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Tag Archives: Golders Green

“I danced myself into the tomb”… A tribute to Marc Bolan

The 16th of September 2017 commemorates the 40th anniversary of the death of one of London’s most famous sons: Mark Feld– aka Marc Bolan– the flamboyant frontman for 1970s band, ‘T-Rex’.

Marc Bolan

Marc was born at Hackney General Hospital (now Homerton University Hospital) on the 30th September 1947.

His early childhood was spent at 25a Stoke Newington Common and he attended Northwold Primary School and William Wordsworth Secondary Modern, Dalston.

The Feld’s family home, Stoke Newington Common (image: Google)

The Feld’s were a humble family.

Marc’s father, Simeon was from hardworking Jewish stock, driving a lorry from Monday to Friday and running a stall on Petticoat Lane (an institution which Marc would later reference in his 1976 song, ‘London Boys’) on weekends.

Marc’s mother, Phyllis was also a market trader; her pitch was at Berwick Street. As a youngster, her son often helped out on the Soho stall; a job which no doubt helped Marc develop the confidence and flair he’d later become famous for.

Berwick Street, Soho in the 1950s

In the early 1960s the Feld’s moved south of the river to a prefab at 27 Summerstown, a stone’s throw from Wimbledon stadium. The former home is now covered by an industrial estate.

The site of the Feld’s former home, Summerstown (image: Google)

Marc enrolled at Hillcroft School, Beechcroft Road (now Ernest Bevin College) but after gaining a reputation as a daydreamer who lacked concentration he was expelled at the age of 14- although he’d later recall that “They were very nice about it.”

Marc Bolan in his teens

Marc’s true passion was music.

He received his first guitar and record player aged just 9 and his father would often bring home vinyl discs which he’d picked up on Petticoat Lane. Marc’s idols were Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, Elvis Presley and the then fledgling Bob Dylan.

As he entered his teens, Marc took to busking outside the former ‘Prince of Wales’ pub on the junction of Summerstown and Garrett Lane (which is now sadly a Tesco Express).

The former Prince of Wales pub, Summerstown all boarded up (image: pub history.com)

Southwest London in the early 60s however wasn’t exactly happening, so Marc would often head to Soho’s coffee bars; the ‘2is’ on Old Compton Street (now a branch of ‘Poppies’ fish and chip restaurant) was a particular favourite.

It was during this period he befriended an equally young David Bowie.

Marc was also passionate about clothes and began to cultivate his unique look with regular visits to the former ‘Bilgorri’ emporium on Bishopsgate.

By the age of 16 he’d adopted his first stage name- Toby Tyler– and was soon gigging at the ‘Middle Earth’ club on Covent Garden’s King Street.

It was in 1967 that Marc formed ‘Tyrannosaurus Rex’- later simplified to ’T-Rex’- and, after a turbulent start, the group achieved their first hit- ‘Ride a White Swan’- in the autumn of 1970 (please click below to listen):

After that, commercial success quickly followed as the group spearheaded the Glam Rock movement.

Please click the images below to hear T-Rex’s other hits which include:

Jeepster (1971)

Get It On (1971)

Hot Love (1971)

Children of the Revolution (1972)

20th Century Boy (1972)

…and ‘Metal Guru’ (1972)

With this success came numerous television interviews.

In one particular appearance with Russell Harty, Marc was asked how he considered the future; the idea of being an older man in his 50s or 60s.

Ominously, Marc shook his head and replied “I don’t think I’ll live that long.

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On Thursday September 15th 1977, Marc dined at Morton’s Restaurant, Berkley Square with his girlfriend and fellow performer, Gloria Jones; the American singer best known for her song, ‘Tainted Love’ which was famously covered by ‘Softcell’ in 1981.

Marc and Gloria

In the early hours of the following morning, the pair left the club and climbed into their purple 1275GT mini. Gloria was at the wheel- Marc had a morbid fear of driving- and they headed for their home on Upper Richmond Road West.

Just before 5am however, Gloria lost control of the car on Queen’s Ride, Barnes; a particularly dangerous stretch of road which, unusually for London, has a distinct country-lane feel.

Queen’s Ride, Barnes (image: Google)

The mini careered off the tarmac, smashed through a fence and came to rest at a tree.

Gloria was severely injured. Marc died instantly.

He was 29 years old.

Marc Bolan (image: Planet Rock)

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Marc Bolan’s funeral took place at Golders Green Crematorium on the 20th September 1977 where the centrepiece of his floral tribute was a large white swan crafted from chrysanthemums.

The tree in Barnes where Marc’s life was cut so tragically short, remains in place and has since become a major shrine for fans.

Flowers at the crash site where Marc Bolan died (image: Google)

Marc’s parents, Simeon and Phyllis both died within 9 months of each other in 1991 and their names now appear alongside their son’s on a modest memorial plaque within the peaceful grounds at Golders Green Crematorium.

Plaque commemorating Simeon, Phyllis and Marc at Golders Green Crematorium

Please click below to watch Marc perform his classic, ‘Cosmic Dancer’ which was filmed live at Wembley in 1972:

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Suburban SOS… An Early Aviation Diaster

Despite a natural fear harboured by many, it’s a well-known and often quoted fact that flying is one of the safest forms of travel.

Ever year, millions of jet-setters are whisked around the globe, their lives securely entrusted to the hands of highly trained professionals and an array of multi-million pound technology. 

On the ultra-rare occasions in which air accidents do happen, the very nature of such incidents often result in a tragedy of catastrophic proportions. 

Aftermath of the 1977 Tenerife Airport disaster; the deadliest air-crash in aviation history.

Over the years, scores of notorious aviation disasters have occurred all across the world.

However, the very first chartered plane crash in which civilian passengers perished took place very close to home… in the leafy, north London suburb of Golders Green

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Before examining this tragic aviation first, we should take a quick look at the airport which the flight in question originated from… Cricklewood Aerodrome.  

Cricklewood Aerodrome (image: Aix-Arg archives)

Now long-vanished, Cricklewood Aerodrome owed its existence to a large aircraft factory known as Handley Page.

The factory itself had been established at its north London site in 1912 by Frederick Handley Page who, just 12 years after the pioneering achievements carried out by America’s Wright Brothers, saw a market for the newfangled flying contraptions. 

Frederick Handley Page and the logo of the innovative aircraft company which he established.

Once an aircraft left the Handley Page production line, it was flown directly to the purchaser. To facilitate this service therefore, the company laid out an airfield next to the factory.

Map indicating the layout of the former Handley Page complex. The location of the factory buildings is marked in blue, the adjoining airfield in red. This area lies a short distance south of Brent Cross shopping centre. (A-Z imaging)

In 1914, just two years after the factory had opened, WWI; the Great War erupted… the very first conflict to involve aerial combat.

A WWI Dogfight

As a consequence, the Handley Page factory at Cricklewood turned itself over to the war effort, churning out heavy bombers which, at the time, were the largest winged aircraft ever created, their bulky size capable of stashing away some 2,000lbs of explosives.

A Handley Page WWI bomber

In the following dramatic clip, taken from the 2008 film, The Red Baron, the fearsome German flying ace, Manfred von Richthofen can be seen annihilating an unfortunate Handley Page bomber…

Once the Great War was over and normalcy began to return to Europe, the Cricklewood-based manufacturer restored their facilities to more peaceful purposes.

In 1919, the group established Handley Page Transport, converting their former bombers into passenger planes whose range made them capable of serving pioneering passenger routes between London and Paris.

For over a year, the adolescent airline transported the brave and well-to-do between the two capitals without incident… that was until the 14h December 1920.

Just before midday, the regular scheduled flight to Paris took off from Cricklewood Aerodrome. The model of aircraft serving the route was a Handley Page O/400, its droning twin propellers lifting the heavy plane into the misty sky.

A Handley Page passenger plane at Cricklewood Aerodrome being prepared for a commuter flight to Paris, February 1920.

Moments after rising into the murky air, the vintage passenger plane encountered difficulties… for reasons unknown, the airliner was unable to climb and dropped so low that it brushed the branches of a large oak tree; a collision which no doubt did little to relieve its technical woes.

Seconds later, the aircraft plunged into the back garden of number six, Basing Hill, a quiet, residential street on the western outskirts of Golders Green.

Map indicating Basing Hill and the approximate, disastrous path taken by the struggling aircraft. (Google imaging).

As the Dundee Courier reported at the time, “Within half a minute the whole machine- which was nearly eighty feet long- was burning fiercely. The flames rose to an enormous height.

Basing Hill, NW11 as it appears today.

The crash must have come as quite a shock for the occupants of number 6 Basing Hill- an elderly pensioner called Mrs Robinson and her one servant…

As well as bursting into flames, the downed craft also forged a huge hole in the garden… and was reported to have demolished “a short wooden fence and scullery.

Despite the seemingly quaint nature of this crash, the incident was certainly no picnic for the unfortunate souls trapped inside the flying machine.

Although four passengers managed to clamber out of the doomed plane shortly after impact, two of the crew and two passengers were still trapped inside… as the newspaper report continued; “Their agonised cries for help came from within the circle of flame and continued for several minutes…”

December 15th 1920 headline from the Dundee Courier, describing the Golders Green crash in gruesome detail…

Although locals rushed to the scene to help, the intensity of the flames beat back any hope of rescue.

Once the raging fire had been extinguished, the deceased victims were recovered. “Charred beyond recognition”, they received little dignity; dumped on the back of a lorry and carted off to the local coroners court for a post mortem.

The names of those who perished were Mr R. Bager- the pilot, Mr J.H Williams- the mechanic… and the two trapped passengers; Mr Salinger (from Boxmoor, Hertfordshire) and Mr Vander (from Paris)- the unfortunate Englishman and Frenchman sadly gaining their place in the history books as the first two civilians to lose their lives in a chartered airline crash.

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Cricklewood aerodrome ceased operation in 1929, moving to a new base in Radlett, Hertfordshire.

In 1924, Handley Page Transport merged with two other companies, forming Imperial Airways… the forerunner to what we now know as British Airways. 

Imperial Airways poster, 1920s (image: airminded.org)

Although Cricklewood airfield quickly disappeared beneath a housing estate (centred around Pennine Drive), the neighbouring Handley Page factory remained in business right up until 1964.

However, just like the neighbouring airfield, that site too has now been built over … the only building to remain from the once vast complex is an old office block, visible at the western end of ‘The Vale’…

The only remaining Handley Page Building which can be seen on The Vale, Cricklewood.

Aerial view of the Handley Page factory, Cricklewood. The one surviving building (pictured in the image above) is circled in red.

To read about two more of London’s grim transport firsts (this time related to the motor-car), please click here.