Monthly Archives: November 2017

Hotel Adlon

Hotel Adlon Kempinski, Unter den Linden, Berlin

Hotel Adlon Kempinski, Unter den Linden, Berlin

I went into the Hotel Adlon Kempinski Berlin [https://www.kempinski.com/en/berlin/hotel-adlon] to use the restroom and stayed in the elegant lobby for a cup of coffee.

The atmosphere is all you’d expect of a five-star hotel – comfortable armchairs, attentive staff, piano music.  It’s obviously a modern building, but the saucer-dome with stained glass above the lobby is a strong hint that it harks back to an elegant predecessor:  https://www.forbes.com/sites/troymcmullen/2017/07/25/an-updated-hotel-adlon-kempinski-adds-glamour-to-its-history/#3ce177ae74db.

Indeed, the original Hotel Adlon was opened in 1907 after its proprietor, the restaurateur Lorenz Adlon (1849-1927), secured the backing of Kaiser Wilhelm II to bring to Berlin a rival to the new Ritz hotels of London and Paris.

The site Adlon chose was next to the Brandenburg Gate, surrounded by the British, French and American embassies and close to major German government buildings.

The Kaiser and his government contracted the hotel to reserve accommodation for visiting dignitaries, and the place became a magnet for the powerful, rich and famous.

Adlon was understandably a staunch monarchist, and after the Kaiser was deposed in 1918 refused to acknowledge that the central arch of the Brandenburg Gate was available to anyone other than royalty.  Twice he crossed the archway without looking and was knocked down:  the first time, in 1918, he survived;  the second time, in 1927, he was killed.

The hotel survived the Second World War, only to be burnt down by Red Army soldiers raiding the wine cellars on May 2nd 1945.  The owner-manager Louis Adlon, Lorenz’s son, was apparently shot by Soviet troops who were misled by a servant addressing him as “Generaldirektor“ into thinking him a military general.

The ruined building stood until 1952, with a makeshift hotel running in the former service wing until the 1970s.  This remnant was itself demolished in 1984.

The replacement hotel, which makes no attempt to reproduce the original but shares its style and proportions, opened in 1997:  http://www.ibtmworld.com/__novadocuments/381845?v=636390059715670000.

It was the location of the singer Michael Jackson’s ill-advised dangling his son out of an upstairs window in 2002.

A cup of coffee costs €7.50.  That includes a free pastry the size of a thimble.

Brandenburger Tor

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany

I grew up with an image in my head of Berlin as a war-torn, divided, miserable city that, in the 1950s and 1960s, I was fairly unlikely to visit.

The dominant image of Berlin at that time was the Brandenburg Gate, battered by war, isolated by the obscenity of the Berlin Wall.

When the Wall came down in 1989 the most memorable images were those with the Brandenburg Gate in the background.

So on my first visit to Berlin, late in life, the Brandenburg Gate was my first priority, from which unfolded my explorations of this vibrant, lively city.

Designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans (1732-1808), it was built 1788-91, its six columns providing five arches, the outer two on each side for the public and the larger central arch reserved entirely for the king.

Its original function was to mark a customs post on the road from Berlin to the city of Brandenburg.

Napoleon, when he invaded in 1804, made a point of marching through the central arch, and took the Quadriga, Johann Gottfried Schadow’s sculpture of a chariot with four horses, back to Paris.

When the Prussian army occupied Paris in 1814, the Quadriga duly returned to its proper place, and the Gate was redesignated as a triumphal arch and the goddess driving the carriage, originally Eirene, goddess of peace, was kitted out with an Iron Cross and a Prussian eagle and became Victory.

Through the early twentieth century the Gate was part of a busy thoroughfare, connecting Unter den Linden in the east with the leafy parkland of the Tiergarten to the west.

After the war, the wrecked buildings surrounding the Pariser Platz, immediately to the east of the Gate, were flattened, and when the Wall was built in 1961 it became a sad, isolated symbol of the Cold War divisions.

Now the Brandenburg Gate is splendidly restored and the Pariser Platz is bordered by new buildings.

And, as I discovered, it’s virtually impossible to photograph without a foreground of selfie-takers.

Gap in the townscape

Tudno Castle Hotel, Llandudno

Tudno Castle Hotel, Llandudno

When I visited the Llandudno Arts Society to give a lecture recently, my host Mark Esplen drove me round the town to show me recent developments in which he felt pride, such as the refurbished Railway Station (completed 2014) and the Lifeboat Station (2017).

Driving past the former Tudno Castle Hotel, he remarked that it was about to be demolished after unsuccessful attempts at redevelopment.

There’s more to the story than meets the eye, as I discover from a recent Victorian Society bulletin.

This Grade II listed building, which was originally two hotels, the Tudno Castle and the Temperance, seems not to be datable, and is not credited to a named architect, but it was obviously an integral component of the development of Llandudno as a resort, occupying a prominent site between Mostyn Broadway and Conway Street, closing the vista at the south end of the principal shopping thoroughfare, Mostyn Street.

The reasons for listing, last revised in 2001, are vague:  “C19 hotel retaining its character on important free-standing site.  Group value with adjacent listed buildings”.  It seems nobody took the trouble to recognise its history or its townscape value.

In 2014 planning permission was given, against the strong objections of the Victorian Society, for a retail development and a Premier Inn hotel, retaining only the façade of the building.

The interior, when surveyed by Archaeology Wales, was a mess and had clearly seen better days, but it was intact and the better parts could have been incorporated into a sensitive redevelopment:   http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/inside-tudno-castle-llandudno-demolish-13468477.

There is a slide-show of the April demolition which was intended to leave the façade supported by scaffolding at http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/plan-submitted-tear-down-grade-13467581, along with a depressing sketch of the limp proposed replacement.

When demolition began, the contractors noticed “historical movement” [http://demolishdismantle.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/tudno-castle-hotel-demolished-due-to.html] which made it impossible to support the façade for retention.

This euphemism turns out to cover a failure to realise, when the 2014 application was processed, that the walls were not ashlar but rubble, and the Victorian Society is questioning how the developer and the authorities can have failed to survey the building adequately before making their proposal.

Anna Shelley, Conservation Adviser at the Victorian Society, is clearly spitting tacks:  “The complete demolition of the Tudno Castle Hotel was entirely avoidable, and the plans could have been revised and reconsidered at various stages in the assessment process.  All those responsible – particularly developer and Local Authority – should take a good hard look at themselves. How has this been allowed to happen?” [http://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/news/irresponsible-development-razes-tudno-castle-hotel]

Primarily as a result of watchful care over decades by the landowner, the Mostyn Estate, Llandudno has remained one of the finest and most intact of British seaside resorts, and now its streetscape has a regrettable and unnecessary gap.

Other local authorities have shown a more muscular response to ostensibly fortuitous demolitions:  http://www.eastlondonadvertiser.co.uk/news/politics/illegally-demolished-historic-cottages-must-be-rebuilt-brick-by-brick-tower-hamlets-council-orders-1-5209885?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=Social_Icon&utm_campaign=in_article_social_icons.

The replacement building had better be good.

Hong Kong hero

Hong Kong Cemetery:  grave of Driver Joseph Hughes GC

Hong Kong Cemetery: grave of Driver Joseph Hughes GC

Understandably, Remembrance brings foremost to British minds and hearts the two World Wars and the conflicts within living memory – particularly the Falklands, Afghanistan and Iraq.

In fact, British servicemen and women have given their lives in every year but two since 1945:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/01/forces-have-first-year-since-1968-no-one-killed-operations.

One such I found when I explored the vast cemetery in the centre of Hong Kong.

On March 21st 1946 Driver Joseph Hughes of the Royal Army Service Corps was driving his three-ton lorry of ammunition and explosives when it caught fire.

Joseph Hughes tried desperately to remove the burning netting covering the load of munitions, and then he tackled the blaze with a fire extinguisher.

He survived the explosion but died of his wounds two days later.

He was awarded a posthumous George Cross, because his sacrifice was not in the face of an enemy but was nevertheless an act “of the greatest heroism [and] most conspicuous courage in circumstance of extreme danger”.

Not much seems to be known of Joseph Hughes, who came from the Glasgow Gorbals and would have been about twenty-four years old:  http://www.rascrctassociation.co.uk/hughes.html.

We honour such heroes, who are trained to run towards danger when the rest of us would run away, among all those who have given their lives in military service.

Old bore

Glenfield Tunnel, Leicester: North Leicestershire Association of the National Trust/Leicestershire Industrial History Society visit, August 11th 2017

Glenfield Tunnel, Leicester: North Leicestershire Association of the National Trust/Leicestershire Industrial History Society visit, August 11th 2017

The North Leicestershire Association of the National Trust runs particularly interesting tours.

In conjunction with the Leicestershire Industrial History Society, the Association provided a rare opportunity to visit the Glenfield Tunnel of the former Leicester & Swannington Railway, a particularly significant relic of the early days of railways.

In the canal age Leicestershire coal owners were at a grave disadvantage in comparison with their Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire competitors, because the mines around Swannington could only be served by packhorse, and were undercut by coal from the Erewash valley transported along the Soar Navigation and the Leicester Canal.

A “forest” branch of the Leicester Canal, colloquially called the Charnwood Canal, was a spectacular failure, never fully opened for lack of water, and was practically abandoned by 1802.

Two far-sighted Leicestershire grandees, William Stenson and John Ellis, aware of the success of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, contacted George Stephenson in 1828 and persuaded him to support a railway from the pits at Swannington to the West Bridge at Leicester.

Construction of the Leicester & Swannington Railway, with two steep cable-hauled inclines at Bagworth and Swannington, and the 1,796-yard tunnel at Glenfield, was overseen by George Stephenson’s son Robert, and opened in two sections in 1832 and 1833.

It enabled the Leicestershire mines to undercut Erewash coal at Leicester, and eventually to export coal by canal and railway further afield.  It made possible a complete new town, Coalville.

Glenfield Tunnel was the second railway tunnel in the world, following the shorter Tyler Hill Tunnel on the Canterbury & Whitstable Railway.

Though the later main line from Leicester to Swannington was diverted away from the tunnel and the inclines, the route through Glenfield remained open for freight until 1964.

It’s now maintained by Leicester City Council and opened occasionally by the Leicestershire Industrial History Society:  http://www.lihs.org.uk/Industrial_heritage2.html.

We were guided to the west portal and into the tunnel by Chris and David as far as the first ventilation shaft.  The whole tunnel is a mile long, but the cutting beyond the east portal is filled in, and access to that end of the tunnel is through a manhole in someone’s garden.

I was glad to have access to one of the monuments of Britain’s industrial history, and to gain a close-up, first-hand idea of the magnitude of the achievements of the Stephensons and their generation of pioneering engineers.

It’s one thing to read about the Glenfield Tunnel, and quite another to walk inside it – to give “to airy nothing a local habitation and a name”.

Exploring Melbourne – St Silas’ Church, Albert Park

St Silas' Church, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia

St Silas’ Church, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia

As I rode up and down the 96 tram-route between my hotel in St Kilda and central Melbourne, I kept noticing an elegant brick church across the road from the Albert Park tram stop, so one morning I took the opportunity to investigate.

It’s the parish church of St Silas [http://www.parishoftheparks.com.au/our-building.html], designed in 1925 by Louis Williams (1890-1980), a prolific Australian church architect and a committed proponent of the Arts and Crafts movement well into the post-war period.  His life and work are analysed in Gladys Moore’s 2001 Master’s degree thesis:  https://minerva-access.unimelb.edu.au/bitstream/handle/11343/38261/300554_MOORE%20vol.%201.pdf.

St Silas’ replaced a wooden church that had served the community since 1879 and, if it had been completed to Louis Williams’ design, would have been spectacular both inside and out.

Unfortunately, the economic depression of 1929 onwards interrupted construction, and only the chancel without its side chapels, the north transept and the first two bays of the nave were constructed.

In 1961 the church was divided horizontally:  the ground floor was adapted to serve as the church hall, and the worship space occupies the upper half of Louis Williams’ intended volume.

The result is particularly attractive inside, especially as the lack of a south transept brings huge amounts of natural light through a great window that fills the crossing arch.

Outside, the result is less satisfactory:  the contrary sloping roofs express the staircases within, but the junction with Louis Williams’ sheer brick walls is abrupt.

When the nearby 1919 church of St Anselm, Middle Park, closed in 2001 the two parishes combined, and St Anselm’s glass and other fittings were brought to St Silas’.

But for this chance visit to St Silas’, where I was made very welcome by the parishioners preparing for Sunday services, I’d have been unlikely to know of Louis Williams’ greatest work, St Andrew’s Church, Brighton (1961-62), which is both a magnificent essay in stripped mid-twentieth century Gothic, taking further the massive proportions of Sir Edwin Maufe’s Guildford Cathedral, and also a neat reuse of a the remains of an older destroyed church, in this case a fire-damaged 1857 nave, in a similar way to Sir Basil Spence’s incorporation of the bombed ruins alongside the new Coventry Cathedral:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Andrew%27s_Church,_Brighton#/media/File:St_Andrew%27s_Church,_Brighton,_West_Front.jpg.