23 July 2021

Remembering Fitzroy Square in the late 1980s

On Wednesday last, after leading a lovely group of London Historians on a meandering route through Fitzrovia looking at 1920s-30s buildings (people call the era Art Deco but it mostly isn't!), I decided after a much-need drink in The Wheatsheaf, Rathbone St, to wander back up to Fitzroy Square and have a look at something other than interwar buildings. Specifically, I was intrigued to see how this area has evolved since I worked at 4-5 Fitzroy Square in 1988-90.

For just short of two years I was studio manager and typographer for Art Integrators, a small artwork company situated in the rear lower level of this building which comprised two co-joined Georgian houses, the main reception being in the hallway of No.4 (the red door) which since 2012 is called Willan House and home to The British Association of Dermatologists. 

Art Integrators had external clients such as Cato Johnson, who I used to visit for briefs at Greater London House AKA The Carreras 'Black Cat' Factory which, coincidentally, is a building and company I talk about as a presentation via Zoom. We also did a lot of work for the other companies within the building, all of us being under the Gannaways umbrella. John Gannaway its founder and director took a great pride in the building and I recall vividly the colourful paint on the metal banisters in the stairwell and the paintwork too, all of which John had researched. At the time I thought the pinks, purples, blues an greens a bit strange, but you need only to visit Smithfield market to see the same palette.  

Looking at the building last week I noticed for the first time that there are three animal skulls within the frieze at high level. I have no idea what they refer to. I had also never noticed the fine fancy fanlight above the front door, though I do rememer the front door being mid-grey. And now I'm noticing that gorgeous lampholder and the railing. I have no recollection the great view of the BT/PO Tower as you exit the building. I obviously had other things on my mind back then.

Intrigued at whether anything could be seen inside, I peered in through the window at the side of the front door to see that the hallway is the same as I remember as regards layout and fittings but today the colours are muted, bland, very tame. Very pale grey and magnoila. There's no way the Georgians, the Victorians, indeed the early C20th century bright young things would have lived in anywhere as dull. poor John and all his hard work. I peered down into the front basement area and remembered the two Johns and Frank who used to work out of that office, yet I am not aware of them using these steps. Instead, they would access through Art Integrators, going past my desk, back and forth to Solar Typesetting which was situated at the very rear of the building abutting Grafton Mews (see below). 

I really liked the guys in Solar, in particular Mick and Ron the bosses who were always always immaculately well-dressed in that old-school 1960s way; shiny shoes, tie pins, clean hands and aftershave. They sometimes let me use the compositor machine to make my the headline lettering for jobs myself, the machine being a kind of enlarger that produced crisp-edged large format letters on photo-quailty paper. Using turning handles to get the right size and focus on a single character you then hit the button to photograph it, then moved on to take a snap of the next letter. I was so in my element there as, since starting in the industry back in 1980, it had often been commented on that I have a natural ability for letterspacing; The Queen of Letraset a skill I think is sadly lacking these days where you can often easily 'drive a bus' through the gap in 11 and then blame technology if anyone points it out.

I particularly recall how I liked working with affable and super-efficient, self-effacing Bob, one of the Solar typesetters, and how impressed and intrigued I was at how he/they could turn my mark-ups supplied to them as instrucutions on A4s into beautiful long silky sheets of words, often created overnight to be ready for me next morning, having typed up the whole thing up manually, looking at screens of coloured codes and symbols that to my mind looked nothing like my starting point or the marvellous end product. there ceratinly was no opportunity for amendements. Once it had gone to the typesetter that was it. Any changes were costly. Unless, like me you were adept with the PMT camera and bit of clever cut and shunt. Today, just like I am doing here, we can amend our copy as we go along and change styles and fonts in seconds, effectively acting as designer, typographer, typesetter, artworker, even printer, all at once. Jacks of all trades. Masters of none.

There was a wonderful exchange of ideas and skills between AI and Solar with many of our in-house  chats taking place in Ian's office, someone I was to keep in touch with for years to come. Indeed, when I was made redundant from this company in October 1990, a fate that befell most of us there, I had by that time made good friends within the building and many of us stayed in touch furthering each other's careers going forward. Who was it who said "workmates are friends your boss found for you"?! 

This got me thinking about bygone times, places and people connected to this company, so I sat down on one of the benches for a while to try and remember the people I worked there. Let's return to the front door and then travel around the building. 

I cannot now recall who or what was in the office to the immediate left of the front door, ditto the room beyond the reception to the left. I think it was probably a marketing company that I rarely had to deal. My department, Art Integrators, was down the stairs towards the rear. There was an office to the right of the corridor and the main studio to the left. The corridor then lead to Solar and a back door to Grafton Mews. 

Returning to the stairs and going up to the first floor front, John Gannaway and his business partner Eddie (aaargh, can't remember his surname), their jolly can-do PA (again, name drain here. Jackie? Janice?) had offices either side of the lovely conference/meeting room which ran across the front of the building and in a previously time zone would have been a family dining room/reception. The accounts dept was adjacent to the stairs. I am now remembering bubbly colourful Janet from accounts, she was marvellous. I loved it when she did the rounds handing out the payslips every month. Indeed, as with most accounts depts, they went a bit party-mad whenever the was a birthday or party celebration on a Friday. I think this is because, unlike the rest of the company who were in pubs practically every lunch time and after work whatever day it was, they had to keep a clear head for figures and restricted their binges.  

First floor rear was The Sharp End, another design and artwork company, headed by Keith, backed up by head creative Roger and managed by Chrissie. This larger studio worked mostly for the large holiday companies of the day producing brochures and ads, with a lot of work coming in from Yugotours, much of which also filtered down to AI. Staff at AI included Nigel, Jane, Chris, Paul, Erica, Dylan, Debbie, [Miss] Watmough on telephone and secretaral duties; I can hear her lovely husky south London accent in my head as I type this. At certain times both studios were full to brimming expanded by freelance artworkers employed to produce the paste-ups for those thick holiday brochures. Paste-up, for the unitiated, involves paper, glue, scalpels, Rotring pens and PMT machines. The end products then get photographed by a reprographic company pre going to print. Wow. To the under 40s this must sound like I am writing in a foreign language. How times have changed. 

So back to the tour... The upper floor was Gannaways advertising company. Here goes, and sorry if I miss anyone out, but hell, this was 30 years ago... production dept by the stairs comprising Phil, Tim and Ruth (strong Wakefield accent). Client handlers Hilary and Andrew (who, coincidentally links in a different way to the Carreras building mentioned above), creatives Dexter, Paul and another well-spoken bloke who's face I can see but name I can't recall (?Rupert) worked on a lot of film company and VHS ads (we all used to go to screenings in Hammersmith. Happy days). Barry the illustrator in the central zone opposite the marriage of Jon (pictures) and Leon (words) with Mike the creative director in the corner room. Phew! I think that's the whole building done.  

When I'd only been working there a few weeks a photo was taken of all employees outside the building. I was wearing a hat I had recently purchased from Zone at Harvey Nichols. I've still got that hat. It's like a cross between a lady's riding hat and a funeral director's top hat. I never got a copy of the group photo. However, I do have a few photos of some of the people mentioned above – please do contact me if you are interested and I will send them to you.

Sitting on the bench, looking at the laminated aggregate that now runs a full ring around the beautiful gated gardens at the centre, I was reminded that back in the 90s there were fuctioning roads with parking spaces all the way round and at lunchtimes I often went inside the gardens with workmates. I don't recall anyone having a key or opening a gate. I am sure we simply walked in and sat on the grass, though I suspect it was only accessible on certain days and times.

It's doubtful that 4-5 Fitzroy Square was initially designed to be one property being as the columns above No.4 are not repeated on No.5. It's an enigma. Simliar pairings are evident further along and are more easily discerned being symmetrical in design as regards their additional embellishments. I suspect one door would have been used by the owners for slipping in and out unannounced, and the was other for visitors, with servants/trade making use of the access at the rear. However there are other divisions, such as shown top left here (green door) which show a history of change. 

Other points to note along this side of the square, shown above: some lovely metalwork in the form of balconies, railings and boot scrapers, and more beautiful delicate fanlights. Within the upper pediment of 7-8  it looks as if some architectual details in the form of floral motifs have been removed. The blue plaque commemorates Charles Eastllake, 1793-1865, Painter and First Director of the National Gallery who lived here (for a length of time unspecified!).

I will continue my observations in this area in another post.

20 July 2021

Phew, it's hot out there

I have just pulled together this topical collection from my London photos – it includes a ghostsign for a well-known soap brand on a wall in Hackney, a fire insurance marker, a couple of sundials, a mosaic memorial in St Pancras churchayard and a few pubs, Oh and Lloyd's Bank.

My BBC Weather app tells me it's 27ºC out there at the moment (mid-day 20th June 2021) and it's forecast to rise a little higher after lunch with the threat of thundery showers and light winds which I'm quite looking forward to – I might go out for a walk in it.

The weather has been very changeble here this year. We've had heavy rainfall, strong winds, a dull/cold June and now this, which has got me thinking about extremes of weather, specifically in London. I think, being as we Brits do like to talk about this subject, that I will design a new online talk about it – I even have a title ready – Frost Fairs and Long Hot Summers. See my other website and schedule for updates.

But first, I'm off to have another luke-warm shower.

21 June 2021

Goodbye Habitat Tottenham Court Road – but let's save those curved windows

Heading down Tottenham Court Road on a bus in early March this year, I noticed that Habitat had moved out. Oh dear. I got off the bus to take a few snaps. The exterior signage had been removed and the interior was being stripped. The lovely curved display windows that run around the shop on both sides were covered in dust. 

The windows around this part of the building are double co-joined curves – an expensive innovation, but this design allows the products to be seen clearly rather than be hindered by reflections from the street. The glass would have been installed in the late 1930s by Pollards, the go-to shop-fitting company of that era who had 'imported' this curved glass idea from the US. 

I went back in April and took some more photos. With all the furniture removed this gave clear views across the store space of the windows. Really good infitity shots are to be had from the exterior where mirrored end panels along the top sections repeat the curves.

I recall there also used to be curved windows along the Heals section of this TCRd site – those curves were replaced with boring sheet glass c2000 (I didn't take pics or note that down specifically).

This got me thinking about how unusual horizontal curved glass panels are these days. I can only think of three other locations in London where they are also installed, and they are all slightly different:

Fox Umbrellas, London Wall, Moorgate – as I understand, this is the first site where this curved glass was installed. It's really hard to photograph, especially when the place, which is today a cafe bar, is closed during lockdown or open with people sat in front at tables. The double curves here are shallower than at the other three sites, not so deep. I haven't a clue what those blobby bits of art in the window are supposed to be.

And then, of course, we have what is possibly the best-known example of these windows at Joseph Emberton's marvellous building for Alexander Simpson, a stone's throw from Piccadilly Circus. It opened in 1936 selling Simpron's range of men's clothing and is today home to Waterstone's bookshop. Here we a have a row on single deep curves, again with the mirrored ends. During the Christmas 2018 period part of the windows were damaged and suffered huge cracks, as shown below protected by thick adhesive plasitc sheets. This being a Grade I listed building, the glass was replaced. Phew.

The beautifully-designed building has, in effect-two front doors – the southern entrance in Jermyn Street is just as impressive, implementing the same curved glass:

And the fourth/last London example, unless someone can tell me where to find others, is on the old gas showroom on Crouch End Broadway, today home to Barclays Bank, where there are double shallow curves along both sides of the building.

Also note the eight beautifully-carved panels carved by Arthur Ayres that run around the building at higher level depicting diffrent things that gas power can do for us.

14 May 2021

Thomas Heatherwick's lift buttons at Coal Drops Yard, NC1

I have been having a tidy up and found some photos I took soon after the coal drops at the rear of Kings Cross station, adjacent to Granary Square, were opened as a shopping and leisure zone back in October 2018. It's impressive and a clever re-use of space, although the shops do sell a lot of over-priced guff, but it's great for a wander about.

I was there again last month with a friend, enjoying the peace and quiet and the lack of people, and I showed her the delightful surounds around the push buttons for the lifts. She loved them too.

Cool huh. Probably my favourite thing thee.

Going up.... ground for perfumery, stationery and leather goods...

10 May 2021

Coulourful houses in Falkland Road

Here's another riot of colour. Last week it was bollards, this week it's houses:

The western end of Falkland Road in Kentish Town, N6, between Leverton Street and Fortess Road is one of many streets across the metropolis with a series of coloured houses. I often wonder how the owners choose what shade to use in order to either contrast or complement with the neighbours. Ker-pow!

I made a little video about it here.

6 May 2021

Bollards in Crystal Palace

Today we are in lovely South London. Well, I say that, but I took these pics well over a year ago.

As you exit Crystal Palace railway station and head to the park, do ake a closer look at the bollards in Ledrington Rd, dated 1854. The peeling paint patterns is delightful.

The tops illustrate layers of colourful history – dark green, pink, red, blue, turquoise and yellow, though not necessarily in that order.

It's about time I went back for another wander – it's a lovely part of town.

30 April 2021

Would you believe it? Wood block surfaces still visible on London streets

A few months back I was involved in an email exchange about the patch of wood blocks adjacent to Bunhill Row Cemetery, just off Artillery Row, specifically, and perhaps coincidentally (ironically?), in Chequer Street. Back in ye olde Victorian times this street ran alongside Star Works, the De La Rue postage stamp manufactory, though I don't know if this company was related to Danny

This little road is a patchwork of setts and cobbles and looks to have been repaired, extended or updated with various kinds of blocks – in addition to this patch of wood, there are also granite setts and vitreous setts, the latter being a by-product of the gas industry and said to be identifiable by their bluish glaze. Note also a couple of interesting man hole cover plates. 

Ah, but this isn't the only patch of wood paving in the metropolis – I have happened upon quite a few other places that show hints of this eco-friendly-but-hard-to-maintain wooden surface. I've found enough to start a specific collection on my desktop and here I am sharing some of them with you... 

At 90-92 Pentonville Road N1, on the corner of Penton Street, there is evidence of a whole paved private courtyard that is currently used for car parking. Patches of wood can be seen peeking out from under the receding Tarmac. 

Research shows that this was once the display forecourt outside the ground floor showroom of R. W. Wilkins & Son, marble, granite and stone merchants, monumental masons, sculptors, table-top manufacturers, shopfitters, and interior decorators in marble and tiles. This had originally been constructed as three Georgian houses with deep front gardens, mirroring those across the road, and was converted into one premises in the 1860s by Henry Webb Wilkins, probably RWW's father. The rectangular blocks appear to be the same shape and size as the ones at Chequer Street. 

Many good remnants of wood block can also be found nestling within the segments of some old manhole covers. Just east of here, near the border of Islington and Hackney (when this was Finsbury and Shoreditch, respectively) there are examples in Mora Street on the southern side of City Road:

And in Shepherdess Walk on the northern side – my pics were taken on a rainy day but, believe me, there's wood under them there puddles:

There's another example not far from there in New North Road, at the end of Wharf Road, and on Clerkenwell Rd at the end of Leather Lane (centre pic below). Plus a couple in West Square, Lambeth, a well-to-do 1790s development of private houses, one of which, here:

In the middle of Grays Inn Road at the junction of Acton Street, there is a superb example, as shown below on the left with the streetscaape below it, and two good ones on Islington High Street – one set within the pavement near Pizza Express, as shown, and another in the road at the rear of the former electricity transformer station and tram depot. A third one, by the southern door to that building, at the corner of Duncan Street, sort of facing The York pub, has been recently covered in Tarmac. 

I'd really love to experience the sound of horses walking on a wood-blocked street. The super-informative Roads Were Not Built For Cars shows us that Bartholomew the cartographer, produced road surface maps of London where streets coloured yellow denoted wood, green indicated sheet asphalt, blue was setts, and pink for macadam (a pre-cursor to Tarmac). The rationale that wood blocks offered the benefit of a quieter environment explains their implementation in residental streets such as West Square and in the old hospital zone around City Road.

The same 'quiet' effect would also apply at this next location – the rear of City Hall, on Belvedere Road, built as the London County Council's head offices in 1911 and, hence, a really busy municipal street. 

Here, long wooden oblongs, arranged in a grid format, have been uncovered for many years. Whenever I am in the Waterloo area I often go to check they are still visible. The random piece of flat metal is, I suppose, an attempt at protection. 

I'm pretty sure I have located more patches across London, but I can't find the pics right now – do let me know if you've found any others yourself.

Update July 2021:  due to the recent wet weather, the woodblocks in Artillery row are framed in grass. I think it’s lovely

27 April 2021

A stinkpipe in Islington

Oh my god... how many time have I walked past this and never noticed it until last month?

Estimate = 825 times!

I am always banging on about how things are hiding in plain view, to look up, look down and around you,  yet here's me not noticing a stink pipe across the road from Essex Road Post Office. 

I happened to notice it when I had to side-step a woman who was texting and walking but not looking where she was going (grr!) and I was immediately confronted by the maker's name on the metalwork. I then looked down at the wide base and thought, ooh that looks very stinkpipey, and so I stepped back to take a better look. Yep!

Much of Ham Baker's Victorian metal street furniture, in the form of lamp posts and stink pipes, still lines our modern streets. Indeed the company is still trading.

Considering the amount of stink pipe pics I have taken over the years I am surprised I have posted more about them. Here's a post from back in 2010 which shows some with attractive crowns

Staying in Islington, earlier this year, I also [finally] noticed another stink pipe at the Holloway end of Liverpool Road on the triangle in front of the Baptist church – estimated previous walk-pasts = 384(!). And, near that, there's also another one on Holloway Road at the end of Eden Grove (which I had spotted ten years ago).  Closer to my home, there's one up near the railway line in Sussex Way, N19, at the corner of Hatchard Rd, and another on St John's Way, N19. I'm sure I will think of more once I hit the 'publish' button here, but hey, that'll do for now.

This Essex Rd pipe will now form part of my "The Only Way Is Essex Road" guided tour. Tho, it can't be the only one in the vicinity.

23 April 2021

Finsbury Park Art Deco – the renovation of Oxford House

I'm so pleased to see how the renovation of this marvellous link to the world of movie making has evolved.

This is the former home of Kay Film Printing – a film processing company based here in Oxford Rd, N4, adjacent to Parkland Walk and Finsbury Park.

Its now almost finished and it looks marvellous. I really love those 'Jazz Age' style railings.

Pic from 2014 – retrospective Google Streetview

It's gone from a sad-looking building to a marvellous example of 1930's splendour.

Happy days. I am not sure how to include this on my Art Deco tour of the area but it's sure to be included on one of my walks. 

18 April 2021

Saloons – Everyone's gone to the pub or the hairdresser

Here in the UK, some restrictions as regards social distancing have been lifted – pubs with outdoor table space are open again and hairdressers are busy attacking our lockdown barnets*

It occured to me that both are historically linked by the word 'saloon' so I've pulled some pics together in my old montage-stylee showing a selection of lovely signage across London.

Most of these are pub signs but, as you can see, some are on hairdressers and barbers. Perhaps you recognise some of them or know of some other beauties...?

The separate rooms for saloon, lounge, public, private, snug and offsales is a thing of the past these days, harking back to a Victorian era of class and gender segregation. However, a few pubs in London still have the original walls/dividers and others have reinstated them. This latter section includes The Princess Louise in Holborn, the Fitzroy Tavern in Charlotte Street and the Angel at Rotherhithe. 

Never mind sitting outside a pub; that's just not for me. I am looking forward to getting back inside; to stand at a bar or sit on a barstool; to read a newspaper in a comfy chair by a real fire; to talk to barstaff and locals... sigh.

Barnet Fair = hair (London Cockney rhyming slang)

7 April 2021

I have been otherwise occupied

Oh my good... look at the date on my last post – the middle of January!!  And now we are fast heading for the middle of April. Whoosh! How did that happen?! 

Although I have been almost constantly collecting ideas for this site, I have been filing them away in a 'To Do' folder and can now see that I haven't actually been sharing them with you. I will make a big effort next week as there are a few good things I have noticed or been alerted to these last few months.

The thing that has kept me so busy lately has been designing, researching and hosting virtual tours (online presentations via Zoom) in lieu of leading actual guided tours on the streets being as that's still not really possible yet due to the pandemic restrictions. 

Presentations need good pics and reference, so I've been out and about in London's empty streets, wandering about in beautiful winter sunshine, snapping away with my camera to make the slides that accompany my talks. 

London is Lovely
I am really pleased how the presentations are going – lots of people come back to me time and again, and from all over the world – how lovely. And I will continue to do these going forward.

Find out more about my tours and talks at www.janeslondonwalks.com or simply click here for the upcoming schedule which gives more info about each one.

13 January 2021

You need hands

Inspired by the pointing hands in a recent post, I have collected some more hands that please me. 

You might recognise some of them.

The centre pic was taken at the lights festival that usually happens around Canary Wharf in January. I use it for my Facebook avatar sometimes.

7 January 2021

On the tiles at Doulton Lambeth

Happy January everyone.

Let's start the year by looking at some gorgeous tiles.

If you walk five minutes from the south side of Lambeth Bridge and head down Black Prince Road, you will see a Victorian Gothic masterpiece coming in to view. This was once the ofiices and manufactury of Doulton, Lambeth, later to become Royal Doulton.

At the time this building was constructed, Doulton's style was earthy blues and ochres, with the emphasis on good quality workmanship. This is evidenced on the building itself which is cleverly designed to be a street-facing advertisment, showing off a cross-section of some of the syles of designs that were on offer at that time, both glazed and unglazed. Beautiful examples are arranged around the windows and doors as well as higher up the building. Sadly the letters thet spelled the comapny's name have been chipped off. I know not whay, or where they might be now. Do stop for a closer look next time you are in the area.

I have created this montage of the tiles that run underneath the street-level windows (not shown in the pics above) – they look marvellous all together – tiletastic!

I've written about Doulton's work at other locations here.

9 December 2020

Twinking Trees, Turkey and Traditions – A Covent Garden Christmas Tour

Ding dong merrily – mince pies at the ready – time for a bit of self promotion.

I have turned my Covent Garden Christmas lights tour into a virtual experience – Find it here.

More dates to be added through to 6th January. See the schedule here.

I'm also more than happy to lead the tour on foot – please do get in touch.

1 December 2020

Construction Time Again – rebuilding Central London

Travelling through Central London recently, admiring the view from the top deck of a bus, I couldn't help but notice the huge redevelopments are happening at the moment and how many gaping great holes there are in the ground. Covid-19 does not appear to have restricted the construction industry.

For instance, at New Oxford Street, just east of Centrepoint, there is a big whole where this has been demolished – there is now a completely clear view of Renzo's horrible coloured towers.

Turning the corner into Charing Cross Road, the new build around Tottenham Court Road station continues. Chunky great glass things replace the much-missed Astoria Theatre (which was my favourite live music venue) and other buildings and small streets in the vicinity. The huge glasshouse entrances to TottCtRd station still look out of place and out of alignment with their tall neighbour and it's evident that the glass within them has yet to be cleaned. Such a silly design – how could you clean them anyway?  Why do these things need to be so tall and ugly? Consider  and compare the flamboyant yet understed Metro entrances in Paris.

Keep travelling with me here. Buildings between Centrepoint and Denmark Place have evolved considerably of late. Denmark Street as a centre for live music has diminished considerably and Tin Pan Alley is no more. Opposite, on the corner of Manette Street, the pink-faced replacement for the Foyles building looks to be almost complete. Hurrah, at least, for the elegant beauty of the 1930s Central School of Art, now Foyles new home.

Don't get me wrong, I am not against change, I like to see the patchwork of history – all this knock down and replace is nothing new. Leases expire, buildings become unfit for purpose etc and need to be replaced. The Victorians, and the Georgians before them, rebuilt whole streets and, just pre-WWII there was another construction boom, but the amount of change happening at the moment in Central London is, for me, quite shocking. 

And so we continue to Cambridge Circus and turn right into Shaftesbury Avenue. All looks to be as was until crash bang boom, the whole of the block behind Piccadilly's iconic advertising hoardings has been reduced to just that – an almost two-dimensional sign:

And, so, over into Piccadilly itself. Nothing to report until we get to the Ritz. There is a big development with Caffe Nero on the corner here is covered in plastic, I know not why, and then further along at the corner of Half Moon Street the red brick building's façade is all that remains. Though, as you can see from this older streetview there have been hoardings around it since at least 2008; it had been in a poor state for decades.

I decided after that to just look left at the park

It's just occured to me that I have efffectively taken you on a free virtual tour!

28 November 2020

Battersea Power Station – an update on the renovations

The whole riverside stretch between Battersea Bridge and 'Vauxhall Village' is today a swathe of new build, the old power station being only one of a few old buildings left standing in the area. A while back I wrote a provoacative piece suggesting they should pull the thing down. After all, if this building is so revered how come it was left open to the elements as a ruin for decades?! I followed up my thoughts in 2013 and then again in 2014. Why has this building become the famous one when so may like it were demolished completely? Consider, for instance, that the Lots Road Power Station has been empty for decades. Does this have anything to do with popluar culture? Pink Floyd? Or is it that the site was so huge that no-one was prepared or could afford to take it on?

A few weeks ago on one of those lovely bright, crisp, sunny, winter days, I had an urge to walk along the river from Battersea to Waterloo* and this afforded me the opportunity to have a nose in at the what's happening. It was a glorious day and everthing looked marvellous. And there were hardly any people about. And it was quiet. And I like it like that.

I followed the Thames Path into the main area of new build at the side of the railway arches filled with restauarants and food outlets but closed for business due to Coronavirus. Just a few people about, walking their dogs and enjoying the sunshine. I wandered around for over an hour and exited the site via Nine Elms Road where this old electrictity box sits.

Do go and have a wander through yourself. There is one-way pedestrian route through the site. Bear in mind that there are still a lot of buildings yet to be started and these will, as I mentioned in my earlier piece, obliterate the view from the Wandsworth side. So I'd advise you get there while the main building is still visible.

A nice addition is the old coaling jetty which has been tranformed into a decked garden complete with seats and flowers and excellent views, but at the moment it's only one way in and the same way out again. I hope that this will be connected to the Thames Path in due course. Note the dockers' mistresses along the edge the looking like topless sunbathers who have got a bit burnt. More here.

Adjacent to the jetty they've installed lots of low level planting and strange triangular raised ponds which offer interesting reflections of the power station. The broken reflections in the new glass buildings are also intriguing. The zig-zag walkways are a bit annoying though. I am fairly sure that people will very quickly make desire paths to cut off the pointy corners.

24 November 2020

Hornsey Road – more ghostsigns, observations and recollections

When I first moved to the Holloway area back in 1988 I lived at the eastern end of Marborough Road, near its junction with Hornsey and Hanley Roads. My bus stop back from work in the West End was the one just south of Bavaria Road at a time when the bus was a 14A and went all the way to Chelsea (what a fab, long route!). I used to like looking at the hints of history in the area but didn't look into it until many years later.  I subsequently moved to another address near to Holloway's Nags Head shopping area but I still have cause to walk the same roads, often when I am headed up to or back from Crouch End, which used to be part of Hornsey, hence the road name. 

Last month I was coming back down the hill and I noticed that the Hanley Arms, which is now an Islamic place of worship, has been given a much-needed lick of paint. It had for years been looking rather sad and I had always worried that the lovely black metalwork over the doors showing the pub name and the saloon bar would get further damaged over time or, worse, be removed comletely. As these pics show, the owners have seen fit to enhance in gold paint that the building was once a pub, which seems at odds with its purpose these days.

Pics all 2020 exc bottom right showing when it was still a pub

I think the Hanley Arms entrance on the corner was for the more basic area of the pub to the Private or Public bar. The Saloon Bar at centre-front would have led to the swankiest part of the pub and there might have been a third entrance down the side that led to a smaller room at the rear. These defined bar areas for different kinds of people would have been sectioned off with wood and glass panels from a main bar area at the centre. I am vaguely aware of going in there once for a nose about when I moved to the area, or am I imagining this or getting my wires crossed with another similar pub?  Most of the interior fittings have since been removed to convert it into a prayer room but the Anaglypta ceiling and other hints of the bulding's previous life are still visible as shown here in The Hornsey Road blog.

The road has changed a lot since I arrived here. Today the eastern side is mainly fast food outlets, but I recall many more and varied shops in the late 80s. But it certainly wasn't as vibrant a street as it was 100 years before that, with shops all the way up to Hornsey Rise and down to Holloway and beyond, with pubs at almost every junction. For instance, on the opposite side of the road to the Hanley Arms was The Alexandra on the corner of Bavaria Road, then called Blenheim Road, as shown by the old painted road sign.

Bottom left 2020, bottom centre and right 2008

A panel on the side of the old pub building shows The Alexandra advertised itself as a 'COFFEE TAVERN'. I assume from this that this was a more genteel kind of place with tablecolths and attracted ladies. The pub was converted to commercial use. By the late 1980s, it was a locksmith's shop which continued to trade into the early 2000s, complete with a large advertisement for key cutting and 5-lever locks and whatnot on the north-facing side of the premises at ground level. By the time I photographed the sign in 2008 it was extremely faded. It's now completely gone having been over-painted, probably at the same time as another storey was added to the top of the building.

The coffee tavern sign reminded me that on a rainy day in 2011 I'd spotted a faded sign on at high level on No.418 that showed the feint letters LADIES SALOON. I could make out a name above ending "...ETTS" – I stupidly never returned to take better pics and it's now been over-painted. Damn.

Hornsey Road ghostsigns – NatWest Bank, Ladies Saloon, The Plough. All 2020 exc middle top.

This looks to be a late-Victorian-Edwardian establishment – a quick bit of delving shows me that Walter Betts had a coffee shop at No. 422 until 1905. By 1906 the same establishement is owned by Charles Watson. Note that the sign is not above the coffee shop but instead above what was then Emil Kober's hairdresser shop at No.418. It looks like a clever bit of inter-business was happeninging here – ladies could get their hair done and then retire to rooms on the upper floors for drinks, provided and served by the esatablishment two doors up the road. How lovely.

As you walk along the road today, you can clearly make out how this was once a busy high street with shops of every kind. As shown above, there's even the hint of a branch of NatWest and further along at the junction of Tollington Park there's what's left of The Plough public house. The entrance to the stables at the rear has been filled in for decades now and it's again one of those places I wish I'd photographed back in 1988 when the cobbled access was still viable leading to the rear of the pub.

I'll leave it there. Any extra info and memories most welcome.


20 November 2020

Money, Money, Money

Money – a sore point for most of us in today's financial climate. 

Shops are closing down as businesses fold, unable to sell the stock to pay the rent. Many people have lost their jobs and just don't know what to do next. Most of us are having to tighten our purse strings finding new ways to survive. Apart from the supermarkets, the charity shops might be the only ones doing OK these days.

For me, the world of graphic design for print has taken a bashing and hardly anyone wants to come out for a guided walk. And the sales of my cards and prints is nowhere near what it was this time last year. Chin up, as they say. We're all in it togther (?!).

Money makes the world go round

Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash

Oh gawd, I've just thought of that awful song used by that gurning politician, but in the meantime, I'll get back to all those DIY jobs I have been putting off and I need to load up some more stuff from my cupboards to online selling sites.

11 November 2020

A bit of Holloway ghostsign sleuthing – Henry Dell, grocer

Last week I was contacted via Twitter about a ghostsign at the rear of a property in Hornsey Road. Archway Ramblings @UpArchway asked if I knew any more about an old painted sign visible from Bracey Street. Well, this was the first I knew about it, which is not surprising seeing as Bracey Street is a little back street that I have rarely ever used, and the sign fairly inaccessible.

H....ELL, TEA MERCHANT....... 408 Holloway Road. Photo: @UpArchway

A quick bit of sleuthing and it turns out this was Henry Dell who had a grocery shop here at 450 Hornsey Rd, a few doors up from Thorpedale Road, today a launderette.

647-665 Holloway Rd, 1882 
Henry Dell appears to have been established in the area for decades. In 1882 he is shown at No.408 Holloway Rd (today, Santander) with another shop further up the road at 5 Northampton Place which later became No.657 (today, the fish and chip shop). Prior to the later 1880s, the upper section of Holloway Road northwards of Tufnell Park Rd on the west side and Tollington Way (then Grove Rd) on the east side was still evolving and there were no Holloway Rd door numbers – the houses or business premises were simply part of a named terrace* and, very often, the pub at the corner of that stretch was echoed in the name, as in Marlborough Terrace, Crown Terrace etc., though not in this instance. Northampton is probably a reference to the Marquis who owns Canonbury Tower (I will park that tangent for another day!).

647-665 Holloway Rd, 1939
Therefore, regarding what's visible of the ghostsign, I think it's fair to assume, judging by the space available/covered, that the pipes might be hiding the door number of the store at the northern section of Holloway Road which was closer to this Hornsey Rd shop, as in "657 & 408".

Moving fast forward to 1939, I see Henry Dell [and/or his family] is still going strong. The Hornsey Rd shop is listed as "Dell's Store's" and the shop at 657 Holloway Rd is battling for custom with two similar grocery shops next door, namely Liptons, a well-known country-wide chain, and David Greig** the provisions company founded in Hornsey. As for the shop at 408 Holloway Rd, by 1939 it's listed as a restaurant with Mullholland's shoe shop also shown at the same address so I think we can assume that Dell's restaurant was on one of the upper floors. 

Some photographic ref would be nice, but I can't find any right now. The Dells might have been trading in the area earlier than 1882 and I don't know if they continued after WWII. So I'll have to leave it there – Henry Dell, a successful family business, established in Holloway for at least 60 years. Nice. 

Thanks again to Archway Ramblings for bringing this to my attention.

*I refer to this kind of thing on my Mr Pooter's Holloway guided walk about the book 'A Diary of a Nobody' where the characters of 1888 are living at a made-up place called Brickfield Terrace – I have some very good ideas where this could have been along this busy thoroughfare.

**DG shops are a bit of a 'thing' with me. Note to self; collate and post about the company here – any additional info you might have will be gratefully received, and credited.

10 November 2020

What's the point?

Really. Seriously. I often wonder what are we doing here. 

By 'we' I mean humans. What do humans actually do for the planet in a postive way (apart from trying to fix the mistakes of the past)? What other animal causes such devastation to other flora and fauna? And all in the name of progress. Sigh.

Anyway, here are some of my favourite London manicules pointing the way to who knows where. A few of them have since been lost to us, whether through renovation of demolition.

6 November 2020

A ghostsign in New Soutgate – Lander, monumental mason

Last week I went to New Southgate Cemetery to find the grave of someone I am researching. I got the tube to Arnos Grove, one of Charles Holden's marvellous Art Deco masterpieces, and I headed north. As I walked north up Brunswick Road I mused how reasonably new the area was – it all looks to have been built in the late C19th and then added to in mid-C20th. 

See my warped and stretched version below
Then, as I crossed Marne Avenue, I noticed an unusual pair of stone-built houses opposite the junction. I stopped look at them, considering that they probably preceded all the other buildings in the vicinity and might at one time have been farm or workmens' buildings, or similar. I took a closer look and, well blow me down, if there isn't a huge hand-painted sign covering most of the north-facing/left side of number 94. Another house has been constructed to the left and, although this has helped to protect the sign's paintwork, it makes the sign really hard to read at this very oblique angle. 

Squinting at it, and no doubt looking like I was casing the joint, I could see a large name at the top: LANDER. Other words quickly led me to ascertain that this was a sign for a stone mason connected to the cemetery. I stood there for a while making scribbled notes as I tried to decipher the specific wording, but the angle and the faded areas at the very top and far left/rear made it rather difficult. It did cross my mind to knock on the door to speak to the occupants and ask for access to the rear but I hesitated, and if you don't do those kind of things immediately they just don't happen. 

Instead, I took a few snaps with my phone and carried on up to the cemetery where, snooping around the headstones and tomb bases, I found that many had Lander's mark on them, some showing that the company was mason for the local council (Barnet). Later, when I got home, I looked at my poor-quality pics and, holding my phone at different angles to achieve oblique views in the opposite dierection, I managed to decipher quite a bit of it.

(Monumental something?) CEMETERY OR BURIAL GROUND
(?prices please visit?) OFFICE & WORKS 1 FRIERN BARNET RD

A. K. (Andrew King) Lander was at 1 Friern Barnet Road, Betstyle Circus, known to locals as 'Lander's Corner', no doubt because the company's stone yard would have been a very recognisable local landmark – some of the hard-to-decipher parts of the ghostsign most likely make mention of the yard's location, just a little way to the south.  Friern Barnet Photo Archive has some marvellous old pictures of the business and the junction through the decades, including the one shown right. Today, the yard is long gone and block of flats now covers the site. In that link you'll notice that the name 'Lander's Corner' in on the first houses in Oakleigh Rd South opposite the site of the yard. I like to think the Lander family lived there. Perhaps someone will let me know.

Similarly, I do not know whether the family had a direct connection to the pair of old houses in Brunswick Park Road. The Landers might have simply hired the wall as advertising space being as it provides a perfect sightline from the cemetery where prospective clients might be choosing a burial plot or looking after a family memorial. A company by the same name still trades today but is based in Basildon Essex. Even though they make mention of being founded in 1866 I can see nothing on their site about Friern Barnet or Southgate. 

And the grave I was looking for? Well, it turns out I was looking in the wrong cemetery! Never mind – it was nice wandering around New Southgate Cemetery and, should you ever need to find information there yourself, the staff in the office are really helpful and friendly, and funny too. 

A little bitof Photoshop action here – the quality of the image isn't really good enough as regards the focus/sharpness at the left/rear