scribbles tagged ‘architecture’

1949 Modernism in Minneapolis

Saturday, February 28th, 2015 | tags: , , , , ,  |

Eliel Saarinen Lutheran ChurchCoincidences in the suburbs.

Eliel Saarinen designed one of my favourite buildings, Helsinki central train station. One day I’ll ride the line from Helsinki to St Petersburg with a layover at Viipuri, my fathers birthplace. Eliel Saarinen also designed the Viipuri train station. Train stations are fabulous places, they are the door to adventures, they bring loved one’s home.

Eliel’s last building was a Lutheran church in Longfellow, a suburb of Minneapolis. One of the earliest examples of a modernist building in the USA and listed on their national register of historic places. It stands in very stark contrast to the surrounding classical wooden, suburban, homes. No more of a contrast than the pseudo-gothic, often Germanic, red stone churches in most other districts.

Eliel’s son Eero appears to have worked with Charles Eames, clearly knew both Ray and Charles. Eero also designed the educational annex on the church, added to the building in 1962.
minneapolis residential street
On the Saturday morning that I spontaneously  visited, all the doors to the church were locked. No sign of life inside, no opportunity to see the wonderful light streaming through the cleverly placed windows to fill the space for worship. The door design is simple and beautiful. Ashame that someone felt the need to add the instruction to “Pull” the door handle which already displays all the affordances of being ‘pull-able’ more than ‘push-able’.

Eliel Saarinen Lutheran ChurchThough far more beautiful, the outside design reminded me of the Danish church in Hull that the House family occasionally visited when staying with Hull branch.

I’ll be back, with some locally rounded-up fellow building-lovers on an official, docent-led tour day

what do you think of that »

Post it!

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 | tags: , , , ,  |

Minneapolis Post OfficeIn the cold.

Cold is stuff below 10°F

I wandered out from my heated car, 30 paces, to the heated central post office in downtown Minneapolis.  The post office has an amazing exterior. I’ll photograph the exteria in the summer.

The inside was like walking into the deserted 1920’s. There were a few people around, but not many given the size, capacity, of this building. The brass panel in the ceiling that hid recessed lights, the wooden, marble and brass wall panels. This building reeked of celebrating the postal service as a service for everyone. Fabulous.

I love the social responsibility of the locals and their city governance. I feel really at home here. Which is good, because this is my new home.

1 wonderful musing »


Saturday, January 17th, 2015 | tags: , , ,  |

roof pipesI think I’m developing a ceiling fetish. It’s not something that can be cured by rubbing cream onto it.

I find myself looking up and wondering about what the ceiling is made of, whether it hides another ceiling, whether it’s original to the building and many other little, life-peripheral things. Will I recover, will my neck develop a kink? I’ll let you know.

Meanwhile here are a couple that caught my attention this week.

I’ll refrain from a full feature analysis, but the fluffy white spray cover on the concrete surface of the industrial chic bar was really quite a fancifully enticing touch. Swoon.
Red Stag

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8 wooden columns

Thursday, January 15th, 2015 | tags: , , , , ,  |

Architectural salvageCity Salvage

Several people roamed around the spacious yet cluttered store. Heated sufficiently to remove the steam of our breath and feel like outdoors in a temperate climate. For a Minneapolis winter, this is a good temperature for a store. Customers are bundled-up in clothes suitable for minus degrees Fahrenheit. The winter is coming…

All these beautiful wood, doors, columns, sconces…. every piece with a story to tell. This is a magic shop. I left the magic undisturbed, leaving with a raised heart and the treasures left in their place for others to see and enjoy.

I’ll be back,

Next time I may bring a friend….

what do you think of that »

Freedom to self segregate

Monday, January 5th, 2015 | tags: , , , , ,  |

buildingSilver-car parking on the streets of St. Anthony.

We are free to park where-ever we want, as long as we pay at the metre. Sometimes it looks like car owners flock to their like-coloured colleagues.

Wandering into the antique shops in this fabulous building revealed that the local parkers were, like me, pale skinned (Caucasian origin?). I’d parked a couple of blocks away, among the black cars. My dark blue blends in almost seamlessly.

There’s a rogue bicycle lassoed to the parking meter in this photo. I’m so impressed by the cycling commitment of local residents.

what do you think of that »


Monday, May 12th, 2014 | tags: , ,  |

I’m scared that my life is on a road that will make it stylishly bleak, like a rest break in Guggenheim museum


2 bits of fabulous banter »

far from the madding crowd

Sunday, March 16th, 2014 | tags: , , , , ,  |

video exhibit engagement boothsI was able to explore some artsy stuff on a Sunday during my recent Minneapolis visit. The Walker Art Centre was a real pleasure. I found myself enjoying the building almost as much as the exhibits. First, they had a brushed-suede alcove for watching film exhibits.


Next, for visitors suffering from Museum fatigue they’d provided plenty of comfortable seating with views of the local scenery rather than the thought provoking exhibits. I watched children sledding down the hillside. Apart from myself the seats were…

Public spaceEmpty.

DSCN2700Each corner that I walked around provided a new and interesting view of the architecture. There appeared to me more docents in the museum than visitors. I felt guilty looking at, and photographing, the building.  There will be another post on the fabulous exhibits, to compensate for my guilt. The corridors were….


Normally I have to wait, twist, and stretch to find a view of a building without people messing up the view. Not in the Walker Art Centre on a Sunday in March. It’s a place where you can be alone.

Maybe even lonely.



3 bits of fabulous banter »

symptoms of design failure

Friday, June 21st, 2013 | tags: , , , ,  |

Architectural design fix

The fancy new Reading town Grimshaw designed train station is not quite finished. It’s already showing some fundamental design flaws. It’s good looking, if you like big open spaces and an airport foyer feel. But they’ve already had to put in blue plastic barriers to direct the pedestrian traffic boarding and disembarking from the escalators – to avoid too many clashes.  I followed the signs for the washrooms up onto the bridge concourse, but the signs stop there. A temporary design fix (information booth) was placed in the centre of the airport style open bridge concourse. I asked where the nearest washrooms were, On platform 12b.

On platform 12b?!

Almost all the pedestrian traffic goes through the bridge concourse and they didn’t put any washrooms there? How bizarre. The architect doesn’t appear to have thought of the station as a place where humans move in predictable patterns with predictable needs. The retrospective design fixes interrupt the ‘beautiful’ lines of the building.

Design Fail

3 bits of fabulous banter »

Leicester Forest East

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013 | tags: , ,  |

Leicester Forrest EastI remember being taken to Leicester Forest East service station as a child. It was a big event, my parents paid for the silver service restaurant meal for the whole family. We sat over the M1 watching the traffic roar passed underneath while being treated to a quality meal.

The M1 was the first British motorway, my parents remember before the UK Motorway system was built. I can’t find a reference to it, but I think this was the first of the modern motorway service stations.

It’s gradually become like all the other service stations, lacking the stunning uniqueness that it had when I was a kiddy.

As a post-graduate student at Loughborough University in the late 80’s we would drive out to Leicester Forest East after a night clubbing. When Loughborough closed, Leicester Forest East was open 24 hours serving burgers and coffee. A place to hang-out and watch the waifs and strays taking a break on their journeys. Fond memories. It’s scheduled to close in 2017 to make space for a wider motorway. The end of an era.


2 bits of fabulous banter »

windows colours

Sunday, February 10th, 2013 | tags: ,  |

RolexThis Rolex store in Wilmslow appears to be based in what was once a movie theatre. The tall coloured windows are something I associate with UK movie theatre architecture.

Late in the evening the coloured windows provide light, warmth, colour and a smile to the cold, dark, windy street. The colourful light made me smile. The colours are the colours of the Microsoft windows logo.


Without directly promoting products this Rolex store has promoted good spirit in a way that anyone, irrespective of income, can share.

Love it!

3 bits of fabulous banter »

day tripping

Monday, April 16th, 2012 | tags: , , , , ,  |

GoodiesFinnicky details like ‘not being in Durham‘ and ‘not being surrounded by Maples’ do not detract from the fabulousness of Mapledurham house (and mill, turbine, tea-rooms, village, riverside)

It is a well preserved Elizabethan building on the banks of the river Thames, a couple of miles outside Reading town. Getting there involved a 2 mile drive down a winding single-track country road bounded by 10ft ancient hedgerows. Thomas and I had to use our skills for

  • looking around corners
  • braking
  • swerving
  • reversing
  • pulling into the hedgerow, breathing-in and closing our eyes/headlamps

Actual cogs and wheels Drawings of Cogs and wheels A friend recently bought the derelict Flitwick Mill, that is mentioned in the Doomsday book (1066 AD). Looking around the Mapledurham mill gave me an insight into how the Flitwick mill might have looked and sounded. I loved the sound of the creaking cogs transferring the power of the waterwheel to the millstone.

Other highlights of the mill included the

Lots of lovely things in the actual house, staircases, wood panneling, furniture, textiles, fireplaces…..

I kept a look-out for woodcarvings or plaster mouldings of similar design to the carving on my new, old, bench.  They might help me to ‘date’ the bench. I din’t find any, I’ll keep looking….

House Front



5 bits of fabulous banter »

Finding the Maudsley

Friday, February 10th, 2012 | tags: , ,  |

Centre for AnxietyMaudsley Hospital EntranceFinding Maudsley Hospital was straightforward especially with a sign that says ‘main entrance’ and an ‘i’ for information

The “Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma” sounds like just the ticket for Tiger.  He’s been talking using phrases like “I get very anxious” and “it was  traumatic” since before he even got to hospital. The sign label for the centre clearly maps to his, and my, more colloquial language

The entrance area was deserted except for a young man who looked of African origin sitting behind a desk wearing headphones. I could hear loud music escaping from his headphones. When he noticed me walking towards him he took off the headphones, switched the music off, turned to face me and gave a wonderful big smile. He was both cheerful and helpful. The place feels small and personable despite it’s obvious size

CorridorThe walls are covered in photographs of key influential people in the history of the hospital and patients doing all sorts of things, mainly smiling. Natural daylight falls into the main corridors. Walking the corridors doesn’t feel like being trapped in subterranean tunnels – my normal experience of big hospitals. The architects have clearly thought carefully about helping the building provide things that raise spirits like natural daylight. throughout the building there were many more windows than normal in hospitals or other buildings of this period

Speak UpSubtle signs demonstrate that this hospital genuinely listens to their patients and treats them with respect

Wouldn’t it be good if all hospital architecture, signage and decor could create this kind of caring supportive impression for their patients

3 bits of fabulous banter »

one small letter can mean so much

Thursday, October 13th, 2011 | tags: , , , , ,  |

The wedding practice-party mingle in the sunshine outside St James and St William of York church. I skirt the party and slip into the substantial entrance porch of Pugin‘s psuedo Norman church. A handsome young man in the porch is talking on his mobile phone:

I’d just like you to take the “a” off the end of my name. At the moment it looks like two girls are getting married – Nicola and Alexa. My  name is Alex not Alexa. Please just put it right

I imagine the wedding with the grooms name miss-spelt as a girls name. If they are having the rehearsal, the wedding is probably fairly soon, I am impressed at how well the groom maintains a semblance of calm as he delivers his plea


2 bits of fabulous banter »

land lines

Friday, October 7th, 2011 | tags: , , , ,  |

The telephone pole’s spider silk lightly clings to the nearby houses

Burder street telephone lines

I wonder how long this will last when a substantial swathe of people find it easier to get connected and  manage thier bills using a “Pay as you go” mobile phone – no connection charge, no deposit if you have no credit history….

3 bits of fabulous banter »

cloud making

Monday, October 3rd, 2011 | tags: ,  |

This autumn the dragons that live in the caverns beneath the cloud making machines are taking a long, deep, extra Indian summer snooze before they start hailing winter by breathing steam, clouds, into the cold air

Let’s hear it for the sleeping dragons below the cloud making machines, whisper “Hip Hip…..Hoorah…..”  and let the sleeping dragons lie

Ratcliffe on Soar cooling towersRatcliffe-on-Soar dragons breathing tubes for making clouds



Light summer cloud creation Willington hinting at a few light clouds before dusk




Didcot cloud towers - 3 weather witchesDidcot towers basking in the noon-day sunshine.

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Urban art

Monday, September 19th, 2011 | tags: , , , , ,  |

This August Bristol hosted a “see no evil” ‘block’ party, in a street dominated by 1970’s blocky, brutalist style architecture, Nelson Street:

“Some of the world’s leading street artists, some of the biggest pieces of permanent street art, some of the best music and one big block party August 20 2011!”

Artists included:

  • Tats Cru (NY)
  • El Mac (LA)
  • Niels Shoe (Amsterdam)
  • Mr Wany (Bristini)
  • Inkie (Bristol)
  • Aryz (Barcelona)
  • Zeus (UK)
  • Nick Walker (UK)

The artwork transformed places you might quickly walk through on your way somewhere else to places you go to linger. The varied pictures and styles change moods, raise questions, touch the soul. Bros 1957 and I lingered there, talking, smiling, photographing for several hours

to the car park

2 bits of fabulous banter »

inspirational places

Saturday, September 17th, 2011 | tags: , , , ,  |

The sound of christian church bells calling people to prayer cheerfully echos around the Wendy House garden on a Sunday morning. In April London Road, Wokingham Road, Cumberland Road, adjoining streets and park come alive with orange clad Sikh’s singing and sharing goodwill in the streets for Nagar Kirtan

MosqueUntil recently there were only a couple of Mosques in Reading town. Converted buildings rather than purpose built. Can you imagine approximately 10,000 local Muslims using a couple of tiny converted buildings?

Reading town’s first purpose built Abu Bakr Masjid Islamic centre is part of the solution, and nearly complete. It adds wonderful colour, spirituality and architectural interest to the already diverse and vibrant Oxford Road

It’s on the outstanding Number 17 bus route. Alas, it’s not big enough for 10,000 muslims

Another beautifully architected Mosque is now planned for East Reading, also on the awesome Number 17 bus route

Reading town feels multi-cultrual and as-if people care about more than just the acquisitiveness of capitalism


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retrospectively great expectations

Sunday, August 21st, 2011 | tags: , ,  |

Great Expectation (London St)In its short lifetime of 169 years, 33 London street has hosted diverse cultural activities – institute, theatre, church then pub

Local authoress Ms Mary Russell Mitford laid the foundation stone of the “New Hall” in 1842. Contemporary writing refers to the New Hall as either the “Literary, Scientific and Mechanics Institute” or the “Theatre Royal”.  The Institute appears to be part of a social movement that started in Wales to ensure adults of all classes, probably men, had the opportunity to learn about the arts and sciences. It provided a place they could go that had useful stuff like a library and events, for example plays

At the building’s opening in 1843 Charles Dickens read from his work. Some sources say he read from “Great Expectations” and others “Pickwick papers”

The building is later refered to as “The primitive methodist chapel” I wasn’t able to find clear, confirmed dates for this, or a reason why the Institute moved out of the building

Now it’s a public house and hotel named after the Dickens’ book  “Great Expectations”. The ground floor of the pub still has a library room

2 bits of fabulous banter »


Saturday, January 15th, 2011 | tags: , , ,  |

SheffieldTardisIn the cult BBC drama ‘Dr. Who’ the Dr travels in a time machine called the TARDIS (type 40) that uses a ‘chameleon circuit to change its outer visible form to fit with the local surroundings.

Unfortunately the chameleon circuit broke when the TARDIS was disguised as a 1950’s London blue Police box. They are essentially a mini police station for use by Police people, and members of the public can use them to (phone) call the police. Police boxes were first used in Albany NY (1877) soon after the telephone was invented! The first boxes in Britain were placed in Glasgow (1891).

By the time I was old enough to visit London (1970s) the London police boxes had long since been removed.

This green police box is alive today, in Sheffield!

Seeing this Box kept me happy for weeks, I hope the photograph does something pleasing for you too …

3 bits of fabulous banter »

before the people

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011 | tags: , ,  |

Covent GardenAt 11am on a January morning. Covent Garden wakes late and stays up late. I like the quiet charm before the

shoppers arrive

tourists arrive

theatre, opera and ballet attendees arrive

Covent Garden sparkles in the evening with laughter and smiles, people warmly dressed and chattering, clicking heels and long dresses, Dinner Jackets and cigars. Full of people it is a different place, just as beautiful

2 bits of fabulous banter »

octagonal church tower

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010 | tags: ,  |

Octagonal church towerIn the infamous Dioscese of Bath and Wells Ilchester, the 13th Century church of St Mary Major has a 50 ft high octagonal tower. The first octagonal church tower that I’d ever seen

According to the church guidebook Jane Austen’s aunt was imprisoned in the local Gaol for shoplifting


1 wonderful musing »

door mouse and elephant tea party

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010 | tags: ,  |

Kensington Palace groundsThe views from this Kensignton Palace building must have been severely hampered by the modern Hotel building behind. At first I was horrified that town planners had let this happen, surely people vociferously complained when they saw the plans?

Then the sheer perversity of the juxtaposition began to work a subversive magic on my taste. The smaller building looked so much more cute because of its unassuming presence in the shadow of a large and ugly Hotel.

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Streets in the sky

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010 | tags: , , , , , ,  |

I first heard of the Park Hill estate during my undergraduate environmental psychology classes in 1986.  The architect’s, Ivor Smith and Jack Lynn’s, vision for a high rise estate to replace sprawling slums in the northern English city of Sheffield with “Streets in the Sky”. Streets in the sky would recreate the strengths of the communities which had flourished in the back to back slums and provide improved living conditions at a bargain price. Taking people out of small, damp, Victorian terraces where  kids played in the streets and giving them streets in the sky with views over the city, inside toilets, covered walkways, balcony’s where children could play and neighbours could chat, with room for attractive open park land around the high rise buildings.  Smith and Lynn’s designs were heavily influenced by Le Corbuiser’s Breton Brut as evident in his Marseilles Unité d’Habitation. Breton Brut became known in Britain as ‘Brutalism’,  simple functional form. They wanted to build in a sense of neighbourliness into these functional spaces.

These changes were intended to improve the standard of living for people now living in a slum area locally know as ‘Little Chicago’ in the gangster era.  The Park Hill estate was completed in 1961 with 995 flats that could house over two thousand people overlooking Sheffield city centre. Front doors opened to a 12 ft wide balcony, a street, that runs right across the estate over bridges between buildings.  Milk floats could trundle from door to door along streets named the same asthose in the original slums they replaced.  People that were neighbours in the slums were rehoused next to each other.

Worthy, admirable intentions

When built,  the social ideal didn’t happen

The estate soon became known as Sheffield’s San Quentin. The failure of the original design vision has been blamed on many things including

  • easy access routes for muggers
  • poor sound insulation
  • the streets being open to the inclement Sheffield weather
  • the building’s ugliness
  • the poverty of the occupants

In 1998 Park Hill became the largest grade 2  listed building in europe.

This centruy English Heritage, Urban Splash and Sheffield city council have been renovating Park Hill.

It’s difficult to tell from the publicity what is being changed to make the project work  as a successful place to live this time. A recent BBC TV programme about the renovation focussed on English heritage’s aesthetic and structural requirements for preservation not mentioning any changes to the space aimed at improving the occupants expereince of living there. The programme made the vision appear less social that the original. So what will have changed since it first opened?  It looks like the renovation will be

  • It’s prettier with bright rainbow colours
  • occupants will not all be council tenants, some will be home owners and some shared ownership. They will be a different socio-economic mix
  • the streets will not be open to the Sheffield weather
  • living there comes with the kudos of living in a classic listed building

5 bits of fabulous banter »

piercing humour

Saturday, June 5th, 2010 | tags: , , ,  |

Turin was littered with clever and humerous architecture, sculpture, art.  It was a pleasure to wander the streets and ride the trams. There was a bravery, passion , wit and optimism about the city that appealed to me.

what do you think of that »

City Angels on via Roma

Friday, June 4th, 2010 | tags: , , , ,  |

The via Roma runs from the Porto Nuova train station (1861) through three gorgous city piazza’s (Castello, San Carlo, Carlo Felice) to the Palazzo Reale.  The roads facade is a classic Italian art Deco (1933) style that houses designer, expensive stores (and footlocker).  We noticed some ‘city angels’ wandering along the street.  Commmunity policing?  Free accociating with art deco, with 1933, brings thoughts of Hitlers rise to power, the German ‘brownshirts‘.  Though technically speaking the city angels are wearing red shirts. 

Suprised that my mind so easily sees echo’s of fascisim in places it has been…

2 bits of fabulous banter »

looking for a guide

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009 | tags: , , , ,  |

Oxfam art nouveau shop frontWith the quick approach of my HOLIDAY to CAIRO I skipped out  in search of some Holiday reading. Normally I pop into the tiny yet beautiful Reading Oxfam.   The friendly staff and customers chat, the book choice is excellent,  always something to inspire and entice.

One of my friends has recently moved to Cairo and made a specific request for a copy of the Lonely Planet guide to Egypt.   Alas, the local Oxfam cold not deliver

A short walk to the Waterstones chain, a small Victorian style shop front.   Inside the store is like the TARDIS   it goes backwards and upwards,   from house to house with glass roofs between.   The store is architecturally beautifully designed and maintains unusual features such as  the mezannine floor pictured below

Once I stopped looking at the architecture and started looking at book shelves   I was lost with no idea of where  the ‘Travel’  section might be.   Looking at the labeling on the shelves only tells you what is here,   not where something that is elsewhere might be.   Unperturbed I wandered over to the foot of the stairs (both of them)  expecting to find a list of the sections on each floor.   Nothing.

Waterstones in ReadingThe  front door did not offer a guide to the store store layout with the sections identified.     The cash and information desk by the door was being stormed by an outsized  orderly  queue of people.   Glancing  back into  the huge store I felt a little overwhelmed and wandered in looking at shelf labels and the people nearby,   which are the staff who might help me?   Before full panic could set-in, eye contact with a lady….

Lady: Can I help you?

Wendy:   Do you have a map of the store layout?

Lady: What section would you like?

Wendy:   Is there a display showing where the sections are?

Lady:   No,   I’m working on that,  what section would you like?

Wendy: Travel

Lady: upstairs ahead through the arch,   on the right hand wall arranged in alphabetical order by country

Wendy: Thank you,  love the display thing you’re working on

2 bits of fabulous banter »

warehouse wanderings

Monday, March 23rd, 2009 | tags: , ,  |

During 1980, like any self-respecting UK punk, I would indulge myself in freeform meandering  around deserted warehouses.  

In those days who didn’t?    

The right  warehouses were quite good places to hide from the strange people that send messages describing our past in ways I don’t remember.   Gradually, deserted warehouses became harder to find as rampant film crews,   homeless people, musicians and punks  sought their particular ambience.      

OMD sang Messages

3 bits of fabulous banter »


Friday, March 13th, 2009 | tags: , ,  |

Fire escapeEmergency exit from a Northern English office building.

Using the helter skelter  is an anytime activity, not reserved for emergencies.

I didn’t check if there was a helipad on the roof for emergency entrances.

6 bits of fabulous banter »


Thursday, March 12th, 2009 | tags: ,  |

National TheatreThe title of this architectural style certainly captures my experience of its implementation.  

Why would architects want to impose brutalism on their users?   I’ve not quite grapsed the subtlety here.   Maybe there isn’t any subtlety.   Any public building that requires it’s users undertake a training course in order to understand it is a public building that has failed on at least one experience level.

The Royal National Theatre on London’s south bank is a Grade II listed building,   a brutalist building.  I do not appreciate Brutalist buildings.   It reminds me of Portsmouth’s now defunct Tricorn Centre.

2 bits of fabulous banter »


Saturday, June 28th, 2008 | tags: ,  |

Not ‘Our father’ in a christian sense,   in a continuously circulating open entry elevator sense  like a vertical escalator!   I coudn’t find any explanation of why this name was applied to this type of elevator,   maybe because it felt so scary that you were advised to say some Paternosters before attempting to jump onto it.   Of its origins  the elevator museum say:

Englishman Hart developed idea of a continuous human bucket elevator called “The Paternoster.” 1884 — J & E Hall installed the first Cyclic lift (Paternoster) in England.

Things are developed and possibly patented at different times in different countries,   with different names and different design details,   the US patent for a Paternoster style elevator  was granted in 1934.

In the early 1980’s Aston University’s main science building had a working Paternoster inside  to the left of where  where the external ‘sky lift’  was added in the late 1980’s.   I vaguely remember that it ran between the 2nd and 7th (top) floors.

It was good fun jumping on and off the ever-moving Paternoster,  especially during the then annual Charter (May )Ball in the early hours of the morning wearing a ball gown and under the influence of cheerful freinds and alcohol.   Many people would not use it because it just didn’t look safe.


3 bits of fabulous banter »