Friday, September 10, 2004

London Walks #1: Plutonium and Urchins in Borough

Welcome to a new series of tours of interest around the forgotten byways of old London. We'll kick off with Borough, in scenic SE1.

Start the tour at Borough Tube - turn onto Marshalsea Road and then take the first left onto Platypus Street. The blue plaque above number 15 remembers Henry Matchison, who invented the blue plaque. Continue along Platypus Street and turn left at the gibbet.

This takes you onto Rundont Walk. The impressive brick building at the end of the street is The Old Plutonium Works, London's first nuclear power station, which became operational in 1927. Designed before nuclear fission and the splitting of the atom, power generation involved workers shovelling plutonium into a giant furnace, the intense heat from which drove a mighty set of bellows, which in turn turned a nearby windmill. It's an inspring example of cutting-edge technology.

From there left and then right onto Isandlwhana Gardens. To the left is George Bernard Shaw (don't give him any money - he only spends it on beards). To the right is The Hobscotch Institution, one of the city's few remaining workhouses. Listed by English Heritage and the Society for the Preservation of Unnecessary Cruelty, this interesting throwback to a more level-headed age is well worth a look. Its inmates, mostly between the ages of eight and 12, are generally speaking kept chained to the machinery inside, but for the edification of visitors some a chained to the outside wall. For sixpence, and urchin will carry your bags back to the Tube station from here, or maybe steal them.

Turn onto Orangey-Brown Street. Orangey-Brown Street was bombed flat during the Second World War, but still has treats in store for fans of modern architecture. Chief among these is Lactose House, which is designed in the Brutalist-Minimal Style. It was opened by the Mayor of Southwark in 1966, who, along with the other dignitaries in attendance, promptly realised that its rough-hewn concrete form was far too minimal to include decorations like doors or windows. It is believed that the architect may still be inside.

If you turn right sharply at this point while still looking up, as this writer did, you will trip over a stone horse drinking-trough. This will be followed by a rapid freestyle descent of Cornwallis Steps, and you should emerge from unconsciousness back outside Borough Tube station with your wallet missing.

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