16 March 2018

London Tramways – posters and artworks at the London Metropolitan Archives

Another day, another archive, another subject.
And equally as marvellous, but for different reasons.
The London Metropolitan Archives recently held an open day event where posters and artworks from the tram age were be on display.
How could I resist?
I was there the minute the place opened. On a table in the middle there were piles of lovely printed posters from the 1920s and the 1930s. But better still were the actual artworks or designs for those posters on the side tables and these showed a bygone world of hand-lettering, retouching, cut and paste, and pencilled annotations – all devices we no longer, or very rarely, implement these days now that most things are computer generated.
The poster on the left is hand panted in thick block colours – see how some of the place names have been cut out and stuck on top to indicate where they should be placed in the final version. The second poster, which is also artfully hand painted, has a wealth of information and amendments written down the right-hand edge including about deletions and additions. The third poster here shows places linked to Dickens' London. The placenames were, for some reason masked out, but by holding it up to the  light I could see them, The last poster shows a glimpse of a fabulously colourful image for Hampstead Ponds and some beautifully rendered hand lettering  – note how accurately the gold outline has been applied – this is all done with a brush!!
All of this reminded me of when I first started working in the advertising world back in 1980. A designer would produce a colourful, hand-rendered design for the client, using Magic Markers, Pentel Pens and gouache with perhaps, a few images glued onto that. And he'd point to the client's supplied image, probably in slide format, and say "this part of this image will be here".  Clients seemed to have more imagination back then and they trusted the design agencies to produce what they required.
Once the design was approved it was then passed on to the artworker (that was me) and/or the typographer (also me) to pull together an accurate 'artwork for print'. This was a black and white rendition of the design made with the help of Rotring pens, a PMT machine, Cow Gum and Rubylith which was then sent to the reprographic department to be made ready for the printer. It was a marvellous creative process.
Today we have AppleMacs and digital cameras and various photo editing programs and everyone thinks they are an armchair designer. Apparently, we just wave a magic wand at the computer and it does all the work. I think clients think it's some kind of mind-melding process. A download of sorts. The daft thing is that it takes longer to produce something from concept to printed product than it did 50 years ago because today people are amending almost hourly. Yawn.
Anyway enough reminiscing... back to the tram posters...

A poster for London Zoo had a contemporary sketch (known as a 'scamp') beside showing another layout. The second poster shows amendments made by masking out with paper and with white paint. The third pic shows two posters – the one on the left has been part filled in with colour. Note the panel at the bottom of that poster which looks to have been originally painted as white lettering on a black panel but a section of it is rendered in yellow on green. It was the latter option that was chosen for the printed poster as can be just seen in the pic at the very top of this post.  The other poster in that image has very vibrant colours of bright blues, yellow and orange with handwritten annotation in lovely red inked script. The final pic shows a beautiful painting of a tram with almost type-quality hand-lettering applied in white brush strokes underneath.
More adeptly applied paint in the first pic of this section – note the quality of the lettering here, especially the squiggly inline on the black letters.
The last three pics are of printed examples. The Pullman Tramcar poster just amused me because it seemed a bit odd to show a pic of a sedan chair – what are they saying; that the trains are as slow as two men carrying a heavy weight?!
I was intrigued by the designs and the illustrators/artists whose signatures appeared on most of the finished posters. I made a note of most of them and it seems that rarely did a artist get employed twice. As for the printers who were employed by London County Council Tramways to produce these colourful posters, it appears the main two were Waterlow & Sons, Dunstable, and Vincent Brooks Day & Son, WC2. I also spotted two posters showing a printer from just around the corner from my home; Hill, Siffken & Co, Grafton works, N7. Sadly, I can't find anything find anything about the company except in reference to the things they printed. Any info welcome. 
I was like a pig in a colourful pit of loveliness, cooing and oohing about the artistic details of this and that and asking Simon the curator the occasional question.
It was amusing (to me), that apart from a brief visit by one other woman, the room mostly contained older men, many of whom were, I think, a little bit disappointed that there wasn't more about the actual trams and the tramlines. A lot of them looked through the posters disdainfully as if they had to do that and occasionally one would say something like, "that's the ABC1237 that used to run via Elephant and Castle but they changed the route to go past London Bridge and renumbered it in September 1931; ".
Well, I enjoyed myself and I am really glad I went there!
https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/london-metropolitan-archives/Pages/default.aspx is a major resource for historical information for anyone doing any research be it family history, old maps and photos etc. They also have an online search facility and a marvellous photo library.
It looks like I will need to use the archive to find out more about Siffken & Co.

Tram access covers feature in one of my posts from last year.

12 March 2018

A visit to the Parliamentary Archives

Last week I was lucky enough to be able go on one of the last tours* of The Parliamentary Archives within the Palace of Westminster.
Accessing the building involves a security bag check which is just like at an airport including a bit of frisking if you are lucky. Sadly I missed out on that pleasure having worn a bra that didn't set the machine off.
The tour group went in small batches up to the research floor because the lift can only take a max of six people. We then navigated some small utilitarian passages which really don't look like they ought to be part of a tour to reach another equally tiny lift. But it was ages arriving so our sub-group agreed to walk up the spiral staircase.

I am pretty sure most of the others also hadn't heard that it was an 8-floor climb! Oof! Though stopping to take photos helped!
We finally reached a room near the top of Victoria Tower. When the tower was constructed it was the tallest secular building in the world and the 'show and tell' room affords some marvellous views through the leaded glass windows and the tracery to the north and west of London.

On the table there was a marvellous selection of well-presented historic documents and large heavy tomes. These included notes from Lloyd George, directories of noble families and petitions showing wonderful signatures or symbols indicating how some people could not at that time write.

And then back out to the spiral stairs to look down through the well. This is the view we sometimes see on TV when the Queen arrives here:
The well is not always open like this – a horizontal sliding 'door' is usually in place at the bottom edge. The third image shows part of a framed pic on the wall at that level – a section a 12th century stained glass window from Chartres Cathedral by Simon De Montfort – I love the colours.
And then to the the famous archive room with all the document rolls – I practically hyper-ventillated with excitement as I entered the room. Wow!
Each roll is date tagged by sovereign age (that's what all those little pink, yellow and green squares are in the pics below) and some of them are HUGE. I mean long. Very long. One is half a mile long! I wonder how much it weighs?

A few special documents and books were chosen to show us, and these included some famous historical names:

Henry VIII to the left and his daughter Elizabeth I to the right. The middle image shows how beautiful some of the books in the archive are – just look at the lovely handwriting – the page on the top is an addendum – they just didn't scribble or annotate onto the  original – they wrote it all out again as an attachment
What a delightful way to spend a couple of hours.

*The archive is a valuable resource for anyone delving into the past. The physical archive (the books and scrolls etc) will be moving soon whilst the facility is overhauled, however the database and research facilities will still be available – I think I've got that right – click here to find out more.

6 March 2018

Jane's London Guided Walking Tours

My walking tours in North London are friendly and inclusive gatherings of like-minded souls keen to learn more about this history-rich area.
I offer a range of walks – some cover a range of highlights in a specific area or along a certain road; others are themed, such as the heyday of the Nags Head area when Mr Pooter "lived" here, Art Deco Arsenal and Holloway, drinking establishments along the A1, ghostsigns and green things.
Most tours are 90 minutes long.
More info here. Tickets for scheduled walks are available through Eventbrite.

5 March 2018

Bygone Brands and Businesses – a compact Jane's London in 90 minutes

As you know by the strapline under the header on this site shows that I am all about little historical details still visible on today's streets.
One of my guided walks, shown right, brings together all of these things and, as such, is a kind of potted version of this site. The walk covers old signage, ironmongery, hand-painted advertising on walls, carved reliefs, pubs, shops, name changes, logos and branding in the Upper Holloway, N19, area.
I also have a couple of other walks that are about ghostly signs of the past in Lower Holloway and around the southern half of Upper Street and these are mostly about the hand-painted ads on walls type known as ghostsigns.  

Some Holloway ghostsigns – faded painted advertisements on walls of N7 and N19

If you'd like to join me on a walk sometime, all info is here on Jane's London or for more detailed descriptions of the individual walks and how to book go directly to Eventbrite.

2 March 2018

Oh the weater outside is frightful...

...but inside it's so delightful.
I love that song.
But I don't want to let it snow let it snow let it snow because this weather is stopping people from bookings my walking tours. Me me me!
Yes, poor me – I have had to cancel the four walks that were scheduled for this weekend because it's so damn slippery out there and I'm today organising refunds or exchanges for other walks.

So while I've no place to go I bring you a collection of twelve White locations or white things in London – can you identify where they photos were taken?
Note that half of these don't exist as shown here any longer – I doubt anyone will recognise the weathered gate on the bottom row, so I will identify that one now; Whitehall Park, N19.

27 February 2018

Ocean Liners: Speed and Style at the V&A

Last Friday evening I meet my friend and fellow CIGA guide at the V&A to see the exhibiton about the golden age of sea travel.
That's on a boat!
Heaven, I'm in heaven...

Check out the compact tea set, a leather clutch bag shaped like a liner, and some gorgeous fabric – the wonderful typographic pattern on a silk blouse and a late-1960s blue suit deemed unconventional/'unsuitable'.

I love the V&A (well, apart from this) – there is always something new to see and, more often than not, it's been there for decades and I just never noticed before.
The V&A is open late on Fridays. That's great for people who can't get there during the day and don't like having to fight with school groups or weekend families. But not so great is the type of music that's played there which seems to pull in a new crowd of bar-goers who hang around the reception desk at the Brompton Rd entrance in front of huge speakers on sticks which blare out bass-heavy rhythms. I reckon most of them don't even wander further than the gift shop. Or perhaps that's the point.
We found the sound levels offensive and hard to dodge as the only way in and out is past that desk (or it was by the time we were leaving). It was a horrible contrast to the swooning tunes of the 1930s.
The type of sound is just wrong for the environment – boom boom boom! It reverberates and resonates with nasty low-level frequencies around the curves of this beautiful building like some kind of migraine. Music is great but, please V&A, keep it acoustic next time. Guitars, strings, pianos, even brass – but not anything amplified. Thanks for listening!
And before anyone starts calling me old and grumpy – I would've said all that when I was 20.

Come and see some Art Deco architecture in North London on my guided walks

20 February 2018

Clapham Junction Area – Observations in Wandsworth Rd, Northcote Rd, Battersea Rise etc

One Sunday a few weeks back I met up with a small group of London Historians for a tour of HMP Wandsworth. The pic shows us standing outside its small but jam-packed excellent museum which is open by appointment only.
The tour didn't start until noon. It was a clear, though chilly, day so I headed to Clapham Junction early to check up on a few things.
I exited the station via Old Brighton Yard which affords excellent views across London from the covered pedestrian bridge above the platforms. Note that you need a ticket to access this space; it's not a right of way.
I then turned right and walked westward along St John's Hill towards Wandsworth because I wanted to check up on a couple of old ghostsigns and shop fronts that I know from years ago when I used to work occasionally in the area.

Whoopee! The Peterkin Custard and the H.J. Golding hand-painted signs at the junction of Plough Road are still intact, as is the Frosts Stores doorway mosiac at No. 114 (now Denner Cashmere). Denner's shop also retains its lovely spindle window posts etc.
After the tour of the prison which, by the way, was excellent, a few of us went for a quick pint in a nearby pub full of children with colouring pens (go figure) and then, realising the light was fading fast, I marched across the common and over the railway bridge to get to the southern end of Northcote Road for a Battersea update.

Northcote Road was mostly built in 1896 as is evident by some date stamps at the top of buildings. The street also boasts a lot of blue enamel vitreous metal street signs. On the corner of Salcoat Road the A. H. Dunn / Hovis baker's sign still looks the same as it did when I last took a photo of it ten years ago – the same graffiti tags remain. Also shown here between Nos 88+90 is the best reminder of the lovely tiled dividers that would have been between all the shops along this stretch
And then I crossed over Battersea Rise into St John's Road and noticed a palpable change in environment. The Rise seems to split two kinds of shopping areas; the yummy mummies with their lattes and buggies on one side and a regular high street on the northern side with all the ubiquitous names.
The former Woolworths shop with its identifiable Art Deco 1930s frontage still stands but is now home to Woolworths. Waitrose seem to have moved into quite a few old Woolworth properties such as at Angel, Islington.
Marks and Spencer, opposite, retains its pillars and and cureved windows. Also late Deco I think. This shop front is very similar to my local one at Nags Head, Holloway, tho mine doesn't have the lovely mosaic floor.
The impressive Arding & Hobbs building sites diagonally opposite Clapham Junction Station and its distinctive cupola is visible for miles around.

This is the entrance to the building on the corner of Lavender Hill and Ilminster Gardens. As you can see the ribbed metal pillars ar very similar to those at M&S. I just love the curves and lines within this doorway.
I used to shop at A&H/Allders in the 90s and early 00s but it was clear to me then that the shop really needed to play catch-up with other stores of its kind. The company went into liquidation in 2005 and the building now is home to the Debenhams chain.
I really must go back in the Spring for a proper poke about.
More info on the SW11 area in this draft document written in 2013 by English Heritage.
If you are interested in becoming a member of London Historians please do mention that you heard about it here, from me. Thanks

14 February 2018

A blue-tiled laundry in Northcote Rd, Battersea

Northcote Road is just south of Clapham Junction on the other side of Lavender Hill. At No.138, now Head South Hair & Beauty Salon, I spotted a fabulous example of what I believe is an old Sunlight Laundry.

Ooh lovely – I really like the letters arranged vertically by the door. But it's evident that the company name has been removed from the low level panel at the front of the shop – note how the tiles are of a leter and lesser quality
This shop looks remarkably similar to the Sunlight Laundry in Pimlico Road and other blue-tiled shops such as at the top of Middle Lane in Crouch End and at the junction of Essex Road and Gaskin Road near Islington Green.  Lovely, aren't they?
Find out more about the history of Sunlight Soap and the company that made it here.
Northcote Road is an interesting street mostly built in the late 1890s – there are many other lovely shops both new and long-established as well as some lovely hints of old shop fronts – I will put together a montage for a subsequent post.

2 February 2018

Islington on Canvas – Art from the Archives

There is a wonderful exhibition on at Islington Museum at the moment – a gallery of paintings of locations throughout my borough.
Last Saturday I joined the free walk led by CIGA guide Karen Lansdown and to hear about some of the paintings on display and identify the locations they depict.

Karen in action and some of the paintings
Another walk is scheduled for Saturday 10th and this will be led by fellow CIGA guide Jen Pedler.
The walk lasts 90mins and is free  – but booking is essential.
The exhibition is on until 24 February 2018.

10 January 2018

Susan Hiller at Tate Modern and Postman's Park

In a ground floor Tank gallery at Tate Modern I noticed a montage of photographed wall tiles. Recognising them I stopped to read the info board:

"... Victorian memorial plaques she came across in a London park"
No recognition has been made as to where the original marvellous handmade tiles can actually be found.
Susan's photographs are arranged in nothing like the same configuration that they are in their actual location and the quality of the prints looks to be a bit dark and over-inked. It amused me to see that people visiting the gallery are taking photos of these photos. Go figure. 
For those of you who don't know, these Doulton tablets form part of Watts memorial within Postman's Park, a stone's throw from St Paul's.
I took some photos of them a while back when I'd gone to enjoy the peace and quiet in this lovely little garden space and have put six of them together here – does this make me an artist?

5 January 2018

Update on the old Whittington Park mural

A couple of years ago I took my friend Jen, to Whittington Park to show her an old mural that had become obscured by plants. Read about that here.

This was all we could discern in July 2015
Well, twixt Christmas and New Year's Day I went to check on it again. As you'd expect, the spray can graffiti-ers have been busy. I couldn't make out the images above but I found some others.

Lucky Kelsey!
Two schoolchildren with backpacks and a figure [possibly] climbing over a wall
Toffee tin lid
Whittington Park, just south of Upper Holloway Station, is named after Richard/Dick of the turnaround-Lord-Mayor story. Jen's an expert on Dick Whittington and leads a fascinating guided tour about the great man within the City of London. I gave her this old toffee tin a few years back as a present and she uses it as a prop on the walk. Check here for updates or contact her for more details.
See also Dick Whittington's Cat – a previous blog post

2 January 2018

Puzzled by a London Puzzle at Christmas

Last week, on Christmas Day afternoon, I cleared the table, poured the wine, and got to work on a PuzzleMap jigsaw of London that I'd found whilst rummaging at a charity sale last summer.
I am happy to report that all the pieces were in the box but, oh boy did I find some other things amiss.

The completed puzzle – 1000 pieces, 19"x27"
Having looked online at reviews for this item people say they really enjoyed doing the puzzle but found the image on the box lid hard to follow because it shows additional map at the left and right sides.
Well, never mind that, dear WordSearchers, you should be more concerned with the inaccuracy of the place- and road-names and the confusion as to why so many insignificant streets, parks and locations have been identified as worthy for inclusion yet other, more important places, have been omitted, and where are the tube station signs for Oxford Circus, Bond Street, Chancery Lane and Hyde Park Corner? Ditto Marylebone and Fenchurch Street rail stations? Did they just fall off the map?!

A crash (one of many) at the junction of Lyall Street and Chester Row.  South Kensington tube stain has been renamed (who knew?) and there optional spellings for the Jameses. In the fourth pic four street names include extra/repeated letters: Roseberry St (+r), Skinnner St (+n), Centrral St (+r) and St. Johns St (+s).
Barnard Park is depicted as a very important district in North London, almost as big as Islington, and Barnsbury Rd has been mis-named Barnsbury St, a silly error because there is a Barnsbury Street further north which runs east-west. In central London alternative spellings are given for the gallery and the body of water that separates the parks, and South Carriage Drive has been mis-named as Carriage Rd. The third pic shows Leather St and Halton Gdn which everyone knows should be Leather Lane and Hatton Garden. Note also in that pic that Stanland Street, a quiet back street, has been selected for inclusion. Ditto Jockey's Fields (which needs no possessive). The last pic shows examples of names without Rd/St/Av endings; Marshalsea (Rd) and Tabard (St) – I could have included plenty more pics of those; Bressenden (Gdns), Grt Percy (St), Appold (St), Wood (St), Vauxhall (St), Lombard (St)...
More errors include (with the correct spelling in brackets), Townshed Rd (Townshend), Edgeware Station (Edgware), Stanland St (Sandland) Plender Rd should be St and, probably my favourite, Long Acre St (delete St).
You probably think I have studied the whole thing like a pedantic sub-editor with a fine-tooth comb – Nope! – I just noticed these things as I was doing it. It wasn't until I'd spotted about ten, when I had barely completed half of the puzzle, that I started jotting them down and then taking photos – this explains the changes in picture quality depending on available light at the time. I have spotted errors mainly in the central and north-east areas because I am not so knowledgeable about the south and south-west, so there must be lots more I don't know about.
I wonder, how did all these silly errors slip though the net? It is fairly evident to me that it wasn't checked before it was printed. Existing maps such as the A-Z can't just be scanned and copied; there are copyright issues and so this had to be redrawn from scratch and, I suggest, in a hurry. Perhaps some of the mis-spellings might actually be mis-hearings with one person shouting the street names to another who typed them onto the map. Or, perhaps it was created as a task on The Apprentice?!!

The blurb on the box, and online, reads: 
  • Learn the layouts of famous cities piece by piece as you assemble our PuzzleMaps with friends and family. 
  • Perhaps you are planning a trip and want to orient yourself before you go, or perhaps you want to remind yourself of favorite corners and neighborhoods you have explored on foot.  
  • The perfect gift for the person planning a first trip or the world traveler who knows a world class city from the ground up. 
  • Made from high quality laminated paper board
  • PuzzleMaps will challenge the best puzzlers, inspire curious minds interested in far off places and delight world travelers.
  • PuzzleMaps are made from post-consumer recycled material
Is it me, or does last bullet seem to contradict the fourth?
You may have noticed the American spellings here and on the map itself such as Av as the abbreviation for Avenue – we Brits prefer to use Ave. Design Ideas Limited, the company that produced this puzzle, is indeed American and, according to the box, is based in Springfield*, Illinois. But they must have internet access over there and they must have access to maps of London. It's inexcusable. Though quite amusing too.
I am going to leave the finished puzzle on my table for a while yet – it sort of pleases me in a supercilious "I know better" way. Perhaps I'll write to Design Ideas and suggest that it could form the basis if another type of puzzle all on its own; a sort of cartographic spot-the-diffence as part of a range called MapMistakes or StreetSearch...?!

*Incidentally, Springfield is not just home of the Simpsons, it's [something like] one of the most common town names in the U.S. – probably why Matt Groening chose to use it. 

20 December 2017

More seasonal stuff

Last night I went to see Cinderella at Hackney Empire.
Well... what can I say... but WOW!  What an absolute delight. A joy.
It's on until 31st December and I urge you to go see it too.
What's not to like?
Old time entertainment with a modern twist inside one of our loveliest theatres. Designed by the ubiquitous Frank Matcham, it opened in 1901 and was saved from demolition in 1986.
View from my seat in the Dress Circle
And then more fun and sparkles to be sampled this Friday evening when I will join a group of friends  at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.
Thumbs up from 2016
Last year we'd sort of tested it out as a "why not? It's free!" idea but we had such a nice time hanging about enjoying the atmosphere that we've decided to do it all again this year. We'll be convening at the quieter bar near the fire pit, marked F16 on the WW map, from 6.30pm onwards. Do come and find us – as they say, "the more, the merrier".

Note: WW is free to enter, walk about and go to the bars etc but, of course, there are charges for the rides, experiences and entertainments.

13 December 2017

Festive events South, North and East

I should've written about the first two of these before they happened, not after. Then again, you wouldn't get to see the photos.
Late afternoon on Friday 1st December I joined some lovely creative people and the children from a couple of Southwark schools for a lantern procession around the area led by Old Father Thames and a small but very loud samba drum band. Oh it was lovely. See more here.

The route took us through residential estates, along lovely backstreets and into local parks whilst Old Father Thames told us the stories about the Thames freezing over, extra-large ice cubes and a skating elephant. See more pics here. The event was organised by Emergency Exit Arts.

Another samba band!
Two days later, on Sunday December 3rd, I was up on the new piazza adjacent to Archway tube station for an event organised by Islington Council. There was music and singing and all sorts of entertainment. The Christmas lights were turned on and we finally found out that the new name for the piazza is Navigator Square. This was decided by local people voting for their favourite from a shortlist of five names. The winning name is in recognition of the [mostly] Irish navigators, better known as navvies, who worked so hard to build the area and its roads.
Now all we need is for the underground toilets on the piazza to be re-opened and I suggest the new name for them could be the Navvy Lavvies.

Looking forward...
Talking about Christmas markets and events – tomorrow evening 4.30–9.30pm there will be a one-off Winter Night Market with lost of lovely stall selling all sorts of lovely things, just off Hanbury Street, London E1 (between Brick Lane and Spitalfields Market).
One of the stalls will be selling Christmas tree earrings and decorations, as shown in the row of pics above, as well as other jewellery and cards made from clay pipes foraged from the River Thames foreshores.
Do come along and say hello.

11 December 2017

Christmas Lights in London

'Tis the season to be jolly and all that
Last week I posted about the Archway switch on, one of many local events that took place last weekend. 
Larger displays can be found along some of the major shopping streets in the West End and they are just lovely this year, with barely any silly branding or commercial theme. So last night my friend Jen and I made good use of a pair of tickets for The Original Bus Tour's Christmas Lights Tour to be able to get a closer look at them.
We boarded the bus in Coventry Street, donned our free Santa hats and made use of the much-needed blankets – this was the snowy day and brr it was cold on that open top deck!

The tour is restricted by the routes the company is actually permitted to use – and so it takes a circuitous route to get to Regent Street, goes up that road, loops back and then goes back down it again. And that's about it. The Regent Street lights are indeed lovely, bu they are the same all the way along so once you get to Oxford Circus and go back again it all seems a bit repetitive.
We did enjoy ourselves (we  normally do!) but an adult ticket is a whopping £15 which I think is rather steep for just 45 minutes – even if I was new to London I think I would have been disappointed that the only lights I saw on the tour were the ones pictured on the leaflet. On the plus side, it must be said that the guide on the night was marvellous. He obviously enjoys his job, sharing his love and knowledge of London with the people on board.  
Sorry tour bus guys, thanks for the tickets and all that, but I suggest that these lights can be just as easily viewed from the top deck of any normal bus service that goes along Regent Street for a fraction of the cost.
Some of the best Christmas lights are in the smaller shopping streets that are not on bus routes and these are better seen on foot. I recommend a walking tour of London's Christmas lights – my friend Joanna leads a marvellous food-related lights tour in the West End that includes Carnaby Street, St Christopher's Place and Bond Street. Jo gives out freebies too but they are not branded hats! Booking for Jo's walk here. If you do book, please be sure to mention that you saw it here first ;-)

Back to the big displays – last week I went to Kew Gardens to see the marvellous lighting installations there – I am not going to show any photos because it would ruin the surprise and delight for you, but my favourite thing there, apart from the beautifully lit majestic old trees, was the Singing Trees – a simple yet wonderfully evocative section of the walk. The whole route is just delightful because you can wander about at your own pace. Be sure to watch the whole show projected onto the Palm House at the end of the trail.
Again, please try not to look at the photos of it before you go. For reference please see my post about last year's trail here. On until new Year's Day – book here.

The future is looking bright 
It doesn't all end at Christmas – the lights continue into January...
Lumiere London, January 18-21 – various sites in central London – see here for my review of 2016 
Winter Lights at Canary Wharf, 16-27 January – see here for pics etc of 2017

5 December 2017

North London Polytechnic, Holloway Road – compare and contrast

I was just tidying up my photo archive and rediscovered a folder called Holloway Road Then and Now from when I was taking comparison pics and writing about them here. In that folder I found a group of four pics I had put together of the London Metropolitan University buildings.
Looking at the collection now it's easy to get distracted doing a sort of spot-the-difference.

c1910 vs 2013
The North London Polytechnic was established in 1896, a period I refer to as the Heyday of Holloway.  This Victorian seat of learning was built "to promote the industrial skill, general knowledge, health and well-being of young men and women belonging to the poorer classes of Islington [and] to provide for the inhabitants of Islington and the neighbouring parts of north London, and especially for the Industrial Classes, the means of acquiring a sound General, Scientific, Technical and Commercial Education at small cost".
Only one of the buildings from that period now remains as The Rocket Complex echoing its past as The Great Hall (b1897) opened by the then Lord Mayor of London and used for social and academic events. It's sad to see how a lot of the architectural embellishments have been removed over the years, however, on the plus side, the clocks at the top are usually correct, which is handy.
The various university buildings feature for different reasons on a couple of my walking tours

Oh and by the way, the vintage clothing shop, now called Blue 17, by the bus stop (where the AA van is in the pic) is marvellous, one of the best around – do pop in and have a look – though be warned that it's hard to come out empty-handed.

2 December 2017

Archway Christmas Lights Switch On Event – tomorrow Sunday December 3rd

The new space next to Archway Station will be filled full of stalls and entertainment tomorrow – and they'll finally be announcing the name of the piazza.

I'll be there selling my Archway and Islington Christmas cards plus my tree decorations and earrings too... ooh!
Stalls will be set up by noon though the event is officially 1.00-5.30pm. Do come and say hello and join in the  festive fun. 
I'll also be in the same location the next three weekends as part of #ArchwayMarket on Saturdays 9th, 16th and 23rd, 11-5pm.

Seasonal cards and gifts available from my stall

1 December 2017

Today – Frozen In Time procession – Blackfriars, London SE1

I do love a good procession or parade.
And this one promises a "gigantic metal animation".
I stupidly missed that big elephant in Trafalgar Square about eight years ago and I really miss the wonderful parades that used to happen at the end of the Thames festival every September, so let's hope this makes up for it.
See you there.
Parade: 4.30–7pm
Nearest tubes: Borough, Southwark
More info here

From six of my Blackfriars Road photos

28 November 2017

Freightliners Farm

It never ceases to amaze me how many people who live in Holloway don't know that this is here.

I am here only showing images of the lovely tiled panels on the exterior wall but the other side of the wall is a marvellous surprise. Being a farm, it is more of a hands-on experience and to hard to capture in photos.
This "community space in the heart of Islington" has lots to see and experience for all ages. And a fab café too.
Go find out for yourself or come and discover it on one of my walking tours and find out about many more green places and things in the area.

Info: Freightliners Farm.

21 November 2017

Melancholia: A Sebald Variation – an exhibition at Somerset House

Melancholia: A Sebald Variation is a marvellous thought-provoking exhibition hidden away in the Inigo Rooms within the East Wing at Somerset House.
It's really worth checking it out. I stumbled upon it by accident last month and ended up spending quite a while in there.

The exhibition, presented by King’s College and curated by John-Paul Stonard and Lara Feigel, takes the writings of W.G. Sebald (1944-2001) as a starting point for an exploration of melancholia in European art and culture. Inspired in particular by Sebald’s 1997 publication On The Natural History of Destruction, this exhibition sees works by international contemporary artists set alongside images documenting the destruction of Germany in WW2, as well as W.G. Sebald’s own manuscripts and peculiar photography collection.
Highlights include: Albrecht Dürer’s famous print Melencolia I (1514) which is on loan from the British Museum, never before exhibited photographs by Anselm Kiefer, made in the 1980s, depicting aircraft constructed out of sheets of lead taken from the roof of Cologne cathedral,  Tacita Dean’s Our Europe and eye-witness drawings by Wilhelm Rudolph of the smouldering ruins of Dresden here in Britain for the first time. There are also some works that have been specially commissioned for the exhibition.
Make sure you have the time to watch Guido van der Werve’s award-winning endurance-art film project Nummer Vierteen: Home, 2012 – a fabulously compelling piece that lasts 50 minutes – it's worth finding out what time the screening starts so as to be able to see it from the beginning. And I'd also recommend taking time to watch the video of an interview between W.G. Sebald and Susan Sontag.
Until 10th December 
Tues–Sat: 11:30–17:30
Wednesday lates until 19:30
Sundays 14:30–17:30

13 November 2017

Diary of a Nobody at Kings Head Theatre – Avoid avoid!!

No pics with this post – just a review about what I had hoped would be an interesting twist on a much-loved book; a book I have read four times.

Last week I sent out a missive to customers who have been on my guided walks:
"As you know, one of my walks is all about how the Nag's Head area of Holloway and how it looked in its late Victorian heyday when George and Weedon Grossmith's comic character Mr Pooter "lived" there (here!).
I thought you might be interested to know that there is a play on at the King's Head Theatre at the moment that is based on the book. It runs until Saturday 18th.
I am just about to book my own ticket – perhaps I will see you there...?"

I went with two friends to see the play on Friday night. Oops. I'd spoken, I'd promoted, too soon. I could have stayed at home and clipped my toenails. Or enamelled the bath.
I should stick to my guns and only write about the things I have seen or experienced in person, because I had to again write to those same people:
"... Evelyn Waugh is quoted in the production's blurb as saying this is/was "the funniest book in the world". This quote needs to be put into context – bear in mind that Waugh's own characters, such as in Decline and Fall, are subtlely observed, hence why he would have loved DOAN as being in the same vein.
This particular adaptation is for people who like their old favourites updated, amended and added to, in this case using an inane mix of Victorian genteel and 20thC swearing, with a quite confusing mix of characters played by just four actors. I have read the book four times and I thought the first half hour of the play in particular was painfully fast.  
If, like me, you like the book's gentle comic style then be prepared to sit straight-faced all the way through the play wondering the other half of the audience is finding so damn laugh-out-loud-as-loud-as-you-
can-to-prove-you-get-the-joke-hilarious.  During the interval I wondered whether to bother going back inside. It got worse, not better.
But, hey, if you haven't read the book you might actually enjoy this as a piece of fun, jolly theatre.
On a positive note, the stage sets and costumes are good."
Note that the two friends I went to see the play with concurred. As we exited the theatre we three were numb, our ears having suffered one particular audience members' outrageously loud whooping and whoa-ing. We were all unusually stunned into silence by it all; it wasn't even worth a post-mortem so we said goodnight and all went home in different directions.
I am reminded that the play was serialised on the BBC a few years back with Hugh Bonneville in the title role – that too was very HA HA HA. Everyone seems to be missing the point. I wonder what the brothers Grossmith would make of all this...?

8 November 2017

What is Whitebait? Read Roger Williams's book and find out more

Whitebait – a tasty fishstarter?
Or evil selective fishing?
And what exactly is a whitebait anyway?

Find out more in this wonderfully informative and absorbing little book by the marvellous Roger Williams.
Available here and here.
Roger's other books include The Temples of London, London's Lost Global Giant: in search of the East India Company, Father Thames and The Fisherman of Halicarnassus.

Also see Hugh's Fish Fight

31 October 2017

Dick Whittington's Cat

Turn around turn around Lord Mayor of London.
For almost 700 years people have been relating the story about how young Dick Whittington was leaving London after realising the streets weren't actually paved with gold after all and, when climbing what is now Highgate Hill, he heard the sound of Bow bells calling him, predicting a bright future.
He is often depicted dressed like Errol Flynn in Robin Hood mode, carrying his meagre belongings tied in a handkerchief knotted onto a stick, accompanied by a cat, usually a black.
The Archway area has a few places named after the man which include the hospital and health centre and a park (see my last post). And it was whilst walking through the park last week that I thought to put this cat collection together.

The memorial to the story now sits just up from Magdala Avenue on Highgate Hill but as shown in this c1910 postcard the railed-in cat used to be sited outside the original Whittington and Stone public house on the corner of Macdonald Road. It stayed there well into the 1960s as shown by the third pic.
A fabulous view of Whittington Hospital's metal cat sculpture and beyond can be seen from the outpatients department. The Whittington and Cat public house on Highgate Hill has been converted into flats but branded lettering still hangs on for dear life. The last pic is of a lovely old toffee tin I gave my friend Jen as a present because she lives near here.
Three cats from Whittington Park, all very close to the main Holloway Road entrance; topiary, tiles and wall art.
Read about Dick Whittington here.

Update (Dec6th): My good friend Jen Pedler is now leading a marvellous guided tour all about Mr Whittington – 90-minutes long, starting and ending at Bank tube station. Booking here.

24 October 2017

Richmond Lock and Weir Draw-off – Low tide on the Thames – 29th October to 19th November 2017

Each year the tidal Thames is allowed to rise and fall naturally between Richmond and Teddington locks, so that the Port of London Authority can carry out essential maintenance on those locks and other infrastructure such as the weirs and sluices.
The extremely low tide this creates gives an opportunity to enjoy rare views of the Thames. This year the draw-off will happen in the three weeks between 29th October and 19th November.
In 2015 I went to see this with some friends, in fact we ended up walking from Richmond to Chiswick Strand via Isleworth and Brentford and it was a great day out*.

The low tide effect was especially good at Isleworth, as shown in the last eight pics, where we gained access to the river at the boat ramp (or whatever it's called) and saw one of those special foreign geese in amongst the regular ones (bottom left). It was really strange and special to be standing almost in the middle of a river.
It's also a good opportunity for a tidy up and local people and environmental groups gather to clear the river of harmful plastic and other litter.
PLA's notice to mariners regarding safety etc

*Except for trying to find Gunnersbury Station at the end – this must be the most well-hidden, hardest-to-access station in London... unless you can think of other contenders for that crown...?

19 October 2017

Whittington Park Cafe – colourful, tasty and great value for money

Wandering through Whittington Park yesterday morning on my way home from my osteopath I popped into the Whittington Community Centre on Yerbury Road to drop off some leaflets about my walks but with a rumbly in my tumbly I decided to stop for sustenance in the cafe.
And I am so glad I did – I am quite fussy about my coffee – I like it strong and black and usually ask for a double espresso with hot water on the side so I can top it up to just the right mount. The lovely lady behind the counter did that for me and it was perfect. Add a slice of the most delicious bread pudding ever and the bill was a measley £3.00.  Why do people frequent chain cafés when fab places like this are so much nicer, so much friendlier and so much better value for money?

My pics here do not do the place justice – lots to do, lots to see and all in the lovely setting of Whittington Park.
Click here to find out more info about the community centre.