We challenge our contributor to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat will face the same questions that range from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out just what Londoners really think about their city. The questions might be the same but the answers vary wildly.
Stefan Dickers is the Library and Archives Manager at Bishopsgate Institute, Spitalfields, and looks after its extensive collection of books, pamphlets, maps, photographs and oral histories on London history, as well as the labour movement, protest, atheism and the co-op. He is passionate about history. The Institute and its historic collections, and West Ham United and will talk about them at length to anyone who will listen!
What’s your secret London tip?
Well, dealing with London History at Bishopsgate Institute on a daily basis, you won’t be surprised to find it will be a bookshop. I love visiting and highly recommend Newham Bookshop on the Barking Road where you will find any book you could ever want on London history (as well as having a good natter with Vivian and the other staff). Some friends are also doing wonderful and fascinating work recording London history and culture and I highly recommend the daily stories by The Gentle Author on the Spitalfields Life blog (spitalfieldslife.com) and, if you get a chance, go on one of Alan Gilbey’s cracking East End Backpassages walks. Apart from these, always walk or take the bus everywhere…you’ll always see something that will make you giggle or ponder!
What’s your secret London place?
I love where I live in Wapping. Although it’s not secret, it feels like it could be miles away from London, even though it’s just minutes from Tower Bridge. It’s quiet and there’s no bustle which is just the antidote sometimes to working all day on Bishopsgate. However, beware the joggers! There are hundreds of them in Wapping. They come at you from all directions and show no mercy.
What’s your biggest gripe about London?
Probably the chain shop mania and the lack/decline of independent, interesting shops and cafes, etc. Just like rats in London, you’re never more than ten metres away from a Prêt a Manger or Starbucks….
What’s your favourite building?
Well, I would obviously have to say, Bishopsgate Institute where I work in the Library. It’s a beautiful Grade II listed Arts and Crafts/Arts Nouveau building and one of the very few left not made out of chrome and glass in the area! The Library at the Institute is a must-see. I also love the imposing Senate House building in Russell Square where I studied for many years
What’s your most hated building?
It would have to be City Hall or, especially, the Gherkin and the Shard. You can’t avoid seeing the last two wherever you go in London. The River Police Station in Wapping High Street is pretty grim too!
What’s the best view in London?
Without doubt, it has to be the view along the Thames from the South Bank at night. I could sit there contented for hours.
What’s your personal London landmark?
The Imperial War Museum in Lambeth and the Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park next door. I got taken here literally every week by my Grandad when I was growing up and told stories about the war which probably explains my interest in the past and oral history! A walk round the Museum would be followed by a run around on the adventure playground in the park. I always remember fondly when I end up there!
What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
I absolutely love The London Nobody Knows, the documentary based on books by Geoffrey Fletcher about hidden London made in the late 1960s and featuring James Mason as the guide. Mason is laugh-out-loudly miserable and wonderfully sardonic. It also shows a beautifully grimy London before everything was cleaned up or re-developed, and the psychedelic scenes in Chapel Market and the Egg-Breaking Plant have to been seen to be believed! I also adore the Ealing comedies, so Passport to Pimlico, the Lavender Hill Mob and It Always Rains on a Sunday would have to be in there too. Oh, I can’t leave out the Long Good Friday . . . as gangster Harold Shand would say, that would be a ‘diabolical liberty’!
What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
I’m not a big boozer but, if a do fancy a pint or two, there are some corking pubs still to be found. Around where I work in Spitalfields, I would definitely recommend The Water Poet on Folgate Street and The Bell in Middlesex Street. Further afield, I have spent many a happy hour in the Cittie of Yorke on High Holborn, The French House in Soho and The Coal Hole on The Strand.
How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
Well, this could be a rather extensive answer! It would definitely start off with a stroll down to Brick Lane to get a lovely salt beef bagel in the Bagel Bake, followed by a bit of culture at the Tate Modern or the National Portrait Gallery, two places I can go to again and again, and always find new things. This would be followed by a stroll along the South Bank with a browse of the book stalls under Waterloo Bridge and an hour in the wonderful Mediatheque at the BFI to watch some old films and documentaries. This would have to be followed by a trip to a West Ham home game at the Boleyn Ground with an emphatic win, preferably against Tottenham or Chelsea!
This ‘Grill’ was first posted on the Radio Taxis blog.