BLOG - 33-39 St James Street

This building in my hometown has always intrigued me.

It’s been largely empty for as long as I can remember, albeit with a popular car servicing and repair company working out the back. So it was good to learn that today it’s been granted a grade II listed status from Historic England (they don’t always make as poor a decision as noted in the previous post below) as it’s a very early English example of European Functionalism having been built using a reinforced concrete-frame – a pioneering technique for the build date of 1908.

Apparently, François Hennebique, a French engineer and self-educated builder, patented this reinforced-concrete construction system (known as Béton Armé) and although 33-39 St James Street doesn’t appear on a list of Hennebique’s works, it does seem to have been built on broadly similar lines.

Quite why this building has taken so long to reach this celebrated status is a mystery, hopefully as a result it might receive the tender loving care that it so obviously needs and maybe even find someone or something to occupy it.


As an aside, the local paper somewhat predictably attempted to demonise the building given that it’s not one of the many “quaint churches” to be found in and around West Norfolk – though pleasingly (and admittedly somewhat surprisingly) the poll hasn’t gone in quite the direction they had probably presumed it would.

BLOG - 33-39 St James Street Poll

Welbeck Street Car Park

A weekend in London, and a (possibly/probably) last chance to take in one of my favourite buildings in the whole of the UK,  the Welbeck Street Car Park

Thanks to the shortsightedness of the people at Historic England (or English Heritage as was), who in 2015 considered it lacking in sufficient architectural interest and as a result chose not to recommend it for listing, it’s soon to be demolished and replaced by a ten-storey hotel.

Pleasingly others seem as disappointed about the news as me, as when I visited a makeshift gallery had been installed on the hoarding encasing the ground floor of the original building.

It’s not much, but it’s good to see that it’s passing is at the very least being noted.

Welbeck Street Car Park Gallery (2019)

This used to be the entrance of the Welbeck Street Car Park, which was designed by Michael Blampied and Partners for Debenhams in 1971.

It sits like a sculpture, a silent spectator with its stretched diamond-shaped concrete panels locked together into a mesmerising pattern through which fifty years of light have passed. Now up for demolition, the gentle concrete structure has become an ending from a time in which car parks were treated as civic monuments, significant structures that expressed the incredible optimism to use architecture to transform society.

ps. It’s Concrete Week over in The Guardian where Welbeck Street makes an appearance in the under threat section, sadly all too true.

In Town Tonight


A while ago (although not as far into the past as the evidence above would suggest – twitter it seems is feeling nostalgic) a good friend pointed me in the direction of a tweet from comedian Mark Steel, principally because Mrs Weir and I live on the periphery of the “major international Norfolk hub” that is King’s Lynn.

The tweet was an early call for a programme in the ninth series of Mark Steel’s in Town, where he “visits towns across the UK and creates a stand-up show for a local audience based on what he finds out about the area”. So having lived in and around Britain’s 6th happiest place to live* for most of my days, I was able to snap into action and confirm that King’s Lynn does indeed come with an apostrophe.

However, as I think it’s important to love where you live I also shared some more meaningful highlights of the town with Mark and his producer Carl, many of which appear to have made the final cut of the show (am particularly pleased that I managed to get Ongar Hill mentioned). And in return, they very graciously stumped up the cash to pay for a return trip on the ferry across the Great Ouse to West Lynn – something that Mark seems to have particularly enjoyed, despite the absence of any destination to speak of (sorry West Lynn).

Am still feeling marginally guilty for inadvertently highlighting the fictitious nature of a letter sent to the local paper extolling the virtues of the town, and for pointing Mark in the direction of the unfortunate happenings at our inordinately handsome Carnegie library, because as I’ve said before while King’s Lynn now struggles to be considered “by far the most beautiful and interesting town in Europe” it’s not a bad place to call home.

The King’s Lynn episode of Mark Steel’s in Town is broadcast tonight at 6:30pm on BBC Radio 4, then repeated on BBC Radio 4 Extra on 31st January at 7.30am, 5.30pm and the 10pm. And if you manage to miss each and every one of those then it’ll also be available for another thirty days on the enormously frustrating BBC Sounds app.

*According to a somewhat spurious survey conducted by the people at Rightmove, which saw King’s Lynn sandwiched between Royal Tunbridge Wells and Epsom – not something that happens very often.

People At Work


I have to admit that I was less than convinced when I originally became aware of Penguin’s plans to publish a number of titles spoofing Loughborough’s very own Ladybird Books, given that it’s an imprint very close to my heart.

As it transpired my concern was misplaced as over the last few years Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris have produced a series of consistently very funny books (under the guise of Ladybird Books for Grown-Ups) while at the same time always making great efforts to respectfully acknowledge the artists responsible for the source material.

Perhaps unsurprisingly as a Ladybird obsessive I have bought (and thoroughly enjoyed) each and every book published under the Grown-Ups title, so it’s good to be able to add a copy of this final book to the collection.

The Wonderful World of Ladybird Books for Grown-Ups sees Hazeley and Morris (alongside another Morris who I think should be mentioned in dispatches given the volume of work he’s (I’m presuming) done in this final book with the artwork and design) bring the series to a close with a final flourish –  and this book is a joy.

While I’m here I should also mention this episode of the Art Detective podcast that sees host Dr Janina Ramirez talk to Joel and Jason about their love and admiration for the art of the Ladybird book – have a listen it’ll be an hour of your day very well spent.

BLOG - StevenageBLOG - Derek Jarman's Blue

While Mrs Weir is off watching a game of association football in the North of London, I’m at home catching up.

This includes sorting through a host of recently acquired books including a number from the New Penguin Shakespeare series which each come with enormously handsome woodcut-print cover illustrations by artist David Gentleman.

I’ve been collecting these on and off for a number of years now, through occasional finds in second-hand bookshops and charity shops but I’m still a number away from the complete collection (not that there is a complete collection as Gentleman was somewhat bafflingly replaced as the artist of choice before he’d finished the set himself).

One of the latest batch arriving here at Weir HQ is of particular interest given that it seems to be the copy once owned by Tom Craik, a professor of English at Durham University. I know this because on further examination of the book two letters from Dr Ann Thompson (who is now an Emeritus Professor of English at King’s College London) written to Professor Craik appeared from deep within the pages.

The letters ask for Craik’s advice in preparation for work she was doing on a new edition of the play for the Cambridge University Press. And if the preface of the edition I found on a popular online bookshop is anything to go by he obviously wrote back, “In addition I have had expert advice from Gary Taylor on textual matters, from Tom Craik, C. Walter Hodges and Marion Lomax on questions of staging…”.



Given my lack of activity recently, returning with a blogpost on slow radio seems entirely apposite.

A new wave of slow radio arrives on the back of BBC Radio 3 promising a more rigorous commitment with a raft of commissions that will provide listeners with “a chance for quiet mindfulness and a consideration of the world from another angle.” This promise, which follows on from similar ideas over at BBC Four, sounds like a promising one, and future programmes will include a variety of recordings from an evening at the zoo, to the sounds of Durham Cathedral, and then on Christmas Eve a three-hour walk through the Black Forest with writer Horatio Clare.

The first programme in this series (I think) comes from composer Iain Chambers whose contribution sees him work with “six major European museums to document the huge change within our acoustic landscape”. Apparently, his “hoerspiel for Westdeutscher Rundfunk was a finalist in the 2016 Prix Palma Ars Acustica” which would probably sound impressive if I had any idea what it meant.

Anyway enjoy, and keep an ear set for further programmes in the series.

Earlier volumes of Speechification can be found here Vol.001, here Vol.002 and here Vol.003, and further episodes of BBC Radio 3’s previous series into this more sedate approach to radio currently live here.

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