27 April 2015

Drapers' Hall – a guided tour

This follows on neatly from last week's post about Cutlers' Hall. 

Last month I met up with a group from London Historians for a guided tour of Drapers' Hall.

Drapers' Hall is thought by many to be the grandest of the livery halls which, I suppose, befits their standing at No.3 on the order of precedence.
It is indeed very impressive; festooned with gorgeous reliefs, chandeliers, tapestries, carpets, sculptures and paintings – each item with its own story to tell. Also impressive is the silver vault.
The Drapers' animal is the ram, who sits on top of the coat of arms. He appears here and there throughout the building though I didn't see as many different depictions of rams as I did elephants at Cutlers' Hall, or rhinos at the Apothecaries' Hall*.
You can glean more info about Drapers' Hall from their site – there is even a virtual tour available – but it's not the same as being there yourself and walking into each room not knowing what to expect and involuntarily saying "ooh!".

The rooms of Drapers Hall form a square ring around a quadrangle (not accessible on the tour).
I was intrigued by this space and the mouldings/carvings around the windows each depicting a different country. I also liked the reflections of the outside world and the rooms opposite, and the rams' heads above the upper windows.

*Oops!  Just checked my archives to link to the Apothecaries Hall and it turns out I never wrote about it. So many things; so little time.

22 April 2015

A villa in Hawley Road – RIP

For decades I have been watching the decline of a lovely old villa in Hawley Road at the junction of Kentish Town Road, opposite Quinn's public house.

Top left in August 2008. Top right in June 2013.
The bottom two pics taken in early March this year.
As you can see, this must have once been a lovely, family home. But, having stood empty for [I'd estimate] +20 years, it has subsequently become the home of squatters, sniffers and taggers. Nothing wrong with squatting, mind; why should buildings stand unoccupied when so many people have nowhere to live?!
In early March when I took these pics, because I'd noticed that all the villas along that stretch of road were surrounded by hoardings, probably awaiting demolition. 

Quinn's pub top left with some clever street art on the side. Top middle and right are the villas next to the one above. The pics in the second row are in the stretch from the railway bridge to the Hawley Arms, and judging from the hardings and wire mesh panels, I guess by the time of writing this they have all succumbed to the wrecking ball, even the relatively new building in the pic bottom right. 
I found some pics and more info here.
An article in The Kentish Towner shows the £35million redevelopment scheme and mentions that only 95 signatures were collected for a petition to save the villas from demolition. Sad.

20 April 2015

Cutlers' Hall – a guided tour

Back in February I joined a group of London Historians for an illuminating and often amusing guided tour of Cutlers' Hall led by The Beadle, David Hasler (middle top). Thanks to David it was one of the most fascinating and engaging tours I have been on in quite some time.
Three of our group were chosen to wear hats and robes and be 'Master', 'Warden' and 'Clerk' for the morning. And, although this might sound like some kind of dodgy joining-in nonsense, we finished the tour acting out one of the ceremonies in the main hall.
It's worth thinking about how powerful this guild used to be – just consider all the trades which rely on blades of some kind; barbers, butchers, haberdashers, fishmongers... etc
As for all the other information I could give you, it's easier to read more about Cutlers' Hall here but I urge you to make an effort to go and visit in person. Why not join London Historians and, if you do, be sure to mention my site as reference to Mike. 

As seen in the first group of pics, the Cutlers' coat of arms features two elephants.
Elephants can be found in may places within the Cutlers' Hall; carved into wooden chair backs, as clock surrounds, ornaments, decorative motifs on the hammer beam roof and within some exquisite stained and painted glass windows. 
Some details from the stained and painted windows.
The centre image shows cutlers at work.
Note the fine work on the portraits and the amusing quotes about smoking. 
See the full list of livery companies here.

14 April 2015

You can wash your hands

I live near the Emirates Stadium, home to Arsenal football club.
It means nothing to me except that I sometimes have to change my journey if I need to use the public transport on a match day due to the restrictive in/out at the tube station when a game starts and finishes or the slow traffic on the roads. Oh, and some of the supporters invade my local pub. But at least they have good taste.
One good thing about the stadium is the facilitates an easy cut through when walking from Holloway to Blackstock Road via Drayton Park and Gillespie Road. and it's rather nice wandering around the stadium when there is no one else there.

When I was doing just that recently I noticed how a glimpse of old houses in Drayton Park formed part of a mini quilt pattern in amongst the contemporary architecture so I took a photo. Turning into Gillespie Road the tube station was like a jewel against the bright blue winter sky.
Back in August 2009 I took a wander around the stadium. Below are some of the shots from that day.

I have only ever been inside the stadium once, and that was for a Bruce Springsteen gig. Dave, my then boyfriend was, and still is, a big fan of The Boss and had bought us overpriced tickets to see him at the Emirates. Stadiums are so not my choice of venue for live music and he knew that. So I have no idea why he bought me a ticket to see someone I vaguely like at a huge impersonal venue, bet, hey, that's another story.
So there I stood with Dave and his friends in the middle of the plastic covered pitch, craning to see something. The sound was dreadful; muffled. The view was hindered because I couldn't see over the heads in front of me and the live film feed was being shown on the screens that sat on the stage rather than the ones up high (eh?!) and Bruce and co were wearing black against a black backdrop. Add to that the beer choice was piss lager or crap lager.
So I left about half way through and walked 5 minutes to the pub where I could hear it clearer and sup on a pint of something no-gassy.
As I was making my exit the security man on the door asked why I was leaving. I said because of the poor saound. he said many people had complained the night before. Oh gawd.

30 March 2015

Oxford Street Gillette ghostsign RIP

You may recall that back in 2012 I wrote about an old hand-painted Gillette advertisement I spotted on Oxford Street, created by Harvey & Sons of Fleet Street (as shown in the bottom right corner).
Walking past last week I noticed that the 1884 building it was painted on has been demolished taking with it the ghostsign and all those chimney pots. The building to the right of it has been demolished as well.
Close up of the old sign, with before (March 2012) and after (March 2014) pics of the street

Another ghost sign loss

27 March 2015

Today is Wear A Hat Day

As you may already know, I like and wear hats. One at a time of course.
WEAR A HAT DAY. More info here.
Here are some hats I have spotted in London:

I am feeling lazy – if you want to know where to find any of these, just ask.

24 March 2015

The Developing City

Back in September 2012 I went to an exhibition about the past, present and future of architecture in London. It was called The Developing City and I took some photos of the information there. I rediscovered the pictures when looking for the Norton Folgate pics I posted last week. Strange how I never put this together before now. Here goes...

The exhibition was set out chronologically; there were lots of informative panels about the City of London and how it has been transformed and adapted over the years. And there were some great old archive photos.
One thing that especially caught my eye was a proposal for the site where the lovely old Grade II listed Mappin and Webb building used to be, now occupied by that hideous lump that looks like a Battenberg cake or a 1930's wireless.

As you can see, The Prince Of Wales had his Hideous Carbuncle hat on referring to the glass tower as a "giant glass stump" and he helped to put a stop to the scheme. So, it begs the question, how on earth did we end up with so many other equally hideous, even larger, glass stumpy things since then?
Moving westwards along Poultry and into Cheapside, let's look at Cheapside in the past, shown in these four pics with St Mary Le Bow at the centre:

 Top: 1760 and 1837
(oops forgot to note the dates) early and mid 20th century  

In the past, London was more compact and Cheapside was a fashionable bustling shopping street lined with every kind of shop imaginable. Most of these grand buildings managed to remain vertical through WW2 but by the twentieth century the men with the purse strings had decided to that most of the street ought to be replaced with glass and the proles needed more clothes and coffee flavoured water. So the Dubaiification and homogenisation began and in the last decade we have ended up with this:

All from google streetview March 2015

After the Great Fire of London, Wren proposed a complete re-working and re-building of the City. The close up on the right shows clearly how the church spires all begin well above the rooftops of the houses, shops and offices beneath:

Then, in the middle of the twentieth century Hitler tried very hard to flatten the City, as shown in the B&W panoramic photo, below, of the Barbican area taken in 1942* which is where the Barbican was built (but that's another story). Compare and contrast with what looks like bomb damage in the second image but is actually a photograph of the wilful clearance and construction of One New Change (shown in the Streetview images above, top right). 

In the middle of the exhibition space was a large scale model showing what was to come. I stood aghast at the glass. It saddened me. In the same way this does. Most of this has happened already. It's all happening way too fast for me.

I didn't stop to look at many of the boards showing ideas for the future. It all looked a bit plastic and manufactured to me. I am hoping I will be dead by then. What happened to those words they were flinging about pre-Olympics; 'sustainability' and 'legacy'?

Website for The Developing City

One more observation... 'we' are knocking down old buildings made of natural stone that was created by compressing of layers and layers of dead matter over millions of years. In the space of a few days these noble blocks are demolished; discarded or used as rubble, to be replaced with manmade composites and factory components; glass, steel, carbon fibre and the like that will last a fraction of that time. It's all about the money, honey. Money talks and calls it progress.

*This image, and many more like it, can be found at The London Metropolitan Archives.

19 March 2015

Save Norton Folgate – some artist's impressions

This is an update to a post I wrote about the Norton Folgate plans.

These are from Google Streetview available today:

I took these photos at an exhibition in 2012 called The Developing City*.

The plans may have changed or adapted by now – I cannot find any other artist impressions when searching the web, which is very strange considering the campaign against this. As you can see, the lovely old tiled building with the clock will be demolished but a few historic façades will be retained and tarted up to within an inch of their life, thus removing any hint of history. These will be hemmed in by a couple of uninspiring yellow brick and glass boxes. If this is modern architecture, it's not very inspiring is it? If this plan does indeed go ahead, I very much doubt there will be a campaign to save the new buildings 150 years hence.
Save Norton Folgate
What's the point of holding onto a few façades?

*more about this exhibition in my next post

16 March 2015

Changes at Highbury and Islington roundabout

What a mess it is at the roundabout these days.
OK, so the old ugly Post Office building is to be demolished and a new station concourse is in the making, but a 'road modernisation plan' is also in place as is evident by the silly little lane dividers in the road and the traffic lights on the exits. The traffic lights at the Canonbury Road exit are particularly unnecessary and only serve to block up the traffic caught behind them*.
More info from Tfl and Islington Council.
I have also noticed that a few trees in the middle of the roundabout have X marked on them. Oh dear are they coming down?

Comparison photos of the train station from the 1900s and 2013. The lovely original building was bombed in WW2 and all that remains is a small piece of one column in the left hand corner.
*I have seen a similar measure recently put in place at the northern end of Wharfdale Road where it meets Caledonian Road – completely pointless as there is no other stream of traffic to contend with. Perhaps these expensive measures are put in place to further patronise those people who have not learned their Green Cross Code and are too busy looking at their smart phones?

11 March 2015

The Classic Carboot Sale returns to the Southbank this weekend

Two days of cars and collectables, good music, great shopping, yummy food and drink, and dancing too.
Next to Hungerford Bridge and Jubilee Bridges, near the London Eye.
See you there – I will be selling some lovely stuff out of an old 1930s taxi cab.
More info here.

9 March 2015

The Institute of Sexology – Undress Your Mind

Currently at The Wellcome Collection – an informative exhibition about sex. Ooer missus.
You'll find cabinets of beautiful and bizarre curiosites from around the world, plus displays about Marie Stopes, Dr Kinsey and many other things inc some interesting and rather amusing videos. It's almost necessary to bend over into a rather provocative pose in order to get a really good look at some of the smaller artefacts on display – have they done that on purpose?!
On the night I was there I watched and listened in on an informal debate within the gallery space about our attitudes to pornography. I found it all a bit pointless. We are all different. We all like different things. So what?!  ("Ooh look at the wallpaper", "I don't like her nail polish colour", "He's got a lovely wristwatch", etc.).
The show is on until September 15th and is free. Find out more here.
Also on until 21st June – Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime. I haven't seen this one one yet, but will do soon.
The permanent exhibition, Medicine Now, is also well worth a visit, as is the excellent cafe and gift shop. Opening hours (until 10pm on Fridays)

Pictures: Top – City, Bermondsey and Wesminster. Bottom – Bloomsbury, Greenwich and Tufnell Park.
It's just occurred to the puerile side of me that 'Wellcome' sounds a bit naughty too ;-)

See here for some similar photos that I grouped together in March 2010

4 March 2015

These boots are made for walking

One Saturday morning last month I joined one of Walk London's free Winter Wanders Weekend Walks.

The tour I'd chosen was St Paul's - The Secret Corners of the City and Hidden Alleyways and Courtyards. On arriving at the statue of Queen Anne outside St Paul's Cathedral I was amazed to see more than 100 people. I thought, "oh gawd, no" and inwardly cringed. But, phew, there were two Westminster tour guides there so the pack split in half and off we went on two non-clashing routes.
I was pleased to see that more than half the group were Londoners just like me who were there to learn more about our fair city. And we weren't disappointed because June our guide was bubbling over with facts and information, all easily heard at the back through her portable public address system.
I hope there will be similar weekends happening again sometime soon. Meanwhile, get your walking shoes on and go on one of their recommended unguided walks outside the Central zone. See the Walk London site here.

3 March 2015

Some Battersea Village observations

After our foreshore forage we stood a while in the garden of St Mary's Church. We admired the building and I noticed and liked how the moss on a gravestone hadn't taken hold in in the name. Spooky.
We turned left into Battersea Church Road commenting how the village and its river industries seemed to have been swallowed up into modern developments as per the revamped Old Swan Wharf and Valiant House.
Back in the late 1990s I had a freelance job nearby, next to the now demolished Price's Candles* warehouse, and I'd drive to and from there via the village so I wanted to show my friends all the little gems that could be found in the vicinity – the Victorian Penfold acanthus pillar pox, the entrance way to Bennett's drapery with it's bold signage, a couple of nice weather vanes and a wall painting of Django Reinhart. So far so good.
We continued our walk past the lovely green tiles on the Katherine Low Settlement, walked under the railway and headed into Battersea High Street as I had promised to show them some lovely old shops.
But I was sad to find that most of them are now either gone/changed or not visible.
When I was last there in Feb 2009 I took these shots:

The Dining Rooms sign is still there but it has been temporarily covered up. I couldn't see Costa's at all. As regards, Raynsford's, it was a Sunday and the shutters were down so it was hard to tell if was the same shop (I hope so). However, the tiles shown bottom left remain.

* By the end of the 19th century Price's was the largest candle manufacturer in the world. In 1877 Price's made 147million candles, 32 million night lights and made approx one million gallons of lamp oil ...!!
When I worked in the area I loved the smells that came from Price's factory and I used to shop there, especially at Christmas time for presents, though I did notice back then that they appeared to be struggling as there was hardly ever any other customers except me. The company moved to Bedford in the late 2003 after getting into financial difficulty, probably due to heavy competition – candles had become rather popular and everyone and his mother were by this time making them inc Ikea. The Battersea/Wandsworth site is now a sea of modern glass-fronted apartments.  
Read Price's detailed history here.

I have recently discovered that there is a lovely independent flower and garden centre just around the corner. I plan to visit it next time I am in the area and will write about it here.

26 February 2015

A paper chase

At the moment Centrepoint is swathed in netting and surrounded by scaffold and boarding, LRT's homogenous new Tottenham Court Station is partially open, (Northern Line only), chunks of the eastern end of Oxford Street resemble a builders yard, The Astoria is long gone and Denmark Street is doomed.
St Giles, it is a-changing. But there are glimmers of hope here and there.
I wrote last year about the old emporiums of Tottenham Court Road and mentioned within that there was an empty site on the corner of Goodge Street. Well, on a visit to Paperchase last week I noticed the new build and I am glad to report that the old façade of the gothic frontage above Eat is being retained, so that's good.

Paperchase and two pics of the construction site on the other side of the road
Relieved, I entered the colourful world of Paperchase on a hunt for some large sheets of coloured and textured paper.
I have never in all my days seen so few people in there. It was so quiet. I know it was a Friday at about 2.30pm but I had the feeling that any minute they might announce a closing down sale. It had been the same when I had popped into Heals and Habitat earlier that day for a nose about. Where are all the people? Has everyone spent all their dosh on Christmas Presents and in the sales? Is everyone hibernating? Have the tourists gone home?

The colourful world of Paperchase
Paperchase is probably the last decent shop selling stationery and more craft-based items in Central London, but they didn't stock what I was looking for. They did have lots of gorgeous multi-coloured sheets of hand-printed wondrousness that would look great framed or hanging from bulldog clips as 'art', tiers of craft paper, shelves of stationery, and racks of cards, but they had nothing subtle enough for my specific needs. 
So I went to Faulkiners Fine Papers, recently moved from Bloomsbury and now part of Shepherds. There I found exactly what I was looking for. Well, I knew I would. They have about 50 books of A4 samples containing all kinds of lovely large paper stocks, and all at really cheap prices too and no minimum order. It's hard not to buy things in there!
This makes me realise that we now have hardly any independent stationers and art shops left in Central London. All I can think of is Green & Stone of Chelsea. Yes, we have big companies such as London Graphics, Cass Fine Art, Scribbler and even Rymans, but where have all the little shops gone?
Here in Holloway I am lucky that we have this well stocked stationers, but the small art shop that used to be opposite Holloway tube station, and was trading for decades, has recently closed down probably due to competition from a branch of Cowling & Wilcox further down the road, though that too also looks to be rather empty every time I pass or go inside.
In nearby Finsbury Park there is Fish & Cook with it's gorgeous old shop front. I also have fond memories of a little stationers in Smithfield which closed down a few years ago.
All of which makes me think about other independent craft shops such as Creativity (wools) which used to be near Holborn station. Throughout the 80s and 90s I took that place for granted and shopped in there often. I now can't find find an image or ref of it anywhere. How sad.
And there used to be a fabulous art shop that at the St Giles end of Monmouth Street that sold paint in powder form by weight, and artists' canvas by the foot. I can't now recall the name of the shop. What happened to them?

Coffee anyone? A mobile phone contract? How about a pizza?

P.S. This is not a Paperchase advertisement; Paperchase is a lovely shop full of lovely things and I am happy to endorse it. But if anyone at Paperchase would like to offer me something for this bit of free promo mentioning the company name eight times, then please do get in touch.
Paperchase, Paperchase – I thought I'd best make it a round ten.