The Roundhouse

Allow me to aggravate you with the following dreary tale: Open House is a scheme whereby buildings in London that are usually closed outright or otherwise restricted to the public let people in over the course of a late September weekend to nose around (within reason). It was by such means that I was finally able to breach the outer walls of the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, former concert venue for PF and their contemporaries. I'd like to say it was on a par with a religious experience, but as it wasn't I can't. Nevertheless, it was still good to wander by and wonder at how anything at all ever got going in there. Reports of how agonisingly noisy, cold and unpleasant it was as a venue sprang to mind as I paced up and down; even with less than 50 people making a not very loud sound at all (save a woman's baby and her three other kids either screaming or manipulating some balloons to make that irritating squeaky noise), it was still giving me severe acoustic trauma. As we plodded round, guided by the on-site health and safety officer - who happened to be on crutches owing to being neither healthy nor safe - I'm sure you'll be rapturous to know that at least three people in the particular group I happened to find myself in mentioned Pink Floyd in conversation. The safety officer wasn't one of them. Nor was I, come to that. It's not something anyone ought to be forced into admitting they have a passing regard for in public. Being a former railway turntable shed, there were more train enthusiasts and architecture types clambering about than music fans. Thus it was that while we were standing on a balcony at the building's edge, looking down at the floor and up at the wooden roof, a train spotterish type launched into an impassioned monologue about the ironwork supports holding the roof up. I can't deny it; it was a bit dull even by my standards. The only bit of the place we didn't get to see was the basement which used to house the mechanism for the turntable. Apparently it's all arched and crypt-like, and has a special name which I can't remember. After a bit more wandering round, as one is wont to do in a building that's exclusively circular, I bade farewell to the woman with the noisy children, who talked to me every so often throughout the visit - not that I minded in the slightest, especially as she seemed to have come to the conclusion that I was in some way intelligent and personable despite having done nothing to prove it to her. Incidentally she looked like Capital Radio DJ Margherita Taylor and sounded like actress Jaye Griffiths, which for nearly everybody reading this will mean approximately sod all. Never mind. Anyway I said goodbye to her and emerged, blinking in the sunlight, to the outside world once more.

And so to the pictures. But don't get too excited.


A general view from the floor. Out of focus, dark and a bit crooked. It's *free* though, so shut your trap and lump it.


Now, that over there is where the stage was, taken from near enough the middle of the floor area. You can just about see where it comes in the grand scheme of things in the picture above. Obviously it's not the actual original stage - that was apparently a platform only a few feet high. I think that those three shafts of light are storage cupboards or a backstage area of some description for shows put on nowadays. In any case, they themselves follow the contour (is that the word?) of the circular wall, and just off camera on both the left and right are two 'jaws' that jut out. I've not described that very well at all. Oh well.


Does this help any? From this angle you can still see two of the shafts of light coming from two of the doorways to the storage cupboards and/or backstage area, plus the left-hand 'jaw' thing jutting out at a right angle to the wall of the building. The right-hand jaw's obscured by the angle, the darkness and the man bent over in a manner liable to give him chronic backache unless he straightens himself up.

So, as you may have surmised, it's possible to get above floor level. And this shows you what nearly all of the place looks like from such a vantage point. What I'm standing on top of is the right-hand jaw (from the audience's point of view) of the stage area. You might also be able to spot the rest of the balcony on the left and the red-painted stairs to/from it. Nimble minds will deduce that it's from there that I took the picture above. That strange orange glowing bit over to the right is merely an exhibition detailing future plans for the place, not a small fire. Furthermore, the shaft of bright daylight is the original entrance for the steam engines that used to live here - until their replacements were built, with cavalier disregard for the size of the entrance. But they were too big, so that's how it was made redundant as an engine shed....

too small

You don't believe me, do you? Well, it's true. You can more or less see how little room they had to play with from this, which is what the famous entrance looks like from the outside. Even though its top third has been bricked up since, it's still not much of a gap to squeeze a huge locomotive through. I have a dim memory of being told that they were too long to fit on the turntable as well, which is even more woeful - and the kind of elementary mistake most Britons think could only happen on the railways today. Casting a veil over such incompetence, allow me to point out the stairs on the right leading down to the basement where the turntable mechanism used to live, and the current offices of the venue on the left, tastefully disguised as freight containers.

the roof

Well, let me see. We've been inside. We've been upstairs. We've been outside. Where haven't we been yet? This is a pointless preamble, isn't it? You can see where we're bound. Yes, the roof. Supported by a rather rusty-looking ironwork network of girders, it's more or less completely wooden. But back in its engine shed days, it never used to be - some of it was made of glass. What is hopefully apparent are the different directions of the wood. Nearer the centre, up to the apex of the roof, you can see the planks are vertically arranged, farther out they're horizontally arranged, and then they go back to being vertical again. As far as I remember, the vertical planks near the apex were where the glass used to be, and the black circle hides the air vent. Don't forget, the steam locomotives belched out a lot of steam and thick, black smoke. So the vent used to rid the place of the permanant fog, and the glass let in a semblance of daylight so oilers and greasers could actually see what they were doing.


You may have already seen this one at another time and another place, but I'll sling it in here to round off anyway. From Chalk Farm Road, and more accurately still from the forecourt of the petrol station opposite, this is what the place looks like. It's big, round, shaped like a house and beautifully proportioned. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Roundhouse. And say hello to Norman the pigeon, who swept by just as I pressed the shutter button. Crafty sod.

Another piss-poor, shabby production hastily done from memory alone and thus probably full of inaccuracies by CJH.