29 August 2014

Breaker's Yard at Sutton House, Clapton and Stamford Hill

Sutton House, Homerton, is North London's oldest residential house. Built in 1535 by a rich courtier of Henry VIII, it's now owned and managed by the National Trust.
I finally went there last Friday for a guided tour. The house is just what you'd expect from an NT property – history, eccentric past owners, wood panelling, tea rooms etc. But I was more interested and impressed by the ingenuity of Breaker's Yard, a paved garden that has recently opened on the land adjacent to the the house which in centuries past used to be part of a tannery and, more recently a breaker's yard, hence the name.
This inspirational garden contains all kinds of creative and interactive elements including planters made from huge tractor tyres, recycled rainwater, a vegetable garden, a sand pit and, my favourite elemnt, a double-decker caravan that has been transformed into a mini stately home using reclaimed panelling, an old staircase, a wooden chandelier and other decorative elements. I'd just love something similar in my own garden! Read more here.

After the tour I decided to walk through Clapton along the A107 and on my journey I spotted quite a few things that were either new to me or had changed since the last time I really took a good look along there.
For instance, in the lobby of St Andrews Mansions at No.157 Lower Clapton Rd there are some lovely tiles (see top left, below). However, the sister building next door does not retain the same.
The toilet block T the end of Millfield Road is still closed and surrounded by blue boards – that's at least six years now. Somebody do something please! Question: why are hoardings like this always painted bright blue? Answers please.
I popped into the gardens that surround nearby Clapton Pond, sat for a while with a sandwich and read the info board about the conservation area. Glad to see The White Hart pub falls into that zone and has, since I was there last, had new life breathed into it. And an old carved, recessed sign is now visible along the front reading, "The Clapton Hart". I am still waiting to see what becomes of the old cinematograph building next door.
Across the roundabout, I noticed the change in colour within the brickwork on the side of the old tram depot which I think shows where the ramps used to go up to the second floor. Further along, on the corner of Cleveley's Road, there is a clunky old optician sign.

I have for many years been trying to get a good angle on the ghost sign above Clapton Station to try to work out what it might have advertised. Well, whoopee, I think I have finally cracked it – it appears to be a NestlĂ© ad, and may have looked like this one except the lettering on the Clapton sign looks to be be outlined rather than solid. Sorry, but the pic above doesn't really capture very well what I could see on the day.
I continued towards Stamford Hill, noticing that by now almost 75% of people passing me were wearing wigs, big black hats or thick tights. None of them were wearing a smile. I tried smiling at them but they ignored me as if I wasn't there. A lot of them looked thin, pale and undernourished; others looked far to young to have three children in tow.
At Clapton Common I turned left into Oldhill Street. It's interesting to note that there are lots of hills in the road names around here; Stamford Hill, Spring Hill, Big Hill, High Hill, Harrington Hill, Bakers Hill.
Oldhilll Road contains some very strange diddy little houses – there are two skinny buildings facing the street as per normal, but a few doors further up there are some more that are set sideways like back-to-backs. I have never seen these in London before. See here. And further along the road I noticed that Stamford West Grove still has its old framed enamel street sign showing the now defunct London N.E. area. These days NE is Newcastle. The South London S code was also abolished in the 19th century.
Returning back to the main road via Braydon Road I spotted an old workshop with broken windows and peeling paint with a sign that read, "Accident Repair Centre". Quite ironic really. The faded blue paint on the shutters was pleasing. That same blue again.
I walked back to the corner of Oldhill in front of the impressive 19th century houses that face the common and mused how similar it looked to other park-facing terraces elsewhere in London i.e Highbury Fields, Clapham etc.
On an information board outside St Thomas's Church, on the corner of Oldhill, there are some old photos showing how the area used to look 100 years ago. One of them features the Swan Tavern. I used to drink there in the 80's with a friend who lived close by – it was the only decent pub in the area. As you can see by these pictures, the building has changed considerably over the years. It's now a Jewish centre and barely recognisable as an old pub. It's been even further 'simplified' since the image in the link above – the front of the building is now practically flat and I could see that the interior has been plasterboarded and magnolia'd with bright strip lights added to the ceilings. Why they couldn't have kept some of the decoration and mouldings is beyond me. At least the church who took over the Rainbow/Astoria at Finsbury Park had the decency to keep the architectural details there intact. Hallelujah.
Anyway... continuing my journey...
I stopped to snap some mish-mash patchwork wooden hoardings on another building site and then spotted an interesting church spire in a street beyond the northern side of the road so I went to check it out.
Sitting next door to the Arriva bus garage in Rockwood Road is a Grade II listed building orginally built by the Agapemonites cult in the 19th century as 'The Church of the Arc Of The Covenant'. Read more about this quite-frankly bonkers group and its loony leader here. The building is covered in intriguing sculptures featuring among other things depictions of various beasts appearing to crush humans underfoot.

There are also some and some interesting bronzes up high. The building is now used by the Georgian Orthodox community. Here's a video about it.
On the opposite side of the road there is the New Synagogue which also has some lovely stained glass windows.
I thought that was enough for one day so I got on a 254 bus and went home.

26 August 2014


I was just about to put a collection of pics together about this past weekend's walk from Greenwich to Wapping when it occurred to me that I still hadn't posted about last month. So here goes...
I went with a couple of friends to the foreshore on the southern side of the river under Blackfriars Bridge and then we wandered along eastwards.  I spotted a strange hardened lump of metal that looked like stone made from petrified eels, and some plastic poking out of the ground such like it seemed as if it was growing there. Also a foot shape ring of tufts which I though odd. There were also the usual bits of old weathered wood, oyster shells with holes in them and, of course, clay pipe fragments.

But it intrigued me how I kept seeing so many bits of leather shoes.
At first, I made a small collection and included a 'pair' of black gloves. But I kept finding more and more pieces of heel and soles, often hobnailed and beautifully handmade. In 30 minutes I managed to collect more than 30 bits so I arranged the best of them on the access steps near Tate Modern for other people to admire. The ages of these items varied a lot. Most were Victorian/Edwardian; others definitely came from the mid-20th century, and some were quite plainly less than 10 years old.
So... why/how have these all ended up here? I have never seen shoes in such profusion on any other sections of Thames' foreshore.
Was this an area particularly affiliated with cobblers?

20 August 2014

Sunshine and a rainbow

Hard to believe it's August at the moment. It's cold and wet and windy out there.
So I have put together some sunny-coloured things to remind us of that big hot thing that usually sits in the sky.

I was asked to tweet about my favourite colour of the rainbow earlier this week for Samsung's #MidnightRainbow event. I actually prefer indigo – this old post features some lovely old dark blue tiles and links in nicely with the above.

Here's a photo of the rainbow made using lots of Samsung Tab S screens taken at the press event last night where I bumped into my old school mate Andy who is now the big cheese there.
See the rainbow today on the Southbank near Gabriel's Wharf.

18 August 2014

Pretty patterns

I had a kaleidoscope when I was young. I loved the patterns it made. I also liked colouring in graph paper to make intricate patten repeats. But that's another story.
This has post nothing to do with London except that I bought a (replacement) old kaleidoscope at a London boot fair while back and rediscovered it this past weekend.
Nice eh.
Who needs technology?!

12 August 2014

Making an impression

I have been snapping marks made in wet cement or tarmac for years now and have collected a few of them together here.
Some are accidental impressions made by shoes, cones or birds; others are clever or specific written messages:

But the most common ones are where people have written their names:

7 August 2014

London shop fronts and their signs

I have been taking photos of shops signs and frontages for many years now. I am drawn to old hanging signs, hand-painted lettering, curved glass and wonderfully-arranged or jam-packed window displays. It's always frustrating when I realise I missed a photo when a shop I had taken for granted closes before I had a chance to snap it (as in the case of the old Shelly's shop at the Holloway end of Seven Sisters Road that disappeared over ten years ago and had the original Victorian walk-in windows at the front. If anyone has any photographic reference, please do contact me).
Emily Webber is also interested in London's shop fronts and many of her photographs are featured in  this short film
Support your local shops!!!

5 August 2014

The Rising Sun

Continuing on from my recent post about the emporiums of Tottenham Court Road, there is another building also covered in amazing reliefs and decorations, and that's the Rising Sun public house on the corner of Windmill Street, a street so-named because there used to be a windmill in the street.
Originally a Truman's pub, this fabulous example of Art Nouveau Gothic was designed in 1897 by Treadwell & Martin architects, which can be seen stamped onto the building between the first and second floors. The upper floors are painted stucco and the ground floor still has its original larvikite cladding.
Also note the beautiful floor mosaic at the entrance, which is one of my favourites of its type in London.

29 July 2014

Seven Sisters Road – Holloway to Finsbury Park

This past few weeks I have been preparing for a guided walk that I have been encouraged to do by the lovely people at Rowan Arts. They thought it would be a good idea if I led a tour along a section of Seven Sisters Road to tie in with their programme of events titled 'Seven Sisters Stories'.
"Eek," I thought, "I can talk, but I can't speak", if you get what I mean – I can't just stand there pointing at things that interest me, saying, "look at that; isn't it lovely – I wonder what it means?!". Hence research has been necessary.

So, I have recently spent a lot of time deskbound (when it's absolutely gorgeous outside), both at home and in Islington Library's local history centre, finding out more info about the history of the stretch of road from Nags Head to the gates of Finsbury Park (and getting side-tracked at every turn of a page!).
I always work better with a deadline, hence why I am telling you about this now. Sharing this will make me apply myself properly – finish the research, fix some dates, set up a booking system etc.
Very soon I will  announce the dates, which will be a couple of weekday evenings in August. If it's a success, then who knows, it might become a regular thing...

23 July 2014

Me me me!

Nicola Baird writes Islington Faces, a blog about creative people in Islington. We met when I had a stall selling my clay pipe jewellery and Holloway photo montages at a Rowan Arts event earlier this year and shortly after, she contacted me to ask if I'd like to be interviewed too.
Here's a link to it. I'm not sure about the gurning portrait in there so, seeing as that pic's available to the masses, you might as well see some other pics of me too; all taken in London including four self portraits:

22 July 2014

The Tottenham Court Road emporiums

More proof that you should be looking rather than just bowling along when you pop out for that sandwich at lunchtime.
These pics are from a short middle section of TCR near Goodge Street Station. I have yet to find out the original purposes of the buildings in this top collection of pics. All help welcome.

Top row: The large green dome on the top of the building on the south corner of Chenies Street is topped with a fabulous gold weather vane featuring a lion. Art Deco Glenn House opposite Goodge Street Station is solidly built and features a a ornate clock.
Middle row: First two pics above the Scientologists shop (shop? what is it? a lure? a trap?) – Goddards sign and an ornate frieze. The building that now houses Paperchase sports some colourful gold and blue faux capitals. 
Bottom row: The first image shows the corner of Goodge Street in 2008. The corner building has recently been demolished, as shown in the second pic. Pics 3 and 4 show some of the details on the gothic building which now houses EAT.

On the northern corner of Goodge Street, sits a building that is absolutely festooned with ornamentation – friezes of fruit, birds, mythological beasts, windows in all shapes and sizes, and two green conical spires both topped with identical golden spheres and weathervanes of what look like mer-boys. 
Only the a large letter 'C' on the bowled corner window hints at the original owner although this seems a bit of a contradiction seeing how much of a show-off he seems to be in other respects. The 'C' stands for Catesby's Furniture Store and was 'the home of cork lino'. Edward Catesby looks to have been doing rather well for himself!
The architects initials HAW (Henry A. Whitburn) and the date (1904) can be made out either side of the dragon at the very top. 

Look up, see more!

15 July 2014

Whitecross Street Party 2014

The Whitecross Street Party 2014 – Rise of the Non-conformists is a fab fun colourful central London street festival for all ages. and it's happens this weekend 19th and 20th July.
It doesn't seem like a year since last year's great event which is shown in the pics above.
See you there – I will have a stall again – if I get time I will be also selling some photographic collections of the local area as well as the usual clay pipe stuff.

10 July 2014

Old Salt Quay and Surrey Docks

This huge, now redundant lifting mechanism, can be found on the bridge by the Old Salt Quay at Rotherhithe and marks the entrance from the River Thames into the old, now mostly demolished, Surrey Docks.
The pub that stands nearby was formerly called The Spice Island which hinted at the imported goods coming into the area back in the days when the area was a bustling port.
Read more about the area here in this really informative booklet by Stuart Rankin.

7 July 2014

St Thomas Street – a wind tunnel of change

I recently met some friends for a drinks and nice food in a lovely pub in Bermondsey Street. Zig-zagging back towards London Bridge I entered St Thomas Street via Weston Street to find the junction completely blocked by construction works. Gone was the view of the road tunnel under the railway bridge, with hoardings and scaffolding erected half way along the road looking east. It's probably been like this for ages, but this not being an area I walk regularly, it was a bit of a shock for me. I stood and wondered and hoped if the lovely old brickwork that originally supported the bridge would remain once the work was completed.

Turning left into St Thomas Street I found that I was in a very forceful wind tunnel. It wasn't a particularly breezy evening so I can only assume that The Pointy Thing was causing this uncomfortable condition. I stood at the foot of the glass monstrosity and marvelled at its lack of architectural features. I still could find nothing to endear me to it; just rows and rows of angled plain glass windows separated by red lines and pale grey panels. Actually, it's all a bit mid-80s isn't it?!

On the western end of the St Thomas Street, stands the main tower of Guy's Hospital. This edifice has had a bit of a make-over recently – see the pics in the middle row of the top collection of images; the first were two taken in 2008. The tower dominates the lovely old main entrance to the hospital with its beautiful ironwork gates and gardens.
On the other side of the street, The Old Operating Theatre Museum & Garret and the adjacent georgian buildings make a ridiculous contrast with The Pointy Thing.
These days the powers that be are indeed saving certain buildings from 'progress' but it seems to be only those over 150 years old. Therefore, little three-storey, hand-made and brick-built gems get ring-fenced by enormous sheets of glass as architectural curiosities.

This area of London, from the south side of London Bridge down into Borough High Street, fanning left and right, is steeped in history yet much of it has been lost, mostly due to the swathe of land cleared when extending Guy's Hospital. Once an area for rowdy socialising, gaming, drinking and theatre, most of the drinking holes are long gone with only The George Inn remaining as an example of its kind. Hints of these old taverns can be glimpsed in the truncated narrow streets off the main road.
I have no concluding sentence.

3 July 2014

King Brendon Burns.

Back in August 2002 I was a Perrier judge at the Edinburgh Festival, having won the position through a written competition in Time Out.
It turned out not to be rather hard work – charging back and forth across the city, seeing sometime six shows a day, with many of them not very funny at all, can become rather tedious. Often there were only five people in the audience!
However, I was lucky to see so many great comics before they'd become household names. These included the fabulous Sean Lock (love that man so much!), Rich Hall, Alan Carr, Dara O'Briain and Adam Hills. It was also the year that Jimmy Carr really came to the fore; for some bizarre reason, rather than being the obvious newcomer winner*, he was instead 'promoted' as a front-runner for the main award**.
In the judges' meetings I tried to champion a few of my favourite candidates, but was consistently overruled; often by people who hadn't even seen the shows and weren't even judges. It was rather demeaning; both for me and the acts I was trying to promote.
For instance, they said no to Andrew Maxwell because they thought he talked about football too much. I don't recall it being more that 10% football – I know diddlysquat about football I still found what he had to say really funny. Interesting that two years later he went on to win another major award.
I also liked Reg D. Hunter. But a few of the other narrow-minded 'judges' thought Reg was mysogynistic; something that hadn't crossed my mind at all. I thought he had just been making clever observations about certain types of females. I talked to him at the awards party and he was confused and concerned about this.
And then there was Brendon Burns who put on my second favourite show of the festival**. It was filled with clever, intelligent, side-splitting observations, including one hilarious story about an article in a newspaper that he (and I) had seen involving a man and a goat and a train. Sublime.
During the show he had an assistant tallying up the swear words. He was 'king funny and 'king clever, hence the montage of London king pictures at the top. But, yep, you've guessed it; some of the other judges thought he swore too much. Oh d'uh! It was part of the show!
Brendon is back in London next week with his latest show "Brendon Burns: Hasn't Heard of You Either" at The Soho Theatre, July 8–13th. Be prepared; there will, more than likely, be blaspheming!

* Newcomer winner 2002 – Flight of The Conchords (I preferred Hal Cruttenden, but have since fallen in love with the NZers)
** Main award 2002 – Daniel Kitson – it was almost a unanimous decision.

26 June 2014

A day out in Margate

Two weeks ago I met my friend at London Bridge Station so that we could find and catch a train to Margate. We thought this was the most logical place to start; that trains departed London like the spokes of a wheel. After all, if I wanted to go to, say, Southend in Essex I wouldn't expect the trains to depart from Marylebone, or to Penzance from Kings Cross.
We bought our tickets but couldn't see Margate on the destination board. We were advised we'd have to change at Ramsgate and to use the back four coaches. Thinking this was normal we settled down for our journey and admired the countryside, wondering when we'd get to see the coastline. But the train took us via Ashford and Canterbury to Ramsgate where we picked up another train bound for London. Eh?! It turns out that if you want to go to the northeast tip of Kent the direct trains along the north coast leave from Victoria! Live and learn.
Had I seen Portillo's railway journey about the area, which was on TV last week and alas too late for this trip, I would have been better informed.
Anyway, we got there. And what a lovely town.
On exiting the station we were greeted by a fabulous old ghostsign advertising Dominion Motor Spirit, which I assume was some kind of oil. Crossing the road into Marine Terrace I was in heaven sitting in and photographing the Edwardian seating terrace (a similar one round the other side of the headland is in a sad state, fenced off and crumbling away). We had a wander on the gorgeous sandy beach, surely a contender for the finest sand in the UK, a paddle in the very cold sea, and then went for the obligatory seaside meal of fish and chips.

Margate, having fallen out of favour with holiday-makers over the past four decades has become a treasure chest of architectural delights for people like me. The streets, especially in the old town and along Northdown Road, are jam-packed with old shop signs, curved glass and island windows, hand-painted and hand-carved signs, mosaics and tiles, and lots more besides. Many of these lovely shops are now owned by second-hand and antique dealers. It was hard not to go inside every one.

The streets were so absorbing that we only just managed to get to the shell grotto before it closed at 5pm, and what a treat – I had no idea the place was so extensive and the work was so fine. Amazing that no one knows who created it and why.
Our last few hours were spent chatting to locals supping very fine beers at The Lifeboat, the local ale and cider pub, near Market Square – highly recommended. We'd have stayed longer had the trains been more frequent and faster (there's only one 'fast' train an hour in the evenings which takes approx 130 minutes). We only just caught 8.15 (to Victoria!) and finally saw the coastline with the sky glowing pink as the sun set on our great day out.
I can't believe it's taken me 30 years to return to Margate – I must go again soon, and for longer, perhaps a couple of days.

I also took lots of photos of the beautiful coastline, the grotto, Thanet wind farm and other local landmarks such as the clocktower, the old Lido, the entrance to Dreamland and that hideous modern tower of flats – find some of them here.