets. He said that his best days were Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with markets the best pitch for his performances.

The reporter simply records his real name as S. Jackman, giving no more detail than that. It’s a sympathetic article, looking beyond Jackman’s “rugged and weather-tanned features” to reveal a man of “astonishing intelligence and more than ordinary fibre and independence, a story full of surprises.”

Mouse Man image

The reporter and Jackman sat in the yard besides his “extraordinary paraphernalia”, the large box on wheels that Jackman trundled round the streets. In the photo, the long rod protruding from the box served as the ‘stage’ for a troop of white mice that performed gymnastic feats. There was also a small stuffed dog, Jackman’s faithful companion on the road until it died 15 years previously. From that time, it was exhibited in a straw bed on top of the box. It was one of the Manchester breed, said Jackman; ironically a type of terrier well known for its skill as a rat catcher!

Jackman supplied very few biographical details. His parents were English and emigrated to America, where his father worked in the Chicago stock yards. Jackman was born there but returned to England as a young man. It’s hard to establish what he did next, but he told the reporter he entered the armed forces, serving nearly 12 years in the Navy and Army, including World War I.

I joined the Coldstream Guards and was with the Russian Relief Force, in which I was a sergeant. I went to Murmansk and to Lake Onega.

He worked as a cook and often served meals to General Henry Rawlinson. At the end of World War I, Rawlinson was sent to Russia as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces who were attempting to overthrow the Bolshevik government. In August 1919, Rawlinson organised the evacuation of the Allied Forces from Murmansk and Archangel.

General Rawlinson

After the War Jackman started performing as a member of ‘Lord’ John Sanger’s Circus.

My job was that of a pot-pourri clown. I played 123 instruments – making music on almost everything. I got music out of a revolving bicycle wheel with piano wires stretched across it. I could make anything play.

Sanger’s Circus was started in the 19th century by the charismatic, self styled ‘Lord’ George Sanger and his brother John. They soon went their separate ways, dividing their circus property and setting up their own tented shows.

Jackman said he left Sanger’s “when they had the big fire at Tunbridge Wells.” But he was confused, in fact the fire broke out in the Big Top at Taunton, one hot July afternoon in 1920. About 1,500 people were watching the show when it’s thought a member of the audience dropped a lit match. It set fire to the grass and then the flames spread to the tent. Four people died and many others were badly hurt.

Sangers programme

Jackman had worked as a piano tuner, but by 1937 there was very little demand: “I blame the wireless” declared Jackman. He had also been employed for a while as an inspector at a company making wirelesses. “I can do anything”, he confidently told the reporter, even including television among his many interests.

Jackman had started his ‘mouse circus’ after leaving Sanger’s in 1920. Before settling in Kilburn, he’d often walked to London from Southampton, pushing his box, accompanying the shows by playing a fiddle.

Where did the mice come from? Jackman said his sister in Tunbridge Wells kept his stock of 400 white and brown mice, and when he needed new performers he simply went and got them from her. One free source was now denied him:

In my piano tuning days I frequently discovered mice inside pianos and would capture them and train them.

The reporter asked Jackman why his hair was so long.

Well, so as to be different from anybody else.Colonel Cody (Buffalo Bill) and Barnum had long hair. It makes me look more like a showman.

Jackman never charged for his shows but passed round the hat at performances. His ambition was to buy a large tent and tour the country with his circus:

But the tent would cost £35 and the Mouse Man will have to find silver or many more coppers in his hat before he is able to realise his dreams.

World War II almost certainly put paid to Jackman’s street performances but other than the facts reported in the article, we haven’t been able to find out any more about the man. Does anyone know what had happened to him and his performing mice?

Tom must have mussels at Kilburn’s Black Lion

I’m a bit late with this one but wanted to give an overdue shout-out to the Black Lion in Kilburn. I regularly enthuse about the place before even getting to the food and wine; it’s such an appealing venue to chill out in, worth looking silly taking photos of the ceiling for, or indeed any elements of its charming Grade II listed interior (I’ve just learned that from the website!)

mussels tagliatelle BLK

I tucked into mussels tagliatelle; celery, tomato, white wine, cream and Parmesan merging nicely together to coat very well-judged pasta. Plenty of it, piping hot, proper food. Friends eagerly devoured a Parma ham-wrapped salmon with elegant little lentils shimmering like jewels in a yoghurt-based sauce, and a veg wellington which was apparently really decent; such an encouraging sign when fair attention is given to vegetarian options.

A bit odd not to show sides on the menu, but we were able to order some greens and things; the waiter was entertaining and polite at the same time, ensuring we all had a thoroughly splendid time.

veg wellington boot BLK

Wine was excellent, and our only regret from the evening was not quite being able to manage dessert; full of my favourite things like brownies, crumble (apple and blueberries are on the current menu – sounds lovely), banoffee or key lime pie… And as for the cheeseboard, last time I chose that option, mellowing out on a leather sofa one lazy Sunday afternoon, it proved such a generous portion I didn’t eat again all day… fantastic!

Black Lion Kilburn… I raise a hearty glass of Malbec in your direction – and we’ll see you again soon.

Interview: Sam West’s After Electra is “hotter and faster” at the Tricycle

After Electra opened at the Tricycle Theatre last night. We sat down with the director (and acclaimed actor) Sam West to find out more about the play and his take on Kilburn.

The full cast of After Electra. (Photo: Steve Tanner)

The full cast of After Electra. (Photo: Steve Tanner)

The play is called After Electra, should we expect a Greek Tragedy?

No, you should expect a black comedy, inspired by a Greek Myth but certainly not one you need to know anything about Greek drama to enjoy. The play is about an 81 year old artist called Vergie, who calls together her daughter and best friends on her birthday and announces she’s going to kill herself and they argue and try and stop her. It is very funny! It’s mostly about the difficulty of balancing work and children. In the original story, the Electra Myth, Electra and her brother Orestes kill their mother Clytemnestra, that doesn’t happen in this play, it’s mostly a comedy about what to do when you want to kill your mum!

We’ve all been there…

We’ve all had those feelings! And the Greeks put on plays about it so you didn’t go out and kill your mum. April De Angelis, the writer, has very carefully and cleverly written it about a woman who is a very accomplished artist and feels a calling towards her art, more than she does towards her children. So it’s a lot about what you do when you feel like that really, because I think one of April’s points is that men, on the whole, don’t get pilloried when they go off and excel in business and neglect their children and women, if they do that, get put on the front pages. They’re expected to have this bottomless well of unselfish motherhood, and the play is about what happens if you find that you don’t have that.

The play features several strong female roles and a generally older cast…

Yes, it was written in response to a request from Plymouth Theatre Royal, where it started, as a way of improving the situation about the lack of decent roles for older women. Because we have a lot of very good older actors who aren’t getting the parts… there are fewer meaty roles. It’s a cast of eight, only one of whom is under 30, and although the leading character is 81, there are very good parts for people in their 60s and 70s.

After a successful run in Plymouth, you’re bringing the play to London. How did the transfer to the Tricycle Theatre come about?

Yes, it’s a Plymouth production and the Tricycle decided that they wanted to pay for it to come to London so, although we’ve been working in tandem with them, it’s not a co-production. We’re delighted that Plymouth work gets a chance to be seen in the capital because we’re all very proud of it and most of the company live in London. Because Plymouth is a local regional theatre, it’s important for it to go to a theatre which has a good feeling of constituency, a good feeling of localism, like the Tricycle does. Not all London theatres feel like the Tricycle, do they? Some of them feel like posh transfer houses, where you put on things for a small metropolitan audience. But the Tricycle, whenever I’ve been, has always felt like a theatre that is really in the heart of its community and I’m really pleased that we’re taking it there.

And has the transfer been a smooth one?

Yes, though we’ve had to cut a metre off the set! It fills the space quite well but the stage at the Tricycle is not quite as wide as the Drum in Plymouth. Because the Tricycle is a bit like an Elizabethan theatre, a sort of horseshoe, there are some really interesting angles from where to see the show, which I was very pleased about when we brought it in. It would have been boring to have to add a metre, that would have made everything take slightly longer, but in fact we’re sort of squeezing it like a box, so the pressure should get slightly bigger and the show should get slightly hotter and faster.

Have you performed at the Tricycle in the past? Are you familiar with Kilburn?

I’ve never performed there. I’ve rehearsed there and I’ve seen many things there. I rehearsed a Donmar production there about 6 years ago and was delighted to be going there every day for 5 weeks, but this is the first time I’ve put a show in. I live in North London and have friends in the area, so it’s a pretty easy journey for me. I’m very fond of Middle Eastern food, and we’ve been trying out the various Turkish and Lebanese restaurants in Kilburn, which has been really great.

So, why should locals come to the Tricycle and see the show?

Because it’s very funny and quite short! (Laughter) It’s a play for anyone who is a mother, or who has one. It can’t fail to teach you something about your mum, and if you’re a mum it can’t fail to teach you something about your children, and it is pretty funny, but will make you think a bit. It’s done by ten o’clock, so you can still go the pub afterwards!

After Electra is on at the Tricycle Theatre from 7 April to 2 May.

Help trace Mr Glassup’s class of 1962

A few weeks ago the BBC ran a story about that first democratic camera, the Brownie. The article triggered some readers to send in their own Brownie photos and these included a couple of photos taken by Merryl See Tai in West Hampstead. Merryl’s on a quest to try and identify the people in one of the photos – the 1961/62 class at St Mary’s school on West End Lane taught by the astonishingly well loved Mr Glassup.

Merryl See Tai now lives in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, but at the start of the 1960s, Merryl and his family were in West Hampstead

Our family (parents, older brother and sister) left Trinidad and Tobago in 1959 and travelled to England by boat. I was eight years old at the time and entered primary school. My brother joined the RAF and my sister entered secondary school. The Brownie 127 Model 2, was a gift from my father shortly after we had arrived. I remember keeping it spotlessly clean, practising, without film, to hold it firmly and steadily and to gently squeeze the shutter button rather than pressing it. My mother and I returned to Trinidad and Tobago in 1962.

Merryl See Tai in West Hampstead 1960/61

“I was 10 years old in this picture taken by my sister in 1960/61 in our back garden at 43 West End Lane, West Hampstead, London.”
Merryl See Tai

In 1962, aged 11, Merryl was a pupil at St Mary’s Church of England school. Today, the school is on the corner of Quex Road and West End Lane, but back then it was much further down West End Lane, almost as far as Kilburn High Road, where Teddy’s Nursery is now. The photo below was taken in mid-1962, just before Merryl and his mother returned to Trinidad & Tobago. Merryl is keen to trace as many people as possible in it. He has never seen any of them since.

“I’ve tried off and on over the years to search on the internet for some of the names that I remembered but without success. I did come across some references to Simon but thought that the USA was the wrong place. I would love to get in contact with some of the old classmates to see how they are doing now. The BBC articles have triggered some serious nostalgia.”

St Mary's School Kilburn 1962_labelled_700

Mr Glassup’s class of 1961/62 at St Mary’s Kilburn. Click to enlarge.

As you can see, Merryl has been able to put some names to faces and furnished a little more detail that might jog someone’s memory.

“Simon De Groot lived in the council flats at the corner of West End Lane and Kilburn Place. His friend Lawrence Harris lived in a flat there also. Peter Carter’s father had a greengrocer shop nearby on Belsize Road. Michael Schaeffer’s father was an American pastor and they lived close to the Abbey Road Studios. There was another Michael and his brother Gerald, I think? There were two girls named Louise and another girl whose surname was Turner. There was also Barry Carter and his sister June, and Andy Patel had a taller brother called David.”

The BBC article actually reached Simon de Groot, as well as Sarah “Betsy” McClain, who was two years ahead of Merryl at St Mary’s, and her brother Andrew who was a year younger than Sarah. Sarah recalled the class teacher Mr Glassup very fondly.

“It is very nice for me to share knowing Mr. Glassup with somebody. I wrote to him until he died in about 1980 or 1981. He used to talk in class about his experiences as a prisoner of war. I remember so much. I know that on the last day of school I was devastated that it was over.”

Mr Glassup, class teacher at St Mary's Kilburn in 1962

Mr Glassup, class teacher at St Mary’s Kilburn in 1962

Simon de Groot also extols the virtues of Mr Glassup.

“I look back on Mr. Glassup as the best teacher I ever had. He and his colleagues not only did a terrific job of giving us the basics of the “3 Rs” but they, especially Jim Glassup, somehow made school challenging and fun at the same time. Truly unsung heroes in a lot of ways.”

Can you help? Were you at St Mary’s School in the early 1960s? Do you know any of these people, or are you any of these people? Do please leave a comment below, or alternatively drop us an e-mail and we can pass your details on to Merryl, now 64, pictured below with his wife Margaret.

Merryl See Tai 2015

The 2015 West Hampstead & Kilburn gym guide

The 2017 version of the West Hampstead gym guide is now available.

New Year, new fitness regime? It may be a cliché, but the statistics bear out that January is the most popular time to join a gym. If you want to make sure you’re not part of the other cliché – giving up in February – then make sure you choose the right gym for your budget, lifestyle and fitness needs. Here’s the third annual West Hampstead Life gym guide to help you.

The biggest change from last year is that Gloves Boxing Club, on Broadhurst Gardens, closed in March. It’s been replaced by HIIT Gym, which took over the premises and opened in October.

Luxury (£££)

Virgin Active, O2 Centre Swiss Cottage

Virgin_ActiveO2

Spacious and well-equipped, with multiple fitness studios and a pool, this is more health club than gym, which is reflected in the membership cost. I can imagine just going for a dip in the pool followed by a spell in the sauna or steam room, and a rest in the café afterwards. Mmm. Not that I’m recommending this as a viable fitness regime, of course.

NB There’s also a Virgin Active in Cricklewood, for those based that side of West Hampstead.

Prices have gone up a little from last year’s rates, and this year there’s no “get the rest of January free” joining offer. Both memberships include access to the gym, classes in the studio, pool and sauna.

  • Full Flexi Monthly (rolling monthly contract): £102/mth + £30 joining fee
  • Minimum 12-month contract membership: £95/mth  + no joining fee

Movers and Shapers, 148 West End Lane, West Hampstead
Positioned as an alternative to a conventional gym, Movers and Shapers offers 30-minute intensive classes in small groups using Power Plate machines, and they have also recently added a HIIT (high-intensity interval training) studio with TRX suspension equipment. Free trials are available if you want to find out more. Read about my experience at Movers and Shapers here.

  • Course of 10 classes: £149 (limited offer; classes valid for 3 months)
  • Course of 20 classes: £259 (limited offer; classes valid for 6 months)
  • Full Monthly membership – £125/mth (access to unlimited classes at any time)
  • Off Peak Monthly membership – £99/mth (access to unlimited classes at off-peak hours: 12pm-5pm Mon-Fri, and all day Sat and Sun)

No joining or admin fees; includes initial and ongoing health consultations.

CrossFit Evolving, 50-52 Kilburn High Road (under HSBC bank)
CrossFit is a fitness philosophy that began in the US and has now spread to hundreds of CrossFit gyms (or “boxes”) across the world. It claims to help you work on all aspects of fitness through tailored workouts using a wide variety of different exercises. It’s not cheap, but if you’re looking for a serious training regimen, this may be the club for you. There are free taster sessions on Wednesday evenings if you want to see what you’re getting yourself into!

  • Full, peak-hours membership: £170/mth
  • Off-peak membership: £140/mth (Off-peak hours: 8am-6pm; after 8pm)
  • Single, off-peak WOD (workout of the day) session: £15

Mid-range (££)

Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre, Adelaide Road, Swiss Cottage
A Camden-run sports centre with plenty of equipment – I visited on a Saturday afternoon and thought it was busy but didn’t notice queues for any machines. There are lots of classes too, though the popular ones get very booked up. The standard membership covers access to gym, classes and pool. There’s also a climbing wall, sports hall and squash courts, for all of which sessions can be paid for separately. See the full price list of memberships, concessionary rates and pay-as-you-go prices on the Better website.

  • Standard monthly membership, with access to gym, pool and classes: £54/mth (£55/mth from February)
  • Premium monthly membership, as above + access to sauna, steam room, and other gyms and spas in the network: £77.50/mth

There’s also a joining fee of £35, though it was unclear from my phone enquiry whether this could be waived or not: “Yesterday we charged it, today we didn’t”… so it’s probably best to drop in to the centre and negotiate in person.

Bannatyne’s, Marriot Maida Vale, 4 Greville Road (just off Kilburn High Road)
This is quite a good-value choice if you’re after a gym membership that includes extras like a sauna and swimming pool. There’s also a fitness studio, and classes are included in all memberships.

  • 12-month minimum contract – Off-peak (Mon-Fri 6.30am-4pm): £29.99/mth
  • 12-month minimum contract – Peak (valid any time): £39.99/mth
  • Flexible contract (on a rolling monthly basis, with 30 days to cancel) – Off-peak (Mon-Fri 6.30am-4pm): £36.99/mth
  • Flexible contract (on a rolling monthly basis, with 30 days to cancel) – Peak (valid any time): £47.99/mth

On top of this, there’s a £25 one-off joining fee (though apparently they’ll give you a goody bag and possibly some sessions with a personal trainer “to soften the blow”) and if you want to use the gym towels, add £6 to the monthly membership fee.

HIIT Gym, 198a Broadhurst Gardens, West Hampstead

The recently-opened HIIT Gym is located in Gloves’ old premises, a cool industrial-style building that was originally the ticket office of the Metropolitan Railway. The gym’s instructors lead small classes in HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts, mixing it up with a variety of different techniques and equipment. There’s also the option to monitor your progress with  a heart-rate monitor belt (available from the gym at £50). There are three levels of membership available, all on a rolling monthly basis with no contract. Free one-week trials are available if you want to try before you buy.

  • Primary: £39 for 4 sessions a month 
  • Standard: £49 for 8 sessions a month
  • Champion: £69 for unlimited sessions a month

My Fitness Boutique, West Heath Yard, 174 Mill Lane, West Hampstead
My Fitness Boutique, up by West End Green, offers some 50 classes a week including Zumba, spinning, yoga and circuits. All are pay-as-you-go, so if you like trying out different classes without having to commit to a contract, this is a good choice. Prices haven’t gone up since last year.

Example prices (from website):

  • Introductory 5-class package (intro offer only): £25
  • Single class: £12
  • 30-day pack (unlimited classes): £75
  • 90-day pack: (unlimited classes) £165

Budget (£)

The Gym Group, Unit D2, 41 Fortune Green Road, West Hampstead
No-frills budget gym open 24/7 with card entry. There’s no need to sign up to a minimum contract.

  • £20.99/mth (+ £20 joining fee)

Fit4Less, 34a-36 Kilburn High Road
Another gym with functional workout equipment and none of the luxury extras. As well as free weights and cardio machines, there’s TRX equipment and kettlebells. Personal training is available too.

  • Anytime gym membership: £22.99/mth + £29.99 admin fee
  • Anytime gym membership + locker hire: £32.99/mth + £29.99 admin fee

Outdoor gyms: Kilburn Grange Park, Swiss Cottage, Maygrove Peace Park

SwissCottageOutdoorGym
I must admit I haven’t tried these, but they look like a great idea. According to Camden’s website, they are “suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels”, so give them a go next time you’re out for a run! Best of all, they’re free!

Kilburn Ironworks bar

Will Kilburn Ironworks steal NLT’s thunder?

Kilburn Ironworks barmen

Barmen hard at work

On Friday evening, business partners Will Partridge and Jimi Pearce opened the doors of Kilburn Ironworks to welcome suppliers, the press and a few other invitees.

Kilburn Ironworks is where Vince Power’s eponymous bar/club used to be on Kilburn High Road near the junction with Iverson Road. It has changed almost beyond recognition with exposed brickwork, an open kitchen and a girder that almost seems to float above the bar. Some late-addition railroad tracks in the floor are a nice industrial touch, but thankfully there’s no sense of any theme being rammed down your throat.

Which leaves plenty of room for drinks.

Kilburn Ironworks front seating area

Kilburn Ironworks front seating area

When the bar officially opens on January 1st, it will offer a wide range of beers both draft and bottled and mostly from British breweries such as Beavertown and Meantime, as well as fashionable favourites like Iceland’s Einstock.

There’s also a cocktails and shandies list – still in its early stages, but first tastings were encouraging!

Kilburn Ironworks bar

The kitchen won’t open until the end of January, and if the drinks offering sounds like One Sixty’s the food will be different. Still quite meat-heavy by the sounds of it, but no pulled pork in sight, Will assured me. Their plan is to have a relatively simple menu with a focus on more British style dishes.

The bar is well positioned in that cluster of the North London Tavern and Brondes Age. It could easily take trade away from both. There’s plenty of seating, and with experience of running bars in Islington and Shoreditch, Will and Jimi should know how to get (and keep) the crowds.

Air ambulance lands in NW6 twice in an hour

Thankfully we rarely see the London Air Ambulance hovering over West Hampstead, but this lunchtime the red helicopter landed first on Fortune Green, and then about an hour later in Kilburn Grange Park.

The red helicopter was back within the hour and looked as if it was trying to find a landing spot in Kilburn. It eventually set down in Kilburn Grange park and shortly afterwards a Kilburn resident tweeted a photo of ambulance crews.

Although one person had tweeted that there had been a stabbling, which was then picked up by a couple of other people, the cause of the commotion has not been confirmed. But here’s what Donks80 saw:

Later in the evening, the police were still in attendance:

North London Tavern misfires with new menu

North London Tavern; a tavern, in North London (Kilburn to be precise) offering “traditional British meals.” It has recently been refurbished but I am glad that the ambience has not changed. It is still busy, friendly and noisy with intellectual conversation.

The brand new menu is certainly very British, with a whole section dedicated to chops, and mains consisting mainly of meat and poultry, two fish dishes and one vegetarian. It also features an interesting ‘Morsels’ section (meaning mouthfuls) including British favourites such as pig’s head croquettes, and old spot scratchings.

NLT_chop_300I ordered smoked mackerel pate to start. It was as I expected, tasty, most certainly plentiful and presented in a no frills manner. There were however suggestions that it was too smooth (perhaps mixed by machine rather than by hand) and that chunks of mackerel were not decipherable.

For main I had a Barnsley lamb chop, with mash and purple sprouting broccoli with almonds. Things got a little fine dining at this stage when the broccoli arrived in its own mini casserole dish. I really liked the pairing of broccoli and almonds. When it came to the meat, it was hearty and flavoursome but slightly over done and the amount of mash was overwhelming.

I was too full for dessert (see above re too much mash) but I did sample a fellow diner’s cheese, specifically Blue Murder with truffled honey and oatcakes. Cheese and honey – a surprising combination! But one that works, even if you don’t like truffles (like me) as the truffle is so subtle that you can’t even taste it.
I will give them the benefit of the doubt and hope that the extremely slow service is purely down to new menu teething problems.

If you are looking for inventive fine dining, this is not it, but for local, hearty, meat orientated British food at a reasonable price (we paid around £35 each including ample wine) NLT is a good option.

[Jo blogs at http://dinnerwithjo.com/]

Jonathan
Service was a bit of a shambles – friendly, but far from sharp and we had to ask for pretty much everything at least twice, and Tom… well… Tom can tell you about Tom. My food was ok, but too easy to find fault – the butter on my potted rabbit should surely have been set not completely melted (no doubt left on the pass under the lights), the Barnsley Chop was ok, but for a place that specialises in chops, I’d expect it cooked as requested (it was medium-well not medium-rare), and the proportion of mash to chop was wrong. Neither of the desserts I fancied were available and it’s not that big a dessert menu so in the end, even with them comping a main course and a bottle of wine, I was left feeling like I’d overpaid. Will be a while before I return for anything more than a pint.
NLT_potted_rabbit

Tom
NLT_salad_300I love the North London Tavern, but they had an off-night on this occasion. Water and wine (twice) failed to appear, and the spinach in my starter salad hadn’t been adequately washed. The goats cheese and pear worked well, though the dish was a little insubstantial even for a first course.

My main failed to appear, and the staff were very honest and apologetic in explaining it had indeed been missed; an error in the kitchen. They also informed me they’d be knocking it off the bill, which was much appreciated. When it arrived, I was a little nonplussed to find the plaice on the bone, having checked it was to be a fillet; however it was excellently and delicately cooked. The spinach this time was great; a large portion and not overdone. The potatoes, lentils and shrimps added further dimensions and made for a pleasingly hearty dinner, but there was a lack of seasoning, and I’m still not sure whether the ‘broth’ in the bowl was intentional or just cooking liquor. Not a bad plate, but lacking refinement.

My dessert of blue cheese with good quality oat biscuits and truffled honey was an enjoyable, decent portion, though I didn’t detect much truffle and, being British, I’d like a bit of butter on the side, ideally.

I’ve enjoyed the food in NLT very much in the past, so I will be back.

Nicky
The NLT has changed a bit since my last visit. It used to be a cosy, slightly chaotic Kilburn pub, good for meeting friends on a Friday night, with a straightforward gastropub menu in its restaurant. It seems to have morphed into a slightly spruced-up Kilburn pub and embraced its ‘Tavern’ roots with an ‘English chop house’-style restaurant concept. (Seriously, reading down the list of chops, stout, oysters and Eccles cakes I felt transported to Dickensian times, or perhaps present-day Shoreditch.)

All fine, if it could deliver hearty food and a warm ambience – but there were too many errors to overlook, mainly to do with the slow, disjointed service, that all added up to a less-than-relaxing experience. On the night of our visit, it felt like the restaurant had big ambitions that it couldn’t quite match. The food was fine, for the most part – my fish and chips were perfectly pleasant – but I’m not sure why I’d choose to dine at the NLT over many of the other excellent pubs in the area.

NLT_fish_chips

Philip
I’ve been to the North London Tavern a few times before and I’m aware of its reputation as a decent quality gastropub, so I was expecting a hearty good quality meal from an affordable traditional British menu; this is exactly what I got.

I started with the Chicken Liver Parfait – excellent rich flavour and gorgeous creamy texture, served with a nice amount of fresh leaves and onion jam, and very tasty artisan toast. A perfect portion size for a starter – enough to feel slightly sated, but still hungry.

NLT_pate

For the main, I went for the predictable old favourite – the ribeye steak and chips. It’s advertised as coming with either “stilton hollandaise or peppercorn”. I wasn’t sure if there was meant to be comma between the Stilton and hollandaise, or if the chef had found a way to combine these two (potentially conflicting) flavours into something edible. I guessed that the staff wouldn’t know either (they generally seemed very unsure of everything) so I ordered the steak rare and just said ‘Stilton’ for the accompaniment, expecting a creamy Stilton flavoured sauce, potentially with undertones of hollandaise. There was some amusement within the group when the steak arrived with a HUGE slab of Stilton atop. This slab melted into the hot steak, and the overall effect was extremely pleasing – though the flavour of the Stilton overwhelmed the steak to the degree that I could barely taste the meat (which was most certainly NOT rare) – yes, I could have removed some of the Stilton to prevent this, but I’m not that clever. The chips and green leaves combined with the steak to make a lovely meal, firmly within the ‘what I expected from this kind of place’ bracket.

For dessert, I had a chocolate brownie sundae – think Eton Mess but with chocolate brownie instead of berries. This was well executed, and perfect after two heavy and strong flavoured courses, with the merging of chocolate, cream and vanilla ice cream perfectly complimenting each other, and nicely light on the stomach. Overall, I was very satisfied with the food and wine for the price. The North London Tavern did exactly what is very clearly says on the tin; good quality hearty food and wine, traditional British menu, reasonable price.

Man dies by Kilburn High Road pub

[updated]
Sometime around 1am Sunday morning, police closed Kilburn High Road between Dyne Road and Christchurch Avenue. Initial reports were that a man in his early 30s had died following an altercation at a pub, believed to be the North London Tavern. Subsequently, staff at the NLT told one customer that a man had had a heart attack and then collapsed. There has been talk on Twitter of another incident on Dyne Road.

Police are yet to release a statement on what happened last night.

Kilburn_map_Dyne Road

Love & Liquor’s location: Made in Kilburn or Maida Vale?

MaidaVale_annotate

In an interesting exchange this afternoon on Twitter, locals called out Love & Liquor (formerly The Westbury and before that The Red Lion) on Kilburn High Road for trying to perpetuate the idea that it was really in Maida Vale and not Kilburn.

In an astonishing coincidence, while this was happening someone made a small edit to the Wikipedia entry for Kilburn High Road Station, which placed the station in Maida Vale.

Read the exchange below (or go to Storify if you can’t see it).

Kilburn gets bookish with week of events

kilburnlogo2

If you thought that literary festivals mainly happened in fields on the outskirts of small Welsh towns, think again.

The first-ever Kilburn Literary Festival starts today and runs until 4th November, with events in various local venues including West Hampstead’s very own Sherriff Centre. The eclectic programme includes talks by authors, workshops for budding writers (including “How to Publish and Sell your Erotic Fiction”!), quizzes and a “flash fiction competition”. Two highlights are local history buff Ed Fordham’s talk on the history of Kilburn authors, at the Tricycle on Saturday morning, and the (esoteric perhaps) History of Fighting Fantasy and Adventure Game Books talk on Sunday afternoon, which will appeal to boys and girls who are now of a certain age!

Most events are ticketed, with prices ranging between £4 and £10, but there’s also a free “Festival of Books” at the Sherriff Centre at St James’ Church on Saturday. As well as readings, there will be activities for children, such as the chance to make their own book, and would-be authors will be able to talk to publishing professionals for advice on how to develop their writing.

You can find a full programme of events, and buy tickets, at the festival’s website.

Be a tourist in Kilburn’s dispersed art installation

Think you know Kilburn? A new art project invites you to (re)discover Kilburn High Road and the surrounding streets.

Sculptures by Yunsun Jung

Sculptures by Yunsun Jung

For the project, entitled You Are Here, the organisers have brought together artists and local businesses to create a number of diverse artworks scattered throughout shops, cafés and public spaces. It runs until November 2nd.

Kingsgate Project Space, on Kingsgate Road, has been transformed into a “tourist information office” for the duration of the experiment. When I dropped in on Sunday, the day after the project’s launch, I found it complete with postcard racks, maps, and welcoming “Tour Agents” on hand to answer questions about the art on display around the neighbourhood.

A map of exhibits and selection of Kilburn postcards

A map of exhibits and selection of Kilburn postcards

One of the tour agents, or project organisers, was Sam Mckeown, who told me many of the artists had been inspired by Kilburn and their surroundings, and hoped to engage with the community through what they had created. He said the hope was “to get people visiting places and seeing things they might usually just walk past”.

After taking a brochure and map, I set off, excited to be sightseeing in my own area. After checking out the artworks on display in and around the Kingsgate centre itself, including some sculptures crafted from discarded cardboard found on the streets of Kilburn, I made my way to Folkies Music on the High Road – a fascinating shop in its own right – where artist in residence Vesta Kroese has spent the past few weeks working with the shop’s spaces and contents to create an exhibit entitled 13 Ways of Looking at a Guitar. 

Down the road at Cara Cosmic Coffee, there’s an installation by Chloë Morley, a video installation in the basement, and an interactive drawing game for families intriguingly titled The Doughnuts for Peace Union.

It is an interesting and quirky celebration of an area I thought I knew well, and I liked having the opportunity to slow down and discover some of the shops and sights I’d usually walk past, whilst finding hidden artwork in and among. There are many sculptures, installations, performances and other art in various locations, so it is possible to visit just one or two, or devote more time to following one of the self-guided art trails. Whichever you choose to do, I’d recommend the tourist office at Kingsgate Project Space as a good starting point.

So in the words of the tour brochure, why not “Come and celebrate Kilburn High Road’s uniqueness before the inevitable onslaught of gentrification!”

The "tourist office" entrance

The “tourist office” entrance

Object idea by Vesta Kroese

“Object idea” by Vesta Kroese, on display at Folkies

Shop basement transformed into gallery space by Vesta Kroese

Shop basement becomes gallery space for Vesta Kroese. Even the door that’s ajar is art!

Read more on the You Are Here Tumblr page or follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

24-hour tube: Mind the gap between PR and reality

From September 12th 2015, the tube will run all night on Fridays and Saturdays on the Jubilee, Victoria and most of the Piccadilly, Central and Northern lines. Around six trains will run every hour on the “night tube”.

Map from http://www.tfl.gov.uk/

Map showing where the 24-hour service will run (image from http://www.tfl.gov.uk/)

No doubt many West Hampstead and Kilburn residents will rejoice at the arrival of a more convenient way to get home from town after a night out, but what about the noise disruption to those who live near to the station or tube line?

Gareth Powell, London Underground’s Director of Strategy and Service Development, told us: “We will of course work with residents to help resolve any problems. However, as our services already run for up to 20 hours each day and we carry out engineering work overnight, the potential for disturbance from night time services at weekends is expected to be limited.”

This rather assumes that those late night/early morning services, and the engineering work aren’t already disturbing the sleep of those who live right alongside the railways or by stations. Indeed, it’s unclear how much TfL has considered the possible impact to people living in areas such as West Hampstead, which is relatively unusual with both station and tracks located above ground and very close to a densely-populated residential area (tube-facing apartment in West Hampstead Square anyone?).

As well as the (admittedly relatively quiet) noise from trains running along the line, will there be irregular bursts of sound coming from platform announcements and raucous passengers disembarking in the early hours.

Of course, for central London businesses, there is little downside. Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers said: “This move will give more customers the chance to enjoy a drink or meal out in the city centre with the peace of mind that they will be able to get home safely and quickly.” and also makes the point that “a later-running London Underground will offer more chance for the gradual dispersal of customers from the busy city centre.”

How do West Hampstead locals feel about this? Nervous about the potential for disrupted sleep, or looking forward to late nights out in town without the exorbitant taxi fares? Over to you in the comments below.

Tricycle escapes damage from Kilburn fire

A fire broke out in a kitchen on the upper level of the Brondesbury Medical Centre on Kilburn High Road last night, meaning customers at the neighbouring Tricycle Cinema had to be evacuated.

Last night's scene on Kilburn High Road - photo from Twitter by @bartnowak79

Last night’s scene on Kilburn High Road – photo from Twitter by @bartnowak79

The theatre performance had ended for the evening; however around 400 cinemagoers were in the building for a screening of Gone Girl when fire crews arrived at around 9.40pm. London Fire Brigade confirmed on their website that the fire was under control by 11.10pm. They managed to contain it to the kitchen where it started, so the only damage to the public area was to one TV screen, and some smoke damage to the adjoining areas.

Staff at the Tricycle box office today confirmed that the theatre and cinema complex was unaffected by the fire, with no smoke or water damage.

However, the doctors’ surgery was closed, with notices on the door advising patients of alternative medical services.

The door to the Brondesbury Medical Centre this morning

The door to the Brondesbury Medical Centre this morning

Tom’s cheesed off in Kilburn’s Black Lion

Where do a group of animated, hungry Italians (and other assorted nationalities) go to celebrate a birthday? Pizza? Pasta? Not on this occasion – instead, everyone made their way to the Black Lion in Kilburn, for a repeat of similar festivities a year ago. How did we get on?

Classiest-looking dish was a squid special with stir-fried veg, which the birthday girl Eliza described as “Lovely! Very delicate taste, soft batter and sweet & sour sauce. Cooked well, and very nicely served! I really like it when they spend some time on the presentation of the dish.”

Fish and chips proved popular, and as last time I had this in the Black Lion, the style was towards a less-crisp batter, which I’m still not quite sure whether or not is intentional, though the fish was fine and plates certainly seemed to be cleared.

I was a little nonplussed with my Cheddar cheese sandwich, though. At around the same price as the steak option (£9.95), I looked forward to a hearty, thick wedge of mature Cheddar, especially as previously when I grabbed a cheeseboard in the pub one Sunday afternoon, it turned out to be mammoth in quantity (and not lacking in quality either). However, here we had layers of thinly sliced, very mild cheese which looked somewhat ‘commercial’ and lacked flavour. In fact, upon reviewing the photos, I was surprised to see there was actually more than one layer present – it rather felt like a salad sandwich with just a mere snipping of cheese.

The thin end of the wedge?

The thin end of the wedge?

The pear chutney wasn’t so much a chutney as some marinated, cooked pears, which were pleasing all the same, while the bread, salad, and general feel of it were fab; so it mystifies me as to why it should be let down in terms of the key ingredient – especially at £10 a pop?

Triple-cooked chips were a deep bronze colour, and tasted great if a touch oily. Crisp / fluffy, triple-cooked textures were not in evidence at all though, and I do think it’s important for such things to reflect what’s described on the menu (and for those preparing the food to know what to do on a technical level – competition is fierce out there!)

Friendly staff were on hand to assist with birthday cake presentations again, and all enjoyed the evening in this most attractive of local boozers. It’s a welcoming, relaxing pub, but perhaps just needs a bit of extra quality control to get it right back up where it belongs.

“They had no choice”: Kilburn’s Animal War Memorial Dispensary

The recent commemoration of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War has focused many people’s thoughts on the service men and women who fought, died and survived the conflict. Ten years ago, attention centered on the millions of animals and birds that served alongside British, Commonwealth and Allied troops in all conflicts during the twentieth century. The memorial to Animals in War in Park Lane was unveiled on 24 November 2004. An inscription reads, ‘They had no choice.’ But Kilburn is home to a much earlier – and more active – memorial to the nation’s service animals.

RSPCA Cambridge Ave NW6

Horses, dogs and donkeys were the most commonly used animals – mainly for transport and haulage, but camels, elephants, pigeons, bullocks, dogs and goats were all pressed into service. They suffered from exposure, lack of food and disease, dying alongside their human companions.

The Park Lane memorial was the fulfilment of an idea that dates as far back as the early 1920s when the RSPCA proposed a memorial for animals that had served in WWI. A committee was set up, funds were raised and the site chosen was Hyde Park corner. In 1925 photographs of the proposed memorial were submitted to Westminster City Council but there the project appears to have stalled.

Instead the RSPCA decided on a more practical commemoration, in the form of the Animal War Memorial Dispensary in Kilburn, where, in the words of a contemporary report, ‘the sick, injured or unwanted animals of poor people could receive, free of charge, the best possible veterinary attention, or a painless death.’

It took many years to find a site for the Animal War Memorial Dispensary. The RSPCA acquired 10 Cambridge Avenue in March 1931 and that May, the freeholders allowed a change of use from a private house to a ‘free dispensary for sick and injured animals.’

The memorial inscription on the Kilburn building is echoed by that in Hyde Park: ‘To all animals who suffered and perished in the Great War knowing nothing of the cause, looking forward to no final victory, filled only with love, faith and loyalty, they endured much and died for us.’

Thirty one sculptors entered the competition for a memorial design for the main facade of the building. Frederick Brook Hitch of Hertford was the winner. The panel over the entrance had to be removable, as the RSPCA only held a lease, not the freehold of Number 10 Cambridge Avenue.

RSPCA plaque on the outside of the Dispensary in Kilburn

RSPCA plaque on the outside of the Dispensary in Kilburn

A local paper recorded the official opening on 10 November 1932, by the Countess of Warwick. But the dispensary had been at work for over a year, during which time 6,000 animals had been treated. The ceremony was preceded by a meeting at St Augustine’s School in Kilburn Park Road, presided over by the Chairman of the RSPCA, Sir Robert Gower.

By the mid 1930s, more than 50,000 animals and birds had received attention at the Dispensary. At the rear of the well-equipped premises were glass fronted kennels and catteries with a loose box for horses. There was accommodation on site for vet and an assistant, providing 24 hour care. In 1936 alone, 9,756 animals passed through the doors.

Plaque side 1 RSPCAThe RSPCA clinic at Cambridge Road is still open. The main door is flanked by two marble memorial panels. They record that 484,143 animals were killed by enemy action, disease or accident and that 725,216 animals were treated by the RSPCA during WW1. We now know the overall mortality figures were far higher, with an estimated 8 million horses dying in WW1.

Plaque side RSPCAThe horse is the animal most often associated with the European conflict. In 1914, the British and German armies had a cavalry force of some 100,000 men, but the development of trench warfare rendered cavalry charges unviable as a military tactic. But horses and mules were still needed to transport materials and supplies and to pull guns and ambulances. The animals also had to be fed, watered and tended. Strong ties developed between horse and rider. The Daily Mail on 31st December 1914, carried an article by a Welsh soldier serving in the Royal Field Artillery. He’d been with his horses for several years before war broke out. He said;

I could talk to them just as I am talking to you. There was not a word I said that they did not understand. And they could answer me – I was never once at a loss to know what they meant. Early in the retreat from Mons, a shell crashed right into the midst of the section with which I was moving. My gun was wrecked. I was ordered to help with another. As I mounted the fresh horse to continue the retreat, I saw my two horses struggling and kicking on the ground to free themselves. I could not go back to them, I tell you it hurt me. Suddenly a French chasseur dashed up to them, cut the traces, and set them at liberty. I was a good way ahead by then, but kept looking at them, and I could tell they saw me. Those horses followed me for four days. We stopped for hardly five minutes and I could not get back to them. There was no work for them but they kept their places in the line liked trained soldiers. They were following me to the very end. Whenever I looked, there they were in the line, watching me so anxiously and sorrowfully as to make me feel guilty of deserting them. Whether they got anything to eat, I do not know. I wonder if they dropped out from sheer exhaustion – I hope to Heaven it was not that. At any rate, one morning when the retreat was all but over, I missed them. I suppose I shall never see them again. That’s the sort of thing that hurts a soldier in war.

During the Gallipoli campaign, horses became so weak they collapsed and died in the mud and shell holes. When the New Zealand Forces were sent home, their horses were divided into three classes. Some mares were kept for breeding purposes; other horses were transferred to the British Army. Of the final group, many were destined to be butchered for meat.

Dead horses in 1918 (image copyright free via the Imperial War Museum)

Dead horses in 1918 (image copyright free via the Imperial War Museum)

Dogs accompanied sentries on patrol, carried messages and worked as scouts, ‘sniffing’ out the enemy ahead. Others acted as medics, sent onto the battlefield equipped with basic supplies that allowed a wounded man to tend to his own injuries. They might also stay with a fatally injured soldier until he died.

Pigeons were very reliable when it came to sending messages. It has been calculated that they had an astonishing 95% success rate getting through to their destination. The Government even issued a special ‘Defence of the Realm Regulation’ to prohibit the shooting of homing pigeons. Offenders were warned they faced six months imprisonment or a £100 fine.

A pigeon named ‘Cher Ami’ was awarded the Croix de Guerre for work in the American sector around Verdun in 1918. On her last mission, Cher Ami was shot but delivered a message that gave the co-ordinates of 194 soldiers cut off behind enemy lines. The men were rescued. Cher Ami recovered and was sent back to the USA where she died in 1919. Her body was put on display at the Smithsonian museum, Washington D.C.

There is newsreel footage of animals in service during WW1; but be warned many of them make for unpleasant viewing.

http://www.britishpathe.com/gallery/war-animals
http://www.theatlantic.com/static/infocus/wwi/wwianimals

Review: The Kilburn Passion delivers tears and laughter

As a former Kilburn resident who has now somehow found herself living on The Other Side Of The Heath, I jumped at the chance to saunter back down my favourite high road to review The Kilburn Passion on its opening night. Initially performed in April as part of the Tricycle Theatre’s ‘Takeover Festival’ by its Young Company, the group of 19-25 year-olds have been welcomed back for a short run, due to popular demand. Having clapped, gasped and sobbed my way through it, it’s easy to see why.

The vivacious, brightly-dressed ensemble cast have a genuine and apparent bond as a company which shines through their performance of Suhayla El-Bushra’s collection of vignettes of the interconnecting lives of Kilburn residents.

All walks of life are presented in the actors and their characters; the bus driver pushed to the edge, the fashion retailer with delusions of grandeur and the struggling young family – all are portrayed with understanding, tact and wit. Their tales take us on a walk through the details of their own lives and histories, whilst the wider story forces us to examine our interactions with those we’re involved in as well as the people we may not pay attention to.

Usually put off by shows with “dancy bits” and musical numbers, (and such a high concentration of young talented over-achievers), I found the energetic, modern and impressive choreography and use of sound perfectly captured the spirit of Kilburn, with obvious passion. You cannot help but get swept up in the performances of this cast.

Peppered with perfectly-timed laughs and fly-on-the-wall glimpses of relationships of all sorts, The Kilburn Passion holds a mirror to our own experiences of work, community and time spent on any London high street.

My love of Kilburn is no secret. I was even moved to write my own rambling praise of the place on my walk to the theatre. But stand-out performances by Nathan Powel and Jade-Marie Joseph in particular moved me to tears, thigh-slapping laughter and to participate in a well-deserved standing ovation – the first I’ve witnessed at the Tricycle in 6 years of visiting.

The Kilburn Passion runs until Saturday August 9th.

Tricycle Theatre rejects Jewish film festival over Israeli embassy sponsorship

The Tricycle, Kilburn’s highly regarded theatre and cinema, has found itself embroiled in controversy this evening after announcing that it will no longer be part of the UK Jewish Film Festival.

The cinema was due to screen films at the festival, which takes place in November.

In a statement, the artistic director of the theatre, Indhu Rubasingham said

The Tricycle has always welcomed the Festival and wants it to go ahead. We have proudly hosted the UK Jewish Film Festival for many years. However, given the situation in Israel and Gaza, we do not believe that the festival should accept funding from any party to the current conflict. For that reason, we asked the UK Jewish Film Festival to reconsider its sponsorship by the Israeli Embassy. We also offered to replace that funding with money from our own resources. The Tricycle serves many communities and celebrates different cultures and through difficult, emotional times must aim for a place of political neutrality.

We regret that, following discussions, the chair of the UKJFF told us that he wished to withdraw the festival from the Tricycle.

To be clear, at this moment, the Tricycle would not accept sponsorship from any government agency involved in the conflict. We hope to find a way to work with the UK Jewish Film Festival to allow the festival to go ahead at the Tricycle as it has done so successfully for the past 8 years.

The theatre has, unsurprisingly given the strength of feeling on this emotive topic, come in for a fair amount of criticism for its decision, with many pointing out that other festivals it holds receive funding from governments that some people would consider parties to conflicts. The statement above does specify that it is the specific conflict in Gaza that it is objecting to, but that will be of little comfort to those who feel its actions are politicising the arts.

Judy Ironside, executive director of the UK Jewish Film Festival, said

The Tricycle Theatre have shown themselves unwilling to work with what is clearly an apolitical cultural festival is tremendously disappointing. They have chosen a boycott over meaningful engagement – to the great detriment of this celebration of Jewish culture, which is of course intrinsically connected to the state of Israel.

We pride ourselves on showing a diverse programme of films, which present a comprehensive view of international Jewish life and Israeli films are of course an important part of that.

We have always sought to convey a wide perspective on the conflicts in the Middle East and initiate open dialogue with our audiences and guest speakers; and the Israeli Embassy have always supported us in this. The Tricycle have refused to take this into account in their decision.

On social media, accusations have also come of anti-Semitism from some critics, which given the Tricycle’s long-standing association with the festival seems a spurious argument, but there’s no doubt that the decision will rankle for a long time within the Jewish community.

Today should have been a day for celebration for the Tricycle as its Youth Theare project The Kilburn Passion returns to the stage.

Wife murdered with a chopper in Kilburn… in 1897

In September 1897 the newspapers reported ‘a shocking tragedy’ at Kilburn. In the early hours of Saturday the 11th, and after an evening spent drinking, James Harris killed his wife Annie and tried to kill his seven-year-old daughter May. He also assaulted his son, 10-year-old William and then attempted suicide. Annie died, but the children survived and Harris was later sentenced to be hanged for his crimes.

Kilburn murder (Illustrated Police News 18 Sept 1897)

James Harris was born in Buckingham around 1864. He came to Kilburn and worked for John Wicks, a local builder who lived in Hawthorn Villa a detached house just north of Kilburn Brewery. Today this would be on the Kilburn High Road close to Dyne Road. Here he met John Wicks’ eldest daughter Annie, or Mary Ann. She was about eight years older than James and when she became pregnant they were married at Holy Trinity Church in Kilburn on 2 June 1879.

James said he was of full age, but in fact he was about 16. They had five children but three died in infancy. The two who survived were William and May, both born in Kilburn. After staying with John Wicks at Hawthorn Villa, they lived at various addresses in the neighbourhood and by 1891 they were all sharing one room at 35 Palmerston Road. By 1897, the family had moved to number 30 and James Harris had then been employed for five years as a platelayer on the nearby Midland Railway. He seemed happy in his work and had an allotment garden by the railway line.

30 Palmerston Road was a three-storey terraced property in a generally respectable working class neighbourhood, but sanitation was poor and most properties were split between several families. Over the years Palmerston Road gained a bad reputation and featured frequently in reports by Hampstead’s Medical Officer. There were many manual workers among the street’s residents: labourers, shop workers and servants, with some employed by local businesses such Kilburn Brewery or working on the buses, as there was a large bus depot in the road. In 1897, three families shared number 30; the Harris family lived at the back of the house in one room on the second floor. The 1901 census shows five households of varying sizes in the property, a total of 20 people.

It seemed that the Harris’s home life had been unhappy and turbulent. In fact, the family’s behaviour was so objectionable that the landlord had given them notice to quit, having received complaints from other tenants in the house. Annie and the children were subjected to beatings by Harris but the violence escalated to another level the night of September 11th.

James Harris’s neighbour George Brown had returned to No. 30 around 10pm and wanted to go to bed but met Annie Harris on the stairs. She said she was scared of her husband, fearing he’d batter her when he returned home. Brown waited up until Harris came in. He judged Harris had been drinking but he certainly wasn’t drunk. When the two men went up to the family’s room, Brown saw ten-year-old Willie but no one else. Annie had hidden herself and May in the toilet on the landing. Willie was sent out for beer by James who seemed upset because there was no food, until Brown pointed to some fish on the table, which William had brought.

After having a drink, James went to ask Annie to come back to their room. When she refused, James took an axe and split the door panel, forcing Annie out of the WC. After another drink he accused Annie of being unfaithful with his brother and punched her in the face. Brown managed – with some difficulty to disarm Harris, who picked up first a chopper, then a wooden mallet and lastly a knife, rushing at Annie, saying he would ‘chop her bloody head off and knock her bloody brains out.’

Brown remembered Harris saying, ‘Annie, between this and five o’clock to-morrow morning I will kill you stone dead.’ ‘Now the light is growing dim, now is the time the deed must be committed.’ As he was restraining Harris, Annie said, ‘George, if he wants to do it, let him do it.’ Harris gradually became calmer and said he’d go to bed, but made no move to do so. Instead, he sat with his feet on a chair and his head in his wife’s lap. Brown stayed until he was certain that Harris was asleep, even waiting outside the door for a while. Then, as he put it, ‘Harris seemed all right, so I went to bed.’ He was woken by a violent knocking at his door around 4.45am. There stood the two Harris children. The little girl’s face was covered with blood but the boy seemed unhurt and he said: ‘Oh, Mr Brown, do come up, father is killing mother and cutting his own throat!’

Brown went to find a policeman, calling up neighbour Mr King on the way. When they rushed upstairs they found the Harris’s door was locked and broke it down. Brown described the scene:

We then saw a fearful sight. The woman was lying in a pool of blood, with her head nearly cut off, and the man was lying across her. His throat was cut in a dreadful manner. Everything in the room had been knocked about, showing there had been a desperate struggle for life on the part of the woman.

Amazingly, Harris was unconscious but still alive.

The children were taken to Hampstead Workhouse at New End where they were visited by a reporter. He was impressed how well they recalled what had happened. William, poorly clothed, neglected and very dirty, proved to be a good witness. But given his young age and upbringing, the following statement shows signs of being edited.

I remember everything that took place on Friday, because my mother had been crying very much, and had been saying to me and my sister that she wished that she was dead, and that she would soon be ‘done for.’ My father, although he said he was a teetotaller, was very far from being so, and although many people thought he had taken nothing intoxicating for five years, they were quite wrong. For a very long time he had been drinking heavily. His treatment of my mother was awful, and time after time – I know I am only a little chap, but so it was – I have been the means of preventing him doing her a serious injury; not by my being able to by my strength to do so, but by begging him not to hurt her.

William said he was particularly scared that night, because his father had taken a chopper to have it sharpened, ‘and it was this with which he finally hit my mother and went for May and me.’

William claimed his father was drunk when he came home. The children tried to sleep as James and Annie kept up their violent and noisy quarrel: ‘Father kept hitting mother and did not leave off, although she cried very much.’ Eventually things got quieter and his mother climbed into bed with her children.

William was woken by a dreadful scream. His father had hit Annie with the chopper and then set about William, hitting him on the back, arm and head.

I think he thought he had settled me, for he turned and hit my sister three terrible blows, and then looking at mother, who was screaming, said, “I’ll do for the lot of you, and you first.” He struck her three times under the ear with the chopper and at last she fell out of bed and lay in front of the fire-place with only her petticoat on her.

Fortunately James had hit his son with the flat side of the blade and the boy was badly bruised but otherwise unhurt. William managed to get past his father, unlock the door, grab his sister and go downstairs for help but on the way he dropped the key. Here William’s story is a little at variance with George Brown. William said that Mr King came upstairs and tussled with his father who was trying to find the key to lock them out.

William’s closing paragraph makes sad reading.

My mother told us, on her last birthday, that she was thirty-four and that she was “tired of her life.” My father was always cruel to us and I and May are all the children that are left out of five that my mother had. But father was always beating us.

The reporter also spoke to May, whose head was heavily bandaged. Clearly in shock, she had blotted out the climax of the night’s horrors as her memories stopped before the attack began. ‘I saw mother wring her hands and say: “It is all over.” After that mother locked me in a cupboard and said, “Do not move, or your father will kill you.” I stopped there for a very long time.’ She said she was released by her brother on Saturday morning.

James Harris was taken before the magistrates on October 16th, accused of having murdered his wife, attempting to murder his daughter and trying to commit suicide (which then was a crime). Harris had inflicted a serious injury to his neck and throat: ‘He presented a pitiable sight, and was so weak and ill that he had to be carried into the court.’ The magistrate was surprised Harris had been discharged from hospital so quickly. Medical opinion was that he would never speak again. Harris was remanded and sent to gaol.

At his second court appearance on November 6th, it was suggested that because Harris still could not speak he could write down his answers, but it transpired he could neither read nor write. The magistrate questioned whether it was actually possible to put Harris on trial, as he was unable to instruct his solicitor, let alone plead ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty.’ But on balance he decided to proceed with the evidence. A doctor told the court that James was unlikely to regain his speech but might be able to whisper.

A workmate said James believed his wife was having an affair with his brother George, who had stayed with the family for a few months when he came out of the army. When George Harris said this was untrue, James became very agitated but could not speak. William Young, a stableman, lived in the room next door to the Harris family. He testified that on the night of the September 10/11, he was disturbed by noises from their room. It eventually went quiet around 3am, but he was woken around 4.45am by Mrs Harris yelling, ‘Mr Young, Mr Young, murder!’

As Young bravely opened their door, Willie and May rushed past him. Mrs Harris was sitting on the side of the bed and her husband was searching for something near the coal-box. Young beat a hasty retreat and went to Mr King’s house, a couple of doors away, where he was joined by George Brown and they all went to find a policeman. William also gave evidence, saying he was woken by his father hitting his mother and May with a chopper.

When James Harris appeared at the Old Bailey on November 22nd, the question of his ability to stand trial was again discussed as he couldn’t communicate with his solicitor. The judge asked the jury to decide, adding that if they thought Harris was unfit, to also determine ‘if the incapacity is by reason of his own unlawful act.’ The jury answered ‘yes’ on both counts. Harris was asked if he was guilty or not guilty and shook his head. He also managed to say ‘no’ but this was only audible to someone standing immediately besides him.

The trial was adjourned until January 12th 1898. The picture then painted of James was a positive one – a hardworking teetotaller, a family man. A couple of workmates testified that James had told them he was leaving Kilburn, because his brother and wife were ‘too thick.’ George said his brother James was kind to his children and his wife but again denied any ‘improper intimacy’ with Annie. Several witnesses said James had been teetotal, only ‘giving way to heavy drinking’ shortly before the night in question. It’s hard to balance these opinions with those expressed by young Willie Harris. Could the boy have exaggerated? Maybe James was a hard working man, driven to drink by his belief his wife had an affair with his brother, resulting in weeks rather than years of mistreatment of Annie and his children.

The jury held James Harris responsible for his actions and found him guilty. However, they must have believed the character evidence, as they added a strong recommendation for mercy. Harris was sentenced to death but reprieved a week later: ‘He showed signs of intense relief when the news was conveyed to him that he was not to die.’ He would have been imprisoned or held in an asylum, but no records have surfaced of what happened to him after the trial.

Annie Harris was buried at Hampstead Cemetery on Fortune Green Road on September 18th 1897. During the trial, it was reported that William Harris was a pupil at the Westminster Union Industrial School in St. James’s Road, Tooting. This was a workhouse school and presumably he had been sent there by the Hampstead authorities. In the 1901 census, May – now 11 – is shown as a visitor with George Plant, a stoker at a refuse destructor, and his family in Oldham. George Plant, like James Harris, was born in Buckinghamshire, so he may have been a friend or distantly related.

In just a few moments this horrific murder destroyed a family.

Kilburn Festival cancelled

KilburnFestival2011

The Kilburn Festival, an annual event in Kilburn Grange Park, has been cancelled less than a month before it was due to take place on July 13th.

Some 10,000 people typically attend the family-friendly day, which comprises stalls, street food, live music and lots of kid-friendly activities.

The trustees say that they “do not have sufficient funds to put on a safe and quality festival this summer, but are hoping to plan events later in the year, and to be able to deliver a summer festival in 2015.”

West Hampstead Life understands that it is a lack of funding from Brent Council that has led to this situation. The local elections meant that Brent changed its dates on funding decisions and simply wasn’t able to make a decision in time over the Kilburn Festival funding. Other Brent-sponsored events have apparently also suffered as a result.

Local election 2014: The results

As the dust settles after an emotionally intense Friday evening at the Somers Town Community Centre, it’s time to recap the results from the four wards we’ve been covering.

First up, West Hampstead

John Bryant Liberal Democrats 836
Natalie Eliades Conservative Party 800
Nick Grierson Conservative Party 811
Richard Griffiths Green Party 327
Zane Hannan Green Party 343
Keith Moffitt Liberal Democrats 943
Magnus Nielsen UKIP 202
David Pearce Trade Union and Socialist Coalition 67
Angela Pober Labour Party 1,166
Gillian Risso-Gill Liberal Democrats 901
Phil Rosenberg Labour Party 1,179
Andrew Saywell Conservative Party 715
Quentin Tyler Green Party 250
James Yarde Labour Party 1,082
Total (inc. rejected)   9,622
Turnout   38%

Labour managed the clean sweep here (something residents will hope they can do to the streets as well), with the shock being the removal of Keith Moffitt. One suspects that if Keith had been standing in Fortune Green he’d have got back in, but the slightly more transient nature of the West Hampstead population may well have meant that national politics played a larger role here and his personal reputation counted for less.

West Hampstead share

Fortune Green next

Ian Cohen Conservative 893
Juan Jimenez Green Party 326
Nancy Jirira Liberal Democrats 950
Leila Mars Green Party 403
Lucy Oldfield Green Party 318
Richard Olszewski Labour & Cooperative Party 967
Andrew Parkinson Conservative 739
Flick Rea Liberal Democrats 1,151
Lorna Russell Labour & Cooperative Party 1,028
Nick Russell Liberal Democrats 865
Tom Smith Conservative 686
Phil Turner Labour & Cooperative Party 904
Total (inc. rejected)   9,246
Turnout   39.2%

Hard to know what’s more astonishing here: Flick coming top of the poll on a day when the Lib Dems were obliterated nationally or Labour dispatching the Tories into a distant third. The Lib Dems actually came top in Fortune Green with 32.1% of the vote, vs. Labour’s 31.3%. The Conservatives were well back at just 25%, although Ian Cohen’s 893 placed him fifth overall only 11 votes off fourth placed Phil Turner. Despite the outspoken animosity between some Labour people and Flick, hopefully these three councillors can work together on local issues.

Fortune Green share

From the two marginals, to the two safer seats

Kilburn

Sarah Astor Green Party 402
Douglas Beattie Labour 1,661
Richard Bourn Green Party 276
Maryam Eslamdoust Labour 1,611
Thomas Gardiner Labour 1,543
Janet Grauberg Liberal Democrats 876
Sheila Hayman Green Party 286
Jack Holroyde Liberal Democrats 746
James King Liberal Democrats 883
Nick Vose Conservative 411
Tim Wainwright Conservative 409
John Whitehead Conservative 357
Total (inc. rejected)   9,483
Turnout   38.31%

It was billed as a two-way fight, and that’s exactly what it was although in the end Labour’s margin of victory was more comfortable than many had thought. The Lib Dems – two of whom are former Kilburn councillors – found that their local credentials weren’t enough to unseat the incumbent Labour couple who have moved out of the area, while Mike Katz’s replacement came top of the poll.

Kilburn share

And finally… Swiss Cottage

Chris Butler Liberal Democrats 300
Tom Franklin Green Party 433
Roger Freeman Conservative 1,294
Andrew Haslam-Jones Liberal Democrats 230
Helen Jack Green Party 367
Andrew Marshall Conservative 1,340
Jill Newbrook Liberal Democrats 347
Ben Nunn Labour 1,029
Sheila Patton Green Party 339
Simon Pearson Labour 1,008
Gretel Reynolds Labour 960
Don Williams Conservative 1,221
Total (inc. rejected)   8,886
Turnout   34.67%

A low turnout in Swiss Cottage, which is predominantly made up of the redbrick properties of South Hampstead. The Conservatives were always expected to hold this comfortably, but in the end the margins were a little close for comfort, with Labour polling very strongly indeed – in no other local ward did two candidates get more than 1,000 votes and not get a seat.

Swiss Cottage share

Labour sweep Lib Dems out of West Hampstead

Labour_victory

Labour pulled off an astonishing victory yesterday evening, and redrew the political map of north-west Camden. West Hampstead and Fortune Green have been a fortress for the Liberal Democrats, with each ward headed by a popular councillor: Keith Moffitt in West Hampstead and Flick Rea in Fortune Green. This morning Keith – one time leader of Camden Council – is no longer a councillor, while Flick becomes the Lib Dems only councillor in the borough.

Labour won five of the six seats available in the two wards as well as holding Kilburn fairly comfortably despite a robust campaign from the Lib Dems. Swiss Cottage was a safe Conservative hold, although Labour ran them much closer than expected and before postal votes were counted it looked as if an upset was even possible.

Last night belonged to Labour, which gained 10 seats in Camden to give it 40 of the 54 on offer. All 10 were taken from the Lib Dems, who also lost two to the Conservatives in Hampstead Town and Belsize. The Greens kept their seat in Highgate, where turnout almost hit 50%, albeit with a different councillor – Sian Berry replacing Maya de Souza. The Greens will be disappointed not to have got a second seat there.

It was apparent as soon as the count got going that the situation looked good for Labour and worrying for the Liberal Democrats. With the dubious benefit of knowing what had happened in the rest of the country well before the count even began, the orange rosettes were already nervous and stress levels were clearly rising. There was an air of despondency hanging over the Conservatives milling around the counts for West Hampstead and Fortune Green – especially the latter ward, where they had high hopes of getting at least one seat.

Camden_count

Of the two wards, West Hampstead was called first but everyone knew the result. Only Keith had any chance of surviving the cull but there was no recount called, which meant the gap couldn’t be that close. John Bryant was the first name to be called and polled just 836 votes – the lowest of the Lib Dems and only 25 clear of Nick Grierson, who was the highest polling Conservative. Keith cleared 943 votes, but with a turnout of 38%, it was always going to need more than 1,000 to get in. Angela Pober was the first Labour candidate to be called out (names are are read out in alphabetical order) and she brought in 1,166. Gillian Risso-Gill took 901 votes – the farmers market hadn’t been enough to save her. Labour’s Phil Rosenberg won 1,179 votes – the most of anyone in the ward, and then James Yarde brought up Labour’s tail with 1,082 – 139 votes ahead of Keith and bringing 20 years of council service to an end.

West Hampstead's new councillors  James Yarde, Angela Pober, Phil Rosenberg. with Tulip Siddiq (second left)

West Hampstead’s new councillors James Yarde, Angela Pober, Phil Rosenberg. with Tulip Siddiq (second left)

Keith wiped away a small tear and then made a point of congratulating all the newly elected councillors. Not all losing candidates that night were as gracious. Nor were all winners. Night like these can bring out the worst of tribal party politics, though there were mercifully examples of generosity of spirit from all parties.

In the end, a combination of hard graft by the Labour candidates and the national swing had been too much for the personal vote for Keith to overcome. It was still a surprise. Labour had known that Keith would be the hardest incumbent to dislodge, and it proved the case, but it’s always a coup to remove the leader of a party.

The CNJ's Dan Carrier interviews Keith Moffitt after he loses out to Philip Rosenberg in West Hampstead

The CNJ’s Dan Carrier interviews Keith Moffitt after he loses out to Philip Rosenberg in West Hampstead

Attention switched to Fortune Green, where a recount was ordered. We already knew that the Tories were out of this. “If only Ian Cohen had had six more months”, one Conservative told me, seeming to forget that the Conservatives only finalised their list of who was standing across the two wards at at the last minute. Ian himself was still smiling, taking the hit on the chin. He’ll still be popping up at local meetings I’m sure.

Waiting for the Fortune Green recount

Waiting for the Fortune Green recount

Lorna Russell had already been told she’d polled enough to get in – and promptly collapsed. Labour really hadn’t held out that much hope for Fortune Green, expecting the Tories to do well and the Lib Dems to put up a strong fight. No-one but no-one had really thought Flick was vulnerable and, as these pages suggested, perhaps the other two Lib Dems could ride that wave to safety.

Keith Moffitt and Flick Rea look anxiously at ballot papers

Keith Moffitt and Flick Rea look anxiously at ballot papers

The reality was that Flick came home very safely – she actually topped the poll in Fortune Green, proving that personal votes can and do make a difference. Lorna was a surefire second, which meant the recount was between Labour’s Richard Olszewski and incumbent councillor Nancy Jirira.

Finally, the returning officer called everyone up to announce the final two wards – Fortune Green and Highgate. Fortune Green was first. The Conservative’s Ian Cohen (once thought of as a possible Lib Dem candidate) had done very well: 893 votes, more than 150 ahead of the next Conservative and narrowly in fifth place overall. Close but no cigar. Nancy was the next from the big three to be called – 950 for Nancy, agonisingly short of the 1,000 mark. Then Richard… 967. It was enough. Just 17 votes between them. Labour supporters whooped and cheered, knowing they’d done the unthinkable and obliterated the Liberal Democrats in their own backyard.

Flick took 1,151 votes and Lorna 1,028. Labour’s Phil Turner got 904 votes.

That left Flick Rea as the de facto leader of the Lib Dems in Camden. Outside the Somers Town community centre, she was in a feisty mood, and expect her to make a nuisance of herself in council meetings.

What does it all mean for local residents? At one level, not much – after all Camden was Labour before yesterday and remains Labour now – only with even more control. The Conservatives become the official opposition party.

On a more local level, it means that our new councillors have some big shoes to fill. They’ll have to learn fast how to navigate their way around the council and expectations will be high. Up in Fortune Green, Flick may well find that she’s bombarded with queries from locals who know and trust her to help them and simply don’t know much about the new Labour councillors. She’ll need to work with them though if she’s not to drown in case work.

It had been a long afternoon and evening. Labour gathered on stage for a victory celebration worthy of any cup-winning football team. Frank Dobson MP – who’d appeared for the photoshoots with winning teams in his Holborn & St Pancras constituency – had long gone home, but Hampstead & Kilburn hopeful Tulip Siddiq was very much still around. She’ll be hoping that the Labour surge in north-west London carries her to Westminster next year, while her Conservative rival Simon Marcus has to pin his hopes on a blue revivial nationally if he’s to stand any chance.

Meanwhile, congratulations to Phil, Angela, James, Lorna, Richard and Flick for winning their seats in two closely fought battles. We’ll be talking to them all – as well as some of the Lib Dems who’ve been pushed out of the way – over the coming days. You can also see a full breakdown of all the votes and the swings for the parties. I’ll leave the last word to long-time resident Tony Penfold, who tweeted last night: “Some good people who helped make West Hampstead what it is have left the stage, newbies now have to walk the walk. Whamp is watching”.

John Lewis is 150… but what’s the Kilburn connection?

This year sees the 150th anniversary of the opening of the first John Lewis shop on Oxford Street. Named after its founder, there’s a local connection as John Lewis built a mansion in Hampstead and his son John Spedan Lewis was living in Mortimer Crescent, Kilburn, during the 1920s.

John Lewis worked as a draper’s apprentice in Wells, Somerset before borrowing a pound – or a sovereign as it was then called – and coming to London to seek his fortune. He worked as an assistant and then silk buyer and then in 1864 bought 132 Oxford Street, on the corner of Holles Street, the shop where his business blossomed and expanded. In 1906 he bought the Peter Jones store in Sloane Square.

John Spedan Lewis was his eldest son, born in 1885. The name ‘Spedan’ was chosen to commemorate Ann Speed, John junior’s great aunt. The family home was Spedan Tower, a turreted mansion set in three acres at Hampstead, overlooking Branch Hill. John Spedan led a very sheltered childhood with few friends; his father rarely entertained and holidays were generally spent with the family at Weston-super-Mare. Instead of going to university, 19-year-old Spedan entered his father’s business and it was he that began to develop the partnership model, after he realised that the income he, his father and his brother Oswald were receiving far exceeded the total payroll of his father’s staff.

John Spedan Lewis

John Spedan Lewis

John senior wasn’t having any of it and nothing much could be done until 1914, when John Spedan was put in charge of Peter Jones, which was making large losses. His father insisted Spedan spend his working day at Oxford Street, stipulating he could travel to Sloane Square only after 5pm. Losses continued at Peter Jones but when John Lewis insisted his son give up the shop, Spedan refused. Instead he traded his lucrative partnership with his father for an uncertain future, namely complete control of Peter Jones. Despite dire predictions of bankruptcy, Spedan turned the business round and by 1919 he had converted an annual loss of £8,000 into a profit of £20,000, and began plans to introduce his Partnership idea. His financial success prompted reconciliation with his father, who declared, ‘That place is a great credit to the boy – a very great credit!’ In 1923, Spedan rejoined his father in partnership at Oxford Street.

Spedan believed women had an important role to play in business and that year he married Sarah Beatrice Mary Hunter, a graduate of Somerville College, Oxford. She’d joined the company before her marriage and continued to play an important role. Spedan and Sarah moved from 37 Harley House on the Marylebone Road to North Hall in Kilburn (even then, estate agents called it St John’s Wood). They lived there from 1925 until 1930. The large detached property, built in 1861, stood where Mortimer Place now meets Mortimer Crescent. Lewis also owned the house opposite, 6 Mortimer Crescent, which was used as staff quarters.

Spedan Tower plaque

Spedan Tower plaque

John Lewis snr died in June 1928, aged 93. The Hampstead home went to Spedan who sold it. Spedan acquired his brother Oswald’s share in the business and, while he was living in Kilburn, he launched the John Lewis Partnership in April 1929. He transferred the equity capital to trustees on behalf of the employees by means of an interest-free loan of nearly a million pounds, to be gradually repaid out of profits. But he was cautious and until the plan proved sound enough to hand control to those who worked in it, Spedan retained a controlling interest. This meant he could end the experiment any time he wanted. The final handover was delayed by the war until 1950.

There is a short film where John Spedan Lewis outlines his business philosophy:

The extensive grounds surrounding North Hall allowed Spedan Lewis to indulge his life-long love of natural history and wild animals. An ‘owlery’ was built to house his collection of pheasants and owls (managed by a Mr Gander!), as well as various animal enclosures and a kennel run. Spedan Lewis financed expeditions to collect rare species, which he bred in captivity and gave to zoos. In 1927 and 1928, he wrote in the ‘Gazette’, the firm’s house journal:

‘The Birds at North Hall’
I have here a small collection of birds which are, for the most part, rather exceptionally interesting. To see them properly takes about three-quarters of an hour or a little more. The birds can be seen without going through the house, so visitors in this way need not have any fear of causing inconvenience.

Although an appointment was necessary, ‘partners would be very welcome to bring friends, especially children.’

Spedan Lewis also collected wild animals. A colleague described what happened during regular games of tennis at North Hall: “He had a tennis court made with cages at each end in which he kept lynxes. One of those cages was up against the back netting so if you went to pick up your ball, there was a lynx about a foot away.”

In 1929, Lewis moved his family and menagerie from Kilburn to the Leckford estate in Hampshire (today owned by Waitrose). North Hall and 6 Mortimer Crescent (‘the cottage’) were put up for sale by the John Lewis Company in 1932. The details give some idea of the scale of the property.

Very quiet situation: sunny aspect: good garden and first-rate hard tennis court, billiard room, panelled drawing room (patent dancing floor), panelled dining room, fitted library. 7 bed rooms, 3 bath rooms, electric light; central heating; drains all recently put into perfect order; garage for 2 large cars; cottage opposite divided into maisonette for 2 married servants.

Despite the “first rate” tennis court, there was a lack of buyers and the company tried to develop the site. A proposal was made in 1933 to replace the main house with seven smaller ones, and although the authorities were inclined to give permission, instead the house was reported as sold in January of the following year, for just under £3,000, worth about £175,000 today.

Constance Lynn was Spedan Lewis’ secretary and housekeeper from 1928 to 1961. She reminisced about her employer and her punishing work regime.

We used to work in London during the week and go to Leckford, Mr Lewis’s country house, at the weekends, still working. It was a seven-day-a-week job. We were sometimes expected to work until midnight and produce the answer at the breakfast table. Hours and weekends were nothing to Mr Lewis. And holidays were, in his own words, ‘plainly inconvenient’. We didn’t get any rest. Occasionally I was allowed a weekend off and went home. We just grabbed what we could. Really, we gave our whole lives to Mr Lewis. I think it was the pure magic of the man. We could have murdered our boss at times but we had the many perks which most secretaries don’t have, like being taught to ride, taught to drive a car, taken to Switzerland. I shall be ever grateful for the education I got with him.

The Lewis skiing holidays might last a month, but although enthusiastic, Spedan wasn’t very good.

In 1955, John Spedan Lewis retired on his 70th birthday, (a move he later regretted and tried to reverse) and lived at Longstock Park, Hampshire, until his death in 1963.

What was he really like? Undoubtedly a reformer and altruist, Constance Lynn revealed Spedan was also a demanding employer. The preface to ‘Retail Trading’ (1968), a privately published collection of John Spedan’s memoranda, put it even more bluntly:

He was vain and cantankerous … sometimes cruel in the intellectual arrogance with which he treated individuals who were his mental inferiors … he certainly sacrificed his family to his dream of partnership.

For a more balanced view his Times obituary said:

To the last an unrepentant and indeed aggressive individualist, he yet created one of the most distinctive and successful co-partnership organisations. A man of high purpose, unbridled imagination and great courage, he was outspoken but had in many respects the most kindly and generous disposition. He was an all-round sportsman, an omnivorous reader, greatly interested in natural history and music.

Even the John Lewis Gazette acknowledged his views were like salt, “that can either sting or give savour”. It concluded, “His was simply the uncompromising voice of a great individualist.”

In 1941, North Hall was unoccupied and was being used by Hampstead Council as a temporary furniture store when it was badly damaged by a V1 flying bomb. (The same bomb forced George Orwell to vacate his flat across the road, at 10a Mortimer Crescent). The site was subsequently cleared and now forms part of the Mortimer Estate. Spedan Tower in Hampstead was requisitioned by the War Office and in 1947, became home to a number of German scientists undertaking ‘secret research work for Britain.’ The house has been replaced by houses and flats. A Heath & Hampstead Society plaque commemorates John Lewis and John Spedan Lewis near the site of their old home.

Bradley Wiggins honoured in Kilburn at last

Wiggins Sculpture

It’s been a long time coming but in the wake of Bradley Wiggins’ astonishing achievements in 2012, his secondary school in South Kilburn now looks out over a shiny new sculpture that commemorates these and the rest of his illustrious career.

If you’ve been on another planet for the past few years then you’ll still have been aware of Sir Brad’s palmares. It would be hard to top being the first Brit to win the Tour de France, but Brad, who grew up in South Kilburn and went to St Augustine’s School, went on to win gold in the men’s time trial at the London Olympics, adding to his already impressive medal haul from previous games.

In the aftermath of this, everyone was clamouring to claim him as their own and there was a push for a victory parade down Kilburn High Road. Sadly this never came to pass but, on the eve of Wiggins winning the Tour of California (proving there’s plenty of life in the old mod yet), a sculpture has been unveiled at St Augustine’s sports centre, across the road from the school.

The sculpture is the work of artist Sophie Marsham, who was helped by Year 8 students from St Augustines, and the project was supported by Groundwork London and the South Kilburn Trust.

“I only meant to stun him” – A 1930s Kilburn murder

On 12 May 1937, the whole country was excited when George VI was crowned King after the abdication of his brother Edward VIII. Two days later at 4.30 am, a taxi driver went to buy petrol at the Lion Service Station at the corner of Greville Road and Kilburn High Road – Today, the site of the garage lies under the block of flats next to the new Kilburn Library.

Site of Lion Gararge, corner of Greville Rd and Kilburn High Road

Site of Lion Gararge, corner of Greville Rd and Kilburn High Road

Entering the office, the taxi driver was horrified to find George Cotton, the night attendant, slumped on the floor with blood streaming from his head. He called a policeman and George was taken to Paddington Hospital. George, who had served in the Royal Army Service Corps in WWI, didn’t regain consciousness, dying the next day and unable to tell anyone what had happened. He had been living with his wife Ethel at 94 Alexandra Road. She sobbed bitterly at the inquest, confirming George was unable speak to her at the hospital.

The police began a major hunt for the murderer, issuing descriptions of three men and a request for information about a blood-stained wheel spanner found at the garage. £16 and 10 shillings had been taken from the till, worth about £850 today. But the trail appeared cold until Allan Gregory walked into West Hampstead Police Station, (then a few doors away from the Railway Hotel on West End Lane).

Allan was interviewed by Detective Inspector Isaac Spash of New Scotland Yard and admitted that he’d killed George Cotton. Spash was a career detective who had joined the Metropolitan Police in 1914 and worked his way up to be the Divisional Inspector at Golders Green.

Allan was a 35-year-old motor mechanic from Maygrove Road who’d needed cash badly. So in the early hours of Saturday night he’d gone to the other end of Kilburn to ask his friend George Cotton if he could lend him some money, as he’d done before. When Allan got to the service station he found George asleep in the chair behind the desk. Allan said:

I watched him for several minutes and he was not disturbed. I thought the till would be full because of Coronation time, the temptation was too great for me and I found a screwdriver and forced the till open. The noise of the drawer snapping open disturbed George and I ducked down so that he would not see me. After waiting until he settled down I picked up a spanner, when George turned and looked at me. I dashed forward and took the money from the till. George started moving again. I got into a panic because I did not want George to see me and I hit him with the spanner. He fell out of the chair onto the floor. I had no intention of killing him; I went there to borrow money. When I hit him I only meant to stun him. I lost my head and slashed out at him, not realising what I was doing. I have known George for a number of years, the last thing I wanted to do was kill or seriously injure him.

Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the eminent pathologist who conducted the post mortem, said that George Cotton had died from three violent blows to the head with a heavy weapon which had badly smashed his skull. After 20 minutes the jury at the Old Bailey on the 19 July found Gregory not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Polite apologies not required at Good Ship gig night

At a loose end on a Saturday night, we decided to check out the gigs at The Good Ship. After wandering down the hill, we stopped for a drink at Kilburn’s The Black Lion, intrigued by two things – the Burts Bees lipsalve at the bottom of my handbag and the fact that the only draught beer on offer was Guinness – what’s the story there, is it an Irish thing? [Ed: no, it’s a brewery dispute thing]

Across the road at The Good Ship we had missed the first couple of bands but arrived in time for new band Royal Youth, three young lads who make a lot of noise with one guitar, drum kit and voice. For such a new band they were incredibly tight. Their first song had echos of Radiohead’s Paranoid Android and their big sound reminded us of Muse. They have much time to continue to develop their own sound and I look forward to seeing them again one day.

Royal Youth

Royal Youth

Joe Mills followed, a strong acoustic guitarist/singer songwriter with a powerful voice that conveys great emotion. He kicked off with a wonderful irish ballad-type song but once joined by his band became less interesting including a Talking Heads cover (why do bands so often cover Talking Heads?).

The audience had thinned once headliner California Gypsies came on. This is a really likeable band from Camden whose line-up surprisingly includes a cello and a drummer/beat box. Their first song, Nothing is for Certain, reminded us of Darwin Deez. They introduced a cover of Common People with a polite apology and proceeded to deliver a brilliant upbeat rock reinvention of the song – I love it when bands can carry that off.

California Gypsies

California Gypsies

As usual the audience was an eclectic group of self aware teenagers, proud parents, middle aged music lovers and strange men in hats. It’s great to have bands on our doorstep, especially without a long overground ride home from East London.

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Get a Taste of Kilburn

Kilburn is teeming with eating options, but how many have you actually tried? Now’s your chance to sample something new during the first ever Taste of Kilburn food festival, which launches on Saturday.

At 11 am in Kilburn Square (the southern end of the high road near WH Smiths), the Deputy Mayor of Brent opens proceedings with a ceremonial cake cutting (rumours that the cake is a Belgian bun from Gregg’s are unconfirmed). You’ll be able to taste some of the participating restaurants’ dishes in the Taste of Kilburn gazebo. There will also be plenty of vouchers handed out by volunteers who, we’re told, will be fetchingly dressed as Easter bunnies.

It’s not just small restaurants taking part. Alongside old favourites such as the ever-popular Vijay, on Willesden Lane, and pubs such as The Earl Derby, some of the world’s biggest chains are also supporting the event, with vouchers and offers of their own: McDonald’s and KFC are joining in, and Nando’s have promised to dispatch some of their staff dressed in chicken suits (to compete with the bunnies perhaps?).

In total, 27 businesses are taking part and offering special deals to customers which will be valid for the run up to Easter. It should be a great day out and opportunity to try new Kilburn restaurants or rediscover old favourites. If you miss out on the launch event, look out for the Easter Bunny handing out vouchers on Kilburn High Road, or visit the Taste of Kilburn information table at the Tricycle Theatre.

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Taste of Kilburn is an initiative set up by a group of local business owners, with the support of Brent Council, to celebrate and promote Kilburn as an eating destination. Find out more, and see a list of participating restaurants, here.

Get passionate about Kilburn in new Tricycle play

The Tricycle Theatre has always been vocal in its support of young people but for the first time, Kilburn’s premier cultural venue is putting its money where its mouth is and handing over control of the building for a week to the Tricycle Young Company. During The Takeover Festival, which runs from March 30 – April 5, this group has programmed a week of theatre, film, music and poetry.

Tricycle Young Company members

Tricycle Young Company members

During the week, seven new plays will be performed by young people aged 11-25 on the Tricycle stage, including some written and performed in partnership with the National Theatre. The biggest production is The Kilburn Passion, written as a new commission by Suhayla El-Bushra, a successful writer for stage and screen, former resident of Kilburn and herself a one-time member of the Tricycle Young Company.

The drama takes place along the Kilburn High Road, and anyone familiar with the area will “definitely recognise a lot in the play,” according to cast member Hayley Konadu. It tackles issues such as the stereotypical perceptions of Kilburn and its community that are familiar to many of us.

There’s something in it for everyone, says director Emily Lim, whether or not you’re familiar with Kilburn High Road. “Most people in the company are local, and there’s a lot of diversity of experience that has gone into the play. Londoners tend to look at our shoes rather than looking into people’s eyes, so it’s about questioning why we’re so hesitant to look and see and listen to the people around us and to place ourselves within a broader context of relationships and friendships and networks and community.”

“Suhayla was inspired by the Easter tradition of a Passion Play and we’ve really enjoyed the idea that a passion play was something traditionally performed by a community for its own community, and it’s also about a community.”

The play’s genesis was a very collaborative process, with El-Bushra meeting the Young Company at the outset and incorporating their ideas and personalities into the finished work. Emily explains “Suhayla’s brief was to write a piece that reflected Kilburn, and a piece that reflected our company of young people to unlock the spirit of what this company is and what makes them tick.”

It’s also been a rare opportunity for young people aspiring to careers in performing arts to work with a professional team of lighting and sound designers and stage managers. As well as supporting the young performers’ professional development, Emily is keen to point out that the scheme is “also hugely about personal development and creating a culture of support and kindness because we think that’s how we’ll create our best work, and we know that this work helps our young people to learn more about who they are and what they can be.”

As well as being a fun process, it’s clear that a lot of work has gone in to the creation and evolution of The Kilburn Passion and that the cast has risen to the challenge and the high expectations placed upon them.

As Hayley explains, “The Tricycle has always supported the youth, but the Takeover is taking it one step further. We’re the next generation, so why not push us to greater things? The pressure is good, because it forces us to act professionally. Because sometimes you’re treated as ‘just the young company’. But where’s the line between young company and professional? I like the way they’ve forced us into the professional world: ‘This is how you do things.’ And the best way is by learning.”

Hayley’s enthusiasm for the project shines through as she explains the evolution of the play. “The rehearsal process has been amazing. We started in September with our selection workshops based around what we like, what we don’t, what we’re passionate about, and what we want to have in our play – because The Kilburn Passion is a play that has come from us. Suhayla’s taken all the ideas we’ve put into it and just connected it up into an amazing play.”

Emily says “It’s the first time that the building has done anything like this, and put so much faith into its young people, and by giving us the main stage to perform on and giving such a high level of professional investment in terms of the creative teams and the writer that we’re working with, it’s showing an incredible amount of belief in the work and it’s making a very important statement that reflects the Tricycle’s whole ethos about bringing marginalised voices into the mainstream and it’s very unique in London.”

The Kilburn Passion runs from April 3-5 and West Hampstead Life readers can get discounted tickets by entering the code WestHamp when they book online.

Battling Barbara Buttrick and the Kilburn Empire

In the 2012 London Olympics, Nicola Adams won Britain’s first gold medal in women’s boxing. Until recently, however, boxing was not seen as a sport for women. More than 60 years ago, The Kilburn Empire, which was at the southern end of the High Road – where the Marriott Hotel is today, played an important part in this story.

Barbara ButtrickIn February 1949, there were numerous press reports about “battling Barbara Buttrick”, a boxing typist from Hull who was due to fight Bert Saunders in an exhibition match at the Kilburn Empire. The bout was scheduled for March 7th, and she would become Britain’s first professional female boxer. But the fight was opposed by the Variety Artists Federation. Defiantly, Nat Tennens, the licensee of the Kilburn Empire said, “the show goes on”. Barbara’s promoter Micky Wood said, “There are women lion tamers, snake charmers, and trapeze artists. Why should this girl not box? She lives for boxing.”

After continued pressure from the Variety Artists Federation and the British Boxing Board of Control, Tennens wrote to the London County Council saying the match was cancelled and that instead Barbara would now give an exhibition of training, shadow boxing and punch-ball work. Further attempts were made for “Battling Butt” to fight female opponents at other venues in 1950.

She toured the country and Europe on the carnival circuit challenging women to fight. “I liked it,” Barbara said, “You worked hard but it was better than a nine-to-five job.” Born in North Yorkshire in 1930, Barbara, who was only 4’11”, was called The Mighty Atom of the Ring.

She found a new trainer, Len Smith, who she eventually married and they moved to America in 1952. In 1957 Barbara became the first women’s world boxing champion. She was delighted and very proud when, in 2010, the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame added her to its roll of honor – alongside Muhammad Ali.

Watch a 3-minute interview with her from 2013 from Adjust Production – she’s still got some moves! And below, some footage of Barbara in her youth.