Archive for the ‘Vauxhall’ Category

The GLC and how they Nearly Destroyed Covent Garden

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012
Covent Garden in 1974. By Clive Boursnell

Covent Garden in 1974. By Clive Boursnell

The London premiere for the film of My Fair Lady took place at the Warner cinema in Leicester Square on 21 January 1965. It couldn’t have been anything less than a glamorous occasion – Audrey Hepburn, Cecil Beaton, Rex Harrison (who came with Vivien Leigh) and even Jack Warner himself attended the show. The cinema was only a few hundred yards from Covent Garden, a location featured in the film (albeit a Hollywood studio-version) and which in the mid-sixties was still a functioning wholesale fruit, vegetable and flower market. A market that had been trading officially for almost 300 years ever since the Duke of Bedford in 1670 acquired from Charles II a charter allowing a fruit and vegetable market to take place every day except Sundays and Christmas day.

The ‘greatest ever musical’, as Pathé described the film, and of course Shaw’s original Pygmalion from which it derived, purposely used an Edwardian Covent Garden to show the contrast of rich and poor Londoners rubbing shoulders in what was then a very poor area of inner-city London. Over half a century later in the sixties and seventies Covent Garden, as a place to live and work, was still a very run-down and shabby part of the West End, difficult as it is to imagine these days.

33 Neal Street in 1969. Ellen Keeley’s family emigrated from Ireland during the potato famine and had been making and renting out barrows for the Covent Garden traders since 1830. The firm also ran a florist and a boxing gym.

Covent Garden’s flower market from around 1970

Presumably most of the councillors of the recently-formed Greater London Council, which had replaced the smaller London County Council the previous year, went to see My Fair Lady – after all it was a very popular film. Just two months after the film’s premiere, however, the new Labour-run GLC published the Greater London Development Plan part of which proposed, astonishingly, but as was the wont in those days, that over two-thirds of the historic Covent Garden area should be razed to the ground.

Covent Garden in Edwardian times.

In his book The Changing Life of London, the late George Gardiner, a former journalist and Tory MP who with Norman Tebbit and Airey Neave would end up playing an important role in the election of Margaret Thatcher as Conservative Party leader (not that she could have thought much of Gardiner as he was offered not one ministerial or front-bench position while she was leader of the Conservative party), put across his view of the Covent Garden Development Scheme:

Any loss of nerve on this by the GLC in face of protest from a small section of London’s populace… when the opportunity has presented itself, will do down as a black day in London’s history. If the drift of population away from the centre is combined with a retreat from a policy of comprehensive redevelopment in favour of mere site development it is the next generation of Londoners who will be the losers and who will look back on our timid age with scorn.

Covent Garden market had essentially been nationalised in 1961 by the Conservative government when they created the Covent Garden Market Authority. Soon after there was a plan to move the overflowing market to Nine Elms in Battersea. In 1965/6, mindful that the fruit and vegetable market would soon be gone from the West End, three councils, the Labour-controlled GLC, the Tory-run City of Westminster and the Labour-run Borough of Camden, together with Bovis, the Prudential Assurance company and Taylor Woodrow worked together on the Covent Garden scheme. All of the parties were interested in just one thing – a totally comprehensive redevelopment of the 96 acres that made up the historic Covent Garden area.

Gardiner wrote that when the initial draft plans was presented to the public “more than 3,500 people attended, and in fact, most of their comments wore favourable”. The suggestions from the public that weren’t so favourable, however,  were taken on board and a revised plan was approved by the GLC in 1970. What had changed, however, was that the three London councils, the GLC, Westminster and even Camden were now all Tory-controlled.

An A to Z map of Covent Garden from the 1960s. The GLC plan would mean that two thirds of the area between Shaftesbury Avenue, Holborn, Kingsway and the Strand would be demolished.

The Covent Garden redevelopment plan in 1968.

Covent Garden in 1955

The Covent Garden redevelopment scheme covered 96 acres in an area bounded by the Strand, Aldwych, High Holborn, Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road and it proposed the large-scale demolition of the great majority of the 18th and 19th century buildings around the historic old market.

Gardiner, after rather excitedly describing the Covent Garden scheme as Central London’s biggest and most exciting redevelopment project since the Great Fire, wrote of the first phase of the plans which were originally intended to be built by 1975:

There would be three new schools in place of the two old ones, open recreational spaces and new shopping facilities, new hotels, and something London at present does not possess at all – an international conference centre. It would also include a new covered road, running roughly along the line of Maiden Lane, parallel with the Strand, carrying eastbound traffic while the Strand is made one-way westwards.

Horrifically, the international conference centre was designed to completely enclose Covent Garden’s famous Piazza – the Italian-style arcaded square built by Inigo Jones in the 1630s and which was commissioned by the fourth Earl of Bedford to encourage wealthy Londoners to move, to what was then, a semi-rural area. It has been said that Inigo Jones’ new and exciting designs for Covent Garden made it, as far as London was concerned, the birthplace of modern town planning.

The Covent Garden redevelopment model. 1970.

North Spine of the redevelopment, circa 1970.

The solid line are new roads or widened roads. The dotted lines would have been major underground roads while the shaded area was planned to be an open space that would have waved goodbye to Long Acre. Just the road network planned for Covent Garden would have destroyed so much of the Covent Garden we know today.

Meanwhile the second phase, planned for completion by 1980, involved the areas from Maiden Lane down to the Strand. The main feature of which was a new upper level pedestrian street that would link Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square with the Conference Centre. Beneath the raised walkway a brand new main road would run from Charing Cross Road to the Aldwych.

The third phase involved the area north of the piazza, sorry I mean the International Conference Centre, and would consist mostly of new housing, much of it built above smaller offices, the new schools, and other community facilities. In the same area, and as was the fad in those days, another concrete upper-level pedestrian street would run from east to west beneath which an internal service road linked to car parks was planned. At Cambridge Circus there would be a new recreation centre, with a swimming pool and squash courts and an office building one and a half times the size of Centre Point (infamously empty at the time with the developer, Harry Hyams, reported to be happy making money from the rising value of the property rather than letting it out).

Covered pedestrian areas would lead to shops, existing theatres, restaurants and pubs, and over at the northern end of Drury Lane there would be a group of pedestrian squares at different levels, surrounded by shops and flats. This third phase of developments were were conceived to be completed by 1985.

Protest organised by the Covent Garden Community Association in 1972.

In April 1971 a Covent Garden Community Association was formed to provide a unified protest from the local residents and small businesses affected by the radical redevelopment plans. By the time of the local inquiry into the plan in July 1971, Camden Borough Council, which by now had changed from Conservative to Labour control also became formal objectors to the plan it had helped work up three and five years previously.

On the 26th June Anthony Crosland, MP for Grimsby, and the shadow Environment minister made a passionate and influential speech in the commons attacking the damage to London made by the post-war developers:

I believe with passion that it is now time to call a halt. It is time to stop this piecemeal hacking away at our city. It is time to say to the GLC, to Westminster City Council, to Land Securities Investment Trust, to Town and City Properties, to the lot of them, “Gentlemen, we’ve had enough. We, the people of London, now propose to decide for ourselves what sort of city we want to live in.

He added:

If the minister takes the opposite view and allows these plans to go ahead, a very dangerous mood will develop amongst Londoners. There already is a mood of helpless resentment at the inability to stop these damned developments, and this may develop into a mood of active resentment. People will not have London continuously mutilated in this way for the sake of property development and the private motorist. They will not have an endless number of Centre Points and an endless number of uniform, monolithic, comprehensive redevelopments which break up communities and destroy the historic character of the city.

1970. Lady Dartmouth, later Raine Spencer and step mother of Princess Diana, with her son Rupert Legge, at a polling station during the 1970 general election. She would later say about the Covent Garden plans: “I have felt  increasingly that our proposals are out of date and out of tune with public opinion.”

Desmond Plummer, the Conservative leader of the GLC, being shown the Covent Garden plans in 1972. The GLC would become Labour controlled the following year. It’s said because of their opposition to the new roads planned in the West End and all over London.

To the horror of many people who lived and worked in Covent Garden it initially looked like the GLC had won the redevelopment war when in July 1972 the plans were completely upheld by the inquiry inspector in his recommendation to the Conservative Secretary of State for the Environment Geoffrey Rippon.

Within a few weeks, however, the conservationist-minded Lady Dartmouth (who would later marry the Earl of Spencer and become the step-mother of Princess Diana) resigned from her post as chairwoman of the joint local authority committee who had been over-seeing the redevelopment plans. She had been affected by angry protesters who had at one point besieged her house and in her resignation letter she explained:

The theory of organising the sites so that offices, hotels and shops pay for housing, a park and a leisure centre is well-meaning; but no individual or bodies who represent the general public have supported us, and I have felt  increasingly that our proposals are out of date and out of tune with public opinion, which fears that the area will become a faceless, concrete jungle…I am unable to work for a project in which I no longer believe, and which could do unnecessary  and irreparable damage to an historic part of London.

The post-war consensus of modernising cities like London with the bull-dozer approach to redevelopment and traffic circulation was starting to fall apart. In January 1973, nearly eight years after the Covent Garden Redevelopment plan was originally made public and six months after the inquiry inspector had recommended the latest version, Geoffrey Rippon, while ostensibly approving the plan, effectively killed it. He had added 250 buildings to the list of those already protected because of historical and architectural merit which made comprehensive redevelopment in the Covent Garden area almost impossible.

A porter using his head to help carry flowers at Covent Garden market, London around 1970.

In 1961 number 23 Cecil Court was the scene of a murder when the body of part time shop assistant Mrs. Elsie May Batten was found in the rear of the antique shop. An eighteen-inch antique dagger was protruding from her chest.The shop’s owner, Louis Meier, remembered a young man who had shown an interest in a particular dress sword and some daggers in his shop the previous day. The sword was now missing.It turned up in a gun shop on the opposite side of the court, where the son of the owner told police that a man had brought it into his shop that morning. Using these witness’s descriptions the police complied England’s first Identikit picture and released it to the media.On 8th March 1961 PC Cole, who was on duty in Old Compton Street, recognised 21 year old Edwin Bush as being the face on the picture and arrested him. Bush was subsequently hanged for the murder.

Covent Garden in 1974. Photograph by Dave Flett.

Covent Garden in 1955.

Covent Garden in 1974. Photograph by Sean Hickin.

In 1973 the GLC was recaptured by Labour and the new council told the developers and planners that they had to completely start again. Eventually the Covent Garden Community Association would have most of its demands met and nine out of ten of the key sites marked for demolition were saved in the final plans published in 1976.

Anthony Crosland, formerly the shadow Environment secretary, with his wife Susan in 1977. Five days before he died.

Anthony Crosland MP who had made such a fine speech about London post-war development back in 1972 had written a book called ‘The Conservative Enemy’ ten years previously. In it he presciently summed up what had happened, and would happen, to so many city centres around the country:

Excited by speculative gain, the property developers furiously rebuild the urban centres with unplanned and æsthetically tawdry office blocks; so our cities become the just objects of world-wide pity and ridicule for their architectural mediocrity, commercial vulgarity, and lack of civic or historic pride.

In 1974 the Covent Garden fruit and vegetable market moved to Nine Elms in Battersea two years later than planned.

11th November 1974: The old Covent Garden fruit, vegetable and flower market lies deserted at its Covent Garden site

The 1938 version of Pygmalion

The Nags Head, Covent Garden in the early 70s

The picture above comes from a book called Old Covent Garden by Clive Boursnell. You can buy it here.

Brian Protheroe – Pinball


Vauxhall, Julie Driscoll, The Angry Brigade and Mr Archer

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

Julie Driscoll in 1968

Years ago my neighbour Fred once said to me ‘Julie Driscoll used to live just down the road you know’, his eyes sort of glazed over and he wistfully sighed ‘Ah, Jools…’. I’d heard of her but I wasn’t entirely sure where or why, but went and bought a couple of her CDs all the same. Fred had done me a favour because Julie Driscoll made some really good music – her most famous track being a cover of Bob Dylan’s Wheels On Fire when she was part of The Brian Augur Trinity which was subsequently used as the theme music for Absolutely Fabulous.

She was one of the faces of the sixties with short cropped hair, bewitching eyes and was described as ‘the coolest of the cool’ and ‘The Face’ by the contemporary music press.

In 1969 she recorded her first solo album called 1969 (it was actually released a couple of years later) and included on the collection was a weird, but in my opinion a rather fantastic track called Vauxhall to Lambeth Bridge – which would be a short walk of about half a mile between two adjacent bridges that span the river Thames.

It’s actually a journey, being rather local, that I’ve made in one form or other hundreds of times. The south bank of the Thames here is known as the Albert Embankment and was built on reclaimed land from the river by Joseph Bazalgette, the man famous in London for being responsible for building London’s sewer system in the mid-19th century, most of which still exists to the present day.

View from Vauxhall Bridge, 2008

If you can get past the bit in the song where Big Ben is winking and smiling at Julie (it was the sixties after all), the song is about an evening walk along the riverside where she meets a man looking into the dark and black water of the Thames searching for something in the impenetrable depths – presumably, I suppose, searching for the meaning of life and not his watch or whatever. I’m not sure if Jools ever wanders down the same bit of river these days, I hope so, because if she does she probably sees me doing the same thing from time to time.

Julie in Vogue with a couple of pet cats, 1968

Vogue 1969

Julie, in the early sixties was working with the Yardbirds fan club when she was encouraged by the band’s then manager, Georgio Gomelsky, to try singing as a career. In 1963 at the age of 16 she released her first single , ‘Take Me By The Hand’ and in two years she was singing with a rhythm and blues group called Steam Packet which included Long John Baldry, Rod Stewart and and Brian Augur – the band was a sort of precursor of the late sixties supergroups. Well, it would have been if all the members weren’t complete unknowns at the time.

Rod, Long John Baldry, Julie and Brian Auger


Eventually, Rod Stewart and Long John Baldry went off to try and be famous, with various degrees of success, and Julie continued singing with organist Brian and his Brian Auger Trinity. In 1968 they had a top five hit with Bob Dylan’s ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’. It remained their and Julie’s biggest hit although they released several fantastic singles including Donovan’s Season Of The Witch.

Streetnoise, the album that features Vauxhall to Albert Bridge.

Julie, is still performing, singing slightly more avant-garde material these days, and is now known as Julie Tippetts married to the jazz musician Keith Tippet who played on Streetnoise – the 1969 album on which Vauxhall To Lambeth Bridge is featured.

This time not with Julie but too good not to put up here. This promo ‘video’ of the Brian Auger Trinity was ridiculously ahead of its time.

Buy Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity stuff here and here

Mind Your Own Music (Keith Tippett and Julie Tippetts website)

The Brigade Is Angry

“The Police computers cannot tell the truth. They just record our `crimes’. The pig murders go unrecorded.
(Communique No. 9, following the bombing of Tintagel House)

The Angry Brigade

A couple of years after Julie sang about wandering along the river between Vauxhall and Lambeth Bridge an urban guerilla group known to the press as The Angry Brigade in May 1971 bombed the police computer at Tintegel House on the Albert Embankment of the Thames. Their ninth communique was released the same day.
The Angry Brigade is the man or woman sitting next to you.
They have guns in their pockets and hatred in their minds.
We are getting closer…
Power to the People.

America had the Weather Men, Italy the Red Brigades, Japan the Red Army Fraction, Germany the Baader-Meinhof gang but here in the UK we had the Angry Brigade. Today though, Britain’s first urban guerilla group have almost been forgotten – even their name seems a sort of pythonesque joke. Yet this disparate group of anarchists managed over about three years to explode 25 bombs between 1968 and 22 May 1971. The targets included senior policemen and politicians, a Territorial Army drill hall but also the less obvious Biba – the fashionable swinging London boutique which the Angry Brigade, rather a head of time, saw as exploiting sweatshop labour.

The Angry Brigade, with better luck than judgement, caused no fatalities, although someone once got slightly hurt, and the damage they caused was pretty minimal. Nonetheless the establishment were panicked due to the lack of evidence they could find on the initially nameless terrorists. Evidence of a sort at last arrived after the first ‘communique’ was issued by the Angries. It followed a bomb at the police commissioner Sir John Waldron’s home in August 1970. It was signed Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.

Communique No. 1

bomb at Gant's Hill

The aftermath of the bomb at the minister's house

The next communique stayed in the wild west and was signed ‘the Wild Bunch’. However on 12 January 1971, Robert Carr, the Tory secretary of state for employment and productivity, was the target and the subsequent communique’s signature was stamped with a children’s John Bull printing kit and read ‘The Angry Brigade’. It was a title grabbed gleefully by the popular press and it became the name the anarchic urban guerilla group were to be forever known.

Tintagel House on the Thames south bank

The bomb at Tintagel house (a Metropolitan Police office block), just down from Vauxhall Bridge and a couple of buildings away from where is now the rather over-the-top MI6 building (officially known just as 85 Vauxhall Cross), was aimed at the police computer – a ‘state of the art’ UK designed ICT 1301 mainframe. As usual the explosion caused minimal damage and even though the computer was size of a house it seemingly could do nothing but add two and two together anyway.

1301 mainframe Computer

The computer in question was completely British and was built jointly by GEC Telephones of Coventry and the British Tabulating Machine company who held all the rights to IBM technology throughout the British commonwealth. However, and with hindsight not exactly sensibly, they decided to give up these rights and build the 1301 in competition with IBM – then the Microsoft (sort of) of the day. The biggest selling point of the ICT 1301 was that it could add and subtract pounds shillings and pence, and to be able to multiply sterling amounts by decimal numbers.

The computer was about 20 ft wide and 22 ft long, weighed five tons, and had an internal memory of about 72 kilobytes (a Word document a few pages long). Each of the Ampex 1″ tape units in the background on the right could store about 9 megabytes of memory (about a couple of mp3s).

A few months after the Tintagel House bombing the police raided a house in Stoke Newington finding various explosives, ammunition and guns but most damning of all a John Bull printing kit. Gradually eight supposed members of The Angry Brigade were arrested, subsequently becoming known, rather imaginatively by the press, as the ‘Stoke Newington Eight’.

The Angry Brigade’s campaign came to a definite end after the longest criminal trial in English history (it lasted from May 30 to December 6 1972) was concluded with John Barker, Jim Greenfield, Hilary Creek and Anna Mendleson each receiving prison sentences of ten years. Other defendants, however, were found not guilty including Stuart Christie, who had formerly been imprisoned in Spain for carrying explosives with the intent to assassinate the dictator Franco, and Angela Mason, who went on to become the director of Stonewall and the Government’s Women and Equality Unit and who was awarded an OBE in 1999.

London' s finest at Tintagel House on the Albert Embankment in 1971

Cold, Unloving, Rubber-Insulated Sex

Jeffrey atop of his penthouse apartment on the Albert Embankment

Next door to Tintagel House is a rather nondescript sixties tower block called Peninsula Heights but formerly known as Alembic House. Jeffrey Archer owns the penthouse at the top of the building and it was here that he held his infamous shepherd’s pie and Krug parties. The apartment was formerly owned by Bernie Eccleston, the Formula One baron and before that John Barry the James Bond theme composer and a host of other fantastic pieces of music.

Apparently Peter Stringfellow has the flat downstairs. It was also the groovy sixties location when the plans were organised for the Italian Job and it also featured in Sweeney! – the feature film version of the famous television series.

Interior of Jeffrey's penthouse suite

The journalist Deborah Orr visited Archer’s apartment just before his trial in 2001 and described it as having “no bookshelves in the living room, as all the available wall space is given over to Lord Archer’s much written about collection of art. This was dismissed airily by one of his acquaintances as ‘All the right names, all the wrong pieces’…But there are bookshelves upstairs, which at a glimpse can be seen to hold books not spine out but front out. The books, from this limited perspective, all seem to be Jeffrey Archer hardbacks.

Most disconcerting… is the preponderance of heavy, gilded, Empire furniture around the place. The general effect is that Frasier has been forced to sub-let to a minor but wealthy admirer of the Third Reich.”

Monica Coghlan

I’ve only been in the public gallery of a court case once in my life, but in 1987 I visited the High Court in the Strand, and actually watched the judge summing up the libel trial Archer v Express Newspapers in Court 13. It was the case where Jeffrey Archer had taken The Star to court after the newspaper had alleged that Jeffrey Archer had had sex with the prostitute Monica Coghlan.
I can still remember the intake of breath from people in the public gallery at the description the judge (Mr Justice Caulfield) gave of Mrs Archer in his jury instructions:
Remember Mary Archer in the witness-box. Your vision of her probably will never disappear. Has she elegance? Has she fragrance? Would she have, without the strain of this trial, radiance?
The judge went on to say of Jeffrey Archer, “Is he in need of cold, unloving, rubber-insulated sex in a seedy hotel room..?” It looks like he was in need of exactly that because, ironically, it is now known that Jeffrey and and Mary Archer were then living largely separate lives.
Unfortunately I wasn’t in the court room when the tiny Monica Coghlan, who at a mere 4 feet 11 inches could hardly see over the witness box, when she pointed out Archer as the man who ten months earlier had paid her £70 for sex.
I had no difficulty seeing his face. I was lying on top of him the whole time. He commented on how lovely I was. He was quite surprised by my nipples. It was over very quickly – about 10 minutes, what with getting undressed and the actual sex. Because it was over so quickly, I suggested that he relax for a while and he could try again. I lit a cigarette and I laid down on the bed with him. I asked him what he did for a living. He said, ‘I sell cars,’ and he had no sooner said that than he jumped off the bed and said he should go and move his car.
Extraordinarily, considering there was a tape of Archer offering Monica Coghlan £2000 to leave the country played in court (incidentally I have heard this tape and Coghlan sounded like a confused, frightened rabbit and the Archer and Coghlan certainly didn’t sound like strangers), Jeffrey Archer won the case and was awarded, what was then, a record £500,000 damages. He said he would give this to charity but of course there is no record that this actually happened.

Jeffrey and Mary outside court

On 19 July 2001 Archer’s former friend Ted Francis told the News Of The World that he supplied a false alibi for Archer at the time of the 1987 trial and Archer was subsequently tried and found guilty of perjury and perverting the course of justice. To the sound of cheering throughout the land he was sentenced to four years in jail.

Monica Coghlan died a week before her 50th birthday when she was involved in a bizarre hit and run accident by a man who had just robbed a nearby pharmacy. Before she died she told the press:

Jeffrey Archer took everything away from me, I lost my home, my dignity, my self-respect and any hope of the future. While I was scrimping and scraping, he was clawing his way back to power and lording it up in his manor house. It just wasn’t fair, simple as that.” She also added “I have never denied what I was. I was a prostitute.