A Tour of Victoria Park’s Leisure Clubs
Sunday 3 May, 3pm
Meeting point: London Bridge Alcoves, Victoria Park, E9 5DU

Image: Travis Elborough, 2014.

Victoria Park Residency

A Tour of Victoria Park’s Leisure Clubs
Sunday 3 May, 3pm
Meeting point: London Bridge Alcoves, Victoria Park, E9 5DU

Beginning at the London Bridge Alcoves – a fragment of the London’s transport network repurposed as ornamental benches for Victoria Park – Travis Elborough leads a walking tour exploring the social histories of the park’s playing fields. Guest speakers include Elizabeth Wilson, author of Love Game: A History of Tennis (Serpent’s Tail, 2014); Clive Bettington, Chair of the Jewish East End Celebration Society; and Trenton Oldfield, activist and co-founder of This is Not a Gateway, a not-for-profit organisation that creates platforms for critical investigations into cities.

This event is free to attend but booking is advised. To reserve your place, please click here.



Clive Bettington is the founder and chair of the Jewish East End Celebration Society in London. He leads tours that include The Jewish East End, World War Two and the Holocaust; Literary History of the Ghetto and The Jewish Financiers of the City.

Joe Murray is Club Chancellor and player with the Hackney-based Bloody Lads Cricket Club, who train at Victoria Park nets.

Trenton Oldfield is the co-founder of not-for-profit organisations This Is Not A Gateway and Myrdle Court Press, both of which create platforms for critical investigations into cities. He has held the positions of Coordinator of the Thames Strategy – Kew to Chelsea and Strategic Project Manager at Cityside Regeneration.

Tim Wells is the founding editor of poetry magazine Rising. He has been a guest poet on Radio London and was writer in residence with Tighten Up, the East London reggae sound system. His recent books include Keep the Faith(Blackheath Books, 2013), Rougher Yet (Donut Press, 2009), and Boys’ Night Out in the Afternoon (Donut Press, 2006), which was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection.

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    64 Chisenhale Road
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Picture a Park – films on running, football and the pre-Olympic East End
Tuesday 12 May, 7pm
The Hub Building, Victoria Park, E9 5DU

A film programme selected and introduced by Travis Elborough, featuring Runners (2014) directed by Ivo Gormley and Matan Rochlitz; and What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day? (2005) and Monty The Lamb (2006) directed by Paul Kelly. The screening will be followed by a presentation about Gormley’s community exercise initiative, Good Gym, and a discussion with the filmmakers.

This event is free to attend but booking is advised. To reserve a place, please click here.

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The Once and Future Park – Policy and Landscape
Tuesday 19 May, 7pm
The Hub Building, Victoria Park, E9 5DU

Travis Elborough in conversation with Ken Worpole, Senior Professor at The Cities Institute, London Metropolitan University, and author of books on architecture, urbanism and social policy, including his survey of post-industrial Essex, The New English Landscape (Field Station, 2013). Together they will consider the London Park as an ideal for urban life and what must be done to ensure its continuing importance to convivial existence in the city.

This event is free to attend but booking is advised. Please reserve your place here.

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Postcards From Victoria Park: Alcoves
Sunday 1 March

The symmetry feels important somehow, symbolic even. That there are two alcoves from the Old London Bridge in the far north eastern end of Victoria Park encourages me to indulge in the fantasy that they are actually keeping each other company. Here they sit, these former aged retainers from the City’s founding river crossing, now enjoying a lazy retirement in the closest thing London has to the countryside. Left largely undisturbed and often completely unobserved at the Cadogan Gate entrance of the park, they look out upon a somewhat mundane patch of grass, a track and a few football pitches, predominately brown and muddy from good use. Behind them are the stolidly Victorian town houses of Cadogan Terrace. Built in around 1870, a decade after the alcoves themselves were first placed in the park, and conveniently close to Victoria Park Station, these were the preserve of respectable Pooter-esque commuters. City clerks travelling to Broad Street and the square mile, to offices of inky ledgers full of figures, and soon noisy with the clatter and peal of new-fangled typewriters, telegraphs and telephones. That world of rapidly expanding communications is memorialised on the terrace itself, where one building still bears the lettering of an old post and telegram office. That business is evidently a spectre of the distant past, but its sign seems eerier perhaps for being immaculately repainted rather than left faded, decayed, ghostly and correspondingly irresistible to users of Instagram.

The alcoves, though, date from a much earlier London. A London only just about perking itself up with coffee and tea, if in turn also rendering itself senseless on gin. A London of elegant new neo-classical squares and back alleys of Hogarthian squalor – as the cliche truthfully has it. A London relished by James Boswell who most probably availed himself, as many others did, of a near identical alcove on the original Westminster Bridge when he had sex there with ‘a strong, jolly young damsel’ procured at Haymarket. In his journal for 10 May 1763, he records the particular thrill of ‘doing it’ on the bridge (‘this noble edifice’) while the Thames rolled on below. Whether Victoria Park’s alcoves ever suffered such indignities when they were by the river (or since being in the park), can only be guessed at. But they were added to London Bridge in Boswell’s day, and as part of a series of essential repairs and ‘improvements’ undertaken by George Dance, the City Surveyor, on a bridge that up to 1729 had remained the sole fixed crossing over the Thames until Kingston. Chief among Dance’s works was to widen a medieval span as crook-backed as Richard III from a spindly twelve feet to a more capacious forty-six. While doing so, he also sheared the bridge of its characterful, jagged mane of shops and houses. By 1762, Old London Bridge was plucked as bald as a chicken, and rather like Samson after his run-in with Delilah, was judged to cut a noticeably feebler figure about town for it. Aside from width and a new giant central arch, what it did also gain, however, was fourteen kissing-cubby alcoves. These, like the whole crossing, would be rendered surplus to requirements just sixty years later. It was then that a completely new bridge, designed by the Scottish engineer John Rennie, was finally commissioned after decades of prevarication over the underlying state of a structure that had endured in one form or another for over six hundred years.

Of the fourteen London Bridge alcoves, only four are extant today, three of which remain in London. Like a freed lifer not sure where to go next, one only got as far as Southwark, where it became a garden shelter for convalescing patients at Guy’s Hospital. The other two, after falling into the hands of a Mr Benjamin Dixon, JP, came east, winding up in Victoria Park in 1860. If serving, as they had done on the bridge, as places to repose and escape the rain, they were transformed here from components of the city’s functional (or, perhaps, dysfunctional is more accurate) transport infrastructure into decorative ornaments. Close to a century old, they were antiques and valued, like armless statues salvaged on Grand Tours, as picturesque follies for the park. That classical places were overgrown and full of broken stonework, because they really had gone to rack and ruin, hadn’t stopped eighteenth century English sightseers from delighting in them. Consequently they adopted artfully contrived decay as a compelling aesthetic for domestic parks and gardens, as the architectural critic Robert Harbison once observed.

The alcoves were not the only parts of Old London Bridge to drift from the river and the realm of work, to places given over to leisure and pleasure. Until they were destroyed in the great east coast storm of 1953, two lengths of the old bridge’s balustrades escorted trippers to Herne Bay onto its pier. Each of these reincarnations also offer a kind of a premonition in miniature of the eventual fate of Old London Bridge’s immediate successor: John Rennie’s London Bridge sold off and shipped piece by piece to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, in 1968. There it was installed as the centrepiece of a new resort complex. One replete with an ersatz English village boasting a Ye Olde inn, a faux Trafalgar Square with a fountain attended by fun-sized Landseer lions, and a red phone box and red London double decker bus. The reconstructed bridge prevails, and on my visit in 2011 looked rather well, standing over a channel of pellucid water in the blazing western sun. But the English village has been closed for years. Shuttered up and fallen into disrepair, it is earmarked for demolition. For the moment, possibly, itrather than the bridge is more intriguing, standing as a mothballed relic of what was once deemed a fun thing to see and do in America, but no longer, evidently.

Back at Victoria Park, the alcoves, as old things in an old county and in an old park, have such an air of dependability. Like guardsmen in the sentry boxes outside Buckingham Palace, they appear steadfast, impervious to any change. It pleases me to imagine them as a pair of weary spectators of everything that happens in front of them. A Statler and Waldorf in stone, say, passing seen-it-all-before quips between themselves. Or since football rather than puppet vaudeville shows are most commonly in view (a sport with no universally agreed rules and that was three years away from acquiring a national association when they first arrived in the park), Saint and Greavsie could be more apt. And, come to think of it, what could be a better fit than a game of two teams and ‘two halves’ being played out under the implacable gaze of one of east London’s oldest double acts? There’s symmetry, after all, in that.


There is still some dispute over whether these alcoves actually came from Old London Bridge or Old Westminster Bridge.

Painted some twenty times by Canaletto and the subject of a poem by Wordsworth, Old Westminster Bridge was regarded as one of the finest-looking bridges of its age. It was the work of the Swiss-born engineer Charles Labelye and completed in 1750 in Portland stone in the then highly fashionable neo-classical style. After its opening on 8 November that year, The Gentleman's Magazine described it as ‘a very great ornament to our metropolis, and will be looked on with pleasure or envy by all foreigners. The surprising echo in the arches, brings much company with French horns to entertain themselves under it in summer; and with the upper part, for an agreeable airing, none of the publick walks or gardens can stand in competition.’ Those recesses were the alcoves over each of its piers, and, as stated already, near-identical cubbyholes where added to Old London Bridge as part of its repairs and were directly modelled on those on Westminster Bridge.

But the eventual removal of Old London Bridge in 1831, which for centuries had acted as virtually a weir on the Thames, would deal the fatal blow to Labelye’s span. The increased scour of the river gradually ate into the foundations of Old Westminster Bridge, damaging it so badly that it had to be replaced with a new bridge. Designed by Thomas Page, the new Westminster bridge opened in 1862 – just two years after the alcoves arrived in Victoria Park and nearly thirty years after Old London Bridge was taken down.

With London Bridge, a structure that has always been as mythic as monumental and whose precise origins remain decidedly (and appropriately) foggy, the truth is often far less interesting than the legend. Try asking a black cab driver about the sale of London Bridge to America.

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Travis Elborough: The Ace Of Clubs
Tuesday 28 July, 7pm
Chisenhale Gallery, 64 Chisenhale Road, London, E3 5QZ

Writer Travis Elborough in collaboration with director Paul Kelly presents a screening of The Ace of Clubs, a new short film that marks the culmination of Elborough’s Chisenhale Gallery Victoria Park Residency 2014 -15.

The Ace of Clubs draws on Elborough’s investigations into the history of Victoria Park, its many leisure clubs and the importance of the park as a recreational space. The film compiles footage shot by Kelly over the course of Eldborough’s Games for May event series and includes interviews with members of Victoria Park’s model boating and bowling clubs, offering a wry mediation on hobbies, place, and belonging.

Victoria Park opened in 1845 and is London Borough of Tower Hamlets oldest park. It was voted the nation’s favourite park in 2012 and 2014.

Chisenhale Gallery is situated on Chisenhale Road, close to Victoria Park. Offsiteis Chisenhale’s programme of commissions, collaborations and residencies that take place outside the gallery, bringing together artists and our East London neighbourhood.

This event is free to attend but booking is advised. To reserve your place click here.

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Travis Elborough
Monday 16 March
Chisenhale Gallery Victoria Park Residency 2014-15

Writer Travis Elborough is the Chisenhale Gallery Victoria Park Residency artist for 2014-15, he will present the event programme Games for May for this residency. During his residency, Elborough is developing his research for a new book about the history of public parks, from commons and village greens to the eco-parks and bio-diverse green spaces of today. This programme of events function as active research tools inviting park users to contribute their experiences and consider how they use Victoria Park’s sport and recreation facilities.

Interested in the social histories of urbanisation and industry in London’s East End, Elborough is working with Victoria Park’s varied leisure clubs to investigate the political history of the park and its links with sport, colonialism, protest and commemoration. Victoria Park was designed by architect James Pennethorne between 1842-46 as an artificial countryside for the city of London and since it was first opened to the public games have been central to life in the park. Historically, Victoria Park’s sporting clubs were founded for and by local people – East London dockers raced model boats on the former bathing lake from 1907 and City workers took the bus from Liverpool Street to use its newly laid running track in the 1920s. Today the Park continues to be used by a range of dedicated clubs – including the Victoria Park Harriers, the Cricket League, Military Fitness and a shadow boxing group – who are active throughout the year.

Games for May is a series of four public events in which Elborough invites specialists and park users to consider how the physical landscape of the park has been formed through social ritual and technological invention. Events include a guided tour of Victoria Park’s sports & leisure clubs; a film screening and presentation about the community exercise initiative Good Gym; and a workshop with Norman Lara from the Victoria Park Model Boating Club followed by a model boat regatta. Chisenhale Gallery has commissioned a series of short texts by Elborough, which will be published on Chisenhale’s website over the forthcoming months. These texts collect together his investigations, research and observations on games, place and localism in Victoria Park. The first of these texts is Postcards from Victoria Park: At the London Bridge Alcoves.

The Victoria Park Residency sits within the context of Tower Hamlets’ recent sporting history as host to the 2012 Olympic Games, bringing high-tech sporting facilities and the new Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to the East End. The Olympics encouraged mass participation in sport yet three years on a recent survey by Active People, managed by Sport England and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport reported a drop of over 125,000 people participating in regular sport. Through this project, Elborough hopes to stimulate a wider dialogue around the role of sport and civic space, and the impact of the Olympics’ and its legacy on the borough’s oldest park.

Travis Elborough (born 1971, Worthing) is a London based author, freelance writer and cultural commentator. His books include The Bus We Loved (Granta Books, 2006), The Long Player Goodbye (Sceptre, 2009), Wish You Were Here(Sceptre, 2011) and London Bridge in America: The Tall Story of a Transatlantic Crossing (Vintage, 2014). His articles have appeared in publications including The GuardianThe Times and Tate etc, he has featured on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Five Live and was guest historian on Russell Kane’s Whistle-Stop Tourseries on BBC Radio 2. Elborough is currently working on Swings and Roundabouts, a study of public parks. For further information please visit Elborough's website www.traviselborough.co.uk

Chisenhale Gallery Victoria Park Residency is a nine-month research and development residency currently in its fourth year of partnership with Tower Hamlets Parks and Open Spaces Department. The borough’s main park, Victoria Park, recently completed a programme to restore key historic elements, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. It was voted the Nation’s favourite park in 2012 and 2014. Previous Chisenhale Gallery Victoria Park Residency artists include Cathy Haynes (2013-14)Cara Tolmie (2012-13) and Matthew Noel-Tod (2011-12).

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Travis Elborough: Every Loser Wins
Thursday 26 March, 7pm
Chisenhale Gallery, 64 Chisenhale Road, London, E3 5QZ

Writer Travis Elborough introduces his project for the Chisenhale Gallery Victoria Park Residency 2014-5, which is produced for the fourth year in partnership with Tower Hamlets Parks and Open Spaces Department. Elborough’s research focuses on the social history of parks and the politics and technological innovations associated with sport and leisure activities. He asks us to consider whose rules we play by and how amateur sports clubs might help us reclaim the communal for the community and the civic for this part of the city.
Click here for more information about Elborough's residency and events series Games for May.



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