Caught on the Map

By chance I came across this recent and detailed map of the River Brent on the brentcatchmentrivers website and, for the first time, felt more able to visualise the river in all its sinuous complexity.

The narrative potential is huge. Looking at the tributaries and reading their names made me determined to pack a bag with maps and camera and notebook, and get out there.

I’ve a feeling there are a load of stories to be uncovered along the backwaters of this half-hidden and oft-neglected river.

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Harp Island – a photo story

More about this series of posts on the River Brent, London can be read HERE.

Hot on the heels of succeeding/failing to find the ghost hole… I felt another quest was in order. This time for something that self evidently was still there. In fact the very existence of the reservoir, quite literally, depended upon it.

It seemed a simple goal after the hole, to find the dam wall.

Continue reading “Harp Island – a photo story”

Undersong

More about this series of posts on the River Brent, London HERE.

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“It comes to this: the use of a man, by himself and thus by others, lies in how he conceives his relation to nature, that force to which he owes his somewhat small existence. If he sprawl, he shall find little to sing but himself, and shall sing, nature has such paradoxical ways, by way of artificial forms outside himself. But if he stays inside himself, if he is contained within his nature as he is participant in the larger force, he will be able to listen, and his hearing through himself will give him secrets [that] objects share.”

From the essay Projective Verse by Charles Olson

 

The Harp is a slippery place of shifting signifiers. Not even it’s name is stable. The Kingbury, the Brent or the Welsh Harp? It attracts birders to the migrating birds, dog walkers to the open spaces and lone drifters to heaven-knows-what nirvana. It’s a green&blue pleasant land. An open space. A lighter, brighter, breathing space, an antidote to urban sprawl. Or seemingly so.

It has a darker side, and in the quieter sections, away from well-trod, dog-shitty paths, the unheimlich Harp surfaces.

A submerged underside of tension, ambiguity, even threat.

I went looking for the undersong of The Harp.

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The watery end of the M1

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Staples Corner. The reservoir can be seen on the right hand edge. The thin blue (then red) line shows the location of the River Brent.

Staples Corner Flyover, the A406 North Circular, the M1 Junction 1, the A5 Edgware Roadah the sylvan joys of names that conjure up thoughts of country rambles, a lazy days fishing, perhaps a picnic under a shady tree by the water’s edge – or perhaps not…

Staples Corner is a frantic interchange. A complex junction. The point where the M1 stops (despite the original grand design for the motorway to leap Staples Corner on it’s own flyover and connect with the A41 Finchley Road to continue into the heart of London via a series of subterranean tunnels and futuristic flyovers…).

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And yet Staples Corner was once very different.

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The 1930 Sun-bathing Riot

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The London Sunbathing Club, 1920

Campaigns for a return-to-nature, for health & fitness and for social nudity or naturism arose in Northern Europe in the later part of the 19thC and were gradually adopted by other European countries after the First World War.

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Semi-clad in Croydon…

The Hyde Park Lido built in 1930 was a concrete expression of the outcome of the movements. It gave people somewhere to sunbathe legally, as it was illegal to strip to sunbathe unless on specially designated beaches.

In North London, from 1921, people gathered at the Welsh Harp to bathe and expose their bodies to the sun.

Continue reading “The 1930 Sun-bathing Riot”