23 January 2020

Defaced ghostsigns in Chalk Farm Road

Last month I went out for strol and ended up in the the Camden and Primrose Hill area. I was just enjoying the bright weather, following my nose, look at stuff aimlessly.
As I passed Camden Lock, walking northwards, I noticed that the +120 year old ghostsign for Edwards the tailor which overlooks the canal at Hawley Wharf might be soon lost to us. As you can see here the artist's impression on the hoarding shows a clean wall. I hope this will not be the case as these little hints of the past help to give the area a sense of history.
Moving on northwards I then stopped to wonder what happened to the big rocking chair that used to be on Camden Interiors, at No.19 on the corner of Hawley Avenue. It had been there for decades and was a really good identifier.  I am pretty sure it was still attached to the building after the furniture company moved out so I hope whoever removed it has made good reuse of it.
Then on the next corner, Hartland Road, there is a relatively new ghostsgign. Silks & Spice thai restaurant had also been there for decades but, perhaps, latterly struggled to compete with all the additional food outlets that opened up in the area over the past 20 years, specifically all the Asian streetfood within the Stables Market area opposite.  
And so I continued up the road, fondly remembering happy days in the '90s meeting friends in The Lock Tavern when it was owned by Mick and Iris. Stuff hanging from the ceiling, doorstep sarnies, and oh those fireworks parties in the ramshackle garden!  They sold up and made quite a bit of money on it. Iris probably bought her own helicopter. The new owners tarted it up and used it for C4 TV productions such as Chris Evans' progs and the like. It's never been the same since.
And then past The Monarch, which is not The Monarch if you get what I mean, indeed neither is the Enterprise further up the road and, oh, I miss The Engine Room with its fab music quizzes attended by teams from NME and Melody Maker. Always packed, lively evenings.
And then amid my reminiscences.... BOOM!  Ouch!
I stopped in my tracks... one of my favourite ghostsigns and another one that features on my Camden ghostsgns walk (plug plug again) has been vandalised.
For +70 years this south-facing prime site has been showing us some understated hints of times gone by – a palimsest of signs advertised Johnson the bookbinder, Bacon the stationer and Laurence the draper. Today we can also add Man the egotist and whatever those other two bits underneath are supposed to be.
Chalk Farm Road, opposite entrance to Morrison's
Below is how it used to look in Jan 2009 (slightly enhanced) and I am little annoyed with myself for not taking some pics last year as, since 2009, the sign had further faded such that the [older] draper's sign, had become the strongest element.  

Ah well. What can we do? We can't hold on to everything. The sign will still feature on my tour. And its defacement will help to highlight the plight of these ads... blimey sound like I am talking about endangered animals here...!

16 January 2020

Update re doorway mosiac in Caledonian Road

A while back I wrote about this doorway in N1.
I completely forgot about it until I was looking in the directories for something else along The Cally and found that for at least 1915-39 this was a branch of Frost or Frosts or Frost's*.
This local grocery chain was not as common as say Lipton's, Sainsbury's or Home & Colonial Stores but they did employ the ubiquitous Victorian script style for their 'logo', as per Boots and CocaCola.
I discoved the name Frost at the Cally Rd location – er, why hadn't I checked theis before?
This reminded me of the lovely old shops I photographed Wandsworth which includes this one:
Doorway mosaic, 114 St John's Hill, Wandsworth
Further sleuthing... here's the full list of their shops in 1939:


And I found an old pic of how one of their stores might have looked – I am guessing c1910:
Frost's Stores, location unknown
*My [pedantic?] eye for detail has spotted that the possessive apostophe and/or plural name isn't consistent. As you can see from the 1939 directory, above, they are listed as 'S. Frost & Co. Ltd., provision merchants, yet for the specific Wandsworth entry in the same directory they are shown as 'provision dealers'. I am not about to check them all...!

16 December 2019

Plumbs the butcher, Hornsey Road, reveal of older sign

The W. Plumb shopfront earlier this year. 
Last week, whilst heading up to Crouch End on a 91 bus, I noticed an old wooden sign had been revealed at 493 Hornsey Rd. This used to be W. Plumb butchers and the shop inside is a tiled gem, see here.
I went back later to investigate...

Note the 1950s yellow tiles have been replaced
A. Hancock,  No.11 [presumably] Hornsey Rise

As I was taking snaps of the shopfront a fella came along with a cute young Bedlington Terrier and, well, blow me down, he stuck a key in the front door and it turns out he lives there with his partner. I didn't chat for long but it seems this old hand-painted sign will now stay visible.
I am note sure when A. Hancock was at the site as I don't have a County Suburbs Directory for that era as pre-1930s (approx), this was then part of 'outer' London. I can't therefore ascertain if the tilework inside and the coloured glass in the windows are concurrent with Mr Hancock's era, or what years he was there.
My 1939 directory tells me Thomas Knowlden, butcher, was there in 1939. I am not sure when Mr Plumb took over the business, though, as above, the yellow tiles and shop sign hint at the 1950s and they were still selling meat products under that name in 1990 when I used to shop there.
I think I need to go back and knock on the door for another chat. I will, hopefully, have an update soon.

11 December 2019

Hanging on in there in York Way

Just north of the railway line at 186 York Way, over the road from what used to be Maiden Lane railway station, just one old Victorian building remains squished in amongst the new builds.
How very strange.
And it's sort of ironic that it's home to an estate agent.


This district has seen big changes and lots of redevelopment in the past few decades. It used to be a very smelly area known as Belle Isle – a rather misleading name considering the stinky, noxious, businesses that were – most of the companies here were linked in some way to the nearby Caledonian meat market.
My old directories show me that for at least the period 1895–1915 this particular building was occupied by Harris, Barber & Son, horse slaughters. And to the rear there was 'Pleasant Grove'. There's still Vale Royal just down the hill. Maiden Lane, the earlier name of York Way/Rd, was actually a ref to 'midden' meaning a rubbish heap.

26 November 2019

Christmas is coming...


This Sunday 1st Dec, Noon–5.30pm, find me up at my stall on Navigator Square as part of Islington Council's Archway Christmas Lights Switch-on – this is always a lively event – there'll be music, entertainment and all sorts! I expect the Islington Mayor will make an appearance (though I don't expect to see Jezza this time!)
I will be selling my cards, prints and guided walks at reduced prices (vouchers can be applied to walks at a later date) and festive earrings also available.
Cards and prints are available through my Etsy shop – free UK P+P.


Also available on the Christmas sparkly theme – I have devised a walking tour in central London – it goes through Covent Garden and Leicester Square ending in Trafalgar Square. Wander along twinkly streets and hear the reasons behind our Christmas customs and traditions. Many dates available.
Or view my quick-to-view tour date schedule here

Ding dong merrily!

12 November 2019

Australia House

Last week my friend Rob Smith, a fellow Footprints of London guide, told me that an Australian lady on one his walks said she followed my blog and she was intrigued that he knew me.
Well, how nice.
And oddly coincidental because a few days before I was out doing a recce for an up-coming walk of my own and I noticed that sculptor's name on the piece by the door of Australia House, Aldwych, is by Harold Parker.
Harold was born in the UK and went back and forth to Brisbane during his lifetime. Perhaps he was one of my distant relatives?!


5 November 2019

Tutankhamun exhibition at The Saatchi Gallery – it's good but it's not good

Last week I went to a preview of this exhibition and it's been playing on my mind ever since as to what to write here. I was initially excited to be going to see the exhibition, but for many reasons it's been troubling me. And will continue to do so.
The show is on tour "to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb". Hmmm... I think "celebrate" is a dodgy word here. "Commemorate" or "mark" might be better. But more of that later.

The 150 Treasures of The Golden Pharaoh are indeed amazing. The attention to detail, the fine handiwork, the quality of the artefacts, is truly outstanding. Most of the pieces on display look like they were made last week; they are so shiny and perfect. I am in awe of the craftsmanship of these ancient people.

I was intrigued as to how the Saatchi Gallery would manage to display everything being as the gallery rooms are not well-linked, as per, say, the Royal Academy where one room leads to the next. Let's just say it's not good. I was there before the exhibition opened to the public and I can't have been the only one complaining about the lack of signage or misleading information.
Here goes...

On entering the show you are treated to a short wide screen film about the location of the Valley of The Kings, what the Egyptians believed about death and gods etc, and an overview of the discovery of this particular tomb. You then enter the first gallery room which is full of gorgeous artefacts. All lovely items, yes, but I must admit that I rather thought the show might be sort of chronological and perhaps make it feel like we were entering the tomb as Howard Carter did to give a sense of discovery. But no – it's boom! bang! here are the shiny gold things!  I found it hard to place what I saw in context with the tomb.
More beautiful artefacts in the next gallery and the next. People faffing with the audio handsets which weren't explained properly – note that you need to enter the number that's on an exhibit and then wait a few seconds for a click and then a few seconds more for a voice. Shame there's no fast forward or rewind. I gave up. Though listening to the talking was preferable to the having to endure the dreadful ambient music. Is it supposed to sound as if it comes from 3000 years ago?!

I was constantly distracted by the display and info panels in the galleries. The walls are all plain grey or have printed panels attached to them. The doors between the galleries have been half-heartedly designed to look like temple doors but they are painted dark grey. Why not sandstone colour? And why aren't the walls of all the galleries designed to look like the inside of the tomb or an Egyptian temple? If IMG, the event organisers, can afford to get panels printed then why not choose or create evocative imagery for them?
Many of the printed info panels were crumpled and creased and poorly stretched onto the frames. Close inspection showed a range of different man-made oil-based fabrics some satin, some textured, some like neoprene, some rigid. But none appear to be very eco-friendly. Here's the Egyptians using wood and stone and natural components yet here in the 21st century are displaying them in a sea of plastic. And and don't get me started about all the exhibition-grade grey carpet also in use here that gets trashed at the end of every event... grr.

From a typography and design perspective, the information on the panels is also a mess. There doesn't seem to be a style guideline. Surely the same typefaces could have been used throughout as the event toured? I must have counted at least six different typefaces and sub-fonts yet none of them looked very Egyptian. Most text is set ranged left, yet smaller info panels are fully justified (a crime unless it's a text book!) with so many ugly hyphenations including proper nouns such as, get this... "Tutankha-/mun's", "Tut-/ankhamun", and "Neth-/erworld". Oh yuck!

I spoke to someone from IMG about the ugly signage and her excuse was that the exhibition had been travelling and they couldn't change it. Er, really? Another excuse for this evident lack of quality control was that the exhibition is now nearing the end of its tour. I assume she meant that it's too late to bother now. I didn't like to point out that I doubted that this wouldn't have been in english language when the exhibition was in Paris, for instance, and it's unlikely that all the exhibition spaces worldwide are the same height and width. The pharaohs would not have put up with this!

The galleries on the ground floor are full of lovely artefacts. It's then up a staircase (or use the lift) to get to the upper the galleries. On finally entering Gallery 4 there is, what I later understood to be one of the most impressive finds, the wishing cup. Yet it's sited in a dull room that looks like just a lobby to a better place. I sat at the bench there to write notes. An audio kicked in but I didn't really pay attention until I realised it was about the discovery of the tomb, so I watched it for a few seconds and then spoke to a steward to tell them that hardly anyone will stop and pay attention after they've seem rooms full of marvellous things. People will just want to move on and find more gold.
Ah, but there isn't any more gold after that, except for a gorgeous necklace/ pectoral chain with an interesting story that I as good as walked past without noticing, only returning when I realised that the room was all about Howard Carter's find and the layout of the tomb etc. Which begs the question, WTF is this doing on the upper floors?! It would have been better placed in the first gallery to tell the story and then have it followed by the wishing cup and all the other artefacts. And the diagram of the tomb would also be better placed down there. Actually, put the diagram in every room with a dot showing where each piece was located when it was found.

Gallery 5 has a big statue in it. I am being flippant here. It's marvellous. Impressive. I moved on to Gallery 6 and found it's not a gallery; it's a gift shop which continues through into the next room. So misleading. And the shop looks like it was thrown together last week. Well, it probably was.
There were a couple of red virtual reality pod things on the top floor – these are immersive experience thingies. I didn't get to try one out. Lots of them should, by now, be arranged in that room resembling the alien nursery in the first Alien movie. I think they should be turquoise blue pods rather than red – perhaps they are left over from an exhib about China?! Also on the top floor you'll find  some interesting work by artists in residence. I like the crochet reference.

Basically, I left the Tut exhibition disappointed and a bit annoyed/frustrated. It's clear to me that the Egyptians' attention to detail has not been followed through in these slap-dash modern surroundings.
If young King Tut is still looking over us (he believed he'd still be alive if we continue to speak his name) then he will be disappointed too. The stipulations in his will asked that his mortal body be buried forever with all that he needed for his next life. Is this really what he would have wanted?
When we ask to be buried in a certain place do we really want to be dug up by tomb-raiders masquerading as historians who are really on a treasure hunt for personal kudos just trying to prove how much cleverer they are than the ancients? These people don't "discover" the tombs, like some kind of fortuitous accident – they hunt for them, they track them down, like completing the hardest puzzle, solving the most complicated riddle.
I wonder... shouldn't all these artefacts be still in the Valley Of The Kings where they were designed to be? Thousands of years of years buried away until some bloke in a pith helmet bursts the bubble.

Walk like an Egyptian – join me on one or both of my guided walks in Central London – see the schedule here.

22 October 2019

Sacred markings at St Magnus The Martyr

St Magnus The Martyr on Lower Thames Street sits at the northern end of Old London Bridge.
There are some interesting things in the churchyard including a commemorative plaque and a piece of Roman wood.
I really like the worn carvings and tombstones that today form a courtyard floor – they look especially good after the rain.



London Bridge was re-built slightly to the north meaning the church and its garden are now rarely visited – please do make the effort.
There is a staircase down from the bridge and the Thames Path to Lower Thames Street.
At the exit, underneath London Bridge, you'll find a rather unattractive doorway to what used to be a public toilet. Yuck!

15 October 2019

Cally Clocktower and Park – guided tours

I have really enjoyed leading tours up to the top of this marvellous clocktower.
Having spent time talking to people using the park or living in the flats around the outside it's clear that possibly 95% of them have no idea that the tower is open, let alone that tours are available. Perhaps it's got something to do with the lack of info on the boards around the park?

Caledonian Clocktower and Park, September 2019
This board on the north side tells us that the tower is being renovated, will open soon and to watch this board for updates.
Er? Also see the big empty space where updates could be easily inserted. It ain't rocket science.
Find out more about the tours here.

7 October 2019

Rembrandt's Light at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Oooh this is lovely.

Dulwich Picture Gallery have again come up with a corker of an exhibition.
Last week I went on a curators' tour of Rembrandt's Light and...
Actually, no... I am not going to say or show much here but instead keep it short and say that Rembrandt's work is so beautifully and cleverly presented at this show that you've just got to go and see it for yourself.
Each room has been cleverly designed by Peter Suschitzky , the award-winning film cinematographer, to best enhance the artworks on show. I particularly like the first and last rooms.
And it's another first for Dulwich Picture Gallery, the first purpose-designed building to showcase art and now, at this show, they are implementing specific LED lighting techniques.
Also note that, as drive to get younger adults into the gallery, £5 tickets are available for 18-30 yr olds! The sign-up for this reduced price pops up within the booking fields.
What's not to like?!
There are more/other Rembrandt paintings hanging on the walls in other gallery rooms, so do go and hunt for them.
   

4 October 2019

Bike Lane markings

Just a couple of pics of freshly painted bicycle lane makings.
I alway like the little ones sprayed onto the kerbside showing where the road markings should be placed.
I spotted these in Mitre Street, EC3, last month.



27 September 2019

Unusual light wells and coal holes

Earlier this year I stopped in my tracks outside 258 Pentonville Rd, when I happened upon a very unusual light well running the full width of the shop.
I say 'unusual' because it's got coal hole cover plates embedded within it (one at each end) and this was the first of this kind I have ever seen.

Ironwork and glass made by The British Luxfer Prisms company
Further sleuthing on Google Streetview shows the reason I hadn't ever noticed it before – it's been covered up for at least ten years, and this also explains its rusty condition.
And then last month I found another one in Birchin Lane a narrow street that joins Cornhill to Lombard Street in The Square Mile. Half way along, near Cowper Court, I happened upon a simpler [later?] combo with glass bricks embedded into concrete.

Made by Haywards Ltd
And then, can you believe it, I found another one – this time just off Cloth Fair. And here's me thinking I am observant yet I have been marching past these for decades! This particular site has even has some light wells arranged as the steps into the building (I had already spotted that though!).

It's amazing how interesting and diverse these light wells can be. At the junction of Jewry Street/India Street in EC3 there some examples with lovely horse motifs on them which, again, is something I haven't seen elsewhere, though, judging by the cole-hole-light-well-combos I will probably be finding more soon.

Made by the St Pancras Ironworks Company

I am not the only nerd interested in this kind of thing. See Yelfy's Faded London for more.

5 September 2019

Billiard Factory, 443-9 Holloway Road, London N7

Well this is intriguing...

Between NYT and Safestore, September 2019
Never mind that they look to have made only one billiard here (it must've been a really big one!!) ... I am hunting for reference as to which company is being alluded to here, and during what period in history that might have been.
Can you help?
The promo says that billiard tables were made or refurbished here. I might be looking too hard, but having checked some of my pre-WW2 directories and maps I can find nothing relevant at this site – perhaps it's a ref to a company that was here 1945 onwards...?
You might already be aware of a company called Jelks who traded in billiards-related tables and accessories as well as second-hand furniture at 263-275 Holloway Rd – this was further down the road at the junction of Eden Grove – it's possible that Jelks might have also had the site next to NYT?
Or was there another billiards-related company here?
It's all so intriguing!!

2016 (Google streetview) – at the time this went up the story was that billiard balls were made here rather than tables. And I liked that charcoal paint colour – looks so much nicer than boring white
2008 (Google streetview) – Octagon Court – a mosaic workshop and offices for rent
I have this week sent emails to the café chain and Ingelby Trice, the developer, asking for more info. But I am not holding my breath. I am rather sceptical about this site actually being a billiard factory, or similar, for longer than a week, having found quite a few other mis-namings across London based on lazy research.
All help appreciated.


3 September 2019

Vile re-tiling on The Queen's Head, Essex Rd

The exterior of the Queen's Head public house on Essex Road, Islington N1, has recently suffered a make-over.
It now looks like a pastiche of an inside out 1906 tube station interior by Leslie Green – created during his experimental period.

44 Essex Road, August 2019. 
FFS – there is a 17th century fireplace and ceiling inside – this site is slathered in +500years of history – what on earth were they thinking?
It looks like a theme park version of Yeee-ha Oldey Worldey Pubbey  
It's an abomination.
Future historians will surely not be writing about how lovely this was.
Even the Victorians, who quite liked a bit of a mash-up where tiles and typefaces were concerned, would find this confusing!

Holloway Road tube station interior. Architect/designer Leslie Green. Completed 1906

30 August 2019

Goodbye independent shops – hello brand name mediocracy

On 10th March 2017 a small version of B&Q opened up in Holloway Road within the old Post Office building. I was immediately concerned about the local independent hardware and DIY shops in the vicinity, especially one a few hundred yards up the road that has always been my go-to place for fixings, screws, glue, tools and other useful stuff, plus friendly advice too.
Local shops like this have a wider range of products, and are not pushing their in-house labels which, let's face it, are mostly copied from ideas created by other independent innovators.
Well, look, it's happened. They're closing down:


To those of you who have been shopping in B&Q rather than supporting this local independent shop – shame on you – you did this!!!!!

Soon all high streets will all be almost identical with the same shops in a different configuration.
And don't get me started on the lazy people who live in this area and are surrounded by a diverse range of shopping opportunities less than ten mins' walk away, yet they order online and have their shopping delivered by gas guzzling noisy vehicles to their homes, thus killing the very environment they chose to live in.
GRRRRR!

Update:
I was called by the local press about this. Read the piece here.

19 August 2019

Façadism: calm down dear – it's happening everywhere!

Façadism – keeping an original street-facing part of a building but removing and replacing everything behind it and then adding a new building behind it. 
Recently people have been up in arms about this citing examples such as the Mallet, Porter & Dowd building in Caledonian Rd and the rear of the hospital building in Artillery Row as examples of how bad this is. The Gentle Author/SpitalfieldsLife is one such person who is getting rather angsty about it and uses words like outrage, plague, folly – he is currently asking people to help him crowd fund a book on the subject.
Well, like Michael Winner, I say, calm down dear! Put you handbags down! What are you upset about exactly? Can we please put this into perspective...
Is the stress caused by loss of the old building? Or the building of the new one? Would the 'Façamoaners' rather the whole thing had been demolished? Does keeping only the front-facing section make them sad, like recalling a dead relative?
Yes, I am also disappointed at the amount of glass that is quickly replacing the old buildings, especially in the Square Mile during the last 15 years, but I am aware that 'progress' means moving with the times. Deals are not made in coffee houses these days.
Are the Façamoaners suggesting that we keep everything that has ever been built? We can't save everything! What do they think was there before? Consider that the coffee houses replaced Tudor buildings which were built on Roman dwellings etc – should we build on levels until we reach the sky?
Mallet, Porter & Dowd, Caledonian Rd
Regarding the two examples I give at the top of this post, in my humble pragmatic opinion, having studied both of those sites I have come to the conclusion that they have been well-considered, and keeping an attractive part of an old building helps a passer-by who is not that up on local history to question an area's heritage. Surely that's not a bad thing?
The MP&D/Costa CallyRd site (pic right) is often criticised because the old and new windows do not align. I agree that it does look odd at first glance. But, look closer to see that the old and new front walls are approx one metre apart – to align the windows would minimise light into the building, especially on an east-facing site. This design allows light to enter the building from many angles. The façade was the most interesting and attractive part of the building – as a warehouse only the front of would have had any embellishment. It's amazing that it's been retained at all. Again, would the façamoaners prefer to have this part also removed and we just see a flat wall of glass and clip-together panels, as per the rest of the terrace going south (left in the pic)? The new glass building will not last as long as the 1874 brickwork – there will be further developments here I am sure. My own problem with the renovation is the loss of the 99% of an original doorway of which only a tiny triangle remains at the extreme left.
Sussex Way, Holloway N7. Built 1870s.
A lot Holloway, N7, was built in the 1870s including the residential streets where I live. Façadism is in action here too but it's not so obvious; not so clearly defined. I reckon that less than 10% of the houses here will have interiors that resemble original 1870s floor plans. As I write this three houses a stone's throw away are being gutted and extended backwards and upwards – I expect bi-fold doors and pedestal kitchen units to arrive in the next few weeks.
In the case of Niclar House on Shoreditch High Street a bit of façadism would have been welcome.
Food for though eh.
That'll do.
Thanks for reading this.

14 August 2019

An attempt at cleaning

You are probably aware of the ongoing renovations in front of and around Highbury & Islington Station and the re-routing of the traffic around the roundabout (grunt).
The forecourt in front of the station was, so I was told, laid with the incorrect paving slabs and then re-done in nice textured [sandstone?].
But take a look at how it's being maintained. All that happens is a man in one of those mobile sweeping trucks makes a squiggly journey over the slabs and leaving a swirly dirty mess behind and the corners and edges are left untouched.


See also the Jubilee Bridges

5 August 2019

A floating museum at City Road Basin, Sunday 1st September

The Angel Canal Festival takes place every year on the first Sunday of September around City Road Basin, Regents Canal, Islington (11am to 5pm). The event is always vibrant with plenty to see and do.
City Rd Basin, 1970s. Photo: Bernard James
If you have ever wondered about the history of the canal then this year you are in for a treat because this year there will be a floating exhibition on the Dutch barge Fiodra which will be moored along the towpath of the canal at the end of City Road Lock. On board there will be 'now and then' photos, stories and memories about working and living by the canal, old maps and plenty of info about the industries which once thrived here. A free booklet will be available from the stall alongside the barge.
The project is spear-headed the Young Actors Theatre of Islington (YATI) along with Regent’s Canal Heritage Project and supported by the London Canal Museum. It forms part of the 2020 celebrations for the 200th anniversary of the completion of the canal.
Jamie Lynch of YATI says “We are so grateful to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for supporting us. We have brought local elders to share their stories of Islington’s past with some of its newest residents and collected lots of memories and photos over the few months. We have all learnt such a lot and we're delighted to share these at the exhibition and in the booklet".
In summer 2020, the exhibition will transfer to Islington Museum, St John Street.

Guided walks – On the following weekend, on Sunday 8th September, the exhibition will be brought to life through two 2-hr free guided walks: ‘Regent’s Canal Two Hundred Years On’. The tours, led by the two JPs*, will start from City Road Basin at 11am and 2pm. Spaces are strictly limited. The specific meet-up point will be on your ticket. More info and booking here.

*Jane Parker (me!) and Jen Pedler, my fellow Islington guide. 
I already offer two guided walks along and around this stretch of the Regent's Canal– Waterways Wharves and Windmills and (about the varied industries pre-1960s) and Boxes, Babies, Beans and Bras (a ghostsigns trail – signage for many of these old businesses is still visible) – see here for more.

26 July 2019

The pillars of NYT

The building that is home to the National Youth Theatre, 443-5 Holloway Rd, N7, was originally built as Holloway Hall in 1865 and used for meetings, events and shows including, in 1873, 'Aborigine travelling minstrels' and a baby elephant (not on stage at the same time!)
NYT have plans in place to make some clever architectural changes to the building and I recently went inside during one of their open evenings to see how the spaces will be revamped.
The large area at the rear of the ground floor, which 150 years ago was the  auditorium, is today used to create stage sets and I noticed that many of the columns within are 'decorated' with interesting paint patterns and graffiti.


I understand that these columns will be removed one renovations are complete to create an open, even more useable, unimpeded space.
Keep your eye on local press for updates about NYT's improvements.

11 July 2019

Charles Baker, optical and surgical instrument maker, 244 High Holborn

Earlier this week, whilst hunting for something else in amongst my suitcases of collected bric-a-brac, I rediscovered my small collection of opera and field glasses.
Oh what a distraction!
Beautiful little pocket-sized binoculars made of brass (and other metals) and/or bakelite, many with mother-of-pearl, leather or shagreen embellishment. And most of them still in their perfect little pigskin pouches. OK, that was just for alliteration – I mean carrying/protective cases.
Someone recently suggested to me that they were not worth much, that they had no value, and asked me if I used glasses at the opera these days. A bit of a daft question as I don't go to the opera! And also daft because one could say that Chinese tea caddies and Victorian children's dresses are also not used these days but that doesn't mean they aren't worth anything. I believe what he meant was that these are just collectables; they aren't top dollar items. Certainly not worth insuring.
Nevertheless I thought I'd do a bit of research on them.
Silver metal with hinged centre and mother-of-pearl inlay on the handles 
The pair that it turns out to be most intriguing, for me as a Londoner, is the pair that when the centre wheel is at full twist, words can be seen on the shafts that read; "Sold By C. BAKER, Optician" on the left side, and "244 High Holborn, London" on the right.
Kelly's – just up the road
So I got got to googling etc. It seems Baker was listed as a company as early as 1765 and by 1854 they had moved from premises at 51 Gt Queen Street, to 244 High Holborn, listed as an "optical and surgical instrument maker".  Interesting that the engraving reads "Sold by" rather than 'Made by". Hmmmm. Ponder, ponder.
My Kelly's Directory of 1895 shows that Baker was at No.243 with his instruments and also at No.244 as an optician. By 1915 there are five companies listed at No.244 address including another optician.
The 1939 directory shows that 242-243 has become The Holborn Empire music hall with Baker as scientific instrument maker at no244 sharing the building with Ascot Gas Water Heaters. At this time ads show Baker is making full use of the theatre next door as a signpost. I like to think he would have had a display of opera glasses in his shop window ready to catch the eye of theatre-goers.
Moving forward quickly... in 1963 the Vickers company acquired C.Baker Ltd's microscope factory which later became Vickers Instruments
It's all here on Grace's Guide if you want to read it for yourself.

Of my other binoculars, the ones that also interest me are my two compact late-20s/early-30s Bakelite pairs made by A. Kershaw & Son of Leeds. I am particularly fond of the ultramarine blue ones like these but bright blue. In 1920 the Kershaw company had various premises across the UK including offices/shop at 3 Soho Square. They had previously claimed to produce "the World's first cinematograph projector". By 1964 the company was swallowed up to the Rank Organisation.
And I also have some diddy little opera glasses made by Colmont of Paris; a company that I am told was one of the best French companies of this type back in the day. Ooh. More research needed.

5 July 2019

An elephantine enigma – what a load of tripe

I recently asked help with any information about this little building that used to be at 18 Market Road, N7, mid-way on the north side between The White Horse (Gin Palace) and Caledonian Rd.
As you can see below, when I took a photo in 2008, it had dancing trumpeting elephants on the front. I had wondered if it had been a theatre or something similar.
My pic from June 2008
It has since been replaced – see Google Streetview 2008 and click though to see that it had been demolished by 2012. 
Kelly's 1939 directory
Joe, a friend who grew up in the area, told me he recalls it as The Electric Cinema or similar. But I can't find it mentioned in Chris Draper's Islington Cinemas and Film Studios book
Further sleuthing in the Kelly's street directory of 1939 (right) shows J. L. Henson, tripe dresser at this address. The company must have been here pre WWII but I can see nothing listed in 1915 and 1895.
Hmmm. Ponder, ponder.
And then recently I met Alan. He's another person who is always looking up, looking down, and questioning things.
Alan tells me that in the 1970s he worked in this building when it was Otaco Ltd. He tells me that the empty meat-related buildings in the area were taken over at that time mostly by businesses related to the motor trade. 
Photo: Alan, ex-OtacoLtd employee, 1970s
He also directed me to a pic of the building in 1962-4 that clearly shows the signage for the tripe factory: 
J. L. Henson also had premises at 97 Charterhouse Street, opposite the northeast corner of Smithfield meat market
As you can see, there were no elephants in the 1960s or 1970s.
The black and white pic is available from a few online photo libraries and In all instances it is credited to English Heritage with John Gay as 'artist'. All tag this pic as 26-40 Vale Royal, Holloway, which is just down the hill off York Way and certainly not part of Holloway! This is a great example of people just copying and pasting info without checking things. 
My 1939 directory shows that Edmund Martin Ltd*, another tripe dresser, was at 22-46 Vale Royal. but Henson did indeed have premises there but not until 1962 when they vacated the Market Road premises as shown here in a document about offensive trading. The link also indicates that Henson had an unauthorised fat melting site in Hornsey Rd near the junction of Tollington Park – that's a stone's throw from my home – ugh!
I can find no info about about Truman Steven/s as shown in this 1960s pic.

So, enough of all this tripe – back to the elephantine enigma. When did the trumpeting beasts appear?
I have a few ideas...
1. If Henson's factory was converted into a theatre/cinema, as my mate Joe recalls, then it couldn't have been until the mid-60s and only for a short while; possibly for a decade until the motor trade moved in. 
2. Or perhaps the elephants were added in the 1980s after the car companies moved away? The buildings would have again been standing derelict and could have been put to good use. Consider that there are playgrounds and sports facilities opposite = lots of children. Perhaps it was at this time that the building was used as a temporary cinema and this is when the elephants were added (children like dancing animals and the ref to a tripe factory might have been obscured to avoid offence and confusion).
3. Or (and here's my latest idea) it might have been used as a film location?

Alan tells me has some other leads to investigate and will get back to me...
Watch this space
All help welcome.

*You might recall that Edmund Martin Ltd had a shop on Lindsey Street ,facing the eastern side of Smithfield market, was demolished to make way for The Elizabeth Line. Boo hoo. Next door was a marvellous Miami-style 1930s building, also demolished, which I am going to be featuring Smithfield Art Deco walking tour, coming soon.

3 July 2019

Goodby to Niclar House – an art deco delight

Shocking news.
On Sunday last I was leading my Art Deco Spitalfields tour and we were heading northwards up Bishopsgate. The next stop was to be Niclar house with its 1930s castellated faience tiled façade. I had already pre-warned my group that this end of the street was in the process of being renovated and that the building we were about to see and talk about had been behind nets and scaffold for the past few months – but never mind, I had pictures to show them and plenty to talk about.

Nicholls & Clarke's Niclar House in 2018 (Google streetview)
But when we got there, oh the disappointment and shock (and tongue-biting frustration):
Pic taken from the top of a bus (Sunday 30 June 2019)
Where is façadism when you really need it?
Norton Folgate sits at the upper end of Bishopsgate and has for years been cause of dispute about the conservation of its last remaining historic buildings. However, the buildings that abut Norton Folgate were not included as they did not form part of the same street – they appear[ed] to be a continuation but they actually form[ed] the first section of Shoreditch High Street, which had become separated from the rest of that road when the railway arrived.
Niclar House at No3-8 Shoreditch High Street was the swanky public/street-facing offices and showrooms of Nicholls and Clarke, plumbers' and builders' supplies who, since 1875, had made very good use of the adjacent railway to ship their products all over the country from their huge warehouses in Blossom Street at the rear (often used as a film location).
In June the demolition crew arrived. The Art Deco façade was covered with scaffolding, netting and opaque sheeting and I rather hoped that it was being protected and saved.
But no.
The powers-that-be and the developers obviously don't think that Victorian and unique Art Deco buildings are significant. This would also further explain the loss of The Water Poet public house. I am still unclear what will happen with N&C's still partially-erect evocative Victorian warehouses as shown in the pic above. I wonder what happened to all those tiles? Were they saved? Will the be reused individually or rebuilt en-masse? Answers on a postcard please.
Also see The art deco clock.
Nicholls & Clarke still trade today.