The London Planetarium

Built on the site of the Tussauds Cinema, which was destroyed during the Blitz, the London Planetarium was opened by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh on 19 March 1958. Public presentations began the next day. The Planetarium was an immediate hit with the public, and it considerably boosted attendances at the adjoining Madame Tussauds gallery.

The Planetarium’s 18 m (60 ft) dome seated an audience of 330 who viewed presentations from a Zeiss Universal Mk IV star projector. This mechanical and optical wonder remained in use for nearly half a century before being replaced by a digital system in 1995.

Sadly, by the beginning of the millennium, attendances were no longer sufficient to keep the Planetarium going as a separate visitor attraction. Astronomical presentations ceased in 2006 and Madame Tussauds repurposed the building for shows about celebrities. Now known as the Stardome, it still features ‘stars’ – just not those up in the sky.

This beautifully-produced brochure dates to around 1960 and was sold for the very reasonable sum of one shilling (about £1.00 at today’s prices). The text is uncredited, but in his 2003 autobiography Eighty not out the late Sir Patrick Moore claimed to be the author. Moore turned down the opportunity to become the first Director of the London Planetarium because he did not wish to move to London; the job went instead to astronomer and author Dr. Henry C. King.

Remains of Crystal Palace

Originally erected in Hyde Park to house the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Crystal Palace was intended only as a temporary structure but in an impressive example of Victorian can do, it was reincarnated as a permanent attraction in the public space now known as Crystal Palace Park, enjoying its second royal opening by Queen Victoria in 1854.

For more than eight decades the Crystal Palace enjoyed mixed fortunes as a visitor attraction, for the main part being beset by the same problems that would dog the Millennium Dome a century and a half later. It never had enough visitors to break even, despite staging events which included the world’s first cat show in 1871.

By the early part of the 20th Century the building was in decline but in 1913 it was saved from developers by the Earl of Plymouth and saved for the nation by a public subscription. During the 1920s restoration work was carried out and the attraction began to make a modest attraction, but sadly in 1936 it caught fire and was totally destroyed.

Plans for redeveloping the site and even rebuilding the palace continue to the present day, but in seven and a half decades have come to nothing.

© Christopher Seddon 2009

Beneath the Tate Modern

An unassuming door in the Power Hall of the Tate Modern leads to a subterranean world that few have ever seen or, indeed, will ever see. The oil tanks feeding the former power station are due to be converted to gallery space as part of the Tate’s 11-storey extension project. On 5 July 2009, as part of an open day, small groups of local residents and their friends were allowed down into the massive underground complex which had never previously been open to the public.

© Christopher Seddon 2009


It is quite unusual to be able to see a movie, leave the cinema and walk down the road to where the action took place. Anybody intending to see Nick Moran’s newly-released “Telstar” might therefore want to see it at the otherwise-unprepossessing Holloway Odeon.

Starring Con O’Neill as maverick record producer and songwriter Joe Meek and Kevin Spacey as his business partner Major Banks, the movie tells the story of Meek’s rise and fall, beginning with his 1962 hit single Telstar. Named for and inspired by an early communication satellite, this instrumental track was recorded by Meek’s band The Tornadoes at his makeshift recording studio, located above a leather goods shop at 304 Holloway Road, a few minutes walk away from the Odeon.

Telstar reached No 1 on both sides of the Atlantic, but Meek’s success was short lived. Hampered by paranoia, drug use, depression and a ferocious temper, his career began to falter and he fell into debt. Many of his problems likely arose from being an openly gay man in an era when homosexuality was barely tolerated.

The downward spiral ended in tragedy on 3 February 1967 when Meek shot his landlady after an argument about unpaid rent and then turned the gun on himself.

Holloway Odeon.

Poster promoting “Telstar” at Holloway Odeon’

304 Holloway Road today – now a convenience store.

Privately-manufactured plaque marking the location of the studio. Above can be seen a satellite dish, an ironic commentary on how satellite communication soon became commonplace.

© Christopher Seddon 2009