Tuesday, October 18, 2011

St Johns Wood

St Johns Wood Church Grounds
My new ‘hood, St Johns Wood, takes its name (obviously enough) from St Johns Wood Church and what was once a wood surrounding it. St Johns Wood Church Grounds is today a lovely park, presently picturesque with autumn leaves. The church and its grounds, originally a burial ground, date from 1814. The City of Westminster City looks after the park today, and the old gravestones and markers have been shifted to the edges of the park. They are set out so that any remaining inscriptions can be explored, but really the stones are very worn, and they sit quietly under the foliage of the park, evoking if not specifically commemorating the people of the 19th century parish who were buried here. If you want to poke around in the undergrowth, the City’s website suggests that you look for:

John Sell Cotman, watercolour painter, (1782-1842) This stone is on the west side of the grounds in the Glade.

Private Samuel Godley, (1781-1832), who fought at the battle of Waterloo This stone is close to the Cotman grave.

Joanna Southcott, religious fanatic, (1750-1814) There is a large marker stone against the west boundary wall which was erected in 1965. The grave itself is approximately twenty five feet due east of the marker stone.

London Central Mosque
Watercolour painter, Waterloo veteran, religious fanatic...hmmm...I wonder if the residents of St Johns Wood have changed much today?

Across the road from the church grounds in one direction is Regents Park, and London’s Central Mosque - a building with a lovely copper dome, but a minaret that looks something like a concrete water tower. I have yet to hear the call to prayer: not sure what the City of Westminster regulations are on that - perhaps more stringent than those in remote villages of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, where the imam’s call wakes everybody at 4.45 am.

All over until next summer.

Across the road in the other direction is another cathedral to religion: Lord's Cricket Ground, official home of the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club, for the non-afficionadoes out there). Surrounded by a high wall and with gateways patrolled by guards, this one is harder to visit. If, like me, you have often wondered why Lord’s is called Lord’s, here’s the answer: it was originally a private games ground owned by a chap named Thomas Lord. Like so many peculiar names in London, there’s a simple explanation. I have yet to nab a ticket to a cricket match, but according to a newsletter that came through my postbox yesterday, this autumn Lord’s is offering High Tea in The Long Room, usually the exclusive preserve of Members Only. You heard it hear first.

While we are on the subject of landmarks in St Johns Wood, possibly the most famous of all is Abbey Road, The Beatles’ studio and “the” pedestrian crossing that featured on the cover of their album of the same name. On any day, motorists are good-naturedly held up while tourists attempt to pose in mid-stride on the crossing just like John, Paul, George and Ringo. Paul McCartney still live in St Johns Wood, though I’m not sure where. There are many very well-to-do mansions around here, any one of which could potentially hide a celebrity. The Abbey Road studio itself is a white building set back from the road; I was surprised to find that its white-painted fence posts are covered in tiny graffiti - messages left by visiting fans over the years.

Buy your Beatles memorabilia here.

St Johns Wood makes a bit of a thing of its connection with The Fab Four (remember when they were called that?) There is a Beatles souvenir shop outside the tube station; and Beatles classics playing in the coffee shops of the High Street.

Apart from these monuments to god and mammon, St Johns Wood is a well-to-do, leafy suburb with lots of ex-pats (American and Australian, I’ve noticed), many young families, a Carluccio’s usually full of strollers and prams, at least five dry-cleaners and seven real estate agents, an organic food market, one pub and a variety of cafes and small restaurants. Apart from the Oxfam second hand shop, there is not, as far as I am aware, a bookshop. St Johns tube stop is on the Jubilee line, one stop from Baker Street and two from Bond Street, and - as the saying goes - a million miles from care.

My 'local": Carluccio's, St Johns Wood style.


Beatles pic from http://www.popartuk.com/music/the-beatles/abbey-road-album-cover-lp0597-poster.asp

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