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The Review - BOOKS
Published: 1 May 2008
Palmers Pets on Parkway
Palmers Pets on Parkway
Stories behind closed doors

Dan Carrier takes stock of some of the derelict sites of London which ‘deserve to be celebrated’
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TO many people they are eyesores, signs of a decaying and decrepit city – London at its worst.

But for photographer Paul Talling, derelict buildings across the capital are a key fabric of our city.
A keen walker, Mr Talling began to take pictures of rundown sites he stumbled across, and soon had enough to set up a website –
From the stream of traffic it generated – 700,000 hits – he realised he was not alone in finding these sad, empty shells haunting.
Now he has published a book featuring some of his favourite sites and the stories behind them.
“My fascination with derelict London buildings dates back to 2003 when I noticed an abandoned candle factory in Wandsworth was finally succumbing to the wrecker ball,” he reveals.
“There was something poignant about seeing this once vibrant building finally biting the dust and it prompted me to keep a casual eye out for other buildings tottering on the edge of extinction.”
He says he soon became obsessed – “to my slight horror” – and could not resist wandering through city streets, camera at the ready, to record the decline and eventual fall of once-­useful buildings.
“Some seem scandalous to me,” he says.
“No one could walk past the Lighthouse Buildings in King’s Cross without wishing that someone would take them in hand and restore them to their original glory. In some cases, though, I have to confess that dereliction is a blessing: it’s hard to imagine that anyone ever very much liked the Island Block on Westminster Bridge roundabout or that people will miss the bleak Ferrier estate [in south London] when it finally disappears.
“But for the most part I think the buildings I have recorded simply show how London is and always has been: an endlessly changing and evolving city.
“Old factories and wharves lie abandoned, but others come back to life as shopping centres and homes.
“All the buildings are reminders of bygone days. Each one is full of stories that shed light on the city. London’s dere­lict buildings deserve to be celebrated just as much as its new developments.”
And some of those featured are landmarks, whose dereliction should be a matter of concern not just to conservationists.
Take the Intrepid Fox. The Soho pub shut up shop in 2006 and has lain empty ever since, despite its interesting history and the role it played at the heart of Soho life.
The name comes from the Whig politician Charles Fox, who was heavily involved in the power play between George III and his son, the Prince Regent.
It is said the publican offered free beer to anyone who would offer his friend Fox their political support, and even named his inn after him.
In more recent years the pub was the scene of other intrigues: it is said Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart had a set-to in the bar after Mick persuaded Small Faces guitarist Ronnie Wood to join the Stones, much to Stewart’s annoyance.
Other buildings featured tell of family businesses closed due to retirement – or competition. The Tea Rooms, at number 11 High Holborn, attracted Paul’s camera. He was particularly moved by the sign in the window that reads: “The tea rooms have now closed after 44 years of happy trading. I would like to thank all my customers who showed their loyal support through the years. I will miss you all dearly. God Bless. Mrs Reni Corsini.”
A sign of change, for good or bad, and a city that is never still.
• Derelict London. By Paul Talling.
Random House £9.99.

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