Carnival, Southwark Park, London, July 1974. © Geoff Howard.
I photographed the people and places that caught my attention, shooting from an interest in, and a curiosity about, what was there and what was happening, happy to be working without the restrictions which often accompany commissioned projects. People have asked why I shot with flash – in those days, most photographers would only use available light – shades of Cartier-Bresson – but in the disco pubs, it was really dark – and I wanted to see, to show more clearly, what it was like, what was happening; less atmosphere, but more information. I stopped photographing there so intensively when I felt I had done the things which demanded to be photographed, and I didn’t want to make the same pictures over again. Then the whole area, the whole character of the area, changed – with redevelopment, new building, the yuppyfication of docklands; there were lots of photographers documenting the new docklands, and if I had continued, it would have been a different story, so it seemed like a natural end, a natural place to stop. I have been back, a few times – I was there last year, to try and check some locations when I started putting this book together; it was interesting, frustrating, indeed perplexing trying to identify places I used to know well, and now so changed.
[Rotherhithe Photographs was published in 2008, although images from the project had previously appeared in the legendary Creative Camera magazine in 1975, and a selection of pictures was also exhibited at London’s Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1978. Seen from the vantage point of 2012, Geoff’s photos capture the half-forgotten ‘interzone’ between the dock closures and Thatcherite redevelopment and demonstrate, yet again, that there is nothing quite as remote as the recent past. D.S.]
Solar eclipse watchers, Greenwich Park, 11 August 1999. © David Secombe.
In Hackney, Mare Street was as busy as on any normal weekday. People were shuffling about with plastic carrier bags or talking on their phones, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the sun was about to be eclipsed. We were rushing to get our errands done in time to get to the park for the main event, the kids equipped with arcane little things they could look through that they’d been given at school two weeks before.
The first glimmer of what was coming was a strange, translucent-but-heavy quality to the air, as if it were turning into some kind of gel. It felt suddenly harder to move through it. Then the light began to go a bit greenish. Everything slowed down. When we got into London Fields, the park was thronged with people on the grass, some with picnics, and the weird green heaviness in the air intensified; it was like being in a fishbowl.
At the height of the eclipse, the park and the pub and all the people were as if viewed through a thick glass coffee table. It was very strange. But the utter incongruity of the street scene – lorries and buses seeming to wend their way painfully through unfamiliar, viscous air – was never matched once we were in the park.
© Katy Evans-Bush.
Hillyfields, Lewisham. © David Secombe 2002.
From examiner.com, 29 July 2012:
Was the UFO that appeared over the London Olympics opening ceremony on Friday night a blimp or a helicopter? In an enhanced video released by Alien Disclosure Group UK, the UFO does not appear to be either of those things. In fact, the enhanced video shows an anomalous object flying above the opening night fireworks that resembles a flying saucer.
The object appears to be flat and disc-shaped with a protrusion in the center. It is clearly not a blimp or a helicopter, so what is it? We may never know for sure, but some people may stand to make money off the UFO‘s appearance. Prior to the London Olympics opening night ceremony, some London betting houses were taking bets on whether a UFO would be seen that night.
Alien Disclosure Group UK is always an excellent source of amazing UFO videos and information. This may be the most fascinating video that they have disseminated online. ADGUK credits MrScipher for the discovery and notes that this is a confirmed UFO sighting unless proven otherwise to be a blimp, a drone or other known object.
Brockwell Park. © David Secombe 2000.
From Pictures in the Human Skin by Gambier Bolton, Strand Magazine, 1897:
… in London at the present moment is produced the very finest tattooing the world has ever seen; for Mr. Sutherland Macdonald, whilst in the Royal Engineers, used often to watch the men working with their roughly made needles in the barrack-room, and having always had a taste for figure and landscape painting, he was at last induced to give his attention to tattooing, with the result that in a few years’ time he has not only equalled the work done by the Japanese, but has even excelled them. In Macdonald’s albums we find drawings and paintings gathered from all quarters of the globe, and of all and every kind, quaint, humorous, and pathetic, but each one specially selected for the purpose of being reproduced by the tattooing needles, and in more than one instance the copyright of some particularly striking picture has actually been purchased outright, so that no one but the wealthier patrons of [MacDonald’s] Jermyn Street studio shall have the use of them.
Turning over the leaves, we notice, amongst other quaint designs at this moment adorning the bodies of some of our best known society men, three five-pound notes, full size, on which, perhaps, the owner can “raise the wind,” if at any time short of a cab-fare, by placing himself in temporary pawn; a fox hunt in full cry, horses and their scarlet-coated riders, with a very level pack of hounds careering down the owners back in wild pursuit of a “little red rascal,” racing for his life; whilst on more than plucky individual, who rumour says has an extremely tender epidermis, not content with a handsome pair of dark blue socks with scarlet “clocks” on his feet, has lately been adorned with all manner of strange designs, from his neck down to the top of the socks, and this at quite a fabulous price, when we bear in mind the length of time it must have taken to carry out such a large order.
Greenwich Park. Photo © David Secombe, 1998.
From Mystic London, Rev. Charles Maurice Davies, 1875:
When a man’s whole existence has resolved itself into hunting up strange people and poking his nose into queer nooks and corners, he has a sorry time of it in London during August; for, as a rule, all the funny folks have gone out of town, and the queer nooks and corners are howling wildernesses. There is always, of course, a sort of borderland, if he can only find it out, some peculiar people who never go out of town, some strange localities which are still haunted by them; only he has to find them out – people and places – for it is so universally allowed nowadays that all genteel people must be out of London in August . . .
The Rev. Davies’s observation has acquired a new significance during the 2012 Olympic Games, as the Olympiad has driven a significant number of full-time Londoners into temporary exile. So this week on The London Column we offer a brisk tour of some of the quieter corners of London parks in the company of those Londoners who didn’t make it out of town and who haven’t made it on to a corporate hospitality list.
Cumberland Terrace, NW1. Photo © David Secombe, 1988.
From The Magus by John Fowles, 1966:
Beyond her stretched the grass, a quarter mile of turf to the edge of the park. Beyond that rose the Regency facade, bestatued, many and elegantly windowed, of Cumberland Terrace.
A wall of windows, a row of statues of classical gods. They surveyed the park as if from a dress circle.
[…] The afternoon sun made them [the houses of Cumberland Terrace] gleam with light, that Olympian elixir of serene, remote, benign light one sometimes sees in summer clouds.
Although John Fowles’ epic and impossibly romantic novel about the power of myth and storytelling is mostly set on an isolated Greek island, he chooses to end his story in NW1. In the final chapter of the novel, Fowles’ rattled ‘hero’ and his girlfriend have an angsty scene in Regent’s Park, where Nicholas wonders whether they are being spied upon from the windows of John Nash’s Cumberland Terrace. This is a brilliant example of a novelist employing a real location to enhance the themes of his narrative: Fowles exploits the theatricality of Nash’s park-side architecture to suggest that his punch-drunk protagonist continues to be an unwilling player in a drama staged for an unseen audience.
It is a fitting conceit, as the glimpses of Nash’s terraces from the park bely the (relatively) prosaic houses behind the grandeur of the facades. This louche and rather endearing architectural trick led Sir John Summerson, the celebrated eminence grise on all matters Georgian, to stick the boot in thus:
It is magnificent. And behind it all – behind it are rows and rows of identical houses, identical in their narrowness, their thin pretentiousness, their poverty of design. Where the eye apprehends a mansion of great distinction, supported by lesser mansions and service quarters, the mind must interpret it as a block of thin houses, with other blocks of thin houses carrying less ornament or none at all. The sham is flagrant and absurd. The terraces are architectural whims; and though Nash was serious enough in his intention, the effect is an odd combination of fantasy and bathos which only the retrospect of a century can forgive*.
Summerson’s aristocratic disdain is a bit hard to stomach here, and I think we are entitled to give Sir John the bird on this one. Fowles seems to have a better idea of what Nash was up to, and what he succeeded in doing. Nash’s terraces are there to enhance the public space, they exist to ennoble the walkers in the park, they lend drama to the business of taking the air. It is also at least possible, if not likely, that if they had been ‘dream palaces’ in a more concrete sense they would have gone the way of so many of the grand, inconvenient mansions of Piccadilly and Mayfair, swept away by ruthless economic imperatives well into the post-WW2 era. We can be grateful that the modest ambitions of the houses behind Nash’s palatial frontages have proved adaptable to changing circumstances, and so ensured their survival.
Unforgivably, Summerson also neglects to mention that Patrick Troughton’s Doctor Who had to contend with an invasion of Cybermen outside Cumberland Terrace in 1968: although one could say that it fell slightly outside his brief.
… for The London Column. © David Secombe 2011.
(*Georgian London, Sir John Summerson, 1945/1969.)
And so the day ends. The summer is a particular kind of time, like high noon: a bit brutalist. It doesn’t allow many shadings: you’re either in it or you’re not. The Heath gives a respite, with its dark nooks and ancient crannies, and the thronging Bank Holiday weekend is the end of empiricist summer. September, as timeless in its way as summer is always trying to be the new thing, is a second chance to bathe in warmth and light, in the presence – but still beyond the reach – of gathering autumn. For those of us who can’t relax when the whole world is ordering us to, and those who can’t go away somewhere in the de rigeur month of August, September is a valediction.
So into the woods we go. Not a wolf in sight. KEB
… for The London Column © Katy Evans-Bush 2011
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