The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Front Page -

Want to hate a place? Com­mute through it. If my work­place were ac­ces­si­ble only via a gen­tle float across Lake Como, the lit­tle boat pulled through turquoise wa­ters by a team of glit­ter­ing mer­maids, I would hate it. If I could only get to work by time-trav­el­ling to the Hang­ing Gar­dens of Baby­lon at the height of their ver­dant splen­dour, I would hate that too.

As it is, I work in a foul London hellscape known to those out­side it as Victoria. It is so crowded, pol­luted and ugly that I would loathe it even if I didn’t have to travel through it daily. Whether I’m cycling or just walking the short dis­tance from the Tube sta­tion to the of­fice, I take the quick­est pos­si­ble route and try to screen out my sur­round­ings, up to and some­times in­clud­ing on­com­ing heavy goods ve­hi­cles.

There’s a so­lu­tion to all of this, and it in­volves a fleet of steam­rollers equipped with wreck­ing balls, but for bud­getary rea­sons I was forced to set­tle for the more prac­ti­cal op­tion of – grits teeth – learn­ing to en­joy the jour­ney a bit more.

I asked Mike Althorpe, oth­er­wise known as the London Am­bler, whether the Victoria area had any­thing go­ing for it. Althorpe is an ur­ban his­to­rian who con­ducts walking tours of this part of London and oth­ers, and I hoped that he might help me turn my com­mute into some­thing that, if not ex­actly plea­sur­able, might at least be in­ter­est­ing.

Turns out Victoria is fairly en­gross­ing. “As dis­tricts go, it’s a real mon­grel sort of place,” Althorpe told me. “Most peo­ple only know it for Victoria Street, which is a chal­leng­ing street at best to ap­pre­ci­ate” – hell is tourists with wheelie suit­cases – “but it has a re­ally fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory.”

He told me how it was all marsh­land un­til the mid-19th cen­tury, and that, when it was fi­nally built on, was the site of “an ex­plo­sion of a new ur­ban ty­pol­ogy that, I sup­pose, is more Parisian than London.”

Althorpe was talk­ing about the tall, el­e­gant man­sion blocks to the north of the sta­tion, but there are other land­mark hous­ing projects nearby too. A lit­tle fur­ther south, he told me, closer to Pim­lico sta­tion, is Lilling­ton Gar­dens, an es­tate whose con­struc­tion from 1961 on­wards marked the end of the fash­ion for high-rise pub­lic hous­ing. The ar­chi­tects wanted the flats to feel in­di­vid­ual, and many of those flats to­gether com­prise a huge brick zig­gu­rat sort of build­ing of whose ex­is­tence I’d been ut­terly ig­no­rant.

There was more: Ital­ianate ter­races, an es­tate built with the principles of the arts and crafts move­ment, the for­bid­ding, tall-tow­ered red-brick church of St James the Less. The next morn­ing, I walked to work from Pim­lico so that I could see all this stuff for my­self and, for once, found the jour­ney to be an im­prov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. I still think wheelie suit­cases should be rounded up and burnt, though.

Prompts and a ‘to-do’ list help me set some achiev­able ob­jec­tives for my drive into work

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