14 January 2022

Please help to save the unusual 'Art Deco' style façade of Willen House, Bath Street

If you have been on my 'Art Deco Shoreditch' walking tour you will know that a popular and provocative stop along the route is Willen House at 8-26, Bath St, London EC1V 9DX

It is such an unusual building because it looks to be 1930s, yet it was constructed soon after WWII, opening in December 1948 as shown within a plaque on the Lever Street corner. For the past few decades the building has been student accommodation and has suffered from a lack of care, the secondary double-glazing being particularly shabby.

Earlier this month, whilst out walking with some like-minded friends, I noticed seven information sheets in the windows of Willen House to the left of the main Bath Street entrance outlining tp bennett LLP's proposed changes for an upgrade to the building. Keen to keep up with my friends, I took some quick phone snaps so that I could read the info at a later date. And a good job I did that otherwise I would have been moaning about it for the rest of that day. The planned changes will effectively make it look like a new structure rather than a carefully-restored and adapted building. To say I am disappointed is an understatement. 

Having checked the 'work' section of tp bennett's website I can find no mention of this project to provide a link for you, so I have included my photos of the info sheets below (scroll down to the end) which, incidentally, were affixed L-R in reverse order which is itself sloppy.

I can also find no reference of these proposals on Buildington, which suggests to me that this is considered a cosmetic change, being that planning permission might not be needed here.

I have written a letter of complaint to the architects (see below) which I have cc'd to other parties who I think should be alerted to this insenstive shambles. 

If you are also concerned about these propoals, please do write a letter of complaint yourself and make this issue known to any other parties you think could assist in preserving this unique and unsual building. 

..........................................

tp bennett LLP
One America Street
London SE1 0NE
willenhouse@tpbennett.com
Date: 12th January 2022
Re: Willen House Consultation / Revamp of Willen House, 8-26, Bath St, London EC1V 9DX 

I lead guided walks across London and have a keen interest in architecture, especially the ‘Art Deco' era. One of the most popular stops along my Shoreditch and Finsbury route has always been Willen House, especially when I explain to the group that this is not a 1930s building; that it was actually constructed just a few years after WWII and is therefore very unusual, not only for its lovely warm tones and quality of products used, but also because very few buildings were built at this time and certainly not to this excellent standard using quality products.
Earlier this month, whilst walking past the building, I noticed in the windows some information sheets that illustrate how tp bennett, a company who I have until this point respected and promoted, in the main for the excellent work created and overseen by Thomas Bennett back in the 1930s (such as, for instance, well-designed residential blocks in St John’s Wood and Westminster), is here planning to disguise almost all the original features which make Willen House so special and worthy of preservation.
Willen House is very unusual. There were only a handful of buildings constructed in the 1940s in London. This building has distinct ‘Art Deco’ styling yet, as the plaque on the Lever Street corner shows, it was completed in 1948 and opened on 7th December by W. Barrie, J. P., the then Mayor of Finsbury, hinting at how important an achievement this was to the borough and to the Willen Key Company at that time.
I have long been of the opinion that the Willien Key Company, which was founded in Battersea by James Walker in 1903, and moved to this area in 1923, had already planned and prepared for this building just prior to WWII, hence the quality of the products which would have been sourced or produced beforehand and the speed with which they were able to construct showroom, offices and warehouse. With much of the area devasted by bombs, the company, with their well-made locks and other property protection devices, would have been a business that was much-needed post-war, the products needed to secure homes and businesses in the surrounding area, indeed beyond.
The fabric of the building has indeed suffered since the Willen Key Company moved out and certainly now needs some attention, especially the interior, the windows, and rear of the building. However, the Bath Street façade with its tiled elements surely just need a good clean up. The tiles are now almost 75 years old and have stood the test of time well. The soft warm tone of the building is both delightful and unusual.
What appears to be proposed here is that the Bath Street façade is to be re-modelled and re-coloured to better tie in with the products used for the new build at the rear, effectively adapting the old to visually match modern cheap-to-install products, rather than making the new additions tie in with the quality and colour of the existing structure.
I am appalled and very disappointed to see that the plan is to cover, and therefore eradicate, the lovely warm beige tones that evoke a Mediterranean sunset, as well as the soft fluted tiles and the unusual chocolate brown double-stripe detail that frames those areas, in dull shades of monochrome that will over time become even more grey and dull, especially on dark or cooler days.
The integrity of Willen’s original building will be lost of these changes are implemented. A reference is made to the changes being “a nod to the past” and that the aim is “to refresh and enhance” yet it is evident that what we see here, is not a sympathetic renovation but a complete makeover that will make the building look like a pastiche of the streamline-moderne, such as in nearby Bunhill Row.
I have been advised that the proposed renovation has an approximate life of 10 years and that pale-coloured renders on north/east-facing walls are prone to patches of green mould during the first winter, producing an on-going suede effect. Application of this unnecessary coating will require damaging the surface of the tiles to make a key, whether by sand-blasting or abrasion, thus ruining them forever. This is irresponsible and far from eco-friendly in many respects. We need only to look many reclaimed pub and shop façades to clearly see how the scars made by paint application and its subsequent indelicate removal processes have caused irreparable damage.
As regards changes, additions and renovations to the rest of the Willen building, I agree that the windows are indeed in need of replacement. However, there are many good quality double-glazed units available these days with fine, thin, profiles/frames, both Crittall-style metal or UPV.
I am keen to know if the plaque on the Lever Street corner will be retained in these renovation plans, as surely it should be. A similar unsympathetic ‘white-washing’ of the past can be found in nearby City Road where Buckley Gray Yeoman’s external renovation of The Epworth Press building uses a too-bright iridescent white coating over the original soft ivory/natural-coloured faience tiles. It is ironic here that the iridescence does not sit well with the natural colour employed by the architects for the additional upper floors.
Conversely, for a reference of how renovations of this kind can be sympathetically achieved, please see this example at The Drapery, by Brooks Murray Architects where a once messy site has been cleverly adapted and repurposed to marvellous effect.
I look forward to your reply, or at least an acknowledgment of this letter

Jane Parker / www.janeslondonwalks.com / jane@janeslondon.com / @janeslondon

I had no idea 'materiality' was a word until I read this – try saying it out loud – it's almost impossible!

30 December 2021

Clapton ghostsigns – hints of upwardly-mobile Victorians and a multi-layered engma

I've been wandering the streets a lot these past few weeks. Either just following my nose, investigating places I don't know so well, or planning walking routes for the future.

I was recently near the River Lea in the in Clapton area and thought I'd best go and check on a couple of old bits of signage near the main drag to see if they were still there. And indeed there were/are.

Just east of the roundabout on the north-facing wall of 203 Lower Clapton Road, today a Ladbrokes betting shop, there is this a hand-painted sign for S. B. LUSH & Co. Ltd, dyers & cleaners, rendered in white 3-D effect block letters on a red panel. If we look back to 2008 we can see that it's in reasonable condition because it was, up until then, covered/protected by a boxed sign.

A bit of sleuthing shows that 'Lush & Cook, dyers' were here from at least 1896 until the first few years of the 1900s and by 1901 the name had changed to become 'S. B. Lush & Co' – I wonder what happened to Mr Cook? So far I have not managed to ascertain if Messrs Lush and Cook were here pre-1896 but I have found evidence of S.B Lush & Co at some very well-to-do locations in central and NW London. For instance, in 1891 the man/company was at 6 Wigmore Street, W1, and also at 1 Motcomb Street, W1, 38 Ladbroke Grove and 105 St John's Wood Terrace – so this really gives us a sense of how upwardly moblie this area of Hackney was at the end of the 19th century. The company had gone form here by 1904 when this became the premises of a milliner, followed the following year by a piano maker. For the period 1908-14, it was a confectioners, owned by a Mr. Thomas Taylor. So now I'm asking, what happed to Mr. Lush?

I continued my walk southwards to the corner of Downs Road where I was surprised and rather pleased to see that the filthy broken 'Art Deco' era clock for Strange Chemist is still hanging in there above today's pharmacy which still bears the same name as it did in 1939. They really ought to, at least, give this old timepiece a clean-up. 

Then round into Downs Road, and immediately left into Clarence Road. On the right hand side, a little way along, on the side of No.163, there is a double-layered sign. I stood looking at it, amazed that it was still intact, albeit faded. It appears that over a century ago, a hand-painted sign on the wall was covered with wooden planks that were used as the basis for a secondary sign. The wood is held in place by an angled arm of metal. It's hard to believe how this structure is still there!


The wooden sign is very bleached and faded today and there is barely any paint left, but my pic here from July 2008 shows how the letters on the boards were almost discernible and would have been even clearer had I vistied it a decade previously. I think I can make out the word 'dealer' two-thirds of the way down here. As for the sign underneath, the tantalising letters peeking out at the left hand side of the boards, give little away but there's a letter R at the top, so my guess is that the sign could be for Miss Ann Reynolds, haberdasher, who was there in 1901, and/or William Richardson, builder who was listed as being next door at No.165 in 1914.  

This is so bizarre enigma, don't you think? Just what was the though process here? Was the second sign menats to be temporary? Because, surely it would have been easier to whitewash the first sign and then over-paint it. Does anyone have any other ideas?

Please do let me know if you have any further info on any of these..

26 December 2021

Hendon ghostsigns

In my previous post I wrote about a drive about in London on Christmas Day which somehow included a jaunt up the A5 to Colindale. On the way back we stoppped along Hendon Broadway to check on a few ghostsigns. The street has a sense of Victorian-into-Edwardian faded glory. The last time I had a good wander about there was 2011 and I was keen to see how many of the signs I'd seen back then were still visible today.

The first old hand-painted sign that looms into view on the left as you head northwards, above what is now Aladin's Kebabs at No.147-9, is a sign for George Frederck Kruse. On south-facing wall, to left, it's easy to make out 'Estate Agent' in angled Coca-Cola-esque script complete with what I call an underswoosh. Above that, to the extreme right, immediately above the horizontal bar between the windows, there are remnants of some lettering that I think includes '[Local?] & Adjacent Districts' and 'APPLY' which could be followed with 'within' as has been suggested, but I am not so sure about that seeing as the much easier to decipher section below directs us to another address:
GEO. F. KRUSE (in an arc) / 50(?) YEARS IN HENDON / AUCTIONEER & ESTATE / –> AGENTS <– / Opposite Hendon Statn. N.W.4 / PHONE HENDON 1115. / Management of Property a Speciality

The estate agent shop at 32 Station Road would have been directly opposite the Hendon railway station here – there is no number 32 there today and the postcode written on the sign is given as NW4 which is the eastern side of the tracks.

I did a quick bit of googling and discovered in the National Archives that during WW1, George, then living at just round the corner at 89 Audley Road, NW4, appealed for exclusion from National Service, claiming that 'serious hardship would ensue' due to his 'exceptional finance or business obligations' – I haven't pursued this any further as yet to see if he was successful. 

Just up the road from here, at No.163 on the north-facing side overlooking Milton Road, is another faded sign advertising dairy products. It's fairly obvious that the who wall was once slatered in lettering and there have been many over-paintings throughout the decades which are hard to decipher today. However, eleven years ago I could clearly see that the centre section read: "BARRIES / FOR PURE / MILK" – I haven't been able to ascertain if thtis was alocal company name or a product.

If you spin round from the Barries sign and look north along the same side of the road, you'll see at the side of No.177 there is a nice surprise – a boxed sign used to cover a large proportion of this wall and it has in the last few months been removed to reveal elements of a Gillette safety razor ad. there are also hints of other layers of signage here – a palimpsest of advertising on this south-facing side wall.
I think the very large red lettering is for DAILY MAIL and there are other panels of faded blues and reds. Black block lettering at low level reads 'FOR SALE' with a more friendly script in white behined or over the top of it.
How jolly intriguing and this must look fab on a sunny day with better light.


Further up the road there has been a fair bit of demoliton, rebuild and renovation since I was last there and this has meant the loss of two Co-operative Society signs. One used to be on the north-facing side of No.197 with a second, south-facing sign on No.201. The second one, shown last here, was a sign I particularly meant to return to another day when the light was better and I was armed with a good zoom lens, because it had lots of white block lettering at the top and, in a sort of script at the bottom, it read: '...other members'.
It's interesting that a Co-op grocery store today occupies the site.

For more research on all of these signs, indeed the changing face of this street, more info would require access to the old Middlesex directories or a visit to the Hendon archives. Any feedback welcome.  


25 December 2021

A Christmas Day drive round London.

Christmas Day 2021. 

With no Congestion Charge and no Ulez restrictions my mate Malcolm drove over to Holloway from Notting Hill to pick me up at 9:30am. No plan. Just drive about wherever.  

From Holloway we went straight  down an almost empty Cally Rd then passed Kings Cross, St Pancras and Euston railway stations, before heading down to Regent Street and round the three sides of Trafalgar Square, along Strand, round Aldwych and along Fleet St, though the City and into Whitechapel. A right turn at Mile End, down to Stepney and through the Rotherhithe Tunnel to Bermondsey. Then the first of many bridges... over Tower Bridge, down along Lower Thames St before heading back south via Southwark Bridge. A peek at the vast hole where the Elephant & Castle shopping centre used to be then across Lambeth Bridge, along Millbank past TateModern and over Vauxhall Bridge. Then along Albert Embankment, over Westminster Bridge, round Parliament Sq, up Whitehall to Traf Sq, into The Mall, stopping to watch some mounted guards, down Birdcage Walk to Buck Hse and back again along St James Pk to Westminster, along Victoria Embankment, up Northumberland Ave to Pall Mall, along Piccadilly to Knightsbridge and into KenGdns/HydePk opposite the Albert Hall where we parked the car and got out to look at the views across the Long Water and The Serpentine. But it was freezing cold out there, so back into the car...

Exited the park at Lancaster Gate. Investigated streets and mews nearby before heading up Edgware Rd and following Watling Street, the old Roman rd, through Maida Vale, Kilburn and Cricklewood where we looked at old signs and railway cottages, and then across the A406 North Circular Rd, to West Hendon to check up on a few more ghost signs. For some reason, perhaps unable to decide left or right, we continued northwest into Colindale where we stopped for Christmas Day lunch at a KFC. 
Warmed by spicy chicken baps, chips and alcohol-free hot drinks, all of which we were pleasantly surprised by seeing as neither of us had eaten the Colonel's fare in a decade or so, we rejoined the North Circular and travelled clockwise to investigate Hampstead Garden Suburb, wondering how people who live there cope being so far from a pint of milk. And then back to Holloway via Highgate Village. A lovely way to spend the daylight hours. But it’s also nice to be back indoors cosy and warm. 
 
Tomorrow I will post about the ghostsigns I snapped today. 
Ding dong merrily, whatever rocks your Christmas boat, Jane

10 December 2021

The Trafalgar Square Christmas tree – thank you for being thankful, Norway

For the last few years, and especially so this year, I have been appalled to hear that people have been complaining that the wonderful Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square is "too sparse". Well, what a slap in the face for the Norwegians who have been sending a tree to us for over seventy years. I am glad to see that they won't be organising a replacement. See The Metro, 9Dec2021, right.

It's really ungrateful. This is not just a simple case of 'where's the receipt, can I get my money back?' and I suspect that most of these complainers have no idea the meaning, the effort and generosity behind this installation.

Since 1947, Norway has been donating a prime Norweigian Spruce, at least 20 metres high, to adorn our famous square, chosen by representatives of Oslo and Westminster from their lush forests. It is gifted to us as a thank you for assisiting them during WW2. The who process is a big logistics exercise, felling the tree and transporting it safely across land and sea. That's over seven decades of 'thank you's.

Once safely installed, the tree-lighting ceremony takes place at 6pm on the first Thursday of December every year (exc last year due to Covid-19 restrictions). There are speeches from Westminster council dignitairies and the Mayor of Oslo who last week was patently so delighted to be back in London again switching on the lights. I was there. Here's the before and after... 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...

I wonder how many of the complainers were in the square that evening, enjoying this short but sweet ceremony and singing along with 'Once in Royal David's City'? I expect none. 

The tree is not sparse. In fact, it's an excellent example of its species. It's a fashion thing – people these days seem to want what I have heard on TV called "the traditional Christmas tree look" and by this they mean those dense little shrubby bushes, or the plastic equivalents. But this confuses me as surely a 'traditional' tree, from the Dickensian era, would be like the one set up by Victoria and Albert in 1841, right, with open branches, better to see all the pretty adorments.

I have also heard people complaining about the lights on the Trafalgar Square tree, how they are also disappointingly sparse. Well, dear people, they are hung in a traditional Norwegian fashion, with 14 strands falling from the top and I, for one, like how those strands fall nestle within the branches.

Thank you Norway. Some of us here don't look a gift horse in the mouth.



30 November 2021

I was born in the 1900s

What is this thing lately where people refer to periods of history as "in the 1600s"? Is this yet another example of dumbing down, for people who don't understand "in the 17th century"?* I am even hearing those presenters on the BBC antiques programmes using this, even Susie Dent on Countdown when she talks about etymology

Let me explain... Often, whilst watching a TV programme or reading a book, I see/hear a sentence akin to "the mid-1800s was a busy time for industry" so I expect to hear about the late Georgian innovations, the Regent's Canal, etc. But then they start talking about the railways and the Great Exhibition and I realise they mean the middle of the 19th century, the mid-1850s, the Victorian era. 

Similarly, "in the late 1600s" is really confusing – this could now have two meanings. It could be alluding to either the first or the last decade of that century! It's extremely frustrating and confusing, and creates a situation where information might be incorrectly shared because the terminology is vague. I have even heard presenters on TV programmes using both styles within a five minute timeframe. Eh? What? When?!

Dates stamps on buildings, from the 1800s 1900s (ha ha). This collection of images originally appeared in Dec 2011

However, whilst this new cover-all century-wide style seems to be becoming commonplace when referring to the dim distant past, I notice it is not being applied to recent history. A comparison I use to try to put a halt this silliness, is to point out to my contemporaries that we must have all been born in the 1900s (er, the Edwardian era)!

Oh, and don't get me started about the insertion of rogue apostrophes/possessives such as "Jane was born in the 1960's. No no no!!!  To clarify: the 1960s is an era (plural), Jane is wearing a 1960's dress (of that era/possessive).  I hope that helps, ha ha.

*perhaps this is for people who also cannot read a map, who don't understand where north is and how once you know that and have established a simple point of reference the rest is easy.

14 November 2021

Summer Show 2021 and Late Constable at the Royal Academy

I've seen a lot of art these past few weeks. And it's all good.

Last week I went to the Royal Academy Summer Show which this year is not restricted to a few weeks in the summer . It's a riot of colour and sort of reflects all the street art and road crossings that are brightening up the City at the moment.* I also like that this year's show has a greater percentage of textured, textural, handmade pieces such as collages and interesting things made out of found, recycled or collected objects. 

So absorbed was I that I only took a few photos and these include, top left, a sculpture by an artist friend, Jaana Fowler. I couldn't take a snap of my mate Johnny Bull's framed print because it was set so high on the wall – hey JB; well done re all those red dots!

And so to the small, but very absorbing, Late Constable exhibition at the RA which I visited on the same day as the Ron Mueck show in nearby Dover Street,

This interested me because I really like John Constable's sketches and preliminary work, more than I do his finished paintings which I often find a bit over-egged, chocolate boxy and twee. This show has some marvellous before and after comparisons (guess which ones I like best!) and lots of his weather studies – rainbows, storms, clouds etc, which reminded me of my A-Level art years when I was trying myself to master a decent cloud-painting technique, with an idea to produce an indulating old-style rollercoster (man made) against a backdrop of cumulonimbus (nature). I never quite got the hang of the clouds and I sort of gave up. Instead I made a simple graduation in the background that I wan't really pleased with. I must have dumped the lot or left it all in the plans chest there because, having just looked through my 6th form sketchbooks and other works I have saved from that era, I can't find any ref of that at all, and I now wish I'd been able to view Constable's efforts when I was a teenager to see how he too struggled to capture the ever-changing Great British sky.

It wasn't just the paintings and sketches that intigued me. We were at first perplexed by the studs and sliders on some of the frame (top right, above), something that we'd never noticed before but surely must be reasonably commonplace. We decided the sliders must be the closing mechanisms and the studs must be little handles to enable the front section, including the glass, to be flipped forward to allow the canvas to be loaded from the front, rather than from the rear which how modern frames are constructed. Please correct me if you know better.

There's plenty of time to see both exhibitions – The Summer Show runs until 2nd January 2022 and  Late Constable until 13th February – both ticketed. However, there are galleries and exhibitions at the RA that are free and well worth a visit. I'd particularly recommend the Collections Gallery on the first floor at the rear (easier via the Burlington Gdns entrance) where there are some marvellous artworks. Also, in the low level linking corridor adjacent to the toilets and lovely cafe, there are some absoultely stunning pieces of sculpture. Find out what's on at the RA here.

*Tbh, I'm not eally keen on those colourful crossings – the ones outside the RA along Piccadilly are looking really mucky these days. There's a good reason roads are a grey colour!

11 November 2021

For the search function please view the web version

Ron Mueck at the Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery – Wow in all respects

I had no idea about this superb gallery until I walked inside the door of this unassuming, yet beautifully renovated, Georgian house in Dover Street earlier this week. My friend and I had gone there to see the impressively realistic sculptures created by Ron Mueck and neither of us were ready for the place to be, what has been quoted as, possibly the loveliest gallery in London. 

As we entered Thaddaeus Ropac's gallery we were immediately impressed by the gorgeous wide hallway that leads through to a large room at rear of the building where three of Mr Mueck's pieces are displayed, a room I assume was once used for soirees, dancing or entertainment. Above the receptionist's desk in the hallway there is a gorgeous lightwell in the ceiling that offers tempting views of the floors above and I imagined young ladies looking down dressed in ballgowns, giggling as their party guests arrived.

Ron Mueck's pieces arranged over the ground and first floor, accessed by a superb marble staircase. His works are always oversized or undersized, never lifesize, and I find them absolutely fascinating, which is odd because I am not a fan of photo-realistic paintings. Perhaps it's the scale thing. This exhibition is a selection of 25 years' work and I distinctly recall my sense of awe the first time I saw Dead Dad at the Sensation exhibition and his overly-large Crouching Boy within the Body Zone at the Millennium Dome, in 2000. 

Another bonus – a room immediately to the left of the front door contains a small Marcel Duchamp exhibition – oh what a provocative naughty boundary-pushing man he was!

Everything about this gallery is worth going to see. Oh, and it's free. What's not to like?!


28 October 2021

Nöel Coward 'Art & Style' exhibition at The Guildhall – simply delightful darling

There's still time to go and see this marvellous free exhibition (until 23rd December) – but do allow at least a couple of hours because it packs in so much.

Every information board is wonderfully informative, whether about the man himself or the designers who worked with him. And there are some short films to stop and enjoy as you make your way through the rooms. Oh, and furniture, stage props, clothing and artefacts from his homes. 

As I say above; delightful. I will surely be going back for a second look. Possibly even a third.

Note also that the art gallery and roman ampitheatre are also free. And if you need to find out more inforamation about all the things you see, why not spend a few hours in the Guildhall libray. 

Find out more about what's on at The Guildhall complex here.

I mean, what's not to like

21 October 2021

Frieze 2021 – a free sculpture trail in Regents Park

There's still a few days to have a wander around, through, on, and across the artworks situated in the south east corner of Reegent's Park adjacent to the formal gardens. Ends 31st October.

On the day I visited the weather was changeable; it had rained that morning and the afternoon was one minute grey and moody, the next minute bright and sunny, but mostly the former, which is evident in these pictures. I will be making an effort to visit again on a bright sunny morning.

Lots of the artworks are interactive and designed to be walked on or through, and many children, and adults too, were making the most of this. It was delightful. Other people were more interested in taking selfies with the sculptures as backdrops. Ooh look at me. I was here, etc. Yet when they afterwards walked over to the information panels to see the titles of the pieces and the artist explanations, many of these snappers simply sneered and moved away quickly, talking loudly about how the art or artist was stupid. And I thought, er, you didn't think that when you were taking a pic of it, you heathen! 

And then there were the people who stood around the periphery taking wide shots, no doubt getting rather fed up with me as I walked up close, looking for alternative views, crops and reflections, having set myself a 'find the unusual angle' task for the day. Once I realised I was effectively photobombing I simply continued in my quest or moved slightly to the left or right as if I hadn't noticed them. Ha ha.


Until 31st October. Closest tube station: Great Portland Street or Regent's Park.


18 October 2021

More wood block paving in London

Earlier this year I pulled together a collection of images showing areas of road and pavements where I have discovered patches of wood block surfaces, see here.

Well, I've found another one and two of my contemporaries have spotted others. All three are where small sections of wood remain within removable metal sections, such as man hole covers.

Ian Visits recently posted on his Instagram page that he found this one on the corner of Redcross Way in Southwark Street:

The wood blocks here are really large here; possibly the largest pieces I have seen as each takes up half of each quadrant and look to be cut specifically for this man hole cover. 

Dave Brown alerted me to a grid of wood that he spotted in Leo Yard, a little alley off Clerkenwell Road:

It's very unusual – Dave's pic here seems to indicate that it's a lightwell (for letting light down into a basement area) that has later been in-filled with wood. This little courtyard is not googlestreetviewable so I need to go and check it out for myself – I will then update this post with some alternative photos.

And, finally, my own find. Having walked up an down St John Street from Angel to Barbican many many times over the decades, I am surprised that it took me until September 2021 to notice this beauty at athe junction of Spencer Street, betwteen The City University buildings and the Spa Green Estate:

There are sure to be more... do let me know if you spot any others

12 October 2021

Return to Romford – the changing face of an Essex market town

Two months ago I wrote that in mid-August I made a return visit to Romford, the Essex town I grew up in, to see how the market and adjacent streets had changed. When I started to write about it on here I didn't get further than reminisciences here about my time there as a child and teenager and I have now finally found the time to return to the subject and write this update. Though, er... this is probably longer than that first missive. Hold on to your hat, pour yourself a glass of something, sit tight, and read on...

Pre my re-visit, almost everyone I spoke to about it told me how disappointed I would be when I got there. 'Prepare yourself', they said 'you won't like it, it's awful'. Well, it turns out I was pleasantly surprised. I had expected change. That's normal as regards 'progress' but it was nothing like as bad as my friends had intimated. As it turne out, I really enjoyed going back, seeing things I had never noticed before and looking at how the area has evolved.

When I exited the station, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and I had a real sense of belonging being as most things looked familiar. Glad to see that Hollywoods, the big nightclub that had been built on the site of the coal yards in the 1980s, is now gone. But not plased at the loss of the ABC cinema further along South Street which reminded me of my junior school friend Lynne who lived in Regarth Avenue at the side of the cinema. Memories too of dressing up to look older to be able to get in and see some movies – successful! 

Looking around now I can see how much of the station area was reconstructed in the 1930s including the building shown above where Hayley, my NewZealandish* junior school friend lived above the shops with her family in a one floor apartment accessed from the rear via an alleyway. As a child I thought it was so modern! 

As I turned into Victoria Road I noticed more 1930s buildings near the junction with the station interspersed with Victorian and Edwardian houses converted into shops as the road continues eastward. The street was a delightful revelation to me now, a patchwork of architecture I had never noticed in the past and many of the buildings were still recognisable as the ones I knew as a child, albeit adapted.

Memories kept pinging back to me. I didn't like the butcher's shop at the station end of Victoria Rd because when I was young, perhaps 5-7yrs old, Alf the butcher would make too much of a fuss of me and try to pick me up. I hated it and would prefer to stand (hide) outside next to my sister Anna in her pram or push chair waiting for mum, rather than risk his attention. However, on the other side of the road there was Robbie's the toy shop (see Stumbras pic) I fondly remember it being absolutely packed to the ceiling with tempting things. Here I bought Matchbox cars as presents for my sister – she loved the ones that had moving parts such as Tow Joe and Piston Popper. She still has them all – carefully stored in their boxes.

There was a lovely baker's shop further along here, a homewares shop run by school friend's parents. And, still into the late 80s, there was a row of three or four functioning chocolate bar dispensers on the wall outside the sweet shop.  

I made my way up the road. As I crossed King Edward Road I remembered Theresa Edward's damaged and dislodged fingernail and how we were all fascinated by its progress (kids eh!) and this threw up other names in my junior school class – Belinda, Susan, Tracy, Dawn, Julie and Sandra – thinking how these are all names of a certain era not given to new borns this past decade. Jane too. Ah but things are circular and our time will again come. Ditto Barry, Malcolm, Glyn, Keith, Gerald, Neil and Kevin. I crossed
George Street and, as I did, I suddenly rembered my favourite teacher from when I was eight years. Mr Cooper taught us about english, maths and geography but also got us back-flipping, hand-standing and walking upsidedown like a crab, and inspired by him I somehow achieved three BAGA gymnastic badges. Ah to be age 8 again. This is the age I think designates what we will do, or should be doing, for the rest of our lives. For instance, at that age I was so inquisitive and keen to learn. I was into everything. Questions questions. Give me a project and I would produce a magazine with articles and pictures. Butterflies. Disney. Trees. Moaris. I remember hurling myself into all of these things like no other child in the class seemed to be doing. I suppose you could say I am still doing that now! 
A few paces across the junction, I passed the site of Bevin's the hardware store (I fondly recall the man's gentle and helpful demeanour) and the PDSA where we took our dog a few times to be treated. I looked across the road and was delighted to see that WetPets is still going strong decades later! This was one of my favourite shops – a nocturnal indoor world of colourful aquatic animals. We had an indoor fish tank in the living room and often went to there to buy new tropical fish, plants, gravel, specialist food etc. I think Twins wedding shop next door has been there a long time too, though it's not somewhere I would have ever need to venture inside(!).  
I turned into Albert Road, passing the Victoria pub on the corner which still looks to be doing well. I don't hink I ever went in there more than twice, and even then I was probably only looking for my dad. As a child, I didn't like my street because I thought it was a mess compared to everywhere else I knew. It was a mix of all-sorts, like a trial zone for testing housing styles that would be better implemented elsewhere. My friends lived on nice uniform streets where the houses were almost the same. Why not us? 
Oh dear. Silly me. Today I absolutely love streets like this as they show the changing face of the area, the local history. This street and Victoria Rd (Duh, check the street names!) are obviously some of the first-developed streets in the area and hold the clue to so much. At the Victoria Rd end there is still a short row of late Georgian brick cottages and, apart from some replaced windows and paved front gardens, they've not really changed much. Opposite that I recall there was a petrol station for a while which backed onto a large Victorian detached house, set back from the adjacent streets where, in the 1960-70s my schoolfriends Mark and Belinda Francis used to live. Happy memories of going there after school. I loved that house and the way it was accessed via a little footpath off Shaftesbury Road. All gone now. I am sure Mum used to say that she thought 48-50 Albert Rd was the original farm house of the area when it was all fields, but it's hard to make that out now.

I approached Manor Primary School in the middle of Albert Road. Our house was two doors to the left which meant, even though I loved school and was keen to learn things, that I could leave the home at the last minute. I'm sad to see that the red brick school buildings are today boarded up. It hasn't been a junior school for decades. For a while it was the Century Youth House. I hope it gets repurposed soon. 

As a small child I fondly recall using the local shops in the street and at the end of the road. There was a small family-run provisions shop sort of opposite Shaftesbury Road, next door to a hairdresser which I now see is a dog groomer. A few doors along from us, approx at No. 53 was a greengrocer where I often went to buy 4lb of King Edwards, plus carrots and other veg in a bag made from deckchair material. Next door to that was a something to do with transport, I think, and I recall a yellow Scimitar car and some people who had four unruly but beautiful saluki dogs. 

At the other/Hornchurch end of the road, I used to love going into Speights the baker on the corner of Brentwood Road and Park Lane – the queue, the lovely staff, the smells, the bridge rolls, the split tins, the cream slices, the fanned-out stack of tissue paper. The building is still there with a Vitbe bread sign attached (Vitbe was an attempt by Allied Bakeries to compete with Hovis).

This is still a good parade of useful local shops today which includes a fish and chips shop (I recall the long queues on Fridays!) and Sovereign motor spares which is still in business, but Blands the grocer is long gone (part of VG Stores). Ditto Mr Harris the pork butcher just round the corner in Park Lane. I recall him all spick and span in his butcher's straw hat and stripey apron. I can hear his jolly voice in my head right now and his ha ha ha laugh. I really enjoyed watching him make chains of sausages. He won awards for them and they were indeed very good and spoiled me for other brands which were never up to his standard.  Oh, and how could I forget Nan's sweet shop at No.89 at the end of Albert Road? Rows of tempting tall sweet jars on the shelves and lots more fab stuff on the counters. A quarter of nut brittle, a quarter of toffee bonbons, some licquorice string, a packet of sweet cigarettes and a Curly Wurly please! The staff in there were lovely. One of the ladies had an amputated arm though I tried not to look at it I was fascinated how she still managed to hold the jars and fill the bags. I thought she was beautiful and really tried not to stare. 

From Albert Road I made my way back down to the station via Eastern Road, walking past where a long row of impressive Victorian villas used to be. As an art assignment in 1978/9, Mr Lloyd had sent a couple of us there telling us that these old family houses were due for demolition. At that time I just didn't understand the significance or why I should care. Perhaps Mr Lloyd knew that one day this would be something that would indeed interest me. I've dug out my sketch book which contains a few of my efforts including this felt pen version. Within months of this, the houses had gone and were quickly replaced by characterless office blocks containing insurance companies and the like.
The end of Eastern Rd meets South Street at the station. There is an impressive Art Deco style building to the right that was constructed by Times Furnishing and is today a Co-op grocery store. I recall the furniture store as a landmark but don't think I ever went inside. Perhaps Mum or Dad had pointed it out to me as a comparison to Harrison Gibson's furniture store in Ilford which is where they both met and worked before they married. The Times building is looking fabulous at the moment even without the ground floor walk-through windows that used to be there. The 'T' for Times motifs at the top of the vertical fins are still clearly visible.
However, the Odeon cinema next door, also built in the 1930s, is barely recognisable today with hardly anything left on the exterier to hint at it once being a movie house. I recall long queues here too, all the way along the side street down to the gorgeous brutalist spiral of the multi-storey carpark which, I'm pleased to see, is still there. Who'd have thought 40 years ago that I would one day be singing the praises of a vehicle access ramp?! And I remember my friend telling me that her sister dragged her to this Odeon to go and see someone called David Bowie. We didn't have a clue who he was, yet years later Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust were the favourite cassettes to play in our first cars.
It's odd that I remember the Times façade but not these other 1930s buildings further along on the other side of the road. This would have been a keeping up with the zeitgeist effort in the interwar years – look at us; we're still current, we're moderene! Today this stretch is mostly food outlets, charity shops and chain pubs. In the late 70s into 80s it was a similar thing, exc the pubs with McD's (still there), Wimpy and Golden Egg (both long gone, though they could have been the same site), Pizzaland (where I enjoyed the half pizza with salad option rather than the slimy puffy things available over the road at PizzaHut, also long gone). There were also a few independent clothes shops here, specifically Bobby Summers, an alternative men's fashion boutique where my mate Paul worked on Saturdays and used to show up at school (6th Form) wearing some quite unusual pieces. Basically, if Spandau Ballet had hailed from Romford, this is where they would have shopped. Up at the junction there was Shirleys children's clothes and school uniforms (this might be the same site that became Pizzaland). And just round the corner was the Locarno Snooker Hall where Steve Davis honed his skills.
Lots of this was still discernible on my return visit – I walked into the pedestrian area of South Street and recalled
Ratners jewellers on the right hand corner (oh Gerald, you ought not have said that!) and, a few doors up just by the Post Office, the opening of Bumbles burger restaurant by Radio One DJ Ed 'Stewpot' Stewart c1974. Above No.93 I noticed a letter 'N' embedded in the façade – I wondered what shop that might have been. If you have any ideas, do let me know. But I moved on. Further along there's another Art Deco era shop at FootAsylum and I think this was either Lilley & Skinner or Trueform, both shoe shops.
In the 1970s, FU Jeans shop was on the right hand side close to the access to the modern shopping precinct. FUs had a definitive style with machined vertical lines on the pockets, up-to-the-minute styling and the jeans material was different/stiffer from the well-known brands which were available from another excellent jeans shop just down the road within the Quadrant Arcade – an independent shop lined in wood, evoking a log cabin where they stocked Lois, Falmers, Lee Cooper, Lee's, Leroy and more. I've always found it odd how so many jeans brands begin with the letter L; probably due to Levi's...?
The Quadrant Arcade entrance on South Street used to have Dolcis on the right side where WowFactor is today.
In the 1980s, Next appeared on many UK high streets and took up position in Romford at the left hand side of this entrance. Mum and I thought that Next was a hideously bland notion for people with no ideas of their own, offering capsule wardrobes and accessories for the aspiring middle manager of both sexes in a one-stop-shop experience. Today Next is one of the great High Street survivors, probably due to the quality of their products. 
And so to the Quadrant Arcade, a 1930s construction that must have been very plush and mdoern when it opened. In the 70s, one of my schoolfriends had a Saturday job in the arcade, at Tito's Italian restaurant café. At that time I found the arcade to be dark, dingy, old and out-of-date and I mostly used it as a cut-through to other places – it had certainly lost the attraction of its moderne 1930s heyday and, apart from the aforementioned jeans shop, there wan't much in there to attract a teenager, being as this also provided the back entrance to the fuddy-duddy middle-aged polyester zone of the Co-op's women's dept. Ah but no one appreciated the 1930s in the 1970s. I'd love to  be able time-travel to that era now (actually, both the 1930s and the 1970s) to see what I missed – I'm sure I'd now find it to be absolutely delightful. Actually (update), as I write this I now remember as a very small child we often bought flowers for Grandma from a florist near the centre of the arcade adjacent to where I am pretty sure there was an access door to another large/department store that faced onto the market. I think this might have become Keddies...?
Back to South Street, opposite the arcade. In contrast to my teenage years, these days I'm all about looking up, looking around me, noticing those little snippets that hint at local history
. This means that on this return visit I looked at things with a different eye, noticing buildings and details that had never been on my radar when I lived there, such some hints of early C20th interwar façades at the southern end of South Street on the right hand side just before the market. Also, this building (right), today a branch of the Halifax. It's an elegant construction but I am torn as to whether it's 1930s or 1950s. Does anyone have any idea who it was built for? It also sports a strange metal canopied arcade along the side edge and this intrigues me because last week I read somewhere that the some of the metal supports for the arcades that used to line Regent Street were relocated to Romford when the street was rebuilt in the 1920s. The article referenced them being re-sited somewhere along the market, but I am now wondering if these are those salvaged elements. Again, any further info is welcome.
This side road by the Halifax leads to what would have been access to the Romford brewery buildings at the rear of the White Hart pub. Which reminds me – the stink of Romford's Ind Coope Brewery where they brewed Double Diamond, Oranjeboom and others. Whatever they cooked up on a Tuesday was hideous – it hung in the air and stuck at the back of my throat – ugh.
So, with time to spare before I was due to meet my friends, I wandered round into the High Street and continued all the way to the end, almost to the roundabout, where it meets Waterloo Road and the London Road, and I turned and looked back. I tried to imagine how this busy thoroughfare was originally the main route eastwards from London taking traffic along here and through the market then along the old Roman Road to the Essex coast. The view shown here has been almost the same for about 40 years – an interesting brutalist design church and a selection of independent shops including a barber, a couple of charity shops and an antiques shop etc set below post-WWII flats. 
The old Angel public house, just beyond the church, is still standing and displays a lovely old tiled panel advertising Romford's brewing heritage of Ind Coope's Ales & Stouts to nobody inparticular. The sign might be the largest of this kind I have seen. As regards the pub itself, I can't recall ever going inside. Or perhaps I did. By at least 1990 it had been converted into a nightclub. I wonder what will become of it next.
The main entrance to the brewery site is oppostite The Angel and faces north between the church and the market place.
The huge metal gates were once used by draymen steering carts laden with ale pulled by powerful cart horses. Today, if you walk through these gates, you will feel you've somehow managed to travel to a different location, because beyond here it resembles out-of-town retail zone – it's a huge car park surrounded by the big guys such as TKMaxx, Boots, plus other outlets and homogenised entertainments. This is the kind of 'progress' that depresses me.
Further along the High Street, closer to the market, I noticed that part of the brewery buildings now houses the Havering Museum. It's a big shame that when I was there, on a Saturday, it was closed. Taht's bonkers. I must go back to have a look in there. Perhaps they can answer my question about the Halifax canopy?
A favourite Romford pub of my early drinking days in the late 80s was The White Hart in the High Street which at that time faced Woolworths and High and Mighty (both gone). It's closed as you can see here, but external evidence of how this was once a marvellous old coaching inn and an integral part of Romford's history is still visible. As 6th formers we loved hanging out in the wood-panelled room at the rear – it simply reeked of history. You could imagine the coaches arriving and the horses whinnying as they came to a halt and were led to stables at the rear. By 1980 the pub had been gutted and remodelled as The Bitter End, a ridiculous theme pub. I was appalled. 

And so to the market. I had been pre-warned that it would be a dribble compared to its vibrant past. But it was OK, a pleasant surprise, especially considering the past 18 months. It wasn't anywhere near the densely-packed environment that I experienced 30+ years ago but there was still a good diversity of products available.
I met with Susie and Sal and we walked a bit more around the market a
nd the handful of old buildings adjacent to the church and the Rumford shopping hall, whilst sharing stories, observations and remembrances. I stupidly didn't take photos at that time so the image shown one is from later in the day when the traders were packing up but it still gives a sense of the space, and also shows the other entrance to the Quadrant Arcade building.
 
At the top end of the market the Bull's Head public house is still there, which is great, but I don't recall going in there very often – back in the 80s we preferred The Lamb next door to Lloyds (to the immediate left in the pic above, but out of shot) because it was more intimate and attracted a cross-section of ages and personalities – market traders and old fellas having conversations with punks and librarians at the bar. It still appears to be doing well.
There was also the Kings Head which was a late-70s build (I think) as part of the shopping precinct at the far end opposite the new Sainsbury's supermarket (which mum correctly predicted would bring about the end of the independent trader and the market. She was also right when she predicted that free plastic shopping bags would also cause problems). As a late-teen I really didn't like the King's Head. It was named after the [old] King's Head pub that had been demolished on the market place, sort of where Habitat used to be. This new one was designed like a dodgy nightclub and attracted mostly underage kids wearing the latest cheap and hideous fashions. Even at age eighteen I would go in there and feel old! But I suppose at least the police knew where everyone was. Had they raided he place the clientele would have scattered far and wide. 
My friends and I  peeked in through the windows at the cavernous shell of what used to be Debenhams and also recalled
Littlewoods, Keddies and C&As and then it was time for some lunch. Our hostelry of choice was The Golden Lion where we were joined by Gill, one of my dearest schoolfriends from my 6th form years. We sat outside in the "Secret Garden" at the rear, which wasn't really a secret being as it is advertised on an A-board outside. It's basically the pub's old deliveries, storage and parking area recovered in fake grass** but it's a great place for a few al fresco drinks and pub grub. The Golden Lion, a historic tavern, is one of many pubs that likes to say it was a stopping point for Dick Turpin – boy, that man covered some ground! The exterior still evokes bygone times with its horizntal weatherboarding over warped walls but the inside has undergone many adaptations – back in the 80s-90s the interior must've changed about four times – it seemed that every time I went in there, the bar had moved from the centre, then to the left and to the right. Again, the back room was always the best place to be when I was in my late teens and early 20s. 
It was great to catch up with my girlfriends in 2021 and, of course, one drink turned into three. At about 5pm we said our goodbyes and wandered off in different directions. 
I then made my way into The Liberty, the central shopping area, only to discover that it's been completely covered over and is now more like an airport or train station, with no individual identity at all – the boxy fountain and outside spaces are long gone. I was also amazed to find that the shops were closing at 5.30pm which I thought was strange for a Saturday but I was later told that it's because the town  has a very busy nightlife and the powers that be seal off the whole shopping precinct. Oh OK. And ugh.
So I instead went for a walk around the around the municipal buildings and gardens at the lower end of Main Road, adjacent to the library and town hall. 
It turns out that Romford Town Hall is now Havering Town Hall. Considering how often I had walked past this (see school section at the end) I had never before taken in how beautifully designed it is. Municipal buildings are often overlooked. I walked the full circle, looking for a foundation stone with information about the architect and date, but found nothing. 
I then entered the memorial gardens and reaslised that this was probably the first time I had never set foot in there! As I wandered further up the road and saw the police station, I remembered going there (ooh 1973?) with many other schoolkids to see Mervyn Day, goal keeper of West Ham FC, to get his autograph. To be honest, at the time I had no idea who he was and didn't really give a hoot about football, yet for some reason I occasionally wore a claret and blue scarf, though it was mainly white with thin stripes. That's teeanagers for you. Fitting in and all that. I didn't even like that scarf!
It was now coming up to 7pm. I needed to decide whether to find somewhere to eat and drink or to head back home. I made my way back towards the station through the market and along South Street.  The cavernous pubs run by well-known chains such as Yates and Wetherspoons were already busy. Some people were obviously enjoying a drink after a day's shopping, and others, by the sound levels and colourful language, had been there all afternoon. Many more people were approaching, dressed as if they were on a Med holiday. Compare this to the Romford pub scene of my youth which consisted of a few old regulars, a handful of punks, three goths and a five people having a pint before the pictures. 
Just before I reached the station I glanced to the right. At the side of the railway tracks there used to be a narrow footpath known as 'the battice' that ran through to Waterloo Rd alongside the brewery site. Most evenings, usually Fridays and Saturdays, there was a man selling tasteless burgers and hotdogs from a white hand cart here – he was an enigma because nobody ever saw him arriving or setting up. Ping! He was either there or not there. Well, he wasn't there this time. Not that I would have bought anything from him if he was there.
A super-fast train arrived within three minutes of me reaching the platform and I was back home in north London just after 8pm. Wow! What a great day out. It took me much much longer to write it all up that it did to experience it.

Other thoughts, memories and observations:

The Romford Carnival – wow that was good when I was a child. A long procession than went down Victoria Road where we stood waving streamers and blowing horns at the floats and bands such as The Romford Drum and Trumpet Corps. We then went over the railway bridge and through Lodge Farm Park to see it all again from Main Road before the procession went into the park and ended on the football fields at the rear of Raphaels Park. Then a couple of days of the fair. It was bloody marvellous.

The Victoria Hospital in Pettits Lane. This was much smaller than Oldchurch, the main hospital. I am amazed, considering the extent of demolition elsewhere that these buildings, where mum went when she had appendicitis and I went to have my tonsils extracted, are still standing almost unchanged.
The same cannot be said of my school buildings. I was the first year of the comprehensive system (something else mum wasn't happy about). I went to Marshalls Park school which meant 3 years at the Lower School building (previously Pettits Lane Grammar) and then the rest at the Upper School (previously Romford Tech, which is where I would have gone had the 11-plus not been scrapped). The latter, complete with modern outbuildings containing  then state-of-the art science labs, art rooms and cookery departments, was demolished and replaced with housing abut 20 years ago. These mock-Tudors houses in Havering Drive are where the entrance to the school used to be and I notice that the tennis courts that used to be opposite have also gone. There are some pics of the old school on The Marshall Park Academy site.  
 
The Dolphin centre – a rubbish swimming pool with a stupid wave machine and pyramidal roof.
 
The massive pale blue gas holders by the railway line at the end of Crow Lane. Impressive landmarks. Now gone.  

Downtown Records in Lockwood Walk was excellent.    

Big events in the market – top celebrities and TV stars such as Anita Harris (oh yeah!)

Romford nightlife in the 1980s. Not much worth mentioning. Not sure there was anything. We mostly took it in turns to drive somewhere or got trains/buses to other places such as Chadwell Heath (aargh what was the name of that place?), to Seven Kings (Lacy Lady), Ilford (a few), and many others, or the other way out towards Brentwood and beyond. Romford did boast The Rezz, in North Street, sort of below Caxton's bookshop and a furniture store – a fab venue for alternative and live music on Wednesday nights. By the 90s both cinemas, the ABC and the Odeon had failing attendances and the latter was converted into a two-zone nightclub called Time/Envy. I went in there with a couple of friends in the late 90s. We managed 30 mins but all felt the need to run away. 
 
If you think I've missed something, I might have mentioned it last time here

*There is no word for this! 

**Are we not trying to rid the world of plastic?