Tag Archives: Brockwell Park

Herne Hill Farmers’ Market (*may not contain actual farmers)

1 Dec

An easterly wind on a Sunday has quite an effect on dogs in Brockwell Park. My human nose could detect the smell of cooking steak and burgers by the time I was level with the lido, so it’s not surprising that those with a powerful canine one were acting quite strangely.

Although some of the four-legged Brockwell regulars must be used to it now. When the Herne Hill Farmers’ Market first set up its gourds in July it became a fairly instant hit. One of ten markets run by a company called City and County Famers’ Markets, and organised in conjunction with the Herne Hill Forum, the market sets up every Sunday outside Herne Hill station at the pedestrianised end of Railton Road.

Now, a lot of people don’t like farmers markets. Perhaps they feel making food shopping into a pastime smacks of comfortable middle-class smuggery, and fetishising expensively produced food is a bit weird when many don’t have any at all. Or they are confused by the olive stall (there is always an olive stall), and wonder who is growing olives in the home counties. All fair points, but the solution is probably ‘Yes, so don’t go’.

The naysayers won’t be missed. Sunday lunchtimes are invariably buzzing. Sure, many people are just browsing, but popular items regularly sell out and, despite the increasingly cold weather, stallholders I spoke to a couple of weeks ago were looking forward to a busy and profitable run up to Christmas.

From apples to veal, chocolates to vintage plates, liqueurs to cake, the range of goods might play a bit free and easy with the term ‘farmers’ market’, but look past the handmade scarves and indefatigable cupcakes and there’s a pretty good selection of foodstuffs that you’d usually have to take a trip to Waitrose to find.

You’d expect meat to be expensive at Farmers’ markets, and mostly it is here. However, this Couldsdon- based butcher had plenty of game on offer, including rabbit, pheasant and partridge, at very reasonable prices. I love eating game. So much better than idiotic farm animals, drugged up and dependant. I like food that has lived on its wits and until one day losing the battle between gun and running away.


Running one of two wine stalls, Simon Fisher sells wine made from grapes grown around the south (yes, of England) and his Croydon-based West Fisher winery is one of three inside the M25. He’s also restoring a small vineyard in Kent. I bought a bottle of his wine, but sadly it doesn’t say ‘Wine of Croydon’ on the label. Possibly a good marketing decision on reflection.

Handmade Dandelion chocolates were pricy, but beautiful. Especially the metallic blue ones. I was too scared to try the naughtily tempting free samples – I could see exactly what would happen…

You can’t eat or farm vintage, but that doesn’t deter the four-or-so stallholders selling retro clothes and homeware. Here’s some Christmas things at the Society for Unwanted Objects. As well as his market stall James Castle’s Objects have been on sale at pop-up shops in Herne Hill, and he’s hoping to open a permanent shop next year.

The main reason for going to a Farmers’ market is to buy good quality food straight from the producer, who should be as locally based as possible. On their website, CCFM who run the market explain their aim that most of the food sold at their markets should come from within a 100 mile radius. And I’m sure this is mostly the case in Herne Hill. Although the cheese stalls seem to be mostly run by businesses based in Wales, Glasonbury and Bath (which seems a long way to drive a cheese to me), Kent, Sussex and Hampshire were all fairly well represented. Actual farmers may be somewhat outnumbered by vintage teacups, but there’s still enough interesting food on offer to make it well worth taking a stroll ­past the dribbling dogs in the park to Herne Hill on a Sunday.

Brixtonia on Holiday – is the East Village New York’s Brixton?

7 Jun

Travel broadens the mind, apparently. Or perhaps it narrows it, making you compare everything with something more familiar at home. At uni in Canada I knew an Australian called Dave who couldn’t see anything without telling us about its equivalent ‘back in Adelaide’. So, forgive me if I sound a bit like Adelaide Dave, but New York’s East Village did sort of remind me of Brixton.

Originally part of the working class and largely immigrant Lower East Side, the term ‘East Village’ was coined in the sixties, when artists and musicians started to move in. But the first residents of the tenements built here from the 1840s onwards were mostly German, to the point where the area was became known as Little Germany. Which is somehow not as poetic as Little Italy, but the omnibuses probably ran on time.

Further groups of immigrants arrived after the Second World War, from Poland, Ukraine, Puerto Rico and many more. Allan Ginsberg lived here in the fifties. In 1966 Andy Warhol showed his work here, using music by the Velvet Underground. In the 1970s Patti Smith, Debbie Harry and the Ramones played the famous CBGB club. But by the eighties Tomkins Square Park was mainly attracting the homeless and disenfranchised. Policing was heavy-handed and in 1988 a riot broke out. To a tourist like me, the East Village now seems like an exciting and energetic neighbourhood, but I’m sure it’s been a difficult process, with long-standing residents finding themselves priced out along the way.

So, an area that owes much of its vibrancy to groups of immigrants; nucleus of the punk scene; the setting for protests and clashes with police; somewhere that’s had its share of social problems; was once branded ‘edgy’ but is increasingly referred to as ‘gentrified’. And a lot of people here seem passionate about their community. Sound familiar?

Well, of course the East Village is in New York, not London, and they do things differently there. But still it’s an interesting comparison. And there are definitely some things I’d like to borrow for Brixton. For example, according to Wiki there are 640 community gardens in NYC. Tucked behind wire fencing and greenery on Avenue B, we could just catch a glimpse of one, with kids playing, sunbathers and, later in the day, some sort of festival. Space might be at too much of a premium for the likes of Brockwell Park, but it was great to see these scraps of land being used and enjoyed by so many people, who evidently see it as their own in a way a larger park can’t be.

If there was ever anything on the scale of the Brixton Academy in the East Village, I imagine it would have long since been lost to the city’s notoriously ruthless developers. The area’s once pioneering music scene has dropped off considerably in recent years, so points to Brixton for Hootenanny and the Windmill. However, the small East Village bars are individual and quirky in a way we don’t have so much in Brixton. Many even have a street terrace or even a garden out back that, oddly enough, give a laid back, European feel that I wasn’t expecting to find in Manhattan.

Of course, I’m sure someone visiting Brixton from the East Village would have a completely different take. I’d love to hear their thoughts on gentrification for example: so many in Brixton feel strongly about the issue, and the East Village seems to be some way further down this path. Perhaps during the Olympics I’ll try to flag down a passing New Yorker and ask.

(They can keep the bloody subway though. Victoria line – all is forgiven.)

Parklife: a summer’s day in Brixton’s historic parks

30 May

 Finally FINALLY it feels like summer. Good weather in London makes us disconcertingly chipper, sending us scurrying to the nearest ‘outside’ to drink Pimms, get strap marks and examine the blisters from our new sandals. I’ve written about my favourite beer gardens here already, so below is a bit of a celebration of three lovely parks in the Greater Brixton area, all originally created between 1889 and 1907, and all more than worthy of a picnic.

(Just remember, barbecues are not allowed – you don’t want the fire brigade coming to douse your sausages.)

MYATT’S FIELD opened as a Victorian urban park in 1889, and still retains enough if its turn-of-the-century charm to want to make you skip around it with Mary Poppins and Dick Van Dyke. Amongst the pleasingly formal ornamental flower beds stands a bandstand and a summer house, as well as community greenhouses and a sweet little mock Tudor café.

The land was donated by local do-gooders the Minet family, but is, rather democratically, named after Joseph Myatt, a market gardener who once grew his veg where the park now stands. Interestingly, they layout was designed by a lady called Fanny Rollo Wilkinson, who was Britain’s first professional female landscape architect. Cool, eh?

Food?: The community-run Black Cat café, which uses fresh produce from the park’s own greenhouses and sells cake baked by locals is by the bandstand. It didn’t always seem to be open during its advertised hours in the spring, but hopefully it’ll be more reliable over the summer.

Sporty stuff?: There’s (free) tennis courts, a basketball court, and a children’s splashy pond thing, if that counts as a sport. It probably does if you’re two.

Anything else?: On Sundays throughout the summer there’s a programme of music scheduled in the band stand, more info here. The cafe also runs a number of food-based community events, such as cooking classes and lunches.

RUSKIN PARK is an Edwardian gem. Named after opinionated Victorian and mummy’s boy John Ruskin, Ruskin Park it was opened with the help of strong local support in 1907 and enlarged just three years later. During the First World War the park was covered in tents and temporary huts to house the wounded from the trenches who couldn’t all be treated in nearby King’s College hospital (interestingly this happened at Myatt’s Field Park too). Nowadays you’ll still find lots of the features that would have been familiar to the park’s first users. There’s a rather snazzy band stand, a nice pond, and over 40 species of tree. A portico (porch thing + wall) and sundial from one of the houses demolished to make way for the park make for quite unusual garden ornaments.

Food?: The cafe opened for business on 16th May. It’s next to the playground and serves drinks, snacks and sandwiches. (There was a mention of halloumi.)

Sporty stuff?: There’s an all-weather five-aside type pitch, tennis (free at the weekend), basketball and one of those things where you practice hitting a cricket ball.

Anything else?: The website for the community gardens is rather lovely – it features regular updates about what’s been planted and how you can get involved. 

Beautiful BROCKWELL PARK is of course familiar to all Brixton dwellers. But it’s also the best park in London so it would be a shame to leave it out. The land was bought for the public and opened in 1892 in response to the growing population of Brixton and the Victorian belief that Parks Are Good For You.

The campaign to create the open space was led by Thomas Bristowe, and MP for Norwood. However, he didn’t live to see visitors enjoying the new open space, dramatically dropping dead of a heart attack on the steps of Brockwell Hall after the park’s opening ceremony.

Food?: There’s a functional and inexpensive café at the top of the hill with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. Although sadly its rather tired interior doesn’t match the stature of the prepossessing Brockwell Hall. John Blades, a wealthy glass manufacturer, built it in 1813 – having knocked down one at the bottom of hill in favour of something with a bit more of a view. For something a bit more substantial, the café/restaurant in the Lido is all about British produce, nice booze, and unfussy cooking. (It’s also all about queuing on a sunny weekend, but hey ho).

Sporty stuff?: Tennis, volleyball, basketball, a bowling green, a bmx track, and then there’s a path round the park’s circumference is a veritable running circuit at the weekend. And of course there’s the lido (unheated) and a gym there too.

Anything else?: The walled garden is a particularly lovely spot. And there’s a brand spanking new adventure playground finally due to open at the start of June. On summer weekends you can even visit the model railway at the Herne Hill gate for the hilarious spectacle of two grown men travelling about 100 metres balanced on a really tiny train, while looking a little angry. Brilliant.

Things I Think You Should be Aware of in Brixton in 2012…

17 Jan

Congratulations if you’re reading this. Because, according to a widely discredited ‘study’, yesterday was the most depressing day of the year. And you made it! So well done, everyone.

Now that’s over, what does the first few months of 2012 have going for it? Well, diaries at the ready as I have compiled a list of Brixton happenings that I Think You Should be Aware of.

Both firstly and foremostly, DROP EVERYTHING (oh, soz, was that your new iPad?) because tomorrow evening is the second Meet Brixton. A sort of Brixton fanclub, it’s a chance for people who live, work, or just quite like it here to meet up for a drink. This time you shall find us in Dogstar. More details here. And a write up of the last one here, if you still can’t quite picture what I’m on about.

If you didn’t get tickets to the Maccabees at the Academy on 26th January and like staying up late, you can still jump on this particular bandwagon at the after party at Brixton Jamm. The band are Djing. A tenner in advance and I reckon it will be rather popular. Expect most of the Guardian’s music journos there at least, asking for receipts at the bar.

The following Saturday, the 28th to be precise, Kaff Bar is hosting their first Rockabilly night. So if you’ve been doing those Monday classes at Electric Social, this is your chance to properly show off. Everyone else, let’s just whap out the circle skirts and have a nice time.

Good news for sprogs and breeders of sprogs – Brockwell park playground reopens in March. It’s been closed for a while as part of a £5 million Brockwell refit, but I’m sure it’ll look great once it’s up and running again.

On 1st March Los Van Van are playing the Electric. A twenty piece ‘dance orchestra’ formed in 1969 in Havana, they are one of the most influential bands in modern Cuban music. If you don’t want to pay £23 for a ticket then at least check them out on Spotify, as they sound great.

The Windmill would like to recommend that you book tickets now for US band Those Darlins, gracing their establishment on 4th April. Hailing from Tennessee, by the sound of it they are a little bit country, a little bit retro-rock with a touch of punk. If you can imagine such a thing. The Guardian says:

‘Once heavy on the hillbilly, these southern girls have ditched yee-haws and ukuleles to be a power-pop proposition’

Whereas Time Out Chicago helpfully adds:

‘Their jangling shuffle explores the middle ground between the Go-Go’s and Merle Haggard. Yeah, that territory exists. And the chicken there is delicious

Er, ok.

On 27th and 28th April US band Foster the People play Brixton Academy. Yes, yes, the ones with the annoying tinny ‘run run run’ song. Stay with me here. The record is very over produced – trying perhaps to cover up the fact that the singer sounds a little like Alvin, of Chipmunk fame – but BUT when I saw them at Latitude last summer they played a brilliant indie-pop set to a packed and madly bouncing crowd. It will be fun. And I think you should go.

SO, what have I missed out? Add suggestions to the comments below please thank you.

The Friday Feeling

25 Nov

Happy Friday everyone, and what a lovely sunny one it is.

If you’re Katy Perry you’ll surely be gearing up for a night of dancing on tabletops, ‘taking’ too many shots and snogging with amnesiac abandon.

If you find that you’re not however, here’s some options for the weekend ahead.

Today is the day for interested parties to book tickets for the Mystery Jets gig at the Brixton Academy next May. The HMV website appears to have a good deal. (Don’t you wish that gig tickets could go on sale a month before the gig? I don’t know what I’m doing in MAY yet dammit!)

Also tonight the Offline Club will be celebrating the reopening of the Prince Albert after a two week refurb with band According to You . Who, according to them, sound a bit like The Jam, the Arctic Monkeys and The Strokes. This (free) weekly night at the Prince Albert is a raucous, friendly and unreconstructed piece of old Brixton and well worth checking out. Just be prepared to stay up very late!

Conversely, for a very recontructed Brixton, head to Station Road on Saturday for ‘The Brixton Experience’. Anticipation builds and we look forward to finding out what on earth this is. According to their facebook page it purposes to:

‘offer local businesses and community groups the opportunity to showcase the diversity and richness of Brixton, and create a modern legacy of success and community engagement’

Particularly looking forward to seeing ‘the modern legacy of success’. That sounds great.

And for something completely different, why not spend Sunday digging in Brockwell park? Stop it, I’m being serious! On the last Sunday of every month there’s the opportunity to join a volunteer group and do some gardening in Brockwell Park. You will be rewarded with biscuits, soup and an sense of enormous wellbeing. More info here.

The Friday Feeling

4 Nov

As a well-know restaurant chain (sort of) pointed out, Thanks God It’s Friday.

The main event this weekend is obviously Bonfire Night: that celebration of the Houses of Commons almost being blown up and not liking Catholics that goes so well with baked potatoes. I love being British.

I also love fireworks but always stick to an organised display. I think the safety campaigns in the 1980s just worked too well. I can remember the shock and horror when my dad actually RETURNED TO A LIT FIREWORK in our back garden one year, against Yvette Fielding’s explicit instructions on Blue Peter.

Guy Fawkes night in Brockwell Park kicks off at 4pm on Saturday with music, stalls and a funfair, and the firework display at 8-8.30 (for free). Non-explosive entertainment includes ‘Steve Kaos and Jem’, who according to the council website, will be ‘cycling on large bikes’. LARGE BIKES? BRILLIANT!  No sparklers though kids, ok? Not allowed.

Rumour has it you also get a good view of the fireworks from outside the Prince Regent. You know, just saying.

There’s also  fireworks in Battersea Park , if you want to go further afield. It’s six English pounds but there’s a bonfire that’s lit in massive explosion sort of thing at 7.30. If you’re going make sure you get there in time to see it.

If the word ‘bric-a-brac’ makes you feel all excited inside, head to Station Road on Saturday, where the inaugural Brixton Flea Market is on 10am-5pm.

Following on from the Drunken Balordi gig (who I must try to catch soon) at the Brixton Windmill is the brilliant-sounding Rock and Roll Jumble Sale, playing rock, indie, elctronica etc etc ‘hits and misses’ on vinyl bought from car boot and jumble sales. Starts at 10.30pm, and £2 if you’ve not been at the gig.

So stay safe everybody. And make sure you keep any fireworks in a biscuit tin. Or something.

The Friday Feeling

28 Oct

Well, week, you were a speedy one.

It’s Hallowe’en weekend, and I’m afraid it sounds like it’s going to be rather unavoidable, with pretty much everywhere adding adjectives like ‘ghoulish’ and ‘spooky’ to the titles of regular nights. Did you know that we spend more on Hallowe’en every year? According to The Times last week the figure is only just behind Easter now.

I’m off out for dinner tonight with Mr Liz, although not sure where yet. I am considering the Lounge as the food always looks rather nice there. Or perhaps a trip back to Hive. Anyone got any recommendations? Tomorrow I’m going to a swap party run by the talented Shoestring Splendour girls. Based on the fact that we generally hoard all kinds of crap we’re never going to wear again, and yet covet everyone else’s crap, it’s a chance get some new stuff in a sort of eco, free way. It’s open to all, starting at 2pm at the Railway pub at Clapham North.

And what about Brixton’s plans for the weekend? Well, I wrote about Hallowe’en parties earlier in the week, for those crazy ‘planners’ out there. For spooky the way they did it in the ‘80s dig out your proton pack for Ghostbusters, showing at the Ritzy at 3pm on Sat.

There’s more wholesome Hallowe’en activities to be found at the community greenhouses in Brockwell Park on Sunday as they celebrate their pumpkin harvest by carving, cooking and eating them from 12-4.

And finally, for something truly scary, how about men in fishnets? There’s some sort of Rocky Horror party happening at the Elm Park Tavern on Saturday. Matt the barman was attempting to persuade the regulars to carve pumpkins for him when I was in there last night.

Sunday sunshine in Brockwell Park

23 Oct

Well what a beautiful autumn day. If only autumn could always be like today, sunny, clear, mild and colourful. Like summer with knitwear really.

I took my hangover for a gentle bike ride around Brockwell Park. If your hangover did not permit you to leave the house, this is what the outside looked like today.

Did you know that Brockwell Park has been open to the public since 1892? Thomas Bristowe was a local stockbroker turned Tory MP who led the campaign to buy the land in order to create a public park. The 6th July 1892 – the Whitsun bank holiday – saw the opening ceremony of the new park, and is also the date Thomas Bristowe died: he suffered a fatal heart attack on the steps of Brockwell house.


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