15 June 2024

Big, beautiful boot scrapers

I've been wandering around and properly investigating the St. James's area a lot these past few years, yet until earlier this week I hadn't noticed some superb metalwork within the entrance to 50 St. James's Street. Considering that I have quite a large photographic collection of London boot scrapers, I was confused how I'd managed to miss this enormous pair of decorated beauties either side of the door. 

A sign near the entrance says that the building is being renovated. There are remnants of scaffold pole footers and the whole thing needs a wash and brush up. The boot scrapers are sublime. I have never before seen any so opulently decorated. The lanterns at the top of the street level posts are no longer in place, hence why they are cropped out of my phots here, but their gas feeds are still evident below their three-legged struts. I had an inkling that building this would have originally been one of the area's many gentlemen's clubs as per White's, Boodle's, Brook's etc. But what was it more recently? I needed to do some delving.

Well, it turns out that for over 12 years this site has been behind scaffolding or under wraps of some kind which is evidence by looking at Google's retrospective street views. In 2012 the site shows that the building looked like the image above. 

A quick bit of googling and Wikipedia tells us that this is an 1827 Grade II listed building that was has been a gentleman's club (yes!*), a bridge club in the 1920s and then various casinos or gaming institutes. There are plans to convert the building for use as either a hotel or as residential properties. However, the written timeline in that Wiki link doesn't seem to correlate with the google streetview which clearly show that scaffolding was in place by August 2014 so I am a bit confused when the squatters were there.     

This 2012 image show the lovely gas-fired lamps beautifully silhouetted. I suspect that the lanterns were removed for safety reasons during the building works and I am hoping that, going forward, they will be reinstated, complete with the gas feed as per other lamps in this area, rather than retrofitted with LEDs.

* had I applied my brain I could have worked that this was William Crockford 's club – he was an interesting character to say the least!

13 June 2024

Ooh ooh – more woodblocks sighted in Camden Town

Rushing from a bus stop opposite Sainsbury's to Camden Town tube station yesterday, I glanced down at the kerb outside the pub on the corner (these days called The Camden Eye, previously The Halfway House and many more names pre-that) and I noticed a man hole cover plate half filled with wood blocks. 

I just took a quick snap, above left. The second pic is a screengrab from Google Streetview here.

I have added it to the A-Z of Woodblocks here

7 May 2024

It's a wrap! Marvellous metal in Greville Street by Groupwork + Amin Taha

Last week I was wandering along Leather Lane becoming a bit despondent at how the market has lost its proper 'anything and everything you need' vibe as it was when I worked in the area in the 1980s. I mused that it was still decent street market selling all sorts until the early 2000s. In 2011 I wrote about how London street markets were gradually diminishing. Then Covid-19 hit our street markets hard* and these days all you are likely to find here, or any of the other previously vibrant markets such as Berwick Street or Whitecross Street, is street food, although I'd counter that buying a meal in a box that you need to sit down and eat with cutlery on a flat surface doesn't constitute street food. There are no bite-sized snacks, pasties, or fried locusts on a stick available. Anyway... I digress.

Memories of Lether Lane market got me thinking about the places and businesses that were in the Hatton Garden area in the 1980s when I used to work in Bleeding Hart Yard. This was a name that almost everyone thought I'd made up. No need to swear love! I can't recall anyone back then talking about the bloody legend of the spurned lady. This vague info I had discovered on a panel outside the wine bar restaurant by the same name in the corner of the yard. The pic above is a screen grab from Google dated 2020 and shows a pub on the corner of BHYard and Greville Street. Despite all the info written on the pub's exterior, it certainly wasn't a pub in the 1980s or else I'd have used it! I'm told it was a café, but I don't remember that. 

Today I am more interested in the building on the left side of the street. In the pic above you can see a sample of what was to happen here, attached to the corner as a test piece. I was keen to see how that had evolved. Well, it's marvellous. They've done it again!  As per at Clerkenwell Green and Upper Street

Here we have a mesh surround that allows light through and it's just lovely. I'll leave it at that. Go see for yourself, or find out more here

In 1981-1983, I used to work for a small advertising company in the building that's partially visible in the bottom left picture, though my drawing board/desk was on the other side of the building, facing east.

 *Markets – The big supermarkets offering a one-stop-shop, trollies and car parking, have been a major factor here, and I hear that youngsters are not keen to continue a stall-holding businesses when their costermonger parents retire.

6 May 2024

The Grosvenor Cinema – Art Deco splendour inside The Zoroastrian Centre at Rayners Lane

The gorgeous Grosvenor Cinema cinema opened in October 1936, as part of the Gaumont chain, situated on Alexandra Avenue, a stone's throw from Rayners Lane tube station. Indeed, the whole area is an Art Deco fan's dreamworld being as it forms part of 1930's era Metroland. I first experienced the interior of this marvellous movie theatre during Open House Weekend in September 2016 as part of a guided tour. We heard all about the building and learned about the Zoarastrian faith. I really enjoyed ever aspect of the tour and I resolved to keep an eye out for an opportunity to revisit the building. 
In March this year I was delighted to be able to join other London Appreciation Society members for another guided tour.

As you enter the building from Alexandra Avenue you enter the foyer. This was originally designed as a sunken café area and the church still uses it as such. They had put out a lot of info boards for us to look at showing how the building and the local area had evolved through the decades and the pic above shows how this space looked back in 1986. I noticed that part of the geometric pattern in the metalwork that encloses this area looks like JL – perhaps I could use as my avatar!

The ceiling here is stunning:

Stairs at the front of the building, allow light from the street and lead you up to the auditorium...

...which brings you to the back of the circle and excellent view of the undulating ceiling, today spotted with modern ceiling lights and fans, although the original effect is not lost.

And here's a wide shot I took inside the auditorium back in 2016:

Find out more about the history of this cinema here where I've just noticed the main pic is practically same as mine! 

23 April 2024

On a few days left to see The Cult of Beauty at The Wellcome Collection

Do go and see this – It's FREE – finishes on Sunday 28th April.

You might say that you aren't interested in hair and make up and how you present yourself, but you'll be missing out by not seeing this fascinating exhibition – it's about the history of self expression and the pains and strange lengths people will go to in order to fit into the latest fashions or to make themselves stand out from the crowd. As such, as with every exhibition curated by the Wellcome Collection, it's packed full of intriguing artefacts, sculptures, products and applicators, as well as ancient illustrations and newly-commissioned artworks. I little things like velveteen stick on mouches (moles), was equally absorbed by old and new forms of body modification as in corsets and surgery.

And do grab a handset and headphones for the audio guide (also free) – I particularly enjoyed listening E-J Scott talking about the Museum of Transology (stop14) where some very thought-provoking points are raised, and David Arnold's 22-minute movie 'Permissable Beauty' shown every half hour. 

Did I mention this is FREE?! Isn't London marvellous! 

There's also a very good cafe and an extensive gift shop, both near the main entrance, and the excellent permanent exhibition on the next floor, albeit recently dumbed down and re-arranged because some people complained that some of the exhibits of human bodies and medical instruments were too explicit. Hmm. Fools!

15 April 2024

Boots and Shoes – a ghostsign in Trafalgar Road, Greenwich

On the North side of Trafalgar Rd there is this a shop at No.117 painted purple (or mauve or lilac) with some faded letters on the brickwork above. 

I took a couple of quick snaps simply to make a note of it, knowing that my phone camera isn't really good enough for deciphering this sort of thing. I'd expected that someone else had done the legwork already and I'd be able to find out more about what was written here whilst drinking a cup of tea on my sofa. But no. 
Caroline usually beats me to these things but all she's got is this pic on her Flickr photostream, with no explanation. Using her pic I have managed to decipher most of it. 
Here's a rough idea of how it might have looked using a random serif typeface that I have squidged* and stretched for visual effect :

A quick look at the old directories tells us that in 1904 this is where you would have found Hermann Kaiser, boot & shoe maker. I have not as yet ascertained if he was related to the Peter Kaiser shoe company established 1838 in Germany and still manufacturing today.

By 1918 this was the Popular Boot Stores and it had spread into a part of the next door building too. 

As ever, all additional information is most welcome, either via the comments or to jane@janeslondon.com

Another Greenwich ghostsign here.

*this is not a typographical term, and neither is 'stretched'!  

11 April 2024

Guinness advertising in London

My last post about the mural over the railway in Camden got me thinking about other examples of old Guinness advertising on London's streets. We might not have the huge signs that used to be at Piccadilly Circus or the moving clock near Angel tube station shown below, but there are still a few remnants clinging to the walls, hinting at the colourful ads of the past.  

First, the Millennium Time clock on the side of The Archway Tavern which has been gradually falling apart for decades.

The montage above comes from this post I wrote in May 2017 – but it's looking even more sparse these days. That link also includes my pic of six happy Guinness glasses that used to be on the corner of Rosie McCann's pub in York Way. Below is a screen grab from Google streetview showing the pub with its jolly sign in August 2008. Rosie and the sign were gone by June 2012.

Which reminds me of a few others that have recently disappeared, such as the large painted "Sláinte" (health/cheers!) that used to be on the side of The Eaglet in Holloway, N7. For some reason, in 2019 this 6ft pint of the black stuff was completely overpainted a dull black and nothing has as yet replaced it, as shown in this Google screengrab pic (all pics from here will be from Google unless I specify otherwise):

Back in Camden, but we're now on the High Street looking at the top of The Camden Head, where a neon sign advertising Guinness and The Liberties (its previous name), was still in place until Summer 2015, albeit not illuminated, the pub having reverted to its original name by 2009. 

On the same day that I happened upon the railway mural, I'd already discovered another Guinness sign nearby, in the form of a plaque above the doorway of The Lord Southampton public house at the other end of Southampton Road. 

I'd have gone inside and tested this information claim but the pub is closed at the moment. It appears that some moaning minnies who live in the area do not want it to reopen as a pub because of the noise. Hmmm. One wonders why they chose to live close to a pub in the first instance! After all, this pub, with its gorgeous handmade blue Doulton Lambeth tiles and original wooden interior has been a community hub for over a century. It's one of the oldest pubs in the vicinity and would have well-served people visiting or working at Queen's Crescent shops market. Pubs don't have to be noisy and only a handful of people get drunk. I'm guessing the moaners are noisy themselves and assume everyone else is too. 
I took a pic through the window – it's lovely in there and I hope this interior, with its wood panelled walls and bar, is retained.

Probably the best, most intact, heritage pub signage in London can be found on The Crown & Cushion pub on Westminster Bridge Road, almost opposite Lower Marsh where there are two Guinness signs. The panel on the left depicts three flying toucans each balancing two pints of the famous stout on their bills!  Note that the top bird is 3D and protrudes from the board. 

And, d'uh. I almost forgot to mention The Toucan in Carlisle Street, near Soho Square, which is daft because I spent a lot of time in there back in the 1990s, usually in the basement bar which was a welcome refuge on hot days rather than sweating in the noisy street outside. I haven't been in there for over ten years. Is the list of Guinness cocktails still down there? I must go back soon. 

As regards the signage here, the faded hanging sign at the top of the basement stairs is fairly old, but the two flying toucans above the awning are quite new – they were installed in 2013 to fill the spaces where air con units used to be. 
The White Swan, Deptford has two different hanging signs protruding from the building – one is the standard black and gold roudel. I particularly like the other sign of the Guinness mug with a handle, something we rarely see or use these days. The pic below is from 2015, but the pub didn't look open the last time I walked past a few months ago and might well have closed its doors for good by now.

But definitely gone, is the once lively Ravenscourt Arms in Hammersmith, a flat roofed pub, looking welcoming in the pic below but today the site is being developed and the four toucans on the sign have flown away to who knows where.

A ghostsign I missed – I never managed to get to Balham to photograph the remains of a painted sign that used to be on the side of the launderette. A friend who lives near there had told me about it but by the time I visited her in early 2019 it had been overpainted. Maggie has taken a good pic of it here. There must have been more hand-painted ads like this all over the country so it's surprising to have never actually seen one myself. 

Sometimes the brand can be found within street art. In Islington, there was a cute little cherub in Pickering Street (off Essex Road, near South Library) holding a broken bottle of Guinness. But this has since been overpainted white: 

I didn't find out who the artist was – most likely to be the work of Bambi who had other artworks on the same building back in 2014. If not her, then it could be Loretto or Pegasus who have similar pieces in this area.

What else? I only have to look at a wall like this one to think of Guinness, ditto those tubular street litter bins when they have a white polythene waste bag dribbling over the top edge. 
A friend told me about this artwork in Hackney Wick which has clearly been added to and, of course, we've got the Guinness Trust buildings all across London. If you can think of any other instances, on the outside of buildings, not inside pubs or on glasses or mats, please let me know.  

Finally, as a teenager I used to have a black long-sleeved sweatshirt with the Guinness brand in white on the upper left side. I'd bought from a stall on Romford Market. I also had a JPS one (Jane Parker Special!). I wore the Guinness top to take my driving test, which I passed first time, and later that day realised that it was a bit daft to be wearing an alcohol brand whilst driving a car and under the pub drinking age! People sometimes asked me what the other side was. Oh ho ho ho. It wasn't until a few years later when the sweatshirt was old and Mum and I were doing some painting and decorating that she suddenly exclaimed "Martini's the right one"! Too late!

9 April 2024

An Elephant with a very long trunk – Guinness advertising in Camden

Here's a thing. I was recently wandering around the Lismore Circus area prior to my Elephants Escape guided tour just looking at buildings, wandering down side streets, etc. As I headed up Southampton Road, approaching the railway line I looked across at the painted walls that surround the railways. This is from google streetview, looking north, the direction I was walking:

As I approached the bus stop on the western side I happened to noticed that the mural to my left included a Guinness bottle. Up close it was hard to make out so I stepped back to the kerb to get a wider view and saw that there was the word Guinness next to the bottle, rendered in a sort of blobby black letterform. 

And then I noticed that the letters are either birds, like an Ostrich making the 'G' pouring Guinness from a bottle into the U and the two black swans at the end depicting 'SS', or the letters created by warped pints of Guinness like the letter 'e'. 

How jolly marvellous. I followed it along and found lots more references to those classic Guinness ads of old. This has to be the best bit of Guinness advertising I have ever seen. 

The legs of a walking female wearing wedge sandals, carrying a bottle and, to her right, what I think is the base of a pint of Guinness

A sealion with four pints of Guinness in front of him, possibly on plates

I think this might be a pale pink bird, possibly a crane with a long beak and spiky head feathers 

And then, there are lots of yellow circles and a pale grey arc coming in from the right...

... which turns out to be the very long trunk of an elephant reaching past the Guinness harp motif and blowing bubbles, no doubt Guinness bubbles. Hard to get a good shot of this section being as the bus shelter is in the way.

The tusks are more like those on a woolly mammoth.
And it appears he's singing a song, as depicted by those musical notes.

The far end of the wall is rather faded. But his front legs clearly show that he is running, keen to get to that Guinness!

The strange thing is, I can't spot anything resembling a toucan which was Guinness's most commonly used bird. And, having googled and searched for images of this mural to see how it looked when it was first installed, I have found absolutely nothing at all. In fact the Google streetview from 2009, below, shows the wall has been looking the same for at least 15 years. 

I am also wondering, considering that many things depicted here seem to be decapitated, if an extension to the brick wall was in place when the mural was painted, such as a 2ft strip of wood running the full length.

It's amazing that it's still here at all, especially as the walls on the other side of the road have been overpainted a few times. See here.

If anyone has any information or can date this please do get in touch. Similarly if you have any photos of this it when it was all bright and shiny, I'd love to see them.

8 April 2024

From Wapping warehouses to Silvertown streets, it's all about me!

I went for a wander around Wapping this weekend. Every time I revisit, I find something new to me whether repurposed warehouses, wonderful wharf walls, cobbled streets or interesting air bricks, such as the ones at the base of what is now the Dockers Inn gastro pub at the corner of Wapping Lane and Prusom Street. At first I thought these letters were JHB, but a friend has pointed out that the J is a T because this was built as a Truman, Hanbury and Buxton pub, originally called The White Swan [and Cuckoo]

As I wandered about, I kept crossing paths with a local man so we walked together and had a chat over a beer in at Wapping Docklands Market adjacent to Shadwell Basin. We discussed local points of historical interest and I said I'd try to find out a few things for him. This has led me to revisit the 1901 Port of London docklands map by Edward Stanford, available via The British Library's Old Maps Online, a map I always enjoy looking at because it shows how this area has changed. 

As I scrolled within the map and headed northwards to Commercial Road, I recalled that there was a road called Jane Street. I zoomed in – you'll see it at the centre under 'ME' of Commericial, which is quite apt:

But there's barely anything left of that street today; just a short stretch of cobbles next to the Lloyds Bank, which itself surely not long for this world either, considering how many walk-in branches have closed in recent years: 

It's all about me! And then I was reminded of some street names I had noticed when I was wandering around the Silvertown and North Woolwich area last year, many of which link to my family and personal history. Here's a close up of that area from the 1901 map:

Albert Road runs along the northern side of railway line, today the Docklands Light Railway. I spent my formative years in Albert Road, Romford, which branches off Victoria Rd. This in itself isn't much of a coincidence seeing as there are many streets named after Victoria and Albert all across the Commonwealth. The southern side of the tracks here is shown as Green Lane which also a fairly common street name (today renamed Factory Road). My dad's upholstery business was in Green Lane, Goodmayes. 

But now it gets personal... here is a googlemap of the area today – North of Albert Road, there is Newland Road, echoing my mother's family name. Today it meets Leonard Street which was her father's, my granddad's, Christian name – wow! 

A few streets to the east/left is Parker Street. Bizarrely, this is my surname from my father's side and, further west, as shown on the 1901 map, there was Amelia Street which is my middle name. Which means I have the full set of Jane Street, Amelia Street and Parker Street. Amelia Street has disappeared along with all her siblings (for I suspect these are names linked to the developer of this plot) but GradeII* listed St Mark's church is still standing lonely and forlorn adjacent to a trading estate and the DLR line.

The name Amelia intrigues me. It was my nanna's name (my father's mother), yet she never used it, preferring to be called Min. I can only think of Amelia Earhart, Henry Fielding's novel and Enid Blyton's Naughty Amelia Jane books. The name was barely used for many decades, indeed my junior school friends thought it was a made up name. Then a sudden revival about 20 years ago brought it back into favour, I know not why, and it sat at or near the top of the list of popular baby names for girls for a decade. 

As to why the name Amelia was not popular in the post-war years, I am sure I read somewhere that 'an Amelia' was a dismissive name applied to a dodgy sort of female. Perhaps it was associations Fielding's character or with Blyton's naughty little girl? I could understand the latter had Nanna been a teenager in 1939 when those books were first published, but she was a married adult with two children and another on the way by that time. It may be that there was a famous person by that name who did something bad and people did not want to be associated with her....? 

I'll leave it there. I think that's enough about me, for now!

2 April 2024

On the ropes – a very uncomfortable sleeping arrangement or a sailor's bed?

I was recently reminded of the unsubstantiated accounts of men having to resort to a night spent sleeping hung over a rope, as mentioned in this piece about The Twopenny Hangover.

I’ve always queried this sleeping arrangement as, for many reasons, it just couldn’t have worked. A
s I am aware, the single rope thing has only ever been referenced within movies and retrospective 2nd- and 3rd-hand accounts, all of which makes it merely hearsay. Yet the notion persists.
Having given this a fair bit of consideration, I have come to the conclusion that these sleeping arrangements were simply a room full of single hammocks.

For instance, consider that if you did manage to doze off hanging over a rope, whether seated or standing, the rope would sway about and act like a sound amplifier every time someone else along the rope moved or made a noise. If you were hanging from your armpit(s) as they suggest, the bulk of your weight being below your chest, then gravity would take control as you fell into a sleep state and you'd simply slide down and fall off the rope, disturbing everyone around you. It could only work if you tied your elbows to your waist to stop yourself from moving about and losing purchase. Nope, I think it's nonsense!

Most reports of this 'on the ropes' sleeping arrangement are far from reliable seeing as they are written by well-heeled men who would never have needed these places. The poor men who did need to use doss houses didn't have the time or inclination to keep a diary or write down their experiences. Therefore, all we have is hearsay.

Within the link above, towards the end, there is an excerpt from Charles Dickens's Pickwick Papers which includes this description:
"... two ropes, ’bout six foot apart, and three from the floor, which goes right down the room; and the beds are made of slips of coarse sacking, stretched across ’em..." 
At first, I wondered if this was describing a multiple hammock design, such that each sacking/canvas ‘bed’ was attached to ropes at the head and foot ends, perhaps with multiple canvasses side-by-side along that parallel system, hence the reference to the ropes being 6ft apart, which is the length of a bed. In the morning, with the beds being being 3ft off the floor, the proprietor could easily move under and along them to untie the knots (at the foot end?!) via a simple slip knot, as I also very much doubt they would have cut the expensive rope. The clients then would fall to the floor – a rather shocking start to the day! The ropes and 'beds' could then be easily fixed back again for the next customers. Also, the canvas could be easily removed and replaced if damaged in any way.
However, even this idea is doubtful as to support the weight of possibly four men per length, the knots must have been pretty substantial, ditto the brackets to which they were fixed.
I am therefore of the opinion that these rope beds were merely single hammocks as per on a ship, the ends tied three foot from the floor to allow for the sag of the hammock.

25 March 2024

The Terraces and Textures of Thamesmead

Last month I ventured to Abbey Wood where I attended a guided walk in Thamesmead looking at the architecture and topography of this vast residential area as well as its use as a location for many films and TV dramas. 

It was a grey day. I took a these snaps and made a mental note to return and investigate on a warmer day.

I was saddened to discover that there's nothing left of the lakeside area once trodden by The Droogs which would have been to the left of the orange signage in the pic bottom right, above. And I was amazed/confused that there seemed to be no pubs or cafés or corner shops anywhere, meaning everyone, children, old ladies etc, has to hike all the way to the shops near Abbey Wood station or use one of the mega stores that surround this zone, each one larger than an average sports hall. Mind you, considering the amount of properties here, we hardly saw any other humans at all, except for few dog walkers. I considered that everyone might be at work, but no, it was a Saturday. Perhaps the were all that the mega malls and leisure centres, or simply indoors watching TV or playing computer games?

A few weeks later I went to the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea Park. I was some admiring some paintings and prints of brutalist architecture (ooh the patterns, ooh the grids and lines and geometrics) and began talking to the lady next to one of the pieces only to discover that she was the artist! It's hard to fathom how I'd never discovered Mandy Payne or her work before. To cut a long story short, we got chatting and discovered that we have lots of common interests. We swopped Instagram accounts and within a few days we'd arranged to go to Thamesmead together on Monday 25th March.

Mandy had also been to this part of Thamesmead before but she hadn't seen or known about some of the places that she'd admired in my photos taken in February which I had posted on my Instagram @janeslondon account. She was enthused and clearly enthralled when we reached the raised walkways. As I'd expected, she took hundreds of photos. I took little more than the three above and the ones shown below which are mostly of some retaining walls near the lake that Mandy was also keen to see. They have an amazing crackle-glaze effect, caused where modern paint applied over un-prepped surfaces has shrivelled and peeled to create marvellous textural patterns. 

However, we are concerned that this accidental abstract art won't be visible for much longer. It looks like Bexley Council is planning to paint these walls a boring shade of mid grey, evidenced by a few test squares here and there, as shown below. This shade of grey is light absorbing rather than light reflecting and I've written before about the overuse of this ubiquitous shade of dull here

We also noticed that paint peeling from handrails and metalwork revealed colours of past decades, starting with peach and then blue and green, most recently overpainted in black, Black. BLACK! What's this obsession with monotone? But, on the plus side, the subtle pastel effect created by what I think is different shades white paint is lovely, especially when contrasted with the vibrant natural greens of the healthy moss and lichen that is growing in the cracks and along the tops of the walls.

And then Mandy took me to see something that I'd somehow missed when I had visited the first time. A raised terrace above the convenience store has seating and what I guess could have originally been constructed as structures for basketball hoops. One of them is painted a gorgeous vibrant red (much more exhilarating than black or grey) and the metal seats show a palimpsest of colours throughout the decades

My last two pics, are of some windows above one of the many rows of garages there, designed for cars that were much smaller back in the 1960s and 70s. I was thinking, as I watched the pigeons walk along the roof, that these buildings resembled bird lofts. And then I noticed my initials JP on the glass!
Back to London central on the Elizabeth Line. I returned to Islington and Mandy went to do something in Paddington. As I write this she is on another train heading back to her home and studio in Sheffield. Thanks Mandy, and see you again soon for another brutalist appreciation session!