October 8th, 2020
The London Cloud MuseumPeruse any bookshop or corner store in the capital and you will find countless novellas and street-guides that will point you in the direction of London’s (various) Hidden Gems, the Secret Places of London, Top 10 Things about London you Can’t Wait to See/Eat/Experience/Discover. There’s lists of bars and cocktail clubs, maps with walking routes between museums and galleries, big roll out posters that point out the highlights of the London skyline as seen from the Shard, the Southbank, or Primrose Hill. At the most basic level, you have the A-Z and its intricate map of roads and byways, of traffic tricks and rat-runs, the Knowledge that taxi drivers used to learn, and the clue to that one episode of Sherlock where the code was hidden in its reliably owned pages. By admitting to the sheer quantity of information about London locations, it seems odd that I might begin a book about secrets implying that something might have slipped the mark, but that is exactly what has happened, and in this book I will endeavour to outline the bygone and forgotten places in our dearly beloved capital, be it monument, corner plaque, museum, or surprisingly obvious shortcut, I’ve got it covered here. I can personally guarantee you have never heard of any of these places, but if you have, do get in touch with me, so we can discuss what are probably fond, niche memories, steeped in the nostalgia of an ancient thriving metropolis; this wonderful, wicked city that has seen some of the greatest highs and lows of mankind. The London Cloud Museum. 64, Tonkhurst Street. Built 1788-93. Demolished 1822, redesigned 1893. (Look into the nearby Allows’ Books for a copy of the guide which, unfortunately, cannot be purchased on site). In 1783, George III (the mad one) was devastated by not only the loss of America in the war of independence, but also the death of his son, Prince Octavius, who was aged just four, following the tragic loss of Prince Alfred just the year before, who was but two. On the day of Octavius’ passing, the mournful King took a vow to bring a strain of happiness to the lives of children throughout the country (though his efforts were reserved for the capital), and commissioned the construction of a great museum to contain all the things he could imagine by which children could possibly be fascinated. The grand plans were to include an enormous zoo, a complex of heated baths, and a great field of state-of-the-art tunnels through which wind was angled skywards and kites of unimaginable size could be flown. There was to be huge kitchens in which only the sweetest treats were prepared, something akin to Willy Wonka’s Factory in levels of fascination and ingenuity, and a huge tub filled to the brim with a sort of sweet, warm, milky custard was to be constructed in such a way that children could climb a long set of rounded stairs before sliding in a spiral, splashing into the cream and covering anything or anyone who happened to be nearby. Crowning the whole children-themed park, however, was the Cloud Generator. Like something out of the Wizard of Oz, this gigantic pipe-like structure was the design-baby of noted architect Solomon R. Tricket, who worked with the foremost chemists, physicists, and alchemists of the day to create a machine capable of sending out artificial clouds of real water vapour that would collect above the complex in great soft white, well… clouds. Various shapes could be created by covering and uncovering taps and valves throughout the main tube so that primitive images could be cleverly extracted and, though there is no pictorial evidence that the generator created any quality works, the effect of seeing perhaps, a star, or a large but very much simplified rabbit, must have been exhilarating for the children at the time. Construction was timed to coincide with the ten year anniversary of young Octavius’ death, the year he would have turned fourteen, and taken up a role in the house of his father as a man of great respect and acclaim. After five years the park opened, and the public were admitted at what would be the equivalent of twenty pence, and adults went free! Families arrived with their swathes of children to marvel at the various sights and sounds, enamoured by the strange sights and so hyped up on sugar they could run and play all day, before returning home with heads full of puffy white clouds, dreaming of flying away on a dragon shaped in cotton, or living like a mighty king in a snow white castle of cumulus nimbus. Disaster struck the complex from above culminating in 1822, just two years after the death of George III himself. His successor, George IV, shared none of his father’s infant love, and put litte effort into the park’s upkeep. His focuses were drawn to fashion and glamour, the new Brighton Pavilion and the remodelling of Buckingham Palace, and the loves and whimsies of childhood were left to the wayside. Wages went unpaid, cleaning was rare and halfhearted, food went uncooked and stocks ran dry, and the great cloud spewing pipe grew dry as fewer and fewer families wanted to bring their children to the dirty, scummy park in North London, that had been the greatest joy of so many only a few years before. After the closure, no plans were made to reimagine or reopen something similar until 1893 when, on the centenary of the original opening, a team of scientists from the University of Oxford started looking into the applications of a cloud creating device, and found the old plans from the first park. With a royal commission they worked to open a smaller version of the grand complex, the descendant of which still stands on Tonkhurst Street, and today you can pop in, with a cotton white dream and see it come to life through the ingenuity of alchemists born hundreds of years ago.
©2007-2023 Benedict Esdale