Archive for December, 2021

Thames Path: Maidenhead – Marlow

Friday, December 31st, 2021

Thames Path: Maidenhead – Marlow – A New Year’s Eve Walk

Back in 2007 our New Year’s Eve walk was a little more distant than we will attempt this year, though we started from the same place. This year public transport will be rather less available and less reliable than it was 14 years ago, thanks only partly to Covid which this year will put many train and bus drivers into isolation at short notice.


But we’ve seen an increasing trend over recent years to close various rail lines for engineering works over all of our holiday periods, and travelling anywhere on New Year’s Eve had begun increasingly to resemble Russian Roulette. I can’t understand why the railways now seem to need so many more closures for repairs than they used to; perhaps less work is now carried out overnight.

Ray Mill Island behind Boulters Lock, Maidenhead

We spent a few years walking the Thames Path, from the Estuary beyond its official ending to the source, taking the route in short sections, perhaps ten or twelve miles at a time, with the start and finish determined by where trains and buses could take us until we were some way west of Oxford. It was only for the final three days from Hinton Waldrist to Kemble we had to spend a couple of nights staying at Buscot and Cricklade.

Protected by Laser Security

But to get to Maidenhead we had to take a train to Windsor & Eton Riverside, run from there to Windsor Central to take the train to Slough where we could change for the train to Maidenhead. And after our walk to Marlow we could catch a train back to Maidenhead, another to Slough and then Windsor. At least on the return journey we had time to walk for the connection. It worked in 2007, but the chances of 4 trains running without any cancellations in the early evening of New Years Eve 2021 seem low.

Cliveden woods and River Thames

The section from Maidenhead to Marlow is only around 8 miles, though as usual we made a few detours on the way to explore some of the places it took us through. As the pictures show, the day was a dull one and I left the pictures making that clear rather than try to brighten them up.

Cookham Parish Church

The pictures on My London Diary are generally in the order of the route, and the captions there give some information about the walk. On the introductory page I wrote a very short text, and here it is in full (with the odd typo corrected):

The Thames path between Maidenhead and Marlow is quite picturesque, but full of evidence of how the rich get rich by theft. Anyone attempting to tow their boat will find that large sections of the towpath are now fenced in as private property. For walkers, the lack of access opposite Cliveden is annoying – you can really only see this part of the Thames from the river.

Maidenhead – Marlow
The Stanley Spencer Gallery is in the former chapel at the centre of the old village of Cookham

Parts of the route were familiar to me from earlier walks, and I’d recommend doing this walk on a day of the year when the Stanley Spencer Gallery in Cookham is open – and there are also several pubs worthy of some attention where I wasn’t allowed this time to linger.

I think these paired triangles which are navigational transit markers, placed in pairs a set distance apart for craft to time how long they take between them and thus calculate their speed.

On Marlow Bridge I photographed the seals which state SIGIL DE DESBRO and back in 2007 I invited people to e-mail me to explain these. Sigil is simply an archaic word for a seal or pictorial symbol, from the Latin ‘sigillum’. De for ‘of’ comes from the Norman invasion and Desbro is a shortened form of Desborough, one of the three Chiltern Hundreds which dates back to pre-Norman times, though then made up of a number of smaller hundreds.

But by the time the bridge was built the hundreds were largely or entirely historical, and the Chiltern Hundreds last had a real steward in the sixteenth century. In 1624 it was made illegal for Members of Parliament to retire from office, and still are appointed as either ‘Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds’ or of the Manor of Northstead as a legal fiction enabling them to do so.

Marlow Bridge and Church

The name Desborough came back into use in 1905 when William Henry Grenfell who had been an MP for 25 years and made is home in Taplow was sent to the House of Lords as the 1st Baron Desborough. For 35 years he was President of the Thames Conservancy Board and was responsible for the Desborough Cut, a navigational shortcut on the Thames between Walton and Weybridge which, together with the island it created were named after him.

Looking back towards Bourne End

Given there is little or no commercial traffic on the Thames the creation of the cut now seems rather pointless. Although it saves around 1.2 km on the route, the longer passage is far more interesting. But it was perhaps more a scheme to create jobs for men in the depression than anything else.

More at Maidenhead – Marlow.

Hampstead & Belsize 1988

Thursday, December 30th, 2021

Heath St, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7k-26-positive_2400
Heath St, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7k-26

Hampstead & Belsize 1988 These pictures are from the second part of a lengthy walk from Swiss Cottage. They start with a long section through Hampstead and on to Hampstead Heath, in which I took relatively few pictures.

Looking at my contact sheets I can trace my route down Hampstead High St and Rosslyn Hill along Pond St to South End Green and then north to Hampstead Ponds, where I probably sat to eat my sandwiches before taking a look at South Hill Park Gardens, going down Keats Grove past Keats House, then down past St John’s on Downshire Hill and across Rosslyn Hill and along Thurlow Rd to Lyndhurst Terrace and to Lyndhurst Rd.

But although there is nothing wrong with the pictures I took on that eaction of the walk, none of them excited my attention enough for me to mark them up for digitisation and putting them on-line – and the sequence of over 20 frames is one of the longest gaps in making my on-line albums. Perhaps I should add a few more to the album.

Lyndhurst Rd, Eldon Grove, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7l-44-positive_2400
Lyndhurst Rd, Eldon Grove, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7l-44

This unusual building on the corner of Lyndhurst Road and Eldon Grove has its own street name, Tower Close. There appear to be five properties here, each valued at between £2.4m and £3.69m. I think it was probably fairly recently built when I photographed it in 1988 and I found it both unusual and unusually ugly; my picture is far too kind.

Girl Guides, Girl Scouts, World Centre,  Lyndhurst Rd, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7l-46
Girl Guides, Girl Scouts, World Centre, Lyndhurst Rd, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7l-46

Olave House moved here in 1984. Previously the building had been Rosslyn Lodge, once home to the Earl of Rosslyn, and was converted into offices for the Girl Guides. The west wing of the house had been demolished and a new building at the west of the site was opened as a Guide hostel and conference centre, Pax Lodge, in 1991.

Rosslyn Lodge, a small villa, according to the Victoria County History, “was rebuilt, probably between 1799 and 1802, and was described in 1808 as new, with four bedrooms, a double coach house, and gardener’s house.” In the First World War was loaned by its owner to became the Rosslyn Lodge Auxiliary Military Hospital, which closed in 1919. Later it became a nurses home.

Hunters Lodge, Belsize Lane, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7l-33-positive_2400
Hunters Lodge, Belsize Lane, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7l-33

The Grade II listing text describes this tersely as “Detached cottage ornee. c1810. By Joseph Parkinson. For William Tate. Stucco.” though it goes on to give rather more detail.

It concludes with a historical note from the Camden History Society “William Tate, merchant, was a lessee of the Baltic merchant George Todd who acquired a large piece of Belsize Park in 1808. Parkinson exhibited the designs for Langwathby, as it was then known, at the Royal Academy in 1810.” Langwathby is a small village in Cumbria on the River Eden around 5 miles north east of Penrith, and was probably the birthplace of William Tate.

Belsize Crescent, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7l-22-positive_2400
Belsize Crescent, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7l-22

Belsize Crescent according again to the Victoria County History, was constructed as Prince Consort Road in 1865 and was sublet by Daniel Tidey to another builder, William Willett in 1869. Before Tidey went bust in 1870 he had built over 250 houses in Belsize Park. After 1870 Willett was the main builder in the area, building houses in Belsize Avenue, Lyndhurst Gardens and Wedderburn Road.

Belsize Crescent, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7l-23-positive_2400
Belsize Crescent, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7l-23

Tidey had built houses in Italianate stucco, but Willett’s were in red brick, and again according to the VCH “were solidly constructed and set a new artistic standard for speculative architecture… they were red-brick and varied in design, many of them by the Willetts’ own architects Harry B. Measures and, after 1891, Amos Faulkner.”

Belsize Lane, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7l-26-positive_2400
Belsize Lane, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7l-26

William Willett’s son, also William Willett and like his father a builder, is the man you have to thank or curse for ‘Summer Time’ introduced by the Summer Time Act 1916. It had been suggested by others many years before but it was thanks to his campaigning it became law the year following his death.

Probably he wanted to get more hours of work out his builders at a time when building work was reliant on daylight with little or no artificial lighting. Fortunately we got a simpler version than his earlier proposal which would have seen us moving the clocks on four Sundays in both April and October by 20 minute steps – giving a total of 80 minutes change and doubtless massive confusion.

My walk will continue in a later post.

Click on any of the images above and you will be taken to a larger version in my album 1988 London Pictures from where you can browse the album.

Around Swiss Cottage 1988

Wednesday, December 29th, 2021

Sigmund Freud, sculpture, Oscar Nemon, Swiss Cottage Library, South Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7h-61-positive_2400
Sigmund Freud, sculpture, Oscar Nemon, Fitzjohn’s Avenue, Belsize Lane, South Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7h-61

Around Swiss Cottage 1988: Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) escaped from Austria after it was annexed by Nazi Germany and came to London, spending his final year until his death in the house in Maresfield Gardens which now houses the Freud Museum. Croatian sculptor Oscar Nemon made three busts of Freud for his 75th birthday in 1931 and visited him in London in 1938 to make a final bust on which the head of this sculpture was based. Funds were later raised for him to create this bronze sculpture which was unveiled in 1970 next to Swiss Cottage Library where I photographed it.

In 1998 it was moved to a more prominent position at the junction of Fitzjohn’s Avenue and Belsize Lane and it was Grade II listed in 2016.

Taplow, Winchester Rd, Swiss Cottage, Camden, 1988 88-7h-63-positive_2400
Taplow, Winchester Rd, Swiss Cottage, Camden, 1988 88-7h-63

The five tower blocks of the Chalcots Estate where built for the London Borough of Camden in 1967-8. Taplow, Burnham, Bray, and Dorney are 23 storeys while Blashford has 19. The land was owned by Eton College and the names come for the area around Eton.

Cladding was added to the towers in 2006 by the same companies that clad Grenfell Tower but using fire-resistant rock-wool. When a fire broke out in a flat in Taplow in 2012 the fire was contained and did not spread and there were no deaths.

Embassy Theatre, Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, Camden, London, 1988 88-7k-61-positive_2400
Embassy Theatre, Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, Camden, London, 1988 88-7k-61

Originally a stucco double-fronted Italianate Victorian villa, it was converted in 1890 into the Eton Avenue Hall for the Hampstead Conservatoire, a prestigious private music college; Cecil Sharp the great collector of English folk song was its principal from 1896-1905 and composer Arnold Bax one of his pupils.

The building was converted again after the college had closed and opened as the Embassy Theatre in 1928, with a school of acting from 1932. Damaged in the war it reopened in 1945, continuing as a theatre until 1956 when it was sold to the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, now a college of London University.

College Crescent, South Hamnpstead,  Camden, 1988 88-7k-63-positive_2400
College Crescent, South Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7k-63

College Crescent was built by the Eyre family who were (and are) major landowners in Swiss Cottage and parts of Hampstead, with the first houses built in the late 1840s. Initially it was named as three streets, College Villas Road, College Terrace and College Crescent.

40 College Crescent was not one of the original houses, but was built around 1880 on the site of Abbey Farm Lodge as the family home for Samuel Palmer or Huntley and Palmer’s biscuit firm in Reading. Following his death this area of open space with a drinking fountain and shelter – as its inscription states – “presented to the Borough of Hampstead for the public benefit in memory of the late Samuel Palmer of Northcourt, Hampstead by his widow and family. 1904”. It was Grade II listed in 1993.

St. Thomas More, Roman Catholic, Church, Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7k-64-positive_2400
St. Thomas More, Roman Catholic, Church, Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7k-64

In 1938 the Archbishop of Westminster bought Hyme House at 3 Fitzjohn’s Avenue, for some years the studio of successful society portrait painter Philip de László (1869-1937) as the first English home for the Swiss-based Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross. The Sisters converted the studio into a church and bought the next two houses on the street to set up a girls school which they ran until 1985, after which it became a hotel.

In 1950 the studio had become too small and a second church was built on the site, but further expansion made this inadequate. The current church, built a restricted site on tennis courts at the back of the house and fronting onto Maresfield Gardens was designed by Gerard Goalen following the Second Vatican Council to maximise participation of the laity in the Mass. It was Grade II listed in 2016.

Netherhall Gardnes, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7k-42-positive_2400
Netherhall Gardens, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7k-42

A very rectangular house with a gate made largely of circles, but with the ironwork on the top of the gate reflecting the only non-rectangular feature of the frontage, and carefully positioned on top of it.

The Tower, Fitzjohn's Ave, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7k-46-positive_2400
The Tower, Fitzjohn’s Ave, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7k-46

An irresistable Gothic fantasy. Development in this area had been prevented for years after the death of the estate owner Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson in 1821, whose will prevented his sons building on the land, and efforts by his son (confusingly of exactly the same name) to get the will amended came to nothing. When he died, his brother Sir John inherited and was able to make a deal making part of the estate a part of Hampstead Heath and making development possible in other areas.

The Tower, Fitzjohn's Ave, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7k-32-positive_2400
The Tower, Fitzjohn’s Ave, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7k-32

Sir John divided the estate in 1873 with his son Sir Spencer Maryon Wilson who developed Priory Road and Fitzjohn’s Avenue from 1875 on, as a wide road with wide pavements linking Swiss Cottage and Hampstead which was described by Harpers Magazine a few years later as “one of the noblest streets in the world”.

The Tower, Fitzjohn's Ave, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7k-33-positive_2400
The Tower, Fitzjohn’s Ave, Hampstead, Camden, 1988 88-7k-33

A much quoted Camden History Society article describes the Tower at No 25 as an ornate mansion which is now “a fine example of ‘Disneyland Gothic'”. The building with 25 rooms dates from 1880-1, its architect JT Wimperis, a very prolific Victorian architect for Herbert Fleming Baxter (1839-1905), an extremely wealthy American merchant who was a part of a family with extensive estates in Shropshire. The house has been restored and is now divided into flats. Rather surprisingly it was not Grade II listed until 1999.

My walk will continue in a later post.

Click on any of the pictures to go to a larger version in the album 1988 London Photos, from where you can browse through the album.

After Christmas – Brentford to Hammersmith

Tuesday, December 28th, 2021

After Christmas – Brentford to Hammersmith was one of our more interesting walks in London to walk off our Christmas excesses in recent years. For once I’m not sticking religiously to my usual practice and this was three years AND one day ago, and the four of us set out on 27th December 2018.

Often in recent years we’ve gone away in the period after Christmas to visit one of our sons and his family in Derbyshire, with some great walks in the areas around where they have lived, and there are pictures from these on My London Diary, but in 2018 my other son and his wife were staying with us and came for this walk.

Public transport in the period between Christmas and New Year is at best restricted and rather unreliable, and 2018 was no exception and this always limits our starting point. Even for this relatively local walk what would have been just a short direct train meant taking the train to Twickenham and then catching a local bus to Brentford. And on our return trip again a bus took us back to Twickenham for the train home. It meant less time for walking and we had to abandon the idea of actually going inside Chiswick House in order to complete the relatively short walk of 5-6 miles before it got dark.

Brentford, and particularly the Grand Union Canal where we began our walk is now very different from how I remember it – and indeed since I first went back to photograph it in the 1970s. Commercial traffic on the Grand Union came more or less to an end in the early 1970s. What was once canal docks and wharves by the lock where boats were gauged and tolls charged the sheds have been replaced by rather uglier flats and a small marina.

Walking by the canal towards its junction with the River Thames there are areas which still look much as they did years ago, and some rather more derelict than they were then. This is a side of Brentford invisible from the High Street but with much of interest. Probably in the next few years this too will disappear as gentrification advances.

Shortly before the lock leading to the Thames, the River Brent which is here combined with the canal runs over a weir to make its own way to the main river. There are still working boatyards in the area around here, though a little downstream more new flats and a part of the Thames Path here was closed and a short diversion was necessary.

We continued along past new riverside flats and a new private footbridge to the recently revivied boatyard on Lot’s Ait to an area of open space which was a part of the old gas works site, then along the riverside path past more new flats to Kew Bridge and Strand on the Green. Here it was warm enough to sit in the sun and eat our sandwiches before leaving the river to walk to Chiswick House Gardens.

I’d planned to get here for lunch, perhaps spending an hour or so going around the house and then perhaps a drink in the cafe, but there was no time thanks to the rail problems, so we briefly visited the toilets before heading on to St Nicholas’s Church and Chiswick riverside.

From there it was a straight walk by the river to Hammersmith Bridge, arriving around sunset with some fine views along the river – and then the short walk to the bus station for the bus back to Twickenham and the train home. The two bus journeys made our travel take much longer, but you do get some interesting views from the top deck of a double-decker and the journey was intereresting at least until it got too dark to see much.

More on the walk and many more pictures at Brentford to Hammersmith.

Desperate Day For Gaza

Monday, December 27th, 2021

December 27th 2008 was a desperate day for Gaza, when the Israeli military launched the beginning of a massive air attack on the small enclave. Operation Cast Lead had been six months in the planning and 100 pre-planned targets were struck in less than four minutes. The initial air attack was followed by others and on the 3rd of January 2009 with a ground attack. Israeli Defense Forces ended their attacks on 18th January 2009.

According to Wikipedia, the Israeli government stated was a response to weapons smuggling into Gaza and to Hamas rocket attacks on southern Israel with, according to the Israeli military 3,000 rockets hitting Israel over the whole of 2008 – despite a ceasefire agreement which held for around 5 months before an Israeli attack on a cross-border tunnel in Gaza in November. Rockets killed 8 people in Israel in 2008, four of them after the attack on Gaza began on 27th December.

Again according to Wikipedia (I’ve removed the 14 references to sources which you can find in the original);

A total of 1,100–1,400 Palestinians (295–926 civilians) and 13 Israelis were killed in the 22-day war.

The conflict damaged or destroyed tens of thousands of homes, 15 of Gaza’s 27 hospitals and 43 of its 110 primary health care facilities,800 water wells, 186 greenhouses, and nearly all of its 10,000 family farms; leaving 50,000 homeless, 400,000–500,000 without running water, one million without electricity, and resulting in acute food shortages. The people of Gaza still suffer from the loss of these facilities and homes, especially since they have great challenges to rebuild them.


There is much more detail on the attack and its consequences, as well as on later attacks on Gaza in 2014, 2018 and 2021 on Wikipedia in articles including those cited above and there would be little point in going further into the details here.

There was a large protest in London against the attack early in January 2009, and I photographed this an other protests, including those the anniversary of the start of the attack on 27th December 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. There I’ve written more about the protests and with many more pictures, including pictures of Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn and many others speaking against the attacks and ongoing siege of Gaza.

January 2009 Gaza: Protest March from the BBC
December 2009 Remember Gaza
December 2010 London Vigil For Gaza
December 2011 End The Siege Of Gaza
December 2012 Gaza – End the Siege

Boxing Day Pictures

Sunday, December 26th, 2021

Boxing Day Pictures I took in earlier years – mainly on our normal annual walks from Staines to Old Windsor. It’s a family tradition, a walk we’ve made most yearssince we moved here in 1974, though not always taking the same route. This year is one of the few years we won’t be making it.












There are more pictures from all of these walks – except that in 2020 – on My London Diary. Click on the picture for any of the other years to go to more about the walks and more pictures.

Happy Christmas

Saturday, December 25th, 2021

Happy Christmas to all readers of >Re:PHOTO. My wife and I still send Christmas Cards, actual cards rather than e-cards, put into envelopes, stamped and posted, or put through the doors of nearby friends and neighbours.

Most of those cards are from Traidcraft, an organisation that is “pioneering the future of fair trade. Traidcraft stands for changing peoples’ lives through trade, saving vanishing traditional skills from extinction, and celebrating a world of creativity and culture.” Linda sells their products in the local area on a non-profit basis, and we eat and drink many of them, though use rather fewer of the craft products. And when I say we still send cards, its Linda who writes almost all of them, most with a personal message which sometimes gets rather long and for a few is in a foreign language.

But I also like to send my own personal cards to a few friends, mainly fellow photographers – and also usually use the same one of my pictures on an e-card on social media. But this year I found it very difficult to select a suitable image, partly because I spent the first four months of the year still more or less in isolation because of Covid.

Even since I went back to work on May 1st – I just couldn’t bear to miss another May Day – I’ve still been very much cutting down on the events I photograph, going to take pictures less frequently and largely only covering those causes I feel most strongly about. I’ve always liked to use recent pictures on my cards, so there were rather fewer to choose from.

At the start of my Covid isolation in March 2019 I stopped updating My London Diary. I had nothing to write and post in it. And although I have gone back to work I’ve not felt able to resume posting on that site. Part of the reason is simply that the web site is filling up and I am close to the limit of the number of files that it can handle, 262,144. To continue with My London Diary and this blog I would need to move to a more expensive solution, and I may in any case soon have to delete some older content. In past years I’ve always used pictures from My London Diary on these cards – but this year there were no new pictures on line.

So this year I chose one of the many pictures I’ve made on my walks and bike rides while I’ve been isolating, a winter scene from Staines Moor, a mile or so from my home. Not Christmassy, but at least it has snow.

i hope you have a good Christmas.

Christmas Eve, Christmas walks

Friday, December 24th, 2021

An acre of America at Runnymede

Christmas Eve, Christmas walks. I don’t think I’ve ever worked on Christmas Eve. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to be able to help with the final preparations for Christmas – things like going to collect our order from the butcher, wrapping presents… But there is sometimes time for a walk.

Sculptures and the Old Town Hall, Staines

For many years we’ve invited people to visit on Christmas Eve, to come in and share some home made cakes, biscuits and drinks. Linda has made mulled wine which has gone down well, or mulled apple juice and some of us shared a decent bottle of red, though I often had to drink most of it myself.

Disused railway line, Staines

Our smallish front room often got rather crowded though most of the younger visitors would be upstairs in a bedroom making large and complicated layouts of a Brio railway. There was a lot of talking, sharing news and sometimes some singing together; it is a small room, but still has a piano. We’d often run out of chairs, though we brought more down from upstairs.

Underneath the Staines by-pass

It had rather run down in more recent years, partly because our own two children had left home, but also as friends moved away. But this year it won’t be happening at all. Omicron has made us all rethink. People are wary of inviting others or of responding to invitations. We’ve still got the large Stollen and I expect several different varieties of biscuits will be made, but on Christmas Eve we will be eating them on our own, though we are expecting just a little help from close family in the few days that follow. But then there’s the Christmas Cake to eat as well.

Magna Carta Memorial, Runnymede

But it will be a rather different Christmas to usual. We decided too that we should cancel the family Boxing Day pub meal that had been booked. That means also we won’t be making the five or six mile walk to get there which we needed to get back an appetite after Christmas Day. I’ve already missed the carol service where Linda was in the choir – it seemed an unnecessary risk. And the concert by her choral society last Saturday was cancelled at short notice.

Mead Lake from Devil’s Lane

But we still will have a Christmas dinner with some family – if rather fewer of them than previous years, and I’m sure we will still go out for some walks. We will still have presents to share and still enjoy ourselves, but it won’t be quite the same.


The pictures here are from our walks in 2013. Since there is no public transport here on Christmas Day and little or none on Boxing Day our walks are all close to our home. You can see more of them in Walks around Staines.

Selling Off The NHS

Thursday, December 23rd, 2021

Two news items in recent days (neither given any great prominence in the media) show clearly how the Tories are selling off the NHS.

Though it was the Financial Times which reported why Rishi Sunak failed to attend a roundtable discussion with the UK hospitality sector. He was in California and the UK meeting was said by Treasury insiders to have clashed with his scheduled call with “US healthcare bosses.” Like me you probably don’t read the FT, but you are unlikely to have heard much about this from the BBC.

The second recent news is that Virgin Healthcare, a company that has been awarded contracts worth well over £2 billion for providing parts of our NHS services was this month sold to the private equity group Twenty20 Capital.

Virgin Care runs 400 NHS and local authority services including GP surgeries and Physiotherapy, generally concentrating on simple services which leaves more difficult and expensive work to be carried out by the NHS. It has a structure including Virgin Group Holdings based in the British Virgin Islands which sets up companies with large amounts of debt it uses to legally avoid paying UK tax – though the owners the Branson family have donated £70,000 to the Tory party.

You can watch a Labour Party video in which Jeremy Corbyn, then the Labour Leader, holds up a 451 page uncensored report and the considerably slimmer heavily redacted version released by Boris Johnson’s government. The unedited version confirms that the US demanded that the NHS is firmly on the table in the trade talks. “These uncensored documents leave Boris Johnson’s denials in absolute tatters… We’ve now got evidence that under Boris Johnson the NHS is on the table and will be up for sale.”

On Friday 23rd December 2016, I photographed ‘Howls of protest for death of the NHS‘, a protest at Downing St on the day that contracts were signed across the country to implement the government’s ‘Sustainability and Transformation Plans’ which effectively means the NHS can be handed over to private companies without any public engagement or consultation, ending a public service whose vision which has long been the envy of the world, signing the NHS over for private profit.

Every 15 minutes the speeches were interrupted for a long and loud ‘howl of protest’ by those taking part. These were timed to coincide with three social media ‘Thunderclaps’ across Facebook, Twitter & Tumblr by several hundreds of people mainly unable to be at the rally.

Speakers at the rally included Paula Peters of DPAC, Ealing Councillor Aysha Raza, trainee nurse Anthony Johnson of the Bursary or Bust campaign, a trainee mental health nurse, a patient and campaigner Gina and retired paediatrician and co-chair of Keep Our NHS Public Tony O’Sullivan.

At the end of the rally a small group of those present led by several DPAC campaigners, were harassed by police and threatened with arrest as they marched on the road to hold a final howl outside Parliament, with another short speech by Paula Peters.

Though the NHS has been deliberately weakened and made more available for private companies to run for profit by successive governments we still do have an NHS which is largely free at the point of need. But half of NHS beds have been lost since Thatcher began the cuts and privatisation and over 40% of services in UK healthcare are now provided by private companies and many of those who are now running the government have made clear in speeches, pamphlets and books that they favour an insurance backed scheme based on the US model.

The US model is expensive and flawed. Two thirds of personal bankruptcy in the USA is because people are unable to pay for the cost of healthcare either because they cannot afford the insurance or often because their insurance will not cover the treatment they require.

The Health and Care Bill 2021 continues the threats to the future of the NHS and gives much greater powers to the government to direct the NHS and will undoubtedly lead to greater penetration of the service by private providers, including the major US healthcare companies that Chancellor Sunak was making plans with in California while neglecting his duties in the UK.

More from 23rd December 2016: Howls of protest for death of the NHS

Nelson Mandela’s Birthday

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2021

Back in 1988 on the 17th July, the day before Nelson Mandela’s Birthday on the 18th July, I joined thousands of marchers through London demanding he be freed from jail.

Free Nelson Mandela - Birthday March and Rally - London 1988 88-7h-66 Mandela was born on 18th July 1918, so this was his 70th birthday and he was still in jail, then held in Pollsmoor Prison, near Cape Town, having been removed with other senior ANC members from Robben Island to remove their influence on younger ANC members held there.

Free Nelson Mandela - Birthday March and Rally - London 1988 88-7h-55

He was well treated in Pollsmoor and international attempts to end apartheid was increasing, along with secret meetings with the South African Minister of Justice. President Botha had actually offered to release him, if he “unconditionally rejected violence as a political weapon”, but Mandela had refused to leave while the African National Congress was still banned.

Free Nelson Mandela - Birthday March and Rally - London 1988 88-7h-31

Mandela’s 70th birthday was celebrated around the world, with a televised tribute concert at Wembley Stadium attracting an estimated 200 million viewers.

Free Nelson Mandela - Birthday March and Rally - London 1988 88-7j-65

The march in London was a large one, and I wasn’t then a seasoned photographer of protests, though I had taken pictures at a number of smaller events.

Free Nelson Mandela - Birthday March and Rally - London 1988 88-7h-34

Because of the size of the event there were a number of feeder marches leading to a rally in Hyde Park. I joined the march coming from Camden and went with it to the rally, where I took some pictures in the crowd but didn’t attempt to cover the speakers, who included the Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu.

Free Nelson Mandela - Birthday March and Rally - London 1988 88-7i-43

I took altogether only just over a hundred black and white pictures, of which I’ve now uploaded around a quarter to an album, Free Nelson Mandela – March and Rally – London 1988. You can also click on any of the images in this post to go to a larger version from where you can browse all the pictures that are online.