Treats, as we know, come in many sizes. London often serves them up big. Enormous, crowd pleasing, hot ticket items: Alexander McQueen, Dominic West in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, New Year’s Eve fireworks. But there are plenty of little treasures that require only admiring eyes and, in my case, a pair of good walking boots. And so with an adventurous spirit, a good friend and relief that the rain had taken a brief break, off we set for a stroll through Battersea. There, tucked away on a small street, we found the magnificent Battersea In Perspective. A mural, painted by Brian Barnes in 1988, of Battersea big shots and progressive thinkers from the early part of the previous century. John Archer, London’s first black mayor, said, when he took office in 1913, that the world “will look at Battersea and say, “It is the greatest thing you have done. You have shown that you have no racial prejudice.” Charlotte Depard, activist, fought to have women from the sweatshops included in the suffragette movement, a mostly middle class concern. When the vote was finally won, she continued to work on behalf of the poor, especially women, and opened her home to the community providing meals and a drop-in clinic for those in need. John Burns, a politician and Britain’s first working-class cabinet minister, was instrumental in the creation of Latchmere Estate. Whatever we may think of estates like this today, back then they allowed working class families to escape slum landlords, whose properties were often unsanitary and dangerous. Hilda Hewlett, born in Vauxhall (guess that is close enough to Battersea to count), became Britain’s first female pilot. Alliott Verdon Roe started his aircraft manufacturing company, AV Roe & Co, in 1910, in a Battersea railway arch. Eustance and Oswald Short also started their aircraft manufacturing business, Short Brothers, in a Battersea railway arch, and one of their gas balloons, built in 1908 or so, is featured at the top of the mural. Also pictured is the Battersea Power Station, the Peace Pagoda, Chelsea and Battersea Bridges and of course the park itself.
While studying the mural with its many worthies what struck us wasn’t just the fact that someone took the time to capture Battersea and some of its forgotten heroes, but that all the causes they stood for are still very much in need of heroes today. Racism, poor housing, gender inequality, health care, hunger…we haven’t really achieved much at all, have we? Well, at least we can remember a few people who tried.
Our second find was only a short walk but whole world away. The sweetly named Battersea Flower Station, squeezed into an alley along railway tracks, is easy to miss. A garden center that uses the awkwardness of the space and debris of the city to best advantage. Friendly staff and curious plants, the kind of place that makes me think I might take up gardening, if only I had any knack for it. I was, however, inspired by the Moshi Monsters set in concrete slab. Now that is a project I could embrace, given the number of plastic creatures I still have in my basement. Even on a cold, dreary, January day this little gem has a certain magic…..