Friday, 25 March 2011

Location. location, location!

Today I made my way to Hackney Wick in order to resume my career as an Indie film star. Before we started filming we stopped for refreshments at a nearby café. I was expecting a greasy spoon. Instead we went to the stylishly quirky Hackney Pearl:  a café cum wine bar cum neighbourhood art centre. As a noted connoisseur of gateaux I was pleased to see that they served delicious home made cakes. In order to release my inner muse I opted for a slice of carrot cake with my café au lait.  At one point I fell into conversation with the waiter. He told me of their plans for the future of the café which included opening up an art gallery. The locality it seems had already proved highly popular with many artists able to rent space in what would otherwise have remained empty industrial buildings. The Filmmaker later confided that he doubted if many such studios would survive the area’s regeneration in the lead up to the 2012 Olympic Games. By contrast the waiter was very keen on the changes. It would mean for example that the street outside would be closed to traffic, trees planted and the pavement extended, allowing him to place tables outside in fine weather. He asked if I lived nearby. I said I lived on the other side of the Thames in Wimbledon. I explained that my friend was an Independent filmmaker, who had been commissioned to make a short film for an arts festival in Amsterdam and that we were there to garner yet more footage.

I had imagined that Hackney Wick itself would be a bleak urban landscape filled with run down housing and industrial estates. That might have been true a number of years ago but the regeneration programme is changing all that. Now Hackney Wick enjoys a splendid view across to the new Olympic stadium at Stratford and boasts an attractive early 19th century canal complete with colourfully painted barges moored along the waterway. The Filmmaker took both footage and stills of me walking to and fro across the new bridge which spanned the cleaned-up canal. I took care to avoid the various cyclists and pedestrians who crept into shot. At least the Filmmaker was no longer concerned that we might get mugged as he had been a few days earlier.Mind you, he did display more of his highly dubious fascination with my footwear,  wishing to film my 1930s style shoes, which had become caked in mud from our jaunt by the Thames river on Tuesday.

After having spent some time by the canal we wandered around an old industrial estate until we found a semi-demolished wall daubed with graffiti. Low level plastic barriers had been replaced around the new paving. The Filmmaker wanted me to move the barrier but I demurred pointing out that if I was going to stand next to the wall I would enter the enclosed area from the opposite end, which had been left wide open. Thus, if we were challenged we could claim with a clear conscience that we had not realised the area was out of bounds, given that there was clear access to it. Just after the Filmmaker had started to set up his tripod he became convinced that a man in a fluorescent donkey jacket, seated in a car around the corner, was somehow connected to the street works. I thought it unlikely as there were no other workmen to be seen. Nonetheless, I elected to stand at a discreet distance away so that I could not be seen by the man in his car. As we were taking pictures the workman suddenly drove past  and parked his car by the part of barrier I had just walked through. He told us we were not supposed to be there as we could sue his firm if we sustained an injury. However, he good-naturedly allowed us to continue filming. I chivvied the Filmmaker on to be as quick as possible so we didn’t push our luck further.

Our next location was the bridge spanning the motorway. A middle aged man was standing on it, an open can in his hand. This time I was the one who was rather wary as I doubted if he was quaffing lashings and lashings of ginger beer, but he proved to be harmless enough.  Ignoring the man altogether, the Filmmaker decided he wanted to film Canary Wharf Tower framed by a circle formed by my fingers. Just another second he promised at one stage as I gamely tried to hold the difficult pose. Unlike a New York Minute a Hackney Wick Second lasts a very long time indeed.
Stone alcove from former London Bridge
Having been blessed with fine weather and the Filmmaker having run out of cash we made our way across to Victoria Park in the borough of Tower Hamlets. Ostensibly the idea was for me to purchase some ice-creams but we failed to find a booth selling any, although we did find a pair of stone alcoves which had been removed from the ancient London Bridge following its demolition and subsequent replacement in the 1830s. A large flock of black winged birds had settled on the grass near two goalposts. I am unsure as to whether they were rooks or not, but I did think they would make an interesting   backdrop for yet more footage if I walked slowly up to them until they took flight. The Filmmaker readily agreed.
Clissold Park
Victoria Park is pleasant enough and much have been a boon to generations of poor East Enders living nearby. Still, in my opinion it is no match for Clissold Park located in neighbouring Hackney. Clissold Park, though smaller, is the landscaped setting for a late 18th century mansion set within its boundaries. The mansion has miraculously survived on into the 21st century and in the last few years has secured funding to be renovated. 

Close by is the Tudor church  immortalised by Edgar Allen Poe in his story William Wilson. Poe knew the area having spent part of his childhood boarding at the nearby Manor House school and so would have recognised Clissold Park as well as Sisters' Place, which he would have had to pass on his way from the church service back to his school. There used to be a 14th century mansion on the site of Sisters' Place, owned by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, who some claim as being the true author behind Shakespeare's plays.
Sisters' Place, Stoke Newington

The streets around Clissold Park are graced with gems of late 17th and early 18th century architecture, when Hackney was a fashionable village. Its earlier fame as a desirable country retreat dates back to at least the Tudor period when a number of its inhabitants played key roles in British history.
Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox
One Tudor mansion, Brooke House sadly demolished in the mid-20th century, had been home to Henry Percy who could have changed the whole course of English history had he only been allowed to marry the woman he had first proposed to: one Anne Boleyn. Brooke House was also briefly tenanted by Margaret Douglas, the Countess of Lennox. The latter was a niece of Henry VIII through his sister Margaret. She was also mother to Henry, Lord Darnley who had married Mary, Queen of Scots. The unhappy marriage had produced a living male heir, James, who went on to succeed Queen Elizabeth I to the English throne as well as the Scottish.The Countess of Lennox died at Brooke House on March 7th 1578. Shortly before she passed away, the Earl of Leicester came a-calling and was closeted alone with her for several hours.After he had left, she suddenly fell prey to a fatal seizure leading to some to surmise that the Earl was implicated in her death, although why he would wish to kill her is not so apparent. 
Manor House School where Edgar Allen Poe once boarded as a schoolboy

Queen Elizabeth I is known to have visited the mansion which had once stood on the site of Edgar Allen Poe’s school (which was demolished in turn) close by Clissold Park. In Elizabeth's time is was owned by the Dudleys, kin of her erstwhile lover, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. Anne Dudley, the daughter of Queen Elizabeth's hosts, went on to marry Sir Francis Popham. Sir Francis Popham's father, Sir John Popham, was one of the chief presiding judges at the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1587 and he became Lord Chief Justice of England in 1592.
Sutton House
One of my favourite buildings in Hackney is a rare survivor from the Tudor period, Sutton House. The latter was built by Ralph Sadlier, the Tudor courtier. He served Henry VIII and his son Edward VI. As a Protestant he decided to withdraw from public life when the fanatical Catholic Queen Mary came to the throne only to return when her half sister, Elizabeth, was crowned queen. One of his last public duties  was to  sit in judgment, along with the likes of Sir John Popham, on Mary, Queen of Scots, at Fotheringay Castle in 1587.

We ended our day with some final footage by the semi-demolished wall, but this time steering well clear of the area behind the plastic barriers.  Pleased with the images we had captured we returned to Hackney Wick station. I later discovered that the latter has a unique if macabre place in English history; in 1864 it became the scene of the first ever murder carried out at a British railway station when Franz Muller murdered Thomas Briggs and threw his body from the train. Muller subsequently fled to New York but was eventually extradited back to England where he was found guilty of the crime and sentenced to death.

The Filmmaker will be shooting the final sequence of his cinematic masterpiece at the Brimstone Butterfly’s London mansion on Monday, where his star will also act as his catering crew and location manager. Strange to think that it was just a week ago today that he returned home, after having had lunch round my place, and first discovered that he had been commissioned to make the film. He really is on something of a roll artistically at the moment. Long may it continue!