An Awayday – Centre Point

In London, I had some time on my hands so decided to have a wander around Charing Cross and the Centre Point tower, located at the junction of Charing Cross Road and New Oxford Street. I’ve passed this building many times, its name has remained in my memory since childhood. Despite my love of modernist architecture, I’ve always viewed Centre Point as a place that has a certain darkness hanging over it.

From the Middle Ages to the 15th Century this busy crossroads was the site of a gallows and a cage for prisoners.

I found an account from 1761 of a bricklayer called John Duke who was buried beneath the crossroad with a stake driven through his body. Duke had murdered his wife and then committed suicide. In the past, suicides were often buried at crossroads, this was to confuse their wandering souls. The stake was used to ‘earth-fasten’ the body.

‘..buried in the centre of a quadrivium, or conflux of four roads..with a stake driven through his heart, And over him drives the ever uproar of unresting London’

Iain Sinclair. Lud Heat. 1975

Up until the 19th century the area was the site of a ‘Rookery’, a term used to describe the poorest of slums. The St. Giles Rookery, nicknamed ‘The Holy Land’, was a notorious place, a network of alleyways occupied by the lowest strata of society, the destitute, criminals and prostitutes. The St. Giles Rookery was the location for William Hogarth’s 1751 engraving, Gin Lane.

This 1870 engraving by IR & G Cruikshank also depicts the Rookery. Its title, Tom & Jerry Masquerading it amongst the Cadgers in the Back Slums of the Holy Lands.

The slums were eventually cleared during the 19th century to make way for New Oxford Street. In 1964 work began on the Centre Point tower. On completion, the 36 storey building became London’s first skyscraper. Ernö Goldfinger called it ‘London’s first pop art skyscraper’.

Developer, Harry Hyams wanted to lease the building to a single occupant and allowed the building to remain empty for a number of years. Hyams was happy to leave the building unoccupied, sitting on his investment as it escalated in capital value. Being empty, the building was not liable for the payment of rates to the local authority.

In 1974 London housing campaigners organised a successful occupation of the building to draw attention to the housing crisis in London.

In the 1980’s the building became the headquarters for the Council for British Industry (CBI) called by some, ‘the bosses organisation’. It has also been the HQ for the Saudi national oil company, Aramco, and the Chinese oil company, Petrochina, amongst others.

In 2015 work began to convert the building from commercial to residential use, the building became ready for occupation in 2018. A combination of unsold flats and flats being bought by overseas concerns have meant that few flats show signs of occupation, this is most noticeable on an evening when much of the tower is in darkness. The tower has joined the growing list of London’s ‘ghost towers’.

The tower became a Grade II listed building in 1995

1, 2 & 3 bedroom apartments are currently on sale with a price range of between £1.8m – £8.5m. The current price of a penthouse is undisclosed. In 2018 the Guardian reported the cost of a penthouse as £55m.

The housing crisis in the capital continues to worsen. In 2021 The Evening Standard reported that 250,000 Londoners were on waiting lists for council homes.

Postcript

I was discussing my thoughts on the tower with my friend and native Londoner, Clive Martin, his thoughts on the area.

Charing Cross in general feels like a bit of a dark portal, no matter what they do to it… There’s this walkway near the station, that was home to this slightly sinister magic shop for yonks. The Paul Daniels posters only added to the eeriness.

Sources

Hidden London

Londonist

Wikipedia

Lud Heat. Iain Sinclair. 1975

Occupation Image via Working Class History

The Guardian – How Centre Point attracts the rich and sidelines the poor 2018

The Evening Standard – London is ‘epicentre’ of housing crisis as 250,000 Londoners await council homes. 2021

Historic England

Clive Martin

Maps

National Library of Scotland

Library of Congress

Darlington – Cummins

Both the former Engine Factory and its landscape are Grade II Listed.

The final image is of the chimney at the Cummins Manufacturing Facility which is next door to the former engine factory.

Former Engine Factory. Constructed 1964-5. Designed by Kevin Roche, John Dinkerloo and Associates. Structural frame of exposed Cor-ten steel weathered to a brown, patina grey-brown tinted glass, fixed with neoprene gaskets. Single storey building rectangular in plan, divided into office and workshop areas by a service core. Flat roof. Floor to ceiling glazing, each vertical glazing panel divided into five horizontal lights. Structural steel frame of ‘I’ beams set proud of glazing, which forms continuous surface behind frame. Projecting ‘cornice’ of steel, and below this, at intersections with vertical members are expressed the jutting beam-ends of the roof supports. Central entrance to left return comprising 2 pairs of fully glazed doors, each pair occupying one bay of glazing. Tall rectangular chimney of Cor-ten steel to left side of front elevation, slightly in front of elevation. Interior also of note retaining original internal partitions of brown-painted steel and glass, and original strip lighting arranged in rows. Roof structure designed to permit services to be run between the main structural beams and those of the roof deck. First use in a British building of Cor-ten steel, and first large scale use in Britain of neoprene gaskets in a building.

Listing Details from Historic England

St Mary’s Whitby

The Abbey at Whitby was one of the earliest Romanesque buildings to be erected in the North of England but my focus today was on the neighbouring church of St Mary. A while ago my friend Chris Corner posted a picture of a head carved on a capital within the church, so on a whim, I headed over the storm-battered moor road to see what I could find.

I’ve visited this church many times in the past but this was prior to my explorations of Early Medieval stonework, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The south door with its arch and carved spiral capitals lifted my spirits.

Inside the church I made my way between the beautiful box pews to the chancel arch. The arch is mostly hidden behind the upper level, the lord of the manor’s pew. There is a second arch over the entrance to the tower but this has been completely hidden behind the organ.

On the capital of the left hand arch is a carving of a head emitting unfurling foliage. This bears a striking resemblance to the ‘Green Man’ carving in Marske Church.

Marske

There are other foliate heads to be found locally at Easington, Liverton and Lythe .

One of the capitals on the right hand side of the arch has a carved head with a star on either side. The star is not an uncommon motif on Northern English Early Medieval stonework.

There are other elements of early stone work to be found in and around this lovely church, coupled with the Abbey next door, it is a wonderful place to visit. For me, with the failing light and the howling gale of Storm Barra blowing across the clifftop, it was time to head for home.

Seeking the Romanesque iii – North Grimston

Heading north out of Wolds I crossed into North Yorkshire and stopped to check out St Nicholas church at North Grimston. The church was built in the 12th century and has been remodelled over the years.

There are a number of corbels on the south wall, two of which are reputed to be of the exhibitionist type, one depicts a character gripping his ankles baring his backside and groin to the viewer, the other is a bloke in a similar position but with his penis in his hand. Sadly both are very worn and the detail is lost.

Rita Wood thinks that this carving of two animals may once have been from the original south doorway which was replaced in the 13th century. It reminded me of the small panel on the church at Newton under Roseberry.

I tried the church door, fully prepared to be disappointed, it opened, another jaw-dropping moment. I’d seen pictures of this stunning font but to have it there in front of me, to be able to put my hands on it, is an indescribable joy.

The font is one of the biggest in the country and depicts the the last supper and the crucifixion. There is a depiction of a bishop too, it seems to be the way of things that the bishop gets to feature on the font, I guess he commissioned this thing of beauty so pretty much deserves to be there.

The chancel arch, if I were to see this in any of our local churches I’d get quite excited but all I could think about was the magnificent font.

Back outside the church I took another wander around the walls. There are a number of small crosses scratched into the east and west walls, the crosses have been defined by four dots. I presume these are consecration crosses, places where the bishop anointed the original church with holy oil.

North Grimston..wow!

Etymology note

In old Norse Grimr is used as a byname for Óðinn. The name is identical with ON grimr ‘a person who conceals his name’, lit. ‘a masked person’, and related to OE grima ‘a mask’. It refers, like Grimnir to Óðinn‘s well known habit of appearing in disguise. No dout the Saxons used Grim in the same Way.

E. Ekwall

Sources

The Buildings of England Yorkshire: York and the East Riding – Nikolaus Pevsner and David Neave. 1997

Romanesque Yorkshire. Yorkshire Archaeological Society. Occasional Paper No. 9 – Rita Wood. 2012

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names. Eilert Ekwall. 1974