27 November 2015

Kensington Palace – what a revelation

Why oh why had I never been in here before. What a lovely surprise.
It's always the way, isn't it? you live in a city and take it for granted saying that next week you'll go and see what these bloody tourists are all looking at, and the day never comes.
Well, I finally went inside and it's bloody marvellous.
Kensington palace is sort of split into three historical periods. And, by chance we viewed it in, what we now believe in hindsight to be, the right order...
Actually this is a bit silly me posting about this and showing you pictures because I think the reason I loved it there so much is because I had no preconceptions whatsoever.
Oh well... sorry... here goes...

First we admired some of Queen Elizabeth II's frocks. She was tiny!!
The simple elegance of these dresses compared to the ones particularly worn by Diana Princess of Wales on display in another room was quite a shock. The 80s has a lot to answer for fashionwise; padded shoulders, puffball skirts, off the shoulder asymmetric concoctions, dropped waistlines, electric blue, gaudy green, hideous fabrics etc. 
Next to the Queens apartments. Simple and functional and homely.
Then... crash bang wallop!!! into the Kings Apartments – trompe l'oeil agogo!!!
Shown here is the famed staircase (the Queen's one has plain wooden panelling on the walls).  
Almost every room had a splendiferous ceiling and faux columns on the walls.
I caught Malcolm sitting on the throne.  
I was impressed that the information was given not on the standard boards but could be found subtly placed on relevant items within each room such as on fire screens, or on the excellent clothing recreated by the palace's design department sewn using a waterproof paper that beautifully imitates soft material.
Also, there was interactive lighting, sounds and music which occurred intermittently. In one room some dancers could be heard tapping the floorboards as their 'shadows' appeared on the wall. Delightful.
And lots of paintings, some large and fruity and others pocket-sixed and exquisite.
We played tried out some old dice and card games.  
Getting dressed back then wasn't a quick lick and a promise and sling on a onesie to pop out for a pint of milk. Those enormous dresses were as wide as a double bed and took hours to put on and take off, requiring helpers in order to be tied into the things. The second pic shows the uncomfortable under-structure that must have caused all sorts of wear and tear to the hips. What a painful palaver.
The third and fourth pic were taken in the Kings Gallery which is the only one of his rooms that bears any resemblance to the Queen's equivalent (see above left) – though, note the ceiling. 
We spotted a beautifully carved bust of a black slave. Wrong. Totally wrong. But how can you not admire the workmanship using different stones for different elements?
Time was running out and the palace staff (all absolutely lovely by the way and obviously happy to be working there) were ushering us out of the building closing doors behind us. So we whizzed through the Victorian wing vowing to come back soon so I only managed to snap a couple of pics of the The Great Exhibition Hall before exiting through the gift shop.
In the gardens outside I was a bit upset by the message being sent out by the topiary.
How jolly rude!

24 November 2015

The Worshipful Company of Skinners – a tour of the livery hall

Another London Historians gathering.
It was sold as a tour but about half of it was spent sitting on chairs in the main hall listening to what can only be termed a lecture, most of which I could have found out on their website. This hall was fasciniating with its sloping floor (historic subsidence) but I was disappointed that there wasn't much time for snooping about and seeing the rest of the rooms in detail. Shame.
Here are some pics

17 November 2015

A walk along Kings Road (part 3) – A convoluted statue and Wright's Dairy

This continues on from here

Has anyone ever really taken a good look at that bizarre bit of street sculpture outside French Connection on the corner of Markham Square in Kings Road? I looked for an info plaque when I was there but couldn't find anything. 
This is what I see: A woman sitting back on one foot with one knee raised, with some kind of fish-shaped thing on her lap and a strange inverted L-shaped instrument over her right shoulder. Hmmm... let's think... is she playing a cello or some kind of musical instrument? 
I am stumped.  

I tried for 40 minutes to find some information about it, searching online using words such as sculpture, street art, public, French Connection, Kings Road, bronze, woman, kneeling, Markham Square, etc., and I have come up with nothing. If I knew the artist it might help.
Any ideas?

Diagonally opposite is the old Wright's Dairy building with its magnificent terracotta cow's head on the angled third floor corner. Archive pics* show that the Wrights were "cow keepers and dairy farmers" and "Acknowledged to be the Finest Dairy in the District". Nothing like a bit of self promo eh; they may well have been the only dairy in the area!
Old Church Street, Google Streetview, 20th July 2015.
Note also the painted tiles with rural depictions
But I think these pics show their extensive premises further west, in what is now Old Church Street where a subsequent owner used to keep 50 cows. The same cow's head can be seen on the front of the building (see pic right) and there is another one on the front of another building that faces the end of the alley where the red car is parked.
So, back to the building at the Sloane Street end of Kings Road shown in the pics above... having just spent the a further fruitless 25 minutes on this second research mission, I am again stumped. Without access to archive business listings for the street, and/or until someone tells me otherwise, I am going to make an educated guess and say that it was a shop selling the milk and dairy products that were produced at Wright's farm a mile way to the west in [Old] Church Street.
What do you think?
All feedback welcome.

*Credt archive pics: Exciting Postcards 

10 November 2015

The monograms of 431–487 Harrow Road

I am often bemused and confused as to why the owners of shops within a once beautiful terrace have felt the need to paint their half of the dividing columns. After all the shops would all look more distinct if the dividers were left all the same thus creating a frame. It just beggars belief why some beautiful patterned and glazed tiles or moulded stonework has been covered over – why can't they just leave them as is?!!!
A couple of months ago I was on one of Jen's walking tours and as we passed a long terrace in Harrow Road I noticed that most of the dividers had been painted through the middle of the initials of a company who either originally built it or traded from within.

It's either AL&CD Company Limited or A&LCD. Note the use of LIM where we now use LTD.
On the northern end of the terrace and in a couple of places high up along the front of the terrace a wonderful monogram using the same letters can be seen.
However I cannot identify the L within these entwined letters. So perhaps it's just "A&CD Co Lim"? In which case what's the significances of the L in the rectangles – a strange ampersandy thing I have never seen before perchance?
As regards researching who this company was I have tried a bit of google-woogle and come up with nothing except a South African Kitchenware company (AL&CD) who don't seem to have ever been in London.
Can anyone help?

Aha!... it's not a C; it's G – turns out it's the Artizans, Labourers' & General Dwellings company (interesting that artizans is US spelling but labourers is not)
See the comments for some info/links from Martin

6 November 2015

The Royal Menagerie animals at The Tower of London

Did you know they used to keep animals at The Tower of London?
As you queue to pay at the kiosks you will notice animal stickers on the glass.
Then as you go toward the entrance gate there are three lions made from chicken wire by Kendra Haste. There are more or her animals inside, all cleverly located.

Over the centuries, lions, an elephant, a polar bear and apes have been kept at the zoo.
An exhibition about the animals at the Royal Menagerie includes an image of Pompey the lion who looks like a pussy cat, and a clay pipe-smoking Dog-Faced Baboon.
More animals... On the lower floor of the White Tower there is a room containing cannons. In there I spotted a few crazy lions.  

3 November 2015

Inside the White Tower at The Tower of London

Ooh I love it inside the White Tower with all the gleaming armour.
The workmanship and detailing on this protective bodywear is exquisite.
But it's not just the metalwork that's interesting... next time you are there be sure to take time to look at the wooden horses that for over a century have been used to display the armour – each carved wooden animal is totally unique with its own personality and reminiscent of Victorian merry-go-rounds.

(note Treasures From the Thames)
There are carved wooden faces of some of the monarchs:

Henry V11, Janes I and William (the bastard) Conqueror.
Elizabeth I can be found on the floor below in a different cabinet.
If armour and armoury is your thing, then a fantastic display can also be found at The Wallace Collection (admission free)

27 October 2015

Friern Manor Limited, Dairy Farm Buildings, Crouch Hill

This wonderfully decorated group of buildings in Stroud Green was once one of Friern Manor's farms and dates from approx 1890 (the date in the pic above refers to the company, not the building).
A cobbled courtyard at the rear was accessed through a large gate in Hanley Road. The corner of the building once housed an ornate shop where farm produce and bread was sold. Traces of the old shop fittings can be seen inside today. A faded sign adverting Hovis can still be seen.
The seven large sgraffito panels are so unusual as there are not many other examples of this illustrative technique in London. The YMCA in in Carter Lane is the only other one that springs to mind.

'Country Delivery', 'Old Style Delivery' and, what used to read 'Present Day Deliverer' until someone amended it
Some close ups of the illustrations

In the 1990s the whole complex was cleverly converted into a pub and restaurant with the courtyard being covered over and turned into the main bar area and the smaller rooms and outbuildings becoming rooms for drinking or dining.

24 October 2015

22 October 2015

The Amazing World of M. C. Escher at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Most of us had an Escher on our wall when we were in our teens. But we moved on to what we thought were better things.
But now is the time to revisit the work of this mostly underrated yet hugely accomplished 20th Century artist at this exhibition which shows his work in chronological order.
Known for his tessellated animals and birds and impossible buildings, Escher was also mischievous, as can be seen by the clever tricks and meanings in almost every work.
Runs until 17th January.
It's not all black and white... there are colour pieces too!

The drawings for the long piece are even more fascinating than the finished item
Seeing Escher's hexagons in perspective reminded me of a piece I struggled with when doing A-Level art. The title we were given to work with was "The Terrace" and I had an idea for a sunbathing scene with bathers on Giants Causeway-esque rocks. Try as I might I couldn't get the formula/geometry exactly right. Had I studied Escher back then it might have helped.
Bottom right shows a preliminary sketch of the final painting.  

19 October 2015

Bloomsbury Festival, 22–25 October 2015

A creative explosion of performance, arts, music and heritage events held in the streets, parks, museums, galleries, laboratories and public and private buildings of one of London’s most vibrant cultural quarters. 
Read all about it here.
On Friday 23 October, Store Street will be taken over by artists and pyrotechnic gurus pa-BOOM for a spectacular launch evening*. I notice that the image on the page that talks about this particular event looks to be by the same artists who filled the garden in front of Tate Modern as part of the Thames Festival back 2009 (when it used to be good):

Pics: Jane Amelia Parker 2009
*It seems odd to me that the launch evening is happening on what appears top be the second day, but what do I know...?!  

13 October 2015

6 October 2015

The Bridges of Waterloo Station

Here are some lovely colourful images of the railway bridges and viaducts at the front and side of Waterloo Station.

© Jane Amelia Parker, 13th May 2015

2 October 2015

Lubetkin and Bevin Court

Learn about the changes in lower Islington's landscape from boggy fields to a sea of glass and concrete on a fascinating guided walk led by Jiff Bayliss.
The walk finishes with a Lubetkin staircase and mural.

Book the tour here.

29 September 2015

A wander in North London

Starting from Kentish Town station, cross the junction with Fortess Road and walk north past The Bull and Gate public house and The Forum. 
On your right on the corner of Highgate Road and Burghley Road is Elsfield, a really interesting block of modernist tiered flats painted blue and white. I like this block; it looks like a ocean-going liner and always cheers me up. In my mind, this is how modern housing ought to look.

Continue walking north. Hints of the past are really noticeable along this stretch of the road, especially the cottages either of the Vine pub which back onto College Lane. As you go under the railway bridge look at the parade of shops etc on the other/west side of the road and imagine how this area might have looked 100 years ago.
The Vine public house, an old Sun Insurance marker, a blue enamel street name sign, and the uncovered carved lettering on the Costcutter at No.157 on the corner of Mansfield Road showing a previous occupier, probably in Edwardian times, was J Ritchie.

Time for a beer
Turn right into Chetwynd Road and walk up the hill, then left at the lights into York Rise to see what used to be a fantastic proper locals' pub called The Dartmouth Arms. It closed down earlier this year and looks to be turned into shops/cafe. 
Facing the pub in Bellgate Mews is one of my favourite old and faded shop advertisements (a ghostsign) listing things such as flannelettes, calicoes, gloves and ribbons. 
Return to Chetwynd Road and continue up the hill. At the top, on the corner of Darmouth Park Hill is the Lord Palmerston pub. I can't quite work out why this pub is still open yet the Dartmouth is closed. A different clientele I suppose.

Dartmouth Arms, St John's Tavern, Boston Arms, Lord Palmerston
Then, cross over and walk down Cathcart Road to meet Junction Road and, depending on your pub preference, turn right to go to the grungy authenticity of the Boston Arms at the junction of Tufnell Park Station, which also has a great live music venue within the building, or turn left to go to St John's Tavern, a pub with great interiors and a restaurant at the rear. There are, of course, other pubs in the area. Which reminds me that 
I always intended to do a pub crawl down the Holloway Road starting at the Archway Tavern and ending at The Famous Cock at Highbury and Islington Station. But since having that idea almost half of the pubs along that stretch have closed down. And I never went in most of them! For instance, The Lion at Archway closed down earlier this year and I heard there are plans to convert the building into a cafe. Another cafe. Do people eat at home any more?

22 September 2015

Brentford canal

An interesting guided walk following on from my visit to Boston Manor House, starting near the GlaxoSmithKline building and ending in Brentford town centre.

I have never walked around that area before and was impressed how lovely it is. Apart from the flyover and the bloody planes on the Heathrow flightpath.
More about the Brentford area of The Grand Union Canal here.