London Calling hopes you have enjoyed some of the guest columns in recent months. With the capital slowly returning to a new kind of normal, our column will feature a mix of quirky stories from this most amazing city, with some guest features too. As ever, we welcome input from readers on anything you might like us to investigate or feature.
Little-by-little London has been opening up after a long, hard winter. As restrictions eased and the days passed, there were perceptibly more people out and about in the capital. However, seemingly unable to let go completely, winter temperatures accompanied the often blue skies and reduced the appeal of outside dining and drinking.
Many restaurants in the central areas invested heavily in covers, heaters and blankets in a trend which looks set to continue. After all, many northern European cities with even colder climates have more of an ‘outdoor’ culture and many streets in the West End are suited to fairly elaborate rain protection. There are plans to re-pave and pedestrianise more streets in Soho which can only be a good thing.
Early signs are that the mid-month inside opening up of pubs and restaurants has been welcomed with open arms by Londoners keen to get out and spend some of the money they have been stashing away.
Though main stations became increasingly busy this month with commuters heading into the City, numbers are nowhere near pre-pandemic levels. In surveys, some 80% of employers say they will continue with a mix of home and office working, allowing people to work from home for two or three days a week. This could make the daily commute a lot less frenetic, but the knock-on effects on vacant office space in the square mile are causing concern in some circles.
Whale watching – in the Thames!
Earlier this month, walkers alongside the Thames in South West London could hardly believe their eyes as a whale swam along the river! Onlookers near Barnes Bridge were astonished to see the 3-4 metre whale swimming upriver. Their normal range extends from the edge of Arctic ice in the summer to nearer the equator in winter, but they are rarely seen on inland waterways.
Clearly lost, desperate efforts were made by the RNLI to rescue the young male and return it to the ocean after it became stuck on the rollers at Richmond Lock. The whale had other ideas though and gave its rescuers the run around by escaping. Hopes were high though that with a rising tide, the whale would escape of its own accord by swimming downriver.
Sadly, this was not to be the case. As so often happens in a situation like this, the whale became extremely distressed and had to be put down by specialist vets.
As local resident Jake Manketo had said: “Everyone here is just hoping they get it out … poor fella, not everyday something like this happens in Richmond.”
The Thames remains tidal as far as Teddington Lock, just a mile or so from Richmond, and the difference between a low tide and high tide is an astonishing seven metres, sometimes much more on a spring tide.
Our survey says ‘Try Opera’
Les Dennis, former host of the popular game show Family Fortunes, is to jump into opera for the first time later this year.
English National Opera will open with HMS Pinafore later this year at the London Coliseum and Dennis will star as Sir Joseph, First Lord of the Admiralty.
This will be the first time that ENO have put on a performance of the classic Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera and it will be directed by Cal McCrystal of One Man, Two Guvnors and Paddington fame.
With an exciting new season planned to include The Handmaid’s Tale, La Boheme and Wagner’s The Valkyrie, ENO is also determined to extend the appeal of opera by extending its free ticket scheme to include anyone up to the age of 21.
Recently appointed artistic director Annilese Miskimmon applauded the work done by ENO during Lockdown. She said: “The overwhelming determination of all to create ambitious and brilliant opera no matter what the challenges will make this a very special season for the ENO. The season is one in which all can encounter the joy, the drama and the emotion of the most beautiful art forms. We have not let the past difficult year dim our ambition.”
For whom the bell tolls
There is a beautiful reminder of London’s former importance as a manufacturing powerhouse in the East End. Just around the corner from the Krays’ home turf and Jack the Ripper’s haunts is a beautiful, original Georgian shopfront surrounded by less glamorous neighbours.
The Whitechapel Bell Foundry sits on a corner of the Mile End Road and when it closed in 2017, it was the oldest manufacturing company in Britain. Some very famous bells were cast here including the Liberty Bell, a famous symbol of American Independence and Big Ben (this is actually the name of the bell, not the Elizabeth Tower in which it sits in the Palace of Westminster).
When the company moved out, the rights and patents to make future bells were sold to other British companies and so ended 450 years of bell-making.
For the last four years, battle has raged over the future of this historic Grade II* property as campaigners fought plans for a new boutique hotel.
This fight was taken all the way to the government and Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Communities, Housing and Local Government, has now approved planning permission for the hotel.
The Factum Foundation who campaigned hard to recreate a working bell foundry said: “The site’s reason for being and its extraordinary intangible cultural heritage are gone forever.” Meanwhile, Historic England have come under fire for advising developer Raycliff, arguing that the loss of bell-making “will be mitigated through the use of part of the site as a working foundry for small bells and artworks”
However, a plan for the Foundation to work with Grayson Perry on the Post Covid Bell was welcomed and Adam Lowe said: “The future of bell-making starts right here and right now.”
By RICHARD LAMBERTH
Richard leads parallel lives with homes and business interests in London and Portugal. He provides consultancy services to leading businesses in insurance and financial services, property and media sectors. He has four sons, two dogs and enjoys a busy family life. He likes swimming, keeping fit and an outdoor life.