12 August 2022

Following a trail of bloody footprints between N19 and N4

Early this morning I made the effort to get out for a walk and back home again before it got too hot out there. I was doing well, having been up to Hornsey Rise and over to the Archway station area, then into Aldi for some groceries and by 9.30 I was walking back hown headed down Holloway Road laden with two bags of shopping. Halfway down the hill the blazing sun was in my face so I turned left into Alexander Rd, N19, to make use of the shady south side of that street. 

Looking up, down and around me, like I do, because there are always new things to see, I noticed a curved brown mark on the pavement that was clearly the outline of the front part of a shoe or trainer. And then I saw another, and another, and many more. This clearly had been made by someone with a bloody wound in their right leg who had been heading in the direction I’d just come from, towards Holloway Rd. 
Hmm. How intriguing. 
Where was this person going? Where had they come from? And what had happened to cause this loss of blood?
I decided to follow the trail to find the source of the incident. 
This took me across Cornwallis Rd to the end of Alexander Rd where it meets Sussex Way, then right into Tollington Way Second pic shows view looking east), then over Hornsey Road (but sort of diagonally, not using the crossings) to Tollington Park where, by the pillar box, I noticed that these earlier prints are surrounded by lots of little blood splatters which I guess were caused by the impact each time the foot hit the pavement. Oh my god, this person was losing a lot of blood. I also think, judging my the gaps between the prints, that he was  running.
My shopping bags were starting to cut into my fingers but I was hooked, intrigued. 
The trail continues along the south side of Tollington Park and it occurred to me, seeing as we haven't experienced any rain for weeks now, that these bloody marks that appear relatively fresh, dare I say shiny, could have been made weeks ago. There was a road sweeper so I asked him how long he'd known about them but he told me he’d only just started working in this area today as he was covering for someone else. 
We had a jolly chat about sleuthing and how it made me feel like an excited 8yr old finding hidden treasure, mysterious marks and secret spaces that nobody else knew about (they did, but they never said so!). I also recalled back in the '70s when, in the middle of the night, our dog Toby barked ferociously at the back door. We flew downstairs to see what was wrong but saw nothing to concern us and assumed it was a cat out there. When we looked again the next morning we found someone had left bloody footprints down the full length of our garden and, on the paved area by the back door, a semi-circular spray of reddish brown which must've been when he span round as Toby hurled himself at the window. The fella's tracks then went half-way back up the garden where he'd climbed over fence into next door's garden and exited into the street by their sideway, ending with a large bloody mess outside the school where, we deduced, he must've got into a car. I remember enjoying the sleuthing process. And here I was this morning repeating the process. The road sweeper likened me to  Miss Marple and I wondered if I should have told him about my Agatha Christie walks and talks
I continued along Tollington Park and found that the marks crossed the road and then crossed back again to continue down the southern half of Stroud Green Rd. Well, what I mean is, this is where the guy had come from. At this point I decided it was getting way too hot to be  out sleuthing, especially whilst carrying heavy bags, and I and came home and wrote this. 
I am guessing that some kind of horrible altercation happened near Finsbury Park station, or in the park itself, and the wounded guy fled to the Upper Holloway area. He may have been heading home, or perhaps he was going to Whittington Hospital?

I can't help myself, I really do need to find out more. Later this evening or sometime over the weekend before the much-needed rain arrives, I will follow the trail in both directions to see where they start and end. 

Update 1: Saturday 13th August. 
I went back to Alexander Road this morning to follow the trail to its end and there I noticed that the splatter marks are far greater than I’d observed in earlier parts of the roue, such as in Tollington Park. Stands to reason really. I also paced it out and, even though I take fairly long strides myself, I am pretty sure by the length of the gaps that the wounded fella was running (I am still assuming a male).   
At Holloway Rd he turned right. On reaching The Crown PH he crossed over to the other side of the road. The tracks stop outside No.517/519. I couldn’t venture into those gardens because it is private property and some men were hindering my sleuthing as they went in and out to those properties installing protective metal panels on the windows and doors. I asked one of them why and he said it was due to squatters, druggies and anti-social behaviour. Ah.

Having looked further along the pavement there in both directions, between Wedmore Rd and Tavistock Terrace, I found no more bloody shoeprints. But outside No. 517, near the back door of the SPS van shown above, there are a couple of naked footprints that also might be bloodstains. Whether these were made by the same guy, I don’t know. 

Update 2: Sunday 14th August
OK, I’ve worked out where it started… 
Every Sunday there’s a Farmer’s Market in the playground of Stroud Green School, N4, here at the junction where Perth Rd meets Ennis Rd opposite The Faltering Fallback public house. I wonder how many of the people there today sipping their Fairtrade coffee, buying their organic veg and Italian wines, enquiring about the vegan cheese, etc, have noticed the very clear bloody prints that run around the school, let alone are aware of any trouble in the area recently? 
I have deduced that whatever happened to cause the loss of blood occurred on the pavement near the school’s main gates at the other side of the building on Woodstock Rd because there I found prints of varying strength in pointing this way and that. The wounded guy looks to have at first headed south towards Finsbury Park Station and then changed his mind at the end of the school fence and decided to turn round and head in the opposite direction because, bwteen there and the scholl gate there are two clear trails heading in each direction. Then clear, now very bloody, marks continue along the pavement around the school, over Ennis Rd, past the pub where he ran along the double yellow lines and then into the middle of the road before crossing over to the pavement on the east side of Stroud Green Rd.
And then it's as I have written above... he turned westward nto Tollington Park, crossing to the north side diagonally at Charteris/ReginaRd before crossing back again at the next junction, Evershot/FonthillRd. Then he went all the way to the end of Tollington Park, diagonally over Hornsey Road into Tollington Way, north/right into Sussex Way, left into Alexander Road, then over Holloway Roadd, to what I’m guessing was home. 
I've tried googling to see if this has been reported online but, even though I’ve found a couple of other incidents in the area these past few years, there’s nothing on this. I will send a tweet to Stroud Green Police and report back here if anything comes back from them.

3 August 2022

Mudlarking with Thames21 at Broomhouse Dock

In my last post I mentioned I recently visited the foreshore at Broomhouse Dock, right (Google Streeview pic). 

This event was an initiative created by Thames21 with the idea to get people involved with the river and local history. A few months before, I'd lead a similar event for Thames21 and Frames of Mind in North Woolwich, which was delightful success. 

When the date was set for this Hammersmith location as Saturday 16th July, when the tide would be at its lowest between 11.30am and 1pm, we had no idea that it would end up being one of the hottest days on record. And here we were planning to be on the southern-most top of Hammersmith, on a beach, with no form of shade at all apart from the shadow made by The Hulingham Club's thin boat access ramp.

Nevertheless, behatted and fully dressed, with any visible area of skin slathered in factor50, I donned a pair of the provided wellies and some gloves, picked up a bucket and made my way down to the water's edge through what must be the muddiest, slimiest, gloopiest access slope I have ever had to use to get to a foreshore. Some of the Thames21 crew and volunteer helpers were busy doing a litter pic and I was saddened to see the vast amount of nasty wet wipes* they collected that morning. If you'd like to join these clean-ups find out more at Thames21.

The pic below shows the marvellous view across to Wandsworth's recycling plant, but today there is no ferry boat at Broomhouse Dock to take us to the south side as there would have been +200 years ago.

About twelve people of all ages came to join us on the day. We had hoped for more, indeed the cool box was well-stocked with plenty of ice lollies, but the hot weather was aagainst us. Once I'd moved the group to a cleaner part of the foreshore it was lovely to see how interested people were in the whole experience. It's the possiblitly of finding hidden treasure, I think. But it wasn't a good day for finds. We found old bits of metal in the form of nuts, bolts and nails, some small animal bones and some late 1990s electrical components(!) but I didn't see a single piece of broken clay pipe stem or any sherds of pottery worth sharing with the group. However, you could go back to that same location on another day and the shore could be completely different depending on the tide and recent weather conditions. 

As I explained to everyone that day, when not with an organised group like this, in order to go mudlarking on the Thames foreshore, you need a licence, and these can be obtained from the PLA here. But there are restrictions as to what you can do even if you have a permit, such as you cannot start digging holes (you don't need to – just walk slowly and look carefully) and certain sections of foreshore are out of bounds.

In Broomhouse Lane at the corner of Daisy Lane, I noticed that the lovely building there is covered in scaffolding. Argh no, I thought. Oh phew – they are converting it into a care home, see here

*People seem to think the word 'disposable' means it will decompose. Realistically, everything is 'disposable' whether it's a car or an apple core. In this instance, 'disposable' tends to intimate that the product is for single use – just use it and throw it away, ta da!  Victorian era magazines were full of ads for disposable items, but the products back then were made of glass, paper and other components that were easy to separate and repurpose. Our plastics, especially since the 1950s, not so. Products such as wet wipes weren't on the shelves a few decades ago yet mothers the world over managed to cope ably. So, if these things are evil waste, literally clogging up the planet, why aren't they simply removed from sale? Why are companies still being allowed to manufacture them? And note, they are packaged within mostly non-recyclable plastic. Don't worry though, the children of the future will fix all this.

31 July 2022

The Parson's Green ghostsign – let's go to the Palace!

Way back in the dim distant past, in November 2008 (wow and ouch, that's almost 15 years ago!) I took some photos of a huge hand-painted sign on the side of Woolverstone House, 45-47 Parsons Green Lane. The sign is painted on the rear of what was originally a beer retailer/ publichhouse and faces north across the District Line railway on the other side of the road to the station. In 2008 the sign looked like this:

It was faily easy to decipher most of the words (see further down). I filed the pics, intending to return to the site another day when the light was better for photography.

But this area of Fulham sits in an area I rarely pass through, let alone stop, and it wasn't until a few weeks ago that I finally paid another visit to the sign. I was at last in the vicinity because I had been asked to lead a mudlarking group on the foreshore at nearby Broomhouse Dock. As I came out of Parson's Green station (possessive apostrophe there or not? I wish they'd make up their mind!) I crossed the street to check on my old friend and was delighted to find it's all still there, in fact more of it is visible than before being as that white panel is no longer in place. I had expected the whole wall to have been overpainted in some way or completely whitewashed, but I was pleased to see it intact. This was about 11:20am on a very sunny, hot and hazy day, and not anywhere close to the best conditions for photography. Hence why the best shot is this one taken from underneath the railway lines.

The sign is an advertisement for variety nights at The Victoria Palace Theatre, the Grade II* 1911 Frank Matcham building topped by a gilded statue of Anna Pavlova. 

I have returned to my first batch of pics and created this over-enhanced image to better illustrate the content.What is immediately evident by the patchwork effect here, is the amount of different panels that have covered this wall throughout the decades and, as such, helped to protect what still exists.

Top left, within a panel across 2/3rds of the wall:
(time) TWICE NIGHTLY (time


I think what we have here is a build up of signs over time with the earliest one at the top left, its letterform is distinctly early C20th. It reminds me of the sign for the Palais de Danse that used to be visible from the Dictrict Line plaforms at Hammersmith until that marvellous music venue was demolished in May 2012. 

The repetition of the venue name at centre looks to be later addition, rendered as it is in a simpler sans serif form. And at the very bottom, partly obscured by that vertical dark stripe, is a delightful interconnection of 'Twice' and 'Nightly' where the two words are set diagonally against each other as per my pencilled example, right.

And finally, at the extreme bottom right, under the rule, it reads LONGMANS – this is probably the signwriter and, if so, could be the largest 'signature' I have ever seen on a hand-painted sign, the letters being three bricks high! There looks like there might be some other smaller letterforms to the right of that name and this could have been a telephone number, but being as the mortar between the bricks has been replaced across the whole wall, this is very hard to discern now. 

Does anyone have any better pics?

28 July 2022

Gillespie Park Nature Reserve – if the flowers start to grow, do you pick them? No no no!

I went for a wander around Gillespie Park earlier this week. I often do when I am close by. It's lovely there. It's like entering into an old woodland or part of Epping Forest because it feels like it has been there forever. Yet this magical space has only existed since the reserve was created in 1983. Prior to that, this was part railway sidings and part Stephen's Ink factory. 

I sat and watched butterflies. I listened to birds. I gazed up and around myself and sighed happily. But I couldn't see any fish in the pond. I decided to take snaps of the many signs dotted around the reserve. All very informative, but many are also inadvertently amusing, telling us about pirhana goldfish and annoying spotty people.  

Re the content, whilst I forgive the children for their amusing errors, I can't excuse the use of poor grammar in some of the other signs, many of which I have seen in parks all across the metropolis. But hey.

Today, this 2.8 hectare space, is a haven for many species of flora and fauna within its various areas of grassland, woodland and ponds. The Islington Ecology Centre at the Arsenal station end provides a lots of information and resources and, as such, is a marvellous learning hub for the local schoolchildren who visit here. It was built as the borough's first carbon neutral building and boasts many eco-friendly features though, as you can see from one of the pics above, the wind turbine that powers the buildings is no longer functional and a new source of energy is being devised.

If you haven't ventured up and into here, then I really do urge you to do so, because it's a delight. Though please take note that only a small section is available to dogs (accessible via where it says 'you are here' on the map below). Once you know it's there, you will, like me, make a detour if you are in the vicinity.

On exiting from the stairs at the Finsbury Park end, I often feel as if I have just emerged from a secret enchanted place and am now back in the real world. Do check out the three mosiac panels on the wall there as they are delightful too.

Gillespie Park and Ecology Centre – more info here


27 June 2022

The Old Operating Theatre – a delight

Last month, after years of walking past The Old Operating Theatre and thinking, 'I must go in there some day soon' I walked past and thought to myself, 'I must go in there some day soon' and then I stopped, turned round and said, 'no, go in there NOW!' 

And I am so glad I did. Finally. They suggest it's a 45-minute experience but I was in there well over twice that. There's lots to see and find out up there including some quite scary surgical implements intermingled with beautiful books and other acoutrements of the trade. 

The volunteers who assists there are full of fabulous facts and info – I really enjoyed the interaction with them which was probably why I was there so long. On the day I visited I was one of only four people up there and I sat in the theatre for ages simply contempleting the room and imagining the noise and mess of the past. The whole space, including the wooden room that houses the museum, complete with it's creaky floor and cabinets full of curiosties, is a delight will definitely return, either alone again or with any friend who also has never set foot inside as I am sure that they too will love it.

The museum is just a stone's throw from Borough Market, London Bridge, Guy's Hospital, and that tall spiky thing. Getting up to and inside is via this door at the foot of the church bell tower and then a climb up a one-way narrow spiral staircase, so be aware that this is not a wheelchair-friendly museum. Find out more here.

This has got me thinking about all the other places that I walk past and think 'I must go in there some day soon' which includes Dr Johnson's House. Really. Hard to believe, I know. I did try once but it was closing in ten minutes.  

22 June 2022

A marvellous manicule in NW5

The Way To Church Lands

Walking along Gordon House Road a few months ago I spotted a directional panel at low level here just to the right of the protuding block. I took a couple of crude snaps:

This manicule (pointing hand) is probably the most elaborate device of this kind I have ever seen in London. It is not simply painted onto the slab but instead has been carved in low relief complete with chubby fingers and a lacy cuff hinting at wealth and prosperity. This ties in nicely with the kind of well-to-do traders and businessmen who would have moved their families to this area in the eighteenth century – a perfect location adjacent to the open spaces and clean air of Hampstead Heath with direct access into the City via St Pancras and the New Road (Euston, Pentonville and City Rds today). For an idea of this, you need only look the impressive houses along Grove Terrace, set back from Highgate Road. 

Other words are carved into the panel at either side of the ellipse – there is a large cap N on the left and what might be '15 Feet' on the left. There may well be more at the bottom under that veil of render. 

I think the sign points to the beginning of a footpath but I cannot find evidence of that and neither can I work out which church this might refer to. It's also extremely doubtful that the sign is in exactly the same position as when it was first sited because the panel is embedded in a wall that was constructed in 1965 as part of the Haddo House development.

I will update this when I find out more info

20 June 2022

Homepride Wallpapers ghostsign, Walworth Road, SE17

Every time I pass this Homepride Wallpapers ghostsign at 214 Walworth Road it brings a smile to my face because it takes me back in time to the 1970s when many lads wore shirts featuring a repeated pattern of little bowler-hatted Homepride Flour men. I had hoped to be able to link to a pic of a vintage shirt here but I can find nothing available, so if you've still got one of these gems, it's now clearly a collectors' piece. I did find this TV ad though – graded grains make finer flour!

To me, this painted sign conjures up mental images of walls covered in the same Homepride flour men. But where in your home would you paste it? In the kitchen, I suppose, near the larder, and surely only on one feature wall. Sounds like a ridiculous idea, but back in the day, young men who probably couldn't boil eggs, wore those shirts!

Ah, but this ghostsign pre-dates the flour. This is 'homepride' as in a pride in one's home. In the 1930s the shop at No.214 was home to Globe Art, wall paper manufacturers and the 1939 directory shows that the company had quite a few outlets in South London:

I have not as yet ascertained which of these address was the actual manufactory (tho I suspect it was most likely the Tower Bridge address where Haddon Hall now sits) but it is amusing to notice that the phone code for the Walworth Rd location and the Peckham High St shop used to be 'Rodney' as in Del Boy etc – I wonder if John Sullivan knew that when he wrote the sitcom...?

Wall coverings inspired by the Trotters' flat in Only Fools and Horses are suggested here!

18 June 2022

Old shops ain St Pauls, Road, Highbury and Islington

I am often to be seen walking from Holloway to Canonbury and back, and this means I use the stretch of St Paul's Rd between the two terraces of shops at the western end which still displays some hints of a bygone age or two. The shops on the right hand side adjacent to the Hen and Chickens pub are clearly older and I will return to them another day, but it's north/left side I'm going to talk about here. It starts with a single shop, No.306a, an large add-on to No.306 which is the first of six paired premises. The shops at street level have angled entrances each side of a door that leads to residential accommodation above. The door numbers are beautifully incised into the street-facing fabric of the building in a clear sans serif letterform at each side of the arches with a flower motif above them. 

First, let's look at No.296, today a barber/hairdresser. Above the shop door there two small signs in the glass advertising Ogden's St. Bruno, a tobacco product that is still available today:

In the 1930s this was a tobacconist shop managed by the wonderfully-named Samuel Brilliant. On the subject of names, at No.298 in the 1910s, there was a confectionery shop run by the perfectly-named Miss Eliza Sweetland. I wonder if she was led into this line of work by nominative determinism?!

Two doors along at No.290 is Sawyer & Gray. As far as I can make out this café and homewares shop (no wifi or laptops, hurrah!) took its name from a name that was uncovered about ten years ago. Indeed, today's S&G was established in 2012. But the Sawyer and Gray of 1939 was a confectionery shop (Miss Sweetland no longer in evidence). It's really nice to see old signage revitalised like this.  

And now to a location past just the bus stop and the cobbled access to the rear. At No.276 today you'll find Firezza Pizzeria. Thick layers of green paint are currently being removed to reveal shiny ultramarine blue tiles. And this suggests it was once a laundry:

A quick look at the old Kelly's directories confirms my hunch. This was indeed a Western's Laundry shop. This blue-tiled exterior being the usual style for Western's and for Sunlight Soap – see more here. Customers' sheets and shirts were collected by vans at the rear via that cobbled side access and then taken to the large facility in Drayton Park which I waffle about on YouTube here(!).  The 1915 directory tells me that this site was previously Isendure Laundry Ltd, an independendent local business that looks to have been subsumed into the Western's umbrella by the 1930s. 

I really hope if they manage to clean off all the green paint and retain the blue tiles, not just for their specific historic value but for logic's sake. I mean, what is the point of painting tiles?! Tiles are washed by rain, or easily wiped. 

Next door to the old laundry, at a site recently vacated by St Paul, there was a dairy/grocery store, no doubt also making good use of that cobbled side access. Throughout bygone centuries, Islington was well-renowned for the quality of its milk – that's a story you've probably heard me tell many times if you've been on my walking tours. 

In 1915 the dairy at No.274 was run by a woman called Mrs David Davies. At some time in the 1920s it had become part of United Dairies, a company famous for pioneering pasteurised milk. 

As you can see by my dodgy pics, taken through the window, the shop interior still retains much of its interwar United Dairies tiled walls with clean white walls and geometrics in two tones of green.  The exterior still has the panelled sections in the window glass but the minty-green tiles and air vents at low level have been covered or replaced by wooden panels. This view from 2008 shows those elements still in place when it was a chemist's shop. The pic on the right shows the UD shop in New Eltham, dated 1933, and this is how this St Paul's Rd store would have looked. How lovely.

17 June 2022

A Co-operative ghostsign in Walthamstow

I little while ago, I heard that a Co-operative ghostsign in Walthamstow had been overpainted. I'd assumed it was this one below, on the side of Tommy's Tuck-in Cafe at 422 Forest Road opposite Lloyd Park and the William Morris museum.

But no, passing it on a bus earlier this week, I see it's still there, albeit slighty obscrured by modern signage panels at low level. My pic above, taken on a dull day in October 2008, shows that some of the wording has, over time, been overpainted. A brighter day can be found on retrospective Google streetview here.

The parts that have been covered/saved by a later C20th advertisement appear to read:

(...)  Enjoy the Best (....)
Co-operative Trading

Unfortunately I can't get any further with this because I don't have any reference to hand for Walthamstow. At the time this was created, Forest Road would not have been part of Greater London, so do let me know if you can shed more light on this one because the lack of local listings and directories is hindering my sleuthing abilities.

Note the name of the street, Jewel Road – I love that the roads either side of it are Pearl Road and Ruby Road. I have no idea why this should be. Again, any further info welcome.

Oh, sorry, I almost forgot – the 'lost' Co-operative sign mentioned in my opening sentence was at another site further east, visible from St James Street station, here and there are lots of ghostsigns in that area of Walthamstow, almost on every corner.

Both of these Co-op shops would have been rather small compared to the Co-op's marvellous building on Hoe Street which features some fab examples of the society's often-used beehive motif, a symbol of working together. This big store also sports some commemorative panels that show that it was constructed as the Stratford Co-operative Society. Notice also that there is still a Co-op funeral services shop trading from there.

At the Hoe Street end of Ruby Road there is a recently uncovered ghostsign for Warner's the super grocers', an independent local trader who can't have been pleased about the co-op's domination in the area. And another Walthamstow ghostsign that intrigues me can be found just east of Jewel Rd, at the northern end of Wood Street, on the corner of Woodlands Rd – there's a long wall where one of the signs had been covered and protected. It was revealed c2016. I went to check on it a few days ago:

This one is proving hard to decipher. There are tantalising hints of red and black script under that cream paint but thus far I can only name out the word 'The' which is isn't getting me very far. Who knows, perhaps it's another Co-op sign?

Let's keep an eye on these walls because our modern water-based polymer paints will not stand the test of time – the layers of weathershield will gradually peel away to reval the ghosts of the past... ooh, the suspense!

10 June 2022

The [marvellous] World of Stonehenge at The British Museum– until 17th July 2022 (and a tirade about the V&A's awful Fabergé show)

I am a bit late behind here – I went to see this marvellous British Museum exhibition back in March and I really thought I'd posted about it, especially as I enjoyed it so much, in many different ways.

First of all, this is not an exhibition about Stonehenge itself, nor is it aboout the other Europens sites mentioned in the blurbs. It's actually about the many beautiful items that were being created at the same time the stones were erected. I must admit that I had glossed over that myself when I bought the tickets (I don't like to be laden with preconceptions) and I am so glad I did that, because the surprise at seeing so any intricately-created pieces really did impress me. I had lots of conversations with other attendees there and we were all in a sense of awe. The gold pieces, in particular, were a revelation to me.

Despite being aware that other ancient civilzations, such as in Egypt, were capable of such fine work, I had never before really considered that the same was happening here. This meant that after seeing the show I went to look at other relevant exhibits in the main museum, specificlly intrigued by the gold torques (collared necklaces).

One display at this the show is a collection of carved spheres, each the size of a cricket ball and all different. An accompanying info panel tells us that it has not been ascertained as to what these were created for, or why. They all have intertwined geometric patterns, circular motifs or textured grids on them.

A man at my side was also intrigued by these orbs and we tried to come up with some ideas of our own. I queried why there needed to have a purpose at all and perhaps they were merely decorative. Consider in the future, what will people think of the pointless items of today such as figurines, ornaments, snow domes, nodding dogs, even Rubik cubes and acrylic fingernails? Perhaps these stone balls were simply something to make whilst chatting with the family after dinner or around the fire in the evening, or the crafters were simply honing their skills or testing out new designs and patterns for use on other larger projects. Could they even be the equivalent of a sample set, like a 3D swatch book? Or were they apprentice pieces like those made more recently in the cabinet making and tailoring trades?

We also liked the cases and cabinets that hold the exhibits here – everything is beautifully and clearly displayed within cleverly-constructed thick basic chip board, painted in colours that evoke stone, slate, wood etc, with all the edges rounded and smooth. 

There's lots more to see than gold and balls... do go and check it oout... five weeks left. Tickets here

From the sublimely simple and effective to the ill-achived mess that was the Fabergé exhibition at the V&A – dreadful and disappointing, on so many levels. 

This exhibition ended in May. First of all, you couldn't take photos. Well, that's OK but how can you see the teensy weensy workmanship? I often take a snap of small things at museums simply to be able to zoom in for a better view. And, surely, it's the detail in Fabergé pieces that's the most impressive thing?  This might have been assuaged had the pieces not been within cases that only alowed one or two people to view at a time (and here we are in a world of socal distancing!) and only one view possible, from the front. A few carefully positioned mirrors within those cabinets would have been helpful, to say the least. And they could have pasted large format macro shots of the jewelley on the walls or around the cabinets. Or at least supplied magnifying glasses as I have seen available at other museums and galleries. 

The design of the show looked cheap, as if each room had been given to a different first year interior design student as a project. On entering the show there were three big free-standing alcoves, the outer two with nothing in them at all, looking as if they were there for selfie opportinities. Oh, but, no; there was no photography allowed. The first exhibit next to the alcoves was an intricate Fabergé piece but with scant explanation and this threw up lots of questions but we couldn't find the answers, even when we realised that the introduction about the man himself was on a wall behind us, such that it is not visible as you enter. Then a queue to view tiny things in those aformentioned cabinets along a wall. This took ages and I gave up half way hoping that things would improve. Nope. 

Other rooms referred to places and people we had not been introduced to before and I kept going back to previous rooms to find info I might have missed only to return empty. We kept asking 'who?' 'what?' or 'where?' such as a big pic of a shop in part of a short movie that we later sussed by accident was Bond Street. To watch this movie involved standing where people were constantly walking past hindering the view, yet there were clear empty spaces in that room that could have been better adapted.

Only one room had an attempt at graphics on the walls, in the form of white lines on a green backround evoking diamonds, yet this was only in the corner of that room. And with no apparent specific relevanceto the pieces within those cabinets. Another room was shoddily 'decorated' with what looked like recycled props from a wedding or corporate event in the form of fake plants and trellis work. We could not understand twhat a garden had to do with it at all. Oh, and half way through the exhib, two parts of the building are linked by a utilitarian connecting tunnel/room that was painted black. Black like a cave. Talk about ugly. Surely something could have been done with this to make it feel part of the show?

The occasional info panels (A3 sheets pasted on the walls) also look to also have been designed by a novice. I have never seen such ugly misplaced typefaces. I managed to take a couple of cheeky photos even tho on the third attempt I was sternly told 'no photos' even tho I expained that I was snapping the info panels for typo reference, not the jewellery. What a jobsworth! As you can see here, one headline typeface is used here and there but not consistently (other signage had random horizontal rules above or below). Some wacky designer has created a font wherby all elements are the opposite of how they are in cuts of say Times Roman etc. Thicks replace thins and it makes for something that's really hard to read. Oh how radical. But why use it here? Also, a similar serif font is used for headings elsewhere, sometimes all caps, sometime U/lc, as per on the Acknowledgements boards near the exit. These two headline fonts are married with a horribly clunky sans serif for the body text that has clearly been designed for screen use. Bleargh! None of the typefaces used bear any relevance to, or enhance or complement the elegance of the high-end Fabergé brand. 

And then to the last room where Fabergé eggs were displayed in free-standing tall cabinets. Hurrah it was possiblt to walk around all four sides but still not possible to see anything up close and, as with the earlier rooms there was lots of whate space above and below ther glass where large format close-up images could have been installed. Little info panels told us about things inside the eggs that were not visible being as the item was closed. Aaargh. A simple bit of photographic reference would have helped.  The room was horrible, very high, and a strange makeshift-looking dropped ceiling had been installed making it feel like we were in someone's bad barn conversion. And finally, we were amazed to discover there was no shopping experience on exit. We had hoped to flick through some books, admire some Fabergé-inspired jewellery and perhaps buy something relevant like an egg-shaped fridge magnet (that's something I have invented right now). But no... into another dark corridor and out into the museum proper.  

If you missed the show, you didn't miss much at all. The pics and info on the V&A website here are much more informative

There's probably mistakes in this Fabergé rant. I wrote it as a stream of consciousness and I am not going back to edit/check it... If the V&A and Fabergé don't care about the details, then why should I?!!

9 June 2022

Cornelia Parker at Tate Britain, 2022

Yesterday I went to my favourite London art gallery, Tate Britain, to see the marvellous works by the wonderfully talented Cornelia Parker. This inspirational woman not only shares my surname but also seems to have similar internal questioning dialogue about the things around us and the patterns she sees on the streets around us. 

A few friends had been to the show already and I did my best to avoid their many photos on social media as I always prefer to see an exhibition/film/performance 'cold' with no preconceptions and that way I get a true reaction on seeing something for the first time, having not been discoloured or enticed by often misleading enthusiasm or criticism.

I said I wouldn't take photos myself, but I just couldn't help myself when I was there. These little 'Parker does Parker' shots are shown as snapped in square format and you might have already seen some of them on my janeslondon Instagram feed. I hope they intrigue and entice you. 

 Every room was full of clever ideas. And there were many other things I admired there, and the thoughts and ideas behind them too, each explained in print beside the work written by Cornelia herself, which is really refreshing as we usually have to read generalisms and suppostions composed by gallery curators using marketing-speak. I particularly liked reading how she had spoken to and gained access to various institutions or tradesmen in order to obtain quite unusual products with which to make her artworks. The works about what's not there, remains and negative spaces are particularly clever, I think.

I spent quite a while looking at her set of photos of the wall in Caledonian Rd that is the boundary to Pentonville prison. I have taken many similar photos myeself and call them 'accidental abstracts' created where walls have been patched and partly repainted. Here we see Cornelia doing the same. It's amazing I haven't bumped into her in that area of North London over the years. The render has been recently chipped off the wall, and looks to be in a state of flux. See here. It had previously reminded me of, and gave me a taste for, a pint of Gunnness, where the white met the black in a fuzzy line as here.

Oh and there's embroidery, wirework, movies, installations, and so much more. A marvellous body of work. I will probably go back for a second visit as it is on until 16th October. More info here.  

1 June 2022

A day trip to Leigh-On-Sea

Thanks to my guided tours and online talks these past few years, I have met some lovely people who have become friends. Last month, after leading my 'Arcades and Alleyways' tour in the Piccadilly and St James's area, I was enjoying a few after-walk beers with some women who had attended the tour and, as we discussed the Southend area, an idea was hatched to meet up for a friendly, non-planned, day out in the Southend area, and this came to fruition yesterday.

We arranged to meet at Leigh-on-Sea station at 11am. My train journey to there is lovely. I caught the Overground from Upper Holloway to Barking, a delightfully varied route with contrasting views of leafy cuttings, the River Lea wetlands, shopping streets and industrial zones. Yet I noticed that most other travellers had their faces embedded in their phones therefore missing all the ever-changing delights outside. At Barking I caught the Southend via Grays* (southern route) which offers marvellous views of the Tilbury area, the Rainham marshes, the Dartford Crossing bridge, old churches, cows and horses in fields, and boats and various forms of industry along this part the Thames estuary. Lovely. 

Exiting Leigh-On-Sea station there is an information board which includes the delightful map, above. We made our way down the steps to the access road that runs along the coast, taking in the peaceful views across the mud flats and the beautiful plants and flowers at the path's edge. We were tempted by the seafood in the shacks there but we abstained.

The road morphs into the High Street, still marked with Victorian vitreous enamel signs, and there lots of pubs to choose from. Lots of pubs – a condensation of inns and taverns that in bygone times would have been packed full of fishermen swigging pints of ale and smoking clay pipes after hard days, perhaps weeks, out at sea. We had a beer in The Crooked Billet, then wandered about taking in the architectural details and hints of history. We peeked in at the museum but decided as we were hungry to go back later (oops, we forgot... next time!). Then a lovely fish and chips lunch at The Mayflower.

The tide came in. Chris and Susie jumped ship at this point but Juliet and I continued eastward along the footpath and went up over the bridge to Leigh-on-Sea's residential and shopping streets where were looked at unusual headstones in the churchyard and admired the lovely seaview houses with their metal verandah additions. There are some really good independent shops in Leigh-on-Sea, many of which retain their original Victorian or early C20th fittings in the form of spindle-framed street-level windows and jazz Age era sunray glass, respectively. The rain that had been forecast for the day never really came to much and we managed to dodge the only downpour with a well-timed tea stop. Then we ambled back down to the waterside and got to the station at about 6pm noticing that the tide had gone out again and it all looked just as it had done when we arrived at 11am.

A delightful day out. We two had the whole train carriage to ourselves on the way back, enjoying those marvellous views on either side in a different, late-afternoon, light. We passed the ruins of Hadleigh castle and I thought, 'that's due another visit' and as we went past a sign to Tibury Fort I was reminded that I still haven't been there. How has that not happened?... Must go back again to this part of Essex soon. It's too nice, and too easy not to do so more often. 

*spotted from the train – an old Art Deco era cinema with STATE around the top – it is hard to see from the pedestrianised High Street today but you can see it from the car park here. I have just doscovered that this is a Grade II* listed building. Wow! More info here. Considering I used to drive back and forth twixt Romford and Grays when I was in my late teens and early twenties to meet friends, to go to pubs and clubs in the vicinity, I do not recall ever seeing shopping streets there, let alone a 1930's picture house. My online wander via Google also shows that there's a fab example of an old Burton's shop there too. So let's add Grays to the list of places to visit on my next South Essex venture.

9 May 2022

Reframed: The Woman In The Window at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Ooh this is a good idea, and something I hadn’t noticed or thought about until I heard about this show – the repeated motif that can be seen throughout centuries of art of a female framed in a window, whether from the perspective of her looking out, or us looking in.

Last week I joined a preview tour of the show led by its curator, Dr Jennifer Sliwka, looking fab in a grey two-piece double-breasted suit, btw. She first showed us the inspiration for the show, Dulwich Picture Gallery’s Girl at a Window’ by Rembrandt, and then picked out and explained some thought-provoking works, from ancient carved pieces, through Hockney, Bell, Rossetti and Blake, to end with Sherman and Abramovitch, two female artists whose photographic self-portraits literally puts themself in the frame. 

I suppose the question(s) being asked here is, are we and the artists voyeurs, or are we being provoked/invited to look at these women? 

There’s a very clever multi-purpose piece in the mausoleum by Isa Genken, shown bottom left in my montage, that allows you to put yourself in the picture. Inspired by this, I put myself in the picture and took a 'selfie' reflected onto the Howard Hodgkin exhibut (bottom right) which also shows elements of the large photgraphic artwork on the wall opposite.

It's a really interesting and diverse collection. On until 4th September. Find out more here

Reminder to self: finish research for my walk/talk “Female Forms: sculptors and sculptures" 

29 April 2022

Coal hole cover plates made by the Luxfer Company of Finsbury

Striding up Sackville Street earlier this week, cutting through from Piccadilly to Vigo Street, I happened upon these two unusual coal hole cover plates made by The Luxfer Company of 16 Hill Street, Finsbury (Clerkenwell), London EC.

I say 'interesting' because these two have keyholes in them, one having been subsequently filled in with a strange circular disc device. I would estimate that I have only ever spotted about ten coal hole cover plates with lockable elements within them, such as this other Luxfer example here outside 107 Gt Russell Street.

These 12-14" lids cover access holes used by coalmen to drop the black stuff directly into  bunkers/cellars below street level. Many others sport the words 'self-locking' although I am still at a loss as to how the self-locking mechanism worked. I mean, the cover plate with its tapered sides probably locked itself with a click once it was reinstalled, but surely some kind of mechanism was needed on the underside to release it pre being lifted to take delivery of the coal...? Answers and suggestions please!

The keyholes in cover plates/lids such as these are surely later additions to the original design being as they do not appear to be geometrically aligned in any way – note the difference in these two. I suggest the addition of locks was a kind of belt and braces system to foil would-be coal thieves, or super skinny child burglars gaining access to the basement area.

Lots more coal hole cover plates here in my previous posts, including some that have these bizarre keyholes within them.


UPDATE, 1st May 2022... 

Can you believe it... two days after I wrote the above... I stumbled on another plate with a keyhole that was new to me. This one is outside 21 Riding House Street, W1. It's unusually set within a small concrete panel complete with six lightwell/ventillation blocks that must've been added at the same time.  

I'll probably start noticing these all over the show from now on.

26 April 2022

The Good, The Bad and The Unfriendly – Van Gogh Portraits at The Courtauld Gallery

The Courthauld Gallery closed its doors in Autumn 2018 for a refit and rehang that took three years , reopening in November 202. As one of my favourite London galleries I was keen to return as it's an absolute delight, both for its interiors and the marvellous pieces that hang on its walls. Thereare so many very important works of art at the Courtauld. I used to love the quirky hanging, the feel that these rooms were old and special, the mix of different centuries in each room which contrasted the ever-changing styles throughout time. I later read that this was because the artworks had barely been moved since the gallery opened in the 1930s. How cool, I liked that.

Last week I went with my friend to see the collection of Van Gogh portraits – excellent – do go and see them as this now only has a fortnight left to run, ending 8th May. But note that this exhibition is on the top/3rd floor, accessed through the upper gallery of Impressionists art. On the day we visited we had to climb lot of stairs because the lift wasn't working. I was fine, but my friend was in the wars having recently twisted his back. When we finally reached the upper galleries and entered the Van Gogh rooms we saw an exhausted elderly tall man looking around for somewhere to sit and then asking a member of staff for a stool or something. She came back with one of those lightweight fold-up chairs on which he sat looking like a very uncomfortable fisherman, his knees almost reaching up to his ears. 

After enjoying Vincent's exuberant works, and spending quite a while debating whether he was left or right handed* we went for a wander around the adjacent main gallery rooms and immediately we both bemoaned the colour of the walls, especially in these rooms containing the Impressionsts' paintings, which are painted an insipid, almost nicotine-tinged, pale grey that does little to enhance the  paintings which were achieved in the glorious sunshine of the South of France, Paris and Tahiti. Surely here a deep dark blue 'feature wall' could have been implemented to lift and contrast the works within the space? Had it not been for the for the vaulted ceilings and glass above us, we would have assumed we were in any modern gallery anywhere in the world. There was no sense of personality, history or place.  Oh, and the flooring, replaced years ago with light colour solid wood, at first glance resembles cheap clip-together laminate flooring. Surely the enormous budget spent on this renovation could have stretched to a few tins of wood stain in a warmer teak/oak colour...? It just looks unfinished, complete with visible nails. The ramps installed at doorways using the same material seem to be makeshift, but they're not.

And so we made our way down to the ground floor, peeking in at each floor. The pale bland walls persist on all levels. I really did prefer the warmer earthy tones of the gallery pre-2018. Today, the much older works and religious pieces are crying out for at least a stone or terracotta ground to better enhance them. There is only one room that gives a sense of time and place and it's devoted to Vanessa Bell and her tiresome Bloomsbury cronies. 

Back in the foyer, we looked for the gift shop. But where was it? You will recall that the gift shop used to be immediately to the left as you entered the Somerset House complex off The Strand – this space is now a café. We asked the young female greeter with a touch screen where the shop was. She pointed to a long thin sign on the wall that tells us what's on each level and right at the bottom it says 'shop' with an arrow pointing down to the left/right. Er, yes, "but where?" we asked. Without an attempt at a smile she gesticulated us to the Information/Tickets vestibule (which has a big sign above it!) and from there we descended another flight of stairs which took us into a thin underground corridor. I almost walked past the door to the shop which is in a recess on the left. Turns out the shop is vast, much bigger than before and bpacked full of lovely things. Yet we were only two of five people in there, one of whom was a member of staff. We walked all the way to the other end of the shop only to find that there was no other way out and we had to go all the way back again to that narrow door. 

Back in the foyer the joyless female took it very personally when I quereied the location the hidden shop and how they thought they were going to sell anything from that space when it couldn't be seen/found. She evidently took it personally and suggested we could buy online! Eh?! Amused by this response, and also confused how a person who is acting as a customer-facing infomation point couldn't mamanage to communicate in a civil manner, I decided to put my overly jolly hat on and also tell her how disappointed I was, as a visitor for decades, that walls of the galleries had been painted such bland colours. She as good as shrugged. I doubt my feedback wehent any further.

Later, I googled reviews of the gallery's renovation and reconfiguration and found that nearly all the critics seem to have rewritten almost the same thing– how it's now chronological as you go make your way up the building, is a marvellous improvement, that the new cloor and use of light illumates the classical architecture, that the paintings 'sing' against the bright walls. Eh? Really? To my mind, slapping the same colour all over everything enhances nothing in particular.

It's clear to me, having received pre-press packs by galleries prior to preview days myself, that most of these critics had simply just re-hashed the promo information sent to them in much the same way as we were encourged to do in English classes back when I was 12 years old. you know, re-write this in your ownn words, etc. I noticed that only a couple of those reviews made any specific references that lead me to believe that they had indeed been to the gallery themselves and scrutinised it in any way personally. 

No pics – go and check it out yourself, but note that it used to look like this.

Further feedback... 

The café restaurant to the left as you enter the couryard serves bland overpriced food on unstable tables and has a stupid ordering and payment process. I had a sort of warm chicken, bacon and salad sandwich. It was toasted only on one side, barely any chicken, soggy bacon (eurgh), half a small lettuse leafand perhaps two slices of tomato. My friends halloumi and avocado wrap was as bland as the gallery wlls. Luckily, there is a Gregg's a few doors along(!) plus the usual big names and a couple of curry houses. Actually, I'd recommend the LSE canteen on the other side of Alwych, which is excellent value.

There are three large sculptures at the rear of the courtyard that look a bit War Of the Worlds. I could see that they were something to do with the recycled plastics, akin to monsters of the future. I went to find out more about them but couldn't find any info panels so I went inside the northern reception space and asked the chattering ladies at the desk. "Hello!' I said, all jolly, "I wonder if you could tell me about those large sculptures outside, only I can't find anything out there". The silver-haired woman with an accent from across the pond looked at me blankly as if I was speaking another language and informed me in a matter-of-fact manner that there were people out there with clipboards who could explain. As per the young girl in the foyer, she also didn't crack a smile, and I wondered if this was part of the training. Or, perhaps they are automotons. I said it was strange that I hadn't seen anybody out there especially as I had been wandering about for about 5mins quite plainly on the hunt for something. This provoked no response – even those self-service tills at Tescos issue pleasantries!  I moved to the sofas to readjust my clothing and a man who was passing through and had heard the exchange told me there was indeed an info panel out there on the eastern side. So I returns to the silver-haired desk robot and endeavoured to pass this news back her/it should the info be of use going forward. Again the blank stare, as if I was the mad one. Oh well. 

And so I went outside and read the A-board. I finally noticed a young woman with a clip board hovering around at the north side. I stood and waited, thinking she would wander over. Nope. So I stood or paced in an inquistive manner, adopting a series of poses that screamed 'confused' involving scratching my head or chin whilst furrowing my brow and looking from the boar to the sculptures a lot. But, although I was the only person looking at these things, she didn't see me for a full 7 minutes. Yes, I timed it. She then wandered round to the west side, seemed to stare at the paving a lot, and then disppeared into a doorway on that side. 

Basically, it's easier to find the info on their website. And perhaps the woman at the desk can't use the internet. Also, I don't think the plastic elements used in those sculptures are recycled... they all look freshly-manufactured to me.

*some of his paintings are most surely mirror images but others contradict that. I deduce that he was right-handed.