Last Updated on 16. June 2020
A new episode of “Meet the Londoner” and today we meet Paul Talling who shares his passion for derelict buildings on his website “Derelict London”, in walks through the City and in his four books. It is such a pleasure that I could win Paul for this interview as I share the fascination for lost places. Enjoy reading and discovering some derelict buildings.
Hi Paul, please tell us a bit about yourself
Who are you?
Paul Talling author, photographer and tour guide
Have you always lived in London?
If not, what made you move to London? I was born in Salisbury and moved around a bit. The music scene brought me to London.
Where in London do you live?
South of the River
Paul Talling about “Derelict London”
When did you start with Derelict London and what was the motivation to do so?
On an early Spring morning in 2003 I noticed that an abandoned candle factory in the Battersea area was finally succumbing to the wrecker’s ball. It fascinated me. I started to look out for other abandoned buildings, and my interest became an obsession. I took to wandering the streets, camera in hand, and set up a website – derelictlondon.com. Some readers have emailed me comments with their stories about the buildings, suggested new ideas for places to snap and many people accompany me on my regular walking tours around London every one ending in social gatherings down the pub proving that there is more interest in this subject than I ever envisaged.
Which products and service do you offer?
I have written four books – all about London’s social history accompanied by my photographs. There are two editions of Derelict London plus one on London’s Lost Rivers and the latest one released on is called London’s Lost Music Venues. I organise walking tours based on a loose theme around the books and social history and tie in lots of random stuff too including film and music video locations.
Which of your tours is your favourite one?
I love them all equally. I have over twenty different tours and alternate them so every-time I do one I approach it freshly. I always have a favourite place for breakfast beforehand and a pub afterwards where I have got to know people afterwards which is helpful for the local gossip and many of the walkers love indulging in a few drinks afterwards at these places that are not full of tourists.
How often do you go and explore derelict buildings?
I am out about randomly wandering around at least a couple of times a week. Sometimes I don’t find anything and even when I do access can be difficult. Buildings are usually secured due to the likelihood of vandalism and arsonists. If there is a way to enter one day it could be secured the next day. It’s all about luck and then seizing the opportunity. Some places can be extremely dangerous – not just the physical condition of the building but what may be lurking within such as discarded syringes or hostile occupants… That is why I only do it on my own. On the walking tours we just view the exteriors of the buildings.
Is there an official number of derelict buildings in London?
No there is not. English Heritage have a Buildings at Risk Register and there are hundreds in London though not all are derelict and of course the ones that they list are of some architectural interest. It’s an everchanging scenario. There are many houses, pubs, shops, warehouses, etc shutting down every month then many are regenerated or demolished. It is hard to keep track. My work is never finished.
What fascinates you about lost places?
The eeriness and tranquillity and wondering what happened there when these places were I their prime and full of life.
Which is your favourite derelict building and why?
The Millennium Mills in Silvertown is my favourite. It is situated beside London City Airport and the redundant docks and is full of old industrial heritage and modern social history alike. Great views from the roof too!
Built in the 1930s, it was one of the largest flour mill complexes in London. This mill alone had an output for the production of flour for 120 million loaves of bread a year. But after industry in the docklands declined throughout the 1980s, the mills finally closed down in 1992. Since then the building has made frequent appearances in films and movies looking for a backdrop of urban dereliction – recent examples include Paddington 2 and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and music videos by the likes of Orbital, Coldplay, the Arctic Monkeys and Snow Patrol. It will eventually be converted into a new centre for business and enterprise, with 3,000 homes to be built on neighbouring land.
Which feelings do these buildings awake in you?
How do you discover new buildings?
I get a few tip-offs from my readers and walkers but often I go on random all-day walkabouts and stumble upon derelict sites
You have two other sites about London’s lost rivers and lost music venues. How do they differentiate from derelict?
It is all around a ’lost London’ theme. London was built around lots of rivers but many have been covered over and converted into sewers so I wrote the London’s Lost Rivers book to highlight this. I used to promote bands in London pubs and clubs and have seen so many venues disappear so my latest book: London’s Lost Music Venues is all about places that used to host live music from the 1950s to modern day.
Many of these places where The Sex Pistols, Marc Bolan, The Who, David Bowie, Iron Maiden, etc all played are often forgotten about. Later in the year I have a book release party in Rough Trade record shop where I am doing a talk and punk rock legend Johnny Moped who used to play gigs at many of the lost venues is playing some songs (German readers may be interested that Johnny appeared with Die Toten Hosen on their recent Learning English Lesson Two album)
Paul Talling about London
What is a must-see in London?
Live music in a small club or pub such as the 100 Club, Dublin Castle or New Cross Inn.
3 words to describe London?
Something for everyone
How do you spend a perfect day here?
Just wandering around without any plans
Where do you go for a good breakfast?
I avoid the hipster joints or Starbucks and where possible go to traditional old school cafes like Frank’s Café in Limehouse which has been run by the same Italian family since the 1960s.
Too many to list but the Hole in The Wall adjacent to Waterloo Station is one of my old favourites. I frequent many great East London pubs such as the Old Ship in Limehouse and Callaghann’s in Poplar. The taproom of Huck Brewery in Silvertown is great too.
The best museum in London is…?
Museum of London in Docklands.
Fun stuff about Paul
Milk in first or milk in last?
What’s your favourite colour?
Best advice you were given?
Live life to the full but don’t be cruel
London is most beautiful to you when….?
Its early morning and foggy
How many photos have you taken about derelict buildings in total?
If you were super rich and could restore one of the derelict buildings, which one would you choose?
Georges Diner in Silvertown. It is an iconic working man’s café that closed down in 2005 to make way for a wider redevelopment scheme. But when that project failed to get off the ground the diner was left to decay. It looks like a converted house but it holds a lot of memories for people who knew that area before the regeneration. As the population is rapidly expanding in that area it would be lovely if the place could make a comeback but little chance of that as the developers still have plans to demolish it as part od the scheme around the Millennium Mills.
Favourite tube line?
The Overground (the ‘Ginger’ line)
Derelict London on social media
Dear Paul, thanks for your time and for taking us to one of the derelict buildings in London. I hope we can catch up soon on one of your tours.
Who else is a fan of lost places? Have you found some in London? Maybe you even took part in one of Paul’s tours? Tell me more in the comments below this post.
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