Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Bow’

Britain’s Post-War Demolition Madness

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 31st July, 2019

The Rovers ReturnGrowing up in Eccles, on the western outreaches of Salford, a few years after the Second World War, I was very conscious how drab and grey much of Greater Manchester was. Whereas the 19th century had seen an extraordinary industrial boom, propelling the city from a certain obscurity to global importance, the 20th century had witnessed gradual decline. Many of the magnificent city centre buildings had become soot-black, and stately warehouses and commercial premises were empty or abandoned. Even as a schoolkid, busing across both Salford and Manchester every weekday to get to Manchester Grammar School, I was aware that a lot of demolition was going on. Coronation Street — which really existed — and many other back-to-back housing districts were being “cleared” in the 1960s, just when the Granada TV series (launched in 1960) that had expropriated the name was becoming a national ITV favourite. The fictional street had a pub called the Rovers Return, and that name was also a steal: the real Rovers Return had been the self-proclaimed oldest “beerhouse” in Britain, in Shudehill, supposedly established in the early 14th century, but demolished in 1958. It may seem incredible to us now that such a piece of heritage could be casually disposed of, as the city’s socialist administration aimed to “modernise” and “regenerate” the urban environment. But that was the leitmotif of the era. Even as a callow youth I decried the demolition of some of the fabulous mansions on “Millionaires Row” near Hope that my bus passed daily.

Poplar 1950When I came to London in 1982 (after eight years in Brussels) I discovered similar things had been going on here, as housing estates and high-rise blocks of flats replaced more traditional forms of low-rise housing. When I moved to Bow, in 1986, I assumed that the blocks of flats on the other side of the road had replaced bomb-sites, but not a bit of it. There had been rows of late Victorian terraced houses, just like mine, that had been bulldozed after the War in the name of progress. These days, our side of the road is a conservation area, thankfully, but the neighbourhood opposite cannot be conserved because it has gone. Of course, German bombing did destroy a lot of Britain’s urban landscape, but was it really necessary to just continue obliterating the physical memories of the past? I believe not. At least trees are being planted everywhere in Tower Hamlets these days. But even their beautiful greenness cannot hide the architectural ghosts of the past.

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London’s 2nd City

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 3rd July, 2012

From my front room window I can see Canary Wharf, which is how most of us East Enders refer (incorrectly) to Canada Tower on the Isle of Dogs, constructed to be the symbol of London’s second City or financial centre, but with a nod to the Elizabeth Tower of the Houses of Parliament (equally incorrectly generally known as Big Ben). Canary Wharf is actually the central ensemble of the audacious development in the old Docklands. This is now the subject of a short but insightful volume by Bow writer and journalist Kevin d’Arcy, London’s 2nd City*. In brief, snappy chapters Kevin introduces many of the main characters in the drama of the Canary Wharf area’s conception and birth, from Michael Heseltine and the megarich Reichmann brothers to the Liberal duo Eric Flounders and Brian Williams, who gave local leadership and vision in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Even as someone who has been around the wholetime, I learnt a lot from this book, including the reason (or at least, a reason) why the shoppping arcades at Canary Wharf are underground: the developers cut their teeth in Toronto, Canada, where such tunneled emporia are a haven in bitter mid-winter. The whole enterprise had its ups and downs and all these are charted, but in a way that steers clear of libelling anybody. It’s an attractive little book, written very much in journalistic not academic style, though alas, as so often with self-published works, there are some glaring errors; the Coalition Government was elected in 2010, not 2009, and there could not possibly have been 3.5 million homes destroyed in London during the War, as none would have been left. Such gripes aside, a worthwhile read.

£9.99 from Rajah Books, 40 Bruce Road, London E3 3HL

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Mount Pleasant

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 16th August, 2009

Today I went out to Reigate for the day, to have lunch with my fellow biographer Michael Bloch at Mount Pleasant, a retreat for people involved in the creative industries (disconcertingly described as an ‘artists’ rest home’ in most directories of charitable organisations) which enables writers, potters, architects and the like to stay at an extremely modest price in a rather beautiful, substantial house in Surrey’s stockbroker belt, with wonderful views of the Surrey hills from its gardens and dining room. I have been there for Sunday lunch on several occasions over the past decade or so, though never to stay. To write, I need to be in my upstairs study at home in Bow, the curtains drawn and the cat snuggled up by my feet. But Michael has for years been one of the institution’s most assiduous repeat visitors and I can see the attractions of the mini-country house lifestyle, where the everyday concerns of preparing food, making beds and so on evaporate, while one can just write, think, read or walk in the surrounding countryside. Mount Pleasant was generously endowed, but it has inevitably been hit by the economic crisis of the past year. One just hopes that it can continue to offer the tranquility and inspiration it has done for so many for so long.

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