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London Calling – Trains, drains and automobiles!

Flushed away

By the middle of the 19th century, London was very smelly indeed. Little thought had been given to sanitation as the capital expanded and even the residents of the smarter western suburbs were not immune to the spread of diseases like cholera and typhoid.

The smellier areas were in the east end as prevailing westerly winds blew the ‘Great Stink’ in that direction. Matters came to a head in the hot summer of 1858 and the Victorians finally decided something had to be done.

Astonishingly, and with massive future proofing, the authorities embarked upon the establishment of the biggest civil sanitation project the world had ever seen, much of which is still working well today. This was against a backdrop of human and animal sewage lying and festering in the streets and rivers.

Civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette came up with an audacious plan which involved establishing massive sewers running alongside the Thames. And so, the now rather beautiful and posh Victoria, Chelsea and Albert embankments were born! The sewers naturally drained to the east with the topography of the land, but then the novel plan was to treat the sewage before dispatching it to the river and sea.

Part of this elaborate treatment system has now been renovated and opened to the public. The ‘Cathedral in the Marsh’, or more colloquially ‘Cistern Chapel’, Crossness Pumping Station in Abbey Wood, South East London has had a £2.7 million (€3.2 million) refit and is truly astonishing. This Grade 1 listed, Romanesque-style building was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1865 and features some of the finest Victorian decorative, cast ironwork anywhere in London. Booking is essential and can be made at

Charles Dickens in London

Charles Dickens lived for much of his life in London and many of his books were based on his life and experiences there. Number 48, Doughty Street in Bloomsbury was his family home for many years and houses the world’s largest collection of material related to the great writer’s life. Fully refurbished with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2012, the house is laid out exactly as it was when Dickens wrote Oliver Twist there and is well worth a visit.

Just around the corner, another former Dickens home has just been sold for £2.8 million (€3.3 million). 15 Took’s Court, just behind Chancery Lane Station, is now an office and this is where Dickens apparently wrote perhaps his most famous novel, A Christmas Carol. Ebenezer Scrooge would no doubt rub his hands together at the price achieved for his birthplace!

Feeling the squeeze

Property bargains in Kensington are hard to find but take a walk along Peel Street, a rather lovely residential road near Notting Hill Gate, and if you look carefully you will find one. Well, if you have £1.25 million (€1.5 million) to spare and want a 7ft (2.1m) wide house that is! Dubbed the ‘narrowest house in London’, this terraced dwelling has two bedrooms, a sitting room and a kitchen, and oh yes – that pre-requisite of smart London terraced houses – permission to build an underground extension!

It looks rather lovely and has a nice roof terrace but probably not one for the claustrophobic, and – hang on – for that price you could buy a castle in Scotland!

Cat up a tree

London Fire Brigade has released some astonishing figures on the costs of rescuing animals in the UK capital. On average, they are called out once every 16 hours to rescue an animal and these range from a ferret stuck in a lift in Kingston (quite how it managed to press the alarm button is unclear) to a horse stuck in a ditch in Pinner. Four squirrels cost £1,304 (€1,500) to save and two hamsters were saved at a cost of £978 (€1,150)!

London Fire Commissioner, Ron Dobson, commenting on the overall annual costs in excess of £200,000 (€237,000) called on Londoners to make the RSPCA the first port of call when reporting a trapped or distressed animal. “When firefighters are out rescuing animals, they’re not available to attend real emergencies,” he said.

Night train

Former mayor of London, Boris Johnson, proudly announced plans for the ‘Night Tube’ back in 2013. Beset by delays caused through practical problems and industrial action, the honour of opening the 24-hour underground railway fell to the new incumbent Sadiq Khan last month.

The new London mayor told fellow passengers they were ‘making history’ as he boarded one of the first night trains on the Central Line. Opening the service shortly before receiving the accolade of ‘the most influential person in London’ from London’s Evening Standard, Khan concluded a very successful political climb to power and fame in a summer which has seen the fall from grace of so many UK politicians.

There are plans to open up the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines on a 24-hour basis over the next few months but, for now, just two lines operate on a 24-hour basis, the Central and Victoria Lines. Standard off peak fares apply so it is a really cheap and safe way to get around in London late at night but beware … the service has already been labelled as the ‘Vomit Comet’ in recognition of the excesses late-night revellers sometimes leave behind!

Supercar Super Season!

Every summer the streets of Belgravia, Knightsbridge and Mayfair reverberate to the sounds of imported supercars being driven around by their proud, mostly middle eastern owners and this year was no exception. In fact, it is as though Brexit never happened and people were roaring around the streets of London as though it was well, er, 2015!

Sadly each year, London seems to be getting more and more congested, and these vehicles, which are happier driving around at 200mph, crawl noisily around at a tenth of that speed. My favourite this year was a sleek, gold Lamborghini Huracan parked outside the Dorchester Hotel in Park Lane. Equally fetching though were three cars, a Range Rover, a Ferrari and beach-buggy type vehicle, parked opposite in the same very striking bright blue!

It is truly astonishing that most of these cars cost about the same as a reasonable family house in a nice town!