A sense of community

Some time ago, I used to live in Holland Park in a fantastic house share with three other late twenty something friends.  I pinched myself most mornings, it was film set beautiful.  We lived on the perfect West London square, Daunts Books and Lidgate's butchers were my corner shops.  It was a wrench to leave when the inevitable happened.  I didn't have a knight in shining armour (...... violins)  to marry, or a plan like the others.  I moved three times in the year that followed, buying my flat so that I no longer had to break my back lugging all my books from flat to flat.  I needed some roots after renting for 12 years, a project of my own.  Somewhere, I could actually attach a picture to the wall without asking permission. Two of the things I've enjoyed most about homeownership are the milk man delivering bottles to my doorstep ( yes, that's right, he still exists) and knowing my neighbours.  I've always struggled with the anonymity that comes with living in the capital.   W11 seemed to lack the sense of community I craved, we barely knew a soul.  I always thought it was our youthful age which kept us on the periphery of an area heavily populated by families. But with hindsight, I can see now it was a disparate community in the making.  The influx of Europeans, meant that we were in the minority, then again, isn't that what makes London interesting?  Combined with the fact that you need to be in possession of a serious income for a mortage on a W11 postcode.  There were doors on houses I never saw open except by the Nanny, everyone was working long hours to maintain their Holland Park lifestyles.   The month before I moved out, our local watering hole The Prince of Wales pub closed down.   Pubs up and down the country were closing.  The sad fact being, I bet most homeowners bought in the area because they liked the idea of the pub, they just didn't use it.  We were just as guilty, there were parties and dates to attend, careers to carve out.

I still go back for my occasional HP fix, but I'm not sentimental, it's just another chapter.  On one such trip last week, I walked past the bee hive kiln, situated opposite Avondale Park on the Walmer Road ( north of Pottery Lane).   A humble design on the architectural stakes, but a poignant reminder of a less than salubrious past.   In the mid 19th century, the area was a notorious slum known as the "potteries and piggeries".  The brickmakers arrived first, digging up local clay to fire the bricks required for the rapid urbanisation of West london.  They ran a simple but effective production line; fields were dug for clay, fired into bricks and made into houses, all on the same site to avoid transportation costs.   Pottery Lane was so named after the sheds, which stored the tiles and bricks along the lane running down to the kiln. The Walmer Road kiln is believed to have been run by the Adams family, who specialised in producing drain-pipes, tiles and flower-pots.

The brickmakers had a bad reputation with an appetite for unsavoury past times.  They enjoyed cock fighting and bull baiting, whilst also keeping dogs for fighting and rat killing.  As London rapidly expanded, the pig keepers were forced out of  Marble Arch and Tottenham Court Road, westwards to settle in Pottery Lane.  It was to prove a disastrous combination of trade neighbours.  With no adequate drainage, the excavated clay sites  filled with stagnant water, pig excrement and raw sewage.  Such unsanitary conditions led to cholera and typhoid outbreaks.  Between 1846-8 the average age of death was 11 years and 7 months compared with 37 years throughout the rest of London.

Thankfully, there are no such conflicts of interest in my street, the neighbours are delightful. They lend me a step ladder once in a while, we sometimes walk to the tube together, they ask me how I am, we have a Christmas bash together.  So would I move back to Holland Park, well who wouldn't?  But I'm bringing my flat and the neighbours with me!  So this week I want to encourage you  to introduce yourself to "her that lives downstairs". Why not perform an altruistic act......a leftover slice of cake is never refused in my experience.  I know we all get terribly British and awkward about speaking to strangers, especially in London. But stretch yourself and you might just be rewarded.

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