Clock Cafe; fresh face, familiar food

You will have noticed that where Lena’s Café was we now have a fresh face on the high street, but something seems familiar about Clock Café.

With the same set up of deli-style food served hot or cold, Clock Café has the same chef and management as Lena’s but has been given a much needed facelift (after a Porsche crashed through the window)!

Mixed salads on offer at the Clock Cafe

Though it doesn’t quite boast the same ambiance as some of the restaurants, pubs and cafés we have on West End Lane, Clock Café offers some variety, a low key and reasonably priced option, whether you’re eating in or taking away. I’d imagine this wil be a popular spot for those working in the area looking for a quick bite on their lunch break.

You’re spoilt for choice with the food options.  I highly recommend the baked cauliflower – bursting full of flavour, the greens and chicken in tomato sauce. It was extremely tasty; I’d go so far as to say delicious. The aubergine was quite salty, in fact, I dread to think how much salt went in a lot of the menu items. However, if you choose well you may end up with a fairly healthy, hearty meal. It’s a great grab and go or quick sit in place.

And more salads!

Those who were fans of Lena’s would be pleased to know that Clock Café hasn’t lost it’s ‘marketplace in the Mediterranean or Middle East’ feel, with vast trays of baklava and assorted nuts on offer (the nuts are new by the way).

And it does food to go.

Prices are cheaper if you take your food to go, choices include boxes filled to the brim with your own choice of main food items and salads, sandwiches, wraps and a soup of the day. They also have a nice selection of drinks, including coffee (of course).

It’s nice to have you back in the neighborhood, Clock Café.

A walk up West End Lane

Following our recent walk down the Kilburn High Road, we took a similar walk up West End Lane. Joining us was John Saynor, chair of WHAT (West Hampstead Amenity and Transport), which takes a keen interest in these matters too.

We didn’t really focus on the litter situation, because – dare I say it – it seems a bit better, although we aren’t counting our chickens, or the discarded fried chicken containers.  Instead, we focused on the street clutter and particularly the A-boards that can obstruct pavements.

Without getting too technical (and with apologies for those who read the KHR piece), I’m going to introduce the word ‘curtilage’ at this point. This means the space between your property and the public highway, but which is still your land. Within reason you can do what want – deck it, put up an A-board or set out goods for sale.

However, if any of these activities take place on the public footpath then people have the right to be miffed. In fact it’s a planning infringement that must be rectified. A well maintained high street keeps the pavement clear and makes sure that it is wide enough for pedestrians (including those with buggies, or in wheelchairs) to pass in opposite directions. There are London planning standards for this – the pedestrian comfort guidance, which recommends a minimum of 3 metres width for a busy pedestrian pavement like West End Lane.

Of course shop-owners put their A-boards out to try to grab some extra custom, a manager might change and not realise the rules (implicit or explicit) or a contractor will put out warning signs and leave them, so there needs to be regular vigilance to ensure that pavements don’t get overrun with signage or other commercial undertakings.

However, the situation is not always clear-cut. At some points the pavement is narrow and any obstruction is a potential hazard, at others it is wide and it’s not such a problem. The width of the curtilage also varies, so at some points, a shopkeeper can put out an A-board but in others, where there is no curtilage they can’t, which can seem ‘unfair’.

With all this in mind, we started our walk by the stations. For years, locals have been campaigning to ensure that the pavements around and between the stations are widened and kept clutter free to ensure easy (and safe) movement of pedestrians. There have been improvements over recent years, but the recent attempt by a phonebox company to install some phone boxes here would have undone all the hard work. Thankfully Camden turned the application down. The situation will also be improved when the Overground station is finished as it will be set much further back, removing a dangerous pinch point on the pavement.

Outside the tube station, we spotted these freebie newspaper containers. They don’t look great and cause a certain amount of disruption to pedestrians in a busy section.  In the past, they have been removed, but they seem to be creeping back. Who is responsible for sorting this out? WHAT takes an interest in these matters, but is it anyone’s responsibility to report infringements? Is it the role of the Neighbourhood Development Forum? What about the thousands of local commuters who walk past daily, or the local councillors, or street cleaners or community police officers?

We asked the local councillors about this and Cllr Lorna Russell replied that the Council do rely on members of the public to flag issues as they can’t have eyes and ears everywhere. However, many people don’t know what needs reporting and even if they do, don’t know how best to report it. Likewise, the councillors themselves report things – they are avid users of the Clean Camden app.

Sometimes an issue can be dealt with by having a quiet word. Other times official action is needed and the council has to take charge.

Here is a good example. This redundant sign (from the Overground crane works) was left there throughout the week even on the very narrowest sections of pavement. A quick call to the Overground building works team got agreement to store them during the week. Success! It’s since reappeared 🙁 and now sits off to one side.

Next up we cross the road to Banana Tree. The restaurant has just lost an appeal and will have to remove its decking. The pavement is not terribly narrow here, so some will judge this a little harsh. However, the restaurant’s A-board does narrow the pavement further.  As a rule of thumb, you’re not going to get an A-board and decking on your curtilage, you have to pick one. And it’s not clear where Banana Tree’s curtilage is, if it has it at all.

Some of you will remember that this time last year the Alice House had a similar issue with their decking. It was a bit different though, as it was clear it was on their curtilage and the issue was more about the height of the decking.

Further up West End Lane, there was a particularly egregious example of a creeping A-boards by Bobby Fitzpatrick, right in the middle of the pavement! Naughty.  You can see how Bobby’s has put chairs and tables out on their curtilage, just as its predecessor La Brocca did, but that A-board is as cheeky as a 1970s comedy.

On the other side of West End Lane, Cedar restaurant too has decked out its curtilage but sometimes puts an A-board out too.

And right at the top of West End Lane, Schnitzel has three A-boards including one which narrows the zebra crossing.

Back down West End Lane, Lola’s is a recent arrival and it has started putting out an A-board too – sometimes partly on the pavement. Even though it has a relatively wide curtilage, it still had to apply for planning permission to put out tables and chairs, but again it’s the A-board that causes the most disruption, particularly because the public pavement is relatively narrow and busy.

There is good news here though, as a quiet word with one of the managers led to the compromise of putting the board as close to the planter as possible, which makes a significant difference.

It’s not all bad news. Here’s an A-board nearly placed on a premise’s curtilage. Gold star to West End Lane Books!

Outside the library we looked at the planting and seating.  It’s sad that this has been neglected since being installed a couple of years ago. Again there is a question of who is responsible for maintaining it.  It was originally installed when the Lib-Dem/Conservatives coalition gave areas the ability to choose projects they wanted, and this was one. Indeed it was very popular in this NDF survey. So it’s shame it’s been neglected.

We also noticed that some of the bus stops and seats were very grubby with an accumulation of dirt that a good jet wash would deal with. If it hasn’t been done by early March, then maybe it’s something for the Great British Spring Clean on March 2-4, 2018.

All in all, things weren’t bad (and better than the Kilburn High Road). But there is still room for improvement, though it remains unclear who is responsible for reporting the problems that do exist.

Vintage Porsche crashes into Lena’s cafe: Two injured

Shortly before 3pm on Friday afternoon, a vintage Porsche veered off West End Lane, mounted the pavement and crashed into Lena’s cafe trapping a female customer. The customer, Abigail Cinnamon, was sitting outside with a friend, Jessica Klein. The two 20-year-olds don’t live in the area but had decided to meet up for a ‘quiet coffee’ and chose West Hampstead.

They were sitting outside the cafe when all of sudden Jess, who was sitting facing down West End Lane saw a Green Porsche racing towards them and screamed. Abi, who was facing away from the on-coming car had a split second to register before it crashed into her, throwing her though the plate glass window.

“The next thing I knew I was underneath the glass, in a foetal position. It took a while for the firemen to arrive to get the glass off me. I didn’t feel any pain, however, as the adrenalin had kicked in”. The police and fireman arrived quite quickly but it took time for them to work out how to remove the sheet of glass and release Abi.

Once she was released she was taken to St. Mary’s hospital, as the hospital has a specialised trauma unit and a crew of 11 or 12 were waiting for her. She has two broken bones in her leg, which require an operation. Her friend, Jess, was less seriously injured suffering three fractured ribs and some scratches.

Police and ambulance on the scene of the accident. Photo: Cllr Phil Rosenberg

Police and ambulance on the scene of the accident. Photo: Cllr Phil Rosenberg

The driver was shaken by the accident but was unscathed. It is not entirely clear how the accident happened with some witness reports saying the car swerved to avoid a pedestrian. Violet Ceniceros, who had been sitting in Lena’s just five minutes earlier, was waiting by the bus stop by Sainsbury’s when the accident happened. She reported, that “the car turned left [from Dennington Park Road] on West End Lane from the junction and started speeding then went out of control and crashed into the café”.

A policeman on site explained that the 1967 Porsche was rear-wheel driven and probably ‘kangarooed’ (juddered) on acceleration causing the driver to lose control and for the car to veer across the road.

Councillor Phil Rosenberg who was holding a surgery next door in the Library was one of the first on the scene.  A nearby business owner who heard the crash thought it was a terrorist attack and sought cover at the back of the shop.

Porsche 3

West End Lane was initially closed, but after an hour was reopened to traffic.  The crash scene was still cordoned off with a lone policeman on the scene. He was waiting for the owner to arrange for his insurers to tow the car away.

The dramatic pictures and the novelty of the vintage Porsche have led to the story making both the BBC news and Saturday’s Times.

Bobby F’s timewarp bar opens on West End Lane

Photo: Jane Lucken (model: unknown)

Photo: Jane Lucken (model: unknown)

It’s been a long-time coming. La Brocca closed its doors in June 2015, but its replacement – Bobby Fitzpatrick’s – opens tonight. Bobby’s owners, ULG (who also run The Gallery and The Alice House), have opted for a louche 70s theme for the new bar.

West Hampstead Life was – of course – at the launch party last Friday and the first day of the soft launch on Monday. But what did our various correspondents make of the makeover?

Wow, there’s nothing quite like this in West Hampstead! A throwback bar where you feel like you’re at a party in That 70s show, or in the fully functional underground house-cum-fallout shelter like in Blast From the Past, that film where they thought the world had ended and they lived frozen time, gaudy décor and all.

Photo: Shalini Rawlley

Photo: Shalini Rawlley

The devil is in the details from old-fashioned hand dryers, amber soap and classic books by Fleming and Tolkien and that’s just in the loos! Clunky speakers and fuzzy, chunky TVs; there’s nothing chic about this shabby place, which all adds to the charm.

The only modern hints were the gorgeous cocktails, with twists and classics and all new Bobby creations, served in old fashioned drinking glasses of course! But they serve beers and shooters too, and unpretentious comfort food and the friendliest staff to make your evening a winner.

I would definitely bring my friends back to this groovy bar, it will certainly leave an impression and have you holding back on all the Austin Power’s quotes!

Photo: Shalini Rawlley

Photo: Shalini Rawlley

I liked it. I was concerned it was going to be over the top and too faddy but actually it went to the edge but not over it. It’s been very well done. I hope for West Hampstead that it does work, ULG has a good track record. It’s doing something different from the prevalent Brooklyn industrial chic, zagging while the others are zigging. As for the food – the burger was good but I’m not sure recreating 1980s deep dish pizzas is such a good idea – they weren’t that good to begin with. And a mention for the staff were friendly and professional and helped create a good atmosphere.

I have many happy memories of La Brocca, so my first ten minutes was spent gasping at how much it has changed. But I’m up for evolution and soon started smiling at how they have brought Bobby’s home to life. I’d have loved the job of sourcing all the crazy bits and bobs – where did they find that hand dryer?! I applaud the owners for moving beyond the too-common industrial luxe aesthetic and creating somewhere genuinely fun and different. The cocktails are excellent, if crazy, just like the whole place really!

Photo: Tom Vanheems

Photo: Tom Vanheems

I can see Bobby Fitzpatrick being a hit with the locals. A huge amount of work has gone into the crazy, amusing and even atmospheric 70s design, so that it feels welcoming rather than just a novelty. I sense this will create a good vibe and an inviting place to hang out; the sense of fun and originality is tangible.

Food is well-priced, with fresh, flavoursome American-style pizzas (think soft-base like Franco Manca rather than the old Italian style of La Brocca) – perhaps would be good to see some sides of fresh greens or something, to balance things out a little? Hopefully the wine list will expand beyond the two reds and two whites currently available, though I can confirm that both are very drinkable!

Rejoicing in Amy Werner’s rehabilitation

Almost exactly four years ago there was a tragic accident on West End Lane. A Mercedes driver in his 80s careered off the road and onto the pavement near Dynham Road. Desreen Brooks was killed as her husband managed to push their toddler son out of the way. American student Amy Werner, off to meet friends in Camden, was extremely seriously injured.

The incident shook everyone in West Hampstead. It happened on a Saturday evening, there were lots of people around. The random nature of who was affected, and the severity of the crash led to a heartfelt outpouring of support for those involved.

Amy was taken to St Mary’s and her parents – Rich and Regina – flew out from their small town of Dover in Vermont to be with her. They would spend a month by her bed as Amy underwent major operations. Lots of West Hampstead Life readers wanted to know how they could help and as a result I was in regular contact with Rich. Nicky and I went to visit them and Amy. Even knowing what her condition was, it was a shock to see her in the ward, lying there in an induced coma. I couldn’t really comprehend what it must be like for her parents.

Amy eventually flew home to the US, where her extensive treatment and rehabilitation has continued. We wrote a follow-up article. I stayed in touch with Regina via Facebook for a couple of years, actively at first, then more just checking in once in a while and eventually glancing at posts. I could see Amy was doing ok. After what seemed an age – in fact two years after the incident – the driver was sentenced to 18 months in prison (later reduced to 12) for killing Desreen Brooks, though acquitted of GBH against Amy due to a lack of concrete evidence.

Then last week Regina popped up on Facebook, saying that she and Amy were going to be in London this week for a slew of medical appointments, and that Amy would love to meet me properly.

“You look a lot better than when I last saw you”, was my predictable opening gambit as this lively and articulate 27-year-old came down the steps of their Bayswater accommodation.

Amy, Regina, Amy’s aunt Cathy and I spent a very pleasant evening in Notting Hill. I didn’t know what to expect from Amy. I knew that she’d lost the sight in one eye, but wasn’t sure whether any other effects would still be visible. They were not. She’s clearly itching to get back to the life she had planned when she first moved here – just a matter of weeks before the accident. I’m not sure her mother is so keen to let her daughter quite so far out of her sight again, but Amy’s irrepressible personality would be hard to contain for long I suspect.

Four years on, both Amy and her parents remain very grateful for the warmth, support and generosity that the whole West Hampstead community showed them. I’m sure you will all want to send Amy the very best wishes …. and maybe we’ll see her again in London before too long.

Amy and I finally get to meet properly

Amy and I finally get to meet properly

Looking back at West End Lane in 1916

One hundred years ago, West End Lane was a very different place – though there were some similarities with today’s busy commercial street too. At the end of this article is the street directory from 1916.

Looking down West End Lane from West End Green (1927)

Looking down West End Lane from West End Green (1927)

There were far fewer eating places and bars in 1916 than there are today – though some still exist. The dining rooms at Nos. 291 and 327 are still restaurants (One Bourbon and Thunderbird Bar respectively). The Railway Hotel is still there at No. 100, having gone through several changes, and The Black Lion is much older still, though in 1916 it was just another unnamed beershop. Further down towards Kilburn, another unnamed beershop at No. 12 was the Bird in Hand, which is now a residential building.

In 1916, coal was still an important domestic fuel, brought by train and unloaded in West Hampstead’s extensive railway sidings before being delivered to your door. Coal merchants were prominent either side of Iverson Road and opposite, at Nos.144, 154 and 156.

The seven large houses between Acol Road and Woodchurch Road (38 to 50 West End Lane), were destroyed by a V1 flying bomb on 20 June 1944. This was the first of nine Doodlebugs that landed in West Hampstead and Kilburn. This one killed 18 people and caused huge damage. It was left as a bomb site until Hampstead Council opened Sidney Boyd Court in 1953. Sidney Boyd was a doctor, local councillor and mayor of Hampstead for seven years throughout the war.

The railways that define so much of West Hampstead’s landscape were of course already up and running by 1916, and all three stations existed, though the train lines were all different. The Jubilee Line was the Metropolitan Railway. The Overground station was “West End Lane” station on the London and North Western Railway, while the Thameslink line was the Midland Railway.

Today, we all know that estate agents dominate West Hampstead. A hundred years ago there were just two: Ernest Owers at 106 West End Lane (now Benham & Reeves), and Massey, Souray and Co. at 247 West End Lane (now Insight Opticians). Massey, Souray and Co. later moved to No. 192 – where Parkheath is today.

Ernest Owers and Williams had opened in 1872 and was influential in the development of West Hampstead and Golders Green. In December 1931, Ernest Owers was the victim of a violent attack at the West End Lane office. He had notified jeweller Ernest Phillips that the mortgage on his shop must be paid off. Phillips came to the office yelling at Owers, You are a robber and a thief and I shall put you away. Then he suddenly threw nitric acid into Owers’ face, which narrowly missed blinding him. In court, Phillips said he was sorry, but the judge said a severe punishment was called for and sentenced him to three years imprisionment. Ernest’s wife died a few months after the attack, while he moved to Brighton where he died in 1938. Ernest was an extremely wealthy man and left the equivalent of around £19 million and as he had no children, most of the money went to hospitals and other good causes.

No.90 West End Lane was the West Hampstead Police Station which opened in 1882 at a cost of £3,971. This is now a council-run hostel (on the corner of West End Lane and West Hampstead Mews. The police station had an inspector’s office, a charge room, a waiting room and three cells. The largest cell was known as ‘the drunk tank’. The police station moved to its current location in Fortune Green Road in 1972.

Perhaps the most striking difference between 1916 and 2016 is the huge variety of independent shops that existed a hundred years ago; from the usual grocers, butchers and bakers; to boot makers, a photographer and a cycle shop. Charles Debenham at No.222 was a member of a photographic family; his father William Elliott Debenham had studios at 158 Regent Street and Haverstock Hill. In 1916, much of their work would have involved photographing members of the armed forces, leaving for the Front. Edward Pond at No.349 had taken over from the Delevante Cycle Works which opened in 1892. Pond, who diversified to include motorcycles, traded here until 1939.

Today’s West Hampstead Fruit and Vegetables, at No.243 was a chemist for many years. Alban Atkin took over from a homeopathic chemist in 1904. A local councillor, he is buried in Hampstead Cemetery and was succeeded in the business by his son of the same name. The shop closed around 1990 and was a timewarp right to the very end, with large glass fronted wooden cabinets and beautiful glass apothecary jars. The dispensary was at the far end of the shop, under a huge clock. The window display was a low key one, and for many years its centrepiece was a red neon sign advertising Yardley cosmetics.

There were also a large number of doctors and dentists scattered along West End Lane. The large houses attracted professionals.

Given today’s debate about 156 West End Lane, it’s interesting to see that back then it was the home of the Canforde Lawn Tennis Club – which was on open land behind 156, though only from 1914 to 1917.

Here is the full street directory. It is a little hard to follow in places, as it swaps between the east side and west side. However, the cross-street names and of course the numbers, make it reasonably easy to decipher. One road name change: Chislett Road was renamed as a continuation of Companyne Gardens in 1936.


An Insight into: Peppercorns

Health food store Peppercorns used to be located opposite the tube station, but when Ballymore began construction of West Hampstead Square, it had to move. Now it’s up by West End Green. We spoke to the owner Mukesh Patel, who has been there for 20 years.  He runs it with his brother Nilesh, who joined him in 2002.

What brought you to West Hampstead?

I had been working in the area since 1982, down on Belsize Road. I had a newsagents and nearby there was a health food store called Abundance, which sold natural foods. I thought it would nice to work in a business like that, that you really care about.

How did I end up at Peppercorns? It  was started in 1982 by the Steeles, a New Zealand couple. She was the first person in the UK to import Manuka honey and by the mid-90s they were expanding the wholesale side of the Manuka business. In 1996 they put their two health food shops up for sale; one in Hampstead and one in West Hampstead. I happened to be reading Dalton’s Weekly and saw this health food business for sale – in West Hampstead! It was local, I was interested so I came to check out the place – with my bank manager.

Mukesh at Peppercorns

Mukesh at Peppercorns

What is your first (fondest) memory of the area?

I can’t remember, it’s that long ago! I remember that Abundance sold muesli by the kilo [Ed – or lbs as was then], which I saw when I went in to buy my veggie lunch.

What’s surprised you about how West Hampstead had changed?

I remember passing down West End Lane and it was a bit run down. There was Atlanta and Jenny’s burgers where Nando’s now is. It was quite down-market, but it has really gentrified.

The arrival of the big chains does make it a bit like every other high street, a bit of a monoculture. The worrying thing is that it really makes it difficult for the independents to pay the rent.

Gail’s probably paid a bit over the market rate but other landlords see that and think they can raise the rents they charge. Independents can’t survive if they can’t afford to pay the rent.

What’s for lunch?

I buy my own ! We have loads of healthy, vegetarian takeaways.

If I don’t eat here I used to go to Dylan’s or sometimes to Bella Luna who do a very good pasta lunch special.

West Hampstead in three words?

Lively, friendly and increasingly health-conscious

Colour Division closes after 42 years

West Hampstead became a little less colourful last week. Ironically, it was with handwritten note not something printed that Colour Division announced last week that it was closing.  It will be missed.

Colour Division makes a sad announcement

Colour Division makes a sad announcement

Colour Division was not just one of the longest standing business in the area (it was set up in the mid-70s, under Edward Heath’s government during the three-day week), it was also one of the most social businesses with a loyal customer base.

David Jacobs, who we all knew as Dave, explained that although he was really sad about having to close the business, “since it happened there has been a fantastic response from customers and suppliers”.  It was a tough decision for him to make, but it has been made a little easier “knowing that people really feel for you”.

When Colour Division celebrated its 40th anniversary, Dave was open about how the business was facing challenges. Colour Division had changed with the times: when it first opened, its customers were photocopying letterheads and fanzines (iD magazine was first printed here), but more recently it had moved heavily into digital printing, colour photographic prints and Linked-in portraits.

However, the world was changing faster than Colour Division could keep up with.  Dave looked into other options, including clients investing in the business and moving to a different location (he had at one stage thought about moving into the Sherriff Centre). But moving the equipment alone would have cost £20,000. To survive, the business needed an injection of capital, which the banks were reluctant to lend.

Dave and Steve in happier times back in 2014

Dave and Steve in happier times back in 2014

Other factors he cites are the tough parking enforcement regime and lack of pay & display bays, which he estimated cut revenue by 25% in recent years. And of course, like so many other traditional businesses, printing has been disrupted by online competitors. Vistaprint alone did $1.2 billion of business in the year to June 30th.

Rising rents didn’t help matters, although Dave was at pains to point out how supportive his landlord had been in trying to find a solution. Even so, annual rent of £30-40,000 plus business rates of £15,000 meant that Colour Division’s fixed costs were substantial for what is essentially a low-margin business.

What does the future hold? At the moment, Dave is dealing with the insolvency, not something he has experienced before! When things quieten down he plans to more photography and maybe do something with his nephew or brother (with whom he started the business). Both of them are in the printing business.

Whatever Dave decides, West Hampstead wishes him – and Steve and Debbie – all the best.  Without you West Hampstead will be, well, just a bit less Colourful.

An insight into: Insight Opticians

One of the things that gives West Hampstead its character is the independent shops and local groups. We though we’d plan a series (and let’s see where this goes) asking them a few questions about their experiences of the neighbourhood.

Where better to start for an insight into West Hampstead than with Kiran Vyas. Kiran has just celebrated 30 years on West End Lane running Insight Opticians.

Kiran at Insight

Kiran at Insight Opticians

What brought you to West Hampstead?
Chance brought me to West Hampstead! Back in 1986, Julian Leveson, who had previously run the business passed away suddenly. Julian was from South Africa and his family didn’t know what to do with it. They asked a friend for suggestions, that friend happened to be a friend of mine, so he asked if I was interested in buying it.

At the time I had just qualified and was working at my brother’s practice down in Wimbledon, but was looking to open my own practice. I was living in Edgware (where I had relocated after being expelled from Uganda in 1972, and still live) and so having the option of my own optician’s practice closer to home was good timing.

There has been an opticians on this site since 1948. It was originally opened by Irving Shoot, who owned it until about 1965. He sold it to Daniel Martin, who moved to Canada. Daniel sold it to Stephen Isaacs, who made millions as For Eyes opticians. Julian bought it in about 1980. I then took it over and renamed it Insight Opticians.

What is your fondest memory of the area?
There are a number of shops I remember, but the one I miss most is the old apothecary, where the fruit shop is now. It was a quirky little shop with old wooden fittings run by an interesting old fellow called Arthur who was a herbalist as well as pharmacist. Unfortunately, he got robbed and was tied up; he sold up shortly afterwards.

Insight at 30

Insight Opticians – Happy 30th birthday!

What’s surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?
In some ways it is that the community feel that was there then is still here today. Since the arrival of the chain stores it is becoming a little more impersonal but change is inevitable – a necessary evil. The older population still retains this community feel. The challenge is to change the business in a way that encourages the new younger clients, but still retains the older clientele.

What was for lunch?
We are spoilt for choice! The neighbouring Banana Tree is always good, Lena’s up West End Lane is good and the fruit and vegetable shop is also good and is an inspiration to become healthy.

West Hampstead in three words?
Awesome, vibrant and friendly

West Hampstead welcomes Gail’s

Not just a bakery, but another cafe

Not just a bakery, but another cafe

So, Gail’s opened on time (now that is a surprise for a building project round here) and West Hampstead got all excited. The opening offers added to the buzz but Twitter was all aflutter.

It’s good to see that it has branded itself differently here to its other outlets – apparently it’s part of its approach to fit in locally to each area (though as the tweet below suggests, it may have some work to do in that regard.)

As with their other branches it is both a both a bakery and a café.

What was also noticeable yesterday was that the staff were in casual clothes, but it turns out they were mostly extra staff drafted in to help for the opening. Today when things were calmer, staff were back to black with maroon Gail’s aprons.

The manager said they were pleased with how things went. These upmarket grocers are on the pricey side…

…but if the Hampstead Butcher and Providore is anything to go by it seems that West Hampstead’s growing affluence means they’ll do just fine.

A really rubbish article

West Hampstead street rubbish

No, not a slipping of standards, but an article on something dear to your hearts: rubbish on West End Lane. The amount of rubbish on our busy commercial streets was an issue raised repeatedly at Neighbourhood Development Forum meeting, but fell outside its scope. And the saga of the Sainsbury’s bin, remember that?, also captured the strength of local feelings. In a bid to clean up West Hampstead, Camden Council is introducing time-banded collections on the commercial parts of West End Lane and Fortune Green Road (but not Mill Lane, yet).

From the 6th June, commercial and residential waste can be put out only at certain times and will be collected shortly after. Twice a day on West End Lane and three times day on Fortune Green Road. Camden has told businesses and residents this is happening and has liaised with private contractors about it. The hope is that this education campaign, and the fact that it is their own best interests, will persuade businesses and residents to get in the habit of disposing of their waste correctly. Camden is taking a zero-tolerance approach and will issue fixed penalty notices to offenders but really hope that this is not necessary.

Time-banded collections are used elsewhere across the borough (Camden High Street, Kentish Town Road, Hampstead) to manage the problem of litter on busy commercial/retail areas, which are also residential areas (particularly with flats above shops). It seems to work elsewhere, so we are hopeful that introducing it on West End Lane and Fortune Green Road will improve the litter and fly tipping situation.

Blackburn Road has its own  problems. Will Camden extend the scheme?

Blackburn Road has its own problems. Will Camden extend the scheme?

The cause of the rubbish problem on our main streets is two fold, firstly commercial waste, which is generated by local shops and businesses. This can be collected by a number of contractors, not just Camden Council, which has little control over when other licensed waste collection companies collect their waste. So it could be there all day. It is also possible that some businesses are trying to avoid paying for waste collection and are just dumping their waste. That said you would think there was a fairly strong incentive for businesses, as they would presumably prefer their customers didn’t have to wade across mountains of trash – it is not really conducive to a pleasant retail environment.

Second problem, flats above shops generally lack any outside bin to store waste until a regular weekly collection (unlike those who live in purely residential streets). Residents therefore tend to leave tied-up supermarket bags of rubbish at random times of the day, seven days a week. These bags also seem to contain a large proportion of potentially and easily recyclable waste (bottles, can and plastic) which if recycled at, for example, the West End Green recycling centre, would reduced the amount of rubbish. Camden recycles 26% of its waste (by which of course I mean our waste) which is well short of the target of 40% by 2020. The North West London Waste authority NWLA, of which Camden is part, has an even higher target of 50% by 2020.

Here’s hoping for a cleaner and greener West Hampstead Life.

Veolia truck

End of an era: La Brocca changes hands tomorrow

La Brocca open for brunch on the Locke's last day

La Brocca open for brunch on the Lockes’ last day

Tonight will be the last time David Locke presides over the bar at ever-popular wine & sports bar La Brocca.

After an incredible 24 years of being open 7 days a week, this West Hampstead institution that’s as well known for its jazz as its rugby nights (and early mornings), will be changing hands.

The Urban Leisure Group, which owns both The Gallery and The Alice House in West Hampstead as well as five other bars, is taking over as of Monday morning. Hezi Yeichel, from Queens Park-based ULG, told us that the company “plans to run La Brocca in a similar way to as it is now”, and will be keeping the pizzas going. The name La Brocca will also continue for the time being.

David and his wife Edda, who have run the place since its inception are not being forced out. They are retiring. David, to the surprise of many, is 71 and the time has come for a change of pace. He is understandably emotional about the end of an era, but will have many fond memories of the bar from England’s rugby world cup win to many of the jazz nights that have livened up West End Lane over the years.

Back in 2011, when West Hampstead Life spoke to David on the bar’s 20th anniversary, he told us, “The jazz is a love but it doesn’t make me money. You want to know how to make a million pounds out of jazz? Start off with two million.”

Simon Whiteside (right), next to David Locke

Simon Whiteside (right), next to David Locke, Chris Lowe on trombone and Dominic Howles on the bass. Photo via Eugene Regis

Today, local jazz maestro Simon Whiteside who has played regularly at the bar for years, put together an impromptu surprise concert for David.

Simon said afterwards, “La Brocca has been a wonderful bar & beanery for many moons supporting jazz musicians by providing a venue where it felt comfortable & inspiring to play. David & Edda have run a great place for more than 20 years and I’ve been privileged to be part of the music scene there. In that time La Brocca has seen births, deaths, marriages & jazz careers born & built. I’m glad I was able to play a tune today in honour of one of the true arts venues founded & run on family principles.”

In the short-term, David and Edda are off to their second home in Cyprus for the summer. Tonight, we can expect a few glasses to be raised in their honour. They have most definitely played an enormous role in making West Hampstead the place it is.

And what of the enormous bull’s head that adorns the wall upstairs? “We only had it on loan,” says David. “It’s going back to its owner”. Just another big gap that the new owners will have to fill as we say farewell and good luck to the Lockes.

David Locke in 2011. Photo Moya Sarner

David Locke in 2011. Photo Moya Sarner

Adios to businesses on one block of West End Lane

The rapid rise of the West Hampstead Square towers is the most visible sign of change in the neighbourhood, but the retail landscape is changing fast too. Foxtons in, Mamacita and Social out, Holistic… no-one seems quite sure.

Most of the changes are happening on the strip of West End Lane bookended by Tesco and Sainsbury. Clothes shop Social closed its doors for the last time on Monday after 10 years.


Next door to Social, hair salon Holistic has been told it may also have to close and find new premises. Hakki, the manager at Holistic, said that the landlord, who also owns Social’s premises, has a potential tenant interested in taking both units and turning them into one large double shop (the unconfirmed rumour is that this might be a chain bakery). However, Hakki hopes to hear in the next few weeks that the salon will be able to renew its lease and continue operating where it has been for 19 years, but this is yet to be confirmed.

Finally, Mamacita announced on Twitter that it was closing, after less than two years in West Hampstead. The owners have told West Hampstead Life that although they can’t reveal the identity of the new tenant, it should be another independent business.


What would you like to see opening on West End Lane? Over to you in the comments below or on the forum.

West End Lane could soon be clear of agents’ boards

Last February, we reported on local resident Alan Grogan’s campaign to rid West End Lane of the large number of estate agents’ boards that were attached to many properties along the road. Many agents responded swiftly to our article and, within a couple of weeks, had voluntarily removed their boards from buildings. However, quite a few of the signs still remain up more than a year later.

This week, just as Foxtons added to the glut of estate agents on West End Lane, Alan got the news he’d been hoping for. Camden Council has submitted the Regulation 7 Application to ban all estate agents’ boards for the stretch of West End Lane between the tube station north to David’s Deli. This means that barring any major objections, the proposal should pass in the next few months.

Alan said that he is hoping the ban will come into effect “in time for the summer and we’ll have a very, very nice looking high street”.

Two of the signs still on West End Lane that would have to come down if Camden’s proposal is passed




Butcher and deli opens on West End Lane

Hampstead Butcher_meat

The Hampstead Butcher and Providore opened its doors this morning fulfilling the wishes of many people over the years who’ve demanded a butcher return to West End Lane. It’s the second bite of the cherry for owner Philip Matthews, who came close to opening in West End Lane a couple of years ago.

The business, which continues to operate its Rosslyn Hill branch in Hampstead, has taken over the greengrocer’s site next to The Wet Fish Café. Alongside the fresh meat, the shop also has a charcuterie and cheese section (which I suspect may outperform the meat), a selection of deli items both fresh and tinned, and a reasonable selection of wine and beer (predominantly from popular local brewery Camden Town).

Photo via Simon Whiteside

Photo via Simon Whiteside

There was a steady trickle of people investigating the shop on this drizzly morning though it was noticeable that the farmer’s market was positively busy, while owner Philip Matthews prowled around with his snagging list clipboard. The floor apparently isn’t right, and the original floor tiles need an additional treatment (though the casual observer would never know).

Hampstead Butcher_wine

The great challenge the Hampstead Butcher faces is whether enough West Hampstead residents are willing to pay frequently for the high quality traceable meat it sells. Matthews will be hoping that the clamour for a butcher over the years will marry with the tough economics of delivering high quality fresh meat. He also offers a home delivery service. For West Hampstead, it’s another sign that the area is increasingly seen as one of growing affluence.

Hampstead Butcher_sausages

Sensibly, the shop will stay open reasonably late in the evenings to capture the commuters returning from work. The opening hours are 10am-8pm weekdays, 9am-8pm Saturday and 9am-6pm Sunday. Due to a lack of space, the butcher’s popular tasting sessiona and events will be available only in its Hampstead branch for the time being.

Remix latest victim in West Hampstead burglary spree

Remix’s new bar/salon on Broadhurst Gardens is the latest victim in a spate of break-ins to West Hampstead businesses that’s now reached double figures in the past few weeks.


Remix’s new premises on the north side of Broadhurst Gardens was the latest target after its salon opposite had already been hit

After West End Lane Books and La Brocca suffered burglaries at the weekend, Remix’s new premises was burgled in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Intruders broke in at the back of the building and stole the till, a company laptop, alcohol from the salon’s new bar, and hairdressing equipment. Salon manager Nick Petkov said he was bemused by some of the items stolen, which included scissors, clippers and top-of-the-range shampoo.

Danny Van Emden from West End Lane books said it was “utterly inspiring how lovely everyone’s been”, adding that since the incident in which £140 was stolen but no books were touched, sympathetic customers had brought biscuits, croissants and flowers, and that the shop had received around 400 supportive tweets. “The response of our customers, both in person and on Twitter, mitigated the sadness we felt on Saturday morning.”

A couple of doors down, La Brocca was also broken into on Saturday night, and had bottles of alcohol stolen.

Other West End Lane businesses that have been targeted recently include Toomai, hairdresser Holistic, health food shop Health Town, Remix’s other Broadhurst Gardens premises, Pro Arte the violin shop, the Sherriff Centre, and a couple of businesses on Finchley Road.

Tim Khoshsima of Health Town said that his shop’s front window and glass shelves were smashed, and thieves made off with the till and items of stock including protein supplements and beauty products. He said “I love West Hampstead as an area to do business, but this has made me realise we need to be more careful”. He added that he planned to take more precautions agains burglaries, including fitting a shutter.

Sergeant Ian Hutton from the West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhood team believes the burglaries may be linked, and the burglary squad is investigating. CCTV footage exists of at least one of the break-ins, in another case, the CCTV unit itself was stolen.

Sgt Hutton advised businesses not to keep large amounts of cash on premises, as this is the main target for thieves. He also advised that if people see anything suspicious especially at the rear of shops that they call the police then, not leave it until the morning. If you are suspicious, 101 is appropriate, but if you believe a crime is taking place 999 is the correct call.

The police can also give free crime prevention advice to any business that requests it. Just call 101.

Toomai thieves steal cash, champagne and… prawns

Burglars broke into pan-Asian restaurant Toomai on Sunday night, making off with the weekend’s cash takings and causing damage to the premises.

Sachin Mulane, proprietor of the West End Lane restaurant, said that the intruders had entered the building by climbing onto the roof and breaking a window to gain access to the kitchen at the back. Guglee, also co-owned by Sachin, was broken into earlier this year.

Although they were unable to open the locked till, they took envelopes of cash from the basement office, as well as five bottles of champagne and, bizarrely, a bag of prawns that had been left out to thaw. A cash collection towards a staff Christmas party was also taken.

Worse than the missing cash, Sachin said, was the chaos and vandalism he discovered throughout the premises. Electronic point-of-sale equipment was damaged, and the kitchen’s order printer destroyed. Food in the kitchen that had been prepared in advance had to be discarded in case it had been tampered with. The thieves had even tried to remove the large TV screen in the front window, but were unable to wrench it off its metal pole.

Despite the setbacks, Toomai was open as usual for lunch on Monday.

The waiting is over. Waitrose is here


You’d think it was the second coming. Excitement levels on Twitter – where usually everyone is so level-headed and calm, right? – have been reaching fever pitch. But even yesterday it looked as if the fitters had their work cut out to get West Hampstead’s newest supermarket ready in time for this morning’s 7am opening. The mad dash to get the place finished has been disruptive for local residents, who have complained about lorries blocking access to the mews to the side of the building during the works.

Photo courtesy of Richard Clegg

Photo courtesy of Richard Clegg


Spit & polish…


Hoovering up the crumbs


The store manager is now open

Jennifer Brown, Chair of the West Hampstead Women’s Centre, and Geoff Berridge of the West Hampstead Community Centre were there for the ribbon cutting. Waitrose West Hampstead will share £6,000 and 100 staff working hours a year between these two organisations and the C4WS Homeless Project.

Store manager Nicky Clifford-Goss, flanked by Jane Brown and Geoff Berridge and assorted staff (sorry, partners)

Store manager Nicky Clifford-Goss, flanked by Jane Brown and Geoff Berridge and assorted staff (sorry, partners)

The new store, which has taken over from Pizza Express (causing the buggy brigade to both fret and rejoice simultaneously), does not, unsurprisingly, have a fresh meat or fish counter. So, the Hampstead Butcher & Providores should manage to cling on to that business when it opens across the road in a week or so’s time. There is coffee though, out of a machine and free to myWaitrose card holders, and some seating outside at the front, which may not please West Hampstead’s café owners, despite Waitrose’s development director Nigel Keen stating that he welcomes the chance to “play our part in ensuring [West Hampstead] remains a vibrant village”.

Local resident and early-riser Mandira Bhimjiyani was excited by the new store. “I love a good Waitrose,” she said. “Any supermarket that thinks tiramisu is essential is ok with me.”

Inside, one quickly realised how rarely you see a fully-stocked supermarket. The shop seemed to have a reasonable range of products, including a few things for the anti-Waitrose brigade to mock, such as milk alternatives and the world’s pricest mac & cheese.

Full fat also available

An oddly precise price

An oddly precise price

Little Waitrose, as the retail chain’s convenience store format is branded, has been some time in the offing. It’s never entirely clear why the levels of reverence Waitrose elicits are directly proportional to the dislike heaped on its rivals – especially Tesco. Yes, it probably sells slightly better quality food but perhaps people are genuinely impressed that even though it’s a chain, it’s a chain owned by its employees. We wrote about the original John Lewis, whose son lived in Kilburn, back in May.

The store’s opening hours are 7am to 10pm daily. Deliveries – always a bane for local motorists – have been planned to cause less disruption than Tesco’s, though will be early for local residents.


Is it a posh hotel? A boutique? No, it's a Little Waitrose. Photo via @bubela

Is it a posh hotel? A boutique? No, it’s a Little Waitrose. Photo via @bubela

Train to teach in West Hampstead

With excellent employment prospects, good starting salaries and highly rewarding work, becoming a teacher is a viable option for those with degrees either looking to go back to work or changing careers.

LDBS SCITT, one of the UK’s most dedicated teacher training institutions, has recently relocated to West End Lane. Providing a highly personalised teaching approach with trainees spending more time in school classrooms, its employment rate for graduates has been 100% over the past four years.

There is a growing demand for teachers in London, particularly in inner city schools. Once employed, newly qualified teachers earn a minimum of £27,000 with the government planning to introduce £70,000 salaries for top-performing teachers. With a range of benefits including a substantial teachers’ pension and school holidays, teachers also gain an incredible sense of satisfaction from seeing the difference they make as their pupils progress and strive to reach their potential in life.

LDBS SCITT's new premises on West End Lane

LDBS SCITT’s new premises on West End Lane

To become a teacher, those who have three years work experience can train via the School Direct programme in a local school whilst earning a salary, or study for a PGCE.

Why West Hampstead?

“With its thriving village feel, West Hampstead is popular amongst educated professionals and young families who may be interested in switching to a teaching career and the idea of giving something back to society and the community,” says LDBS SCITT Programme Director Liz George. “We attract high-quality graduates from varied backgrounds and our school-centred teacher training leads our trainees to become successful, confident, effective teachers who often go on to teach in their local primary or secondary school.”

Liz George, LDBS SCITT Programme Director

Liz George, LDBS SCITT Programme Director

LDBS SCITT is hosting Open Days on November 13th and January 15th for those considering a career in teaching.

TraintoteachKaty Forsdyke, Headteacher of Hampstead’s Christchurch Primary School, adds, “Many career changers are now retraining as teachers via School Direct, a one year, school-led route into teaching. Providing entirely ‘on-the-job’ training, the programme allows you to gain the qualifications and skills required to becoming a teacher whilst working in the school.”

Teaching requires excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to speak confidently in public so it’s a good idea to get some classroom experience to ensure this is the right career choice for you. Contact several schools in your area to find out where you can volunteer as there may be a waiting list, or you can attend one of our Teacher Taster days held every month.

Sponsored post

A butcher arrives in West End Lane – finally

It’s a cry that has reverberated round the streets and social media networks of the area for years: “Why can’t West Hampstead have a butcher?” Now the (non-vegetarian, at least) residents of West Hampstead have reason to celebrate.

Beef ribs will be aged and matured on the premises (Photo:

Beef ribs will be aged and matured on the premises (Photo:

The Hampstead Butcher and Providore, a well-known fixture on Rosslyn Hill in Hampstead, has announced that it will open a second branch on West End Lane in October. The shop will be situated at the site next door to the Wet Fish Café, which is currently a greengrocer’s.

Like its Hampstead shop, the West End Lane branch will stock fresh cuts of meat as well as a range of prepared terrines, pies, pâtés and convenient “oven-ready choices”. Those who place importance on the provenance of the meat they buy will be pleased to hear about the company’s ethos, which promises “British, fresh, traceable, ethically-reared meat”. It will also sell wine, which may soften the blow of nearby Brooksby Wines closure.

Philip Matthews, owner of the business, said that West Hampstead was the logical choice of area to open a second shop: “It’s always been number one on our shortlist of London villages – many of our customers travel over from West Hampstead anyway, so the demand for quality meat is clearly there”. The business had investigated opening here a couple of years ago, but the deal fell through, much to the anguish of many locals.

Philip is keen for the business to engage with and become a part of the local community, with plans for wine and food tasting events in the future. He commented “Now it’s time for West Hampstead residents to uphold their end of the bargain and come in and shop with us”.

Let’s hope the carnivorous locals cries for a butcher translate into support for the new venture. The meat stalls at the farmers’ market are always busy, and with Waitrose soon to open just across from the new butcher as well, the demand for good quality meat may just about be sated soon.



Should Billy Fury Way be closed?

If you’ve ever needed to get from West End Lane to Finchley Road on foot, chances are you’ve peered down Billy Fury Way, the footpath linking the two roads, and then decided to keep walking and taken a brighter-lit alternative, such as Lymington Road or Blackburn Road.


The Billy Fury mural as seen from West End Lane

Now, Cllr Philip Rosenberg is questioning whether the path, which was given a makeover only three years ago, should be kept open at all, and is inviting locals to give their opinions on what the future of the footpath should be. Discussion has already started on Twitter, with different viewpoints being aired:

Philip Rosenberg recently met with representatives of the Lithos Road Residents’ Association, who complained of the antisocial behaviour the path, which links through to their road, seems to attract, such as drinking, drug use, people “loitering”, and dumping of rubbish.


A pile of cans close to the Finchley Road end of the path

At yesterday’s Safer Neighbourhoods meeting, he raised the issue with local police, who confirmed it is a problematic area to patrol, and often used as an escape route by criminals.

There seem to be a few options to make Billy Fury Way a safer, more salubrious footpath: the first is improving it with better lighting, a thorough clean-up, and more police patrols. Philip Rosenberg points out that this would require investment which, after the last round of police and council funding cuts, may be better spent elsewhere especially if the path is not well-used by locals. This is why he wants to understand locals’ thoughts on a second option of permanently closing the path altogether. This would probably mean closing the middle section from the path at the back of the Blackburn Road student accommodation to the path into the Lithos estate. This would still provides access at either end but cut off any getaway route.

Over to the residents of West Hampstead: Is Billy Fury Way a convenient cut-through, or a crime hotspot? Do you use it at present, and would you be more inclined to walk down it in the daytime or nighttime if the lighting was better or if it felt safer somehow? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet Cllr Rosenberg @PhilR_R


View of the railway bridge section of path, looking towards West Hampstead

The even less salubrious Finchley Road end of the path

The even less salubrious Finchley Road end of the path

Foxtons starts process of moving into former post office

It’s been a persistent rumour ever since the post office announced it was moving from its site on West End Lane to St James’ Church. Now it looks like the rumour is true. Estate agent Foxtons – it of the ubiquitous green and yellow Minis – has applied to the council for a change of use for the post office site so it can open there.

Those who argue that West Hampstead already has a lot of estate agents might find it hard to come up with strong objections – taking over an empty site is always going to be an easier sell to the council. Objectors would have to hope that Camden considers the claim that “the occupation of the unit by Foxtons would contribute to the vitality and viability of the town centre” is nonsense and that instead another estate agent on a street that already has about a dozen instead contributes to the creeping homogenisation of the town centre and adds very little to what is already a crowded market.

The supporting documentation for the application can be found here, and is the most interesting read. The full application is here. Consultation runs until September 9th. If consent is given, expect Foxton’s “modern, café-style, open environment” to be appearing on West End Lane very soon.

Balcony fall kills West Hampstead doctor who ran local Face Clinic

On Wednesday evening, locals were shocked as Dr Nazim Mahmood lay on the pavement outside Barclays Bank at the corner of West End Lane and Fawley Road having fallen from the balcony of his top floor apartment above.

Depsite the best efforts of ambulance crews, Dr Mahmood, 34, was pronounced dead at the scene by a doctor from the London Air Ambulance. Police came under fire for being unable to find a tent to put around the body, which was instead covered in a blanket and lay there for some hours before being removed as commuters walked past during the late evening rush hour.

Dr Mahmood – known to locals as Dr Nas – had opened a new branch of his Face Clinic business last August at Health Town, the relatively new West End Lane shop a few yards down the road that both sells health-related products as well as offering treatments from a variety of practictioners.

He and his partner, Matthew Ogston, and only moved to West Hampstead a few months ago and the clinic in Health Town was their third after branches in Soho and Harley Street.

Although the cause of death has not been determined, police are treating it as non-suspicious. Local osteopath Ben Posen, who also operates out of Health Town tweeted earlier today, “Very sad to return to work and discover that the man who died on West End Lane was Dr Nas. He was a lovely man.”

Nazim Mahmood

[CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said that the the West Hampstead clinic was yet to open. This was wrong, and West Hampstead Life apologises for the mistake]

“One no trump”: The history of Acol Bridge Club

Acol Road gave its name to one of the world’s pre-eminent bridge bidding systems after the Acol Social and Bridge Club opened at No. 15 in 1930. Since then, the club has changed locations, names and been a regular haunt of Omar Sharif.

Omar Sharif was a regular visitor to the Acol club

Omar Sharif was a regular visitor to the Acol club

15 Acol Road was the home of silk merchant and wholesale milliner William Frederick Druiffe. He traded, together with his brothers Herbert and Godfrey, as Druiffe Brothers at 27 Fore Street in London and 18 Victoria Street in Toronto, Canada. William had married Julia Laurance in 1898 and they had two children who were born in Brondesbury Villas. The family moved to Acol Road in 1909 and William became the first Secretary of the Acol Club when it opened in 1930. He placed an interesting advert in the Times on 24 March:

Capable and experienced lady wanted to take charge of the bridge room of one of the newest and most enterprising bridge clubs of NW London. Applicants must have great personal charm, be quite alive, and have plenty of initiative, able to play a really first-class game, and have a good following.

Skid Simon and Jack Marx devised the Acol System in the mid 1930s. Other talented players associated with its early development were Maurice Harrison-Gray, Iain Macleod (who became Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1970), Ben Cohen and Terence Reese. Cohen and Reese published The Acol Two Club in 1938 and subsequent editions were issued under the title of The Acol System of Contract Bridge. In Bridge is an Easy Game (1952), Macleod wrote “Acol was still only a series of ideas unproven in play, unwritten in any bridge journal. We hammered out our theories in endless sessions night after night into the small hours.”

15 Acol Road - home of the original Acol Bridge Club

15 Acol Road – home of the original Acol Bridge Club

The club stayed in Acol Road until at least 1935. William Druiffe moved to a flat at nearby 20 Woodchurch Road. He died in February 1937 and was buried at Willesden Jewish Cemetery.

As Macleod wrote, “The war, of course, scattered Bridge players and ended Bridge.” In 1946 the West End Bridge Club opened at 86 West End Lane. In 1955 it became the New Acol Bridge Club and Omar Sharif actor and top-ranked bridge player, regularly visited the club in the 1950s and 1960s

Acol Bridge Club on West End Lane today

Acol Bridge Club on West End Lane today

The club was renamed the Acol Bridge Club in 1971. In 1993, it reopened after a complete refit and was run by Andrew Robson, former world junior and current European bridge champion, who had partnered Sharif in the past. Robson aimed to open up the game to non-players using his ‘new fascinating and fun concept’ of teaching. He left Acol to open his own club in 1995. Today the Acol Bridge Club and Academy is run by Andrew McIntosh and Noorul Malik who emphasise “learning, friendliness and a very social atmosphere.”

Unexpected items in the bagging area: West Hampstead grocer mixes staples with rarities

Last Saturday, West Hampstead Fruit and Vegetables finally opened its doors. Local foodies had been excitedly awaiting its arrival, eager to get their 7 a day. There’s been a steady stream of customers since then, and tweets have been overwhelmingly positive. But is the range of produce more imaginative than the name above the door?


The shop, opposite Tesco on West End Lane, is Mel and Aziz Ahsak’s second greengrocer’s in the area. The husband and wife team also own Swiss Cottage Grocers on Finchley Road. Why did they choose to branch out to West Hampstead? They offer a delivery service and Mel said “We noticed we have a lot of customers in West Hampstead”. She confirms that in the few days the shop has been open, business has been brisk. “People have welcomed us, and we’ve had some lovely comments.”

The shop is extremely well-stocked with an array of vibrant and colourful produce, from everyday basics like potatoes and carrots to exotic fruit (fancy a fejoia or a yellow pithaya?) and fancypants heirloom tomatoes. There are also other groceries such as eggs, nuts and herbs.

Quiz: How many fruits can you name?

Quiz: How many fruits can you name?

Mel says that, where possible, produce is sourced from the UK, so expect to find apples from Kent and UK-grown mushrooms, as well as other local fruit and vegetable varieties in season. She and her team taste the produce themselves each day to make sure they’re happy to have it on sale – there’s even a small kitchen in the basement for cooking vegetable samples.

Do Mel and Aziz feel threatened by the nearby Tesco and Sainsbury’s? Mel is confident that their business is ready for the challenge. She points out that their opening hours are comparable (they’re open every day from 8am until 10pm) and that pricing is competitive. In addition to this, there’s a much wider variety of fresh produce than you’ll find at the supermarket, and it’s possible to buy the exact amount you need, rather than large packets that go to waste in the fridge.

All the mushrooms

All the mushrooms

If you’re confused about how to cook with the different varieties of produce – I counted seven different types of aubergine – the knowledgeable staff are on hand to help. Manager Artur Topolewski is a trained chef and can help pick out the most suitable specimens for whatever you’re cooking. A far cry from “unexpected item in the bagging area”.

If West Hampstead Fruit and Vegetables can continue as it’s started, we can see it being a big success on West End Lane.

OK, here are some of the answers...

OK, here are some of the answers…

Happy Birthday! Colour Division turns 40

If you’re interested in how West Hampstead has changed since the mid-1970s, you could do worse than have a chat with David Jacobs.

Dave, as he’s known to his staff and customers, has been running print shop Colour Division from the same premises on West End Lane since day one, exactly 40 years ago today. He still remembers when “the only place you could get a cup of tea was the Wimpy Bar”.

40 years and they still can't spell West Hampstead (never trustr a printer!)

40 years and they still can’t spell West Hampstead (never trust a printer!)

Things have moved on since then, not only on the West Hampstead gastronomic scene but also in the world of printing. Colour Division has seen huge changes since the early days when people queued out of the door to photocopy letterheads and fanzines. Today’s customers are more likely to request LinkedIn profile photographs or high-quality digital prints.

One thing that remains constant is the long-standing staff members; alongside Dave, Steve Twohill has been working at Colour Division for 28 years, and Debbie Harris for the past decade.

Dave and his team have built up a loyal local customer base over the years: “I think we’ve served virtually every small business in the area, many times over… from estate agents to doctors surgeries, to accountants and architects”, as well as innumerable one-person businesses and private individuals.
“We’re very embedded in the community. Everybody seems to like us and like the service. We’ve got clients literally from day one still coming here, and now we’re serving their children.”

Dave and Steve in action

Dave and Steve in action

Dave started the business with his brother Ivor who at the time was working for a magazine that needed a short-run printing service. Together with Fred and Sid Kenton, a couple of local printers, they set up Colour Division inspired by short-run instant printing services in the US. The business started under the challenging conditions of the Three Day Week – imposed by Edward Heath’s Conservative government to conserve electricity.

Dave recalls more glamorous stories from the early days though – such as West Hampstead’s lively music scene of the time. “There was a big punk scene in West Hampstead” he says, which was centred on The Railway (formerly Klooks Kleek).

He also told us about Colour Division’s role in the early days of iconic style magazine i-D, when it was produced from founders Terry and Tricia Jones’ house nearby. “i-D magazine started in West Hampstead. In the early days, the whole team used to come in. There were maybe six paste-up artists, they used to put it together here, and we printed it. It started off as a very basic thing.”

The area may have changed beyond recognition, but Dave still believes it has the same community feel as ever. He is relaxed about the arrival of big chains on West End Lane: “People knock all these big chains moving in, but actually everybody uses them.”

He continues “It’s a myth that West Hampstead is a village, but it does have a villagey feel. People have said to me ‘I’ve never been to a place where people say hello to each other’. Those are some of the best things. It’s the friendliness of everybody. It’s a people area.”

What are the downsides of West Hampstead? Dave says that the parking restrictions mean that he loses out on a lot of business. “The parking’s impossible, from a commercial point of view. I reckon we’ve lost the potential for 25% of business.” He’d also like to see new businesses come into the area: “There’s too much focus on people escaping during the day; we need more business units – more small studios would be good.”

He’s also upfront about the fact that, with ever-increasing overheads and decreasing margins, times are hard. “I’m enthusiastic about the business, but there’s more stress than ever because of the financial constraints. The banking crisis has been really tough on small businesses”.

Will Colour Division introduce 3D printing to West Hampstead? The business has managed so far to keep up with new developments in the industry and Dave isn’t ruling anything out. However, he says the technology isn’t quite there yet. “Maybe in a couple of years.” You heard it here first!

Dave is clearly passionate about hearing his customer’s stories. One of Colour Division’s services is professional portrait photography – they even have a studio downstairs – and as he flicks through his portfolio, it’s clear that he’s proud of the shots. He also knows what everyone does. “We like people. We want to talk to you about your job.”

"You tend to remember the people behind the jobs. That keeps it interesting"

“You tend to remember the people behind the jobs. That keeps it interesting”

It’s the variety of work, and the customers and stories behind each assignment, that keep things interesting for Dave. As well as jobs for large business clients, people come in with requests for photographs of newborns, or wedding invitations, or funeral orders of service.

In Dave’s own words, “It’s an unusual business, I would say. There are so many different types of jobs. You tend to remember the people behind the jobs. We’ve seen life here in the raw. That keeps it interesting.”

Since the demise of the Wimpy, where does Dave go for a cup of tea now? True to his comment earlier that people still use the chains, you’re most likely to find him clutching a Starbucks.

Agents’ boards: Good start; could do better

A striking change... but Brian Lack still remains

A striking change… but Brian Lack still remains

If you’ve been out and about in West Hampstead lately, you might have noticed a few changes. You may also remember our article on Alan Grogan’s petition a few weeks ago to officially rid West End Lane of estate agents’ boards. At the moment, the rule is that boards should come down 14 days after a property is let or sold, though in practice this rarely happens.

As a result of West Hampstead Life contacting agents about the article, many voluntarily removed all their boards from the high street. Cedar, Paramount, Dutch & Dutch, Parkheath and Vita were the first to comply, although a few Cedar boards still remain, including one from a whole other era of branding.

It’s not clear who is responsible for signs such as the one above Mamacita, which has disintegrated and can’t be easily traced to any agent. Perhaps one of the other agents might take it upon itself to do the kind thing and remove this board as well.

No change here...

No change here…

The boards now most prominent on West End Lane are those of Greene & Co and Abacus, as well as a few from agents not based in West Hampstead.

Count the Abacus boards

Count the Abacus boards

James Altman, lettings manager at Abacus, today confirmed that he has ordered all Abacus boards to be removed from West End Lane. He expects this to be done by early next week.

Altman acknowledged that some of his boards had been up for some time (one has been in place so long it has its own anti-pigeon spikes). Abacus manages the buildings opposite its offices, and claims that the freeholders are fine with the boards being up, but says that the agency sees itself as part of the community and that if the community wants the signs down, then it is happy to comply.

Abacus Pigeon

David Pollock, managing director of Greene & Co, said that he “certainly won’t be objecting to the ruling” if it comes into effect, and would be happy to remove his boards from West End Lane if he was satisfied it would result in a “level playing field”.

It won’t be clear to everyone what a ‘level playing field’ means in this context. According to Greene’s website, it has no properties for sale or rent on this stretch of West End Lane at the moment yet there are boards up. Given the 14-day rule, one must assume that either these properties have just come off the market, or that a willingness to abide by the legislation works only when everyone follows suit.

However, surely it’s the company that keeps its boards up after others have removed theirs as a gesture of goodwill that is the one tilting this mysterious metaphorical playing field in its favour – especially if these boards also exceed the 14-day rule.

Indeed, Pollock admitted that he is “slightly cautious” about removing his boards, which he sees as a valuable marketing tool, while those of other agents are still up. Yet, most other agents have now removed their boards. Over to you Mr Pollock.

Spot the difference...

A few signs have come down – but too many remain

Meanwhile, Alan Grogan is pleased with how successful his campaign has been. His petition gathered the support of 181 local residents in just two weeks, and has been submitted to Camden’s planning department in support of the Regulation 7 application that would ban all boards from the street.

According to Alan, Camden has confirmed that no estate agents have formally objected to the proposed application. Planning officer John Sheehy will submit the request in the coming weeks, and expects a decision about two to three months after this. Hopefully by then, the agents will have all voluntarily removed their signs; nevertheless, regulation would ensure they don’t creep back – and alert agents from outside the area that West End Lane should be a board-free street.

The whole process seems rather tortuous, but it’s one that Alan – and Camden – expect to pay off. In the short term, however, it seems that most local agents agree that it’s in everyone’s interests to tidy up West End Lane.

Cedar Estates boards come down [video]

Cedar sign

True to its word, Cedar Estates – the agent with the most boards on West End Lane – has been removing them today. Four other estate agents as of writing (Paramount, Vita, Parkheath and Dutch & Dutch) have also pledged to remove their boards. If you want to ensure none of them creep back, and that other agents are forced to follow suit, sign the petition. Camden council needs your signatures in order to apply for the ban. Once West End Lane is resolved, we may be able to tackle other streets.

Boards coming down. Photo via @guglee_tweet

Boards coming down. Photo via @guglee_tweet

No more estate agents’ boards on West End Lane?

West Hampstead resident Alan Grogan is a big fan of West End Lane. The only thing he doesn’t like is the large number of estate agents’ boards that he feels are a blight on the otherwise attractive street.

In conjunction with Camden council, he’s launching a petition to ban all agents boards from the road. One of the biggest offenders, Cedar Estates, has already told West Hampstead Life that it will pre-emptively comply by the end of next week.

Estate agent boards west end lane

Estate agents have to remove boards no more than 14 days after the advertised property has been let or sold. In reality they are often left for months or even years. In fact, some have been there so long they are rotting away with just the frame left attached to the buildings.

Estate agent board frame only

Oliver Kent of Vita Properties, whose name you may not know but whose face you’ll certainly recognise, even said that “our policy is to leave them up as long as possible” for the visibility and marketing.

This property on West End Lane was let two months ago

This property on West End Lane was let two months ago

Not a sign of the times

Alan argues that as the vast majority of people now search for property online, and with Rightmove hitting the 50 million pageviews mark in a single day for the first time recently, there is no longer any need for them to be there at all.

Alan found that many locals agreed that West End Lane, and other roads in the area, should be board-free. He lodged a complaint with Camden Council, and asked them to put in place a “Regulation 7 Direction” for West End Lane. This would forbid estate agents from putting up any advertising boards.

He didn’t hear back from Camden at first, but in the meantime the council had conducted its own survey and reached the same conclusion. The environment team at Camden is therefore applying for a Regulation 7 order to cover West End Lane from the tube station up to David’s Deli and Feng Sushi.

David Matthews, from Dutch & Dutch, confirmed that he had received a letter from Camden explaining this. “Dutch & Dutch are fully behind the campaign”, he said. He also agreed it was “in everyone’s interest, including estate agents, to tidy up the area.”

Many different agents’ boards are in evidence on West End Lane, but one in particular seems very well represented.


Perhaps surprisingly, Darren Yanover, managing director of Cedar Estates, said that he also agrees with the ban on boards, saying it will make the high street “look more attractive”. He has pledged to pre-emptively remove all Cedar Estates boards from West End Lane next week. He said “We want to be the first agents to remove all boards and lead by example.”

Regulation 7 orders already exist for many other streets in the borough (see Camden’s full list here), but agents are not always aware of the restrictions. No signs are allowed in Broadhurst Gardens, for example, but a rather large V-shaped board appeared above No. 184 recently. David Iny, director at Grovelands Investments, confirmed that he did not know about the restrictions and would ensure the board was taken down. He was as good as his word, and the sign has now been removed.


Vita’s Oliver Kent admitted that from a business point of view, it would be “disappointing” if the ban came in, as it remains the “cheapest and most effective form of marketing”. However, he agreed that the street would benefit from being board-free and said that Vita would comply with the regulation were it to be brought in.

Although the agents we spoke to seem broadly in favour of the move and happy to comply, it does seem that regulatory compulsion is needed. Cedar’s Darren Yanover summed it up, saying that a blanket ban would “create a level playing field”, as it would apply equally to all agents.

Sign the petition

What happens now? Camden’s letter to Alan Grogan included the following:

“We have decided that we will apply to the Secretary of State [for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson] for further controls on the street which will allow us to make it board-free.

When we write to the Secretary of State we will need to explain why we are seeking to introduce these additional controls. We will refer to survey results, numbers of enforcement complaints received, impact on visual appearance etc.”

Therefore Alan is appealing for the support of the public to gather as many signatures as possible in support of the West End Lane board ban by February 18th. You can find, and sign, the petition here.

Whamp feels like chicken tonight

Rumours surfaced on Twitter this morning of strange goings-on outside West Hampstead library.

“What’s up at the library on WEL? Film crew loitering. Multiple cameras. Road sweeper involved” (@CAMarks1)

Then a man in a chicken suit appeared.

Photograph by Charles Marks

Photograph by Charles Marks

It sounded like more than the latest Nando’s stunt, so I went to investigate.

I caught up with the film crew and digital marketing agency IMO at the Alice House where they’d based themselves for the day. Understandably, they didn’t want to reveal too many details about the video at this stage, but have promised to share it with us when it goes live. What they did tell us was that it’s an online video for a bathroom company called Bristan.

I can also reveal that the giant chicken was actually a nice man called Andy in a big furry suit, taking a well-earned break between takes and being quizzed by curious passers-by.

chicken unmasked

What has all this got to do with taps and bathroom suites? Watch this space…

Headmasters comes to West Hampstead

Next Friday, January 10th, another hairdresser arrives on West End Lane.

Ice cream or a haircut?

Ice cream or a haircut?

Headmasters is a chain with 65 unisex salons in the UK and Norway, and its West Hampstead branch will be at 220 West End Lane. Eagle-eyed readers will notice that these are the premises previously occupied by Chez Chantal.

It is tempting in prospective customers with an opening offer for the first two weeks.

It’ll be interesting to see how another salon fits in to an already crowded market. From a first glance at the price list, it looks like the closest local comparison is HOB, with a ladies’ cut and style starting at £42.

Will you be giving Headmasters a visit, or staying loyal to your regular stylist? Let me know below or on Twitter @ZENW6

Firemen “got everyone out” of West End Lane blaze

Around 10.15 last night, a fire broke out in a house near the corner of West End Lane and Messina Avenue, right by the northbound Woodchurch Road bus stop.

Photo via Simon Ashman

The property has had scaffolding up for a while.

photo via Laura Douglas

According to one local, who spoke to the fire crew after the fire was out, everyone inside the building got out safely.

@WHampstead I spoke to the firemen as they were packing up. Apparently they got everyone out & all were.ok. Big thanks to the crews.
— dali_llama (@dali_llama) November 23, 2013

Photo via Anthony Roberts

This morning, the damage is clearly visible, although is perhaps not as bad as the first images might have suggested. The fire appears to have been contained to the one building, and the clean-up and repair operation is already underway.


There’s no news yet on the cause of the fire.

A year after the crash

November 10, 2012. A 23 year-old American postgrad student at the University of Westminster is planning her evening out in Camden Town. It’s her first semester but already the small-town girl from Vermont has embraced big city living and has an eclectic bunch of friends.

In south London, a young couple and their two-year old son are looking forward to catching up with close friends north of the river.

Just after 8.30pm that Saturday night, Amy Werner, Ben Dutton, Desreen Brooks and Jackson Brooks-Dutton’s lives coincide with a truly dreadful accident. As Amy walks up West End Lane to get to Camden, and Ben, Desreen and Jackson leave their friends’ house, the driver of a Mercedes heading south down West End Lane loses control of his car.

The car heads straight towards the family. Ben’s quick reactions save his son, whom he pushes out of the way. He himself manages to jump over a wall, but Desreen is hit. It appears the car’s momentum isn’t slowed sufficently by careering into a brick wall and it continues, hitting Amy.

It’s a busy Saturday evening, there are plenty of people around who rush to help. Amazingly there are some doctors passing, who immediately try and save Desreen. The ambulance arrives incredibly quickly. It looks very bad. Desreen Brooks is pronounced dead at the scene. Amy is still alive but fighting for her life. The driver – an 83-year-old man – has to be cut from his car by the fire brigade. He is arrested, but later released without charge. The cause of the crash has still not been identified.

Desreen Brooks

The events of that Saturday night will be forever seared into the minds of the people involved. In the four years I’ve been writing West Hampstead Life, no event has sparked the collective consciousness of the local community as this tragedy. Messages of support and condolence poured in. Offers of practical help too. There was a sense that this could have happened to any of us – just walking up West End Lane on a Saturday evening.

Nothing good came out of that night. What did emerge was a reminder that people’s immediate reaction to an event like this is to come together; to do whatever they can.

It didn’t take long for the story to escalate from the pages of a local website to the local papers to the nationals. The story naturally focused heavily on Desreen – and her husband found himself doing interviews and giving soundbites; but – as when I spoke to him – this wasn’t the husband of Desreen speaking, this was the PR professional who was in total shock and was falling back on his work skills. His grief would find another far more productive outlet in the weeks and months to come.

In the Royal Free – and then St Mary’s hospital – Amy was still critical. The police tracked down and rang her parents in Dover, Vermont. It’s a small town. The kind of place where people have a couple of different jobs. The fire chief is also a detective sergeant, and runs his own property business, for example. He also happens to be Rich Werner, Amy’s Dad. It was her mum, Regina, who took the call – they thought it was a hoax at first. Why would Interpol be calling them?

Flying long-haul is uncomfortable and tedious at the best of times. I simply cannot imagine how dreadful that flight from Boston to Heathrow must have beeen for the Werners. When they got to the hospital, Amy was still alive but she had already undergone major surgery. It would be the first of many operations.

As the days passed, Amy’s condition stabilised. In no sense was she out of the woods, but the prognosis improved. There began to be talk of when she might transfer back to a hospital in the US.

I met Rich and Regina, and Amy, at St Mary’s. They had been so touched by all the support from locals who had offered them accommodation, food, and whatever support they could give. In the end, they just wanted to be as near to the hospital as they could be, so stayed in their Paddington guesthouse. I was braced for Amy to look dreadful. She was in an induced coma and I’d understood her injuries were severe. In fact, she looked remarkably well despite the fractures to her pelvis, right leg, right arm, and face as well as serioius internal injuries. Taking her parents out for dinner seemed a ridiculously banal thing to do, but who wouldn’t want a break from hospital food!

Amy did fly back to the US – it took a bit longer than her parents had hoped to get the all clear, but soon they were able to make it back. It’s been a long rehabilitation for Amy. She has lost some of the sight in one eye and has undergone substantial therapy. Today, her family is having a gathering to celebrate her progress on the slow road to recovery.

Back in London, Ben Brooks-Dutton (he changed his name after the accident) began writing about his experiences of grief in a blog. Life as a Widower has become a totemic website helping people coming to terms with their own grief – especially the untimely death of loved ones who die young. It seems to act as a cathartic device for Ben too, with posts varying from the frank to the poetic to those he writes in the guise of his son.

One year after the accident he has written:

Today is the first anniversary of Desreen’s death and contemplating what to write has troubled me more than anything else I’ve published this year. The temptation to say nothing at all has been strong… The fact that 365 days have passed since my wife was killed is of no more significance to me than if she’d died 364 or 366 days ago. It doesn’t make her any more dead than she was yesterday and nor will it make me feel any more alive tomorrow. Of course this weekend has made me retrace painful memories and intensified my grief, but making it to the end of year one has not suddenly created the turning point that I might once have expected – that I might once have been led to believe it would.

A year is an arbitary amount of time, on which we place strange importance. Today is – as Ben notes in his own post – also Remembrance Sunday. While West Hampstead chugs along with a new craft market and protests about trees, it’s worth taking a moment to remember the accident of a year ago – celebrate with the Werners and commemorate with Ben and Jackson.

Opening eve of Adam’s Grill

Kebab newcomer Adam’s Grill opened yesterday. Dan went along to road test it.

Having finally been for a jog-walk-jog, I deserved a kebab, and with Adam’s ‘flashing sign’ Grill opening tonight, this was a perfect opportunity.

With a friend in tow, we shuffled past the group of nervous owners standing by the door and immediately couldn’t find the kebabs on the menu (they’re down the bottom below the starters). I ordered a chicken schwarma wrap for comparative purposes, even though it looked pretty dry on the kebab machine, and the lamb schwarma looked better.
My partner in crime ordered a minced lamb (kofte, I assume) on pastry, but, having only just opened they didn’t have the right machine yet so he switched his order to a lamb shish wrap.

There’s a nice little area of tables and chairs so we sat and waited (this isn’t one of those silly pseudo-restaurants that charge more to eat your kebab in the warmth indoors) for the shish to be grilled. There was a good selection of salad, including beetroot and slices of pickle (no chillies), and it came wrapped in two very thin tortilla-styles wraps.

After a quick toast and squish in the pannini machine, the disappointingly girl-sized kebabs were at our table, and we got stuck in. My first bite confirmed my suspicion that the chicken was a dry, and certainly hadn’t been marinated. The bread was rather dry too, so I recommend a drink.

The salad, however, was pretty good, with the pickles surprisingly tasty and well flavoured. I went for garlic sauce, having shunned the chilli sauce, but I couldn’t taste it.

My friend, despite unwrapping the whole thing like an amateur so it slid inelegantly out of the other end of the tortilla, was reasonably pleased with it, saying the lamb shish was tasty, but agreed that the bread was dry.
All in all, Adam’s Grill is run by a nice bunch of guys, and they’ve got lots of other dishes to choose from.

This is a very ‘Lebanese’ kebab, but it isn’t a patch on the Ranoush Juice chain. For local comparison, the lamb shish wrap wasn’t as good as Ekin on Priory Road. Similarly, the chicken schwarma wasn’t as good as Amaan’s Grill on West End Lane, which is nicely marinated and comes in freshly baked tandoori bread. And it probably isn’t a good drunken hangover-preventing fatty kebab either.

Final verdict: 5/10

Will flashing sign be allowed to remain?

The small unit between Benham & Reeves and the Nisa corner shop has been everything from a kebab shop to a… er… kebab shop over recent years. Apart from a brief stint as a cake shop. Over the past few days it’s been repainted gold, and the word on the street was “Lebanese café”, which I’m afraid I took to mean “kebab shop”, possibly very unfairly.

This evening its name was revealed: Adam’s Grill.

Who Adam is and what he’ll be grilling remain to be seen. What is seen all too clearly is the flashing multicolour sign that’s gone up projecting from the side of the shopfront.

A cursory glance at Camden’s planning database suggests that Adam (or the people behind him – I suspect he’s just a figurehead) may not have applied for the necessary planning permission for this sign. I wouldn’t normally be that bothered about such council pedantry, except this sign is awful. It’s the illumination that puts it in contravention of the rules and that I suspect won’t be tolerated for long. If you want to read all the information about when you do and don’t need planning permission for signs, be my guest (page 19 is the relevant one).

Waitrose’s “long-standing ambition”

Waitrose has finally issued a press release about its probable West Hampstead opening on the Pizza Express site. Assuming it clears the planning hurdles, the John Lewis Partnership, which owns Waitrose, expects to create up to 50 new jobs, with all employees becoming partners.

Waitrose Director of Development, Nigel Keen, said:

When the the unit became available, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to realise a long-standing ambition to open a shop in West Hampstead and add the Waitrose brand to an already impressive collection of independent shops and established high street chains. We would welcome the chance to open here and play our part in ensuring it remains a vibrant village which continues to attract visitors.

Just that pesky planning permission to get now – and already a few locals are starting to grumble about the noise of deliveries. Hard to see it being enough to stop the deal being done. Waitrose says in its release that it plans to open early next year.

Physical evidence of a broken community?

It would seem like a blatant act of vandalism. Smashing the glass on the newish community centre notice board is just mindless.

Adam Barnard noticed it on Monday and took this photo:

Smashing the glass, ok… taking the various flyers? How keen are these people on attending the next WI meeting or going to fathers and toddlers groups?

Yes, yes, I know… it’s more likely that library staff simply removed the posters for safekeeping while the glass was replaced.

Which didn’t take long. Yesterday, Adam took this photo:

All present and correct. Lets hope the vandalism was a one-off. Nothing says “broken community” than literally breaking the community notice board.

New Overground station to be built next year

At the end of last month, Camden held its annual public meeting on transport issues in the north of the borough for the first time. A good proportion of the questions on the night related to the local area.

WHAT (West Hampstead Amenities & Transport) asked for an update on the platform and lifts upgrades at West Hampstead Overground station.

Work will start on new Overground station next year
Photo via James Lovett

Some context is needed here. TfL have recognised that the Overground station needs an overhaul. It handles more than 3 million passengers a year, making it one of the busier train stations in the country. According to WHAT, a new footbridge and station building, with lifts and wide access, will be constructed about halfway down the existing platforms. This will allow the station building to continue to function until the new one is ready. The first stage will be to lengthen and widen the platforms to allow use of 5-car trains on the Overground (which are due early 2015). Building work on the station is expected to take place during 2014, with completion hoped for in early 2015.

WHAT has lobbied for this for the last two years and wants to ensure that the provision of lifts is co-ordinated with the Ballymore housing development next door. The money that TfL allocated for installing the lifts was on a use-it-or-lose-it basis, but given the length of the Ballymore build, it will have to be applied for again. The consensus seems to be that there won’t be a problem in having it awarded again.

Cycle hire at West Hampstead Thameslink
Emily Turner asked whether TfL had considered expanding Cycle Hire to West Hampstead Thameslink? The existing plan is to expand the Barclays “Boris” Bike scheme around Westminster and the City of London where demand is greatest. TfL has no plans to expand further north-west. In 2012, the scheme extended to Camden Town, with the northernmost docking station on Castlehaven Road towards Chalk Farm. A further extension to West Hampstead would require a number of docking stations throughout the area to the north-west of Swiss Cottage, which, say TfL may presentsome topographical and operational difficulties.

TfL met with Camden officers in March 2013 to discuss Camden’s aspirations for Cycle Hire and these will be considered within wider discussions for the building programme in the King’s Cross area.

Personally, I think our part of NW London should look at one of the alternative bike hire schemes that are popping up elsewhere in the country. These require less infrastructure than Boris Bikes and would benefit people moving around the area rather than just commuting to and from work, which would lead to limited numbers of bikes being available during the day. I’m looking into this in more detail.

West End Lane disruptions
WHAT asked if Camden could outline how it plans to deal with disruptions, such as those occurring on West End Lane due to burst water mains?

The council explained the impact the bridges and train lines have on the options for road diversions around West Hampstead, which can lead to bus passengers being a long way off course. It also said that planning for unexpected disruptions is difficult and usually consists of diversions and these will be announced by the driver. On occasion a disruption will sometimes lead to a longer term response being required, which may include the use of information at bus stops.

Bus stops
WHAT (again) asked TfL for an update on bus reliability and on the use of information during bus journeys, and live information at key locations to keep passengers informed of changes and delays to buses.

TFL has a large amount of bus data available, which is used to measure performance by the bus operators and enforce service level agreements in contracts. Camden said it would consider paying for real-time bus information at key locations in West Hampstead through Section 106 money (the money paid by developers to offset the impact of new developments).

Jubilee Line
WHAT asked TFL to provide an update on Jubilee Line closures and the impact these have on the West Hampstead community, particularly during the Christmas period. It also pointed out that more explanation about the nature of the works would be appreciated, rather than “engineering works” being a catch-all term.

TFL confirmed that essential maintenance to reline a section of the tunnel near Bond Street started on June 16th and will require three remaining closures and two late Sunday starts in 2013, with some intermittent closures also required in 2014 and possibly 2015.A full list of all planned closures is available on the TfL website.

Around Christmas, the Jubilee Line will be closed from Waterloo to Finchley Road from Thursday 26th December to Monday 30th Dec.

Traffic lights and other issues
WHAT asked for an update on the proposal to improve the traffic lights outside West Hampstead tube station.

The installation of secondary signals at the West End Lane / Broadhurst Gardens junction is scheduled for this financial year.

June Perrin: Could Camden review the traffic light sequence at the junction of Kilburn High Road and Quex Road? 

An scheme is being developed in this area, which could include the phasing of the signals.

Mel Wright asked whether there are plans to improve pedestrian crossing times along Kilburn High Road, perhaps using the live countdown technology. 

TFL confirmed that Quex Road has been identified as one of 200 sites in London for the implementation of live countdown

Maryam Alaghband: Could TFL could comment on the traffic light system at Swiss Cottage gyratory where traffic going south onto Park Road collides with traffic coming from Avenue Rd and going to Finchley Rd? 

David Harris: Can the traffic lights from Finchley Road and Fitzjohns Avenue be timed so that both lights do not allow the traffic to move together in such a way that the traffic becomes a racing track where the motorists cross in front of one another in order to reach the right lane?

Same answer to both questions: “TfL is reviewing this site and although there are likely to be significant challenges in terms of maintaining network resilience at this location by the full or partial removal of the gyratory system, TfL will be seriously considering the options available and will welcome community involvement in the development of these plans.”

David Douglas: Can TFL plant more trees at the gyratory to combat air pollution; and can air quality information at Swiss Cottage be publicised?
The ground conditions along Finchley Road have proved to be very challenging for planting new trees. TfL proactively looks for suitable places to plant new trees, but on this occasion, the ground conditions meant that this area was not suited, and the trees would not have prospered.

An overview of pollution levels in Camden is published on the London Air Quality Network website and there is specific data for the Swiss Cottage monitoring station.

156 West End Lane: empty for three years?

We’ve known for some time that 156 West End Lane – aka “The Travis Perkins building” would be up for sale. Camden council, which owns the site, have decided to sell it to raise money. The council offices that it used to house have been relocated and aside from the ground floor showroom and supplies shop, the building is empty.

Deloitte’s real estate division is acting for Camden and has published a short brochure asking for tenders for the site. It’s being pitched as a residential development opportunity.

The site is larger than one might imagine
(taken from Deloitte’s brochure)

The brochure makes clear, however, that Travis Perkins has an existing lease for the premises.

“Travis Perkins operate a builders merchants from part ground floor of the site, which includes a timber yard at the rear. Travis Perkins have been granted a new lease dated 20 May 2013, with landlord break provisions enabling vacant possession at the earliest date of 1 December 2016.”

One might reasonably assume that a developer could buy Travis Perkins out of its lease, except that a) Travis Perkins is known to be very keen to stay on, and b) the planning process being what it is, it’s highly unlikely that any work would start on the site much before late 2015 anyway and if property prices continue to rise a developer might decide to sit it out. There was a rumour that Travis Perkins might want to buy the site itself to ensure its survival, so it will be interesting to see whether it submits a tender.

The point, however, is that while the floors of office space above Travis Perkins sit empty, Camden council is paying for an empty building. More than £5,200 in fact.

It’s hard to imagine that some of that cost couldn’t be recouped while the building stands empty. It’s office space, so perhaps a floor could be given over to flexible working space – a mini West Hampstead Hub for home workers to collaborate, or even just get out of the house, perhaps? I’m sure the collective brains of the area could come up with some other creative solutions.

It seems inevitable that eventually the building will be knocked down and rebuilt as flats. Deloitte’s brochure points out

The site offers greatest potential for higher scaled development to the western frontage (i.e. West End Lane) and to the south towards the railway lines, with a transition in scale towards the more sensitive residential interface to the north (Lymington Road).

Although it’s not the most loved building on West End Lane, one resident told me at the weekend that it seemed madness to knock it down and rebuild, when surely it could just be converted into flats. It will be interesting to see the general public reaction to this – the first major redevelopment as opposed to brownfield/greenfield proposal in the area for some time.

In last year’s survey of local architecture, the red brick building came bottom of the ranking. Two people loved it, 8 were indifferent, and 74 hated it. One of the things people didn’t like was the height, but it’s hard to envisage that whatever replaces it will be smaller. I hope that if it is redeveloped and Travis Perkins has to leave that any ground-floor frontage will be kept as smaller units to encourage a more diverse range of shops.

Tenders are due in by the 19th of September – in case you’re interested.

Rash of closures on West End Lane

[original post May 10th 3.30pm]
[updated May 12th 10.30pm]
[updated May 15th 3.30pm]

If the retail landscape hadn’t changed enough with the knocking down of the strip of shops opposite the post office, this week’s seen four units close on West End Lane. Before we all get too depressed, it’s worth noting that four places have also opened this week in West Hampstead.

Blue Daisy’s retrenchment to the safety of yummy mummyville in Hampstead has been mooted for some time. When it came time to renegotiate the lease on its West End Lane branch, it decided enough was enough. Has the arrival of JoJoMamanBebe up the road had anything to do with it? Seems like this town ain’t big enough for the two of them.

Talking of competition, the sushi explosion that’s occurred in West Hampstead over the past year or two was bound to do some damage somewhere. The venerable Sushi Gen didn’t last long once the sushi wars began, but Me Love Sushi is the latest to fall victim to sushi overload. It tweeted that it had sold up to the owners of Cafe Rouge although from correspondence with the Tragus Group, which is Cafe Rouge’s parent company and also owns previous incumbent Strada, we know that in fact it owned the site anyway and Me Love Sushi was a leaseholder. Tragus is now looking for a new leaseholder so it’s unlikely to be one of Tragus’s own brands. In the meantime, Me Love Sushi fans can still get their fix (or their delivery) from the Swiss Cottage branch.

Another saturated market around here is pizza, so it wasn’t a great surprise to hear that Picasso’s has shut up shop – with the bailiffs called in to the premises. Although reviews of the food had largely been good, it always seemed to be quiet and may have strugged to establish itself over perennial favourites Lupa, Sarracino and even Domino’s.

Finally, and more out-of-the-blue, was the closure of ShakeTastic. The tiny milkshake bar never seem rammed (and was never open early enough for a hangover-curing morning juice), and although the staff were always lovely I was never convinced it fitted in here. The poster that’s gone up in the window suggests it might return, but in the meantime the West Hampstead branch is relocating to Pinner(!).

In more positive retail news, Minkies finally opened its tiny outlet by the Overground station to much acclaim. The well-liked Kensal Rise business had had us waiting for a year – the staff blamed TfL and Camden bureaucracy for much of the delay. Its position sets it on a collision course with Starbucks and Costa but with nowhere much for people to queue, I suspect it will maintain a very steady passing trade without setting the world on fire. It’s also well placed not just for commuters at the interchange but the two large estate agents opposite.

This very afternoon the sweet shop next to West End Lane cars re-opened too. Probably had to wait until ShakeTastic closed so as not to exceed the sugar quota for that stretch of road.

Away from West End Lane, there’s a new tea-shop on Mill lane called Curled Leaf that I’ve yet to get to and Spice Tree (which used to be Babur Empire) also opened on Mill Lane. Meanwhile, Tiger Stores – the Danish Muji if you can countenance such a thing – has opened in the O2.

What does all this mean for the retail landscape? It seems that established businesses are generally faring ok – most of the recent closures have been of more recent arrivals (the business above, Pita, Chez Chantal), though of course there are exceptions (LoveFood, Walnut). It’s hard to get a foothold in the area I guess. Lena’s is one of the few newish businesses that’s really thrived – largely because it’s a unique offering for West Hampstead. A lesson there.

If you’re interested in learning more about the evolution of West Hampstead, then put the 21st May in your diaries. I’m holding an open forum aimed at the younger population for people to share their views on what they love and hate about the area and what they can do about it. There’ll be more details on this v.soon.

[photos via @misshkwilson]

Water out most of day, road closed until weekend?

A water main burst last night on West End Lane by West End Lane Cars. Many people south of the stations either have no water or low water pressure. The latest estimate from the workmen carrying out the repairs is that water will be restored by 5pm today.

The repairs to the pipe have meant closing the road. Apparently, one of the reasons for delay was coordinating with the council to close the road. More on that story as I get it.

As a very rough rule of thumb, properties on and to the west of West End Lane are worse affected than those to the east, although there are exceptions to this rule possibly based on how high up in a building you are. Thames Water is providing bottled water outside West End Charcoal Grill. I did see people taking water and heading north, when the problems are south. Seems a bit opportunist.

This is what water looks like

Starbucks and Costa have been struggling – the former is serving filter coffee, the latter is out of hot water. Wired has a large external tank and is still operating as normal. ML Estates decided to abandon any attempt at opening its office today.

West End Lane is closed between Blackburn Road and Iverson Road. National Express coaches, already diverted off Finchley Road (not sure why), are now having to head down Iverson Rd.

There was a tweet just now from Cllr Keith Moffitt saying that the road would be closed until Saturday “in order to ensure all remedial works are completed”. This does not bode well for traffic for the rest of the week – buses are of course on diversion, clogging up both Kilburn High Road and Finchley Road as well as side streets.

I’ve asked Keith whether he can find out whether the resurfacing work on West End Lane, which disrupted traffic and polluted the farmers’ market last weekend, will continue as planned or whether we’ll get some respite after three days of closure. [update 12:50pm: resurfacing work will go ahead, depending on progress of Thames Water’s works]

It is perhaps worth pointing out that there have been instances recently where the doom-and-gloom news of lengthy road closures have in fact not been that bad at all. Nevertheless, expect disruption and delays at the very least.

Here’s the latest from TfL on the bus diversions:

  • 139 Curtailed to Quex Road and stand Kilburn High Road. Depart via Kilburn High Road Left Belsize Road Right Abbey Road to normal route.
  • 328 towards Golders Green from Quex Road Right Abbey Road Left Belsize Road Left Finchley Road to normal route.
  • 328 towards Kilburn from West End Lane Right Iverson Road Left Kilburn High Road to normal route.
  • C11 towards Archway from West End Lane Right Iverson Road Left Kilburn High Road Left Quex Road Left West End Lane Right Broadhurst Gardens to normal route
  • C11 towards Brent Cross from Cleve Road Left West End Lane Right Quex Road Right Kilburn High Road Right Mill Lane Left Westbere Road to normal route.

WHAT focuses on transport

Dennington Park Road is the place to be on January 30th. One one side of the road, the Conservatives are holding their US-style primary to determine who will be their candidate for Hampstead & Kilburn in the next general election. On the other, in the library, those good burghers of West Hampstead, WHAT (West Hampstead Amenities and Transport, for those of you who didn’t pay attention in class last term) are holding their AGM followed by a public meeting about transport. Who said West Hampstead wasn’t edgy?

There are a few transport updates to share with you, based on WHAT’s meeting with Camden late last year. There were four points on the agenda for that meeting:

  • The traffic lights at the Finchley Road/Fortune Green Road junction had been installed without consultation and have apparently made the junction even more dangerous as they confuse drivers. TfL has promised to “take action”.
  • The lights at the junction of Broadhurst Gardens and West End Lane are also deemed dangerous for pedestrians (As a regular user of these, the only danger I see is from the cars and cyclists who deliberately jump the lights). Camden is apparently going to install extra lights here. I’m not entirely sure how many more traffic lights that stretch of West End Lane needs?
  • The lack of a lift at the Overground station, despite funding being available.
  • General pedestrian congestion and safety in the area between the three stations (gold star if you knew that that is generally called the “interchange”).

After the meeting, Camden’s cabinet member for transport, Phil “20mph” Jones promised a separate transport meeting in the north of the borough for full airing of grievances. And it has come to pass. Phil will share the platform with Barnet & Camden London Assembly member Andrew “Colemanator” Dismore and a guy from TfL called Steve.

WHAT’s AGM runs from 7.30pm-8.15pm. There’s 15 minutes for refreshments and then the public meeting gets underway with a 9.45pm finish time. All are welcome.

Amy and Ben – two months after the crash

It was a fluke. I happened to see a tweet whizz through my timeline. It referred to a blog written by a widower. I thought it might have been the return of the chap in his 90s who’d briefly blogged his trip to Switzerland but had been overwhelmed by the response and abandoned it.

It was not.

The photo was the immediate giveaway although my eye took in the name underneath a split second later. There could only be one recently widowed husband of a woman called Desreen.

Life As A Widower is written by Ben Brooks-Dutton (he added “Brooks” to his and his son’s name after Desreen died – she had kept her name when they married, just 14 months earlier). His wife was killed in the collision on West End Lane last November.

The blog, which began on January 6th, documents his emotions and the enormous challenge of coping with overwhelming grief and a two-year-old son. This isn’t a diary as much as an anthology of memories and experiences. There must be an element of catharsis here, although my ignorant hunch would be that it’s too soon for that. There is certainly an element of wanting to share the experience, and hopefully to help others:

I can’t help but think that some poor bastard will wake up tomorrow morning, realise their wife has gone forever and that it wasn’t just a nightmare, and search for someone who can relate to the hell that they are going through. Perhaps if I keep writing they’ll find that someone. Perhaps a few more blokes will be encouraged to open up about how they feel. Perhaps the process might act as catharsis and make things easier on me. Perhaps when the next bloke calls Care for the Family there will be a few more guys to talk to.

More bluntly, Ben also says “I think opening up now is going to make living in my own head somewhat less difficult in the future. That’s what the books I’m throwing myself into say anyway.”

That last sentence hints at the humour in this blog. Does that sound odd? Read it, it’s not.

Ben explains his tattoo

Many of the entries are heartbreaking. It will be a harder person than me that doesn’t well up at the image of the toddler wiping away his father’s tears. As Ben says, “It’s just two guys trying to make each other feel better. One 2 and the other 33.”

Amy’s recovery
Meanwhile, across the pond, Amy Werner is having her own battle. The American postgrad who was badly injured in the same crash was put back together by St Mary’s in Paddington, before her parents decided to fly her back home to the US. These sort of medical flights don’t use long-haul aircraft, so Amy and her mother had to hop from London to Shannon to Newfoundland to Boston in early December. She spent a week in hospital in Boston and then she moved to a rehab clinic affiliated with Harvard.

She is making steady progress – her rehab work is both physical and cognitive. Every day she’s able to walk further using crutches, and her right leg – broken in the accident – is getting stronger. She’s also having speech therapy and other rehabilitation treatment to work on functions such as memory. At the moment, the cause for concern is the sight in her right eye, which has yet to return.

It’s going to be a long journey back for Amy, but her mother’s daily updates are full of optimism, and each one describes how Amy’s feisty attitude and determination is leading to demonstrable improvement in her abilities. I understand that Ben is also aware of Amy’s progress and hope that he can take some strength from her determination.

Both Ben and Amy had their lives turned upside down in a matter of seconds. If we can learn anything from either of them it’s to treasure what – and whom – we have; and that human beings are capable of remarkable acts when they find themselves at the very brink. I wish them well.

Gerry Anderson in West Hampstead

You may have heard that Gerry Anderson, the creator of Thunderbirds, died on the 26 December 2012. What is less well-known is that he grew up in West Hampstead, in a ‘squalid house’ off West End Lane, according to his biography. When Dick spoke to him a few years ago, Gerry said he couldn’t remember exactly where he’d lived but it was at the top of a large house on West End Lane, with a tent-shaped glass roof over the front door. There was a garage with a driveway at the side. The family of four lived in poverty in one room, with a blanket hung up to separate the cooking area from the sleeping area. They shared a bathroom with the other tenants who included: a rather sinister ex-convict, an eccentric artist, and a woman who later Gerry realised was probably a prostitute.
Gerry went to Kingsgate Infants School. His mother would see him across West End Lane, then he walked by himself down Cotleigh Road to the school. He said he hated the afternoon rest period when the children were forced to sleep, resting their heads on the sloping desks. He was only five, but thought it was a ridiculous waste of time. After school he would climb back up the hill and wait at the main road. His mother would be watching at the window across West End Lane, then she would wave and come down to collect him. Gerry remembered the excitement of going to the cinema each week at the Kilburn State or The Grange. He and his mother would sit in the six penny front row stalls. Movietone News and The March of Time were followed by a couple of cartoons and two feature films – lavish Hollywood films and British B movies.
Using the Electoral Registers, Marianne and Dick have worked out for the first time exactly where Gerry lived in West Hampstead. His parents Joseph and Deborah Abrahams are shown at 50 West End Lane from 1929 to 1935. This was a large detached house on the corner of Woodchurch Road.
50 West End Lane, 1890s OS Map
Gerry Anderson was born Gerald Alexander Abrahams, on 14 April 1929, in the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital. His parents, Joseph Abrahams and Deborah Leonoff, were married in the Rochford area of Essex, which includes Westcliff-on-sea and Southend, in 1921.
His grandparents, the Bielogovski family who came from Russia, took the name of Abrahams on their arrival in London’s East India dock in 1895. The family settled in Westcliff-on-sea. Their son Joseph worked as the manager of a clothing company for his brother Michael. At the company he met an attractive clerical assistant called Deborah Leonoff, who lived in Hackney, and she agreed to marry him. They moved to Willesden Green, but theirs was a stormy relationship with lots of rows. Joseph, an ardent socialist, argued with his brother about business and wealth. He left the clothing company and worked installing tobacco dispensing machines in private homes. A packet of 20 cigarettes cost one shilling and Joseph visited the customers on his bicycle, to fill the machines and collect the cash. But money was tight and the family had to move into the single room at the top of 50 West End Lane. Joseph was a classical pianist and they found space for an upright piano. The woman in the room below would complain about the noise, banging on the ceiling with her broomstick. When the ex-convict opposite moved, Deborah pleaded with Joseph to rent the vacant flat. He reluctantly agreed and they moved into three rooms and a small kitchen. But Gerry believed his father couldn’t really afford the higher rent. When Gerry was five he suffered from German measles and like many children at the time he was hospitalized for six weeks, followed by four weeks in a convalescent home. He was surprised when he came home to find some brightly painted lead cars and a set of traffic lights arranged in a street scene on a green baize card table. Deborah had bought them, with help from the prostitute neighbour.
In 1936 the family moved to 50A Clifford Way, Neasden. Three years later they moved again, to 198 Neasden Lane where they stayed for many years. In the years before WW2, Gerry and his mother experienced anti-Semitism. Gerry remembers being circled by boys in the Braincroft school playground who ridiculed him chanting ‘Jew Boy,’ until a teacher came to his rescue. When a laundry boy came to the house to collect the weekly washing and saw the name Abrahams on the bundle, he threw it back at Gerry’s mother shouting, ‘We don’t collect laundry from Jews.’ Gerry and hismother pleaded with Joseph to change their name and in November 1939 it was changed from Abrahams to Anderson. This was just a name that Deborah liked, but later it led some people to believe that Gerry had Scottish roots! When he became successful, Gerry spent over £3,000 on a new bungalow for his parents in Maidenhead, allowing them to leave their rented flat in Neasden Lane. Joseph Anderson died in Maidenhead Hospital in 1965. His mother Deborah died in Wrexham Park Hospital, Slough in the 1970s.
Gerry’s older brother Lionel was born in 1922 in the Westcliff-on-sea area. When War was declared, he joined the RAF aged just seventeen, and went to Arizona for training. Gerry remembered one of his brother’s letters talked about flying over an air base called ‘Thunderbird Field.’ This stuck in his memory and he used it for the title of his puppet series. Gerry was impressed when Lionel came home as a uniformed Flight Sergeant flying Mosquitoes with 515 Squadron. One day when he flew very low over the house, Gerry jumped up and down with pride and excitement. Lionel successfully flew 38 missions but he died on 27 April 1944, when his plane was shot down during an attack over Holland. He was 22 years old.
Gerry worked in the film industry and became famous for his TV puppet films, but he said he always wanted to make films with real actors.
50 West End Lane
Before Gerry Anderson lived there, the large corner house was built in 1881 for wealthy professionals. It was occupied until 1883 by William John Vereker Bindon, a doctor who called it ‘Appin’. He was born in the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, and did his medical training in Edinburgh. He married Jemima Downie in 1874. They came to London where he practised in Kilburn, living first at Elm Villas, Willesden Lane. Then in 1881 they moved to the newly built 50 West End Lane. In October 1882 William had an affair with one of his patients, Hannah Smith, the wife of the composer Edward Sydney Smith who lived at 28 Birchington Road. In 1883 Jemima sued William for divorce on the grounds of cruelty and adultery and was granted a divorce. At the trial Blanche Augustine Pinget, a French maid working for Mrs Smith said she’d seen Dr Bindon kissing Mrs Smith in her bedroom. There were two unhappy marriages, as Sydney Smith was having an affair with Blanche whom he married after Hannah died in 1886. Dr Bindon went to Australia where he died in 1891. 
50 West End Lane was put up for sale in 1883. The sale details give us a good description of the house:
For sale by auction. ‘Appin’, West End Lane, a superior family residence conveniently situated a few minutes walk from West Hampstead Station, on the Harrow branch of the Metropolitan Railway and the West End Station on the Midland Railway. The house, which is of pleasing elevation, is approached through a front garden, and has a spacious garden with a tennis court in the rear; it contains, on the two upper floors, nine principal and secondary bedchambers, a large studio, a bath room with hot and cold bath, a box room, housemaid’s closet etc; on the ground floor, entrance and inner halls, excellent lofty drawing room, dinning room, and library, a surgery, with separate side entrance from Woodchurch Road, lavatory, etc, also kitchen scullery, and pantry with serving hatch, and spacious cellarage in the basement.
It was bought by Albert Joseph Altman who changed the name of the house to ‘Elmira’. Altman was a wealthy sports and games manufacturer at Aldersgate Street who made croquet and cricket equipment. In 1876 as a City Alderman he became the Chairman of a Special Committee set up to consider the fifty designs for a new bridge over the Thames. When Tower Bridge was finally opened in 1894 he was knighted for his services. Altman was at the West End Lanehouse until 1890.
Other owners of the house were doctors and merchants. In December 1927, 50 West End Lane was sold at auction by Leopold Farmer and Sons for £3,150. At this point it became a lodging house let out in nine small flats or single rooms. It remained like this until mid-June 1944 when the first of ten V1 doodlebugs to hit Hampstead, exploded behind 42 West End Lane and destroyed the neighbouring houses. Seventeen people died and others were badly wounded. One woman was rescued alive after being buried for 48 hours. 
1944 Bomb damage, looking across West End Lane towards Gascony Avenue (Camden Local History Archives)
Michael Alpert, who lived just off West End Lane, remembers the day the VI fell and has written the following account:

When very early on a Monday morning in June 1944 that the VI crashed on West End Lane, I was awakened by the sound of breaking glass caused by the blast. My father was in the army and I was asleep with my mother in Smyrna Mansions, just off Gascony Avenue, which can be seen in the centre of the photograph above. I was eight years old.

My mother gathered me up and we went down to the street shelter opposite the Mansions. After a time we went back to the flat. My mother’s calm was amazing. She made up a bed for me in the large front room which looks over Smyrna Road and had been less affected by the bomb blast than the rooms at the back of the flat, while she sat doing the accounts for the milk bar which she ran in Kilburn High Road. 

It was mid-summer and the early morning was very mild and light. As soon as possible my mother got me ready to go to the weekly boarding school which I attended and to which I used to return on Monday mornings. Since we had no gas and probably no water from the bomb blast, my mother could not give me breakfast, so when we arrived she asked the matron to give me something to eat and drink. At morning assembly that day I said, with some exaggeration, that we had been ‘bombed out’, which was the expression used then.

I went to school by train in East Sheen, via Richmond, on what is now the Overground. I remember only one delay in all the years I travelled on that line, and once being held outside Willesden Junction during an air raid, when all trains had to stop lest they fall into a bomb crater.

From summer 1944 onwards as soon as you heard the ominous buzz of the flying bomb, followed by the motor cutting-out, you knew that the doodlebug would crash in about twenty seconds, so you made a dash for the street shelter, which was said to be proof against everything but a direct hit. At school we slept in a shelter covered with corrugated iron and earth in the garden. The smell of damp earth always brings the memory back. In the street shelter, of which there were two in Smyrna Road, each household had a little sort of cell with bunks. I think we continued to sleep in shelters until early January 1945. For a few weeks a more powerful and faster rocket, the V2, fell and caused immense destruction and loss of life. There was no warning of its arrival. Luckily the launching pads were overrun before life in Britain was nearly paralysed.

For many years afterwards we played in the bombed buildings, including those on West End Lane. It was, I suppose, dangerous to do so, because floors and stairs could easily give way, but it was great fun for a young boy.

The frontage of West End Lane between Acol and Woodchurch Roads remained a bomb site until the Council completed the 80 flats in Sidney Boyd Court in 1953. 
Sidney Boyd Court Today
Corner of Sidney Boyd Court, site of 50 West End Lane

Can CCTV images help solve fatal crash puzzle

Today, police released three CCTV images from the night of November 10th. That was the Saturday of the car crash that killed Desreen Brooks and severely injured Amy Werner.

Police believe these are all vital witnesses in their attempt to find out exactly what happened at about 8.30pm that night.

The first is a moped rider who was heading southbound on West End Lane before doing a u-turn and riding in the direction of Finchley Road. It could be a fast food delivery moped, so if you’re a local business that uses delivery people, do look closely to see if you know this person.

Second, police want to speak to the driver of this silver BMW that stopped opposite the Overground station.

Finally, police also wish to speak to this man waiting outside the Overground station. He looks like he’s checking his phone.

Anyone with information should call the Road Death Investigation Unit on 0208 842 1817.

Two accidents on West End Lane

Yesterday was topped and tailed by two road traffic accidents at either end of West End Lane.

In the morning there was a collision involving a police car at the junction with Dynham Road (right by where the fatal car accident was last month).

Photo via Tim Blackwell
Photo via Chris Padfield
(I’m intrigued as to how that van parked in the driveway behind in the meantime)

According to local resident Yiannis Assiotis, the police car was heading north up West End Lane with its sirens on when it hit the Toyota, which appears to have been turning out of Dynham Road. The police officers got out of the car and helped the driver of the other car out from the passenger seat as the driver’s door was blocked by the police car. Yiannis reported that everyone seemed to be in one piece.

The VW you can see next to the bus was apparently already parked there. One reader, reported that when he walked past at 7am, it seemed to have been abandoned having hit the wall and badly dented the left front wing. Had the police car had to swerve to avoid it?

Camden police’s twitter account simply told me “A police car was involved in a minor collision with another vehicle… There were no injuries”

At around 6pm, a man appears to have been knocked down at the zebra crossing by Hidden Treasure at the northern end of West End Lane. Locals reported that it was just over an hour before an ambulance turned up although the man was being looked after by police officers and firemen. He was eventually taken away in an ambulance.

This time, @MPSCamden told me “officers attended an RTC [road traffic collision]… one male was taken to hospital with minor injuries.” I don’t know whether anyone has been charged.

Photo via Joseph Knight

If I hear more on either story I’ll be sure to keep you posted

Video: West End Lane fire

Last night around 4.30pm, smoke was spotted seemingly coming out of the ground outside Sainsbury’s on West End Lane in West Hampstead.

About the same time, a few businesses and residents across the road reported a power cut. Perhaps unsurprisingly it turned out the two were related. Apparently there was a small electrical fire in the cabling that runs under the street (some reports said TV cable), and this was causing smoke to rise quite dramatically from West End Lane.

The fire brigade arrived pretty quickly – not exactly a long way for them – and the fire was extinguished, but it was quite some hours before power was restored to parts of West End Lane.

Wayne Nixon captured some of the drama on video.

Update 4.45pm The Ham & High’s report

Goldhurst Terrace assault: man arrested

[updated 2.15pm]

Following heavy twitter activity about a major police incident on Goldhurst Terrace yesterday afternoon, it transpires that an 18-year-old German man has been arrested in connection with an unprovoked assault on a 60-year-old man who was found unconscious and is still in a critical condition in hospital. The German may have mental health problems, apparently. He grabbed the pram that is now cordoned off at Kings Gardens and walked up Acol Road in order to avoid being spotted, but was then arrested at Kings Gardens.

There are police cordons around parts of Kings Gardens as well as on Acol Road where the nursery is closed off. Aberdare Gardens, Priory Road and Woodchurch Road were also cordoned off at times and police are still preventing some Goldhurst Terrace residents from entering their homes.

Swiss Cottage ward councillor Don Williams
tweeted this photo of Goldhurst Terrace earlier today

Anyone with information or who witnessed the assault is asked to call Camden Police on 101; if you wish to remain anonymous call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Amy could fly home on Friday

I spoke today with Rich Werner, father of Vermont student Amy who was so badly hurt in the car accident on West End Lane a couple of weeks back.

Rich sounded more upbeat and the news that many of you have been asking about is that Amy continues to make good progress. She still has a long way to go. She’s breathing unaided now, and she can move her arm – seemingly in response to stimulus.

An American PA at the hospital very kindly arranged for two Thanksgiving dinners on Thursday night for Amy’s parents, and there was even a special Thanksgiving meal made for Amy, who is still receiving fluids only.

Her progress, and reasonably stable condition mean that she could be heading back to the US on Friday. This would be in an air ambulance and she would be transferred directly to Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston – part of Harvard Medical School.

As you can imagine, the Werners are excited at the prospect of going home, so fingers crossed that Amy’s recovery continues. They asked me once again to pass on their thanks to all the local people who’ve been sending messages of support and keeping Amy in their thoughts.

Dover,VT Fire Station sends its support

West End Lane crash: Can we help?

Since Tuesday, I’ve spoken to Ben Dutton and twice to Rich Werner. Ben is the husband of Desreen Brooks who died in Saturday’s accident on West End Lane in West Hampstead. Rich is the father of Amy who was badly injured in the same crash and remains in hospital. Rich and his wife Gina flew over immediately from their home in Dover, Vermont together with Amy’s grandmother.

It would be an understatement to say that both were gracious under incredibly difficult circumstances. I think – I hope – it helped that these weren’t interviews for an article; they’d already been through that a few times on Tuesday. They were calling because they had heard, via the police’s family liaison officer, of the strength of feeling expressed in the comments left on this website, and of local people’s desire to help in any way they could.

Terrible incidents like this generally bring out the best in people – a desire to do something, anything, to show they care; to show to those affected that this isn’t just another statistic. How that goodwill manifests itself almost becomes irrelevant, people just want to show support. For the families going through the hell that is a sudden bereavement or horrendous injuries to a loved one, their focus can be only on coping with what is happening at the time.

How incredible then, for both Ben and Rich to want to take the time to express their thanks to the locals who have shown them such kindness. Ben was very clear that any help people could give should go towards supporting Amy’s family, who are a long way from home. He and his son have a lot of family and friends close by – he was just realising how many – and are being well looked after, he said. He told me that he and Desreen had planned a day out on Saturday, and he fully intended to go ahead with that because he wanted to keep a sense of normality for their son.

Ben was also very clear that they would still be frequent visitors to West Hampstead – their best friends live here, indeed that’s who they were visiting last Saturday night. His positive attitude, and determination that their son would know what an amazing woman his mother was, was extremely moving.

When I spoke to Rich on Tuesday, Amy was in theatre. We talked briefly about where they were staying and whether there was anything we could do to make that more comfortable for them, but he said they were in good shape for now. However, they recognise that they could well be here for a while and that a longer-term option might be necessary. We spoke again yesterday. On Tuesday it sounded like he was making an effort to be calm; yesterday there was a genuinely more positive tone. Tuesday’s operation had gone well, and the surgeon had been positive about Amy’s progess. She is still in a serious condition but the medical staff are keeping her stable before the next operation, which has been pushed back a couple of days. Amy’s grandmother will fly back to the US today.

Amy and her mother in May 2011

“I can’t express enough how great everyone has been,” said Rich. “It’s been overwhelming. If we close our eyes for a few minutes, it’s like we’re back in Dover.” To feel so cared for that you could be at home, when you are in fact 3,500 miles away is testament to the quality of care they are receiving at St Mary’s. They’ve been to the site of the crash and seen the cards and flowers people have left for both Amy and Desreen.

He specifically asked me to thank two people who’d left comments on the blog. First, one of the doctors who’d been passing and stopped to help. In the chaos that followed the collision, a plastic bag containing a vintage ukulele that belonged to his grandfather and was being taken to be restored went missing. The doctor has posted about this, understandably nervous that it would seem self-serving in the wake of such a tragedy but explaining that it had huge sentimental value. I didn’t think it was self-serving – here was a guy who’d stopped to help victims of a road accicent, bit harsh to think anything other than good of him. Rich saw it the same way and told me to say that he was sorry that this good samaritan had lost the instrument and to thank him for all he’d done for both victims.

He also asked me to thank someone who simply signed off as “J”, with no other way of contacting them. J had sat with Amy and put a blanket over her while they waited for the ambulance. I don’t have kids, but I can still just about imagine that thought that your child is lying in the road and you are an ocean away but someone, some kind person, is holding their hand and keeping them warm. If you read this J, then know that Rich and Gina are immensely grateful.

As for what we can do to help, well, right now, very little. It’s not the answer lots of you are looking for I know. Feeling impotent at a time like this is frustrating, but it’s nothing to what the people immediately affected are going through. Rich and I agreed to speak again in a few days’ time when they have a clearer idea of what their needs might be. Then I’ll be badgering you all for contacts in the property business, or whatever it is we need. Until then, let’s let them focus on being there for Amy.

West End Lane crash: details emerging

Today, the police released the name of the woman who was killed in the tragic road accident in West Hampstead on Saturday night.

Desreen Brooks, 33, was with her husband and two-year-old son at the time. As the car mounted the pavement her husband Ben Dutton pushed their son out of the way and jumped clear. Sadly his wife was not able to get out of the way. Despite the best efforts of doctors who were passing and stopped, she was pronounced dead at the scene.

Desreen Brooks and Ben Dutton

American postgrad student Amy Werner, 23, was also caught up in the accident as she headed to Camden to meet up with classmates, and remains in hospital in a critical but stable condition. Her parents have flown over from Vermont to be with her.

The 83-year-old driver was taken to hospital but his injuries have been described as “not life threatening”.

Local residents have left many comments of support for both families – this accident has shaken the community, partly I think because it was so random and for those who live in the immediate area it was so dramatic. Lots of readers have asked how we might help, and I can tell you that the Family Liaison Officer is making the families aware of this level of support and if there is anything practically that we can do then I shall let you all know. Clearly both families have enough to deal with at the moment so it may be a little while before our help is needed.

The cause of the crash is still not known. Police are appealing for witnesses and anyone with any information should call 0208 842 1817.

The Evening Standard and Camden New Journal both have reports with extra detail.

Fatal accident on West End Lane

[original post Nov 11th 10am]
[updated Nov 11th 11.30am]
[updated Nov 11th 4pm] 
[updated Nov 12th 4pm]
[updated Nov 13th 8.30am] 
[updated Nov 13th 1.15pm]
[new article:] 
[new article:

Just after 8.30pm on Saturday, the 83-year-old driver of an old Mercedes on West End Lane lost control, mounted the curb, hit two female pedestrians, some traffic lights and a wall. One of the women died. Desreen Brooks, 33, was a mother from south London. The other woman is 23 year-old Amy Werner, an American postgraduate student at University of Westminster, originally from Vermont in New England. She is in a serious condition and her parents Richard and Regina Werner have flown over to be with her. The driver was hospitalised though his injuries are not believed to be serious. Eye-witnesses and local residents reported distressing scenes of medical teams attempting resuscitation, and a lot of damage.

It is still too early to know exactly how this happened. The accident occurred between the junctions with Dynham Road and Cleve Road in West Hampstead. The car was apparently heading south when it lost control. It is unclear how fast it was travelling – apparently knocking over traffic lights is not much of an indication as they are not deeply embedded. However, the car continued into the wall, knocking down one pillar entirely and causing the top of another to fall off. The car carried on a bit further, knocking down another bollard before finally coming to a stop. I do not know where exactly the pedestrians were. According to the Brent & Kilburn Times, no arrests have been made although that’s not apparently what a local vicar told his congregation – perhaps also pre-emptively saying it was a case of reckless driving.

According to a local resident, “The sound of the crash was horrific, with people rushing up Dynham Road and West End Lane to see what had happened. I did not hear any tires screeching – just the crash.  Ambulance crews were there in minutes. There was steam and dust everywhere at the scene. The immediate scenes of panic were shocking to see and hear. The car had come to rest head-on to the wall on Dynham Road at the junction of West End Lane. The driver was trapped in the car but seemed to be OK. Fire crews had to cut him out.”

According to the Evening Standard’s report, there was also a young child of 4 or 5 in the car, though it is not clear whether there were any other passengers.

The car was removed just before 3am Sunday.

I’m told there is a CCTV camera outside St James’ Mansions, so there may be some footage from that to help police. The lack of screeching tires, the age of the car and the driver and the extent of the damage done might lead one to suspect brake failure more than dangerous driving. Whatever the cause, it’s a tragedy that one local described as “the worst accident I’ve seen on West End Lane in all my 18 years living in West Hampstead”.

Witnesses or anyone with information is urged to call investigation unit on (0208) 842 1817.
Many of you have asked what we can do to help the families of the victims. In the short-term, the Family Liaison Officer is aware of this goodwill and will contact me if there is anything either family needs that we can help with.

The top of the right pillar is gone and the entire left pillar collapsed
Google Street View of what it used to look like
The traffic lights are now lying by the side of the adjacent wall

‘Rescuing friendless girls’

For many years 141 West End Lane was a mother and babies home run by the Paddington and Marylebone Ladies Association. This charitable foundation was established about 1882 by Joanna Frances (Joan) Bonham Carter to ‘rescue friendless girls’ who were unmarried mothers. They originally had a refuge in Lisson Grove, open all night, with their ‘Main Memorial Home’ at 40 Cartwright Gardens, Bloomsbury. The Association employed at least one ‘outdoor rescue worker’ and a live-in superintendent at West End Lane.

Joan’s father was Henry ‘Harry’ Bonham Carter, a cousin of Florence Nightingale. On her return from the Crimea, he was closely involved with her in setting up training schemes for nurses. Harry was a wealthy barrister and Director of the Guardian Assurance Company. He married Sibella Norman and they had twelve children, eleven sons and one daughter, Joan. The family home was at 5 Hyde Park Square.

The actress Helena Bonham Carter is distantly related to the family.

‘Lancaster House’, the name given to the property by a previous owner, can still be seen on the gate pillar.

About 1935 the Association took over 141 West End Lane as their main Home. Unmarried women had their babies at local hospitals such as New End in Hampstead, and then stayed at the Home few several weeks. The babies were often baptised at St James Church and usually the father was not named in the register. The numbers of baptisms increased during the War. Often the mothers had to give up their babies for adoption. Electoral registers show that in 1948 there were 19 women at 141 West End Lane, including the superintendent Miss Agnes A. Nicholson, who was still at the Home in 1970.

Today, several heart rending messages have been posted on the Internet from people trying to trace their relatives:

‘I was born in New End Hospital 1943. My birth mother had been in the WAAF. She was sent to 141 West End Lane. She kept me there for six weeks during which time I was baptised at St James Church. She went with someone from the home to hand me over to an adoption agency. This seemed to be routine for all the mothers’.

‘I spent eight weeks at the mother and baby home in 1964. It was run by a Miss Nicholson, my baby was adopted in October 1964 by a Church of England adoption society. I am still trying to trace her without success’.

All change by West End Green

The stretch of West End Lane from Nando’s to Walnut is set to see big changes over the next couple of months.

As many of you will have read on Twitter, or (heaven forbid) seen with your own actual eyes, Walnut has closed. The ethically minded restaurant has been a fixture on the corner for just over 10 years, but came up for rent back in June (at just under £2,300 a month if you’re interested). Feng Sushi – also known for its ethical stance – will be moving in this June. Indeed work has already started on what will be the chain’s eighth outlet.

£18 for the 22-piece selection box

There’s much more detail on the design of the 50-cover restaurant here. Feng Sushi expressed an interest in West Hampstead a long time ago, so may feel a bit miffed that in the meantime, the area has become sushi capital of NW London. Alongside MeLoveSushi on West End Lane, there’s also newly opened Sushi Kou on Fortune Green, competing head-on with the well-established Yuzu. There are two newish sushi places on Finchley Road, and the longer-standing outlets Sushi Gen (with an ominous For Lease sign outside), Atari-ya on Fairfax Road (for my money the best of the local options), and Yo! Sushi in the O2 centre.

If the rumours that Karahi Master has closed are correct, hot on the heels of Bon Express shutting down, then are we finally relinquishing the mighty kebab for the healthier sashimi?

Still, if you’re missing your meat fix, rejoice. Apparently some of you haven’t yet caught up with the news that a butchers is coming to town. Since I started this whole blog/Twitter thing back in 2009, this has probably been the single biggest moan of locals: “Why can’t we have a butchers”. The fact that such places have to make a profit in what is a tough market has largely washed over you. So, I don’t want to hear a single person complain that Hampstead Butcher & Providore is too expensive. The high-end butchers already operates on Rosslyn Hill in Hampstead, and has done so for a couple of years now. The only way that a butcher is likely to survive in a high rent area like West End Lane is going to be to target the higher end of the market, and differentiate itself from the supermarkets.

£54 for this “Meat for a week” selection

Hampstead Butcher & Providore (I assume it’s not changing its name for us) will be at 260 West End Lane, where the Chinese medical centre has been (next to Domino’s).

If you fancy a chop with your chop, then step next door. 258 West End Lane is becoming a new salon. Because that’s what we really need in the area. Marco Aldany is a new name for me, but then I’m not really a salon kinda guy. It appears to be a Spanish chain of hairdressers. I can’t tell you much more about it, but I can show you a picture of what the front will look like if it gets past the planners, and tell you that the glass will be armour-plated. Should you be thinking of driving a car into it or anything.

Throw in the changes to The Lion – which has been learning the hard way about the power of Twitter – and the northern end of West Hampstead will have a very different feel to it by the end of the year.


Do we need more visitor parking?

Last week, a Twitter debate raged (i.e., a few people commented for about an hour) about whether West End Lane needs more pay & display parking to encourage people from outside the area to come in to West Hampstead to shop/eat/drink, especially during the week. It’s a timely discussion, in light of Camden’s imminent parking review. Here’s how it went – more commentary after the tweets.

Afterwards, I asked André for some more background on the problem as he sees it.

“It took me years to recognise the problem, so I do see it from the locals’ point of view: the idea of more traffic, more pollution, harder for locals to park etc. I empathise with and experience that myself.

But 20 or so extra pay & displays (that exclude residents permits) would make little difference to those issues – in fact, maybe less traffic as people wouldn’t be circling for hours. But it would make a positive difference to retailers.”

At the recent West Hampstead business forum meetings that have started, it’s been a strongly voiced concern. Weekends in West Hampstead are generally busy and profitable, but weekdays can be a struggle. It’s true that the area has a high number of self-employed and home workers, but they’re not hanging out in cafés all day (unless it’s to have a cappuccino while they use the Wifi) and aside from lunchtime, it’s not that busy around the area, especially at the northern end of West End Lane away from the transport hub.

Click for full-size. NB: predates new Thameslink station on Iverson Rd

He says that customers tell him and other local business owners that they hesitate to come during the day because they can’t park. “This is one big fat feedback message that echoes around West Hampstead every day.”

“I had a meeting last week around midday, the guy called to say he’d been circling for 45 minutes and could we postpone… and he wanted to sell me something! Customers aren’t that determined. In fact, we’ve lost valued suppliers because they decided parking’s too difficult.”

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this is that the people who proclaim to support independent businesses are also those who tend to be anti-car. So how do we reconcile that? People want more people to use our local businesses so they stay, but they don’t want more traffic – either locally or even generally. West Hampstead is, of course, amazingly well connected by public transport so the arguments of those who say enough people can come in to the area that way are valid. But are they realistic? If you live further out on the Jubilee or Met lines, or along the Overground routes, do you know much about West Hampstead – would you come in and meet your friends for lunch here, or pop into the bookshop rather than going somewhere else nearer and more convenient?

Perhaps there’s an argument for targeted marketing. Lets say Camden agreed that footfall was low in some parts of the area, perhaps they could split the relevant budget between pay & display parking and funding marketing for the area in very specific places along the transport corridors so we try and boost footfall but do so using public transport. Certainly any pay & display parking would have to have restrictions that meant it matched the need without encouraging excessive car use when it wasn’t needed – at weekends for example when there’s enough footfall in West End Lane already.

There is one very different perspective: keep the cars away and footfall low and the large chains will start to lose interest/move out, which could bring rents down and make local busineses more viable. But that’s a long-term game, and at odds with the fact that West Hampstead is destined for a large increase in population over the next 10 years.

What do you think? Is there a problem at all? Is a small amount of extra parking going to make much difference? Is it worth trying to lure the residents of Elstree & Borehamwood, or Stanmore, or Acton onto the tubes and trains to visit West Hampstead? Perhaps businesses should behave very differently on weekdays and weekends to maintain profitability?

Life in the slow lane

Not only is Camden hell bent on letting cyclists ride whichever way they choose up one-way streets, it’s also trying to slow traffic down in West Hampstead as well. It’s almost like there’s some sort of concerted plan to improve things in the area. Crazy.

As with the cycling plans, this will be paid for by TfL and the rationale seems to be safety. Much of West Hampstead (aside from West End Lane) already has a 20mph limit. However, many of the residential roads to the west and West End Lane itself are still 30mph and the council claims these roads have a relatively poor safety record compared to neighbouring 20mph streets. Indeed, between September 2007 and September 2010, 39 collisions were reported, resulting in four serious injuries.

In addition to signage, traffic calming measures are being proposed. On the residential streets, the junction of Sumatra Road and Glenbrook Road will be raised and road humps will be added at the junction of Solent Road and Glenbrook Road (just on Solent Rd, not the entire junction).

Click for larger version

On West End Lane itself, the 20mph zone will run from the junction with Quex Road in the south, to the junction with Mill Lane and Fortune Green Road in the north.

There will be three other measures to improve road safety: the pavement running north from Inglewood Road will be widened – the council claims this will improve the aesthetic appeal of the street and the narrower road will help slow traffic. An island will be added to the zebra crossing that links Barclays Bank to the library, apparently in response to observations that cars do not always wait until pedestrians have completed their crossing before driving on (remember your Highway Code?). Finally, the island on the crossing at Lymington Road (the one by Tescos) will be removed and the pavement on the southern edge extended. In addition, all the signs indicating a change of speed limit to and from West End Lane can now be removed, reducing street clutter and there is the potential to remove more signage (this has been mooted for some time and some steps have already been taken around the entrance to the tube station).

Click for larger version

The residential road changes seem like no-brainers. I would be interested to know how many of the collisions that have taken place on West End Lane have happened at speeds in excess of 20mph, given that during the daytime the traffic is so slow-moving anyway there is little opportunity to reach 30mph. I am certainly in favour of removing excess signage and street clutter, although narrowing the road seems unncessary, given the number of buses and delivery vehicles that already contribute to bottlenecks on the road. The aim should surely be to encourage free-flowing traffic moving at a safe speed.

As with all speed limit issues, be it on motorways or residential streets, the issue is one of enforcement more than regulation.

For more comment on this issue, see Georgia’s article in the Camden New Journal.

The council is keen to hear from local residents and businesses to find out whether there is broad support for the proposals for the side streets, and whether the proposals for West End Lane would cause disruption during and after implementation. You need to make sure your letter or e-mail is received by November 11th and send it to:

London Borough of Camden
Culture and Environment Directorate
Transport Strategy Service

or e-mail , making sure you include your postal address.

Here’s the full document on the side streets, and on West End Lane.

Hold your horses

West Hampstead residents are fairly used to seeing horses clip-clopping their way down West End Lane. As most of us know, we are home to one of the Metropolitan Police’s eight stables. Almost every day the horses are taken out for a stroll around the area. Although this is primarily for exercise, it’s not uncommon to see mounted police stopping people – they are on duty after all.

Less frequently, we see even more horses on our streets. The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery is based at a barracks in St John’s Wood.

Click for large version

The barracks itself is privately owned, but will close after more than 200 years in operation. The owners announced back in June that they were going to sell off the land, which is expected to fetch more than £250 million.

The “troop” is often seen in convoy on Finchley Road, but this morning was spotted (and snapped by the aptly named in this case @cyberdonkey) heading north up West End Lane, prompting tweets ranging from “makes an amazing noise”, to “try and be more inconvenient”. They won’t be inconveniencing us any more once they move to Woolwich.

King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery on West End Lane
Photo via @cyberdonkey

Billy Fury Way officially opens

The path from West End Lane to Lithos Road was named Billy Fury Way last year following a poll. Billy Fury – one of Britain’s original rock & roll stars – recorded regularly at Decca Studios on Broadhurst Gardens.

On Friday,  the path was officially opened and a new mural was sprayed on at the West End Lane end of the path by graffiti events company Graffiti Life.

As well as being a interesting visual addition to West End Lane, the idea is to spruce up this path and to encourage young people from the area to contribute more artworks along the whole path. I understand that Graffiti Life will be supporting this and working with the local community.

Festivities began yesterday at 1pm with a song-title laden address in St James’ Church hall from Sgt Dave Timms, from West Hampstead’s Safer Neighbourhood Team. Odd? Well, not really – this is in fact an initiative driven by the police. Some of you will remember that one of the imperatives for naming paths such as this one and the Black Path was so the police could identify their location when chasing wrong-uns down these network of alleyways. It’s great to see real community support from our local police team who have similar plans for other parts of the footpath network.

Some 40 or so Billy Fury fans came along – many of whom had travelled from all over the country – including Holly Johnson of 80s band Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

After a blessing of the site, councillor John Bryant who had driven the renaming exercise cut the ribbon.

ShakeTastic took the opportunity of a crowd just outside to hand out free samples, while the police were spending half their time posing for photos and half stopping the traffic on West End Lane from mowing down ageing rock fans.

The Safer Neighbourhoods Team also worked with Network Rail on the land it owns alongside Billy Fury Way, which included overhanging shrubs, hidden lighting and damaged fencing. Network Rail has undertaken a ‘deep-clean’ of one the most badly affected areas of litter and have re-fenced the area.

Meanwhile, Camden’s Highways Engineering Team plans inspections and repairs to damaged pavement, and street cleaning contractors will clean these paths twice a week. The council will also start patrols to identify any irresponsible dog owners. Dog litter bins, as well as free standing regular litter bins, will be placed halfway along Billy Fury Way.

PC Ruth Marshall, also from the Safer Neighbourhoods Team, said: “We want people to feel safe using Billy Fury Way. By keeping the area maintained, it will encourage the public to use it,” adding that the artwork was a “fitting tribute” to Billy Fury.

There are more plans for more murals to celebrate the area’s musical heritage. Lets hope that this one sets a good precedent for the paths.

Sainsbury’s Local gets West Hampstead over excited

As everyone knows, because the sign is so brightly lit that aircraft are now using it as a navigation device, a new Sainsbury’s Local opened on West End Lane on Friday where Best One used to be.

It’s fair to say that this caused a fair amount of Twitter traffic. The story unfolds below

Congratulations to Richard, who took the first photo from inside the store

[let me know if you like this format of showing tweets/telling stories]

Iverson Road pavement works

You’ll have noticed that Network Rail’s works on Iverson Road are progressing well. What you may not have yet realised is quite how big an impact the pavement widening is going to have.

I’d seen the plans and noticed the extra space, but if you walk a few yards along and peer over the fence you can see just how wide it will be. Everything right up to the far wall will be pavement. It’s going to be 3-4 times as wide again as the existing pavement. This picture taken from up against the current fence line doesn’t really do it justice.

This whole space – which will be owned by Network Rail – will (at least outside of rush hour) become a rather pleasant open area, almost like a mini town square. It should vastly improve the whole environment at the junction (good news for Ladudu opening across the road on West End Lane).

It is also now possible to see just how big the new cut corner is going to be – again hard to capture on camera, but worth noticing next time you walk past from the tube direction. All the space you see will be pavement. This section is owned by Camden, but hopefully the whole unified area can be used for hosting small events (Christmas market, carol singing, community stalls), and preferably not as a hangout for chuggers.

This should be a very positive change to West Hampstead’s streetscape as well as improving the pedestrian flows between the stations. Hurrah.

Read more on the various roadworks on West End Lane.

West Hampstead & Fortune Green area action group

On a cold Monday evening, Liberal Democrat councillor Keith Moffitt (West Hampstead) kicked off the first combined area action group meeting. This is the successor to the local area forums. All six of the local councillors were present (all Lib Dems).

The audience – around 80 people, the vast majority being older members of the community – settled down as Keith mentioned that they had publicised the event on Twitter and on the two local blogs. He asked if anyone except me had come because they had seen it promoted online. No-one had.

A man behind me said sotto voce “Twitter is one of the most ridiculous pointless things I’ve ever heard of”. I wondered whether he’d ever even seen it. Keith introduced me, which I wasn’t quite expecting, but I sensed only mild curiosity rather than active interest.

There was a really quick rundown of projects funded by the £10,000 per ward improvement fund (inevitably that isn’t being offered again). These included two new benches (Agememnon Rd/Ulysses Rd and top of Fortune Green Rd); a “give-and take” event at Emmanuel School in March; new dog/litter bins and hanging baskets on Mill Lane.

One project – improvements to the paved area around the library – has yet to happen, but it is still being planned. A plan to use Mill Lane Bridge as a community art project had to be shelved due to health & safety concerns apparently.

Thameslink station
The session kicked off with a team from the Thameslink programme bringing us up to speed on the developments at West Hampstead Thameslink station. They had a powerpoint presentation that no-one could read, which was ill-thought out. The headline news is that the platforms will be ready for the longer 12-carriage trains by December 2011, but the new trains won’t be fully installed until 2015.

The plans for the station on Iverson Road have had to be adapted to bring it within budget. The changes are largely in materials although it’s clear that the initial plans were on the ambitious side. The station is also due for completion in December 2011.

As you all know, the pavement is being substantially widened on the north side of Iverson Road. The existing embankment is being built up and paved, and this should alleviate some of the congestion between the stations.

The design of the wall running from West End Lane to the station has been adjusted – and will now be a flat wall rather than with “profiled bricks”. There’s been an invisible change to some water flow issue and the zinc roof is becoming aluminium, so will look different from above but not from ground level (makes you wonder why they went for zinc in the first place).

Finally, the sedum roof (i.e. the one covered in greenery) is being replaced by a separate larger area of grass at ground level.

All the construction materials will now be delivered trackside and not by road, so there shouldn’t be road congestion. The timetable is also designed to ensure that work takes place on weekdays during working hours.

There were plenty of audience questions, and rather a lot of talking at cross-purposes. Someone pointed out that with all the street clutter outside Starbucks, Costa etc., this was still a pinch point. Keith explained there would be a sizeable project in 2011 to widen West End Lane pavements, and that tackling this issue would be part of the January phase of that (the plan is for work to be done up the west side of WEL and then back down the east side. Expect more traffic disruption for most of next year then).

There was another question about how a car club has procured more spaces than it had apparently bid for, which went unanswered, and one woman appeared disproportionately angry that the pavement had been widened on both side of the street without consultation. Keith said he thought this might just have been a lack of clarity on the diagrams, to which she replied rather ominously, “Lets hope for your sake it is”.

There was a more measured question about lighting. Network Rail explained that there will be strip downlighting all along the wall between West End Lane and the station, and the footbridge will also be lit. This should minimize glare for residents, while ensuring enough light for safety.

The existing station on the north side of the bridge will close, and there will be ticket barriers under a weatherproof shelter there that will be manned (or left open). There will also be ticket machines.

Strangely, despite the longer platforms, there is no provision for extra platform signage. Given the frequent platform changes and running delays on the service, the information boards are of course very useful, but clearly they won’t be visible from further along. Roger Perkins, the communications manager for the Thameslink Programme, said he would look into this and that there may be some other sources of funding available. It seems crazy to extend platforms and not think about extra signage.

Roger then explained the service improvements. As was announced last week (and mentioned on my weekly round-up) the Thameslink programme survived the spending review but the completion date has been pushed back from 2016 to 2018. This drew inevitable groans.

The new trains won’t appear until 2015 (although there will be a few longer trains in service from the end of 2011 using leased carriages) but even then very few if any will stop at West Hampstead. Priority for the extra capacity will go to the fast commuter trains from Bedford that are fast from St Albans. Most of the trains that stop at West Hampstead head down to the Wimbledoon loop, where many of the stations can’t be extended.

It began to dawn on everyone that we’re enduring quite a lot of disruption for not much immediate benefit. Eventually of course, more longer trains will be rolled out and services that do not go down to Wimbledon will use them. The major benefit to locals will be that there will be new routes opening up beyond the Bedford-Brighton/Sutton services, but these routes are yet to be decided.

Roger also said that 5,000 seats had already been added to rush hour trains – but again, not necessarily to services stopping at West Hampstead.

Appropriately, Keith now announced that we were now running 20 minutes late.

Seargeant Dave Timms of the West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhood Team spoke very briefly and wanted some input/feedback on how best the SNTs might be deployed. As he explained, they were suffering from funding restrictions like everyone else so they are very open to hearing how the public would like them to operate and whether the current organisation (where they are strictly ward-based) was appropriate. You can contact the team here.

New West Hampstead councillor Gillian Risso-Gill then discussed the issue of shops on West End Lane and Mill Lane. This is a emotive issue, as we know from the response to the “Changing Streetscape” blog from August.

She argued that West End Lane was faring relatively well in the aftermath of the recession, with very few units remaining empty for long. Glo of course being an exception and Mill Lane showing a more mixed picture. She argued that Tesco can live alongside independent shops and helps increase footfall. This met with a mixed reaction from the crowd.

Apparently, no-one other than Sainsbury’s had expressed any interest in the Best-One site. She also said that Penguin – the vintage boutique opposite the Overground station – is closing due to retirement rather than for financial reasons.

The main thrust of her talk was that we should look at other avenues for smaller retailers, such as markets. There was notable vocal support for a farmers market, although the issue of where it would be is tricky. The Christmas market, which is very clearly a retail opportunity and not a ‘festival’, will be on West End Green, but this is probably not big enough for a full-scale farmers market.

Someone asked what happened to the market that used to be at the O2 car park, which has moved to Eton Avenue (perhaps not realising that the car park solution was in fact temporary and the market was originally in Swiss Cottage).

A woman who works at West End Lane Books argued that the lack of parking was a big problem and stopped people from coming to West End Lane. This wasn’t especially well received by the councillors. Surely, if we’re trying to get local people to local shops then they can walk or use buses? It’s very hard to see much being done to increase parking in the area.

A more sophisticated issue is that of rates and rents and planning use. One local businessman said he knew of two chain restaurants that were actively looking to move into the area, but wouldn’t say which.

He also said he’d heard a rumour that M&S was going to take the Pizza Express site. This is an extension of the rumour a while back that Sainsbury’s was going to take that site, which a Pizza Express spokesperson categorically refuted when I put it to them earlier in the year. I am not convinced that site would work for M&S, but we shall see.

“Multiples” (as chains are called in the business) do of course bring footfall, but they can also afford to pay top whack in terms of rents, which raises the baseline level on the street, squeezing out smaller players. The audience member cited examples where rents had rocketed from £28,000 to £43,000 with change of use and suggested that the planning department could do more to control these changes of use.

Someone suggested whether Camden could turn a unit into a sort of permanent pop-up shop, allowing rotating use of the space. The idea was well received, but Keith pointed out that the council doesn’t own any units on West End Lane. Whether they could enquire/put pressure on landlords of empty units when they are available remains to be seen.

Not surprisingly, the issue of Tesco (and soon Sainsbury’s) delivery lorries came up. Fortune Green councillor Flick Rea explained that the Tesco on her patch had been expected to use a delivery point at the back of the building but it turned out the lorries couldn’t access this service area because it was too low. She is looking at getting a delivery bay built into the street as there is room there.

The West End Lane Tesco remains a problem as the company sees the constant parking fines as simply part of the cost of doing business.

A man from Fawley Road asked what he admitted was a NIMBY question about where Sainsbury’s delivery lorries would park. Flick said that she hoped it would be possible to have a conversation with Sainsbury’s about this, as they were more socially amenable than Tesco.

Budget cuts
The final topic of the evening was the budget cuts in Camden. By the time you read this, these will have been debated in the council chamber, and at this stage the programme of cuts is light on detail. Keith pointed out before the discussion started that legally this couldn’t be a party-political discussion as it is funded by the council*.

Given that much of this was hypothetical I shall keep this section short and wait until the budget plans have been approved for a longer discussion of how cuts will affect West Hampstead.

The nub of the issue is that Camden needs to cut £80 to £100 million of its budget, which is approximately 10%. Councils of course have statutory commitments and discretionary roles. Camden historically has been a council that has prided itself on going the extra mile but inevitably some of these discretionary services would have to be cut or provided by the voluntary or private sectors.

Keith also pointed out that there would be job cuts: 1,000 positions would go although many would happen through early retirement or posts not being filled rather than redundancies. However, plenty of jobs are on the line.

Libraries are one service that always receives a lot of publicity. It seems inevitable that some Camden libraries will close. Keith seemed reasonably confident that West Hampstead would not be one of them. However, whether it can remain in its current state is not clear. It is expensive to run (behind me a voice whispered authoritatively that it costs £290,000 a year to run WH library of which half is staff costs).

There was some confusion as to whether the mobile library service had already been cut or not. A tweet the following day from Camden suggested that it hadn’t been cancelled just yet and Alan Templeton from the Camden Public Libraries User Group (CPLUG) seemed to think that nothing had been definitively decided. However, he also believed that council officers had already decided which libraries were for the chop, suggesting Belsize, Chalk Farm and Highgate as the most likely casualties. He argued that no library was safe however, and locals should definitely adopt a “use it or lose it” attitude.

Other conversations discussed community centres and children’s services/play services. Keith mentioned the rebuilding/expansion of Emmanuel School, which has been discussed at length already. The issue of whether the possible new primary school on Liddell Road is the best location was also mentioned but not discussed.

And that was that. Not everyone had stayed to the end, and most scarpered off into the dark cold night as soon as the meeting was brought to a close. Surprisingly, no-one asked anything about the proposed student accommodation, although Keith mentioned it and there was a handout about it.

*unlike the conversation after the meeting drew to a close.

West End Lane’s changing streetscape

Ten days or so ago, it was brought to my attention that Best One – the mini-market on the corner of Fawley Road and West End Lane – was covered in memos from Sainsbury’s regarding an impending licence application.

I posted this on Twitter and got a few tweeted groans in reply, along with a more interesting response from local councillor @KeithMoffitt who said “Understand Sainsbury’s interested in Best One site but nothing finalised yet, so licensing notice odd.”

Yesterday, I noticed that the licence application had now been registered at Camden and is online.

Posting this elicited far more reaction, with the usual comments about the destruction of the character of West End Lane, the replacement of independent shops with chains, and the swamping of the neighbourhood with supermarkets. I think it is debatable whether replacing a franchised mini-market with a large-brand mini-market is particularly a bad thing, although it does serve to homogenise further the high street.

A broader issue is whether large chains can (and do) pay over market rates for rents and leases, thereby raising the market level and squeezing out existing independents as well as making it almost impossible for start-ups. I also think it’s worth looking at what we do have in West Hampstead.

I am building a directory of all the shops, restaurants, consumer services in the area and was astonished that I could tally more than 50 places that served food without venturing beyond the traditional borders of West Hampstead into Swiss Cottage or Kilburn. Yes, some of these are national chains (only four restaurants: GBK, Nandos, Pizza Express and Strada), especially in the take-away market, where some are franchises just like Best One) but the vast majority are independent.

We also – as everyone knows – have an amazing number of estate agents and a lot of charity shops. We don’t have very many ordinary independent shops – but we do have some, such as the electrical shop, the bookshop, the greengrocers and others, especially those tucked away along Mill Lane.

I’m not in the militant camp that thinks we should boycott chains, or who won’t shop in Tescos. When possible, yes, I do try and support local businesses but like most people I am also beholden to cost and convenience.

My request from this blog is simple: by all means berate the homogenisation of West End Lane, and by all means let your local councillors know your views on the matter (although remember that at the most basic level there’s little they can do to prevent individual shops from moving into existing retail units), but above all if you do believe in maintaining some independent shops in West Hampstead then please use them from time to time.

I know some of you don’t see the problem and are quite happy to see more chains move in as long as they’re selling things you want to buy. I also know that a lot of you do already make efforts to shop at independents where possible. But if you’re someone who always buys books from Amazon, why not – once in a while – buy or order a book from West End Lane Books; forsake Homebase for the electrical shop, the Iverson Road nursery or The Kitchener; or escape the congested fruit & veg aisle in Tescos and walk a minute up the road to the greengrocers. Not necessarily every day, but some days. Even if costs you a few pence more (and stop press folks: the chains in fact are not always cheaper), think of it as a small investment back into your community.

Comments welcome of course

Whampcarol success despite the cold

Tuesday night was #whampcarol night. Clear skies meant a cold night and, with the bridge still closed due to the flooding, West End Lane was eerily quiet with minimal traffic and surprisingly few pedestrians.

Undetterred, the band (the magnificent @eastlondonbrass) arrived and together with @helenstone, @gitfinger and my fellow mince-pie maker @SarahReardon, we set up our stall. Even before we’d started playing, people were generously giving up their small change to the two charities: The Winch and the band itself, which works with kids in east London.

As the cold fingers worked their way through Christmas classics there was a regular stream of donations.

The Holly & The Ivy, “live” from West End Lane (thanks to @gitfinger).
Listen! We had both sides of the road covered so no-one could miss us and despite the quiet evening the hit-rate was high. A small cheer went up when the first £5 note was pushed into the collecting tin, but it wasn’t to be the only one. After almost 90 minutes playing and with the temperature dropping we decided enough was enough and we’d leave the people of West End Lane in peace. We hurried to the Alice House to defrost, taking our table and of course instruments in with us. One table started chatting to us and suddenly we were offered £60 to play two carols right there. The bar manager very graciously agreed we could, and our pot was £60 bigger. Thank you very much indeed to that generous man. We raised just shy of £250, which was outstanding for such a quiet evening. Already there was talk as to how we could make next year’s bigger and better. Thank you to everyone who took part, and especially to all the people who gave money. We really appreciate it.

Photos courtesy of @gitfinger and @helenstone

The Czech & Slovak National House restaurant

Former Czech president Václav Havel smiled down at us from the wall. How could we fail to fall in love with the food and flock wallpaper?

We were guided through to the high-ceilinged dining room because we were interrupting the Czech sitcom on TV in the bar, or at risk of waking the guy slumped on the sofa. “It’s a bit like being in an old-fashioned hotel by the sea,” said Helen to nods of agreement. Sarah nodded too, but it was harder to see because she was standing up. Having lost the original reservation, the restaurant still managed to lay the table for only 7 rather than 8. Chairs were found, order was restored, beer was drunk.

The fin-de-siècle atmosphere of the parlour was heightened by the glamorous guests at the private party in the room next door whose beautiful dresses, elegant gloves and sharp tuxedos occasionally tumbled into the lobby. Bilingual conversations floated in to the restaurant, which was far more segregated between our raucous English chatter and the quiet Czech discussions at tables around us.A selection of starters appeared; insipid against the dark velvet of the walls, except for the Utopenec – a crimson mutant sausage designed to warn adolescent boys of the dangers of getting too close to the reactor. The Šopsky salad went down well, as did the potato pancake, which tasted much better than it looked. The avocado salad sadly looked more appetizing than it tasted – an avocado that requires a steak knife is never a treat.

Try as we might we just couldn’t polish off the last piece of fried bread topped with crumbled cheddar and the waiter punished us by leaving it on the table forlornly for the rest of the meal. Main courses arrived, ticking all the boxes in the I-Spy Book of Mitteleurope cuisine. There was goulash, there were schnitzels, there was wild boar, there was goose, there was sauerkraut, there were dumplings and there was Quorn. Yes. Quorn. In schnitzel form. More than that it was a Quorn “Club” Schnitzel, which meant it was liberally covered with – wait for it – crumbled cheddar. For real. Is this really traditional or did they just massively overorder the cheese this week?
Mark claimed his goose was “ethnically authentic” although his credentials for judging remained murky. If my goose was ethnically authentic, then I feel sorry for the Czechs. It was inedible. The meat was not so much dry as arid, while the sauerkraut had been lost in translation as it was horribly sweet. Dom manfully fought his way through a chicken club schnitzel – cheddar and all. Lisa said her Wiener schnitzel wasn’t as good as ones she’d had in Vienna (perhaps unsurprisingly). Matt barely touched his goulash, which “tasted like a school beef curry but, y’know, not spicy”. Helen declared the Quorn club schnitzel “excellent”, albeit with a deadpan expression that begged the question. Sarah’s chicken club schnitzel was “guilty pleasure comfort food”. Jerry’s wild boar and cream sauce had looked the best dish on the table and, based on his big smile and clean plate, it was clear what everyone would order should there ever be a return visit.

The bill (cash only) came to £153 for 8, service not included. Despite some disappointing food, the overall atmosphere was appealing in a mildly kitsch and unintentionally ironic sort of way. Quite what Václav would make of it I’m not sure – if he really liked crumbled cheddar then he’d probably love it, maybe write a play about it and thus cement its place in history. Which would be fitting, as the place feels far more rooted in the past than as a part of London’s contemporary multicultural cuisine.
Food 5.5
Service 6.1
Atmosphere 7.1
Overall impression 6.1
Good for: wild boar and nostalgia
Bad for: vegans
Czech Club Restaurant
74 West End Lane
London NW6 2LX
T: 0207 372 1193

(all photos courtesy of Jerry Barnett)

Czech and Slovak House on Urbanspoon

Newcommers [sic] update: New Katz on the block

My anonymous commenter on the blog below mentioned that the Prime video rental site had permission to be changed from retail use to professional services use. A quick look at Camden’s planning website in fact revealed that Black Katz letting agents requested the change of use. The full application can be found here for those that want the details (the “letter” is the most interesting bit).

Presumably this means Black Katz closing its branch on Broadhurst Gardens which, if nothing else changes, would leave four empty units on the south side of the road (along with Marios, the former café next to the dry cleaners, and the small Broadwell Parade unit next to the florists).

Newcommers [sic]

A few new faces on West End Lane, and a continuing mystery in Fortune Green.

Alexis the bakery up the north end of West End Lane has shut. To be replaced by… a bakery. But a bright orange bakery, if that makes any difference. There’s a Dylan’s already in Willesden (170 Church Rd), so presumably orange is a tried and tested formula. The West Hampstead one hasn’t opened yet, so no review but here’s a picture of it in all its orangeness.

(by the way, the pharmacy next door looks like it’s closing down – it’s not, it’s just being refitted).

Further down towards the tube station, the unit that was X10 computers (a strange den of chipboards, cables and the owner’s aphorisms, which acted as some sort of test as to your worthiness as a customer) closed a few weeks ago. It has reopened as Matrix. Nice to see the “x” theme being carried through there. This one has nothing to do with motherboards and hard drives and everything to do with nails and extensions [CORRECTION: it appears to be just a hair salon, not a nail bar]. Perhaps it will make up for the nail bar that closed earlier in the year on Broadhurst Gardens.

Regular readers will remember the Photo of the Week from Digest No.2. Here it is again to refresh your memories.

Of course, they couldn’t possibly leave such a huge billboard up with such a bad typo on it, so the board has been changed.

To this. Oh dear.

The friendly girls who work in that teeny-tiny branch of Goldschmidt & Howland next door gave me a wry smile when I asked about it. It’s going to be redone again apparently.

I was actually in their really very small space to try and solve the burning issue of the day: what is the retail space going to be in the very development advertised above. Rumours (some started by @bubela‘s local shopkeepers again) have been pinging around, and as G&H are selling the flats I thought they might know. They don’t. They did try and find out though and I spoke to Sam from their Hampstead sales office who explained that they weren’t responsible for the non-residential units and he couldn’t say for sure what would be there. The consensus in the office was that a gym/health club was pretty much a given. There was also talk that there might be some sort of mother/baby centre (whatever exactly that might be), and a shop. But what the shop was no-one seemed sure. Fear not, I’m still on the case and if I find anything out I shall let you know – and if you hear anything then do pass it on.

For what it’s worth, my hunch would be that something like a Spar is the most likley. I would be surprised if a Waitrose/M&S would move there as it lacks the footfall they need. Would Tesco’s really open somewhere quite so close to its Express store on West End Lane? And would Sainsbury’s open a Local quite so close to a Tesco Express? My money is on a Spar or another of the franchise operations, which can be half-way decent when they are in ok areas.

Finally, there’s the unit on West End Lane next to Starbucks that was Prime internet café and DVD/video rental. It’s been closed for a while and is being refitted at the moment. Place your bets for what will move in there. My guess is that it might stay empty for a little while. But I’ll try and find out when I get the chance.