Monthly Archives: August 2010

London’s latest no-frills hotel

Lambeth North at platform level

There’s been plenty of buzz about town regarding Tune Hotels’ first European venture – a 79-room base adjacent opposite Lambeth North in south London. Lambeth North has been unremarkable for pretty much anything except proximity to Waterloo and the Imperial War Museum, and while north Londoners might cock a snook at the idea of anything vaguely approaching hip on the wrong side of the river*, this hotel has certainly got tongues wagging. I spoke to the Independent about it a few weeks ago and was subsequently quoted in the Daily Mail and other pieces, as well as doing some radio interviews.

I was curious then to get a call from BBC News, who were filming an item about the hotel today (Wednesday 25 August) and wondered if I could go down to the hotel on launch day and contribute my view on it.

Tune Hotels, owned by the team behind Malaysian budget carrier Air Asia – whose posters currently adorn many of the walls – take the no-frills travel concept and apply it more ruthlessly to the hotel industry than anyone has before. You have your room, which may cost as little as £9, and a shower.

What’s the catch? Everything else is on top. Want a towel? That’ll be £1. You do get some posh-looking soap, and though Alan Partridge would disapprove of the size it’ll do the job. Your room will be clean on entry but if you want it turning over while there that’ll be £7.50. And that nice flat-screen TV? £3 for the day, £7 for three days, £10 if you want it for the whole of a longer stay. Even with these extras though you should be able to grab a room at off-peak rates for a long way under £50. Want one at weekends? The price will go up. If you’ve flown Ryanair you’ll get the drill.

The hotel has an unassuming entrance, with a Costa Coffee in the same building like many large budget chain hotels on Euston Road and elsewhere. Upon going in there’s a simple reception in Tune’s red and white livery, and two vending machines in case late night munchies strike. The lift whizzes you up to your room – the one we looked at was fashionably and soothingly decorated, but small, and would suit a friendly couple or single traveller. There wasn’t any room for a travel cot.  Business travellers, weekenders and sports fans will enjoy it, and if not there’s plenty of competition who’ll throw in a towel and a TV. They’ll probably just cost more. And other hotel chains will be watching this new entrant very closely.

The interview was conducted on the roof which is sadly not open to guests. Access is by a skylight-type door and metal ladder and gives superb views of neighbouring rooftop gardens and the London skyline. The dome of St Paul’s, the Victoria Tower of the Palace of Westminster and Battersea power Station should all be visible from rooms on higher floors. Crystal Palace’s TV antennae are also prominent.

Tune Hotels say they plan to open fifteen more properties in London over the next few years. They already have a network of hotels across Malaysia and in Bali. They clearly have one eye on the influx of tourists around the 2012 Olympic and a slice of the pie of the world’s second-most visited city. The hotel is open now in ‘soft launch’ mode, so now may be a good time to grab a room for later in the year.

If the way budget airlines have mushroomed in popularity is any indicator, this hotel and ones that come after it should do well. London gets enough visitors to be able to withstand competition, even in the budget category. Critics will say that existing chains have been doing many of these things for years. That’s true, but something as extreme as charging to power-up the in-room hairdryer is always going to attract attention. One to watch.

*London’s Cycle Hire scheme has made it here, too, so you can be over the river back to civilisation in under a minute.

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The Kinks and Hampstead Heath

Ray Davies, lead singer of the Kinks is the ultimate London musician.

He’s run close by Elvis Costello, Roger Daltrey and John Lydon, but Ray takes it.

Hailing from Muswell Hill – Fortis Green to be precise – he not only wrote most of the songs for the greatest band of the 1960s, the Kinks, but he immortalised the London scene of the decade, from the simple romance of Waterloo Sunset to the pomposity of Carnaby Street in Dedicated Follower of Fashion. Like no other song, You Really Got Me captures the restless energy of London life and being young in the city, and has a timeless appeal.

The Kinks – and Ray’s – finest work is the 1968 album The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society. Davies’ lament for a disappearing England – or a scorn for its small-mindedness – was the last by the original line-up of the band and their most complete album. *

The sleeve for Village Green was shot on Hampstead Heath, not far from Muswell Hill. Its appeal is not a secret, but the shot below seems to have been taken on one of the less-visited meadows to the east of Kenwood House. Ray, his brother Dave, Mick Avory and Pete Quaife.

A stroll through this long grass, London’s own slice of countryside, with views of the city that inspired Davies before you, is one of the capital’s finest ways to spend a couple of hours. And you can round it off with a cream tea at Kenwood.

* There are detailed reviews of Village Green all over the web, but Adrian Denning’s album reviews site is the best place to start. As well as covering the Kinks complete output with accuracy and passion there are thousands of other very readable album reviews here. I found Adrian’s site a superb way to get started with previously impenetrable bands and am particularly grateful for his reviews of Felt albums.

Clippings from London’s past

Should the Bank of England move? After all, it is a ‘city incubus that stops all the traffic’ and stops Kendall Robinson of, er, Cheapside from getting home at night. True, it is a large monolith which probably does hinder traffic flow, but it’s probably easier to do something about the traffic that the BoE.

This marvellous clipping was snipped by the reader of an old book on London. Perhaps Kendall Robinson himself preserved his moment of glory, only to be found now. It’s undated, but the clipping on the back offers some clues. It has a report of Chelsea losing 2-1 to Manchester City.

The clipping talks of Nils Middelboe, a Danish player who turned out for Chelsea between 1913 and 1923. Chelsea lost twice in two years to Manchester City on City’s turf in this period, on 22 November 1913, on Boxing Day 1914. However, the clipping talks of Middelboe as though his appearance is a novelty, suggesting the earlier fixture. If so, he had made his debut the previous week after having been made captain of the team in an apparent gesture of faith from his team-mates. They may also have been scared of him as he stood 6″2, earning the unsurprising nickname ‘The Great Dane’. Both matches would have taken place at Hyde Road in Ardwick, Manchester City’s home before their move to Maine Road in 1923.

Thanks to Mr Robinson or whoever else snipped this clipping some 103 years ago. I’m glad the Bank of England didn’t get moved, and not hugely sorry to read about the eight-year-old arrivistes Chelsea losing to a more venerable footballing force. What would Nils Middelboe make of these two clubs, under foreign ownership, slugging it out for the title of largest todger in English football?

The coronation of William the Conqueror

Old and New London is a treasure chest for anyone interested in the city, and hunting down old volumes can be a lot of fun. Here Walter Thornbury parts the mist of history to paint a vivid picture of William the Conqueror‘s coronation at Westminster Abbey. Close your eyes and you can hear the clanking of swords and armour, the crackle of flames and shouts of acclamation.

William the Conqueror complete with Gallic 'tache

It was on Christmas Day, in the year 1066, that the new Abbey of Westminster, the last work of Edward the Confessor, was chosen as the place for the coronation of the first of our Norman kings, William the Conqueror. The suburbs, the streets of London, and all the approaches to the Abbey, we are told, were lined with double rows of soldiers, horse and foot. The Conqueror rode through the ranks, and entered the Abbey Church, attended by 260 of his warlike chiefs, by many priests and monks, and a considerable number of the English who had been gained over to act a part in the pageantry.

Westminster Abbey

At the opening of the ceremony one of William’s prelates, Geoffrey, the Bishop of Coutances, asked the Normans, in the French language, if they were of opinion that their chief should take the title of King of England; and then the Archbishop of York asked the English if they would have William the Norman for their king. The reply on either side was given by acclamation in the affirmative, and the shouts and cheers thus raised were so loud that they startled the foreign cavalry stationed round the Abbey. The troops took the confused noise for a cry of alarm raised by their friends, and as they had received orders to be on the alert and ready to act in case of any seditious movement, they rushed to the English houses nearest the Abbey and set fire to them all. A few, thinking to succour their betrayed duke, and the nobles they served, ran to the church, where, at sight of their naked swords and the smoke and flames that were rising, the tumult soon became as great as that without its walls. The Normans fancied the whole population of London and its neighbourhood had risen against them; while the English imagined that they had been duped by a vain show, and drawn together, unarmed and defenceless, that they might be massacred.

Both parties ran out of the Abbey, and the ceremony was interrupted, though William, left almost alone in the church, or with none but Archbishop Aldred and some terrified priests of both nations near to him at the altar, decidedly refused to postpone the celebration. The service was therefore completed amidst these bad auguries, but in the utmost hurry and confusion; and the Conqueror took the usual coronation oath of the Anglo-Saxon kings, making, as an addition of his own, the solemn promise that he would treat the English people as well as the best of their kings had done.

Meanwhile the commotion without still continued, and it is not mentioned at what hour of the day or night the conflagration ended. The English who had been at the Abbey ran to extinguish the fire—the Normans, it is said, to plunder and otherwise profit by the disorder; but it appears that some of the latter exerted themselves to stop the progress of the flames, and to put an end to a riot peculiarly unpalatable to their master, whose anxious wish was certainly, at that time, to conciliate the two nations.