3 July 2020

RIP Clark's Creamed Barley (CCB) ghostsign, Mornington Crescent

Yesterday I happened to notice that one of my favourite ghostsigns has been lost beneath an extension to a neighbouring property.
Above Mornington Crescent station, facing north, in prime site for traffic coming down Camden High Street (before it was one-way northwards) there used to be a sign advertising a breakfast cereal. Specifically Clark's Creamed Barley.

BREAKFAST FOOD – It's Cooked And Ready To Serve
For decades it was hidden in plain view. I recall when I spotted it in 2010 how befuddled I was that I had never noticed it before, especially as I worked in the area in the 1990s-2000s.

View from corner of Mornington Crescent, 2010
View, yesterday, 1st July 2020
As you can see, two floors have been added to the next-door building, covering the CCB ad.
The building work looks to be excellent – this is a very good, sympathetic renovation. But, sigh, I do miss that ad which I believe dated from the early 1920s. Even though it's gone it will still continue to be the first stop on my Camden ghostsigns tour as it's such a fascinating product.
From ads of the 1920s: It makes a meal in a moment. No cooking. No waste. Every grain toothsome. It is the most nourishing of all cereals, and it's all-British.

A potted history:
1925. Artist: John Hassell
George Clark started as a grocer but saw the potential in refining and supplying sugar to the brewing trade. By 1897 the family had moved from Westminster Broadway (near St James's Park tube station) to large premises at Millwall Docks, E14. Within two years they had built Broadway Works, a large premises complete with a fancy stone entrance-way/gate. It was here they started producing caramel as a colourant for the food industry.
Specialist breakfast foods were the new 'big thing' at that time. Decades earlier, Mr Kellogg had created Cornflakes and other companies were swift to jump onto the ready-made bandwagon, offering all sorts of cereal-based one-dish fast-foods to set us up for the day.
Clarks obtained sugars from barley (not just from cane) and then turned the creamed husks into breakfast food enhanced by their caramels. Basically using two by-products to make one new product.

1930s. Location unknown. Possibly Broadway Works. Note the beer barrels
Promo postcard purchased from Ebay
The advertising, like a lot of products back then, and even today, promoted it as healthy energy-maker for young and old alike or, as an ad from 1929 puts it, "from weaning to old age" explaining that those with "impaired digestion" can readily absorb its elememnts of life and energy" because it was pre-digested. Basically, the husks had been removed and it was soft, no chewing involved. another major selling point was that there was no actual cooking involved.  And CCB = Cheerful Chubby Bairns.
A prominent feature on the packaging is the Star of David within a ring of wheat, so we can assume that the Clarks were a Jewish family. If I find more information I will update this. Last year, I was delighted to find and purchase an original 1927 promo postcard on Ebay that has a nmarvellous depiction of the carton on it. It also epitomises the save your tokens, get a 'free' gift style of advertising. Clarks appear to have used this tactic often. As early as 1922 they were advertising a £5 cash prize to anyone who colllected all six parts of their logo being one of the points on the star. One wonders if this was ever actually achieved, if at all possible. In 1929 the company offered four thousand 14" wheel pedal bikes to the first subscribers who collected 100 special red seals which where hidden inside the packets. Other promotions during this era included 'free' Christmas presents (also on redemption of red seals) and, likewise, little toy delivery trucks like the one in the picture, one of which sold for £1,560 at Bonhams in 2008. One wonders if by obscuring the hand-painted sign at Mornington Crescent the product is now even more exclusive. But the price achieved was more likely the condition of the car, especially its rubber wheels, rather than the branding on it.
Other promotions included adaptations of nursery rhymes such as Old King Cole (a merry old souldwas he) calling for his CCB. An ad in 1935 called the product an "All British Health Food" and explained it as: Possessing all the food value of the finest English Barley, these crisp puffed golden grains literally melt in the mouth. They have a rich nutty flavour all their own, and are as nutritive as they are delicious. Other mid-1930s ads have instructions how to make barley water from the product, in an era when Robinson's had already secured product placement at Wimbledon. 
Ads fizzle out post-WWII and the product is only referred to in editorals about rationing and food facts. However the caramel side of the business continued to prosper. George Clark & Son Ltd's Caramel Isinglass Finings ads indicate that for a time pre-WWII the company had additional premises in Bletchley and Manchester. In the 1940s and 50s they advertise themselves as 'makers of every sugar used in brewing.' The most recent ad I have found thius far is this one from July 1960.
The UK appears to have moved on from creamed barley breakfast-style meals, with perhaps the exception of Quaker Oats and the like. But brands similar to Clark's continue to be popular in the US and a Chicago-based company still manufactures today (see below).

If you'd like to find out more about Clarks and the company's products simply do a googlewoogle or why not join me for one of my ghostsigns tours, specifically in Camden or Kings Cross.


10 June 2020

Pre-occupied during Covid-19

Oh dear... I let this site slip.
These past few months I have been going out for lots of long walks, finding new things and taking lots of photos. But when I get home, the lack of 'normal' daily distractions means I get so distracted and absorbed by other things such as the research about the things I have seen and the tangents they lead me on, that I just run out of time to sort the photos and compile them into something coherent for here.
Also, I now finally have the time to research two different sites in Islington that are both minimally known about. It's become so time-consuming and what I thought would be a few pages of extra notes now looks like two books. Ooh, I'm a writer!
All these people who say they are bored lately are just plain boring themselves
Here's a pic from one of my wanders, nothing to do with the reaserch mentioned above, but just a nice image of Highbury Fields at 6pm on May 14th just after they said we could all go out again:

Which reminds me...
This features on my Green and Pleasant Islington guided walk which I'd be happy to lead for anyone who is interested. Other tours for small groups available. More info here.

28 April 2020

Locks and Keys

Whilst we're in a form of lock down I thought I'd put together a relevant collection of images I've taken over the past few years.
You might be able to recognise some of them.
Stay safe.

Approx 95% of business doorways look very similar these days to the pics above shown at top left, bottom right and third one in on the second row, with shutters down and padlocks in place. Some establishments, such as pubs are even boarded up to obsure the view inside.
It's a stange world we are living in at the moment. Like we are in a bad movie such as 28 Days Later or Day of The Triffids.

12 April 2020

The Changing Face of London – coming soon in 2000

One of the things I have been busying myself with during this period of lock-down and enforced islolation is a concerted effort to sort out, tidy up and/or get rid of a lot of the stuff I have managed to amass over the years.
So far I have rediscovered old diaries from my schooldays (hilarious reading!), alphabeticalised my music CDs, sorted my books into themes, watched a lot of the old films I'd recorded off the TV and forced myself to dismantle, crush and recycle lots of old cardboard boxes that up until now I just couldn't part with because "ooh, such a nice well-made box, that'll be useful one day". These I had saved like huge cuboid faceless Russian dolls.
During this declutter I found a large envelope full of cuttings from magazines and newspapers that hadn't as yet made it into my 'things that interest me' display books. I haven't updated that project for over a decade. I am very good at starting one thing and then getting distracted by another. Hence the many half-finished jumpers, jewellery, needlepoint, paintings and ideas for clay pipe fragments.
Oops – I've gone off on a tangent again...!
So, to the point...
I found this column torn from Time Out magazine, Feb 1994 – a list of the building projects expected in central London by 2000:
Rumours of a Museum of Modern Art somewhere on the Southbank
Interesting huh?!

When this virus is under control and we are given the 'all clear' it will also apply to the inside of my home. I can't be the only one having a major Spring clean – the charity shops will be inundated when they re-open and crying out for extra volunteers. Meanwhile, I am free-cycling – my neighbours have been snapping up the books and unwanted items that I have been leaving on the garden wall.
Stay safe and healthy.

6 April 2020

Finsbury Park elephants

Wandering from Highbury Fields to Crouch Hill last month I thought I'd take a couple of detours to check on the elephants.
Ambler/Romilly March 2020
In August last year, there was a piece in the Gazette about these elephants providing a hiding place for druggies. The following week it was reported that the hedge had been damaged – one elephant had lost its head in a car accident. Hmmm. Seems a bit odd to me how a driver managed to lose control in a backstreet within a borough that already had a 20mph speed limit.
It's worth noting that just up the road at the next junction there is another excellent example of hedgemanship where a swathe of dense foliage offers far better cover for illicit proceedings. A long row of castelltions curves around the corner:
Longer, deeper, wider, thicker
I continued my stroll past Finsbury Park station, up Stroud Green Road then right at The Dairy where the old Hovis ghostsign is now mostly scrubbed away due to graffiti removal, past the flippin' flipped letters on the gates into Mount Pleasant Crescent... and... damn, a van was in the way, but the elephant is intact.
See the street here.
And re the ther things mentioned above:

The Old Dairy – HOVIS ghostsign 2008 and 2020
Gates in the Japan Crescent area – letters attached incorrectly. I am flipped out!

3 April 2020

Holloway memories – shopping in the 1990s

In January 1988 I moved from Romford/HaroldWood into a flat in Marlborough Rd, N19, keen to be living in area that ticked all my boxes – easy transport connections for work and socialising, lots of local shops and within a £5 cab ride home from Central London (really!).
Sometimes I'd do my food shopping up at Archway as I exited the tube but mostly I'd take the bus to  the Nags Head area as the options were better. I have always said "if you can't find it in Holloway, then you don't need it". So often have I trawled the West End shops only to find a better, cheaper product just around the corner in N7. This same idea popped into my head recently and it got me thinking about all the shops I used to use in the 1990s that are now gone.

Gibbers greengrocer – next door to The Eaglet pub at 116-120 Seven Sisters Rd (now the Post Office and Mr Panini's** cafe).
Gibbers was a proper old-style fruit and veg greengrocers with boxes of produce all over the show. You queued to be served with a pound of this, two pounds of that, eight of those and six of them. It was a delight. Wholesale deliveries large and small coming and going constantly. John the owner was such a lovely man. I recall one Saturday when he asked where I'd been recently and I told him I had hurt my back and then as one of the others was serving me John nipped into the chemist next door and bought me some pain relief tablets that he said had worked for him. How nice.
Gibbers suffered tremendously when the parking restrictions came into force meaning companies couldn't even park outside their own premises. I had many chats with John about this as it was really affecting trade. What happened to John? I am not sure he was a Holloway local. Tho I did find this written by someone who used to work there.
The Gibbers site later became an EDA food centre – see here

Green's home furnishings – a few doors up from Gibbers covering three, possibly four shops . Green's walk-in windows had blinds, curtains, cusions and alll sorts. I bought lots of bits from there in the late 80s and early 90s as I was setting up home.

Shelley's shoes – 89 Seven Sisters Rd, opposite Gibbers. 
I loved Shelly's shoes. The company had been going since the 1940s and was the go-to shop for big fashion trends such as crepe soles, winklepickers, Chelsea boots, platforms and DMs. They always had a really good alternative selection and really well-made. They had a few shops across London including Carnaby Street, Deptford, Chelsea and Kilburn High Rd with larger stores at Oxford Circus and Neal Street.
I still have a carrier bag!
As regards the Holloway shop, I remember being so pleased that I had a local branch. I recall the marvellous Victorian walk-in windows full of their fabulous footwear. But I now cannot place when the shop closed. Today, all the shops along that stretch are flat-fronted UPVC blandness and I am now annoyed with myself that I never thought back then to take a photo. Tho I wasn't running around snapping the details on our streets until well into 2006.
A bit of sleuthing shows me that Shelly's 'died' in 2003. I can find no ref of the Holloway shop online. But I do have a couple of Shelley's carrier bags. The bag shown here shows the shop's address with an 071 telephone code. I also have another duffle-bag one with 0171/0181 codes on it but the Holloway shop is not listed. Hence this branch must've closed pre-1999.

Safeway's – opposite Gibber's and Green's at the eastern corner of what was once a huge Victorian store created by Fred Crisp* who had successfully purchased the whole block bewteen Devonshire Rd (now Axminster) and Sussex Road (now Way) plus houses to the rear. This later became The North London Drapery Store and then B.B.Evans before being split again into the various units we see today.
67-83 Seven Sisters Rd, 2005
I have memories of carrying heavy bags shopping from Safeways up to Marlborough Rd past the house I live in today. Argos was also in this stretch before they moved to the site on Holloway Rd which back in 1988 was Sainsbury's (or was it KwikSave by then?). 

Holloway Arcade – junction of Holloway Road and Parkhurst Avenue. Site of the old Parhurst Theatre. Today it's CarpetRight. This had seen better days by the time I got here. Most of the units within were already boarded up and only a few remained. One, I think was a shoe mender or similar(?)

Manolis Cafe, Hercules Street – the best breakfasts in Holloway, if not North London. 
The absolute best bubble and squeak ever. It was my go-to cafe. I'd take all my visiting friends there. I always enjoyed listening in on Manloi and his Greek friends as they philosphised and assessed world politics.
Manolis' goodbye
By September 2006 the cafe had closed. A typed letter was attached to the boarded up windows. It was so sad. He'd been feeding me for 15 years.
I hope he kept the huge marvellous potted money trees that used to be the windows. For a short time Manolis worked at a cafe near Finsbury Park station but soonafter due to ill health he retired to this home in Southgate. I bumped into him a few times. We kept in touch for a while. I went up to have dinner with him and his wife at a restuarant in Southgate one evening in 2008. I should have kept in touch.

Next, Clarks, Ravel – all in the stretch of Holloway between Nags Head pub and M&S (now also closed down, relocated to new premises behind Archway station). Woolworths were also here (site of Iceland) but I am not sure I recall the shop personally. They had other branches at Angel and Archway so possibly this one had already closed by 1988...?

Selby's – in 1988 it was dreadful and really out of date. Certainly not keeping up with the times. Or even attempting to rival nearby Jones Bros. I remember wondering how they were even managing to stay open. It was acomplete mish-mash and looked to be on the brink of closure. But when Jones Bros closed two years later Selby's pulled up their socksand now I think the store rivals John Lewis.

I think that'll do fo now... I'll save the rest for another day

*I am compiling a history of Mr Crisp and his store – all additional info welcome.
**A sign within the window reads "Panini's" - ah but Panini is already plural. The inclusion of an apostrophe intimates that either a letter is missing or ownership – the place must therefore be owned by someone called Panini, tho I have yet to meet him. (Paninis with an s added would make it doubly plural and that would be daft)

29 March 2020

Endangered Species by Barry Baldwin on Grand Buildings

Blimey!  How did I not notice this until last year?
Trafalgar Square is a busy junction that I usually walk through or round quickly as I play 'dodge the tourists' but last summer I stopped in my tracks when I noticed something for the first time that's been there hiding in plain view since Feb 1991 – the entrance between Prezzo and Waterstone's at 31-32 Northumberland Avenue is absolutely slathered in marvellous details. 

Around this arch there are panels containing Adam and Eve surronded by seventy different animals from all around the globe such as a gorilla, an owl, a lizard, a bear, a zebra, various birds and sea creatures. And, as you can see from above, there are flowers, plants a trellis and a factory too. A hand at the apex of this arch appears to hold a horn of fruit. And there is watch on its wrist which I told is showing 'the eleventh hour'.
Three pics stuck together here
I hunted for an artist's mark but all I could find was a foundation stone for the building showing that Grand Buildings is a Land Securites development by architects Sidell Gibson Partneship, constructed by Higgs and Hill on the site of The Northumberland Hotel.
The archways continue to the beginning of The Strand and each one has a different carved head at the top. Some are winking, some are gurning, one wears a tie, another has a spotty scarf, all are rather strange. I am at aloss as to who these people are supposed to be.

I always like to end with a link for more information. Well, blow me down if my mate Peter Bertoud has also written about this and begins his piece with practically the same opening line!

Barry Baldwin
Barry Baldwin's Facebook page

15 March 2020

Odeon Holloway – update on renovations

The Odeon Holloway is being renovated.
The info boards around the hoardings show that they are reinstating much of the original Art Deco colour sceme and re-opening the restaurant area on the frst floor behind the big tall windows.
That's great.
I was hoping that free-standing letters on the exterior as per when it was a Gaumont cinema (see below). Or some big neon letters would be nice.
But recently the new street-facing signage was revealed:

Odeon Holloway Road, N7, January 2020
Oh how disappointing. An opportunity missed. How is this Art Deco style?!
Odeon's designers have made use of the space that was originally intended to advertise the films or events that were on.
OK, that's fine, but they have lazily inserted a bland blue panel with their brand lock-up slapped in the middle, restricted in size by its height. Yet there appears to have been no thought applied to how the available space can best be used and how the signage can fit within that space. This lazy approach is sure to be happening on their other sites too.
I have been working on signage projects for years and, if this was the panel was the only option, then it could have looked so much better. I'd have made the ODEON letters almost twice the side and then slipped in LUXE* underneath with rules either side rather than above and below.
These days we have laser cutting and digital technology, LCD screens/lighting and moving graphics, so couldn't something more evocative have been installed?
Anyway, below is a pic of how the cinema looked back in the year it opened.
And lots more pics here:
*I assume this means luxury and in those big sofa-style chairs with receptacles for drinks etc. Call me old-fashioned but prefer I like to sit properly on seats/chairs. I find the new seating uncomfortable.

2 March 2020

Carved reliefs by G. Herickx at Cecil Sharpe House

A couple of weeks ago I went to an interesting exhibition at Cecil Sharp House, the home of english folk dancing, in Camden NW1. The building is fairly nondescript and belies what goes on inside.
It was first built in 1929 by architects Henry M. Fletcher and Godfrey Pinkerton and at that time was thought to be very modern which seems at odds with folk dancing which keeps old traditions alive.
During WWII the building suffered bomb damage. John Eastwick-Field and Hugh Pite were engaged to make renovations and extensions and in June 1951 the building was reopened by HRH Princess Margaret.
It was during the post-war revamp that six lovely carved reliefs were added around the entrance, three on one side and three on the other, depicting old english dancers, musicians and revellers. A signature at floor level shows the artist as G. Herickx. I particularly like the man on his hobby horse – he looks so stern, so serious compared to the others!

I tried to research the artist in the hope of finding his carvings elsewhere. Nothing of this kind but I did find a Geoffrey R Herickx who, with a name like that, just has to be the same person. Sources say he was born in Birmingham (but when?!). He painted pastoral/english scenes then, in the 1980s, he produced a series depicting aircraft in flight. He now specialises in miniatures. If this is indeed the same person we can assume that if he was in his early 20s when he created these six panels he will be almost 90 by now. If you have any further info please do get in touch.

As for Cecil Sharp House – there's always a variety things on offer with many different kinds of dance classes, not just Morris, such as tango, clog and salsa. Plus there's live music, workshops and more.
More about what's on at CSH here.

26 February 2020

Art Deco architecture in Central London

Oops, I let the blog posts take a back seat whilst I have been researching new walking tours these past few months.
Spurred on by the success of my Art Deco era guided walks in Shoreditch, Holloway, Spitalfields, The City, Camden and Arsenal, I can now offer a few more. Specifically Piccadilly, KX/StPancras, Soho, HattonGdn/Smithfield, Covent Garden and Bloomsbury all of include lovely less-visited unsung gems in the back streets.
In-depth info and how to book here.
Or visit my Jane's London Walks where you'll also find a quick-to view schedule.
I hope you can join me one day.

Hatton Garden to Smithfield – Modernism, Markets, Meta and Mysteries
St Giles to The Strand  – Flappers, Fashion, Fruit and Footlights
Soho Deco – Movies, Music and Motor Cars
Piccadilly Deco – Slacks, Flicks and Slots
All Change! St Pancras and Kings Cross in the 1930s

23 January 2020

Defaced ghostsigns in Chalk Farm Road

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

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

16 January 2020

Update re doorway mosiac in Caledonian Road

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

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

16 December 2019

Plumbs the butcher, Hornsey Road, reveal of older sign

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

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

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

11 December 2019

Hanging on in there in York Way

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

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

26 November 2019

Christmas is coming...

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

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

Ding dong merrily!

12 November 2019

Australia House

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

5 November 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22 October 2019

Sacred markings at St Magnus The Martyr

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

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