London Walks 3: The Haymarket to Victoria Station

 
The Mall looking towards Admiralty Arch

The Mall looking towards Admiralty Arch

(All photos Tim Robson May 2019)

I was stood on The Haymarket a few weeks ago, slightly confused. It was busy and buses and tourists passed in front of me as I tried to recollect where exactly American Express’ old offices used to be. I mean I should know this. I used to go there all the time. Damn it! I’d even closed the bloody office down and moved all the staff kicking and screaming to Blackfriars.

And yet I wasn’t sure.

Back in the day (the ‘day’ being mid 90’s) I used to come to the Haymarket all the time. Unlike my lazier colleagues, I walked between Victoria Station and The Haymarket. They took the taxi. I still do this walk now when possible. On your own two feet you get to know a city better than stuck in a traffic jam. It’s healthier and better for the environment. And they call me a Climate Change denier! I’m green but not red children.

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Heading down the Haymarket from Piccadilly Circus take the first right onto Jermyn Street. Now Jermyn Street is probably my favourite street in London. For those that don’t know, it’s packed full of high end men’s shops - shirts, suits, shoes, barbers, colognes; cheeses even. There’s even a couple of pubs for you to stop and review your purchases.

And Fortnums. Never been in, to be honest. Well… There was that one time.

Jermyn Street is primarily known for its shirt shops. Nothing demonstrates more the casualisation of work clothing over the last twenty years than the decline in my purchases of posh shirts. I used to have a wardrobe stuffed full of them - Pinks, Charles Thywhitt and the branded suits and heavy silk ties that completed the banker-wanker look. No more. Now I’m all polo necks and polo shirts. So whereas once I would walk along Jermyn Street looking for bargains, now I pleasantly uninvolved.

Never miss The Three Crowns pub though.

I do occasionally pop into Church’s shoes. To look around obviously. No spare half a grand lying around in chez Robson for footwear these days. I’ve bought some of their shoes in the past and, in a velvet bag in the garage, I still have a sleek pair of black Oxfords I wheel out for formal occasions. Seems so 2000’s.

Jermyn Street; a pissed Big Issue seller lies amidst Jones and Church’s shoe shops. Maybe he’s saving for a new pair?

Jermyn Street; a pissed Big Issue seller lies amidst Jones and Church’s shoe shops. Maybe he’s saving for a new pair?

One shop I always pop into and frequent online is Taylors of Old Bond Street. Yes, on Jermyn Street. Don’t ask. I’ve used their Sandalwood aftershave for about 20 years. Yes, ladies, that is the manly and yet fragrant smell you can’t place and yet can’t get enough of! If you like male scents and potions, soaps and shampoos, razors and creams, this is a great shop to spend some time. Tell them Tim sent you and ask - no insist! - for a ten percent discount.

Shaving brushes and stuff. Lots of sandalwood smells.

Shaving brushes and stuff. Lots of sandalwood smells.

At the end of Jermyn Street, turn left and walk down St James’s Street past wine merchants, cigar shops, high end restaurants and private members clubs. “What club are you a member of, Tim” I hear you ask. I stare at you for a second or two, shake my head and move on.

Under the St James’s Palace’s arch, across the Mall (look up, look down) and then into St James’s Park. It’s small but perfectly formed. Follow the path down to the bridge on the lake. Get your phone out for one of those iconic shots looking towards Whitehall / Horse Guards Parade.

Iconic London photo.

Iconic London photo.

 

People; I’ve had my times in St James’s Park. I remember there was this French girl I was keen on, years and years ago. Unprompted, she invited me for a walk one lunchtime. “Wow - she likes me!” I thought. As we walked around this beautiful park - it was summer and the skies were blue and all was well with the world as I tried to pluck up the courage to ask her out - she proceeded to tell me how she’d secretly got engaged to some other bloke. FFS. But I also remember another night with another lady - also in St James’s Park - but that, dear readers, shall be a story that remains untold in a public forum. Well, I may have weaved it into one of my best selling books with a thinly disguised character who resembles me reenacting what happened that night near the kids’ playground. In St. James’s Park. Always classy.

Out of the park, along Birdcage Walk and for the tourists amongst you, past Buckingham Palace. I usually cross over at this point and walk on the right hand side of Buckingham Palace Road. Queen’s Gallery, side entrances, back doors.

Traffic outside Buckingham Palace

Traffic outside Buckingham Palace


A little diversion I’ve started taking on my way back to Victoria Station is via Victoria Square, a quiet oasis of pretty houses and a quiet green space hidden just yards away from the bustling A3214. A shimmer and a twist and you get to The Goring Hotel. Maybe some refreshment in plush surroundings? Yeah, why not; I’m worth it. Its expensive but pretty cool. Freebie posh nuts with your Gin and Tonic. A place for a secret rendezvous perhaps. Fortified you’re ready for the push to Victoria Station and, invariably, home to the South Coast.

Give it go. Either way. It’s the best of London, you know.

And thence to Victoria Station via Buckingham Palace Road. I worked in this area for years. It was my manor (guv?). It’s been a building site for years and only now is it finally taking shape. So it’s all changed from my days of suits and ties and - probably - thinning hair. There’s new buildings, new shops, a whole new workforce grabbing sandwiches to eat al desko and fresh batches of tourists always changing, always the same. Always in the way.

Pigeons. Victoria Station.

Pigeons. Victoria Station.

Haymarket to Victoria. Or Victoria to Haymarket. Try this walk. You get to see lots of London sights, experience much, stop for a bite or drink, or both or neither. Whatever. Great in summer, bracing in winter, charming in Spring but best in Autumn. It’s Tim’s Haymarket to Victoria nostalgia trip. Roll up. Roll up.

To see other London Walks - click here.



London Walks : London Bridge / Blackfriars circular

 
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Now this is a proper London walk. We take in ‘olde’ London, new shiny London, industrial London, latte sipping beard and tats London. Some history, food, great buildings, bridges, boozers. I’m calling this my Southwark Shuffle (for no other reason beyond it’s in Southwark and who doesn’t like alliteration?).

I return to this walk time and again. It’s vibrant area and so the landscape changes in subtle or huge ways at what seems to be an increasing pace. That didn’t always seem to be the case.

Back in the mid 90’s I was doing a Masters degree in property. I may have mentioned this fact before but formative experiences are the most vivid in retrospect. I had a term paper to write where the brief was to work up a development on the South Bank of the Thames. I suggested a mixed leisure and office development in Blackfriars overlooking the river. My professor shook his head at this and said I was talking bollocks, and like some late night pre Uber taxi driver, told me no one wants to go south of the river. Idiot. But who was right mate? Me or him? Yes, Me. That’s who.

But - old scores aside - let’s look at my path for this walk shall we?

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Now; not every walk has to lurch from pub to pub but it’s rude not to suggest a couple of stopping places along the way. And this walk has great pubs, historic pubs; pubs the conjure the past with each passing pint. We’ll get to that but first, we must have a starting point. And, in this case, it’s also our ending point as this is - wait for it - a circular walk!

So, we start at the extensively refurbished London Bridge Station. Guy’s Hospital tower used to be the tallest kid on the block but now, the Shard muscles itself over all it surveys. This redevelopment has kicked off a spate of similar, smaller, innovative designed buildings throughout the area. As far as I can see, the casualties to make way for this frenzy of new build have been crap 50’s and 60’s concrete office blocks. Good.

Walk straight down from the station onto that historic thoroughfare into London, Borough High Street. Opposite is Southwark Cathedral and Brough Market - we’ll get to those later - but for now, you need to turn left heading south. About quarter of mile down the road is one of London’s hidden gems, the galleried ex-coaching in, The George (pictured opposite).

It nestles in a little side street off the main road. This part of London is full of alleyways and passages and it’s possible to cross the space time continuum back to Tudor times. I was shown this pub by a lady friend many years ago. Thanks! Its worth this little diversion from our main walk for a picture and maybe a pint (though if you’re drinking this early into the walk it’s all going to get messy. Best to come back here later.)

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And so with a swift shimmy northwards, we get onto Southwark Street going east-west. About 20 years ago I used to walk to walk down this very street every day so it’s nostalgic but getting less so. It has changed from then to now. This is a street that is, in many respects, unlovely - there are no great landmarks gracing it, the buildings were warehouses and industrial units and now, it hosts increasingly bizarre glass office towers and residential units.

You can still spot some ex-warehouses of Victorian vintage on the street. See the examples in the picture to the left. Now converted to cafes and flats, you can still make out where the pulleys used to haul up goods.

 

One interesting building is the grade 2 listed ex Mernier chocolate factory which is now a theatre and art gallery of the same name. It’s kind of a stunted, fatter version of the Flat Iron building in New York. It’s probably the best of the old buildings on the Street. You can grab a drink there apparently - I’m guessing some wanky free trade coffee served by a ‘barista’ with a beard. Joy!

Newer, larger and experimental glass buildings are springing up all around Southwark Street but their appearance is welcome; they replaced dreadful post war concrete boxes that defined cheap and seemed designed to crush the spirit for those walking without and those working within. At least the new buildings are vibrant and quirky.

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And so we get to Blackfriars Road. Here, the area between the bridge and Southwark Jubilee Line underground station is festooned with new buildings, loads of restaurants, take aways and pubs. It didn’t used to be that way. As I’ve hinted, I worked in property in the mid-90’s. I acquired a building on Blackfriars Road for a large multinational company. In my business case, I took several photos of the area including the then unfinished Southwark Jubilee Line station. Take a look at the pictures below - the top one I took 20 years ago and the second one is the same view in 2018. Interestingly enough the view doesn’t seem to have changed that much (beyond a new skyscraper in the background on the left).

Southwark Jubilee Line Underground being built early 1999. Photo Tim Robson

Southwark Jubilee Line Underground being built early 1999. Photo Tim Robson

 
Southwark Station Sept 2018 : GoogleMaps

Southwark Station Sept 2018 : GoogleMaps

 
The Globe Theatre - photo Tim Robson

The Globe Theatre - photo Tim Robson

A quick drink in the reassuringly dreadful Prince William Henry and then back up Blackfriars Road towards the river. We’re going to walk along the Thames path for a while back towards London Bridge. This stretch of the walkway is pretty historic with many attractions - views across the water to the ever expanding number of towers in the City, St Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge, The Millennium Bridge, The Cutty Sark, The Golden Hind, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, The Tate Modern. There’s almost too much to see, too much to absorb. One way you might digest your surroundings is in the ancient pub, The Anchor, overlooking the Thames. Apparently Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire of London from here. Before the pub burnt down the next year.

So onto Southwark Cathedral and Borough Market. Was it two years ago when those pieces of shit went on a rampage here? Unbelievable. But I’m glad the market is as great and trendy and crowded as normal. Plenty of places to get snacky food around here - hotdogs for me, thank you. And then we’re on Borough High Street again and walking back to London Bridge station for the tube or train that takes us to our next adventure.

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Yeah, the ending was slightly rushed. I’ve been writing this article - seemingly - for months. Once discipline has gone, can it ever come back?

Anyway, more regular content starting next week and probably more London Walks. My next one is London Victoria to the Haymarket. Must do it again and take some pictures. But this Southwark Shuffle is a great walk for me. Is it me just talking about my past? Dunno. Try it.



London Walks : Harrods to Victoria Station

 
St Peter’s Church

St Peter’s Church

 

This is a favourite walk I’ve been doing for years - essentially a stroll through one of the posher parts of London, some mews, hidden pubs and lots of embassies! Takes about twenty to thirty minutes depending on how slow you walk. If you stop in the nearby pubs - and there are nice ones on this route - then this time can easily stretch to a full afternoon.

My walk from Harrods to Victoria Station; note the interesting mews diversion down Kinnerton Street - to find The Nags Head and the Wilton Arms.

My walk from Harrods to Victoria Station; note the interesting mews diversion down Kinnerton Street - to find The Nags Head and the Wilton Arms.

A few years ago - before time began, before Land Securities redeveloped Cardinal Place in Victoria Street - I worked in Portland House. For those of you that don’t know, Portland House is a 1963 concrete skyscraper near London’s Victoria Station. If you’ve been in the area, you’ve probably seen it standing like an inappropriate erection menacing the surrounding area. However, it does have a good view from the top floors over the nearby private Buckingham Palace Gardens (Hi Queenie - put that bikini top back on).

I had a stressful job back in the early 2000’s. I know, I know, you weep for me. Occasionally though I would break the chains of my captors, shoo away the ravenous eagles pecking at my vitals, and head West (young man). I’d explore the quieter streets of Belgravia. So when my company moved to Belgrave House on Buckingham Palace Road a year or two later, I found I could walk to Harrods in my lunch hour. Once there I’d give my Harrods loyalty card a heavy work out. That’s how I roll. And so the Victoria Station to Harrods walk or - it’s more famous cousin - the Harrods to Victoria Station walk was born.

I retraced my steps recently, reminding myself, as I walked, of memories, memories of people and situations long gone but, as I turned familiar corners, not forgotten. For you see, whilst I often did this walk alone, I often didn’t. There was a girl once. There’s always a girl. But I’ll get to that.

As you come out of Harrods, turn away from Brompton Road, past the tube exit and into Hans Crescent. Latterly, this quiet road has become infamous as the place where that self-regarding idiot Julian Assange turns a whiter shade of pale inside the Ecuadorian Embassy. But also, marvel at the illegally parked limos littering the road. Clearly very rich people can’t be expected to obey petty traffic restrictions. They have to launder, sorry spend, their ill gotten gains in Harrods.

Turning right onto Sloane Street, we cross the road and idle past all the high-end shops no-one I know uses. Around the corner we get to the Jumeirah Carlton Hotel on Cadogan Place. It’s an ugly 60’s built hotel but very popular with rich people who like the nearby shopping. Here, if you linger, you can watch the rich go in and out, observe old men parade impossibly beautiful women - maybe to stock up on lingerie at La Perla next door - and then wonder, ‘why the fuck isn’t that my life?’

And across the road to Motcomb Street. I’ve always liked this little high street. There’s an elegant Waitrose, where, back in the day, I used to come to for lunch, buy some rolls, some ham, sun-dried tomatoes and make an al fresco sandwich in the open space behind the Pantechnicon across the road. Back in the mid 2000’s this was where old Roma ladies in shawls used to gather for lunch after a hard morning’s begging outside Harrods. It was quite the style back then; full East European garb, a walking stick, a shake and a shudder. Anyway, I’m pleased to report their various ailments seemed to be much improved by lunchtime as they discussed the day’s take.*

There’s just one pub, latterly called the anodyne The Alfred Tennyson but previously, the more spicy Turk’s Head. In either incarnation I never much liked it and, on my last visit, it seemed a restaurant masquerading as a bar. Anyway, I always turn left just in front of the pub and walk down the mews that is Kinnerton Street. Clearly I never go in Gordon Ramsay’s Petrus. Instead I head to the rather marvellous Nag’s Head and less marvellous but more spacious Wilton Arms.

The Nag’s Head has two bars; a tiny front bar - curiously low down - and a larger room down some stairs at the back. It didn’t allow mobile phones nor - as I found out - laptops. It’s a quirk but one I’m happy to abide by. I fondly think that much of Franco’s Fiesta was handwritten here. It wasn’t. That privilege goes to the bar in Burgess Hill’s Beefeater. A classy joint where you get thrown out for not wearing a football top.

Years back, I used to hold team meetings in the Nag’s Head, gaining the respect of my team by playing endless games of Shag, Marry, Push Off a Cliff. I usually ended up as ‘Marry’ which personally I’m okay with.

The pub almost next door - The Wilton - is a bit louder, a bit brassier. Outside in the summer it tends to be populated by Belgravia estate agents braying loudly about their latest deal. I’ve eaten here a couple of times. Nothing special.

A twist and a turn and we’re on Wilton Crescent, one of those gorgeous arched stucco terraces that home old money, embassies and money launderers. When I make my millions, I think I might buy here. No, not a flat. A whole house. And then I could pop out to The Grenadier - London’s most difficult to find pub which is out back, in another mews. I’m usually too pissed to find it. It’s worth a stop. Tell Madonna ‘hello’ from me. I still remember that night in Ciprianis.

A white van on Belgrave Square January 2019. Tim’s skill as a professional photographer are called into question.

A white van on Belgrave Square January 2019. Tim’s skill as a professional photographer are called into question.

Into Belgrave Square and we’re now into serious embassy country. Armed police, CCTV, manic taxi drivers, diplomatic plates, Simón Bolivar statue. Then down Upper Belgrave Street. Usually I’m picking up the pace by this point because either I’ve got a train to catch or - more likely - I’m needing the loo. A good place to stop is another hidden mews pub - The Horse and Groom. There’s a couple of tables outside on the road, summertime this area in front of the pub gets crowded. It’s much quieter in the afternoons if you’ve snuck out for a cheeky half. Yeah, WTF is a ‘cheeky half’?

Road sign Eaton Square

Road sign Eaton Square

Now I’ve really got my head down and heading towards the station. Two points of interest. First is St Peter’s church. Now this could be either Upper Belgrave Street, Lower Belgrave Street or Eaton Square. Not a clue. Shame someone couldn’t invent software where one could look up these things - you know like a telephone directory but online. Anyway, it’s a pretty church in a vaguely temple type way. It’s the picture at the top of the page. And then we have The Plumbers Arms. If I’m heading in Victoria / Harrods direction this tends to be my first port of call.

The Plumbers Arms, Lower Belgrave Street. Lord Lucan not pictured.

The Plumbers Arms, Lower Belgrave Street. Lord Lucan not pictured.

Of course, it’s famous as the place where Lady Lucan fled to after getting whacked on the head by her soon to be missing husband (they lived opposite). The staff seem to have no idea about the history of their pub and look at me like I’m a nutter when I ask about it. Anyway, it’s a decent boozer, usually busy, not bad food. Good place to start but not end the walk.

The Victoria - hiding off Buckingham Palace Road

The Victoria - hiding off Buckingham Palace Road

For we have one more pub. Now called The Victoria I’m sure it used to be The Princess Victoria back in the day when I used to go there. Needless renaming. It’s hidden down a mews - Phipps Mews - so tourists never find it as it has no entrance onto Buckingham Palace Road. I used to work in the next door office - Belgrave House where American Express and Google used to uneasily share the building. It tended to be the place we headed after a hard day’s toil. But that’s not why I remember it…

Back in the 90’s I attended South Bank University doing some useless Masters Degree. There I met a girl. Both of us had other attachments. I suppose we all have our secrets... We used to go into The Princess Victoria - as it then was - and make plans, organising the gloomy logistics of our affair. I don’t remember there being many laughs. And then a furtive kiss outside before I headed off back down to the South Coast and she went home to Hammersmith to another man.

Whirling leaves catch at our coats
As we kiss in dark places
Careful. Suspicious. Alert
We make our final embraces
— Wintertime - Tim Robson

I raise a glass to the memory when I go in.

And then, cross the mayhem of Buckingham Palace Road to the Station - now thankfully liberated from the ridiculous three foot high fence that we all vaulted pissed trying to get our train. Some colleagues would mistime their jumps and end up sprawled in the road (yeah, you know who you are).

To conclude, do this walk either way. Do it in winter. Do it in summer. Do it sober and take in the great architecture, the sedate upstairs / downstairs history. Do it for the shops or exercise. Or have a great pub crawl in some great pubs with a sense of the past, with stories to tell, in places you wouldn’t normally find pubs without knowing. Do it for me. Or for an idea of me. Once.

Outside the Victoria pub. There was once a wall where that white van is. No one cares.

Outside the Victoria pub. There was once a wall where that white van is. No one cares.

*Fashions change. Here in Clapham you’re not considered a beggar unless you’ve got an accordion on which you bash out some meaningless tune.