Around & About 1983

London Portrait Magazine

London Portrait Magazine was London's first glossy, free-distribution magazine. It was delivered to the capital's more exclusive addresses and, unlike its many imitators, was regarded as a 'good read' with excellent editorial features. Eventually a combination of a change of editor and the greedy climate of the late-Eighties 'boom-and-crash' property market took their toll. Christopher Long's 'Around & About' was the regular, monthly news column.

By Christopher Long

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February 1983

News, of course, comes hour by hour but this month sees the first of a series of monthly news round-ups by CHRISTOPHER LONG, who takes a look at some of the longer running issues in Central London.

Councillors in Kensington & Chelsea must be feeling particularly unloved these days as the prospect of another large increase in the rates looms into view. On top of this the natives of Chelsea are getting increasingly restless as the thunder of juggernauts and the effects of worsening traffic problems have resulted in a significant revolt by the residents. Let's take the rates first.

It's too yet to know what the rate demand will be this April but already there are rumours of a 20 per cent increase unless the council can find ways of trimming its expenditure still further. While the Tory controlled council continues to call for the abolition of the GLC and the ILEA who account for the bulk of the money raised from our rates each year, it will undoubtedly find that there's little if anything left to cut among its own services this year. For two years running it has imposed swingeing cuts on social services and its other departments – so much so that complaints about services, amenities, housing and even the state of the roads and pavements are increasing. A similar story applies in neighbouring Westminster. Eighty-eight per cent of our rates go to the ILEA, the GLC and the Metropolitan Police.

Last year Jo Patterson of The Vale, Chelsea, was the leading light in the formation of the Kensington & Chelsea Ratepayers' Association who find themselves in the anomalous situation of supporting and lobbying their own Tory councillors to put pressure on Tory government ministers to stop bleeding the borough white. Because of the complicated – and they claim inequitable – way in which the Royal Borough pays so much towards London's running costs and receives little in Rates Support Grant, they call for major reform. Last year's Census figures showed a continuing decline in the population of the borough making fewer people carry an ever greater burden for a steadily ageing population.

Councillors are already alarmed at the number of families who are leaving because they can't afford to stay and see a bleak future ahead unless ministers come to their aid. The Ratepayers' Association have the full support of the borough's Chamber of Commerce and a series of public meetings at the Gloucester Hotel in South Kensington can have left few people, including council leader Nicholas Freeman, in any doubt about the level of local frustration.

And now – the Traffic Problem. One of the strange facts about Central London is that nearly all the best roads go east and west. Virtually none are worthy of being called arterial routes and there isn't anything going north and south which can hope to cope with the traffic demands – most of which is going north or south.

To cope with the ever-increasing quantity of heavy transport and through-traffic, Kensington & Chelsea created 'juggernaut alley' through Earl's Court, West Brompton and Chelsea – two long, narrow, parallel roads which disgorge their traffic onto Chelsea Embankment in the south and motorways to the north and west. So angry have residents become that a vast umbrella organisation called West London Traffic Reform has recruited nearly every local amenity group in West London to press for a swift and permanent solution to the environmental threat posed by juggernauts and through-traffic.

Their solution, which has been accepted by the GLC, is an increasingly stringent series of bans on heavy transport and through-traffic until all of it is made to use the M25 outer orbital motorway instead. Nevertheless the Royal Borough's council insists on building a West London Relief Road at a cost of £200 million.

This road would run along the borough boundary with Fulham & Hammersmith from Holland Park in the north to Lots Road in the south. Already it has been rejected by the GLC who might otherwise have paid for it. Now councillors are preparing to lobby the Department of Transport and the Environment. Local opposition is almost unanimous but there may be more behind the council's thinking than meets the eye.

British Rail have recently announced that they might re-open the old West London railway line to passenger traffic if feasibility studies are favourable. The line runs from Clapham Junction to Olympia and beyond, via West Brompton and Earl's Court. At the same time the council is anxious to make better use of potential development sites adjacent to the railway line (and their proposed road) in Warwick Road. Added to this, the hoary old chestnut of the Channel Tunnel Freight Depot comes up for discussion from time to time. A natural site for this would be somewhere along this railway line.

Meanwhile Westminster City Council is keeping fairly quiet on the issue. They have already upgraded the Edgware Road, Park Lane, Vauxhall Bridge Road route and wouldn't want the juggernaut problem thrown into their court. Nor would Fulham & Hammersmith, or Battersea for that matter. This story could run and run but time may be running out for the Royal Borough if it doesn't decide on a permanent and quick solution before the next council elections.

Belgrave Square may have a new resident this year. Providing that negotiations with the Grosvenor Estate are successful a massive, 9 ft high statue of Leonardo's 'Vitruvian Man' could find a permanent home opposite the Italian Embassy. The statue, started by Chelsea sculptor Enzo Plazzotta, was completed by one of his studio assistants after Plazzotta died 18 months ago. Cast in bronze, the statue is one of the most ambitious projects by Plazzotta who achieved considerable fame in this country after leaving Italy at the end of the war.

For some obscure reason the town of Vinci turned down Plazzotta's suggestion that the statue should go there, but with the help of the Birmingham Museum of Alabama it now seems likely that the bronze will be put up in Belgrave Square instead. Westminster City Council has approved the idea and with the opening recently of a permanent exhibition of Plazzotta's work in his old studio in Cathcart Road, Chelsea, it sees that Plazzotta's name will not be forgotten in London.

Whatever one writes about the Old Town Hall in Kensington will almost certainly be out of date by the time Portrait thuds through the letter box. After all, it vanished overnight last year and its ruins have caused much controversy ever since.

The London Land Investment & Property Company complained recently that plans by their architects APT have been ignored by the council who who vacated the 105 year-old building five years ago and demolished it last June in order to preempt GLC plans to include it in a Conservation Area. The property company planned to buy the site for £4 million (later increased to £4.5 million) and create offices and shops behind a reconstructed Victorian facade. They also promised to dedicate the rear of the building to community use 'in perpetuity'.

The council denied that it had refused to discuss the offer and says that it is already contractually obligated to the original potential developers, County & District. Their planning applications have been refused twice on appeal and a final decision is expected on their scheme this month which may still give APT's 'restoration' scheme a chance.

An architectural competition before Christmas with a prize of £25,000 was described by London Land director Martin Grogan as a face-saving ploy by the council which was costing the ratepayers money in delay.

If you find difficulties in finding a resident' s parking bay, take heart. The council is currently investigating the possibility of introducing its own traffic wardens. Currently there are 27,422 cars with permits in Kensington & Chelsea with only 19,214 bays for them to park in. Added to that the traffic warden strength is half what it should be. Despite a 29 per cent drop in the population since 1971, the borough's parking problems are getting worse and worse. A decision on the self-financing, council-run warden service may be made early this year.

London's tourist industry could be crippled by rip-off traders, it was claimed recently. Sandwich bars which charge double the price demanded in the suburbs and tobacconists who charge foreigners an extra 6p per packet of cigarettes could threaten the multi-million pound foreign currency-earning industry, according to London business woman, Polly Weisweller. Miss Weisweller, a director of Poly-Contact International, which organises educational trips for foreign students, is waging a one-woman war on declining standards. Among these are hotels which charge customers in advance and don't show them their rooms first; the abolition of the Go-As-You-Please tickets; and journalists who paint a black picture of life in London. Tourists apparently believe that London is in a permanent state of racial rioting, with IRA bombers and warmongering Argentineans making the streets into no-go areas.

Police in Westminster's 'A' District are waging war: on burglars. There were 146,209 burglaries in London last year and Det. Ch. Insp. John Black of Rochester Row station is running a determined campaign to reverse the trend. He appeals to the public in his area to make use of Crime Prevention Officer Alan Campbell who can help with advice on security. In a recent statement he said that the endemic problem of burglary can and will be stopped with the help of the public. He believes burglary is as serious as murder and rape.

March 1983

The long-running saga of the Handicapped Adventure Playground in the Rectory gardens in Old Church Street, Chelsea, came to its inevitable conclusion recently when a mysterious Middle Eastern buyer paid out more than £1.5 million for the historic house and garden – while the handicapped children left by the back gate.

It's a long time since any one story has dominated the local news so much and for so long. The uncertain future of the Rectory and the Playground achieved this for over a year – eventually drawing considerable attention from the national press, TV and radio.

The Handicapped Adventure Playground was the first of its kind, established in part of the 2.5 acre rectory gardens – the largest private garden in [Central] London after Buckingham Palace – and was set up by the Handicapped Adventure Playground Association in the mid-Seventies to cater for 400 children each week. Under a "gentlemen's agreement" chairman Cicely Mathias and her committee agreed to vacate the site on request when the Rev'd Harold Loasby gave them permission to use part of his garden. When, however, the Rev'd Loasby retired and it was decided by the local diocese to sell the house and gardens, this did not prevent well-meaning objectors from accusing "greedy churchmen" of "evicting" the children (at Christmas time!) in order to maximise their profits. In fact the whole issue was a major embarrassment to HAPA officials who were quite prepared to stick by their original undertaking and found themselves overtaken by events and an unholy war between everyone concerned.

The church, represented by Archdeacon Hayward, as well as their agents Biscoe & Stanton, were attacked by local residents for their plan to sell the property with planning permission for up to 30,000 sq ft of office development in a quiet residential area. The residents were under attack from other local residents who would have been glad to see the playground gone. Supporters of the playground attacked the church for profiteering at the expense of handicapped children, while the church itself accused the protesters of ignoring the legal issue at stake and turning the argument into an emotive crusade. The local council, personified by councillor Joan Hanham, did its best to protect everyone's best interests and inevitably suffered abuse from everyone as a result.

At stake was the vital question of how much the listed building would be worth with planning permission for offices. The council would have agreed to 15,000 sq ft if the gardens could have been dedicated for public open space. Developers such as Peter Humphryes of Melbourne Estates and former mayoress of Kensington & Chelsea, Ann West, both came up with development proposals which would have incorporated the playground and offered prices ranging up to £1.5 million to do so. But, as feverish negotiations, protest marches to the Archbishop of Canterbury and media coverage took place at the end of last year, the church had quietly accepted a higher offer from the mysterious man from the Middle East. The playground's extended notice to quit took effect at Christmas – and that, as they say, was that.

The result: deep dissent and disappointment for many; divisive scars among many of Chelsea's residents; doubts about the true role of the church of England; and quite a few dispossessed children. It could be said that no-one won very much from the whole issue and while the buyer plans, uncontroversially enough, to use the house and gardens for his personal pleasure. Oscar Wilde would no doubt be interested to know whether the fruit trees will burst into blossom this Spring.

Members of the very influential Kensington Society have not allowed the memory of Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, to die. The Princess was a much-loved and familiar figure in Kensington who lived at Kensington Palace and was often seen shopping in the High Street. Following her death a memorial garden has been created in what was once the ornamental pool under the arches of the imposing New Town Hall in Hornton Street.

With a month to go until the dreaded rates bills drop through our letter boxes, Kensington & Chelsea's council have found two ways of improving its own bank balance. By selling off a list of buildings formerly owned by the council it will have raised almost £11.5 million by the time the Old Town Hall in Kensington High Street is sold for £5 million alone.

This figure includes £1.4 million from Town Hall lettings in Kensington and Chelsea. Among those properties sold were the Chenil Galleries in King's Road (£240,000); the massive Block B at 250 King's Road (£700,000); the old Central Library in Kensington High Street (£1,340,000); 25A Kensington Square (£2,225,000); 131/133 Holland Park Avenue (£460,000); and 19/27 Young Street (£60,000).

Among another seven properties still in the hands of the council's valuer for disposal is the Old Community Centre on the corner of Milman's Street and the King's Road, Chelsea. Formerly the original Chelsea Police Station, it became the Community Centre until that too moved elsewhere – to the World's End Estate. Conveniently situated opposite two pubs and the Conservative club, it is destined for conversion to offices.

The second way in which the council is easing its financial burdens concerns refuse collection and street cleaning. Like many other boroughs, notably Wandsworth, Kensington & Chelsea have found 'privatisation' a much more financially attractive proposition than the council-run service. In Chelsea, at least, most residents seem to think that the private service is a lot more efficient too. Nevertheless Kensington still has its refuse collected by council employees who brought a council meeting to a close and had to be escorted out of the chamber by police last autumn when privatisation of the Kensington area and the borough-wide cleansing service was debated.

The result of negotiations with the dustman's unions has resulted in a compromise solution. Instead of accepting private tenders the council has agreed that existing dustmen will be allowed to provide their own improved service coupled with 91 redundancies and overall operating savings of more than £1 million in 1983/84.

In addition to that the council will be able to claw back a further £1.5 million from the Central Government Block Grant because of the savings they've achieved !

Works Committee chairman James Arbuthnot says he's pleased to be able to offer a better service at greatly reduced costs, though it remains to be seen whether the dustmen will prove more co-operative with residents and stop leaving a trail of litter behind their dust-carts for the street-sweepers to clean up after them.

Since all the figures in this article seem to sound like telephone numbers it seems appropriate to welcome the news that the Canadian entrepreneur Ed Mirvish is currently spending £2 million on revamping the stricken Old Vic theatre. Mr Mirvish has the rare ability to turn apparently redundant theatres into going concerns which is what he aims to do with the Old Vic after it re-opens in October, after being restored to its former plush splendour with re-built tiers of boxes, elaborate drapes and all the glories of its original 1810 appearance. The shows will be much as before, Mr Mirvish says, but he will be marketing them very differently. Sir Michael Hordern was delighted by the news and it was hoped that the ghost of Lilian Bayliss would approve of the new issue of life in London's prime playhouse.

The Queen Mother, as patron of the Friends of St Martin-in-The-Fields, is supporting the church's current appeal for £350,000 to carry out extensive repairs and restoration to the fabric and interior decoration of the famous church over-looking Trafalgar Square in Westminster.

Designed by James Gibbs, the church's crypt, Vestry Hall, courtyard and portico will all be renovated along with sanctuary and choir. The famous 'Bells of St Martin's' will be re-hung and the organ repaired out of the money raised by the appeal which was to be launched by the Queen Mother on February 23.

Appeal director Alan Williams and the vicar, the Rev. Prebendary Austin Williams, say that although the basic structure is sound, the present shabby exterior is an outward sign of the dangerous state of the building inside and out.

April 1983

Despite almost gale-force winds and arctic temperatures, local dignitaries and invited guests made the most of an official opening ceremony at the Chelsea Farmers' Market in Sydney Street, Chelsea, which is intended, one might say, to bring a breath of fresh country air to the experience of shopping in London.

A large area of land between the Jack Beanstalk garden centre and the rear of the old Chelsea Register Office on the corner of King's Road is now dotted with small, cedar-wood huts selling everything from fruit & veg. to wholefoods, fresh trout, game and bread.

The site was once occupied in the 17th century by Charles ll's gardener, John Watts, but is better known now for the continuing controversy over plans by the Brompton Hospital to build a massive, specialist hospital there. However, as Chelsea's MP, Nicholas Scott, and the mayor, Councillor Levitt jointly unveiled a ceremonial plaque and declared the new produce market open, nothing was being said about the pros-and-cons of the planned hospital which many people feel would be a blot on the landscape. Indeed it isn't even clear whether the hospital has the money to build it and whether the demolition of so many Victorian terraced houses was really necessary.

The new market, however, is likely to be less controversial and its founder, Edward Simons, a former barrow-boy turned chartered accountant and movie mogul, is confident that it will have the same success as similar markets in Los Angeles, Boston and elsewhere in the States. Clearly the one acre site is well positioned next to the garden centre to the north, founded four years ago by Barbara Bayle and seems to have grown in that time like the beanstalk it's named after.

In fact, a quick work-out at Jane Birbeck's 'Body's' health centre and gymnasium followed by a country-style shopping spree in the market, ending up with a troll through the super-oxygenated air of the garden centre is all available within a 50-yard radius. Watch out for wholefood from Neal's Yard, meat from Hicks' Butchers, dogs' dinners from Pet Care, greens from Buy-Rite, cheeses from Neal's Yard Dairy, live trout from Abinger and pates from Delices de Gascogne – coffee at Huff's Restaurant after.

Also promised at Chelsea Farmers' Market is a diary of events during the year. Among these are Morris Dancing round a May Pole on May Day, a barbecue on Midsummer's Day, celebrations on Bastille Day (why ?) and, very understandably, a Harvest Festival in September.

Given the attitudes of most people to solicitors, it's hardly surprising to hear that the solicitors have got together to produce a 23-minute film, appropriately entitled "Perishing Solicitors" which seeks to entreat us all to beware the nightmare that will befall us if we don't use their services. George Cole, Maureen Lipman, Judy Cornwall and Russell Hunter star in the film made by Video Arts for the Law Society which aims "in a humorous way to correct popular misconceptions of the legal profession and to promote a better understanding of the everyday problems easily solved by a solicitor".

Tales of do-it-yourself Wills that are illegal and fail therefore to deliver the goods are followed by a tail (or trail) of tragedy involving a wife who is hospitalised after breaking a leg, workmen who succeed in damaging another man's house and an unfortunate collision with a police car in a one-way street – all of which demonstrate that a few words with a solicitor would have resulted in a valid Will, compensation for the injury, no threat of eviction and an easier time at the local nick.

As building societies lobby for a lucrative slice of the property dealing and conveyancing market, no doubt the solicitors are hedging their bets, but bearing in mind the cost and complexity of soliciting a solicitor and the public attitude to them generally, it will be interesting to see whether this film encourages more of us to take the plunge...

Weeks of painstaking negotiation and quiet determination look as though they have reaped a satisfying reward for the Royal Borough's deputy Leader of the Council, Mrs Iain Hanham. At the time of writing it seems she may well have secured a more permanent home for the Chelsea Handicapped Adventure Playground which fell victim to the property wheelers-and-dealers concerned with the Chelsea Rectory in Old Church Street.

Within months of losing their playground in the Rectory gardens, Mrs Hanham was hoping to be able to announce an agreement between the council and the Royal Hospital that a new site would be provided for the children in their grounds. If her deal is successful this will be a triumph for her and the Handicapped Adventure Playground Association.

Church of England accountants can rejoice in the £1.5 million they have earned from the sale of the Rectory to a Middle Eastern buyer who wanted the garden all to himself. Local residents who objected to the pressure of the children in Old Church Street will be happy. And pro-HAPA residents can reflect on the fact that old soldiers at Christopher Wren's famous hospital (300 years old last year) may well find the children a new and delightful addition to their beautiful grounds.

Mrs Hanham has other reasons for satisfaction this month. It is almost certain that she will be elected as Mayor of the Royal Borough for 1983/84 at a meeting on May 25. She is the Tory party's candidate to succeed councillor Brian Levitt whose term of office terminates in May.

Her career to date has been interesting and influential in borough affairs since she first became a councillor representing Holland Ward in 1970. She is married to a consultant physician, has two children and has lived in the borough for 20 years. Her reputation as a highly decorative member of the council as well an effective debater tends to obscure the fact that she has recently tackled many of the most tricky and controversial local issues.

Particularly prominent has been her campaign to improve the housing and environment of Earl's Court as chairman of the Earl's Court Study sub-committee; her attempts to win a new home for the Handicapped Adventure Playground; her involvement in the controversial destruction of the Old Town Hall in Kensington High Street and a variety of equally controversial housing schemes as chairman of Health & Housing. She has been deputy Leader of the council, vice chairman of both the Policy & Resources and Town Planning committees and represents the borough at the ILEA, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and is a member of the North Thames Regional Health Authority

Her Deputy Mayor will be councillor James Arbuthnot, 30, an old Etonian who is now a Chancery barrister. He it was who negotiated the deal with the borough's dustmen which resulted in a £1 million saving to ratepayers earlier this year.

What is billed as the biggest and best street party in London takes place this month in Covent Garden to raise money for the Greater London Fund for the Blind.

The party, on the evening of April 17, will be a Jamboree to mark the conclusion of the Gillette London Marathon. The attraction includes three bands, Morris Dancers, street entertainers, stilt-walkers and flower and balloon sellers. Food and drink to suit all tastes and purses will be available and the organisers are challenging adults and children to double the £16,000 raised for London's blind at last year's party.

If you're feeling old spare a thought for the 82 year-old American millionaire Mr Gordon Albert who will be taking to the road on April 17 to join at least 18,000 runners in the Gillette London Marathon. Born in 1901, Mr Albert must be a sprightly pensioner and while he may not receive the winner's cup from GLC chairman Ken Livingston 26 miles away from the start in Blackheath, he should bring hope to any of us who feel we're getting long in the tooth.

This year's race is expected to be very similar to last year's event although this time there's an official men's and women's championship under strict AAA rules within the overall race which will be hotly contested by potential Olympic runners. As well as the ace runners, however, there will be the usual motley collection of runners of all shapes, sizes and ages (over 18) as well as at least three blind runners accompanied by their own 'guides'.

Some fascinating statistics... Aliens make up 35.7 per cent of the population of Kensington. Surprisingly they represent 39.4 per cent of the population of Chelsea, while 15.7 per cent of Kensington's population are pensioners, just under half of whom live alone. In Chelsea 17.8 per cent are pensioners and just under half of them live alone too. But the nation's lonely hearts should move to the Royal Borough: 40 per cent of Kensington's population are single and live alone while in Chelsea the figure is a massive 45 per cent.

May 1983

If this column doesn't reach Portrait's offices in time and therefore does not appear, it may well be thanks to the 'traffic management' schemes at Hyde Park Corner.

Back in February despairing motorists found that the police and GLC had hatched out a scheme of 'improvements' aimed at easing the traffic flow and reducing the high level of accidents.

Most Londoners who use the junction frequently might feel that concrete bollards and traffic lights were the last things they needed and any time now we can expect the authorities to complete their assessment of the experimental system. Many motorists believe that the mere presence of policemen at Hyde Park Corner slows down the traffic flow. When they start directing the traffic it gets worse. The bollards were the final straw for those travelling up Constitution Hill – and as for the now remaining traffic lights... well!

The police are convinced that they must take steps to control the flow during rush-hour peaks but are they, perhaps, under-estimating the intelligence and cooperativeness of British drivers – surely the most courteous motorists in the world. Even in the inevitably thick rush-hour traffic it's surprising how well it all manages itself. Considering that this is one of the world's most heavily used junctions the number of accidents is surprisingly small (and usually not serious) vis-a-vis the volume. Traffic lights will cause certain tail-backs and, worse still, municipally imposed frustration – always more dangerous than the self-imposed, self-soluble kind.

Following on his successful exhibition of photographs at the Ebury Gallery last month, Chelsea's faithful recorder of people, places and personalities in London, John Bignall has just published a lavish art book which catalogues life in London since 1949.

Bignell, who is highly regarded by Betjeman and Casson, has already had considerable success with an earlier book, Chelsea Seen – historic photographs of the area. His new volume, simply entitled John Bignell – Chelsea Photographer records London life from 1949-1981 and brings back many a nostalgic memory with flair and style.

Keen gardeners or even the plain inquisitive will be pleased to hear that London's best-known 'secret garden' is now open to visitors. The Chelsea Physick Garden, established in the 17th Century and still packed with rare, exotic and impeccably maintained plant-life will be open to visitors until October (for details, see our article on London Tourism). To keep going, the cash-starved garden in Royal Hospital Road urgently needs the income which friends such as Lady Glenkinglas hope to raise from admission charges.

Literary gossip item of the month must surely be the launch of the Academy Book Club – an off-shoot of the Literary Review, propagated by Naim Attallah and cultivated by Sabrina Guinness. The new book club is aimed at London's more sophisticated and literary readers and involves subscribing to the monthly Literary Review for £10.80 p.a. and undertaking to buy a minimum of four books each year in return for a discount of about 25 per cent. Books on offer at present include Conversations with Graham Greene ; Nobel Prize winner Heinrich Boll and Czeslaw Milosz; and The Yellow Book – among 14 titles which happily include Tom Wolfe's The Purple Decades. The enchanting Miss Guinness has no difficulty in persuading me that the offer makes sense: the books are all so important that I would have bought them anyway, she says, but through her I get a discount and the magazine too. That's cultivation.

The residents of the council-owned Moravian Tower in King's Road have had cause for complaint and concern for some time – ever since cracks and water seepage first occurred in the multi-storey, Sixties-designed tower block. The Town Hall has instituted enquiries; engineers and surveyor have carried out ominous tests and examinations. Clearly the structure is far from satisfactory and the problem could be deeply rooted in faulty design or construction. Spokesmen for the council are not voluble on the subject and if legal proceedings or reconstruction are necessary the costs involved could be large. Who knows ? We'll tell you when we do.

Drug abuse and glue-sniffing are the sorts of topics that don't make headlines any longer. Nevertheless, in parts of Earl's Court for example, the perfectly legal but equally dangerous Amyl Nitrite and Butyl Nitrite are readily available from irresponsible dealers. Commonly known as 'poppers' the two very similar drugs, in ampoule form, are often used to enhance orgasms during sex. Amyl (used medically for angina sufferers) is not 'illegal' and can be bought as a colourless liquid in small bottle for £5 or more. Butyl is almost identical in terms of legality, appearance and price but has a much more prosaic origin – as the basis or room deodorisers.

The dangers of both chemicals lie in their potentially lethal effects on people with weak hearts because they cause massive increases in blood pressure and pulse rate as well as releasing all inhibitions. Abusers of other drugs are particularly vulnerable.

Drug dependency agencies in Central London are aware of the increasing use of poppers among the young and not-so-young and warn strongly against them. "We know that these drugs are being sold to people indiscriminate of age – and therefore dangerously."

Despite the changing market, the 1983 way to sell your house apparently involves nothing more than the smell of freshly baked bread. No longer do you arrange for him to be shown round the house by the decorative au pair you borrow from your neighbour. In 1983 you appeal to her instead by placing a drop or two of vanilla essence on a hot plate. The resulting aroma apparently smells of home-made bread – appealing to the earth-mother in women who once demanded fresh flowers, no less!

After the unfortunate scenes of feminist activity at El Vino's (Elle Vino's?) last year, Kensington resident Robin Arbuthnot took no chances when he recently opened a new club, 'Duffers', under the railway arches at the foot of Ludgate Hill. Where El Vino's is the place where the Bar meets the Press, Duffers is the place where the City meets the Bar, the Press and young bloods from the West End. Arbuthnot's plan is to create an atmosphere where ladies are quite as comfortable in the bars and dining room as gentlemen and where they too can play snooker on one of the ten tables which now fill the erstwhile railway arches.

Members, it seems, are flocking in with their £60 membership fees and the two Pru Leith cooks, Sue Rycott and Catriona Miller-Thomas are doing brisk trade with their £8.50 lunches and evening meal a choix. Keeping everyone happy and in order is Lucinda Goodhew whose family business has a share in Arbuthnot's club. Duffers, he explains, is the antidote to the traditional St James's version. Just like Flanagan & Allen, one supposes, who sang Underneath The Arches and then left the theatre in Rolls Royces.

June 1983

Bear with me while I tell you a story. It begins in 1942 when a 17 year-old midshipman, David Loram, is asked to man a torpedo tube on HMS Foresight during a naval action in Arctic waters. The torpedo is the last one available among the flotilla of battle-scarred British ships and it is to be aimed, on the orders of Admiral Bonham-Carter, at the admiral's former flagship, HMS Edinburgh. David Lorham's job is to scuttle the crippled vessel to prevent it falling into German hands. This he did, photographing the torpedo left its tube and the eventual plume of water as the torpedo hit its target and sent the Edinburgh to its grave. What David Loram did not know (as we know now) was that on board the Edinburgh were tons of gold sold from Russia to England.

Almost 40 years later the bulk of that gold was recovered by a team of British divers and soon after that David Loram, now Vice-Admiral Sir David Loram (RN Retired) was given a new job – to raise £750,000 for the Royal Marsden Hospital.

The extraordinary fact is that one of the world's finest cancer treatment hospitals doesn't have its own CT scanner – a vital piece of equipment in the diagnosis and treatment planning of cancer patients.

"It sounds incredible but it's true," Sir David says. "The fact is that three out of ten of us will get cancer and if we're lucky we'll end up at the Marsden for treatment. Millions of pounds are raised and spent on research each year but the Marsden is having to bus its patients into the depths of Surrey for scanning facilities."

"Unless we can raise this £750,000 it's quite likely, as one doctor told me, that the Royal Marsden will become a sort of cottage hospital despite having some of Europe's most brilliant medical staff."

It's paradoxical that the man who sank such a colossal fortune in gold is having to battle to raise such a relatively small sum. This month he hopes to be able to announce that half the sum has been raised but he needs our help. It would be appropriate, one feels, if the somewhat discredited recovery operation of the gold from H.M.S. Edinburgh could see its way to donating just one gold bar to the man who sent it to the bottom in the first place and who is manning the pumps now.

One hopes that there are some guilty consciences among our planners and designers. Southwark Council has appealed to the DoE for a £45 million grant to demolish a defective council estate (only 13 years after it was built at a cost of £18 million) after more than half the residents voted for new homes with gardens. They heard that it would cost as much to put right the construction faults as it would to pull it all down.

In Chelsea a similar tale appears to be in progress. Moravian Tower in King's Road is also suffering water penetration and cracks in its structure which are being urgently investigated by the council which owns it. Meanwhile the tenants are being moved out and students from Chelsea College have been moved in as temporary residents. Will it too have to come down? And at what cost?

What must be worrying the experts even more is whether the vast World's End Estate which looks similar and is another Seventies construction will manifest the same symptoms one day.

Up until now the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea has kindly provided skips in selected streets and squares where you and I can get rid of old cookers and mattresses and anything else the dustmen won't take. Not any longer, however. This service is to be discontinued because builders inside and outside the borough are abusing the system and filling the skips with unwanted rubble and materials – creating a terrible mess and leaving no room for the residents' own rubbish.

Public complaints mounted and now the council will only accept our bulky refuse if we take it to council depots at Warwick Road, Denyer Street or Christiana Wharf in Lots Road. They are open daily and skips will be left outside the gates for use over Bank Holidays.

Excuse my obsession with rubbish but the tale of the Royal Borough's 11,500 unwanted dustbins must be told. It bought them for under a fiver each from the GLC in order to give us each one as a present. then council policy changed and we had to use plastic sacks instead. Council depots were littered with bins while the public was encouraged to buy them for around £8 each. So few have been sold that the last we heard was that the desperate depots have been looking for a super dustman to clear the lot for whatever price they'll fetch.

June is undoubtedly a delightful month in which to be an Englishman! So many of the sporting and social events, that make one feel it's good to be alive, happen this month. After an absence of four years the Grosvenor House Fair re-appears (June 10 – 18) – surely one of the most glittering of antique shows. It's a proud moment too for the Knightsbridge dealers Norman Adams which is celebrating its Diamond Jubilee this year. It first exhibited there in 1934 and returns with a Sheraton double-sided bookcase among a display of 18th Century furniture.

Another June event – not to be missed by lovers of pageantry – is the Queen's Birthday Parade at Horse Guards at 11 am on June 11.

The 21,500 Central London motorists who have faced a massive increase in residents' parking charges, thanks to a Westminster City Council decision, may well feel that the 5 per cent inflation in their pockets bears little relation to the 56 per cent extra they are being charged this year.

The daily rate goes up from 25p to 40p. Quarterly season tickets go up from £9 to £14. Annual season tickets go up from £32 to £56. What can we say – except to refer you to our feature on parking policies in the next issue.

Only nine per cent of burglaries in Kensington & Chelsea were solved last year, the police revealed recently. There were 4,727 burglaries in the area compared with 4,796 in 1981 – only a small decrease compared with a drop of 13 per cent in juvenile crime and similar small decreases in auto-crime and theft. Muggings and violent crime were fairly static at 1,237 cases, while fraud, forgery and criminal damage to property are on the increase.

Overall the clear-up rate for crime in 'B' Division as a whole was only 21.3 per cent, although Commander John Perrett comforts himself by comparing this with an average 16 per cent clear-up rate for the Metropolitan police as a whole.

The success of the Chelsea Symphony Orchestra, founded by the young conductor Nicholas Dodds two years ago, has been phenomenal. Its latest concert at St John's, Smith Square, was very well received and was only a prelude to a remarkable four-day tour in New York as part of the 'British Salute' taking place there. The entire orchestra was booked to appear at the Botanical Gardens and the Metropolitan Museum last month, finishing with a farewell concert at Kennedy Airport for their sponsors Pan Am who have financed the prestigious tour.

Heartiest congratulations, however, are due to the energy and enthusiasm of the orchestra's guardian angel, Martin Summers, who lives in Glebe Place, and who intends to see the CSO become one of London's principal orchestras.

July 1983

One of the most tragic stories in the ever-eventful history of Chelsea was the murder of Richard Castillo. Dr Castillo was the much loved family doctor who never returned home after he left on a late night call. His body was found but there was never a satisfactory solution to the brutal end and his murderer was never found – let alone any motive.

The story has a happier ending because as this article appears the very first elderly residents of Kensington & Chelsea will be using the brand new Day Centre in Thorndike Close near Lots Road, Chelsea, which is named after Richard Castillo.

The £175,000 development opens this month thanks to the housing charity, Servite Houses, who have already achieved a remarkable series of sheltered housing schemes for the elderly in London. The local council supplied the site, worth £12,000, as a gift and charitable foundations have provided the funds to give enough space for 40-50 people to use the main hall, overlooking a large public garden, with a patio, and complete with a hairdressing salon, chiropody clinic, bathroom, kitchen, tea bar and other facilities.

According to development officer Jan Tomlinson, there is a desperate need in the area for a gathering point for elderly people from all walks of life who find that old age has brought them loneliness and isolation. She hopes that anyone who would like to know more will contact her on 370 5466. Transport, a wide range of activities and the equally new Health Centre next door make the whole project doubly attractive – a scheme that would no doubt have delighted the late Richard Castillo.

Four out of every hundred people are neither lazy nor stupid and most of them in fact are of above average intelligence. What they have in common, however, is Dyslexia – a condition they share with such well-known names as Chelsea resident Susan Hampshire and Olympic swimmer Duncan Goodhew (and the less well-known name of Christopher Long!).

Fortunately for some of us our condition was identified, understood, and we have survived well enough. Thousands of bright children with severe reading, writing and number handicaps are not so lucky, which is why a £100,000 appeal is being launched to finance the Dyslexia Institute's new teaching outpost at Guildford Street, WC1. Children and adults can get expert advice and practical help there at 'surgeries' on Tuesdays and Thursdays to improve education and career prospects. The centre was opened by Susan Hampshire in September and she is backing the appeal to improve facilities for dyslexics. (Somewhere I still have an official report on a dyslexia conference which was entitled 'Dyselxia'. It was a genuine mistake!)

As if cycling in London isn't quite hazardous enough already, the authorities in Hyde Park are making life even more difficult. There are some paths along which you may cycle, it seems, and others where it's forbidden – it seems.

The confusion is caused by the extraordinary sign-posting. If you came across a red circle with a picture of a bicycle on a white background and then, at the foot of that sign, another one exactly the same but with a red diagonal line through it – apparently cancelling out whatever the first sign said – what would you think?

Well, you might think that the original sign (bicycle in a circle) means you can cycle there – especially when the authorities always put another one next to it (bicycle in a circle with a line through it) which looks as if they're suddenly saying you can't. Alternatively the original sign might mean you can't cycle there and so the second sign now means you can. These two signs always appear together. What is all this about?

Well, a spokesman for the police in Hyde Park admits that I have touched on a difficult and thorny problem. Apparently they both mean that cycling is forbidden.

This lunatic situation has a strong smell of EEC 'directives' about it. If not I'll bet that Hyde Park Corner planning man has been at it again.

Residents of Smith Street and Smith Terrace off the King's Road in Chelsea are upset over council approval for a car park scheme at 77-77a King's Road which may become a security and environmental threat to their houses. The Royal Borough's planning committee gave approval earlier this year to create a public car park for 72 vehicles on the narrow strip of land that stretches back to 44 Smith Terrace.

Mr Richard Hunting, one of the residents likely to be affected by the fumes, noise and potential access for burglary, says it will be worst at night. He is lobbying the council to impose swingeing parking charges at night to deter motorists from using the 40 open-air and 32 internal bays.

Since the council's planning consent cannot now be challenged, the residents are hoping the council will invoke its powers to approve or set the level of parking charges by putting them up to a penal level after daylight hours.

"I think many of us feel that this decision was irresponsible in the first place and took no account of residents' views or the effects that the traffic generated will have on King's Road's already serious traffic problems." says Mr Hunting.

It sounds impossible but it seems that the Minuet may be making a return. The 18th century form of dancing was seen at a Midsummer Ball in London last year and minuet dancers were prominent at a New Year's Eve Ball this year. This month they were to be seen at the Glazier's Ball on July 1. Minuet dancers are even turning up to rehearse for the Convent Garden Minuet Company's productions this summer. In case anyone feels they ought to try it out there are classes for beginners and intermediates at 6.30pm on Tuesday nights at the Urdang Academy in Shelton Street, WC2.

Now that the electioneering politicians have stopped bombarding us, this month sees the annual return of the Royal Tournament at Earls Court where the Finals will give us an opportunity to find out what it was like to be bombarded from the air during the Battle of Britain – for those who don't remember it.

Other spectacular items in the show include remarkable equestrian displays by the Csikos horsemen from Hungary plus displays from the Royal Artillery, Metropolitan Police gymnasts, RAF motor-cycle racers and the ever-popular Royal Navy Field Gun competition. And, of course, those heart-stirring, spine-tingling massed bands. Not to be missed – July 13-30 (tickets from £3 to £10.50).

The City of London Festival lasts from the 10th of this month till the 22nd. It not only comprises some stirring main events in some of the magnificent Livery Halls but also a (small) fringe and some more popular entertainment. The main programme is basically conservative and, it has to be said, verges on the unimaginative.

There is an interesting series of the last Beethoven Quartets at lunchtime in Bishopsgate Hall, starting on the 11th played by the Lindsay Quartet. On the 13th in St Paul's there is a performance of Handel's Messiah (starts 6.30) conducted by Barry Rose. Perhaps the most adventurous programme is pairing the elegiac voice of Elizabeth Sonderstrom with that ebullient Cornishman Benjamin Luxon. They sing Lieder in the Drapers' Hall on the same evening while the Medici Quartet play Schubert's Trout Quintet at Ten Trinity Square.

The LSO gives a concert in the Barbican Hall on Sunday the 17th at 7.30 under Yannis Daras. After Britten's Sea Interludes they are joined by Dimitris Sgouros in Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto. On Monday the 19th the Academy of St Martin in the Fields performs in the Guildhall Old Library. They will close the Festival there under the delightful baton of Iona Brown on the Friday in a programme of Mozart, Bach and Dvorak.

Solo performers include David Oistrakh (on the 19th in Merchant Taylors Hall) and Cecile Ousset on the same evening (!) at Stationers' Hall.

There are also concerts by such performers as George Melly, George Chisholm and Donald Swann, and a Lieder Competition under the watchful eye of Benjamin Luxon.

When one considers the wealth of artistic talent that either lives or is for ever visiting London and the vast source of sponsorship right on the City Arts' doorstep, one has to say there is nothing in this Festival to entice anyone who is in search of the unusual. Many events have indeed got sponsorship from well known City names but there is no commission for a new work and the Barbican Centre is being used for one, rather ordinary, run-of-the-mill concert. The Mermaid Theatre is unused and all those charming Wren churches are standing empty. There is no mention in the programme of the various City Squares or Gardens being used at lunchtime for jolly events. It all adds up, I am afraid, to a rather drab affair. A new artistic administrator has been appointed – Ian Ritchie – so here's hoping that next year will have a little more zip.

August 1983

After all the hectic social and political activity of the summer – once known as the Summer Season – August is a very quiet month in London, but if you have creative urges, perhaps now is the time to satisfy them. St Stephen's Hospital in Chelsea's Fulham Road is offering a remarkable opportunity to the artist who can come up with the best idea for a mural to fill the 76ft long main foyer. A competition is being organised for artists, or groups of artists, to propose designs for the mural, and these entries must be sent in by September 3. From the entries four artists will be selected to take their ideas further and in more detail. The final winner will earn himself a £4,500 commission in addition to a materials budget of £2,000.

The opportunity is certainly remarkable. As one of London's busiest hospitals, renowned as West London's principal accident and emergency centre, St Stephen's Hospital (founded 1876) is one of the best show-cases imaginable for such an enormous mural. Further information is available from the Greater London Arts Association (contact Lesley Greene on 388 2211) which is organising the competition.

The once highly controversial area of Lots Road and Cremorne Estate in the extreme south-west corner of Chelsea features prominently in the recently announced Environmental Award Scheme results organised by the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea. The area was for many years a blot on the landscape and even its designation as a General Improvement Area (GIA) did not seem to speed up its rehabilitation and development until quite recently. Plans and rumours of Western Relief Road motorways and Channel Tunnel freight depots did little to encourage improvements to the dingy rows of Victorian terraced housing and scruffy commercial premises in the area. Nor did financial cuts help either.

Now, suddenly, the area does seem to have come into its own and come up in the world. Most attractive of all is the now very popular Cremorne Gardens open space beside the river which won the landscaping award this year. The massive, decorative Cremorne Gardens gates have been brought out of mothballs to dominate the site and, while they don't actually lead anywhere now, they are a gateway to the totally transformed area bounded by Lots Road to the south and west, and King's Road to the north.

A magnificent new Health Centre opens this year, while behind that is the highly imaginative Day Centre created for the borough's elderly population by Servite Houses. Now that the West Field gardens have been laid out among the combination of new and rehabilitated housing, a new sense of prosperity and local pride has emerged.

It remains to be seen how the planners will deal with the ramshackle cluster of scrap-metal yards and old warehouses in Lots Road but there is no reason why the little-known Chelsea Creek and the historic Chelsea Dock could not become a West London version of St Katherine's Dock in the City. Admittedly it would require complicated and no doubt tricky consultations between all those concerned. British Rail, the borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, The British Waterways Board, North Thames Gas and the Royal Borough are just some of those with interests in the huge, derelict area of land around the Creek and the Dock.

By the time this column appears the uncertain futures of Queen Elizabeth College in Kensington, Chelsea College in King's Road and King's College in the Strand may have become clearer. All three colleges are part of London University and are being encouraged to amalgamate into one college on perhaps two sites so that they can survive the stringent financial cuts which have been imposed on them. All three have been severely affected by cuts in courses, staff, students and facilities.

Chelsea College has suffered particularly badly. Despite appalling difficulties the college eventually managed two years ago to acquire the vast historic College of St Mark and St John which stretches from King's Road to Fulham Road and which seemed at the time to assure the college's future with ample facilities on one site. Within months they were the subject of damning criticism (later proved to be unjustified) in the Swinnerton-Dyer report on the academic performances of the university colleges.

Queen Elizabeth College in Campden Hill Road faces financial cuts too and is somewhat pot-bound in its small but excellent Kensington premises. King's College in the Strand would seem to be quite unwilling to leave its premises overlooking the Thames which it occupies under a Royal Charter.

It is significant that Chelsea College has appointed Sir Monty Finniston – former British Steel chief – to become chairman of their board of governors, and the whole shape and pattern of London's university education may well hinge on his ability to negotiate the best marriage possible with his opposite numbers at King's and Queen Elizabeth. If a shot-gun, triangular marriage cannot be arranged it is quite possible that there won't be room for all three and someone will have to go. Initial results were expected a week or two ago but it could be some months before we see banns announced or the engagement called off.

If you can read fluently, have a few spare hours and aren't scared to death by a microphone, your services are urgently needed by about 1,500 blind students who depend upon tape libraries to get through their exams.

The Royal National Institute for the Blind are appealing for volunteers to record academic texts on tape at their Tape Library studios in Islington. Subjects which need to be covered range from economics and theology to mathematics and science. Volunteers with a good standard of education are asked to read texts for sessions lasting between one and three hours during weekday office hours. The students are totally dependent on the volunteer readers and those able to help will be warmly welcomed. Contact the Student Tape Library on 837 9921.

Prepare yourself for an appeal from the clergy at London's most impressive Roman Catholic Church. Four months after they launched a £1,000,000 restoration appeal, friends of the Brompton Oratory are well on their way to met their target by 1984 when the church celebrates its centenary. The Very Rev. Michael Napier is anxious, however, to see that fund-raising momentum isn't lost and plans to involve local people as much as possible this autumn.

The Oratory, described as a 'museum piece in the street of museums', is already being transformed as visitors can now see for themselves. In addition to extensive cleaning and repairs to the interior and exterior, coupled with re-wiring, the Centenary Appeal also plans to set aside £200,000 to establish a Choir Endowment Fund. The renowned musical tradition of plainchant and polyphonic masses costs about £20,000 per year to maintain.

This year the Notting Hill Carnival will take place on the August Bank Holiday Weekend – 26 August-29 August. It is the most cosmopolitan, happy and noisy Carnival of the season – and let's hope no one tries to spoil it this year.

September 1983

One of the last great planning opportunities left in Central London, north of the Thames, is the vast but little known triangle of land on the Fulham/Chelsea border near Lots Road. Hammersmith and Fulham Council would like to develop 19 acres of derelict goods yards owned by British Rail on their side of the borough boundary. Within this area, which lies on the river front, is the historic but decayed Chelsea Dock with its own outlet to the Thames. Also there is the famous Chelsea Creek, and inland waterway with the Royal Borough is presently busy filling in beside Lots Road.

The Royal Borough objects to the Fulham/British Rail plan to create 'residential, employment, leisure and supporting facilities' because they want to preserve the land for the major junction to their proposed Western Relief Road bypass round Earls Court and Chelsea.

This Relief Road has been turned down by the GLC, has met with considerable opposition from Chelsea residents, would cost around £20,000,000 and would take about 10 years to build.

Meanwhile the plum development site continues to decay and an equally large area of run-down commercial land and premises in Lots Road remains an eyesore.

To some people the potential of the dock, creek, surrounding land and riverside frontage is an environmental gift from heaven. It could be the Chelsea equivalent of the enchanting re-development of St Katherine's Dock in the City – only more so. It could provide an ideal combination of yacht marina, leisure facilities, light industry, residential accommodation and offices. There is nowhere like it anywhere else down the north side of the river, and the public are generally unaware of its size or potential because it can't now be seen except from the river or by standing on top of the vast piles of scrap metal near Lots Road Bridge.

The council, on the other hand, appears to believe that they would serve the interests of some residents much better by building a motorway terminus over the area.

The rationale for this view is based on the intolerable burden of traffic through the Earls Court and West Brompton one-way system. To relieve this they believe the road, despite its cost and time-scale, is worthwhile &3150; even if the traffic it carries and attracts has then to find its way along Cheyne Walk to cross the river at Battersea, Albert or Chelsea Bridge. Their opponents believe that stringent traffic and heavy transport bans would be more effective, infinitely cheaper and far less environmentally damaging – something that can be achieved as the M25 is completed.

Between these two views and the disagreement between Fulham and Chelsea (the borough boundary runs right down the middle of the Creek) surely there must be some way in which such an amazing planning opportunity for the people of London can be made to work. The chance won't come again.

It's a curious fact that somewhere between ten and twenty per cent of the residential accommodation in older houses in Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster is below ground level – with a sizeable proportion of the population also living in basement flats.

A recent town hall warning points out that some of these residents could be in danger and that even pedestrians may find the pavements beneath their feet are not as solid or safe as they expect.

The coal holes and vaults beneath the pavements have apparently taken a lot of stress from pavement parking, vibration from heavy lorries and general deterioration.

In fact huge areas of Central London could be affected by the risk of vaults suddenly collapsing, and most of the classic, stucco-fronted houses built in the great Victorian speculative building boom (c.1830-c.1880) were built with vaults extending right under the pavement and the full length of the streets.

Councillor James Arbuthnot, deputy mayor of Kensington & Chelsea, has warned owners of such properties to check their insurance cover because the cost of reinstatement or personal injury claims could be massive in the event of a collapse.

The vaults are the responsibility of the owners, not the council (unless the council owns the property), but the Director of Engineering & Works will provide a free preliminary inspection to assess the safety & strength of vaults. The council will also help with a survey and plans for strengthening or infilling at the owner's expense.

The suggestion of infilling seems, regrettably, to be in line with another council policy which is to remove and fill-in the coal-holes along the pavement when the ornate iron-work plates become damaged. These plates are easy to replace and should surely be conserved as part of the historic and decorative street scenery in London. The rich variety of coal-plate designs makes a fascinating study – urban brass-rubbing for London children.

Councillor Arbuthnot says that pavement parking and heavy lorries aggravate the problems and he earnestly advises owners to seek advice if they are concerned in any way. But while some of us find our vaults very useful, he describes them, somewhat ominously, as a serious problem to the council.

A combination of Edwardian pig Fairings and Viscount Norwich will be the main attractions at the opening of the Chelsea Antiques Fair at Chelsea Town Hall on September 13. The 57th twice-yearly antiques fair runs until September 24 (open 11am-7.30pm except Sundays) and contains 40 stands of genuine, pre-machine age antiques – including the display of pig fairings which come from the private collection of novelist and biographer Mary Lutyens. Admission £1.50.

October 1983

Poor old British Rail has a double load of trouble on its hands these days in addition to its other perennial problems. In both cases, however, it is pleading 'not guilty'.

Its first Central London problem came as a shock when the Railways Board saw a front page lead story in The Standard which claimed that Marylebone Station was up for sale. According to BR's spokesman this was the first British Rail had heard of any plan to sell the historic, listed building.

Yes, says British Rail, they have been negotiating with London Transport to alter the service routes to Buckinghamshire but no, they categorically deny that they have put the station on the market. Nor, they claim, are there any plans to do so. Why, they ask sweetly, did The Standard not bother to check their information with BR?

According to BR they are currently negotiating with London Transport to see whether London Transport would take over the Marylebone-Amersham route, electrify the track and extend the service to Aylesbury. BR would then divert their service from High Wycombe into Paddington Station rather than Marylebone. The effect might therefore be to turn Marylebone into a sort of posh tube station. But these are just ideas at present, says BR.

The second little bundle of trouble concerns Victoria Station. Here, observant readers will have noticed, a large new five storey development has risen above platforms 9-19 – a joint scheme by BR and Greycoat London Estates. In return for the offices, Greycoat were due to build a 'raft' on the mezzanine level above the tracks and below the offices. This was to house the new Gatwick Rail-link Terminus. Greycoat duly built the 'raft' and BR duly built a new station at Gatwick, upgraded the lines and signalling all the way to Victoria and even re-numbered the platforms to allow for two new Rail-link platforms at Victoria.

But then someone turned off the financial tap and BR is left with two non-existent ghost platforms and a large slab of concrete twenty feet up in the air.

"It's not our fault", says a spokesman, "and it seems unlikely that the service will open as planned in 1984."

Yet another piece of open ground has been made available to the general public – this time courtesy of Chelsea College in the King's Road. The mayor of Kensington & Chelsea, Mrs Iain Hanham, was due to open the large area of college gardens at an official ceremony in mid-September. It was always the college's intention to allow public access to the gardens which stretch from King's Road to Fulham Road up the boundary between Fulham and Chelsea. Legal procedures have taken more time than expected but the visitor now gets a chance to see something of the former College of St Mark & St John with its very rich historical associations – all of which has been barricaded from public view for years.

As I write, Christmas seems, mercifully, a long way off. But if you are beginning to think about those dreaded lists of presents, a simple solution is to send off for the excellent Countrywide Workshops catalogue of high quality products made by disabled people. Over 700 items are covered in the glossy full-colour catalogue produced by Valerie Wood-Gaiger to promote work and create jobs for disabled craftsmen. Job creation comes before profit, according to CW who then concentrate on top quality at competitive prices. Catalogues are available (price £1.50 inc. p&p) from Countryside Workshops, 17c Earl's Court Square, London SW5.

A £200,000 appeal for a new day centre for the elderly in Chelsea is launched this month. The Draycott Centre Appeal should result in an imaginative adaptation of the old bath-house and community room on the Guinness Trust Estate between Cadogan Street and Draycott Avenue. The scheme is unusual in that it brings together most of the more influential individuals and institutions in the area. The Earl of Cadogan is president, Lord Farnham is chairman. The Guinness Trust is making the building available rent free while day-to-day responsibility will be in the hands of the Kensington & Chelsea branches of Age Concern and the WRVS whose volunteers will run it.

The council will fund deficits in running costs for at least the first three years and the Guinness Trust will supervise the building work necessary to accommodate ten wheelchair users in addition to large numbers of elderly people from neighbouring places such as the Wiltshire Close, Samuel Lewis, Sutton and Guinness Trust estates as well as almshouses run by Servite Houses Ltd.

All that's now needed is the £200,000 to cover the building costs for the purpose-designed centre. On offer will be the usual arts, crafts, games and pastimes as well as keep-fit classes, dancing, a reasonably priced midday meal, hairdressing and chiropody.

Last December the GLC decided to crack down on noisy helicopters which the then Planning Chairman, Ed Gouge, considered were becoming a menace. He alleged that he had received many complaints about the environmental damaged caused by helicopters. He also anticipated curbs and controls on their noise and operation in Central London.

Nevertheless, helicopters are becoming an invaluable and increasingly common means of transport for busy executives who can land almost anywhere for 28 days a year without planning permission provided they stick to designated flight paths – generally down the Thames. While the GLC continues its investigations into ways of curbing helicopters, many London residents must be wishing they'd concentrate on the far noisier, more disruptive and persistent menace of heavy transport through Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster.

Meanwhile London Portrait will be carrying its own report on the growing use of private helicopters in our next issue.

You may just have time to catch the end of an exhibition of paintings, drawings and watercolours by Chelsea artist Kevin Geary. The exhibition at Carmichael Fine Art in Ifield Road, SW10, closes on October 9.

Kevin Geary is famous for his portraits of HRH The Princess Michael of Kent, His Holiness Pope John Paul II, The Rt Hon. Sir Harold Wilson, KG MP, Cyril Cusack, Aram Khachaturian, the late Ivor Newton CBE, James Galway, Vladimir Ashkenazy and his family, Oscar Petersen, Placido Domingo, Jack Brymer, the late Mrs Golda Meir and the Lady Elizabeth Anson. Some of these will be on show at the exhibition.

There are two events happening in Chelsea this month that are of particular interest. The Chelsea Crafts Fair is at the Chelsea Old Town Hall from the 19th to the 25th. The Organiser, Lady Powell, has over 100 artists and designers represented at this non-profit making fair. There will be special shows daily including fashion shows displaying pretty hand-made knitwear. Admission is £1.30. Children and OAP's 70p.

The Herb Society Autumn Lectures are being held in October at the Chelsea Physic Gardens. For tickets, please contact Margaret Crome.

November 1983

A swingeing increase in mooring and service charges has been making waves down on Chelsea's waterfront, where 58 houseboats are moored on the site operated by Chelsea Yacht & Boat Company.

The privately-owned houseboats are provided with moorings, gas, electricity, postal deliveries, a night watchman and maintenance services in return for a mooring charge of £1.68 per foot per month and a service charge of £22 per month. Larger boats are 50-70 feet long. Angry residents, however, have baulked at a demand from the CY&B Co., which wants to raise these charges to £1.87 and £24 respectively.

Following a protest meeting, the boat-owners complain that those who were paying, for example, £76 in 1978 each month, would now be paying nearly £168 per month.

What upsets some residents is that neither the Port of London Authority nor the boat company will disclose how much the PLA are charging the boat company for mooring rights on the Thames. Is the boat company charging the residents more than it is being charged itself by the PLA? And if so, where is the balance going, the residents are asking. Although it is a statutory public body, the PLA will not disclose details of such 'private commercial contracts'. Nor will Mr Peter Osgood of CY&B Co.

Living on the waterfront is not cheap. Residents not only buy their boats for anything between £18,000 to £70,000 but have also been contributing between them for long-term improvement schemes to the moorings – including mains drainage – at an estimated total cost of £200,000 over five years.

Chelsea Methodist Church is congratulating itself now that it has finally raised the £150,000 needed to complete its ambitious development in Chelsea Manor Street. The Revd David Horton offers particular thanks to local residents and parishioners who alone have raised £30,000 in private donations. Charitable foundations have produced a further £120,000. All of it has been spent on redeveloping the blitzed church site to provide 21 flats for the elderly above a new church chapel and extensive community and pastoral facilities.

While there may or may not be 'angels dining at the Ritz' there most certainly will be students of the Royal College of Music to serenade diners there from now until Christmas. The college has spawned some of the finest musical talent in its 100 years and their selected programme of pieces ranging from Mozart and Brahms to Scott Joplin and Duke Ellington is tough competition for the nightingales that sing in Berkeley Square.

Thinking of getting married? Your next engagement should be with the Wedding Fair at the London International Hotel in Kensington on November 20/21. Photographers, florists, caterers, jewellers and financial advisors will be there to advise on every little detail – right down to underwear from Janet Reger.

A much-needed new booklet is being delivered to pensioners in the Royal Borough. Entitled '60+' it is a guide to all the activities and services available for pensioners and particularly for the house-bound and disabled. Many people are quite unaware that despite social service financial cuts there is still a lot of free help and goodwill available. Produced by Task Force, the booklet is available from 7 Thorpe Close, London W10 (Tel: 969 9105) – free!

With remarkably little fuss the old Odeon Cinema has re-opened in Chelsea. It is now called the Chelsea Cinema. The new proprietors are the Artificial Eye Film Company, who have cleverly timed the re-opening of King's Road's second cinema to fill the gap left by the closure of the Paris Pullman earlier this year. Having kicked off with Andrzej Wajda's Danton, the Chelsea Cinema promises to offer us all the film quality and personal comfort we've come to expect from the Curzon and the Minema.

A happy consequence of the sad death of Viscount Boyd of Merton is that his name will be given to the Day Centre for the elderly now being developed in Draycott Avenue. I hope I can announce good progress towards the £200,000 appeal in next month's Christmas issue. All contributions will be warmly accepted for the Draycott Centre Appeal by Lord Cadogan at 32 Dover Street, London W1A 2AP.

December 1983

The Government's White Paper proposing the abolition of the GLC and other metropolitan authorities has, unsurprisingly, been greeted with delight by Kensington & Chelsea's Tory controlled council. Its Leader, Councillor Nicholas Freeman, wasted no time in stating:

"We warmly welcome the White Paper published by Mr Jenkin. The Royal Borough has been in the forefront of those demanding the abolition of the GLC. The White Paper has admirably avoided the pitfalls which some foresaw. It provides a positive analysis of the position which will prevail after the GLC has been abolished and the solutions proposed accord to a very large extent with what the Royal Borough has been advocating for some time."

Westminster City Council is pleased too, though less blatantly so. If abolition is successful it will come as a major relief to ratepayers in these high-value boroughs who have until now supplied a large proportion of the GLC's revenue, relative to their size and population. However, rates bills will not drop as much as some might think. While 84 per cent of Royal Borough rates go to the GLC, the ILEA and the Metropolitan Police, the GLC gets only 26 per cent. The ILEA and Police will still account for 58 per cent – and local councils will have to pick up the tab for many of the GLC's present responsibilities.

Not daunted by the threat to its existence, the GLC has recently authorised a £50,000 feasibility scheme to extend/reopen the six miles of semi-derelict railway line from Clapham Junction via Chelsea, Kensington and Shepherd's Bush to Willesden Junction. If this study is successful it could pave the way for a £3,500,000 scheme to upgrade the line, provide new stations at Battersea, King's Road, West Brompton and Shepherd's Bush, and operate a half-hourly passenger service in each direction. The scheme is likely to be resisted by the Royal Borough who would prefer to build a £200 million relief road down the line (see Portraits passim).

British Rail has little to lose. The line is already there; the GLC would foot the bill and finance the estimated £500,000 annual running costs; and the plan does at least link south-west London with the north London Richmond-Broadstreet and Bakerloo lines. Dave Wetzel, chairman of the GLC's Transport Committee, foresees a big demand for the improved service on the West London line. Access to Chelsea Football Club, Earls Court, Olympia and White City Stadium would be easier, and an income would be earned from the estimated 2,000-3,000 passengers each day. The line is best known now as the route used by spent nuclear fuel containers (opposed by the GLC), but it remains to be seen whether the GLC will survive long enough to frustrate the road freight lobby's preference for a motorway instead.

South Kensington has traditionally been a French-flavoured district. The French Lycée, the Institut Français and the small shops in Bute Street all have that certain je ne sais quoi. It seems strange, therefore, that the new, French-style fully automatic public lavatories so beloved of Westminster City Council have not been deemed good enough for South Kensington. Instead, the Royal Borough has commissioned the Royal College of Art to come up with a British version fit for prominent display on a modified traffic island near the underground station. The external appearance will not be the gleaming stainless steel offered by the French, but an altogether more rustic combination of stone, ornamental ironwork and a copper-clad roof. Three of them have been budgeted for at a capital cost of £20,000 each (annual running costs at almost £28,000) and estimated to earn £6,000 each year. The first one will be opened for your convenience in the early Spring.

If you feel it deserves a special trip, please have a look at the new French Lycée building in Harrington Road and the Ismaili Centre opposite the Victoria & Albert Museum. In their different ways each is an exciting and stimulating addition to the landscape – well worth a second glance!

Those who have been following the saga of the Chelsea Handicapped Adventure Playground in this column will be pleased to hear that it is now well launched into its bid to raise £150,000. New premises are now being built in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. A Christmas donation would be much appreciated by appeal organiser Mrs Babs Gregson (c/o H.A.P.A., Fulham Palace, Bishop's Park, SW6). They plan to open for their regular 400 children per week in the early Spring.

The long-running battle of estate agents' boards came to a head recently when Westminster North's Tory MP, John Wheeler, called for either a total ban or severe limits on the number permitted.

Areas such as Cornwell Gardens and garden squares in Paddington, Kensington, Chelsea and Notting Hill Gate have suffered particularly badly from the profusion of signs, he says. He even claims that unscrupulous agents add their boards to others simply to advertise their name. As chairman of the Greater London Group of Tory MPs, he has asked Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea to propose solutions before he raises the matter in Parliament.

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors has set up its own group to produce a code of practice, but it only represents a small proportion of Central London agents.

Mr Wheeler feels that there are other ways of advertising property, and points out that signs are banned in much of central Paris. The DoE has suggested a time limit on sign displays but this would create more work for local councils monitoring the system. At present the regulations permit one board or a combination of boards not exceeding 2.3 sq.metres for each property for sale.

The National Army Museum has been awarded the VC. It has been presented with the medal won by Isaac Lodge during the Boer War in 1900 when serving with the Royal Horse Artillery. Despite great hardships, Lodge's widow refused to sell the medal and his daughter was therefore able to present it to the Museum's Adjutant General, Sir George Cooper, at a recent private ceremony.

Attention please, amateur and professional artists! The Ridley Society announces that it is now prepared to offer membership to a wider circle. Founded in 1889 to commemorate the great Victorian painter/etcher and teacher, the Ridley numbers seven former Royal Academicians among the distinguished list of past members who include George Frederick Watts. Its aims are to provide support, companionship and a shop window for the work of members, in return for a reasonable annual subscription. Amateurishness is not tolerated and good draughtsmanship is highly regarded at the selection meetings where new candidates for membership submit examples of their work, in March and October. Carel Weight, RA, presides over a fine cross-section of enthusiastic professionals and amateurs who greatly value the rich and distinguished past of the society which largely meets in Kensington and Chelsea. Further information from Patricia Bound on 0932 225536.

A new code published by the GLC aims to open up certain 'no-go' areas following protests that the fire brigade is often hampered by bollards, barriers and one-way streets.

The policy of making squares and streets accessible to pedestrians but not to through traffic or heavy lorries is generally popular with residents, but the new code proposes that immovable posts and bollards should go; pathways should be wide enough for fire engines in pedestrian areas; traffic should be excluded completely from street markets; and gates across restricted streets should be in good working order with standardised padlocks. What many must now be wondering is how all this will apply to an area such as North End Road (West London's most popular street market) and such markets as Berwick Street in Soho which are at the centre of London's major fire hazard areas.

The half mile stretch of river between London Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge on the south bank of the Thames has a rich history dating from Roman times. In Tudor England the Bankside area of Southwark had four theatres (including Shakespeare's Globe), masses of pubs and brothels, and was the lively equivalent of today's West End. Now the area is a sad and neglected strip of no-mans-land.

This is all going to change. The Bankside Association is promoting the potential of the area as an arts, recreational and educational centre. The Bankside Gallery, Southwark Cathedral and the Bear Gardens Museum of Shakespearean Stage have collaborated – with the aid of Diners Club, Courage, Charringtons and Youngs Breweries – to bring the place to life.

Next year sees the start of a meticulous reconstruction of The Globe using authentic materials and construction methods. There is hope of HMS Discovery being given a permanent berth in a riverside dock. Another theatre is planned – an exact replica of the Inigo Jones Theatre, based on original plans held at Oxford. The views to the city from Bankside are spectacular and the hope is that the area will become a cultural equivalent of Covent Garden, if private enterprise will follow the lead being offered by the Association. A spokesman says it is hoped to transform the place within seven years.

One of the most delightful ways of entering the Christmas season is to take part in the very popular annual Dickens carol concert at St Peter's Church, Eaton Square, SW1. The spirit of the occasion is truly Dickensian with the arrival of a coach and horses at the church door followed by carol singing, readings from A Christmas Carol and the Nativity. More of a family occasion than a church 'service', all are welcome to attend at 6.30pm on December 13.

The National Trust is producing, with help from the Royal School of Needlework, a gift package containing canvas, wools, cotton and instructions for making an enchanting oval tapestry pin-cushion – 7.25 x 7.25 inches. The design is taken from an 18th century French wall-paper featuring ribbons and roses in pinks, blues and greens with a butterfly as the centre motif. The package, which would make a wonderful Christmas present, is on sale at the Royal School of Needlework at £7.50, 25 Princes Gate, SW7.

Christmas is a marvellous time for most of us but a very depressing time for some. If you can spare some time this year there are some organisations that might be able to use a helping hand.

National charities such as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (580 8812) and Help the Aged (499 0972) may be able to make use of volunteers. Locally Pensioners Link (formerly Task Force) co-ordinates activities for the elderly - 969 9105. Organisations such as the WRVS (499 6040), the Red Cross (235 5454) and the British Legion (930 4745) all have local headquarters and will be very busy – probably needing help.

Hospitals, children's homes and old people's homes have to be careful about whom they allow in, but the best way of approaching them is through the Volunteer Bureau (969 2433 or 9603722). They co-ordinate volunteers throughout Kensington & Chelsea. They will advise you who to contact if you live outside the Royal Borough.

Age Concern operates from The Gatehouse at St Mary Abbots Hospital in Marloes Road W8 (938 1975). Another excellent local organisation is MIND, based in Ifield Road, SW10 (352 4285) which specialises in getting the strong to help the weak in times of distress and difficulty.

Central London is richly provided with clubs, days centres and community centres of all sorts, many of which will be making plans for members over the Christmas holiday. Again the Volunteers Bureau will tell you which ones are close by and which might need a helping hand.

Often forgotten are the large numbers of hostels, students' halls and residential centres for overseas visitors. Local YWCA and YMCA centres will tell you what arrangements they are making or whether they have visitors who would like to spend Christmas in someone's house.

Most local churches are closely in touch with groups and centres in their areas, as is the Salvation Army (236 5222).

In all these cases it's best to get in touch with the organisers well before Christmas and not at the last minute when phones may not be answered or arrangements are already made.

These items were written in 1983 and therefore none of the names, organistations, addresses, telephone numbers, etc., can now be relied upon.

© (1983) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
The text and graphical content of this and linked documents are the copyright of their author and or creator and site designer, Christopher Long, unless otherwise stated. No publication, reproduction or exploitation of this material may be made in any form prior to clear written agreement of terms with the author or his agents.

Christopher Long

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