Shank Town

16 February 2015

Region: London

I was bleating about the lack of response that we’ve had from our members about running the London blog for a week, when it was suggested that I should lead from the front with an example of what we’re looking for. So ... here we go ... day 1 ...

Much of my photography over the past year has been devoted to the Bleeding London project and we’re now at the stage where we’re filling in the gaps. N18 was more of a gaping hole than a gap so we had arranged a Meet-Up there and we were very lucky that the Instagramers London Meet-Up group had a free Sunday, so they arranged to meet there too. We split the area between us, moaned about the flat light and then set off to cover our various patches.

One of the first things I noticed in the area was the number of roadside memorials – I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in such a short space of time; there is something terribly tragic about a young smiling face beaming out of a faded photo amidst forlorn looking toys and bunches of dead and dying flowers – not without good reason is the area known as “Shank Town”. Notwithstanding, there is a lot more to N18 than knife crime and Tottenham Hotspur.

After a few snaps of Silver Street station, I set off in earnest for my first assigned street – Victoria Road. Although there was the usual detritus that always makes for an interesting subject, I decided that one of its unique – and totally unexpected – features would be my submission for the street, namely, the river running underneath the railway bridge. I find it most amusing when pundits talk about ‘truth’ and ‘reality’ in photography, when the true reality is that we introduce bias the minute we frame our images. To have included the rubbish and the plastic carrier bags adorning the trees would have created a significantly different impression.

Having a background in linguistics, I do find myself drawn to signs, and N18 did not disappoint – I added two to my collection. I find both of these utterly bizarre on so many levels and I certainly don’t think the London Borough of Enfield would win any ‘plain English’ awards with sentences such as “A Police Constable can require you not to consume alcohol in this area”. Whatever’s wrong with a straightforward “No Drinking in the Park”?

One of the phenomenon I’ve noticed through snapping all these streets for Bleeding London is that of ‘contagion’ – one house has some sort of idiosyncratic decoration and then others follow suit. N18’s idiosyncrasy seems to be bottles in the brickwork – and some of them used far less interesting bottles than the house shown here. I haven’t seen this anywhere else in London – perhaps there is a builder in the area that specialises in this sort of façade construction.

The next street worthy of mention was Stratham Grove and again the choice of framing raises the truth and reality issue. This converted church was an unexpected find and not really typical of the area.

Just around the corner, my next assignment was Dickens Lane and its various Mews – Copperfield, Pickwick and Dorrit. Now I don’t know quite what I was expecting, but I think the combination of knowing the Mews of Belgravia with the Dickensian connotation of half-timbered houses on cobbled streets had created a mental picture of something rather different.

The Dickensian Mews were last on my list and so it was time to rendezvous with the other BL’ers at the Gilpin’s Bell – named after the fictitious character in Cowper’s ‘Diverting History of John Gilpin’. Managing to somehow miss the foot-tunnel, necessitated a detour through Pymmes Park and around the lakes; sadly I didn’t have time to visit the secret garden – another stunning example of the Victoriana that abounds in N18 - so have included an image from Wikimedia Commons.

My trip to N18 was a voyage of discovery, but it is still very difficult to reconcile the beauty of lakes, parks and walled gardens with all those roadside memorials.

Images © Del Barrett ARPS except "Pymmes Park3" by Northmetpit - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons