Photo: Fulham FC

London Calling

Uphill struggle
As London re-opens with the relaxing of most Covid-related restrictions, Westminster City Council thinks it has just the idea to get shoppers and people generally back into Oxford Street and the West End. On the roundabout at the intersection of Park Lane and Oxford Street, the famous Marble Arch now has a new neighbour – a huge fake hill!

A 25-metre mound has been built with scaffolding beneath and some 2,500 square metres of coir-backed sedum covering it over, almost like a giant green carpet. The huge structure dwarfs Marble Arch, the famous triumphal structure designed by John Nash, originally as a formal gateway to Buckingham Palace.

The council believes it will become a tourist attraction in its own right, and people will be able to pay £4.50 (€5.38) each to climb the hill and see the commanding views over Hyde Park, Oxford Street and Mayfair. Distant views of the chimneys at Battersea Power Station, the Shard and the BT Tower can also be seen from this new viewpoint. Beneath, there will be a light installation by artist Anthony James, two Marks & Spencer food trucks and a Percy Pig mini-interactive experience for children.

The cost at some £2 million (€2.34 million) has raised a few eyebrows and the scheme is not without its critics. Tim Carnegie, deputy chairman of the Marylebone Association, said: “We are yet to find any local residents in the West End that like the idea.”

This is a temporary structure, and all the materials and plants will be recycled and re-used. It will certainly add a splash of green in a grey, traffic-filled, noisy corner of the capital’s road system.

Trust in the Prince
Prince Charles established the famous Trust in his own name in 1976. It supports 11- to 30-year-olds who are unemployed and those struggling at school and at risk of exclusion. It has become widely respected as a means of support for young people to get their lives back on track and, this year, the total number having been helped approaches an amazing one million.

Quite rightly, therefore, an exhibition space has been sought to showcase the incredible work of the organisation. The venue chosen is a listed former garrison chapel building on the prestigious Chelsea Barracks development which, in total, cost an astonishing £3.5 billion (€4.1 billion) to build.

It is not probably entirely coincidence that Prince Charles played a very important part in the building of this development. He was outraged by the original proposed plans of architect Lord Rogers and wrote to Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Jaber bin Muhammed Al Thani telling him just what he thought.

His letter 12 years ago saw the plans ditched and withdrawn by the Qataris to be replaced by a more traditional Georgian square-type development built of Portland stone. In the ensuing legal battle, a judge described Prince Charles’ intervention as “unexpected and unwelcome”.

The new, permanent museum will have a bronze sculpture of the Prince, and events, classes and functions are also being planned with several staff members being based there full time.

Tariq Al Abdulla, chief development officer at Qatari Diar, said: “The vision for Qatari Diar and Chelsea Barracks has always focused on dedicating the space to the community and promoting the advancement of arts, culture and education. Committed to honouring the creative heritage of the development and the local area, the garrison chapel provides the ideal premises for the Prince’s Foundation.”

The Beautiful Game
Doom and gloom – plus some mindless violence and racism – descended on London and England generally after the national team was defeated at the Wembley final of the Euro. And yet football lives on as the national game and, with crowds returning in ever greater numbers, capacity in an over-crowded city is an ever-growing problem.

One London Club though used the Lockdown period well to develop their ground significantly and a certain stretch of the Thames in southwest London looks very different indeed.

Fulham FC famously play at Craven Cottage in a smart residential area on the north bank of the river. Named after the original hunting lodge built by William Craven in 1780, which any Fulham fan will tell you was visited by Queen Victoria, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Florence Nightingale, the property was destroyed by fire in 1888.

Within 10 years, it was a football ground with a capacity for about 1,000 spectators. Then, early in the 20th century, it became a venue for international matches too. Just before the Second World War, 49,335 spectators crowded in to watch Fulham play Millwall and this record attendance remains unbroken to this day.

The riverside stand was low and small, but ambitious plans finally started to take shape in the last 10 years with the complex building project approaching completion now.

It is rumoured that the new mega-stand has cost the club some £80 million (€94 million) and it rises high above the mighty river which flows alongside. With foundations into the river, this construction has been a feat of civil engineering requiring reclamation of land from the river itself.

It is nicknamed ‘Fulham Pier’ and will include a gym, a spa and facilities for eating and drinking. There will also be accommodation and meeting rooms together with a rooftop bar and restaurant. It contrasts significantly with much of the rest of the ground where some buildings are so important to the history of the game that they are listed, having been designed by the famous stadium architect Archibald Leitch.

Fulham supporters are particularly pleased that this new investment reaffirms the Club’s long-term commitment to the ground and this part of London.

This is not the only good piece of news for this area of the capital. The nearby Victorian jewel Hammersmith Bridge is about to reopen to pedestrians and cyclists. Engineers detected faults in this beautiful structure, and it has been closed to vehicular traffic for some time.

Somewhat bizarrely in Lockdown, when everyone was walking and cycling more, it was deemed appropriate to shut it to everyone, cutting off a vital connection between two areas of London. On the already congested streets, this meant a significant detour for everyone and has been widely criticised as being a step too far. Common sense has at last prevailed!

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.
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