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In this Story Circle we explored memories of London, from local streets and shops to favourite bridges and buildings, from parks to the history hidden beneath our feet. We discovered that our participants were London legends too!

STREETS AND SHOPS: LONDON'S LITTLE VILLAGES

MY NEIGHBOURHOOD by Sue Evangelou

I am flying high above my neighbourhood. I see the A23 spearing its way through middle of Streatham. Long before it was the A23, Roman legions marched this route, the sound of their footsteps echoing as they passed by. I see buildings, Edwardian and Art Deco. There are buildings that used to be theatres and cinemas. Streatham was once a hub of entertainment. The West End of the South. I see the traffic, bumper to bumper, which led in 2002, to Streatham High Road being voted Britain’s Worst High Road. I consider this very unfair. It’s the cars that make it the worst High Road, not the High Road itself. The High Road, with trees planted in the central reservation and bordered by wide pavements, could be a Parisian boulevard without those cars. I see W.H. Smiths, Superdrug, Boots, but sadly no longer a Woolworths. The Post Office building is now occupied by Barclays Bank. The Post Office being demoted to a section of the first floor of Smiths.

I see the shop that has replaced the pub called The Genevieve. The pub, that I only realised had ceased to exist, when I thought it would be an interesting idea to take a photo of the vintage cars driving past it, when they were taking part in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Race on the first Sunday of November each year.

I see the Odeon Cinema on the other side of the road from Smiths, still showing films in it’s four, or is it five, mini cinemas. The Odeon, that I once sat in front of on a blue office chair that I had just bought at a charity shop. I was having a rest from wheeling it along the pavement, whilst my friend popped into a shop. Nobody batted an eyelid. I see the Blackbird Bakery and the many restaurants and cafes serving recipes from all over the world. I see the charity shops. Charity shops that I take visiting friends on a tour of. People’s cast offs make other people’s treasures. I have to be careful that I don’t rebuy an item that I have donated. I will spot something I like the look of and then realise that it once was mine. My tours end by turning left into Shrubbery Road, where we find the Wholemeal Café, and where, carrier bag laden, we sit down, after ordering Homity Pie with a selection of the salads, at the counter. I see the old red brick Police Station opposite the Wholemeal Café, no longer in use thanks to Boris, now occupied by Guardians. When I was a Learning Support Assistant at Sunnyhill School, our class went on a tour of the Police Station, the cells were very popular. I see the red double decker buses, lorries, the white vans, the cars of all shapes and sizes, making their way along the High Road. I hear the constant background hum of traffic and the sound of buses stopping and starting. I smell the fumes. Streatham High Road is served by many buses. Hurray for the Freedom Pass. Further along the High Road stands Streatham Station from where trains can take me into central London in twenty minutes or so. I see, alongside the railway station, the bus station where I can catch the 159 bus and the 133 bus at the start of their journeys to Oxford Street and Liverpool Street station respectively. Then there is the Tesco store and next to that is the Sports Centre, which now houses the ice rink and the swimming pool. When we first came to Streatham, there used to be a separate swimming pool, where my daughter learnt to swim and was in the swimming club, and a separate Ice Rink, where my daughter and I both took skating lessons. She learnt to skate and I learnt to walk on ice without falling over, never attaining the glory of a glide.

I see Streatham Common. The Common where we used to have wonderful free firework displays on Bonfire Night, chewing treacle toffee as we craned our necks to watch the sparkling display. The Common, where Kite Day takes place each year. There are sometimes Fun Fairs with old fashioned rides. There are even the occasional music festivals when, whether we like it or not, our gardens are invaded by music that we might not normally listen to. Opposite the Common on the other side of the High Road is Immanuel Church hall, where I take part in a Tuesday dance class and a Thursday Zumba class, sometimes followed by a coffee in the Pied Bull pub. I see the end of the High Road fading out of view. My flight is over. We are served well in Streatham, and I have enjoyed the 34 years I have lived here.

DAYS OUT IN LONDON by Loretta Ankier

We’re off to London to spend the day.
We’ll start in China Town
then make our way.
One great boundary gate
design from the Qing Dynasty
a magnificent structure for all to see.
Coloured lanterns
ff different styles
guardian stone lions
on pedestals
like Foo Dog statues
they sit as a pair
with a paw on a ball
some are quite rare.
Must Indulge in a Chinese meal
wonton soup and crispy duck
after that see how we feel.
Sweet and sour prawns
barbecued meats, mixed fried rice
Mmm! That all sounds nice!

When visiting China
it’s history is vast
an interesting culture
and Oriental arts.
The British Museum has thousands of these
ivories, jade, silks and tapestries
Ming Dynasty porcelain in blue and white
the Willow pattern is a beautiful site.

Then we’ll go to Battersea
the Peace Pagoda in the Park
that’s where we’ll walk
until it starts to get dark.
There’s also the Great Pagoda
in the Royal Gardens at Kew
163 feet tall, built in 1762
renovated 3 years ago
we could go and see that too.
80 colourful dragons
lovingly restored
again adorn the building
for this we can applaud.
A 200 year old mystery
has never been resolved
how its 80 dragons disappeared
the truth is left untold.

Tomorrow we’ll take another spree,
Italian Quarter and Little Italy.
Then a Soho eatery
Escalopines alla Milanese
on spaghetti pomodoro,
then zabaglione and gelato
we’ll sit and eat al fresco.
Just opened in Bishopsgate
Italian Food Hall Eataly
displaying delicious goodies
to delight the many foodies.
An array of cured meats, cheeses
Ciabatta, and Olive oils refined
and of course the best Italian wines
In the evening we’ll go to the Opera.
Perhaps ‘La Traviata’
but first an aperitivo
Saltimbocca as a starter.
After there’s Little Venice
Venezia Piccolo
with its boats and walkway.
Molto romantico.

ONE OF MY FAVOURITE SHOPS by Sue Evangelou

On the Liberty internet site, they state ‘To this day, a voyage of discovery awaits on the good ship Liberty’.

The 1924 black and white Tudor revival shop was built using the timber from two old ships, HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan. Its design consists of three atriums surrounded by small rooms complete with furniture and fireplaces. Wooden pillars, wooden balconies draped with Oriental rugs, wooden floors and wooden stairs – the two ships were born again. Leaded windows and a roof made up of glass panels, pouring light down into the shop. On a turn of the stairs the names of those members of staff who died in WW2 – not forgotten. A statue of Arthur Lasenby Liberty oversees the flower shop entrance. A golden ship weathervane sails up high. The Liberty clock depicting George and the Dragon. Arthur Lasenby Liberty wanted his shop to be different and he succeeded. Sadly, he died before seeing the 1924 version of his shop completed. It is a fitting memorial to him. He had travelled to Japan and the East, bringing back ideas and employing designers and artists to create them. Designers and artists still work in the attic rooms of the store. He sold ornaments, fabric and objets d’art from all over the world. He brought a new and exotic world to Regent Street. In the basement there used to be an Eastern Bazaar, an Aladdin’s cave of genie lamps, shining brass trays and vases, wooden metal braced treasure chests, Persian rugs. The fabrics sold are wonderful in themselves. My favourite is Tana Lawn, so called because Lake Tana in Ethiopia is where the cotton plant originated. The design names evoking their inspiration: Her; Persian Voyage; Bengal; Felicite; Deco Scallop; Wiltshire Blossom; Poppy Meadowfield; Palampore Trail; Quill; Regency Tulip, to name a few. Designs spanning the years from the 1880s to the 2020s. Tana lawn that I have used in patchwork quilts, made dresses for my daughter, lined hand crocheted purses for sale on my vintage stall, covered notebooks and, of course, more recently made face masks out of. My friend and fellow vintage stall holder gave me Tana Lawn flowered tulips for Christmas 2020. Thank you, George Lazenby Liberty.

RAMBLES AND THE RIVER: WALKS AND WILD PLACES

THE WOBBLY BRIDGE by Diana Wee

My favourite bridge on the River Thames is the wobbly bridge, officially The Millennium Footbridge. The intricacies and beauty on the structure of the bridge is fascinating, the supporting cables created the unique design that decorate and beautify the whole construction. It’s an excellent work of art, when I’m walking on the bridge I feel very proud to be a Londoner. It’s the only pedestrian bridge on the River Thames that links the North Bank next to the City of London School and the Southern side is near the Globe theatre and Tate Modern. I like walking on the bridge to feel the wind and the sea air at the same time blowing my hair. I usually walk with this friend who has dark hair, but she loves to wear a blonde wig, so she has to hold on to her blonde wig when the wind blows. Walking on the wobbly bridge the style of walking is different, I have to stomp my steps slightly and at the same time sway with the wind a little to enjoy the flow. The best part there is watching the reactions of other passers-by, and the tourists on their first walk of the bridge, seeing them trying to cling to each other for support, the anxious way they grabbed on to their hats skirts and scarves when the wind is blowing, the awesome giggling, laughter and screaming of kids in their excitement and delight trying to balance themselves as well as navigating their way through the bridge ignoring their parents anxiety to assist them. It’s a joy to walk on the wobbly bridge.

STREATHAM WELLS by Sue Evangelou

The area I live in is called Streatham Wells. It was given this name because of the local mineral wells. I live on Valleyfield Road, in one of the first houses to have been built there. The previous owners said that when they moved into their brand-new house in the late 1920s, cows were still being driven passed, coming down the hill from the farm at the top. I wonder if the cows were then milked at Curtis Bros Dairy, that was situated on nearby Valley Road, at that time. On the site of the Dairy was Well House, built, when in the 1780’s, a new mineral water spring had been found after the original wells’ waters became contaminated. These mineral waters are said to have smelt awful and tasted even more awful. They acted as a purge. In the 1900’s Curtis Bros Dairy would deliver milk and mineral water to the local houses. Later the Dairy was bought by Unigate, who delivered milk to us when we moved here in 1987, but, we weren’t offered any mineral water! A few years later Unigate sold the site and sheltered accommodation housing was built there. Well House still stands amongst these houses. Our GP practice is also on this site, so the tradition of medicinal treatment continues, but, thankfully remedies prescribed aren’t for a purge. There is a wishing well in The Rookery. The Rookery, named after a large house that used to be there, a nearby oasis of flowers, streams, trees and shrubs. An oasis where, amongst families, couples and singles, who make it their destination at weekends, you can sit and ponder and relax. The wishing well is said to be on the site of the original mineral water well. Doctor Samuel Johnson used to come to take the waters here. Outdoor plays are performed at The Rookery in the summer and there is a Community Garden. Wellfield Road on the other side of Valley Road, with its mix of Georgian and Edwardian houses, is one of the earliest streets in the area. Opposite Well House is the primary school, built in the early 1900s, at the bottom of Sunnyhill Road. It still has the carved stones on the walls indicating which side was for Girls and which side was for Boys. The mineral well in Valley Road contributed to the growth of Streatham Village.

HENLEY BRIDGE by Loretta Ankier

At Henley there is the 5 arched Henley Bridge with a sculpture in the centre on either side of Isis and Themesis being the ancient name for the River Thames and representing Father Thames. Boats sail under the bridge either side of the central stone pillar separating the channel and dividing their passage. Facing down river, on the left of Henley Bridge, stands the very well-known ancient pub restaurant called ‘The Angel’ and next to it is a small boat slipway whose main visitors are ducks and swans that leave remnants of their visits behind them on its hard surface. Nearby is a quaint little hut belonging to Hobbs of Henley for the hiring out of their boats. The Managing Director, Tony Hobbs is appointed Royal Waterman to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Also close by is an ice cream hut where our daughters used to queue up to buy soft swirl ice cream cornets with a chocolate flake protruding. Our daughters, who are grown up now, were very well known little girls by the ice cream hut owners. On the right hand side of the river is the Henley Royal Regatta Headquarters that stands next to some private boat moorings that are owned by Hobbs of Henley.

THE LIFEBLOOD OF LONDON – THE RIVER THAMES by Sue Evangelou

You are London’s life blood, the reason it exists.
What stories do your waters hoard beneath the morning mists?
Waters that deceive, veiling perilous currents below,
taunting those despairing, daring those who do not know.
You have carried cargoes, treasure from far and wide,
cargoes stored in warehouses that now hold flats inside.
Now you carry tourists, heads turning left and right,
Big Ben booms above, Parliament shines on you at night,
riverside drinkers ponder life considering its ebb and flow.
Chugging tugs toss and bounce giving heavy loads a tow.
Frost Fair skaters glide on you but still you move below.
You deposit relics on your shores, mementos of long ago.
Writers and painters bear witness, inspired through countless years.
Golden Gloriana left in its wake the sound of echoing cheers,
you’ve ferried prisoners to the Tower to contemplate their fears.
Innocent or guilty, it makes no difference to you,
you live to flow and flowing is what you do.
All knowing, your odyssey transcends us, we’re just passing through,
but you, you are forever, eternal, and when we are all long gone,
your mission will continue, your quest will carry on.

NIGHTS ON THE TOWN: EATING, DRINKING, DANCING AND FUN!

MY DATE WITH DESTINY by Sue Evangelou

Maureen and I took the train from Forest Hill. It was her birthday. She had been given some Miss Dior (Original) eau de toilette. As we journeyed, she sprayed some on herself and then on me – the start of my love for what became my favourite scent. I think I wore a black top with a slim skirt that I had made using a cotton satin fabric, black background with multi coloured flowers. After changing trains at London Bridge, we arrived at Charing Cross. Bracing ourselves against the cold, we walked to Leicester Square, to the Café de Paris, opened in the 1920s, serving such clientele as Josephine Baker, the then Prince of Wales and Noel Coward and now on the 26th January 1980, Maureen and I. Coats off in the cloakroom, makeup and hair checked, we made our way to the dance floor. What was the music? I can’t remember. Was there a disco ball turning above, casting its prisms of light on the dancers below? I can’t remember that either. I do remember a dark haired, dark suited young man, with a rather flashy tie, looking at me across the crowded floor. He asked me to dance and his friend asked Maureen to dance. The night flew by, we exchanged phone numbers before Maureen and I made a dash for the last train. He rang the next day and we arranged to meet. What I didn’t know, was that the day before he had been told by a fortune teller that he would meet the woman he would marry that night. Yes, reader, I married him!

COCKTAILS FOR COUSINS by Sue Evangelou

Jane, who had arrived from Devon the day before, and I have travelled into the centre of London by bus. We have crossed the Thames from south to north and at the far end of Waterloo Bridge have got off at the Lancaster Place bus stop. It’s raining, but it doesn’t dampen our spirits. We walk along the Embankment to Two Temple Place and there waiting at the entrance is Cherrie. The Three Cousins are united once more. There’s a free Jazz Age exhibition on and we all enjoy looking at the displays of 1920’s dresses, hats, coats, shoes, photos of bands and all aspects of that era. A coffee and a bite to eat and, of course, a visit to the shop, full of Art Deco themed goods to tempt us. Then we leave and head off for the high spot of our time together.

We take Middle Temple Lane to the north, passed Temple church on the right-hand side. We come to Fleet Street, the Royal Courts of Justice face us, but neither are our destination. We turn left pass the Aldwych and the convoys of red double decker buses, that stop to pick up passengers outside Somerset House, and continue into the Strand. We turn left into Savoy Place. The Topiary trees stand to attention as we pass and we are greeted by the doorman in his long brown coat and tall top hat who stands by the entrance beneath the iconic stainless steel sign. He tips his hat and indicates for us to go in. We have passed inspection. We are looking smart enough to enter The Savoy. We are transported into another world. There is an air of calm and quiet. Members of staff go silently about their business. Low lights, enormous vases filled with fresh flowers. We use the luxurious washrooms and then on to The American Bar, the oldest surviving cocktail bar in Britain, which has served its American Style drinks since 1893. We are greeted by a waiter looking smart in a white jacket with narrow black trim, black tie and black trousers. He shows us to a table at the side from where we can observe how the other half live. The curved chrome bar at the far end shines and dazzles. Above, the bottles on the glass shelves are reflected in the mirrored wall. Chrome cocktail shakers on the bar top wait ready for action. Hung on the walls around us are black framed photos of famous regulars at the Bar. The waiter has brings us each a book listing this year’s cocktails, The Savoy Songbook, inspired by songs played in the bar over the years. We leaf through. It’s difficult to make our choices. The waiter patiently answers our questions about the ingredients. I choose Sun, Sun, Sun, a sunshine blend of orange blossom, yuzu wine and lime, named after Here Comes the Sun – George Harrison was my favourite Beatle after all. Our orders given, a minutes later we hear the rattling of the cocktail shakers. Our waiter returns, round chrome tray balanced on one hand, the tray that is laden with our choices in tall thin stemmed wide bowled glasses. He carefully places them on the art deco styled drink mats. Mine has three yellow dots floating on top which I assume represents the Sun, Sun, Sun! We raise our glasses to each other. It’s good for the Three Cousins to be together. We soak in the atmosphere. This is the life. We expect Noel Coward to walk by or maybe Humphrey Bogart with Lauren Bacall on his arm. We have been provided with nuts and olives to nibble and our sharp-eyed waiter replaces them when we have devoured the first consignment. About an hour and a half later, we three, we three happy cousins, have finished our drinks and the second bowls of nibbles. We feel mellow. All is good with the world, but now it is time to get back to reality. The waiter obligingly takes our photo. We pay the bill, rise and leave our quiet oasis, back onto the Strand and noise of the traffic. Jane and I see Cherrie onto a bus to take her back to Liverpool Street Station and then we board our own magic carpet, the 59 bus. We have had a good day.

LONDON AT NIGHT by Sue Evangelou

Enveloped in the pea soup fog, I walk home from the station, alone,
the only sound, muffled footsteps made by my unseen feet.
Having rushed to catch the last train,
we wait to take the seats of the boisterous clubbers streaming out, their night at its start.
Sensing spectres of night raids, the sky lit up by burning buildings,
spotlights spearing upward to seek the swerving foe.
London Bridge, there to celebrate, surrounded, squashed and trying to keep panic at bay,
as the new Millennium dawns.
Christmas lights, Oxford Street, Regent Street, giant sparkling snowflakes suspended way up high,
Whilst the true stars fight for acknowledgment in the light polluted sky.
The jarring din of my suitcase wheels on frosty pavements,
squeaking, creaking as I shiver and sniffle, returned from temperate climes.
Dinner dance over, driving round Trafalgar Square, amid teeming throngs of festive partygoers.
Reflections of street and car lights on the wet road,
the quivering full moon as it floats upon the Thames.
The hurricane that wasn’t meant to happen, happening,
ancient trees toppled, uprooted as we sleep.
Double-decker buses and tubes packed with fellow travellers, mellowed, chatty, laughing, full of bonhomie.
Travelling home, shiny programme in hand, discussing what we’ve seen and quoting favourite bits,
Reaching the green front door, unlocking with my key
and thinking that this truly is a very good place to be.

PLACES WE LOVE: HISTORY AND STORIES BURIED IN BUILDINGS

THE ANCHOR BANKSIDE by Sue Evangelou

There has been a pub on this site for over 800 years. Perhaps the Canterbury Pilgrims took their custom here, having been barred from the Tabard Inn for rowdy behaviour. Perhaps they told their stories here, quenching their thirst with a tankard or two of ale, Geoffrey Chaucer sitting in a dark corner, with his iPad of the time, noting it all down, before the Pilgrims left to set out on their journey south. Situated on the south side of the Thames, this area was the theatreland of its day and is now to some extent with the new Globe Theatre. Besides river pirates and smugglers (said to have stashed their swag in the crevices of a large oak beam), The Anchor was frequented by actors from the nearby Globe and Rose and Crown theatres. It is quite possible that Shakespeare had a drink here to calm opening night nerves. David Garrick and Oliver Goldsmith frequented the Anchor, perhaps they exchanged ideas. Samuel Pepys was a customer. Rumour has it that he witnessed the progress of the Great Fire of London in 1666 from The Anchor, gazing at the flames on the other side of the Thames, watching frightened Londoners taking to boats for safety. On other less dramatic occasions, I like to think that he would return home from an evening there, suitably mellow, hang his heavy wig on its stand and take up his quill to write about the hard day he had at the Admiralty, not knowing that his words would be read by the world a few hundred years later. Another century and another Samuel, Johnson this time, supped the occasional brew here, perhaps before travelling south to the wilds of Streatham to stay with his friends, the Thrales, and partake of the medicinal spring waters. Perhaps this gave him the strength to go home and continue putting those pesky words into alphabetical order and try to think of how to explain what they meant.
Yet another century, the late 20th this time, Maureen and I, in no way renowned, visited this pub. Homeward bound, on a Friday evening, after a hard week of pounding our IBM golf ball typewriters. We walked from the City, joining the mass exodus over London Bridge but, instead of turning left to the station, we took a right turn passed Southwark Cathedral to wind our cobbled way toward the Thames and The Anchor. We would have a drink and, sometimes if we felt like splashing out, a pub meal, sitting outside in fair weather, watching the boats on the Thames, relaxing and celebrating the start of the weekend, before taking the train from London Bridge station back to our homes in Forest Hill. I haven’t been to The Anchor this century. I don’t think there is outside seating anymore and you must prebook. Maybe some-time soon, Maureen and I can meet up and have a meal there for old times’ sake, mingling our memories with those of the ghosts of former customers.

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