Monday, 5 April 2010

Brunel Tunnel Opening & Fancy Fair (March 12th/13th)

Apologies for my silence this past month: things to do…you know, a life to live, that sort of thing. Anyway….

A couple of weeks ago (Friday/Saturday, 12th / 13th March) I was invited along to a celebration at the Brunel Museum in South-east London, just behind the soon-to-open Rotherhithe tube station. The 1,300ft (396 metres) tunnel under the Thames originally built by Mark Brunel and supervised by his (then 21-year old) son Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It opened in 1852 and was not only used as a railway tunnel but in the early days also hosted a number of cultural events, dinners, balls and Fancy Fairs.

To mark the occasion of its reopening to the public after 145 years the Museum decided to recreate a Fancy Fair (this time above ground) and run a series of walks through the tunnel. [Again, click on the pics for the full-sized versions].

Getting there was fairly straightforward (well, on the Friday night it was anyway): tube train to Stratford, change on to the Jubilee Line, direct to Canada Water. After that it was a little bit of a walk, but at least door-to-door it worked out a little over an hour. Here was the entrance to the Fair and in the outside space of the museum there was a cornucopia of musicians, strongmen-tumblers (Victor and Ian), aerialists, jugglers, “pick-pockets”, a Victorian photographer and various Victorian characters (and me, of course!).

I also bumped into some friends from the Strolling groups (unsurprisingly, really). Below is (l-r) Ray, and Steve Leggett (who organises the excellent group and my good self. This photo below was taken by Andrew Smith (who also blogs as “McTumshie”, he’s also on flickr).

We were there for both nights, and I also decided to have some photos taken by the Victorian lady photographer who was there with her backdrop and props. The chap next to me [below] is young actor Ben Clabon from Southampton. He was depicting the young Brunel and I must admit to being somewhat envious of his top hat (in certain re-enacting circles it would seem that size Is everything!):

All in all, it was a splendid evening - so too the following evening (Saturday), it was just the getting-there that made me rant and rage……

You see, courtesy of Tubelines who are responsible for these things, the full bloody Jubilee line was shut down for the entire weekend: this year they are closing the line for about 40 of the 52 weekends for “track maintenance”. So I left home an hour earlier that night, and Still it took me two and a half hours to get there (and the same time to get back home). The Central line into Stratford was fine, and naturally you’re looking for the replacement bus service, and there it was - about 800 yards away from the station entrance. [This is Stratford, remember: Gateway to the 2012 Olympics!].

[Photo, left, by David Linleys]

So I got on the bus. Now, you would think when it says “replacement bus service” that the bus stops you’d be stopping at would vaguely align to the different train stations along the line. Oh no. Not with the Jubilee Line, it would seem. There are only five stops on the Jubilee line between Stratford and Canada Water (a journey of about 15-18 minutes). But the Bus?……

Well, we left Stratford and meandered generally via Canning Town towards the Blackwall Tunnel (neither stops on the tube line) and then, after about 40 minutes, terminated at North Greenwich (another stop not on the Jubilee line). I asked “how to I get to Canada Water?” and they said: “well normally you’d have to get on the 118 bus and it’ll take you there”. And so I did.

On the bus we travelled on….and on…and on…and on, through Greenwich and Lewisham and on through Deptford (i.e. a tour of the squalor palaces of South London). After about 30 minutes I started to get that feeling ‘I’m sure I’ve gone past it’, so I asked the bus driver…….

Let’s just say that entire bloody bus journey took 45 minutes to get to Canada Water station. At least when I finally staggered to the Fancy Fair after two and a half hours of travelling, I was ready to enjoy myself.

I bumped into a trio of new chums and got some more Victorian portraits done:

This is me with the theatre Stage- and Production Manager Joseph Denby (right).

So he and I, together with Peter from Deerstalker Cycles and his companion Sophie Taylor, decided to venture into the Tunnel for one of the last ever public walks.

There was serious confusion on both days over the bookings for the Tunnel Walk (which started at the entrance to Rotherhithe station) with many irate customers. It seems the walk that people booked online for (thinking it was the Tunnel Walk) was for some other escorted walk (that started elsewhere).

Bad organisation from Transport for London, especially since this was the last opportunity any member of the public would have of doing this walk ever again [TfL later admitted to me they could have sold out that Tunnel Walk “two hundred times over”]. Lessons learnt here perhaps? I doubt it. To think these people get paid extortionate amounts of money to do things right! At last they weren’t responsible for the organising of the actual Fancy Fair, which went splendidly.

At last we managed to sneak in and tag on to the end.

[By the way, the scowl on my face is due to the coldness of the atmosphere down there and not because I was in a grumpy mood...perish the thought - Note, too the plastic surgical gloves wee were required to wear...Health and Safety yadda yadda yadda. You'll also notice the wind was so strong it was blowing part of my moustache forward - gives me a very odd look!].

On the journey home (another two and a half hours!) I came away thinking: (a) for me it was a terrific event, on both evenings - all the more amazing after I learnt that the Events company charged with putting on the Fair part had barely two weeks to pull it all together [that is somewhat typical of Transport for London, the London Development Agency and the Mayor’s office - bad management and panicking at the last minute again?], and (b) it’s just so bloody typical that after everybody’s hard efforts - including the above three organisations - to make a really great event, Tubelines typically come along and potentially bugger it all up by casually announcing they’re shutting the Jubilee Line for the weekend. This is typical of London today, I am afraid, visitors.

At least I enjoyed myself.


lady Estelle said...

What a wonderful adventure.Thanks for sharing it with us. I always look forward to see what you are up to and meeting some of your chums,as you would say.

Sean said...

Superb, wish I had managed to get a ticket.

Anonymous said...

You know my Great-Grandfather who left London to come to America has the last name of Leggett.

You had your photo taken with a man there named Steve Leggett- I wonder if he is possibly one of my English relatives? Would be amazing to know!

Hope you are well-cheers!
Mr. Behan Sparks